Sunday, January 27, 2008

Recipe Review - Chicken Chettinad

As I mentioned in my other blog, one of my "resolutions" this year is to try a recipe from each of my many cookbooks. I have a good number of Indian/South Asian cookbooks in my collection, most of which just get read like novels like my other cookbooks. I've had The Everything Indian Cookbook, by Monica Bhide for about a year and have yet to cook anything out of it. Until today.

Let me first make a small confession: I’ve never eaten Chicken Chettinad before. So why did I decide to try the recipe today? I had fresh curry leaves I’d bought a few days back, I had the rest of the ingredients, and the recipe didn’t seem too complicated. And I didn’t want to try a recipe for something I’d eaten before. What’s the point of experimenting if you’re just going to make and eat the same things?

So that being said, I don’t know if this is an authentic recipe or if it’s been simplified for Western tastes.

Chicken Chettinad

Adapted from The Everything Indian Cookbook, by Monica Bhide


3 tsp black peppercorns, roughly pounded

1 tsp ginger paste

1 tsp garlic paste

1 dried red chili, roughly pounded

½ cup plain nonfat yogurt

2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

8 fresh curry leaves

2 small onions, chopped

2 small tomatoes, chopped

¼ tsp turmeric powder

Salt to taste

½ cup water

Combine peppercorns, ginger, garlic, red chili, and yogurt in a bowl. Add the chicken, combining thoroughly with marinade.

Heat the vegetable oil in a pan on medium heat. Add the curry leaves, then add the onions once the leaves start sizzling. Sauté until the onions begin to brown.

Add the tomatoes and cook until the oil begins separating from sides of the tomato-onion mix. Add the turmeric and salt.

Add the chicken and marinade and cook for 6-8 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until the chicken is done, about 15-20 minutes.

Verdict? Thumbs-up from Mr. Spice and thumbs-up from me.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Back to Basics - Beef Curry

Without fail, beef curry is one of those things I crave when I get homesick for my mom's cooking. A lot of it is because it is comfort food for me, but some of it is also because I still haven't quite got the hang of it. If it's not the gravy consistency, then it's the cooking time. And of course you always want what you can't have, right?

Well, I think I have gotten closer and closer to my goal.

This sounds very obsessive of me, but I have made beef curry 3 times in one week, and I think I've got my spice combo down pat. Evidence of this is that leftovers don't last long when I do make it.

Here is what I've come up with so far. I actually wrote down the measurements when I made it today so that I'd have something to compare to next time I make it.

Beef Curry

1 large onion, finely sliced
2 tbsp oil

1 cinnamon stick
3 bay leaves
6 green cardamom pods
4 cloves
8 peppercorns

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger paste
2 serrano chilis

2 lb boneless beef (stewing beef preferred), soaked in water and rinsed.
1 lb potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks

2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp combo cayenne, paprika, or chili powder
1/4-1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt (adjust to your taste)
2 tsp lemon juice
enough water to make a thick spice paste

garam masala
dried fenugreek (methi) leaves

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add the onion slices and sautee until they soften and start to turn brown.

Add the whole spices, cook about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Add the ginger, garlic, and chili pepper. Cook for a couple minutes.

Add the beef pieces, making sure to combine thoroughly. Try to brown the pieces, but either way, cook a few minutes.

Add the spice paste, try to get all the beef coated. Cook a couple more minutes.

Bring the heat up to high, add 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, cover, lower heat and simmer for 1 hour. Periodically stir and make sure nothing is sticking to bottom of pan.

After about an hour, add the potato pieces and stir to combine. Add a bit more water if needed and cover and cook 30 more minutes, or until beef and potatoes are tender.

When beef and potatoes are tender, add a pinch of garam masala and dried fenugreek leaves. Add more water if you like a thinner gravy. Cook 5-10 more minutes, then taste for salt and adjust accordingly.

Note -- as far as cooking time, haven't quite gotten that down pat. It's ranged from 1.5 hours to over 2. The first two times, I used stewing beef from Publix's organic meat section. The meat was falling-apart tender after 1.5 hours. Today, I decided to try halal boneless beef from the Indian store. Let's just say it's been 2 hours and there are still quite a few stubborn chunks that refuse to become tender.

Back to Basics

I like to cook, but I'm one of those annoying people that makes up stuff and doesn't measure anything. I just throw in whatever smells good and hope that it turns out good (it usually does!).

The problem comes when I get homesick for the food I grew up with -- Bengali/Indian dishes. While I have many cookbooks at my disposal and can always bug my mom or mother-in-law for their recipes, it's just not the same. Plus I want the satisfaction of coming up with just the right combination to make a yummy dish.

I also feel like I skipped over the basics that everyone learns. And I'm not a good baker -- probably goes back to my tendency to eyeball stuff. That just doesn't fly when you're dealing with stuff like flour, sugar, and eggs.

So I've decided that I'm going to go back and learn everything that I deem "basic." Right now, since I'm in an Bengali/Indian food kick, this means I'm trying to perfect certain dishes that I either grew up with or that I think I should know. I'm going to either try out various recipes from cookbooks until I find THE one, try recreating recipes from my mom and MIL, or just experiment on my own. And along the way I'll try to figure out shortcuts that work for me.

