Friday, April 30, 2010

Chicken Couscous with Fresh Chick Peas

Have you ever seen a fresh chick pea?  I know I hadn't until strolling through the grocery store recently.  Having only experienced them in canned or dried form, I immediately bagged some up.  They're pretty adorable:  little elfin shoe shaped pods that make a little pop when you squeeze them open just right.  The fresh peas looked similar to their familiar counterparts, only light green and a bit more shriveled.  The sign said they could be lightly steamed and eaten like edamame or cooked in dishes like peas.  I decided to use them in a light couscous.  The light bite of the fresh chick peas is a nice change from the usual creamy texture, and is accentuated by the fresh lemon and basil flavors.

  • Combine the juice of half a lemon, 1/4 c. chopped red bell pepper, and 1/2 c. shelled fresh chick peas in a medium saute pan.
  • Season with a pinch of cumin, paprika, ginger, and 1 tsp. salt.
  • Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, for about five minutes.
  • Add 2/3 c. water or broth (if using broth, reduce salt) and deglaze the pan.
  • Bring the water to a boil then add 1/2 c. whole wheat couscous, cover the pan and turn off the heat.
  • Let the couscous sit for five minutes, then add a large handful of roughly chopped fresh basil.
  • Fluff with a fork and plate the couscous.
  • Heat the pan again then add a chicken breast seasoned with salt and pepper.
  • After it sears for a moment, flip it over and add the juice of half a lemon.  You can also use leftover chicken and simply reheat it in the pan with the lemon juice.
  • Once the chicken is cooked through, slice it and serve it on top of the couscous.
This easily serves two, and will also make a wonderful cold salad for lunch the next day.

- Rori

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I Heart Savory Tarts: Spring Asparagus

Nothing says spring like asparagus, and nothing says yum like a savory tart.  Try this tart for lunch next to a tender salad with a lemony vinaigrette and your guests are sure to be impressed.  Just don't tell them it only took a few minutes.

  • Start by lining your tart shell with some puff pastry.  I used my favorite homemade whole wheat puff pastry, but you could use regular store bought as it's not all that crucial in this recipe.
  • Cook 15-20 stems of asparagus, depending on their size, until tender.  I just cooked mine in a pan on the stove top with a drizzle of olive oil out of habit.  You could steam them or even oven roast them (perhaps imparting a bit of smokiness?).  This can be done well in advance, or you can use leftover asparagus from a previous meal.
  • As they cool, cut them into smaller pieces and put them in a food processor.  I just used my small prep food processor, no need for anything fancy.  Be sure to get rid of any tough ends that won't blend easily.
  • Add 1 tbsp cream to start, some salt, and pepper.
  • Blend the mixture until it starts to become smooth and taste it to adjust seasoning.
  • When the mixture is cooler, add one egg.  Don't do this when it's too hot or it will cook!
  • Continue blending, adding a little more cream if necessary.  It should by the consistency of a thick milkshake.
  • Pour the mixture into your tart shell and gently press some thick slices of sweet onion into the top.
  • Place the tart on a cookie sheet (I recommend lining with parchment) and bake in an oven preheated to 425 for about 30 minutes.  The crust should be golden and the onions may have a tinge of brown.
The tart can be served hot or cold.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spaghetti Squash

I love spaghetti squash and always have.  It's quick, easy, healthy, and just plain neat.  For those unfamiliar, it's a large, oval, yellow squash that's similar to taste to summer squash... and it naturally forms spaghetti-like strands.  See?  Neat-o.

The most difficult part of preparing a spaghetti squash is cutting it in half (lengthwise).  You'll need a large knife, probably a hard, sturdy surface to pound the squash on, and possibly a friend to help you get the knife out if it gets stuck (it happens).  Do be careful and don't cut off your thumb.

