Tuesday, May 22, 2012

recipes: gazpacho

my gazpacho

I feel like I've made a zillion variations of gazpacho over the years, but I recently put together a low calorie version I think I’ll stick with awhile. Here you go:
3 large celery sticks 
5 fairly large green onion stalks 
1 medium sweet onion 
½ large red pepper 
4 small garlic cloves 
3 tomatoes 
1 large cucumber, seeds scraped out 
1 dried ancho chile, stemmed and seeded 
3 cups tomato juice 
1 12oz can of original V-8 
1 large lemon 
1-2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 
2 tablespoons to ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (optional) 
1 pound frozen uncooked shrimp (or pre-cooked) 
1 avocado 
salt & pepper to taste

First, boil some water and then pour it over and cover the dried ancho in a small bowl. Let soak for 20 minutes or so.

While the chile is soaking, prepare the shrimp. I used large, peeled and tailless frozen shrimp, thawing them under running cold water and steaming the lot in a large skillet with ½ cup water and ½ cup red wine vinegar with Old Bay seasoning brought to a boil. Once the shrimp turn pink and are cooked through, remove them from the pan and let cool. Chop them into thirds and set aside. (If you are using precooked shrimp, simply peel, chop and set aside.)

Roughly chop all the vegetables and place in a food processor or blender with the ancho, tomato juice, V-8, juice of the lemon, red wine vinegar and olive oil (if using). My blender is smaller, so I did the lot in two batches and mixed them with a whisk in a serving bowl. Salt and pepper to taste. Place in the refrigerator to chill for two or so hours before serving.

When you are ready to serve, ladle into a bowl, drizzle some olive oil in a spiral over the soup (optional) and spoon in the cut-up shrimp and chopped avocado.

A last note: the key to a making a gazpacho I like is adjusting the flavors as I go, which is why I'll error on the side of not putting in too much of one flavor at a time (even holding back on what a recipe calls for). If I taste it and feel like it's lacking something, I add it! It's much harder to adjust if one or two flavors are too overpowering. 

Anyway, this is one I like--healthy, low calorie and delicious! But feel free to adjust it to your tastes!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

recipes: gussied up grilled cheese sandwiches with jamie oliver’s real mushroom soup

Jamie Oliver's Real Mushroom Soup (photo: mine)

I’ve been making my way through cookbooks at the library, and I came up with this meal idea when I ran across Jamie Oliver’s recipe for "The Real Mushroom Soup" in Jamie’s Dinners. I wanted to add something alongside the soup that I could make for the kids, too (they aren't fond of mushrooms yet, heh), so I came with these gussied up grilled cheese sandwiches that I adapted from recipes I’d pinned on Pinterest.

First the soup, the recipe of which you can find here. I had fun shopping for this one—I’d not used mascarpone cheese or the dried porcini mushrooms before. I found some oyster and shitake mushrooms and then bagged another half pound of mixed wild mushrooms  in the produce department of our local Giant. I followed the recipe pretty much to the letter (except I substituted basil for the thyme as I didn’t have any), soaking the porcini while I sliced up and cooked the mushrooms, garlic, basil and onions in some butter and a little oil in my dutch oven on the stove. I added the porcini, the liquid it soaked in and some chicken stock and let the whole mixture cook for 20 minutes.

gussied up grilled cheese sandwiches (photo credit: mine)
Meanwhile, I assembled all the ingredients for the grilled cheese sandwiches. For the kids, I placed a couple of slices of American cheese and some crumbled just-cooked bacon (I used the microwave to cook the bacon—fast and easy) between two slices of bread buttered on the outside. For my husband and me, however, I got a little more creative:
~ grated mozzarella cheese 
~ Trader Joe’s Basil Pesto 
~ crumbled bacon pieces 
~ thin slices of fresh tomatoes
There are endless ideas out there to dress up grilled cheese—use whatever your taste buds crave. I brushed the outside of the bread slices with olive oil and then layered the sandwiches with the mozzarella, pesto, bacon, tomato slices and some more cheese. 

By this time, the soup was done, so I purreed half of it in a blender and added it back and turned off the burner. While the cheese sandwiches browned in a frying pan, I ladled the soup into bowls, added a dab of mascarpone cheese and chopped fresh parsley and served it all nicely warm and yummy. A wonderful winter evening dinner!

