Strawberry Cake and TasteFood News

strawberry cake tastefoodIt’s almost summer, and we deserve cake.

I am so excited to share with you 2 pieces of good news about TasteFood. It’s been a little quiet here on the blog lately, in large part due to 3 book projects I’ve been busy working on. I am happy to announce that the first book The Little Pink Book of Rosé, is now available for pre-order! It’s a light and sparkly little gift book, filled with quips, quotes and fun facts about rosé (my favorite summer wine), as well as 20 sweet, savory, and drinkable rosé recipes which I developed.

Now for the second piece of big news: As of June 8, TasteFood will be a syndicated weekly column coming to a newspaper near you! This means that you will be able to read TasteFood in many of your local papers throughout the U.S. each week. The column will run separate recipes from the blog, so you can continue to followTasteFood here for new recipes, while reading another set of recipes and stories in your local newspaper. Once the dust settles, I’ll be developing a newsletter that will tie in news about my cookbooks, blog, and column. Finally and most importantly, I would love to hear from you!  Leave a comment, ask questions, let me know about recipes, cuisines, or cooking topics you would like to read about, either here on the blog or the email address provided in my column – your feedback is highly valued!

So, now it’s time for cake…

Strawberry Cake

While nothing beats fresh sun-sweetened strawberries, au natural or swiped through a dollop of whipped cream, put aside a pint or two to make this simple cake. It’s light and simple, gently sweetened and generously studded with as many strawberries you can fit. I halved the jumbo-sized strawberries in the pictured cake, but recommend quartering them if very large, so they’ll begin to break down while baking, making a luscious juicy mess. Serves 6 to 8.

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest, divided
1 pound strawberries, halved – or quartered if very large

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180C). Butter a 9-inch (23cm) pie or gratin dish.
2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
3. Combine the butter and the 3/4 cup sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in the egg, buttermilk, vanilla and almond extracts, and 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Add the flour and mix to thoroughly combine without over-mixing. 4. Pour  the batter into the prepared dish and spread evenly. Arrange the strawberries, cut-sides down, on top of the batter, gently pressing to partially submerge. Squeeze in as many strawberries as possible – it’s ok to be greedy – and reserve the rest for serving. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the 1 tablespoon sugar.
5. Bake the cake until the top is light golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes clean, about 1 hour. Transfer to a wire rack and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Cool slightly and serve lukewarm or at room temperature with whipped cream and extra strawberries (if you haven’t already eaten them!)

Easy Grilled Broccoli and Carrots

broccoli carrots

In a matter of a few weeks our farmers market has transformed into the vegetarian equivalent of a candy store. New leaves, baby shoots and spring bulbs are on display in miniature form as their growing season is in full force. In general, I like my veggies cooked simply, and at this time of year their freshness demands it. All that’s needed is a quick steam, saute, or a turn on the grill and you will have a simple and delicious side to any meal.

Broccoli and carrots pretty much sum up the ingredient list for this veggie side I made recently – plus a pinch salt and splash of olive oil for good measure. Everything converged on the grill, which in itself is another ingredient to the dish, adding char to complete the flavor profile. On the grill? Yes, if you are careful and lay the vegetables perpendicular to the grates to prevent them from slipping through. Better yet, if you have a cast iron skillet (which you should), preheat the skillet (or a griddle) on the grill, then sear the vegetables until they wilt and char, and you are good to go. Vegetables simply never tasted so good.

Grilled Broccolini and Carrots
Serves 4 to 6 as a simple side dish

1 pound baby broccoli (broccolini), ends trimmed
1 pound baby carrots, trimmed, halved lengthwise if thick
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Prepare a grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat. If using a skillet or griddle, preheat on the grill for 10 minutes.
2. Place the vegetables in a large bowl. Drizzle with 1 to 2 tablespoons oil – just enough to coat without soaking – and lightly season with salt, then turn to coat.
3. Lay the vegetables perpendicular to the grill grates (or spread in the skillet) and cook until bright in color, crisp-tender, and lightly charred, turning as needed, about 5 minutes, depending on thickness of the stalks.
4. Transfer to a serving bowl and season with additional salt and black pepper, if desired.  Serve warm.
5. Other options: sprinkle crushed red pepper flakes over for a nice bite and drizzle with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice before serving.

