Masala Art

Rock Salt & Cilantro Lime

After writing up our recent post on homemade Indian food, J & I were craving Indian last Friday. Luckily we already had plans to grab drinks in Tenleytown, so it was the perfect excuse to visit Masala Art in person (J had picked up takeout for us once before).

When I arrived, I was immediately taken with the atmosphere. From the exterior and its neighbors, you’d never suspect how subtly sophisticated and warm Masala Art could be inside. The music and noise level of conversations around the room were soft even though some of the tables are pretty close together. While I waited for J, I sipped on my delicious cocktail and perused the menu. I can’t recall the name of the cocktail, but it was a mix of amaretto, red wine and mint.

Although I was slightly overwhelmed by the choices on the menu, I appreciated the variety of options and price points (appetizers around $5.00 and entrees ranging from $10-22). We opted to go for several appetizers in order to try out more dishes.

Shrimp & Chicken

Our first dish ended up being by far my favorite. The Aloo aur Pyaz ki Bhaji (Juliennes of potatoes and onions in chickpeas batter) would be my hangover food of choice if I still lived in Tenleytown. Imagine a flavorful, slightly spicy mix of crispy french fries and a Blooming Onion (although that may discount how tasty these are) all rolled into one. With two sauces to tame or add to the flavor, I could have eaten 10 of these. Maybe the best thing I’ve eaten since the bocadillos at Estadio.

Next up, the Chicken 65 (chicken tossed in South Indian masala) and Jheenga Porchai Yera (spicy tempered prawns). We paired these with the rock salt and cilantro naan. We should have ordered rice and/or a vegetable at this point.

Both dishes were spicier than our attentive waiter led us to believe, but not overly so. They each evoked barbecue flavors- the chicken more of a tomato-base, and the prawns more a wing flavor.

Our last two dishes were perhaps the most interesting, but our least favorite flavor-wise. Dahi Bhalle, velvety lentil dumplings in yogurt sauce, and Bhelpuri, which was puffed rice, chickpea vermicelli, peanuts, chopped onion, diced mango, cilantro and drizzled with tamarind chutney.

Dahi Bhalle

We had spotted numerous orders of the Bhelpuri, which essentially looked like taco salad bowls, so obviously the description enticed other diners too. Unfortunately, the description didn’t live up to our expectations, and it amounted to a bowl of Rice Krispies and Corn Puffs. With extra chutney and maybe another sauce for added flavor and moisture, I would have enjoyed the dish more, but the flavor was just not there like it had been in previous dishes.

For all the crunch that the Bhelpuri had, Dahi Bhalle lacked. The ‘velvety’ adjective used by the menu description is perfectly accurate, but the dish was too one note for me.

I’m already anticipating my next visit to Masala Art with friends in tow to sample more of the dishes. While it might not quite reach the heights of Rasika‘s Indian, it’s a more affordable and worthy option; our bill came to $45 w/out tax.

Check out Masala Art at 4441 B Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington D.C. 20016.

Baking Blunder: Tiramisu

To be honest, I rarely completely fail when baking. Sure a bread might be a little dry or cookies a little overdone. But I can’t remember the last time I threw away a baked good, much less before it was finished.

That changed when I attempted to make tiramisu for the pièce de résistance of our Valentine’s Day dinner.

This recipe from the Flour cookbook calls for homemade ‘ladyfingers’ or essentially a sponge cake. After nearly 15 minutes of handheld mixing (a nudge for J to purchase me a KitchenAid), I spread the batter out on a pan and popped it into the oven. About five out of 15 minutes into the baking time, I glanced at the cookbook again. Despite the name of the book, I had forgotten to include an essential ingredient: Flour.

Apprehensive but undeterred, I proceeded to whip more eggs. But as I removed the ladyfingers from the oven, I knew it just wasn’t going to work. One large, rectangular crepe stared at me from the baking sheet. Normally I would have started over or tried to create another dish but it was already 10:15 pm on a work night, better known as  bedtime. I just didn’t think I’d have the energy to turn out a tiramisu worthy of Valentine’s Day. I resorted to buying an Italian dessert at a nearby bakery, and promised J I’d make it for him soon.

Flour in the bowl

Which led me to a Sunday afternoon in the kitchen, checking and double-checking that each ingredient made it into the dish. In the end, it was a delicious tiramisu and well worth the time! Especially because I was reminded of the importance of mise en place.

I’m going to be really lame and not post the recipe for several reasons.

1) It’s not online, and I’m too lazy to type it up.
2) The book is incredible and I recommend purchasing it.
3) As delicious as it was, I would like to make a couple of changes to the recipe to make it even better. I’ll write a new post with the adapted recipe sometime soon.

So stay tuned for what will hopefully not be another edition of ‘Baking Blunder.’

Homemade Indian

Heads Up: These recipes call for considerable marination time. If you’re looking for a quick recipe, you may want to check elsewhere.

J &  I love Indian food. Seriously, we love it.

The ingredients, the intense flavors and spices, the way the main dishes, sauces and side dishes sometimes taste even better when mixed together than when eaten separately. We’d probably cook Indian a couple of times a week if the recipes didn’t require as much time and effort as they usually do.

So moist and delicious.

So moist and delicious.

One Saturday night last month we tried out a couple of new recipes. I had my former roommate and her husband over for dinner and they love Indian almost as much as we do. We selected chicken makhani (butter chicken) and curry leaf potatoes, both from the amazing Washington Post food section. For our side, I also made our homemade naan.

You can find the recipe for the chicken makhani here and the curry leaf potatoes here.

These recipes proved to be less prep work than some of the previous Indian recipes we’ve tried. You can also marinade the chicken the day before, which breaks up the workload and would really intensify the flavor. We only marinated our chicken for maybe 45 minutes, and it was still delicious.

