Saturday, January 23, 2010

Excursions into the flavor zone...... Definite good eats!

Once again thrill seekers, we return to see what's cooking all over the world to give us the motivation we need to plow on..... or, as we say "panza llena - corazon contento", which means
"a full stomach give you a happy heart". A saying all foodies can relate to for there is nothing as fulfilling, satisfying or just plain joyous as having a great meal! Yum!....

So with that in mind and after surfing the net and the food channels it is that I make a beeline for the pantry to expand upon the ideas garnered in the great beyond. I'm sure you can understand what I mean about making each day a new adventure so that you and your family don't fall into cooking ruts (which we all fall into... right?) preparing and eating the same food over and over, and while it might have seemed like a good idea in the beginning, there is NOTHING that won't get old with time, or as the saying goes: "too much of a good thing - makes us nuts!".

I don't know when I began this (absolutely insane treadmill I have been on for the past 25 years or so...) notion of never preparing the same meals each week..... but after all this time it's too late to revert to the boring "same old" of yore, pushing me into ever-expanding horizons of culinary expedition trying to top myself over and over. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy and look forward not only to food shopping (yes, it's true I love going to the supermarket) but meal preparation as well; I am forever looking for new places to shop and exciting meals to produce.

Having started a new job this week and feeling the after-effects of the change of schedule, I've made some "quickie" meals this week due to this but Ricardo pitches in by getting things started so all I need to do is put it all together and finish it off, allowing me to cut the preparation time, which helps a lot. Doesn't mean we're eating differently, it only means a little extra planning when laying out menus and making shopping trips more efficient. So enough with all the comments and let's get on with the cooking shall we?

I've wanted to cook some great full flavor eats and after watching some amazing travel shows I decided that this would be some decidedly good eats:

Preserved Lemons and Chicken Tagine.- From Morocco comes this most traditional dish full of flavor and aromas that takes me back to North Africa whenever we have this.... you'll love it!
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1(3 ½-pound) chicken, cut into quarters
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium red onions, sliced lengthwise
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon lime juice
4 tablespoons chopped cilantro, divided
2 preserved lemons, about 4 ounces each
1/2 Greek olives

Lightly toast saffron in a dry small heavy skillet over moderately low heat, shaking skillet, until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer saffron to a small dish, let cool, then crumble with fingers. With a mortar and pestle, mash chopped garlic to a paste with 1/2 tsp salt. In a 12-inch tagine or shallow, covered casserole, or 12-inch heavy skillet, toss chicken with oil, onions, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric , lime juice, 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro,1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper and reserved saffron. Arrange chicken pieces over onions in tagine. Cut preserved lemons into quarters and scrape pulp from peel. Coarsely chop pulp and sprinkle over chicken. Cut lemon peel into 1/2-inch cubes and reserve. Add 3/4 cup water to tagine and simmer, covered, 30 minutes, until chicken is almost cooked through. Check occasionally toward end of cooking time to be sure tagine is not dry, adding more water if necessary to keep meat from burning and sticking to pot. Add olives and simmer, covered, 10 minutes longer until chicken is cooked through. Just before serving, sprinkle with preserved lemon peel, remaining cilantro, and salt to taste.
Okay, okay, I KNOW you're saying "darn it! there she goes listing some weird ingredient they don't sell at the A&P, now where in the world do I find preserved lemons?".... well, right here:

Preserved Moroccan Lemons.- While these are most at home in a Moroccan kitchen, they can also be used in a long list of other dishes from around the world. If you can find Meyer lemons, they'll be even better!

10 to 12 lemons (2 1/2 to 3 lb)
2/3 kosher salt
1/4 cup virgin olive oil

Blanch 6 lemons in boiling water 5 minutes, then drain. Cut each lemon into 8 wedges and discard seeds. Toss with kosher salt in a bowl, then firmly pack with salt into a 4- to 6-cup jar with a tight-fitting lid. Squeeze lemon juice from remaining lemons to measure 1 cup. Add enough juice to cover lemons and screw on lid. Let stand at room temperature, shaking jar gently once a day, 5 days. Add oil to lemons and chill, covered.
NOTE: I've had great preserved lemons in several areas of Italy too, and these keep really well, so you'll be able to use these for other dishes as well.

