Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Couscous w/ Fresh Corn, Garden Tomatoes & Arugula Pesto

I've been known to polish off a coffee cake in one sitting. I will seek out chocolate like a truffle pig. I can hardly start the morning without some kind of bread/muffin/biscuit/scone thingy. Yet, if I had to pick my favorite plate of food it would be a collection of salads made with Quinoa, Couscous, Farro, Mushrooms, Nuts and Vegetables. Does that make me "Bi-Palate"?

Israeli Couscous w/ Fresh Corn,
Heritage Tomatoes and Arugula Pesto

One reason I love entertaining is the challenge of crafting the event and the food around what or whom is being celebrated. My goal is always to Feed-The Fun! This past weekend, it was a Bridal Shower. The gorgeous lady-of-the-day is an actress, a yoga instructor, a baker and very intelligent about food. Her shower was vibrant with laughter and retro-games mixed with original games thought up by her circle of long-time girl friends (including a Newly Wed game that involved an interview with the groom-to-be on screen.) It was stylish and there were a lot of gorgeous people in one place.
(original photography by

The sparkling bride-to-be loves and appreciates baked goods, so I made Lavender Cupcakes w/Lavender Frosting and Lemon Curd Filling.
She prefers healthy and mostly meatless meals, so I made Quinoa w/dried cherries in Lettuce Cups.

She enjoys eating seasonal, farmer's market foods, so I made Israeli Couscous with Fresh Corn (cut off the cob), and my very own garden Heritage Tomatoes, with home made Arugula Pesto.The next day, I made it again -- for me. Today, it was lunch -- for me. Send help, I'm Crazy-for-Couscous. Every bite of these tiny pasta pearls are dressed with peppery Arugula Pesto. Then, they get bejeweled with Heritage Tomatoes.Every spoonful is dotted with caramelized onions and sweet corn.
I have 2 ears of corn left and maybe one more apron-full of summer garden tomatoes. I have a long airplane ride ahead of me this week and you can bet I will have a little carry-on tub of this to munch.

The standard Couscous (originally from Northern Africa) that we buy in bulk or box in America is sometimes mistakenly thought of as a grain. Actually, it's pasta. It's made from hard semolina, and anciently from the durum (hard grain of the wheat.) It is a process that includes grinding, rolling, drying, and pre-steaming. A simplified version of it is done when you make Fregola Pasta. Using the boxed versions allows us to skip that part and gives us a filling and healthy dish that only takes a few minutes to cook. Like rice, Couscous easily takes on the seasonings and flavors that you add to the broth or cooked pasta. It can be served hot, warm or chilled and also makes a great thickener for soups and stews.

Israeli Couscous is similar to the standard Couscous, but the pasta rounds are larger. It was created during a time when rice was hard to come by in Israel. The wheat based dish was a great substitute for the daily consumption of rice (for anyone who could eat gluten.)
Regular Couscous is generally cooked by adding 1 part dried couscous to 1.5 parts liquid, bringing it to a boil, covering it and taking the pan off the heat for about 5 minutes.

Israeli Couscous does better, I think, when you stir the dried grains in a bit of oil or butter to coat them, then stir to toast just a bit. Then, you add the liquid, bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat while it cooks for about 10 minutes.

Either kind of Couscous is so versatile and easy to store that it makes an easy go-to life saver in your pantry.

RECIPE: Israeli Couscous with Fresh Corn, Heritage Tomatoes and Arugula Pesto

1 cup fresh corn (about 2 cobs)
1/2 onion chopped
1 Tbls. butter
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbls. Olive Oil ( + more for drizzling)
Pinch of Garam Masala
3 cups fresh Arugula
1/4 cup pine nuts (toasted)
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Cheese
3 cups diced Heritage tomatoes
2 cups Israeli Couscous (or standard - just follow pkg. directions)

1) In a skillet on Med. heat, melt 2 Tbls. butter and 2 Tbls. Olive oil, add the onions and fresh corn. Season and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring a few times. Add a pinch of Garam Masala and stir to heat through and distribute amazing flavor.

2) Scrap the corn/onions into a bowl to cool and hold til later. Using the same pan (with a tiny drizzle of oil if needed) saute the Arugula just until wilted. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool.
3) In a blender - add the sauteed Arugula, the toasted pine nuts, 3 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup grated cheese, 1/2 cup Olive Oil, and a pinch of salt. Puree into a smooth pesto. Adjust seasoning to taste.

4) In a large saucepan, heat a drizzle of Olive Oil and add the Israeli Couscous. Stir to slightly toast the couscous for about 5 minutes, then add enough water to cover double the height of the Couscous.
Heat to boiling, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 10 minutes til the Couscous is tender. Drain and spread out on a sheet pan to cool.

