Cooking with the Moroccan Tagine

Williams Sonoma TagineFor my birthday, my husband gave me a beautiful tagine from Williams Sonoma. Little did he know that I had been intrigued by the tagine for years and wanted to get one. He must have used his Jedi mind powers to read mine.

Tagines are made of ceramic or cast iron, and come in a variety of sizes, prices, colors and embellishments. They can be found at such stores as World Market or Williams Sonoma, and there are high-end cast iron varieties produced by Le Creuset. The Williams Sonoma tagine is in the medium price range, about $50, and serves as a quality pot for beginners, like the hubby and me.

A tagine (pronounced ta – jeene) is a North African earthenware pot traditionally formed entirely of a heavy clay, which is sometimes painted or glazed. It consists of two parts: a base unit that is flat and circular with low sides and a large cone- or dome-shaped cover that sits on the base during cooking. The cover is designed to promote the return of all condensation to the bottom. With the cover removed, the base can be taken to the table for serving. Tagines can be used either on the stove or in the oven.

My particular tagine is of the ceramic variety, so forgive me this one post for not using cast iron (although I do use a cast iron item with the tagine – you’ll see below in the recipe). Both my husband and I have used our tagine about four times, all on the stove, and every dish has turned out beautifully. It is a slow cooker with dishes taking about 1 1/2 hours to cook. We have mainly made Moroccan dishes, inspired by sauces we purchased at Williams Sonoma, but I also cooked short ribs in a lovely pulled pork sauce that basically crumbled with a fork. Every dish is succulent, flavorful and pull-apart tender. I have not experienced such tender food with any other dish – crock pot or cast iron.

I am in love with the tagine so don’t be surprised if a I throw in an occasional post inspired by it.

Tagines, like cast iron cookware, require some special care and seasoning before use. Tips on caring for a tagine can be found here.

That said, following is a lovely recipe for Apricot Chicken Tagine with Peppers and Rice.

Apricot Chicken TagineIngredients
1 – 2 Tbsps. Oil (not pictured)
5 Chicken Thighs
1 Red Bell Pepper
Apricot Tagine Sauce (Williams Sonoma)
Rice
Slivered Almonds (not pictured)

When cooking with a tagine over a gas range, it is important to have place a cast iron heat diffuser on top of the burner to avoid direct heat to the ceramic pot. This will help your pot from cracking.

When cooking with a tagine over a gas range, it is important to place a cast iron heat diffuser on top of the burner to avoid direct heat to the ceramic pot.

Heat oil in the base of the tagine over medium heat.

Heat oil in the base of the tagine over medium heat.

Sear the chicken thighs, about 4 minutes on each side. Cook in batches so as to not overcrowd.

Sear the chicken thighs, about 4 minutes on each side. Cook in batches so as to not overcrowd.

Nicely seared chicken thighs.

Remove your batches to a plate. Nicely seared chicken thighs.

Once all of the chicken thighs are seared, return them to the tagine.

Once all of the chicken thighs are seared, return them to the tagine.

Pour the Apricot Tagine Sauce over the thighs.

Pour the Apricot Tagine Sauce over the thighs.

Next, add the chopped bell peppers.

Next, add the chopped bell peppers.

Place the tagine coned-lid on top of the base and simmer on low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Place the tagine’s coned lid on top of the base and simmer on low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

It is this small hole in the top of the coned lid that allows air to circulate and the pot to steam.

It is this small hole in the top of the coned lid that allows air to circulate and the pot to steam.

Once cooked, the Apricot Tagine Chicken will be colorful, infused with flavor and oh so tender.

Once cooked, the Apricot Tagine Chicken will be colorful, infused with flavor and oh so tender.

Serve over a bed of rice and top with slivered almonds. Enjoy!

Serve over a bed of rice and top with slivered almonds. Enjoy!

P.S. You can still make a tagine-inspired dish in your skillet, which I have done. Use the same ingredients, follow the same steps and you can still go to Morocco for dinner tonight! Check out the photo below:

Apricot Chicken Tagine

Apricot Chicken Tagine in cast iron skillet.

