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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Couscous Salad

Coucous. What a wonderful thing. It’s as versatile as rice, except that it takes less than 5 minutes to make. And the best part…. You can make it in the microwave directly in your serving dish. No mess and no cleanup!

My husband loves couscous tossed with a little salt and butter or olive oil. He could eat a whole bowl sitting on the couch. However, the wife part of me thinks it’s important to take his yummy couscous and turn it into a dish that is a little more balanced, if you know what I mean. So, I made him a couscous salad. It is more filling than a regular salad because of the couscous, while still containing loads of veggies. And there is a great mix of flavors and textures… the freshness of the lemon juice and mint, the creamy, salty feta cheese, and the pop of each olive. And, it takes the same amount of time as to make any other salad! What a bargain!

Couscous Salad
Serves 2 as a Main Course or 4 as a Side Dish

1 cup Couscous
1 ½ cups Water
2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup Tomato, diced
¾ cup Cucumber, sliced
½ cup Green Onion, sliced
¼ cup Fresh Mint, chopped
Juice of 1 Whole Lemon
1/4 cup Feta Cheese
1/3 cup Black Olives

Place the couscous, water, and large pinch of salt in a microwave proof bowl and cook on high for 3 minutes. Remove from microwave and gently fluff with a fork. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Let cool for a few minutes while preparing the other ingredients.

In a large bowl, mix tomatoes, cucumber, green onion and mint. Add the couscous. Drizzle with lemon juice. Crumble in the feta cheese and add the olives. Mix gently. Serve as a side dish for grilled chicken or meats (or eat it as is!).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Parsley and White Bean Dip

I really like dips. Not only do they serve well as easy, pleasing party snacks, but they are also very comforting snacks for "me time." You know what I'm talking about. Those times when you want to sit on the couch and indulge in an episode (or a few) of your favorite TV show while munching on your favorite snacks. The good news though is that if you choose to munch on this dip with some crunchy veggies or pita chips, you won't feel guilty when it's finally time to get up off the couch and conquer the world!

Parsley and White Bean Dip
Makes about 2 cups

2 Cloves Garlic
1 bunch Fresh Parsley (about 1 cup packed)
1 can White Beans, with liquid
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
Salt and Pepper

In a blender, combine all ingredients. Pulse until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. For a thicker consistency, refrigerate for about 1 hour before serving. The flavors get better with time, so don’t be afraid to make this dip in advance.

Serve with vegetable sticks, bread, pita chips.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Savory 10-minute Chicken Breast

Everyone needs fast and easy recipes. This one is great, because it uses the ingredient that we always have around… chicken… and turns it into something fabulous in just 10 minutes! Wow, I am starting to sound like an infomercial. But seriously, it’s true. And to be honest, this recipe doesn’t even require a knife. How good is that?

Just a few notes before we begin… This recipe as I wrote it is delicious. But don’t panic if you don’t have the exact ingredients. You don’t need to run to the store. Here is a list of substitutions you can use instead.

Chicken Breast: Substitute boneless, skinless chicken thigh
Grainy Dijon Mustard: Substitute regular Dijon mustard
Scallions: Substitute thinly sliced onions
Emmental Cheese: Substitute any other grated melting cheese like parmesan, cheddar, gruyere, mozzarella
Mortadella: Substitute Proscuitto, Ham, Bacon
Other Toppings: Go crazy! How about some sundried tomatoes with red onions, basil, and mozzarella topped with proscuitto?

Also, I included measurements in this recipe, however, you don’t really need to measure. It’s like making a sandwich. Spread the mustard, add the cheese… put as much as looks right to you. Here is the step by step method. Once you master it, you can make tons of yummy, easy chicken dishes.

The Savory 10-minute Chicken Breast
Serves 1 (but make as many as you like!)

