Monday, July 29, 2013

One of My All Time Favorite Delia Smith Summer Recipes: Roasted Vegetable Cous-Cous Salad

When we first moved to England cooking for my family wasn't as easy as I thought it was going to be.  In addition to figuring out temperature settings and measurements, I also had the challenge of finding ingredients to make dishes that were familiar to us.  Where cooking once came as second nature to me, it now felt labored and awkward.

One day one of my new English friends mentioned that I might find Delia Smith's cookbooks helpful, so the first chance I got I bought Delia's Complete Cookery Course.  My friend was right, there wasn't a recipe I tried from it that we didn't love.  From that point on I have been a Delia Smith devotee.

Two of my favorite books of hers are her Winter and Summer Collections.  Her winter book is filled with hearty autumnal creations that warm the heart and stick to your ribs.  The Summer Collection on the other hand is made up of light, fresh dishes most often made from the season's fresh produce.

One of my favorite recipes out of this book is her recipe for Roasted Vegetable Cous-Cous Salad with Harissa-style Dressing.  A combination of grilled fresh vegetables, cous-cous and a flavorful tart, tomatoey dressing, this is a great recipe when you are wondering what to do with all those vegetables you bought when you got carried away at the farmers' market.

As usual this is my version of her wonderful salad.  I have replaced her small grain cous-cous with the larger pearl Israeli cous-cous that I adore.  I also like to be less confined than with her original recipe and use whatever veggies that look a little tired in my crisper.

You really just can't go wrong throwing this together with whatever you have on hand.  This is a great vegetarian meal or a wonderful accompaniment to a nice piece of grilled fish, steak or chicken.  You are also going to love the way this makes your house smell.

Roasted Vegetable Cous-cous Salad with Lemony Tomato Dressing (Inspired by Delia Smith's recipe for Roasted Vegetable Cous-cous Salad with Harisssa-style Dressing)

For the cous-cous:
1 tablespoon light olive oil
1 cup Israeli cous-cous
2 cups chicken stock

Pour olive oil into the bottom of a large sauce pan that has been set over medium high heat.  When oil is hot add add cous-cous and, stirring frequently, toast it until it is a golden brown.  Add chicken stock, bring to a boil before lowering heat to a simmer and cooking for approximately 20 minutes or until cous-cous is tender; remove from heat, fluff with a fork, cover and set aside until ready to use.

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 large garlic clove, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a blender or small food processor.  Blend ingredients until they are emulsified. Set aside until ready to use.

For the roasted vegetables:
2 small yellow squash
2 small zucchini
1 small sweet yellow onion
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
3 tablespoons light olive oil
1 handful of fresh basil leaves, torn into large pieces
1 large garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cut the vegetables into approximate 2" cubes.  Place all the vegetables into a large bowl and toss with the olive oil until they are all lightly coated.  Add the basil leaves, garlic and salt and pepper. Toss a couple of times before spreading out onto a non-stick pan in a single layer.

Place vegetables into the preheated oven and roast for about 30 minutes (stir about every 5 - 10 minutes) or until vegetables are tender but still have some bite to them.  Remove from the oven and cool.

For the salad:
1 cup assorted pitted olives, roasted tomatoes and feta cubes (I went crazy at the olive bar at Whole Foods)
4 cups salad greens (I used baby spinach and arugula)
1/3 cup sliced almonds (toasted)

Place cooled cous-cous in the bottom of a large salad bowl.  Layer the roasted and cooled vegetables on top of the cous-cous, now lay the olive and cheese assortment on top of that, followed by the lettuce, dressing and the almonds.  Serve immediately.

Easily serves 6 -8

Sunday, July 21, 2013

My Favorite Vanilla Ice Cream Base

I know it hasn't been too long since I posted a recipe for ice cream, but I wanted to post this great little recipe before National Ice Cream month is over in just a few days. Great on its own or with any addition you can imagine, this really is more than an ice cream base, it is a wonderfully simple vanilla canvas for you to create something totally spectacular with.

