Saturday, January 17, 2009

Goat - It's What's For Dinner

I have a dream! A dream of one day seeing abundant quantities of goat in the meat aisles of grocery stores all across the US. Yes readers, I said GOAT. And yes, that was a pretty pathetic shoutout to Martin Luther King Jr. Day coming up. Ahem. Let's move on, shall we?

Goat is an unappreciated, underestimated meat in most places around this country. I'm not sure how that happened, because it couldn't be a flavor issue. If you like lamb or beef, you'll love goat! And since we are a red-meat loving nation, I'm really surprised how we could let Big Billy Goat Gruff here get by unnoticed for so long. Back in India/Pakistan, goat is very readily available. As a matter of fact, you only have to take a quick trip down to bakra mundi (goat market) to see how prized they are. Uh, on second thoughts, don't go, just take my word for it - if you're even a teensy bit sensitive, the sight of hundreds of goats lined up to meet their Maker might turn you into a vegetarian. But, if you're a realist like me, you'll respect the process and put a lot of love into cooking your goat. And boyoboyoboyOBOY will it be worth it! The meat is so flavorful, not at all gamey, and extremely tender when cooked properly. If you're in the mood to do a braised meat dish, next time try it with goat, for my sake. Here and now, I'm taking a stand - it's time to appreciate the goat!

DH: *small voice* I feel unappreciated sometimes ...
Me: *looking up from my computer* What? Say that again?
DH: I said, it would be nice if I was appreciated for everything I do around here!
Me: That's crazy talk, man! I appreciate you all the time!
DH: Hmph. You might want to re-evaluate that statement.
Me: *sigh* Can we discuss this over dinner? I made one of your favorites - Tamatar Gosht (Goat Curry with Tomatoes) and chawal (rice) ... uhh, as a token of my appreciation!
DH: *rolling eyes* Look, if you think you can distract me by ... um, did you say Tamatar Gosht?! Gimme!
Me: Does this mean I'm in your good books again?
DH: Ya ya sure sure ... gimmegimmegimme!

(To self: huh. That was easy!)

Goat Curry With Tomatoes
or Tamatar Gosht

Serves 4

1.5 lbs goat meat, with bones, cut into roughly 1 or 2 inch cubes
1/4 cup canola oil

2 onions, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp red chilli powder / cayenne
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 tsp salt
3-4 large tomatoes, chopped
2 hot green chillies, finely chopped
6-8 fresh curry leaves (kadi patha)
Chopped fresh mint for garnish (and flavor!) - but you could substitute with fresh cilantro

Did you know they were selling these beauties in my supermarket as "Ugly Tomatoes"?! I'm deeply offended! Just because they have a blemish or two makes them "ugly"? To think that even such gorgeous, sweet tomatoes like these have to go unappreciated these days ... for shame!

1. Heat up the oil on medium-high and throw in the sliced onions. Cover the pan and let them soften for a couple of mins, then stir them around for another 5 mins to prevent them from burning. You want them to caramelize to a golden color.
2. Add in the ginger and garlic, and saute them for an additional minute.
3. Put in the goat pieces, followed immediately by the salt, chilli powder and turmeric. Give it a good stir, to make sure all the goat pieces get a quick sear and are covered with the onions and spices. Then pour in a big glass of water - basically enough to cover the meat.
4. Let this mixture come to boil, then turn the heat down to medium, cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and let it simmer for 30 mins.
5. After 30 mins, remove the lid, turn the heat back up to high in order to evaporate most of the liquid. You should be left with about 1/2 cup of gravy. The onions will have mostly melted away, and the meat will be tender.
6. To this, add the chopped tomatoes, green chillies and curry leaves. Stir. Then cover again and simmer on medium-low heat until the tomatoes break down and cook. This will be another 10-15 mins. Check for salt. Then turn off the heat and garnish with the mint, which takes this dish to another level of greatness!

