Couscous with chicken, cinnamon, nuts and dried fruit

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Having a stocked pantry makes life so much easier on a rainy afternoon after opening the fridge to find some chicken and… well, that’s about it. We could’ve gone the easy route, making some version of our standard chicken with pasta, usually involving cream and whatever vegetables and cheese we have in stock. Jérôme was all set to make it happen when I opened the cupboard and saw a poor, neglected box of couscous hiding in the corner. Couscous! This is what our chicken needed.

Unfortunately after three seconds of my mind mentally reviewing what I’d just seen in the refrigerator I realized that we had literally no vegetables in the house, save a few onions. A good couscous is all about slow-roasted root veggies giving flavor to a savory broth and being absorbed by the fluffy, light couscous and just pulling the dish together. But now my mind was made up. I wanted couscous, but how could I make it work without going to the grocery store?

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Brie grilled cheese with thyme and vanilla bean-infused sea salt

I am enjoying a much-needed and well-deserved rainy day all alone at home. I am catching up on my internet television, playing video games, surfing the web and meticulously planning my upcoming New Year’s Eve meal game plan. I think it’s gonna be pretty awesome, but I suppose you’ll hear about that later.

While I love a little alone time every once in awhile (a girl needs time to indulge in guilty pleasures and to lounge in her pajamas without showering for most of the day…), one thing that isn’t always simple is decided what to cook, for one. I am a huge fan of making dishes in bulk, leaving enough leftovers to feed us both for at least another day or two. Plus, most dishes, especially winter stews and soups, are usually better the next day. But when I’m all alone, I often find myself feeling lazy, reverting to quick and easy standards like bacon and eggs, or pasta and whatever I find in the fridge. Today, I wasn’t feeling overly-ambitious, but I did want something that I could be excited about eating. A quick look in the fridge and my mind was made up: brie grilled cheese on seven-grain bread.

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Roasted brussel sprouts with almonds, walnuts and garlic

We all have preconceived notions about certain foods, most of which stem from our childhood, and can sometimes stunt our knowledge as throughout our entire lives, we cling to these stereotypes and never even taste them, automatically proclaiming not to like them without ever giving them a chance. Case in point: brussel sprouts.

I grew up with the cliché of brussel sprouts being the disgusting vegetable, the one the really mean parents forced their kids to eat in the name of a balanced diet. I didn’t even know what one was supposed to taste like, I just knew that something that bad probably had no business being on my plate. I also previously believed this of mushrooms, onions, zucchini… and the list goes on. So, it wasn’t until about a week ago, when I spied some fresh and, dare I say appetizing little sprouts at my supermarket that I decided to give them a go.

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What happens when I wing it

Magic happens. Last night was chicken. It was good. Tonight, more chicken (bulk package on sale!). I asked Jé as we were on our way home what we should do with it. “Korma?” he responded. It was tempting, and I was pretty sure that we had an extra carton of coconut milk at home. But I’d already planned to go test the new Indian restaurant near work with my colleagues tomorrow. Plus, korma needs to be accompanied by freshly baked cheese naans, and we certainly didn’t have the ingredients for those.

I had fantasized earlier in the day about a soup made of prawns poached in coconut milk (perhaps my next class at the Chef’s Workshop?), and of course had soup on my mind as the temperatures have dropped so drastically in the last few days. So, I did what I always do when I’m not sure what to make. I opened my Epicurious app, typed in the key words “chicken,” “coconut” and “soup.” The result was 15 different recipes, 10 of which were for a classic Thai chicken soup called Tom Kai Gai. It was perfect. It was neither Indian, nor korma, but with all of the basic spices and flavors that I love in those types of dishes. The only problem? I only had about half of the ingredients on the list. I looked at two or three recipes, mentally noted the staple ingredients, and went to work tearing through my cupboards to see what I could find. Continue reading