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Friday, April 25, 2008

Chicken Biryani

Having gone out for Indian really whetted my appetite for more. So, once I had finally acquired all the ingredients, I moved up a recipe in my queue, from the Mar/Apr 2004 Cook's Illustrated, for Chicken Biryani with Yogurt Sauce. I served it with steamed cauliflower (though next time I might use a past recipe for Curried Cauliflower), and dang it! I forgot the naan (from Trader Joe's, in the freezer)!

You should make the yogurt sauce first so the flavors have time to meld, so:
Yogurt Sauce

1 C plain yogurt
1 medium garlic clove, pressed
2 T cilantro, minced
2 T mint, minced
salt and pepper

Mix and season to taste. Let stand at least a half-hour or so before serving.

Chicken Biryani
adapted from Cook's Illstrated Mar/Apr 2004

Equipment note: make this dish in a 3.5-4 qt saucepan about 8" in diameter. It won't work properly in a wide dutch oven or saute pan. I used a 3.75-qt soup pot that worked perfectly. You will also need a large nonstick skillet.

Spice bundle (sachet?):
10 green cardamom pods, whacked with flat side of chef's knife
1 cinnamon stick
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, cut into 1/2-inch thick pieces and smashed with chef's knife
1/2 t cumin seed

Wrap spices in cheesecloth or something else porous, and secure with twine or whatever. I didn't have cheesecloth, so initially thought I'd bundle them in a coffee filter.

But then the coffee filter started to tear when I started to tighten the bundle. A quick rifle through a pantry cupboard turned up a length of nylon tulle that had been used as a bow on a hostess gift. My sewing machine was fortuitously already set up in the dining room, so I just cut off a piece of tulle, folded it around the spice-bearing coffee filter, and stitched around it to secure.

In that specially-sized saucepan, bring spice packet and 1 1/2 t salt to boil in 3 qts water. Simmer, at least partially covered, 15-30 minutes and no longer.
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 lbs), trimmed and patted dry*
salt and pepper

Season both sides of chicken thighs with salt and pepper and set aside.

3 T unsalted butter*
2 medium onions, sliced thin (I used my mandoline)
4 medium garlic cloves, pressed
2 medium jalapenos, seeded and chopped as per your heat preference (the original recipe suggests using the seeds of one; I left them both out since I was feeding kids and personally did not feel like something was missing, though Mavis may differ)

Heat butter in nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until foaming subsides, and add onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until soft and browned around edges, 10-12 minutes. Add garlic (and jalapenos, if using) and cook another two minutes or so.

Transfer onion mixture to a bowl, season with a little salt, and set aside.

Wipe out skillet with paper towels and return to medium-high heat, and put chicken thighs in skin-side down. Cook without moving for about 5 minutes, until well-browned. Flip and brown for another five minutes on second side, then transfer to a plate, remove skin, and tent with foil to keep warm.

1 1/4 C basmati rice (preferably both Indian and aged--I bought mine bulk so don't know if it meets either of these criteria)
1/2 t saffron threads, crumbled
1/4 C dried currants or raisins (I used currants, but I think golden raisins would also be good)
2 T chopped cilantro
2 T chopped mint leaves

Add rice to boiling spice-infused water and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain rice through fine-mesh strainer, reserving about 3/4 C of the liquid, and discard spice packet. Transfer rice to bowl and stir in saffron and currants.

Spread half of rice in bottom of empty saucepan. Top with half of onion mixture, then chicken. Top chicken with cilantro and mint, then remaining halves of onions and rice, pressing layers down into pan. Sprinkle reserved cooking liquid evenly over rice.

Cover pan and cook over medium-low heat until chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes. Keep heat under pan low enough that not much steam is escaping. Scooping from bottom of pot with a large spoon, serve a chicken thigh to each person. Top with yogurt sauce.

