Archive for the ‘Intermediate’ Category

Palak Chana Dal

February 19, 2019

I love Indian food. Love it.    And I’m overcoming my fear of making it at home. Tonight I actually tried something I’ve never even eaten in a restaurant. I love lentils.  They’re a great vegetarian, low/no fat protein source.  They need a whole grain to complete them, but you can get that an any point in the day.  It doesn’t have to be in the same meal.  Combine my love of Indian food and my love of lentils and you get dal.

There are LOTS of kinds of dal and LOTS of kinds of lentils. Red, green, yellow, black. Chana dal is actually a yellow split pea dal.  And it’s yummy!  There are many, many versions of this. I picked this one because it includes spinach.  I wanted a dish with extra vegetables so I’d have a one dish meal.  And let’s be serious.  I had a clam shell of spinach in the fridge and no plan for it.

Let me start by saying this is NOT a Tuesday night meal.  (Yes, it’s Tuesday night).  I suppose it could be if you cooked the chana on Sunday and did the rest on Tuesday after work.  I started this dish at 6:30, after I went to the gym and fed the pups.  I sat down to eat at 8:00.  Pretty ridiculous for a weeknight.  I thought it would take about half that time based on the recipe.

A few tips.  Where the recipe says to partially cover the peas as they cook, don’t.  You’re trying to get 4 1/2 cups of water to absorb into 1 cup of yellow split peas.  You can afford to lose some in steam.  Don’t bother to do your chopping and measuring until after you have the chana in the pot. Trust me, you have plenty of time to do the rest.  Serve it with rice or naan or some Indian pickles or some combination.  There’s some really good heat in here from the jalapeno and the ginger.  It needs some acid and some starch to balance it.  Some acidic wine is lovely with it as well. I mean, if you’re going to be chopping and stirring for 90 minutes, you should have some wine.

I will make another attempt at this, using a different recipe.  Not because I’m not pleased with the results. I really am! But because I can’t wait to try another version!  In the meantime, I’ll enjoy eating the leftovers.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 chana dal (dried split chickpeas)
  • TSP turmeric
  • TSP salt
  • 4½ water
  • TBSP ghee (use vegetable oil to make it vegan)
  • ¾ TSP cumin seeds
  • finely diced onion
  • 1 inch-long piece of ginger, grated
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 green chile (like a serrano or jalapeño), minced
  • tomato, diced
  • ½ TSP garam masala
  • TSP chile powder, like Deggi Mirch
  • A couple large handfuls of baby spinach
  • chopped cilantro, for garnis

NOTE: I bought the Deggi Mirch from Amazon some time ago.  I’m sure it’s available in local Indian markets as well.  The rest of this stuff is available in mainstream grocery stores. I did leave out the fenugreek leaves.

Here’s what you do: 4 servings (and here’s a link to the original recipe)

  1. Sort through your beans for any pebbles or debris. Rinse under cold water three or four times.

NOTE:  Don’t skip this step.  My chickpeas had kind of an odd smell as I rinsed them.

  1. In a large saucepan or pot, combine the chana dal, turmeric, salt, and 4½ cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partly covered, for 40 minutes (add more water if needed). The consistency should not be too thin or thick. If too thick, add more water. If too thin, simmer a little longer.

NOTE:  This took me 90 minutes, not 40.  A little less water?  Maybe, but you want the texture to be soft.  A little higher heat?  A little, but not a ton.

  1. Meanwhile, heat the ghee or oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the cumin seeds and fry for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the onion and sauté until golden, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, and green chile and continue to sauté a minute or two until the garlic is golden but not browned. Add the tomatoes.
  1. Stir in the garam masala, and chile powder. Continue to cook until the tomatoes break down and are soft.

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NOTE: The good news is that this can sit until the peas are ready without losing anything.

  1. Add this mixture to the pot with the chana dal.

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  1. Bring the pot back to a simmer. Add the spinach and cook until just wilted.
  1. Garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve with rice, naan, paratha, or roti.

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How’d it turn out?

This is so, so good. The heat is warm and wonderful.  Nothing sharp and overwhelming about it.  The cilantro at the end is a nice green touch.  I had a little naan with mine, which has fantastic.  Rice would have been good too.  And I really think a quick pickle of radishes and onions would add a wonderful acidity. Maybe I’ll try that with the leftovers.

