Sunday, April 22, 2012

Curried Couscous Salad

Ever have one of those weeks (or two, or three) that is just non-stop activity, where you barely have time to breathe, much less cook?  That's how it has been around my house for the past couple of weeks.  The closer we get to the end of the school year, the more we seem to have going on.  This past week was absolutely crazy!  I did not cook a single family meal all week, unless you count the one night I scrambled a few eggs for my son on his way out the door to youth group and reheated leftover spagetti sauce for my daughter.  I will admit to having those weeks when we rely on take-out, even though it is expensive and pretty unhealthy.

Today, I have had a little time to breathe (and cook), so have spent a couple of hours in the kitchen prepping some foods for the coming week and cooking a few things for lunches.  I have sliced some lean pork for stir-fry, and mixed up some ground chicken for kefta meatballs, along with tzatziki.  I decided to make a salad to go along side the meatballs, and dug a recipe out of my file for Curried Couscous and Garbanzo Bean Salad, which I found on Epicurious a couple of years ago.  The first time I made it, I did according to the recipe, however, this time I made some of my own modifications.  The original recipe calls for cooking the vegetables in curry-spiced water, but I decided to roast mine instead.  I added the curry powder to the dressing, which makes for a lighter, less intense curry flavor, but still very tasty.  If I were to do this again, I would probably toast the curry powder in a pan before adding it to the dressing.  The original recipe calls for this, and I meant to do it myself, but forgot.  I did not have any fresh ginger, so used powdered ginger instead.  Finally, instead of the white wine vinegar that the recipe calls for, I used a mixture apple cider vinegar and lemon juice.  It works just fine, but feel free to use white wine vinegar if you want.

Curried Couscous Salad
Adapted from Bon Appetit, June 2004 via
Makes about 6 servings

6 cups vegetables, cut into bite sized pieces (I used carrots, cauliflower, asparagus, and onions)
1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1 10 oz box plain couscous, prepared according to package directions
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
4-5 green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup crumbled feta cheese

3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
 2 tbsp curry powder
1/4 tsp ground ginger
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spread vegetables on a baking sheet and drizzle with oil.  Mix to coat vegetables.  Roast 10 mintues, stir, and roast another 5 minutes or until vegetables are just tender.

2.   Toast curry powder in a pan over medium heat for a minute or so, or until fragrant.  Place in a bowl and add vinegar, lemon juice, ginger, and olive oil.  Whisk or stir to incorporate.

3.  Place cooked couscous in a large bowl and fluff with a fork to separate and break up any clumps.  Add vegetables and garbanzo beans and toss toss gently.

4.  Drizzle dressing over salad, add salt and pepper to taste and toss gently to incorporate.  Cool to room temperature.  Add green onions and feta cheese and toss.

Serve either at room temperature or chilled.  The flavors will meld and become a little more intense with time in the refrigerator.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Spring Scramble

I know that technically spring started last month, but here in the Pacific Northwest, it doesn't *really* start until early to mid-April.  We still get a lot of weather waffling- one day will be in the 60s, and the next we have a high of 45 degrees.  I am happy to report that spring seems to finally be here, although still a bit tentatively.  The temperature varies, but everything is in bloom, promising that one of these days soon, we can finally put away our coats and boots!

My and my husband's wedding anniversary was this week- on Monday the 9th, to be exact.  It was 18 years for us- seems like such a long time, but at the same time, it seems like just last week!  We usually try to take a weekend away together for our annivesrary- it was a tradition we started on our very first anniversary, which we spent in Coos Bay, Oregon, back in 1995.  We vowed then to always take a trip, however short, to force ourselves to take time out to appreciate our marriage and each other.  It has worked out well, and we have enjoyed some very nice and memorable weekends together doing just that.  Last year was really special- we went to Manzanita, a small town on the north Oregon coast just south of Cannon Beach.  Manzanita is a very small, quaint town, and just perfect for celebrating a low-key occasion.

On our last day there, we had breakfast at a local bakery called Bread and Ocean, which was just up the road from the hotel where we stayed.  They had incredible baked goods, and also sandwiches and select breakfast specials.  I ordered their egg special of the day, an egg scramble with spring vegetables.  It was a simple dish with complex flavors, and I was blown away.  Eggs were scrambled with tender asparagus, peas, and fresh herbs, and served over a bed of baby arugula, with a touch of cheese.  The proportions were such that there were more veggies than eggs, which made the dish feel completely guilt-free!  The dish was fantastic no matter what- it was the perfect balance of soft egg, tender spring vegetables, and tangy cheese.  It stayed with me for weeks, and I vowed to make something similar at home.  Of course, life intervened, and I never got the chance before summer arrived.  Now, however, here we are in April again, and since our anniversary just passed, I began thinking again of those delicious green spring vegetables mixed with delicate eggs.  Time to finally, FINALLY re-create that experience at home.

I made this dish using what I already had at home, which meant substituting fresh spinach for the arugula.  I think either works in this dish, however, I do think the arugula holds up to the heat a bit better, as it is a hardier green.  The spinach did wilt on me a bit- and that is ok- but when I had this dish in Manzanita, I enjoyed the fact that the arugula stood up to the heat of the eggs when served with them hot out of the pan.  As with the original, I used asparagus and peas (frozen), and I decided to add some mushrooms since they were in the fridge.  I do not recall what kind of cheese was used by Bread and Ocean, but I used Gruyere, as I think that goes so nicely with asparagus.  For herbs, I added chopped chives from my garden, since that is all that is sprouting at the moment (apart from the rosemary, which has taken over my herb garden and needs to be trimmed, but I digress.)  The result is a very nice light, fresh, springy dish that is also healthy and delicious.

