Saturday, February 25, 2012

Moroccan Sweet Potato Salad with Green Olives

I will apologize right off the bat for not having any "in process" pictures of the recipe I'm posting today. The truth is, I wasn't planning on posting it. The recipe is for Moroccan Sweet Potato Salad from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food and I was making it in preparation for an upcoming class. I have changed it very little, so there didn't seem to be too much point in posting it. Then, when I tasted it, it was so good.....I wanted to share.

I served it alongside some roast chicken, buttered green beans and couscous with pine nuts and currants. It was delicious. I think the salty, sweet and lemony flavors would make it a great accompaniment to many kinds of foods. I also think it would make an excellent tapa...or, as I discovered, a tasty appetizer. While the roasted sweet potatoes were marinating in their spicy, lemony dressing, I found that I could hardly keep my fingers out of them...nibbling away as I prepared the rest of the meal.

As it turns out, this is how salads like this are often served (in a much more purposeful way, of course...) in Morocco. Claudia Roden writes in her book Arabesque (in which she publishes a similar salad) that vegetable salads featuring ginger, cumin, paprika and lemon are frequently served as a starter. Typically they are then left on the table to be enjoyed with the main course...which is of course, just what I did. But I have to say, if you plan on following suit...and you are serving more than 2 or 3 will need to make a bigger batch.

Moroccan Sweet Potato Salad

1 to 1 1/4 lbs. orange-fleshed Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
Olive oil
1 small onion (4 to 5 oz.), finely diced
1/2 t. grated fresh ginger root
a pinch of saffron threads
1/4 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. paprika
Zest of half a lemon
6 or 7 coarsely chopped green olives (I used Picholine)
2 T. chopped cilantro
1 T. chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
1 to 2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Place the sweet potatoes in a bowl, season with salt and toss with enough olive oil to lightly coat. Spread in a baking dish and roast in a 375° oven until tender—about 45 to 50 minutes. When done, remove from the oven and let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, warm a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a small sauté pan. Add the onion along with a pinch of salt and sweat until soft, tender and straw yellow in color—the edges may be beginning to lightly caramelize. Add the ginger, saffron, cumin and paprika and continue to cook for a minute or two. Set aside to cool briefly.

Transfer the onions to a bowl and add a tablespoon of olive oil, the lemon zest, olives, herbs and a tablespoon of lemon juice. If the mixture seems tight, add another tablespoon of olive oil. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and lemon juice.

Spoon the marinade over the lukewarm sweet potatoes and let sit for 30 minutes, gently folding now and then. Taste and add more salt and or lemon juice as needed. Serve at room temperature. Serves 4.

Note:  A bit of chopped preserved lemon would be an excellent addition to the marinade.

(Recipe adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Jam Filled Sugar Cookies and an Italian-style Jam Tart

Next month I am teaching a class called Home-Style Desserts. I always try to include five different recipes in my classes, but for this one I had only settled on four when it was time to go to print. So between the print deadline and the class, I needed to come up with a fifth recipe. I had it in my mind that I wanted to do an old fashioned jam-filled sugar cookie...not one where the sugar cookies are baked and then sandwiched together with jam, but one where the sandwiching is done before the cookies are baked. When I was a kid these kinds of cookies were filled with mincemeat at Christmas time. I didn't have such a cookie recipe in my repertoire, so I didn't want to promise to teach it.

While searching on-line, I ran across an Easy Jam Tart posted by David Lebovitz. Because jam tarts are a beloved European home-style dessert....a perfect fit for my upcoming class...I stopped to look more closely at his recipe. Typically, a jam tart is made with a pâte sablé crust (a cookie-like dough of butter, sugar, egg yolks and flour). As I looked at this Easy Jam Tart ("easy" because it had a "press in"-style crust) I noticed that the dough was a bit different from what I was used to. It used a whole egg instead of just the yolks and it included baking powder. Because I can't help myself I began to wonder why this would be, how it would affect the final outcome, etc. As I pondered all of this, it dawned on me that the dough was very similar to my favorite American-style rolled sugar cookie dough....and that this particular jam tart dough might be the perfect dough for making the jam-filled sugar cookies of my imaginings.

