Friday, February 22, 2019

The most recent meal I cooked was staple Indian cuisine- naan, yellow rice, and Tikka Masala. First I chopped onions (which made me sob for the next ten minutes), grated ginger, and prepared my ingredients. This was one of the more time-consuming parts of the recipe, so next time I’ll recruit some of my siblings to help.

Then I started cooking the rice- although using a different method than I had expected. Before the actual rice is added, diced tomatoes, garlic, onions, ginger and a wonderful array of spices are sauteed until soft. Then is added the rice, and it is stirred until coated with the vegetable mixture- and lastly broth is poured over the whole thing and the rice is cooked until tender. A few minutes before it is ready, frozen peas and carrots are poured over the top, and mixed in at the end of the cooking process. The result is perfectly cooked rice, full of lovely flavors and textures. The ginger, garlic, tumeric and garam masala play off of each other nicely.

While the rice was cooking, I prepared the Tikka Masala to go with it. Tikka Masala is a flavorful dish of chicken and curry, typically served over rice and/or with naan. As with the rice, the first step in this recipe was to saute onions, garlic and ginger until soft. Then tomato paste, brown sugar, chicken, and a variety of spices- more garam masala and tumeric, in addition to cumin, paprika and salt join the mix. The chicken is given a few minutes to cook partly through, and then crushed tomatoes are added to cover the whole dish and create a luxurious sauce. The chicken simmers for about 10 minutes (mine required more time because my pot was deep), until cooked through. Heavy cream is added to the dish at the end, making it even more silky and rich. The curry is just thick enough- not too soupy and not too thick to coat the rice. Although the rice and Tikka Masala both have strong flavors, the similarity in their ingredients keeps them from clashing. The chicken is cooked through but tender, and the sauce is so aromatic it fills the whole house with a mouthwatering complex blend of scents. The spices build off of each other in a crescendo of contrasting and coordinating flavor.

The last item on our menu for the night was naan. I started the bread before I cooked the other dishes- mixing and kneading yeast, water, flour sugar… and a more unusual ingredient, yogurt. Yogurt gives the flatbread a slight bit of tang and substance, and adds to its melty, buttery flavor. I allowed the dough to rise until the other dishes had finished cooking- around 45 minutes. Then I rolled it into small balls, rolled them out, and brushed each doughy disk with a blend of butter, oil and salt. The naan cooks in a skillet rather than in the oven, until the dough starts to bubble and brown. Then it is flipped and repeated- and finally, it is served warm with the Tikka Masala and rice. It is buttery, tangy, and light, a perfect complement to the bold flavors of the curry.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Chicken Parmesan Meal

Today I’m going to write about a meal that I made- chicken parmesan and garlicky green beans, followed by chocolate and caramel fondue.

The chicken parmesan was a dish that I had never prepared before, made up of flattened chicken breasts coated in parmesan (hence the name) and with a hearty coating of marinara. The first step is to cut the chicken breasts in half, then put them inside a zippered bag and pound them, and pound some more. Then the chicken is coated in a variety of substances- first flour with salt and pepper, then egg, then panko bread crumbs and parmesan. After that, they are coated in marinara and even more cheese and baked. The coating protects it, and its flat shape helps it to cook evenly, so it was well cooked without being dry. The coating was savory, and the marinara added nice texture, along with the breadcrumbs.

Next I cooked the garlicky green beans, a very simple but delicious recipe. Lemon zest, toasted panko bread crumbs, garlic, salt, and parsley are combined to make a coating for the green beans. (The recipe actually called to add parmesan cheese as well, but since I coated the chicken a bit too thoroughly we were out). After the green beans are cooked, they are coated in the bread crumb mixture. This results in a lot of flavor, something I find to be lacking in many green beans. Add this to their easy prep and they’re definitely something I will make again!

Lastly, I cooked the fondue. The chocolate was extremely easy- cooking chocolate and heavy cream until melted, then adding vanilla and salt- but the caramel fondue was a little bit harder. You add butter, brown sugar, corn syrup (I substituted honey!) and salt to a pot, until melted. This results in a dreamy, thick paste with a remotely sand-like consistency. Then it is boiled, and heavy cream is added. Both fondues tended to turn out watery, so if I re-create this recipe I will probably add less heavy cream. We served the fondue with strawberries, apples, and marshmallows. The chocolate fondue was overpoweringly chocolate-y, so next time I will probably use milk chocolate rather than semi-sweet. The caramel fondue tasted lovely, and the honey flavor blended in nicely. It was a bit thin, but it still clung well to the strawberries and apples.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Rendang Restaurant Review

Instead of Christmas gifts this year, we had the gift of an experience - one 24 hour trip alone with a parent. Mom and I went to Tulsa to explore and see the sights - among them Philbrook Museum and the Gathering Place. One of my favorite destinations was the Indonesian Bistro, also known as Rendang, which an Indonesian friend had recommended to us. The timing for our trip was amazing- the restaurant had opened just the day before. I had never tried Indonesian cuisine before, but this was a marvelous introduction to the culture’s food.

The restaurant was unassuming from the outside, but inside the smell combined with colorful tapestries and flowers on the wall, along with a beautiful map of Indonesia set the scene. We were able to learn about the history of the dish Rendang through a very interesting plaque on the wall, which I enjoyed.

