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…where the best thing we ate was the one thing we didn’t order.

Koh, the Intercontinental’s new Thai restaurant, is chef Ian Kittichai‘s newest venture.

Quick Review:

The screen printed Thai script, deliciously loopy and curled, and the graffiti-esque renderings of people on the wall were trendy, but the long curved panels of shimmer on the ceiling made me feel as though I was in a tunnel. The hostess at the front desk told us to wait for 5 minutes while she answered the ringing phone and took the reservation of another party- so we wandered around the lobby of the Intercontinental. After we were seated, menus in hand, it took another 10 minutes for a waiter to approach us- but let’s put this down to a new restaurant trying to find its rhythm.

The first thing we tried was the one item we didn’t order: two steaming bowls of corn gumbo, delivered to our table as mushroom soup. The soup was a soft blend of corn and cream swirled with slivers of kaffir lime leaves, chile oil and a concentrate of basil, making each bite a revelation of flavors. We were happily impressed.

Going off recommendations from Brown Paper Bag and Mumbai Boss, we ordered the Tom Klong (mushroom soup), yellow bean glazed eggplant, and hot stone sticky rice.

The enoki, shitake and button mushrooms in the soup were pretty to look at, making it puzzling that the soup tasted like a cross between lemon and tamarind. Similarly, the eggplant – cut length-wise, with drizzled paste and grill marks both glistening enticingly- looked like a hefty promise of delicious, but the paste tasted like liquid sugar, caramel gone wrong. The hot stone sticky rice, with flavors more Chinese than Thai, was also unremarkable. And please, avoid the overly sweet marhon appetizer of pickled diakon mashed with peanuts, atop mini bites of fruit.

However, the Thai red curry, which came to the table bubbling in a paper cone of sorts, atop a tea light candle, was spicy and refreshingly thin. And the coconut cheesecake was airy. But at Koh’s steep price of Rs. 4000 for the two of us, without drinks, I’d choose stir-fried enoki mushrooms, morning glory with yellow bean paste, and Pad Thai at Thai Pavilion any day.

apples in the fall/ if i can’t have you all the time/ i won’t have none at all…

I was singing Gillian Welch’s Wayside/ Back in Time last week, driving my brother crazy. I love that song, and I love peaches. Listening to it always reminds me of my friend Elana performing it on stage, when we were in college, and her soft, wise voice.

Elana and I talked for a good hour on last week, which was wonderful. We weren’t in the same state, but at least we shared a timezone, and a lovely morning on the phone.

We graduated four years ago and we’re both in places we would have never imagined.

Two weeks ago, before I left for America, I went to my nani’s house to have peaches for lunch. Nani’s a true-blue fruit buyer: she particular and knows the best vendors for any fruit. Although it pains her swollen legs to walk much, she’ll make special trips to get her lychees, or peaches, or strawberries.

Nani made me this fantastic dessert of peaches and swirls of cream, sprinkled with cinnamon. She watches cooking shows in the afternoon, where she collects ideas- did you know you can make a lampshade out of a watermelon? Yeah, either did I.

Something new: my brother is going to start contributing recipes onto the blog. He lives in Baltimore, really close to a farmer’s market, but terribly far from me. His approach to cooking is much more fearless and creative than mine.

I’m leaving America today, until next year. Going back to my husband, and to getting drenched on our monsoon walks.

stir fry is a great because it’s quick and easy to make with any number of ingredients. also, it incorporates two very fun things: stirring and frying.

stir fry was to be my dinner tonite but, unfortunately, i napped through dinner time. i decided to make it anyway so i’d have a savo(u)ry lunch tomorrow. of course, there are many different versions of stir fry, and you can make it to your taste, but here’s mine. i won’t bother to include exact measures of each ingredient i used because i never pay attention and so i don’t know. use your good judgement and you’ll be fine.

  • half a decently-sized eggplant
  • a handful of mushroom
  • some broccoli
  • two scallion stalks
  • some celery stalks
  • celery heart (keep this separate from the more plebeian stalks)
  • garlic (3 cloves?)
  • some sort of chili pepper, i used half a jalapeno
  • salt
  • sesame seeds
  • basil
  • vegetable oil
  • soy sauce
  1. cube the eggplant.
  2. keep the eggplant in a bowl, lightly salt and mix, keep to the side.
  3. chop everything else up.
  4. pour off any water that comes out of the eggplant
  5. cover the eggplant in a little bit of oil, mix.
  6. leave the kitchen, turn on some music.
  7. heat oil in your pan or walk (high).
  8. once the oil is about as viscous as water and is just beginning to steam, add the garlic, chili pepper, basil, scallion, and sesame seeds.
  9. cook, stirring attentively, until the sesame seeds pop.
  10. add the eggplant and stir so that everything is well mixed.
  11. cover the pan and lower the heat to medium.
  12. every now and then stir the mixture and check on the eggplant. i like to continue this until the smallest pieces of eggplant are just becoming soft all the way through.
  13. add the celery and mushrooms.
  14. add a few splashes of soy sauce.
  15. mix and cover again.
  16. wait the same amount of time as the previous cover cycle.
  17. add the broccoli, mix, cover.
  18. give it two more mixing cycles.
  19. eat.

