Lunching Couscous

Lunch ideas can be hard to come by for me and sandwiches were never really my thing. I love them with interesting condiments on bakery bread, but making one at 7am and bringing it to work never appeals to me.

I try to mix it up when it comes to lunch. Often it’s leftovers but I used to be so good about picking something, making a regular sized batch, and eating it all week for lunch. It was even more convenient when I’d bring it all on Monday and not have to think about it the rest of the week.  Lately, I’ve gotten off course.

Recently I made couscous for a couple of lunches and it was soooo good. I ate it as a cold salad and was all about it. Tomatoes were my inspiration.
couscous_tomato_290_200
Grape. Heirloom. Tomatoes.

Ingredients

1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in halves
1 cup dried Israeli couscous
2 cups vegetable stock
11/2 cups baby spinach
2 slices of bacon, cooked to a crisp
¼ cup shredded Parmesan
¼ cup ranch dressing
drizzle of olive oil

Directions

Toast couscous over medium-low heat until lightly browned
couscous_toasted_290_200

Add in veggie stock and cover for 7 minutes
Slice cherry tomatoes in halves, chop the spinach chiffonade, and crumble the bacon.
Fluff couscous to separate and allow to cool.
Add spinach, bacon, Parmesan and dressing.
Refrigerate overnight and drizle with olive oil before eating to rehydrate.
couscous_everything_290_200
I’ll admit. Ranch might seem a bit weird, but I had it and wanted something creamy. Parmesan peppercorn dressing would be more appropriate. My spinach had lived a good life but wouldn’t have been amazing the next day, which is why I chose to throw it in…like an herb rather than like a salad. Nobody was going to overshadow these tomatoes. No, siree!This was an easily packable and flavorful lunch. It also is super cheap. If I were like whats-her-face on the foodnetwork who makes $10 dinners I’d probably have an impressive lunch cost since this served as 2 lunches for me…and my mum may have bought the tomatoes for me when we were at the farm stand. I’d much rather pack a lunch and afford a fantastic meal in Italy or Spain. In just over 4 weeks time I will be! So excited I can’t even stand it!

This would be a good side dish. Adding basil and fresh mozzarella would be good with Italian dressing. Bring couscous to your next BBQ this summer and be the star next to all the cole slaws and potato salads.
couscous_dried_290_200
What are some other lunchable ideas & inspirations?

Memory Meal

In honor of a very special man Mr. J’s family lost I wanted to remember him at home since the  memorial service wasn’t for a while. I asked Mr. J’s Gram what Gramp would pick if he could have anything to eat. She said: pork chops, apple sauce, and sweet potatoes.

I took a spin off these and went with it. I made Sweet Potato Anna and Rye-Stuffed Pork Chops with Apple Thyme Pan sauce. It was good. Definitely not a light summery meal but it was a cool and rainy day which went perfectly!
stufpork_290_200
Rye Stuffed Pork Chops with Apple Thyme Pan Sauce
I found this recipe on a blog called A Sweet Chef check it out. This recipe looked amazing on there! I have nothing against apple sauce but thought adding apple into the pork would be more my style.

Ingredients:

