Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mexico City

We've been in Mexico City for a week now, and so far it has been a blur. A blur of fruits, vegetables, tacos, tamales, tortillas, calles, plazas, dogs, cars, and people - lots and lots of people.

Frenetic? Yes. Noisy? Very. Intimidating? Sure. Fantastic? Absolutely.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Los Angeles - Flyaway Bus to LAX

This is just a quick post to recommend the Flyaway bus service from Los Angeles Union Station to LAX. Using it, we were able to get from the door of the Biltmore Hotel to being standing in our airport check-in line in a little over an hour. The cost? $5.25 a person ($1.25 for a metro ticket, and $4 for the flyaway bus).

They run every half hour, and it generally takes 30-45 minutes to get to LAX.

Hard to beat for both price and convenience.

Update: We took the bus from LAX to Union Station on our way back, and it worked just as well. You catch it from the median outside of the terminals - the same place where you would catch the auto rental shuttles.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Downtown Los Angeles - Banquette Cafe and Izayoi

Before we left, I had scoured chowhound for casual, but good places for dinner and drinks in the downtown area. Two of the more promising places I came up with are right next door to each other: Pete's Cafe and Banquette Cafe. We stopped in at Pete's first, but just weren't feeling it.

Next door at the Banquette, we felt right at home. Friendly, relaxed staff, a nice, reasonably priced wine list and an eclectic local crowd. The food was good too. We had a plate of bresaola, which was a generous portion topped with caramelized onions and hunks of parmesan. We also shared a "Ham-Pan" sandwich. Nice bread, hot from the panini press and filled black forest ham, crispy fried prosciutto rounds, greens and cheese. Great place, and definitely recommended. The folks at the Banquette told us that the neighborhood has been changing rapidly over the past few years (for the better). We felt very comfortable walking to and from there from our hotel (apart from the inhospitable weather).

The next night, it was cold and raining. Based on a recommendation from chowhound, we decided to go to an izakaya called Izayoi in Little Tokyo. After a nice stop to dry off and have a glass of wine at the Banquette (it was about half-way to Little Tokyo), we arrived at Izayoi. At that point it was pouring down rain, and we were soaked. The waitress that seated us was nice enough to bring Sherry a towel to dry off her hair. We quickly had a pitcher of Kirin in front of us, and were happily perusing their very interesting menu.

In addition to a full complement of sushi, they had a huge number of intriguing dishes - most very reasonably priced in the $6-$10 range. We started with a bowl of miso soup each (one standard, the other with red miso and tiny mushrooms).

The dishes we tried were:

  • A sauteed duck and eggplant dish - very attractively arranged in alternating slices. The eggplant was fantastic, and the duck, while chewy, had great flavor.
  • Vegetable tempura, which was nicely fried and included potato, green bean, shitake mushroom, lotus root, red bell pepper, and a few other items I can't recall.
  • A beef tongue dish - slices of tongue marinated in miso and served lemon to squeeze over.
  • Squid legs that came with shishito peppers. The chiles were lightly charred and had a mild, pleasantly bitter flavor.
  • Steamed clams in sake broth. This was a great way to end the meal - a small bowl of clams in an intense broth.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Downtown Los Angeles - Philippe The Original and Grand Central Market

On our way to Mexico City, we Amtraked it up to Los Angeles for a few days. We stayed downtown at the Biltmore and did all of our visit either walking or using public transport.

One important item on our todo list was a visit to Philippe, The Original for french dip sandwiches.

You order at the counter, and then sit to eat at long communal tables amongst other contented patrons of numerous ethnicities from assorted walks of life.

They have a number of different sandwiches, but I knew from my research that I wanted a lamb sandwich, double-dipped. We also got a beef sandwich to try for comparison, and the mandatory $.65 lemonade.

The lamb sandwich was the clear winner. It is the only sandwich that they still hand-cut the meat for right in front of you so you get nice fresh chunks instead of pre-sliced meat. Not too pretty to look at, but delicious.

One morning, we visited the Grand Central Market, a great old-style market downtown.

It was breakfast time, and the various meat and seafood tacos didn't appeal so we had a breakfast sandwich and a breakfast burrito from Jose Chiquito where they cook your meal to order in a little stall that couldn't have measured much more than a dozen square feet.

The most popular place by far, though, was this chinese place. Most of the people were eating soups of some kind, individually seasoned with the red chile paste and fresh lime wedges scattered along the counter top.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Off to Mexico City

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So, we're off tomorrow. We'll be spending a couple of days in L.A. and then it is off to Mexico City, where we will be spending two months (mostly in the city, but we also plan to do some traveling in the region).