Verdict: I luuuuuurve eating this with plain white rice, digging into it with my hands. The sauce is so tangy and fresh from the tomatoes and mint, plus the goat is so tender that it falls off the bone if I even look at it! Be sure not to trim the goat meat of all its fat, because fat is flavor, folks. And you will thank me when those tiny globules of fat melt on your tongue for the first time - oh lord, I'm flushed just thinking about it! *fanning myself*

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Peas N Cheese - Quirky Combo

Well, it is, if you think about it. Look, many cultures classically pair cheese with fresh fruit and great wine, right? They also sprinkle it over the top of a finished dish, or add it to some fresh vegetables drizzled with olive oil and enjoy it in its bare simplicity. And we all know that melted cheese makes my little heart flutter with glee. But what does one do with cheese when your culture demands that everything needs to be accompanied by rice or roti? You make Muttar Paneer of course! Tender peas and cheese swim together in a simple tomato-based sauce like they were always meant to be.
And who says quirky can't be lovable?! I ask you now, dear readers, doesn't every single person you know, including yourself, have at least one teeny tiny quirk? Don't look away! Let me be the first to jump into the quicksand. I talk in my sleep. A lot. Stupid, ridiculous yet complete conversations while completely unconscious and drooling on my pillow. Allegedly. *rolling my eyes at DH*

Another quirky little tidbit is that I got this very Indian recipe from the very British Nigella Lawson (can somebody please make her a 'Dame' because lord knows she deserves it!). I really admire Nigella, her fierce and vivacious personality, her simple yet full-flavored dishes, and her cookbooks are so much fun to read. This recipe is from 'Nigella Feasts', where she says that Muttar Paneer is actually her favorite way to eat peas. And since I have a real soft spot for peas, I jumped on this recipe right away. Now I can say that this dish is my favorite to enjoy paneer.
Paneer is not a melting cheese. Texturally, it's a bit like halloumi, but when you taste it, it has a pleasant, subtle sweetness. You can sometimes substitute ricotta for it. Even though this is a completely vegetarian dish, I'll bet the carnivore in your life will be really surprised how much he/she enjoys it!

Muttar Paneer
(Peas N Cheese)
Serves 6

3 tbsp oil
8-12 oz paneer, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-inch piece ginger, finely chopped
Sprinkling of salt, per your taste
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 (10-ounce) packet frozen peas
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups vegetable stock
2 hot green chillies, finely chopped
Upto 1/4 cup pouring cream

1. Heat a large non-stick skillet and add the paneer cubes, in two batches, and fry until they are golden. Remove the cubes and keep them aside.
2. In the same pan heat up the oil on medium heat. Saute the onions till transparent, then add the ginger-garlic and cook for another 2 mins.
3. Stir in the salt, chilli powder, turmeric, garam masala and green chillies. Then put in all the frozen peas.
4. Dissolve the 1 tbsp of tomato paste in the vegetable stock then add this mixture to the onions and spices.
5. Mix well, turn the heat up and once it comes to a boil, turn the heat down to medium again, cover with a lid and let the whole thing simmer for 15 mins.
6. Once all the peas are really tender (don't forget to check!), put the paneer cubes back in and warm them through.
7. Finally, pour in the cream to thicken the sauce, then turn off the heat. Garnish with lots of fresh cilantro.
Just in case you're wondering, my favorite Ozzy quirk is the way he greets me and DH whenever we enter the house. He comes thumping down the stairs whenever he hears the key jiggling in the lock, and immediately stretches out at our feet, tubby little belly exposed. We must pet and coddle him before we do anything else!

See Ozzy. See Ozzy cuddle with his Moo Toy.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

First Time's The Charm - Chicken Spaghetti Casserole

Dear readers, do you remember the very first time you ate something that you'd never had before, and that first taste changed your life? Ok, maybe not that dramatic, but do you remember being amazed, astonished, then consequently hooked for life? If yes, then let's reminisce together, you and I, because that was a wonderful moment, no? And if not, then what are you waiting for?! Get thee an adventurous spirit and try something new - you may or may not like it, but either way you'll never forget it, and whatever the result, you'll always be proud of yourself for having taken that leap!

