I was wandering by the local Quality Food Store (QFC) recently and noticed that due to it being spring and everyone wanting to BBQ they had a nice display set up with a grill and many bags of charcoal brickets but something was off. Upon closer inspection the grill they decided to surround with brickets wouldn't even be able to use them... because it was gas. Maybe they have a package deal - if you buy the grill you get a free back of charcoal....
You just have to wonder sometimes what the left hand is doing. Especially if you're the right hand. I was browsing LivingSocial looking for great food deals and I noticed that there were 8 (count them) hits for Indian food so I clicked on it and I got this message. Last time I checked 8 was still a positive number.
I love rich food and I've come to love the mix of a rich sauce with meat over rice. You get this a lot with Thai curries, Indian Curries, Persian Korescht, and Afghan Quormas. This seems to be a very good format and economical too. Spices cost a lot but you don't need many and rice is cheap. Add meat of some sort and you have a great meal for a decent price. Living in the Pacific Northwest means that we have very limited selection of Persian restaurants and even when you do find one it's probably overpriced and low on quality. When I'm in Orange County I always eat at the Caspian Restaurant in Irvine not only for the environment but for the Fesanjoon.
Fesenjoon (slang for Khoresht-e Fesenjan) is a "stew" made up of a sauce from walnuts and pomegranate syrup/juice. It's wonderfully tart and deep. You add chicken and serve over Basmati rice. Not everyone likes it but it's one of my favorite things to eat.
I've eaten Fesenjoon at many restaurants and tried making it on many occasions. I've been somewhat successful but my Fesenjoon doesn't taste like the Caspians which is wonderfully smooth without being too sweet. Last week I ran across kshar.net, a site run by man determined to bring Persian culture to the masses. What brought me to his site was a three part series on Fesenjoon. His cooking style is a bit loose so you have to pay close attention to what he's doing to get similar results. He also doesn't argue about what SHOULD be, it's your food make it how you like it. He seems to be intent on letting a few ingredients talk as apposed to having many ingredients fighting for attention - I agree with this philosophy.
With that in mind I made Fesenjoon the other day. Following is the pseudo recipe.
- 2.5 c of walnuts
- 1 c of water
- 2 c of pomegranate syrup or 1/4 c pomegranate molasses and 1/4 cup sugar*
- one onion diced
- 2 lbs of chicken thighs
- 2 cups of basmati rice
- For the sauce place a portion of the walnuts in the blender with a little water and blend. If they're too dry to blend add more water. Keep adding water and nuts until they're coursely ground. You don't want a smooth paste here or you won't taste walnuts.
- Once their ground place them in a pot on the stove and cook them on medium-high while stirring to keep from burning
- Add pomegranate syrup and sugar - see my note below and turn to medium-low and simmer for 1.5 hours minimum. The sauce will get darker the longer you simmer it
- Heat oil in saute pan until hot, add onion and saute until browned. Dark sauces want browned onions, not just golden
- Add perhaps a teaspoon of turmeric, then add chicken thighs, brown on both sides and set aside
- When the sauce has been simmering for 1.5 - 2 hrs add it to the chicken and simmer again for another 30 minutes. Turn the chicken over on occasion to baste in the sauce
- The oils from the walnuts will rise to the top (and be green colored like olive oil) and the chicken will get a bit of a crust from the sauce on it
- Let cool and put in the refrigerator - this is a second day dish
- The next day put the saute pan back on the heat and warm gently on medium-low for about an hour
- Serve over basmati rice
* Note on syrup vs molasses. I bought a large jar of pomegranate syrup made in Slovenia. This looks like a jar of cranberry juice but you can tell the liquid is definitely thicker. It was already sweetened with sugar and two cups seemed about right. Adding sugar made the sauce overly sweet. If you have pomegranate molasses (common) you'll want to put in 1/4 cup and add 1/4 c
A lot of times Fesenjan cooked at home and sometimes in restaurants is pasty and/or so tart you can't eat it. The pastiness seems to be from people undercooking it. Don't get impatient and eat it too soon, you'll be sorry. This dish can be eaten same day but it's much nicer the next day.
A couple of things that seem to make a difference
- Put the pomegranate syrup in with the walnuts from the beginning
- Don't grind the walnuts too fine so the sauce still has a walnut taste
- Cook the sauce for a long time. It will get darker and richer as time goes on
- Add Pomegranate syrup/sugar according to your taste
Media Validator - $1000.
