Monday, August 22, 2011

Falafel and Tabouli

Day 407

Last time we met I told you how, living in the suburbs, there are times I desperately miss my favorite ethnic takeout spots in the city. There was a Turkish spot near my old office that had the best food - just thinking about it makes my mouth water! I was practically addicted to their Falafel and Hummus Salad, which was three or four large, fresh, hot falafel served atop a heaping scoop of cool, creamy hummus and herbalicious tabouli. I guess I thought that without a deep fryer I'd never be able to mimic those flavors at home. Wrong!

During my last year at the agency, I worked on a project with Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian. What I like about her is that she's not a chef's chef. She's a mom of four, with a master's degree, who simply loves to cook. That means her dishes are quick to make and easy enough for the amateur home cook (that would be me!). She's also traveled and lived all over the place so she's not afraid to experiment with different flavors and spices in an effort to recapture some of her favorite dishes from around the world.

On a recent episode on her show, "Ten Dollar Dinners," she created a light, simple menu of some of her favorite foods inspired by two classic ethnic restaurant and takeout dishes - falafel and tabouli. Rather than making her tabouli the traditional way with bulgar wheat, she substituted pearl-shaped Isreali couscous. And instead of chickpea-and-tahini hummus, she made a white bean, yogurt and garlic sauce.

This dish was three strikes - you're in! The falafel was super easy to make, the couscous tabouli was the perfect side - light and fresh - to accompany the fried falafel, and the sauce was absolutely delicious. Not only did the sauce provide an extra element of protein via the white beans, it complemented but also stood up to, the other flavors on the plate.

Time to Dish:
For the falafel, I used can chickpeas. I didn't have time to soak and wait. Guess what? I couldn't imagine it tasting any better so I'll use this shortcut next time, too.

I used Greek yogurt for the sauce, rather than the plan as instructed. Next time, I think I'll cut back on the garlic just a tad. Since it's not cooked at all, the garlic got to be a little strong by the end of the meal.

I always have whole wheat couscous in my pantry, but I've never bought Israeli couscous. I couldn't find it at my market, so I ended up buying a box with a flavor packet (you know the ones), and just used the couscous itself. I also skipped the mint - I'm just not a huge fan.

I skipped the lettuce, tomato and cucumber garnish because I felt the tabouli and white bean sauce was enough to complete the meal. And I'd do it again! I've been craving this since I made it. It will definitely be added into the regular meal rotation.

Falafel recipe:
Tabouli recipe:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Curried Chicken with Saffron Rice

Day 388

Since moving to the 'burbs more than two years ago, Hubby and I are in serious Indian food withdrawal! We just haven't found any close to home that match up with the restaurants we loved in the city. Okay, we probably haven't looked hard enough... Whatever, I admit it.

I'm always on the search for new ways to cook chicken. It gets so boring doing the same ol' thing time and again. This will definitely spice up your humdrum dinner rotation.

Rachael Ray (yes, another RR recipe) calls this a "Takeout Fakeout" dish; we call it delicious! The combination of spices perfectly mimics even the most authentic curry. And, sure, you could just as easily hit up the spice aisle for a jar of curry, but if you're like me you have all the spices on-hand anyway so you might as well use them up! Using the spiced Greek yogurt as a vehicle to coat the chicken keeps the meat tender and moist throughout the baking process.

I served the chicken atop a simple basmati rice steeped in saffron and finished off with sweet peas.

Time to Dish:
Make sure you don't use your nice, silver baking racks for the baking process, unless you want them stained yellow from the curry like mine are. Rookie mistake, Hubby would say.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer Baking: Mexican Mango Cake

Day 373

Ever since Sister and Niece came to visit for my birthday in April and we made a delicious layer cake, I've been wanting to bake more. So last Friday, after completing a couple projects on the work front, I treated myself with an afternoon of baking.

I had dogeared this cake recipe after seeing it on the Food Network's Mexican Made Easy ( program. As you know, I'm obsessed with Mexican food, so any show that gives me tips on how to cook some of my favorite, authentic dishes is a must-have on the DVR schedule. I also love mangoes so this seemed like a no brainer.

The recipe was super easy to follow, and boy did the house smell incredible while it was in the oven. Hubby came home and said, "Something smells amazing!" That's what butter and sugar at 350 will get you!

We went out to dinner while the cake cooled and, as hard as it was to pass up dessert on date night, I kept reminding myself of the treat I had waiting at home. All it needed was the mango sauce to be mixed and poured saucily over the top and, Bon Appetit (or Buen Provecho!)!

