Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Effortlessly Exotic: Curried Chicken Stir Fry with Basmati Rice

Anyone else suffer from Target Syndrome? You know, you go into Target to buy shampoo & deodorant and come out with shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, a scrapbooking kit, bbq grill, storage bins, bed sheets, dvds, teeth whitening strips, and adorable throw pillows for a couch you don't own? If you're unfamiliar with this phenomenon, then you 1) have insurmountable will power, OR 2) aren't human. I succumb to the 'Syndrome' almost every time I step foot into that wonder-store. Now, my neighborhood Target has introduced a full-on supermarket section.

While meandering down this section's isles, I stumbled across my newest obsession: Archer Farms Mango Curry Grilling Sauce. Archer Farms is an in-house brand of Target's, reasonably priced & pretty darn good across the board. They even have their own Organic line of products as well. Bottom line, this particular bottle looked yummy, wooed me with a pretty orange hue &, most importantly, it was on sale. So, off I went with my bag(s) full and my culinary imagination wheel spinning...

In my personal experience, discussions over the stereo-typically strong-smelling dishes of "Curry (anything)" have rivaled the most heated religious or political debates. The majority of people I know are vehement haters of the stuff, without ever having tasted it!   ::cough:: ignorant fools! ::cough::    Let me take a moment out to dispel your fears. Curry is actually a blend of spices. The word curry/curried is also used to refer to a type of dish where a protein (chicken, beef, goat, fish) is slow cooked in a thick pungent sauce flavored with the spice mix & served over rice or with a flatbread of some sort (think Indian naan, or Caribbean roti) to sop it all up. To make things even more confusing, another style of curry dish includes the spice mix used as a dry rub on meats, such as kebabs. Curry spice blends vary drastically in color, flavor, and heat level depending on their origin (Thai, Indian, Caribbean, Sri Lankan etc). By & large, most curry powders contain coriander, tumeric, cumin, fenugreek, & chile pepper. As a convert to curry myself, I suggest trying the different types from varying regions before you make a decision regarding loving or hating the dish. The recipe I'm sharing with you today is more of a quasi-curry, if that. Its not overly pungent in flavor or heat, but rather a warm, mild blend with a sweet note to it.

My first thought that came to mind was throwing a defrosted chicken breast in to a Ziploc with some of my new grilling sauce. Done & done. Okay, now what? Well, more often than not I have come across different versions of "curried chicken salad" but never dared to re-create them at home. With some left over roasted chicken (which seems to be a staple at my house) I tweaked my own chicken salad recipe by adding a few tablespoons of grilling sauce & 1/4 teaspoon of cumin to the dressing. Pretty darm delicious, I must say. (Sorry guys no pics of the altered chicken salad. Although deelicious, didn't think it was gonna make it to the blog as a post...)

Found these flatbreads at my local grocery store. They have the thinness and feel of roti, or a very thin wrap & completely satisfying

A couple busy days later, I realized my poor chicken breast was STILL marinating in the fridge! Thanks to some end-of-the-world-looking thunderstorms & torrential downpours, grilling was, once again, not a viable option. My eyes darted around the kitchen & took a quick survey of supplies: onions, garlic, celery, fresh (but wilting) dill, flatbreads, & leftover "sauce" from the previously made chicken salad. And look at that! A fresh, unopened bag of Basmati rice! Carms got all ethnic on me and I hadn't a clue. With a few more additions, I turned a bunch of rag-tag ingredients into a savory & mind-blowing Indian inspired meal!

