Homemade Indian Dinner

September 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

My introduction to Indian food was in college, in the form of a reasonably priced place called Naan & Curry, located conveniently right next to campus. If someone in the dorms brought Naan & Curry home for dinner, everyone could tell by the intense curry smell that permeated the floor. This was only bad if you had already eaten, because then you didn’t have an excuse to go get some for yourself.

The dish I was first recommended, and subsequently always ordered, was chicken tikka masala with a side of naan. The spices were so unique, like nothing I had tried before, and the sauce was somehow creamy and acidic at the same time. I had no idea how it was made, but I could eat it AT LEAST once a week and never tire of the flavor. As a poor college student, I appreciated that the tikka masala was $6.99, and naan was only $1.00 per big, fluffy order. Garlic naan was a 99 cent upgrade that I often indulged in. For not much more than a combo at McDonald’s, I could eat like a Little Princess.

Chicken tikka masala, garlic naan & mango lassi

So when I moved to LA and found that the cheapest Indian food runs about twice that price, it was vital that I learn how to cook my own. I found a recipe and have adapted it to create the appropriate sauce-to-chicken ratio for my naan-dipping needs. You can definitely eat this with rice, but I find the rice an unnecessary addition. Just give me more naan, please!

I’ve made chicken tikka masala in the past with heavy cream, and it is definitely amazing, but so calorie dense that it is hard to justify making very often. This time I substituted milk & a little cream cheese for the cream, and it turned out acceptably delicious. For special occasions, however, I’m still gonna splurge on the cream.

Because there are so many parts to this meal, and a lot of down time, this is my recommended method for interlacing the preparation: Combine yeast and water for naan. While the yeast is proofing, make the chicken marinade and put it in the refrigerator. Return to the naan and mix the dough. Let the dough rise for an hour while the chicken is marinating. In the meantime, mince your garlic (for the naan), garlic and jalapenos (for the tikka masala) and mango (for the lassi) and set everything aside. At the end of the hour, prepare the dough for the second rise. While the dough is rising for the second time (30 minutes), heat the grill and skewer the chicken. Grill the chicken and get the sauce started on the stove top. When the chicken is cooked, set it aside and leave the grill on. Roll out the naan. Remove the chicken from the skewers and add it to the sauce. Grill the naan, and cover it to keep it warm and moist while you finish everything up. Make the lassi, and plate everything.

It seems like a lot of work, but it really isn’t. Even if it was, it really is worth it.

Chicken Tikka Masala
serves 2 

Parsley, to make it look a little closer to how good it tastes.

For marinade:
1 cup yogurt
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp salt, or to taste
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
4 long skewers

For sauce:
1 tbsp butter
2 clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (or 2, if you like it really spicy)
3 tsp ground cumin
4 tsp paprika
1 tsp garam masala (or add an extra tsp cumin)
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
2 cups heavy cream (can be substituted with 2 cups milk & 1-2 oz cream cheese)

Combine yogurt, lemon juice, ginger and the following four spices in a bowl. Add 1-2 teaspoons of salt, to taste. Add chicken to the yogurt mixture and stir to coat. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. While the chicken marinates, soak your skewers if they are wooden.

Skewer the chicken pieces and BBQ on a hot grill for 3-4 minutes each side. Set aside.

In a large skillet, melt butter and saute garlic & jalepeno for 1-2 minutes. Add cumin, paprika, garam masala and salt, and quickly stir. Add tomato sauce and cream or milk. Let sauce simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes, until it thickens. Remove chicken from skewers and add to the sauce. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes. Serve immediately, with naan and/or rice.

Garlic Naan
Makes 5-6 pieces

Naan-stop deliciousness!

