Chicken Tagine with Apricots, Raisins and Dates

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I have been on a Mediterranean kick lately. Not only is the food healthy, but they have some intriguing flavor combinations. When exploring Mediterranean cooking, Moroccan food is mandatory. I fell in love with Moroccan food years ago at Epcot in Disney World. I know an “international experience” at Epcot is rather lame, but at the time Epcot did grant exposure to the world to rather insular Americans which I was at the time.

Moroccan cooking uses typical spices of the region: cumin, coriander, cinnamon, allspice, saffron, and nutmeg. They also use fruits in their cooking which seems somewhat unique. For this recipe, I was looking for the right savory spice profile balanced with some sweetness from the fruit. I was looking for the balance to tip more to the savory than sweet.

A tagine is a Moroccan dish named after the traditional earthenware pot in which it is traditionally cooked. So I guess this recipe is not really a “Chicken Tagine”. It is a “Chicken Dutch Oven.” I don’t have a traditional earthenware tagine, but can use the traditional ingredients and spices and find an appropriate, if not traditional, vessel in which to cook them.

I used whole spices, toasted and ground them. You could use store-bought ground spices. As long as they are fresh, the flavor profile should be okay.

I have a niece that is allergic to apricots. Other dried fruits can be substituted. I would stay away from overly sweet fruits. Dried papaya, mango, or pear would be interesting. Dried strawberries would be a different twist, but I would probably crank back on the orange juice. I wanted to add some pomegranates, but, sadly, couldn’t find any.

Concerning dried fruits, I have discovered that most are heavy in chemical preservatives. I tend toward their organic cousins that have nothing but fruit. Without fail, if my wife has a head-ache, I can trace it to a food label I did not read closely enough the prior day. You could read that as, if my wife has a head-ache, it’s probably my fault. But then again, that’s a given.

This meal was great on the first night and even better as leftovers the second as the spices intensified.

I served the tagine over whole wheat Israeli Couscous with some whole wheat garlic Naan. Yes, I know Israeli Couscous and Naan are not Moroccan, buy it made for a delicious meal.

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
4 Chicken Legs, separated into Thighs and Drumsticks
1 Onion, chopped
1 Small Hot Pepper, minced
1 cup Dried Apricots, roughly chopped
3/4 cup Fresh Dates, pitted and roughly chopped
3/4 cup Raisins
2 Tsp whole Cumin seeds
2 Tsp whole Coriander seeds
3 inch stick of Cinnamon
2 pinches of Saffron
10 Allspice Seeds
1 Tsp freshly grated Nutmeg
3 Cups Apple Cider
3 Cups Water
Juice of 1 Orange
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Direction:
1) Heat Olive Oil in a Dutch Oven over medium-high heat.
2) Salt and Pepper chicken and place in the Dutch Oven. Brown on all sides, approximately 10 minutes.
3) Meanwhile, toast spices in a hot, dry skillet until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove spices to a mortar and grind with a pestle or pop into your handy, dandy spice grinder. Pre-ground spices are acceptable, but fresh ground are better.
4) When browned, remove chicken from Dutch Oven and reserve. Add onion and peppers and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
5) Add ground spices to the onions and peppers and cook for an additional minute.
6) Return chicken to the Dutch Oven. Add fruit, orange juice and enough half-cider, half-water mixture to cover. Increase heat to a boil and the reduce to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes. If more liquid is needed during cooking, add cider and water in equal proportions.
7) Remove chicken to a plate and cover to keep warm.
8) Increase heat on Dutch Oven to a boil and reduce broth for 10 minutes.
9) Serve chicken plated over couscous and top with the reduced broth.

Hasselback Potatoes

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It’s all in the cutting: a baked potato with some visual flair and did I mention simple to do? This dramatic presentation of the simple potato was introduced by the Hasselbacken Hotel in Stockholm, Sweden in the 1940’s. (This sort of begs the question of why it’s not called a Hasselbacken Potato, but nobody asked me.) It has caught the recent culinary eye of the US with the increase of food porn on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.

The key to the Hasselback is making thin slices of the baking potato without slicing through to the bottom. You want to stop about 1/4 inch before slicing through. To aid me in cutting, I place the potato on the counter between two cutting boards and cut down to the boards. I have heard of people doing the same with chop sticks, but I found them too thin and ended up with sliced potatoes.

