Citrus Chicken Tajine

Write an article about Tajine and suddenly you have make it. Francene cooked  this citrus chicken version and it was a delight.

Francene has a couple of Moroccan cookbooks and this recipe came from 150 best tagine recipes by Pat Crocker. (tajine / tagine both are acceptable)

Citrus Chicken Tagine – page 64

• Medium tagine

  • 1 piece (1 inch/2.5 cm) fresh ginger root
  • 1 piece (1 inch/2.5 cm) fresh turmeric or 1 tbsp (15 mL) ground turmeric
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp avocado or olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 piece (2 inches/5 cm) cinnamon stick, 1 crushed fine
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 4 bone-in chicken pieces with skin (about 1 1/2 lbs/750 g)
  • 1 orange, sectioned
  • 1/2 cup whole dates
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice or orange flower water
  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp Pomegranate Molasses or store-bought or liquid honey
  • 1/4 cup blanched almonds

1. In a mortar (using a pestle), smash ginger, turmeric and garlic. Pound and grind until a paste is achieved. Or, using a small food processor, blend ginger, turmeric and garlic into a paste.

2. In the bottom of a flameproof tagine, heat oil and melt butter over medium heat. Add spice paste, cinnamon and cumin and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes or until paste is lightly colored. Add chicken and toss to coat in the spices. Cook, turning frequently, for about 7 minutes or until chicken is browned on both sides.

3. Using tongs, turn chicken so that the skin is up. Tuck orange sections and dates around chicken. Stir in orange juice, lemon juice and molasses and bring to a boil. Cover with tagine lid, reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until chicken juices run clear for thighs and is no longer pink inside for breasts. Garnish with almonds.

A very easy recipe to follow and the kitchen aromas are just wonderful.

We had a six pack of chicken legs in the freezer and used them. On hindsight, I would not use legs, maybe bone in thighs or breasts cut into thirds. This isn’t finger food unless you enjoy yellow cuticles for a week. The turmeric will color and stain very easily.

We served the chicken tagine with a side of zucchini and a delightful tomato and cucumber salad.

We made the dough, now what do we do with it?

We got our hands sticky, we did something different, we made pasta dough. Not just any pasta dough but dough that has sun dried tomatoes and spinach blended into it. 

Working with dough is pretty straight forward, nothing about it should be intimating. First thing I do after setting up my Kitchen Aid mixer and attaching the pasta roller attachment is to get my floured work surface set up.

I then split the single batch of dough into thirds.

Set the roller to 0, the largest opening and the mixer to slow, start running your ball of dough through it. Leave the roller at 0 until you have a consistent and smooth  ribbon of dough.

You may have to add a little more flour if the dough is sticky or spray a mist of water onto the dough if it is to dry and crumbly.  This just takes practice to get the hang of it.

Now start feeding the dough through the roller  and close the gap as well. I usually skip a number each time. 0, 2, 4, 6 the 7. You would stop before seven for lasagna dough, etc. I like my spaghetti like angel hair.

This is harder to do with a dough that has had anything like tomato or spinach added to it. The additional vegetable infusion makes the dough less elastic than plain pasta dough would be.

When you have your desired thickness attach the pasta cutter of choice, here I have the spaghetti cutter attached. On slow speed feed the pasta ribbons you made through the cutter and then hang to dry. Here I use a pasta drying rack, very expensive and folds up flat for storage.

Store your fresh pasta in the refrigerator, It’s hasn’t dried to the commercial pasta level and will mold if sealed in an airtight container and left or stored at room temperatures.

Fresh pasta will cook in just 2 to 3 minutes, not the 20 for dried pasta.

 

Here is our homemade pasta served in a quick marinara made with our own canned tomatoes and homemade meatballs. I got a little messy with the Parmigiano Reggiano

 

No Mom, no, please don’t make me eat Brussels Sprouts

Okay, to the point. Every child hates having to eat those over boiled, mushy Brussels sprouts. They are tasteless and just not at all appealing.  Golly, this sounds like a lot of vegetables our parents cooked for us.

Francene hates boiled Brussels sprouts, I have a close friend that hates boiled asparagus, put these foods on serving plates and the skip right over them.

Francene’s son told her that he loved Brussels sprouts, but not boiled, roasted. Roasted till some of the leaves actually turned black.  So she tried sauteing them with, cut in half, a little EVO. salt and pepper. It’s one of her favorite vegetables now.

