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moroccan-stewWow.  I have been away for a while.  I feel distant from my little blog space and from my kitchen.  We’ve been slowly reconnecting since my time in Orange County; I’ve been sleepwalking through my house the last few days and enjoying my own food in a dream-like state.  Ahhhhh…

Anyway, I’m back and I want to share this easy and fabulous Moroccan stew.  I made it just before I left for my event in So Cal; I felt so comforted and joyful and delightfully global while eating it – I was transported from my deadlines and pile of work to food fantasy land.  It is the FIRST thing I made when I got home.  It is warm and beautifully spiced and fragrant and very healthy and extremely delicious.  How can something be comforting and sensual and exotic all at once?  This is how.  This dish.  I know I get very intense and dramatic about food, but please, make this and go there with me.  It is so, so good. 

I originally came across the inspiration for this dish on Gourmet’s website, but I’ve changed it so much that I’m just warm-spices giving you my version below.  The dish departs from the traditional couscous and is made with quinoa, which is actually an ancient Incan grain and is extremely nutritious.  I love nutty and tender quinoa, which is what originally caught my eye; the warm addition of spices is what inspired me to try it immediately.  You can be very flexible with this – adjusting, eliminating or adding spices to your liking; all of my measurements are estimates since I tend to just spoon and pinch into the pot.  If you want to go vegetarian, add chick peas instead of chicken.  The first time I made it without the dried prunes and it was savory and spicy tomato-y goodness.  The second time I added the prunes which gave the dish a sweeter dimension.  I liked both ways so much that I think I’ll keep switching it up.  This could serve two to four depending on the amount of quinoa you prepare – I made enough “stew” for four and quinoa for two – we just ate extra veggies and sauce.

Soft and nutty quinoa, toasted almonds, tender chicken, sweet carrots and earthy turnips, warmly spiced sauce, bright and green little onions or parsley – all so tasty and so good for you, too!  I’m in love with this dish – I will make this over and over again.

Sit down at the table and inhale the lovely fragrance of the spices – take time and enjoy the flavor in every bite – imagine that you are wandering the narrow aisles of a souk in Morocco with the intense aromas of steaming tagines, the colors of the market and the sounds of music and humanity joyfully confronting your senses.

warm moroccan stew

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • a handful of slivered almonds, toasted
  • one red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • one tbsp of tomato paste
  • one heaping tsp of paprika
  • one half to one tsp of cumin
  • half tsp of dried ginger
  • one half to one tsp of cinnamon
  • one half to one tsp of corriander
  • pinch of clove
  • pinch of red pepper flakes (use aleppo if you have it)
  • two cups of low sodium chicken broth
  • one skinless, boneless chicken breast or a half pound of skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into one inch cubes
  • two to three carrots, sliced about a quarter of an inch thick on the diagonal
  • one large turnip, peeled and cut into eight wedges
  • two thirds of a cup of pitted, dried prunes, halved
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • quinoa (or other grains such as bulghur or rice if you don’t have quinoa – but I suggest you get some and keep it as a pantry staple)
  • a couple of fresh green onions or fresh flat leaved parsley for garnish
  1. heat oven to 350 degrees and toast almonds for about 5 minutes or until fragrant – remove from oven and set aside
  2. meanwhile, prepare quinoa or grains according to package instructions, typically two cups of water to one cup of grains, simmered or steamed for added fluffiness
  3. heat olive oil in a larger saucepan over medium high heat, add onions and saute with some salt and pepper until soft, about six to eight minutes
  4. add the tomato paste and cook for about one minute more, stirring well to combine
  5. add your spices and cook for about one minute more, adding a little chicken broth if things are getting too brown
  6. add the veggies, chicken, prunes (if using) and broth and cook, covered for about 15 to 20 minutes
  7. ladle the stew over the quinoa and top with the toasted almonds and fresh green onions or parsley – serve with some harissa paste if you want a lot of heat and spice

I always freeze tablespoons of tomato paste in separate bags so that the entire can doesn’t go to waste after one use

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lemony herby honest chicken - eat immediately

lemony herby honest chicken - eat immediately

We ate some wonderful roasted chicken breast tonight.  I sit and write this full and content – pleased with the unique satisfaction that comes from a full belly of something comforting and savory.

I have been traveling so much lately and have been yearning for something simple and delicious, cooked in my own kitchen.  Sunday is market day, and I wandered the crowded aisles thrilled to be shopping for a week’s worth of meals.  I love the energy of the market; today the produce was as abundant as the shoppers, diverse and overflowing.  I passed some beautiful parsnips and springy baby vidalias and the thought of a simple roasted chicken came to mind – one dish in the oven emanating lovely fragrance throughout my home – minimal dishes – snuggly time with my husband and my Bill Bryson book – yes, please. 

