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Archive for the ‘Deliciousness’ Category

Thank you all for your kind words on my last post. It’s so easy for that feeling of discomfort and awkwardness to spread until it’s stained every bit of me with self-loathing. I seriously never thought to consider my attempts to be friendly as… progress. I will try to do so from now on.

In the month since I wrote it, well. Life has gone on. Some of it good, some of it bad, some of it heartbreaking, the regular amalgam of living. And, listen, I don’t really want to talk about any of the reasons I might have needed comfort during that time period. (It’s nothing serious, although it felt like it was. In any event, everything is fine.) Today, I just want to talk about the comfort part.

What I turn to, when I need comfort, are distractions (reading, writing, TV) and comforting food. And the food is what I’m most interested in today, because I find it fascinating (and soothing, in itself) to learn what kinds of food people turn to in times of stress or grief.

Sure, food is primarily for sustenance. But it can also carry so much emotional weight. (No moral weight, though; I feel strongly about that.) (Unless you are killing endangered species because their XYZ is a delicacy. Then I’d have a moral objection.)  For instance, my first helping instinct is often related to food. When a neighbor lost her husband earlier this year, I immediately wanted to give her a meal. That just seemed the most useful, reasonable thing I could do, to provide some modicum of comfort to a person I know but don’t know well, a person who was likely reeling with shock and heartache and visitors and logistics and grief.

I looked online, as one does, and was surprised – probably naively so – to see what a wide variety of options people recommended. I always thought a casserole was the appropriate thing to give. A nice, hearty macaroni casserole. Or a lasagna. Something like that: easy to heat, carb-heavy. But the recommendations spanned everything from veggies and dip to cookies to fried chicken to stew.

(I ended up making a stew. It was delicious, and hearty. The death happened in the winter, and I thought it would be good for freezing or ladling out to visitors.)

Lately, after needing some comfort myself, and then remembering that stew, I got to thinking about Food As Comfort in general, and how my idea of Comfort Food might be totally different from yours.

When I am in need of comfort, I turn to the carb-heavy stuff. Chicken paprikas is my go-to favorite. It’s creamy and noodle-y and spicy, and it just makes me feel warm and cared for. It’s kind of weird that it should be my top favorite comfort food, I think, because I didn’t grow up eating it. Instead, it’s something my husband and I started making together back when I was in grad school. Well, maybe that’s the reason: I associate it with him, with cozy dinners at home together with the one person who comforts me more than anyone else.

Sometimes, though, the comfort I need is more primal – a bear returning to its cave to weather the icy winds, a newborn nuzzling up to its mother to nurse, a caterpillar spinning itself a chrysalis. I want to retreat to childhood, which was safe and loving, during which I was free from the horrors of the world. And there are many foods from my childhood that surround me with that kind of basic, fundamental warmth.

One comforting favorite is spaghetti with meat sauce. That’s the first meal I learned to make for my family, back when I was a kid. It reminds me of my childhood and of my own self-sufficiency.

Most recently, I turned to bagels. Another longterm favorite, my mom used to toast Lender’s bagels for me when I was a kid. Dripping with butter, they taste both decadent and simple, life’s complications reduced to its elemental truth: Warm bread. Melted butter. Sometimes honey, making its way in sticky rivulets down my wrist. When I was pregnant with Carla – and horribly sick for twenty-five weeks (I first typed “months” and yes, that’s how it felt) – I subsisted on bagels and pizza. The bagels would stay in my stomach when nothing else would.

Grilled cheese holds a special place in my heart. It was my mother’s go-to Miserable Wintry Day food. A crust of butter on each slice of bread. A thick molten heart of Velveeta. A glass of classic Coke on the side. The unbeatable combination of gooeyness and crunch.

And I’ll always have fond memories of Lipton noodle soup. My mom swears by chicken noodle soup; Lipton did the job just fine, and (a plus for me), has no unappealing chunks of white Styrofoam masquerading as chicken. I tore open many a paper packet and watched the tiny freeze-dried noodles plump up in a swirl of boiling water.

The comfort may not be permanent. But it does help.

What are your go-to comfort foods?

 

Chicken Paprikas 3

This is a ridiculous photo, but it’s the only one I have. I never eat this little. I eat a FULL BOWL, primarily full of sauce, which is the best part of any meal. 

Chicken Paprikas (adapted from Joy of Cooking)

Ingredients:

Approximately 6 servings

1 to 1½ pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast, chopped into bite sized pieces (pre-cooked is ideal; I’ve included a modification below in case you want to use raw chicken breast)

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 white onion, chopped roughly

1 Idaho potato, chopped roughly

1 to 3 Tbsp paprika

1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

½ to 1 tsp salt

4 cups low-sodium chicken stock

1 8-oz container sour cream (I use the fat free sour cream from Trader Joe’s)

3 to 4 Tbsp flour or cornstarch

1 package egg noodles

Directions:

  1. Heat vegetable oil in a stock pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onion and paprika (and optional cayenne) to vegetable oil, stirring occasionally, until dark red and glossy.
  3. Add salt, chopped chicken breast, and chicken stock. When the mixture comes to a boil, add the chopped potato. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until you can stick a fork into the potato chunks and they slide off easily. I don’t know how to say this a better way; make sure the potato is cooked.

