Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Bright New Year

I can't even begin to reflect on everything my family and I have been through in 2008. There have been some very high highs and some pretty low lows. Suffice to say I have a lot of hope for 2009. So in that spirit I wish you all, dear readers, a wonderful, happy and healthy new year!

Stay positive, be brave, be strong, and always keep pushing yourselves to be the best you can be. And remember to truly cherish your loved ones, the lights in your lives.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Grandma's Famous Chicken

I think about Mumma (what we all used to call my maternal grandmother) quite a bit. She is no longer with us, but she is still a very real presence in our lives. An intelligent and accomplished woman, with a generous spirit, and a loving disposition, my Mumma was just as responsible for my initiation into cooking as my own mother. She was a formidable cook herself. Some days she would prepare her prized hyderabadi Mughlai-style dishes that people would travel through Canadian blizzards to get at. On other days she would delight the westernized palates of her bratty, ungrateful grandkids (ahem, that would be my brother and I) with her inimitable fried rice or spicy chicken spaghetti.

So today, as I was flipping through my recipe folder, I came across this hand-written recipe. This is the most prized memento I have from Mumma, which she gave to me as I was leaving my parents' home for the first time, going off to live on my own in this big, scary world. This recipe for 'Fried Chicken' - although it's technically braised, not fried - was one of the first things I learnt how to cook. It's flavors will always remind me of all things I loved about my Mumma.
I've taken quite a few liberties with this recipe since I first made it. It's very forgiving that way - hey, just like Mumma! - and here is one version of it.

My Grandma's Famous Chicken

4 skinless chicken legs, thighs attached
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp ginger paste
1/4 cup soya sauce
1/3 cup white vinegar
Marinate all the above ingredients above for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

3 tbsp canola oil
1 small onion finely chopped
1/4 cup apple juice / cranberry juice
1 cup boiled peas (the frozen ones will do)
Honey-Roasted Carrots with Thyme (recipe to follow)
Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes (recipe to follow)

Step 1: Prepare the Roasted Garlic and keep aside.
  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Take one whole head of garlic and slice off the top 1/4 inch. All the cloves should be exposed. Leave the papery skin on.
  • Now pour 1-2 tsp of extra-virgin olive oil over the top.
  • Sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt.
  • Wrap the entire garlic bulb in foil and put it straight onto the middle rack of your oven for 50 mins.
  • Take it out, let it cool down, then squeeze out the caramelized, buttery-soft garlic cloves from their skins.

Step 2: Prepare the Honey-Roasted Carrots with Thyme and keep aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Take 4-5 medium-sized carrots, wash them, scrape the skins off and chop into roughly 1 inch chunks.
  • Place them on a foil-lined roasting tray, and pour over 1 tsp of extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Pour over 1 tbsp of honey and sprinkle 1/4 tsp dry thyme (or 1 or 2 sprigs of fresh thyme leaves).
  • Add a pinch of kosher salt and some black pepper, then mix it all up so that the carrots are coated well with the honey and olive oil.
  • Roast them for 45 mins.

Step 3: While the carrots are roasting, prepare the Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes and set aside.

  • Peel and chop 4 medium-sized potatoes into 1/2 inch chunks.
  • Put them in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes chunks are tender, about 10 minutes.
  • Drain the water out, then mash the potatoes with 1 tbsp of butter, 2 tbsp of milk, at least 4-5 cloves of the roasted garlic you prepared earlier, along with salt and pepper.

Step 4: While the potatoes are boiling, get started on the main component of Grandma's Famous Chicken.

