Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani)

I mentioned this recipe in yesterday's post on making paneer. This is my brother-in-law's adaptation of a Gordon Ramsay recipe. There is no photo, because it doesn't photograph well. And that's a shame, because it tastes fantastic.

The ingredient list looks to be a mile long, but it's repetitive -- many of the same spices used to marinate the chicken are added to the sauce. If you love butter chicken, it's worth stocking the spice rack.

Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani)

Adapted from my brother-in-law, who adapted it from Gordon Ramsay. Serve with your favorite rice and naan to mop up the sauce. Fenugreek might be hard to find, but it's worth hunting down: It brings a wonderful earthy note. If you can't find garam masala, you can easily mix your own -- try this version.

Chicken and marinade:
2 pounds boneless chicken thighs and/or tenders
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ginger paste or minced ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoons ginger paste or minced ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cardamom pods, seeds crushed, or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (or more)
1 cup tomato purée
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
2/3 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
3 tablespoons butter
chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)

Combine garlic, ginger, salt, chili powder, and lemon juice in a bowl. Add chicken, stir to mix, cover, and chill for 30 minutes. In another bowl, combine yogurt, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, garam masala, and turmeric. Ad mixture to chicken, stirring to coat meat with marinade. Cover and chill for 3 to 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set the marinated chicken pieces on a lightly oiled broiler tray and bake for 8-10 minutes. Brush the chicken with oil and turn them over. Bake 10-12 minutes more, until just cooked through.

To prepare the sauce, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large pan and add the ginger and garlic. Cook for a minute or two, then add the cardamom, cloves, coriander, garam masala, fenugreek, turmeric, cumin, salt, and chili powder. Stir and cook a minute or two. Stir in tomato purée, lemon juice, and honey and cook for a few minutes more. Add the cooked chicken and stir in cream and remaining butter, stirring continuously until the butter has melted and the sauce is smooth. Garnish with cilantro, if desired, and serve with naan, your favorite rice, and fresh paneer.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Make It With Milk: Paneer


Paneer may be the easiest fresh cheese you can make. It's so easy that when a friend suggested it, mere hours before I planned to tackle a new butter chicken recipe for dinner guests, I didn't hesitate.

It takes about an hour, start to finish, and requires only two ingredients. It's nearly idiot-proof. And it's delicious. I've made fresh cheese with this technique before, but stopped short of pressing it into paneer. I finally took it all the way, and I'm so glad I did!

When our dinner guests showed up, my friend fried it up with thickly sliced garlic and a ton of spices, particularly garam masala. Paneer is something of a blank slate, and we found it took a surprising amount of spice to get much flavor to stick to it.

A few weeks later, I made another batch for our playdate and tried two different marinades. A cilantro and mint blend added nice flavor; the curry and turmeric version was less vivid, but still tasty. Recipes for both follow; Anna suggests that toasting the spices before mixing up the marinade might boost the flavor further still. I fried the marinated paneer along with peppers and onion, and served them with naan and beet and ginger chutney. The kids ignored the paneer in favor of naan -- I'll try to entice them with saag paneer next time.

Tune in tomorrow for the butter chicken recipe!



This makes about 9 ounces of paneer. Most recipes insist on whole milk, but I'm happy with the results from 1% milk. I pour the leftover whey -- the liquid that's strained out of the cheese -- onto azaleas and blueberries, but you can check out this guide for ideas on putting it to good use.

8 cups milk
juice of 1 lemon (3-4 tablespoons)
optional seasoning: cardamom, coriander, red pepper flakes, salt, etc.

Heat milk in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring regularly to avoid burning it. When it's close to boiling, you can add a bit of spices or seasoning if you wish, but I prefer to add them later. When it just starts to boil and foam, rising up in the pot, take it off the heat and slowly stir in the lemon juice. Stir for a minute or two until you see the curd -- this looks like clumps -- separating from the yellowish liquid whey. Let it rest for a few minutes. (Note: If not much is happening, add a splash of vinegar -- you should see the curds clump pretty quickly.)

Curds and whey
Pressing paneer
Line a strainer or colander with a thin cotton cloth, such as muslin or a tea towel. (Set a bowl underneath if you plan to save the whey.) Pour curds into the prepared strainer; if you're using spices, add them now. Pull up and tie the ends of the fabric so you can hang the ball of curds from the faucet, or from a kitchen spoon set across the bowl. I squeeze it a bit to get some of the whey out quickly. Let the ball hang for 15 to 30 minutes.

Pressed, cubed, and ready to go!
Untie the ball and gently rewrap the paneer in a cloth towel. Set on a plate or inverted bowl, and then top with something heavy -- a pot or cookbooks -- to press it. (I top mine with a cutting board and a cookbook or two.) Let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour. Unwrap, cut into cubes, and enjoy!

