The Most Delicious Dish I’ve Ever Made…

Melissa Clark is one of my favorite cookbook authors – I find her recipes well researched, easy-to-follow and consistently delicious. But the depth and complexity of flavor in her Coconut Pork Stew with Garam Masala make this recipe, hands down, the most delicious dish I’ve ever made.

And it wasn’t even difficult. (To be fair, two elements require day-before preparation, so planning is required. But making a list is about as complicated as this recipe gets.)

I decided to make this recipe because I found the enveloping NYT article, Pork Stew Gets A Chile Kick intriguing, and I like Indian flavors and coconut curries. Plus, we were having an east coast March ‘blizzard’ on Tuesday, so I knew we’d be house-bound and I’d have a good three hours in the afternoon to let this bake. So Monday evening I had my butcher cube and trim two-and-a-half pounds of ‘pork butt’ (which I’d never heard of before) and collected the rest of the ingredients.

Normally, I reject recipes which require day-before prep and/or browning the meat first (too much of a hassle), but because I’d watched Ms. Clark’s video, I knew the day-before prep was simple and the browning step wasn’t fussy – just toss the cubes into the pot and let them ‘get golden’ for about 5 minutes.

Along that same vein, there’s not even much to chop or mince in this recipe – especially if you use fresh, already-diced onions. Which I always do. That said, in my view the chopped cilantro garnish is absolutely not optional – it adds a lot to the dish.

My only concern with this dish was nutritional. This recipe calls for coconut oil, which has a lot of saturated fat, a lo-co no-go. For information on why, in general, you should avoid coconut oil, read The Cleveland Clinic’s Olive Oil vs Coconut Oil: Which Is Heart-Healthier?

That said, if you omit the garlic-coconut oil topping (which doesn’t add a lot IMHO, other than another pan to clean!) this recipe really doesn’t have THAT much coconut oil and thus, is not so terrible, lo-co wise. (And certainly better than Shake Shack or fast food!) And, always good to serve with a green vegetable – I steamed green beans – or a salad.

I followed this recipe exactly and have no edits at all – it’s easy to follow and the steps make sense. My only quibble is that Ms. Clark suggests the yellow split peas are the dish’s starch. For me (and other commenters on her recipe page) the split peas were just not enough. I served it with basmati rice (yes, a better choice would be brown rice but I didn’t have that on my shopping list as it was not in the recipe. LOL.)

I also love that the NYT recipes now – finally! – have nutritional information!  Without rice, the nutritional analysis proffered on the recipe page indicates 19 grams of saturated fat. When I uploaded this recipe into ‘My Fitness Pal’ and included about 3/4 cup of basmati rice, I got a whopping 24 grams of saturated fat – 118% of of daily allowance! Not good.

But omitting the garlic-coconut oil drizzle brings that to a still-high-but-more-reasonable 15 grams of saturated fat or 73% of daily allowance.

So if this recipe sounds appealing (and believe me, the complexity and depth of flavor are ‘restaurant-quality’ which is not something I can usually easily deliver!) just make sure you’re not overdoing it with other high-saturated-fat dishes that day!

If you prefer, download a PDF of the Coconut Pork Stew With Garam Masala recipe.

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Tangy, Healthy, Homemade Yogurt

Two things happened mid-February that messed with my decade-long half-bagel with smidge of cream cheese and slice of lox breakfast habit.

  1. My fabulous local delicatessen can no longer get the nirvana-like H&H bagels from NYC (yes, I know the real H&H closed years ago but the ‘other’ H&H bagels are great too). And I despise their CT-made replacement bagels. DESPISE.
  2. In the NYT, I read a Melissa Clark article about making homemade yogurt and became obsessed – especially because there was a kitchen gadget I could buy.

I tried to be more open — to embrace change and learn to love the new bagels. I could not. I then bought a dozen bagels from a deli in NYC and brought them home on the train. Nope. Tasted right but they are the size of a softball and I hate that.

Yes, I am picky. I know I am not flexible. It’s sad but I’m just not. I’d say I’m working on it, but at least food-wise, it’d be a lie.

So what’s a non-food-flexible girl to do? Well, that’s the upshot of the story because Melissa Clark’s homemade yogurt recipe was a revelation.

When I read How to Make Yogurt at Home, I was immediately intrigued by her statement that it’s both simple to make and delicious – far more delicious than store-bought and since I’m not a huge fan of yogurt I thought I should try it. And bonus: my doctor wants me to consume more calcium and, um, ice cream is not on the lo-co calcium list.

Then it got fun. As I re-read Ms. Clark’s article, I realized she inserted a mystery into her story. And who doesn’t love a good mystery:

“I fell in love with a whole-milk yogurt that was so smooth, thick and milky tasting that it blew away anything I’d had before. Naturally, it was made by a Brooklyn artisan, it cost a fortune, and it was in such high demand that the fancy shop where it was sold was often out of stock.”