Once it's sliced in half, scoop out the pulpy seeds (just like carving a pumpkin).  Then, fill a microwave safe container (I use a glass casserole dish) with about a quarter inch of water and place the half face down in the pan.  Microwave it for 8-10 minutes until it is tender through.  When it is no longer finger-scalding, scrape out the inside with a fork or spoon.  The strands should come right out.  If, part of the way through, you find the squash to be excessively crunchy (undercooked), you can return it to the microwave to cook some more.

You can put pretty much any sauce on spaghetti squash, but since it is a rather watery vegetable, I much prefer thicker sauces.  Also since it's much lighter than real spaghetti, portions will tend to be larger, so keep that in mind.  A meat sauce will help make it more substantial, as would some cheese.  A few dollops of ricotta hidden under the sauce would be great, and a sprinkling of parmesan on top is classic.

Spaghetti squash can be found year-round at the grocery store, but I especially like it as a warm weather spaghetti alternative.

- Rori

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mushroom Grilled Cheese

Within the past year or so, I have developed an intense love for mushrooms, particularly cremini mushrooms.  They have become an automatic addition to my grocery basket.  As such, I've begun adding them to all kinds of usually basic dishes.  In a grilled cheese, they add meatiness and substance, as well as a more complex flavor.

  • Slice up your mushrooms.
  • Melt 1 tbsp butter in a large skillet, then add the mushrooms, stirring frequently as they begin to brown.
  • After about a minute, add a dash of white wine.  This is optional, but tasty.  The amount will, of course, depend on how many mushrooms you're cooking.  You just want enough for flavor and it should quickly cook off.  You don't want a lot of excess liquid in the pan.
  • While those cook, prepare your bread.  I used a nice, mild sourdough to give just a bit of tang.  Don't cut the slices too thick or it will slow down the cooking later.  Lightly butter one side of each piece.
  • Finely grate some gruyere cheese.  Use a microplane or a fine grater so it will melt faster.
  • When the mushrooms are browned, spoon them onto one slice of bread (the buttered side should be on the outside of the sandwich).
  • Top with cheese and the other slice of bread.
  • Place the sandwich in a shallow pan and put under the broiler.  I prefer using the broiler as I find it melts everything together better than in a skillet, but you can use either.
  • Flip once after the top begins to brown.
  • When it's done, the cheese should be completely melted and both sides beautifully browned.

I served the sandwiches with a simple pile of mache with my favorite home made vinaigrette: a combination of olive oil, white wine vinegar, whole grain mustard, and herbs.

- Rori

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tropical Pork Chops

Tropical pork chops?  That sounds straight out of a housekeeping magazine from the 50s,  some gimmicky dish involving pineapple and toothpicks.  Instead, it's the perfect example of how to create a dish out of a craving and what you find in your freezer.

Here's the story:  One day I came home from work and I was hungry.  Hmmm, it's been a while since I've been to the grocery store.  Nothing immediately jumps out at me.  I could really go for some fruit, but...  I'm all out.  Open the freezer, stare, shuffle things around, stare some more...  Hey, frozen mango! But...  that's not really dinner.  Hey, pork chops!  Pork chops, then mango?  No.  Pork chops AND mango!  And hey!  Some leftover coconut milk from the best french toast I've ever made.  So, I went at it.

  • Chop up an onion to sauté on medium heat.
  • When it's starting to soften, add some mango and bell peppers.  Frozen mango is perfect for this.  The bell peppers would be better fresh.
  • Scoot everything to the side and turn up the heat for a moment, then add a salted and peppered pork chop*.
  • Let the meat sear a bit, then flip it over.
  • Turn down the heat and add some coconut milk, stirring with the mango and veggies.
  • Let the mix simmer until the pork chops are cooked through.
  • Serve immediately, optionally on a bed of rice.
* Note that I used a boneless, thin cut pork chop.  These are great to have around because they defrost and cook quickly.  You could certainly use pork chops on the bone, but I would recommend cooking them separately first, then finishing it in the sauce as they will take much longer.