Friday, July 03, 2009

Yellow, Yellow Everywhere: An Adventure in Couscous

I always wanted a yellow hue in my kitchen. I meant the walls, though. Not the stove. Or the counters. Or the cupboard. Or the range hood. Or me.

Yesterday I decided to go Moroccan. I had nearly all the ingredients for Couscous with Chicken and Vegetables. Despite the missing baby onions, I went ahead anyways. I knew I was in for a long process as it basically a gently simmered stew but I learned a valuable lesson. I should have switched from the large skillet they suggested to my deep-sided dutch oven. At least the lid was a better fit. Probably would have used a lot less paper towel. And a lot less scrubbing with the magic eraser.

The recipe was definitely a keeper but it still seemed like it was missing something. The Frog and I aren't exacty sure what it is yet. It could be the baby onions but I doubt it. There was a whole lot of fine chopped onion in the mix too. We guessed maybe it was missed merguez. We have had this dish before in France. It always had merguez in it with the chicken. Since we aren't near any merguez right now, we can't try it again any time soon. We hope to rectify that within the month. Then we can let you know.

I got this recipe for Kseksou Bidawi Bil Djej (Couscous with Chicken and Vegetables) from The Food of Morocco: A Journey for Food Lovers. It was, minus the merguez, a very similar recipe to the couscous you can get in a large can on any shelf in a French supermarket (I know what you're thinking: "A CAN?" but I have to say the canned, jarred and frozen meals to be had are way superior in taste to the stuff you can usually get in North America).

Couscous with Chicken and Vegetables (adapted from the above book)

1 roasting chicken cut into 8 pieces
4 tbsp ghee
1 yellow onion
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground saffron
1 cinnamon stick (3 inch piece)
4 cilantro sprigs, 4 parsley sprigs tied in a bunch
1 1/2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
3 carrots, peeled and cut into thick coins
3 zucchini cut into chunks
1 cup frozen green peas
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained


boxed couscous, cooked to instructions
3 tbsp butter

3 tsp harissa, or to taste

The chicken doesn't need to have the skin removed. Heat the ghee in a large saucepan (with high sides and a fitted lid). Add chicken and brown on each side. Reduce the heat, add the onion and cook until softened. Stir in the turmeric and cumin. Pour in 3 cups of water, then add saffron, cinnamon stick, bunch of herbs and tomatoes. Season with 1 1/2 tsp of salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Bring to a gentle boil, cover and cook over low heat for 25 minutes. Add the carrots and simmer for a further 20 minutes. Add the zucchini, frozen peas and chickpeas and cook for 20 minutes or until the chicken and vegetables are tender.

While the stew is cooking its last step, prepare the couscous. You can used water or chicken bouillon (for more flavour). Stir the butter through the couscous.

Put 1 cup of the chicken stew broth into a bowl. Add 3 tsp of harissa paste and stir in.

Serve stew on top of the steamed couscous. Add extra broth and harissa to moisten.

Serves 6 (or allows for leftovers for the next day)

Try and fuss with it yourself or make suggestions if you know what is missing. Let me know.

Oh, and be careful. It may not happen if your lid is a perfect fit but still... The steam is yellow. REALLY yellow. And it likes to settle everywhere. Be prepared to kill a tree's worth of paper towel, just in case.

Friday, June 26, 2009

School End Blues

This past year was the first year that I taught Kindergarten. I worried a year ago that I might not be cut out for kids that young. Now, a year later, I wonder what took me so long to know how much I'd enjoy this grade. I'm a bit sad and miserable right now that I won't have my little ducklings anymore. I know I'll have a new set this September but I grew so unbelievably attached to the ones of this past year. There will be a whole new set of interests and games and make-believe that will make me miss the quirks and charm of my last set.

I'm going to miss the children marching around with stuffed animals and blocks on their backs, singing "The Ants Go Marching", pretending to pack food down to the ant home. Or setting up the chairs to play taxicab, arguing about which side the driver sits on. Or telling me that they couldn't find the body of the bird that we found on our walk, saying that 'God must have come down to take him home to heaven'. Yeah, I'll miss those little moments. Yeah, I know I'm moping. And yeah, I know that I'll be moping about this again next year.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Philosphy of the Ooligan

Nasty little teeth, where are you?

My query only lasted a moment as I greedily started eating a rare coastal treat--ooligans.

Far in the distant past, during teaching school, I had the opportunity to string these plump, greasy little fish on long strips of cedar bark. The weather was grey and bitter cold, my fingers were numb from the cold wind. Perhaps that was a blessing because I recall, as I poked thin little withies through their fearsome little jaws, that their teeth 'bit' me constantly. After a day of hard work, stringing lots of the little buggers for wind-drying, weaving poles through gills for the smokehouse and cutting sealion into strips for smoking, we all sat down to a good feast of bbq'd ooligans and fried bread. I remember from the first moment they touched my lips how their slick, toothy rawness didn't give any suggestion to its future as a unctuous, meaty fish that could be eaten whole--bones, teeth and all--with nary a tastebud offended by the thought of brains, eyes or innards.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago. I rarely see ooligans. They are a prized possession amongst the coastal peoples native to the west of British Columbia. Often these little smelts are rendered slowly into a fermented oil condiment, "grease" as it is known around here. Both grease and ooligans whole were once enjoyed in quantity in the past. The runs of fish get smaller and smaller each year, the cost of the grease goes up and up. So, when I tell you that a notice up at the local grocery shop offering ooligans for sale was like someone announcing that they were selling gold nuggets from their back door, you'll perhaps understand my own excitement and shock. I tracked down the house, payed a pretty penny for them (and rightly so since it's a delicacy these days) and nearly caused turmoil in the office when I share my tale of luck.