The only drawback?  90 minutes to make.  I’m interested to find out if another recipe goes quicker.  If you want to use this one, I’d say make the split peas one night when you’re eating leftovers from something else.  Finish it and eat it the next night.

Tomorrow is going to start with ice and snow so it’ll be a perfect day to have these leftovers for lunch!

 

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Thai Chicken Breast in Coconut Milk

January 3, 2019

I’ve had enough of black-eyed peas and greens, at least until tomorrow.  And honestly, the transition back to healthy eating isn’t going all that smoothly.  So, here’s an attempt at something that tastes and feels rich, but maybe isn’t so bad for you.  I used lite coconut milk at least.

Let me start by saying that poached chicken is a lovely, soft, velvety dish, that’s pretty hard to pull off in my experience.  I’ve only ever tried it in broth and overcooked it every time.  You just end up with boiled chicken that way, that leaves most of the flavor in the broth and makes for a kind of rubbery texture.  Not the same at all.  This is the most successful I’ve ever been at poaching chicken.  Yay me!

This dish is a little bit strange.  The texture is a little too smooth.  The color is a little too blah.  The sauce is a little too thick.  I liked it.  But I wanted to love it.  I don’t love it.

First of all, it’s really unattractive.  If I hadn’t added the carrots it would have been almost entirely beige and brown.  Unless you’re eating biscuits and sausage gravy, an all beige and brown dish isn’t very appetizing to look at.  Second, the sauce is a little bit much.  I think you could cut the coconut milk with chicken stock as the poaching liquid and cook that down in the end.  It would lighten things up some as well.  Finally, the poached chicken is so soft and velvety, which is good, that the shiitake mushrooms have more bite to them than the chicken.  It’s unexpected, and not in a good way.  Ultimately, I’m glad I halved this recipe.  I liked it enough to eat one serving of leftovers, but not more than that.

Here’s what you need for 4 servings, as in the original recipe: (the photo is what I used for 2 servings)

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  • 1 can lite coconut milk
  • 3 T fish sauce
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 garlic cove, minced
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, outer layers removed, core finely chopped
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved horizontally
    • NOTE:  The original recipe doesn’t call for them to be halved horizontally, but I’d have been poaching forever if I hadn’t.  And if you halve them ahead of time your 4 portions will already be done.
  • 8 oz sliced shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/2 C matchstick carrots
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • Rice for serving

Here’s what you do:

  • Heat the milk, fish sauce, lime juice, garlic and lemongrass in a large skillet
  • Bring to a low boil over medium-high heat
    • NOTE:  Do stir this as it heats.   If you don’t the coconut milk solids will stick to the bottom and burn.
  • Reduce to a simmer and add the chicken; cook 5 minutes

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  • Flip the breasts; add the mushrooms, carrots, and scallions

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  • Cook another 3-5 minutes, until the chicken is done; the time will depend on the thickness of the chicken.
    • NOTE:  If you’re not sure whether or not the chicken is done, slice across the thickest part and check. You can cut it up to serve it, so you don’t lose anything by checking it.
  • Remove the chicken and keep it warm
  • Bring the sauce back to a simmer and cook it down 2-3 minutes

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  • Serve chicken and sauce over rice

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Risotto

January 1, 2019

I love risotto.  This recipe is the risotto version of cacio e pepe, a wonderfully simple pasta with cheese and pepper.  The nice thing about that is you can top it with anything you want.  And the topping for the leftovers can be completely different than whatever you chose for the original dish.

I know a lot of people are intimidated by risotto because it takes so long to make and all of that time is active time.  You can’t really do anything else for about 45 minutes. I find that kind of zen.  You’re just stirring and adding liquid and stirring.  If you’re lucky, you’re probably drinking a little wine too.  Here’s the thing.  Risotto is the perfect food for dinner parties!

Yes, it violates every dinner party hosting rule that says you should serve food that can be done ahead so that you’re not tied to the kitchen when your guests arrive.  The flaw in that logic is that we all know that everyone ends up hanging out in the kitchen anyway!  So, everyone can hang out in the kitchen while you’re stirring and you won’t miss a thing.  Another thing that makes it the perfect dinner party food is that it’s really hard to mess it up.  You just keep adding liquid a little at a time until it’s done.  It’s easy to taste along the way and see how it’s doing.  And if it gets a little bit over done, it’s still good!  Finally, if you start with a basic risotto it’s super easy to alter the toppings to accommodate whatever dietary restrictions your guests bring to the table.  Awesome.