So, today's post is a two-for-one of sorts. I'm posting the one (very adaptable) dough...and with it, the two forms it has taken in my kitchen so far. First as the crust of a tender jam tart and second as the sugar cookie portion of my jam-filled sugar cookies.  I have been unable to decide which incarnation I like best.

I adapted the dough slightly from the one I found at David Lebovitz's site. To make it closer to the sugar cookie I was already familiar with I reduced the baking powder and increased the sugar (just slightly). The site from which Lebovitz adapted the recipe used all flour in the dough. He altered the dough to incorporate cornmeal. I think this is an excellent idea—I love fruit with cornmeal based doughs and batters (see my Rhubarb Cake with Cornmeal). But for some reason I didn't want cornmeal in these particular cookies. Instead, I decided to substitute almond meal for a quarter of the flour. Almond is great paired with fruit and I thought that, like the cornmeal, the almond meal would make the cookies a bit more tender (since neither of these will contribute gluten). I loved the cookies with the almond...and I think I would really like the tart with the cornmeal. But you should feel free to use all flour if cornmeal or almond doesn't appeal to you. Whatever you use, all flour, part cornmeal or part almond meal, just make sure the total weight of the "flours" is 250 grams. Because the cookies need gluten to hold together, and because they don't really seem like sugar cookies to me if they aren't made with mostly wheat flour, when substituting I wouldn't use more than 25 to 30% of one of these alternate "flours".

When you make the jam tart for the first time, the amount of jam you need to use will have to be taken on faith. You really don't need much more than a cup. When you put the jam in the tart shell you will be certain it isn't enough. I know this because that's what I thought. And since David Lebovitz had used 1 3/4 cup jam, I thought I would follow suit. The results were a bit gooey. The bottom crust was not fully cooked and the jam overwhelmed the cookie portion of the tart. To quote one of my taste testers: eating it was a bit like eating jam out of the jar with a spoon.  This was not the effect I was going for....

The dough itself is extremely easy to work with. You can of course press it into the tart pan (break it into pieces first...or grate it), but I found it faster, neater and easier to just roll out a generous half of the dough into a 3/16-inch thick round and transfer it to the pan. If it tears, it is easily patched. The remaining dough can then be rolled out 1/8-inch thick and cut into decorative shapes (for Valentine's day I used a heart cutter) to be laid over the tart in slightly overlapping concentric circles. It can also be cut into strips and used to make a lattice top.

For the jam-filled cookies, start with a third of the dough and roll it out 1/8-inch thick. Cut with a fluted 2 1/2-inch cutter and use a half-inch round cutter (I didn't have one this size, so I used a half-inch round piping tip) to cut a hole in the center of half of the cookies. Gather the scraps and combine them with a third of the remaining unused dough. Roll this piece of dough out as before—cutting rounds and holes and gathering the scraps. Combine these scraps with half of the remaining fresh dough and repeat. Repeat one more time with the last chunk of fresh dough. Combining the scraps of rolled dough with the fresh dough will make it so you get the maximum number of cookies out of the dough without having to make any of the cookies from all scrap dough (which can make for tough cookies). Using this method, and using a 2 1/2-inch cutter, I was able to cut 48 rounds to make 2 dozen filled cookies.

There is something nostalgic about the combination of jam and sugar cookies. I think this is probably what Kellogg had in mind when they came up with the Pop-Tart. (They of course fell woefully short of the ideal—sweet, fruity jam encased in tender, buttery dough.) I suppose a wedge of the tart...or a cookie or two...could be eaten for breakfast, but I think a much better idea is to tuck a cookie into your child's lunchbox...or maybe into your briefcase or bag to pull out and enjoy with your coffee break. David Lebovitz points out that the tart would be perfect for packing in a picnic basket. I agree. Even though the crust is tender, the slices are sturdy enough to be picked up and eaten out of hand. And of course, either the tart or the cookies would make a fine, light, home-style dessert. I think I have my fifth recipe.

Jam Tart

185 g. (1 1/2 c. plus 2 T.) all-purpose flour
65 g. (1/2 c. plus 2 T.) almond meal (see note)
1/4 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
125 g. (9 T.) unsalted butter, room temperature
125 g. (1/2 c. plus 2 T.) sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 t. almond extract (or 1 t. vanilla)
310 to 350 g. (1c. to 1 c. plus 2 T.) favorite fruit jam or preserves
1 egg white, beaten until foamy
Turbinado Sugar for sprinkling

Place the first four ingredients in a bowl and whisk until uniformly combined. Set aside.