Beef and Guinness Chili with Black Beans and Barley

bison chili tastefood

Winter and the Superbowl demand a hefty bowl of chili, and this recipe will surely do the trick. Loaded with beef, black beans and barley, the key to this thick and rich stew is a heady tomato stock fortified with chipotles and stout beer. While you shouldn’t tinker too much with the aromatics, do feel free to adjust the meat and grains. The beef chuck can easily be switched out with turkey, chicken, or pork – or entirely omitted for a vegetarian option (just double up on the beans instead). I like to add barley to the mix – it adds great texture and extra nutrients. Other whole grains such as farro or freekah can be substituted as well.

Beef and Guinness Chili with Black Beans and Barley
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large poblano pepper, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 to 3 chiles in adobo, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
8 ounces stout beer, such as Guinness
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1  cup pre-cooked black beans (or 1 [15-ounce] can black beans, drained and rinsed)
1 cup pre-cooked barley (I used purple heritage) – optional

Optional garnishes:
Sliced jalapeño pepper, cilantro leaves, crumbled cotija cheese, chopped red onion

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Add to the pot in batches and brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate.
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the same pot. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until softened without coloring, about 3 minutes. Add the peppers and saute until brightened in color, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chiles in adobo, the chili powder, cumin, and paprika and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
3. Return the beef to the pot and add the tomatoes, stout, tomato paste, bay leaves, brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning and add more sugar or salt if desired. Stir in the black beans and barley and continue to simmer for 10 more minutes.
4. Ladle the chili into serving bowls. Serve with the garnishes for sprinkling.

Kimchi Soup with Shiitakes, Tofu and Kale

kimchi-soup-tastefood

I won’t say this soup is authentic, but it does take inspiration from a Korean Ramen-style bowl, while I improvised with what-was-in-my-kitchen ingredients. It also nipped my craving for a healthy, warm and spicy soup on a rainy day.  You can see there are no ramen noodles in the soup – I had a package of udon noodles ready to use, but the soup was so densely packed with vegetables, I didn’t see the need to add them (but add them if you wish!) What I did include are gochugang and kimchi, 2 traditional Korean ingredients that are essential to the flavor of the soup. Gochugang is a fermented soy bean and hot pepper paste, which is available in Asian and specialty stores and the international  section of well-stocked supermarkets. It’s a murky, spicy and slightly sweet paste which adds umami-rich depth of flavor to any dish it graces. Think of it as miso with a kick of heat. Kimchi is fermented cabbage and other vegetables such as daikon and scallions – kind of a Korean cole slaw – boldly flavored with the likes of fish sauce, red pepper, ginger, and garlic, all of which contribute heat and a fiery tint to the soup broth. Again, kimchi is available in well-stocked supermarkets and health food stores. The shiitakes are also essential to this soup, as the mushrooms impart deep flavor to the broth. Feel free to substitute or add other vegetables such as spinach, broccolini, and bok choy.

Kimchi Soup with Shiitakes, Tofu, and Kale

If you are using udon noodles or ramen noodles, pre-cook them and add to the soup before serving. Serves 2 to 4.

2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil, divided
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, trimmed, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon peeled grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup kimchi, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons kimchi juice
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon gochugang (fermented hot pepper paste)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 small bunch kale, tough ribs removed, leaves coarsely chopped
8 ounces soft tofu, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 red chile pepper, thinly sliced

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until they soften, turn golden brown and begin to release their juices, stirring frequently. Remove the mushrooms and set aside.
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil and the onion to the same pot over medium heat and sauté until the onion begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the carrot and sauté until bright in color and crisp tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the kimchi and kimchi juice and sauté 1 minute, then add the stock, soy sauce, gochugang, sesame oil, and sugar.
3. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in the kale and continue to simmer until the kale wilts, about 2 more minutes, stirring frequently. Return the mushrooms to the soup, gently stir in the tofu, and simmer until just heated through.
4. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the scallions and chile.

 

Danish Hygge and Meatballs

meatball-wraps-tastefood

Scandinavian Meatball Lettuce Wraps

It’s Winter, a New Year, and uncertain times, and with that convergence, we all need some hygge right now. You might have heard or seen this Danish word: Hygge is making a splash beyond its Nordic borders – a catchy, albeit linguistically challenging word, pronounced “WHO-geh.” Its meaning transcends borders, articulating an intrinsic notion of comfort, warmth and coziness. It’s not so much an object as it is a state of being. Hygge (or its adjective hyggelig) can refer to a gathering, a meal, a conversation, or simply a collective moment, enhanced by good will and simple yet pleasurable things such as flickering candles, fleecy blankets, a cup of tea, an uplifting conversation, or delicious food. Hygge is nondenominational, nonjudgemental, undemanding, and egalitarian. No wonder it’s the It-Girl of words these days. We all need a dose of it.

