Tag Archives: curry

Love Letter to the Twin Cities

Red Amaryllis, Como Park Conservatory, Sunken Garden

The Mall of America is not the alpha and the omega of the Twin Cities. Besides the “royalty” of the State Fair carved into butter busts, the TC has some spectacular art. Who would know that these Midwestern cities offer shelter to some world-class sights? And some pretty good food. I thought that I might take you on an artsy, foodie field trip! It’s my wistful little love letter to the Twin Cities, now that I’m on the West Coast. Join me!

Detail of “The Algerian,” by Cordier

Cherry Spoonbridge, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Sights

Whether you find yourself in Minneapolis on a sunny day, or a snowy day, you will enjoy Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Walk beyond the tall, evergreen borders to become surrounded by art work and restful, peaceful plantings. It’s an oasis that seems beautifully matched to city life. When I visited it for the first time, I didn’t know anything about it. I won’t tell you anything more so that you can have that sense of discovery for yourself. Once there, you might as well walk across the street and enjoy the Walker Art Center’s free admission on Thursday evenings if you are a fan of contemporary art.

To see what people are creating and buying at this very moment, visiting galleries/stores in Uptown is a good bet. The tiny yet potent Moxie is a hair salon during the day, becoming a gallery at night. It’s actually rather striking to see paintings alongside huge mirrors, swivel chairs, and shampoo bottles. Across the street, Soo Vac acts as a community incubator for local artists. Next door, the very tiny Robot Love is perfect for a dose of pop design sensibility. Back across town, in downtown Minneapolis, the Rosalux gallery exhibits local art in the very lovely brick building of the Loft.

Despite my preference for modern art, my favorite museum in the Twin Cities, hands down, is the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Matchless, utterly matchless. (And admission is free, everyday!) It is world-class. It is large, occupying an entire city block. But there is no “fat” in it. It is no mere warehouse. Somehow, the curators are telling the story of humanity, binding each of us with each piece, each room, and every wall. And of course, the works are simply gorgeous!!! The Algerian, a detail of which is shown immediately above, belongs to its ancient art collection.

Also linking us to the past (albeit, less distant – the 1900s) in downtown Saint Paul is the Cathedral of Saint Paul. One of my friends told me that she did not need to take a photograph of the interior of the cathedral because it would be an image that would stay with her. I agree – there is no picture that could capture even the slightest semblance to the experience of walking within it. The stained glass, sculptures, and other aspects of the interior conspire to give you a sense of awe. I’ve included an image of the exterior, taken through a friend’s car window on a snowy day to give you a glimpse that Saint Paulites enjoy everyday. (An observant reader notes that this is a photo of…the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis!!! I’ve never been inside, but, I’m sure it’s potentially fabulous!!! And I’m working on finding a photo of the cathedral itself.) Update: 06.22.08 – someone has been kind enough to let me use his nighttime photo of the cathedral. Enjoy!

Basilica of Saint Mary’s, Minneapolis

Cathedral of Saint Paul, Saint Paul

Cathedral of Saint Paul, Saint Paul

North of downtown Saint Paul lies the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in Como Park, to the side of the immensely serene Como Lake. It is entirely charming to walk through the conservatory’s various chambers to view tropical plants or perhaps flowering bulbs, when the snow remains packed tightly on the land outside. People picnic within the conservatory, taking advantage of its beauty, definitely enhancing their meals. I took the picture of the red amaryllis at the very beginning of this post in the Sunken Garden, (shown immediately below) sometime last spring.

Sunken Garden in the Como Park Conservatory

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Food

Usually, I try to focus my posts on recipes and making food myself, in order to learn about cooking as well as attempting to cultivate the frugality habit. But sometimes it is quite nice to go someplace, eat, and not have to wash dishes afterwards! These are some of the places I shared meals with friends.

Takeout box from Pizza Luce

Punch Salad, of Punch Pizza (including prosciutto and walnuts)

Toscano Pizza, at Punch Pizza

Firstly, it’s difficult to survive modern life without pizza. Give into it!!! One of my west coast friends was shocked when she tried a slice of the Garlic Mashed Potato pizza at Pizza Luce in Uptown – like nothing she had ever had, and it was so very good. Amazing texture. Bright, tart feta with tender…potatoes? Potatoes that contribute an earthiness that rounds off the brightness of the feta and the fresh, chopped tomatoes. Simply amazing. I succumbed to the temptation of their free delivery policy many times. Their pizzas are unconventional, and so delicious. Should you happen to be around Xerxes and 50th, very west of downtown Minneapolis, Michaelangelo’s Masterpizza’s is a lovely, lovely, teeny and tiny place to eat with friends. The pizza sauce is unapologetically thick, laden with good, mellow cheeses, on an exquisitely textured dough. It is one of those neighborhood joints that deserves to become a destination. The much-praised Punch Pizza earns its accolades by being the absolute, unequivocal best.

