The beauty of wine and food pairings: Carmenere meets quinoa mushroom risotto

Quinoa Mushroom Risotto

I’m a quinoa lover. Although I love my animal protein, this savory, high protein grain is a savior to many vegetarians. Quinoa originated in the Andes mountains and is super versatile, has a uniquely nutty flavor and substitutes for practically any nutritionally neutral grain (think white rice or pasta). I featured a mushroom and quinoa risotto on my site late last year, but this recipe — recently enjoyed at a wine luncheon — sadly puts it to shame in the flavor department. The host chef, Ruth Van Warebeek, works for Concha y Toro in Chile and she paired this delectable recipe with a 2011 Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere (CAR min YARE), a grape originally from France now happily residing in Chile’s welcoming climes and soils. Marques de Casa Concha created a soft, silky yet robust Carmenere that cozies up to food in a friendly way.

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Low and slow recipe: Lemon and herb marinated grilled chicken

Grilled Lemon Herb Chicken

During the summer in northern California, I try to maximize any and all time outdoors. Cooking food on the grill gives me an excuse to sit outside, sip wine, eat snacks and chill while the deliciousness finishes grilling. This recipe for grilled chicken takes about 45 minutes to marinate and an hour to cook so it lends itself more to weekend fare rather than weekday. Unless it’s vacation, and that’s even better. The marinade, since it contains acid from the lemon juice to penetrate the chicken’s meaty fibers, really soaks in, so the flavor seeps all the way through. If you skip the long marinade time, it will lose some of that flavor so stick with the recipe. Best if you use bone in chicken but if you choose boneless, reduce the marinade time to 30 minutes.

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Recipe: Easy meatloaf, comfort food goodness in 20 minutes

Meatloaf made in the microwave

I know… meatloaf ain’t sexy. But this hunk of ground beef, cooked to-juicy-perfection comfort food wins any and all races to the heart. Nestle it next to a fluffy scoop of mashed potatoes and green beans and you experience a little piece of heaven. And there have been some technological advances in the heavenly art of meatloaf making. This recipe is on the plate within 20 minutes because it makes use of a machine we normally use for reheating leftovers — the microwave. In 40 minutes faster than the traditional oven.

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Recipe for quick yet super tasty pork: Chinese Szechuan Pork

Pork tenderloin, the other white meat, can be as bland as the first, official white meat, chicken. But like chicken or especially tofu, it absorbs spices like it’s begging for them. Szechuan cuisine (aka Sichuan or Szechwan) is a type of spicy cooking developed in southwestern China. Unlike Americanized moo goo gai pan or wonton soup, Chinese Szechuan dishes offer super bold flavors calmed by the addition of peanuts or sesame (tahini pastes sometimes) and punctuated by hot peppers and pungent ginger. It’s Chinese food with a kick.

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Recipe: Quick, delicious thighs, Caribbean Jerk Chicken Thighs

Dark meat chicken gets a bad rap. Sure, it’s a tiny bit higher in calories but chicken thighs and drumsticks boast more flavor and juicy, savory goodness. Plus, they’re not going to set me back as many shekels. In this jerk chicken recipe, the Caribbean seasoning rub includes the earthier scents of nutmeg and allspice, which melds well with this fattier meat. This super fast, super flavorful recipe takes about 5 minutes to prep and 1o minutes to cook, so feel free to whip it up for a weeknight meal.

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Simple weeknight recipe: Smoky garbanzo and spinach stew

Chickpea and Spinach Stew

This recipe can be thrown together as soon as your feet hit the welcome home mat. Takes about 10 minutes to make and 30 minutes to cook. Earthy, savory and filling, this stew cures what ails you, warms the cockles (whatever those are) and leftovers freeze well for the next rainy or cold day.

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Recipe: Wild Mushroom Quinoa Risotto with Chicken

Huzzah… this is a tasty good quinoa recipe! I’ve been exploring this fashionable “superfood” in the past few months… buying it by the mega bag at Costco and seeing how I can stretch its recipe legs. A versatile, high-protein grain, quinoa can play cold salad, warm side dish made like rice, or the main course like this faux risotto.

Read more: Recipe: Wild mushroom red quinoa risotto with chicken

Recipe: Low fat, healthy Asian Turkey Lettuce Wraps

Ground turkey is one of those ingredients that sounds ssoooo healthy yet tastes pretty much like nothing. Not even sawdust. The meat is so lean, it doesn’t really stay together by itself in a burger, requiring other ingredients to keep it from falling apart like a sandcastle. So I tend to use it in other recipes, surrounded by other flavors which make it taste great, kinda like tofu. Ground turkey absorbs liquids and flavor like a sponge. It’s versatile that way. So… it’s perfect in lettuce wraps where it can soak up all those fresh, pungent ingredients. This recipe does have some luxurious additions to a traditional Asian lettuce wrap recipe, like bacon, but that’s how I roll… bring on the flavor.

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Quick, weeknight recipe: Pesto and smoked salmon (or chicken) pasta

This is a recipe I dreamed up while on a ski trip with a house full of people. Since then, I’ve made it pretty often since my husband loves it. The recipe is super versatile too — it doubles, triples or halves quite easily as long as you have a smaller or bigger pan. It’s also designed to be prepared in one pan, so less clean up! Although I usually start with four ounces of smoked salmon (it is expensive), but if I’m feeling rich, I’ll add up to eight ounces. Depending on your wallet, feel free to add more protein. Also, I sometimes substitute a large, 6- 8 ounce, chicken breast instead of smoked salmon — chop it into small, 1/2 inch square-ish pieces, sprinkle liberally with garlic salt and pepper, then saute it with the vegetables. Kids like it better this way.

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Healthy n’ easy, hot n’ spicy dinner recipe: Shrimp with sliced fennel

I discovered fresh fennel as an adult, after getting over my aversion to anything licorice. I still can’t eat red or black licorice candy but have fallen head over for this anise-scented, bulbous vegetable. I also make salads with it, tossing in whole grain mustard and rice vinegar but this spicy, garlic-y shrimp and fennel recipe is go-to weeknight deliciousness for us. Since fennel can be awkward to slice, cut the bulb in half and place the flat part on the cutting board for leverage. From there, a really sharp 8-inch chef’s knife will help a lot. So simple, you can have dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes. Buy peeled and deveined shrimp and it will save even more time.

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