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A Flavorful Life – Tex Mex Chicken Panini

I spent St. Patrick’s Day weekend at a dog trial in northern California. The trial was a blast and I always enjoy spending time with agility dogs and the humans who love them. I found myself chatting with one of my agility buddies (the human kind), expounding about how busy my schedule was and how it would only get busier in the summer when I had to juggle Dutch oven events, dog trials, a full time job and quality time with my husband. I wasn’t complaining and I actually blurted out to my friend that “I have a full life.” Not “I have a full schedule.” “I have a full life.” It made me pause.

How often do we think about our lives in this way? I imagine we all have busy schedules juggling jobs, family obligations, hobbies, school, or other pursuits. We each are given one life to live and it is up to us to make it a flavorful one. The fun part is that we get to season it to our own tastes. The challenge is finding the right balance for all of those seasonings. Despite how hectic my schedule gets, I much prefer my crazy flavorful life to a bland one.

Funny how dog trials always give me too much time to think. Now that I got carried away waxing philosophical, following is a very flavorful recipe for a Tex Mex Chicken Panini that I hope adds a little spice to your life.

Tex Mex Chicken PaniniIngredients
2 cups cooked or rotisserie Chicken, shredded
1/2 of a 10-oz. can of Rotel Diced Tomatoes with Chiles
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped Cilantro
1/2 Tbsp. minced Garlic
Salt and Pepper
2 French Bread Sandwich Rolls
1 Red Bell Pepper, halved
1/2 White Onion, cut into slices
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack Cheese

Roast the bell pepper and onion slices for 20 minutes in a 400-degree oven.

Roast the bell pepper and onion slices for 20 minutes in a 400-degree oven.

The onions should be tender and the pepper skin should begin to blister.

The onions should be tender and the pepper skin should begin to blister. A little char adds more flavor.

In a bowl, combine the chicken, Rotel tomatoes, mayo, cilantro and garlic.

In a bowl, combine the chicken, Rotel tomatoes, mayo, cilantro and garlic.

Mix lightly but thoroughly.

Mix lightly but thoroughly.

Assemble the sandwich with a layer of the chicken mixture.

Assemble the sandwich with a layer of the chicken mixture.

Then some of the roasted onions.

Then some of the roasted onions.

And slices of the roasted bell pepper.

And slices of the roasted bell pepper.

Finally, top with the shredded Monterey Jack cheese.

Finally, top with the shredded Monterey Jack cheese.

Grill in a panini press or grill the sandwich on a cast iron griddle on medium-high heat. Place a bacon press on top.

Grill in a panini press or on a cast iron griddle on medium-high heat. Place a bacon press or small skillet on top.

Grill on each side for 2 minutes until golden grill marks appear and the cheese melts.

Grill on each side for 2 minutes until golden brown and the cheese melts.

Cut it in half and enjoy some slightly spicy goodness.

Cut it in half and savor the spicy goodness.

Good ‘Ol Fashioned Sloppy Joes

Growing up, sloppy joes usually came out of a can. Who can forget that “a sandwich is a sandwich, but a Manwich is a meal.” I loved Manwich night at my house as my mom wasn’t the greatest cook. For example, her pork chops were of the consistency and flavor of cardboard. Stick a fork in it, if you can, because, yes, it is well beyond done. And that’s usually how we ate Mom’s pork chops…stuck on the end of a fork and us desperately gnawing at it since we couldn’t cut it. Thankfully, Mom couldn’t screw up a Manwich so sloppy joe night was often requested by us youngsters.

Today, I try to avoid “canned” meals as much as possible, having found that it is just as easy and a lot healthier to make my own from scratch. I have even found a number of sloppy joe variations that are truly delicious, such as Aarti Sequeira’s Bombay Sloppy Joes. A lovely Indian twist of an American classic made with ground turkey and seasoned with warm Indian spices like garam masala.

But today’s recipe is the traditional version, made with organic ground beef, bell peppers, ketchup and mustard. Quick to make, tasty to eat and so much better than a Canwich, I mean Manwich.

Sloppy JoesIngredients
1 lb. Ground Beef or Ground Turkey
1/4 cup chopped Onion
1/2 cup each chopped Green and Red Bell Peppers
1/2 tsp. Garlic Powder
1 1/2 tsps. Prepared Yellow Mustard
3/4 cup Ketchup
3 tsps. Brown Sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a cast iron skillet, brown the ground beef, peppers and onion together.

In a cast iron skillet, brown the ground beef, peppers and onion together.

Nicely browned beef and veggies.

Nicely browned beef and veggies.

Remove the beef mixture and drain the fat from the skillet.

