Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My "Kiss My 20s Goodbye" Birthday Party

I love an extended metaphor. Well, all literary techniques really -- metaphor, simile, analogy, symbolism, hyperbole, alliteration, you name it, I love it and, for fun, I'll even analyze novels for them. In my creative writing heyday, I could write an extended metaphor that would go on for an entire 12-page essay. I love all of the different ways of explaining an idea and how a metaphor or a simile can bring in all of the other senses, depending on what you're making a comparison to.

Alas, I don't have much time or inspiration for creative writing these days. Journalism school constantly edited out my metaphors in the name of being "straightforward" or for a made-up rule about how long a lede could be or how many syllables were allowed when writing for the "everyman." And since I've never found creative writing to pay and inspiration in the form of classes takes away time that I feel like I don't have, as a "responsible" adult, I rarely devote to any time poetry and the like.

However, one creative outlet that I've found as a new homeowner is the THEME PARTY. Yes, it's like we're 12-years-old and it's a "princess party" where everyone dresses in pink and we have tea or whatever other activity we imagine royalty would do with their friends in the afternoon. It's silly but in a way it lets an extended metaphor come to life, 3-D style.

So as I turned 30 this year, I decided on the theme....Kiss My 20s Goodbye. That lends itself to some sweet food and drink suggestions, no? Here's what I came up with:

 Open (Kissy) Faced S'mores
I made these in the microwave cause I had to do so many batches for guests arriving at different times.
 Finger Lip Foods
I bought a lip-shaped cookie cutter from Amazon.com, then used it to make an assortment of sandwiches. These were vegan ones with hummus and cucumber on sourdough.

 Hershey Kisses
I set out bowls of Hershey Kisses. That was easy.

 Lip on a Stick
I probably spent too much time making these, but we used them as props in all of the photos. I traced a lip drawing I found online cause drawing is not my forte.

 Goodbye Kiss Cocktail
Remember "pucker" from your college days? This watermelon pucker tasted like a Jolly Rancher, and I don't mean that as a good thing. It's so funny to me though that every time I've come up with a signature drink for one of our parties, it's always been the first thing to go. People really get into following the recipe and shaking up the martini shaker, then taking that first sip of the drink they mixed themselves (followed immediately by commiserating with others about why it tastes like bizarre fruit candy). This recipe was 1 part vodka, 1 part watermelon pucker, and 1 part cranberry juice -- shake that together with ice in a martini shaker. Strain into a glass, top with Sprite, and enjoy.
Ass Kisser
And I love my old college roomie Trish (she moved out here from Georgia also, a few years before I did) for being the "ass kisser" that she is and fitting the theme with this amazing beer that she brought.

Our next theme party will likely be a "Holiday Pi(e) Party" to celebrate both the holidays and Nick earning his National Board Certification as a math teacher (hell yeah!). I figure "pi(e)" is pretty easy food-wise -- pizza pie, pumpkin pie, maybe I'll try a savory meat pie or chicken pot pie -- but I need to get my creative juices flowing for the decorations. Maybe a funny pie chart? Hmmmm...especially if I can fit an extended metaphor onto it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pumpkin and Red Kuri Squash Indian Chicken Curry

Canned pumpkin, a whole baked squash, and an easy sweet curry powder, make this recipe a healthy crowd-pleaser.

Ingredients:
1 whole red kuri squash
2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground mace
1 tsp.  whole cardamom seeds
1/2 tsp. whole cloves
1/2 tsp. whole anise seeds
vegetable oil to coat the pan
2 tsp. ginger-garlic paste
1 yellow onion
2 lbs. chicken thighs, cut into bite-size chunks
1 cup coconut milk
15 oz. (1 can) 100% pure pumpkin (like Libby's)

You'll Also Need:
a spice grinder

Step-by-Step:

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Poke the squash in several places with a fork. Bake for about 50 minutes. Let cool enough to handle. Remove the peel and seeds. Dice into chunks.

2. Place all of the spices (cumin, salt, cinnamon, mace, cardamom, cloves, and anise) into a spice grinder and pulse until powdered.

