Sunday, August 27, 2006

First Foray into Indian Cuisine

I recently finished the novel Brick Lane by Monica Ali. The book portrays a Bangladeshi family living in London. The main character is often in the kitchen preparing food – dhal and bhajias along with various spices, rice, and tea figured prominently. I never bothered to research any of these dishes as I was reading. They seemed vaguely Indian. But as I meandered through the bargain book section Borders last weekend, I came across one of those $5.99 cookbooks – large, lots of pictures, geographically focused. This one was entitled India’s 500 Best Recipes by Shehzad Husain, Rafi Fernandez, Mridula Baljekar, and Manisha Kanani. The tag line stated “A vibrant collection of spicy appetizers, tangy meat, fish and vegetable dishes, breads, rices and delicious chutneys from India and South-East Asia, with over 500 photographs.” I thumbed through it and was pleased to find lots of recipes that did not contain curry (I have not yet acquired a taste for curry). The book was cheap enough, so I purchased it. I discovered that dhal means lentil and that bhajias are snacks of fried gram flour and vegetable batter.

For last night’s dinner I selected two recipes that were fairly simple and that did not require me to visit an Asian/Indian market. And, of course, I slightly adjusted a couple of ingredients.

The first dish was Karahi Chicken & Tomatoes with Mint

2 skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips

1 to 2 cups of water

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 small onion, chopped (the recipe called for scallions, but The Fresh Market was out of them)

1 teaspoon fresh shredded ginger root

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (the recipe called for crushed dried red chilies – is this the same thing?)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon fresh chopped cilantro (also called coriander)

1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint

2 tomatoes, peeled and deseeded using my handy-dandy peeler deseeder (the recipe called for 3 tomatoes peeled, deseeded, and roughly chopped – I’m not partial to tomato chunks, thus, the need for a deseeder; the deseeder usually produces much more liquid than deseeding by hand, thus the decrease in number of tomatoes)

And now to the preparation: Place the chicken and water in a pot and let come to a boil. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for about 10 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Set pot of chicken aside. Heat oil in a heavy pan and add the onions. Cook onions until tender over medium to low heat. Add the chicken (without the liquid) and stir-fry for 3-5 minutes on medium heat (let the chicken water/broth cool and freeze it for later use). Add shredded ginger, crushed red peppers, lemon juice, cilantro, mint, tomatoes, and salt. Let mixture simmer (15-20 minutes) until most of the tomato liquid has reduced, stirring occasionally.

I really liked the lemon juice in this dish. The mint was a bit understated and the crushed red peppers added minimal heat (but this could have been due to the heat in the second dish). The fresh tomato sauce was familiar since I make fresh sauce for pasta from time to time. The boiling of the chicken before adding it to the frying pan was an interesting technique to ensure the doneness of the chicken. The chicken maintained its moistness throughout the cooking process.

The second dish was Balti Stir-Fried Vegetables with Cashew Nuts. The original recipe served four people; I pared it down for two.

1 carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks

1 red bell pepper, deseeded and cut into matchsticks (the recipe also called for a green bell pepper which I omitted)

1 zucchini, cut into matchsticks and slated to draw out excess water (the recipe also called for green beans which I omitted)

1 small onion, chopped (once again, The Fresh Market was out of scallions)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

6 bay leaves (the recipe called for curry leaves; I did not have curry leaves and had noticed in another recipe that bay leaves could be substituted; I have no idea as to the flavor differences)

½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1 teaspoon crushed red peppers (the recipe called for 4 dried red chilies)

A handful of cashews (or more) to taste

1 teaspoon salt (I used Haleakala Red from Soul of the Sea because I had it on hand)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Heat the oil in a wok or heavy pan and fry the bay leaves, cumin seeds, and crushed red pepper for about a minute over medium heat. Add the onions and stir fry for about 5 minutes. Add the peppers and carrots and cashew, stir fry for 3-5 minutes. Add the zucchini, salt, and lemon juice. Stir fry until zucchini is of desired doneness.

This dish had much more heat to it because the crushed peppers were initially fried in the oil. The heat even permeated the cashews. The bell peppers added a slight sweetness. This was a great way to serve vegetables. I could probably even add boiled chicken strips to this dish and serve with rice (another future blog entry!).