This impromptu, market-inspired dish is so simple it’s ridiculous.  Chicken, parsnips, carrots, baby vidalias – all very rustic and honest ingredients.  An elegant little sauce elevates the beautiful flavors of the vegetables with just enough sweet, tangy, herby goodness to keep things interesting.  The chicken will be perfect; juicy, succulent and tender with crispy skin.  A hit of balsamic vinegar in the last ten minutes of cooking adds a subtle sweetness and extra layer of flavor that takes this humble dish to the next level. 

It may seem unusual to cook everything on the very top shelf of the oven at such a high temperature – don’t deviate!  This and a generous amount of olive oil is the secret to delicious oven-roasted chicken breast.  (Stay tuned for chapter two of fabulous roasted chicken breast.)  I prepared just one skin on, bone in chicken breast to split between two hungry people, but you could go for as many as you like.  The recipe below is for one chicken breast – adjust the amount of chicken and veggies according to your taste and serving size. 

fabulous roasted chicken breast and honest veggies with a lemony, herby sauce

  • bone in, skin on chicken breast
  • four medium parsnips, peeled and cut into two inch pieces, larger pieces halved length wise
  • four skinny carrots, peeled and cut into two inch pieces, larger pieces halved length wise
  • one bunch of baby vidalias (about three), bulbs halved and green parts cut into three inch pieces (if you can’t find baby vidalias, substitute with a regular sweet onion and a bunch of green onions)
  • 1 heaping tsp each of dried herbs such as thyme, rosemary, sage, basil and marjoram (use fresh if you have them – just be sure and keep it diverse!)
  • zest and juice of one lemon (use a meyer if you have it)
  • a couple tbsp of butter, melted (omit if you’re feeling skinny)
  • three to four tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • generous splash of balsamic vinegar
  • generous tsp of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  1. mix herbs, salt and pepper, lemon zest, lemon juice, melted butter and olive oil in a small bowl – the mixture should think but not pasty – easily pourable
  2. place all chopped veggies and chicken breast(s) in a large, glass baking dish or similar
  3. gently separate the skin from the chicken breast, carefully cutting so as not to detach skin from breast, and generously rub some of the herb mixture all over the chicken (make sure to rub plenty under the skin)
  4. pour the rest of the lemony, herby sauce all over the veggies and toss
  5. generously drizzle more extra virgin olive oil over the entire dish and season again with a little more salt and pepper
  6. place uncovered in a 500 degree oven on the very top rack and roast for 20 minutes
  7. remove from oven and splash some balsamic vinegar on the vegetables only
  8. return to oven and roast for 10 minutes more

Serve with all of the pan juices poured over the chicken and vegetables, and also with some crusty bread to soak up the amazing juices.

Be sure and roast with the skin on, even if you don’t plan to eat it.  This will help to keep the chicken moist and flavorful and cannot be omitted. 

If you have a little extra time, why not do a quick salt water brine for your chicken breast a few hours before cooking?

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Lately, a lot of people have asked me to write them a weekly menu and corresponding grocery list.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to do this (or write the post on my latest dining experiences in Texas, my first post on “beauty,” starring Ella and Ava, or the post I’ve been planning on my favorite market…).  My insane schedule does not line up with my desire for slow living!  I suppose the next best thing is to post what we are eating for dinner tonight…something simple, healthy and supremely delicious for a weeknight dinner. 

As usual, I don’t recall where this recipe came from – as always, I’m sure I have made a few modifications.  The recipe is still scribbled in one of my “food” notebooks, but now the contents reside in my head.  While the ingredient list may seem bizarre or unappealing, do not be deterred.  These flavors and spices come together beautifully for a moist and delicious dish.  I’m sure that the recipe is to serve four, but I still make all of the extra sauce and topping for two.  I love EXTRA flavor! 

