Calcutta Kitchen - Indian Series: Curry, Carrots, Cucumber

Mmm just thinking about this meal makes my mouth water! I realize some people have an aversion to Indian cuisine, but there was nothing but love, for the aroma of spices and flavors, in my kitchen Thursday night. Milena and I split the menu this week - Milena picked the recipe and purchased the groceries for our main course: Fish Curry. I took care of the side dishes: Curried Carrots and Mango and Cucumber Raita.

We also split the cooking duties. Milena manned the curry paste and fish while i managed the sides. Our timing worked out well and we finished our dishes in sync. (Secret - I had to get a head start on the Cucumber Raita before Milena arrived because it is best when chilled for at least an hour.)The fish curry recipe was adapted from Milena's cookbook "Calcutta Kitchen" while the side recipes can be found online at Kayotic Kitchen (great Dutch girl blogger) and
I cannot explain in words how well each element complimented the others. What started as a random selection of uncharted dishes, evolved into a wonderfully successful Indian fare. The cucumber raita served as a cooling balance for our intense and spicy fish curry. The carrots and mango added the perfect amount of sweetness to the other savory elements. Mmm... I might have to make this meal every week?!

Disclaimer: I really wish I had better photos of this meal (especially the fish curry) but the kitchen was a bit chaotic during the cooking process and honestly we could hardly stand to wait and eat once it was ready. Picture taking was beat by hunger on the priority list.

Mexican Rice and the Ultimate Side Salad

It was about time that I used the only two canned products I had in my cabinet. Although it is rare, there are some vegetables you just have to buy in the can. Especially for this delicious Mexican rice. It called for a can of diced tomatoes and black beans. I was careful to drain and rinse the black beans thoroughly and I used diced tomatoes with green chilies (because I always like the extra heat) and sieved the tomato juice from the diced tomato and chili pieces.
Side note: This dish is great for leftovers - in fact I am still working on them! Also, I like to top the rice with sour cream and avocado as a "cooling element." Yum :)

I used a recipe adapted by
* 1 cup of white rice
* 2 cups of water
* 1 15 oz can of diced tomatoes
* 1-2 tsp olive oil
* 5-6 cloves of garlic, chopped
* 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped finely
* 1 15 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
* 2 tsp ground cumin
* 1 tsp chili powder
* 1/2 tsp oregano
* Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
* 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped finely

Bring the water to boil in a large sauce pan over medium high heat, add the rice, cover with lid and simmer on low for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for another 5 minutes.
While the rice steams, set a fine sieve in a large measuring cup and drain the tomatoes. Add enough water to the tomato juice to equal 1 cup. Chop the tomatoes very finely.
Heat the olive oil a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and jalapeno to the skillet and sauté for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the black beans, cumin, chili powder, oregano, sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste. Stir in the tomato juice mixture and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans absorb much of the liquid, 5-7 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cilantro and cooked rice then cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is warm, 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately. Enjoy.
I must give credit to Ms. Bonnie - and Lance I suppose ;) - for introducing me to this delicious, fresh salad. Cucumber + Avocado + Tomato = perfect vegetable (fruit) trio! I haven't quite mastered the dressing but I know it consists of extra-virgin olive oil, freshly cracked Italian herbs seasoning, fresh basil, salt and pepper, and maybe some balsamic vinegar? Nevertheless, you simply cube the three main ingredients and drizzle them lightly with the dressing and basil. The ultimate side salad.

