Orange Moroccan Couscous: Secret Recipe Club

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A little break from holiday food for this month’s Improv Challenge.  Because we all need to fuel ourselves while we prep those turkeys and shop for everyone’s gifts.

We have all gotten those life lessons from our moms, the ones that we have heard multiple times and replied to with “Yesssss mommmmm” with a groan. One of my mom’s personal favorite stories has the moral not to judge how clothes on the hanger look before trying them on. “Just try the dress on. It could look completely different on!”. I have heard a tale of an ugly bridesmaid dress on the hanger that magically transformed into a gorgeous gown in the dressing room many times.

My life lesson for you all is that you shouldn’t judge a dish before you eat it. Recently I had a surplus of oranges in my fridge that needed to be eaten. I enjoyed eating them plain as a snack, but it was getting a little old. Luckily this month’s Improv Challenge was to make a dish using oranges and cardamon.  I saw this dish while procrastinating doing my work and thought “Okay, I guess I will make this just to use up some oranges”. I wasn’t very excited, but I was oh so wrong.

I loved this dish and have eaten it at least five times in the past two weeks. I am considering buying a another huge bag of oranges just to be able to make this more. This is just the right combination of warm spices, juicy oranges, sweet currants, and yummy chickpeas. This is a great side dish for pork chops or chicken, or it is great as a main dish if you just eat a big bowl of it.

So, this is for you mom: don’t judge how a recipe looks until you’ve tried the dish. You’ll never know what it tastes like until you eat it.

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ORANGE MOROCCAN COUSCOUS
Adapted from A Farm Girl Dabbles

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cardamon
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon saffron
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup golden raisins
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups chickpeas
1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
1 1/2 cups dried couscous
4 clementines, torn into slices
Fresh mint, optional
Toasted almonds, for topping

DIRECTIONS

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Stir together cumin, cloves, cardamon, cinnamon, and saffron. Toast in pan until fragrant 1-3 minutes (be careful not to burn). Add oil, onion, and garlic. Cook until tender, about 3-5 minutes.

Stir in raisins, salt, chickpeas, and orange zest. Stir in couscous and 1 1/2 cups water. Cover pan with lid and let cook until water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork. Mix in clementine slices, almonds, and mint.

Serves 3-4.

Thanks to Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker for hosting!  Make sure to check out what everyone else made this month!

Giardinara Pasta: Improv Challenge

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Today let’s talk about cheese.  What is there to say about cheese besides the fact that it is great?

When I was younger, I tried to give myself the nickname Chedder.  It never really stuck, so instead I used it into a code name for myself when I wrote stories (a whole ‘nother childhood thing there).  When I started typing my stories up, I realized I saw a lot of those red squiggly spell check lines, and I came to a sad realization that I was (am) not a good speller.  Apparently Chedder is spelled Cheddar.

But that revelation did not shake my fundamental believe that any cheese is great, no matter how you spell it.

Now let’s talk about pasta.  Another wonderful food, right?  This month’s Improv Challenge had us combine these two wonderful ingredients: pasta and cheese.  Given my (un)official nickname, I knew I had to create a cheese dish to impress.  It’s really hard to mess up any dish with pasta and cheese, but this Giardinara pasta was especially good for a quick dinner.

First pasta.  It’s chewy, tender, and wonderful. Here I used macaroni noodles because I’ve loved macaroni noodles since I ate the old-school blue box mac and cheese as a kid.  Second some veggies sauteed in buttah (yes, wonderful).  Salt them up good.  Then mix in some cheese and stir it up until it gets melty and delicious.  And voila: a wonderful dinner.

Pasta and cheese.  It makes the world go round.  It makes young babies smile.  It make people want to love and hug each other. Basically, pasta and cheese are magical.  Fact.

Another idea: put your pasta dish in a bakeable pan.  Top with lots of cheese and broil until melted with golden brown spots.  Genius.

GIARDINARA PASTA
Adapted from Cooking Light

INGREDIENTS

8 ounces elbow noodles
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 1/2 cups chopped asparagus
4 carrots, chopped
2 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
1 small onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup capers
3-4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Cubed mozzarella or grated Parmesan

DIRECTIONS

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook pasta until al dente, according to package instructions.  Drain and set aside.