5) Transfer the Couscous to a large serving bowl. Stir in the Pesto, then fold in the Corn, Tomatoes and garnish with more Arugula and Grated Cheese.

Couscous is an easy base to your imagination. I hope you'll discover some of your own combinations of flavors and additions to this easy and healthy pasta. I'd love to hear about them. Enjoy and thanks for stopping by~

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Better Butter with Orange & Mint (Simple Saturday)

Sometimes people get jammed up about Jam and think Butter is better. For those times, and for those people, there's Compound Butter with Orange and Mint. And, of course, you could use both. Yeah, sometimes I do, so what? :DCompound Butter is simply taking soft butter and adding flavorings.It makes an amazing addition to Chicken Kiev when you make lemon and chive butter. It gives great color and flavor to Fish when you add Tomato Butter to the baking.Take a few moments to make sure you really combine the fats with the flavorings - - then chill the butter in a log for slicing later, or in a flat disk for cutting into shapes. You can add a little zing to your biscuit, scone, eggs, or brunch presentation with that imagination of yours. Go ahead - make your butter better.RECIPE: Compound Butter with Orange and Mint

1 stick of butter (soft)
1 orange zest and juice
2 fresh mint leaves (minced)

1) In a bowl with a wooden spoon or paddle, mix the juice (a little at a time) into the butter. Then mix in the mint.

2) Wrap the compound butter in plastic wrap in a disk, or a log and chill for a few hours.

3) When ready to serve, cut shapes out or slice the log into rounds. Replace any butter not used into the refrigerator. You can also keep this in the freezer for at least a week.
:D Happy Saturdays~

Friday, August 19, 2011

Jasmine Tea Poached Shrimp Summer Rolls

Here's the scene: August afternoon, we're hungry, we're hot, we're tired. I open the fridge and pull out a plate of chilled Jasmine Tea Poached Shrimp Summer Rolls with a tangy plum sauce. The rice wrapper is light and the rosy shrimp show through, along with fresh carrot strips, avocado and tea infused noodles.
Jasmine Tea Poached Shrimp Summer Rolls

It's too appealing to dismiss, but a little different (aka: not a sandwich), so my teenage son pauses to reconsider. My husband sits down right away (always my willing taste-tester.) The scene ends with a completely empty plate, slightly blotched with plum drippings from the less-than-elegant grab-fest that ensued. There is so much to love about summer rolls. I avoided making these for awhile, thinking the process would take so much time. It really doesn't take very long at all.

There is no frying or baking involved with wrappers:

1) Quick (approx. 20 seconds) dunk in shallow warm water - add a little swirl.

2) Layer on your dry ingredients and roll it up.

Once you've done one or two, you'll get into a groove and be rolling like a pro. The thin rice wrapper gives you the mouth-feel and slight chew of bread without - you know - bread. The ingredients can be your choosing (and a great way to use up refrigerator leftovers, veggies and sauces.)

Now, a note about the tea: I had the pleasure of heading the catering for an exquisite tea shop/salon (now online at a couple years ago and learned about tea from one of the best ( Gail Baral.) During those couple of years, I developed recipes using all teas (black, green, oolong, rooibos, tisane and matcha) as ingredients, infusions and accents. (This is Jasmine Pearl Tea - named because the tender green tea leaves are hand-rolled into little pearls that bloom with flavor as they are heated in the warm water)

Cooking with tea is precise if you really want it to taste right, and temperature is one of the most important factors. Boiling tea will result in a bitter bite, so take care with using it as a poaching technique to not boil, but keep it just below that point. It results in a fragrant and tasty infusion, especially with shrimp.

I made these Shrimp Summer Rolls in the evening, covered them with a slightly dampened paper towel and loosely wrapped the plate with plastic wrap. They are at their absolute best served just after a small chill, but were still excellent from a short overnight stay, too. Keeping them moist, but not wet, is important so the wrapper doesn't become dry or gummy.
These were created for this month's Let's Lunch bunch (my global group of food friends that post each month and share a virtual lunch together.) This month's lunch theme was "Cold Entree".

I love making chilled entrees and here are a few other items on my blog:
Apple Bowl Curry Soup
Tea Smoked Salmon
Carrot & Cucumber Ribbon Salad
Peach Caprese Salad
Chillin' it With Herbs

Also, for the next few days you can be assured of seeing many unique and globally inspired lunch ideas from our blogging-band-of-lunch-buddies.

Check out some of them here (and also by typing in #LetsLunch on twitter to see the round-up, or join in for next month.)

