May 31, 2011

Coriander Chicken with Spinach

Today's featured recipe is a curry of my own invention.  I decided I wanted to make a curry that featured a slightly different mix of typical curry spices, and chose coriander as the dominant flavor.  I also wanted to feature meat and vegegables in the same dish, so I added some spinach.  

A last touch came to me when I realized the heavy cream I had in stock was past expiration date.   In Indian cooking, dairy products such as cream are often added along with lemon juice or another souring agent, but since I had some buttermilk in the refrigerator, I decided to to use it.  It worked like a charm and made for a rich, flavorful gravy.

Coriander Chicken with Spinach

yield = 4 servings

3              tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2           teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2           teaspoon black (or brown) mustard seeds
1              large onion, chopped crosswise into thin rings
1              tablespoon fresh, peeled, grated ginger
2              teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2        teaspoons ground coriander
1/2           teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4           teaspoon turmeric powder
1 1/2        pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, dried with
                  paper towels and chopped into bite-side pieces
2              large, fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/2           teaspoon table salt
1/3           cup water
8              ounces baby spinach, chopped
2              tablespoons fresh, chopped cilantro
1/2           cup buttermilk
2              teaspoons garam masala

Heat two tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When the oil is shimmering, add the cumin and mustard seeds and cook until they start to pop.  

Add the onion and cook until it has started to brown.  Add another tablespoon of oil, allow it to heat up for a minute or so, then add the ginger, garlic, coriander, cayenne and turmeric and cook until fragrant (about 45 seconds). 

Add the chicken and cook until it is no longer translucent, then add the tomatoes, salt and water. 

Bring to a simmer, then add the spinach, cilantro and buttermilk.  Heat until bubbling, then remove from heat and sprinkle in garam masala.   Serve with rice and naan or other Indian bread.

May 30, 2011

Basic Crepes

When I was fresh out of college, I made these crepes a lot.  They're inexpensive, easily made from ingredients on hand, and very filling.

Basic Crepes
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups milk

Measure flour and sugar out into large mixing bowl.  Stir together.  Add eggs and milk and mix well.  I used a whisk, but a fork will work, too.

I use a very small non-stick fry pan to make these.  The small size means I get a nice round shape every time.  If you're using a larger fry-pan, be prepared for more creative shapes to emerge as you pour batter into the hot pan.

I had to experiment with the burner temperature, since this is the first time I've made these on this stove.  My glass top stove's burners go from 1-9, and then "high".  I found that setting 7 worked the best for me.  You want the pan to be hot enough so that you get a lightly browned crepe, somewhat like a pancake.  Experiment until you find what works best for you.

Heat your frypan, and then grease it.  I use a butter-flavored cooking spray so I don't get overly greasy crepes.  Pour just over 1/4 cup batter into the pan.  I use a 1/2 cup measure as a dipper, and fill it just over half full.  Swirl the pan so that any excess batter will be moved to the edges of the pan and won't stay in the middle.  Cook until the bottom of the crepe is a golden brown.  Flip the crepe with a heat-resistant spatula, and cook a short time longer.  The second side won't be as brown as the first.  You just want to make sure that there is no uncooked batter on the second side. 

Just after adding batter, swirl so that excess doesn't settle in the middle.

Ready to flip!

If your pan isn't quite hot enough, you'll have a cooked crepe that doesn't brown, which will look pasty and pale, like the one on the left here:

When both sides of the crepe are cooked, remove to a plate.  Spread with filling of your choice, then roll the crepe into a tube shape.  My favorite fillings include pressurized cheese-in-a-can (the kind that you use to top crackers with), chunky peanut butter, or fruit jam or preserves.  This is a nice way to serve chicken a'la King, too.  I re-spray the fry pan every time I cook another crepe, so nothing ever sticks.  This recipe made more than enough for the two of us.  Be sure to eat while the crepes are warm!

