Red Pepper And Broccoli Cous Cous Pilaf

Red Pepper and Broccoli Couscous Pilaf

I really love couscous. It’s so simple, almost flavorless, but I love the fluffy texture, the fact that it fills you up like grains without weighing you down, how well it seems to work with other ingredients, oh and how good it is for you. It’s gotta be the grain with the least amount of calories. 😉 Even when you go whole grain, you gain extra nutrition and lose nothing in flavor. Kickin’

Steamy Broccoli Red Pepper and Onion

I love the colors of this dish the bright reds and greens of the vegetables pairing very well with the earthy tone of whole wheat couscous; creating a well balanced work of art that sustains tastefully and visually. While I wouldn’t call this a heavy dish, couscous is a grain and pushes this to the upper echelon of the “light” scale. Serve as a main course that won’t weigh down or as a side dish, paired with some protein. I can see some sort of chicken dish as an excellent accompaniment.

Aromatics and Herbs

Red Pepper And Broccoli Cous Cous Pilaf
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 red bell pepper; diced
1 yellow onion; chopped
2 cloves garlic; minced
1/2 jalapeño pepper (or an entire on depending on your heat limits)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon tamari (or soy sauce)
generous pinch of salt (optional)

6 oz broccoli; chopped into small florets (2-3 cuts depending on the size)
1/2 couscous

Steam your broccoli until only slightly tender, about five minutes and remove from your steaming water source. Set aside. Bring a bit more than half a cup of water to a boil i a small pot, add couscous, remove from heat and let sit, covered, for at least five minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Cook your onions (with the oil) in a large pan at medium heat for one minute. Add the red bell pepper and cook until the onions become partially translucent and the red pepper has become slightly soft; approximately 5 minutes. Stir occasionally. Reduce to medium heat, add your garlic, jalapeño and herbs and cook until the garlic is fragrant; approximately 1 minute.

Reduce to medium-low heat and add your broccoli, couscous, tamari and salt. Mix well and cook until the broccoli is tender. Remove from heat, serve and enjoy.

The first signs of Spring came out in style this past weekend with some excellent sun, a light breeze and warm temperatures that helped you forgot the horror that snowpacolypse. On Sunday a group of of us went on our first outdoor climb of the new year at Great Falls. Despite rather high water levels we had a blast and got some excellent climbs in.

Apples And Pears Pot Pouri

Inspired by the weather, I ventured out to the Falls Church Farmers Market on Saturday, which has actually been open since January. Props to that. There’s something calming about Farmers Markets; centering. Scores of people walking about just talking, sampling food; no rush, no place they have to be. It’s just a contrast from the usual everyday life in DC where actually forget about how much stress and urgency we’re practically swimming in.

Yukon Golds Yukon Golds - Quartered

With us being on the tale end of winter, I honed in on the root vegetables; beets, leeks, potatoes… and a few apples of course (huuuuge Fuji’s. yum!) The leeks ended up in a nice simple, but delicious potato leek soup and I have visions of a small batch of borscht for the beets. The potatoes, yukon golds to be exact, had their own destiny.

Oven Baked Yukon Golds

A very smart person once said that the secret to good food is to use fresh ingredients and do very little to them. While it’s easy to to consider the potato as nothing more than bland, there is an essence of flavor somewhere and simplicity is the best way to draw that out. Local fresh is key here. Potatoes start with a rather thin skin when just yanked out of the ground and this thing tends to get thicker as the months roll by (which I can promise you is happening with spuds at your local megamart). When looking for potatoes at your local market, look for paper thin and you won’t be disappointed. Then, toss with a bit of oil, some salt and pepper and then whatever herbs you may like (fresh if you got em but dried if you don’t).

Oven Baked Yukon Golds
Consider this a guideline. Throw out the cookbook (or, put it back on the shelf).

Yukon Gold potatoes
herbs (rosemary, thyme…)
salt
pepper

Preheat your oven to 400°. Cut your potatoes into 1.5 piece cubes, most likely just in half unless there notably large; in which case quarter them. Toss with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Start with one and add more if necessary for a light coating. Throw in a tablespoon of fresh herbs or a teaspoon of dried and set on a sheet pan. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper and bake for 30 minutes until the pieces are easily pierced but still firm. Let cool briefly, serve and enjoy.

