Category Archives: Entree

Yum Yum, Tandoori Chicken at home

There is so much catch up I want to do on this blog. Let’s start with our home’s recipe for tandoori chicken. This recipe meets all my criteria: its a healthy food choice, easy to make and affordable. Let’s go:

Easy to make – This is simple because its based on a quick marinade and the flavor can stick in as little as half an hour. In a medium bowl, for each pound of chicken spoon in:

  • 2 tablespoons of non-fat plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon of Tandoori masala
  • 2 teaspoons of ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/3 teaspoon tumeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (more if you want)
  • 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons of garlic and ginger paste (optional)

Mix together well. Toss in the chicken and mix so all sides are coated. Make sure your chicken is skinless and cut out all chunks of fat that you can. This is essential for this to be healthy. For the Tandoori and garam masala, I happen to use Rajah masala which can be found at most Indian grocery stores but use what you have. I only mention it for those people who are not familiar with how to shop for the spices. For the other spices, see if you can find a place which sells the ground coriander or tumeric in bulk!

Also add chopped vegetables, cut into chunky pieces: 1 bell pepper (any color), 1 small red onion, and a handful of grape tomatoes. Toss in the bowl and coat. Put the marinaded bowl of chicken and vegetables in the fridge (cover with simple saran wrap) for at least 30 minutes. Then bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.

To make it affordable, I typically use drumsticks and thighs but I do try to make sure that meat is as naturally and wildly fed as possible. This time I used skinless/bonless chicken breasts which I had found on sale at Whole Foods and frozen for later use. With breasts, I could actually cube the chicken as if we were going to skewer them (chicken tikka). Now the benefit of this is that the smaller the pieces, the easier it is to coat and the shorter the time that is needed for the marinade to adequately flavor the meat. I was able to marinade the cubed chicken for only 30 minutes and achieve full flavor. So, with whole pieces of chicken meat, it will take more time to flavor. Here, I would also take the extra step of poking holes in the meat with a fork or a knife to let the marinade soak in. Of course, the longer you can let the marinade sit the more the food will reward you. But we were cooking on a hungry stomach on a Sunday night and this is what worked!

I put aluminum foil on a broiler sheet (you can use nonstick baking sheet) and sprayed olive oil spray (because its what i had) and spread the contents of the bowl on that (cubed chicken and vegetables). You can also skewer chicken and vegetable pieces alternatively on bamboo (or other) skewers. Make sure there is a pan under the broiler sheet to catch the water that drains from the vegetables (and maybe also from the yogurt). I then baked for about 20 minutes on 375 degrees. Of course, you will have to cook it longer if you have larger pieces of meat or more than a pound of meat. Cut a piece of chicken to make sure it is cooked through.

Serve hot, with garnishes of lime to squeeze on to the hot chicken. Delicious!

We served with a side dish of asparagus and wheat cous-cous flavored simply with chicken broth.

Cost per serving, tandoori chicken: $1.30 per serving. Cost per serving includes: skinless boneless thighs from Whole Foods, Rajah Tandoori masala and Garam Masala, yogurt, 1 red pepper, 1 small red onion and limes.

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Ode to the Fig

Recipes seem to be one of the areas where people’s creativities, passion, and energies are alive and well on the internet. Figs were kind of reintroduced to my life last summer when we went to visit our friends Lindsay and Derek in Atlanta (shout out, Hi!) and Lindsay baked us this beautiful cake full of figs picked ripe from a laden tree in her yard. Simple and extremely yummy. it does seem like God gave it a hefty dose of succulence…so, what is the best way to enjoy this fruit? There are seemingly endless ways. I did want to highlight a new blog on this site, called A Mingling of Tastes. I loved her post on the fig.

Fresh Figs from A Mingling of Tastes food blog

Fresh Figs from A Mingling of Tastes food blog

Well worth checking out–she has excellent pictures and steps for each process. She has three recipes to make up her self described menage a trois:

  • Fresh Figs
  • Fig and Goat Cheese Tart
  • Fig Pizza!

Now, I wanted to add my own recent experience. A little heat goes a long way to caramelize the insides and make something that could be a little dry become succulent and juicy. 🙂 I can also recommend making a potage with dried figs, using it with meat. For example, we made a thai massaman curry this week.

