Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Another Tagine, sort of

I do so hate to be repetitive, but my last tagine post really doesn't count as it a) didn't include a recipe, just a link; b)was more for the February Gourmet, unbound roundup than my usual readers; and c) tagines are delicious so why not try more than one. This dish is a Moroccan tagine-style lamb stew which is pretty quick to prepare and if you've ever made the infamous Chicken Marbella you'll feel instantly familiar with some of the ingredients.

This looks like a long ingredient list, but much of it is spices. Once you measure and mix the spices, this is not too complicated. This might not be Rachael Ray speed but it should come in under an hour.

I've been buying my grass-fed lamb right from the Jamison Farm booth at the Bethesda Central Farm Market. So if you're local you can do that too. They have been coming all winter to the winter location on Bethesda Lane on Sunday mornings. I purchased this last batch when it was about 18 degrees out. I have also seen grass-fed local lamb recently at Whole Foods. Grass fed is less fatty than commercial, and the flavor is a little subtler with less of the oily note that some lamb takes on.

This recipe is also pretty flexible. Don't think twice about the raz el hanout if you don't have it. Some of the flavors are already covered in the spice mix. You can add a can of rinsed garbanzo beans towards the end of the simmering if you'd like, or, as I did the last time I made this (and which you can see in the photo), add a few handfuls of cut up butternut or acorn squash in when you return the lamb to the pan. And don't worry about those people in your family who don't like olives - just have them quietly push them to the side of their plate like my family does. The olive lovers can scavenge at will.

I like to serve this with couscous as it soaks up the sauce nicely. I use whole wheat couscous, as we don't notice any taste difference from the regular. To make couscous easily and mostly clump-free, put one cup dry couscous in a medium-sized microwave safe bowl. Add a pinch or two of salt and mix gently with a fork. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and mix again with fork to distribute the oil and coat the grains. Add 1-1/4 cups water to bowl and mix gently but thoroughly with fork. Let sit on counter for 10 minutes or so, mixing occasionally with fork until the water is mostly absorbed. Cover bowl with plastic wrap (make sure the level of couscous is well below the top of the bowl so that the plastic is not touching the food) and microwave for 2 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve. This method also saves cleaning a pot!

Quick Moroccan Style Lamb

(serves 4 - 6, depending on appetite)

2 - 2 1/2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder or boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-sized pieces (at the Jamison stand I try to buy the lamb they call "kabob" - it's already cubed shoulder meat)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1-1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon raz el hanout spice mix (optional)

2 - 3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups homemade or low or no sodium chicken stock

1 cup pitted "bite sized" dried plums (prunes), or if regular sized then halved

1/2 cup Spanish green olives, pitted

2 teaspoons lemon zest (if you have preserved lemon you can use the skin of 1/2, rinsed and minced)

2 -3 teaspoons chopped parsley

1. Combine the salt, pepper and other spices in a large bowl. Add the lamb pieces and toss to coat.

2. Heat a large saute pan or a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the oil and brown the lamb chunks, in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding pan, browning on all sides. Remove the lamb chunks from the pan as they cook. Remove some of the fat from the pan if a lot has rendered. Leave only a light coating.

3. Lower heat to medium and cook the onion and garlic until onion is softened and translucent, about 4 or 5 minutes.

4. Add stock to the pan and scrape up any browned bits from bottom of pan.

5. Return lamb to pan along with any juices, and add prunes, olives and zest (and squash if using).

6. Raise heat and bring mixture to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer on low or medium-low, covered part way, for about 30 minutes. If adding garbanzo beans, then add them after about 20 minutes of simmering. If mixture seems dry at any point, add a half cup of water or stock.

7. Taste for salt and pepper, garnish with parsley and serve with whole wheat couscous.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gourmet, Unbound - February Edition

As I did in January, I am participating in the February roundup on the blog Gourmet, Unbound, a forum for bloggers and Gourmet devotees to honor the now defunct magazine by cooking a recipe from a February Gourmet from any year. This month I chose an Algerian tagine made with apricots, orange marmalade and spiced pine nuts from February, 2008. Though the dish itself is a little sweet, the spiced pine nuts balanced that pretty well so it wasn't cloying. Everyone seemed to enjoy the dish. Ideally, I'd serve this with whole wheat couscous.