I use my paneer the same day, storing it wrapped in a damp towel in the fridge until it's time to cook. I've read that paneer can be refrigerated up to a week in water, changing the water every day or two as you would for tofu, and that it keeps well wrapped in a towel. It's also OK to freeze it, though I haven't done that and can't speak to how freezing affects the consistency. If anyone has more experience with storing paneer, let us know!

Cilantro-Mint Marinade

2 tablespoons yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 small green chile, minced
pinch of salt
squeeze of lime or lemon

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Add paneer cubes, stir gently to coat, and marinate at least an hour.

Turmeric-Curry Marinade

This looks like a lot of spice -- and it's still pretty mild. Keep the spices handy when you fry up the paneer, and add more if it isn't strong enough.

2 tablespoons yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon curry
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger or ginger paste
pinch of garam masala
pinch of salt
squeeze of lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Add paneer cubes, stir gently to coat, and marinate at least an hour.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Meyer Lemon and Poppy Seed Mini Cakes

Last week we had a baking fever here. One of the results of that oven craze was this lovely kind of muffin-teacake-cupcake. Meyer lemon is coming from all good neighbors' and friends' gardens this year, while my little tree is still working on more flowers to bring more fruits, and we all love love love the subtle yet tangy taste of this elegant lemon variety.

The original recipe was found a long time ago when I was craving lemon cake, and the result was amazing, even when butter was substituted with canola oil. The first time I followed it by the book, baking a tea cake. At this time those cute, well-designed new baking cups from Ikea were enough to call me to bake them again.

This post could actually also be about substituting ingredients, canola oil, or even how to adapt a recipe when your pantry doesn't have all ingredients that are called for. But I though that this cake was so moist, so good, and so inviting, that I decided to share it here.

My next time to playing with this recipe is to bake another batch to welcome my new next-door neighbors. I hope they will like it as much as we did -- as I am sure they will be able to smell the perfume emanating from the oven. And perhaps they will be so happy that they will share some of their cherries next summer.


Meyer Lemon and Poppy Seed Cakes (a little adapted from The Perfect Pantry)

As I mentioned, I used canola oil instead of butter and had amazing results. I bet it will also be great with some canola oil-based spread. Make sure to buy canola oil from a good source. I like Trader Joe's because it uses one of the best processes to extract the oil from the plant. If you want to know more about canola oil, I recommend and more at WebMD.

1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
2 to 4 teaspoons lemon zest (Meyer lemon), grated or chopped
2 large eggs
1/2 cup 2% fat milk
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, sifted with the flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1- 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
To cover the cakes (optional):
1/4 powdered sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice

Distribute baking cups in a cupcake baking sheet. Preheat oven to 350 F.

Mix sugar and canola oil to achieve a creamy texture. Add eggs and lemon zest. Gradually add eggs,  milk and flour (with the baking powder), salt and poppy seeds.  With a help of a ice cream scoop pour batter on the baking cups, filling up to 2/3 of each, maximum. Bake for about 20 minutes or until cakes are turning golden.

If you choose to have even more lemony taste, mix sugar with lemon juice until the sugar dissolves, and with the help of a teaspoon pour about two teaspoon of the mix over warm cakes.

Enjoy with your favorite tea in the company of your favorite friends.

Friday, February 11, 2011

For Your Valentine: Homemade Sweets

IMG_6015If heart-shaped boxes of chocolates aren't doing it for you, we dug up a few more decadent treats from our archives.

Ganache truffles are wonderfully rich, and simple to make. My favorite varieties include these floral notes from my garden, but you can easily tweak the recipes to add the flavors that make your loved ones go weak in the knees.

Homemade marshmallows are a little more complicated, but sweetly playful. A rose-kissed ganache tops these perfumed puffs of romance, and these sophisticated morsels combine chocolate with a splash of orange. If you really want to impress, marshmallow cake towers pile on the wow factor.

rose ganache

A few more ideas: Little ones might enjoy helping to make a custom box of chocolates using this easy recipe for fleur de sel bonbons; strawberry hearts and a swirl of jam make these cupcakes simply sweet; and for maximum decadence with minimum effort, it's hard to go wrong with panna cotta.

Have a lovely holiday!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

DIY Gourmet Nut Butters

110201_CPE_peanut butter_1

My sons are ambivalent about peanut butter -- unless it's Peanut Butter & Co.'s Cinnamon Raisin Swirl. It's mighty fine peanut butter, but I couldn't think of a reason why I should pay so much for PB&C to mix it up for us. One thing led to another, and before you know it we were mixing up three custom gourmet peanut butter blends -- from scratch.