Regular readers of the Man, the Myth, the Legend will know that I'm a big fan of pumpkins. See my previous pumpkin articles as proof. This year I did a Pumpkin Smackdown article on the best pumpkin varieties and tested based on flavor, texture, cookability, longevity and availability. As you may recall I rated the Rouge vif d'Etampes (Cinderella) pumpkin the winner. Most other pumpkins even if they have decent flavor fall down in one way or another. Since I refuse to use "pumpkin" from a can my pumpkin buying season is fairly limited to October and possibly some of November due to the popularity of pumpkins at Halloween for the humans and the somewhat related popularity of pumpkins as food for farm animals in November. I put quotes around the word pumpkin in the previous sentence because what's in the can is listed simply as pumpkin alone in the ingredients list and yet it's BROWN. Pumpkin is NOT brown as you'll see in the photo in this article and in fact it's very very orange. I'm not sure why a can of nothing but pumpkin ends up being brown but I'm skeptical that they found some unknown variety of pumpkin with brown flesh. Until that mystery is solved by Scooby and the gang I'll stick to fresh pumpkin that happens to be bright orange.
With that in mind you may recall from my Pumpkin Smackdown article that the Cinderella excelled on longevity. If left alone and their skin is not broken in any way they'll last up to 6 months. My daughter Natalya brought me several Cinderella pumpkins in late October. I cooked my last one tonight - 5 whole months later. A lot of people tell you that pumpkins need to be stored in dark cool places etc. but these pumpkins were stored in the front room under my Chippendale era Buffet at room temperature for 5 months. The trick is for the air to be dry (no garages) and to never break the skin. If you nick the pumpkin's skin you have to cook it within a day or two or it will rot. If the pumpkin is stored in a damp location it will rot. The longest I've ever kept pumpkins has been inside the house in a warm dry environment where they didn't get damaged.
This pumpkin was a very large one which is why I waited until the very last moment to cook it. Because of it's size it wouldn't fit on my half sheet pans thus I had to cut it across the poles (instead of around the equator) and cook one half at a time taking nearly 6 hours. The meat I was able to retrieve from it will probably get me another 6 loaves of pumpkin bread and maybe another pan of Pumpkin Lasagna.
We have some meals around our house that we cook often but there's no recipes attached to them. This is in part because it's all by taste and also because I haven't gotten serious enough to focus on making them recipes. One of those meals is Barbecue Chicken Pasta. This might seem out of left field until you realize that most people have no problem eating Barbecue Chicken Pizza. For the pasta rendition we substitute noodles for the pizza dough and add in some nice caramelized veggies. We're not exactly forging new trails here with grilled chicken, boiled noodles and sauce. However, what makes this meal a bit more complex and the reason I don't have a proper recipe for it is the sauce. There's a million jarred BBQ sauces on the store shelves but the problem is that none of them fit this dish. Most are too smokey, too hot, have too much vinegar bite or are too sweet. Since I just knocked out the four dominant flavors of BBQ sauce you may wonder what my vision is. I want a sauce with no smokiness, no heat, a touch of sweetness to complement the caramelized onions and peppers, a touch of zippiness and a whole lot of tomato flavor. What I want is a BBQ flavored tomato based sauce that's bright and lively but not overpowering. You'd think that with 30 million jarred bbq sauces that someone would have that combination but so far I've not found it.
Following is the very rough recipe. I'm not happy enough with it to put it in the recipebook on this site. Later when I get the sauce dialed in I will but for now it's just a blog post. Forgive me for being just a bit vague on things.
Barbeque Chicken Pasta
- 2 lbs chicken breasts sliced once horizontally (3/4" thick)
- 4 medium red bell peppers in 1/2" slices
- 3 medium sweet (Maya, Vidalia or Walla Walla) onions sliced 1/2" wide
- 1 lb penne pasta
- 3 tbs olive oil
- 3 tbs vegetable oil
- 1 tbs salt
For the sauce (in order of need):
- 3 tbs butter
- 1/4 cup minced onion
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 4 cups tomato ketchup
- 1/4 cup squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 4 tbs Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
- 3 tsp kosher salt or fresh ground sea salt (cut in half if you're using table salt)
- 2 tsp dry mustard
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce
- Put olive oil in large straight sided saute pan over medium heat until hot
- Add sliced red bell peppers and saute for 10 minutes
- Add sliced onions, continue sauteing until both peppers and onions have carmalized (30 more minutes at least), stir occasionally
- In heavy bottomed frying pan place vegetable oil over medium heat until shimmering
- Place two chicken breasts in the pan and grill until brown, flip and repeat on opposite side. Remove to plate and add more. Grill until all chicken is done.
- Melt butter in medium sized sauce pan over medium heat and heat until foaming, add onions and garlic and saute for 2 minutes
- Add all other sauce ingredients and reduce heat to medium low and simmer
- While sauce is simmering cut the chicken breasts 1/2 wide and add to the onions and peppers and turn the heat to low
- Place large stock pot or sauce pan full of water on high heat. Add the salt and bring to a boil
- Add penne noodles and cook until al dente (10 minutes)
- Add pasta to onion, peppers and chicken.
- Fold bbq sauce into the other ingredients
- Serve in pasta bowls with fresh grated parmesen.
Just as a warning I use a 12 inch saute pan with 3 inch sides and these ingredients just barely fit.
