Saturday, January 3, 2009

Biryani Is The Ultimate Love Potion

For those of you who have made this dish before, you know exactly what I mean. If your man is a good 'ol boy from the motherland (Pakistan), and you make this for him on a lovely weekend afternoon, you know you can talk him into letting you get away with ... well, anything! Even though Bombay Biryani is a great party dish, it's even better when it's just you and your guy (and maybe the kids ... lord knows they won't leave the two of you alone!). Even as you're cooking it, the smell will be so intoxicating for him that he'll be poking around the kitchen every few minutes, repeatedly asking "is it ready yet?!". Then when he's finally able to dig into it, he'll keep shooting you worshipful glances with those puppy-dog eyes. Now listen, I don't encourage you to take advantage of your guy in this vulnerable state. BUT ... this may be a good time to mention that KitchenAid Stand Mixer (or any other desirable item) you've been lusting after.

With such charitable thoughts in mind, and knowing that 2009 needed to start off on a high note, I made this dish. For those of you who aren't too sure about it, biryani is a rice dish from the subcontinent (India/Pakistan/Bangladesh), usually containing meat, chicken or seafood with a mixture of spices and sometimes vegetables. There are many different styles of biryani, some more spicy than others, using different combinations of flavorings. These days companies like Shan Foods are producing packaged masalas (spice mixes) for the various types of biryanis. Personally I don't recommend using these spice mixes for everything you cook, but even I have to admit that Shan's Bombay Biryani mix is pretty spectacular.

Bombay Biryani (Serves 6-8)

1 chicken, skinless, cut into small pieces
3 tbsp canola oil
3 large onions, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp ginger paste
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
3 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1 inch chunks
1 cup plain yogurt
1 1/2 cups of water
1 whole packet of Shan's Bombay Biryani mix (available in any indian grocery store)
4 1/2 cups basmati rice, washed
1 tsp salt
Handful of chopped cilantro
Yellow food color OR small pinch of saffron soaked in 2 tbsp of warm milk (optional)
Handful of pre-fried onions (optional)
1 tbsp butter (optional)


1. Heat up a large pan with a lid. Add the sliced onions and saute till golden brown, on medium-high heat.

2. Add in the ginger and garlic. Mix around for a minute.
3. Add the chopped tomatoes, mix, turn the heat down to medium, and cover the pan with the lid. Let the tomatoes soften for 5-7 minutes.
4. After tomatoes have become a little darker and have cooked down to a mush, add in the chopped potatoes.

5. Follow this immediately with the chicken, yogurt, masala mix and 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the lid, turn the heat down to medium-low and let it simmer for about 20 mins.

6. Take the lid off after 20 mins, turn the heat up and keep stirring the mixture till it thickens and reduces somewhat. Chicken and potatoes will be completely tender by now. Turn off the heat.

7. Cook your rice the way you usually do. For biryani, I take my stockpot, fill it 3/4 of the way with water. Put in one big cardamom pod and half a cinammon stick. When the water starts to boil, I put in the washed rice. Give it a stir and add the salt. I keep checking it every few minutes. It usually doesn't take more than 8-9 mins. Once the rice is just done (not mushy), I immediately pour out the whole thing into a sieve, so that all the water drains out from the rice.
8. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
9. To assemble the biryani, layer the bottom of a large pot (12" or more in diameter, and high sides) with the plain rice. Then layer the chicken mixture evenly over the rice. The remaining rice will go on top of the chicken, covering it completely. Then I sprinkle some fried onions, cilantro, food color/saffron milk and bits of butter. Make sure you cover the pot tightly with its lid, then put it in the oven for 15-20 mins.

10. Take it out of the oven, remove the lid and let it rest for about 5-8 mins. Then take a large serving spoon and gently mix the whole thing, so that the chicken mixture gets distributed. Serve immediately with raita (whipped yogurt with cilantro/green chilli paste). Leftover biryani will stay in your fridge for 4-5 days, as long as you keep it in an airtight container. Take it as your lunch to work and drive everyone nuts with the aroma!
Let me be honest. So far I've only said what this dish does to the guys. But ladies, you know if your guy actually made this dish for you, all by himself (picture him in an apron), would you not turn into a puddle of love at his feet? Admit it!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Bright New Year

I can't even begin to reflect on everything my family and I have been through in 2008. There have been some very high highs and some pretty low lows. Suffice to say I have a lot of hope for 2009. So in that spirit I wish you all, dear readers, a wonderful, happy and healthy new year!

