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Butter Chicken With Love

I followed the NY Times Butter Chicken recipe by Tom Sifton, which can be found here. I tried not to deviate from the recipe too much. Making it was a pleasure from start to finish. The strong and subtle aromas wafting out of the kitchen were reward in themselves. The taste was what I expected but much more. Homemade butter chicken can have noticeably more complex flavours than take out if you cook with patience and love.

We are so rushed in our daily lives. For many of us, cooking has become a chore that we try to hurry through. When you cook in the moment the process of cooking becomes a pleasure and the final result will show that you’ve taken your time. It isn’t a hyperbole to say that the secret ingredient in this dish is love.

I like the layout of the recipe itself as well. The side by side ingredients and steps make it easier to follow. I also really appreciate that the ingredients are listed in order of appearance, and not in order of grocery category (i.e. dairy, produce, meat etc).

A note on chicken. Probably the most important step in this recipe is cutting the chicken into nice looking, even sized cubes…or something approximating a cube. Doing this may take a little longer than you’re prepared to invest  but it will pay off.

Obviously, start with fresh ingredients. There’s a crucial step between grocery store and cooking that needs attention: your fridge. Keeping a clean and well organized fridge keeps your food fresher for longer. Foods stored in the fridge take on each others smells. If your fridge smells bad, everything in it will smell bad if you really pay attention.

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Which brings me to another crucial point: smell. Smell your garlic. Slow down and really get in there. Smell it with the peel on, smell it with the peel off. Smell everything. Get intimately acquainted with your food. When you treat the ingredients patiently and with high regard, they will shine in the final dish.

I try to always start with whole spices. The smell of freshly ground whole spices is a totally different world from even the freshest pre-ground spices. If you don’t believe me, crush some cumin or coriander and smell. They have so much more dimension and depth.

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I used a marble mortar and pestle. Cumin is particularly hard to crush and I have to admit I lost my patience a little bit with this step. Still, I resisted the temptation to pull out my magic bullet and pulverize these seeds into oblivion because I knew that not only would it change the flavour of the cumin, it would also show disregard for the process.

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It was worth it, if only for these pictures alone. There’s something timeless and universal about crushing spices. The smell, of course, is transcendent but its also the connection with the cooking. The feeling that you’re doing something that human hands across the world have done for probably millennia.

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Take your time cutting the onion, even if it stings your eyes. My method is to cut in half, then cut evenly spaces lines into each half, rotate 90 degrees and repeat.  Be mindful and totally in tune with your knife blade, cutting precise and even lines. Use your senses. Listen to the subtle sounds of knife through onion.

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I think the recipe called for fresh but this was all I had. I crushed two of them by hand and set aside. I didn’t wash my hands and then I touched my face. Be careful.

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Unlike the recipe calls for, I added the cumin seeds to the ghee first as is common in many Indian recipes (I think they call it blooming the spices.) I heated them until they started lightly popping, and then I added the diced onion. The smell was…like nothing else I’ve ever smelled in my kitchen before.

You can serve with plain basmati or add a little bit of subtle flavour, like a tsp of turmeric and the seeds of two cardamom pods. The cardamom seeds should be shiny and very dark, not grey or ashen looking. For the basmati, add 1 cup of rice and 2.5 cups of water to a pan along with a sprinkle of salt and any flavourings you’re adding. Stir lightly. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes on medium-low until the water level has reached the rice. Cover and continue cooking for 5 minutes, then turn the heat off and leave undisturbed until ready to serve. Don’t uncover.

I used ghee and almond oil to cook the chicken. I had frozen homemade chicken stock that I added to deglaze. I cooked the chicken in two batches, adding the finishes first batch to the pot of sauce and then when the second batch was ready I poured the contents of the sauce pot back into the cast iron skillet. I simmered lightly for another 5 or 10 minutes.

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Heirloom Tomato Tart with Gruyère & Thyme

It was such a pleasure making this tart. Bogdan and I met up with some friends at Eastern Market on Saturday and there were beautiful heirloom tomatoes everywhere. I didn’t have any plans for them but I had to have some. Just look how beautiful they are. Slicing them for this tart was almost as good as eating the finished product. The smell of sweet fresh tomatoes filled my kitchen and I couldn’t have been happier.

