In a characteristic fit of I-can-do-anything-itis, and after having read this article in the New York Times, I hauled off and ordered 10 pounds of fresh olives a few weeks ago. They arrived a couple of days after we moved into the house, so I stuck them in the fridge to await their fate. Today was the day. I finally bought 12 quart canning jars last night, and 2 pounds of lemons. I got up this morning with that glow of excitement at the start of a new project. I’ve only been thwarted in minor ways, no big set-backs yet.

I washed my olives and put them in the jars with the brine, vinegar, lemons, garlic, and celery. I still need to go get more lemons to make juice to add, and I also need a bunch of hot peppers, which I had forgotten about. Also, I think I need at least one more head of garlic. I’m not totally certain the jars are big enough, though. The recipe says to put 3 1/2 pounds of olives in 2 1-gallon jars, but I only had quart jars. And it seems like if you use gallon jars, you end up with olives only in the bottom half of the jar. But you use a lot more brine that way. I think I’m gonna have to keep an eye on those buggers.

I’m so excited to try my own home-cured olives in 6 months. I love olives. Sometimes I think I should have been born in the Mediterranean, because I love olives, citrus, garlic, and flatbread more that about anything else. I wish I had had some good green olives last night, because I could have used them in our dinner. I had to improvise with black olives and capers, which I’m not sure would really fall into a traditional Moroccan meal. The capers, I mean. But man, was it yummy. So yummy, that for your entertainment, I’m posting the recipe for this Moroccan Lemon Chicken and Almond Rice Pilaf, as well as Roasted Cauliflower, which it the perfect accompaniment to the chicken. It’s a little bit of a cheater menu. I used leftover rice from the night before, and subbed in the wrong olives, but it was still so good.

Moroccan Lemon Chicken

1 T olive oil
1 whole, boneless chicken breast with skin and wings (I used 8 frozen thighs from Trader Joe’s)
1 small onion, sliced thin
3/4 t ground cumin
1/4 t paprika
1/4 t cinnamon
2 t finely grated lemon zest
1 1/2 t flour
1 1/2 C chicken broth
1/3 C green olives, pitted and sliced thin (or black olives plus 1 T chopped capers)
1 T honey
1/2 C drained, rinsed canned chickpeas (which I left out, because I had none)
2 T chopped fresh cilantro (also absent, because where do you get fresh cilantro in Ohio in November? I don’t know!)

In a large, heavy saucepan (I don’t use non-stick for stuff like this, because the fresh-ground spices scratch it up, so I use cast iron), heat the oil over medium high heat. Don’t let it smoke. Dry off the rinsed chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook the chicken with the skin side down (this is one of those times when you really want the skin still on. It makes this dish taste like actual chicken, and also gives the sauce a nice, velvety texture) until the skin is deep golden brown. Transfer to a plate.

Add the onions to the pan and cook a few minutes until soft. Add spices (if you’re me, double the amount), zest, and flour, and simmer for one minute, stirring. Add broth, olives (and capers), and honey. Add the chicken again and simmer for about 8-10 minutes, uncovered. Stir every so often, and don’t worry about the skin that forms on the sauce, just stir it in. Add the chickpeas, simmer, add salt and pepper to taste. When serving, make sure everyone gets a lot of sauce, and sprinkle with cilantro.

Almond Rice Pilaf

1 t olive oil
1/4 C chopped or slivered almonds
2-3 cups cooked rice (I used long grain brown rice)
small handful of raisins

Heat the olive oil on medium in a skillet (non-stick is good here) and add almonds. Stir and cook until toasted and a tiny bit golden. Add rice and stir, incorporating all the oil and breaking up any chunks. Add raisins and keep stirring until all the rice is hot. Be pretty careful not to burn the rice. I like to add a couple of tablespoons of water to rehydrate the rice. The water steams the rice a little.

Roasted Cauliflower, or Cauliflower Fries, or The Best Cauliflower You’ve Ever Tasted, Even If You Think You Hate Cauliflower

1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 t ground coriander
1/2 t ground caraway
3/4 t salt
pepper

Toss the cauliflower with the oil, then the spices and salt. Again, if you’re me, double the spices. Put the cauliflower on a baking sheet in one layer, and roast in a 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes. You should hear a lot of sizzling. Take it out and turn the cauliflower. It might look a little burned on the bottom, but that’s what you want. Return to the oven and roast another 10 minutes. It should be shriveled, blackened and crispy on the edges, and kind of juicy looking. Let it cool a little before you try it, and then prepare yourself for a new addiction. Keep the kids away, because they will eat it all. And beg for more, even fight over the remaining pieces.

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