There's a certain quiet stillness, a soft hush, that often accompanies the biting-cold of winter's evenings. Do you ever find yourself listening for it? Sometimes while waiting for my husband to arrive home from work, I like to open my front door and step out onto the landing of my porch into the stark darkness, that place where there are only the little shimmering lights of the those far away stars, like little specks of crystalized sugar on a dark countertop; and I inhale deeply, deliberately. I step outside into the crispness in order to feel myself shudder just a little bit, and come alive; I step outside to touch the cold and feel it envelope me for a few moments, so that, in turn, the warmth of the my living room can feel that much more obvious, appreciated. As the cold, sharp wisps of winter's breeze whip around me and cause me to wince just a little, my desire to be wrapped in a warm embrace, to comfort and be comforted by another, begins to take hold. Winter is a time that the soul longs to be soothed and gently enveloped by the soft cocoon of nurture and care; it's a perfect time for all of the cozy elements found in life to be appreciated, enjoyed and also expressed.
The cold, quietness of winter holds within it the perfect opportunity to not only lovingly nourish our own bodies and souls, but those of our loved ones, as well. There's nothing quite like having a warming meal in front of me to take the chill out of my bones; and if I feel that way, then I know that those that I love and hold dear, surely feel the same. It gives me joy to prepare something from the heart that will warm not only the body but the spirit of someone that I love, so that they can know undoubtedly that they are cherished. There's a beautiful, mystical thing that happens between us when we prepare meals for one another and then partake in enjoying them together; a palpable love is felt, and it deepens the flavor of that which is being eaten. A fragrant meal of Moroccan-Style Braised Chicken with warm spices and rich sauce is delicious and pleasurable enough to bring the body true joy, simply because it is savory, hot food; but the addition of the desire of the person preparing that braise—a desire to comfort, love, nurture and care for those that it is being prepared for—is that wonderfully mysterious and delicious “flavor” that one can't quite put their finger on, but can never get enough of. It melts away the chill of those little ice crystals that tingle in our fingers and toes during the frostiness of this cozy season.
The winter's cold bite provides a reason for delicious braises to be prepared and shared with the people in our life; it provides a reason for blankets to be wrapped tightly around shoulders, and for arms to be wrapped lovingly in warm embraces. May we all experience the preciousness of being enveloped in the warm cocoon of nurture and care that another can provide us; and may we each, in turn, provide that little nook for another in our life to take shelter in, away from the cold, and where love is found.
Taste what's good and pass it on.
Moroccan-Style Braised Chicken Breasts with Warm Spices, Chickpeas and Tomatoes over Lemon-Almond Couscous
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(Serves about 4-6, depending on size of chicken breasts)
¾ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
4 bone-in, skin on, split chicken breasts
• Olive oil
1 large onion, quartered and sliced
4 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 (15 oz) can organic chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 cups chicken stock, hot
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon zest
• Lemon-Toasted Almond Couscous (recipe below)
-In a small ramekin, combine the sea salt, black pepper, cumin, cinnamon and smoked paprika with a fork, and set aside.
-Place the 4 split chicken breasts into a large bowl or onto a large platter, and drizzle them with about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil; next, sprinkle about half of the spice mixture from the the ramekin over the chicken breasts, and rub the spices into the chicken; set the remaining half of the spice mixture aside for a moment.
-Place a large, heavy-bottom or cast iron braising pot over medium-high/high heat, and drizzle in about
2 tablespoons of the olive oil; once the oil becomes very hot, add the chicken breasts, skin-side down, and allow the skin to sear and become golden-brown, about 5-6 minutes; then, flip the chicken over, and allow it to sear on the bone-side for another 2-3 minutes; remove the chicken breasts from the pot, and set them aside for a moment; next, reduce the heat to low/medium-low, add in the sliced onion, and allow it to lightly caramelize for 2-3 minutes (add a touch more olive oil if needed), scraping up any brown bits from the bottom; next, add in the garlic, and once it becomes aromatic, add in the remaining half of the spice mixture from the ramekin, and stir to incorporate; next, stir in the tomato paste, and allow it to cook for just a moment or two; then add in the chopped tomatoes, the chickpeas, the orange zest and the hot chicken stock, and stir to combine; next, add the chicken breasts back into the pot, bone-side down and skin-side up, cover the pot with the lid slightly askew to vent, and simmer the chicken gently on low for about 40 minutes; to finish, stir in the chopped parsley, chopped cilantro and lemon zest, and add a pinch or two more of salt/pepper, if necessary; you can leave the chicken breasts on the bone, or remove the bones/ribs and cut the breasts into slices, to serve.
-To serve, spoon some of the Lemon-Toasted Almond Couscous into a bowl or on a plate, place chicken on top, and spoon a generous amount of the sauce with the chickpeas, tomatoes and onions over top; garnish with a sprig of fresh cilantro, or some toasted almond slices.
Toasted-Almond and Lemon Couscous ingredients:
1 ½ cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 ½ cups couscous (I use whole wheat)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
¼ cup toasted, sliced almonds
-Place a small pot with the water, olive oil and salt over medium-high heat, and bring to the boil; turn the heat off, add in the couscous and stir, and cover tightly for 5 minutes until all water is absorbed; after 5 minutes, fluff the couscous with a fork, add in the lemon zest and the almonds, and fluff with fork to incorporate the ingredients; serve while hot.