24 February 2008

Blog Partaaay

Time for another Blog Party! This month's theme was fried food, and I went a little overboard. See, by the time I had already bought the ingredients for zucchini patties, I decided to flip through the February issue of Gourmet and found a fantastic-looking recipe for quinoa cakes with eggplant ragu in the Vegetarian Tonight section. Lo and behold, I had just been making happy noises at New Pi when I was buying my zucchini because they had quinoa, so I had to try it. Unfortunately, this trip revealed very shrunken looking nasty little brown eggplants. I was bummed, because I adore eggplant, but I decided I could substitute zucchini instead and get away with it.

Zucchini Patties

I have no idea where I got this recipe, but it's delicious. When I was living at home, I used to love these frozen spinach potato pancakes Mom would bring home sometimes. I've always like latkes, but these were great, because you had a little green with your potato as well. Still, they were definitely not homemade. This recipe has the benefit of tasting delicious and fresh, and rather than potato, there's cheese and flour, which makes for a fluffier cake. I approve!

I've always liked recipes that are easy enough to memorize, and this is one of those. Also, it uses a lot of ingredients I have around anyway. I started by beating my two eggs with a fork in a big bowl, and then grated in two cups of zucchini on top of that. Zucchini is soft enough that it's really easy to do with a cheese grater, which is nice if you don't want to mess with a food processor and special blades and things.

The rest of the ingredients are half a cup each shredded mozzarella and parmesan, half a cup of flour, a quarter cup chopped onion (I always do onion last to avoid tears), and salt to taste. I made myself put a few shakes of salt in, because I never use much salt in a recipe but it really is good to have a little for something mild like this. Give it a nice thorough mix to evenly incorporate the ingredients, especially to evenly distribute the egg.

To fry, heat up just a little oil in a skillet over medium high heat. I go with medium, because my burners tend to run hot. I used canola oil, but I think anything would be fine. You then want to cook heaping tablespoonfuls, a few minutes on each side or until golden brown. If you use just a little oil, there's no need to pat with paper towels. Also, I recommend patting the patties down in the pan so that they're thin enough to cook through (about 1/2 an inch). They may brown up quickly, and of course you can reduce the heat.

The recipe says serve with sour cream, but even though they aren't technically latkes, I can't have any sort of vegetable pancake-like-thing without sour cream and apple sauce. They're absolutely fabulous warm, and make a good breakfast as well as an afternoon or evening meal.

Quinoa Cakes with Zucchini Ragu

I had to do a lot of thinking about this recipe to figure out how to get the timing right, but I think I did pretty well. First, though the recipe calls for bottled red peppers, I really couldn't understand why I would want to pay extra money and go to the effort of draining the darn things for a less delicious taste. Roasting red peppers is so easy, so I just bought one and did it in my new toaster oven, which was a birthday gift from the parentals. I normally roast them whole, but I tried a different method this time, halving the pepper first and scraping out all the seeds and membranes in advance. I put it cut side down and broiled about ten minutes, until blackened and blistering.

Keep in mind when you're roasting peppers (I always forget this), that you want a substantial number of black spots. Otherwise, parts will be easy to peel and other parts will be difficult. Anyway, if you get it fairly blackened and then stick the pepper in a closed paper bag for half an hour, the skin should come right off.

Next step is to deal with the quinoa itself. The recipe says to wash it in three changes of water. I admit, I didn't. Seemed like a lot of trouble. You want to use a cup and a half water for a cup of quinoa, and add 1/2 t to the water before bringing it to the boil. Add the quinoa, bring back to the boil, then cover and lower to a simmer. It's supposed to take 20-30 minutes, and for me it was more like 16 (again, hot burners). The goal is that all of the water is absorbed, and you don't have to stir. Take it off the heat and leave the lid on for five minutes, then transfer to a bowl and cool 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a beaten egg and stir.

To form your quinoa cakes, start by lining a baking sheet with plastic wrap and brush lightly with olive oil. Oil a one cup dry measure and pack in the quinoa 2/3 full, then turn over onto the baking sheet. It'll crack a bit, just press it flatter with your hands or a spatula. The recipe says 4-inch cakes, but I suck at eyeballing inches. Because of the problems detailed later on, I would recommend using a smaller measure and making twice as many cakes, half as big. Anyway, whatever the size, stick them in the fridge at least 15 minutes. I would do an hour or two, personally.

For my altered version of the ragu, I used four small-to-medium zucchinis (a little over a pound before I chopped the ends off). I cut them into chunks by first slicing thickly and then cutting each slice into four. Throw that into your biggest pan, and add a small chopped onion, a couple of finely chopped garlic cloves, 1/2 t dried oregano, 1/4 t salt, 1/4 t pepper, and 3 T olive oil. Cook over medium heat, covered, stirring occasionally, five minutes or until soft. Since I hadn't heated the burner in advance, I counted the five minutes when I started hearing sizzling.

In the meantime, half a cup of grape or cherry tomatoes and chop up the roasted pepper. When five minutes is up, add them to the pan with 3/4 cup water. A note - you could do less water and not have the additional cooking time I ended up with to cook the liquid off, but I think it turned out fine and I wasn't in a hurry. Cook ten more minutes, covered, stirring occasionally. According to the recipe, it's supposed to be thick now, and that may have something to do with the eggplant. With zucchini, it looked lovely but there was a ton of water, so I just let it simmer another ten minutes until most of the liquid had cooked off.

Now you can transfer your ragu to a bowl and wash the same pan for cooking the quinoa cakes. Put the heat on medium again and add 2 T olive oil to the pan. Wait until it "shimmers," whatever that means (I just waited until it felt hot) and then take your cakes out of the fridge. Carefully use a spatula to get them into the pan. Mine definitely were not happy with me, though they basically stayed together. You can flip after 4-5 minutes, and this was the problematic part. Sure, they were nice and golden brown, but they fell apart rather spectacularly when flipped, and it isn't like a pancake when you can just push the sides back in. My suggestion would be to either make smaller cakes (see above) or just dump the quinoa all in the pan and toss it around a little.

Anyway, to assemble, throw your cakes (or pile of quinoa) on plates and then throw the ragu back in the pan. Bring to a simmer and add 1/2 cup diced smoked provolone (recipe says mozzarella but provolone is cheaper, the "smoked" part is what's important) and about a tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley. Cook thirty seconds and then dump over the cakes. Sprinkle with another 1/2 cup cheese. Eat.

Rita, my friend who also sampled my pumpkin flan for the October Blog Party, approved highly. However, we both thought it was far too much for two people (granted, I think it's intended for four). One cake and a fourth of the ragu makes a nice, filling meal. Also, it's delicious and has plenty of protein and vitamins. Whee!

Spiked Caramel Apple Cider

I admit that I tend to cop out a bit when it comes to Blog Party drinks. One of these days I'm going to make another impressive martini like I did with my first Blog Party, but I really don't drink much these days. In honour of the ridiculous cold lately, I decided to do something with one of the many flavoured cider packets I have lying around. This was a packet of Mott's caramel apple cider, paired with (classy) Jack Daniels and of course, hot water. The blur in the middle of the photo is on account of the fact that I had just finished stirring when I took it. Despite the lack of effort involved, this really was a tasty drink, warm and sweet to cut the whisky.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Fantastic recipe. Quinoa is probably my favorite grain. Nicely done.