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.

Berries, as in Wheat

Lately I’ve been reading up on wheat berries and have learned I need and want these powerhouses in my morning muesli and more…

According to Livestrong.com, “Wheat berries are rich in vitamins B1 and B3; and the minerals magnesium, phosphorus, copper, manganese and selenium.” What that means is they are valuable to overall body care, i.e., nervous system metabolism, blood pressure, cardiovascular and blood formation, bones, you name it.

wheat berries grain

There are different types of wheat berries, too: hard and soft berries, which grow at different times of the year and serve different purposes. Lest we get too far into the weeds, suffice to say, I settled on hard or red wheat berries.

Since wheat berries can take 60 minutes or longer on the stove top, I knew this was a job for the Instant Pot. With the pot loaded and ready to go, I’ve learned it’s much faster to bring it all to a boil before proceeding. It’s then a simple matter of setting the timer to 35 minutes with a 10 minute natural release and walking away. It’s sooo nice to let the pressure cooker work its magic and return to a generous 3 cups of plump chewy kernels.

Med wheat berry plate

In that amount of time I was able to establish a plan for my Mediterranean wheat berry salad. I channeled my pending tiny summer garden, still on the horizon—one with the usual crop of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, green onions, plenty of flowers and herbs. Ahhh, I can’t wait!

Altogether the vegetables’ earthy flavors harmonize and blend well with the hearty wheat berry kernels while accents of Kalamata olives, feta or paneer cheese, and lemon do their part to brighten and shine. The salad holds incredibly well and is equally good chilled or at room temperature. It’s an ideal side for grilling and outdoor dining.

Mediterranean Wheat Berry Salad

  • 1½ cups cooked wheat berries
  • ¾ cup garbanzo beans, rinse & drain
  • ½ cup baby tomatoes, halve
  • ½ cucumber, seed, chop
  • ⅓ cup mixed baby peppers, seed, chop
  • ½ cup parsley, chop
  • ⅓ cup green onions, chop
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crush, mince
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Accompaniments: Fresh spinach leaves, Kalamata olives, feta or paneer cheese, parsley, lemon slices

For dressing, combine lemon juice, evoo, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl, adjust seasoning it should be lemony.

For salad, place the wheat berries through green onions in a medium bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss. Drizzle half the dressing over the salad and toss to lightly coat, add more as needed.

Refrigerate several hours or overnight. Adjust seasoning, add dressing as needed. Serve chilled or room temperature. To serve, pile on a spinach lined plate, garnish with olives, parsley and squeeze lemon juice over the top. Serves 4 or more.

Variations: substitute 1-1/2 cup prepared couscous or bulgur wheat. Add 2 Tbsp or more mint, finely chopped and/or 1 tsp grated lemon. To the dressing add 1/8 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes.

Birds of a Feather

Dear readers: please be advised that some may find this post objectionable as it skirts the very edgy topic of guns. No, I’m not writing about the latest gun-related tragedy nor is it a rant on gun control.  I’m just waxing nostalgic, because guns have not always been defined by mayhem and murder.

I grew up in the mid-part of the 20th century when guns were a big part of our existence. My dad was a marksman, an avid hunter, and was very proud of his gun collection and the many trophies that surrounded us.  We belonged to a gun club where we regularly took turns at target practice and skeet shooting.  He saw to it that I had my own .22 rifle and later a .410 shotgun; I learned how to care for them, to use them responsibly, and I became a pretty good shot. It never occurred to me that they could be used for violence against another person. At our house, guns were a form of recreation and largely related to delicious food—our freezer was well stocked with bear, deer, quail, pheasant and whatever else was fair game that year.

My mom was an excellent cook and prided herself in knowing how to best prepare whatever game came through the door. Those meals were highly anticipated events and deeply appreciated by everyone.  As I think about it now, one of my particular favorites was her Pheasant Cacciatore.

Since pheasant can be quite lean, she would soak the pheasant ahead in an herb and red wine marinade to moisten, tenderize, and remove any potential gaminess. Sometimes she would start with a bit of bacon and then brown off the pheasant.  She’d proceed to develop a hearty sauce with plenty of mushrooms, onions, carrot, tomatoes and capers—perhaps she’d throw in a little green pepper, celery, or olives.  I suspect she’d combine the pheasant and all the trimmings in a heavy covered pot and gently braise it in a moderately slow oven.