*I thought this dinner was fantastically delicious, but no one else liked it quite as much as I did. My one complaint was that, although the article in Cook's Illustrated thought that the recipe sufficiently combatted the dish's tendency toward greasiness by removing the chicken skin and not deep-frying the onions, I still found it a bit greasy. If I were ever to make it again (oh how I wish I'd thought to make it for the book group at which we discussed The Namesake!), I might reduce the butter even further, or substitute bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (still removing skin after browning), since they have less internal fat than the thighs.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

The Shiniest and the Happiest

For die-hard fans of my children only (more food postings coming soon!):


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Six Months Old

Cindy Lou is now half a year old. We've been kind of busy with Mavis's dad here, plus--get this--our DRYER broke, but I'll try to get more pics and videos of the kids up soon. Newton's not at his most photogenic at the moment, having managed to scratch his cornea the other day while trying to get something out of his eye. The Wizard gave himself a good bonk on the nose yesterday falling off the toilet, but any visible swelling and discoloration had mostly gone by today.

We finally got around to downloading the pictures the Wizard has taken on our old digital camera (it's a trickier procedure than with the newer camera, so I let Mavis do it because I'm too lazy to try to remember all the steps). It's fun to see how his skills have progressed--there is now a much higher percentage of shots of people than there was at the beginning.

Here's one that's more or less of people, but I really liked the composition (it's kind of looking through Cindy Lou's hair, with my shoulder and hair, and my side of the closet behind):

Here's one he took during that natural-light photo shoot a month ago (in a few of the shots you can see him fiddling with the camera):

And finally, I leave you with this, taken (by one of us) during one of his camera tutorials:


Monday, April 14, 2008


I made the cupcakes for a bake sale fundraiser at church, and finally remembered to take a picture. I contributed two boxes of a dozen minis each, and one box sold for $25 and one for $30. Yes, there was a bit of a bidding war. They were filled with ganache and topped with cream cheese frosting.

And here's something else delicious from the weekend: the Wizard in the seersucker suit that used to be his brother's. I originally bought it at a resale shop. Newton wore it with a pale yellow shirt which has gone missing in the intervening years. I suppose he could wear a lemon yellow shirt that's getting too small, but yesterday he just wore a white one.

Mavis's birthday was last Friday, and we've managed to string out the celebrating just a little bit. Friday Mavis's dad stayed with the kids while we went out to dinner. Mavis wanted Indian food, so we went to Vindalho, and it was simply fantastic. I brought my leftovers home, and today for lunch Mavis's dad and I shared toasted cheese topped with various chutneys: fresh coriander (aka cilantro), red onion-date and pear-ginger. Wow.

Sunday evening we had J&J and crew over for dinner, and Mavis's dad made a Moroccan couscous with chicken and root vegetables, spiced with cinnamon (and other spices too, but the cinnamon was predominant). For dessert we had brownie sundaes, which were good in spite of the brownies being overcooked due to a timer/attention issue.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008


When I was a kid, my dad would go on business trips every so often. We were always hopeful that he would bring us exciting souvenirs, but usually if we got anything at all it was something like a pen or a distant-city newspaper. Yippee.

Mavis's mom just got back from a month in Kazakhstan, with a side trip to Kyrgyzstan, and here's what she sent us:


Felt slippers and shoes, and the most adorable doll. The colors on these things are fantastic--deep teal, red orange--just the kind of colors I might pick if I were making them myself. Maybe when Cindy Lou stops chewing on everything she gets her hands on, I'll consider letting her play with the doll. Maybe.

Fricassee Chicken/Chicken Fricassee

In search of a recipe that would use the chicken thighs in the fridge, I leafed through my stack of March-April Cook's Illustrateds. Chicken biryani looked promising (I'll surely make it soon), but needed too many ingredients. Chicken Fricassee, from the Mar-Apr 1999 issue (which also contained the Best Split Pea Soup Ever--if the Double Chocolate Pudding in that issue turns out great, it might win the coveted Favorite Issue award), was much more promising--all I was missing was a little white wine and a little lemon juice. The basic recipe in the magazine called for mushrooms, but a published variation called for peas and carrots. Mavis would have liked the mushrooms, but the rest of us like peas and carrots better, plus I already had them in the fridge/freezer. Maybe some other time I'll make it with the mushrooms.

