There was a permanent indent in the couch cushion where I’d been—stationary— for the last two days. It rained for a few hours Saturday morning, poured even, but that eventually passed, and it was perfectly nice the rest of the weekend. Weather considered funereal anywhere else, but to us San Franciscans, well, it was downright magical. But there I was— stuck on the couch. I couldn’t enjoy the bright baby blue skies of the mid-day sun, or the afternoon twilight (my favorite time of day) when the coastal fog creeps in over Twin Peaks on Sandburg-like cat-feet. The ocean breeze flew down McAllister Street and whistled through our bay windows on its way to Union Square. It was one of those glorious San Francisco days outside when dreams, no matter how implausible, seem feasible again; and the smell of artisanal Arabica, the locally roasted and attentively brewed kind, reinforces our sense of self-confidence. And yet there I was, stuck on the couch.
I hadn’t showered and my beard needed a trim. The Yonah Schimmel knish bakery t-shirt I was wearing was sticky in places where I’d whipped some bodily fluids that would have been better suited for a tissue. My neck was sore from the lumpy couch cushion. I felt trapped, dazed and fixated on what could only be defined as my newest untreatable addiction…..Showtimes’ Homeland.
I subjected myself to the Homeland marathon mainly because I’m an amazing boyfriend. Yep! I’m that considerate that I took it upon myself to catch up on the first two seasons of Homeland so Jonathan and I could watch the third season together in real time. And what makes me an even more amazing boyfriend is that fact that I was going to make this delicious Moroccan style braised oxtail for dinner. So after finishing the first season, I decided to take a break from the couch, walk the dog, and do some shopping at the local farmer’s market. Since the dish called for citrus, and there was none at the farmer’s market, I ended up popping into the corner store on my way home to grab a few lemons.
With six organic lemons and a can of garbanzo beans in tow, I placed my cell phone on the counter next to the cash register while the clerk rang me up. I’d texted myself the list of ingredients I needed for dinner, and check my phone one last time to make certain I hadn’t forgotten anything.
“Eight-thirty-six,” the old man said.
I placed my reusable Whole Foods grocery bags full of produce on the floor, and handed him a ten-dollar bill. He handed me some change, and I shoved it in my wallet and put my wallet in my pocket. I grabbed the receipt before heading outside with my groceries hanging over my shoulder. Eddie shook his tail in excitement when he saw me approach, and I removed his leash from the bike rack and together headed home. We hadn’t made it more than twenty feet before I suddenly realized I’d left my phone on the counter back at the store.
“CRAP!” I shouted to myself and ran back to the store, tied Eddie up outside, and approached the cash register in a huff.
“Excuse me,” I said, out of breath, because that was the most movement I’d subjected my body to in the last two days. I noticed my phone wasn’t on the counter where I’d left it last. “I left my cell phone here just a minute ago. Did you see it?”
The man looked at me like I was crazy. The woman making a purchase shrugged her shoulders as if she’d seen nothing out of the ordinary.
“Seriously?!” I said, raising my voice in astonishment at the possibility of my phone vanishing into thin air in the last 45 seconds. “You didn’t see anything?”
I noticed security cameras above the cash register and asked to view the tapes. The old man told me the owner of the store is the only one who can review the tapes, and that I would have to wait a day to speak with him. Apparently he doesn’t receive calls from his staff on Sunday. Which seemed strange considering the crime that had just taken place in his shop. It all sounded a little unkosher to me, and then my mind began to wonder. Maybe this is somehow tied to Abu Nazir? Maybe the store is just a front for some sleeper cell, and the old Persian guy playing dumb behind the cash register was just the brains behind the operation? I’d been watching Homeland for nearly 14 hours straight, which caused conspiracy theories abound. Everyone was a potential suspect, even the dog! But why? Why my phone? Why was it so important? Were they going to steal my identity? Was there some need for phones on the black market for untraceable texts? Didn’t they know that I only had the free version of Bejeweled?
After a few more minutes of begging someone for a cell phone to call my own just to hear my voice message recording, I went home feeling violated. I processed an insurance claim for a new phone. The idea of being without Instagram and Twitter for two days was almost more terrifying than the possibility that Showtime’s Homeland had me thinking I was a CIA Analyst and there were terrorists on the loose. Which is nothing a bottle of wine (or two) couldn’t fix.
