Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Curried Chicken Thighs

I looked in my refrigerator, trying to figure out what to make for dinner.  I had already defrosted chicken thighs.  I pulled out potatoes,


onion and cilantro -- perfect for making a nice curry. 

Not all curries are the same, of course. And the taste depends on the combination of spices used in the curry powder. Over the years, I have learned to make my own curry powder by dry-roasting the spices, grinding them in a coffee grinder and then combining them.  Typically, dry curry powders (as opposed to the wet ones common throughout Southeast Asia) feature turmeric, chili powder, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cardamon seeds, some kind of pepper, fennel seeds, and other spices.  I tend to like hot curries, but you can make mild curry powders with ease.

I took a few minutes to look online for recipes and came across one on the Food Network site that received very positive reviews:

Since I had some leftover coconut milk, I used that instead of heavy cream.  You could probably just as easily use plain whole-milk yogurt, which I find adds a nice tang.  I also increased the amount of cumin, decreased the amount of cinnamon, and added a bit of chili powder and ginger. I didn't have fresh peas and was offended by the thought of using frozen peas, so I just omitted them.  You could add spinach for green color and added nutrition.



  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 6 chicken thighs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 3 teaspoons curry
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced on diagonal
  • 1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas


Heat oil in large skillet and stir in butter to melt. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Cook thighs skin side down until golden brown. Flip chicken and continue to cook until golden brown. 

Remove chicken to a plate. 

Stir in onions and cook until tender. Stir in curry, cayenne, cinnamon and cumin and cook until aromas are released. 

Stir in carrots and toss to coat. 

Add chicken stock and bring to a simmer. 

 Place chicken thighs back into skillet and stir in broccoli. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes to cook chicken. Stir in cream and peas. Season to taste. Serve with basmati rice 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Molasses Crinkle Cookies

There is something to be said for no-frills simplicity.  You can tell from many of the recipes that I post that  there are often many details that are time-consuming.  The end result is well worth the effort, but the process of getting there can be arduous.

Every now and again, I like to whip up simple confections that do not require lots of time, thinking, or ingredients.  Guess where you can find such recipes?  On the back label of the ingredient!

For a while now, I have been craving something sweet made with molasses, but I did not want to make gingerbread.  I wanted something with crunch to it.  I looked in the cupboard and pulled out the bottle of Grandma's Molasses.

The back label had a very easy recipe for molasses crinkles, which took about 10 minutes to make.

I had run out of vegetable shortening and had to use butter.  Whatever.  I mixed the softened butter with the brown sugar, egg and molasses.

As you can tell, I was feeling very lazy.  I didn't bother to sift the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, cloves, cinnamon and ginger) together first.

The batter needs to chill in the refrigerator.  I left it in there for about 45 minutes or so.

After rolling the batter into walnut-size balls, i dipped them in sugar and sprinkled water over each one.

I baked them a little longer than the recommended 10 minutes, as I wanted them to be very crisp.

They're simple, tasty, and go well with tea.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Eating in Monrovia, Liberia

My work is leading me more frequently to West Africa.  I posted about Accra late last fall, and this time, I'll be reflecting on Liberia.  The country is small in size, but has a rich and diverse cuisine that reflects the influence of various groups that interacted with the local population.  Arabs brought cinnamon, mint and other spices, while the Americo-Liberians made their contributions, as well, bringing pound cake to the country's dessert table.  This evolved into a cake that is spiced with ginger and cinnamon, a nice variation on the theme!

Still, there are some things that Liberia has in common with other West African countries.  Ingredients such as tomatoes, palm oil, sweet potatoes, cassava leaves and a wide variety of seafood (including dried fish) are common in many recipes, often accompanied by massive portions of perfectly cooked rice.  Liberians eat mashed cassava (fufu), but they are very serious about their rice!

My time in Monrovia -- which is Liberia's capital -- was pretty short.  I was fortunate to be accompanied by Liberians who knew the best places to eat.  I made sure to stress that I wanted to eat in locally owned restaurants that served Liberian cuisine.  The hotel where I stayed caters to the international, Western crowd.  I went the night that I arrived, expecting to find Liberian dishes on the menu, only to discover that 90% of the offerings were continental.  I asked if my choices could be Liberianized in some way.  That didn't work so well.

So I understood that I had to venture out to find local food.  When I asked people for recommendations on where to eat, invariably I was told to go to Evelyn's on Broad Street.

