So after a long hiatus I've caught the blogging bug again. Over the past eight months there were so many times I could have posted - but for some reason the thought of sitting at my computer and writing when I didn't actually "have" to was a daunting task. I attribute it to post graduation syndrome - where why the heck would I ever want to write something that in any way shape or form resembled a paper if I didn't have to. Thankfully enough time has passed that I'm over it and ready to start again.
And what a way to start than with the discovery of my new favorite spice blend! Those of you who know me know that I have a complete and absolute obsession with Top Chef. In Season Four, Richard Blaise (who's now on this season's All Star version) kept using a spice blend called "Ras El Hanout". In multiple dishes he kept mentioning it and, intrigued as I was, I began doing a little research. Essentially, ras el hanout is a Moroccan spice blend that reminded me in many ways to the Indian garam masala. There seem to be as many versions of the blend as there are individual households with the number of spices involved ranging from 9 to 99 and more. Over the past few months I have tried a few different varieties, from Kalustyan's here in NYC as well as a few I've ordered from various sites on the internet. Recently I decided I'd try to make my own simple version and I think I came up with a winner (for my own purposes anyway).
I looked at a number of recipes and from there decided on the spice blend that I'd try. Here's what I came up with:
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds - toasted and crushed in a mortar and pestle (but mainly b/c I didn't have ground coriander or I would have used that)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
I combined all of the spices together and then started the rest of dinner. I pulled the skin off of a package of chicken legs and thighs and gave them a good rub with the spice blend. Onto a baking a sheet that I lined with foil and sprayed with Pam and into a preheated 400 degree oven. Meanwhile I broke down a head of cauliflower into small florets, tossed it with some olive oil and another sprinkle of the ras el hanout. Onto another baking sheet (also foil lined for easy cleanup) and into the same oven to roast. Roasted cauliflower gets so incredibly sweet and delicious that I can eat the whole head without thinking about it. Its a long way from the steamed cauliflower my mom used to give us once in a while (oof did I hate that - Sorry Mom....).
While the chicken and cauliflower did their stuff in the oven, I prepared a quick side of whole wheat Israeli couscous (much bigger pearls than your standard couscous) with fresh herbs. I sauteed up a small onion in a tablespoon of olive oil, and then added in a cup of couscous and let it toast quickly. To that pan I added about 1 1/4 cups of chicken stock and slowly let the whole thing simmer, giving it a stir every once in a while. While that cooked I chopped up a good handful each of parsley and cilantro. When the couscous was done I stirred in the herbs and about 1/4 cup of slivered almonds for a little crunch.
After 45 minutes the chicken and cauliflower were done, the kitchen smelled amazing and I was starving! (I should also mention I started this whole thing way too late in the evening so it was about 10PM at this point and I was starving!) I served myself one thigh, one leg, a good scoop of the couscous and some cauliflower. It looked beautiful and everything went together beautifully. The cayenne in the ras el hanout gave the chicken the perfect zing to just warm you up on a cold winters night.
My favorite thing about that dinner was not only that it was delicious but that it was really good for you too. Minimal added fat, whole grains, lean proteins and vegetables with enough flavor to leave you completely satisfied. I don't know how long this whole healthy eating kick will last, but as long as I keep coming up with meals like this, I think it might be a while! Happy and Healthy Eating Kids!