Friday, May 31, 2013

A Marrakesh Inspired Housewarming Gift

How easy it would be to give a kitchen inspired gift I would like to receive.  But I would rather give the intended recipient(s) something they would really want.  My latest opportunity to find just the "right" gift was a lot of fun to acquire and proved to be an inspiration in its own right.

**Recipe Below**

Low and behold the gift of this Tagine:

Hand painted Tagine
Our good friends, Doug & Susan, recently moved into their home at the Marrakesh Country Club in Palm Desert.  The best way to describe the styling of the housing structures would be Hollywood Regency.  You know .... mansard roofs and pullman doors.

Courtesy Palm Springs Modernism Week
The tricky part of a Hollywood Regency home paired with the name Marrakesh is how to decorate.  Fortunately the week before our visit to see them and their new home, they came through our town.  I mentioned to my hubby John, "let's pay attention to what they're talking about for their new place.  Maybe we'll figure out just the right housewarming gift."

Like a gift delivered from the gods, our friends brought a design book to show us the ideas they were thinking about.  Susan said she was going for a bit of the glamour age that Hollywood Regency dictates, but wanted to give a nod to the Moroccan influenced name.

While they both slipped away to the restroom, John and I quickly thumbed through the book for ideas.  See what we saw?

After work one evening, we went to the nearest Williams Sonoma and selected our gift.  Very pleased with ourselves, we took ourselves out to dinner discovering a fantastic Pho restaurant in the mall, 9021PHO.  But I digress....

 The gift was well received and the enthusiasm of what to cook in it the next night took on a life of its own.  After much research we decided on a variation from Epicurious's Chicken Tagine with Couscous.  Being we were not in the land of Morocco, we shopped at the next best ethnic store in the Coachella Valley, Cardenas Market.

A market full of wonderful meats, spices and produce but alas no couscous.  Adapt!  Purchased orzo instead.  We  got a little enthusiastic with our chicken buying and bought too much for our Tagine vessel.  Punt!

We decided it was enough that the Tagine inspired us to make this dish and instead chose the casserole in-the-oven route to bake our feast.  The couscous portion of the meal now turned into a toasted orzo with figs to accompany our braised meat.

We were in a bit of a hurry to get the dish in the oven for a slow cook and didn't get photos documenting the assembly.  It is not terribly difficult as you'll see in the recipe below.

The reason we were in a hurry, is we were aiming to have another type of Moroccan experience.  Market shopping...

If one can't go to the Moroccan Quarter in Granada...then the next best thing is....

The Indio Evening/Night Market, picture courtesy Susan Myrland
We perused every one of the stalls at this bi-weekly swap meet while our dinner concoction was brewing.  By the time we got back home, the most aromatic fragrance drifted to our very hungry tummies.  Imagine how pretty this picture would have been if we could have fit it in the Tagine.

Again, no more time for picture taking...we were over the top ready to eat.  But check out the big cinnamon stick floating in our dish.  It permeated every bit of the meat.  Did the same kind of treatment in the broth where the orzo cooked.

If the Tagine didn't cook it, it made a lovely centerpiece
Chicken Tagine (adapted from Epicurious)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large chicken (about 3 pounds), cut into 8 pieces
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and Ras El Hanout (Moroccan spice)
  • 15 cipollini onions, blanched and peeled
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2-inch piece ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron
  • 1/2 cup olives, pitted
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/2  lemon, chopped

Toasted Orzo with Dried Figs (My own invention):
  • 1 lb of orzo
  • 1 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon of Ras El Hanout
  • 1 cup roughly chopped dried figs

To prepare the tagine or casserole:
1. Preheat the oven to 300°F.
2. In a large skillet, drizzle with the olive oil over medium high heat. Season the chicken liberally with salt, pepper and Ras El Hanout. Working in batches, sear the chicken until deep golden brown on all sides, 5 to 6 minutes total. Reserve seared chicken on a plate.
3. Add the onions to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until light golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger to the skillet and continue cooking, until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add the stock, cumin, and saffron to the pot, and bring the liquid to a boil. Transfer the chicken to the tagine or casserole dish along with any juices that accumulated while it rested.  Pour in the onion/spices mixture to the same tagine or casserole.
4. Cover the tagine or casserole with a tight-fitting lid and bake until the chicken has cooked through, about 2 hours.
5. When the chicken has cooked through, add the olives, parsley, and lemons to the pot. Reserve warm over low heat until ready to serve.

To prepare the toasted orzo with dried figs:
1. Heat butter in a 12" non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add orzo stirring frequently, toasting until lightly brown and golden.  Set aside.
2. In a medium pot over high heat, bring the chicken stock, cinnamon, turmeric,red pepper and Ras El Hanout to a boil. Add the orzo, stir to combine, and cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer for 10 minutes or until the orzo has absorbed the liquid.
3. Fluff the orzo with a fork. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick. Stir in chopped figs.  Serve warm with the prepared tagine or casserole.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Kitchen Towel Tutorial

The difference between a kitchen terry cloth towel, a flour sack towel and that of a tea towel has everything to do with its application.  Being Mother's Day, I thought I'd share my mom's advice on their utility.  See Mom, I was listening.  :)

But first, here's one of my very first tea towels as handcrafted by my Aunt many years ago.

Hand Embroidered Flour Sack Towel

A terry cloth hand towel does a great job drying hands just as a bath towel does.  But not so good a job at drying dishes. 

A linen or flour sack towel is much better equipped at drying dishes and cutlery.  They are more absorbent and leave little lint behind.

Flour sack towels came into being due to hard times from the Great Depression up to the 1950's.  No wonder I've been attracted to them for my 1940's kitchen.   Frugal women would make many things including kitchen towels with the tightly woven cotton bags from their food staples (cornmeal, flour, sugar, chicken feed).  The food manufacturers caught onto this trend and started to print pretty patterns on their fabric.  When times became more prosperous, food was distributed in paper products and flour sacks and their second-life creations fell out of favor.

Fortunately, they've made a comeback.  Not only are they absorbent, they dry quickly and launder well.

A tea towel with a special linen drying cloth had usually been reserved for drying expensive,  precious tea services and other heirloom pieces.  They also make a lovely bread basket wrap.

While a towel can be utilitarian, I love towels with a personality.  Here's a favorite a girl friend gave me recently....

Thanks Mom for showing me how to appreciate what others may consider mundane.  I love these quirky additions to my kitchen every time I get one.  Happy Mother's Day!

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