Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pearl Couscous With Fall Vegetables And Carmelized Onions

Even though we were only three for Thanksgiving this year (including 1 vegetarian), my Mom wanted to make a turkey. I wasn't wild about eating side dish for my Thanksgiving meal, and so, as a compromise, we also made pearl couscous with fall vegetables and carmelized onions, using this recipe (published in Sunset magazine) from chef Joanne Weir.

Couscous is one of my favorite grains because it cooks so quickly and can be eaten with so many different toppings. Cooking the couscous is probably the quickest part of this recipe, which involves several different stages and takes more than two hours to complete. (The cooking time and the price of some of the ingredients, such as saffron, make this a recipe I would reserve for special occasions.)

I started by making the carmelized onion topping. The sliced onions are steamed before being browned in olive oil, and combined with golden raisins, cinnamon, honey, salt and pepper.

Next, I peeled and chopped the vegetables. The recipe incorporates a nice variety of fall vegetables, including zucchini, butternut squash, turnips and carrots, as well as a jalepeño pepper.

Once the vegetables were chopped, it was time to make the seasoned broth that would be used to cook both the vegetables and the couscous. (Mom also poured some of the seasoned broth into her (meat-based) stuffing and gravy.) I heated olive oil in a stockpot and briefly fried saffron, cumin, cinnamon sticks, salt and pepper before stirring in the vegetable broth.

After the mixture came to a boil, I added the carrots, turnips and jalepeño, and let them simmer. The zucchini and butternut squash were then added to the pot, and the vegetables cooked a bit more.

Then it was time to prepare the couscous. I ladeled two cups of broth from the stockpot into a saucepan, and then heated them, along with some water, to a boil before adding the couscous. While the couscous was cooking, I removed two additional cups of broth from the stock pot, to combine with harissa. (Mom and I were unable to find harissa in stores, so we made our own using a recipe from Tagine: Spicy Stews of Morrocco. The harissa was very easy to make - it is basically a blend of red chilies, garlic, cumin, coriander and olive oil.)

According to the recipe, the cooked vegetables and carmelized onions are to be served over couscous, with a pitcher of broth mixed with harissa and a pitcher of "plain" broth. I strayed a bit here because I was planning to bring the leftovers back to Denver with me and wanted to minimize the number of containers I'd be carrying. Rather than straining the vegetables to create a pitcher of plain broth, I let the vegetables soften into the remaining liquid, creating a stew-like texture.

Although the recipe was a bit time intensive, the results were worth it. The vegetables - and in particular the butternut squash - blended wonderfully with the saffron and other seasonings, and the sweetness of the carmelized onions contrasted nicely with the heat from the harissa.

And, yes, Mom did add spices (using a Chinese five-spice blend) to the whipped cream on our pumpkin pie. Yum.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse

My mom and I stopped by the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse recently, to celebrate her birthday. We had already eaten lunch, this trip was strictly for dessert!

The birthday girl got a slice of tangerine tea gingerbread cake, served with orange sauce and five-spice whipped cream ($5.25):

(The photo does not do the cake justice, sorry!)

My mom likes spice cakes, so I wanted her to have a chance to try the gingerbread at the Teahouse. I think it was a hit; she's now talking about adding spices to the whipped cream on our pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving...

I went for the flourless chocolate cake with Persian spiced dark chocolate ice cream, candied roses and rose syrup ($6):

Yum. The cake was wonderfully gooey inside, and I thought I tasted rose in the ice cream...

Both sweets were enjoyed, along with steaming cups of chai, in the wonderful atmosphere of the Teahouse.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse

1770 13th Street (between Arapaho and Canyon on 13th)
Boulder, CO 80302

Monday, November 24, 2008

Spaghetti Squash With Cranberries And Pecans

Makes a great main dish, side dish, or even a breakfast dish...