Once the potatoes are cut, I run them under cold water to remove some of the starch and pat them dry. From there, your options are open. For the pictured potato, I simply sprayed it which Olive Oil and sprinkled it with Kosher Salt. You can add your favorite herbs, butter and/or maybe some cheese between the slices. Let your imagination run wild.

I bake them at 400 degrees F. for 45-60 minutes or throw them on the grill on indirect heat until done. As they cook, the slices fan out for a impressive presentation.

The potato is crisp on the outside, a little creamy on the inside and elegant on the plate. Don’t tell your guests how simple it was to make and keep them in awe of your great culinary talents.

Beef and Spinach Börek

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There are plenty of recipes for beef börek and plenty for spinach börek, but not so much for beef and spinach borek. So that is the recipe du jour. Okay, let’s backtrack a little. What in the world is a börek?

According to the fount of all knowledge and wisdom, Wikipedia, “Börek … is a family of baked or fried filled pastries made of a thin flaky dough known as phyllo (or yufka). … It was most probably invented in what is now Modern Turkey.” Yes, börek is Turkish, but it has spread. There is Serbian börek and Bulkan börek. There are African and Israeli variations. There are börek, bureks and briks. They are made as pies, spirals, cigar shaped cylinders, triangular or crescent bit size pieces and tarts. What is their essence? A thin flaky crust and some filling. I can work with that!

Back to beef böreks and spinach böreks, my recipe is the best of both worlds; a beef and spinach börek with authentic Mediterranean spices. I used non-fat Feta which is common in spinach böreks, but not beef variations. I also added non-fat Greek yogurt to the egg wash instead of the milk which is more common in beef böreks. I used fresh spinach, but you could use its frozen cousin, thaw it and squeeze out all the liquid.

I developed my own blend of Turkish spices for this recipe and have added the recipe below. For this one, I chose the spiral form since it looks cooler. Doing a simple pie would be easier, but the spiral was much more elegant with little extra effort.

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With endless varieties, you can play with this recipe for many delicious meals to come. I served it with a side salad for a simple, delicious and healthy meal.

Ingredients:
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 lb. Ground Beef
1 Medium Yellow Onion, chopped
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
2 cups fresh Spinach, finely chopped
1/2 cup Non-fat Feta Cheese, crumbled
3 tsp. Turkish Spice Blend (see below)
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1/2 cup Non-fat Greek Yogurt
2 Large Eggs
1 tsp. Ground Cumin
10 sheets of Phyllo dough
Poppy Seeds

Directions:
1) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.
2) In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of Olive oil over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and brown until thoroughly cooked.
3) Remove ground beef to a large mixing bowl leaving and liquid in the skillet.
4) Add onions to the skillet and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
5) Add garlic to skillet and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.
6) Strain onions and garlic an add to the mixing bowl with the ground beef.
7) Add the spinach, feta cheese, Turkish spice blend, salt and pepper to the beef mixture and mix thoroughly. Set aside to cool.
8) In a separate mixing bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of Olive oil, the Greek yogurt, eggs and cumin. Whisk until smooth.
9) On a clean dry surface, lay out one layer of phyllo. Brush lightly with the yogurt-egg mixture, top with another layer of phyllo and brush it with the yogurt-egg mixture, as well.
10) Use 1 cup of the ground beef mixture and spread along the long edge of the phyllo to within one inch of each side.
11) Fold the sides over the filling and roll the phyllo into a long cylinder. Roll the cylinder into a spiral and place on a lightly greased sheet pan. Repeat until the ground beef mixture is gone. It should make 5 spirals.
12) Brush the tops of each spiral with the yogurt-egg mixture. Sprinkle with poppy seeds.
13) Bake for 40 minutes until golden brown. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Turkish Spice Blend:

Ingredients:
1 tsp. Whole Cumin Seeds
1/2 tsp. Whole Coriander Seeds
2 inch Cinnamon Stick
1/2 tsp. Whole Cloves
1/2 tsp. Whole Allspice
1/2 tsp. Ground Nutmeg

Directions:
1) In a hot, dry sauce pan, toast all spices except for the nutmeg until fragrant and the cumin is just starting to brown.
2) Place toasted spices into a mortar and pestle.
3) Grate nutmeg into the spice mix.
4) Grind the spices into a fine powder.

