Friday, February 26, 2010

Fragrant Morrocan Beef

Two weekends ago I made Fragrant Morrocan Beef, Date, Honey, & Prune Tagine (I mean, what a title) in my five quart Dutch oven to take to Marsena, our daughter who lives in Chicago. It is rich in cumin, coriander, and cinnamon with little bursts of fruity sweetness from the dates and prunes. It’s best made a day ahead to give the flavors time to marry and mellow. I can’t even think about it without wanting some now, and cast iron makes it even better.

For some illogical reason, I decided to reconditioned my five quart Dutch oven in the cleaning cycle of my electric oven late the day before we left. Usually I’m very careful about doing things that require me to stay up late because I love my bed and getting there VERY early makes me happy and I get VERY crabby when I can’t. This method of reconditioning (there are any number) is from one of my favorite web sites for cast iron cooking and care – Blackirondude –  (go on his site and search for reconditioning) - and it takes three hours with the oven on lock-down so I couldn’t change my mind halfway into it. The heat burns off all the gunk – turns it to little white ashes on the bottom of the oven – and then you need to re-season the pan, which also takes time, which I didn’t have because I already knew I’d need to stay up late just to cook this dish. So I didn’t have time to thoroughly re-season it and thought I could get away without it.

Here’s Denis carrying it to the porch about midnight while it’s still hot from the oven. Hmmm. You know what all that trapped moisture does to unseasoned exposed iron? Oxidizes. So the next night when I reheated it I noticed a great deal of red rust around the top, please learn this lesson, which I sneakily wiped away and didn’t mention.
Whatever prejudice you may have about dates or prunes or cumin, please listen, DO NOT LEAVE THEM OUT, this dish is so fabulous you will almost die. I’m serious. My chef friend, Karen, from whom I stole this recipe, serves it with new potatoes. But we ate it with a brown rice couscous, a fruit salad and a red wine.

When we were done eating we did notice a weird black staining on our teeth and lips, like we’d been eating licorice. We finally figured it was iron filings magnetically clinging to our greedy little mouths. Nothing toothpaste couldn’t remedy, but I won’t do that again. Despite the extra iron in our diet, this Moroccan tagine could not be stopped and we all declared it a once-a-weeker kind of dish.

Fragrant Moroccan Beef, Date, Honey and Prune Tagine
53 min | 45 min prep
3 lbs organic beef, trimmed of fat and cubed, season with salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb onion, peeled and quartered
4-6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
9 ounces canned tomatoes
4 ounces dates, pitted but kept whole
6 ounces prunes, pitted but kept whole
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 pint beef stock
1 cinnamon stick
6 teaspoons ras el hanout spice mix (or 2 teaspoons cumin powder, 2 teaspoons coriander powder, 1 teaspoon ginger and 1 teaspoon turmeric)
salt and pepper
2 ounces toasted sliced almonds (I forgot the almonds)
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
2 tablespoons preserved lemons, chopped (Not crazy about this, so I skip them.)

Preheat your oven to 300°
Heat a 5 quart dutch oven and add half of the olive oil to the dutch oven and quickly brown the onion quarters over a fairly high heat until charred & colored well. Remove to a large plate.
Add the chopped garlic and carrots to the dutch oven and saute for 2 or 3 minutes. Remove to the plate with the onions.
Heat the remaining olive oil in the dutch oven and brown the beef cubes in small batches to sear and seal them. As you finish browning them, add the beef to the plate.
Add the honey to the beef stock and ALL the dried spices. Pour the honey and spiced stock into the dutch oven to deglaze the dutch oven. Scrap all the brown bits from the bottom and mix well with the stock. Add the cinnamon stick.
Return all the vegetables and meat from the plate to the dutch oven.
Add the canned tomatoes, dates and prunes and gently mix.
Place in the preheated oven for 2 to 3 hours or until the meat is fork tender.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Cornbread an ordinary delight

Last weekend at the Rochester L'Abri Conference I promised that I’d begin putting up all the recipes I mentioned in my workshop. So over the next couple months I plan to get several up per week. Of course I’m already remiss, since an entire week has gone by. And DON’T anyone remind me that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I KNOW that. You see how quickly I get all hostile and you’re probably thinking, Lady, no one said or thought anything so back off and just post the recipes. And please put that frying pan down. Okay.

