The Tale of a Pseudo-Curry

There is a reason why I haven’t been posting as much this week.

I haven’t been cooking– and there’s a reason for that too.

Here’s the story.

The setting is a gloomy Sunday afternoon.  I woke up to a veil of clouds outside my highrise window, so thick that I couldn’t even see the trees outside our apartment. Halfway through the day, we decided to go out and about just so we could feel a little better, because the weather had us both so, just, bleh.  So we got coffees and drove out to a flea market where we wandered around, bought a cookbook about Jewish holiday baking, and interacted with crabby old white ladies who seemed put out that we existed.  Finally, we stopped by the grocery store and bought ingredients for a meal we were both really excited to try– Curry Shrimp, found on page 515 of The Joy of Cooking.

It’s not one of those recipes you can whip up in a couple minutes.  First, we prepared two onions and set them to slowly brown for about 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, I finished de-frosting the still half-frozen shrimp, shelled, and de-veined it with very cold fingers, and boiled the shells in some water to make a stock for the curry. We also prepped the list of ingredients which includes bell peppers, ginger, garlic, cilantro, tomatoes (we cheated and used canned), and mild flavorings of cumin, coriander, pepper, turmeric, and… well, it called for fenugreek, which we didn’t have, so I popped in a little bit of fennel. All of this took a good while and a decent amount of effort.  In went the vegetables and stock, to bring to a boil and then allow to cook slowly for a while.

During this time, Julian prepared some broccoli for a side and went to pre-heat a frying pan on another burner.

Somewhere during this time between the onions finishing browning and Julian preparing to start on the broccoli, we made an unbelievably frustrating discovery.

The burners had stopped working.  All of them.

We tested them multiple times, checked the broiler and the oven, flipped the breaker– nothing.

So here we were with a half-cooked sauce, raw shrimp, and cut broccoli, and no heat on our stove.  So we threw everything in the fridge, put in a maintenance request, and ordered Chinese takeout again.  Thankfully, Happy Buddha never disappoints, and munching on orange chicken and egg rolls while watching Hairy Bikers’ Chicken and Egg provided some relief.

Monday rolled around, and rolled out into a warm, sleepless evening.  The oven was still not working, and no maintenance worker had been by to check on it. Yet another meal out.

On Tuesday, we contacted the office for our apartment complex only to find out that the work hadn’t been assigned and nothing was being done about it.  After some persistence, we reached someone who was willing to do something about it, and when we got home from work that evening, we had a new (to us) oven awaiting.

Out came the awaiting curry sauce and the shelled shrimp. It made for a quick dinner, since all we needed to do was heat up the sauce and throw the shrimp in for a couple minutes.

Finally, the long awaited curry!

Unfortunately, we were very disappointed in the recipe.  We were expecting a dish full of flavor and spice, but in fact, the dish is severely under-flavored.  As I learn more about cooking and gain more confidence in my own seasoning skills, I may be able to build on the recipe, but as it is, the flavor was so bland that we didn’t even finish it, and ended up ordering some chicken to top off our meal.

Trying South Asian food recipes– or Asian recipes in general– can be really tricky, and I think it’s because when they are translated to American cookbooks, they become altered for the Western palate. “Here’s a hint of Indian spices, but not too much just in case you’re not into spice.” But what’s the point of having Indian curry if it’s not going to be spicy?

I have high expectations too, having lived with four Indian roommates for two semesters, and daily experiencing the intense smells and tastebud-enlightening dishes my roommates would concoct.  There’s no skimping on flavor when it comes to the real deal.  If I could go back in time, I’d pay more attention and figure out what they did to make their food so delicious and spicy, and replicate it with a new, revolutionized curry shrimp.

 

The curry shrimp is the first recipe I’ve been disappointed in from The Joy of Cooking, and perhaps all the more so because of the long prep-time and the even longer wait to actually taste it.  A year ago, I would have been really hard on myself for the meal not turning out, but as Julian has encouraged me, I’ve come to view these disappointments as just steps in my kitcheneering journey– I experiment with things, I try new recipes, and sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t.  Hopefully, the next one will turn out better.

