Impromptu Sunday in Woodside

After a horrendous couple weeks featuring several major system outages at work (I manage worldwide telecom for a high tech firm), I was looking forward to this past weekend. At least the tail end of it, since my Saturday was pretty much going to be shot from the get-go. The last of the system patches were to be applied beginning at 7 PM on Friday, and were projected to take about six hours. The six hours stretched into 6 AM the next morning, meaning I was up and technically “working” from 6 AM Friday ’til 6 AM Saturday. Not my first choice of how to spend a Friday night, but such is life.

So on a whim, I called my sister on Sunday just to say hi, and her opening words were “come over!” My sister and her friend Celeste are dancers (Celeste is also a choreographer) and their idea of a fun afternoon is to tap dance on the square of plywood flooring that lives in the room downstairs. Colleen and her husband John live in Woodside, up the hill behind Alice’s Restaurant, which is a very fun restaurant (as you might imagine) and also a huge weekend hangout for motorcyclists of every shape and variety. Harleys, Yamaha R1’s that are totally tricked out and track-ready, BMW R1200 RT fullly loaded touring sport bikes, Triumph cruisers, and Honda Gold Wings adorn the parking lots on both sides of the intersection formed by Highways 84 and 35. I’ve personally owned a half dozen bikes over the years and would love to get another one, but the boss is adamantly opposed. I have plenty of toys, this one can be her win.

A side note on the “bikes” at the afore-mentioned intersection … my former boss Bruce from Molecular Dynamics, was a marathon bicyclist. He’d ride his bike 25 miles each direction to work and back most days, with an occasional extra 50 miles up and down Mt. Hamilton just to warm up a little. On one of his way-too-common Sunday afternoon century rides (100 miles), he rode up and down Highway 84. This is a steep, incredibly curvy stretch of road, which is among the reason the (motor-powered) cyclists love it. And the cops love to tag ’em and add to the small community of Woodside’s financial kitty. Bruce was flying down Hwy 84 one Sunday and was pulled over by a local gendarme, who clocked him at nearly 50 mph (in a 35 zone) while heading down the hill. Being a polite sort, he accepted the ticket, but urged the cop to concentrate on the Suzuki and Yamaha crowd who took this hill at twice that speed. Easy pickin’s, city revenue, I suppose.

Anyway, the decision was easy, of course we’d come up to visit. And to make it even more fun, our friend Marie would join us as well. Marie and I have been friends for 35 years or so, and she’s one of my favorite people of all time. Celeste is a “newer” friend who I’ve only known for about 22 years. I choose my friends carefully and hang onto them forever.

Colleen had planned to make a salad and do some stuffed zucchini from her garden. Being the wise-ass-know-it-all cook of the family, I offered to help her with the zucchini or provide a recipe. Good thing she declined, as her sausage stuffed giant zucchini was some of the best I’ve ever had. Celeste through together a wonderfully balanced mixed green salad with a simple vinaigrette, which was perfect and totally hit the spot.

Rum and Coke’s progressed to a wonderful Ridge Zinfandel, which Colleen loves and hordes. I was honored. She actually dragged out a 1995 Silver Oak Alexander Valley and asked which we’d prefer … her favorite being the Ridge. Good choice, we devoured it.

I had minimal time to prepare, so I opted for a Lunardi’s Boston Cream, and made my variation of a Moroccan Chicken and Couscous Salad. I originally found this on Cooks.com, but like most of my dishes, modified it over the years to the way I like it. Goes something like this:

Main Ingredients
3 cups of chicken broth (I used Swanson’s low sodium fat-free)
1 1/2 cups of dry uncooked couscous (buy it in bulk, it’s very versatile)
2 tablespoons of chopped Italian parsley
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
2 cups of snow peas, fresh or frozen, cooked to al dente (blanched)
2 tablespoons of currants or raisins (currants work better if you can get them)
3 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme
1/4 cup of toasted almonds, chopped coarse

Dressing
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of curry powder
– or – 1/2 tsp of curry powder and a 1/2 tsp of Ras El Hanout, which is what I use
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes

Chicken
1 whole or two half boneless skinless breasts, seasoned with lemon pepper, cooked and cut into 1/2 inch diced chunks

Technique
1. Bring the chicken broth to a boil, stir in the couscous, parsley and thyme. Return to a boil, remove from the heat, stir, cover, let stand for 5 minutes. Stir to combine, after 5 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients together

3. Add the couscous, add the snow peas, chicken, scallions, red pepper, and currants, stir to combine all the ingredients

4. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, top with a sprinkle of toasted walnuts

Best garnish is a real Moroccan harissa, which can be purchased from Zamouri Spices (and elsewhere). Great stuff – warn your guests that it’s a tad spicy before they spoon on a couple tablespoons of it.

Great food, best of friends, wonderful way to spend a warm Sunday afternoon.

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2 comments so far

  1. BlogLibrarianTeacher on

    Hi, Larry. This is Anne from Kathy Flynn's class way back when. I wanted to ask you two questions about this recipe. 1) Can I substitute couscous with bugler wheat? 2) What do you think of subbing dates instead of currants or raisins.

  2. Bend, OR on

    Hi Anne!
    It's a Moroccan recipe and they of course use a lot of couscous, but I don't see why you couldn't substitute bulgur wheat or even orzo or rice. The flavor's going to be the same. Dates may overwhelm the recipe, but give it a shot! Raisins work fine, too.


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