We spent a week in Mexico City over 10 years ago and loved it. I can hardly wait to be wandering around the city, seeing the sights and experiencing the food.

As part of planning for our trip, we recently picked up a pair of books on the city based on recommendations from chowhound:

Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler, by Jim Johnston, and Good Food in Mexico City: A Guide to Food Stalls, Fondas and Fine Dining, by Nicholas Gilman.

I definitely recommend both books. The authors are expats living in Mexico City. We've enjoyed reading them, and look forward to putting them to good use.

We are taking a laptop on the trip and should have plenty of downtime, so we'll try to keep up with the blog while we are away.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Indian Takeaway - Chicken Dhansak

Chicken Dhansak is the third in our trio of reverse-engineered British Indian Takeaway curries. Dhansak uses lentils and peas to make a terrific multi-textured sauce. The red lentils completely fall apart while the yellow split peas stay distinct even when completely tender. You don’t need much chicken meat - you could even substitute chickpeas for the chicken if you would like to avoid meat completely.

We start with our curry base sauce and then stir in the cooked lentils and peas - I always find it funny how cooked *red* lentils end up looking pale and oatmeal-like.

Pineapple added near the end gives a nice sweet-tart flavor. If you've made the base sauce ahead of time, dhansak is nice and quick, taking less than 45 minutes from start to finish (that's quick for me).

Chicken Dhansak

Fresh pineapple works in place of the canned; just use about 3/4 cup fresh fruit pieces and whiz up an additional 1/2 cup of pineapple pieces in a blender for use instead of the juice.

2 1/2 cups (approx. 1/3 recipe) Ubiquitous Curry Base Sauce
3/4 cup dried yellow split peas
3/4 cup red lentils
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth (or concentrate plus water)
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (bite-sized to 1-inch cubes)
2 small handfuls cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small can pineapple pieces, drained and liquid reserved

Soak peas in cold water for 10 minutes. Rinse peas several times, then drain and place into a medium saucepan with 2 cups cool water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Skim foam from the surface occasionally. When the peas have cooked for 20 minutes, most of the water should be gone and the peas should be nearly tender. Cover and reduce heat to very low.

While the peas are cooking, rinse the lentils in cold water. Drain well, place into a small saucepan and add 1 1/2 cup vegetable broth. Heat to a boil and cook 10 minutes. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook about 5 minutes more to absorb the extra liquid. The lentils will basically turn to mush and look rather like oatmeal.

In a large saucepan or dutch oven, heat the base sauce to a simmer. Add the add the cooked lentils, chicken chunks and pineapple juice. Simmer for 5 minutes. Check the peas. Turn off the heat and uncover when tender (don’t worry if there is extra liquid).

Add cumin, chilli powder, half of the peas (drained), the pineapple, and 1 small handful of cilantro to the curry mixture. Cook gently another 10 minutes.

A few minutes before serving, add remaining peas, cilantro and salt (to taste of course!). Serve with rice (plain Basmati or Pulao) and flat-bread.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Indian Takeaway - Saag

Along with rice and bread, this dish often accompanies our curries. We first started out making saag paneer, but found that as a side dish, we didn't need the cheese. Now we use chick peas instead. One key flavor of the dish comes from fenugreek, a strange little seed that reminds me of the achiote seeds we use when making cochinita pibil. Both have an intriguing deep, savory earthiness.

After toasting the fenugreek in a bit of oil, we sauté onion with some cumin and then add roughly chopped fresh tomato along with minced ginger and garlic.

The greens go in at the end. We most commonly use spinach, but we have used all sort of other greens with good results.

Don't be worried that you are using too much greens - they quickly cook down to almost nothing at all.


Serves 2. Swiss chard, chicory (curly endive) or other deep colored cooking green can be used in place of the spinach. If using chard, be frugal when seasoning as it seems to have an inherent saltiness of its own.

1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil 1 pinch fenugreek seeds 1/2 onion, chopped 1/4 teaspoon cumin 1 garlic clove, minced 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger 1 tomato, diced 1 green chilli, seeded and finely chopped (optional) 1/4 teaspoon salt 4 ounces spinach, washed and cut into 1- or 2-inch pieces 1/4 cup cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Heat oil in a fry pan. When hot, add fenugreek and stir for 30 seconds. Add onion and cumin, sauté until soft, but not browned - about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and diced tomato to the pan and cook about 5 minutes or until the tomatoes loose their shape and become less watery. Finally, add the spinach and chillies. Sprinkle immediately with salt to help retain the bright green color. Once the greens begin to wilt, stir in the chickpeas and cook a minute or two longer. Taste for seasoning (chilli and salt), adjust if needed and serve.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Racer 5 IPA, Bear Republic Brewing Co.

