A Bevy of Bowls

I’m still enjoying Chicken Tikka Masala from the last blog. Since it isn’t excessively hot I like to kick-up my portion­­—but not everyone else agrees. I figure you can always add more spice but it’s not so easy to take it out.

A fun alternative is to set out small bowls of chutney, yogurt, hot pepper flakes, cilantro, and such.  It gives everyone creative license to dress up their own dish according to personal taste.

Since I mentioned Raita in the previous post I’m including it here as an all-in-one alternative to a bevy of bowls.

Beyond a cooling sauce, raita is a versatile dip with vegetables or crackers and breads such as Naan.

For a Greek Tzatziki variation, substitute dill for cilantro and season with garlic and red pepper; cucumber is optional. Perk it up with a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil.

Raita

Ingredients 
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp green onion, mince
1 Tbsp cilantro, mince
½ small seedless cucumber, small chop
¼ tsp salt
Spice blend
1 tsp each cumin seed and coriander seed, or ¾ tsp each ground
½ hot dried red pepper, seeded, or ¼ tsp red pepper flakes

Instructions
Combine the yogurt, green onion, cilantro and cucumber.
Crush the spices in mortar pestle, add the blend to the yogurt mixture and season with salt. Chill well and serve with cilantro garnish.  Makes 1½ cups

Variation
For Greek Tzatziki: replace the cilantro with dill; season with 1 clove garlic mash & minced, and red pepper. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and drizzle olive oil. Makes 1½ cups

Happiness is…

I’ve been practicing with the new mortar and pestle making spice blends and ended up spending time tinkering with Indian garlic/ginger pastes and blends. Which lead me back to my old favorite Tandoori Chicken.

But that is not where I ended up. My focus was on Chicken Tikka Masala, which begins with chicken pieces marinated in a spicy yogurt blend. They are frequently skewered for easy searing in the famed tandoori oven. These morsels are then added to a creamy curried tomato sauce.

It seemed to me that the old Tandoori Chicken yogurt marinade would suffice nicely.   I wanted to keep this simple, seriously.  I would eliminate the grilling portion and pan sear the chicken pieces, since there is so much going on here.

I’d been thinking about this for several days. Yesterday I prepped boneless skinless thighs and cut them into large bite-size strips for fast cooking. The yogurt marinade is straight forward.  Many recipes include yellow and red food dye which just doesn’t work for me. I sometimes opt for turmeric and red chilies, but mostly there is plenty of garlic and ginger supported by cumin, coriander and such.

On this occasion, Happiness is… bashing a garlic and ginger spice blend in the mortar and pestle in the blink of an eye.

Today I pulled out the Instant Pot and got going.  First I knocked out a batch of basmati rice, which only takes 6 minutes.  Then, another Happiness Experience: more garlic and ginger bashed with spices for the Masala Sauce.

Turns out, the marinated chicken sautés up nicely when the Instant Pot is cranked up as hot as it will go. The yogurt firms up and all the spices help in the browning process. This all needs to be done in small batches for successful searing… then set aside for the Masala sauce.

In the same pot, an onion sauté starts things off, its moisture releases the browned bits in the pan. The spice paste is added next and stirred until aromatic. So fresh is this past, it literally blooms in the pan. The tomato base is then added and it simmers briefly to bring the flavors together. After 10 minutes I pull out the immersion blender to puree any odd chunks but keep a little texture.

A cream layer is added to round out the sauce and tame it just a bit. Finally, the tandoori  chicken pieces are dropped in for a brief simmer—only long enough to finish cooking them—but still retain their unique tandoori flavor and not lose it to the sauce.

Served over basmati rice, this makes one heck of a dish. A little homemade cranberry ginger chutney spooned on the side sends it right over the top.

Today, Happiness is… two recipes: Chicken Tandoori (not previously posted, clearly an oversight) and Chicken Tikka Masala (incomplete without it).

Chicken Tandoori

Ingredients

2 pounds chicken thighs/legs, skin optional
Yogurt Marinade
3 cloves garlic, mash & mince
2 Tbsp ginger, grate
1 tsp each turmeric, coriander, cumin, salt
1 Tbsp paprika + ½ tsp cayenne
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp oil for brushing grill and chicken

Instructions

  1. Place chicken in zip lock bag.
  2. Marinade:  Make garlic-ginger paste in mortar and pestle, add the spices and blend well.  Combine blend with the lemon juice and yogurt.  Pour over the chicken, marinate up to 24 hours.
  3. To grill: brush grill and chicken with oil, cook over hot coals, 4 minutes per side, turning as needed until seared and blistered, about 30 minutes. (Internal temperature 160-165°F.)  Makes 4 servings.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Ingredients
1 recipe marinated Tandoori Chicken: boneless pieces cut into strips, room temperature
Masala Sauce
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 onion, chop
3 cloves garlic, mash & mince
2 tsp ginger, grate
1 tsp each cumin, coriander, turmeric, red chile flakes, and salt
14 ounces crushed tomatoes
8 ounces tomato sauce
¾-1 cup cream, full-fat coconut milk, or evaporated milk
2 tsp garam masala (optional)

