Thursday, April 9, 2009

A recap and some recommendations

So, clearly I haven't been doing enough playing in the kitchen recently! But this is set to change... First though, a recap of other (significant) things that have happened.

New house!
I moved house (again) in January. I knew as soon as I stepped into the kitchen that I wanted to live here: it is gorgeous, big enough to hold a table for six, overlooking a garden, has a larder containing (I kid you not) shelves of neatly hand-labelled kilner jars and .... drum-roll... a bright red KitchenAid mixer! Fortunately, the offer I had made on the rent for another, tiny, tiny one-bedroom flat was sneered at by the owner, and so I was off the hook and free to move in here. I also have a lovely new flatmate, the writer of the afore-mentioned labels and owner of the wonderful KitchenAid, who has chosen the same crockery and tableware as me, was listening to BBC Radio 4 the first time I came around and jazz the second time and thinks that coming back from holiday laden down with cake tins, cookie cutters, jars of spices and sundry other food-related items is perfectly normal - my kind of woman. The first week after I moved in we baked 6 items between us... Well, it was my birthday! And when we combined my store-cupboard with hers, we had enough sugar, of just about all different kinds, to open our own sweet shop, so the baking was obligatory.

Moroccan cook book
After moving in to my new place, I wanted the remainder of my belongings back - they had been residing with my grandmother since November. Thus, my parents came round for lunch one Sunday with their two current foster children and a car full of my things. Not all my things, note, as there were four people in the car, but that is a different issue... So: Sunday lunch? I wanted something that would sit in the oven so I could get on with my morning and not worry about what time people would arrive. And also not too heavy, as they had to drive home again after, and a stodge-induced torpor would not be conducive to road safety. But, on the other hand, I was feeding my father: there had to be meat. Lots of it. So I consulted my flatmate's cookery books (mine being absent until the guests arrived), one of which is The Moroccan Collection by Hilaire Walden. Unsurprisingly, there are a number of lamb recipes in here, and I made the lamb tagine with chickpeas and raisins (with a couple of changes - I left out the potatoes and, I think, reduced the quantity of shallots too) and served a pile of couscous with toasted almonds and pinenuts alongside. It was fabulous!

And then not long after moving in, I had a dinner party: eight people round the table for six - good times! I might post more about the full menu later, but here I shall just note that I went for another recipe from the same book: stuffed baked lamb. And again, it was a triumph! A boned leg of lamb is stuffed with a combination of couscous, spices, pinenuts and flaked almonds, onion, herbs and raisins. I roasted a pile of vegetables (squash, fennel, sweet potato, etc.) and steamed some green beans, and I think everyone went home more than sated. If you like aromatically spiced, balanced and surprisingly simple-to-make food, you might like to try this book out.

Morocco itself!
I went to Morocco! Skiing was cancelled, and I had vacation to use before the end of March, and so I went to Morocco, on an Atlas Adventure. The first five days were walking in the Atlas, through the most gorgeous landscapes I've ever seen, stopping each night in Berber villages which looked as though they were about to tumble down the mountainside. We were accompanied by 2 local guides, one cook, three muleteers and four donkeys. We'd walk with the guides until lunchtime, when we'd arrive in a shady, cool spot to find a ground-sheet laid out with cushions along either side ready for us. They'd be mint tea, and then a fabulous lunch all cooked from fresh with piles of beautifully chopped and presented salad, bread, some sort of carbohydrate (pasta, rice...) and a delicious sauce or stew of vegetables, pulses and spices. We'd finish with fresh fruit and more mint tea, then have a snooze or talk and play games or just commune with nature for about another hour, and then set off again to our evening accommodation. Where there would be more fresh food and tea and laughter. It was wonderful - if you get the chance: go!

And since I am returning in three weeks, I might see you there! But before then, I shall be trying to keep the holiday feeling alive by cooking with the argan oil I brought home with me, and trying to recreate Hallimore's creations (though I am sceptical whether it is possible to do so without a donkey nearby)...

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