That friend and asparagus, bbq asparagus that is, loves those skinny little stalks now. A little EVO, salt and pepper, then placed on a hot grill right after the steaks have been removed. Cook until dark grill marks appear and the asparagus spears are a delight to eat.

What made these often avoided vegetables not only acceptable but enjoyed was that they weren’t boiled to mush then served. Roasting, grilling and sauteing gives us control of how long to cook, and visually we are making our decision to remove them from the heat based on caramelization, the oxidation of sugar resulting in a nutty flavor and brown color.

The internet is a great place to look up roasted Brussels sprouts and asparagus, as there are so many slight variations, adding garlic, different spices and herbs. I haven’t seen a recipe that didn’t look good to me as well as adding a little variety. I would also suggest that you cook them al dente.  I know I don’t care for mushy vegetables.

Brussels sprouts can be frozen and if bought on the stalk you will have the freshest Brussels sprouts available year round.

It is simple to do, cut off the stalk with as little stem as possible, remove and the soft leaves and then blanch the spouts in boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes, remove and give them an ice water bath.

Spread out on cookie sheets and freeze, then package into serving sizes. Vacuum sealed if possible.

Oh, those soft leaves, throw in the boiling water and cook for a few minutes. They are a great treat and way to get your dog eating their vegetables.

 

Pasta, green pasta, maybe red pasta, good pasta

The stuff you learn along the way, so simple now, why didn’t I think of it before.

We aren’t health nuts but we do like to hedge our bets a bit. For years I have made spinach pasta and sun dried tomato pasta, messy and wet pasta, pasta that wasn’t very good because of that spinach and because of those tomatoes.

See, I would make my basic pasta then throw in a handful of fresh spinach, the water in the spinach would then mess up the flour consistency and I would have to start adding flour till I had that nice ball of raw pasta dough.

For the sun dried version, I would throw in a handful of sun dried tomatoes in oil, and then start adding flour till it looked like pasta dough.

Doing this would always mess up the basic flour, egg, oil and water ratios. and I ended up with a boiled flour mixture that looked like pasta.

But now I have learned and it’s time to make a pasta dish and I said to myself ‘self, why not use your dried tomatoes, just put a cup of flour and 1/2 cup of dried tomatoes in the blender and get tomato flour’

Did it and I ended up with 1 1/2 cups of tomato flour. Then I said to myself ‘Don’t be corny, just get to the point and the point being to spread a 3 pound bag of power greens (spinach, kale and chard) on the drying shelves of your food drier and dry, then use the ground up greens with the flour’

It needs to be noted that 3 pounds of fresh greens produced 1 and 1/2 cups of dried, crumbled greens.

1 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of greens, in the blender and now I have power greens flour.

From this point, I just made pasta dough.

recipe:

  • The power greens flour plus enough cake four to have three cups of flour
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/8th teaspoon salt

Put all in a food processor and start processing, add water by the tablespoon  till you get a dough that sticks together, but isn’t sticky.

Put coarse dough on your work surface and kneed about 6 to 7 minutes, This helps with consistency and the ability to hold its’ shape by stretching and working the gluten in the flour.

Form a ball of dough, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

For the tomato pasta dough, just repeat the above steps.

The mighty Tajine

I wrote a short piece on comfort food. Then I kept re reading it and re writing it & then trashed it. It just rambled on about what I think comfort food is. I think I realized it was more important to cook it than analyze it.

My short definition would be that comfort food be filling and simple, and to me it’s a one pot dish.

The pot often defines what will be cooked and the Tajine is a reflection of a region and style of cooking. The Tajine is a Moroccan cooking vessel. I can’t think of a Tajine without thinking of Moroccan dishes, curried chicken & lamb stews.

Francene and I are fortunate to have several Asian style markets in the area so when we shop for something like curry, we have more styles to select from than most markets have Mexican hot sauces. With so much variety to stir the imagination, we just have to experiment; both with flavors as well as technique.

A wonderful lamb tajine from Antony Worrall Thompson, on the bbc.com website.

In a world of instant cookers, rice cookers, pressure cookers and cast-iron enameled ware there is also that funny looking Tajine. In a world full of the above-mentioned cookers, why in the world would you want to use a Tajine?

Because it is versatile, a Tajine in the right hands can replace all those newly hyped cookers.

