Roasted Heirloom Carrot and Parsnips Salad- a Great Holiday Side Dish

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Oh the holidays!

How do you like to spend your time during the holiday season?

I love to spend a couple of hours curled up on the sofa with a hot drink watching holiday movies.

This afternoon I watched one of my all time favourite movies, Serendipity. I love this heartwarming love story of how John Cusak and Kate Bekinsale try to find each other to see if their love was meant to be. Did you know that this movie was filmed in New York City and Toronto? Those are my 2 favourite cities.

Another movie that I love to watch is The Holiday starring Jude Law, Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet , Jack Black and Eli Wallach, another love story that takes place over the holidays.

What other movies do you like to watch over the holidays?

While growing up we would always watch White Christmas. My sister and I would sing along with Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellan while they did their sister act. I would always get choked up at the end when it started to snow and the whole cast sang White Christmas.

Another less known classic holiday movie is the Bishop’s Wife, starring Loretta Young and Cary Grant who plays an angel who was sent to help her find her way.

Whether you enjoy Home Alone and Christmas Vacation or you are moved by old classics like It’s a Wonderful Life, it is a great way to spend quality time with family.

I have been planning menus for the holiday dinners and found this interesting take on roasted carrots and parsnips. It will make a delicious side dish with some braised short ribs for one of our family dinners.

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Roasted Heirloom Carrot and Parsnip Salad
Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:
3 heirloom carrots, peeled and quartered
3 parsnips, peeled and quartered
2 tbsp. oil
1 ½ tsp. ground cumin
2 tbsp. honey
½ cup chopped cilantro leaves
½ cup bocconcini cheese, sliced into ¼ inch slices
½ cup roasted hazelnuts, halved

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Place the carrots and parsnips in a baking dish. In a small bowl combine the oil, cumin and honey and pour half of the mixture over the carrots and parsnips.
Cover and cook for 15 minutes, then uncover and cook until the vegetable are tender, 10-15 minutes.
Place the vegetables on serving plates or on a serving platter. Sprinkle with cilantro and hazelnuts and bocconcini cheese. Drizzle the remaining honey mixture over the plate and serve.

Recipe adapted from Donna Hay’s Fast, Fresh and Simple Cookbook

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Roasted Beet, Bacon and Apple Salad from the Evergreen Brick Works Market

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I love spending a leisurely Saturday morning wandering around a local farmers’ market. Nothing tastes as wonderful as fresh fruit and vegetables from a local farm.

One of my favourite markets is the Farmer’s Market at Toronto’s Evergreen Brick Works. This wonderful project has turned an abandoned brick factory in the heart of the city into a green space filled with nature walks, ponds, cafes, craft stores and educational space.

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Some of the space has been dedicated to natural art installations that compliment the environment.

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There are nature walks and protected areas that house the local wildlife. You can even rent bikes to explore the trails along the Don Valley for the day.

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It is a wonderful place to visit early in the morning if you are looking for a tranquil space filled with birds, turtles and nature. I like to grab a coffee and sit, quietly, in the midst of the natural surroundings and just listen.

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Every weekend the Brick Works hosts a large famer’s market that houses dozens of growers selling organic produce, meat, flowers and preserves. The casual atmosphere creates a relaxed feeling for the visitors as they wander the rows of stalls listening to live music from a local artist, while sampling wonderful delicacies.

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When I was there I picked up some lovely organic golden and red beets to create this salad.

This recipe has been cobbled together from a couple of recipes from Foodland Ontario and Fine Cooking Magazine. I love the combination of the roasted beets and bacon with goat cheese and apples. It is a great Autumn salad for a lunch of even as a side for a holiday meal.

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Roasted Beet, Bacon and Apple Salad

Ingredients

2 medium red beets, unpeeled and scrubbed
2 medium golden beets, unpeeled and scrubbed
2 slices of bacon
3 tbsp. (45 mL) olive oil
2 tbsp. (25 mL) red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. (15 mL) maple syrup
2 tsp. (10 mL) horseradish
1/4 tsp. (1 mL) each salt and pepper
4 cups (1 L) mixed greens
4 cups (1 L) arugula
1 medium unpeeled apple, cored and diced
1 pkg. (113 g) creamy goat cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp. toasted pumpkin seeds

Directions

Wrap beets in double layer of foil and sprinkle with a little olive oil. Roast on baking sheet in 425°F (220°C) oven until tender, about 1 hour. Let cool enough to handle; peel and cut into 1/2-inch (1 cm) thick wedges.