So, what’s the key to risotto?  Make sure that the broth is very warm.  You don’t want to lower the temperature of the risotto pot when you add the broth.  If you do it won’t absorb like it’s supposed to.  And stir, stir, stir.  It’s not an aggressive stir.  It’s slow and meditative.  Enjoy the time.

Here’s what you need to serve 4:

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  • 4 C broth, heated in a pot (chicken, vegetable, beef, seafood, whatever goes with your add-ins)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 C diced onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 C arborio rice
  • 1/2 C white wine
  • 2/3 C Parmesan cheese
  • salt and black pepper
  • chopped parsley
  • roasted shrimp (or whatever you choose for the top)

Here’s what you do:

  • Heat olive oil in a wide pan
  • Saute onion and garlic until soft, 3-4 minutes
  • Add arborio rice to pot and stir so the grains are coated in oil

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  • Add wine, stir until liquid is almost absorbed
  • Add broth 1/2 C at a time, stirring after each addition until liquid is almost absorbed
  • When the rice is cooked to al dente, stir in Parmesan, salt and pepper

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  • Serve with parsley and top with protein / vegetables of your choice

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Some possible combinations:

  • Beef broth and mushrooms
  • Vegetable broth and asparagus
  • Vegetable broth with zucchini and corn
  • Chicken broth with chicken and spinach

I could have eaten this risotto without anything on top and been completely happy, but the roasted shrimp made it fancy.  A good choice for New Year’s Eve.  Later in the week I’ll add some vegetables instead and enjoy it just as much!

Thai-American Noodles

December 29, 2018

The season of eating and drinking with abandon is almost over!  And while I will certainly take advantage of the next few days, I need a break!  I need a meal with no potatoes, cheese, or gravy.  Hello Asian food!

For the last few months I’ve been reading my way through Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year.  It’s about the year after Gourmet magazine folded with Reichl at the helm, not that it was her failure.  But she did feel like she had failed.  And, halfway through, it seems that a year in the kitchen brought about her recovery.  In any case, there are a lot of yummy recipes along the way.

This recipe is from the Winter section of the book.  Not a bad way to escape the February blues!  I find that limes always make me feel a little bit sunny and cheerful. (Often they’re in a glass of bourbon and ginger so maybe that has something to do with it).  Still, this is a bright and happy dish.

It’s not a difficult dish to make, but do get everything together before you start.  It’s worth it to measure everything out into little piles or little bowls or whatever you need to stay organized.  Once you start it moves really fast.  My one complaint about this recipe, and the others in the book, is that the ingredients are divided into two sections – a shopping list and a list of staples.  That means they aren’t listed in the order that you need them as many recipes are.  Read the recipe all the way through before you start.  Maybe read it a couple of times.

Here’s what you need: my photo and the one from the book

  • 8 oz rice vermicelli
  • 1/4 C fish sauce
  • 1/4 C white vinegar
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1/2 C peanuts, crushed
  • 2-3 T peanut oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 4 scallions, chopped, whites and greens divided
  • 2 eggs, beaten

Here’s what you do:

  • Soak noodles in hot water until they soften
  • Drain noodles and set aside
  • Mix fish sauce, sugar, and vinegar in small bowl
  • Heat oil in a wok or large pan until it shimmers
  • Add shrimp, cook until they’re just opaque, remove from pan and set aside

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  • Add garlic, jalapeno, and white parts of the scallions
  • Stir until aromatic
  • Add pork and cook until there’s no pink

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  • Stir in softened noodles
  • Mix in fish sauce mixture

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  • Cook over med-high heat until the noodles have absorbed the liquid
  • Push the noodle mixture to one side
  • Add the eggs and stir until they’re cooked

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  • Mix the eggs into the noodles
  • Add the shrimp, scallion greens, and peanuts

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  • Serve with lime wedges and Siracha

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A couple of tips on the cooking.  Use tongs to mix everything in.  The noodles stay all clumped together if you try to use a spoon.  You can also use the tongs to scrape all the yummy bits off the bottom of the pan.  Also, I think a few more vegetables would be a welcome addition.  Some matchstick carrots and thinly sliced red bell pepper would add some color, texture, and a little sweetness.  Possible that you could cut back a little on the sugar if you had some extra vegetable sweetness.