Spring Scramble

Servings: 2


2 tsp vegetable oil or butter
3-4 stalks asparagus, bottoms trimmed, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
4-5 mushrooms, sliced
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup peas (thawed if frozen)
1/3 cup grated cheese (gruyere, parmesan, etc)
1 cup fresh baby spinach or arugula
salt/pepper to taste
chopped herbs for garnish

1.  Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  When hot, add asparagus.  Cook and stir 1-2 minutes.

2.  Add mushrooms.  Let stand in skillet 2 minutes, then stir and cook 1 minute more.  Reduce heat to low-medium.

3.  Add eggs and stir gently.  Do not allow eggs to brown- keep stirring so that they slowly congeal.

4.  When eggs are about halfway cooked, add peas, 1/2 of the cheese, and salt and pepper, and stir into eggs.  Cook about 1 minute more.

5.  When eggs are just done, remove pan from heat.  Add spinach or arugula to pan and toss with eggs to just barely warm.  Add salt/pepper as necessary.  Add remaining cheese on top.  Garnish with chopped herbs before serving.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Vanilla-Strawberry Tart

Happy Easter everyone!  We had a nice Easter dinner here that was not too much different from our standard Sunday dinner.  I roasted a whole chicken, and we had mashed potatoes, steamed green beans, rolls, and salad as sides.  Nothing too complicated.  I did want to make a nice dessert though, and wanted to do something nice and springy, without too much work.  I went to  Costco the other day and got a couple of containers of beautiful strawberries, so decided to use those.  What I came up with was a simple tart using a puff pastry base, along with vanilla pudding, and fresh strawberries, with whipped cream topping the whole thing off. The result is delicious!

Vanilla Strawberry Tart


1 box Jello brand Cook-and-Serve Vanilla pudding mix
3 cups milk
1 puff pastry sheet
2 cups strawberries, tops removed and halved vertically
Whipped cream for garnish

1.  Line a 10-inch tart pan with puff pastry sheet.  Trim as necessary, and flute edges.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 12 minutes, until pastry is cooked through.  Press down on center to compress pastry as it puffs up when it bakes.

2.  In the meantime, cook pudding according to package directions, and cool.

3.  When both crust and pudding are cooled, pour pudding into crust about 2/3 up the crust.  Reserve remaining pudding for another purpose.  Chill at least one hour until pudding is set.

4.  Arrange strawberry halves on top of pudding, making a ring around the edge of the tart, then moving inward, covering the tart with strawberries.

5.  Garnish with fresh whipped cream.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spaghetti With Shrimp and Spicy Roasted Tomatoes

Today was clean out the fridge day- time to use up a bunch of the odds and ends that were hanging out in the fridge before they go bad and have to be thrown away.  I hate to waste food...every time I have to toss leftovers, I cringe!  Must be the training I received while growing up- EVERYTHING got used, even if Saturday night dinner consisted of a buffet of every leftover from the previous week.  I am not nearly as militant about using up leftovers as my parents were, but I make an effort to use up as much as I can.  This week, the most pressing items in the fridge were a container of grape tomatoes that were beginning to get pruney, and about 1/2 pound of shrimp.  I debated ways that I might use them together and separately, and ultimately decided to make one dish and use both of them.  I wanted to make something with items already on hand in my kitchen.  I briefly considered shrimp tacos with a homemade salsa, but didn't have any limes, so decided not to go that route.

I finally decided on a pasta dish- I always have plenty of dried pastas in my pantry.  It's a simple dish packed with lots of bold flavors, including a spicy kick from fresh garlic and some red pepper flakes.  Use more or less of the pepper flakes depending on how spicy you like it- you can even omit them if you want.  If you do, I would increase the black pepper just a bit, to round out the flavors.  This is not a saucy pasta dish- the roasted tomatoes have a bit of a pasty consistency that clings to the pasta well, without being liquid.  I topped mine with some chopped chives from my garden, and some freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  This makes a nice light, tasty pasta dish.

Spaghetti With Shrimp and Spicy Roasted Tomatoes


Shrimp and marinade:

1/2 tsp grated fresh lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
couple dashes red pepper flakes
1/2 pound small to medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed


1 pint grape tomatoes, rinsed and dried
olive oil
spaghetti noodles- enough for 3-4 servings
1/2 small onion, sliced thinly
5 cloves garlic, minced finely
Red pepper flakes
salt/pepper to taste

Garnish: freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, chopped fresh herbs

1.  Combine all shrimp and marinade ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate at least 15 minutes.

2.   Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place tomatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with a little olive oil and toss to coat.  Roast in oven about 20-30 minutes, until tomatoes are soft and most liquid has evaporated.  Remove tomatoes to a cutting board and chop roughly with a knife.

3.  Cook spaghetti according to package directions until al dente.  Drain and set aside.

4.  Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet.  Remove shrimp from marinade with a slotted spoon and place in hot pan.  Discard marinade.  Cook 1-2 minutes and then turn over and cook 1-2 minutes more until cooked through, being careful not to overcook. Remove shrimp from pan and set aside.

5.  Add onions to pan and stir and cook about 3 minutes over medium heat until softened.  Add garlic and pepper flakes and cook 1 more minute, being careful not to scorch garlic.  Add 1 more tbsp olive oil to pan and spaghetti noodles to pan and toss well to coat noodles with olive oil mixture.  Add tomatoes and shrimp and toss to incorporate, and heat through.

6.  Serve garnished with grated cheese and chopped herbs.

Makes about 3-4 modest servings, or 2 large ones.