Roasted Butternut Squash Mole Enchiladas

People often ask me how I cook with Jackson around. In We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook, I wrote about how cooking with him was kind of like cooking on an obstacle course. For a long time, that was what it felt like. But recently, I realized at this stage–the two’s–cooking with him is one of the easiest things on my to-do list to accomplish with him around. Not easy…but it’s something he’s come to feel at ease around. It’s kind of “our” thing.

I left him with a friend the other day for a few minutes and when I returned she shared this little conversation they had.

Sarah: Do you have a dog?
Jackson: No, I have a mommy.
Sarah: Oh, well that’s almost as good as a dog.
Jackson: Yeth, I cook with mommy.

Well, there you have it. Dogs don’t make very good cooking companions for kids, but mommies are very good for that.

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My other to-dos don’t have the same smiley affect on him. Writing with him around. Yeah right. Phone calls. Let’s just say, the last conference call I was on with our editor, I had to muffle the phone while I hollered, “Jackson, don’t stick your head through the fence” and then again while he hollered, “Noooooo! Don’t wipe meeee!” as I was trying to discreetly potty train mid-call.

Cooking is mostly a piece of cake…because he can participate, he can be a helper. And even when he can’t help with something like chopping onions, he’s still content because we’re together and I’m talking to him, not somebody else on the phone or looking at a computer screen.

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And with a little creativity, there’s almost always a way to get a child involved in the cooking if they want to be.

Butternut Squash Puzzle

I don’t cook every day, but the days I do, the moments we are in the kitchen together, are often the moments we enjoy the most. The kitchen is a place where our lives intersect, where my almost 30-year old female joys and interests cross with my two-year old little boy’s interests. I don’t have to pretend that the lego tower we just built is the tallest most amazing piece of architecture I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t have to be patient with me as I make a quick call or pick up groceries. The smells of cloves and cinnamon, the colorful block puzzle from butternut squash, the sound of the blender engine purring excite us both. We don’t have to pretend. We just have to be. Together.

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Roasted Butternut Squash Mole Enchiladas

Serves 4

5 cups diced butternut squash

1 tablespoon oil (canola, olive, grapeseed)

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

8-10 corn tortillas

1/2 cup raisins, soaked for 10 minutes in warm water and drained (optional)

2 cups Mole Sauce (I used this easy recipe from Vegetarian Times)*

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Preheat oven to 400. Toss butternut sqaush with canola oil, brown sugar, chili powder, and cinnamon. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until tender and cooked through. Resist temptation to eat all the squash now.

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Reduce oven temp to 350. Ladle 1/2 cup mole sauce into bottom of a 9×13 casserole dish.  Wrap corn tortillas in a damp paper towel and heat in microwave for about 30 seconds, just enough to warm them up and make them pliable. Dip corn tortilla into mole sauce. Fill with about two tablespoons of butternut squash and a sprinkle of raisins. Roll up. Repeat. Ladle a generous amount of sauce on top. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

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I didn’t put the raisins in when I took pictures, but I should have! I added them to the top and it really made the dish, so I incorporated them into the final recipe.

Serve with black or wild rice. The nuttiness from the black rice went perfectly with this dish. 

*I blended half of the sauce this time. I think I’d leave it unblended next time though, because it was a lot prettier unblended.

On a really rough day, cooking these Spinach & Mushroom Mole Enchiladas and Roasted Butternut Squash Enchiladas (not pictured) with Jackson was the bright spot, the only time in a full day that all was well in our wold, the two of us cooking side by side happy to be doing something we both love together. (Then came the epic awful, rocking him for an hour and half because that's all that was left in me, awful night.)

Same sauce unblended on spinach and mushroom enchiladas. Much much prettier, eh?


Pineapple Chicken Stack Ups

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(Becky, the Mama)

I have literally been making this recipe for 30 years!

As a newlywed and college student,  one of my best friends was Brenda Scott.  We both married young (I was 17 and she was 18),  so we swapped recipes and sometimes cooked together, too, trying to learn our way around the kitchen. One day we whipped up chocolate chip cookies in my small duplex kitchen. We  each took a bite of a cookie at the same time, then both ran to spit it out in the sink, reaching for water to quench our sudden thirst.