Which brings me to meatballs.

If there is any food group that evokes inter-generational and international comfort, it’s meatballs. Not only do they simply taste great, meatballs are in nearly every cuisine and enjoyed by children and adults alike. Your mother likely made meatballs and so did her mother. As with many rustic cuisines, meatballs are an economical means to stretch inexpensive cuts of meat (and beans, legumes, and grains for that matter), by jumbling the ingredients together with herbs and spices, and braising them in rich and robust sauces and stews, ladling them over noodles, swiping them in dipping sauces, and piling them into double-fisted sandwiches. There is a recipe for everyone and every preference, and bets are that you’ve been nibbling on meatballs since you were old enough to wrap your fingers around them. So, while I cannot light you a fire and or knit you mittens, I can at least share a few meatball recipes with you, and wish you a hyggelig meal.

Lamb Meatballs tastefood

Braised Lamb and Feta Meatballs

merguez tastefood

Moroccan Merguez Patties with Couscous Salad

meatball marinara tastefood

Smothered Meatballs Marinara

turkey meatballs

Asian Turkey Meatballs with Sweet and Sour Sauce

Grilled Cheese and Chutney Sandwich

grilled-cheese-chutney-tastefood

I like to call this a grilled ploughman’s sandwich. I lived in England for a few years, and of the many fond memories I have from that experience, a simple one is the Ploughman’s Lunch – the ubiquitous pub meal which is essentially a cheese board. It’s a presentation that’s refreshingly basic – and delicious, a satisfying and delightfully hearty combination of slabs of sharp cheese (usually aged cheddar), a dollop of spicy-sweet-savory chutney (or pickle), smears of piquant mustard, and wedges of fresh fruit (often apple), heaped on a platter with thick slices of country-style bread. Ready to assemble and devour to your taste.

I used the ploughman’s lunch as inspiration for this grilled cheese sandwich, essentially layering all of the traditional ingredients into a double-fisted melty sandwich, oozing cheese and balanced with fresh greens, crisp fruit, and a homemade apple-chile chutney similar to piccalli, which is the English version of Indian spiced pickles. Happy New Year!

apple chutney tastefood

Ploughman’s Grilled Cheese with Apple Chile Chutney

Makes one hefty sandwich

2 slices sourdough or ciabatta bread, cut 1/2-inch thick
Salted butter, softened
2 ounces coarsely grated aged hard cheese, such as sharp Cheddar or Gruyere
Red onion slices
Thinly sliced apple, such as Granny Smith or Fuji
Baby kale leaves or arugula
2 tablespoons Apple Chile Chutney (recipe below)

Butter one side of each bread slice. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add one bread slice to the skillet, butter-side down. Mound the cheese evenly over the bread. Cover the pan and cook until the cheese is mostly melted, 2 to 3 minutes. Place a layer of onion over the cheese, then top with apple slices and kale leaves. Spread 1 to 2 spoonfuls of chutney over the kale, but not entirely to the edges. Place the second bread slice over the chutney, butter side up. Using a spatula, carefully flip the sandwich and gently press down. Cover the skillet and cook until the cheese is thoroughly melted and the bread is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and cut in half. Eat immediately.

Apple Chile Chutney

Add a mix of mild and hot chile peppers for flavor and heat. I used a red jalapeño and sweet Hungarian and Gypsy peppers in this batch. Makes about 2 cups.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion chopped
2 to 3 red chile peppers, depending on size and heat, stemmed and seeded, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons grated peeled ginger, with juices
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the chutney thickens, about 20 minutes. Cool completely, then transfer to a jar and refrigerate. The chutney will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Comfort Food Necessities: Braised Short Ribs with Red Wine

short-rib-braise-tastefood

It’s the time of year when we need a recipe like this: A pot of slow cooked, melt-in-your mouth, braised short ribs, blanketed in a rich, fortified, and deeply spiced sauce, evoking warmth, heat, and comfort. You can say it’s due to the climate, the holiday season, or even current events, but this braise will satisfy your craving and smooth your mood, focusing your attention solely on the task of digging into this heart (and belly) warming stew, one spoonful at a time.