The recipe has long since been lost, but that’s my best recollection.  I recently reflected on those fabulous meals while preparing my easy mid-week Chicken Cacciatore.

It is made effortlessly with this Instant Pot treatment, yet it is a distant second to my mom’s ‘classic’ version.  When nearly done, mine became a one-pot meal with the addition of a few handfuls of penne pasta!  Still, with those flavors and few favorite pieces of plumb chicken, you really can’t go wrong.

Chicken Cacciatore, PC

Although this is presented in Instant Pot format, directions are included for standard stove top preparation, too. If using dry penne pasta on final, more liquid maybe required.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 to 6 chicken thighs (bone-in)
1 onion, slice
1 carrot, chop
2 ribs celery, chop
1 pasilla pepper, seed and chop
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, mince
½ teaspoon thyme leaves
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ pound mushrooms, trim and slice
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chicken stock, water or other liquid
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons capers
2 cups approximate, dry penne pasta
Garnish:  ½ cup parsley and 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. If using an Instant Pot, set it medium Sauté, and heat 2 tbsp. oil. Pat the chicken dry, season with salt and pepper, and place in the hot pot. Brown 4-5 minutes per side and remove to a holding plate. Pour off excess fat.
  2. Add the remaining tablespoon oil and sauté the onion until soft. Add the carrot, celery, pepper, the fennel, rosemary, thyme and red pepper flakes, and cook 4-5 minutes.
  3. Add the mushrooms, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper to the pot. Stir to loosen the fond in bottom of pan with the liquid released from the mushrooms. Increase to medium if necessary, cook 6 to 8 minutes.
  4. Stir in 1 cup chicken stock or water, the tomatoes and the capers.
  5. Return the chicken to the pot, nestle the pieces into the tomato mixture to barely cover them and bring to a simmer.
  6. Lock the lid, set pot to high Pressure for 12 minutes. (If using standard stovetop preparation, cook for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is tender.) When time is up, turn off the pot, disconnect, and let rest 10 minutes. Carefully release any remaining pressure and open.
  7. There should be enough liquid in the pot to also cook the penne pasta. Set the pot to medium Sauté and bring back to a simmer.  Add 1 handful of pasta per serving (about 2 cups) and simmer for 10 minutes, until al dente.  Adjust seasoning and dust with fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese.  Serves 4

In Your Dreams…

For those looking for a gooey chocolate dessert, here a sure fix that you can have on the table in less than 30 minutes, courtesy of the multi-cooker.

It goes by many aliases: Chocolate Lava Cake, Better than Sex Chocolate Cake, and others.  What they have in common is an inordinate amount of chocolate and butter held together with eggs and maybe a bit of binder. In other words, they have a cake-like exterior and an ooey-gooey center.

You could call this particular variation ‘conservative’.  It has a fair amount of firm, moist cake available to support the ooze that flows forth once cut into—rather than a total collapse swept up in a thick hot chocolate flood.

Although… describing it does sound pretty scintillating.

My point, this as a small, rich cake with warm ganache hidden within, rather than deftly draped over the exterior.  It is ‘suitable for all occasions’.

Either way, it’s a chocolate lover’s dream come true.

Molten Chocolate Cakes, Multi-Cooker

Ingredients
½ cup butter
3 eggs
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup flour
Pinch salt
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
Accompaniments:  powdered sugar, ice cream or sweetened whipped cream

Instructions

  1. Prepare 5 quart multi-cooker or larger:  pour 1 cup water into bottom of cooker.  Place a metallic trivet or steamer insert in bottom.
  2. Place the butter in a medium microwaveable bowl and partially melt the butter on 60% power. Brush the ramekins with a coating of the butter.  Add the chocolate chips and continue to heat for 1-2 minutes. Stir every 20 seconds until mixture is melted and smooth.
  3. Sift the powdered sugar over the chocolate and whisk to blend.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly incorporated. Add the vanilla.
  5. Sift half of the flour plus a pinch of salt over the top of the mixture and fold in with a spatula.  Add the remainder of the flour and fold in just until blended.
  6. Divide the batter evenly among the 4 ramekins and place them on the trivet or steamer basket.
  7. Seal the lid and set to High Pressure for 9 minutes, with steam release knob to sealing position.
  8. When done, do a Quick Release and carefully release pressure.  When float valve is down open the lid and carefully remove the hot ramekins.  Cool briefly.
  9. To serve: invert the cakes and place bottom side up onto individual plates.  Serve warm with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, ice cream, or sweetened whipped cream and any other desired garnishes.  Yield:  4 cakes.