  • Put 2 tbsp of the oil in a skillet on med-high heat.
  • Remove the chicken legs from the marinade (don't throw out the marinade) and sear them in the pan, till golden-brown on both sides. Take the chicken out and keep it on the side.
  • Pour in 1 more tbsp of the oil in the same skillet, then add the chopped onion. When these turn golden, add back the chicken.
  • Pour in the marinade (*gasp* - I know, but trust me, all bacteria will be dead when you boil the heck out of this!) and the cranberry juice and bring the whole thing to a boil. Then turn the heat down to medium-low and cook the chicken till tender - about 20 mins.
  • Note: You might want to add more soya sauce OR vinegar per your taste. I personally prefer to add more vinegar than soya. No need to add salt to this sauce because of the soya.
To assemble the final dish, pile on the Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes in the middle of a large platter. Place the four chicken pieces on top. Scatter over the Honey-Roasted Carrots With Thyme, along with the boiled peas. Finally, spoon over some of the delicious gravy, while keeping the rest aside in a gravy-boat. Hot dinner rolls will help your guests soak up all the delicious gravy.
And there you have it, my Grandma's Famous Chicken, in all it's proud glory!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Chicken Salad Sandwich + Out & About In Chinatown

People close to me call me "The Organizer", as if planning and organizing are my superpowers! Huh. Little do they know. I've evolved, folks. Being married to someone as laid back and easy going as DH has rubbed off on me. A level of spontaneity has crept into my being. For instance, one of my favorite things to do is wander around aimlessly in Manhattan. I grab my city map, pick out a general area I want to explore, just enough cash to indulge any impulsive roadside purchases, and off I go! Granted, I can't let go of control completely, but this is still an improvement ... ask DH.

Recently, I was asked to show a friend around Chinatown, and I think I was more excited about it than she was! But it was going to be a long walk, so I had to go prepared. That meant a hearty lunch, but not so heavy as to make me sleepy. This is one of my two favorite ways to prepare Chicken Salad, and it was inspired by Pioneer Woman's Chicken Salad (that gal makes me snort with laughter and salivate with hunger!).
Crunchy Chicken Salad

1 small chicken in pieces, with skin
3 celery stalks, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1/2 bunch fresh dill
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup yogurt OR sour cream
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp brown sugar
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
Dash of paprika/tabasco

1. Boil the chicken with the skin on (keeps the meat moist) till done. Once cool, discard the skin and shred the meat roughly.
2. Mix the mayo, yogurt, lemon juice, brown sugar, dill, salt, pepper and paprika. Keep aside.
3. Combine in a large bowl the shredded chicken, celery, green onions, dried cranberries and walnuts.
4. Pour over the mayo-yogurt mixture into the chicken mixture and thoroughly mix the two. You can add more mayo or yogurt if you need it wetter. Check for enough paprika and salt!
5. My favorite way of enjoying this is the way
Ree does, by layering some baby spinach leaves on toasted bread, squirt on some honey-mustard, pile on the chicken salad, and stuff into face.

Thus fortified, I was all geared up for my adventures in Chinatown! The place makes me feel like a complete tourist every time, because there is so much I don't know ... but I love it! I took my girlfriend on the mandatory Canal Street crawl, where we browsed through a sea of knock-off designer handbags. Can someone explain to me how these places get raided every few months, but always keep coming back? How come nothing seems to have changed? There didn't seem to be a decline in the number of people trying to whisper "you want handbag?" as we walked by. As far as I'm concerned, I think Canal Street makes for great tourist shopping, but am just curious to know how they get away with it! Anyone? Do tell.

Then it was up Bowery Street, turning off into the little side streets whenever we spotting something of interest. We wandered into one of the restaurant supply stores there, and I wanted to pay a viewing fee because it felt like walking into a great old museum! A treasure trove of quirky supplies for any kind of asian restaurant, like ginormous woks, steamers, ladles of every size, strainers, sushi making instruments, serving platters ... you name it (if you can actually name everything in one of these stores, my hat's off to you, because I couldn't!).

My first favorite moment of the day came as we were walking along and saw this large crowd of people huddling together in front of this chinese grocery store. On closer inspection, my heart started racing. There, in all their "stinky" glory, were boxes upon boxes of durian! Yes! The very same durian that makes my Anthony Bourdain moan with pleasure and makes Andrew Zimmern almost puke. This was my first experience with durian, so I elbowed my way through to the front of the crowd to get a good whiff of this offensive-yet-allegedly-addictive fruit. But to my surprise, I didn't think it was that strong of a smell. Huh. Very strange. Sure, it had that slightly rotten-esque aroma, but nothing too crazy to handle. I was under the impression that this stuff could wipe out a neighborhood with its smell, but in reality I didn't think it was bad at all! The seller did mention that it had been frozen, so maybe that cut down the strength of the smell? I hung around hoping that I could get a free sample, but no such luck. Since I was on a budget, I decided to forgo buying one for $7 (for something I may not even like), but maybe I will next time. I'm still thinking about it and wondering about the taste, so I must go for it the next time I spot it. Done deal!

