Moroccan Marathon

Picking recipes is something of a hobby of mine, but sometimes I spend too much time thinking of all the things I could make and have trouble actually picking what’s for dinner so I asked my husband to pick a recipe for us to try. He definitely spend a lot less time deciding on a recipe than I do, but that is in large part because he does not actually read the recipe at all. This is how we ended up spending 3 days working on a single dish, Moroccan Stew we found through Gojee. For someone cooking without an infant in the house, or with a fully stocked kitchen, this probably won’t take as long. Fortunately the results were delicious and tasted unlike anything we’d made before. The chickpeas added some nice texture and the figs melted into the sauce, giving it an unexpectedly nice fruitiness.

One of the first steps of the recipe is to make the spice mixture used to marinate the meat. The spice mixture is called Ras el Hanout. Our local grocery store doesn’t stock the spice mixture, but we discovered weeks later that you can purchase it inexpensively at Cost Plus. This recipe seems like one that could be adapted pretty easily to go in the crockpot (follow the recipe through step 3, then dump everything in the slow cooker and let it work its magic).

Ras El Hanout

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons ground coriander
3 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons allspice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

Combine all the spices together. Store in a cool, dark place.

The original recipe called for 2 teaspoons of turmeric as well, but even after making a grocery run, we didn’t have any and made do without. The recipe can be halved. Even after halving the recipe, you won’t use all of the mixture and will have some to store for future recipes.

Hearty Lamb Stew with Chickpeas and Figs.

Moroccan Stew - packed up for lunch with cilantro and quinoa.

Moroccan Lamb Stew

Ingredients:

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground paprika
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 – 3 pounds lamb shoulder or leg, cut in 2 inch chunks
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 – 14 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
2 cups chicken stock
12 dried Calimyrna or Turkish figs, halved
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons ras el hanout
1 – 14 ounce can chickpeas, drained
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Harissa or red chili paste
Fresh cilantro sprigs

Directions:

1. Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, coriander, cumin, paprika, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl. Mix to form a paste. Place lamb in a large bowl. Rub paste all over lamb. Let sit at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate covered up to 24 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 325 F. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large Dutch oven or oven proof pot with lid over medium-high heat. Add lamb in batches and brown on all sides, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Transfer lamb to a plate or bowl.

3. Add onion and carrot to the same pot. Saute, stirring up the brown bits, for 2 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and continue to saute 1 minute. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, figs, cinnamon stick, ras el hanout, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper.

4. Return lamb and any collected juices to the pot, submerging it in the stock. Add additional chicken stock to cover, if necessary.

5. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover pot. Transfer to oven and bake until lamb is falling apart tender, (about 2 hours).

6. Transfer pot to stove. Remove lamb and vegetables with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Bring stock to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil uncovered until sauce is reduced by about half and thickened, skimming fat.  Stir in chickpeas. Taste to check for seasoning. If necessary add a tablespoon of brown sugar to the stock. Return lamb and vegetables to pot.

Recipe may be prepared up to 24 hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate. To serve, skim any collected fat from surface. Rewarm over medium-low heat or in a 325 F. oven. Serve with prepared quinoa or couscous. Pass bowls of harissa and fresh cilantro around the table as condiments.

We made a quick pot of quinoa in our rice cooker as we finished up the recipe and it was delicious! Be prepared for your entire house to smell of the rich, spiced aroma of the dish.

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Cookies!

There’s just something about the holiday season that seems to make many feel like baking; something about the cooler weather, friends and family visiting, and the lack of worrying about how one looks in a bathing suit seems to spell out a stronger desire for fresh-baked goods. I’m not immune myself, which is why I was testing out some new cookie recipes recently – Peanut Butter, Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip cookies and a shortbread with jam cookie.  Both turned out well, but I’m partial to the first since it has a lovely combination of three types of cookies. The friend I was baking with preferred the shortbread. The results of both recipes have been disappearing faster than I would like from the kitchen, though, so I’m going to need to bake again before hosting my annual family get together.

Peanut Butter, Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip Cookies (aka Everything Cookies)

Adapted from Peanut Butter Cookies IX on Allrecipes.com.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 rounded teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 heaping cup semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, white sugar and peanut butter until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; stir into the peanut butter mixture. Finally, mix in the oats and chocolate chips. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  3. Bake for 8 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges are golden. Remove from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks.

Notes: These were delicious as is, but I plan to try to improve them by adding some dried cranberries, fresh ground nutmeg, additional cinnamon, and or more chocolate chips.

Shortbread Cookies with homemade Cranberry-Berry Jam and Kiwi-Lime-Pineapple Jam in the front two rows, Everything Cookies in the back.

Shortbread Cookies with Jam

Adapted from Berry Shortbread Dreams recipe by Mildred Sherrer.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup seedless jam (I used two types of homemade jam: Berry Cranberry and Kiwi-Lime-Pineapple)
  • GLAZE:
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in extract; gradually add flour until dough forms a ball. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or until easy to handle. Roll into 1-in. balls. Place 1 in. apart on un-greased baking sheets. Using the back of a 1/8 tsp measuring spoon, make an indentation in the center. Fill with jam.
  2. Bake at 350 degrees F for 14-18 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. While cookies are baking, combine glaze ingredients.
  3. When cookies are done, remove to wire racks to cool.  Use a fork to stir up the glaze again; drizzle over cookies.

Tips: The vanilla extract tints the glaze a light tan brown color. If you prefer your glaze to be a pure white, use almond extract or leave out the extract altogether. I used vanilla since I like how the taste complimented the jam and because I’m allergic to almonds. If your jam is very sweet, you might consider using a little less of it when filling in your cookies since it might overpower the delicateness of the shortbread, especially if you plan to top with glaze as well.

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Cheese Bake

After an afternoon of baking cookies, I was hyped up on sugar and in no mood to cook. Thankfully, hubby was ready to step in and make dinner adapted from a recipe he found online calling for 5 types of cheese in a baked macaroni dish (Original recipe: Wisconsin Five Cheese Bake found on allrecipes.com). Since we wanted to reduce the amount of ingredients we had to buy to make the meal, we adapted it to what we had in the fridge. You could easily sub in your favorite mixture of cheeses and whatever medium size pasta you have in your pantry.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (16 ounce) package bow tie noodles
  • 2 cups shredded Mexican cheese mixture
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup grated cheddar
  • 1/2 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon chopped dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9×13 inch baking dish. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add bow tie noodles, and cook until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain.
  2. In a large bowl, toss together the shredded cheeses. Remove about 1/2 cup for topping and set aside. In a separate bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, Greek yogurt and heavy cream. Season with parsley, Italian seasoning.
  3. Pour the ricotta cheese mixture and drained pasta into the bowl with the shredded cheeses and toss lightly. Don’t worry about mixing it too thoroughly, it will melt. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the reserved cheese over the top.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven until cheese is melted, about 10 minutes, then turn the oven to broil. Broil for about 5 minutes to brown the top.

Final Results: Totally decadent, even with the minor fat reducing adaptations we tested. It did need some salt, so adding in garlic salt as the original recipe suggested to the cheese mixture would have been nice. It also could have used a little kick of something – perhaps a dash of tabasco to add some heat or a shake or two of cayenne or crushed red peppers flakes. I loved the crunchy bits on top, but if you don’t like a crunchy top to your baked pasta, don’t broil it at the end. The cheese will still be plenty gooey and creamy.

Here’s what the leftovers looked like packed up for hubby’s lunch the next day (I added some cherry tomatoes and cucumber slices to round it out).