Sunday, January 27, 2013

Israeli Couscous Salad

Cruising the grocery aisles recently, I came across Israeli couscous and I was thrilled. (Clearly, I'm easily entertained.) I remember a few years ago having a hard time finding just regular couscous in Bismarck's local grocery stores. To see something as seemingly obscure as Israeli couscous now is just cool. If you haven't tried it, Israeli couscous is pearl couscous, larger than regular couscous with a more chewy, toothsome texture.

I brined and roasted a wild turkey for Sunday dinner, but in the depths of winter my palate was craving some sunshine and brightness - enough roasted squash, give me mint and citrus, something fresh and light tasting. To think that I can create and enjoy this beautiful salad in the middle of winter in the middle of North Dakota - it's a tiny miracle. I'm a local food superfan, but I also appreciate the fact that I can find lemons, kalamata olives, and fresh mint in my local grocery store in January.

Frankly, I could've just eaten this salad as my entree, but the turkey was tasty too. If you're pairing this salad with meat, it would actually go better with a more spring-y protein, like a gorgeous piece of salmon or maybe even lamb, with the Middle Eastern flavors going on here.

I say yes to eating seasonally, yes to eating locally, but also yes to eating with diversity, trying new flavors and textures, experimenting, and allowing a little taste of sunshine break through on a cold winter afternoon.

PS - this is my 500th post! I can't believe it's been five years. Beside helping me find my way around my wild game and garden veg kitchen, this simple blog has become a beautiful little community for me of like-minded visitors and friends who inspire me every day. Plus, Rhubarb and Venison has opened up so many doors. I did not consider myself a writer five years ago, but today I find such joy and sense of accomplishment by writing on one little aspect of the rich food culture in my corner of the world. So thank you - friends and strangers, long-time readers and new, thanks for visiting. Here's to the next 500 posts! 

Israeli Couscous Salad
From The Cook and The Butcher cookbook by Brigit Binns. Do not skip toasting the almonds - in fact, I say toasty nuts are always better (insert your joke of choice here). Whether adding walnuts to brownies or almonds to a salad, toast the nuts for a few minutes; it makes a huge difference.

1/4 cup plus 2 Tbls. extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup slivered almonds
1 red onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 and 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
2 cups veg or chicken stock or broth
Salt and pepper
2 blood oranges (ok to substitute regular navel oranges)
1/3 cup pitted brine-cured olives, such as kalamata, finely chopped
2 Tbls. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbls. finely chopped mint
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

In a small skillet, heat 1 Tbls olive oil. Add the almonds and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until golden brown, about 5 mins. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 Tbls olive oil. Add onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 mins. Add couscous and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted, about 5 mins. Add stock, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until couscous is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 8 mins. Transfer couscous to large bowl and stir in remaining 1/4 c. olive oil; let cool slightly.

Using a sharp knife, peel the oranges, removing all the bitter white pith. Working over a bowl, cut in between the membranes to release the sections into the bowl. Fluff the couscous and fold in orange segments, olives, lemon juice, mint, almonds and parsley. Season with salt and pepper if needed and serve.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Sweet Potato Cake

Leftover sweet potatoes? Lucky you. You can mash them, make biscuits, warm them up with a little curry sauce and a smattering of peanuts and cilantro (ok, now THAT sounds good)...or make this lovely little sweet potato cake. And then you can share your sweet potato cake with your little sweet potato.

I unfortunately caught the flu bug recently, so my diet has consisted of tea, toast, oranges, veg soup, Mucinex, and a couple monster cookies because my sweet tooth does not take sick days. But today I started feeling better - almost normal! - and made this little cake. A tiny celebration cake? Maybe. Or maybe it was just my sweet tooth acting up again.

This is actually a not-so-sugary-sweet cake. It's a cross between cake and quick bread. It goes perfect with a cup of hot milky black tea on a cold January the eves we'll be having this weekend.  -5 degrees for a high temp, anyone?

Still, I love North Dakota and I LOVE the four seasons. I understand when those Arizona folks gloat a bit, saying things like "You can't shovel sunshine!" But I love the winter just like I love the summer, spring and fall. I love marking the changes of seasons and how North Dakotans only do certain things at certain times. In the winter, we dig into hotdish and pot roasts while gym memberships and video rentals go up...and then we ditch the gym and the den in the summer to garden, play softball, and eat our weight in watermelon while bumming on the Missouri River sandbars, soaking in a year's worth of vitamin D. So I say relish winter, and while it's cold outside and the oven is hot, bake a few extra sweet potatoes. You never know when they'll come in handy.  

