Monday, 2 May 2011

Couscous and Cake: Cooking in the College Kitchen

Prior to the Easter weekend, I joined a group of students in dancing/performing a traditional and "modern" version of one of the Philippines' most popular dances--tinikling--at the Cherry Blossom Festival held on campus and sponsored by Asian Culture Club, one of the campus's multi-cultural student groups. As promised to the group, I cooked a dinner and timed it to coincide with last week's 90-minute episode of "Glee." And as suggested by the above photo, the meal overall was rather dessert heavy... not that any of us were complaining.

Over the Easter weekend, one of the most memorable desserts was a lemon Jell-O made with Vernor's, and served with a lemon curd based topping. For this Tuesday dinner, I made my own version of the "effervescent" Jell-O, swapping the lemon flavour for pineapple and pairing it with lemon-lime soda (in this case, 7 Up). Following the package instructions, in terms of prep, I went ahead and substituted the cold water for an equal amount of soda. To serve within the Jell-O, I opted for a can of well-drained pineapple rings and maraschino cherries. After leaving this to set in the fridge, I headed to the office.

When I got back from work, I prepped for my tri-colour rotini by getting seasoned water to a boil. As that was going, I set off to prepare the liquid base and flavours for my couscous which began by adding a brunoised medium onion and 3 or 4 minced cloves of garlic to a hot pan with about 1 tbsp olive oil. When the onion changed in colour and I could "smell" the garlic (i.e., that stage right before it seems it's going to burn), I added three roma tomatoes and a green bell pepper diced into bite-sized pieces. Finally getting to use my remaining homemade chicken stock, I heated up 3 c chicken stock on medium heat and added the veg. As I let those flavours intermingle, I diced up an Angus beef sausage link into bite-sized pieces and heated them up on the skillet. Once the sausage was cooked, I added this to the chicken stock mix, covered the pot, and increased the heat; the immediate goal at this point is to get the liquid boiling.

In the meantime, my pasta had finished cooking and it was time to prep it for baking: stir in about a cup or two pasta sauce into the rotini and add about 1/2 c shredded Swiss cheese. After that's all mixed up, add about 6 oz shredded Swiss cheese, sprinkle on grated parmesan cheese, and get this under the broiler, leaving it there until the cheese has browned (refer to the above right photo).

With the liquid for the couscous boiling away, add the couscous and stir it in quickly. Of course, the ingredients (including the chicken stock) should be reduced to match the amount of couscous you plan to serve; especially if you bought the couscous in a box, suggested ratios should be printed on there. Cover the pot, take it off direct heat, and leave it alone for 5 minutes, allowing it to soak up all the great liquid and flavours you just spent the time to build. After the 5 minutes, fluff the couscous with a fork/spatula, and stir in the zest of one orange, the zest and juice of one small lemon, and a handful or two of roughly chopped dried cherries. The flavour combinations may seem random, but everything pulls in together as a hearty, yet unexpectedly filling, dish that is both light and "bright."

The night before, I had actually made two dark chocolate chocolate cakes from what I believe was a half batter of the same cake I made in mid-February. The difference between this cake and last was the addition of the chocolate chips half-way through baking. This definitely prevented the chips from sinking to the bottom (because the batter itself is rather runny) and thus kept them closer to the surface of the cake so they could slightly melt and not be particularly difficult to bite into when eaten with the frosting and the cake itself. In any case, a smaller cake was made for our administrative assistant (last week was Administrative Assistant Appreciation Week), and this larger one for the dinner; both were frosted with my dark chocolate buttercream frosting, the most important ingredient of which I have determined is the sea salt.

As for the Jell-O, it sat very well and the maraschino cherries (well-drained, but seemingly to lack some sense of flavour for one reason or another) eventually stayed within the pineapple rings. A bright and summer-type kind of dessert, the 7 Up was quite distinctive without being overtly present.

In addition to the aforementioned desserts, a student brought over a pecan pie made from Just-Pies, which I served on the side with an optional vanilla ice cream (here, topped with a berry jam mix I made [what seems like] ages ago). For the remaining photos from this meal, click here.

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