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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chicken Tikka Masala

I was first introduced to Indian food when the first Indian restaurant, Bombay House, opened in my town a couple of decades ago. I was immediately hooked.

I've sampled Indian food all over the US, in the Middle East and Europe (and even in India). On my first date with my husband, we discovered a mutual love for Indian food, and we had dinner at the Bombay House the night we became officially engaged.

My cravings for Indian food are strong enough that learning how to cook it seemed like the practical thing to do. After a little experimentation, I've come up with several receipes that are good imitations of what our favorite Indian restaurants serve. Although the rest of the family tends to prefer Tandoori Chicken (which we cook on the barbecue grill since we haven't yet managed to install a tandoori oven in our back yard), my favorite is probably Chicken Tikka Masala. I'll post on Tandoori Chicken another day.

First, you make the marinade for the chicken. We usually use about 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, because they tend to taste less dry than breasts. But breasts also work. Cut them into bite-sized pieces, and then marinate in a gallon-sized ziploc bag

I usually start the marinade about four hours before dinner time.

Prepare the other ingredients before you start cooking. Just a note about garam masala, wich is included both in the marinade and in the sauce. Garam masala is a general seasoning that is included in many Indian dishes. Think Italian seasoning for Indian food. It's possible to make your own, but it's easier just to buy a bottle. It's quite expensive at my neighborhood supermarket, but is about 1/3 as much at WalMart.

Cook the chicken until it's cooked through but not brown.

Take it out of the skillet and cook the other sauce ingredients. Cook the sauce ingredients in the same pan. Add the chicken back in for the last ten minutes. Here's what the finished product looks like, accompanied with our own version of naan (Indian flat bread) and basmati rice.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Marinade and meat
2 cups plain, non-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 teaspons garam masala
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tespoon ground ginger
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large green pepper, very thinly sliced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
dash cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
2 8-oz. cans tomato sauce
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

In large bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, garam masala, cayenne, black pepper, ginger and salt. Pour over chicken pieces in a gallon zip loc bag and refrigerate for one to four hours.

Cook chicken pieces in small amount of oil in a large, hevy skillet, turning to cook on all sides. Remove when cooked through (but not brown). Remove chicken from the skillet, set aside.

Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic, pepper and onion for one minute. Season with garam masala, cayenne, paprika and salt. Stir in tomato sauce and cream. Simmer on low heat until sauce thickens, about 20 minutes. Add chicken and simmer for ten minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with fresh cilantro.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


If you keep a sense of adventure about your food, you'll try the most amazing things.

A couple of years ago, some friends of ours were hosting a potluck dinner party. They chose a Mardi Gras theme, and gave out related food assignments. We were the last to RSVP, and so all of the usual dishes were already assigned. "Why don't you make jambalaya?" they asked.

We had never actually eaten jambalaya. As far as we knew, we owned no jambalaya recipes. But we did a little looking around on the internet, mixed this recipe with that one a little bit and improvised a little more. We don't know how close this dish actually comes to the real thing, but as we've adjusted and perfected it over time, it's become a favorite with our family and guests. It's perfect when accompanied by some grilled catfish, basted with melted butter and seasoned with Creole seasoning, available at most supermarkets. We've tried it as a main dish, but it's a little intense without the fish to mellow it out.

It's fairly simple to make, althought it does require a lot of chopping:

along with a few canned goods (just showing off our exclusive taste in tomato products here):

Saute the sausage in a large frying pan until the edges are crisp. I slice it in about quarter-inch slices and then quarter each slice, so they're fairly small pieces. It would work just as well to leave them as rounds.

Add the vegetables and saute; then crank up the heat to medium high and add the chicken.

Cook until it's brown. Then add all of the other ingredients, bring it back to a boil, and then cover and reduce to low heat.

The test of whether it's done or not is when the rice is cooked. The jambalya will be fairly wet; we prefer it that way as long as the rice is fully cooked.



Makes 6-8 side dish servings

6 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 cup andouille sausage, chunked (we've always used polska kielbasa instead)
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1/4 teaspoon. cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon thyme, minced
1 teaspoon oregano, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice
3 8-oz. cans tomato sauce
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
4 scallions, chopped
1 cup long-grain rice

In a large saucepan or frying pan, warm canola oil over medium heat. Add sausage; saute until crispy on the edges, about eight minutes. Stir in onion, celery, green pepper, saute until tender, about five minutes. Increase heat to medium-high, add chicken thighs and saute until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Return heat to medium; stir in cayenne pepper, thyme, oregano, salt, pepper and garlic. Continue sauteing about 3 more minutes.

Stir in tomatoes with their juices, tomato sauce, chicken broth, scallions and rice. Bring to a simmer; reduce heat to very low, cover and cook for 30 to 35 minutes or until rice is fully cooked.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Amazing Spinach Salad

As part of my efforts to eat healthier, we've all been eating a lot more vegetables. Spinach is an easy sell at our house.

I created this salad based on a number of factors: Having a bag of spinach in the fridge that I needed to use. Seeing dried cranberries on sale at the local Sunflower market. Needing to use some feta cheese and sliced almonds that I had on hand. And isn't everything better with bacon on it?

This is also one of the simplest meals to put together. It takes a matter of very few minutes. And the only thing to watch out for is overdoing the salad dressing--too much and you'll have wilty spinach.

Here's how the finished product looks:

And here's the recipe:

Spinach and Cranberry Salad

8-10 cups fresh spinach
1/3 cup dried cranberries
¼ cup bacon crumbles (I use the Costco kind, but fresh cooked would no doubt be delightful)
¼ cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
2-3 Tbs. raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing (I use Sunflower’s brand because it’s cheap and tasty; I think any brand or homemade recipe would work fine).

The measures here are pretty approximate. I just put stuff in until it looks balanced (or until I run out of whatever ingredient).
Add all the ingredients and toss with dressing just before serving.