Cold Entrees from warm friends:

A Tiger In The Kitchen - Spicy Sichuan Sesame Noodles

Monday Morning Cooking Club- Byron Sprout Salad w/Char-grilled Chicken

Gronger Blog - Lamb and Memory

Be A Wok Star - Hoisin Pork, Shrimp and Colorful Vegetables

Free Range Cookies - Gazpacho Rolls

Cooking In The Fruit Bowl - Strawberry Soup

A Taste Of Oregon - Seafood Napoleon
also - Cold Olive Oil Poached Chicken

Maria's Good Things - Croque Monsieur

Beyond The Plate - Couscous with Cilantro Pesto and Halloumi

Hot Curries & Cold Beer - Gazpacho with an Indian Twist

Dreaming of Pots and Pans - Korean Ice Water Noodles

RECIPE: Jasmine Tea Poached Shrimp Summer Rolls

(this makes about 6 full rolls)

6-8 Large Shrimp (raw, peeled or tail on)

4 cups well brewed Jasmine Tea (2-3 cups for shrimp, 1-2 cups for noodles)


Rice Wrappers (found in grocery stores or Asian Markets)
1 Carrot (peeled and shredded or use peeler for thin strips)

1/2 Avocado (sliced and sprinkled with lemon juice to keep the color)

A few leaves of fresh arugula or other greens

2 Spring Onions (white and some green sliced)

1-2 ozs Rice Noodles/ Rice Sticks or Cellophane Noodles

2 Tbls. Rice Vinegar

1) In a deep sided pan on Med Heat, add the Shrimp and enough brewed Jasmine Tea to just cover them. Season with salt and pepper. Heat to almost boiling and cook for 5-8 minutes. Don't overcook the shrimp or they will be rubbery. Drain and Chill the shrimp for at least 30 minutes (or can be held overnight.) Once chilled, slice the shrimp in half (length-wise head-to-tail.)

2) In a bowl, add the Rice Noodles, 1 cup of the brewed tea and enough boiling water to cover the noodles plus a few inches for them to swirl around in. Cover and allow them to steep/cook in the liquid for 5 minutes. Drain and keep the noodles in the bowl, adding the Rice Vinegar and toss throughly. These can be held in the Rice Vinegar while prepping the other ingredients (or chilled overnight.) ** Drain off the Rice Vinegar JUST BEFORE using the noodles.

3) Prep the other ingredients and have everything out for layering on the wrappers before starting the wrappers.

TO ASSEMBLE THE WRAPPERS:1) In a large plate, pour in about 1/4 inch very warm water. Take out one wrapper and lay it in the water, flip it over getting both sides wet. Swirl it around in the water for about 20 seconds. You just want the wrapper to become pliable and soft without getting it too weak. 2) Drizzle the surface of your work board with a little water and smooth it around. Then lift the wrapper to your board and use your hand to swirl on the top of the wrapper to even out the moisture. 3) Begin your layering (about 2/3rds down the wrapper) with two pieces of the sliced shrimp. After that, it's really up to you ( I added the carrots, the avocado, a couple pieces of arugula, a few slices of the spring onion and ended with a finger full of the noodles.) Don't pile on too much of any one thing.

4) Pick up the bottom of the wrapper and fold it up and over all the ingredients and gently pull it a little tight just to squeeze the ingredients together well. Then, fold the sides toward the center and over your first fold. Then, holding your little bundle - roll it up the rest of the wrapper to the top.

5) Congratulate yourself, then either place that roll to the side for later or slice it in half (diagonally for a nice presentation) and place it on your serving platter or bowl.

**If you need to hold these for later or the next day, be sure to cover them with a paper towel that has been wet and then squeezed out damp. Loosely cover the whole plate with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator.

SERVE these with a home made plum sauce or peanut sauce for dipping.Join us for next month's Lets Lunch friends by letting me know here, or go to Twitter and type in #LetsLunch and that's it. Thanks for stopping by and leaving comment love :D

Friday, August 12, 2011

Peanut Butter Crack Pie - with a purpose~

There are moments I wish I could freeze:

Years ago, when they announced my husband and I, we ran into the Wedding Reception together holding hands, heads tossed back laughing and dancing with joy that we were now married without a care in the world (haha.)

Peanut Butter Crack Pie

When my kids were first born those early morning feedings were so quiet. The sun would just be peeking through the blinds and the only sound was the murmuring hum of a happy fed baby (sigh.)