you can also separately boil rice and add it in. i would increase the initial amount of oil added and then add the rice between steps 13 and 14 and also increase the amount of soy sauce splashed.

i chose the times above (after gathering much empirical data, clearly) because i like my eggplant to be soft and squishy; the broccoli juicy and crisp. if you have another vegetable texture preference, you can adjust the cooking time accordingly.

heart of palm tacos

I was reminded of this culinary triumph, our Heart of Palm Tacos,

when I saw this topic on Diner’s Journal:

http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/27/whats-your-favorite-nontraditional-taco/

Anthony and I made these tacos ages ago, back when I lived in good old Brooklyn and we used to have Wednesday night dinners, with $4 champagne and $7 juices.

These tacos have to be one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten, and ever made, though I’ve only eaten them that one time. They were inspired by fish tacos, which, according to my old colleagues from Scholastic, Susan and Karen, are amazing. The combination sounded unbelievably delicious: fried fish, pickled cabbage, fresh green salsa, rich, smoky, mayonnaise, spicy jalapeno salsa, and of course, creamy chunks of avocado.

Fried, buttery, tangy, crunchy, fresh, green, soothing, spicy, tart, creamy-all sprinkled with cheese- fish tacos had to be the ultimate dish. Except, I don’t eat fish.

So I searched for something that could emulate (what I believed to be) the texture of fish, and settled on heart of palm. We fried the heart of palm in beer batter! (When I tried to write this post long back, the title was “my beer battered heart.”)

We chopped cilantro and onions and squeezed lime, for a herby, sharp salsa. We mixed the adobo sauce from a can of chipotles into whole milk yogurt and added a bit of lime to that, too, for a chipotle mayonnaise.

We made tomato salsa, fiery with jalapenos. We cubed avocado and pickled red cabbage, jalapenos and onions in vinegar. We made some beans, though we ate those on the side. We poured champagne and sat on the musty old sofa and played music and dug in.

We were inventive, and awesome, and so very hungry.

Recipes:

for beer batter: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Soft-Fish-Tacos-108046

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 cup dark beer, room temperature

Whisk flour, salt, and pepper in bowl; pour in beer, whisking until batter is smooth. Let stand 15 minutes.

Sprinkle heart of palm with salt and pepper. Squeeze some lime juice over each strip. Let stand 15 minutes. Mix heart of palm into batter.

Pour oil into medium skillet to reach depth of 1 inch. Attach deep-fry thermometer; heat oil to 350°F. Slide heart of palm into oil. Fry until golden, about 4 minutes. Transfer heart of palm to paper-towel-lined baking sheet; place in oven. Repeat.

or, alternatively, another recipe for beer-battering the hearts of palm (i don’t remember which one we used)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup beer (not dark)

Heat 1 inch oil in a 10-inch heavy pot (2 to 3 inches deep) over moderate heat until a deep-fat thermometer registers 360°F.
stir together flour and salt in a large bowl, then stir in beer (batter will be thick). Gently stir heart of palm into batter to coat. Lift each piece of heart of palm out of batter, wiping any excess off on side of bowl, and fry in batches, turning once or twice, until golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Increase oil temperature to 375°F and refry heart of palm in batches, turning once or twice, until golden brown and crisp, about 1 minute. Drain on paper towels.

the pickled cabbage, onions and jalapenos: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Fish-Taco-Platter-233703

  • 1 red onion (about 12 ounces), halved lengthwise, cut thinly crosswise
  • 5 whole small jalapeños
  • 2 cups seasoned rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
  • red cabbage, thinly sliced into slivers (1/2 a head? 1 head?)

Place cabbage, onion and jalapeños in heatproof medium bowl. Mix vinegar, lime juice, and salt in small saucepan. Bring just to boil, stirring until salt dissolves. Pour over onion and jalapeños. Let stand at room temperature at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

the chipotle mayonnaise

i  don’t remember what we did then, but what i usually do now is strain yogurt through a cheesecloth for 30 min-1 hour, till it becomes thick (we don’t get sour cream in india, and i dont like mayo too much, so this is my substitute). then i mix in the adobo sauce from a can of chipotles, and some lime juice, to taste. it’s super yummy.

