Instant Pot Chicken Tikka Masala

I acquired an Instant Pot a couple years ago for Christmas. When I first used it, I basically viewed it as a super fast Crock Pot and didn’t explore any of its unique functions. My parents would tell me about the dishes they used it to make – curry, fish, ribs, the list goes on – but I never experimented on my own. Its main use in my kitchen was to cook chicken at a high speed.

Clearly I’ve been under-utilizing the Instant Pot. I have a cookbook with 200 recipes, a Pinterest account, and access to the internet, so there’s reason to neglect this small appliance anymore.

My initial inspiration for dusting off my Instant Pot was a craving for Indian food. My dad’s made a couple Indian dishes in his Instant Pot that my mom’s raved about, which tempted me to read some recipes. I found a recipe for chicken tikka masala and decided I needed to try.

Cooking with the Instant Pot was simple. Seriously, it couldn’t be easier, and I can’t believe I didn’t try before. There are a variety of settings which makes it so versatile, but the settings are few enough that it isn’t overwhelming and hard to screw up if you follow the recipe. An added bonus is how easy clean up is, because there aren’t many pots and pans used. Many recipes only require the use of one pot. I’ll definitely be using the Instant Pot more often.

Other reasons I need to use the Instant Pot more often are to perfect this recipe, and be able identify potential flaws in other recipes. This dish lacked flavor, and I only used half the chicken called for. Had I used the correct amount, it would have been so bland. Next time I’ll add a little more spice. I’ll also add some vegetables. Potatoes or bell peppers would be a welcomed addition, bringing texture and flavor.

The dish wasn’t all bad, though. The chicken was tender and I got to eat basmati rice, which I love and don’t eat often enough. I’m excited to experiment more with the Instant Pot, and to make more Indian dishes.

Recipe from The Ultimate Instant Pot Cookbook by Coco Marante

New York Style Cheesecake

In celebration of my sister’s birthday, I told her I’d bake whatever she wanted. She gave me a variety of options, one of them being cheesecake. I’d never made a cheesecake on my own; I’d only ever helped my dad, the king of cheesecake. I did call him ahead of time to garner as much cheesecake expertise as possible, but it was still a bit intimidating. However, I am willing to try baking almost anything no matter how intimidating, and this was no exception.

Baking a cheesecake requires exactitude and patience. Most baking does, but it seems more pronounced when baking cheesecake. Perhaps because this particular try turned out to be an all-day affair with a major hitch that almost ruined it entirely. It ended well, but it could have gone very, very poorly without exactitude and patience.

I woke up in the morning and announced to friends staying with me that I needed to make a cheesecake, and I got right to work. The first step to this delectable dessert was to make the graham cracker crust. Doing so was simple and brought the most delicious aroma to every part of my home. My friends kept returning to the kitchen from various rooms commenting on how good it smelled. And they were right. It smelled amazing.

Once I had successfully curated an aromatic living space better than a candle could have, I started on the batter. I creamed the cream cheese, blended in the sugar, added the sour cream. The batter was beautiful and the texture was sublime. Everything was going swimmingly. “This isn’t hard!” I probably said. My next step was to add the eggs.

Earlier when I had skimmed the recipe, I read that I needed two eggs at room temperature. About to add the two eggs called for, I read closer and realized I actually needed six eggs at room temperature. I retrieved four more eggs from my refrigerator and returned to the recipe where I read even closer and realized I needed six eggs and two egg yolks. Eight eggs total. Not two. Embarrassment and regret set it, not only because I had so woefully misread the ingredient list, but in my carton remained only one egg. I was one short. “I am an idiot,” I definitely said.

After detailing my predicament to my friends, I debated whether I should leave to get more eggs or take my chances and bake it with only seven eggs. Ultimately I decided I needed one person’s advice: my dad’s. His response to my confession that I was short one egg? “Uh oh.” Verbatim. My friends and I raced to the car and hurried to the nearest gas station that sells eggs. Exactitude, remember?

