My recent spice tasting class at Escoffier in Boulder inspired me to make a curry dish this past week. (Look for a future post on the first two classes in the series). Last time I made curry I used red curry and garam masala as two primary ingredients. But given that both curry and garam masala are defined as a blend of spices, that wasn’t really (at all) making my own curry. So this time I decided to bypass any pre-made blends, and make my own from individual spices. During my previous endeavor I found myself wishing that I had some coconut milk, so I bought some light coconut milk for this attempt.

If you’re really doing things right, you would want to toast the spices briefly before using them. And if you really, really want to do it right, you’ll use fresh-ground spices rather than pre-ground. But this was a lazier night for me, and I had no idea what spices I’d end up using anyhow, so pre-ground was easier. And I didn’t toast them first. (If I’m being honest, I kind of forgot all about doing it).

Before I started the rest of the dish, I boiled a chicken breast (simmered it, actually), and cooked some new potatoes separately. I’ve actually become a fan of cooking chicken breasts in water if I’m going to be using them in a dish with some kind of sauce. I find it to be a really simple method, and as long as you follow a few tips that I’ve discovered through research and experimentation, it turns out nice and tender. I put the chicken breast(s) in boiling water for a few seconds to kill surface bacteria, then turn the temperature down so the water is below boiling, at a gentle simmer. Then at about 15 minutes, I use tongs to pull it out of the water, and stick a meat thermometer in to measure the temperature at the center of the chicken. If it’s reached 170 degrees, it’s done. If not, I put it back in, and check in a few more minutes. Once it’s done, I remove the pot from the heat, but let the chicken cool in the pot, since it will absorb liquid as it cools, resulting in moister chicken. Once cooled enough, I shredded it with a fork and my fingers.

I started the rest of the dish by sautéing onion and pepper in vegetable oil. (I used vegetable oil instead of my usual olive oil, because I wanted a more neutral flavor.) Then I added some coconut milk and a little chicken stock, and started throwing in spices. After mixing it up well, I kept adjusting until I got the taste I wanted, adding a little acid at the end, and then reduced the sauce down until there was enough to coat everything, but it was no longer very liquidy. At that point I added the potatoes and chicken. In the future, I will add the potatoes before I start cooking the sauce down, so that they have more of the curry flavor than they did by adding them at the end.

I was really pleased with the result. It had a little heat, and a good blend of spices. And it wasn’t really that difficult or time consuming to make. Was it the best curry I’ve ever had? No, that would be pretty tricky to make (see my post on Jai Ho in Boulder). Was it still quite yummy? Absolutely! Will I make it again? You bet! Do I find it amusing when people ask themselves questions and answer them in the next sentence? Quite frankly, I do.

Curry Ingredients (except for the spices)

Curry Ingredients (except for the spices)

Curried Shredded Chicken and Potatoes
serves 3-4

1 chicken breast
4-6 new potatoes, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1+1/2 red, orange, or yellow bell peppers, chopped
1 c light coconut milk
1/4 c vegetable stock
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp sugar
1/2-3/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ancho chile powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp turmeric
1/8-1/4 tsp lemon juice

Cook the chicken and the potatoes using whatever method you like. (I put the chicken in boiling water for 3 seconds, lowered the heat to just below boiling, and cooked it for about 15-20 minutes, until it reached an inside temperature of 170 degrees (using our handy instant(ish)-read thermometer). I just cooked the potatoes in water in the microwave until they were tender, about 8-12 minutes.)

Shred the chicken with a fork (I also used my fingers quite a bit), and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a skillet on medium heat, and then saute the onions and pepper until tender. Add the coconut milk and stock. Add all of the dry ingredients from the sugar through the turmeric. Taste the sauce, and adjust spices as desired. If you’d like just a tiny hint of acid taste, add the lemon juice.

Onion, Pepper, and Curry Sauce

Onion, Pepper, and Curry Sauce

Add the potatoes, lower the heat to medium low, and continue to cook until the sauce has reduced and thickened. Then add the chicken, and combine well.

