Chicken Tikka

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As you will know if you like Asian food, Chicken tikka masala is one of the most popular items on Indian restaurant menus, grilled chunks of meat that have been marinated in yogurt and spices,  garlic and ginger, then baked in a clay oven (tandoor) and bathed in a creamy, spicy tomato sauce.

Chicken tikka, without the masala sauce, is another version of this dish, just the yogurt-marinated meat grilled or baked in the oven, if a tandoor isn’t available, and served with various chutneys. That is how Meera Sodha presents it in her book Made in India: Recipes from an Indian Family Kitchen, and that is what I offer you today, with a few minor tweaks.

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Vanilla Bean Rice Pudding

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This is turning out to be the summer of vanilla rice pudding. I’ve made this recipe – from food blogger Molly Wizenberg featured in bon appétit magazine – three times in the past two weeks, and as I write these words, another batch is burbling away on the stove. Eaten warm or icy cold from the refrigerator, it is rich and creamy and bursting with vanilla flavour, and we can’t get enough of it.

I’ve made the pudding twice with a vanilla bean and once with a generous tablespoon of Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon vanilla bean paste, which makes an excellent substitute if your store runs out of beans. I also threw in a fat cinnamon stick during the cooking of the last batch, making the flavours even more complex and mysterious.

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Vegetarian Curry Laksa

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There’s something appealing about a meal in a bowl, everything contained in one space, relaxed, easy eating. Think of the Vietnamese dish pho – fragrant broth, rice noodles, vegetables and herbs. Or Korean bibimbap – sizzling rice with meat and assorted vegetables, chili pepper paste and a raw or fried egg served on top. But wait, there’s much, much more. I just got my hands on Lukas Volger’s new (vegetarian) cookbook, simply titled Bowl, and realize that when it comes to this kind of eating, the possibilities are endless.

I want to cook this entire collection but for starters settled on this Vegetarian Curry Laksa, laksa being a popular noodle dish sold at hawker stalls in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Although there are different versions of laksa, it is traditionally built on a foundation of galangal, turmeric, lemongrass, dried shrimp and garlic blended to a paste, then enriched with creamy coconut milk, prawns, chicken, tofu “puffs” and noodles.

Volger builds plenty of flavour and body in this vegetarian version with his own Asian-style vegetable stock (see recipe) and the fragrant spices from the curry paste. He makes it colourful with green beans, shredded cabbage, sliced cherry tomatoes and bean sprouts, while a firm-boiled egg (see recipe) provides protein.

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Carbonara

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I used to think bacon was the worst thing you could eat, all that saturated animal fat clogging up the arteries, bringing on heart disease. Maybe it’s dawning on me that life is short, maybe it’s the recent thinking that saturated fat is not the killer we thought it was, but I’m eating bacon now and I don’t feel bad about it.

Indeed, there is increasing evidence that the anti-saturated fat campaign underway for so many decades hasn’t worked, that the low-fat, high carbohydrate diet we’ve been advised to follow has only led to soaring rates of obesity and diabetes, while heart disease has not declined. Meanwhile, recent studies have found that saturated fats found in meat and dairy products are not as bad for us as previously thought. One study, led by researchers at McMaster University and published last year in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), found that saturated fats are not linked to an increased risk of stroke, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease or death. The real culprits appear to be trans fats and refined carbohydrates, including sugar.

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Cherry Almond Bars

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I wanted to do a blog on rhubarb this week to signal the arrival of spring, but alas, there was no rhubarb to be found. Spring is dragging its heels in these parts; warm weather is that elusive thing that could arrive next week, or the week after. We are waiting for so many things: crab apple blossoms, fiddleheads, green grass. We’re right on the verge but not quite there.

Badly in need of something fresh and bright and new to eat, I found this recipe for cherry almond squares, ran up the street to our neighbourhood grocery to buy a bag of frozen cherries, and got to work. Now that’s coming to terms with reality.

There’s nothing wrong with frozen cherries, in fact they work perfectly in these rich, crumbly squares. Combined in a pot with some sugar and lemon, they cook down into a thick compote that is spread between an almond-shortbread crust and topping. Baked in the oven, it all turns golden and bubbly, the tart cherry filling soaking into its sweeter surroundings. All very pretty and spring-like and uplifting.

This recipe is straight from Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson. It will lift you out of winter and plop you straight down into spring.

Cherry Almond Bars
Ingredients
Fruit Filling
  • 3 cups (18 ounces) cherries, pitted and halved if small or quartered if large
  • ½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Crust and Topping
  • 2¼ cups (11¼ ounces) all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup packed (3¾ ounces) brown sugar
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) sliced almonds
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¾ cup (6 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan
  2. To make the fruit filling, combine the cherries, sugar, cornstarch, salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and boil for 1 minute to thicken.
  3. To make the crust and topping, combine the flour, brown sugar, almonds, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and process until crumbly. Add the egg and vanilla and pulse just until the mixture comes together.
  4. Press two-thirds of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan, then pour in the cherry filling. Press clumps of the remaining crumb mixture over the cherry filling.
  5. Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until light golden brown and bubbling around the edge. Cool for 1 hour before cutting into bars.
  6. Storage: Stored in an airtight container at room temperature, the bars will keep for up to 4 days. They can also be frozen.
  • Serves: 12

Minestrone

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You could say the measure of wealth is not how many cars you have in your driveway, or how many holidays you take each year, but whether you have a batch of home-made soup in your refrigerator at the beginning of the week. Right now I’m thinking of minestrone, that thick, substantial Italian vegetable soup that will keep you going in good health for several days. We should all be so lucky.

