Monday, October 19, 2009

The Big Move

Hey guys!

I'm making The Big Move... from a little personal blog to a big... um... personal blog. From now on, I'll be posting my videos and my silly little thoughts here. Check it out, and have a little patience with me as I work out some of the kinks. Oh, and if you like the logo, give my youngest sister, Crish, props. Perhaps she can design yours!



Thursday, October 15, 2009

Aarti Paarti Ep. 27: "I Ain't Chicken" Chicken!

What an odd day it's been. I started writing this post about how this recipe celebrated my choice to live bold, about how the phrase had entered my consciousness a couple of years ago, and how it had led, through baby steps like taking improv classes, designing my first original recipe, going to Burning Man for the first time... to finally shooting this little engine-that-could of a show, and finding my purpose in life.

It was, I realise, going to be a bit of a celebration of myself.

But I'm realising that for all the trumpets I have been playing for myself, for all the parades I've thrown myself in my head for being so bold, for all the ways I am grateful for the changes He's worked in me, I have stumbled big time. I have let people down. I have ignored the plight of others because I've been so obsessed with my own. I may have been bold, but only in the pursuit of what made ME happy. When it came to other people, I was chicken.


Sorry guys! Usually, these little show intros are upbeat and funny, but I'm feeling a bit introspective today.

Oooof! Well, let's disband this pity party and focus on the recipe, shall we? WOW!

This is a simplified version of the "I Ain't Chicken" Chicken recipe that I wrote two years ago. It's a milestone of a recipe, because it was the first original recipe I'd ever written.

This version uses just chicken breasts, on the bone, and it's flavoured with cardamom, orange and fresh ginger. It's a fresh, innovative combination I think -- reminiscent of Middle Eastern tea time flavours I think. I love this technique because everyone gets a juicy, flavourful chicken breast and it's done in just 40 minutes! So much quicker than roasting an entire chicken.

Take a look:

"I Ain't Chicken" Chicken
Roasted Crispy-Skin Chicken Breasts with Cardamom-Orange-Ginger Butter

2 big russet potatoes (optional)
2 chicken breasts, on the bone, skin intact, preferably kosher
1 tbsp butter, softened but not melted
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
Zest of one large orange
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
Handful minced fresh parsley
Salt & pepper

1) Turn oven to 500 degrees fahrenheit/260 degrees celsius, gas mark 10. Grab a broiler tray, and line the bottom with aluminium foil. If you like, slice some potatoes about 1/2" thick, and throw them in there, tossed with a little olive oil and salt. Place slotted tray over the top.

2) Pat chicken dry with some paper towels. Poke a small opening in that clear membrane between the skin and the flesh of the chicken breast. Glide your index finger through the opening, loosening the skin from the flesh, without removing it completely. You're creating a big pocket in which the butter will sit! Repeat with the other chicken breast. Set aside.

3) Wash your hands thoroughly.

4) In a small bowl, combine butter, ground cardamom, orange zest, ginger, parsley, salt and pepper (about 1/2 tsp of kosher salt if you're using a kosher chicken. Use more if it's a regular chicken). Stir together with a spoon until well mixed.

5) Place a spoonful of the butter mixture through the opening you made in the skin of the chicken breast. Once it's in there, smooth out the butter by gliding your finger over the skin, until it's evenly distributed. Repeat with the other breast.

6) Place chicken breasts on broiler tray. If you wish, drizzle skin with a little oil, for extra crispy skin. Throw the whole shebang into the oven, and roast for about 40 minutes, turning once halfway through the cooking time. Relax, sip a glass of wine, bask in the crackling sounds of butter and comforting smell of roasted chicken on a rainy day!

7) Check the breasts about 30 minutes in, just in case. A meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast, but not touching the bone, should register about 160 degrees F when it's cooked. Pull them out at this point, tent with foil and allow to rest about 5 minutes.

7) Using a fork and sharp paring knife, slice breast off the bone, and serve alongside some sauteed spinach and a dollop of Indian shredded mango pickle. Yum!



Monday, October 12, 2009

Veggie Chili for a Blanket-y Day

Sometimes, I wonder whether LA's bright, sunny weather is wasted on me. I mean, I love waking up to sunshine every day, but nothing makes my heart sing like a grey day.

The past few days have seemed too good to be true: a thick, grey, woolly blanket has landed over LA, accompanied by a gentle breeze that tickles the leaves of the giant sycamore tree outside my window. The blanket deadens the sounds of freeway traffic, intensifies the lushness of any greenery my eye falls upon, forces me to slow down and enjoy the simplicity of blankets and tea. I'm so scared these days will go away; LA weather is so fickle!

