Salmon with Baked Couscous

I didn’t grow up eating much fish, so this recipe for salmon with couscous was the only fish recipe I made for several years. It was salmon, baked under a layer of couscous flavored with olive oil, lemon juice, olives, capers, and raisins.

I came across this recipe in graduate school, back in the days where I (and many others) still printed out recipes to try. One of my primary sources back then, and source for this recipe, was Food Network, although I didn’t watch the show this recipe aired on. Salmon with a Couscous Crust purportedly served two, but easily served three or four. It was easy to make as written, and delicious. I loved, and still love, how quickly it comes together. Simply mix together couscous with seasonings, pour on top of salmon, and bake.

Salmon with Baked Couscous and Sauteed Zucchini

Of course, I made changes. The recipe took more olive oil than needed in a weeknight dinner, so I cut it back. I omit raisins since I don’t care for them. I inexplicably like capers but not olives, so I use extra capers as a substitute. I’ve substituted almonds for pine nuts, and forgotten them altogether before; both ways are fine. The recipe is delicious even when I forget parsley. No matter the variation, though, the salmon is moist since it’s poached in the water, and the couscous is flavorful.

This recipe doesn’t take long to put together, and is pretty hands-off. The quantity of couscous easily feeds three or four once you serve it alongside a vegetable, so I usually use extra salmon and plan on leftovers for lunch or dinner for the next day.

Salmon with Baked Couscous

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Country-Style Steak

Based on my blogging trends, you would believe that I eat sweets all the time. You’d be nearly right – I do love dessert. Lest you think I don’t make dinner, I present to you Country-Style Steak.

Alton Brown made cooking cubed steak so appealing in the episode I found this recipe in. With the cooler, fall-like temperatures we’ve had for the past few weekends, I looked forward to making something that cooked for a while in the oven. As a bonus, cubed steak is relatively inexpensive – and if you use simple round steak as Alton does, it’s generally even cheaper. Continue reading Country-Style Steak

Beef with Capers and Garlic

I decided upon the perfect thing to make for dinner while my husband was out of town one weekend. I would try the recipe for Beef with 100 Cloves of Garlic. Actually, I came across two competing recipes (second one here), both adaptations of the same original. I love garlic, and although my husband likes it, I didn’t want to force him to try a recipe with a flavor so intense.

The original of this recipe took beef, garlic, olives, and red wine. I don’t like olives, but somehow I like capers instead, and I decided that the briny capers would make them a decent substitute for the olives. I cooked this on the stove, then transferred it to the oven for slower cooking. I would have made a crockpot version of it, but I didn’t have time the evening before to prepare it for the slow cooker. I made this dish on a Friday, so that my leftovers wouldn’t scare my coworkers if they were too intense.

This recipe was indeed intense and flavorful – very rich. A little went a long way – think, tapas-style, where you’re satisfied with a few bites.

Beef with Garlic and Capers, with Italian Bread
Beef with Garlic and Capers, with Italian Bread

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Small Focaccia

Focaccia is delicious. I’m sure you already know that. Today I baked focaccia to go with a soup I made for dinner (Italian sausage with crushed tomatoes, kale, lentils, and orzo, if you were curious), and it makes me swoon a little every time. I wonder why I don’t eat focaccia every day.

Time is part of it. Bread making is not necessarily hard, but it is time intensive. It’s something best saved for when you’ll be home for a few hours at a time to play with dough. Yeast has to ferment, bread has to rise, and it has to bake – this is why I could never just bake bread to have with dinner when I got home from work. This process becomes easier when you stash bread dough away in the refrigerator or freezer (or par-bake it, as I did with pizza crusts that I keep meaning to blog about).

The focaccia in question were adapted from the Focaccia recipe in Peter Reinhart’s book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. If you really want to get into bread-making (where it takes a while, sometimes two days, and you get your hands doughy), I recommend it because I’ve had luck from it.

His focaccia recipe makes one big loaf, but he had an adaptation that made 6 pizza-style focaccia – which I then adapted a little more. The recipe can be found online on this blog, and I’ll mention what I did differently. To sum – I split the recipe into four and froze two of the balls of dough, which I baked less than a month later.

Focaccia slices with tomatoes

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How I Like to Make Ribs

In this food blog, I chronicle what I make, how I make it, and if I like it. I like sharing with anyone who reads this blog, but one major reason that I continue writing here is because it’s a great resource for me. If I want to make something, I almost always search for it on my blog. I can usually remember if I made something before, but I can’t always remember specifics.

