Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sitar Indian Restaurant

 This week we went to Sitar Indian Restaurant, and I really enjoyed myself. Indian food is my favorite. We thought about going here when we first moved here, but it seemed a bit more expensive than other Indian restaurants in the area. When I was out of town last week, Scott went there (because the Garden Bistro was closed). He reported back that while it is more expensive, the price includes naan or rice (some of the dishes also include a vegetable). He also reported back that it was really good.

There are quite a bit of Indian people in surburban Detroit (where I am from) mostly because of engineering opportunities in the auto industry. I worked at a Blimpie sandwich shop throughout college, and it was owned by an Indian couple. To this day it remains the longest period of time I have ever worked anywhere. The owners were really great to my ex-boyfriend and I. The whole family was very much like the family in Jhumpa Lahiri's novel "The Namesake" (the father was a science professor, the daughter was named Sonia, the son dated white girls, the mother seemed to miss certain parts of India a lot, valued family above anything else, and tried to replicate things she missed as closely as possible). I only mention all this because in her kitchen I had the best Indian food ever. I was consistently blown away by what she would pull out of foil packets in her oven after what hadn't seemed like that much effort at all. The chicken tikka especially was juicy, tender, and full flavored. From my point of view, the Indian food available in Brooklyn and Queens in the years following that point in time couldn't compare at all to her cooking. It didn't hurt that her cooking had been served along with a large helping of kind hospitality, but the food was definitely the best judged on it's own too.

When we moved here, I was lucky enough to be invited over for lunch at someone's house whose mother-in-law was staying there from India. She folded over layers of naan dough and cooked them up right in front of us as we scooped up chickpeas and eggplant. With international cuisines, it is difficult to beat something made from scratch by a person who is actually from there. It didn't take Scott and I long to check out Shalimar. We've been going to the Delmar location for the last couple years, and we really like it (including the lunch buffet). We tried Karavalli, which we admitted is probably better than Shalimar, but it is also more expensive and a farther drive for us, so we really don't go as often.

What I have to say about Sitar is this: it is the first time since I sat at my former boss's counter waiting for the chicken tikka to be scooped out of the steaming oven, the smell of charred meat and strong spices drifting through the house, that I felt any Indian food has even compared. That is to say, this could possible be the best Indian food I have eaten at a restaurant in nine years. Also, it doesn't feel like a takeout place. To me, it felt like the house of my boss in college - totally comfortable and ready for friends and relatives to stop by with delicious Indian food offerings from their own kitchens, and probably a strong helping of gossip. I kept expecting my former boss's daughter to walk through and talk about what she had to do to get into the University of Michigan. I really enjoyed myself. This really was Indian food done completely right.

I had the hot tea which was spiced very nicely. Scott had the tandoori chicken the first time he went, and the tandoori sizzler when he went with me. I thought the tandoori was great. Tandoori often doesn't hold up well on Indian buffets or when driven home for take out. It really has to be taken out of the oven and eaten immediately. This was really fresh, juicy, and sizzling. I had vegetable samosas and the pastry part of it was much flakier than at Shalimar, Delmar. Then I had the shrimp palak: shrimps cooked with spinach and mildly spiced. The spinach was a great texture, and not at all like some of the palak dishes in Brooklyn and Queens which often just tasted like creamed spinach.

I think we will continued to frequent the Delmar Shalimar. It is a closer location, the people are nice, and we've enjoyed it over the last couple years. But I think if we are in the Central Avenue area, and in the mood to spend a little more money, we will go back and enjoy the tasty food at Sitar Indian Restaurant and it's comfortable ambiance. Then, I can close my eyes and be transported to a time when I was in a suburban kitchen in Farmington Hills, MI, eagerly gnawing on a chicken bone that was so good I didn't care I was getting spices all over my fingers.