I make variations of this recipe under the guise of other comfort-food terms, such as Beef Bourguignon and Irish Stew. The ingredients shift slightly, but the principle is the same: Braising chunks of meat by first thoroughly browning them in a pan, then submerging the pieces into an aromatic stock of broth and wine, before banishing the whole lot to the oven for a couple of hours to simmer, marinate, and acquiesce into fork tender morsels swimming in a heady concoction of heat and spirits. The key is time and patience, which, frankly, is a rewarding exercise in itself. Ideally, you will exert even more time and patience in this process, and begin making this dish one day in advance of serving. This way, the stew can chill overnight, further intensifying the flavor, while allowing the persnickety fat to rise to the top of the stew so that it can be deftly removed the following day before rewarming.

This short rib recipe is a favorite, with a rich and smoky sauce  spiked with the heat of chipotle, and balanced by nuggets of sweet carrot, onion, and baby turnips. I made it recently and captured the photo with my iPhone – we were too famished and greedy to wait for me to fiddle with a camera before tucking in.

Red Wine and Chipotle Braised Short Ribs

Serves 4 to 6.

Dry rub:
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 pounds short ribs, cut into 3-inch pieces

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 (750 ml) bottle heavy-bodied red wine
1/4 cup chipotles in adobo, chopped with juices
1 bay leaf
2 cups beef stock (or chicken stock)

2 large carrots, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch slices
8 ounces pearl or small cippoline onions, peeled
1 bunch baby (Tokyo) turnips, trimmed and scrubbed (optional)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoon light brown sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Braise:
1. Combine the dry rub spices in a small bowl. Arrange the ribs on a rimmed baking tray. Rub the spices all over the ribs. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour (or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before browning).
2. Preheat the oven to 300°F.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. In batches without crowding the pan, brown the ribs on all sides, about 8 minutes. (This step is very important, so take the time to do it well). Transfer to a plate or bowl and repeat with the remaining ribs.
4. Drain off the fat from the pot. Add 1 tablespoon oil, the onion, and garlic and sauté over medium heat until softened without coloring, about 3 minutes, stirring up the brown bits in the pan with a wooden spoon.
5. Add the cumin, paprika, and coriander and cook, stirring, just until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add the tomato paste and stir to create a nice slurry.
6. Add the wine, chipotles, and bay leaf and return the ribs and any collected juices to the pot. Pour in the stock. If the ribs are not completely covered with the liquid, add more stock or wine to top off the ribs. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven and braise until the ribs are very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring every hour or so.
7. Remove the pot from the oven. Uncover and let the braise cool slightly. At this point you can remove the bones and cut away any gristle from the ribs or proceed with the bones intact – it’s up to you and how you like to serve the ribs. Return the meat to the pot, then cover and refrigerate overnight. (This step is helpful because it will allow the fat to congeal on the top of the stew, which can be easily removed the next day, while allowing the flavors to develop overnight. Alternatively, proceed with Step 2 of the finishing process and skim fat with a spoon while the sauce reduces.)

Finish:
1. At least 1 hour before serving, remove the pot from the refrigerator and lift off the layer of fat on the surface of the stew.
2. Sauté the carrots, onions, and turnips (if using) in 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat until they are crisp tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Lightly season with salt.
3. Gently reheat the braise over medium-low heat until the stock is liquid enough to remove the ribs. Carefully remove the ribs from the sauce and arrange in a baking dish.
4. Bring the sauce to a boil and simmer over medium heat until reduced by about half and thickened to a rich sauce consistency, 10 to 15 minutes. Return the beef to the pot and add the vegetables, vinegar, and sugar. Simmer until thoroughly heated, 5 to 7 minutes and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately or keep warm until serving.

Holiday Baking: Orange Cardamom Olive Oil Cake

orange-olive-oil-cake-lynda-balslev

Orange Cardamom Olive Oil Cake
Almonds and Gran Marnier

This light and moist cake will carry you through the holidays. Redolent with orange, cardamom, and almonds, and slightly spiked with Gran Marnier, it’s delicious for tea and spiffy enough for dessert. The sea salt is optional in the glaze, but if you lean that way, go for it. The flavors of the cake will develop while it cools and the glaze will ensure long lasting moistness. Store the cake at room temperature for up to 3 days, but it’s unlikely it will go uneaten that long.