I will admit that this was a very conservative foray into Indian cuisine, but both dishes were very tasty and did not take all day to prepare. To wash down our meal we drank a 2002 Virginia Norton Locksley Reserve from Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg, VA (~$18). A very fruity dry red that served us well during our meal. Norton is a grape native to North America. Before Prohibition, Virginia produced Claret made from this grape that was very popular. Alas, all of the Norton vines were pulled up in the 1920’s and the wine-making industry died in Virginia until the latter part of the 20th century. The Norton grape was “rediscovered” growing in Missouri (which also makes Norton wines). It has now been reintroduced to the Virginia wine industry. While Norton is not a vinifera variety, it produces a decent wine about which Virginia can boast.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fresh Eggs

My friend ST keeps a few laying hens and I was the recipient of a dozen brown beauties. So tonight, the menu is as follows:

Mimosas (Gratien & Meyer Brut French sparkling wine from Saumur, not from concentrate orange juice, and juice from a lime wedge)

Scrambled eggs seasoned with salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of dried chervil

Market bacon (from the Fresh Market)

Surry sausage links (again, from the Fresh Market)

Homemade hash browns with Yukon Gold potatoes, onions, and red bell pepper (boil the peeled and chunked potatoes until fork tender; while the potatoes are boiling, sauté chopped onion and pepper until tender – use bacon grease, if possible; add the potatoes to onion and pepper and cook to desired crispiness; season with salt and pepper)

Monday, August 21, 2006

a little sunshine courtesy of pjpink

We all need a little homemade sunshine every so often:

juice of one orange (fresh squeezed, please)
juice from a lemon wedge
1 ounce of your favorite chilled vodka (I used Three Olives this go round)
1/2 ounce of your favorite orange liqueur (Gran Gala at this point in time)

Pour all in a martini-type glass. Enjoy. Repeat for yourself or friends as you see fit. Make sure no one has to drive anywhere when imbibing.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Cote de Brouilly & Cru Beaujolais

Last Wednesday we once again went to CanCan to take advantage of the half price wine night. The weather was lovely, so we decided to dine outside. We choose a 2004 Cote de Brouilly Chateau Thivin (regularly, $29; on this night $14.50). This Cru Beaujolais was light with a ton of fruit, but complex enough to hold our interest throughout the evening. We enjoyed it with Moules Frites (in a chorizo & tomato broth) and Steamed Clams (in a light garlic broth). The meal was served with fresh bread infused with lavender and thyme. We finished the evening with sorbet (kiwi and passionfruit) and Chocolat Chaud.

In reasearching the wine I ran across some additional information on Cru Beaujolais from The New Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia. There are 10 Cru villages:

Cote de Brouilly

All of these villages use Gamay grapes. The Cote de Brouilly can also use Pinot Noir grapes. Good Beaujolais years make for more enticing and complex Cru Beaujolais. The lighter style can pair with a huge variety of food from fish and seafood to burgers and fries. A great red wine choice for the summer.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Gadgets & Glasses

I hop into a kitchen gadget store every time I get the chance. I’ve drooled over gadgets. I’ve cursed purchased gadgets that did not live up to promises. A couple of items have stood the test of time. Both came from Williams-Sonoma.

The first one is an olive pitter/cherry stoner (I’ve never used it on cherries, although my husband did once for a splendid cherry pie). I’ve slowly acquired a taste for olives over the years starting with very mild oil-cured black olives and now preferring large green Sicilian beauties. Olives with pits seem to be firmer than the pre-pitted kind and I like the firmed style. Trying to pit olives with a knife requires patience that I’m not accustomed to doling out. The pit simply will not relinquish the olive meat. The pitter makes my life (and my chicken with olives and capers) much easier.

Number two gadget is a tomato peeler/deseeder. My husband found this many years ago in a Williams-Sonoma catalog (now, it can be purchased in the stores). He ordered it as a surprise for me. What a godsend! I had recently begun to cook and had been making fresh sauce the slow and inefficient way via a paring knife and thumb action. Not only did it take up a lot of time, it also led to a loss of flavorful liquid. The peeler deseeder originates from Italy and is mostly red plastic. It’s basically a modern Italian version of an old metal grinder. Peeling and deseeding tomatoes still takes some time, but this gadget makes it much more efficient and I do not waste any flavor. I also use it to deseed canned whole tomatoes when fresh tomatoes are not available.

