Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Oatmeal Pancakes

It's not often I have an excuse to cook breakfast for the two of us anymore, but on the rare occasion the stars align and Ross and I will find ourselves around the kitchen table on a Sunday morning. The previous night Ross mentioned he had a craving for oatmeal. And I recalled coming across this recipe. This morning seemed like a fine time to try it. Just don't be in a rush to make these...the batter does need to stand for 30 minutes before it meets the skillet.

adapted from the South Beach Diet Cookbook by Arthur Agatston, M.D.

makes 12 pancakes

The Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
2 cups fat-free milk
1 egg
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
1 Tbsp baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar substitute
2 teaspoons canola oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

The Process:
In a medium bowl, combine the oats and milk ans allow to stand for 10 minutes. Stir in the egg, flour, wheat germ, baking powder, sugar substitute, oil and salt, mixing until evenly blended and only small lumps remain. Let the batter stand for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Heat a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Working in batches, pour batter by 1/4 cup into the pan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the top starts to bubble and the bottom is browned. Turn and cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer, or until golden brown. Remove to a plate and keep warm. Repeat to make a total of 12 pancakes.

My Modifications:
I added 1 tsp of vanilla extract and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon to give these cakes a little more flavor.

The Review:
I should have read the recipe all the way through for a second or third time before getting started. I seemed to have forgotten about the 30 minute rest time, which meant a much later start to our day in the end. But I think these pancakes were worth the extra time.

The recipe stated these pancakes tend to be somewhat dense...and they are. But not in a negative way. Perhaps "hearty" would be a better way to phrase that. These pancakes are not the light as air, fluffy angels you come across at many a dinner...they are dense. But I felt the amount of baking powder still gave them a certain amount of buoyancy that kept them from getting heavy.

Hearty. And perhaps a bit rustic. The wheat germ added a nice nutty flavor, and the oatmeal gave them a nice tooth. Yet they sucked up syrup and butter as well as the dinner variety. We'll more likely than not add this to our slow morning repertoire.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Shrimp Jalfrezi

I don't remember what my first experience with Indian food was, but over the years chicken jalfrezi has become a stand by. I was thrilled to find a shrimp version of this favorite in an Indian cookbook I had purchased. Upon perusing the ingredients list, I became even more excited. The list was short...and the cook time even shorter. I had high, high hopes of recreating the dish in my own kitchen.

adapted from The Everything Indian Cookbook, by Monica Bhide.

serves 4

The Ingredients:
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3 dried chilies, broken
3 Serrano chilies, slit down the side and seeded
1 large red onion, peeled and diced
1 large tomato, deseeded and diced
2 medium bell peppers, deseeded and diced
2-inch piece fresh ginger root, julienned
1/2 cup tomato puree
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
table salt to taste

The Process:
In a medium-sized skillet, heat the vegetable oil. Add the cumin seeds; when they begin to sizzle, add the red and green chilies, onion, diced tomato, ginger, and bell peppers in quick succession. Saute on high heat for about 2 minutes.

Add the tomato puree and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the shrimp, turmeric, and salt; saute for 3 to 4 minutes or until the shrimp are cooked through. The vegetables will still have a slight crunch to them. Serve hot.

My Modifications:
Due to a difference in heat tolerances between myself and other diners, I reduced both the Serrano pepper and dried chilies to two each. The dried red chilies I had on hand were New Mexico chilies, which are fairly mild to began with. For the bell peppers, I used one red and one green. And lacking a red onion, I substituted a yellow onion instead.

The Review:
I was a little let down by this version of a Jalfrezi. Tomato and bell pepper dominated the flavors, and the heat was far, far too mild for this dish. Aside from the subtle ginger flavor, the dish could have passed for a creole stew. The rich balance of sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter and astringent that Indian cuisine is renowned for was sadly lacking.