Minestrone is something you make when you have plenty of time and want to enjoy the process. It starts out slow and quiet with a pot of simmering white beans. As they are turning soft and creamy, you take a soup pot and start to build your vegetable base, sautéing onions, garlic, carrot and celery in plenty of olive oil and bacon drippings, should you go for bacon, then adding more layers of flavour with zucchini, green beans and potatoes, cabbage, kale, tomatoes and broth. All this goodness simmers for awhile before the cooked beans go in, half of them puréed to give body to the soup. For the grande finale, the soup is served with plenty of Parmesan cheese.

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Parmesan-Roasted Cauliflower

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I have a terrible habit of eating potato chips while I’m getting dinner ready, just because I’m starving and can’t wait for dinner, and because they are so good. They’re not the best option for healthy snacking, obviously, so I make an effort to alternate with other foods like roasted, salted cashew nuts, hummus, cheese and crackers, and smoked salmon spread. All good, but the call of a potato chip is very strong. Then I discovered roasted cauliflower.

Yes cauliflower, a star of the healthy cruciferous family. It is delicious divided into florets, tossed with olive oil and salt, and roasted in a hot oven until the edges are caramelized and crispy and the centre is soft. It’s also good with Indian spices like cumin, coriander and curry powder, or made Middle Eastern with a drizzle of tahini or yogurt sauce.

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Orange Marmalade Cake

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My love affair with marmalade began only recently when my friend Amanda gave me a jar she had made from the winter crop of knobbly-skinned Seville oranges. Her  recipe comes from Ian Tamblyn’s great aunt Alicia, Ian being Amanda’s partner as well as a prolific, award-winning folk singer, songwriter, adventurer and playwright. Making Aunt Alicia’s marmalade is a three-day process that involves squeezing and reserving the juice, steeping the seeds and pith in water overnight, boiling the rinds and letting them sit, boiling the rinds again with sugar, the juice, and the pit-soaking water, sterilizing jars and melting wax. Quite a lot of work, but in the end she has exquisite marmalade, not as stiff as commercial marmalade and not overly sweet, just luscious orange bittersweetness spread on our toast in the morning. We ate it up in no time.

Alas, there was none left when I spied this recipe for Orange Marmalade Cake on The New York Times Cooking website. It’s from Melissa Clark, who was inspired by Nigel Slater, British cookbook writer and columnist for The Guardian newspaper. (See how recipes get passed around?) Clark increased the amount of marmalade in the cake and added some to the glaze. She also added lime zest to the batter. She emphatically warns against making this cake with anything but traditional British, coarse-cut, bitter orange marmalade (in other words, avoid at all costs the cheaper, psychedelic orange stuff you will find in supermarkets), so I did just that and loved the results. I just added a couple of drops of water to the glaze to thin it out for easier spreading.

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Spaghetti Collins

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If some of us are suffering from a certain end-of-winter, when-will-it-ever-feel-like-spring malaise, our usual enthusiasm for cooking, or doing much of anything for that matter, might possibly be lacking. Day after day of cold and rain, snow still on the ground, and the promise of another polar vortex bearing down – in April, of all months – can get a person down. Let’s just get take-out, we say to ourselves, sinking back into the pillows with our book.

Well, here’s a simple and delicious pasta dish that should get us back into the kitchen. It’s called Spaghetti Collins and it comes from Pascal’s Manale restaurant in New Orleans, named after a friend of the owner. The recipe is included in Saveur: The New Classics Cookbook, put out by the editors of Saveur magazine. You can make it in no time and with only a few ingredients: six bunches of scallions; garlic; white wine; chicken or veal stock; olive oil; butter and Parmigiano-reggiano cheese. My only change to the recipe was to include chicken stock as an alternative to veal stock, since it’s probably easier to round up, and easy is what we’re looking for right about now.

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Ucceletto Beans

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I know busy people who spend Sunday afternoons in the kitchen making food to last well into the week. Stews, spaghetti sauce, soups, casseroles. This is the time for relaxed cooking, letting things simmer long and slow. Then come Monday or Tuesday night, after a long day at work, dinner is just a matter of heating things up, boiling some pasta or making a salad. Food is on the table in no time and you thank yourself for making the effort in advance.

When I take a long look at meals, I often cook a pot of beans. Not the sweet pork and beans of our youth, although they can be very good, but chick peas or black beans, brown pintos or white Great Northerns, soaked overnight, then simmered for an hour or two with some aromatics for flavour – a quartered onion, some chopped carrot and celery, a head of garlic. Once done, they can become a vital ingredient in a wholesome and fortifying soup, mashed into a pâté or spread, or thrown into a salad. You feel rich with a container of soft, creamy beans in the fridge.

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