Monday, March 24, 2014

The Great Sushi Experiment

The time has come for The Chef and I to take the plunge and learn how to make sushi. We LOVE sushi, but living at the Little Lake House out on the country means very few opportunities for sushi unless we drive into Des Moines. Take into account both of our love for cooking and learning new cuisines and a longtime desire to find a sushi class and you've got an adventure in the making.

You might remember a few weeks back we were so surprised to find nori and a sushi making kit at a very small town market in a nearby town. Since them we have assembled some ingredients to make an as yet unnamed roll all our own creation but it's going to have shrimp, avocado, cucumber, cream cheese and maybe some slightly steamed julienned carrot for color. Might even try tempura frying this roll. I've investigated how to make spicy mayo. We have plenty of soy sauce, pickled ginger and wasabi.

Finding rice was a bit of a challenge. I searched online, asked friends- got a lot of yes you can, no you can't, and you must always use...... Of course, no small town stores carried even short grain rice, so back to Des Moines we headed. Armed with a recommended brand to buy we quickly found what we were looking for. Rice and rice wine vinegar now complete our ingredient list. It's time to play with our food!

Since we are making our own rolls, and I am not a huge fan of nori, I have to decide if I want to leave it in or just skip it. I tend to lean towards skipping it BUT I'm not so sure my roll will turn out like I want it too. I guess I'll just leave it in and be a big girl. I have found that the flavor is less pronounced in a freshly made roll as opposed to a sushi "platter" that is premade in the deli of the grocery store. I love the other ingredients we're using so I'm sure it will be fine.

Before we get started though, let's get through some common misunderstandings about sushi. Sushi itself does not mean "raw" and in fact the vast majority of sushi I have tried contained nothing raw except vegetables. The word sushi describes the rice- the vinegar seasoned sushi rice that is sticky and holds the rolls together. Sashimi, on the other hand, IS raw fish- thinly sliced raw fish and seafood. Now there ARE types of sushi made with raw fish but it doesn't have to be raw. Some of the BEST sushi I have ever had contained tempura fried shrimp and mango, or a roll with tempura fried sweet potato- it was so delicious and sweet it was like dessert sushi. And not all sushi are rolls either- nigiri are small mounds of rice with a strip of fish or other topping laid on the top. Shrimp are commonly used for nigiri and you might be more likely to find the raw ingredients presented this way. The Chef and I always fight over the shrimp nigiri- it's both of our favorite!

Anyway....back to our sushi. We are going to start by prepping all our roll ingredients- cutting the veggies and shrimp into julienne strips, softening the cream cheese (not all rolls have cream cheese but I do like those that do). Once that is done we can start on our rice. I am following the cooking directions on the package for the water and rice amounts. While the rice is cooking you want to get your seasoning made. I am using the method of cooking my rice and seasoning from Alton Brown's  recipe on so if you want to follow along, just click and it will take you right there. Let's get started!

For the rice you will need:

2 cups sushi or short grain rice (I am using the Calrose brand-recommended to me)
2 cups water plus extra for rinsing rice
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Now for the method:

Place the rice into a mixing bowl and cover with cool water. Swirl the rice in the water, pour off and repeat 2 or 3 times until the water is clear.

Place the rice and 2 cups of water into a medium saucepan and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, uncovered. Once boiling, reduce heat to lowest setting, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered for ten minutes.

Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small bowl and heat in microwave for 30-45 seconds. Transfer rice to large non-metal bowl and add vinegar mixture. Fold thoroughly to combine and coat each grain with the seasoning mixture. Allow to cool to room temperature before using.

***Remember- these sushi rice instructions are property of Food Network and Alton Brown.

Now, we're ready to make our rolls. We are using:

Nori sheets
Sushi rice
Cooked shrimp cut into dice
Cucumber, cut into thin strips
Avocado, cut in thin strips
Cream cheese, very cold and cut into strips

Place a sheet of nori on bamboo rolling mat. Spread rice that has cooled over nori. 

Now, if you want the nori on the outside of the roll, place the shrimp and vegetables along the long end of the rice. 