It was a hit - even for Hubby who says he doesn't eat fruit (Dislike! He also doesn't have a sweet tooth, which is a problem because as you see the cake disappear you know who's been eating it!). The rich, buttery, vanilla flavor of the cake was complemented perfectly with the bright flavor of the mango.

Time to Dish:
First, the recipe called for vanilla extract, but I didn't see where in the process it was supposed to be added. I added it with the buttermilk, assuming this was okay. Tasted good! Second, the sauce was a little too runny for me, and overly sweet. I think next time I'll use less sugar and store in the refrigerator to pour it on individual slices as they're served. Third, I skipped the tequila (I'm just not a fan) so I guess this is really just a mango cake.

Tip: I used fresh, frozen mango from Trader Joe's and it worked perfectly!


Friday, June 24, 2011

Budding Herbs Take Shape

Day 348

The closest thing I have to a green thumb are my nails done in OPI Gargantuan Grape, and even that was used on my feet, not hands. (Anyone who knows me knows I'm completely terrified of trying bold colors on my nails, and even this light green on my feet was a step outside my comfort zone.) But I digress...

I just haven't been blessed with a horticultural gene. I suppose it's probably more that I've not been blessed with being patient. "Patience is a virtue, just not one of mine," I always say. So you can imagine my surprise when, about one month after planting a small indoor herb garden and tending to it daily with water and love, I noticed the cilantro is starting to take shape! It's also very apropos that this herb out of the five I planted chose to show its leaves first. (Those who know me also know that I am obsessed with Mexican food and cooking, so having fresh cilantro on hand for blending up a salsa or chopping a batch of guacamole is pretty much ideal.)

Hopefully the other green sprouts start to take on their own identities soon. I'm a little freaked out, though, since now I'm at the stage where I'm supposed to add plant food into the daily watering ritual. That might just be my herbs' demise. Just when I thought I was getting somewhere.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Time for Grill Pizza!

Day 346

To kick off summer yesterday, we busted out my favorite summer accessory. No, not my Jack Rogers or Havianas, although those are on the top of my list. I'm talking the grill! (Okay, in all honesty it's not the first time we've used it this year, but since yesterday was officially the first day of summer I felt I owed it a little shout-out.)

I can always eat pizza - always! I went to the market without a shopping list yesterday, simply driven by the idea of grill pizza for dinner. It's so easy, and you can throw on any toppings you want to create your own signature pizza. We went with two different combos.

On one, a salty prosciutto with sweet, caramelized onion finished off with chopped, fresh rosemary and shredded mozzarella. For a base sauce, I used my favorite standby, crushed San Marzano tomatoes dressed up with a little olive oil, salt and fresh garlic. I only remembered later when I was putting away leftovers that I also had arugula for this pizza, but totally forgot about it. Oh, well. It was still delicious.

Our second pizza was a twist on a basic Margherita. It had the traditional trio of toppings: tomatoes (I used Kumato), fresh mozzarella and basil; but I also added dollops of pesto because, well, I'm obsessed with pesto and will employ any excuse to eat it!

Grill = amazing
Pizza = delicious
Grill + pizza = amazingly delicious

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On This First Day of Summer, One Last Taste of Spring

Day 345

I'm a magazine-page-ripper-outer. I have stacks of recipes, gift ideas, beauty tips and more filed around the house. Last month I was waiting for my haircut when I stumbled upon this recipe in Rachael Ray Everyday. Pasta Ribbons with Peas, Prosciutto, Cream and Spring Pesto. Even the name sounded like spring. But, shoot! The magazine wasn't mine! Do I dare rip out the page? At the end of the day I decided that wouldn't be fair to others so I jotted down the name of the recipe in my phone and looked it up as soon as I got home.

As you know, I'm a sucker for pasta. My body literally craves it now and then. And pasta with peas and prosciutto? Anytime I've had the three Ps together, it's been a truly delicious dish.

Sure, this is a little decadent and not something you'd probably want to eat on a regular basis - what with the fatty prosciutto and heavy cream. But the salty and sweet flavors combine in a way that equals magic on your tongue. The rich ingredients tossed with an herbalicious spring pesto combine to create a surprisingly delicate sauce with layers of flavor.

I was originally a little worried I wouldn't find the right type of pasta. I've never seen long ribbons like this at my market. So instead of heading to the bulk pasta aisle, I went straight to the imported foods section, where I discovered mafaldine pasta ( made by Pastene. The curled outer edges were key to holding in the pesto and sauce, guaranteeing a burst of flavor with each bite. If I hadn't found it, I would have probably used orecchiette.

