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Monday, June 30, 2008

Bawk the Casbah

New and tasty chicken recipes are always welcome, right? I love Moroccan food, and this tagine was just what the doctor ordered on a recent weekday night. The kids liked it all right, but not nearly as much as I did. And I didn't even have the sweet paprika! When I discovered the empty bottle in the spice cupboard, I was too far into prep to change course. Next time I'll be sure to include it, and update if necessary.
Moroccan Chicken with Chickpeas and Apricots
adapted from Cook's Illustrated, May/June 2006
serves 4

1 1/4 t sweet paprika
1/2 t ground cumin
1/4 t cayenne
1/4 t ground ginger
1/4 t ground coriander
1/4 t ground cinnamon
3 strips lemon zest (about 3/4" by 2"), plus 3 T juice from 1-2 lemons
5 medium garlic cloves, pressed
1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces (2 thighs, two drumsticks, 4 breast pieces), fat trimmed (back and wings reserved for future stock-making!)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T olive oil
1 lg onion, halved and cut into 1/4" slices
1 3/4 C homemade chicken broth
1 T honey
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/2" coins
1 C dried apricots, halved
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 T chopped fresh cilantro

1. Combine spices in small bowl and set aside. Mince 1 strip lemon zest and combine with 1 t minced garlic and mince to paste; set aside (or just use microplane to get equivalent amount of zest to mix with garlic--way easier).

2. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in dutch oven over medium-high heat until beginning to smoke. Brown skin-side down in a single layer until deep golden, about 5 minutes; turn and brown on second side. Transfer to large plate; when cool enough, remove and discard skin. Remove all but 1 T fat from pot.

3. Add onion and remaining lemon zest to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions have browned a little but aren't breaking down, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and cook just until fragrant. Add spices and cook, stirring constantly, until darkened and fragrant, about a minute. Stir in broth and honey, scraping bottom of pot to loosen fond. Add dark meat pieces, reduce heat to medium, and simmer 5 minutes.

4. Add carrot, apricots and breast pieces (plus juices from plate), arranging breast pieces in a single layer on top of carrots. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until breasts are 160 in middle, 10-15 minutes.

5. Transfer chicken to plate and tent with foil. Add chickpeas to pot, increase heat and simmer until liquid has thickened slightly and carrots are tender, 4-6 minutes. Return chicken to pot and stir in garlic-zest mixture, cilantro, and lemon juice. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately with couscous.

Couscous Pilaf with Raisins and Almonds
an online Cook's Illustrated Extra, contemporaneous with the tagine

4 T unsalted butter
2 C plain couscous (I like Casbah whole wheat couscous best)
3/4 C sliced almonds (I prefer slivered, for more crunch)
1 small onion, chopped fine
3/4 C raisins (I prefer golden)
1 3/4 C homemade chicken broth
2 C water (adjust liquid amounts depending on type of couscous)
1 1/2 t fresh lemon juice
black pepper

1. Melt 2 T butter in skillet over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add couscous and cook, stirring frequently, until some grains are beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Scrape the grains into a large bowl (have to use a silicone spatula to get all of them) and return pan to heat. Add almonds and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly toasted. Scrape into a small bowl.

2. Add remaining 2 T butter to skillet. When melted, add onion, raisins, and 3/4 t salt and cook until onion has softened and is beginning to brown. Add broth and water, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil.

3. Add boiling liquid/onion/raisins to bowl with toasted couscous and cover bowl with a dish towel. Let sit until the couscous has absorbed the water and is tender, 10 minutes or so. Fluff couscous with a fork, and stir in almonds and lemon juice. Adjust seasonings and serve.