It's spectacularly simple to make, and oh so easy to customize to suit your taste. Basically, throw your favorite nuts into a food processor with a bit of salt and let the machine work for a few minutes. Add oil, if you wish. Then start playing with flavor. The list of add-ins is limited only by your imagination. Some options: honey, brown sugar, nutmeg, chile, ginger, maple syrup, vanilla bean, coconut -- and the chocolate, curry, and cinnamon varieties below.

We set out carrots, crackers, apple slices, and flatbread wedges for sampling the flavors. The chocolate version was the biggest hit with the kids, while the grownups savored curry on apple slices. And cinnamon raisin has been the spread of choice on several sandwiches since.

110201_CPE_peanut butter_4

Nut Butter

Use these measurements as a rough guideline -- be sure to taste and adjust the seasoning as you blend your butter. I use roasted, unsalted peanuts. You can use the same technique with other types of nuts.

2 cups shelled, unsalted peanuts or other nuts
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons oil, such as peanut or sesame oil (optional)

Toss nuts into the work bowl of a food processor. Blend for a few minutes until smooth, adding salt while the machine is running. Add oil, if desired, drizzling in small amounts until you reach the consistency you like.

Chocolate Peanut Butter: For each cup of peanut better, start with 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon brown sugar. Blend well, taste, and adjust flavorings to suit your taste. To my surprise, the kids were thrilled with just the tablespoon of cocoa. I would have preferred more chocolatey flavor, but I didn't want to argue with kids who set reasonable limits.

Cinnamon Raisin Peanut Butter: For each cup of peanut better, add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 tablespoon brown sugar. Blend well, taste, and adjust flavorings to suit your taste. Stir in 1/2 cup raisins.

Curry Peanut Butter: For each cup of peanut better, add 3/4 teaspoon curry and 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika. Blend well, taste, and adjust flavorings to suit your taste.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pasta with Passion Sauce

Before you think that I lost my mind and was caught by a Valentine's Day fever,  a warning: All the colors of this dish come from nature. It was made last-minute after a hungry preschooler arrived at home, asking for some mac and cheese. The only bag of pasta I had was whole wheat fusilli, and the cheese sauce had to be made from scratch, which was not a problem, as I had many types of cheese in the fridge. A bundle of beetroot was there on the countertop, waiting for some use. And then the idea came quickly: what about a pink sauce?

The result is the recipe below. I ate a whole bowl of the pasta in a few minutes, while the kid was cautious about that "pink food" but ended up eating almost everything, when it had a bit of extra cheese on the top. He also enjoyed it, although his original idea was to have traditional mac'n cheese.  I might fall in love with this new way of adding beets to our plates, and this is perhaps just a first step towards a whole new world of colorful and healthier dishes on our table.

If you want to add other beautiful pink food to your menu in Valentine's day, here are some tips:

Pasta with Beets and Cheddar Sauce

4 cups of your favorite whole wheat pasta shape, cooked al dente
1 cup milk
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, sliced or shredded
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons raw red beet (about half of a medium beet), grated

Cook pasta as directed per package, until al dente. While the pasta cooks, warm milk and gradually add the cheese and nutmeg, whisking constantly with a metal wire whisk over a low flame. Mix constantly and when it starts to reduce, add grated beets. Simmer for about 10 minutes and add to the pasta. Enjoy it!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bad Bears' Blueberry Muffin Soup


My boys are big fans of Irving and Muktuk, the two bad bears of Jill and Daniel Pinkwater's Bad Bears series. They are indeed bad polar bears, and not to be trusted, but they are very funny. We first met the blueberry-muffin-loving pair in Bad Bears and a Bunny, in which Irving and Muktuk are excited to go to a party where the culinary delights include, among other happy things, blueberry muffin soup.

So, fresh on the heels of Anna's literary-inspired Stone Soup, here's what we imagine Irving, Muktuk, and their friends enjoyed.


Bad Bears' Blueberry Muffin Soup

Look for wild blueberries in the frozen food section. I like the small berries better in these tiny muffins. If you want to make this more of a dessert, Anna suggests adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

2 cups white whole wheat flour (or 1 cup each all-purpose and whole wheat)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
lemon zest (optional)
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 1/4 cups frozen wild blueberries

For the soup:
1 cup plain yogurt
3-4 tablespoons blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1/4 to 1/2 cup berry or orange juice

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and prepare a mini muffin pan.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, salt, cardamom, and nutmeg, then stir in the lemon zest. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg, then whisk in the milk, oil, and yogurt. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet mixture, stirring just enough to incorporate the ingredients. Gently stir in the blueberries.

Fill muffin cups and bake about 15 minutes, until the tops feel springy, or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool.

To make the soup, blend together blueberries and plain yogurt until smooth, adding juice until you get the consistency you like.

To serve, ladle soup into a bowl and add one or two muffins.


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