Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Moroccan Couscous Salad

So pretty! My daughter used Israeli couscous which is bigger than regular couscous.
My daughter is going off for a semester abroad in Scotland. For the first time in her life, she will be cooking for herself. Day in, day out. Not just the occasional grilled cheese sandwich. We are going through cookbooks looking for recipes that a) she would eat, b) require a minimum of equipment, and c) are quick and easy. A whole lot like the recipes here at School of Eating Good.

The first recipe she picked out is from Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York. My daughter had it this summer when we finally got to the Moosewood, after 30 years of trying on my part. It fulfills all three of her conditions. Added bonus - it's full of healthy veggies.

Moroccan Couscous Salad
(serves 4 as an entree, 6 as a side dish; total cost $7.80)

1 ½ cups dry couscous (see Note)
½ tsp salt
1 ¼ cups boiling water
1 cup diced carrots
2 large bell pepper, whatever color you like, diced
⅓ cup finely chopped red or sweet onion
1 15-16 oz can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
⅓ cup currants or raisins or craisins
½ cup sliced almonds, toasted at 300 F° for 5 minutes

½ cup vegetable oil
juice of 1 lemon
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
3-4 tbl orange juice (juice from 1/2 an orange)
4 tbl chopped fresh parsley or cilantro (about 8 sprigs)
1 tbl fresh mint, chopped (optional)
pinch of cayenne
¼ tsp black pepper

Combine the couscous and salt in a large bowl. Add the boiling water and stir. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

While couscous is cooking, steam the diced carrots for 10 minutes. Add steamed carrots, diced peppers, onion, garbanzo beans, currants, and almonds to couscous. Stir with a fork.

Combine dressing ingredients in a medium bowl. Add to couscous mixture and mix to coat the salad.

You can eat it right away but it's even better if you chill it for an hour to let the flavors meld. It will keep for up to 4 days if refrigerated. Once it's cold, you may need to season with more salt. Cold foods don't taste as seasoned as hot foods.

Note: Couscous is a teeny-tiny pasta which doesn't require much cooking. It tends to clump together if stirred too much when hot. Fluffing with a fork keeps the grains separate.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chicken Noodle Soup - the easy way

By Till Westermayer from Freiburg, Germany (Buchstabensuppe) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

These days, you don't need to make stock from scratch for a decent bowl of chicken noodle soup. Once upon a time, all the chicken stock you might find in the supermarket was either powdered bouillon (mostly salt and MSG) or a canned brand (again, a whole lot of salt). Neither of these choices came close to tasting like real stock. Now, there are many good brands of stock in a box and Better than Bouillon makes a line of stock pastes that is really top-notch. No kitchen should be without some form of stock since it is used in so many recipes. If you are a vegetarian, there are vegetable versions which can be used in any recipe calling for stock.

These supermarket stocks can be the basis for a good bowl of chicken soup. Not quite as good as my Jewish grandmother's chicken soup, but decent and far superior to any soup in a can.

Fast Chicken Noodle Soup
(serves 4; total cost is $7.60)

6 cups chicken stock
1 carrot, peeled and cut into thick sticks about 2" long (or use mini-carrots, cut into sticks)
1 large stalk of celery, trimmed and cut in 1/2 lengthwise and then into 2" lengths
6 oz cooked chicken breast, chopped into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup tiny pasta such as vermicelli, alphabets, or tiny stars
lots of black pepper

Heat up the chicken stock to a simmer. Add carrots and celery and cook until carrots are tender, about 20 minutes. You want no crunch in the carrots.

Add the cooked chicken and cook for 5 minutes until chicken is hot.

Add pasta and cook for 3 minutes until pasta is done.

Season generously with black pepper. Usually additional salt is not needed because even the low-sodium stocks are fairly salty, but add some if you feel the soup is lacking flavor.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Oven-fried Chicken

We at School of Eating Good are not opposed to frying. There is nothing like frying to produce crunchy crispy food. There is a significant drawback to frying, however. What a mess! For a quick weeknight dinner, frying is definitely not our first choice.