Stay positive, be brave, be strong, and always keep pushing yourselves to be the best you can be. And remember to truly cherish your loved ones, the lights in your lives.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Grandma's Famous Chicken

I think about Mumma (what we all used to call my maternal grandmother) quite a bit. She is no longer with us, but she is still a very real presence in our lives. An intelligent and accomplished woman, with a generous spirit, and a loving disposition, my Mumma was just as responsible for my initiation into cooking as my own mother. She was a formidable cook herself. Some days she would prepare her prized hyderabadi Mughlai-style dishes that people would travel through Canadian blizzards to get at. On other days she would delight the westernized palates of her bratty, ungrateful grandkids (ahem, that would be my brother and I) with her inimitable fried rice or spicy chicken spaghetti.

So today, as I was flipping through my recipe folder, I came across this hand-written recipe. This is the most prized memento I have from Mumma, which she gave to me as I was leaving my parents' home for the first time, going off to live on my own in this big, scary world. This recipe for 'Fried Chicken' - although it's technically braised, not fried - was one of the first things I learnt how to cook. It's flavors will always remind me of all things I loved about my Mumma.
I've taken quite a few liberties with this recipe since I first made it. It's very forgiving that way - hey, just like Mumma! - and here is one version of it.

My Grandma's Famous Chicken

4 skinless chicken legs, thighs attached
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp ginger paste
1/4 cup soya sauce
1/3 cup white vinegar
Marinate all the above ingredients above for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

3 tbsp canola oil
1 small onion finely chopped
1/4 cup apple juice / cranberry juice
1 cup boiled peas (the frozen ones will do)
Honey-Roasted Carrots with Thyme (recipe to follow)
Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes (recipe to follow)

Step 1: Prepare the Roasted Garlic and keep aside.
  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Take one whole head of garlic and slice off the top 1/4 inch. All the cloves should be exposed. Leave the papery skin on.
  • Now pour 1-2 tsp of extra-virgin olive oil over the top.
  • Sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt.
  • Wrap the entire garlic bulb in foil and put it straight onto the middle rack of your oven for 50 mins.
  • Take it out, let it cool down, then squeeze out the caramelized, buttery-soft garlic cloves from their skins.

Step 2: Prepare the Honey-Roasted Carrots with Thyme and keep aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Take 4-5 medium-sized carrots, wash them, scrape the skins off and chop into roughly 1 inch chunks.
  • Place them on a foil-lined roasting tray, and pour over 1 tsp of extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Pour over 1 tbsp of honey and sprinkle 1/4 tsp dry thyme (or 1 or 2 sprigs of fresh thyme leaves).
  • Add a pinch of kosher salt and some black pepper, then mix it all up so that the carrots are coated well with the honey and olive oil.
  • Roast them for 45 mins.

Step 3: While the carrots are roasting, prepare the Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes and set aside.

  • Peel and chop 4 medium-sized potatoes into 1/2 inch chunks.
  • Put them in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes chunks are tender, about 10 minutes.
  • Drain the water out, then mash the potatoes with 1 tbsp of butter, 2 tbsp of milk, at least 4-5 cloves of the roasted garlic you prepared earlier, along with salt and pepper.

Step 4: While the potatoes are boiling, get started on the main component of Grandma's Famous Chicken.

  • Put 2 tbsp of the oil in a skillet on med-high heat.
  • Remove the chicken legs from the marinade (don't throw out the marinade) and sear them in the pan, till golden-brown on both sides. Take the chicken out and keep it on the side.
  • Pour in 1 more tbsp of the oil in the same skillet, then add the chopped onion. When these turn golden, add back the chicken.
  • Pour in the marinade (*gasp* - I know, but trust me, all bacteria will be dead when you boil the heck out of this!) and the cranberry juice and bring the whole thing to a boil. Then turn the heat down to medium-low and cook the chicken till tender - about 20 mins.
  • Note: You might want to add more soya sauce OR vinegar per your taste. I personally prefer to add more vinegar than soya. No need to add salt to this sauce because of the soya.
To assemble the final dish, pile on the Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes in the middle of a large platter. Place the four chicken pieces on top. Scatter over the Honey-Roasted Carrots With Thyme, along with the boiled peas. Finally, spoon over some of the delicious gravy, while keeping the rest aside in a gravy-boat. Hot dinner rolls will help your guests soak up all the delicious gravy.
And there you have it, my Grandma's Famous Chicken, in all it's proud glory!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Chicken Salad Sandwich + Out & About In Chinatown

