Recipe: Chicken with Potatoes

Once again, Laura is stepping in this week to share another recipe... and some more of her thoughts on what's fast becoming her cooking specialty: Indian cuisine. Enjoy!

A discussion of Indian cuisine is not complete without a mention of spices. The spices! Oh how my nose runs, my eyes water, how I love that burn in the back of my throat.

In my previous post, I mentioned I was the lucky recipient of two fantastic Indian cookbooks. And a spice grinder.

But why, I asked myself that Christmas morning, would I need a spice grinder to make Indian food? Mystified, I flipped through the recipes in both cookbooks. It didn't take long to realize that nearly half of all the ingredients in each recipe were spices. And though many recipes called for whole spices, just as often the spices were ground. Coriander, cumin, peppercorns... all these can be bought whole--but ground when needed--to bring out their full, fresh flavors.

Clearly, I would be using the spice grinder a lot. But where to get whole spices, and more importantly where to get them at a reasonable price? Our solution, one discussed elsewhere at Casual Kitchen, was to visit a local ethnic market in our community. Try it yourself and you’ll be blown away by the quantity and quality, as well as the price!

Several years ago I did just that, lumbering home from a Parsippany Indian grocery store with two enormous grocery bags of spices for about $50 total. It may seem like a lot of money to spend on spices, but years later we are still using them to make incredibly delicious food.

And: Don't forget the old lie about throwing out old spices, particularly if you buy spices in whole form rather than ground.

Though this week’s recipe is more involved than in my previous post, it can easily be doubled and savored for longer. I hope you enjoy it!


Chicken with Potatoes
From An Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey

3 medium potatoes
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
5 Tb water
1 ½ lbs chicken thighs, skinned
5 Tb canola oil
1 inch cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
4 cardamom pods
2 whole hot dried red chili peppers
2 whole black peppercorns
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ cup tomato sauce
2 cups chicken broth
½ tsp salt

1) Peel and quarter potatoes. Boil potatoes for 25 minutes, drain and set aside.

2) Place onion, garlic, ginger and 5 tablespoons of water in a blender, and blend to a smooth paste. Set aside.

3) Rinse chicken and pat dry. Heat oil in a large, deep-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add cinnamon, bay leaf, cardamom, whole red peppers, and peppercorns. Cook 1 minute, then fry chicken pieces quickly on all sides until golden brown. Remove chicken with slotted spoon and set aside.

4) Pour the paste from blender into skillet, add turmeric and stir for 3 minutes. Add tomato sauce and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then cover and lower heat, simmering gently for 15 minutes.

5) Add potatoes, salt and browned chicken pieces to the sauce. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low for 20-25 minutes until chicken is tender, stirring occasionally. Serve over rice.

Serves 4.

A final note: Many Westerners associate Indian food with curry. But did you know that curry is not even a spice? Rather, it is a blend of ground spices that varies from one household to the next. As Madhur Jaffrey bluntly says in her classic cookbook An Invitation to Indian Cooking, "no Indian ever uses curry powder in his cooking."

Garam masala, like curry, is a spice blend called for in many Indian recipes, and you can create it yourself with a trusty kitchen spice grinder.

READ NEXT: Why Spices Are a Complete Rip-Off and What You Can Do About It

Recipe: Saag Murgh (Chicken with Spinach)

Readers, this week's post was written by my lovely wife Laura. Enjoy!

Occasionally, Daniel gets a break. Once in a while I take over the cooking, and this week I'm taking over the writing too.

When it's my turn to cook, I usually dive into my Indian cookbooks and our huge stash of spices, and get to work. I still remember my first taste of Indian food back in college, in the vegetarian-infused atmosphere of Ithaca, NY. I was 22 years old, a girl from the provinces, and my Midwestern taste buds could barely process the impossibly exotic flavor of the vindaloo I’d ordered. Never mind the tongue-twisting burn!

Dan's sister had discovered Indian cooking years before that, and one Christmas, knowing my curiosity about the cuisine, she gifted me two excellent Indian cookbooks and a spice grinder---opening up an entire world to me.