The Broccoli Mandate

I was told John Roberts would force me to do this:

Fortunately, broccoli stir-frys are terrific.   Adam Gopnik has more tips to deal with our scary new constitutional era.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus

My sister made me some bacon wrapped asparagus. Here is the approximate recipe. She mixed together some brown sugar, olive oil, sesame oil, garlic, jalapeno, salt and pepper, rice vinegar, and sesame seeds and brushed that all on the asparagus. Then, she wrapped the asparagus in bacon, and I am pretty sure she sprinkled on a little more brown sugar before putting it in the oven for 400 degrees and 30 minutes. Delicious! It has some Asian flair and a nice sweet and salty mix. Well played sister of mine, well played.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dining Note: Mingle in Albany

Since it was pushing 100 today, I was compelled to return to All Good Bakers for some of the gazpacho I discussed last week, which was equally good the second time around.  While I was there one of the owners from AGB's well-regarded DelSo neighbor Mingle came in, which reminded me that we had never tried it.   With Ms. Garlic out of town and me not really wanting the stove or oven on in the heat and having exhausted the weekend's leftovers, I decided tonight was as good a night to try Mingle as any.

Chef Un-Hui Filomeno's menu is what could be called, to use that now virtually meaningless term, "fusion," with Korean cuisine as the starting point.  Since I wanted to try something from Filomeno's Korean wheelhouse but didn't feel like Kimchi Jigae, I chose the Yakimandu as an appetizer. The dumplings were stuffed with an interesting mixture of chicken, ricotta, Napa cabbage, and scallions. The texture, with its contrast of soft and crisp, was perfect, and the flavor was rich and managed to stay on the right side of being pleasingly without being excessively salty. The dinner menu offers a very diverse array of choices. I was very intrigued by the chicken rolotni with red pepper and homemade cheese, but $25 seemed awfully steep for stuffed chicken breast and I wasn't terribly hungry. So instead I went with a small portion of the Chicken and Chorizo Creole. The dish was one of Filomeno's ambitious combinations, using Louisiana spices in a Vietnemese-style preparation. One is never sure how these combinations will mesh, but the dish was terrific. The name ingredients were served with the Cajun trinity (except that red peppers were substituted for green ones, a wise choice IMHO) and shitake mushrooms, in a spicy and lightly creamy sauce over rice. It worked beautifully, the vegetables remaining crunchy and the sauce well-balanced. I wasn't sure whether I wanted the "Chef's spicy," so my server Krysten suggested getting the regular spice level but bringing some Korean red pepper on the side. I needed some of the pepper flakes -- I would probably get the Chef's spicy next time I try the dish -- but with the addition of pepper flakes I got exactly the heat level I was looking for. The half portion was a bargain, more than satisfying for the price.

It's a comfortable space, and the service is friendly and efficient. The list of taps is decent -- I got a Keegan Mother's Milk, and while none of the paler ales are ones I would personally select (I only order Harpoon IPA in the seemingly large majority of Boston Bars in which it's the only halfway decent option) none are bad. The beer/can selection actually has a higher selection of genuinely first-rate beers, with Ommegang, Dogfish Head, and Oskar Blues making the cut. There was a reasonable selection of wines by the glass as well. Having tried only two dishes I can only give an initial impression, but what I had was impressive; I'll certainly be back.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Big Boy, Walled Lake, MI

Am I going to go ahead and talk about the Walled Lake Big Boy? Yes, yes I am. So I am in Michigan on a professional development trip. I took the train from Albany to Toledo on Friday night. Who takes the train from Albany to Toledo on a Friday night, you ask? Many people who are from Detroit originally and live out east, but are going to weddings and funerals. It felt we were all kindred spirits. There is something vaguely comforting about overhearing that a bunch of people are from the place you are from and don't live there anymore, but have to go back because of various important relationships. Also, there is something weird about the overnight train in terms of a bunch of strangers who don't know each other at all falling asleep in close proximity. You all feel like you are getting through some long journey together. There is a strong element of trust involved. Will the guy who is yelling at the all the people in his phone in colorful language do anything to me if I fall asleep? Was the philosophy grad student from Indiana a little too interested in my Jonathan Franzen book and what was playing on my ipod? What other time do you trust a stranger enough to fall asleep five feet away from them? Train travel is a different world and very relaxing. Utica. Syracuse. Rochester. Erie. Cleveland. Toledo. There. Some things you can rely on no matter what. You've all gone through this long journey together, and all you have to show for it is a big crease on your face and a Rachel Ray magazine you finished. It feels like more than it is. Say whatever you want about the convenience of plane travel, it doesn't give you that feeling of camaraderie. One thing I noticed was the weird increase of medical marijuana storefronts all over the area, as I took the bus from Detroit to Ann Arbor. Also, all those New York Times stories about abandoned Detroit land becoming gardens seemed completely true. Downtown Detroit was looking good! I even noticed a new creperie and sushi restaurant on a block that previously had nothing. If it was looking that good in the year 2000 I might have actually stuck with art school longer than a day and a half.

