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Monday, August 10, 2009

Day One...What Else Could I Call It?

I've successfully completed one-going-on-two days of my personal "One Year of Abstenance" restaurant/fast-food challenge. Let me tell you, I almost forgot and went out with my husband for some rare beef phö. But, I promise you, I didn't. Just look at that picture - doesn't it look amazing? It is, sigh, it is.

Instead, we started the day with some of my famous homemade, Lemon-Coconut pancakes topped with a slightly tart fresh blueberry sauce. They turned out, ok. I won't gloat or pretend that these were my best pancakes. I didn't use enough sugar and the batter didn't foam up as much as I liked, making the pancake a little denser than normal. The blueberry sauce was somehow left unattended on the stove for a little longer than normal, creating more of a "Blueberry Jam" than a syrupy-sauce that I like.

I am not even sure I ate lunch yesterday. I do know that last minute I ran to the store, bought my sons a cantelope, two frozen pizzas, a package of turkey hot-dogs and whole-wheat buns, and a bag of generic Capt'n Crunch cereal. The hot-dogs survived my sons' death grip as we practically ran to the theater to see the almost new Transformers 2. We also ate peanut butter M&M's. I'm not proud. (But, I did buy them at the store, so I feel safe in that omission of poor food choice.)

Determined to make something tasty and moderately healthy, I came home, washed the dishes and dug through my fridge. There were two Hawaiian sweet potatoes (they are white inside if you've never seen one) that were sprouting, a half empty bag of carrots, some green beans, a few tomatoes, frozen peas, and the standard aromatics: garlic, ginger, onion and chile. I decided to make a vegetable curry of sorts with the above mentioned, and spent about thirty minutes peeling and chopping said vegetables. That resulted in a lovely callous at the base of my index finger on my left hand. I feel like a true elbow-greaser! After I was done chopping, I spotted a hidden bulb of fennel that I then dissected as well.

I sauteed the onion and fennel in extra virgin olive oil until lightly golden and caramelized. I then added garlic, ginger and a few dried red chiles to the pan and sauteed them as well. While they sizzled I combined a spice mixture of turmeric powder, fennel seed, cumin seed, coriander seed, black pepper, cayenne pepper, salt, chile powder, paprika and garam masala in my spice grinder. I poured the spice mixture over the sauteeing aromatics and stirred. Then, I drained my vegetables (I'd placed them in a cool water bath to prevent the sweet potatoes from turning brown) and added them to the pot. I then added about 2 cups of chicken stock I had almost let go bad in my fridge. (I tend to keep opening new ones, forgetting I have old ones needing to be used up.) I let the whole thing come to a boil, then reduced the heat and let it simmer covered for about an hour while I worked on making chicken curry - my version.

For my chicken curry I prefer chicken breast, and this is in no way standard, as in India the whole bird is used. To start, I finely minced onion, garlic, ginger and green serrano chiles into separate piles. I blended my top secret (oh ok, I'll tell you!) mix of curry spices: coriander, cumin, turmeric, clove, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, paprika, cayenne, hing (asafoetida), fenugreek, fennel and garam masala. Sometimes I add a pinch of Persian saffron. And I also included fresh coriander (cilantro) leaf as well as curry leaves, finely chopped. I blended a few tomatoes and set them aside, and then chopped my chicken into medium bite-sized pieces.

I sauteed the onion first in olive oil, but I've been known to use Ghee (clarified butter), mustard oil and even coconut oil. I let the onion get deep and gold, letting all the natural sugars come out. Once this is achieved, I add my ginger, garlic and chiles. I sautee them for about 2 minutes and then add my spice mixture. This is how I cheat - I fry the spices in the aromatics for a few minutes instead of toasting the spices before I grind them. I know, I know, this is not what the purists do. But, it's what I do and I will add that I make a pretty bad-ass curry if I do say so myself. In addition to the ground spices, I add 2 whole cinnamon sticks, 6 whole cloves and 5 whole cardamom pods, slightly crushed. Once the spices have fried I add the raw cubed chicken and coat it in the spice/aromatic mixture. I let the chicken begin to brown, but I don't cook it all the way through. I add in my blended tomatoes, curry leaves and about 1 cup of water. I could substitute chicken broth, coconut milk or even cream for the water and all would taste equally delicious. I stir and bring to a soft boil. Only then do I taste the liquid, and salt accordingly. I let the mixture simmer over medium heat for about 30-45 minutes until the chicken is not only cooked through, but tender and the liquid has concentrated itself by half.

I should add that normally, I turn on the rice-cooker and have basmati rice steaming away while my curry is simmering. This time, I thought it would be fun to serve whole-wheat bread with it. It wasn't. I missed the gluttunous delirium of swallowing wads of spicy-sauce-soaked rice with my curries. I thought I was doing something good for the body, but then neglected the good of my mouth. I won't make that mistake twice.

We rounded out the night with a few glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon and fell asleep watching Iron Chef America. I wont say the day was a flop, because it wasn't. Will this challenge get any easier as I fill out the new full-time cook position I've promoted myself to? I hope so. Only time will tell where the journey ahead will lead us. I will tell you that right now, Taco Bell owes me either a Taco Supreme or my money back, and it is taking all of my free will to not walk in there, shades on, hair wrapped in a silk shawl, looking behind me with paranoid jerks of the neck, and get that taco. I'm doing this for you, readers. This is my taco-sacrifice.


Laura said...

Those pancakes look yummy!

Jessica said...

I'm confused. Frozen pizza is fast food, so why is that allowed?

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