Chicken in Moroccan Style

Another visit to Tangiers International, and a recent viewing of one of the best movies of all time, Casablanca, put us in the mood for something inspired by the exotic locale of Morocco. Always looking to put a different spin on chicken, we came up with this dish that uses a classic Moroccan ingredient, preserved lemons. The particular lemons we used were preserved whole in their own juice, salt and sunflower oil and seeds. Their taste is intensely lemony with a bit of saltiness. Some garlic and dried cilantro tamed the lemon flavor and couscous was a perfect accompaniment to the tasty roasted chicken.

4-5 pound roasting chicken
6-8 preserved lemons (can be found at a Middle Eastern grocery store)
1 head of garlic
1 -2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup water

Preheat the oven to 400. Place the preserved lemons down on the bottom of a roasting pan. After splitting the chicken down the back, rest, skin side up, over the lemons. Brush the chicken skin with olive oil, then sprinkle it with salt, pepper and the dried cilantro (to taste). Separate the garlic cloves from the head, then peel them and cut them in half. Place those around and/or under the chicken. Add the water to the pan and place it in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Cover the chicken with aluminum foil and lower the heat to 325, then bake for 45 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 180. To crisp the skin at the end, uncover it and baste it, then raise the heat to 400 again and bake it for 15 minutes longer. Serve with the lemons with couscous or your favorite side dish.


"Spruced-up" Sugar Cookies

Both of us love to cook, but neither is particularly fond of baking, as is true for a lot of people. For holiday goodies, we tend toward candy making - rum balls, peanut butter buckeyes, brittles and barks, stuff that like. However, we do make cookies throughout the year as well as during the holidays. Everyone loves a good cookie! This particular "recipe" (if we can call it that) is easy, quick and unique. It makes a lot of cookies, which is great if you're sharing. These cookies are very popular among our friends and relatives (who will be surprised when they read this at what cheaters we are). Finally, we get to use our very own home-grown rosemary (yes, these are savory and sweet) in this recipe, which adds that holiday "spruced-up" flavor.

1 tube store-bought sugar cookie dough (Pillsbury makes a good one)
zest of one lemon, chopped finely (about 1 teaspoon worth)
a large sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves removed and chopped finely (about 2 teaspoons' worth)
juice of 1/2 lemon

In a large bowl, mix with your hands all the above ingredients well. Sprinkle both the dough and your surface for rolling out the dough with flour. Roll the dough out to about 1/4-inch thick. Using a cookie cutter (shape of your choice), cut into shapes and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-9 minutes until edges are brown. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.


Best. Salad. Ever.

Cavey's Restaurant, Manchester, CT, upstairs (Italian): The menu reads: "just made mozzarella with tomatoes and arugula." What it should say is, "The freshest mozzarella you ever had, halved grape tomatoes that taste as if they just came off the vine even though it's December, and deliciously peppery arugula are tossed with the perfect amount of oil and vinegar abd combine to make a salad that, when you take the first bite, transports you to that summer you spent in Tuscany." Yeah, it was that good.


Fried Egg Over Black Bean Soup

Chris loves huevos rancheros. When we were dating, on those rare occasions (wink wink) when we shared breakfast, he would take me somewhere that served them and order huevos rancheros. I, on the other hand, could never understand spicy Mexican food for breakfast. In fact, I've never bitten into a breakfast burrito. However, I will have eggs, or any type of breakfast for dinner, which brings us to today's recipe - fried egg over black bean soup.

He had a dentist appointment this afternoon, so Chris requested "soup and bread" for dinner tonight. Since I've had a hankering for Mexican lately (for dinner, that is), I decided on spicy black bean soup and let him pick up his choice of bread. I was going to garnish the soup with the usual - a bit of shredded cheddar, chopped cilantro, sour cream, or even better, creme fraiche - but suddenly it all seemed so boring. So been there, done that. And while I think the fried egg topper has also been ubiquitous as of late, I've never tried it over black bean soup. It turns out, this little recipe of mine was the perfect thing for the huevos rancheros loving, comfort food needing, end of the semester paper writing graduate student known as my husband.


3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 tablespoon ground chipotle chili pepper
3 15-ounce cans black beans
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons dried cilantro leaves

Place 2 tablespoons olive oil, chopped onion and minced garlic in a soup pot. Turn the heat to medium, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook until onions are softened, about seven minutes. Add the chili powder and ground chipotle and cook, stirring constantly, for one additional minute. Add the broth and the beans. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour. To thicken, blend briefly with an immersion blender. When ready to serve, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the eggs and fry to your liking (note: we did them over-easy so the yolk would mix nicely into the soup). Add the lime juice to the soup, stir well, and remove from the heat. Serve the soup in a bowl topped with the fried egg and sprinkled with a teaspoon of dried cilantro leaves.


Holiday Appetizer Idea

We love brie, so when the folks at Tangiers International Market told us about Puck, a cream cheese spread made in Denmark, we were very excited. Puck, they said, tastes like brie but it comes in a jar, so it's much easier to use. Perfect for holiday appetizers, we thought. We used a melon baller to scoop the Puck into mini phyllo cups, then topped each with chopped walnuts and honey. Five minutes in the oven, and done. We filled 30 cups with one jar of Puck ($5.99) and did it in about 10 minutes. The verdict? They were pronounced "delicious" and disappeared quickly. Nothing wrong with that!


Turkey Cassoulet

Cassoulet - the word alone, in all its romantic French-ness, sounds so sophisticated, and most recipes for it are pretty intensive. However, at its very base, it's peasant food -- the quintessential one-pot meat and bean stew. No, we didn't make a traditional cassoulet. That's on the "one day" list. But we were looking for one last way to use our plentiful Thanksgiving leftovers and decided on a quick and easy version of the French classic. This recipe made three individual sized cassoulets - one each for the "couple in the kitchen" and one for my lunch buddy and foodie friend Joanne (who gets credits for the photos). Homemade stock and both hot and sweet Italian sausage gave the cassoulet a rich, dark flavor. White beans supplied heartiness, panko offered a crunchy brown topping, and a shot of brandy added some warmth. We didn't add seasoning since we thought we had plenty from the cooked turkey and stock, but next time might add some type of herb mixture (herbes de Provence, perhaps). Simple and satisfying, this dish is definitely making it into the "leftovers" recipe file, for turkey, chicken or duck (just kidding - I never have duck leftovers)!


2 cups shredded leftover turkey
2 15-ounce cans of white beans, drained and rinsed well
2 links hot sausage - cooked, cut into rounds, and quartered
2 links sweet sausage - cooked, cut into rounds, and quartered
1 1/2 cups turkey stock
2 ounces brandy
1 cup breadcrumbs (we like panko)
1 tablespoon of some type of fat (we used fat skimmed from the stock we made, but duck fat or butter would work) to grease the baking dishes and add a bit of moisture to the top

This recipe filled three individual size baking dishes. Make sure to separate the stock, brandy and breadcrumbs into equal measures according to the number of baking dishes you're using. Also, if you're making them ahead of time, assemble, cover and refrigerate without baking. When it's time, bring to room temperate (about 1/2 hour) then bake at 400 for 1/2 hour.

Heat the oven to 400 and grease your baking dish(es). In a large bowl, mix together the turkey, beans and sausage. Fill the baking dish(es) with this mixture. Pour over the turkey stock and brandy. Top the entire thing with a thin layer of breadcrumbs. Drizzle the top with a bit more stock or whatever fat you used to grease the dishes. Bake for 30 minutes until brown on top and bubbly.