Thursday, January 19, 2012

Vanilla Chai Poached Pears Recipe

Poaching pears in chai turns into a decadent treat that's perfect for dessert or breakfast.

Ingredients:
2 pears
3 cups water
1/2 cup vanilla almond milk
2/3 cups sugar
2 vanilla chai tea bags
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
4 cardamom seeds
1 in. slice of ginger
1 sliced open vanilla bean
drizzle of honey

You'll Also Need:
a large skillet, a tea strainer or other sieve

Step-by-Step:

1. Slice the pears in half and core.
2. Bring the 3 cups of water and the 1/2 cup vanilla almond milk to a boil in a large skillet. Once boiling, shut off the heat.
3. Add the sugar, tea bags, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger, and vanilla bean to the liquid.
4. Steep for five minutes. I sort of swirled the tea bags through the liquid to make sure the flavor distributed, but that was probably unnecessary.
5. Add the pears to the skillet. Let cool a little.
6. Put in the refrigerator for several hours (or overnight, if you're doing a make-ahead breakfast). My skillet isn't really supposed to go in the fridge, so I moved it into a different dish. (Also, I didn't like that the pears weren't really submerged in my big skillet.)
7. To plate: Place two pear halves in a bowl. Pour some of the liquid on top, using a tea strainer or other sieve to strain out the solid spices.
8. Drizzle honey on top.

Serves 2.


The AHH Factor: This recipe is a prelude to a more ambitious recipe that's still forming in my head, but I realized that the poached pears on their own make a decadent dessert or a fancy breakfast so I wanted to share what I have so far. Minus one failed attempt to poach salmon a few years ago (I overcooked it), this was my first time poaching something. I didn't exactly know how the process worked, so I used this New York Times recipe as a guide, then subbed out all of the ingredients with the ingredients I would use to make chai.

As I was splitting the vanilla bean, I started to get worried about another poaching disaster. Was it worth it to waste a heavenly smelling (and pricey) vanilla bean on something that might not turn out right? Luckily, that philosophical question remains unanswered because this turned out AWESOME. I'd planned to eat it as dessert, but at 10:30 p.m. when it still hadn't cooled all the way (I'd stuck it in the fridge at about 9 p.m.), I decided it had all the components of breakfast too (fruit, tea, honey -- that works, right?) so I saved it for the morning.

When I removed the cling wrap from the concoction, I really started getting my hopes up. All of the spices had blended together and it smelled so good. I didn't even know if I could wait until I took the photo to try it. (Of course, I have been known to accidentally eat something, then resort to taking a photo of a half-eaten whatever....Somehow less appetizing...)

It tasted more indulgent than I expected. I was kind of worried the pears wouldn't have absorbed the flavors that well because I left the skin on (I felt too guilty about peeling it off; I don't like throwing away stuff that's edible), but I needn't have worried.

Oh, and about those expensive spices. They are a little less expensive at Penzys. Penzys sells vanilla beans three to a tube, and I think I paid about $9 a tube. There's a Penzys in Santa Monica and one in Torrance, so check that out. (It's primarily a mail-order company, but I'm not sure how much shipping adds to the cost.)

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tara's Himalayan Cuisine, Los Angeles, Restaurant Review


As the only yak chili I've ever had I can't confirm if it's the best, but that chili -- as well as many of the other entrees at this Himalayan-themed restaurant -- are worth a visit to Tara's Himalayan Cuisine in West L.A.

8 out of 10 Peppers = Spicy

I've had the good fortune lately of eating some excellent Himalayan food, and Tara's Himalayan Cuisine was no exception. Located on the Los Angeles side of Venice Boulevard (Culver City is right across the street), it stands out amidst the sea of other restaurants and storefronts by its huge yellow banner that begs the question "Best Yak Chili in Town?" (a quote from the Los Angeles Times apparently).

Now, while you may be asking yourself exactly how many places in Los Angeles actually serve yak chili, I don't bother too much with numbers, just with flavors -- and this place has flavors for sure. (Though the pronouncement does make me wonder if I could get away with a new tagline: "Best Indian blog in Los Angeles written by a newlywed who married a Nepalese guy and she isn't that good of a cook yet but is really improving?")

The restaurant until recently also had a location in Woodland Hills, but unfortunately it's now closed. Sounds like a loss for Valley folks, but hopefully I can get out to the Valley soon and do some "research" on Himalayan restaurants there and report back.

THE SETTING

Styled ethnic fabrics and Himalayan artwork decorate the walls, and I love the cool hanging Om lanterns. I also love the pink salt, presumably pink Himalayan salt, in the grinders. I noticed what looked to be a large group banquette in the back, and I believe there's an outdoor patio area as well. I suggested to Nick that he consider having his group birthday dinner here, since its much closer to us now than his usual choice of Tibet Nepal House in Pasadena, but he indicated his loyalty lies with Tibet Nepal House. (Although he later decided that we should have the party at our house, because we can get a keg like we did for our housewarming party....So now we see the truth about where his loyalties really lie.)

The service was OK, but I remember the server being slow on drinks refills.

It was a Sunday night, and I was able to park close by on a residential street. If it's a busier time though, you'll want to add in time to find a parking spot.

THE FOOD

Tara's Himalayan Cuisine has a large and diverse menu (with the one exception being dessert; the restaurant only offered rice pudding the night we were there). There were eight different kinds of bread offerings alone. And it's more affordable than many other restaurants, with most entrees being under $10. Also part of the restaurant's proceeds go to education in Nepal, where the restaurant's founder, Tara Gurung Black, is from.

We got complimentary Papadum. Nick's brother Bobby commented that they were great and not too greasy.

We got two orders of plain naan to share among three people. It was so fluffy and yummy.

