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September 30, 2005

30-Minute Meals 2: Sweet 'n Spicy Chicken Curry in a Hurry with Fragrant Basmati Rice

Here's where things fall apart in 30-Minute Meals 2. I think it's possible to make Indian food fairly quickly, but this recipe, as well as Chicken Tikka with Charred Tomato Chutney and Warm Flat Bread, are not good examples of Indian food adapted to a western kitchen.

In her notes for the recipe, Ray says that her mother came up with the idea of using mincemeat because she wanted to sweeten curry without using coconut milk. An interesting idea, but in reality it just doesn't work. I made the curry with mango chutney, a substitution that Ray suggests for the mincemeat. I can't see it working well with mincemeat either, to be honest. It's a one-dimensional plate of sweet chicken with a spicy aftertaste. Nothing more to it than that. It doesn't come anywhere near the layered interplay of spices and flavors that exists in real Indian food. If you're yearning for curry, get take-out before you try this recipe. It'll only disappoint you.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yield: at least 4 servings

2 cups basmati rice, prepared according to package directions
1 tsp each coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds

2 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
1 1/3 to 1 1/2 pounds chicken tenders, diced
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, minced or grated
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 can chicken broth
2 Tbsp curry paste, mild or hot
1 cup mincemeat, or 1 cup mango chutney
Coarse salt, to taste

Toppings and Garnishes (Mix and Match)
4 scallions, chopped
1 cup toasted coconut
1/2 cup sliced almonds or Spanish peanuts
1 cup mango chutney
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped

For fragrant rice, toast coriander, cumin, and mustard seeds in the bottom of a medium saucepan. When seeds pop and become fragrant, add water, bring to a boil, and prepare rice as directed on package. For plain rice, do not use seeds.

Heat oil in a large, deep, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and lightly brown. Add garlic, ginger, and onion, and sauté together another 5 minutes. Add chicken broth and bring to a bubble. Stir in curry paste and mincemeat or chutney and reduce heat to medium low. Add salt to taste. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes.

Assemble toppings in small dishes. Serve curry in shallow bowls with scoops of plain or spiced rice. Garnish with any or all toppings.

 

September 30, 2005

30-Minute Meals 2: Chicken Tikka with Charred Tomato Chutney and Warm Flat Bread

The second Indian-style dish in 30-Minute Meals 2, and it's another failure. While the chicken curry recipe tasted at least a little bit like Indian food, this one doesn't come remotely close. It's chicken in a boring tomato sauce, essentially.

I could see a way to make this recipe more successful, perhaps by using a packaged garam masala from the store, and sautéing it gently before adding the tomatoes. But truthfully, I don't think the recipe is worth the extra effort. As with Sweet 'n Spicy Chicken Curry in a Hurry, I recommend you reach for your take-out menus if you're in the mood for Indian food.

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: at least 4 servings

1 cup plain yogurt
1 rounded Tbsp mild curry paste
Juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds chicken tenders
3 plum tomatoes
1/2 cup tomato sauce or purée
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 to 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Coarse salt
Packaged flat bread (sold near pita bread in market)
1 heart romaine lettuce, shredded

Preheat grill pan or indoor electric grill to high heat.

Combine yogurt, curry paste, lemon juice and cilantro in a shallow dish. Add chicken tenders and coat evenly. When you are about 10 minutes away from eating, place chicken on hot grill and cook 5 minutes on each side, until chicken is firm.

Place a small heavy skillet on stovetop over high heat. When very hot, add whole tomatoes. Pan roast the tomatoes until charred on all sides, then place in a food processor with the tomato sauce. Return skillet to heat and toast mustard and coriander seeds and crushed red pepper until they pop. Add seeds and flakes to food processor with a few pinches coarse salt. Pulse grind into a chunky chutney and transfer to a small bowl.

After removing chicken from grill, blister and warm the flat bread quickly. Set chicken onto a serving dish with a bowl of tomato chutney and serving spoon alongside. Pile chicken onto flat bread, topping with tomato chutney and shredded romaine.

30-Minute Meals 2: Ravioli Vegetable Lasagna

An interesting idea that works well: use pre-packaged fresh raviolis from the market as the pasta element in a quick lasagna.

Ray's note for the provenance of this idea says, "I met a real working mom on a set for a TV commercial who shared a cooking secret." Gosh, a real working mom! Wow! I hear those are scarce!

