: Chicken & Corn Curry.

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Recently, we visited Dempsey’s Corner Orchard,  just 5 minutes from our house.

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For just $2 per person, we could spend the day and “eat of any tree” we wanted. You might say we had more freedom than Adam and Eve did.

Sorry, that was corny.

Speaking of corn, have you ever eaten a cob fresh from the stalk? One that you picked yourself? If not, you really should try it! As if all the beautiful fruit wasn’t enough, Dempsey’s also had a corn field for the customers to pick all that they wanted. It was fantastic! So juicy and so much sweeter when it is fresh! After eating a couple of these, we decided to purchase some for our supper.

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There is nothing wrong with plain boiled corn on the cob but this time I wanted to do something different. This fresh and tasty corn was worthy of something else. After thinking about it, I decided to use it in Opor Ayam, which is an Indonesian style chicken curry. Opor is enveloped in this rich, spicy, coconutty sauce.

I could write poetry about this sauce.

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This Opor Ayam recipe is not authentic. Instead, it suits our preferences. Normally, a whole chicken is cut up to make this. Also, one traditional recipe calls for 15 dried chilies….nope, not a typo.  Fifteen!!

I’ve only made this a couple times before, and only in one pot. It is terrific and easy just like that. But this time I did it a bit different.I finished it off in my cast iron casserole, adding the corn from Dempsey’s.

The corn, after cooking in the sauce and soaking up the spices, tastes spectacular!

Using breasts make this healthier. Boneless also make it kid friendly.  Because I have omitted the bone and darker meat, I have sacrificed some of the flavour. I’m ok with that. Feel free to use bone-in chicken, and thighs also, if you want. Just add a few minutes to the initial cooking time.

Not authentic, but very delicious anyway. This would appeal to someone who can’t handle too much chili. This is spicy but not very hot. You can make this using 1 chili if you prefer, without losing much flavour. The chili does balance out the sweetness and richness of the dish.

Ingredients:

2 ½   lbs boneless and skinless chicken breasts  (aprox 5 breasts)

2 shallots

1 tbsp diced ginger

3 garlic cloves

1 bulb lemon grass, sliced

2 dried chilies

2 tbsp coriander

1 cinnamon stick

1 tsp curry powder

1 tsp turmeric

1 tbsp dried onion flakes

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp tomato paste

½ cup chicken stock

1 can coconut milk

3 or 4 Dried kaffir lime leaves (optional)

3 tbsp vegetable oil

4 large corn cobs, parboiled for 5 minutes and sliced (or 2 cups of vegetables of your choice)

Method:

Grind shallots, ginger, garlic, chili, and lemon grass into a paste. Cut chicken breasts into large chunks (cut each breast in 3 or 4 pieces).

Over medium heat, heat oil in a large pot and fry spice paste until fragrant. Add the coriander,cinnamon stick, curry, turmeric, and onion flakes. Stir. Add tomato paste and salt with a little water (just enough to keep spice paste from burning).

Add chicken to the pot and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Frequently scrape spices from bottom of pot, and toss chicken pieces around to brown them. Add a bit more water if things start to stick.

Pour in coconut milk, chicken stock, and add lime leaf to the pot.  Cover and cook for 20 minutes. * preheat oven to 370 degrees at this point * Uncover pot and reduce heat to medium-low setting.

Cook a further 15 minutes. The sauce should appear thicker by then and some of the red coloured oils will start to separate at the top. If this hasn’t happened, continue cooking until it does.

Now transfer this to a deep, 3 ½ to 4 quart casserole dish and add in vegetables.  Don’t waste 1 drop of the precious sauce, scrape it all into the casserole! Remove the cinnamon stick and discard.

I used 4 cobs of sweet corn that I previously parboiled and cut into slices. Sliced carrots would also work, or cubed sweet potato, or any sweet ‘ish’ vegetable.

Cover the casserole and cook in 370 oven for a half hour. Remove and give a gentle stir before serving.