We stopped in to check out some chinese bakeries along our walk, and I've decided that next time I come here on an empty stomach! Everything looked so new and tempting ... and cheap! Steamed buns stuffed with all kinds of goodies, sweet puffy breads, and tantalizing sweets. My second favorite moment of that day came when we ventured into the Double Crispy Bakery, and there in front of me were fresh and hot egg custard tarts. I used to have these very often while I was living in Toronto, thanks to a good friend of mine (of Hong Kong origin) who introduced me to the fascinating world of dim sum. For nostalgia's sake, I decided to try one from this bakery. One bite and I almost started jumping up & down like a giddy schoolgirl! This was the best egg custard tart. EVER. Warm. Crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside, with just the right amount of egginess and sweetness (not too much). It was the most popular item in that bakery, so you know I'm not the only one who thinks that. I could've eaten a dozen of those by myself, if there weren't other witnesses around.

It was the perfect bite with which to finish off my trip to Chinatown. Needless to say, I'll be back. I can't stay away too long. It's like my drug.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Lip-Smackin' Breakfast Burrito

Weekend mornings usually start off pretty slow for DH and I. Even Ozzy makes a late start. All three of us often lie there, huddled under the covers, slowly blinking our eyes in the morning sunshine. If Ozzy sees that it's one of those mornings where mommy is not jumping out of bed, then he will proceed to get his morning lovin' on. This involves a lot of purring, nuzzling, cuddling, licking, and basically draping himself over my face - his way of saying "I wuv you". And since I've taught him well, he'll make sure that DH doesn't feel left out, by going over to his side of bed and giving him the same special Ozzy-love treatment!

It's so cold these days that I need a damn good reason to crawl out of bed. So on weekends I give in to the luxury of staying under the comforter (could anything be more appropriately named?!) until I figure out what exactly I'll be making for breakfast. This Breakfast Burrito came into existence purely out of what I was craving one day, as I lay snuggled up next to DH and Ozzy. My thought process went something like this: "Salty, not sweet. Egg, but not the regular kind or scrambled. Carbs, but not bread. Cheese, definitely need cheese. Gotta think of my calcium intake, after all! har dee har har. Crunchy, not mushy. And spicy. 'Coz a little bit of spice goes a long way into making a meal feel more satisfying and filling". Ok, so perhaps I wasn't THAT coherent first thing in the morning, but you get the idea.

Lip-Smackin' Breakfast Burrito
Flour Tortillas
Canola Oil
Coriander Chutney, store-bought or homemade (recipe to follow)
Shredded cheddar cheese


1. Spread about 1 tbsp (or more if you like it spicier, which I do) of the coriander chutney on one side of a flour tortilla, leaving a margin of 1/2 an inch around the edge.
2. Fry an egg with a tsp or two of oil in a pan. Break the yolk, and cook both sides of the egg.
3. Drain the oil from the egg and place it in the center of flour tortilla.
4. Top it off with 2-3 tbsp of shredded cheese. Sprinkle just a pinch of kosher salt all over as well.

(Oooooooo, would you look at that ... the cheese is already starting to melt over the egg. Only good can come from this!)

5. Roll up the burrito (not too tight, or the filling will burst out) and place it on a hot non-stick skillet. Let it turn brown and crispy on both sides.

6. Then eat it right away, because baby, these are good to GO!
Boyoboyoboyoboyoboy! This really wakes up all your senses first thing in the morning. The crispy bite of the tortilla (browning it on the skillet is essential!), the softness of the egg, the gooeyness of the cheese, and the fragrant spicyness of the coriander chutney might make breakfast your best meal of the day.

