Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Chicken Biryani and Mango Bread Pudding

America's Test Chicken consists of two separate chickens, each with her own take on this cooking thing. Check out Chicken One's related blog, A Travel for Taste where she shares travel stories and recipes collected whenever she ventures abroad. And give Chicken Two's very relevant blog, Poop from the Coop, a read. There you can find stories about her personal adventure re-experiencing the kitchen after many years away. Please join our Facebook group to share your own recipes, kitchen practices and know-how. We are also on Pinterest and Instagram.
The complete recipes appear at the end of this post. 

From Chicken One:
Chicken Biryani from Ambur in Southern India

This recipe is from one of my favorite Indian food blogs, Indian Kitchen. I've learned so much from the author, Preeti Tamilarasan, and will try to pass along what I've learned here.

The dish this time is biryani, variably spelled biriyani. It's a spicy (of course) meat and rice dish and could easily be confused with curry. I think the difference is that, for biryani, the rice is cooked with the meat and spices instead of being served along with them.

Biryani is made with what is called a "dum" process. Basically, it's layering the meat and spice mixture with partially cooked rice in a tightly covered pan for the final cooking stage. This effectively steams the rice done and allows the flavors to marry and permeate the rice.

Another thing about this recipe is that (it seems to me) many Indian recipes call for, or mention as optional, adding food coloring. It's true for many tandoori recipes and also for this one. I don't like to add colors, but maybe it's a characteristic of the cuisine to do so. In my opinion, turmeric is enough food coloring!

One more note: this recipe (and many of Preeti's recipes) call for ginger-garlic paste. It's simply equal measures of fresh garlic and ginger all mashed together with a little olive oil to form a paste. I make my own, though I've seen it at the Indian market for sale in jars.

As is typical for Indian cuisine, this recipe starts with infusing some hot oil with a few spices before adding anything else to the pan:

There are a lot of different spices in this dish, as well as chicken, onions, tomatoes, mint and cilantro. The chicken is cooked with some of the spices first, then the rest of the ingredients are added:
This is known as a chicken masala (="mixture"). It's set aside while you partially cook some basmati rice. And here is where the one SCAFU (Situation Chicken All Fowled Up) occurred. I overcooked the rice, which resulted in the biryani being kind of mushy. But the taste was there and I'll know better next time.

Just cook the rice barely halfway so it's still crunchy and remove from the heat. Then layer the masala with the rice in the original masala pan, cover tightly and cook on low for about 30 minutes.
 At the end, stir it all up together and serve hot.
Preeti's instructions state you can pressure cook this recipe. She writes this intriguing note at the end: "Pressure cook for 2 whistles and serve hot."

What? I've used pressure cookers but had no idea what that meant! With some internet sleuthing, I found a comment in a forum. It said pressure cook three minutes for every whistle the recipe calls for. 

Well, that was helpful, but I still needed more info. If you're interested in a full explanation about whistling pressure cookers in India, click here. I love the 'net!

From Chicken Two:
Mango Bread Pudding with Chai Spices
Well, what's a great dinner without a tasty desert?

I got this recipe from Indian Cooking Unfolded by Raghavan Iyer, my go-to cookbook for all things Indian.

If you're a beginner like me, I highly recommend it. 

This recipe combines an old comfort food, bread pudding, with wonderful chai spices and fresh fruit.
I used a day old french baguette.
Fresh mangoes, cubed.
I used a coffee grinder for the spices (not the same one I use for coffee). Be sure to grind to a fine consistency or you will be picking spices out of your teeth! Been there, done that!

Ok, I confess....I made this recipe twice before I got it right. My mangoes were super ripe and super juicy so the consistency was too moist even though I allotted extra baking time. The second time I used not-so-ripe mangoes and it was fine. If you can only get ripe ones, cut back on the milk a little. And grind, grind, grind those spices! I had chunks of peppercorn between my teeth the first time. This was definitely worth remaking to get it right! It was yummy! Give it a try!
Happy cooking!

Chicken Biryani from Ambur (South India)

  • 10 ounces chicken, cubed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 to 3 bay leaves
  • 2 green cardamom pods
  • 2 tablespoons ginger-garlic paste
  • 1 cup plain yogurt, whisked
  • salt to taste (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 3 medium onions, chopped fine
  • 1 to 2 green chilis (serrano or jalepeno), chopped
  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped fine
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves, moderately packed
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 9 cups water
  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Cooking Directions
  1. For the chicken masala:
  2. Marinate chicken turmeric for 10 minutes.
  3. Heat oil in a heavy pan large enough to hold the chicken mixture and the cooked rice. Infuse the oil by adding cloves, cinnamon, star anise, bay leaf and cardamom. Cook for a minute or two.
  4. Add ginger-garlic paste and saute til hot through. Add 1 tablespoon yogurt and cook for a minute on low.
  5. Add marinated chicken and about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, covered, on low for 10 minutes.
  6. Add chopped onions and green chilies. Cook for a minute.
  7. Add chopped tomatoes and mash the pulp. Cook for a minute.
  8. Add mint and cilantro. Saute for 2 minutes. Add cayenne, coriander powder and remaining yogurt.
  9. Mix well everything and let it cook for another 5 minutes.
  10. Remove from the heat and transfer this masala to another bowl. Set aside.
  11. For the rice :
  12. Soak rice for 20 minutes, drain and rinse.
  13. Boil 9 cups water in a large saucepan. Once it starts boiling, add rice.
  14. Add salt to taste, about 2 teaspoons, and sprinkle with lemon juice.
  15. Cook, uncovered,on medium-low til half cooked (about 6 to 10 minutes). The grains will be long & firm but not hard. And the grains will be separate.
  16. Remove from the heat and drain the water completely. Set aside.
  17. For the dum process:
  18. In the same pan in which you cooked the chicken masala, pour a ladle full of masala to the pan and spread to cover the bottom.
  19. Spread a layer of rice to cover the chicken.
  20. Continue layering chicken masala with rice until you use up the ingredients. End with a layer of rice.
  21. Cook, tightly covered (use aluminum foil if you need to), over a low flame for 20 to 30 minutes.
  22. Remove from heat just before serving.
  23. Mix everything well and serve hot.

Mango Bread Pudding with Chai Spices

  • nonfat cooking spray
  • 4 cups stale bread, cubed
  • 2 large ripe mangoes, cubed - about 4 cups
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • 1 piece cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 large egg whites, slightly beaten
  • 12 cup tightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • whipped cream - optional

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 F. Lightly spray a 9 inch square baking dish with cooking spray.
2. Pile the bread and mango cubes into the baking dish, distributing them evenly.

3. Grind peppercorns, cloves, cardamom seeds, and cinnamon stick to  the consistency of finely ground pepper.

4. Place the milk, egg whites, brown sugar, vanilla and freshly ground spices in a medium size bowl ans whisk to mix. Pour over the bread and mangoes and allow to sit for about 5 minutes to get thoroughly soaked.

5. Bake the pudding, uncovered, until it appears to have set and an inserted knife comes out clean - about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

6. Serve warm with whipped cream, if desired. It was wonderfully sweet and spicy, so I chose not to use the topping.
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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Samosas Two Ways

America's Test Chicken consists of two separate chickens, each with her own take on this cooking thing. Check out Chicken One's related blog, A Travel for Taste where she shares travel stories and recipes collected whenever she ventures abroad. And give Chicken Two's new, also-related blog, Poop from the Coop a read. There you can find stories about her personal adventure re-experiencing the kitchen after many years away. Please join our Facebook group to share your own recipes, kitchen practices and know-how. We are also on Pinterest and Instagram.
The complete recipes appear at the end of this post. 

From Chicken One:
Punjabi Potato Samosa (Aloo Samosa)

So the bitter gourd dish was a real SCAFU (Situation Chicken All Fowled Up) - ok, it wasn't really a SCAFU, but no one liked the end product, including the cook! However, I had other-end-of-the-spectrum, brilliant success with this dish: samosas.

Samosas are pockets of fried dough with filling, something every culture has in one form or another. Although India claims the samosa as its own, the original samosa came from Central Asia, home of today's Kazakhstan and all those other -stans.

And it's an old recipe. A ninth-century Iraqi poet even wrote a verse about it. The samosa is delicious freshly made or left-over, which means it travels well. They are served with a chutney or sauce.

I got my recipe from and you can find my slightly tweaked version below. I also got some excellent advice from

The pockets are made in four stages: filling, dough, assembly and frying. Learning to make the triangular samosas was fun, especially with the advice of this guy, who I barely understood but learned a lot from anyway! A happier cook you will not find!

This recipe is for Punjabi samosas, which means a spiced potato filling, but the variations on fillings are endless. You can spice them up or down, add raisins and cashews, make a meat filling - really anything you can come up with is fine. Here's my filling:
My cone:
And all my little dumplings (they made me think of garden gnomes):
I'm so proud of myself because I am not well-versed in frying. However, with enough homework beforehand, I think my friend samosas turned out rather well!
And they were delicious! I have plenty more internet links for resources plus a whole lot more photos. If you want to make these, let me know and I'll be happy to send all of them along!
From Chicken Two: 
Spinach Phyllo Samosas

This was a fun one for me because, in my travels, I've eaten many versions. This particular version, which I found in Raghavan Iyer's Indian Cooking Unfolded, is definitely going to be my favorite. I think it's a simpler recipe than most, using store bought frozen phyllo sheets, and is baked instead of deep fried. 

For my filling, I used paneer (whole milk cheese) that Chicken #1 made, and spinach that I made. Just kidding! 
Here's the paneer.

This is a great recipe if you like origami since it's all about how you fold the phyllo. You start by cutting the sheet into four equal strips. 
After you add a heaping spoonful of filling, fold the dough over the filling forming a triangle.
 Maintain a triangle folding over itself and mimic a classic flag fold.
 Tah Dah! Aren't they pretty after they're baked?

Both types of samosas (Chicken #1 and mine) turned out pretty yummy. I'd definitely make them again. 

I made a Tamarind Date Chutney to dip these in, which turned out pretty good, if I say so myself. I will be happy to share that recipe if you want it. Just drop us a line here and I will be happy to forward it.


Potato-pea Samosas (Aloo Samosa)
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon dried pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 5 medium potatoes, boiled
  • 4 tablespoons + 2 1/2 teaspoons cooking oil + more for frying
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon chopped serrano chili
  • 3/4 cup green peas, boiled
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon mango powder or lemon zest
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon garam masala
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
  • water
Cooking Directions
  1. For the filling: Toast coriander seeds, pomegranate seeds and 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds in a hot skillet for about 45 seconds. Crush coarsely in mortar and pestle.
  2. Peel and smash potatoes roughly; you don't want a mash.
  3. Heat 4 tablespoons of the oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds. When cumin becomes golden after about a minute or so, add ginger, serranos and boiled peas and saute for 1 minute.
  4. Now add cayenne, ground coriander, mango powder/lemon zest and salt to taste. Stir to mix.
  5. Add smashed potatoes, the toasted and crushed spice mix and garam masala. Saute for 2 minutes on medium heat.
  6. Place in bowl and stir in fresh chopped cilantro. Set aside.
  7. For the dough: In a large bowl, combine flour, cardamom and salt to taste.
  8. Add the remaining 2 1/2 teaspoons of the cooking oil and rub it into the flour with your fingers. Add lemon juice and mix again.
  9. Add enough cold water to make a stiff dough like pie crust dough. Cover with plastic wrap and rest 1 to 2 hours.
  10. For the samosas: Knead rested dough until smooth and slightly elastic. Make 8 equal-sized balls from the dough and keep them covered with a moist cloth. Make more or fewer dough balls for smaller or larger samosas, respectively.
  11. Roll out a dough ball to make a disc about 7 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch thick.
  12. With a sharp knife, cut the disc in half.
  13. Using your finger dipped in clean, cold water, "paint" the water around the curved edge of one half-disc. Fold the disc in a cone shape with a fold on one side.
  14. Hold the cone in one hand and stuff 3/4 full with filling.
  15. "Paint the rim of the cone with water with your fingertip and press the sides together to close it completely, squeezing out any excess air from inside. Be sure to seal the samosa well so it doesn't come open while frying and ruin your oil.
  16. Repeat with all dough balls. Assembled, uncooked samosas will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days sealed in plastic wrap. Allow them to come to room temperature before cooking.
  17. In a large, deep skillet, heat about 2 inches of cooking oil over low to medium-low heat. Using higher heat will make the samosas look right, but the dough will be wet and underdone inside.
  18. Add several samosas to the oil and fry until golden on one side. Turn over and fry til golden on the other side. Do not crowd the pan and do not fry on high heat.
  19. Drain on paper towels. Repeat frying until all samosas are done.
  20. Alternatively, you can bake samosas at 350 F for 30 to 35 minutes.
  21. Serve hot or cold with chutney or sauce.

Spinach Phyllo Samosas
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil + more for brushing
  • 1/2 large red onion, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 8 ounces baby spinach, stemmed and finely chopped
  • 1 cup shredded paneer or drained, extra-firm tofu
  • 2 serrano chilies, stemmed, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 pound (1 package) frozen phyllo sheets, thawed
Cooking Directions
  1. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and stir-fry for 2 minutes or until slightly brown. Stir in the spinach, paneer or tofu, chilies, salt, and garam masala. Stir-fry for 2 minutes or until the spinach wilts. Transfer to a colander and let the excess liquid drain.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Unfold the phyllo sheets; cover the stack with a clean, damp cloth. Carefully peel a sheet of the dough from the stack and place it on a cutting board with the longer length of the rectangular sheet facing you. Brush with oil. Repeat 3 more times so you end up with a stack of 4 sheets. Each time you unpeel a single sheet, recover the stack. Cut the 4-sheet stack crosswise into 4 short, equal strips.
  4. Working quickly with one strip at a time, with the smaller edge facing you, spoon a tablespoon of the spinach filling onto the center of the narrow end closest to you. Form a triangle by folding the lower left-hand corner of all 4 layers over the filling to the opposite side. Next fold it up on the diagonal to the right side, maintaining the triangular shape. Continue folding this way until you get to the end of the strip. You should have a neat-looking triangle. If you have an uneven lip at the end, brush that lip with oil and tuck it under. Set on the lined baking sheet. Continue filling and folding the other 3 strips. Repeat three more times with the remaining filling and strips to make 16.
  5. Bake the samosas for 25 to 30 minutes or until they are golden. Serve warm as is or with a dipping sauce such as mint or tamarind chutney.

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