Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Winter Salad of Mâche, Belgian Endive, Apple, Walnuts & Roquefort

At the first farmers’ market of the new year, one of the growers brought mâche…a beautiful and delicious lettuce that has at times and by some been considered a weed (because of its tendency to spring up in the fields where corn and other cereal crops are grown).  As with most things food, the French know better and have been eating it for a long time.  Patricia Wells tells us in her book At Home in Provence that it was shepherds who first brought it to the table—having observed their flocks nibbling on a patch with gusto and having decided to give it a try.   Two of the other names for mâche reveal these interesting bits of lore:  corn salad and lamb’s lettuce.  By whatever name you know it, if you have tasted it, you probably think it is delicious—slightly nutty, with a soft, buttery texture. 

 As I think about it, I am surprised this is the first time I have noticed it at the farmers’ market—I assume anything that could be construed as a weed would not be too difficult to grow.  It is of course possible that I have just missed it.  Mâche is a cold/cool weather crop and this is the first year that I have regularly patronized a winter market. 

When I saw it, even though I didn’t really know what I was going to do with it, I grabbed a box.   I love mâche…and this was a pristinely lovely example of it.  It is true that I occasionally see a box of Organic Girl mâche at the grocery store.  But it is not regularly available.  And while it is generally a good product, as with most things, it can’t really compare to what a local grower can provide.  Whereas the mass produced stuff can be flimsy and succumb to decay fairly rapidly, the rosettes I purchased had a substance and life that kept them in fine condition for more than a week (stored air-tight, with a barely damp paper towel)…  Plenty of time to decide how I was going to best enjoy it.

In the end it was a salad in Patricia Wells' aforementioned book that provided my inspiration.  I was thinking about the mâche…and what I was going to make with it…one evening while I was shopping.  In my mind’s eye I saw a picture from her book.  It included mâche rosettes, along with the classic trio of Belgian endive, walnuts, and Roquefort.  I had everything but the cheese, so I grabbed a wedge.

When I finally made my salad, I decided it needed a bit of apple, so I diced up a Pink Lady and added it along with everything else.  Pink Ladies are my favorite snacking apple…and thus something I always have on hand…but Honeycrisps would be equally good.   The crisp, juicy, sweet-tart apple was the perfect touch.  Patricia Wells uses a cream based dressing for her salad, but I chose to use a tangy mustard vinaigrette that I already had on hand (you may have it too, if you have made the other apple and endive salad I posted a month ago…).

If you have never tasted mâche, I hope you will seek it out.  If you are unable to find it, I think this salad would be delicious with arugula instead.  Many people suggest substituting watercress for mâche.  But I think the nutty character of arugula is more in keeping with the flavor profile of mâche.  Watercress can be quite peppery—and I don’t find mâche to be peppery at all (slightly bitter, perhaps…but not peppery).   That said…watercress would probably be delicious in this salad…different…but delicious.  To be honest though, I hope you won’t have to find a substitute.  I hope that a grower at your market has some exceptionally beautiful mâche…so that you will have the chance to experience this delightful little green at its best.

Salad of Mâche, Belgian Endive, Apple, Walnuts & Roquefort

For the vinaigrette:
2 T. Champagne vinegar
1 small shallot, peeled and finely minced (1 1/2 to 2 T.)
1/4 t. salt, or to taste
1 t. Dijon mustard
6 T. extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:
3 1/2 to 4 oz. mâche rosettes, washed and spun dry
1 large (7 to 8 oz.) apple—choose something juicy, crisp and sweet-tart (like a Pink Lady or Honey Crisp)
2 heads Belgian Endive (about 8 oz.)
1 c. (4 oz.) walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely broken
4 oz. Roquefort

Make the vinaigrette:  Place the vinegar in a small bowl with the shallots and salt.  Set aside for five minutes or so to let the shallots soften a bit. Add the mustard and whisk until smooth. While whisking constantly, add the olive oil in a thin stream to form a slightly thickened, emulsified dressing.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt.  Set aside. (You will have more vinaigrette than you need for this salad--but it keeps well and it is a nice all purpose vinaigrette.)