Mushroom Soup

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The weather has been frigid lately and that demands soup to warm the bones. I had never done a mushroom soup so I decided to give it a go. I used a variety of mushrooms: 1/2 Crimini, 1/4 Shitake and 1/4 rehydrated Porcini. If using dried mushrooms, do not throw away the rehydration liquid. Strain it carefully and use it in place of some of the stock. In my case, I had 1 cup of rehydration liquid and 3 cups of broth. There is no sense in throwing away all that flavor.

I used a semi-dry sherry since the subtle, oaky flavors would go better with the earthiness of the mushrooms than a dry, fruity sherry. The Greek yogurt added some thickening and richness without the fat of regular or sour cream.

It’s not Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom (that is a good thing), but it was Mm, Mm, Good! I served it along side a pork loin roast stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and shallots, but it really could be a meal all by itself.

Ingredients:
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 Tbs. olive oil
3 medium shallots, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. fresh wild mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 Tbs. fresh Rosemary
4 cups homemade chicken broth
1/4 cup non-fat Greek Yogurt
1/4 cup semi-dry sherry
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
1) Melt the butter and olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
2) Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
3) Reserve several slices of mushroom for the garnish and add the rest of the mushrooms and rosemary to the pot and cook until the mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes.
4) Add the broth, deglaze the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

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5) Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
6) Transfer about half of the soup to a food processor and puree until smooth.
7) Return the mixture to the pot and stir in the Greek yogurt and sherry. Salt and pepper, to taste, and reheat.
8) Garnish each serving with a couple of slices of reserved mushrooms.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken Tortilla Soup

My wife called me from our daughter’s apartment last week where she is helping her pack for a move to a post-doctoral research position at Princeton University. Notice how I seamlessly worked in the facts that my daughter 1) has her Ph.D and 2) has accepted a position at Princeton. Okay, enough bragging and back to soup. It seems my daughter’s downstairs neighbors who are of Mexican descent were cooking something that smelled fabulous and my wife thought it might be soup. I had chicken tortilla soup on my mind the rest of the week. Sunday was cold and snowy so it seemed like a good excuse to cook some up.

Tortilla soup is one of those recipes where everyone seems to have their own favorite version and they are all different. I don’t know how authentic my version is, but it is smoky, spicy and full of beans, peppers and chicken; oh, and did I mention delicious.

I can’t do anything the easy way so even with the snow and the cold, I went out and fired up the grill for some of the prep work. Picture this: there is snow on the ground. Temps are in the low 20s. The wind is blowing. A neighbor bundled up like Nanook of the North is walking his dog past our driveway. Meanwhile, I am standing on the carport in a short sleeve shirt and socked feet firing up the grill. Yes, I know I am certifiably crazy which proves that my daughter got her smarts from her mother who is helping her pack for a move to a post-doctoral research position at Princeton University, but I guess I mentioned that already.

For peppers, I used Anchos, Poblano, red and yellow bell peppers plus some ancho chili powder and cayenne pepper in the spice mix. I roasted the Poblano and bell peppers on the grill until charred and popped them into a plastic sandwich bag to steam for 15 minutes. Likewise, I roasted the tomatoes on the grill until charred and soft.

Veggie

For chicken, I went with the bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. Since the skin wasn’t going into the soup, I was forced to snack on it while I shredded the meat. Doesn’t that skin look crispy and tasty? It was! Snacking on it is just one of those sacrifices you have to make when you cook. People do not always appreciate the sacrifices of a chef.

Chicken

There are all sorts of time saving substitutions you can make with this recipe. Just understand, you may be impacting the taste, as well. I think the long form approach is best for this recipe . . . most recipes.