When I’m preparing this for two, I split one chicken breast between us and bake in a loaf pan; this way all of the juices don’t disappear.  I’m sure this would be very tasty served over couscous or quinoa, but I just pair it with some roasted carrots.  I have served this many times for guests in my home; it is a hit every time. 

garlic lime chicken and olives

  • 1 lb boneless chicken breast halves (or less if you’re like me and split one chicken breast for two – skinny AND economical)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • fresh juice of one lime
  • 1 tbsp of molasses (not black strap – don’t skip this step – so tasty!)
  • 2 tsp worsteshire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp of cumin (or more if you really love this flavor)
  • 1 heaping tsp of dried oregano
  • kosher salt and black pepper, to taste (at least 1/2 tsp of each)
  • 1/2 cup of sliced, pitted black olives (I alternate between kalamata and plain black olives)
  1. coat a roasting pan or baking dish (or loaf pan for a small group) with oil or cooking spray
  2. combine all ingredients, except for olives in a bowl
  3. stir and add chicken
  4. pour the olives over and around chicken
  5. roast at 400 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes

roasted carrots

  • carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch chunks (amount of carrots depending on how many people you’re serving)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • thyme or rosemary (dried or fresh)
  • red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
  1. add your carrots to a baking dish and toss with a generous amount of olive oil, a few splashes of vinegar, and a generous sprinkle of herbs, salt and pepper
  2. roast, tightly covered in foil at 400 degrees for 25 minutes
  3. remove the foil and roast for 10 minutes more

note: I use balsamic vinegar paired with rosemary and red wine vinegar paired with thyme

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My Mom was inspired from my post about trout almandine and prepared a letter and a few recipes for the blog.  I am delighted to share them!  However, the main ingredient is a bit of a stretch for me personally.  I am still steadfast in my goal be a tad more adventurous in the meat department, but turtle?  I like turtle.  We had a little turtle that visited our backyard regularly, and I took pictures of her.  How can I eat turtle?  Turtles are cute; thus nullifying their qualification as food (see my previous post on this matter).  Nonetheless, the recipe deserves to be shared.  Please note that Mom (aka Mimi) has shared some of her own notes following the recipes.  Enjoy!

From Paula:

Your blog about your “meat issues” reminded me of when I first moved to New Orleans from Southern California – talk about meat shock! Nothing was the same, the types of seafood and meat were totally different, and the way to cook everything was totally different, even the way people talked was totally different…I had a lot to learn.

I worked in a high rise office on Poydras Street and would go out to lunch with groups of “natives” who thought it was their sacred duty to introduce me to the cuisine of the Crescent City. Some days I was happier with the introduction than others. (We will not discuss my first look at a boiled out crab carcass in my first bowl of seafood gumbo. Your dad was there, he saw the horror on my face! It produced reoccurring nightmares for years. It’s a good thing Turtle Soup isn’t made from those teensy little turtles they used to sell at the pet store…talk about finding an unwelcome shell in your soup…but I digress.)

Anyway, one of the things best things I was introduced to during that time was Turtle Soup, a New Orleans specialty. I first had it at Galatoire’s Restaurant in the French Quarter.  Back in the day, you had to wait in line outside the restaurant for a table. I remember that it was a windy fall day and I had to hold my dress down to keep it from blowing over my head! Once we were inside I was overwhelmed by the grandeur of this truly elegant restaurant and nervous about whether I could afford to eat here.

One of the guys in the group (the late, great Frank Fetter) decided that he was going to order for me and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I was pretty panicked about it and told him that if he was going to order then he was going to pay! I didn’t have the money for food experimentation at one of the most expensive restaurants in town! Well, he took me up on it and I was stuck with his choices…in hindsight, it was one of the best moves I ever made because it introduced me to two of my most favorite dishes ever, Turtle Soup and Shrimp Remoulade. Frankly, I don’t remember the rest of the meal because I was so entranced by these two dishes.

For years after, at every restaurant in New Orleans that served it, I ordered Turtle Soup. Every recipe was different – thickness, clarity of broth, ingredients – the only constants were turtle meat, sherry and chopped hard boiled eggs. Some stirred the eggs and sherry into the soup, some garnished the soup with the eggs chopped fine and served the sherry on the side in an elegant cruet. My eventual favorite ended up being the Turtle Soup from Commander’s Palace. As for the shrimp, no one ever topped that first Shrimp Remoulade from Galatoire’s. Here are the recipes from both restaurants for my favorite soup and favorite shrimp dish. I have not altered these recipes in any way, why mess with perfection?

 

Shrimp Remoulade – recipe and comments from Galatoires.com 

 

Shrimp Rémoulade is in every New Orleans girl’s arsenal of favored dishes for relaxed entertaining. Serve this simple dish on elegant china and its fit for a king- Mardi Gras or otherwise. This is our most popular dish and most frequently requested recipe. Bonus for the home cook: The sauce is definitely best made a day in advance and refrigerated, then all that’s left to do is toss in the shrimp and plate and serve. It’s a snap to make, yet it’s always impressive.

