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Last weekend Izzy’s friends Harry & Jack came over for a play date and some dinner – like a 2 year old dinner party – how civilised I hear you say? Well not so much but it was fun! Harry & Jack were joined by their Mum’s Emma & Pip (and later on their Dad’s), and also Aunty Amy & Uncle Daz. So all up 8 adults and 3 kids – hhhmmmm what to cook? Something tasty but kid friendly. I had illusions about making a dessert but this did not eventuate so a quick trip to M & S was in order.  Afterwards we bundled up and took a stroll down the road to watch the fireworks. Izzy was not too sure and took a while to convince that the big bangs were OK – she did pretty well considering I was well into my teens and still you couldn’t have convinced me to go outside and watch fireworks!

One of my favourite cuisines is Moroccan – I love the flavours (big fan of cumin!) and the mix of fruit (raisins, dates, apricots) in savoury dishes. Tagines & Couscous is a winning combination and there are so many adaptations that you can find one to suit whoever is coming to dinner!

I decided on a fish tagine that featured in the latest issue of Delicious, a tagine of kefta meatballs with tomatoes and eggs and finally, couscous with roast pumpkin, raisins & almonds. Seemed to all go down well and not alot leftover so that is always a good sign!

Easy Fish Tagine (courtesy of Delicious magazine – December 2009)

Serves 4 (I made 1 1/2 times the recipe so enough for 6)

Ingredients:-

4 x 150g sustainably sourced  skinless cof fillets

500g waxy new potatoes

4 garlic cloves, chopped

3 Tbsp olive oil (I very rarely use the full amount of oil, especially if using non stick pans)

2 green peppers, sliced

1 yellow pepper, sliced

5 tomatoes, roughly chopped

100ml vegetable stock

100g pitted green olives

Lemon wedges & fresh coriander, to garnish

For the marinade:-

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

4 Tbsp lemon juice

2 large garlic cloves

1 small bunch fresh coriander

1 tsp salt

Whizz the marinade ingredients in a mini food processor or grind in a mortar and pestle until smooth. Rub half over the cod, cover and chill for between 20 mins and 1 hour.

Meanwhile boil he potatoes in a pan of salted water until tender, drain, then cut in half lengthways. In a shallow casserole over a low heat, fry the garlic in the oil for 1-2 minutes. Add the peppers and cook for 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes and cook for a further 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining marinade and the vegetable stock. Season well.

Place the potatoes in a big non-stick frying pan with a lid. Top with half the tomato mixture, then with the fish, then add the remaining tomato mixture. Scatter over the olives, cover and cook over a medium-high heat for 10-12 minutes until the fish is just cooked through. Garnish with lemon wedges & coriander to serve.

Tagine of Kefta meatballs with tomatoes & eggs (courtesy of Julie Le Clerc – Made in Morocco)

I love the eggs on top – sounds like it won’t work but it does!

Ingredients:-

700g lamb or beef mince (my preference is lamb)

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp paprika

1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

olive oil for frying

tomato sauce (recipe to follow this one)

4 eggs

1 Tbsp chopped fresh marjoram or parsley

Combine mince, garlic, spices & fresh coriander in a bowl and knead or pound until smooth in texture. Season with salt & pepper.

With damp hands, mould 24 walnut-sized portions into balls and set aside on a tray.

Heat oil in a large frying pan and fry meatballs until golden brown all over (this will need to be done in 2-3 batches). Place meatballs in the base of a tagine or a casserole.

Pour tomato sauce over browned meatballs. Bring to the boil, then simmer on the stovetop or bake in an oven heated to 180C for 20 minutes, stirring once to prevent sticking.

Break eggs in to the sauce and continue cooking for 5 minutes until eggs are just set. Scatter with marjoram or parsley and serve immediately.

Tomato sauce

Ingredients:-

400g can tomatoes, chopped

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1 Tbsp liquid honey

1/2 cup hot water

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, season with S & P to taste.