Finding out what yogurt she was obsessed with became my obsession.

After a ridiculous number of hours reading yogurt reviews and searching online, I did not know the answer but narrowed it down to either The White Moustache or Sohha Savory Yogurt.  In NYC for the weekend, I could not find Sohha but did find The White Moustache, so I bought one of the single-serve jars for a whopping $6.

Then I re-read the ‘simple’ recipe and started laughing. Sure, it’s simple, if you have a lot of patience. But I’m neither flexible nor patient (at least I know my faults, right?)  Her two “tips” about how easy it was to make yogurt were what prompted me to immediately buy a yogurt maker.  To me, these did not sound easy:

Tip #1: “…rub an ice cube over the inside bottom of the pot before adding the milk. This keeps it from scorching as it heats.” (For me, this reads like a guarantee of a scorched pot and is thus to be avoided at all costs.)

Tip #2: “I’ve tried placing it in a turned-off oven with the oven light on, in a corner swathed in a heating pad, on the countertop wrapped in a big towel, and tucked on the top of the fridge. They all worked, though the warmer the spot, the more quickly the milk fermented.” (OMG…too many options / too many ways I could go wrong, so, um, no.)

When I told my sister what I was going to do, she said, “Oh, making yogurt at home is easy, you just cook it and leave it somewhere warm.”  Or something to that effect.  So I guess these ‘tips’ would act as ‘tips’ for some (most?) people, but for me it led me straight to the internet.

Where I realized there was one final challenge with making yogurt: timing. The entire process takes at least 18 hours. While none of it’s hard (except for that scorched pot part) and none of that time is actually active work, it does mean you need to plan out exactly when you start or you’ll need to get up at 3am to jam it into the refrigerator. And that’s a big no for me. Armed now with information, I searched on Amazon.

Cuisinart Electronic Yogurt MakerFirst I bought an “InstantPot”. Too many issues to enumerate so let me say, “just don’t believe the reviews; it’s not good as a yogurt maker.” I immediately returned it and bought the fabulous Cuisinart Electronic Yogurt Maker with Automatic Cooling.  At $99 it was not a small purchase but I’ve been thrilled with it – you just mix 2 cups of organic 2% milk (for lo-co yogurt I’m using 2%) with 3-4 TB of the White Moustache plain yogurt, turn it on for 12 hours and when it’s done, it then keeps it cool for 12 more hours – so at any normal time of day, you can remove it to the refrigerator. To me, that’s worth the cost of the pretty slim, nice-looking appliance!

Not only is this truly easy, but it makes yogurt that’s rich, creamy and tangy. With NO sugar, that tangy taste takes a bit of getting used to, but I’m trying (look at me, being flexible after all!)  I add fresh berries and mash them up to give the yogurt a bit of color and also a handful of granola for some crunch and texture.

The only problem is – I am eating it for lunch, not breakfast. Turns out I really crave hot (or at least, not cold) for breakfast.  So I’m still eating the last of my NYC frozen bagels (can’t let them go to waste, right?) and trying to gear myself up to try yogurt for breakfast.

If you are more flexible than me (a low bar indeed) and/or like yogurt for breakfast but would prefer a tangier, no-sugar option at a fraction of the cost of buying individual serve yogurts, give Melissa Clark’s recipe a whirl.

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Hearty Mushroom-Spinach Soup

While I am not usually a fan of soup for dinner, my husband is, and this month I found two soup recipes that looked hearty enough to possibly satisfy. Plus they both had the alluring added bonus of “requiring” the purchase of a new kitchen gadget. Though there’s barely room in my ‘magic closet,’ I could not resist.

So two weeks ago, I made New York Times “Recipes For Health” columnist Martha Rose Shulman’s Winter Vegetable Soup With Turnips, Carrots, Potatoes and Leeks – because it looked tasty and required a food mill, a kitchen implement I’ve often wondered about. More on that adventure in another post.

Last night, I was tempted by a recipe that appeared that day (oh the spontaneity!) in the NYT. I always have good luck with Melissa Clark recipes, so I went right on out and purchased an immersion blender and ingredients for her Mushroom-Spinach Soup With Middle Eastern Spices.

The immersion blender was a bust. Literally. I need to find and buy a different brand; luckily I have an old fashioned blender, so that saved the day. Which was good because this recipe was delicious – both very tasty and hearty enough for the not-soup-lover in me. Beyond a new lo-co meal, the whole reason I tried it (besides the fact that I love mushrooms) was Ms. Clark’s quite accurate description:

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

“This is a very hearty, chunky soup filled with bits of browned mushroom and silky baby spinach. A combination of sweet and savory spices – cinnamon, coriander and cumin – gives it a deep, earthy richness.”