Sweet potato cake, tucked into its little glass cake holder for the evening. 

Sweet Potato Cake
Adapted from Melissa Clark's wonderful cookbook Cook This Now. She is both an amazing cook and fabulous food writer with the NY Times. Can you tell I'm a fan?

1 large baked sweet potato, peeled (flesh must be very soft)
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 c. brown sugar
1 and 3/4 c. PLUS 2 Tbls. all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 eggs
1/3 c. milk
1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbls. powdered sugar
1 scant Tbls. brandy or rum
1/2 Tbls. amaretto liquor
2 Tbls. butter

Mash sweet potato into a smooth puree, leaving no chunks. Measure out 3/4 cup of puree and set it aside (give any remaining sweet potato puree to your toddler - he'll eat it up).

Grease an 8" round cake pan with oil or butter. In a medium bowl, whisk all but two Tbls. of the brown sugar (you'll use the remaining 2 Tbls. in the glaze later) with the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, allspice, and salt. In a large bowl, whisk the 3/4 cup sweet potato puree with eggs, milk, vanilla and oil. Stir in dry ingredients. Scrape batter into pan and bake for 1 hour until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack and let cake cool completely in the pan.

When the cake is cool, make the glaze: in a small saucepan, combine remaining 2 Tbls. brown sugar with powdered sugar, liquors, a small pinch of salt, and butter. Cook over moderately low heat until butter is melted, sugar is dissolved, and you have a caramel-like sauce. Turn the cake out of its pan and set it right side up. Drizzle glaze over the top. Serve with cold glasses of milk or hot tea or coffee.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Green Soup

On the first day of the New Year, I: 

- Ate leftover risotto for breakfast, a savory breakfast win in a fit of "waste not, want not" leftover madness
- Went sledding with my son, bombing down the hill on my butt 
- Painted a bathroom and a hallway (with lots of kind assistance from my husband)
- Cleaned and semi-organized my pantry. Yes, this is the AFTER picture, in case you were wondering...controlled chaos. 

An excellent start to 2013, I dare say. And then I made a pot of green soup. Looks odd, but totally delicious, and nourishing down to the marrow of your bones. Think of it as jumpstarting the new year with real good goodness. 

Soup is a point of contention in our household.  I love soup, especially brothy, vegetably, beany soups that can be classified as salad in a ladle. Meanwhile, my dear spouse is more of a knife-and-fork kind of guy, although he'll take a bowl of soup if there is enough meat and/or cheese in it to keep a spoon standing upright. So know that I made this green soup for me, just for me, with no expectation that the rest of my family would eat it, but knowing full well that they are totally missing out. 

I poured myself this bowl, took a photo, then ate it.  Then I went back to the pot and stood over the stove, dipping my spoon in and eating more right out of the pot; after all, it's just my soup. It's light and flavorful, with caramelized onions giving it depth in flavor, cayenne pepper adding a little heat and lemon juice bringing sunny brightness. And I don't need to tell you how good you'll feel after eating this much spinach/kale/broccoli/chard/whatever greens you put in this.  

Oh, but one tip: after eating this soup, check your smile. No one wants to start the New Year with spinach between their teeth. 

Green Soup
From the lovely book Love Soup. The recipe is completely open to variation. I used kale, broccoli puree that I had in the freezer, and spinach. It's worth noting that 101 Cookbooks did a gorgeous, not pureed version with ginger - check it out here. Use what you have, waste not, want not. 

2 Tbls. olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup arborio rice OR 1 small potato
1 lb. greens: chard, kale, mustard greens, beet greens, broccoli, turnip greens...whatever
12 oz. spinach
4 c. vegetable broth
Big pinch cayenne pepper
1 Tbls. lemon juice (or more to taste)

Heat oil in large skillet over high heat. Add onions and 1/4 tsp. salt; cook, stirring, until onions begin to brown, about 5 mins. Reduce heat to low, add 2 Tbls. water and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are greatly reduced and have a caramel color, 25 mins. 

Meanwhile, combine 3 c. water, remaining 3/4 tsp. salt, and rice (or potato) in a soup pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook 15 mins. Trim ribs and tough stems from greens and spinach; discard. Coarsely chop greens and spinach, keeping them separate. 

When rice has cooked 15 mins, stir in greens (not the spinach yet). Cover and cook 10 mins. When onions are caramelized, add them to rice along with spinach, broth and cayenne. Cook until spinach is tender but still bright green, about 5 mins more. 

Puree soup in pot using either immersion blender or in batches in regular blender. Stir in lemon juice and garnish with extra olive oil.