Briefly cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and then the yolk, followed by the almond (or vanilla) extract. Add the dry ingredients and mix until the dough forms clumps. Transfer to a sheet of plastic wrap and press into a thick rectangle or round. Chill until firm (overnight if you have time).

Butter a 9-inch removable bottom tart pan. On a lightly floured surface, roll out a generous half of the dough (about 300 grams) into a round that is about 3/16-inch thick. Ease the dough into the pan being careful not to stretch it and pressing it against the sides of the tart pan. Use your palms to gently cut the dough flush with the upper rim of the tart pan. Chill until firm (about 30 minutes).

Roll the remaining dough out to a thickness of 1/8-inch. Cut into strips (for a lattice) or rounds (or another decorative shape)—a cutter in the 1 1/2- to 2-inch range works well. Chill briefly.

To bake the tart, spread the jam in the chilled shell. The jam will only form a layer that is about a quarter of an inch deep. This is as it should not add more jam. Brush the lattice strips or the cookie cut-outs with the egg whites and arrange over the tart—either in a lattice pattern or barely overlapping concentric circles for the shapes. (The strips or shapes do need to be pressed onto the rim of the tart. As long as they are touching the sides, the tart will bake just fine.) Generously scatter some Turbinado sugar over the surface of the tart.

Place the tart on the lowest rack of a 350° oven. Bake until golden brown—about 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Wait at least 30 minutes before serving. The tart can be served warm or room temperature and keeps (well-wrapped) for several days.

Note: If you prefer, replace the almond meal with all-purpose flour. You will then have a total weight of 250 grams of flour (about 2 1/4 cups). You could also replace the almond meal with an equal weight of cornmeal.

Jam-Filled Sugar Cookies

1 recipe of dough for Jam Tart, chilled
3/4 cup favorite fruit jam or preserves (about 235 g.)
1 egg white, beaten until foamy
Turbinado Sugar for sprinkling

On a lightly floured surface roll out a third of the dough (keeping the remaining two-thirds chilled) to a thickness of 1/8-inch. Using a 2 1/2-inch round fluted cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can. Using a 1/2-inch smooth round cutter, cut holes out of the center of half of the fluted rounds. Transfer to a cookie sheet and chill while you roll out the remaining dough.

Gather the scraps of dough. Take a third of the remaining chilled dough and combine it with the scraps. Roll out as before, cutting fluted rounds (half with holes). Transfer the cutouts to the sheet with the other rounds and chill. Gather the scraps again and combine with half of the remaining fresh dough, rolling out and cutting as before. Repeat one more time with the scraps and last chunk of fresh dough. You should have 48 fluted rounds—half with a hole cut out of the center.

Spread 12 of the solid rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush with egg white—concentrating on the edges (the egg white is to help seal the cookies together). Place a level half tablespoonful of jam in the center of each round. Top each cookie with one of the rounds with a hole in the center—aligning the fluted edges as closely as possible and pressing lightly on the edges to seal. It is not necessary to press hard—this dough adheres remarkably well.

  Brush the cookies with more egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake in the center of a preheated 400° oven until golden and cooked on the bottom—about 10 to 12 minutes. Rotate the tray half way through the cooking time. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Makes 2 dozen jam-filled cookies.

Update March 12, 2012....Notes from a warm day:  If your kitchen is warm, be especially careful to keep all dough that you aren't working with well chilled.  The dough softens very quickly.  I would even recommend chilling the formed cookies (prior to brushing with egg white and sprinkling with sugar) briefly to refirm the butter.  If the enviroment in your kitchen is cool, this isn't so necessary...but if it is warm, chilling the formed cookies will help them to spread less as they bake (and thus the finished cookie will be neater looking).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Baked Pasta with Tomato Sauce, Italian Sausage, & Ricotta

The inspiration for the recipe I'm posting today came from a "speedy" baked pasta that caught my eye in the current issue of Food & Wine. There isn't anything terribly unusual about the recipe, but it is just the kind of thing I like to eat.  A baked pasta in a classic Italian-American style, it is a simple and appealing combination of pasta, tomato sauce, browned ground beef, ricotta and mozzarella. As I glanced over the ingredient list, it occurred to me that by using some of the tomato sauce in my freezer (made at the height of tomato season last summer) that I could make this into an even easier dish.