For the stuffing
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, separated
1 cup rye bread, diced small (about 2 slices)
1/4 cup onion, diced
1/4 cup celery, diced
1/4 cup dried apples, diced
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme leaves (I went with dried)
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the chops
2 boneless center-cut pork chops (about 5 oz each)
1 tbsp. olive oil
kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the sauce
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. shallots, minced (I used onion instead)
1 tsp. all-purpose flour
1/4 cup apple cider or apple juice
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
chopped fresh thyme leaves (again, I used dried)
kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
(I added in a smidge of maple syrup for sweetness)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toast bread in 1 tbsp. butter in an oven-proof skillet over medium high heat until crisp and then transfer to a bowl.  Return pan to heat.
stuf_pork_stuffing290_200
Saute onion, celery and apples in 1 tbsp. butter over medium heat until soft.  Stir in thyme.  Add vegetables to bread cubes.  Toss mixture with broth, vinegar and seasonings until liquid is absorbed.  Wipe out the skillet.
stuf_pork_apple_290_200
Prepare chops.  Fill pockets with bread mixture.  They will be full, but you’ll probably have some left-over stuffing.  Saute chops in oil over medium-high heat until brown on one side, about 3 minutes.  Carefully turn the chops over and add any extra stuffing to the pan at this point.  Transfer pan to the oven.  Roast about 8 minutes, then remove the chops and stuffing from the pan and set aside.  Tent with foil to keep warm.
stufpork_pan_290_200
Saute shallots (onions) for the sauce in 1 tbsp. of butter in same skillet over medium heat.  Add flour and cook for 1 minute.  Deglaze the pan with cider, wine and vinegar.  Simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, about 2-3 minutes.  Finish sauce with thyme, salt and pepper.
stufpork_sauce_290_200
Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Anna

Ingredients

1 large sweet potato peeled & sliced thin
3 tbs melted butter
1 tbs dijon mustard

Directions

Slice the peeled sweet potato into thin slices (I used a mandolin)
Melt butter and mix mustard in
layer potato slices and drizzle butter on each layer adding salt & pepper too
sweetpot_anna_layered_200_290
Bake 425 for 30 minutes until the edges are brown& crispy!
sweetpot_anna_plate

Ranch Burgers and Apple Slaw Apartment Style

You could pour ranch dressing on an Old Navy $5 pair of flip flops and it would make them taste good. I took a tastier approach and was so excited about my creation. I made Ranch Chicken Burgers and Zesty (mayo-less) Apple Slaw in my own kitchen…no party required!
ranch_burg_plate_290_200

Ingredients:

¾ pound ground chicken
½ packet dried ranch dressing/dip mix
3 tbs ranch dressing
2 bulky rolls

Directions:

Mix ground chicken, ranch mix, and dressing
ranch_burger_290_200
BBQ or cook on a grill pan flipping once.
ranch_burg_cooking_290_200
Serve on toasted rolls with ranch dressing on top.
ranch_burg_flipped_290_200

Ground chicken and ground turkey are more likely to fall apart so don’t overflip! I took a tip from my pal Guy on Diners Drive-ins & Dives: I flipped them but feared they weren’t going to be fully cooked so I covered them and added a touch of water for some steam.

They were cooked perfectly! That is tricky without my trusty meat thermometer but I was so proud of myself. They were juicy and I definitely tasted the ranch.

I paired it with some slaw. This was awesome and is a nice alternative to creamy slaws. I put in some apple I planned to use otherwise but had on hand.

Ingredients:

3 cups shredded cabbage/slaw mix
½ gala apple, chopped into matchsticks
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs veggie oil
¼  cup cidar vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 tbs dijon mustard
dash red pepper flakes

Directions:

Heat oils, vinegar, sugar, mustard, and red pepper over medium heat just until warmed through.
slaw_dressing_290_200
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Toss with cabbage and apples.
slaw_apples_290_200
Refrigerate several hours and pour off excess liquid.
slaw_done_290_200

I liked how light it was with a zesty crunch. This would be a great picnic or bbq item. I only made enough for 2 or 3 servings which was perfect.

Green or red onion would be a great add in and broccoli slaw would be great too. Shortly after making the burgers I made them again and Mr. J cooked them on a BBQ. Aside from our poor puppy not having a yard, not being able to use a grill is our biggest issue with this apartment and something we greatly look forward to enjoying in a house someday.

These made me super jazzed about other burgers inside. I can’t eat red meat so I miss out on fun ones at restaurants like stuffed burgers since they rarely come in turkey or chicken burgers. I’ll just have to make it happen! I have a feeling Mr. J would love a blue cheese stuffed one. I was thinking cheddar or spinach and feta stuffed. Stay tuned!

