Recipe for the First Year
Our little boy, our joy, our Jude celebrated his first birthday the other day.
Actually, he’s not so little anymore. He’s on the cusp of toddlerhood. In fact, he’s quite good at toddling. He’s been fearless. Where he used to cling to walls, he’s now crashing through the house at every chance. The word “headlong” was meant for this kid. It’s like he can’t wait to grow up, sprinting toward a future unknown to us. We can only load him up with endless bowls of our homemade baby food — and our hopes and dreams, too.
It’s been a life-changing experience having Jude, becoming parents. But not because of the 2 a.m. feedings. Or the 4 a.m. feedings. Or the fact that simply going for a walk now requires the logistical complexity of a military deployment (Stroller? Check. Diaper bag? Check. Jacket, hat and socks? Check… Wait, where’s the sunblock? Retreat, retreat!)
Yes, life is different now. It’s a hundred times more busy, more exhausting, more… laundry. And a thousand times more fascinating and meaningful, too. This is where it counts. Everything you know about being a decent, good, useful human being gets handed down to your child, like those cast iron pans you’ve kept well seasoned. How to tie your shoes. How to say “thank you.” How to make perfectly scrambled eggs (low and slow, son). OK, Jude’s not learning any of this stuff just yet, but I’m an overeager dad.
It’s an enormous responsibility — and a huge privilege — to be a parent. But we simply could not imagine our lives now without our sweet, sweet boy. If you only heard his giggle, a completely infectious, unrestrained thing, you’d understand.
Of course, these warm, fuzzy thoughts don’t usually come to mind at 3 a.m. when he’s screaming to the rafters and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Nothing. That’s when it really counts.
One of the many things we don’t do anymore as new parents is much traveling. We went everywhere before and after we got married. Paris. Beijing. Florence. New York. Napa. Palm Springs.
We’ll travel again. For now, the nearest we get to any place exotic is our kitchen. Today, we’re in Morocco, making this fabulous braised chicken with green olives and preserved lemons. It’s got all of the familiar spices — cumin, coriander, garlic, saffron and paprika. Paired with toasted, garlicky North African (aka Israeli) couscous and maybe some mint tea, this dish will transport you to the middle of Marrakesh. With or without baby.
Recipe: Braised Moroccan Chicken and Olives (Adapted from Food52)
This is the perfect dinner party dish. Like most braises, you can make this a day ahead and let the flavors improve overnight. The couscous can be done a few hours ahead, too. Serve along with this gorgeous blood orange and fennel salad. Pour some mint tea.
4 tablespoons high-heat oil like grapeseed or safflower, or canola oil
2 1/2 pounds chicken legs and thighs (I like legs with thighs attached)
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2-3 cups chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon saffron
1/2 cup green olives, rinsed (Get pitted ones for convenience, although I like the work of eating around the pit, too)
2 preserved lemons, pulp removed; rind cut into thin strips (You can find them at Middle Eastern markets, at some Whole Foods, or try this quick version at home)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat oil in a Dutch oven or other large, deep, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, dry chicken pieces and season generously with salt and pepper. Brown chicken on all sides, in batches. This step may take 20 minutes or more. Remove chicken to a separate plate.
Add onion to the skillet and cook until slightly softened, but not browned. Add ginger, garlic and all spices except saffron and stir together. Return chicken with any juices to the skillet and gently stir to coat with spice mixture. Pour stock into the skillet so that 2/3 of the chicken is submerged. Add the saffron and stir to combine. Bring liquid to a simmer, cover and cook on medium low heat for 20-25 minutes. Add olives and preserved lemons. Cover and cook another 10 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken and turn heat to high. Cook for another 10 minutes until sauce reduces. (If you’re pressed for time, this step can be skipped entirely.) Stir in the cilantro and adjust seasoning to taste.
Plate chicken with couscous, spooning sauce over the top. Garnish with more cilantro and serve immediately.
Recipe: Toasted, garlicky North African couscous
Also called Israeli couscous, this is the kind with big, fat grains instead of the more common, rice-like stuff. We prefer this larger couscous because it lends itself to so many delicious tweaks. You can turn it into a meal with the addition of roasted veggies, chicken or shrimp.
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 fat garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 cups North African couscous
2 1/2 cups chicken stock or water (I usually don’t measure the stock; just pour enough to cover the couscous and a little bit more)
1 teaspoon salt
Small handful of parsley, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until just golden. Add couscous and, stirring constantly, sauté until half of the grains are browned, about 5 minutes.
Add stock and salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes, stirring once or twice. The couscous is done when it’s tender and the liquid is completely absorbed. Stir in parsley and season with pepper and more salt, if desired. Finish and fluff with a glug of your best olive oil.
Serves 4 as a side dish.