Serve with rice or potatoes.  I recommend bread for sopping up the sauce!

Serves 6-8.

This is delicious just as it is, but if you wait one more day, it’s infinitely more yummy!

Just keep it sealed in the fridge (if you can delay digging in!)

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: Moroccan Grilled Chicken and Cous Cous Stuffed Peppers

grilled moraccan chickenRecently, a loved one had a serious health scare. Eating healthier is one of the changes she will have to make for a better quality of life.

We all want to be here to enjoy our loved ones as long as we possibly can.

Changing the way we eat is often intimidating and overwhelming. I think it’s because we have tried and true favorite foods that make us feel happy and satisfied. For me it’s chocolate and mashed potatoes with gravy (not all together).  There is nothing wrong with either now and then, but it doesn’t have to be my go to comfort food.

I, like my loved one, just have to find other tasty foods that please our taste buds but are also good for our heart.

You don’t need chicken baked in it’s skin to get moist, juicy chicken. Yogurt and spice marinade can result in amazingly delicious chicken!

Using smaller amounts of carbs, like cous cous, to stuff into colorful veggies is a good way to cut back, yet add nutrition and fibre. That’s healthier than a mountain of mashed potatoes on your plate.  And less boring.

So this recipe is for her. And me.

Though I made enough for my family, I’ve broken the recipe down to 2 servings. That way she can store half away to eat the next day.

The chicken can be grilled on an indoor grill or BBQ.

Indoor grilling tips: before placing breasts in marinade make sure they are pounded to around 3/4 inch. Do not place chilled breast directly on the heated grill, take it out of fridge and let come to room temp before grilling (about 15 minutes prior to grilling). It takes 12-15 minutes to grill a chicken breast on an indoor grill between 375-400 degrees Fahrenheit (depending on thickness of breast).

BBQ grilling tips: It is crucial to even out the thickness of the breast so it cooks consistently. Pound it out to around 3/4 inch. Have the grill clean and rubbed with oil. Grill at around 400 degree Fahrenheit, a few minutes on each side until golden.

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Chicken Ingredients:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/8 cup chopped scallions (white part only)

1/8 cup fresh parsley

1/8 cup fresh cilantro

1 clove crushed and minced garlic

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1 tsp each cumin, paprika

1/4 tsp turmeric

Pinch cayenne

Method:

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl, except chicken. Place chicken breasts in a medium Ziploc bag and spoon in the yogurt marinade. Seal bag and squish marinade all around the chicken. Chill in fridge for 2-4 hours before cooking. Take out of the fridge and let stand until it is near room temperature. Grill using the “grilling tips” above. * Discard any marinade left in bag.

Stuffed Pepper Ingredients:

2 bell peppers, halved and seeds scraped out.

1/2 chili pepper, seeds scraped, minced (optional)

1 small shallot, diced

Half a box of prepared cous cous (or enough for 2 people)

Extra virgin olive oil for drizzle

shallots and peppers

Method:

Clean and dry peppers. Drizzle with olive oil and grill face down in 375 degree oven. It will take 20 minutes for peppers to cook. Meanwhile, you can make cous cous and begin grilling the chicken.

In a small pot, sautee shallot and chili until soft. Then, prepare cous cous in same pot (make sure you fluff with a fork once it is done). Set aside, covered, to keep warm.

Remove peppers when they are soft. Flip over carefully with tongs and fill each with a quarter of the cous cous mix. Sprinkle with some chopped parsley.

Serve 2 pepper halves with each grilled breast.

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morroccan chicken breast

: Chicken Curry

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Curry is one of those recipes which is hard to get wrong. And it’s one of those dishes that is 100 times tastier the next day, if you can manage to save some. It was one of the first ‘ethnic’ dishes I could make by memory, as the ingredients are few and simple to prepare.

Sometimes I add a sliced carrot to mine. Peas also work. I like to add  whole spices, like cardamom and star anise, to make the curry even more fragrant. The cinnamon stick lends a bit of sweetness.