Because they are so flavourful and oily, they need little seasoning. I was told by an elder, whom I asked for cooking options, to just treat it simply--coat them in seasoned flour and fry, I was told. He suggested rice with dried seaweed as a side dish. Luckily I still had a bag of dried local kelp from a friend around. It was a good side to fried fish as its relatively plain taste carried and aided the richness of the fish meat. A bit of lemon to help along the oiliness and all was set.

With the very first bite, I was back, sitting on that stump by the backyard fire, munching on ooligans wrapped in fried bread. It was a good day and it's funny how a simple taste can bring it all rushing back. I was getting stressed with several busy days and boisterous children so it was good to recall a day when a job was completed and I was righteously tired, content with the world and its bounty. And, I thought, philosophically, as I ate myself nearly sick on them, even if life throws sharp little teeth your way, you can always cook them up and render them benign and maybe even quite tasty.


If you want to learn a bit more about ooligans, check out this site
Or you can wiki it, too, here
You can even read my horridly written post about it from nearly the beginning of my blogginess.

*sorry there are no pictures yet. I'll get them up ASAP

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Wok the Broc'

The Frog hates feta. I mean REALLY hates feta. This animosity towards that lovely, creamy, salty, pungent cheese puts a kibosh on some of the recipes I'd like to make. I wouldn't say he's terrified of its presence but it's pretty close. I have to make a really great dish for him to pretend not to notice the aroma and sight of my beloved feta.

I know I'll never win him over with my Greek pilaf dish (uber-loads of feta in there) but I manage to get him to look the other way when I pile feta on one of my favourite discoveries during my vegetarian years: Linguine with Wok-Fried Broccoli. This is a fun and fairly quick dish from one of Molly Katzen's great books. Obviously I don't mix in the feta as recommended at the end. I have to wait until it's on my plate.

I find this is a great winter dish because the broccoli and cherry tomatoes (which are the only fresh thing in winter that is called tomato and actually tastes like it) are readily available. It's also a very fresh and light dish so entirely appropriate for spring. I had the great fun of having multi-coloured tomato pints in the store and had to take full advantage of them in such a showcasing dish. Produce variety is not something we have much of up here in the boondocks of B.C.

Be very very careful with the broccoli while you cook... you might end up eating the fried broccoli all on its own before you can mix it with any of the other ingredients, especially if you let the florets brown and crisp up a bit. You think I'm kidding.

Monday, May 04, 2009



Arradon. It is a lost Arthurian kingdom. It is a whisper in a lover's ear. It is the sound of the waves hissing over the shore. It is a reverant prayer in a rock-ringed grove.

I know few places either large or small that carries such an ethereal quality in its name. Arradon is a small town on the south coast of Brittany. That sound so mundane, doesn't it? The place has many nostalgic pulls on my heart and I could never in a million years believe there is anything mundane about this town or any of the region (The Gulf of Morbihan) around it. I know that family and familiarity play a large part in my nostalgia for the region but there is something more that could draw anyone back again and again. There is something to the fierce pride in the unique culture of the region, the legends that envelop the place and the fey quality that haunts the countryside-- it pulls you back again and again.

I was so pleased that my Frogger in Law found a website that brought all the feelings for the boat-riddled ocean, the wisteria, blue shutters and thorny bushes back with a rush. I'd love for you to go there and see where my heart lies when I think of France.

* the photo is my own, not from the website

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Gateau de Harem

When I was younger, my mother used to have us choose whatever we wanted for our birthday dinner. I guess my sister and my father were easy to cook for, easy to please. Things like chocolate cake, steak, pizza are pretty easy fare. Then there was me. I must have been the bane of my mother's life. Oh sure, I was easy to please in the cake department--chocolate or white cake with a jam center were fine for me. Dinner, however, was a research project for me. One year (and I don't even remember how old I was) I wanted an Egyptian-style dinner. To tell the truth, I don't even remember most of what we had except the honeyed carrots and dessert--rose leaf cookies. Essentially they were just sugar cookies flavoured with rose water. I think it was the first time I had something to eat flavoured with rose. It certainly made an impact on me. My poor family humored and indulged my flavour exploration--I was probably the only one that finished those cookies. Those cookies started my long love affair with rose flavouring.

I recently wrote about a
rose-pistachio ice cream I had really wanted to taste while I was in France. It got me thinking about the rose petal jam I still had haunting my cupboard and how to use it. While hunting through a binder of recipes my mother gave me when I left home I came across a recipe for a dessert I hadn't had or made in ages--Jam Dandy Coffee Cake. The recipe was simple and tasty, a fond, sweet remembrance from childhood. I figured, since the base was a basic cake, the topping could be changed to suit any taste. I rummaged through my baking cupboard and found my pistachios, fished out my virginal jar of rose jam and hoped for the best. I'm happy to say that the result was a lovely, rich cake that would go well with a coffee and dessert service. Or, it could go well with a nice tall glass of ice cold milk.

Jam Dandy Coffee Cake

1 & 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar

2 & 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 cup shortening, softened

3/4 cup milk

1 egg

1/4 cup brown sugar (I used a mix of white sugar, white sanding sugar and pink sanding sugar)

1/4 cup chopped nuts (I used pistachios)

2/3 cup jam ( I used rose petal jam)

Set oven to 375 F. Beat all ingredients together except the sugar, nuts and jam. Beat with 50 quick strokes with a fork. Pour into a greased 9-inch square pan. Sprinkle top with sugar and nuts. Dot top with jam. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
I also made a raspberry and almond version today. If you think you can combine a jam and nut, give it a try.