Sunday, July 31, 2011

Green Chicken Curry

Ok, I admit it. I watch Food Network. A lot. Whenever I need to turn my brain off, it's great to stare at content-less food shows. I also enjoy watching food tv while eating and planning my next meal. Today I bring you a recipe from an old episode of the Next Food Network Star. What better way to turn off your brain than watch reality tv with shots of food porn mixed in? I bookmarked this recipe for Green Chicken Curry from my favorite winner of the Next Food Network Star, Aarti Sequeira, and finally got around to making it. I love Aarti's show! She is so lovely, and I really love learning about Indian food from her. She's had a recipe blog since before her Food Network stint. On it you can track her transition from food blogger to Food Network star and find food-related tips and stories.

This curry is unlike any I've seen before, and one of the best I've had. You know the mint-cilantro chutney that is served with Indian dishes? This chicken curry is essentially chicken simmered in that chutney (which is why it is bright green). It's pretty easy and doesn't involve a lot of chopping since you just throw most of the ingredients in the blender. I made a few changes to the recipe, and posted the version I made below. I found that the recipe posted on the Food Network site was a little bland (I'm blaming that on pressure to tone down the flavor for American palates), so I added a few jalapenos to the sauce, extra spices, and used chicken broth instead of water. I also supersized the recipe and added some spinach to bulk it up and intensify its greenness because the first time I made it, my husband was disappointed that it only made three servings (ok, maybe we both had seconds).

Green Chicken Curry
Masala Paste:
2 bunches cilantro, with just the very ends trimmed off
8 oz frozen spinach
2 onions, coarsely chopped  

7 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 t fresh ginger
2 large jalapenos, coarsely chopped (if you like it spicy)
approx 1/2 t salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
enough chicken broth to make the blender work, about 1/4-1/2 cup

Remaining ingredients:
1 T oil
1 1/2 T cumin
2 t ground coriander
1 t ground turmeric
2 pounds chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
1 cup chicken broth
1 can Rotel tomatoes
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar 
1/2 t cinnamon 
1/2 t cardamom
1/2 t sugar, or to taste

Serve with brown basmati rice

Add the masala paste ingredients to a food processor or blender. Add the cilantro, stems and all (but trim off the very tips if they are brown). Cilantro stems are very tender and flavorful, so adding them is a good way to stretch the sauce and reduce waste. You may need to do this in a couple of batches.
 Puree on high until smooth.

In a large pot or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
Add the spices and toast for 30 seconds. Pour the masala mixture into skillet and kind of fry it, stirring often until it deepens in color, about 4 minutes.

Add the chicken, stirring to coat every piece in the masala. Continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring often
. Add remaining ingredients and simmer, uncovered, until the chicken is tender and sauce has thickened slightly, about 25 minutes. Serve with brown basmati rice.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Louisiana Red Beans and Rice

Growing up in Louisiana, I was always picky about my red beans and rice. The best red beans and rice I've had are the ones at the Chimes in Baton Rouge. The beans are tender and creamy, the flavor rich, smoky, and porky. When I moved away for grad school I realized I had to come up with a recipe like the Chimes' using ingredients I could find outside of Louisiana. 

I think one of the most important things about cooking red beans is cooking them long enough that the beans start to break down and make the sauce creamy. I add a lot of ham flavor by adding it early on and letting the ham give up all its flavor to the beans. This is another big batch meal, perfect to feed a crowd or to freeze into individual portions for later.

The tweaks:

I add two optional nontraditional ingredients: diced tomatoes and chipotles in adobo. The tomatoes cook down into the sauce so no one would know they’re in the beans, but they enhance the beautiful red color of the dish, make the mouthfeel of the sauce a little lighter, and add a hint of acidity to wake up the flavor. The chipotle enhances the spicy, smoky flavors of the dish. Garnishing the red beans with fresh green onions brightens the flavor and adds color. 

Louisiana Red Beans and Rice
2 lbs bag red kidney beans
1 lb ham. Doesn't matter what kind--can be a ham steak, part of a ham roast, or ham bone. It's just for flavor and will be removed at the end.
2 T Tony Chacheres Cajun seasoning
1 lbs smoked pork sausage. My favorite is Savoie's Andouille, but in Boston, I subbed in Portugese Chorico. In Oregon, I use Zenner's Cajun sausage. Chorizo or kielbasa would also work.
2 onions, chopped
half a head of celery, chopped
3 bell peppers, chopped
7 cloves garlic, chopped
1 T Worcestershire sauce
3 bay leaves
¼ t thyme (optional)
1 15oz can diced tomatoes (optional)
1 T chipotles in adobo, minced (optional)
1 t liquid smoke (optional)

1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
Tabasco Sauce

Rinse beans and soak in a large bowl, stockpot, or dutch oven with plenty of water for 6-12 hours. Drain and add enough fresh water to just barely cover the beans. Add ham and Tony Chacheres to beans, cover pot, and bring to a simmer. While simmering, brown (almost blacken) sausage in a skillet (preferably cast iron). Add to beans. Brown veggies in skillet and add to beans when they are done. Add remaining ingredients except garnish to beans. Simmer uncovered for about 2 1/2 hours, keeping water level just above beans. until beans dissolve slightly and become creamy. Remove and discard ham before serving--it has given up all of its flavor to the beans, and is no longer tasty. Serve with brown rice, Tabasco sauce and fresh chopped green onions.

