Warm in side and out: Chicken tagine

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While I have a lot to learn regarding the finer points of Middle Eastern Cookery, I am definitely inspired to try more recipes in that style after making this warming, satisfying dish. It was not to hard to make and was full of interesting, complex flavours that seemed to nourish us deeply at the end of a big day. The recipe is originally from the Women’s Weekly Slow Cooker book – here I have included some of the variations I made while I was cooking it at home. The olives were our addition – I had used them in the past for another tagine recipe and remembered how well they worked. And they did again! I would probably add 100g to the sauce while it simmers next time and then serve with another 100g that are still ‘fresh’ from the jar.

On another note – this dish was my first time using saffron for its flavour and colouring in a dish. Knowing only a very little about it beyond a few details of its very expensive production method, I think I would like to do some more investigations its use and history in both food and textiles – so stay tuned!

Ingredients:
8 chicken thighs
1 tbsp olive oil
2 brown onions
400g can diced tomatoes (or several chopped tomatoes and a tbsp of tomato paste)
125mL (1/2 cup) chicken stock
165g (1 cup) dried apricots
1 cinnamon stick (1 tsp of ground dried cinnamon worked fine too!)
Roughly chopped pistachio kernels, to serve
Fresh coriander sprigs, to serve
Sicilian green olives, to serve
Steamed cous cous to serve (we used wholemeal pearl cous cous)

Chermoula ~
1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander
1/4 cup chopped fresh continental parsley
1 long fresh red chilli, halved, deseeded, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
large pinch of saffron threads
1 tbsp cumin seeds (1-2 generous tsp of ground cumin was my successful substitute here)
1 lemon, rind and juice

1. The chermoula mix is prepared as a marinade mix for the chicken pieces. The fresh herbs, chilli, garlic are mixed with the dried herbs in a glass bowl. The chicken thighs then need to be let soak up all those flavours for at least 2 hours.
2. Ideally this would be prepared a tagine, the Moroccan cooking vessel this dish is named after, however a large frypan will produce a tasty result too!
3. Heat the oil in your chosen piece of crockery or pan and cook the chicken in batches till all pieces have been browned and have a golden crust.
4. Remove chicken and sauté the onion in the same pan till soft.
5. Add the tomato, stock, apricots and cinnamon. Increase the heat till the mixture is simmering and then add the chicken, nestling it in the thick sauce in tidy chicken-thigh bundles.
6. Cover the pan and allow the dish to cook for about 25 minutes or thereabouts – by this time the chicken should be cooked right through.
7. Remove the lid and allow the dish to continue to cook for another 15s or so till the sauce thickens.
8. Serve with cous cous and vegetables (we chose broccoli, cauliflower and sweet potato) and garnish with more coriander, the olives and pistachio.
9. Enjoy this delight to the senses!

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Salmon Pie

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This is my mum’s interpretation of my grandma’s salmon pie recipe. Effectively it is a quiche, but it is a little more complicated than a simple quiche, it is also very, very tasty, a satisfying meal and a good way to get some more fish into a family meal in an economic fashion. It is a family favourite for us – comforting in both its familiarity and its warm tastiness! It also can cope with variation. If you don’t have shallots, spring onions are totally fine, and at a pinch, normal onion with maybe some parsley for green-ness would work fine too. The cottage cheese can be exchanged for cream cheese, some fetta, some buttermilk … and if you don’t have quite enough white cheese, more eggs will do the trick! Hope it warms and nourishes you too!

Ingredients:

Pastry
3/4 cup wholemeal flour
3/4 cup plain flour
1/2 cup water
60g butter
a squeeze of lemon juice (this is optional)

100g (or a generous handful) grated tasty/cheddar cheese (we usually use light)
1 x 410g tin of pink salmon
1 tablespoon flour
1-2 tablespoons of oil (olive, sunflower, canola, rice bran …)
3/4 bunch of shallots (about 6)
2 cups (225g) mushrooms
350g cottage cheese (this can really be changed round, a mixture of soft cheeses, buttermilk etc. is fine)
3 eggs
150g grated tasty/cheddar cheese