I used dry beans, soaked them overnight and then cooked them. You could buy a can of black beans ready to use. I roasted fresh tomatoes and processed them with the anchos. You could use a can of diced tomatoes. If you do, choose one with green chilies for extra kick. Instead of roasting red and yellow bell peppers, you could buy a jar of roasted peppers. I used homemade chicken stock. You could use low-sodium, store-bought chicken stock. I developed a spice mix for the soup. You could purchase a jar of Mexican spices to use. In a pinch, you could pick up a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken instead of cooking a couple of breasts.

If you go with the jars and cans, watch the sodium level. By the time you are done adding the contents and pouring in that store-bought chicken stock, you have already added a whole bunch of salt. When I got to the “Salt and Pepper, to taste” step, I had zero salt in the pot and it only needed a little.

I did the prep work early in the afternoon and threw the soup together quickly in the evening. You could easily do the prep the day before.

I served mine garnished with some cilantro, chopped green onions and some crème fraîche. Yes, I know crème fraîche is not Mexican, but it is better than sour cream. I would have used Mexican crema, but I can’t buy it locally. I guess next time, I’ll have to make my own. With some corn bread, this is a meal of its own.

It’s worth the work to do it the long way. Give it a shot and see.

Ingredients:
8 oz. dried Black Beans, rinsed
2 tsp. Cumin, ground
1/2 tsp. Anchio Chili Powder
1/2 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp. Garlic Powder
2 tsp. dried Oregano
2 bone-in, skin-on Chicken Breast halves
1 large Yellow Bell Pepper
1 large Red Bell Pepper
1 Poblano Pepper
3 dried Ancho Chilis
2 large Beefsteak Tomatoes
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 large Red Onion, diced
3 cloves Garlic, Minced
2 quarts homemade Chicken Stock
2 tbsp. Masa Harina or corn flour
Juice of 1/2 Lime
Salt and Pepper, to taste
16 oz. frozen Corn
5 whole Corn Tortillas, Cut in half and then 3/4 inch wide strips
1 cups oil, for frying tortillas

Garnish Ideas:
Sour Cream
Diced Avocado
Chopped scallions
Salsa Or Pico De Gallo
Cotija or grated Monterey Jack Cheese
Cilantro
Lime wedges

Directions:
1. Soak black beans in 4 cups cold water overnight. Alternately, bring 4 cups water and beans to a boil, cook for 2 minutes, remove pan from heat and cover. Let soak for 1 hour. Strain and rinse.
2. In a large dutch oven, add beans and 4 cups cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Loosely cover and boil for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue cooking until beans are tender, approximately 45-60 minutes.
3. In a small bowl, combine Cumin, Anchio Chili Powder, Cayenne Pepper, Garlic Powder, Oregano.
4. While the beans are cooking, season Chicken using 1 teaspoon of the spice blend and cook on grill. When chicken is done, remove to plate to cool. When cool, shred using two forks.
5. Roast Red and Yellow bell peppers and Poblano Pepper on grill until charred, bag for 15 minutes, peel, seed and chop.
6. Roast dried Anchos on grill until they are slightly softened. Soak in hot water for 30 minutes, seed and chop.
7. Cut tomatoes in half and grill until charred and soft.
8. In a blender or food processor, process Anchoes. Tomatoes and 2 cups of stock until smooth.
9. In a large dutch oven, heat 1 Tbsp Olive oil over medium high heat.
10. Add the onions to the dutch oven and saute until translucent, about 8-10 minutes.
11. Add Garlic and saute for an additional 30 seconds.
12. Add Red, Yellow and Poblano pepper, 6 cups chicken stock, tomato/Ancho puree, black beans and remaining spice mix to dutch oven, bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
13. Add masa harina to soup and stir well to thicken slightly.
14. Adding juice of 1/2 lime. Taste and adjust seasoning, as necessary.
15. Add corn and shredded chicken to dutch oven and cook an additional 15 minutes.
16. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat oil over high heat and fry tortilla strips until lightly brown and crispy.
17. To serve, place tortilla strips in the bottom of the soup bowls and ladle soup over the strips. Top with any of the desired garnishes.

Homemade Yogurt Cheese

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Chef John from Food Wishes recently vlogged a homemade cream cheese recipe using the Labneh method. It’s actually yogurt cheese. It takes three days to make and costs more than regular cream cheese (can’t beat that combination: takes more time and money), but the results are well worth it. I used a non-fat Greek yogurt (Fage Total 0%) which was an excellent choice and worked great. High in protein, no fat, lower sugar and carbohydrates: Wow, this cheese is actually good for you!