1 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast
Salt and Pepper
1 tbsp Grainy Dijon Mustard
2 tbsp Scallions, thinly sliced
3 tbsp Emmental Cheese, grated
1 -2 slices Mortadella

Place the chicken between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. Pound with the back of a frying pan or a rolling pin until about 1/2 cm thick.

Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper.

Lay the chicken breast flat. Spread the mustard onto the top of the breast. Sprinkle with scallions and grated cheese. Place the slice of mortadella on top of the cheese.

Heat a frying pan on medium high heat. Place the chicken breast, mortadella side DOWN into the hot pan. Let cook for about 3-4 minutes on that side, until the mortadella is crisp and brown (like crispy bacon).

Flip the chicken breast over and cook for about 3-4 minutes on the other side until the chicken is cooked through. Enjoy!

Friday, November 20, 2009

It's Soup Season! Ginger Infused Carrot Soup and Potato & Leek Soup

As temperatures drop, it become more and more apparent that soup season has arrived. This is one of my favorite times of the year, because nothing is more comforting than a steaming bowl of soup. Well, except maybe a warm cup of hot cocoa…

Soup is so versatile. You can really make it with whatever veggies you have on hand, as long as you have your aromatics… garlic, onions, bay leaf, carrots, and some stock. You should also really use some celery to make your soup base, but in this part of the world, this vegetable that we take for granted at home, is not readily available.

Here are two soup recipes to start the season off with a bang! Both are healthy and hearty soups for the winter. And, if you are like my husband and like a little cream in your soup, after pureeing, you can add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cream!

Ginger Infused Carrot Soup
Makes 6-8 cups

2 tbsp Olive Oil
3 Large Cloves Garlic, chopped
2 Onions, cut into chunks
4 Large Carrots, cut into chunks
1 1/2 tbsp Fresh Ginger, Minced
1 Large Potato, peeled and cut into chunks
1/4 cup White Wine (optional)
1 Bay Leaf
1 Liter Vegetable Stock
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a large pot over medium heat, add olive oil, garlic, onions, carrots, ginger, and potato. Cook for about 4-5 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, the bay leaf, and the white wine. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring. Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until the carrots and potatoes are soft.

Remove from heat. Remove the bay leaf. Puree the soup using either a hand blender or by pouring the soup in batches into a blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Potato & Leek Soup
Makes 6-8 cups

2 tbsp Olive Oil
2 Whole Leeks, cleaned and sliced (some people use only the white part, but I use the whole thing)
2 Large Cloves Garlic, chopped
4 Large Potatoes
1 tsp Dried Thyme
1 Bay leaf
1/4 cup White Wine (optional)
1 Liter Chicken Stock
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a large pot over medium heat, add olive oil, leeks, garlic, potatoes, and thyme. Cook for about 4-5 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, the bay leaf, and the white wine. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring. Add the stock, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are soft.

Remove from heat. Remove the bay leaf. Puree the soup using either a hand blender or by pouring the soup in batches into a blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Crunch & Punch Potato Salad

What is "Crunch & Punch?" Well, it's what I think that all potatoes need. "Crunch" because the softer texture of the potato needs to be combined with something crunchy. "Punch" because all potatoes need a little flavor boost. Quite frankly, without crunch and punch, potatoes end up being a little bit boring. On the flip side, however, potatoes are like a blank canvas, just waiting to be painted into something wonderful.

Having said that, I decided to make a potato salad today. And I am not talking about a traditional potato salad.

I am talking about a potato salad with just as much other stuff as there is potato. It's healthy, it's tasty, and it has both the "crunch" and the "punch."

Crunch & Punch Potato Salad
Serves 2 (or 4 as side dish)

2 Large Potatoes
1 Can Tuna, drained
1 Large Tomato, diced
1 Red Pepper, sliced
1/2 White Onion, thinly sliced
1 Small Cucumber, diced
Handful of Fresh Cilantro, chopped

For the Sauce
2 tbsp Grainy Dijon Mustard
2 tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
4 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Cook the whole potatoes until fork tender, either by boiling, in the microwave, or in the oven. I honestly don't peel my potatoes( I scrub them really well) but you are welcome to peel them if you prefer.

