Cheesy Quinoa with Sautéed Rainbow Swiss Chard

Hello! I’m back.

Transitioning into the full-time job lifestyle is not an easy task, but with every new week I settle more and more into a routine. The test kitchen is busy making delicious food (some of which they allow employees to take home!), and I’m learning more about new ingredients.

Take quinoa. I grew up with rice, pasta, barley, and farro, but quinoa is a relatively new grain for me and my family. I’ve tried the pre-packaged, pre-flavored kinds. Don’t go there. Buy the plain kind and doctor it up yourself. Do keep in mind that there are different types of quinoa (like red quinoa), and check to see if the quinoa is “pre-rinsed.” If not, then please rinse it yourself! Don’t do what I did once and have a dish of bitter quinoa. Rinsing the grain helps take that bitter layer off. Now I’m imagining those NBC commercials with that music playing as the celebrity says “the more you know…”

Swiss chard is my new favorite green, leafy vegetable. Unlike fibrous kale, the leaves are soft to the touch. Swiss chard’s more mild flavor comes to life when simply sautéed with extra virgin olive oil, minced garlic, and a splash of red wine vinegar. If you’re feeling like a healthy leafy vegetable but don’t want to stomach kale or spinach, I highly recommend swiss chard. I used rainbow chard over green chard. Why? The texture was more pleasing to my mouth, and, I mean, who doesn’t want to cook with a rainbow vegetable?

Cheesy Quinoa with Sautéed Swiss Chard
Cheesy Quinoa with Sautéed Swiss Chard

Cheesy Quinoa with Sautéed Swiss Chard takes less than 30 minutes to make—heaven to my ears after I come home from work.

Cheesy Quinoa with Sautéed Swish Chard

Quinoa

  • 1 cup white or red quinoa, rinsed if the package does not say “pre-rinsed”
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup grated monterey jack cheese (you can also use sharp cheddar, smoked gouda, gruyere, fontina…any nice melting cheese)
  • 3 tablespoons light cream
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper to taste

Swiss Chard

  • 1 bunch of fresh swiss chard, washed
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste

1. First, prepare the swiss chard by washing each leaf thoroughly in cold water. Stack the leaves one on top of the other and then chop horizontally, so pieces will be about an inch wide. Unlike kale’s stems that are difficult to cook down, swiss chard’s stems become tender right along with the leaf. I usually chop the whole leaf and a little of the remaining stem. Set your washed and chopped swiss chard aside.

2. If your quinoa is not pre-rinsed, grab a fine-mesh colander or a bowl and rinse the quinoa under cold water for about 30 seconds. If your quinoa is pre-rinsed, then you can skip this step.

3. With a cheese grater, grate 1/2 cup of monterey jack cheese (or the cheese of your choice). Set that aside.

4. Now, I like to go back and cook my swiss chard. First, peel and mince two cloves of garlic. In a medium-large pot, add three tablespoons of olive oil. Turn the heat up to medium high and add your minced garlic, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Let the garlic sizzle for about 30 seconds.

5. Add your swiss chard and mix around with tongs. Put the lid on the pot to let the swiss chard wilt.

6. After about 2 minutes, take the lid off the pot and mix the swiss chard around with tongs once again. Let the swiss chard cook until the liquid is almost evaporated. This should take about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the red wine vinegar. Mix it around again and have a taste. You can add more seasoning, vinegar, or oil to your taste. Let that lovely veg sit.

7. Now, for that quinoa. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add one cup of quinoa and let it simmer for about 10-15 minutes, or until the liquid evaporates.

8. Add your shredded cheese, light cream, and salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper to taste. Mix the quinoa until the cheese has melted. Taste and see if you need to add more seasoning or cheese. If you would like the quinoa to have a thinner consistency, add more light cream. Tailor the dish to your taste!

While I love pasta, quinoa provides a toothsome, protein-filled alternative to your traditional mac and cheese. You will feel energized after eating this meal, rather than feel like you’re in a food coma.