But I should first say this, as I overheard someone in the hall at the conference saying, “…..and WHAT does cast iron have to DO with L’ABRI???” Like there wasn’t anything obviously Christian or cerebral about my workshop which was titled “Cast Iron Rises Again: 90 Days of Cooking with a Favorite Partner.” It does seem a little lengthy and cumbersome, yes. And not as intriguing as Jerram Barrs’ (who I love unequivocally)  “God’s Law and our Renewal in the Image of God.” But I could say my workshop was the heaviest of the entire weekend. (I brought all my cookware – I wanted people to feel it – in a suitcase on rollers. Denis thought the wheels would collapse. He’s such the pessimist. I said be glad we’re local and I don’t need to pull this through security at an airport – I'd probably still be there.)

So, to begin this series, I need to remind everyone of what Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch theologian and statesman, said in a kind of manifesto: “There’s not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine, this belongs to me.’”

That’s all of created reality. It's a powerful truth – that Christ isn’t confined. His kingdom isn’t just church and reading the Bible and me being pious. His is a cosmic kingdom. In all areas of life, in every legitimate vocation, we can live with zest and the knowledge that it, too, is serving the Lord, demonstrating the Gospel. 

That would include cooking with cast iron, wouldn’t it? I celebrate it.

For a lot of people cornbread is a wicked, throat-plugging experience, but this is a tender, moist, crispy-edged accompaniment to any meal. Once, as I prepared this simple recipe to accompany a pot of chili and beans, Greg, a friend from southern Alabama, watched as he waited for supper. I put a tablespoon of butter in a cast iron skillet and placed it in a hot oven until the butter sizzled. I swirled it around, poured in the batter, and returned it to the oven. Greg’s eyes widened as he exclaimed, “My grandmother used to do it just like that! Only she used pork drippings!” I took it as a compliment. Eaten warm and drizzled with honey, it adds soul to almost any supper. I highly recommend using an organic source of cornmeal and not the stale one that’s been sitting on your shelf for five years.

1 cup flour
1 cup corn meal
4 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
¼ cup melted butter, or cooking oil
¼ cup honey (or substitute ½ cup sugar)
Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl.
In a separate container, whisk together eggs, milk, and butter. Add to dry ingredients and whisk just until smooth. Don’t overbeat.
Place 1 tablespoon of butter in an 8 or 9 inch pan or preferably a cast iron skillet. Place in hot oven until butter begins to bubble. Pour in batter. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or until done in center. Serve with butter and honey or jam. Note: using fresh organic products boosts flavor.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Oatmeal Pancakes (with spleen)

With the L’Abri conference coming up this weekend, am prepping for workshop “Cast Iron Rises Again.” I was reminded last night of how often in the past week I’ve complained about PowerPoint, time, idiotic decisions like de-gunking your cast iron in the cleaning cycle of your electric oven, which takes three hours, and can’t be stopped once it starts and just when you need it to make the recipe you promised to bring to your daughter tomorrow so you stay up half the night finishing it. WHAT were you THINKING? No worries, though, just typical spleen for Margie. I’ll get there.

I’m posting a recipe. Perhaps the thought of pancakes with crispy edges and a middle melting in pure maple syrup will restore me to at least a pretence of godliness? Probably asking too much.

In the coming weeks I will regularly post one of the recipes I have used in my cast iron cookware. I know most people probably think pancakes are about it for the iron skillet, so it’s a good place to start.