From top and moving clockwise:  an intact rosette....
a rosette flipped over to show the root/core....bits of the trimmed
root/core....trimmed leaves
To make the salad, trim the root ends of the mâche rosettes.  It is ok to leave the rosettes intact, as long as there is no root attached.  You may also trim them in such a way that the leaves are all separate.  I like to trim it so that the larger leaves are separate and a few small rosettes remain. 

Wash the apple. Halve lengthwise and remove the core.  Cut each half into a neat quarter inch dice. 

Remove any bruised outer leaves of the endive and discard.  Halve the endive and remove the cores (by cutting a "v" shape around the core on each half with the tip of a paring knife).  Place each half face down on a cutting board and slice 1/4-inch thick on a short diagonal. 

Place the mâche, apples, endive and walnuts in a large bowl.   Crumble in the Roquefort.  Drizzle with some of the vinaigrette and season well with salt and pepper.  Carefully toss so that all of the ingredients are thoroughly coated with the vinaigrette.  Add more vinaigrette as needed.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  If the salad seems well-seasoned and well-dressed, but still tastes a bit flat, give it a squeeze of lemon and toss again.  Mound the salad on a platter or divide among individual salad plates.  Serves 4 to 6.

Note:  The mâche and walnuts may be prepared ahead.  The apples and endive must be cut right before serving as they will both oxidize after being cut.  

Printable Recipe

Monday, January 22, 2018

Some Thoughts on Grain Bowls… Three Examples… and One Vinaigrette

For years I have been teaching…and posting…recipes and ideas for grain pilafs and salads.  To be honest, it has very little to do with the fact that whole grains are supposed to be good for me.  It just so happens that I like them.   Whether the menu includes one of the recently reintroduced grains (freekeh or farro)…a done-to-death trendy grain (quinoa)…or a soft porridge-like grain (polenta or risotto)…I’m there…spoon in hand.  I have never thought much about why I like grains so much (clearly not everyone feels the same way).  But in trying to guess at the reason, I have decided that it probably has something to do with the fact that I grew up on hot breakfast cereals. 

My mother never purchased any of the boxed, sugar-saturated cold cereals that many of my peers were enjoying.  If I wanted a cold cereal, I had a choice of Grape Nuts or Miniature Shredded Wheat.  Besides the fact that neither of these appealed to me very much (of the two, Grape Nuts was my preference), I found any cold cereal pretty off-putting since they were all reduced to mush in short order by the addition of the milk.  A bowl of hot cereal (particularly during the winter months) was vastly preferable.  Better yet was a soft cooked egg with buttered toast—even though I grew up in the era when everyone was removing eggs from their diets for “health” reasons.  (I count myself lucky that my mother never succumbed to this insanity.)

To this day I adore a soft cooked or poached egg on toast….for any meal of the day.  It did not occur to me until I began to consider why I like whole grains so much that—like a soft, runny egg—they are for me what we all mean when we say “comfort food”…. a food that conjures up memories of a time when someone else was taking care of us and making us feel warm, full and safe.

It is unfortunately not within my power to turn any food into a source of this kind of comfort for anyone.  But I can and will continue to try and share my love for grains by presenting them in their best light:  properly cooked…properly seasoned…and accompanied by all manner of delicious ingredients. 

All of this brings me to my recent obsession with grain bowls.  If you follow me on Instagram, you have probably noticed.  I am late to the party when it comes to the grain bowl.  (They have been “a thing” for several years now.)  But I am, as I have just pointed out, not late to grains.  And the fact of the matter is that there is really very little difference between a grain bowl and a grain pilaf or salad (both of which can be found in abundance on my blog).  As a friend and I were discussing the other day, a grain bowl is to a grain pilaf or salad what a composed salad is to a tossed salad—the ingredients in the former are arranged artfully (one hopes) on the plate and those in the latter are mixed up before they ever hit the plate.  All of the basic “rules” of how to create one will apply to the other.