How do you cook quinoa? Do you love swiss chard as much as I do, or prefer another leafy vegetable? Let me know your thoughts!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Advertisements

Baked Cod with Garlic and Herb Bread Crumbs

Baking fish is a new frontier for me. I loved eating salmon and lobster as a kid, but for some reason my taste buds changed and I just could not eat fish from middle school through most of college. Slowly but surely, my appreciation for seafood is coming back. I can eat salmon, cod, scrod, and other fresh white fish. I’m warming up to lobster and scallops again, and I can maybe stand a well-cooked piece of fried calamari. Freshness is absolutely crucial for me when it comes to fish. Does anyone want to eat fish that repulsively smells fishy? I hope not. Some seafood naturally smells like the sea, and that is completely acceptable. There is a difference between fresh-like-the-sea-fishy smell and old-fishy smell. Fish is also extremely good for your health with omega-3 fatty acids. If you are concerned about both omega-3 and environmental friendliness, here is a good resource for the best fish to buy. If you live in or near a coastal area, go to your local fish market and ask the workers there about how they fish and which fish are freshest that day.

Another dish I made with my parents while in Cape Cod was, you guessed it, baked cod. I went to the fish market with my Dad to learn what to look for in a good piece of fish. You want the piece to be fairly thick with a good, translucent white color, like this:

Good, Fresh Cod
Good, Fresh Cod

Buying fresh fish ensures that your fish will not taste the bad kind of fishy, and this is especially the truth for white fish.

Baked Cod with Garlic Herb Bread Crumbs

  • 1 long, thick fillet of fresh cod
  • 2 shallots (or 1/2 onion)
  • 1-2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sherry
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of Ritz cracker crumbs and/or fresh bread crumbs (You can use plain bread crumbs or panko, too)
  • 2 tablespoons grated pecorino romano cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Chop your shallots, and parsley. You can chop the garlic or crush the garlic with a garlic press.

3. Saute the shallots (and/or onion) and crushed garlic in the butter and olive oil.

4. When the shallots/onions and garlic are translucent, add about 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and a tablespoon of sherry.

5. Add your spices: salt and pepper to taste, 1/4 teaspoon of curry powder, and the chopped fresh parsley.

6. Add the crushed Ritz cracker crumbs, fresh bread crumbs, or plain/panko bread crumbs to the pan. You can use a combination of crumbs, but my parents say they’ve had most success with either Ritz or fresh bread crumbs. Combine until moist. You can also add grated cheese here too. You want a moist (not soggy) crumb mixture so that it stays on the fish. Add a little more melted butter or olive oil if you need the mixture to be more moist.

7. Spoon the crumb mixture onto the cod.

Garlic Herb Crumb Mixture on Cod
Garlic Herb Crumb Mixture on Cod

8. Put in fish in the oven and start by baking it for 25 minutes. You want the fish to be white and flaky in the middle, not translucent or raw looking. You can continue to cook it at 5 minute intervals until it becomes white and flaky when checked.

Baked to perfection!
Baked to perfection!

Note: We had plain bread crumbs in our kitchen, so the cod shown here is how it looks with that. Comment with any questions or results from baking your own fresh fish!

The DeMichele Family Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce, where do I begin? Prose does not suffice.

Ode to Tomato Sauce by Kristina DeMichele

Garlic simmering, tomato paste hissing as it hits hot olive oil.

Footsteps running, tripping down the stairs to help squeeze the abundant juices of fresh tomatoes into the pot.

Fingers ripping basil into pieces, aroma emanating from the leaf.

Salt, pepper, garlic powder, shake-shake-shaking into the mixture, seasoning.

Wooden spoon so large its called “Big Papi,” stirring ingredients together.

This is what it means to cook tomato sauce.


If I had to eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would be pasta and tomato sauce. Could I ever get tired of it? Never! As a little girl, some of my best memories in the kitchen are with my Dad, squeezing tomatoes in my hands, ripping pieces of basil into the pot. To my knowledge, there was one particular sauce-making session where I, kneeling on my stool with face parallel to liquid, sneezed directly into the sauce. My Dad still cooked that sauce up, though I’m sure it tasted a little bit like “Kristina.” When I make this sauce myself, it only takes the scent of the garlic in olive oil or the aroma of the basil to bring me back to my childhood kitchen. My great grandmother, Nonnie Ricca, created this recipe. With every batch of sauce I create, I feel that unmistakable connection to her, too.

