Monday, December 26, 2011

Food Resolutions

I find it disheartening to see the series of post-Christmas commercials that begin running on Boxing Day. "The holiday we've been harping on you about since a week before Halloween is over! Come by and stock up on marked-off crap, and be sure to get some Special K and a Bowflex. Because you've gotten super fat lately--time for a new year's resolution!"

Kicking yourself into a change because of the calendar, fueled by pressure and negativity, doesn't seem like a fantastic way to stick with well-intentioned goals. I prefer ringing in the new year with positive, fun goals--and saving the tough stuff for later. To give 2012 a big hug, I'm resolving to make 12 new recipes--one for each upcoming month--that I've never tried before. And, for extra fun and accountability, I'll blog about each adventure. It's like Julie & Julia, except without the insanity and slightly more manageable between the thesis, graduation, losing the last ten pounds, and whatever else this fresh new year has in store.

1. Alton Brown's Roast Duck
I watched the Good Eats episode where Alton Brown made this roast duck, based on the traditional holiday roast goose that Dickens loved so dearly. Although you have to plan ahead and prep a few days ahead of time, this looks easy enough to be successful and decadent. Already planning a wonderful orange balsamic vinegar sauce to make it my own.

2. Moussaka
I've wanted to make moussaka all year long, but it just never happened. This year, I want to make a point of bringing this hearty, cheese-clouded vision into reality in our kitchen.

3. Cassoulet
In the same warm, rich, comforting vein as moussaka, I'd like to try this classic French dish. The ingredient list is long, the cooking time is epic, but with a reputation like cassoulet's, the results should eclipse the labor.

4. Chocolate Souffle
Well, since there's no international trips on the foreseeable horizon, my only option is bring some Provence into my own world. I've never made any souffles, but I feel ready. I could do a savory souffle, but there's something about accomplishing a new feat in the world of desserts and baking that eclipses everything else. The science is so sensitive, especially with a finicky riser like this. If it doesn't work out, I suppose I have concrete evidence to support a more evenly-baking gas range upgrade.

5. Beef Cheeks
I was lucky enough to try beef cheeks at BEAST two summers ago. I had no idea what to expect, but when I tasted that molten-tender entree, I practically melted. With all of the butchery options in Portland, I'm sure I can find the cut, and want to convert Matt--without maybe mentioning the odd body part right away.

6. Key Lime Pie
I've torn out several versions of key lime pie from Martha Stewart Food, Bon Appetit and whatever other magazines I get my hands on, but I've never gotten around to actually making it. I'm defaulting to King Arthur Flour's recipe, the baking authority that helped me bake the best Christmas cookies I've ever made this year. This is Matt's favorite dessert, so I'm thinking June for his birthday would be just perfect.

7. Tamales
I never even had a tamale until just a year or so ago! The best I've tried were made by mothers of people I worked with, with recipes I'm sure I'll never have a glimpse of. Nevertheless, it's worth a try. And try I will! This recipe looks family-loved, delicious and well-written.

8. Rack of Lamb
I love lamb. Along with duck, it's the dish I always look for any time we go to some fantastic, perfectly pretentious restaurant (note to self: many fantastic, perfectly pretentious Portland restaurants to try in 2012!). I was going to make it for Easter a few years ago, before finding out that certain family members refuse to eat it. Shame for them, but more for me! No more waiting for the "right" crowd to come by for a meal. This year, I'm cooking for myself.

9. Julia Child's Roasted Chicken and Tarragon
I don't have Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which seems awful when I type it out. Maybe I should snatch it up before any more time goes by. Either way, this chicken recipe looks incredible, and with the fresh tarragon that grows in my backyard in the summer, I've already got one of the title ingredients easily taken care of.

10. Pad Thai
Wait, you may say. You've already made Pad Thai! Yes, I have. And I've failed miserably every. Single. Time. This is the year I make a dish that actually tastes kind of like what I love to order at Thai restaurants, not just Asian-ish noodles that I choke down and swear aren't that bad. I found this very informative write-up on how to make this possible, and I'm working up my nerve to try again. Maybe a little later in the year, after a few of these turn into successes. I'm still feeling a little burned.

11. Country Captain
The name is so funny, how can you not want to try this? This is a traditional southern dish, with some definite Indian flavors, along with our all-time favorite--ham! Also a plus? Country Captain is a one-pot dish, one of my favorite ways to serve dinner. Just top rice and serve.

12. Baked Alaska
Happy 2013! I will say when this glorious dessert is aflame. I've had it once, the night I graduated high school at a fancy restaurant in Tacoma. Festive and vintage, if I'm anything like the girl that's typing right now, this will be the perfect end to a delicious year.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Dickens-Style Christmas

Today I was in the kitchen most of the day. The majority of that time was spent baking cookies, but do you really want to hear all about stupid Christmas cookies? No. You don't. Actually, I hope you don't, because I am so sick of cookies I could puke. Unfortunately they make good gifts, and I keep thinking of other people to give a beautiful little Wilton baking box to. Although I do have to note that I had a few new cookie recipes mixed in with the stand-bys. One was the cover recipe from Bon Appetit's great cookie tome issue, Peppermint Meringues. Who knew there was a way to marry full flavor, delightful texture, a guilt-free calorie count and a whimsical Whoville-like exterior. They look beautiful wrapped together in a box, and taste light and minty-fresh. You can use any extract in the cabinet, so I'm looking forward to coconut and orange meringues this spring and summer.

