11 February 2012
Chicken Tikka Masala

My love for chicken tikka masala was originally born in Kenya, when Don and I lived in Eldoret for two months in 2008 right after we got married.  We stayed at the Indiana University compound, and Joe and Sarah Ellen Mamlin would gather up all of the doctors and medical students living at the compound once a week and take us all out to dinner at one of three restaurants.  Two were Indian restaurants and one was Chinese.  Incidentally, both the best Indian food and Chinese food I have ever had in my life.

We never ordered when we went out, the owners of the restauarents would just see Joe and Sarah Ellen and start bringing out dishes of curries, butter chicken, tikka masala, lentils and baskets and baskets of hot, buttered naan.  I was in heaven.  After we got back to Indiana I went into Indian food remission, until we moved to Minnesota.  I think it was something about the sub-zero temperatures that brought out a desperate need for the deep, down warmth and fullness that Indian food brings.  Tikka masala was always my favorite, so I went on a tikka masala mission.  After several months of settling for a very good but ultimately not what I was looking for Trader Joe's curry sauces or frozen meals, the illuminating Jessica Butcher email slapped me in the face and said "make your own curry, damnit!"  And so I did.
I found this recipe on an episode of Bobby Flay's Throwdown, which I watch the way people watch a car crash or train wreck.  Suffice it to say that I am not a fan of Bobby Flay, because he seems to find it impossible to be courteous, let alone gracious, to anyone.  Also, the whole premise of the show is insulting and asinine.  Lets fine someone who is really, really great at and takes a lot of pride in one recipe that they have perfected over months or years or that has been handed down to them from family...and then let's have Bobby Flay half-ass his way through the recipe and add his own random twist, and then trick the other cook into a challenge when they think they are being featured on the Food Network for their accomplishments.  If Bobby wins, he is smug and pretentious.  If he looses (and I pray that this is the case) then he is bratty and usually insulting.  The only credit I can give him is that he did introduce me to mustard seeds.  Well, enough about Bobby Flay...

In this episode he challenged Chef Marianna Vadukul of Saffron, who is well known for her chicken tikka masala.  Although she did not win in this throwdown, I use her recipe because it represents a better balance of spices, and Bobby's recipe would likely burn my daughter's throat out.  Also, I like her better.

  • 4 breast organic chicken in small cubes
  • 2 large red onions thinly sliced (you can also use yellow onion, but not sweet onions)
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • 2 tablespoons crushed ginger (I grate my garlic and ginger on a large micro-plane, but a box grater with smaller holes or a food processor would work well)
  • 2 cans 28 oz. crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup of yogurt (plain Greek works well)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 2 tablespoons garam masala
  • 2 tablespoons turmeric
  • 1 tablespoons chili powder (I use less because of Lucy)
  • Salt
  • Chopped cilantro
  • 2 sweet potatoes, diced (optional)

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add in the onions and start caramelizing them until brown, which will take 20-30 minutes.  Watch not let them burn!

Add the crushed ginger and garlic and stir, then saute for about 5 minutes. Add cumin, garam masala, turmeric, chili powder, and mix well, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.  This forms a sticky, gooey paste that lets the spices toast a little bit, which brings out their oils and thus their flavor. Stir in tomatoes and yogurt, and simmer on low heat until sauce thickens, about 20 minutes. 

Add the sweet potatoes, if you are using this option, and simmer for about 10 minutes.  Add cubes of chicken, and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Season it with salt and transfer to a serving platter, garnished with cilantro.

I usually serve this with steamed rice or naan, which I get either from Trader Joe's or from our local Indian restaurant.  If you are vegetarian, you can make this recipe with just sweet potatoes and some cauliflower or chickpeas, or any vegetables that you want!  I imagine that the dairy could also be substituted for coconut milk if you are vegan, but I have not tried it.

6 February 2012

Chicken Pot Pie

Tonight we have some friends coming over for dinner, so I am making chicken pot pie.  In the chicken pot pie wars, I come down on the side of one top crust of puff pastry versus a top and bottom crust of pie dough.  My sister swears by the pie dough.  I will take puff pastry over pie dough in pretty much any recipe.  Its just a matter of preference, so if you prefer pie dough, then make it that way!

