Ever since I’ve learned the glory that is couscous, I’ve been trying to find ways to incorporate it into my meals. One of the ways I’ve been looking into is as a replacement (or complement) to rice; giving an old favorite a twist. That’s how I came up with today’s recipe.

Onion, Garlic, Carrots and Butter

When I was in high school I worked at the local Arbys restaurant. It was close enough to walk (no car) and far less disgusting than the nearby McDonalds (which was quite disgusting). Oh, and we had a frozen custard station which was friggin’ awesome. One of the side dishes we sold with our rotisserie chicken was rice pilaf which was, for an uncultured high-schooler, quite tasty. It had small bits of vegetables and almond slivers. I decided to use this as my inspiration.

The Makings of a Pilaf

Pilaf is a dish in which rice is lighty sauted in butter or oil and often well-seasoned. I decided to go mild on the seasoning; relying instead on a high quality stock. This recipe can be easily modified per your seasoning or vegetable preferences, but I suggest giving it a shot as a complement to your main course.

Couscous and lentil pilaf

Couscous and Lentil Pilaf
Without a high quality stock to enhance the flavor, this dish will be very mild in taste. Consider spice alternatives.
2 tablespoons butter
1 small oinion; diced
1 clove garlic; minced
1 carrot; diced
1/2 cup green lentils
1/2 cup couscous
1 cup peas (if frozen, thawed)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cumin
4 cups high quality stock
1/4 cup almond slivers

Bring the lentils to a boil in 1 1/2 cup of water and simmer for 12 minutes. Strain and set aside. While the lentils are cooking, lightly toast your almond slivers.

Melt the butter under medium-low heat and sweat the onion, garlic and carrots for 10 minutes; stirring occasionally. Add the lentils, couscous, peas, salt, cumin and stock and bring to a boil under medium-high heat. Reduce to low and cover, letting it simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and leave on the burner uncovered until light and fluffy; approximately five minutes. Add your almonds and any additional salt to taste. Enjoy.

Spinach and Mushroom Pizza with Mom's Marinara Sauce

Groan – It’s hard to write this post when I’m still so full from dinner… four hours later! But if I had it to do over again, I’m sure I’d still wind up eating way too much.

flour cookie sheet

My husband, Morgan, and I got back into town yesterday evening from a few long and difficult days. Thanks to everyone who sent good thoughts our way.

rolled doughspread sauce

Getting back into the swing of things, my cooking/baking wish for the next week is that I’ll avoid baking at least until Easter because I indulged in way too many delicious and fattening things at northern bakeries (ever had Checkerboard Cake? We bought some after my dad exclaimed that he used to enjoy it from time to time while growing up. I had never had it before, and now you can bet I’ll be trying to make it soon).

saucespinach

So today was mostly comprised of cleaning up the apartment, organizing for the week, grocery shopping and decompressing. The weather was gorgeous, and Morgan and I decided to pick up some pizza dough from the nearby Italian Store (I’ve mentioned here before that they have outstanding dough).

mushrooms

We bought ingredients for a spinach and mushroom pizza, but this time we made the sauce from scratch using my mom’s excellent marinara sauce recipe. It’s recently become an obsession of ours to make this sauce for spaghetti, chicken, pizza and anything that could possibly use marinara sauce.

cheesepizza

I have to say this is our finest pizza yet. Making this sauce from scratch is so easy and probably less expensive than buying ready made sauce. We have leftover sauce, so we keep it in an air-tight container in the fridge; it should keep for the week. The spinach was also a great addition and doesn’t call a lot of attention to itself.

slices

I’ll also repeat myself and say how you really need to find a local (non-chain) pizza shop in your area and try to buy a bag of dough. Waiting to try making your own pizza is just depriving yourself of some of the best pizza you’ll ever have!

sliced


Spinach and Mushroom Pizza

1 16 oz bag of pizza dough
1 cup freshly shredded mozzarella cheese
1 package frozen spinach, cooked according to package instructions
1/2 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
flour, to sprinkle on work surface

Heather-Ghost Baker’s Mom’s Marinara Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 to 1 small onion, finely chopped
1 16 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
3/4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
3/4 teaspoon salt

For sauce – Add olive oil to a medium saucepan set to medium temperature. Add garlic and onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and add remaining ingredients. Reduce heat to low; cover and cook for 30 minutes, until mixture is thickened. Stir occasionally. Makes about 3 cups of sauce.

In the meantime, preheat oven to 525 F and cook spinach according to package instructions in a small saucepan. Saute sliced mushrooms in a separate small pan for 2 to 3 minutes.

When sauce is just about done, flour a cookie sheet and roll out dough to a 16 inch circle. Drizzle olive oil over the dough. When sauce is done, pour and smooth sauce over pizza dough, followed by spinach, mushrooms and cheese.

Transfer cookie sheet to oven and cook for approximately 11 minutes (we use a pizza stone, so we preheat the oven with the pizza stone in the oven, then carefully transfer the uncooked pizza to the heated stone. It takes two of us to transfer the pizza without letting it fall apart, so proceed with caution if you go this route).

Let pizza cool for 2-3 minutes. Slice and serve!

Kitchen Tips – What the heck does "picked over" mean?

If you’re working with lentils or other beans, you may sometimes notice that the instructions say, “rinse and pick over.”

