Day 13: Israeli Couscous

Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables, Pearl Pasta, and Chicken
Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables, Pearl Pasta, and Chicken

Have you ever even heard of Israeli Couscous? Neither had I the first time I tried it but it was love at first bite. I was served a wrap stuffed with Israeli Couscous and roasted peppers and I knew I had to make something similar. So during this challenge, I hunted down recipes on the internet and I came across this one which seemed quite close.

Today’s learning objective is Israeli couscous. Israeli couscous is also known as “pearl pasta”. True to the name, it tastes like a small pearl of fluffy, chewy, pasta (in my opinion). Israeli couscous could be used almost anywhere one would normally use other grains like rice, quinoa, pasta. It works well in salads, pilafs, soups, and vegetable stuffings. As an additional benefit, Israeli couscous is low on fat and high on protein. Check out About Food for a more in-depth look at the possibilities of pearl pasta

Israeli couscous is fairly easy to make and took about as long as white rice to cook. I followed the directions on my pearl pasta box which differed a bit from those I found online. However, if you don’t want to make the entire box, About Food mentions that the every 1 cup of dry pearl pasta requires 1 1/4 cup of water or broth.

Please note that Israeli couscous may be difficult to find. If you are in Canada, President’s Choice Black Label line offers it.

Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables and Pearl Pasta Salad 

Vinaigrette

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves fresh garlic (minced)
zest of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

Roasted Vegetables

8 ounces fresh mushrooms (halved if large)
2 medium bell peppers (I used one red and one yellow)
1 medium red onion (peeled and cut into eighths)
1 medium sweet yellow onion (peeled and cut into eighths)
2 small zucchini (halved, cut into 1/2 inch slices)
1 medium carrots (peeled and slices into 1/2 inch inch diagonal slices)
1 teaspoon honey
1 1/2 cups pearl pasta (cooked using chicken broth)
2 cups fresh spinach
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups cherry/ grape tomatoes

Directions can be found at The Cafe Sucre Farine. Recipe adapted from The Cafe Sucre Farine by Chris.

Edible?

Yes, it turned out well! I really enjoyed the texture of the couscous. My mother not so much but she enjoyed the roasted vegetables.

I recommend that anyone making this recipe, do so with a buddy as there is a lot of chopping to do and an extra set of hands makes a difference. I ended up chopping some of my vegetables a bit smaller so they would cook a bit faster. Half inch carrot slices just don’t cut it for me.

We made a few alterations to the vinaigrette. I recently learnt that I do not like Rosemary and so I did not put any in and we did not have any chives therefore those were excluded as well. The flavour was a subtle lemon, olive taste and I thought it was so-so. My mother really enjoyed it. I’m still dreaming of the dressing I had the first time I tried pearl pasta. Perhaps next time I’ll try something with a little bit more zip? Maybe a dash of balsamic vinaigrette?

My final verdict: This dish is great if you are looking for something vegetarian with light flavours. It would work well as a summer side salad!

Day #12: Cheese – The No Fail Ingredient!


I may not be the most professional chef, but sometimes its nice to cook something a little bit more sophisticated…or at least something that looks a little bit more sophisticated. What says sophistication more than our first learning objective: cheese? Unfortunately I don’t quite have the palatte or experience to explore recipes with Brie or Gouda, so I am taking my first baby step with Ricotta.

According to Bon Appetite, Ricotta works best when used as a supporting ingredient. This chicken recipe does just that by utilizing the cheese as a filling. Stuffing a protein or a vegetable is always a great way to add a new dimension (as I discussed in my earlier attempt at stuffed tomatoes) and one can never go wrong when including cheese in the stuffing. Its the ingredient that glues all the others together.

The second theme builds on the exploration of a previous objective: cauliflower. Although I have worked with cauliflower before and it turned out alright, I was craving the cauliflower crunch with spice. I felt like there was something off about the citrus cauliflower combination I tried before. Besides it never hurts to have an arsenal of vegetable recipes.

Recipe

Panko Crusted Chicken Stuffed With Ricotta, Spinach, Tomatoes, and Basil 

1 cup low fact ricotta cheese (I used whole fat ricotta)
Small handful of baby spinach (chopped)
Small handful of grape tomatoes (diced, with removed seeds)
2 Tablespoons Parmesan Cheese
1 Tablespoon Fresh Basil Chopped
1 Clove garlic minced
Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
Dash of oregano
2 chicken breasts
Italian seasoned panko crumbs (I used regular panko crumbs)
2 teaspoons olive oil

Directions found at For The Love of Cooking. Recipe adapted from For The Love of Cooking by Pam.