And now to my most recent acquisition from Sur la Table – Bodum Double Wall Thermo Glasses. I purchased the Pavinas which hold nine ounces. The box says mouth blown, dishwasher safe, microwave safe. Since the glasses are double walled they essentially encase one glass inside of another, thus, keeping liquid temperatures more stable (hot stays hot, cold stays cold). Another perk is that cold liquids do not sweat the outside of the glass (glasses do not stick to coasters or leave water rings on wooden tables). So far, I’ve been very pleased. The Bodum series of double walled glasses come in an assortment of sizes from iced tea to espresso. Mine were the next size up from the espresso size and retailed for $14.95. A small caveat – the glasses seem very delicate and the warnings include not placing the glasses in a crowded dishwasher. I have washed them several times in their own space and so far, so good.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Wine Celebration at CanCan

This is basically a public service announcement for wine imbibers. For the Summer (through Sept. 2), CanCan has a different wine special every night of the week. Here is the low down:

Sunday - Half Price House Wine (the house wine's not stellar, but it's drinkable & cheap!)
Monday - $3 Half Wine Glass (generally a 3 oz. pour if memory serves)
Tuesday - $5 Regional Wine Glass (Bob, the Wine Director is always good at selecting very nice regional wines)
Wednesday - Half Price Bottles from the Brasserie List (this is the bargain of the year! Last week we had a fantastic Cotes du Ventoux for under $15!)
Thursday - 25% Off Reserve Wine List (the reserve list has some gems worth drooling over)
Friday - Open Glass Night (all wine from the Brasserie List available by the glass - what a way to try before going back on Wed. and ordering the entire bottle at half price)
Saturday - 15% Off Retail Wines for Off Premise Consumption

A Votre Sante!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Maggiano's on the Cheap

My husband and I do not go in for a lot of chain restaurants, but every so often we hit Maggiano's. Our motivation is the $10 coupon. If you go to the Maggiano's web site and sign up to receive occasional emails from them, they will send you a $10 coupon (must spend $20 in food to redeem). You will also receive $10 coupons around your birthday and anniversary. Not too shabby. Last night we split a half order of the Fried Mozzarella with Marinara ($3.95). I selected the half order of the Chopped Salad with Chicken, Avocado Slices, and Crispy Proscuitto (hold the Bleu Cheese for me) ($7.95). My hubby went for the half order of Spaghetti with Sausage and Meat Sauce ($11.50). Iced water for me (free!) and iced tea for him ($2.50). With taxes, tip, and coupon the final tally was $21.95. And I have leftover spaghetti for lunch!

A note about the wine list. Maggiano's has an extensive list and some well-known labels. Because the labels are so well-known, the retail prices are well-known. While most restaurants mark up wines to double retail, Maggiano's prices go well beyond that mark. Even the upper end wines are more than double retail. With prices being so exorbitant, we generally pass on the wine.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hot Summer Night at Zeus

Zeus Gallery Café expanded its size fairly recently. We decided to drop in on a sweltering Monday night. I’m sorry to report that the cooling equipment did not receive an expansion, much to our discomfort. We forged ahead anyway with dinner, drooling over the chalkboard list of items. To drink we still went for a hefty red wine – 2003 Burrton Napa Special Selection Merlot. The alcohol in this wine burned all the way down, even though it had some fruit and weight. In reading the label we discovered that the alcohol content ranged from 14.3 – 16.3 %. We definitely had a bottle in the 16% range. Thus, my husband drank sparingly since he was driving, and I was a touch loopy after dinner.

We skipped appetizers (just too hot) and dived into the entrees. I ordered the Grilled Filet Mignon with Red Pepper Béarnaise served with a White Truffle Oil Potato Cake. Great piece of beef. The Red Pepper Béarnaise was more béarnaise than red pepper, thus, slightly disappointing for someone who expected to taste something new. Potato cakes are always good. The white truffle oil added an ever so slight earthiness. My spouse opted for the Veal Saltimbocca with Pancetta Ham, Sage, Parmesan, and Arugula over Linguini with a Tomato & Veal Stock Pan Sauce. Tender cuts of veal and very thick pancetta. The tomato and veal stock sauce was a delicious balance, not too tomato-y. The meal was served with the always delectable Metro Bakery bread.

Zeus always pleases. Interesting food combinations, always a decent rotating wine list, and a cozy, casual atmosphere. But we will wait until the weather cools to return.