Oven-frying may not have the serious crunch of deep-fat frying, but it is feasible any night of the week. The breading keeps the chicken moist. It's reasonably crunchy and very tasty.

This recipe uses bone-in chicken parts, but boneless, skinless chicken works too. You'll need to adjust the cooking time because boneless chicken cooks faster. Figure 30 minutes for a boneless breast.

Oven-Fried Chicken
(serves 4)

2 clove Garlic, minced
1 cup Panko Bread Crumbs
¼ cup Grated Pamesan Cheese, about 1 ounce
½ tsp Salt
¼ tsp Black Pepper
1 tsp Crushed Dried Thyme
2 tbl Butter, melted
¼ cup Milk, or buttermilk
2 ½ pounds Chicken Parts

Preheat oven to 375℉. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray or rub with a little vegetable oil.

Combine garlic, panko crumbs, salt, pepper, and thyme in a medium bowl. Add butter and toss to moisten crumbs.

Pour milk into a shallow bowl. Dip chicken in milk to coat then roll in panko crumb mixture.

Place chicken on prepared baking sheet, leaving space between pieces. Bake until coating is crisp and juices run clean when chicken is pierced with a knife, about 45-55 minutes.

Note: Panko bread crumbs are extra crispy Japanese bread crumbs. Other crunchy things can be used instead of panko such as crushed up tortilla chips, potato chips, pretzels, or regular bread crumbs (either dried or fresh).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Peppered Party Almonds and a tip on becoming a successful cook

If we had one tip for beginning cooks it would be "Read the recipe." Read it all the way through, carefully, before you ever start cooking. Surprises suck - surprises like "Cook for 2 hours" and your guests are about to arrive. Or "Chill overnight" and you need to bring dessert to a party right now. Or, you are missing an ingredient in the recipe you were hoping to eat for dinner in the next 30 minutes.

Now, before you start thinking "Oh, that has so happened to me!" and you beat yourself up over it, just stop. We have all done this, experienced and beginner alike. You're in a rush, you scan the recipe, and you miss some important step or ingredient.

So, slow down. Read that recipe top to bottom. Read all the ingredients. Read through all the steps.

We know this is rather obvious as tips go, but it is really important. If you get in the habit of reading through recipes, you will avoid a lot of surprises that can make you feel like an incompetent cook (not to mention a dope). Confidence, which comes from success in the kitchen, is a big part of becoming a good cook. Give yourself an advantage from the get-go: read the recipe. If you can eliminate those unnecessary surprises, you'll be well on your way to being a star in the kitchen.

Here's a party recipe that takes no time to read or make.

Peppered Almonds
(makes 2 cups)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¾ teaspoon black pepper
2 cups whole unsalted almonds

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add salt, garlic powder, cayenne, and black pepper. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Add almonds, toss to coat with butter and spices and remove from heat.

Spread nuts on a sheet pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool for a couple of minutes and serve.

Peppered almonds will keep for a few weeks in an airtight container. They make a great snack too!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Chicken & Broccoli Stir-fry

A successful stir-fry requires a number of things:
  • You need to have everything ready before you start cooking. Things happen fast with a stir-fry because it is a high-heat cooking method. If you don't have every ingredient measured and ready to go, things will go south quickly. Garlic burns, meat overcooks. Not pretty. Having everything ready to go is called "mise en place." It's French for putting in place. Mise en place is how restaurants can turn out hundreds of from-scratch meals in very little time. And, it's not just for restaurants. It will make you a better home cook.
  • You need to cut your raw ingredients in similar bite-sized pieces. Food needs to cook quickly and if there are big hunks of meat or broccoli in your stir-fry, or if everything is cut in very different sizes, it will not cook quickly nor will it cook evenly. You want the meat and veggies in equivalent bite-sized pieces.
  • You need to use really high heat. A stir-fry cooks in 10 minutes or less. For that to happen, you need to get your skillet or wok as hot as you can. Of course, because you are working with very high heat, you have to be on top of what's going on. No answering the phone. No digging through the fridge for ingredients (see first bullet again). It also means that you need to keep stirring the ingredients to keep things from burning. There's a reason it's called stir-fry. The high heat is also what makes it taste so good, so don't be afraid. 
This is about as simple as you can get in a stir-fry. It's not sophisticated but it's quick and filling. Future posts will feature other stir-fries with more complex flavors.

