Ten Years, and Still Learning

Did I ever tell you that, 10 years ago, I had zero interest in writing a blog? Yet, here I am every week, popping up in your RSS feed, email inbox, and Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest pages.

Cocoa & Lavender premiered 10 years ago this month. At that time, I had no idea what to write. I had never taken a food photo, not even surreptitiously in a restaurant. I didn’t have a clue about how blogs work. (The latter is still very true... and is an especially timely sentence as I get ready to switch platforms.)

To date, there are more than 500 posts featuring new recipes, old recipes, shared recipes, tinkered recipes... and thousands of photos... all for you, my friends.

I blame — no, thank — Doreen for convincing me to start Cocoa & Lavender.

What have I learned in these 10 years?

First, and foremost, I learned that I have a voice — and through my voice I enjoy sharing my passion for food, and the stories associated with each recipe I bring to you.

I learned that I can make friends, all around the world. Sharing food at the table — even the virtual table — brings people of all backgrounds together.

I learned that if there are no comments, it doesn’t mean there isn’t anyone out there reading and not to take that personally.

And, I learned to photograph food. That wasn’t easy and I’m still learning. Every week, every day.

My first lesson in bad food photography came 10 years ago with today’s reprise recipe when Cocoa & Lavender first premiered. I discovered quickly that you never ever, ever, ever take food photos in incandescent lighting. I shot this dish under the kitchen lights at night and I cannot politely describe how it looked. To say it looked awful would be kind.

Ever since, I have been afraid to photograph and post this particular (and favorite) recipe. Too traumatic, I guess.

But I also learned — relearned — that, if at first you don’t succeed, try again. Thus, I tried again. It looks much better this time around, I think.

My heartfelt thanks to you all for reading, commenting, and letting me know when you have tried a recipe. It means the world to me! As for the next 10 years... what will they bring? Stay tuned!

~ David

Chicken Tagine with Green Olives and Preserved Lemon
Adapted from a recipe by Tyler Florence

1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 whole cloves
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for frying
1 tablespoon coarsely grated ginger
1 handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
6 fresh bay leaves, or 3 dried
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
3 pounds chicken thighs, boneless, skinless, and trimmed
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 preserved lemon (recipe here)
1/2 cup green olives
1 cup chicken stock
Couscous with Apricots, recipe follows

In a skillet over medium heat, toast the cinnamon, peppercorns, cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, and cloves, stirring or swirling in the pan, until they start to smoke. Remove from the heat immediately and grind to a fine powder in a spice grinder.

In a bowl large enough to accommodate the chicken, add the oil, spice mix, ginger, cilantro, bay leaves and saffron. Mix to a paste. Add chicken, rubbing the marinade over all the pieces. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Remove from bowl with marinade but do no discard any leftover marinade. In a tagine or large Dutch oven, over medium high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Put in chicken pieces and lightly brown on both sides, about 5 minutes. Add onions and cook until just starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Rinse preserved lemon well. Scoop out flesh of the preserved lemon and discard; rinse the remaining peel well, cut into strips and add to pan. Add reserved marinade, olives, and chicken stock. Now cover tightly and cook over medium low heat for 25 to 35 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through (timing will depend on the size of your thighs). Remove bay leaf and discard. Taste juices and adjust seasoning. Place chicken on a warm platter. Spoon juices with the preserved lemon, olives, and onions over chicken and serve accompanied by Couscous with Apricots.

4 to 6 servings 

Couscous with Apricots

1 1/2 cups couscous
10 dried apricots, chopped
2 scallions, sliced thin, green parts only
2 cups chicken stock
juice of 1 orange
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

Put the couscous in a medium bowl. Place apricots and scallions into a saucepan and cover with chicken stock, orange juice, and olive oil. Bring to a boil and pour over the couscous and stir to combine. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Uncover, fluff with a fork, and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

4 to 6 servings

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