Splitting green cardamom pods for their seeds. Cracking the arms of star anise to pull out the shiny brown seed contained within. Gathering dried lavender flowers, purple. Rose petals, pink and sweet, fragrant. Sesame seeds, cumin seeds, allspice, coriander, turmeric, clove, fennel seed, nutmeg, ginger.
It seems as if thoughts of food follow me everywhere right now. At home between blogs, books and TV shows, at work, and at school. I have learned a lot in the last week alone, since being back at school, and working with Nancy recipe testing at Tree House Kitchen for the first time since the holidays.
Pictured above are the raw ingredients for ras el hanout – a moroccan spice blend which can consist of 20+ spices. Nancy is developing recipes for an inspiring Global Soups and Stews class.
All of these ingredients were ground and mixed with butter then smothered over bias-cut slices of baguette and baked. It’s extra beautiful with a nice sprinkling of coarse sea salt.
Later, at home, I mixed the spices into leftover chicken and onions which were then sautéed. Couscous was soaked with leftover chicken stock, then added into the pan. I let it sit on high heat to allow for caramelization and texture. What started as a nearly empty fridge and pantry turned into a beautiful meal.
We also tested a classic gazpacho recipe. Cucumber, green peppers, red peppers, tomatoes and onion were chopped then mixed with 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar, salt and 1 cup olive oil. I tasted Nancy’s selection of oils until I found a nice combination of 2: one was fatty, rounded, balanced, with bright notes of bitter, spicy olive. The other had a lingering bitterness, strong olive flavours and was less fatty. I used 2/3 cup of the first and 1/3 of the second olive oil to get a nice balance of characteristics. This mixture sat in the fridge overnight before being blended the next day and re-seasoned.
This seven vegetable moroccan stew with lamb, chicken backs, wings and gizzards was lovely and fragrant. Mild notes of cinnamon and saffron, long strips of earthy cabbage, generous chunks of carrot, eggplant, zucchini, squares of tender lamb, mineral notes from chicken gizzards married by the sweetness and acidity of tomato. Sitting atop a pile of couscous steamed over the stew. Everything mixed with bright pieces of parsley and cilantro.
I was so happy to do some butchering of lamb leg and a chicken. There is something meditative and visceral about the craft of carving along the natural seams of a piece of meat and chopping it into neat cubes.