I do, on occasion, try to eat a meatless dinner. Flipping through Giada De Laurentiis’s Giada’s Kitchen: New Italian Favorites always helps to make me feel good about veggies again. Italian cooking has a lot of great vegetables and healthy things about it, but in restaurants the food just seems to get so bogged down with cheeses and oil. Giada unearths the good food under all the excess.

Broiled Zucchini, Yellow Squash and Potatoes, Lightly Herbed & Sprinkled with Cheese1

I was drawn to her Broiled Zucchini and Potatoes with Pamesan Crust recipe… but with a few changes, of course!

I traded in the new potatoes for two small to medium sized Russet potatoes. I also added in two yellow squash in addition to the zucchini, and I used a bit of shredded Vermont White Cheddar cheese instead of Parmesan. Instead of buying fresh herbs (which are wonderful, but just not that accessible for a quick weeknight dinner) I used dried. I thought the result was pretty awesome.

Broiled Zucchini, Yellow Squash and Potatoes, Lightly Herbed & Sprinkled with Cheese2

Since I had more vegetables than the original recipe, I added in a little more unsalted butter to cook them in. So that I didn’t turn a relatively healthy meal into a butter fiesta, I used 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter + 2 tablespoons of Smart Balance butter. I would also recommend that you cook the veggies in batches in your skillet; I had a giant skillet to use and even with that things were just a little too crowded. The vegetables taste great, with a tiny bit of salt, cheese and butter giving it just enough zip to turn a veggiephobe into a new friend for life.

Broiled Zucchini, Yellow Squash and Potatoes, Lightly Herbed & Sprinkled with Cheese3

Broiled Zucchini, Yellow Squash and Potatoes, Lightly Herbed & Sprinkled with Cheese
adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

2 small/medium size Russet potatoes, cleaned and quartered
2 tablespoons unsalted butter + 2 tablespoons Smart Balance butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons rosemary
2 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and then cut into 1 inch pieces
2 small yellow squash, halved lengthwise and then cut into 1 inch pieces
Pinch of kosher salt and black pepper
1/3 cup freshly grated Vermont white cheddar

Boil a medium pot of water on high heat. Add quartered potatoes and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and let cool. Cut into 2 inch pieces when cooled.

Over medium heat, place a medium saute pan with butter, garlic, thyme and rosemary – heat until the butter melts. Meanwhile, lightly salt the cut surfaces of the zucchini, squash and potatoes. Place the cut side down in the melted butter and cook for about 15 minutes when golden brown.

Preheat the broiler and line a baking sheet with foil. Place the browned zucchini and potatoes on the sheet with the cut side facing up. Sprinkle with Vermont cheddar. Broil until cheese melts (about 4 minutes). Serve while hot!

From Foe To Friend – Baked Tomatoes With Cilantro

I never really liked tomatoes as a kid.  Being a picky child growing up, unless it was in Heinz 57 or Ragu form chances were I would not be a fan.  To be fair, the tomato plant started this cold, unamaciable relationship when it decided to give me hives.  My mother had a small vegetable (and tomato) garden in our backyard and one day while my sister and I were playing we somehow ended up in the garden and next thing I know I’m breaking out in itchy bumps with absolutely no idea what’s going on.  Tomatoes fired the first shot.

Tomato Sliced Tomatoes

Fast forward to present day and the tomato and I are best buds; hanging out, making soups, playing catch (i like to throw ball-shaped food up in the air.  i usually catch it), having a good time.  I friggin’ love tomatoes now and do not mind saying that I will, on occasion, eat this noble fruit like an apple.  Oh, if only the old me could take a gander now.

Ready For Slathering!

This is a nice simple recipe that would work well as a no-fuss side dish.  You could easily be prepare this, set it aside, and pop it in the oven when the timing works with everything else on the dinner menu.  I opted for dried cilantro simply because I had it and I hate buying fresh herbs when I know I’ll only use a small fraction and the rest will slowly whither and die in my fridge (so much anger….).  Feel free to go the fresh route if so inclined; just use two tablespoons rather than two teaspoons.

Baked Tomatoes With Cilantro

Baked Tomatoes With Cilantro
Be sure to serve this directly from the baking dish, as the tomatoes will be very soft.

4 tomatoes (approximately 2 pounds; maybe a bit less); cut into 1/4 inch slices
5 cloves of garlic; minced
2 teaspoons dried cilantro
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (much less if you’re a spice wuss such as moi)
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 350°.

