Grilled Peach and Israeli Couscous Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Sometimes I worry when I find a new ingredient that I am possibly the last person to try it. I am well aware that every one and their mother jumped on the almond milk train about 5 years before I did. (It's so good though). I finally bought a jar of tahini that I actually plan to use (I've had previous ambitious attempts that sat in the pantry for a year), I'm just a few years late to the party.  So tell me, have you all known about Israeli couscous for years? Have you been enjoying it multiple times a week while I lived on in a couscous-less existence? And if so, why did you not tell me about it?? 

For those in the same boat as me, let me introduce you to my new obsession. As you probably know, couscous is made from semolina (wheat) and is basically very tiny pasta. Traditional couscous is so fine that you might wonder if you are eating rice, pasta, grain or the tops of cauliflower. It kind of reminds me of quinoa, without all the health benefits. Israeli couscous on the other hand, is still small but large enough that you get some texture from it. And that texture is the most addicting, chewy, slippery noodle-like goodness you can imagine. Kind of like little tiny balls of super al dente pasta. Is this even sounding appealing at all? It's so good guys, I promise. 

While the texture is on point, it needs some things to spice it up (like all pasta) or it tastes like a bowl of plain noodles. So of course that means all things summer. Grilled peaches, tomatoes of every possible color, cucumbers and a heaping load of fresh herbs. Add in some goat cheese (or fresh mozzarella) and a basil vinaigrette and you have dinner/lunch for days. If you have any other farmer's market gems sitting around (cherries? corn? peas?) or leftover meat from the grill (chicken, salmon, shrimp, steak, it doesn't matter) toss it all in. When the entire flavor of a salad is focused on summer, you can't really go wrong. 

And if I'm the last person on the planet to fall in love with couscous? Well, oops. Guess I'll just have to make it again to make up for lost time. 

Grilled Peach and Israeli Couscous Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

| Ingredients

For the salad: 

  • 1/2 cup Israeli couscous (sometimes sold as pearl couscous)
  • 2 peaches
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced (I'm partial to the golden or orange ones) 
  • 1 cucumber, diced
  • 1/2 cup fresh herbs, chopped (basil, cilantro, parsley...whatever looks the freshest or whatever flavors you love. I used cilantro)
  • 4 oz. goat cheese, torn into bits (you can also use fresh mozzarella

For the basil vinaigrette: 

  • 1/4 cup tightly packed basil
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper

| Instructions

Prepare couscous according to the package directions. Once cooked, drain couscous and run under cold water. Once drained toss with a drizzle of olive oil (less than a tsp.) to keep it from clumping together. Let cool. 

Meanwhile, slice peaches into half and remove pits. Brush with olive oil and grill, cut side down on a grill over high heat until charred but not completely soft, about 3 minutes. You can also do the same in a grill pan, cast iron skillet (minus the grill marks) or a panini press. The panini press is my go-to pretend grill. While you are grilling peaches, you might want to grill up a few extra to eat with vanilla ice cream. Just saying. 

Let peaches cool and slice into smaller pieces. Add to couscous along with tomatoes, cucumber and herbs. Toss to combine. Add cheese and toss gently to distribute. 

To make the dressing, add basil, oil, vinegar, shallot and mustard to a blender. Blend until smooth and only very small flecks of basil remain. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. 

Dress salad right before serving or serve dressing on the side. You might have a little extra dressing. Keep leftovers in a sealed container in the fridge. I think think this salad is just as good a few days down the road, which I love. 

 

 

 

Roasted Cherry Milkshakes

It's milkshake time, guys! Well, technically it was milkshake time on Monday night while we were watching the Bachelorette, but now it's milkshake time for everyone. I wouldn't want you to feel left out. (But really, you can come watch the bachelorette too. The more the merrier.)