Marinate Those Mushrooms

I love marinated mushrooms and once I figured out the secret to making them I whip them up regularly. They’re so good on salad, antipasto, or on their own. Also, it’s easy to make marinated mushrooms in any quantity! That’s a perk for me who is the only fan of mushrooms around.
mar.mush_salad_290_200
I used balsamic vinegar to change it up but I normally go with cider vinegar or red wine vinegar. Once they marinate over night I usually drain out the excess marinade but I keep them in the same jar.

Ingredients:

6 large mushrooms, cut into quarters
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup vinegar (any variation)
1 tsp garlic
salt & pepper
dried spices that will compliment the vinegar choice
1 tsp sugar
mar.mush_lineup_290_200

Directions:

Drop mushrooms into boiling water for 2 minutes and drain.
Mix oil, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and spices in a glass jar. Shake vigorously.
mar.mush_bottle_200_290
Add mushrooms and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

I often use white button mushrooms but I had a few big ones that I just cut up and put onto my salad lunches this week. Lettuce is my least favorite part of the salad so I often just put a few veggies together and call it salad but I had some quinoa and some spinach and thought marinated mushrooms would be a great addition!

Do you know quinoa? I got red quinoa and have enjoyed it all week. My friend Ms. J LOVES quinoa and makes it all the time!
mar.mush_quin_290_200

Picnic (Sans Ants)

Sis and I LOVE a good theme party. We were trying to think of something special for Mother’s Day this year. We thought for a half second about a picnic in the Arnold Aboretum for Lilac Sunday. This is apparently the only time a year you can picnic there. Sitting on the ground to eat there just because we can’t normally didn’t quite fit. Also, with the rain on Saturday, we weren’t convinced Mother Nature would play nice.

picnic_plate_290_200
That seems like a baby-stroller activity and nobody in our fam is quite there yet. It also kind of seems like something to take a mom to do if her children aren’t around.

We had a picnic at our parents’ house! The picnic theme was super fun and delicious.

We took inspiration from Bobby Flay since in his throwdowns he always tries to make the everyday a bit better or more special.

We served:
BLTs with pesto mayo and thick cut bacon
picnic_blt_290_200
Roast Beef Sandwiches with horseraddish dijon spread
picnic_beef_290_200
Tabouli since Mum doesn’t love macaroni salad as much as the average person.
picnic_tabouli_290_200
And pickles, fruit, and Cape Cod chips. I got some delectable treats from Lyndell’s Bakery since I didn’t acquire all the baking skill my mum has (and since I worked about 9 hours on Saturday).

I made a drink too:
picnic_drinks_290_200

Ingredients:

4 cups lemonade (I used crystal light yellow)
4 cups zero calorie lime seltzer
1 lime sliced

Directions:

Prepare the lemonade as instructed. (I planned to use raspberry lemonade but was short on pitcher space since yellow was already made)
Mix chilled soda
Serve with lime slices (freezing lime bits into the ice would be very cute too)

Just add some cheap-o red baskets & napkins and you’ve got yourself an indoor picnic!

Wish me luck! By the time you see this I’ll be UBER close to the end of the production week and the start of my event. Watch out world, I become a whole new person after I rejoin society!

Easter Recap: Better Late Than Never

We’re now closer to Cinco de Mayo than Easter, but I’m just now catching up.Some things have to be absolutely the same. My Easter basket is one of those traditions I need. During Easter my first year of college I unexpectedly received a replacement basket for Easter at my parents house! GASP! I don’t dramatically overreact too often, but that was one of them. Dad ended up on a chair or a ladder pulling baskets down until we had the right one. Phew. It was iffy.
easter_basket_290_200
Another tradition inside that basket is a dark chocolate egg. I get coconut creme and Mr. J gets fudge, with our names written on top.

Easter dinner was hosted at my sis’ house. We have a fantastic meal and she’s becoming quite the chef! Check out her tablescape! She’s all about the seasonal decor. (She also loves making trifle and I’m impressed with her creativity to use the trifle dish!)
easter_table_290_200
I made a dip- more about that later.