I have lived in New York state since the year 2005. Now even though I am in Michigan, I wonder where the seltzer is and can't stop saying "idear" instead of "idea" (like my coworkers in Massachusetts), but there is something about the place you are from. In some way, it is both totally foreign and also the thing you compare all other things to. I both don't know how I would fit in here now, and feel completely like it is a part of me. It feels confusing. People call other people "hicks" and "rednecks" here, and I really never feel like I hear that in New York state or western Massachusetts. My parents and siblings and I have consumed quite a bit of ice cream and wine, and it feels both completely routine and like a vacation. It has my grandpa, my most fabulous friend since I was 12 years old, Bell's beer, Caribou Coffee, and Big Boy. Ah, Big Boy. Check it out. Here I am with my sister.

 Salad bar!

Cool mural
 Browny lad
 Caesar salad

So far I've learned: my Dad is a good time (especially since he got a crazy new sportscar), my mom is good at planning my sister's wedding, and although you can always make new friends , you can never, ever, ever replace your old friends. So here's to lakes, Big Boy salad bar, Midwestern wholesomeness, the Detroit Tigers, and for the rest of the week - the city of Ann Arbor.

TWD, Baking with Julia: French Strawberry Cake

As part of Tuesdays with Dorie using the book Baking with Julia, I made the French Strawberry Cake. Check out the discussion about the recipe here.  Check out all the other bakers here. You can read the recipe on Sophia's Sweets.

Check out mine:

My thoughts:

  • This is a great summer dessert. The cake is easy, tasty, and has a great spongy texture that holds up nicely against the juicy strawberries. It is not as tough as a biscuit for strawberry shortcake, but absorbs liquid better than airy angel food cake. 
  • There is something very luxurious about desserts with contrasting multiple layers. 
  • Light and refreshing, this recipe would be great to take to a summer BBQ.
  •  Overall, from husband and coworkers rave reviews!

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Brief Local Dining Note

If you like gazpacho, you have to try the gazpacho at All Good Bakers.    For that matter, if you think you don't like gazpacho, you should try it anyway.  Even though it's not peak season yet, it had a beautiful, tangy flavor, with a nice sharpness that if my palate is to be trusted came in part from garlic scapes.   Strongly recommended.  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Fun weekend, fancy brunch, PolishFest

 What a nice weekend! There was beautiful weather. There's Wachusett Summer, and the crazies are on Bridezillas. Also - "Mad Men" finale (What?!).  First off, I decided to take advantage of the skills I learned at my ravioli class. I sauteed some shallots and added mushrooms. Then, I mixed in some salt and pepper, chives, ricotta, a little bit Adams Reserve cheddar and a couple of eggs.

 I spotted some Hodgson Mill pasta flour on Friday afternoon, and when I made that into ravioli it really created a different texture than just using regular flour. I think half semolina and half regular flour might give the best texture though. I'll have to do some experimenting.

The pasta was great. It felt like a very fancy dinner. Problem was, I totally overestimated the amount of filling I would need, and ended up with a whole big bowl of mushroom filling. I woke up the next day not wanting it to go to waste. I tried my hand at making crepes from the Silver Spoon Cookbook. Making crepes turns out to be totally fun! I felt like I was in France. "Je voudrais une crepe, s'il vous plait!" I rolled them around the mushroom filling, scattered on some parmesan cheese, a little bit of butter, and more chives. I baked them at 325 degrees for 13 minutes.

