Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Chicken Tikka Masala

 So many posts lately! I should slow down, since there are indeed bills to pay. But I have an addiction to recipes, new and old. Tonight's blog features one of the first dishes I made with my boyfriend (also one of the first complicated dishes I tried. I use "complicated" as an antonym to "easy," as in Easy Mac.)

It was definitely interesting to see how much more comfortable I was in the kitchen. The dish turned out well the first time, but I think confidence and ease are great attributes in the kitchen (nowhere else, though. Shaky cowards unite!)

I couldn't find any garam masala at the store, so I began with making a substitute out of cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, crumbled bay leaves, cinnamon, and ground cloves--garnered from a useful Yahoo! Answer. My friend Andrew suggests adding freshly ground coriander next time and favoring it above the other ingredients.

For the marinade, I used yogurt, the garam masala substitute, lemon juice, a teaspoon of salt, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, freshly ground black pepper, and minced ginger. I took three boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cut them into bite-size pieces, and stirred them into the marinade. Then I covered and refrigerated the bowl for two hours.

Once the chicken was ready, I threaded it into four long wooden skewers. Using my new stovetop grill pan, I heated it in high and drizzled olive oil onto the pan. I situated the skewers on the pan and let the chicken cook for about five to seven minutes on each side--it's done when the juices run clear.

For the sauce, I melted butter over medium heat in a heavy skillet. Then I added garlic and chopped fresh jalapeno. I sauteed these for a minute, then added three teaspoons of the garam masala substitute, cumin, and paprika and stirred the mixture to combine the seasonings. 

Next I added tomato sauce and coconut milk. I heated the sauce through, then reduced the heat to low and let it simmer for twenty minutes, stirring occasionally.

After twenty minutes, the sauce had begun to thicken and I unthreaded the chicken from the skewers, stirring them into the sauce to coat. I let it simmer for ten more minutes.

Finally I served the chicken and sauce on a bed of rice, then I garnished it all with chopped cilantro. Wonderfully spicy and tasty. Enjoy!

Chicken Tikka Masala (adapated from Allrecipes)

For the marinade:
1 cup yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon garam masala substitute
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon salt
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

For the sauce:
1 15-oz can of tomato sauce

1 3/4 cup of coconut milk
1 fresh jalapeno, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon butter
3 teaspoons garam masala substitute
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika

Garam masala substitute:
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1.2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Red Pepper Hummus and Window-Pane Potato Chips

 Hello, party people! I am here to fulfill your needs--that is, if your needs involve tending to vegan party guests. I totally respect vegans. It's an interesting and difficult choice to make, and I know that I love food in general too much to say "No more steak for breakfast." (Full disclosure: I had prime rib for breakfast. I called it brunch, because it was ten-thirty, but it still happened.) But when I have vegan friends coming to my parties--or vegan friends having birthdays--nothing delights me more than to provide. For my lovely friend Emily's birthday today, I made red pepper hummus and window-pane potato chips.

The hummus was fairly straight-forward, though it was a lot of fun to make. I doubled the original recipe and began by roasting two red peppers. I don't see the point in ever buying roasted red peppers, because it's so much more fun to roast your own. Just buy the peppers, halve them and remove the core, then pull out the seeds and membranes. So much easier than you could have ever imagined. Then wrap a baking sheet in foil, flatten your peppers down on the sheet, and roast them under the preheated broiler for 10 minutes. After this passes, seal the peppers up in a Ziploc bag for ten minutes to let them cool. If you just drop the hot peppers into the bag, the bag will break open and the pepper will fall to the ground. Just slide it in carefully and avoid strong heat and gravity issues.

After the peppers have cooled, peel them and put them into your food processor along with your chickpeas, lemon juice, cumin, salt, ground black pepper, tahini, and quartered garlic clove. Process this up until everything's fairly smooth and you can no longer spot any chickpeas. Then serve!

 For the windowpane potato slices, first you must preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Then you will need a mandoline slicer. If you don't own one, I highly recommend it. I've never been able to slice onions more beautifully, and I was even more delighted with it once I got to this recipe. I set the slicer to its thinnest setting and sliced up a couple of baking potatoes. I tossed the first few slices because they were too small or incomplete. Then I took twenty-or-so slices and set them in a single layer atop several paper towels. I covered this layer with more paper towels, pressed down lightly, and then let them rest for a few minutes to reduce the moisture.