Sounds good, right? It was. It even looks hearty, as you can see in this picture that accompanied the recipe.

The picture and description enticed me to try the recipe – to run right out and buy the ingredients, actually.

But I have two quibbles with the recipe as Ms. Clark published it.

First, it does NOT take one hour. It took me 1.5 hours – and I didn’t even dice shallots.  So if you are going to try this recipe, give yourself at least 90 minutes. AT LEAST. Nothing’s hard, it just takes time.

Second, once the soup is cooked, step 4 of the recipe is not quite accurate. The recipe says, “Using an immersion blender or food processor, coarsely purée soup.” After my immersion blender mishap, I poured the soup – nearly all of it – into my blender and hit puree. Once back in the soup pot, I realized the recipe was not accurate for use of an – oh wait – she said food processor, not old fashioned blender.  My bad.

OK, so what I was going to say is that the directions should say to purée only half of the soup or something to that effect – because Ms. Clark’s soup has some beautiful big chunks of mushrooms in it post-puréeing (and mine did too, before I puréed it – see picture below on the left.) But puréeing pulverized nearly all of my mushroom chunks (see photo on right). I was a little sad about that – but now see that was my fault (though actually, I’m not entirely convinced that if you put ALL of the soup in a food processor and coarsely puréed it, you’d still have some nice big mushroom slices. A guess on my part, but I still think you should not food processor purée ALL of it!).

MushroomSoup2

Pre-purée: looks like recipe pic!

MushroomSoupBlended

Post blender: few mushroom chunks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sadly that was not my only error. I also forgot to buy shallots. This recipe calls for 1/2 pound of diced shallots – that is a LOT of shallots: far more than the 1 head I had on hand. Instead, I used fresh pre-diced onions and diced them further. (And still, it took me 1.5 hours to make this soup without peeling and dicing a huge number of shallots!)

MushroomSoupFinalMy mistake(s) notwithstanding, this was still delicious. It does have a vaguely Indian flavor profile – so if that’s not your deal, you may prefer different spices. You can see from my terrible picture that I served this as suggested, with a dollop of plain greek yogurt. Along with a nice loaf of fresh French bread, both my husband and I enjoyed this dinner. It’s a tasty lo-co meal that’s a great change of pace from a meat-based meal, and to my surprise this was a totally satisfying dinner. Plus, it’s easy to make on a weeknight – as long as you have the time for and don’t mind dicing.

So, another Melissa Clark recipe win.

I’ll let you know if the immersion blender works better than a regular blender when the one I ordered from Amazon arrives!  I hope it’s not too big; my magic closet is filled to the ceiling. Literally.

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The Lo-Co…Vegan…Thanksgiving

Last year I hosted Thanksgiving, so this year I’m not cooking: we’re going to my brother-in-law’s for the family get together. But I realized a few years ago that not cooking Thanksgiving has a huge, huge downside — I don’t have leftovers for several days of “hot lunch” (as my husband likes to call my preferred leftovers for lunch choice.)

So now, on the years I don’t host the actual Thanksgiving feast, I cook ‘Thanksgiving Friday” for local friends and family.

The beauty is: it’s not the ‘real deal’ so I can experiment a bit.  The downside: I’ve found that as we get older, more of my Thanksgiving Friday guests have dietary restrictions. So this year I’ve been searching for new recipes that meet a bunch of requirements.  First, some kind of low fat, low-cholesterol recipes for me.  Second, vegan side dishes for my niece.  And lastly, garlic & onion free options for one of my sisters.

It’s not easy.

But I love a challenge.

From a lo-co perspective, I refuse to give up gravy and mashed potatoes – so my lo-co choice for Thanksgiving is mostly just to limit portion size of non-lo-co foods. But I am adding one new thing: a healthier, homemade cranberry sauce. The recipe I like is Cooking Light’s Classic Cranberry Sauce which has a lot of sugar but is quite tasty.  Plus you can make it ahead (key) and it at least has the nutrients and calcium of fresh, tart cranberries. So in my view, it’s a decent lo-co choice.  (And hey, it’s easy to have the canned stuff available for those who refuse to vary from tradition.)

For my niece and sister, I am giving Lemon-Garlic Kale Salad from Melissa Clark / Julia Moskin (sorry, can’t tell whose recipe this is!) a whirl this Friday.  By separating out a bit of  lemon juice/salt/olive oil mixture and keeping it garlic-free for my sister, this recipe should work for EVERYONE at my table. Well, everyone except my son who wouldn’t touch kale if I paid him.  He’ll stick with the traditional Campbell’s Soup/Durkee Fried Onion-drenched green bean casserole.  Oh , who am I kidding – he’ll have nothing green. It’s Thanksgiving. He gets a pass.