* If you have raw chicken breast pieces, you can do this step slightly differently. Add the raw chicken together with the salt and stock. Then, once it comes to a boil, simmer everything for 15 minutes until cooked through. Then add the potato and cook for another 15 minutes.

  1. Whisk flour/cornstarch and sour cream together in a small bowl.
  2. Add a ladle full of the stock mixture to the sour cream mixture and whisk until incorporated. Do this three times.
  3. Add the tempered sour cream mixture to the pot. Stir.
  4. Serve over egg noodles.

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When I gave up sugar last month, I struggled a lot with the liquid portion of the restriction. I’d been drinking black tea with sweetened creamer for the past billion years, and it turns out that black tea with milk or half-and-half is NOT the same.

My friend had mentioned that she’d started drinking matcha… and it seems to be really trendy right now… and I have liked it in the past, so I decided to start drinking it too.

Matcha latte

My mug has seen better days.

Matcha is a Japanese green tea powder that you mix with hot water and – for a latte – frothed milk. I think it has a very mild, pleasant grassy flavor. It doesn’t remind me much of the green tea you make with tea bags, but I suppose they must have related flavor profiles because matcha is just powdered green tea leaves.

Starbucks sells a matcha latte. And it is delicious. But I will let you know that the matcha is sweetened. (That’s why a grande at Starbucks is 240 calories, and my homemade version is 75 calories and that’s because I use whole milk.) You can buy sweetened matcha, but you can also buy regular matcha. My computer does not recognize matcha as a word, so there is a LOT of red underlining happening right now.

My husband is a big coffee drinker – an afficianado, shall we say. He has all sorts of fancy coffee makers, and he does pour over coffee and drip coffee and cold brew and some other kind of coffee with a totally different kind of coffee thingamabob. He grinds his own beans. You know. It’s a big process. And on weekends he enjoys getting out one of his fancy coffee makers and making The Perfect Cup. It’s almost ceremonial, I say as an onlooker to these strange-to-me coffee rituals. It seems to center him and give him immense satisfaction by making coffee exactly the way he likes it.

Well, I do not enjoy the ritual part of making tea. I enjoy the drinking part. I drink tea because I like drinking it. I like having a warm cup of milky tea next to me while I write. It’s a good way to start the day. But I want the making part to be QUICK. And EASY.

Years ago, my husband got me an electric tea kettle that makes the boiling water part of tea making very easy. It has all these options for water temperature, including for different types of tea. One of the temperature options is “Green” (175 degrees F) so you just press a button and you’re on your way. Holy cappuccino that is one expensive tea kettle! Well, I use it every single day. But there are a lot of less expensive options. And I suppose you could always resort to an ACTUAL tea kettle on the stove, or the microwave. There’s no one right answer here, folks!

Matcha tea kettle

I love you, electric tea kettle.

So the water is the easy part. Matcha, as I have learned, is a little fussy. First of all, it’s pretty expensive. I got a little jar of it (1.5 oz, or 30 cups of tea) from my supermarket for a whopping $19.95. That’s a little crazy to me, considering I can buy a box of 20 tea bags for $2.50. You can get it more cheaply at Trader Joe’s or from Amazon. This is the kind I’m going to try once my first batch is gone (4 oz of matcha powder), but you can get a 30 g “starter package” of a different brand of matcha for $9.95.

Matcha powder

I have not seen any of the benefits listed on this package, but I do like the taste! 

Even making the matcha is a little fussy. If you get the powder, it’s not like making regular tea, where you steep your tea bag in some hot water and then poof! you have a cup of tea. No. With matcha, you’re supposed to buy a little special wooden whisk and whisk the powder in until it’s frothy. I firmly resist the idea that I need Extra Accessories.

Well. There’s no way around it. You have to whisk the matcha in anyway, so I got a little whisk like this:

Matcha whisk

The instructions for mine say you have to let it sit in cold water for a few minutes before using it. And after you do that, you have to inspect it for splinters! I was already predisposed not to like this thing. It’s not doing much to recommend itself.

(It comes with the little scoop, which I have never used. I use a teaspoon.)

But I refused to get a matcha bowl, even though some of them are quite pretty, because that is too fussy for my particular needs. I just want to whisk my matcha powder in my mug, okay? TOO MANY STEPS.

Matcha bowl

Very pretty. And maybe I am supposed to use this as a drinking vessel and not just a mixing vessel? In which case, maybe it has some utility? But I have a mug that I am very partial to! 

And perhaps I am being too stubborn. Because I cannot use the little whisk to save my life. Every time I try, I slosh green water all over my counters. Instead, I use a plain old kitchen whisk and whisk the water and the powder vigorously for awhile until I think all the powder has dissolved. (Sometimes I miscalculate.)