Method:
1. Make the pastry by rubbing butter through both the flours. Add the water (and lemon juice) and stir till a dough forms. Roll out the dough between two pieces of baking paper or on a floured bench till the size of pie dish. A square Pyrex dish works, as does a traditional round pie dish. In the photos above I used a baking dish I bought at a garge sale and it worked fine! Try not to leave too much pastry above the line of filling though, it will dry out a bit. Make a pretty pattern round the edge of the pastry using a fork or fingers. Bake for 4-5 mins at 180˚C till just beginning to be done. This is called blind baking and means that the pastry on the base has a chance at being cooked before its filled with filling. We have another recipe where we don’t blind bake the same pastry and it works fine too, so if you like softish pastry, skip this step, and if you like it crunchier, then ‘bake blind’
2. Sprinkle the base of pastry with the first 100g of cheddar cheese.
3. Place the salmon in a bowl and sprinkle with flour. Break up the fish till smoothish and all the juice have been soaked up with the flour. (You can add a little more flour if you need).
4. Spread over the cheese in the pie dish.
5. Finely chop the shallots and slice the mushrooms.
6. Saute shallots and mushrooms in a fry pan, when softened remove from heat. Allow to cool and add cottage cheese and eggs.
7. Pour the onion and mushrooms over the salmon mixture and top with the 150g of cheese.
8. Bake the pie at 180˚C for 35 to 40 mins or till golden and cooked through.
9. Enjoy with a big salad or steamed vegetables.

Cauliflower au Gratin

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… or Cauliflower Cheese. It is originaly from the Australian Women’s Weekly Dinner Party cookbook and has become a family favourite and very yummy. The ultimate comfort food and a great way to jazz up vegetables and to make an occasion of a meal!

Ingredients:
1 small cauliflower

Béchamel sauce
60g butter
1/3 cup (40g) plain flour
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg (do this! … but if you are in a rush it is optional and will still be totally delicious!)
2 cups (500ml) milk
125g grated cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons grated parmesan

Topping
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
30g grated cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons of melted butter or olive oil

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 180˚C.
2. Cut cauliflower up into small florets. Steam or microwave till just tender.
3. Make the sauce by melting the butter in a saucepan. Once it has all been melted, add the flour and cook till the flour looks a little like wet sand and the mixture begins to bubble nicely. The nutmeg can be added now.
4. Gradually add milk, stir till sauce boils and thickens. Reduce heat and cook for another minute.
5. Remove from heat and stir in the cheeses. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Spread half the sauce over the base of an oven proof dish. Place the cauliflower pieces on top. Cover with the rest of the sauce.
7. Mix up the topping ingredients and sprinkle over the cauliflower and white sauce.
8. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or till golden brown.

(New) Family Meals

I’m so grateful to have grown up in (and taken for granted) a culture of family meals. My mum and dad just did dinner with us, they knew, without being told, how important it was. Now I get to start building a new family culture, a culture of service and love and sharing. A family culture of eating and sharing together. I’m excited, and (occasionally) a little daunted!

We may have got a little carried away in our tiny cabin and apartment kitchens but cooking together is so fun (at least, I think it is!). Some of our creations were a little creative but they filled and fed us and we shared being together at the table as a new family.

I hope and pray that there are many, many years more of shopping, preparing, cooking, laughing and ‘carrying on’ in the kitchen that culminate with sharing life and food at a table in this new family.

One of the first formal pieces of writing I came across to do with the significance of eating in community as family is this book; The Suprising Power of Family Meals by Miriam Weinstein and I would very happily recommend it. Full of research pointing to this as really, really integral part of family and community life – protecting against all sort of social brokenness caused by isolation – this book needs to become well read.  The writer illustrates how family meals have been shown to be protective against risk taking behaviour (taking of drugs, participation in smoking and alcohol abuse, dieting … the list goes on and on) and helpful in forming deeper relationships and happier, healthier individuals and families.

It all starts at the table.

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Mediterranean Vegetable Creations

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Fish, salad and wedges

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Lupin flour toast, pita crisps, cauliflower soup and sautéed vegetables

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Cauliflower gnocchi (we got a little creative as we neared the end of our holidaying and our ingredients trying hard not to waste anything!