Saturday, March 20, 2010

Chicken Cacciatore

Last night we were celebrating the Feast of St. Joseph, and as it was a feast day we broke from our "No Meat During Lent" fast.  This recipe was hands-down everyone's favorite dish.  It is typical of peasant food from southern Italy -inexpensive, simple, and delicious!

We served it over polenta*.

Chicken Cacciatore
Serves 4-6 in 30 minutes

Gluten-free: Roughly $2 per person if you use chicken breast, less expensive if you use thigh meat.
  • 2 tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or more
  • 6 boned chicken breast halves, cut into 2-inch-wide strips
  • 1 onion, peeled and minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 ribs celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium green pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 1 28-ounce can tomatoes
  • Juice of 1 lemon
Combine the salt, celery seeds, oregano, pepper, and pepper flakes in a plastic bag. Add the chicken strips, close the bag and shake to coat them in the mixture.

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan large enough to hold the breast strips in a single layer. If you don't have a large enough pan, brown them in batches.

As they brown, transfer them to a dish. Add the onion, garlic, celery and green pepper to the pan and cook until the mixture softens.

Raise the heat to high and pour in the wine and allow most of it to evaporate. Lower the heat and stir in the tomatoes and lemon juice. Return the chicken strips with their juices to the pan. Cover and simmer the mixture for 15 minutes. Use immediately or refrigerate. Reheat slowly.  Serve over polenta.

*Polenta instructions:  Bring 4 cups of low-sodium vegetable broth to a boil.  In a steady stream, slowly pour in one cup of polenta (cornmeal).  Continue stirring briskly until polenta grians start to swell - about 3 or 4 minutes.  Stir often, finished in 15 minutes.

From Ciao Italia Pronto!: 30-Minute Recipes from an Italian Kitchen, by Mary Ann Esposito (2005).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Homemade Yogurt Demystified

When I lived at a Co-op in Berkely, I was terrified by the concept of homemade yogurt.  "What do they mean they let the milk ferment and incubate?  How can that be safe?", I thought to myself.

After a month of not seeing my housemates keel over, I worked up the courage to try it.


Now that DH and I are settled into our condo, I finally decided to try it for myself.  I take the basic process from Simply in Season, page 322.

Homemade Yogurt

Difficulty Level: Can you boil water?  Then you can make yogurt.  SUPER EASY. 

Equipment Needed:
  • 1-quart thermos dedicate to yogurt making (do not use for anything else)
  • Pot large enough to hold 1-quart of milk
  • A digital food thermometer (you should have one of these anyway - go get one!)
  • Cheese bag, fine cheese cloth, or coffee filters (optional)
  • Funnel (optional, but very helpful)
  • 1-quart of good quality milk (organic is best, raw milk is great if you can find it)
  • 2 tablespoons of plain yogurt with active cultures (called the 'starter')*
The whole yogurt making process is very basic.  Yogurt has good bacteria inside - active cultures, probiotics, whatever label you give them they are simply a healthy-for-you live bacteria.  In making yougurt, simply put you are going to create a breeding ground for these good bacteria. 

Choose a starter yogurt you like and want to re-create.  Do not start with a low-fat or fat-free yogurt, and make sure it has active cultures (the label will say this).  Use plain yogurt only.

Step 1
Fill the pot with 1-quart of water.  Bring to a boil.  When boiling, using a funnel pour the boiling water into the 1-quart thermos and close.  This serves two purposes.  First, it serilizes the pot and thermos so only the good bacteria (which you introduce with the starter) will grow.  Second, it heats up the thermos so that it maintains the proper incubation temperature for the yogurt.  If you are going to use a funnel to add the yogurt later, make sure you use it with the boiling water so it becomes sterile.

Step 2 (can do this while waiting for water to boil in Step 1)
Reserve two tablespoons of the starter yogurt. Take the rest of the starter yogurt and put 2 tablespoons at a time into the sections of an ice tray. Freeze. When frozen, take the individual yogurt-cubes and put them all in a ziplock bag (or other freezer-safe container) and return to freezer.  You can use these to start yogurt batches later.  Making yogurt requires the introduction of live cultures.  While you can buy live cultures through mail order, the easiest and cheapest way is just to start with another yogurt container.  Once you have your own production up and running, you can reserve some of your own yogurt as the next starter.

Step 3
In the now-empty pot, pour in 1 quart of milk.  Turn up heat to medium-high.  Stir with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom while it is heating.  Scald the milk (that is, bring it to a point where bubbles form around the edges but it is not quite boiling.  Temperature should be 180 degrees.  Any hotter, and it will burn to the bottom of the pan.)  Remove from heat.  This kills any bad bacteria that may be lurking.  Because of this step, it is safe to use raw milk for yogurt making since you are pasturizing it yourself.

Step 4
Let the milk cool to 105-110 degrees.  Add the reserved yogurt 'starter' and stir.  Pour the boiling water out of the thermos, and using a funnel pour the milk/starter mixture in.  Close tightly and shake a couple of times.  Walk away for 6 hours and do not disturb the thermos in this time.

