Never a Dal Moment: A Recipe and a Reflection

-BBC

-BBC

Dal, a lentil-based soup, is a staple of Bengali cooking — at least in my family. It didn’t matter that we grew up in Ohio, about as far from Kolkata and Dhaka as you can get, we had dal with dinner almost every night. Moog dal, musoor dal, cholar dal, toor dal, yellow split-pea dal. You know that whole Forrest Gump riff on shrimp? That was the Bhattacharjee household’s relationship to every kind of lentil in existence. It was one of my late father’s favorite dishes, and my mom liked to joke that he could eat just dal-bhaath (lentils and rice) for every meal. Me? Not so much. I looked upon dal with the kind of horror that middle American white kids saved for their broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

The only way you could get me to enjoy lentils was in khichuri, a classic Bengali comfort food that combines dal, rice, spices and ghee and usually comes with a side of something fried. Let’s face it, fried potatoes on the side make any dish a winner.

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Twitter And Marketing: Get Him To The Greek (Yogurt)!

I’m fascinated by the use of Twitter as a consumer outreach tool. Obviously, to some extent, it’s what we all do online: sell our persona and then do market research on the results. For instance, I’d like to think that a side benefit of me joining Twitter is that people think of entertainment journalists as a personable lot. We preview your favorite TV shows and films and we’re, as Lil0 & Stitch‘s Stitch would say, “cute and fluffy!” But there’s also a sizable portion of Twitter users (and Facebook and Tumblr) who are literally using the platform to sell themselves or a product. “Buy my book, see my band, watch my show!” And it can go one of two ways: cheerfully right or laughably wrong. I experienced both this week!

The flavor I actually tried!

First, the upbeat example: Chobani, which I tweeted about this morning.

@badnecklace Having Chobani Greek yogurt for breakfast instead of Fage. I wanted the Blackie Parrish yogurt but they didn’t have any. #freeblackieparrish
@Chobani: What do ya think?
@badnecklace Jury’s out about the fruit on the bottom, but the yogurt is smooth and delicious! RT @Chobani What do ya think?

I was so tickled by the simple question that I responded honestly, with an RT so my followers could see the exchange!

Less delightful, and more of a head-scratcher, was my Aug. 20 trip to the movie theater to see Fright Night. During the “AMC First Look” portion of the previews, we got a glimpse at the upcoming remake of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen this particular bit, so I felt pretty comfortable tweeting my thoughts (I swear I’m not one of those people who uses their phone during movies — the lights were still on!).

@badnecklace STRAW DOGS looks awful. And I’m not just talking about James Marsden’s hair.

Not ten minutes later, when the lights actually were off for the previews, my phone buzzed…

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A little salt, a little fat, a lot of bliss!

This week a friend and I tried out a new small plate restaurant in Sunnyside, Salt & Fat. It joins fellow newbies Molly Bloom’s and Cafe Marlene — slightly upscale establishments in a neighborhood that could definitely use more options besides Thai restaurants and pubs! Don’t get me wrong, I love Thai restaurants and pubs, but it’s nice to be able to have an inventive meal without hiking into Manhattan and paying Manhattan prices. Salt & Fat is a surprisingly large space for this neighborhood, narrow but long. White walls accented with stone help give it an airy quality. But it’s the food that really lights things up!

S&F starts you off with a little bag of popcorn popped in bacon fat. Jen and I practically demolished the serving as we pored over the menu. We picked four dishes to split, and it actually proved to be too much for us to finish!

We started off with the utterly sublime “crack” and cheese — fried gnocchi in a cheese bechamel sauce, with this amazing thick-cut bacon interspersed throughout. We instantly decided that regardless of what else we ate, that alone had made the trip worth it. The gnocchi was airy, the cheese perfect, and the smoky bacon the perfect accent for it all.

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Hungry like something that’s not a wolf.

It’s amazing how a rainy — okay, thunderstorm-y — day can so thoroughly impact one’s mood. All I want to do is be home with comfort foods like mac & cheese, watching Bollywood movies all day while the rain pounds against the windows. Sadly, that is not an option. So, instead, I’m going to drink dishwater-flavored coffee from the office’s Flavia machine and keep the TV on low volume while the rain pounds against the windows.