2 pounds spaghetti squash (I used 1/2 a 4 pound squash)
scant 1 teaspoon butter, thinly shaved
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons grated orange rind (optional)
approx. 1/3 to 1/2 cup pecans
approx. 1/3 to 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 375 F.
Cut the spaghetti squash in half and scrape out seeds.
Place the squash face down in a deep 13 by 9 inch (or larger) baking dish and add water to the pan until the edges of the squash are covered.
Bake 45 minutes.
Carefully remove the squash from the pan and place face-up on a cutting board or dish.
Scrape out the inside of the squash with a fork, to create the "spaghetti" strands.
Toss the warm squash with butter, salt and (optional) orange rind.
Add cranberries and pecans to taste.

Serves 2 as a main dish, four as a side dish.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Veg Winter Soup

This hearty winter soup comes together in just over an hour, unless you're using dry beans. The vegetables create their own broth while simmering.

You might notice that I decided to add pre-cooked (or canned) beans at the end. I'm not sure if it's the salt or the acid from the tomatoes, but I've found that dry beans can take an incredibly long time to cook in this type of recipe, and I have more success if I cook the beans separately.

2 tablespoons canola oil
red pepper flakes
1 onion, washed and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 carrot, washed and grated
1/2 a head of cabbage, washed, cored and chopped
8 cups water
1 bay leaf
3 large red potatoes, washed, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
1 14.5 ounce can chopped tomatoes (I used unsalted)
2 teaspoons salt
1 15 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, or 1/3 cup dry cannellini beans, cooked separately per package instructions
black pepper

Place oil and a dash of red pepper flakes in a large stock pot, and warm over medium heat.
Add onion, garlic and carrot, and cook about 5 minutes, until soft.
Add cabbage and cook, stirring constantly, until soft (3-5 minutes).
Add water, bay leaf, potatoes, tomatoes and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, for about 45 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
Add the beans to the pot, and cook another 5 minutes.
Add black pepper to taste.

Makes about 6 servings.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Baked "Indian" Pudding

I dug out a recipe for baked "Indian" pudding last week because my usual evening snack - ice cream - was making me too cold at night.

The cornmeal-based pudding originated in New England. The pudding is somewhat similar to polenta, except that, rather than adding cornmeal to boiling water, the cornmeal is whisked into a mixture of milk and browned butter. Once the cornmeal has thickened, molasses, pumpkin pie spice and egg yolks are added. The pudding is then then baked for about one hour and chilled for two hours before being served.

The result is somewhat reminiscent of a pie without the pie crust. The molasses lends pudding a gingerbread-esque flavor, while the spices and texture invoke pumpkin pie. In short, it's a good dessert for this time of year.

Pomegranate Parfait

Summer has ended, but that doesn't mean that we have to stop eating fresh fruit salads. In fact, one of my favorite fruits is just coming into season.

Pomegranate seeds have a lovely ruby color, a nice crunch and a great sweet-tart taste. The seeds are high in vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants. My fondness for pomegranates has only grown now that I've figured out how to seed them without creating a mess.

There's so much that you can do with pomegranate seeds! This is a super easy parfait, which is good as an afternoon snack, or good for breakfast along with peanut butter toast. Really, it's so simple that it's more of a serving suggestion than a recipe...

Ingredients For One Parfait
1 banana, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
seeds from 1/2 pomegranate

Place 1/2 the banana slices in the bowl.
Top with 1/4 cup vanilla yogurt.
Add half the pomegranate seeds
Repeat layering of banana slices, yogurt and pomegranate seeds.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

Another veg-based macaroni and cheese recipe! This time, I blended roast butternut squash into the cheese mixture. The result is decidedly squashy (it would be hard to say the butternut was a "secret" ingredient) and yet pleasantly reminiscent of mac and cheese.

To break up the cooking-time, I roasted my butternut squash a few days beforehand, and kept it in the refrigerator until I had time to assemble the rest of the dish.