Time to Dish:
My only complaint was that I thought the mint was a little heavy. Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of mint, and while I think it's probably very necessary to balance this dish, I might use a little less next time around. I also couldn't find a thick cut prosciutto so I stacked the traditional thin version before I cut it, which allowed me to create the thicker cubes called for.

My Grade: B
Hubby's Grade: A

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Soup's On: Creamy Broccoli Soup

Day 249

No, you are not going crazy! This is my second post in one week, already topping the one per month I've averaged thus far in 2011. I haven't done too great a job keeping up my Domestic Diaries... There is no time like the present to turn that around.

In honor of St. Patrick's Day there is a corned beef brisket in the slow cooker that I'll serve alongside some potatoes and sautéed spinach (I can't get on board with cabbage) this evening. But last night, we got our green on a little early with this hearty, healthy soup from the February 2011 issue of Real Simple.

Don't let the name fool you - there is no cream in this soup. It's actually a very few simple ingredients - fresh broccoli, an onion, vegetable broth and one potato (that's where the soup gets its texture). You can choose your own accoutrements for topping off the soup. I used the shaved white cheddar on top, as recommended, but rather than serve with bagel chips I made some garlic-infused olive oil-brushed crostini on whole wheat ciabatta. So good! Really any excuse to make some crostini is fine by me, and my local grocer carries the most delicious whole wheat ciabatta that cuts down on some of my carb guilt.

This super easy soup earned rave reviews from Hubby, shockingly enough. I didn't think it would be hearty enough for him, but he said he would definitely want it again. I think the cheese adds a very necessary component to the dish so I wouldn't skip it, even if you are trying to be uber-healthy. It's not that much, but it goes a long way. I would also recommend adding more salt that what's called for, but that's a personal preference so just season as you cook and you'll end up with what's right for you.

My Grade: B
Hubby's Grade: A

Friday, March 11, 2011

(My) Man's (Last) Best Friend

Day 243

Growing up, we always had cats at our house, and my grandparents had cats, dogs, cows, pigs, horses, sheep and chickens on their farm. So, whenever anyone asked the, "Are you a cat person or a dog person?" question, I've always just said "I'm an animal person." And it's true.

Yes, we had cats at home (we weren't around enough to take care of a dog) and I loved them with everything I had. But I also couldn't wait to get out to G'ma and Papa's to take Susie (the world's best black Lab/Rottweiler mix) for a hike to uncover things like arrowheads left behind by the tribes that once inhabited the bluffs in that part of Iowa. That's right, I'm a country girl at heart, born and raised.

So this past summer, when I started showing symptoms of a severe allergy - random hives (including super sexy lip and eye swelling), wheezing and eventually full-on asthma - I had only a sneaking suspicion the cause of this might be our beloved Bella.

When I started dating Hubby more than five years ago, I immediately loved Bella. I realize I sound like every parent bragging how smart or adorable their child is (of course he/she is brilliant and the cutest thing I've ever seen!), but Bella really is the most lovable, sweet pooch I've ever had the pleasure to be around (except maybe Susie, of course). But every time I got too close for too long, I would get little red blotches on my arm or face. Nothing that wouldn't soon enough disappear when I stepped away. I insisted to Hubby that I was allergic to Bella, but he refused to believe me and instead thought I was harboring some resentment against the dog. In all fairness, I have been pretty vocal about the mess she creates on our floor after eating or drinking. There's no mistaking the effects of a bulldog's jowls! I might have some other points as well, but I digress...

Late last summer, however, the more severe allergic reactions started showing up. At first, doctors thought I was exhibiting the classic signs of acute urticaria resulting from seasonal allergies, and prescribed a Zyrtec in the morning, Benadryl at night and an inhaler (I most strongly disliked this) until the first freeze. Fast forward to December when I stopped my antihistamine regimen and the hives and wheezing reappeared. Off to the allergist!

They started by testing me for 30 things, 15 on each arm. One arm was seasonal, outdoor allergies. The other was devoted to indoor allergies, including dust mites and pets. Lo and behold, the ONE thing I immediately showed a reaction to? DOGS! (I might add it was the ONLY thing I reacted to, other than a very minor allergy to cats.) I quickly snapped a photo of the red, blotchy hive developing on my arm and shot it off to Hubby. "See? I told you so!"