Lift the mat and begin to roll, pressing tightly. When completely rolled, trim edges, slice roll and enjoy!

I prefer to have my rice on the outside so in order to do that, you still place the nori on the mat first and spread the rice like before, but you flip the sheet so the rice is outside. I recommend making the mat a little wet to help prevent sticking. Place fillings on nori side and roll up in the same fashion. 

With the rice on the outside you can do different garnishes, like black sesame seeds or toasted sesame seeds, tobiko, finely shredded carrots, all sorts of beautiful sauces.  I love eel sauce, spicy mayo, sometimes just a wee touch of wasabi.

I made a small batch of spicy mayo by combining mayonnaise and sriracha. Drizzled over the top of my roll, I thought it looked pretty good for an amateur. Now that we have the rice down (and let me just say, Alton Brown's method is KILLER delicious and easy) we just have our imaginations to combine all sorts of yummy combinations!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Childhood favorites grow up big time

You used to be a little kid. There is better than average chance that as a kid you ate a grilled cheese sandwich. Maybe you still do? Well folks......if you're still sustaining yourself with American cheese singles on plain white bread, things are about to get reeeeally exciting around here.

Something really wonderful is happening for my very good friend Todd Buffington. Todd and his friends Ryan Elson and Chris Hartman brainstormed, pooled resources, raised the startup funds, stayed up late nights writing business plans and budgets and menus and recipes and finally get their much deserved launch of their new business- Melts Without Borders.

Todd Buffington, left, and The Chef

Let me tell you a little about this Melts Without Borders deal. This mobile food cart is equipped to cook and serve hungry customers anywhere. Des Moines has been very slow to jump on the food truck trend but food carts are a different kind of animal. More portable, very versatile and easier to handle for a 3 man team. Besides the food cart they also have a prep kitchen and handbuilt smokehouse. In that smokehouse the guys, known as Ketchup, Mustard and Relish on their website, made handcrafted sausages and cured meats. Bologna that is NOT made from weird parts. Blackstrap molasses bacon smoked over apple wood. Sausages of all kinds. Condiments are special too. Secret recipe spicy tomato jam makes an appearance on the menu and some others are still being developed. 

A sampling of the housemade charcuterie. 
Now about the menu- not just a list of sandwiches. As the name implies, they serve melts without borders- and each sandwich not only carries a regional name but a regional twist on ingredients. Vegetarian sandwiches start off the menu with the classic grilled cheese built for a grown up, to French, Mediterranean, to Asian influenced flavors- you get a TON of flavor with no meat.

But if you're a carnivore- fear not. You will not be disappointed. The home cured bacon is a special favorite, along with classics like pulled pork and Canadian bacon. A few surprises make their appearance as well, and the menu can only expand as the charcuterie options grow. The bread choices are pretty impressive as well. From Texas toast to rustic artisan breads, loads of variety.

Todd mans the grill while Chris takes orders in the background
What did we eat? Well I got to have a little bit of 4 different sandwiches. My son in law Randy had the Mason Dixon- pulled pork, Memphis BBQ sauce and pepperjack cheese on Texas toast. Oh. My. Goodness. The pulled pork was tender and juicy, the barbeque sauce was absolutely delicious and the pepperjack cheese brought it all together. My daughter Debbee had the Toast Hawaii- house-cured Canadian bacon, pineapple and white cheddar, grilled on rustic crusty bread. The Canadian bacon was the best I have ever had. Tender and perfectly seasoned, the pineapple was the perfect accompaniment. 

The Chef had the Mount Vesuvius. I knew he'd pick that one. This sandwich is an Italian chef's dream. Locally made Graziano's Italian sausage, white and yellow American cheese and a jalapeno, onion and tomato hash on Texas toast- this sandwich......... I just have no words. One of the best sandwiches I have EVER had EVER. Seriously. I chose the 'Merica F**k Yea with Andi's tomato jam added. Buttery crunchy Texas toast, American cheese, crispy house-cured bacon and that sweet and spicy tomato jam that I love so much. That was just four sandwiches off the menu. You better believe I WILL be trying them all before long.