Step 5
After 6 hours, PRESTO - you made yogurt!  Open and pour into a bowl to let it cool before putting in the fridge. 

Immediately rinse the thermos with very hot water until clean.  It is normal to see some yogurt stubbornly sticking to the side of the thermos so cleaning it immediately is critical.  NEVER use soap in this thermos as soap residue may interfere with the good bacteria growth.  You will sterilize it with boiling water every time you make yogurt so it will be safe.

Step 6 (Optional)
The yogurt you buy in the store is very thick because gelatin is added.  Your homemade yogurt will be runny, but you can easily thicken it up yourself.  Pour the entire batch of yogurt into a cheese bag or into a collander lined with fine cheesecloth or large coffee filters.  Let it drain for about an hour.  It will be much thicker when you are done.  You can reserve the liquid that drains off (the whey) and use it to bake bread.  It's full of protien and will add a nice sourdough-like tang!

Flavoring the Yogurt
One of the nicest things about plain yogurt is that you can flavor it however you like!  My DH and I perfer different things.  He eats it plain with his homemade granola, I like it with honey and blueberries. I've seen people add boysenberry syrup, maple syrup, strawberries, all kinds of flavors!  It's up to you!  You can flavor the entire batch, or flavor it a little at a time for variety.  Whatever you choose - ENJOY!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chickpea Curry with Fresh Dill Leaves served with Marathi Yellow Fried Rice

Whew!  That's a long title. 

This dish consited of two parts.  One: the curry itself and Two: the flavorful rice it is served over.

I made the rice first.  Let me tell you, this was hands down the most deliscious rice I have ever eaten in my entire life!  I am serious.  I didn;t want to waste my time making the curry, but since I figured we needed the protien from the chick peas I went ahead and finished cooking.

The curry is good, a strong dill flavor that I liked, but the original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of cayanne.  This was too much!  It is not that the cayanne made the dish to hot, rather the heat from the cayanne did not mesh well with the dill.  In my version below I am halving the cayanne, but I think you could omit it completely if you like.

Chickpea Curry with Fresh Dill Leaves
Serves 4 in 20 minutes

$1.50 per serving: Vegan, Vegetarian, and Gluten-free

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil

  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

  • 1/2 teaspoon cayanne

  • 1 teaspoon ground corriander

  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (about 2 large cloves)

  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger root (about a 2-inch piece)

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric

  • 1 medium tomato, finely chopped (or a 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained)

  • 3 cups finely chopped fresh dill including stalks (about 2 bunches)

  • One 15.5 ounce can low-sodium chick peas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed

  • 1/4 cup water

  • 1 teaspoon salt
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and saute the onion over medium heat until it has softened, about 5 minutes.  Add all the spices (except salt) and stir for 3 to 4 minutes.  Mix in the tomato and cook until it is soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the dill, chickpeas, water and salt.  Simmer until the dill is soft and tender, about 5 to 8 minutes.  Serve warm, over rice.

Marathi Yellow Fried Rice
Serves 4 in 15 minutes

$0.50 per serving: Vegan, Vegetarian, and Gluten-Free 

  • 1/4 cup canola oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

  • 2 medium green serrano chilies, sliced into 1/8-inch thick rounds

  • 1 medium red onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 1/2 cups)

  • 1/2 tespoon ground tumeric

  • 5 cups cooked white rice, pre-cooked and at room temperature

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

  • 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 teaspoon salt*

  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

  • 1/4 cup tightly packed cilantro leaves, minced (optional)
*Use leftover rice.  If you salted the rice when you originally made it, use 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.  If not, use 2 1/2 teaspoons salt.

Heat the oil in a large wok over high heat.  When the oil begins to smoke, add the mustard seeds and cover the pan immediately.  After the seeds have stopped sputtering, add the chilies.  When the chilies are toasted, add the onion and stri-fry until the onion is golden around the edges.  Add the turmeric, stir well, and take off the heat.

Add the rice, lemon juice, salt, and sugar to the pan, and toss until all the ingredients are yellow.  

Return the wok to low heat, cover, and steam until the flavors have blended, about 5 minutes.  Garnish with cilantro, if desired.

Both recipes are from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes by Ruta Kahate.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pasta with Garlic and Olive Oil (Spaghetti Aglio e Olio)

A filling dinner in 10 minutes for 25 cents/serving!

I have made two versions of Spaghetti Aglio e Olio.  Both are delicious, super-cheap, and very filling.

The first version is the one we served last night, by Lidia Bastianich.  She was kind enough to post it on her Facebook Fan Page a few weeks ago.  This recipe follows below.

The second version is by another PBS chef, Mary Ann Esposito (another specialist in rustic Italian cooking).  I own her book Ciao Italia in Umbria, and later this month I shall attempt its recipe for Mezzalune (Almond Crescent Cookies).  Tragically, I have lost my copy of her version of Spagetti Aglio e Olio, but I hope it is coming in the copy of Ciao Italia! I just ordered.  As soon as I am reumited with Mary Ann's version, I will be sure to share it!  UPDATE: I found a link to Mary Ann's version of the recipe here.

