Thursday, November 30, 2006

Chicken Peanut Curry

This Chicken Peanut Curry is another one from Simply Recipes, my favourite recipe blog. Their recipes are usually simple and tasty, with that little extra something that catches your eye to make you want to give it a try.

I love curries but have generally not made them too often. Indian cooking seems like it has to be hard and long and complicated, so I was happy that this recipe seemed to be pretty easy to make. As usual, the recipe below is slightly modified from the original to reflect how I actually made it.
Chicken Peanut Curry

3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken pieces, cut into 1 1/2 inch wide chunks or strips
1/2 cup flour
4 Tbsp curry powder
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
2 Tbsp garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, de-veined, minced
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
8 green onions, chopped, greens included
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro
2 limes cut into wedges

1 Rinse chicken and pat dry. In a small sturdy freezer bag, combine the flour, curry powder, salt and pepper. Shake well. Add the chicken pieces and shake to coat well.

2 Heat oil in a large saucepan on medium high heat. Add chicken pieces. Cook 5-10 minutes (depending on size of chicken pieces) tossing occasionally to cook chicken evenly. Add the ginger, garlic, chili pepper and 1/2 cup of the chicken broth to the saucepan. Cook for 3 minutes, scraping the pan with a spatula and stirring to combine everything well.

3 Add the peanut butter, stirring quickly to incorporate it with the chicken. Add the remaining 3 1/2 cups of broth slowly, stirring continuously to maintain an even texture. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Right before serving, add the coriander and green onions. Salt & pepper to taste.

4 Serve with basmati rice. Top each serving with fresh cilantro. Squeeze a little lime juice over it as well.
Elise suggests 2 serrano pepppers, but those aren't easy to find here; also, I only used 1 jalapeno so as not to make the recipe too spicy. As well, she suggests garnishing with mint and cilantro, but I didn't have any mint handy.

So, how did this one go over with the troops? Although I thought it was just fine, the rest of the gang felt it was "missing something" in the depth of flavour category. I think since I considerably reduced the heat factor by using 1 jalapeno instead of 2 serranos (or even 4 jalapenos like Elise also mentions trying), it may not have been as flavourful as they were hoping. When I reheated for leftovers the next night I added a teaspoon of some curry masala spice mix I had lying around in the fridge as well as about a 1/4 cup of raisins and let it simmer with that a bit. It made it a bit spicier (and sweeter) but the peanut gallery was decidedly happier with the results. How much of that was just due to the leftovers-always-better-the-next-day factor? Who knows.

In any case, next time I'm definately going to use 2 jalapenos, a bit more peanut butter, raisins and a bit more curry powder directly into the pot. I'd also consider adding some veggies to the mix, like a green pepper or two or some zucchini.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Macaroni and meat sauce

This is one of the iconic meals of my youth, something my mother made quite often. And I just loved it. It was probably the second favourite thing that she made, right after shepherd's pie. Unfortunately, in recent years she's mostly forgotten how to make this recipe -- the last couple of times she's made it it wasn't quite right, if you know what I mean. So I set about the hugely significant task of recreating the recipe from memory, from my taste impressions over the years. And you know what? After about 3 tries I think I've got it. I made this last night and it was a huge hit, with lots of enthusiasm for even better tasting leftovers tonight.
Macaroni and meat sauce
makes 6 - 8 main course servings

1 lb dried elbow macaroni
1.5 lbs lean ground beef
1 very large onion (I use the biggest Spanish onion I can find)
4-6 stalks celery
1 jar (3-4 cups) tomato pasta sauce
4-6 cloves minced garlic
1 tbsp italian spice
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

1. Saute the onions, garlic & celery in some olive oil until they start to get a bit soft, about 8 minutes or so. After a few minutes, add about 1/2 the italian spice and red pepper flakes. Set aside in a bowl.

2. Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water according to the directions on the box.

3. Brown the meat with some olive oil, add the rest of the italian spices and red pepper flakes. About 5-8 minutes.

4. When the meat is brown, add it the veggies and the tomato sauce. Make sure you don't add too much sauce, as the mixture needs to be quite thick and meaty. Let simmer for a few minutes while the pasta finishes cooking. Check the seasoning and add whatever seems necessary.