 “Becky, what did I do wrong?” Brenda asked, her Texas accent thick. “These taste like pure salt!”

I held up a clear canister that I’d filled with salt. (I never bothered with pesky things like “labels.”)

She looked at me, her eyes wide with confusion.  “Who keeps salt in canister?”

All I could do, since I was laughing so hard, was to point to myself and shrug.

Eventually we both had children,  and on a visit for lunch in her home,  our kids everywhere around us, Brenda served this sweet-savory dish called Pineapple Chicken Stack-Ups.  She thinks she may have found the recipe on the back of a Dole Pineapple can.  Wherever she found it, for me, it was love at first bite. The toasted English muffin is smeared with a savory mayo dolled up with dill and chopped green onions, then layered with  pineapple slices (fresh or canned),  a piece of cooked boneless chicken (thighs or breasts or even tenders),  a little more sauce and sprinkle of grated cheese… popped in the oven for about 10 minutes, and dinner is served.   (All you need is a simple salad on the side.)

I went home from Brenda’s house and made this recipe that very evening and have been making them on a regular basis for 30 years now, as long as Brenda and I have been friends, as long as we’ve been laughing together about our own foibles .  (I should mention she went on to become one of the finest nurses you can imagine.  Since I still forget to label things, I decided not to inflict my personality on the medical world, and eventually turned to writing humor as a career.)  I mentioned these Pineapple Chicken Stack Ups to Rachel  the other day and she said, “I loved those! And see? There’s proof you DID actually cook for us when we were kids.”  My youngest son, Gabe, chimed in as well.  “I loved those things, too!”

 You can make as many “stack ups”  as you want (and can fit) on a cookie sheet by increasing the recipe, which is really easy to do.  Because they spend very little time in the oven, they make a nice summer meal.   Perfect for fancy ladies luncheons, too, as you can construct them ahead of time, and then pop them in the oven to heat and melt at the last minute.  This recipe is also easily veganized by subbing Veganaise for the mayo;  cooked vegan chik’n cutlets, and vegan cheese.   I used fresh pineapple this time, but when the kids were young, and time short,  I reached for a can of pineapple rings and the results were still yummy.

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Brenda’s Pineapple Chicken Stack Ups

Makes 4 servings   (If your gang is hungry, they might eat 2 of these each, making the yield just 2 servings)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Ingredients:

2 English muffins, split into 4 halves, and lightly toasted (I prefer multigrain)

4 boneless chicken thighs or smallish chicken breasts , seasoned with salt & pepper,  and cooked on both sides, in a skillet, in a little olive oil until golden brown (or a vegan “chik’n” substitute)

1/2 cup mayonnaise (vegans use veganaise )

2 T. chopped green onions

1 T. dried dill or 2 T. fresh dill

4 fresh or canned pineapple slices

1/3 cup grated cheddar cheese (vegans use a dairy-less cheese)

Directions:

Mix mayo, green onions and dill together in a small bowl.  (Don’t skip the dill, it is truly what makes this dish special!) Spread the toasted muffin halves, cut side up, with a heaping Tablespoon of the may0-dlll-onion sauce.  Place the muffins on a cookie sheet or large baking pan, leaving at least 2 inches between them.  Next, place a slice of pineapple on each muffin.  Then carefully lay  one piece of boneless cooked chicken on top of the pineapple, followed by another scant tablespoon of mayo-dill-onion sauce and finally a heaping tablespoon of grated cheese on top of it all.

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Stack Ups Ready for the Oven!

Carefully pop in the oven and let heat through until cheese is melted on top for about 10 minutes.

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Roasted Tomato and Sweet Pepper Pasta Sauce

Roasted Tomato and Sweet Pepper Pasta Sauce

There comes a time in every gardener’s life when they ask themselves, “What am I going to do with all these tomatoes?” And until that day comes for me, I will pull up my dead plants with my black thumbs, quietly curse those gardeners under my breath, and smile graciously when they offer up some of their overwhelming bounty to me.

