Thursday, January 29, 2009

Israeli Couscous Pilaf

In addition to wanting to expand my horizons with grains, I've also been meaning to try Israeli couscous. Some people mistake this for a grain, but it's actually a pasta, as is regular couscous. Either way, it's fun to say. Repeat it a couple of times and see what you think -couscous, couscous. Good times, eh? The Israeli version is bigger than regular couscous and it also has a chewier texture. I think it has a lot of potential to be used in cold salads or mixed up with some roasted veggies. I will definitely continue to explore more recipes to use it with.
This dish reminded me a little of a risotto because the couscous was so starchy. I may have added too much liquid and I think the mushrooms helped add to this texture. I'm guessing it's supposed to be a bit drier. I thought about adding some grated cheese at the end, but decided to stay true to the recipe. I thought it made for a nice earthy winter side dish, and paired well with some roasted brussel sprouts on the side.

Israeli Couscous Pilaf
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tblspns olive oil
8-10 oz mushrooms chopped, any kind or mixed. I used baby bellas.
1 cup Israeli couscous
1 1/2 cups veggie broth (preferably a non-tomato based one)
salt pepper

1. Saute onions and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat for about 2-3minutes, then add the mushrooms until they soften and just start to brown, about 6 to 7 minutes. I also added a little oregano when I added the mushrooms. A little thyme could possibly be good instead.
2. Add the couscous and broth, season with salt and pepper, then turn the heat down to simmer. Cover and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 8-10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Peanutty Kale Stew

My main food focus at the moment is grains. I tend to rely on brown rice and quinoa quite a bit, so I feel I need to step out and try to utilize some others. In the past, I have used barley and bulghur, so I will re-visit them. But, I also want to try some off the beaten path grains, like millet and amaranth. Since I am also trying to find more ways to use kale, this recipe was perfect because the recipe suggested serving the stew over millet.

When I told a co-worker today about the combination of pineapple, peanut butter and kale, she thought it sounded horrible. But when I let her check out the leftovers I brought for lunch, she took it all back and said it actually looked good. It was certainly an interesting combination of flavors, and surprisingly quite filling.

Peanutty Kale Stew over Millet
1 tblspn olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 20 oz can crushed pineapple with juice
1 large bunch of kale - cut each side from the stem, then chop cross-wise into 1 inch pieces and discard the stems
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup of chopped fresh cilantro (since it is winter, I used the kind that comes frozen)
1 tspn or more of hot sauce (e.g. tabasco)
scallions - chopped (optional)
peanuts- chopped (optional)

3/4 cup millet
2 cups of water
pinch of salt

1. Boil the water with the salt for the millet. When it comes to a boil, add the millet. Check at 20 minutes to see if water is absorbed. This amount of water should create fluffy millet. If you like it creamier, add more water.
2. In a large saute or saucepan, saute the onion and garlic on medium heat, stirring frequently until lightly browned.
3. Add pineapple and let simmer for about 10 minutes.
4. Add the kale and let it cook down for about 5-10 minutes. It will reduce dramatically, but you need to start with a big pan so you can fit it all.
5. Add the peanut butter, hot sauce and cilantro. Cook for another five minutes.
6. Serve over millet, or mix the millet right in. Top with scallions and fresh peanuts.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sorta Sloppy Joes

The other night, Todd and I were planning to watch a silly movie and wanted a "fun" dinner to go along with it. The movie was Envy with Jack Black. If you've ever watched any Jack Black movies, you know he typically plays a quirky, slightly crazy, dopey yet upbeat character. (I don't know if that describes him very accurately. I'm not an aspiring movie critic, just an aspiring cook.) When I tossed out the idea of making vegetarian Sloppy Joes, Todd, surprisingly, seemed sightly giddy about it, so I decided to go with it. I researched a few different recipes, and off to Whole Foods I went to pick up any missing ingredients.

