Saturday, December 6, 2014

Indian Dishes: Aroma Therapy For Your Home, Diversity For Your Palete, And, (It's The Holidays) A Treat For Your Friends!

Many people, I'm talking mainly American's, enjoy diversity in their food and have enjoyed the culinary experience of Indian dishes whenever they've had them. Many fewer of those people, though, have tried to make Indian dishes. If they haven't looked at recipes they imagine the requirement of all kinds of odd ingredients and spices they'd have to go hunting for and cooking requirements they could only accomplish by holding the instructions in one hand while attempting an exotic flip of a spatula or some such food transporting methiod done in hot oil. STOP THINKING THAT WAY!

Simplifying Indian dishes or finding interesting Indian recipes already simplified is a very pleasurable pastime for me. I enjoy trying to make and enjoy the taste of the cuisine. So much more interesting and multidimensional than the basic American Fried Chicken/Mashed Potato Food that I grew up with. And, I have a husband who's had in his mind he doesn't care for Indian spices, but who surprises himself and me with his enjoyment of the dishes I make. He goes back for more.

A very basic larder ready for trying Indian cuisine should have several things:
Basmati Rice
Ginger - fresh chunks kept in the freezer or ready-to-use chopped or crushed in a jar
Garlic, fresh or ready-to-use chopped in a jar

Tomatoes, canned diced, tomato paste, or even  fresh
Garam Masala
Coriander seed
Cumin powder and whole cumin seeds

Lemon juice
Plain Yogurt

If you grew up in meat and potatoes America, like me, many of your friends probably did too and will be intrigued at your offerings.

I spent a 4th of July once (we were alone) making a Tikka Masala that was more complex than the one I offer here. I even concocted a Tandoori Marinade, marinated the chicken pieces over night and then used that chicken in a Tikka Masala sauace.

This is arecipe for Tikka Masala that I discovered in Real Simple online. It only uses one Indian Spice (actually a spice mixture) available at super markets*) You dump the ingredients in a crockpot, how simple is that! Then you dump three ingredients in a bowl that marinates while the crockpot is doing it's thing, easy relish to extend add more gastronomic pleasure to the chicken dish. Sometime before eating, you cook up some rice and VIOLA! New and intriguing aromas in your home and a delicious dinner (or gift).

My 'Indian larder' is well stocked, all I need is the heavy cream and some fresh cilantro.
Come on you reluctant cooks, you can get everything needed at your supermarket, dig out your crockpot and read on. Go for it, it will be such a treat.

And, it's the holiday season. Don't know what to do for a special neighbor or friend? Make a couple of Indian dishes, such as below. Pick up a package of Naan Bread at the local market. (Available at most supermarkets. Trader Joe's in the Seattle area has fresh and a delicious frozen Garlic Naan. Be festive, yet spend less, buy an interesting dish at Goodwill to deliver. Desire to spend more, buy a more expensive dish to include as part of your unusual gift.

(I was actually reading Real Simple magazine and found a Tikka Masala recipe, went online to look for a link to it to save, didn't find it but found an even simpler one for the crockipot. And I am definately trying it for dinner tonight, with the cucumber/cilantro relish)

* My favortie Garam Masala mixture I get from Puget Sound Consumer Coop Markets in the Seattle.

Chicken Tikka Masala with Cucumber Cilantro relish
Serves 4
 preparation 10 minutes  cooking 490 minutes

Tikka Masala
1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons garam masala (Indian spice blend)
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 8)
1 cup rice, ideally Basmati, but other long-grain white rice will work
1/2 cup heavy cream

Cucumber Cilantro Relish
1/2 English cucumber, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teas. each salt and pepper

1. In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, tomato paste, garam masala, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables, cover, and cook until the chicken is tender, on low for 7 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours (this will shorten total recipe time). When chicken is done, shred it and stir into the sauce.

2. In a small bowl, toss the cucumber and cilantro with the lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for up to 8 hours.

3. Twenty minutes before serving, cook the rice according to the package directions.

4. Just before serving, stir the cream into the chicken tikka masala. Serve over the rice with the cucumber relish.

(Note from my first time cooking it: it is even better the next day (as are a lot of Indian dishes, the spices have time to blend. Put crockpot on high for an hour more or on low for a couple more.)
Charlyne Mattox
December 2011

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Amazing Soup from Left Overs - Just Add Some Crusty Bread for Dipping!

It's a cold day and I was in the mood for a comfort food, stick to your ribs soup. I somehow bought a 32 oz box of vegetable broth (generally only use chicken or beef broth) and was inspired to use it. A bowl of left over Indian spiced fresh green beans looked interesting in it's thick sauce of tomatoes/onions/garam masala/turmeric. I chopped the beans into 1/2 inch chunks and just used the sauce clinging to them. A couple of nice yams sat in the vegetable basket. Then there was two packages of a sausage/onion/hash brown mixture in the freezer.

