Butter Chicken

I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with everything I want to say in this post, which is kind of appropriate for this particular recipe. See, while this may be a post on Butter Chicken, as the subject states, this recipe was part of a mangled-by-Teddy New York Times article titled “Ambition’s Chicken,” which Matt and I misread initially because, up until a few moments ago, we had been referring to it as Ambitious Chicken.

But you gotta start somewhere. So, let me begin by thanking you all so much for your amazing response to my book-cover announcement. Your preorders caused the book to “trend” on Barnes and Nobles for a bit there. So, thank you, thank you, thank you! I appreciate it so much.

A friend of mine recently told me about the book 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write by Sarah Ruhl, which sounds great. Just the title alone seems to capture so much of today’s zeitgeist with our daily onslaught of information, emails, and things to do (and feel?).
Anyway, since Teddy was born, I too have been steadily compiling a list of essays I don’t have time to write. Here’s a small sampling from the growing Word document:

1. Why Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee Makes Me Uncomfortable

2. I Know All Parents Think Their Baby is Special But I Think Mine Actually Might Be

3. On Living in My Hero Zone 
(A while ago, I bought the audio version of the book, The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level, in which the author discusses how most of us aren’t living in our zone of genius and begins to explain how to achieve that kind of living. I found it all very interesting—if not a little hilarious—and when I went to talk about all of my thoughts with Matt, he began accidentally referring to the genius zone as the hero zone. Point being, I have a lot to say about this book!)

4. Maybe Nobody Knows, Maybe Nobody Cares, But It Really Feels Like Paul Ryan Took a Bribe in Front of the Whole World*

*OK, fine. Maybe I have a bit of time right now to get into this one: In case you missed it, on CNBC, Paul Ryan publicly criticized Amazon’s treatment of Hachette authors (If you’re out of the loop: You can’t pre-order the majority of Hachette books on Amazon, and once the books come out, they aren’t given the normal Amazon discount nor are they available to ship in a timely manner. In effect, you are discouraged from buying Hachette books from the site that is believed to control over 50% of the book market--physical and electronic books.) The following day, Amazon made a major exception for Ryan, essentially flipping a switch so that suddenly his Hachette-published book was easily discoverable, discounted by 25 percent, and available to ship immediately.

We haven’t heard anything from Mr. Ryan since. Sooooooo, so much for fighting the good fight! But here’s my thinking: if he wasn’t getting special treatment from the online megastore because of his status as a congressman (which would be a violation of House ethics rules), then surely, all a Hachette author needs to do is publicly declare their displeasure with Amazon’s treatment of their book and then, the next day, the book will become available for pre-order and all that jazz—amiright?

OK, well, in that case, I would like to make this blog post my official declaration of displeasure with Amazon’s treatment of my book and, while I'm at it, the books of all other Hachette authors. (It’s probably safe to say that Amazon missed my previous blog post about all this.)

Ahhh, great. Now we can put this lousy topic behind us and finally talk butter chicken.
This is one of those recipes that you want to bookmark for your next dinner party. Sure, the ingredient list is long and it’s going to take some time to make, but it is also one of those dishes that can simmer away, unattended on the stovetop, just becoming better and better, and it is also one of those recipes that is undeniably delicious. Even if you know someone who says they don’t like Indian food, I bet they would like this meal. If you have a rice cooker, serve it with some basmati rice. If not, maybe get that naan bread they sell in the freezer section at Trader Joe’s? Oh, this is fun—now I’m imagining a dinner party! (I can’t remember the last time we hosted a dinner party!) But even if you’re not the entertaining type, you probably want to make this recipe. We ate the leftovers the following night and were even more impressed.
Butter Chicken via The New York Times
1 ½ cups full-fat plain yogurt
about 2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 ½ tablespoons ground turmeric
2 tablespoons garam masala
2 tablespoons ground cumin
3 pounds chicken thighs, on the bone (As you probably already noted from the photos, I used whole chicken legs with the skin on, but next time I'll probably use skinless thighs like the recipe calls for. It would just be easier to eat and portion out.)
¼ pound unsalted butter
4 teaspoons neutral oil, like vegetable or canola oil
2 medium-size yellow onions, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated or finely diced
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2 medium-size tomatoes, diced
2 red chiles, like Anaheim, or 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
Kosher salt to taste
⅔ cup chicken stock, low-sodium or homemade
1 ½ cups cream
1 ½ teaspoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons ground almonds, or finely chopped almonds
½ bunch cilantro leaves, stems removed.

Whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, turmeric, garam masala and cumin in a large bowl. Put the chicken in, and coat with the marinade. Cover, and refrigerate (for up to a day).

In a large pan over medium heat, melt the butter in the oil until it starts to foam. Add the onions, and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add the garlic, ginger and cumin seeds, and cook until the onions start to brown.

Add the cinnamon stick, tomatoes, chiles and salt, and cook until the chiles are soft, about 10 minutes.
Add the chicken and marinade to the pan, and cook for 5 minutes, then add the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for approximately 30 minutes.

Stir in the cream and tomato paste, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the almonds, cook for an additional 5 minutes and remove from the heat. Garnish with the cilantro leaves.
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The Book Cover!

Dear Friends,
I’ve been looking forward to this post for a long time. Because, as you can see from the above image, I finally get to share the cover of my book with you. Go ahead, spend some time with it—there’s no rush!

My regular readers (Hi! Thank you!) will certainly recognize a few things. Like Mavis. Or The Vivianne. Or Matt’s Funfetti Cake. Or my grandma’s Belgian Waffles. (If you can’t see what I'm talking about, don’t worry. After a few more paragraphs of text, there’s a semi-annotated version—I just couldn’t help myself!)

My regular readers (Hi again! Thank you!) might remember that I’ve actually had the book cover for a little while, and so perhaps you’re wondering why I’m only now unveiling it. Well, in short, because I didn’t want you to get sick of me talking about the book when we were still nine months out from publication. But now that we’re down to just four short months (some of them holiday-filled), I’m going to start saying things like this: please pre-order my book!

Speaking of pre-ordering, I’ve created this landing page for the book, full of generous blurbs and lots of links to places where you can pre-order it. (Very unfortunately, because of a cutthroat negotiating tactic meant to put pressure on my publisher, Hachette, you cannot pre-order the book on Amazon). But don’t get toooooo discouraged!  <—I’m mostly talking to myself here. You can order it anywhere else books are sold, and of course, you can always call your local bookstore and ask them to order it for you. If you chose this latter option, that would mean the WORLD to me.

Relatedly, we are in the middle of planning a little book tour. Right now, this consists of four cities: Los Angeles; NYC; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Raleigh, North Carolina. If you live in any of these cities, I would LOVE to meet you and really hope that I get to! If you don’t live in any of these cities and want me (and Teddy) (and maybe even Matt?) to come to your town, then the only other option is to make this book a bestseller, which will in turn, allow my publisher to spend more money on marketing the book, which in turn, will allow me and my family to travel without paying for everything ourselves! Sound like a plan? Great! Let’s dooooooooo it!

OK, so, here’s that annotated version of the cover:
Now it’s time for me to get to the grocery store. But thank you again, guys! For reading, for your support, for everything.

Until next week!
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Key Lime Pie

Matt had to work late tonight, and so I'm sitting here alone at 8:18pm with a piece of this pie. I'm rejoicing, reveling even, in this moment to myself after having spent the entire day with my little boy (who, incidentally, took two steps all by himself this afternoon). In a sentence: being a parent is so great and so emotionally and physically wrenching. (See photos below for evidence of physical wrenching.)

Speaking of parents, my stepdad Bruce was here this weekend (meeting Teddy for the first time!) and instead of getting a babysitter, I offered to make dinner and dessert. Enter: this Key lime pie, a favorite of Bruce's.
I'd bought a bag of Key limes before actually finding a recipe, and as soon as I began the search in earnest, I was surprised to find that all of them called for sweetened condensed milk. Surely a blog of this nature, of this high level of class and culinary esteem could do better than canned milk, right? And so onward I searched until eventually coming across this interesting article on the history of the Key lime pie by Molly O'Neill. O'Neill explains how when sweetened condensed milk was originally invented, its main aim was to "eliminat[e] malnutrition abroad. The boiled, sweetened, and canned milk was, however, also a boon to the Florida Keys, where there was no ice or refrigeration until 1930 when the Overseas Highway allowed tank trucks to travel to the far-flung islands." In short, when this canned milk arrived in the Keys around 1855, it was a total luxury... and people started doing luxurious things, like making Key lime pie.  

