Chicken Biryani

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When I first made biryani a million years ago, or so it seems, it was a fun dish for me because it was a perfect vehicle for leftovers – leftover rice, leftover chicken, even a leftover curry. But one can also make it purposefully from scratch, creating a custom version of what you like.

Biryani is an Indian dish, with many variations, which is perfect for the way I like to cook. It’s basically rice and meat, and you can sprinkle the dish with cilantro or green onions, serve with sour cream. It’s fun and flavorful and filling.

I’m not using an actual recipe, simply so I can show you how to make it from scratch and how easy and straight forward biryani is. I’m using the basic Indian-inspired seasonings, basmati rice, and prepared chicken.

After I’d created the seasonings for this biryani, I discovered an actual biryani seasoning mixture that I bought a few years ago. I need to go through my spice drawers!

Chicken Biryani
Printable recipe below

3 tablespoons ghee or butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 – 1” piece of ginger, minced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 3/4 cups basmati rice, I’m using brown
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, or to taste
Approximately 3 1/2 cups of good chicken broth
4 grilled chicken breasts
2 tablespoons ghee
1 red bell pepper, cut into slices
1 green bell pepper, cut into slices
4 hard-boiled eggs
1 bunch cilantro, chopped

Melt the ghee in a pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes.

Add the ginger and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic, give it a stir, then pour in the rice followed by the spices.

Add the broth and give everything a stir. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook for about 30 minutes. Brown rice takes a bit longer so test it. If your rice is done and there’s still some broth, give it a stir, keep the lid on, and give it about 10 minutes; the rice will absorb the liquid. Set aside and keep warm.

Cut up the cooked chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces. I put sweet paprika on mine before cooking, which is why they’re red; paprika is not an Indian spice. Set the chicken aside.

In a skillet, heat the ghee over medium-high heat, and sauté the pepper slices for about 5 minutes, getting some good caramelization on them, turning once. You might have to do this in two batches. Set the slices on a plate.

Add the chicken pieces, turn off the heat, put on a lid, and let the chicken heat through.

Peel the hard-boiled eggs and slice in half; make sure they’re at room temperature.

To serve, place the aromatic rice on a serving platter, then cover with the peppers and chicken. If you prefer, you can mix the chicken with the rice instead.

Decorate the biryani with the egg halves, and sprinkle the dish with cilantro.

If you don’t want to grill chicken breasts, pick apart a rotisserie chicken and coarsely chop the meat.

If you want to use less chicken, include a can of drained chick peas to the rice.

Now you can see how you can come up with your own recipe for biryani. It’s fun and easy!

 

 

Saltado with Shrimp

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Where I live, in a town of 50,000, there is no “fine” dining. There are three restaurants my husband and I go to (I can’t even say frequent) when I want a break from cooking. Sadly, we maintain low expectations. Otherwise, we’d be terribly disappointed, instead of just able to laugh things off.

It’s not only the lack of quality and consistency of the food, but the terrible menus (this problem is not limited to my town) and the crazy bad service.

The only exception is Mexican restaurants. Thank god for these. There are quite a few, and we have our favorites, but it took years for them to reach the quality they are today. I can’t count how many times we experienced rancid chips or stale chips, overcooked chicken, bad salsa, etc. And why serve queso that’s “free” but tastes like dish water?

Anyway, we are now enjoying happier times when it comes to local Mexican restaurants. My favorite is one with a salsa bar. My husband’s favorite serves decent tasting salsa, but it’s served ice cold, and I’m constantly removing tomato peels from my mouth, which drives me crazy. But my husband loves their quesadillas.

We were at this restaurant recently when I spotted a menu item called Saltado, which could be chicken, beef, or shrimp. I was served this lovely plate of food, after choosing shrimp version.

What I loved about this dish was that the shrimp were perfectly cooked, and it was fresh and light. This isn’t typical with Mexican food in Oklahoma, being that we’re so close to Texas. But this Saltado could have been served at a Mexican restaurant in Malibu.

It turns out that Saltado originates from Peru, but when I read about it, it was really nothing like what I was served, so I’m not going to get into it. Like the fact that’s it’s more of a Chinese stir fry with beef, vegetables, and French fries. What? Maybe I shouldn’t google.