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What is your ultimate South Asian curry recipe?  If you know any hidden tricks to bring the spice-filled subcontinent straight to your home kitchen, please let me know in the comments below!

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Cleveland Noshes: Winking Lizard Clambake

 

You aren’t a true Clevelander, I suppose, if you haven’t been to a Winking Lizard.

Now, your opinions of Winking Lizard may vary. If you’re my mom or my older sister Amanda, you hate the local chain with its reptilian mascot, and vow to never ever eat there again (a tear drops down my face as I write.)

 

If you’re a Cleveland sports fan and love a good sports bar– well, I assume Winking Lizard is a good place for such folks (I wouldn’t know, not being a sports fan, albeit a Clevelander, if it’s possible.) Finally if you’re Julian and me, you might not be a fan of the loud sports bar experience, but the food, as a whole, is worth it. We also have a special fondness for Winking Lizard, as the final part of our first date took place over drinks at the Cleveland Heights Coventry location, which sadly no longer exists. Nowadays, we make an occasional visit to the Mayfield Heights location, which has yet to disappoint.

One of the main attractions for me over the summer was the ultimate BBQ half chicken, one of their summer specials. After my brief stint as a (mostly) vegetarian, I have been what I call a chicken fiend. It happened last time I tried going vegetarian as wellIMG_20180915_200044467.jpg— once I stopped, it’s like I felt like I had to make up for all the chicken I hadn’t eaten. And Winking Lizard’s BBQ half chicken with its side of Latin street corn– let’s just say if I was stranded on an island and had to choose three meals I could have there, it would be on the list.

Imagine my heartbreak, then, when September rolled around, and despite the fact that summer wasn’t really over, the specials were gone and the fall specials had replaced them. We had made a special trip to Winking Lizard out of my desperate craving need for BBQ half chicken only to find out it was gone, and I had to content myself with wings.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait all that long to experience my favorite dish again.

Every year, Winking Lizard has its annual clambake. It takes place over a couple weekends around September or October (the dates differ depending on the location), and features a special menu that inevitably includes a dozen steamed clams and a couple select entrees. This year, they featured the return of the BBQ half chicken! (Fireworks! Confetti! Banners! Hip hip hooray!)

There was no way we were going to miss it.

So we went twice.

The meal begins with a bowl of clam chowder. The first time we went it was okay– no complaints but no raving reviews either. The second time, it was really delicious and a perfect way to start off a feast.

Following up the chowder, we each received a dozen steamed clams served in little nets that made us feel at least a little bit like being back in Cape Cod. The clams are served with a little butter sauce on the side for dipping.

Finally, the part we have all been waiting for: the entrees. Julian and his mom tried the lobster, which received good reviews. But you know, I was there for the chicken.

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The entrees are served with your choice of baked potato or sweet potato. I tried the baked potato the first time, which was hot and soft the whole way through. The second time, I tried the sweet potato which was equally good. The dish is also served with the Latin Street Corn that came with the BBQ half chicken during the summer. This is not the type of corn you have when you want something light and healthy. It is slathered in butter and topped with a delicious buttery sauce with an edge of spice to it. To add on to the points, they serve buttery garlic bread as well.

Then there was the chicken– half of it, slathered in delicious Winking Lizard barbecue– tender wings and thighs. I ate it like I imagine a cavewoman would in the days of olde, or someone stranded on an island who hadn’t chosen BBQ half chicken as one of their three meals and was finally presented with their first good meal in months. It’s the last chance I’ll have until hopefully next year, when I hope (and might even petition) for them to bring it back in all its chicken glory.

You have one day left to try it for yourself. The last date of the clambake is October 7th, at the Peninsula location. It’s your last chance until next year!

The Hairy Bikers’ Asian Adventure

I saw a post on the internet recently that said, “You can control white people by giving them cheese.”  Another Tumblr user responds, “Cheese is so good tho.” Victini, the original poster, responds, “I got one.”

