Friday, September 26, 2014

Indian Dinner

My sister Paula had a little time between her wedding/honeymoon and starting her new job (with a Ph.D. - my little sis is amazing!) and was doing some cooking that intrigued me.  I'm excited to try all this out - especially homemade naan . . . that sounds incredible!  I asked her to share her recipes with us as a guest blogger:

I recently was looking for books to read on vacation and just as I turn to this blog for cooking ideas, I turned to Rebecca’s “Shelfari” page for book suggestions.  As a result, I just finished reading “Secret Daughter” by  Shilpi Somaya Gowda.  Part of the book takes place in India and one of the characters mentions that any 12 year-old  Indian girl can make Saag Paneer without a recipe.  I figured if a 12 year old can do it without a recipe I certainly could do so with a recipe.  (Note: this logic has gotten me in trouble before, like the time I came home from school and announced that I was going to make a buche de noel/Yule log because if Julia Child can do it, I can do it, but that’s a whole other blog post).  I then thought of how my friend Ashlee made Naan the first time I met her (good first impression) and I recollected a recipe for “Tandoorish” chicken in a cookbook I received from Rebecca several Christmases ago. Thus, I set out on an adventure creating my first Indian meal. 

The process was a bit time consuming but pretty easy and the fruit of my labor was super tasty.  I was most proud of the fact that I made my own cheese! You can buy paneer at an Asian grocery store but making it will make you feel like a rock star so I recommend giving it a try.  

Paneer (Indian Cheese)

8 cups whole milk
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more as needed

Line a large colander with a large double layer of cheesecloth, and set it in your sink. In a large wide pot, bring the milk to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring frequently to avoid burning the bottom.  This will take a little while so be patient.

Add the lemon juice and turn the heat down to low. Stirring gently, you should almost immediately see the curds (white milk solids) and whey (the greenish liquid) separate. (if milk doesn’t separate juice some more lemons an add another tablespoon or two.  Boost the heat gain and the milk should separate.)
Stir in a motion that gathers the curds together rather than breaks them up.

Remove the pot from the heat and carefully pour the contents into the cheesecloth-lined colander.  Gently rinse with cool water to get rid of the lemon flavor.  

Grab the ends of the cheesecloth and twist the ball of cheese to squeeze out the excess whey.  Tie the cheesecloth to your kitchen faucet and allow the cheese to drain for about 5 minutes.  

Twisting the ball to compact the cheese into a block, place it on a plate with the twisted part of the cheesecloth on the side and set another plate on top. Weigh the second plate down with cans of beans or a heavy pot.  Move to the refrigerator and let it sit about 20 minutes.

Saag Paneer (serves 4)

1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp cayenne
Kosher salt
3 tbsp plus 1½ tbsp vegetable oil
12 oz paneer, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 (16 oz) package frozen chopped spinach
1 (1-inch) thumb ginger, peeled and minced (about 1 tbsp)
4 cloves garlic minced
1 lg green Serrano chile, finely chopped (seeds removed if you don’t like it spicy)
½ tsp garam masala
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
½ cup plain yogurt, stirred until smooth

In a large bowl, whisk together the turmeric, cayenne, 1tsp salt, and 3 tbsp oil. Gently drop in the cubes of paneer and gently toss, taking care not to break the cubes. Let the cubes marinate while you get the rest of your ingredients together and prepped.

Thaw the spinach in the microwave, 5 minutes on high, then puree in a food processor until smooth, alternatively you can chop it up very finely with your knife (I skipped the food processor step, it’s a matter of texture). 

Place a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, and add paneer as the pan warms.  In a couple of minutes give the pan a toss; each piece of paneer should be browned on one side. Fry another minute or so, and then remove the paneer from the pan onto a plate.

Add the remaining 1 ½ tbsp oil to the pan. Add onions, ginger, garlic, and chile. Saute the mixture until it is evenly toffee colored, which should take about 15 minutes (this is the foundation of the dish, don’t rush this step). If you feel like the mixture is drying out and burning, add a couple tbsps of water.

Add the garam masala, coriander, and cumin. If you haven’t already, sprinkle a little water to keep the spices from burning.  Cook, stirring often for 3-5 minutes.

Add the spinach and stir well, incorporating the spiced onion mixture into the spinach. Add a little salt and ½ cup of water, stir, and cook about 5 minutes with the lid off.