Once we returned, with eggs and lunch, I got right back to work. Thankfully there wasn’t much work left. I blended in the eggs, poured the batter onto the crust, and let it bake. I checked the cheesecake about eight times before removing it from the oven. Patience, remember? It was a tad under baked when I took it out, but, per my dad’s advice, it’s better under baked than over baked. And the yummy strawberry sauce I planned to make was going to make up for any baking errors that plagued the dessert.

Cheesecake can be awfully finicky. Its unique batter requires such specific baking conditions, and learning one’s oven is a process, especially given the modifications needed for each recipe. Investing in an oven thermometer will help my cause tremendously.

The next morning I whipped up the strawberry sauce. This was so simple it’s almost laughable considering how good it tasted. I cut fresh strawberries, covered them in sugar, and let them sit. Next I ran strawberry jam through the food processor, simmered it with lemon juice and sugar, then poured it over the strawberries. It couldn’t have been easier and made the perfect topping to the cheesecake.

Finally the time came to taste, and it was so worth all the drama. This cheesecake tasted so good. It was creamy and soft and flavorful. It had a beautiful hint of lemon. It was tart but rich. The strawberry sauce was so sweet and perfectly balanced the cheesecake. The graham cracker crust had a crumbly texture and a warm taste. It wasn’t just a bite of cheesecake; it was a bite of happiness.

Baking this cheesecake was quite the ordeal, but it was also so memorable and so much fun. If you are to try making cheesecake for the first time, read the recipe thoroughly beforehand, but don’t be intimidated. Baking should be a learning experience, but it should also be fun. And, more than anything, it should bring people joy. It’s okay to make mistakes. Mistakes are memories. Baking this cheesecake brought me and others joy, and creating joy is never a mistake.

Recipe from America’s Test Kitchen

Recipe Review: Chocolate Chip Cookies – Take Two

A few weeks ago I began my quest in search of the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. While the first recipe I tried was a contender (the feedback was positive), I knew there has to be something better somewhere in the world, or at least on the internet.

With company coming, today seemed like the perfect time to try a new recipe. I used Martha Stewart’s “Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies” recipe. Here’s my review:

The Recipe: This recipe couldn’t be more straightforward, which I appreciate. I’m happy to complete a time-consuming or labor-intensive action when the integrity of the recipe is incumbent upon said step, but quite often cookies turn out the same, sometimes better, without the hoopla. All this recipe required was adding and stirring, and it made for a great cookie.

Not only was this recipe elementary, it was quick! It took about 30 minutes to complete, and that includes clean-up. Mine took longer than the 8-10 minute bake time called for in the recipe, though, but I believe that was due to the size of cookie I made. I used an ice cream scoop that must be rather large, because I ended up with a dozen fewer cookies than the recipe yields. It didn’t seem to matter in texture, though.

The Texture: If you read my last chocolate chip cookie recipe review, you’ll know I’m after a soft, chewy cookie. I’m still learning which ingredients are necessary for which textures, so I had no idea what to expect when reading the recipe. I based my decision to try this recipe completely on the title.

I was quite suspicious of the cookies at first glance. They were large and had little puff, so I worried they wouldn’t be soft and chewy like the title promised. But when I bit into one, I was incredibly pleased. These cookies are so soft and so chewy, and the edges have a perfect little crisp. A little more puff to them and they’d be the perfect texture.

(I did learn through watching an accompanying video that baking soda causes cookies to spread and baking powder causes cookies to puff, so I may try this recipe again adding a bit of baking powder to puff them up some. Also, the ratio of brown sugar to granulated sugar is important. More brown sugar makes for a chewier cookie thanks to the molasses.)

The Taste: These cookies have that comforting taste of a classic chocolate chip cookie. It’s familiar and sweet and easy to eat, but this is where the recipe could really improve. To be the best chocolate chip cookie recipe, it needs to be far better than classic and familiar. I’m not sure I can even verbalize what I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when I taste it.

Overall: This recipe is really good. I would use it as written again, but I’d also like to tweak it a bit to see if I can make it better. A little more puff and something to really make my mouth water would make these cookies spectacular. They’re very good, but my quest is far from over.