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Monday, June 23, 2008


Somehow I've made these twice without remembering to take any pictures. Big hits with everyone and nary a leftover morsel to be found:
Pork Chops with Spinach-Three Cheese Stuffing
adapted from Cook's Illustrated May/June 2005

Cook's always brines their pork, and I never do. If you want to brine them, go ahead, but they turned out perfectly fantastic without it (insert usual disclaimers about the quality of meat involved here). For this recipe you'll need one-inch-thick bone-in rib chops, the ones with the bones along two sides and a big unbroken eye of meat. Two of these are enough for our family (even with boys who often eat adult-sized portions), though the original recipe is for four chops.

To make the pocket for the stuffing, insert a sharp paring knife into the meat from the side of the chop, near one of the bones, until you hit the bone on the far side. Keeping the opening no more than about an inch across, swing the tip of the knife through the meat to make the pocket, then turn the knife around and swing it in the other direction.

Spinach-Three Cheese Stuffing

1 slice white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
1/4 C toasted pine nuts (instead of fresh bread and toasted pine nuts, I substituted a few tablespoons of a bread-crumb/hazelnut mixture I had in the freezer--some time when I'm feeling less lazy I'll do it according to the recipe)
1 T olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, pressed
6 oz spinach leaves, washed (who doesn't buy pre-washed any more?) and stemmed
2 oz shredded fontina
1/4 C ricotta
1 oz grated Parmesan
1 med lemon, cut into 4 wedges
1/4 t salt
pinch ground nutmeg
ground black pepper

1. Pulse bread and pine nuts in food processor until evenly ground.

2. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add garlic and cook until just fragrant, then add spinach, turning with tongs to coat with oil. Cook until just wilted, then remove from pan. Transfer spinach to colander and squeeze to release excess moisture, then cool until just warm. (I did it this way the first time. The second time I transferred the spinach to a paper towel on top of a cutting board, then topped with another paper towel and pressed. I also chopped it a few times so it would mix into the cheese better. I preferred how it turned out the second time.)

3. Mix together fontina, ricotta and Parmesan in bowl. Add spinach and bread crumb mixture and mix to remove clumps. Stir in 1 T lemon juice, salt, nutmeg and pepper. Cut some of the white pith off the lemon wedge rinds to make little rectangular sections, about 3/4" by 1.5", to close the stuffing hole in the side of the chop.

The recipe didn't give any particular instructions for getting the stuffing into the chops. I found it worked well to have the chops in a bowl next to the bowl of stuffing, hold a chop up on its side, and use one finger to shove the stuffing deep into the pocket. The proportions of meat and stuffing are such that the chops will be really bulging when you're done. When you've got all the stuffing in the chops, insert the lemon rind pieces to seal up the gap. (The second time I made this I forgot to put in the rind stoppers, and the stuffing stayed in one chop and flowed pretty heavily out of the one in which I had inserted my temperature probe. So I recommend using the rinds.)

Preheat your oven to 450, then heat a little vegetable oil in an oven-safe skillet until just beginning to smoke. (The recipe calls for a regular skillet, then transferring it to a preheated roasting pan in the oven, but I just couldn't see the need for getting another pan dirty.) Brown the chops well on both sides, then transfer to oven and cook until center of stuffing is 135 degrees, 15-20 minutes, flipping halfway through cooking time. Transfer chops to a platter and tent with foil to rest for 10 minutes.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008


Many of the Wizard's darling mispronunciations are becoming a thing of the past. The other day he said "shabbitch," then worked his way through a bunch of stops and starts before settling on "samwich." "Come-pick-you" long ago evolved into "come-puker," and it's been a similarly long while since I've heard "moozhee."

We are reminded almost every day how different his personality is from his brother's. The other day at my sister's, running through the sprinkler in the yard, it took about one minute for the Wizard to be soaked from head to toe. Newton at that age I'm not sure would have ever gotten much wet at all. (See cute pictures she took of the kids that day here.)

Now we're in Baltimore visiting more family. Last night after we arrived, the Wizard was swept up in his grandmother's arms. I had been downstairs checking out Grandpa & Grandpa's new huge TV, and when I came back up, the Wizard said, "Grandma, this is my mommy." That kind of social impulse just doesn't seem to exist in his brother. Introducing people! And he's not yet three!

