Friday, October 18, 2013

Ingredient 33 – Ras el Hanout

This week's ingredient was Ras el Hanout, a North African spice blend.  Ras el Hanut is an Arabic term that translates to "top or head of the shop".  As the name suggests, Ras el Hanout is a blend of a merchant's best spices.  There is no specific formula for the blend, each merchant makes it a bit differently.  However, the blend typically contains cardamom, clove, cinnamon, paprika, coriander, cumin, mace, nutmeg, peppercorn, and turmeric.  My blend had coriander, allspice, fennel, black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, anise seed, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, and tumeric.

I purchased my Ras el Hanout during my visit to Union Market this summer.  If you don't have access to a local spice shop, the blend can be purchased from the Williams-Sonoma website          
When I read the list of spices that make up Ras el Hanout, lamb was the first thing to come to mind.  I love lamb but only cook it a few times a year so I am always happy when I find a good excuse to prepare some.  I decided to make Moroccan lamb stew because 1. Morocco is a North African country and 2. I have had very little exposure to Moroccan food, blog goals achieved. 

Moroccan Lamb Stew 
Serves 3 to 4
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma
1.5 lbs lamb stew meat, cubed
1 yellow onion
4 carrots
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 cup dates, chopped
2 cups beef stock
1/2 cup orange juice
3 to 4 cloves garlic
1 tbp ginger, 1 inch piece chopped
1/4 flour
4 tbp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp Ras el Hanout
1 box Pearled Couscous


Begin by preparing all the ingredients.  Peel and chop the carrots, onion, garlic and ginger.  Use a vegetable peeler to remove the tough outer skin of the ginger before chopping.  Chop the dates and measure out the broth, orange juice and crushed tomatoes.


Next, place the flour, salt and 2 teaspoons of Ras el Hanout in a large plastic zipper bag.  Close the bag and shake until well mixed.  Remove the lamb from its packaging and pat it dry with paper towels.  When dry, place half the lamb cubes in the bag and shake to cover with the flour mixture.  Place the coated cubes in a bowl and repeat the process until all the cubes are coated.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a dutch oven, medium heat.  Add the onions and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes.  Add the carrots and sauté for another two to 3 minutes.  Place the veggies in a bowl and heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil, medium heat.  Place half of the lamb cures in the pan to brown, turn every 2 to 3 minutes until all sides are brown.  Once fully browned, remove the cubes and repeat the process with the other half of the lamb.


Once all the meat is browned, place it and the sautéed vegetables back in the dutch oven.  Add the garlic, ginger, and two teaspoons of Ras el Hanout, stir to ensure that the Ras el Hanout gets well distributed.  Add the beef stock and bring to a boil.  Use a wooden spoon to scrape the burnt bits off the bottom of the pan so they can cook into the sauce.


Once the stock has started to boil, add the tomatoes, orange juice, and chopped dates.  Stir in the new ingredients and let the mixture come to a boil.  Once the pot has come to a boil, turn off the heat, cover it with the lid and place in the oven for 50 minutes.

When the stew has 20 minutes left in the oven, prepare the couscous per the instructions on the package.  Pearled couscous takes roughly 20 minutes to make, so the stew and couscous should finish at approximately the same time.  When both are finished, pour the couscous into the dutch oven and stir gently to combine.  Give the pot 5 to 10 minutes to cool and then dish the stew into bowls and enjoy. 


I really loved this dish.  It had lots of flavor without being really spicy.  In fact, spicy would not be a good adjective to describe this stew.  It was hearty and satisfying without being overly rich, my kind of cold weather food.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ingredient 32 - Figs

Last night’s dinner was fettuccine with figs and prosciutto and it was divine.  I first discovered the awesomeness of figs a few years ago when I tried fig and prosciutto pizza at Rustico.  Dave and I went out for a nice lunch after running the Army 10 Miler.  I know what you are thinking, I would have given props to a cardboard box covered in peanut butter because I was starving.  Simply not true, the pizza was superb.

Figs are the fruit of the ficus tree.  They have been cultivated in the Middle East and Western Asia since biblical times.  While there are many different varieties of fig, all figs are known for their sweet taste and complex texture.  They have smooth skin, chewy flesh, and crunchy seeds.  Figs are very delicate and perishable, so finding fresh figs is quite difficult.  I saw fresh figs at the Alexandria Farmer’s Market a few weekends ago but could not find any at Whole Foods yesterday.  One of the clerks informed me that they rarely have fresh figs in stock.

Fettuccine with Figs, Prosciutto, and Goat Cheese
Serves 4 to 6    
Adapted from Giada De Laurentis
1 lb fettuccine
4 strips of prosciutto, 1/4 inch thick 
1 1/2 cups dried figs
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
4 oz goat cheese, room temperature
4 oz mascarpone cheese, room temperature
Zest of 1 large lemon


Begin by pre-heating the oven to 400 degrees and placing the prosciutto on a rimmed baking sheet.  While waiting for the oven to heat, quarter the figs and pick the thyme leaves off the stems.


