April 26, 2017

Dear friends,

I didn’t have much luck with college roommates. One stole my favorite blouse and punched me in the head in a fit of jealousy. Another kicked me out because she thought I had stolen the rent money (In reality she was irked because I was dating a hippie, which offended her plastic-doily sensibilities. The rent check was merely lost in the mail and turned up a couple of weeks later).

With this kind of a track record, it was almost thrilling to hear from a former roommate who wasn’t mad at me. In fact, Manda had been bullied by the puncher, too. We had fun savaging the puncher in emails before the conversation turned to food. Did I have an easy recipe for curried chicken?

Manda, you have no idea how many easy curried chicken recipes I have. You’ve come to the right roommate. Of course, easy back then and easy now are two different things. I remember my first stab at making curried chicken, in the 1970s: Butter, flour, milk, curry powder and chicken chunks. I thought it was tres exotic.

My curried chicken recipes these days are filed by country — Thai, Indonesian, Indian. Then there are subsets — red, yellow, green; peanut or coconut; Parsi, Bengali, Madras or Kerala. But Manda didn’t ask for all that, and I don’t want to test her patience. You never know what a roommate might do, even if she is in her 60s now and a retired social worker.

I do suggest she broaden her curry horizons beyond the bottle of yellow powder we knew in the 1970s. Curry flavorings now come in a range of pastes and sauces that more authentically duplicate the diverse curries of Southeast Asia. Although curry is thought to have originated in India, it has been adopted in Pakistan, Myanmar, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Because Manda specified a quick curry, I’m sharing a recipe I developed for an easy coconut chicken curry. It uses both Indian curry powder and Thai curry paste to create tons of flavor in a hurry.

QUICK THAI CHICKEN CURRY

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 tsp. good-quality curry powder (from and Indian grocery store, if possible) or garam masala (an Indian spice blend)
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
3 tbsp. oil
1/4 tsp. green curry paste
1 cup thick coconut milk (see note)

Place chicken in a bowl. With clean or gloved hands, rub chicken with curry powder and then yogurt. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Remove chicken from yogurt mixture, allowing some to cling to the meat. Brown chicken on one side. Turn, cover and reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking for about 7 to 10 minutes, until chicken is just cooked through. To test, cut into the thickest part of a chicken piece with a sharp knife. The meat should be white, not pink.

Remove chicken from pan and add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan. When hot, add curry paste and stir-fry for 1 minute. Stir in coconut milk and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute. Return chicken to pan and simmer 1 minute longer. Place chicken on 4 dinner plates and top with sauce. Makes 4 servings.
Note: Chill the can of coconut milk before using. Open and pour off the clear liquid. Use the remaining thick coconut milk in this recipe.

TIDBITS

* What I cooked last week: Ground venison and mushroom gravy over mashed cauliflower; steaks on the grill with Diane sauce; frozen pupusas; chicken, asparagus and Thai eggplant stir fry with my homemade Sichuan sauce; hot dogs over a fire pit in the back yard, and poached eggs over asparagus with fresh-squeezed lemon.

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* What I ate in restaurants last week: Cavatelli with meat sauce at Casa Emanuel in East Liverpool with my brother; chili dogs at The Hot Dog Shoppe in East Liverpool (different day); bacon and arugula pizza at Pizza Fire; the Fresh Harvest Buffet at Hard Rock Rocksino in Northfield, and tomato soup and half of a steak and arugula sandwich at Panera.

Yes, I dined at a buffet. Tony and I went to the casino for a date night. We ate and dropped $20 in the slots. I thought buffets were all behind me when I stopped reviewing restaurants but then I met Tony, who adores buffets. Like most food critics, I think a buffet is an excellent place to get tepid, mass-produced food. Tony thinks a buffet is an adventure where he can sample a wide range of potentially exciting food in trip after trip until he is full. This usually takes at least three, sometimes four trips not counting fruit for dessert. He gets his money’s worth.

Since I met Tony we have eaten at many Chinese buffets (his favorite); a barbecue buffet on vacation; Golden Corral (which isn’t half bad); the pizza buffet at Marie’s in Wadsworth, and the Indian-cuisine lunch buffet at the Bombay Grill in Fairlawn. Tony would like to know if he has missed any. Me, not so much. But I love the guy, so if you know of any local all-you-can-eat buffets worth trying (not brunch, which is a separate genre), do tell.

THE MAILBAG

From Martha, Akron:
For thin-crust pizza: 3 Palms in Hudson and now Cleveland (www.3palmspizzeria.com). Go not only for the pizza, which is the best outside my brother’s house or Italy, but everything else from beans and greens, the cheese plate, all the different meatballs and sauces, homemade bread, desserts and luscious wines and adult beverages. I drive there regularly from West Akron, bypassing many other places.

Second best is the Merchant Tavern on Merriman Road in Akron. Again, everything Victor cranks out from the kitchen is dee-lish. Try the Thai mussels.

Dear Martha: Thanks for the recommendations. You had me at “Thai mussels.” And no wonder you find the food at 3 Palms outstanding. After reading your note, I learned that the chef-owner is Shawn Monday, who over the years has produced some of my favorite meals at the old Inn at Turner’s Mill, then Downtown 140 and now at One Red Door and Flipside Burgers, all in Hudson (Flipside has a couple of other locations). I can’t wait to try the pizza at 3 Palms and the mussels and pizza at the Merch.

From Geoff, New Franklin:
Your list of ingredients in the rice pudding recipe called for “sushi rice or any firm long-grain white rice (not converted).” Sushi and most rice puddings are normally made with short-grain rice. Was this a mistake?

I’d also like to recommend a very good Thai restaurant that opened recently. It’s called Thai Patteya located at 497 Portage Lakes Blvd. south of Akron. Their pho is excellent as are the pad Thai and curries. Reasonably priced and a very nice atmosphere.

Dear Geoff: Yay, a new Thai restaurant! I have been craving Mussaman curry.

As for the rice issue, until I met Tony I used regular long-grain white rice for rice pudding. Now I use Japanese rice which, as you say, is short-grain. I wasn’t aware that most rice puddings are made with short-grain rice. In fact, I don’t know of any short-grain rice besides Japanese and arborio, although no doubt some exist. Nevertheless, I think almost any kind of rice except sticky rice may be used for pudding. I have even used basmati with success, although I wouldn’t recommend it for the rice pudding mousseline.

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