I’ve seen quite a few tomato tarts on Pinterest lately and they all look so wonderful. I decided that would be the best way to highlight the tomatoes while also making something really eye-catching. You know what’s amazing about food? The sheer variety of preparation methods that can transform virtually the same ingredients from a margherita pizza to a rustic tomato tart. It’s incredible.

So about this tart. It looks really impressive but it’s surprising how simple it is to make. I made my own pie dough (recipe & instructions below) but you can substitute store bought if you prefer – that would make it even simpler. I think I used about 250 grams / 8.8 oz of tomatoes.  I used the small ones because I liked the look of it but you can also use large ones or even both. They have to be sliced thinly then laid out on a paper towel lined surface and sprinkled with salt so they release water and you don’t end up with a runny pie. It’s really easy to over-salt so just remember while you’re salting that what you sprinkle on the tomatoes to release water will also end up in your tart.

Gruyère and thyme has been my favourite combination lately. I bought a little thyme bush from the farmers market a couple weeks ago and I’ve been using it in everything. The combination of gruyère and thyme is a classic. It lets the tomatoes shine while still adding a bit of interest. I garnished with a small sprig of basil just for appearances but you could also fully substitute basil and pecorino for the gruyère and thyme.

You’ll notice that there aren’t a lot of ingredients in this tart. Simple preparations like this are meant to highlight the quality of the few ingredients used. In this case, the tomatoes were really the star of the recipe and their quality and taste was noticeable. Try to take advantage of the harvest heirlooms available at farmers markets this time of year. Also, if at all possible don’t shy away from making your own pie dough. Not only does it taste infinitely better than store bought, but it also isn’t full of preservatives, stabilizers, colours and whatever else  store bought doughs are always full of (have you ever looked at the ingredients? It’s scary). The flour you choose makes a big difference too. My personal favourite (for almost everything I make) is Antimo Caputo Chef’s “00” Flour, however, for pastry it’s best to avoid a high gluten flour and use an AP instead. As always, unbleached is always better.

Unless you have somewhere you can buy all natural pie dough, make it yourself. It’s part of the experience. The secret is just to keep all the ingredients super cold – then it’s (almost) fool-proof. Also, this particular dough is made with a combination of lard and butter, which provides an ideal flour-to-fat ratio. If you don’t have or prefer not to use lard it’s best to substitute vegetable shortening instead of more butter because all butter can make for a mealy pie dough that’s hard to work with.

The recipe here is adapted from the recipe in The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friburg. I cut the recipe in half, reduced the salt and changed the method a little bit.


Pie Dough


Ingredients

350 grams / 12 oz unbleached AP flour

1 tsp salt

225 grams / 8 oz cold salted butter (very cold)

70 grams / 2.5 oz lard or vegetable shortening (very cold)

Approximately 1/3 of a cup ice water

Method

** A well known pie dough making hack is to grate frozen butter or lard. This is a great idea and makes the process much easier. However, know that if you do grate it you should refreeze for 10-15 minutes in case it’s warmed up from your body heat or the friction of the grater.

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and lard and quickly mix without handling it too much until just incorporated.

Sprinkle on the ice water and mix just until the dough comes together. It should still look chunky.

Flatten with a rolling pin, cover and let rest in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. My preferred method is to roll it out on a large sheet of aluminum foil, then fold over the edges and put it into the freezer as is. When I take it out I can flip it upside down and lay it into my tart shell then peel off the foil with little damage to the dough.

When the dough has chilled enough, press it into a tart shell. I used a very shallow (about 1 inch / 2.5 cm) tart pan that’s 10 inch / 25 cm across. I had a small handful of dough leftover so I think this would be enough to cover a 2 inch deep pan as well (especially if you don’t make the crust as thick as mine was).

Blind bake the tart dough (without anything in it) at 375 F / 190 C for 15 minutes. You can use pie weights or beans if you choose but I generally don’t.  You can move on to the tart recipe at this point.

When finished baking, remove from heat and assemble following instructions below. Leave the oven on.

