March 29, 2011

Indian Butter Chicken

The name makes this wonderfully aromatic tomato cream sauce sounds scarily fatty, but fear not. I cut back on butter and used yogurt (yogurt idea stolen from Life's Ambrosia) instead of cream, and I believe the dish was all the better for it. When you've got ginger and garam marsala and cardamom and garlic and chili powder, why do you need extra butter and cream?
I'm pretty sure the recipes I based it off of had to be somewhat Americanized because my not-always-adventurous fellow eaters were called it "delicious" and "different." Generously adding the right spices kept it from being bland like my one other attempt at Indian cuisine, hopefully getting the final product somewhere closer to authenticity. It was also pretty quick prep for weeknight dinner.

I just need a Trader Joe's nearby (please, Trader Joe's powers that be) next time I make it so I can grab some naan. (Naan is an Indian flat bread sort of like pita bread but better.) Or I need to stop by an Indian restaurant. Or something so I can complete the full sauce-rice-naan Indian food trifecta.

March 24, 2011

Chewy Chocolate Blondies

I know I should spend less time with my laptop and more time with real people. I like to rationalize that all that screen time provides fodder for baking creativity and hence better quality time with people afterward; butter and sugar always make things better. Because I spend too much time online, I discovered how much of a baking goddess Dorie Greenspan is. And because I spend too much time online, I found this blondie recipe and knew must-bake because it's Dorie's. Now I just need to buy one of her baking books.

Essential ingredients in these babes are the semi-sweet chips, flaked coconut, and chopped pecans. The texture of all those goodies makes each bar a bit crumbly, distinct of the way thick and dense Reese's-topped blondies I made before. Like any good variation on the chocolate chip cookie, they also have that irresistible flair of buttery dough. Even ye who fear nuts (which is sometimes me) and coconut tainting your dessert should try them.
I added these treats to Sweet as a Sugar Cookies' Sweets for Saturday #10. Lots of yummies there!

Update: My friend Amber at Domestic Wannabe baked a chocolate-peanut butter variation on this recipe that looks equally amazing.

March 22, 2011

Why I Cook

Food 52's cooking manifesto inspired me to write one of my own. I resorted to my go-to framework for talking of food: overusing the word "love." This is the order I prioritize things in actuality, but if I lived how I want to live, my orientation would be flip-flopped.

Because I love good food.
Because crafting food shares love.
Because food (and creativity) comes from love (from God!).

 Cooking Love with Friends: Megan prepping some salmon and asparagus to grill.
Food 52's manifesto hits things I value spot-on too:

If you cook, your family will eat dinner together.
If you cook, you will naturally have a more sustainable household.
If you cook, you'll set a lifelong example for your children.
If you cook, you'll understand what goes into food and will eat more healthily.
If you cook, you'll make your home an important place in your life.
If you cook, you'll make others happy.
If you cook, people will remember you.

Why do you cook?

March 18, 2011

Three Things: Better-than-Leftovers Salads

Sometime between high school and semi-adulthood, leftovers evolved from reheated food I dreaded to a delicious meal that required no work and no payment. A meal on round two earns all the better name for itself with a bit of reinvention. What's easier than throwing leftovers into a salad, especially when their taste triumphs their original incarnation? (Note: this idea might not work as well for meatloaf.)

Salty Salmon and Potato Salad

The Leftovers: salmon, roasted potatoes
The Additions: salad greens
The Dressing: capers, dill, red wine vinegar, olive oil

Crunchy Chicken Couscous Salad

The Leftovers: Chicken and couscous (or rice)
The Additions: chopped green pepper, green onion, shredded carrot, dried cranberries, sliced almonds
The Dressing: olive oil and red wine vinegar

Barbecue Salad

The Leftovers: barbecue pork (or chicken)
The Additions: tomatoes, corn, black beans, tortilla chips (all from the pantry!)
The Dressing: the avocado vinaigrette that inspired the salad

March 15, 2011

Mint-Iced Brownie Bites

Don't go into the grocery store a few days before St. Patrick's Day. The bakery section will grab hold of you and force you to adjust your productive plans for the day to make something green and sugary.

I skipped the clover art and went for a green that had a culinary purpose beyond green dye. Okay, the frosting had food dye in it, but it felt more legit with peppermint flavor.

I had feared these guys wouldn't match up to the Brownie Bites with cream cheese frosting sold at fine natural grocery stores. I was doubtful when cutting a super hot brownie out of the tin led to a crumbly yet deliciously chocolatey mess. Then, once I remembered this thing  called patience and let them cool slightly, a perfect shape popped out and tasted even better because it wasn't burning my tongue. They've got crispy edges for you strange outer brownie eaters, and gooey insides for we enlightened inside brownie eaters.

