Posts tagged ‘herb’

December 6, 2011

Thyme Couscous

Like pasta, couscous doesn’t have much of a flavor itself.  But that’s one of the best things about it; you can add a variety of flavors, textures and spices to make it fit any mood.  When I’m already busy putting together a main dish, couscous is the perfect addition when you have your hands full.  It only takes 5 minutes to create fluffy, delicate pillows of joy.

Since couscous is so delicate, you need to be careful with the spice level and what you use.  It will add a great deal of flavor; so if you add something spicy like cayenne that’s all you’ll be able to taste.  I also want to steer you away from using dried herbs, fresh ones are in a completely different category.  It’s like comparing a fresh, crisp Fuji apple to those chewy dried fruit slices better known to me as foamy rubber nothingness.  Couscous cooks in 5 minutes, so the dried herbs don’t have a chance to reconstitute and end up getting stuck in your teeth apart from anything else.  So have fun with fresh herbs, and enjoy these combinations.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. Line baking sheet with foil and distribute pine nuts evenly
  3. Toast pine nuts for 10 mins.  Remove when they’re slightly golden around the edges and set aside to cool
  4. In medium saucepan, add couscous, water, butter, salt, fresh thyme and garlic powder. Stir with fork to distribute thyme.  I pinch the thyme with my fingers before adding it in as it helps release the oils and favor.
  5. Bring to a light boil, quickly stir with fork, remove from heat and cover
  6. Let stand 4-5 minutes
  7. Fluff with fork
  8. Add cooled, toasted pint nuts

Here are some of my other favorites!

Basil and Sun-dried Tomato Couscous

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped (add it after the couscous has cooled or the leaves will turn dark brown)
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp. black olives (optional)

Curry and Raisin Couscous

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. curry powder
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 2 tbsp. fresh mint, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp. toasted ground peanuts

Cranberry & Feta Couscous

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup crumbles fresh feta
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup toasted, slivered almonds
  • Fresh parsley for garnish
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October 11, 2011

Homemade Meatloaf with Peppers and Fresh Herbs

Please try to forget all the stereotypes of the classic meatloaf.  I know; it’s hard.  So to try and help I’ve come up with a recipe to help put all your fears of dense, hard, dry meat bricks to rest.  It’s a modern spin on a traditional comfort food, with a promise to deliver juicy, flavorful meatloaf, which will leave you sneaking back to the kitchen for seconds.

When I’m served a hot plate of meatloaf, I search for the steaming aroma of meat, onions and spice that reminds me Fall’s crisp air is just around the corner.  The sage gives off a woodsy, minty flavor that pairs well the fresh rosemary, which has a unique pine-like fragrant flavor balanced by a rich pungency, a combination that evokes both the forest and the sea.  The use of bell pepper and jalapeño gives the meatloaf a sweet and spicy contrast, and the hint of green specks is beautiful.  While some people might be looking for the ketchup crust or the homemade gravy, I turned to my magic ingredient.  Bacon.  Yes, I cover the loaf with bacon and let it crisp up in the oven, helping to keep the meat moist, tender and delicious.

Two tips I have before I get started.  First, don’t over mix the meat.  This is the biggest culprit for tough meatloaf.  You want to mix the ingredients into the meat, not knead it like bread or pasta.  If you’re gentle and quick with the meat, you’re meatloaf will be fluffy and juicy.  Second, I recommend cooking it on a baking sheet, not in a loaf pan.  The sides of the pan get hotter than the oven and tend to burn the edges.  Have fun with this and get your hands dirty,  it’ll be worth it.

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, finely diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 3 jalapeño peppers, seeds removed finely diced
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
  • 2 tsp. ground mustard (hot Coleman’s English mustard is the best)
  • 1 tbsp. fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 10 oz. packet of center cut bacon

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350°F
  • Line a medium size baking sheet with foil and set aside for meatloaf
  • In a medium skillet, heat 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • Add onion, garlic, bell pepper and jalapeño.  Sprinkle with salt and stir so the oil evenly coats all the vegetables.  Leave on medium heat, stirring occasionally until onions are translucent and slightly brown.  You’re caramelizing the onions; about 10 mins.
  • Remove from heat and let cool
  • While vegetables cool, add meat, salt, pepper, sage, rosemary, parsley, Worcestershire, panko, ketchup, and eggs in a large bowl
  • When vegetables are cool, add them to the large bowl and mix with hands (don’t try using a spoon, it’s time to use your hands!)
  • Mix quickly and gently, the more you mix the tougher your meatloaf will turn out (which is why you don’t want to use a spoon).  Just mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed.
  • Lay the meat on foil lined baking sheet and form into a large log
  • Take the bacon and lay slices across the meat.  This will add flavor and keep the meat moist while it bakes in the oven.
  • Bake for 110~130 mins until cooked through, check with an oven thermometer.  Internal temperature should reach 150°F.
  • When meatloaf is cooked through, turn broiler on low, and cook for 5 mins to crisp bacon.  Stay near the kitchen and keep your eye on this, it may only take 2 minutes depending on your oven, and it will happen quickly!
  • Remove from oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing.  This allows the meat juices to redistribute.
  • Serve with ketchup!
September 9, 2011

Pesto

Break out the food processor; it’s attack of the basil plant!

It all started with two small, innocent looking basil plants I picked up at Lowe’s.  I went with two plants, thinking they’d both be dead within a week based on my record.  The leaves would start to wilt on the way home knowing they were about to be subjected to over watering and lack of sunlight in my small apartment.  I’ll admit I do not have the necessary gardening skills to keep even a cactus alive.  So you can imagine my surprise when I found 3-foot plants with more basil than I knew what to do with?  I guess my luck changed in Houston… sadly not due to anything I did, but thanks to the hot, humid weather.

Basil’s pervading, clove-like aroma is intoxicating; it’s extremely aromatic with a scent of pepper, anise, and mint.  The minute the smell hits me I’m transported to an Italian café where I wait for a fresh margarita pizza.  The taste is sweet, but savory, and just like the smell it’s peppery with a hint of spicy mint.

In an effort to control my garden, I went on a pesto fest, and started making jars of herby goodness to share with family and friends.  Below please find 3 of my pesto recipes.  All you need to do it combine all ingredients in a food processor and process on high-speed till evenly chopped and mixed.

Basil Pesto

  • 3 cups loosely packed basil leaves
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Walnut Pesto: Substitute pine nuts for 1/2 cup walnuts; it has a slightly nuttier flavor and can also help you stretch your dollar since pine nuts can be quite pricey!

Mint Pesto: Substitute 1 1/2 cup basil for 1 1/2 cup mint leaves


While basil is abundant at the moment, I also suggest that you experiment with other herbs.  Pesto does not need to be basil based; I’ve tried mint, cilantro, rosemary and arugula.  Each one has a unique flavor, and can be added to bread, fish, meat, or enjoyed straight from the jar with some cheese.  With a basic formula you can come up with a myriad of variations by replacing the basil and pine nuts. Try these combos:

  • Arugula & toasted walnuts
  • Mint & toasted almonds
  • Cilantro & cashews
  • Basil, Rosemary & toasted walnuts
  • Cilantro & toasted pumpkin seeds

The other great thing about basil is it can be frozen and stored successfully for a few weeks.  The best method I’ve found is to place a small bunch in a clean Ziploc bag, blow some air in to inflate it, and place in the freezer where it won’t get squashed. You’ll find it quite convenient to then snip off a few leaves any time of year to add to pasta sauce, salads, or dressings.

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