Friday, December 30, 2011

recipes: mexican mushroom soup and fish with fresh lime & chile dressing

Sopa de Setas and Fish with Fresh Lime & Chile Dressing

Last night I once again delved into Zarela’s Veracruz, this time cheffing up Sopa de Setas (Mushroom Soup) and Pescado en Chile Limon (Fish with Fresh Lime and Chile Dressing). These are two dishes that made me realize once again that good recipes are like good novels—pieces of art that leave me marveling. I didn’t know flavors like these existed.

I started with the lime and chile dressing, following the recipe almost exactly. The fresh tomatillos and lime really make this recipe; I can’t emphasize enough the taste fresh squeezed lime juice adds to this dressing—don’t cheat yourself by using bottled:

6-8 medium tomatillos, husks removed and rinshed
2 teaspons salt, or to taste
2 jalapeno or serano chiles, stemmed and seeded (I used only half a jalapeno pepper)
4 garlic cloves
½ small white onion, coarsely chopped
8 cilantro sprigs (about 1-2 tablespoons chopped)
½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 2-3 limes)
¼-½ cup water (I didn’t use any)

Put the tomatillos in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil; then reduce to medium heat and cook until they change color (about 5 minutes). Drain and let cool to room temperature. Once they are cooled, simply combine all the ingredients in a blender and process. The recipe says to add water if needed so you end up with a “slightly soupy consistency” but mine didn’t need water. Set aside.

Next, I moved onto the soup. Here, I made some adaptations according to the ingredients I could find:

3 dried Anaheim chiles, stemmed and seeded (the recipe calls for 3 dried pasilla or mulato chiles, but I couldn’t find those at our local grocery store)
4 cups chicken stock (I used 2 cups of homemade chicken stock left over from the Mexican chicken soup I’d made earlier and 2 cups of store bought chicken broth; the recipe calls for all homemade stock and it definitely adds to the flavor)
6 ounces bacon, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces shitake mushrooms, coarsely chopped
8 ounces oyster mushrooms, coarsely chopped
3 sprigs of cilantro (recipe calls for epazote sprigs, but our grocer didn’t have those; the recipe says you can use cilantro "in a pinch," so I did)
Salt to taste

The recipe calls for you to “griddle dry” the chiles, which essentially means you rinse the stemmed and seeded chiles and then place them on a medium-hot griddle or pan, turning frequently until the moisture evaporates and you start to smell the aroma of the chiles (took no more than 30 seconds for my chilies). The recipe cautions against scorching the chiles, which would result in a bitter taste. Then soak the chiles in two cups of chicken stock for 20 minutes. Process in a blender until smooth and run through a strainer into a bowl, pressing all the liquid through. Set aside.

Fry the bacon over medium high heat until crisp and then remove to a paper towel to drain, reserving 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease to the soup pot. Heat the grease over medium-high heat and add the onion and garlic, cooking until the onion is translucent and golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes until they begin to soften. Add the bacon, chile mixture, the rest of the stock, and the cilantro. Cook uncovered over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes.

While the soup cooked, I fried about 2 pounds of cod in about ½ cup of rippling olive oil, flipping several times until touched with a light golden brown. Next time I will use a firmer fish that doesn’t break apart so easily; the recipe says red snapper, grouper, sea bass or Pacific rockfish work well. I’ve read that trout also works well with this sauce.

When the fish is almost done, drain the oil from the pan and add the lime and chile dressing and cook for about five minutes or until fish is done. The recipe calls for adding two tablespoons of butter at this point, but unfortunately I forgot; the dressing was divine without it, but I would’ve loved to have tasted it with the butter.

The flavors in these two recipes were amazing—definitely worth trying if you are looking for some authentic south-of-the-border culinary experiences.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

recipes: a mexican chicken noodle soup

(photo: mine)
After a week of Christmas food feasting, we felt like we wanted something different so I decided to try another recipe from Zarela's Veracruz: Caldo de Pollo con Fideos (or Santa Maria's Chicken Soup with Noodles). According to Zarela, this is a version of a soup she grew up with in northern Mexico—and it is indeed, as she puts it, very "soothing." I wish I had a gallon of this soup in reserve for those days I seek comfort food.