2 1/2 pounds butternut squash (approx. 4 cups cooked)
8 oz pasta
1 cup nonfat milk
1 cup grated cheddar
1/4 cup grated parmesan, plus one tablespoon reserved
15 oz part-skim ricotta
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup panko
canola oil and/or butter

Roasting the squash (can be done in advance):
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Wash the butternut squash, halve and remove seeds.
Place the squash halves face up in a baking dish that has been lightly brushed with canola oil.
Lightly brush the top of each squash with canola oil.
Bake 45 minutes, or until the a knife cuts cleanly through the center of the squash.
If roasting the squash ahead of time, refrigerate until needed.

The day of:
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Lightly grease a 13 by 9 inch baking dish with butter or canola oil.
Cook the noodles per the package instructions. Drain.
Remove the skin from the cooled butternut squash.
In a medium bowl, mash the butternut squash, adding milk until creamy and smooth. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the cheddar, ricotta and 1/4 cup parmesan.
Add the garlic, onion, salt, a dash of nutmeg and black pepper to taste to the cheese mixture.
Stir the mashed butternut squash into the cheese mixture.
Add the drained noodles to the butternut squash/cheese mixture.
Pour into the greased baking dish, and top with the reserved 1 tablespoon of parmesan and the panko.
Bake for 45 minutes, until the topping is golden-brown.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I stopped into Mici's new Cherry Creek North location for lunch on a recent weekday. I had a hankering for one of their veg panini/salad combos, and I figured that the new location might have less of a lunch rush than the original location downtown. In fact, I was able to walk right to the counter to place my order, which would never happen during a weekday lunch downtown.

Unfortunately, the Cherry Creek North location doesn't yet offer the sandwich/salad combo available downtown. It's a pity, because a half-panini and a small house salad (mixed greens, walnuts, gorgonzola and grapes in a balsamic vinaigrette) makes a nice meal.

Since the combo wasn't available, I ordered a whole Verdura panini ($8.11 with tax). The sandwich is served on a ciabatta roll, with fresh mozzarella, provolone, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, spinach and pesto. The crisp crust of the ciabatta contrasted nicely with the soft ingredients inside. I didn't think I'd be able to eat the entire sandwich, but I soon found myself munching my way through the second half.

I did enjoy the panini, although I would have preferred the sandwich/salad combo.

Cherry Creek North
3030 E. 2nd Ave (2nd and Milwaukee)

Downtown Denver
1531 Stout Street
303.629 (mici)6424

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hello, Yellow

I seem to have some unresolved issues involving food and color. For, just a couple of weeks after I accidentally created the whitest chili ever, I inadvertently assembled a meal in which every dish was the same shade of yellow.

The first dish on the menu was pineapple pachadi, or pineapple with crushed mustard seeds. While the combination of pineapple and coconut might suggest a sweet dessert, this dish has a nice kick thanks to the inclusion of cayenne pepper and red chilies.

The next dish on the menu was a seasoned dhal. This is one of my favorite ways to eat lentils, and when I decided to substitute yellow split peas, I didn't realize that the dhal would now be the same color as the pineapple.

It was only when I tossed the chopped zuchinni and squash with tumeric and watched it turn yellow, while preparing the squash with mustard seeds, that I realized what I had done. Yellow, yellow, yellow!

Interestingly, while every dish was the same color, and contained some of the same seasonings (mustard seeds, red chilies and curry leaves), each had its own unique flavor: the rich dhal, the spicy-sweet pineapple, and the seasoned squash. While I prefer that my food both look and taste interesting, the contrasting flavors made up for the monotony in the color department.

Recipes for each dish can be found in Maya Kaimal's "Savoring the Spice Coast of India."

Sunday, November 9, 2008


A warm pocket of melted cheese tucked inside a disc of lightly spiced masa, with spicy curtido on the side... Claire's recent review of Pupusa's restaurant at Culinary Colorado made me hungry for pupusas!

Pupusas, an El Salvadoran dish, might be described as a thick corn tortilla with cheese baked into the middle. Curtido is a spicy cabbage salad that traditionally accompanies pupusas. I need to confess, right up front, that I have yet to eat a pupusa (or curtido) in a El Salvadoran restaurant, and so I cannot vouch for the authenticity of this recipe. But, I can tell you that the results are tasty!