  • 1 can of massaman curry from the Asian store, it came with potatoes
  • Big chunks of chopped carrots
  • Potatoes in the same size (if the curry mix doesn’t come with it)
  • Dried figs cut in half
  • Chicken thighs, skinless
  • Simmer until cooked and serve over rice (we used brown basamati)

I am betting other vegetables like cauliflower or other dried fruit like apricots would work well in this too. I just let it simmer and simmer until the chicken was cooked and the carrots were tender. The flavors were highly complimentary. The potatoes soak up the heat of the curry which is helpful to our little tongues when eating. But the carrots and the figs add a sweetness. I was most pleased with the texture of the figs after cooking. I had dried figs which i had kept air tight for nearly a year! they were pretty dry and hard when i started. I managed to cut them. after steaming in the heat though, the insides were almost like a fig newton – dark, thick, sweet. Just a great play on flavors. So there you are, a wonderful job on fig from someone else’s blog and our own modest recipe at home this week. One note on the Massaman can of curry from the asian store though. it had a ton of oil. Much of it easily separated from the main mass of congealed spices which is the essence of the curry, so we ladled more than a half-cup out for our own sanity.

Price for this may take some figuring out. I made about 5 servings, not counting the rice. I think its probably under $2 a serving but will do the math and post it when I do!

Coming home

Tonight, after a restorative and “fun”-derful weekend with our friends, I knew I was coming home to a surplus of tomatoes and red bell peppers that were getting on. (this was due to an slightly uber-exuberant grocery trip in NJ near my sister’s house). I had a plan to make sausage-red pepper tomato pasta sauce. When I got home, I dusted off an old recipe from the Silver Palate cookbook. It was a simple concoction of browning the sausage, cooking onions with the thyme and oregano we grow on our balcony, adding red bell peppers, garlic, red wine, tomatoes, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and my secret ingredient: organic tomato sauce from a can. I was pleased with the balance between spicy (HOT from the red peppers) and sweet (from the tomato sauce). It was a pleasure watching everything cook on low and dissolve into each other. I ladled it on top of Whole Foods Whole Wheat Linguine.

Cost Effectiveness of Cooking:
To make this dish cost effective, I always go to larger scale produce stores or Asian grocery stores which I can find between VA and NJ. I get my red bell peppers for $1.25 a pound. This is one of the few areas I cannot use products from Whole Foods or even conventional grocery stores. Too rich for my blood. The red peppers I currently have are superb–firm and succulent. I used only one in this recipe (because I was tired and only made half a batch of the sauce). In fact, I also got vine ripe tomatoes for a steal, at $0.69 a pound, which were the main reason I needed to make this sauce in the first place!

As I noted above I also used herbs that we grow. I traditionally have grown: basil, oregano, thyme and mint. These are hardy plants that can immensely boost flavor for relatively no work (or fee) at all! I do need to buy my cilantro though and I also like dill quite well so go to asian stores or some such for these.

On the wine. If I didn’t have any on hand, I would have eliminated that step though it does add tone to a meat recipe. I did use this red wine in a box that we found at Whole Foods. Its pretty cheap and good for kitchen wine. Its not really a recommendation for an approach. Its just something we had on hand.

Where I didn’t compromise–my meat. Turkey sausage at Whole Foods is about $5.99 a lb. I used a little more than a half-pound which was two links for $3.29. This is free range turkey sausage (it said on the package) plus no hormones, no antibiotics, no animal by products in the feed–so on the higher quality side.

The pasta at whole foods, at least the whole foods brand of past, I find affordable. Its a $1.69 for the equivalent of a normal box of spaghetti–something of a value, really. They have a variety of healthy grains that they make it from, and a variety of pasta shapes too. We don’t eat it frequently because of the carbs but I always make sure I have at least one or two bags of it as stock inventory in our pantry. I used tomato sauce from Trader Joe’s but right now, the price I am aware of is Whole Foods’ own brand at $1.29 for a normal sized can (15 ounces?).

Cost per serving: What does the grand price come out to? Approximately $0.90 per serving just for the sauce. I made 6 servings — 2 servings each for both my husband and me for dinner and 2 servings left over. With the pasta, the cost increases just slightly, to about $0.96 per serving. I assumed that the four tomatoes I used were nearly two-thirds of a pound. I did not include the cost of the salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes.

Nutritionally, this dish gives you at least 2 servings of vegetables and 1 serving of protein per serving. Check out the nutrition spokes for the whole wheat pasta! It adds 6 grams of fiber and 7 garms of protein per serving with nearly no fat! I am surprised. It seems like a solid “good carb” candidate but still for weight loss, use sparingly. The turkey sausage adds some fat but also completes the protein profile in this recipe.

Potential variation: The nutritional profile for the whole wheat pasta showed that it is pretty complete in terms of its amino acid profile but lacks lysine (I hope I have this correct). It appears to require a complimentary food with a high lysine:Tryptophan ratio to fulfill its requirement as a complete protein. Go know! While turkey meat does fit, it appears that mushrooms (Crimini or Italian) would provide a vegetarian complement and nearly eliminate the fat. Que bueno!

How about you? Any twists to make it healthier or more cost-effective?

