Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cous-cous masterpieces v.2

My sister just moved out of Minneapolis -- real quick too. She asked if I could go to her apartment and clean out the rest of the stuff there. I thought it would be quick and painless, but there was actually a bunch of junk there, some Haley's, some the bitchy roommate's, some old roommates'. It was an exhausting but good day of organizing and recycling and giving things away to neighbors in Uptown. One old lady was so happy to get Haley's ironing board, and some dude got a really nice desk chair.

I got a few consolation prizes: a small crockpot, a crappy blender, a metal bowl that's now Phydeaux's water dish, a maybe-working electric blanket and my black corduroy jacket that I thought had been lost forever. Maybe my favorite find was a fun kitchen toy: STACKS - the pyramid kit. If you look close, you can see that Haley bought it for $1.69, my guess is at Arc's Value Village thrift store. And I got it for free! Sucka.

The first thing I thought upon finding the box was cous-cous. They're basically metal molds in the shape of a pyramid. They also come in triangle, square, round and heart shapes -- though I've heard that surrounding yourself in pyramids helps the energy flow in your life or something. This even extends to eating your food in the shape of pyramid. Plus it looks awesome. You can read some cool stuff about the feng shui of pyramids here; note the angry tone when the author says that the awareness of the impact of geometrical shapes on human energy is disappearing thanks to modern feng shuists. I blame the fat guy on Trading Spaces.

Now the tricky part about the pyramid shape is that you have to find some way to balance them while you fill them. The tiny booklet in the box suggested bowls, but I didn't have any that were deep enough. I ended up using the steamer top of the big pot I usually cook chili in. Two of the pyramids happened to fit side-by-side, and the point of the pyramid fit perfectly into one of the holes, so they didn't slip around. Much. I won't lie and say it was perfect, but it worked.

There were a few recipes in the box, but they were gross and complicated and stupid. Apparently the "creator" of the Stacks system has a whole series of cookbooks you can buy. She posits, "Why cook a meal when you can create a sensation?" Why indeed. I say, "Why use someone else's recipe when you can use your own?"

The idea that really makes the Stacks system beautiful is that of layers. It'd still be cool to eat your cous-cous in a pyramid shape, as a quick plating gimmick, but the layers are totally where it's at. I had a few things in the fridge I wanted to use up, leftovers from a giant chili party we had for Nate's birthday. So that's where I started, but of course this meal is completely versatile, depending on what you've got on hand. Easily vegetarian, easily themed. No cous-cous? Use rice, like on the box.

I left the cous-cous (~1 cup) grossly underseasoned by my usually standards so that it could stand alone as its own flavor. The main centerpiece of these pyramids was the yellow onion (~1/2), yellow squash (~1/2) and zucchini (~1/2) medley that I sautéed with a little butter and olive oil, never forgetting my trusted Tony's.

I also had one extra chicken breast that I seasoned and cooked up on a skillet real quick. While it was sizzling, I chopped up one tomato and a bunch of walnuts into tiny little pieces. I julienned some spinach as well. Then chopped the chicken real small too.

Then all I did was stuff the pyramids. I started and ended with cous-cous, thinking that it'd definitely keep its shape best. Next layer was walnuts, then a thick squash and zucchini layer. Under that was the chicken, then the spinach and the end layer of cous-cous. Firm but gentle pressure is the key to making it stick. My honeybee spatula was just right for firm, flat, even pressure. I put the plate on top of the pyramid, flipped them together and gently removed the pyramid form. (Also, the recipes always recommend spraying the inside of the pyramid with vegetable spray or something. If I were baking, I'd do this, but I skipped this step and they came out just perfect.)

I had a little cous-cous and squash & zucchini left, so I used some tiny condiment thingies for some contrastive shapes. I made a dessert cous-cous mound with walnuts, cranberries and cous-cous. Delicious.

Here are some amazingly beautiful photos of this amazingly beautiful meal.

I thought that the once you stuck your fork in the thing, it would all be ruined, but actually, they kept their shape pretty well. It was like cous-cous pyramid Jenga. Always play with your food.

I'm most looking forward to baking with theses puppies. Stay tuned!


jerome said...

awesome, moll. just fookin' awesome.

Molly O said...

thanks, jro. I loved 'em.