Turn off the heat and add yogurt a little at a time to keep it from curdling. Once the yogurt is well mixed into the spinach, add the paneer. Turn the heat back on, cover, and cook until everything is warmed through, about 5 minutes. Serve with naan!

Naan (6 pieces) *I will double this next time I make it

1 tsp active dry yeast
2 tsps sugar
2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 tsp fine sea salt
1/8  tsp baking powder
3 tbsps plain yogurt
2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
Melted butter for finished naan
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling

Note: you can make GF naan by substituting 2 ¼ c of gf all purpose flour mix for the regular flour plus 1 ¼ tsps of xanthum gum. When it is time to roll it out try pressing the dough with fingertips rather than rolling

In a large glass, dissolve the dry yeast and 1 tsp sugar with ¾ cup warm water (about 100 degrees F). Let it sit on your counter until its frothy, about 10 minutes (I accidently put all my sugar in at this step but it turned out fine).

Meanwhile, mix the flour, salt, remaining 1tsp of sugar and baking powder into a large deep bowl.

Once the yeast is frothy, add the yogurt and the olive oil into the glass, and stir to combine.  Pour the yogurt mixture into the dry ingredients and gently mix the ingredients together with a fork. When the dough is about to come together, use your hands to mix until it transforms into a soft, slightly sticky and pliable dough.  As soon as it comes together, stop kneading. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and let it sit in a warm draft-free place for 2-4 hours.

When you are ready to roll, make sure you have two bowls, one with extra flour and one with water. The dough should be extremely soft and sticky.  Separate the dough into 6 equal portions and lightly roll each one in the bowl of extra flour to keep them from sticking to each other.

Shape the naan, using a rolling pin roll each piece of dough into a tear drop shape, narrower at the top than at the bottom.  It should be 8-9 inches long, 4 inches wide at its widest pint and ¼ inch thick.  

Once you’ve formed the general shape you can also pick it up by one and wiggle it to stretch it out a little.  Repeat with rest of the dough.  Warm a large cast-iron skillet over high heat until it’s nearly smoking.  Make sure you have a lid large enough to fit the skillet and have a bowl of melted butter ready.

Dampen your hands in the bowl of water and pick up one of your naans. Flip-flopping it from one hand to the other to lightly dampen it.  Gently lay it in the skillet. The dough should start to bubble. After about 1 minute, flip the naan. It should be blistered and somewhat blackened.  Cover the skillet with the lid and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute more.

Remove the naan from the skillet, brush with a bit of butter and sprinkle with a little coars sea salt. Place the naan in a tea towel-lined dish. Repeat with the rest of the naan and serve.

Tandoor(ish) Chicken (serves 4)
“The food you want to eat” by Ted Allen

The marinade smelled so delicious I wanted to eat it straight out of the blender…super easy and delicious chicken dish I will definitely make again. 

½ medium onion, quartered
3 medium garlic cloves
2 inch piece of fresh ginger peeled
Juice of ½ lemon (about 1 tbsp)
½ cup plain yogurt
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground turmeric
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of ground cardamom

1½ to 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut crosswise 1½ to 2 inches thick
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lemon or line cut into wedges for serving

Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a blender and puree (I used my new nutribullet, it worked great!). Pour out into a glass baking dish. Add the chicken and stir to coat. Add the flour and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat charcoal or gas grill. Just before you’re ready to cook the chicken add the oil to the chicken mixture and stir. Lightly oil the grate with folded paper towels drizzled with oil.  Heat up grate for a few minutes until it has reached medium high heat (when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grate for about 3 seconds) and place the chicken on the grill. Cook until browned on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes total. Serve with lemon or lime wedges.

Monday, September 22, 2014

First Day of Fall

It may not feel like it here in So Cal but today is the first day of fall.  I made this delicious fall-ish recipe last weekend for my girlfriends and I'm not sure about them, but I loved it (and chowed down the cold leftovers a couple of days later).  The pumpkin pie flavor was delicious and I liked the moist texture better than my other baked oatmeal recipes.  I made it GF and dairy free with GF oats and almond milk so it's versatile in that regard.  I imagine that a flax seed substitute would work fine for the egg as well.

I forgot to bring the whipped cream that I bought but I served it with maple syrup and some candied pecans that were chopped up.  Yummy!! Hope you're feeling some fall weather wherever you are!