Then wash your awesome sandwich down with some home brewed beer or homemade soda. The guys are very active in the Iowa Brewers' Union and have some incredible craft brews. At tonight's launch I was able to try the Milk Stout. If you're a fan of dark beers, oh man, you will LOVE this one. Super dark and rich, this beer was so smooth and creamy and had lots of coffee undertones. I say creamy because it had such a luxurious mouthfeel and such a complex flavors. Excellent brew. I'm thinking that could make some killer mustard. 

Talking with Todd this evening about the brewing process was very interesting. Very scientific and we all agreed- brewing beer requires quite a bit of skill and knowledge of ingredients. Compared to winemaking, brewing beer is a totally different experience. Who knows, maybe The Chef will pick up a new hobby!

The guys at Melts Without Borders are serious about bringing GOOD food and GOOD drink to Des Moines and you better believe, they mean business !!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Restaurant Review: Date Night with The Chef and Riccelli's

"Honey, let's go for Italian tonight."

Normally at my house those words are met with a look of "You have GOT to be kidding me." After all, I live with my very own Italian chef. He can make me a fantastic Italian dinner without batting an eye. Tonight, however, his response was "Hey, let's go to Riccelli's." As you can imagine, I was delighted. Growing up on Des Moines' south side meant EVERYONE ate at Riccelli's. My first DATE ever was at Riccelli's. Too many people these days look to those national chain restaurants for a night out when the real deal is the longtime family owned and operated genuine Italian restaurant.

Riccelli's is truly a Des Moines institution. It would be hard to find someone who hasn't eaten there, nearly impossible to find someone who hasn't heard of it. They have been visited and reviewed by several food critics and been featured in countless Best of Des Moines listings over the years. Founded in 1964 by Lillian and Pete Riccelli, the restaurant has remained in the family ever since, in their original location on Indianola Avenue and today is led by Terry Riccelli, and supported by a staff that includes his brother, Frank, son Tanner, and mother Lillian- truly a family run empire.

Terry, Tanner and Frank Riccelli
We were very fortunate to be seated in the bar. The atmosphere is intimate and quiet, the lighting subdued. It was like being on that first date again! We were greeted immediately by our server and drinks and those world famous onion rings were on the table in a flash. We felt super special- we had two servers really, Tanner, and Devin who was just starting that night. You wouldn't have have known. Tanner has to be one heck of a trainer because those guys treated us like we were the only customers in the room (and we know we weren't). It's hard to find that work ethic in young adults these days but it's alive and well at Riccelli's. Joe asked Devin if Terry was available, and immediately as named were exchanged an uncle of Joe's appeared from a nearby table! It was great!

We were in no hurry to eat and dash out of there, and that was fine- we were not rushed by the staff at all. Friendly and attentive they genuinely cared about the customers in the dining room. Unlike the endless staff turnover of a chain restaurant, this is family, and a very tight-knit crew. The menu is quite extensive. Loaded with Italian favorites, a great selection of steaks and seafood, some of the best fried chicken I've ever eaten (can you tell I've been here a ton of times?) it was just plain HARD  to narrow it down to one choice! They even have Spaghetti Caruso, something you just don't see on menus anymore, and my childhood favorite. I smiled to myself thinking back on all those waitress all those years ago that tried to talk me OUT of ordering that because they didn't know I knew what it was.....But I knew I had to, so stuffed peppers it is for me, and an Italian sausage sandwich for my chef.

Riccelli's Famous onion rings
You know it's old school when one of your courses before the entree is a small bowl of spaghetti with Riccelli's famous red sauce. Salad with one of the best creamy parmesan dressings, freshly sliced bread, it was like childhood all over again.

Side of spaghetti, and salad with creamy parmesan dressing.
Now, backing up just a minute, Terry Riccelli is one of my chef's high school classmates. When Terry realized we were there, he invited my chef back to the kitchen for some chef chat, photo opps, and a look at how the kitchen operates. This was truly the highlight of the evening for my chef. He kept sneaking back there several times to get a few snaps of different dishes coming out of the kitchen with Terry's generous welcome. He was like a kid in the candy store.