Lightly oil a glass baking pan and layer your tomato slices as shown in the photograph above. Combine your remaining ingredients and spread/smother/slather atop the tomatoes. I recommend just using one of your (clean! you wash before cooking, right?) hands to mix and distribute. Simple with a bit of salt and pepper, then bake for 25 minutes. Serve in the baking dish and enjoy.

Growing up with an German mother, Bavarian dumplings were not an uncommon accompaniment to main courses of goulash, beef tips and rouladen.  To say I was quite fond of these suckers doesn’t really saw much, since I inhaled just about every dinner mom put before me (I was a…. healthy eater).  I never really understood how they were made growing up, existing in this nebulous state of origin; with characteristics from several directions.  A little potato, a little noodle, a little cake.  It was a delicious mystery.  Later I came to find out that mother (and her mother and probably her mother, etc etc) made dumplings from a box mix, killing that unknown with a dull thud.

Dumplings Minus the Filling

I have a few of those very box mixes in my cupboard, of course, because there’s just something about the food you grew up eating that takes you to a warm comfortable place, no matter what it is or how it was made.  I am amazed sometimes by the culinary geniuses at some restaurants, but it will never replace my mom’s home cooking.  Ever.

Dumpling Filling

That being said, I do love stretching my wings, throwing myself into an area of cooking that I have no experience with and very little business trying.  I’ve been reading a bit about cooking in the Middle East and Africa (thank you, local library) so I decided to try a dumpling inspired by this reading; not from a box (sorry Mom!).

African Inspired Rice Dumplings

African Inspired Rice Dumplings

1 onions; chopped
2 garlic cloves; minced
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon allspice
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 cup cooked long grain rice; strained well (press the water out a bit)
2 1/2 cups flour
3 tablespoons milk
salt and pepper

Saute the onions with the butter in a large pan for five minutes then add the garlic and spices and cook for another five minutes. Mix with 1 cup of flour and set aside.

Process the rice in a food processor for 30 seconds and transfer to a mixing bowl along with 1 1/2 cup of flour, milk along with salt and pepper to taste. Mix together, adding additional flour until not too sticky to work with (it will still be a bit sticky). Work into golf size balls and then flatten. Put 1-2 teaspoons of your onion mixture on your rice dough and wrap around to reform a ball. Boil in water for 30-40 minutes until dough is cooked through. Serve and enjoy.

Man, I love Halloween.  Georgetown was a blast as always and there were some really original cool costumes.  My inspector gadget was quite successful, with random strangers yelling “Inspector Gadget” as I walked by.  The extra hour was well spent, livin’ it up until it was time to pass out (not booze related).  Good times!  I’m already plotting next year’s costume (Mad Hatter, maybe?).

Fingerling Potatoes and Rosemary

I was walking the produce aisles of my local Trader Joe’s, which is conveniently located near the local library I go to on the weekends to actually get some work done, when I came across some fingerling potatoes.  The first thought that popped into my head was “fun size potatoes”.; followed quickly by my second thought “Man, these would make great fingers for a Halloween recipe”.  Next year.

Sliced Fingerling Pototoes

Potatoes can take a while to cook even when chopped, so the size of these is rather convenient for during-the-work-week cooking.  Pay heed to the instructions about the pot or pan used.   Stock takes a while to reduce (as does wine and just about anything else you’re going to reduce), so you really want something with a lot of surface area.  This will up the rate of reduction while still allowing all your potatoes to be immersed.

Overall, I liked this. I may experiment with some fresh thyme next time…

Rosemary and Garlic Fingerling Potatoes

Rosemary and Garlic Fingerling Potatoes

4-5 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion; chopped (I went with larger pieces than I normally go)
4 garlic cloves; minced
1 tablespoon butter
Leaves from one sprig of rosemary; coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt or more to taste
2.5-3 cups stock (vegetable or chicken)
1-1.5 lb fingerling potatoes; sliced lengthwise

Saute your onion in oil under medium-high until browned; approximately 5 minutes. Add all your remaining ingredients but the potatoes and cover to bring to a boil. Once boiling, add your potatoes, cover again and bring to a “strong simmer” or “weak boil” (I have no idea if these are valid culinary terms). Let it stay like this to reduce your stock; approximately 20-30 minutes.

