22 March, 2014

My New Favorite!!

After my last disappointing experience out on the town for Indian food, I had been waiting for the opportunity to take our double date friends out to a place that *I* chose.  I got the recommendation from a friend who really knows her stuff, cooks Indian food in her own home, and...she's Indian.  I told her about my experience at Taj Indian Cuisine in October and she wasn't surprised that I was dissatisfied with my meal as a whole.  She relayed an experience she had at Taj when she was pregnant and they served her 3 day old lentils.  Blech...  She assured me that Little India Cafe had the best Indian food in town and that their technique really puts the accent on "Namaste".  I had to try them....  It just was going to take me 5 months to find the time to do it!

I heard that this place fills up quickly, no matter the night of the week.  I took the advice seriously and called ahead for a reservation.  I spoke with the manager and took the opportunity to ask permission to take photos inside.  He was very accommodating, even letting me know I could feel free to photograph HIM.  Quite the juxtaposition from how I was treated about photos at "the other place".  I told him that too, and in true humble fashion he wouldn't hear a bad word spoken about Taj because they "are like our family".  What a guy!  For a Wednesday night, the place was packed, so I just didn't want to make any customers nervous while they were eating and decided to skip photos of the inside of the restaurant and just focus on my own food. 

Our DDD partners in crime were there before we were and knew what they wanted, so that made it even quicker.  I did some foot work for myself on Little India's menu while I was on the phone with the manager.  I asked him what his best dishes were, and just like every other owner/manager, he told me they ALL were.  I chuckled a bit and he got a little more specific.  People really enjoy their Bhunas, Butter Chicken, and their Do Piazas.  I knew I couldn't handle any green pepper or red onion these days (long story) so I was going to be steering clear on the Bhuna and Do Piazas.  Butter Chicken is something I make at home regularly...I was in the mood for lamb anyhow.  Lamb is my favorite meat to enjoy with Indian flavors.  I knew as I scanned down the lamb menu and my eyes connected with the Lamb Curry that my search was over for my main entree.  I love a good veggie samosa and a loverly crisp veggie pakora...and I just can't go to an Indian restaurant without eating some fabulous naan.  So...the order went in at record speed for our whole table of four.  My Mister and I ordered Vegetable Samosa, Vegetable Pakora, Garlic Naan, Lamb Curry for my entree, and Chicken Bhuna for my Mister.

We weren't talking for very long before the pakora and the samosa hit the table.  There was ONE table open when we came in, 3 minutes after we were seated it was taken.  A full house...and our appetizers were on our table in less than 10 minutes.  I was impressed.

Vegetable Pakora
Vegetable Samosa

 I was famished so I dove into the food with no delicacy about it.  I grabbed a pakora and ripped it in half.  Perfectly crisp, wonderfully warm, and on first bite it had JUST the right level of spice in the batter.  I could have kissed the chef.  I offered pakora to our friends almost forcefully...I was SUPER sure they had to try some.  They loved them of course.  My Mister and I split a samosa in half and I nervously took a tiny bite...hoping to get the right level of spice in the filling.  Yes!  It was ALL there....I am not lying to you when I tell you I am never going somewhere else for Indian food as long as we are living in this city.  There is no point once you've found perfection.  No point at all.  The potatoes were cooked perfectly and the peas were still firm like I prefer them.  I wished right then and there that my stomach was all of the sudden a bottomless pit like my Mister's is.  Of course that didn't happen and I couldn't dwell on that for too long because our main entrees were on the table!  Wow!  

I should mention...our water glasses were never empty for long, our food came quickly, and the quality of the food was top notch.  I'd read complaints of their service (but never the food!) but, I am guessing they took it as constructive criticism and improved themselves because there were NO gaps in service at our table and our waitress had NO idea I was a food blogger.  I didn't tell her, I just left my card on the bill plate before I walked out the door.  