The blanket's arrival coincided with that small span you may or may not relate to: those days/weeks between a dwindling bank account, and the next check. Rather than freak out, I've chosen to take this on as a challenge: what can I make for the least amount of money, that will last a few meals, and keep us sated?


Veggie chili is wonderful because it's packed full of nutrition, but between all those veggies and all that liquid, you fill up FAST. Plus, the longer it sits in your fridge (within reason), the better it tastes. And, since you're cooking vegetables, it doesn't have to cook for hours, as its carnivorous cousin does. If you're scared of cooking, this is a great place to start, because it's hard to mess up!

So, before I give you the recipe, here are a few thoughts/tips -- then you can make your own version. The process of making chili usually goes something like this:

1) Sautee your aromatics in a nice big pot.
In this category, you'll find: onions, ginger, garlic, carrots, celery, fennel, bell peppers (green, red etc), jalapeno or serrano peppers. Always start with an onion though. You should also throw your harder root veggies in at this point: parsnips, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, turnips, butternut squash etc. Sautee for about 10 minutes in olive oil over medium heat, until the onions soften and turn translucent.
Fill it chock-a-block with vegetables: the more you throw in different textures and flavours, the less you're going to notice that it's meatless! Plus, the better it'll be for you! Save more delicate veggies like cauliflower, spinach and peas until closer to the end, so that they don't turn mushy.

2) Cheat with chorizo!
Listen people. I'm married to a proud carnivore. We needed something that mimicked that meaty texture, and soy chorizo is awesome for that. I used soy chorizo because the thought of eating salivary glands (which you'll find in the regular kind) doesn't always sit that well with me. Ok, I admit my hypocrisy: I'll eat processed hot dogs with nary a thought about what's in those.
What was I saying?
Oh yeah, the cool thing about (Mexican) chorizo is that it's already been spiced with paprika and garlic, so it does a lot of the work for you! Plus, it gives you that meaty mouth-feel, fooling your canines and incisors into thinking you're eating meat. And, it's packed with protein! Boom! I found it next to the regular chorizo in the refrigerated section at the supermarket, next to the Mexican cheeses, and the cream cheese.

3) Spice it up!
I added chili powder (duh), cumin, ground allspice, and ground ginger, but play around with paprika, smoked paprika, ground coriander, turmeric, worcestershire sauce, nutmeg... You could also add a chopped up chipotle pepper at this point too. Yum, yum. Oh and don't forget the salt (although if you're using chorizo, you may not need that much, since it's usually pretty salty on its own). Also if you like a little sweetness, you can add some honey, brown sugar, molasses, agave or heck, even plain ol' white sugar will do.

4) Keep it saucy!
I use whole canned tomatoes, and crush them (rawr!) right over the pot; that way you get nice big chunks of tomato. I also dump in all that lovely tomato juice. Some people like to add tomato sauce too, I'm guessing to thicken it up, but I haven't found I needed it.
In addition to the tomatoes, you'll need to add more liquid: water, stock or...
A CAN OF BEER! This is my favourite, because its bitterness cuts through all the tomato sweetness. Plus my friend left a six-pack of Simpler Times in the fridge ($2.99 for a sixer at Trader Joes!), and I need to finish it before I get a beer belly.
If you don't like that idea, just use more water or stock. Just eyeball it -- add enough to semi-cover all the veggies. You can always add more if it gets too dry, or boil it off if it's too watery.
I might try making a green chili next time with smoked tomatillos. Doesn't that sound good?!

5) Simmer for 30 minutes.
Bring the entire concoction to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer (gentle but steady bubbles on the surface of the chili). Since you're only cooking veggies, you'll need just 30 minutes to cook all the veggies through and develop the flavours.
If you're thinking about adding a grain like white rice to the chili, then about 15 minutes into this simmer time, add a cup of water, bring it back up to a boil, then add 1/2 cup of white rice. Take it back down to a simmer and let it cook for 15 minutes.

6) Bean there, done that
I love beans, but I don't add a ton because I'm a big fan of the, ahem, consequences. But they're a great source of protein and fiber, so the more you add, the more filling your chili. Plus they're so cheap!
And you don't just have to use kidney beans: black beans, white kidneys, black eye peas, frozen limas, frozen peas, corn, chickpeas and cooked lentils are all great options!
Add them after your 30 minutes have elapsed, rinsing the canned ones under water to get rid of that goopy stuff, and let them warm through about 5-10 minutes. And you're done!

Phew! I know that was a lot, but I suppose what I'm trying to tell you is, you don't need a recipe to make chili! As long as you have a onion, some veggies, chili powder, ground cumin and a can of tomatoes, your chili is just 45 minutes away.

Here's the one I made last night, while we watched not 1, not 2, but 3 movies in a row (I love you, streaming Netflix) but experiment with your own versions!

