Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Stroganoff.... but not as we know it

Tonight I got home at 7pm after being out all day and all I knew was that I had some cooked chicken from the weekend roast and I was hungry. I looked in the fridge and saw a bag of mushrooms that I had bought for a dish I must have planned but not gotten to, some fresh spinach and not a lot else of use. Except condiments, lots of condiments, and in particular...grainy mustard. Bingo! I could transform the chicken into a delicious, nutritious dinner in mere minutes!
I sliced the mushrooms, pan fried them with some garlic and oil and then added the cooked chicken to heat through. I stirred in a couple of tablespoons of grainy mustard and then added 160ml (super convenient mini-can from London Drugs) of coconut milk but all you non-lactose intolerant lucky peeps out there can add double cream instead. I heated it through and then it was done. I wilted the spinach with some garlic and served the chicken concoction and spinach with it. It was delicious and rich and very satisfying to my hunger. And I have leftovers. Not technically a stroganoff as there was no beef, or cream in it, but it was a healthy, tasty, allergen free version that scored big on taste. That is a success in my book.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Slow and Low

The current sub-zero weather is perfect for a weekend holed up in the cave (my suite-very few windows but very cosy) cooking comfort food. And cook I did! Friday was the slow cooker lamb curry which turned out good but not exactly how I wanted it. Still, it was physically and mentally warming to come home to a ready made pot of meat, sauce and spice. I had a plan for the weekend. It mainly involved food. I was going to make 2 things...soup and a then roast a chicken... in the slow cooker. The soup was simple, the Maple Roast Parsnip Soup I had previously made and devoured. An obvious choice for the weather. This time I threw in a sweet potato...I know, I know...livin' on the edge. It turned out great and I had enough for 6 portions so lunch for the week is taken care of with a spare for the freezer.
Why I am wanting to roast a whole chicken in the slow cooker? To see what happens! I looked up online if this was possible and of course it is. I was curious to see what happens to the texture and flavour when slowly cooked. The online blogs and recipes promised moist, flavourful meat falling off the bone. The only downside (or not if you are trying to be ultra healthy) is that the skin doesn't crisp up. I could get over that though. I rubbed some olive oil over the chicken and sprinkled on dried rosemary, sage, sea salt and pepper. Inside I put half an onion, half a lemon and a couple of garlic cloves which is my usual standard method for roasting chickens.
Then I put it in the slow cooker on high for 5 hours.

It went white but was hard to tell if it was cooked. I used a thermometer to check and it was 195F...well above the required 180F for food safety. Yay, I'm not going to get sick. Safe to say it was done like,well...dinner. I was warned to use 2 sturdy spatulas to remove the chicken as it would likely fall apart so I was prepared and armed. Mission successful, it remained in one piece. The thought went through my head, "why was that so easy?". Was this really a disaster and the chicken is going to deflate when I pierce it as seen in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation or be so rubbery and chewy I'll be able to bounce it off the floor? All my fears melted away when I went to pull off a leg and the bone literally slid out like a hot knife through butter, but in reverse. The bone was so clean I couldn't believe it. As I started to pull the chicken apart, it was so easy and moist...this would be a good option for the less dexterous out there or those who are a danger to themselves, the roast and others when carving. You know who you are. Anyway, certainly slow cooking passed the test in this department. Now for taste. The chicken was moist and flavourful. The taste was not as rich as when roasted but that is in part due to the skin not cooking and thus not releasing lots of fat into the roast...another benefit for those looking to but some calories. Some juices do come out into the slow cooker but it's nowhere near as greasy or oily as an oven roast, despite the olive oil I added. I anti-carved (minus a knife) the chicken, took a portion for myself for dinner and put the rest in a tupperware container for later use in the week. All in all a success and definitely recommended for minimal input and attention required. How nice to come how to roast chicken after being at work all day or being out on the slopes all weekend? You don't have to wait 2 hours for it to cook once you are home and you can leave it unattended so you can get out and enjoy your day. As long as you can get over the lack of crispy, oily goodness from the skin, this could be a staple in your weekly meal plan. Now all I have to do is decide how to use almost a whole chicken over the next few days. Suggestions?
Next on my list of things you wouldn't associate with a slow cooker is Chocolate Chip Cookies. Yes you read that right :-)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ethnic Experimentation