1 cup Indian green beans chopped into 1/2' piece
1/2 sweet onion chopped
2 large stalks celery chopped
1/2 large yam chopped into 1/2 chunks
2 teapoons thyme
 1 1/2 cup sausage/hash brown/onion mixture
1 32 oz. box Vegetable Broth
2 teaspoons Johnny's Seasoning or salt (or to taste)

My great left over Indian Style Green Beans seemed like a great base for a unique soup.  (2 lb. fresh green beans, 1 14 oz. can petite diced tomatoes drained, 1 chopped and sauteed sweet onion, 3 cloves garlic crushed, 1 teaspoon garam masala (more to taste), 1 teas. turmeric, salt to taste.)

I took out two packages of my sausage, onion, hash brown mixture and defrosted.

I chopped a sweet onion, some celery, garlic and the yam chunks. Sauteed them in olive oil with thyme.

Into my smaller crock pot with the vegetable broth went the green beans, sauteed onion/celery/garlic/yam mixture, the sausage mixture and seasoning salt.

Hey, I used left overs, things from the freezer and fresh vegetables...and it's delicious. I'm out to buy some crusty bread to dip into it. My Husband might even eat it if it comes with crusty bread for dipping.

Since I chopped up double the amount of the onion/celery/garlic/yam mixture have a bunch of ready that I'm freezing for future use in another interesting soup.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

French Onion Soup For Two In An Electric Frying Pan

French Onion Soup For Two In An Electric Frying Pan

My husband has been wanting broth-based soups lately. He’s always had a love of French Onion Soup so I picked up a hunk of Gruyere cheese. (I told the deli guy I wanted about a two inch hunk. He said he had a precut one that is about 3 inches and he’d give it to me for the 2” price. I said that wasn’t necessary because of his thoughtfulness I’d be happy to pay the 3” price. He charged the 2” price and I’ll go back as they were nice.) 

It was a Friday night after a long day and a trip out in rush hour traffic for an errand. I thought maybe trying the French Onion Soup for the first time might be too much. I glanced over the recipe I had been cobbling together from several recipes I’d been looking at. Pretty easy, I thought. So into the frying pan went ¼ cup butter and 1 Tablespoon cooking oil (I was out of olive oil). While heating it, I cut a large sweet onion in half then from the flat edges made thin slices so the onion fell apart into strips. I added the onion to the melted butter/oil now heated. Just until translucent, the recipe instructed, not browned. As it translucented itself. I took out my thyme (an herb I’m using more lately) a 32 oz. box of lower sodium beef broth. I added the herb to my onions first to bring out its fragrance (salute to Indian cuisine for teaching me that). Then, I added the broth and set it to simmer for 30 minutes.

While simmering I grated my Gruyere and mad ¼ inch slices of the mini baguette that I picked up at Whole Foods last night. I moved the oven rack up for broiling. After the simmering was done I ladled the soup into the thick white soup bowls I’d bought for pot pies, a perfect venue. I laid three slices of baguette on top of the broth and heaped grated Gruyere on top of that. Under the broiler, and I watched until the cheese started to brown. Voila! French Onion Soup. We loved it. 

French Onion Soup

4 Tablespoons Butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil (I used cooking oil)
1 large sweet onion, cut into strips
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt to taste
Pepper If you like
1 32 oz. box or or close to equivalent of beef broth ( I used lower sodium and added salt to taste)

Grated Gruyere
1/4' slices of small baguette bread or slices of a larger baguette cut into chunks

Heat the butter and oil on med low while slicing the onion. Slice the onion in half and then make thin slices starting from the flat sides of the halves so the onion falls into strips. Add the onion to the butter/oil. Cook the onion until translucent not browned. 

Add the thyme and stir into onions to bring out it's fragrance. Add the broth and bring to a simmer. Taste for salt, add more if desired. Simmer for 30 minutes. 

Top the hot onions and broth with the baguette slices and heap grated Gruyere on top.
Place under the broiler until the cheese startes to brown. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bag The Al Dente - Easy Trick for Pasta Salad

We love pasta salad but I hate to boil pasta salad. I've tried every microwave pasta cooker, too mushy, can't do it in a crockpot. I don't like dragging out the big pot waiting for the water to boil, how come the box says boil three minutes or some such and it takes ten and Al DENTE!! how do you know? Maybe it's just a quirk, but hey, I hate cooking pasta.

While perusing my a favorite haunt, the Puget Sound Consumer Coop Deli I was enjoying the varying array of salad with unusual ingredients, beets, quinoa, garbanzos, kale and tofu (not for me), sesame and other interesting vinegars, smoked Gouda and other cheeses. I've asked for the recipes (which they give) for numerous salads, several of which I continue to make - Turkish Garbanzo, and Protein Salad are two favorites.