Cake:
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest, from an untreated orange
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup almond meal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 teaspoon salt

Glaze:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon Gran Marnier or Cointreau
Pinch of sea salt

Optionals:
Powdered sugar
Whipped cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan lined with parchment.
2. Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until light in color. Add the olive oil, orange juice, zest, vanilla and almond extract and stir to blend.
3. Combine the flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, and salt in a separate bowl. Add to the wet ingredients, stirring to blend without over-mixing. Pour into the prepared pan.
4. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes clean, about 45 minutes.
5. While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze. Combine the sugar and  orange juice in a small saucepan. Simmer until the sugar dissolves and the liquid reduces to a syrupy consistency, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the Gran Marnier and sea salt and simmer 1 minute, stirring frequently.
6. Transfer the cake from the oven to a wire rack. Brush the top with the glaze and cool 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan, then brush the cake on the sides with the glaze. Cool completely.
7. Serve dusted with confectioners sugar and/or with a dollop whipped cream. If desired, add a tablespoon of the (thoroughly cooled) glaze to the cream while whipping. .

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Apricots and Chickpeas

lamb tagine

This lamb stew is inspired by a traditional Moroccan meat and vegetable tagine and Mrouzia, a rich celebratory stew sweetened with fruit and honey. I have scaled the sweetness back, reducing the honey (or brown sugar in this case) and relying on dried apricots, which  melt into the stock while simmering to provide subtle sweetness. The meat can be rubbed with the spices and cooked straight away, but if you have the time, rub the meat the night before preparing and refrigerate. The longer the meat can sit with the spices, the deeper the flavor.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Apricots and Chickpeas

This recipe includes ras el hanout, which is an important spice blend in North African cuisine. It means “top of the shop” and includes a laundry list of aromatic and piquant spices, a combination which will vary from kitchen to kitchen, cook to cook. You can purchase ras el hanout in specialty stores or well-stocked supermarkets. Serves 6.

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2  to 3 pounds lamb shoulder or leg, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 (14-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
2 to 3 cups chicken stock
12 dried unsulphured apricots (or dried figs), halved
1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons ras el hanout
1 large carrot, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
Harissa or red chili paste, optional
Fresh cilantro sprigs

1. Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, the coriander, cumin, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl and mix to form a paste. Place the lamb in a large bowl and rub the paste all over the meat. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour or refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven or oven proof pot with lid over medium-high heat. Add the lamb in batches and brown on all sides, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Transfer the lamb to a plate or bowl and repeat with remaining lamb.
3. Pour off the fat and add 1 tablespoon oil and the onion to the same pot. Sauté the onion over medium heat until softened, about 2 minutes, stirring up the brown bits. Add the garlic, ginger, and red chili flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, 2 cups chicken stock, the apricots, cinnamon stick, ras el hanout, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.  Return the lamb and any collected juices to the pot and submerge in the stock. (Add more chicken stock to cover, if necessary.) Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and transfer to the oven and cook until the lamb is tender, about 2 hours, stirring once or twice.
4. Transfer the pot to the stovetop and stir in the carrots and chickpeas. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat until the carrots are tender and the sauce reduces and thickens to a stew consistency, about 20 minutes, skimming the fat as much as possible. Stir in the brown sugar and taste for seasoning. If more heat is desired, stir in a few teaspoons of harissa.
5. Serve warm, ladled over couscous and garnish with cilantro.

Warm Wild Rice Salad with Dried Fruit and Nuts

Rice Stuffing

I am just going to come out and say it: I am not a fan of turkey stuffing (or dressing), and neither is my family. Whenever I make stuffing, it sits uneaten at the Thanksgiving table, before banishment to the refrigerator, labeled “leftover,” where it continues to sit for days, forlorn, neglected, and, frankly, wasteful. So, now I don’t make a stuffing for our turkey. Instead, I jam bunches of fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, and sage, as well as wedges of lemon or orange in the cavity to provide aroma and moisture while the turkey roasts. For serving, I provide potatoes and a grain dish to balance and fill out the feast. This rice salad is always a hit. It’s a great gluten-free starch substitute for stuffing, and the dried fruit and nuts stud the rice like festive jewelry, providing a pretty addition to the holiday table. Feel free to mix up the fruit and nuts, substituting raisins, chopped prunes, dried figs, walnuts or hazelnuts. For a vegetarian option, substitute vegetable stock or water for the chicken stock.

Wild Rice with Dried Fruit and Pecans

Serves 6.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 ½ cups wild rice or wild rice blend
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup chopped dried apricots
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
½ cup chopped Italian parsley leaves

Heat the oil in a medium pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots and saute until they begin to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rice and garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, thyme, salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer until the rice is tender but not mushy, about 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the  dried fruit and pecans while fluffing the rice with a fork. Let stand, partially covered,  for 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve warm.