This is a pretty versatile dish.  Use ground chicken instead of pork if that fits better into your diet.  Leave out the shrimp if you don’t want them.  Some more vegetables and maybe some tofu would make this a fantastic vegetarian dish.  Get some rice paper rolls or lettuce leaves and use this as a filling. Lots of possibilities.  I think this is going to make a few more appearances before the winter is over!

 

James Beard’s Bread ala My Mom

December 28, 2018

I don’t bake a lot of bread.  I don’t actually bake a lot of anything.  I’m the only one here and I’ve got no business having a lot of baked goods around.  But it’s the holidays and it’s a rainy vacation day, so baking is all I wanted to do.  I started this dough so it could start its first rise while I made the banana bread.  Then I came back to this.  Honestly I forgot that I should be taking pictures so they’re a little sparse.

This is the bread my mom made when I was in high school.  She made this bread every week to use for my lunches.  It’s worth noting that my mom had a full-time job and a part-time job at this point.  Still she made the bread for my lunches..  I try to remind myself of that when I start to complain about how there’s not enough time to get everything done.  Turns out there’s exactly enough time to do the things that are important to you.  She included this note in the recipe book she made for me.

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Here’s the wonderful thing about this bread.  It’s pretty easy as yeast breads go.  If I can do it, anyone can do it.  I have a terrible habit of killing the yeast with milk that’s too hot, but that’s easily corrected here as long as you have more milk and more yeast.  The butter in this is melted so there’s no planning ahead to have softened butter.  And, as with all yeast breads, the kneading is meditative.  The rising times also give you a chance to sit a peruse recipes or walk dogs or take a nap or whatever else you want to do in between.

Here’s what you need for 2 loaves:

  • 2 C milk, warmed to 115-120 degrees
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 5-6 C all purpose flour (mix white and wheat if you like)
  • 4 T butter, melted
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten

Here’s what you do:

  • Take out 1/2 C milk and mix in sugar and yeast
  • Set aside to proof
  • In a large bowl or stand mixer, mix butter, salt, and remaining milk
  • Add flour 1 C at a time
  • After the 3rd cup, add the yeast mixture
  • Mix in additional flour as needed until the dough is firm (4-5 C total)
  • Knead on a floured board until the dough is no longer sticky
  • Place dough in buttered bowl and roll it around
  • Cover with a towel and set in a draft-free place to rise (1-2 hours)

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  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • Punch down the dough and knead another 5 minutes.  Don’t skimp on this part.  It’s very zen.  And good for the bread.
  • Divide the dough in half and shape loosely into loaves
  • Place in buttered loaf pans
  • Cover and set aside to rise until doubled in size

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  • Slash the top with a knife and brush with water or beaten egg whites

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  • Bake 40-50 minutes.  You may have to cover lightly with foil to keep the tops from over browning.

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It’s just as I remember it.  A really crunchy crust and soft inside.  The is a super soft bread with a very light crumb.  Not chewy at all.  It’s all-purpose flour, not bread flour, so there’s less gluten development.  I assume you could substitute if you want a chewier loaf.  The bread makes wonderfully delicate toast.  And it makes great sandwiches, and has in my little corner of the world since 1986.

Hello Fresh “Orzotto”

November 16, 2018

This is meal 2 out of my gifted box – orzotto.  Risotto made with orzo instead of arborio rice.  Clever.

Honestly this is one of the more complicated recipes I’ve made from a Hello Fresh box.  It’s not too difficult, just a lot of cook, remove from pot, set aside.  Requires the stove top and the oven.  And they miss a little on the instructions.  Once you add the liquid (chicken stock concentrate, water and crushed tomatoes) to the orzo it says to bring it to a boil and stir occasionally.  It’s a pretty thick liquid and there’s not a ton of it.  The orzo starts to stick to the bottom of the pot pretty quickly.  I had to stir constantly and vigorously to keep it from sticking.  I also had to add about 1/2 C extra water to get the orzo to cook all the way to al dente.

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The topping is slightly strange.  Shredded mozzarella and panko.  You spread it over the top and put it under the boiler.  Because it’s bread crumbs and a fat you end up with a crust.  Lovely on casseroles, but odd on something that’s supposed to be risotto-esque.  I’d leave that off.  Maybe sprinkle the cheese on top of eat serving.  Leave the panko for another day.