As if I was going to mess with a recipe that's been around for 150 years. Plus, as you'll see from the below photos, I had enough to deal with this Saturday afternoon in the kitchen. 
p.s. I hate to brag... but my stepdad was here for less than 24 hours and had three slices. One for dessert, one for breakfast, and one as a pre-lunch snack! 
Pepe's Cafe Key Lime Pie super slightly adapted from Epicurious

For the graham cracker crust:
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs from about 12 (2 1/4-inch by 4 3/4-inch) crackers
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
2 large egg whites
4 large egg yolks
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh Key lime juice
To serve:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoons sugar

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F.

In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon. Drizzle with the melted butter and stir until well combined. Press the mixture evenly onto the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake until set and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Leave the oven on.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or a large mixing bowl with a whisk or hand mixer, beat the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk. Add the lime juice and whisk until combined. Gently fold in about 1/3 of the egg whites to lighten the mixture then add the remaining egg whites and fold until just evenly combined. Gently spread the mixture in the pre-baked crust and bake until just set in the center, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely then refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. 

In a medium bowl, combine the heavy cream and sugar and whisk until soft peaks form. Cut the pie into slices and top each with a dollop of whipped cream.
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Eggplant and Porcini (Meatless) Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

It's overcast and dare-I-say chilly here this morning and it feels so good. Last week, we had a run of 100-degree days, and not only were they unwelcomed, but there are only so many hot weather dinner options. In short, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed being in the kitchen and doing some real cooking for a change. 
Apart from the heat wave though, things have been looking up around here. Matt got a new job! (And bonus, this major life change also allows him to come home a bit earlier so that he can spend some time with Teddy before bed!) And I finished a new piece of writingsomething I hadn't done for monthsa post-baby problem of mine I'd written (complained?) about over on Grizzly and Golden
But back to these meatballs: Matt and I loved them. Really loved them. Plus, the texture wasn't too far off from normal meat-full meatballs. As I alluded to before, they are a bit labor intensive, but it's all of the good kind of labor—roasting, simmering, frying until golden-browned.
We were also really pleased with the wine we drank with them: Symmetry (2011 Meritage) from Rodney Strong vineyards. I rarely say yes to PR requestsmaybe two or three times in the last five years but when the good people at Rodney Strong vineyards offered to send us some bottles, I simply couldn't say no. Their Healdsburg location made me nostalgic for our 2011 trip to the beautiful Russian River Valley. Plus, good wine is important to new moms (and I suspect, to tenured moms as well).

Point being, this is kind of a perfect late summer/early fall meal. I'm already looking forward to making it again.
Eggplant and Porcini "Meatballs" in Tomato Sauce via Food and Wine
serves 4

1 large eggplant (1 1/4 pounds)
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms (I accidentally bought only half an ounce and though it worked fine, I think next time I'll go for the full ounce.)
Boiling water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, finely grated
Two 28-ounce cans imported whole Italian tomatoes, seeded and pureed with their juices
2 tablespoons chopped basil, plus leaves for garnish
Freshly ground pepper
3 cups fresh bread crumbs (from 6 ounces crustless country bread)
2 large eggs, beaten
2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
All-purpose flour, for coating
Vegetable oil, for frying
Crusty bread, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350°. Prick the eggplant all over with a fork and set it on a baking sheet. Roast in the center of the oven for 1 hour, until very soft and collapsed. Let cool slightly, then scrape the eggplant flesh into a large bowl and let cool completely. Discard the skin.

Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl, cover the porcini with 1 1/2 cups of boiling water and let stand until softened, 30 minutes; drain, reserving the soaking liquid. Rinse the porcini to remove any grit. Finely chop the porcini.

In an enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and half of the garlic and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until softened, 5 minutes. Add the tomato puree and pour in the porcini soaking liquid, stopping before reaching the grit; bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat, stirring, until thickened, 1 hour. Add half of the chopped basil and season with salt and pepper.