After this period, I covered a baking sheet with cooking spray and placed as many potato slices as I could on top of it, yet again in a single layer. On these slices I placed sprigs of sage, tarragon, thyme, and rosemary. I covered them with yet another potato slice and pressed down to adhere.

I sprinkled the slices with salt and coated them in cooking spray, then covered the sheet with foil. I placed a baking sheet on top and put the sheets in the oven. I took my cast-iron skillet (though you can take any heavy oven-proof skillet) and put it on top of the baking sheets.

I originally followed the recipe and baked the slices for 25 minutes at 400 degrees, but this resulted in many burned potato chips. So I tried again for 15 minutes, then I turned the slices over and baked them for another 5-7 minutes.

Trial periods are definitely recommended, and ultimately you will end up with something fairly tasty but ultimately prettier than it is delicious. But if you are cooking for the aesthetic qualities, you're in luck!

(The hummus was terrific, though.)

Red Pepper Hummus (via Cooking Light)(This is the recipe before I doubled it)
1 red bell pepper
2 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp tahini 
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 19 oz. can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1 garlic clove, quartered

Window-Pane Potato Chips (via Cooking Light) (doubled this one too)
2 medium baking potatoes
Cooking spray
Assorted fresh herb sprigs (I used sage, rosemary, thyme, and tarragon)
1/2 tsp salt


Friday, September 23, 2011

Chicken Garlic Pizza with Whole-Wheat Rosemary Crust


When I'm not cooking or engaging my computer screen in an hours-long conversation of slow blinks, I work at a pizza restaurant. Though I don't work in the kitchen, I come home nightly saturated in the scent of cornmeal and pizza grease--yet somehow I haven't gotten tired of pizza. (Though this is the same girl who has eaten a PBJ with a side of Cheetos and grapes every year for her birthday since she was 8...some foods just remain delicious.)

It's just such a versatile dish, with so many possible styles and toppings, that it's hard to think of a world in which I'd say "As God is my witness, I'll never eat pizza again."

Until last night, all I'd made within the realm of pizza  was flatbread topped with swiss, pancetta, and caramelized onions and a chicken alfredo pizza baked on panini bread. But I just came into possession of a pizza stone and was ready to tackle the actual dish. Not on my own, though. My co-chef (graduated from sous-chef) was able to offer some of the expertise he gained living in Italy for a total of seven years, for which I'm endlessly grateful.

Not that our pizza was full-on authentic, obviously, but we weren't trifling with no Lunchables, ya heard?

We decided to make the dough from scratch, despite my past tragic battles in this arena, because it's just more fun and rewarding, I think, then getting a pre-baked crust or a tube of dough. And how else are you going to learn if you don't just throw yourself in? (I'm going to move on quickly from this train of thought, before my blog starts sounding like a Grey's Anatomy end-of-episode pep talk.)

For the dough, we combined a cup of whole-wheat flour, active dry yeast, warm water, oil and brown sugar. Stirring this together, we then added three cups of all-purpose flour, a teaspoon and a half of salt, and the fresh rosemary, which Andy stopped me from throwing in before it was fully chopped and de-stemmed. Thank you, Andy! (To be said like the Dude addresses Donny after being informed that his phone is ringing. But for real, my co-chef is a blessing.)

I stirred this up with a wooden spoon, which was a little unwieldy, but doable. Afterward we turned the dough out onto a highly floured work surface. Do not skimp on flour! This is the main lesson I've learned. Otherwise everything falls apart and the dough tries to become your new skin instead of staying put on the counter.

I then kneaded the dough until it was well-combined and hardly sticky, just elastic. We then oiled the bottom of a medium bowl, set the dough inside, and then turned it a few times to coat. The bowl was set in a warm place with a dish towel over it to rise for about 45 minutes to an hour (I believe we let it go for about fifty minutes.)

After the dough's been rising for fifteen minutes, we put the pizza stone in the oven and preheated it to 500. The dough recipe advised that we preheat for at least an hour.

Now on to the toppings! (I'm so sorry about the length of this blog.) I seasoned the chicken breast with cumin, oregano, paprika, garlic powder, and black pepper--using the helpful advice of a commenter on Allrecipes--and cooked it in a skillet. The original recipe called for the chicken to be cooked in bowling water, but that just seemed so bland to us.