Picture this: Paris, 2003 (yes, I'm going all Sophia from the Golden Girls on you! Hah, that ages me like nothing else!). A young woman is enjoying her first sights and smells of this amazing city. She has lived a semi-sheltered life for the most part, especially in terms of food, usually opting for the familiar and safe. Along comes this group of local Parisians who take her out to a cute little restaurant near the Palais Garnier (Paris Opera). They ask her if she would like to start off with some fois gras. Now this was something she'd only heard about on the Food Network, so the first turning point comes when she says "sure, why not?". For someone who's never had it, whose friends and family back home have never even heard of it, the idea of eating goose liver is not the most appetizing. But that's the second turning point, because the minute she takes that first bite, all kinds of bells start ringing! It's as if a new part of her brain woke up that she never even knew existed! All sorts of preconceived notions, about everything, were broken down.

This may sound ridiculous to some, but I know there's a fair group of you out there who know what I'm talking about. Suffice to say that I walked away from that dinner a few pounds heavier, forever longing for my next piece of sweet, creamy, insanely addictive fois gras. But you know, that one small, seemingly insignificant (to others) moment opened a lot of doors for me. After that I never turned away from trying something new, whether it was food-related or not, from raw oysters to hang-gliding, from chicken feet to whitewater rafting!

So would you believe I had never tried a true-blue all-American casserole before this one I'm about to share with you now? Never had I used a can of Campbell's Condensed Mushroom Soup for anything other than .. well .. soup! And it's all thanks to my girl Ree, over at Pioneer Woman Cooks. She could convince me that old shoe leather was a gourmet treat! I went into this recipe with no real expectations, but one bite was all it took to put this dish on my list of "The One Thing You Could Eat Forever If You Were Stranded On A Deserted Island". Ever since I've tried this dish, I'm constantly trying out new casseroles, but nothing compares to this one ... yet.

Chicken Spaghetti Casserole (inspired by the one at Pioneer Woman Cooks)

2 chicken thighs with skin
1 lb spaghetti

2 cans Cream of Mushroom soup (condensed)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped green capsicum
1 4oz jar of chopped pimentos, drained
1-2 jalapenos, finely chopped
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 tsp Lawry's Seasoned Salt
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt n Pepper to taste

1. Put the chicken thighs in a pot, cover with water, add a bay leaf, salt, some peppercorns and a pinch of thyme. Boil the whole thing till the chicken is cooked completely. Once cooled, reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid (strained), then remove the chicken, discard the skin and shred the meat into bite-sized pieces.
2. To the chicken pieces, add the chopped onion, chopped green pepper, diced pimentos, chopped jalapenos.

3. Break the dry spaghetti into 2 inch pieces before boiling them.

4. When spaghetti is cooked, take it out in a large bowl. To this add 2 cups of the grated cheddar, the two cans of mushroom soup, the chicken broth, the seasoned salt, the regular salt and pepper, cayenne pepper, and the chicken mixture. Mix everything thoroughly and place it in a large casserole dish.

5. Top with remained 1 cup of cheddar.

6. You can refrigerate this for upto 2 days, or bake it immediately. Place it in a 350 degree F oven for 30 minutes until bubbly. Then turn on the broiler for an additional 5-8 minutes, till the top gets slightly browned in places.

7. Remove from the oven and let it cool down for about 10-15 mins before you jump into this ooey-gooey piece of pasta heaven!I like to add some ketchup or hot sauce to this - really hits the spot for me! DH can't get enough of it either. Bet you can't have just one helping! This is going to be my VERY first entry to Presto Pasta Nights - an event that I love, because it brings together like-minded pasta lovahs ... yayyy carbs! This time it's being hosted by your friendly Food Hunter based in beautiful Phoenix, AZ.