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Making a Memory: Chicken Tikka Masala

27 May

The summer I lived in England 13 years ago was uncharacteristically hot. Most days were in the 90s and sunny, but near the end of my trip were a few of the cloudy, rainy days I was told to expect. Because of the weather, we’d been consuming a lot of pretty light food, but one cooler night a group of us went out to eat and I found myself wanting something heartier.

One dish that appeared nearly everywhere was chicken tikka masala, a curry described by former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook in 2001 as “a true British national dish, not only because it is the most popular, but because it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences. Chicken tikka is an Indian dish. The masala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of British people to have their meat served in gravy.”

At the time, I was pretty unfamiliar with Indian food (or dishes of Indian origin) and wasn’t sure what to expect from the spices of that region. My tomato sauces at home were full of garlic, basil, and oregano, sometimes with the additions of sausage or meatballs. This was a different kind of tomato sauce altogether, with a palette full of aromatics and spices to flavor the juicy chicken simmering therein.

I was hooked by the smell first, like breathing in a warm, spicy hug. And I mean spicy in an aromatic sense, not heat. There were so many different smells to catch and yet somehow they came together in harmony. The curry sauce was flavorful, rich, and creamy, and the chicken breast juicy and succulent. It was a perfect stew for a cool night, perfect alongside soft and warm naan bread to sop up every drop of the sauce.

Chicken Tikka Masala

  • 2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 2 in. pieces
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. garam masala
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. cardamom
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (I used nonfat, but any fat content works)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • ½ cup chicken stock or broth
  • 1 14 oz. can light coconut milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, combine the yogurt and spices and mix well.

Place the chicken in a nonreactive container or zip-top plastic bag, pour on the yogurt, and mix well. Let the chicken marinate in the spiced yogurt for 2-4 hours in the refrigerator.

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat and brown the chicken 2-3 minutes per side.

Remove the chicken to a plate, deglaze the pan with a splash of chicken stock, scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan, and pour that onto the chicken. Return the pan to the stove and reduce the heat to medium-low.

Pour in a little bit more olive oil, add the onion and saute 3-4 minutes, or until soft.

Add the tomato paste and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Stir in garlic and ginger.

Deglaze the pan with the crushed tomatoes. Add the coconut milk and broth, and bring the curry to a gentle simmer.

Add the chicken and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until thickened to your desired consistency.

Serve over rice or with warm naan to soak up all of the wonderful sauce.

Over the years this has remained one of my favorite curries to make. For me it’s not just seeking to recreate a dish, but a feeling and a moment in time. When I taste this I am instantly transported to that sweet summer night surrounded by laughter and good company, and feel the comfort that comes from that. And it helps that it tastes absolutely delicious.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Variation on a Theme: Enchilada-Style Shredded Chicken

9 May

Guess who started a new job last month? Meeeee. I’m working as a pharmacy technician now, which means that I’m on my feet for 8 or so hours a day several days a week. It’s challenging work with a HUGE learning curve, but I’m slowly finding my way and learning to serve customers well. It’s very rewarding to help people stay well in this new way. I still miss teaching a lot, but am hoping (fingers crossed) to get back to that this summer now that I’m really starting to feel healthy again.

When last we met, I introduced you to one of my meal preps, pressure cooker shredded chicken. While it is filling and delicious, I like to make variations of it to keep my meals interesting and fulfilling. I’ve been making a real effort to shift my diet toward more whole foods and that means thinking about preparing things in advance so I don’t reach for a pre-packaged snack. Now more than ever I need foods that are easy to reheat so I have something healthy during my break at work that keeps me going for the rest of my shift. This hearty enchilada-style chicken checks all the boxes. It’s got a great, spice and aromatic-rich tomato sauce and tastes wonderful on its own, over rice, or even rolled up in a tortilla if you prefer.

This recipe uses a pressure cooker. I can do all of the steps in an Instant Pot, but if you don’t have one of those, just saute in your pressure cooker over medium heat for the first few steps.