Magical 4-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies

These cookies really are magical. Even though they contain no flour of any kind, they have a delicious, chewy, crumbly, cookie texture. Because they are almost pure peanut butter, they have a really rich peanut-buttery taste. I have to admit, though, the real shocker about this recipe is that I got it from Paula Deen, queen of unhealthy food, but if you use Splenda, they are actually a pretty healthy, low carb, gluten free, protein-rich dessert. 

I have a thing for super-easy, kind of healthy desserts with very few ingredients, like my Three Ingredient Whoopie Pies. These are super easy to whip up whenever a craving strikes. You could also turn these into PB&J thumbprint cookies by squishing a dent into them before baking and filling with jelly or squishing a Hershey's Kiss a couple of minutes before the end of the cooking time. 

**New development: We discovered that these turn into delicious CHOCOLATE peanut butter cookies when you add cocoa powder!

Magical Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup peanut butter, crunchy or smooth
1 cup sugar or baking Splenda. I like to do half and half
1 egg
1 t vanilla

optional: 2 T cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 350. Stir all ingredients together. Roll dough into 1" balls and place on cookie sheet sprayed with nonstick spray. Flatten the dough balls with the tines of a fork to make a crisscross pattern (like the one in the photo). Bake 10-12 minutes. Cookies will still be soft when you remove them from the oven. They will firm up as they cool--trust me on this one! If you bake them until they are firm straight out of the oven, they will turn into sand when they cool.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Chicken La La

The first Greek restaurant I went to (and continued to frequent until it was sold to a Jamaican family) was Aladdin Cafe in Baton Rouge, LA. It was a small storefront in a strip mall, but it was really something special. The only two people working there were owners--a husband and wife team. The husband (whose name I wish I remember) worked the front of the house. He always remembered us and welcomed us in. His favorite description for their food was "feel like home" (sic). The wife cooked magical things in the back. My favorite dish was something they called "Chicken La La," marinated nuggets of grilled chicken breast that were always savory, and never bland or dry. They were served nestled into a bed of hummus. The significance of the name has always been a mystery to me, and they would never divulge anything about their recipe. Looking back, I wonder if it was a variation on Chicken Souvlaki, (the name even has a "la" sound in it) but this is far better than any Souvlaki I've tried. I've always found Souvlaki to be really dry and bland.

This is my effort to re-create Chicken La La, based only on my ten-year old memory of the flavor, and some food creativity. I am pretty convinced that Worcestershire sauce was a dominant ingredient, so it forms the base of the marinade, along with a supporting cast of delicious Mediterranean flavorings. I'll probably never know how close my recipe comes to the original, but I do know that this is one of the most delicious chicken recipes I've had. The intense marinade kind of acts like a brine, imparting moisture and flavor all the way through the chicken. This would also make a great marinade for the grill. My favorite way to serve it is like they did at Aladdin's Cafe, on top of hummus, with a greek salad on the side. With the leftovers, I love to make Greek wraps with Chicken La La, White Bean HummusGreek Chickpea Salad, and maybe some feta and leafy greens on a flour tortilla.

Chicken La La served with White Bean Hummus and Greek Chickpea Salad

Chicken La La
3 lb chicken breasts cut into approximately 1-inch sized pieces
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 T olive oil
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 T lemon
2 1/2 t garlic powder
1 t oregano
2 t salt
1 t black pepper

Put all ingredients in a large plastic bag and massage everything together to mix. Let marinate in bag in the fridge for 6-12 hours. Saute in a skillet over med-high heat with a small amount of olive oil until cooked through and browned.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

White Bean Hummus

I have not been able to bring myself to buy tahini since the last time I moved and cleaned out my fridge. Tahini is the oily sesame paste used in hummus to give it that creamy, luxurious texture. But it's always been such a unitasker in my kitchen. Believe me, I have made some delicious hummus with tahini in my day. But since I haven't had it around lately, I thought I would try something different. I could have just blended some chickpeas and garlic with olive oil instead of tahini, and I'm sure it would have been tasty, but I would have felt like it was missing something. I wanted to make something new. Not a makeshift hummus, but something that was good in its own right. 