The greatest advantage of a grain bowl over a pilaf or salad is they let you, the eater, create different combinations of flavor in every single bite.  To me, this adds in a way to the child-like pleasure I seem to derive from grains.  It is almost like being given permission to play with your food:  Taking your fork and dipping it here…dragging it there…in each bite combining the tastes and textures that please you most. 

There are of course some basic tips that will help you build a delicious grain bowl, but rather than write my usual “how to” post (many others have already done that….The Kitchn, Fine Cooking, The New York Times, Food52, and Williams Sonoma…just to name a few)….I thought I would illustrate how to create a grain bowl by sharing how I put together a few that we have enjoyed recently.  (I am including component recipes either as links to old posts in the text…or at the bottom of this post.)

It all started a few weeks ago when I noticed a colorful looking dish in Feast Magazine that featured some favorite winter vegetables (sweet potatoes and cauliflower).  The dish didn’t include any grains, but it was artfully arranged in a bowl…just like a grain bowl.  In addition to the “look” of the dish, the presence of some black beans made me think of brown rice.  I like brown rice, but I don’t cook with it very often (I have only featured it once on my blog).  The main reason for this is it takes so long to cook when compared to other grains I like.  But I don’t shy away from long cooking times in other ingredients, so I’m not sure why I would with brown rice.  With a little advance planning, the cooking time isn’t a problem.  And it is so good in combination with black beans that I thought the little extra time involved would be worth it.    

The dish that inspired my grain bowl included a generous drizzle of a sauce of pureed cashews and almonds seasoned with ginger, turmeric, garlic and lemon.  I decided to deconstruct this sauce and use the spices to season the roasted vegetables (along with a little added coriander), toast and chop the cashews for final garnish with minced parsley, cilantro and scallions and drizzle the whole thing with a lime vinaigrette seasoned with garlic and cumin.  A scoop of plain yogurt (I used traditional full-fat…but Greek would be nice…or Labneh…) was the final touch.  It was fantastic.

Another grain bowl I made recently was inspired by a breakfast out with some friends.  We were at a local coffee shop…and it was late morning….right about the time I’m hungry for a little something sweet.  So that’s what I had…a sweet and tender little financier.  Both of my friends ordered a delicious looking (and tasting!...I got to have a bite) avocado toast with a runny fried egg.  Well…I couldn’t get that toast out of my mind all day.  So for dinner I decided make a grain bowl featuring avocado and egg.  

My grain of choice for my avocado and egg grain bowl was freekeh (currently my favorite grain).  I cooked it using the pilaf method with some diced onion and seasoned it with a little allspice and cinnamon.  Besides the sliced avocado and a poached egg, I added a pile of carrots roasted with olive oil and a smidge of honey, a spoonful of harissa, a generous drizzle of leftover cumin and lime vinaigrette, and a final shower of sliced cilantro and toasted, broken pine nuts.  This too was excellent. Eggs are wonderful with grain bowls…just remember when you poach (or fry) an egg for a grain bowl to make sure that you leave the yolk nice and runny (it makes a great sauce!)

The most recent grain bowl I made is a great example of how one of the best uses for a grain bowl is as a way to use up a few leftovers…particularly for one person.  So often I find myself with only enough leftovers for one serving of something.  If, for example, we have eaten all the chicken I roasted, sometimes there will be one lonely serving of the vegetables that were roasted with the chicken left over.  I have often used odds and ends like this in a green salad for lunch (and will continue to do so on occasion)…but a grain bowl is much more substantial…and more along the lines of what I’m craving during the colder months. 

Last week I was in just this situation with a single serving of leftover roasted sweet potatoes and cauliflower (from my brown rice grain bowl)….  And since I had grain bowls on the brain, I made one from my lunch.  I cooked some quinoa (which only takes 25 minutes at most…bulgur would have been equally delicious, and even quicker), added a handful of arugula, some yogurt (always a good idea with grains, in my opinion) some julienned apple (crunchy, sweet and tart…and a perfect partner for cauliflower and sweet potato), the remains of my toasted and crushed pine nuts and then drizzled the whole thing with some of the last of my cumin-lime vinaigrette (but a mustard based vinaigrette would have been fine…or simply a good drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon or lime to finish it off). I particularly liked the raw and fresh additions of the apple and arugula in this one (and should mention that I took the time to season and dress them with a little of the vinaigrette before adding them to the bowl).