People close to me call me "The Organizer", as if planning and organizing are my superpowers! Huh. Little do they know. I've evolved, folks. Being married to someone as laid back and easy going as DH has rubbed off on me. A level of spontaneity has crept into my being. For instance, one of my favorite things to do is wander around aimlessly in Manhattan. I grab my city map, pick out a general area I want to explore, just enough cash to indulge any impulsive roadside purchases, and off I go! Granted, I can't let go of control completely, but this is still an improvement ... ask DH.

Recently, I was asked to show a friend around Chinatown, and I think I was more excited about it than she was! But it was going to be a long walk, so I had to go prepared. That meant a hearty lunch, but not so heavy as to make me sleepy. This is one of my two favorite ways to prepare Chicken Salad, and it was inspired by Pioneer Woman's Chicken Salad (that gal makes me snort with laughter and salivate with hunger!).
Crunchy Chicken Salad

1 small chicken in pieces, with skin
3 celery stalks, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1/2 bunch fresh dill
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup yogurt OR sour cream
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp brown sugar
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
Dash of paprika/tabasco

1. Boil the chicken with the skin on (keeps the meat moist) till done. Once cool, discard the skin and shred the meat roughly.
2. Mix the mayo, yogurt, lemon juice, brown sugar, dill, salt, pepper and paprika. Keep aside.
3. Combine in a large bowl the shredded chicken, celery, green onions, dried cranberries and walnuts.
4. Pour over the mayo-yogurt mixture into the chicken mixture and thoroughly mix the two. You can add more mayo or yogurt if you need it wetter. Check for enough paprika and salt!
5. My favorite way of enjoying this is the way
Ree does, by layering some baby spinach leaves on toasted bread, squirt on some honey-mustard, pile on the chicken salad, and stuff into face.

Thus fortified, I was all geared up for my adventures in Chinatown! The place makes me feel like a complete tourist every time, because there is so much I don't know ... but I love it! I took my girlfriend on the mandatory Canal Street crawl, where we browsed through a sea of knock-off designer handbags. Can someone explain to me how these places get raided every few months, but always keep coming back? How come nothing seems to have changed? There didn't seem to be a decline in the number of people trying to whisper "you want handbag?" as we walked by. As far as I'm concerned, I think Canal Street makes for great tourist shopping, but am just curious to know how they get away with it! Anyone? Do tell.

Then it was up Bowery Street, turning off into the little side streets whenever we spotting something of interest. We wandered into one of the restaurant supply stores there, and I wanted to pay a viewing fee because it felt like walking into a great old museum! A treasure trove of quirky supplies for any kind of asian restaurant, like ginormous woks, steamers, ladles of every size, strainers, sushi making instruments, serving platters ... you name it (if you can actually name everything in one of these stores, my hat's off to you, because I couldn't!).

My first favorite moment of the day came as we were walking along and saw this large crowd of people huddling together in front of this chinese grocery store. On closer inspection, my heart started racing. There, in all their "stinky" glory, were boxes upon boxes of durian! Yes! The very same durian that makes my Anthony Bourdain moan with pleasure and makes Andrew Zimmern almost puke. This was my first experience with durian, so I elbowed my way through to the front of the crowd to get a good whiff of this offensive-yet-allegedly-addictive fruit. But to my surprise, I didn't think it was that strong of a smell. Huh. Very strange. Sure, it had that slightly rotten-esque aroma, but nothing too crazy to handle. I was under the impression that this stuff could wipe out a neighborhood with its smell, but in reality I didn't think it was bad at all! The seller did mention that it had been frozen, so maybe that cut down the strength of the smell? I hung around hoping that I could get a free sample, but no such luck. Since I was on a budget, I decided to forgo buying one for $7 (for something I may not even like), but maybe I will next time. I'm still thinking about it and wondering about the taste, so I must go for it the next time I spot it. Done deal!

