Brenda’s Tangine Adventure

Here’s a story on trying to be thrifty that will make you laugh, shared by Brenda, who has been my Anne-of-Green-Gables style “bosom friend” since childhood.

As a quick introduction, Brenda and I met on the first day of eighth grade and have been close ever since.

It was a bittersweet day indeed when Brenda married Tom and “left me!” However, after twenty-five years of marriage, we ended up in the same community and have been able to resume our steadfast friendship for this past twenty-five years! We were over to their home for a delicious Moroccan dinner recently, and the story behind the meal was so funny that I asked her if she’d be willing to write it up to share with you. Because—if you are at all like me—you will resonate with the idea of how often we spend money trying to be thrifty! Here it is:

I started with the best of intentions.

I’m not sure when this project took on a life on its own, but it did. It was like a snowball rolling downhill gathering speed and becoming bigger.  How did having a dinner party for close friends end up with an international cooking experience that involved new equipment, new spices and new cooking methods?

It started innocently enough.  I was going to make Candy Cane coffee cakes for Christmas gift giving.  I needed cherries and dried apricots for my baking project.   The first step on the path was buying my apricots at Costco where a 3-pound package of apricots sells for the same amount as a one-pound package at my local grocery store.  As I look back, this is the point where the snowball started rolling downhill.  Imperceptibly at first, but slowly and steadily it got bigger. I had bought that big bag of apricots trying to be a cost-conscious person.

After I had finished making and distributing many candy cane coffee cakes, I still had 2 pounds of apricots remaining.  I needed to find a way to use them up, since I didn’t want to waste them.  I’m a cost-conscious consumer, after all.

I was going to be hosting a dinner party for friends after Christmas, so this was the perfect time to try something new.  I began looking for a main dish recipe that included dried apricots.  I found one easily online.  Lamb and Apricot Tagine.  A dish from Morocco that used several cups of apricots.

I decided that this was a perfect recipe to treat my friends coming to the dinner party.  We had eaten together at a Mediterranean restaurant, so I knew they were up for adventure in this type of cuisine.  What a great way to impress them while being a cost-conscious consumer.

The recipe said the Lamb and Apricot Tagine was cooked in a traditional Moroccan dish called a tagine.  This clay pot allowed slow cooking that continually steamed the food with a domed lid. I could almost smell the dish cooking as I read the recipe and the cook’s comments. The recipe also included instructions for cooking in an Instant Pot, which I have, but that couldn’t be as tasty as using a dish that had been used for hundreds of years in the Middle East, could it?

After researching sources for a tagine, I found that World Market had them and with an after-Christmas discount, I was able to buy one for under $30.  Not too bad but slightly more than I wanted to spend.  However, the price was much higher on Amazon, so again, I felt like I was being a cost-conscious consumer.

I began to gather the ingredients.  The lamb for the recipe meant a trip  to an international market.  I learned a lesson here-lamb is not a cost-effective meat to use. Then I needed saffron threads.  I found these at the International Market after much searching.  I asked the clerk and found they keep saffron in a locked cabinet behind the counter, which tells you the value of the spice. 

On the advice of my chef son, I also ordered some saffron from Amazon who was happy to deliver a small amount of the spice.  Saffron is really the thread-like parts of a crocus flower that grows in the Mediterranean area.   The most expensive spice in the world by weight but luckily, I only needed a very small amount. 

On the positive side, the use of a tagine on an electric stove requires a diffuser to keep the heat from directly touching the tagine.  Fortunately, I have a gas stove and could bypass the diffuser by keeping the heat very low. 

As I began planning for the dinner party, I realized the tagine would not hold enough ingredients to feed six people.  I was going to have to make two batches of the recipe which would require six hours of cooking.  But as often happens, the day of the dinner party, I didn’t have six hours.  My daughter and family had decided to come for a visit from Ohio and left just a few hours before the dinner.  Necessity stepped in, and I had to  cook one batch in the tagine and one in the Instant Pot. 

When my guests arrived, I shared the whole story of the dinner menu that had spiraled out of control.  I placed two dishes of the lamb and apricots on the table and asked them to compare and decide which method was  tastier.  They felt the results were very similar, and that possibly the Instant Pot version was slightly more tender. 

Lesson learned: Either don’t buy large quantities to save money or go with the flow and be open to new experiences to broaden yourself.  I’m going to go with the latter.  We’ve tasted new food, learned how to cook with a tagine and found that the new method (Instant Pot) may be as good as the method used for several thousand years.

But now I need to get a recipe book that features Moroccan cooking so I can make more meals in my tagine.  So, I may not be done with my cooking adventure yet.  After all, I’m a cost-conscious consumer.

(Tangine! This Saturday I’ll share her recipe) 🙂

And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour,
it is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:13).