Tagine amande.

What a whirlwind the past weeks have been! In that time, I left Santa Fe, swam through the freezing Florida river to marvel at a waterfall my uncle discovered in Colorado’s Weminuche Wilderness, drove 1,944.4 miles across the country, moved in to my new Davidson apartment, and started class.Image

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In the midst of it all, I’ve continued to cook. When Mr. Rogers comes home, he takes off his outside jacket and exchanges it for his inside sweater. To come home, Mr. Rogers takes off his clothes; I cook. The familiar spice of cinnamon is a comfort. The crisp tang of cilantro is centering.

With this attitude, it’s no surprise I would cling to a favorite new recipe. Foreign to your tongue at first, chicken tagine with apricots and almonds is a French twist on North Africa that is so addictive it will quickly become a familiar craving.

For me, this tagine marks coming together and diverging apart. It uses everyday spices that you’ll find in the front of your cabinet to create a rich, colorful dish of new.

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Almond Apricot Chicken Tagine

To ends, and then beginnings.

Serves 4

Ingredients
4 ounces dried apricots
1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces (2 legs, 2 things, and each breast cut in half crosswise, leaving wings attached)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoons coarse salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted (add 2 Tbsp if you use boneless skinless chicken)
1 large onion finely chopped
2 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus a bit extra for garnish
1 tablespoon honey
juice of 1/2 lemon or lime
3/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Put the apricots in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the chicken pieces with the ginger, turmeric, paprika, cinnamon, salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven or similar ovenproof casserole.  Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent.

Add the chicken and cook for 3 minutes, turning the pieces with tongs to release the fragrance of the spices.  Pour in the stock, add half of the cilantro and a handful of apricots and cover.

Bake for 40 minutes, turning the chicken pieces once or twice while they’re braising.

Remove the casserole from the oven.  Use tongs to transfer the chicken to a deep serving platter, then cover with foil.  Return the casserole to the stovetop, add the honey and lemon juice, and reduce the sauce over medium-high heat by about one-third.  Taste, and add more salt if necessary.

Return the chicken to the pot, add the almonds and reheat in the sauce.  Transfer the tagine back to the serving platter.  Drain the apricots and spoon them over the top, then garnish with additional cilantro.

 

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The Swiss Bakery.

If you’re ever in Santa Fe, the first thing you must do is to drop everything you’re doing. The second thing you must do is to get thee self to The Swiss Bakery on corner of Guadalupe and Montezuma.

No excuses. Upon arrival, a lovely waitress will instantly serve you with rounds of delicate shortbread as you relax at your tranquil, corner-nestled bistro table. In between leisurely people watching, you might order the hazelnut cappuccino with a light yet flavorful lemon ricotta crêpe or the arm-sacrifice-worthy Eggs Benedict. Or, like me, you might find yourself glued before the café’s glass case of colorful Napoléons, tarts toppling with fresh apricots and violet blackberries, and citrus glazed almond croissants.

I won’t judge you if you gaze with more longing at The Swiss Bakery’s croissants than you would the man you love. No one could after they have had one bite of these elegant, golden creatures that contain more butter than you keep in your fridge during the Christmas baking season. There’s even free parking at Sanbusco around the corner if you keep your daily need for The Bakery on the down-low.

Ruth and Phillipe, two Santa Feans originally from Lausanne, Switzerland, own and run the business seven days a week. Phillipe trained for many years at a Swiss pastry school doing work that, he says, was much more difficult than anything he did while serving in the Swiss Guard. Check The Bakery out and give Phillipe a kiss on the cheek; one bite of his legendary Swiss Apple Strudel and you’ll realize all of his hard work is certainly not for naught. “Life is short. Eat desert first.”

Vinaigrette d’Elizabeth.

I have a French-Portuguese friend named Elizabeth. Well, she’s not actually French. Or Portuguese. But she lives as if she were both. With her two cats, Milo and Luther, and a dog named Lucy, she lives in Santa Fe atop a hill worthy of the French Alps. She sleeps in a nook big enough only for her bed. Her cottage has two doors; one for the bathroom and one for the front entrance, which she often keeps open. She wears black linen and entertains everyone from her mechanic to artist friends with five-course, four-hour meals. In her kitchen, Elizabeth displays fresh tomatoes and colorful potatoes bought at the farmers market in hand carved wooden bowls. Beside the sink resides her French cooking bibles, including a loved copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Louise Bertholle’s French Cuisine for All.

She starts dinner soirées with the apéritif. At Elizabeth’s, I fell in love with Lillet, a sweet French orange liqueur and Bordeaux blend, that she poured in to little glasses furnished with a curling lemon rind.

Lillet

Elizabeth balances Lillet’s honeyed citrus flavor with the bloomy rind of a Triple Crème cheese, salty grape-like capers, red peppers, and olives. For the main course, she serves light Château de Flaugergues with a stunningly complex mélange of beef bourginon, smashed baby gold potatoes, and haricots verts. Elizabeth finishes her evenings with a sliver of decadent, flourless chocolate cake dusted with Vietnamese cinnamon and drizzled in crème fraîche. She constantly tops off wine glasses so they never seem to become empty. Conversations around her table are as full as her wine glasses; hours at Elizabeth’s house melt away like fleur de sel truffles.

Flourless Chocolate Cake dusted in Vietnamese cinnamon and drizzled with creme fraiche.

As any good French-Portugese woman, Elizabeth makes a mean vinaigrette. Through her salad creations, she reveals to me the powers of caramelized vinegar vinaigrette and its deep, sweet, aromatic flavor. Instead of olive oil, she uses drippings from a special smoked bacon she can only find in the small town where she grew up in New Hampshire. After a recent trip, she brought five pounds back to Santa Fa in her carry-on bag. Airport security was skeptical at first. But once they heard that her ball of  questionable, frozen meat wrapped in paper bags was bacon, the TSA enthusiastically waived their misgivings.

Elizabeth’s Vinaigrette

2 or 3 shallots, finely chopped
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/3 cup Balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste
————– Optional, but delicious additions:
1 tsp anchovy paste
Handful of chopped, fresh herbs like thyme, basil, or rosemary
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Heat olive oil in heavy saucepan. When the oil is so hot that it will make a bit of shallot sizzle, add the rest of your shallots and let them caramelize pink. Turn to low heat and add garlic and vinegar. Let the mixture simmer for 3 minutes (add more vinegar if vinegar evaporates too quickly.) When caramelized, turn off heat and add mustard, salt, pepper and optional items if desired. Let cool and serve over something like Elizabeth’s Salade Lyonnaise or with raw vegetables (I love fresh zucchini rounds.) Vinaigrette stores well in fridge for up to 5 days.

Salade Lyonnaise at Elizabeth’s