Remove the beef mixture and drain the fat from the skillet.

Return the beef mixture to the skillet. Add the garlic powder.

Return the beef mixture to the skillet. Add the garlic powder.

Then add the ketchup, mustard and brown sugar. If you want your mixture to be less sweet, don't add the brown sugar. Add more mustard and Worcestershire sauce for extra tanginess.

Then add the ketchup, mustard and brown sugar. If you want your mixture to be less sweet, don’t add the brown sugar. Add more mustard and Worcestershire sauce for extra tanginess.

Stir ingredients thoroughly and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir ingredients thoroughly, season with salt and pepper, and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

Toast some buns and slop on the joe. Good stuff!

Toast some buns and slop on the joe. Good stuff!

No Headache Crab Cakes with Broccoli Slaw

So another reason why I haven’t been posting much is that I have been suffering from a cluster of mini-migraines over the past couple of weeks. They haven’t been bad enough for me to miss work, but annoying enough to make me feel…well, a little crabby. For those of you who don’t suffer from migraines, they can be pretty miserable when they are bad. You feel like a vice is around your head and someone is poking a spike from behind your skull through your eye. When they’re not so bad, you usually feel this dull ache behind your eye, along your temple, down your neck and into your shoulder. It’s hard to concentrate or feel like doing much activity. But suffer through them one must.

When I was in my 20s, my migraines were horrible. I became nauseous, severely sensitive to light (a sunny day actually hurt and it was hard to drive), and I needed about 14 hours of sleep in a very dark, quiet room with a cold washcloth over my eyes to kill the pain. As I’ve aged, the severity of my migraines has diminished (I guess there is one positive thing about getting older). Today, I can usually get through a day with a generic version of Excedrin Migraine, lots of caffeine and protein, and maybe some yoga to relax and get all my kinks out. I’m a pretty healthy person, but migraines remain the number one reason I call in sick at work. They are my nemesis.

Needless to say, I haven’t felt like cooking much over the past couple of weeks. But, since I’ve been migraine-free for the past three days and my crabbiness has diminished, I think a little celebration is in order.

So how about some No Headache Crab Cakes?

IMG_7155Ingredients
2 6-oz. cans Crabmeat, drained, flaked
1/2 tsp. Seafood Seasoning (or try Cajun seasoning to spice things up!)
1 Tbsp. Oil
2-3 Scallions, chopped
1 Red Bell Pepper, chopped
1 cup shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1/2 cup HeartSmart Bisquick mix
1/2 cup Milk
2 Eggs

In a bowl, combine the crab meat and seafood seasoning, then set aside.

In a bowl, combine the crab meat and seafood seasoning, then set aside.

Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.

Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.

IMG_7158

Add veggies and cook for 4 minutes.

Add the crab meat and heat through.

Add the crab meat and heat through.

Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

Once cool, add the cheese.

Once cool, add the cheese.

In a bowl, whisk the Bisquick, milk and eggs.

In a bowl, whisk the Bisquick, milk and eggs…

until combined.

until combined.

Spoon a couple of tablespoons of batter into a cast iron biscuit pan or muffin tin.

Coat a cast iron biscuit pan or muffin tin with cooking spray. Spoon a couple of tablespoons of batter into each section.

Spoon a 1/4 cup of crab mix on top of the batter.

Spoon a 1/4 cup of crab mix on top of the batter.

Spoon another couple of tablespoons of batter on top of the crab mixture.

Spoon another couple of tablespoons of batter on top of the crab mixture.

Repeat until the biscuit pan is full.

Repeat until the biscuit pan is full.

Bake in a 375-degree oven for 30 minutes until golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes.

Bake in a 375-degree oven for 30 minutes until golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes.

Remove the crab cakes with a knife and cool for 10 minutes on a wire baking rack.

Remove the crab cakes with a knife and cool for 10 minutes on a wire baking rack.

While your crab cakes are cooling, make the broccoli slaw.

IMG_7176Ingredients
2 cups Broccoli Slaw (you can also use cole slaw mix if you cannot find broccoli slaw at the grocery store)
1/4 cup Sour Cream
1/3 cup Salsa
1-2 Tbsps. chopped Cilantro

Combine the four ingredients in a bowl...

Combine the four ingredients in a bowl…

and mix thoroughly.

and mix thoroughly.

