Curry Couscous with Chickpeas

So I recently came to the conclusion that I’m not getting enough whole grains in my diet. This, to be quite honest, is an understatement. I don’t normally partake in the breads and pastas of the world. Not because I don’t like them (LOVE bread), but simply because I like to snack, and snacking on fruit just strikes me as a healthier course of action.

One Cup Couscous

Enter couscous. You may remember that Heather recently wrote about spicy shrimp and couscous, talking briefly about healthy eating. Couscous definitely fits the bill. This stuff will fill you up without weighing you (or your scale) down. When you cook this stuff it balloons in size. A quarter cup uncooked yields three quarters of a cup cooked! And less than 200 calories! I think I found a new best friend.

Stir-Frying It Up

This recipe comes from a cook book I’ve recently begun playing with: A Taste of Heaven and Earth. So far I’ve enjoyed cooking from it. It strives for simple dishes with sophisticated flavor and its ingredients are relatively common; obtainable at your average grocery store. Can’t find fault in that.

Curry Couscous with Chickpeas

As usual, I’ve upped the vegetable count significantly. Having tried this, I strongly recommend adding cauliflower; which I’ll be sure to do next time. And of course the usual spice disclaimer applies. I used four tablespoons of hot curry and it was a bit much.

Curry Cousous with Chick-Peas
adapted from A Taste of Heaven and Earth

1 cup whole wheat couscous
1 cup stock (or water if you must)
2 tablespoons oil
1 red onion; chopped
1 carrot; peeled and diced
1 celery stalk; diced
1 green bell pepper; diced
1 red bell pepper; diced
3 garlic cloves; minced
3-4 teaspoons curry powder; depending on your heat sensitivity and type of curry
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 1/2 cups peas; fresh or thawed and drained
ground pepper to taste
tamari to taste (soy sauce in a pinch)

Bring the stock to a boil in a small sauce pan, add the couscous, cover with a tight fitting lid, remove from the heat and let sit for five minutes.

With the oil, saute the onion, carrot and celery in a large pan (or wok) under medium-high heat until the onion is translucent; approximately 3-4 minutes. Add the bell peppers, garlic, chickpeas and curry, sauteing for an additional 2-3 minutes. Be sure to stir constantly so the curry mixes and to prevent the garlic from burning.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the chickpeas, peas and couscous and stir together for a two to three minutes. Remove from heat and serve with tamari and ground pepper. Enjoy.

I know I said that I wouldn’t be baking anything on Saturday for Valentine’s Day, but… I lied? I saw one too many Tastespotting photos of heart-shaped desserts and I just couldn’t take it anymore!

blackberry swirl cake

Usually when I make cakes, I don’t worry too much about decoration. Spending a long time on decorating a cake seems onerous to me. I’d rather focus on the ingredients and the taste; I’m satisfied with simple decoration, like a few fresh flower blooms on a smooth frosted cake.

But on Friday night/Saturday morning I decided to bake a heart-shaped cake, focusing on decoration. I planned to make two 8×8 square cakes and cut them to the shape of a heart – I didn’t want my husband’s head to explode by buying a heart-shaped cake pan (I have, um, a few specialty pans).

blackberry swirl cake2blackberry swirl cake cooked

To make the cake batter, I adapted a recipe for Cherry Cheesecake Cupcakes from Cupcakes! From the Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn (a good book if you’re looking to move past box cake mixes but still not quite ready to bake completely from scratch). I combined one package of plain yellow cake mix, vanilla instant pudding mix, whole milk, vegetable oil, eggs and almond extract. I lined the pans with parchment paper and poured the batter into the cake pans, swirling 3/4 of a jar of blackberry preserves into the batter.