Fold the chopped porcini, bread crumbs, eggs, 2 ounces of cheese, parsley and the remaining garlic and chopped basil into the eggplant. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Form the eggplant mixture into twenty 1 3/4-inch balls, rolling tightly. Dust the balls with flour and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1/2 inch of vegetable oil. Add half of the meatballs at a time and cook over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until browned all over, about 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Add the meatballs to the tomato sauce and simmer for 5 minutes. Garnish the meatballs with basil leaves and serve with crusty bread and grated cheese.
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A Chinese Caesar Salad with Umami

above photo by Sarah Anne Ward for The New York Times
My brother sent me a link to this recipe with the request that I try it out as a bon appétempt on his behalf. I was intrigued from the start, as he rarely makes such requests. And when I clicked on it, I was almost completely won over by the title alone: "A Chinese Caesar Salad with Umami." Then I looked at the list of ingredients (kasha, hijiki seaweed, shio kombu) and was discouraged. But then, I actually read the article and was sold once again. See, the chef responsible for the salad, Danny Bowien, gives you carte blanche to skip any of the ingredients you don't have on hand. Here's the quote, just to be clear: “Yeah, if you don’t have it, leave it out... That’s cool. It still works.”

If you say so, Danny! 

Here's the recipe's original ingredient's list with my changes:

½ 3/4 head red cabbage
1 medium-size beet, ideally candy-striped 2 carrots, peeled and chopped into thin rounds
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon dried hijiki seaweed  2 teaspoons wakame seaweed (For some reason, at Whole Foods, a small bag of hijiki seaweed was $20 so I went with the $5 wakame.)
1 teaspoon ume vinegar or red-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sweet white-miso paste
3 tablespoons tahini
1 teaspoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon shiro shoyu or light soy sauce (Somewhere along the way, I started buying shoyu instead of soy sauce.)
8 anchovy fillets, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons neutral oil, like canola
½ cup kasha
2 tablespoons aonori seaweed, green seaweed or finely shredded nori

3 tablespoons toasted white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon shio kombu or salted kombu, optional Pinch of salt, or to taste

Cut cabbage in half, and remove core. Cut into 1-inch wedges and then into 1-inch pieces. Toss these lightly in a bowl, and set aside.

Under running cold water, scrub beet with a vegetable brush or paper towel. Trim the beet top and beet root to provide a flat base for slicing on a mandoline. Set thickness to 1/8 inch, and slice beets into flat rounds. Toss the carrots into the bowl with the cabbage and season with half the lemon juice. Set aside.

Make sesame-anchovy dressing. In a small bowl, cover hijiki wakame with warm tap water. Allow to bloom for 15 minutes, then drain well, and season with the red-wine vinegar. Add miso, tahini, rice vinegar, shiro shoyu, the remaining lemon juice and the anchovies, and whisk to combine. Dressing should have a thick, almost mayonnaise-like consistency.

Make the kasha furikake. Pour neutral oil into a sauté pan, and place over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer. Pour kasha into the hot pan, and stir it quickly with a spoon to coat with oil. Allow kasha to fry in the oil, stirring constantly, until it has darkened by two shades of brown. Drain kasha through a fine strainer, and transfer to a plate covered by paper towel. While it is hot, season with the seaweed, which should adhere to the kasha. When it has cooled, mix kasha in a small bowl with the toasted sesame seeds and, if using, the shio kombu. Salt to taste.

Make the salad. Add 3 tablespoons of the sesame-anchovy dressing to the bowl with the cabbage and the beets carrots, and mix well to combine. Add more dressing if necessary. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl, and sprinkle 4 tablespoons or so of the kasha furikake over the top with lightly toasted sesame seeds.
All I can say is: Danny was right. Despite all of the changes, this salad was so delicious. We served it with a couple of grilled boneless skinless chicken breasts I'd marinated in some rice vinegar, garlic, and shoyu, which without the accompanying salad, would have been pretty sad. 

Everyone should now go and leave a personal thank-you note to my brother Bill in the comments section. (Something about how cute Teddy and his two teeth are would also work.) 

Until next time!
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