I have a special place in my heart for fruity milkshakes and malts. Way back at the first house I ever lived in, there was an ice cream place called Kiltie. It was and still is the greatest place to ever exist. It's a drive-in so you feel like you're getting ice cream in the '50s and they have a giant neon sign and checkered plastic lanterns. It's so great. And my favorite thing to get from Kiltie was always a banana malt. It was super creamy, fruity, malty, just everything good. 

Once we moved further away from the Kilite we switched our ice cream trips over to Culvers (another pride and joy of Wisconsin) and among the many things I love there, I went through a serious strawberry malt phase. Once again, the fruit with the creaminess of the ice cream was just so perfectly summery, I could not even handle it. 

If there was ever any question in my mind about whether I should have moved back to Wisconsin (there wasn't), the fact that I am ridiculously close to a Culvers and only 40 minutes away from my beloved Kilite, pretty much seals the deal. But that doesn't stop me from experimenting with some fruit filled ice cream concoctions right in my own kitchen every now and then. 

 

In case you couldn't tell, I am on a serious cherry bender lately. They are just so addicting this time of year. Perfectly red, sweet but a little tart, juicy and full of pits that I can spit all over the place. But if I am not eating cherries straight out of the bag, I love to roast them. It deepens their flavor by 1,000 and makes them super sweet. Perfect for all sorts of desserts. 

And I can think of no better way to let that cherry flavor shine than by blending it with a few scoops of creamy vanilla bean ice cream (get the kind with the vanilla flecks. You won't be sorry) and pouring it into a glass full of hot fudge. Super simple, super delicious and super summery. Now stop listening to me ramble, and go make these please! 

Roasted Cherry Milkshakes

Serves 2

| Ingredients

  • 2 cups pitted and sliced cherries
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2-3 cups vanila bean ice cream (depending on how thick you like your shakes) 
  • 2 tbsp. milk
  • 1/4 cup hot fudge

| Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 425. Arrange sliced cherries in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle sugar over the cherries and toss quickly with your hands to make sure all the cherries are coated. 
  • Bake cherries 15-20 minutes until they are very soft and have released quite a bit of juice. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. 
  • In a blender, combine ice cream, cooled cherries and milk. Blend until smooth. If the shakes are too thick, add a splash more milk. If they are too thin, add another scoop of ice cream. Just your basic milkshake math. 
  • Warm hot fudge in the microwave until melted. Splatter the fudge on the inside and bottom of two glasses. I like to take a spoonful, put it below the rim of the glass and just circle it around quickly. The fudge will fly off onto the sides and some will settle on the bottom. 
  • Pour the milkshake into the prepared glasses. Top with extra cherries, whipped cream or more hot fudge. 

Monthly Milk Bar: Birthday Cake

If you've ever gotten me started on baking-talk in real life or if you've read this pretzel tart post you will know how obsessed I am with Christina Tosi. Not only does she seem so cool that I just want to hang out with her and be her best friend, but her creativity in baking and the recipes that she has created at Milk Bar are the most inspiring thing to me as a baker. I asked for the Milk Bar cookbook for my birthday and now that I have it (thanks mom!) I have gone full on crazy person in my excitement. 

And so I've decided to start a new segment on here called Monthly Milk Bar (because I love a catchy, newspapery sounding title), where I will make a recipe from the book once a month and write a little post about it. I will include the recipe for people who love a big ol' baking project as much as I do but I'm not even going to pretend that these are simple and quick. Worth it, absolutely. For people who don't like baking? Probably not. But it's too exciting for me not to share, so here we go.

Since I got the book as a birthday present, it only seemed fitting to choose Birthday Cake as the first recipe. I love funfetti. Just looking at it makes me happy. Of course most funfetti is of the boxed cake mix/canned frosting variety, which is mega tasty but also super boring to make. So why not make each part from scratch? Fluffy, sprinkle studded cake, super creamy perfectly white frosting and birthday cake crumb (aka the most addicting thing you will ever eat). 