Instructions

  1. Sear chicken: heat large pot to medium high with 2 Tbsp oil (multicooker: Sauté/Hi). Sear chicken 3 minutes per side in batches, don’t overcrowd. Remove to holding plate.
  2. For Sauce: reduce heat to medium-high (multicooker: Saute/Medium). Add onion, sauté to soften while scraping up browned bits in pan.  Make garlic-ginger paste in mortar and pestle, add the spices and blend together.  Stir the blend into the pot until aromatic, 2-3 minutes.
  3. Reduce heat, add tomato products, thin with water if quite thick, simmer 10 minutes. Puree if desired.
  4. Stir in the cream, garam masala, and chicken, simmer 10-15 minutes.  Adjust seasoning and serve with basmati rice, sprinkle with cilantro. Serves 4-6.

Mortar and Mustard

I’m back in the mortar and pestle game again. I once had a large molcajete from Mexico that yielded a few batches of guacamole and shortly thereafter was relegated to decorator status.

I’m trying again. This time I scaled down and went with a smaller version. Since I am short on storage space, I opted for a 1½ cup rounded granite mortar.

There’s a curing process that most mortar and pestles require before using that removes any lingering grit and debris from manufacturing. It is arduous enough that anyone who has gone through it won’t easily forget. Depending on the material and size, seasoning can vary. For many there’s a tedious grinding of rice into a white powder; mine included garlic, salt, and cumin to form a paste. Once that’s done it’s all rinsed with water and air dried. The mortar and pestle are never washed with soap.

Since then, I’ve been grinding everything in sight and it has gained a spot on my counter for quickly mashing garlic or a spicy blend or paste. My proudest achievement thus far is the Stone-Ground Mustard.

Stone-Ground Mustard

Mustard is fascinating, and the art of producing a condiment from it has been going on for centuries. It makes perfect sense to employ the timeless mortar and pestle—since its basic form is nearly as old as man.

Making your own mustard blend is not complicated. If you think about it, Asian mustard is simply dry mustard and water.

I opted for yellow mustard seeds which yield a mildly hot mustard. For a tangier, hotter mustard, brown seeds are the way to go, or some combination of the two. I cut mine with a small portion of dry mustard for added creaminess and body.

The goal is to break open the seeds to access interior oils and such, while leaving some whole for bursts of flavor. Rather than starting with dry mustard seeds which jump and bounce about, soaking the seeds will soften their hard outer layer. Once you’ve got a rhythm going with the pestle, a gentle bashing motion quickly breaks down the seeds.

Continue to grind all ingredients and blend with enough cool water to reach desired thickness.  Cover and store the mustard at room temperature for 3-4 days to mellow. As it rests, the mustard will thicken and flavors will soften. Give it a taste and adjust seasoning, if harsh add a few drops of honey. Store in a sealed glass jar for a month or longer.

Stone Ground Mustard, Small Batch

Ingredients

  • 4 Tbsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 2 Tbsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 2 tsp shallot or onion, fine chop
  • 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup cold water
  • ½ tsp honey (optional)

Instructions

  1. Briefly crush the mustard seeds to slightly break down. Combine them with the dry mustard and 1/3 cup cold water, let soak 1-3 hours.
  2. Add the salt, allspice, and shallot to the soaked mustard and grind in a mortar and pestle, using a bashing motion to partially break down the seeds and create creaminess.  Add remaining water as needed.
  3. Store in clean glass jar and let mellow 2 or 3 days at room temperature. Adjust seasoning, adding a dash of honey if still harsh. Will hold at room temperature a month or longer.  Makes about ¾ cup

Tinkering with Drinks

I switched to a small soda siphon a year or two ago and haven’t looked back. It fits perfectly in my refrigerator door, out of the way but readily available when I need it. The swap out has greatly reduced wasteful plastic,  glass bottles, and caused me to upgrade my beverage repertoire.

With the return of summer heat I’m back tinkering with drinks and the soda siphon is staying busy. I’m always looking for a new sipper, something refreshing and not too heavy. Fruit syrups are tasty but I’d prefer less sugar. Fresh juices are fun but they can quickly turn into dessert, too.

I very much like the citrusy-tart flavor of fresh pink grapefruit juice. It responds well when lightened up with a blast of sparkling soda, a dash of bitters, a pinch of salt, and some fresh mint or lime.  But, after a while, I needed a change.