 

¾ cup chopped celery

¾ cup chopped scallions (white and green parts)

½ cup chopped curly parsley

1 cup chopped yellow onion

½ cup ketchup

½ cup tomato purée

½ cup Creole mustard or any coarse, grainy brown mustard

2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, or to taste

 ¼ cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons Spanish hot paprika

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

½ cup salad oil

4 dozen jumbo (15 count) shrimp, peeled, boiled, and chilled

1 small head of iceberg lettuce, washed, dried and cut into thin ribbons 

 

Mince the celery, scallions, parsley, and onions in a food processor. Add the ketchup, tomato puree, Creole mustard, horseradish, red wine vinegar, paprika, and Worcestershire. Begin processing again and add the oil in a slow drizzle to emulsify. Stop when the dressing is smooth. Chill for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Correct the seasoning with additional horseradish, if desired after the ingredients have had the opportunity to marry.

In a large mixing bowl, add the sauce to the shrimp and toss gently to coat. Divide the lettuce among 6 chilled salad plates. Divide the shrimp evenly atop the lettuce and serve.

 

Mimi’s Note: The chilled iceberg lettuce ribbons are essential – they taste delicious with the sauce and shrimp bites – it cools the sauce down a bit and compliments the taste of the shrimp.

 

 

Turtle Soup – recipe from CommandersPalace.com

Chef’s Note: We use alligator snapping turtles, which is a farm-raised fresh water species available all year long. Turtle meat usually comes in 2 ½ pound portions. This soup freezes well. Makes 5 servings

Mimi’s Note: Freshwater turtle meat (either snapper or soft shell) is usually available at Asian markets. Both of these meats are legal when purchased from a licensed turtle meat supplier or retailer. Other types of turtle meat may or may not be legal depending on the state you live in. Salt water turtle meat is strictly illegal in the USA. Salt water turtles are highly endangered! Don’t eat them! If you cannot find turtle meat locally, it is available at 1-800-Steaks.com in 1# and 5# quantities, also from marxfoods.com in a 5# bucket. Thaw and cook it all, then refreeze for future use in small portions. Be prepared, turtle meat is pricey!  If you cannot find veal stock locally, veal demi-glace to make the veal stock is available from dartagnan.com and morethangourmet.com. Concassee tomatoes are tomatoes without skin or seeds, it is a process, not a type of tomato!  A great explanation on how to do this is at kitchensavvy.com. By the way, it sounds harder to do than it really is.

1 ½ sticks butter
2 ½ pounds turtle meat, medium dice
2 medium onions, medium dice
6 stalks celery, medium dice
1 large head garlic, cloves peeled and minced
3 bell peppers, medium dice
1 tablespoon dried thyme, ground
1 tablespoon dried oregano, ground
4 bay leaves
2 quarts veal stock
1 cup flour
26 oz. dry sherry (750 ml bottle)
1 tablespoon hot sauce
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
2 large lemons, juiced
3 cups concassée tomatoes
10 oz fresh spinach, stems removed, washed 3 times, coarsely chopped
6 medium eggs, hard-boiled and chopped into large pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large soup pot over medium to high heat. Brown the meat in the hot butter, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 18 to 20 minutes, or until liquid is almost evaporated. Add onions, celery, garlic, and peppers, stirring constantly, then add the thyme, oregano, and bay leaves and sauté for about 20 to 25 minutes, until the vegetables have caramelized. Add the stock, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, periodically skimming away any fat that comes to top.

While stock is simmering, make a roux in a separate pot: Melt the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a small saucepan and add the flour a little at a time, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Be careful not to burn the roux. After all the flour has been added, cook for about 3 minutes until the roux smells nutty, is pale in color, and has the consistency of wet sand. Set aside until the soup is ready.

Using a whisk, vigorously stir the roux into the soup a little at a time to prevent lumping. Simmer for about 25 minutes. Stir to prevent sticking on the bottom.

Add the sherry, bring to a boil, and add the hot sauce and the Worcestershire, and simmer, skimming any fat or foam that comes to the top. Add the lemon juice and tomatoes, and return to a simmer. Add the spinach and the chopped egg, bring to simmer, and adjust salt and pepper as needed. This soup freezes well.

Chef’s Note: Caramelize the vegetables and meats thoroughly, by cooking until the natural sugars form a thick dark liquid, to get a nice dark color.
Remember, this soup is like a stew and could be eaten as a main dish. Because of its thickness, prepare it in a heavy pot, and stir frequently to avoid burning.