My favorite part of the matcha is the latte part. I did some research (read: I googled and read one article) about the different ways to get your milk to froth, and tried what I had on hand, which is my hand mixer. It did a wonderful job of getting whole milk to froth into a nice thick foam. But it’s a little cumbersome, and I have to lug it out from under a counter, and then find the beaters, and then wash them. So I got a milk frother instead:

Matcha milk frother

It does a great job, but it’s a little hard to hold; I find that my hand cramps a little trying to press the button while holding it. (And you have to hold it at a 45 degree angle and lift and lower, lift and lower until your milk is properly frothed.)

If you haven’t ever frothed milk before, it’s very fun. A half a cup of whole milk (which I heat in the microwave for 30 seconds, first) fluffs up nicely to two cups of froth.

Even though frothing the milk takes a little extra time – maybe three minutes, total – and it takes an extra dish (I froth it in a two-cup Pyrex measuring cup), I enjoy it so much I am willing to deal with a little extra fuss. And now I can make Chai lattes, too!

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Every year for the past… many years, I’ve ditched alcohol for the month of January. So many people do this, the month even has a silly nickname (Dry-nuary). I do it because I tend to go overboard during the holidays. With family around, it’s very easy for me to get into the habit of having wine or a cocktail every day. And for me, I prefer to keep my alcohol intake to two or three days a week; I don’t have any specific reasons; I guess it’s fewer calories, it’s less expensive, and I just feel better (I am Morning Headache After Drinking One Glass of Wine years old, after all). But the problem – for me – with doing something every day is that it becomes a habit. I am a very routine-based person, so when I’m enjoying the holidays with a fancy cocktail every night, it doesn’t take long before a normal Tuesday feels like it requires a gin and tonic. Taking a month off helps me reset my mental and physiological expectations.

In April, I decided to apply the same principle to sugar.

Let’s be clear: I don’t have anything against sugar. I enjoy it. As with pretty much anything, I am totally fine with it in moderation. But I was no longer doing a good job of moderating. Sugar had become a habit. After every single meal, I kid you not, I found myself thinking, “Hmmm. I could go for something sweet right now.” I was eating a Reese’s peanut butter cup with my almonds and tea for breakfast. Which is a delicious breakfast, by the way. And I am not OPPOSED to having a Reese’s peanut butter cup for breakfast. What I am opposed to is my body’s willfulness and my mind’s lack of will power. I don’t like being bossed around by my cravings for sugar. I want to be in charge, and if I want to have a Reese’s peanut butter cup for breakfast, fine. But if I don’t want one, I don’t want my body to protest and whine and pout and wheedle until I give into the badgering.

So I decided to give it up. Just for a month, just to see if I could do a hard reset on my expectations. I got my husband on board (this was important) and I roped Carla in and on April 1, we gorged ourselves on sugar (because it was Easter) and the next day we gave it up. Cold turkey. (Well, except for Carla. She still ate PB&J for lunches, and pancakes with syrup at breakfast, and when friends brought donuts for brunch one day, we let her have one so she wasn’t the only kid who couldn’t eat a donut.)

In an admittedly half-assed way, I tried to do some research before we started. Based on some of the things I’d read, we crafted our own Sugar Free plan. We weren’t doing it for health reasons, so there was no need to be super strict. Which meant that we defined “No Sugar” as “no artificial sweeteners, no added sugar, no sweets.” We continued to consume milk products, fruit, and things like pasta and rice. (We also continued to consume things like ketchup and barbecue sauce and a few other things that probably had sugar as an ingredient. But those instances were pretty rare; I even avoided recipes where sugar was an ingredient in the marinade or the sauce.)

Most of the major differences for me were a) getting rid of the morning Reese’s cup (and maybe an afternoon spoonful of cookie dough here and there), b) eliminating my normal sweet creamer from my morning tea and c) cutting out all the diet soda I was drinking (usually one but sometimes two a day).  And of course, I stopped eating dessert.

To really jumpstart things, I did the first three days without any milk or fruit, too. On the fourth day, I added one piece of fruit (if I wanted it) and milk back into my day, and I also drank a glass of red wine in the evening if I felt like it.

The first week was BRUTAL. I thought about sweets all day every day. After every meal, my body would send up this internal notification: Ping! Feed me something sweet! Ping! I need candy! Ping! Ice cream needed urgently! Every time I was online, I was looking at recipes for cookies or cakes or pies. I was desperate for a Diet Coke. I transferred all my desire for sweets onto carbs, and found myself wanting bread and pasta more often than normal (which is already, at baseline, a lot). Instead of eating dessert after dinner, I’d prowl around trying to stem the craving with something else: almonds, Triscuits, tortilla chips. We bought cartloads of dried fruit (no sugar added) from Trader Joe’s. I once ate an entire bag of dried apples in one sitting.

The second week was less brutal but still pretty rough. I usually drink black tea with a hefty slug of sweetened creamer. Black tea with milk was NOTHING like black tea with sweetened creamer. I switched to green tea. Then to matcha lattes with whole milk. I drank a lot of water. I hated every sip of every drink. It was nice to drink the red wine at night; that helped stem some of the dessert cravings. But I longed for a glass of sweet Riesling or even prosecco. I thought a lot about fizzy, ice cold Coca Cola in a tall glass, ice cubes clinking together, the bubbles effervescing on my tongue.

