Monthly Archives: August 2014
I didn’t know what to make for supper, and I had only a half hour before it had to be ready. Life on the run, you know. I work, E works, L is at the theater all day, M is either swimming, hockeying, iPhoning, entertaining, being entertained—it’s all just overwhelming, and making dinner becomes a chore.
But you know that.
You deal with the same issues, or similar ones, just the names and the names of the activities are different.
And we just can’t bring ourselves to open a box or a can or face another plate of ho-hum chicken breasts. Sure we like to cook ahead, and we have on several occasions, most recently a couple of Sundays ago, when we whipped up bowls full of chicken Marsala, baked ziti, salmon cakes, a couple of meat loafs, and E’s most popular white-bean and turkey-sausage stew.
It’s 4:45, all the make-ahead packages are frozen solid, there’s one chicken breast in the fridge (left over from another recipe), and the pressure is on.
What’s in the cupboard?
What I found was a box of Trader Joe’s Israeli couscous, a carton of plain yogurt and lots of produce in the fridge, and the clock is ticking. I’m feeling a little bit like Ted Allen is hiding around the corner.
I’m likely to fail. Chopped.
I looked for and found a recipe for a cold couscous salad that looked promising, but it surely needed a jolt of pizzazz, and then I found a small container of grilled chicken souvlaki I made a while back—that will defrost in a hurry. I can pull this off?
The feature for me will be the couscous salad, because I can spice it up and make it sing. So here’s what I made:
Israeli Couscous Salad with Cucumber, Lemon and Cilantro
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 ½ cups Israeli Couscous
1 ½ cups boiling water
1 large cucumber, peeled and seeded
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped coarsely
2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1 medium lemon
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white Balsamic or cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
12 grape tomatoes, halved
1. Preheat a saucepan over medium heat with 1 teaspoon olive oil; when the oil is hot add the couscous and toast, stirring constantly, until it is lightly browned, 5-7 minutes. Carefully add the boiling water, reduce the heat to low, cover and steam for 12 minutes, or until the water is completely absorbed. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
2. Cut the seeded cucumber into quarters and then into ½-inch slices; place in a large bowl. Add the cilantro and parsley. With a fine-hole grater, zest the lemon peel into the cucumber. Set aside.
3. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into a small bowl, add the vinegar, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Whisk to combine the dressing and add it to the cucumber. Toss to coat well.
4. Add the cooled couscous, the feta, and the tomatoes, and toss gently to combine the ingredients. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately or chill until ready to eat.
You can substitute mint, all parsley, or all cilantro to the salad as you wish.
Serve with chicken or lamb souvlaki. Here’s the recipe for that: Feel free to substitute lamb for the chicken, and try the tzatziki, too. It’s the bomb!
Souvlaki (Lamb or Chicken)
½ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
2 lemons, juiced
2 pounds lamb shoulder meat, trimmed of most (but not all) the fat, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (similarly prepared)
Place all the ingredients in a zipper-close food-storage bag, mix well, and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, and preferably overnight. Place the meat on soaked wood or steel skewers, and grill over direct heat, turning several times, until done, 15-20 minutes.
Serve over rice or couscous, and with this fabulous yogurt dipping sauce:
32 ounces plain yogurt or 16 ounces plain Greek yogurt
1 large peeled, seeded and shredded English cucumber (or two regular ones)
5-8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced (you decide how many)
3 tablespoons white vinegar
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Place the plain yogurt in cheese cloth over a large bowl and strain in the refrigerator overnight (not necessary if you use Greek yogurt, but use half the amount of yogurt). Mix the cucumber and garlic with the salt and drain over a bowl for a half hour (this will remove moisture from the cucumber). Blend all the ingredients well in a large bowl.
Serve with the grilled souvlaki and a Greek salad.
Selina Man, owner of Café Chocolate of Lititz, calls it “the seduction meal.” Your signature dish. The one you make when you want to impress that special someone. The one you serve the first time you meet your future in-laws. The one you bring out for the dinner party with your best friends. She says everyone should have one.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The seduction meal doesn’t have to be complicated; it just needs to look like it is. Great flavor and presentation are really simple, especially if you start with high-quality fresh meats and produce, the kind grown here in Lancaster County.
Here’s my seduction meal. It was originally veal Marsala, an Italian restaurant favorite. But good veal is expensive and, for some, ethically questionable, so I make it with boneless chicken breasts. It is quick, simple, delicious and virtually foolproof. For a beautiful, tasty presentation, serve the dish with green bean bundles and a rice or whole-grain pilaf.
This whole meal takes about 45 minutes start to finish. The beans and the pilaf can be made while the chicken is simmering in the pan.
Pure Gold Chicken Marsala
3 heaping tablespoons whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground ginger
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, sliced in half into flats
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
One medium onion, chopped
2-4 garlic cloves, to taste, minced fine
1/2 pound white mushrooms, sliced
1/3 cup dry Marsala wine
2/3 cup stock (2/3 cup water and one whole chicken or vegetable bouillon cube)
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
Kosher salt to taste
Place the flour, salt, pepper and ginger in a large food-storage bag. Shake to mix well. Place two chicken halves in the plastic bag. Close the bag and shake until the chicken is well-coated with the flour mixture.
Preheat a large skillet to medium-high, then add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Immediately place two chicken pieces in the pan and cook until lightly browned, about three minutes a side. Remove and place on a plate in a warm oven (about 200 degrees). Repeat the procedure with the other chicken halves.
Add the onion and garlic to the same pan and sauté until the onion is tender, about three minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until they are lightly browned, about three to five minutes.
Add the wine and the stock to the pan and stir to loosen the cooking bits from the bottom of the pan, then place the chicken pieces back in the pan, spooning the vegetables over the chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the liquid reduces by one-third to one-half. Whisk in the remaining butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with a bit of chopped parsley and serve.
To make the green bean bundles, simply thread whole green beans through yellow squash slices with the centers removed (as if the squash slices were napkin rings), sprinkle with chopped fresh thyme and cook them in a steamer basket over an inch of water for about four minutes until they are crisp-tender.
To make the pilaf, sauté 1/2 cup chopped onion and a finely chopped carrot in 2 tablespoons light olive oil in a heavy pot until tender. Add the rice or grain and sauté until it begins to brown. Add 3 cups chicken stock, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. The pilaf and the chicken should be done about the same time.