I’ll be linking to this post frequently, as I’m about to share with you my family’s simple, yet delicious tomato sauce.

Tomato Sauce

Yield: 2-4 servings

  • olive oil (enough to create a .25 inch depth in your pot)
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic
  • 2 cans of Pastene or Cento crushed, ground, or “kitchen ready” tomatoes (or 1 can ground tomatoes, 1 can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes)
  • 1/2 can of tomato paste, if using whole peeled tomatoes (use a whole can if making the recipe larger)
  • a bunch of fresh basil or frozen fresh basil (use as much as you want, but be sure you include at least a generous handful)
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • garlic powder to taste

1. Take out a medium-large pot and fill the pot with olive oil, enough so that the oil is about .25 inches deep.

2. Then, peel your garlic cloves, but leave them whole. Turn on your burner to medium heat and put your garlic cloves into the pot with olive oil. Allow the oil to warm up and wait for those garlic cloves to sizzle. Now, you need to watch the garlic carefully. Wait until the garlic cloves become light brown in color, and then take them out with a slotted spoon. Tip: You can save these garlic cloves for another dish, or you can chop up this garlic and add it to the sauce later. My sister does this!

3. Turn off the heat and place the pot onto an unused burner.

  • If you are using whole peeled tomatoes, this is when you will insert your tomato paste. Taking care of the hot oil, place the tomato paste gently into the pot (do not let the paste just “plop” into the pot, you will burn yourself). Stir the paste around for about 30-45 seconds.
  • If you are using two cans of kitchen ready tomatoes, then you will not use tomato paste.
Look for this can!

4. Open your cans of tomatoes. Pour the kitchen ready tomatoes directly into the pot. You can always rinse out the can with a little water. Do not add too much water, though, as this will thin out your sauce. If using whole tomatoes, take each tomato, break it apart into pieces with your hands, and add these pieces to the pot (this was my favorite part as a kid)! Add the extra liquid from the can in the sauce.

5. Now, take your basil and wash it all in a colander. Pick each basil leaf off of the stem and rip the basil into pieces with your hands. If you cut the basil with a knife, the basil will bruise. Not so pretty. Place these ripped pieces into the pot. Enjoy the aroma!

6. To season the sauce, all you need is what I call the “spice trifecta” – salt, pepper, and garlic powder. This is where I tell you to eyeball it. You can do it! Add enough of these seasonings to cover the liquid in a thin layer, and add enough seasoning for you. It’s better to err on the side of caution and add more later than to add too much at first.

7. Mix these beautiful ingredients together. Put the sauce back on medium heat and let the mixture come to a soft boil. Let the lid rest on the pot, but do not completely close it. You can also take the lid off the pot if you need your sauce mixture to come thicker. Stir the sauce at least every 10 minutes. Let the sauce cook for about 45-60 minutes, depending on the amount of sauce you make and the desired thickness/richness you wish to have.

The DeMichele Family Tomato Sauce (with Meatballs, recipe coming soon)
The DeMichele Family Tomato Sauce (with Meatballs, recipe coming soon)

There you have it! This particular recipe is good for 2-4 people, depending on how hungry you all are. You are encouraged to multiply this recipe and make a big batch for yourself. Leftovers are the best to freeze and have later!

Tips:

  • We have a massive garden in my Ohio home affectionately called “Fort DeMichele.” Our tomato and basil crop resides there. If you can grow and crush your own tomatoes, what a treat! The tomato sauce comes out all the sweeter.
  • When fresh basil is hard to find in the later fall and winter, buy or grow lots of fresh basil and freeze it in ziploc bags. When you make sauce in winter, just crush the frozen basil in the bag with your hands and pour it into the sauce.
  • For grated cheese, use pecorino romano. The flavor is a little saltier and possesses much more of a bite than parmesano reggiano. You can certainly use parmesano reggiano, but you will have a nuttier, more subtle flavor than if you use pecorino romano.

Plain tomato sauce is an amazing base for several recipes. In forthcoming posts, I will detail how to add meat to the sauce and how to use this sauce in other recipes. For now, try making this tomato sauce! Comment with thoughts, questions, or even results of your own.