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An Artichoke Story of Second Chances

An Artichoke Story of Second Chances

Second chances.... How often do we get them? And, when we do, how different do we play the rerun? What do we learn from the first attempt? What would we not do again? What did we lose and what did we gain? Do we realise what felt right and what is right? 

How do artichokes fit into this series of existential questions? Well, the thing is, my experiences in life (full story inside) has made me dispositioned to give things a second chance. So, when, after being inspired by gorgeous photographs and gushing description, I picked up some artichokes for bit of play. I have never cooked them before because well, it seemed a lot of effort for little return (yes, this is the old numerical me!). 

The first attempt I made with these was ok, not great and I was left with a feeling of void where all those massive expectations had been. But, I was determined to give these chokes another try and that was fortified by the flood of suggestions I received when I wailed about my lackluster experience. So back to the kitchen it was with globes, shears and knife. 

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Inside a Restaurant Kitchen - Lacroix, Philadelphia


When you walk into the Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia, you are instantly transported away into an era of understated indulgence. Oxymoron-ish as that may sound, the discreet elegance reminiscent of a bygone era is upheld in this stately hotel with notes of the European through a sumptuous English afternoon tea and an ethreal modern French dining experience at, what is, in my humble opinion, the best restaurant in the city -



Captained by a beguilingly young (only 29!!!!!) but very talented chef, Jonathan Cichon, the restaurant is a brilliant confluence of comfort served with couture. I had the fortunate experience of being served by the chef himself in a paradisaical evening of perfectly executed and stunningly plated courses accompanied by an immaculate choice of spirits. So decadent was the gastronomy that I returned the very next day for a very long and leisurely Sunday brunch. Oh! And, a note about the brunch, the spread runs through the restaurant

and the kitchen

! And, the staff are more than friendly to have a bit of banter with.

This restaurant is indeed on par with the best in New York. If you are looking for an excuse to visit Philly, this one will provide ample amounts of it!

{This is a photo heavy post.}


Executive Chef Jon

The Kitchen
Baby Heirloom and Morell
Doug - plating octopus, main service
Jon - crab course
Octopus plated
DSC_0656-1 copy
Meat Station
Chris & Adam

Feeding the heart....

A way to a man's heart is .....? A hearty Mutton Pie!

Goat & Peas Pie

Mutton as I know, since I was ye high, has been goat meat, specifically 'kid' meat. Buying this meat is an art and science. Science because you have to choose a young goat, so you get the tenderest meat. Art because you have to stand over the butcher and make sure he does not sneak in not-so-prime cuts to up his margins.

In India, butcher shops are adorned with goat carcasses hung like curtains across the entrance the store. Inside it is usually dark, dank and filled with the smells of freshly slaughtered goats. Somehow one never heard the sounds of it! Nevertheless, I have never once stepped into a butcher's shop in India. The sights were always too intimidating. Besides, I was always a touch too OCD for the place... :)

Snow peas

I have however, heard many stories of the perfect buying technique and I think somewhere along the way, my subconscious mind, parceled it away for future use, viz. circa 2011! These days, I breeze into butcher's shops in NY, stare down the butcher to submission of the choicest cuts and walk right out, head held high in confidence of having got the best pound of flesh in the store!

In the US, however, mutton really isn't what I am used to. Lamb meat, which, is very common is from sheep. Sheep here, not that I have anything against them and from my experience in UK are yummy, just doesn't have the same flavor as goat. Since I came back from UK I have been pining for the Welsh lamb, the closest meat to mutton in India.

And then, a couple of weeks back, I saw the rather not-so-common sight at my butchers. Encased just beyond my fingers' reach was a shiny red thing... GOAT MEAT! Woohoo! My heart skipped a beat and I bought the whole stock! No, really, I DID!! All of 3 pounds worth (that's how abundant the meat is!)

Goat & Peas Pie1

With the brown paper wrapped meat safely secured in my shopping bag, my mind was awhirl with ideas. I mean what should I make first? Something Indian or not? Tripping I went to the grocery store next door and found fresh snow peas. Instant decision - Pie!

