Monday, December 12, 2011

Israeli Couscous with Cranberries and Pecans

So I'm having a Whole Foods moment. Well, what I mean by that is that I've been inspired by my favorite store more than once in the last few weeks. I love tuna, but I also love this couscous. If I can make it myself, why buy it! (I know not everyone shares this sentiment...but just think of all the money you'll save!)

Let me throw a little food knowledge at you first. There are two types of couscous. Moroccan couscous is a tiny rolled pasta, usually made from semolina, that is mostly sold pre-steamed. This type of couscous is cooked by adding it to boiling water, removing from the heat and resting for 5 minutes, then simply fluffing with a fork. Super easy and fast. Israeli couscous, the type that is used in this recipe, looks like little pasta balls. It is cooked like pasta too. Add it to boiling water and cook for 8-10 minutes, then drain. Got it? Now you have a great holiday party conversation starter, and possibly a dish to bring!

This recipe makes a lot. Which is a good thing. The sweet/salty flavor of the cranberries and salted pasta can be blamed for the inability to remove your spoon from the bowl while standing in front of the refrigerator. At least that is what people have told me.... Besides eating it for breakfast and lunch, this would also be great as a side next to poultry or pork. Throw some sautéed greens on the plate and dinner is done!

Israeli Couscous with Cranberries and Pecans

Serves 8-10 as a side, 4-5 as a lunch

12 oz Israeli couscous (about 2 cups)
1 1/4 c. dried cranberries
1 1/4 c. chopped, toasted pecans
4 scallions, white and light green parts finely chopped


3 TBS neutral oil (canola, vegetable or grapeseed)
1 1/2 TBS Champagne vinegar (you could probably substitute white wine if you don't have champagne)
zest from 1 orange
juice from 1/2 orange
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add couscous and cook for about 8 minutes. Drain and put into a large bowl.

The best way to toast pecans is to do them on the stove top in a fry pan. I find that if you bake them in the oven, you are most likely going to forget about them until you smell them burning. I heat my dry pan on medium heat for a few minutes, then add the nuts. Give them a shake every 30-60 seconds. Once they give off their lovely nutty smell, they are usually done. Add these to the bowl with the couscous, along with the cranberries and scallions.

In a medium bowl combine all the dressing ingredients. (Make sure that you zest the orange before you juice it. A juiced piece of citrus is really hard to zest. I've done that more than once!) Pour dressing over the salad and fold to combine.

Don't eat it yet. As hard as it is to hold back digging in at this point, it is worth the wait to let the dish cool and the flavors come together. Tasting the dish now doesn't taste anything like it will in a few hours once it is cold. The easiest way to avoid the temptation is to make this right before bed. If waiting all night doesn't work for you, give it at least 2 hours. The leftovers on day two are even better!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Best Ever Tuna Salad

Ok, so I know that 8 months is way too long to not post a new recipe, BUT I had a baby. Doesn't that allow for some laziness in certain areas of my life? It doesn't mean that I haven't thought about writing. It doesn't mean that I haven't prepared meals with the idea of photographing and sharing. My follow through has been what's lacking.

What inspired me to finally dust off my keypad was a little Thanksgiving celebration at my son's preschool. I made this tuna salad and it was a hit. For something seemingly so simple, I received more complements and requests for my recipe than any other I've ever made. One of the best compliments was from my friend Martha, who told me that her husband was not a fan of tuna salad until he ate this dish. After having about 8 people ask me for the recipe I felt obligated to write, making it easy for me to share with the masses!

I really can't take all the credit for this recipe. I was inspired by one of my favorite cold bar offerings at Whole Foods, the Fuji Apple Tuna Salad. My son eats it by the pint, and it started to get kinda pricey to keep him fed. Lucky for me, Whole Foods discloses all their ingredients in each of their prepared food items so my job was to simply get the proportions correct. Every time I make it I tweak it slightly. This is the best ratio I have come up with to date! Enjoy!

Best Ever Tuna Salad

Serves 3 hungry adults - can easily be doubled or halved

2 cans solid or chunk light tuna, drained (depending on preference)- you can buy them without salt but I go for the salted version. Have tried with both and definitely tastes better if there is salt added to the tuna- I haven't gotten the recipe perfected with adding my own salt.
3/4 small apple, small dice
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1-2 TBS fresh lemon juice (I just cut a quarter of the lemon from the end and that seems to be perfect)
1 TBS chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup mayo (I use spectrum canola mayo but Hellman's is good too)

In a large bowl, flake the tuna with a fork.

