Rigatoni With Brussels Sprouts, Leek, Parmesan & Lemon

in cast iron pan with serving spoons 625 sqAt this time of year I feel like I have one foot firmly planted in optimism about spring. However, the other foot is dragging quite slowly behind, unable to escape winter’s firm grip. We get a few warm days and the mountain of snow in front of my house melts a bit, and then wham, a mini blizzard.

This pasta bridges the gap between winter and spring perfectly. Representing winter we have  browned Brussels sprouts. In the other corner, leeks and lemon lighten everything up. Everything comes together to create a deeply satisfying dish.one black bowlTrim the Brussels sprouts and set aside the larger leaves that come off easily. Halve the sprouts, or quarter, if large.Sprouts leaves and halvesSlice half the leek into thin rings. Coarsely chop the other half of the leek. leeksThe leek circles and halved sprouts get browned in a pan. Place sprouts cut side down and leave them alone for 3-4 minutes, so they can get some colour on them. There’s flavour in the brown!browning sprout halves and leeksRigatoni is a great choice for this dish. Penne would also work quite well. Don’t forget to heavily salt the cooking water for the pasta. Just before draining the pasta, scoop off a cup of that starchy cooking water. You will need it to create the sauce for this pasta.rigatoni and saltAn extra drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of Parmesan cheese finish off this dish perfectly. A glass of wine is always welcome.rigatoni with a glass of wine 1

Click here to print recipe for Rigatoni With Brussels Sprouts, Parmesan, Lemon, And Leek.

3 black bowls

Israeli Couscous with Pickled Shallots, Peas, Mint and Ricotta Salata

in green bowl 1 625 sqI have never understood the appeal of traditional couscous. It simply does not have enough texture or heft for me. Even when steamed and fluffed properly, so that the grains stay separate, it fails to satisfy me. I like my carbs with a bit of bite to them. Israeli couscous is more my jam. It is dense with a bouncy, chewy texture. I had always assumed that Israeli couscous was just bigger balls of regular couscous. I only recently learned the true difference.

Traditional couscous is actually tiny ground pasta made from semolina flour. It is made by rubbing semolina between wet hands until teeny-tiny balls are formed. The couscous is then dried and steamed. Israeli couscous is also made from semolina flour, but the similarities end there. Israeli couscous is made by mixing semolina flour with water, into a dough. The dough is then machine extruded through a round mould, about 1 millimetre in size.  These tiny pearls are then toasted dry, which adds a nutty flavour. 

Traditional couscous has been around, some believe, since the 9th century, but Israeli couscous is just a baby. It only came into existence in the 1950’s. Following the War of Independence in 1948, many immigrants arrived in the newly formed country from all over the Middle East. Most of them relied on rice as a staple in their cuisine, but there were rice shortages. Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, asked the Osem food company to develop something that they could substitute for their beloved rice. They created “Ptitim“. It was nicknamed Ben Gurion rice, since it was originally extruded in the shape of rice grains. They later introduced a round version which they called Israeli couscous.

This delicious salad is my adaptation of a Cook’s Illustrated recipe. I have only made a slight change. I substituted ricotta salata for the feta cheese they suggested. I prefer the drier texture and less salty taste of ricotta salata. Many Italian grocers carry it. Feel free to use feta if you like, or even some crumbled goat cheese, if that’s your thing.

Begin with pickling the shallots. Nothing too complicated here. You will need red wine vinegar, sugar, a pinch of salt and some thinly sliced shallots. ingredients for picklingSimmer vinegar, sugar and salt until the sugar dissolves. Add shallots, turn off heat, cover pot and let macerate for 30 minutes. That’s it. I always thought pickling was so complicated. pickling shallotsTo properly cook Israeli couscous, begin by sauteeing in a bit of olive oil until about half the grains turn brown. Then add water and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 12 minutes. The ratio of Israeli couscous to water is 1:1.25.  (For every cup of couscous, add 1¼ cups water)toasted cous cousOnce cooked, spread couscous out on a baking sheet to allow it to cool before tossing with other salad ingredients. cooling couscousPrepare the dressing. The mild flavour of couscous can stand up to a bracing dressing of Dijon, lemon juice, red pepper flakes and olive oil.making dressingThen it’s simply a matter of assembly. I thawed some green peas (no cooking necessary), drained the pickled shallots, washed some baby arugula and mint, toasted and chopped pistachios and diced up the cheese. Sugar snap peas or asparagus would also be excellent friends with this salad. ready to assembleI loved the combination of all these ingredients. Chewy, nutty couscous, bitter arugula, sweet mint, crunchy pistachios, salty cheese and the zingy pickled shallots. Each bite had me craving more. in white bowl

Click here to print recipe for Israeli Cous Cous with Pickled Shallots Peas, Mint and Ricotta Salata.

in green bowl 2

Citrus Pound Cake by the Ocean

two slices 3 625 sqA few weeks ago I fell down the internet rabbit hole. Several wasted hours and one great dress purchase later, I somehow stumbled upon a recipe for Elvis Presley’s favourite pound cake. The story behind the cake goes like this. While Jane and Michael Stern were conducting research for their book Elvis World, they interviewed Elvis’ childhood friend Janelle McComb. Every year at Christmas, she’d bake two loaves of this pound cake  and bring them to Graceland. Apparently, Elvis loved it so much, he could eat one all by himself. On the 10th anniversary of Elvis’ death she shared her recipe for this pound cake with the Sterns. She wanted to do everything she could to help keep the legend alive.

