Sunday, July 31, 2011

Indian Surprise Meal by Tom

 Indian Surprise Meal by Tom

The challenge:  make a meal that can be served any time within a two hour window.

That is what I volunteered for last Monday as Barbara was off painting for the afternoon and had a meeting right afterwards.  So was dinner to be ready at 6:30 pm or 8:30 pm?  I thought about many options to consider, but what I settled on was a couple of favorites that we enjoy whenever we go to an Indian restaurant.  I figured that Indian dishes actually have enhanced taste as they simmer longer, but are still very good when eaten at their earliest ready time.  Also Indian was on my mind because on our Alaskan cruise the Executive Chef was Indian, and the Indian food on-board the ship was excellent.

The challenge for me was that I had never made Indian food before.  Eaten it yes, but never actually tried to prepare it at home.  I was pleasantly surprised that it was not actually that difficult to make, and it tasted just like what we have been served in restaurants.  Yea!

My meal consisted of Rogan Josh, a popular lamb recipe which originated in Kashmir.  Palak Paneer, which is spinach and paneer cheese.  Paneer cheese is Indian cottage cheese.  Jasmine rice.  And an attempt at Naan, which is a delicious Indian flat bread.  Cooking times all varied for these dishes, but they all benefited from cooking longer in a simmer mode or just resting, like the rice and naan.

Total preparation and cooking time was in excess of two hours, which also included shopping for the ingredients at Wegman's.  But what I found was that I was working on one of the dishes at any given time, so the time went by very quickly.

I had fun making it.  It was ready when Barbara said she was famished and ready to have dinner.  And it really tasted good!  A winning combination.

Rogan Josh
(from Best Ever Curry Cookbook by Mridula Baljekar)

3 teaspoons lemon juice
1 cup plain yogurt (I used Greek yogurt)
1 teaspoon salt
2 crushed garlic cloves
1" piece of fresh ginger root finely grated
1 1/2 pounds of lean lamb fillet cut into 1" cubes (I used a boneless leg of lamb and trimmed the fat away)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon cardamon
1 small onion finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
14 ounce can of diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2/3 cup water

In a large bowl mix together the lemon juice, yogurt, one crushed garlic glove, salt and the ginger.  Add the lamb cubes to the mixture and marinate for at least an hour.  This can be prepared ahead of time, and you can even marinate the lamb overnight in the refrigerator.

In a medium size pot, heat the oil until it is hot.  Fry the cumin seeds for about 2 minutes or until they are sputtering.  Next add the bay leaves and cardamon and fry for an additional 2 minutes or so.  Stir this constantly.

Now add in the chopped onion and the remaining crushed garlic clove and saute for another 5 minutes.  Add the coriander, cumin and chili powder to this mixture, and saute for another 2 minutes.

Now add the entire lamb mixture to the pot and cook for another 5 minutes.  Be sure to stir this frequently to prevent sticking.  Also scrape the pot's bottom to make sure that you are getting all of the spices from infused from the earlier steps.

Now add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste and water.  Cover and simmer for at least an hour, but longer is better.  The lamb becomes very tender.

Serve this over the jasmine rice.

Palak Paneer

10 - 15 ounces baby spinach chopped  (I used one 5 ounce package of fresh spinach and one 10 ounce package of frozen chopped spinach)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion chopped
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon of chopped garlic (about 1 clove chopped)
1/2 cup diced tomatoes
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 tablespoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces paneer cheese cubed (I could not find paneer cheese at Wegman's, so I used large curd cottage cheese)
1/4 cup heavy cream

Chop up the fresh spinach, and cook in 3 tablespoons water until tender in a medium size pot.  Remove the spinach from the pan along with any juices and save for later.  If you are using frozen chopped spinach, cook it the same way, but only until it has unthawed completely.

Add the oil to the pot and heat it up.  Saute the onion, cinnamon, cardamon and ginger until the onion is translucent.

Then add the garlic and diced tomatoes to the onions reducing the heat at this stage to low.   Cook this briefly and then start adding the yogurt a little at a time to prevent it from curdling, which requires constant stirring.

Next add the coriander, garam masala, paprika and salt being sure to mix this well.

Now add back the cooked spinach along with any accumulated liquid and simmer for at least 30 minutes.

If you have a hand blender, this is the time to puree the spinach and onion mixture in the pan.  If not, pour about half into a blender and puree it, and then add back to the pot.

Slowly stir in the heavy cream and heat through on low.

Turn off the heat and finally add in the paneer cheese, or large curd cottage cheese, and stir well.

The last two steps I did when Barbara returned home and said she was ready to eat.

No-Yeast Naan Bread

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon oil
1 beaten egg

Since the bread mixture needs to rest for at least an hour before baking, I started this recipe first.
Mix together the dry ingredients in a medium size bowl.

Heat oil in a small pan, and then add the wet ingredients - milk, egg and yogurt - and heat gently until just warm.  Do not let this boil or else you will cook the egg.

Add the warmed wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Mix thoroughly and knead the dough until it holds together.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for about an hour.  Longer is okay as well.

On a floured surface pat out the dough ball into two patty shaped "loaves" each about 1/2" thick, or even a little thinner.  Mine were a little too thick.

Broil under medium heat turning it over when the top bubbles and turns slightly brown.  Broil until the other side does the same.  This only takes a couple of minutes per side, so watch the naan bread during this stage of preparation.

Serve this warm with the meal.

Jasmine Rice

Use a prepackaged jasmine rice and cook per the instructions provided.  Serve this under the Rogan Josh and alongside the Palak Paneer.

That's it!  Just be prepared to be busy during the critical addition stages for each of these dishes.  Otherwise you are letting the dishes simmer.  How hard can that be!

Again, we found the taste to be just like that we have been served in a fine Indian restaurant.   We enjoyed it and I hope you give it a try.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Happy Anniversary Voyage

Our Surprise Happy Anniversary Cake on the Cruise

After a flurry of visitors, before and after the 4th of July holiday, we decided we wanted to take an adventure for ourselves to celebrate our anniversary on July 14th.  So, we serendipitously booked a NCL cruise on the Norwegian Pearl to Alaska, originating from Seattle, because it fit our dates. 

It was going to be a double adventure:  our first real cruise and our first trip into Alaska.

We arrived in Seattle a day early and found a restaurant that we can highly recommend --- for the location as well as the food and service. Elegant, yet casual.  Great seafood.  It was the best meal we had on the trip and we would go back again.

Waterfront Seafood Grill on Pier 70

As far as the cruise goes, I would start off by saying that the food isn't really the focus.   The scenery and the wildlife and the activities are.  However, there was A LOT of food. And plenty of choices.  Service is one of their strengths.  In particular, we had a delightful server from Romania and a memorable meal at the French restaurant on our anniversary. They surprised us with a small cake. The ship's friendly staff comes from all around the world.

Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) offers freestyle cruising, which means that you can eat wherever and whenever you want.   People don't go hungry, that's for sure.  They pile up their plates at the buffets and there was a wide range of food and restaurants (I think there were 7 in addition to the buffet), to appeal to a wide range of people, ages and cultures.  Our ship was big (2500) and it was fascinating to watch how they fed that so many people, so well, everyday, for 7 days.

I hear from experienced cruisers that NCL is above average, but the best food is on the smaller ships which tend to be more upscale.

The only complaint we had is--- and it isn't really a complaint, but more a curiosity --- why don't they serve cookies?