Grass, greens, granola! Signs of Spring

Yesterday was a good day. After my 3 hour environmental geology lab, I had the rest of the day for myself! I started by purchasing new adiZero® Tempo running shoes. For all you runners, I have to admit I was shocked that I didn't walk out of the store with my usual pair of Asics (DS-trainers). The Adidas fit so perfectly, I literally walked out of the store wearing them and went straight to the lake/park to run! P.S. there are SO many great spots for running in downtown Charleston. The lake's circumference is = to about 2 laps around a track, perfect place to run a couple miles. Cool note: There were about 12 RVs stationed around the lake with security and police paroling the area for a movie being shot here in Charleston! Who knows what it will be?
Now to the food. I have to admit, last night's meal was one of my favorites! To no surprise, I got the recipe from my first foodie crush, Donald Skehan's blog. He and I must be on the same wave-length, because we both decided its time for Spring which means bold, crisp, and hearty salads! So for dinner last night and lunch today I enjoyed Skehan's recipe for "Rocket Power Chicken Superfood Salad." I left out a few of the different bean sprouts but for the most part did everything according to recipe. Oh, and the dressing rocks on this salad!
Serves 2
1/2 cup bulgar wheat
3/4 cup boiling water
A drizzle of olive oil
2 chicken breasts
A little black pepper
3/4 cup brocco shoots (I used alfalfa sprouts)
1/2 cup bean shoots (optional)
3/4 cup soy beans (edamame cooked and cooled and shelled)
1/2 cup spinach leaves
1/2 cup rocket leaves (I used fresh spring mix)

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of natural greek yogurt
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of English dried mustard
A good pinch of sea salt and black pepper

Place the bulgar wheat in a bowl with the boiling water and cover with cling film. The bulgar wheat will cook in the water while you can get on with the rest of the salad.
Season the chicken breasts with a little black pepper, brush a griddle pan with a little olive oil and cook over a medium high heat for 4-5 minutes either side or until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken and slice thinly.
While the chicken is cooking, cook the soy beans according to the packet, drain and rinse in cold water, set aside.
Whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together in a small bowl.
In a large bowl toss the spinach, spring mix, alfalfa sprouts, bean sprouts, and soy beans with the dressing.
Assemble the salad with a layer of bulgar wheat on each plate, top with the salad leaves and sprouts and finally place the chicken slices on top and serve!

Mmm Homemade "Grain-ola" adapted from a recipe in Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson
*Important notes about homemade granola:
Only use RAW ingredients - ie. raw nuts and seeds.
Roasted nuts will make your granola taste burnt
Coconut oil adds a nice flavor to granola and for sweetener I used a combo of wild flower honey and light agave nectar :)
Granola is EASY! Add any variety of dried fruits, nuts, seeds, oats, coconut flakes and zests.
Swanson notes,"Although we think of granola as health food, many of the versions currently available are made with highly processed oils and refined sweeteners. This granola, a favorite of mine, is a mix of honey- and citrus-kissed oats toasted until golden and then tossed with a colorful selection of dried tropical fruits. It keeps well stored in a glass jar and makes a great housewarming gift. Serve with creamy, cultured yogurt and fresh fruit for a perfect pairing."
2 cups old-fashioned or quick-cooking rolled oats
1/4 cup unsalted raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup unsalted raw pumpkin seeds (my favorite)
1/2 cup raw cashew and/or almond nuts, chopped into halves or quarters
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (optional)
1 cup assorted unsulfured dried fruits (I used dried cranberries, raisins, apricots, and blueberries), chopped
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 Tsp ground cinnamon
6 Tbsp raw mild-flavored honey (or agave nectar syrup)
4 Tbsp coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
1. Preheat the oven to 300°F and set aside 1 rimmed baking sheet.

2. Combine the oats, seeds, nuts, coconut, dried fruits, and zest in a large bowl. Heat the honey and coconut oil in a small saucepan over low heat, whisk to thoroughly combine, then pour over the oat mixture and stir until everything is well coated.

3. Divide the mixture between the baking sheets and spread into a thin layer. Bake, stirring every 10 minutes, for about 30-40 minutes, until toasty golden brown. Cool completely, then store in an airtight container at room temperature.

10k Training Begins...

Sunny day + clear skies + bearable temperatures = first Saturday run on the Arthur Ravanel Bridge in Charleston.