For other great Thanksgiving ideas, read Julia Moskin and Melissa Clark’s excellent Essential Thanksgiving NYT article and accompanying recipes. I’m trying the turkey leg cooking method (no, not for me – I’m sticking to white meat!) and the mashed potato ideas listed in this well-done, instructional piece.

So my niece has something else to eat besides plain turkey and lemon-garlic kale salad, I’m investigating gluten free recipes.  There is a veritable treasure trove of recipes and ideas for gluten free thanksgiving at Gluten Free Girl’s Grain Free Thanksgiving. And Cooking Light offers a Gluten Free Holiday Menu.  I haven’t worked out yet which gluten free sides I’ll be making – but I better hop to it since it’s already Tuesday!

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How To Bake Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts

It was a two-chicken week this week.

First, there was the baked chicken with great flavor, that was sadly ruined because the chicken was dry and overdone.  That sent me to the internet where I did a lot of research. That led to chicken number 2: a different recipe (but still baked) and the result was delicious chicken: not overdone or dry at all.

Woot.

This chicken foray all started began because my mom was planning to make pot roast for out-of-town guests.

Yes, pot roast.

She was throwing a casual dinner party for out of town guests, and pot roast is just perfect casual dinner party fare.  Just set it up, let it rip and it’s always delicious (though not so lo-co, but that was not the point.) She had purchased a lovely pot roast and was all set to go when she had to punt because other friends had the same out-of-town couple over for dinner the night before.  And guess what was on the menu?

Yup, pot roast.

So my poor Mom had to race to the store. And ended up with 3 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breast.

Which frankly, might not have been my choice because chicken breasts are hard to cook – meaning, usually they get over-cooked and dried out.

But she had the chicken in hand, so we had to find a solution. I suggested The Silver Palate’s Chicken Marbella recipe. It’s fabulous: though filled with ingredients I don’t like, somehow it works. And it’s a great choice for a dinner party: it’s always delicious and almost as easy as a pot roast – as long as you get it marinading the night before.

The only trouble is, the Chicken Marbella recipe is for whole chicken or bone-in chicken pieces; if you cooked boneless, skinless for the same amount of time, they’d definitely dry out. And I’d never done it.

So I suggested my mom cook the chicken for no more than 40 minutes (rather than the 50-60 minutes in the original recipe.)  And yet – I steered her wrong.  Her chicken had great flavor but was very dry. (And yes, I know, never try out a new recipe for company – totally insane of me to suggest this. But that’s another story.)

My guess, as Mom and I were discussing it, was the dry chicken was caused by two issues: a) the 40 minutes I suggested was just much too long, and b) I didn’t realize that my mom cut the breasts in half – probably necessitating an even shorter cook time.

I felt so badly I’d led my mom astray for a dinner party (sorry again, Mom!)

With that on my mind, I was determined to figure out what should have been the right cook time for baked chicken breasts. What was interesting is that my research pointed to 2 issues: both cook time AND temperature. Several sources recommended that the proper way to get moist baked chicken is to cook the boneless, skinless chicken breasts at a slightly higher temperature — 400 degrees — for 20-30 minutes depending on the thickness of the breasts.

I was all set to try it out, when I opened the New York Times Dining section and found Chicken Offered To The Green Goddess, by Melissa Clark, one of my favorite NYT chef authors. I had to try this recipe – both because it looked delicious AND because I needed to test out baking chicken to see if I could do it without them drying out.

But I chickened out (sorry for terrible pun).  I bought split chicken breasts rather than skinless, boneless because I really wanted to try this Green Goddess sauce – and worried I’d ruin it my first time out.

So I followed Melissa Clark’s Green Goddess Roasted Chicken recipe (500 degrees for about 40 minutes) and the skin was gorgeously browned and the chicken was moist moist moist!

And no, I did NOT eat the skin.  But it looked pretty!

This is a great recipe to try – either as Melissa Clark wrote it, or with boneless, skinless breasts.  If you go boneless, skinless, go with 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes (test the chicken at 20 minutes to see if it’s done: no red or pink and it should be 160-165 degrees). And do watch Ms. Clark’s video, I found it very helpful.

And because it drives me insane that the NYT recipes never include nutritional info, I took the time to enter it into My Fitness Pal.

Then I wrote an article about this revised recipe and published it on Answers.com: A Low Cholesterol Take On Melissa Clark’s Green Goddess Chicken Recipe. Follow my version of the recipe if you want to go with boneless, skinless breasts rather than whole chicken or split breasts.  And bonus, my article includes the nutritional value of the recipe.

Give it a whirl.  Either the original (which is far more impressive than chicken breasts – so choose Ms. Clark’s original if you are cooking for company) or my revised boneless, skinless version. And if there are ingredients you don’t care for in the Green Goddess dressing, the recipe’s very flexible – Ms. Clark even tells you what you can substitute.

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