I followed the original recipe pretty closely (here is a version almost exactly like the one in the book, with only the jalapenos not in the original recipe), tweaking it only where I couldn't find the right ingredients:
1 4 to 4½ pound chicken, cut into sections (I purchased a pre-cut chicken; the recipe calls for a quartered 3 ½ to 4 pound chicken)  
3 small white onions, 1 ½ unpeeled (recipe calls for 2 onions, 1 unpeeled) 
9 garlic cloves, 4 unpeeled (recipe calls for 6 cloves, 2 unpeeled) 
2-3 teaspoons salt (recipe calls for 1 ½ to 2 teaspoons) 
12 black peppercorns 
15 mint springs (1 small bunch) 
12 cups water (recipe calls for 7-8 cups)
3 dried Anaheim chilies, stemmed and seeded (the recipe calls for ancho chilies, but I couldn't find those at my grocery store) 
¼ cup olive oil 
8 ounces nested angel hair noodles (recipe calls for fideos or fedelini noodles, which are somewhere between the size of spaghetti and vermicelli, suggesting vermicelli if the other two versions are not available; however, I liked the idea of nested noodles, so I went with what I could find)
I placed the pre-cut chicken pieces into a large stockpot and added the unpeeled onions, unpeeled garlic, peppercorns, 3 mint sprigs and about 1 ½ teaspoons salt and covered the combination with enough water to cover by 2 inches (which ended up being 12 cups). I brought the pot to a boil and then reduced the heat to a gentle rolling boil, partially covered the pot and cooked for about 30 minutes. Then I turned off the heat and let the chicken cool in the stock.

dried Anaheim chilies
After about 10 minutes, I pulled the chicken pieces out of the pot and let cool a bit more on a cutting board. In the meantime, I poured the stock through a strainer into a large bowl, pushing the onions and garlic cloves against the strainer to squeeze every last drop of flavor into the stock, and then discarded the solids that were left. I poured two cups of the stock into a small bowl, added the Anaheim chilies, and let them sit for 20 minutes.

While the chilies soaked, I peeled off and discarded the skin of the chicken pieces and used tongs to pull the meat off the bones in bite size pieces. When the chilies were done soaking, I poured the liquid and chilies into a blender with the rest of the rest of the onions and garlic (both peeled and roughly chopped) and pureed, setting aside the mixture.

I cleaned out the pot, poured in and heated the oil over medium high heat and added the angel hair nests, browning lightly on both sides. (If using vermicelli, the recipe suggests stir-frying it until lightly brown). Once browned, I lifted the nests out of the pot and onto paper towels to drain.

I then poured the remaining oil out of the pot (leaving a thin layer on the bottom of the pot), poured in the chili mixture and brought to a boil. I then immediately reduced to a low heat and cooked the mixture for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. In the meantime, I chopped the rest of the mint and set aside.

After the chili mixture was heated, I added the chicken, angel hair nests and about five cups of the remaining stock. I brought the soup to a boil and cooked over a low heat for a couple of minutes until the angel hair was done. I added the chopped mint and served into bowls.

While the original recipe says it makes about 6-8 servings as a first course, my version yielded about 10 servings (about 1 ½ cups per bowl). Oddly, this is a soup where the taste grows—the fifth, sixth and seventh spoonful are somehow more flavorful than the first few. By the time I was at the bottom of the first bowl, I marveled at the smoothness and texture of the tastes. Needless to say, I had another bowl.

As a note, next time I believe I will add more Anaheim chilies if I still can’t find the ancho. As I hadn’t had much experience cooking with Mexican chilies, I was concerned with the heat that could be generated from adding too much; now that I know how the chilies taste, I feel confident adding more.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

recipes: a fresh tasting Mexican meal

Chicken marinated in lime juice, Easy Mexican Rice, Mexican Green Beans
and black beans with salsa (photo: mine)
This evening, I had a hankering for Mexican so I collected a few recipes and put together a relatively simple, healthy and--as it turns out--very yummy meal.

From Zarela’s Veracruz: Cooking and Culture in Mexico’s Tropical Melting Pot, I adapted Chuletas de Pollo al Limon (or Chicken Cutlets Marinated in Lime Juice). I didn’t have any cutlets on hand (and didn't feel like pounding the heck out of chicken meat), so I went with a pound of chicken breast strips, marinating them for a little over an hour in the juice of two limes, a couple of teaspoons soy sauce, and (as a substitute for Maggi sauce, which I also didn’t have on hand) another half teaspoon soy sauce and a half teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce.