Long story short, after reading up on the subject, it turns out I was always exhibiting signs of being allergic to Bella - which I knew, but Hubby refused to believe. But I wasn't around her all day so my body had time to recalibrate and escape enough while I was at work. I was rarely around Bella for more than a few hours at a time, other than weekends. That all changed when I quit my job last summer and began working from home. Bella was my constant companion, my shadow, following nearly every step I took. Upstairs, downstairs, to the elliptical in the basement. She was always right behind me. And when I sat at the computer, she was nuzzled up next to my feet, just rubbing her allergens nice and deep into the office rug. Sigh.

We still have Bella, and I still have allergies, but we've taken some steps to alleviate my symptoms. Hubby takes Bella to the office two or three days a week so I can get some breathing room - literally. And we've ordered a child gate to keep her downstairs at all times. No more sleeping next to my side of the bed, no more breathing in allergens all night long. It all seems to be helping. And, this whole situation has put an end to an always heated discussion of what our next dog will be, and when we'll get her. It's quite simple: I no longer face opposition when I tell Hubby Bella is our one and only. I mean, she couldn't ever be replaced anyway.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Meatless Monday: Butternut Squash Risotto

Day 211

I have to admit that I was turned off from Rachael Ray for a long time after watching her earlier episodes of "30 Minute Meals." As she's gotten more well-known and used to the format, she's lost some of the shtick and I can actually pick up a lot of great tips and recipes from her without wanting to gag from cheesiness. And lately I've noticed she's been featuring a ton of vegetarian options, which I love.

According to Punxutawney Phil, spring is right around the corner and after a long winter of hibernating inside (and what a winter it's been here in New England!), it's time to get back to eating more healthy meals. Now, it does seem like in our house (probably much to Hubby's dismay) we eat more meatless meals than not. In fact, this dish has become a favorite any night of the week.

I was a little scared to make my first risotto. I don't know why. I guess it's because I've heard others talk about how hard it is to get the right consistency throughout the dish. Following this recipe, though, was a piece of cake. It's rich and creamy, warm and hearty, all the things you crave in a risotto.

Now that I'm cooking more often, I don't feel guilty about spending a little more money on fresh ingredients because I'm sure to use them up (they used to all go to waste!). In this dish, especially, the fresh ingredients add so many layers of great flavor. I love the nuttiness from the nutmeg balanced with the saltiness of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the earthiness of the sage. I'll even grate a little extra parm to sprinkle over the top. Anything to help prevent Hubby from whipping out his ol' standby green can of stinky cheese from the fridge.

Technically, the recipe calls for chicken stock, but I've been using veggie stock to make it a truly vegetarian meal and the flavor is still incredible. The other tip Rachael Ray offered was substituting the squash for a can of pure pumpkin. Haven't tried that yet, but will mostly likely give it a go soon. And now that I'm confident in developing the starches for a creamy dish sans cream, I'll probably start experimenting with this base by adding different vegetables and coming up with my own signature risotto.

My Grade: A
Hubby's Grade: A

Friday, January 7, 2011

Big Game Food: Sausage, Peppers & Onions Stoup

Day 180

Stoup: noun \ stüp \ thicker than a soup, but not as thick as a stew

In the meantime, I realize it's been awhile since I wrote about the best foods to enjoy at home while watching the big game. Okay, okay... It's been awhile since I wrote about anything. Touché.

If you have a sports enthusiast in your family who is even half the fan Hubby is, you probably know the NFL playoffs start tomorrow. Our New England Patriots have the week off, but that doesn't mean the TV won't be turned to NFL RedZone for several... long... hours... I'm sure it will.

That said, you know I love a reason to cook up warm, hearty comfort food, and this recipe will help you win the title of Kitchen MVP.

The minute I saw Rachael Ray describe this stoup as a ballpark sausage-peppers-onions-in-a-bowl (the kind you get outside Fenway -- yep, she gave our hometown ballpark a nice shout-out), I could not wait to give it a try. I made the stoup as directed, with one exception: I upped the sausage to two pounds. Hey, if you're making something like this, why not really go for it? (I even managed to find the perfect hot sausage without those pesky caraway seeds. I can't stand those things. Blech!)

It... Was... Amazing. Seriously. So good. You really need to let the sausage get nice and browned before adding the vegetables. And the best part was deglazing the pan after everything had caramelized, bringing all that flavor back to life in the broth. The picture I'm showing you doesn't show the cheese topping, but don't fret -- I added it. It, too, was delicious.

My Grade: A
Hubby's Grade: A