3. Dice up the onion. Coat a deep skillet in oil and heat over medium heat. Add onion and ginger-garlic paste to the skillet. Saute for about 3 minutes or until onion is lightly browned.

 4. Stir in the spice mixture. Continue stirring for 2 minutes.

5. Add the chicken thighs, coconut milk, canned pumpkin, and squash. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 1 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Serve over Basmati Rice that's been cooked in stock and saffron for extra flavor.

Serves 4-6.

The AHH Factor: I subscribe to Farm Fresh to You produce delivery service for several reasons. I like to support local farmers, eating organic has always sounded like a good idea, and I just hate searching for items at the grocery store. (Just this morning, it took me 20 minutes to find the pancake mix. Why isn't it with the cake mixes? In my mind, it's a dessert, not a true breakfast item. It shouldn't be next to the oatmeal.)

But the most exciting reason I subscribe to the service is something that I hadn't thought about until a few boxes in: Farm Fresh sends me produce that I've never heard of before...and I love that! When I shop at the farmers' market, I get all of the other benefits -- but I always play it safe and buy produce that I recognize. (Well, except for the time when I thought I was buying apples, and, as it turned out, they were yellow plums. Now that was an interesting first bite.)

It's like my own personal Iron Chef. "Sree, you have one weekend to use all of the items in this box. If you succeed, you enjoy organic deliciousness. If you fail, you will feel really bad throwing food away." Would you believe I'd never cooked with leeks or fennel until they showed up in my produce box? That shit looks intimidating in the grocery store!
So,  when this adorable red kuri squash showed up recently, I challenged myself to figure out a way to use it. I'd been wanting to create a pumpkin curry ever since I tried one at Mahan Indian Restaurant in Alhambra, and I reasoned a squash would fit in perfectly as an additional vegetable. If you are braver than I am and aren't afraid of chunking up a raw squash, then you can probably save yourself the first 50 minutes of this recipe and just add the raw chunks into the curry when you add the chicken. It should soften up enough in an hour or two during the simmering. (If you bake it first like I did, it does get mushy by the end, but it tastes great blended in with the pumpkin and I still had a few chunks for texture.)

And if you don't have access to kuri squash, then of course add whatever vegetable you like or leave it out entirely. Luckily, since the sauce base is pumpkin, it's a healthy spin on curry regardless. I'd definitely try the spice blend with the pumpkin and the coconut milk, whatever protein or veggie you choose. I started to get nervous during the simmer-time about whether all of this work was for naught as I threw together the spice blend on the fly, but it was one of the favorite Indian meals that I've made so far. Challenge completed!

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Diwali 2012 Celebrations in Southern California

Happy Diwali! There are plenty of places for you to celebrate this season:

Nov. 13,  6 p.m. - 8 p.m.: Pasadena Hindu Temple, Diwali Lakshmi Puja

Nov. 13, Chakra, Beverly Hills, Champagne Dinner

Nov. 14, Hindu Matiya Patidar Samaj Inc. Diwali Annual Dinner and General Meeting

Nov. 17, Chakra, Irvine, Champagne Dinner

Dec. 1, NetIP LA-OC, Annual Gala at Whimsic Alley, with full Indian dinner and DJ Sukh providing the music for the dance floor.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tava Lounge, Artesia, Restaurant Review: Now Closed

Indian fusion done with creativity and a real sense of deliciousness. Unfortunately, the restaurant closed earlier this month but check out the Tava Lounge Facebook page for updates on catering and a potential new location.

10 out of 10 Peppers = Extra Spicy

I went to Kolkata, India, for a week and a half in October (for the first time in 12 years!). And let's just say that, in general, for every day that I leave Los Angeles my life is actually disrupted for about two days -- between packing, arranging transportation on either end, doing laundry, and whatever other anxiety-inducing tasks that pop into my head that could probably wait but all of a sudden seem pressingly urgent. (I think in the back of my head every time I prep to leave I think of the .0000001% chance that I'll never see my condo again, and I don't want the post-earthquake rescue crew to see that I never finished my wedding scrapbook or judge me for not taking out the trash.) And if it's an international trip, you can pretty much much double that time frame. Visas, money conversions, credit card travel alerts, etc. -- it's a lot of work.