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I’ll display them on the counter for a day or so until I can’t take their mockery anymore.

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And then I will cook my way out of despair.

Roasted Tomato and Sweet Pepper Pasta Sauce

And remember the gifts I can offer my family, even if a plentiful vegetable garden is not one of them.

Roasted Tomato and Sweet Pepper Pasta Sauce

Instead, I will slow roast my way into their hearts with sweet peppers, carrots, onions, and garlic (store bought, but flavorful nonetheless), garden tomatoes (generously given to this less fortunate gardener), and a few sad looking twigs of rosemary and oregano (just barely surviving in my garden of doom).

Roasted Tomato and Sweet Pepper Pasta SauceAnd I’ll bring those flavors together in one delightful pureed sauce. My husband will declare that he may never eat jarred sauce again. My toddler will slurp his pasta up with messy reckless abandon. And I will stand over the pot eating the sweet rich roasted sauce by the spoonful, my self esteem having made a complete (near manic) turn for the better.

For those of you who feel the need to do something good and right by your family, I give you this recipe. It will restore their faith in you, and your faith in yourself.

Roasted Tomato and Sweet Pepper Pasta Sauce

Roasted Tomato and Sweet Pepper Pasta Sauce

Serves 6

Ingredients

~ 3 pounds of tomatoes (I don’t have a scale, but I used about 12-15 smallish tomatoes), cut in half
~15 mini sweet peppers (or 3 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers), cut in half and seeded
1 carrot, peeled and sliced thin
1 red onion, quartered
8 garlic cloves, peeled
2 twigs fresh rosemary, removed from stem (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon fresh oregeno, removed from stem (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
generous sprinkle of fresh cracked pepper

1/2 teapoon salt
1/2 teaspoon molasses (or brown sugar)
handful of fresh parsley, rough chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)

Other: 1 lb pasta, cooked (I used whole wheat thin spaghetti, use gluten-free if needed)

Directions

Heat oven to 400. Put chopped vegetables and herbs on a large deep-sided roasting pan or dish. Stuff the garlic cloves into the tomatoes so they don’t burn. Drizzle with olive oil and toss with salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.

Carefully pour the veggies and their sauces into a  pot on the stove and use an immersion blender to puree the vegetables. (If you don’t have an imersion blender, let the veggies cool to room temperature, then transfer to a blender or food processor and puree. Then pour into a pot on the stove.) Add parsley, salt, and molasses. Bring to a boil and then reduce to low heat. Simmer for 30 minutes. My sauce was thick already, so I simmered with the lid on, but if you have really juicy tomatoes, you may want to simmer with the lid off until you reach the desired consistency. Check for seasoning. Adding more salt or molasses (adds sweetness and cuts acidity) as needed.

Variations

Make it Salsa: This base recipe could easily be turned into a salsa by switching up the seasonings — add a few jalapenos and cilantro, omit rosemary, oregeno, and parsley. Pulse in the food processor for a chunkier version. Would be delicious served hot or cold with chips.

Make it Soup: Add a little broth or cream for a delicious roasted tomato and pepper soup.

Make it a Meal: While you’re simmering the sauce and the oven is still hot, roast up some chickpeas tossed in olive oil and Italian seasoning for a crunchy protein-filled topping. Wilt some spinach into the sauce in the last five minutes to sneak in some greens.

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Roasted Tomato and Sweet Pepper Pasta Sauce -- Laugh, Cry, Cook


Savory Turkey Burgers with Quick Mango Red Pepper Chutney

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(Becky, the Mama.)

A family story pops up almost every Thanksgiving.   Decades ago, my adorable cousin Kenny, about age five, tiny and wearing enormous glasses took a bite of the day’s celebrated roast bird, smiled, and then with a slow southern munchkin voice, asked my mom, “What kind of chicken is this Aunt (pronounced “Ain’t”) Ruthie?  Tur-key?”