I know Ray is trying to say that the woman wasn't just an actor, but her phrasing makes her sound a bit out of touch with the vast majority of her readership. We work, we're moms...it's crazy but true.

Anyway...the recipe works well, after a bit of tweaking. The lasagna is quite rich, and it pairs nicely with the Romaine Hearts with Lemon Chive Vinaigrette salad. I made it with spinach-ricotta raviolis, but I think wild mushroom, or 4-cheese, as Ray recommends, would also work well.

Not noted in the recipe is that it's easier to layer larger raviolis. I got the biggest ones I could find in my grocery store, about 2 1/2 inches square. I'd avoid raviolis any smaller than that, as they would probably require a bit of fussing about with to layer properly.

The recipe calls for a 24 to 28-oz. package of fresh raviolis. In my local store, they're only sold in smaller packages, so I used three 9-oz. containers. I think I could have done with four 9-oz. packages, since I didn't get even coverage in a 9-by-13 inch Pyrex baking dish with only three packages of raviolis. I suggest using more pasta, or layering in a smaller dish, perhaps an 8- or 9-inch oval.

Ray calls for frozen spinach, but I used a 9-oz. bag of fresh spinach leaves and wilted them in the garlic oil. This worked well and eliminated the rather tedious draining-and-squeezing process that's necessary with frozen spinach. The recipe also calls for using quartered artichoke hearts, but these pieces were pretty big and didn't integrate well into the casserole. I recommend slicing the quarters into smaller pieces.

I've made a few changes to the preparation instructions. When the spinach and artichokes are removed from heat, they give off quite a bit of liquid. I recommend that you drain them off before layering into the dish, so as not to dilute the sauce. And Ray tells the cook to prepare the asparagus in a colander over the raviolis. Maybe you have a pot-and-colander setup that'll work this way, but I don't. I cooked the asparagus in a steamer basket by itself in a small saucepan. Ray has the cook assemble the lasagna and then broil it quickly to melt the cheese, but I found that the raviolis and vegetables had cooled too much during the assembly process -- they didn't get reheated enough under the broiler, so I recommend cooking for 5 to 10 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings, or more

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 cans (13 to 15 oz. each) quarted artichokes in water, drained well and sliced into smaller pieces
Salt and pepper

2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 cup cream or half-and-half
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper

1 package (24 to 28 oz.) fresh ravioli (or use three or four 9-oz. packages), such as wild mushroom, 4-cheese, or spinach-ricotta
1 pound thin asparagus spears, trimmed of tough ends and cut on an angle into 2-inch pieces
2 cups shredded Provolone or Italian 4-Cheese Blend

Bring a large pot of water to boil.

While water comes to a boil, heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and garlic and sauté 1 minute, then add spinach. Add artichokes and turn to combine and heat through. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat to a colander set over a bowl, to drain off excess liquid.

Place skillet back on heat and add butter. When melted, add flour and whisk for 1 minute. Whisk in stock and bring to a bubble. Whisk in cream and Parmigiano cheese, season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper, and thicken for about 2 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put about an inch of water in the bottom of a small saucepan and bring to a boil.

When water in large pot is boiling, add ravioli and cook about 4 to 5 minutes, or until just barely al dente, then drain. Do not boil too vigorously, as the ravioli will burst and lose their filling. When water in small saucepan is boiling, place asparagus into a steamer basket and cook in the small saucepan until tender, about 3 minutes. Remove asparagus and add to the spinach and artichokes.

To assemble lasagna: drizzle a small amount of olive oil in the bottom of a baking dish (medium oval size would work well). Arrange a layer of cooked ravioli, about 1/3 of the total, in the bottom of the dish. Layer half of the vegetables over the ravioli, then add a few ladles of sauce. Arrange another layer of ravioli over the first layer, then top with the rest of the vegetables. Add a couple more ladles of sauce. Layer the remaining ravioli over the top, pour remaining sauce over them, then cover with provolone or 4-cheese blend. Bake about 5 to 10 minutes, or until lasagna is heated through. Serve with Romaine Hearts with Lemon Chive Vinaigrette.

30-Minute Meals 2: Green Minestrone

An outstanding soup recipe, perhaps the best dish from Rachael Ray that I've tested yet. As she says in her note to the recipe, Minestrone is a BIG soup. Served with crusty bread, this one makes an excellent meal.