Our first course was a Baked Potato Soup from Cooking Light. The traditional loaded potato items were on the side for a garnish which made the soup itself a bit lighter since it didn’t include cups of cheese.
easter_soup_290_200
The main course was a Tuscan pork roast, zucchini and corn saute, and a sausage and sourdough stuffing.
easter_290_200
The pork roast had rosemary, garlic, and it was delicious. Sis didn’t like the zucchini and corn side dish, but I did so I took the leftovers. It had some vinegar and I thought it was fresh and tangy.

Hola Empanada

Tacos make dinner feel like a party! I couldn’t remember making tacos since living in this apartment (about a year and a half). Mr. J swears we have but I don’t think so. We’ve definitely had burritos and even a tortilla pie, but I don’t think I’ve made hard tacos in years! I wanted something a bit more than a few tacos for the meal so I thought of empanadas….or my version.
empanada_plate_290_200
My favorite Mexian would cringe but I LOVE them with puff pastry, rather than pie dough. Since I’m not the slightest bit Mexican, I don’t care. Puff pastry is so flaky and buttery that I can’t switch to pie dough no matter how much of an impostor it makes these.I had a craving for tacos and was loving the fact that these weren’t going to require too many ingredients other than what I had on hand.Again, work is nutty right now and will be for about 40-something more days so tacos were a fun & quick weeknight meal.Remember when I became a genius and started getting up an hour earlier each morning? I chopped my veggies for the empanadas and defrosted some of the other ingredients so I was a step ahead when I got home.

Ingredients

frozen puff pastry sheets, defrosted
1 zucchini, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 tbs grilling rub, taco seasoning, or chili powder

Directions

Chop zucchini and onion and toss with spices of choice
empanadas_spices_200_290
Saute until slightly soft
empanadas_spoon_290_200
Unfold puff pastry sheet and cut into 9-3 inch squares
Add zucchini and onion mixture into the center and fold into triangles to close
empanada_stuffed_290_200
Bake 20 minutes at 375 until golden brown
empanada_plate_290_200

These are so easy and a great side. Anything goes in empanadas but I think they make for the perfect warm side or appetizer and since I was serving them with tacos, I figured a veggie filling would be best. Puff pastry is flaky and puffs just how the name suggests so mine never seem to stay closed and I’m A-OK with that. This time I pinched the opposite corners together (making them less and less authentic all the time).

My tacos featured ground chicken, refried beans, lettuce, corn, cheese, and salsa in hard taco shells. I used some leftover ground chicken from my lasagna meat mix.

Fritters are Fun

Zucchini Fritters are something I’ve been making for years. I’m not sure where I originally came up with them but I love them as a side dish. I think Mum made eggplant fritters now that I think about it….hmmm there’s an idea for next time.
zucc_fritter_done_290_200
This time I used yellow squash. I think it added a different flavor but it was a good use for the sad yellow squash in my fridge.

Ingredients

1 zucchini or yellow squash
1 egg
½ cup breadcrumbs or wheat germ
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt & pepper
¼ cup diced green onion (optional)
¼ cup corn (optional)
¼ cup feta (optional)

Directions

1) Shred zucchini/yellow squash and lay over paper towel to remove most of the liquid
2) Mix zucchini/squash with egg, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, salt and pepper and any other ingredients.
zucc_fritter_mix_290_200
3) Form into patties and bake 15 minutes at 375. Flip and bake another 10 minutes.
zucc_fritter_pan_290_200
I bake them instead of frying them since they get too oily and it’s way easier. I use my muffin top pan which definitely helps for the shape. It gets a lot more action from zucchini fritters, crab cakes, and the like especially since I’ve never made muffins.

They’re a fun side dish with only a few ingredients. I made them one night when we had our own salad bar with these on the side. I’ll probably stick to zucchini next time but add in spinach! Or corn! Or leeks! Or bacon! Or whatever!

Family Birthday Dinner

I know, you’ve seen lots of my birthday celebratory meals but there are a few more to post! What can I say, birthdays are important to me and what a better way to celebrate than with friends, my Mr. J, and family?

