Every so often, I can’t think of any other way I'd rather spend my evening than spending it cooking. I devote my entire night to it – stopping at the grocery store after work, perusing the aisles, filling my basket with everything that catches my eye (half of which I usually have to put back, considering that everything catches my eye).
On the walk home, I dream up different ways to combine the ingredients in my bag, creating and recreating different combinations, imagining the tastes, dreaming the meal, and usually settling on a decision right as I make it to my front door.
Once home, I unpack my bag, preheat the oven, pour myself a glass of wine, put on some music, and get lost – lost in the sound of a burner igniting, the clang of pots being pulled from the cupboard, the sizzle of shallots thrown into hot oil, and the gentle bubble of water boiling.
It is nights like these when I relax. I don't cook to fulfill expectations, or to achieve recognition.
It is nights like these when cooking becomes organic, the ingredients honest. There is no measuring, no timing, no calculating.
It is nights like these when I don't cook to entertain or to satisfy any other person's needs than my own.
It’s improvisation at its best.
(These measurements are incredibly lose, as this recipe is not meant to be measured! Substitute any kind of vegetable or cheese, and add or omit whatever you see fit.)
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 shallot, sliced thinly
10 oz brussel sprouts, ends trimmed, halved, and any discolored leaves removed
3 medium-sized carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4-1/2 inch-thick coins
about 1/4 cup slivered almonds
about 1/2 cup fresh Farmer's cheese*
about 3 T balsamic vinegar
about 1 T dijon mustard
about 1/2 t honey
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Thoroughly rinse 1 cup quinoa in a fine strainer until water runs clear. Toast in a pan with a few teaspoons of olive oil, stirring regularly, until quinoa is separated and golden. Add 2 cups of water and 1 teaspoon salt, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cover. Cook until quinoa has absorbed water - about 12-15 minutes. Fluff with a fork, transfer to a large bowl, and set aside for later.
2. Place prepared brussel sprouts and carrots onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper or tin foil. Toss with about 1 T olive oil and 1 t salt. Place in preheated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, tossing periodically, until brussel sprouts are golden and carrots are a bit tender. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
3. While vegetables are cooking, add sliced shallot to a preheated pan with about 2 t olive oil. Sautee until golden and fragrant. Remove from heat.
4. Place almonds in a dry pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently until golden (keep an eye on these as they will burn quickly!!)
5. In a small bowl, whisk together about 3 T balsamic vinegar, 1 T Dijon mustard, 1/2 t honey, 2-3 T olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Add to quinoa, along with shallots, toasted almonds, and roasted vegetables. Crumble in Farmer's cheese and enjoy!
Quinoa is even more delicious the next day, so I strongly encourage bringing left-overs to work for lunch!
*Farmer's cheese is an unripened mild cheese, similar in taste to ricotta, but slightly firmer.