I’m lucky enough to cook in Maria Robbins’ kitchen quite often. Maria, talented chef and author of some dynamite cookbooks, is Jim’s aunt, and whenever we visit the Hamptons we stay on her pull-out couch and pay our way by cooking for dinner parties or family meals. Maria, who has spent countless, laborious hours in the kitchen researching recipes and feeding friends and family, has given cooking a rest for now, though she inspires me to get cookin’ all the time (last visit she asked me point blank: “When are you going to quit your job and become a cook?”)
I love cooking for Maria and Ken (Jim’s uncle), especially since their big, open kitchen puts my itty bitty stove-home to shame. To be able to have three pots fit on one counter is freakin’ fabulous! During one visit late this summer, on a lovely just-a-bit-chilly kind of night, we were cooking for a party at Maria’s house. Needing to feed around 30 people, we couldn’t decide what to make, wanting something both interesting and simple. Maria broke open one of her cookbooks and a recipe for Irish stew, made with whole grain toast, country-style mustard, and Irish stout winked at us from the pages. A few hours, 10 pounds of meat, and a couple mishaps later, we served up the delicious stew to the party. It was so (happily) different from the normal summer party fare of burgers and dogs. Everyone raved over the dish, going back for seconds and thirds.
The next day, Maria gave me the cookbook that the recipe came from, sensing that I couldn’t wait to try everything in there. I haven’t prepared all the dishes yet, but I certainly plan to. Maria’s recipes are those wonderful, take-care-of-you kind—the kind that makes you feel at home no matter where you are. The recipes from this book are especially wonderful for parties—you actually see the guests loosening up after such warm-hearted food.
Tonight I made another recipe from Maria’s book—Moroccan Chicken with Apples. I don’t normally use fruits in my savory dishes, but I took a chance with this one, relying on Maria’s tastes. I have to say, this dish changed my attitude about fruit for dinner! The sweet raisins compliment the onions, while the apples are coated in the spiced sauce that has reduced in the dutch oven. The chicken is fork-tender and succulent. I added some extra spices to the dish because I was in the mood, and while at first I thought I might have gone too far, half way through the cooking the spices had melded together and a tantalizing aroma of ginger, clove, and cumin wafted through the apartment. Champ sat at attention by the stove, snout sniffing at the air.
Once the sauce reduced and the apples and raisins were added, the chicken was a deep brown and began to fall apart and mix into the onions. The final dish was a perfect stew—not too saucy, not too dry, and was perfect with couscous made with chicken stock and a little butter. Serve this with a side salad of bitter greens.
Moroccan Chicken with Apples
Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Serves: 2-3 people (4 if you are having another side)
- 1½ lib chicken boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 2 yellow onions, diced
- ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
- 3 T butter
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- ¼ tsp ground clove
- 1 large apple, peeled, cored, sliced
- 1/3 cup golden raisins
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 cup wheat couscous
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 T butter
- pinch of salt
Place the chicken, onions, parsley, butter, and spices in a medium or large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add enough water to nearly cover chicken (shown in picture). Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to low and simmer partially covered with a lid so that some steam can escape, for one hour or until chicken is fork tender.
Add apples and raisins and cook for another 10 minutes, or until apples are tender. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or keep warm until serving.
Meanwhile: Bring stock, butter, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan. When it begins to boil, add couscous and turn off heat. Let stand 5 minutes. Fluff couscous with fork. Serve with chicken.