Enchilada-Style Shredded Chicken

  • 1 ½-2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or chicken breast tenders
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 jalepeño pepper, minced (seeds removed)
  • 1 white or red onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 2 cups crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup no salt added chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. salt

Using the saute function on an Instant Pot or a pressure cooker over medium heat, cook the onions, jalepeño, and garlic in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes until fragrant and slightly softened.

Add the crushed tomatoes, chicken stock/broth, chili powder, cumin, and salt to the pot and bring to a gentle simmer.

Season the chicken breasts with salt and then add them to the pot and stir.

Seal the pressure cooker and cook on high pressure for 10 minutes. After the time has elapsed, use the quick release function or allow the pressure to release naturally.

Remove the chicken from the sauce and shred it. Store the chicken and sauce in separate containers for easy portioning.

I like to put some of the chicken and sauce over steamed brown rice and have that alongside some type of salad. It makes an incredibly filling meal without being heavy. Super energizing, healthy, and (so important) tasty! And it reheats easily—maybe even tastes better the next day.

I’ll be introducing you to more of what I’ve been working on the last month or so very soon. I’m learning a lot about how to eat in a way that fuels my body well and keeps me feeling happy and satisfied, and I’m really looking forward to sharing that with you.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Meal Prep: Shredded Chicken with Tomato, Carrot, Pepper, and Onion Salad  

21 Mar

I think lunch gets overlooked because most of us are busy in the middle of the day. All the more reason that a filling, healthy lunch is so important. You need that mid-day boost to keep your energy up. Preparing my meals in advance is one of the ways I keep myself spending money on buying something quick in the middle of the day. Sunday nights, I make enough food for four lunches, giving me one less task to attend to during the week when I’d rather be focused on other things.

This is another place where the pressure cooker comes in handy. You can have this all done in under an hour using two pots and one bowl. Easy, right?

Pressure Cooker Shredded Chicken

  • 3 ½ – 4 lbs. chicken breasts, cut into strips
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 carrots, cut into quarters or a handful of baby carrots
  • 3 stalks celery, cut into quarters
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cups unsalted chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
  • A few stems of fresh parsley
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • Dried oregano

Tomato, Carrot, Pepper, and Onion Salad

  • 16 oz. carrots, diced
  • 16 oz. red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, diced
  • 8 oz. grape tomatoes, halved
  • 8 oz. red onion, diced
  • 2 tsp. dried basil
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 4 tsp. dried parsley
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • Several grinds of black pepper
  • ½ cup white wine vinegar
  • 6 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. honey

Brown Rice

  • 2 cups brown rice
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt

First, get the rice started. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add the rice, cover the pot, and reduce to a simmer. Simmer the rice, covered, for 25-35 minutes until all of the water is absorbed. Fluff the rice with a fork and then move to a lidded container for storage in the refrigerator.

While the rice is cooking, prepare the chicken. Place the onion, carrot, celery, parsley, and garlic in the pressure cooker.

Season the chicken on both sides with salt, pepper, and oregano.

Add the chicken stock/broth and seal the pressure cooker.

Cook on high pressure for 20 minutes and then release the pressure naturally or using a quick release function.

Remove the chicken to a container, shred using a couple of forks, and then season with more salt if needed. Move to a lidded container and store in the refrigerator. Strain the broth from the pot and save it in another container in the refrigerator.

For the salad, combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and then divide among four containers. Whisk together the white wine vinegar, mustard, and honey. Divide the dressing evenly among the containers of salad, seal, and then shake each container to distribute the dressing.

Usually I take 5-7 oz. of chicken, reheat it gently with some of the leftover chicken broth and eat that over about a cup of the reheated rice with the salad on the side. It’s a really filling, but not heavy meal with lots of different textures. The savory chicken over well-seasoned rice is warm and comforting, and the salad gets better as the week goes on because the dressing really soaks into the veggies.

