Thursday, September 23, 2010

Spiced Israeli Couscous with Cashews

My wedding is in two days!! I'm so excited, if you couldn't already tell. So what am I doing blogging, you ask? I've been meaning to do a post at least once this week since I've been mostly absent for the past couple of weeks and I'll be in Costa Rica next week for my honeymoon (horray!). However, today is the first day of the week that I've had time to sit down and write anything. All of the planning, most of it at least, is done and now I just have to wait till things get started tomorrow and try not to get too nervous. I'm feeling pretty calm as of now but we'll see how long that lasts. Despite how hectic the last few weeks have been, my regular life hasn't come to a complete halt. I still have to do laundry, feed the dog, and yes, I even still cook. I have cut back on making elaborate dishes or even trying a lot of new things but rather I've been cooking a lot of favorites and simple meals that I've done before.

This meal combined two things that I've made before--honey mustard salmon and roasted broccoli--with a new side dish that I created to compliment the flavors in the salmon glaze. I decided to play off the cumin in the salmon glaze and combine some Indian flavors to dress up the Israeli couscous. Adding spices to any grain--rice, quinoa, barley--is a simple way to make a creative side dish and get away from making the same thing night after night. I finished the couscous with chopped cashews to add a nice crunch and that delicious salty, sweetness unique to cashews. This recipe could easily be adjusted to include more or less of any of the spices--more cayenne if you want it spicy, for example--and peanuts could be used in the place of cashews.

Spiced Israeli Couscous with Cashews
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup Israeli couscous
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • Pinch garam masala
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock (water also works)
  • 1/3 cup cashews, roughly chopped
Heat olive oil in a sauce pot over medium heat.
Add couscous and toast for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in all of the spices and toast for a few more minutes, until spices are fragrant and couscous is lightly browned.
Add stock and bring to a boil.
Cover and turn the heat to low, cooking for 8-10 minutes, until liquid is gone and couscous is tender.
Fluff with a fork and stir in chopped cashews.

For a printable recipe click here

Spiced Israeli Couscous With Cashews

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sneak Peek: Italian Eatery at 604 West

I take Italian food very seriously. Having lived in Florence for a semester during college, I am completely spoiled when it comes to eating Italian food here in the states. In addition, my family is from northern New Jersey where every other restaurant is owned by an Italian family making authentic dishes, perfected by generations of good cooks. I have had a hard time finding good Italian food here in North Carolina despite the fact we have so many amazing chefs and restaurants right here in Durham.
So I must say that I didn't expect much when my friend invited me to a West Village party hosted by the new Cinelli's restaurant that has taken over the space formally occupied by Tosca. I was mostly looking forward to sitting outside with a glass of wine and maybe a slice of pizza in the company of good friends. Cinelli's, formally located behind Ben and Jerry's in the Whole Foods shopping center, definitely produces good pizza and inexpensive but good food. This party was no exception, with live music to entertain us while we enjoyed not only pizza but sandwiches of grilled chicken and broccoli rabe on soft, chewy rolls and bowtie pasta with pesto and sun dried tomatoes.

However, it is the addition of a fine dining restaurant, the Italian Eatery at 604 West Morgan, that really peaked my interest. I have eaten at Tosca a few times, always hoping for a great Italian meal in the beauty of the old brick warehouses that make up the West Village. Unfortunately, I was usually disappointed. Now, the space is still beautiful--made more so by better lighting and an inviting atmosphere--but the food actually outshines the space. You know those Italian families living in New Jersey? Well, fortunately for us, one of them decided to move down to North Carolina (Ok, so they are actually from Long Island, but you get my point).

Per a strong recommendation, I tried the Lobster with Cognac Sauce pasta: a healthy portion of perfectly cooked scallops, mussels, shrimp and lobster in a cognac cream sauce over black squid ink pasta. The pasta is all homemade and you can definitely taste the difference. The sauce was rich and flavorful but did not outweigh the great taste of fresh seafood cooked perfectly.