Dueling chefs !! Joe on the left and Chef  Terry Riccelli on the right
Tanner shared stories with us about how the restaurant was founded, how his grandparents met and married and how he's grown up working first as a busser and now a server. We also heard hilarious stories of Terry's younger days, being so short the servers couldn't see him in the window of the pass through doors so he got stuck scrubbing pots and pans. How can you not laugh at that? You can really see the passion in these men as they talk about their experiences.

Terry, as a chef, is a MANIAC! My chef was astounded at how fast he worked, how well he managed the kitchen staff, dishes finishing on time and perfectly prepared for table after table. Folks, let me tell you, when we got there the parking lot was PACKED. That kitchen had to be crazy busy. Yet in spite of the crazy atmosphere Terry and his staff were more than happy to let Joe check it out.

Once our entrees arrived we tucked in to some of the BEST, real, authentic, homemade Italian food I have had in ages. The Chef's Italian sausage sandwich was made with Des Moines' famous Graziano's Italian sausage, their red sauce, cheese, peppers on a toasty crusty roll that was overloaded with deliciousness. What about the stuffed peppers? Well......let's just say I didn't talk too much while I was eating. The peppers were tender and flavorful, the meat filling fantastic. Smothered with more of that red sauce.......... I could eat that every day. 

Italian sausage sandwich

Stuffed peppers, smothered with the awesome red sauce.

The aftermath......empty plates!!!
One other thing about Riccelli's that really stands out is the decor. I have heard a lot of buzz about needing an update and blah blah blah. No way !! Pictures of celebrities from bygone eras line the walls, a baby grand piano in the bar- it's perfect and unique. I love that! 

The red entryway and white brick has a vintage appeal that is the polar opposite of the over-processed, pre-packaged chain restaurants and cannot  be duplicated. And with a portrait of the late Mr. Pete Riccelli overlooking really get it. These Italian roots have grown very very deep.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Foraging for delicious

Ahhhhhhh spring- I have soooo been waiting for you!! Besides the warmer days and no more playing auto hockey, the amazing gifts of nature appear, and people all over the country are wandering the woodlands looking for tasty tidbits.

Foraging varies from region to region. I've heard people talk about fiddleheads, yet in Iowa I have never seen one. Wild asparagus grows in ditches along country roads, if you know of a good spot. It can be hard to find until it's too late and the fronds are overgrown- but remember that spot for next year! Mushrooms of many kinds grow in different areas. Iowa is one of the states blessed to have the morel mushroom and my favorite, the pheasantback mushroom. 

Berries and fruits appear at different times of the year as well, from May apples in the spring to wild plums in the fall, there is always something delicious growing if you know what you're looking for, and you know whereto find it.

My personal favorite of all the foraged foods is without a doubt, the ramp. They are sometimes called wild leek or wild onion, and they are super easy to identify and so amazingly delicious with their garlicky flavor. I live in the country and have the perfect ramp spot so I just carry a dandelion removing tool thingy (yes, that is their actual name) with me in the car and when I have a few minutes- I duck into the woods and come out with a few big fistfuls. The entire plant (except the roots) is edible. The bulb, which looks alot like your grocery store spring onion, has a very pungent garlic-like flavor and a little goes a long long way in seasoning. The tender leaves have a more oniony taste. I absolutely LOVE making a skillet of fried potatoes and tossing in a handful of sliced ramps near the end. Some pieces get brown and caramelized, others just melt into the potatoes. Simple and heavenly.

The ramp season in Iowa isn't all that long- just a few weeks of the right temperatures and then it gets hot, they turn tough, and you are out of luck until next year. I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing but ramps are one of the new trendy foods in the foodie scene- chefs allover are using them in restaurants and recipes, which makes our humble ramp very popular, the the foraging competition more fierce. If you are lucky enough to find them, take a few moments and consider what you want to do with them. If you are a HUGE fan, as I am, I like to get as many as I can find, and preserve them for use all year long.

There are several options for preserving ramps. I slice them up like you would spring onions and put them in freezer bags and toss in the freezer. It's easy to break off a chunk for a recipe and just toss it in- no need to thaw. You can also slice and dehydrate them. I think this works great too but the flavor isn't as well preserved, but it's an acceptable option, especially if you are afraid of losing those baggies in the freezer (been there, done that).

