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Monthly Archives: September 2007

Two Meals Worth of Tikka Masala

VindalooWhen I was in college at Wesleyan in Middletown, Connecticut it was always a challenge to find a nice restaurant for dinner. There were the ubiquitous Thai joints, the beer and burger stops, the fajita and margarita vendors and the pizza and pasta places. There was also sushi, which was great, but not always affordable on a college student budget. When I needed a place for my parents to host a group for my 21st birthday, I did some asking around and learned about Haveli India. It’s a great Indian restaurant on the outskirts of town— so good, in fact, that I have yet to be as impressed with any the places I’ve tried in Chicago.

I was in Middletown on Friday and Saturday for an alumni meeting at Wesleyan. My cousin Leftover Girl just transferred in as a junior, so I took her and a couple of her friends to check out Haveli. After a few twists and turns as I attempted to remember how to get there, we finally made it. We were seated immediately after walked in and served delicious pappadums (lentil crackers) with three kinds of chutney. A round of Indian Kingfisher beers followed shortly.

Chicken Tikka MasalaWe wanted to share, but Leftover Girl’s friends were vegetarians. We decided to get two vegetable dishes and two meat along with a side of chewy naan. LG ordered the classic, rich chicken tikka masala. Tender boneless skinless chicken is cooked in ginger, garlic, yogurt and various spices, baked in the tandoor and sautéed with tomatoes. And don’t forget the special ingredients that make this dish so rich and filling: butter and cream. I ordered the lamb vindaloo (pictured above), extra spicy. It consists of earthy lamb cooked with every spice from coriander to cinnamon, potatoes and some vinegar for bite. I always ordered this dish as a student, so I decided to do it again for old time’s sake. It was as good as I remembered it, but not quite as spicy. Maybe my palate has toughened up in the past two years.

Saag PaneerLeftover Girl’s friends ordered the saag paneer (sauteed spinach with large squares of soft Indian cheese) and the mattar paneer (the same cheese with a tomato-based sauce similar to the tikka masala). These were almost better that the meat dishes. It’s amazing to me how Indian cooking styles from both the Northern and Southern parts of the country manage to produce vegetarian food that is as appealing, if not more so, than meat-filled dishes. The spices, the richness and the depth of flavor in the sauces makes these dishes like these filling as well as inspiring, things I can rarely say about vegetarian menu items.

We left the restaurant ready to burst and carrying three take-out bags. True to her name, Leftover Girl announced plans to have chicken tikka masala for breakfast. When I got back to her campus apartment and put the bags in the fridge, it almost seemed for a split second like I was back in college eager to make my leftovers from Haveli last for yet another delicious meal.

Haveli India
1300 South Main St.
Middletown, CT 06457

Belgian Brouhaha

BeerEmpanada Boy and I had a great dinner last night, but before I tell you about that, I have a confession to make. Remember my post about Empanada Boy’s proposal? Remember how I said it would take me at least two years to get used the idea of getting married? Well, after about one month I decided it wouldn’t be that traumatic after all. EB and I will be getting married in August, 2008— August 3, to be exact. So, I guess I exaggerated a bit.

But I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I had one of the best meals of my blogging career last night at the Hopleaf. The Hopleaf is a pub that serves an excellent selection of Belgian and American craft brew on tap with an even more extensive list of bottled beers. Almost as great as the beers is the menu, made up of Belgian specialties from steak frites to bouillabaisse.

07-09hopleaf-bestsmelt.jpgEB and I once began a meal there with a Scotch egg— a hardboiled egg wrapped in meat, breaded and fried. We both ordered Belgian ales: EB tried the earthy and deep Kwak, and I opted for the malty, spicy, fruity Triple Karmeliet. EB’s was delicious, but mine may have been the best beer I’ve ever tasted.

Most of the Belgian ales run $7 a piece, so it’s smart to keep food costs down. Besides, I’m the Mango Lassie, and I don’t do $20 entreés. EB and I started with an appetizer of fried smelts. These came with delicious pickled onions and peppers and tasted like a saltier, crispier version of fish and chips. The accompanying aioli was extra garlicky and charged with lemon juice, which brought the whole dish to another level.

07-09hopleaf-mussels.jpgThe menu here is pretty evenly split between surf and turf, but we couldn’t stay out of the water. For our entreé we ordered mussels for two Belgian style (only $10 per person!). A large covered pot arrived at our table. When the server lifted the lid, steam came out, revealing a massive pile of tender mussels with crusty bread on top. These divine shellfish were cooked in Wittekerke white ale with shallots, thyme, bay leaf and fennel. They came with a side of perfectly crispy Belgian-style frites. Just having completed a 10-mile rollerblade, we were hungry enough to finish off the whole pot. I was full, but I couldn’t help wishing for a big ladle to drink the rest of the broth down.