And speaking of strange things to be doing at his age, just now he selected a book to read off Grandpa's bookshelf: My Life by Bill Clinton. The funniest thing was that he opened it up and actually started trying to read it! He didn't last long with that small print, though--now he's back to The Cat in the Hat.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Nights of Spain

Of a recent Friday night, we had friends for dinner with a Spanish theme. No, I've never been to Spain (though one of my brothers went there on his mission)--I just had some Spanish chorizo in the freezer I wanted to use up. So, paella it would be. We started with a spread of Spanish cheeses, fig-almond paste, bread and crackers, and olives (the olives aren't in this picture, but you can see them in the first picture of the big table--there were medium-sized anchovy-stuffed ones, and little tiny ones).

Then the paella. It's not really that short on ingredients, but when you're making basically a one-dish meal, you get a lot of bang for your food-prep buck. I've never made a traditional recipe (this was my first paella), and I don't know why I'd bother when Cook's Illustrated has already done the paring down, and this one was so tasty!
adapted from Cook's Illustrated, May/June 2005
serves 6 (for our crowd of 10, I basically 1.5xed this recipe, and it was just right)

1 lb extra-large (21/25) shrimp, peeled and deveined
table salt and ground black pepper
olive oil
8-9 medium garlic cloves, pressed
1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and halved crosswise
1 red bell pepper, roasted, skinned, and cut into strips (I served these separately because of an allergy among our guests)
8 oz Spanish chorizo, sliced 1/2" thick on the bias
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes, drained, chopped, and drained again
2 C Valencia rice
3 C homemade chicken broth
1/3 C dry white wine
1/2 t saffron threads, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 doz mussels, scrubbed and beards snipped
1/2 C frozen peas, thawed
2 T chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 350 (since I was using a cast-iron dutch oven, I put the lid in the preheating oven so a cold lid wouldn't slow down cooking later). Toss shrimp, 1/4 t salt, 1/4 t black pepper, 1 T oil, and 1 t garlic in medium bowl; cover and refrigerate. Season chicken with salt and pepper and set aside.

2. Heat 2 t oil in large dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Brown chicken pieces in a single layer (not moving them while they cook), then transfer to a bowl. Reduce heat to medium and add chorizo to pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until quite browned and beginning to render fat, then transfer to bowl with chicken.

3. Adjust fat in pot to equal 2 T and heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, then add garlic and cook until fragrant.

Stir in tomatoes and cook until mixture begins to darken and thicken slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in rice and cook until well coated. Stir in wine and cook until evaporated/absorbed, then add broth, saffron, bay, and 1/2 t salt. Return chicken and chorizo to pot, increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Cover pot and transfer to oven; cook until rice absorbs almost all liquid, 15 minutes (or so). Pull out pot and uncover. Scatter shrimp over rice, nest mussels in rice hinged side down, arrange pepper strips in pinwheel pattern, and scatter peas over top. Cover and return to oven, cooking until shrimp are opaque and mussels have opened, 10-12 minutes (mine needed a bit more time on both cooking segments, probably because I was making a larger batch).

4. Let stand, covered, 5 minutes before serving. Toss any unopened mussels, sprinkle with parsley, and serve, passing lemon wedges at the table.

We had Izze sodas to drink: pear, pomegranate and clementine.

After the paella I served a simple salad of mixed greens, aged Spanish Mohan cheese, and grape tomatoes, dressed with EVOO and sherry vinegar. For dessert, fresh strawberry ice cream!

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Eight Months Old

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Spring Risotto

I actually made and photographed this a few weeks ago, just haven't gotten around to posting it before now. It was delicious, but not a big hit with the boys, so I don't think it will be joining our regular rotation.

