Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dinner with Friends

Last night we had our friends, Terry and Wayne, over for dinner.  This was waaaay past due and I was thrilled to finally be able to reciprocate (at least in part) their hospitality over the years.  (While I had planned to include pretty pictures of preparing and serving dinner, there are only photos of leftovers due to falling behind schedule.)  There was some necessary house cleaning to be done, but I wasn't worried about getting the white glove treatment and dim lighting can hide a lot of dust.  I did as much dinner prep work as possible on Friday so yesterday wouldn't be quite so hectic.

As previously mentioned, I still got a little behind schedule.  Yesterday was my dad's birthday and being a daddy's girl, it was an absolute MUST that I call him on his birthday.  We talked for over an hour.  I think that's some sort of record for my dad to be on the phone without being on hold.  Huge dent in my agenda for the day.  Normally, I'm the sort of person who will get a little tightly wound when things aren't going according to plan.  And in another situation, I'm sure I would have. 

But that's what's so great about friends.  You already know they don't judge you; they've already accepted you as you are.  So when Terry and Wayne arrived to a smoky kitchen, dinner still in progress and three of our four dogs barking insanely, I wasn't freaking out about it.  The hubs took Wayne on the ten-cent tour and being the fabulous woman she is, Terry asked what she could do to help.  In many instances I would reply with a cavalier, "oh I've got it."  I didn't.  I put her to work.  Our dinner guest had to work for her dinner.  How's that for hospitality?

Dinner eventually got done; the dogs eventually stopped barking; and we had a wonderful evening of friendship, food and wine.  The good things in life, yes?

The Menu:

I need to figure out the brine for the peppadews so
I can grow them and pickle them myself.
For starters I had mixed olives and peppadew peppers stuffed with goat cheese.

Our main course was Moroccan chicken (it's really chicken tagine, except I don't actually have a tagine so I changed the name) with basmati rice seasoned with saffron, lemon zest and parsley.

Moroccan chicken minus the chicken.  Only the legs were left,
which I saved for the hubs. 
And dessert was almond and walnut baklava.

Left over baklava, aka, breakfast.

The Recipes: 

Moroccan Chicken
This recipe is adapted from the Professional Chef textbook.  I’ve made a few changes due to difficult to find (locally anyway) ingredients.  I’ve not found preserved lemons either, but they’re easy and inexpensive to make.  Note they need to be made about a week ahead of time.

3 lb chicken pieces (use the parts you like)
Kosher salt
1 Tbs ground cumin
2 Tbs olive oil
1 cup pearl onions
½ inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Pinch saffron
½ cup low-sodium chicken stock
½ cup pitted green olives
6 – 8 wedges preserved lemon, rinsed (see recipe that follows)
1 Tbs chopped flat leaf parsley

Season the chicken pieces on all sides liberally with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle with cumin.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan (with a lid) over medium-high heat.  Carefully place the chicken in the pan and sauté until brown, turning only once.  Remove the chicken to a platter and set aside.

Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes.  Add the ginger and garlic and cook about a minute, then add the saffron and cook another minute.  Add the chicken stock to the pan.  Scrape any brown bits off the bottom and stir in.  Return the chicken to the pan, along with any juices on the platter.  Reduce heat to medium-low.  Cover the pan and simmer for 25 minutes, turning the chicken at least once.  Add the olives and lemons and simmer an additional 15 minutes until the olives are tender and the lemons fragrant.  Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

The preserved lemons can be removed for serving if desired.  I like them so I leave them in.

Preserved Lemons:
10 lemons
1/3 cup kosher salt

Juice six of the lemons and place the juice in a quart container (preferably glass) with a tight-fitting lid.  Add the salt and stir to combine. Scrub the remaining four lemons and slice each into six wedges.  Remove the seeds.  Add the lemons to the juice and salt.  Place a piece of plastic wrap over the top if your container has a metal lid.  Cover tightly, shake to combine and refrigerate.  Shake the container gently every other day to help dissolve the salt.  Allow the lemons to cure for at least a week.  Rinse the wedges under cold water before using.  These will last several months in the refrigerator.

Basmati Rice for Moroccan Chicken

1-1/2 cups water
3/4 cup chicken stock
1-1/2 cups basmati rice
Pinch saffron
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 Tbs coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley

Bring the water and chicken stock to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add the rice and saffron.  Return to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the lemon zest and parsley and fluff the rice with a fork.  Serve immediately.

Makes approximately six servings.

I don’t remember where I found the original recipe for baklava, but this has been altered nearly beyond recognition of the original.

3-1/2 cups sugar, divided
2-1/2 cups water
2 Tbs honey
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 strip lemon zest
1 large cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
1 cardamom pod (green or black), optional
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 lb walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 lb almonds, finely chopped
1 lb unsalted butter
1 – 1-1/2 lb phyllo dough*
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs (or as needed)

*Check the package for the size of the phyllo sheets to make sure they will fit on the pan you’re using.  I include this note from experience.

In a large sauce pan, combine three cups of the sugar, the water, honey, lemon juice and zest, cinnamon stick, whole cloves and cardamom pod (if using).  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Strain and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, mix the remaining half cup of sugar, ground cinnamon, ground cloves and ground cardamom.  Combine the walnuts and almonds in a large bowl.  Melt the butter in a small sauce pan.  Skim the foam from the melted butter and add to the nuts.  Toss so that all of the nuts are coated with the butter foam.  Add the sugar and spice mixture to the nuts and stir to combine.

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Unroll the phyllo dough on a flat surface and keep it covered with plastic wrap and a slightly damp towel.  Using a pastry brush, brush a rimmed half-sheet pan with melted butter.  Place a phyllo sheet in the center of the pan.  (Make sure to re-cover the phyllo after removing individual sheets.  Dried phyllo is not pleasant to work with.)  Gently and lightly brush the phyllo sheet with melted butter.  Lightly sprinkle with bread crumbs.  Repeat, using a total of eight phyllo sheets.  Sprinkle the top phyllo sheet with approximately half of a cup of the nut mixture, spreading it to all sides.  Layer three more phyllo sheets in the same manner as the first eight, and then top with more nut mixture.  Repeat until all of the nut mixture is used.  Layer eight more sheets of phyllo on top, brushing each with butter and sprinkling bread crumbs on all but the top layer.

Using a long, thin sharp knife, cut the baklava into small squares or diamonds.  To cut into diamonds, first make six evenly spaced lengthwise cuts.  Make sure to cut all the way through.  Next, cut diagonally across the lengthwise cuts to form the diamonds.  Start in one corner and cut until you reach the opposite corner.  (I totally didn’t get this the first few times I read it.  I was hoping my crude diagram would help, but for some reason my horizontal lines disappeared.)

Heat the remaining butter until it just starts to bubble and drizzle it over the top of the pastry.  Bake for 75 minutes or until evenly golden and flaky.  Remove the pan to a rack and spoon the cooled syrup over the entire pastry (you may not need all of it).  Cool in the pan.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  Send leftovers home with your friends so you don't eat all of it.