In the meantime, I pulled together the ingredients for Easy Mexican Rice, Mexican Green Beans and black beans with salsa.

I tweaked the rice recipe, cutting the oil by about a tablespoon and adding a half tablespoon or so of cumin seeds to the onions, cooking the two for a couple of minutes before adding the garlic and then a cup and half of rice and cooking another five minutes (until the rice starts turning brown). Then I added the two-and-a-half cups chicken broth and 8 ounces tomato sauce, brought the mixture to a boil, covered, reduced the heat and simmered for about 20 minutes. (Made about six servings.)

At the same time, I heated a medium skillet to medium high heat and added a can of black beans (not drained) with about two thirds of a jar of Trader Joe’s Habanera and Lime Salsa (about a cup); substitute your own favorite salsa, yum. When the mixture started to thicken, I reduced the heat and allowed it to simmer until the mixture thoroughly thickened, stirring periodically. (Made about four small servings; next time I may double this one.)

photo: mine
As the rice and black beans cooked, I started on the green beans recipe (which is just as easy as the rest), cooking a pound of fresh green beans, a large chopped sweet onion and a couple of cloves of garlic on medium to medium high heat until the beans turn tender-crisp. Then I added a can of Rotel Diced Tomatoes and Green Chills along with a couple of tablespoons or so of fresh chopped basil, simmering it all for about 10 minutes or so. (Made about four large servings.)

While the green beans simmered, I pulled the marinating chicken from the fridge, heated a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat, and added the chicken strips, cooking for about three or four minutes on each side until they were done. The recipe suggests after the chicken is done, you can boil the rest of the marinade in the same pan (after removing the chicken) and pour over the chicken when you serve it; next time I may do that, but the chicken was definitely good on its own, too.

We thought the flavors complimented each other wonderfully—and the food felt fresh and not as heavy as one might find in other Mexican dishes. All in all, they’re all keepers for us.

photo: mine

Saturday, November 12, 2011

recipes: my version of indonesian nasi goreng

nasi goreng (photo: mine)

My husband was born in Indonesia and spent a good portion of his childhood there, and he fondly remembers this fried rice dish. There are a variety of ways to prepare the dish authentically, but it seems most folks tweak it to their own taste and according to what's available. Over the years I've done the same, and this is the version my husband currently likes most (as do our kids). We make it about once a week, and there’s always enough for left overs.

1 cup uncooked rice (jasmine or basmati both work)
12-16 ounces cooked chicken breast (canned works in a pinch)
2-4 eggs, scrambled
6-8 green onions, sliced and chopped
1-2 zucchinis, chopped
3 cups sliced cabbage
2 tablespoons fresh garlic, chopped and divided
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped and divided
several thin slices of red onion
2 tablespoons soy sauce sweetened with honey or sugar (substitute for kecap manis)
1 ½ tablespoon sesame oil, divided
1 ½ tablespoon olive oil, divided
a couple of chopped anchovies and/or a tablespoon or so of fish sauce (substitute for shrimp paste)

half a tablespoon or so ground turmeric powder
a tablespoon or two of fresh basil, chopped
crushed coriander pods
sambal oeleck (or substitue chili paste, hot sauce or chili powder)

Bean sprouts
Tomatoes, coarsely chopped
Cucumber, sliced in thin strips or "sticks"

Note: If you have a wok, you can prepare this all in one place, but I use several pans in addition to a pot to prepare the rice.

First, start the rice cooking according to directions and then chop the garlic, ginger and vegetables and set aside.

Heat half of a tablespoon sesame oil and half a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet; add half of the chopped garlic and half of the chopped ginger. Sauté for a minute or so and add the cabbage; stir fry until the cabbage is slightly browned and soft and then set aside and keep warm on a separate plate.

While the cabbage is cooking, in another pan heat half a tablespoon seasame oil and half a tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat; add the chopped zucchini and red onion and sauté until the zucchini is softened; set aside.

At the same time, scramble the eggs and cook until just done; set aside.