March 8, 2011

Chicken, Sausage, and Shrimp Gumbo

I realize the party that is Mardis Gras is pretty much over, but all the Cajun food buzz on Twitter the past few days finally convinced me to try my hand at gumbo. Filled with three meats, lots of veggies, and a spicy kick, it was a delighful meal for a dreary, rainy Tuesday night.

Between the gumbo and the green, purple, and yellow sugar crystals on some banana cupcakes (gotta dessert-ify brown bananas), we had our own little bit of Mardis Gras in my kitchen tonight. And it was all in time to splurge before Lent, except it wasn't really a splurge because the gumbo and cupcakes were technically light—but delicious nonetheless—recipes.

March 7, 2011

Lenten Diet?

Has Lent has become a type of diet? You give up something that’s bad for you for 40 days and then switch from famine to feast on Easter Sunday (and the Sundays in between if you cheat). You might even lose a few pounds or become a little less addicted to caffeine or Facebook in the process.
One year I gave up what seemed a great sacrifice, chocolate. Even being the chocoholic I am, self-discipline and yogurt-covered pretzels carried me through with little need to look beyond myself. I even thought I was becoming a better, less food-obsessed person because I began to crave the wondrous cocoa less. Retrospectively, I realize I missed the whole point of a fast.

I now see I have to be careful to monitor my intentions. Am I doing this just to see if I can make it through or to wean myself off a bad habit? Or is this a God-honoring sacrifice?

One thing I did have on target in my chocolate fast was that the most significant thing for me to sacrifice is food. TV, facebook, caffeine, music, whatever I can live without just fine (and it’s hard to give up the internet or reading when you have a job), but lunch, dinner, snack time, dessert, baking, cooking, food shopping, it’s all what I most look forward to everyday. And so when I go 24 hours (as long as I’ve ventured thus far) without eating, as I did once a week last Lent, every hunger pain reminds me that I am incessantly dependant on something, someone, beyond myself. It’s not comfortable, there are no yogurt-covered pretzels to substitute, and I certainly can’t do it on my own.

Another good Lenten discipline can be to take something on instead of giving it up. This year I’m thinking about setting aside extra time for prayer or daily writing notes to encourage people in my life. The Church Health Center in Memphis suggests taking on healthy eating and is blogging different healthy recipes.

Ash Wednesday, the official start of the Lenten season, is in two days. What are you considering taking on or giving up?

UPDATE: I just found a campaign called Wine to Water that encourages people to donate to water projects in Zimbabwe the money they would have spent on whatever they give up for Lent. Another great idea! This give site is in the UK, but you could easily easily calcuate the amount you are not spending and give it to whatever nonprofits you like to support. 

March 3, 2011

Chocolate Oreo Cake: A Romance

Note: You have my official permission to make fun of my quirky, extremely girly analogy in this post.

The only thing that speaks to my heart a decadent layer cake like this chocolate Oreo beauty is a good story in the form of a Jane Austen-esque romance. Both are so worthy of being devoured.

I could whip up a box cake mix in a 13x9-inch pan and top it with some canned icing. Or, I could devote hours to the creation of a homemade layer cake. I could watch a rom-com of the variety where two people fall in love over a 10 minute montage. Or, I could devote hours to absorbing a story wrought with romantic tension not resolved until the ending. Quick gratification or an utter high on life from devotion to something superior—I choose the latter.

It is in the long process of mixing flour and sugar, waiting for layers to bake, mixing and spreading icing that true quality cake comes into being. And it is in the pages and pages of prose or the hours of a BBC miniseries that a relationship between two people, often filled with frustration and misunderstanding, can really form a bond where they really love one another for who they are (ahh, true love).

Along the way, you can gain a taste of what is to come from cake batter, cake crumbs, and icing, as you can from all the tension in a relationship as attraction develops.

In the end, what more could a girl want than romance and chocolate? But such delights are not an ultimate fulfillment, for both treats must be devoured on occasion and in moderation. I know we must be wary of fat and calories, just as I, for one, must be careful not to let period piece fairy tales (e.g. Mr. Darcy, whose bust is quite real) shape my view of reality.

To be truthful, this cake was first inspired by Oreos and then by my small group coming over for dinner. But the day I was planning the Oreo cream filling and chocolate icing, I happened to have a particularly delightful conversation about mutual fascination with Jane Austen novels, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, and the Little Dorrit miniseries. Before long, the romance of the two became tied in my head.

Another truth revealed: I used Country Choice, wannabe Oreos from Whole Foods, for the chocolate sandwich cookies.