My youngest son is a colossal Elvis fan, so I knew I had to bake it for him when he came to visit us last week. Since we were in Florida I added some orange zest to the cake batter and topped it with an orange icing sugar glaze. I dubbed it “Citrus Pound Cake by the Ocean.” I apologize if I have given you an ear worm! I can’t get it out of my head either.cake on green trayWe all loved this cake. My husband, who is not a huge cake fan, just adored it. He does not like light and fluffy cakes. My little Elvis fan, while partial to chocolate cake, was also quite smitten with it. This cake somehow manages to be dense and moist at the same time time. This cake incorporates three sources of fat: butter, eggs (yolks contain fat) and 35% heavy cream. The amazing texture is accomplished by beating the cake batter for over 10 minutes, until it is ultra creamy and satiny.one sliceThe cake stays moist for days. We were still snacking on it five days after I baked it and it somehow tasted just as good, if not better. ready to bakecracking eggspouring batter into panI accented the cake with orange zest. I think it would also be delicious with lemon. I am thinking about creating a lime version with the addition of coconut in the batter!zesting orangesOnce the cake cooled, I added an orange glaze. Icing_Citrus_Pound_Cake_by_the_Ocean
You won’t be able to help falling in love with this cake.

Click here to print recipe for Citrus Poundcake by the Ocean.

cake on white pedastal

 

Spicy Orecchiette with Tuna, Lemons, Peas and Crunchy Breadcrumb Topping

big bowl of pastaWhen I was growing up, my mom was at the culinary forefront of our neighbourhood. While other moms were making Jello, she was creating whipped jello molds, a raspberry jello and frozen raspberry concoction that had sour cream or whipped cream folded into it. Kind of looked like this. While other moms were making KD, my mom was making macaroni salad. Elbow macaroni, coated in mayonnaise, chopped celery, a squeeze of lemon juice, and, if she was feeling extra fancy, she’d toss in some diced red peppers.

Then, when I went to camp, I had my mind blown by what else you could do with boxed mac and cheese. On overnight camping trips, dinner was a delicacy known as  “Tripper’s Stew.” We’d be sent out into the woods to collect firewood. Some of the campers would actually use that time to hide and smoke cigarettes! With the campfire blazing we’d boil up a few boxes of Kraft Dinner. Once the noodles were cooked, in went the powdered cheese, and a few cans of tuna, peas and corn. It was my favourite camp meal.

When I saw Serious Eats contributor Lauren Rothman’s recipe for Spicy Orecchiette With Tuna, Peas, and Lemon, I was instantly transported back to my summer camp days. This is a more grownup version of Tripper’s Stew. It uses tuna packed in olive oil, (Italian if you can find it), rather than the dry water-packed tuna of my childhood. Red pepper flakes and garlic give it some zip and lemon zest wakes up all the flavours. I adapted Lauren’s recipe by adding a toasted lemon breadcrumb topping to give the dish a welcome crunch. My final adaptation was to add some coarsely grated Parmesan cheese. Please don’t yell at me and tell me that pasta dishes containing fish are not topped with cheese. I already know the Italian rules, I just don’t care. It’s delicious with cheese.3 stacked bowlsgather everything from the pantryThe breadcrumbs take a bit of extra time, but I think that the textural contrast they make to the chewy pasta, makes them worth the additional effort. making bread crumbs 1making bread crumbs 2crispy golden crumbsI made this last week when I was alone, so I ate it for dinner, 3 nights in a row. It tasted better each night. I just warmed it in the microwave and then tossed in grated cheese to melt.

Click here to print recipe for Spicy Orichiette with Tuna, Lemons, Peas and Crunchy Breadcrumb Topping.

close up of pasta

Chicken Thighs with Sicilian Cauliflower

thighs and cauliflower on blue oval platter 625 sqGood chicken recipes are like men. There are lots of available ones out there, but very few great ones. I make chicken for dinner at least twice a week and have aquired several favourite standbys: Pomegranate ChickenChipotle Lime ChickenChicken Skewers with Ginger Coconut Sauce, and Chicken Tortilla Soup. But a girl needs something new every once in a while to spice things up.dinner for 1 with wine 2So when I saw Michael Symon making this tofu dish on The Chew a few weeks ago, I loved the citrus flavours of the marinade, but not being a tofu lover, my mind instantly went to boneless chicken thighs. I made a few other adaptations to his recipe and I think I’ve found a new weekday favourite. sicilian cauliflowerPound the boneless thighs to about 1/4 inch thick so that they will cook more quickly.flattening thighsThe marinade contains citrus juice and zest (I used clementines and lemon), red pepper flakes, cumin, honey and olive oil. chicken marinadeOne of the most brilliant things about this recipe is that you only have to dirty one pan. The cauliflower, chicken and sauce all get made in the same skillet. The other genius thing is that the recipe calls for multi-tasking. You cook the cauliflower while the chicken is marinating. No wasted time.

I am an eminently practical person and I love accomplishing as much as possible in the shortest amount of time available. Like when I go to the hairdresser to get my hair coloured, I have to sit for 30 minutes after the colour is applied. So while I am waiting for my grey hair to disappear, I get a manicure or pedicure and accomplish two things at the same time. I suggested to my dentist that he offer pedicures while you get your teeth cleaned. Imagine the extra revenue, I suggested, but he just looked at me like I was crazy. Clearly multi-tasking is not for everyone.

Once the cauliflower is finished browning in the skillet, the chicken gets a light coating of rice flour and is shallow fried to make it really crispy. When chicken is done, remove it from the pan and make the sauce. No need to clean the pan, all those little browned bits on the bottom of the pan will make your sauce extra delicious. White wine, shallots, garlic, golden raisins and capers combine to make a zesty Sicilian inspired sauce.

Garnish with toasted pine nuts and chopped parsley this is destined to become a new dinnertime favourite. Any leftover chicken makes a fantastic cold salad the next day with avocados and tomatoes.dinner for 2

Click here to print recipe for Chicken Thigh Cutlets with Sicilian Cauliflower.

dinner for 1 with wine