From Bengal to Punjab: The Cuisines of India (Smita Chandra, 1991) and An Invitation to Indian Cooking (Madhur Jaffrey, 1973) were written by two Indian expats who share their delightful stories growing up in Indian kitchens, and have graciously adapted their recipes to Western kitchens. Both cookbooks are excellent.

Contrary to its reputation, Indian food doesn't have to be complex and difficult. It doesn't even have to be vegetarian. Today's recipe is healthy, delicious, and surprisingly easy to make. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Saag Murgh (Chicken with Spinach)
from From Bengal to Punjab: The Cuisines of India by Smita Chandra

2 lbs chicken thighs, skinned
20 oz (2 boxes) frozen chopped spinach
2 medium onions, diced
4 large cloves garlic, grated
¾ inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated

Seasoning/spice mix:
3 Tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 cardamom pods
6 whole cloves
1 inch cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
salt, to taste
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 Tablespoons plain yogurt
½ teaspoon garam masala

1) Rinse chicken, pat dry and set aside. Thaw the spinach thoroughly and let drain in a colander.

2) In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the cumin seeds, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, turmeric, salt and cayenne pepper. Cook for 1 minute, then add the onions and saute until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Gradually add the yogurt, stirring constantly. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the drained spinach. Mix well and cook for 2 minutes more, then add the chicken.

3) Cover the pan, reduce heat to low, and cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover, increase the heat to medium-high, and boil off most of the liquid. Mix in the garam masala and serve on a bed of cooked rice.

Serves 4 generously.

A note on spices: all the spices included in this recipe are easily found in your local supermarket or ethnic grocery store (more on this last tip in a later post!).

Pricing Power

Readers, a brief consumer empowerment anecdote.

The last time I bought paper coffee filters, the store brand I usually buy came in packs of 200 for $2.00. Which is intriguing, because the time before when I bought them, a package contained 300. For $2.00.

This is of course a stealth price hike. A big one.

So what did I do? I still bought it. Contrary to my philosophy of brand disloyalty and my standard recommendation to punish all stealth price hikes by instantly dropping that product for a competitor, I still bought it.

The interesting question is why I still bought it, and what that implies to us as students of consumer behavior and consumer empowerment.

On one level, it's a low-ticket item, and one you hardly ever buy. You can easily argue what's the difference as you march to the checkout to pay 50% more. [1]

Then again, don't you think they know that? Isn't this playing out exactly the way they want it?

Yes, this is a low-ticket, infrequently-purchased staple item, one purchased so infrequently, in fact, that 90% of customers won't even remember the price or the unit volume from their last purchase. And because the store brand is already the lowest-cost product (and still is, barely, even after the price hike), there's no obvious alternative, at least not right there in the coffee aisle. Sure, there might be some possible competition outside your grocery store, but then you won't have the convenience of getting the item now, when you need it and while you're thinking about it. And heck, it's only two bucks.

Isn't that the perfect product for a price hike? Yes. Yes it is.

This, readers, is what they call "pricing power." In fact, it's near-perfect pricing power, and it's the holy grail for consumer products companies: the ability to raise prices with very little demand elasticity. Which is just a fancy way of saying people are going to make the same buying decision after the price hike as they did before.

Okay. How do we look at this from a standpoint of consumer (and investor) empowerment? How do we play chess here, rather than obediently, passively, making our pre-assigned checkers move? The conclusion isn't rocket science--in fact it's borderline transparently obvious--yet it's a conclusion that often eludes both investors and consumers:

Consumers: To the extent possible, avoid buying products with excellent pricing power. If your choices are limited, find substitutes, competing products, or an entirely alternative solution.

Investors: Invest in companies selling products with excellent pricing power.

And of course, the converse is true too: in general, try to buy products with terrible pricing power, and avoid investing in the companies making them.

That's the heuristic. That's the chess game we want to be playing. I'll leave it to you, readers, to come up with ways to apply it tactically to this specific problem.

[1] For math-challenged readers: 300 filters at $2.00 is a 0.66c cost per filter. 200 filters at $2.00 is a 1c cost per filter. 1c / 0.66c is an increase of 50%.

READ NEXT: How to Be Manipulated By a Brand

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

Money Sundays: Second Order Thinking

Readers, I want to share a mental tool with you, a tool I used incessantly in my days as a professional investor--and still use today as a individual investor: Always ask the second order question.