This felt like a big accomplishment for me in my cooking life. You can probably put anything in crepes. Ham and fontina crepes! Spinach and feta crepes! The sky is the limit. Scott listed off the top five things I made ever and included these two items, so a pretty good 12 hours for me as a cook!

Then, we went to the Polish Fest at the Blessed Virgin Mary Czestochowa Church. We really like going for Polish food at Muza in Troy - so we knew we would like the food. We had a great time! There was music. Older people were dancing. There were awesome looking vodka glasses and painted Easter eggs for sale. Check out what we had to eat (also Zywiec!):

 Ribbon fries and kielbasa with sauerkraut (there were mushrooms in the sauerkraut)

 Pierogi and kielbasa

Then, there was a girly lunch at the Tailored Tea, where I tried the turkey sandwich and found it very fresh and satisfying. This time I went with the chamomile tea. Oh, how I love that place! This time we brought Elizabeth who really liked it too. Then, Jessica gave us a garden tour, and I became the proud parent of a tomato plant. Check out this little guy:

Thank you to Jessica's boyfriend for having the idea of scooping up their little tomato outshoots and putting them in pots for favors to give to their friends when they come over. Somehow this adorable little idea warmed my heart. I so hope the little tomato plant does well. I was also very inspired by her boyfriend's herb containers on their deck since all I have is a small patio. I thought I had a brown thumb a couple years ago when my herbs didn't do well when I brought them inside, but now I am thinking maybe I should give gardening another try.

Very, very nice start to what feels like summer!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Endless Summer

 I've never been a big fan of summer. Last summer was pretty great, but some of my favorite things are fall things like tweed, tea, a roasting chicken, argyle, and acorn squash. I was really into swimming in the Great Lakes as a child, but at age 18, I developed a weird allergy to cold water and pretty much developed hobbies like reading and watching movies to accommodate that allergy. That all being said, here are some cool summer links:

 My plans for the summer include:


 That all being said, I wouldn't mind some time on the El Mariachi patio, taking in some baseball (Go Tigers!),  and for sure eating some awesome farm fresh tomatoes (panazanella!). Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Tailored Tea, Latham

How often do you go to a new place and love it so much you can't wait to go back? Not too often, but I did feel that way about The Merry Monk. The past weekend my friend Jessica and I went to The Tailored Tea in Latham. Now, I am a fan of the whole ordeal of tea and specifically the Whistling Kettle, but the truth is I only seem to make it up to Ballston Spa about twice a year. I usually buy enough tea to last me until the next visit. I've long wished for a place like this closer to Albany, so much so that I usually say if I were wealthy I would open a place like this. I basically just want to eat something adorable and feminine like these Joy the Baker cupcakes, wear a cheery floral, poofy dress, maybe a hat, some white gloves (or at least be in a place where such a get up wouldn't be so out of place) and talk about very classy things like ex-boyfriends who liked Gwar, fighting with your sister when you were 14 years old about silly things, food swaps, and taking over the internet. I loved this place so much, I could totally go here every Sunday morning with a different female friend and probably run out of female friends to ask before I got sick of it. The ambiance lets me have the mental image that we are way more old-timey, feminine, and restrained than we actually are.

On to the food and tea. I had a pot of the Earl Grey, and I loved it. They give you these little candle things that keep the tea warm while you chat. I am pretty sure Jessica got a half pot of the African Elixir. Check out all the teas here. I got the scones benedict on a cheddar chive scone, the scone of the day. It was as decadent and amazing as it sounds. I could have gone healthier since we had cake at home, but whatever (scones benedict! butter on top of butter!). Jessica got the salmon scramble with cream cheese and chives, and it looked really good. I thought the potatoes that came with both were very tasty too - not greasy or overdone. Then, we split a strawberry cream cake that was coated in almonds (I don't get almonds at home), and it was pretty light and very delicious. Mostly, I loved the vintage mismatched teacups, linen napkins, adorable waitress (Taylor works at The Tailored Tea!). I may go for a slightly healthier option when I go back, like the turkey sandwich a commenter mentioned on the Tablehopping Snapshot, but that scones benedict was pretty fabulous.Check out the full brunch menu here.