Best decision ever...! I was thanked more than adequately.... ;-))

Goat and Peas Pie
(one 9 inch pie)

1 Super flaky Pie crust (recipe below)

For the filling:
1 lb meat from leg of goat, cleaned (including the membrane), diced into 1.5 inch cubes
1/2 cup fresh snow peas (reserve the shells, diced real fine)
1 medium red onion
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 young carrots, diced an inch
2 plump ripe tomatoes, diced
1 cup red wine
1 T paprika
1 T chilli flakes
2 T worchestershire sauce
1 T molasses
1/2 cup mint leaves, chopped fine
salt and fresh cracked pepper
4 T duck fat
1 egg yolk for egg wash

Saute the onions and garlic in duck fat until softened. Add the lamb and toss until browned. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook until the meat is cooked. I used a pressure cooker, so it gets done faster. If you don't have one, cook stove top keeping an eye on the liquid content.

You will end up with a consistency just right for filling the pie, if you have too much liquid, strain out the solids, bring the liquid to a boil and add a couple of tablespoons of flour and cook on high until thickened to a sauce. Return the solids back and toss.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Roll out half the dough into a circle large enough to fit the base of the pie pan with enough overhang to fold over the top. Ladle out the filling and pile it on. Roll out the remaining dough and gently place over the filling. Tuck and fold the overhangs decoratively. Brush the top with egg wash.

Bake for 35 minutes until the crust is flaked up and browned. Rest on rack for a few minutes and serve.

Super Flaky Pie Crust © Asha Pagdiwalla
(Original FSK Recipe)

2 cups all purpose flour
1 stick of unsalted butter, frozen, cubed
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
4-5 T milk
1 egg, lightly whisked

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt. In a food processor pulse the flour with the cold butter until you get a crumbly mixture. Transfer to a bowl. Add the egg and milk and knead in to form a sort of dough. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and bring together into a ball. Pat into a circle of 1 inch thickness, wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Raisin Laugen Broetchen (Raisin Pretzel Buns) for Velveteers

Pretzel Buns

It has been a while since the last Velveteers post on this blog. The Holiday Season just took over our lives and then some of us have moved over and started new lives leaving us to take a short break on the Club cooking.

I am yet to make Aparna's decadent Christmas suggestion, the Goan Bebinka. Sorry girl, but I promise, I will celebrate Christmas this Summer just for that! But, this month, we bring you another delicious baked item that is rather popular in NYC.. Pretzels!!

Al, true to his German roots (yes, Pretzels are originally quite German), suggested we bake these fabulous snack items for our first challenge in 2011 and I was quite happy to oblige.

Pretzel for tea

Mmmm.. truth be told, I do not quite like the NYC pretzel at all. It's a bit too dense for my liking. I did, however, fall madly in love with a very different pretzel, this one in a loaf form. Chef Thomas Ciszak makes fresh bread everyday at his restaurant, Copeland which serves incredibly good fare with a French twist.

As part of the welcome bread basket one night, I tasted the most delicious pretzel bread that was indulgently buttered up and served oh-soo freshly warm. One bite and I was in heaven. Bread, made well, is indeed the nectar of life, do not you agree? :)

So, anyway, in pleasant remembrance of that bread, I set about preparing my own version of it.

Pretzel buns with Bulghur Wheat Salad with Pepper Eggplant

Btw, do you know how the bread gets it's distinctive flavor? It from boiling the buns in baking soda water. When the soda reacts with the water, it aerates the yeasted dough into puffiness and imparts the flavor as well.

It was cool to see chemistry in action! So fun. Ok I am a geek, I know ! :D Anyway, if you are interested in more info about the pretzel, Wiki is a great source.

I made both knot shaped pretzels and buns. The knots were great with butter and honey and a spot of hot tea. The buns were a perfect side with my lunch of bulgur salad with peppered eggplant.