I hope that these examples will give you some ideas for assembling your own grain bowls.  Obviously I made great use of one, particular vinaigrette (recipe below).  But even this is instructive in that getting into the habit of keeping favorite vinaigrettes and condiments on hand is a good way to get a jump on future grain bowls.  And don’t feel like you have to have a freshly cooked grain in order to have a grain bowl.  I was able to cook some quinoa for my lunch the other day because I was working from home.  But if you don’t have this luxury (and you would like to have grain bowls for lunch), get into the habit of always making a little extra whenever you cook a grain for your dinner.

I’ll end with a few miscellaneous pointers...things that I try to keep in mind when I’m putting together a grain bowl:  First, always think about contrasts—both in tasted and in texture.  You don’t want a big bowl of all the same flavor profiles or something that is all soft…or all crunchy.  Also, make sure everything goes together/makes sense…as always, less is more.  You’ll be much happier with your bowl if it has distinct tastes that complement each other well than you will be if you just have a big mish-mash of indistinguishable leftovers in a bowl.  If you have one of each of the elements (grain, vegetable, protein, fresh and/or crunchy/chewy garnish, sauce/condiment/vinaigrette) don’t add something else just because you have it.

Finally, keep your eyes open for inspiration.  When you have a grain bowl at a restaurant or café, make a point to note what it is that you like about it…the flavors, the textures, how it’s dressed, etc.  Whenever you have leftovers, think about how you might use them in a grain bowl.  And lastly, take inspiration from everywhere: images and recipes on line, in cookbooks or in a favorite magazine.  Pretty soon you’ll be making such delicious grain bowls at home that you won’t need to go out and pay someone else to make one for you.     

A few recipes/cooking notes for the grain bowls described in this post:

The Grains
I almost always cook grains using the pilaf method--that is, I start by toasting the grain in a bit of hot fat (usually olive oil...about two to three teaspoons per cup of raw grain) in the sauce pan and then after a minute or two adding a hot liquid (lightly salted water or stock).  When the whole thing comes to a rolling boil, cover with a tight lid and reduce the temperature to the lowest setting.  When the grain is tender, turn off the heat and let it continue to steam/rest for five to ten minutes.  The amount of liquid you will need and the cooking time will vary for each grain.  For Brown Rice you need 2 measures of liquid for each measure of rice.  It will take about 40 to 50 minutes to cook.  For quinoa and freekeh I use 1 1/4 to 1 1/3 measures of liquid for every measure of grain.  Quinoa takes 15 to 20 minutes and Freekeh takes 20 to 25 minutes.  Almost all grains benefit from a good rinse under running water before you cook them.  Quinoa must be rinsed or it will be bitter.

In the above bowls I didn't add any seasonings (other than salt) to the brown rice or quinoa.  For the freekeh, I used this favorite recipe (with onion, cinnamon and allspice).  I used brown basmati, white quinoa and cracked freekeh.  

I start with 1/4 cup of raw grain for each person.  You may require more...or less...but that's a good place to start.

Components of 2 grain bowls:  Cooked freekeh, roasted carrots, vinaigrette,
 harissa, cilantro, avocado and pine nuts (eggs not pictured...)

The Black Beans
I used 1/2 cup of cooked black beans for each portion.  You may use canned (be sure you rinse them) or cook your own.  I like to bake beans in a low oven, they require less attention and maintain a better shape.  Soak the beans overnight (or not...they'll just take longer to cook).  Drain and rinse the soaked beans and spread them in a layer no deeper than an inch in a shallow baking dish.  Drizzle with some olive oil, add a few cloves of garlic, several sprigs of thyme and a cinnamon stick.  Cover with boiling water by an inch, cover the pan with foil or a tight fitting lid, and bake at 325 degrees until soft but not falling apart...about 2 hours for black beans.  Add salt when the beans are half cooked.   1 cup of dried beans will make 3 cups of cooked.