After asking a fellow runner some questions and researching the bridge after my run, I learned that the Ravanel bridge is roughly 4 km long (8 km there and back or 5 miles). The bridge itself is a beauty, but the sights of the ships in port and river underneath your feet is what makes this bridge run incredible. The wind was strong and cool on the top of the bridge but the 60 degree temperatures and warm sun kept me moving. It seemed like everyone in the city made the bridge trek this morning: cyclists, leisure bikers, dads running with the "sport stroller" and baby on board, tourists and families taking pictures, couples walking, runners, and joggers.

So after this successful run, I decided to set a goal for myself: train for and compete in the Cooper Bridge 10k Run on March 27. I usually run 5k races but I am excited about the challenge of a 10k. 35 days to prepare!

Visitor in the Kitchen - Meal 2: Fish Tacos with Mango Pico De Gallo

This was actually our last meal together. I am skipping the Otsu Noodle dinner and Tam's Noodles (Beef and Bok Choy stir-fry) because the photos are sub-par and the recipes need some work.

Instead, I'm choosing to focus on our delicious Fish Tacos! We went all out: fresh grilled tilapia, homemade cabbage slaw and mango Pico de Gallo, and some sliced avocado on the side. All four elements made for a mouth-watering feast (fiesta in my mouth).
In Mexican cuisine, Pico de gallo (Spanish for "rooster's beak") is a fresh uncooked condiment made from chopped tomato, onion, and sometimes chiles. Other ingredients may also be added, such as lemon or lime juice, fresh cilantro and fresh firm pulpy fruit such as mango.
Source: Wikipedia
I've put together all the recipes with pictures from our dinner below (click on image to enlarge/print):
Fish tacos and cabbage slaw = Williams Sonoma Cookbook Eat Well (from Grace)
Mango Pico de Gallo = Savory Sweet Life

Visitor in the Kitchen - Meal 1: Naan Bread Pizzas

Lance came to visit me here in Charleston last week. His timing was perfect! We got to celebrate both of our birthdays (Feb. 4 and Feb. 9), Chinese New Years, Valentines Day, and Mardi Gras. Ok... so we didn't exactly celebrate any of these holidays in the traditional sense, but we did commemorate each day in the form of food! Lance is awesome in the kitchen, but even better at picking the meals. Lucky for him, they were almost all delicious! (I say almost because Lance and I both agreed that our Otsu noodle dish was far too bland for our liking.)

The first night he arrived, we went out to eat - I wanted to treat him to dinner for his birthday. So we walked a block from my apartment and ended up at the King Street Grille (half-off burgers on Wednesdays). Great dinner together :)

The second night we were in the kitchen. Of course, we started our culinary adventures with my ultimate favorite go-to dinner: Naan Bread Pizzas

These pizzas NEVER fail and the options for toppings and flavor are endless. The key ingredient though, is the fresh-made wholewheat Naan breads (used instead of a traditional pizza crust).

Lance of course added toppings to my standard pizza - shrimp and feta cheese. We also enhanced the standard by caramelizing the onions and mushrooms for the first layer. Simply delicious!

... never ending Birthday

Once again, I cannot thank my friends enough for thinking of me on my birthday and spoiling me with beautiful gifts. I felt like I got to re-celebrate my birthday all over again on Monday when I received 3 packages:

Sarah - Art! She sent me the most interesting print by my favorite artist, Gustav Klimt. It is a print of his piece "Water Snakes" or "Friends II." I fell in love with Klimt's style and art after being introduced to his painting Dur Kuss ("The Kiss"). I only have a modern print of this piece that I got at the market in Cambodia a few summers ago. Thanks to Sarah's gift I am re-inspired by Klimt's work.
Water Snakes II

The Kiss

Lance - Roses! A dozen+++ red roses with handmade cypress flower stand :)

Grace - Perfect Williams Sonoma Cookbook! 300 pages of delicious, fresh and easy recipes.

Almond Crusted Chicken Strips

This recipe has been patiently waiting to be tried in my "test kitchen" for almost six months now! I saved this recipe (roughly six months ago) on my computer after seeing it on the blog, Family Fresh Cooking. It wasn't until I found reasonably priced, raw almonds at Earth Fare a couple weeks ago that I remembered how much I wanted to try this healthy, easy chicken dinner! I had just enough chicken strips in my freezer to make this recipe worth my time and now I had the missing ingredient: raw almonds.