When I was searching my cookbooks and the internet for Southern Living's recipe for butter pecan ice cream, I came across many recipes that I felt I needed to try, but it was another one of their simple little recipes that really caught my eye.   So even though I have tweaked this recipe a bit, Southern Living is once again to thank for the "bones" of another great recipe.

My first go with this simple no egg ice cream recipe went so well that I have made it several times over changing up the mix-ins each time.  From chocolate chip and cookies and cream, to strawberry, peach and sweet summer cherry, this is a great base for anything you want to throw in, that is if you want to throw anything at all.

Simple Strawberry Ice Cream made from this delicious vanilla base (Haagen Dazs flavor and texture from your kitchen)

1 - 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 - 1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt (optional)

Combine all ingredients, place in a covered container and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Place cold ingredients into an ice cream freezer and freeze until ice cream is the texture of soft serve.  At this point add any mix-ins that you desire (I added 6 ounces slightly mashed fresh chilled strawberries).  Let ingredients and ice cream churn together just until they are combined.  Transfer to a covered container and freeze in a deep freeze or kitchen freezer for an additional 4 hours or overnight for optimum flavor and texture.

*After "exhaustive" research, I have found that this recipe will fill up a counter top 1 - 1/2 quart ice cream freezer.  When adding fruit (I like about 4 - 6 ounces) I cut back on the milk by 1/2 cup to keep the ice cream from overflowing in the freezer.  I also made this recipe leaving the ingredient ratios alone and stirring the mix-ins by hand at the end which worked well too and prevented a big mess all over my counter top.   I also like to mash my fruit around a bit, leaving some bigger chunks before chilling it and then adding it to my ice cream base at the end.  I think everything works better when all ingredients are nice and cold.

As for cookies and chocolate, I think the magic number for Oreos is 8 (both regular and mint are amazing).  I crumble them coarsely by hand and add them at the very end.  For chocolate chip, coarsely chop or grate your favorite regular size chocolate bar before adding it to the base.

I hope you'll experiment with your favorite flavors and mix-ins, just remember as with so many things, less is more.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Something From Nothing #14: The Perfect Two Egg Omelet

Eggs are a favorite ingredient of mine.  Not only are they delicious and versatile, eggs are also nature's perfect fast food.  A simple egg dish can be on the table in moments.  They even come prepackaged in individual servings for our convenience.  I always try to have a dozen or so on hand.

At risk of sounding overly dramatic, I'll go so far as to say that there is something slightly sexy about a well cooked egg. Think about how enjoyable a warm perfectly poached egg is atop a mound of subtly dressed fresh baby greens. Oh, be still my foolish heart!

Or how about a soft boiled egg perched in a ceramic egg cup, just waiting for you to carefully remove the top and dip a crispy toast soldier into the shimmering yolk? Oh yes please! I'll take two.

Eggs are pretty forgiving too.  Even if you look away for a moment and cook your morning eggs too long, just peel them and mix them with a good dollop of cold mayo for a sandwich everyone will love.

And what about a plate full of fluffy soft scrambled eggs?  Next to boiling water, this egg dish can be prepared by anyone.  Even if you are totally inept in the kitchen, scrambled eggs are pretty hard to mess up, just don't overcook them.

And then there are omelets (or omelettes).  When I was a kid there was nothing I loved more for breakfast than a ham and cheese omelet. I still think it is the perfect brunch food, and I enjoy an omelet for an easy supper every now and again.

The other day I breached my only hard and fast breakfast rule and ordered an omelet in a restaurant.  Knowing that almost all American restaurants totally ruin this dish, I long ago promised myself to never waste my money and pay $9.00 for a overcooked, rubbery, tough, egg half moon ever again.  Well, I was not surprised, true to form it was horrible, and the only thing new was that it cost me $10.00 instead of $9.00.

Fed up with this crappy omelet phenomenon sweeping the country, I came home and started doing my research for the perfect omelet.  I first watched videos featuring Julia Child and Jacques Pepin preparing their classic French versions. Julia's omelets took no longer than 20 seconds (how's that for fast food) and Jacques didn't take much longer, but he advocates stirring them at the very beginning to facilitate a more even cooking.