This dish is not too far off from the basic parameters of healthierkitchen. To ramp up the health factor, I added some cut up carrots and butternut squash (which I purchased already cut up at Trader Joes). I also omitted the butter, but it's not such a big deal with this recipe as it calls for only 1 tablespoon for the whole dish.

The largest change I made, apart from adding the vegetables, was to use about 2 pounds of boneless, skinless thighs in lieu of the whole chicken. Because I didn't have the bones to make the broth richer, I added chicken stock instead of water later on. I added about two cups of stock instead of the the 1 cup of water, as I had added a mound of vegetables.

Here's the link to the recipe:

This and That

These last two weeks have been a whirlwind of cooking: I've been trying out new recipes every few days, as well as fine-tuning older recipes, I assisted an Indian cooking class at CulinAerie, and I entered a contest or two. My refrigerator is bursting with ingredients and my family is getting tired of eating all the bits and pieces of leftovers after all these experiments. But, it's been stimulating and my creative cooking juices are flowing, so to speak.

In the news, Michelle Obama has announced a commitment to fighting childhood obesity (hey- check out my blog!!), in part by working on healthier school lunches. Today, the New York Times, reported that lowering your sodium intake can, in fact, help your health. I thought we already knew that, but I guess it bears repeating. It seems the question is whether or not cutting back some sodium is actually as big of a health move as quitting smoking. It seems to me a no-brainer even if it's a relatively smaller healthy step to take. If you know where the sodium is lurking, it is actually quite simple to cut back without losing flavor. Keep using some salt in home cooking, but watch out for fast food and keep reading the labels on packages. For example, there are so many really tasty tomato sauces in jars that have far less sodium than others. Choose those. Campbell's has announced that it will cut some of the sodium from its soups, which is great, because canned soup is one of the worst offenders. Francis Lam, formerly of Gourmet before its demise, and now of, wrote a great piece last week about just this issue: don't be afraid of a little salt when cooking at home, but watch out with processed and fast foods. Message? Much like Michael Pollan's, Mark Bittman's (and mine!)... cook more and you will have control over what goes in. You can read his post at:

I was playing with some toasted bread crumbs one day for a broccoli pasta dish I was testing and I discovered how nicely they added a little something extra to some very thin, very plain flounder fillets I planned to serve that night. At first, I wasn't sure what I'd do with the flounder, maybe something Asian with soy and fish sauce, but then I remembered something my father used to do with scrod when I was a little girl. He rolled the fillets up into little pinwheels, sprinkled some corn flake crumbs on top and baked them. Since I was already toasting some whole wheat bread crumbs for that other dish, I used those instead. The flounder came out tender and flaky and, actually, quite delicious for bland white fish. And did I mention easy?

Buying fish is fraught with all kinds of issues these days and on this particular day, flounder was the only fish at the store that was fresh, not frozen, domestic, not foreign caught, and not on the "avoid" list from the Monterey Bay Aquarium (i.e. sustainable, not over fished and not particularly unhealthy to eat). OK, so healthy, and good for the world, but boring. These bread crumbs jazzed up the fillets without overpowering them.

This is another one of those "it's not really a recipe" recipes. It's easy and adaptable to what you have on hand. If you have no lemon, you can skip it. Want more garlic? Add more! Hate parsley? Try chervil if you can find it. Generally, gremolata is a mixture of minced garlic and parsley with lemon zest thrown in. It adds a bright flavor to heavy meat dishes such as osso bucco, but here it is a light touch to add interest to a light fish. It's generally not cooked, but as I was toasting the breadcrumbs anyway, I thought I'd take a little of the edge off the garlic by cooking it briefly.

On a recent trip to the Penzeys spice store up in Rockville, I purchased some dried lemon zest. I'm a little skeptical that it can come close to fresh, but I'm going to try it out. Has anyone used this sort of product before? While at Penzeys I replenished my supply of Aleppo pepper. I use it on so many dishes - it's milder and more flavorful than regular red pepper - though I know it's hard to find. You can order on line from Penzeys here: Browse the site a little as they have great blends as well, such as several different curry powders and chili powders. You can get all sorts of other specialty items such as saffron, Szechuan peppercorns, coriander and cumin seed, and so on.

