Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Summer Couscous Salad with Lemon Eggplant

   Have I mentioned that I want it to be summer? Its a funny thing, but on my facebook feed this morning, I saw someone in Thailand complaining about the 100 degree weather there, and longing for New England snow. And I? I would do anything to get away from the snow and enter hot weather. Even 100 degree weather. I'll take it. That being said, we only have to wait another twelve weeks and six days until we board the plane for our quick 25 hour journey to Bangkok. And no, I'm not counting down...

   Because of the outrageous ticket prices, Nick and I are basically on a spending freeze, which means I've been getting very creative in the kitchen to make our food last as long as possible between grocery shopping trips. Thanks to the farm, we pretty much always have a huge variety of dried beans, as well as some grains like quinoa, barley, and couscous at hand. The couscous they have at the farm is a Lebanese variety, but I think its exactly the same as Israeli couscous. Before using it, my only experience with the grain was the stuff that comes in the box and cooks in five seconds. The Lebanese kind is very different, and oh-so-delicious.
It looks like this:

And it cooks up just like pasta. Boil a pot of water, salt the water, pour however much you want into a pan, and cook for about fifteen minutes, or until they are al dente, and strain them. So tasty. Anyway, I put together this cold summer salad with 'grilled' eggplant for our dinner last night. I made all of it in advance, so when I got home from work, all we had to do was assemble it and eat it. Which is my favorite way to cook dinner.

Chewy couscous mixed with cucumbers, carrots, and arugula, drizzled with a tangy, creamy mustard dressing, and topped with grilled lemon-y eggplant. This dish was surprisingly filling-- I had about half the amount pictured above and was stuffed. 

Since the salad is meant to be served cold, its best to make it in advance. But in a pinch, just run the couscous under very cold water after its finished cooking to achieve a cool salad. Anyway.

First, boil the coucous. I used probably about 1 1/4 cup dry couscous for 4-5 servings. If they were my size servings, maybe we'd have gotten closer to 6. But Nick size servings drop it to about 3...

Moving on. Slice an eggplant in half, and then slice the halves into pieces of medium thickness. 

Spray a cookie sheet with non-stick baking spray, and place them all in a row. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Pour 1 tbs olive oil into a small bowl and use a pastry brush to coat each slice in a little bit of oil. 
Squeeze a lemon half over them and then sprinkle some salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper on top. Its up to you how much you want to put on them. Just don't over-salt them.
Bake them for about fifteen minutes, or until they are soft and browned on top. The ones that I cut too thin went black on top...so be careful about that.

Pop these into the refrigerator, and get started on the salad.

I used 1 whole cucumber, two carrots, and about two cups of arugula. Peel the cucumber and the carrot, chop them up into small chunks, and add them to a bowl. Add the cooked couscous on top, and then the arugula.
For the dressing, mix 1 tbs olive oil, 3 tbs apple cider vinegar, 3/4 tbs mustard (I used spicy brown), 1 1/4 tbs light mayonnaise, 3 tbs milk, 1/4 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp pepper, and 1/4 tsp salt. Whisk all the ingredients together, and then pour over the salad.
Mix the salad until everying is combined, and then put it into the fridge until its mealtime. 

This would make a great barbecue salad for the summer too as an alternative to (super mayonnaise-y) macaroni salads. 
   When you serve it up, top each plate with a few slices of eggplant and dig in. We had ours with a slice of crusty, homemade rosemary-sea salt bread. Which some day I will post on here. Because it is so easy. And it sounds really fancy that I made bread, but its actually not. Its embarrassingly simple. 
And then, dine in darkness which according to this picture is what we do.

Fingers crossed  that Spring really comes soon. I'm sitting in front of a space heater now and trying to gear myself up to put my outside running clothes on and take the dog for a good long jog. The sun is out. But I know its lying.

Twelve weeks and six days.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Peanut-Sesame Chicken with Ginger-Soy Veggies

    I've been on an Asian-food inspired kick lately. Probably because every ounce of my being is longing for Chiang Mai. It always happens around this time of the year. Although its easier this time around because I know that I'll actually be there in just over three months. Where I'll eat all the Thai food I can get my hands on, which will be A LOT and I can't wait...but in the mean time, this Peanut-Sesame Chicken with Ginger-Soy Veggies can help tide me over.

A tender marinated breast of peanut-y chicken over sauteed veggies laced with ginger and topped with crunchy almonds. Delicious. And protein packed, which is good, because Nick says I don't eat enough protein. And probably he is right. 

I made the marinade for this in the morning, and soaked the chicken all day. I also cut up the veggies so that when I got home from work at 7:30, all I had to do was assemble the goods.

For the marinade:
First, you'll need one tablespoon of diced garlic. I like to use fresh garlic. The stuff in the jar never tastes the same.
Add two tablespoons of soy sauce.
Two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar.
Two tablespoons pre-made Thai Peanut sauce (you can get this in the Asian aisle at the supermarket)

A palmful of toasted sesame seeds, a dash of crushed red pepper, and a teaspoon of white pepper.
Mix it all together, and add three breasts of chicken. 

Let it marinate for at least four hours. Before you put the chicken in the frying pan, get the veggies ready. You really could use whatever you like for this part, but I used mustard greens, zuchinni, yellow squash, and carrots. And garlic. Of course. Chop everything up into medium bite sized pieces.

