Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tandoori Chicken without the Tandoor Oven

I flipped open my new copy of Cook's Illustrated yesterday and came upon a recipe for tandoori chicken, which is traditionally made in a tandoor oven that can get up to 900 degrees! I wanted to try it and thought it would be a nice dish to bring to the birthday party later on that night. Well, it was good and the partygoers seemed to enjoy it but my finished product varied vastly from what I imagine came out of the test kitchen at Cook's Illustrated! First of all, I am not used to working with chicken thighs so when I opened the package to wash and clean them, I was shocked by how much fat was on them! I immediately attacked them, trimming and stripping the poor birds of any modicum of fat. Until I realized I was removing skin. Oops. Who needs it? Then I thought that if this was supposed to be appetizer-sized bites, I would need to remove the chicken from the bone. Have you ever boned chicken thighs? I don't recommend it. I spent an hour and a half engaged in the slippery, salmonella dream of a task. Once I got that done though, it was easy enough to put together. My little chicken pieces were so small that I opted to thread them on toothpicks to make chicken tandoori skewers, which worked out quite well. Finally, I baked them at 325 degrees as indicated and finished them off in the broiler. I ran into some more issues here, namely that the chicken started releasing juices so they were steam-baking. I probably didn't remove enough of the yogurt marinade. Anyway, I poured off the juices and put them back in the oven. I don't know how necessary the bake-then-broil process was for my version of the dish because the chicken pieces were so small but it turned out just fine. I stacked the skewers on pretty plates with little dishes of mango chutney and away they went! This did not evoke any tandoori chicken I've ever eaten but it was very tasty nonetheless.

2 T. vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic
2 T. grated ginger
1 T. garam masala
2 t. cumin
2 t. chili powder
4 T. lime juice, divided
1 c. yogurt
1 t. salt
4-5 lbs bone-in chicken thighs

Heat the oil in a skillet, add ginger and garlic, cook for one minute. Add the spices and cook for 30-60 more seconds. Cool. Add half this mixture to the chicken, along with salt and 2 tablespoons of lime juice. Mix in well and let sit for 30 minutes. Add the other half of the garlic-ginger-spice mixture to 1 cup of yogurt and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of lime juice. After the chicken has marinated in its spices, pour the yogurt mixture over it and mix well. Bake whole chicken pieces or thread smaller pieces on skewers at 325 degrees (Put on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet with wire rack to let juices fall away from the chicken. I didn't do this but I will next time!). Bake 12-15 minutes, then finish in a hot broiler for 3 minutes on each side. This time could vary greatly depending on the size of the chicken. Also, don't make the mistake I often have and let the chicken hang out in the yogurt; its enzymes break down the meat and make it mushy. Marinate in spices only and then dip quickly in the yogurt for that distinctive tang!

Friday, December 19, 2008

My Kitchen: Introduction

Last night, I tossed and turned in a sea of tissues. No amount of cough syrup, Vicks or chamomile tea helped, I was just plain sick. I tried several times "Ok, one more cup of tea, shot of the syrup, slather of Vicks and this time, I'll fall asleep!" In between tries, I pulled my laptop out in exasperation and perused a trillion different food blogs. I found some great sites, met some new characters and although I was awfully sleepy and quite a bit groggy, I felt inspired. One site featured different people, what their refrigerator staples were, favorite utensils etc. I thought about featuring my own kitchen and eating habits in a similar fashion and before you know it, I was leaping out of the bed at 4am to photograph the interior of my freezer.

So, here it is, my kitchen. Red walls and a black-and-white checkered floor, which happens to be the bane of my existence. Oh, it's cute and all but whoever created textured linoleum was a masochist and I gave up trying to keep that floor clean three years ago. In fact, I despise cleaning this particular floor so much that I complete the task over the course of days, doing the bit by the refrigerator on Sunday and the bit by the counter on Monday and so on, thereby ensuring that it is never, EVER completely clean.

Freezer: It's not too bad, well, it's a mess but it's not overly packed. Now, that is. For months, I have been trying to whittle down its contents in anticipation of my departure for Chile. Usually, I keep the freezer stocked as if I am expecting some dystopic future in which I have to fight rabid dogs and fierce gangs of raggedy-clothed urchins for an apple core or potato peel. Often I will have 5 pounds of chicken breast, a roasting chicken, pork ribs, 4-5 pounds of ground turkey, 4-5 pounds of ground chicken, 2 pounds of shrimp and a few pieces of assorted fish. There is no need for a single person to stockpile over 20 pounds of meat, along with a tray of stuffed shells, a couple pounds of meatballs, a vat or two of red sauce, half a quiche and several containers of soup. Right now, I have a steak, a couple chicken breasts and some shrimp. That's impressive. I also save leftover egg yolks and egg whites that I have NEVER used yet gamely continue to freeze and discard in a timely fashion. If I'm feeling particularly ambitious, I'll whiz up a base of peppers, onions, garlic and aromatics, split that into individual portions and freeze so it's ready to roll for me when I'm making a host of stews and soups. Kinda like that Martha Stewart tip to freeze leftover wine in ice cube trays for later use. Except, weirdly, I never seem to have any leftover wine.

Refrigerator: Yeah, that's a cheesecake you see in there. Chambord cheesecake with a walnut crust for the holiday party that I HOPE I can go to tonight, what with this winter storm and all. Anyway, I don't usually have cheesecake in there but I wanted to document it while I did. What I always have in there; soy milk, yogurt, Brita, romano cheese, butter, eggs, ginger, different color onions in various stages of use and a lemon or two. I, of course, have a rotating list of fruits and vegetables which change with the season, some tofu or other protein as well as numerous condiments (fish sauce, creole mustard, dijon mustard, wasabi, crawfish boil, Frank's Red Hot, Tabasco, sesame seeds, apricot preserves), but I consider the above list my absolute must-haves. Other must-haves that I do not keep in the refrigerator are olive oil, coffee beans, oatmeal, cold cereal, granola and garlic. Invariably when I start a meal, I reach for onions without having a clear idea what I'm going to ultimately end up with. I am a huge garlic fan as well but the onion-green, red, mayan, sweet, vidalia, carmelized, shallot, leek-is my true love. I also always have some rice or quinoa, pasta or other starch but I could go days without giving them any thought and then eat them nonstop for an entire week.

