Celebratory Dinner

Two of our Dear Friends, GS and PM, recently became engaged — a toast to them!  They took us out for a lovely dinner when we got engaged, and though circumstances currently prohibit reciprocation in kind, we asked them over for dinner last night.

I made dinner in reverse order, so that everything would cool properly.

First up: panna cotta, which is my favorite guest-friendly dessert right now (should be made ahead, is quite tasty, and not too difficult to make). I have a special talent for burning cream and milk on the stove though, so I have to be careful.

Panna Cotta with Fresh Blueberries

Usually panna cotta is turned out from its mold before serving, but I admit that I am too afraid it will break apart if I were to attempt such a feat, so I leave it be-ramekined. (The thematically appropriate platter was a gift from my Dad several years ago — handy!)

Next up: a quinoa salad.

Initially, I thought we’d go with our tried-and-true quinoa and black bean salad, but then decided that such happy news dictated a new dish.  I thought Moroccan would be fun and different (this isn’t your grandmother’s quinoa), so I spent some time browsing recipes for Moroccan quinoa and couscous (far more of the latter, understandably).

I ended up composing my own recipe, but I was inspired by versions from The Whole Kitchen and Michael Smith via Suzie the Foodie.

Moroccan-Spiced Quinoa Salad, To Celebrate an Engagement

Ingredients*:

  • 2 cups quinoa
  • 2 very large carrots (or about 4 regular carrots)
  • 1/2 cup almonds (or more to taste)
  • 3/4 cup currants (zante currants)
  • 1 medium bunch mint
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • zest of 1 orange
  • juice of 2 oranges
  • 3 to 3 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • olive oil
  • juice of one lemon
  • cumin seed
  • turmeric
  • coriander
  • cinnamon
  • paprika
  • ginger
  • cloves
  • salt
  • pepper

* The list may look daunting, but chances are that you have most things in the pantry or the fridge.

How To:

1. Zest the orange (feel free to zest both) directly into a large serving bowl. Juice both oranges.  Add the juice to a measuring cup, and pour in enough chicken broth to make a total of 4 cups of liquid.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  On the stove, bring the quinoa and juice/broth mixture to a boil; cover and let simmer 10-15 minutes, until the quinoa is done. Add the currants in the last few minutes of cooking.

3. While the quinoa cooks, peel and chop your carrots. Rounds are nice if your carrots are the right size, but I cubed my industrial-sized carrots. Toss with olive oil and salt and pepper, and roast for 15-20 minutes.

Roasted Carrots

4. Now for the fun part: spices! I don’t like to measure; going by eye and nose is my gameplan. Dry-toasting your spices is a good call, especially with something like cumin seeds, so give them a minute or two in a hot pan before you bring out your trusty:

Mortar and Pestle

Or, in our case, our new mortar and pestle from Grandpa (soon to be Great-Grandpa) W.

Cumin and cinnamon are the stars here; go easy on the cloves, because they can be easily overpowering. I used Hungarian sweet paprika, also a gift from Grandpa W:


I ended up with about 1/4 cup of spice blend, maybe a shade more.

5. Once the quinoa (with currants)  is done, add it to the serving bowl, fluffing it with a fork to help it cool. Gently sprinkle in about half the spice mixture. Add the chickpeas and carrots to the mixture, toss to combine, and chill in the fridge. Reserve the rest of the spice mixture.

6. Just before serving, chop the mint very roughly and briefly toast the almonds in a dry pan while you mix the dressing — the remaining spice mixture, juice of one lemon, and about 1/4 cup olive oil (basically, a 2:1 ratio of olive oil to lemon juice is what you’re looking for).

7. Toss the quinoa/currant/carrot/chickpea mixture with the dressing, mint and almonds; garnish with a mint sprig. The end!

New Quinoa Salad

Local food enthusiasts may object, but I like living in a world in which a Peruvian seed appears in a bowl with California almonds and Hungarian paprika.

The rest of dinner consisted of:

Trusty French Salad, with the addition of cucumbers

Kielbasa and Onions

which is my version of sausages and peppers.

We had a lovely time, and we couldn’t be happier for our friends. Hurrah!

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3 Responses to Celebratory Dinner

  1. Glad my recipe could inspire you – your salad looks fantastic! I love the addition of the whole almonds – a nice crunch and flavor combo. I’m really drooling over those panna cottas, though – one of my favorites.

  2. Shire Squire says:

    A few well-earned comforts, indeed!

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