This recipe is adapted from Ina Garten's fabulous recipe from with an additional nod to SmittenKitchen.

For the Filling:
  • 12 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (if you prefer white meat, use 3 bone-in chicken breasts with the skin on)
  • Big splash olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade but seriously not necessary
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups yellow onions, chopped (2 onions)
  • 1 package of baby bella mushrooms, or your preferred mushroom
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups medium-diced carrots, blanched for 2 minutes
  • 1 (10-ounce) package frozen peas (2 cups)
  • One small bunch thyme
  • Two sprigs of rosemary


For the pastry:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
  • Flaked sea salt and cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the chicken breasts on a baking sheet and rub them with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then remove the meat from the bones and discard the skin. Cut the chicken into large dice. You will have 4 to 6 cups of cubed chicken.  I did this the night before, which leaves a nice time for the chicken to cool so you don’t burn your hands trying to cut it up because you are in a hurry, which is what usually happens to me.

In a small saucepan on the stove or a large bowl in the microwave, heat the chicken stock and dissolve the bouillon cubes in the stock. In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and sauté the onions over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until translucent and smelling good.  Take the onions out and set aside, and sauté the mushrooms in the remaining butter until they are browned. Add the onions back and the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes until it makes a golden brown gooey mixture. Add the hot chicken stock to the sauce. Simmer over low heat for 1 more minute, stirring, until thickened. Add 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and heavy cream. Add the cubed chicken, carrots, peas, rosemary and thyme.  I usually tie the rosemary and thyme together with string so I can remove them easily. Mix well.

For the pastry, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the shortening and butter and mix quickly with your fingers until each piece is coated with flour. Pulse 10 times, or until the fat is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water; process only enough to moisten the dough and have it just come together. Dump the dough out onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

OR…go to your grocery store and get a package of pastry dough in the freezer section.  This is what I did after trying to make pastry one time, forgetting to roll the butter in the flour before pulsing, and creating a bowl divided into two layers: one ice cold sticky butter goo layer, and one totally dry flour layer.  At this point I probably threw the whole food processer into the kitchen sink, liberally spraying flour all over my counter and kitchen window, and went to the grocery store.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Divide the filling equally among 4 ovenproof bowls.  Or whatever size dish you want. Divide the dough into quarters and roll each piece into an 8-inch circle. Brush the outside edges of each bowl with the egg wash, then place the dough on top.  I never trim off the edges of the dough, because the more puff pastry you have, the better.  Crimp the dough to fold over the side, pressing it to make it stick. Brush the dough with egg wash and make 3 slits in the top. Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot and your house is smelling like there is a white haired grandma waiting just around the corner to give you a hug.

NOTE: a revision based upon tonight's experience -- just saute the mushrooms in a seperate pan in another tablespoon of butter.  You won't crowd them, you will develop more flavor, and you will thank me.  Then add them into the sauce when you add the chicken, carrots, etc.

Get Thee Behind Me Satan Eggs
I don’t know why I am calling it this.  Perhaps because yesterday was Good Friday and tomorrow is Easter Sunday, and I am ready to put the fasting and preparation of the Lenten season behind me and celebrate the resurrection and sing the Gloria again. 

Perhaps it was because I made these deviled eggs because we were all dying eggs for Easter, and before I knew what was happening Lucy crack-smashed five of them and I had to take a few seconds to purge the satany anger from my soul, which was inappropriate considering we were just dyeing eggs, and who cares if she cracks them because they are hard boiled, and she is just experimenting with sounds and textures so that is a good learning experience, and I should not have shouted “no no NO NO Lucy NOOOO!  GENTLE!”

Perhaps because I made these eggs with a touch too much wasabi which is just enough to clear out your sinuses and make you want to shout “Whoooo!” but then you realize you are in polite company, and so you just close your mouth and let your eyes water politely instead.  Except I was in my own kitchen with my husband and my two year old daughter, so I did shout “Whooo!” and so did they.  And then we did a little dance.