Quick and Painless: Hard Cooked Eggs

Posting another blog on how to hard cook an egg does seem a little silly. We have covered that territory before, and by now, most of us know how to boil an egg.  It is more than  dropping an egg into simmering water and cooking until done.

Anyone who really appreciates a well prepared hard cooked egg likely has their own preferences, too.  I am partial to an egg with a slightly soft yolk without a green rim from oxidation; a firm, but not rubbery white; and equally important, a shell that peels easily.

A few years ago when my daughter presented me with an electric egg cooker I could not see its merit. I did not need another gadget; a saucepan and a little water works just fine.  It took me a while, but I finally warmed to it for her sake, and I still appreciate its precision and convenience.

Friends rant about how foolproof the Instant Pot is for hard cooking eggs.  Well,  fine, I have my egg cooker. Of course, that all changed the day I needed more hard cooked eggs than my tiny egg cooker could hold.  Besides,  I reasoned, who wants the angst of fretting over a carton of eggs that refuse to peel?

It may have something to do with the pressurized process of the Instant Pot, but the eggs peel like magic!  It is fast. Within five minutes the eggs are done, without any exploding eggs or unnecessary drama.  Give it an additional 3-4  minutes for natural pressure release, a fast flip of the valve for quick release of any remaining pressure, and into a cool bath they go—ready and waiting for a quick and painless peel.  Sweet!

For the record, here is one more solution for hard cooked eggs.

Hard Cooked Eggs

Made easy, via the Instant Pot

Ingredients
1 to 12 large eggs, cold from fridge, or as many as will fit comfortably in one layer
1 cup water

Instructions

  1. Pour 1 cup water into the Instant Pot liner. Insert a raised rack and place eggs in pot.
  2. Seal lid and set steam valve to Pressure; set Pressure function to High, and set timer for 5 minutes.
  3. When complete, let Pressure Release naturally for 3 minutes, then set the steam valve to Vent and resume with Quick Release.
  4. Cool the eggs in cold water. If desired, chill further in refrigerator.

 

Potstickers Galore

Not long ago, I came across a small bamboo stacked steamer in an Asian market that looked to be the right fit for my 5-quart Instant Pot.  It’s quite charming sitting in my tiny kitchen, but more than that, eyeing it caused my mouth to water—as visions of  steamed dumplings danced in my head.

When I spotted Martin Yan’s potsticker recipe I knew I had the perfect excuse to pull everything together and start cooking.  Although I tailored this for my Instant Pot and steamer set-up, any steamer, wok or large  pan with a lid or foil to seal will do the trick.

The process is very much like making wontons. Martin incorporates Napa cabbage, ground pork or turkey, and dried black mushrooms in his filling. I’ve made a few adjustments, like adding an egg white for binder and extra moisture plus a bit of hoisin and mushroom soy sauce instead of oyster sauce. Instructions follow for Instant Pot as well as Martin Yan’s browning/steaming in a 12” sauté pan.

This makes plenty of potstickers!

I ended up making batches two days in a row—smartly pacing self to avoid eating all potstickers in sight.  So many did I have, there was an Asian salad event and more to freeze for a later soup.

Potstickers

Inspired by Martin Yan’s Potstickers.

Ingredients
40 round potsticker or wonton wrappers
2 tablespoons cooking oil
water
CB’s Spicy Dipping Sauce
2 tablespoons  sriracha sauce or chile paste
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Filling
4 dried Shiitake mushrooms
1 cup shredded Napa cabbage (approx.)
2 tablespoons green onion, chop
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound ground pork or ground turkey
1 clove garlic, mince
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Directions