The waitress that greeted us was very friendly, and talked to us about the foods as we ordered. We tried Rendang, the dish that became the namesake of the restaurant, along with Bakmi Ayam Bakso (an egg noodle and chicken dish with meatballs on the side) and Bakwan Sayur (a kind of vegetable fritter).

The owner of the restaurant talked to us as we began on our food, and he was extremely friendly, giving us more information about his restaurant with a warm smile.

The first thing that I tried was the Bakwan Sayur. It was a light fritter with vegetables inside and a creamy taste. It was a good palate cleanser for the bolder flavors of the other dishes.

The Bakmi Ayam Bakso was full of subtle flavors that built on each other- nuttyness and sesame, along with a hint of sweetness and spice. The noodles were full of these flavors, despite the absence of a sauce, so even a bite without chicken in it was packed with umami sensations.

Along with the Bakmi Ayam Bakso was served a dish of meatballs in a clear broth. I was interested to try them, because a clear broth typically doesn’t indicate flavor, but I could tell this one was different by the smell. The meatballs themselves were good, but a bit too salty and chewy to be exceptional. But the broth… the broth, despite its coloring, was meaty and rich, complemented by the lighter flavors of green onions.

And now for my favorite part… the Rendang. It was a beautiful dish, the star of which was pieces of beef coated in a flavorful paste. Chilis made it slightly spicy, but not overpoweringly so, and the other flavors of other seasonings, nutty flavors, and umami came through. It was served alongside perfectly cooked rice to balance its strong flavor, and tomatoes and lettuce added splashes of color to the plate. I could easily see why Rendang is Indonesia’s national dish, and why it was was voted the World’s Best Food by CNN in 2017.

Although Indonesian food is a new style for me, it is something I will definitely be coming back to. I am so glad that I tried it!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Cream Puffs (French Feast)

Finally, this French feast concludes with a favorite dessert- cream puffs. This version
of the classic dish features ice cream as the filling, and boasts a melted chocolate
coating on the top.

The cream puffs were baked with an amazingly simple list of ingredients- water, butter,
salt, flour, and eggs. It is the method of cooking, rather than the ingredients, that make
this dish unique. First the water, butter and salt are combined in a pot and melted and
boiled. Then the flour is added, and the dough is quickly removed from heat. The result
is a smooth, thick dough in a matter of minutes.

The next step is to add eggs, but not directly to the pot. First the eggs are whisked by
themselves, until thoroughly thrashed, and then they can be added to the dough.
Whisking the eggs separately first introduces air bubbles to the egg white, which is
important to the cooking process.

After the dough is thoroughly mixed, the cream puffs go into muffin cups, then in the
oven. My cream puffs rose incredibly well despite their lack of yeast, baking powder or
soda, bubbling up far over the top of the muffin tin. After the desserts have cooled, they
are cut into halves and chocolate is melted. Then all that remains to be done is to
assemble the cream puffs. First the tops are covered in melted chocolate- then they are
sandwiched around scoops of ice cream. I used salted caramel, but almost any flavor
will work.

The cream puffs consistency was light and airy, but also just slightly rubbery, like an English Muffin.
It paired very well with the ice cream, and made a delightful ending to our French meal.

Amazing recipes for all these dishes can be found from Raddish Kids.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Nicoise Salad (French Feast)

The next dish in my French meal was a “Nicoise Salad” (pronounced nee-swaz).
It originated in a city called “Nice”, located near France’s border to Italy. This salad
features boiled eggs, tomatoes, white beans, black olives, greens, and a unique
homemade vinaigrette.
Although simple to prepare, this salad balances many complex flavors and textures.
The white beans and eggs balance out the bolder flavors of the tomatoes, olives and
vinaigrette, and add a bit of creaminess. The vinaigrette consists of lemon juice,
Dijon mustard, honey and olive oil, adding a sophisticated hint of tang.
Nicoise Salad was a very fun, easy and unique dish to prepare, and it is very likely
that I will do so again.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Croque Monsieur (French Feast)

Over the next few days, I’m going to write about a French meal that I made.

Hopefully these articles will inspire you to make these dishes yourself!

Croque Monsieur is a classic and delicious French dish, similar to grilled cheese.

The name Croque Monsieur literally translates to Mr. Crunch! It is made with a

thick butter sauce, ham, and gourmet Gruyere cheese, making the most complex

and delicious variation of grilled cheese I have ever eaten.

The first component of Croque Monsieur, the thick butter sauce, was a new concept

for me. It is made by mixing melted butter and flour over heat. This mixture, with the

consistency of dough, is called a roux. Then milk is slowly added. The result is a

surprisingly thick and rich mixture, Bechamel, that adds creaminess to the dish.

After the it is cooked, an ingredient is added that surprised me quite a bit- nutmeg.

After the Bechamel is completed, the sandwiches are assembled. I layered bread,

butter sauce, Gruyere cheese, and ham, adding more cheese and Bechamel on

the top of the sandwiches. Then they are baked until the cheese is browned and

the edges are crisped. (Hence the name, Mr. Crunch).

These sandwiches are so delicious, I don’t think I will ever be able to go back to

grilled cheese. The melted Gruyere is subtly nutty and a bit acidic, and the roux

adds warmer flavors and a gooey texture. The ham brings substance, and ties all the

other components together. It was very delicious, definitely a “make-again”, as my

Mom would say.