Curried Shredded Chicken and Potatoes

Curried Shredded Chicken and Potatoes

Up until recently, I’d always been rather lazy when it came to making my own salad dressing. My husband and I had found a couple of types of bottled dressing we liked fairly well, so I almost always opted to save time and use those. But after my Sophisticated Sauces class at Escoffier, the comment the instructor made about how it really is quick to make your own dressing, and so very worth it, I decided to put in a little more effort and make my own. I started making dressing using a recipe for Champagne Vinaigrette on Epicurious.com (but cutting the olive oil down by a little more than half, and using agave instead of honey (our honey is always rock hard and in need of melting)). I don’t even bother with a whisk. Since I make just a small amount of dressing at one time (about 7 tablespoons), I just use a large coffee mug and a small fork. I mix all the ingredients except the oil together, and then pour the oil in a thin stream from a measuring spoon while I beat the dressing with the fork. And the result of using that method is a very nicely emulsified dressing. (Mustard and honey both act as emulsifiers in vinaigrette, allowing the otherwise unfriendly vinegar and oil to mix together.)

After a few rounds of champagne vinaigrette, I started using different types of vinegar in the recipe – balsamic, white balsamic, and white wine vinegar. Then I started getting a little more adventurous with fruit flavor. I reduced some pomegranate juice and used that with white balsamic vinegar. Pretty good, but not all that pomegranatey. Then one day, as I was browsing in Whole Foods, I saw something called Pomegranate Molasses. The only ingredient in it was pomegranate juice, so I surmised that it was just extremely reduced pomegranate. That sounded like just the thing for my dressing. I used white wine vinegar to reduce the competition of flavors even further. It resulted in some great tasting dressing, but I’m not convinced that you could pick out pomegranate as the fruity taste. The pomegranate molasses, however, is wonderful. It’s also referred to as pomegranate syrup, but I can see why it’s called pomegranate molasses, due to the dark, rich color, and a tiny hint of molasses flavor. I think it would be outstanding on top of ice cream.

My most successful dressing to date was made with ingredients I’m still a bit surprised I actually thought to put together (but am oh, so glad I did!). The core ingredient was a discovery I made when I walked into Oliverde in downtown Boulder to check out the vinegars. My husband and I had visited the store weeks earlier, and bought some wonderful, seriously authentic tasting olive oil (the really, really good stuff is so much greener, grassier tasting than anything I had sampled before). But Oliverde also has a wide array of vinegars, so I went in and tasted samples of several of them. And then I happened upon the espresso balsamic. Not one to pass up anything with coffee or chocolate flavors, I sampled it. Oh, my! Wow. I really can’t even begin to describe how good this balsamic is. It’s got a gorgeous, dark molasses color, and a full, rich, bracing, slightly sweetish flavor. I knew immediately that I was going home with a bottle of it. I began planning the evening’s salad as soon as I left the store. I bought some arugula, thinking the bitter flavor would contrast well with the more sweetish/acidic taste of the vinegar. I also had some gorgonzola cheese left over, which would go well with both, and picked up a few Medjool dates to add on top.

I planned to make a vinaigrette, and thought a bit about what I should use with the espresso balsamic. I decided to use sesame oil for 1/3 of the oil (olive oil for the rest), as well as maple syrup instead of agave. And the results were stellar. The sesame oil gave it a rich, nutty taste, the maple syrup gave it some great sweetness, and the espresso balsamic…just made it awesome. Used on the arugula with the Medjool dates and gorgonzola, it was outstanding. It is a fairly rich, sweet dressing, so I think it’s best paired with some type of greens that are a bit more bitter-tasting, like arugula. It’s possible you could play around with a small shot of espresso and regular balsamic and perhaps come close to approximating the taste – but I would suggest trying just a bit of espresso and balsamic first to see if it’s palatable before using all the ingredients. And, if you’re near Boulder, CO, I strongly suggest stopping in at Oliverde and getting the real thing!

Espresso Sesame Maple Vinaigrette Ingredients

Espresso Sesame Maple Vinaigrette Ingredients

Espresso Sesame Maple Vinaigrette
makes about 8-11 Tbsp – double or triple for more

2 Tbsp espresso balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 to 4 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 Tbsp spicy brown mustard (or Dijon)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 to 1/4 tsp pepper
1 dash Tabasco
1 clove garlic, minced

Mix the garlic, mustard, and maple syrup. (I use a large mug). Add the lemon juice, espresso vinegar, salt, pepper, and Tabasco, and mix well. Using a fork (or whisk if you’re making a larger amount), and briskly whisking the dressing continuously, you will add the oil in a very thin stream. Continuous whisking is important in order to emulsify the dressing well. I only used 1 Tbsp of sesame oil, and 2 Tbsp of olive oil, but I have a freakishly strong affinity for vinegar. You might want to use up to 3 times that amount of oil (the classic ratio is 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil). Start with 1 Tbsp of sesame and 2 Tbsp of olive oil, taste the dressing, and add more oil to your liking.