Racer 5 might just be the perfect IPA. It was the first full-on west-coast style IPA we ever tried, and it was a revelation. They used to have it on tap regularly at the Liars' Club when we first started going there, and it quickly became our go-to beer of choice.

At 7% ABV, it is right at the alcohol level I like. It is light bodied and refreshing, and has a hint of sweetness to balance the bitterness from the hops.

If you get a chance, definitely visit the brewery in downtown Healdsburg. We stopped in on our recent beer tasting road trip, and really liked it there.

I have flirted with other favorites over the years - Russian River Pliny the Elder, Alpine Duet, Ballast Point Sculpin - but I've come back full circle to where I started. Racer 5.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

South Beach Bar & Grille

San Diego is unquestionably the best place in the country for fish tacos, and South Beach Bar & Grille in Ocean Beach is arguably the best place in San Diego to get them. We hadn't been for a while since it is "winter", but yesterday was a beautiful day so we rode our bikes down from Pacific Beach.

Why South Beach? For starters, the location is perfect - right at the end of Newport where it hits the beach. Then there is the bar - friendly staff and a pretty respectable beer selection. In addition to the expected lineup, they also have offerings from Green Flash, Ballast Point and Stone. And one of my absolute favorites - Racer 5 from Bear Republic.

But the main attraction is the tacos. And it isn't just fish. Of course the fish tacos (wahoo or mahi mahi) are good, but they also have shrimp, lobster, calamari and oyster. Our favorites are probably the shrimp (grilled) and calamari (fried). We get the white sauce on the side, as I'm not a big fan of it and they put a lot on.

The prices are also very good - especially during happy hour when all appetizers are half price and they have $2 fish tacos. The 5-taco sampler (pictured above) is a great way to go at half off the normal $10.95 price tag.

And did I mention that the location is great?

After tacos and beer, and especially if you are driving and need a break before heading out, don't miss having a walk out on the Ocean Beach pier. It has a very pleasant vibe, with people of all ages and ethnicities trying their luck at fishing. There is even a little cafe, which we need to try sometime.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Lamb Rogan Josh - Indian Takeaway Recipe

Lamb Rogan Josh

Lamb Rogan Josh is probably our favorite curry. There is something amazing about how the flavor of the lamb pervades the sauce. It takes longer to make than our Chicken Pathia, but it is worth it to get that great, soft lamb texture.

The green chillies add a nice spicy kick when you get a bite of one. If you don't like it hot, you can leave them out or just avoid eating them. The fresh tomatoes added at the end give a nice bright contrast to the savory base.

Lamb Rogan Josh
4 tablespoons oil
1 medium onion, chopped small
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Salt (to taste)
1-2 teaspoons indian chilli powder
3-6 long, skinny green chillies, sliced long and seeded (optional)
1 large bunch fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped (fresh coriander)
Approx. 1/3 recipe Ubiquitous Curry Base Sauce
1 1/2 pounds lamb, trimmed and cut into 1 to 2-inch cubes
Beef stock concentrate or cube, enough for 2 cups
2-3 tomatoes, sliced into wedges

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the lamb and cook until well browned. You can use pre-cooked lamb if you like – we sometimes have a lamb roast and then use leftovers for curry. Remove meat and set aside.

Add cumin, ground coriander, garlic, ginger, and onion to the pot. Cook while stirring until onions are wilted, about 5 minutes.

Return the meat and any juices to the pan, then add “Base Sauce” and beef stock concentrate and stir to mix. Add chilli powder to get the spice level you want. Simmer covered for about 15 minutes. If it seems soupy, crack the lid to condense the sauce.

Add a large handful of the cilantro and mix it in. If you use the green chillies, add them now. Simmer for another 30 minutes or until lamb is tender.

Add another small handful of cilantro and the tomato wedges a few minutes before serving. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.

Serve with rice (plain Basmati or Pulao Rice) and flat-bread.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Indian Takeaway - Pulao Rice and Naan

When we would get takeaways in Edinburgh, they always came with your choice of Pulao Rice or Naan. We always went with the Naan, since we could make the rice ourselves.

You can't make Naan at home. Really. We've tried, and it always came out terribly. Ask yourself this question: Do you have a Tandoor Oven? If the answer is no, don't try to make Naan. And if your local grocery store sells something labeled as Naan, don't buy it. It won't be good. Trust me.