Meanwhile, cook bacon in skillet over medium heat until crisp. Let cool on paper towel; crumble. Toast the pumpkin seeds in the same skillet where you have cooked the bacon until they become golden brown.

Whisk together oil, vinegar, maple syrup, horseradish, salt and pepper.

Place mixed greens and arugula in large bowl; toss with bacon, beets and apple. Toss with dressing. Serve sprinkled with crumbled goat cheese and pumpkin seeds.

Fresh Summer Salad of Cucumber, Fennel and Ricotta

What an eventful summer this has been!

I have been busy working on projects for my business including contributing to an article that will be featured in Resource Magazine’s fall issue on food photography. I have also been adding some lifestyle photography to my portfolio. I seems like the work has been non-stop and I am loving it!

The thing about being so busy is that I need to take some time to smell the flowers and enjoy the moments. After all, if we don’t take the time to look around us we lose our creativity and our sense of place.

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My favourite flowers for this time of year are sunflowers. These shots were taken a while ago in Prince Edward County. I happened upon a field of sunflowers one day, I pulled over and just started shooting. There was a massive sea of yellow shining in the sun and the sight of it all was glorious!

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When I am busy I have trouble finding fresh ideas for my blog. When I need a shot of inspiration I read one of Nigel Slater’s books. Nigel is a talented British food writer and cook who has a way of making a simple dish come together like a symphony. I only discovered his work in the past year and I love it. The interesting thing about his style of cooking is that he says recipes are only guidelines and one should make them to their own liking, adding and subtracting ingredients as they wish.

I did not change this recipe as I wanted to taste the fresh, vibrant flavours of the avocado and fennel with the cucumber. I also love ricotta cheese when it is fresh and light. I enjoyed it as a main course for lunch but it would also be a fresh side dish at dinner.

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Cucumber, Fennel and Ricotta Salad

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

1 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. sunflower oil
2 few drops balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3-4 sprigs fresh dill
1 English cucumber
1 avocado
1 small bulb fennel
¼ cup ricotta cheese
sprouted seeds

Directions:

For the Dressing:

Pour the lemon juice in a small bowl and add salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil and sunflower oil. Add the balsamic vinegar and dill. Taste to check the balance. It should be fresh but not sharp. Add more vinegar if necessary.

The salad:

Peel half a cucumber and remove the seeds with a spoon and cut into thick slices. Halve and finely slice the fennel bulb.

Peel and thickly slice the avocado and fold all of the ingredients into the dressing. Refrigerate for half and hour.

Sprinkle with tufts of sprouted beans.

Transfer to a serving dish and top with a large spoonful of the ricotta cheese.

Recipe from Eat by Nigel Slater

Grilled Watermelon and Shrimp Salad Tofino Style

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As many of you will remember I spent some time on Vancouver Island in the summer of 2013. One of the places that we experienced, while on the island, was Tofino, British Columbia. This place is often referred to as the very west end of Canada.

Tofino had long been on my dream list of places to see. It is known for its rugged beaches, often filled with surfers catching waves. You can wander out on the sandy beaches feeling the energy of the ocean as it crashes against the shore. Travelers make their way to this rugged seaside town to watch the storms come in from the Pacific. There is a wild and remote feeling about Tofino, possibly because the road is long and winding and mountainous to get there, also because the coastline is relatively unspoiled.

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Once you are there you can see a few well placed luxury inns on the beach but that is not the heart of Tofino. The heart of Tofino, to me, is the local food culture which is anything but fine dining. It is all about the Pacific style of using fresh and local ingredients to create amazing flavours. Food trucks are found in unusual spots and a few have made a name for themselves as the best places to east in this part of Vancouver Island.

One restaurant called the SoBo started as a food truck and has now become a restaurant in downtown Tofino. It has earned some very high praise from critics and travelers alike. The best news is that the owners have published a cookbook with a sampling of some wonderful recipes from their menus. The book is full of mouth-watering dishes with chapters featuring ideas for you next meal of breakfast, salad, sandwiches, burgers, tacos, appetizers and snacks, mains, sides, and desserts.

The book is nothing short of beautiful. Not only does it include vibrant shots of the food, it also includes some fabulous landscape and seascape photographs by Jeremy Koreski, a local photographer. It also features a foreword written by Sarah McLachlan, the wonderfully talented Canadian recording artist who has spent a fair bit of time experiencing the mysteries of Tofino.