Almond and Chicken B'stilla.-
This is one of my absolutely favorite dishes (I think I've said this before, huh?) but it truly is. Traditionally made with pidgeon or sqwab, but can be made with almost anything you can think of- it's fabulous and easier to make than you think:
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1(3-lb) chicken, quartered
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
5 large cilantro sprigs
5(3-inch) cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 cup sugar, divided
12 eggs lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups(6 oz) slivered almonds
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
1 tablespoon orange blossom water (or use orange extract)

For b'stilla
6 (17- by 12-inch) phyllo sheets
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

ground cinnamon and confectioners sugar

Make Filling. Lightly toast saffron in a dry small heavy skillet over moderately low heat, shaking skillet, just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer saffron to a small dish, let cool, then crumble with fingers. Heat oil in a 5-to 6-qt pot over moderately high heat until it shimmers then brown chicken, turning once, about 5 minutes. Stir in onions, cilantro sprigs, cinnamon sticks, ginger, turmeric, 1 tsp each of salt and pepper, and 1/4 cup sugar. Add 2 cups water and saffron to chicken in pot and simmer, covered, until chicken is cooked through, 25 to 35 minutes. Cool chicken to room temperature. Boil liquid remaining in pot until reduced to 1/2 cup and discard onions, cinnamon sticks and cilantro sprigs. Whisk eggs into liquid in pot and scramble over medium heat until eggs are cooked. Transfer eggs to a plate and set aside. While chicken is cooking, toast almonds in a dry skillet over moderate heat until golden. Transfer almonds to a cutting board to cool, then coarsely chop. Stir together almonds, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 2 Tbsp remaining sugar, orange blossom water and 1/4 tsp salt in a bowl, then set aside. Bake pastries until golden and sugar is caramelized, 10 to 12 minutes (they will shrink to about 5 inches long). Transfer pastries to a rack to cool completely. When chicken is cool, pull meat into shreds, discarding skin and bones. Toss chicken with remaining 2 Tbsp sugar, remaining 1 tsp ground cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp salt.

Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle position. Stack phyllo sheets on a work surface and cover stack with overlapping sheets of plastic wrap and then a dampened kitchen towel. Keeping remaining phyllo covered, place 1 sheet on a work surface and brush with butter. Transfer buttered phyllo to a large baking sheet (phyllo may overhang edges of pan). Repeat with 2 more sheets phyllo, buttering, then layering each sheet on top of the previous one in a star pattern to form a round. (Angle the second sheet to the left and the third sheet to the right, sheets should not align.) Spread chicken in an 11-inch round in center of phyllo and top with scrambled eggs. Sprinkle cilantro and parsley over eggs and drizzle with 2 Tbsp melted butter. Spread almond mixture over herbs and fold overhanging phyllo up over filling toward center of round, brushing phyllo with melted butter. Put 1 of remaining sheets of phyllo on a work surface, brush with butter and place over b'stilla. Butter and layer 2 more sheets of phyllo over b?stilla in same manner (sheets should not align). Gently tuck edges of phyllo under b'stilla. Gently press on b'stilla to flatten slightly. Bake b'stilla in center of oven 30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking, until top and side are golden brown. Dust b'stilla with cinnamon and sprinkle confectioners' sugar over top with fingers in a lattice pattern. Cut into wedges to serve.

Vegetable Couscous.- So lovely, fragrant and comforting. A complete dish and a wonder!

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
2 large tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large red onions, sliced lengthwise
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons tomato paste
6 large cilantro sprigs
6 large parsley sprigs
1 lb carrots, peeled and halved crosswise and lengthwise
2 medium turnips, peeled and quartered
8 cups water
1 lb long, thin eggplants (2 to 3), halved crosswise, then halved lengthwise
1/2 medium green cabbage, cut into 4 wedges, then halve wedges crosswise
1 lb medium zucchini, trimmed, halved crosswise, then halved lengthwise
1 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch pieces

4 cups(1 1/2 lb) medium grain couscous
1/4 cup Argan or olive oil
1/4 cup toasted skinned almonds

