Chocolate & Spice

chocolate, spice and the other pleasures in life

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

When you have no time for dinner...

Today, I'm in the midst of drafting minutes for the various meetings I attended last week when the batteries in my digital recorder go flat. Hmm, seemed like a good time as any time to take a walk down to neighbouring Windsor to buy some spices for a new dish I wanted to make for dinner tonight as a treat for A, who's been busy burning the midnight and early morning oil these couple of weeks.

I decide to take the rest of the afternoon off from work to check out a couple of new shops (one is structured much like the Heeren in showcasing up and coming young Melburnian designers), buy some art supplies for my resin jewellery class on Thursday and gather supplies for tonight's dinner and baking sessions for the rest of the week.

I wander down to a now favourite haunt along Chapel Street called Flavours, Herbs and Spices, which stocks a veritable Aladdin's cave of spices, herbs and spice mixes as well as a host of enticing kitchenware, supplies and linen for the perfect hostess. I'm looking for a Moroccan spice mix, ras-el-hanout, as well as ordinary spices such as ground cinnamon, saffron and nutmeg. FHS' owner, Victoria, suggests "Meera's ras-el-hanout", compounded and mixed specially for local Melburnian chef/culinary teacher, Meera Freeman (who's well known for her Moroccan cooking classes), which comprises a ground mix of cinnamon, cardamom, cassia, allspice, nutmeg, turmeric, long, cubeb and black pepper, coriander, mace, grains of paradise (what is this?) rosebuds and ginger. I quickly spot the rest of the spices I came for and leave with a nice bag of goodies before I start poking around Victoria's lovely shop and buy yet another linen towel/apron from the Mozi range.
My buys from Flavours Herbs Spices

Having the afternoon off also means that I'm like a loony woman back home trying to unpack my stuff in the kitchen, defrost the chicken parts and check my BlackBerry to see if I've received any emails from the office. Darn… the first set of minutes have been formatted and I've got comments on my second set of minutes so it's another couple of hours taking care of everything before I surface to see that it's 815pm!

Time to get on with the spiced chicken with the ras-el-hanout mix and tomato and carrot couscous! Tonight sees a couple of firsts - the first time I'm working with cous cous and the first time I'm doing anything vaguely Moroccan. For some reason, I've never tried Moroccan cooking or even making cous cous although most of their dishes seems easy enough with all that stewing going on. Maybe it was the use of apricots in their dishes which grossed me out a little - me and my compartmentalised taste buds where savoury dishes should be savoury, spicy dishes apropos but a savoury dish with fruity twinges does send a little shiver down my spine. Strangely I don't mind this combination when it comes to pate & terrines though!

Anyway, since I've always been avowedly (as is my Italiano-phile and Franco-phile girlfriend, T) pro-Italian cuisine to date, I've sadly neglected trying dishes from the other side of the Mediterranean. By the end of the evening, I'm wondering why I haven't gone out and purchased a tagine before - cous cous and Moroccan food isn't so difficult and it's definitely tasty! (Alright so maybe my spiced chicken isn't really a Moroccan dish but I used a Moroccan spice mix!)

Tonight's dinner is an exercise in simplicity and makes an appearance in time for A's return around 9pm.

Spiced Chicken

I decide I want crispy chicken for tonight instead of making a stew (too much time!). Toss chicken parts in a plastic bag holding 4 tablespoons of plain flour mixed with 2 tablespoons of ras-el-hanout and a couple of pinches of salt. Once the chicken parts are evenly floured, bung them into a preheated oven of 220'C to crisp the skin for 10 minutes and then lower the temperature to 190'C for about 15 more minutes. Squeeze a lemon over and it's ready to go.

Cous cous

Prepare cous cous enough for 2 persons according to the instructions on the package. Fluff the grains with a fork and toss in a cube of butter and reheat over low heat for 1 minute. Add a handful of shredded carrots, diced tomatoes, the juice of 1 lemon, finely chopped parsley and coriander and some ground black pepper and mix well. Uunfortunately, with the amount I had to carry today, I had completely forgotten to get the coriander and parsley.

**You won't believe the appetizing smells emanating from the spiced chicken when its had its blast in the oven! It looks a little like Colonel Sander's Original Recipe but tastes way way waaaaaayyyyy better. Taking no longer than 45 minutes (prep and cooking time), tonight's dinner is perfect for those nights when you don't have a lot of time to whip up something fancy and yet want something healthy, light but filling.

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