When the whole family gets together now (the kids are all teens or older) at some point there will be a cacophony of laughter (often at my expense). The entire house is filled with a fugue of snorts, howls and giggles. I love when the napkins of our meal end up being the same ones to wipe away rolling tears of laughter.
Those times are etched in my heart. I don't take them for granted, yet a reminder to close my eyes and whisper a giant Thank You came this week.
The best thing about the whole "virtual world" of twitter and face book, blogging and vlogging is the community it builds. To some this may sound weird, that a sense of friendship and support could come from what appears to be just a "time sucking device" or a pretend world of gimmicky names and facades.Like in real life, I'm sure there are equal amounts of truth and lies in the virtual world, too. However, one of the reasons I keep food blogging, and connecting online is about the sincere community that I have experienced.

I read a twitter this past weekend, by the talented writer/recipe developer and mom, Jennifer Perillo that simply said, "He's gone. And my heart is shattered in a million pieces." It stopped me in my tracks. It was so full, so simply painful. Only a day earlier she had quipped about making marinara sauce and planning for a family vacation.

As the story evolved, I learned that her husband had died - suddenly from a heart attack. Jennifer touched base online in the next few days with her thoughts and on her blog (In Jennie's Kitchen) with her story of love and pain. In the midst of her own challenges of coping with loss and her two young daughters, she drew the online community to her table. She fed us with inspiration and example. She led many of us to take a moment to think of those we care about, to reflect on those times we wish we could freeze (because we can't), and to be thankful.
Jennie's request was to honor the people you care about, and in symbolic memory of her husband (Mikey), make his favorite pie (Peanut Butter Pie) and share it with someone else. It might seem like a silly thing to some, but for people who love feeding others it is a communal gesture of support.My husband's birthday was recently and his favorite pie is my Nutella Crack Pie. It's a sweet dense pie that definitely must be shared to avoid eating too much on your own. My sweetheart is a cut-up and a comedy writer so he doesn't miss a chance to make us laugh. He came downstairs dressed in stage clothes and clowning around. This time the laughing-out-loud started even earlier. We always finish our birthday celebrations by singing and clapping to~ "skip around the room, skip around the room, we won't shut-up 'til you skip around the room." And we will NOT shut up 'til the birthday person skips around the room (even in a restaurant).

My way of serving u
p a tribute to Jennie's strength, Mikey's memory and a wish for happiness and peace to her daughters was to combine the request for a Peanut Butter Pie with my husband's favorite pie. I developed the Peanut Butter Crack Pie. I don't remember ever preparing anything with as much purpose, sense of time and reason, and held-back tears as I did with this pie. A simple request to make a pie from a talented woman struggling with personal loss turned into many many people taking pause to be grateful. That is powerful. That is real. That is truth. Hug, feed, write, call or remember someone you love today. I can't freeze the moments, but I can treasure the memories in my heart.

RECIPE: Peanut Butter Crack Pie

Chocolate Oatmeal Cookie Crust:

2/3 cup Flour
3 Tbls. Cocoa

1/8 tsp. baking powder

1/8 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

3/4 cup oats

1 stick softened butter (4 oz.)

1/3 cup brown sugar

3 Tbls. sugar

1 large egg

1) In a bowl, sift in the dry ingredients: flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

2) In a mixing bowl beat butter til creamy, add sugars and continue to beat til fluffy.

3) Add egg and beat until well incorporated.

4) Gradually add the dry ingredients into the butter just until mixed well. Then, stir in oats.

5) Spread onto a silpat covered baking sheet (or parchment lined) and bake in a preheated 375F oven for 12-18 minutes (until firm). Let cool, then crumble well for the crust.

1/2 - 2/3 stick butter softened (2-3oz)

1 1/2 Tbls. brown sugar

1/8 tsp. salt

1) In a bowl combine the cookie crumbs with the butter, sugar and salt well. Work in with your fingertips (until it will clump when you squeeze it.)

2) Press the crust into a pie shell or tart pan (about 6x12, or 9inch round). Press down well (the bottom of a cup can help to press the shell firmly.) Hold while you prepare the filling.

Peanut Butter Crack Filling:

1 1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup plus 3 Tbls. brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup Nonfat Dry Milk
2 Tbls. butter
1 cup Organic Smooth Peanut Butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla
8 egg yolks
*powdered sugar and cocoa mixed for garnish*

1) Preheat oven to 350F. In a mixing bowl, whisk together sugars, dry milk and salt.
2) Whisk in Peanut Butter, butter, cream and vanilla on low speed.
3) Whisk in egg yolks on low speed until combined well. It will be very loose.
4) Pour into the pie shell and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 325F and continue to bake for another 20-25 minutes until the center is not so liquid.
It may still have a bit of jiggle.
5) Cool and refrigerate.

** The chilling part is crucial to this pie turning out well and it is best served cold**

This is a very dense, thick pie and the original Crack Pie was eaten by many with spoons right out of the pan. :D

Enjoy with friends, family and strangers. Let me take this moment to say Thank You for stopping by. Sending you love :D