Speedy Chicken Tikka Masala (dairy-free, gluten-free)

Sometimes I don’t feel like talking about food. I feel like posting a pretty picture.

Huntsville Alabama

I took the above shot last month in Huntsville, Alabama, the town where my college roommate Kim lives and where I met her for the afternoon one Saturday. She treated me to high tea at this fancy little shop, and then she drove me around the area’s historic neighborhoods, letting me ooh and ah at the architecture, and to this park off the highway, where we climbed into the woods and looked out through leaves at the parking lot and, off in the distance, the hills of her hometown.

Huntsville Saturday

Tim was away in New York that weekend (you’ll remember his happy homecoming here), and I was missing him, so when I came back to the empty house that night, I was glad to be so tired from driving and touring and eating little scones, because at least that meant I would fall fast asleep, a skill usually reserved only for the male half of this little family, and fall fast asleep is exactly what I did. The next day, he was back, and we ate filet mignon and kale mashed potatoes, and by evening, he was sound asleep beside me the minute his head hit the pillow and, thirty to forty minutes of heavy late-night thinking later, so was I.

There are many things I tend to envy about my husband, not the least of which is his soft, wavy hair, but his sleeping ability is becoming one of the great marvels of our married life. Whereas I need to wind down after a day of work or social activity or drama-filled TV, Tim simply climbs into bed, shuts off the light, and he’s out. Gone. Dead to the world. It’s amazing. We’ve had many long, hilarious conversations about this, wherein I try to prompt him to describe for me what this feels like or how it works (or, ahem, see how long I can keep him awake with me). And over thirteen months of marriage, what we’ve essentially concluded is this: sleeping is one area in which he will likely always have the upper hand.

Indian food, on the other hand, is another story.

speedy chicken tikka masala

I may be the one who’s half Indian, but, in our marriage, Tim’s the one who first loved Indian food. When we were dating, he took me to Sitar downtown, and told me to order his favorite dish, Chicken Makhani (or, butter chicken), and garlic naan. The moment those glistening pillows of garlicky dough arrived on our table, followed by a creamy, spicy chicken mixture I all but licked off the solid white plates, I knew an important change had just occurred. I could never go back to the person I was, one who sometimes tolerated but never especially loved Indian cuisine. From that point and forever forward, I was all in.

We went back to Sitar to celebrate a month of marriage and then again to celebrate two months. More than once over the last year, at random times when the fridge has been lean but the spice cabinet full, Tim’s whipped up a curried dinner out of celery and carrots and rice, leaving me speechless, every time, eyes welling up with tears that such a meal could come from the simplest ingredients and, more than that, that the man who could bring them together was the same one laying next to me each night.

Julia Child Quote | FoodLovesWriting.com

But over time, he’s taught me a few tricks of the trade, and I’ve become more heavy-handed with heat in my cooking, and now one of our regular dinners is a bunch of chopped vegetables, sautéed on the stove and mixed with spices and cream, the kind of thing that just slightly burns your throat as it goes down, a mysterious proof that sometimes the simplest (and cheapest!) foods can make the best meals.

spices

Similar to the butter chicken that first wooed me into this curried world, Chicken Tikka Masala is a classic entrée at Indian restaurants that relies on a tomato-based creamy sauce and a blend of fragrant spices. There is no shortage of recipes for either of these dishes online, but our version has one great advantage going for it: it’s fast. The day I wanted to make it, I had leftover roasted chicken in the fridge and a desire to make a meal as quickly as possible, so I wanted a nuts-and-bolts set of directions to use as a guide instead of a ruler.

sauteeing

Over at Serious Eats, I found this:

“The basics of masala sauce are simple: start with a base of aromatics—onions, garlic, and ginger are common—cooked in oil, ghee, or butter. Add a simple spice mixture, largely based on cumin, coriander, and chilis, throw in some canned tomatoes, cook them down, then purée the whole deal with heavy cream and fresh cilantro.” J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Chief Creative Officer, Serious Eats

making tikka masala

A bunch of chopping, a little sauteéing and less than an hour or so later, we had this meal on our plates, my version of following the general guidelines above. It was easy, it was spicy, and, by the end of the meal, it had us wiping the skillet and wooden spoon clean, wishing for more. I can’t believe how much of my life I wasted not loving this style of food—and I’m glad the one to open my eyes is the same one I sleep next to (OK, he sleeps, I think) every night.

