Cooking For Yourself, However You Like It

couscous-nytI'm Bonnie and I've burned rice in a rice cooker before. I know, you must be thinking, how did you manage to screw up something so easy, but it happened back in my college days, when I lived in my first off-campus apartment with a kitchen. I’m not proud of my former culinary catastrophes, but I have learned a lot from my mistakes. So if you are even a fraction as heinous as I was in the kitchen, then I am writing here today to let you know that you’re not alone – there is help. Recipes don’t have to be intimidating. My intention is to make cooking as easy as possible for experienced kitchen dwellers and novices alike. In fact, most of the time, I don’t use exact measurements because precise fractional quantities still make my eyes cross over. In my experience, numerical necessities haven’t always dictated triumphant taste.

As a guide to my method, here are a few important notes:

1. I mainly stick with precise measurements when certain ingredients must have a specific ratio to each other to cook properly. If you would like less or more of a certain ingredient, add as you wish, but just be sure to keep the same proportions. 2. “X” represents the quantity of an ingredient left entirely up to your discretion. 3. I buy most of my ingredients from Trader Joe’s for health, affordable prices and convenience. But if you find that you need or want to substitute something similar to my listed ingredients, go for it.

With that out of that way, let’s get started!

Recipe for couscous with creamed spinach and mushrooms

Ingredients: 1 cup of Trader Joe’s couscous 2 cups of water 1 jar of Trader Joe’s White Clam Sauce (17.5 oz) X handful(s) of pre-cleaned spinach X handful(s) of pre-sliced mushrooms salt pepper any other spices and seasonings Tools: rice cooker rice scooper/any non-metal scooping tool Serves: 2-4 persons

Directions 1. Pour the couscous directly into the rice cooker. Unlike rice, Trader Joe’s couscous is ready to be cooked and doesn’t need to be rinsed. 2. Pour in the water. 3. Add however much salt, pepper and other spices you wish! Again, unlike rice, couscous is very bland by itself and needs to be seasoned. I personally prefer to add half a handful of salt and pepper. You can also add your own concoction of other ingredients, such as fresh lime juice, paprika, cumin, basil, etc. It’s up to you. 4. Hit the cook button and wait about 10 minutes, depending on the rice cooker. Couscous is nice to make because it also cooks much faster than rice. 5. Stir the couscous once it’s done. The seasonings you added will probably be resting on top, so make sure to mix them in properly. Be sure to use only your rice stirrer or anything else that is non-metal, so it doesn’t scrape rice cooker. 6. Add in the large handfuls of spinach. When fully cooked, spinach will shrink to a fraction of its original size, so don’t worry if you add what appears to be twice as much as the couscous. I love spinach, so I prefer to add two handfuls. 7. Add in the mushrooms. 8. Pour in the whole jar of Trader Joe’s White Clam Sauce on top of everything else. If you wish, stir everything again. 9. Hit the cook button again and let it simmer. 10. Once it’s done, stir everything together one last time and serve.

Remember – I believe that cooking is a creative process that should be up to you.  If something doesn’t work the first time, try it again next time with your own variation. Everyone’s personal taste is different, so work according to your own preferences. Cooking's all about creating your recipe, so the bottom line is: take control!

Photo of couscous by Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times