Veggie Chili for a Blanket-y Day

1 yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 large parsnip, peeled and diced
1 green bell pepper/capsicum, membranes removed and diced
1 red bell pepper, cleaned and diced
1 jalapeno, seeds and membranes removed, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 package soy chorizo, casing removed
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground allspice
28 oz can whole tomatoes
1 can beer
1 15oz can red kidney beans
Lime, cheese and scallions to garnish

1) Sautee onions, carrots, parsnips, bell peppers, jalapeno and garlic about 10 minutes until softened.

2) Add chorizo and sautee a couple of minutes until it smells really good in your kitchen.

3) Add chili, cumin and allspice powders. Sautee about 30 seconds to get the flavour out of 'em.

4) Add juice from tomato can, then crush each whole tomato with your hands over the pot, leaving them as chunky as you like.

5) Add beer, and much water as you need to almost cover the veggies. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 30 minutes.

6) Drain kidney beans, rinse. Add to chili, and cook another 5-10 minutes until beans are warmed through.

7) Serve, squeezing a wedge of lime over the top, garnishing with scallions and cheese if you wish.



Friday, October 9, 2009

Take the Cake!

(Isn't this photo gorgeous? Joo took it.)

My friends Elizabeth, Joo (Emmy and Peabody Award-winner! Woohoo!) and Mandi were here this past weekend, for our annual girls trip. We had tons of fun chin-wagging, making fun of Mandi, scaring me half to death on roller-coasters meant for toddlers, making fun of Mandi...

If you've read this blog long enough, you'll know that we meet up every year, that these three ladies are women I knew in college, but with whom I grew much closer after I graduated and Bren left, because I realised that I had turned into one of those awful girls who had abandoned her friends in favour of her boyfriend. Ugh!

Needless to say, these girls are precious to me.

This trip, we marked Mandi's milestone 30th birthday. She's the baby of our little gang; the rest of us celebrated en masse last year. On their last night here, they came over to my house and, we all made dinner: Sheesh! kebabs and cucumber salad (oops, did I not post that recipe?! eeks!), mac 'n' cheese and to top it off, possibly the tallest chocolate cake I've ever seen, save a traumatic experience at Claim Jumpers.

You can kinda see it here. I think it's something to be quite proud of, no? It's only TWO LAYERS!

I have kept this recipe top secret for a while, mostly because I was trying to build a small baking business to supplement our income, but since that hasn't really taken off, I may as well share the "wealth". I adapted a recipe I found on Epicurious, by subbing in 1/2 cup of brown sugar which I think gives it a bit of rich, dark sweetness. Finding a good chocolate cake recipe is sort of like finding the holy grail these days; every tom, dick and harry has a recipe available online, but beware! Not every recipe is equal! This recipe contains a few ingredients that make it very, very special:
  • Coffee: it heightens the chocolate flavour, but no worries if you don't like the flavour of coffee (you weirdo). You won't taste it at all. And yes, you can use decaf. I do.
  • Cocoa AND real semisweet chocolate: recipes that only call for cocoa hardly ever come out chocolate-y enough for me. Use good quality chocolate if you can, and don't use chips; they are apparently coated in this weird waxy stuff that's yucky.
  • Buttermilk: I've found that the key to a gorgeously moist cake is either yogurt or buttermilk. I don't know why, but trust me brotha-man, it works!
  • Vegetable oil: The most bothersome part of baking, to me, is the creaming process. OH MAN! It makes me shudder thinking of the long minutes that pass by as my arm turns asleep whilst beating butter and sugar into submission. And, even when I was blessed with that kitchen superhero, the KitchenAid mixer, I could never get the sugar completely incorporated into the butter, even if I use fine baker's sugar. BORING! Vegetable oil eliminates this entire process.
So without further ado, here's the recipe. Remember to subtract 1/2 cup of white sugar and add 1/2 cup of the brown stuff. Also, don't overbeat your cake at the end -- mix until it's just combined and no more, or else you end up with a tough cake. And yeah, you'll need a pound of chocolate for the ganache. Yeah, it's worth it. This is, hands-down, the BEST CHOCOLATE CAKE RECIPE EVER!

There! I said it! (And quite appropriately, was first published in the recently-defunct Gourmet Magazine. RIP Gourmet. I loved you well.)



Thursday, October 8, 2009

Facial Massage

It's been a bit nuts around here recently. Thankfully, the laptop is back, and so is the internet, and I was so lucky to have my besties from college come visit me this past weekend (pics coming!). Whee! This morning, I found myself watching almost every one of these makeup videos from a woman called Oxford Jasmine. She has one up on facial massage, which she won't allow me to embed for some reason, but here's the link. I think I'll be giving myself one of these every week, using some coconut oil!


all text and photographs on aartilla the fun © 2005-2009 Aarti Sequeira unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.