I want to inject another "aside" into the convo about Little India...when directly compared to other Indian places we've eaten in town their lighting was MUCH better.  As you can probably tell in the pictures.  Better than Host India and better than Taj Indian Cuisine, hands down.  I could see my food, I could see our friends, and I could see across the room without straining my eyes.

 Back to the food...  

Lamb Curry
Garlic Naan

The lamb in my curry was SO succulent, it fell apart in my mouth.  The curry was spiced just right at medium heat and it was just the right thickness for making a spoon out of my naan!  I ate the WHOLE bowl of lamb curry and most of the garlic naan all on my own.  

We left filled, satisfied, and impressed with our experience.  We of course will be back to Little India as often as I can manage to get there while we are in the middle of packing up our house and I am taking care of two children all day.  I think between now and the end of April I can manage it at least 3 more times.  I'm going to try!!

If you want fabulous Indian food without risking disappointment, head to Little India Cafe and order yourself up a feast.  Tell them I sent you!  Heck...I may join you!  Any reason to eat here again is a good one for me.

  Little India Cafe on Urbanspoon

15 March, 2014

Yum of the Irish!

Oooh...  It is one of my favorite holidays in just a couple of days!  St. Patrick's Day, a holiday celebrated with happiness and great pride, is one of the most revered holidays worldwide...even by those who can't prove they are Irish.  It is quite hilarious, but everyone and their uncle claims Irish heritage on this day and most of them with no proof or genealogical knowledge of their ancestors whatsoever.  I however know for a fact that I have Ireland in my blood not too far back on my paternal Grandmother's side.  My Mister's paternal family line can be traced back to Irish royalty.  It was an amazing find!

Last year I posted a recipe for Irish Soda Bread that really hits the spot and quite frankly puts most dinner table breads to shame, even if there ARE only four ingredients in the loaf.  This year for my celebration I decided to make a loverly cake for dessert rather than something for our main meal.  It wasn't easy to choose what I was going to make because they honestly have some of the best desserts out there.  I narrowed my choices down to Irish Tea Cake (a basic butter cake that is very versatile), Chocolate Potato Cake, Apple Amber, or Chocolate Orange Guinness Cake.  Difficult decision to make...sweet, simple butter cake, a super soft chocolate bundt cake, a rich apple pie with a meringue topping, or a moist, rich cake filled with chocolatey orange goodness with a slight gingerbread taste in the background.  Golly...  I had to think about this and ask my Foodnatic fans.

What they came back with didn't surprise me one bit...  A majority of the fans wanted to see a recipe for Chocolate Potato Cake.  The potatoes make this cake SO moist and scrumptious I wasn't about to override their decision, even if Apple Amber (a rich apple bottom pie topped with sweet meringue) DID sound awful interesting.  Let's get to it!

Chocolate Potato Cake
2 sticks unsalted organic butter, room temperature
2 1/3 c. caster sugar
4 organic brown eggs
5 (5 oz.) squares of high quality unsweetened baking chocolate
5 heaping T. almond meal (walnuts or pecans work as well)
1 c. of cooked potatoes, riced
2 1/2 c. cake flour (regular flour is fine if that's all you've got)
2 heaping tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 c. organic milk (I used unsweetened almond milk, why not?)

cocoa powder

Milk Chocolate Drizzle
10 oz. high quality milk chocolate chips
4 T. unsalted butter

Start your potatoes cooking first.  Peel then cook 2 medium sized or 3 small potatoes in UNSALTED water.  When still slightly hot, rice the potatoes into a bowl and set aside.  DO NOT add the potatoes to the cake batter while even a TAD warm.  It will completely ruin the rise of the batter!!  Wait until they are completely cool.  (Honestly, I always have potatoes baked and in my fridge for random reasons.  I used an already baked potato for this recipe...it killed two birds with one stone.  Cooked...and cooled.  BAM!)

