Wednesday, April 20, 2016

My Kind Of Art

I got a little carried away by the all the colors in our latest tagine attempt - all those oranges and purples and pinks! I'm getting a big kick out of combining different ingredients in the tagine to find out which work best. It's almost like composing an artwork when the colors are so bright. Having zero artistic talent, myself, I need to rely on vegetables for my fun.

I tried a few new things this time - cooking the rice right along with the meat; adding a new mix of spices; adding radishes to my usual carrots; pairing the sweetness of carrots and shallots with the tingly tartness of Meyer lemon, rind and all. So each time I assemble one of these, all kinds of possibilities are bouncing around in my mind.

What emerged from the tagine after 90 minutes, the last 30 of which were filled with intoxicating scents wafting out of the pot, was a huge success. If I do say so myself. Which I do.

The shallots became sublimely sweet and slippery-tender. The chicken hidden underneath was funky with spices. The radish retained some of its color and added a little hint of that indefinable radishness. The carrots were mellow but not mushy. And the rice!  Oh, heavens, people, I could have made a meal of just the rice and still have wanted to spread it on my body. Orgasmic rice! No kidding.

So, here's what I did - I'll be interested to hear your ideas on what else would go well into the magic tagine.

Sunburst Chicken Tagine

4-6 chicken thighs (bone in or not - this time, mine were skinless and boneless)
1 teaspoon each of ground coriander, ground cumin, ground ginger, sweet paprika, and allspice (this may seem like too much spice; it's not! Load it up!)
salt, pepper
2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
2-3 Tablespoons tomato paste
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 4" chunks
1 onion, chopped coarsely
1 cup rice (I used brown jasmine rice)
2 cups chicken stock
4 large shallots, peeled but left whole
l or 2 large watermelon radishes (or regular radishes, a handful)
l Meyer lemon, sliced into 8 wedges (you could use a regular lemon, I'm sure)

Green beans (optional)
A handful of mushrooms, washed and left whole (optional) (I used brown ones)
Pistachios or cashews (optional)

Start the tagine on low flame (only for ones that are rated for stovetop use), and pour in 1 Tablespoon of the oil. Add the spices and s&p, whisking them together to make a slurry. Dredge the chicken pieces in the slurry, turning to coat, then set them aside. 

Add the other tablespoon of oil and soften the onions before adding the rice. Toss the rice in the slurry until grains are coated, then add the chicken stock and stir. 

Add the chicken pieces back in and place all the vegetables and the lemon wedges, except the mushrooms, green beans, and nuts, on top of the chicken. 

Cover and simmer for about 90 minutes. When the tagine starts to smell as if it dropped straight from heaven, add the mushrooms and green beans to cook for the last 20 minutes or so, until the beans are still bright green but tender.

Fill the plates with a little of each of the ingredients (especially that killer rice!) and sprinkle with the nuts for texture.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ramping Up

We had such fun with our demure little tagine that when we saw a splendid big one in a super fancy kitchen store, we swallowed hard at the price but shelled out the shekels for this lovely big rust red one. I had dreams of cooking once to eat twice - always a bonus! - and of using larger cuts and vegetables. We are ramping up!

There were, serendipitously, lamb shanks at my local market, conveniently cut in two. What could be nicer? I loaded the tagine with all kinds of things that lamb loves (thyme, garlic, lemon), put on the lid, and set it on top of the stove; this new tagine works either on the stovetop or in the oven.

What emerged 90 minutes later was really tasty, but I must admit that it was even better the second day. The artichokes all but fell apart, the olives were as wrinkled as a little old man, and I didn't even have to peel the butternut squash - the skin yielded to "low and slow". And the leeks!  People, those leeks were worth it all by themselves. They were soft and sweet and limply heavenly.

If I did this again, I'd likely swap out the butternut squash for kabocha, as it is firmer and sweeter, but the squash improved the second day when we ate it, bite for bite, with some of the lemon peel. And the crisp nuts gave the whole dish texture and salty interest.

Everything was infused with the garlic and Meyer lemon that I added as perfume, plus the herbal/spicy notes that wafted up from the bottom. Oh, baby.