Week three, something clicked. I no longer wanted anything sweet. I went to a birthday party and a beautiful piece of birthday cake was set in front of me and I did not take a bite or have any desire to do so. I didn’t even smell it. It was a completely neutral presence. My internal sweets notification alarm had either deactivated or been turned down so low I could barely hear it.  I still had the occasional craving for Diet Coke, but even that was less frequent.

Week four passed quickly and smoothly. My husband and I agreed that the worst part of the sugar restriction was the liquid portion of our diets, and we started to split a packet of sweetener to add to our respective coffee and tea each morning. That helped immensely. Water no longer became a chore to drink. At night, I’d sometimes still have a phantom dessert thought flicker through my brain – “Hmmm, wouldn’t it be nice to have something sweet?” – but I couldn’t ever transfer that general desire to something specific. If I rummaged around in the pantry or fridge, I could never even find something I wanted. I stopped gorging on almonds and chips and crackers to fill the sweets void.

April 30 was our last day of the No Sugar Month. I think I can safely say that I eliminated my sugar cravings. To tell you the truth, I’m glad that’s the reason we did the No Sugar Month, because we didn’t experience any of the other supposed benefits. One thing I heard from a lot of people about giving up sugar is that they lost a ton of weight. My husband and I did not experience that. I lost two pounds right away and then stayed pretty stagnant. It’s possible that if we decided to use it as a weight loss technique, we would have approached it differently (less fruit, for instance).  I’d also heard that it would improve my skin. Nope. That has not happened. And that I’d begin to taste the natural sweetness in foods (bell peppers, fruit) that I’d never experienced before. Nope. Everything tasted the same. (Well, except milk. That began to taste sweet to me.) If I had given up sugar for a month because I wanted some of these other benefits, I would have been pretty annoyed. Of course, we weren’t as stringent as we could have been, so that probably has a lot to do with it.

Now that I’m done… I’m not sure where to go from here. I would certainly enjoy my morning tea more if I could add some sugar or some honey. I don’t really want to go back to my sweetened creamer. I swapped out my normal raspberry yogurt with plain Fage topped with pomegranate seeds, and I suppose I don’t really want to spend my life’s savings on pomegranate seeds anymore, so maybe I’ll switch back. I am delighted that I no longer want my afternoon soda, or my post-breakfast Reese’s cup, or my post-dinner whatever.

But I also really want to go get ice cream with Carla when the weather gets nice. And I want to make cookies with her. And I want to bake her a big sugary birthday cake with lots of sugary frosting. So I think we are going to resume eating sugar, just at a much lower level than before. We want to try to keep sweets to once a week. That way, they’ll really be treats rather than a regular part of our diet.

Time will tell, I suppose! Hopefully a month of no sugar has at least enabled me to enjoy sugar in moderation.

(Of course, you know what I did the very first day of May right? Cupcake for breakfast. And a huge glass of Coke for dinner.)

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I woke up at five this morning after dreaming something ridiculous that I won’t go into here. (It wasn’t salacious, sadly. Just odd.) The key part was that my husband was somehow melded into my high school boyfriend in that weird way of dreams. So that when I woke up my brain decided to replay in gory detail how awful I was to said boyfriend when I went away to college. There’s nothing I can do about it now, and also I don’t think it was really THAT bad, and also we were friendly years afterwards so I don’t think there are lasting scars on his end, plus we are both married and I haven’t thought about him in countless months. But thank you, brain, for steeping me in shame at so early an hour so I can bask in it all day long.

Last night I made an excellent recipe for zucchini noodles. Let me state for the record here that I have no patience for foods masquerading as other foods. I love zucchini, and therefore I enjoy zucchini noodles (although in their noodleishness they are difficult to eat). But I’m not going to try to convince you that they are a good or even fair approximation of noodles themselves. I’m not going to replace them in my recipe for spaghetti and meat sauce, for instance. I am not going to dress them with cheese and pretend they bear any resemblance to macaroni and cheese. They are not noodles. They are zucchini in noodle form. If you don’t like zucchini, you will probably not enjoy them. I discovered this the hard way, by trying cauliflower rice a few years ago. NEVER AGAIN, Internet. Never again. I don’t like cauliflower and spending nearly an hour rasping it against a box grater and getting cauliflower shards all over my kitchen did not change that in the least. I keep hearing about cauliflower mashed potatoes and cauliflower pizza crust and while I am intrigued, I am NOT going to fall for it. STOP PRETENDING, cauliflower. Just be who you are.

ANYWAY. The recipe I tried last night is really good, but it is good in a zucchini way. If you like zucchini you should try it: Easy 10 Minute Asian Zucchini Noodles from Gimme Delicious.

What do you do when you find a recipe you like, and you want to try it again? I’m really curious, by the way. Do you have a list on your phone? A folder on your desktop? A physical file folder into which you stow printed recipes?

I really want to know, because I haven’t found a good system.