Heat a large skillet over high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon butter, asparagus and carrots.  Cook until browned, 3-4 minutes.  Stir in mushrooms and onions.  Cook until tender, 4-6 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, fennel seeds, dried thyme, crushed red pepper, capers, red wine vinegar, and cooked pasta.  Bring liquid to a boil and cook until mostly absorbed, 3-4 minutes.  Remove from pan and stir in mozzarella or Parmesan if desired.

Serves 3-4 as a main dished, 4-6 as a side dish.

Thanks to Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker for hosting this challenge!  Make sure to check out what everyone else made.

Lemon Mustard Cauliflower Pasta

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I love mustard.

And ketchup and mayo and hot sauce and all condiments, but today is all about mustard, the illustrious, yellow devil.

Coarse grain mustard has been a revelation to me. I have always seen recipes call for coarse grain mustard but just used Dijon or a spicy mustard in its place. Now, no mustard is bad or inherently inferior to another (I don’t like to judge mustard harshly, equality for all mustard), but now that I have properly followed directions and finally bought coarse grain mustard, I am in love.  It really packs a lot more great flavor.

I do have a word of caution for all you coarse ground mustard newbies to be careful.   This stuff can be potent.  I spread a big hunk of mustard on a sandwich, and halfway through, my nose was running and my eyes were tearing up. This time my tears did not result from wonderment of my own culinary skill but the power of coarse mustard. Treat it with respect- less can be more.

The only tears that should be shed in the kitchen are tears of joy. (Or a cook’s tears of frustration on a bad day.) This pasta may cause some serious tears of happiness. Mix al dente pasta with roasted cauliflower and a butter, sweet, and tangy lemon mustard sauce. Easy and delicious. Top with fresh herbs and you are ready to go.

I also have started buying fresh herbs instead of just dried: So. Much. Better.

Why don’t I just follow directions from the beginning?

LEMON MUSTARD CAULIFLOWER PASTA
Adapted from Bon Appetit via Heat Oven to 350

INGREDIENTS

8 ounces spaghetti or linguine
1 small head cauliflower, chopped
Salt
2 butter
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 tablespoon honey
4-5 teaspoons coarse ground mustard
Fresh parsley, for topping

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions one minute short of al dente. Drain and set aside.

Place cauliflower in a single layer on a baking sheet. Season with salt. Roast for 15 minutes, until soft.

Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add pasta and cauliflower to pan. Mix in butter, lemon juice, lemon zest, honey, and mustard. Bring to a boil and mix together. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce is mostly absorbed. Serve immediately, topped with fresh parsley.

Serves 3-4.

*You can also just cook the cauliflower without any pasta to serve this as a side dish.

Individual Falafel Pie

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I am so over this thing called “work” and “earning a paycheck”.  Especially when said paycheck technically puts me under the poverty level.  And when textbooks for one class total $138 (when finding the best deals used).  #Gradstudentlifeisfun

So I am particularly excited to head out of town with my mom and take a trip to the northeast next week. Excited as in my neurotic self has been planning/fantasizing for the past month.  We will be visiting family and hitting New York City for a few days.  And while in New York, one goal of mine is to eat lots of food, including falafel.

I have a confession. I use to hate hummus.

At gatherings people would often joyfully announce to us all “Guess what, I have hummus for us!”. Everyone would cheer and gush, and I would remain very quiet. I’d insist I wasn’t hungry or choose the other offerings, leaving the tan dip to those who could stomach it.

Well, I was a fool. Hummus is delicious. As is lots of Greek food.  Now I love to eat hummus on pita chips and carrots, but I also like to mix my hummus with falafel. Chickpea dip on chip baked chickpea balls? I reworked my baked falafel into this single size falafel pizza, mostly to just up the cute factor. This is for when you just want straight falafel and toppings with no pita bread to slow you down.

Also, it’s great if you are looking for a lighter meal- this is a healthy, vegetarian dinner that will leave you happy and satisfied.  I am trying to trim up a little before my vacation (without any actual exercise… because I am tired and/or lazy).  My thinking is that I can just return back to my equilibrium after going hog wild on vacation.  Logic FTW.