For me, I think it very likely the way you can control me is by East Asian food. Or East Asian music. Or East Asian languages. Or two free flights to East Asia.  Or all of the above.  If you narrow it to South Korea, all the better for you.

After two semesters in South Korea, a piece of my heart is forever nestled into that corner of the world, and wherever I go, that little piece will always be there waiting for me to come back.  East Asia holds a special place in my heart, so when flipping through Netflix options after having finished The Great British Bakeoff, there was no resisting this tempting show title, despite the fact that I have a personal dislike of excess facial hair.

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It turns out it was an amazing find.  The Hairy Bikers’ Asian Adventure is one of many shows hosted by Dave Myers and Si King, two men from the north of England that remind me a little bit of Merry and Pippin– goofy, down-to-earth guys with a passion for really good food.  And not only that, but they are also amazing chefs who make the creation of mouth-watering top-notch food look as easy as a walk in the park.

In Asian Adventure, Dave and Si (also referred to as Kingy) seek the source of the Asian cuisine that has become so popular in the UK (and in America as well.) Their journey begins in Hong Kong, where they sample street foods and visit a multi-generational family in a tiny high-rise apartment for real, homecooked Chinese food.  The following two episodes feature Thailand– first Bangkok, and then the more rural seaside and mountain regions.  Their adventure takes them to the rice paddies of rural Thailand and to a small village of the Lisu people, where they learn about how rice is cultivated in the sloping mountains, try local dishes, and encounter a giant tarantula.

The final three episodes move further East.  Two episodes feature Japan– first up is Tokyo, where they visit with sumo wrestlers and try their hands at making sushi.  Next, they bike to Mount Fuji where they try homemade noodles, and further south to Kyoto.

Finally, the moment I was on the edge of my seat waiting for: South Korea.  Here they try classic dishes such as bibimbap and Korean barbecue, and go behind-the-scenes with one of my favorite Korean fast foods: Korean fried chicken.  (There is nothing like crispy Korean fried chicken, which can be delivered to you at any time of the day or night, and which I enjoyed many nights sitting on the floor of my dorm room with my roommates, Miso, Suah, and Eunsol.) They also enjoy something straight off my bucket list: making homemade kimchi with a seasoned and experienced ajumma to guide them.  One day, Melanie, one day.
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Needless to say, one of the charms of the show was getting to travel vicariously throughout the six, all-too-short episodes.  It feels like for an hour, you’re on the other side of the world with them, exploring all those countries have to offer and filling up on some of the best cuisine on the planet.  And they bring their experience into reach of stuck-at-home viewers with their amazing recipes. Si and Dave are amazing cooks who, periodically throughout the show, cook up tributes to the people and places they’ve encountered, demonstrating recipes step-by-step in a way that makes me feel like I can really just run over to the Asian market, grab some ingredients, and make something at least almost as good.

It’s also so refreshing what normal, down-to-earth people the hosts are. They are far from queasy, need-everything-to-be-sanitized-and-Westernized tourists. They want to know what daily life is like for the people they meet, and where the food we take for granted comes from.   In all their interactions, there is a charming curiosity and a loving respect and admiration for the people they encounter.

My only complaint was that the show was far too short. I’d love to see a sequel featuring more Asian countries (I would love to explore the world of Vietnamese food some more!) and more rural corners of South Korea (or just make a whole entire series about Korea, I won’t complain!)  But luckily, there is more to the Hairy Bikers.  We’re now embarking on another series on Netflix, where the bikers adventure across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the U.S. to find the perfect chicken and egg recipes.  I’m anticipating some experimental chicken recipes to be featured on this blog soon…

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An Experimentally Southern Meal

One of my recent food-related discoveries and loves is American Southern cooking.  Even though a quarter of my ancestry is deeply deeply Southern (my ancestors settled in Virginia as early as the 1600s, eventually making their way to the Alabama/Georgia line where my grandfather was born), I have never felt connected to it in any way.  However, through various influences such as a visit to the African American Museum of History and Culture in D.C., and a fantastic episode of Parts Unknown in which Anthony Bourdain visits Senegal and highlights some of the food traditions that crossed the Atlantic with the enslaved people brought over to America and the Caribbean, I have developed a new interest in and a deep respect for the rich and meaningful tradition which is Southern cooking.  And it’s delicious too!

