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Summer, Meet Autumn: Squash-Pumpkin-Chicken Curry with Cilantro-Poblano Rice

20 Aug

Along with chipotle peppers, curry has become a staple flavor profile in ever-expanding repertoire.  From curried French toast to curried fried chicken and waffles, I’ve yet to meet a favorite dish that didn’t take well to my curry-fication.

Us Wisconsinites were spoiled this past week with a couple days of marvelous early-Autumn-like weather with just the tiniest chill in the air.  After the swampy, oppressively hot couple of weeks prior, it was a welcome respite and preview of my favorite but far-t00-short season in Wisconsin.  It also reminded me that I had a bunch of acorn squash and white pumpkin in my freezer, CSA leftovers that I used to make a delicious curried soup with crispy kale this past winter.  Longing for those comforting flavors, but not quite ready for a steaming bowl of soup, I decided to make a simple chicken curry incorporating my leftover winter bounty.  A refreshingly zippy pairing of cilantro and poblano pepper-infused rice helps this dish bridge the late-August gap between sweltering Summer and fair-weather Fall.

Sqush, Pumpkin, and Chicken Curry with Cilantro-Poblano Rice

Ingredient Rundown:

  • 3-4 Chicken thighs, deboned and cut into 1in x 1in pieces
  • 1 cup jasmine or basmati rice
  • 2 cups of water
  • Squash and/or pumpkin, roasted and mashed (I used leftover acorn squash and white pumpkin from a soup I made this winter, which I had frozen in some zip-top bags)
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1 medium white or yellow onion, diced
  • 1 poblano pepper, julienned
  • 1 small handful of cilantro, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp tandoori seasoning
  • dash of ground chipotle powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

How I do it:

  • Prepare cilantro-poblano rice liquid by combining water, cilantro, half of the poblano pepper, pinch each of salt and curry powder and blend until smooth.
  • Prepare base sauce for curry by combining chicken stock, ~1 cup of squash/pumpkin mash, tomato, half of the onion, Indian spices, salt and pepper and blending until smooth.
  • Rub chicken thighs with mix of curry, garam masala, tandoori, pinch of salt and pepper.
  • In large saute pan (or your trusty cast iron skillet), heat olive oil over medium heat and saute the other half of the minced onion, poblano pepper and garlic for a minute or two until softened.
  • Add chicken and saute until browned, 5-8 minutes.
  • Add curried squash puree along with another half cup or so of the mashed squash/pumpkin to pan and cook, uncovered for 20-25 minutes, until sauce has thickened.
  • Now would be a good time to start the rice – heat cilantro-poblano water until boiling, reduce heat, add rice and cook as directed.  For my jasmine rice, 20 minutes is about right.
  • Fluff rice with a fork and serve  aside squash-pumpkin-chicken curry.  Bask in the cross-seasonal glory.

Check out this post and other great foodie content from my friends at Forkful of News.

Curry Favor and Bury Flavor with Brine

26 Jul

I never liked pork chops much growing up. All-too-often overcooked to within an inch of their lives, I couldn’t understand why my parents loved them so much. But flash forward to present day and you’ll know that I adore all things pig, including the humble chop. Why the change of heart? What if I told you a simple bath in salty water and a gentle hand with a hot pan was all that stood between you and the juiciest pork chop you ever ate? Would that be something you might be interested in?

Brining, or the simple process of marinating a food in a salty liquid solution, is perhaps the simplest, most fool-proof means of keeping even the leanest cuts of meat flavorful and juicy, provided you don’t overcook them. The science is a little dense, but the gist is that the high salt content of the brine serves to alter the chemistry of the cells in the meat to the point where they want to hold onto as much moisture as possible. This makes for good eating.

The brine can also act, as any marinade does, to saturate the target with intense flavors impossible by simple surface seasoning. Toss in any spices you would normally use as a rub and watch those flavors penetrate every corner of your meat.

The second key to succulent swine is to take it easy with the heat.  The practice of using uncooked scrap meat as animal feed, coupled with lax meat-handling conditions from farm to table in years past lead to outbreaks of trichinosis, a pig parasite that causes intestinal maladies in most and severe reactions and even death in an unlucky few. While undercooked meat is nothing to joke around about, pork can take on a sear just like a quality steak and a little pink in the middle isn’t a bad thing. Buy fresh or keep frozen and out of the Danger Zone of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit and most meat should be safe to sear. (Editor’s Note: Buying from a farm you trust can also help alleviate concerns.)