Chicken Margherita Pizza

Friday night I love to make pizza. When deciding what kind to make last night, I took to my kitchen for inspiration. Upon finding mozzarella cheese and sun dried tomatoes, I knew I wanted to do a spin on Margherita. The outcome was chicken Margherita, a fine example of the endless possibilities of pizza.

Using this recipe, I baked the dough for 15 minutes before adding the toppings. This helps eliminate the doughy center so it’s not too soft in the middle. Once pre-baked, I topped the dough with this sauce, fresh basil leaves, mozzarella slices, sun dried tomatoes, and shredded chicken. (I baked chicken breast while the sauce was simmering, but I just as easily could’ve used rotisserie chicken.) I baked it for 18 minutes more before feasting on my Friday night favorite.

This recipe needs some toying with. It’d be fantastic on a flatbread, and the chicken and tomatoes need to be under the cheese to prevent unnecessary charring. However, the flavors are bright and balanced and it’s a fun alternative to a classic Margherita. I’ll be trying it again soon.

Lemon Dill Hummus

Mid-December my coworker and I took a day-long business trip, and she was tasked with supplying appetizers for a meeting. She picked up lemon dill hummus on a whim, and neither of us could quit raving about it for weeks to come. This week I was craving hummus and decided to recreate that Sabra magic in my own kitchen.

I used this classic hummus recipe and added an extra lemon and dill to taste. Another edit I made to the recipe was peeling the skins off the chickpeas before mashing them in the food processor, per my aunt’s tip. This made for a super smooth texture and took away any grit that sometimes accompanies hummus.

My entire week was spent munching on this hummus with fresh cucumber slices. A perfect summer snack!

Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

Like I mentioned earlier this week, my trips to the grocery store have dropped significantly due to the pandemic. My only supply unaffected by this? Frozen bananas. I’ve got more bananas than a Dole warehouse, and it was this abundance that inspired my baking for the week: chocolate chip banana muffins.

There’s not much of note, though. I found a recipe, followed it (mostly), and ate. It’s hard to screw up muffins. I think you have to try harder to fail than you do to succeed when making muffins.

If you read between the parentheses above, you know that I did not follow the recipe exactly. The batter was thick and dry, so I added just enough milk to thoroughly bind the dry ingredients. Again, not much of note.

In summation, the muffins were good. They were a little dry, but that was to be expected with the overwhelming amount of dry ingredients. I’m glad I added the milk. The next time I have bananas occupying the majority of space in my freezer I’ll find a different recipe to try. Next week I’ll look for a more interesting recipe to write about. And I’ll go to the grocery store.

Pantry Pasta

Like many Americans during the pandemic, I’ve gone many days in a row without leaving my house, resulting in far fewer trips to the grocery store. Pre-pandemic I’d make a trip once or twice a week, and rarely planned more than a couple meals in advance. And while the pandemic has changed my grocery shopping habits, it hasn’t changed my planning habits (or lack thereof), and I’ve ended up with both a pantry and fridge devoid of ingredients. The quarantine has, however, forced me to get more creative and resourceful as a cook, which has been equal parts fun and flavorful.

Since making chicken piccata, I’ve had capers in my pantry and no reason to use them. But in the spirit of creativity and resourcefulness, tonight I decided to find a way. This spirit manifested itself into a pasta dish, of course. A salty, garlic-y, lemony pasta dish that satisfied my savory craving. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients: 1/3 box whole wheat angel hair pasta; 2 strips bacon, chopped; 1 chicken breast, diced; salt; pepper; 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic; 1/2 onion, sliced; 1 tablespoon capers; 1 tablespoon unsalted butter; 1 lemon; 1 teaspoon basil

Start by boiling pasta in salt water. Cook bacon over medium heat until it’s reached desired crispiness. Remove bacon from pan to a plate lined with a paper towel to blot the grease. Add chicken to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Add garlic and onions. Rinse capers and add to the pan. Add butter and cook down. Add cooked pasta to the pan. Add bacon back to the pan. Squeeze lemon juice and add basil. Serve warm and enjoy!

