Friday, October 22, 2010

Long Weekends

October is my very favorite month of the year. I love it when the weather turns cooler. I decided last month that I would take a couple of Mondays off in October to spend some time with Chip, work in the garden, and possibly go camping. We were planning to head out to Roosevelt State Park this weekend for camping, hiking, and kayaking, but the weather forecast is looking less than ideal. Rain is predicted with highs in the upper 80s and lows in the upper 60s. Not really the perfect camping weather I was hoping for. We've found that when the rain fly is required (like this weekend), anything above the mid-50s is too hot for camping. I am a hot sleeper, and I need it to be chilly to fall asleep. Unless I want a restless night of sleep, cool weather is a must.

I think we are going to revise our plans and take the kayaks either out on the Pearl River or over to the lake at Roosevelt. It will really depend on the water level on the Pearl. If we do the Pearl, we will put-in at LeFleur's Bluff in Jackson or at the Spillway and paddle between the two locations.

I have made good progress in the "ugly" spot in the backyard. It looks MUCH better already. I plan to get mulch this weekend and make everything look nice and neat. Photos coming soon!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dinner Recap

So, here is how everything turned out.

The rice was really good. I used this recipe from the PBS show America's Test Kitchen. This rice turned out perfectly - not at all sticky. Very fluffy and flavorful.

The naan was AWESOME. These naan were chewy and had a great balance of salty and slightly sweet. I made the dough on Tuesday night and refrigerated it after the first rise. Then, on Wednesday while I made the other dishes I let it come to room temperature and rise again. Right before our guests arrived I pulled off bits of dough, rolled out the rounds, and grilled it on the grill pan. I really wish I had more time to make homemade bread. It just tastes so good.

The chicken tikka masala turned out really good, too. The sauce is really flavorful. I took the advice of a lot of the recipe reviewers on AllRecipes and cut down on the amount of salt. Also, I had to add more cayenne (to taste) because it just wasn't spicy enough for our bunch.

And lastly, the saag paneer. This dish was probably my least favorite out of all of them. I was rushed while making it, and I think that showed in the final dish. It really needed more salt and flavor. Now that we are eating the leftovers I've added more salt and it is MUCH better.

I have the next two Mondays off, and I am so looking forward to it! This weekend I plan to do some work in the garden. The area that I worked on earlier this year really took the hot, dry summer weather hard. All of the azaleas that I moved and planted are dead. The juniper is dead. Even the ornamental grass is dead. Fall is a much better season for moving and transplanting plants, so I hope I can finally put some life into this ugly spot in my garden.

Next weekend we are going camping at a local state park. I am really looking forward to kayaking on the lake and roasting marshmellows by the fire. Fun times!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More Birthday Dinner Photos

Things got pretty crazy at my house after work yesterday. Chip came back from Louisiana with lots of beer. He assembled the cheese plate, and I cooked rice, heated up the chicken tikka masala, made saag paneer, and rolled out naan dough. When the first guests showed up, I was very close to having dinner finished. Chip poured me a glass of Riesling, and the birthday celebration began. I grilled naan on the grill pan and placed the completed dishes in the oven to keep warm.

I don't have photos of the finished dishes, but we do have yummy leftovers, and I plan to take some photos tonight. I did take some photos of the dining room after I set the table yesterday. I am proud of the way everything came together.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Homemade Paneer (Indian Cheese)

Maybe I am crazy -- I don't know. I've finalized the menu for Chip's Indian birthday feast. So, here goes...

Appetizer/Cheese Plate: Roquefort, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Savannah Bee Tupelo honey with raw honeycomb, red Bartlett pears, toasted walnuts, crackers.

Dinner: Chicken Tikka Masala, Saag Paneer, basmati rice, Naan

Dessert: German Chocolate cake (purchased at Crazy Cat Bakers) decorated with candy corn and candles (by me)

Today, I made the paneer for the saag paneer and the chicken tikka. I've heard you can buy paneer at the Indian grocery store or maybe Fresh Market, but I didn't feel like driving all the way out there. The recipe did not look that difficult, so I gave it a try.

First, I had to heat one gallon of whole milk to a boil.

Milk very quickly boils over if you aren't watching it, so I had to watch it like a hawk and stir it to keep the bottom from scorching. As soon as the milk came to a boil, I took it off the heat and added 1/4 cup of white vinegar. The curds (solids) immediately began to separate from the whey (liquids).I let it cool for a few minutes while I lined a colander with cheesecloth. I actually couldn't find cheesecloth at Kroger, but Chip found some in the paint aisle at Home Depot.

I placed the cheesecloth-lined colander in the sink and slowly poured in the hot curds and whey, making sure the whey did not pool in the bottom of the sink.I lightly salted the top of the cheese curds, wrapped them in the excess cloth, and let them sit in the sink for about an hour while they cooled and drained.
Later, I placed another heavy pot on top of the cheese and put two 10-pound weights in it. This helped press out all of the whey so that I had a firm cheese that could be cubed.

I let the cheese drain under the press for about 4 hours. I think with the 20-pounds I had on top of it, 4 hours was a bit too long. The cheese was firmer than I would have liked it to be.Unfortunately, this is the point at which I forgot to continue to take photos. To finish the cheese, I cubed it, sauteed it in a little bit of canola oil, and let it drain and cool on a paper towel. Now my beautiful homemade paneer is in the refrigerator, just waiting to be eaten in some yummy saag on Wednesday night.

I also marinated and grilled the chicken for the Chicken Tikka Masala last night. Our house smelled amazing as it grilled on the grill pan.


Chip has band practice tonight, so I'll be busy cooking and getting ready for the party. Tonight, I am making the masala sauce for the Chicken Tikka Masala and making and refrigerating the bread dough for the naan. More photos to come!