Want an unusual dessert? Try swapping out some of the flour for couscous in a cupcake batter. You’ll be amazed at the result.
A major complaint about couscous sometimes is the lack of flavor but this is where having it as dessert comes in handy. Incorporating apricot puree and spices into the couscous batter gives the cupcakes an amazing flavor and texture.
Couscous, the justly celebrated masterpiece of Moroccan cooking, is actually a pasta, though it`s often mistaken for a grain.
Couscous (pronounced ‘koos-koos‘) is now widely available in packaged form in most supermarkets. Couscous are the yellow granules of semolina made from durum wheat. Durum is the hardest variety of the six classes of wheat and has the highest protein content of all wheat. Because of this, it’s ideal for making high quality pasta and is used by both American and Italian manufacturers. It’s also used to make couscous in America and Latin America. If these pastas were made of the softer white wheat flour that egg noodles use, they would lose their shape.
There are three types of couscous:
- Moroccan couscous -Fine, used for savory as well as dessert couscous.
- Israeli couscous – Medium, used for savory dishes also called pearl couscous.
- Lebanese couscous – Coarse, more difficult to work with, used for savory dishes.
Adding some cream cheese frosting topped with apricot puree and sprinkled with couscous rolled in cinnamon takes this dessert to the next level!
Apricot Couscous Cupcakes
In a saucepan, bring 1 cup water & 1/2 tsp salt to boiling. Add couscous, cover & remove from heat. Allow to sit 5 minutes then fluff with a fork & set aside to cool.
Place water, sugar & apricots in a saucepan. Bring to a boil & simmer until soft. Place in a food processor & pulse to make a puree.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
In a small bowl, combine 2 cups cooled couscous (reserve a small amount for topping), flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices & salt; set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter & sugar. Add 1 cup apricot puree & whip until light & fluffy. Add vanilla & egg yolks; whip well.
Gradually add couscous mixture then buttermilk & combine only until blended. Whip egg whites until frothy, adding a pinch of salt. Using a spatula, blend egg whites into the batter.
Bake 12-15 minutes or until testing with a toothpick & it comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.
Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese & butter until completely smooth, about 3 minutes on medium speed. Scrape down sides to ensure that the mixture is mixed evenly.
On low speed, slowly add in powdered sugar. Once combined, scrape down sides of bowl & increase the speed to medium, beating just until well combined & creamy.
Couscous can be used as a side dish, as part of a salad, added to a soup, or as a component of an entrée when combined with other hearty ingredients. Because of its ‘blank slate’ flavor profile, it is the ideal base for a wide range of seasonings, from sweet to spicy, as well as ingredients, pairing well with anything from cranberries to lemon.
Israeli or pearl couscous, is larger than traditional couscous and shaped like little pearls of pasta. As the name suggests, its origins are from Israel. When the country’s first prime minister requested a wheat-based substitute to rice, this Israeli couscous was created. It’s a very versatile ingredient that can be either boiled like pasta or toasted in a skillet pan, and it works well in both savory and sweet applications. Israeli couscous is different from the North African version, which has a more fine-grained, fluffy texture.
Over the years, Brion & I have really grown to like Israel couscous. I have tried it in numerous ways both sweet & savory. Today I’m pairing it with some roasted tenderloin which should be real good.
Roasted Pork Tenderloin w/ Cranberry Lemon Couscous
Brush tenderloin with olive oil & seasoning. Place tenderloin in a 9 x 13 pan lined with foil. Roast for about 35 - 40 minutes or until just a FAINT pink color in center remains.
Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add couscous & simmer on low for 8 minutes. (Your couscous should be firm, not mushy). Remove pan from heat & add remaining ingredients, mixing well.
Place couscous in a serving dish, cover to keep warm. Allow tenderloin to rest 10 minutes then slice & place on serving dish.
Baked goods and chai spices are a no-brainer in my opinion. The same aromatics, like cinnamon, cardamom and ginger are staples in the pantries of baker’s everywhere.
The original scone was triangular and griddle baked but the exact origin of the word ‘scone’ remains a mystery.
From what I understand, in the UK, scones usually are available in only three flavor profiles: plain, with golden raisins or with cheese. An authentic English or Scottish scone is much like a North American baking powder biscuit.