As it turned out, I had all the necessary ingredients on hand for this pasta. Not only did I have homemade sauce, I had Italian sausage in my freezer—which I think is a much better choice than the ground beef any way. I always keep a variety of pasta shapes and as luck would have it, I also had Ricotta, Fontina (preferable to Mozzarella, in my opinion) and Parmesan. I share this information not to brag about the contents of my pantry, but rather to point out the benefits of maintaining a well-stocked pantry.

I occasionally teach a class called The Well-Stocked Pantry, and one of the things I emphasize is that everyone's personal well-stocked pantry will look different. Your aim should be to fill your pantry with the things that go into making the foods you love to eat. Then, when you run across a recipe in a magazine or cookbook that hits all of your favorite flavor buttons, it is likely you will already have many of the ingredients that you need.

If you choose to include homemade things (tomato sauce, stock, different kinds of pesto, compound butter, frozen vegetables and fruits from the farmers' market, etc.) in your pantry, stocking it will require some advance planning and the willingness to put in the work ahead. But you will always be glad in the end.

The tomato sauce in my freezer is a good example. I still remember the moment at the farmers' market last summer, standing in front of the table overflowing with vine-ripened tomatoes, thinking that I really didn't have time to make tomato sauce. I was getting ready to leave town and my schedule was packed. I also knew that I was looking at the peak of the crop...if I didn't take the time that weekend to make some sauce, I wouldn't have any for the winter. So, I found the time to do it. And as we ate dinner last night, I was so grateful that I did. With all of the ingredients from my pantry at the ready, all I needed to do was brown the sausage, boil the pasta and layer it all into a baking dish. While it baked, I tossed a salad. Dinner was so easy. But even better than that, it tasted really good.

Even if you didn't make any tomato sauce last summer (or the sauce you made is all gone), I would still encourage you to make this dish if it appeals to you. A quick tomato sauce made from a can of Italian Plum tomatoes (along with some garlic and/or onions) can be a fine thing...just different from one made of vine ripes. Of course, the dish won't be quite as "speedy" if you have to make the sauce the same day, but I think you will like it so much that you won't care.

The leftovers made an excellent lunch....

Baked Pasta with Tomato Sauce, Italian Sausage & Ricotta

1 T. olive oil
6 oz. Italian Sausage, casings removed
2 c. Tomato sauce (see notes)
8 oz. Penne or Fusilli
4 oz Fontina, coarsely grated
1 oz. Parmesan, finely grated
6 oz. whole milk ricotta, seasoned to taste with salt, pepper & nutmeg
2 oz. Fontina or low-moisture Mozzarella, coarsely grated (optional)

Warm the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over moderate heat. Crumble the sausage and add to the pan. Cook, breaking up the larger pieces with a wooden spoon, until browned and cooked through—about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. If the sauce seems thin, simmer until slightly thickened. 

Taste and correct the seasoning.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. When the pasta is almost al dente (pastas that will be baked should be a bit firmer than those that will be sauced and served right away), drain.

In a large bowl, combine the pasta and the tomato sauce. Stir to combine. Add 4 oz. of the Fontina and half of the Parmesan and fold in just until evenly distributed—the cheese does not have to melt. Transfer half of the mixture to a buttered 1 1/2  quart shallow baking dish. Daub half of the ricotta over the pasta.

Add the remaining pasta to the dish and daub the remaining ricotta over all. Top with the remaining Parmesan and Fontina (if using).

Topped with Parmesan only
Topped with a mixture of Parmesan and Fontina/Mozzarella

Transfer to a 400° oven and bake until hot through, tinged with brown on the top and bubbling just around the edges—about 20 to 25 minutes. Serves 3 to 4.