Before I married my husband I thought all curry mixes were the same. And the only curry I had been exposed to was that generic bland curry powder found in grocery stores. Back then, I didn’t know curry mixes vary by region, and that it is not solely an Indian dish.

My husband’s Malay and Javanese roots have their own versions of curry. These tend to be richer than the Indian versions. Sometimes they are ‘pedas’, or made sour by adding lime or tamarind.

To make good curry it’s crucial that you have a good curry mix. When we last visited Singapore we took home a small suitcase full of spices. Let me search for that photo and add it another time….that was crazy!!

You may use any Indian or Thai curry mix or paste that you find suitable. Indian “Madras curry” is a good one to try if you can’t find a South East Asian blend. The other basic ingredients are potato, onion, and coconut milk. Pretty simple really. It’s a great starting recipe if you want to try Asian cooking.

1 large potato and 1 pound of chicken may seem too scant for feeding 4 people, but for our family it’s all about the sauce and dipping into it with the naan. If you want something more substantial, by all means add another potato or a half pound more of the chicken.

Ingredients:

1 large onion, sliced thin

1 large potato, peeled and chopped into bite sized chunks (about 1”)

1 tsp salt

2 ½  tbsp curry powder mix or 2 tbsp paste

1 lb skinless boneless chicken breast and thighs, chopped into small pieces

1 can coconut milk

water (enough to just cover potatoes)

2 tbsp oil

*If you have – 1 whole star anise, 4 crushed cardamom pods, 3 cloves, 1 small cinnamon stick (tied in cheesecloth)

Chopped cilantro for garnish

Method:

Heat oil in a pot or deep wok. Fry onions until soft, add curry paste. If you are working with a powdered curry mix, add enough water to form a paste.

Once fragrant, add chicken. Stir and cook over medium heat until no longer pink (about 3-4 minutes).

Add water, bundled spices, and potatoes. Once it starts to boil, reduce heat to medium-low. Pour in coconut milk, and cover, cooking until potatoes are softened, about 15 minutes.

Uncover and cook on low until curry liquid becomes silky looking and has thickened a bit, approximately another 15-20 minutes. Add salt at the end, to taste. Curry is done when you see some oil and spices coming to the top (oil will have turned a deeper colour of red or orange).

Serve with rice and/or warmed dipping breads, like naan. Serves 4.

*You may want to bundle these loose spices, but I throw them in loose. Later I pick out the cloves and anise, but my favorite part is scooping the curry with a cardamom pod up with my naan. I love biting down on the perfumy cardamom!

This is one of my favorite comfort dishes.

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: Soto Ayam (Indonesian chicken noodle soup)

my soto ayam

This is the Indonesian version of chicken noodle soup. It’s packed full of ingredients that are great for fighting cold and flu symptoms. We’ve had our share of those this winter. This is actually an older photo of a batch of soto ayam I made a couple of years back. I thought it timely to post about it as we are all getting over the mother of all colds in our house.

I’ve toned it down, with slightly less spice. Also, instead of the traditional bean thread noodles (glass noodles), I used something a bit more substantial; egg noodles.

This is a hearty and social meal, because each person adds what they want to their own dish.

Half a sliced boiled egg is thrown in when serving. This is optional. It may seem a little odd, but is quite common in Indonesian and Malaysian soups. At least try it. You may find yourself adding a boiled egg in your future bowls of chicken soup!

(A) Spice Paste Ingredients:

4 garlic cloves

1/2 cup sliced shallots

thumb size of ginger

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 lemon grass, just the bulb, sliced

1 tbsp vegetable oil

(B) Soup Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs chicken, skin & fat trimmed

3 liters water

1 small onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 bay leaf

2 tsp salt

2 large carrots, peeled and sliced

6 oz. egg noodles

(C) Accompaniments Ingredients:

3 cups blanched and rinsed bean sprouts

1 cup green onion, sliced fine

2 cups finely shredded lettuce

1 cup chopped cilantro

1 lime, cut in wedges

1/4 cup chili sambal (if you like heat)

3 hard boiled eggs, halved

1/2 cup crispy fried shallots

Method:

First, trim your chicken and set aside. Prepare ingredients ‘A’ by grinding them into a paste.

