Friday, November 18, 2011

Saag Paneer

I love saag paneer.  I don't know when I started eating it, but it's one of my favorite Indian dishes.  That spicy and creamy spinach, plus the real kicker--cubes of cheese.  CUBES OF CHEESE.

So imagine how pleased I was when I was perusing through my sister's recipe files (she is the true cook in the family--really amazing) and I saw a recipe for version of saag paneer that was very doable.  The hardest thing to find was the paneer, but luckily they sold packages of it at the Whole Foods nearby for the bargain price of 10 dollars. Yes, 10 dollars.  The alternative was making my own, which, as my sister told me with a sniff (which might have included a scoff), is not that hard to make on your own.  Okay, then, you make it.  I spent the $10.

Next time I make this, I will take the extra step of taking an immersion blender to the spinach after it's cooked to get more of that creaminess that you do when you order it at a restaurant.  This was a bit more of a sauteed/quick braised spinach version.

1 large onion
3 cloves garlic (I used 6 the first time and it was a bit too much)
1 oz fresh ginger
1 lb frozen chopped spinach 

2 to 3 tsp vegetable oil (or other neutral oil)
1 cup plain yogurt
4 oz buttermilk (1/2 cup)
pinch of red chili powder or cayenne pepper 

2 tsp garam masala
1 cup half and half
6 oz paneer, cut into 1/2" cubes 

1 TBS butter
salt to taste

Serves 4 to 6

Grind the onion, garlic, and ginger into a fine paste.

In a large saucepan or pot, heat 2 to 3 tsp vegetable oil over medium high heat. Cook the onion/paste/ginger paste for about 3 minutes.  Add in the garam masala and chili powder. I think I also threw in a pinch of turmeric and extra cumin, but it's not necessary. Stir until spices are fragrant and cooked, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Add in buttermilk, yogurt and spinach (I just threw mine in frozen because the branch I bought was a bag of loose frozen chopped spinach, but if it came in a block I would have defrosted it first).

Simmer at medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes. Next time, at this point, I will mash the ingredients with a potato masher or blend using an immersion or traditional blender.

Add the half and half. Simmer until the mixture has a creamy consistency, 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the cheese and butter, simmer 5 minutes.

Season to taste with salt.
Not as creamy as restaurant versions, but it hit the spot.

Serve with jasmine rice. Ta-da!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Light Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Never mind that it's almost 70 degrees today--last week it got a bit chilly and I was in the mood for soup.  I saw a delectable recipe for broccoli cheese soup on Pioneer Woman which really brought matters to a must-make-soup-crisis, but the amount of fat in the recipe pushed that past crisis mode, over the edge, down a cliff with an arrow sticking through your side and then you get attacked by zombies.  Sorry, too much Walking Dead there.

So I thought I would try looking for a lighter version.  Lo and behold I found a recipe adapted from, you guessed it, America's Test Kitchen.  I swear I use recipes from other sources, just not right now.  

This soup benefits from tons of broccoli--I weeded out recipes using only 6 or 8 oz of broccoli, which is not enough. I mean what am I supposed to do with the rest of the broccoli head? It also uses leeks instead of onions.  While I'm sure you could substitute onions, I think the leeks gave this soup a leaner bite that kept it from being too cloying.

However, I could totally be making that up.

The soup derives its "thickness" from evaporate fat free milk (genius) and of course some blending at the end.

Keep in mind that this isn't a thick, creamy soup.  It is definitely more of a soup as opposed to a hearty chowder-type consistency. Nevertheless, the flavor was spot-on and for the sake of continuing to excuse my lack of exercise, I would make this soup again.

Adapted from America's Test Kitchen
  • 1 bunch broccoli (about 1 ½ pounds), florets cut into 1-inch pieces, stems trimmed and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 pound leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin, and rinsed thoroughly (see leek-cleaning method here)
  • 2 teaspoons canola or other neutral oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • ¾ cup fat-free evaporated milk (in these parts, this product comes in 5 oz. cans, which is a bit less than 3/4 cup. Nobody threw the soup back in my face so I think the 5 oz. is okay.)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup) (okay I might have been a little more generous with the cheddar cheese--that or my 4 oz. were super 4 oz. because I ended up with about 2 cups)
  • Salt and pepper
Serves 4 to 6

Hack your broccoli to pieces.  Keep the florets and stems separate.

Prep your leeks (see link above to how to clean leeks).  

In a large pot, combine the broccoli STEMS (not the florets, not yet, oh just you wait), leeks, oil and 1/8 tsp salt and turn heat to medium or medium low.  Cover (I forgot to do this) and cook, stirring once or twice, until vegetables are starting to soften, about 6 to 8 minutes.  Uncover and stir in garlic.

Stir in broth and water, and raise heat to medium high to bring mixture to a simmer. 

Cover, reduce heat to medium-low to keep things at a simmer, until broccoli stems are softened, about 8 minutes.  Add the broccoli florets, cover, and cook until everything is tender, about 5 minutes.

