Monday, March 1, 2010

Cooking Like a Man

Men possess an aversion to reading instructions. I'm not just pulling this statement out of thin air. I think it's a pretty well established fact. Just like women talk a lot and love to multi-task. It's the whole Mars vs. Venus thing going on. I've had many a fight with a male about stopping to ask for directions (or even using the GPS) when lost or referring to the enclosed diagram when trying to assemble the 1000 pieces of wood into a bed frame. For the most part, instructions and men are like oil and water. But every once in a while, I lose my mind in the kitchen and cook like a man.

That's right, I just launch into a recipe without reading it all the way through. I'm sautéeing and simmering and reading the recipe as I go — only to come to the horrifying realization 45 minutes into it that the dish takes 3 hours to cook! While this may not be a tragedy on a Sunday afternoon, this "oversight" seems to only occur on a Tuesday at 8:30 pm. And usually when I'm starving and under the assumption this is a recipe I can just "whip up." It's like when you have a tight flight connection. Murphy's Law: You land at Gate 8 with your connection taking off in approximately 22 minutes at Gate 79. If you've got a 2 hour layover, your next flight takes off from Gate 10. Oh the irony. . . .

Well, the last time this occurred, I thought I was going to be clever and use up some vegetables in my fridge that were on their last leg. I'd pulled a recipe for a chicken and squash curry that seemed like the perfect thing for a rainy night. I've made curries before and I thought they were pretty straight forward and pretty fast. As I found out, this was no quick-cooking curry. When I realized the "misunderstanding," I was too far gone and had to continue the recipe. But I did throw a frozen pizza in the over to eat for dinner that night. It gave me the strength I needed to finish the curry — at 11 pm.

Yes, I was mad at myself for pulling such a "man move" in the kitchen, but stopped berating myself the next day when I finally tasted the dish. It was the most satisfying and fragrant concoction I'd had in quite a while. So worth the wait! Maybe that's how men feel when they finally assemble the new bed frame — without the diagram — after 6 hours and scratches all over their arms and legs.

Chicken and Butternut Squash Curry
Adapted from Cooking Light

Although I know this would not qualify for a Rachel Ray 30-minute meal, it's so good I've made it a half dozen times in the past 2 months. It's my new favorite dish this winter. So hearty and healthy, not to mention a ridiculously delicious one-pot meal.

2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cup vertically sliced onion
1 1/2 tsp minced, peeled fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 14-oz can fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups cubed peeled butternut squash (or sweet potatoes)
1 cup chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 pound green beans, cut into 2-in pieces
1/2 cup frozen green peas
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Combine curry powder, coriander, turmeric, salt, black pepper, red pepper and bay leaf in a small bowl.
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan; saute 5 minutes or until chicken is browned, stirring occasionally. Remove chicken from pan and reduce heat to medium. Add onion to pan; cook 10 minutes until tender, stirring frequently. Increase heat to medium-high and return chicken to the pan. Cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally.
Stir in ginger and garlic, cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add curry powder mixture; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour.
Stir in squash and chickpeas. Cook uncovered for 25 minutes. Add green beans; cook 5 minutes. Add peas and cook 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice. Discard bay leaf. Serve over basmati or jasmine rice. Yield: 6 servings.

Note: Before you get scared off, this can be made quicker than you think. I've found parcooking the squash or potatoes in the microwave saves some time. Also, the ingredients are mainly cooked, so the cooking time is really about allowing the spices and flavors to meld. I know it calls for some non-everyday spices you may not have on hand, but I'd encourage you to invest in them. You'd be surprised how often you'll use them going forward. They have depth and complexity that gives dishes that special something. This recipe is also very flexible. You can use tofu instead of meat and vegetable broth instead of chicken broth if you want a vegetarian version. And it's a great way to use up your neglected veggies in your bin: zucchini, cauliflower, tomatoes, potatoes, etc.

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