Tosi figured out that the key to making authentic-birthday-of-your-childhood funfetti is to use clear vanilla extract. Pure vanilla extract is what you usually use in baking while clear extract is actually just imitation vanilla. The cookbook describes clear vanilla as "vanilla in more of a tub-of-frosting, box-cake sort of way" and I could not think of a better way to describe it. It's pretty obvious in any good funfetti cake that no actual vanilla beans made it near the cake and yet it has an undeniable vanilla flavor, in the most un-fancy way. I love that.  

I also love birthday cake crumb. Like a lot. To me they taste like crunchy birthday cake flavored sugar cookies. The cookbook also has a recipe for confetti cookies, which is basically a sugar cookie with birthday crumb mixed into the dough. So that needs to happen SOON. The frosting and the cake are also great, because really, how can you not love something completely overtaken by rainbow sprinkles? 

I would declare Birthday Cake and my first milk bar venture a success. Now I just have to decide what to make next! 

Milk Bar's Birthday Layer Cake

Recipe from Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi

Makes 1 6" cake

| Ingredients| 

Birthday Cake: 

  • 4 tbsp. butter, room temp
  • 1/3 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1  1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 tbsp. light brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup grapeseed oil
  • 2 tsp. clear vanilla extract
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp. rainbow sprinkles

Birthday Cake Frosting: 

  • 8 tbsp. butter, room temp
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 tbsp. glucose
  • 1 tbsp. corn syrup
  • 1 tbsp. clear vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • a pinch of baking powder

Birthday Cake Crumb: 

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. light brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 cup cake flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. rainbow sprinkles
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
  • 1 tbsp. clear vanilla extract

Birthday Cake Soak: 

  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tsp. clear vanilla extract

 

 


Instructions: 

Birthday Cake: 

  • Heat oven to 350. Line a quarter sheet pan with parchment or silpat and spray with non-stick spray. 
  • Combing butter, shortening and sugars in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream together on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes. Scrape the bowl, add the eggs, and mix on medium-high for 2-3 more minutes. Scrape again.
  • Mix the buttermilk, oil and vanilla together. With the mixer running on low, stream in the buttermilk mixture. Increase the mixer to medium-high and beat for 4-6 minutes, until the batter is almost white and double in size of the original butter-sugar mixture. There should be no streaks of fat or liquid. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl. 
  • Combine flour, baking powder, salt and 1/4 cup sprinkles. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients and mix 45-60 seconds, until the batter just comes together. Scrape the bowl again. 
  • Scrape batter into the prepared pan and spread in an even layer. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tbsp. sprinkles over the top of the batter. Bake 30-35 minutes. The cake will puff up and double in size but will remain slightly buttery and dense. When you poke the edge the cake should bounce back slightly and the center should no longer be jiggly. 
  • Remove cake from oven and let cool on a wire rack. The cooled cake can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days. 

 

Frosting: 

  • In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, shortening and cream cheese on medium-high until smooth and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. 
  • Combine the glucose, corn syrup and vanilla. With the mixer running on low, stream in the glucose mixture. Crank the mixer up to medium-high and beat 2-3 minutes until the mixture is silky smooth and glossy white. 
  • Add the powdered sugar, salt and baking powder and mix on low to incorporate. Switch back to medium-high speed and beat 2-3 minutes, until the frosting is a brilliant, stark white and super smooth. If should look like plastic tub grocery store frosting! Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week. 

Birthday Cake Crumb: 

  • Heat oven to 300. 
  • Combine sugars, flour, baking powder, salt and sprinkles in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low until well combined. Add the oil and vanilla and paddle again to combine. Continue mixing until the wet ingredients cause the dry to form small clusters.  
  • Spread the clusters on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, breaking up the clusters occasionally. The crumbs will be slightly moist when you take them out but will dry and harden as they cool. 
  • Let the crumbs cool completely and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month. 

Birthday Cake Soak: 

  • Whisk together the milk and vanilla in a small bowl

Assembly: 

  • Check out Milk Bar's website for super detailed assembly instructions: click here.  They explain it much better than I ever could. Also here's a video of Christina Tosi making it, if videos are more your jam.