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The Timid Chef

July 8, 2009

For over two decades, I have devoted my life (selflessly, I may add) to figuring out the activities in the world that I am bad at. This eliminates any and all possibilities for public humiliation (though somehow, I’ve found ways around this). After a discovery is made, I quickly find ways to avoid the activity forever, without a second thought. Some examples include:

  • Soccer – It’s a really good thing I live in the only country that ISN’T obsessed with this evil sport
  • Crocheting – I once turned a doily into a baby’s hat in sixth grade. My teacher gave me a sympathy B+ and we never spoke of it again
  • Mathematics – Anything that can’t be counted on my fingers (and toes) will not be counted
  • Cooking

GASP! Yes, I am a terrible cook. I remember actually burning clam chowder in front of my mother, and she almost passed out from the shame I must have brought to the family. To be fair, I have never devoted any energy or time to cooking before, and now all that is about to change.

Being surrounded by food aficionados and seasoned cooks at Oldways has inspired me to confront one of my most dreaded foes: the kitchen. It’s a fact that cooking my own meals with fresh ingredients will definitely be healthier for me in the long run. And so, I will start documenting my cooking trials and tribulations on here, to my chagrin and for your amusement. I can only ask you to proceed with an open mind; I never said I was the second coming of Rachael Ray here. It could get messy.

quinoa

THIS WEEK: Quinoa with Dried Cranberries, Spanish Almonds and Mint
(by Healthworks Fitness Boston Women’s Wellness Blog)

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup Spanish almonds
  • 1 bunch fresh mint
  • To Taste Ground Star Anise
  • 2 oz grape seed oil

Instructions:

  1. Boil the Quinoa in water until cooked (follow instructions on package for cooking). Remove from heat and reserve.
  2. Sauté the cranberries and Spanish almonds in grape seed oil.  Add the cooked quinoa and mint and serve.  Add ground Anise to taste.

I mainly picked this recipe because I always wanted to try quinoa. The Whole Grains Council website says: “…quinoa cooks in about 10-12 minutes, creating a light, fluffy side dish. Health bonus: The abundant protein in quinoa is complete protein, which means that it contains all the essential amino acids our bodies can’t make on their own.” This is important for me, since I’m not a huge meat-eater and I’m always trying to eat more protein.

I started out the recipe with frustration when I read the following: 1. Boil the Quinoa in water until cooked (follow instructions on package for cooking). At Whole Foods, where I bought the quinoa, they sell it in bulk, and there was no packaging to guide me. Turning to Google as I often do, the website Savvy Vegetarian told me to rinse the quinoa before boiling it, which proved to be most helpful. It cooked in about 20 minutes, perfect for those of us with little patience when it comes to cooking (must work on this).

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Next, the recipe asked me to “Sauté the cranberries and Spanish almonds in grape seed oil.” I stared at the word “sauté” for a good three whole minutes, and yet my brain still did not comprehend. I decided to pour the almonds and cranberries in a measuring cup and drizzle the grapeseed oil over them until it “looked” like 2 oz had been used. There is probably a much, much easier way to do this. Actually, I’m sure there is a much, much easier way to do it, but remember whom you are dealing with here. It ended up working out pretty well (I get lucky sometimes) though I think I could have scaled back on the oil just a bit.

At this point, I looked over to the quinoa and wow! It had expanded to three times its original size. There’s no other word to describe it than GORGEOUS, with an amazing aroma. It’s light, fluffy, golden and totally appetizing. I threw the almonds, cranberries, quinoa and a “bunch” of fresh mint together in a bowl (FYI to all future recipe authors: “bunch” means nothing to a rookie like me) and had to physically restrain myself from shoving it down my throat. However, there was one more ingredient to add.

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Luckily, I know quite a bit about anise. Growing up in an Italian family, it was always my job to help Nonny put sprinkles on the anisette cookies at Christmas. Therefore, I know exactly how powerful it is (and not just because I rubbed it into my eye when I was seven). I think I adhered to the recipe asking me to add a “taste Ground Star Anise” (seriously – what does that even mean?)

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I am quite literally glowing with pride in this picture. And why wouldn’t I be? I actually cooked a delicious meal and my house is still standing. Sure, it wasn’t the most complex recipe, but I think I can only go upwards in my cooking prowess. Anthony Bourdain will soon be touring my house like a foreign country, sampling foods and shouting, “WOW. This is unbelievable stuff!” I’ll just smile, congratulating myself on yet another masterpiece.

A girl can dream.

– Alison (The Timid Chef)

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2009 2:57 pm

    Hi Alison – so glad you’ve started a little cooking adventure! A tip: anise and star anise are actually not the same thing! Anise seed (what you have in your picture) is what’s usually called for in baking, and star anise (which comes in a star-shaped pod) is often used as a spice in cooking – it’s an ingredient in Chinese 5-spice powder, for example. They do taste similar, though, so I’m sure it didn’t affect your dish.

    If you have any cooking questions, don’t hesitate to ask 🙂 Good luck!

  2. July 10, 2009 3:26 pm

    Hi Mia,

    I know! When I was at Whole Foods, Anise seed was all they had available, so I just went with it. I think it still added just the perfect amount of “oompf” to the meal (does it sound like I know what I’m talking about yet?) Thanks for the tip though! And as always, if you or anyone you know wants to write another guest blog some time, go for it!

    – Alison

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