**Makes about 700 grams / 1.5 lbs of pie dough.


Tart


Ingredients

250 – 300 grams fresh heirloom tomatoes (either cherry or full sized)

1 prebaked pie or tart crust

1 TBSP fresh thyme + a bit more for garnish (fresh really makes a difference but if you have to use dry then substitute 1 tsp dried thyme for 1 TBSP fresh)

100 grams / 3.5 oz grated gruyère + more for garnish (after baking)

Method

Thinly slice the tomatoes (as thin as you have the patience for) and lay them out on a paper towel lined surface. Sprinkle with salt and let them sit for at least 30 minutes so they release water and you don’t end up with a runny pie. It’s really easy to over-salt so just remember while you’re salting that what you sprinkle on the tomatoes to release water will also end up in your tart.

Take your tart or pie shell and sprinkle 1/3 of the thyme, then 1/3 of the cheese and layer on enough tomatoes to cover. Repeat for 2 more layers, using the rest of the ingredients. I had a few tomato slices leftover that I just ate as they were. If you have leftovers or not enough, adjust accordingly The tart should be relatively full so if you use a 2 inch tart pan then you’ll need to double your filling. PS: The top of the tart should be tomatoes and not cheese because the cheese will harden unpleasantly.

Bake at 375 F / 190 C for 15 – 20 minutes or until crust is a nice golden colour and tomatoes have dried.

Remove from heat and allow to cool 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle with more thyme and gruyère.

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Harvest Biryani With Chickpeas, Dried Cranberries & Pepitas

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Earlier this week I wrote about cooking with Fall flavours beyond pumpkin spice. There’s literally a world of flavours out there that we don’t associate with Fall nearly enough. Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines perfectly represent the richness and abundance of Fall. After all, what says Fall more than spices and long slow cooking methods?

This harvest biryani really brings out the tastes of the season. It’s rich and aromatic, perfect with seasoned meat or vegetables. The chickpeas and pepitas add great variety and texture, while the dried sweetened cranberries add juicy pops of sweetness and beautiful ruby tones. Don’t they look like little jewels?

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Once it’s assembled it only takes about 15 minutes to cook. I served it with ras el hanout rubbed boneless chicken thigh and I think dinner was ready in about 40 minutes total. Really quick for such an aromatic meal. Traditional accompaniments are lemon wedges and yogurt or raita. I splashed a bit of lemon juice, a dash of cumin, and some chopped cilantro into goat milk yogurt for a quick cool side. A bit of fresh chopped cilantro on the rice as a garnish provides a bright counterpoint to the spices and really brings out more complex flavours.

I think of biryani more as a cooking method than an actual dish.  Traditional ingredients used to make biryani are so varied. It can be made with a lot of different of spices, meats and vegetables and still be called biryani. At its origins biryani is simply a stewed and seasoned rice dish. I think what makes it unique is the cooking method.  Rather than being boiled the seasoned rice is steamed in a sealed container. I used a heavy bottomed pot that I sealed tightly with aluminum foil, a plate and a bowl on top of the plate (to weigh it down). I’ve made biryani before in both a pressure cooker and a dutch oven with the same results so feel free to use any of these options as long as you create a tight seal that won’t let any steam escape.

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Ingredients

1 cup of basmati rice

2 cups of water

1/2 yellow onion, sliced finely into thin rings

2-3 TBSP of oil or ghee for frying

1 can cooked chickpeas, drained

60 grams / 2 oz sweetened dried cranberries (mine were quite large so I rough chopped them into smaller bits)

1/2 tsp salt (more to taste)

60 grams / 2 oz pepitas

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cardamom

2 cups of water

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Method

Rinse rice and add to a pot of salted water

While water is coming to a boil, heat oil or ghee in a pan

Fry the sliced onion on high / medium-high heat until browned (you’re aiming for crisp brown not translucent so try not to crowd the onions in the pan)

Remove onions to a paper towel lined plate to drain

As soon as the rice comes to a boil immediately remove from heat and strain

Put rice in a bowl and mix with the chickpeas, cranberries and salt

Heat another small saucepan and quickly dry roast the pepitas, turmeric, and cardamom (this is optional but it really adds flavour)

Add the pepitas, turmeric and cardamom to the bowl and mix well

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Pour 2 cups of water into your heavy bottom pot, dutch oven, or pressure cooker

Using a large spoon gently put the rice onto the liquid

Top with the fried onion

Seal tightly and cook for 15 minutes on medium-high heat

When finished remove from heat and let sit sealed for another 10 minutes so the steam absorbs

Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with yogurt or raita

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