Read More

Cherry Chocolate Coconut Milk Ice Cream (+ homemade chocolate)

coconut milk and cherries

It’s been two years—two solid years since I came over here to this little space, logged into my WordPress dashboard and made the Big Announcement, alongside a recipe for cherry chocolate ice cream; two years since I’ve clocked into an office; two years since I’ve had coworkers nearby; two years without steady paychecks; two years with a much lower income (and two years with a much simpler life); two solid years since I did the thing I most wanted to do, which was also the thing about which I was most afraid; two years since I took one of the biggest leaps of my life: become a full-time freelancer.

cherries cherries

What I remember most about that hot and hopeful June of two summers ago, along with feeling free and like the future was wide-open before me, was feeling curious. From the moment I approached my old boss about becoming a contractor to the day I got into my car and drove away, for good, I remember wondering what would happen, where I would find work, if freelancing could possibly sustain me and for how long. I wondered if I’d end up moving or if I’d switch careers. I wondered if I would like it, this new lifestyle of casual workdays and variable pay. I didn’t know what to expect, and, in the same way that now Tim and I look at our future together, wondering about our lease ending in August and if we’ll have children and when, in the same way we hope for things, like a house and a garden and fruit trees, there’s something about knowing you don’t know that is both humbling and exciting and terrifying and good.

making homemade chocolate

I mean, don’t get me wrong: this isn’t the same thing as saying I like uncertainty. Most days, I just want a blueprint, a ready-made map that directs me from point A to point B and says why. I like direction. It’d be great if life were like that: Take three steps forward into a new job opportunity. Be at that coffee shop at 10 AM and you’ll meet a lifelong friend. Jump into the unknown, just you and your laptop and a lot of hopes and dreams, and you’ll make it, don’t worry, and two years from now you’ll be writing another blog post, thankful and happy and surprised.

cherry chocolate coconut ice cream

But the thing I realize most when I look back, knowing that it’s so much easier to see the truth when you’re two years removed from it, is that even when I felt unsure, even when everything seemed unknown, I was never abandoned or alone and so I never really needed to fear. These whole two years, with their ups and downs and maybes, I’ve always been OK, always provided for, and so I have every reason to trust.

Maybe that’s the whole point of the not knowing—because if you could see everything that’s coming in front of you, even all the good things, you’d never get the gift of learning faith.

Read More

Coconut Cupcakes (+ Xylitol!)

Thank you all so much for your congratulations and excitement on the last post! I told Tim, getting engaged feels like this giant burst of love from everyone who’s known you—and even some that haven’t. Thanks for sharing in our joy, every one of you. You are the best part of blogging.

And speaking of the best parts of food blogging, let me tell you about another one: namely, getting exposed to new and interesting ingredients—like Xyla (Xylitol), for example, the alternative sweetener I used in today’s coconut-packed cupcakes.

xylitol

Before an email from Xylitol USA found its way into my inbox a few weeks ago, I had heard a little bit about this “un-sugar.” I knew it was popular in chewing gums, but, actually, it turns out it’s been used in the dental field for more than sixty years, praised for its plaque- and cavity- fighting abilities, as well as power to fight demineralization of tooth enamel and mouth infections.

Even beyond dental benefits, Xyla has a long list of selling points, according to its sellers: way lower on the glycemic index than regular sugar (it’s like a 3 compared to 100) so it hits your body differently in terms of insulin, anti-aging properties, helps prevent ear infections, fights bacteria, increases absorption of B vitamins, aids in weight loss, inhibits harmful yeast. What’s more, Xylitol is said to be all-natural, derived from certain fibrous vegetables and fruit—or, like what Xylitol USA sells, from birch trees.

On the other hand, some research suggests there are dangers associated with this sweetener: an article in Natural News pointed out that not all Xylitol is created equal, as “one commonly used source is corn imported from China”—which then needs to be highly processed before consumption, making it a far cry from all natural. It’s really pretty interesting to read about Xyla; it’s been getting more and more buzz, with all kinds of mixed opinions floating around.

one cup of xylitol

Since Xylitol USA’s product comes directly from birch trees (a change made as recently as last year), I feel a little more comfortable using it in baking, where it’s supposed to be a one-to-one swap for sugar, behaving, looking, and tasting almost exactly like it.

So when, last week, I was in the mood for a cupcake loaded with coconut (we’re talking coconut milk, coconut oil, shredded coconut; coconut in the cake, coconut in the frosting), I pulled out the Xylitol to give it a shot as the sweetener to make it happen.

three eggs

Just to make sure I was giving you a fair assessment, I had at least seven people taste these cupcakes, quizzing them on level of sweetness, weird after-tastes, anything that stood out to them. The verdict? Xyla is a definite win.