That being said, the dish was delicious. And you really can't beat the short amount of time it takes to prepare. It was just far from what I had hoped for. Next time around I believe I will take my cue from the recipe listed at indiancurry.com

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tex-mex chicken and rice bake

What do you do when you haven't been grocery shopping, but are craving a home cooked meal? Raid the pantry and make something up. And in classic Midwestern fashion...the hot dish comes to the rescue. Sometimes the results of such a cabinet and fridge dump are surprising.

I realize this dinner is a theme with many a variation. However, not a single recipe was consulted or perused prior to throwing the meal together. Out of curiosity, later on I may dig around online and in cookbooks to see how close my recipe came to others in existence. But for now, I'm sated and satisfied from my own little creation.

The recipe is my own.

serves 3-4

The Ingredients:
1 cup brown rice
1/4 cup wild rice
1 1/4 cup beef, chicken or vegetable stock
2/3 cup low fat yogurt, plain
1/3 cup low fat sour cream
1/2 cup salsa (heat of your preference)
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp sage
1 can (14 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
1 medium tomato, diced
1 medium red pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, Colby, Monterey jack and Manchego work well)
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 3-4 portions

The Process:
In a saucepan over medium heat combine the brown rice, wild rice and broth and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and let stand undisturbed for 20-30 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350

In a medium bowl whisk together yogurt and sour cream. Fold in salsa, chili pepper, garlic powder, cumin and sage. Stir until well blended.

Assemble the casserole in a 9x9 or 7x11 inch baking dish, beginning with the rice. Spread roughly 2/3 of the salsa mixture over the rice, layer the beans over, followed by the corn, tomato and red pepper. Sprinkle generously with half of the shredded cheese. Arrange the chicken breasts on top and cover with the remaining sauce. Bake uncovered for 45-50 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink.

Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted. Let stand before serving.

The Review:
The end result was a little soupy, but full of the flavors and textures reminiscent of enchiladas. All the the layers contributed to a great palette of textures, though something crunchy was noticeable absent. Had I made a more traditional casserole of the midwestern variety, I suppose cubing the chicken and generously sprinkling the top of the dish with crushed tortillas would have solved this dilemma. C'est la vie. There will be future last-minute hot dishes to experiment with. In the meantime, I need to brainstorm about how I could have cut down the cooking time...without using instant rice, mind you.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Julia Child's French Onion Soup

During my sophomore year of high school I was introduced to several well known French dishes through my French teacher. poulet proven├žal, quiche Lorraine, Tomatoes Provencale and or course, the classic, French Onion soup. Given our limited time in the class, as well as most of our general inexperience in the kitchen, these recipes were abbreviated and overly simplified. However, it sparked an interest in French cuisine. As a result, my mother was treated to a four course French dinner on her birthday, including a second attempt at French Onion Soup.

I cannot recall how that second attempt went. Though I do know it was not as complex and time consuming as the one by the Mother of all classic French cuisine: Julia Child. After a bit of hunting I came across a posting by another foodie boasting a old recipe from Julia Child's cooking show, "The French Chef"

adapted from a Julia Child recipe found at Food.com

serves 6-8

The Ingredients:
5 -6 cups yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 to 2 lbs)
1 tablespoon cooking oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons flour
6 cups beef stock (preferably homemade)
1 cup wine (dry red or white)
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
salt and pepper
12 ounces swiss cheese, grated
4 ounces parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 raw yellow onion
2 -3 tablespoons cognac
8 slices French bread (about 1 inch thick)
4 tablespoons olive oil, for drizzling

The Process:
Place heavy bottom stock pot or dutch over over medium-low heat.
Add 1 Tbs cooking oil, 2Tbs butter to pot. Add sliced onions and stir until they are evenly coated with the oil. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes until they are very tender and translucent.

To brown or caramelize the onions turn heat under pot to medium or medium high heat. Add 1/2 tsp sugar and 1 tsp salt and continue to cook uncovered, stirring frequently until the onions have browned and reduced significantly. Once caramelized, reduce heat to medium-low and add 3 Tbs flour to the onions. Brown the flour for about 2-3 minutes trying not to scorch it. (If the flour does not form a thick paste, you can add a bit more butter here).