I usually have a bottle of store-bought coriander chutney in my fridge, for raitas, or to go with tikkas and kababs. And it works beautifully for this Breakfast Burrito. But if I have the freshly made stuff on hand, then obviously there's nothing better!

Fresh Coriander Chutney
1 bunch of fresh cilantro/coriander leaves
2 tbsp of grated coconut
4 whole green chillies
1 large garlic clove
Pinch of salt
Pinch of sugar
Juice of 1 lime
Method: Whiz it all up in a food processor, with a bit of water (if needed). Nothing simpler! This will store for a few days in your fridge, but trust me, you'll be using it on everything so it will disappear soon enough! Don't be ashamed of just spreading it on toast and eating it - it really is THAT good!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Merry Pakistani Christmas

Granted, no one in my family actually celebrates Christmas (except if they have kiddies; then they're emotionally blackmailed into buying presents and decorating the house!), but nevertheless, we enjoy this time of year. It's an excuse to get together with family and close friends, play silly games, have a lot of laughs, and even more food!

In that spirit, I wanted to share some delightful images from my pakistani Christmas feast this year. DH and I were just the hungry guests at this family gathering. It was all the aunties who contributed some pretty mouthwatering dishes.

Tender Seekh Kababs

Marinated Roast Chicken & Veggies

Goat Curry with Green Peppers
The people who had invited us over for this wonderful dinner embody the true sense of the Christmas spirit. They've always been there for DH and I, since we've been married, sharing in our joys and sorrows. Not only did they open their homes to us, but also their hearts, completely. So no smartass remarks from me today, just humble gratitude for their generosity.


When I read this today, I almost threw up. The whole situation is so frustrating that it makes me grind my teeth and clench my fists because I am helpless to improve it somehow. Frankly I think the governments on both sides are the villains. Of course, politicians scheme, but it's the civilians who get killed.

"Dec 27, 2008 - Israeli warplanes retaliating for rocket fire from the Gaza Strip pounded dozens of security compounds across the Hamas-ruled territory in unprecedented waves of airstrikes Saturday, killing more than 200 people and wounding nearly 400 in the single bloodiest day of fighting in years.
Most of those killed were security men, but an unknown number of civilians were also among the dead. Hamas said all of its security installations were hit, threatened to resume suicide attacks, and sent at least 70 rockets and mortar shells crashing into Israeli border communities, according to the Israeli military. One Israeli was killed and at least six people were hurt.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday blamed Hamas for breaking a cease-fire with Israel."

Really Condie? In the face of a humanitarian crisis, all you want to do is play the blame game? 200 people dead. 400 wounded. In one day. You think a palestinian mother doesn't mourn the way an israeli mother does? And representing the US, you actually have the gall to say "told you so" to one side while applauding the other?! I don't have enough words for you Ms. Rice.

Just remember, karma is a bitch.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Seeing Red With Kadhai Chicken

Today I was confronted once again by one of my pet peeves. Offenders be warned! I'm building up to a proper mini-rant!

There I was, driving into the parking lot of my local desi grocery store, and about to turn into a premium parking spot ... and right in the MIDDLE of it was an empty shopping cart! The cart return area was maybe ten steps away, but NO! Nope. That's too much of a hike for our lazy-ass shopper. I would say that 80% of the people frequenting that desi store would rather leave their empty shopping carts in the middle of the street, than put it back in the cart return area. If there are a total of, say 50 parking spots, most of those are taken up by empty shopping carts. Sometimes when I come out of the store with my grocery bags in hand, some wonderful person has actually parked their empty shopping cart just behind MY car! Or to the side, so that when the wind blows, the cart runs into my car and puts a neat little scratch on it. To that I have only one thing to say: WHAT THE F---?! Remember that you're NOT the only person shopping at that store, and show some BASIC courtesy! Stop being so SELFISH and LAZY! Unload your groceries from the cart into your car, close the trunk, then turn around, and take the extra FIVE seconds to return the cart to its proper place! TRY IT sometime, would ya?! *grumble grumble*

If this pet peeve gets you in a fiery mood too, then boy do I have a dish for you! No more cussing for the rest of the blog though, I promise.