I cooled the cakes for 15 minutes in their pans, lifted them out by holding on to the parchment paper and then chilled them in the refrigerator overnight (to make sure they were firm enough to work with easily).

first heart cut

The next morning I gently stacked the cakes on top of each other and cut a small square off of one corner to make the dip of the heart and trimmed the points off. Then I cut the corners off of either side, to make the sides of the heart less pointy. I then carefully removed the top cake and set it aside.

final heart cut

I made a simple chocolate buttercream frosting, also from the Cake Mix Doctor book. With a thin layer of chocolate buttercream, I frosted the top of the bottom cake, leaving a little extra frosting around the edges (the outline of the heart) to make a sort of pool. I mashed 1 cup of fresh blackberries with a few spoonfuls of confectioners’ sugar (or you could use more blackberry preserves) and spread it on top of the chocolate buttercream frosting.

buttercreamfirst icing

I lightly frosted the bottom of the top cake with buttercream frosting so that the top cake wouldn’t get soggy from sitting on top of the blackberry preserves. I then set the top layer on top of the bottom cake.

blackberry preserves

I finally frosted the entire cake with the chocolate buttercream frosting, setting the cake in the freezer when I finished. After 15 minutes, I removed the cake from the freezer and refrosted any areas that needed to be smoothed or where crumbs had gotten into the frosting (this wasn’t much of a problem since I had refrigerated the cakes overnight before frosting).

top layerheart shaped cake

I bought some Wilton fondant, tore off a few pieces of it and separated it into separate bowls. I let one drop of food coloring on each and massaged it in to create the colored fondant. I worked it into a thin layer and then gently rolled it to make the fondant flowers.

heartshapedcakewithfondantflowersheart shaped cake with flowers

My husband and I really enjoyed this cake, and of course, I was really proud that I had the patience to work on my cake decorating skills! So keep this post in the back of your mind if you have an anniversary coming up or even a kid’s birthday. It’s actually not terribly time consuming, and it’s a lot of fun!

blackberry yellow cake with chocolate frosting and fondant flowers

The Quest for a Quality Macaroni Dish

So I’m going to pretend that last night’s culinary escapade didn’t happen (officially. unofficially, you learn more from failure than success) and move straight on. Life is like a river, loyal readers (do we have any of those yet?). It flows ever forth.

The Arlington Public Library had a book sale this weekend. I’m a bit of a book whore, I have to admit (love knowledge), so I went twice. My partner in crime Heather and I were having a discussion earlier in the week about how neither of us really had a quality macaroni and cheese recipe under our belt. We were both raised on the out-the-box variety: me the classic blue box, Heather the classier, more sophisticated deluxe kind. Coincidentally on my first visit to the book sale, I came across Macaroni And Cheese for the low low price of a dollar. Feeling this was fate, I took this book home with me.
Simple Mac and Cheese Ingredients
I’ve not given this book the time it deserves for a proper review, but it definitely looks promising. It starts off with a brief about why macaroni and cheese is awesome (as if you didn’t know this by now) followed by a mini-guide on the different kinds of cheeses and pastas along with how to put it all together. Despite the name, no seasoned cook should expect to find any secrets here but beginners may find this useful. The remainder of the book is broken into five chapters for the varying categories of mac & cheese: Easy and Cheesy, Soups and Salads, Stove-Top Mac and Cheese, Baked Mac and Cheese, Sweets. The photography is excellent and this is not one of those cookbooks leaving you frustrated; wishing there were more photos of the dishes (hate. those. books). You can expect a photograph every two to three recipes.
Eager to try a recipe out but still nursing bruised confidence after last night’s adventure, I opted for the first recipe from the Easy and Cheesy Recipe: Alpine Macaroni and Appenzeller with Crème Fraîche. This was a recipe with a very cheesy texture but not an overly cheesy taste. With only an eight item ingredient list this recipe, was not overly complicated and instead focused on simplicity. Perfect.
Alpine Macaroni and Gruyère with Crème Fraîche
Alpine Macaroni and Gruyère with Crème Fraîche
adapted from Macaroni & Cheese (I cut the recipe in half)

6 ounces elbow macaroni
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, chopped
5-6 ounces Gruyère, shredded/grated (possible alternatives: Appenzeller, Emmenthal, Comtè)
2 ounces crème fraiche (or more if desired)
a grating nutmeg
1-2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
salt a pepper to taste

Cook the pasta as you cook all pasta: in a rapidly boiling pot of salted water until al dente. Reserve half a cup of the liquid.
Put a bit of the water back into the pot first to prevent burning followed by the pasta, garlic, shallot, cheese, crème fraiche, nutmeg and butter. Toss gently. If too thick or dry, add more water. If the cheese doesn’t melt turn the heat on low briefly and continue to toss.