It's called "green" minestrone because unlike the usual tomato base for this classic Italian soup, this one is tomato-free. It's chock-full of green veggies, and they all meld together to make a really tasty, thick, hearty soup. I'm surprised Ray could resist the temptation to call it a "stoup."

Ray suggests that the minestrone could be made vegetarian by omitting the pancetta or prosciutto and using vegetable broth. I didn't try it this way, but I imagine that it might be somewhat less flavorful than the deliciously porky original recipe. If you're going to try it vegetarian-style, simmer a big piece of rind from a Parmigiano cheese wedge along with it, to add flavor.

The recipe as written calls for ditalini pasta, or mini penne. I substituted orzo, and it worked fine. Whatever small pasta you have available will work.

In one of her more unrealistic estimates, Ray says this recipe makes 4 servings. Not exactly. Even if everyone is starving, I think you'd be able to feed eight or more people with this recipe. When reheating leftovers, add a good-sized splash of chicken broth to each serving. The pasta will soak up the soup's liquid as it sits in the refrigerator, and the reheated soup will be really thick unless diluted a bit.

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 8 or more servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 slices pancetta or 1/4 pound thick-cut prosciutto, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 medium zucchini, diced
Salt and pepper
15-oz. can cannellini beans
15-oz. can garbanzo beans
8 cups chicken broth (2 1-quart containers)
1 cup ditalini, mini-penne, orzo, or other small pasta
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
10 oz. bag spinach, stems removed and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, shredded
12 to 16 leaves fresh basil, torn or shredded, OR 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add oil and pancetta or prosciutto. Sauté 2 minutes, then add onions, celery, garlic, bay leaf, and zucchini to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Sauté another 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add white beans, garbanzo beans, and chicken broth, cover, and bring to a boil. Add pasta and green beans and cook 8 minutes, or until pasta is just tender. Stir in spinach to wilt, 1 minute. Stir in grated cheese. Ladle soup into bowls and top with basil or parsley. Serve with crusty bread.

30-Minute Meals 2: Mexican Fiesta Salad

Don't let the weirdly anachronistic name fool you: this is a recipe for pico de gallo. It makes a lovely accompaniment to Rio Grande Spice Rub Strip Steaks.

I mean honestly. Mexican "Fiesta" Salad? It's something I'd expect out of a Good Housekeeping book from the 70s. These days, we're all familiar enough with Mexican food, I hope, that we don't have to give it jaunty names.

I've reworked the presentation, because I find Ray's instructions oddly fussy. She'd have you arrange wedges of avocados and tomatoes on a platter, top it with onion slices, and then sprinkle cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, and salt over the top. That may look pretty on a platter, but it's not the easiest thing to eat. I recommend that you chop everything into dice and mix it all together to make salsa. That way you can just put a spoonful on top of your steak. Olé!


Prep Time: 15 minutes
Yield: about 2 cups of salsa



Avocado Pico de Gallo (revised version)

2 ripe avocados
3 vine-ripe tomatoes
1/2 sweet onion
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
2 limes, halved
Coarse salt (such as kosher)
Olive oil, for drizzling

Chop avocados, tomatoes, and onions into small dice. Combine in a bowl with the cilantro. Squeeze lime halves over the salsa. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over the top. Gently mix together. Serve with Rio Grande Spice Rub Strip Steaks.




Mexican Fiesta Salad (from 30-Minute Meals 2)

2 ripe avocados
3 vine-ripe tomatoes
1/2 sweet onion, sliced
Chopped cilantro (about 2 Tbsp)
2 limes, halved
Coarse salt
Olive oil, for drizzling

Cut avocados in half, working around the pit. Separate the 2 halves. Remove pit and carefully scoop out avocado halves with a spoon. Cut avocados into wedges and pile in the center of a large platter. Seed and wedge tomatoes and arrange around the avocados. Arrange sliced onion over platter and sprinkle all with cilantro. Squeeze the juice of 2 limes evenly over vegetables. Season with coarse salt, drizzle with oil and serve.

30-Minute Meals 2: Cracked Corn and Cheese Squares

A quick and easy way to dress up boxed cornbread mix.