Greek yogurt already has much of the whey removed. Hanging for 24 hours really did not extract much more. I did find that I needed to put a shallow bowl under the mold. Pressing did extract additional whey which had no where to go but over the side.

I added Chives and Green Onions to the mixture before molding and used more salt than Chef John. I served mine with some hot fish pepper jelly I made a few weeks ago on some bruschetta toasts. The tanginess of the cheese, the bite of the onions and chives, the sweetness and heat of the jelly and the crunchiness of the toast was a fantastic combination.

I highly recommend this recipe. Experiment with the yogurt and with any additives. The process is long, but the results can be fun and delicious. There is still time to plan some for that holiday party to impress your friends, relatives and/or co-workers and let them know, as Chef John said, you really are better than them.

Thanksgiving Dinner 2013

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A Yiddish proverb says, “Man plans and God laughs.” The plan was to be in Rochester, NY with family for Thanksgiving. Weather intervened and we ended up staying in Chapel Hill, NC where we had attended our daughter’s Ph.D. dissertation seminar earlier in the week. Luckily, there had been a possibility that we would be home for turkey day so I had already given a menu some thought.

I don’t normally build a menu around a salad, but I recently had a Kale Salad at Agricola Eatery in Princeton, NJ and wanted to start the meal with my version of that salad. The one at Agricola had roasted cauliflower, pickled pumpkin, shaved radish and a pumpkin seed vinaigrette. I would have liked to include pickled pumpkin, but mine were at home and they take time to cure. I opted for roasted butternut squash instead. In lieu of cauliflower and radishes, I used apples and dried cranberries and topped the salad with croutons and roasted pumpkin seeds. The roasted squash and pumpkin seeds became ingredients to tie the menu together.

I wanted a hearty, healthy bread for the croutons and dressing. I was thinking of an ancient grain bread that Wegman’s makes, but, alas, they have not yet expanded this far south. I did find some Omega-3 Seed bread with whole wheat and flax, sunflower and sesame seeds from Ninth Street Bakery in Durham, NC at Whole Foods that worked great.

For the turkey, I went with a Mediterranean recipe that I developed a couple of years ago. Last time, I used a traditional brine. This year, I did a shortened dry brine. I experimented with dry brining last year and will never go back to a soaking brine. The bird is much moister and flavorful with dry brining. The only reason I shortened the process this year was the time available for prep before the big day. The decision to stick it out was made Tuesday morning with freezing rain, ice, sleet and snow all along the route of travel. The recipe linked below has the full timing.

Sticking with a healthy, Mediterranean theme, I developed a pumpkin hummus for the appetizer and served it with apple slices and toasted pita chips. For this meal, we had cranberry orange relish made by my wife, daughter and sister-in-law. A Cranberry, Apple and Orange Chutney that has not yet made it out of my head and onto a plate would have gone great, as well, but that will have to wait for a future meal.

The “girls” also made the pies: apple and pumpkin. Both were outstanding.

Most of the prep was done the day before so little was left to do on Thanksgiving itself but spend time with the marooned part of the family.

All measurements referenced in the below recipes are approximate. I actually measured very little so I am not sure exactly how much I used. I realize there is some repetition in the linked recipes, but I wanted each to be able to stand on its own as well as being compiled here.

THE MENU

First Course:

  • Pumpkin Hummus with apple slices and whole wheat and garlic pita chips

Second Course:

  • Kale Salad with apples, dried cranberries, roasted butternut squash, roasted pumpkin seed vinaigrette, artisan bread croutons and roasted pumpkin seeds

Main Course:

  • Mediterranean Turkey dry brined in za’atar, garlic, EVOO and pomegranate molasses
  • Artisan Bread Dressing with green onions, garlic, roasted butternut squash and porcini mushrooms seasoned with za’atar
  • Homemade Turkey Gravy
  • Sautéed Green Beans with roasted butternut squash and roasted pumpkin seeds
  • Cranberry Orange Relish

Dessert:

  • French Apple Pie
  • Pumpkin Pie
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