Right now, I want to be sure to write down how I like to make ribs. I’ve made ribs a few times before, and overall, they’re pretty satisfying, but I’ve got a preferred way to make them.

1. I make them in the oven, from start to finish.
2. I make my own spice rub. BBQ sauce optional but tasty.

I know that die-hard bbq enthusiasts out there will say that ribs shouldn’t be made in the oven. I don’t care. It’s tough to grill when you don’t have a dedicated space for it. Also, there’s simply a lot of not-good barbecue out there at restaurants. How I make ribs is delicious, easy, and not that expensive.

The oven method I use for ribs came from Emeril’s Oven-BBQ Ribs recipe (blogged about here). However, it was a fuss to make his spice rub – first you make one spice blend, then mix part of it with other spices – and I really didn’t like it more than a spice rub I made last year. The original recipe for that rub is on cooking.com [link no longer works]. I haven’t tried other spice rubs, but I’ve been pretty satisfied with this one.

BBQ Ribs Spice Rub

1.5 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons black pepper
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons paprika (if you’re oven-roasting your ribs, I bet a little smoked paprika would be nice too)
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons dry mustard

This rub is a little peppery, which I like. I grind this together, but you don’t need to if your ingredients are already ground. This yields enough rub for about 4 pounds of pork back ribs. Another nice thing about this blend: it’s easy to make a half batch.

Cut ribs into pieces so they fit easily into a baking pan. Rub spice blend on all sides of ribs. Line baking pan with foil long enough that you can wrap the foil around the ribs. Wrap up the ribs and seal the ends of the foil together, folding the foil over as if you were rolling up a paper bag. Bake at 300F for 2.5 – 3 hours.

Next, roll back the foil to expose the ribs. Brush the meaty sides with a little barbecue sauce; or not, if you don’t want to! Barbecue sauce gives the ribs a nice sheen, and will caramelize when you put the ribs back in the oven, but the ribs will still be tasty without sauce. Either way, bake the ribs for another 20 minutes. [I suppose you wouldn’t have to, but I like the texture this exposed baking gives the ribs.]

Oven Barbecued Ribs

One other thing I like about roasting ribs in the oven this way: very little prep. You prepare the spice rub, but you wouldn’t even have to do that if you had a rub on hand. Simply season the meat, wrap in foil, and let the oven do all the work.  And although it cooks for 3 hours, there’s very little hands on time.  That said, clean-up isn’t perfect; last time I made these, liquid seeped underneath the foil and made the foil stick to the pan. However, it’s nothing that a little dish soaking time won’t take care of.

Overall, this is an easy and tasty recipe for lazy, cool weekends. It’s something I’ve made several times, and foresee myself making often again this fall and winter.

Impossible Pie

All of a sudden, it’s warm, summery weather. So what do I feel a compulsion to make? Pie.

Actually, what I really want is a cool cream pie. But to make a from-scratch cream pie, I have to stand over the stove stirring a custard – not a pleasant task when it’s in the 80s and humid. [One exception I just thought of – key lime pie.] Heat issues aside, I didn’t feel like doing a lot of work in the kitchen. I remembered a recipe my coworker gave me – Impossible Pie. It still used the oven and heated my house, but it didn’t involve me doing a lot of work.

It’s called “impossible pie” because you simply mix all the ingredients together, pour it into a pie pan, put it in the oven, and it comes out as a pie, no separate crust necessary. The original recipe makes two pies, but I only wanted to make one. The ingredient list is simple: just butter, sugar, eggs, self-rising flour, coconut, and milk. For a single pie, I used a half stick melted butter, 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup flour, 5/8 tsp baking powder, 1/8 teaspooon salt, 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut, and a cup milk. I poured it in a greased glass 9-inch pan, and baked for 65 minutes at 350F, an extra 5 minutes because I wasn’t entirely sure it was done.

I don’t have any pictures of it, but there’s a nice one on the recipe if you click on the link. The top of the pie was golden, crisp toasted coconut since it floated to the top. The bottom of the pie was eggy and custardy – not quite like a flan, but definitely eggier than my picky taste likes. The softer custard and the crunchy coconut went well together. The pie was lightly coconuty and lightly sweet.