Although the pupusas are made from scratch, the masa is very easy to put together, so the pupusas can be prepared in 45 minutes or less (including baking time).

I like to serve the pupusas with curtido (recipe here), avocado and salsa. Beans would also make a nice side dish. The curtido improves as it "marinates," so assemble it the night before, if you can.While the curtido is good on its own, I usually mix in diced avocado before serving, using 1/2 avocado per person.

Pupusas are traditionally fried, but I prefer to bake them. I've found that leftover pupusas are best reheated in the toaster oven or stove top; they can get a bit tough in the microwave.

Variations on the cheese pupusas include mixing chopped cilantro or diced chilies in with the cheese. (Again, I can't vouch for the authenticity, but it tastes good!)

2 cups masa harnia (most grocery stores carry this, in either the "hispanic foods" or baking aisles)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 to 2 cups warm water
about 1 cup grated cheese (such as monterey jack or cheddar)

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Lightly brush 2 non-stick baking sheets with canola oil.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the cumin and salt into the masa harina.

Gradually stir in the warm water, mixing until smooth. The dough should be soft but not sticky. Add more masa harina or water as needed. (I usually wind up using a full 2 cups of water.)

Scoop out 1/3 cup of dough. Divide it into two balls, one slightly larger than the other. Flatten the larger ball into a pancake, and add 1-2 tablespoons of cheese to the middle. Curl the edges of the bowl up around the cheese filling, then set the cheese-filled masa down on wax paper or parchment paper. Flatten the second ball into a pancake, and fit it on top of the cheese-filled dough. Use your fingers to gently flatten the cheese-filled mound of masa into a disc to form your pupusa. The filling should be completely enclosed in the dough.

Place the pupusa on a baking sheet.

Repeat until all the dough has been used (I get 8 pupusas, 4 per baking sheet).

Lightly brush the top of each pupusa with canola oil.

Bake 15 minutes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Beatrice is taking a short break...

Food blogging will likely resume next week...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Macaroni and Cheese With a Surprise Twist

Some people collect shoes, postcards or buttons. I collect recipes for homemade macaroni and cheese. My collection includes recipes using different kinds of cheeses, and recipes with special add-ins, like smokey oven roasted tomatoes or chipotle chilies. But until recently, I had never tried a recipe in which the macaroni and cheese sauce was a blend of dairy and puréed vegetable (cauliflower to be precise).

I don't eat a lot of cauliflower, but the photo at Food Blogga was so tempting that I decided to give it a try. And, I'm really glad I did. Just as the photo promised, the recipe resulted in a creamy mac and cheese with a nice, crunchy topping, just the way homemade macaroni and cheese should be. And, no, it didn't taste like cauliflower. Instead, the mac and cheese had a good cheddar flavor, with a slight hint of Doritos (due to the addition of southwestern-style seasonings).

The recipe is pretty straightforward. Cooked cauliflower is puréed with a little milk, which results in a creamy white mixture that reminded me of thin mashed potatoes. The puréed cauliflower is then added, along with cheddar cheese and seasonings, to a roux of butter, flour and milk, to create the cheese sauce. Cooked pasta is stirred into the sauce, and the entire mixture is dumped into a buttered baking dish. After receiving a topping of bread crumbs (I used panko) and cheddar cheese, the dish goes into the oven to cook for about 45 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly.

I strayed from the original recipe in three minor ways. First, I couldn't find the orange cauliflower that Food Blogga used, and so I substituted white. If you can find orange cauliflower, you should use it, because it contains more vitamin A than regular cauliflower and will enhance your dish's color. Second, I used real butter instead of butter substitute. Third, because I was using panko, I didn't bother to blend the breadcrumbs with butter.

Although Food Blogga stated that the recipe would create four servings, I somehow wound up with six. Not that I'm complaining! Now, I have macaroni and cheese (with a built-in vegetable) to eat throughout the week...