I also got to try Grandma's Pizza, which was clearly made with the love and care of someone's Italian Grandma. The giant pizza fed all of us sitting at the bar and we enjoyed the soft but slightly crisp crust, the sweet roasted garlic, juicy plump Italian plum tomatoes and just the right amount of fresh mozzarella and basil. I love pizza--not the stuff you can order over the phone that's loaded down with cheese and what they call "sauce"--but the real stuff made with whole, natural ingredients and simple yet deep flavors. Nothing beats really good pizza and until you have had some, you probably do not know what pizza really tastes like.

The restaurant is still in a soft opening phase as they work to get everything ready for their grand opening coming soon. I strongly recommend getting in there as soon you can. I will definitely be back for a full meal to get the whole experience of eating there. I have high hopes for this new restaurant and I definitely think if they keep the quality of the food at such a high level, they will do very well.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Roasted Tomatoes and Fennel with White Beans

Seattle Skyline - Courtesy of Fabulous and Frugal
I have to apologize for my recent lack of posts. I went to a food blogger conference and haven't written a thing since. Terrible, I know. On the one hand, I got so many ideas of what to do better on my blog and things not to do and things that I'm doing wrong, that my confusion has led to total writer's block. The conference had lots of great tips on how to get more readers and how to come up higher on Google searches, but none of that is of any use if you don't actually write about anything. So I've decided to go back to doing things my own way and just sharing great recipes that I've tried or created and add my own part to Durham's amazing food scene. This may not get me many new "page visits" but so be it.
My other excuse for not writing much, and I consider it a pretty valid one, is that my wedding is just around the corner! My return home from Seattle brought with it September, which in my world is wedding month. I have been planning this wedding for about a year, doing things slowly, one by one so that I wouldn't get stressed out. And it's been a great year. I've spent a lot more time enjoying life and my soon-to-be husband than worrying about every little detail of the wedding. But now I'm at the point where I don't have much of choice and I have to worry about all of the details. Even if I don't necessarily care how the napkins are folded or if the menus are on white or cream paper, I have to decide. But most of the decisions have been fun ones and I absolutely cannot wait till the big day.

That being said, I do still eat dinner amidst all this planning and more often than not, I cook said dinner. Some nights have been simple meals and others have been repeats of past recipes that involve less thinking on my part. But I do have a few new things to share, starting with this roasted tomato and fennel dish, adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine. I actually made this awhile ago but, as I said, life has gotten in the way of my blogging. I've cooked with fennel before, and I absolutely love the sweetness it adds when cooked to a soft, golden brown. Mixed with roasted tomatoes and white beans, this dish is simple yet comforting in its rich flavors. I served it over quinoa and topped it with feta cheese as a light meal or it would work great as a side dish.

Roasted Tomatoes and Fennel with White Beans (serves 2, or 4 side dish serving)
  • 1 large (5-6 inch round) fennel bulb, with fronds attached
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 1-2 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 15 oz can cannellini or Northern white beans, rinsed and drained
Preheat oven to 425F.
Remove about 1/2 cup of fennel fronds and chop.
Cut the remaining stems off the bulb and discard. Trim the bottom of the bulb, leaving some of the core attached.
Cut the fennel bulb in half vertically and then each half into 1/2 inch wedges.
Heat oil in a large, ovenproof pan over medium heat.
Add fennel wedges and season with about 1/2 tsp of salt. Cook until fennel begins to brown, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes.
Add tomatoes, oregano, garlic and 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper (use more if you like things spicy).
Season with remaining 1/2 tsp of salt and about 1/2 tsp of black pepper. Stir to combine.
Place pan in the oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes, until the tomatoes are tender, stirring occasionally.
Add in beans and most of the chopped fennel fronds. Cook for a few minutes longer, until beans are heated through. Remove oregano stems before serving.
Serve garnished with remaining fennel fronds and feta cheese (optional).

For a printable recipe click here

Roasted Tomato With Fennel and White Beans