Luckily, I was able to fend off the urge with a few last sips of my delicious Belgian ale. Here’s to a great meal with my favorite dining companion!

Hopleaf Bar
5148 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60640

Hopleaf in Chicago

A Cake for a Sweet New Year

Honey CakeRosh Hashanah was last week. And when it comes time for Rosh Hashanah, the one thing that I think of most— apart from services, shofar blowing and atoning for sins— is honey cake. It’s traditional to eat honey around this time of year in order to ensure a sweet year ahead. This is an amazing recipe that Mango Mama shared with me, though it has undoubtedly been traded through many hands. It features just about every ingredient under the sun (except butter because it’s dairy-free). Whisky, coffee, orange juice and baking spices come together in a cake that is light, moist and extremely addictive. All it takes is one bite to make the world seem a little sweeter. Try it for yourself!

L’shana tova— Happy new year!

The Best Honey Cake

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup honey
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup warm coffee or strong tea
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup rye or whisky (substitute orange juice or coffee)
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds (optional)

This cake is best baked in a 9-inch angel food cake pan, but you can make it in:
One 9 or 10-inch tube or bundt cake pan
One 9 by 13-inch sheet cake
Two 9-inch squares or round pan layer cakes
Two 9 by 5-inch loaf pans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease pan(s). For tube and angel food pans, line the bottom with lightly greased parchment paper, cut to fit.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Make a well in the center and add oil, honey, white sugar, brown sugars, eggs, vanilla, coffee, orange juice and rye or whisky.

Using a strong wire whisk or in an electric mixer on slow speed, stir together well to make a thick, blended batter. Make sure no ingredients are stuck to the bottom.

Spoon batter into prepared pan(s). Sprinkle top of cakes evenly with almonds. Place cake pan(s) on two baking sheets, stacked together. This will ensure the cakes bake properly with the bottom baking faster than the interior and the top.

Bake until cake tests done— when it springs back when you gently touch the cake center. For angel and tube cake pans bake for 60-70 minutes, for loaf cakes about 45-55 minutes. For sheet style cakes, baking time is 40-45 minutes.

Let the cake stand 15 minutes before removing from the pan.

Appreciating Germany, One Beer at a Time

Brat and KrautI got an email on Saturday from a German girl who has become my pen pal. She found me on the Internet when she googled her own name because we have the same first and last names. The connections don’t end there: it turns out that her mother grew up— and her father now lives— in Cologne, where my grandfather’s family lived before being driven out by the Nazis. This girl who shares my name isn’t Jewish, but she and I seem to have a lot in common. It’s hard for some of my relatives to contemplate the idea of exploring a shared German past, but I know that my friend is more knowledgeable about and respectful of Jewish culture than many of my fellow Americans. Like most German students, she has studied the war and the concentration camps in great depth and has even done some research on the places where my relatives lived in Cologne.

BeerIt seemed fitting to me, then, to follow my latest pen pal correspondence with a trip with German American Festival. It’s held every fall in Chicago’s Lincoln Square, the historic center of the city’s very old German community. Although many of my relatives— both living and dead— might hesitate or even shudder at the thought of attending such an event, I think it’s time to start building trust between our cultures again. One easy way to begin is with a nice cool glass of Hofbrau beer. Empanada Boy and I brought our plastic steins from last year’s fest, so we only had to pay the refill price at one of the beer stands. Even then, it cost us $5 for my smaller mug and $10 for EB’s gigantic one.

07-09german-fest-ladies.jpgWhen it came to food, though, the fest was quite affordable. We went up to one of the two booths, which are run by older men and women volunteers from the German-American community. Both men and ladies take their jobs very seriously. The ladies strode around their tent purposefully, assembling sandwiches, plating giant pretzels and scooping up pieces of cake. EB and I also spent some time watching one of the men as he boiled the sausages before putting them on the grill. We asked if he used beer, and he told us the health department wouldn’t let them, but he recommended we try it that way at home.

Herring SandwichThe deliciously plump brat that Empanada Boy ordered (shown above) was, nonetheless, juicy and flavorful. It came with a nice side of warm, fresh, kraut and tangy German potato salad. I had a whole herring sandwich, made with red onions and tasty pickled herring. For dessert, we shared a piece of spongy cake fill with rich, eggy custard and topped with baked almonds. We sat and ate our lunch while listening to one of the many German bands that entertains the crowds through the weekends.

The coolest thing about this festival is how important it is to so many people. Countless attendees, both young and old, were attired in traditional German clothes or were wearing a small flag stuck in their hats. People were singing along to all of the songs. They really love this stuff, and they make everyone else want to be part of the merriment. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to go to Germany to visit my pen pal and feel as welcomed as I did here.