When J&J were living in Jamaica, the butler at a favorite vacation villa (doesn't that sound posh? when you live there and can get resident--as opposed to tourist--rates, it only seems like you're living high) used to make a dish called fricassee chicken, with a rich brown sauce. This is not that dish, nor does it resemble it in any way beyond consisting of chicken cooked in a tasty sauce. It was, however, very good.
Chicken Fricassee
serves 4 (or, in our case, 3 adults and two hearty-eating small boys)
adapted from Cook's Illustrated Mar-Apr 1999

8 small boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 1.5 lb)
4 T butter
2 T olive oil
2 1/2 C chicken broth (from concentrated low-Na homemade stock)
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 medium carrot, chopped fine
1/2 C dry white wine (I use Crow Canyon chardonnay, $6.99/bottle)
1/2 C frozen peas
3 T flour
1 C half and half
1 t fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
1/4 t grated nutmeg (original recipe calls for freshly grated, which would have been nice had I had any on hand)
1/4 C minced fresh Italian parsley

Season chicken lightly with salt and pepper. Heat 1 T each olive oil and butter in both a dutch oven and a medium skillet (both with lids that fit) over medium-high heat. When foam begins to subside, add chicken pieces and cook until well browned, 4-5 minutes on each side. Don't crowd the pans and don't move the chicken pieces until you're ready to flip them. Pour off all but 2 T fat from dutch oven, put all the chicken in the pot (squished into one layer), and add stock. Partially cover and bring to boil, then simmer 25 minutes. Remove pot from heat, transfer chicken to a bowl and cover with lid from pot.

While chicken is simmering, drain all but 1 T fat from skillet, and add onion, carrot and 1/2 t salt. Sauté over medium-high heat until onion begins to brown. Reduce heat, add wine, cover, and simmer 10 minutes or so. Stir in peas, increase heat, and cook another couple minutes until almost all the liquid has evaporated, a minute or two more. Transfer veggies to bowl (scraping skillet with silicone spatula) and set aside.

Heat remaining 2 T butter in skillet over medium heat until foaming. Add flour and whisk until golden, then vigorously whisk in half and half until it's smooth. Then quickly whisk this (very thick) white stuff into chicken cooking liquid in dutch oven. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, 6-8 minutes. Stir in veggies, thyme, lemon juice and nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Add back in chicken and simmer until heated through (which might be right away if the chicken hasn't been out long, or a couple of minutes at the most). Stir in half of parsley, reserving rest for garnish (I actually stirred it all in, for convenience, and it was just a tad grassy. Next time I'll just mince half as much.).

I served it over brown rice, with another loaf of Simple Crusty Bread and a simple salad of baby spinach, avocado and Valencia orange with honey-balsamic vinaigrette. The Wizard had two helpings of salad!!

For dessert we had these funny Kyrgyz candies brought back to the US by Mavis's mom and to us by Mavis's dad, who arrived yesterday.

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Time Keeps on Slippin'

Cindy Lou is learning how to sit up by herself. She's not very upright yet, but on this occasion she stayed up-ish (ie., didn't fall over sideways) long enough for me to go get the camera and squeeze off a few shots.


Saturday, April 5, 2008

Lard Sandwiches? I Don't Think So.

Book group met today to discuss The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Since the book recalls a childhood of crushing poverty, there wasn't much to pull on for inspiration for a three-course brunch (one group member suggested we have frozen iguana, since in the book a pet freezes to death in their unheated shack). For our largest attendance in a long time (we ended up at 9), I needed something easy to make in large-ish quantities. With wet and chilly weather the last few days, soup sounded like just the ticket, so we had the Chicken/Corn/Sweet Potato Chowder. I baked a loaf of Simple Crusty Bread (this time I added 2 T honey with the warm water, yeast and salt, and the flavor was much improved--I think I'll try even more next time), and no one could believe it was home made. New recipes for today were a salad of orange, avocado and watercress with ginger-lime vinaigrette, and a lemon layer cake. I was in full-on panic mode this morning, so no pictures were taken. I'll go downstairs and take one of the remainder of the cake.
Orange, Avocado and Watercress Salad with Ginger-Lime Dressing
adapted from Cook's Illustrated Mar-Apr 2004
serves 4