Once the potatoes are cooked, cut into a large dice and place in a bowl. Add the drained tuna, tomato, red pepper, onion, cucumber, and cilantro.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard and vinegar. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce into the potato, tuna, and veggie mixture. Toss to coat. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Apple Tart with Orange Zest & Cinnamon

Apple Pie. It’s a classic. Everyone has their favorite version. Mine is an apple tart flavored with orange zest and cinnamon. Need I say more?

(**In this case, I made a whole wheat pastry crust, but you could use a regular pastry crust. You can make it even easier by using store packaged puff pastry instead of making a crust. Just place it in the tart tin, prick it with a fork, and assemble in exactly the same way)

Easy Apple Tart with Whole Wheat Crust
Makes 1 tart

For Whole Wheat Pastry Crust
1 1/4 cups Whole Wheat Flour
1/8 tsp Salt
1/2 cup Butter, cut into cubes
3 tbsp Ice Water

The Filling
Zest of Half an Orange
Juice of Half an Orange
4 Large Apples, Cored and Thinly sliced (Peeled if you wish)
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1 tbsp to 1/4 cup White Sugar (depending on the sweetness of your apples. For apples like Gala, Golden Delicious, Fiji, use around 1-2 tbsp. For tart apples like Granny Smith, use closer to 1/4 cup of Sugar)

In a food processor, mix together flour and salt. Add butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a course meal. Slowly add the ice water, pulsing just until the dough starts to stick together in a ball. Remove the dough from the processor, form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refridgerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

Preheat oven to
180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Farenheit)..

In a large bowl, add zest, juice, apples, and cinnamon. Toss to coat apples.

Roll out pastry dough and place into tart pan (try to roll the dough so that it is a little larger than the tart pan, then trim off the excess. Do not stretch the dough into the pan, otherwise, it will shrink when it is baked).

Fill the tart shell with the apples (I like to do it in 2 layers).

Bake for 25 minutes until pastry crust is golden and apples have softened.
Serve with Vanilla Ice Cream or Whipped Cream.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Simple Béchamel Sauce & Two Heart Warming Gratins

The therapeutic properties of a simple white sauce are indescribable. There are just no words that will put into perspective how good it feels. And yet, so many of us don’t indulge in this type of therapy. In fact, for years, I wouldn’t dare touch any white, velvety, creamy sauce in excess and when I did, accidentally, fall into its grasp, I would be overcome with guilt, which far outweighed the sauce’s benefits.

However, I have since changed my mind. Why? First of all, because I love it. Very few people can resist a comforting white sauce on anything. And those who resist do so because of the belief that ingestion of this sauce will bring forth other enemies. That brings me to my next reason for a change of heart… béchamel is really not as fatty and cream laden as we believe. It’s made of milk, thickened with a roux of fat and flour, and then flavored.

So for those of us that love our venti lattes and caramel frappucinos, this sauce is really a walk in the park. And just as that daily java or occasional coffee indulgence gives us a few moments of peace and serenity, so can a plate of perfectly cooked pasta in white sauce or a portion of seasonal vegetable baked in white goodness.

I am certainly not advocating excess of anything, whether it be creative coffee drinks or meals with white sauce. But what I am suggesting is that this versatile and comforting sauce can be welcomed into your life in the easiest and most unobtrusive way… by using pantry ingredients.

The great thing about béchamel is that you can use it to make any variety of sauces for pasta, lasagna, veggies. In this case, I made 2 veggie gratins, but you could also combine all the ingredients that I used into 1 dish for the ultimate gratin. However, I made 2 seperate dishes for one simple reason... Onions rarely get to be the star of the show. They are always an aromatic, a flavoring, a complement. I love onions and made this gratin really to showcase how tasty and sweet they are.