Another idea is to make a compound butter using just the green part for a more subtle, less pungent flavor. It's super easy to put together and roll into logs, wrap, freeze, and slice off portions for topping a steak, potatoes, roasting poultry or tossing with cooked vegetables. For a compound butter you will need:

1 lb butter, softened (NEVER EVER use margarine)
2 cups sliced or chopped ramp leaves
2 tb lime juice

Buzz this in the food processor and divide into 4 portions. Using plastic wrap, form into logs, wrap tightly, pack into freezer bag and freeze. If the mixture is too soft to roll, pop it in the fridge for 10 minutes or so and roll when it holds its shape.

Another idea is to pickle them, and you'd end up with something a lot like pickled garlic. If you want to go with pickled ramps, here is what you need-

half pint jelly jars (washed, rinsed and holding in simmering water)
kosher salt
pickling spices, if desired

I use the smaller half pint jars for ramps- it's a manageable amount to have open and they look really nice in the jars standing up. Trim the ramps so that the top is about 1/2 inch from the rim of the jar (don't forget to trim off roots). Pack them into the HOT jars so they stand up and are fairly tightly packed in there. This is just me- you don't HAVE to be fancy, you can just pack them in the hot jars however you like. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of kosher, not table, salt to each jar, and any herbs or spices you like (this part is optional). In a saucepan heat equal amounts apple cider or white vinegar (must have 5% acidity) to boil. Pour boiling liquid over the ramps in the jars. Remove air bubbles, leave about a half inch headspace. Fix lids and rings. can either process in a boiling water bath and they will be sealed and shelf stable, or you can just refrigerate them (they MUST remain refrigerated if you choose this method). If you decide to boiling water bath them- 5 minutes processing time is what you need. Make sure all jars have sealed and refrigerate any that haven't.

Use pickled ramps just like you would pickled garlic- in recipes, on relish trays, antipasti. 

Now that you've learned a little about ramps, I hope you will try to find some and try them. Since they are so trendy I'm sure you CAN find them in specialty stores but the best part of ramps is the hunt, the fresh air, the woods, and digging them out with your own two hands. Go hunt some!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Small Town Surprise!

I set out on a qwest for vegetable soup. My destination was a teeny tiny small town (and I mean SMALL town) market. What I got was NOT what I'd bargained for!

Just a normal Friday evening for us, as The Chef has some time off right now and we are taking advantage of the evenings together, we decided, well actually I begged and he relented, to take a drive on this beautiful spring evening to the little town of Fontanelle, in Adair County, Iowa. I am planning a product review and blog post for a product that can only be found at their little store, so off we went.

Pulling in the parking area it just seemed like a smallish grocery market, nothing special. Walked in the door and right there in a special rack was the soup I came after. We decided to browse a little, and as I turned around, I became amazed at what I was seeing. 

Organic foods lined the shelves. Grains such as quinoa, hemp and chia seeds, specialty flours and grain products of many many kinds filled shelf after shelf. Brands I know- like Bob's Red Mill!! 

Gourmet sauces and condiments, Tomolives even! A nice selection of hot sauces- one of our favorite things to sample. 

Unique pastas such as Amish-made kluski and gluten free quinoa spaghetti. A small but fresh and well stocked affordable produce section. The old fashioned meat counter filled with beautiful cuts of fresh meat. 

But the best was yet to come. We love sushi. LOVE it. I've been looking around for a sushi making class so we could make our own- and here, nestled among Asian food items I had never seen even in the huge city supermarkets, were sheets of nori and a sushi rolling mat kit. Heaven !!!

I think it goes without saying, we did not leave that store with just the 2 quarts of locally made soup and I also think most of you know by now, this will not be a one-time visit. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Cooking Together- A Love Story

Tonight we BOTH get a turn in the kitchen- The Chef makes the PERFECT steak, always the absolute perfect medium rare for me. No one else can do it EXACTLY perfect and I have had steak cooked by many many many people. I don't know how he does it. He just KNOWS........