When close to all the liquid being gone, raise your heat to medium/medium-high. What you’re going for is some light browning on one side of your potatoes. Be sure to watch it at this phase because it’s very easy to burn it if it sits too long! Once the one side has begun to brown, toss and cook it like you were sauteing it. When well browned all around (rhyme!), remove from heat and serve.

If you used a non-stick pot/pan and you have some burnt stuff on the bottom, never fear. Simply deglaze and add to your potatoes for an even richer taste. Enjoy.

I never saw the movie Ratatouille when it came out, despite its rave reviews and the insistence of my friends. “You love food! Why haven’t you seen it!?” Add it to the long long list of movies I’ve never gotten around to. After insisting I see the movie, many people insisted I make the actual dish it’s named after, believing the veggie maniac in me would love it. Oh, how little they know me!

Anti-Zucchini Ratatouille With Rice

The dish in the movie was not actually ratatouille (gasp!). It was in fact a dish called confit byaldi, which is a variation of the original French dish (actually, it’s a variation of the classic confit byaldi, so really it’s a variation of a variation, but I digress). There were a bunch of tweaks here and there to the recipe but one of the most notable for me was the prominent role zucchini played. Summer squash and I, we’re not friends. You add that sucker to just about any dish and it’s a good chance it’ll ruin it for me. I once made a vegetarian chili with a good deal of this foul ingredient and it was so bad I had to throw it out (and I hate wasting food).

Mmmm Veggies

I do, however, enjoy winter squashes; being far less bitter than their warm weather counterparts. I decided to try a variation because the idea of a meal so rich in delicious vegetables was very enticing. So I threw in acorn squash and while I was at it I replaced the juicier tomatoes with cherry tomatoes (which, I acknowledge, is a bit of a pain in the butt to chop when you have a pound of them) so the individual ingredients could have a chance to express themselves. Maybe it’s just me, but often I feel like tomato sauce is just too strong to play nicely with mild flavors. Don’t like your meatloaf? Drown it in ketchup!

Buncha Cherry Tomatoes

I was pretty pleased with the results, though I doubt this could be considered any more authentic than the movie version. The vegetables definitely kept their identity and the versatility of this dish is a big plus. You can use it as a side, the main course, over rice, over couscous… If you prefer a more “wet” dish, just replace the cherry tomatoes with plum or canned.

Onion and Cherry Tomatoes Anti-Zucchini Ratatouille

Anti-Zucchini Ratatouille

1 eggplant; chopped into 1/2-1 inch cubes
1 acorn squash; cut into fourths
2 bell peppers of any kind (I recommend at least one sweet: red, yellow, orage)
1 lb cherry tomatoes; chopped
2 onion; chopped
4 garlic cloves; minced
Leaves from one sprig of thyme; chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 bay leaf.

Preheat the oven to 450. Place your eggplant in a bowl with about 4 tablespoons of oil and a teaspoon of salt (this is approximate, assuming a pound of eggplant) and mix to combine. Spread onto baking sheets so they have a little space between them. Using a brush (or your hands), lightly coat the acorn squash with olive oil and place in its own baking pan. Deseed and cut in half your beller peppers and place in their own baking pan. Roast everything for 15-20 minutes until the bell pepper skins are beginning to loosen. Leave the acorn squash in for another 10-15 minutes until the flesh is tender. Let everything cool until it can be handled.

Chop the bell peppers and place in a bowl along with the eggplant. After removing the skin from the squash, chop and add to the bowl. Set aside.

In a large (LARGE. Everything’s gonna end up in this sucker) pan under low to medium low heat, cook your onions and garlic with the herbs and spices with two tablespoons of oil until the onions are very soft; approximately 8-10 minutes. You’re cooking under low heat to avoid browning, so be sure to watch and stir on occasion.

Add the tomatoes, raise the temperature oh so slightly and cook until the tomatoes have begun to soften but still have their shape; approximately 10 minutes. Add your bowl of vegetables along with the salt and pepper to taste. Cook to reduce some of the liquid out and so that all the ingredients have a chance to mingle; approximately 10 minutes. Remove from heat, server and enjoy.

All righty! So now you know how to roast and peel a bell pepper. Time to put those fancy new skills to work. Hummus, as I’ve mentioned before, is easy to make and the order of steps is so flexible that it’s very easy to experiment with. AND it’s a great option for bringing something to a party (even when one of the hostesses of said party is a crazy foodie).