Guys unabashedly gravitate towards food that's "homey" versus anything "fancy". Things that he can dig into with this bare hands make DH a happy man. Oh, I'm not saying he can't operate a knife + fork, but you can see him squirming for the most part! So where I come from, there's hardly a dish more "homier" than good 'ol Kadhai Chicken. It's fresh-tasting, with all that acid from the tomatoes, plus it has the zing of red + green chillies, black pepper (in my version) and garam masala. No onions. Simple, satisfying, desi soul food. The way our moms used to make it.

Pretty, no?! I want to take my hat off to this humble dish, by doing a lovely photo composition for it. I call it "A study in red".

Kadhai Chicken
Serves 4

1.5 lbs chicken pieces OR boneless chicken
6-8 plum tomatoes, chopped
2 small green chillies, finely chopped
1 tsp red chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp garam masala powder
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt (or more per your taste)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp ginger paste
3 tbsp canola/vegetable oil
Handful of chopped, fresh cilantro

1. Heat the oil on medium-high in a kadhai (desi verson of the wok) or any pot with a lid, then add the chicken pieces, ginger paste, and garlic. Quickly sear the chicken (golden brown on the outside).
2. Add the chopped tomatoes, green chillies, salt, chilli powder, turmeric, garam masala and black pepper. Mix well.
3. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover the pot, and let the whole thing cook down for about 15-20 mins. Stir occasionally to make sure it doesn't stick. No need to add water.
4. After that, take of the lid, turn the heat to high and bhoono (dry up the liquid partially by stirring often) for 5 mins. Some people prefer this dish to be quite dry, so they bhoono it for much longer.
5. Once the chicken is done, and the gravy is at the level I want it to be, I turn off the stove (remember to check for salt!) and garnish the whole thing with lots of cilantro. Serve hot with parathas.

Every pakistani household has their own version of Kadhai Chicken. Do share yours!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Restaurant Review: DavidBurke & Donatella

DavidBurke & Donatella has been getting mixed reviews recently, so I felt some trepidation when I walked in there for an impromptu lunch with DH. Excitement soon overcame any other feeling though. This is such a beautiful restaurant. We had to walk through two smaller dining spaces before we got to the main large dining room, which was buzzing with happy diners (you can tell). And the service was flawless throughout; right from the smiling young woman who took our coats and umbrellas, to all our waiters and servers. There was no "hovering" around our table, which I can't stand. Service was sincere, and that's the best kind.

Right off the bat, both DH and I were treated to fresh rosemary bread rolls, along with a pink slab of Himalayan salt, topped off with sweet butter. Pretty, no?! It was gooooooood start.

We were also pleasantly surprised by the great fixed price lunch options. A lot of great choices; three courses for only $24.07 per person. That's a DEAL by most standards, especially in the UES people! I ordered the California Scramble for my first course, which was an ostrich egg scrambled with veggies, and topped off with avocado and creme fraiche. Good brunch dish!
DH ordered the Salt n Pepper Calamari, which were the most tender calamari I'd ever had! They melted in my mouth. I soon switched appetizers with DH because I liked his a lot better than mine. DH wants to me state that he thought the calamari were too salty, just for the record.

Moving on to our second courses, I went for the Veal Saltimbocca. This was one fancy restaurant where neither DH nor I could complain about the portion sizes. Quite sizable, to say the least! So much so that I think they should make their appetizers a little smaller, so that people can have more room for the mains. The veal was good, but I didn't enjoy the coating, which I thought was browned too much. The garlicky spinach and smooth potato puree underneath were fabulous though.

DH enjoyed his Angus Burger, though he did not like eating it with a fork & knife! And frankly, neither of us is a fan of shoestring fries. We like 'em thicker, with more of a bite and chew to them.
Finally, we got to MY favorite part of any meal - desserts! And I must commend the pastry chef at DD&D for putting smiles on both our faces. My Butterscotch Pudding was smooth and caramel-ly, and I loved the addition of crunchy cocoa nibs on top ... I wanted more of those!
DH didn't think he would enjoy his Coconut Layer Cake, but shovelled it down with a big, happy grin on his face. I managed to sneak in a few bites and thought it was reeeeeeeeeeeally lovely, fresh and satisfying.

