Traditional Moroccan Couscous Dinner

Dinner is one of those things that gives you an opportunity to turn an ordinary night into an extraordinary evening. You don’t have to wait for Friday night to do that. Why not have a relaxing evening in the beginning of the week?

In my desire to take another break from cookbooks, and still stay healthy, I gave in to my Mediterranean roots. After a trip to one of my local organic produce shops, where I was inspired to prepare a hearty dinner, I knew what to do.

At this point, you ask: so, what is it that you made?

The answer? Couscous with Moroccan style vegetable and garbanzo bean soup, served with baked turmeric chicken. Sounds like a lot of work, right?  Not really!

Moroccan food is slow to cook, and for that I enlisted the help of my beloved slow cooker, which I used to make this delicious soup.

Here is what you need:

1/2 Butternut squash, cut to 2″ cubes

4 Carrots, cut to three pieces each

4 White zucchini squash, sliced in the middle and cut up to 1″ pieces

One big onion, peeled and cut to 8 pieces

1 can of garbanzo beans

Extra virgin olive oil

Chicken bullion

Salt

Pepper

Turmeric

Chicken broth

Here is what you do:

Drizzled one tablespoon olive oil on the bottom of the slow cooker. I like to use a plastic slow cooker liner, which makes it easy to clean later, but it’s up to you.

Place butternut squash, carrots, white zucchini squash, and onions (in this order) and top with garbanzo beans.

To season, drizzle just a touch of olive oil and sprinkle chicken bullion, salt, pepper, and turmeric according to your taste. Fill up slow cooker about 3/4 with chicken broth and… Cook for 6 hours on high.

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This soup is served over couscous.  Making couscous from scratch is a laborious and time consuming process. The next best thing, which I find to be an acceptable culinary substitute, is the out-of-the-box version.  Just pick up your favorite kind (plain works best with this soup) and follow the cooking instructions. You can make this part right before you serve the meal, since it takes no longer than 10 minutes.

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The traditional way is to serve these two dishes together, with couscous first and the soup poured over it.

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Some people add chicken to the pot and cook it as part of the soup. I occasionally do that to make things easier, but wanted to have an abundance of vegetables, so I cooked the chicken separately.

Just spray an oven friendly dish with a non-stick spray (I like olive oil spray) and place the chicken on the dish. Season with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, chicken bullion, turmeric and parsley flakes, and a 1/4 cup water, cover with foil paper, and bake on 350 degrees for two hours. This is a delicious addition to the couscous and soup combo and makes for a satisfying dinner.

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Dinner was fabulous and colorful. It looked like I slaved in the kitchen all afternoon, when in reality it was super easy to make. My family was excited to have one of their favorite meals served in the beginning of the week, to cure the occasional case of the Monday Blues.

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Pork Chops with Squash and Mushroom Salad

Friday night dinner was magnificent!

I made the Pork Chops with Squash and Mushroom Salad, on page 147 of the Weight Watcher’s PointsPlus Cookbook.  The result?  A delicious, healthy and enjoyable dinner.

The recipe calls for bone-in center-cut pork loin chops, but I made the thin cut pork chops instead, and they turned out really nice and moist.

Pork Chops

This recipe includes the Squash and Mushroom salad to be served with the pork chops.  It is a lively and wonderful grilled vegetables salad, which I made almost exactly according to the recipe, but added white zucchini squash, which I find to be slightly more delicate in flavor.

Squash an Mushroom Salad

If you are tracking your points for Weight Watchers, this delectable combo is only 6 PointsPlus per serving (1 pork chop and 3/4 cup salad).

An additional side dish (not part of this recipe) decorated our table.  Garlic couscous, is an out of the box dish, and may satisfy a craving you may have for the occasional carbs.  And… it is so very tasty!

Garlic Couscous

And of course… let’s not forget the wine.  I paired these dishes with the full body and “sophisticated” Argentinian Malbec.  Another favorite which I recommend you try if you haven’t yet.

Puramum Malbec 2011

 

Local Harvest

The last few dinners at our house were improvised with what we had around the house.  We try to keep our meals healthy, and make use of whatever ingredients we have before we go shopping again.