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Izzy & her dinner party guests Harry & Jack

Couscous with roast pumpkin, raisins & almonds (courtesy of Julie LeClerc – Made in Morocco)

Ingredients:-

1/2 large pumpkin or butternut, seeds and skin removed

olive oil

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1 onion, peeled & chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 1/2 cups couscous

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds

1/3 cup fresh coriander

Preheat oven to 200C. Cut pumpkin into 2cm cubes and place in an oven pan. Drizzle with a little oilve oil, season with S & P and toss well. Roast for 30 minutes, tossing once during cooking, until pumpkin is tender and golden brown.

Meanwhile 2-3 Tbsp live oil in a large saucepan and cook onion and garlic over a moderate heat for 5-10 minutes, until softened but not coloured. Add stock and bring to the boil.

Stir in couscous, then remove pan from the heat, cover and leave to steam for 10 minutes to soften. Remove covering and fluff up couscous with a fork. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Combine couscous with raisins, toasted almonds, coriander and hot pumpkin and toss well to serve.

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A Moroccan Feast!

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Made in Morocco

Today has been a great day in the kitchen. I love Moroccan food – something about the spices, the combination of sweet and savoury and the delicious ingredients. James and I first went to Morocco in 1999 in order to avoid the whole millenium hoo-ha. We spent 2 weeks on a tour starting in Casablanca and ending in Marrakech. What an amazing country! At the time James and I were not particularly ‘foodie’ orientated but memories of the food on that trip lingered. Although there is a small confession to be made here…….by the time we hit Marrakech we were all a bit ‘couscous and tagined out’ (I don’t think that would happen these days!) and a group of us jumped in a cab and shouted those words that need no translation …..’McDONALDS!’. It’s a shameful thing to admit!!!

We returned to Marrakech in 2006, along with Amy & Daz and Mum, to celebrate the big 3-0!! and this time we were far more appreciative of the food on offer. A trip to Marrakech would never be complete without a dinner in the Djemaa El Fna (which is the square & market place in Marrakech’s medina quarter) – it’s a crazy place and walking around is an experience and a half. Everyone wants your business. You either love it or hate it, but regardless it is an assault on all your senses and there is a dazzling array on offer. For the more adventurous visitors (and many locals!) there are cooked goats heads ready to be split open for the brains inside (sorry, am just not brave enough for this!), and then there are delicious juicy kebabs and succulent meat everywhere you look, served with breads and salads. It’s a must do culinary experience! During the day it is full of carts selling fresh dates, figs, pistachios, almonds..and then there are the orange juice carts. We ended up visiting the same vendor every day and savoured our glass of OJ which helped kick start another day in the souks.

Marrakech is also full of top class restaurants and after a bit of research we booked Dar Moha for my 30th dinner. It has the most beautiful setting around a candlelight pool – just perfect for a light balmy evening. The food is a step away from the traditional Moroccan fare and has a modern twist – delicate and delicious.

So, hopefully from the above you can tell that I enjoy some Moroccan grub!! As I had some time this afternoon I decided it was time to crack out the tagine pot. Perusing the cookbook shelf I pulled out Julie LeClerc’s (fellow Kiwi) Made in Morocco and started thumbing through.

After having a bit of a clear out in the cupboards this week I found we have about 3 bags of red lentils and so decided to make the quick Spiced Split Lentil Soup. James then jumped in and decided that bread was required and so he quickly knocked up Barley Bread to accompany.

The soup as so simple and although there is a consider amount of spice required in the Simple Moroccan Spice I did cheat and use the mixed Moroccan spice that I picked up in the souk in Marrakech. Considering the length of time I have had it we were not surprised to learn it may have lost some of its strength and pungency and unfortunately this meant that the soup was nutritious and filling but a bit bland. Next time I will make up a batch of JLC’s Simple Moroccan Spice and ditch my authentic but out of date spice blend! Not a great choice for Izzy though as she has proved to be averse to onions and tomatoes. We keep trying although the gag reflex kicks in even when we sneak it onto the spoon unnoticed!