  1. Make spicy dipping sauce: in a small bowl, combine ingredients and set aside.
  2. Soak mushrooms: In a bowl, soak mushrooms in warm water to cover until softened, about 15 minutes; drain. Discard stems and coarsely chop caps.
  3. Salt cabbage: In a bowl, combine Napa cabbage and salt, toss well and set aside until cabbage wilts, about for 5 minutes. Squeeze out and discard excess water.
  4. For filling: combine mushrooms and cabbage with remaining filling ingredients in a bowl; mix well.
  5. To shape potstickers: moisten the edges of the round wrapper and place a teaspoonful of filling in center. Pull up, flatten bottom, and pleat edges with some filling showing. Or, lightly fold in half, then press the outer edges inward to create a 4-pronged star on top. Keep remaining wrappers covered with a damp cloth to prevent them from drying. Repeat until filling is used or set aside half and make as needed.
  6. To steam in Instant Pot: line 2 steamer baskets with cabbage leaves or parchment paper.  Set in baskets without touching. In bottom of Instant Pot add about 2 cups water.  Place bamboo steamer on wire rack and cover with bamboo lid or seal top with foil. Cover tightly, close vents, steam for 6 minutes and use quick release.  Repeat as desired.  Yield: about 40 potstickers.

Variations:
To fully cook in skillet:  heat 10-12” skillet over medium high until hot.  Add 1 tablespoons oil to coat bottom of pan.  Add about 10 potstickers, flat side down and cook until bottom are golden brown, about 3 minutes.  Add 1/3 cup water, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until water is absorbed, 4-5 minutes. Remove and serve with spicy dipping sauce.
To reheat/brown the bottoms:  if desired, heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoons oil to cover bottom of pan, add a layer of cooked potstickers and cook until bottoms are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add a couple of spoonfuls of water in pan to create steam, cover and cook briefly until warmed through and water is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Serve with spicy dipping sauce.

Cabbage Rolls Made Easy

My thoughts automatically turn to my new Instant Pot these days.  Often it is to re-visit old favorites like stuffed cabbage rolls, and tinker with how to best incorporate them into my new cooking repertoire.

This stuffed cabbage recipe was shared many years ago by a good Polish friend, who received it from his mother.  Since he was not a cook, he was so appreciative when I would prepare his beloved Goblaki, it was always reason for a party.

Golabki

When the mood strikes, I still make stuffed cabbage rolls for their homey, sweet/sour qualities. They are even better reheated the next day.  There are a few steps, but none are complicated.  I actually find the repetition of filling and shaping the rolls very relaxing—I like to think of it as a form of meditation.

Here, the slow cooker steps in to deliver all the classic aromas and flavors and cooks in about the same oven time.  There is little mess. The blanching of the leaves is done in the same cooking pot. My current version cuts back on the ground beef and contains part turkey, which doesn’t seem to make a difference in overall taste.

Enjoy the rolls with Barley-Mushroom Risotto, a perfect companion.  Here’s to you, Joe!

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, aka Golabki

Ingredients
1        large head cabbage
Filling
3/4     pound ground beef
3/4     pound ground turkey
1/3     cup raw converted rice
1/2     cup onion, dice
1/2     cup celery, dice
1         clove garlic, crush
1         teaspoon salt, to taste
1/2     teaspoon pepper, to taste
Sauce
1       28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/2    teaspoon dried dill, plus more for the pot
salt and red pepper flakes, to taste
1        tablespoons brown sugar, approximate
2        tablespoons cider vinegar
1/3    cup raisins (optional)

Directions

  1. To blanch the cabbage leaves:  gently separate the cabbage leaves and rinse well.  Layer leaves in pressure cooker. Set pressure element to Low, and steam the leaves for 1 minute with fast release.  Carefully remove and place in an ice water bath to stop the cooking.  Drain on toweling and set aside.
  2. Place a few unusable leaves in the bottom of the pot, add a bit of available sliced onion, add a light sprinkling of dill, salt and pepper.
  3. To make cabbage rolls:  combine filling items.  Place a heaping tablespoonful of stuffing at largest end of leaf, roll and fold sides in.  Repeat.
  4. For assembly:  combine sauce ingredients and spoon 1/3 of the sauce into bottom of pot.  Place a layer of rolls close together, seam side down, into the pot. Top with another 1/3 of sauce.  Add another layer of rolls and finish with remaining sauce.
  5. Set slow cooker to Medium setting for approximately 2-1/2 hours.  Note: begin on medium setting, cook for 1-1/2 hours. and check.  If not simmering at this point, increase to High for the additional hour.  Can also be cooked on Low setting for 6 hours or longer.  Yield: about 12 rolls.