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One more thing.  This is WAY more than 2 servings, as the pasta dishes often are.  To give you a sense, this is a 3 1/2 Q dutch oven.  It’s filled about 1/3 of the way, so nearly a quart of this stuff.  I’m not a small girl and portion control is one of my issues, still, I can’t imagine what Hello Fresh thinks is four servings of this!

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Overall, it’s a good dish. The italian seasoning is a little strong.  It calls for added butter  you don’t need.  What is up with these people and their extra butter?  The chicken sausage is very flavorful, which is good because grated zucchini has no taste at all.  The tomatoes have no salt.  The chicken stock must be low in salt.  Taste before you top and stir some salt in to taste.

Tomato Braised White Beans OR White Beans in Dirt

November 1, 2018

I’ve been looking forward to this dish all week.  It just sounded like half comfort food and half elegant dinner.  That said, it’s a slightly strange combination of things and I couldn’t quite figure out the flavor profile.  I’m still not sure I know.  I’ll say it’s 1/4 the recipe and 3/4 the cook.  Let me explain.

I did all my chopping ahead of time.  Worked out the math.  Figured out my substitutions.  Ready to roll.  I’m pretty good about that with recipes I’m unfamiliar with.  Cook the sliced chorizo, got it.  Easy.  Remove the chorizo to a paper towel.  Yep.  Add tomato paste, cumin and paprika to the pot.  Cook “until the mixture is caramelized and dark gold.”  Wait, what?  How does a mixture that starts out red and brown turn into dark gold?  It definitely didn’t.

Instantly black as tar.  This is the point at which I should have started over.  I’m guessing the oil was too hot when I added the tomato paste, but I’ve never seen tomato paste do this.  I didn’t start over.  I soldiered on.

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I added the vegetables. Then stirred in the beans, tomatoes, water and herbs.  I tasted the broth at this point.  Tasted like dirt.  Not a good sign.  From here you boil, add the chorizo, and then simmer 20 minutes.  That means this is going to reduce and the flavors will concentrate.  Concentrated dirt?  Not promising.  Still, I pressed on.

I added the spinach.  Here’s my second mistake.  The recipe calls for sherry vinegar.  I added sherry, which in this pot of very strong flavors, did nothing.  Hello Google.  Yep, sherry and sherry vinegar are not the same.  I could have added 1 part sherry to 3 parts red vinegar except I didn’t have any.  I used balsamic vinegar instead and it made a big difference!  A drizzle of olive oil was also a welcome balance for the dark, dirt flavor of the tomato broth.

In the end this was edible.  I wasn’t even really tempted to pull pizza out of the freezer.  I was suspicious of the spinach, but that added a really nice light greenness.  The balsamic vinegar added a perfect sharpness and the olive oil a beautiful smoothness.  That said, I’m not convinced I’ll eat the leftovers.  All of those lovely flavors really just helped to cover up the fact that I burned the tomato paste in step 2.  But you can’t ever really cover that up completely.

Just a couple of notes for alternatives.  With a little extra smoked paprika I think you could leave out the chorizo and make this a vegan dish.  Or, I think you could also use pepperoni or turkey pepperoni just as well as an easy substitute for the chorizo.

If you decide to make this, I’m going to recommend that you consult this recipe. One, this is a slow cooker version, which is always nice, and two, it’s the right color!

Pasta Friday: Fridge Leftovers and Fettuccine in Lemon Parmesan Sauce

August 24, 2018

Half Marathon training is starting in earnest tomorrow.  5 miles.  Not long, but not throwaway either.  Time to get my pasta Fridays started.  Settle in folks, we’ll be carb-ing on Fridays until November.  Since tonight is the first pasta Friday in a while I wasn’t really prepared.  I usually have some half bags, clamshells or baggies of veggies in the fridge though, so that’s a good start.  Tonight I also had a half a lemon, 1/4 C of cream and a single chicken breast to go with some spinach, carrots and a red onion.  Dinner!