Saffron Chicken Tajine from ANDREW ZIMMERN July 2017 , Food & Wine Photo credit John Kernick

The basic Tajine is a clay pot and lid that has been enameled and fired. You should never use it over a high flame as it would crack and break. Since the Tajine style of cooking works so well, you can now get them in enameled cast iron from makers such as Staub and Le Creuset, and stainless steel from Cooks Standard.

It’s the funny looking lid that is the secret to Tajine cooking. The high peaked sides are for the steam and condensation to rise to the top and the inverted cupped top drips the moisture back into the center of your dish. Think of this as a non stop basting process.

We decided to go modern and get the stainless steel with ceramic lid and could not be happier. The stainless bottom is attractive enough to serve from and most of our cookware be it in cabinets, pantry or garage, we buy to cook with not set on display.

 

Cream of Mushroom Holiday Soup

I was raised in the days of Campbell Soups: chicken noodle, alphabet soup, hearty chicken, and sometimes tomato soup. Oh and the dreadful cream of mushroom soup.

After a couple of my tantrums Mom only used the mushroom stuff in casseroles and probably didn’t tell us. Definitely not the days of full disclosure.

After getting caught putting those cooked mushrooms in my pocket until I had a chance to go to the bathroom, or having the mushrooms discovered in my pockets in the laundry, I can’t really remember which, Mom and Dad made sure I ate them thereafter.

Decades went by and I learned to saute mushrooms to serve alongside steak, I even learned that canned mushrooms weren’t the best for this.

Little by little this fungus made it’s way into my daily cooking, and if the kids wouldn’t eat them, then all the more for me. The only mushrooms I haven’t come to terms with are dried ones, usually a morel. That’s because they are always tough. It must be something I am doing wrong, but who cares as long as fresh ones are available.

Years ago, and that is what this story is about, I had made a Costco run, and if you don’t know about Costco then think of Sam’s Club. Anyway, I had purchased a container (1 pound) of Chanterells and a container of Criminos (baby portobellos), if you are an A personality, you can say portabella) (2 pounds) for upcoming Thanksgiving.

Well we decided to have Thanksgiving on an island instead of home and I had 3 pounds of mushrooms that would have probably grown more fungus while we where away. Oh, what to do?

I had never made mushroom soup before, so I read a dozen recipes on the Internet to get a few ideas. An hour later we sat down to one of the finest dishes we had ever eaten let alone made. And we froze a couple of quarts for when we returned, that is, if we returned.

I know this is titled Holiday Soup and that’s because after eating our delicious bowls of creamed mushroom soup, we went to Orcas Island in the San Juan’s and had a 9 month holiday. We did sneak back to eat those other quarts of soup in the freezer, and to pack.

My recipe for cream of mushroom soup is here. Try it, you might like where it takes you.

Cream of Mushroom Soup, Oh Yeah

Years ago I had to cook it, or throw it out. We where leaving town for the weekend and some how I had 3 pounds of mushrooms in the fridge.  1 pound chanterelles and 2 pounds  baby portabellas. This was the beginning of my love affair with fungi.

This is a large recipe so have some freezer space available, And, yes, this freezes wonderfully.

Start with a couple of coarse chopped yellow onions sauteed  till caramelized. Deglaze the onions with half a cup of white wine. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper and then add the mushrooms, cover and simmer till the mushrooms have given up their moisture.

The onions and mushrooms have all been coarsely chopped, we want onions and mushrooms to break down and release their moisture, we don’t want to cook away the liquid.

   

Add 2 quarts of beef or bone broth, homemade is the best and homemade is also very healthy for you. Pour in the rest of that bottle of white wine plus some sage and simmer for about 10 minutes or so.

Be careful about the sage as to not overpower the delicate taste of the mushrooms. This should be a lightly seasoned dish and you can always add more. We grow our own sage and replace the container every year, so our sage would have considerably more flavor then that 8 year old bottle in your spice rack.

Since this is CREAM of mushroom soup, you need to add a thickener, for the richest taste and consistency add 1 to 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream. Or substitute 2 cups of Greek yogurt.

Run through your blender for a very smooth soup, or use the boat motor if you like it a little chunky, your choice.

At this point, we do a final seasoning to taste, ladle it into our dishes, and enjoy something that tastes like it took hours to make.

If serving for a special occasion, garnish with a few thin slices of mushroom and a swirl of cream on top.

 

 

 

Healthy Fried Chicken, ya, right.

