"Some days, I think the heart is a Greyhound Station.
At best, it's a railroad, but the tracks are
So I don’t day dream, at least not in the usual sense. I menu plan.
I think I perfected the skill in graduate school when sitting at the seminar table. It was a good way to “leave” without actually appearing distant from the conversation. When the name throwing started or the side comments about personal projects took over the main objective of the three hour session, I would sit and think about what I had at home in the fridge. And it worked, because well, my eyebrows kind of hop around my face when I am thinking about anything, leaving my outward appearance “engaged”, just not on the topic at hand. Whoops! Anyway…my budget was tight (stipends aren’t the best way to fund a foodie lifestyle) and so some creativity in the kitchen was useful. I made it into a bit of a game, thinking through the flavors of the dish I wanted and what I already had to accomplish it. If I was missing something entirely necessary, I would swing by the store on the way home and pick up just that item. No “just in case I am out” scenarios here. Necessity begets results. That’s just the way it went.
Lately though, I haven’t done this at all. The budget isn’t so tight and so I turn to my cookbooks more often to satisfy a craving. What’s a quick jaunt to the store? AM and I have been known to drop all previously settled plans just to make coconut green curry. It feels worth it, but makes my wallet hurt. So I’ve been trying to go back to my roots—last week was a frenzy of cooking what I have on hand.
Monday I roasted cauliflower until a bit brown and crispy on the edges, tossed it with sautéed peas, a pinch of red pepper flake, mint, and feta. It really couldn’t have gotten any easier. The mint and feta left me satisfied in a way I didn’t expect. There’s something about how their flavors are both bright and mellow that felt complete. It really was delightful.
Tuesday was a no brainer—had no idea for a meal, but I needed biscuits. You all have those days, right? I already had parmesan and dill and for whatever reason, Lindsey and I have an endless supply of butter just begging to be used. I got home from the gym and whipped them up—crispy outsides from all of the fat in the cheese with light airy insides. I ate three for dinner and then two more for breakfast the next morning. I’d feel ashamed except for the fact that I’m not.
And then Thursday turned into couscous madness. Why not mix all my bold flavors into one dish? Because let’s be honest, couscous needs some help. So I charred some sweet baby peppers, chopped some Kalamata olives, mint, preserved lemons (home grown and preserved by my friend Garrett and his family!), shallot, and some garlic. Threw it all together in a lettuce leaf, topped it with feta, and called it good.
And you should too because it packs into Tupperware for a great work lunch just as well as it makes for a quick dinner.
6 sweet peppers
1/2 a preserved lemon,
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
Two sprigs mint leaves, chopped
Two sprigs dill, chopped
1/3 c. Kalamata olives, halved
3 oz. feta, crumbled
1 c. dry couscous
1 and ¾ c. water
2 T. butter
Large lettuce leaves (I used oak)
Cover your preserved lemon with fresh water and set aside to soak. This helps remove excess salt from the preserving process.
Place your oven rack to the top position and preheat broiler to high. Seed your peppers and place on a foil lined baking sheet. Broil about 10 minutes, turning throughout, until all sides are charred. Place peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap (they will steam out of their skins)
Bring water to a boil and add butter. Whisk in couscous and cover. Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes.
While the couscous rests, use the back of a knife to scrape the skins off the peppers (they should come off easily). Chop the peppers. Remove preserved lemons from water and chop.
Toss couscous with all other ingredients and pile into individual lettuce leaves. Serve.