Curried Chicken Stir-Fry
Yields 2 servings; 400 Calories per serving; 4.7g Fat per serving
(1 flat bread included in serving)

  • 1 lg boneless & skinless chicken breast, sliced into strips
  • 1 lg onion, sliced
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup Basmati rice, uncooked
  • 1/4 C nonfat, Greek yogurt, plain
  • 3 Tbs rice wine vinegar
  • 3 Tbs Mango-Curry grilling sauce
  • 1tsp mustard
  • 1tsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 tsp celery salt 
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper 
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp hot pepper flakes (optional)
Directions: Marinate chicken breast in ziploc bag with mango-curry grilling sauce up to a day ahead. Cook Basmati rice per package directions. In a large skillet, saute onions, celery & garlic on medium-high heat, until slightly tender. Add chicken and sauce to pan. Continue to saute until sauce thickens & chicken is just cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. Serve over rice and with flat bread.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pretty, Pretty Pasta Primavera

Hello loves! Once again my apologies for being a phantom around the
blogoshpere. My bosses were sweet enough to surprise me with a 5-day holiday weekend over the 4th. So naturally, I booked it out to Montauk for some sun, R&R, and culinary inspiration. In true Danielle fashion, 1/2 through my stay, I sprained my ankle & pretty much killed any plans other than roasting on the beach & moving around as little as possible.

Good thing I'm feeling MUCH better & have whipped up yet another childhood favorite of mine, tweaked ever so slightly. This week's re-creation is my mom's Pasta Primavera. The word Primavera is Italian for "Spring". Italians are in love with life & all the natural beauty and pleasure it may bring our way. Famed Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli expressed his love of nature's beauty in his renowned masterpiece entitled, "Primavera". Naturally, an homage to the season of "new life" from these amorous people in the form of food seems perfectly fitting. 

There are as many variations of this dish as there are spring days in a lifetime. 
However, in keeping with the dish's namesake, each variation usually includes a combination of fresh vegetables. My mom made hers with farfalle pasta, yellow zucchini, mushrooms, snow peas, and broccoli florets. She also made this killer pink cream sauce, which was decadent yet unusually light at the same time.  Of course, heavy cream was the notorious player that made this sauce come together.

My version of Pasta Primavera uses whole wheat fusilli pasta, zucchini, baby bella mushrooms, grape tomatoes & my own spin on mommy's salivating pink "cream" sauce. I combine some simple marinara sauce, chicken broth, some low fat soft cheese, and....yep, you guessed it, a spoonful of plain Greek yogurt (non-fat, as always). As with my other recipes, feel free to be creative and use any vegetable combination you like. I have a trick on how to cook the veggies that I will reveal in the recipe directions below. Again, I cannot take credit for this ingenious idea, that all belongs to mamma Carms! You can also use any shaped pasta you are partial to. I highly suggest you stick with whole wheat or spelt pasta, though. I'm a fan of fusilli, not only cuz it looks cool, but the spiral shape holds onto sauce (and therefore, flavor) much better than a smooth, flat pasta. For the sauce the "fresh is best" motto holds true here, as in most of my recipes. Although, I totally cheated & used some of  my Nonna's sauce. If you must, used a good jarred marinara or, just open up a can of crushed tomatoes & flavor it with some salt, pepper, dried oregano, garlic & a touch of good extra virgin olive oil.

Dee's Pasta Primavera
Yields 4 servings; 257 Calories/serving; 2.8g Fat/serving

  • 2-Cups (dry) Whole Wheat Fusilli pasta 
  • 2- small zucchini, sliced into 1/4" half-moon shapes
  • 1- 8 oz package Baby Bella mushrooms, sliced 1/4" thick
  • 1-Cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 5-7 basil leaves, torn or cut chiffonade
  • 1-Cup marinara sauce
  • 1/4-Cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2- wedges Laughing Cow Light Swiss (can substitute any soft, melt-able cheese, ex: fat free cream cheese)
  • 1-Tbs plain non-fat Greek yogurt
  • salt & pepper to taste

Boil water for pasta. Once water comes to a boil, liberally salt, add pasta & cook per manufacturer's directions. While pasta is cooking, combine marinara sauce, chicken stock, cheese & yogurt in a small saucepan. Bring to low-medium heat, whisking until sauce is smooth and pink in color (Add more or less chicken stock to reach desired consistency). Add salt and pepper to taste. Right before pasta is ready (about 2-3 minutes before done) add zucchini and mushrooms to pot. Bring back to a boil, then quickly remove from heat & drain. Return back to pot, add sauce and grape tomatoes. Right before serving, finish with fresh basil.