German American Festival

Lincoln Square
(Near the corner of Lincoln and Leland Aves.)
Chicago, IL 60625

Held every September; contact the Chamber of Commerce (773.728.3890) for details.

New York City to the ‘GuyLand

Fried Green Tomato BLTAs I promised last week, I’m here to fill you in on some of the other meals I enjoyed on the cheap (relatively speaking) while I was in New York. For the sake of order, I’ll begin at the beginning.

I had a meeting at Columbia the day after I arrived in Manhattan. Mango Mama and I figured heading uptown would give us a good excuse to stop in at Dinosaur Bar B Que in Harlem, which was recommended to me by the same friend who suggested Otto. He had particularly extolled the glories of the fried green tomato BLT, calling it the greatest sandwich ever created.

Let’s just say I wouldn’t go that far about the sandwich or about anything else I saw or tried at Dinosaur, which turned out to be a chain. The fried green tomato sandwich was good— made with thick slices of green tomatoes, heavily battered and deep-fried and a few large swaths of crispy bacon. I never imagined that the tomatoes would be so breaded, but hot out of the oven, they tasted great. The major drawback of this sandwich was the bread, a run-of-the-mill hamburger bun that got too soggy from the special sauce. Crusty sourdough toast would have been a vast improvement. We also ordered a fairly tasty Cuban sandwich that was packed with sweetly sauced meat. Still, I can safely say I’ve had better.

HummusThe next day, after feasting at Otto, Daddy Salmon’s cousin Maple Syrup offered to lead the way to Hummus Place, a small Israeli-run restaurant in the West Village that specializes in just one thing— you guessed it— hummus. Daddy Salmon was skeptical, asking: “Hummus is hummus, isn’t it?” Actually not, as it turns out. This stuff is phenomenal and bears almost no relation to the plaster-like substance found in most grocery stores and health food restaurants. We ordered a takeout version of the hummus fava, which comes with a stew of whole fava beans, tahini, a hard-boiled egg, olive oil and spices. Every takeout order also comes with pita bread and pickles, which we mixed in with the rest of it. We ate it later that evening as an appetizer on Auntie Pasti and Corn-y Uncle’s rooftop patio.

BagelsNext came Daddy Salmon’s party. It was a blast and excellent food was had by all. My grandma, Rice Pudding, was one of the guests of honor. She stayed in Long Island (or the ‘Guyland as my cousin Ketchup likes to call it) at my aunt and uncle’s house, so we took the train back out the next day to see them. They live in Plainview, which is undoubtedly a nice place to live but leaves something to be desired in terms of entertainment. It’s nice to see my cousins, but the thing I most anticipate about the area where they live is eating bagels from Bagel Boss.

SaladsLegend among Bagel Boss fanatics like my cousins Black Cherry Soda and Bagel with Lox (who used to eat very little else) is that the bagels here are so good because of the mineral content in the Long Island water Somehow I have a hard time buying that, but these are among the best— if not the best— of any bagels I’ve ever tasted. They have just the right density and the perfect tooth-feel. Other wonderful things about Bagel Boss include: top-notch bialys, great spreads and fish salads, a 100 percent kosher kitchen and excellent black and white cookies. Best of all— it’s open 24 hours a day! Relatives or no relatives, this is reason enough to come to Plainview (or neighboring Hicksville, to be exact).

AntipastoI love my Long Island relatives, and I love Bagel Boss, but two days in the ‘Guyland exhausts most of the great culinary and cultural opportunities. The next day it was back to New York for a trip to the MoMA before flying to Chicago. Before viewing the awesome Richard Serra sculpture show, Mango Mama, Flava Flav and I joined Uncle Second Breakfast and my cousin Momotaro for lunch at Cafe 2, the casual second floor restaurant with an Italian theme. Mango Mama and I shared this salumi platter with olives and flatbread along with a salad. Flav had a fig and Gorgonzola panini and Uncle SB had a delicious looking salad with a quartered cured tuna sandwich. Overall, I was highly impressed with the quality to price ratio, especially considering the price increase factors of dining at a New York museum.

New York is known for being one of the most expensive cities to live in and visit. I don’t doubt that it is. But I am more and more convinced that a New Yorker can at least eat well without paying an arm and a leg. After all, those limbs might come in handy when it comes to paying the rent.

Dinosaur Bar B Que

646 W. 131st St.
New York, NY 10027

Hummus Place
109 St. Marks Place
New York, NY 10003

Bagel Boss
432 S. Oyster Bay Rd.
Hicksville, NY 11801

Café 2
11 W. 53rd St.
(between Fifth and Sixth Aves.)
New York, NY 10019

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in New YorkHummus Place in New York