The building is very cool too, and you can read about that on their webpage. Overall, good times!

TWD, Baking with Julia: Oasis Naan

As part of Tuesdays with Dorie using the book Baking with Julia, I made the Oasis Naan. I've made naan before, and this recipe is better. You can find the recipe at Always Add More Butter and at Of Cabbages and King Cakes. Check out all the other bakers here!

My thoughts:

  • We served it with lamb with vinegar and mint, and that worked out great.
  • I thought the dough was very pliable and easy to work with, much like a pizza crust.
  • I loved how pricking the dough with a fork creates some areas with a texture that is sponge-like and other areas with a crispier texture. It was a nice contrast. 
  • I also really liked the addition of the scallions. I think this could also be great with some garlic, ginger, or jalapenos sprinkled on top before baking. 
  • Overall, definitely a keeper. This recipe is so easy (you don't even need to get out a mixer or food processor) and delicious, that I think it will encourage us to cook more Indian food in the future.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lamb With Vinegar and Mint

Since the lovely and talented Ms. Garlic was making Indian flatbread, I needed a good match for an entree. So I went with lamb with vinegar, slightly modified from Madhur Jaffrey's indispensable An Invatation to Indian Cooking.

 It's a fairly straightforward recipe if you have the Indian spices on hand:

  •  Brown lamb in a little canola oil, and remove it with tongs or a slotted spoon and rest it on a platter (covered with foil if you wish.) 
  •  Pour off any excess fat and brown sliced onions. Meanwhile, blend a few tablespoons of red wine vinegar with cumin, coriander, mustard seed, cloves, cinnamon, 6-8 cloves of garlic, and 1-2 hot peppers of your choice in a food processor. Cover the onions with the mixture and cook for a few minutes. 
  • Add a cup of stock or water (I prefer the former), bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and add the lamb (and any accumulated juices.) Add mint or parsley and (if not using stock) salt. 
  • Cook covered for 45 minutes. Then uncover, bring the sauce to a boil, and let the sauce reduce until it is very thick (turning down the heat after a few minutes). 
  •  Serve with rice or nan and a vegetable (we just had a green salad, but cauliflower would work well.) I think next time we'll try it with bell peppers as well as the onions.
 It's a keeper!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Pioneer Woman's Coffee Cake

Last night, we had over our new friend and her husband, of JessJamesJake fame, who I met at the All Over Albany party. I thought it would be a good time to use our pasta machine and I totally pimped out my husband's cooking skills ("Do you guys want to come over and eat his pasta sauce?" "Scott, you are going to make some pasta sauce for some people who live around the corner from us!").  The good thing about having people over is you can make desserts that you wanted to make, but thought were too decadent for a house with two people in it. I bought the new Pioneer Woman cookbook when I went and saw her speak in NYC in March. We wanted to make the coffee cake, and this one she posted in 2009 is pretty similar to the one in the book except you'd swap out the instant coffee crystals in the filling for cream cheese, and put a different icing on top (more of a ganache), but the cake is the same. I made some doughnuts from that book back in March. Anyways, check it out!

Ah, totally delicious! Here are things I like about baked goods: cream cheese (check), not too sweet (check), buttermilk (check), freshness (check), and a mixture of textures (that too!). Pretty much a winner all around!

There was talk of Tour de Hard Ice Cream, where we've lived before, re-doing our bachelorette parties (we both had a bit of girls gone mild (like this), how to make pasta, and Cardona's delicious Italian bread. The dessert was a hit. Then, Scott went and got some port we got at a winery on our honeymoon because James said he is a port appreciator.

The port was fabulous. It was not cloyingly sweet and had a deep, complex flavor. It was the kind of fabulous where you have to pause and just stare at your glass and wonder how the contents can possibly be that delicious.

Overall, it was great to have new people over, and I am grateful to the All Over Albany party for making it possible for me to meet people I may not normally meet.