These are pancakes with a bit of a twist. We really like them and everyone I serve them to snarfs them down and asks for more. First surprise: it is a gluten-free recipe, and oddly enough, it works so well it doesn’t matter if you’re trying to be gluten-free or not you’ll like them. The second surprise is that although I’m a scratch cook, the foundation for this recipe is a mix! Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Cornbread mix. He also has a regular cornbread or corn muffin mix for those who’d rather try it with wheat. But these days with more people showing up with celiac disease it’s nice to have some standard g-f recipes in your choir. You’ll be amazed by how light and tasty these are.

Oatmeal Pancakes Gluten-free

1 ½ cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Cornbread mix
¼ cup buckwheat flour* (optional)
1/3 cup oatmeal** mix with 1 cup water and microwave for 1-2 minutes.
1 egg
1 T. vinegar
¾ cup milk

Always begin every batch (of any kind of pancakes) by putting a little vinegar – white or apple cider is best – in a glass measuring cup or dish and adding the milk. Let it sour on the counter while you gather the rest of the ingredients. If you have buttermilk skip the vinegar thing.
Prepare the oatmeal and allow it to cool just a little.
In a bowl, mix the corn meal and buckwheat flour. Stir in the egg and the milk. Add the oatmeal. You don’t need to beat this batter, just make sure it is well mixed. The batter should be fairly thick and it will rise up even in the bowl to be very light. If you prefer a thinner pancake add more milk right from carton.
Heat the skillet to medium high and add a little oil or butter to the pan and when it’s hot, spoon small dollops of pancake batter. Adjust heat a little so they don’t burn. Turn when the bottom is nicely browned.
Serve with maple syrup or strawberry jam and sour cream. Serves 3.
Leftovers with peanut butter and honey make good snacks.

*Buckwheat: You don’t want too much for a small batch of pancakes. It really punches up the flavor. Find it at a whole foods type store. In bulk it’s cheap.
**Oatmeal: Don’t use the pre-packaged instant. Yuck. Use regular or thick-cut for more texture. Again, available in bulk. Organic is good.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Just another great meal at Toad Hall

Not long ago I got a craving for a simple supper. A favorite easy is baked chicken breasts drizzled with olive oil, seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika and grated Parmesan. Pop in the oven at 400 degrees and they’re done in about 20 minutes. I wanted wild rice to go with them and since Denis was gone, and he HATES mushrooms or anything that squeaks on your teeth, slimes or could POTENTIALLY slime - he abhors, and with his usual unassailable logic designed to convince all of creation he says that if God had intended us to eat mushrooms they wouldn’t be called FUNG-GUS. Yes, well, he doesn’t know I chop FUNG-GUS all the time and put them in LOTS of things, because they deepen and intensify flavors especially in soups and meat dishes. I sautéd half a pound of them to add to the rice. I was happily stirring when Anita came into the kitchen. I should add that since she’s been a part of our life for awhile now, I expect little packets of spice, some of them unlabeled, to proliferate in our cupboard - she often picks them up in the bulk section of the Good Food Store. So I was talking to her as I cooked and idly grabbed what I THOUGHT was a bit of Celtic salt in a little baggie from the shelf and sprinkled it on the mushrooms. For good measure I tossed several generous pinches in the simmering rice. The mushrooms nicely browned just like Julia Child’s and were added to the rice along with some chopped onion.

All dished up everything looked tasty, especially the mushrooms, eat your heart out, Denis. But the first bite made my eyeballs water and my salivary glands spurt. I almost dropped my plate. Dang. (Okay, yes, we were standing in the kitchen eating.) I COULD NOT figure out WHAT the!? Who was trying to punish me? On a hunch I grabbed the bag with the salt. It was clearly, disappointingly labeled: ASCORBIC ACID. Which is like pure vinegar only powdered and concentrated. Accidents happen all the time and I’d like to think they are someone else’s fault and I just don’t have the evidence.

The only good thing about this dish was that it seemed curiously preserved from rot and I ate the rice as leftovers for about ten days, not in a row you understand. The acid must have had a pickling effect. That was a challenge, but I hate to waste good wild rice and mushrooms. I also hope, please God, I do not have to do this again. And to make sure for now I’ve hidden the ascorbic acid.