The unique flavors in this Pearl Couscous With Apples, Cranberries, & Herbs blend perfectly for a memorable side dish.
A few weeks ago we had some friends over for dinner.
Am I allowed to say that?
This is such a weird time where admitting to a dinner party feels like confessing an affair. (Also where coughing is the new farting.) Granted, our dinner group only just grazed the “gathering of 10 people” mark, so technically, we weren’t overstepping any official bounds. (There, now no one can yell at me in the comments.) Plus, personally, since having people over for dinner is something like a religious calling in my life, I felt pretty okay about inviting another family into our home after weeks of only virtual contact with friends.
While deciding a menu for our much-anticipated guests, I asked my husband if there was anything in particular he’d like to have on our special night. “How about that couscous thing you make?” he said, “The one with apples and herbs?”
I knew right away what he was talking about. I’ve been making this Giada de Laurentiis recipe for pearl couscous with apples, cranberries, and herbs for a few years now, and it’s one of those dishes that doesn’t *sound* like it’ll be anything spectacular–and then you eat it and go…
Not surprisingly, the wife of the couple who joined us for dinner ended up asking me for the recipe–not the first time someone has asked! Which I figure means it’s about time to share it on the blog.
So what makes this such a standout side? First of all, we have to give credit to the real star of this dish: the pearl couscous. If you’ve never had this larger, meatier type of couscous, you’re seriously missing out. It’s just the most delightful thing to eat–almost squeaky in its chewy roundness. Meanwhile, a savory olive oil and fresh herb dressing soaks into not only the couscous, but also into tart green apples, crunchy almonds, and sweet dried cranberries. While it may sound like more of an autumn combo, I think it’s one to enjoy all year round. It’s delicious all on its own, or serve it alongside grilled chicken or pork chops. Magnifico!
I’m happy I served this for our friends, and I stand by the decision to have them and their kids over for dinner. (I’ll even confess that we’ve now had friends over for dinner TWICE. Rebelzzzz.) Cooking for others after a lengthy stretch of isolation did wonders for my sense of well-being. And, if you ask me, while social distancing for physical health matters, connecting with others–yes, even in REAL LIFE–matters, too.
Pearl Couscous with Apples, Cranberries, and Herbs
For the couscous:
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 c. pearl (Israeli) couscous
- 32 oz. chicken broth
- 1/4 c. fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 tsp. fresh thyme
- 1 c. dried cranberries
- 1/2 c. slivered almonds, toasted
- 1 Granny Smith apple, diced
For the dressing
- 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. maple syrup
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 1/4 c. olive oil
Cook the couscous:
- In a large saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the couscous. Cook and stir until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid is absorbed, 10-15 minutes.
Make the dressing:
- While couscous cooks, whisk together cider vinegar, maple syrup, salt, black pepper, and olive oil.
Put it all together:
- In a large serving bowl, combine cooked couscous, parsley, rosemary, thyme, cranberries, almonds, and apples. Stir in dressing and serve immediately.
These Lemon Ricotta Muffins are sweet, rich, and cake-like–even though they contain whole wheat flour and not a ton of sugar!
Even though I live in one of the hottest places in the country, I still always look forward to the end of winter and the beginning of spring. (Especially now that I’m getting older and seem to be turning into a cranky old lady about the cold.) Here in Phoenix, one of the signature harbingers of spring–along with our beautiful wildflowers and the snowbirds leaving town–is the harvesting of lemons.
I don’t have a producing lemon tree myself, but my mom does, and BOY does that thing produce. There’s no way I could get through the lemon juice from the 49,000 lemons she brought over recently (in addition to the 49,000 I’m sure she also has at her house), but I of course want to hang on to it for use in tasty muffins, sauces, desserts, and more.
My favorite method for preserving all that good, fresh juice? Freezing it in a handy-dandy ice cube tray.
A couple of weekends ago, I enlisted my eight-year-old daughter to help me with juicing–a task she actually seems to enjoy. There really is something kind of fun about watching the whirring devastation of the juicer emptying lemons of their insides. We let it do its quick work, poured the juice into individual little wells, and…
Boom! Fresh lemon juice for months to come!