These are very simple to throw together. The only change I recommend is to shred the cheese, rather than to cut it into 1/4 inch dice, as the original recipe calls for. It makes for a smoother cornbread that way. The chunks of cheese were a bit too big.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: approx. 20 minutes
Yield: one 8-inch pan (16 small squares)

1 package (8.5 oz) corn muffin mix
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
Softened butter, to grease baking dish (or spray with nonstick cooking spray)
1/3 pound Monterey Jack or pepper Jack cheese, cut into 1/4 inch dice, or shredded
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
1 scallion, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish with butter, or spray it with nonstick spray. In a mixing bowl, prepare corn muffin mix according to package directions. Stir in cheese, corn kernels, and scallions. Pour batter into baking dish and bake until golden, 18 to 25 minutes. Serve with Rio Grande Spice Rub Strip Steaks and Mexican Fiesta Salad.

30-Minute Meals 2: Rio Grande Spice Rub Strip Steaks

A Southwestern-style spice rub adds nice flavor to this simple steak recipe.

Not much can go wrong here: add spices, throw the meat on the grill, and you've got dinner. The 30-Minute Meals 2 menu format serves this recipe with Cracked Corn and Cheese Squares and Mexican Fiesta Salad. Both are good accompaniments.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

4 sirloin strip steaks, 1-inch thick (8 to 10 ounces each)
1 1/2 Tbsp ground ancho chili or dark chili powder
1 1/2 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 large red onion, cut into thick slices
Olive oil or vegetable oil, for the onion
salt and pepper

Remove steaks from refrigerator and let them rest for a few minutes to take the chill off.

Preheat grill pan or outdoor grill to high heat. Combine spice rub ingredients in a small bowl. Rub well into steaks.

Coat red onion slices in a drizzle of oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Grill steaks and onion slices, 5 minutes on each side (this will produce medium-rare steaks; cook 3 to 4 minutes for rare, 7 to 8 minutes for medium). Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes. Season with salt. Top with slices of grilled onions. Serve with Cracked Corn Squares and Mexican Fiesta Salad.

September 27, 2005

Rachael Ray: 30-Minute Get Real Meals

book_ray_30minute_dish.jpg

All Aboard the Low-Carb Gravy Train

I have a confession to make: I've never seen Rachael Ray on TV. I know she's a popular Food Network personality. And she's a prolific cookbook author; at least ten different titles on Amazon, along with coasters, recipe cards, magnetic note pads, and journals. When I saw 30-Minute Get Real Meals at Target, I decided to choose it for my maiden voyage into critiquing waters, since it was sure to be a popular book, and it might even be good!

What I didn't realize when I casually tossed the book into my cart is that 30-Minute Get Real Meals is Rachael Ray's attempt at a low-carb cookbook. Another confession: I think the low-carb thing is a fad, and from where I'm sitting, it's already on its way out. This book looks to me like an attempt to get on the low-carb train while the getting is good. Which, hey, can't fault her for it too much. Grab the market share while you can. But this book seems to be very liberal with its definition of what "low-carb" means.

The recipes in 30-Minute Get Real Meals are meat-intensive, which is to be expected in a low-carb cookbook. But 8 ounces of meat per serving seems excessive to me, especially when the recipes also call for lashings of olive oil, butter, heavy cream, and cheese. And Ray's attempts to add a little bit of pasta to recipes which would normally be pasta-based (for example, Bucatini with Sausage, Peppers, and Onions) don't work. Too much sausage, not enough bucatini. The end result is unsatisfying, and I have a sneaking suspicion that it doesn't really meet the standards for a true low-carb diet, either.

The cookbook seems to have been thrown together quickly, since it has many instances of poorly-thought-out instructions, typos, and vague ingredient amounts. I don't think low-carb cookery is Ray's oeuvre, and this cookbook is less of a heartfelt endorsement of the low-carb lifestyle than it is an attempt to get a seat on the bandwagon before it rolls out of town. When Ray is cooking dishes that are more in her element, such as the delicious Grilled Tomato Stoup, the recipes work. But the low-carb elements of the book are half-baked. Tread with caution when cooking from 30-Minute Get Real Meals. And if you're truly looking for low-carb recipes, you'd do better to look elsewhere.

One last note: the "30 Minute" rubric is Rachael Ray's trademark, but I found that it was a stretch when applied to many of the recipes that I tested in this book. I'm fairly efficient in the kitchen, and I have decent knife skills, but I'm not Jacques Pépin. Some recipes took 30 minutes, but others took closer to an hour. Time estimates are noted at the top of each recipe.

 

 

 

©2005 Colleen Flippo. All rights reserved. Contact the author.