May 29, 2011

Chicken and Farfalle with Creamy Sherry-Mushroom Sauce

This recipe is adapted from one I found at My Gourmet Connection for Chicken with Farfalle, Mushrooms and Sherry Cream.  I liked the basic idea of that recipe, but I wanted a richer mushroom flavor and a somewhat more seasoned sauce, so I made a few changes to produce the recipe below.

The bold mushroom flavor is what really stands out in this dish.  The creamy sauce is mild, but it doesn't lack for flavor, and transferring the almost-done farfalle into the skillet with the sauce results in the pasta being not just coated with the sauce, but actually taking some flavor into the pasta.  Topped with tender slices of chicken, this makes for a really nice, satisfying meal.

Chicken and Farfalle with Creamy Sherry-Mushroom Sauce

yield = 6 servings

1 1/2           teaspoons table salt
1/3              cup all-purpose flour
1/2              teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/4              teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 1/2           pounds chicken breast, sliced lengthwise into
3                 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1                 large onion, sliced crosswise to form rings
8                 ounces crimini (baby portabello) mushrooms, sliced
8                 ounces white (button) mushrooms, sliced
3                 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2              teaspoon dried thyme
12               ounces farfalle
3/4              cup sherry
3/4              cup low-sodium chicken broth
3                 tablespoons heavy cream
3                 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Add four quarts of water and 1 teaspoon of table salt to a large pot and bring the water to a boil. 

Meanwhile, combine the flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, black pepper and paprika in a shallow dish or bowl.  Add 1/3 of the chicken pieces, stir/turn to cover the chicken on all sides, shake off excess flour and transfer the coated chicken pieces to a plate.  Continue with the remainder of the chicken pieces, then set aside.

Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  When the oil is shimmering, add half of the chicken pieces and cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides (about 6 minutes total).  Transfer the cooked chicken pieces to a plate lined with paper towels.  Repeat with the rest of the chicken, then set aside.  Pour off the oil and wipe the pan clean.

Add the final tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and heat it to shimmering, then add the onion and saute until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. 

Add the mushrooms and continue cooking, stirring often.  Cook until the mushrooms have given up their liquid and started to brown, about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and thyme and cook 1 minute. 

Meanwhile, add the farfalle to the boiling water and cook it about one minute less than suggested by package directions.

Add the sherry and scrape the bottom of the pan to remove any browned bits.  Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer, then.  Cook, turning the chicken often, until the pan liquid is starting to thicken and coat the chicken pieces.  Again transfer the chicken to a plate. 

Stir the cream and parsely into the sauce and cook 2-3 minutes.  Taste, season with additional salt and pepper if desired, then add the farfalle to the pan.  Cook, stirring often, until the sauce is thick and the farfalle is tender and fully-cooked.

Transfer portions of the sauce-coated farfalle to plates and top with portions of the chicken pieces.  Serve.

May 28, 2011

Sesame Shrimp with Asparagus and Basil

Today's recipe is one I came up with by deciding to toss together several of my favorite foods and flavors - shrimp, asparagus, pasta, basil, sesame oil, ginger, soy sauce, lime juice and rice wine - in one dish.  It isn't really an Asian dish, despite the presence of a variety of typically Asian seasonings and ingredients.  It isn't even representative enough of any specific cuisines to really qualify as a fusion dish.  It really is just a hodge-podge.   It's still darn good, though.

Technique-wise, this recipe is pretty basic.   Cook some pasta, heat up some oil, fry the asparagus and shrimp in the oil, add some aromatic seasonings, stir in some liquid ingredients to make a sauce, stir the pasta and some basil in after the sauce thickens, then add a garnish and serve.  It comes together quickly - everything else can be prepared and made in the time it takes to get the water boiling and cook the pasta - and the whole dish requires only two pans, so clean-up is also easy. 

So, if you are looking for a quick, easy recipe that delivers tender-crisp asparagus, perfectly-cooked shrimp and noodles, all brought together with a savory sauce, this one might be just what you're looking for.  Give it a try.

