Sweet and Spicy Couscous

I’m a little addicted to the combination of avocado and mango. Of all the things in the world to be addicted to, I suppose it’s really not all that bad, and certainly it benefits you, my foodie reader-eater. I’d never eaten the combination before until a visit to a family-owned restaurant in San Antonio called Pam’s. Before then, I wasn’t even sure I liked mangoes, to be honest. But after this visit, I was all in, hook, line, and sinker. Avocado and mango just seem to complement each other very well, and together they can take a fair bit of spicy heat which I also appreciate. With my addiction in mind, in the summer months, I’m always looking for ways to combine the two flavors. After reading some other blog posts on easy summer salads, I thought I could most certainly make a variation on a couscous salad with mango and avocado. The best news is that it can be done in just the time it takes for the couscous to cook! A five-minute dish? Why yes, please, and thank you!

Sweet and Spicy Couscous
Sweet and Spicy Couscous

Ingredients
1 small avocado
2 Ataulfo mangoes or 1 med-large mango of the larger varieties (I tend to use the larger varieties)
1 medium jalapeño
1 serving of couscous (1/3 cup dried couscous)

Steps
1. Prepare your couscous according to box directions.
2. Dice and seed your jalapeño. Some jalapeños are naturally just hotter than others, but you can control most of the heat by seeding the pepper and cutting out the ribs, or membranes, along the sides. I usually go with a small dice. Put into a bowl that can ultimately handle all your ingredients.
3. Dice your mango. I recommend slicing your mango sides off, which will be just shy of where the pit is. Take each half and cut through the flesh lengthwise, but not through the skin, then rotate it 45 degrees to slice across the width without going through the skin, which will create cubes. Pop the center up and you can slice the cubes off. Add to your bowl.
mango half          mango sliced in cubes          mango popped, side view          mango popped, top view
4. Dice your avocado. I use a similar method of slicing through the flesh lengthwise, then widthwise, to have cubes inside the skin of the avocado. To get the cubes out, I gently squeeze the avocado half around in my hand to loosen everything up, then take a spoon and run it around the edges to scoop them out.   However, wait until after you add the couscous to add the avocado.
avocado cubes
5. When your couscous is finished, fluff it and let it cool for a minute. Add it to the mango and pepper. Stir.

cooked couscous

This needs fluffing.

6. Add your avocado, and stir ever so gently so it doesn’t smash up. You want to keep the cubes intact.
mixed up couscous
7. Taste for seasoning, and add salt if you want or some chopped cilantro like I did!

I’m not entirely certain the kind of mango I use because my grocery store seems to only label Ataulfo mangoes. A Google search turned up several results on mangoes with pictures. However the pictures of the other variations of mangoes look VERY similar to me so I am not sure. The mangoes I use are large, green, red, sometimes yellow, usually kind of firm, and not so fibrous. Either way, I’m certain it will be tasty.

Please remember to be quite careful after handling the pepper. Wash your hands immediately so you don’t transfer the capsaicin oil to your face or other body parts. Ouch! I’ve heard that Cutty Sark (Blended Scotch Whiskey, of all things!) works well to take the sting out if you forget and touch your mouth or nose. This is according to my friend Erin D. I believe she speaks from experience. Sometimes, I will make a paste with baking soda, a touch of dish soap, and water to wash my hands. That helps remove the oil, I think. Using an acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar, might also help to get the oil off. Alton Brown recommends using plastic gloves, and I have followed that practice on and off through the years.

I haven’t had a chance to try these ideas yet, but here are several variations I’m considering. A finely diced red bell pepper would be a fine addition to this salad as would a minced red onion. I wouldn’t put in a ton of either ingredient because they can be powerfully strong ingredients. Green onion, both the green and the white parts, would work well. Garlic would be a fine addition as might a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Go easy on the vinegar, though. A little goes a long way. You could also substitute quinoa or rice for the couscous; it will just take longer to cook for both of those. Who doesn’t love a recipe that has so many experimental possibilities?! I think it’s so fantastic, myself. It’s also nice in the summer that it’s quick and doesn’t heat up your kitchen that much.

Tell me what your favorite summer salad combinations are! I’d love to try something new. I hope you enjoy sweet and spicy couscous as much as I do. It’s been on repeat in my kitchen several times this summer already. I’m sure it will be on the regular rotation until the ingredients no longer make sense for the season. Happy eating!!