Next, prepare your cake pan by greasing it up with shortening (less water content means a better chance of cake not sticking to the pan).  Mix your cocoa powder and flour together then toss it into the greased cake pan and work it round in the pan until all the grease is covered in the mixture.  Set the prepared pan aside and begin your cake batter.

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Using a grater, grate the baking chocolate and melt it down double boiler style and then mash it into the cold potatoes.  It warms the potato up enough to mash it easily while simultaneously cooling down the chocolate.  Fabulous...

Sift the flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder together in a small bowl and set aside.

Begin the cake batter by creaming together the butter and 2 c. caster sugar until it is fluffy.  Separate your eggs into two bowls.  Add the YOLKS only into the cake batter ONE at a time, completely incorporating each one before adding another.  Stir in the cooled chocolate/potato mixture making sure it is completely mixed in.  Mix in the almond meal.  Add flour, alternating with the milk until both are in the batter and the batter is smooth and silky.

In a large bowl whip the egg whites and remaining 1/3 c. caster sugar until stiff, but not dry.  Carefully fold the whites into the chocolate cake batter and turn out the batter into the greased and floured bundt pan.  Tap the pan very gently on the top of your counter so the batter settles well.

Bake for 1 hour then test for doneness by inserting a toothpick.  If the toothpick doesn't remove completely clean, allow the cake to bake for another 10-20 minutes (the potatoes in the batter make for an extremely dense batter before adding the whipped whites, as such....it takes quite a while for it to bake).

Remove from the oven when done and allow to cool for 15-20 minutes before turning the cake out of the pan.  To finish the cake either drizzle some loverly caramel sauce or chocolate ganache on top or...dust the whole cake with powdered sugar when the cake is COMPLETELY cooled.

I honestly didn't expect this cake to turn out as well as it did.  It was quite a fuss to work with but, it was wonderful.  Not as rich as I worried it would be and not as sweet either.  That is why I chose a milk chocolate drizzle for it.  It seemed to be begging for something sweet when I tried a bit of crumb from the cake.  Honestly, you could get the same sweet satisfied by putting a dollop of sweet whipped cream on a slice of this.  But the chocolate of the cake itself was so delicate, the drizzle really helped bring it home for the chocolate lover in me.  The Mister approved, even though he told me he'd rather have it with just a light dusting of powdered sugar.  We'll be having this again so we can try it his way next time.  The Sprout was keenly interested in this beauty when it made its way out of the oven.  But as soon as I put the drizzle on it, according to the Sprout, I had "ruined" the cake.  He likes chocolate but "not that much".  Live and learn....live and learn.

08 March, 2014

A Triple Threat....

Lately a recipe has been making the rounds on Facebook called "Lemon Meringue Cupcakes".  As much as I love lemon, I have never really been a fan of meringue WITH my lemon.  Thing is, a couple of weeks ago I spotted another recipe that I was going to try called Apple Amber.  It sounded quite interesting...apple custard type pie filling baked into a pie and covered with meringue.  I've never tried meringue with apples however.  Couldn't quite rule out that it could be an awesome combination.  The Irish always have a good recipe up their sleeves...

So, what do you think I did?  I took the lemon meringue cupcake recipe and fiddled with it quite a bit to finagle my way into a trio of cupcakes that I knew would please everyone in the house.  My sister is here visiting with my niece from Alberta so I went through a list of different ideas for filled cupcakes...  Boston Cream, Apple Amber, Lemon Meringue, Strawberry Shortacake, Black Forest, or Key Lime Coconut...  When I ran the choices by the crowd we came up with Apple Amber, Strawberry Shortcake, and Key Lime Coconut.  All of those were extremely easy to turn into a filled cupcake.  My sister called it "a triple threat".  She is right! 

If you don't have a cupcake corer, it is time to get one.  They are fairly easy to find these days and inexpensive as baking tools go.  There are several different ones on the market.  I like the ones that get out a generous portion of cupcake center because then, of course, you can put more filling it in and the cupcake to filling ratio is more pleasing to everyone.