Flounder Fillets with "Gremolata" Bread Crumb

(serves 4)

4 - 6 flounder fillets, depending on size ( I used 6 for 4 people as they were so thin). Ask your fishmonger for advice on amount.
1 lemon to be used for both zest and juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup bread crumbs, I prefer whole wheat - Whole Foods has a great version with little or no sodium
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Wash and zest lemon. You did get that Microplane zester, didn't you?

3. lightly salt and pepper the fillets and sprinkle a little lemon juice over them. Roll each fillet up gently and place onto a sheet pan or baking pan (lined with aluminum foil if you prefer easy cleanup).

4. Heat a small skillet over a burner set on medium heat and add the olive oil. Add in the bread crumbs and mix well.

5. Add the garlic to the pan and stir frequently for about 2 or 3 minutes. Add in the parsley and lemon zest, mix well to combine and then stir frequently for another minute or two. Take the pan off the heat.

6. Sprinkle a little of the bread crumb mixture over each rolled up fillet.

7. Place baking pan into heated oven and roast fish for about 10 or 15 minutes, depending on thickness. My fillets were very thin and cooked very quickly.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Peanut Chicken

This dish is sort of like chicken sate without the skewers, with a healthy dose of broccoli to move it into the "healthier" category. I've been making this since I was in law school and I vividly remember making it for Paul on one of our early dates. He claims it's one of the main reasons he married me. We won't debate that topic here. What is not in dispute is that it has been a favorite of all of ours and has been very kid friendly. When the kids were smaller, there were times that one or the other passed on the chicken chunks or the sauce or even the noodles, but there was always another part of the dish they ate happily. There's nothing fancy or gourmet about this dish, but it is delicious and relatively easy to prepare.

We like this to be particularly saucy, so I use a little of the pasta water to thin the sauce, rather than overdoing it with the peanut butter. Use fresh lemons for the lemon juice if you have them, but you can substitute bottled lemon juice in a pinch. I've served this with regular and thin spaghetti, whole wheat spaghetti and even couscous. This would also be great with soba noodles. If you don't eat gluten, I'm sure it would be great with rice noodles as well. If you don't have a wok, just use a deep skillet.

One thing I've never really discussed that I know many people already do but might be helpful for some, is to have everything ready before you start cooking. While this is always helpful, it is particularly important when using a wok as the cooking can go very quickly and you'll want to have all your ingredients ready at the outset. You can put everything into little bowls like the French mise en place. I cut my broccoli first and get that on to steam, and then cut the onion and garlic. Next I cut the chicken so it doesn't cross-contaminate the vegetables. The board then goes into the dishwasher. I use a separate knife for cutting meats and chicken as well. I steam the broccoli lightly before adding it to the wok because I find that it otherwise takes too long for me to cook it on a regular home stove. I sometimes even make the sauce before heating up the wok, though more often, I hand that over to Paul to mix while I work the wok. It's sort of a tradition after all these years. We even have a particular little stainless steel bowl that we always use to mix the sauce. Weird, I know.

Before getting to the recipe, I'd just like to acknowledge the vendors at the Bethesda Central Farm Market, who were out there on Sunday despite the ridiculously cold weather. It was no more than 25 degrees when I was there around 11 a.m. and was, I'm sure, much colder when the first arrived to set up. I had received an email telling me that the farm stand would be open, so I felt compelled to bundle up and get out there to support them.

Peanut Chicken
(serves 4 - 6)

1 tablespoon peanut or canola oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite sized pieces

1 onion, diced

2 small (or 1 large) cloves garlic, minced

1 head broccoli (it will be about 4 -6 cups depending on size), cut up into florets and lightly steamed (do not overcook - you want the broccoli to be bright green). I like to have a lot of broccoli so I buy a big head.

6 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter

4 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons lemon juice (1 -2 lemons, depending on how large and how juicy)

1 pound whole wheat spaghetti or whatever noodles you prefer

1. Put up a pot of hot water for the noodles you'd like to serve with this.

2. In a hot wok lightly coated with peanut or canola oil, saute chicken pieces over medium-high heat until chicken is just becoming white, about 5 - 7 minutes.

3. Add onion and garlic to the wok and continue to cook until onion is soft and chicken is cooked all the way through (if you're not sure, cut into a piece to see if the inside is no longer pink), about 5 minutes more. If it seems dry in the pan, throw in a splash of low sodium soy sauce.