Sesame Shrimp with Asparagus and Basil

yield = 4 servings

12            ounces thin spaghetti or angel hair pasta
3/4           cup low-sodium chicken broth
2              tablespoons soy sauce
2              tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
1              tablespoon mirin (rice wine)
1              tablespoon soy sauce
3              teaspoons sesame oil
1              tablespoon peanut oil
1 1/2        pounds asparagus spears, trimmed and cut
                  into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2        pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1              tablespoon fresh, peeled and grated ginger
2              teaspoons minced garlic
1/4           teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4           cup fresh basil, thinly-sliced
1              tablespoon black (or ordinary) sesame seeds

Add four quarts water and 1 teaspoon table salt to a large pot.  Bring to a boil, add pasta, cook per package directions then drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, add chicken broth, soy sauce, lime juice, mirin, corn starch and 1 teaspoon sesame oil to a small bowl.  Stir together to combine, then set aside.

Add the peanut oil and two teaspoons sesame oil to a large skillet over medium heat.  When the oil is shimmering, add the asparagus pieces and stir-fry, stirring often, 3-4 minutes. 

Add the shrimp, cook on one side for about 2 minutes, then turn the shrimp and cook another minute. 

Clear a spot in the middle of the skillet and add the ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes. 

Cook about 45 seconds, then stir in the chicken broth mixture and cook until the sauce thickens (about 1 minute).  Stir in the cooked pasta.   Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the basil and sesame seeds.   Serve.

When I made this recipe, I didn't have any Thai basil handy, but if you have some, using Thai basil in place of ordinary, sweet basil would give the dish a more distinctly Asian flavor. 

Gong Fu Tea

One of the things I really love about working in downtown Des Moines is easy access to all the neat shops in the East Village.  One of my favorite places is Gong Fu Tea located at 414 East 6th Street. They sell the most amazing loose-leaf teas I've ever had the pleasure to drink, and their shop is beautiful. 

Each canister holds a different aromatic loose leaf tea.

My favorites are Constant Companion, which is their take on Bigelow Tea's Constant Comment, and Spice Tea, a lovely, comforting cinnamon tea blend that I like to drink when the weather is cold.  Jeffrey likes Chocolate Mint, Moroccan Mint, La Pina Colada and Black Mango tea.

Several of the small packets of Gong Fu tea we have at home.

Today we went in looking for an Oolong tea, to be used instead of wood chips to flavor some barbecue.  Jeffrey chose Wuyi Shan Red Cape tea.  Hopefully the weather will cooperate this weekend, and we can post that recipe soon.

The staff are all very friendly and knowledgable about each tea.

While not inexpensive, buying an ounce or two of a really deeply flavorful tea is an affordable luxury that I indulge every once in a while.  


Jeffrey here.  Check out the website link above- it talks about the business, and you can also order their fine products, which include teapots and serving sets and other tea-related items, in addition to their great variety of excellent teas.

May 27, 2011

Caramel Brownies

A few days ago I wrote about the recent comparison I did between two recipes for Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, pitting one from Annie's Eats against one from another site.   The recipe from Annie's Eats came out on top in that comparison.  I've subsequently made another winning recipe from that site:  Caramel Brownies.

The recipe is pretty straight-forward:  Mix up a batch of brownie batter, bake half of it, let the baked half cool, top it with caramel and pecans, then top that with the rest of the batter, some more pecans and some chocolate chips, after which you toss it back in the oven to bake the upper layer.  

The result:  Chocolately, chewy brownies with a delicious layer of nuts and caramel running through the middle of each brownie. 

While the description above is accurate enough, it doesn't come close to capturing how good these brownies are.  Honestly, I'm not sure I can come up with words to do them justice.   Let's start with "incredibly moist."   Next comes "decadently rich chocolate flavor."  And let's not forget "delightfully chewy" or "a delicious caramel flavor that holds its own with the chocolate flavor, with neither overwhelming the other."  I guess I can also mention that I loved them, as did Juli, and my coworkers gave them rave reviews.