I'm pretty sure you could do this without the tagine, if you don't have one, but if I were you, I'd hurry out to get one. 

Lamb Tagine

2 lamb shanks - ask the butcher to cut them in half crossways.
2 leeks, carefully washed and toughest leaves removed
1 large artichoke, quartered and fuzz removed
1 small squash, sliced about 2" think and seeds removed (I used butternut but I think I'd try kabocho next time)
A handful of olives (I used calvestrano)
1 Meyer (or regular) lemon - squeeze the juice in, then cut the lemon into slices and add those to the pot, peel and all.
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 or 4 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed (or to taste - I'd add more next time)
Dried thyme to taste
Salt, pepper
About 1/4 to 1/2 cup water

A handful of salted cashews or shelled salted pistachios.

You could brown the lamb shanks before hand (and I think that would be an improvement), but I didn't this time and the meat was still tender and tasty.

In the bottom of the tagine, add the olive oil and heat over low heat. Add the garlic and thyme. Salt and pepper the lamb shanks and add them to the bottom. Pile the other ingredients on top, positioning the things that take longest to cook at the bottom and layering the rest in order of cooking time, ending with the things that take the shortest time. Pour in a little water.

Put on the lid. Over very low heat, cook for about 90 minutes. 

Sprinkle with the nuts to add texture to the dish. Serve with the goozle that forms in the bottom of the tagine, plain or with rice or couscous. The artichokes are great dipped in the goozle.

Friday, April 1, 2016


My next door neighbor and I have been trading food all winter - I'd give her the rest of a stew or soup, and she'd refill my bowl with something she made when she returned it. That way, neither of us gets tired of our "creations," and we get each other's opinions on the dishes. She is cooking for her elderly mother who has a tiny appetite to go with her tiny frame, and I am cooking for a "variety guy" who, while he is generally easy to please and hugely lovable, doesn't enjoy leftovers very much. Nice for us both to have a friendly way to pass along the extras.

Hard to believe this is the same neighbor we so resented when they first built the house next door about 10 years ago. I had wished I had the money to buy the vacant lot myself, to preserve the hill full of wildflowers, to keep the line of weedy trees that reached up to the window behind my desk where I could watch little birds flitting through at eye level while working at my computer, to retain the steep hillside where the neighborhood children slid down on flattened cardboard "sleds," screaming with exhilaration.

Instead, we got months of dirt and noise from the building site and a wall that rose up higher than our house not ten feet from our windows. No wonder we were resentful! It bugged me so much that finally I had to put my anger aside or let it eat me up. I went next door and asked for a tour of the house, so I could learn to love it.

I have to admit that I didn't learn to love it right then, nor for several years afterwards, but I did come to a place of acceptance. It improved when our neighbors added some screening vegetation on their decks and assented to preserving our view of Mt. Tamalpais by repositioning a trellis on their side. 

Slowly, over the years, small gestures of friendship were made, first by them, returned by us. When Peter was diagnosed with cancer, we reached out to help with drives to treatment and securing a place on the Peninsula when Peter had to stay down there for a month of serious chemotherapy. Peter passed away about five years ago.

But, maybe some good came out of all that, as we grew closer to his widow, Doreen, during and after that time. And, again, very slowly, we became better neighbors and, finally, good friends, taking care of each other's dogs or picking up packages when we were on vacation.

This week, Doreen gifted us with a hearty minestrone that she clearly put a lot of work into. The broth was rich with tomatoes, and the legumes and vegetables gave it interest and texture. And, it was doubly welcome because our furnace blower died this week and we were bundled up with socks and extra sweaters while we awaited the correct part arriving from the furnace guy.

Now, one can't really complain too much when a blown blower means only that the temperature in the house plunges all the way down to 60 - where I used to live in western New York state, this would have been a much more serious situation in early April. But, we are California wimps, and proud of it, so we have to kvetch at least a little.

Doreen said, when delivering the soup, "It's just okay," but we thought it was much better than "okay," especially when we grated a little fresh Parmesan over it and spooned up the resulting garden ambrosia. I'll happily accept her friendsoup any old day, even now that the furnace is happily humming again.