It's a pretty simple place -- definitely not fancy.  But bear in mind that Liberia is still recovering from two brutal civil wars.  Because a place is simple doesn't mean that its food isn't delicious!  People directed me to Evelyn's, which is a favorite with both Liberians and ex-pats.

It's good, solid Liberian food in a down-home, comfy environment!

The menu

is chock full of local favorites, which are usually spicy stews made with some kind of meat or fish cooked in a thick mixture of cassava leaves, palm oil, stock, and aromatic spices.

The menu is organized around daily specials.  I went on Monday and ordered the cassava leaf.  I was between meetings and my lunch companion made sure that the wait would not be long!  About ten minutes after placing the order, the stew arrived.  I wanted something that was all seafood, but that would have taken more time.  So I contented myself with the beef-fish concoction that was way too big for one person to eat!

A large plate of perfectly cooked rice accompanied the stew

as did the ubiquitous, homemade pepper sauce, a variation of which is found throughout West Africa.

I love pepper sauce and devoured the entire plate.  It is not for the faint of heart -- or for those who forget their Tums.  Not kidding.

The stew was flavorful, heavy and filling.  I left nearly half of mine.  I wanted to leave room for dessert!  My eye was captured by Liberian rice cake, which looks like a variation on an American carrot cake. But the texture is thicker, grainier, less sweet.  And it's made with either bananas or sweet plantains.  The waitress brought me a warm piece that was just crispy on the outside and softer on the inside.  I smelled nutmeg and ginger as the spices.

I stupidly volunteered to share my dessert with my lunch companion.  I could have eaten the entire piece myself!

A slightly more upscale place was located in The Rose Garden Plaza, a spanking new building that housed a travel agency.

Restaurant at der Platz is definitely more upscale than Evelyn's, and it had a much more extensive menu.

 Unfortunately, the time we had for lunch was even more compressed!  So instead of choosing based on what I really wanted to eat, I was guided by what was already ready!!

I chose fried fish (grouper), which came accompanied by a mountain of rice, onion sauce and . 
sweet plantains.  This one, however, was accompanied by palm oil-- which is very, very rich, aromatic and flavorful--and bean gravy.

I got a little carried away with the palm oil, forgetting about its richness.  In Liberia, it's poured over the rice, which is then topped with the bean gravy.

One thing that struck me about Liberia's restaurants was how expensive they were!  I saw little difference between the prices in Monrovia as compared to the United States!  And consider that fact that the country is very poor.  One wonders how average Liberians afford to eat out!

Most probably don't.  They go to local markets like this one, located along the main road that goes to Sierra Leone:

This open-air market, like others in West Africa, sell spices, meat, fish, and produce.  I wish that I had had more time to explore this one, but alas, I was on the way to the airport and had time for only a quick drive by.

I look forward to returning to Liberia.  I hope to actually get into a kitchen and cook local food!!!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Korean Meat Dumpling Soup

You would not know this from the blogs that I post, but Korean is probably my favorite cuisine.  I love the cleanness of the flavors that combine so beautifully with red chili-derived heat.  That's why I find it a bit perverse that I have never once tried to make a Korean dish!  Nor can I offer any real reason as to why.

I"m not sure what changed, but something clicked in my head last week.  I pulled out my new go-to  essential asian cookbook and began perusing the Korean section.  Korean soups are especially good, so I decided to focus on those recipes.  I found one for a meat dumpling soup that intrigued me.

As I read the recipe, I was surprised to see that it called for toasted, crushed white sesame seeds.  It dawned on me that the crushed seeds played a key role in creating the distinctive flavor that I associate with Korean food and not other East Asian cuisines. The recipe combined beef and pork, made into dumplings cooked in a ginger and scallion-infused beef stock.  Can you smell it???

I was confronted with some challenges.  I was determined to make the soup, but realized that I did not have the exact ingredients.  I didn't have mushrooms, which are chopped and put into the dumpling.  So, I substituted chopped bamboo shoots.  That worked fine.  And I had won ton wrappers; not the gow gee wrappers called for in the recipe.  Whatever.  I used what I had on hand.  While not totally authentic in that way, the soup was very, very flavorful and the dumplings were absolutely delightful.

Most of the work is in the preparation of the vegetables.  The recipe itself is straightforward.  I see myself memorizing it and making this soup on a regular basis.  It's definitely a winner!