So he is going to work his magic on some steaks with some meat rubs and maybe even the grill pan (not his favorite pan but I love the grill marks) and I am in charge of the side dish.

Our recent trip to the Taj Mahal of grocery stores, as you know, kept me captivated in the bulk buying section for a good hour, overwhelmed by the incredible variety of options available to me. So many things. So ugh !! But one thing I have been DYING to try was right there, and inexpensive, a whole barrel full with a scoop sticking out just beckoning to me!! Israeli couscous.  

Now I love couscous. It's so super easy, really requires ZERO cooking other than bringing water to a boil and is such a versatile side dish. Whatever you add to it transforms it. Where regular couscous is teeny tiny, Israeli couscous is BIG. Almost like pearl tapioca- big beautiful dots of delicious, and I can't wait to start creating. Because it is much larger, it does require some actual cooking. My research has revealed both a rice-style cooking method which absorbs all the cooking liquid, as well as a traditional pasta-style cooking, in lots of salted water and then drained. I have decided to toast mine and use the absorption method and let my creativity take over from there.

Besides the bulk grain section, The Chef practically had to drag me from the produce section. In fact, we were there so long that he actually made friends with the produce manager and stood talking food prices and so on for quite a while. I think they really bonded over baby carrots and hot peppers. Row after row of tropical fruit, amazing organic produce, every type of potato known to man, peppers of all kinds- it was like Disneyland. "It's A Small World"- you know- the ride that takes three days to get through......ya, that's me in the produce section. 

Brussels sprouts were what I was on the hunt for, and I was not disappointed. I loved the cute market basket display, and I got to pick through and choose my sprouts myself instead of prepackaged sprouts with a few yuckies hidden in the middle. Oh- and baby carrots- but not just any baby carrots- baby tri-colored carrots !! I squealed with delight as I filled "my splurge" part of the cart- the kid seat part. By the time I got done filling my allowed splurge area I had bulk Israeli couscous, bulk cracked wheat, bulk brown mustard seed, a big container of olives, marinated provolone and peppadews from the antipasti bar, a nice hunk of cheese and a crusty baguette. I was in heaven!

The Chef selected a couple nice Angus steaks and some other meats from the meat counter, we finished up our shopping and got out of there before I got too comfortable and wanted to just live there.

Now he is going to handle steak duty like so:

Classic Johnny and Kay's Steak DeBurgo

2 steaks- use the cut you like, filet is awesome, we are using sirloin
1/3 cup butter, plus more if needed
1 clove garlic, smashed
2 tsp crushed dried basil
salt and pepper

Season steaks with salt and pepper. Melt butter in skillet, add steaks and cook to desired doneness. Add additional butter to make sure you have about 1/4 cup or so in the pan. Add the crushed garlic and saute for a minute or so. Add basil. Return steaks to pan and turn to coat. Place steaks on serving plates and pour butter over.

My contribution to this meal (oh, I have long dreamed of having a man I could cook with side by side- this is true love folks) will be the side dish. I am combining my starch and veggies into one-

Toasted Israeli Couscous with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon

1 cup Israeli couscous, uncooked
2 tb oil
1 1/4 cup chicken stock or broth
3 slices of bacon, chopped
1/4 lb fresh Brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise then sliced like slaw
1-2 tb sugar
freshly ground black pepper
several splashes balsamic vinegar

Heat the oil in small saucepan. Add the couscous and cook and stir until it is toasted and evenly browned. Don't overbrown- just looking for a toasty color. Add the broth and simmer on medium low heat for about 10 minutes. The liquid should completely absorb into the couscous and it will be al dente.

While the couscous was cooking get the chopped bacon going until crispy and remove from the pan to drain, reserving the bacon fat (at least a couple tablespoons, maybe 3). 

To that add the shredded sprouts  and the sugar and give that a quick toss over the heat til barely wilted. I left the sprouts with enough crunch that they are almost nutty in the finished dish. Toss sprouts, couscous, bacon and a splash or two of balsamic vinegar in a large bowl and toss to mix. If you think you need more "sauce" to the mixture, add a splash or two of chicken broth. You could also do a splash of white wine if you have it. Serve with The Chef's awesome steak.