For one night we had baked chicken with cauliflower and white zucchini, and a side dish of white quinoa.  A variety of baked chicken dishes are very healthy and tasty choice, and most importantly, very easy to make.  You can lower the calorie (or points plus) intake by using a little olive oil, trimming the fat and skin off the chicken, and adding a lot of cut up vegetables.  The only downside is that they take a while longer to cook.

On another night we had some pasta with ground turkey and sun-dried tomato sauce, and one night we went out to take a much needed break from cooking.

When you run out of ingredients it’s time to replenish your supplies.   Try to plan ahead by choosing just a couple of recipes for the week.  This way you can be sure you are not missing key ingredients when you are ready to prepare your meals.  Then of course you go shopping for food.

Shopping?  How many of you are excited about going to your local grocer?  I know I am not.  Shopping is a big part of cooking and if you want to cook healthy, you need to do some planning.

In my search for local farmer’s markets I found that there are many choices in a variety of times during the week.

A great place to search for local farmer’s markets is Local Harvest, at www.localharvest.org

I recommend searching by zip code for better results.  I found some great options in my area, and outside of my area as well.

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I look forward to finding some great locally grown organic food this morning.  I have a couple of recipes in mind and dinner tonight should be fun.

See you soon!

 

 

 

Salmon and Asparagus with Citrus Gremolata

I kept my promise to have everyone ooh and ah over Friday night dinner.  The Salmon and Asparagus with Citrus Gremolata was divine (recipe can be found on page 175 of the Weight Watchers Points Plus Cookbook).

Everyone gathered around the kitchen to enjoy a glass of excellent Malbec while I was making this very easy recipe.  No better way to start off the weekend and set a relaxing and enjoyable atmosphere around the house.

The Gremolata is made of fresh chopped parsley, orange and lemon zest, and minced garlic, and it smells so fresh!  I once again followed the recipe almost exactly, and even served it with lemon wedges.  I decided to make more fish than the recipe calls for, and roasted it for 20 minutes to perfection.  It was delicious! And… looked beautiful!

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Salmon with Citrus Gremolata

 

Roasted asparagus paired perfectly with the fish, and was placed in the oven for exactly 12 minutes, to not overcook.  The orange fish, garnished with green herbs and citrus zest, looked very appetizing next to the green asparagus spears.  If you are tracking your Weight Watchers points Plus, this fabulous dish is only 7 points per serving (1 salmon fillet, 10 asparagus spears, and 1 tablespoon gremolata).

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Roasted Asparagus Spears

 

For this special dinner I ventured out of my Weight Watchers book and added some pasta, with [I Can’t Believe It’s Not] Butter and some goat cheese.  This pasta was fairly light in flavor and worked really well with our fish and the great wine we had with the meal.  Obviously, portion matters if you are trying to lose weight.

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Pasta with “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” and Goat Cheese

Not sure yet what’s for dinner tonight, but I am guessing some chicken with whatever I have around the house.  Once in a while it’s fun to just get creative in the kitchen, so it will be interesting to see what I will come up with.

Shopping Local Makes The Difference

Food shopping does not have to be a boring chore.  I heard from many people lately about how they simply do not like to go to the grocery store.  I agree that a lot of big grocery stores can be boring and taxing, but you can change that for yourself.

Like anything else you love to do, it is fun to occasionally find ways to be inspired.  Inspiration can be anywhere, and for cooking, what’s better than shopping in a colorful store that carries locally grown food.

Sigona Locally Grown Sign

 

For Friday night dinner, I plan to make the Salmon and Asparagus with Citrus Gremolata recipe (on page 175 of the Weight Watchers Points Plus Cookbook).  I wouldn’t dream of making it with anything other than local wild salmon, and I went on a search of a store that will carry it in my area.

My search took me to a local store that I absolutely adored.  Colorful and fresh locally grown produce lined the aisles and I had a blast.  It reminded me of some of the Middle-Eastern markets (Souk) I visited as a child.  There, I would trail behind my mother and watch her closely examine each tomato and cucumber she selected to bring home.  The memories of eating beautiful food that was prepared with a lot of love flooded me when I started picking the best produce I could find in this charming store.