4. Add broccoli to pan and lower burner to medium-low. Make sure to keep an eye on the pasta water and add the pasta when boiling. When you drain the pasta, reserve 1/2 cup of the water for the sauce.

5. In a small bowl, mix the peanut butter, soy sauce and lemon juice to make a paste.
6. Add peanut butter paste into the wok and mix well, adding 1/4 - 1/2 cup (add 1/4 cup at a time) of the pasta water if you like a looser sauce. Stir until all the broccoli/chicken mixture is well coated and heated through, 1 -2 minutes.

7. Serve over noodles. If you are serving eaters who insist on a little spice, simple pass them the rooster (Sriracha) or other hot sauce.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Post, New Year

I'm not particularly mushy, I don't think bad luck comes in threes, and I tend to implement my resolutions when I think of them, rather than on a day set by the calendar so, really, what is the significance of the "New Year" to someone like me? I spent some time thinking about this after reading a couple of op ed pieces cheering the arrival of a new decade after the horrible decade that just passed. I found the concept confusing at first - a lot of really bad crap occurred during this decade both for us as a nation and for my family personally - but do you write off an entire decade? Seems extreme. Some good must have happened as well. But, when I thought back over the past ten years, I finally concluded that this era was more heavily weighted with sadness, drama and stress than my prior adult years. So I'll join the others and hope that this year marks the beginning of a calmer, healthier, and more peaceful decade than the last.

One of my holiday gifts was the new 16 cup Cuisinart with three different sized bowls! I'm very much looking forward to using it for just about everything. Although my trusty old Cuisinart which I received as an engagement gift in 1988 is mostly still working, it leaks a bit, particularly when I make pesto, leaving a trail of green oil around the base. I am also without the stem used to attach the other blades for shredding and slicing. I did check on a replacement web site a few years ago and found the missing part but didn't purchase it as it was $40.00, plus shipping, which seemed like too much of an investment in what was then an almost twenty year old appliance. At the time I figured I'd replace the whole machine the next time they went on sale. Due to a combination of laziness and then a bad economy, that didn't happen until this past December. Recipes will follow shortly!!

Despite this being one of the coldest weeks I remember in DC, I had an urge for Bircher Muesli. I've written before about how much I like oatmeal and muesli is simply another way to eat it. However, it is traditionally served cold, which seems like the last thing I'd want this week. Somehow, it worked. The beauty of this dish is you make several servings at once, so you can serve your family or friends at once, or have your breakfast ready made for a few days in a row. You start this dish the night before by mixing the oats, milk, yogurt and sweetener and then refrigerating the mixture overnight, and adding the fruit and nuts in the morning before serving. So, after 5 minutes of effort in the evening and 5 more the following morning, you have a healthy and filling breakfast. Fiber, people, fiber!

I first had Bircher Muesli at the home of a friend who, rumor has it, wheedled it out of the chef at a local Swiss coffee shop. I've since experimented with several versions and this is what I've come up with. I find that it's creamy enough with the skim milk as I use the Greek yogurt which is thicker and creamier, even in its non-fat variety.

Bircher Muesli

(serves 4)

~1-1/4 cups old fashioned oats (not quick cooking)
~2/3 cup skim milk
~2/3 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
~1 apple, peeled and grated or finely chopped
~1/4 cup organic cane sugar or honey (or 3 tablespoons agave nectar) - the honey or agave will create a slightly stickier consistency than the sugar
~raisins or other dried fruit (optional)
~toasted slivered or sliced almonds, about 1 -2 tablespoons per serving, 1/2 cup for whole batch. Lazy girl that I am, I buy mine pre-toasted at Trader Joes, but you can toast yours by putting them in a single layer on a baking sheet for about 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven.
~cut up fresh fruit (whatever fruit you like - I like bananas, strawberries, blueberries, and pear, depending on the season)

1. Evening before you want to serve the muesli: In medium to large bowl, mix together the oats, milk, yogurt, sweetener, grated apple, and dried fruit if using. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

2. In the morning, remove bowl from refrigerator and add the fresh fruit and sprinkle the nuts on top.

3. If you like, you can also sprinkle some wheat germ on top for extra fiber and flavor.