I decided to try my hands at some Southern-style recipes from The Joy of Cooking.  I’ll be upfront with you and say it was a beginner’s attempt. But one has to start somewhere.

The recipe I began my meal with was the Cajun Dry Rub, found on page 86 of the 1997 edition.  It’s a simple spice mix meant to flavor meats and vegetables and can be very versatile in the way it is cooked.  I kept to the recipe, including all the ingredients. However, instead of applying it to the chicken as a dry rub, Julian and I followed the recommendation given by the cookbook, which says “When a dry rub is moistened with oil or ground fresh ginger or garlic, it becomes a paste, which is even easier to use, because it clings nicely to the food.”  We added some oil to the mix and then applied it to the chicken. Julian used his preferred method of cooking chicken, by initially pan-frying it but finishing it up in the oven.

For sides, we made brown rice (I’d like to try grits or polenta next time) and a stirfry of onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and okra, with a bit of Creole seasoning and Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Seasoning Blend. Unfortunately, we were unable to find any fresh okra so we had to resort to frozen, bagged okra, which made the stirfry much wetter than I would have liked.

My favorite part of the meal, however, was dessert– the most experimental I’ve tried yet: bread pudding.

The recipe for New Orleans Bread Pudding can be found on page 1023 of The Joy of CookingIt is described as a “warm sticky bun drenched in butter and bourbon.”  Sounds healthy, right?  (….)

As a whole, I kept to the recipe, but when I was reading the recipe aloud and got to the part where it recommends adding raisins, Julian and I both shuddered a little, so we decided, no raisins.  Additionally, the recipe calls for whole milk which I only realized after we had come back from the store and I had started cooking– I only had 1% milk (all part of my attempts to keep my points down when I have cereal, but no good for desserts.)  I looked up solutions online and found a source that recommended the following substitute: for one cup of whole milk, use 2/3 cup of 1% milk and 1/4 cup of half and half (something I have never and will never give up for all the points in the world, thank you very much.)  Following this formula, I substituted the whole milk and the result was just fine.

The final way I deviated from the recipe was that I did not make the Southern Whiskey Sauce it recommends.  Not being much into drinking, we don’t keep a lot of alcohol at home, and bourbon, besides whole milk, was another detail I failed to consider when we were at the grocery store. So instead, I made the hot brown sugar sauce on page 1042, which is largely the same as the Southern Whiskey Sauce, except there’s no whisky, and you substitute one cup of light brown sugar for the white sugar of the original recipe.

We were very pleased with the result. Julian is not usually a fan of bread pudding, and it really is the type of thing that can so easily go wrong. But it didn’t– the texture was just right, and the flavor was delicious.  The bit of nutmeg in the recipe gave it a delicious spicy edge, and the brown sugar sauce was phenomenal.

The only problem is, the recipe is far too big for a family of two, and the texture is somewhat lost when reheated the next day.  I am realizing that if I am to make such sizable dessert recipes, I need to save them for when we have company over. (This is the problem of being an aspiring baker and an introvert at the same time.)

 

What is one of your favorite Southern foods?

Dream Bars

dream-bar.jpgI wonder how dream bars got their name. If you dream of coconutty, buttery, gooey goodness, it makes sense. If you dream of eating healthy and keeping your weight in check, the name might not be quite so accurate.

Dream bars were the first dessert recipe I decided to try from The Joy of Cooking, based on their notation within the recipe that many copies of the cookbook had been sold on the strength of that recipe.  It must be something special, I thought. On top of that, Julian loves dream bars, so I decided to throw that together as a surprise.

It was new territory for me, as I had never made layered bars before, and as a whole, I think they turned out well. The final layer, however, I am unsure of whether I made it right. The recipe calls to spread it across the top layer, but for one thing, there was so little to spread, and on the other hand, most of it sank into the coconut and walnut layer, and came out looking more like a glaze than a layer.  Perhaps it was because I put it on when the bar was too hot.  Or maybe it’s meant to be like that?  Next time I will let the bar cool for a little longer before attempting to spread the glaze.