Freed of cultural baggage and expectations of authenticity, the North American scone is flexible in shape and content. They have evolved into an almost limitless flavor option treat and the recipe has been ‘tweaked’ to make scones more moist and tender. This casting off of tradition may upset some people but such flexibility is key to this tasty self-contained snack.
Chai Spiced Scones
Prepare baking pan of your choice or just use a baking sheet to make wedges; set aside.
In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, chai spices & salt. With a pastry blender, cut in cold butter until mixture becomes crumbly.
Make a well in the middle of the mixture & pour in cold buttermilk & vanilla; mix until combined.
If you are making the scones in wedges, place the dough on a piece of parchment paper & pat it into roughly an 8-inch circle. Cut the circle into 8 equal sized wedges. Transfer paper with scones to a baking sheet to be baked. If you wish, make scones in whatever shape you prefer. Place unbaked scones in the freezer to chill for about 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Bake chilled scones about 20 minutes or until they test done. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
While scones are baking & cooling combine a small amount of powdered sugar with milk to make a glaze. Dip each scone into glaze then allow any excess to drip off. Serve either warm or at room temperature.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Many cultures around the world believe the key to a happy, healthy, prosperous & productive year begins with eating certain lucky foods on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The theory is ‘do good, eat good’ on the 1st day of the year, to begin the New Year right.
It hard to believe we have arrived at the end of another ‘complicated’ year and its time to reflect and assess the year it was. The word ‘new’ brings thoughts of hope and makes us realize how precious time is.
The tradition of eating pork on New Year’s dates back to …. well, no one really knows when. If your a meat eater, chose pork over chicken or beef on New Year’s Day because pigs dig with their snout, representing forward movement or progress, while chickens or turkeys scratch backward, the cows stand still. That’s it, that’s the folklore behind the tradition!
Many European countries such as Germany, Austria, Switzerland & Ireland, eat pork not only because of the belief of moving forward but because fatty meat is also symbolic of ‘fattening’ their wallets. Germans feel that pigs are so lucky that they give marzipan pigs known as ‘Glucksschwien’ or lucky pigs, as gifts to bring good luck in the coming year. They can also be given in other forms, such as little wooden or glass figurines.
With the pandemic situation that seems to be never ending, I think anything that will help in the good luck department is a good thing.
Sage, Dijon Pork Tenderloin w/ Pistachio Couscous
Cook the couscous according to package directions. Add parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper, and pistachios. Stir to incorporate. Taste and adjust for seasonings. Cover and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350º. Spray an 9” x 13” baking dish with cooking spray.
Using a knife poke several holes in the tenderloin about a half-inch deep so marinade can penetrate.
In a small bowl whisk together the shallots, garlic, soy sauce, mustard, honey, juice, sage, salt and pepper, and olive oil.
Pour the marinade over the tenderloin.
Bake uncovered for 45 minutes basting every 10-15 minutes.
Transfer the tenderloin to a large cutting board and allow them to rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
Slice the tenderloin and transfer to a serving dish placing atop warmed couscous.
Drizzle the marinade from the pan over the sliced pork medallions & couscous.
This shrimp vegetable couscous not only makes a fabulous midweek meal for four but can be easily multiplied to accommodate more. The quick cooking couscous turns this simple recipe into a one pot wonder with a fusion of flavors.
Couscous has become one of my favorite pantry staples. It’s quick, convenient, versatile and makes a good alternative to traditional rice or pasta.
There are actually three different kinds of couscous:
Pearl (Israeli) couscous, which resembles tiny pasta shaped like pearls.
Lebanese couscous, which is a bit larger, the size of peas.
Then, there is the smallest size couscous made of fine granules of durum wheat. This one is associated more with Moroccan cooking.
Couscous used to be hand rolled into tiny pasta. It is now available in instant- cook packages or bulk, where couscous has already been pre-cooked by steaming and then dried. This leaves us with the simple task of re-hydrating in water, which typically takes something like 5 minutes!
Israeli Couscous w/ Shrimp & Zucchini
In a medium saucepan, fry chopped bacon until crisp, about 3 minutes; add shrimp during last few minutes of sautéing. Remove bacon & shrimp to a bowl & set aside.
