Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pomegranate Couscous

Couscous consists of small pellets of wheat used as a staple similar to rice or pasta. There are two types of couscous, both of which are used in the recipe below. What I call ‘regular’ couscous is made by creating pellets from moistened semolina coated with fine wheat flour. These are about 1mm in diameter before cooking. The other type, commonly called pearl or Israeli couscous, is about 2-3mm in diameter and is made from hard wheat instead of semolina.

Traditional couscous is hand-made and shaped in a very labor-intensive process. It is often steamed several times until cooked. In North America and Europe, one can purchase pre-steamed couscous which is easily prepared by adding boiling water. This quick-cooking version is popular because it can be prepared in five minutes with minimal fuss.

Early references to couscous date to 13th century Syria and Moorish Spain. By the 17th century it was known in Sicily, Tuscany, Rome and Brittany. Today it is a staple in the Maghreb, and is common but less popular in the Middle East, Southern Europe and among the Sephardic Jewish diaspora. While often topped with meat, fish or vegetables, it is often prepared as a dessert with some combination of nuts, sugar/honey, raisins, coconut, cinnamon, and milk/cream.

I made this couscous as a side dish for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It contains pomegranates which are one of the foods associated with this holiday. It was served with my Aunt Barbara’s Mediterranean chicken. To read about the significance of Rosh Hashanah, see last year’s post for honey cake.

Serves 14-16

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
6 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups regular couscous
1 1/2 cups pine nuts
1 1/2 cups shallots, finely chopped
2 1/2 cups pearl (also called Israeli) couscous
4 dried bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
zest of 2 lemons
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
3/4 cup golden raisins
black pepper, to taste
1 pomegranate, seeds removed

Directions1. In a large pot bring 2 cups stock, 2 tablespoons butter and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil.
2. Remove from heat, add regular couscous and cover for 5 minutes.
3. Fluff with a fork and set aside.
4. Add 2 more tablespoons butter to the pot, and over medium heat sauté pine nuts until golden brown and fragrant. Set aside.
5. Add 2 more tablespoons butter to the pot, and over medium heat sauté shallots until translucent.
6. Add pearl couscous, bay leaves and cinnamon. Stir for 5-7 minutes until the couscous browns slightly.
7. Add remaining stock and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Make sure that the couscous is tender.
8. Remove from heat and discard the bay leaves.
9. In a large mixing bowl, combine regular couscous and pearl couscous. Add pine nuts, lemon zest, parsley, raisins, pepper and half pomegranate seeds. Mix well.
10. Serve topped with remaining pomegranate seeds.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Mocha Ice Cream Cake

Nothing says summer like ice cream. To mark Labor Day (which was inspired by Canadian Labour Day), the unofficial end of summer in the United States, I’m offering up a recipe for ice cream cake.

I associate ice cream cake with chain stores such as Dairy Queen and Carvel. Most of these cakes consist of two layers of hard ice cream “frosted” with a soft serve ice cream. Many of them have an additional layer of cookie crumbs, nuts or candy bar pieces. Although common for children’s birthday parties, fancier versions, sometimes containing sponge cake, are now appearing at wedding receptions.

The earliest ice cream cake recipes appeared in the 1870s and took inspiration from bombes, French desserts made from ice cream and fruit in fancy molds and trifles, a British pudding consisting of sponge cake, fruit, custard and cream.

Store bought ice cream cakes can be very rich. This version allows you to reduce calories without giving up taste - the graham cracker crust is made with yogurt instead of butter and frozen yogurt or reduced fat ice cream can be used. For a recent ice cream cake I used Stonyfield Farm’s non-fat After Dark Chocolate frozen yogurt and Starbucks coffee ice cream. The combination of low fat and full fat layers was a healthy and delicious compromise.

Serves 8-12

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
5 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
4 to 6 tablespoons plain or coffee-flavored yogurt (reduced fat acceptable)
1 pint chocolate ice cream or frozen yogurt (reduced fat acceptable)
1 pint coffee ice cream or frozen yogurt (reduced fat acceptable)
1/4 to 1/3 cup chocolate chips (optional)
whipped cream (optional), for serving

1. Line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Coat inside with cooking spray.
2. In a medium bowl mix graham cracker crumbs, cocoa, sugar, coffee granules and yogurt and mix well until incorporated.
3. Press mixture into the bottom of the pan. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.
4. Soften chocolate ice cream at room temperature and spread evenly over crust. Chill in freezer for 15 minutes.
5. Soften coffee ice cream at room temperature and spread evenly over chocolate ice cream layer. Sprinkle with chocolate chips (optional). Chill in freezer for at least 1 hour.
6. When ready to serve, use a butter knife to cut around edges of pan.
7. Gently release the side of the pan. Allow cake to sit at room temperature for 5 minutes. If cake is melting, put back into freezer to firm up.

8. Slice cake with a warm serrated knife. Serve with whipped cream (optional).
9. Any uneaten cake can be refrozen for up to one month. For easier storage, cut cake into pieces and freeze individually or in groups wrapped in foil or in tupperware.