tunisian tagine

November 15, 2009

Last summer, when we were in New York at the Fancy Food Show we met the owner of Moulins Mahjoub, a Tunisian producer of olive oil, olives, pepper and tomato pastes, and sweet preserves. We fell in love with the products, and ordered them right away for the store. When they arrived, we weren’t really sure what to do with them. We had a few recipes, and a vague idea about the uses of some of them, but we really wanted to learn more about the food, and food culture. Terry, a customer from Burlington came in one day and was looking at our savory food products, and happened to mention that she had a friend from Tunisia. One thing led to another, and we ended up having Cecile Houle (a pastel artist from France and Tunisia) come and do a cooking demonstration for Art Walk, as well as a cooking class! I really loved the food that she made. So much so, that the next day, on the way home from work, I stopped and gathered all the necessary ingredients to attempt to recreate some of the dishes that she made. This is the Potato Tagine, seasoned with pickled lemons, salted mountain capers, and harissa.

Tagine Uncooked

The recipes are simple, but the combination of ingredients are unique, and delicious. One of my favorite combinations is of fresh cilantro and parsley together with onions, garlic, and other spices. The mixture is unique, and smelled so good while it was being prepared!

Tagine Cooked

I ended up with a huge tagine full of potatoes as well as an entire 5.5 liter pot of stew…I had to call in the reinforcements to eat everything, and even then, it lasted several days. I tend to make too much, but it is usually eaten by someone.

pizza, peels, and burns…

November 14, 2009

The last few times I made pizza I used my cast iron pizza pan. It heats up really well, and retains the heat for quick, even cooking. I usually preheat my oven to abut 500 degrees with the pizza tray in there. Then, I place the pizza dough in the oven for a few minutes first, and then remove it, add the sauce and cheese, and finish baking. The only difficulty has been in getting the pizza (rising on the counter) into the oven and neatly onto the preheated pan. Pizza Peel

So…I brought home a pizza “peel” from the store last night to help with this process! I have been wanting one for a long time, and finally got around to getting one. It is really handy, because you can roll out the dough and leave it to rest on the peel, covered with cornmeal (I forgot to get some so I used a liberal amount of flour). When the pizza is ready to go into the oven, the long handle is perfect for sliding it in without too much awkwardness!

Pizza Recipe

My dough recipe is currently located on two sticky notes. I copied it out of my sister’s journal from Italy. I usually make about 1/3 of the above recipe, and that is a huge pizza! If I preheat my oven to 500 degrees, I usually don’t cook it quite as long as the recipe says either. I just watch the pizza like a hawk until it looks finished.

Pizza Dough

Here is the dough. According to Erika, our pizza teacher, the dough should have the consistency of an earlobe. Plenty of kneading and plenty of olive oil helps with this. After I kneaded the dough I rolled it out and placed it on the peel to rise. I then chopped some fresh mozzarella cheese into chunks, and set aside. For sauce I used a jar of tomatoes that I put up this summer!!  Cheese

Last night I made the mistake of poking the top of the pizza dough while it was in the oven. There was a large bubble, and I popped it and seared the back of my finger with steam…a little reminder NOT to stick your fingers in a hot hot oven!

Finished Pizza

Here is the finished pizza. It is a little bumpy because of the big bubble, but it tasted really yummy. I think that if I had used a little more water in the crust it wouldn’t have turned out quite as crispy, but it was good anyway. My mom and I ate it with sauerkraut on top. Sauerkraut seems to be sneaking its way into lots of different dishes these days…

canning kraut

November 11, 2009

I came home last monday night to a “matured” crock of sauerkraut. I left it with my mom for this last week, and when I returned, it was a lovely golden color, tart, and crunchy! I started the sauerkraut about 3 1/2 weeks ago, and it sat in my kitchen, periodically scenting the whole house. I had to watch it, making sure that the top remained clean throughout the process of fermentation. Making sauerkraut is much easier than I had initially imagined. It is amazing to me how simple a recipe can be, yet taste so good! Basic sauerkraut is made with salt and cabbage. Thats it!

Sauerkraut in Jars

Fully fermented sauerkraut was traditionally placed in a cool location to spend the winter. Now days, around here anyway, it is canned, frozen, or eaten when it is finished. I used a recipe for processing my sauerkraut from The Joy of Pickling. The remaining kraut I have put into jars to hand out to family (and the little left is going to go in the freezer). I know that sometimes freezing is better, but for some reason I really prefer to can things. I guess it has to do with the possibility of a storm leading to a power shortage, leading to frozen goods going bad…

I was out of town for a week, and when I returned, I imagined that everything in the garden would be brown. Fortunately things disappear in stages. The arugula, kale, thyme, and parsley seem to be holding out for as long as they can.

Fall Garden

My two favorite November fruits, pomegranates and persimmons, were ripe when I was visiting California, and I made sure to bring as many back as I could. (We picked some and purchased some from farmers, and from the farmer’s market!)