Topped with Parmesan only

Topped with mixture of Parmesan and Fontina/Mozzarella

  • This recipe will double easily.  Use a 3-quart shallow baking dish (a 13- by 9-inch is perfect).
  • I have not tried it, but I imagine that a pretty fine vegetarian version of this could be made by substituting 8 oz. of mushrooms for the sausage.  Sauté them in a little olive oil, add the tomato sauce and proceed with the recipe.  
  • If you don't have sauce in your freezer, you can of course make one.  To make 2 cups of winter tomato sauce, you will need a 28 oz. can of Italian Plum tomatoes packed in juice, a small onion (4 to 6 oz.)—finely diced, 3 or 4 cloves of finely minced garlic and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.  Warm the olive oil in a shallow saucepan set over medium heat.  Add the onions along with a pinch of salt and sweat, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden—about 10 to 20 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant—about 2 minutes.  Pass the tomatoes, along with their juice through a food mill fitted with the coarse disc (or pulse in the food processor or simply break up with your hands).   Add the tomatoes along with salt & freshly ground pepper to taste. Simmer sauce, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened—about 30 minutes.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt.  You may of course add herbs (basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary, etc.—add with the tomatoes).  If you prefer a speedier sauce, skip the onions and just start with the garlic in the olive oil.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ragoût of Winter Vegetables served with Salmon Baked with Herbed Mustard Breadcrumbs

Last night I taught a class featuring a Valentine's Day menu for two. Since my goal in teaching the class was to help someone prepare a three or four course meal for a friend or loved one on a weeknight (Valentine's falls on a weekday this year), the individual recipes were necessarily simple and classic. They included crostini topped with a creamy blend of Gorgonzola and soft Goat cheese, a Spinach Salad and Jean-Georges Vongerichten's famous Molten Chocolate Cake. The centerpiece of the meal was an entrée of Salmon Baked with Herbed Mustard Breadcrumbs served on a winter Ragoût of Fingerling Potatoes, Carrots & Brussels Sprouts. The latter was particularly well received—more than one person came up to me afterwards to let me know that they didn't like Brussels Sprouts but that they really liked this dish.

I'm not quite sure what it is about this vegetable dish that is so appealing. At its heart, it is nothing more than a simple combination of roasted carrots & potatoes and quickly braised Brussels sprouts. Perhaps it is the buttery bath they are given at the finish....but it could also be the effect of the sweet carrots softening and complimenting the slightly bitter Brussels sprouts.

For this dish the carrots and potatoes are roasted in a slightly unusual way. They are tossed with olive oil and salt & pepper as is usual (along with some whole garlic cloves and sprigs of thyme)

but are then covered with foil for the first half of the roasting time. Fingerling potatoes will sometimes become dry and tough during the roasting process. Covering them at first gets the cooking process started in a moist environment—the final result is a moist, tender potato. This initially moist environment also helps jump start the cooking of the carrots (for a similar treatment of carrots see my post on my favorite way to cook carrots). The foil is removed for the last 20 to 25 minutes of the roasting time, during which both vegetables caramelize nicely in the heat of the 400° oven.

The Brussels sprouts could be tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and then added to the uncovered pan of roasting potatoes and carrots. Brussels sprouts take about 20 to 25 minutes to roast, so this would work out perfectly. If you did this, you would have a very nice medley of roasted vegetables, but you wouldn't have a buttery stew of vegetables.... To obtain a buttery stew, you need to braise the Brussels sprouts.

Braising Brussels sprouts is exactly like braising meat (browning, followed by moistening/deglazing, followed by simmering)—it just takes much less time. Begin by quickly wilting some sliced shallots in some butter. The heat should be high enough so that by the time the shallots are limp (after a couple of minutes), they will have just begun to caramelize a bit on the edges. Add the halved sprouts to the pan and continue to cook until they too have begun to take on some color.

Add a small amount of water (or stock, if you prefer)—enough to come about a quarter of the way up the sides of the sprouts—cover and cook at a brisk simmer until the sprouts are just tender to the tip of a knife. This will only take about 3 to 5 minutes.

When the Brussels sprouts are cooked, add the roasted vegetables to the pan (adding more water or stock if the pan is dry). If the carrots and potatoes have cooled, either reheat them briefly in the oven first, or toss everything together for a minute or two in the pan. When everything is hot, add butter and herbs and continue to cook and toss until the vegetables are coated with a buttery film of liquid (again, you may need to add a splash more of water or stock).

The salmon I made to go with these vegetables is easy and elegant. First smear the salmon with a thin film of Dijon (mixed with a little lemon juice and olive oil)

and top this with a generous coating of fresh breadcrumbs mixed with herbs, lemon zest and melted butter.