Al’s Breakfast of Minneapolis

Sausage Patty, Eggs, Light Rye Toast, homemade strawberry rhubarb jam, at Highland Park Cafe & Bakery

I love love love breakfast. I’ve expressed my passion for breakfast in previous posts regarding Minnesotan breakfast eateries: Jay’s Cafe, in the Saint Anthony neighborhood of Saint Paul, South Asian Foods in Fridley; my beloved Highland Park Cafe and Bakery in the Highland Park neighborhood of Saint Paul, and Al’s Breakfast, in Minneapolis’s Dinkytown (James Beard awardee). Besides breakfast, I found a few other places I enjoyed. Cecil’s Deli, in the heart of Highland Park, is quite the institution. I love their Reubens. They also make a lovely, lovely hammentashen in the bakery. One day a friend and I were trying to decide between two flavors of the hammentashen – we just ended up getting both. They were large, and simply fabulous. Kramarczuk’s, a Minneapolis landmark, serves a brilliant holubet. I always appreciated the curries at Chiang Mai Thai, nestled in the heart of Minneapolis’s Uptown. All of the food looked really good, but, I stuck to ordering curry because it was relatively inexpensive, and because, well, I LOVE curry!!! In Saint Paul’s Frogtown, Saigon Cafe serves a mean, mean banh mi (ranging from the budget-friendly $2.50 to $3.50). They make their own mayonnaise, pate, and and bake their own excellent bread for this amazing sandwich. And when I asked for extra pickled carrots and daikon – why, by golly, they gave it to me!!!

Reuben on Dark Rye, Cecil’s Delicatessen, Highland Park, Saint Paul

Parking Lot of Kramarczuk’s Delicatessen, in Minneapolis

Miscellaneously Fabulous:

Next to the Mississippi, the Riverview Theatre is a lovely place to see a movie (for only $3.00!!) in a gorgeous, gorgeous 1950’s setting. They also have the best, best popcorn and thoughtfully provide Cheddar powder to enhance it! The Willey House, in Minneapolis, is a teensy Frank Lloyd Wright example. The official website lets you tour virtually, as does a fan site.

Lobby of the Riverview Theatre, Minneapolis

Hot Buttered Popcorn, in the Riverview Theatre

Well, I hope you have enjoyed this mini-tour of the Twin Cities. I shall be going on blog-cation for a few weeks, but will try to stay on top of any comments and emails you might send my way. (You must know bloggers LIVE for comment luv.) I always thought the 46th Light Rail Station in Minneapolis was really pretty, and made commuting such a pleasure. And so I’ll close this post with that. Thanks for coming along!!!

46th Street Light Rail Station, Minneapolis

*********************** Rolling Credits ***********************

Here are the fellow flickr-ites who kindly permitted my use of their works:

All others – Red Amaryllis at the Como Conservatory (first photo), the Pizza Luce takeout box, Punch Salad at Punch Pizza,Toscano Pizza at Punch Pizza, Reuben on Dark Rye from Cecil’s Deli, Fountain at the Como Conservatory, the Saint Paul Cathedral, and the 46th Avenue Light Rail Station in Minneapolis – by yours truly!

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Brining Helped My Chicken Curry

Neighbor’s Red Poppy

I want a little more excitement in my chicken dishes. Maybe brining will come to my rescue? The way it surely saved my Thanksgiving a few years back – it was so amazingly moist and tasty – my first time roasting a turkey!!! Fourteen pounds of Butterball, I believe. I was very intimidated. I was cooking for 12 friends. I was making the foundational dishes: turkey, gravy, stuffing, pumpkin pie, cranberry salad, mashed potatoes and possibly even fried rice – just to be safe. Oh, no pressure or anything!

I used Emeril’s recipe (leaving out the thyme) for brine and it turned out great!!! I remember thinking, “They have no idea I how much I agonized over the gravy…and they love the turkey.” The bird turned out to be the easiest part!!! I kept asking my diners to sample the gravy because I worried they might not like it, but somebody finally said that it was not necessary because the turkey was actually good – not tough or dry. Oh, life’s not fair, but then again, nobody ASKED me to spend 90 minutes stirring the gravy like a maniac. Well, that’s enough reminiscing. I have poultry issues of the moment to dispatch.

