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I’m having a hard time believing it’s Easter weekend. Not because I don’t like Easter – chocolate, spring colors, chocolate (what’s not to love?) – but because it feels too early this year. Or too late in the year.

Or, perhaps it’s easier for me to say: It’s hard to believe April is just around the weekend. Where did March go? March was a good month, resplendent with jeweled couscous, mexican hot chocolate cookies, and a delicious birthday cake. Yet, March proved to be more than these three dishes and also proved to move too quickly for me to write about the other ones. (Note how I am blaming the month, not my procrastination).

Here’s a snapshot of what we ate in March, including additional pizza adventures. With my long weekend, I’m promising myself to stop procrastinating and get these recipes out to you! How are you spending your weekend?

a flavorful, caramelized veggie and chickpea hash

a flavorful, caramelized veggie and chickpea hash

a soup made for spring: asparagus and parmesan soup

a soup made for spring: asparagus and parmesan soup

german cheesecake - light fluffy, and not too sweet

german cheesecake – light fluffy, and not too sweet

a flavorful stir fry with steak and brussels sprouts, courtesy of BA

a flavorful stir fry with steak and brussels sprouts, courtesy of BA

Casey made this with the lovely pizza peel he received for his birthday...

Casey made this with the lovely pizza peel he received for his birthday…

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Jeweled Couscous

We are a little behind the power curve here at Chez Parker (because, let’s just be honest, it’s his house. Don’t try to tell him otherwise). That’s why, I’m sharing with you what Casey ate for Valentines day dinner. In March. Because, it’s not that day that matters, it’s the sentiment…er, right?

We’re not the most celebratory of couples, and I love to focus our celebrations around special meals, such as personalized cakes for birthdays and cooking a meal we wouldn’t normally make for events like Valentine’s Day and anniversaries.  I don’t remember when I learned about Casey’s affection for lamb, but whenever I’ve wanted to make a special dinner, I always start with a lamb dish.

For Valentine’s Day, I found six lovely lamb loin chops at Trader Joe’s, which I purchased without looking at the price tag, because it was for Valentine’s day and I was at Trader Joe’s on an empty stomach (oops). They were delicious, and while I don’t recall the marinade I used, it went something like this: four garlic cloves, big handfuls of parsley and mint, pine nuts (maybe a 1/4 cup), salt, dash of red pepper flake, juice from one lemon, and olive oil all blitzed together in the food processor. I covered the lamb in the herb marinade, let it sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Casey then took over the process on the grill.

I think the real jewel of dinner was the jeweled couscous. Inspired by a sweet saffron rice I ate in Philadelphia with N., I cooked Isreali Couscous in saffron broth and sweetened it with sugar, pomegranate seeds, dried cranberries, pistachios, and green onions. The finished dish was a warmly hued, mildly sweet side dish that complemented the lamb. Plus, it looked pretty to boot. See the recipe below the picture.

Jeweled Couscous and Lamb

Jeweled Couscous

  • 1 3/4 cup water with a pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 cup pearl couscous
  • 1/4 cup shelled pistachios
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 3 Tbs sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Bring the water to a boil, then add the couscous. Cover with a lid and remove from heat for ten minutes. Fluff with a fork and stir in sugar, salt, and remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust salt or sweetness level to your desired flavor. Served with grilled lamb or chicken.

couscous 2.0

Call me unpatriotic, but over the 4th of July weekend, amongst barbeques and oppressive Phoenician heat, I stayed cool inside with David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris. David touches lightly on living in the “City of Lights” and offers humorous anecdotes and plenty of delicious recipes to try. Above all that, I was reminiscing about my last trip to Paris. It’s not my favorite city – thought I wouldn’t have minded trading places with Owen Wilson in “Midnight in Paris” and talking writing with the likes of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. Paris is (gross understatement) a beautiful city. And if you had to guess, each time I’m there I pretty much eat pastries and chocolate. All the time. Needless to say, Lebovitz’s book, with apt and delectable descriptions of food had me hankering for April, when Casey and I are planning (fingers crossed) a trip.

All this mention patisserie, chocolaterie, boulangerie, and specialized shops – for poultry, or fruits/veg, of pork, etc – started a craving for a dish with fresh flavors. Something a little less homogenous than the big-box grocery store feel I get from the ingredients I purchase…at the big-box grocery store down the street. Not that I’m against said grocery – I’ll be the first to admit I match my coupons to their sales and get the best deals I can, when I can.