Now that I have a freezer full of lemon juice, I’ve been going a little nuts with the lemon recipes. The other day I made a batch of these lemon ricotta muffins–which was a bit of a leap of faith, because the lemon ricotta muffin recipes I’ve tried in the past have been a complete disaster. (Granted, that’s probably because I tried to substitute cottage cheese for ricotta and ended up with hard, chewy balls of baked cheese in each bite. Learn from my mistakes: Do NOT use cottage cheese for ricotta in baked goods.)
These muffins, on the other hand, turned out delicious, with a rich, cake-like texture. The creamy ricotta added moisture while eliminating the need for butter or oil. And not only did these taste like spring with their light lemon flavor, some pretty muffin liners (from TJ Maxx) made them look extra fresh and appealing–almost like Arizona wildflowers blooming right out of my oven.
For an Easter brunch or sweet afternoon snack, give these Lemon Ricotta Muffins a try! And tell me in the comments: What flavors make you think of spring?
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Lemon Ricotta Muffins
- 1/2 c. white whole wheat flour
- 1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
- 2/3 c. granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 3/4 c. ricotta cheese
- 1/2 c. almond milk
- 1/4 c. olive oil
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 Tbsp. lemon zest
- 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin, or line with paper liners.
- In a large bowl, mix both flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center and add all remaining ingredients. Stir gently until combined.
- Divide batter among muffin cups and bake 16-20 minutes. To retain freshness, store baked muffins in the refrigerator.
Allow me to introduce you to a very good friend of mine: My all-time favorite pancakes. I know a lot of people would give me some serious side-eye to for saying that the greatest pancakes of all time involve whole wheat and oatmeal (there are a lot of white flour/buttermilk devotees out there) but stick with me. Cuz these pancakes are a-mazing.
I love these pancakes for the same reasons I love oatmeal: because they’re so hearty and filling–and healthy, too! I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I eat a stack of white flour pancakes, I find myself hungry again by mid-morning. Unlike those full of refined carbs, these whole wheat breakfast babies have longer-lasting complex carbs that stick to your ribs. And they manage to taste just sweet enough with only one itty bitty tablespoon of brown sugar.
Plus, instead of buttermilk, these use Greek yogurt, which makes them extra rich and thick. Quick-cooking oats take a soak in the yogurt (and some milk) to soften them so they’re not too crunchy in the finished product. And–possibly best of all–a cinnamon-nutmeg spice mixture gives the pancakes an almost chai-like flavor.
If you like oatmeal, I think you’ll agree that these take the (pan)cake. They keep well, so feel free to make a big batch on the weekend and continue enjoying throughout the week. Slap some peanut butter on top and you have a wholesome mid-morning or afternoon snack. Or make them with bacon and a fruit salad for BFD (breakfast for dinner). Any way you serve them, they’re a high-protein, whole grain menu choice you can feel good about.
Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes
- 3/4 c. quick-cooking oats
- 1 1/4 c. plain Greek yogurt
- 6 Tbsp. milk of your choice, divided
- 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
- 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 3/4 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 large egg
- 2 Tbsp. melted butter
- 1 Tbsp. brown sugar, packed
- In a large measuring cup, soak the oats in 3/4 c. Greek yogurt and 2 Tbsp. milk for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
- To the dry ingredients, add the soaked oats, the remaining 1/2 c. Greek yogurt and remaining 4 Tbsp. milk, the egg, melted butter, and brown sugar. Stir until just combined.
- Heat a griddle over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop batter onto griddle. (You may have to use a greased spatula to flatten the batter a bit.) Cook about 3 minutes per side, or until lightly browned. Serve immediately.
I could sit down with a good cookbook like a good novel. A nice night in, to me, is poring over a new cookbook, imagining each step of each recipe, and picturing the delicious finished product. It’s basically the equivalent of fantasy fiction for cooks.
With a fairly large collection of cookbooks (plus compulsively checking them out from the library, as I do) there are always those recipes I bookmark during my perusing and think, I’ll make that eventually. But time goes by, I find new and exciting ideas on Pinterest, and sometimes things I think I’ll make fall by the wayside.
These Herbed Tuna in Heirloom Tomatoes are one such recipe.
For years I’ve been a fan of Real Simple’s line of cookbooks, and this recipe called out to me from Meals Made Easy as long ago as–dare I admit it–2009. I thought it looked healthy, easy, and bit unique. I mean, how often do you put fish in a tomato? Sounds kinda weird…but not in a bad way. Plus, I find the idea of food as its own serving container ADORABLE and kind of a genius way to minimize on doing dishes.