Low Calorie Crunchy Cauliflower 

4 cups of Cauliflower Florets
2 cups of Gluten Free Bread Crumbs (I used panko breadcrumbs)
1 teaspoon taco seasoning
2 eggs (beaten)
1 teaspoon mustard

Directions can be found at Going Cavewoman. Recipe adapted from Going Cavewoman.

Southwestern Roasted Cauliflower with Cumin and Paprika 

1 (2 lb.) head of cauliflower
1 teaspoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions can be found at Cookin Canuck. Recipe adapted from Cookin Canuck by Dara.

Edible?

The chicken turned out quite well and was fairly easy to make! I had quite a bit of ricotta filling and had made the mistake of buying smaller chicken breasts…meaning I couldn’t stuff as much filling into each breast. To use more of the filling I cooked three breasts instead of two (I still had leftover). Remember to use caution and care when flipping from one side to the other! I used an iron pan to make this. Until I made this I hadn’t known it was oven safe. The sweetness of the tomatoes combines well with slight sweetness of the cheese and the black pepper. A definite remake in my opinion.

The cauliflower was a bit of a different story. The crunchy cauliflower had interesting texture but little actual flavour. It worked really well when dipped in barbeque sauce. The paprika cauliflower turned out okay. There was no interesting texture and I felt like it fell flat. While the cauliflower was mildly disappointing, there is still hope for the future. As I have been cooking and tasting new foods and flavour combinations, I find that I have been coming up with my own ideas to revamp the meals. Perhaps it is the beginnings of a cooking intuition? Next time I would use the mix of spices from the paprika cauliflower and combine them into the breaded mixture for the crunchy cauliflower thereby making a spicy, crunchy cauliflower? If that doesn’t work out, why not bring it back to today’s learning objective and just add cheese in someway or another? Possibly cauliflower with habanero?

My takeaway from this post for you reader would be to explore some different cheeses. Bring them to your dishes in fillings and toppings. Ricotta worked out so well that I used the leftover to make an omelette for lunch the next day and added some red peppers and mushrooms into the mix. It was the best omelette that I’ve ever made. To my knowledge many mainstream cheeses are quite versatile and in my opinion could be mixed with almost any other ingredient to make something delicious.

Day #11: Santa Fe Chicken and Lentil Casserole

Santa Fe Chicken and Lentil Casserole
Santa Fe Chicken and Lentil Casserole

Readers,

I don’t know where you may be reading this from, but I am writing this from Canada, which means it is cold outside! Nothing screams dinner during the cold months quite like a casserole. This casserole is a bit more out of the box than the usual pasta, rice, and now quinoa casseroles that float around Pinterest. Instead of carbohydrates, this casserole uses lentils as the body of the casserole.

That’s right, today’s learning challenge is lentils! Lentils come in many varieties and are used in cuisines all over the world. They are economical, easy to cook, and high in fibre and protein. Personally, I am most familiar with them and their use in Indian cooking.

This article by Emma Christensen at The Kitchn lays out the simple steps involved in cooking lentils. Lentils.ca offers a quick breakdown on how uncooked lentils translate into cooked lentils amounts. There does appear to be some debate over whether to cook lentils covered or uncovered. In my experience, my family has cooked them covered. If following a recipe, I follow the instructions of the recipe on how to cook them. In this case the recipe below covers the steps needed to cook lentils.

Recipe

Lentils:
1 & 1/2 cups green lentils, rinsed and drained (aka uncooked and washed)
3 cups chicken broth
1/8 teaspoon salt
Chicken:
1 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon cumin (I chose to use ground cumin)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Vegetables:
1 large onion (diced)
5 large garlic cloves (crushed)
2 large bell peppers (diced)
1 teaspoon cumin (I chose to use ground cumin)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Cooking Spray
Mix Ins:
14 oz can of diced tomatoes
2 cups corn
2 cups shredded cheese (Olena suggests Tex Mex)
2 tablespoons jalepeno peppers (minced, can increase/decrease to taste)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin (I chose to use ground cumin)
1 cup of cilantro (chopped)

Directions can be found at IFoodReal. Recipe adapted from IFoodReal by Olena.

*Note
1.) Remember to rise out your lentils before you cook them. You do not soak the lentils.
2.) We cooked the lentils according to instructions but found the lentils to be tougher than we preferred. We added more chicken broth in and cooked for 10 minutes longer (a total of 45 minutes) until they were a bit softer and more to our liking. The lentils still maintained their shape.