Taking a little bit of time to prep at the beginning of the week makes my lunches easy, inexpensive, healthy, and delicious; the best of all worlds! I hope this helps you out too.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Easy Eats: Instant Pot / Pressure Cooker Turkey Chili

27 Feb

When I’m short on time, I often turn to my pressure cooker for quick, big batch meals. It’s an easy way to throw a few simple ingredients together and make something filling and delicious without a lot of prep or clean-up.  As an added bonus, it can turn out some really healthy meals too, and today’s recipe ticks all the boxes. (For those readers on Weight Watchers, this is a freebie zero-point recipe!)

If you don’t have a pressure cooker, this can also be modified into a regular slow-cooker recipe. Just follow the steps, and saute the ingredients in a separate pan, add the ingredients to the slow-cooker and then cook on low for 5-6 hours instead of pressure cooking. It’s not as fast, but it’s still delicious.

Pressure Cooker Turkey Chili

  • 1 lb. ground turkey breast or ground turkey
  • 1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 bell peppers, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 ½ tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. salt

Spray the pot with spray oil or add a tbsp. of olive oil. Saute the onions and ground turkey for 5-8 minutes, or until the onions begin to turn translucent.

Add the garlic and bell peppers and saute for 2-3 minutes more.

Deglaze the pot with the chicken stock, being sure to scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pot.

Add the cumin, chili powder, salt, crushed tomatoes, and beans and stir well to combine.

Seal the pressure cooker and cook on high pressure for 5 minutes. You can let the pressure release naturally or use the quick release function.

Garnish with fresh parsley or cilantro (which I wish I liked but just tastes like soap to me, alas) and serve.

Definitely a one-pot wonder for sure. This turns out a rich, hearty chili that’s even better the next day. It also freezes really well. Super comforting for the cold, blustery days we’ve been having recently. Hope you have a chance to try it soon!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Fit to be Fried: Extra-Crispy Chicken Tenders

13 Jan

Occasionally I find myself making something for the thousandth time and wondering, “Why have I not put this on the blog yet?” Usually I think maybe it’s too simple or not “special” enough…but if it’s good enough to make over and over and over again, doesn’t that make it definitely worth sharing? I think so. And that’s certainly the case with today’s post.

Now, traditional fried chicken is great for sure. The crispy skin and juicy interior are a winning combination on any plate. But sometimes you don’t want to fuss with bones and you want something extra extra crunchy. That’s when chicken tenders are precisely the answer to your fried chicken cravings. This recipe makes the blank slate that is the boneless, skinless chicken breast into something truly remarkable. Plus, the small, even portions make for faster frying and more easily controlled oil temperature (which means more crispy and less greasy!)

Extra-Crispy Chicken Tenders

  • 2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-3 oz. strips, or 2 lbs chicken breast tenders
  • Salt, pepper, paprika, and dry mustard
  • All-purpose flour for dredging
  • 7 cups corn flakes, crushed, mixed with 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • Peanut oil for frying

Pat the chicken breast pieces dry season liberally with salt, pepper, paprika and dry mustard.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, and Dijon mustard.

Arrange your breading stations: Dredging flour, egg mixture, and corn flake/flour mixture. Have a pan lined with aluminum foil ready.

Dredge the chicken in the flour and shake off the excess.

Next, dip the chicken in the egg mixture and let the excess drain off.

Finally, roll the chicken in the corn flake/flour mixture, gently pressing to get the crumbs to adhere.

Move the breaded chicken to a pan lined with aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow breading to set well.

To fry, preheat about 1-2 in. of oil in a deep pot or saute pan to 350 degrees F. Have an upside-down cooling rack over some paper towels ready for draining the finished chicken.

Fry the chicken pieces for 3 minutes or until golden brown.

Move the chicken to the cooling rack and season with salt.

And that’s it! A few simple ingredients and a speedy cooking time make this a great weeknight meal. I especially like that you can prepare your chicken hours in advance and fry whenever you’re ready to eat. The corn flakes make for a spectacular crunchy crust and the meat stays juicy due to the short cooking time.