As pretty much sole cook for our household, this is the kind of boring thing I spend a lot of time thinking about. As I’ve mentioned previously, we eat a lot of meals that look like Chicken + Vegetable. That is a combination that gets boring realllllllllly quickly, so I am always on the lookout for new, delicious ways to shake up the boring. But there are three problems I’ve run into:

  1. What is the best way to keep track of recipes that look good but I haven’t tried?
  2. What is the best way to separately track recipes that I have tried and want to use again?
  3. What is the best way to avoid re-making a recipe that I have tried and was terrible?

Okay, maybe they are three variations on the same problem. What it comes down to is that I need some sort of filing system. One that is more efficient and comprehensive and located in one, easy-to-access spot than what I currently use.

What I do now is a combination of things. First, I have a folder on my laptop where I bookmark recipes that I want to try. Since I follow a bunch of food blogs on Feedly, it’s really easy for me to put things into my Recipes folder.

But it’s super unwieldy. I have SO MANY recipes. And there’s no rhyme or reason to them, either. Chicken dishes and veggie sides and frosting recipes and how-to posts for making rainbow layer cakes and the best marinades for steak are all jumbled together in the same folder, and many of those are recipes I’ve tried and either liked or NOT.

Meal planning 3

This blog post is chock FULL of really boring, really poorly lit and off-kilter photos! I know my photography skillz keep you coming back!

You may be thinking, Why not just go in and set up some additional folders? And you would be smart for thinking that, and also I tried that and it isn’t working. First, I had been collecting recipes for about a year before I went in and tried to organize them, so it was already a jumbled mess. Second, the organization tools at my disposal are not particularly user friendly. I can’t easily grab a recipe or ten and drag and drop them into the Veggie Sides folder, for instance. Getting things into the appropriate folder involves a lot of scrolling and it is tedious and time consuming. Third, I still run into the issue of what to do with things I’ve already tried. Sure, I could set up a sub-folder in each category for Make Again and Don’t Make Again… but that gets to be even more unwieldy and also I am kind of lazy.

Meal planning 4

To the left is an example of what’s inside one of my folders. Supposedly, this contains favorite recipes that I should return to again and again. This is the first time I’ve opened this folder in many months, so it’s not really working as planned. Also, you may notice that I occasionally (okay, more often than reasonable) bookmark something I’ve already bookmarked. I REALLY need a better system.

PLUS, I am not always on my computer doing stuff. I do a lot of recipe finding on my phone. So I have a folder of recipes on my phone, too… and getting them to my computer is not simple. I really need a system that works across devices.

The best part of my system is my weekly dinner plan email. Each week before I go grocery shopping, I create an email to myself that lists all the meals and includes links to online recipes. Sometimes I’ll open the email a few days in advance, if I already know that I’ll be making something specific, or if it’s a week where I’m feeding people beyond my own immediate family. I always reply to the previous week’s dinner email, so there’s a single record of everything I’ve ever planned to eat since March of 2017 when I started it.

Then, after the week’s meals, I try to write notes to myself about what worked and what didn’t. So after last night’s zucchini noodles success, I responded the email and wrote, DELICIOUS! MAKE AGAIN.

This email is also really useful for any modifications I do to a recipe. For instance, last year I found this Martha Stewart recipe for crockpot garlic chicken that sounded so good, but wasn’t. But instead of giving up on it, I kept tinkering with it until I got it right. And I put those notes to myself in my dinner planning email. If I get any feedback on the recipe from my husband, I put those in the notes. So it’s all there in one place.

Meal Planning 2

I first tried the Martha Stewart recipe in May of 2017. My reaction was that it was too sweet. Hot tip: “More lemon juice” can solve most of the world’s ills. At least foodwise.

Dinner Planning Email 1

Here is where I recorded the modifications that made the Martha Stewart recipe not only edible but delicious. Ah memories. This is also the day when I discovered my husband — whom I’ve known for SEVENTEEN YEARS — doesn’t really like soup.

(Sometimes, when I have the wherewithal, I post the modified recipe here. Like with the “chicken tikka masala” recipe I revamped to suit my own needs. It got to be too annoying to look at the original recipe and try to remember what I changed each time I made it.)

So my meal planning email is the best part of my meal planning system. But it’s not perfect. Sometimes I have to scroll and scroll through old emails to find what I’m looking for. And, because I haven’t mastered the art of organizing what I haven’t tried, I tend to go back to the same things over and over.

I’ve contemplated doing a weekly meal plan blog post. Many bloggers do this, and I always enjoy reading them. And I could always add notes to myself in the comments. But again, this does nothing for the stacks and stacks of recipes I have yet to try.

There’s got to be an app that handles this, right? But I don’t want to look for and evaluate and try a bunch of them. And honestly, thinking about moving all my carefully curated but as-yet-untried recipes to a new place sounds exhausting. But I WANT something better and I suppose I am willing to do a certain amount of work to make it happen.

How do YOU keep track of what you’re cooking? What’s working and what isn’t? Have you come across a magic app that does it all? If you have a meal planning and tracking system you love, I am HERE FOR IT.