Sigona Cucumbers

Sigona Plums

I then found out that they carry their own fresh pressed olive oil.  Two very friendly employees offered me a taste of a variety of oils, in their olive oil bar.  I chose an oil that was somewhat mild and got a small bottle to start with.

Sigona Olive Oil

If you are located in the San Francisco Bay area, I recommend you visit Sigona’s Farmer’s Market.  They are located in Redwood City, and have a smaller location at the Stanford Shopping Center.  Check them out online:

www.sigonas.com

It was there that I was able to find the local wild salmon I will prepare for tonight’s dinner.  I am looking forward to a nice and relaxing time at home with my family, as they ooh and ah over this wonderful fish.  I hope you feel a little more inspired to explore your area for a fun food shopping experience that will help create a beautiful time with those you love.

 

 

A Fun Summer Night Grilled Indian Chicken Dinner

The Weight Watchers Points Plus Cookbook has proven once again that you can make a finger licking recipe that is also healthy.  My family was so excited as we put these beautifully marinated chicken breasts on the grill last night.  The wonderful smell of Indian spices was so appetizing, my son and husband said that they LOVE my new blogging project.  Smile!

This delightful and easy recipe for Grilled Chicken with Cilantro and Indian Spices can be found on page 154 of the book.  I followed the recipe exactly as written (except for the garnish part), but scaled up the ingredients for the paste since I made a little more chicken than the recipe calls for.  It does not take more that 15 minutes to prep, but allow a couple of hours for it to sit in the fridge after you marinate it and before you grill it.  Using raw and fresh herbs and spices for the paste is so simple and yet refreshing.

Grilled Chicken with Cilantro and Indian Spices

Grilled Chicken with Cilantro and Indian Spices

While the chicken is on the grill for about 25 minutes, you can enjoy a nice chilled glass of Chardonnay.  In the last 10 minutes of grilling you may add a few slices of polenta, to make for a satisfying and easy side dish.  The Points Plus Value for this delicious chicken is 4 points per 1 serving (one chicken breast).  If you are tracking your food’s points values for Weight Watchers, please know that any additional food or wine will be extra points.

To embellish this summer night dinner, you can prepare a nice Mediterranean style vegetable plate with some goat cheese.  Season with a little salt and pepper and drizzle olive oil to bring out the flavor of the cheese.  And voila!  A great dinner you will be thanked for!

Israeli Veggie Plate

Mediterranean Style Vegetables and Goat Cheese

 

Healthy and Colorful Dishes for Dinner

The exquisite culinary experience continued last night with two delicious recipes from the Weight Watchers Points Plus Cookbook.

The amount of planning needed for these dishes was a little more than I expected. As I said yesterday, using ingredients that are new to me simply takes time to get used to. The prep time for the recipes I chose for last night was a little longer than I anticipated, and that was largely due to the combination of recipes I chose.   Things like chopping fresh cilantro or rosemary are a bit time consuming, but nothing is more motivating to cook than the fresh fragrance of these wonderful herbs around your kitchen.

We started our evening with this refreshing, colorful and tasty salad, which can be found on page 114.  With fresh squeezed lime juice, some cumin and coriander, this salad will tickle your taste buds.  I have never used coriander before, but love to use cumin.  The fruit tossed in these spices has a real nice flavor to it and makes for a great summer night salad.  It is also filling and only 2 points per 1 cup serving.  And… it looks beautiful!

Spiced Watermelon and Tomato Salad

Spiced Watermelon and Tomato Salad

The main course was the Rosemary Lamb Stew with Spring Vegetables.  I was able to find the boneless lamb shoulder at Whole Foods, where they cut it to nice 1-inch cubes for me (I recommend calling ahead to your local store).

As with a lot of healthy vegetable dishes, this recipe required a bit of cleaning and cutting of vegetables.  I never used leeks or baby carrots prior to making this dish.  Leeks add a great fragrance and flavor, and baby carrots have a more delicate taste than regular carrots.  I found that this stew can be served over brown rice, but it will make you perfectly happy without it too.  A one and a quarter cup serving has a value of 9 points and makes for a great and satisfying dinner at the end of a long day.

Rosemary Lamb Stew with Spring Vegetables

Rosemary Lamb Stew with Spring Vegetables