In a large stock pot,over medium heat, add the ground ingredients. Fry until fragrant, then add the chicken. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the water. Cover and cook until chicken is completely cooked. Remove chicken into a large bowl with slotted spoon. Strain stock by pouring it over a large pot through a fine mesh strainer. Discard pulpy spice bits. You should now have a nice, clear broth. Return to heat and add the sliced carrots to the stock. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the egg noodles to the stock. Cook until noodles are done, then turn off heat.

Remove the chicken from the bones, shred, and set aside in a bowl. Prepare sprouts, lettuce, green onions, cilantro, limes, etc…basically, everything in ‘C’ ingredients. Each of these ingredients will be put into individual bowls.Cover with lids or plastic wrap, and set these bowls (along with the bowl of shredded chicken) on the dining table.

Gently reheat soup. Everyone will then add his or her own ingredients from the table, to their own bowl. Then, ladle over the hot soup, topping with garnishes.

Serves 6.

: Singapore satay

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If someone needed a simple explanation of satay I would hesitate to say, “meat on a stick”. That’s a start, but it is so much more than that. Satay in Singapore can be of different varieties, however, mainly you have Javanese (Indonesian) and Malay styles. My Father-in-law, who I sadly did not get the chance to meet, was of Javanese heritage. It is this style I attempted to achieve today. It is the taste my husband and our family are used to.

This is my first time making satay entirely by scratch. In the past I have used commercially prepared mixes. This is a dish you don’t want to screw up, because it has a very distinct flavour. Coriander, chili, and lemongrass are the dominant flavours, and it is necessary to get this right. If not, I guess it would just taste like meat on a stick…but when my husband had his first bite it was nice to hear, ” yeaaahhthis is it! 

I also wanted to do this dish justice because it is part of my husband and children’s cultural tapestry. Satay has a very old tradition in Singapore. When my husband was a little boy he seen a Javanese satay cook (wak satay) on one or two occasions. My Singaporean brother- in- law remembers when they were a common presence in Singapore. These cooks were a one-man operation, carrying baskets and cooking grills balanced on a bamboo pole which they carried on their shoulders. Families, friends, and young couples would perch on little stools, waiting eagerly as these humble men cooked them a feast. Magically, out of materials kept in a couple of baskets! These men and their wares disappeared over the years, as they were replaced by regulated hawker centers.

satay in the 50s Singapore, courtesy of Singapore Archives

satay in the 50s Singapore, courtesy of Singapore Archives

Today, satay grills are still very popular and crowded evening hang-outs. We had the pleasure of being treated to one on our last visit to Singapore. Our niece and her husband took us to Telok Ayer Market, where it was buzzing with locals and expats. We sampled a few dishes, but the satay was why we were there, and the satay was the highlight of our food order.

Telok Ayer Market

Telok Ayer Market

Sharing satay with Daddy

Sharing satay with Daddy

When I mentioned to my brother- in- law that I wanted to post on satay, he had a recipe link for me within moments! Singaporeans are passionate about food and they will rush to your aid if you have questions (and my bro-in-law is also a wonderful person!).  Upon reading it through, my husband and I noticed some key ingredients were missing, such as lemongrass and chili. In all fairness, the recipe had rave reviews, but It seemed it was a simplified recipe altered for the Western pallet. This prompted me to keep looking for a recipe that was a bit more authentic. We think we have found it. This is the recipe from the blog of a Singaporean gentleman, now living abroad. This was his wife’s passed down, family recipe. His blog post on chicken satay is well worth reading.