I chose to feature this recipe from the book because grilling watermelon intrigued me. I was not sure if it would like the taste of warm grilled watermelon with grilled shrimp but I am pleased to tell you that it was a taste experience that I hope to repeat again and again. It was a perfect flavour combination and the result was a light and sumptuous salad.

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Grilled Watermelon and Shrimp Salad

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 small watermelon cut into 1 inch thick wheels, skin removed
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp. olive oil for grilling
1 cucumber, sliced to 1/4 inch rounds and refrigerate to keep cold
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tsp. salt
12-20 large shrimp or prawns, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds toasted

Directions:

Preheat BBQ or grill pan to high.

Brush the watermelon lightly with olive oil to prevent sticking. Lay the slices directly on the grill racks and grill for 2 to 3 minutes. The slices should be easily lifted from the grill. Turn them over and grill on the other side for 2 to 3 minutes. Lightly salt then remove them from the grill and cut into 1 inch sized chunks.

In a large bowl gently toss the warm watermelon with the cold cucumber, mint, lime juice and salt and the 1/4 cup olive oil.
Lightly brush the shrimp with olive oil and grill for 30 seconds per side or until they turn pink or red. Divide the salad between 4 serving plates, top with the shrimp and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.

Recipe from the Sobo Cookbook by Lisa Ahier with Andrew Morrison

I bought mine here:

http://www.amazon.ca/Lisa-Ahier-Cookbook-Restaurant-Canadian/dp/B00IBP7PCM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1407805714&sr=8-2&keywords=the+sobo+cookbook

Avocado and Tangerine Salad after a Walk with Nature

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My mornings are now beginning with a brisk power walk around my neighbourhood. It helps me to clear my mind for the day ahead, to stay in shape, and to connect with nature.

When I was on my walk the other day, I noticed that the gardens were starting to have a beautiful showing of irises and alliums.

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I decided to bring my camera on my walk this morning so I could share some of what I am seeing with you.

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I have always loved flowers, but this year the blooms seem so wonderfully rich and full of colour.

It could be that it just seems that way after a long, cold winter or, perhaps, I am just seeing things differently lately. Sometimes we forget to stop and notice the flowers as we rush around in our busy lives.

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There is something about being surrounded by nature and such beauty that is like food for your soul. No matter what kind of day you are having, it makes you feel good.

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My spring routine also includes some really interesting salads. This combination of avocados and tangerines creates a lovely blend of fresh citrus with the creamy texture of the avocados. The feta and mint add the right amount of punch making it really work well together.

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Avocado and Tangerine Salad

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:
½ cup tangerine juice
1 small shallot, finely chopped
2 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 avocados, sliced
4 tangerines or clementines, peel, sliced into rounds
6 cups baby arugula
½ cup fresh mint leaves
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Directions:

Simmer tangerine juice in a small saucepan until reduced to about 2 tablespoons, 5-8 minutes. Let cool.
In a medium bowl whisk together shallot, vinegar, reduced tangerine juice; season with salt and pepper. Whisk in vegetable oil and then the olive oil.
Toss avocados, tangerines, arugula, mint and vinaigrette in a large bowl and top with feta.

Recipe adapted from http://www.Epicurious.com

Warm Spring Salad

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What a wonderful holiday weekend! The weather is beautiful and we have 4 days off to enjoy it.

I have been car shopping for the past few weeks and I must say that it is an arduous task. It takes days to compare all of the models and brands and then consult all of the review sites.

Do I buy new or save and buy a few years old?

Do I want a car to move things around or something more sporty?

Do I care about what colour it is?

All of these questions and more have been running through my head, endlessly. It’s driving me crazy!

Since I live in downtown Toronto I could almost get by without a car. There is public transit that will get me anywhere within the city. Then there are the car-by-the-hour places that can supply wheels to go, if I choose to venture further.

I have decided to walk away from the car shopping and the big decision, for a while. I will take my new bicycle for a ride. I will turn off the computer and get outside to enjoy the sun.

I hope you are all enjoying this wonderful season and that you are having a great weekend!

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On holiday weekend like this, it is easy to over indulge on sweets and heavy foods so I try to serve healthy side dishes to my meals.

I am featuring a vegan recipe that is simple to make, beautiful to look at and delightful to eat.