Let these wasabi eggs burn out your anger, lead you through the valley of Lenten sacrifice, and into the joyful toddler dance of the resurrection.

·        10 hard boiled eggs
·        4 tablespoons wasabi mayonnaise (I just used the awesome wasabi mayo they sell at Trader Joe’s.  If you do not have that, just add 4 tablespoons of regular Mayo to the recipe, and add in your desired amount of dried wasabi powder or prepared wasabi.  Or some horseradish should do the trick too.)
·        ¼ cup of Mayonnaise
·        3 tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds (If you bought them untoasted, just toast them up in a pan on the stove for a few minutes until golden brown.  Seriously, the toasting makes a huge difference.  If you are super fancy you can use black sesame seeds, but I prefer the flavor of toasted white sesame seeds.)

A note on hard boiling eggs: this is one of those ridiculously easy things to do in the kitchen that I almost always screw up.  I am not kidding at all when I say that yesterday, I poured out three pots of hot water because I could not get it through my savage, little mind that you start the eggs in cold water, not boiling water.  Cold.  Water.  So if you want a tip on how to do this, I have no tips to give, but this is what I did and the eggs came out perfect except for the two that were broken when I unceremoniously dumped them all into the pot:
·        Put eggs into pot, very gently.  Cover with cold water so there is at least 2 inches above the eggs.  Add splash of vinegar and some salt.  This is supposed to keep them from breaking, cracking, leaking, and will also make you smarter when you eat them.
·        Put pan on stove, put heat on high, boil water.
·        When water is at a full boil, let boil for one minute, or just turn off immediately because it has taken you a minute to notice they were boiling.
·        Let eggs sit for 15 minutes if you have a whole batch of 12-18, or 12 minutes if you have fewer.
·        Prepare a large bowl of ice in the sink.
·        Do not panic if you did not turn off the stove at all, but instead put it on low for 15 minutes, because its really hard to overcook an egg so that it is inedible.  Just don’t panic.
·        Drain the water from the pan and put the eggs into the ice.  Cover with cold water.  Stir around and let them cool.
·        Test one of the eggs while it is still warm with some salt and pepper.  Just because warm hard boiled eggs are an overlooked pleasure in our society.  Everyone is always waiting for them to cool to devil them or salad them or dye them.  Take a second to enjoy one warm!
·        Let them cool for a few hours at least in the fridge, overnight if you can.  This will help them to peel better, and will keep you from throwing completely destroyed hard boiled eggs at the kitchen window as you peel half an inch of egg white off them.

Take your cooled eggs, and peel them.  Try not to get angry and kill them.  Breathe deeply.  Run cold water over them.  Pierce the membrane.  Place them on a paper towel to dry.

Cut each egg in half, and pop the yolk out into a bowl.  Place the whites whole side up on a plate of your choosing.  Aren’t you fancy if you have one of those fancy deviled egg platters with the little egg indents in it!?

Add wasabi mayo, mayo and half of the sesame seeds to the bowl with the yolks.  Mash, whip and stir away until it forms a smooth consistency.  Then try it.  If it’s too bland add more wasabi, or salt and pepper.  If it’s too dry add a touch more mayo.  If its too wet or too spicy…then pray you have more eggs and add more egg white or perhaps some bread crumbs to smooth it out.

If you want to get fancy about this next part, then take a spatula and scrape the yolk mixture into a ziplock baggie, zip the top and cut a small snip off of the bottom.  You can then pipe the filling back into the whites and make pleasing little swirls and whorls and such.  Or you can do what I did, and use two spoons to very messily slop the filling back into the whites and then give the bowl to your husband to lick out and laugh when he hits the smear of pure wasabi that you left on the side of the bowl and starts to cry.

Sprinkle the remaining sesame seeds over the eggs.

Eat them all in five minutes while sipping the bloody mary your husband made you to get you through the Easter egg dyeing process and to celebrate the fact that he has a day off and that you are spending it together.

Note: I really don’t drink that often and I don’t need to drink in order to survive craft time with Lucy.  Just in case you were worried.

No comments:

Post a Comment