We stopped in to check out some chinese bakeries along our walk, and I've decided that next time I come here on an empty stomach! Everything looked so new and tempting ... and cheap! Steamed buns stuffed with all kinds of goodies, sweet puffy breads, and tantalizing sweets. My second favorite moment of that day came when we ventured into the Double Crispy Bakery, and there in front of me were fresh and hot egg custard tarts. I used to have these very often while I was living in Toronto, thanks to a good friend of mine (of Hong Kong origin) who introduced me to the fascinating world of dim sum. For nostalgia's sake, I decided to try one from this bakery. One bite and I almost started jumping up & down like a giddy schoolgirl! This was the best egg custard tart. EVER. Warm. Crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside, with just the right amount of egginess and sweetness (not too much). It was the most popular item in that bakery, so you know I'm not the only one who thinks that. I could've eaten a dozen of those by myself, if there weren't other witnesses around.

It was the perfect bite with which to finish off my trip to Chinatown. Needless to say, I'll be back. I can't stay away too long. It's like my drug.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Lip-Smackin' Breakfast Burrito

Weekend mornings usually start off pretty slow for DH and I. Even Ozzy makes a late start. All three of us often lie there, huddled under the covers, slowly blinking our eyes in the morning sunshine. If Ozzy sees that it's one of those mornings where mommy is not jumping out of bed, then he will proceed to get his morning lovin' on. This involves a lot of purring, nuzzling, cuddling, licking, and basically draping himself over my face - his way of saying "I wuv you". And since I've taught him well, he'll make sure that DH doesn't feel left out, by going over to his side of bed and giving him the same special Ozzy-love treatment!

It's so cold these days that I need a damn good reason to crawl out of bed. So on weekends I give in to the luxury of staying under the comforter (could anything be more appropriately named?!) until I figure out what exactly I'll be making for breakfast. This Breakfast Burrito came into existence purely out of what I was craving one day, as I lay snuggled up next to DH and Ozzy. My thought process went something like this: "Salty, not sweet. Egg, but not the regular kind or scrambled. Carbs, but not bread. Cheese, definitely need cheese. Gotta think of my calcium intake, after all! har dee har har. Crunchy, not mushy. And spicy. 'Coz a little bit of spice goes a long way into making a meal feel more satisfying and filling". Ok, so perhaps I wasn't THAT coherent first thing in the morning, but you get the idea.

Lip-Smackin' Breakfast Burrito
Flour Tortillas
Canola Oil
Coriander Chutney, store-bought or homemade (recipe to follow)
Shredded cheddar cheese


1. Spread about 1 tbsp (or more if you like it spicier, which I do) of the coriander chutney on one side of a flour tortilla, leaving a margin of 1/2 an inch around the edge.
2. Fry an egg with a tsp or two of oil in a pan. Break the yolk, and cook both sides of the egg.
3. Drain the oil from the egg and place it in the center of flour tortilla.
4. Top it off with 2-3 tbsp of shredded cheese. Sprinkle just a pinch of kosher salt all over as well.

(Oooooooo, would you look at that ... the cheese is already starting to melt over the egg. Only good can come from this!)

5. Roll up the burrito (not too tight, or the filling will burst out) and place it on a hot non-stick skillet. Let it turn brown and crispy on both sides.

6. Then eat it right away, because baby, these are good to GO!
Boyoboyoboyoboyoboy! This really wakes up all your senses first thing in the morning. The crispy bite of the tortilla (browning it on the skillet is essential!), the softness of the egg, the gooeyness of the cheese, and the fragrant spicyness of the coriander chutney might make breakfast your best meal of the day.

I usually have a bottle of store-bought coriander chutney in my fridge, for raitas, or to go with tikkas and kababs. And it works beautifully for this Breakfast Burrito. But if I have the freshly made stuff on hand, then obviously there's nothing better!

Fresh Coriander Chutney
1 bunch of fresh cilantro/coriander leaves
2 tbsp of grated coconut
4 whole green chillies
1 large garlic clove
Pinch of salt
Pinch of sugar
Juice of 1 lime
Method: Whiz it all up in a food processor, with a bit of water (if needed). Nothing simpler! This will store for a few days in your fridge, but trust me, you'll be using it on everything so it will disappear soon enough! Don't be ashamed of just spreading it on toast and eating it - it really is THAT good!