Healthy Fried Chicken, now there’s an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

Bread your chicken and place in a cast iron skillet with cooking oil preheated to 350 degrees, cook, turn, drain and serve. Now there is the universal recipe for preparing fried chicken. Of course what you use for breading, or flour and seasoning is up to you.

 

I use an egg wash and Bisquick with Emeril’s SouthWestern rub added to it. I think you get a nice crust and good flavor. But in the end you still have fried chicken. Or should I say, chicken that has been cooked in hot oil. Not healthy.

Now there are many recipes that have you bake the chicken in a 425 degree oven till done, then cool and serve, and there are air fryers that don’t fry but cook with a very hot air and you still have to spray some oil on the food.

Unless I am missing something, we have:

  • Chicken fried in oil, not healthy.
  • Chicken air cooked with oil, sounds like you still get the oil, so what makes it any different than a well drained fried chicken, it’s drier.
  • Finally, baked fried chicken, another oxymoron, but healthier than the other options. But it’s baked chicken, not fried chicken. A crust doesn’t make it fried.

What makes fried chicken so good, well, it’s fried and has some of the oil adding another layer of flavor to it.

There has to be a way to get that good fried flavor and be healthy. Or so I thought.

Fried chicken night, I use a whole chicken cut up in my kitchen.  The back goes into the chicken broth bone bag, the liver, kidney and giblets get cooked, breaded and fried, and then Francene and our jack Russell fight over them.

For deconstructing a chicken I use a sharp boning knife and for splitting the breast I use a cleaver and rubber mallet.

I don’t like to swing a cleaver with other living things in the home and it’s hard to be precise.

Place cleaver at desired cutting spot and rap with a mallet. You receive super clean cuts, you don’t ruin you cutting board, and you don’t have bone chips in your meat.

Flour, egg wash and flour again, add wings, legs and thighs to your 350 degree oil and cook till toasty brown, repeat with breast halves.

Here is where we change directions. Place your partially cooked in oil chicken on a cooling rack placed on a baking sheet, place in a 435 degree oven and finish,

I baked for 20 minutes or so, I can’t be more specific because not all chickens are created equal.

Remove from oven, let set for 10 minutes and enjoy.

Was this a healthy fried chicken, of course not.

It was first cooked in oil.

Why go though the extra steps? Because I think it was healthier.

First we drained what oil we could, then we baked it.  When removed from the oven there was even more oil on the bottom of the baking sheet. Remember we cooked on top of a cooling rack, not sitting in oil on the sheet.

So, can we have healthy fried chicken, I think not. But we can make it healthier and still enjoy fried chicken. BTW it was very juicy.

Feel free to leave a comment.

Wondra Gumbo is wonderful

Gumbo, Wondra, what the? Well, actually yes, they do work together and your Gumbo is still a Creole – Cajun dish.

Why Wondra you may ask?  The answer will be obvious once you understand what Wondra is. Spoiler alert, its explained near the bottom.

Now back to Gumbo, the most well known trait of a good Gumbo is the Roux, it’s this mixture of flour and oil , cooked until you reach the level of nuttiness and color you prefer. What isn’t widely known is that the darker the Roux, the more you cook the flour the less it acts as a thickener.

Enter stage left,  Okra and File, two classic ways to thicken a gumbo roux. In Creole cooking the Okra is more widely used and in Cajun cooking it’s File.

Back to flour, its flavor changes the longer it is cooked, and I prefer that very dark, chocolate color and nutty flavor that comes from a long cook. So my roux does a poor job of thickening the gumbo.

Francene just doesn’t like Okra unless it’s fried and File has a flavor to it.  A flavor that adds if used sparingly and overpowers if dumped in.

In a typical Gumbo recipe you would have a roux of 1 cup oil and 1 cup flour, cooked till you reach the desired color. Add your trinity and then add about 3 quarts of liquid, chicken or beef broth. Then add the goodies and simmer.

If the roux (remember, I like a dark chocolate roux) isn’t going to act as a thickener then you have to simmer to reduce the liquid otherwise you will be simmering forever, and your goodies will become mush.

For those that don’t know, Gumbo is actually a soup with more body similar to a stew.

I’ve added what I think is a reasonable amount of file, and it’s still too soupy. Well, Thanksgiving is closing in, and in the back of our minds, Thanksgiving recipes have been racing around, including gravy.

I have never hesitated using Wondra in a gravy, and it has never had that raw flour taste, so I reach into the pantry and grab the blue tube and go for it. Wondra flour is super fine so it doesn’t clump, mixes well, and gets you to where you want to go quickly.