Let's get to it!

Apple Amber Filling
1 granny smith apple, peeled and grated
2 T. lemon juice
1/2 c. organic cane sugar
2 T. cornstarch
4 T. organic unsalted butter
2 organic brown egg yolks, beaten  (save the whites!!)
pinch of salt

Peel and grate your apple and immediately stir the lemon juice into the apple before it oxidizes and the apples turn brown.  In a medium saucepan on medium heat, toss in your butter and allow it to start melting.  Mix the egg yolks, the salt, and half of the sugar (1/4 c.) into the bowl with the apples and lemon juice.  Pour the apple mixture into the pan with the melted butter and stir until everything is mixed together well.  In a small bowl mix the remaining 1/4 c. of sugar with the cornstarch.  Add the cornstarch mixture to the pan of apples.  Stir well, and allow to come to a boil and thicken.  Stir constantly to make sure the egg yolks don't curdle.  (That SHOULDN'T happen because they were mixed with a sugar source first, but...can't say "never".)  When it is the consistency of apple pie filling, remove from the pan to cool in a bowl.  Set aside until you're ready to filling the cupcakes.

Key Lime Filling
4 organic brown egg yolks, beaten (save the whites!!)
4 T. key lime juice
1/2 tsp. lime oil
pinch of salt
3/4 c. + 1 T. organic cane sugar
1 T. grated key lime zest
1/2 c. oven toasted unsweetened coconut

Curd can be fickle and temperamental to make.  Most people use a double boiler but...I just go for broke and cook it on direct, low heat.  I always make sure I put my curd through a strainer out of habit anyhow.  If eggs curdled, it never makes it into the final product, don't worry.

Mix all of your ingredients together and stir constantly, until it comes to a low boil.  It will thicken up quickly.  Pour the curd through a strainer into a bowl and set aside to cool completely.

Strawberry Filling
5 large organic strawberries, sliced
1 T. lemon juice
1/2 c. organic cane sugar
2 T. cornstarch
pinch of salt
3 T. organic unsalted, butter

Mix the sliced strawberries, lemon juice, salt, and 1/4 c. of the sugar together in a bowl.  In a medium saucepan begin melting the butter and add the strawberry mixture to the pan.  Mix the cornstarch and remaining 1/4 c. sugar together in a small bowl, then add the mixture to the pan with the strawberries.  Stir until the mixture no longer appears cloudy and the mixture has thickened into the consistency of pie filling.  Set it aside to cool completely before filling the cupcakes.
Filled Cupcakes
1 c. organic unsalted butter, room temperature
2 c. organic cane sugar
4 organic brown eggs
1/2 c. organic milk 
4 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt
3 c. cake flour (all purpose flour is okay if that is what you have!)

Preheat oven to 350 F

Cream your butter and sugar together and beat in your eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is completely blended in before adding the next.  In a separate bowl mix together the dry ingredients and add it to the butter mixture alternating with the milk until both are completely incorporated into the batter.  

Portion out 24 one tablespoon portions of batter (I used my Pampered Chef large scoop...it was the perfect amount!) into cupcake liners and bake for 20-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove cupcakes from the baking tin and set on cooling rack to cool for at least 1 hour before removing the centers.

When you're ready to core out the cupcakes make sure that you have a bowl at your side to toss the cores into.  (The Sprout made short work of those middles after we ate Korma and Garlic Naan for dinner last night; he ate every single one.  24 cores!)  Once you've cored out the centers you're ready to fill them with the completely cooled fillings you made previously.

6 reserved egg whites
1/4 c. organic powdered cane sugar
pinch of salt

Pour the whites and salt into your stand mixer and let it rip!  Put it as close to high as you can stand hearing.  Add the powdered sugar in 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting until each addition is completely whipped into the whites.  Whip the whites until they are no longer clear and have formed nice peaks.  Tip the mixing bowl upside down to make sure the whites are ready to be used.

