Wrong-time-of-year King Cake

First thing I want to start off this post with, is something very personal and revealing.

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This is the most cohesive recipe I’ve ever gotten from my mom. Everything else I’ve gleaned through my nose and eyes. A couple of times I’ve gotten a dictated recipe full of vague measurements like “enough” and “some.”

It’s definitely possible to learn from and work with stuff like this!

This is also a big part of why I’ve always been a little inconsistent in how I post recipes. I fundamentally believe that the ingredients themselves are inconsistent–no two jalapeños are alike, and it’s important to be prepared to handle the differences.

Even with baking, I follow the same ideas. I started out using recipes as a crutch, but I grew to trust my senses. All sorts of things–humidity, age of the yeast or flour, temperature of each ingredient and of the air–influence the dough, and it is more important to look at the dough itself than to look at a dead page with dead script on it. So now recipes are starting points, style guides. And the pictures help keep me in tune with what things should look like. Good descriptions help fill in my senses and build my expectations.

So with that in mind, I took a ton of pictures of the process and I’ll try to be detailed in all my sensory descriptions.

It wasn’t the right season, but I’m consistently out of town for Mardi Gras, so we made a King Cake anyway last time we visited.

We’re not big on excessive food coloring or sugar, so the toppings are a bit different than what you’d normally see.
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For our version, there are actually two recipes. One for the filling (which we also used as an icing) and one for the dough. Our filling is a basic fluffy-almost-cream-cheese, but you can use anything you like. The filling was whipped up too fast for me to get a good picture, so here’s the recipe:

2 cream cheeses
1 tub of mascarpone (8oz)
1 cup confectioners sugar
tap of vanilla

Mix these all together in a bowl until smooth.
Resist the temptation to eat it all while making everything else.

But as for the dough, that’ll be a bit more interesting.

Assemble the following:
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
2 packages of yeast (or 4.5 teaspoons)
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup warm water
2 eggs
1/2 tsp nutmeg
5 1/2 cups flour (we used bread flour, cake flour would be nice too)
1 1/2 tsp salt

your selection of toppings/extra filling (we used a mix of blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries)

To start, we’re going to need to scald the milk.

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To do this, just heat the milk up on medium high. Keep an eye on it, because you don’t want it to boil, scalding is just before that. Stir it if you like, but it will slow down the process. When the milk starts to froth at the edges, you’ve reached the right point.

Take the milk off the stove, and pour it in your mixing bowl. Add your butter and allow to melt. Now that the pressure’s off of watching the milk, go ahead and preheat the oven to 375.

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Yeast is alive, and you don’t want to kill it. If you put it in the butter + milk too soon, you could murder it with heat. So let that cool until it’s cold enough that you would comfortably touch it, then add the yeast, sugar, water and eggs.

Lightly mix it. You don’t want to froth it up, but you want the ingredients to be equally incorporated. Top it off with the nutmeg.

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Then, add the flour slowly, about a cup at a time. Tap it into the mixer while it’s running, and add more once what was in there has blended in. Your dough will end up somewhat sticky, but not soupy. It’ll stick to your fingers, but that’s totally fine.

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This recipe makes three king cakes, but we only made two last time and that worked out well. You can play with this to see how many cakes you want and how thick they’re going to be. Once we grabbed as much dough as we wanted to use, we then separated it into two pieces. After the rolling and the filling, each piece will be a half circle for the whole cake.

Before rolling it out, prep the countertop and the rolling pin with more flour. Sprinkle liberally, but try not to have clumps.

As you roll it, if there are spots where the dough sticks to the rolling pin, just sprinkle more flour on. You’ll notice that it becomes easier to handle the dough once you start working it like this.

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Aim for a crust that is rectangular instead of square or circular, and make it around 1/4-1/2 inch thick. We’re going to roll it into a tube, and then make it a circle from there. But before that!
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Slap down some of the cream cheese filling and sprinkle your favorite things inside. We used mixed berries, but it works really well with any type of fruit, flavored cream cheese fillings, or even chopped up candy bars.