Spiced Split Lentil Soup (courtesy of Made in Morocco – Julie LeClerc)

Ingredients:-

3 Tbsp olive oil

2 onions, finely diced

2 Tbsp Simple Moroccan Spice blend (recipe to follow)

2 x 400g cans choppped tomatoes

2 cups chicken stock (or substitute vegetable stock for a vegetarian version)

1 cup split red lentils

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or coriander

Heat a large saucepan, add oil and cook onions for 3-4 minutes to soften but not colour. Add spice blend and cook for 1 minute to release essential spice flavours.

Add tomatoes, stock or water and red lentils and bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes, stirring regularly. Add more water if the mixture becomes too thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve sprinkled with chopped parsley or coriander as preferred.

Simple Moroccan Spice blend

2 tsp each of ground cumin, coriander, paprika, ginger and cinnamon.

1 tsp each of white pepper and turmeric

14 tsp each of chilli powder and ground nutmeg

Combine all spices and store in a sealed jar.

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Barley Bread (also courtesy of Made in Morocco – Julie LeClerc)

Ingredients:-

1/2 cup warm water

3 teaspoons active dried yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (or barley flour if available)

1 cup strong flour

1 tsp sea salt

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 cup tepid water

extra flour for kneading

Place warm water in a small bowl and sprinkle with yeast and then sugar. Set aside in a warm place to activate for 5-10 minutes (when activated the mixture will be frothy).

Place the flours and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the frothy yeast mixture, oil and tepid water and mix to form a firm dough. Turn dough out on a lightly floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.

Divide dough into two and shape each portion into a large flat disc. place on a lightly floured oven tray and cover with a clean cloth. Leave in a warm place to rise for 1 hour or until when dimpled with a fingerprint the dough returns to its former shape.

Preheat oven to 200C. Bake for 15 mins or until golden brown. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

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Onto the main course……..

Tagine of Chicken with Prunes & Almonds (courtesy again of Made in Morocco – Julie LeClerc)

Ingredients:-

1.4kg free-range chicken, cut into 8 portions (I used about 1.1kg of chicken thighs and drumsticks)

2 onions, tickly sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crusshed

1 tsp each of ground cinnamon and ground ginger

1 cup pitted prunes

1 cup green olives

1/2 cup blanched almonds

1/4 cup white wine viegar

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Place chicken portions in a tagine or large casserole. Scatter over remaining ingredients in the order listed, except the parsley, and season with salt & pepper.

Cover the pan and bring the liquid to the boil, then turn down the heat to simmer for 1 1/2 hours, turning the chicken pieces once or twice, until the chicken tests cooked and the liquid is much reduced, The cooking can alternatively be done in an oven heated to 180C.

Adjust seasoning of sauce if necessary before serving. Serve scattered with parsley.

So very easy!! The only problem I encountered was that my tagine pot was a bit small and I ended with chicken stock flooding my stove top! Oh well, it’s only a bit of mess!

The perfect accompaniment to tagine must be couscous – a perfect partnership. My couscous has always been a little hit and miss – sometimes fluffy and light and other times stodgy and lumpy. Tonight I took my time, googled it, checked recipes and think I finally came up with a, hopefully consistent, method.

Couscous should be prepared with 1 1/2 cups of water or chickenstock (or a combination) to 1 cup of couscous. Heat up  saucepan and melt a small knob of butter and then lightly stir in some chopped spring onions. After a minute or two I added the stock/water. Once it is almost boiling take it off the heat and pur into the bowl of couscous. Then cover with cling film (or glad wrap as we Kiwi’s call it) and leave to steam for about 10 mins. We had a couple of peppers and courgettes in the vege bin and so James grilled these on the BBQ and then chopped into small pieces while I toasted a handful of pine nuts. When the couscous has steamed then add some lemon juice and a small glug of extra virgin olive oil before fluffing up with a fork. I then added in the chopped veg and pine nuts and gave it a good stir.