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I love pretty much everything about Indian food. The flavors. The rice. The naan. The abundance of sauce. But of course, getting Indian takeout every night or even once a week is not particularly practical.

So I have been trying for YEARS to make an appropriate substitute at home. I’ve tried all the simmer sauces you can get from the grocery store. I’ve tried so many recipes for chicken tikka masala that they have all sort of begun to run together.

But then I tried this recipe for Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala from The Kitchn and I fell in love.

Chicken tikka masala 1

You can make it at home IN YOUR CROCKPOT, which is pretty much the holy grail of cooking experiences for me. It’s flavorful and satisfying and – even though it doesn’t taste quite the same as food from your local Indian restaurant – it scratches that itch for spicy, creamy, saucy Indian food that I get every few weeks or so. Plus, it’s another way to dress up boring old chicken breasts – and I am always looking for new ways to eat chicken breasts.

While this recipe is HEAVILY influenced by The Kitchn’s version, I have tweaked it over the past year enough that I am always wondering exactly how much Indian red chile I should use and sometimes forgetting the fenugreek altogether and then wondering why it tastes off, and I have gotten to the point where I need the Real Thing written down somewhere.

One thing I will say is that this doesn’t result in anything resembling chicken tikka masala – at least not any chicken tikka masala I’ve ever had. It would be more accurately described, I think, as an Indian-style curry. So if you are hoping that this will taste just like the tikka masala from your favorite Indian takeaway, you will probably be disappointed. Just letting you know, so you don’t feel misled!

Also, I like things SPICY. So if you do follow this recipe, keep that in mind, and adjust the Indian red chile and the hot chili peppers as necessary.

There are two other things I will say in warning before I type up the recipe:

  • This recipe requires quite a few spices. And I have to say, I cook dinner probably six nights a week and I only use the Indian red chile and the fenugreek for this recipe. I have never used them in another recipe. So I don’t know if it would be worthwhile to buy them on the off chance that this recipe becomes a regular part of your rotation. That said, The Kitchn’s version does not call for either of those spices, which means you can just leave them out, if you want to. I think they help add a more “authentic” flavor to the dish, but they certainly aren’t indispensable.
  • My favorite way to make this is to do the prep work in the morning while Carla is eating breakfast (the chicken and the yogurt, measuring out all the spices, chopping the ginger and the onion) and then doing the sautéing step at lunchtime. Then I throw everything into the slow cooker at about one o’clock and let it cook until dinner. If your plan is to have the crockpot work while you’re at work, this obviously won’t do. So you may need to start the night before.

Slow Cooker Indian-Style Curry

4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size chunks (Note: You can certainly use chicken thighs instead if that’s what floats your boat.)
  • 1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 tsp garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp ground Indian red chile
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seed, ground
  • 1 28-oz can tomato puree (Note: If you like chunks of actual tomatoes in your food, you could use a 28-oz can of diced tomatoes instead.)
  • 3/4 cup canned light coconut milk (Note: Scrape off the solid part of the coconut milk into your measuring cup first, then fill out the rest of the 3/4 cup with the liquid.)
  • 2 15-oz cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 2 bell peppers, cut into strips
  • 1 chili pepper (jalapeno or serrano)
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 cups cooked rice, to serve (Note: I prefer basmati rice.)
Chicken tikka masala ingredients 1

The ginger looks weird because it’s frozen, and the garlic looks weird because it came from a jar. I bought the Indian red chiles whole and ground them myself in a spice grinder.

Not pictured: chickpeas

Directions:

  1. After cutting your chicken breasts into bite-size chunks, marinate them in the yogurt for an hour or so.

I just put the chicken into a bowl, toss with the yogurt, cover with plastic wrap, and stow in the fridge for a few hours. You could probably do this the night before you make the dish, if you want to press “cook” right before you go to work. But I can’t remember if I’ve tried that, and I don’t know if the yogurt has any sort of adverse impact on the chicken if they sit together that long. Proceed at your own risk is what I’m saying.

  1. Sauté the chopped onion, garlic, and ground fenugreek in the olive oil over medium-high heat until the onion becomes translucent and soft.
  2. Add ginger, tomato paste, and spices to the onion and garlic mixture. Cook until the mixture is fragrant, stirring frequently to prevent it from sticking to the pan.
  3. Add the onion and spice mixture to the bottom of your slow cooker.
  4. Add the chicken and yogurt to the onion mix in the slow cooker.
  5. Add tomato puree to slow cooker. Use about a quarter cup of water to “rinse” out the tomato puree can, and add water and remaining puree to slow cooker.
  6. Stir everything together, then cover the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. (Note: I don’t think I have ever cooked chicken breast for 8 hours. Make sure whatever meat you use comes up to the correct temperature, which I am not remembering at this time but which you can find elsewhere online.)

Sometimes I do a combination of the two: I will cook on low for 4 or 5 hours, then on high for another hour or two, just to thicken things up a bit.