Overall, we had a really good meal, at an amazing price, in an elegant, friendly atmosphere. It felt truly special. So if anyone is in two minds about going to this restaurant, I would say GO. Take advantage of their wonderful lunch options. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Through The Looking Glass

I knew what I was in for when I stepped through those doors. Oh ... I ... KNEW. But DH didn't. So it was partially amusing to see his eyes bug out and his lips purse in that expression of frustration and semi-disbelief that was prevalent in that place. Y'see, this day we were forced to visit the hell-hole that is the Pakistan Consulate in Manhattan.

It seemed only appropriate that it was cold and raining the entire time we were there, making everything just that much more difficult and depressing. A simple procedure that should've taken only about 15 mins or so, ended up taking an hour and a half, and gave poor DH a LOT of grief!

The building is quite fancy on the outside, and is in a posh locale on the Upper East Side (UES) if Manhattan. But you enter and your entire being recoils in disbelief because it looks like you're back in some shitty government office in Pakistan, but your brain rebels, telling you "this can't be!". There is a little room on the side where all passport/visa/ID card supplicants (not applicants, because we are at their mercy) are herded together. There are signs on the door that say "take a ticket and come to the counter when you are called". However, the ticket dispensing machine is empty, and looks like it's been that way for ages. There's a photo booth for passport photos that doesn't work. And two photocopy machines; one that doesn't work and another that you have to pay 25 cents per copy for. Plus, the people in line are constantly scheming about how they can cut out the person in front of them so that they can get ahead faster.

Should you be so lucky as to actually know someone at the consulate, well then all you have to do is yell "Suniye, Mr. So-and-So hain? Jee main unka so-and-so hoon" ... and lo and behold! It's like the doors to heaven open up for you, and your application is taken care of tout de suite (at once)! And it shames me to say this, but some pakistani women take unfair advantage of their sex and try to ignore the line completely. Usually if the poor sap is a man, he'd let her get away with it too. Shame on you both!

I had the pleasure of encountering once such auntie at the Consulate myself this time. There we were, DH and I, already frustrated enough. We finally get to the front of the line, and are waiting for the guy behind the counter to acknowledge us, when Mrs. Auntie-in-a-hurry appears at our side and shoves her application in front of ours! First I give her "the look", which she completely ignores. Then with DH's encouragement I do speak up and say "Excuse me, but we were here first", to which she replies "oh, I was here earlier, but I had to go get blahblahblah, and now I'm back" ... to which I could only laugh and tell her "we had the same thing, but we stood in line like the rest of the people here, so you should too". All I got in response was this look of fake innocence and the words "Oh I didn't know we had to stand in line again!". I ask you my friends, do you think this auntie would've done tried this same tactic if she were anywhere else other than the Pakistan Consulate?

We are guilty of forgetting, I think. She may have been guilty of forgetting her manners the minute she walked in to a pakistani environment, but perhaps I too am guilty. Guilty of expecting our people to behave as they would anywhere else in the US - with respect for rules and your fellow man/woman!

My other beef is this: who doesn't accept credit card payments these days?! I thought that was a rhetorical question, but apparently the Pakistan Consulate still works on something called "money orders". Not accepting cash is somewhat understandable (ahem ahem), but what's the harm with accepting good 'ol credit?! So when DH asks, "where can I get a money order now", they point you to some place "down the stairs". Let me tell you something: these steep, slippery and narrow stairs were outside the main doors, taking you below pavement level to this dank, cramped corridor where a bored desi auntie sits by herself, chewing on paan. Uh, that's the lady who's going to get me my money order?! Look, as far as the work goes, our good people at the Consulate do it fine. They do it fairly quickly, and they MAY even help a brother/sister out should they be in a good mood. BUT, there's something to say for presentation too y'know! If someone out there knows the Consul General who sits in that office, can you please tell him to spruce up the place? And make the people working there look a tad (ok a LOT) more presentable? And more organized while you're at it? No more taking our applications and shoving them into an unseen drawer, yes?! Dude ... come ON .. this is your JOB!