Moroccan Braised Oxtails with Apricots
*This recipe was inspired by a recipe from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated.
- 6 tsp minced garlic
- 1 ½ tsp sweet paprika
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- ¼ tsp ground ginger
- ¼ tsp ground coriander (freshly toasted and ground preferred)
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- 4 strips of fresh lemon zest (approximately 3 inches in length each)
- 2 tblsp olive oil
- 1 large onion sliced into half-inch strips
- 2 large carrots cut into half-inch coins
- 30 oz (two 15 oz cans) of low sodium chicken broth
- 1 tblsp agave nectar (honey is fine if you don’t have agave)
- 1 cup dried apricots cut in half (prefer unsweetened apricots)
- 3 tbslp chopped fresh cilantro
- 3 tblsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 can (15 oz) or garbanzo beans rinsed
- 1 packet of Israeli couscous (or whatever starch you want to serve the oxtails on)
Preheat the oven to 275°
Mix the paprika, cumin, cayenne, ginger, coriander, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Add 5 tsp of the minced garlic and 1 lemon zest finely chopped to the dry spices and set aside.
Reserve the remaining minced garlic in a small bowl and also set it aside.
Leave the apricots in larger pieces half pieces. They’ll practically disintegrate during the braising process, and add a wonderful flavor to the dish. If you have to use more plump and sugary dried apricots, consider removing the agave or honey from the recipe.
Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat on the stove until it starts to smell and smoke slightly.
While that’s happening, pat the oxtail pieces dry with a paper towel, and then season them with salt and pepper.
Once the oil is good and hot, place half the oxtail pieces into the dutch oven to sear the meat. You should hear a good sizzle as soon as the meat hits the bottom of the pot or you know the oil isn’t hot enough. The searing and caramelizing the meat is important for two reasons: it seals in the moisture, and adds a ton of flavor (aka the Maillard reaction). Let the meat sit on each side for about 3 mins before turning the oxtail pieces over. Make sure to develop a golden brown crust on the tops, bottoms, and sides of the oxtail pieces.
Once a piece looks done, remove it from the pot and let it rest on a plate while you finish cooking the rest.
Once all the oxtail pieces have been browned on the outside, pour any remaining rendered fat into a small glass bowl. With a measuring spoon, collect 1 tbslp of the rendered oxtail fat and put that back in the dutch oven and return the pot to the stovetop on medium-high heat. Discard the rest of the rendered fat, or freeze it for future use.
Cook the thickly sliced onions and 2 of the lemon zest strips in the oxtail fat and stir them occasionally for about 5 mins until they’ve browned and softened a little bit.
Then add the garlic and spice mixture, stirring constantly until the spices bloom and are fragrant, which is about 30 seconds.
Then pour in the chicken broth, carrots, apricots, and agave. With a wooden spoon, stir everything together, trying to scrap up any of the fond at the bottom.
Nestle the oxtail pieces into the pot, making sure they’re practically covered by the liquid. Pour in any of the oxtail juices that may have collected on the plate while they were resting. Once the mixture starts to simmer and bubble gently, cover it with the lid, and place it in the oven at 275° for two hours. You’ll want to check on the mixture after and hour and with tongs, turn the pieces of oxtail over so any pieces that were not submerged in liquid are. If it seems like it’s getting too dry, you can always add more chicken broth.
After 2.75 hours, the oxtails should be soft and falling apart. Take the pot out of the oven and put it on the stove on medium heat and remove the oxtails and set them aside on a plate.
Start to reduce the sauce in the pot.
Stir in the reserved garlic, minced lemon zest mixture, cilantro, lemon juice and garbanzo beans. Season with salt and pepper to taste and let the mixture cook for another 10 minutes.
While the sauce is reducing, remove all the oxtail meat from the bones using two forks or your clear fingers if the meat isn’t too hot. Add the oxtail meat to the pot and stir everything together.
I like to serve the braised oxtail with apricots over a bed of Israeli couscous and another sprinkle of cilantro. Enjoy.