It’s very common to brine for “big” occasions, like Thanksgiving or some dinner party when you are serving roasted poultry. But why not brine to fight off the blah of the everyday? My challenge: long, forgotten, freezer-burnt chicken quarters. Too much freezing dries out the chicken. I’m not sure they had much chicken-ness left. No harm in trying to coax it out, though!

So, I brined the chicken overnight.

Brining Solution (for 3 chicken quarters)

  • 9 cups of water;
  • 1/3 cup of sea salt (table salt is not recommended by the authoritative cooks and I won’t argue);
  • 1/4 cup of “raw” sugar.

(If you are curious about the science of brining, Dave Scantland gives a great explanation of the science behind the miracle of salty water on eGullet.) And then of course, I made curry out of the chicken.

One Pot Madras Chicken*

  • 2 cups of onion (1 large onion);
  • 9 cloves of garlic;
  • about 2.5 cubic inches of ginger;
  • 2 lbs of potatoes (I sliced 6 smallish – medium Idahos in halves and quarters);
  • 5 tablespoons of madras curry powder;**
  • 3 glugs of ngouc mam (fish sauce) to taste; and
  • 3 chicken quarters, each cut into 3 parts (about 4 lbs);
  • dash of sugar;***
  • vegetable oil; and
  • a very large skillet.

Note that you might want to lower the amount of ginger. I LOVE ginger, and it was very very gingery. I would even wager to say that the ginger factor added quite a bit heat.

* I’ve previously posted instructions for Madras Chicken for the slow cooker, including approximate cost breakdowns, so mea culpas to those who might have read it already. Brown the chicken, about 4 minutes per side. Let the brown bits stuck to the pan stay (it will be your “fond”). Take the chicken pieces out of the pan. Then, brown the curry powder in a few tablespoons of vegetable oil (but not olive oil, because you won’t taste it – and it might burn). Then sweat the onions, garlic and ginger. Then add the curry powder. Then the ngouc mam and about two cups of water and scrape the bits from the bottom of the pan. Get it boiling. Add the potatoes and chicken. Add enough water to barely cover about 3/4 of the chicken height. Get it boiling hot. Simmer, simmer, simmer, on very very low for about 90 minutes. Your house will smell GOOD! And very strongly so. If you burn anything in the process, be sure to cut off the burnt parts and return the unburnt portions to the pan. Serve with rice. *** I didn’t add any sugar, but, I think I should have.

I think the brining helped a lot. The chicken was tender and moist – not dry at all – almost falling off the bone. The potatoes are silky smooth, with a little resistance still. Very nice, if I may say so myself!

* Suraj powder is quite inexpensive, if you can get your hands on it – about $1.59 for a POUND! Sold in Canadian supermarkets, I believe.

Chana Masala (less than $0.50 per serving)

Everytime I go to the supermarket, I see MDH’s Chana Masala powder mix. Now, I’ve used it before…but not for its intended purpose. I see the happy picture on the box and I wonder if chickpeas can really be that glamorous? I bought the box and decided to take the plunge.

After watching the culinary superawesomeness of Ms. Manjula, in her Youtube contribution, I felt a teensy bit more knowledgeable about preparing the dish. Manjula cooks hers with ginger, and by golly, so will I! Her recipe calls for fresh chiles, which I did not have around.

Chole, a.k.a., Chana Masala

  • 1 lb dried chickpeas, which expands to at least 2lb after soaking overnight (about $.80 – I got a 2 kg bag for under $3.00);
  • 1 can of whole tomatoes, which I then chopped (guessing: about $1.50 – fresh is better, and that’s what Manjula did, but, the available tomatoes looked kinda waxy and were still superexpensive);
  • 1 extremely large onion, almost 1lb (guessing: $1.00 worth);
  • 1.5 cubic inches of ginger (guessing: $.50 worth);
  • 1/5 of the package of MDH chana masala powder – about 2 tablespoons (about $.35);
  • cooking oil (pennies);
  • salt* (I threw in three generous dashes of fish sauce); an
  • pressure cooker.