I haven’t done a recap of my recent trip to L.A., but one of the significant things from that trip was that I finally got on the sushi train. We went to The Geisha House, an uber-trendy sushi place in Hollywood, that made me surmise that the more trendy and upscale you are, the less lights you have on in your establishment. We had to ask for another candle to help us read menus, and I wound up twisting around to the little artsy twinkle lights behind my banquette. And oy, did the waiter have attitude about our lack of ability to see in the pitch darkness. At any rate, I got their “Cherokee” roll, with salmon, avocado, cream cheese, and asparagus with a tempura coating. I did actually enjoy it quite a bit. So much so that I’ve returned to the city with a yen for sushi and I had a salmon avocado roll from Washoku Cafe on 37th between 5th and 6th for lunch on Friday. I’m not exactly an expert on sushi yet, obviously, but Washoku’s prices are remarkably reasonable for the lower edge of Midtown and the salmon tasted fresh. I’m also hopelessly addicted to wasabi and candied ginger.

Another recent experience was a relatively new Australian-themed bar in Kips Bay, Van Diemen’s, which earns automatic points from me for having my “diet beer” Amstel Light on draft. Their drink specials are pretty good as well. Their menu is pretty standard American bar & grill fare with a few Aussie-themed dishes thrown in as well. The day I was there, I wasn’t particularly hungry, so I really want to go back and fully appreciate the Moroccan Chicken Salad Wrap I had and try some other things. T. had their Aussie Sliders, which she really seemed to like.

Then there’s Claret, a wine bar that opened in Sunnyside a few months back. As one might expect, it has a really, really decent wine list with a good range of both whites and reds from California, Chile, Italy, France, South Africa, and Australia. They had a Pinotage so, naturally, I had to have that. My only complaint, and I guess it IS a major one, is that their cheese and meat plates are a rip-off. For $12, you can choose three items…and they bring them out on a long rectangular platter. The presentation is lovely, but once you look at the plate you realize how skimpy the offerings are. There’s crackers, a few pieces of French bread, and really barely enough cheese and meat to warrant the price tag. In comparison, Riposo 46, a wine bar in Hell’s Kitchen I also visited recently, has more expensive wines but they do NOT skimp on the food.

And since I’m over in the area, I must mention a surprise find: The Hourglass Tavern. It’s literally a hidden gem on the bustling, busy Restaurant Row, because I can’t even tell you HOW many times I’ve walked past it without even really registering its presence. It’s under new management and currently in “soft open” mode, as they continue to refurbish the place and make it their own. Like all of the places on that stretch of 46th, it has a prix fixe menu. You get salad or soup, an appetizer, a main dish, and then coffee and dessert. Their range of dishes is really quite diverse and my three friends and I all got very different things and were each happy with our orders. The place itself is a charming, three-story restaurant. Each floor seats about 20 people and has a really intimate feel.

God, now I really want to eat something!

Please, Sur, can I have some more?

I think I have an unhealthy addiction to the empanadas at Sur. Located at 45-57 47th St. in Woodside, I have the fortune/misfortune of passing Sur on the way back from work every day. You’d think I’d learn my lesson and take another route if my problem is so bad, hmm? Ah, well.

So, I stop in there once a week, if not twice, for their highly addictive butternut squash soup (they ran out tonight! woe!) and 2-3 empanadas. I’ve tried all but five of their regular varieties — one of which I’ll never try because I’m allergic to crab. I think my favorites so far are probably the chorizo, salteña, and ham & cheese.

I need an intervention.

What’s cookin’?

After a brief hiatus from all things culinary, I’m finally getting back on the cooking horse again…as much as I ride, that is. So, to make sure I haven’t turned into a complete idiot, I decided to whip up my Technicolor Dream Rice, which I probably haven’t made in at least six months.

dreamrice011809

Not bad, right?  You can’t quite see that it’s actually a pale yellow color from the turmeric, and lest anyone get squicked, the things that look suspiciously dark and insect-like are actually dried cranberries. The finished product actually tasted quite good… after a little extra salt. I still haven’t mastered the art of casually throwing spices in and getting the amount magically correct. LOL.

I’ve also been tinkering with a mac and cheese recipe. Nothing particularly complicated there, but still a work in progress. Maybe one day I’ll be able to actually foray back into cooking…meat. Gasp.