Now for the blending.  You can either use an immersion blender or a regular blender.  If using an immersion blender, you'll kinda have to "trap" broccoli pieces with the immersion blender "cup", blend it, then pick it up and move it around to get all the pieces.  Don't lift the immersion blender too much or else you'll spatter.  It's like playing whack a mole.  

If you use a traditional blender, do it in two batches. I can't give you any more tips because the last time I blended a hot liquid it exploded all over the place, even after taking the precaution of taking out the center thingamajig from the lid.  If you use a blender, transfer the mixture back to the pot after you're done.

Whisk in the evaporated milk and mustard, and warm over low heat.  

Turn off the heat and whisk in the cheese.  

Season to taste with salt and pepper, and sprinkle a little extra cheese over the top for serving.  Why not.

Makes a nice, light meal with a couple of toasted bread slices.  Ta-da!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mama Lemme Up

I was working from home one day, and got to see the pugs in their full lazy glory. They really do lay around and sleep all day. They moved from sunspot by the window, to couch, to their bed, and then for a rare moment they plopped themselves in the middle of the living room floor, a few feet from where I was working.

Do you see Bunni looking at me? Like boring her eyes into my head?  It's because despite all the changes in sleeping locale that day, there was one place that she hadn't graced with her turgid self.

So she wanders over and does one of classic "Mama lemme uppp!!!" poses. She will perch her paws on your chair, arch her back, and then paw at you like she's kneading bread. Or trying to dig herself out of a grave. Either one.

While Kevin usually caves in and rewards this kind of behavior, Bunni's mama is made of tougher, meaner stuff. Not quite iron, but maybe some good synthetic rubber.

She takes the unusual tactic of sitting there and just willing me to pick her up.  Don't be fooled.  This is the dog that usually when reached for, backs away like you're coming at her with handmitts of fire. 

Rikki, in the meantime, lay there watching everything.  I know that if I picked Bunni up, Rikki would have been there in a hot second to use her big saucer-eyed puss 'n' boots look on me.  By the way Kevin doesn't like it when I refer to it as her puss 'n' boots look, because he thinks Rikki has proprietary rights over the look and I shouldn't sully it by dragging in a reference to something other than Rikki.  It is all her own.

Back to Bunni, who has kinda given up. I say "kinda" because do you see those ears? Yeah, she's still hoping.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chicken Enchiladas

There's been a whole lotta America's Test Kitchen recipes in our household lately.  Do you ever go through phases with your recipe inspiration? 

My sister alerted me to this recipe years ago. I don't cook much Mexican food, so when I realized there was a recipe that I could actually use to create some delicious enchiladas at home all by lonesome, I pretty much lost all my senses. I gave the recipe to a friend, saying it was so "easy". She kinda gave me a dirty look after she had used it and mumbled that it wasn't so easy. That's what I call LAZY.

Okay, so it's not as easy as wrapping a tortilla around a package of taco seasoning, but in the universal scheme of things it's kind of genius and straightforward, and seriously good. You essentially make the enchilada sauce, poach the chicken in it, then separate the two by straining so the chicken part becomes the filling and the sauce part becomes...the sauce. And if you want, you can make the sauce and filling on one day, and save the assembly/baking for the next day. I mean, what could be easier than a 2-day recipe, I ask you? Note sarcasm.

I am clearly conflicted by this recipe. But not by the results, which are straight up good.

Adapted from America's Test Kitchen

1 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs chili
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
12 to 16 oz boneless chicken thighs, cut into ¼” strips
2 cans 8 oz Hunt’s tomato sauce (this is what you're supposed to use--I, on the other hand, read this as 2 cans of 14.5-oz tomato sauce and had to siphon off about 1 1/2 cups that I saved and later used in a chili recipe. Point being that put those literacy skills to work and don't be like me.)
1 cup water

½ c cilantro, minced
3 c shredded cheddar (or queso fresco)
4 oz jarred jalapenos, chopped (I couldn't find these and just used canned diced green chilies)

10 to 12 corn tortillas
Optional toppings (I took the "optional" part seriously):
sour cream
lettuce, shredded
diced ripe avocado

Serves 5 to 6

When you prep your ingredients, take a moment to contemplate the cilantro. Some people love this herb, others can't stand it. I am in the camp of the former.

Heat 1½ TBS oil in saucepan at medium-high heat. Add onions until translucent just beginning to brown (about 4 minutes), then add garlic until and continue to cook, stirring, for about 1 minute more. 

My onions are looking a little anemic.
Add spices and stir so they get nice and fragrant, about 1 minute.  
Add the tomato sauce and water. 
Stir chicken into sauce.
I know, another great picture of raw meat. MMmmm....
Bring to simmer and cook 8 minutes. While it's cooking, preheat oven to 300 degrees. Back to the chicken: strain mixture through coarse mesh strainer into large bowl. 
Transfer solids to separate bowl or plate, and mix in cilantro, cheddar & jalapenos.
Spray tortillas with oil and warm in oven for 4 minutes at upper and lower middle racks, on baking sheets. This dries them out a little so they don't get too soggy during the subsequent baking, but if you're going to cut a step this would be it.
Raise oven heat to 400.  Coat bottom of 9 x 13” pyrex pan with ¾ cup sauce. Place generous 1/3 cup chicken filling in middle of each tortilla, and roll that sucker up.
This kinda looks like I'm rolling but I am not--my tortillas curled up during the pre-bake. Funny little things.
Place the filled tortillas in pan, seam side down. Feel free to pack them tightly. Squash 'em and show no mercy.  