So what to do? We just use tortillas. Sure, its not as good as Naan, but a good tortilla is better than a bad Naan. We use Trader Joe's "hand made" tortillas. They are nice and thick and have a flatbread-like consistency.

Rice is easier.

A pulao is simply a flavored rice. Ours uses sauteed onions, a pinch of cumin, a couple of split green cardamom and a bay leaf. Finely shredded and sauteed carrot contributes both sweetness and a lovely yellow col0r.

When we created this recipe we cooked rice on the stove top. But now, I love using my "neuro fuzzy" rice cooker (it is made by Zojirushi). Mike gave it to me as a gift a couple years ago - I'd always said "rice is easy, why do I need a rice cooker?" Now I know. It rocks! Early in the evening we mix the aromatics with rinsed basmati rice, salt and chicken broth and let it go until it beeps (no need to keep tabs on it or watch the steam). Then, we fluff and let it keep warm until we're ready to eat.

Serve it with our recipes for Chicken Pathia or Lamb Rogan Josh.

Pulao Rice

This is the rice we have with curries. The amounts are quite variable – if you use less rice, reduce the onion, etc. Using standard methods, it can be made up to 45 minutes before eating. Using a rice cooker, it can be made up to several hours before eating.

1 1/2 cups basmati rice (cups are "rice-cooker" cups)
2 teaspoons canola oil
1/2 onion, chopped small
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 green cardamom pods
Low sodium chicken broth
1 small carrot, peeled and finely grated
1 bay leaf
3/4 teaspoon salt

In a small fry pan, heat oil and add onion and cumin — sauté.

Press cardamom pod with the side of a knife to open the tip slightly and add it to the pan.

When onion is soft (about 5 minutes) stir in half of the carrot and cook another minute. Remove from heat.

In the rice cooker bowl, wash rice three (yes three) times. Do this by running cold water into the pan, swirling it with the rice, and then draining the cloudy water away. Add broth to the appropiate "cup" measurement line for your rice cooker (about 1 1/2 cups of broth).

Dump onion mixture, plus extra carrot and bay leaf into the rice. Add salt, stir to mix and start the rice cooker.

When the rice cooker beeps, fluff the rice. Remove bay leaf and cardamom when you are ready to eat.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Indian Takeaway - Chicken Pathia

Chicken Pathia

This is our reproduction of the chicken pathia that we got at our local Indian takeaway in Edinburgh. It is a sweet/sour/hot curry. If you already have our curry base sauce on hand, this dish is very quick and easy to make - so easy that we've even made it while camping.

The striking red color is actually a powdered food dye, traditional in other British-Indian dishes such as tandoori. Ours is from a company in the UK called Preema. We still have some from Scotland (a little goes a long way!) and so haven't tried to find it here yet.

Chicken Pathia

Starting with our curry base sauce, stirring just a little bit of the food coloring...

...changes the dish from a rusty orange color into a cherry red, almost matching our dutch oven's enamel.

Chicken Pathia

Pathia has a cinnamon note that may seem overly sweet when it's first added to the dish, but is tempered into a flavorful mellowness by the twang of vinegar and the aggressive use of fresh cilantro. This curry is a good one for winning over those eaters somewhat leery of unfamiliar foods.

For other curries be sure to check out our Indian Takeaway Recipes page.

Chicken Pathia

Serves four generously.

4 tablespoons oil
1 medium onion, chopped small
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)
1-2 teaspoons indian chilli powder
1 large bunch fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped (coriander)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon red coloring
Approx. 1/3 recipe Ubiquitous Curry Base Sauce
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (1 pound total), cut into 1 inch pieces
Chicken stock concentrate or cube (enough for 1 cup)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add cumin, ground coriander, garlic, ginger, and onion. Cook while stirring until onions are wilted.

Add “Base Sauce,” chicken stock concentrate, cinnamon, vinegar, sugar and red coloring. Stir to mix. Add salt to taste, and chilli powder to get the spice level you want.

Add the chicken and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add a large handful of the cilantro to the pot and mix it in. Simmer for another 20 minutes.

Add another small handful of cilantro a few minutes before serving.

Serve with rice (plain Basmati or Pulao Rice) and flat-bread or tortillas.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Curry Base Sauce - Indian Takeaway Recipe

The Indian Takeaway style curries we ate in Edinburgh were always bite-sized pieces of meat or vegetables in a thick, saucy gravy. After a lot of trial and error, we came up with the technique of starting with a "ubiquitous base sauce" and then adding different meats, pulses and seasonings to create a number of different curries all with that characteristic sauciness (such as our Chicken Pathia and Lamb Rogan Josh). Making up a big batch and freezing the extra is a great way to have a quick Indian meal at a later date.