Stir in about 1 cup of warm stock, scraping the bottom of the pan to get up all of the cooked-on bits. Add the rest of the stock, wine, sage, and bay leaf to the soup. Simmer for 30 minutes.

To make the "croutes" (toasted bread), heat oven to 325 degrees F. Drizzle each side of the bread slices with a bit of olive oil and place on baking sheet. Cook the croutes for 15 minutes in oven on each side (30 minutes total).

Check the soup for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Remove the bay leaf (if you can find it). Transfer to a casserole dish. At this point you can add the 2-3 Tbs cognac and grate the 1/2 raw onion into the soup. Add a few ounces of the swiss cheese directly into the soup and stir. Place the toasted bread in a single layer on top of the soup. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese in a thick layer on top of the bread making sure to cover the edges of the toast to prevent burning. Drizzle with a little oil or melted butter. Place in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Turn on broiler and brown cheese well.

Let cool for a few minutes

My Modifications:
My beef stock was unfortunately of the bouillon variety instead of homemade, but it is a rare instance we find ourselves in possession of a beef bone to make stock with. The wine of choice was a dry red. Here I should have done a bit more research as the red I used turned the stock a purplish hue, though the soup itself reduced to a much deeper brown as it simmered on the stove top. I've seen on a few forums on this very issue as it relates to coq au vin. Some varieties turn the meat a unsightly (though still tasty) color, while others impart all of the flavor without the discoloration. Burgundy seems to be the wine of preference...

I omitted the cognac and additional raw onion. My cheese was a blend of mozzarella, asiago, Parmesan, Romano and provolone. And my croutes were made from day old rye bread instead of crusty French bread.

The Review:
Incredibly time consuming, but well worth the effort. The smell called like a siren before we let the molten cheese cool enough...resulting in burned lips and tongues. But once it cooled enough to enjoy, we were in pure soup heaven. That extra time in preparation and cooking blessed us with a soup that was rich, thick and complex. The rye added a surprisingly complimentary flavor to the mix. I'm eager to try it again, only this time around with the crusty French Bread and cognac added.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lemon Ginger Scones

When I visited London, some of my most relaxed moments were caught in a coffee shop or tea room. Between the countless museums, monuments and gardens, these quiet moments offered a bit of calm to the whirlwind of sightseeing. And these moments were often accompanied by a tea and scone served with clotted cream.

I have yet to try my hand at clotted cream, but I have tried many a scone recipe. After playing around with different flours, different quantities of flour, butter and baking powder, trying buttermilk or heavy cream, and trying doughs with or without egg, I think I have finally developed a recipe for my perfect scone...though your tastes may differ.

The recipe is my own, but I did refer to Epicurious, The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, and JoyofBaking.com for guidance.

Yields 18 two inch circular scones, or 16 wedge-shaped scones

The Ingredients:

1 cup all purpose or pastry flour
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp crystallized ginger
1 Tbsp finely diced fresh ginger
zest of one lemon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2/3 cup buttermilk + extra for brushing

for the glaze
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
2 Tbsp melted butter
1 Tbsp lemon juice

The Process:
Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade (or by hand in a in medium bowl using a whisk), combine the flours, sugar, and baking powder and baking soda, and pulse or mix to incorporate. Add the lemon zest, crystallized ginger, fresh ginger and butter, and pulse on and off (or blend by hand using the tines of two forks or a pastry cutter), until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl (if using the food processor--if mixing by hand continue to use the same bowl). Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk. Using one hand, draw in the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. DO NOT over blend.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently gather it into a ball.

To form circular scones, roll or pat the dough into a circle about 3/4 inch thick. Cut out the circles, cutting as closely together as possible and keeping the trimmings intact. Gather the scraps, pat and press the pieces back together, and cut out the remaining dough. Place the scones 1 inch apart on a baking sheet or baking stone.

To form wedges, divide the dough into two balls. Pat the first into a circle 3/4 inch thick and about 8 inched across. Cut in half, and cut each half into 4 wedges. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Place the scones 1 inch apart on a baking sheet or baking stone.

