Ras el Hanout and Ai Weiwei

The weekend was spent in Oxford so Saturday morning we made another trip down Cowley Road.

This time I was determined on buying the ingredients for a meal that evening. There are at least two good Middle-Eastern food shops on the road and I am now a regular visitor so as to make sure there is a good stock of Moghrabieh or Giant Couscous in the house.

The intention was that I buy myself a packet of Ras el Hanout and use this to flavour some chicken. Ras el Hanout is a Middle-Eastern spice that is made up of a blend of different spices such as cumin and fenugreek. Each shop that sells it is supposed to have their own particular blend some of which are better than others. I was expecting to be able to buy a nice neat packet of it.

In the event the Ras el Hanout was difficult to find. I thought it would be there sitting proudly amongst the other clear bags of spices, the dried limes and barberries, the sumac and rose petal leaves, but at first glance it was nowhere to be seen. However after digging around I found some packets tucked in a corner hidden away behind some bags of rice.

Back at the house I worked through how to cook with it.

I should have started by rubbing the Ras el Hanout into some pieces of chicken and allowing it to marinade for an hour or so. But people were hungary and there wasn’t time.

So I started with a mixture of chicken thighs and legs that were fried in hot oil until they started to hiss and spit and stick to the bottom of the pan. As they cooked I seasoned them with salt and pepper and a good dose of the Ras el Hanout.

Once the chicken was browned I removed to a bowl and then cooked some thickly sliced onions, a mixture of thickly sliced red, white and spring onions, with more oil in the pan in which the chicken had been cooking. Once the onions were soft I added some garlic and then stirred the chicken back in together with a cup of water. It was brought up to a simmer and then left to cook through.

When it was done I stirred in some chopped parsley.

We ate it with Moghrabieh, aubergine with onion, carrots cooked with cumin and honey and warmed flat bread.

Sunday we made a trip to Blenheim Palace. This was mostly see the exhibition of art by Ai Weiwei that was spread around the house and grounds. There were about thirty pieces in all some of them so big and imposing thy couldn’t be missed, such as the twenty foot chandelier hung from the ceiling of the great entrance hall, but others were hidden away amongst whatever else was there and could have been easily mistaken for something that had been left behind, such as a plaster helmut, or a set of china plates in a room full of china. There was a leaflet identifying the pieces and you could, if you wanted, tick them off as you walked around.

But perhaps the most arresting sight there as nothing to do with Ai Weiwei but was a bronze statue in the gardens of two men wresting. See what you make of it.

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