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Thursday, 27 February 2014

Post the Seventy-third (in which our heroine wonders if her luck is changing)

Your heroine has oft-wondered if she was, perhaps, born under a bad sign.  To quote that great sage and philosopher, Homer Simpson, if it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all.  My family stopped sharing tips on horses with me years ago, so legendary is my rotten luck.  You could have Arkle in a fixed race with seven pregnant mares and a lame gelding, and if I backed him, he'd fall.  I once missed out on my dream job due to a series of tiny-but-cumulative events that led to me arriving at the interview half an hour late, with an unreadable CV, to a hiring manager who thought I didn't know how to send an email.  I generally don't bother entering competitions cause the last thing I won was a pink plastic money box in the shape of a bear dressed as a policeman when I was in senior infants.

I'd like to think there's a glimmer of change on the horizon, though.  Last Friday, I randomly texted into a radio station I don't even normally listen to register for a competition.  Within ten minutes, they'd called me asking if I wanted to play.  "Sure!" says I, understandably reluctant to admit to them that I had no idea what it was I was actually going to be playing.  Anyway, the upshot is, I won €140, which will make a handy dent in the Paris trip.  Ok, so I could have won 5 grand if I'd known Barack Obama's middle name (it's Hussein) and which Aussie golfer won the Open last year (Adam Scott), but still, it's a start, right?  Then, yesterday evening, my sisters and I won €50 on a scratchcard.  We're not exactly going to be retiring on it, but it's the price of a few drinks and you wouldn't step over it if you saw it lying in the street, like.

So, I've taken these two very small windfalls as veritable proof that Good Things Are Going to Happen to Me.  End of.  Being an unrelenting cynic and skeptic hasn't exactly availed me of much, so I'm trying on positivity for a while.  It feels a bit weird and doesn't necessarily fit very well, but I'll soldier on regardless.  Might as well get myself some crow's feet to go with the frown lines I already have, eh?

Anyway, on with the food.  Small windfalls notwithstanding, your heroine is still pretty much perma-broke, so the economic recipes shall continue for the foreseeable.  This dish is cheap-as-chips to make and is one of those great ones that you can make a massive pot of and eat for a couple of days, as the flavour just keeps on improving.  The quinoa also makes a great work lunch, with a spinach salad on the side.

Moroccan Chicken Stew - serves 4

4 chicken fillets, cut into strips                            2 onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed                                        1 red & 1 yellow pepper, sliced
1 sweet potato, peeled & cut into 1" chunks        Tin of chickpeas
Tin of tomatoes                                                     1 tbsp Ras el Hanout*
Tsp each cumin, paprika & harissa paste              1/2 tsp each cinnamon & turmeric
Handful of cashew nuts

1. Heat a splash of oil in a large pot and saute the garlic and onion until just beginning to colour.  Add the chicken, sweet potato, peppers and all the spices except the harissa paste. Give everything agood stir and cook for five minutes.

2. Add the tomatoes and harissa, turn down the heat and allow everything to simmer away for a good hour, stirring every so often.  This should be quite a thick stew, but if it looks like it's getting a bit too dry, throw in a bit of chicken stock.

3. After an hour, add the chickpeas & cashew nuts, and taste to see if it needs more of any of the spices.  Simmer for another ten minutes, then season and serve with the quinoa below.

Chilli-lime Quinoa - serves 4

160g quinoa                                      300ml chicken stock
1 red chilli, finely diced                    2 fat cloves garlic, crushed
Zest & juice of 1 lime                       Knob of butter

1. Give your quinoa a really aggressive rinse in loads of cold water, then strain in a sieve.

2. Melt the butter in a large-ish pot, add the chilli, garlic, lime juice & zest.  Bring to a high simmer and allow to reduce to an almost paste-like consistency.

3. Add the quinoa to the paste, stir well and toast for three minutes.  Add the stock, cover and lower the heat to a bare bubble, and cook until the quinoa has absorbed all the stock.  This can take anywhere between ten and twenty minutes.  Don't stir the quinoa while it's cooking.  When the stock has absorbed, remove from the heat but allow to rest with the lid still on for another ten minutes, then fluff with a fork, and serve.

*What the frig is Ras el Hanout?
It's a Moroccan spice blend that literally translates as "Top of the Shop", as different spicemongers all had their own recipes for it, and basically the more fancy ingredients there were in it, the flasher you were.  You can buy it in good delis, but it's ridiculously easy to make, and it's dead handy to have in the press as it can be added to loads of dishes.  You can totally make this stew without it, but it won't have quite the same depth of flavour.  There are as many "recipes" for Ras el Hanout as there are spices that can go in it, but if you fancy having a bash at making your own, here's the combo I came up with:

4 tsp coriander seeds                          3 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds                               1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp cardamom seeds                        2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground cinnamon                       1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper                          Pinch salt

1. Stick all the seeds and the peppercorns into a dry pan and toast over a high heat until they're just beginning to "pop".  This will happen incredibly fast, so don't even attempt to leave the room or you'll burn the arse out of your pan and all your lovely spices.

2.  Tip into a pestle & mortar and grind to powder.  Add the powdered spices and the salt and mix well.  Store in a clean glass jar in a cool, dry place, and it'll keep for a good three months before it starts to lose its potency.