Approximate Nutritional information: Makes 2 generous servings or 3 reasonable servings. Information is for 3 servings.
Calories: 234.5couscous ingredients
Fat: 10.7 g
Carbs: 34.3 g
Protein: 5 g
Potassium: 473.4 mg
Vitamin C: 64.7%

Phoenix by Food: Other Tasty Eats

Not only did I eat delicious tasty tacos while I was in Phoenix, but I ate other really great food throughout the rest of the week also. Having traveled previously with me, my friend, Stacey, is now used to the fact that I take multiple pictures of my food and the restaurant around us. It’s standard procedure when our food arrives for me to whip out the camera for a few shots. She’ll even ask, “Can I eat it yet?” Bless her heart having to wait on my documenting my tasty eats for posterity. She is so patient with my hobby. :)  Somehow we always manage to find ourselves in places with abundant personality, which is a delight for us both. My two suggestions for you in picking places to eat when traveling are: 1. ask the locals where to go and 2. pick a “top” place to go. This has worked out well for us every time.

Our “top” place for Phoenix was Pizzeria Bianco. We decided to eat here because it was on a list of Top 101 Restaurants in America and my friend in Phoenix suggested we make it a priority also. Saturday night we arrived and set out in search of the pizzeria. It is not exactly difficult to find if you know what you are looking for, but they don’t have bright neon signs out front with a mamajama parking lot either. It’s quite the tiny establishment, really. When we walked up, there were people sitting around outside, and I assumed they were eating. Inside, the restaurant was packed, and the hostess said to us without blinking an eye that our wait would be about two hours. *cricket, cricket* Come again? Stacey said, “Even for outside?” Well, don’tcha know? Nobody outside was eating! Funny how you just see things when you don’t really look. So here’s the scoop at Pizzeria Bianco.

There are nine seats at the bar and about ten tables, give or take any that might be pushed together. When you arrive, they put your name on the list, give you a time estimate for when you will be seated, and promise to feed you even if your estimated time is after the restaurant officially closed. Next door to the restaurant is Bar Bianco where you can go for some vino or other beverages while you wait. There isn’t really any food offered at Bar Bianco, so don’t plan on snacking while you wait. But all those people I saw sitting around? They are hanging out with their drinks from Bar Bianco. There were lots of picnic tables, sets of two or three chairs, and nooks created for folks to sit and wait. At 9:45, 15 minutes prior to closing, they check on who is still waiting to be seated as confirmation of their list, and you keep waiting. It was quite lovely outside, and we had a lot to catch up on, so we didn’t mind. When we were seated, we ended up at the bar, which I liked because it gave us an eagle-eye view of the brick oven.

Y’all, this pizza was worth every bit of our wait. We ordered the Sonny Boy pizza (tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, salami, and kalamata olives – only on half because Stacey is anti-olive) and the Rosa pizza (red onion, rosemary, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and AZ pistachios). Yes, friends, PISTACHIOS on my pizza.

Upon dissecting our pizza experience, we both agreed that we preferred the Rosa pizza because it was just so different from what we have ever had before. Don’t get me wrong, the salami and kalamata olives combination was quite delicious, but the unexpected flavor of the pistachios with the onions and rosemary was amazing. The crust on our pizza was my favorite: crazy thin and crispy. Because it is cooked in the wood-burning oven, parts of it were a little charred, but it just added to the flavor. It came straight from the oven to our table in about 30 seconds or less so the cheese was still bubbly and melty.
It’s possible my mouth is watering as I’m recalling all of this to share it with you. While I haven’t yet made my own version of this pistachio pizza, I probably will at some point. I don’t want to mar the memory, but one day I’ll give in to the longing, and when I do, I’ll be sure to share it with you!

Mid-week I ate some ridiculously delicious lettuce wraps at the hotel lounge restaurant, Icon, of all places. They were so beautiful when they arrived. The wrap had good flavor, and I should be so talented to cook tuna that well. They had good texture with wonton strips with the tuna inside the lettuce with the sauce. My one issue was that the menu did NOT mention a thing anywhere about a spicy condiment on the wraps. I had to get up close and personal to discover a dollop of what I believe to be Sriracha on top.  Boy howdy! I had to scrape that bit of heat off the remaining wraps in order to be able to eat them. Even smelling it made my mouth water and my throat tighten because it was so spicy-smelling. Overall, though, quite tasty.

I was a little anxious about navigating Meatless Monday while being out of town because of the menu temptations. But at Hanny’s, there was the most delicious chopped salad that was meat- free. Look at all the tasty additions to that bed of lettuce!

Who needs meat with all this??

It was so filling and satisfying. Plus at Hanny’s, we discovered they have a special restroom area. We found a restaurant with funny restrooms last year in Philly too, if you recall. It cracks me up when restaurants have personality in the restroom area. Each of these doors leads to their own restroom for one. It’s actually a pretty cool concept, although we were initially a little confused and skeptical when we got upstairs.

Walking in, there are lots of mirrors too!

