Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Summer Tomato Couscous

It's common knowledge that the two things most often associated with rock n' roll are, 1) sex, and 2) drugs. Well, for a concert Mike and I went to last night, it was more like 10 P.M. curfews and true respect for punctuality.

We saw Modest Mouse at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. We really like this band, and they were good. Really good, even. Nice set list and the show lasted nearly 90 minutes. Still, we just couldn't get over the fact that we were attending the earliest concert in the history of rock shows: doors open at 5:30, opening act at 6:30; headliner at 8:00 on the dot. Outta there by 9:30. We had no intention of going for the opener, and we still missed half of Modest Mouse's first song. I'm not necessarily blaming the band--I have no clue who's responsible. I'm just betting the Wiggles don't even go onstage till at least 8:30.

Anyway, we wanted to go out and unwind over a casual dinner before the show, but since we actually have jobs, there was no time. We ended up chowing down a couple of bánh mì sandwiches from a great little takeout place near the theater, which is right next to a concentration of Vietnamese restaurants and shops.

This particular deli, Ba Le, supposedly bakes the crusty baguette-style rolls that a lot of other restaurants purchase, so it was nice to go to the source. Bánh mì are all about the contrast between meaty ingredients like pate, ham, pork sausage, even head cheese, and fresh toppers like pickled veggies, fresh jalepenos and cilantro. These yummy sandwiches are definitely the new hotness, so try tracking them down in your neck of the woods.

We ended up having a really fun night, of course, with the sandwiches being a highlight. We probably should have just eaten quickly at home, but I cooked my little heart out the night before, so a break was warranted. I made my easy, easy fig jam and this summery couscous with the cutest mixed mini tomatoes ever. If you have produce like this around, it's an easy side dish for a weeknight meal.

Summer Tomato Couscous
A mix of little red, yellow, grape, pear, or cherry tomatoes gives you the contrast of flavors and textures that makes cooking with summer produce so nice: the cherry tomatoes are really sweet and wilt considerably, while the pale yellow pear tomatoes have a milder flavor and stay firm. You can do this with any baby tomatoes.

Serves 4

1 cup whole wheat couscous
Salt and pepper
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 to 1 1/2 pints baby tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Fresh herbs (like basil, mint or chives) for garnish, optional

Prepare couscous according to package directions and season to taste with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and cooked 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally until some begin to wilt. Add garlic and continue cooking 1 minute. Season to taste and remove from heat.

When couscous is done, fluff with a fork and transfer to a serving bowl. Gently stir in tomato mixture and fresh herbs if using. Serve right away.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The New Kitchen

I wanted to give you guys a little peek at my new kitchen. The pros: it is wide open onto the dining/living area, has loads of counter space, and has a view of the Sears Tower from that window over the sink. Cons: there is less cupboard space than one might guess at first glance.

I guess we have only one con, so that's not too bad! My last kitchen, although often tight for two people to cook in at once, had a huge pantry cupboard. It was the perfect catch-all for dry goods, spices, small appliances, linen, snacks and baking supplies. This kitchen features a lazy Susan in the corner, but it is surprisingly less spacious than I hoped.

That's my critical analysis of the kitchen situation. The important thing is that I love our new condo---especially the fab location! The kitchen was actually the first room we unpacked and got up and running. The rest of the place is still full of boxes. I'm in California visiting family now (and before that, we participated a seriously rugged camping adventure), so once I actually spend some time in Chicago, I think I'll finally get it all together!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Our first meal: Arugula-Sausage Pizza!

I'm back! We moved into our new condo on Friday, and I'm loving it! The kitchen is a little bigger than our old one in Florida (I'm not even going to compare it to the one in our temporary apartment) with a lot more counter space. I'll have to post some pictures of it soon.

Although summer in Chicago makes you want to do nothing but get outside and go to restaurants with patios, we were so happy to do some cooking this weekend! This is the first meal we made in our new place. We were both drooling over pictures in New York magazine of thin crust pizzas from some of New York's top pizza places, and not surprisingly, Mike suggested we make our own pie.

There wasn't much time (or inclination) to make the dough like I usually do, so we went to our favorite store and bought it fresh from them. Since they didn't have the whole wheat version we'd normally get (although the pizza guy said they'd start stocking it soon), we ended up with the classic white flour dough.

I don't know if this stuff is the standard Whole Foods dough or something unique to the Chicago location, but it was ridiculously good! We went with one of our favorite toppings--arugula and some tasty chicken sausage. Sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and ground pepper finished it off.

I sprinkled the dough with sea salt and cornmeal, but I don't think the deliciousness was due to anything we did. It was so perfectly chewy with crunchy blistered spots and lots of air bubbles. I want to eat it again right now. A tip if you're using arugula or other leafy topping on pizza: wait till the pie is 30 seconds to a minute from being done (so basically, the pizza's done) to pile on the greens. Close the oven for that remaining time, then pull it out. The arugula may not look quite cooked enough, but the leaves will continue to wilt slightly as it cools, and you won't have any charred or frizzled bits, which just taste burnt.

Our next task might have to be cooking pizza on the grill. You may remember that I have been sans grill for a few years now, and I can't wait to get one set up in our new place!

Do you cook pizza on the grill? If so, do you have any tips for a newbie? And has anyone else had as incredible an experience with purchased pizza dough (from Whole Foods or elsewhere) as we had? Share!