In a smaller bowl, toss the apple, cranberries, lemon juice and dill

Add apple mixture to the tuna and stir to combine. Fold in mayonnaise and serve!
I like mine on a bed of greens or open face on a good piece of bakery bread. The day I made it for my son's school I put it on Whole Food's multi grain boule.

This is great the day that you make it, but even better the next!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rigatoni with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch

So, I've been slacking in the food blogging department recently. I've had other things on my mind... most importantly getting ready to give birth to my second child! Instead of obsessing about what to make for dinner, I have been focusing my creative side on decorating and cleaning, readying my house for a new person's arrival. Obviously food has to figure into this somewhere in my house and I have been trying to plan ahead and freeze some meals for post-delivery chaos. When my son was born, almost four years ago, I had every intention of filling my freezer with easily reheatable meals. That never happened. I wanted to make sure this time I actually had a few things tucked away, so take out wouldn't be our only option.

In order to make sure this happens, I have been making one dinner per week that makes enough for at least two meals, eating one and freezing the other. So far only two things have made it into the freezer, but in my opinion that is better than zero. One of the meals is chicken pot pie, filling frozen in containers and the pastry topping frozen in plastic baggies. All I'll need to do is defrost and assemble. The other dish is this baked pasta that I found in the March 2011 issue of Bon Appetit. We had it for dinner last week and it is really tasty. It is a little labor intensive, so it's nice that it makes enough for at least two meals. You could always double it and pack more of it away if you wanted.

Rigatoni with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch
Adapted from Bon Appetit March 2011

1 1/2 - 1 3/4 pounds of eggplant cut into 1/2 inch cubes (I used about four Italian eggplants
2 medium yellow bell peppers cut into 1/2 squares
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half lenghtwise
5 cloves of garlic, divided
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes (San Marzanos make all the difference!)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 pound rigatoni
1 pound mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Preheat oven to 425

On a large baking sheet toss eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, 3 cloves of minced garlic, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast until tender, stirring often, 35-45 minutes.

Meanwhile combine 2/3 cup basil, 1/2 cup Parmesan, pine nuts and 1 clove of garlic in a mini food processor. Blend until crumbly. Season with salt.

Blend tomatoes with their juice, cream, 1 1/3 cups basil and 1 clove of garlic in food processor or blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta in salted boiling water until just tender and firm to bite. Drain and return to pot. Add vegetables, sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan. Transfer half to baking dish ( or all if you plan on making all at once) and half to a freezer and oven safe container (I filled a 7 cup Pyrex). Sprinkle both portions evenly with the pine nut topping and mozzarella.

If you are baking, add to preheated (425) oven and cook through, about 25-35 minutes or until bubbly and browned on top.

If freezing, seal well and tuck away for a lazy night. I am not sure if I will be defrosting this before heating or just putting the frozen meal directly into a preheating oven and cooking until heated through. Either way, I'll be happy that I planned ahead!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Unboring" Salmon Casserole

This post goes out to my dear friend Renee. I will forever think of her as the source for this following recipe. She will tell you differently. Not sure why I am convinced that this was her recipe, but to this day, 12 years after first having made this, I still think of it as hers. She will tell you that she has never made tuna casserole. We'll agree to disagree, but I think you will have to agree that this is a pretty darn good casserole. My husband and son get pretty excited when it's on the weekly menu.

I call this a "pantry" recipe. All the ingredients required for the basic recipe are kitchen staples. Over the years I have fancied up this basic budget meal. Firstly, I make it with canned salmon instead of tuna. You get a good dose of omega-3 and I prefer the taste of the salmon over the tuna. Feel free to use tuna if you would rather. The second major change was adding tarragon. Tarragon has a licorice flavor that I think goes really well in this dish and elevates it to a respectable meal. So don't brush off this recipe. Try it at least one. I bet it will start making a regular appearance on your weekly menu!

Salmon Casserole

Serves 3-4

1 cup elbow macaroni
1/4 cup italian seasoned bread crumbs
1 Tbs unsalted butter- melted
1 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped shallots or onion (whatever you have on hand)
3 Tbs unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
1 cup milk
1 cup chicken stock
1 Tbs chopped fresh tarragon
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
6-9 ounces canned salmon, drained and flaked

Preheat oven to 375

Combine bread crumbs and 1 Tbs melted butter- set aside

Cook noodles according to package al dente (6-7 minutes)- drain and set aside

Meanwhile, melt 3 Tbs butter over medium heat in a large saute pan. Add celery and shallot and cook until tender. Add in flour, cook for about 1 minute then add milk and stock, herbs and salt. Cook, stirring, until thick.

Add noodles and salmon to the pan and stir to combine.

Transfer to a baking dish, sprinkle with bread crumb/butter mixture and bake for 20 minutes.