Edible?

Yes! It turned out well. For those unaccustomed to lentils, it may take some time to adjust to the texture and earthy taste they inject into this dish. I found that this casserole tasted very similar to the chilli I made earlier in my challenge. Both recipes shared many of the same elements.

Try out different types of lentils and learn if there is a type you enjoy. As mentioned previously they are an excellent source of critical nutrients while being low on fat. They also make a convenient dish to batch cook! Make them for dinner and take leftovers over rice or quinoa for lunch the next day.

I would love to hear your experiences cooking lentils. How did it go? Is there a particular type you would recommend? Any recipes to share? Leave a comment below 🙂

Day #10: Indian Style Cauliflower and Potatoes

Hello readers,

As many of you clever folks may have discovered. I have fallen off track and have not been consecutively cooking my meals. You may have noticed that I have been publishing more than one post per day. For that, I apologize. Laziness and evenings out with friends have gotten the best of me. However, true to my original post, I will deliver 25 days worth of meals. I promise!

Indian Potatoes and Cauliflower
Indian Potatoes and Cauliflower

The theme of today’s challenge is an extension of yesterday’s challenge. Given that I had leftover cauliflower, today I cooked Indian style cauliflower and potatoes, also known as “aloo gobi”. In an indian household this would often be served with roti (a simple flat bread, similar to a tortilla) or with basmati rice. To be honest with you reader, I made this dish with my mother and we used no specific measurements for any of the ingredients. The directions for the recipe below is the most similar that I could find on the internet.

Recipe

1 medium head of Cauliflower (bite sized florets)
2 large potatoes (bite sized pieces)
Frozen green peas (optional, we did not use any)
2 Tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 medium onion (chopped)
1 inch piece of ginger (minced)
5 cloves garlic (minced)
2 large tomatoes (chopped)
2 teaspoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
Red chilli powder (to taste)
Salt (to taste)
Cilantro (for garnish)
* Please note I removed asofoetida and amchur from the recipe list as we did not use them in our recipe

Directions can be found at Show Me The Curry. Recipe adapted from Show Me The Curry.

* Please note that I did not partially cook the potatoes or cauliflower in the microwave. Instead the washed, raw vegetables were added to the pan and cooked in the tomato sauce. It is not uncommon for my mother to use the microwave to assist her in this dish if she is in a hurry. Either method works fine.

Edible?

In a comedic turn of events, my mother added way too much spice, and it was a bit difficult to eat. The lesson to be learned: if in doubt, add less spice in the beginning, you can always add more later!

Day #9: Chicken Tikka, Garlic and Lemon Cauliflower, and Pesto Potatoes

Hello readers!

I will be experimenting with the format of my posts with the goal of providing as much knowledge and insight to add to your culinary learning process as possible. I would love to know your thoughts and what posts you find to be the most helpful.

Chicken Tikka and Lemon Garlic Cauliflower
Chicken Tikka and Lemon Garlic Cauliflower

Today’s cooking challenge will explore two learning objectives: exploring the flavours of indian cooking through a dish called Chicken Tikka and learning how to cook cauliflower.

Indian Cooking often incorporates chillies, garam masala, tumeric, cumin, and coriander along with vegetables such as garlic, ginger, tomatoes, and onions. Trying this recipe is an opportunity to explore some new flavours and spices. Any leftovers could be infused into a rice bowl or wrap for lunch the next day.

I have never really cooked with cauliflower before as I don’t usually eat it; however, this challenge is all about exploring new things so what better time to try it out? This is a great chance to learn how the vegetable cooks and to become more familiar with the taste and texture.

Skinny Chicken Tikka Masala 

2 teaspoons canola oil
1 small onion (minced)
1 tablespoon fresh ginger (grated)
3 cloves garlic (crushed)
1 1/2 cushed tomatoes
4 oz fat free yogurt
1/2 cup 1% milk
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 tablespoon chilli powder
salt to taste
2 boneless chicken breasts (bite sized pieces)
4 tablespoons fresh cilantro

Directions can be found at Skinny Taste. Recipe adapted from Skinny Taste by Gina Homolka.

 Garlic and Lemon Cauliflower

1 large head of cauliflower (cut into bite sized flowerets)
1-4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
zest and juice of one lemon
salt and course ground pepper (to taste)

Directions can be found at Kalyn’s Kitchen. Recipe adapted from Kalyn’s Kitchen.