The sauce is basically an aromatic, spice-infused onion and tomato puree.

First the spices (coriander, paprika and turmeric) get toasted in some oil along with plenty of crushed or grated ginger and garlic. This base sauce is one of the few times where I will happily use good quality crushed ginger or garlic from a jar. A little more of each will be added at the time of actual curry preparation - I add just-grated, fresh versions there.

After a minute or so, several diced onions get added to the mix and cooked down to soften. The smells at this point are pure Indian, just like we remember wafting from the Indian Takeaway shops.

Add canned tomatoes and some water, then simmer for about an hour for the flavors to deepen.

We use an immersion hand-blender dunked right into the pot to achieve a smooth puree. These hand-blenders are terrific. We initially learned about them from friends in Edinburgh. It seems that everyone there owned one, but it was new to us. The key selling point over using a regular blender is that you don't have to worry about transferring hot liquids and carefully blending several small batches.

After a quick blitz with the hand blender, you are ready to make your curry now and still have plenty of extra sauce left to freeze for a couple more meals later.

For curry recipes using this base sauce, be sure to check out our Indian Takeaway Recipes.

Ubiquitous Curry Base Sauce

This recipe makes enough for base sauce for three curries – make it ahead and freeze each portion in a ziptop bag for a quick, easy start to a great curry.

4 large onions, chopped
1/3 cup canola oil
4 tablespoons crushed garlic
4 tablespoons crushed fresh ginger
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons ground paprika
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 (28 ounce) can plum tomatoes (whole or diced)
3-4 cups water
2 teaspoons salt

In a large pot or dutch oven, heat oil, garlic and ginger to medium-high. Add spices (coriander, paprika, turmeric) and stir to make a paste. Cook about 30 seconds.

Add onions and salt. Cook 5-7 minutes to soften onions. Stir frequently. If spices stick, add a tablespoon of water.

Add tomatoes. If using whole tomatoes, break them up by giving each a quick squeeze in your hand while adding to the pot.

Fill the tomato can with water. Stir the water into the sauce and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer about an hour.

Remove from heat and allow to cool. Puree to a smooth sauce using a blender or immersion hand-blender (our favorite).

Divide into three equal sized portions. Use within 8-10 days, or freeze.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Indian Takeaway Recipes

Indian Takeaway Recipes

During the two years we spent in Edinburgh we became completely addicted to Indian takeaway food. Indian takeaway is a very particular beast. It isn't traditional Indian food, but rather a British offshoot. And it isn't even the same as sit-down British Indian food. What it is, though, is really good. Many is the day I remember walking home from work past a few takeaway joints with the amazing, make-you-instantly-hungry smells of curry wafting out the door.

Here in the US we haven't found anything like it, so we've had to make it ourselves. This was no easy matter, initially, as it is surprisingly difficult to find recipes for this kind of food. Out of desperation, we ended up reverse-engineering a few of our favorites. I guess that makes them our version of the takeaway version of the British version of Indian food...

Our Indian Takeaway Recipes:

Curry Base SauceCurry Base Sauce

This is the base that we use to make our other curries. You can make up a large batch of it and have it on hand so that a variety of great curries are easy to make.
Chicken PathiaChicken Pathia

A fantastic, fiery red chicken curry.

Savory, twangy, spicy, and just generally awesome. This curry is easily the most popular recipe on our blog.
Prawn PathiaPrawn Pathia

Almost the same recipe as our Chicken Pathia, but using shrimp instead of chicken and fish stock in the base.
Lamb Rogan JoshLamb Rogan Josh

We think of this dish as sort of an Indian-style lamb stew.

The lamb provides a deep, comforting flavor while the curry base adds complexity and some green chile gives it a nice, hot kick.
Chicken DhansakChicken Dhansak

This is a milder curry with chicken, lentils, split peas and pineapple.

The way the lentils and split peas meld into the sauce adds a very nice texture.
Pulao RicePulao Rice

This is our easy version of the rice that generally accompanies a takeaway meal.

We've made it a million times, and never get tired of it.

A simple side dish of spiced, sautéed greens (usually spinach, but we use all kinds).

We often like to add chick peas.
Vegetable Pakora with Tamarind Dipping SauceVegetable Pakora with Tamarind Dipping Sauce

These gram (chick pea) flour snacks always came with our takeaway curries. This is our attempt to reproduce them.