The chicken, mid-cook
After the chicken was all-the-way-cooked (Andy checked), he transferred it to a plate, let it cool for a few minutes, and then diced it up roughly.

For the base, Andy melted butter in a small skillet. Once the butter had started to melt, he added chopped green onions, dried basil, and minced garlic. We had placed a bowl in the freezer to chill it, then retrieved it, poured in the herb butter, and put it into the refrigerator to set.

The dough had doubled by now, so I turned it out onto the now-oiled work surface and pressed down on it gently with my (not naturally) oily hands. Then I cut it in half. I divided one of the halves again, formed them both into balls, and stored them each in a Ziploc bag in the refrigerator, where they'll keep for up to three days (though we already used one last night to make a second smaller pizza).

I formed the remaining dough into a "ball" (picture way, way above), covered it with a towel, and let it rest for twenty minutes. This was perfect time for the butter to set, the cilantro and tomatoes to be chopped, and the Parmesan to be freshly grated.

(Here I was going to rant about how Parmesan is just not a pretty cheese, but I'm certain I am barely holding on to your patience.)

The set-dough had a really nice texture to it--a little drier but still very elastic--and it was easy to push out into a thin flat circle. Andy kept calling for it to be thinner--Italian-style--and the crust and I conformed as much as we could.

For the toppings, we spread the herb butter over the pie using the back of a spoon. Next came the diced chicken, then I dotted clumps of ricotta all over, followed by the tomatoes and then the chopped cilantro. Over all this, Andy sprinkled a few handfuls of Parmesan cheese.

With all this, we still had plenty of toppings left for the second, smaller pizza we made. All we had to do was remake the base.

The original pizza.
At this point, we realized we did not have parchment paper on which to rest the pizza atop the stone. The stone's not a necessity for your own pizza-making, of course, but the ceramic base does help distribute the heat, and I highly recommend it. Normal baking sheets will suffice, though, I'm pretty sure. (Here is where I point out that Google knows much, much more than I do.)

We awkwardly relocated the dough from the work surface onto a sheet of foil. The second time through, we made sure to do this before adding the toppings. Learn from your mistakes.

The dough recipe called for the pizza to cook for 8 minutes, but ours was in there for about eleven and the crust was perfectly crispy without burning at all.

The crust was ohhh, soooo yummmmy too. I'm usually not one for finishing the crusts on things, but I could not get enough. Flavored crusts are definitely the way to go.

So there you have it! Choose your crust flavors and toppings and bake away.

Whole Wheat Rosemary Pizza Dough (via Pinch My Salt)
1 1/2 C. warm water
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 t. brown sugar
1 C. whole wheat flour
1 package active dry yeast or 2 t. instant yeast
3 C. all-purpose flour plus extra for kneading
1 1/2 t. salt
1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed and chopped

Chicken Garlic Pizza (via Allrecipes.com)

  • 1 skinless, boneless chicken breast half
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 (10 ounce) can refrigerated pizza crust dough
  • 2 roma (plum) tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • cumin
  • oregano
  • garlic powder
  • paprika
  • ground black pepper

Friday, September 9, 2011

Curried Chicken Salad

I wanted something delicious for lunch today, and this ended up hitting the spot perfectly (with plenty of leftovers!). I've been wanting to make chicken salad for a long time, and my favorite part about this recipe is that I didn't have to shred any chicken. Plus all the fresh fruit.

It turns out that being out of school and hitting the market before noon results in you being the only person there under fifty. But we all got along marvelously, and I even convinced an elderly woman to buy some mangoes with me! One niggle that I'm working on: everyone else was saying hi to each other and having conversations except for me. But I will make them my friends (the same way I'll never go hungry again!)

Once home, I started off by coating my chicken quite thoroughly in kosher salt. I let it sit for fifteen minutes, turning it over every five minutes, then rinsed all the salt off the chicken.

Meanwhile I peeled, pitted, and cut up my mango. This proved difficult both because of the messy process itself and because I kept munching on the mango I had managed to surgically remove.

