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Storyboard: Couscous

Couscous Storyboard (c)2011 LaDomestique.com

What is Couscous?

In the U.S. it is easy to mistake couscous as a grain because of the way it’s packaged and sold and because we are so unaware of how couscous is produced. It’s a whole different story in Africa and the Middle East, where making couscous by hand is part of their culture. To quote The Soul of a New Cuisine, by Marcus Sameulsson:

“When it comes to North African cooking, no other food compares in importance to couscous. Called seksu in Berber, this pasta is still formed by hand into tiny balls, then steamed in a perforated pot known as a couscoussier.”

According to the book, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, couscous is neither a grain nor a pasta. Maria Speck refers to couscous as semolina flour pellets, which doesn’t sound appetizing at all. Poor couscous, you are more than a “flour pellet.” Historically in the Middle East making couscous is a time consuming and laborious process that involves rolling semolina flour into tiny balls by hand, steaming the balls and then drying them. In Africa couscous is made from a variety of grains such as barley, millet, or wheat bran.

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Cook in the Moment: Pantry Couscous

Last night I made a pantry supper that turned out so good I must share it with you. Sometimes pantry suppers turn out to be the best meals. I’m talking about those times when you really want to go to the grocery store but just can’t make it happen. You’re left staring in the cupboard/fridge/freezer wondering what to make for dinner. Your family is starving and the pressure is on. Then, magic happens! For me, it’s a cascade of ideas. One ingredient catches my eye and inspires my direction. I putter around the kitchen, pulling out pans and rifling through the spice jars. As my plan starts to come together I relax, put on some tunes and pour a glass of wine. Time to get cookin’!

Last night I started with whole wheat couscous. I thought it would be good to experiment with the grain and had no intention of the meal being on the blog. The husband was hungry and I knew couscous would cook faster than pasta or rice. Rather than cook the couscous in water, I decided to defrost some homemade chicken stock in the microwave. A can of diced tomatoes caught my eye and I had the idea to separate the tomatoes from their juices. I would combine the tomato juice with the chicken stock and use it to cook my couscous. The diced tomatoes would be cooked separately with some chard (from my garden) and a can of chickpeas. It’s tempting to use everything but the kitchen sink when cooking from the pantry, but I suggest restraint. Decide on a direction (this meal was admittedly inspired by Italian flavors) and stay focused. In the end I decided to use red pepper flakes and a bunch of fresh herbs, forgoing canned tuna and capers. I think pantry suppers should be simple meals with a few assertive flavors that really elevate the dish. My secret weapon for this meal: preserved lemon.

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10 Ways Tuesday: Couscous

Couscous (c)2011 LaDomestique.com

I’ve come up with 10 ways to use couscous in your summer cooking:

1.  The Traditional Method

Artichoke to Za’atar is a fascinating cookbook organized by ingredients commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine. Each ingredient chapter is home to a handful of recipes that highlight the ingredient’s particular flavor(kind of like LaDomestique.com). Though routed in tradition, the recipes are modern and fresh. In Artichoke to Za’atar you’ll find instructions on preparing couscous the traditional way, by steaming. The authors suggest aromatics such as cinnamon, onion, lemon peel, and thyme be placed in the water to flavor the couscous.

 2.  Use Your CSA

The bounty of summer produce can be overwhelming when it arrives in your community supported agriculture box. The classic couscous dish of Morocco Couscous with 7 Vegetables is a great way to put summer veg to use. The Great Book of Couscous by prolific food writer Copeland Marks details a recipe in which lamb is stewed with root vegetables like carrots, turnips, and zucchini (prolific in our markets right now). Onions, tomatoes, butternut squash,chickpeas, tumeric and a hot green chili also go into the stew which is served over steamed couscous. Take inspiration from this recipe and create your own 7 Vegetable combo!

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Ingredient of the Week: Couscous

This week at La Domestique it’s all about couscous! Take a look at the video announcing the ingredient of the week. If you love cooking with couscous, I want to hear your favorite ways to prepare it in the comments section. This is going to be a fantastic week at LaDomestique.com- couscous is fun to say and fun to cook. Off we go!

Did you know La Domestique is on Facebook? Why not stop by our Facebook page and LIKE La Domestique so we can be friendly? Click here.

 

This Past Week at La Domestique: Cherries

The Cherry (c)2011 LaDomestique.com

Last week at La Domestique we cooked in the moment, celebrating Independence day and cherry season in Colorado. If you’re looking for ideas on what to do with so many cherries, I’ve got a week’s worth here.

Just in case you missed anything, I’ve got a recap for you!

  • Monday:  Celebrating Independence Day and announcing the cherry as the ingredient of the week in a videocast.
  • Tuesday:  10 Ways Tuesday! Creative ideas for cooking with cherries during summer.
  • Wednesday:  Cook in the moment with a simple recipe for Cherry Clafoutis.
  • Thursday:  The story behind cherries: how they are grown, varieties, buying, storing, cooking and flavor pairing.
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Cherries, Charcuterie, Wine & Le Tour de France

What’s inspiring me right now? Le Tour de France. That’s right, La Domestique loves cycling and the drama of stage races that force riders to climb mountains like the Pyrenees. I met and fell in love with the husband on my bike. For me, cycling is about freedom, speed, the places it has taken me and the people I’ve met. I watch the Tour de France for the racing, but I also use the route to discover food, wine, and the beautiful countryside. It’s more than the world’s most challenging bike race, it’s a captivating story. In honor of Le Tour, I’m telling a story with the charcuterie plate. It’s not just cheese and cured salumi, people. We’re feasting on the livelihood of artisans from all over the world- real people putting their hearts into the food we eat and the wine we drink.