To saucepan containing bacon drippings, add zucchini, mushrooms, leek, garlic & cilantro; sauté until tender crisp. Add to bacon & shrimp bowl.
To the saucepan, add broth & salt & bring to a boil; add couscous. Cover saucepan & remove from heat; set aside until liquid has been absorbed, about 5-10 minutes.
Add bowl of bacon, vegetables & shrimp; gently stir together with a fork. Serve immediately.
The kebab idea is often said to have had huge impact in global cuisine, starting in the Middle East where initially they were simply grilled meat heavily seasoned. There are two particular varieties which those of us in the West are particularly familiar, being shish kebab and doner kebab.
Shish kebab is by far, the more commonly known term and while we usually see these dishes prepared with the vegetables and meat on the same skewer, they were initially done separately.
Almost every culture has its own take on skewered meat, but one theme connects them all …. whether simple or intricate, kebabs are uncomplicated and easy to cook and offer near instant gratification. I love any excuse to eat zucchini but these turkey slider-inspired skewers take my love to a whole new level.
Turkey Zucchini Kebabs
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with foil paper. Slice zucchini into (18) 1/4-inch slices & place in a bowl. Add Italian dressing & gently toss. Remove from dressing allowing excess to drip off & transfer to the baking sheet, laying the slices in a single layer. Roast for 5 minutes to brown a bit. Remove from oven; drain off any excess moisture.
Wipe off dressing from foil paper on baking sheet. Place a wire rack over a foil lined baking sheet. Spray lightly with cooking spray.
In a bowl, combine all of slider ingredients; mix ONLY until just combined. Form into (18) 2-inch patties; place on prepared baking sheet & bake approximately 15 minutes. Remove from oven & set aside until cool enough to handle.
On 6 soaked wooden skewers, alternately thread turkey sliders & zucchini slices (about 3 each per skewer). Dot with some salsa & sprinkle with grated cheese.
Lay on wire rack over the foil lined baking sheet & return to oven to bake until cheese is melted & bubbly. sprinkle with a bit of extra parsley before serving if you wish.
- If you prefer to make these on your barbecue, that works just as well.
The flavors of the meal hint of Moroccan cuisine to me. It wasn’t until Brion & I visited Morocco on a holiday one year, that I realized how many of their spices appealed to me.
Moroccan cuisine is very refined because of its interactions and exchanges with other cultures and nations over the centuries. Its dishes are layered with sweet and spicy, earthy and bright flavors that reflect the vast array of spices available in their local markets.
Often referred to as the national dish of Morocco, couscous is made of tiny balls of wheat semolina, steamed so they’re are soft and fluffy. Subtle cumin and ginger spices add an exotic flavor to it.
Pairing apricot and lemon flavors with the chicken breast and serving it over couscous makes this simple meal quite special.
Apricot Lemon Chicken Breast w/ Couscous
Preheat oven to 425 F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.
Beat egg & water slightly. Stir together baking mix, lemon pepper & garlic powder. Pound chicken breasts gently to achieve uniform thickness. Dip chicken into egg mixture, then coat with baking mix mixture. Place on baking sheet & drizzle with melted butter.
Bake uncovered 20 minutes; turn chicken. Bake about 10 minutes longer until no longer pink inside. While chicken is baking prepare couscous & sauce.
In a saucepan, heat 1 tsp oil; add green onion, cumin, ginger & garlic. Cook & stir for about 3 minutes until green onion is softened.
Add honey. Heat & stir for about 30 seconds until green onion is coated. Add broth. Bring to a boil. Add couscous & second amount of oil. Stir. Cover & remove from heat. Allow to stand for 5 minutes without lifting lid. Fluff with a fork & stir in remaining 3 ingredients.
Apricot Lemon Sauce
In a small saucepan over low heat, combine sauce ingredients, stirring occasionally, until warm.
Place couscous on a serving platter. Top with chicken breasts & drizzle with apricot lemon sauce. Serve.
Borek (buhr-ECK’) is an essential part of life in Turkey. They are made for any occasion and can be eaten at any time of the day.
