Chicken Tikka Masala

FullSizeRenderFans of Indian food will love this smokey chicken dish, layered with rich spices in a creamy tomato sauce. My son Justin had been hinting that I try a curry dish sometime, but then he got bold and Facebooked me this recipe for Turkey Tikka Masala from The New York Times. It’s a dish that uses leftover Thanksgiving turkey, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. When I realized I didn’t have enough leftover turkey to do the dish, I opted to use fresh boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I had my husband Rich grill them on his Big Green Egg to get that Tandoor-tender treatment. This dish was utterly amazing, and that’s an understatement.

We’ve often wondered why all these Indian dishes that taste so similar have vastly different names, so I did a little research. Apparently, the names differ depending on the region, so a “rogan josh” can taste the same as a “marsala” as they use the same ingredients. “Tikka” refers to chicken cooked in the Tandoor (a cylindrical clay oven), and “marsala” is a sauce made with tomatoes and onions OR a mixture of spices, depending on your source of information. 

And what exactly is garam masala, other than a spice required in Indian recipes that you don’t have on hand? It’s a mix of peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, mace, cardamom, bay leaves, and cumin—and is sometimes referred to as a “curry.” An Indian curry stew is usually a blend of coriander, cumin, and turmeric, and sometimes chili peppers. There’s no curry powder actually in curries. Curry is a word invented for the British or by the British to describe the delicious stews they “discovered” during their colonization of India.

But enough with the history lesson! Back to the food! I did a few things differently than the original recipe—like I didn’t puree the sauce, and I used half and half, instead of heavy cream. My other adjustments to process and ingredients are reflected below.

Serves 6

For Meat Marinade

2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
4 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 cloves garlic, finely grated
4 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
1¾ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

For Marsala Sauce

4 tablespoons ghee, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon cardamom
1-2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon garam masala
1½ teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
1 serrano pepper, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
2 cups half and half
¾ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1 small lemon (optional)

3 cups cooked basmati or jasmine rice

To make the marinade: Combine the garam masala, coriander, cumin, paprika, turmeric, salt, garlic, ginger, and yogurt in a bowl and stir. Add chicken thighs and toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

To make the masala: Add 3 tablespoons of the ghee to a Dutch oven set on medium-high heat. Add onion, cardamom, bay leaf (or leaves), paprika, pepper flakes, garam masala and salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden and tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Make space among onions in center of pot, and add the remaining 1 tablespoon ghee. When ghee has melted, add ginger, garlic, and serrano pepper, and sizzle for about 10 seconds. Stir into the onions. Stir in tomato paste, then add tomatoes and juice from the can, crushing tomatoes with your hands as you add them. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until the liquid is almost gone, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add cream and chopped cilantro to the pot. Taste and add salt if needed. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about 40 minutes. *

While sauce is cooking, grill chicken until done, and no pink remains in center. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Stir into masala sauce, and serve over cooked rice. (If adding lemon juice, stir in just before serving. I forgot the lemon, and did not think it needed it!)

*NOTE: The original recipe called for pureeing the sauce in a blender at this point, before adding the chicken in. I thought that was an unnecessary step, but might try that next time I make this so the sauce is creamier. And there will be a next time for this tasty dish!

New England Clam Chowder

FullSizeRenderThis creamy dairy-based clam chowder warms you to the core when there’s a chill in the air. It can be a starter to your meal, or a whole meal in itself. This used to be a staple at our Christmas Eve dinner, but some how it fell off the menu over the last several years. So this year I resurrected the recipe, found in one of my Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks, and our family was glad I did! We’d forgotten what a treat this soup is, with the mild seafood flavor, and bits of hearty potatoes, clams, and bacon. I’ve altered some ingredient amounts from the BH&G recipe, adding more minced clams, bacon, and Worcestershire for fuller flavor.

And does anyone else besides me get confused about the different kinds of clam chowder? When we’re at a restaurant, I have to always remind myself that New England is the more popular cream-based soup, and Manhattan clam chowder is the tomato-based version, so I’m not disappointed when the food arrives. Or at least the New England style is more popular with our family… Give this recipe a try, and see where it ranks in popularity in your home.

Serves 6-8

3 (6.5 ounce) cans minced clams
4-6 slices of bacon
4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2½ cups milk, divided
1 cup Half & Half light cream
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour or Namaste gluten-free flour blend
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¾ teaspoon salt
Dash coarse ground black pepper

Drain the canned clams, reserving all liquid. You should have close to 2 cups clam juice. Add water if necessary, to get 2 cups liquid. Set aside. In large Dutch oven, fry bacon until crisp. Drain cooked strips of bacon on paper towels. Once cool, crumble bacon, and set aside for a topping. Add onions to the bacon fat in the pan and cook until translucent. Add the 2 cups reserved liquid and chopped potatoes, and bring liquid to a boil. Cover, reduce to simmer, and let potatoes cook about 10-15 minutes, or until tender. Stir in clams, 2 cups of the milk, and the Half & Half. In a small bowl, whisk remaining ½ cup milk with the flour until no lumps remain. Stir into chowder. Increase heat until mixture begins to boil, and immediately reduce to low again. Cook and stir until bubbly. Stir in Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Serve with crumbled bacon on top.

Cheesy Corn Chowder

FullSizeRenderMade from kitchen staples and some common vegetables, this soup goes together quick, and goes down the hatch even quicker. My son Mitchell says this is hands-down his favorite cold weather soup, and he’ll eat it for lunch every day until the whole batch is gone. Where did I find this winner of a recipe? I ripped a page out of a Woman’s Day magazine back in 1999 (hopefully it was my mag and not my dentist’s), and have been making it a dozen times a year ever since. It was listed as a budget-buster, and rang up at $1.08 per serving. Keep in mind, that was in ’99, but even with inflation or cost of living increase (or whatever means things costs more than they used to), you’ve still got a very affordable lunch or light supper. I like this recipe because it’s thick and creamy, and you get the results of a roux, without the trouble of making one. This is especially great paired with a toasted ham or turkey sandwich. OK, now I’m just making myself hungry…

3-4 strips bacon or 2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped yellow onion
2 cups chicken broth (from can or make with 2 bouillon cubes), or fresh chicken stock*
3 cups cubed potatoes, leaving skin on
1 cup diced carrots, peeling carrots first
1-2 cans (15 ounces) corn, drained (we like it extra corn-y, so I make it with 2 cans)
1 box (10 ounces) frozen, or 2 cups fresh chopped kale, optional
4 cups milk
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour or Namaste gluten-free flour blend (found at Costco)*
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Optional Garnish

1/4 cup sliced scallions

Fry bacon in Dutch oven until crispy. Drain on paper towels, then crumble and reserve for topping soup later. Drain all but 2-3 teaspoons bacon fat from pot. (If not using bacon, melt butter in bottom of Dutch oven and continue following directions.) Add onions to pot and sauté until tender. Add the chicken broth or stock, and potatoes, carrots, and kale (if using). Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Add corn to pot.

In medium bowl, whisk together milk, flour, and salt until blended and smooth. Add to pot and return mixture to a boil. Reduce to medium, and gently boil and stir until mixture is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Add shredded cheddar and turn to low. Stir until cheese is melted. Serve with crumbled bacon, and scallions, if desired.

*NOTE: The last time I made this, I used the gluten-free flour blend and it worked perfectly. So while it’s not dairy-free, it can be gluten-free! If you want to skip the bacon and use vegetable stock instead of chicken, you’ve got yourself a vegetarian soup, too. But who wants to skip the bacon, for Pete’s sake?