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Tuesday
Aug102010

Just Peachy Couscous Salad

If you love couscous, what's better than eating those delicate little grains of pasta? Eating bigger grains of couscous! Otherwise known as pearl couscous or Israeli couscous, it's chewier and heartier than regular couscous and makes the perfect base for adding vegetables or meat. My super intern Christina Regon, not to be confused with my other wonderful contributor Christina Nelson, created this recipe using fresh summer produce including juicy sweet peaches now available everywhere. Christina R. is studying to be a dietitian and is a foodie and former restaurant co-owner. This dish would perfectly complement barbequed chicken or fish or taste delicious solo as a light lunch. When I recreated the recipe, I was able to find all of the produce and herbs at one farm stand. Feel free to use whatever ripe produce you like as just about anything works. I made a few minor changes such as using regular Israeli couscous because I couldn't find whole wheat. I also substituted sliced almonds for the pine nuts, which have a hefty price tag. Even at Trader Joe's, which has the cheapest high-quality nuts around, they cost $7.99 for 8 ounces. No big loss, the almonds worked beautifully. I also cut the oil to about 3 tablespoons. This recipe is easy and kept my 3-year-old son Jake, who has now graduated to Master Stirrer, quite busy!

 

Couscous Salad

Ingredients

(Makes about 4-6 servings)

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cups whole wheat giant pearl couscous (Israeli couscous)

Vegetable or low-sodium chicken stock (enough to cover toasted couscous for simmering)

2 T lemon juice

1 T balsamic, sherry or rice vinegar

1-2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut into halves

1-1 1/2 cups peaches, cut into wedges

1/2 cup green onions, chopped

1/2 cup bell peppers or radishes, sliced

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

10-12 basil leaves, cut in pieces

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add couscous and toast, stirring, until couscous is golden brown (about 2 minutes). Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover with lid, and simmer until liquid is absorbed and couscous is tender but firm and chewy (4-6 minutes). You may need to add more broth or water if the couscous is drying out before it’s tender.
  2. Remove from heat and transfer couscous to a large bowl, fluffing with a fork. Stir in remaining olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper. Set aside to cool. 
  3. Once couscous has cooled, transfer mixture to large bowl and add remaining ingredients.

Tuesday
Aug032010

A Totally Different Tortilla

Cheers to a local company Food Should Taste Good headquartered in Needham that has come out with an innovative line of tortilla chips. Innovative because they offer 10 unusual flavors packed with really unusual ingredients, at least for a tortilla chip. They sent me a sampling of their chips to taste-test, which is great because I don't think I'd willingly buy a chocolate tortilla chip. How about a chip baked with quinoa? The packaging says "it's a cracker, too!" giving it more flexibility with how it's eaten than just straight out of the bag or with salsa. These are the kind of high quality (and higher priced) chips that you'd serve to very special guests, maybe even on dinnerware. Each variety stays remarkably true to its advertised flavor. My favorite, the sweet potato chip, tastes exactly like, well, a sweet potato...and much better than the soggy sweet potato fries you get in restaurants. With just six ingredients (stone ground corn, sunflower oil, sweet potato, corn bran, cane juice, sea salt), these chips contain 3 grams of fiber and 20% of the RDA for vitamin A. They also qualify as "low sodium" with less than 80 mg per serving though they certainly don't taste it. The olive chip is made with no less than three kinds of olives including black, green, and kalamata, contributing to its distinctive salty-sour tang. The chocolate variety made with dark cocoa somehow works with the sea salt. Some of them are even more complex like the blue corn chip with three types of seeds (flax, sunflower, sesame), oat flour, and quinoa, but the flavors always blend together perfectly. Because of the all-natural ingredients like whole grains, bran, polyunsaturated oils, and sea salt, I'd quality them as a wholesome snack. Unfortunately they have almost the same amount of calories and fat as a regular potato chip, and it's far too easy to chomp through the relatively small 6 oz. bag. Costing about $3.29 a package, these could become an expensive addiction!

My best advice is to crush them and sprinkle on foods as a condiment. Try the delish flavor/texture combinations below of chocolate tortillas sprinkled on frozen yogurt or the olive or multigrain varieties sprinkled on salads. You'll enjoy all the flavor while controlling calories and making them last longer!

Tuesday
Jul272010

Highs and Lows in Low Country

Last week we headed to low country for summer sun in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. As if we weren't getting enough with Boston's recent heat wave! Must be my New England stubbornness in bearing weather extremes that would make me want to trek into deeper Southern heat. I’ve always loved beaches but after experiencing more of them over the years, I’ve realized that what I actually love is the beach landscape, the feel of ocean waves and sinking sand, artists’ communities and lazy local cafes. What I don’t love is overwhelming commercialism such as when you see the same fast food joints and shops on every single block; watching people on the boardwalk fill up on cheap quality ice cream and deep fried messes like those monstrous blooming onions before heading to $10.99 all-you-can-eat buffets; or trying to find something special to buy for loved ones among endless rows of dreadfully gaudy trinket souvenirs. And that’s about 20 square miles of the same stuff, over and over and over. Guess I’m just not a boardwalk babe because I didn’t care much for Myrtle Beach’s business district that almost completely obscured its unique landscape. However, there were some local treasures that highlighted our trip:

The Franklin G. Burroughs/Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum. This small but newly renovated museum was located next to our hotel. We were lucky enough to catch a special exhibit of Gee’s Bend Quilts along with striking portrait photography of the Alabama quilters by Linda Day Clark. I loved the museum’s enclosed porch tearoom with homemade iced tea and chocolate chunk cookies laid out for visitors.

Brookgreen Gardens. Located in Murrells Inlet about 10 minutes away, this is an oasis from commercial Myrtle Beach with grounds landscaped to perfection and luxurious gardens (with plenty of huge oaks graced with Spanish moss for shade!). Their vast sculpture collection housed in three different small museums and scattered throughout the gardens gave me a new appreciation for bronze sculpture.

Drunken Jack’s Restaurant. Murrells Inlet is the place to be for seafood and we were glad to find this popular eatery with a friend’s recommendation. We were seated at a window that overlooked wild goats, white peacocks and ducks roaming around the inlet. My salad with boiled shrimp came with a generous serving of eight large meaty shrimp adorned with sunflower seeds. We also tried their special hushpuppies (cornbread balls), which tasted like deep fried munchkins. Dipped in a yummy sweet honey butter, just a couple made the perfect dessert!  

Surfside Flea Market. There were endless outlets and obnoxious shopping "experiences" like Broadway on the Beach, but this was a humble and traditional open air flea market where you could meet gracious locals and find truly great deals on everyday items. I picked up some hard to find spices, a few baking pans at a third of the usual cost, and a great leather belt. The nearby indoor Myrtle Beach Flea Market was larger and air-conditioned but filled with cheap quality items, not all of which were inexpensive. 

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the dragonflies! We saw them in Brookgreen Gardens hovering and darting in every direction. I'd never seen so many and in so many different colors: blue, red, purple...amazing! Yellow