I don't cook much these days. I miss it, sometimes, but never complain when someone else cooks, and I'm satisfied eating cereal for pretty much any meal.
So when it came to doing my segment of "Tribune Cooks," I wanted to choose something interesting, but not difficult and not labor-intensive, so I looked at salads in our "Taste of Home" book.
Right next to each other in the "Potluck Pleasers" section of the book were two salads that both contained dried cranberries - something I think I've never bought before, but sounded good. I assumed they would be expensive, but that was not so.
Tribune Chronicle photos by Michelle Snook
Cranberry-Nut Couscous Salad
When the weather hit the 80s this past weekend, I was glad I had chosen salads.
I was also very thankful that on this busy weekend, my mom, Elaine Smith of Cortland, volunteered to make one salad while I made the other.
She's a great cook, and it's always been a family joke that she likes to try new recipes - every holiday gathering, we are guaranteed there will be at least one "experiment" on the table.
Cranberry-Nut Couscous Salad
Prep: 25 min. plus chilling
1 package (10 ounces) plain couscous
1 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup chopped green onions
3/4 cup chopped sweet yellow or red pepper
3/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Prepare couscous according to package directions. Transfer to a large bowl: fluff with a fork. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until chilled.
Stir in the dried cranberries, onions, yellow pepper and almonds. In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice, oil, paprika, salt and pepper; pour over the salad and toss to coat. Cover salad and refrigerate until serving.
Yield: 14 servings.
Cashew-Pear Tossed Salad
Prep/Total Time: 15 minutes
1 bunch romaine, torn
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese
1 cup salted cashews
1 medium pear, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Poppy seed vinaigrette
2/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 to 3 teaspoons poppy seeds
2 teaspoons finely chopped red onion
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
In a large salad bowl, combine the romaine, shredded Swiss cheese, cashews, pear slices and dried cranberries. In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the poppy seed vinaigrette ingredients; shake well. Drizzle vinaigrette over the salad and toss to coat. Serve immediately. Yield: 15 servings.
The only heat required was for the dish I chose, Cranberry-Nut Couscous Salad. The couscous is very easy to make - put it in boiling water with olive oil (you can use butter), cover, and take it off the heat for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
Typical of me, I lost track of time - I recommend paying attention instead, because the tiny pieces stick together pretty easily. The fluffing is also very important, because after the couscous was chilled I ended up fluffing (or rather breaking up clumps) quite a bit.
The other "cooking" required was for the toasted slivered almonds. Not wanting to get the oven going for a few almonds, I almost got lazy and tossed them in all white and pretty the way they were. However, after looking it up on the Internet, I discovered you could cheat a little and microwave them for about 4 minutes in a little butter, stirring every minute until they are brown. Watch the heat on this, as full power may be a little too much.
This salad was very tasty, and I've always noticed that couscous picks up the flavor of whatever you want to stir into it. I used both red and yellow pepper for a little more color, and I was thinking that it would also make a beautiful Christmas dish because of that. And the toasted almonds were totally worth it.
The interesting thing about the dish was the combination of ingredients. I took it to school at sty. Mary & Joseph for the other teachers to try, and in addition to the favorable reactions, one teacher mentioned that she never would've thought to combine those things in one dish.
The same reaction came at home. "It has lots of different textures," my mom commented.
This salad also is on the lighter side, and it made a good second-day dish, since the flavors continued to come together.
The other salad required no cooking, but the 15-minute prep time listed on the recipe didn't come true for my mom. The bulk of the time was spent washing, drying and tearing a big bunch of romaine lettuce, and there was also chopping red onions, slicing pears, shredding Swiss cheese and mixing up the salad and dressing.
For the 1/2 cup sugar in the dressing, we used splined, which tasted great. It is a sweet dressing but not too much so. Also, we sliced the pears and arranged them on top for presentation's sake. After the picture, they were chopped a little smaller and mixed in as the recipe calls.
Since there was so much salad and I knew it would take a while to get through it, we did not mix the dressing into the entire bowl. Instead, we put a tablespoon or so in the serving on our plate and mixed it there, which worked just fine.
I would recommend either one of these salads for a carry-in event - they both go pretty far and definitely have unique flavor combinations with the salty nuts, the sweet cranberries and the sweet and tangy dressings.