Recipe Review: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Of all the goods to bake, my favorite has always been chocolate chip cookies. When I was in elementary school, my dad and I spent hours perfecting Alton Brown’s “The Chewy” recipe for a baking contest I had entered, so baking them always brings back fond memories. Also, who doesn’t like a chocolate chip cookie? They release endorphins in everybody’s brains. They’re a universal symbol for happiness on par with a smile. Every baker needs a consummate chocolate chip cookie recipe in their arsenal, and I’m looking for mine.

Alton Brown’s recipe was my go-to for years, but now I’m interested in trying other recipes and seeing how they measure up (pun intended). There might be a better recipe out there, but I won’t know unless I start baking new ones. So in an effort to find the ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe, today I’m trying America’s Test Kitchen’s “Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie” recipe.

If you have extrapolated that I prefer a chewy chocolate chip cookie to a crispy chocolate chip cookie, congratulations on your superb inferencing skills! You are correct. I have no time for a crispy chocolate chip cookie. I want it to be soft and melt in my mouth, and I will not be including crispy cookie recipes in my search.

Along with my search, I will be reviewing and documenting my findings. Was the recipe easy? Are there parts I would change? How does it taste? Would I bake it again? I will answer all these questions and more in each review. So, without further ado, here is my recipe review:

The Recipe: This is an easy recipe to follow and execute, as all chocolate chip cookie recipes are. It uses standard ingredients and doesn’t take long, but there are some things I would change:

The recipe notes in the ingredient list that the butter needs to be melted and cooled, but it does not state in the instructions when to melt it. It would be helpful to include a step instructing the baker to melt the butter right after preheating the oven, just to be sure the butter has cooled before it’s to be used.

This recipe’s goal was to recreate the cookies found at boutique caf├ęs. Not just in taste and texture, but in aesthetic, too. In an effort to do so, it instructs the baker to separate the dough balls and rejoin them with the jagged sides facing out. It warns, however, to not press down on the jagged sides when combining back into a ball, as this will ruin the craggy look for which they’re aiming. I followed this step for the first batch, but it was awkward and morphed the dough balls into dilapidated lumps, so I skipped that step for the second batch. It made not a modicum of difference in appearance. This recipe has mostly dry ingredients, and little is binding the dough together, so the cookies are going to look craggy as is. This step is more work than it’s worth.

The Taste: The taste might be the best part of this recipe. The flavors are balanced and encompass all those of a classic chocolate chip cookie: sweet, rich, buttery, salty, and, most importantly, chocolatey. And, thanks to two tablespoons of its extract, a delightful hint of vanilla. All of these flavors whirl in my mouth as I chew, making the cookie thoroughly enjoyable to taste.

The Texture: These cookies are thick and chewy, just as the recipe’s name indicates. There’s a crisp on the edges that offers a nice contrast in texture without compromising the chewiness. However, they’re still not as soft as I’d like, and they’re a little dry. I’m after a perfect balance of chewiness, softness, and moisture.

Overall: Would I use this recipe again? Yes! Is it the best recipe out there? No, I don’t think so. There’s got to be a recipe in existence that yields a perfect soft-and-chewy, sweet-and-salty chocolate chip cookie.

That being said, what recipe should I try next? Do you have a favorite I should try? I’d love to hear your suggestions! Like I said, I absolutely love baking chocolate chip cookies.

Quick Summer Meal

As much as I love to cook and experiment in the kitchen, some weeks I’d rather just eat cereal for supper, and this has been one of those weeks. Sadly, I ran out of Raisin Bran and my only option was to cook. Since my pantry failed me and I had to make something, I decided it was going to require very little effort, so I settled for the easiest of all dinners: a sheet pan meal.

Sheet pan meals are a dream when you’re lazy, and I often am. There are endless options, they taste amazing, and they’re nutritious. I opted for lemon chicken and bacon-wrapped asparagus. Here’s what to do:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butterfly 1 chicken breast and pound down so it’s an even thickness throughout. Place on the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and lemon pepper. Wrap 2 bundles of asparagus stalks in slices of raw bacon. Place on the baking sheet with the chicken. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and garlic. Bake for 25 minutes.