I found this recipe on a local vegan blog called Oh She Glows. I modified it by blanching the asparagus and adding sugar snap peas which are also blanched. I love how blanching brings out the rich green colour while leaving a bit of a crunch in the vegetables.

The salad would be great as a side dish or as a main dish. Either way, it is delicious and healthy,

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Warm Spring Salad

Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

1 cup uncooked quinoa
½ tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 leak, sliced into rounds or half moons
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch asparagus, ends broken off and chopped in to 1-inch pieces
1 cup sliced strawberries
¾ cup sugar snap peas
1 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
½ tbsp. pure maple syrup
Salt and pepper
Lemon zest for garnish, optional

Directions:
Cook quinoa according to the instructions on the package. Fluff with a fork, remove from heat and let sit 5 minutes.
Blanch the snap peas and asparagus in separate batches by inserting them in boiling water for 1 minute, drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, sate leeks and garlic over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the asparagus and snap peas and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add the parsley and strawberries. Heat for 1- 2 minutes and remove from the heat.

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Whisk together the dressing ingredients (olive oil, lemon juice, maple syrup, ¼ tsp. sea salt). Pour dressing over the cooked quinoa.
In a large bowl, toss the quinoa and the skillet mixture together. Can be served warm or cooled.

Recipe adapted from http://www.ohsheglows.com

Wheat Berry Salad with Tuscan Kale and Butternut Squash

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The weather outside is moody and thick with fog. Looking out over the city makes me think of old movies set in London, England or on the Scottish moors. Deep gray mist hangs over Toronto’s skyline as warm and cool fronts meet. Have you ever seen some of those old episodes of Sherlock Holmes where they chase the villains through the foggy streets of London? You can sense evil is lurking around every corner but you cannot see it. There you go. I have you feeling frightened already and it is not even Halloween.

Seriously, it is a little odd for us to be having such warm weather just one week before Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. Usually, we would be wearing fall jackets and pulling out the winter clothes by the middle of October.

Nevertheless; I am already starting to crave some of my favourite fall foods. One of my very favourites is Butternut squash. I love it in soup and salads and roasted as a side dish.  The recipe of Wheat Berry Salad with Tuscan Kale and Butternut Squash is just great on its own but it would make a great side dish for Thanksgiving dinner or for a dinner with some roasted lamb. The wheat berries could be swapped for quinoa to make the dish gluten-free. Any way you decide to make it will make you a healthy and delicious fall salad.

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Wheat Berry Salad with Kale and Butternut Squash

Ingredients:

1 lb. peeled butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice (3 cups)
6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups whole wheat berries
10 oz. Tuscan kale, stemmed, leaves sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick (4 cups)
2 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup minced shallots
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup dry white wine

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400°. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash with 2 tbsp. of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the squash for 20 to 25 minutes, until tender. Transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, cover the wheat berries with 5 cups of water and 1/4 tsp. of salt and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat until tender, 25 minutes.

Add the kale to the wheat berries, cover and remove from the heat; let stand until the kale is wilted, 5-10 minutes. Drain well and add the wheat and kale to the squash. Add the vinegar and 2 tbsp. of the oil to the salad, season with salt and pepper and toss.

In a medium skillet, heat the remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil. Add the shallots and a pinch of salt and cook over moderately high heat until just starting to brown, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine and simmer, stirring, until evaporated. Scrape the shallot and garlic into the salad and toss.

Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Recipe modified from Food and Wine Magazine-October 2013

Spinach Salad with Chicken, Strawberries, Feta and Almonds

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“I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the  walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want  to see.”

John  Burroughs

While I still have my memories of our time in British Columbia I have started to land back in reality, once again.

The past 2 weeks have been an endless blur of rushing to and fro, catching up on family and work commitments that were put on hold, while we vacationed. I don’t think we spend enough time enjoying life as we should.

In North America we take our few weeks per year vacation and then promptly return to our routines, quickly forgetting about the special time that we spent. In Europe, many countries take longer vacation periods where people pack up and go to the beach for a month in the summer.

Most of the time we live to work; while they work to live. It makes you wonder which culture has the right idea, doesn’t it?

Although the weeks are passing quickly, we are able to savour our last days of summer. We need to pack in a few more Bar BQs and a few trips to the beach before the cooler nights set in.

