Altotonga Like many of you, I love spending time with my friends – yet I find everyone is busy going in many different directions. Between work, the gym, travel, knitting, golf, bridge, and everything else on the list, it is tough to find quality time with my special girlfriends. Whenever we can, we’ll carve out an hour to take a walk, have lunch, or go to the movies. One of my favorite ways to connect, however, is hanging out in the kitchen.
Since I arrived in Seattle nearly 32 years ago I have made an effort to cook with some of my dearest friends. Sometimes this involves baking special foods for the holidays, sometimes it revolves around a two-person project, and oftentimes it is simply just for fun. I’m hard pressed to sit still for too long (not my favorite trait) so when I make a date with a friend to cook together, it gives me time to catch up with what is going on in our lives AND be very productive at the same time.
A few caveats here: #1 I am very, very bossy in the kitchen and need to be in charge of how things are made, how to chop ingredients, what order to add them….on and on. The word “chef” translates into “chief” after all and I haven’t lost my Captain’s license from my catering days. In addition to my needing to be the “boss,” I can only cook with those who share my propensity for a tidy kitchen – a messy workspace makes it next to impossible for me to enjoy my cooking experience. I can imagine that these, shall we say, compulsive tendencies may be off-putting to some. But my friends who know me well understand and embrace my controlling ways! Plus we always split the cost of the ingredients and inevitably end up with incredibly delicious dishes.
On a recent Monday I got together with my friend, Toby. Lucky for me, she likes to do the grocery shopping so I emailed her a very specific grocery list and she arrived armed with all the ingredients needed to make lamb tagine and a lovely miso orange salad dressing. We had barely two hours to be together and not only did we make the stew and the dressing, but I taught her how to make my famous seeded crackers and we threw together a terrific hearty lunch with lots of great leftover food. We even managed to get the dishes washed and the floor swept – not bad for two hours!
I would encourage you to find a cooking partner or partners on occasion. Decide who you can work with – someone has to be “in charge” and you have to agree on what to make, how long you are willing to spend cooking, who shops etc. You’ll be amazed at how much more gets done and what a fun activity this can be for friends to share.
Pressure Cooker Lamb Tagine
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 pounds boneless lamb stew meat, cut into 1 ½ inch cubes
- 1 large brown onion, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced fine
- 1 cup dried apricots (I used organic non-sulphured apricots)
- 1/3 cup white raisins
- ½ cup blanched whole almonds
- ¾ tablespoon fresh gingerroot, peeled and minced
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp salt or to taste (I needed more at the end)
- 10 grinds of ground black pepper
- 1 cup water
- Fresh squeezed orange juice from 1 large orange
- 1/3 cup packed fresh mint leaves
Heat oil in large 12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add lamb cubes and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer browned lamb to plate with slotted spoon.
Add onion and garlic to the liquid in the pan and sauté 3 minutes to soften. Place lamb, onion and garlic and the rest of the ingredients into a pressure cooker. Cover cooker, securing lid; bring to high pressure. Reduce heat to maintain high pressure* and cook 20 minutes. Let pressure release naturally, 10 to 15 minutes.
When pressure has dropped, carefully remove the lid away from you. Test meat; it should be fork-tender. If it’s not tender, replace the lid and cook under high pressure 5 minutes longer, then quick-release pressure.
Believe it or not, the almonds in this recipe stay crunchy and give the stew some texture.
I served this thick stew on top of jasmine brown rice pilaf with lots of carrots and a butter lettuce salad. Orange slices and biscotti make a nice, light dessert.
*This could be done on top of the stove in a 4-quart pot but it will take a lot longer and most likely you will need to keep adding water so it doesn’t dry out. 20 minutes in the pressure cooker, people. Come on!! Try it, you’ll like it. If you live in the Seattle area come over and I’ll convert you to pressure cooking.