I must confess, I’m not a big fan of turkey (even cousin Kenny’s “chicken kind of turkey”) — as it too often tends toward dry and flavorless.  I’ve found three exceptions, however.  One is a  recipe for marinated grilled turkey tenderloin. Moist, delicious,  a family favorite.  Another is a savory-sweet recipe for Asian turkey meatballs.  Finally there is this creation for savory turkey burgers loaded with flavor and topped with a sweet and spicy quick mango red pepper chutney.  It’s beautiful on a serving plate, plus budget and waistline friendly dish. Yummy paired with a side of jasmine rice and my simple sesame avocado  cucumber salad.  For vegans or vegetarians,  trying grilling Field Roast Apple Sage Sausages, and then simmer them in the sauce a few minutes before serving.

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Savory Turkey Burgers with Quick Mango Red Pepper Chutney

Makes 6 to 8 patties depending on size you prefer

Burgers

1 lb ground turkey (you can also use ground beef if you prefer)

1 lb  sweet Italian turkey sausage, out of casing and crumbled

2 t. seasoned salt or grill seasoning

1 egg

1/3 c. soft bread crumbs

Sauce

½ cup chicken or veggie broth

1 /4 c. brown sugar

1 T. Dijon mustard

1/3 c. red wine or balsamic vinegar

Pinch salt and pepper

1 fresh mango diced (Or 3/4 c. fresh pineapple, chopped, is also delicious if you prefer)

1 roasted red pepper, diced

2 green onions, chopped

Directions:

Mix the ingredients for turkey burgers together and form into patties, any size you like.   Grill or sauté with a little olive oil until brown and caramelized on the outside, cooked through on the inside.  (You can cover the pan once the burgers are brown on the outside and let simmer a bit more if they need to cook through more on the inside.) Remove from pan to a plate, cover with foil to keep warm and let juices redistribute.   To the same skillet, add veggie broth, brown sugar, mustard and vinegar to skillet. Turn heat on high to bring to boil and then back heat down to a simmer,  until sauce begins to get thicken.. Add mango, red pepper and onions, pinch salt and pepper continue to cook until the chutney is hot again.  Serve a spoonful of warm sauce over turkey patties.

Vegan or Vegetarian Alternative: Use Field Roast Apple Sage Sausages, split down the middle length-wise. Brown in a little olive oil, then continue recipe above.

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The Title: Savory Turkey Burgers with Quick Mango Red Pepper Chutney
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Quick Skillet BBQ Chicken Thighs (or “Calm Down” Chicken)

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(Becky, the Mama)

We have been cleaning, decluttering and staging our house to sell. That sentence sounds so simple, but this has been the hardest physical work I’ve done in my life. I actually lost weight, even though –during the dawn to dark labor — I went on a two week drive-through-burger diet. And this, after two months of being mostly a healthy vegetarian and loving it. What can I say? Even for an avid foodie, there are times that McDonalds Happens.

Now we are “showing our house” — and this means that three adults and one six-year-old grandson have to keep our home mostly perfect, at all times, prepared for the random call from a realtor who wants to bring a client by to see it. We’ve been averaging about two showings a day, which has really cut into my napping and cooking time. Not to mention the toll it has taken on what’s left of my sanity.

Finally, this week, I had a few precious “spare” minutes and –determined not to eat another meal in a box, sack, or bucket –I decided to cook my simple recipe for quick bar-b-que chicken thighs in a skillet. My grandson George’s diet that day consisted of way too much sugar and carbs. He’d been hyper and cranky when I finally settled him down to eat a plate of this succulent, sweet and savory chicken dish. He ate as if in a happy trance, and then asked, “Nonny, can I please have some more of that Calm Down Chicken?”

If your life is a busy as mine right now, you don’t have time for lots of ingredients or a great big mess or something that’s going to take more than 10 minutes to throw together for supper. I bequeath to you this recipe for “Calm Me Down” BBQ Chicken Thighs.

P.S. An additional recipe comment from George: “Nonny, tell the people that this chicken also gives you en-gerny and makes yous muscles strong.” So there ya go.