I decided to try poaching the chicken.  Let me just say this isn’t easy and I didn’t do it well.  It takes patience.  I’m not always long on patience.  Poaching chicken is not boiling chicken in fancy water.  You’re supposed to start everything cold and simmer it really low until it’s just done.  All I can say is that I started with cold chicken stock; a clove of garlic; a slice of lemon; and a chicken breast that I’d already sliced to speed things up.  Mistake one.  I should have left it whole and sliced it when it was done.  I brought it to a very low simmer.  It didn’t look like it was enough so I turned up the heat just a little.  Mistake two.  While my attention was on the rest of dinner, the stock started to boil.  So, I had boiled chicken. I turned it down immediately, but it was too late.  Not terrible, but tougher than I would have liked.

Nothing mysterious about the vegetables. A little olive oil heated until it shimmered and in go the carrots and onions.  Let them saute until they start to brown.  Don’t add any salt yet.  If you add salt now you’ll pull the water out of the vegetables and they’ll steam more than saute.  After 2-3 minutes add some minced garlic.  One clove is plenty.

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Now it’s time for the sauce.  This is a super light cream sauce and you can make it in the pan with the veggies.  Bonus points for not dirtying another pan!  Just push the vegetables to the side to give yourself a little room to work.  Here’s what you need, plus some of the poaching liquid or pasta water if you didn’t poach the chicken:

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Melt the butter and stir in about 1 T of flour.  Keep stirring it so it doesn’t burn.  Then add just a little cream.  Keep stirring. It will thicken quickly and you’ll have a paste.  That’s what’s supposed to happen.

Stir in some poaching liquid so now you have a sauce consistency.  It will be thinner than you’ll end up with.  Add the rest of the cream and bring the sauce to bubble.  It will thicken some.  Add a little more poaching liquid.  You’ll need it to cook the spinach.

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Stir the spinach in until it wilts.  Let the sauce bubble and thicken a little more.  Stir in about 1/2 C of grated parmesan.  Add in the cooked pasta.  It works best if you use tongs to mix everything together.  Grate about 1/8 t nutmeg over the top along with freshly ground black pepper.

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Remove from the heat and squeeze half a lemon over the pan.  Add in the cooked chicken.

Enjoy!

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Seafood Sunday Shrimp and Grits

August 12, 2018

For some reason Sunday has become seafood day here.  Maybe because I often have time to go to the good market and pick out something nice or something I can’t get in my regular grocery.  It’s just shrimp today, but feels special anyway.  Elegant comfort food.

There are as many ways to make shrimp and grits as there are people who make it.  Pro and con tomato.  Pro and con meat.  Pro and con cream.   Pro cheese grits, pro regular grits.  I tend toward pro meat, neutral tomato and con cream.  I love cheese grits, but not with shrimp.  I’m not a cheese and seafood person for the most part.

Tonight I had a recipe from The New York Times as inspiration – added some ham, removed some tomato paste, butter grits instead of cheese.  It’s not my favorite ever shrimp and grits, but the worst shrimp and grits I’ve ever made is still better than a lot of things I’ve made.  And on a very rainy Sunday with my basement taking on water, it was lovely to have.

A couple of comments before we get started.  One – make your grits first.  They’ll keep.  If you have both things going at once your grits will stick to the bottom or your shrimp will overcook or you’ll forget something.  Just get the grits done before you move on to the shrimp and sauce.  Second – do your prep work.  Get your shrimp peeled and deveined.  Get your chopping done. Put stuff in bowls so once you get started, you can just dump stuff in the pan.  It’s more dishes, but really worth it.

Step 1:  Make the grits

  • Follow the instructions on the package.  Use stock instead of water if you want.  Add cheese instead of butter at the end if you want.  I used half chicken stock and half water.

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  • NOTE:  Unless you’re sure you’re going to use all of the grits for this dish, don’t use your shrimp stock in the grits.  If you have leftover grits, and I always do, they’ll be a lot more versatile if they don’t taste like shrimp.

Step 2:  Make the shrimp mixture

Here’s what you need: (see, chopping already done)

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  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • ¾ cup chopped onion
  • ½ cup chopped bell pepper
  • 2 gloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2-3/4 C diced country ham
  • 1 cup diced ripe tomatoes with a little of their juice (chopped canned tomatoes are preferable to less-than-perfect fresh tomatoes)
  • ½ teaspoon dried Herbes de Provence
  • 1/2 tablespoon flour
  • 1 pound medium to large raw shrimp, shelled (reserve shells for stock)
  • ½ to 1 cup shrimp stock
  •  cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 dashes Tabasco

Here’s what you do:

  • For the shrimp, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté the onion, pepper, garlic and ham until softened, about 3 minutes.

