Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Exotically yours

Here’s more on the previously promised Moroccan Chicken Tagine, a slow cooked collection of assorted vegetables and chicken perfumed with exotic spices, citrus, and fresh herbs.  

If you are looking for an authentic touch, consider something like this Le Souk pottery tagine, courtesy of The unique sloping top creates an oven of sorts and the slow cooking process encourages the retention of moisture, thus luxuriously bathing the tagine mixture and intensifying flavors. 

Turns out, the tagine is actually another one-pot-wonder, complete with vegetables and desired meat.  Natural accompaniments are an easy couscous and of course, the earlier mentioned hot and spicy harissa.

A tagine is perfect for entertaining since it is completely prepared in advance and benefits from slow unattended cooking - consider it the pre-cursor to contemporary crock pot cooking.  If the fabulous cookware is not available for a showy presentation, le creuset or any other heavy crockery will work just fine.   The recipe that follows uses standard stove top preparation. 
Chicken Tagine with Couscous
Inspired by Martha Rose Shulman’s Mediterranean Light cookbook

·         3 lb chicken, cut up and skinned
·         1 Tbsp olive oil
·         2 onions, sliced
·         4 cloves garlic minced or pressed
·         2 carrots, sliced
·         2 turnips, peeled and diced
·         2 stalks celery, sliced
·         1 tsp cumin
·         ½ tsp ginger
·         ½ tsp turmeric
·         1 bay leaf
·         3 cup chicken stock
·         1 tsp paprika
·         1 cup garbanzo beans
·         ¼ tsp saffron
·         2 small zucchini, sliced
·         4 Tbsp lemon juice
·         coarse salt, pepper and cayenne to taste
·         ¼ cup cilantro,  chopped
·         2 Tbsp parsley, chopped
·         ¾ lb couscous
·         2 cups chicken stock
Garnish:  cilantro, lemon slices, harissa (see index)

For tagine: heat oil in large casserole over medium heat and sauté onions and garlic until tender, 5-10 minutes.  Add carrots, turnips, and celery, sauté briefly.

Add chicken, cumin, ginger, turmeric, bay, stock and lightly salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer gently 45 minutes to 1 hour until chicken is tender; stir occasionally. 

Add paprika, garbanzos, saffron, zucchini and lemon juice; simmer 15 minutes until zucchini is tender but bright green.  Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and cayenne. To finish, stir in parsley and cilantro.
For couscous:  Pour boiling stock over the couscous, cover and let stand 10 minutes until stock is absorbed.  Fluff with a fork. 

To serve, spoon couscous onto plates and ladle chicken, vegetables and some of the broth over the couscous.  Garnish with cilantro and lemon and pass the harissa.  Serves: 6-8

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hurrah for Harissa!

I was craving harissa the other day and had to dig out this long forgotten African recipe.   Harissa is an addictive, blazing hot chile condiment, often including cumin, caraway (important), coriander, lots of garlic, and bound together with olive oil, much like a pesto.

This particular sauce was one of the stars of an amazing African Dinner I created several years ago for Dinner Classics, an international cooking class series.  The evening featured an African Art collection showcased by a local art gallery, and pairings of fantastic wines – African and otherwise. 

It was an ambitious undertaking but well worth the effort, since at that time African cuisine was fairly unfamiliar to most.  I hope the file is buried away somewhere and not lost, but I recall one of the appetizers was a popular street food, samosa,  fried pastry stuffed with a mixture of cooked potatoes, onions, peas, coriander, lentils or a meat item such as chicken, lamb or beef.   There was doro wat, a fabulously spicy Ethiopian chicken stew often eaten out of hand with a large thin sourdough pancake style bread called injera bread; and there was the wonderful South African curry finished with a custard topping, bobotie.  (Note to self:  find that file!)

However, in the interest of time this version of harissa comes from the always reliable Mediterranean Light cookbook, by Martha Rose Shulman.  It’s really delicious.  Did I say that yet?

Actually, I’ve been enjoying it with Chicken Tagine and Couscous, another blast from the past.  Tagines are so popular in Morocco that they actually have their own pot created just for that purpose - as does couscous.  If I can get my act together, I’ll at least share that with you soon!

In the interim this sauce is good on literally anything that benefits from a spicy kick – from egg foo young to stuffed cabbage!  No kidding.

Inspired by Martha Rose Shulman’s Mediterranean Light cookbook

·         20 dried hot red chile peppers
·         1 tsp caraway seed
·         ½ tsp cumin seed
·         1 tsp coriander seed
·         3 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
·         ½ tsp salt
·         approximately 1 cup boiling water
·         3 Tbsp olive oil

Place chile peppers in a small bowl and pour boiling water to cover over them; let them soak approximately 45 minutes.  Drain them and reserve 1-2 Tbsp water; de-stem and seed, if desired.

Meanwhile, grind the spices and set aside.

Place the chile peppers in blender or food processor, add 1-2 Tbsp. of  the water and puree; add the spice mixture, garlic, salt, and puree. Slowly add approximately 2 Tbsp. olive oil to form thick sauce.

Transfer to a bowl or storage container.  Cover with remaining olive oil and seal tightly.  Yield: @ 1/3 cup.

Monday, July 18, 2011

To Halve or Halve Not

It took a bumper crop or two of my own cherry tomatoes before I realized the full extent of their versatility.  That is, after I acquired a little restraint and learned to resist the unwieldy urge of eating them fresh off the vine. 

Here’s a very handy idea, so easy and adaptable that it is hardly a recipe.  (Of course, there as so many varieties of these sweet  babies, any of them will work just fine).   I refer to this concept simply as Marinated Cherry Tomatoes, but beyond that there are plenty of ways to proceed depending on time, need and preference:  such as to halve, or halve not; or to cook, or to go raw.