As always, my steak was perfectly cooked and perfectly seasoned. Buttery sauce with lots of absolute favorite way to cook steak. But what about the side dish ??

It was sooooo yummy !! The Brussels sprouts added a nice veggie element, the bacon a nice bit of crunch, the couscous was cooked perfectly. The bacon fat and balsamic were the perfect match for this dish. We will definitely be making many return trips to the bulk buy bins!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Product Review: The Indian Experiment

Part of my personal mission as an amateur chef and foodie fanatic has been to try new types of cuisine- something out of my comfort zone of French, Italian and American foods. I am really terrible at Asian foods. That area needs a lot of work. I especially want to learn to make my own sushi.

A lot of my foodie and blogger friends are nuts over Indian food. ONLY experience with Indian food was curry from a small Indian restaurant in the small British town I lived near back in the 80s. It was chicken curry and was terrible. I swore I'd never ever eat that again. But curiosity and the desire to expand my palate has changed my mind. Getting to know spice experts such as those at Spiceologist has only furthered my curiosity.

So armed with Google and hundreds of cook books, some newly-acquired spices, and after a visit to the big grocery store in the city, I am armed and ready!

The first decision was meat. I'm still not sold on lamb so chicken it is. Deciding what to do with the chicken was a tougher decision. "Butter Chicken" sounded awesome and not as hot as some of the other dishes. We are NOT afraid of heat around here but I did want to start with flavors I could enjoy and not just burn my mouth off. Since I had a jar of Tandoori rub from Spiceologist I decided to go with Chicken Tandoori. Easy to put together and cook.

Besides pairing with rice, I needed a vegetable as well so more research, more considering what spices I already own and I decided on my version of Zucchini Ki Bhaji, a stir fry of zucchini and lots of spicy goodness, including the aljwain seeds from Spiceologist. I'm going to switch it up and use zucchini and yellow squash and add some chunks of onion for sweetness. 

My plans also included some homemade pita bread to go with but with our below zero temps, the house just is a little too cool for proper rising, so I'll save that for Indian Experiment #2.

So let's get started on my Indian day-

For the Chicken Tandoori I used:

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 8oz cup PLAIN yogurt-be careful not to accidentally get vanilla
Spiceologist Tandoori Glory rub  (you can get it by clicking HERE)

I like to use as few dishes as possible when cooking so I just cut around the edges of the foam tray the chicken came in and peeled it back. Throw out that pad in the bottom. Wash and pat dry chicken. In a small bowl mix the yogurt with about 2-3 tablespoons Tandoori Glory rub. 

Rub mixture all over chicken, thickly and evenly. Replace in foam tray, recover and put in a plastic bag and pop in the fridge for a couple hours until ready to cook. I use this marinating time to prep my vegetables.

After marinating for a while, place breasts in greased baking dish and bake at 375 until done (juices run clear or meat tests 165 degrees, usually about 30-35 minutes for boneless). You can also grill the chicken if you'd like.

While chicken is baking, get your rice going. Jasmine rice is traditional with Indian food but regular rice will be fine.

And it's also time to get your veggies going.

Zucchini Ki Bhaji  (my version)

1 medium zucchini
2 small yellow summer squash
1/2 medium onion
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp ajwain seed
3 tb cooking oil

Cut the zucchini, summer squash and onion into bite sized chunks. Set aside.

Start by adding all the spices and oil to a skillet. Heat and stir to toast and bring out the aromatic goodness of the spices. After several minutes, bring to heat over medium high.

Add vegetables and stir fry until crisp/tender and coated with spice. Pour into serving bowl and enjoy. might be wondering how our first home cooked Indian meal turned out-

Delicious !!!! The Tandoori chicken was tender and juicy and the yogurt and spice mixture left a delicious and spicy (not HOT) coating. The vegetables were soooo delicious. If you noticed in the picture I usually stir fry in a stock pot because it's less messy- no splattering. The spicy oil coated the veggies and was so incredibly flavorful! Now I really really want to explore Indian food!