Raisin Laugen Broetchen (Raisin Pretzel Buns)
(adapted from various sources)
Pretzel Buns
Prep Time:1 hr 20 min
Cook Time:20 min
Cook Time:2 hr min
Yield: 8 rolls

1 cupwarm water, at about 110 F
2.5 cupflour
1 packageactive dry yeast
2 Traisins
2 Tbutter , melted
1 cupwarm water, about 110 F
2 tspsugar
1 tspsalt
1/3 cupbaking soda
1 potboiling water
sea salt (for garnish)


Place yeast, 1/4 cup of flour and sugar in a large bowl and pour 1/2 cup of warm water. Set aside for about 10 minutes until the mixture is foamy. Add the remaining flour, salt, butter and water and knead into a soft, tacky dough, about 10 minutes. Add the raisins and knead for another few minutes until the fruits are fully incorporated into the smooth dough.

Place in a large oiled bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rise until doubled in a warm, draught free place, about an hour. When the dough has doubled, gently degas the dough and knead. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Divide the dough into 8 even sized balls and let them rise until the water is ready. Add baking soda to the water. Drop the balls gently into the water, making sure not to crowd the pot (else they don't poof up evenly).

Let the dough balls sit for 30 seconds, then turn them over and remove after about another 30 seconds. You will know when they are ready. They become aerated and will look ready. Drain and remove to a baking sheet. Rest them for a couple of minutes and score a cross on top (using scissors). Brush the buns with butter just before sliding the sheet into the oven.

Bake for about 15 minutes until dark brown on top.

{VOTING OPEN} A Taste of Home Dinner Party for Project Food Blog Challenge #3

Voting is now open until 6PM PST on Oct 7, 2010. Please use this link to vote. Thank you very much! :)

Ras Malai
Ras Malai

Luxury: indulgence in and enjoyment of rich, comfortable, and sumptuous living!

My husband and I moved to NYC from our homeland a few years ago. So did many of our friends. When we moved away, we left behind quite a few luxuries that we did not recognise as such until their loss was felt.. immensely. One of those was the simple pleasure of having food that we grew up with, the simplest of meals, Dal Chawal (Rice and Yellow Dal) and the joy of having that cooked, lovingly, by our mothers in exactness to our preferences.

The theme of the third challenge in the Project Food Blog contest was Luxury Dinner Party. For my dinner party, I chose to host the flavors of my home country, which, in many ways has indeed become a luxury, not often enjoyed but always highly cherished by us and our friends. Caught up in a world of professional and other commitments, we find ourselves often yearning for the flavors we grew up with. For many of my friends, who don't often cook, having a home cooked Indian meal is becoming a luxury.

So, I felt that a proper Indian meal was indeed a luxury for all of us and would be a fitting challenge entry.

Microsoft Word - Project Food Blog Menu Template for Challenge 3

Today, I share with you tips and recipes for Entertaining the Indian Way . Some typical dishes from different parts of India, entertaining customs and tips to make life easy while hosting an Indian dinner (it can be elaborate!).

This evening's menu was a combination of comfort and nostalgia, reliving flavors from our childhood, some very easy to make and some a bit more involved. I have included recipes for some of the feast and linked to more authentic Indian dishes you may want to try.

Now on to the entertaining ideas -

Aloo Tikki
Aloo Tikki

1. Every Indian dinner begins with Chai. Even if you arrive at 8 pm, you will be asked if you'd like some chai and inevitably, the answer will be "Yes". Chai is the welcoming invitation to unwind, the signal that separates the frazzle outside from within and sets the tone for a relaxed evening.

Chai is usually served with biscuits (for dipping) and an assortment of Namkeen. Namkeen can be anything from store bought (you can also make it at home) snack items like sev, murukku etc. to homemade stuff like aloo tikki/cutlets (what I made), vada pav, bajji etc. As you see, this is sort of the time when the appetizers make an appearance.

2. Dinner is usually buffet style. This makes life really easy doesn't it. Rarely, is casual dinner at an Indian home, a formal occasion. We like picking up food whenever we want and mingling around chatting or lounging in different places around the room and having a heated discussion on the deplorable plight of Indian politics and/or mutual acquaintances' love life! The important thing is that the food should always be accessible but not in a way that it can become projectiles!