If the falafel in New York is good, I may never be coming home.  Mom, you’re okay with 100% supporting me in a listless New York life full of eating and relaxing, right?  Good.

So tell me, what do I need to see in New York? Where should I go? Most importantly, what should I eat?

FALAFEL PIE
Inspired by Heat Oven to 350

INGREDIENTS

For the Falafel:
1 cup dried chickpeas
1/2 red onion, minced
5 cloves of garlic, roasted
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon coriander (cilantro seeds)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup all purpose flour
Olive oil, for brushing

For the Toppings:
Hummus
Tzatziki
Kalamata olives, halved
Grape tomatoes, halved
Cucumber, chopped
Sweet pickles, chopped
Feta cheese crumbles
Goat Cheese crumbles
Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS

For the Falafel:

Pour dried chickpeas into a large bowl. Cover with water. Let soak at least 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas. In the food processor, combine chickpeas, onion, garlic, cumin, parsley, coriander, salt, lemon juice, and water. Pulse until mixture forms a paste. Fold in baking powder and flour, until mixture stays together. Add more flour if needed.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide falafel mixture into four portions and form into 5-6 inch circles. Brush tops with olive oil. Bake for 20-23 minutes, rotating pans halfway through.

Top with any mixture of desired toppings. My favorite way is to spread a layer of hummus on the falafel pie and top with olives, tomatoes, cucumber, pickles, and goat cheese. Season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Makes four falafel pies.

Eggplant Veggie Burger

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Some days while I am in the kitchen, I am just doomed for disaster.

The day I made this veggie burger the fire alarm went off, a bag of sugar fell over and spilled in my cabinet, and  an almost full bag of chocolate chips fell all over the floor.  Apparently bad things do come in threes.

When those chocolate chips fell all over my kitchen floor, I am pretty sure my neighbor just heard me repeat “Oh my god.  Oh my god” for about five minutes as I stood in my kitchen with my hands over my face.  Serenity now!

After I cleaned up several of my messes and frantically fanned my fire alarm with a towel while standing on a shaky chair, I got to sit down and take a bit of this veggie burger.  The only good part of that evening was that this veggie burger turned out to be DELICIOUS.  I have had a few veggie burgers, mostly legume based, but had never made my own before.  I know we have all had our share of bad veggie burgers, but this is not one of them.  I saw this veggie burger on The Best Thing I’ve Ever Eaten, and I was intrigued with its eggplant and cheese base.   To Google I went, and this veggie burger recipe I found!

This burger is meaty (without any actual meat), cheesy, herby, and wonderful.  While I am still not over the best beef burger I ever ate, I really enjoyed this veggie option. It is no replacement for a thick, juicy burger, but it is a wonderful alternative for any vegetarian or anyone who just loves eggplant.

EGGPLANT VEGGIE BURGER
Adapted from the Farm Cafe

INGREDIENTS

For the Burger:
2 eggplants, 1/2 inch pieces
1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 shallots, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

For Toppings:
4 ciabatta rolls, cut
Caramelized onions
Whole grain mustard
Goat cheese

INGREDIENTS

Put eggplant in a large skillet over medium. Cook until beginning to soften, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook until mostly softened, 15-19 minutes. Stir in shallots and garlic. Season against with salt and pepper if needed. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes.

Reserve 1/4 of the eggplant mixture. Take the other 3/4 of the mixture and transfer to a food processor. Process until smooth. In a large bowl, combined the pureed eggplant, the reserved chunky eggplant mixture, panko breadcrumbs, Gruyere cheese, and parsley. Stir together. Using your hands, press into 4-5 patties. Place patties on a plate and freeze for 15 minutes to let patties set.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Grease pan with oil or butter. Fry patties to get a brown crust, about 2-4 minutes per side (depending on burger thickness). Place on ciabatta bun and top with caramelized onions, whole grain mustard, and goat cheese.

Makes 4-5 veggie burgers.

Pupusas

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Flea markets are fascinating places- there aren’t many other places where it is socially acceptable to thumb through people’s stuff. Flea markets often attract some interesting characters, and people watching there always leads to philosophical pondering about humanity.