Plus this way I don't feel so bad for buying so many cookbooks. It's research, right? :D

The Cookbook Whore strikes again!

So recently I have switched obsessions. Although I still like reading about bento and intend to keep packing lunches as much as I can, I've gone back to my cookbook whoring days. This can be just as expensive as my bento habit, but at least I won't be paying outrageous amounts for overseas shipping.

I think in the past 2 weeks I've bought at least 8 cookbooks. I know!! Can I at least justify it by saying that I tried to use my handy Borders coupons whenever possible? Or that I'm also going through books already in my collection and weeding out ones that I just really won't ever use?

While nothing can compare to the instant gratification of coming out of a bookstore with a new purchase in my hands, I am trying to find the best deal -- whether by store coupons, online, etc.

The other night, I thought I'd found my new favorite cookbook of the week -- a Middle Eastern cookbook that looked like it was one of a kind. It was $29.95, which to me is a bit steep for an impulse buy. I bought it nonetheless, thinking where else would I be able to find it. Ummm, yeah a quick search on Amazon showed me that I could have bought it for under $20. Okay, so back to the store it went and I updated my wish list accordingly.

This morning, since I was going to be grocery shopping at some stores not that close to us (a Whole Foods and an Indo/Pak grocery store), I thought I'd pop into a used bookstore that's in the area. I had some books I was wanting to get rid of and thought I might as well browse while they tallied up my store credit.

Well imagine my utter glee when I spot the cookbook from the other night. That was a sign that it was meant to be. And to add to the glory, it was the original hardback version, whereas the one I'd returned was a re-issued paperback. And finally, it was only $10!! I would have to be stupid not buy it. A quick glance through the book assured me it was in good condition and I cautiously guarded my new treasure lest some other cookbook whore chance upon it.

Oh but I'm not done yet.

I also spotted a copy of The Gourmet Cookbook. You know, the big-ass thick huge yellow cookbook that goes for $40 in stores. That one. Except this one was only $15!

Don't you just love ridiculously good luck?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A bowl full of yum

Doesn't that make you want to dive mouth first into the bowl?

I woke up with a sudden urge to cook today.

It could also be that I remembered that we had ground turkey, salmon fillets, and chicken thighs that had been patiently waiting in the fridge all week, but I find it hard to believe I can be that practical within minutes of waking up.

So I just puttered around the kitchen, using the ground turkey, lots of seasonings, and some broccoli slaw to make inside-out dumplings -- it's just the fillings you might use in Asian dumplings, made into a meatball. Then I marinated the salmon in soy sauce, lime juice, ginger, scallions, and sesame oil. I baked that and when I took the salmon out from the oven, managed to set off our hypersensitive smoke-alarm near the kitchen. I'm sure the hubby enjoyed being woken up that way!

My grumbling tummy soon reminded me that while it was great I was making all this food, I needed to put some of it in my body. So as I nibbled a couple of the inside-out dumplings, I remembered we had some fruit in the fridge that needed to be eaten.

Okay fine, here's the truth. I was a piggie yesterday and and ate a ton, so this was my way of making amends with my guilt.

How can you not want to eat this, healthy or not? Just look at the beautiful colors -- the deep red of the strawberries, the vibrant blue of the blueberries, and the sunny goldenness of the apricot.

Suddenly it seems like spring and summer have made their into my kitchen on this cold January morning.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Good things come in small packages

This should be the official bento motto.

So when you see the apple in there, you're probably thinking "that's a HUGE box, how the hell is she gonna eat all that??"

Rest assured my friends, it is not a huge box and I will indeed eat all of that.

The secret? A teeny tiny cute little lady apple. I seriously almost squealed in delight when I saw these baby apples at the grocery store. Perfect for bento!

So what's for lunch today?

The bottom tier of this half-moon bento box contains white rice, steamed broccoli and cauliflower, and some leftover butter chicken curry I made last night. I used one of those preprepared spice pastes I see in random places like Whole Foods or World Market. I only used 1 tbsp of butter when I made it since I hate butter but wanted it to taste like what it was supposed to. Such a good little Weight Watcher. :P

The top tier is my fruit tier, obviously. Fresh blueberries, strawberries and that oh-so-cute apple. Oh and the blueberries are in their own little divider cup that came with the box. No way am I that obsessed about arranging my blueberries on a diagonal.

Happy lunching!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Bento is back!


So what happened for the past couple months? The hubby and I went on a 2 week trip to Bangladesh in November, then December just flew by.

I've actually been unofficially bento-ing for about a week. And of course I've been obsessively adding to my box collection. Look, I can't help it if there's so many cute boxes! The hubby just rolls his eyes when yet another Ebay package makes its way into our home.

In lieu of the typical New Year's resolution to lose weight, I've decided to just focus on my health this year. So I've been reading up on nutrition and have been very intrigued in particular by a book called Superfoods Rx that has a list of 14 "superfoods" that have a huge impact on our health. I've been trying to incorporate more of these foods into my daily routine.

In tomorrow's lunch we have blueberries, apricot, strawberries, and spinach and hummus pinwheels. Not sure if the hummus and the whole wheat tortilla count, but everything else is a superfood.