Korean Meat Dumpling Soup

1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
2 tablespoons oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 3/4 oz. lean pork mince
6/1/2 oz. lean beef mince
1/3 cup water
6 1/2 oz. Chinese cabbage, finely shredded
3 1/3 oz bean sprouts, chopped, scraggly ends removed
3 1/3 oz mushrooms, finely chopped
3 spring onions, finely chopped
4 3/4 oz gow gee wrappers

2.5 liters beef stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/4 inch piece fresh ginger, very finely sliced
4 spring onion, chopped

1.  Toast the sesame seeds ina dry pan over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes,

shaking the pan gently, s gently, until the seeds are golden brown, remove from the pan at once to prevent burning.  Crush the seeds in a food mill or with a morta and pestle.

2.  Heat the oil in a pan.  Cook the garlic and mince over medium heat until the meat changes color, breaking up any lumps with a fork. 

Add the water, cabbage, sprouts and mushrooms. (I used bamboo shoots instead of mushrooms.) Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 6 minutes or until the water evaporates and the vegetables soften.  Add the spring onion, crushed seeds and season with salt and pepper to taste; set aside.

3.  Work with one gow gee wrapper at a time and keep teh extra wrappers covered with a damp tea towel.  Place 1 teaspoon of filling on a wrapper, just off-center, and gently smooth out the filling a little.  brush teh edges oft he wrapper with a little water and fold it over the filling to form a semicircle.  Press the edges together to seal.  Repeat with the extra wrappers and filling.  (I could not find these wrappers, so I used won ton wrappers.  If you find yourself in the same position, make sure you seal them tightly as they will become puffy if you don't.)

4.  To make Soup: combine the stock, soy sauce, ginger and half the spring onion in a large pan; bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. I added additional Chinese cabbage.

5.  Drop the dumplings into the soup and cook gently for 5 minutes, or until they change color and look plump.  Garnish with the remaining spring onion and serve immediately.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Indonesian Beef Rendang

As you know from the majority of my blog posts, I'm a lover of southeast Asian cuisine. What can beat coconut milk, lemongrass and pungent spices? I particularly like coconut milk-based curries, which are found throughout the region.

When I was in Malaysia, my friends took me to an Indonesian restaurant. I had had Indonesian food just once -- in Curacao. It made a wonderful impression, so I was excited to eat Indonesian food again. There were a few dishes that I still recall from that Kuala Lumpur restaurant. The beef rendang was definitely at the stop of the list. It uses tougher cuts of beef -- such as chuck -- and cooks it slowly in coconut milk, wet spice paste, and ground spices that make a rich, dark, highly aromatic curry. The coconut milk absorbs into the beef, which is cooked over a period of a few hours and becomes dry. The texture is very different from what you'd find with more traditional beef stews, as there really isn't any gravy. I served it with boiled white rice.

I found that the dish was even better the second day after the aromatic spices seeped more deeply into the beef.

I've been cooking a lot from the essential Asian cookbook, published by bay books, which is where I found this recipe. The cookbook also has a recipe for Malaysian beef rendang, which calls for tamarind pulp. I'm still scouring Asian food shops to find it! When I do, you can be sure that I'll try that recipe, too.


Indonesian Rendang

3 lbs. chuck steak
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
4 teaspoons crushed garlic
1 2/3 cups coconut milk
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
4 red chilies, chopped
1 stem lemongrass (white part only) or 4 strips lemon rind
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons grated palm sugar or soft brown sugar

1. Trim the meat of any fat and sinew, and cut it evenly into small (about 1 1/4 inch) cubes.

2. Place the onion and garlic in a blender or food processor and process until smooth, adding water if necessary.

3. Place the coconut milk in a large pan and bring it to the boil, then reduce the heat to moderate and cook, stirring occasionally, until the milk has reduced by half and the oil has separated out. Do not allow the milk to brown.

4. Add the coriander, fennel, cumin and cloves and stir for 1 minute.

Cumin is a key ingredient in the cuisines of both Malaysia and Indonesia.

5. Add the meat and cook onion mixture,

chili, lemon grass, lemon juice and sugar.

6. Cook, over moderate heat for about 2 hours, or until the liquid is reduced and the mixture is quite thick. Stir frequently to prevent catching on the bottom of the pan.

7. Continue cooking until the oil from the coconut milk begins to emerge again, letting the curry develop colour and flavor. The dish needs constant attention at the is stage to prevent it from burning. The curry is cooked when it is brown and dry.