Ok. That felt good. Getting that off my chest. If you have had any such "pleasant" experiences at the Pakistan Consulate (or the Indian Consulate for that matter, I hear it's no different!), do share your pain. As my favorite TV psychologist, Fraser Crane, used to say "I'm listening".

And for those of you who have avoided ever visiting either the Pakistan or Indian Consulate, what're you waiting for? It's an adventure! Go now! What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger!
To make myself feel better, I walked around the neighborhood afterwards, gawking at all the wonderful designer goodies. Drooled over some Valentino and Jimmy Choo, roamed around Hermes to see if there was anything there that I actually could afford (alas, no), and felt much better looking at the cheerful window art at Barney's. Apparently it's the 50th anniversary of the peace sign, and Barney's is going all out on their hippie, peace & love theme. Fun.

I was definitely able to salvage the day by window shopping and having lunch at a wonderful spot in the UES, which I promise to review in detail in my next post.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

TFF - Sexy Chocolate Banana Bread

Chef Tyler Florence, from the Food Network, makes some pretty appetizing-looking food. I believe in giving people a fair chance, so decided to try out a recipe or two from his cookbook "Tyler's Ultimate". Let start off easy. Nothing easier than banana bread. But I hadn't made it with chocolate before ... why Tyler, you naughty thing! You've got me right where you want me!

This also happens to be my first submission to Tyler Florence Fridays! I'm very excited to be participating in this group - mmmmmmm, I see a lot of yummy deliciousness coming my way in the near future!

Chocolate Banana Bread (adapted from "Tyler's Ultimate: Brilliant Simple Food to Make Any Time")

2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
2 eggs
1-1/3 cups mashed very ripe bananas (about 3 bananas)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350. Butter 9×5 inch loaf pan. Whisk flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in large bowl. Beat butter in large bowl on medium speed until lightened. Beat in chocolate, eggs, bananas, and vanilla at low speed. Stir in flour mixture just until combined. Resulting in a fluffy, chocolatey goo.

Pour into pan. Bake 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out almost clean. Not completely clean, mind you, because that just means your bread is too dry!

Cool on wire rack 15 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely.

Oh lord. Help me. That smell of freshly baked chocolate and banana bread that perfumes the whole house is giving me goosebumps! There it is folks. The finished loaf. Look at the chocolatey earth peeping through those cracks. Makes me wish for a world where the soil was made of chocolate!

Seeeeee the little nuggets of chocolate and bananas?

Ladies & gents, this bread is a winner. Denser than a cake, but lighter than a brownie, and moist. So moist. Makes me want to be a better person ... so in that spirit, I am off to share a few slices with my friendly neighbor. She has NO idea how lucky she is.

Oh Ozzy, my love ... if only chocolate wasn't a complete no-no for cats, I'd have given you a piece.

One just for the ladies

This time of year is all about sweater dresses. Pair it with some shimmery tights, boots, layer on some knockout accessories and you're ready to party all night long without freezing your ass off! But it's not easy to carry off this look, thanks to the nature of the material sticking to ALL your curves (especially those unwanted ones). So here's my Fashion Tip Of The Week:

Get sweater dresses that either cinch you just below your bust, or at the waist, then the rest (and this is key) floats away from the body. This will camouflage the tummy, hips & thighs, giving everyone the illusion of a sleeker and sexier you!