There are many variations with different kinds of fillings (cheese, potato, meat), different ways to cook them (fried, baked), different kinds of dough (filo, puff), but in the end they are all called ‘borek’.
You might not have have heard of ‘yufka’, but you have probably already eaten it in the dessert called ‘baklava’. Yufka is used in a lot of traditional Turkish recipes. Some say that it may have been the earlier form of phyllo/filo dough.
The dough itself is made from wheat flour, water and a bit of salt. Yufka finds its way onto the table in the form of casseroles, strudel or a filled pastry roll as well as just flat bread. Traditional Turkish specialties such as borek are made from thin sheets of this wheat dough that are filled and rolled.
Brion & I have many wonderful memories of the holiday time we spent in Turkey some years ago.
Turkish Borek w/ Beef, Leeks & Potato
Beef, Leek & Potato Filling
in a medium bowl, whisk together flour & salt. Make a well in the center & pour in the water & oil. Using your fingers, draw the flour in from the sides, working mixture into a sticky dough.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface & knead, adding more flour as necessary to prevent sticking, until the dough is smooth & elastic, about 3 minutes.
Transfer to the mixing bowl, drizzle with a little bit of oil & turn to coat. Cover the dough with plastic wrap & allow to rest in a draft-free place for 4 hours.
In a saucepan, stir-fry ground meat with spices. Remove from saucepan, place in a bowl & set aside. Add 2 tablespoons oil to saucepan & sauté leeks & garlic until tender. Microwave potato, peel & mash with Parmesan cheese. Add leeks, garlic, potato & cheese to meat & spices. Season with salt & pepper to taste; combine well.
Assembly & Baking
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a round 11-inch diameter baking pan & set aside.
Divide dough into 2 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, roll the balls into very thin rounds, using more flour as needed to prevent sticking.
On one side of the dough, put a line of filling. Try to build a continuous line. Divide the filling between the 2 rounds. Roll the dough making sure filling is in the whole length of the roll.
Form a spiral with the meat roll in the baking pan, starting in the center. Add the second roll to complete the spiral, filling the pan. Brush borek with egg wash, making sure to brush all visible surfaces.
Bake on middle rack for 45 minutes or until pastry is golden. Let it cool for a bit before serving. Borek is best when freshly baked, however it still tastes great if stored in an airtight container for 2-3 days.
The art of stuffing shouldn’t be reserved just for holidays. Stuffed foods let you combine different textures and flavors in every bite. They offer a unique presentation with one food acting as the dish for serving the other ingredients.
Stuffed mushrooms or peppers are probably some of the most common along with a basic sandwich or burger. One of my favorites is clam chowder being served in a bread bowl.
Stuffed foods appear in almost every culture. The options of ‘food inside of food’ is virtually limitless. Any food that can be wrapped around other foods such as large leaves, pasta or pizza dough can also make amazing delicacies.
Basic rice isn’t quite so basic when its shaped and stuffed. These rice and potato balls are a meal all in one …. rice, potatoes, chicken & cheese.
Rice & Potato Balls
In a food processor, place cooked potatoes & (cooked) rice; process for a few seconds then add salt & pepper to taste. Add parmesan & beaten egg; process a few more seconds. Do NOT over process or the mixture will turn into paste. This can also be done with a mixer if you wish. Set aside.
To a large saucepan, add ground chicken & cook for 5 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Add onions & garlic; cook for 5-8 minutes or until onions are soft. Add spices & cook for another 5 minutes. Turn off heat, add the cilantro & set meat aside to cool.
Have a bowl of cold water nearby. Handling with moistened hands, take a small amount of potato/rice mixture & shape it into a round ball. Hold the ball in one hand & hollow it with the thumb of the other hand. Fill with some chicken filling & close opening. Lay filled balls on a large tray as they are made & flatten slightly.
Place flour in a dish, beaten egg in another & the panko crumbs on a flat plate.
Preheat oven to 350 F. & line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Roll each ball into the flour then dip into the egg & finally coat with panko bread crumbs. Place on baking tray, lightly spray with cooking oil & bake until golden, about 20 minutes.
If you prefer, heat a combo of oil & butter in a skillet & pan fry balls instead. Alternately they could be deep fried as well.