Israeli Couscous and Tuna Salad

I watched the Barefoot Contessa make this on the Food Network and was salivating before she finished so I had to try it! I love the Israeli couscous-it is so pretty and takes on the flavors easily. I made a half recipe and it was plenty for at least three or four people. I never add as much salt as called for as I would rather add it as I eat it than over salt. I used red onions instead of scallions and the olives I had on hand and also added celery for extra crunch.
Israeli Couscous and Tuna
2 cups Israeli couscous (10 to 12 ounces)
2 (7-ounce) cans or jars Italian tuna, drained and flaked
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup good olive oil
3 tablespoons capers, drained
1/2 cup pitted, oil-cured black olives, coarsely chopped (3 ounces)
1/2 cup jarred roasted red peppers, medium-diced (4 ounces)
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chopped scallions (6-8 scallions)
1/4 cup julienned fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium-size saucepan. Add the couscous and reduce the heat to very low. Cover the pot and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, until the couscous is just tender. (I pull the pot halfway off the heat.) Drain in a colander.

Meanwhile, combine the tuna, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, capers, olives, red peppers, garlic, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper in a large bowl. Pour the hot couscous into the mixture and stir well. Cover and set aside for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Just before serving, stir in the scallions, basil, juice of the 1/2 lemon, and 1 more teaspoon of salt. Taste for seasonings and serve warm or at room temperature.

Pesto

In the middle of winter, there is nothing better than finding organic basil for $3 at Trader Joes. Since basil doesn’t like to be refrigerated, I immediately made pesto! The smell takes me straight to summer basil harvests in my garden. It is so easy to make and delicious on everything!
Organic basil
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
2-4 T. cup pine nuts
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pestojpg
Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

If using immediately, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.

If freezing, transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in cheese.

Hazelnut Toffee Cake

A showstopper dessert from The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak. I highly recommend this new baking book as everything I have made has been delicious! I used 8″ pans as that is what I had. Also, I had no problem with the caramel which can be difficult and think using Baker’s fine sugar may have helped. Be sure to let your cakes cool before frosting. I did add 1/2 t. of brandy to the icing. Trader Joe’s sells skinned hazelnuts which is a huge plus!
Hazelnut toffee cake
For the Sponge
12 oz. dates, pitted and chopped
5 oz. hazelnuts, toasted and chopped medium fine
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. + 2 T. oil
1 c. plain flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
7 T. plain yogurt

butter for greasing the tin
Hazelnut Praline
For the Toffee Topping
1 1/2 oz. toasted hazelnuts, skins sloughed off
3 T. water
1 c. sugar (I used bakers fine sugar)

For the Icing
4 tablespoons water
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
Brandy or cognac, to taste (optional)

Heat the oven to 340 degrees. Butter two 7″ cake tins and line with parchment paper. First, prepare the sponge. Combine the dates and the toasted nuts in a bowl and set aside.

Using an electric mixture, whisk together the eggs, vanilla and sugars until light and fluffy. Continue to whisk as you slowly drizzle in the oil.

In another bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add this to the egg mixture and whisk for a few seconds to combine. Add the yogurt and whisk to combine then fold in the dates and hazelnuts.

Divide the mixture between your prepared tins and bake for about 35-45 minutes, until the cakes are baked through and set, but not dry. The tops of the cakes will not spring back as much as other cakes do because the dates make the mixture moist and dense in the best possible way. Leave the cakes to cool in their tins while you make the topping.

Line a baking try with parchment paper and spread your toasted hazelnuts on the tray. Place the tray on your worktop, near the stove. Have your icing ingredients nearby, as they will be needed as soon as the caramel is ready.

Put the 3 T. water in a small, heavy-bottomed pan and sprinkle in the sugar. Bring to the boil and just as the sugar starts to caramelize watch it very closely, then as soon as it starts to brown, pour half of the hot caramel over the hazelnuts. Leave to cool and harden and then break into shards.

To make the icing, add the four tablespoons of water to the remaining caramel in the pan. Pour the runny caramel from the pan into the icing sugar and whisk to a smooth paste. Add more water or icing sugar until it has the consistency of soft buttercream.

TASTE: Does the icing taste too sweet? It might need a splash of brandy or cognac to mellow it out. The cake itself is not too sweet so it can handle a fairly sweet icing, but cutting it with a little booze can work well here.

To finish, spread the icing on the cooled cakes and top with the shards of praline.