Aubergine & Courgette Gratin
Serves 4 as side dish

1 medium Aubergine (about 3 cups), cut into about 1/2 cm slices
3 medium Courgettes (about 3 cups), cut into about 1/2 cm slices
2 cloves Garlic, peeled and cut in half
1 tbsp Olive Oil
2 cups béchamel sauce

In a large pan, heat the olive oil on medium high heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the vegetables and cook until the veggies just begin to soften. Remove from heat and remove the garlic halves.

Line the bottom of an oven proof dish with a layer of vegetables. Top with a layer of béchamel, and continue layering until all vegetables are used up and a layer of béchamel is on top. (At this point, you could add some grated gruyere or breadcrumbs on top, but really, I think the veggies and béchamel alone make a great side dish).

Bake at 190 degrees for 30 minutes until bubbly and brown on top.

Bacon, Onions & Garlic Gratin
Serves 2 as side dish
4slices thick bacon, diced
3 large onions, cut into chunks
1 clove Garlic, minced
1 ½ cups béchamel sauce

Heat a large pan over medium high heat. Add the bacon and let cook for about 2 minutes, until the fat melts and the bacon pieces begin to crisp. Add the onions and the garlic and cook until the onions are just tender.

Place the bacon mixture into an ovenproof dish. Add about two thirds of the béchamel, and toss together. Redistribute the mixture evenly in the dish. Top with the remaining béchamel.

Bake in 190 degree oven for 30 minutes until bubbly and brown on top

Béchamel Sauce
Makes about 3 1/2 cups of Béchamel

2 tbsp Butter
1 tbsp Olive Oil
4 tbsp Flour
3 ½ cups Milk, Room Temperature
1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Pepper
¼ tsp Nutmeg

In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the flour and whisk together. This will form small clumps of flour/butter on the bottom of the pan. Do not be alarmed! Just keep stirring for about 2 minutes to cook the flour.

Add the milk (make sure it’s room temperature so that you don’t get clumps!), while whisking. Allow the sauce to come up to a bubble. This is when the sauce will reach it’s maximum thickness.

Stir in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. (Depending on what you are using the béchamel for, this is the point when you could add cheese, herbs or whatever other flavorings you like). For our purpose, we will use it classically… just like this.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Simple Roasted Red Pepper Hummus with Baked Pita Chips

So sorry everyone for not posting for a while. Been busy moving house (finally out of the hotel!!!) and stocking my kitchen with all things delicious!

In times like these, quick and easy to make foods are key. On top of that, healthy and vitamin rich food is important, especially during times of stress (i.e. moving).

Today, I went to the beautiful outdoor fruit and veggie market to pick up some fresh produce. When I got home, despite all of the delicious goodies in my bag, I was too tired to make much of an effort. So, I made this fast and tasty dip and served it with healthy homebaked pita chips and carrot sticks (but you could serve it with whatever cut up veggies you like).

It was just what the doctor ordered. Full of flavor, but also packed with nutrients. And the veggies and chips gave that nice, satisfying crunch! This would also be a great stress free party snack, or a healthy alternative to chips when relaxing on the couch. It can be made ahead, as the flavors only get better with time.

Simple Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
Makes about 3 cups

2 Red Peppers, Whole
2 Cloves Garlic
1 Handful Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley
1 can Chick Peas (with liquid)
Juice of 1 Lemon
Salt and Pepper to taste
Drizzle of Olive Oil

First, roast the peppers. If you want to skip this step, you can used drained jarred peppers, but I think roasting them yourself is so easy. Just rub both of the peppers with olive oil and place over an open gas flame until blackened on all sides. If you don't have a gas burner, you can also place them in the oven on broil, turning until blackened on all sides. Once they are roasted, place them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. This will make them easier to peel by steaming the skins off! After a couple of minutes, remove the skin, core and seeds of the peppers and tear into large chunks.

