Thursday, February 20, 2014

Classic Moroccan Chicken and Vegetable Couscous

Every once in a while I stumble across a dish that delivers restaurant-style presentation with relatively easy prep; robust flavors with healthful ingredients; and a pricey air despite not even coming close  to breaking the bank. This Classic Moroccan Chicken and Vegetable Couscous is totally that kind of recipe. It is—as Jimmy Kimmel so carefully recounts after each Bachelor episode—amamaaazzzzzzzing.

I would also like to take this opportunity to profess my love for Moroccan food. What an understated cuisine! Teaming with lush spices, hearty meats, plentiful vegetables, and generous use of dried fruit; Moroccan food embodies everything I love when it comes to cooking. Although salads, mezze, grills, and bastillas are all commonplace Moroccan dishes, this particular one is modeled after tagine— a signature slow-cooked stew named after the clay pot it is traditionally cooked in. Tagines traditionally simmer for hours, but this one only needs about 30 minutes to boast the same hearty, plentiful flavors.

Hearty stews are particular nice for the long winter months, when sometimes it seems like a warm bowl of broth and anything else is the only thing to help endure one more cold yucky day. I know the ingredient list is long, but I promise its a lot of quick, imprecise chopping and can-dumping. The prep is really super easy!

The wafting smells from the kitchen will draw you in immediately, a serendipitous mix of savory and sweet. The former stems from your root vegetables, fragrant garlic and onion, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, and chicken, while the latter is derived from sweet cinnamon, golden raisins, and dried plums. Even though the taste alone is enough to"wow", just wait for the presentation: ladled gently in a circle around a mound of fresh couscous with a dollop of Harissa—spicy Moroccan red chili pepper paste—as the final touch. Did I really make this? I thought to myself incredulously, staring at my brimming, colorful bowl but waiting to snap out of a dream and find myself actually sitting at Cafe Mogador. But it was me!—a second (or third) helping confirmed—and it tasted even better the next day.

Classic Moroccan Chicken and Vegetable Couscous (adapted from The AMA Family Health Cookbook)
Makes 8 servings

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 3/4 lbs boneless chicken thighs or breasts, cut in rough 2-inch cubes (I used both)
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus additional to taste, plus 1 1/2 teaspoons
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon curry powder
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
6 cups defatted lower-sodium chicken broth
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1 lb (about 8) slender carrots, peeled and cut in 2-inch lengths
3/4 lb white turnips or parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
1 can (16 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes
1 slender zucchini, cut into 1-inch slices
1 1/2 cups pitted prunes
3/4 cup golden raisins
3 cups raw whole-wheat couscous
1/3 cup Harissa (I used Mina brand, spicy red, from Whole Foods)

1. Heat the oil in a very large nonstick skillet. Season the chicken with 3/4 teaspoon salt and cayenne and cook over medium heat until lightly browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove to a plate, leaving drippings in the pan.
2. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, curry powder, and turmeric and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add broth, cinnamon sticks, carrots and turnips or parsnips. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and cook, covered, for 10 minutes.
3. Add chickpeas, diced tomatoes (drained), zucchini, prunes, and raisins. Return the chicken to the stew and simmer uncovered over medium heat until the vegetables are tender and chicken is no longer pink in center, about 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning; add more salt if necessary.
4. For the couscous, bring 4 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and stir in the uncooked couscous. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand until the couscous is tender and the liquid is absorbed, 5 to 6 minutes.
5. Mound the cooked couscous in the center of wide, shallow soup bowls. Spoon the chicken and vegetables around the outside of the couscous and ladle the broth over them. Serve with a dollop of Harissa in the center.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Buffalo Wings, 3 Ways

Buffalo Wings, 3 Ways is what happens when an overzealous cook last minute decided to make chicken wings for the Superbowl and in a frantic moment of indecisiveness makes not one, not two, but three kinds. I apologize that this post comes post-game day, but think of it this way: now you have next years recipe(s) 360 days early!
All of these recipes are excellent. Who knew Frank's hot sauce (and a secret ingredient, which I'll get to later) could produce such, well, awesomesauce! These wings are so sticky spicy tangy tasty that I might even start watching more sports just for an excuse to make them! Not really. But I could.

So, what's the difference between the recipes? Well, let me clarify that they are not all technically wings. In descending order of healthy (but the last one is still a much improved version to your regular fried, butter-batter wings), I'll go through each and every bouyant, melt in your mouth buffalo bite.