Serve alongside the tagine.

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Overall, I think we can call tonight’s dinner a success! Even a partial success for Izzy – she devoured the chicken and couscous once the peppers and courgettes had been removed. Although I did bribe her to try a courgette so it’s a start. The prunes were a no go even with bribery on the table and trying to sell them as a big sultana once they had been cut up didn’t help. Olives are never a problem though – Izzy is mad for them!

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I am a big fan of Jamie Oliver, get past all the ‘pukka’ and the media image and you have someone who loves food and knows how to get us excited about producing healthy and delicious meals. I have all his cook books and refer to them all the time for family meals & dinner parties as well as breads, pasta and pizza dough.

Lately I have been regularly referring to ‘Jamie’s Ministry of Food’ as there are some great quick recipes which are perfect for mid week meals.  Tonight I made the ‘Spicy Moroccan Stewed Fish with Couscous’. It is the second time I have made it and seriously, it just could not be easier. I left out the chilli and just added a wee bit of mild chilli powder as I didn’t want to lose the taste but needed to keep the heat down for Izzy. It was a success for James & I and a semi success for Izzy – she ate quite a bit but without her usual gusto. The recipe says serves 2 but it was enough for James, Izzy and I and there is still a portion leftover.

The recipe is as follows:-

Spicy Moroccan Stewed Fish with Couscous (courtesy of Jamie Oliver ‘Ministry of Food’)

Ingredients:

150g couscous

olive oil

2 lemons

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

2 cloves of garlic

1 fresh red chilli

a bunch of basil

1 teaspoon of whole cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 x 150g white fish fillets, skin off and bones removed

200g king prawns, raw & peeled (I used ready cooked)

1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

2 handfuls of fresh & frozen peas, broad beans or green beans (or use a mixture)

Put the couscous into a bowl and add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Halve the lemons and squeeze in the juice from two of the halves. Add a pinch of salt & pepper. Pour in just enough boiling water to cover the couscous, then cover the bowl with a plate or clingfilm. Let the couscous soak up the water for 10 minutes.

Get a large saucepan on a medium heat. Peel & finely slice garlic. Finely slice your chilli. Pick the bail leaves off the stalks. Put the smaller ones to one side and roughly chop the larger ones. Add a couple of lugs of olive oil to the hot pan. Add the garlic, chilli, basil, cumin seeds and cinnamon. Give it all a stir and put the fish fillets on top. Scatter over the prawns. Add the tinned tomatoes and the peas and beans. Squeeze in the juice from the two remaining lemon halves. Put a lid on the pan. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for about 8 minutes, or unti the fish is cooked through, and flakes easily. Taste, and season with salt & pepper.

By the time the fish is cooked, the couscous should have sucked up all the water and be ready to serve. Spoon the couscous into a large serving bowl and give it a stir with a fork to help it fluff up. Top with the fish, vegetables and juices from the pan, sprinkle with the reserved basil leaves and tuck in!

Couscous topped with.......

Couscous topped with.......

.....spicy Moroccan stewed fish.

.....spicy Moroccan stewed fish.

I have also put some jelly in the fridge to set for Izzy. I have done these a few times and most of the time they have been a success. Just once they refused to set. I didn’t have quite enough gelatine so reduced the liquid as well. It is so easy and has to better than jelly packets!

Home-Made Fruit Jelly (courtesy of Annabel Karmel, New Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner)

Ingredients:

600ml cranberry & raspberry juice (or any other raspberry juice)

4 sheets of gelatine

2 Tbsp caster sugar

125g fresh raspberries

Place half of the juice in a small saucepan and heat until just at boiling point. Remove from the heat and stir in the gelatine and caster sugar until dissolved. If not completely dissolved, stir over a low heat but do not boil. Pour this into the remaining cold juice and then pour into a serving dish and stir in the raspberries. Refrigerate until set.

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