With your hands (not the rolling pin!), roll these flat doughs into tubes.

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You can see both of ours in the picture, back in the background is the second one. Once they’re both ready, curl one into a half-circle and make room to bring the other half over.

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We overlapped the dough a little to help seal the halves together.

Once the oven was ready, we popped it in, covered with high quality butter, and bake for 30 minutes. The butter isn’t strictly necessary, but it gives it a beautiful GBD color and texture.

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When the cake is done, let it cool on a cake rack until cool to the touch. If you try to ice it while it is still hot, the icing won’t set and will melt down the sides. We used the leftover filling for the icing, but you could definitely use something like a royal icing or a buttercream, or your favorite type of other-icing.

We sprinkled on the leftover fruit to finish it off, then chowed down.

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It was great as a dessert, but if you can manage, I recommend saving at least a little. It tastes great chilled (and I love the texture of the filling both hot and cold, so it’s good to try it both ways).

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Succotash

I recently got back from a trip to Canada. I’ve been dreaming of going to Vancouver for a few years now, thanks to a cooking show I watched while in college. I think it was Giada De Laurentiis, checking out the restaurants and attractions.

Despite the drought, it was more beautiful than I expected (standards of beauty get lowered significantly after living in a rain-choked Texas for about 7 years), and it would have been beautiful even if I wasn’t snide.

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Other than the restaurant Giada went to, I didn’t have an idea of what the food scene would be like once we got up there. I knew I wanted poutine. I’d heard about good local breweries. My friends were mixed in their recommendations or warnings about Tim Horton’s, but other than that, I was a blank slate.

Most nights, we’d kind of wander into restaurants, getting what was convenient or close, or what seemed good enough to stop the bus for and get down. (On that note, if you’re interested in Tibetan food and are in Vancouver, you should check out the Yak & Yeti bistro.)

But one night, our Canadian friend got off work early and was able to prepare a tasty-ass dinner. Fresh salmon, grilled, and succotash. Of course I love salmon and it was wonderful, but what really stuck out to me was the succotash. Before that night, it’d never been real. “Succotash” is from the Loony Tunes universe–it was part of a catch phrase, not food! But it was real, and it was surprisingly tasty. We even had to make a new batch once we made it back to Texas, only three nights later.

Succotash

Looking online, there is absolutely no single definition of succotash. Our Vancouverite made no pretense of measuring ingredients, either making it from memory or winging it. So that’s how I learnt–just watching over his shoulder. Consequently, this recipe won’t have any objective measuring terms–you’ll have to decide what you like. I was told that corn and beans make a whole protein, and including the corn brings together the three sisters (at least symbolically) so they seem worth keeping together.

 

There are definite changes you can make to this. Add peppers, don’t use bacon, toss in some herbs or greens. Make it what you want.

1/5 or 1lb bacon
corn cut from 2 ears of corn
1 or 2 cans of beans
2-3 tomatoes
2-3 yellow squash
fresh thyme

1. Prep everything by cutting the corn off the cob and chopping the rest into smallish, bite-sized pieces (not the beans, they’re ok)
2. Fry the bacon until desired crispiness
3. Remove bacon from pan
4. Use desired amount of bacon fat (probably 1-2 tbs) to fry up everything else
5. Fry until veggies are desired tenderness (should’t take long at all). Add the bacon back in sometime before the end.

 

Although I didn’t remember at the time of making our Texas batch, the Canadian batch also included 1 large jalapeño chopped into thin strips (how did Texans forget a pepper?!), fresh thyme and basil, a yellow pepper, green and yellow zucchini, and some ground cumin.

Russian Mushroom Soup

There is a surprisingly tasty and enchanting restaurant downtown. It feels like your European grandma’s house–full of lace, fancy cabinets and glassware (though mismatched), and creepy/homey/charming trinkets. Although my grandmother isn’t Russian, I could see elements of her European roots here.