The thing is, though, heirloom tomatoes are only in season so often. And even when they are, I usually pass them by in the grocery store, thinking they’re just a little too fabulous for me. They’re the fine china of vegetables: Fancy and gorgeous, but really? For everyday?
You know what, though? Yes! Why NOT splurge on something as healthy (not to mention gorgeous) as heirloom tomatoes? I picked up these multi-colored models yesterday determined to finally put fish in a dang tomato!
The results were worth the wait. (Of ten years, haha.) I really enjoyed not only the process of stuffing these heirlooms for unique presentation, but also the fun of eating them. The tuna mixture is flavored with a Mediterranean profile of lemon juice, olive oil, capers, parsley, and pepper, but could be played with any way you like. Plus, if you have dietary restrictions like gluten-free or dairy-free, these fit the bill.
Give them a try for a tasty, healthy, seasonal summer lunch!
Herbed Tuna in Heirloom Tomatoes
- 3-4 large heirloom tomatoes
- 2 6-oz. cans tuna, drained, preferably albacore packed in olive oil
- zest of 1 lemon
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 Tbsp. capers
- 1/3 c. fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- drizzle olive oil, if you used tuna packed in water
- Using a paring knife, slice a circle in the top of each tomato. Scoop the flesh out of tomatoes, leaving about a 1/4 inch-thick tomato "shell." Drain any excess water out of the flesh you've scooped and dice it into 1/4 to 1/2-inch pieces.
- Place diced tomato in a mixing bowl. Add all remaining ingredients and mix to combine.
- Scoop the mixture into your tomato shells and serve.
Need a dessert to feed a crowd? This Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake with yogurt icing is just the ticket!
Every other Sunday for the last fifteen years, my husband and I have had Sunday dinner with his family. Coming from a New York Italian family as he does, Sunday dinner is almost more of a religious observance than a simple meal. Barring an act of God, it WILL happen. And it will probably involve sausage.
Over the years, as we’ve gotten together, the family has seen many changes. While Sunday dinner started out at his parents’ house every week, we’ve now transitioned to rotating between the homes of his mom and his siblings. And whereas, fifteen years ago, there were seven of us around the dinner table, there are now eighteen adults and kids. When it’s our turn to host, you can find me searching for recipes that feed a crowd.
I’ve assembled a handful of go-to entrees to serve for dinner, from chili to casseroles to barbecue chicken sandwiches (thank God for the Crock Pot). But sometimes the course that leaves me stumped is dessert. A single pan of brownies no longer suffices for this many people, and forget about a single pie–or even two. One dessert I come back to time and again is the ample, flexible bundt cake. It’s easy to slice and serve for any portion size, it doesn’t require the effort of frosting of a layer cake, and it always turns out so pretty. Plus, who doesn’t like cake?
I made this Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake for our most recent Sunday dinner. Lately I’ve been digging in to a bit of “research” (aka baking and eating) on replacing butter or other fats with heart-healthier olive oil. This particular olive oil baking experiment was certainly a success! The cake turned out slightly–but not overly–dense, with a delightfully almost-crunchy crust. Drizzled with a yogurt icing with a hint of orange, each slice was a little bit of citrus heaven, especially when accompanied by a dollop of vanilla ice cream.
To complete a Mediterranean-themed meal, I served this after my Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Kale. (See? I told you sausage would be involved.) For Sunday dinner or to feed any crowd, I’d say you can’t go wrong with bundt cake–especially this one.
Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake
For the cake:
- 1 1/2 c. white sugar
- 4 eggs
- 2/3 c. high quality extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp. orange extract (optional)
- 2 Tbsp. fresh orange zest
- 6 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
For the orange-yogurt glaze
- 2 c. powdered sugar
- 3 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 1 Tbsp. full-fat plain yogurt
- extra orange zest for garnish
Make the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and generously grease a 12-cup bundt pan.
- In a large bowl, mix sugar and eggs with a hand mixer on medium speed. Add olive oil, vanilla, and orange extract and mix until smooth, then repeat with orange zest and juice.
- Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and mix with hand mixer until no lumps remain.
- Pour into prepared bundt pan and bake 40-45 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cake cool completely before frosting.
Make the glaze:
- In a medium bowl, whisk together powdered sugar, orange juice, and yogurt until smooth.
- Drizzle icing over cooled cake. Garnish with additional orange zest. Refrigerate until ready to serve.