I taste the Gumbo and it’s great, but why doesn’t it taste like raw flour, well it’s because the flour has already been cooked. And it is mixed with a malted barley so we have a finished taste right from the container.

If the flavor of the Gumbo changed any, I couldn’t tell and if so, it just might have smoothed out a bit.

So the moral of the story is to not be afraid to think out of the box, a tube may just be what you are looking for.

Adventures with Sushi

Sushi, raw fish, slimy texture, yuck and double yuck.

There are times in our lives that we just have to get a grip, suck it up and think that maybe, just maybe it’s time to escape from our preconceived  notions.

My first experience with Sushi was on a cruise to Alaska though the inland passage. There was a small spot  where you could get a small plate of that rice stuff. They called the little roll things, something like California Rolls.  I knew it wasn’t real Sushi because there wasn’t any raw fish oozing out and it wasn’t slimy. See, I am a man of the world. (You’re probably not laughing any louder than I am).

Well, the years rolled by and I didn’t give any more thought to Sushi until Francene took me to lunch at this strange little place that has a little train running along side the booths; and what was on the train? Neat little rolls of rice, seaweed and stuff.

What surprised me was that the stuff wasn’t a slimy eel sticking it’s head out of the roll, nor were there any dangling tentacles.

There was cooked shrimp and crab meat neatly tucked into that little roll of rice and seaweed.  Some of the rolls had the rice on the outside and some had the rice wrapped inside, There was avocado, cucumber, and lots of just tasty delights rolling past me.

Then Francene took me to lunch again at a different Sushi restaurant in Newberg, this one had all that I have mentioned, AND some of that fish stuff. AND, I ate some more of it.

Time to make Sushi at home, I can roll a bit of rice and some seaweed into a roll and make it look as good as what we find in restaurants. Well, I can at least do the first part.

Okay, if I’m going to do this I will need a Shashimi knife because we all know you need the right tools. And we always need a good excuse to buy another blade. Of course I later figured out I was making Sushi, not Shashimi :-).

I then made a trip to our local Asian grocery store, Uwajimaya in Beaverton Oregon.

There I found at least 50 different types of seaweed for Sushi, and a very nice lady who explained which types of seaweed were good and which ones weren’t as good. Next was the bamboo mats for rolling out the seaweed, and thank goodness there were only two to choose from. I bought two of the most expensive mats there, a whopping $1.75 each.  These are bamboo mats used to make your roll round, square, or to give a uniform shape.

Then to the condiments for Wasabi, or at least that mustard, corn starch and green food dye stuff that passes for Wasabi. Either way, it’s hot and tasty. I already had the sticky rice in the pantry.

Of course I also bought two sticky buns with BBQ pork to give me fuel to the next stop.

The mega mart provided some crab meat, cucumber and avocado and then I headed back home. The home freezer provided some nice shrimp and crab.

Later, back at the mega mart, telling a clerk about my adventures with Sushi,  she said something like   ‘Hey, did you check out the new Sushi Bar in the deli department?’.   I, of course just stood there with a manly know it all look on my face, and when they turned away I went to see what they where talking about.

I don’t spend much time in the fast food deli. Nothing against fried chicken under lamps, or any of that other stuff, although I have been known to get a broccoli salad or something similar upon occasion.

And there, right there on the corner of the Deli, close to the Starbucks (probably the reason I don’t go to that part of the store, a zillion dollars for a cup of coffee, I don’t think so.)See “When that first sip of coffee touches your soul“) was the Sushi display case, and there behind the case was the Sushi chef, and there in his hand, extended towards me, were samples of SUSHI, that tasted SO Delish!.

I now have a new favorite section of the store.

After my little adventure into fancy rice balls with a variety of yummy goodies, our interest has been perked and our taste buds tickled with anticipation. A little research and a whole new world has appeared and needs to be explored along with a lot of practice in having the final product look appetizing. I need to limber up these old and big hands, get the fingers a little more flexible. Or get Francene on the assembly side where her smaller and younger hands would be welcome.

Here is a quick list of types of Sushi, what they look like and consist of.  Picture below is a link to gurunavi.com and an excellent description of Sushi types.

Also from gurunavi.com

Read:How to Eat Sushi like a Native: 8 Sushi Etiquette Tips
Read:22 Things You Didn’t Know About Sushi

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