I love to enjoy a nice light salad for dinner, when I can. It balances all of the indulging that we do when cooking for a crowd. This recipe for Spinach Salad with Chicken, Strawberries, Feta and Almonds is a great salad that you can serve as a lunch or dinner entrée.

I also enjoy a glass of wine with my dinner, now and again. I paired this salad with a 2012 Sauvignon Blanc from the Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery in the Niagara Escarpment. This wine has a soft, subtle taste of mango and honey that lingers on your tongue. The aroma of citrus, mango and lime; are a perfect complement to the spinach, feta and strawberries. The wine is available in Ontario at the LCBO or directly from the winery.

Spinach Salad with Chicken, Strawberries, Feta, and Almonds

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. plus 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp. honey
1 medium shallot, minced
6 oz. loosely packed baby spinach leaves (about 6 cups)
8 oz. strawberries, stemmed and quartered (about 1-1/2 cups)
3 oz. crumbled feta cheese (about 3/4 cup)

Directions:

Heat 2 tbsp. of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering hot. Pat the chicken dry and season with 2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper. Cook, turning once, until just cooked through, about 10 minutes total. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest, loosely covered with foil, for 5 minutes.

While the chicken cooks, toast the almonds in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until evenly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil with the vinegar, honey, shallot, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper. In a large bowl, combine the spinach, strawberries, feta cheese, and almonds and toss with enough of the dressing to coat. Arrange the salad on a platter or plates. Slice the chicken and arrange on the salad. Drizzle with some of the remaining vinaigrette, if desired, and serve.

Recipe adapted from Fine Cooking Fresh & Quick Magazine

Crisp Lemon Snap Pea Salad

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This has been an eventful week. My blog had its 10,000th visitor, and I launched my new photography website.

I also attended a wedding and sadly, a funeral.

The wedding made me remember that love comes along when you least expect it. My nephew and his wife met while traveling in New Zealand. He is from Canada and she is from Germany. They met by chance, fell in love and have been together ever since. They are one of those couples that you just know by looking at them, they are madly in love. I wish them both a lifetime of joy and happiness.

The funeral was for a man who died before his time. He was a great father, a wonderful coach, and a great husband.  He had an endless passion for living and helping others. While I watched hundreds of people pay their respects to this unique individual it made me wonder. What will people remember about me when my time comes?

We all need to put our lives in perspective, now and again.

Nobody is remembered for the long hours that they worked or the things they did not do. They are remembered for their contributions to the world and their relationships with their family and friends. I admit that I have been guilty of not balancing my life, in the past.

 “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover”

Mark Twain

Now I am pursuing my passions with great enthusiasm. I am soaking up knowledge like a sponge and trying new things, every day. I love writing my blog. I have learned so much on this journey. I love my family and my friends, and the wonderful man in my life.

I have a passion that I have been feeding for years. Every time I pick up my camera and shoot a few shots of a special place, a person, a wonderful recipe or a beautiful flower, I feel alive. Whenever life gets me down I focus on photography and find my inspiration. I don’t know what I would do without having this creative outlet in my life.

Another one of my passions is cooking. I found this recipe for Crisp Lemon Snap Peas Salad and thought it would be perfect for this time of year when the sugar snap peas are in season. When they are fresh from the farm they taste sweet and crisp. The original recipe called for raw mushrooms but I decided to saute them to bring out their rich flavour.

Crisp Lemon Snap Pea Salad

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

2 cups (500 ml) water
1 cup (250 ml) quinoa
2 cups (500 ml) fresh sweet snap peas cut in half, diagonally
1 ½ cups (375 ml) brown mushrooms sliced
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/3 cup (75 ml) thinly sliced red onion cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) lengths
1 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
1/3 cup (75 ml) white balsamic vinegar
¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil
1 tsp. (5 ml) grated lemon zest
1 tbsp. (15 ml) lemon juice
1 tsp. (5 ml) pure maple syrup

Directions :

Combine water and quinoa in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside to cool completely.

Add 1 tbsp. olive oil to a medium frying pan and heat over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, cook until lightly browned, stirring as needed. Set aside.

Combine the peas, mushrooms, red onion and the dill in a medium bowl. Whisk together the vinegar, remaining ¼ cup olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice and maple syrup. Pour over the cooled quinoa in the saucepan and stir until evenly dispersed. Add the vegetable mixture, toss and serve.

Recipe adapted from Quinoa Revolution by Patricia Green & Carolyn Hemming