making it up

I’m a planner.

Usually, a trip to the grocery store to shop for a meal is out of the question, unless I’ve already got a comprehensive shopping list ready to go. It’s a system that works; rarely am I left standing in the kitchen, halfway through preparing something, swearing about how some minor yet important ingredient failed to make its way into my shopping basket and onto my countertop. That seemed to happen rather a lot before the whole list-making idea came into use.

Lists are great, but they don’t leave a lot of room for inspiration.

We’ve all been inspired by food. Inspired by that soft, perfectly ripe peach to make peach cobbler. Inspired by fresh strawberries to make whipped cream and dig in. I’m sure some people have even been inspired by beets to make perfect, crispy roasted vegetables. Personally, I’m of the opinion that beets are one of the few truly horrific and inedible vegetables out there, but that’s a story for another time. When we’re inspired to make any of those things though, they’re usually very simple (which is not a bad thing), or we pull up Google and look up a perfect peach pie recipe whilst standing in the grocery store.

On Saturday, we meandered over to the Co-op with no phones, recipes, lists, or preconceived notions about what to make for dinner.

We were ready to be inspired.

1) Pick your protein. Especially when food allergies and dietary restrictions limit what you can eat, protein often ends up being the centerpiece of every meal. So make sure to pick your protein with care. As lamb is a traditional spring meat (although with the blizzard we had a couple days ago, we’re wondering if it actually is spring…), we first went for the ground lamb. Meatballs? But the lamb was frozen. And frozen is not very inspiring. Tossing the lamb back on the shelf, I turned around and spied the fresh turkey breast from the farm only 10 miles away. That was much more inspiring.

What goes with turkey?

2) Vet your vegetables. As I mentioned, it’s been rather cold, so a warm stew seemed like a good idea. This meant vegetables. The fresh carrots looked awfully appealing, as did the Vermont-grown arugula. We also threw in an enormous red bell pepper for color and a head of cauliflower for a little more substance in the stew. The white turnips also looked intriguing, but we decided to leave those for another time. Oh, and of course, every good savory dish needs some nice, pungent garlic. And yes, garlic is a vegetable, not a spice in my book.

3) The details. A flavorful dish is all about the details. The pinches and dashes of spice and salt that are added to create a perfect balance of spicy, savory and sultry. Turkey drinks up flavor the way a blank canvas begs for paint. So we went in search of the heavy hitters of spices. Curry, coriander, ginger, garam masala, cayenne, celery seed, and cinnamon. I also saw an appealing looking bag of dried currants poised on the shelf, ready to be bought, so those went into the basket as well. Let it be noted that I don’t think I’d ever tried a currant before. They just sounded like fun.

4) Sauce! Sauce is the best part of any dish because it holds all of the flavor. Our dish seemed in desperate need of acid, so a jar of diced tomatoes and a jar of pureed tomatoes were added to the basket, along with some chicken stock. A note on chicken stock: unless you’re making your own, triple check that whatever you’re buying says “gluten free” at least twice somewhere on the carton. As we all know, gluten has a nasty habit of sneaking up in places where it really shouldn’t be.

Upon hauling all of our goodies up to the kitchen, this is what we made, meticulously measuring and noting measurements so that this recipe could be shared with all of you:

Morrocan-Style Turkey Tagine

  • 1.25 lbs turkey breast, cut into bite, sized pieces
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 large sweet onion
  • 2 medium red bell peppers
  • 3/4 head of cauliflowertagine
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups fresh arugula
  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • 1.5 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground celery seed
  • 2.5 tsp curry
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 3/4 cup chopped/diced tomatoes

Cut the turkey into bite-sized chunks. Pat dry and toss in a bowl with 1 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp cayenne, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp chili powder. Set aside and add 2 Tbsp olive oil to a large skillet and heat. When the oil is shimmering (not smoking), add the turkey and cook until browned on all sides. The pieces should be almost or all the way cooked through as well.

While the turkey is browning, dice the onion, carrots, and bell pepper. Cut the cauliflower into 1/2″ square-ish chunks. Run the garlic through a garlic press, or chop finely.

