But oh no, it was all just part of the fun. (See resident baby-cook chortle.) In honor of the brand-new (er, what'd she say? infant?) year of 2006, what Belly-Timber really wanted was for everyone to cook with a baby something. Baby food. Baby lambs. Baby forks. Something baby.
(New to Paper Chef? It's a monthly food fest where foodies and food bloggers from all over the world head for their respective kitchens to cook with the same four ingredients -- this month the four are quinoa, cashews, yoghurt aka yogurt and the baby-something business. Then we all come together -- online of course -- to drool and compare. It's patterned after Food TV's Iron Chef though without the sweats and frowns. And it's great fun -- I recommend the experience to all! There's some pretty impressive cuisine that shows up but even the most creative and skillful Paper Chef participants are really nice to the rest of us. Besides, SOMEone has to show those guys what 'simple' really means.)
And so this aspiring Paper Chef donned her toque, well her apron anyway, and charged into the kitchen. As luck would have it, three of the four ingredients were on hand and and two needed using up. And the baby business took a quick visit to the produce department's baby vegetable section. I couldn't fathom $3 for five two-inch long carrots so pitched up $2 for a half pound of baby portobella mushrooms. Spare and simple? Those are my middle names February through December, let alone January. (To say nothing of frugal.) This baby cook was, ahem, a shoe-in.
And Oh, Baby! The pilaf turned out to be ... fabulous! The toasted quinoa was nutty-buttery from the cashews, the baby portobellas buttery-smooth and the fennel created undertones of nutty-sweetness. And much to my surprise since the pilaf itself had absolutely no heat, the yogurt-mint-cashew-butter raita was a big hit, especially after the flavors melded and, er, milded, a bit.
NEXT TIME I'd either double the vegetables or halve the quinoa. The vegetable:starch ratio was pretty typical but since a vegetable's a vegetable and a starch is a starch, I do like turning the proportions upside down. And while I wondered about both vegetables and dried fruit in the pilaf, it worked somehow, providing different textures and sources of sweetness.
PAPER CHEF FUN
September 2005: Reeling from Katrina, we cooked New Orleans-inspired beer, shrimp, sausage and tomatoes -- Hurricane Rice
December 2005: Imagining the 'other side of the world', we cooked with rice, carrots, anchovies and lamb from Down Under -- Swagman Stew.
RECIPE for QUINOA PILAF with RAITA
Time to table: 50 minutes for the pilaf and raita, 40 minutes for the pilaf alone
Makes 4 cups (so 8 side dish servings, 4 main course servings)
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons cashew butter
1 teaspoon minced ginger (from a jar)
Juice of a lime (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 medium bulb fennel, chopped fine
1 carrot, chopped fine
5 medium baby portobella mushrooms, sliced thin
1/2 cup cashew/pepita/dried fruit blend
1 cup quinoa
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper (none was needed tonight)
RAITA: Blend ingredients in a food processor (or the food processor attachment to an immersion blender). Transfer to a serving dish and set aside for flavors to meld.
PILAF: Melt the butter in a large skillet over MEDIUM HIGH. Add the onion, fennel, carrot and mushrooms as they're prepped, stirring with each addition to coat with fat, cooking gently until soft. Meanwhile, rinse and drain the quinoa, then add to the skillet and turn several times, letting the quinoa toast for 2 - 3 minutes. Add the broth, cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, checking every 5 minutes to make sure a simmer's being maintained and to stir. (This step took 20 minutes.) Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot with raita on the side.