I realized the first time I ate there that I didn’t know what to expect of Russian food. I patted myself on the back for recognizing some of the names, but by no means could I expect what flavors would work together, which pictures matched up with the food, or most important of all–which infused vodka to accompany everything.

To introduce myself, I got a few smaller dishes, and the crowd I was with was down with sharing, so we all got to taste some of each others’. What left the strongest impression on me was the mushroom soup. It felt like hunter-gatherer food. Light and refreshing, but also somehow sustaining and filling. The broth wasn’t thick and the ingredients hadn’t been stewed down, but the flavors somehow worked together marvelously.

Now that I’m on this mushroom kick and the cold weather swooped in for a visit, we tried to make some at home.

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Russian Mushroom Soup

  • 2 morells (feel free to skip this expensive ingredient that we bought on a whim)
  • handful of woodear mushrooms
  • handful of oyster mushrooms
  • 1 cup or so of porcini mushrooms
  • 1/3 cup pearl barley
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 bunch of fresh dill
  • 1 bunch of fresh parsley
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1 med onion
  • 2 med potatoes
  • 1/2 of a celery root
  • 1/2 of a fennel root
  • 1 parsnip
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tbs peppercorns
  • 1/2 tbs whole allspice

 

  1. In a skillet, saute the mushrooms and onions. If you’re using fresh everything, great, if not, rehydrate the dried ones first.
  2. In a separate pan, cook barley as per package instructions.
  3. As the mushrooms approach done-ness, bring to a simmer 4 – 6 cups of water with the roughly chopped celery root, fennel, carrots, parsnips and bay leaves in a separate soup pot. After about 10 minutes, add the potatoes as well.
  4. Once the mushrooms have lost all their moisture and have gotten somewhat mushy, add them to the soup pot. Let simmer for about 10 minutes
  5. Add nearly the rest of the ingredients : barley, peas, garlic, peppercorns, and allspice. Let simmer for 10 minutes
  6. Add the parsley and dill.
  7. Let stew until the flavors have melded beautifully, about 10 more minutes.

I found the whole peppercorns and allspice lent a good flavor to the soup, but I got tired of crunching down on them. Now, I wish I had used a cheesecloth or something to keep them in the soup. I’ll experiment with that and let you know, but if you have any suggestions for me I’d be very appreciative! For added flavor, you could use broth instead of water.

Mushroom Surprise, Part 2

Hello again!

The overtime has yet to calm down, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten you. Today I’ll post the tantalizing finish to The Mushroom Surprise Saga. The mushroom bacon from the last post was used as a topper for this more complete meal.

We got a sampler pack of mushrooms and tried half of them as the “bacon” and the other half went into this … stir fry? We basically sauteed vegetables that seemed wonderful together, then tossed it on top of some miso-quinoa.

Since there was no meat in either of these recipes, I did pull a few savory tricks out of my bag. When cooking the quinoa, I added some Liquid Aminos and red miso paste. If you don’t have liquid aminos, you could use mushroom broth, beef broth, or even soy or Worcestershire sauce. They all have a similar flavor profile to me, with slight variations.

Cook the quinoa according to your usual methods (bring 1 part quinoa and 2 parts water to boil in a pot, once boiling, turn heat to low, cover and cook the quinoa for 15 minutes. remove from heat and let sit for 5. fluff and serve) but with the extra additions. If you want to be super exact, you can pour your liquid element into a the measuring cup you’ll use to measure the water, to make sure you end up with the proper 2 parts liquid.

As for the interesting bits, I used:

Asparagus

Brussel Sprouts

Shallots

Alba Clamshell Mushrooms

Walnut oil

 

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Start by:

  1. Chop the asparagus into bite-sized bits, and the brussel sprouts in half. Go ahead and chop the shallots too, but set them aside.
  2. Cook the asparagus and brussel sprouts in medium heat until just starting to get tender, use the walnut oil.
  3. Once those are tender, add the shallots. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes or so. (You can probably add the shallots and mushrooms at the same time, it’s just a matter of a difference of texture).
  5. Eat it!