First up is Buffalo Cauliflower. Hold that skepticsm my friend: believe me, you will not realize these are vegetarian (and vegan and gluten-free, if desired) until you've popped at least 5 in your mouth. This recipe is a wonderful way to include vegetarians on this chicken domineered game food scene. Battered in a countryesque flour/cornmeal mix peppered with zesty spices, this coating gives the bites a substantive crunch—where they are then doused in buffalo sauce to deliver the perfect poppable punch of hot pepper. Because the flavor of hot sauce is so overpowering, the taste is really identical to buffalo wings.

Next up: Buffalo Honey Chicken Skewers. Replacing dark, fatty wing meat with lean white breast meat, these tender, well, tenders are melt in your mouth succulent and juicy; sweetened with ample honey for a twist on the regular. These little guys are super easy and quick to prepare, and while the skewers are optional, they definitely rid the possibility of sticky finger licking.

Last but not least (and most true to this post's name) is your traditional Crispy Baked Buffalo Chicken Wings. For those unwilling to budge on a the beloved classic, these guys are way healthier than the regular preparation: baked instead of fried, and substituting butter with...drumroll for my secret ingredient...almond milk! Yup, a key ingredient to each one of these "wings", almond milk delivers a fabulous healthy substitute for butter: same creamy, milky nuance; sans the bad fats.

Note: Since all these recipes really "healthy-up" the classic buffalo wing, make sure to serve each recipe with ample carrot and celery sticks. On the side, choose a blue cheese dip of your liking.

Buffalo Cauliflower Bites (adapted from Nutriton Stripped)

Serves 6


  • 3 cups raw cauliflower, cut into small bite sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk + 1 additional tablespoon
  • 1/4-1/2 cup water (more to create a thinner coating)
  • 1/2 cup red hot sauce, preferably Frank’s
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (can be GF)
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal 
  • 1 tablespoon butter (grass-fed or vegan)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • ground black pepper and sea salt

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and coat with olive oil spritzer or 2-3 tbsp olive oil.
  1. Assemble buffalo sauce: combine 1 tablespoon almond milk, hot sauce, and apple cider vinegar in a small bowl. Set aside.
  1. Assemble batter: mix flour, cornmeal, 1/4 cup almond milk, water, spices, and dash of salt and pepper into a small bowl.
  1. Dip each cauliflower floret into the batter, adding more water if you prefer a thinner batter. Lay coated florets on baking sheet in an even layer.
  1. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Then, pour buffalo sauce mixture over the bites, stirring so each cauliflower floret is coated in the sauce.
  1. Bake for another 10-15 minutes. Serve with carrot and celery sticks, and blue cheese dip of your liking.

Buffalo Honey Chicken Dippers (adapted from Epicurious)
Serves 6

12 wooden skewers (optional, can serve as finger food too)
2 tablespoons olive oil or single layer of olive oil mist
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon unsweetened almond milk
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup Frank's hot sauce, divided
1 pound chicken tenders, cut into strips
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional; use to make extra spicy)

1. If using skewers, soak skewers in water 15 minutes. Heat broiler; coat a broiler pan (or baking pan with foil) with 2 tablespoons olive oil or olive oil mist. In a bowl, stir cornstarch into 1 tablespoon hot sauce until smooth; stir in remaining hot sauce, almond milk, vinegar, honey, cayenne (optional), and dash of salt and pepper. Add chicken; toss to coat. 
2. Thread chicken lengthwise on skewers; reserve remaining hot sauce mixture.  Place chicken in pan so skewers hang off edge; cover exposed sticks with aluminum foil. (If not using skewers, place directly onto broiler pan or foil.) Broil for 4 minutes. Turn chicken; brush generously with remaining sauce. Broil until chicken is cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes.  Serve  with vegetable sticks and blue cheese dipping sauce.

Crispy Baked Buffalo Chicken Wings (adapted from Epicurious)
Makes about 30 wings


For buffalo sauce:
2 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup Frank's hot pepper sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

3 pounds chicken wings, tips removed, drumettes and flats separated
2 tablespoons olive oil oil
pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Make buffalo sauce by mixing together all six ingredients in a small bowl, set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheets with foil. Mix together wings, olive oil, and salt and pepper; spread out in a single layer on baking sheet.
3. Bake wings for 30 minutes.
4. Remove wings, brush each side generously with buffalo sauce (reserve the leftover), and increase temperature to 450°F. Bake for 15 minutes more, until cooked through and skin is crispy. 
5. Toss finished wings in remaining buffalo sauce. Serve immediately.