Check out the above sweater dresses that I'm oggling at the moment:
(Top) Banana Republic's Wool Knit Dress - on sale for $99.99
(Bottom) Victoria's Secret Stretch Cotton Rib Turtleneck Sweaterdress - on sale for $39.00

Monday, December 22, 2008

Corn Curry in a hurry

Mmmmmmmmm ... this is going to be a great day, I can feel it. Right now I have a sultry and delicious plate of Khichdi (lentil rice) and Makai ki Kadi (Corn Curry) beckoning me. If you've never had this combination, I urge you to try it out. I've only made khichdi a handful of times in my life, so to make sure I was doing it right, I called my mom to run it by her. Once she gave me the recipe, she proceeded to tell me what else I needed to make with it. "You must have it with qeema (minced meat curry), tamatar ki chutney (tomato salsa) and papad (fried rice puffs)" ... "Really Mom? I must have it this way? What'll happen if I don't?!" ... "But this is the best way!" ... "But that's not what I feel like having!" ... and so on. Now listen here, I get it. I do. I understand where my mom is coming from. There's years of hyderabadi tradition and personal taste behind her recommendations. But my tastebuds were screaming for "creamy & green chilli spicy" not "khatta (sour) & red chilli spicy". I think I'm allowed to break tradition in the solitude of my own home, doncha think?!

So if your tastebuds are wanting what mine were wanting today, here is the recipe for you. I used a rice cooker for this, but you could cook it the way you regularly cook rice on the stove. I am pretty grateful to my mom for buying the rice cooker for me - it's a fantastic piece of equipment!
Serves 3-4

2 cups rice
1/2 cup masoor daal (red lentils)
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 tsp ginger paste
1 bari elaichi (large cardamom)
2 cloves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
Pinch of shazeera (black cumin seeds)
1/4 - 1/3 cup oil
5 1/2 cups water


1. Wash the rice and lentils 2-3 times and keep them aside to soak.
2. In the meantime, warm up the oil on medium, then put in the cardamom, black cumin, cloves and onion. I use the inner container of the rice cooker for this - it works fine on the stove.
3. Once the onion is golden brown, add the turmeric, garlic and ginger. Saute for a minute.
4. Then add the rice + lentil mixture, followed by salt. Stir it about till all the rice grains are coated with the oil.
5. Cover the whole thing with the 4 cups of water, and put it inside the rice cooker.
6. Push the "cook" button on the rice cooker and walk away! Rice will be ready when the light on the cooker changes from red to green (or however your rice cooker works).

Makai ki Kadi (Corn Curry) - I adapted this recipe from Suvir Saran's book "Indian Home Cooking". It is a wonderful cookbook with simple yet scrumptious recipes. Thank you Suvir - you're a great chef and fabulous guy! For more on Suvir, check out his blog

Serves 4

Grind to a paste (this is the major "YUM" factor) the following 6 items and keep aside:

2-3 small green chillies
1/4 cup cilantro
8-10 fresh kadi patha (curry leaves)
1/2 tsp ginger paste
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1-2 tbsp water
1/2 cup heavy pouring cream
1.5 cups milk
3 tbsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black mustard seeds
2 whole dried red chillies
1/4 tsp turmeric
8 fresh kadi patha (curry leaves)
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
3-4 cups frozen corn


1. Combine oil with the seeds and red chillies over medium-high heat, till the seeds brown.
2. Drop in the curry leaves (watch out for the oil sputtering!), then quickly add the green paste you had ground up earlier, plus the turmeric. Cook for a minute on medium heat.
3. Add the flour and stir this around for a minute.
4. Gradually add the milk-cream mixture, a tbsp at a time initially, and make sure it all combines well with the flour mixture.
5. Once the liquid is completely combined, add the salt and frozen corn, and bring it to a boil.
6. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 mins till corn is tender, and the whole thing is thick and creamy. Check for salt. Done!

Then sit down with a piled up plate of this and watch re-runs of the divine Anthony Bourdain on "No Reservations", while day-dreaming of having your next vacation be anything like his travels! Oh Tony, why do you tease me so? You have eager and ready guides to show you around the late night foodie haunts of Hong Kong, or the busy food bazaars of Morocco. I'll probably just have my hotel-given map, and a print-out from Trip Advisor! But Tony, I do have something you don't ... I have this soul-satisfying meal that I'm digging into right now. Isn't the color enough to just put you in a brighter mood? Even if it is -12 degrees celcius outside. You heard me. You'll have to excuse me, but I can't focus on freezing temps when I have a steaming plate of yellow cheer in front of me.
Mom, you listening? *evil snicker*