1/2 package (1 1/8 tsp) active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 tbsp white sugar
1 1/2 tbsp milk
1/2 egg, beaten (I know, I know; this is totally annoying.)
1 tsp salt
about 2-1/4 cups flour
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter, melted
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes, until frothy. (This is called “proofing the yeast.”) Stir in sugar, milk, egg, salt, and enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or until smooth. Place dough in a well oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise for 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in volume.
Punch down dough, and knead in garlic. Pinch off small handfuls of dough and roll into balls about twice the size of a golf ball. You should end up with 5-7 pieces. Place on a greased or floured tray, cover with a towel, and allow to rise for about 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.
Preheat grill to high, or leave it on when you are making the chicken skewers.
After the second rise, melt butter. Roll out dough, one ball at a time, until flat and oval shaped. Brush with melted butter and set aside on a plate. Repeat until all the dough is rolled and buttered.
Brush grill with remaining butter. Place dough on grill, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until puffy and lightly browned. Turn over and cook until browned, another 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from grill, and continue the process until all the naan has been prepared.
Mango Lassi
serves 1-2

Lassi helps to cool down the spicy.

1 cup plain yogurt OR 1 (5.3 oz) container frozen Greek yogurt*
1 mango, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup milk
dash cardamom
sugar, to taste (optional)

Combine first 4 ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Blend in sugar to sweeten to your tastes.

*The original recipe calls for 1 cup plain yogurt, but I used a individual sized vanilla Greek yogurt that I had in the freezer because I ran out of plain yogurt making the chicken marinade. Because the yogurt was already sweetened, I did not use any sugar.

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Lemon Muffins with Strawberry Jam Centers

September 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

You may not believe this, but I have been baking and cooking a lot over the past few days. The problem is, all of my recipes have either turned out only okay (not good enough to pass along) or extremely unphotogenic (like these brownies, which tasted about a million times better than they looked). The chocolate chip pumpkin muffins I made were beloved by everyone who tried them, but I thought they were too dense, so I went on a research mission to make a light, fluffy muffin.

Apparently, there are a couple of things that make muffins dense, and both have to do with gluten. I’m sure you’ve heard about gluten-free diets, and yes, we are talking about the same kind of gluten, but gluten is not necessarily a bad thing. It is a protein in wheat that helps hold everything together and is activated by kneading or mixing dough. When I made the pumpkin muffins, I used all-purpose flour and ended up mixing the shit out of that batter, which is why I ended up with dense muffins. After some research, I knew I was going to change a few things for my next muffin adventure: 1) use a mixture of all-purpose flour and oat flour, because oat flour has a lower gluten content, and 2) fold the batter gently and as minimally as possible.

After deciding upon the technique, I had to choose what type of muffin to make. I’m pretty sure Brad is sick of pumpkin, so that was out. He doesn’t like nuts or seeds in his bread either, so no banana nut or morning glory. I made apple cinnamon muffins not long ago, so none of that, and I’m not really a fan of blueberry-infused baked goods either. I decided upon lemon muffins, but wanted to add something to make them a little more interesting.

Enter, my sister.

Disguised to protect the innocent.

My sister is amazing. She is one of my favorite people, and she would be yours too if you met her. Aside from being hilarious and able to charm everyone she meets, she takes care of developmentally challenged adults for a living, can give you the scientific name of a plant just by looking at a picture of it, and takes care of a robust garden of fruits and vegetables. A couple of weeks ago she gave me a jar of homemade strawberry jam, made of strawberries picked from her garden. Move over, Smuckers, you ain’t got shit on this girl.

Naturally, I deduced that adding the best strawberry jam ever to fluffy lemon muffins would be an excellent idea. And it was. Oh, how it was.

Lemon Muffins with Strawberry Jam Center
makes 12
adapted from allrecipes.com

Lemon on the outside, strawberry on the inside.

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup oat flour (rolled oats processed into a powder in a blender)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups yogurt (I used honey Greek)
4 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1 grated lemon peel of 2 lemons
1 juice  of 2 lemons
1 tsp lemon extract
strawberry jam

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a larger bowl, stir the remaining ingredients (except the jam!) until well combined. Add the dry ingredients into the wet and fold together until just combined. Do not over-stir. Lumps are okay.