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Nonny and Georgie, happy together. This day he was a musician at Kindergarten Circus. But more often he is my sous chef.

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Quick n’ Easy Skillet BBQ Chicken Thighs (or “Calm Down” Chicken)
Serves 2-3 people

Ingredients

6 boneless chicken thighs
Grill or Steak seasoning (or your favorite seasoned salt)
1/3 to ½ c. BBQ Sauce (I like Sweet Baby Ray’s)
Dash hot sauce if you like your Bar-b-que Spicy
1 – 2 T. olive oil

Directions

Put oil in a skillet (preferably an iron skillet), so that it covers the bottom of your pain in a thin layer. Turn the stove up to high heat. Rinse chicken thighs with water and then pat with paper towel until fairly dry. Flatten out the thighs a bit with your hands, and then sprinkle both sides with grill or steak seasoning or seasoned salt. Place in super hot skillet, being careful not to overcrowd. Cook until one side is golden brown and then flip and cook the other side until it is the same. Pour BBQ Sauce over the top of the thighs (adding a few shakes of hot sauce if you prefer spice), cover the skillet and then turn down the heat to medium and cook about another minute (to make they are thoroughly cooked). Finally remove the lid, crank heat up to medium high and cook the thighs until the sauce that has dripped to the bottom of the pan begans to thicken and caramelize. Turn chicken again, coating all sides with thickened sauce. Serve. (It is delicious and pretty to serve this on one big plate, with slices of fresh pineapple tucked around and if you like them, a sprinkle of green onions or chives.)

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Simple Lentil Soup

Simple Lentil Soup

Last week Jackson and I flew to Colorado to stay at my mom’s for a few days. It was one of the best visits we’ve had there. Jackson adores his Nonny and Poppy and he’s finally big enough to really play with his big cousin George, whom he thinks hung the moon. Jackson asks for George every day. Every single day. So we watch a lot of videos to hold him over between visits. And George is so good and patient with his little cousin.

The day we flew in, May 1, it snowed and snowed and snowed all day. Not your typical spring visit, but we made the best of it. It’s not every year you see snow in May.

Cousins George and Jackson, buddies for life.

Cousins George and Jackson, buddies for life.

No time like snow time to learn to ride a bike.

No time like snow time to learn to ride a bike.

This Texas boy has never seen this much snow. He loved it.

This Texas boy has never seen this much snow. He loved it.

The next day, we had pictures scheduled for the book. The sun came out, the snow mostly melted and we were able to get some great shots thanks to our fabulous photographer Molly McMillan. This one will be used for the back cover.

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Because one of us is usually behind the camera, I don’t have many pictures of me and my mom. These pictures are one of the many blessings that have come from doing this blog and book together.

After the photo shoot, we were pretty wiped out…and hungry! We both declared we were retiring from our one-day modeling career. Way too much work and not enough food!

With my sister-in-law Julie heading back to the house with the boys and Greg (mom’s husband) on his way home, we quickly transitioned from top models to cooks in the kitchen. Mom was going to run to the grocery store to get fixins for Messy Greek Sandwiches and Reubens and I’d get started on some kind of soup to go along. I rummaged through her pantry and held up a bag of lentils, “How about lentil soup?” “Perfect! I’ve had those lentils for months and wasn’t sure what to do with them,” she admitted. “Oh it’s so easy,” I told her. “It takes no time to get started and will be finished simmering by the time you’re back from the store.”  Mom headed to the grocery store and I got started chopping onions and carrots. By the time Julie walked in with Jackson and George, I had the soup covered and simmering, happy to step out of my author/foodie hat and into mommy and auntie role again.

Mom came home from the store and said the house smelled just like her Nonny’s, my great grandmother’s, kitchen. I didn’t know her well, but I’ve heard story after story of her in the kitchen. She was quite the cook. One of my favorite pictures of her is one of her standing in her old 1950s kitchen with a yellow apron tied around her neck. Something about recreating the comforting tastes and smells from her kitchen makes me feel connected to her. I can imagine her cooking up a simple soup like this to feed her nine children on their very tight budget.