Breakfast before leaving town was the perfect way to end the week. We chose Matt’s Big Breakfast at the recommendation of some locals we talked to just the night before. It’s another tiny restaurant with a crazy wait situation. This place is about the same size as Pizzeria Bianco, and when you arrive, you write your name on the little yellow notepad outside the door and then wait nearby to be called inside. I’m not even sure how long we waited, to be honest, I think, somewhere in the neighborhood of an hour? Sometimes you don’t want to know. :) It was very intriguing to me how the owner worked the system. She would come out and make sure the folks on the list were still out there, then she’d let you know your table was almost ready, and if she knew you or you were a regular, you had the option to pre-order your breakfast so you didn’t have to wait as long when you got inside. Now that’s expediency!

Stacey and I technically ordered the same thing by choosing The Hog and Chick. However, there were so many options to personalize our plates that we actually ended up with very different meals. She got ham and scrambled eggs with home fries, and I ordered breakfast sausage patties with fried eggs and hash browns. It was all unbelievably good. The sausage patties were almost certainly made in-house due to their free-form shape and unique seasoning blend. They were a little spicy and very flavorful! My hash browns were crispy on the outside edges which I love.

Stacey’s ham was a serious piece of ham – not a slice of spiral-cut, honey-baked ham. It had that good home-cooked, southern flavor (even though Arizona is not really the south at all).

We ate until we were stuffed! It was another place where we were glad we waited it out. As a Food Network fan, I was also excited to see that Guy Fieri had been by and eaten there as well. I hope his experience was as fantastic as ours.

Guy was there!

When you visit other cities, I encourage you to find the local flavors and explore what culinary gems the city has to offer rather than sticking with chains or restaurants that might be familiar to you. Maybe you have to wait a little while to be seated, but I suspect that means there is good food in exchange for your perseverance. At least, that was our experience. :) Thanks for a great food experience, Phoenix. You treated us right!

Homemade Croutons

Things that have changed my life include Jesus, movers, and homemade croutons. Seriously. Once you’ve made your own croutons, you may never eat the boxed variety again, provided you have the choice. As a single gal, I find it’s a great way to use leftover bakery bread. Am I the only one who is sometimes peeved that you can’t buy a mini-loaf of ciabatta or French bread?? With the leftovers from a full loaf, you can make croutons so then nothing goes to waste, which is always good. When you are making your own croutons, you can control the oil, salt, kind of bread used, and the overall flavor profile. I do love options, don’t you? Overall, it’s pretty simple to make the croutons, although I have made two different errors in the past that caused my croutons to burn. Take good notes, and I’m confident you’ll escape my burned crouton fate.

Homemade Croutons

Ingredients
Leftover bread – I had ciabatta loaves and part of a whole-grain baguette
1/4 cup olive oil – approximately
1 – 2 tsp seasoning – I used Penzey’s Sandwich Sprinkle and crushed-up Pasta Sprinkle

Steps
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Cut bread into relatively uniform cubes so they will cook at the same rate, more or less.
3. In a large, roomy bowl, combine your oil and seasonings, and then add your bread cubes.
4. Using a spatula, gently toss your cubes around so that the oil is distributed over the bread. If you think you need more oil, drizzle some in along the edge of the bowl and keep mixing.
5. Spread them in a single layer on a shallow pan with edges. I prefer to line mine with foil as it assists with clean-up.
6. Cook for 3 sets of 8 minutes. Check and stir a bit after each set. You may also want to rotate the pan for even cooking. After 24 minutes of cooking, you have a personal decision to make. At this point, mine are my preferred level of doneness. However, you may prefer yours a bit more crispy or brown. If this is the case, continue to cook them in 1 or 2 minute increments until they are cooked how you want.
7. Try to let them cool a bit before you inhale their deliciousness…otherwise your tongue may get burned. :)

I have two tips to help you avoid burned crouton territory. First, make sure your oven is set to 300. While 350 is the universal, default oven temperature, your croutons are not meant to cook at the default. I have a post-it on my cabinet with the skeleton recipe to help me remember the oven temp. Second, once the croutons have cooked about 24 minutes, if you choose to leave them in for more time, check back every 2 minutes or so. They will turn from delicious brown to dark brown to unfortunately black in a flash! Unfortunately, when you aren’t in the kitchen, a flash can happen even faster than you think it can. An alternate route is to turn the oven off after 16 minutes but leave the croutons in there with the door shut, and they will continue to crisp from the residual heat.

Store your croutons in the fridge so they will last longer. I use mine in salads, thin soups, and sometimes just as a tasty snack. If you were tired of your particular flavor of croutons, you could give them a quick run through the food processor for seasoned bread crumbs which have a plethora of uses. I encourage you to use a bit of salt on your croutons, but play around with the seasoning options to find your favorites. I’m sure they will change your life, too. Happy eating!



Nutritional Content – 1 cup/1 oz

Calories: 210
Fat: 9 g
Carbs: 27 g
Fiber: 2 g
Protein: 5 g
Iron: 9%

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