Pomegranates must be my favorite fruit. There is something SO satisfying about carefully peeling each seed away from the bitter white surrounding it, making sure that each seed remains whole, and then collecting the seeds in a glass, or perhaps eating them one by one.

Pomegranate in Hand

There is a trick however, if you ever find yourself without the time to spend on carefully peeling each seed. Simply fill a deep bowl up with cool or room temp water. Score the outside of the fruit all the way around in several sections with a knife and submerge the fruit in the water.

Pomegranate Separated

When the pomegranate is submerged, carefully break the pomegranate sections apart, keeping the fruit under water so that the seeds wont burst and spray you with the bright red juice. When all the seeds are removed from the white, the seeds will sink, and the white will float to the surface to be gathered and discarded. Then remove or strain the seeds, and gently dry with a kitchen towel. The entire process is done under water, and this helps to reduce or eliminate staining, and keeps the seeds separated from the inedible white part!

Pomegranate Salad

For lunch today, I wanted to mix fresh Iowa greens with fresh California pomegranate. I picked some of the lingering spicy arugula, and topped it with sweet ripe pomegranate seeds. For salad dressing I spooned on top some raspberries that I preserved in apple cider vinegar about a month ago. Then I drizzled the whole thing with a little bit of olive oil. And a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground pepper. Yum! This salad is also really good with the addition of fresh crispy pear slices.

how to jump out of a box

November 5, 2009


fig. 1

1. Print a UPS label and void the shipment.

2. Purchase a large ummarked box and a roll of tape.

3. Place the box in a believable location. (fig. 1)

4. Have a friend tape you into the box.

Swati, Torrey, and Box

fig. 2

5. Pretend like you are an inanimate object in the box, and wait.

6. Make sure that the friend supervising the opening of the box has the recipient (a) open the box, and (b) open it with a relatively dull object.

Swati Hyperventilating

fig. 3

7. Wave your arms and legs around when the box is opened. (fig. 2)

8. Make sure that the hyperventilating recipient (fig. 3) doesn’t pass out. Supply a cup of tea, or perhaps some Rescue Remedy.

firewood (logistics)

November 2, 2009

My dad and I collect firewood in the fall. It seems to have gone from canning season (I canned what might be one of my last jars of spiced pickled pears last Thursday) to firewood collecting season. The weather is perfect, and I actually look forward to spending all Saturday or Sunday morning outside.

Trees Standing

Here is how it goes. My dad scouts, measures, and takes care of general logistics, which there happen to be a lot of! He locates the logs and figures out how to winch them up the hill to the cutting/splitting station. He works with Yogi, who is usually wielding the chain saw. They are on their way up the hill here, probably headed to get supplies to chop things. My dad got a new chain saw this year. It is about twice as big as our old one, and Yogi is able to saw much larger logs. I didn’t get any pictures of the chainsaw in action this week, but will post some more later.

Log and Chain

This particular log is tied up with the chain and hook at the end of the winch. The winch is attached to the Power Wagon positioned (stuck) up the hill. As the winch reels in the cord the log is pulled up next to the splitter where it is sawed and passed on to me.

Adjusting Log

Yogi is pushing the log away from the standing tree to the right. It was stuck here on its way up. Sometimes the logs need to be rolled all the way over, and sometimes they need to be adjusted just a little to make it around trees and other barriers.

Wenching Log

One of the most important elements of our operation is the Dodge Power Wagon. We use it for hauling wood, hauling the splitter, winching large logs out of the woods, and storing supplies.The Power Wagon is a beast! It was built sometime in the 50s (I think), and is still going strong.

Measuring Stick

This white stick is the measure of how long the firewood needs to be. My dad measured exactly how long the logs could be and still fit into the stove, and then cut the measuring stick accordingly. My dad usually holds the stick against the log, and then Yogi cuts a mark into the log, and then goes back and chops all the pieces at once. It is a two person process, for efficiency as well as safety. One of the big rules that we have is that no one is to operate the chain saw (or splitter) alone!!

Setting Up Splitter

The splitter has been staying out in the woods this fall. We cover it up with a tarp when we aren’t using it, and then it is ready to go when we return. This happens to be my tool of choice. I love splitting the logs, making sure that all the pieces will be a good size for burning. It is a little like a puzzle, trying to figure out where to start splitting, how to avoid knots in the logs, etc. And when you are operating the splitter you get to smell the freshly split wood. There is nothing sweeter, and more reminiscent of fall than the smell of freshly split wood (mixed with exhaust fumes from the chainsaw and splitter of course). There are often beautiful colors, reds, oranges, and the occasional dark brown of walnut (not the best wood to burn, but exceptionally beautiful when freshly split).


My dad splitting some troublesome pieces. Sometimes when the logs have a big knot I pass them on to him and he somehow manages to break them up into nice little pieces.

Ant Nest

A freshly split piece of locust happens to be the home of some carpenter ants. The pieces that have the ants are put in a separate pile to be used quickly, or to wait a year for the ants to move, so that they don’t invade and eat the woodpile/house.

Papa with TruckMy dad, the man behind all the operations, with his faithful truck!