Then I poached the chicken for a year and a half. Seriously, this took forever. First I brought a large pot of water to barely-a-simmer. I think my mistake was that I had too much water and maybe I didn't get it hot enough in the first place. But it all worked out okay. The recipe calls for you to poach the chicken for six minutes uncovered, then remove it from heat and cover it and let it finish cooking for 10 to 12 minutes. 10 to 12 minutes is a lie. For me and my inadequate cooking water, it was more like twenty minutes. Then I took it out, cut it into smaller pieces, and let it cook for a little longer. In the end, I ended up with very tender chicken, all the way cooked, so it was a sort of blessing.

For the dressing, I combined mayonnaise, plain Greek yogurt, curry powder, fresh-squeezed lime juice, honey, ginger, salt, and pepper in a bowl and whisked it together. The curry taste was a little overpowering, so I added a bit more yogurt and mayonnaise to even it out. (The remainder of the lime went into my Diet Coke.)

While the chicken was wandering around the desert with the Jews, I halved a bunch of red grapes, chopped a red onion, and chopped up the cashews as well, tossing this all into the same bowl as the mango.

I let the finally-cooked chicken cool for several minutes, then sliced it into 1/2-inch pieces. These pieces were stirred into the dressing, which was stirred into the mango mix, which was all shoveled into my mouth (practically).

Good for sandwiches too!

Curried Chicken Salad (via the Gourmet cookbook)
For salad:
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (1 1/2 lbs)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 firm but ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup red seedless grapes, halved
1/2 cup salted roasted cashews, coarsely chopped

For dressing:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup plain yogurt
5 teaspoons curry powder
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Poach the chicken: Coat the chicken  with kosher salt in a bowl. Let stand at room temperature, turning once or twice, for 15 minutes.
Rinse the salt from chicken. Poach chicken in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan of barely simmering well-salted water, uncovered, for 6 minutes. Remove  from heat and let chicken stand in cooking liquid, covered, until just cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate and cool for 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile make the dressing: whisk together mayonnaise, yogurt, curry powder, lime juice, honey, ginger, salt and pepper in a large bowl.
3. Assemble the salad: Cut chicken into 1/2-inch pieces and add to dressing. Add onion, mango, grapes, and cashews and stir gently to combine.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Quinoa and Pistachio Salad with Moroccan Pesto

Y'all, this was so delicious. And not difficult or expensive at all! I was able to make it with aplomb under all sorts of hostessing pressures. I produced this last night as a vegan option for our Grilltacular (an all-day blowout that was very successful, but very shambly as well--shambly being the adjective for things that leave your house in a concerning state.)

I didn't do any of the grilling myself, but I did make andouille and beef burgers with caramelized onions and spicy mayo, using a recipe I got from Epicurious. Everything that came out of the grill (chicken, bratwurst, boudin, bacon, burgers, bacon, corn on the cob, kebabs, hot dogs, bacon) was very tasty and it's a crime I couldn't make myself hungrier. 

For the salad, I began by preheating the broiler. Then I halved and seeded my red bell pepper. I put the halves on a foil-lined baking sheet and roasted the pepper for 12 minutes. While it was roasting, I boiled the quinoa in a mixture of veggie broth, orange juice, and water. As it came to a boil, I covered it, reduced the heat, and let it simmer for 12 minutes. These things just cook themselves and you get so much time to finish your other tasks or open another beer or make small talk with all the friends who were nice enough to let you feed them and give them beverages!

The Moroccan pesto is a mixture of parsley, cilantro, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, kosher salt, and ground red pepper. Chop the things that need to be chopped (parsley, cilantro, garlic) and combine everything in the food processor. Process.

After the bell pepper's nicely roasted, let it cool in a covered container (the recipe says zip-loc bag, but I just put it in a tupperware container for 10 minutes before peeling it and chopping it. All my components came together in a nice, timely fashion, and I consolidated the pesto, bell pepper, quinoa, and chickpeas into one bowl. I did not use olives, because I do not like olives (here I was going to say "unless they are extra-virgin and oily," but you can imagine how I stopped my typing fingers in mortification.) I sprinkled the pistachios on top.

Voila! You have now provided your guests with a vegan option! (Note: this dish was heartily celebrated by non-vegans too.)