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Fungus Bacon, or, Mushroom Surprise, Part 1

I’ve been staying late at work a lot this week, so I’m going to pull that excuse and turn it into a fun advantage! Today’s article/recipe will be a bit of a teaser.

We were experimenting with mushrooms a little while back and got a sampler pack. In combining the different mushrooms in one dish, we tried out two different cooking methods. One is tried and true, tasty and vegan friendly–maybe even playfully deceptive if you’ve got a little Ferran in you.

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For this part of the dish, we used the shiitake, chanterelle, and king oyster mushrooms. We’ve done this with shiitake mushrooms, but the others were a bit of an experiment. We found out that they all work well, but the key is to make sure to cut them to the same consistency. Slight differences are magnified as the mushrooms cook down, so it’s definitely worth taking your time.

After cutting them, toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper. You want them to be covered, but not sopping, and as for the SnP, I say heavy on the P. Some salt is good to help out, but keep in mind that people add salt once it’s on the plate, so no need to overdo it here.

 

 

 

 

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Once they’re ready, spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes then flip. Bake another 15 minutes, then check and flip again. Moisture will evaporate more readily from the edges than the center, so try to re-disperse when flipping. Repeat this until the “bacon” is in a satisfactory zone of the crispy-gooey scale.

Hatch Pain Perdu

The pain perdu I’ve been exposed to is hard to find. When I search for the phrase, I come across “that’s just French for French toast!” or crusty, fried, maybe baked bread recipes with sauces. What I’m used to is stale bread, thrown in an oven pan, drowned in broth, cream, cheese etc etc etc and baked until the bread absorbs it. If y’all know a better name for it, let me know, otherwise I’m gonna keep calling it what I know.

In Texas around August, hatch peppers are a big thing. Grocery stores will have roasting parties, restaurants will bust out seasonal menus, city blocks will erupt in hot sauce festivals.

I caved in the grocery store and bought a loaf of the hatch cheddar bread. Although I’m an eater, I do still not have any roommates, so bread will sometimes go bad at my place. After nomming through half the loaf, I decided this would be a great way to use and keep the old bread.

To make it complete, I bought fresh hatch peppers and some hatch sausage to go with it. Hatch 3 ways.

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The end result isn’t the most photogenic, but it’s very tasty.

 

Hatch Pain Perdu

  • enough hatch bread to fill your baking pan
  • heavy whipping cream
  • broth
  • fresh hatch peppers
  • cheddar
  1. Chop bread and peppers. Mix roughly and layer into baking pan, while putting cheese between the layers.
  2. Fill the pan half way with a mixture of broth and cream. I used a bit more broth than cream, but the proportions are up to you
  3. Bake at 370 for 30 minutes, then check on it.

Aigo Bouido

Oh man, this soup.

I couldn’t stop myself from eating a pound of bread and two bowls of this soup. After that, I couldn’t do a lot of things. But after after that, I felt amazing.

I’d been feeling a little under the weather when this soup came on my radar. The fact that it would help with my sickness was an bonus, an accessory. It is no secret that I love garlic, so when this recipe made it into my brain, of course I jumped for it. I’ve always believed fervently and zealously in the power of garlic. It’s to the point that I even “convert” people and do things like make them read the Wikipedia page. It stops me from getting eaten by mosquitoes when I go to Louisiana, it keeps my heart healthy despite eating like someone from Louisiana, and it comes to the rescue when I’m coming down with something. Generally, I have a little soup I throw together on mornings when I need to eat but am feeling too bad. Aigo bouido reminded me of that soup on overdrive.