And along carrots. I didn’t have to go out in search of carrots, there are usually a few stashed somewhere in the fridge. Carrots are good for snacking and good for you; they are rich in vitamin A, beta-carotene, and more. Yes, they are abundant and last well—you could call carrots a universal vegetable. Their mild flavor is adaptable in both sweet and savory dishes, giving them staple status in many of the world’s cuisines.

Turns out, carrots and grapefruit have a symbiotic relationship.

Shaving carrots into thin wide ribbons opens up their surface area and encourages the grapefruit juice to settle in and extract both their color and flavor. In less than an hour and without much effort, you’ll have an earthy, peach colored, mildly sweet-tart juice.

Conversely, the carrot curls absorb the citrus flavors; they make a tasty snack and a pretty garnish.

Serve this refreshing and healthy drink over ice, enliven it with a splash of soda or sparkling water, and garnish with fresh lime and carrot curls for munching.

Grapefruit-Carrot Sparkler

Ingredients

  • 1 medium carrot, peel and shave into thin wide ribbons with a vegetable peeler
  • 2 cups or more fresh pink grapefruit juice, to cover
  • soda or sparkling water

Finish:  ice, lime slices, carrot curls

Instructions

  1. For juice, place carrot ribbons in a container and cover with fresh grapefruit juice. Chill for an hour or longer.  Any remaining curls can be re-used 2 or 3 times.
  2. For the sparkler, place ice in an 8-ounce glass, half fill with grapefruit-carrot juice, top-off with soda or sparkling water, and stir well.  Garnish with carrot curls a squeeze of fresh lime.   Serves 1 or more

Easy Entertaining: Chicken Ragout

This hearty chicken dish is the definition of flexibility—and the ideal solution for an easy dinner with friends.

Our Chicken Ragout features plump chicken pieces simmered in a rustic tomato sauce that is enriched with mushrooms, rosemary, sweet carrots, and other vegetables.

We have options with this dish:  it can be prepped and cooked in various stages for enjoyment right away or set aside until later. If you chose to make it ahead,  know that these big flavors will mellow and improve as the ragout waits for you.

The preparation is straight forward, brown the chicken off then use the pan drippings to flavor the basic tomato sauce. Let the chicken simmer in the sauce until tender. When it’s convenient, separately roast the mushrooms, onion, pepper, rosemary, and carrots in a hot oven to precook and bring out their inherent sweetness, and set aside until needed.

The dish can all be assembled for enjoyment later the same day, or refrigerate the components and bring  out when ready to serve.  Reheat the chicken in tomato sauce, add the roasted vegetables, and simmer briefly. The ragout should retain its distinct freshness, yet blend the robust flavors into one dynamic package.

Serve the ragout with Creamy Polenta or a pasta of your choice to round out the rustic tomato sauce that develops.

Chicken Ragout with Roasted Hearty Vegetables

Ingredients

3½ pound chicken, cut into portions, or equivalent pieces
½ salt & red pepper flakes
1 tsp fresh or ½ tsp dried sage or herbes de Provence
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, mash & sliver
1 tsp dried rosemary
1½ cups chicken stock
14½ ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
2 Tbsp tomato paste
Roasted  Hearty Vegetables (follows)

Instructions

  1. Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, and sage.
  2. In a large pot or in a multi-cooker set to Hi Sauté, heat 2 Tbsp. oil, add chicken and sauté until golden brown, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to bowl.
  3. Lower heat to Medium Sauté, add garlic and rosemary and briefly sauté. Deglaze with a ½ cup stock, scraping up browned bits, about 1 minute. Stir in canned tomatoes with juice and tomato paste, remaining broth, and bring to a boil. Drop heat to Low Sauté and simmer 5-10 minutes to blend flavors.
  4. Add the chicken and any juices to sauce and simmer covered over low heat for 20 minutes, or set multi-cooker to HI Pressure for 10 minutes using 10 minutes natural release. Can be cooled and chilled overnight at this point.
  5. Skim off excess fat, add the roasted vegetables to heated chicken and simmer 10-15 minutes longer. Adjust seasoning. Serve with Creamy Polenta, sprinkle with drained capers or fresh basil.  Serves 4

Roasted Hearty Vegetables  Using 1 Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp fennel seed. 1 small onion in wedges, 2 medium carrots cut up, 1 cup crimini mushrooms halved, 1 green pepper cut.

  • Heat oven to 425-450°F.  Line a sheet pan with parchment or non-stick foil.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the oil, through fennel seeds.
  • Place the vegetables as cut up into the bowl.  Toss with the seasoned oil to coat.
  • Arrange the vegetables evenly on the pan.  Roast for 20 minutes, until tender-crisp. Stir after the first 10 minutes.  Turn off heat and let stand in oven with residual heat for 10 minutes.