I love sheet pan meals. Simple, quick, delicious. I see more in my future.

Blueberry Scones

I love a good scone, the problem is most scones aren’t good. Scones often turn out dense and dry, which is incredibly unappetizing. If your first encounter with a scone was at a hotel continental breakfast, you probably aren’t a fan. But when scones are the right texture and don’t leave your mouth akin to the Sahara, they’re a delectable pastry. When I found a recipe for blueberry scones in the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook that purportedly solves the aforementioned problems, I knew I had to try it.

Whenever I read a baking recipe, I compare its difficulty level to other goods I’ve made. The last pastry I baked was a croissant (read about it here), and upon my first read of the scones recipe, it was apparent that they’d be much easier and much less time consuming to bake – and I was correct. Only a couple steps were tedious; most were quick and painless.

When baking scones (according to this recipe), everything must be cold or frozen, including the kitchen. Seriously. The recipe calls for a cold kitchen and includes a contingency plan should your kitchen be hot and humid, so I turned my thermostat way down and froze most of the day. The sacrifices I make for scones! I was also sure freeze butter well in advance. 24 hours in advance, to be specific. Like I said, everything must be cold.

In a parka and snow pants to endure the arctic temperatures of my apartment, I began. I sifted through the blueberries to find the smallest fruits of the batch. I did a thorough job choosing as the alternative is to cut larger berries into small pieces, and for some reason that sounds very unappealing. Once I had enough berries, I began grating the butter.

The butter-grating process would’ve gone much faster had I used the correct grater – a box grater. I used the only grater I have – a hand grater, which yields much smaller shavings than the box grater when using the side called for in the recipe. I was a bit worried about the size of the butter shavings, but guessed (also hoped and prayed) it wouldn’t make a difference in the end, so I continued.

Butter grated, I put it back in the freezer (everything must be cold, mind you) while I sifted the wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls. The dry ingredients include lemon zest, and while zesting said lemon, I hoped and prayed once again, this time that the scones would be worth the copious amounts of grating required. I now know I do not like to grate.

Finally the grating portion was complete! Hooray! The next steps were to coat the butter in the dry ingredient mixture, then fold in the wet ingredients until just combined. I then turned the dough out onto my floured surface to begin kneading. The recipe noted not to over-knead, so I was sure to only knead the recommended amount. I then folded the dough and chilled it in the freezer for 5 minutes.

Typically when baking a more advanced recipe, if available, I watch a video of someone baking whatever I’m about to bake to be certain I’m doing it correctly. However, hard copy cookbooks don’t have videos, so that was not an option. This one, though, has corresponding step-by-step pictures, which helped tremendously as I worked the dough.

After resting in the freezer, I rolled the dough into a square and topped it with my carefully chosen blueberries. Next I rolled it into a little log, formed the log into a rectangle, and cut the rectangle into 8 triangles to bake. Like the croissants, this recipe doesn’t yield much, which is a bit of a downside considering the work required. But if you enjoy the work like I do, it really doesn’t matter.

I topped the unbaked triangles with melted butter and sugar, and 22 minutes later had 8 picture-perfect scones. I waited until they had cooled to try them, and they were well worth the wait. In direct contrast with most scones, these were moist and light, not at all dense or dry. The lemon zest added wonderful depth of flavor (making the grating indubitably worthwhile), and the fresh blueberries added a lovely burst of tartness and texture whenever bitten into. Heaven on earth.

These scones might be the best I’ve ever eaten, all thanks to the epicureans at America’s Test Kitchen. Their recipe is stellar and worthy of all praise. To elevate it slightly, I’d use a more crystalized sugar atop before baking rather than regular granulated, but that’s a very, very minor tweak. Aside from that, this recipe is perfect. These scones aren’t a continental breakfast; they’re a 5-star brunch. I’ll be baking them again.