The primary difference between these versions is the amount of garlic used. 

I never thought I would say this, but Lidia's version almost has too much garlic!  It may be that I used especially strong garlic, but it was a lot to handle.  You can try this version as-is, or reduce the garlic by about 25-50%.

Spaghettini with Garlic and Olive Oil
Serves 6 as a main dish, or 8 as a side dish
Time to prepare: 10 minutes

$0.25 per serving: Vegan (omit cheese)
$0.50 per serving: Vegetarian (include cheese)
$2.00 per serving: gluten-free (make the sauce as described below, saute chicken breast in the sauce then serve over polenta)

  • Salt

  • 1 pound spaghettini or vermicelli* (nothing thicker than spaghetti)

  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

  • 1/2 teaspoon (or more to taste) crushed red pepper

  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley (MUST be fresh)

  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or Pecorino Romano (optional)

  • Gluten-free only: one pound boneless chicken breast and cooked polenta
*Spaghettini is very similar to vermicelli, and both are somewhere between cappellini and spaghetti when it comes to thickness. Because they cook quickly, it’s best to remove them from the boiling water when they are still undercooked, and to let them finish cooking in the sauce. Lidia finds this pasta very delicate but zesty and wouldn’t serve it with cheese. But if you love cheese in your pasta, have it.

Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil in an 8-quart pot over high heat. Stir the spaghettini into the boiling water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, but still very firm, about 6 minutes.  Gluten-free: start cooking polenta instead.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, shaking the skillet and stirring, until pale golden, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper.

Ladle about 1 ½ cups of the pasta cooking water into the sauce (gluten-free: add 3/4 cup hot tap water instead). Add the parsley, the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt to taste.

Gluten-free: skip to alternate last step, below.

If the skillet is large enough to accommodate the sauce and pasta, fish the pasta out of the boiling water with a large wire skimmer and drop it directly into the sauce in the skillet. If not, drain the pasta, return it to the pot and pour in the sauce. Bring the sauce and pasta to a simmer, tossing to coat with sauce. Cook until the pasta is coated with the sauce and done, about 1 minute. Remove the pot from the heat and toss in the grated cheese, if using. Check the seasoning, adding salt and crushed red pepper if necessary. Serve immediately in warm bowls.

Gluten-free last step: Cut the boneless, skinless chicken breast into 1-inch cubes.  Add to the sauce, and saute over medium heat until fully cooked.  Serve the chicken over polenta and serve imemdiately.

Squash with Bulgar Pilaf 2/28

This dish is my tastiest new discovery this year!  It is packed with flavor and is the perfect dish to warm you up on a cold night.

Squash with Bulgar Pilaf

Cooking time: About 45 minutes, maybe less
Makes about 2 quarts (12 Servings)
This will freeze very nicely - make it once and serve it twice!

$0.77 per serving: Vegan (omit yogurt topping and use olive oil)
$0.90 per serving: Vegetarian
$0.90 per serving: Gluten-free (replace bulgar with rice)

For purely organic incredients, add 25 cents per serving.
  • 1 large butternut squash or equivalently sized pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onions plus 3 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil plus 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 fresh New Mexico chili, seeded and finely diced (about 1/3 cup)*
  • 3/4 pounds cherry tomatoes (or a 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes)
  • 2 teaspoons dried red pepper flakes
  • Salt, to taste
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 3/4 cups bulgar wheat (for gluten-free, use rice instead)
  • 3 cups plain yogurt, drained to 2 cups* (omit for vegan)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon crushed garlic
Peel the squash/pumpkin and cut the flesh into 1-inch chunks.  You should have about 2 quarts (8 cups).  This can be done ahead to save time (I pumpkin that I had roasted and frozen in the fall).

In a deep skillet, heat 4 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat.  Add the 3 sliced onions (reserve the copped onions for later) and saute until golden and crisp (about 8-10 minutes).  Drain and set aside.

In the same skillet, add 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil and the chopped onions.  Stir to coat.  "Sweat" the onions over medium-high heat for 2 minutes.  Add the cubed squash and cook, stirring it to lightly sear it on all sides, for 2 minutes.

Add the chili, tomatoes, crushed red pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and 1 cup water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, partially cover, and cook for 15 minutes.

While the squash/pumpkin mixture is boiling, bring vegetable stock to a boil.  Add bulgar (Gluten-free: replace with equivalent rice), cover the pan, and simmer over very low heat for 15-20 minutes until liquid is fully absorbed.

Add the bulgar/rice to the pumpkin mixture and mix gently but thouroughly.  Let it rest for at least 10 minutes so the grain absorbs some of the juices.

Serve the pilaf topped with yogurt and the sauted onion slices.

Adapted from Mediterranean Cooking, by Paula Wolfert (1994).