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A tad, a pinch or a smidgen? Don't be afraid to experiment with recipes

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Posted: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 11:00 pm | Updated: 11:39 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Throughout my career in the food and beverage industry, I’ve had the opportunity to work with and meet some talented individuals. There is one thing that each one of these great cooks have in common — it’s a keen sense of taste and knowing what a recipe needs in order to take it from good to great.

Whether you’re dining in one of Fairbanks’ finest restaurants, or a tiny hole-in-the-wall establishment (in Fairbanks, these can be one-in-the-same — which is why I love this town), the meal you’re enjoying has been worked over, modified, tested and changed multiple times to make it menu-worthy. Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to experiment in your own kitchen. It takes time, creativity and experimentation to take your meals from good to great. Don’t be afraid of messing up and spoiling a meal. (Keep a couple packets of Top Ramen on your shelf; it’s what your kids want for dinner anyway.)

I have the great opportunity to teach a class again at the Culinary Arts School through the CTC program, and again I am surrounded by an amazing group of students. One of my students recently came across a clever measurement guide and I thought I would pass it along.

I’ve been working on some simple and fast recipes at home. Each of the following recipes would be delicious with a smidgen of heat, or a tad of vinegar. Experiment! (Don’t be put off by the number of ingredients in this next recipe — it’s simple, and it’s quick!)

Keema Beef Curry

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 1/2 pounds ground lean sirloin

1 large onion diced

2 tablespoons grated ginger

2 large cloves of garlic minced

1 1/2 tablespoons Madres curry powder

1 large waxy potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 14-ounce can diced tomato and juice

1 14-ounce can coconut milk

1 handful frozen peas

Rough chopped cilantro for garnish

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet heat the oil and brown the meat, breaking it up into chunks. Add the onion, ginger, garlic, and curry powder. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer until onion is soft.

Add the potato, broth, coconut milk, and tomato with juice. Cover and simmer until the potato is cooked. About 15 minutes. Add the peas, smash some of the potatoes with the back of a spoon. Serve with rice and garnish with cilantro.

This next dish requires a few special seasonings, the fenugreek seeds are sold in the spice bulk bins at your favorite grocery store. Cardamom pods are not cardamom seeds — these are sometimes in the same bulk foods sections or try the great selection of spices over at Sunshine Foods. This second recipe isn’t as easy or as quick as the first dish, but it’s not difficult, and it’s well worth the time.

Kukul Mas Curry

(Chicken Curry)

3 pounds cut up chicken, (bone in your choice, shin off your choice — bone in will need to cook a little longer)

3 tablespoons oil

1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

3 bay leaves

2 large onions finely chopped

5 cloves garlic minced

2 teaspoons ginger finely grated

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground fennel

2 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon ground coriander

2 tablespoons vinegar

1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes with juice

6 cardamom pods crushed

1 stick cinnamon

1 stalk of lemon grass, bruised

1 cup coconut milk

If using bone-in chicken, cut the breasts into thirds. In a large saucepot heat the oil and fry the fenugreek seeds until they start to brown, add the onions, garlic, ginger and fry until the onions are soft and golden brown. Add the turmeric, chili powder, cumin, fennel, paprika, salt, coriander and vinegar. Stir well. Add the chicken stirring over medium heat, until the chicken is thoroughly coated with spices. Add the tomatoes, cardamom, cinnamon and lemon grass. Cook, covered until chicken is cooked. Bone-in chicken will take about 40 minutes, boneless chicken will take about 30 minutes. Uncover and add coconut milk. Adjust season with salt and pepper. Serve with rice.

I would serve these with either a fruity malbec or a vouvrey, both would be a good pairing. Enjoy.

As always, please contact me for any food-related questions, comments, or concerns. I enjoy hearing from you. One final thought — a big shout out to my friend Mary Rose, cancer free!

Darryl Allan is food and beverage director for Fountainhead Hotels, which includes Zach’s Restaurant at Sophie Station Hotel. He enjoys sharing his passion for fun, creative and great-tasting food. Email him at

Measurement Equivalents

A hint tiny amount (1/2 drop)

A drop 1/64 teaspoon (1/2 smidgen)

A smidgen 1/32 teaspoon (1/2 pinch)

A pinch 1/16 teaspoon (1/2 dash)

A dash 1/8 teaspoon (1/2 tad)

A tad 1/4 teaspoon

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