Yesterday, I happened across a blog post on Romance Junkies by author Louisa Edwards, who was doing a blog tour for her new book, On the Steamy Side. Her previous release, Can't Stand the Heat, has been in my TBR pile since I heard about it a couple of months ago. But On the Steamy Side is new out, just a couple of weeks ago, so I'll probably post a review of that when I finish reading it.
Anyway, this gets me to the topic of the week: Foodie Romances. I've seen several out lately. I'm working on one of my own. Several writing friends have expressed an interest in them. Due to the amazing success of the Food Network, and shows like Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares and Top Chef, I think many more people are starting to look at food in a different light. Food as a way of life.
So this week, I'm going to dedicate my blog to foodies, foodie resources, recipes, foodie romances, and food as a way of life. I'm going to post some of my favorite recipes, give you links to books I've read that I love, suggest books for you to read and review for me (haha... I can't do all the work here...), talk about my favorite celebrity chefs, and my favorite food shows. There might be a lot of posts this week, or I might have to extend my tribute to food for longer than a week. But I look forward to it.
Now, I've been a foodie my whole life. I used to run my own cafe. I adore cooking, and I love to try new recipes. On the Romance Junkies post, I posted about two of my favorite go-to recipes from my own kitchen. And I got to thinking: we don't do this enough. Share recipes. Sure, there are a million sites online where you can go and look at recipes other people have come up with. But since I've been following foodie blogs, I realize that it's important to get recipes from people you know can cook, who have tried the recipes themselves and had some success with them.
Last summer, I tried a Rachael Ray recipe (for Pumpkin Curry--which, let's face it, sounds amazing). The recipe on the Food Network website gave mixed reviews. I figured... why not? I'll just try it. I go to the Food Network website for most of my new recipes and have had relative success with them. So I just started cooking. I got far enough into the sauce to know that it was going to be a complete flop, and had to doctor it up myself with whatever I could find. Suffice to say, I may post my doctored-up version someday, but that recipe will never make it on my list of great food you must eat immediately.
I tell that story to say this: Rachael Ray has a show. She's expected to be creative and engaging on television. She is fun and exciting and I LOVE her. But not all of her recipes taste good. That's not a problem for me. I'd much rather have one in every four (or five or three or ten or whatever) taste like donkey fur than not have the recipes available at all. So, big fan of the Food Network. This is not a dis on Rachael Ray. It is an explanation of why I will only be posting recipes for food that I've tried to make.
So without further ado, here is my first addition to my foodie blog of the week. One of my favorite recipes in the known universe: Ras El Hanout Stew. It's a peanut-chicken stew. I serve it slightly on the thick side because I like it that way. You can also reduce the amount of water/stock you put in and serve it over rice if you prefer it to be more like a curry. But it's meant to be a chicken stew. It's a recipe that a Moroccan friend gave me. The name Ras El Hanout is like "Curry". It's a spice blend that's used extensively in North African cooking. So every spice blend will be slightly different. I tweaked his recipe slightly to make it have a bit more punch. I also like to use cardamom and coriander to give it a bit more of a sweet flavor. Anyway, without further ado, here it is:
(a side-note about the chicken: I often mix in chicken breast tenders with the thighs, that way you get the flavor of the thighs, but the more meaty chunks of the breast meat, as well... I would cut the breast meat into larger chunks than the thighs, so you can get a nice meaty portion on the spoon... but that is completely subjective... also, when you're slicing/dicing your veggies, just make all the pieces roughly the same size... that way, they cook evenly, and everything is on the spoon in relative balance. because it's a stew, I generally go with a bit bigger pieces, but you can do whatever works for you)
Ras El Hanout Stew
2 T butter
1 T olive oil
4 cups chicken stock
1 lbs chicken thigh meat (you can also use chicken breasts, but the thighs have more flavor)
3 cloves minced garlic (about 3 T if you have pre-minced garlic)
1 red bell pepper
2 t. cumin (ground)
2 t. black pepper (1 when you put in the chicken, 1 with other spices)
2 t. red pepper flakes
2 t. salt (1 when you put in the chicken, 1 with other spices)
1 t. cardamom
1 t. coriander
1 t. cinnamon1 t. nutmeg
1 1/2 cup peanut butter
I do mine in a crock pot, so I start off with the chicken and 2 cups of chicken stock, garlic, 1 t. salt, and 1 t. black pepper. Leave it in there for about 1 hour on high heat. Then I add the rest of the veggies, all the spices, and the rest of the chicken stock, and let that cook for about two more hours on high. Then, I add the peanut butter (which you have to mix in quite well), and let it cook for an additional hour. Check the vegetables to make sure they're cooked to your preferences, and then serve. I usually serve it as is, but you can reduce the chicken stock (remember, not a lot of liquid will get cooked out if you use a crock pot... not like cooking on the stove) when you put it in, if you want a thicker sauce to serve over rice.
The only drawback to the crock pot is you can't really taste the developing flavors. Granted, I learned to do it this way by doing it on the stove first. If you want to do it on the stove, start with the chicken, garlic, salt, and pepper. Brown the chicken for a bit, then put it aside. In a stock pot, put the onions, garlic, carrots, and pepper in the juices from the chicken, and let them cook for about 5 minutes, stirring to prevent burning. Add the stock, all the spices, the peanut butter, and the chicken. Bring to a simmer, and let simmer for about 30 minutes. This will give you the opportunity to taste the flavors as they develop, and decide whether you like the food to be as spicy as it is. Ras el hanout is a spicy (not necessarily a hot, but a complex spicy) dish. You can control the heat level, mostly, by controlling how much of the crushed red pepper flakes you add. But if you cook it on the stove, you can adjust the spices as necessary by only adding a bit at a time, and then stopping when you think you've reached the blend you want. I would suggest just making it as it is, because it's just that good... but not everyone has my taste palate, either. :-)
On a side note: I have also seen "Ras El Hanout" flavor mixtures in spice stores. The flavors will be similar (although I don't to turmeric or cloves in mine, which are common in Ras El Hanout mixtures that you might find made by a good North African cook). I picked one up at World Market once that was actually quite good. If you don't have all these spices on hand, but still want to try it, I suggest going to World Market and trying to find one of their individual packets of the spice mixture on its own. Then, of course, once you love it, go and buy all those spices for yourself and get cooking!!
So what about you? Have you ever had peanut chicken dishes before? What do you think of them? If you've been to my house (or been somewhere where I've made this before) and had this dish, what did you think of it? What is your favorite chicken dish that you've ever had before?