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  • Add the tomatoes and juice and Herbes de Provence; bring to a simmer. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes.

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  • Sprinkle with flour and stir well.
  • Add the shrimp and stir constantly until they begin to turn pink, about 2 minutes.
  • Add 1/2 cup stock and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more.

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  • Add the cream, Worcestershire and Tabasco and more stock if needed to make a spoonable sauce that generously coats the shrimp.
  • Heat thoroughly, being careful not to let it come to a boil. Taste for salt.

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Palak Paneer

August 8, 2018

It’s turned out to be International Vegetarian Week in One Woman’s Kitchen!  And that’s not a bad thing.  I love it when I get to remind myself that there’s a whole world of yummy food out there.  And if it’s mostly plants, well, Michael Pollan would be proud.  I’m not giving up bacon any time soon, but this is the second of two fantastic dishes to come out of the kitchen this week! (See the Vegetarian Enchiladas for the first one.)

I’ve actually made a version of this before.  It’s a recipe from a Rasika cookbook.  Rasika is my favorite Indian restaurant in the US. If you’re ever in DC and you like Indian food, make it a destination!  Last time I made Malai Palak, so no paneer.  It’s not that hard, and nothing too unusual except for the fenugreek powder, which I leave out.  This time I wanted to add a protein and I choose paneer instead of chicken, which would work just as well if you’re not vegetarian.

If you’re not familiar with paneer, it’s a very firm cheese.  It tastes to me like cottage cheese might taste if it came in a block.  It doesn’t melt so it will hold its shape when you add it to boiling spinach.  It’s available in most large grocery stores, but if not, certainly in an Indian market.

One of my favorite things about this recipe is that there’s no need to stem the spinach.  I’m pretty OCD about removing the stems even from baby spinach. I think they’re ugly to look at and unpleasant to deal with as you eat.  This spinach is going in the food processor so it doesn’t matter!

The key to making this successfully is mis en place.  Translation:  get your act together before you start.  Blanch all the spinach.  Do all your chopping.  Get out your spices so you don’t have to hunt for them when you need them.  Once you get started, things move fairly quickly.  The second tip is when it says “stir constantly,” do it.  It’s a defensive move as much as a cooking instruction.  Keeping the mixture moving prevents a lot of cursing.  Because it prevents being splattered by boiling hot spinach, which HURTS.  Warning issued.

First things first.  Blanch the spinach (a pound of it).  All that means is put it in a pot of boiling water for a few seconds, until it wilts; and then pull it out of the pot and move it to a bowl of ice water.  That stops the cooking and keeps the bright green color.  Set it aside in a strainer and let it drain. Don’t worry too much about getting the water out.  You’re going to add water to it in a sec.  Add the spinach to a blender or food processor and some water, up to a cup.  Puree.

Beyond the spinach here’s what you need:

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  • 1/4 C vegetable oil
  • 2 T minced garlic
  • 1/2 t cumin seed
  • 2 1/2 C diced onion
  • 1 T minced fresh ginger
  • 1 t minced thai chili or jalapeno
  • 1/2 t turmeric
  • 1/4 C  heavy cream (optional, but good)
  • 1 C paneer cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1/2 t salt

Here’s what you do:

  • Heat the oil in a large pan.  When it shimmers add the cumin seeds and garlic. Brown the garlic.  30 seconds.
  • Add the onions.  Cook until the onions are brown. 5 minutes

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  • Add the ginger, jalapeno, and turmeric.  Stir 30 seconds.  Add the spinach. (Watch the splatter!)

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  • Stir constantly for 5 minutes.
    • You  know how two minutes talking to a friend is completely different than two minutes brushing your teeth?  This is a tooth brushing 5 minutes.  Watch the clock or set a timer.

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  • Reduce the heat.  Add cream, paneer, and salt.  Bring to a boil.  Stir another 5 minutes. Same rules apply about the splatter.

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I served mine over rice so it felt like a full meal. Feel free to serve it as a side or with naan.  Frankly it’s also amazing over eggs.  This is a food I could eat 3 times a day.  The paneer adds a nice texture.  The bad news is that it won’t take me long to get through this batch.  The good news is that it’s not that hard to make more!

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