My best flea market experience, you ask?  (Yes, you are asking).  A friend and I were once approached my a young artist who offered to sell a drawing of him and his “boys” (as in peers not children for those of you not as hip on the lingo as I am).  We looked at his stuff and told him we would have to get back to him later if we decided to buy something.   Unfortunately, he could not afford a website since he was quoted a reasonable cost of $10,000, but he gave us an e-mail address where we could find him if we were ever in the market for some art.  Fast friends can be made at a flea market.

Apparently, flea markets are also a great place to get some good food as well. My first experience with pupusas was at our town’s flea market, and it was love at first bite. Pupusas are a Salvadoran dish where a corn mixture is stuffed with filling, lightly fried, and topped with a cold cabbage slaw.

Put in any filling that you can think up- I personally think some pork carnitas with some queso fresco would be wonderful. Or even just plain  cheese would be delicious.  Pupusas are very similar to the Mexican gorditas and would be a great dish to celebrate the Americanized holiday of Cinqo de Mayo.  I support any holiday that perpetuates the idea of eating guamole, drinking margaritas, and snacking on pupusas.

Do you think I could sell someone this website for $10,000?  These pupusas are worth at least $5,000.  I will accept cash, credit, or debit.

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PUPUSAS WITH PINTO BEAN FILLING
Adapted from The Kitchn

INGREDIENTS

For the Cabbage Slaw:
3 cup shredded cabbage
2-3 carrots, julienned
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Red pepper flakes, to taste

For the Pinto Bean Filling:
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup pinto beans
1 /2 cup grape tomatoes, chopped
Bay leaf
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 cup vegetable/chicken broth
2-3 ounces queso fresco, crumbled

For the Pupusa:
2 cups masa harina
1 1/4-1 1/3 cups water
Cooking spray

INGREDIENTS

For the Cabbage Slaw:

In a large bowl stir together cabbage, carrots, and red onion. Stir in vinegar, sugar, salt, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Adjust seasoning to taste. Chill for at least 1 hour, or longer. The flavor will develop the longer you let it chill.

For the Pinto Bean Filling:

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Melt butter and add onion. Cook until softened, 5-6 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Stir in pinto beans, tomatoes and bay leaf. Season with smoked paprika, oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper. Add vegetable/chicken broth. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Simmer until liquid is completely absorbed, 8-14 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the Pupusas:

In a large bowl stir together masa harina and water, starting with the least amount. Let sit for 10 minutes. If the mixture is too dry, add more water (I find 1 1/4 cups of water to be enough).

Separate the dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll into balls and press flat. Spoon a small tablespoon amount of pinto bean mixture in the center of each piece of dough. Sprinkle queso fresco on top. Wrap corn batter around filling, pinching closed. Press into flat disk.

Heat a large skillet over high heat. Spray the pan with cooking spray (I find this is easier than melting butter since it evenly coats the pan more). Place pupusas in pan and cook for 3-4 minutes per side. Repeat as needed until all pupusas have been cooked.

Serve pupusas with cabbage slaw and additional queso fresco on top.

Makes 12 pupusas, served 3-4.

Primavera Enchilada Pie

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Do you ever get into a rut?

I feel sometimes like I need some constant form of stimulation, or else I am bored.

I was feeling a little blah this week.  Feeling blah for me equates to a lot of sitting around watching television.  This week meant rewatching all of Dawson’s Creek on Netflix (no shame).  I watched this show off and on when I was a young, bratty preteen, and I have a secret to admit: back then I liked Dawson better than Pacey.

I can only blame this on my love for overly emotional, good boys back then.  I was blinded to the fact of how annoying Dawson was.  Blah, blah, I want to make movies, Joey why don’t you love me, wahhh.   And let’s not get started on little Joey who could never make up her mind  and acted superior to the world.

But I love this show still: sooo dramatic.  My favorite moment is tied between everyone jumping into the pool (with their clothes on, those crazy kids!!) after a long study session or Dawson’s dramatic walk out of the PSATs to show solidarity with Pacey.  Or maybe Dawson’s awful cry face when he tells Joey to go be with Pacey.  Too many great moments to choose from.

I have now watched almost every episode with those four whiny kids from Capeside*, and I gave myself a Cher-snap-out-of-it moment.    It was time to get up off the couch.  Rut time over.