(photo: mine)
When the rice is done, heat the remaining sesame and olive oils over medium high heat in the large skillet; add the remaining chopped garlic and ginger and the chopped anchovies (if using, add the crushed coriander pods at this point). After sautéing for a minute or so, add the bean sprouts, green onions and then the rice. If using, sprinkle the chopped basil, chili powder (or hot sauce or chili paste) and ground turmeric over the top. Stir fry the rice and spices until the rice starts to brown. Add the sweetened soy sauce and fish sauce and stir thoroughly. Then add the cooked chicken, cabbage, zucchini and onions, and scrambled eggs. Stir fry until mixed well and heated through.

Serve onto plates and top with the chopped tomatoes and cucumber sticks. Enjoy!

Monday, November 7, 2011

recipes: a quick chicken pot pie

Quick Chicken Pot Pie (photo: mine)
We've started going to a late Sunday afternoon worship service, and that leads to late dinners. So, I've been trying out some crock pot recipes that would be ready or need minimal prep when we get home. I pulled this recipe together from several others I found on the interent and our family loves it—maybe yours will too:

2 cans cooked chicken breast (14.5 ounces each)
1 can chicken gravy
1 can cream of chicken soup
½ cup of peas (frozen or canned)
½ cup of corn (frozen or canned)
½ cup chopped carrots
1 cup of chopped potatoes (about one potato)
1 roll of Pillsbury (or any other brand) thin crust pizza dough

Combine all the ingredients except the pizza dough into the crock pot and cook on high for three hours. Divide the mixture into two 9 inch pie pans. Unroll the pizza dough and divide in half; stretch and mold the dough over the top of the mixture so the edges touch the sides of each pie pan but don’t go over it. Brush the dough with olive oil or spray with olive oil cooking spray, and then sprinkle salt, pepper and a little dried basil on top. Bake at the temperature and time as directed on the pizza dough package (Pillsbury directs oven temp at 400F and I baked mine until the dough started to brown; see picture above). Remove from the oven and let sit for about 10 minutes—then cut, scoop and serve!

If you are not a fan of canned chicken, you could substitute chicken breasts. In that case, I would place the breasts in the crock pot with the gravy and soup and cook on low for a couple of hours, then add the vegetables and let cook another three. Also, you can use a number of different crusts (see the recipes below) but I chose the pizza dough because it is lower in calories. You can also use a variety of vegetables in this recipe; I am going to add broccoli the next time I make it. You could also skip the crock pot entirely, cooking the mixture on the stove until the vegetables are tender or use precooked vegetables and skip the warming process, allowing the mixture to warm in the oven as the dough bakes.

There is an endless variety of ways to make this recipe—here are the few that I drew from to create the one above: the Crockpot Girls’ Crockpot Chicken Pot Pie, Crock Pot Chicken Pot Pie from Make Life Delicious, Individual Pot Pies from Quick Dish, and Lighter Chicken Pot Pie from EAD Living.

Friday, November 4, 2011

recipes: an easy faux pho

Faux Pho (photo: mine)
My husband and I love pho--a Vietnamese style noodle soup--but I've held off making it because authentic pho involves bone-in beef or chicken to give the broth its amazing flavor and I usually don't have the time to dedicate to that. So when I ran across this recipe for Faux Pho, I decided to give it a go--and I was pleasantly surprised. It isn't authentic pho, but it is very yummy!

(photo: mine)
I used most of the ingredients in Denise's recipe, but being conscious of calories I decided to use a pound of thinly sliced chicken breast instead of beef (I thawed and sliced up some frozen chicken breast tenders from Trader Joe's). I used the same amount of garlic and ginger, the spices (red pepper flakes, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamon), and fish sauce, but only half the amount (two tablespoons) of sesame oil. I also used more chicken broth (32 ounces) and less of beef flavored broth (16 ounces). The recipe is super simple: while soaking the rice noodles in hot tap water, saute the chicken slices with the garlic, ginger and red pepper and then add the broth and spices and simmer for 10 minutes. While the soup is simmering, I prepared our selection of garnishes: green onions (I sliced them in one inch slivers as well as chopping them), half a small head of thinly sliced cabbage, a lime cut into wedges, bean sprouts, thinly sliced fresh basil leaves and sambal oelek sauce (a very hot chili paste). (Denise suggests a variety of other condiments, including cilantro, mint, jalapenos, sriracha sauce and hosin sauce.) Rinse the noodles and then place in the bottom of large bowls, add the broth and noodles, and top with any or all of the garnishes.