The bars also turned out very crumbly, and don’t cut into clean-cut pieces.  They’re ideal for crumbling off little bits so it doesn’t feel like you’re eating as much as you actually are.

They turned out buttery and delicious, a perfect mix of gooey on the top and shortbread-crusty at the bottom.  They were also intensely sweet, so perfect if you are baking for a mega sweet tooth. The one thing they significantly lack though is chocolate, and once I learn some more technical aspects of cooking, I’d like to learn how to incorporate some into the recipe.

Because of the large amount of dream bar the recipe yields, I’ve decided this is a recipe better suited for a night with company than for baking for two, as there is just too much and a significant amount of it will go to waste.  I pawned some off on my sister and brought some in to work, and still have too much left over on my counter.

In conclusion, I can’t stay it was an unsuccessful recipe, but it wasn’t the type I will pull out of the theoretical recipe box all that often, simply because it yields so very much and is just so intensely sweet.  But if you’ve got a big family full of sweet tooths (sweet teeth?), by all means, go for it!

 

Have you tried The Joy of Cooking‘s dream bars recipe, and if so, how did they turn out?  What is your ultimate favorite dream bar recipe?

Why Smartpoints?

In my journey of exploration in food, you will often find me noting how many “smartpoints” (sp) a recipe comes out to.  For those who are not familiar with the system, smartpoints are Weight Watcher’s current method for tracking what one is eating.  On a given plan, you are allowed a certain number of smartpoints per day, and a certain amount of overflow for the week that you can use however you like.  Some foods, like vegetables or beans, are usually point-free, so technically you can have as much as you want of those.  Other items, like milk and butter, can be 5 to 7 points, and a Dairy Queen ice cream cake is well over thirty.

I started using WW in December of 2017. When I started college in 2012, I ranged between 130 and 140 pounds.  But slowly I added on the pounds until, by that December, after a year and a half of a desk job where I sat literally all day, I had reached 172 pounds.  My body felt heavy just to move in it, I was exhausted all the time, short of breath frequently, and my blood pressure was bordering on high.  My gynecologist was the one who turned me on to Weight Watchers. “I’ve known lots of women who’ve seen great results with it,” she told me.  It had always seemed old-fashioned to me, and I was skeptical of pretty much all weight-loss programs (the ketogenic diet, in my experience, was an absolute joke.) But at her recommendation, I gave it a try.

I was given 23 points a day and 30 monthly overflow points in order to reach my goal of 135.  I discovered that the wonderful thing about Weight Watchers is that you can still enjoy delicious foods, you just have to pace them appropriately. If you have tiramisu cake on Thursday, don’t go get ice cream the next day.  If you have a noodle soup for dinner, have a light lunch of apples, carrot sticks, and white bean hummus to balance the points.  I found creative ways to bring down the points: use fat-free Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise, olive oil spray instead of the recommended tablespoon of oil in a recipe, hard-boiled eggs as a snack.  But at the same time, I could enjoy delicious foods instead of starving myself and hating life.

After half a year, I had lost 30 pounds and felt really happy with where I was at. At that point, I decided to transition into maintenance mode. The truth is, if I don’t hold myself accountable and eat heavy, rich foods on a regular basis, I put on weight quickly. Being skinny isn’t a priority for me.  I feel happy fitting into size 8 jeans and medium tops. It feels healthy, and it feels me.  But health is a priority– high blood pressure and heart disease is a genetic possibility for me which I want to avoid if I can. Not wanting to return to the point where moving is a drag (literally), I am trying to continue living by the principles that I know work for me.  I calculate the smartpoints of the recipes I try in the WW app and include them, both for myself to know how to balance meals for myself, but also to help others who may be on the same journey as I.

This is not to say that I don’t fall off the bandwagon from time to time.  During my recent trip to Washington D.C., I threw smartpoints out the window and gorged myself on the most amazing patisserie experience which is Paul (be still my heart!)  But I will tell you all about that another time.