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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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Classic Tarte Tatin

I have a confession to make. This is my third time trying to make this tart. The first time it sort of fell apart. The second time it burned. I was so determined to make it and I’m still not really sure why. It seemed so chic and…classically French.

What makes a tarte tatin what it is is the process of cooking the apples underneath the pastry and then flipping it upside down…or right-side up. I gave up on the classic for a little while and tried my hand at potato leek with thyme. I got the hang of it!

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In order for it to work you need a buttered non-stick skillet (about 9 inches / 23 cm ) and precise cooking – see below. Once I knew how to make one type of tarte tatin, it was only a matter of trying my hand again at the classic. It’s really fun to make and the fact that you flip it upside down makes it a bit more forgiving as far as pastry skills go.I really prefer making my own pie dough. It tastes better and isn’t full of artificial fillers. Check the ingredients on any store bought dough you’re considering before buying. 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 bread 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 onto the apples then peel off the foil with little damage to the dough.

When the dough has chilled enough, you’re going to use it to cover the apples. I used a 9 inch  23 cm non-stick skillet that was about 2 inches / 5 cm high. You’ll probably have some dough leftover if you use the same size…maybe make a hand pie? If you go larger, remember to also make more filling.

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


Tart


Ingredients

5-6 medium sized baking apples like McIntosh or Gala

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 TBSP salted butter (melted) + a bit more to butter the pan

1 tsp cinnamon (I’m obsessed with Vietnamese cinnamon at the moment)

Dash of salt

 

Method

Preheat oven to 375 F / 190 C with a rack in the upper 1/3.

Peel and core the apples then slice them into 1 cm wedges.

Toss them in a bowl with the sugar, butter, cinnamon and salt.

Arrange them in a buttered non-stick skillet in whatever way looks nice to you. I did a sort of swirl on the outside and another swirl going in the opposite direction on the inside.

Cover with the pie dough above or store bought. I like to gently push the edges down to envelope the apples.

Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes or until pastry has turned golden.

Allow to cool for 10 – 15 minutes and then place a plate over the tart and, using both hands, flip both upside down so the tart slides onto the plate. It should slide out without any issues.

Garnish with powdered sugar, toasted walnuts, or salted caramel.

so. good.

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The Original Martini With Thyme

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Red vermouth martinis used to be my thing. I think I got a lot of satisfaction out of asking for something a little more obscure. I still do. Over the past few years gin and tonics have made a resurgence as the new hipster drink du jour. I think red vermouth is about to go in that direction too. If it does remember you saw it here first.

I hadn’t had a red vermouth martini for a really long time until this past weekend. I saw the Martini Rosso in the liquor cabinet in passing and remembered the luxurious, bitter-sweet and herbaceous taste of the martinis of my past. I had to make one. I also happened to have a little thyme bush from the farmers market and because I’ve been putting thyme in everything I thought, why break the trend? It makes for a very pretty drink too.

I should warn you it is a very assertive tasting cocktail and not for the uninitiated. If you don’t typically drink gin martinis, Americanos or Negronis then you might not be down with it. I once described it as tasting like grass. I’m into that kind of thing though. Are you? If you’re into Negronis and other obscure bitter drinks then you’ll love this. Let me know how it goes.

Also, it took me an inordinate amount of time to think of a name for this cocktail. I thought about just calling it a red martini with thyme…but that seemed unoriginal. Then I thought it must have already been done so I tried to find out what others have called it. The closest thing I could find is the Turf Club Cocktail from 1884 that replaces the lemon juice and thyme with angostura bitters. As it happens that didn’t bring me any closer to coming up with a name. The I learned that the original martini was called a Martinez and made with gin, red vermouth and Angostura Bitters. Meet the original martini…with thyme.

This recipe makes two small or one very large drink.

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Ingredients

4 oz Tanqueray or Hendricks

2 oz Martini Rosso red vermouth

A couple sprigs of thyme for muddling and a few more as a garnish

Dash of Angostura Bitters

Few splashes lemon juice + a lemon twist or two for garnish if you’re fancy like that

1 cup ice

 

Method

Pour the gin and red vermouth into one or two glasses.

Add the thyme and muddle well with a muddler or a spoon.

Add the lemon juice and bitters.

Add ice.

Stir.

Garnish as you please and enjoy your herbaceous, bitter-sweet and super luxurious throwback cocktail.

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