Brush the tops with the remaining buttermilk and sprinkle with a dusting of sugar.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the surface cracks and they are slightly browned.

Remove to a wire rack to cool. Prepare the lemon glaze by whisking together 1/2 cup confectioners sugar, 1 Tbsp lemon juice and 2 Tbsp melted butter. Pour glaze into a piping bag or ziploc bag. When the scones are completely cool, snip a corner off of the glaze bag drizzle over the scones.

The Review:

Definitely my favorite scone recipe to date...and now that I have the basic down I'm chomping at the bit to try a few other flavor combination...orange cardamon comes first to my mind. The crumb was moist and tender, with just enough crust. I'm fond of the texture whole wheat flour adds to most bakes goods, but these recipe can easily be altered to use all pastry or all purpose flours for those who enjoy a more refined texture. The ginger and lemon flavoring was subtle and refreshing. The glaze truly sealed the deal, though, adding just a bit more tartness and a buttery finish. These disappeared far quicker than the shamrock sugar cookies.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Shamrock Sugar Cookies

Paddy's Day is just around the corner, and who doesn't like a cookie or two to accompany their Irish coffee? These tender, buttery cookies are courtesy of Martha Stewart. In search of the "perfect" sugar cookie, not only did I come across her recipe and a tutorial or two, but also the technique for the exact decorations I had in mind. And as a textile artist....stenciling is right up my alley.

Note, the three-leaf clover is the traditional shamrock symbol of Ireland and St. Patrick...but who can't use a little luck now and again...


adapted from the Clover Cookie recipe at MarthaStewart.com

Makes approximately four dozen 3" cookies

The Ingredients:
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Green sanding sugar

The Process:
Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder into a large bowl; set aside. Combine butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment; cream on high speed until fluffy. Beat in eggs

Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in two additions, mixing until well combined. Mix in vanilla. Divide dough in half, and cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out 1 piece of dough on a lightly floured work surface 1/8 inch thick. With a 3-inch cookie cutter, cut out 25 rounds. Working with 1 round at a time, place clover stencil on top; sprinkle surface with sanding sugar.

Arrange rounds on parchment- or nonstick baking mat-lined baking sheets. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes, or until ready to bake. Repeat process with remaining dough.Bake, one sheet at a time, until edges just start to brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool completely on sheets on wire racks. Store cookies in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

My Modifications:
I designed my own stencil. And unlike Martha, I do not have a stand mixer. I relied on my little electric hand mixer to cream the sugar and butter, and sheer arm strength to add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Also...I may or may not have added 2 Tbsp of whiskey to the batter...
The Review:
Well, if no cookies remain on the plate after tomorrow's St Patrick's Day gathering, I will know they were a hit. The first batch seemed a tad dry, and I suspect my oven runs hot. After reducing the bake time to 8 minutes the rest came out more tender, but just barely golden brown. The recipe claims to make about 50, and though I know I was rolling the dough out thicker than the recommended 1/8" I still somehow managed to end up with closer to 6 dozen. Oh well. Who doesn't like extra cookies?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Baked Samosas

I've tackled spinach phyllo triangles. I've mastered Cornish pasties. Time to take on the Indian samosas. And as today is Ash Wednesday, I opted to try a meat-free recipe...as well as a healthier, non-fried version.

adapted from Everyday Indian by Bal Arneson

yields 8 samosas

The Ingredients:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
3 Tbsp + 1 tsp warm water

one 14 oz can chickpeas, drained
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 Tbsp garam masala
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp red chili flakes
1 tsp ground dried ginger
1 tsp salt

The Process:
Combine the flour, salt and oil in a bowl. Mix until the oil is evenly distributed. Mix in the water and knead for 2 to 3 minutes, until it has a smooth consistency like pizza dough. Set aside while you prepare the filling.

For the filling, mix all of the ingredients gently in a large bowl until the garam masala is evenly distributed.

