Sunday, January 29, 2012

Back in the Saddle

There was a lot of cooking (and baking!) over Christmas, but I just didn't have the time or energy to post about it. Suffice to say, it was an enjoyable time - with a lot of old favorites and new triumphs. I particularly recommend Alex Guarnaschelli's gingerbread cookies. The citrus adds a subtle but really addictive note.

After a few weeks of dieting, I decided to cook again this weekend. Was too harried and busy Friday to post my meal plan, so here it is:

Chicken and Potato Stew - Anjum's New Indian (Anjum Anand)
Honey Wheat Bread - unknown (little pink postcard. No, really)
Espresso Dark Brownie Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Fudge Frosting

Also had no time to get to the Indian grocer, so I wasn't able to get the authentic thin green chilis. Used jalapenos instead - knew serranos would be way too hot - so I was prepared for the overall stew coming out spicier than intended. I highly recommend Anjum's book, by the way: I haven't had a dud yet, and even though the more exotic ingredients need a specialty store to find, it's definitely been worth it. These are not burn-your-mouth Indian dishes; they're deep and flavorful.

In any case, the bread was a machine affair, so not much to relate, except the fact that of course, I messed up putting the egg in and sort of ended up pushing it down into the corner. This turned out to be a massive loaf; I was concerned it was going to bust out of the machine and take over Manhattan.

Final verdict (bread): Quantity leaves a teeny bit of the top unbaked, but not enough to ruin it. This is a hearty but fluffy bread. The raisins and shredded carrot add a lot of depth. Recipe available upon request.

Made the brownies next. I was concerned about the use of unsweetened chocolate, but the vast amounts of brown sugar provided the perfect balance. Simple prep, though the chocolate took a long time to cool, and I wasn't able to discern when the cupcakes reached golden, so I had to guess - and I think I guessed a little over. Also note that I didn't have Dutch-process cocoa powder, so ended up using traditional Hershey's.

The peanut butter frosting whipped up simply into a thick, nearly-unspreadable mixture that had to be manhandled onto the cupcakes. It's rich - I could easily see halving the amount for the same number of cupcakes.

Final verdict (cupcakes): These are very dense and chewy - definitely brownies in a cupcake form. Though rich and intense, borderline overwhelming, they are also very good. Recommended.

Alas that I missed that the stew required bone-in chicken, but I decided to follow the backup advice by using stock in its stead. First step was to fry the cinnamon stick, then add onions and chili ... followed follow by ginger-garlic paste. By now, I've become something of an old hand at this method of frying the spice / sauce either first or separately. I also had the sense - for a change - to measure out the other spices while the chicken browned a bit.

However, I realized as I inserted the potato chunks and then eyed the sheer quantity in the pan ... the recipe had called for a saucepan. So filling the pan with water nearly caused mad overflow. This was when I was glad of a nifty Christmas gift: a universal lid. (It is a sad, sad commentary that I was excited by this.) And with that lid on, the recipe cooked up perfectly, though I had some trouble mixing in the final ingredients.

To my tongue, you can't taste the tamarind paste, so this could possibly be made without ... but perhaps it's just that I don't know what the taste is to look for it, and-or that it didn't get wholly incorporated.

Final verdict (stew): Hearty, but not heavy, tender and spicy, this is a wonderful cold winter soup. No cornstarch needed - a piece of the potatoes, mashed, serves for thickener. Excellent when mopped up with bread, too.