So here is my rendition of Saltado.

Saltado with Shrimp

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 poblano chile peppers, finely chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons of oil
1 1/2 pounds raw shrimp, cleaned, peeled
Tajin seasoning or your favorite seasoning salt
Chopped cilantro

For serving:
Street-sized flour tortillas
Guacamole
Sour cream
Refried beans

In a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add the onion and peppers and toss them around until there’s a bit of caramelization, then turn down the heat and sauté for 8-10 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Add the tomatoes and seasoning, and cook gently until there’s no liquid in the skillet.

Once the vegetables are “dry” place them on a serving platter. Cover lightly with foil to keep warm and set aside.

Heat the same skillet, dried out with paper towels if necessary, with the oil. Over medium heat, sauté the shrimp just until they’re pink and opaque. Season them generously with Tajin Seasoning. Place the shrimp over the vegetables.

Sprinkle the chopped cilantro over the top, if desired, and serve immediately.

Offer warm tortillas and bowls of guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gaillo or salsa. If you have (crazy) people eating who don’t like cilantro, serve it separately in a bowl as well.

If you prefer, roast the poblano peppers first, then peel, remove seeds, and chop. You won’t need to sauté them with the onions.

I also served refried beans heated with some cheese. At the restaurant they serve both beans and rice.


And, this mixture works really well for making shrimp tacos!

Summer Corn Chowder

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Summer is not my favorite season. But without a second house somewhere in the northern climes, I must endure heat and humidity from May through September.

There are a few good things that I do appreciate – tomatoes, basil, and zinnias. Lots of zinnias to add color to my house. They make me happy.

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Although I don’t grow it myself, corn is readily available from local farms, and I’ve really come to appreciate the humble corn on the cob since living in the Midwest.

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Which brings me to this simple corn chowder that I made with extra corn I had on hand.

Corn and Chicken Chowder

1 small chicken
4 cobs of corn
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups, approximately, chicken broth
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

Poach the chicken using basic ingredients, like onion, celery, carrots, and bay leaves. After 1 1/2 hours, remove the chicken from the broth and let cool. If you need a tutorial on poaching chicken, check out Poached Chicken if you’ve never done this before.

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Strain the broth and cook the corn in it. Remove the corn and let cool.

If you have lots of broth leftover, let it reduce gently on the stove.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the onion, red bell pepper and celery, and saute for about 5 minutes.

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Stir in the garlic, and after about 30 seconds, add 2 cups of broth, and then the cream. Let the mixture cook over low heat for about 15 minutes.

At that time, remove the meat from the chicken bones, then add it to the soup.

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To add the corn, simply hold the corn cobs on the edge of the pot, and using a small knife, cut parallel to the cobs, cutting the kernels loose.

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Stir the soup well, and add the seasoning. Taste for salt and pepper.

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If you wanted to make a Southwestern soup, you could add cumin, coriander, a little ancho chile paste or green chiles, maybe chorizo, and lots of fresh cilantro. Normally this is what I would have done, since my tastes tend toward a spicier direction.

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I use thyme a lot in fall and winter cooking, and I probably decided to use it in this soup because I’m subconsciously wishing it was cooler outside!

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Oh well, only one more hot month to go. And I still have my zinnias.

note: You could also add cooked potatoes to this soup, or include white beans, even with the chicken. Heartier and healthier!

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Sriracha Gazpacho

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During the years my younger daughter lived in London, I “smuggled” Sriracha sauce in my suitcase for her at every visit. It just wasn’t a product she could find in London. I always double-bagged the 28-ounce plastic bottle with sealable bags. Can you imagine if 28 ounces of hot sauce exploded in your suitcase?!!

On Amazon.com, the 28-ounce bottle of Sriracha can be purchased for $3.74. And imagine how long that bottle will last? Well, everyone except for my daughter who puts it on everything, any time of day. It’s an inexpensive addiction, at least.

My mother recently sent me The Sriracha Cookbook just for fun! The author is Chef Randy Clemens, and his book was published in 2011.