“Cavalier” is the word I would use to describe how I cooked this. I put the burner under the pressure cooker on medium high, and threw the MDH in when the oil was nearly smoking. Fortunately, I had chopped everything in advance, so in the onion, tomato and ginger went, surely preventing a small kitchen fire. And then the cooked chickpeas. Since I had undercooked the chickpeas the first time around, it took me a while to pressure everything together…probably about 25 minutes in aggregate – pressured it, for 15 minutes, checked it, and then pressured it some more.

You might see the burn marks on one of the chickpeas in the top picture. I would recommend just simmering it (in a regular pan) for 40 minutes like the package recommends – might need a little more water than just the canned tomatoes I used here. I like it just really chunky and with very firm chickpeas. Indira of Mahanandi makes a puree of some of the chickpeas to thicken it a bit. Maybe next time, I’ll try it that way. But I am definitely making this again. So good, and so easy!

Smells absolutely great when you are cooking it. Tastes even better the next day – very microwave-friendly. And is a fabulous lunch, even when cold. Likely makes at least 10 servings (yields almost 4 lbs) for less than $4.50 – less than $.45 per serving.

#8 in a series of my posts about recipes yielding meals for under $1.00 per serving:

  1. Madras Chicken Curry in the Tundra for less than $1.00: even better than it sounds;
  2. approximately Sailu’s adraki kebabs – less than $0.50 per serving;
  3. maximally lazy and frugal version of feijoada (under $0.25 per serving) // Year of the Boar post #2;
  4. antioxidant red cabbage and sweet potato curry – about $1.00 per serving;
  5. When the stars make you drool just like Pasta Fazool, that’s Amore…(about $.50 per serving); and
  6. Three Bean Salad: antidote to winter, super convenient and less than $1.00 per serving!

P.S. There is such a thing as Indian Chinese food, as in, Chinese food interpreted by Indian nationals. Me adding fish sauce, well, I just like it, but I suppose I can get away with calling it some kind of “fusion” technique!

P.P.S. I put the chole on a little plate because I adore being able to see the chickpeas themselves and because I liked the plate. In reality, I prefer eat more than 1.5 tablespoons of food at a time.

* If you leave out the fish sauce, of course, it will be vegan.

Junk food, and the salvation of Turkey Jook (a.k.a., rice porridge, xifan, congee, juk, okayu)

Question: is it wise to eat pizza, chocolate-covered rice crispy bars, spicy blue corn chips and other junk food exemplars for days and days on end…even if you feel like being lazy? Answer: No! My concern for all I’ve ingested leads me to attempt some salvation. Traditionally restorative, I am hoping that six thousand years of tradition in jook will come to my aid. To that end, I made a brown rice version for the first time. (I’m no stranger to white rice jook.)

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antioxidant red cabbage and sweet potato curry – about $1.00 per serving

All this time, I didn’t know the stuff I liked was good for me! Let’s see, red cabbage and sweet potatoes are world-champion antioxidant sources…and ginger may ward off the development of cancer cells. Whew!

Well, anyways, it has been a while since I had any red cabbage, so, I thought I’d take a whirl at it. And I made curry.

Red Cabbage and Sweet Potato Curry

  • 1 head of red cabbage($1.99);
  • 3 sweet potatoes (I used the Jersey variety – almost 3 lbs @1.99/lb = $5.73);
  • 2 medium yellow onions (about a pound – $1.53);
  • 1/2~3/4 lb of ground beef (I got extra lean – well, that was not exactly frugal! about $4.00!);
  • 1.5 cubic inches of peeled ginger (pennies);
  • 3 tablespoons of curry powder (pennies);
  • dashes of ngouc mam – fish sauce (pennies);
  • 1/2 cube of beef bouillion cube (about a quarter); and
  • vegetable oil (pennies).

Mince the ginger and chop the onions in a medium hot saute pan/skillet with the vegetable oil. Sweat the ginger and onions well. Then add the curry powder. Brown the beef. If you get something other than extra lean ground beef, you might want to brown it separately, then drain the fat, then add it back to the onion-ginger-curry mix.

At this point, I transferred the mixture into a larger saucepot – you might use a Dutch oven or other heavy enameled pot to limit dishwashing. Dissolve the beef boullion cube with the fish sauce in a little water – less than 1/4 cup. Incorporate that solution, mixing well with the onion-ginger-beef.

Slice the sweet potatoes. I went with 1/4″ discs, but if I had to do it over again, I’d do larger blocks. Biting into the potato then seeing the flash of gold surrounded by the purpling from the cabbage is very pretty. Mix the potatoes in. Slice the cabbage into 1/2 or 1″ strips. Add 1/2 of the cabbage in, after the temperature of the pot recovers from the potatoes. Add the second half of the cabbage when the potatoes are almost done. You will get a variety of textures.