One person thought the cupcakes had a very slight metal taste; a few of us thought they were powerfully sweet (but then, not eating regular sugar can affect your sensitivity to these things); but overall, these cupcakes were deemed delicious desserts. I will also add that since I used whole-grain spelt flour, they had a dense quality that’s hard to get away from with alternative flours.

coconut cupcakes

So would I use Xylitol again? Maybe. It’s hard to find in stores, so the Internet would be the only way to get it (XylitolUSA.com is actually offering a discount code for Food Loves Writing readers: 10% off with code FIRST).

cupcakes in container

I liked the way it tasted and I liked the fact that it’s a natural substitute for sugar—especially one that is so much lower on the glycemic index. Nonetheless, I’d like to do some more research before feeling confident.

So what about you: Have you ever used Xylitol? Know anything about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions, as well as any interesting research you find!

Read More

coconut flour pancakes (+ thoughts on the survey)

coconut flour pancakes

You guys are really something. Thank you so much for completing the survey yesterday—and for maxing out the limit of free responses within like 24 hours! The good news is we are all on the same page: I really love this place we have, as so many of you said you did. I love talking to you like old friends and dialoguing in the comment sections of posts, I love writing about my life here, I love getting to know so many of you while you get to know me. If anyone ever doubts the community of blogging, they need only read your survey responses, I mean it. Thank you.

And thank you, too, for giving me some great ideas with your constructive criticism—ideas which I think can make this site better. You hit on some of the very same flaws I see here, which is good because it means we both see them, and you also brought up some questions I didn’t know you had. I’d like to address as many of these issues as I can in this post, starting with a pretty big one: The new ingredients of 2010.

coconut flour pancakes on blue plate

At this point in our story, based on the title and the photos above, you’ve probably gathered that today’s recipe involves pancakes. Pancakes made with coconut flour. Coconut flour like we used in those cookies last month, coconut flour that doesn’t contain gluten and is high in protein and, I’m just going to guess for some 85% of you, coconut flour that is not sitting in your kitchen pantry at home.

While the survey said about 17% of you seem to be coming here actually looking for our new style of recipes focused on whole foods, the rest of you are either (a) feeling intimidated by new ingredients (it’s “a stretch” or a little “out there”) or (b) you don’t mind this new focus but you’re not that interested in it either.

coconut flour pancakes

Listen, I get it. I really, really get it. I’d never heard of coconut oil or spelt flour before the beginning of this year, and when I was first introduced to them, I saw mainly their price tags. Second, I sometimes take for granted that you can adapt a recipe to your own way of eating (from white spelt to all-purpose flour, for example, or from coconut oil to butter in a cookie recipe). I’ll try to explain that better in the future. Contrary to how it might seem, I’m not trying to convert anyone to my way of eating. I do think 2010 has improved my health drastically, both in more energy/less weight and better digestion (which has been a huge issue for me), so I’m pretty happy to tell people about it. But you don’t have to eat this way to come here, not at all; you just have to be willing to hear about it (and thank you, again).

silver dollar coconut flour pancakes

One of you suggested I make a sort of pantry list, with links to distributors, so it would be easy to know what kind of ingredients I’m using on a regular basis. (No, I don’t have five kinds of flour in my pantry, those of you who wonder.) I think that’s a great idea, and I’m going to work on that.

A few of you are interested in gluten-free recipes—well, today’s your day! You GF types are more familiar with this ingredient already, I suppose; but for anyone looking for a new take on a pancake, not to mention one that will be easier to digest because it has no gluten, just pure coconut, this is a good one. It’s an example of a recipe that you kind of have to use the “stretch” ingredient for, but it’s nice to have in your back pocket, whether for gluten-free friends or your own willing-to-experiment lifestyle. Very simple in method, it yields doughy pillows of pancake slightly eggy in flavor (most coconut flour recipes are, I’ve noticed), lightly kissed with coconut and, the way I make them, beautifully browned around the edges. For added flavor value, I like mine covered in butter and pure maple syrup. They’re not the same as classic buttermilk pancakes, but I think what I’ve been learning these last few months—and what I’ve been wanting to communicate here—is that these new ingredients have a beauty all their own, the way most new things do.

I’m glad to share it with you.

(Didn’t see your question answered? Scroll all the way to the bottom, below the recipe!)

Read More
  • 1
  • 2