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Storyboard: Cherries

Cherry StoryBoard (c)2011 LaDomestique.com

Where Do Cherries Come From?

Cherries are a stone fruit that grows on a tree. The varieties are known as either sweet or sour. Sweet cherries are delicious eaten straight from the tree, while sour cherries are very tart and need to be cooked. The cultivation of cherries is a complex and fascinating process. According to Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, “Cherries are particularly complex. Apart from the self-fertile cultivars (mainly sour varieties) they all need pollinators and are extremely fussy, in general, as to who supplies the pollen.” This means a lot of thought goes into planting cherry orchards with compatible varieties that will pollinate each other. Incompatible varieties will result in no fruit. Sour cherries will pollinate sweet. At my local Boulder Farmers Market, I learned that Morton’s Orchard plants 1 Ranier cherry tree for every 9 Bing trees simply so the Ranier will pollinate the Bing. Therefore, they have a lot more Bings to sell at the market than they do Ranier. You may notice a similar situation at your local market, and now you know why.

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Cook in the Moment: Cherry Clafoutis

Clafoutis is one of my favorite things to bake. This rustic dessert originated in the Limousin region of central France. Basically it’s a custard poured over fruit and baked in the oven. Traditionally clafoutis is made with cherries, but apples, pears, berries and plums are also used. Some French recipes call for the cherry pits to be left in for depth of flavor, however, it’s not worth breaking a tooth. Preparing clafoutis is simple: just place pitted cherries in a baking dish and pour over the batter. Pop it in the oven and wait for the most heavenly aroma to fill the kitchen: cherries, sweet vanilla, and almond. It would be safe to say there are as many different recipes for clafoutis as there are cooks, and I encourage you to try them all!

I can’t just make a recipe as it is. I like to pick and choose the best parts of different recipes and combine them into one. Today, I started with a recipe from MarthaStewart.com for Cherry Clafouti. I liked the idea of a custard that could be enjoyed at brunch or for dessert after supper. Her recipe is simple and straightforward with tangy creme fraiche to balance the sugar. What was Martha’s recipe lacking for me? Complexity and depth of flavor. I found a recipe for Cherry-Almond Clafoutis in A Platter of Figs by David Tanis. He uses 2 pounds of cherries and so the recipe quantity was a bit much for me. I’m not feeding 10 people, rather just the husband and myself. The recipe called for whole almonds, almond extract, and a splash of kirsch. It inspired me to replace some of the vanilla extract in Martha Stewart’s recipe with pure almond extract to add that je ne sais quoi. Cherries and almonds are a very special pairing. It is said that almonds make cherries taste more like cherries, which I find fascinating. Experiment with different recipes and give clafoutis a try. It’s sure to become a family favorite.

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10 Ways Tuesday: The Cherry

The Cherry (c)2011LaDomestique.com

I’ve got 10 creative ideas for using cherries this summer:

1. Cherries on the Cheese & Charcuterie Plate

In Ad Hoc at Home, Thomas Keller shares a recipe for Potted Bing Cherries with Balsamic Vinegar and Tarragon. Serve them on a charcuterie plate with salumi and blue cheese. I like the simple preparation found in the July issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine: sweet Bing cherries on a cheese plate of soft Robiola with almonds, thyme, and extra-virgin olive oil.

2. Cherry Ice Cream

You can make cherry ice cream by cooking and pureeing cherries to combine with an ice cream base. Experiment with flavors that accentuate the sweetness of cherries, like almond extract or vanilla. Chocolate and cherry is also a historic combination.

3. Fresh Cherry Wine

In the James Beard winning cookbook, Patricia Wells At Home in Provence, you’ll find a recipe for Fresh Cherry Wine. This homemade liqueur needs to cure for 2 months before, drinking. What a treat it will be come September when there are no cherries in sight!

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Ingredient Of The Week : The Cherry

Happy Independence Day! It’s time to announce the ingredient of the week. For me, the Fourth of July means the start of cherry season in Colorado. Check out this video for what’s inspiring La Domestique this week. What’s up with my weird face? We have no idea! We keep trying to avoid weird video intro face but when we upload to Vimeo they select worst looking face in the video. Thanks, Vimeo! Awesome.

By the way, I’ve updated the Cured Salmon post from Friday, July 1. Want to see how my home-cured salmon turned out? Click here for the updated article.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you tomorrow for 10 Ways Tuesday!

 

About Jess

Jess O'Toole is La Domestique

Hi, I’m Jess, aka La Domestique. No matter how busy or cooking-challenged you are I can help you live the good life and enjoy fresh, healthy meals at home every day. Find out more

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