So that pretty much explains where October went. But now I'm back and I was so stoked to get back to blogging because I had a 10 PEPPER restaurant to review.  Only the fifth one since I started saagAHH two years ago, and one that I had just visited right before I left and figured I'd write up as soon as I got back. I even let it cut to the front of the line (yes, as usual, I'm behind with my reviews).

But ironically, on the same day that the restaurant too had a two-year anniversary (two years since it opened its doors), it suddenly closed its doors. Tava Lounge in Artesia's Little India is no more :( At least not in physical restaurant form. When I went on the Tava Lounge Facebook page to get a little more info for this blog post, I saw that it closed on November 3, a day that was supposed to be its two-year anniversary celebration, caused, apparently, by a problem with its lease agreement. The reason I'm still doing this post is because the Facebook page says the chef still offers catering and hints that Tava Lounge is looking for a new space. I hope it reincarnates soon. Preferably somewhere near me?

You can also still get recipes from the Tava Lounge chef on the Around the World with My Tava Blog.

THE SETTING

So, the setting is totally irrelevant now. It was large. It was lovely. It had a shared private parking lot. I went for a friend's birthday party (she's not Indian and she picked this restaurant; that says something, I think) with a group of about 14 people. I'm sad it's gone.

THE FOOD

The aspect of this restaurant that was the most amazing was the food. It was Indian fusion. Fused with all sorts of cuisines from Mexican to Spanish to Southern U.S. And whereas many times I'll give props to restaurants for simply experimenting with Indian fusion, even if it doesn't quite work out taste-wise, at Tava Lounge the combinations of ingredients truly worked. The food at Tava Lounge is so delicious. With a large group, I got to taste a ton of different dishes, and they were all superb. There were, by the way, some traditional Indian fare offered as well, but the fusion dishes are where the chef truly shines.

And something the whole table found amusing (though not amusing enough to order it): one of the dishes was reputed to be so spicy hot that everyone at the table had to sign a waiver if you ordered it, literally. Upon request, the restaurant let us glance at the binder full of waivers (heh) and the waiver basically said don't rub your eyes, wash your hands after eating it, and we're not responsible if you have an "accident" due to ingesting Bhoot Jolokia. They. Are. Not. Messing. Around.

One of the Mexican fusion items available was the BiriyaniRito. It was Tava Lounge's twist on the classic wet burrito, filled with biriyani and topped with butter sauce and cheese. It was truly ginormous. Another Cali-Mex-Indian-fusion dish that I was intrigued by but that we didn't order were the Tava Fish Tacos. The menu said the tacos were filled with pan-seared masala fish topped with cilantro-mint coleslaw and served with biriyani and daal.

I ordered the Seafood Biriyani Paella, Spanish-Indian fusion. Which was abundant with shrimp, mussels, squid, and crab.

Nick ordered Baby Back Ribs, which I believe is Southern U.S.-Indian fusion. (Love the sauce lettering on the plate!)

The appetizers menu served up creativity as well. These are the Tava Wings, available in three different exotic sauces.

And instead of papadum there was delicious potato chips. These disappeared so quickly, and I certainly ate my share. And this is coming from someone who doesn't generally like potato chips. They were so thin that I originally didn't even think they were made of potato (but the server assured me they were).

And, the drinks. There was a huge signature cocktail list with Indian-inspired cocktails like this Tava Monsoon (mint, raspberries, lime, infused vodka), a Young Coconut Oasis, and a Blueberry Sparkle.

With this restaurant closed, the best Indian fusion restaurant I can recommend is Susan Feniger's Street in Hollywood. Though that restaurant's focus is really on street food from all over the world, not exclusively India, though the Indian-inspired dishes (as well as the rest of the menu) are extremely tasty.

And more than that, I find the dishes at the now-defunct Tava Lounge to a source of inspiration. They show what modern Indian fusion can truly be. The dishes will inspire me as I experiment with recipe creation at home, in hopes of moving closer to a balance of creativity and taste.

Visit Tava Lounge on Facebook.

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