Results: Very good, lighter version of breaded chicken strips (next time I will add more salt and spices - heat!) Also the strips tasted delicious dipped in bbq sauce (or ketchup.)

Aubergine Coconut Curry with Lemongrass

Maybe its nostalgia for my days in Singapore, or maybe its just my craving for exotic flavors, but I have been on quite a South East Asian cooking kick. On my latest grocery trip I picked up the key ingredients for some of my favorite Asian dishes: coconut milk, lemongrass, red chillies, fresh ginger root, and curry powder (more complex flavor than turmeric). So tonight I experimented with these flavors by adapting a recipe from BBC's Good Food for Aubergine curry with lemongrass and coconut milk.
I used curry powder instead of turmeric. Also, this recipe calls for a food processor (which I don't have but need) to puree the first four ingredients. Instead, I finely chopped these ingredients. I actually liked the added texture of my "paste" and the exposure of flavors.

* 3 large red chillies , deseeded and stalks removed, chopped (I used Sriracha chili sauce)
* 6 garlic cloves , roughly chopped
* knob of fresh ginger , peeled and chopped
* 2 lemon grass stalks, trimmed and chopped
* 2 tbsp ground turmeric (I used curry powder)
* 1 tsp chilli powder
* 2-3 aubergines (about 600g/1lb 5oz), quartered lengthways, then halved
* 1 tbsp olive oil
* 1 tbsp sugar (I used Agave nectar)
* 6 shallots , finely chopped (or scallions)
* 1 tbsp Thai fish sauce (nam pla) (or soy sauce)
* 400ml can coconut milk
* 400ml vegetable stock or water
* small bunch coriander , roughly chopped, to serve

1. Finely chop/mince the chillies, garlic, ginger and lemongrass to a coarse paste. Set aside. Mix the curry (or turmeric) and chilli powder together and rub it all over the aubergine (eggplant) wedges.
2. Heat the olive oil in frying pan, then brown the aubergines, remove from the pan and set aside. Cook the paste, sugar and shallots for a few mins, then return the aubergines to the pan. Add the fish (or soy) sauce, coconut milk and stock or water, mix well, and bring the liquid to the boil. Reduce the heat and cook gently until the aubergine is tender, but not mushy, about 15 mins. Season to taste and sprinkle the coriander over the top.
I plated my curry with a fresh herb quinoa I made earlier today. The flavors married each other and I was very pleased with the balance between hot, spicy (rich) curry next to the chilled and mild grain.

Best Birthday, Best Friends, Celebrating 20

I have been so blessed in my 20 years of life and am so thankful to my family and friends for making my birthday so special. Each one of my friends is a gift in my life... I guess I don't thank them enough because they all felt the need to shower me with gifts and goodies for my birthday!

My mouth is watering just typing about this cake. Words cannot describe the richness and deliciousness of this Chocolate Mousse Torte Cake that I received this morning from my two best friends Whitley and John :) I'm not sure what a girl is supposed to do with a huge cake like this... eat it all for herself? Yes! I am embarrassed to show the aftermath of this cake after the packaging came off. I am trying my hardest to save enough to share with my roommates and friends here in Charleston because this cake is too good to be kept a secret!! Thank you Whitley and John for knowing me SO well and spoiling me with this decadent treat on my birthday!

Mmmm cake number two! A Meche's King Cake sent from home and delivered on my birthday! Once again I have been completely spoiled by my loving Mother who sent me a box full of special gifts, including this Mardi Gras cake.

I met up with my three of my friends here in Charleston (Milena, Hilary and Kathi) for a birthday lunch at WOK (World Oriental Kitchen). It is a new a la carte Asian restaurant on King Street. My friends were so good to me: Milena paid for my meal, Hilary brought me a card, and Kathi brought me a bag of Lindt Lindor Truffles!

Along with my cake from Louisiana, my mom ordered me my first real cookbook!

Walking Earthquake Tour - Downtown Charleston