This is by no means my favorite pie – I don’t like eggy custard, and I do like my coconut pies to be intensely coconuty, which this wasn’t. However, this recipe gets an enormous about of credit for being very easy to make. The pie was mixed together and ready to go into the oven by the time it was preheated. I can’t think of an easier dessert to make, and it’s a decent pie that got some compliments at work. I have to recommend you try it once if you want a homemade dessert to take somewhere, but don’t want to put a lot of effort into it.

362: Fennel-Crusted Pork Loin with Potatoes and Pears

A few years ago, Alex asked all of our friends to give me recipes for my birthday. Best present ever!

However, it’s taken me a little while to start making them. My friend Allison gave me five, and this is just the second one I’ve made. (Sorry! I’ll get to them, though!) I decided to make Fennel-Crusted Pork Loin with Potatoes and Pears for my family. I don’t actually like leftover pork loin – something about reheating the pork seems to make it taste overcooked to me. I decided that making it for 5 people would be better than making it for just me and Alex, and forcing Alex to eat all of the leftovers (although he wouldn’t mind). To make it for 5 people, I increased the recipe by half.

Fennel-Roasted Pork Loin with Potatoes and Pears

Prep was pretty simple. I bought 3 pounds of pork tenderloin, 3 red onions, and 5 Bosc pears. My family had a bag of Russet potatoes, so I guessed that 7 small-to-medium potatoes would be enough. I cut the potatoes into 8ths. I prepared the vegetables first, tossing them with salt, pepper, and olive oil, since I wanted to just coat everything in the roasting pan before I put the pork loin in it. Then I coated the pork with a mixture of fennel seeds, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and put it in the pan. My pork tenderloin actually was 2 pieces, which I put in the pan side-by-side and touching, although I wished later that I had separated them out. I put the meat thermometer in one of them and let the food roast until the meat reached 160F. This happened in about 70 or so minutes, since each pork tenderloin weighed about 1.4 pounds.

Fennel-Crusted Pork Loin with Potatoes and Pears

This was pretty good. The vegetables and fruit didn’t become as soft as I thought they should, but the pork was incredibly tender. It’s possible that I’ve been overcooking pork loin my entire life. The fennel went well with the pork and garlic. The pork wasn’t really “crusted,” probably because the pan was a bit too full. I normally don’t like sweet and savory, but the pears weren’t too sweet for this dish. I found the recipe to be a little salty, so I’d probably only use half of the salt called for next time. I also think that this recipe could use much less olive oil. The onion was the least favorite thing in this dish, so I would probably only use half of the onion next time, or break up the onion pieces (rather than keeping them in quarters) so that they caramelize more. I liked this dish, as did my family. I’d make it again.

347: Vanilla Roasted Pears

I was enchanted with the idea of Vanilla Roasted Pears the first time I saw the recipe. I like pears, and for some reason I find the thought of roasted pears very sophisticated. I always want to make poached pears (generally in white wine), but Alex isn’t too keen on them (mostly because of the white wine). I love vanilla, though, and so I was 95% certain that I was going to love this recipe, and didn’t care if Alex wasn’t interested in it.

The whole vanilla beans that I have are actually a milder, more fragrant kind of vanilla bean, so I wasn’t sure it would be strong enough for this application. I had some vanilla sugar that I’d already made, so I used the vanilla bean in conjunction with that. I had 1.5 pounds of Bosc pears for this, which ended up being about 6 halves (if my memory serves me right). I halved them and scooped out the seeds, but didn’t bother to peel them. I nestled them in a 7×11 inch glass pan, drizzled lemon juice over them, sprinkled them with vanilla sugar, and dotted them with butter. I included the vanilla bean in the pan on the pears. I poured water into the bottom of the pan and roasted them for 30 minutes. I turned them over and roasted them another 25 – they were already more-or-less done, but I wasn’t ready to eat them yet and decided it probably wouldn’t hurt them at all to sit in the oven longer. I brushed the pears periodically with the juices in the bottom of the pan.

Vanilla-Roasted Pears

These were really pretty good. I loved the flavor. They were sweet without being too sweet – sweet enough for a light dessert, but light enough for a snack -and they felt wholesome to eat. The juices in the pan didn’t caramelize, likely because I used a smaller baking dish than originally suggested since I had fewer actual pears. The juices were a delicious addition stirred into morning oatmeal. It was a few weeks ago that I made these and so I can’t adequately describe how good they were – I can only tell you that they were everything I’d thought they would be. I had leftovers as snacks at work during the week, and they held up wonderfully. These pears would be a great accompaniment to a (sweet) breakfast or brunch. I’ll make these again.