The first time I encountered this I was baffled. I thought, “What am I picking over? Is there something bad in here?” Everything looked fine to me!

lentils

Sometimes in beans or lentils you might sometimes find a few little rocks that managed to sneak their way in. I know, it sounds crazy. I’ve actually never encountered one yet; I’ll have to ask the Chef Edwin, the lentil guru himself, how frequently this occurs.

While rinsing or after rinsing, try spreading out the lentils or beans, feel them and look at them. If you see something that looks off, just throw it away. The rest of the batch should be fine. You don’t need to be nervous about it, but do take a look – just thinking about biting down on a rock makes me cringe!

I started a new project at work this week and the change of pace has really been nice. In an attempt to hit the ground running and ramp up quickly I’ve been spending extra hours at the client site; which unfortunately leaves me a bit drained in the evenings. I’ve been without soup for lunch for far too long! Time to change that and introduce a new ingredient: wild rice.

Wild Rice

Wild rice is a great change from your classic white or brown you’re probably more use to cooking with. Not only is it great for you (great source of protein, lysine and dietary fiber. also low in fat), but it’s got a great earthy nutty flavor to it. It’s hard to describe; it tastes “thick.” When cooked the rice “blossoms,” as the inside breaks out of its darker skin. Because of its thickness, it can take longer to cook (45+ minutes) and takes more water (four cups of water to one cup of rice).

Mixture of Vegetables

I wanted something that that said “comfort food;” a label I don’t often give to the healthier soups. At the same time I wanted to preserve the wild rice’s presence instead of it serving as a filler. I decided on it’s major accompaniment to be red bell pepper and fire roasted tomatoes and was very pleased with the result. The moderate use heavy cream keeps it relatively healthy while making it indulgent. I’ve had to use sheer force of will to save it for lunch. The only thing I’d change is possibly adding another pepper. Either way, this earns a spot on my favorite soup list. Let us know what you think!

Creamy Red Bell Pepper Soup with Wild Rice

Creamy Red Bell Pepper Soup with Wild Rice
3 tablespoons oil
1 cup uncooked wild rice; rinsed and drained
1 yellow onion; diced
1 red bell pepper; diced
3 garlic cloves; minced
1 large carrot; diced
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
3 cups vegetable stock
8oz cauliflower; chopped into small florets
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon parsley
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 to 1 cup combination of heavy cream and stock

Cook the rice per the package’s instructions; probably in four cups of lightly salted water for 45 minutes. Rice should be chewy but not crunchy. Remember we’ll be cooking it longer with the rest of the ingredients.

In a large pot, sweat the onion, bell pepper, garlic cloves and carrot in oil for 10 minutes. Add the can of tomatoes along with the rice, cauliflower, stock and spices. Simmer for 30 minutes allowing everything to mingle well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.

Now here’s where your tastes come in. You have two questions: how creamy and how thick? Start with at least 1/4 cup heavy cream and taste. If you want thick and lightly creamy, you’re done. If you want creamier, add more cream. If you want less thick add more stock. Either way, mix together and enjoy.

Cinnacrumb Cake

Hello, folks. I’m not feeling too chatty at the moment. Sadly my grandmother (my dad’s mom) passed away earlier this week. She lived a long life (over 90 years) and thankfully did not experience a debilitating and drawn out illness. My husband and I will be heading up north for the funeral and to be with family, so I’ll be unable to answer your comments and questions for a few days. You will, of course, have Chef Edwin available to answer all your DinnerCakes needs.

combining the cinnamon mixture

In times of stress I’m grateful that I can turn to baking to relax me; I can get into the rhythm and let stress (usually) melt away. I was able to squeeze in a crumb cake this week, inspired by a beautiful “big crumb coffee cake” found on Smitten Kitchen.

swirl the cinnamon mixturebig crumbs

The Smitten recipe calls for a rhubarb filling that frankly made me a little nervous. I decided to replace it with a Cinnabon/cinnamon roll filling which worked out really well. It kept the cake moist (I’ve known some crumb cakes to be sadly dry) and gave it a little depth of flavor. I use the past tense because the cake is now gone.

cinnacrumb cake

Cinnacrumb Cake

For the cake and big crumb recipe, please see Smitten Kitchen.

Leave out the rhubarb filling and replace it with the following –
Cinnabon/cinnamon roll filling
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
dash allspice
1 tablespoon ground pecans

Follow Smitten’s instructions for the cake. Pour half the batter into a prepared 8-inch-square baking pan (I lined mine with parchment paper). Combine the cinnamon filling ingredients and sprinkle over the batter and try to spread it out evenly. Using a toothpick, marble the cinnamon mixture into the batter. Finish by pouring the rest of the batter on top and sprinkle with crumbs in large chunks.

On my cake, the cinnamon mixture bubbled up over top of the crumbs a little bit in one corner. I was fine with this, but if it will bother you then you may want to cut the cinnamon filling in half.

Bake for about 50 minutes on 325F; a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean.

Enjoy.

A friend of mine had a birthday celebration Friday night so a group of us got together at Cactus Cantina in NW to celebrate. I’m a firm believer that no one should go without a birthday cake so I took it upon myself to fill this need. Heather supplied me with a recipe from one of her favorite cookbooks: CakeLove: How to Bake Cakes from Scratch.

Chocolate Pound Cake with Chocolate Raspberry Ganache

I baked this chocolate pound cake pretty much verbatim from the recipe, save a few “realistic” adjustments. The author definitely likes his unique ingredients (sorry, I don’t have potato starch). I topped it with a raspberry chocolate ganache I whipped up and the cake was a success. Mmm…