5. Drain the pasta. Combine the pasta and sauce in the biggest of the pots you used. Mix it all up very well. If you need to add a bit more sauce, this is the point to do it.

6. Serve with salad or chopped veggies and some nice bread.
The sauce I used this time was Ragu Old World Stlye Traditional Pasta Sauce and it worked out very well, but whatever you have will be fine, as long as it's a simple tomato based sauce. This dish needs to be very thick and the veggies a bit crunchy to give it's full impact.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Grilled chicken parmigiana

Rachel Ray gets a bad rep. Her recipes are quick and easy and usually pretty good. Sure she's not a professional chef, but neither am I. What I want is something that's pretty good, pretty easy, pretty fast and pretty healthy for my family. This recipe fits the bill. I like it because it avoids all the battering and deep frying of the traditional chicken parm while still maintaining the good flavour.

This version slightly modified from the original.

Grilled chicken parmigiana

6 thin chicken breast cutlets, about 2 lbs
Olive oil for grilling & sauteing
3 to 4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon chrushed hot red pepper flakes
1 medium or large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 or 2 slices bacon or smoked ham
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 pound smoked mozzarella, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Grill the chicken cutlets on a well-oiled grill pan. A frying pan works too.

2. Meanwhile, place a medium pot on the stove over medium heat. Add some olive oil & saute the garlic, red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning and onion for 10 minutes, stirring often.

3. Add the tomatoes and heat through, 2 minutes.

4. Preheat the broiler to high.

5. Layer the chicken with the tomato sauce in a casserole dish. Top the casserole with Parmigiano and mozzarella. Brown the chicken parm casserole under the broiler for 3-5 minutes.

Ray suggests using a can of "fire-roasted diced tomatoes, such as Muir Glen brand" which doesn't seem to exist in Canada. On the tv show, she suggest a bit of bacon to replace the smokiness if you can find the fire-roasted tomatoes. The smoked mozzarella really adds to the flavour and shouldn't be substituted if possible.

This recipe makes 6 cutlets but we only ate 4 at dinner. The next two days I fixed myself a couple of really nice chicken parm sandwiches with the leftovers. Yum-o!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Split pea soup

I love pea soup. It's something my Mom used to make quite often when I was a kid, it's a kind of French-Canadian staple. I've often had canned pea soup and its often quite good too, especially the Habitant brand. So, I decided to make it for myself. And as is quite common in these sorts of projects, I was inspired by watching Michael Smith on Chef at Home make his version of speedy split pea soup. The recipe below is very closely patterned on Smith's.
Speedy Split Pea Soup with Bacon

Make 6-8 main dish servings

1 lb package bacon, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
3 stalks celery, washed and chopped
3 or 4 cloves garlic, peeled sliced thinly
2 cups dried split peas
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water, in any combination. Use low sodium stock if possible
2 bay leaves
1 dried rosemary
2 cups frozen peas
1 tbsp of any vinegar
1 ham bone (optional)

1. Place bacon in a large soup pot over a medium high heat. When the bacon is brown and crispy drain away nearly all the fat, leaving about 2 tablespoons in the pot.
2. Add onion, carrots, celery and garlic to the pot and sauté for a few minutes.
3. Add the dried peas, stock, ham bone, bay leaves, rosemary and pepper.
4. Bring to a simmer and continue cooking until the soup is thick and the peas are completely soft, about 1-1.5 hours
5. Stir in frozen peas and stir to heat through.
6. Stir in the vinegar and adjust seasoning to taste. The bacon and stock are already quite salty, so you probably don't need to add any more.
How would I do this one differently next time? Well, I was just lucky to have a ham bone around to simmer with the soup, so that's likely to change. Also, I'm not a huge bacon fan so I might switch to 1/2 a pound of bacon and 1/2 pound of cooked ham. Ham is more traditionally French-Canadian in this recipe anyway. I didn't check any of my traditional French-Canadian cookbooks before starting, so I might do that as well to see if I can get any ideas.

BTW, this one was a real winner, a huge hit with the family last night.