I also made a savory baked good (which I won't name because the recipient reads this, and it's supposed to be a surprise). I was flipping through the cookbook as I kneaded and baked it, looking for some dinner inspiration. Matt and I are both feeling a little rut-like it seems. Mexican once a week? Check. A piece of chicken and side dish? Of course. Pizza or burger? At least one of the above, usually. Last night I found a great recipe for beef stroganoff that I amazingly had all ingredients for, which was a very refreshing new set of flavors. I was liking the change-up, and when I saw a recipe for sriracha-based Tikka Masala, I saw a whole other rarely-used country to jump into.

While the flavors of tikka masala are thought of as Indian on our American palate, it's actually a very British dish. Kind of like how pizza is American Italian, or chalupas are... Taco Bell. The Brits love their thick sauces, so they found a way to combine the great new spices found when venturing into India with heavy cream. Watch enough Gordon Ramsay (and why wouldn't you? HOT!) and you'll see him add this to many a menu.

You can find tikka masala at many Indian restaurants here as well, and it's sort of a "gateway dish" into the amazing world of Indian-style flavor. Remember your first California roll when you dared to try this crazy sushi stuff? In the same way, I remember my first tikka masala at my all-time favorite Indian restaurant, Chennai Masala in Hillsboro. Hillsboro has an unfair number of these restaurants, all buffet-style for lunch, allowing you to try an entire array of dishes you've likely never heard of before. Here in Hubbard? Um, nyet. I think the closest outlet I have to this cuisine is maybe Lake Oswego, and not like Bridgeport Village easy-to-get-to Lake Oswego. Freaking downtown, BMW-crammed on the lake Lake Oswego. Screw that. As a result, the only times I have Indian anymore are when I have some rare appointment that takes me through Tanasbourne. Like residency! Oh my goodness that's coming up in like three weeks. Wow, I know what I'm going to be eating!

Sorry. Anyway, I just happened to have most all of the ingredients for this dish as well, including a full bottle of sriracha. Normally I shy away from making distinctly Indian-tasting food, since Matt tends not to like it, but today I just didn't care. I wanted to make my first tikka masala, and if he didn't like it, there were Costco chicken bakes in the freezer. This recipe, and all others I've ever seen, call for the chicken to be marinated in yogurt and spices. The only yogurt I had was an expired cup of Tillamook papaya guava yogurt, so I decided to use the last of my sour cream instead. The sauce also calls for heavy cream, but I used the last of that making caramel for damn cookies earlier. So, 1% milk would have to suffice. And I'm happy to say it did simmer up rich and creamy, and probably with a significant cut in fat and calories from the original recipe.

This recipe was way easier than I thought. You have to plan ahead since the chicken needs to marinade for a significant amount of time, but once the chicken's ready to go you're just cooking up a simple sauce. This was a good thing, because after fussing over dozens of cookies and meringues and bars and breads all day, I was running on fumes by dinnertime. But the even better surprise with this was the fact that it did taste very close to what I love loading my plate up with at my far-away favorite restaurant. The spices were spot-on (the woodsy-sweetness from the cinnamon, distinct cardamom, aromatic cumin), the creaminess was naan-loving wonderful, and I couldn't believe I'd pulled it off my own stove. I think I'm like 1/4 British, so maybe I've got a slight advantage with getting it to work out (versus, say, my ongoing battles to make Thai food that isn't garbage).

And look, it's red and green! Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sriracha Chicken Tikka Masala

(From The Sriracha Cookbook)

3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 cups plain yogurt (I used sour cream; it seemed to work out nicely)
1/4 cup sriracha
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp allspice or cinnamon
1 tbsp pepper
1 tbsp kosher salt

For the sauce:
2 tbsp butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp coriander
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp garam masala (yes, I did have this in my pantry. What can I say? I'm a Penzey's addict. Readily available at any Whole Foods/New Seasons/Metropolitan Market/Penzey's/Market Spice)
1  15-oz can tomato sauce
1/4 cup sriracha
2 cups heavy cream (I used the milk I had in the fridge. I'm sure heavy cream would've been awesomely rich and wonderful, but I don't feel the dish suffered from the switch. Definitely better for my butt, that's for sure)
Salt and pepper

Cut the chicken into 1 inch cubes. Place in a large resealable bag and set aside

To make the marinade, in a medium bowl, mix together the yogurt, sriracha, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, allspice/cinnamon, black pepper and salt. Pour over the chicken, seal the bag, and turn the bag several times to evenly coat each piece. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, although overnight is best (mine went for 10 hrs).

Preheat the broiler to medium-high heat. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drain the excess marinade from the chicken and discard. Thread the chicken pieces onto metal skewers. Set each finished skewer on the prepared baking sheet. When all the skewers are prepared, place the baking sheet under the broiler or place them on the grill. Cook, turning once, until browned and cooked through, 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the cumin, coriander, garam masala, and paprika, and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato sauce and sriracha. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Slowly add the cream, stirring constantly to avoid curdling. Simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Remove the cooked chicken from the skewers and add to the sauce. Simmer for an additional 3 minutes.

Serve over basmati rice garnished with cilantro or parsley. Naan or pita bread is also a welcome way to sop up the irresistible sauce.