Whether you use canned or cook your own, finish the beans by cooking some red onion in a little olive oil until tender and beginning to caramelize (use about 1/4 c. of diced onion for each half cup of cooked beans), adding the beans along with a splash of water or bean cooking liquid (you don't want them to be soup-y...but you don't want them to be dry either) and heating them through.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  (If you use canned beans, consider adding a little minced garlic and a dash of cinnamon to the onions just before adding the beans.)

Spice Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Cauliflower
If you aren't in the habit of roasting vegetables, check out my detailed tutorial.  For the vegetables in my brown rice bowl, I roasted a pound of sweet potatoes with 2/3 of a pound of cauliflower (and as mentioned in the text had extra...this was enough roasted vegetables for 3 or 4 grain bowls).  Peel the sweet potato and trim away the leaves and core from the cauliflower.  Cut the cauliflower into 1 1/2-inch florets.  Cut the sweet potatoes in slabs that are a generous half inch thick and cut the slabs into 1 1/2-inch pieces (so they are roughly the same size as the cauliflower florets).  Place them in a large bowl and add a teaspoon each of ginger and turmeric and a half teaspoon of coriander.  Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and season generously with salt.  Toss until the vegetables are evenly coated with the oil and spices.  If they look dry, add more oil.  Roast in a 450-degree oven (turning once when they are about 2/3 cooked) until tender to the tip of a knife and nicely caramelized...about 20 to 25 minutes.

Cumin-Lime Vinaigrette (Printable version)
Place 1/4 c. of freshly squeezed and strained lime juice in a small bowl.  Smash a fat clove of garlic to a purée with a pinch of salt and add it to the bowl.  Let sit for five to ten minutes (to allow the flavor of the garlic to mellow a bit).  Add a teaspoon of cumin and salt & pepper to taste.  Add 6 T. of olive oil in a thin stream while whisking constantly.  Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary.   Drizzle as generously as you like over your grain bowl...and pass more at the table.  The vinaigrette will keep easily for a week or two in the fridge.  Bring to room temperature and re-whisk before using.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Black Bean & Butternut Squash Soup with Spanish Chorizo

A couple of weeks ago while I was posting my ‘On this Day’ post to my Facebook page I noticed that for that particular date there were two different soup posts to choose from.  A few days later, I ran into another soup post…  And then a few days after that, yet another.  I decided to check, and it appears that in every January since I began writing For Love of the Table, I have shared at least one soup recipe.  It seems that January is soup month….at least as far as For Love of the Table is concerned. 

And of course it makes sense to be hungry for soup in January.  Soup is warming and filling—just what you need during cold…and sometimes damp…weather.  It is also nourishing….  Whether or not it plays a role in curing a cold or the flu, sitting down to a bowl of steaming soup will almost always make you feel better.   Furthermore, soups are typically fairly lean when it comes to calories and will fit nicely into most reasonable diet plans (should that be part of your January regimen).

So to keep up the streak, I thought I would share the delicious soup that I made over the weekend:  Black bean with Butternut squash and Spanish Chorizo. It was just the thing to have on hand during our recent spate of bone-chilling temperatures.      

When you make your soup, I recommend cooking your beans from dried.  You can of course use canned black beans. There are several good brands that are widely available…and they are truly convenient.  But if you have the time, I think the dried really are better.  When made with dried beans the final flavor seems richer (no surprise since you have the delicious bean cooking liquid to add to the soup)…and the texture more velvety.  It was in fact the presence in my pantry of a couple of pounds of very nice dried black beans from a local grower that put me in mind of a black bean soup.  I wanted to use some of those beans in a place where they would truly shine.   

You may cook the beans using whatever method you prefer—in a pot on the stove, in a wide pan in the oven, or a pressure cooker or Instant pot.  I think the beans cook more evenly if they are given an overnight or a quick soak, but you can cook them straight from dried too—just add an hour or so to the cooking time.