What foods and smells bring back childhood memories for you?

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Simple Lentil Soup

Makes 3.5 quarts

1/2 cup onion (~1 small or 1/4 big onion), diced
4 carrots, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
Olive oil (enough to coat pan)
1 lb lentils, sorted for rocks and rinsed
8 cups veggie broth (2 quarts)
1 32 oz can diced fire roasted tomatoes
2 teaspoons steak seasoning
Salt to taste (may not need if broth has salt)

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In a large pot, sauté onions, carrots, and celery in olive oil (or 1/2 cup of broth for a no fat version) with a pinch of salt until softened. Add lentils and tomatoes and broth. Cover and bring to boil. Uncover and lower to a simmer. Cover and simmer on med low for 20-30 min until lentils are cooked through. Season with steak seasoning and salt if needed.

I served this with crackers, roasted brussel sprouts, and smoky garlicky collard greens. It was husband and toddler approved.

Notes: I’ve found the type of pan and burner I use causes cook times to vary a lot. My heavy duty pans cook much quicker on my flat top stove than my old cheapies that don’t have that nice heavy flat bottoms…so cooking times may vary. It took closer to 45 minutes to cook on my mom’s gas stove top, but I think I may have left the pot uncovered there. If your pots tend to heat up slowly, give yourself some extra time.

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Quinoa Mango Black Bean Burrito

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(Becky, the Mama.)

Okay.  I have an honest confession.  If there were a support group for it, I should have joined.  Here it is:  I’m afraid of quinoa.  Not of eating it, mind you.  I actually love it and I know it is a vegetarian’s friends, full of all good things.  One cup of the nutty, fluffy tasty grain provides over 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, along with goodies like magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium and all for around 220 calories

My first encounter with quinoa was all positive: my daughter-in-law Julie took me to an adorable coffee shop called The Red Cup in Mukilteo, Washington, overlooking the water.  The kind of cafe with bright funky colors alongside soothing bohemian baristas in Birkenstocks and granny skirts.

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They serve an organic warm, tasty burrito stuffed with quinoa and cheese that comes with tangy fresh mango salsa.   I’ve often thought how much I’d like to try recreating one of those burritos, but I found my mind braking at this thought: “Oh, no, I’ll have to learn how to make quinoa.”

Finally, I told my daughter-the-vegan that I have a quinoa-making phobia.  Her response? “Mom, you are going to laugh at yourself when you find out how ridiculously easy it is.  Just use your $10.00 cheap-o rice maker and pretend it is rice.”

So today I faced down my fears. I marched to my rice maker, poured a cup of quinoa and 1 ¼ cups of water into the bowl, turned it on, then walked away slowly.  When I returned, hesitantly, 15 minutes later… a miracle had occurred.  The tiny little beads had burst and turned nutty and fluffy and … awesome.

The rest was easy and familiar: I grilled a tortilla, sprinkled a little cheese around, then layered quinoa, black beans, salsa, mango,cilantro and chopped green onions.  Rolled that baby up, cut it in half at a diagonal. and dipped it in a bit more salsa mixed with diced mango.

I was immediately transported to that café in Seattle.

Just give me some Birkenstocks and a granny skirt and call me the “Quinoa Queen.”

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Quinoa Mango Black Bean Burrito

Serves 1

1 medium to large Tortilla (white or wheat, I prefer Tortilla Land brand)

1/4 -1/3 cup grated cheese, depending on preference
1/3 cup cooked quinoa, warmed (click for Rachel’s simple directions)
2 T. black beans, warmed
1/4 c. diced mango, divided
Sprig cilantro, rough chopped (optional)
1 green onion chopped 
1/4 cup salsa

Grill tortilla on both sides until brown in spots, hot and pliable. (Use a bit of olive oil if needed to keep from sticking.)
Layer cheese, quinoa, black beans, 2 T. magno, cilantro and onion.

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Tuck in two sides and then roll up into a burrito. Cut on the diagonal, in half. Mix salsa with remaining mango and serve alongside the burrito.

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