Thank you to those of you who put up with a Dawson’s Creek rant that is about 10 years late.  Now on to the food,  I promise.

One of my first steps for getting out of my rut was making a new dinner with some spring veggies since spring finally seems to be here to stay since there is no snow forecasted in the next ten days.   Take some asparagus  peas, leeks, and any other veggies you love, sauté them, and coat them in a goat cheese sauce.

That would be a good enough, but it doesn’t end there.  Next you put the veggies between two tortillas and bake it.  This way the top tortilla gets crispy and the bottom one is soft.  It is a perfect mix of enchilada and tostada textures.

Here is my resolution: keep making delicious dinners like this and to get out more.

Also, rewatching Dawson’s Creek on Netflix with a completely different them song almost defeats the entire purpose of the show.

*For full disclosure, I do not judge Dawson’s Creek viewers- I too love it, just for what it is: melodramatic teens.  And also, this rewatching was over a few weeks.

PRIMAVERA ENCHILADA PIE
From Cinnamon Freud

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon of butter, divided
1/4 cup sliced leeks
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chopped asparagus
1 1/2 cup frozen peas
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons flour
1 once goat cheese
8 corn tortillas

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 1/2 tablespoon of butter and leeks.  Season with salt and pepper, and cook until tender, 5-7 minutes.  Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.  Stir in asparagus  peas, and remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter.  Cook until tender, 4-6 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in milk.  Heat until simmering and whisk in flour.  Cook, stirring occasionally  until thickened, about 3-5 minutes.  Stir in goat cheese until melted.

Place four tortillas on a greased baking sheet.  Divide filling between the tortillas.  Top with remaining four tortillas.  Top with additional filling if desired.  Bake for 13-17 minutes, until golden brown.

Serves 4.

Corn Cakes with Tomato Goat Cheese Salsa

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Corn bread + pancakes = Corn cakes

This is the kind of math that I can fully get behind. The regression and factor analysis I have to do in school- no, thank you. Unless we are regressing deliciousness on chocolate, I just am not interested.

For this month’s Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned Kristy’s blog Gastronomical Sovereignty (love the name!). After browsing through her recipes, I saw lots of dishes that I wanted to make, but unfortunately my budget this month was a little tight due to some extra splurging.  So I searched for something delicious that could be made with ingredients I had on hand, and I came across these corn cakes. They are easy to put together, and I bet you too already got all the ingredients (or close substitutions) at hand.

These corn cakes are full of sweet corn flavor, and the acidic salsa on top adds a great contrast. There are so many possible variations you could make with these corn cakes. You can go completely savory like this recipe, or try out a southwestern version with beans. I think these corn cakes would also be great topped simply with maple syrup or even a sweet blueberry sauce.

Dessert corn cakes? I must do some serious mathematical calculation about this delicious idea. I will get back to you.

Also this recipe is a great way to incorporate the healthy Pompeian grapeseed oil– it won’t interfere with any of that great corn flavor!

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CORN CAKES WITH TOMATO GOAT CHEESE SALSA
Adapted from Gastronomical Sovereignty

INGREDIENTS

For the Corn Cakes:
2 cups corn kernels
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup masa harina
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1- 1 1/4 cup milk
Pompein Grapeseed oil, for coating the pan

For the Tomato Goat Cheese Salsa:
1 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup pepperocini, sliced
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled.
Salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS

For the Corn Cakes:

In a bowl combine corn, flour, masa harina, salt, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix until combined. Whisk in eggs and milk. When adding the milk, add slowly while mixing until desired consistency is reached. The batter should be like a thick pancake batter.

Heat a large skillet or griddle over high heat. Grease the pan with oil (or nonstick spray). Place tablespoon-fuls of batter in the pan, being careful not to over crowd. Cook 2-3 minutes per side, until golden brown. Repeat with remaining batter. You can keep the corn cakes warm in a 250°F oven.

For the Tomato Goat Cheese Salsa:

In a bowl, combine tomatoes, pepperocini, red onion, and goat cheese. Season with salt to taste. Serve warm corn cakes with salsa on top.

Makes approximately 30-34 small corn cakes.