4. cubes of avocado

5. flour tortillas (i prefer flour over corn)

6. green salsa: i think we chopped cilantro and onions and mixed it with lime and salt. (anthony did this if i remember correctly?)

7. shredded cheese

8. red salsa – onions, tomatoes, celery, celery salt, cilantro, lime, pressed garlic

9. refried beans– not necessary with so many other toppings, but yummy. i think anthony made those. (anthony says: “the beans are a typical semi-refried effort of onions chilies garlic cumin perhaps a little tomato and whatever else is fit for bean consumption.”)

Lavardin is the prettiest place.

What’s amazing is that it’s real.

I suppose that sounds silly. What I mean to say is:

the bright flowers in windowsills, against the muted color of a house + white lace curtains

window shutters


flower pots, flower pots

are the everyday, beautiful details of people’s lives in this town, and in the other small towns/villages we visited. Such tiny places, with such capacity to charm.

Lavardin is famous for the Chateau de Lavardin, though when we went there, we didn’t know that.

A mosaic map of the town.

In this tiny town, about thirty minutes from Chateau de la Barre, we ate an exquisite meal at Relais d’Antan.

Olives and onions, flecked with thyme, and bread sticks that were more like puff pastries, or khari biscuits.

The tomato and goat cheese tart was piping hot- Hrishikesh burned his mouth- and utterly delicious. Vivid bursts of tomato dribbling into creamy, pungent cheese- this is one of the most wonderful foods I’ve eaten. One day, I will replicate it.

An elegant take on mushroom risotto: cream risotto resting in a luscious mushroom broth, topped with stewed mushrooms. Hrishikesh loved it but my heart belonged to the tart.

Of course we had wine. We shared a bottle of a white, and then I felt all giddy, and there was a cheese platter coming, which was quite the occasion, so I had a bit of a red wine, too. Hrishikesh had to drive.

This is why I felt like celebrating. Look at it. I should have taken a picture of the cheese cart. Our waitress pushed it out with both hands, and when she came to our table, she ceremoniously lifted the lid off of the platter of cheeses. The effect was dazzling. We asked for every cheese.

Then, there was dessert. For the record, we usually don’t eat so much of such rich foods. I would have been fine with half this amount. But prix-fixe was the only option, so we enjoyed it.

For dessert, I got a passion fruit charlotte, and Hrishikesh got some chocolate thing with mint chocolate ice cream. Mine was airier, and better.

Then we drove back home

as if in a dream.

countryside

The French countryside sure is lovely.

We spent two days in Conflans sur Anille, near the Loire Valley and stayed at Chateau de la Barre. When we arrived, the owners, Guy and Marnie, served us homemade cider. Guy grew up in Chateau de la Barre; it has been in his family since the 14th century.

We walked through their flower garden.

That evening, we visited the farm next door- a cheese making farm! We watched the owner milk her goats.

This is the temperature controlled room where she sets a variety of goat and cow cheeses.

Some are one day old. Some are eight weeks old. She puts vegetable ash on top, for flavor.

For dinner our first night, we stayed at the chateau and ate artichokes from the garden. Marnie made a superb cheese, herb and oil dipping sauce, which H. then spread onto everything else.

We also had salad, vegetable ravioli, and delicious zucchini (also from the garden).

Then, there was the cheese course.

From left to right (and finally center): a day old goat’s cheese, that tasted like yogurt; a deliciously nutty cow cheese; an extremely creamy roquefort; a cow cheese similar to cheddar but made with unpasteurized milk – I loved it; a semi-aged cow-goat mix, and, finally, a strange cheese covered with paprika that we didn’t like at all.

There was dessert, too- blueberries and chocolate and cream, I think, but I have no photos of it.

More tales from France to come.

I went to America expecting to eat peaches, but that shows how little I know about peach season. Instead, I ate tender, so new they were almost sweet- radishes.

I ate them whole, like baby carrots. (By the way, I detest baby carrots. And baby corn. Anyone else?)

I ate transparent lengths of them in salads.

But after various methods, I decided to try Julia Child’s, who said the best way to eat a radish is to butter it.

So we did that, buying some excellent butter, and since we were serving these at a party with booze, and slippery, buttery fingers were a concern, we bought a couple of baguettes as vehicles. What an snack, and a simple party appetizer- butter, bread, the slight crunch and sharp spice of a thin radish round…and a sprinkling of sea salt, which elevates almost anything.

So: buy a baguette and some excellent butter. Cut the baguette in half lengthwise, slather your good butter over it, and then cut it into three-inch pieces. Press radishes into the buttered bread, and if you feel indulgent, sprinkle it with sea salt. Enjoy.