When baked in a hot oven (450°), the breadcrumbs will become light and crispy and tinged with golden brown color in spots. If you prefer a darker, crunchier breading, you may toast the breadcrumb mixture in a moderate oven (350° to 375°) until golden and crisp (stir occasionally) before putting it on top of the mustard-coated salmon. Salmon with a toasted breadcrumb coating should be baked at a lower oven temperature (375° to 400°).

Whether you toast the breading before applying it to the salmon or not, the breadcrumb mixture can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator. This makes the preparation of the salmon on the night of your dinner a snap. If you do choose to make the breading ahead, while you are mincing the herbs for it, take the time to mince some extra for the ragoût. Mash these herbs into the butter you will be using to finish the ragoût. Although you can of course simply add the butter and freshly minced herbs directly to the vegetables, making a quick compound butter allows you to mince the herbs ahead of time and store them in such a way that they won't deteriorate or lose their fresh flavor. Wrapped airtight and refrigerated, a compound butter will last several days (and can be frozen for much longer).

Serving the salmon with the ragoût works out particularly well because you can put the salmon into the oven at the same time you begin cooking the shallots for the ragoût and both the salmon and the vegetables will be ready to serve at the same time. But of course, you should not feel limited to serving these vegetables with salmon. They would also make a great accompaniment for some simply prepared pork or chicken or beef...or another favorite fish.

As regular readers have probably guessed, while I like both the salmon and the vegetables, the vegetable dish is where my heart is. It is wonderfully flavorful, versatile and easy to prepare. You should of course feel free to adapt it by varying the herbs to go with whatever else you are serving and to suit your tastes. The thyme could be replaced with rosemary or sage. Minced chives would make a nice addition. If you like bacon, you could incorporate some bacon into the mix by cooking some (cut cross-wise into 1/2-inch pieces) first, lifting it out and using the bacon fat to start the braise. Add the cooked bacon back to the vegetables at the end with the herbs. No matter how you vary this dish...or what you choose to serve it with...I think you (and your guest) will be pleased with the results.

Ragoût of Brussels Sprouts, Carrots
& Fingerling Potatoes

1/3 lb. carrots, peeled and cut 1/2-inch thick on the diagonal
1/3 lb. fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Several sprigs of thyme
olive oil
Salt & Pepper
2 T. unsalted butter, divided
1 medium shallot, peeled, halved and sliced lengthwise a scant 1/4-inch thick
1/3 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
2 to 3 t. minced Italian flat leaf parsley
1/2 t. minced fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 400°. In a small bowl, combine the potatoes, carrots, garlic and thyme. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer in a small, shallow casserole. Cover the pan tightly with foil and roast until the vegetables are tender and golden—removing the foil after about 20 minutes—total cooking time will be about 40 minutes. Discard the sprigs of thyme.

Melt 1 T. butter in a medium sauté pan set over medium to medium-high heat. When it sizzles, add the shallots along with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until softened and just beginning to turn golden on the edges—2 minutes or so. Add the Brussels sprouts and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts begin to turn golden brown in spots—2 to 3 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of water, cover and simmer briskly until the sprouts are just tender—about 3 to 5 minutes.

Uncover the pan and add the carrots, potatoes and, if you like, the garlic. Add a splash of water if the pan seems dry. Heat through, tossing and stirring. When all of the vegetables are hot, add the remaining butter and herbs. Toss until the vegetables are coated in a light buttery sauce, adding more water if necessary. Correct the seasoning. Serves 2.

Note: This recipe can be multiplied to feed as many as you like. When you cook the Brussels sprouts, choose a pan that will accommodate all of the potatoes and carrots as well.

Salmon Baked with Herbed Mustard Breadcrumbs

1/3 c. coarse, fresh breadcrumbs (made with day old bread)
1/2 T. minced Italian flat leaf parsley
1/2 t. minced fresh thyme
1/2 t. lemon zest
1 T. melted unsalted butter
Salt & Pepper

1 T. Dijon mustard
1/2 t. lemon juice
1/2 t. olive oil

2 skinless fillets of fresh salmon (about 5 oz. each and about 1-inch thick)

Combine the breadcrumbs with the herbs and zest in a small bowl. Drizzle the butter over and fluff to combine. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

Combine the mustard, lemon juice and olive oil.