Serve on brown rice. This dish is quite gingery. And, the potatoes, onions, and cabbage all conspire to form a mild sweetness that complements the savoriness of the fish sauce and bouillion. Enjoy!

P.S. I recommend eating this while listening to some Patsy Cline – preferably, “I Fall to Pieces.”

turkey curry from the pressure cooker…mmm-mmm!

Sometimes, a girl falls in love with her pressure cooker. And this was yet again one of those occasions. The turkey becomes perfect – melting in your mouth. Get about three pounds of turkey drumsticks. Wash the meat, and set it aside. Put your pressure cooker on medium high, and start chopping two yellow onions coarsely. Also chop two cups of cabbage coarsely. Saute the onion at the bottom of the pressure cooker, until they just begin to sweat. Add in the curry powder – two or three tablespoons, to taste. Stir quickly to toast the curry powder with the onions. Stir in the cabbage.

Push everything to the side and introduce the drumsticks. Put the onion mix over the drumsticks. Add in three tablespoons of nam pla. Lock the lid. I put the heat on medium, letting it linger for twenty minutes, then pressuring it for about five minutes. Let it stay for about forty minutes after turning off the heat. Well…it’s very nice. You’ll have to add salt while eating, but, I think that’s alright. The cabbage and the onion create a subtle sweetness that sets off the turkey nicely. The bones give off great deep flavor. Serve it with some steamed rice. Oh, there’s nothing better in the whole world than coming home to that!

ain’t your mama’s Toor Dal: recipe & notes

(repost b/c of accidental deletion; first posted on 1/31/07)

One of my friends cooked me his toor dal. I was concerned that he simply stuck in some veggies into the toor dal without saute-ing or blanching those first, causing some texture issues. He told me it wasn’t as good as his mom’s, and he was just a bachelor, but, I thought it was divine all the same.

Mine of course, can’t be half as good as his mama’s, but, still manages to be quite tasty. Unlike my friend’s dish, there’s a good dose of chicken (his version was vegan – sans ngouc mam and chicken). If you are going to substitute anything, do not chance it on the toor dal – these yellow peas have quite a distinct and sweetish flavor with a lovely, granular texture. They are worth the additional expense.

Ingredients:

  • 1 dry cup of toor dal (also spelled “tur dal”) (soaked overnight, turning into several cups) {mine were SWAD brand, available from Cub Foods);
  • 1/2 lb yellow onion;
  • 10 chicken thighs;
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of sambar curry powder;
  • 2 tablespoons of ngouc mam;
  • 1 can of tomatoes, 16 oz; and
  • vegetable oil.

Drain the toor dal, and set aside. Heat a large skillet or wok to medium. Chop the yellow onion into pieces no smaller than 1/4″. Wash the chicken thighs in cold, salted water. Remove the skin, then slice each thigh into 2 or 3 pieces, lengthwise. By now, the skillet should be hot. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. In go the onions. Once the onions have sweated a little bit, add the sambar – don’t stop stirring!!! Otherwise, the curry will burn. When the onions are nice and golden, set aside the onion/curry sauté.

Clean the skillet. At this time, plug in your slow cooker – set it to the highest temperature – keep an eye on it to make sure it does not start burning anything. If it gets too hot, add a little water.

Heat the skillet again. When it’s hot enough, add 2 tablespoons of oil. Add several pieces of chicken at a time, to brown it. Watch constantly. Once all the pieces are browned, add the onion/curry sauté to the browned chicken – this may lower the pan temperature a little. Once the pan temperature is raised again, add the diced tomatoes. The pan should steam at this point! Again the pan temperature will drop. Once the mixture is boiling, add at least 2 tablespoons of ngouc mam. (alternatively, you could use one chicken or beef broth bouillon cube). Mix well. Slowly add the drained yellow peas, approx. ½ cup at a time. The temperature of your wok/pan/etc. will definitely drop. Constantly stir, and watch! The goal is to get the mixture boiling again. Once the mixture is simmering, transfer to slow cooker. Allow to cook for 2 ½ or 3 hours, or less – if you would like the toor dal to be grittier.

Serve over white rice, with lima beans and spinach to add color and flavor contrast.

P.S. Caveat to readers: let me say here that adding meat of any kind is not traditional – AT ALL. As in, the addition of meat to toor dal may be akin to listening to fingernails on the chalkboard for those raised eating it.