314: Peanut-Baked Chicken

I had a package of drumsticks I wanted to cook, so I looked around for a recipe and settled on Peanut-Baked Chicken. The recipe looked pretty straight-forward. I had 2.5 pounds of drumsticks, so I omitted the chicken thighs but made the full batch of marinade.

I heated the peanut butter, soy sauce, lemon juice and zest, and honey in the microwave, and poured it over the chicken, coating it well, in a zipper bag. My chicken was still a little frozen, so I let it rest on the counter for 30 minutes to marinate, rather than putting it back in the fridge. While the chicken marinated, I ground together peanuts (although I didn’t have the honey-roasted ones the recipe called for), panko (Japanese bread crumbs, which was all I had), salt, and red pepper. Although the recipe said to dump all the coating into a bag, put all the chicken in it, and shake it together all at once, I thought it might be more effective to do it a couple of drumsticks at a time. Unfortunately, this meant that I went through all the coating on half of the chicken and had to make some more. The chicken was thoroughly coated, though, with all the extra coating.

I baked this in a 375F oven for 40 minutes. I thought that the chicken might still be a little too cold, so I baked it 5 minutes longer than the recipe said to. I even used a meat thermometer to test the temperature of one of the legs, and it said it had reached 170F, so I took it out then.

Peanut-Baked Chicken

I have mixed reviews for this one. It smelled and tasted great. I liked the saltiness of the marinade and the flavor of the breading, although I thought the breading was a little salty. Unfortunately, not all of my chicken was done, so I couldn’t actually eat very much of it. It was also difficult for me to eat because I didn’t remove the skin before I made these, and it was still very chewy.

I liked the flavors in this recipe, but I’m not a fan of how it turned out for me when I made it. I’d give this another shot, but I’m not sure I’d use drumsticks; I’d probably use something meatier, like chicken thighs, or boneless chicken. If I used bone-in chicken, I’d remove the skin to let the marinade soak into the meat better; removing the skin would also work better for the breading, since it sticks to the peanut butter mixture. I liked the amount of breading I had on this, so I might keep the doubled quantity (or at least make 1.5 times the recipe), but I’d probably reduce the salt by half.

277: Oven-Roasted Pasta Sauce

Before our first frost advisory, I picked all the green tomatoes on my tomato plant. I had 7 pounds of green tomatoes! I’ve been waiting for the majority of them to be ripe at the same time so that I could make Oven-Roasted Pasta Sauce.

Even so, I didn’t have 5 pounds of ripe tomatoes, so I made a 3/4 batch of this instead. That translated to 3.75 pounds of tomatoes, or 60 ounces. I sliced one large onion into wedges and halved the (small) tomatoes. I put them on a baking sheet, drizzled them with olive oil, and liberally applied salt and pepper. About 5 or 10 minutes before I took them out of the oven, I put some amount of minced garlic on the tomatoes to roast a little, since I didn’t have whole cloves of garlic to roast from the start. I baked them for 2 hours, until I thought they looked pretty roasted [see picture on original recipe to see what they should look like]. I wanted to taste the roasted tomatoey goodness, so I added a couple of tablespoons of water rather than wine, and scraped away at the browned bits on the bottom of the baking sheet.

At this point it was late Sunday evening, so I put all of the tomato mixture into a container and put it in the fridge. The next day I reheated it, added some parsley, and pureed it in the blender. By heating it and then blending it, I was able to pour it directly on pasta.

Oven-Roasted Pasta Sauce

This was fine. I actually didn’t enjoy this as much as I had thought I would. I love roasted tomatoes, but I think that when it comes to pasta sauce, I prefer what I make without a recipe [which usually involves ground beef, several herbs, and a little red wine]. This was kind of sweet from the natural sugar in the tomatoes, since the tomatoes from my tomato plant always seemed relatively sweet. I may have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t roasted it as long, as well, or if I’d added wine to it rather than water. I think I’d enjoy basil or oregano (or maybe even some other herbs) in it more the fresh parsley I put in it.

There was nothing wrong with this, and a lot of potential good. I think that I would have enjoyed the roasted taste more over chicken, or with something else that wasn’t simply plain pasta. It was fun to make, and much less complicated than cooking on the stove. I might try it in the future, varying the roasting time as well as the herbs and spices, if I have lots of tomatoes and want a hands-off recipe.