Then, you will just puree all the ingredients together, either by using a blender or a stick blender. It's that easy! Put the garlic, parsley, roasted peppers, lemon juice and chick peas into a blender jar and puree until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve with a drizzle of olive oil.

Baked Pita Chips
Make as many as you like!

These are so simple and healthy and a great alternative to fried packaged chips. Just cut your pita (or arabic bread which is what I use being in the middle east) into triangles by first cutting them into semi circles and then into triangles (like cutting a pizza).

You will see that this creates 2 triangles on top of each other. Gently pull these apart to create 2 chips.

Spray a baking sheet with some olive oil and lay the chips in 1 layer. Spray the chips with olive oil and bake in a 200 degree oven for 5-8 minutes until the chips are crisp and golden. Enjoy!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Easy Sweet or Savory Crepes

Crepes are basically an unleavened French pancake. We usually pay a fortune for all different sorts of crepes in restaurants, cafes, and creperies, but what many of us don’t realize is that they are super easy and inexpensive to make. Also, all of the ingredients are pantry staples so this recipe doesn’t require a lot of forethought. As far as equipment goes, you really don’t need one of those fancy crepe pans that you see in the restaurants (unless of course, you want one!). All you need is a regular non-stick pan (of any size) and some kind of flipper or spatula.

Once you master the basic technique, you can use your imagination and fill them with just about anything. Think about all the different types of crepes you have eaten or seen on menus… sweet crepes like crepes suzette and savory crepes filled with spinach and ricotta.

Now think about all of your favorite things….Think Nutella, chocolate and marshmallows, smoked salmon with cream cheese and capers, lobster or even ice cream! Crepes are a clean canvas that you can dress up any way you like.

They are so versatile, you can use them at your dinner parties, or as a substitute for bread when you haven’t had time to run to the store.

This is really as easy as it gets. Crepes seem high maintenance, but really, they are very easy. You can make the batter up to 24 hours in advance (or maybe more, I never tried) and just put it in the fridge.

For my crepes, I made three different kinds: Nutella and Banana, Banana and Condensed Milk, and Scrambled Egg with Cheddar. You can use whatever fillings or toppings you like. Just to get you started, here are a few ideas...

Ideas for Savory Crepe Fillings:
- Ricotta Cheese and Spinach
- Scrambled Eggs with Cheese (and bacon)
- Ham and Cheese
- Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese, Red Onions, Capers
- Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil
- Grilled Veggies

Ideas for Sweet Crepe Fillings:
- Nutella & Banana
- Nutella & Marshmellows
- Fruit Jam
- Fresh Fruit with Whipped Cream
- Sauteed Apples, Peaches, or Pears
- Ice Cream or Sorbet

Easy Sweet or Savory Crepes
Serves 2
(makes 8 crepes using a 8 inch pan)

1/2 cup Flour (you could use whole wheat if you like)
1 Egg
1/2 cup Milk
1/4 cup Water
1/8 tsp Salt
1 tbsp Butter, melted
Optional: 1 tbsp Sugar (for sweet crepes)

Just a note: for sweet crepes, you can add 1 tbsp of Sugar in with your batter to sweeten it up a little. My husband loves his batter with this little bit of sugar. For me, I like to skip it and keep my crepe batter versatile. Then I can use the same crepes for sweet and savory!

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients (including optional sugar) except melted butter and beat well until smooth and combined. (If you are making ahead, cover and place the bowl in the fridge for up to 24 hours)

Add melted butter and beat well.

Very lightly grease a non-stick frying pan over medium heat (I like to use butter because of the flavor). Slowly pour the batter into the pan, tilting the pan so that the batter coats surface evenly. Be sure not to pour too much batter. You just want enough to coat the pan.

Cook for about 2 minutes on each side, until just brown. Remove from pan and fill with your preferred fillings. Serve flat with toppings, folded over, or rolled.