This white bean hummus has rich Mediterranean flavors of olive oil, rosemary, oregano, and thyme. White beans are starchier than chickpeas, so they make a creamier puree. I love this as a dip for Triscuits, bread, or crudites, or as a spread on sandwiches or wraps, or as sauce for meat.

White Bean Hummus
2 15 oz cans white beans (such as cannelini or navy beans)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 T extra virgin olive oil
4 T lemon juice
1/4 t each dried rosemary, thyme, and oregano
salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste

Blend together with a food processor or immersion blender. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Greek Chickpea Salad

Here is the perfect summer salad, full of fresh, beautifully colored veggies. When it's too hot to cook, this is a great no-cook summer meal. The salad has the flavors of a classic Greek salad--fresh cucumber and bell pepper, juicy tomatoes, and briny olives, with the addition of protein-rich chickpeas, making it a complete vegetarian meal. It also makes a great side dish to bring to dinners and potlucks.

Unlike most salads, you can make this one ahead of time, and it only gets better as the flavors marry. I like to make a big batch of it and eat for days. (Let that be a warning to you that this makes a lot of salad! Feel free to halve the recipe.)

Greek Chickpea Salad
1 bell pepper, chopped into bite sized strips
3-4 tomatoes, diced
1 cucumber, diced
1 small onion, diced
salt to taste (I usually put 1 t on the veggies, and then drain the excess liquid)
1/2 cup kalamata olives, sliced
1 15 oz can chickpeas, drained
1 t minced garlic
1 t dried oregano
black pepper to taste
2 T lemon juice
2 T olive oil
handful of fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
4 oz feta, crumbled

Stir all veggies and salt together. If you have time, let sit in fridge for an hour. Drain excess liquid. Add remaining ingredients except feta. Mix and chill until ready to serve. Sprinkle with feta when serving. Lasts for several days in the fridge.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Herb-Crusted Salmon

I love salmon. It is the king of the fishes. Flaky white fish like cod and tilapia bore the hell out of me. Give me a fish that has flavor and tastes rich and fatty. Salmon is also my favorite sushi fish. So when I cook it at home, I keep it quite rare in the middle. This recipe is impressive as hell, but really simple and quick. I coat a thick, skin-on salmon fillet in herbs and spices and then sear it quickly, resulting in a flavorful, browned crust, crispy skin, and a luxuriously moist, rare center.

Herb-Crusted Salmon served with Savory Zucchini Bread

Herb-Crusted Salmon
.75 lb salmon fillets (to serve 2 people), blotted dry with paper towels
sprinkle of soy sauce
mustard powder
Trader Joe's lemon pepper seasoning
dried dill
Tony Chachere's Cajun seasoning
black pepper

Remove excess moisture from salmon by patting with paper towels. Sprinkle a few drops of soy sauce on each side and rub in. Sprinkle seasonings liberally on both sides. Don't worry about putting too much spice. It's hard to overdo. The salmon can handle it. Spray a nonstick pan and the salmon itself with non-stick spray to prevent sticking and ensure the herb crust will stay intact. Heat pan to med-high heat. Place in pan skin side up, and cook for 2 minutes. Flip so that the skin side is facing down, and cook for 3 minutes. Serve with lemon.

Savory Zucchini Bread

This recipe falls somewhere between a quick bread and a veggie casserole. Bisquick forms the base, giving it a fluffy, dressing-like texture. It has tons of fresh zucchini, a healthy dose of parm, and a can of Rotel tomatoes to spice it up. It's perfect on its own or as a side dish to serve with chicken or fish, like my Herb-Crusted Salmon. It's great to bring to potlucks because it tastes good with everything, and can be served warm or room temperature.

Savory Zucchini Bread
1 1/2 cup biscuit mix (I like to use Bisquick Heart Smart mix)
1/4 t salt 

1/4 t garlic powder
1/4 t dried oregano
1/4 t dried basil
1/4 t black pepper

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 can Rotel tomatoes, undrained (could substitute another type of diced canned tomatoe if you prefer)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 lbs zucchini, thinly sliced
additional Parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top

Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl; mix well. Then add wet ingredients and mix. (Mix will not be uniform since it will have chunks of zucchini in it. At this point you may worry that there is not enough moisture in the recipe. It's fine. I promise. As it cooks, the zucchini will release the perfect amount of moisture to cook the Bisquick properly.) Spray a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with nonstick spray,
pour mixture in, and smooth the top with a spoon. Sprinkle a little extra parm on top. Bake at 400° for about 40 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cut into squares and serve. Lasts in the fridge for several days and gets even better the longer it sits!