Posts Tagged 'fruit'

Chicken Tagine with Figs, Apricots, and Honey

I received a tagine for Christmas. A tagine is a conical, round earthenware pot with a lid designed to lock in the moisture and flavors of the food, allowing them to be cooked in a small amount of liquid. The food typically cooked in a tagine is also called tagine – which is an aromatic, spicy stew, often containing fruit. The secret of a succulent tagine is to simmer the meat or vegetables in a seasoned, fragrant liquid over a very low heat, so that the food stays moist and tender. Also, the dried fruit is added when the food is almost cooked, so they don’t turn to mush.

Originally a Berber dish, tagines have evolved as successive waves of Arabs and Ottomans migrated though North Africa.  Traditionally, the earthenware tagine was used over a charcoal fire, which diffused the heat. The conical lid has a hole in the top that lets steam escape, If you are cooking a tagine (the food) in a regular casserole or pan, you need to tip the lid occasionally to let the steam escape.

The cookbook that came with my tagine cautions that an earthenware tagine cannot be used on a gas or electric burner, so it is prudent to cook this tasty dish in a conventional casserole, and then if you have guests serve it in the tagine for impact.  I think it can be used successfully in an oven, although it seems a bit large for that (It’s also a bit large to store in a closet – it is going to have to be a decorative item between cooking.).

I created this chicken tagine from the assorted dried fruit I had in the house. Chicken thighs are a rich enough meat to stand up to the long simmering in an aromatic liquid.  Often, tagines are served on a mound of couscous where the top has been indented and the tagine poured in the center. I ate it with a crusty bread, which is more traditional for an everyday tagine, although I served the very tasty leftovers over rice.

Chicken Tagine with Figs, Apricots and Honey

12 dried figs
8 dried apricots
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
a pinch of saffron threads
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons ground coriander
8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat, and cut into bite-size pieces
3-4 strips of orange zest, sliced thin (see Hint)
1 Tablespoon honey
sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup cilantro leave, chopped

This is one of those dishes where I found it convenient to get everything prepared before I actually started the cooking process.
Clockwise from the mountain of onions and garlic at the bottom, there are the soaked, dried fruit; orange zest strips; a little bowl with the ginger, saffron, coriander and cinnamon sticks; the cut up chicken thighs, and a bowl of cilantro.

Place figs and apricots in a medium bowl, cover with water and set aside to soak for an hour. Drain figs and apricots, saving soaking water. If the figs and apricots are large, cut them in half. Set aside.

Heat oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan or casserole over medium high heat. Add onions and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft and golden. Add ginger, saffron, cinnamon sticks, and coriander, stirring gently for about a minute. Add chicken and stir until the pieces are thoroughly coated with the onions and spices. Saute for 2 minutes. Pour soaking liquid over chicken. Add additional water if necessary to just cover the chicken. Bring to a boil, cover the pan, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally and lifting the pot lid to let the steam out.

Stir in figs, apricots, and orange peel. Cover and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Stir in honey and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Make sure there is enough liquid in the pot, because the sauce should be syrupy, but not dry. Stir in cilantro.  Remove cinnamon sticks if you’d like. Serve immediately (although it was really good reheatd).  This makes 6 servings at about 8 grams of fat/serving.

Hint: If you are going to use orange peel in your cooking, purchase an organic orange so you don’t get chemicals in your food.


Universal Jelled Dessert

First let me state up front that I am not a big Jello fan. My mother used to make a Jello mold with lime Jello for family gatherings. It was called “the green mold” and you can imagine what fun our pre-adolescent (what the heck, even our adult) minds had with that. But I bought a bottle of apple-grape juice (I’m also not a big fan of grape juice) and discovered I didn’t like it.  I usually mix my juice with sparkling water to make a spritzer, and the grape flavor didn’t mix well with the sparkling water.  On the other hand, I couldn’t bear to pour a whole bottle of juice down the drain. Today was a use-up-leftovers-so-I-can-clean-the-fridge day, so I figured I needed to dream up a way to use the juice.