Pour the rest of sauce over tortillas, and sprinkle with 1 cup shredded cheese.

Cover pan with foil, and bake on lower middle rack for 20-25 minutes.

That's about as good as this picture-taking venture is going to get. Feel free to accessorize with lettuce, tomato, avocado, creme brulee, whatever! Ta-da!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Texas Chili and Strange Bedfellows

To slow cook or not to slow cook? That is the question.

Do you ever come across a recipe that sounds delicious, but then you realize that you are missing an important piece of equipment to make it? You know, like an immersion blender, food mill, mandoline, etc? That's how it was with me and slow cookers.  I had long heard people extolling the ease of use of slow cookers, and I felt like I was missing out on "something big".

So I did what any good bride-to-be does, and registered for a slow cooker months before my wedding.  Someone generously gifted us said slow cooker. Then same said slow cooker sat at my parents' house due to space restrictions.  Finally, after a year, same said sitting slow cooker came with me to our new, slightly more spacious digs.

And then, but only then, did I start to think about and ponder mighty hard about the virtue of a slow cooker. Did I really need one? What could a slow cooker do that a french oven/casserole couldn't? This pondering was somewhat moot at the time because the return date had long passed.

So, by default, I kept same said slow cooker that had sat until space had sprung. Do I love it? Well, I like it a lot  but wouldn't say love.  Can you do with a good ol' casserole pot what you do with a slow cooker? Well, yes, with adjustment in cooking method and time. 

Well GD-it then what's the point? 

The point is that, to blatantly rip off a certain infomercial that we all know, you can set it and forget it. You prep the ingredients (the prep can either be very simple such as throwing frozen food and broth in there, to doing something more complicated like browning meat beforehand), put them in the slow cooker, turn it on, and just leave it. You don't have to worry about an open flame, you don't have to constantly just let it be. 

I haven't quite worked up the courage to leave the slow cooker on while I'm at work because I don't want the apartment to burn down (I go apoplectic just thinking about the pugs by themselves), but that probably would be a great advantage of the slow cooker.  For now, I turn it on during the weekends and go about my business (where I'm in and out of the apartment) or leave it on overnight.  

Because, you know, it's one thing for my apartment to burn down while I'm not there, but I'm *totally* okay with it burning down while I'm still in the apartment.  My sense of logic could use some help.

But! That is for another day.

My slow cooker did, however, give me the happy excuse to buy Slow Cooker Revolution from Cook's Illustrated, a book that I am enjoying very much.

I recently made Texas Chili, apparently because Texas is known to have big hunks of beef in its chili.  This recipe uses soy sauce to help enhance flavor and tapioca to help enhance texture.  Who woulda thunk?

Adapted from America's Test Kitchen

Oh crap--one more thing (sorry for the long intro). The original recipe is for 8 to 10 servings. I made approximately a 2/3 recipe.  I'll give the original ingredient amounts, because some of them are not easily 2/3-able and I kinda estimated.
  • 3 onions, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1/4 cup tomato pasate
  • 3 TBS vegetable oil
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 TBS ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 15oz cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 28-oz can tomato puree (or tomato sauce)
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 tapioca or tapioca flour
  • 3 TBS soy sauce
  • 2 TBS minced canned chipotle in adobo sauce
  • 2 TBS brown sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 5-lb boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks (as God is my witness I will buy the beef pre-cubed from now on because I can't exactly call the 30+ minutes I spent struggling to trim the chuck roast as enjoyable) 
  • 3 scallions, sliced thinly
In a large bowl, combine the onion, chili powder, tomato paste, garlic, cumin and oregano.

Microwave (this helps soften the onion and blend the flavors) the mixture for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Transfer mixture to slow cooker.

Here's my big tip of the day regarding the next step, which involves the chipotle peppers in adobe sauce.  Most of them are vacuum-packed. Please be careful when you open it. I don't want to go into detail about the time that I started to open one and the very SPICY and BURNING contents SPRAYED up in to my FACE including MY EYES and ALL OVER the WALLS and even the CEILING.

So, I open the can facing away from me, very slowly, and I wear latex gloves. I know. Paranoid. 

You bitch.

Stir the chipotle, beans, tomato puree, broth, tapioca, soy sauce, sugar and bay leaves into the slow cooker along with the onion mixture. 

I know, whoever thought you'd be using the following ingredients in the same recipe.

It happens.

Season beef with salt and pepper, and add it to the slow cooker. Everybody in the pool!

Cover and cook for 9 to 11 hours on low or 5 to 7 hours on high.

Let chili settle for 5 minutes and skim off any fat with a large spoon.  Discard bay leaves.  Season with salt and pepper if necessary, sprinkle with scallions, and serve.


What's your opinion of/experience with slow cookers?