My review is this: I give a thumbs down to the movie, and a mostly thumbs up to the Sloppy Joes. Or one star to the movie and four stars to the Sloppy Joes if you prefer that rating system. The concept of the movie was actually kind of funny. The Jack Black character is living a typically mundane suburbian life, and working a pretty mindless job for a sandpaper manufacturer. He is a dreamer and an idea guy. He ends up pursuing an idea for the VaPoorizer, which is a spray in a can which when sprayed on dog poop makes it magically disappear (what a concept)! He ends up becoming rich, much to the envy of his less creative best friend/next door neighbor played by Ben Stiller. This is one of those movies that I think makes a cute 30 minute short, but does not hold my attention as a full length movie.

The Sloppy Joes on the other hand, did keep my attention. The flavor turned out pretty good, but they just weren't drippy enough. I'm thinking that the sloppiness of the meat version gets that way from the grease of the ground beef. However, I might be able to somewhat simulate the sloppiness by having a higher sauce to veggie crumble ratio.

I made some roasted red potatoes to have on the side. I thought this might make the meal seem slightly more sophisticated than if I made tater tots with it. I also used whole wheat hamburger buns. Here are the combination of ingredients I used. I'm not exactly sure of quantities because I messed around with it until the flavor seemed right. For my meat eating friends, if you wanted to do this with ground beef (not that I am advocating this) you would saute the ground beef first, then make the sauce and add the beef in.

And who is this Joe character anyway? I need to find out. I'll do some research.

Sorta Sloppy Joes
1 small to medium onion, diced small
1/2 bell pepper, diced small (I used yellow, but green, red or orange would be fine)
1 stalk of celery, diced small
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup of ketchup
2 tblsp mustard (yellow or brown)
1 tblsp brown sugar
2 tblsp red wine vinegar
1 tblsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
about 2/3 of a 12 oz package of Quorn crumbles (you could use any kind of ground beef style veg stuff)
whole wheat hamburger buns
(this will make 4-6 sandwiches)

1. Saute the onions, pepper, celery and garlic for about 5 minutes, until soft.
2. Add all other ingredients, except for veg crumbles, stir and simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes.
3. Add veg crumbles. Turn up the heat a little since the crumbles are frozen, bring back to a simmer, then reduce heat. Simmer 10 more minutes.
4. Pile onto buns. When I made sandwiches with the leftovers, I scooped out some of the bread to make it less dense.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Day Chili

Happy 2009. Today we got the year off to a great start. Todd has hosted a "Chili Ride" Party for many years, and this year I got to host it with him. I had helped make the chili last year, so I had a bit of practice. When we woke up this morning, it was 4 degrees, windy and there was 6 inches of snow on the ground from yesterday's storm, but the sun was shining, so we had that on our side. The wind chill was making for below zero temps, but we decided we should still bundle up and head out for a shorter than usual ride. We named the ride "Destination: Coffee" and 13 of us headed to the Starbuck's in Lexington by way of the snowy bike path. We had lots of fun trying to figure out how to best maneuver our way in the snow.
Back at the house, more people joined us and we had A LOT of food. I sampled pretty much everything: spinach bread bowl dip; fettuccine with veggies; baked mac and cheese; curried lentil soup; salad; sweet potato casserole; stuffed mushrooms; pb&j cookies, chocolaty marshmallow squares, cherry pie, hot mulled apple cider; brownies; and of course, chili.
Todd and I made 5 batches of chili, 3 of which had meat in it. That's a lot of chili! I think we'll be eating it for several days. Todd has allowed me to share his "secret" recipe:

Thick and Hearty Chili
1 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 bell pepper, chopped
8 oz mushrooms, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 14 oz can tomato sauce
1 4 oz can chili peppers, diced
4 cups cooked kidney, black, pinto and/or adzuki beans
2-3 tblsp chili powder
1 tblsp dried oregano
2 tspns cumin
2 tspns paprika
1 tblsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tspn cayenne pepper

1. Heat olive oil in large soup pot. Add veggies and sautee for 20 minutes, sitrring requently.
2. Add tomatoes, beans and spices, cook for 30 minutes, stirring frequently
3. Add vinegar, simmer for a few minutes

optional toppings: sour cream, fresh cilantro, shredded cheese, slice black olives