The unsightly snows of March have encouraged this cook to prolong the winter hibernation. With it still not being warm enough to start the salads I chose to cook two very warming, filling and (it may be bad manners to say) delicious dishes on a recent chilly Sunday.
Saturday morning cookery shows inspired me to cook a Moroccan chicken tagine (In a slow cooker) we are in the north after all, which has now swiftly become a staple favourite in the recipe book. I adapted a recipe to suit my dietary requirements and although I used chicken thighs, you can of course use a Quorn chicken substitute.
I began by blitzing a mixture of chopped tomatoes, 1 tsp garlic, 1 tsp ginger, a cardamom pod and a diced white onion in a food processor, then set this aside for later. I then browned a roughly chopped white onion in the deep, heavy based pan with a little olive oil, mixing in a blend of paprika, cumin, ginger and chilli. Once the onions had a little colour, I sealed the chicken thighs, before pouring in the puréed mixture and allowing to bubble a little while, before mixing in a generous spoonful of honey, followed by 3/4 pint of chicken stock.
Meanwhile I roasted diced butter nut squash in the oven at 200 degrees C with honey, thyme, black pepper and paprika until golden brown.
Turning my attention back to the chicken, I brought the whole pot to the boil, before turning down to a simmer and covering to allow the flavours to infuse. After about twenty minutes, I adjusted the flavours, adding seasoning, spice and a little more honey to taste. At this point I added chopped, sweet dried dates and the butter nut squash, before covering for a final ten minutes until the chicken was fully cooked and soft. I served it with al dente green beans and honey roast parsnips and it went down a treat!
In a writing seminar, I chose to describe the dish to improve my sensory writing, with a little artistic licence:
I stand, leaning over the bubbling, aromatic pot, heavy with the smells of North African spices; cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, ginger and paprika. The swirling steam is rich in flavour as well as scent and the colour provides you with an instant feeling of warmth. The thickening burnt orange sauce is nicely complimented by the deep red varnish of the tagine lid. Plump chicken thighs bob up and down, bathing in the liquid which is dotted with brassy, shining dates, slowly releasing their sweet flavour into the dish. Little, golden chunks of roast butternut squash adorned with honey, sweet garlic and a grind of black pepper are toppled into the tagine as it teeters on the edge of precision and readiness, the hungry diner looking on with excitement and anticipation.
Several hours later, it was time for something sweet. As a sceptical baker (gluten, dairy intolerances make it a tricky feat) I knew that a layered fruit crumble would be a safe bet when using wheat free plain flour, dairy free spread and sweetener.
Start by preheating the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. In a large dish, place frozen mixed berries (easy to buy from the supermarket), sweet dried cherries and golden sultanas and a sprinkle of sweetener and cinnamon, with a drizzle of honey. In another bowl, mix 3 cups of flour, 1 ½ cups sweetener and 1 ½ cups soft, cubed butter. Crumble the mixture between your fingers, rubbing in the butter until you have an even texture. Don’t rub the butter in too far though; it should still have a good crumbly texture. I then loosely mixed crushed hazelnuts and a tbsp of cinnamon through the crumble topping, before tumbling on to the top of the crumble, evenly covering the fruit.
Cook in the oven for roughly 45 minutes or until the top of the crumble is golden brown. Serve the crumble with dairy free custard or ice cream, get cosy on the sofa with a blanket and enjoy!