I can see clearly now

I’ve never had a problem with aging; your birthday is just a number and all that. That was until I started aging.

When did it happen? It seems like just yesterday that I couldn’t understand what I considered ‘old’ women calling themselves ‘girls’. Now I’m one of them. I mentioned the other day that someone was young and I had to be politely reminded that 30 wasn’t particularly young.

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Another sign was the glasses prescription. My arms were getting too short to hold my book. Recipes were feeling as if I’d drunk a whole bottle of wine before beginning to cook. It was time. I think it took about six months post appointment to get around to choosing frames– it wasn’t so much denial as not feeling urgent. Little did I realise how much I’d been straining my poor (aging) eyes.

Now that I have them I not only can see clearly, but I don’t squint so intently. Although, I probably need botox to get rid of the forehead squint line (another aging dilemma) due to not having had glasses when I needed them. The big thing is remembering to take my glasses where ever I go and I’m a slow work in progress in that department. It would have been handy to have had them in the airport cab this morning. The taxi driver kindly turned my chit up the right way for me to write on it (bear in mind that it was 6.30am on a cold, wet and dark Wellington morning – not after a night in Courtenay Place).

I often remind students to read their recipe before beginning to cook. As I’m finding, it makes the world of difference when you can actually see the words clearly.

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On the subject of students, another successful four week cooking course at Wellington High has just finished. We ended with a tagine, which is today’s recipe. It was a fun class and the photographs are a mix from a range of students’ tagines at various stages in the process of cooking them.

I like this recipe because it’s reasonably fast for a tagine. You can use chicken or lamb as the protein. Note that if you are using lamb, you’ll want to cook it a little longer so the meat is lovely and tender.

What you’ll need

Olive oil

400-500g chicken or lamb meat, chopped into mid-size size chunks (of similar size)

2 medium brown onions

3 cloves garlic

2 medium sized carrots

1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger (or 1 tsp ground ginger)

2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 cinnamon quill (or ½ tsp ground cinnamon)

250ml chicken stock

1 x 400g can chopped/diced tomatoes

1 x 400g can chick peas

70g (½C) dried dates

1 tsp honey

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

To make it

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Heat a good splash of oil in a large fry pan. Brown the meat – probably in two batches, so not to crowd the pan. Remove meat from pan and set aside on paper towel lined plate. Cover.

While meat is cooking, slice the onion, finely chop the garlic and finely slice the carrot (and fresh ginger if using).

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If necessary, add another splash of oil to the pan. Sweat the onion for about five minutes. Add in the carrot and garlic (and fresh ginger). Cook for another three-four minutes, without browning.

Add in all of the spices (including cinnamon quill) and cook through until fragrant (three-four minutes).

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Pour in the stock and tomatoes and mix. Bring to the boil and return the meat to the pan. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes (longer for lamb).

Drain the chick peas and roughly chop the dates and set aside.

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After 15 minutes, give the mixture a stir, season with salt and pepper, and add in the chick peas and dates. Stir and cover again (or, if lots of liquid and you are serving straight away, can cook without the lid). Simmer for another 10 minutes, then taste to check the meat is tender. (If you’re not big on cinnamon, you can remove the quill when the sauce reaches a flavour you like.)

Take off the heat and stir through the honey. Cover and set aside for five minutes before serving.

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To serve, squeeze over fresh lemon juice and top with chopped parsley or coriander and toasted flaked almonds. Serve with couscous or a carb of your choice.

This is a perfect winter meal that tastes best the day after it is made as the flavours will have further developed. Thanks to everyone from the Med cooking class for being such good sports and for allowing me to photograph your food.

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