If I hadn't had chicken on hand, we might have had a veggie dinner, but I did, so we didn't. The chicken (boneless skinless breasts, from a new farmers' market purveyor) I just pounded to even thickness (about 3/8"), then sautéed in a little butter and olive oil and topped with some of the gremolata from the risotto recipe. Yum.
Spring Vegetable Risotto
adapted from Cook's Illustrated, May/June 2008

2 T minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, stems reserved
2 T minced fresh mint leaves, stems reserved
1/2 t grated lemon zest

Combine in a small bowl and set aside.


1 lb asparagus, tough ends snapped off and reserved, rest cut on bias into bite-sized pieces (I think I used 1/2 lb because that's what I had on hand)
2 medium leeks, non-leafy parts halved lengthwise, washed and thinly sliced, greens reserved
4 C low-Na chicken broth (or broth made from homemade stock)
3 C water
5 T unsalted butter
salt and pepper
1/2 C frozen petite peas
2 medium cloves garlic, pressed
1 1/2 C arborio rice
1 C dry white wine
1 1/2 oz grated parmesan cheese
2 t freshly-squeezed lemon juice

1. Chop asparagus ends and leek greens into rough pieces, and put them into a pot with herb stems, broth and water. Bring to a boil then simmer 20 minutes. Strain out solids and return broth to saucepan and keep warm over low heat.

2. Heat 1 T butter in dutch oven over medium heat until foaming subsides. Sauté asparagus with a pinch of salt and some pepper until crisp-tender, 4-6 minutes, then add the peas for 1 minute. Set aside on a plate.

3. Melt 3 T butter in same (empty) dutch oven over medium heat until foaming subsides, then add leeks, garlic, 1/2 t salt and 1/2 t pepper. Cook until leeks are softened, 4-5 minutes. Add rice and cook about 3 minutes, stirring quite a bit, until grains are translucent around the edges. Add wine and keep cooking and stirring until it's fully absorbed, 2-3 minutes.

4. Add 3 C hot broth to rice/leek mixture. Simmer, stirring frequently, until almost fully absorbed, then repeat with smaller amounts of broth until rice is just cooked through (not mushy, but no hard bit in the middle, either). Take pan off heat and stir in remaining butter, parmesan, and lemon juice, then fold in asparagus and peas and some of the gremolata (or you could put it on top).

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Monday, June 9, 2008


The Wizard is changing so rapidly these days I'm having a hard time keeping up in my blog postings. I took the first video a couple of weeks ago, and the second one this morning. He's read Green Eggs and Ham so many times in the last three weeks that he's now skipping ahead to his favorite parts! Such a new reader, and already blasé. We're also shaking our heads at how different he is from his older brother. He makes up stories and songs, does make-believe play with toys, and most of all asks, "Why?" ALL THE TIME. What's more, he usually listens to and seems to understand our explanations! Newton rarely said that word, I suspect because he thought he already had it all figured out. Ha!

Recent Wizard tidbits:

With (some) warmer weather recently, I have occasionally opened the car windows for a fresh breeze, always with the reminder that I'll be closing them as we get on the highway. Saturday we were coming home on the freeway from a barbecue, and traffic was stopped because of an accident. The Wizard had three questions (not right in a row--he did wait for answers in between): "Why we stopped?" "We not going fast?" "Please open the windows?"

In church yesterday, he started talking, and when we asked him to be quiet, observed, "[Cindy Lou]'s not sleeping." We quietly explained that there are other times and places in which it is preferable to speak quietly or not at all. Ah, the beauty of budding logic!

He's also started throwing words into conversation like "fantastic," "amazing," and "actually," used more or less correctly. He also uses the word "dummy" as an adjective--love that toddler sense of humor. Right now he's dancing around the family room singing the "'C'amation point song," with lyrics consisting only of the words, "'C'amation point, 'c'amation point, 'c'amation point," etc.

Cindy Lou's changing even faster. Her top front teeth broke through over the weekend. She can clap her hands. She can sit up by herself. She rolls very efficiently to get to the things she wants, and is just starting forward motion.

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