Pesto Potatoes

5-6  medium russet potatoes
1 jar of pesto sauce (10 ounces)
3/4 cup of parmesan cheese

Directions can be found at Six Sisters Stuff. Recipe adapted from Six Sisters Stuff by Elyse.

Edible? 

The chicken turned out wonderfully!

I overcooked my cauliflower and it was a bit too soft for my liking. My pieces were quite small causing them to cook faster. I may have been able to skip the boiling step altogether. My mother enjoyed the lemon taste but I found the citrus flavour to be at odds with the vegetable texture. I plan to remake the cauliflower side and incorporate barbeque flavours or spicier spices.

The potatoes were so so. I did not use the entire jar of pesto, I only used enough to coat the potatoes. As a result, the pesto flavour did not fully come through. If I were to make them again I would use a knife or a fork to make small slices into the potatoes and help the pesto flavour soak through. I would also recommend quickly taking the potatoes out of the oven 10 minutes before they are done and sprinkling the parmesan over them before placing them back in the oven. In my experience, sprinkling the cheese over the potatoes before placing them in the oven for 25 minutes led to the parmesan over-baking and becoming hard.

There was extra parmesan so I sliced up a tomato into thick slices, sprinkled some parmesan, basil, and oregano over them, and baked them in the oven with the potatoes for the last 8 minutes.

Day #8: Rosemary and Balsamic Vinaigrette

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Grilled Rosemary Chicken 

Recipe

8 cloves of garlic (minced)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1 1/2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Directions can be found at AllRecipes.ca. Recipe adapted from AllRecipes.ca by Semigourmet.

Edible?

My mother really enjoyed it. I found out that I despise Rosemary; it tastes how Christmas trees smell. It was still a good experience. I learnt about the smell and taste of the herb and overall gained more familiarity with it.

Baked Parmesan Zucchini 

Any easy and quick way to gain some experience cooking zucchini.

Recipe

4 zucchini (quartered lengthwise)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried dried basil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

Directions found at Damn Delicious. Recipe adapted from Damn Delicious by Chungah.

Edible?

Yes. They turned out well but they lacked some zing. I would sprinkle a bit of cayenne or paprika next time.

Balsamic Baked Vegetables 

This is a very easy side to throw together and the recipe can be applied to almost any vegetables in the fridge.

Recipe 

Mixed Vegetables (Chopped)
Balsamic Vinaigrette
Olive Oil
Salt

1.) Mix equal parts balsamic vinaigrette and olive oil until vegetables are coated.
2.) Sprinkle with salt to taste (remember the salt is being used to amplify flavour)
3.) Bake at 425 for 25 mins or until the vegetables have cooked to your liking

Edible?

Absolutely! The highlight of the meal!

Day #7: Stuffed Tomatoes and Oven Roasted Parmesan Broccoli

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Some cheese and oven lovin’ for those vegetables

 

Basil and Corn Stuffed Tomatoes

This recipe is fairly simple but it still offers two learning objectives. It offers a chance to get acquainted with the flavour of basil, a versatile and aromatic herb.

It also offers a peek into a new way to do vegetables- stuffing them. Stuffing vegetables is a great way to add some sophistication, texture, and flavour to vegetable sides. It also makes the side a little bit more filling. Vegetables can be stuffed with anything you choose: meat, grains, other vegetables, herbs, or a combination of these ingredients.

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Recipe 

6-10 tomatoes
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
1/2 cups fresh sweet corn
1 clove garlic (minced)
a bunch of basil ribbons
salt and pepper to taste
grated cheese

Directions can be found at Pinch of Yum. Recipe adapted from Pinch of Yum by Lindsay.

Edible?

They were nice. Something felt as though it was missing though. Perhaps because I used regular frozen corn instead of sweet corn? I was short on basil leaves as well and perhaps that also affected the final result. Overall they were okay.

Oven Roasted Parmesan Broccoli

I chose this recipe because I thought it would be a simple mix-up from my usual method of steaming broccoli.

Recipe

2 cups of broccolli
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/3 cup fresh shredded parmesan cheese

Directions found on Six Sisters Stuff. Recipe adapted from Six Sisters Stuff by Camille.

Edible?

They were okay. Make sure not to overcook your broccoli. I kept cooking the broccoli even though it was soft because I was hoping to brown it. I overcooked it.

Salt and Pepper Chicken

Salt and pepper can actually go pretty far. When you don’t have any time to marinade or don’t feel like throwing a rub together, it is a nice easy fall back.