I read many definitions, descriptions and directions on how to make the humble omelet during my research.  The article that I loved the most stated that the perfect omelet was softly cooked on the outside and was slightly under cooked on the inside.  According to this article, the desired consistency on the inside was best described as that of dog slobber.  Sounds really gross, but I kind of get their gist.

After cooking several, I have decided that my ideal omelet lies somewhere between over cooked rubber half moon and dog slobber.  I also liked them both plain and with everything I could find to throw inside. Once you get this simple base recipe down, the possibilities are endless.  This is the perfect way to use up any leftovers you have laying around. 

I was lucky when I made this last one and had some leftover sautéed mushrooms, a little bit of Swiss cheese and an over abundance of herbs from my pots on the porch.  If you happen to have any extra grilled vegetables lying around, you are in for a real treat.

There may be a right and wrong way to cook an omelet, but there is no wrong way to fill one.  Bon Appetit!

The Perfect Two Egg Omelet

I totally agree with Julia here when she said that the secret is a really hot (non-stick) pan.  The perfectly cooked omelet should be a light yellow color on the outside with no brown whatsoever.  If it is brown, it is overcooked in my opinion.

2 large eggs
1 small splash of water (1 - 2 teaspoons)
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 teaspoons butter or oil

Place eggs, water, salt and pepper in a bowl.  Whisk well to completely combine; set aside.

Place butter or oil into an omelet pan or small frying pan.  Melt butter over medium high heat, swirling it around the bottom and up the edges slightly.  Pour whisked eggs into the hot pan. Cook just a couple of seconds to let it start to set before stirring a couple of times to help it cook evenly.

After the eggs really begin to set (about 10 - 15 seconds longer), sprinkle desired fillings in the center of the omelet.  Quickly flip sides towards the center of the omelet.  Slide omelet onto a serving plate.  Serve immediately.

By the way, I tried several times to shake my omelet around in the pan like Julia and Jacques, but I just landed up making a big mess and losing about half my egg.  If you are successful doing this after watching the video, please let me know.

Makes 1 omelet.

Monday, July 8, 2013

A New (To Me) Drink For the Summer: The Paloma

I hope everyone had a wonderful July 4th.  Ours was nice but pretty low key.  Only when we lived in England did we really go all out to celebrate with our fellow Americans and our English friends.  In comparison our stateside 4th of July celebrations are pretty sedate.  Most often we just hang out at home and throw something into the smoker.

Fireworks were at a minimum around here.  With Colorado doing its best to burn down this summer, most of us have lost our lust for airborne fire.  Even Jack our fearless terrier climbed me like a tree with the sound of the first few pops and crackles, so we went to bed and pulled the covers up over our heads.

Since we weren't doing much anyway, and the 4th of July was the perfect excuse to stay in and have a cocktail or two, I decided to deviate from my usual champagne and give a new drink a try. . . in the interest of blog research of course.  My chosen libation?  The Paloma.  Anything that is touted as more beloved than the margarita in Mexico, is definitely deserving of my attention.

There are two versions of this cocktail, one that is made with a fizzy grapefruit soda, and one that is made with fresh grapefruit juice and sparkling water.  Since I like to make recipes that everyone can enjoy, and grapefruit soda isn't easy to find worldwide, I decided on making the fresh version.  I did try the grapefruit soda version which is really pretty great, but I really prefer the "fresher" version. There's really not that much to it, so all the more reason to love it.

The Paloma

1 nice, big, fat, juicy lime wedge
Kosher salt (optional)
Ice to mostly fill a 12 ounce glass
2 ounces freshly squeezed or bottled grapefruit juice (I used ruby red)
1 - 1/2 ounces tequila
2 ounces simple syrup or agave nectar to taste
Sparkling water (about 3 - 4 ounces) to top off

For the optional salt rim:  gently rub the lime wedge over half of the rim of the glass, reserving the lime wedge for later.  Dip the damp part of the rim in the kosher salt.

Place ice in glass.  Over the ice, pour the grapefruit juice, tequila, and simple syrup.  Squeeze the lime into the glass before topping with enough sparkling water to fill the glass; stir and serve immediately.

Makes 1 generous drink.