I have slightly altered his wife’s recipe, as it called for 15 dried chilies between the meat and sauce. That’s a bit too hot for my liking. So I have endevored to find a middle  ground…somewhere between what my husband likes and what an average person can tolerate without calling 911. That being said, the satay itself is not very hot. The peanut sauce is hot. But the richness and sweetness balance the heat nicely.

You will notice the recipe calls for hot chili powder. Chances are you won’t find this without going to a specialty shop. It is not the generic chili powder found in grocery stores that every Nova Scotian has in their cupboard. Not the kind you make your bean chilli with. This is the potent 100% ground hot chilies. If you have it, I’m impressed. I got mine in Singapore, and it’s past it’s best date. It’s losing it’s potency and bright red colour. For that reason, I have added a substitute of fresh Thai chili pepper.

This was a practice run for me, as I have promised my cousin a satay feast one day soon…I was really pleased with the results and with the help I got from my husband and daughter. It wasn’t hard getting help when everyone started smelling the spices.

Gather every ingredient before beginning

Gather every ingredient before beginning

Ingredients for satay (marinade):

2 lbs skinless chicken breast, cut in thin strips

*Thumb-size piece of ginger, sliced (see note below)

3 shallots, sliced

1 stalk lemongrass, bruised and sliced (you use only the bulb end and small portion of stalk), or 1 tbsp lemongrass paste

3 cloves garlic, sliced

1 Thai red chili, seeds scraped out and discarded

2 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp fennel seeds

1 tbsp cumin

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp **thick tamarind juice

3 tbsp vegetable oil

* some may be scratching their head and asking what I mean by a “thumb size” amount of ginger. This is how my sis-in-laws taught me to measure root spices. They would specify the amount using thumb, baby finger, or finger tip size. Many Asian cook books use the same unit of measure. Just imagine how much ginger would take up your thumb. Do not worry about being very precise.

** In specialty stores, and in some imported food aisles at the grocery store, you can find tamarind pulp. Its sold in pressed blocks. Break off a piece about the size of a chestnut. Soak in about a 1/4 cup hot water for several minute. With your fingers, squeeze out the pulpy juice, removing any seeds. Take your thick juice from this liquid and don’t throw out the extra. You will need it again for the peanut sauce. 

Method:

First, using a mortar and pestle or bullet/processor, grind garlic, shallot, chili, ginger, and lemongrass until smooth. Add in all the dry spices and grind them as well.

grinding ingredients, old school

grinding ingredients, old school

after chili and dry spices are added

after chili and dry spices are added

It does not have to be completely smooth, there will be bits of the coriander seeds. That is ok and preferable. Scrape and scoop this all into a small bowl and stir in the tamarind juice, oil, and brown sugar.Mix well.

Take your sliced chicken and divide in half. Put half in a medium ziploc bag, and the other half in another bag. Likewise, divide half the marinade and add each to the bags of chicken. Seal and squish together to coat all pieces of chicken.

my lil' squishy doing the squishing

my lil’ squishy doing the squishing

Place in fridge and chill at least 6 hours. Mean while, make the peanut dipping sauce:

ingredients for peanut sauce

ingredients for peanut sauce

Ingredients (sauce):

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tbsp fennel seed

1 tsp HOT chili powder or 1/2 fresh Thai red chili (seeds too)

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cumin powder

1 cup roasted, *unsalted, peanuts

4 shallots, sliced

2 cloves garlic, sliced

4 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp lemongrass paste or 1 lemongrass bulb, sliced

1 tsp belecan paste (fermented shrimp paste) *optional

1 tbsp thick tamarind juice

1 1/2 cups coconut milk (one full can)

Method:

First, grind or process dry spices and peanuts. If peanuts have salt, omit the tsp of salt in the recipe. After processing, peanuts should be a bit chunky, not too fine. Set aside in a bowl.

Grind or process the garlic, lemon grass, shallots, chili, until smooth. Set aside in small bowl.

