Last night was a couscous night. Ryan is in L.A. for work, so after I put Zoë down for the night, cleaned up the food smeared all over the high chair, table and floor and got the day’s dishes into the dishwasher, it was just me.
When Ryan and I got married, he had two meals that he loved to prepare himself (couscous and an amazing pasta sauce) and they are excellent! When it is a couscous night, it means that we don’t have time, energy or a plan, but we still want to eat something really good. That was me last night.
Couscous has become code for – what do we have in the fridge? We typically cook up a pot of couscous (1 cup hot water at boil, pour in 1 cup dry couscous, turn off burner, stir and cover, let it sit for 10 minutes) and pile on whatever we have found. Favorites include – yogurt, feta, goat cheese, olives, olive tapenade, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, raisins, beans, any vegetables. Most of these have become staples in our house and usually we have at least a few of them around.
Easy, healthy and delicious!
Now that Zoë is here, we don’t get out for dinner as often and find ourselves inviting friends over after bedtime so we can enjoy a bottle of (inexpensive Trader Joe’s) wine and some new (or favorite) dinner recipe.
On Friday this weekend, our good friends Steve and Roger came over and we all feasted on a great vegetarian Fall/Winter dish that Ryan affectionately nicknamed – poor French food.
This is an adaptation from a Real Simple recipe. Click the link for the original recipe.
1. Saute 1 chopped onion in olive oil with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper.
2. Once onions are tender add 2 1/4 cups quick-cooking barley (the normal barley flakes will extend the cooking time by 45 minutes or more), 28 oz. fire roasted tomatoes, 1 cup sherry (or if short supplement with water), 2 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil.
3. Simmer for 12-15 minutes – until barley is tender.
4. Add 8 cups of spinach, as much brie as you have in the house (not less than 2 ounces, but we usually use 6), 1/2 cup parmesan and cook until greens are tender.
5. Serve with parmesan sprinkled on top.
We had Trader Joe’s Green Fin Red Table Wine with dinner. Totally drinkable and less than $6 for the bottle.
Pizza is a long-time family favorite. I grew up eating pizza every Friday night with my parents and sister with a good movie (or a bad one). Pizza and a movie came to mean home to me. So, when Ryan and I were engaged and he said – very casually – that he didn’t really like pizza that much, I was horrified. How could we possibly have a family together if we couldn’t have pizza night? Slowly I wooed him into my pizza tradition, and we have let our pizza evolve into a whole wheat crust, pizza stone, homemade sauce, olives, feta, bell peppers and crushed red pepper kind of pizza, and we both love it.
As the weather gets warmer though, we are hesitant to crank up the oven for pizza, so when I stumbled across this recipe for a grilled veggie pizza, I thought this might be for us.
Here is the original recipe from Real Simple.
Here is what we did:
We made whole wheat pizza dough in the bread maker (12 oz. water, 3 cups flour, 2 TBS olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt). We divided it into four rounds and brushed both sides with olive oil.
We sliced 2 yellow squash and 2 bunches of scallions, sprinkled them with olive oil, salt and pepper and put them on the grill. (Scallions 2 min/side; squash 4 min/side).
We mixed a 15 ounce container of ricotta cheese with some salt, pepper and two spoons of crushed garlic.
We grilled the pizza dough – 4-5 minutes/side and then divided the ricotta between each round and the veggies on top of that.
We served the pizza with parmesan sprinkled on top with a small salad on the side and two episodes of the Wire.
Our daughter Zoë Grace was born January 3rd and since then family dinners have taken on several variations. The first iteration was plain and simple – donated food.
Friends, family and many people we didn’t know made meal after meal for us. Chili, enchilada casserole, soup, lasagna. We were honored and humbled by the generosity of these meals and how badly we needed them as we learned how to care for this new little one in our life.
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This Christmas dinner mint, lamb sauce was heavenly. We served it with sauteed spinach with raisins, pine nuts and nutmeg and a leek couscous dish.
A couple regrets with this one:
- The salt grinder spilled crystals of salt over the entire dish, leaving us with surprise mouthfuls of salt chunks.
- We didn’t quite understand that the lamb should be sliced into chops and that the entire rack wouldn’t cook well in the pan. Once we realized our mistake in a smokey kitchen full of fast cooling vegetables, we made much better progress.
This is the lovely adaptation of a Russian/Kazakhstan breakfast Ryan made for us Christmas morning: blini (Russian crepes) with apples, brie and honey. Our recipe came from two visiting women from Kazakhstan who stayed with us this summer for a few days.
Ryan’s mom gave us Michael Pollan’s NYT bestseller – In Defense of Food for Christmas. We have been reading it simultaneously and somewhat out loud to each other over this past week of family travels, holiday soirees and overindulgent moments with pumpkin pie, lamb and anything else we can get our hands on.
As we read, I am wrestling with a compulsion to throw out half of the highly industrialized and processed goodies in our cabinets and freezer (cereals, chicken sausages, and our countless low-fat, non-fat yogurts, milk, cheeses, dressings and an unnamed light butter/margarine variant – not to mention the large box of splenda packets tucked in next to our coffee and tea). At the same time, I feel wary of the overly trendy nature of this organic, local, don’t succumb to the power of the man food activist cultural revolution my demographic is falling into step with. How do we know what is real?
I am appalled that there may have been/ may still be a false, market-driven scheme to entice us all into the low fat, corn syrup products. But I am afraid to dis-believe the commercial messages myself. Do I really want to experiment with this? I don’t have the metabolism of a gatherer and hunter, as I am trapped behind my computer and desk and struggle to even get to the gym twice for 20 minutes a pop. Perhaps even worse, I don’t know if I want to give up what I love, and if I do, can I be self-disciplined enough to only moderately partake in the whole milk, real butter options before me?