Painless Polenta

I just had to stop and pass on this memorable method for cooking polenta.  Finally, the nightmares are over: no more burbling projectiles of searing polenta. With no effort—and no pain—creamy, smooth polenta is ready in 30 minutes.

In cooking your polenta, it’s important to select the right type. There are instant polentas that cook up in a flash, for which this whole episode is likely a waste of your time. Coarser grains, such as authentic polenta, stone-ground cornmeal, or grits require a longer cooking time. That is what we are interested in here, we want the more traditional style for rich flavor and divine mouth-feel.

And, there is no sticking or burning polenta, either…

This may sound like an infomercial, but I have nothing to gain but good food. The secret is in the multi-cooker and the trick is to use a bit more water than usual. Bring it all to a simmer, stir in the salt and polenta, then seal the lid and bring it to pressure. Let it burble away undisturbed for 20 minutes. Once complete, allow the pressure to release naturally (about 10 minutes). In this magical time, the polenta settles down, expands, and blooms. Carefully remove the lid, bring it all together with a wooden spoon and whisk in a little butter and grated cheese.

Now, you are free to do with it what you will. This polenta is good enough to enjoy without a lot of fuss, but the options are endless.

Spoon it loosely mounded into a bowl porridge-style topped with cheese, or with your favorite mushroom topping or tomato sauce.

Polenta thickens as it sits, so you can pour it into a flat pan or dish to firm up and cut into shapes later.

Make crostini type bites or cut into fingers for dipping. Or, form into cakes for a future side. It’s all good!

Creamy Polenta

Ingredients
5 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 cup coarse polenta
2 Tbsp butter
¼ cup grated Parmesan

Instructions

  1. Place salted water in liner of Instant Pot or other multi-cooker. Set to Hi Saute or equivalent and bring to a simmer. Whisk in polenta to dissolve any potential lumps.
  2. Seal lid, set to HI Pressure for 20 minutes.  When complete, turn off unit and disconnect. Let stand 10 minutes, then slowly release pressure.  Before opening, tap or shift pot to remove pockets of heat that may have formed in the polenta.  Carefully open and stir down with long wooden spoon.
  3. Whisk the butter and cheese into the polenta to incorporate and make smooth.
  4. Serve in spoonfuls, or pour onto oiled or plastic lined baking sheet, chill and let set. Cut into shapes and reheat in 375°F oven, or in a skillet over medium high with a coating of butter or oil until heated and toasted on each side.  Serves 4 or more.

Fish du Jour

The other day I received a surprise de-briefing from my local fish monger.  As I obliquely scanned the beautifully displayed case and mumbled ‘red snapper’, he dropped everything, came around the counter, and pulled me aside.

With his hands pressed in front of him, he gazed off to the side and softly explained that Red Snapper is an excellent fish that originates in Atlantic waters and not widely available on the west coast.  He pointed out  that the misleading label Pacific Red Snapper is simply some sort of rockfish.  I guess I’m the last person to get the message.  That’s okay, in Tahiti ‘lagoon fish’ is always a delicious menu choice.  I happily headed out with 3 sweet smelling rockfish fillets.

Rockfish is a bass-like species, with a large mouth and spines on its head. Nothing like the red snapper I recall.  This large variety of fish can range in color from copper or red to blue, green or black, and can even sport colorful speckles or stripes.

Still, rockfish are mild flavored, highly marketed and very popular. With all that demand, some can be subject to overfishing and destructive practices. For a reliable resource, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch provides plenty of recommendations to threatened and endangered species. They have both online information as well as an app available for download.

So here’s the genesis behind the red snapper/rockfish event. The secret to the success of this dish is the outstanding bread crumb marinade. Not only does it add flavor and moisture to the fish, the top crisps and gives an unexpected crunchiness when placed close to the heat.

Of course, any firm fleshed fish will work, including halibut, tuna, cod, shark…

Rockfish Fillets with Bread Crumb Marinade

Ingredients
1 pound firm fish fillets, rockfish/snapper, lingcod
⅓ cup chopped parsley
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 anchovy fillets (or 1 tsp paste)
Few sprigs basil, chopped
½ cup dry bread crumbs
⅓ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
pinch red pepper flakes

Instructions

  1. Combine marinade by mixing together the parsley through red pepper flakes; it should be fairly moist.
  2. Line baking sheet with non-stick foil.  Massage marinade into whole fillets. Let stand for 1 hour at room temperature, or cover and refrigerate several hours.
  3. Using top heat source, broil @ 450°F for 8-10 minutes until flaky and crumbs are crisp and brown. Can be held a few minutes at lower heat.   Yield: 4 servings