As a note, I've also made this soup with shrimp, and Denise says pork, fish and tofu are also good choices.

If you are looking for a simple way to make a pho style soup, this is a good one. It's not the authentic one, but then the recipe's very name acknowledges that, heh. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

recipes: oven-roasted tilapia with potatoes

oven roasted tilapia with potatoes (photo: mine)
I've been trying out some new cookbooks, and tonight I tweaked the recipe for Trota al Forno con Patate (Oven-Roasted Trout with Potatoes) from the William-Sonoma Savoring Tuscany (which I originally checked out of the library but then promptly ordered online used for $2.70). I didn't have on hand trout or rosemary (the latter of which I am not a fan, anyway), so I substituted tilapia and basil. Conscious of calories and fat, I also reduced the amount of oil I used. The result? Easy and amazing. Here's the recipe:

5 small basil leaves
4 cloves minced garlic (reserved some for the side vegetable, see below)
salt and pepper
1.5 pounds potatoes, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (in a small bowl with a brush)
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1 pound tilapia (4 fillets)
olive oil cooking spray
sprinklings of dried basil

Preheat the oven to 375F. Mince the garlic and basil leaves, mix together, divide into fourths and set aside. Slice the potatoes and layer the slices slightly overlapping in rows in a 9x13 pan coated with cooking spray. Brush this first layer with olive oil and sprinkle with the garlic-basil mixture and salt and pepper. Dot with 1 tablespoon of the cut-up butter. Then layer the remaining potato slices, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with another quarter of the garlic-basil mixture, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and dot with the remaining butter. Spray the potatoes with a thin layer of cooking spray, cover the pan and bake for 20 minutes; then uncover and bake for 20 more minutes or until almost tender. After the 40 minutes, take the pan out and lay the fish on top of the potatoes; brush the fish with olive oil and sprinkle with another quarter of the garlic-basil mixture and salt and pepper (I gave it all a light coat of cooking spray for good measure). Put the pan back in the oven (uncovered) and bake until he fillets are done (it took mine about 15 minutes). When done, take it out of the oven and let it sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

I served the fish and potatoes with zucchini, which I cut in half the long way, brushed with oil and topped with the last quarter of the garlic-basil mixture. I slid it into the oven at the same time as the fish, and took it out about five or ten minutes after. When I served it all, I also added a small handful of spinach leaves with balsamic vinegar and topped with a couple of chopped olives stuffed with blue cheese to each plate.

Again--easy and amazingly tasty.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

recipes: an Indian culinary adventure

whole spices (photo: mine)

Lately, I’ve had a hard time trying to come up with ideas for my weekly menus. To be honest, I've been bored with cooking. Even looking through my binders full of recipes clipped from a gazillion magazines didn’t help. So, last week when I took my son to the library, I wandered over to the cook book section and randomly pulled some books off the shelf—all of them with recipes and cuisine from countries other than America.

My first foray? Indian food. And the first thing I discovered? I had to get some new spices, most of which I got at World Market. And the second thing? There is nothing like cooking with whole spices. Not only does the food taste amazing, but my house smells divine.

Murgh Kurma (photo: mine)
Two of the recipes came from Indian Home Cooking: A fresh introduction to Indian food, with more than 150 recipes by Suvir Saran (whom, I discovered, is pretty famous). The first recipe I tried was Murgh Kurma (page 116), a “braised chicken in white sauce with garam masala.” You can find the recipe on this blog, and I stuck to it pretty closely. I loved the scents of the whole spices heating in hot oil—this recipe used a cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, whole cloves, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, and dried red chilies. These are then mixed with minced red oinions, garlic cloves and fresh ginger, and then stirred over medium high heat for about 15 minutes. Then you add some ground coriander and a cup of plain yogurt, then cubed chicken breast, some water, a half teaspoon of the most amazing garam masala and heavy cream. Conscious of lowering calories and fat, I used less oil, nonfat greek yogurt and substituted a ¼ cup evaporated milk mixed with ¼ cup of nonfat Greek yogurt for the ½ cup heavy cream. I didn’t have any dried red chilies, so I substituted dried chili powder and added it when I put in the onion, garlic and ginger mixture. My end result didn’t turn out as creamy white as the picture in the book (or on the blog), but—oh, my goodness—was it yummy. Even my kids liked it!

