Monday, January 24, 2011

Tagine of Chicken, Apricots, and Almonds

From my reading of many tagine recipes, all manner of proteins and vegetables are used, but it is the spices that really matter. So don't take the recipe below as a prescription. Any sturdy protein could be substituted. Use the vegetables you have around and like. Some recipes have raisins. The almonds are optional. I also don't have a traditional tagine--the clay vessel that is traditional. I used my Le Creuset enameled dutch oven, which worked just fine.

Not optional are traditional Morrocan spices. The ras el hanout in this recipe is from The Spice House in Chicago, and their mixture contains Tellicherry black pepper, cardamom, salt, ginger, cinnamon, mace, turmeric, allspice, nutmeg, and saffron. I added a little more cinnamon, also purchased recently from The Spice House--a Cinnamomum Zeylanicum, or True Ceylon cinnamon. Another secret ingredient is harissa, a paste made of chiles, garlic, sundried tomatoes, coriander, and caraway.

Served with a traditional buttered couscous, the taste was mesmerizing.

Tagine of Chicken, Apricots, and Almonds

1 large onion, sliced into 2-3 inch strips
1 or 2 T. olive oil
a pound or so of chicken thighs
ras el hanout, about a tablespoon
harissa to taste (I used about a tablespoon)
a knob of ginger, minced
some garlic, to taste, crushed and left whole
1/2 c. chopped apricots
1/2 c. blanched slivered almonds
1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
14 oz. can diced tomatoes
14 oz. can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
some salt
handfuls of cilantro, chopped

Brown the chicken in chunks in olive oil. Toast the almonds in the oil with the chicken. Remove and saute the onions with salt. Return the chicken to the pot and add ras el hanout and let the flavors meld a bit. When the mixture seems dry, add a little water to get the browned bits up from the pan. Add garlic, ginger, apricots, harissa, bell pepper, and tomatoes. Let this mixture stew for 20-30 minutes, covered. Add garbanzo beans and cover for 10 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. I added a little more cinnamon. Stir in chopped cilantro at the end, reserving some for garnish.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Four Cheese Pizza

Growing up, my family had pizza most Saturday nights. My father made the dough, producing a floury cloud as he loudly pounded the dough on the counter. My mother and I grated the cheese (often frozen blocks of mozzarella) and sliced the pepperoni, or cut up the lunch meat. Olives and green pepper rounded out the ingredients.

In college, I began to try to make my own pizza. The first attempt was a nightmare that ended in tears and my boyfriend's suggestion that we go to the pub for a burger. He didn't last. But the pizza tradition did.

Nearly thirty years later, I make pizza every Saturday night (except when it's too hot to turn on the oven). My favorite is probably four cheese pizza. Thank goodness, I still have pesto leftover from last summer (and one more in the freezer). The cheeses are mozzarella, maytag blue, romano, and provolone.

The photo is perhaps worse or perhaps better because of an experiment with a light tent (aka cardboard box, notebook paper, white napkin, and clip-on lamp) and a bit of manipulation in Picasa.

The crust is something I've been experimenting with a bit lately. I've discovered that my lovely pizza stone turns a crust into a hard, difficult to cut, tasty, but kind of unpleasant item. To get a more tender crust, I've taken to using half water and half milk as the liquid base.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Whole Wheat Pancakes with Yogurt and Blueberry Sauce

In an effort to lose those post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas pounds that crept on, I often turn away from butter and syrup on my weekend pancakes. In addition, I try to increase the ratio of whole grains in my diet. When I can wrestle away the pancake making privileges from Michael, I like to make these:

Whole Wheat Pancakes

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 c. all-purpose unbleached flour
1 T. baking powder
1T. sugar or honey
1 T. light flavored oil
2 eggs
1 c. lowfat milk
1/4 c. lowfat or nonfat yogurt

Throw this all together in the usual manner, dry ingredients with dry, wet with wet, stir well, but not too well, and cook in medium skillets (we like our well-seasoned cast iron ones) two at a time for optimal eating while hot.

I topped mine with more yogurt (slightly strained nonfat) and blueberry sauce (aka runny blueberry jam). Delightful.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Lasagna with Chard

Back in August, the CSA was giving me lots of chard, and I was in no mood for chard, so I blanched it and froze it. This week I made two dishes with chard--a garlicky sauteed chard with polenta and gorgonzola, and then this lasagna with chard.


I mixed in the chard with ricotta and egg, then layered with homemade tomato sauce and mozzarella (why is the shredded cheese cheaper than the cheese in a block?). After a good long bake at 375 (45 minutes) I topped it with romano and more mozzarella and baked it for 15 minutes more. After a 10-minute rest, it served up nicely. I used no-boil lasagna noodles, and the thing about them is that they absorb the extra moisture in the tomato sauce, which I like. I don't want tomato juice running all over the plate when I lift out a serving.

Over the holidays, I read a lot of food blogs, including one called Will Write for Food, in which the blogger gives advice to food bloggers, including "adjusting a recipe doesn't make it yours." Well, I guess, but then again, food is folklore. There are no recipes that are completely yours, that didn't begin somewhere with someone else. 

But the blog entry that really got to me and kept me from blogging for a while was one called Is Food Blogging to Much Work? which ended with the question, "should hobbyists get a pass on quality because they want to have fun?" The blogger gives food blogging workshops, and she is frustrated by attendees who want good traffic and comments on their blog but whine that her advice means too much work for them. 

Having thought about the debate that ensued among this blogger's commenters, I decided that my blog is indeed a hobby. I would like to have traffic and comments, but if I don't, that's okay. I also think that my writing and photos are of a high enough quality to pass the test. But I don't need the blog to be more than a hobby. Recently, it has scored me a couple of dinner invitations, so I'm feeling like it has paid off in ways I never anticipated! And that unexpected reward has motivated me to post again today. So there.