Monday, June 28, 2010

Get your hands off my couscous!

Sorry for the long silence! My computer got a virus and it took nearly two weeks to sort it out. However, I'm pretty pleased to say I fixed it myself! Who needs tech-support?

Last weekend while preparing for my pilgrimage to my local Safeway (or Un-safeway as it's know in DC) I was thinking about what new thing I could make and I decided on...drum roll please...Couscous! I enjoy couscous when other people make it but it's just one of those non-American foods that never occur to me to make. I'm not even sure what made me think of it then!

I trekked off to Safeway to discover that they don't sell plain couscous! Apparently, they don't think Americans have the capacity to make this because they only sell pre-flavored couscous in boxes with little spice packets. sigh. I bought two boxes.

At home, while I boiled some water and my spice packet to make my couscous my mom called. The conversation went something like:

Me: Hi mom.
Mom: Hi. What are you doing?
Me: Making couscous.
Mom: What on Earth is that?!?
Me:'s couscous...something kind of in between rice and pasta.
Mom: Oh....(while thinking, whose kid is this?)

Making couscous is actually really easy. Easier than pasta! Just boil some water (or broth), olive oil and salt, remove it from the heat, stir in couscous, cover it up and wait about 5 minutes (check the package directions for the liquid to couscous ratio and exact wait time).

To add to my Parmesan flavored couscous, I sauteed some red pepper, garlic and broccoli to mix with my couscous. It was tasty. However, I wasn't satisfied. Am I ever? I wanted plain couscous that I was responsible for spicing and darn it, I was gonna find it. So the next day I went to another grocery store and eureka!

You can also put additional spices in the water while it's boiling and the couscous will suck it up with the water. Couscous has quickly joined pasta as my go to mid-night dinner option.

Couscous is tasty both hot or cold. You can:
-mix in chicken, or pork to make it a meal
-add it to lettuce salads
-add raw veggies and cheese (I'd recommend feta) to make couscous salads
-add cooked veggies and eat it hot (as I described above)

The possibilities are endlessly delicious!

Monday, June 7, 2010

3-day weekend = cooking ambition

As memorial day weekend approached, all I could think about was food. What was I going to make on this extra day free from work that I would normally never have time for? I was browsing around on Simply Recipes when the answer found me: foccacia. When on Earth would I ever have time to hang around and wait for bread to rise again? Probably never.

This is the first time I've ever made bread. Do I choose something simple? Nope. I have to choose some complicated Italian bread that I'm not even sure I pronounce right.

The directions from Simply Recipes are below, or click on the link to see some step by step photos.

For my first time making bread, I think this was a huge success. I should have probably used more herbs, it seemed like a lot of rosemary at the time but the finished product could have used more. Also, you might want to think about halving this recipe, that means you'll be using half a yeast packet but it might be a good idea anyway. There was so much bread. I ate tons of it while it was still warm. I gave it to neighbors. I might make croutons with some of it. There was so much!

Directions (from Simply Recipes)

This recipe makes enough for 2 good-sized loaves. Or you can do what we've done, which is take 2/3 of the dough and bake it in a 9x15-inch baking pan, and the remaining third of the dough free-form on a baking sheet. You can make it all in free-form loaves that look like puffy pizzas, or shape them into casseroles or cake pans – there are no absolutes on the shape of this bread. The bread takes on the flavor of the olive oil so use a good quality one. Like most breads, this focaccia freezes well. You can also slice several day old focaccia bread and toast it, serving it with butter and/or honey.

* 1 package dry yeast
* 1/3 cup warm water, about 100 degrees
* 2 1/4 cups tepid water
* 2 Tbsp good quality olive oil, plus more for the pan and to paint on top of the bread
* 3 cups bread flour
* 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 Tbsp salt, plus coarse salt (fleur de sel if you have it, otherwise Kosher salt) for sprinkling over the top
* 2-3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary (can use sage or other herbs such as thyme or oregano, but whatever herb you use, do use fresh herbs, do not use dried)

1 Stir the yeast into the 1/3 cup of slightly warm-to-the-touch water and let it rest for 10 minutes.
2 In a large bowl, pour in 2 1/4 cups of tepid water and 2 tablespoons olive oil. After the yeast has rested for 10 minutes and has begun to froth, pour it into the water-oil mixture.
3 Whisk in 2 cups of flour (either the bread flour or the all purpose, at this stage it doesn't matter which) and the tablespoon of salt. Add the rosemary. Then, cup by cup, whisk in the rest of the flour (both the bread flour and all purpose). As the mixture goes from a batter to a thick dough, you'll want to switch from a whisk to a wooden spoon. By the time you get to the last cup of flour, you will be able to work the dough with your hands. Begin to knead it in the bowl – try to incorporate all the flour stuck to the sides and bottom of the bowl as you begin kneading. Once the bowl is pretty clean, turn the dough out onto a board and knead it well for 8 minutes. You might need some extra flour if the dough is sticky.
Note that a KitchenAid mixer (or some other brand of upright electric mixer) works well for the mixing and kneading of the bread dough. About the time you add the last cup of flour you'll want to switch from the standard mixer attachment to the dough hook attachment. Just knead the dough using the dough hook on low speed for 8 minutes. If after a few minutes the dough is still a little sticky, add a little sprinkling of flour to it.
4 In a large clean bowl, pour in about a tablespoon of oil and put the dough on top of it. Spread the oil all over the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to rise (in a relatively warm spot or at room temp) for an hour and a half.
5 Spread a little olive oil in your baking pan or baking sheet (will make it easier to remove the bread). Place the dough in your baking pans or form it into free-form rounds on a baking sheet. This recipe will do two nice-sized loaves or one big one and a little one. Cover the breads and set aside for another 30 minutes.
6 Dimple the breads with your thumb. Push in to about the end of your thumbnail, roughly 1/2-inch. Cover again and leave it to rise for its final rise, about 2 hours.
7 With 30 minutes to go before the rise finishes, preheat your oven to 400°F. If you have a pizza stone put it in.
8 Once the dough has done its final rise, gently paint the top with olive oil – as much as you want. Then sprinkle the coarse salt on top from about a foot over the bread; this lets the salt spread out better on its way down and helps reduce clumps of salt.
9 Put the bread in the oven. If you are doing free-form breads, put it right on the pizza stone. Bake for a total of 20-25 minutes. If you have a water spritzer bottle, spritz a little water in the oven right before you put the bread in to create steam, and then a couple of times while the bread is baking.
When the bread comes out of the oven, turn it out onto a rack within 3-5 minutes; this way you'll keep the bottom of the bread crispy. Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes before eating.
Makes a large loaf and a small loaf of 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick. How much will this serve? Easily a dozen, but it’s so good you might find yourself eating more than you expect.