Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Meatless Monday : Quinoa Cakes with Cream of Mushroom Soup

Oh my friends. Please forgive my absence. I literally had every intention of blogging through July and then as soon as I was settled back into life in the States... which I thought would be a couple weeks after our arrival. I completely underestimated (read: forgot) how difficult and stressful an overseas PCS can be. 

In July, we were super short staffed in the ICU so I was working upwards of 60 hours each week, and on top of attempting to check out of the command (which felt like a full time job in itself), there was no possible way I was going to be able to cook, shoot and post anything during that mayhem. The packing process for out stuff was actually quite simple, since the military provides a moving company who will literally do everything for us. Here's a quick photo tour through the last few moments in Japan:

This is about halfway through our packing day, and it was incredible to see how fast the Japanese movers were able to efficiently pack everything away. Poor little Otis was terrified of all the noises of cardboard being flung about and packing tape loudly screeching for 5 hours straight.
On my last day of work, this was the view I was greeted with on my way out to the parking lot. Not to shabby, if I do say so myself. It was a bittersweet evening.
Like I said about Japan in a few of my other posts: They are so nice! Even Starbucks is nicer in Japan. (Though it's way more expensive...)
The night before I flew out, Travis and I had dinner at Kinpa Ginpa, my absolute favorite ramen joint in Japan. I don't know how they do it, but their soups are beyond amazing and their gyoza are some of the best I've ever had. We love sitting at the sushi bar with other Japanese locals watching the chefs work their magic in the back.
I've become pretty efficient at packing over the last decade with all of my travels. I had 3 uniforms, 10 pairs of shoes, a week's worth of dog food and 2 months of clothing in these bags (amongst "way too many girl bath stuff" as my husband would put it).
Otis got to fly with me from Okinawa to Tokyo to Seattle, our final destination where my parents live. It was not as expensive as I had originally thought it would be, but there's a lot of paperwork involved. Thankfully, no quarantine was required since Japan is a rabies free country!
My adorable little Okinawan-born pup was a fantastic traveler and while he was a little stressed out from not knowing what the heck was going on, I think he was more relaxed than I was on the longer leg of our flight (I was super worried about how he was doing under the plane).
So, 5 months and 4 (count it- FOUR) cross country road trips later (Oklahoma to San Diego. Seattle to San Diego. San Diego to Oklahoma. Oklahoma to North Carolina. Whew!), here I am. We're stationed in San Diego for the foreseeable future, but with Travis training to fly a new aircraft, he came out to North Carolina for 2-3 months to finish those flights. We'll be going back to San Diego in March, but needless to say we've been busy and I've been doing a LOT of driving with Otis, who of course was an amazingly good travel buddy. He loves to sit in the back seat and look out the window like a person would. He makes my heart melt, that one. 

Why am I giving you such a long explanation? Well it's kind of a reason why I've taken such a long break from the blog. We were seeing family and friends we hadn't seen in 3 years, and obviously I wasn't cooking on the road, and since we've been so nomadic we're just renting fully furnished apartments until we get back to California and get settled. The lighting hasn't been great in some of the kitchens I had access to, and I've seriously been missing my wide array of dishes, napkins and flatware with which to use as photo props. Sooooo, please forgive the monotonous backgrounds and dishes for the next few months. 

But let's get back to the reason why y'all are here- the FOOD! I've been trying to stick to Meatless Mondays and while it hasn't been easy to be creative, I've been liking the challenge. The soup was inspired by Panera, since my favorite soup there is the Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice. I just veggied it up a bit and tossed the chicken. These quinoa cakes are some of the best I've made to date, and can be varied up with whatever you've got in the kitchen. Their recipe calls for 4 eggs, which I thought was way too many but it really does need all 4 for binding those tiny little spheres of amazingness. As a true testament- I served this dinner to 3 hungry boys (er... men. I mean.. MARINES!) and got raving reviews. Travis is somewhat hesitant about Meatless Mondays but our friend Jon scarfed down 5-6 of the quinoa cakes without even pausing to breathe. So, sorry for my long hiatus and enjoy these lovelies!

Cream of Mushroom and Wild Rice Soup

adapted from OhMyVeggies
serves 7-8

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 box Near East Wild Rice
2-3 cups water (enough to cook rice according to box's directions)
1 medium-large white onion, diced
2-3 stalks celery, chopped (about 1 cup)
2-3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped (about 1 cup)
1 large portabella cap or 7-8 cremini mushrooms, stems removed and chopped (about 1.5 cups)
2 cloves garlic (or 1 teaspoon jarred or paste- less messy!)
3 tablespoons AP flour
1/2 cup white wine (shameless plug for a dry Reisling... it works great and isn't too strong on flavor)
3 cups vegetable broth
10 ounces (1 grocery store can) low-sodium Cream of Mushroom Soup
1 cup frozen peas
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
large pinch parsley flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a 2-3 quart sauce pot, cook the rice according to the box's directions, using 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of oil. You'll be adding other spices down the road so to save on saltiness I'd only use about 1/2 of the packaged spices. While the rice is cooking, heat the remaining oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat; a dutch oven would be perfect for this. Sauté the onion, celery and carrots for about 5 minutes, until onion is translucent. Add the mushroom and garlic and sauté another 3-4 minutes, taking care to not let the garlic burn. Sprinkle the flour over everything and stir to coat. Cook for another 3 minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. Deglaze the pot with the wine and reduce to medium heat. Slowly add the vegetable broth, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Once all of the broth is incorporated, add the cream of mushroom soup and stir to combine. Add in the cooked rice, peas and spices, except the salt and pepper. Turn heat to low and let everything marry for a few more minutes (a good time to cook the quinoa cakes if you're making those tonight too!). Taste and season with salt and pepper if desired. If the soup is a little thick for your taste, add up to another cup of vegetable broth or water to thin it out a little bit. Serve hot and chow down.

Quinoa Cakes

adapted from SkinnyTaste
Makes 14 cakes

1 cup uncooked quinoa (my favorite is the tricolor)
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
4 eggs, beaten together
2 large or 3 medium scallions, white and green parts, sliced thin
1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and excess liquid squeezed out
1 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Cooking spray

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a small sauce pot. Add quinoa, salt and garlic (boiling the garlic with the quinoa helps infuse the flavor into the quinoa and cut down on the "bite") and boil for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover and let quinoa absorb the rest of the water. In a large mixing bowl stir together the rest of the ingredients. Mix in the quinoa once it's fully cooked and slightly cooled. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and form patties using either a disher or 1/4 cup measuring cup. Spray a liberal amount of cooking spray in the skillet, and cook the patties in batches, about 4 minutes on each side, adding more cooking spray to the pan during the flip to lubricate each side. Be careful that they don't burn- turn the heat down if they're browning too quickly. Serve hot and enjoy.


  1. Yay! So glad you are back, holy cow what a move. Otis and Watson should meet someday, they can stare out car windows like humans together :)

  2. So, how does it feel to be back in the US? It's time you thought about doing Japanese inspired dishes, which we can never have too many of those....hint, hint...........
    ....or how about combining those fresh Japanese dishes with our everyday American fare?
    The world is your oyster my dear.
    Good to see you back and settled. Contact me when you get a chance.....

  3. Welcome back! Nice combo above, we're Meatless at least twice a week. Think about that Liebster I sent still stands.

  4. Jordyn- I am going to try this today, since we are snowed in up here in Seattle....I am going to substitute oatmeal (maybe pulverized in processor) for the breadcrumbs.....any thoughts? :)


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