I’ve been on a Julia Child kick ever since reading her memoir, which is where I found this recipe. Although I was able to find her version online, I decided to make a Frankenstein’s monster, pulling my favorite parts out of all the recipes I found. Broth seemed more flavorful than water, a bread bowl seemed tastier and easier than toastlets with fresh mayonnaise, and despite her saying that it would be easier to peel the garlic after boiling it, I peeled it like normal.

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Falling in line with what I vaguely think I know about garlic, I smashed it instead of slicing, and I didn’t strain it out. It was delightful biting into a chunk of aromatic garlic.

*On that note, when you eat this, make sure that whomever you make out with is also eating this soup.

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In her book, she said that she made it after a rough and stormy Mediterranean day, full of wind, salt, and poor spirits. But this soup livened everybody up again. It is surprisingly light and refreshing, which is part of why I wanted bread with it. Otherwise it wouldn’t be very substantial which might lead to accidentally eating the whole pot. IMG_5160

 

Aigo Bouido

  • 1 – 2 bulbs garlic
  • 6 – 8 cups veggie broth
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3 tbs olive oil (or butter, or both)
  • 1 cup parmesan
  • 2 cloves (don’t skip!)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp sage
  • salt
  • pepper
  1.  Crush garlic. Heat oil in med/low pot. Add garlic and cook until they begin to golden.
  2. Add herbs and stir. Cook for a minute or so.
  3. Add broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Partially cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix egg yolks and cheese together.
  5. After the 30 minutes, temper the egg/cheese by very slowly adding a cup of broth. Once tempered, return mixture to pot.

Inspired by Saag

I’ve been so in love with exotic spices recently so I’ve been trying my hand at food that’s not traditionally in my family and I’ve got a couple of restaurants that will soon be burning holes in my pockets. Since these aren’t flavors and smells I’ve worked with for years and years, I still need to work on calibrating my nose a little and so I follow recipes and recommendations a little more closely. For this post, I used two articles for guidance: AllRecipes Indian Saag and Whats4Eats Saag.

The focus is on greens. One of my oversights was how few I had on hand. When those recipes call for two pounds, they really mean it. As they cook, they really loose volume and when there are more, it helps promote more of a saucy texture. I had one of those tubs of mixed greens, and I should have gotten 2 or 3, but it was still tasty. Many versions of this recipe also call for a blender, but since I don’t have one, I stuck with chopping.

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I’ve been told that I made a Saag Aloo, because of the potato, but I believe in the spinachy spirit of this dish and will leave it up to y’all to customize it and name it what you wish. This was an experiment of mine and I hope you find inspiration from it like I did those other articles.

 

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No two articles I found had the same spices, or even the same proportions, so I played around based on my tastes and what I had available. Slowly I’ve been splurging on spices, and it’s been nice having a variety on hand.

 

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Saag

 

  • Spinach
  • onion
  • garlic
  • potatoes
  • cream
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbs niter kibbeh (or butter, or oil)
  • 1tbs coriander
  • 2 tbs turmeric
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt

 

  1. Par boil the potatoes in a separate pan.
  2. Cook onion in the niter kibbeh, on medium, until translucent.
  3. Add garlic and spices, then saute for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add spinach and water. Simmer for about 15-25 minutes. (4 1/2 would be blend it if you got it)
  5. Add chickpeas, potatoes, and cream.
  6. Return to a brief simmer. Finish cooking the potatoes.

Lemon Ice Cream

I’ve been in a citrus kind of mood these days, it seems. It’s hard to escape in the summer through–tart can be so refreshing in this heat. This recipe definitely delivers on tart and refreshing. It’s probably the most sour thing I enjoy.

As far as ice cream recipes go, this one is a bit different from what I’m used to. What first struck me was that it is an ice cream–so there’s dairy in it–as opposed to a lemon sorbet. Seemed like it’d be an interesting texture to try out, and I wasn’t disappointed. With the cooking and the chilling, this ends up being a two day recipe, but it’s worth the wait.