A few recommendations: Add more more chili powder if you like spice. The chicken baked to perfection at about 25 minutes, rather than the 40 the recipe said. We marinated more chicken to go with the leftover rice the next night, and without the sauce it was perfectly delicious, if you want to cut time and calories.

The potatoes were a hit as well, although we did have to compromise on some of the more obscure ingredients we couldn’t find at Whole Foods or Safeway, including the curry leaves.

I’ve used the same or similar naan recipe a few times now, and I won’t be using it again. The dough has never sufficiently risen and the consistency of the bread is too tough. It’s decent enough, but I’ll be looking around for a better option for the next time we’re craving Indian. If you’re interested in at least viewing the recipe, it can be found here.

2012 Culinary Resolutions

Better late than never…

I don’t like resolutions  (who does?), and we weren’t going to do one of these posts, but if any resolutions can be kept, it’s culinary resolutions. So here goes…our 2012 culinary resolutions!

1. Take a cooking class.

2.  Perfect our crepe-making skills. Last Christmas J gave me a crepe cookbook and this Christmas he gave me a crepe pan. Yet we’re still not very good at actually making them:(

3. Eat at one of DC’s Ethiopian restaurants. We ate at Dukem last year…want to add Etete or Ethiopic this year.

Cooking in the Moment

4. Make at least one recipe from Andrea Reusing’s Cooking in the Moment cookbook. My brother gave me this for Christmas, and it’s a gorgeous cookbook, but maybe not one I will cook from frequently.

5. Make a delicious tofu dish…we’ve never cooked with tofu so it may take a few tries to find a recipe that we really enjoy.

6. Develop low-cal everyday dinner recipes.

7. Bake something at least once a week. I think I’ve accomplished this so far, so we’ll see if I can keep it up.

8. Make sushi. J has done this, but I haven’t. J would like to perfect his sushi-making.

9. Host a dinner party. With at least 8 people attending (including ourselves). I added the 8 person caveat because we fairly frequently have 3 or 4 people for dinner. I’d like to expand our circle a little more.

Chateau Morrisette Wines http://www.thedogs.com

10. Visit a Virginia winery. We’ll be fulfilling this next month when we go to Chateau Morrisette. I’ve been there before, but I was under 21 at the time (who takes their kids to a winery?).

11. Cook a moist and delicious turkey. This is J’s.

12. Make a gingerbread house.

What are your culinary resolutions for 2012?

Road Trip: Dame’s Chicken & Waffles, Durham, NC

The Quilted Buttercup

Thanks to numerous weddings in the past couple of years, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to return to my home state of North Carolina for brief visits. While DC has great food with lots of cultures and cuisines represented, I still miss my southern food. So whenever I visit NC, I try my best to either visit one of my old favs or try a new place that’s representative of the state’s food culture.

Last Saturday provided a great opportunity to try somewhere new. J & I  met my dad and brother for lunch in Durham before the next leg of our trip to Greensboro for a friend’s wedding. Even though I grew up 45 minutes from Durham, I’m not too familiar with downtown, which has experienced a revitalization in the past few years.

My brother directed me to a blog with reviews of Durham restaurants to select our desired eatery. J & I settled on Dame’s Chicken & Waffles. Sure, Birch & Barley has delicious chicken & waffles, but I thought Dame’s would give us a different take on the southern dish.

Our first impressions of the restaurant weren’t great. It was fairly small and I noticed several empty tables, yet a few groups of people gathered outside. The hostess informed me that the issue was waiter availability rather than table availability and she pulled a 15 to 20-minute wait estimate out of you-know-where.

Fine. We had time to kill and it was nice out, so we waited. And waited. It ended up being at least 30 minutes. But we dealt with it, and were ravenous and ready to order when seated.

Dame’s is smart to offer a short and simple menu of nothing but various types of chicken & waffles. Their specialty is something called a “schmear” or flavored sweet creme butters in varieties such as blueberry, maple and toasted almond creme. Each waffle is served with a southern side such as mac & cheese, squash, and my personal favorite, collards. Coffee is self-serve, which is nice given how long our waitress took with our other drinks.

Luckily though, food service was quick. Before we knew it, massive plates of chicken & waffles sat before us.  I decided on the ‘Quilted Buttercup’-  two petite “rare breed” scratch-made sweet potato waffles shmeared w/ maple & candied pecan. I smeared the schmear on the top waffle and pierced a bit of each ingredient onto my fork so I could taste all the components together. The chicken was perfectly crisp, crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The sweetness of the schmear went perfectly with the savory chicken. My main complaint was the lack of sweet potato flavor. But given how much chicken was on my plate and the sweetness of the schmear, I guess that was to be expected. My side of collards was delicious as well, with an unexpected kick to them.

J ordered what they called “What a Classy Hen?” which came with a vanilla and toasted almond schmear on a classic waffle, with squash and onions for his side. However, for some inexplicable reason, he decided to go with the healthier grilled chicken. This slightly defeated the purpose. The outer edges of the chicken were tough, but the inner sections managed to remain juicy and tender. The schmear was smooth on both the chicken and the waffle, and the saltiness of the squash  balanced the dish nicely.

While it’s nice for the health-conscious that Dame’s offers the grilled option, we say you should just plan on skipping the restaurant if you’re looking to eat healthy. There’s something about the crunch and savoriness of the fried chicken that mixes with the sweet waffle that makes the dish. The ‘magic’ is just lost when the crunch of the chicken is removed from the equation. Overall, it was a delicious meal and somewhere I’d return the next time I have time to kill and calories to add in Durham.

Check out Dame’s Chicken and Waffles at 317 West Main Street,  Durham, NC.