In a small pot heat oil. Fry the dry ground ingredients until fragrant. Add the wet ground ingredients, fry also until fragrant. Add tamarind and belecan. Add brown sugar, and stir quickly to avoid burning.

Turn heat down to low and add coconut milk. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally for about 45-60 minutes until it has thickened a bit and oil rises to the surface. Don’t remove any thin skin that forms at the surface. Just stir it back into the sauce or you would lose some of the spices. Reheat before serving the satay.

peanut sauce, in the beginning stage

peanut sauce, in the beginning stage

just about ready, see the oil separating?

just about ready, see the oil separating?

To assemble & cook satay:

After marinading for several hours, thread the chicken onto bamboo skewers that have been soaked in water for at least 15 minutes. Oil your grill and cook on medium-high heat for 10 minutes or until you are confident they are done. This made about 35 ‘kebab-sized’ skewers, if you are making this as part of a main dish. You can get double the amount if you are making them as party appetizers. Just use shorter skewers.

Nice accompaniments are mango salad (recipe post to follow), and steamed basmati rice. A traditional side served with satay is cucumbers and red onion. A simple pickle, which I served with mine, is chopped cucumber and onion mixed with a tbsp of rice wine vinegar and a tsp of sugar.

You may want to wear your loose pants…

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simple cuke and onion pickle

simple cuke and onion pickle

: chicken shawarma

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I fell in love with Lebanese food not on a vacation, but in a mall food court. Whenever we are in the city we make a stop at the Mic Mac Mall, sometimes just for a takeaway plate from Villa Madina’s.

My favorite is their chicken shawarma platter, with all trimmings…like the hot pickled peppers, turnip pickles, and the creamy garlic toum sauce. This was my first taste of dishes combining so much lemon, garlic, and meditteranean spices like sumac and za’atar. I was smitten and I was determined to learn how to make a passable imitation. But usually, I ended up disappointed with the results.

Until now!

I owe it all to ‘Mama’ of mamaslebanesekitchen.com. This lady’s children have lovingly collected their mother’s recipes to share with the world. All to honour Mama and the family cuisine . This site houses a plethora of not just recipes, but detailed instructions. After reading them, I feel like I have accumulated several credits in Lebanese Cooking 101. I was so grateful to stumble on her chicken shawarma recipe/tutorial! spices ingredients As Mama points out, without roasting it slowly on a spit, you can’t achieve authentic shawarma. But this is really really close. And you can achieve this by using an indoor grill. I have made some minor changes to the recipe, partly because of what I had and didn’t have on hand. Also I added sumac because I love it. As you are mixing the marinade, you may gasp and ask, “a whole head of garlic??”…yes, and please don’t skimp! marinade before The marinade needs to be blended really well. I suggest using a bullet or immersion blender. It should look creamy when done. bullet schawarma marinade Ingredients:

3 lbs of skinless/boneless chicken breast and thigh, sliced 1 inch thick (too thin and it will dry out).

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tbsp tomato sauce (not paste)

1/2  cup plain Greek yogurt

3 tbsp white vinegar

1 head of garlic, crushed

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

1 tsp each dried thyme and oregano

2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp sumac

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Method:

Slice the chicken and set aside

Mix all other ingredients in a bowl. This becomes the marinade.

Blend the marinade until it is well mixed and looks creamy. In a large Ziploc bag, place the chicken and pour in the marinade. Seal the bag and give it a little squishing to coat all the chicken.

Place the sealed bag flat, in a shallow dish, and chill in fridge overnight, until ready for use. If you don’t want to wait overnight, you must still marinade at least 6 hours.

Cook in a closed grill, medium heat, for about 15 minutes. This can also be grilled on a BBQ, taking care not to overcook it.

This feeds a dinner party of 6.lebanese chicken pita Suggestions for accompaniments: pita bread, hummus, sliced cucumber, tomato, red onion, and Greek yogurt. But this is also great on it’s own with pilaf or salad.

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