Today is supposed to be the day when I post my successfully completed and oh-so-beautiful looking Daring Baker's challenge results. Supposed to. There's just one problem. Month after month I have a ball doing what I love to do in the kitchen, trying new recipes and learning new techniques, courtesy of the Daring Bakers. At the end, not only do I have a pastry to be proud of, but I also have an average of (and I'm guessing here) 7,000 rich calories sitting on my kitchen counter with no place to go.
I try to avoid keeping too many sweets around the house, but I also really hate to waste food by simply throwing out a cake just to prevent me from taking an innocent bite here and a barely noticeable sliver there, which is what usually ends up happening. So, this month I decided to take one of my two "free passes," which permit DB members to skip a challenge, and for next month I will plan in advance so that my creation has a home. Any takers out there? Anyone? First come, first serve (within the Las Vegas area, of course. Buttercream doesn't ship well in August, sorry.)
If you are interested in seeing this month's challenge, then click on over to Mele Cotte, our esteemed host, and view her stunning interpretation of Carole Walters' Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream.
For a twist of culinary irony, I decided to create a recipe that will not leave me with one iota of guilt after I devour every last bite. Folks, it doesn't get much healthier than this. I have been a quinoa fanatic ever since I started using it in recipes a few years ago. With protein-rich grains a bit larger in size than couscous, I feel like I am getting a more substantial meal when I eat quinoa. This recipe could easily be a satisfying vegetarian entree. The vegetable ragu, with eggplant, tomatoes, and roasted red peppers, adds color and more nutrients, and even a small amount of the smoked mozzarella is recognizable with every bite. These crisp cakes can also be downsized to serve as a side dish or appetizer. Here are my additional tips for these protein-packed power grain cakes:
- Smoked mozzarella can usually be found alongside regular mozzarella in the cheese section of your grocery store, but if you can't find it, just use regular mozzarella.
- Make sure that the water has been completely absorbed by the quinoa prior to removing it from the heat, or the cakes will not hold together after unmolding.
- Eggplant is a vegetable with a high water content. Tossing the eggplant with salt and then letting it sit helps to draw some of the water from the eggplant.
- Once the cakes are formed, they can be chilled for up to one day, covered. The vegetable ragu (without the mozzarella and parsley) can also be prepared one day in advance and then chilled, covered.
- Be sure to rinse the quinoa well in a fine mesh sieve prior to cooking. This helps to take off the residue from the bitter resin-like coating called saponin.
Quinoa Cakes with Smoked Mozzarella and Vegetable Ragu
For the quinoa cakes:
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 large egg
Extra-virgin olive oil
For the vegetable ragu
1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup diced smoked mozzarella
Prepare the quinoa cakes: Bring the water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir the quinoa into the boiling water and return it to a boil. Simmer the quinoa, covered, until it is dry and the water has been absorbed, 20-30 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat, season the quinoa with salt and pepper, and let it stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes, then stir in the egg.
Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap and spritz it with nonstick spray. Spritz a 1-cup measuring cup with nonstick spray or lightly oil it. Pack enough quinoa into the cup with a rubber spatula to fill it 2/3 full. Unmold the quinoa onto the baking sheet and gently pat it into a 4-inch wide patty. Make 3 more quinoa cakes, coating the measuring cup with oil or spray each time. Chill the cakes, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
Prepare the topping: Toss the eggplant cubes with 1 teaspoon salt and place it in a colander to drain for 30 minutes. Squeeze the eggplant to extract liquid and then pat it dry.
Cook the eggplant, onion, garlic, oregano, and crushed red pepper in the olive oil in a large skillet set over medium heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Stir in the tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and water and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is very tender and the mixture is thick, about 10 minutes.
Cook the quinoa cakes: Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Carefully add the quinoa cakes and cook, turning once carefully, until crisp and golden, 8 to 10 minutes total. Transfer to plates.
Return the vegetable ragu to a simmer and stir in the parsley and half of the mozzarella, then simmer, stirring, until the cheese just begins to soften, about 45 seconds. Spoon the ragu over the quinoa cakes and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella.