Red Bean Curry Pie (similar to Rajma Masala)

Today is Pi day, and our contest required a pie that was not a standard dessert pie.  This is my imitation of Rajma Masala, stuffed under a puffed pastry shell.  Due to the stock I used, this is not a vegetarian dish like a standard Rajma Masala.  Apologies to my vegetarian coworkers, but I wanted some extra flavor.

I don't have as many pictures as normal, but I was in a hurry to get this thing done before the pie judging started.

Cooked pie

Collection of ingredients
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 inch piece of ginger, chopped
  • 2 spicy green peppers, seeded and chopped - I used serrano peppers.  If you need more spice, increase the red peppers, not the green ones, a bitter taste will develop.
  • a few dry red peppers - I used about 8 "Chile Pequin Entero" peppers (these are tiny) from the Latino section of the store
  • 3-5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 can diced tomatoes - 3-4 average chopped whole tomatoes could work
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp curry powder - use up to 1 1/2 tbsp if you like
  • 2 cups chicken stock (or water)
  • salt to taste (~1/2 tsp, more if not using stock)
  • 2 tbsp flour for thickening
  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed for about 30-40 minutes or until flexible.  This should still be cold just before cooking it
  • 1-2 tsp oil - I used olive oil
Chopped ginger and serrano peppers
Onions, garlic, ginger, coriander, peppers
  • Cook onion in oil until mostly soft (about 4 minutes).
  • Add coriander seeds, cook until fragrant (about 2 minutes).
  • Add garlic, ginger, and spicy peppers.  Cook for a few minutes.
  • Add cumin, garam masala, cumin.  Stir well.
  • Add beans, tomatoes, stock (or water).  Cook for about 5 minutes.
  • Mix flour equally with water to make a paste (prevents lumps), add to pot and cook for at least 5 minutes to break down the starches
  • Pour cooked mixture into pie pan
  • Top with puff pastry, slit top slightly (it will partially seal)
  • Place on cookie sheet to prevent drips.  I used foil, since that is all that will fit in the toaster oven.
  • Cook at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 minutes, rotating as needed for even browning.

What would I do differently?

  • This really could have used more beans and spicy peppers.  Since I already blew the vegetarian bit, I could have added a bit of chicken to it.

How did it do?  
  • Well, it didn't come in last, but nearly so.  Doesn't bother me one bit, since I cook food for myself, and this wasn't too bad.  Everyone else can just starve if they don't like it. ;)


Random Junk Soup (spicy version)

As everyone enters our break area, they ask "What are you cooking today?", or "What's on the menu?".  My answer today was "soup".  Of course, that drives the second question "What kind of soup?".  "Random Junk Soup" (a spicy version, and I have cooked quite a few others) is what it became.

Today's dish wasn't "nuker-based", as I am still playing with my induction cooker.

Soup ready to eat

Random ingredients.  I didn't use the corn.
Sweet peppers and cilantro
  • 1 chicken breast, cut up
  • 1 can kidney beans 
  • 1 can (14 oz) diced tomatoes;  again, I used half of a 28 oz can because it was cheaper.
  • a few spoons (about of a large can 1/8 can) tomato sauce
  • 3 chipotle peppers, chopped; mine were in adobo sauce, and there is never any reason to wash that tasty stuff off.
  • sweet peppers; I used had two small peppers
  • a few tablespoons cilantro
  • 2 tsp onion powder; 1/2 onion would have been good, but I didn't have one handy.
  • 1 tbsp caldo (use a bullion cube or stock/broth if that works for you)
  • whole grain rice; about 1/2 cup, and mine was a blend of "Texmati brown and red rice with barley and rye".  I used this so that the whole grains will somewhat explode when they are cooking in the soup
  • water to cook the rice; for the whole grain rice blend I used, it is about 2:1 for the water:rice ratio.
  • 1 cup water for hydrating the caldo
  • 1 tbsp butter for cooking the chicken; any random oil will work.
  • 1/2 tsp oregano

Cooked chicken with chopped chipotle peppers
  1. Partially (mostly) cook the rice.  For me, this was done in the microwave for about 6 minutes on high followed by 12 minutes on 40%.
  2. Cook the chicken in the butter
  3. Add the chipotle peppers and broth or caldo mixture, cook for a few minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes and tomato sauce
  5. Add the rice (including any remaining water that wasn't absorbed)
  6. Add the everything else except the cilantro/sweet peppers.
  7. Simmer for about 10 minutes on low -- this wasn't a microwave, so the times are longer and flavors can develop better.
  8. Add the cilantro and sweet peppers
  9. Let it cook for another 10 or so minutes.
  10. Serve while hot.
Chunky soup, nearly done

How was it?
With the 3 peppers, it came out nice and spicy with plenty of flavor.  The test victims did not complain one bit, even though it was a little spicy for most people.

What would I do differently next time?
I would probably add more cilantro just before it was done.  The two small sweet peppers I used were not quite enough, so I would probably add more.

Other Suggestions
Some sour cream with this would be very tasty.


Induction cookers are fun toys

I haven't posted any new recipes here, but I have been playing with a new toy for a little over a week.  I bought an induction cooker.
Cooking chicken

If you don't know what that is, it is like an electric unit that does not have a burner.  It does not get hot by itself but generates heat in any magnetic (ferrous) pans that you place on it.

Some more examples of what's been cooking around the office:

Grilled cheese
It does get really hot very quickly.  This is evident by the bottom of the once mirror-like pan, which has become permanently discolored.  I had to get this at just the right angle to show the heat rings:

No longer mirror-like


Chicken and peppers (Mediterranean inspired)

Another dish that shows some resemblance to other food from which it draws the basic inspiration.
Dish served with a spinach salad (somewhat Greek style) and crusty bread roll

Ingredients (not shown: caldo, sweet peppers)
  • 2 chicken breasts, sliced thinly
  • sweet peppers, seeded and sliced - I used 6 mini red, yellow, and orange peppers, but 2-3 medium bell peppers would do just fine
  • spicy peppers, seeded and sliced - I used 2 of "yellow peppers", which are fairly mild.
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4-5 green olives - mine were Spanish olives ("Queens") stuffed with pimiento 
  • tomato sauce - I used about 1/2 can that I had left over from a previous meal
  • 1-2 tsp olive oil (for cooking chicken)
  • 1/2 tsp marjoram
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup chicken broth (back to the "caldo" for me)

Sliced peppers and olives

Spinach salad with apples
Salad Ingredients
  • spinach (a few large handfuls)
  • 1/2 green apple, in chunks
  • 4-5 sliced olives
  • 1-2 tsp olive oil
  • 1-2 tsp vinegar - I used white wine vinegar
  • feta cheese - I used 3 large "crumbles" from a big block, which could have been about 1/4 cup
  • mint - about 1/4 tsp is all it took for it to show off the full flavor
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cooked chicken and onions

  • Cook meat with olive oil.  This took me about 9 minutes, with frequent stirring, at 60% power because the chicken was frozen.  I also used the dry caldo in with it as well.
  • Add the onions, cook until tender.  This was about 2 1/2 minutes on 60% power.
  • Add the remaining ingredients (tomato sauce, peppers, herbs, broth or water for broth).
  • Cook until hot.  This was about 4 minutes on high.  If you prefer your peppers in a softer form, cook them a little with the onions and chicken before adding the liquid ingredients.
How was it?
My test victim in the office seemed to like it. The very short list of herbs made for a simple sauce that soaked up tastily with the bread.  The spinach salad and crusty bread roll made a good accompaniment for a complete meal.

What should be done in a real kitchen?
A little sauce reduction would have helped in my case.  Slight browning of the chicken would have made things even tastier.  We'll see how things go next week when I start using the induction cooker I ordered for use here.

What would I do differently next time?
I would probably slice the hot peppers more thinly and add them with the onions.  The earlier you add them the hotter your dish will become.


Spicy Chicken With Garbanzo Beans (Indian Style)

Indian food is right up there with Thai on my list of favorites.  This dish is inspired by but not exactly Indian food.
Finished dish served with rice
Collection of ingredients (peppers not shown)
  • 2 chicken breasts, cut in quarters
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 inch piece of ginger, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 serrano pepper, chopped
  • 1 can (15 oz) garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • 1 can (14 oz) diced tomatoes (I used half of a 28 oz can because it was cheaper)
  • 1 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp curry powder -- make your own if you like.  It was easier for me to transport a single bottle of spice.
  • 1 tsp dried mint (fresh would be nice).  I found some fairly cheap spearmint in the Mexican section of the store (14 grams for $0.61).
  • 3 tbsp chopped cilantro, plus some for garnish
  • salt to taste (I used about 1/4 to 1/3 tsp)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt -- try an extra spoonful on top of each serving
  • rice -- see previous entries for cooking instructions

Onions, ginger, and garlic -- the holy trinity of Eastern cooking
  1. Add ginger, garlic, onion (the holy trinity), and butter to cooking bowl.
  2. Cover, cook about 4 minutes on medium (50%).
  3. Add chicken breasts, stir, cook 10 minutes on medium.
  4. Add everything except the yogurt and cilantro (beans, tomatoes, garam masala, curry powder, peppers, mint).
  5. Cook 8 to 10 minutes on medium.
  6. Add salt to taste.
  7. Add yogurt and cliantro.
  8. Garam Masala.  Good stuff.
  9. Cook 4 to 5 minutes on high. 
  10. Serve on rice, sprinkle with cilantro
How was it?
Today, it was flavorful, but not too spicy.  Another serrano pepper would have been good to add.

How much did it cost?
Today, it ran about $4.75, with the bulk of that being the chicken breast.  If you cook enough rice, it should easily feed four or five people.  I had 4 people from the office sample it, and with my two large servings only about half was used.  It will make some tasty leftovers.

What should be done in a real kitchen?
Lightly brown the meat for the nice Maillard reactions (carmelized sugaring).  This is really hard to do in a microwave.

Cook some naan.  Indian food is always better with naan.

Peppers and Cilantro
What would I do differently next time?
Save the yogurt until after the cooking.  It was tasty as I cooked it, but it would have been smoother (no lumping) if it was added just prior to serving.

Adding some red pepper would have been good for increasing the heat a little more without the slight bitterness of additional serrano peppers.

I probably would add more mint next time (when increasing the amount of spicy heat).  The cool flavor of mint and yogurt really balances out the heat of Indian food.

Cooked food, before adding yogurt and cilantro

Finished curry


(Something Resembling) Red Thai Chicken Curry

Mmm.  Thai food must be one of the world's greatest inventions.  Today was a "cook some curry at work" day for my lunch.
Finished curry with rice

Before listing these, I should note that I do not like measuring things properly.  As such, most of these numbers are estimates based on what I happened to dump into the cooking bowls.

Caldo, fish sauce, coconut milk, curry paste, garlic, and ginger
  • rice (about 1.5 cups dry) -- today it was Calrose
  • 1 chicken breast, cubed
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, chopped -- more would have been good, but the flavors just wouldn't meld in the microwave
  • 1 tsp (or cube) chicken bouillon -- "Caldo con sobre de pollo" was what I had handy
  • 1/2 eggplant in roughly 1/2 to 3/4 inch cubes
  • 2 or 3 medium mushrooms, coarsely sliced
  • 1/2 can (about 2.5 ounces) sliced bamboo shoots, sliced up a bit
  • 1 can (about 5 ounces) sliced water chestnuts, sliced up a bit
  • 4 tsp red curry paste
  • 1 can (around 13 oz) coconut milk
  • 4-5 tsp Thai fish sauce 

Mushrooms, eggplant, bamboo shoots, and water chestnuts

    Sticky rice. For non-sticky rice, add less water and avoid stirring.
    Directions for rice
    1. Put dry rice in bowl with a lid
    2. Add about 2.5 cups water.
    3. Cover and microwave on high for about 5 minutes
    4. Stir and microwave on about 40% power for 9 to 12 minutes.  Cook until the water is absorbed.

      Raw chicken with onions, garlic, "Caldo", and ginger
      Directions for curry
      1. Put chicken in bowl with a lid
      2. Add chopped onion, garlic, ginger.
      3. Add chicken bouillon; add 1/2 cup water if your chicken breast did not have water added (mine did).
      4. Cook about 8 minutes on 60% power, stirring occasionally.
      5. Add curry paste and stir well
      6. Cook about 1 minute on high
      7. Add coconut milk
      8. Cook another minute on high
      9. Add fish sauce (don't spill this, the smell won't go away)
      10. Add eggplant, mushrooms, bamboo, water chestnuts
      11. Adding curry paste to cooked chicken.  I used this much plus a little more.
        Cooked chicken with curry paste

      12. Stir and cook about 6 to 7 minutes on high, stirring occasionally

      Fully cooked with vegetables

      How did it turn out?
      It was quite edible today.  I would have preferred a spicier curry paste, or potentially adding some spicy peppers.

      How much did it cost?
      If I add up everything I used, I find that I used about $7.75 worth of ingredients.  The bulk of that cost was the coconut milk ($2.30 per can, but you can find it cheaper at an Asian market), chicken (about $1.25 in my bulk pack), and curry paste (I used about $1.10 worth, but cheaper and better options are available).  The vegetables are fairly cheap, having used about $0.70 worth of eggplant, $0.45 for the mushrooms, $0.65 for bamboo shoots (you should be able to get them for cheaper than $1.29 per can), and $0.65 for water chestnuts.  The other ingredients are more difficult to measure, so I estimated less than $0.10 each for the remaining ingredients.

      While the total may look expensive, it really did make a lot of curry.  You could easily get four to six servings out of this.  I shared with two people at work and still had enough left for a couple of late lunches.

      What would I do differently in a real kitchen?
      If I had a real stove top, I could cook the garlic, ginger, and onions better (with a little oil) to bring a more smooth flavor.  One thing that would really have made this dish good is to add kieffer lime leaves.  It would only take 2 or 3 leaves, but the fresh flavor it would bring could well make it worth the trip to your Asian market.

      The coconut milk that I bought had some additives.  It doesn't thicken quite like the less shelf stable cans.

      Can I substitute ingredients?
      I'll always say yes to this.  Here is what I think could be substituted for an equally delicious curry:
      • Water chestnuts:  Try some jicama for a delicious crunch, with the added benefit of less salt.  You could also use a few small potatoes, but you'll need to cook them just until you can easily pierce them with a fork.  I suspect that this would need to be added about 1/4 of the way through the final cooking stage to avoid making a potato mash.
      • Chicken bouillon: Use a bit of chicken stock (avoid making it too runny), or in a pinch go for a small amount of a powdered soup packet.
      • Chicken: Go for some thin slices of beef.
      • Eggplant: Cauliflower is excellent in curry.  It tends to go soggy, so I like to add it almost half-way through the cooking process.
       Anything else I could add?
      Sure.  Besides the kieffer lime leaves (drool inducing), you could try:
      • bell peppers
      • spicy peppers
      • fresh lemon grass (again, back to your Asian market)
      • Any of the ingredients listed in the substitutions above
      Further comments
      It is worth noting that the particular curry paste I used here was overly expensive for the amount of curry you can make.  If you look around, you can probably find a small tub of much stronger (both flavor-wise and heat) stuff for less money.  I used about 1/3 of the jar for this.

        You can not cook without a "kitchen"

        The kitchen (our office break room) consists of cooking devices, cleaning devices, dishes and utensils, and random tools.
        • Cooking devices: 

        Toaster oven, on loan from an employee

        The microwave

        The bread maker, on loan from an employee

        •  Cleaning devices:

        A sink (critical for office cooking) and soap
        Paper towels for cleaning messes

        •  Dishes and utensils:

        Plastic utensils, paper plates/bowls
        Plastic and styrofoam cups

        • Random tools (I donated some of this messy drawer):

        To actually cook real food, however, the paper plates/bowls do not work.  I have my personal gear that I'm not sharing. ;)
        • Personal cookware: 

        Most of my cutting is done with a pocket knife.  Not the right tool for the job, but we don't have a real cutting board or any large surfaces to work on.  I donated a set of measuring cups and a slicing knife to the office, but I rarely use them -- only occasionally when making bread.

        Given this collection of random tools, I have cooked many things at work (smelling up the place) that most people wouldn't think of cooking in an office environment.