Here’s my amazing meal with some of my favorites:

We started with stuffed mushrooms
bday_stufmush_290_200

Then we had roast lamb, zucchini and summer squash, and a potato cake.

The lamb was really good. I can’t eat most red meat and lamb seems to be the only one that doesn’t make me sick. I need smaller portions so it just means I have to really savor each bite.

bday_lamb_290_200
Mum has a touch with zucchini and squash. Most other people end up with slightly mushy or a soggy mess. Hers somehow is always perfect. She baked it with a touch of marinara and cheese.

bday_zucc_290_200
I LOVED this. It was deceptively good. I want to make this with a bunch!

bday_potato_290_200

Now, the star of our family birthdays…THE cake. This cake is amazing and my main reason for sharing this meal with you. Mum has made this cake and served it so many times we’ve lost track. It is just amazing. Without further ado, I present to you: Chocolate Ring of Coconut Fudge Cake.
bday_cake_290_200
Not too many more bday meals. I hope you’ve enjoyed them as much as I did! Next is my bday dinner out with Mr. J.

Chopped at Home

I love watching Chopped not only for the food factor, but the competition aspect! I’m not always in the mood to be told how to make something on another cooking show. Plus, that 10-second countdown at the end of each round? Eeeek! It’s also fun to see where the chefs have come from and I love some of the judges.

My sis and I play chopped sometimes. It brings us back to the days of Ready-Set-Cook from ‘95. Ready Set Cook had studio audience members bring mystery ingredients to cook along side the chef.

On Chopped, there are 3 rounds: appetizer (20-minutes); entree (30-minutes); dessert (20-minutes).  Each round includes a basket of mystery ingredients which need to be included (in any amount) in the meal with any of the pantry items. We don’t always make 3 courses and we definitely don’t have a time limit.

chopped_em_290_200

My ingredients:

Cannellini Beans
Zucchini
Israeli Couscous
Whole Peeled Tomatoes

chopped_liz_290_200

Sis’ Ingredents:

Leeks
Thin Cut Pork Chops
Spam

Our Meal:

Pork chops in mustard sauce
Couscous with spam and leeks
White bean, leeks, zucchini, and tomato hash

Directions:

Chop the leeks and bathe or salad-spin the dirt/sand out of them.
chopped_leeks_290_200
Mix dijon mustard, chopped garlic, salt and pepper together and spread onto the pork chops while a grill pan is heating.
chopped_pork_290_200
Drain tomato and bean cans before dropping into a skillet. Add leeks, chopped zucchini and season generously with salt, pepper, and italian seasoning.
chopped_hash_290_200Finely chop spam and pan fry as if it were bacon.
Start cooking the couscous while adding spam and leeks. This will take about 5 minutes so set the pork chops on to grill.

The spam was totally the curve ball here. I have to say, it’s not as weird when sliced into small strips and fried until crispy. Sis and I eat our share of pork so we went with it.

The pork chops were good! I think our sauce had a nice not overpowering flavor. It was a good quick fix that will come in handy sometime in the future.
chopped_porkdone_290_200
I loved the hash. It also provided a good vehicle for leeks 2 ways. It was fresh and a nice medley.

We toasted the couscous before adding the liquid for a more nutty flavor. Spam was the salt factor and dropped leeks in as well.
chopped_plate_290_200
Overall, I think our meal would have scored well…it did by our critique! Sis’ idea for leeks 2 ways was a good one…it tied everything together. I ate the leftover veggie hash for lunch and it was still good. I probably wouldn’t have given much credit to canned tomatoes but it was a great variation from my usual sides.

In the past we’ve made ratatouille stuffed, pita chip crusted pork tenderloin with green beans and no-bake chocolate marshmallow cookies.

I highly recommend you try this game sometime! It’s a good challenge to use something you have on hand or to try something new…spam?

I have several of birthday meals to post soon (Figs, Amrheins, and the Mac & Cheese Taste-Off) so stay tuned!