Spoon your meringue onto each Apple Amber filled cupcake, as close to the edge of the liner paper as you can WITHOUT touching the lining.  It will be a mess to get out of the paper if you do!  When you feel like you have a good amount of coverage over the filling with the meringue, touch the spoon to the top middle of the meringue and pull up.  It will make a loverly little curl at the top of the cupcake.  It will make people *think* you are one fancy, shmancy baker.

Put them under the broiler on a pan and leave them there until the meringue begins to gently brown.  It took mine about 2-2.5 minutes.  It happens very quickly.  Remove from the oven and off the pan onto a cooling rack.

After filling the Strawberry and the Key Lime into the cupcakes, top them with whipped cream.  You can whip it yourself or buy it from the store.  I recommend organic TruWhip if your store sells it.  Top the Strawberry filled cupcakes with the whipped cream and a slice of strawberry.  Top the Key Lime cupcakes with whipped cream and coconut that you gently toasted in the oven under your broiler.   

With this recipe I was able to make 8 of each filling flavor.  I tried to coordinate the colors with the fillings.  The Key Lime Coconut cupcakes had a white and green checkered liner, the Strawberry Shortcake cupcakes were red and white, and the Apple Amber liners were flowery like apple blossoms on a tree.

Apple Amber Cupcakes

Center of Apple Amber Cupcakes
Key Lime Coconut Cupcakes

Center of Key Lime Coconut Cupcakes

Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

Center of Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

My sister enjoyed the Key Lime Coconut the most, saying it was a good combination of texture and flavor.  The Mister ate his Strawberry Shortcake Cupcake in three bites, that is a good enough review without words.  I was surprised to find that I enjoyed meringue with apple.  I don't care for it with lemon, but apple really compliments it, according to my tongue anyhow.  Unfortunately for the Sprout, once they were filled the cupcakes were "ruined" in his mind.  But he thoroughly endorsed and loved the flavor of the cake as was evidenced by the empty bowl he handed back to me that was filled with cupcake cores.  All in all, quite a success with a solid cupcake recipe for my base.  What a success!  And...what fun to be having in the kitchen while my sister was visiting. 

***To make these "Black Forest" you'd need to add a high quality cocoa powder to the cake batter (I use Callebaut cocoa powder), make a nice cherry filling out of fresh or canned in water cherries (NEVER use canned in syrup cherries UNLESS you drain and rinse them VERY well), and then top it with whipped cream and garnish with a fresh cherry sliced in half.  To make these cupcakes Boston Cream make the cupcakes as directed above, filled with homemade Bavarian Cream, and top with melted milk chocolate that has a bit of shortening melted into it.  Let it solidify before eating the cupcakes.

01 March, 2014

Bacon!!! Mmmm...Bacon....

I'm sure I don't need to tell you all what a Facebook lurker I am...right?  Right.  So, one day when I was on posting photos for the Nana to see of the grand babies I saw a photo of a bowl of heaven on my screen.  Bacon Cheeseburger Macaroni.  Yes, it sounds as great as it looks to read.  Now, I won't lie...I grew up in a house where it wasn't uncommon for dinner to come out of a box or a can.  There is nothing technically "wrong" with that, but it depends on the ingredient list for me.  Hamburger Helper isn't necessarily the healthiest thing on the planet.  It has three times the ingredients than the recipe that will follow...

 33 ingredients folks.  33.  Including food colorings, corn syrup, and...ta da!!!...MSG.  Gross.  I can't even stomach the thought of setting a plate of that in front of my children.  In fairness to my father, he was not a label reader.  He was a hard working, blue collar guy from northern Minnesota taking care of three children on his own when we were with him instead of our mother.  He actually cooked.  Right there, that is enough for me to admire him...he cooked and baked.  He tried.  Ha!...he even made sure he bought Minnesota produced products if he could when he was buying food.