What are second order questions? They're meta-questions, or questions about first-order questions. One way that helps me think in second order terms is to make a habit of asking myself "and then what?"

Let's look at an example. Consider the following (rather defeatist) first-order question: "Why bother with investing? The stock market's rigged anyway."

In its first-order form, this is a ready-made rationalization for not even bothering to learn about investing at all. Forget it, what's the point? Didn't you hear me say it's rigged? You could stop right there and be done with the whole domain.

Or, you could ask a second-order question: "If the stock market's really rigged, then what?"

This is the kind of question that opens mental doors, and often there's a gigantic opportunity behind those doors. For example, you could conclude "If the stock market's rigged, maybe I should invest in the companies that are supposedly 'rigging' it… I bet I could make some very good returns piggybacking on those guys."

Suddenly, a yuge cognitive door opens, which might help you discover the stocks of well-regarded investment managers like T. Rowe Price [TROW] or Legg Mason [LM]. Or alternatively, you might discover the stocks of well-regarded private equity firms like Carlyle Group [CG], KKR [KKR] or Blackstone [BX]. "Hmmm which of these companies pays consistent and attractive dividends with good dividend growth potential?"

Now you're off and running with some potentially very intriguing investment ideas.

There's more. As we saw in a recent post, you can now quite easily find investor letters and 13F filings that offer incredibly useful insights and investment ideas from some of the best hedge funds and investment funds around. You know, all those fatcats out there supposedly rigging the stock market.

Heck, why pay some hedge fund an insane "two and twenty" fee structure (2% of assets and 20% of gains) when you can borrow their ideas for free?

Never stop at the first-order question. Ask the second order question, and always try to engage in second order thinking. It's a lens for looking at reality. Using it helps you think more deeply, and it leads you to opportunity for you and your family.

For further reading:
For much more on the concept of second order thinking, see Howard Mark's book The Most Important Thing.

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

21 Questions (To Ask Yourself Annually)

Readers, I wanted to share a list of questions from How To Retire Happy, Wild, and Free by Ernie Zelinski.

This unusual and indiosyncratic book comes from the same family of foundational works as Early Retirement Extreme, Your Money Or Your Life and Mr. Money Mustache’s blog. And as any Casual Kitchen reader knows, these books and sites have massively influenced my thinking. Zelinski’s book is yet another work that pushes readers to think wildly differently about the world we live in, and like these other books, it offers thoughtful, open-minded readers an opportunity to "play chess instead of checkers" in the game of life.

The following list of twenty-one questions is structured in a way to get you to think and reflect. Are you surrounding yourself with the right social and informational inputs? Are you spending your time properly, in a fulfilling way? Are you making truly active choices about these things? Or are you making passive choices while telling yourself they’re active?

I consider Zelinski’s list of questions to be an important contribution to the canon of early retirement/anti-consumerist literature. And while these questions come from a book about retirement, the questions below are really about living a mindful life of quality. In other words, anyone--at any stage of life--will benefit from thinking about them.

Questions to Ask Yourself Annually

1) Am I in control of my lifestyle?
2) Do I make the most of my money to give me the best quality of life?
3) What can I achieve in my retirement that would make me proud?
4) What can I do that is unique?
5) Do I have enough great friends in my life?
6) Do I devote sufficient time to see my close friends?
7) Do I watch too much TV?
8) Does my lifestyle complement my partner's?
9) Do I travel as much as I would like?
10) Do my time commitments allow me to make a contribution to making this world a better place?
11) Do my time commitments allow me to indulge in creative endeavors?
12) Am I developing spiritually as a human being?
13) Do I exercise enough, in my own enjoyable way?
14) Do I complain too much?
15) Am I as grateful as I should be for what I have in my life?
16) Am I continually learning something new?
17) Do I do something special for myself each and every day?
18) Do I take enough time to meditate and keep my mind in tiptop shape?
19) Am I living in the right country or in the right part of the country?
20) What will make me feel better?
21) Do I have everything I need to be happy, but don't realize it?

Readers, what do you think? Which questions do you find particularly helpful or provocative? And why?

READ NEXT: The Official Your Money Or Your Life Reading List