I'm realizing I could go on like this for hours so I'll stop now and promise titillating future installments with grabbing titles such as My Kitchen: The Spice Cabinet or My Kitchen: How Many Types of Cheese Does One Need?

Disclaimer: Cut me some slack, ok? I realize my freezer and refrigerator are in disarray but I took the pictures in the wee hours this morning and, let's be frank here, I'm not planning on sprucing it up in the next few days soooo......

Thursday, December 18, 2008

In Case You Haven't Met My Little Angel....

Isn't she something? My gorgeous niece Lucy, for those of you not lucky enough to receive the Christmas card graced with this image! Lucy called me the other night to sing "Jingle Bells" over the phone and I wish I could play you the recording because she cracked me up with her rendition.

Italy: Part One

So I was going to do this long, extended, several-part post on my magnificent trip to Italy this past fall and I just keep pushing it to the side. It was so monumental and filled with delectable morsels that I feared I would not do it justice by memorializing it in my usual, haphazard, bullet-point laden way. Now it's been over two months since my return and I've said nary a word, not so much as a peep. Well, before this year is over and my memory comPLETEly fails me, I am going to give it a shot.

I arrived in Rome on Wednesday morning after a long, long plane ride. I took the subway to our "B&B," which was less a bed and breakfast and more a rented closet in a crazy lady's apartment. It was odd to say the least but I'll touch on that a bit later. Anyway, Nicole was just finishing up breakfast and so I laid down my bags, took a quick shower and we were on our way! First stop was to pick up our Roma passes. We took the subway to Repubblica to that end and the way, we saw our first gelato place so we stopped for a quick taste. I got ciocolatto, Nicole got pistaccio and although in my now, less-euphoric state, I can admit it wasn't the best I've ever had, I swooned nonetheless. First gelato in Rome!

We hopped a bus to head towards a neighborhood known for pizza, cheap pizza at that. I should remember the neighborhood but I don't and this is an example of why I should have attacked this task two months ago. We weren't on for long when we jumped off to take pictures of this and that, Rome is gorgeous and crumbling and majestic and on and on. We found ourselves at a spot called PizzeriaRe and procured ourselves a table outside and, still giggling and mumbling in our imperfect Italian, managed to order some pasta dish and also a pizza. I don't know what we ate but it was marvelous; the pasta was chewy and had just the right bite, the pizza was light as air.

After that, we took a stroll through Campo di Fiori and across the river to Trastevere. As soon as we came upon the Tiber river with its tree-lined boulevards and ancient bridges, I just fell in love. I fall in love all the time so perhaps you may think this wasn't noteworthy but just wait til you see it for yourself! Still stuffed from our magnificent lunch, we decided to skip dinner and just have gelato.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

New Love

I haven't really been inspired by food lately, which is odd because I've eaten a lot of wonderful meals recently including a stupendous Thanksgiving dinner, day after steak and salmon blowout, family lunch at Francesca's in Chicago and a redemptive meal at Mother's with Dominick. (Side note: I have been disappointed by Mother's the last few times I was there but this time we had an outstanding quail stuffed with sweet potatoes, golden raisins and pistachios, plus a wild mushroom and white truffle risotto.) Maybe it's because I'm so overwhelmed with studying for the GRE, getting my school applications together, wrapping up work and a million other things before leaving for Chile in February, but in any case, every time I think about what I want to eat for dinner, I'm stumped. Caramelized tofu and brussel sprouts have been on heavy rotation, lots of roasted squash, wah, wah, wah. Boring. YET! I read this month's issue of Gourmet and was intruiged by a Roasted Potato and Wilted Kale Salad with lemon-tahini dressing. I just made it and I am SWOONING! I am excited to eat this again and again and again.

yield: Makes 4 (main course) or 6 (side dish) servings

active time: 20 min

total time: 45 min


* 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
* 1/3 cup olive oil
* 4 garlic cloves (3 thinly sliced and 1 minced)
* 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
* 1/4 cup well-stirred tahini
* 2 tablespoons water
* 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
* 3/4 pounds kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves very thinly sliced

* Accompaniment: lemon wedges


Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in upper third.

Toss potatoes with oil and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large 4-sided sheet pan, then spread evenly. Roast, stirring once, 10 minutes. Stir in sliced garlic and roast 10 minutes more. Sprinkle with cheese and roast until cheese is melted and golden in spots, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, purée tahini, water, lemon juice, minced garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a blender until smooth, about 1 minute. (Add a bit of water if sauce is too thick.)

Toss kale with hot potatoes and any garlic and oil remaining in pan, then toss with tahini sauce and salt and pepper to taste.

Notes: I am delighted with the lemony-tang imparted to the creamy roasted potatoes. I added the zest of a lemon to aid that end and I highly recommend doing the same. I also upped the kale to about a pound. Would make a lovely substitution for mashed potatoes and some sort of meat but I thought it was sublimely perfect as a humble dinner on it's own. DO NOT skimp on the lemon and add more garlic if you like. Also, the kale DOES wilt a bit when you mix it with the potatoes but after I mixed and deemed it a little too raw still, I put the baking sheet with potatoes and kale back in the oven, but only for about 1.5-2 minutes. Perfect!