Brined pork chops have become one of my favorite cool-weather comfort foods, paired with braised root vegetables or earthy risottos, they make for comfort food of epic proportions.  A recent curry craving had me wondering how the bright flavors of the East might make for a more season-appropriate application of a Fall/Winter stand-by. A quick couscous salad later and I had my answer: great success!

Curry-Brined Pork Chop with Couscous Salad

Ingredient Rundown:

  • bone-in pork chops

Brine

  • water
  • ice
  • kosher salt
  • brown sugar
  • sweet curry powder
  • garam masala
  • cracked black pepper

Couscous Salad

  • Cooked couscous
  • finely chopped vegetables (I used red and green bell pepper, onion, carrot, tomato, garlic and cilantro)
  • lime juice
  • olive oil
  • white vinegar
  • curry powder
  • garam masala
  • powdered ginger
  • Sriracha or other hot chili sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste

How I do it:

Add about 2 cups to a quart of water (depending on how many chops you’re brining) to small pot and heat until nearly boiling. Add a few teaspoons of salt until the water takes on a seawater-like salinity. Add sugar and remaining spices and stir until salt and sugar dissolve. Add ice until brine is cooled to room temperature.

Place pork chops in brine in a sealed storage container or zip-top bag and marinate in refrigerator for 8-24 hours. Obviously, they will take on more salt and curry flavor with longer brining. I have found that 12 hours is a safe bet for a flavorful, yet not over-salted chop.

Prepare couscous salad by cooking couscous as directed (usually by bringing twice as much water as couscous to a boil with a pinch of salt and splash of olive oil, adding couscous and removing from heat to steam for about 5 minutes, fluffing with a fork).  I added a generous dash of maharaja curry powder with the water as to permeate the couscous as it cooked.

In a mixing bowl, prepare dressing by whisking together lime juice, splash of vinegar, Sriracha, spices, salt, cilantro and olive oil. Add vegetables, stir to combine, cover, and place in refrigerator to chill. Flavor will intensify the longer it chills.

When ready to cook, remove pork chops from brine and pat off excess liquid.  Season with a rub of cracked pepper, curry and garam masala. I sprayed each side of the chops with olive oil and added them to a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Depending on thickness of chops, 3-5 minutes per side should do the trick.  Don’t be afraid of a little pink in the middle.

Plate with couscous salad and serve.

Irreconcilable Differences: Huevos Divorciados

26 Jul
They remain good friends

My Summer of Spice continues with its Latin bent and a simple, savory and piquant way to start your day. Or end it (breakfast-for-dinner is always a welcome change of pace for me).

Huevos Divorciados (“divorced eggs”) is a close cousin of the familiar huevos rancheros available at most breakfast joints across North America. I stumbled upon the dish as I looked for a way to use up some of the extra salsas that take up half of my fridge at any given time. Inspired by other Mexican dishes that feature bright-colored red and green sauces, huevos divorciados pits one egg, smothered in salsa roja (Team Red) against its embattled mate, doused in salsa verde (Team Green). The tangy bite of the salsa verde serves as a nice counterpoint to the savory roja. While they might not appear to be on speaking terms, they reunite in your mouth to remake the magic that put them on the same plate in the first place.

Huevos Divorciados

Ingredient Rundown (per serving):

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 medium potato, thinly sliced
  • 1 half small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • chorizo, either one small link or 1/2 cup of ground and browned
  • spices (Penzey’s Northwoods Fire or other spicy blend, garlic powder, cumin, salt and pepper)
  • salsa roja
  • salsa verde
  • tortilla
  • olive oil/bacon drippings for frying
  • cilantro, chopped
  • guacamole (optional)
  • sour cream (optional)
  • refried beans (optional)
  • shredded cheese (optional)

How I do it:

  1. Season and fry sliced potatoes until mostly cooked, 10-15 minutes on medium.  Add chorizo, onion and red bell pepper, continue to cook for 5-10 minutes until tender.
  2. Fry 2 eggs, leaving the yolk runny. Over-easy works for me.
  3. Briefly warm tortilla in skillet until lightly crisped.
  4. Place tortilla on serving plate and top with fried potatoes, vegetables, chorizo and optional beans and cheese.  Top with fried eggs, side-by-side and garnish one egg with salsa roja (red), the other with salsa verde (green) and plenty of cilantro.  Seperate with optional guacamole and sour cream.  Buenos dias!