Turkey-Paalak Ka Keema with basmati rice (photo: mine)
A couple of days later, I had some ground turkey that needed to be used and, while I love spaghetti, I wasn’t all that excited about making it--again. So, I found a recipe in Saran’s book for Turkey-Paalak Ka Keema—or ground turkey with spinach and whole spices (you can find the recipe here). Again, I followed the recipe pretty much exactly. It was much simpler and took a lot less time than the recipe above. Essentially, it combines the whole spices (cinnamon stick, whole cloves, cardamom pods, and dried red chilies) with ginger, a whole onion, green chili, 10 ounces steamed fresh spinach (pureed in a food processor), a pound and a half of ground turkey, a cup of yogurt and that amazingly intoxicating garam marsala. Again, it was amazingly yummy!

basmati rice (photo: mine)
With both of these dishes, I wanted a quick basmati rice side dish, so I tweaked Anyhow Prawn Pulao by Mallika Basu at Quick Indian Cooking:

1 cup basmati rice  
½ large sweet onion (minced) 
1 tomato (roughly chopped) 
½ inch ginger (minced) 
2 large garlic cloves (minced) 
½ teaspoon turmeric powder 
½ teaspoon chili powder 
½ teaspoon cumin seeds 
1 cardamom pod 
½ inch cinnamon stick 
1 tablespoon olive oil

First, I assembled all the ingredients so they were ready to go because I was making this dish along side the  main dishes above. I boiled the rice, drained, rinsed and set it aside. I heated the oil over medium high heat and added the whole spices until the cinnamon stick started to unfurl. Then I added the minced onion, garlic and ginger and sautéed it until the onion started turning brown. I added the tomato along with the chili powder and turmeric (which not only has an incredible scent but also an amazing color). After a few minutes, I added the rice and heated it through, stirring it often.

As a note, I really enjoy Basu’s website—her goal is to make authentic, healthy Indian home cooking accessible and easy for a busy world. I will definitely be returning. (Her cookbook isn’t available in our library system, so I may be purchasing that one.)

I’m so glad I wandered over to that library section—I’ve really enjoyed my recent culinary travels. I’m definitely not bored with cooking anymore.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

food films: 'Big Night'

Columbia/Tri Star

"To eat good food is to be close to God." ~Primo, Big Night

Food movies--is there a better, more soul and spirit full genre? Big Night (1996) is definitely a good choice on that menu. While not as spirit rich as Babette's Feast, it is a strong and full-flavored story of two brothers from Italy struggling to make a success of their small Italian restaurant. 

And nestled in this story beset with the tension between the temptations of success and the integrity of the culinary art (and it is, my friends, an amazing and magical art), is a wonderful meal reminiscent of Babette's in which a neighborhood of competitors, friends, lovers, and new acquaintances sit down to a feast that moves their palettes and their hearts. Alas, not all ends well for our brothers, but that scene gives us the hope that life and love will smooth the wounds and hardships that they--like us--must deal with as they go.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

recipes: beer can chicken

The last time I googled "beer can chicken" I got 6,160,000 results--which leaves me a bit chagrined as I didn't hear about this easy and delicious recipe until a girlfriend recently mentioned she made them frequently (and then gifted me with the beer can stands and a disposable baking tin). Since then, I've made it numerous times--including tonight, heh--so I thought it time to share it in case you, like me, are one of the last few to hear about it.

The set up is simple. Place the beer can stand in a disposable baking tin (believe me, the clean up is much easier if you use one of these instead of your own roaster), spray with cooking spray and put a half-empty can of beer in the stand. Some recipes call for the tall cans, but I've always used the regular 12 ouncers. Then clean and rinse inside and out a four to five pound chicken, patting it dry. Place it drumsticks-down over the beer can (see photo) and brush with oil or spray with olive oil cooking spray. Then season inside the cavity and all over the outside with your favorite seasonings (I'm partial to Weber's Beer Can Chicken Seasoning and McCormick Grill Mate's Montreal Chicken). My girlfriend does hers on her gas grill, but I don't trust my grill that much. Instead, I roast them in a 350F oven until the internal temp in the thickest part of the thigh reaches 180F. Mine usually take about an hour and half to two hours. Easy--and delicious!