But this soup isn’t just about the beans.  It’s also about the sweet winter squash (excellent with black beans)…and the subtle smoky flavors of the Spanish chorizo and paprika.  This isn’t just an ordinary black bean soup….and we loved it.   It made a terrific dinner (with a big piece of warm cornbread).  But I think I liked it even better during the next few days for lunch. After a day or two the texture is even creamier…and the flavors more developed and nuanced.  Although, I have to admit that my feelings about this may have something to do with the fact that sitting down to a delicious bowl of hot homemade soup in the middle of a freezing cold January day is the very embodiment of Comfort Food.    

Black Bean Soup with Butternut Squash & Spanish Chorizo

3 T. olive oil
1 medium to large onion (white or yellow), cut in a ¼-inch dice
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 1/2 to 3 oz. finely diced Spanish chorizo (cured spiced pork sausage, casings discarded if desired)
2 t. cumin
2 t. smoked paprika
1 1/3 lb. Butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into a 1/3-inch dice (to make about 4 cups)
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock or a combination of half stock and half water, plus more as needed
5 to 5 1/2 c. cooked black beans (see notes)
1 to 2 T. Dry Sherry (or more, to taste)
Sour cream thinned with a bit of milk
Coarsely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
Minced green onion (white and green portions)
Toasted pepitas (see notes)

Warm the olive oil in a medium sized soup pot or Dutch oven set over moderate heat.  Add the onions and sweat without color until very soft—15 to 20 minutes or so.  Add the garlic, chorizo, and spices and cook briefly to infuse the flavors into the fat and onions—about 5 minutes.  Add the squash and stir to coat with the onions, chorizo and spices.  Season with salt and continue to cook for another five minutes.  Add the stock/water, adding enough so that the squash moves freely in the liquid and is completely submerged…but not “swimming” in the liquid.  Bring to a simmer and cook (adjusting the heat to maintain a gentle simmer) until the squash is tender—about 20 minutes.

Add the beans, along with enough bean cooking liquid or water so that everything is submerged, moving freely, but not swimming.  Return to a simmer and cook for another 15 minutes (at a low simmer) to allow the flavors to blend.  Taste and season as necessary with salt and pepper.  If you like, add the Sherry. 

If the consistency of the soup pleases you, the soup is ready to serve.  If you would like a creamier soup, remove a cup or two of the soup and purée until very smooth using a traditional or an immersion blender.  Return the puréed soup to the pot and heat through.

Serve topped with a generous drizzle of thinned sour cream and a scattering of parsley, green onion and pepitas.

Makes a generous 2 quarts of soup.

  • You may cook your beans from dry or use canned. If you use canned, you will need 3 15 oz. cans. Drain and rinse the beans before using. Add fresh water to the soup when adding the beans. If using dried beans, you will need 12 oz. (1 3/4 cups) of black beans. Cook them according to your preferred method—on the stove top, in the oven, or using a pressure cooker or an Instant Pot. I don’t own either of the latter two.  My preferred method is to soak overnight (or use a modified quick soak) and then bake them in the oven. Black beans take about 2 hours. Add 2 or 3 T. of olive oil, a cinnamon stick, a couple of well-branched sprigs of thyme and 3 or 4 peeled and lightly crushed cloves of garlic before adding the water. Salt half to three quarters of the way through the cooking process.
  • If you prefer, you may replace the cured Spanish chorizo with 4 oz. of fresh Mexican chorizo. If using Mexican chorizo, consider finishing with a squeeze of lime juice instead of Sherry and roughly chopped cilantro instead of parsley.
  • If you like to add something acidic, you can add a 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes. Add it after adding and cooking the chorizo and spices, cooking until the tomatoes are slightly thickened. Add the squash and continue as directed in the recipe.
  • If you would like some spicy heat, add 1/8 to 1/4 t. of cayenne or 1 t. of chipotle chili powder with the spices and chorizo.
  • Toast pepitas (pumpkin seeds) in a 350° oven until they are light golden and beginning to puff and pop…about 5 minutes. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil and season with salt.
Printable Version

Monday, January 8, 2018

Chicken with Dried Apricots, Green Olives & Almonds

Over the weekend a friend asked me what kinds of things I was cooking and what I was hungry for right now. We had been discussing my blog…and what I might be posting next. My first thought was that I wasn’t doing too much in the way of cooking at all. There are a lot of reasons for this. I’m tired from the busy season. I’m spending a lot of time catching up with friends (many of whom—including the friend who asked the question—work in my industry and are also coming up for air at the moment). This means I am eating out more than usual. I have also spent the first few days of the year digging myself out from under piles of paperwork and other things that got pushed to the side during the busy season. And I admit that I am plowing through all of this stuff at a rather leisurely pace… By the time dinner rolls around I am relying on the simple…and the tried & true (single ingredient pastas, soups, sandwiches, grain pilafs)—all things that I have already posted…or that are so simple and basic they don’t’ require a recipe.