Making lentils manageable

Cooking lentils, for my friend Suzan! I have already written about the powers of the lentil on my “Getting Healthy” page, as a fat-free source of protein. However, getting to a place where I could incorporate this most traditional of Indian foods into my daily American lifestyle took a while! I don’t see too many of my friends cooking lentils on a weekly basis and I thought writing about what works for me may make it more accessible.

Getting started
Now, I do rely on making traditional indian dal, which is quite flavorful and can be eaten like soup. It requires indian spices, but only a handful, and once you establish a stock, you don’t have to think about it anymore. These are: tumeric (halthi), cumin seeds (jeera), asofetida (heeng), cayenne pepper, and small green chili peppers (mirch). I have seen jalapenos substituted effectively for the latter. Salt is key. There are several lentils to choose from and for the most part, I am able to flavor them similarly. Most common for me is yellow split pigeon peas (toor dal), masoor dal both with skin (brown on the outside, disc shaped) and without (orange on the inside), and sometimes split yellow pea and dehusked mung bean (moong dal). There is also a French green lentil that I have cooked with this summer. There are many other types (Wikipedia can tell you). The easiest way to get started is to get started is get one-half pound of the orange washed masoor dal in at Whole Foods, in the bulk section.

Speaking of which, I love how cost-effective this food is. I just called Whole Foods. They sell this dal for $1.79 per pound! When you consider that typically, it only takes a half-cup to feed two peopel for a meal, this is a food that stretches your dollar. Also, water is the main ingredient required to cook lentils. This increases the volume considerably and comes from the tap. If you find you can handle a bigger quantity, you can purchase them in bags from an Indian grocery store (they sell 1 pound, 2 pound, etc.). As I got better at making dal and eating it a couple of times a week, I found myself going through more of it. But even getting a pound at Whole Foods in bulk can easily last 6-8 weeks in my two person household.

Cooking
Now, cooking it. Note, most people are told to pre-wash their lentils before cooking it. Me…I don’t have time for things like this so I only tend to use those lentil types that don’t necessarily require it. (this is the philosophy of Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!). The ones I noted above fit that category. I also used to be told to make the dal in a pressure cooker. BIG MISTAKE for me. For whatever reason, this really held me back from making good dal for a long time. It was messy, hard to clean the pressure cooker afterwards, and I would have to keep cooking it for an undetermined amount of time afterwards to really make it come out. Yuck.

There are two techniques that have worked for me. My mom and sister told me get a $8.99 slow cooker from Walgreens. It has an OFF, HIGH, LOW and WARM setting. (Can you believe it?) It is small but does the job and then some for the two of us. I then place a half-cup to one cup of lentils, three times the water, a half-teaspoon salt and about one-quarter teaspoon of tumeric in the slow cooker, set it to low, and go out the door to work. I come back home to find the daal cooked. (I then transfer the dal to a small pot on the stove to flavor it.)

The funny thing is, after all that wrestling with a pressure cooker, you can actually cook some dals on the stove in about 30 minutes, depending on the type of dal and the portion. So no more day to day use of the pressure cooker for me and good riddance. Now, its strictly me against the heat (or should I say “with” the heat) without the added pressure (hah, another pun!). Here, one way to go is to duplicate the steps with the slow cooker except with a pot on the stove. That is, you still mix the lentils, with three times the water, and the tumeric and let it boil on the stove until the dal has cooked (is all soft). Now, I’m at the same point as if I had used the slow cooker and came home. I still have to flavor it which I do by using a butter warmer. In it, I heat up grapeseed oil with cumin seeds, asofetida, cayenne papper and cut-up green chili peppers. I heat over a low flame until the cumin seeds start to sizzle. Then I pour it into the dal and cook another 20 minutes until that flavor has made its way through the whole pot. This is the most basic way to make dal.

I just learned another way from my new face cook, Survir Sarvan. (More on him later) In his book, American Masala, he has a recipe for “Not So Dull Dal.” In it, he develops the flavor first–heating jeera, tumeric, jalapeno and even salt with onions in oil (he has other flavorings too which I’ll post when I get home)–then allows the lentils to roast in that heat for a few minutes (with a splash of water) and then adds the lentils with the water. It only takes about 35 minutes for it to cook after that but the flavors are nicely diffused through the entire pot and its DELICIOUS.

I bet my next step will be to cook the flavoring first, dump that mixture into the slow cooker, then add the lentils and water so that its slow cooked thoroughly by the time I come home. Slow cooking does seem to increase the flavor for most foods, and the slow cooker frees up that wait!

Cost effectiveness of Cooking:
Cost per serving (with oil, without spices): sixteen to eighteen cents a serving (?)(will update when I measure out).

From my cost per serving spreadsheet:
Masoor lentils: $0.22 per serving, including grapeseed oil and salt, but not indian spices.