November 10, 2017

Dear friends,

At a dull dinner once I eyed the people at my table and zeroed in on two elderly women who had arrived together. They had been friends for decades, one confided. “What is the craziest thing you two have done together?” I asked. The conversation took off. Our table became so rowdy we drew glances of envy from around the room.

If you’re very lucky you have an old friend like that — one who is part of so many memories she’s like your other self. For me it’s Elizabeth, my friend of 45-plus years. She was there when my first husband tried to strangle me. I was there when she graduated from college. We took up Tchaikovsky. We memorized “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” We were there for each other when our careers started and when we retired, and every hilarious moment in between.

Elizabeth also colluded in my early cooking experiments. She was up for whatever I wanted to try, including a recipe once that began with a panful of frying hot peppers that assaulted our sinuses and cleared the house.

Then I moved away and became a food writer, and she whittled her weight down to 100 pounds and ate health food. But when we got together, she still gamely tried whatever I cooked.

Last week it was Moroccan chicken with olives. She ate half a serving with basmati rice and a cold, spicy carrot salad. For someone who weighs 100 pounds, that was a lot. Four decades in, I’m still experimenting and Elizabeth is still trying it. If you are lucky enough to have a such a friend, share this soulful stew.

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MOROCCAN CHICKEN SMOTHERED IN OLIVES

  • 1/4 cup salt for brining
  • 1/2 cup sugar for brining (optional)
  • 8 chicken thighs, skin removed and discarded
  • 2 onions, halved and sliced
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tsp. turmeric
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp. sweet Spanish smoked paprika (pimentón)
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 11 oz. (about 1 1/2 cups) pitted green olives in brine, like Goya’s, drained
  • Juice of 1 lemon
To brine the chicken, combine the salt, sugar, and 1 cup hot water in a large bowl and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add 3 cups cold water and the chicken pieces. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Drain, rinse, and drain again.

Arrange the onions in a large casserole (or pan) and top with the chicken pieces. Sprinkle with the ginger, turmeric, cumin, paprika, garlic, and cilantro. Pour the chicken broth over all. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, turning once.

Meanwhile, combine the olives with several cups of water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then drain well and set aside. Add the olives and lemon juice to the chicken and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. If desired, simmer longer to reduce and thicken the sauce. Serve. Makes 4 servings.

From The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century, Amanda Hesser, editor.

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MOROCCAN CARROT SALAD

  • 1 lb. carrots, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. chopped cilantro

Put the carrots in a saucepan with water to cover and bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer for 8 to 12 minutes, until the carrots are tender but slightly firm. Drain the carrots and put in a bowl. Add the lemon juice and mix well.

Combine the cumin, coriander, sugar, and salt in a small dish, mix, and then add to the carrots. Toss well. Season with pepper, and fold in the olive oil and cilantro. Cover and allow to marinate for at least 6 hours before serving. Makes 4 servings.

From The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century, Amanda Hesser, editor.

HELP U COOK

Don’t believe the warnings that basmati rice cannot be cooked in a rice cooker. You have to make a few accommodations to make sure the rice turns out fluffy and with separated grains, but it can be done.

Before cooking, rinse the rice very well to remove some of the starch. Do this by placing the rice in your rice cooker or Instant Pot insert, covering with cold water, swishing with your fingers for about 30 seconds. Drain. Repeat four or five times instead of the usual three times for regular rice. Cover with cold water again and soak for 30 minutes. Drain, then add 1 1/2 cups cold water for each cup of rice. Cook as usual in the rice cooker or Instant Pot.

GUT CHECK

What I prepared last week at home:
Moroccan chicken smothered with olives, Moroccan carrot salad, basmati rice.

What I ate last week in (or from) restaurants:
New York-style thin pizza from White Box Pizzeria in Wadsworth; a ham sub from Subway; a Spanish omelet, grits and toast at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; marinated, grilled chicken strips with lettuce, feta and tomatoes on pita bread at Village Garden in Cuyahoga Falls.

Note: I cleaned house (one-armed because of the shoulder surgery) in preparation for company last week and didn’t have time to cook, nor did I want to get my sparkling stove dirty. Tony couldn’t help because he threw his back out, but he did contribute thousands of empty calories. He discovered a motherlode of sugar-free baked goods at the Walmart in Wadsworth and lugged home blueberry and apple pies, lemon pound cake, chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies, and banana nut and blueberry muffins. Arrgh.

THE MAILBAG

Have you ever heard of an evil practice called “threading?” If you use gmail as I do, you probably have fallen victim to this feature that combines all emails on the same subject into a single humongous email.

I learned this week that if you delete an email in the “trash” folder, it will also delete all emails in the inbox that have the same word in the subject line.

Anyway, that’s why I don’t have Mailbag this week. If you sent an email last week that I have not printed or responded to, please send it again. And if anyone knows how to turn off the evil “thread” function on a MacBook Air, please let me know.

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