Quinoa and Pistachio Salad with Moroccan Pesto (via Cooking Light's Way to Cook Vegetarian)
1 red bell pepper
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup organic vegetable broth
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/3 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1/4 extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 15.5 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
12 oil-cured olives, pitted and chopped (I left these out, not a big fan of olives)
1/4 cup chopped pistachios

1. Preheat broiler.
2. Cut red bell pepper in half lengthwise, discard seeds and membranes. Place pepper halves, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet, flatten with hand. Broil 12 minutes or until blackened. Place in a zip-top plastic blag; seal. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel and chop.
3. Place quinoa, broth, 1/2 cup of water, and juice in a large sauce pan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 12 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.
4. Place cilantro and next 7 ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth. Combine bell pepper, quinoa mixture, cilantro mixture, chickpeas, and olives in a large bowl. sprinkle with nuts.
(Yield: 6 servings; serving size: 3/4 cup)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Asparagus Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

In hindsight, I should have cut this diagonally for the picture. But hunger does funny things to my logic.
For dinner last night, I was interested in something light and fairly simple, having indulged in half hoagie earlier in the day. If it is possible to overdose on sandwiches, I would have done so at any occasion where they serve those little chicken salad numbers on platters, so I felt safe in repeating myself here.

I wasn't a huge fan of pesto until I started cooking ("Isn't that wonderful?" Lucille Bluth might say) and using it for myself. The appreciation severely spiked when I started making it. That seems to be the truth about most sauces--they taste better somehow when you do-it-yourself and you can adjust the flavors and see each ingredient that goes into it. (Although sometimes my ambition gets the best of me and things burn and I cry and have to sacrifice myself to the storebought sauce gods. But it never hurts to try again.)

Anyway! After scouring the archives of my encumbered StumbleUpon account, I happened upon these grilled cheese sandwiches. Grilled cheese was one of the meals I could do masterfully well long before I could eyeball a tablespoon of olive oil, and I was very intrigued by the pesto.

First I blanched half a bunch of asparagus, though the water took far too long to come to a rolling boil--I assume this is because I kept watching it--and I ended up re-icing my bowl of water a couple of times. Meanwhile I toasted the pine nuts for 5 minutes at 350 degrees and zested and juiced half a lemon. I learned a handy tip for juicing lemons too--zap it in the microwave for 10 seconds, then roll it around on your counter, then cut it open and unleash a veritable fountain of citrus essence!

I need to learn a trick for zesting soon, because instead of being a wizard at that, I just ended up grating my thumb knuckle.

I chopped up my newly (finally!) blanched asparagus and threw it into the food processor along with 1/2 cup of spinach (though I think I overshot this a little, which would explain the bright, bright green of my pesto, though the flavor was fine. I made a broccoli and cheese soup a while back with pureed baby spinach and the color and taste were both absolutely delicious. I ate it while watching "Big Girls Don't Cry...They Get Even" on TV, which stars both Jenny Lewis and Cory Matthews, so it wins. Memmmooooriiiiiies.)

Along with those two ingredients, I added a clove of minced garlic, the zest and juice from the lemon, toasted pine nuts, olive oil, and a little bit of salt and pepper for seasoning.

Now it's really just smooth sailing from here. The winds of foreign Pesto will no longer bandy you about. I lightly toasted my bread--a little too light at first, because I was having difficulty buttering it--and then added a slice of Gruyere and a spread of pesto to two of the bread slices.

Then I heated up my skillet. The original recipe called for a little-lower-than-medium heat, but that was taking far too long to cook. I ended up adding a little more butter to the skillet itself and putting the heat at medium, while using my cast-iron to press the sandwich down as it cooked. This will definitely reduce the cooking time, so be careful, but it did the job in terms of melting the cheese and getting the sandwich nicely toasted. I also recommend doing only one sandwich at a time to avoid overcrowding. Overcrowded sandwiches do not like to transform into crispy melty goodness.

There you have it! Simple weeknight meal. If you're inclined to try something much more difficult but even tastier, I recommend peanut butter and jelly (I almost typed "jealousy," which has inspired me to invent the peanut butter and jealousy sandwich out of who-knows-what, but it's gonna happen!) sandwiches with sides of Cheetos and grapes. Good luck on your endeavor!

Asparagus Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwich (via Closet Cooking)
Serves 2.

4 slices whole-grain bread, lightly toasted
2 slices Gruyรจre
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons Asparagus Pesto

Asparagus Pesto
1 cup asparagus, blanched
1/2 cup baby spinach
Zest and juice from 1/2 lemon
4 tablespoons Parmesan, grated
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper, to taste