To make the samosas, preheat the oven to 425.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces and form each into a ball. Take 1 piece of dough and form it into a round flat shape. Dust your working surface with flour so the dough doesn't stick. Using a rolling pin, roll the into a thin patty (like tortilla). Cut the circle in half.

Take 1 half-circle and make a cone shape. Wet the edges with a little water to glue the overlapping edges together. Put 1/4 cup of the filling in the cone. Moisten the top of the inside edges and close the cone, pressing the edges to seal it. Brush the grapeseed oil on each side of the samosa and place on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

Place in the preheated oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, then flip the samosas and bake for an another 5 minutes, or until the samosas are nicely browned. Serve with chutney.

My Modifications:
I've become much in tune with the flavor of cumin and a little overwhelmed by it; so in this batch of Indian inspired cuisine, I lessened the amount by half. I also found I needed to use just over a 1/4 cup of water to form the dough into the right consistency...I blame our dry apartment.

The Review:
Patience is a virtue that you may need to accomplish this recipe. On the surface everything seems quite simple and straight forward. And the process was simple and straight forward until I began rolling out the shell dough. I never would have thought rolling out 4 little dough balls would be so hard. The dough crumbled. It dried out incredibly quickly. And I had little info to go on as to the size and thickness of the circles aside from "like a tortilla." I translated that to mean about 8" in diameter and as thin as possible. After the rolling and stuffing the first few, the technique came more easily. But I would highly recommend covering the remaining dough with cling wrap or a damp towel while not in use, to prevent it from over drying.

I ended up filling each samosa with a scant 1/4 cup. And in the end half of the filling remained unused. Next time around I'll probably double the shell recipe. Although after the difficulty I had rolling out the dough, I may search for a new shell recipe. A quick search online yielded a site devoted solely to samosa. And while the dough recipe there is very similar to the one I used, they did recommend pre-made puff pastry for baked variations of the treat. I'd imagine this would cut the frustration factor down remarkably.

All in all the flavors were good and the samosas themselves very filling. They seemed a titch dry right out of the oven, but grew more tender as they cooled down. A side of chutney is definitely in order the next time around.

Although, one of the joys of such a dish is the countless variations of fillings that can be used. Maybe the second time around will be more successful.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cajun Jambalaya

Happy Mardi Gras! A little taste of New Orleans seems more than appropriate for our chilly Fat Tuesday evening. The colors are festive, the vegetables fresh, and the spices hot! This version comes courtesy of Emeril the Food Network. Ross was a little disappointed that I didn't cook with quite the enthusiastic vocalizations as Emeril, but I don't think the dish suffered a lack of BAM! Enjoy!

adapted from the Essence of Emeril on the Food Network

serves 4

The Ingredients:
12 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped
4 ounces chicken, diced
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning, recipe follows
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon Worcester sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce
3/4 cup rice
3 cups chicken stock
5 ounces Andouille sausage, sliced
Salt and pepper
Emeril's Creole Seasoning:
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

Yield: 2/3 cup

The Process:
In a bowl combine shrimp, chicken and Creole seasoning, and work in seasoning well.

In a large saucepan heat oil over high heat with onion, pepper and celery, 3 minutes. Add garlic, tomatoes, bay leaves, Worcestershire and hot sauces. Stir in rice and slowly add broth. Reduce heat to medium and cook until rice absorbs liquid and becomes tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.

When rice is just tender add shrimp and chicken mixture and sausage. Cook until meat is done, about 10 minutes more.

My Modifications:
The only major change I made to this recipe was using a premixed Cajun seasoning in lieu of Emeril's Bayou Blast, despite having all of the spices for his blend on hand I also used VERY generous 1/4 and 1/2 cup measures of the veggies, as well as a few additional shrimp. So in the end this version probably yielded closer to 5 servings. And I used brown rice...because that's how I roll...

The Review:
Phases like "not bad" and "pretty good" pepper most of the conversations surrounding food at our house. Unless something really knocks our sock off or turns out completely enedible these two phrases are pretty solid endorsements.

