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Who's Cooking: Colleen Benza of Baiting Hollow

Colleen Benza displays a platter of her freshly

Colleen Benza displays a platter of her freshly made quinoa salad at her home in Baiting Hollow. (June 2, 2011) Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

Colleen Benza is an account manager for a food distributor. She lives in Baiting Hollow with her husband, Ray.

How did you get into serious home cooking? I got married during the '70s and everyone I worked with had recipes from their mothers and grandmothers. So I took a class in "gourmet" cooking at BOCES on Saturday mornings. Then, I got a job in a deli.

What are some of the dishes you're known for? First, my cannelloni and meatballs with homemade sauce. And pulled pork. Chili. Sea bass. And lobster. Also, I took a one-time class ... where chef Todd Jacobs taught me how to make seared scallops with a very light lemon sauce. Unbelievable, they're so good. And then I've been playing around with quinoa because it's so healthy.

You've become known on the Chowhound website as somewhat of an expert on East End eating. What are some the places you gravitate to? Besides my house? Lobster Roll Northside in Baiting Hollow. Also Orient by the Sea (in Orient) and Skipper's in East Marion. On the South Fork, in Montauk, I like West Cove Chowder House for their fish and sushi, Hideaway for their Mexican food and O'Murphy's for year-round comfort food.

What do you like for special occasions? North Fork Table and Inn (in Southold).

If you could invite anybody to dinner, who would it be and what would you make? Tony Bourdain would be fun. In that case, I would call my friends Lucy and Hassan who live in Morocco to get some authentic recipes. Something involving a tagine, lambs, figs and honey perhaps. A meze platter before, served with homemade flatbread.

BAITING HOLLOW QUINOA SALAD

For dressing:

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons good olive oil

3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh mint

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon honey

For salad:

2/3 cup white or red quinoa

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

4 pitted Kalamata olives, diced

2 radishes, quartered and sliced

2 ounces feta, crumbled

Half cucumber, diced

About ½ cup red and/or yellow grape tomatoes, halved, or chopped farm stand tomatoes

About ½ cup chopped yellow and/or orange peppers

For plating:

1 head bibb lettuce, quartered and then cut into strips

1. Combine dressing ingredients. Reserve.

2. Soak quinoa in water for a few minutes and then drain and rinse 2 or 3 times. Place in saucepan with 4 cups of water. Add salt and simmer, uncovered for 20 minutes. Drain. Cool about 20 minutes.

3. Into cooked quinoa, stir olives, radishes, feta, cucumber and tomatoes.

4. Whisk dressing and toss into salad.

5. Arrange bibb lettuce on a plate. Serve salad (at room temperature) over lettuce. Makes about 8 side dish servings.

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