In a small bowl, mix up the sauce for the vegetables using:

3 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs vinegar
2 tsp fish sauce
1/3 cup chicken broth
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp crushed red pepper
2 tsp cornstarch

Whisk all the ingredients.

Pour 2 tsp sesame oil into a large pan, or a wok, and fry the garlic until it is just starting to get brown. Add all the veggies, pour the sauce over them, combine, and then turn the heat to low.

Meanwhile, in a non stick pan, add about 1 tsp sesame oil and heat it up. Place the chicken breasts in the pan, turn the heat to medium, and cover them. 
Turn the breasts occasionally until they are cooked through. I usually use a fork to pull away the meat in the center to make sure its no longer pink before serving. 
Once the chicken is cooked, and the vegetables are tender, serve it all up. Chop a few almonds to top the veggies, and dig in. 
This is a fantastic meal to replenish and fill you up after a good workout. And it satisfied (at least temporarily) my Thai food craving.
Just 3.5 more months till we're in Chiang Mai! Street food, here I come!

Enjoy the weekend everyone. I've been on a break making kick, so maybe I will get the gumption to post a recipe of it up here. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Breakfast (for dinner) Bowl

Hello! I hope everyone is having a restful (and dry) weekend. This morning we woke up (at 6 am....on our one day off....thanks to my husbands alarm clock...) to chilly  temps and falling snow. Which is old news now, because there has been SO MUCH snow this year. But this morning, after a fantastic Pilates class, while running on the treadmill I saw the weather reports for Texas. A casual 80 degrees-- I have friends in Texas, and my heart is filled with envy. Have I mentioned that I am ready for summer? Because I am ready for summer. I've been spending most my time dreaming about our trip to Thailand to visit my dad this summer. I try very hard to enjoy every day, and every period of time, because things go by too fast and I don't want to wish it all away...but its hard not to when  the sky seems to be perpetually grey, and all I want to do is put on a bikini and sit in the sun on a beach somewhere. And if there were a cocktail in my hand? I wouldn't hate that.

Last night, after our long work day, Nick and I decided to spend a quiet night in. We mixed ourselves some dark and stormy's, set up the scrabble board, and I whipped up this Breakfast (for dinner) bowl. I've had us on a healthier than usual diet this past week, because I spent last weekend in Syracuse with my dad and my brothers family, and spent most of the time eating delicious dinners out. So this week I was focused on lightening things back up. And this meal fit right into that category, while still being filling, delicious, and comforting.

A hearty bowl of peppery polenta topped with sauteed brussel sprouts, farm-fresh bacon, a fried egg, and shaved parmesan. Awesome. And polenta is INSANELY filling. I had a 1/2 cup in my bowl and could barely finish it. This Italians knew what they were up to when they threw cornmeal into boiling water. 

The ingredients are super simple.

For the polenta:

3 cups water
1 cup cornmeal
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tbs parmesan cheese

For the toppings:

3 slices bacon
about 1 1/2 cups shaved brussel sprouts
1 small onion
4 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper to taste

4 fried eggs (technically I had one plus an egg white cause I hate fried egg yolk, but you do whatever you like.)

Cook the bacon until it is crispy, and reserve the bacon grease in a measuring cup.

Bring 3 cups of salted water to a boil, and VERY SLOWLY pour in the cup of cornmeal, whisking the entire time. Reduce the heat to low, and add in the pepper. Cover it and let it be.

Pour a little of the bacon grease into a frying pan, and add in the 4 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped, and the onion, also chopped up small. Add a little salt and pepper, and allow the onions and garlic to brown up. Add in the shaved brussel spouts. Let everything cook until the mixture is a little bit browned and the sprouts are soft.
I love brussel sprouts cooked like this. Love them. As can be attested to by my sausage and brussel sprout pizza. Which I would make a link to but I don't know how. Anyway...once the sprouts are done, put them in a bowl and add a little bit more of the bacon grease into the pan (just a little for flavor, if you have a nonstick pan like this). Once the pan is sizzling hot, drop in four fried eggs, and sprinkle a little pepper on them.
Cook them however you like- I flip mine because I hate sunny side up eggs with my whole heart. Raw yolk? So gross. To each their own. My dad can't get enough of them. 

Stir a tablespoon of parmesan cheese into the polenta, and then assemble the bowls!

In my bowl:
1/2 cup polenta
1/3 cup brussel sprouts
1 1/2 slices bacon (crumbled)
1 egg + an egg white (I gave the yolk to nick)
2 pieces of shaved parmesan cheese

Truly, so good. Nick was impressed with my creativity in coming up with this bowl, and I had to admit that I came up with the concept based off of a recipe I saw in one of my fitness magazines. But, you know? Everyone needs a little inspiration. This dinner was so good that I didn't even mind that Nick beat me at scrabble by four measly points. Or at least it softened the blow...

Today I will be spending 750 hours at the laundromat washing our LOADS of laundry. I've said it once and I'll say it again...the day that I have my own washer and dryer will be the day I know I've made it big in this world... Tonight we're heading to one of our favorite pubs for a 'date night'...which is what Nick is calling his excuse for watching the Bruins game. Which is fine with me. What are you doing for your weekend? If it doesn't include mountainous loads of laundry, then count yourself lucky.