I was a bit surprised at how soupy the jambalaya turned out. Though I am far from a Creole connoisseur, I expected it to be thicker and more sauce like--less broth like. Less stock and more rice would thicken it up a bit. Or a bit of tomato paste...though I'd be afraid that route would alter the overall balance of flavors too much.

The sausage was a bit of a disappointment as well, though I would never make jambalaya without the Andouille. This particular brand name sausage was incredibly greasy and had a texture too homogeneous. The next time any such Creole dish makes it onto our weekly menu, a special trip to Kramarczuk Brother's--the local, old-world deli and sausage company just a short walk across the river--is definitely in order to obtain those spicier, more toothsome links.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Slow Cooker Chicken Mole

Nothing seems more fitting for yet another cold snowy day than something that fills the apartment with spicy aromas all afternoon. This slow cooker recipe wasn't quite the "fix it and forget it" varieties I've tried in the past. All the ingredients for the mole sauce were combined and blended before adding to the crock pot, And the cut up chicken pieces need to be removed of their skin before layering in the pot as well. Still for the amount of prep time up front...the pay out nine hours later sounded well worth it.

Adapted from the BHG Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes

serves 4-6

The Ingredients:
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
3 cloves garlic, quartered
2 canned jalapeno peppers, drained
3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
3 Tbsp raisins
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground coriander
2 Tbsp quick cooking tapioca
2 1/2 to 3 lb broiler-fryer chicken, cut up and skinned
2 Tbsp slivered almonds or pepitas, toasted (optional)

The Process:
For the mole sauce, in a blender or food processor combine undrained tomatoes, onion, the 1/4 cup almonds, garlic, jalapeno peppers, cocoa powder, raisins, sesame seeds, sugar, salt and spices. Cover and blend or process until mixture is a coarse puree.

In a 3 1/2 to 4 quart slow cooker place the tapioca. Add the chicken and then sauce. Cover; cook on low-heat setting for 9 to 11 hours or on high heat setting for 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours.

Remove the chicken from cooker and arrange on serving platter. Stir sauce; pour over chicken. Sprinkle with remaining almonds or pepitas. Serve with rice.

My Modifications:
I used skinless, bone-in chicken leg quarters. Usually I prefer chicken breasts, but the richer flavor seemed better with the darker meat. Plus it was what I happened to have on hand.

I used a 4 oz can of fire roasted green chilies, drained, instead of the jalapenos. I felt they would add a milder heat, but more depth to the flavor. To kick the heat back up a notch, I in turn added 1 Tbsp ancho chili powder, as well as a few extra cloves of garlic.

In the end, I believe the chicken stewed in the sauce on low for about ten hours. It was falling off the bone when I pulled it out.

The Review:
The meat was dripping off of the bones when I went to pull the chicken out of the slow cooker. The sauce left behind was thick and rich brown in color...and the chocolate smell permeated the entire kitchen. Surprisingly, the chocolate flavor was actually pretty subdued. As was any spice. The was no one distinct flavor in the mole, so much as just a rich, deep, earthy flavor. Ross commented that it was very different than a previous mole I had tried. Still good, but different. Only he couldn't put his finger on what was different. The previous recipe was not for a slow cooker, and it made use of boneless, skinless chicken breast, which yielded drier results. But overall the ingredient list was very much the same. I chalk the difference up to the cooking methods. The first simmered on the stove top for maybe half and hour which seemed to allow the individual ingredients to each shine through. The slow cooker's long cook time blended the sauce in to a deeper harmonious whole and allowed the flavor to penetrate the meat more deeply. And I can't say one is actually better than the other...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fish in a Velvety Sauce

Or Bengali doi maach. This Bengali, or Eastern Indian dish is a mild fish curry in a yogurt sauce. The ingredient list was much shorter than many of the other Indian dishes I've prepared, and far less intimidating. This recipe could serve very well as an intro to Indian curries...both for those interesting in tasting Indian cuisine and those who wish to try their hand at cooking it.

adapted from The Everything Indian Cookbook by Monica Bhide

serves 4

The Ingredients:
4-5 catfish or tilapia filets (about 1 1/2 lbs)
3/4 tsp turmeric powder
8 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided
1 bay leaf
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste*
1 large onion, minced
1 tsp red chili powder
2 serrano chilies, seeded and minced
1/2 cup plain yogurt, whipped
table salt to taste
water, as needed

*ginger -garlic paste is essentially equal parts fresh ginger and garlic, blended into a paste with the optional serrano pepper thrown in for heat.