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In the introduction, Chef Clemens tells the lengthy story of the over 30-year history of this now ubiquitous “rooster” sauce. It was originally a Thai product. David Tran, born in Vietnam of Chinese decent, brought it to American after being forcibly moved for political reasons. Once settled in Chinatown in Los Angeles, he started Huy Fong Foods, and in 1983 created Tu’o’ng Ó’t Sriracha. The familiar rooster on the squeeze bottle represents the year of Tran’s birth on the Chinese zodiac.

Being that Sriracha is more of a seasoning than an ingredient, I was a little skeptical about the originality of the cookbook’s recipes. I mean, I think we’ve all squirted some Sriracha into mayo or pho for some zing. But the recipes are overall unique, and definitely embrace spicy foods, which my whole family enjoys – especially my Sriracha addict!

I chose to make a spicy Sriracha Gazpacho from the cookbook.

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Sriracha Gazpacho
From The Sriracha Cookbook

6 large beefsteak tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1/2 red onion, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
4 stalks celery, diced
3 Persian cucumbers, diced
2 small jalapeños, seeded and minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup Sriracha, plus more for garnish
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 avocado, thinly sliced, for garnish
2 green onions, white and green parts, sliced diagonally, for garnish.

Puree the tomatoes in a food mill, blender, or food processor. (I used a food mill and didn’t peel and seed the tomatoes first.)

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In a large nonreactive mixing bowl, combine the puree with the onion, yellow and green bell peppers, celery, cucumbers, jalapeños, garlic, parsley, cilantro, Sriracha, lemon juice, and oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until ready to use, to allow the flavors to marry.

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Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with the avocado slices and a squiggle of Sriracha.

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Top with the green onions, and finish it off with a friendly drizzle of olive oil.

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note 1: I made a smaller batch, but I respected the ratio of ingredients.

note 2: I used a regular cucumber, de-seeded.

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note 3: I used lime juice instead of lemon juice.

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note 4: I didn’t use a green bell pepper because I am not fond of them.

verdict: I absolutely loved this gazpacho! Even the next day it was delicious. The whole soup could easily be made in a food processor, but I decided I liked the texture of the bits of vegetables. Next time I wouldn’t change a thing!

Easy Creamy Vegetable Soup

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So many people I know don’t make soups because they think it’s difficult. Hopefully after reading this post, many of you will run to the kitchen, with the most minimum of ingredients, and try out this recipe. All you need is a favorite vegetable that you want to turn into a luscious, creamy soup.

Back when I was feeding my young children, it seemed that they would always eat soup over a vegetable. Even if it was the same vegetable! So I made a lot of soups.

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You don’t have to limit yourself to the soup as is. You can always sprinkle on different cheeses, add a dollop of sour cream, add grilled chicken, Polish or Italian sausage, or ham. Then it becomes a meal!

What I love is that there are so many different ways of making a basic soup like the one I’m making today.

The vegetable choices:
Butternut Squash
Pumpkin
Acorn Squash
Carrot
Parsnip
Cauliflower
Broccoli
Zucchini
Sweet potato
And so forth.

Next, the aromatics:
Onion
Garlic
Ginger
Leeks
Shallots
Celery
Bell peppers

The creaminess:
Heavy cream
1/2 and 1/2
evaporated milk
sour cream
creme fraiche
goat’s milk
almond milk
soy milk
hemp milk
coconut milk
and so forth.

There are many seasonings that can be added to home-made soups as well, but I want to keep this vegetable soup simple. Once you figure out how easy it is, you’ll be excited and motivated to get creative with flavors from your refrigerator and pantry! (I’m talking curry powder, pesto, chipotle peppers, Thai curry paste, etc.)

So here’s my basic recipe, and I hope you make it your own!

Creamy Broccoli Soup

2 heads broccoli, approximately 2 pounds after trimming
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled, halved
Chicken or vegetable broth
6 ounces evaporated milk, or less
Butter, optional
Salt
White pepper, optional
Cheese, optional

Rinse the broccoli, then coarsely chop it. Place it in a stock pot. Add the onion and garlic.

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Pour in your broth until it comes about halfway up the layer of vegetables.

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Bring the broth to a boil, then cover the pot and let things simmer for 20-30 minutes. If you’re worried you have a lot of extra broth, leave off the lid, or have it offset to allow steam to escape.

Let the mixture cool.

