Thursday, February 23, 2012

Orange Almond EVOO Heaven

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, every food blogger/writer/celebrity/enthusiast (and their mothers) were putting out their "Top 10 Cookbooks of the Year."  Over and over these lists mentioned NYTimes columnist Melissa Clark's new book Cook This Now:120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can't Wait to Make.  If you're not familiar with Clark, she writes "In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite" (and has another book by the same name), which is, in my opinion, the highlight of the NY Times's Wednesday Dining Section.  After the holidays I finally requested the book from my favorite place, the Cambridge Public Library.  Since picking it up I have to say I'm totally in love with it, if only for the following recipe, an Orange-Almond-Olive Oil Cake that is just out of this world.  I also want to make about 90% of the other recipes, too, but in the last 2 weeks I've made this cake 3 times.  Yes, it's that good.  (And no, I haven't eaten them all myself--I gave 2 away.)  But seriously, this cake: so good!  It has this incredibly light texture, while still being very moist.  Clark calls it "intensely almond-y" but I really pick out the orange flavor--guess they're both there in perfect harmony.  The cake also contains buckwheat flour, which I had never used before, despite owning a bag (that, admittedly, I pilfered from my mother's cupboard).  The nuttiness of the buckwheat flour offers another interesting layer of flavor, so I'd recommend getting a bag, even if it's just for this cake.  You'll probably want to make it so many times that it'll be gone in no time!  However, if you're so desperate the try this before making a trip to the grocery store, I'm sure that replacing it with all-purpose would also produce a very good cake. 

Simple, rustic, but oh-so-tasty!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Stuffed Peppers

Casablanca Restaurant in Harvard Square makes, hands down, the best stuffed peppers I have ever eaten.  The one on their menu is served as an entree because it's so big and delicious.  I've become a huge fan since trying it for the first time a year ago.  These peppers are considerably less stuffed--definitely a side dish, not the main enchilada.  Still, they satisfy my craving for a yummy pepper stuffed full of goodness.  They are quick to execute and makes a great side dish, packing veggie and grains into one delicious package.  This is a Mediterranean-inspired version, but once you have the technique, which is quite easy, it's a fun dish to experiment with, using different grain/fruit/nut/vegetable combinations. 

Couscous and Vegetable Stuffed Peppers (Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis/
Makes 6 Stuffed Peppers

When shopping, look for firm, unblemished peppers that are fairly full and round with nice, even bottoms.  These peppers will hold a good amount of filling, and they are much easier to clean out than skinny, misshapen peppers.  The peppers can be prepared up to 24 hours in advance, and stored, tightly covered, in the fridge, then baked before service.

* 1 ⅓ cups low-sodium chicken broth
* 2 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
* 1 cup couscous
* 1 15-ounce can of chick peas (also called garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
* ½ cup dried currants or raisins
* 1 packed cup chopped baby spinach leaves
* ⅔ cup (about 5 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
* ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
* Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
* 6 medium sized bell peppers.  Red, yellow and orange are the most flavorful, and make the prettiest presentation
* Hot water, a cup or two

* 1 packed cup fresh basil leaves
* ½ cup (about 4 ounces) creme fraiche or sour cream
* 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
* 1 Tablespoon water
* 1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
* 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
* ¼ teaspoon sugar
* ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper, plus extra, as needed

1. Heat your oven to 400 degrees F, with a rack in the center position  

2. Bring the chicken broth and cumin to a boil in a medium sauce pan.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the couscous. Cover the pan until the couscous is tender and all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 5 to 6 minutes.  Once the liquid has been absorbed, fluff it with a fork to separate the grains. 

3. Slice the tops off the peppers and rinse to clean and remove all the ribs and seeds.  If necessary, cut a very thin slice from the base to help the peppers stand up.  Dice the pepper tops.

4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the pepper pieces, garbanzo beans, currants or raisins, spinach, feta and ¼ cup of olive oil.  Add the couscous and toss together.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  

5. Stuff the peppers with the filling and drizzle the tops with olive oil.  Put the peppers in an appropriately sized baking dish (8 by 8-inches holds 5 peppers, but if you're actually doing 6, you'll probably need at least 10 by 10 inches).  Fill the baking dish with 3/4-inch hot water and bake until the filling is golden and the peppers are cooked through, about 55 to 60 minutes.  Check after 30 minutes, and cover with foil if the filling is browning too quickly or is starting to look dry.  I didn't do this, but I should have! 

6.  In the meantime, make the sauce.  In a blender, combine all the ingredients and blend until smooth. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, to taste.

7. Serve sauce on, under, or just alongside the peppers--whatever you like!