Dal Tadka with Chawal
Dal Tadka

3. Always have Dal on the menu. It can be the simplest yellow dal to the more rich Mughlai versions but trust me, you can never go wrong with dal. And, it's the ultimate comfort food for all Indians. Dal is made in many many varieties using so many different lentils across India but the one common characteristic of us Indians, is that we love dal in any form! And, the good news is that it is super easy to make.

4. If you have to make one meat item, pick Chicken. It's a safe choice. Most Indians who start out to eat meat (non-vegetarian) start with chicken and then move on to more adventurous items like mutton and fish:)

Coriander Chicken Kurma
Coriander Chicken Kurma

5. You don't have to make everything. Source them from quality places. Any dinner with multiple courses is usually prepped and cooked over multiple days. It can become a lot of effort and sweets especially can be quite involved. So, make your life easy and buy/source from people you know are good. The Ras Malai here were made by one my friend's moms. She makes simply divine Ras Malai!!!

6. Ice cream is an essential choice for dessert. Indians love ice cream; I guess it's the perpetual heat in the country and hence round-the-year viability of ice cream. But, no matter how wide or fancy your dessert spread, it isn't complete without ice cream.

Anjeer (fig) ice cream is one of the popular flavors of ice cream in India. I made my version of it for the party using fresh figs poached in balsamic vinegar.

Balsamic Fig Ice cream
Anjeer Ice Cream

7. Potlucks are typical and very normal. For the same reason as above, many a time, dinners are a collaborative effort with each guest bringing in something that makes it to the table. It's the proverbial wine bottle. Btw, in Indian parties, the alcohol is usually provided by the host only.

8. Finally, be prepared for a long evening. Indian dinners are rarely time bound and they can stretch into the night only limited by flow of conversation, food and drunkenness! :)

That ends my long monologue on the subject. I hope you enjoyed the read of some of our idiosyncrasies... :)

Macchi Fry
Macchi Fry

Oh! A parting tip: Always have the exhaust on as also nice scented candles while cooking. Yes, Indian food sticks to you and around you long after it is consumed. The spices tend to hang heavy in the air and especially if you are making fried food (like the fish fry above), I would definitely recommend opening up as much ventilation as possible and infusing other pleasant aromas into the living space.

Dal Tadka

2 cups masoor dal (yellow lentils)
1 medium onion, diced
3 whole cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of diced tomato
3-4 curry leaves
3 green chilies, sliced vertically
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1-1/2 cups water
ghee (clarified butter/ brown butter minus solids) as needed
salt to taste

If you have a pressure cooker, cook the lentils with salt until done. If not, cook in a vessel, with sufficient water until cooked fully.

Gently saute the garlic in some ghee until they release flavor. Add the cumin and mustard seeds and curry leaves and wait for them to pop. Then, add the onion and cook til translucent. Add salt and all the other dry spices and roast for a minute and then add tomatoes and cook completely.

Add the cooked lentils and water and stir everything together. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer for 5-7 minutes. Adjust consistency with water as needed. Before serving, add a tablespoon of ghee to the dal.

Coriander Chicken Kurma

6 chicken thighs, boneless, skinless, cubed
4 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 bunches of coriander
5-6 green chilies (Indian or Thai)
2 cups coconut milk
2 tsp cumin seeds
5-6 cloves
1 stick of cinnamon
2 whole star anise
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
2 tsp garam masala
salt and oil as needed

chicken marinade:
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
salt per taste

Toss the chicken in the marinade spices and set aside for atleast an hour. When ready, saute the onions and garlic in oil until soft. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

In a blender, combine the coriander, chilies and onion mixture to a puree. Brown the chicken pieces and reserve. In the same pan, saute the cloves, cinnamon and anise in a little oil until the aromas are released. Add cumin seeds and roast for a minute. Add all the dry masala and roast for a few seconds.

Pour in the blended puree along with the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Add the chicken pieces and cook on medium until the chicken is done. You can adjust the thickness of the curry by adding water. Every time you add water, bring the mixture back to a boil.

Below are more ideas of authentic Indian food. For more inspiration, check out all my Indian recipes.

Curried Egg Pastries

Main Courses:
Mango and Mint Dal
Meen Kozhambu (Madras Fish Curry)
Madras Crab Curry

Sweet Bites:
Cashew Burfi


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