As promised, almost 1 week to the day, I am, as we speak, cooking the curry recipe with the substitution of lamb instead of chicken. AND I informed my landlords of my cooking intention. AND I put the slow cooker outside. AND I used a different potato (red skinned vs baker) in the hopes of the potato melding more with the body of the curry. Is that even a legitimate description? The body of the curry?. It does seem to take on a persona of it's own. A legitimate being...maybe even celestial? I'll know by 6:30am tomorrow when I venture outside to reclaim my crockpot from the elements. Hopefully the "warming" function accounts for 0 degrees and the dampness of west coast winters. If not, I'll expect to find rare lamb with raw potatoes and a curry sauce base that's just itching for 8 hours of cooking at extremely low temps. I'll probably still take it for lunch though in true foodist style.
I ended up using bone-in lamb steaks. The grocery store had that or a butt roast joint. I had talked at length with a co-worker and fellow foodie, C-A, earlier and she knew her lamb cuts. She suggested shoulder for this dish. And it had to be from New Zealand. Australian lamb is apparently more mutton-y. And I just made a new word up. I could not determine the origin of my steaks but they had the bone in, looked solid enough for the job and were, in my opinion, looking mighty appetising, even in their clingwrap enclosed, styrofoam infused raw-ness. Can you go wrong with lamb at all, though? Even if you overcook it, it's rich flavour and, well, general richness will endure the most inexperienced of wannabe chef's lack of knowledge and experience.
Anyway,I digress, I made the base curry sauce as the recipe dictated. Again I was reminded how good this would be for a base stove top curry. That's next on the list. I never measure amounts with spices,despite the recipe "suggestions". I know which spices are overbearing, subtle or fireworks in your mouth and so I usually use a combination of two foodist techniques...guesstimation and " just throw it in, it'll taste great, recipes are just a guide, right?".

It all smelled amazing once everything was in one pan. I texted my landlords living above and put the extractor fan on, just as a precaution. Curry sauce was made, I assembled the dish and then respectfully placed it outside to cook at low heat for about 8 hours. I will awake tomorrow to a snow scene with a crock pot in the middle....Heaven!
Check back in a few days for the review of the lamb experiment...hopefully minus eviction due to excessive crock pot usage.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Curry not in a hurry