This is a great excuse to use up leftover salsa or a reason in itself to whip some up.  Fresh homemade salsa is one of summer’s simple pleasures and you should always have some on hand.  Say no to that jarred spaghetti sauce stuff!  This dish works great as intended — a simple, bold, and hearty breakfast — and as an admitted lover of breakfast-for-dinner, I have been known to eat this meal at all hours.  It’s never not a good time for anything with a fried egg on it.

Korea in a Hot Stone Bowl: Bibimbap

21 Jun

DSC05627

Working next to a Korean restaurant for most of the workweek, I have – for the past 8 months or so – been under the constant assault of fantastically pungent aromas courtesy of K-PeppersMy familiarity with Korean cuisine sorely lacking, one dish that always caught my eye – and tongue – is bibimbap.  Translated as “mixed rice”, bibimbap is an extremely simple and insanely popular dish throughout Korea.  Ingredients vary widely from region to region, as does preparation and serving.  By far the most interesting variation of the dish is dolsot (“stone pot”) bibimbap, which is served in a crackling hot stone bowl the acts to crisp the bottom of the rice and cook the egg right at your table.  It’s the Korean take on fajitas, really.  And who doesn’t love fajitas?  That sizzle!  How fun!

After diving in and making bibimbap for the first time at home, I felt compelled to finally head next door and see the authentic dish, prepared by some serious Korean chefs, Eric and Rachel Kim. How it took me 8 months to finally make there last weekend is a crime. 

KPeppers Bibimbap

Quite a spread, eh?  One of the coolest parts of the Korean meal are all of the banchan or small side dishes that come with the meal ranging from pungent kimchi to fried carrot pancakes and coleslaw.  The sizzling bowl was more than just a gimmick, creating a delicious crisp rice crust on the bottom and cooking the runny egg yolk just enough to make for a creamier mixed rice.  My first tango with fern brake and bellflower root was certainly a memorable one.  Don’t call me LeVar Burton and don’t take my word for it.  Go to K-Peppers and see for yourself.  Then go home and make it for yourself.  This is simple comfort food at its best and it is endlessly customizable to whatever you feel like or happen to have on hand.  It has a fried egg on it, people.  Enough said.

Bibimbap

Ingredient Rundown:

  • A variety of vegetables (my version, pictured above and absolutely by no means traditional contained spinach, bean sprouts, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, red, yellow, and orange bell peppers.  More traditional ingredients include daikon, bellflower root, eggplant, zucchini and braken fern stems.  Shockingly I didn’t have most of those on-hand.)
  • 1 egg per serving
  • 1 cup of prepared rice per serving
  • Venison, beef, chicken, tuna or any other protein of your choice
  • hot sauce to taste (I made a paste of Sriracha, sesame oil and Szechwan chili sauce
  • sesame oil and minced garlic for sautéing vegetables and protein
  • salt to taste

DSC05621

How I do it:

  1. Sauté vegetables, seperately, in minced garlic, salt and sesame oil until cooked through. (I left the cabbage raw).  Set aside.
  2. Cook enough rice (I used white jasmine) for 1 cup per serving.
  3. Sauté protein in sesame oil (in my case, venison steak, marinated in rice wine, rice vinegar, ginger, and some leftover La Folie). Slice thin or into small pieces.
  4. Lightly fry an egg, sunny side up.
  5. To assemble, place rice in the bottom of a large, heated bowl and arrange the vegetables and protein in an interesting way.  Top with the fried egg and hot sauce to taste. 
  6. To eat, break the runny yolk and mix everything together.  It’s called mixed rice, so that’s what you do.  Pretty simple.  And delicious. 

Check out this post and plenty of other savory food-related nuggets over at Forkful of News!

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