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Start by mixing the heavy cream, milk, sugar, and lemon zest. Fancy zesters make this a lot prettier than cutting flakes off with your knife, but the most important thing is to make sure they’re sizes that you don’t mind eating. Once the sugar has melted and the mixture has had a chance to steep off the heat, put it back on the heat and bring to a simmer. While that’s going, separate the eggs and beat the yolks in a separate bowl. To help temper the process, don’t add the eggs to the mix, instead, slowly incorporate some of the hot mixture into the yolks, tablespoons at a time. Once it’s to temperature, add the egg mix back into the pot and let it all cook for about 10 more minutes. Now comes the patience: cool, cover and chill overnight.

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On the morrow, add the lemon juice to the mix. Once it’s ready, behold the wonder of an ice cream machine at work while you anticipate the creamy tang of the ice cream you wish you were already eating.

It came out of my machine too soft, so I had to freeze it for a few hours before I could really enjoy it, but that extra wait was worth it. If you’re interested in exploring toppings or mix-ins, I highly recommend considering crumbled madeleines.

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Lemon Ice Cream (this is for a 2 quart ice cream maker)

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup and 1 tbs sugar

1 – 3 lemons’ worth of zest

2 1/2 egg yolks (you can do it!)

1/4 cup and 2 tbs lemon juice

  1. In a saucepan, combine cream, milk, sugar, and zest, let simmer over low heat. Cook until sugar is dissolved, then remove from heat. Cover and let steep for 10 minutes.
  2. Remove lid and bring mixture to a simmer.
  3. Meanwhile, separate the eggs and whisk the yolks in a separate bowl.
  4. Very slowly, ie tablespoons at a time, add some of the warm mixture to the eggs. This is to temper the eggs while avoiding cooking them.
  5. Once tempered, add egg mix into saucepan. Stir and cook over low heat until mixture thickens, about 5 – 10 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat, cool, and refrigerate overnight in a covered container.
  7. THE NEXT DAY: add the lemon juice to the mixture and stir, then pour into ice cream maker as per it’s instructions.
  8. Either eat and enjoy right away, or freeze for a little to enjoy slightly later.

 

Lemon Couscous

A few years ago I found out that my grandpa’s grandpa was Moroccan. I had already been into Middle Eastern food for a while, but that got me pretty revved up about it. I learned a few things, my favorite of which were preserved lemons and tagines.

 

These days, many of my coworkers come from Africa, so I get to eat all sorts of tasty food. We love potlucks and I feel very blessed. When one talented lady brought in her couscous, that sparked in me the desire to try it out. I had some lemon-marinated chicken in the fridge and ran with that. I searched the internet for couscous recipes that used the ingredients I felt like using, then came up with this mash-up of my favorites.

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Lemon Couscous

  • 2-3 chicken breasts
  • 1 -2 boxes of couscous (2 makes a surprising amount. it’s what I made, but you can probably get away with 1)
  • 3-5 carrots
  • 1 medium – big onion
  • 1/4 – 1/3 head cauliflower
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • tomatoes
  • about 4 cups veggie broth
  • cumin
  • pepper
  • allspice
  • lemon zest
  • tomato paste
  • turmeric
  • celery salt
  • bragg’s liquid aminos
  • celery salt

 

 

  1. Chop up all the veggies into stew-sized chunks, except for the tomatoes
  2. Slice chicken into bite sized pieces
  3. Cook chicken and onions for about 5 minutes on medium heat.
  4. Add the carrots and a 1/4 cup broth, if it’s not juicy enough. You basically want something to help stew, but not quite simmer, the carrots in.
  5. Add spices, cover, and let cook for about 10 minutes. The carrots should soften slightly.
  6. While this is going, cook the couscous. It happens pretty fast, so it’s easy to do while waiting between steps.
  7. Add cauliflower, cover and let cook for 10 minutes more.
  8. I let mine stew for about 30 minutes, but if you’re hungry you could eat it sooner.
  9. Slice fresh tomatoes and serve on top.