This day another unusual ingredient caught my attention, Israeli Couscous. It's a round pasta the size of giant tapioca. Considering my dislike of boiling pasta, It occurred that I might be able to get away with cooking this unusual ingredient in my rice cooker, at least I was going to give it a try. If it worked I wouldn't have to wait for boiling water, watch it, drain it, etc. worked! 1 cup Couscous with 1 1/4 cup water, on with the rice cooker and perfectly done.
Now to try it as a pasta salad. I added 4 chopped scallions, 2 small sweet pickles, a couple tablespoons of chopped pecans, a small handful of dried cranberries, 3 chopped boiled eggs, a stalk of celery chopped, Best Foods Mayonnaise, cider vinegar and salt. I added extra cider vinegar as we like the tanginess and it works it's way into the ingredients to mellow out.

There is a slight taste to the Couscous you can detect if you eat it before it sits for a while. Later in the day and then the next morning this pasta salad was amazing. It may now be my go-to pasta for salad. No  more grumbling about boiling water and al dente etc.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

More On A Whole Chicken in a Crockpot

Foster Farms Whole chickens were on sale for under a dollar a pound. My new habit is to buy one whenever I see them on sale and cook it in my crockpot. (see earlier post)

Wash, season and cook it breast down on low for 6 hours. I just did one and have to say we've enjoyed it in several ways.

  • I had a dinner of a leg thigh section when it was done. 
  • For next morning's breakfast I made white bread and mayonnaise (Best Foods) sandwiches. 
  • I then made a chicken salad with scallions, dill pickles, sweet pickles, pineapple (I didn't have my favorite dried cranberries and like a bit of sweetness in chicken salad), walnuts and celery. 
  • I took the meaty bones and a 32oz box of chicken broth and cooked overnight on low in the crockpot. Deboning the next morning I added the meat, and 2 cups water. In my electric frying pan I fried until softening: 1 chopped onion, chopped carrots, chopped celery, 1 Russet potato, chopped, a teaspoon of chopped garlic and 2 big pinches of Thyme. I added the vegetables to the broth and added a  handful of pearled barley. Simmering on high for about an hour it was soooooo tasty.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Thoughts On Rice

When and where I was raised, in the 1950's American West, rice was rice. I only remember having it dessert-like, warm with milk, sugar and raisins (which I picked out). I've wondered why the cooks in my family never considered using rice in casseroles or in other savory ways. 

My first foray into thinking of rice diversity was the Basmati rice in Indian food (I can taste the difference now from plain white rice). The second was the Arborio, an ingredient in a now favorite, Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup, and suggested for the one risotto I ever made. A niece, who cooks a lot of rice, said that medium grain white rice can substitute for Arborio. 
I made .th soup once with medium grain white rice and it wasn't much different from using the Arborio. On hand, I currently have medium grain white rice, Arbor rice and Basmati rice. I'm going to make my cabbage rice soup today (delighted to find that Fred Meyer carries the required Savoy Cabbage).

Here is a post that offers a short tutorial on rice and its varied types for the rice-interested.
Rice Tutorial

I just subscribed to the site, It looks like it has interesting food-related content and I'm going to look it over.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fried Chicken And Mashed Potatoes

Ok, if you are from the Western United States reading this, admit it, you were nurtured from a very young age to love fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Sometime you just have to have some. But in these healthy cooking times you may not do much frying  Instead you're more likely to get your fix by surreptitiously snacking on a chicken thigh from behind the deli glass, and you buy those 14 oz, tubs of ready to eat mashed potatoes.

I haven't fried chicken in a while, mostly once or twice a summer and I do it outside with the electric frying pan seated securely on a towel on top of the dock box. Yes, the aroma of tantalizing fried chicken draws sniffs and comments from dock neighbors whose brains are momentarily stimulated back to the simplicity of grade school life and anticipation of noisy and lively family dinners. The kind where you put the black olives from the 'hors d oeuvre' plate on each finger.

Husband had an idea for a yummy side dish and fried chicken seemed the perfect accompaniment. We like dark meat so some Foster Farm legs looked good to me. I brined them for several hours in salted water. Then I dipped them in egg wash, flour/garlic powder, buttermilk and the flour mixture again. then let them set for 1/2 hour.

Fried in hot oil they came out crunchy and delicious. Husband had suggested fresh lemon to squeeze on them, a great idea.

His side dish brought the requisite mashed potatoes up a bit in sophistication.

Parmesan Asparagus and Potatoes

What's cool about it is you can easily keep the required ingredients on hand for a quick fix for two really hungry people or four normal ones. It works well in a 9 1/2 by 7 1/2 pan with sides

1 14 oz. tub of ready-to-eat mashed potatoes
1  15 oz. can of extra long asparagus (in those tall skinny cans)
Grated Parmesan Cheese, not the fresh, use the dried that's used on spaghetti.

Smoosh the potatoes into the pan until the bottom is covered. Layer drained asparagus spears on top of the potatoes and dot the top with pieces of butter. Microwave them until heated through.

Shake a thick layer of Parmesan over the asparagus with a few more dots of butter and put it under the broiler until the cheese starts to lightly brown.

I know you're saying, "But all that butter" You know you love it and you don't eat like that all the time, go for it.