We ordered two orders of Chicken Momos because, being one of Nick's favorite foods, he knew that one order wouldn't be enough, even if it was intended as an appetizer. They came six to an order. Nick, the momo connoisseur (if such a thing exists), approved the momos and said he'd recommend them. We ordered the momos steamed, but pan fried momos are another option here.

I guess Nick and Bobby must have been really hungry this night because we also ordered Aloo Achaar as a second appetizer. It was drier than normal, commented Nick. Bobby liked it. For me, the herbs were too strong and potatoes are generally not my style anyway. It certainly was full of flavor though.

Nick got the Machha Ko Masu, which is shrimp in curry sauce with ginger, garlic, and onion.

Bobby got the Kukhura Ko Tarkari, which he commented tasted like a milder version of Indian chicken curry (which is how Nepalese food typically tastes).

I had to see for myself what that storefront banner was all about, so I got the Yak Chili. This was my first time ever eating Yak Chili and the first thing I noticed was that it wasn't in a bowl like a typical chili, but rather on a plate. Despite the lack of expected chili juices, it was really tasty and flavorful. I'd ordered it mild, but let me tell you it was a medium for sure spice-wise. Whoa. I'd order it again, even now that the novelty's worn off, though Nick, who tasted it, is sticking by his allegiance and says the yak at Tibet Nepal House is better.

I also ordered a Sweet Lassi, which was a nice contrast to the heat of the chili. It was unusual in that it had ice in it, but the ice wasn't obtrusive like it was at Taj Mahal Taste of India in Aruba.

The Raita also had a cooling effect, though we thought the portion was small. The cucumbers were in the background, instead of more prominent, which we didn't like.

We wound up with an order of rice, which I'm pretty sure was included with (at least) one of our entrees.

Now then, on the subject of both rice and good fortune, saagAHH got a most welcome surprise visit from the Fairy Hobmother of Appliances Online. As a quick Google search will show you, the Fairy Hobmother visits hard-working bloggers around the globe, dispensing treats (disclosure: in my case, and in most cases, an Amazon.com gift card -- which I plan to spend on a rice cooker, yay!) for blogs the fairy enjoys. (The Fairy Hobmother particularly enjoyed saagAHH's Your First Time (Eating Indian Food) post.) So, if you're wondering about all of the fairy dust sprinkled over this post, well, I'd bet one of the Fairy Hobmother's Washing Machines will clean that right up.

Also, if you're a blogger who's reading this, leave a comment on this post with your wish for the Fairy Hobmother, which will put your name in the hat to be next.

Tara's Himalayan Cuisine, 10855 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles (neighborhood: Palms) 90034. (310) 836-9696.

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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Garam Masala Pork Chops with Mango Sauce Recipe

This simple elegant supper combines sweet and savory Indian-spiced pork chops with a sweet mango sauce.

Ingredients:
1 lb. boneless pork chops
2 tsp. garam masala, divided (I used McCormick)
1 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1 tsp. pepper, divided
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup mango jam (I used Hawaiian Plantations)
2 Tbsp. distilled white vinegar

You'll Also Need:

a large skillet, a small pot for the sauce

Step-by-Step:

1. Coat the skillet with the olive oil and place on medium heat. Rub 1 tsp. of the garam masala, 1/2 tsp. of the salt, and 1/2 tsp. of the pepper into the top side of the pork chops.
2. Put the chops into the hot skillet seasoned-side down. Sprinkle on the remaining 1 tsp. garam masala, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Cook the chops until fully browned and cooked through (about 5 minutes on each side).
3. While the pork chops are cooking, make the sauce: In a small pot, combine the mango jam and the vinegar.
4. Bring to a boil, and cook  the sauce for 2 minutes.
5. Let the sauce cool for 2 minutes so it thickens.
6. Plate the dish: First spoon half of the sauce onto the serving tray.
7. Add the chops on top of the sauce.
8. Drizzle the remaining sauce on top.

Serves 4.

The AHH Factor:
When I first made Pork Chops with Raspberry Sauce from AllRecipes.com, I loved how it was easy yet company-worthy. I made a few tweaks to the recipe, like pouring some of the raspberry sauce on top to hint at what makes these chops so unique, but other than that, I made the dish mostly as written.

Then I started thinking about how guests sometimes expect me to make Indian food for dinner, but I don't have a dish that looks really pretty or plates up well. (Curry, while tasty, doesn't lend itself to pretty presentation.) So I made some more significant adjustments to the recipe to give it Indian flavor -- but keep the fancy company aspect. (It's great for date night too!)

Garam masala is a ready-made spice blend that contains a mix of sweet and savory Indian spices (like cumin and cinnamon). Of course, you can create your own spice blend too, but I received the McCormick's blend as a gift from my friend Rhonda at Shine Beauty Beacon, and I love how fragrant it is.

The reason I don't cook the sauce in the chops' skillet is two-fold: Mainly it's because the mango sauce works great poured on sweet things too (try it on Greek yogurt), so I don't want to get savory pork chop fat into the sauce. Secondly, the recipe cooks up faster this way as you can cook the chops and the sauce up at the same time and you don't have to turn on the oven to keep the chops warm. This recipe can seriously be made in about 15 minutes. (Just get thin cut pork chops so they cook up quickly.)

I originally tried my version of this recipe with Trader Joe's Mango Butter, but it didn't work out. I just couldn't get the Mango Butter to really blend into the vinegar or become the right consistency. I eventually found Mango Jam at Surfas in Culver City.  You could also add juice to the sauce, like the orange juice the original recipe calls for or I'm thinking something more exotic and tropical would be even better, but we didn't have any juice on hand so I just left it simple.

If you lost your motivation to have friends over after the hectic holidays, this recipe will renew your confidence in your extraordinary hostess abilities -- and with time to spare to enjoy your friends' company!

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