Thursday, August 30, 2012

Greek Couscous Salad

Whew! There's been a lot of excitement over here at Elmwood Eats in the past week or so. My amazing boyfriend (now fiance!!) proposed last weekend - if you want to know the full story, you can check it out here. It's pretty adorable if I do say so myself.

Anyway, back on Friday, we had a potluck lunch at work. My office is full of foodies so of course it was an incredible spread of food. People made homemade harissa and babaganoush, quinoa and black bean salad, chicken curry salad, crostini with herb butter and radishes, and pear-almond pie and peach and berry crisp for dessert. It was really hard not to slip into a food coma after all that deliciousness!

My contribution to lunch was this couscous salad with cucumber, tomato, and feta, tossed in a light, lemony dressing. It took less than 20 minutes to make and it's great on its own or as a side dish for a late summer barbecue!

Greek Couscous Salad (serves at least 10 as a side dish):
2 cups couscous
2 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 large english cucumber or 2 large, quartered and chopped
About 8 ounces of feta cheese, crumbled

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4-1/3 cup lemon juice (depending how tart you like your dressing)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper

First, cook the couscous - for most types, use a 1-1 ratio of cups of water to cups of couscous. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt to the water, then bring it to boil in a large saucepan. Once it reaches a boil, remove it from heat and add couscous, stirring to mix it all together. Cover the pot and let it sit for about 5 minutes - the couscous will cook by absorbing the hot water. Once it's fully cooked, transfer it from the saucepan to a large bowl and let it cool.

While the couscous is cooling, prepare the other ingredients for the salad. Cut the cucumber in half, then halve each half, and chop it into small, bite size pieces.

Halve the cherry tomatoes, and cut the feta into small chunks to make it easier to crumble up.

Add all ingredients to the couscous. Then, in a small bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to make the dressing. You'll probably want to taste the dressing at this point to make sure it's not too tart for your liking - add more olive oil for less tartness, or more lemon if you want the acid. Once it's well balanced, pour it over the salad and toss well to combine.

Enjoy! The salad keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or so, and I think it gets even better after sitting for a few hours - all the components start to really meld together and the flavors intensify.

Finally...Poppy in her favorite spot on the couch, doing her squinty eye face. Cute or creepy? I can't decide...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Casey and Gabe's Engagement Story!

Ok, I know you're all wondering about this proposal! It was very Gabe - romantic, thoughtful, and of course very well planned. I started at my parents' house where I opened a box explaining that there would be a treasure hunt, that Cooper (my brother) would be coming along with me to take photos and video, and that with each stop on my journey I would receive a clue to direct me to the next location as well as a CD to play on the drive that would "enhance the clue."

My first clue led me to my grandparents' house, where they and my great aunt and uncle were waiting with another clue leading me to Las Lomas, the high school that Gabe and I went to. Gabe's friend Travis was there waiting with the next clue, taking us to The Ballet School where I danced for 14 years. My friend Kiersten (who prompted Gabe to ask me to junior prom all those years ago) made me put on a tutu and dance before I could get the next clue - definitely an unexpected but fun twist! Next we went to the Santi's house, good family friends who greeted me with fresh iced tea and blueberries...and a clue of course! This one took us to Gabe's dad and stepmom's house, where Cal and Portia (his brother and sister) presented me with a clue. The next location was a special one - Walnut Creek Intermediate, the middle school where Gabe and I met. Gabe's friend (and former French classmate) Terence was waiting outside the classroom where we took 8th grade French together and where Gabe sent me the infamous anonymous valentine. Next we went to the movie theater where Gabe and I had our first date and first kiss! His mom and stepdad came all the way from St. Helena to be there to deliver the next clue. Finally, after about two and a half hours of driving around, we got to return to my parents' house, where Cooper had an elaborate laser light and dry ice setup for the next clue. For this one, I left Cooper behind and drove back out towards Berkeley, up to Fish Ranch Road, a popular lookout area with amazing views of the San Francisco Bay. Unfortunately I got stuck in awful traffic before the tunnel so the normally 20 minute drive took close to 45! I kind of thought Gabe might be waiting for me at the next spot, but it was his friends Tyler and John - we took photos on our own since Cooper wasn't there. The one you'll see is our 90's boy band pose : )

Finally I got the last clue, leading me back to Gabe's and my place. I walked in the door and saw my handsome boyfriend (now fiance!!) waiting for me by a red X on the floor (like X marks the spot, get it?!). I don't even remember everything he said because it was so overwhelming, but he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him, and of course I said yes!

Here's the video that Cooper put together of all the stops we made in Walnut Creek:

 Just like the Backstreet Boys, right?

 X marks the spot! Poppy contributed by laying on the carpet.

 All the clues put together


 On the way to dinner

 Gabe designed this ring - so beautiful!

Dinner in San Francisco

Poppy's been acting up a bit - I think she's jealous and not getting enough attention. I caught her trying to look at the bride's manual that Marilyn gave me...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Homemade Chocolate Truffles

Last weekend, I threw a bridal shower for my good friend. It was the first shower I'd ever thrown so I felt a little clueless about it but it turned out great! Instead of getting together at my tiny apartment, we just went out for brunch in San Francisco. There were tasty mimosas, lots of good food, and tons of love for the bride-to-be!