Serve the crab cake on a bed of broccoli slaw...no headaches in making these simple cakes. Enjoy!

Serve the crab cake on a bed of broccoli slaw…no headaches in making these simple cakes. Enjoy!

Diabetic-Friendly Smoked Sausage and Pepper Frittata

My husband is diabetic and has asked that I get us back on a healthier diet. I have to agree. We have fallen off the low glycemic bandwagon lately. So I will be mixing things up a bit, adding more diabetic-friendly dishes to my menu and this blog.

After a night of trying not to eat all of the Halloween candy, I decided to make this very simple and tasty frittata – which is like a crustless quiche – filled with turkey sausage, bell peppers, onion and egg substitute instead of whole eggs.

Calorie count per serving – 170. Total carbs – 13 grams. Total fat – 5 grams. Even if you are not diabetic, this recipe is also good for the waistline.

Ingredients
Nonstick Canola Cooking Spray
7 oz. Smoked Turkey Sausage, diced
1 each Red and Yellow Peppers, diced
1/2 cup finely chopped Yellow Onion
1 cup Cholesterol-free Egg Substitute
3 oz. reduced-fat cream cheese or Marscapone (an Italian cream cheese, it is low-calorie and gluten-free)
Black Pepper
Salsa (jar or fresh)

Coat the bottom of a cast iron skillet with cooking spray. Over high heat, cook the turkey sausage until it begins to brown. Remove the sausage to a plate.

Spray the skillet again and add the peppers and onion. Cook over medium-high heat until the onions are translucent, about 4 minutes.

While the veggies are getting steamy, add the egg substitute, cream cheese and black pepper to a blender.

Puree until smooth.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the turkey sausage to the veggies. Mix together.

Pour the egg substitute mixture evenly over all.

Cover and cook for approximately 10 minutes until almost set.

Remove the skillet from heat and let sit uncovered for 3-4 minutes.

Cut into quarters and serve with salsa. This recipe comes to you “Husband Approved.” Enjoy!

World Series Pizza

I made this pizza on Sunday to eat while watching what my husband and I hoped – and turned out to be – the final game of the World Series. My hubby is a San Francisco Bay Area boy – born and raised in the East Bay – so we were quite happy to see the Giants sweep the Series (although the Tigers made them earn that last win). What better way to enjoy the all-American pastime than with a dish that has become so much a part of American cuisine.

My particular pizza is of the Chicago deep dish variety and baked to decadent perfection in my “Monster” cast iron skillet. This recipe is a little labor-intensive – the homemade dough needs to proof for about an hour – but it scores a grand slam in flavor and heartiness.

If you don’t have a “Monster” skillet, try baking this in a deep dish pizza pan or rectangular baking dish.

Ingredients
Dough:
1 tsp. Sugar
1 package Dry Yeast
1 cup Warm Water (100 degrees to 110 degrees)
3 cups All-Purpose Flour
1/4 tsp. Salt

Topping:
3 Sweet Italian Sausages
3/4 lb. Lean Ground Hamburger
1 cup chopped Red Onion
1 (8 oz.) package Sliced Mushrooms
1 Red Bell Pepper, sliced
Olive Oil
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. Tomato Paste or Ketchup
1 tsp. dried Oregano
1/4 tsp. Fennel Seeds, crushed
2 (8 oz.) cans Tomato Sauce
1 Tbsp. Cornmeal
8 oz. shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan Cheese or Pecorino Romano Cheese

To prepare the dough, combine the yeast and sugar in a large bowl

and dissolve in the warm water. Let it stand for 10 minutes.

Add 1 cup of flour and the salt to the yeast mixture.

Whisk together until combined.

Add 1 3/4 cups of flour and combine until a dough forms.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for about 8 minutes. Use the remaining 1/4 cup of flour to add to the dough when it sticks to your hands.

A nice elastic ball of dough should form.

Coat a bowl with olive oil and place the dough inside, coating its surface with the oil.

Cover the bowl and place it in a warm, draft-free area so the dough may rise to twice its size. This will take between 45 minutes to an hour.

Meanwhile, prepare your pizza toppings. Brown the ground beef and onion in a skillet.

Once the beef is browned, remove it and any grease from the skillet.

Next, sear the Italian sausage for about 5 minutes, turning so each side is browned.