One lovely compromise is to heat the marinade and pour it over the tomatoes.  This is truly delicious with a little aged balsamic vinegar, truffle oil, and a couple of fresh herbs.  If the tomatoes are whole and left to stand and marinate, the skins will ultimately crack and burst.  

In the previous entry which includes Lentils and Kale, the marinated tomatoes are shown as a relish, an added topping.  The zinginess of the vinegar provides a bit of punch and color that brightens this hearty dish.

An old favorite is to serve the marinated tomatoes as a topping for bruschetta or crostini.  Then consider whether to serve them straight up, as is, or to broil them topped with a melting cheese, such as provolone or chevre. 

There’s always the magically appearing salad where the marinated tomatoes supply an utterly effortless all-in-one salad complement.  They provide the necessary dressing and also star atop a lovely melange of fresh greens and herbs.  When I make these ahead, I bring the tomatoes to room temperature before serving, and their sweetness really shines.

Marinated Baby Tomatoes

·         1 tbsp. olive oil
·         2 cloves garlic flattened and sliced into slivers
·         1 tsp. fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary and or savory
·         ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes or more, or coarse ground pepper
·         ½ tsp. coarse salt
·         1 basket or more baby tomatoes, halved or not
·         ¼ cup sherry vinegar, balsamic or vinegar of choice
·         1-2 green onions, chopped

1.       In small sauté pan heat olive oil over low/moderate heat and add the garlic and herbs.  Allow the flavors to infuse the oil, 3- 5 minutes.
2.       Add the tomatoes and toss to combine; add the vinegar and bring to gentle simmer, cook 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat and add the green onions.  Serves 6 approximately.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

My Plate

I’m embarrassed to admit that I missed the memo from the US government.  The one saying they had eliminated the Food Pyramid and were replacing it with MyPlate. Apparently the old one was too complicated.   

According to Michelle Obama, “When mom or dad comes home from a long day of work, we’re already asked to be a chef, a referee, a cleaning crew. So it’s tough to be a nutritionist, too. But we do have time to take a look at our kids’ plates. As long as they’re half full of fruits and vegetables, and paired with lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, we’re golden. That’s how easy it is.”

Whatever it takes.  The new plate graphic is a cool idea, and it’s probably more relevant when it comes to eating, but does it really address the larger problem?   Yes, sensible food choices are critical – but what about those enormous food portions and the size of the plate?  And, what about those times when there is no plate?  Does that count? 

America’s fascination with an easy taco, a quick burger, or any other overly processed foods is a clear indicator that we are governed by our impulses.  We are looking for a fast fix to fill that empty void.  Sadly, that need is not long satisfied by plowing through a half-pounder, a side of fries, and washing it down with a Big Gulp.

Admittedly, my eating habits have gotten out of hand too, so I’m taking this summer to re-visit them and get a grip.  For the past couple of years or so, my excuse has been that I’m adjusting to a cooler climate and I’ve naturally gravitated to eating heavier meals.  Also, with longer days away from home, I’ve rationalized quick energy snacks and the need for more “brain food.”  Wow, how handy for the trail mix, the peanut butter, and perhaps some more of that chocolate for good measure. 

Which brings me back to the My Pyramid Tracker, likely now obsolete and incorporated in the new MyPlate site.  I’ve used this site for monitoring daily intake and usage. It has improved over the past year and  seems to have many of the earlier kinks worked out for tracking meals, searching for nutritional values, sorting out food requirements and much more.   Another site worth checking out for their exercise component is My Fitness Pal, I use their Recipe section to enter personal recipes for nutritional analysis breakdown.   

With my new eating regimen, I’ve noticed that the focus on whole grains, beans and pulses really does work.  I find I am not hungry as often and my energy stays at a higher more consistent level.  Still, this is all pretty new to me, so I’m spending more time in the advance prep stage.  But once prepared, I don’t mind having a repeat of the same dish, and my freezer is filling up nicely with meals for later.  Another plus beyond feeling better, is that a visit to the bulk food section of my market is far less expensive than a walk down the meat aisle. 

Here’s a lentil dish I especially enjoyed in the early stages of my Meat Reduction Program.  At the time, the addition of a limited amount of grilled turkey Polish sausage seemed like a big enough sacrifice.  As time has gone on, and I’ve increased the pulses, whole grains and beans, I’ve noticed my need for meat has greatly diminished. But, then again, there's nothing like a great burger...

Lentils, Kale and Sausage 
Inspired by EatingWell magazine

·         1 tbsp. olive oil, divided
·         12 oz. precooked turkey sausage, such as kielbasa
·         1 large onion
·         2-3 cloves garlic
·         ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
·         ½ tsp. thyme
·         1 bay leaf
·         2 tbsp. celery leaves (from celery below)
·         1 carrot, peeled, chopped
·         1 cup green lentils, rinsed
·         2 stalks celery
·         1 poblano pepper, seeded and chopped
·         5 cups chicken stock, or part water/bouillon
·         12 cups kale, cleaned, stripped from stalk and chopped
·         ½ tsp. salt and pepper each

1.       Heat a deep pot over medium heat, coat with about 2 tsp. olive oil and brown the sausage on all side.  Remove the sausage and let cool.
2.       Add the remaining oil and onion to the pot to soften, then add the garlic and toss until aromatic.  Add the red pepper and spices, then the celery leaves, carrot, and pepper.  Deglaze the pot with stock, and bring all to a simmer.
3.       Add the lentils and simmer partially covered for 30-40 minutes, or until nearly tender.   Stir in the kale and simmer 10-15 minutes longer.  Taste for seasoning and top with sliced sausage.  Serves 6. 

Delicious topped with Baby Tomatoes marinated in Sherry Vinegar. 


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