Lightly toast saffron in a dry small heavy skillet over moderately low heat, shaking skillet, just until fragrant, about 1 minute, then transfer to a small dish, let cool then crumble saffron with fingers. Halve tomatoes and grate flesh on large round holes of a box grater, discarding skin. Put oil, onions, ginger, turmeric, tomato paste, cilantro and parsley sprigs, saffron, grated tomatoes, 2 tsp salt, and 1 tsp pepper in lower portion of couscoussière (or in 5- to 6-quart pot) and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until onions are softened, about 10 minutes. Add carrots and turnips to pot and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add water and then bring to a simmer. In a 4-quart saucepan combine eggplants and 2 cups water and simmer, covered, until eggplants are tender, about 10 minutes. Keep warm until ready to use.

While broth comes to a simmer, put couscous in a large wide bowl and drizzle with 1/4 cup oil, rubbing grains between your palms to distribute oil. Sprinkle couscous with 1 cup tepid water, rubbing until water is absorbed. Place couscous into top portion of couscoussière or colander (if using a colander or steamer, line with cheesecloth) in an even, loose layer without packing. Set couscous over simmering broth and steam, covered, 15 minutes. (If steam is escaping through the space between the pot and the steamer [or stockpot and colander], wrap with a strip of damp cheesecloth or damp kitchen towel to prevent steam from escaping.)

Transfer couscous to bowl and drizzle with 1 1/2 cups water and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt. Let stand until cool enough to handle, then gently rub couscous between palms to break up any lumps and incorporate water. Add cabbage to broth in couscoussière and return to a simmer. Return couscous to top of couscoussière, wrapping, if necessary, to prevent steam from escaping. Steam a second time, covered, 15 minutes.

Transfer couscous to a bowl again and drizzle 2 cups water over couscous. Let stand until cool enough to handle, and gently rub couscous between palms. Add zucchini and butternut squash to broth and return to a simmer. To prevent vegetables from breaking apart, do not stir. Return couscous to top of couscoussiere, and steam for third and final time, covered, as before, 15 minutes. Transfer couscous to bowl and drizzle with argan or olive oil. When couscous is cool enough to handle, rub between palm to break up any lumps and incorporate oil. Reheat eggplant in saucepan, then drain, discarding liquid.

Mound the couscous on a large platter making a depression in center. Spoon tfaya into depression in couscous and arrange vegetables and chick peas over couscous. Season broth in pot with salt to taste, then ladle about 2 cups broth over vegetables and couscous to moisten. Sprinkle with almonds. Serve bowls of harissa and remaining broth on the side.

NOTE: Broth can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Reheat before proceeding with recipe.Couscous can be made 2 hours ahead and kept warm, covered.If you don't have a couscoussière or a large stock pot, you can use a 6- to 8-quart pot to cook the vegetable stew, and a second pot to steam the couscous over water, such as a wide pot fitted with a colander or a pasta pot fitted with the pasta/steamer insert. If holes in the colander or steamer are large, line with a double layer of cheesecloth. If using this method, cook the stew partially covered.

Tfaya.- The "Pièce de résistance" for the couscous and the "touch" that makes the dish.

1 cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 1/2 tablespoon ground ginger
3(3-inch) cinnamon sticks
a pinch turmeric<
a pinch saffron
2 cups sugar

Soak raisins in 1 cup warm water for 15 minutes. Cook onions in oil with 1 tsp salt in a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot over medium heat, stirring frequently, until soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Add ginger, cinnamon sticks, turmeric, saffron, and 3/4 tsp pepper and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Drain raisins and add to onion mixture with sugar and simmer until mixture is slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

A fabulous Moroccan meal filled with aromas that will get you high without the need to take anything extra (almost, you know what I mean), the flavors these dishes evoke are incomparable for there is nothing on the globe that compares to them. The satisfaction of bringing such treasures to your table is amazing and will make the work entailed in making them more than worth it. To tell the truth, it doesn't even seem like work to have these (once I recall what they taste like... YUM! which is what gets and keeps me going). So break out the floor cushions, candles and incense and get down to it..... spend an evening in an exotic faraway land, savor incredible flavors, forget all about your daily lives and capture the magic of the moment!

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