2. Master the art of dinner parties (part 2)

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Apart from a slight mishap with the freezer (more on that later) the first, of what will be many dinner parties in this mission to master the art, was almost entirely a success! The focus for this one was to put together a suitable menu, which would be edible for all.


Inspired by a trip to Morocco last year, where I was privileged to receive an impromptu cookery lesson from a local Moroccan in his tiny, one room house, I decided to embrace a Moroccan theme... chicken tagine, chickpea and sweet potato stew and a fresh carrot, coriander and pomegranate salad. Finished off with a Moroccan orange cake served with some not-quite-frozen, frozen yogurt.

Want the recipes? Here you go:

The chicken tagine recipe is from the fantastic recipe book, which has inspired me again and again, The Guilt-Free Gourmet (indulgent recipes without sugar, wheat or dairy, so the authors Jordan & Jessica Bourke say).

Chicken Tagine

Ingredients:
6 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in (skinless and boneless thighs also work just fine)
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
good pinch of saffron threads
(desperate to use the spice mix I brought back from Morocco I've made this tagine a number of times using 5 tsp of ras el hanout instead of the above 4 spices/saffron)
2 red onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tbsp flaked almonds
2.5cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
12 Medjool dates, pitted and torn into halves (dried apricots also work well - I love the gooey texture they acquire!)
1 orange, rind peeled off in strips
2 tsp pure maple syrup
4 tbsp freshly chopped coriander / cilantro
1 preserved lemon (having tried adding the preserved lemon and finding it to be too overpowering I've since left this out)
quinoa or rice to serve

Method:
  • Put the coriander seeds in a dry pan and toast until fragrant. Pound to a powder using a pestle and mortar
  • Rub the chicken thighs with a little oil, salt, pepper, the saffron threads, ground cinnamon, ground ginger and toasted coriander. Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least 1 hour, or overnight if you can
  • Heat 3 tbsp oil in a tagine or casserole dish over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, 2 tbsp of the almonds, the fresh ginger, cinnamon stick and a good pinch of salt. Sweat out until the onions are translucent, being careful not to burn the garlic
  • Once translucent transfer to a plate and, without washing the pan, add the chicken thighs. Turn up the heat to high and seal the skins, turning the chicken as it browns
  • When golden brown all over return the onion mixture to the pan. Pour in enough water to cover the chicken and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, put the lid on and simmer for 1 hour, stirring every so often
  • Add the dates, orange peel, maple syrup and half the fresh coriander / cilantro and simmer for 20 minutes until the sauce is thick and syrupy (it might be due to my tagine but I tend to have to simmer for 30 - 40 minutes at this stage to reach a syrupy consistency). If you are cooking quinoa or rice, now is the time to put this on to cook
  • Rinse the preserved lemon well under running water, removing as much salt as possible. Scoop out and discard the flesh and thinly slice the skin
  • Plate up and sprinkle with the preserved lemon and remaining almonds and coriander / cilantro


Serve with:
As our tagine is slightly on the small side I was keen to find a recipe for a second dish which would ensure our appetites were well satisfied. I found such a recipe on a fantastic foody blog called a couple cooks. If you want to give their sweet potato and chickpea stew a go, just click here!

We kept the carrot, coriander and pomegranate salad very simple, just mixing it all together with a little lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.

As I can't seem to finish a meal without a sweat treat at the end, pudding was an important consideration. Our Moroccan themed dinner party was the perfect opportunity to pull out the Moroccan orange cake I'd baked a few times before, again a tasty recipe from The Guilt-Free Gourmet. Despite being well practiced at this recipe I almost spoilt the entire cake post preparation, note the juice of one large orange and half a lemon is to be retained for the syrup drizzle after baking and not to be added to the mixture. But after more than an hour of cooking, my sloppy cake mixture formed a perfectly moist cake.


The conclusion

According to some anonymous feedback, the menu was indeed edible, bar one minor mishap. Someone, at some point during the day (not pointing fingers, ahem Chris), left the freezer door open. So, our almost sloppy moroccan cake was served with undeniably sloppy frozen yogurt.


Which leads us nicely on to an accidental item for the list... learn how to defrost a freezer!


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