The Process:
Place the filets in a bowl. Rub well with the turmeric and set aside for about 10 minutes. Rinse the filets and pat dry.

In a medium-sized skillet, heat 6 Tbsp of the oil. Add the filets one at a time and fry until browned on both sides. Remove from heat with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Continue until all filets are fried. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil. Add the bay leaf and cumin seeds. When the spices begin to sizzle, add the ginger-garlic paste and onions; saute for about 7 to 8 minutes, or until onions are well browned.

Add the red chili powder and green chilies, mix well. Add the yogurt and salt to taste, and mix well. Add about 1/2 cup of water. Simmer, uncovered on low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the fish filets and simmer for another 5 mintues. Be careful not to break the filets when you stir. Serve hot.

My Modifications:
I opted to use tilipia in lieu of catfish, and the daintier filet held up quite well in this sauce. Though the recipe stated to rinse the fish after rubbing in the turmeric, our filets went straight into the oil with their bright orange spice dusting intact. I also used about half of the oil called for in the recipe...just enough to evenly coat the bottom of the pan. After frying the fish, this oil was reused to start the sauce, instead of heating new oil.

Given the size of the onions at our grocer, I only used half of an incredibly enormous red onion. Only one serrano was used as well, as I was afraid of overpowering the delicate flavor of the tilapia.

Upon adding the yogurt, the dairy immediately curdled, creating a sauce that looked far from velvety. I'm not sure what caused the culinary mishap, but in the error I did realize I had chopped, not minced the onion. The resulting sauce seemed far more chunky and runny than I had envisioned...and far from appetizing, though the sauce did smell amazing. A quick run through the food processor smoothed the sauce into the cheerful yellow curry I had hoped for. And the resulting dish was quite well received.

The Review:
I was a little worried for a minute when the sauce looked far from velvety. But in the end, all turned out well. Other variations of the recipe call for onion ground into a paste, so I don't feel too far off for having to run my sauce through the food processor before adding the fish back into the skillet. I'd imagine the dish would work quite well with a wide range of flaky white fish, and I was pleasantly surprised that the sauce did not overpower the tilapia. Of the meal, Ross simply said "yum"...a huge endorsement for one who refused to even try Indian food a scant two years ago!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Gingered Chicken Breast

Five ingredients....nice and simple...

Adapted from The South Beach Diet by Arthur Agaston, M.D.

serves 4

The Ingredients:
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves of garlic
4 boneless, skin chicken breast halves

The Process:
Combine the lemon juice, ginger, pepper, and garlic in a small bowl.

Place the chicken breasts in a deep bowl. Pour the ginger mixture over the breasts, turning once to coat both sides. Cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Spray a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Heat the skillet on medium-high heat, until hot. Add the chicken. Cook, turning once, until tender, about 8 minutes.

My Modifications:
I added about 1 Tbsp of dry white wine to the ginger mixture and marinated for about 1 hour. The chicken breasts I had on hand were fairly thick, so the cook time was a bit longer...and the stove top temperature was reduce to medium to keep the chickens' exteriors from over browning before the insides were fully cooked.

The Review:
Ross loved it. I found it sort of boring. But not all meals need be elaborate or gourmet...

The meat needed a little something more to help the flavors really sing. Maybe a touch of salt. Maybe a dollop of honey. Maybe more time to marinade. Who knows really. But the garlic and ginger did provide a great base to play upon. The sauteed vegetables greatly outshone the poultry, but sadly I can't recall what I toss in to season them.