Mimi’s Note: NEVER use “Cooking Sherry”, it contains a large amount of salt so that it can be sold legally on a regular grocery aisle. Remove the bay leaves; they shouldn’t ever be left in the pot to be accidentally ingested. Also, I like to garnish with a small amount of finely chopped egg with a small green leaf like a celery leaf. Serve with extra sherry on the side to suit individual taste. If serving as a main dish, serve a hot, crispy French baguette with the meal so that everybody can soak up the meaty goodness.

 

 

 

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Cooking is an experience that I savor daily, no matter how busy I constantly seem to be.  It is one of the few times each day that I am actually living in the moment.  Instead of worrying, running through an endless task list, etc., I am simply thinking about what I am doing.  Actually, I am also greatly anticipating the meal that I will soon be eating, so I suppose I’m not totally in the moment… Cooking, EATING, preparing a meal for someone – this is truly a pleasure to me.  Pairing simple, whole ingredients together to make something gloriously delicious not only sustains my body, but it also sustains me in a holistic way that I can’t completely describe.  It just feels good.   

There is something very special about soup.  Why is cooking a giant pot of soup so satisfying?  Maybe for me it is because of the memories I have attached to the first bubbling batch of soup that I cooked soon after I got married.  The first cold weekend in Atlanta spurred a craving for minestrone.  After much slicing, dicing and patience, I tasted what would become my most favorite soup.  Ever since then, the first minestrone of the season has been a celebratory occasion.  It always takes me back to that lovely, chilly weekend.  Or perhaps it is because any good soup requires a very intentional process of pairing fresh and honest ingredients together to make something complex and lovely, yet simple in its ability to warm and comfort.  Ingredients that on their own are simple, overlooked even (um, celery), come together to make something fabulous.  A good soup takes a little bit of time; not only in the prep work, but also as you slowly add the various layers of flavor, as it simmers and comes together.  Soup is the ultimate slow food.  My need for instant gratification has me waiting anxiously until it is ready to be enjoyed; the anticipation and my impatience only adding to the gratification of that first, steaming bite.  Another point in favor of soup is that you usually have enough to enjoy it again later, discovering that it continues to improve in flavor as it waits for you in the fridge.  Warm it on the stove and your home is once again filled with the delicious fragrance of your efforts. 

This particular minestrone takes a little bit of time and effort, but I promise that it is worth it.  This recipe is the result of many additions, subtractions, and variations, and is the one I like best.  Prepare it exactly as written or make it your own, but please be sure and take time to enjoy the process – it is tremendously rewarding.  If you’re like me and you love on others with food, then consider this soup an extra portion of affection.  I lavish love on my husband by cooking a meal (or two, or three) for him everyday.  He almost always accepts my efforts and intentions with a passionate (albeit repetitive!) exclamation of, “this is the best thing I have ever put in my mouth!”  That alone will send me back to the kitchen, joyously, time and time again…       

minestrone

  • a generous glug of olive oil (maybe 2 tbsp)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled or scrubbed well, chopped
  • 2-3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4-5 oz thinly sliced pancetta, chopped
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large head of escarole (substitute chard if you can’t find), rinsed or soaked VERY well
  • 1 russet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes with juice
  • a sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 1 can of cannelinni beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cans of low sodium beef broth
  • a chunk of a parmesan cheese rind (don’t leave this out!  this flavor is what makes this soup)
  • 1 tbsp of tomato paste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. heat the oil in a heavy, large pot over medium heat and add onions, garlic, carrots, celery, pancetta, and a pinch of salt and pepper, and sauté about 10 minutes until onions are translucent and veggies are just beginning to brown lightly
  2. add escarole and potato and sauté about 2 minutes, stirring well to combine and allow escarole to wilt
  3. add the can of tomatoes and the rosemary, and cook for about 10 more minutes, allowing tomatoes to break down some and release their juices
  4. meanwhile, blend about 3/4 cup of cannellini beans, tomato paste, and about 1/4 cup of beef broth in a blender or food processor
  5. add the puréed bean mixture, remaining broth and cheese rind to the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes
  6. stir in the rest of the beans and cook about 2 minutes more
  7. serve with freshly grated parmesan and toasty, crusty garlic bread

garlic bread

  • 1 French or Italian baguette
  • 1 clove garlic
  • good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly ground sea salt and pepper
  1. slice your bread and place under a broiler (watch it closely! it can burn in a matter of seconds) or in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes
  2. remove bread from the oven, and rub each piece generously with the garlic clove
  3. drizzle with olive oil, and season with freshly ground sea salt and pepper

 

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