Really, the closest I can probably come to capturing how good these brownies are is to recommend you check out Annie's Eats, download a copy of the recipe and make up a batch for yourself.   This recipe gets my highest recommendation, and I'll definitely be making these brownies again. 

May 26, 2011

Cherry-Almond Muffins

I recently wrote about making two batches of Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins using two different recipes and comparing the results.   The one that came out the worse of that comparison was a recipe from My Gourmet Connection.  That one wasn't the only muffin recipe I've tried from that site, though, and the other one - a recipe for Cherry-Almond Muffins - turned out vastly better. 

I pitted and chopped a lot of fresh, sweet cherries to make these muffins (1 1/2 cups of chopped cherries, in fact).  As a result, the muffins had a delightful and rich cherry flavor.   The cherries were supported by almond flavor, provided by almond extract in the muffins and a topping of chopped almonds.  

The muffins were light and moist and really quite delightful.  Not only were they vastly better than the Lemon Poppy Seed muffins I made from a recipe at that site, but they were in fact one of the best batches of muffins I've ever made.  This is a good time of year to purchase fresh cherries in the grocery stores, and this muffin recipe puts cherries to excellent use.  If you try out the recipe yourself, I'm confident you'll agree.

May 25, 2011

Creamy Penne with Asparagus, Mushrooms and Chicken

I've become a big fan of one-pan and skillet dinners.  They tend to be fast and easy to make, and the fact that everything is cooked in one pan cuts down on after-dinner clean-up.  Plus, cooking everything together tends to result in the various flavors being well-blended.   The Best 30-Minute Recipe contains several recipes of this sort, including one - Creamy Skillet Penne with Mushrooms and Asparagus - I used as the starting point for the recipe below.

The recipe published in The Best 30-Minute Recipes was a pretty good vegetarian recipe, but I wanted to add some protein as well.   I decided chicken would go well with the mushrooms, cream sauce and asparagus, so I played around with the ratios of some ingredients to work better with the addition of chicken and added the step of sauteing the chicken.  I also decided to add extra mushroom flavor by adding the water used to soak the porcini mushrooms to the dish.  

This dish came together quickly - you can do most of the rest of the prep work while sauteing the the chicken and the mushrooms - and was really, really tasty.    I'm not generally a big fan of cream-based sauces with pasta, but I liked how this sauce was not just creamy but also full of mushroom flavor.  The penne was likewise quite flavorful - an advantage of cooking it in the sauce - while the chicken and asparagus pieces were tender and tender-crisp, respectively.  The various parts of this dish blended together very nicely into an enjoyable meal.   I expect I'll be revisiting this recipe in the future.

Creamy Penne with Asparagus, Mushrooms and Chicken

yield = 4-5 servings

1             ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 1/4       pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into
                  bite-sized pieces
1/4          teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/4          teaspoon table salt
8             ounces white (button) mushrooms, quartered
1             large shallot, minced
3             teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2       teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/2          cup white wine
3             cups water
1             cup heavy cream
12           ounces penne
1             bunch of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch
1/2          cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Soak the porcini mushrooms in 1 cup boiling water until softened, about 10 minutes.  Transfer porcini to a cutting board and dice.   Pour the water used to soak the mushrooms through a double layer of cheesecloth to catch any grit, then set the water aside.  Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. 

Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned on all sides.  Transfer the cooked chicken to a bowl and set aside.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet until shimmering, then add the button mushrooms.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are browned on most sides (8-9 minutes).  Add the minced porcini mushrooms, shallot, garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant (about 40 seconds).  Add the white wine and cook until the wine is reduced by half.

Add the water used to soak the mushrooms, an additional 3 cups water, cream and penne.  Bring to a boil and cook, stirring often, until the penne is almost tender and the liquid has cooked down and thickened (about 12 minutes).  Stir in the chicken, then add the asparagus and cook until tender, another 3-4 minutes.

Remove from heat, stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano, season with additional salt and pepper if desired and serve.