It's been a while since I put up any recipes but I recently hosted the end of the quarter potluck for my classes and so in doing that spent most of a day cooking. On occasion I have a vegetarian student and I pull out the old favorite - Pumpkin and Mascarpone Lasagna. It also just so happened that I had just enough pumpkin left from my second to last pumpkin of the season. The recipe calls for 2 lbs which is quite a lot and I had exactly that.
The nice thing about this recipe is that it's nice, light and a bit exciting. The reaction you have after eating this is the same as the reaction from Butternut Squash Ravioli - you wonder why people limit themselves to boring meat/cheese and red sauce noodles. The flavors are bright and exciting, meat or cheese lasagna is boring and drab. Maybe it's not for everyone but so far every person I've fed it to really liked it and in addition it's good for most vegetarians (has dairy and eggs) and like many non-meat foods, it's cheap. In fact as I made it the cost is roughly $1 per slice of lasagna and half that cost comes from cheese. Shop around and you may be able to make it for less.
The Recipe: Pumpkin and Mascarpone Lasagna
Note for anyone not willing to eat eggs they can just leave them out of the Bechamel. It will be less fluffy but still very nice.
There's been a long drought of articles here at The Man, The Myth, The Legend and for that I apologize. The only thing I can say is life has gotten more complex and very busy. I started a new relationship and the school quarter is ending thus most of my time/energy/motivation has gone into those things. As I find balance I should be able to get back to posting more often.
A note to my readers though, looks like we'll push past 2 MILLION unique visitors this month. It took 4 years to get the first million and only since September to get the second. This is a huge milestone and I hope the increased traffic continues. I'd like to see more commenting of course though.
Another announcement is that I'll be pushing the Recession Chef articles out to a new website - recessionchef.com. Don't get too excited yet as I'm still working on it but you can wander over there and tell me what you think if you'd like. I'll still post general food blog posts here and I'll repost Recession Chef articles here (or at least promote them) but all articles having to do with "Eating well on a recession budget" will be posted there. That content will go toward the book. If you'd like to follow the Recession Chef on Google+ (where all the cool kids hang out - Oh my gosh, Facebook is sooo MySpace!) you can circle the Recession Chef Google+ page.
I was in a grocery store last week and I saw that they were carrying both El Monterey Chili and Picante burritos. I've never seen both in one store and have in fact bought Chili thinking I was getting Picante only to get home and spit them back out. I'm not a fan of my frozen burritos tasting like Chili powder. If I wanted chili powder in my mouth I'd combine it with tomatoes and make chili with it. The Picante burritos though I like and after that unfortunate incident I've had to be very careful to read the package to make sure I was in fact getting Picante and not Chili flavored burritos.
This display though accentuates the problem - El Monterey has two products that look nearly identical. Yes the shade of red is slightly different and there are a few words that are not identical but I feel these two products need to be more unique. So let's think about having two products nearly the same, most stores won't carry both because the number of people grabbing the wrong one and then returning them probably goes up. I don't know the protocol for returned goods but I bet it's a write off. So by only being able to sell one OR the other in each store you're cutting your market in half. It would seem that by making the packages drastically different they could put another product out there and increase sales. Just an observation.
Phad Thai is a very easy meal to make at home if you have the right ingredients. There are several brands of Phad Thai sauce on the market and frankly I'm not entirely happy with any of them alone. However upon buying several and inspecting the ingredients list and tasting them I've found an alternative to making my own Phad Thai sauce - speedball them! Mae Ploy one of my favorite Asian product makers focuses on fewer ingredients in their jarred Phad Thai sauce and only lists 11 items. Ingredients include palm sugar, shallot, water, fish sauce, soy bean oil, vinegar, tamarind, red chili, salted radish, dried shrimp and salt. Por Kwan, another popular company has 14 ingredients so in exchange for the shallots in Mae Ploy's sauce they have onion and garlic, tartaric acid, citric acid and sodium metabisulphate. From the ingredients list the Mae Ploy definitely sounds like the better product but the overall effect is a sweeter sauce. After experimenting I've found the best combination is a 50/50 mix of both sauces. I use one large jar of Mae Ploy and two small jars of Por Kwan.
I'd post a recipe but for something this simple there really doesn't need to be one. The following directions are very loose so feel free to vary them as you see fit.
- Soak one pound of Rice Sticks in hot water for about 15 minutes or until just soft, drain
- Slice (2 lbs?) chicken breasts into 1/4 inch thick slices and no more than 1/2 inch in width, brown in frying pan
- Pour all jars of sauce in blender with a cup of water and blend, pour in saute pan along with drained noodles (time saver)
- Beat 4 eggs in bowl and fry lightly in frying pan until just firm, break up in small pieces and add to noodles
- Add chicken to noodles
- Finely slice the green stem part of 4 green onions, add to noodles
- Finely chop a handful of peanuts, add to noodles
- Add two handfuls of mung bean sprouts to noodles