Chicken & Broccoli Stir-fry
(serves 2-3)

1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon dry sherry or Chinese rice wine (see Note)
¾ pound skinless boneless chicken breast, cut into slices about ¼" thick, 2 x 1" long and wide (see Variations)
½ pound broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets, stems peeled and sliced 1/4" thick (see Variations)
1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
½ - 1 teaspoon minced ginger, depending on your love of ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth
additional soy sauce, if desired

Combine soy sauce, cornstarch and dry sherry in a medium bowl. Mix enough to dissolve cornstarch. Add chicken breast and toss to coat meat with marinade. Marinate in the fridge for 10-30 minutes. Drain chicken pieces, reserving 1 tablespoon of marinade.

Heat oil in skillet or wok until very hot. The oil will shimmer and ripple (but not smoke) when it's hot enough. Don't walk away while the oil is heating up because it can go from hot enough to bursting into flames quickly. [If this ever happens to you, don't panic! Cover the pan with a lid and remove from the heat. Do not remove lid until pan has cooled.]

Add chicken to skillet and immediately start stirring it around. Stir fry for a few minutes until chicken begins to brown. Add ginger, garlic and broccoli. Stir fry for another 5-6 minutes until broccoli is done to your liking.

Add broth and 1 tablespoon of reserved marinade. Cook for 30 seconds. The sauce should boil and thicken somewhat.

Serve with rice, passing soy sauce if additional salt is needed.

Note: Though we don't generally recommend cooking sherry, if you aren't old enough to buy actual sherry, it will do if it's all you can get. Just remember that it has a lot of added salt so you probably won't need additional soy sauce. You can also find Chinese cooking rice wine in most Asian markets, but it also has salt added.

Variations: Beef, pork, shrimp, scallops, or tofu can be substituted for the chicken. They will all cook in about the same time if they are cut into a similar size. Jumbo shrimp should be cut in half lengthwise. Tofu should be cut into 1x1" cubes. Other vegetables can be used, such as bok choy, Napa cabbage, mushrooms, or green beans. Bok choy, Napa cabbage, and mushrooms will cook in less time, about 3 minutes. Green beans will take as long as broccoli to cook.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Easy Indian Samosas

I've been lucky to visit India twice. Both times I surprised my hosts by requesting they only take me to eat Indian vegetarian food. Why would I want to eat pizza when I could get wonderful hearty and spicy dishes that take hours to make?

Back home, I searched for an easy recipe for my favorite Indian appetizer, Samosas. I hate deep frying foods, as it spits and makes a greasy mess of my stove.  This recipe uses Puff Pastry and is baked instead of fried. It is easier to make, but more importantly, easier to clean up after!

These are a great appetizer for a holiday party. You can make them half the size of these pictured for a one bite version or cut them up before serving. If you make smaller ones, watch them in the oven, as they will take less time to bake. They are wonderful right out of the oven, and nearly as good served at room temperature, perfect for the party buffet table.

You can serve them with a chutney, such as Major Grey's or try this simple apricot sauce that you can mix up in no time at all.

Don't try reheating the samosas in the microwave, as you'll get a greasy mess.  But, they reheat nicely if you take them out of the fridge to warm up for 10 minutes, then pop them in a 350° F oven for another 5 minutes.

(makes 18)

1 package puff pastry sheets, thawed
3 medium size potatoes
4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium size onion, peeled and minced
1 cup shelled fresh or defrosted frozen peas
1 Tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
1 fresh hot green chili, minced
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 egg, beaten with 1 Tablespoon water

Place the potatoes in a pot of cold water and boil them for 20-40 minutes, until they are soft enough to cut into, but not mushy. Cool them to room temperature and then peel the potatoes and dice them into roughly ¼ inch square pieces.  Heat the 4 Tablespoons oil in a 10- to 12-inch skillet over medium heat.  Put in the onion, stirring and frying until it turns a light-brown color.  Add the peas, ginger, green chili, salt, coriander, garam masala, cumin, cayenne pepper, lemon juice and 3 Tablespoons of water. Stir it together and then add the potatoes. Keep the heat low and mix the spices with the potatoes. Add additional water, 1 Tablespoon at a time, if the mixture dries out. Continue cooking gently, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes more. Check salt and lemon juice. Turn off the heat and let the potato mixture cool.