  1. Fifteen minutes before the end of cooking, stir in the coconut milk and chickpeas.
  2. You can add the sliced bell peppers at this time, too, depending on how soft you like them. (I like my bell peppers to have some crunch to them, so I put them on top of my rice and then add the hot curry to the bowl so that they are just warmed through as I eat them.) If you aren’t a bell pepper fan, you could try green beans, peas, broccoli, zucchini, or any other veggies that strike your fancy.
  3. Serve over rice.
  4. Garnish with sliced chili peppers and cilantro. (Obviously, this is optional.)

Chicken tikka masala 3

I feel like this recipe seems more complicated than it is. The sautéing beforehand is kind of a pain in the rear, I won’t lie, but it’s very quick. Probably takes five to ten minutes of actual cooking. And I cheat with the garlic and ginger: We use ginger so often, I have a Ziploc bag full of diced ginger in my freezer that I dip into for this recipe. And I use jarred garlic, which is perfectly adequate for this recipe put those eyebrows back where they belong. Plus, the onion can be roughly diced; no one’s going to measure the pieces to make sure they’re even. So that part really doesn’t take more than another five minutes. Add in five minutes to track down and measure all the spices, and you’re looking at 20 minutes of prep time, and that’s allowing for a minute of staring into the fridge wondering what you opened the fridge to get, and forgetting that your cutting board is in the dishwasher so you have to wash it really quickly, and having to open a brand-new jar of garlic because your old jar is depleted WHAT. It is a delightful time saver and I will not apologize for it.

The chicken, of course, is another matter. I hate websites and people who recommend doing all your prep work the instant you get home from the grocery store, because who wants to do that once you’ve just expended all that energy GROCERY SHOPPING? Not me.

But it does help, grumble grumble. I plan out what I’m going to cook for the week, and then when I am being Super Productive, I will trim and freeze my meat in whatever marinade I’m using. I label the Ziploc with the contents and where the recipe lives online, and then I have waged half the battle when it comes time to actually cook the stuff.

So for this recipe, I would cut up the chicken breasts on Day 1, and then the night before I plan to make this meal, I would remove the chicken from the freezer and throw my cup of yogurt into the Ziploc to marinate as the chicken thaws in my fridge overnight. Then it’s ready to go.

Well, no matter how much I love this recipe, it’s only going to make it into your rotation if it works for you. So I will stop trying to shove it down your metaphorical throat. Maybe you can come over for dinner next time I make it, and see for yourself.

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Carla’s rainbow cake turned out FAR better than I had hoped.

Rainbow Cake Final 4

Firstly, I asked Carla which order the layers should go. I said, “Do you want it to go ‘purple, blue’ like the Bubble Guppies song?” And she thought about it and said, “No, that’s wrong. I want it to be like a real rainbow.” Although she then asked “Where’s the white layer” and I had to assure her that there would be white frosting. (She has also since begun singing the song “blue, purple” despite the Bubble Guppies’ maddening insistence on “purple, blue.”)

Let’s back up a bit now. Because while the title and the first sentence of this post indicate Unadulterated Success, I will admit that there were some small setbacks. Especially when it came to the cupcakes. But a bit when it came to the cake, too.

For some reason, I am determined to make Carla’s cakes from scratch. I don’t know why. My husband (indulgently) thinks I am a wacko. My mother, who intuited my birthday-related stress from thousands of miles away, understood completely. She – who worked a demanding, full-time job throughout my childhood and beyond – made all of my Halloween costumes from scratch because of the same genetic quirk.

So I used my tried-and-true Sally’s Baking Addiction recipe for Carla’s cake. It is a good recipe, and it makes a very nice vanilla-y cake. But I realized only very belatedly that it is an oil-free cake. And – possibly because of that, although I can’t say for sure since I am a baking amateur at best – I think that makes it kind of heavy. I comforted myself for the heaviness of the cake by choosing to believe it makes the cake very easy to cut and layer. But I think perhaps next year I will try a different recipe. OR I will try to force myself to use boxed cake mix, which is what I used for the cupcakes, and which turned out light and fluffy and yet perfectly moist.

Of course, I was converting Sally’s recipe – which was for cupcakes – into what I needed for a six-layer rainbow cake. So I instantly made a mistake. My model cake used 8-inch cake pans. But I didn’t have 8-inch cake pans. I had three 9-inch cake pans OR two 6-inch cake pans. I decided to go with the 9-inchers, which resulted in super thin, super flat layers.

Rainbow Cake Layers in Oven

Too thin! Abort! Abort!

But! I stopped while I was ahead! I only made those two layers, and when I realized they would result in a very thin cake, I recalibrated. I mixed up another batch of Sally’s cake batter. And I went with the 6-inchers.

IMMEDIATELY better. They turned out very even in size.

Rainbow Cake Layers Six

They are not in ROY G BIV order here and it is Driving Me Crazy.

To get the color to be so vibrant, I used Wilton gel food coloring. And I ended up using a LOT of each color. Maybe 1/4 to 1/3 a teaspoon of each, which is a LOT. (Note: Sally’s recipe uses only egg whites, which I think definitely helps with the brilliant colors. Using egg yolks makes the cake more yellow than white.)