Jelled dishes made with unflavored gelatin are not nearly as obnoxious as those made with flavored Jello mix. In fact, there are a number of admirable gelatin-based aspics and vegetable salads that would be lovely on any buffet table.  I decided to make something jelled that I could take for dessert or a snack with lunch.

The basics of working with gelatin are that one tablespoon of gelatin will jell 2 cups of liquid and, if you want, 1-2 cups of fruit/vegetables. Sour cream or yogurt count as liquids. You have to soften powdered gelatin (the kind that comes in little packets) in cold water for about 5 minutes, then heat or add to hot liquid to dissolve it.  Don’t let it boil – that kind of takes the jelling power out if it. Fresh pineapple can also keep it from jelling.

Jelled Apple-Grape-Pear Dessert

2 packets or 2 Tablespoons unsweetened, powdered gelatin
3 cups of apple-grape juice (you actually can use any juice you’d like)
1 cup non-fat sour cream
1 can sliced pears (or slice up halves like I did), drained

Pour ½ cup of cold juice into a glass measuring cup or container. Sprinkle gelatin on top of juice and allow to soften for 5 minutes. Add 1 ½ cups juice to gelatin mixture and microwave 2 minutes (do not boil). Pour into a medium bowl. Add additional cup of juice and sour cream. Whisk together until sour cream is well incorporated. Add pears. (At this point, if you want to be fancy about it, pour into a mold.)

Put in refrigerator for 2-3 hours or until it jells. If you want to unmold the jelled dessert, you can dip the bowl briefly in hot water and overturn it onto a plate. Since I am just using this as a take along for lunch, I opted to just scoop servings from the bowl.  This makes about 6 serving with 0 grams of fat/serving.

Variation: I expect you can put any kind of canned or cooked fruit in this, such as fruit cocktail or mandarin oranges.  This was not the most attractive jelled dessert, but it did use up a lot of odds and ends – and it tasted good.

Fruit Pizza

Fruit pizza was one of my standard potluck bring along dishes. It tastes good, is relatively easy to make, and it has a real Wow factor – rings of ripe fruit arranged on a creamy filling, glistening under a sweet glaze. It’s one of those items that when you walk in carrying your offering, there are murmurs and exclamations of food lust as guests follow you to the serving area. But oh my, was it ever high fat – 2 tubes of those refrigerated sugar cookies, a pound of cream cheese – at least 25 grams of fat/slice. This flew in the face of two of my basic principles: never bring anything to a potluck that you can’t eat, and never bring anything that if there are leftovers, you can’t eat them at home. But it had such a Wow factor!

This weekend, the fabulous photographer who did my picture for this blog was having his annual party at his garden on the roof of his downtown office building. It’s a great setting, with luxuriant plants (I have pepper envy just looking at his pepper plants), live music, interesting people, and good potluck food. Definitely time for a Wow offering, especially with summer fruit still coming on strong. So I lightened up the old stalwart, and it came out just fantastic.

By the way, I didn’t have to be concerned about leftovers. The whole thing was gone in 15 minutes.

Fruit Pizza

The pizza is made in three steps: the crust that can be baked a day ahead if necessary, the cream cheese layer, and the fruit.

Crust ingredients
3 Tablespoons of butter
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 i/2 Tablespoons sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
2 ounces light (reduced fat) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg
3 Tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
Cooking spray

Cream cheese layer ingredients
2 eight ounce packages of non fat cream cheese, softened
2 Tablespoons of non-fat sour cream
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Fruit (see fruit note below)
1 cup of apricot jam

To make the crust: This is a sugar cookie recipe from Have Your Cake and Eat it Too that I used to take the place of the refrigerated cookie dough. This crust was actually much better than the refrigerated dough – it was thinner and crisper and tasted less chemical and more home-baked. This sounds recipe complicated, but it is relatively easy to do, and the dough can be made ahead and frozen.

Melt the butter over medium heat and cook until the butter turns golden brown and fragrant. Be careful not to burn the butter (Browning the butter enhances the flavor, so that you can use less of it.) While the butter is melting, measure the sifted flour into a medium bowl.