Since the last posting, it has well and truly turned from Fall-ish to Fall/Winter-ish. I did manage to successfully wear flip flops for 3 hours last weekend which was impressive and apparently blog worthy. It's November!!!
There have been some stunning days showcasing the vibrant leaves and snow-capped mountains and some equally dismal, damp days that are now noticeably shorter. That coupled with the time change making it dark before 5pm, means it's time to get out the slow cooker/crock pot.
I got mine a couple of years ago and have had several very successful meals from it, once I got over the fear of burning the house down by leaving it on and unattended for 8-10 hours.
On one particularly chilly, wet day, I went to the library after work and picked up a book called "The Gourmet Slow Cooker:Simple and Sophisticated Meals from around the World". Sounds perfect. I got home, thumbed through it looking at the pictures and a quick skim of ingredients to ensure the dishes were manageable, within my existing pantry for the most part, with the addition of only a few bits and pieces from the grocery store.
I settled on a curry recipe and the ingredients were simple, I needed to make a spice blend but I have a coffee grinder which I use for that sort of thing. I had most of the ingredients bar the protein, cloves and serrano chiles. I got all the ingredients and the plan was to make up the dish the night before and then put it in the fridge ready for cooking as I left for work the following morning. I would then come home to a delicious meal at the end of a busy week.
Well, it didn't quite go to plan as I ran on of time the night before but, with previous crock pot creations, it was just a case of throwing everything in and putting the lid on. I had neglected one key step thus far. To read the recipe and method. A cardinal sin that a true foodist (Thank you DMA for the new designation) should know better than to make. Clearly I am not worthy of the foodist tag by making such juvenile errors. But I won't dwell on the negative...You live, you learn and it makes for an interesting post/story. I did this as I went to bed late Thursday and discovered that there was a good 30 minutes of cooking/prep time required. I set the alarm for 6am and hoped it would be worth it. So picture this, it's 6am, the kitchen is in full swing with hot pans, appliances going, extractor fan on. I'm chopping onions and my eyes are burning as I haven't yet put my contact lenses in (fun fact, wearing contact lenses protects your eyes from onion tears). I'm in my work clothes (fitness gear) and realise part way through that was not a good idea as I now smell of onions, not a great aroma to have on the gym at 8am, 9am, 10am, 11am..the whole day basically. I think my hair and skin were permeated too. Awesome. The onions needed to cook down over 15 minutes and then ginger, garlic and chiles added. All very delicious and also extremely pungent. Throw in a freshly ground aromatic spice mix to a hot pan and you have some serious cooking going on. Again, I'll remind you that it is not yet 6:30am.
It did smell amazing though and looked it too. The base for the sauce could easily be used for a quick curry too as it was rich and thick...and clearly full of flavour.
I put the chicken in the slow cooker. I chose bone-in thighs and chicken breast. I poured on the sauce, put the lid on and set it for 8 hours on low. I left my house on time, albeit with a distinct aroma I could only hope would fade during the day or at the very least be appreciated by fellow foodists.
Still a little paranoid about leaving something cooking unattended, I did my best to put the fear out of my head and think about the amazing dish I would be walking in to that night. all was well until I received a text from my landlords (who live above me) asking me "did you leave something cooking this morning?". UH-OH!! Was the smoke detector going off? Was the place on fire? Thoughts raced through my mind...I texted back immediately to inform them of the curry and to check what the problem was. Apparently the aromatic nature of the curry and prep had been so significant that the smell had rapidly permeated through to upstairs. UH-OH. If it smells that strongly in their suite, that they had to text me, then what on earth was my suite going to be like? I'm going to have to fumigate, wash all my clothes, sleep outside in a tent. Would it be like a skunking? overwhelming and loitering in closet corners and fabrics for weeks on end?
My landlords suggested we move the offending slow cooker outside. I agreed and told them to go in to the suite and do what was needed. I had visions of driving home from work later and getting a whiff 3 blocks away. Again, I hoped the resultant dish was worth it. I opened the lid and WOW...it looked amazing, and smelled amazing yet not overpowering. The sauce was rich, intense and, even if I do say so myself, restaurant worthy. The chicken was so tender it was falling off the bone and merging with the sauce before my eyes. I served myself a portion immediately and any former memories of onion infused clothing, panics about burning the house down and potentially cooking myself out of my tenancy agreement were gone the moment the first forkful hit my tastebuds. This is the best curry I've ever made. Definitely a keeper and one for the blog.
Here is the recipe:


seeds from 2 black cardamon pods
2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
4 or 5 whole cloves
5 to 6 black peppercorns
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 small yellow onions, finely chopped
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, grated
2 green serrano chiles, seeded and minced
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 and 1/2 tsp salt
2 ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 chicken cut into serving pieces, skinned
chopped cilantro for garnish

1) Combine cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorn, coriander and cumin in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder and grind to a fine powder.
2)Heat a large saucepan over med heat. Add the oil and then the onions. Saute, stirring frequently for 10-15 mins until browned. Add garlic, ginger and chiles and stir for 1-2 mins.
3)Add spice mixture, turmeric, cayenne and salt and stir for 2-3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and cook for 5-6 mins until some of the liquid has evaporated (The sauce at this point could make an awesome curry base if you don't have time for the slow cooker. Just add some browned protein and let simmer to meld flavours)
4) Arrange chicken in slow cooker and pour sauce over. cook on low for 3-8 hours until chicken is tender.

I added to the recipe with some bite sized potato chunks and 1/2 cup water. I find the starch in the potato thickens the sauce naturally and potato in curry is just a wonderful combo in general.

Leftovers were plentiful and shared with selected foodists. I will probably make this again next weekend with lamb and see what magic happens. I'll take photos this time, you may even be able to smell it through the images. I should also check out the rest of the book, if this meal was anything to go by, there could be many more posts to follow.