But, now as a mother myself, I know I can do better.  So I did.  Even though the Hamburger Helper version of this meal is quite unhealthy to eat on a regular basis, it was one of the favorites of me and my siblings.  I knew I could make it in a healthier way using organic products and thereby create a meal that really sticks with you throughout the evening.  Less preservatives means more for the body to turn into fuel.  It is as simple as that.  So, let us get to it!

Bacon Cheeseburger Mac
16 oz. elbow macaroni
1 lb. of organic grass fed ground beef
12 oz. organic canned or boxed tomato soup
1 c. organic sharp cheddar, grated
1 c. organic American cheese, crumbled
1 liter of organic beef stock
8 slices of organic bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 tsp. sea salt
3 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
dill pickle juice, optional 

In a large pot, cook the slices of bacon until just done.  Set aside to cool on paper towels before crumbling.  Cook the ground beef, salt, and pepper in the same pan WITHOUT draining the bacon fat out (organic grass fed beef typically has very little fat marbled into it..you will NEED the bacon fat to stop the meat from sticking to your pan, trust me).  Remove to a bowl and set aside until you're ready to assemble the casserole.

In the same pot, pour the whole liter of beef stock in and bring to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook per box/bag directions, or until you try a noodle and it feels al dente.  Remove to a separate bowl until you're ready to assemble the casserole.

In the same pot (yes, you will only need the one pot!  awesome eh?!) pour in the tomato soup and heat it until just under a boil.  Toss in the cheeses and stir until they start melting then switch to a whisk, whisking the mixture constantly to ensure an even melt.  Try the sauce at this point to reassess the need for more salt or pepper.  Typically the salt level is right on, but I noticed I wanted more pepper at this point.

Crumble the bacon and toss it into the warm noodles, then turn the noodles out into the sauce.  Add in the ground beef and stir until all is well incorporated.  At this point you'll need to decide if you LIKE the way it tastes with the pickle juice.  Take a couple bites of the casserole withOUT the pickle juice, and then in a bowl put a couple spoonfuls of the casserole in and 1 T. or so of pickle juice and stir it with your spoon to make sure it is well incorporated.  Give it a try...if you like it, feel free to add pickle juice to the whole amount of casserole.  If you have picky eaters, you may want to do the pickle juice on a plate by plate basis.  I personally loved it and the Mister thought it helped with the unctuousness of the dish.

Yes, it tastes as fabulous as it looks.  It may not look it but there is a TON of bacon flavor in this dish and the right kinds of fat being in this dish mean that it is a BREEZE to reheat without the dairy in it curdling.  Golly, I wish you all had been here for dinner last night.  It really feels like quite the success story when I think of that half mile long ingredient list that comes with buying this in a boxed form.  It was a "pat myself on the back" kind of evening if ever there was one.

This recipe made enough to feed at least 8 people 1 cup servings; perhaps 10 servings if there are more children than adults at the table.  I knew I would want a lot of leftovers because the Sprout is awful fond of bacon (he eats 4-5 strips every morning...yes, dedicated and in love) and it is also my Mister's choice of breakfast meat if he ends up with any meat on his plate.  With tomato, bacon, cheese, pickle, pasta (bun), and ground hamburger, this truly tastes like a bite of bacon cheeseburger every time your fork hits your mouth!  

P.S. There are a TON of ways to play with this recipe!  You can switch out the beef for organic ground chicken, organic ground bison, or organic ground turkey.  If you switch out the meat, make sure you switch out the stock for the corresponding meat.  If you go bison, you can stick with organic beef stock.  If you want to take this in a Spanish direction, try adding salsa to the sauce.  If you want to take it in an Italian direction, add fresh chopped basil or rosemary to the sauce.  If you want to take it in a German direction (yes, this WILL taste fabulous!) try adding some "wine sauerkrat" to the sauce.  If you go the German route, you can omit the dill pickle juice.  Now...go have some yummy fun in your kitchen!