Monday, June 27, 2011

recipes: grilled catfish

 This is an easy and yummy summer meal! Awhile back, I saw this recipe for Jerk-Rubbed Catfish with Spicy Cilantro Slaw in the March 2010 issue of Cooking Light, and finally got around to trying it this summer.

The catfish is pretty straightforward and simple: I placed the fish fillets in my fish grilling baskets and then sprayed olive oil cooking spray and sprinkled McCormick's Caribbean Jerk Seasoning on both sides. I grilled them about three or four minutes on each side on a medium high heat. (In this photo, you see the finished product.)

I tweaked a bitd the slaw, which you serve on top of the grilled catfish, to fit what I had on hand:

2 and 1/2 cups sliced green cabbage
1 large carrot, grated
1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons fat-free mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 and 1/2 teaspoons sugar
red pepper flakes to taste

To finish off the meal, I served it with potato salad (recipe here), grilled tomatoes (recipe here), grilled zucchini--which is also a very simple recipe. Slice the zucchini length wise, spray with olive oil cooking spray or brush with olive oil, and sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.  Grill them for a few minutes with the skin side up, then turn them over and grill them skin side down until they reach their desired doneness.

recipes: grilled tomatoes

grilled tomatoes 
 I thought grilled tomatoes needed their own recipe post since I make them with so many of my grilled dinners. They are so easy to make and very yummy! Slice a tomato in half, spray with olive oil cooking spray or brush with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, and top with a mound of blue cheese. I usually prepare these early in the process and let them sit awhile as I prepare the rest of the dinner. I usually add them to the grill towards the end of the grilling process, letting them grill for about four to six minutes.

Friday, June 24, 2011

recipes: turkey burgers, flavored mayonnaise, potato salad and grilled banannas

One of our favorite summer grilling meals centers around these turkey burgers, which we always accompany by at least a trio of flavored mayonnaise. The sides vary, but this time consisted of a Greek yogurt based potato salad, a lettuce wedge with blue cheese, corn on the cob and grilled bananas for dessert.

I can't remember where I originally got this recipe for the turkey burgers (it's jotted on a piece of paper and stapled into one of my recipe binders), so if you find it elsewhere please let me know so I can give credit where it is due:

1 pound or so of ground turkey
1/3 cup cooked couscous (cooled)
1/3 cup grated squash
3 tablespoons scallions, chopped,
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Mix all the ingredients together and form into patties; I find smaller patties cook up more evenly. Grill them on medium high heat (around 400F-450F) for five or six minutes on each side.

These turkey burgers are tasty all on their own, but flavor explodes when you top with these mayonnaise mixtures, an idea I got from a Martha Stewart Living recipe (which I've long since lost). Start with half a cup of mayonnaise and simply add one of the following (or experiment with your own favorite ingredient):

chopped black or green olives
chopped roasted red pepper
crumbled blue cheese
crumbled feta cheese
a tablespoon of pesto

Place them in their own bowls and, if you're having guests, write the name of the added ingredient on a plastic spoon which will not only identify each one but serve as a serving utensil as well. Don't forget to lay out the classic condiments as well: cheese, lettuce, tomato slices, sliced onions, ketchup and mustard.

For the potato salad, I've come up with this recipe which has been refined from trying a variety of other recipes. I find the small red or white potatoes work best; I boil a carton of them until they are just cooked and let them cool. Then I roughly chop them and add the following:

1/2 nonfat Greek yogurt (or you can use 1/4 cup sour cream with 1/4 cup yogurt)
2 tablespoons nonfat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons of mustard
chopped pickles to taste
1 small can of chopped black olives (or you can chop green olives instead)
1/3 cup chopped or thinly sliced red onion
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar (or honey)
2 tablespoons vinegar (I use balsamic or red wine vinegar)
1 to 2 cloves chopped garlic
salt and pepper to taste

When I flip the turkey burgers, I put the bananas on the grill. With the skin still on, slice them length-wise and place them skin-side down on the upper rack of the grill (or on a cooler part of the lower rack). When the skin starts to peel back from the fruit, they should be done. Place them on a plate and sprinkle them with brown sugar and a granola mix and they make a wonderful (and healthy) dessert.