3 oranges, peeled and sectioned with a serrated knife and put in a strainer over a bowl to drain
1 t grated fresh ginger root
1/4 t Dijon mustard
1 T fresh lime juice
pinch cayenne
1 T minced fresh mint leaves
3 T vegetable oil
medium shallot, sliced on thinnest setting of mandoline
1 Haas avocado, ripe but still firm
1 bunch watercress, stemmed

Whisk ginger, mustard, lime juice, cayenne, mint and 1/8 t salt in bowl until combined. Whisking constantly, add oil in slow stream. Toss shallot in dressing and set aside.

Peel and pit avocado, and fan thin slices on each individual salad plate. Season lightly with salt (forgot this part--it was still delicious).

Add oranges to bowl with dressing and shallot and toss to coat. Then add cress and toss gently. Divide salad between plates and serve immediately.

Lemon Layer Cake
adapted from Cook's Illustrated Mar-Apr 2007

Lemon Curd Filling
(can be made a day ahead of assembly and refrigerated; just stir with a rubber spatula to loosen before assembling cake)
1 C juice from 6-8 lemons
1 t powdered gelatin
1 1/2 C sugar
1/8 t table salt
4 large eggs
6 large egg yolks (reserve whites for cake)
8 T unsalted butter, cut into 16 cubes and frozen

Measure 1 T of lemon juice into small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over top. Heat remaining lemon juice, sugar and salt in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and mixture is hot but not boiling. Whisk eggs and yolks in large bowl. Whisking constantly, slowly pour in hot lemon-sugar mixture, then return whole mixture to saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches 170 degrees. Immediately remove pan from heat and stir in gelatin mixture until dissolved. Then stir in frozen butter until incorporated. Pour through strainer into bowl, cover surface directly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm enough to spread, at least four hours.

2 1/4 C cake flour
1 C whole milk, room temperature
6 large eggs whites, room temperature
2 t vanilla extract
1 3/4 C sugar
4 t baking powder
1 t table salt
12 T unsalted butter, softened but still slightly cool, cut into 12 pieces

Preheat oven to 350, and grease and flour (or use Pam baking spray, like I do) two 9-inch round cake pans, then line bottoms with parchment. Whisk together egg whites, vanilla and milk in two-cup liquid measuring cup.

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in mixer with paddle attachment. With mixer running, add butter one piece at a time, and blend until butter has been incorporated and mixture looks like moist crumbs. Add all but 1/2 cup of milk mixture and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add remaining milk mixture, then increase speed to medium and beat 30 seconds more. Scrape sides of bowl and beat 20 more seconds on medium. Divide batter evenly between pans and smooth tops with rubber spatula.

Bake until toothpick comes out clean, 23 to 25 minutes. Run paring knife around edges of pans, let cool in pans on rack for 10 minutes, then carefully remove from pans, peel off parchment, and let cool fully on rack, about 1.5 hours.

To assemble cake, cut each cake into two even layers, and spread about 1 C of lemon curd between each, leaving 1/2-inch border around edge. Cover and refrigerate assemblage while making icing.

2 large egg whites
1 C sugar
1/4 C water
1 T lemon juice (I squeezed just a bit extra when making the lemon curd and saved it in the fridge)
1 T corn syrup

Combine all ingredients in bowl of mixer and set over 1 inch barely simmering water in medium saucepan (don't let bottom of bowl touch water!). Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches 160 degrees, about 5-10 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and transfer to mixer with whisk attachment. Beat about 5 minutes on medium speed, until soft peaks form. Incease speed to medium high and beat about 5 minutes more, until mixture is room temperature and forms stiff peaks. Spread frosting on cake and serve right away or up to one day later.

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Current Favorite Wizardisms

Word that starts with X = vwy-zone
Lunch food with two pieces of bread = shabbitch
Citrus fruit = ozhish

And he informed me the other day that water in the sink goes down the "dream."

Edited to add the one I couldn't remember earlier--

That gummy thing he eats with his breakfast each morning? Vye-tim.