Once browned, pour the turkey onto a paper-towel lined plate and set aside. Add the onion to the pan and cook until softened and the pieces start to look translucent, about 7 minutes. Then add the carrots, cauliflower, and garlic along with 1/2 cup of vegetable stock. After 5 minutes more, add the bell pepper. If there is room in your skillet for all of the liquid, keep cooking in the skillet. If not, feel free to transfer everything to a large pot. A cast iron dutch oven or an actual tagine would be perfect for this dish, but we had neither and thus, swapping of pots and pans ensued. Add the remaining 2 1/2 cups of chicken stock, the tomato puree and the chopped tomatoes. Feel free to throw a few more in if you really like tomatoes.

Add all of the remaining spices, and the currants and boil, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce starts to thicken up a bit. Then you are ready to serve. Turn off the heat and add the arugula (If you are not serving everyone at the same time, wait until serving to add the arugula). Stir it in, letting the heat wilt the leaves. Divide into bowls and dig in. We used spoons! It’s also worth noting that I am rarely a member of “The Clean Plate Club”, as my boyfriend calls it, and was for this dish. Twice. Seconds were a must. Good thing there were only two of us!

Serves 5-7, depending on how many people want seconds.

…but what about dessert?

I thought you’d ask. Dessert was also an accident. It was going to by vanilla cashew cream pudding with blueberry compote. But blueberries were $5 for a small box and the Co-op was out of cashew butter, so I bought frozen blackberries and pecan butter instead. Artisana makes single serving packets of different nut butters (cashew, cacao, walnut, etc), and two of them are generally the perfect amount for my baking projects, as well as being much cheaper than a $13 jar of cashew butter. I noted their packets of pecan butter also had cashew in them, and bought them hoping they would substitute well for plain cashew butter. Unfortunately, since the butters are raw, the pecans ended up adding a funky taste to the pudding as I was making it. And what do we do when a dessert tastes odd? Add chocolate, of course. So that is how I ended up with this chocolate pot de creme recipe to share with you.

Vegan Chocolate Pot De Creme

  • 2 TBSP cashew butter (or cashew-pecan blend)
  • 3 TBSP hemp milk (you could easily use almond milk)
  • 1 tsp xylitol or sweetener of choice
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup minus 2 TBSP water
  • 3 TBSP arrowroot powder
  • 3 TBSP cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp saltdessert
  • 1/2 cup melted dark chocolate (or chocolate of your choice)

With a fork, mix the cashew butter and hemp milk into a slurry. It should get thick and creamy. Add 1/2 tsp xylitol and 1/2 tsp vanilla.

Measure out 1/2 cup of water and take out 2 TBSP, putting them in a small container. Add the 3 TBSP arrowroot powder to the 2 TBSP of water a dissolve. Add the rest of the 1/2 cup water to the cashew mixture. Then put in a double boiler on the stove on medium high heat.

Add 1/2 tsp xylitol and the arrowroot powder slurry. Once the mixture warms up, stir constantly until it begins to thicken, about 6 minutes. If you taste it and it’s starting to taste powdery, remove from the heat immediately. You don’t want to overcook the arrowroot.

Add the cocoa powder, apple cider vinegar and salt, and stir in until completely combined. Mix in the melted chocolate, making sure it is totally combined. It should be fairly thick, almost pudding-like in texture. Divide it into ramekins (5-6 servings) and refrigerated until you are ready to serve!

An alternative way of doing this would be to add another 1/2 cup hemp milk, reduce the cocoa powder to 2 TBSP, and add a total of 3/4 cup melted chocolate. Then, instead of putting it directly in the ramekins, put the mixture in the blender on high for 2-3 minutes, or until it is very frothy. Pour into 5-6 ramekins and refrigerate. It will be lighter, a little more like chocolate mousse, than the original recipe.

I cooked down 10 oz of blackberries in a 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 tsp xylitol for about ten minutes, then cooled it. The tart blackberry compote was a lovely complement to the rich chocolate.

There are blue skies and sun in Vermont today, but it is 18 degrees outside!

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