Rainbow Cake Batter Colors

I used my new Wilton cake leveler to cut the tops off the layers.  Okay, correction: MY HUSBAND used the Wilton cake leveler to cut the tops off the layers.

rainbow-cake-leveler.jpg

I carefully studied the directions (“directions”) for how to use it. And then I watched a video about how to use it, but I still couldn’t get it to work. My husband on the other hand got it to work just fine, and he did all six for me, which made me feel like he was being involved which was a nice feeling, and plus, I ended up with nice, flat tops to all the layers. I saved the tops in a Ziploc bag; they are in my freezer. (It turns out there are a lot of things you can do with leftover cake. I tried one of them – making a cake-pop-within-a-cupcake – with limited success, but there are other things to do as well. Might make for a fun project to try with Carla.)

Then I made the frosting – the same recipe that Sally used for her cupcakes.

Oh! And this is where I tell you my Shocking Vanilla News. Sally’s cupcakes and frosting both call for vanilla beans. And vanilla beans have always been expensive. I think the grocery store brand usually was about $11.99 for one decrepit bean. But last year I discovered that Penzey’s sells vanilla beans, and I was able to get two nice, plump beans per jar for $8.99.

That’s what I assumed I would pay this year, too; I have no concept of the changing price of vanilla beans. But this year, two beans was $18.99. EIGHTEEN NINETY NINE. I expressed my shock to the Penzey’s salesperson, who said that there’s something going on in the region that produces Penzey’s vanilla, and it was pushing the price up. She said she thought it would be temporary. But SHEESH. (Listen, I am selfishly NOT looking up the details about why the price is so high; I am hopeful it is something like an unusual drought and not a horrible civil war or something, but there are only so many things I have the capacity to worry about, you know? I am trying to limit the number of things I cry over these days.) It turned out it was a good thing I spent the $18.99 for two beans, because, as I noted above, I ended up having to make a second batch of cake batter.

Having learned from previous mistakes, I did a crumb coat of frosting and then put the whole cake in the fridge overnight. This is what it looked like right before I did the crumb coat.

Rainbow Cake Pre Crumb Coat 2

And then the next day, I added another layer of frosting and decorated the whole thing with these little rainbow-hued non-pareils.

It was hands-down the best looking cake I’ve ever made.

I don’t think it was the best tasting, though. First of all, the cake was dense and heavy as I mentioned above. Secondly, the frosting was VERY sweet. I mean, it was just sugar and butter, so it wasn’t a surprise; I didn’t expect it to taste like pickles or something. But it was too much. Probably the thick top layer on top of the crumb layer didn’t help. If I were to do it again, I would find a less-sweet frosting to use. Maybe a cream-cheese style (which is my personal favorite) or something that was more like a traditional buttercream, with less sugar. A third option, I suppose, would be to layer the cake with something other than frosting. I would normally go for a curd of some sort, but that wouldn’t really work with the aesthetic of this particular cake. Maybe a whipped cream frosting would be okay.

The cupcakes were another matter.

If you will recall, I made the rainbow cake for Carla’s actual birthday. She and her grandparents and her father/my husband and I went out to her favorite restaurant for dinner, and then we came home to eat cake and open presents.

But her birthday party was several days later. It was a make-your-own-pizza-party at a popular chain and we invited twelve of her friends and it was DELIGHTFUL. But I wanted to make cupcakes for that party, see above RE: wacko, so I did.

Rainbow Cupcake Tray

I think I’d gotten a bit cake-saturated by the time I got to the cupcakes, so my head wasn’t in the game. Plus, I’d decided to use a store-bought cake mix, which made me a little cocky. So I kept making stupid mistakes. I forgot to add the water to the first batch. (I was able to salvage that one with math; I’d already separated the oddly too-thick batter into its separate colors. When I discovered my omission, I simply divided the required amount by six and stirred the appropriate amount into each color.) Then I forgot to add the eggs to the second batch. (That one I had to throw away.) Then, when I finally got to the frosting, I’d left the cream cheese out all day… and despite varying reports online about whether cream cheese is safe to eat after that long (answers ranged from “it’s only okay if you’ve left it out for no more than four hours” to “I’ve left it out all night and it’s fine!”), the resulting batch of frosting I made had a very weird texture and I couldn’t in good conscience feed it to twelve of Carla’s preschool friends. (I ate some of it and have lived to tell the tale. But I’m not going to use preschoolers as guinea pigs.) So I scrapped it and made some more too-sweet icing – although this time I used a Martha Stewart recipe because I was plum out of vanilla bean.

Making the cupcakes into nice even rainbow layers was HARD. I tried the “use a spoon” method. And then I tried the “put each color into a separate sandwich bag” method. And then I tried the “drop whatever you have in wherever it fits” method. I kept running out of one color or another, so that the layers were never perfect.

OH WELL. They were all pretty. And they were all super delicious as well.

And hopefully Carla is DONE with rainbows. Because I don’t know that I will have the kind of patience that comes with novelty if she asks me to do it again.

rainbow-cake-final.jpg

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