Day #6: When All Else Fails Turn It Into A Casserole

Chicken Pot Pie 

What better way to celebrate Christmas that with Chicken Pot Pie! Since my family has never been big on making turkey dinner and because I was in charge of cooking this year, this seemed like a tasty choice that didn’t require quite as much effort as an entire turkey dinner. It is also a great way to practice the roux from yesterday.

What makes this recipe more difficult is that it consists of two components: the pie filling and the pie crust. Both components require effort and care.

I have never made a pie crust in my life and as many cooks will tell you baking is a lot more tricky than cooking. In order to prepare I watched some videos on Youtube. It is possible to purchase pre-made pie crust or pre-made pie crust dough. However, since I have been trying to make as much as I can from scratch, I made the crust.

Pie Filling Recipe

1/2 cup butter
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup all- purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups turkey or chicken (bite sized pieces)
1 1/2 cups carrots (bite sized pieces)
2 medium potatoes (peeled & bite size pieces)
1 cup frozen peas
1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes (optional)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (optional)

Directions found at Inspired Craft Ideas.

Pie Crust Recipe 

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup Crisco vegetable shortening (chilled)
4-8 teaspoons ice cold water

Directions found on Crisco’s website or on any Crisco box.

Edible?

Was it edible? Yes, it turned out great. Was it a pie? No.

The filling turned out well. The roux turned out well and so did the sauce.. I was getting impatient so I actually cooked it over medium heat.

Delicious pie filling
Delicious pie filling

The pie crust was a completely different story. On my first attempt, the crisco was at room temperature and the dough was extremely flaky. After refrigerating the dough for 30 minutes, it was still flaky so I added more water. It then became a sticky sodden mess that could not be rolled out.

On my second attempt, I used crisco that had chilled in the refrigerator for 30 mins. Everytime I added a teaspoon of water, I mixed the flour as thoroughly as I could with the objective of getting as much as I could to form into a ball of dough before adding another teaspoon of water. After the dough had refrigerated for 30 minutes, I tried to roll it out. I found that regardless of how much I floured the rolling pin, the dough still stuck to it. As I was rolling it out, the dough kept breaking and I thought it best to stop rolling. At that point I did not have enough dough to make a pie crust at the top and bottom of my 8″x 8″ baking pan. So I decided to just cover the top and call it a casserole. I feel that this philosophy could be applied to all cooking: When all else fails, make it into a casserole.

I believe that my crust may have been a bit too thick, the crust took a while to bake through ( a few minutes longer than the recipe indicated). Next time, I will try to make a thinner pie crust so it is easier to determine when the crust has cooked through.

A very butchered pie crust
A very butchered pie crust

 

Day #5: Extreme Meal Makeover – Mac and Cheese Edition

Macaroni and Cheese

Not that anyone needs a good reason to make mac and cheese but I chose this recipe for two reasons. First and foremost I wasn’t too happy with the goat cheese and asparagus macaroni salad that I made in an earlier post. The macaroni salad was sitting in my fridge and I thought this recipe would be a great way to re-purpose the ingredients.

Second, making macaroni and cheese from scratch is an excellent way to learn how to make a basic roux. Making a roux is a necessary step when making many sauces and therefore, can be a useful thing to know. A roux is usually made from equal amounts of a fat and flour. I recommend watching this quick clip on How to Make a Roux.

The second step of the recipe below involves creating a roux and then thinning it out by slowly adding milk.

The Recipe

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 dash black pepper
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Directions can be found at Food.com. Recipe adapted from Food.com by Marie.

Edible?

Quite so! Mine turned out a bit tangy as I was reusing macaroni that was already coated in goat cheese and citrus. As this is a simple recipe I recommend throwing in some broccoli and onions. Even spice it up a bit with cayenne or paprika. I used hot sauce. This recipe is a definite remake for when I need comfort food.

Day #4: Chicken Chilli

A great meal for a cold winter day!
A great meal for a cold winter day!

Chicken Chilli

I chose this recipe because it was a hearty meal that provided nice change from the previous days. It also offers an opportunity to work with and experience some great spices like cumin, chillipowder, and cayenne.

Recipe 

Find the recipe on Not Without Salt.

Edible?

Yes! It turned out well both visually and taste wise. I will warn that although the recipe is fairly low effort, it does take quite some time to cook over the stove top. The great part about it is that you can freeze leftovers and heat them up another day.