Once the oven has come to temp, bake the prosciutto for 10 minutes.  While the prosciutto is baking, heat a large pot of water and cook pasta per the package’s instructions.  

While the pasta water is coming to a boil, place the figs, thyme, chicken broth, and orange juice in a saucepan and heat to a boil.  Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and season with salt and pepper.  The prosciutto is plenty salty so go easy on the salt.  Simmer the mixture for 5 minutes before removing the pan from heat and stirring in the goat cheese and mascarpone.  Zest the lemon straight into the sauce.

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When the pasta and sauce are both ready, toss the cooked fettuccine with the fig sauce in a large serving bowl.

After removing the prosciutto from the oven, allow it to cool for at 5 to 10 minutes before breaking or chopping it into 1/2 inch pieces.  Toss the pieces into serving bowl with the pasta and sauce.


This meal came together pretty quickly, however, I opted not to make my own pasta.  I am sure fresh made pasta would add some time but take this dish up a few notches, to mind numbingly good.

The sweetness of the figs and richness of the cheese were nicely balanced by the saltiness of the prosciutto and the freshness of the lemon zest.  I paired my pasta with an arugula salad and a glass of white wine.

The dynamic flavors and ease of preparation make this a perfect dish for company or a home date night.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ingredient 31 – Acorn Squash

Today is my third furlough day.  For someone who isn’t “working” I sure am keeping busy.  Amongst other things, I have washed a zillion dishes and loaded and unloaded the dishwasher a few times.  I know cooking less would cut down on the dishes but I can’t help myself.  I am addicted to cooking, I just can’t stop.

Anyways, this week’s ingredient, acorn squash.  Despite being known as a winter squash, acorn squash belongs to the summer squash family.  Native to North America, the squash is technically a fruit.  Peak season runs from early fall through winter.  When purchasing, look for squash that are heavy for their size and have smooth dull skin.  Avoid overly large or shiny squash.  Shiny squash were picked too early.  The squash can be stored in a cool dark space for up to a month or in the refrigerator for two weeks. 

I made squash stuffed with sausage and quinoa.  If my recipe doesn’t appeal to you don't fret, a quick Google search will provide numerous tasty looking variations.

Sausage and Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash  
Serves 4
Adapted from Fitness Magazine
2  Medium acorn quash
1 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup quinoa
1 Tbp olive oil
2 chicken sausages, roughly 6 oz.  I used chicken bratwurst.
1/2 cup chopped apple
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tsp each of cumin, chili powder, and cinnamon
Salt and pepper


Begin by preheating the oven to 375 degrees and cutting the squash in half lengthwise with a big beefy knife.  Once sliced open, scoop out the seeds and stringy material from the center of the squash.  Place the squash cut side down in a large baking dish and add roughly a cup of water to the bottom of the dish.  There should be just enough water to fully cover the bottom of the dish.  Once the oven has fully warmed, bake the pan of squash for 35 minutes.  

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Once the squash is in the oven, start making the filling.  Peel the apple and then chop it and the onion into small pieces.  Next, peel and dice the garlic. 


Remove the casing from the sausage with a sharp knife and break it into smaller pieces.


Now that all the chopping and cutting is done, prepare the quinoa.  Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a small saucepan and rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer.  Rinsing removes the seed’s bitter coating.  Once the broth is boiling, add the rinsed quinoa, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Uncover and stir occasionally.   The quinoa will take approximately 15 minutes to cook.  It is done when all the liquid is absorbed and it can be fluffed with a fork. 

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While the quinoa is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet and start cooking the sausage, medium heat.  Once the sausage has started to brown, add in the apple, onion, and garlic.  Season the mixture with salt, pepper, and spices.  I added roughly a teaspoon of each of the three spices.  Let the mixture cook for 3 or 4 minutes before adding the cooked quinoa and cranberries.

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By this time the squash should have finished cooking.  Drain any extra water from the pan and turn the squash cut side up.  Fill the squash with the sausage and quinoa mixture.  You should have enough stuffing to generously fill all 4 squash halves.   


Place the filled squash halves back in the oven for 20 minutes.  While they are baking shred some cheddar cheese for topping.  I used white cheddar but yellow would be good too.  Once the 20 minutes have elapsed, pull out the squash, garnish halves with cheese, and place back in the oven for about 5 minutes.  The dish is finished when the cheese is all melted.

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The stuffed squash was a big hit.  Dave’s only request, more meat.  Lucky for him, I accidentally bought more sausage than needed so I sautéed it up with onion and apple to fill out the meal.  I am looking forward to eating the leftovers tonight and I can’t wait to try out different versions of this meal.