To thank everyone for coming, I put together bags of homemade chocolate truffles, and not to toot my own horn but they were a hit! They couldn't have been easier to make, just a little in, my hands were completely coated in chocolate by the end of the process. Hence the lack of step-by-step pictures in this post; I didn't want to coat my camera in chocolate too.

I definitely recommend making these as a party favor, a gift for someone special, or heck, a gift for yourself!

Homemade Chocolate Truffles
12 ounces good dark chocolate, roughly chopped (I used Scharffen Berger Semisweet)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons liqueur (you could use Kahlua, Grand Marnier, but I just used straight Jack Daniels)
About 1/2 cup cocoa powder for outer coating

In a small saucepan, heat the butter and heavy cream just until they start to boil. Pour the cream and butter over the chopped chocolate in a medium size bowl. Let everything sit for about 3 minutes - the warm cream will slowly melt the chocolate. Then gently stir it all together until smooth - you may have to pop the bowl in the microwave for a few minutes to warm it up a bit more and make sure there are no clumps of chocolate. Once everything is fairly smooth, add in the vanilla and liqueur and stir until combined.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the chocolate cool in the refrigerator for about 2 hours. The chocolate should be firm but slightly malleable. 

Here's the fun part! Scoop out small balls of chocolate (about a tablespoon each) and use your hands to roll them and even them out. You WILL get chocolate all over your hands, so don't be afraid to just go for it! After creating a ball, you can finish it off by rolling it in cocoa powder to give it a nicer finish.

Or...not so nice of a finish...some of my truffles didn't turn out so spherical but they still tasted good!

When the truffles are all rolled out, store them in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped, until you're ready to eat them.

Here are some photos of the truffles in action! 

And finally, Poppy returns! Like father, like daughter, right? They seriously look related.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pimento Cheese

Ok y'all, it's about to get a little Southern here at Elmwood Eats! My awesome friend Marilyn is a born and raised Southern girl, and she's been filling me in about all kinds of Southern food that I had no idea existed. For example, boiled peanuts?! The internet assures me it's a big deal though, so I believe her. Another thing rarely available in the West is pimento cheese, so we decided to whip up a batch. We halved the recipe, but I'm pretty sure I could have eaten a whole bowl all by myself. It's delicious by the spoonful, but would also be good with crackers, as a dip for vegetables, or spread on toasted bread for a sandwich.

Also...this might be the first Paula Deen recipe I've ever made. I'm not sure whether I should be proud or ashamed but hey, Paula knows her Southern cooking.

Pimento Cheese (original recipe here)
16 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 4 ounce jar of pimentos
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper (or a little cayenne pepper if you like a kick!)
1/4 cup green olives, chopped (optional but highly recommended)

I didn't even take any step by step pictures for this one because it's so simple. Just mix all ingredients in a bowl until they're well combined. Really, that's all!

You can add more mayonnaise if it feels too dry, or more cheese if it feels too wet. It should be about the consistency of cream cheese.

And since there was a little guest influence on the recipe today, I have some guest kitty pictures for you! Here's Cobalt...

And Amelie, who looooves to hang out on peoples' shoulders. Pretty cute, right?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Summer Panzanella

I'm back from my blogging break! I had a great trip to Oregon and was so lucky to be at the most beautiful wedding of two amazing friends. Here's a glimpse of the view from the ceremony site...

And there was a PIE TABLE. Brilliant, right? Check out this cute pie made by my friend Caitlin:

And the whole pie table!

Anyway, it's good to be home but kind of tough to face reality after all that amazingness. Luckily we came home to a pile of huge tomatoes from my parents' garden! There's nothing better than a homegrown tomato at its peak, so I made panzanella - an Italian bread based salad. It's very simple, basically just some slightly stale or toasted bread with tomatoes, a vinaigrette, and some herbs. I added a few other things to spruce it up, too - it's very easily adaptable!

Summer Panzanella - serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side dish:
1/2 of a large loaf of bread (ciabatta works well), cut into cubes. 
3 large ripe tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup fresh mozzarella balls, cut into small pieces
1/2 large cucumber or 1 whole small one, cubed
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
A few handfuls of lettuce
1/4 cup basil, chopped
Optional: a few slices of bacon or pancetta, torn into pieces

1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

If your bread is a bit stale and crunchy, then just cut it up into roughly 1 inch cubes. If it's a fresh loaf, cut it into cubes, drizzle lightly with olive oil, and  bake in the oven at 375 degrees for about 7 minutes, until the cubes start to brown. The bread will absorb some of the tomato juice and vinaigrette later, so if it's not a little crunchy to begin with then it will completely turn to mush.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Stir together olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and pour it over the top, combining again to distribute the vinaigrette.

I like to let the whole thing sit for a few minutes before digging in, just to let all the flavors soak in.

Poppy gained a few pounds while we were away, can you tell?! She's on a very strict diet now...