Things don’t always have to be complex to be special. I hope this recipe sticks around in your kitchen just as much as it has in mine.

Ciao for now,

Neen

 

Back in Action: Turkey Meatloaf with Honey-Dijon Glaze

19 Dec

Hi there, remember me? Yes, it’s been a few weeks. And what a few weeks! Shortly after Thanksgiving, I ended up in the hospital after a series of blackouts. It turns out I had a complete heart block, which is where the electrical signal doesn’t make it from one chamber of the heart to the next. Basically it made my heart rate tank into the low 20s, making me very short of breath and causing the aforementioned blackouts. The solution to this problem was immediate surgery to give me a pacemaker, so that my heart can beat 100% at the proper speed. I feel GREAT! It’s really been like coming out of the dark. I’ve been fatigued for a long time and had no clue how bad I was feeling until, well, I wasn’t anymore. So that’s why I’ve been absent. I can’t really use my left (dominant) arm for reaching, lifting, or straining for about a month, so baking has been pretty much out of the question.

But I am finding ways to keep on cooking. One of the things suggested in my discharge papers from the hospital was to follow a heart-healthy diet. Not because I had any artery-blocking problems, but because reducing strain on the heart and preventing any of those issues is a generally good idea for someone who already has a pacemaker. So I’ve been having fun both finding creative ways to cook and also some ways to alter favorite recipes.

That brings me to today’s offering. The perfect winter meal, both easy to prepare and surprisingly even better to reheat: Meatloaf. It’s easy to make a juicy meatloaf with beef and pork, but I was interested in taking something leaner and making it sing. I turned to ground turkey, and while there isn’t much fat there to speak of, fat’s not the only way to keep a meatloaf moist both on the initial cooking and when you want to have a tasty meatloaf sandwich the next day. And the best part is that our additions will add lots of bright and earthy flavors to the party.

Turkey Meatloaf

  • 1 ¼ lb. ground turkey
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, finely chopped*
  • 1 onion, finely chopped*
  • 1 red or orange bell pepper, finely chopped*
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbsp. ketchup
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 3 tbsp. honey
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

*I let my food processor do the work here since my arm mobility is limited and I’d recommend it for getting a super-fine, even dice.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and lightly grease a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-low heat. Once the oil is fragrant, add the onion, pepper, and a pinch of salt and cook until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more.

Add the mushrooms, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper. Cook until the mushrooms release their liquid and it evaporates, about 7-8 minutes.

Transfer the vegetable mixture to a large bowl and stir in the Worcestershire sauce and ketchup. Set aside to cool slightly.

Combine the bread crumbs and milk in a small bowl

Add the bread crumb mixture and eggs to the vegetable mixture and stir well. Then, using your hands or a spatula, mix in the turkey.

You can either free-form the loaf into a 9×5 in. oval or use a 9×5 loaf pan as a mold and then turn it out onto the prepared baking sheet.

Combine the honey and mustard, and glaze half of it on the meatloaf.

Bake the meatloaf for 30 minutes, and then spread the remaining glaze on top and bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the middle registers 170 degrees F, about another 10 minutes. Let the meatloaf rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

I think a serrated knife works best for getting clean slices.

The mushrooms add moisture and a nice meaty texture, while the bell pepper also adds some juiciness and brightens the whole dish. My favorite part is the tangy-sweet honey-dijon glaze that really amps the flavor up. I enjoyed mine with some mixed greens and brown rice for a perfectly delicious and very filling heart-healthy meal.

I’m really happy to be healing well, and can’t wait to get back to baking soon. My posts might be a bit intermittent for the near future, but I’m always thinking up new treats to share, and will be back to regularly scheduled programming ASAP. I hope you enjoy every moment of this holiday season. I know I am extra, EXTRA grateful this year just to be here.

Ciao for now,

Neen