Pour the browned butter into a small bowl and whisk in 2 tablespoons of the flour. Place the mixture in the freezer until it is solid, about 10-15 minutes. Add the baking powder, salt, and confectioners’ sugar to the remaining flour and whisk together. Using the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the granulated sugar and the cream cheese on medium speed. Add the egg, oil, vanilla, and almond extract to the cream cheese and beat well.

Scrape the frozen butter mixture into the flour mixture. With your fingertips, pinch the butter into the flour, creating coarse flakes. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and beat with the electric mixer until well-incorporated, scraping the bowl once or twice. If the dough is too sticky, gradually add 1-2 tablespoons of flour. Gather the dough into three balls, then roll each of them out into a log about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Wrap the dough logs tightly in plastic wrap and freeze for several hours. (You can freeze this dough for up to two months).

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray a large pizza pan with cooking spray (my pizza pan is 15 inches in diameter. A somewhat smaller pan would work, but not one of those frozen pizza size pans. My pan is also old and a bit battered so I cover it with aluminum foil before I bake on it.) Taking one frozen dough log out of the freezer at a time, and using a very sharp knife, slice the logs into 1/8 inch thick slices. Starting at the outside of the pan, arrange the dough slices on the pan to cover the surface. Don’t overlap them. Don’t be concerned if there are holes in your crust, or if they don’t quite fill the entire pan. Once all the dough has been used, the dough on the pan will have defrosted and become pliable. Use your fingers to gently spread the dough toward the center of the pan and to fill in any gaps. The dough should be somewhat even throughout the pan. Don’t worry about it looking good, it will be completely covered when you assemble the fruit pizza.. Bake the crust in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes, or until it turns golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack in the pan until it is completely cool. At this point, you can wrap the crust and keep it overnight if necessary.

To make the cream cheese layer: Beat all of the ingredients together with an electric mixer on medium speed. Scrape the bowl several times. Make sure that all the lumps are gone.

Fruit Note: It is hard to give an absolute measure for the fruit, because it depends on the size and type of fruit you use. I usually prepare quite a bit, and use what is necessary.

You can use any kind of soft, ripe fruit – I don’t think apples or pears would work unless they are cooked before hand. I have made this with alternating circles of red and green grapes, used peeled kiwi sliced and pitted halved cherries, and used canned pineapple pieces and mandarin oranges in the winter when fresh fruit and berries are scarce. The selection is up to you. Cut larger fruit, like nectarines or peaches thin, halve grapes and strawberries. This will make the pizza easier to slice.

Assembly: The fruit pizza can be assembled a couple of hours before you serve it, but it doesn’t hold for a long time, because the crust will get soggy.

Using a spatula, spread the cream cheese mixture on the cooled crust, spreading it to the edges. Carefully arrange the fruit in concentric circles starting with the outside ring which should come right to the edge of the pizza. Fruit should touch the adjacent piece of fruit, so there is not much of the cream cheese layer showing. When the fruit is arranged, melt the apricot jam (or preserves) until it becomes liquid. Some people like to strain the jam to remove the larger pieces, but I usually don’t. Gently brush the jam over the entire pizza, forming a glaze on the fruit and filling in any gaps between the fruit. Refrigerate the pizza, uncovered, for 20 minutes to allow the glaze to set. This is especially important if you are going to wrap it to take somewhere. Slice with a pizza cutter or a sharp knife. 12 servings with 6 grams of fat/serving, or 16 servings at 4.4 grams of fat/serving.


I have lost 200 pounds. I did not do it through surgery – I don’t like knives and needles – or by joining a club, vigorous exercise, or rigorous dieting. I did it by gourmet cooking. To be precise, by cooking low fat, really delicious food. I love to cook as much as I love to eat. Food magazines are some of my favorite reading. I would feel deprived if I couldn’t have the sensuous experience of good food crossing my lips. This blog is about my perpetual feast, my passionate love of food, with recipes, photos, and occasional advice and principles that I have learned along the way.

More about me.

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