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This is also the time I had a tab of butter, about 1 or 2 tablespoons, a little salt, and a little white pepper. The butter adds a richness to the soup, but it can be omitted, of course.

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Place the vegetables in the jar of your blender using a slotted spoon. Pour a little bit of broth into the blender, just to get it blending.

Then add the evaporated milk until you have the consistency you like.

I do it this way, because if you add all of the broth first, the soup might end up to watery, On the other hand, if soup is too thick, then you still have broth to add. Of course, it all depends how thick you like your soups.

I like my vegetable soups thick and creamy. Thin, watery soups are not my thing.

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At this point, if you’d like to make a cheesy cream to top the soup, mix together a good goat or sheep’s cheese with a tablespoon or so of evaporated milk or cream, and blend until smooth.

If you make a cheesy cream, I hope you’re more creative than I am at making an appealing-looking presentation!

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Alternatively, just crumble the cheese on top of the soup; I used Valbreso. Children would love grated cheddar on this soup.

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You could also top the soup with a few croutons.

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There! Now you’ve made a creamy vegetable soup! See how easy it is?

note: Any vegetable can be made into a soup, however, some won’t work quite as well. For example, a cucumber is a very watery vegetable and it’s typically not served warm. It is good in a gazpacho, however, which is a cold soup of sorts. Eggplant would work as a soup, but the color wouldn’t be very pretty. if that doesn’t bother you, then use eggplant. Also, I wouldn’t mix a green vegetable with an orange vegetable. If you’ve ever played with paints, you know that orange and green do not make a pretty color! Soup making is a lot about common sense!

Red Pepper Confit

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Confit is a French term for something cooked in fat – the most well known being duck confit, which is duck legs cooked in duck fat. But I’m thinking that the term is used a little more loosely these days, because I’m starting to see more vegetable confits.

One vegetable confit I’ve made is with piquillo peppers, based on a Spanish recipe, so I’m using that as inspiration today to make a red pepper confit with over-the-counter roasted red bell peppers. Piquillo peppers are fabulous, but honestly, I’m not sure I could tell the difference between roasted piquillos and roasted red bell peppers in a blind taste test.

For this confit, I’m not using duck fat, but olive oil. It’s a good way a have a vegetarian option for anyone stopping by around New Year’s.

This confit is an easy recipe, and it stores for quite a while in the refrigerator, assuming there’s any left over. So here’s my recipe, and I must say, it’s pretty darn good and addicting!

Confit of Red Bell Peppers

2 – 16 ounce jars roasted red bell peppers, whole or in pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Few grindings black pepper
Olive oil
Crostini

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees farenheit. Drain the roasted red bell peppers well in a colander, then lay them on paper towels and blot them dry.

Place the peppers in a jar of a food processor. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the salt, and blend, but not until it’s smooth – we’re not making baby food. It shouldn’t be chunky, but there should be some texture to the mixture.

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This recipe makes about 6 cups of confit, so choose what size baking dishes to use. I used two smaller heat-proof dishes so I could freeze one while serving the confit in the other. (But I’d personally use only one dish fairly shallow dish if I was expecting extra folks over.)

Place the baking dishes on a jelly-roll baking pan. Pour the red bell pepper mixture into your baking dishes. Divide the sliced garlic between the dishes, and top with a few grindings of black pepper. Then carefully pour olive oil onto the red bell pepper mixture until it covers it by at least 1/4 inch.

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Cover the dishes tightly with foil. Place in the oven and cook for exactly one hour. Turn off the oven and remove the foil, but leave the baking dishes in the oven to cool slightly, for about 30 minutes. Then remove them from the oven to continue cooling.

If you’re having the confit right away, serve warm, with a little serving spoon. If not, let it completely cool, cover again with foil, and refrigerate.

Serve the confit with hearty seedy crackers, pita breads, or crostini, as part of an hors d’oeuvres platter. I served mine as is, but it’s also fabulous paired with cheese – especially a creamy goat cheese.

The confit would also be fabulous in a panini, or processed with white beans for a roasted red bell pepper-flavored white bean dip. So many options!

note: I sprinkled the crostini in the photos with chopped fresh rosemary and it was really good. Next time I might stick a fresh rosemary sprig in with the baking confit…

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