Baked Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal (8 servings)
adapted from Budget Bytes

1 can pumpkin puree (15oz)
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 large eggs
1.5 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1.5 c. milk  (can use almond or soy)
2.5 c. old fashioned oats
For topping:  maple syrup, milk, nuts, whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, pumpkin pie spice, salt, and baking powder until smooth.  Whisk in the milk.

Mix the oats into the pumpkin mixture.  Grease a 2 quart casserole dish and pour in the oatmeal.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake an additional 10-15 minutes.

Serve hot out of the oven.  Top with milk, maple syrup, nuts, or whipped cream.  Tastes good cold too!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The search is over

I love brownies and have made many mixes (my current favorite is the Trader Joe's Truffle Brownies) and many batches from scratch.  I've messed around with lots of recipes (as you can see if you click the label "brownie" or look at the index) but now, the search is over.  These were the best I've made so far.  They were a cake-like consistency on the edges and a fudge-like consistency in the middle.  I don't like them super sweet but if you want them sweeter, increase sugar to 1 cup.  You could also substitute melted butter for the oil for a richer flavor.  Alas, they were eaten too quickly for a photo!

Best Basic Brownies
from All Recipes

1/2 c. vegetable oil
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 c. flour
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease 8x8 pan.  Mix oil, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add eggs and beat until combined.  In a small bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  Gradually add to the mixer while mixing on a medium speed.  When the batter is thoroughly mixed, spoon into the greased pan.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  Cool before slicing.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ten Things About Big

SEVEN sounds so grown up and I'm getting a little emotional about my first baby turning that age.  So, instead of getting overly sappy on you all, I thought you might like to hear about my Big girl in her own words.  I just asked her what were ten interesting things about herself and this is what she said: 

Ten Things About Me

1.  My favorite color is blue
2.  I once had my thumb stapled
3.  I know lots of things about animals.  For instance, a koala can eat poisonous eucalyptus without dying and can digest it.
4.  For my birthday, I had a camping slumber party.  I made my own invitations and games
5.  I love science
6.  I want to be a fashion designer when I grow up and Lisa just taught me how to do a stitch

7.  I love love love joking around with my sisters and I love playing with my baby sister

8.  I don't like frosting so I'm not going to have a cake for my birthday
9.  I once made up my own recipe and you can read it here on my mom's blog
10.  One day until I'm SEVEN!

I love you and I'm so proud of the kind, smart person you are becoming.  I am constantly amazed by your ideas and creativity and you are one of the most fun people that I know!  Happy, happy birthday!!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Back to School

My girls start back to school tomorrow - after Labor Day like when we were kids.  It was an awesome summer . . . one of the best! (Do I say that every year?)  We checked some things off our previous summers' bucket lists like swimming with Dolphins, World of Color, camping in the backyard, the Hollywood Bowl and with our trips, the summer just flew by.  If the following quote is true, my girls got in lots and lots of research this summer!  Here are some photos from our trip to the Pacific Northwest a couple of weeks ago:

Here's something to help you out with the start of school:  An amazing pasta dish that the whole family liked.  What's unique is that you dump everything into the pot (uncooked noodles too) and from start to finish, the meal takes about 30 minutes.  The first time I made it just for my husband and I so I halved the recipe and used a spicy smoked sausage from Sprouts and added some red pepper flakes.  The resulting spicy broth that the spaghetti cooked in was amazing.  Last night, I made it again but for the whole family and I used an italian chicken sausage (a kielbasa or other smoked andouille is fine) and it was milder.  Make sure your sausage is fully cooked / smoked and don't skip the parmesan cheese - it gives a slight creaminess and thickens the pasta at the end.  It might look plain but it tasted outstanding!

One Pot Spaghetti (serves 6)

1 pound spaghetti
1 (12-15oz) package smoked andouille sausage, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 c. halved grape tomatoes
2 c. basil leaves
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 c. grated parmesan

In a large stockpot or dutch oven over medium high heat, add the spaghetti, sausage, onion, tomatoes, basil (I usually hold back about a 1/2 cup for serving), garlic, and 4 1/2 cups water.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until the spaghetti has cooked through and liquid has reduced, about 10-15 minutes.  Stir in parmesan cheese.  Serve immediately.