Heat the oven to 400° F. Unfold the pastry sheets on a lightly floured surface. Roll each pastry sheet to a 12-inch square. Cut each sheet into 9 (about 4-inch) squares, making 18 in all. Divide the potato mixture among the pastry squares, placing about 1 scant Tablespoon on each. Brush the edges of the pastry squares with the egg-water mixture. Fold the pastry over the filling to form a triangle and crimp the edges with a fork to seal. Brush the filled pastries with the egg wash. Place the pastries onto 2 baking sheets.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown.

Note: The filling freezes well, so you can freeze ½ of it and only make 1 sheet worth of samosas if you don't need enough for a party. Make sure to thaw the filling completely before assembling the samosas.

Simple, but Spicy Apricot Dipping Sauce

½ cup apricot preserves
1 Tablespoon water
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon fresh hot green chili, minced (optional)

Mix together and if you like a smooth sauce, whir it up in a blender or food processor.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Simple Steamed Broccoli with Garlic

Broccoli is a cool season crop so it is likely to show up on sale during the fall and winter, in other words, right now.

Some people are happy to eat vegetables plain - that would be Ronnie. I, on the other hand, like stuff on my vegetables. Stuff like olive oil, toasted nuts, garlic, olives, capers. It would be a shame to skip the vegetables just because you are afraid of adding a little fat and salt. If liking your vegetables means gussying them up a bit, don't feel guilty about it.

This is a very easy but tasty way to prepare broccoli. Any leftovers are good in a green salad.

Simple Garlic Broccoli
(serves 3-4)

2 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
1 head of broccoli, broken into small florets and stems peeled and cut into 1/4" slices
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 tsp salt, or more to taste

Heat 1 Tbl olive oil in a medium saucepan or skillet with a cover over medium heat.

Add garlic and saute until fragrant but not browned. Don't burn it - it turns bitter.

Add broccoli and toss to cover with oil. Add 1 tbl water,  which should immediately create a lot of steam. Cover and steam broccoli for 5 minutes, until crisp-tender. Try a piece after 4 minutes if you like your broccoli crisp. If it's not cooked enough, cook for another minute.

Remove the cover, turn up the heat to medium-high and cook another minute to evaporate most of the water.

Drizzle with remaining tablespoon of olive oil and season to taste with salt. Serve immediately.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Penne with Sausage, Tomatoes and Cheese

School of Eating Good just held a class on easy pasta dishes. Two of the dishes have already appeared on the blog: Bowties with Pesto, and Easy Mac and Cheese.

Here's the 3rd recipe our students prepared: Penne with Sausage, Tomatoes and Cheese. It's really easy and really delicious.

Penne with Sausage, Tomatoes and Cheese
Makes 6 generous servings; total cost is $11.50

1 box (14.5 oz. to 1 lb.) penne
1 lb. mild Italian sausage
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tablespoon tomato paste (see Note)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (14.5 oz.) can petite-diced tomatoes, un-drained
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup chopped basil
1 cup grated parmesan cheese + more for topping

Cook penne in a large pot of boiling salted water for 10 minutes (until al dente). Save about ½ cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta. Wipe out the pasta pot and in it cook the sausage and garlic over medium heat until the sausage is cooked through, stirring to crumble it. Add the tomato paste, salt, pepper, pepper flakes, tomatoes, and cream and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the pasta, cheese, and basil to the sausage mixture and stir to cover the pasta with the sauce.  Add some of the pasta water if it looks dry. Serve with additional cheese for topping.

Note: The most cost-effective way to buy tomato paste is in a tube. It's now available in most supermarkets. It keeps in your fridge for a long time, making it a much better choice for recipes that require just a little tomato paste.