Remove the sausage from the skillet once browned. The sausage should not be cooked completely through – it can be fairly pink inside. It will cook through when the pizza bakes. Once the sausage is cool enough to handle, slice into bite-size disks.

Add a few teaspoons of olive oil to the skillet and saute the mushrooms and red pepper for about 5 minutes.

Once the shrooms and peppers are soft, remove from the skillet.

On to the pizza sauce. Add the garlic to the hot skillet and cook for 30 seconds until it begins to brown. Next add the tomato paste or ketchup and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently.

Add the fennel seeds and oregano…

and the tomato sauce.

Simmer for 5 minutes until the sauce thickens.

Time for the seventh inning stretch…let’s put this pizza together! Coat a 12-inch cast iron skillet with oil and sprinkle the cornmeal over the bottom.

Once the pizza dough has risen, punch it down and let it sit for another 5 minutes. Pizza, like baseball, is a game of patience.

Spread the pizza dough over the bottom and up the sides of the skillet.

Combine the two cheeses in a bowl. Cover the dough with half of the cheese mixture. Yes, cheese on the bottom of the pizza.

Next, add the hamburger and onion mixture.

Then the mushrooms and peppers.

The pizza sauce.

The Italian sausage – yes, it is rare in the center and will cook completely while baking in the oven. Trust me!

Finally, sprinkle the remainder of the cheese mixture over the pizza.

Bake in a 375-degree oven for 40 minutes until the crust browns and the topping bubbles. Let the pizza stand for 10 minutes before serving. Bases loaded, home run, grand slam pizza. Enjoy!

Foolproof Chili and Skillet Cornbread

Ahhh…fall is just around the corner – this Saturday marks the official start of my favorite season. So what better way to celebrate than with two of my favorite autumnal dishes – chili and cornbread (the two just go together, don’t they?). Now I must confess that I stole this chili recipe from one of my husband’s employees, who stole it from his mom, who won a few cooking awards with it. I was never much of a chili fan until I tried this recipe. Now, I am hooked. What I love most about this recipe is that it isn’t super hot (although you can ratchet up the heat if you want), but it has tons of flavor, includes ground beef and Italian sausage, black beans, and the secret ingredient – fresh corn cut from the cob. It is impossible to mess up this chili (thus the name) and it cooks well in a crock pot in case you want to serve it at potlucks, as a dip with tortilla chips, or tailgating. The cornbread is simple, yet divine, moist and fluffy like a cake. Baking it in a cast iron skillet just makes it that much extra special. Give it a try…and here’s to chilly mornings and turning leaves.

Skillet Cornbread ingredientsSkillet Cornbread Ingredients
1/2 cup Butter, melted
2 Eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups Milk
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Cornmeal
1 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Salt

Whisk together the melted butter, eggs and milk in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, sift together all of the dry ingredients.

Make sure dry ingredients are fully combined.

Add the dry mix, one cup at a time, to the wet ingredients and stir.

Until dry and wet ingredients are completely combined.

Pour batter into a lightly greased cast iron skillet. I placed a cookie sheet underneath to make it easier to carry and to catch any spills – not that I’m a clutz or anything, because I’m not. Really.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 35 minutes or until a toothpick placed in the center comes out clean. Your cornbread should be lightly golden brown. Check out those edges. I love you cast iron skillet!

Notice how moist and fluffy!

While your cornbread is baking, prepare your chili.

Foolproof Chili Ingredients
1 lb. Ground Beef
1 lb. Ground Italian Sausage, mild (choose hot if you want more heat)
1 10 oz. can RoTel Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies, mild (or hot, if you like it spicy!)
1 6 oz. can Tomato Paste
1 15.5 oz can each of Black Beans and Red Kidney Beans
1-2 Bell Peppers (I like red and yellow), chopped
1 Jalapeno, chopped (add two, if you can stand the heat in the kitchen)
Fresh Corn cut from 3 corn cobs
1 Tbsp. each of Garlic Salt, Chili Powder, Ground Cumin, Oregano

In a Dutch oven, brown the ground beef and Italian sausage.

Once the meat is browned, add the RoTel tomatoes and tomato paste.

Add the beans.

Then the peppers.

Now the fresh corn.

Mix all ingredients well.

Finally, add all of the spices and herbs and stir into chili.

Cover the Dutch oven with a lid and let the chili simmer for 30 minutes until hot.

Serve with a hearty slice of Skillet Cornbread.