My next thought was about the things I am truly hungry for this time of year. And it’s probably the same thing most of us are hungry for: rich braises and stews, slow roasts, hearty casseroles, all-day bean soups.... Foods that fill the house all afternoon with their good smells…and then warm you down to your toes when you finally sit down to the table. Foods like this are not difficult, but they do take a bit of advance planning….and my weekend was already well underway when I was having this conversation. 

As I was thinking about all these things, an image popped into my mind—a picture of a Moroccan-inspired chicken dish that I made a few years ago. (It must have been hovering there near the forefront of my mind after all the time I had spent going through some old pictures on my computer….) 

The recipe as I had made it was adapted only very slightly from the original in a winter issue of Martha Stewart Living. It is likely that I chose to make it the first time because it was a perfect intersection of the things I just described: It is simple and easy to make…and at the same time has the feel of the hearty and richly flavored foods I tend to crave during the early days of winter. 

Inspired by my conversation, I made it for dinner last night. I am happy to report that it was just as simple to make as I remembered. If you like Mediterranean flavors, you probably have the apricots, olives, almonds and spices on hand. If you cook regularly, it is also likely you have the carrots, onions and garlic at the ready. You might even have the chicken in your freezer (in which case, this would make a perfect snow day dinner!). As it happened, I did not have any chicken in my freezer, so I stopped on my way home from my coffee date with my friend and got some. And just as I remembered, once the ingredients were assembled, it was ready for the table in no time at all (…or in about an hour and fifteen minutes, to be more exact).

I have to admit that I find it difficult to believe that something that comes together so quickly can have such a rich flavor and unctuous texture. But it does. How great is that? And if you are craving this kind of dish—but just haven’t had the time to invest in a rich braise…or hearty casserole—I highly recommend that you add this one to your menu plans for some evening very soon.  

Chicken with Dried Apricots, Green Olives & Almonds

3 to 4 lbs chicken thighs
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper 
Olive oil 
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced 
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 lb. carrots, topped, tailed, peeled and cut on a long bias into 3-inch pieces (about 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick)
1 1/2 t. ground ginger 
3/4 t. ground cinnamon 
2 c. low-sodium chicken broth 
Zest of 1 orange
A generous pinch of saffron threads 
3/4 c. whole almonds, lightly toasted
3/4 c. dried apricots, halved crosswise if very large
1/2 c. green olives, pitted
1/2 c. lightly packed cilantro leaves, sliced into a rough chiffonade
Harissa, optional

Season chicken with salt and pepper (if time, do this up 12 to 24 hours ahead, cover loosely and store in the refrigerator). Heat a braiser pan or deep straight-sided skillet over medium-high heat; add enough oil to just coat the bottom of the pan (1 to 2 T.). Add the chicken, skin side down, and brown all over, in batches if necessary to keep from crowding the pan. Regulate the heat as necessary to maintain an active sizzle. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and pour off all but a tablespoon or so of fat from the pan. 

Reduce heat to medium; add onion, garlic, and carrots. Season lightly with salt (be careful, the olives will add a lot of salt). Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in ginger and cinnamon and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 

Stir in broth, orange zest and saffron, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan. Return chicken and accumulated juices to pan. Add the almonds, apricots and olives. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until a thermometer inserted in thickest part of the thigh (without touching bone) reads 180 degrees, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from heat. Taste and correct the seasoning. You may stir the cilantro in, or scatter it over the finished dish. Serve with couscous or rice. Pass harissa if you like. Serves 6 

(Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living)