When I think fresh – I think of the smell of herbs cut straight from the garden, or the sweetness of just picked corn on the cob. Being that it’s July, and I live in a city where 115 degrees is normal for this time of year (read: all my herbs have since died), I was thrilled to find a beautiful and bountiful bushel of flat leaf parsley as a local produce store. Chopped and added to the couscous below, this dish becomes a bright, satisfying summer supper. Paired with a mildly marinated and grilled skirt steak and cool, crisp glass of wine makes me think I should make this more often. On  plus, the couscous salad is delicious cold, and perfect for picnics in the park (if you’re into that sort of thing), or a portable lunch when no microwave is around (or, as was the case with me, just too lazy to heat it up)

Couscous, lentil, and parsley salad with grilled skirt steak

1 cup couscous

1/3 cup red lentils

1/4 to 1/3 teaspoon fenugreek powder

1 and 1/2 cups of low sodium (or homemade) vegetable broth

2 cups finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Juice from a medium lemon

Pinch of kosher salt and a larger (about 1/4 teaspoon) pinch of pepper

2 to 3 tablespoons of Nuna’s Flavors Vinaigrette

 Bring the vegetable broth to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the couscous, lentils, and fenugreek powder. Cover the pot, remove from heat, and let sit about 5 minutes, until all the liquid has been absorbed by the couscous.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t already, chop the parsley. Add the parsley to the cooked couscous, followed by the lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Combine well.

If you have Nuna’s Vinaigrette, then add it just before serving. If you don’t have Nuna’s, add some olive oil to the couscous and combine. You may also want to add some mint or other fresh herbs.

For the skirt steak:

Salt and pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

Juice from 1/2 a lemon

2 cloves of garlic, smashed

Allow the steak to marinate with the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper for at least 30 minutes. Then grill until cooked to desired doneness. Slice thinly and serve along side the couscous and parsley salad

Actually it happened on a Thursday or potentially Friday. A colleague of mine asked, sarcastically I’m sure, “Do you have a blog?”

This happened over a month ago. A month of debating, setting the thought aside…forgetting almost entirely. Until yesterday, when I realized all my Facebook updates – the chagrin of my “friends” list – revolved either around what was cooking for dinner, baking in the oven, or happening with Parker (one adorable precocious snowshoe Siamese)

Parker is my kitchen companion. He sits on the breakfast bar – distance enough from where the actual cooking happens – and watches intently. He enjoys the faucet being turned on, pens being left in his vicinity, digging up marigolds in the garden, and chomping on chives, also in said garden. He supervises cooking and then hangs out during the eating, often munching on his own (potentially less tasty) cat food delight.

But enough about the cat. Let’s get to the food.

When I was younger, I painfully remember fumbling through a summer where my mom made my sister and I each cook one meal per week. This lasted two weeks total. Both my dishes involved tomato soup. I was in middle school at the most.

Now, slightly more grown up, and more familiar with the kitchen, my repertoire has increased.  Cooking is fun. Cooking should be fun. Low fuss. Small mess (a rule, let’s face it, we all break every so often). Delicious. Enjoyable. Something shared. These are not new tenants of cooking philosophy, nor do I promise new insight on cooking and the many relationships we have with food. I’m just combining two things I enjoy: cooking and words.

Saturday, at the market (aka Sprouts Farmers Market and Fry’s – foodies around the world don’t hate, we all have budgets), I picked up Brussels Sprouts. Fond memories of brussels sprouts I do not have. Well those not so fond memories be damned. Tonight, I tossed them in olive oil, sprinkled some coarse salt, tossed again. Oven at 350. Cookie sheet lined with tin foil (love that easy clean up). 20 minutes. Crispy, salty, earthy deliciousness. Over dinner, we – the two people  in this two person, one feline household –  decided we’d be purchasing more Brussells sprouts sooner rather than later (read: tomorrow!). As tonight was Sunday, I purchased lamb – an extra special treat in a house that observes Meatless Mondays at least one day during the week and respectfully and budgetarily dines on chicken and pork on other evenings. Find my lamb recipe below:

*please note, recipes and I rarely use each other. Everything is an estimate. At least this time around

2 lamb shoulder chops

2 handfulls fresh, flat leaf Parsley

1 to 2 garlic cloves (your choice. my sister would probably use 3)

2-3 half inch blocks of decent Parmesan cheese (whatever is in your budget, really)

1 generous handful toasted pine nuts (toast in bulk, freeze what you don’t use!)

2-3 tablespoons Olive Oil (I prefer Extra Virgin Olive Oil)

Oven at 350

In a food processor, pulse the parsley, pine nuts, garlic and cheese together. Add 1 to 1.5 tablespoons olive oil while pulsing the parsley, cheese, nutty deliciousness. Scrape out of the bowl and into a storage container with air tight lid (we call them tupperware around the house). This lets me save whatever I don’t use.

On a clean cutting board, lay out the lamb shoulders. Use a spoon to place a hefty dollop (to preference) onto the meat, and rub in using fingers. Coat both sides. Wash hands (duh).

Heat a nonstick skillet to medium, with a drizzle of olive oil in the pan. Sear lamb 3-4 minutes on both sides. Remove lamb from the pan and place on a cookie sheet (lined with foil of course). Place in 350 oven for 15-20 minutes. The time will differ based on the size of lamp shoulder chop. This evening, mine were large (probably about  pound .5 to .75 lbs total).  Smaller chops = smaller cook time. Remove from oven and serve, with garnish of raw pesto if you like. Below is dinner, with the Brussels Sprouts mentioned above and some basic couscous.

please forgive somewhat blurry pictures. am still battling with my antiquated camera.

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