EVENT: Stew Cook-off
VENUE: Phoebe’s apartment
PARTY SIZE: 20 – 25
TYPE: Casual Buffet, Heated Competition
MENU: Keith’s Drunken Beef Bourguignon, Mama Fritz’s Chili Noodle “Stoup,” Sweet and Savory Moroccan Stew (P), Cous Cous
DESSERT: Apple Compote (C)
January in New York is dismal, cold, and slushy. It gets light around the time we get on the subway to work and dark long before we get out. Recently, we spent a week with barely an above-freezing temperature. If the weather outdoors insists on pretending we’re in Maine, then we’ll follow suit indoors, making slow-cooked stews that warm the whole apartment.
The chill was the inspiration for the second round of Keith and Phoebe’s culinary battle, stew being the only venerable one-pot concoction that could vie for a comfort-food title with the chili of Round One (though our third main-course competitor, Libbie, seemed to disagree…).
The dishes took on the flavor of countries from Morocco to France, right down to the province of dirty Jersey. The cooks tinkered away while guests arrived: Keith added more wine and cognac upon reheating; Phoebe, taste by taste, adjusted proportions of fruit and spice to assure a perfect balance of sweet and savory; and Cara, playing with textures, crumbled nuts and oatmeal atop a soupy dessert.
The varied flavors comprised only part of the bounty, though: whatever the hearty and global fare, when friends are invited to eat and compete, we find ourselves not only happy and well-fed, but indoors and cozy as well.
From our kitchen, warm and filled with friends, to yours,
Phoebe and Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOKS
Sweet and Savory Moroccan Stew
The summer after I graduated from college, my mother and I traveled around Morocco together. One of the trip’s highlights had to have been the cooking class we took with a young chef. Under his guidance, we made a transcendent date and lamb tagine I’ve never forgotten. This (winning) stew is a cross between that dish (sweet) and another classic Moroccan stew, harira (savory).
4 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, halved
3 medium yellow onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
28 oz diced tomatoes, with their juices
8 oz canned chickpeas, drained
1 quart chicken stock
3 tbsp cilantro, roughly chopped
¾ cup golden raisins
½ cup dried apricots, halved
½ lemon, juiced
1 tbsp cumin
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground ginger
2 cinnamon sticks (or 1 tsp ground)
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. In a large pot, brown the chicken in batches over high heat. Set aside.
In the same pot, add the onions and sauté until translucent making sure to scrape up any remaining drippings from the chicken. Add the garlic, turmeric, ginger, cumin, nutmeg, and cinnamon sticks. Once the spices are fully incorporated and aromatic, return the chicken to the pot along with the tomatoes, chickpeas, and enough stock to submerge all contents of the stew (may be less than 1 quart). Cook uncovered for one hour.
TIP: You can make the stew up until this point and then refrigerate it overnight. Just reheat an hour or so before your guests arrive and continue with the remaining ingredients.
Place the raisins and apricots in a shallow bowl and cover with warm water. Let sit for 20 minutes until re-hydrated and plump. Add to the pot with 2 tbsp of the cilantro and the juice of half a lemon. Simmer for 10 more minutes.
Garnish with a sprig or two of cilantro and some remaining apricot halves and serve over cous cous.NOTE: to make the veggie version, substitute 3-4 diced zucchinis or squash for the chicken and double the chickpeas.
Though there’s a case that the dessert that follows a supper of soft, savory stew ought to feature some crunch, I got stuck on the theme and wound up stewing apples—in sugar, lemon zest, and their own juice—just as Phoebe before me had stewed her chicken. To add some crunch and round out the portions though, I’d suggest serving the compote topped with vanilla ice cream and apple crisp-like topping.
For the compote:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
the zest of 1 lemon
Peel and core the apples, then cut each one into sixths.
Put all ingredients in a large saucepan or soup pot. Bring to a boil slowly, then reduce the heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are just tender. Remove the apples to a bowl and continue to cook the liquid until it has reduced and is quite syrupy. Pour over the apples. Serve warm or store covered in the fridge.
For the crisp topping:
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablepoons walnuts, finely chopped (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Combine the flour, oats, cinnamon, salt, and walnuts. With your fingers, grind in the butter until the pieces of dough range from the size of peas to the size of walnuts. Spread on a baking sheet and bake until fragrant and crisp, about 15 minutes.
To serve, ladle portions of apples and accompanying syrup into individual bowls. Top each with ice cream (vanilla) and a handful of crisp topping.