Place the salmon skinned side down on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Spread the mustard mixture over the top of the salmon. Cover with the breadcrumbs.

Bake the fish in the upper third of a preheated 450° oven until the breadcrumbs are tinged with brown and the salmon is cooked the way you like. It will take about 7 to 8 minutes for medium-rare (longer if the fillet is very thick). Serves 2.

Note: Like the vegetables, this recipe too can be multiplied to serve more than two.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Braised Moroccan Spiced Chicken

I am often asked what is my favorite thing to cook. The (possibly) disappointing truth is that I don't have one favorite thing to cook—my favorites change from day to day, season to season and year to year. Certainly I love to cook whatever I'm hungry for. And for me, what I'm hungry for is frequently a function of the weather. I think if you were to look back over my blog you would find many posts that begin with a discussion of the weather and how it relates to the recipe I'm posting.

Today is no different. I had planned on posting a recipe for baked salmon and vegetables. But it is cold and rainy outside and that particular dish somehow didn't seem like such a great fit. This is a day for a deeply flavorful braise...or a stew—something like the Moroccan Spiced Chicken I made the other night.

with plain couscous and roasted carrots and turnips

If, after reading my recent post on braising/stewing, you have been looking for recipes to practice with, this would be a great one to try.

The recipe for Moroccan Spiced Chicken is a very simple and basic braise. A blending of a recipe for Chicken Tagine by my good friend Nancy and one for Braised Moroccan Chicken that I found at FOOD52, it begins like all braises with the browning of the chicken and the cooking of the aromatics—in this case onion, garlic and a generous quantity of spice. Nancy's recipe adds tomato and I have followed her lead in that. Both recipes end with olives, fragrant preserved lemons and cilantro. It is a warming and hearty dish...just the kind of thing I crave at the end of a damp and chilly day—which would make it one of my favorite things to least, for today.

Moroccan Spiced Chicken

2 T. olive oil
4 chicken thighs and 4 legs (or 8 thighs)
salt and pepper
1 medium onion (8 to 10 oz.), cut in a small dice
4 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 t. ground cumin
1 1/2 t. ground coriander
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. paprika
1/2 t. turmeric
1/4 t. cayenne
14 oz. can whole tomatoes—passed through a food mill, pulsed in the food processor or crushed with your hands
1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken stock (or canned low-salt broth)
2/3 to 1 c. black or green olives (Kalamata, Gaeta, Picholine or a mix)
1 preserved lemon (see note), cut into sections (if not already), pulp removed and cut cross-wise into fine strips
2 to 4 T. chopped cilantro

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan or braiser set over medium-high heat. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and add to the pan, skin side down. Brown the chicken until the fat is well-rendered and the skin is golden brown; turn and brown the other side. Transfer the chicken to a plate. Do not crowd the pan while you are browning the chicken—fry in batches if necessary.

Remove the pan from the heat and pour off all but a couple tablespoons of the fat. Reduce the heat to medium, return the pan to the heat and add the onions along with a pinch of salt. Cook the onions until soft and golden—about 10 minutes.

Add the garlic and spices and cook until fragrant—about a minute.

Add the tomatoes and use them to deglaze the pan, scraping up the caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook until thick and reduced—5 minutes or so.

Return the chicken to the pan (along with any accumulated juices) and turn to coat in the onion/spice/tomato mixture.

Add enough chicken stock to come a third to half way up the sides of the chicken.

Bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and cook at a gentle simmer until the chicken is cooked through and almost tender—about 30 to 40 minutes. Add the preserved lemon and olives and continue to cook covered until the chicken is very tender—another 10 to 20 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate and keep warm. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened. Taste and correct the seasoning.

Serve the chicken on a bed of couscous (or rice) with the sauce spooned over. Scatter the cilantro over all. Serves 4.

Leftovers for lunch (excellent, even on a bright and sunny day)

Note: Preserved lemons are an indispensible ingredient for many Moroccan dishes. They can of course be purchased, but it is easy to make your own and recipes abound on the web. The most traditional versions take three weeks (as this one posted by David Lebovitz). There are also "quick" methods that are ready in just 7 days. There are also "cheater" recipes that only take a few hours and although I haven't tried one of these, I imagine they would probably be fine in a pinch.

The beginnings of the "7 day" version