I’ve seen varying opinions on how long the dressing safely keeps in the fridge, largely due to the added garlic. I’ve seen a few sites with people saying not to store anything with raw garlic in the fridge, but I also found a reference from Oregon State University stating that raw garlic in oil can be refrigerated safely for three weeks, and Joy of Cooking says vinaigrette may be refrigerated for two weeks. To completely avoid any food safety issues, use it all that day.  Personally, I make dressing weekly, and throw out any left over from the previous week.

Arugula with Espresso Sesame Maple Vinaigrette, Gorgonzola and Medjool Dates

Arugula with Espresso Sesame Maple Vinaigrette, Gorgonzola and Medjool Dates

Works in Progress

February 1, 2012

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve made a few dishes whose results were pretty good, but not quite ready for prime time for one reason or another. But I figured I’d go ahead and share them anyhow, along with what I would change next time.

My first non-failure, but not-quite-there item was actually several iterations of fruit and nuts in phyllo dough. I had the rest of a box of phyllo dough to use up after making my Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onions, Sundried Tomatoes and Goat Cheese in Phyllo. Since phyllo dough always makes me think of baklava (and I LOOOOOVE baklava), I thought it might be fun to make something baklavaian inspired. (I also love making up words.) So over the course of two weeks, I made three variations using different combinations of fresh apples, dried fruit, and nuts. All three tasted pretty good, but without extra butter, the phyllo dough didn’t brown well, and without extra honey to make it stick together, the layers of dough were pretty fragile. Extremely fragile. I also didn’t feel like I could eat that much of it at one time because dried fruit is fairly high in calories, so I think future phyllo dough experiments will be more along the lines of fresh fruit filling. But I have to say, it was all rather tasty, especially the final version, which was figs and dates. I just chopped up the fruit and nuts, brushed the top sheet of phyllo with some light melted butter mixed with agave, sprinkled the fruit on, and rolled it up. I brushed the top with a bit more butter and agave, and baked it at 350 for about 30 minutes.

Chopped Figs and Dates in Phyllo Dough

Chopped Figs and Dates in Phyllo Dough

My next item was inspired by a picture on one of the blogs I follow, which was too gorgeous to pass up – Lemony Chickpea and Tofu Stir-Fry on Offally Tasty (inspired in turn by a recipe from 101 Cookbooks). I bought the ingredients for the recipe, but when it came time to prepare the dish, I felt like making something more Asian-inspired (whims are a big part of my cooking). So I coated the chickpeas with a tablespoon of tamari and a couple of teaspoons of sesame oil, then baked them in the oven at 350 for about 55 minutes, stirring every fifteen minutes, to get them nice and crispy. I made some marinade with 4 tablespoons of lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of tamari, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, and 5 minced garlic cloves, and marinated cubed tofu for about an hour in the refrigerator. Then I sautéed the onions and 2 sliced yellow squash in a teaspoon of sesame oil. I added about 3/4 of the marinade, and then piled torn pieces of a bunch of kale on top, and ‘folded’ them in until they wilted. Finally I added the remaining marinade and an extra teaspoon of sesame oil. Unfortunately, I didn’t take good enough notes as to timing (…and it’s possible I got some of the sequencing wrong in this write-up). But it was awesome tasting, so I’ll definitely repeat it.

Tofu, Squash, Kale, and Tamari Chickpeas

Tofu, Squash, Kale, and Tamari Chickpeas

The last dish was something that I conjured up because I wanted to make more caramelized onions, and needed something to go with them. I did some searches online and found a few pairings, including one with couscous, so I decided to go with that. I planned on using the great whole wheat pearled couscous I thought I had in the pantry, but I had apparently used it up, and unfortunately the Whole Foods I stopped at isn’t carrying it anymore. So plan C was Israeli couscous cooked in broth (not as much fiber, but still tasty). I also decided to use sun-dried tomatoes, and top it with gorgonzola cheese. The taste was really quite good, but next time I think I’ll add some greens, like chard or mustard greens, for more taste contrast (as well as more color).

Israeli Couscous with Caramelized Onions, Sundried Tomatoes and Gorgonzola

Israeli Couscous with Caramelized Onions, Sundried Tomatoes and Gorgonzola

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