Ingredients for Fire Roasted Red Bell Pepper Hummus

Another great thing about hummus is that, if made with a strong flavor of its own, it can really work with a lot of different “scoops.” Sure pita and tortilla chips are the classics and they do offer some accent to the flavor; but they’re largely just edible spoons. As I type this, I’m eating some of this delicious hummus with celery (what can I say? I’m a calorie counter). Do not fall in societal constraints! Eat hummus freely, with whatever you have at your disposal!

Fire Roasted Red Bell Pepper Hummus

Fire Roasted Red Bell Pepper Hummus

1/4 cup olive oil
4 cups cooked chickpeas; drained
2 red bell peppers; roasted and peeled
2 medium garlic cloves; minced
1 1/2 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons lemon juice
ground black pepper to taste (1/4 teaspoon or more)
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Add all ingredients but the oil into a food processor and start processing. Add the oil slowly until you reach the consistency you’d like. Add additional salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy.

The weather was beautiful this past weekend; gorgeous break in the rain we’ve been having lately. I had a special hope for this weekend because of some climbing plans and couldn’t have asked for a better Saturday. A group of us drove up to Seneca Rocks for a day of climbing the peaks. I had never been to Seneca before and it was an excellent experience. The view from 900 feet is… indescribable.

Peas!

As usual, when Sunday rolls around I’m drained and really don’t want to make anything involved; I want quick. I also want something that’ll give me plenty leftovers for the week and, hey while we’re at it, something not too pricey. Cabbage is cheap. Very cheap. McDonalds cheap; and, with a few spices and a little stir fry action, tastes much better. This is really more of a side dish than a main dish, but honestly, when I’m feeling lazy I’ll just eat a ridiculous amount of a side dish to avoid the effort (don’t judge me).

Shredded Cabbage Stir-Fry with Green Peas

Shredded Cabbage Stir-Fry with Green Peas

1 head green cabbage; cored and shredded
2 cups frozen green peas; thawed
1 serrano chili (or any small, hot chili); minced
6 tablespoons oil
1 3/4 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon curry powder (hot or sweet)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garam masala

Heat a large pan or wok to medium heat and add oil (swish around if in a wok). Let the oil heat up for a few seconds then add the turmeric and bay leaves. Cook only for a few seconds until fragrant (too long and it burns) then add cabbage and green peas. Cook, tossing occasionally, for one minute to coat the cabbage and vegetables in oil.

Add the turmeric, cayenne and curry powder; tossing to coat. Stir fry for five minutes until the cabbage begins to soften but still maintain some crisp. Be sure to toss on occasion to prevent burning and ensure even cooking (if you like your cabbage with a bit more crisp, stir a bit less often). Add the chili pepper, sugar, salt and garam masala and cook for a minute.

Thanks to everyone who gave us feedback on the new design. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and we’re proud to say it’s a success. As always, we love hearing from you, so feel free to let us know anytime you have something to say. We’ll keep innovating in DinnerCakes land, so keep your eyes peeled for changes down the road.

Cut Green Beans

As usual, my weekend was packed with things to do. You’re running around all week and then next thing you know it’s 5pm on a Sunday, you haven’t finished your laundry, dishes have stacked up and you’re very hungry. Enter my glorious quickie-fallback: stir fry.

Stir Fried Green Beans with Bell Pepper

Green beans should be in peak season for most people as well as green peppers. I decided to take these as my focus for this side dish. It’s ingredient list is short, but may use more ginger than you’re use to. There’s a style of cooking called Kan Shao, which means “dry cooked” – no stock or water. It’s a bit different than most stir fries, but I liked it.

Grean Bean and Green Bell Pepper Stir Fry with Ginger

Green Bean and Green Bell Pepper Stir Fry with Ginger

2 tablespoons oil
1/2 lb green beans
1 green bell pepper
ginger cut into 56 1/4×2 inch matchsticks
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar

Trim the green beans and cut in half. Cut your green bell pepper into half inch matchsticks. This doesn’t work out too well for the top and bottom of the pepper but go ahead and throw them in with whatever shape you can get.

Heat your wok to high heat and add your oil, swishing (carefully) to coat. As soon as the oil begins to smoke, add the green beans and bell pepper and stir fry for 2 minutes. Transfer everything to a plate. Heat the additional tablespoon of oil and add the ginger, stir frying for one minute. Add the green beans, bell pepper and additional ingredients. Stir fry for 2 minutes and serve with salt and pepper. Enjoy.