Minted Grape Couscous

Minted Grape Couscous

Minted Grape Couscous

When you cook as often as I do it’s easy to forget a favorite recipe. Luckily, I have people in my life who remind me of these on occasion, as was the case last week when a client asked for the mint couscous that I had made for her a year and a half ago. I hate to admit it but I didn’t immediately remember the recipe so I dug through my files and eventually found the one she requested: minted grape couscous.

Minted Grape Couscous: toast couscous Minted Grape Couscous: minced red onion Minted Grape Couscous: toast almonds

It’s a refreshing combination of flavors with fantastic textures: sweet grapes, cucumber, red onion, lemon and lots of fresh herbs mixed with crunchy almonds and filling Israeli couscous.

I prefer to use English cucumbers because I find the skin more palatable and enjoy the color contrast, but regular cucumbers will also work.

Minted Grape Couscous: dice cucumber

As with most recipes I’m inspired by, this one was tweaked to fit my tastes and is quite different from the original, most notably that it has mint instead of cilantro, the addition of almonds, and calls for toasting the couscous prior to cooking. Sadly, I didn’t record the source in my notes to give credit so please let me know if you’re familiar with it.

Here’s the recipe:

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Tribute: Gram

Jackie & Gram

Jackie & Gram, Mother's Day 2008

Today is the one-year anniversary of my Grandmother’s passing. I’m trying to be upbeat as I know she wouldn’t want me to wallow but the truth is I miss her. She’s the only grandparent I got to know as an adult and there are so many times I still reach for the phone to call her.

I know she loved food and understand she was a fairly good cook, although the only memories I have of her cooking were cookie boxes she would make for each of her grandchildren for Hanukkah.

When I was about 10-years-old Gram developed food allergies; she thought it was the result of having her gallbladder removed. So for the last 18 years of her life she wasn’t able to eat any dairy, gluten or MSG. But she had a wish-list of the foods she wanted to eat when she was on her deathbed. Oh, how I miss her sense of humor. Alas, she passed away in her sleep and never got to enjoy her last meal.

Gram with her Granddaughters (Heather, Jackie & Marci)

Gram with granddaughters Heather, Jackie & Marci

But you should’ve seen the way this woman ate lobster or smoked whitefish. Boy, did she love it, she would pick the shells/bones clean with her fingers as not to waste a crumb.

Throughout the past year I’ve posted two of her recipes, one for tornado cookies that were my sister’s and my favorite from the cookie box, and the other for junk, a recipe rediscovered by my mom after cleaning out her apartment.

So today as I help my parents prepare for a family BBQ, I recall one of my grandmother’s favorite phrases: If they don’t come, they don’t have to go home.”

And Gram, I promise not to pick up hitchhikers on my way home.

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Through My Lens: Swirled Chocolate Chip Cookies

Through My Lens: Swirled Chocolate Chip Cookies

Through My Lens: Swirled Chocolate Chip Cookies

This post is part of “Through My Lens: An Experiment in Interpretation,” hosted by Culinary Snapshot.

Back in the day, I was really into photography, specifically during high school and college. I took many classes, most of which were on black and white photography and was so enamored with the idea of telling a story through a single captured image that I even hoped to become a photojournalist.

However, the second semester of my senior year of college I enrolled in an advanced color photography class. It was interesting at first to learn about different types of light but I quickly grew bored and wound up dropping the class. Part of the reason was a strong case of senioritis, and the other part was that I missed working with my hands the same way I had in the darkroom when I’d processed my own film and developed the prints. Not to mention that the photo world was rapidly turning digital and I wasn’t sure I was on board with that.

As the years went by (wow, I’m sounding old) I continued to take pictures with a point-and-shoot digital camera but had lost the passion and exuberance I’d once had for photography. But at the same time I was getting more and more into cooking, eventually even quitting my job and attending culinary school.

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Creamy Mushroom Polenta

Creamy Mushroom Polenta

Creamy Mushroom Polenta

It’s odd how certain foods can elude me for years. Not that I’d been avoiding them, simply that they just didn’t come up. Like old colleagues you always meant to keep in touch with but sort of forgot about as you got on with your life. (If any of those colleagues are reading this, know that I don’t mean you!)

Polenta: pour cornmeal into boiling water Polenta: whisk

Polenta: simmer Polenta: stir in butter

I’ve always enjoyed polenta but have never gotten to know it all that well. I rarely order it in restaurants – it’s not often on the menu in these parts – and don’t often prepare it for myself. But suddenly this week I found myself craving polenta, and not the kind that has been fried, although that’s good, too, but the rich and creamy version.

Mushrooms: render bacon Mushrooms: drain bacon

Mushrooms: saute garlic and mushrooms Mushrooms: deglaze with vermouth

And I wanted it with mushrooms! And bacon! And parsley and wine! Oh, was it good. Polenta, my friend, welcome back!

Here’s the recipe:

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Savory Plum Tart

Savory Plum Tart

Savory Plum Tart

This recipe for a savory plum tart has been one of the more challenging ones I’ve worked on lately. The idea originally came from Steamy Kitchen‘s recipe for Chanterelle, Bacon and Plum Salad with Blue Cheese. I loved the idea of this recipe, especially roasting the plums and pairing them with bacon and thought it could work as a tart filling.

In my mind I concocted a recipe of plums, caramelized shallots, bacon and sour cream. However, over time and tastings it became plums, caramelized yellow onions, prosciutto, mascarpone cheese and basil, which morphed again to the final incarnation of plums, caramelized onions, mascarpone cheese, honey, balsamic vinegar and basil.

Plum tart: sliced yellow onions Plum tart: cook the onions Plum tart: caramelized onions

Plum tart: whole plums Plum tart: sliced plums Plum tart: saute plums

Busy day, right? It sure was but in such a rewarding way because the end result was fantastic. A rustic flaky, buttery crust topped with a thin layer of rich and tangy mascarpone cheese, sweet onions and tart plums made for an incredible sweet-savory bite. And the small drizzles of honey and balsamic vinegar with just a bit of fresh basil rounded it out perfectly.

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