Spoon half the batter into a greased (or sprayed or filled-with-liners) 12 well muffin tin. Next, drop a spoonful of jam into each muffin. Distribute the remaining batter evenly between the muffins, on top of the jam. Bake at 375° for 15-18 minutes.

When Life Gives You Lemons… Perfect Ten Lemon Pound Cake

August 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

I recently helped out a friend by driving him to the airport and, to thank me, he gave me a load of lemons from a tree in his backyard and a recipe for lemonade. (This, by the way, is an excellent summer ‘thank you’ gift.) However, I had a just-opened bottle of Simply Lemonade already in my fridge, and Brad is really the only juice drinker in the house, so I decided to find some alternate uses for these lemons. Now, I have had this problem before and immediately made a lemon chicken grilled summer vegetable pasta dish.

After dinner, I realized I still had quite a few lemons left.

Some lemons.

I’ve been getting into baking more lately, and asked Brad what sorts of lemony desserts he would like. “Lemon bars and lemon pound cake,” he answered, quickly and enthusiastically, as if he had been waiting for that very question at first sight of the bag-o-lemons. I searched the internet for a lemon pound cake recipe, and found that this one on foodnetwork.com looked closest to what I wanted.

The reason pound cake is named as such is because it was originally made by combining a pound of each sugar, flour, butter and eggs. The fact that this recipe didn’t have equal parts flour and sugar didn’t seem right to me, so I upped the sugar to 1.5 cups and made a few other changes based on the reviews and personal tastes. These changes have created what Brad described as a 10 out of 10, perfect lemon cake. And I have to agree. I ate two.. ahem… three… pieces within 45 minutes of removing it from the oven. The toasty flavor of the darkened crust pairs perfectly with the sweetened lemon glaze that soaks in and coats it. The yellow inside has just the right combination of sweet and sour, along with that soft, sticky, crumbly butteriness that makes pound cake so delicious.

Perfect Ten Lemon Pound Cake
Makes 1 loaf, 10-12 slices 

Sliced down the middle so Brad wouldn't be able tell how many pieces I ate.

For Cake:‎
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened at room temperature
1 1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice

For Glaze:
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon lemon zest
2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 6-cup loaf pan and line it with parchment or waxed paper. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or using a hand mixer), cream the butter. Add the sugar and mix. With the mixer running at low speed, add the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla & lemon extracts and lemon zest.

Working in alternating batches, and mixing after each addition, add the dry ingredients and 1/4 cup of the lemon juice to the butter mixture. Mix until just smooth. Add yellow food coloring if desired.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake until raised in the center and a tester inserted into the center comes out dry and almost clean (a few crumbs are OK), 50-60 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the glaze: In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 1/3 cup lemon juice and lemon zest. Gradually whisk in powdered sugar until glaze reached desired consistency and the sugar is dissolved.

When the cake is done, let cool in the pan 15 minutes (it will still be warm). Run a knife around the sides of the pan. Set a wire rack on a sheet pan with sides (to catch the glaze) and turn the cake out onto the rack. Peel off the waxed paper.

Using a turkey baster or pastry brush, spread glaze all over the top and sides of the cake and let soak in. Repeat until the entire glaze is used up, including any glaze that has dripped through onto the sheet pan. Let cool at room temperature and devour.

BONUS!

Since I am apparently hosting a lemon party (haha!) this week, take this bonus marinade recipe. It is good for chicken or steak (I haven’t tried it on pork or fish) and it is REALLY good for chicken or steak.

Mediterranean Marinade

juice of two lemons
6 cloves of garlic (roughly chopped)
pour of olive oil (about 2 tablespoons)
pour of honey (about 1 tablespoon)
generous shakes of onion powder, salt, pepper and smoked paprika (maybe a teaspoon each)

Mix all ingredients together and add meat of your choice. I find using a ziplock bag for this works really well in maximizing the effective meat-to-marinade ratio. Refrigerate for several hours (I marinated both chicken breast and top sirloin kebab pieces for 6 hours). Remove meat from marinade and grill.

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