Restaurant Week: Xochitl

For Restaurant Week, Sarah and I finally made it to Xochitl (pronounced So-cheet). Xochitl is an upscale Aztec Mexican on 2nd St. across from Headhouse Square in Old City. We had planned to go to this restaurant for some time and at $35 for a four-course meal this seemed like the perfect time. We were not disappointed.

The atmosphere is relaxing if a little cramped. We had a margarita and a beer at the bar while we waited for our table to free up. I could see coming to the bar for a few drinks and their freshly made guacamole. They have numerous types of tequila to sample as well as a good beer and wine list.

The prix fixe menu was divided into four courses: a soup, an appetizer, the main course and dessert. So let’s take each course one by one. Read the rest of this entry »


Bar Ferdinand: Tops in Tapas

Sarah and I love tapas. Eating samples from multiple plates is our favorite way to eat. You can relax, take your time and enjoy the food, what you’re drinking and good conversation. A number of months ago we tried Bar Ferdinand in Northern Liberties. It was great and it had just opened recently. We went back a week ago and had an equally great, if not better experience.

First off, Bar Ferdinand is open late. They serve dinner until midnight and the bar is open until 2AM. What’s more, they have a late-night happy hour between 9PM and 11PM. Normally, this means $3 sangrias and $4 draught beers. The beer selection is very good, featuring Belgians and microbrews. The wine list is extensive with a nice amount of selections by the glass. One of the things we miss about New York is the ability to get good meals late in the evening. Bar Ferdinand satisfies this need for us.

On to the food.

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Lamb Chops in Yogurt with Whole Spices; Potato Patties (aloo-ki-tikiya): Take 2

Back in June, I found myself with four lamb chops and some potatoes, and decided to make these two Jaffrey recipes.  It turned out well, so when we bought lamb chops again (Trader Joe’s, people, seriously!) I decided to revisit the recipe. 

I won’t go into great detail about the technique, since I covered that pretty well in the last post.  I did, however, learn a few things this time.

The lamb recipe was, as before, easy but time-consuming.  You just brown your lamb chops, fry your spices for a minute, pour in a yogurt/water mixture and let the whole thing simmer for an hour.  Once again, my yogurt curdled.  The recipe has you pouring yogurt water into hot oil, so even vigorous whisking doesn’t really solve the problem.  The good news, however, is that this isn’t a yogurt sauce meant to be served with the lamb chops; it’s more of a straight-up simmer sauce.  It’s mostly there to soak into the lamb chops, keep them moist and infuse them with the flavor of the spices– which it does admirably, whether or not the yogurt curdles, so I’m not going to beat myself up about it.  (Although reader tips are more than welcome!)  Also, one change I did make was to used smoked peppercorns.  The flavor difference was subtle, but I think it added something to the meat overall.  Man, those things are potent.

The potato patties definitely turned out better this time around.  It’s easy in theory but difficult to do well; you form cooled mashed potatoes into a ball, flatten it, add a center of fried dal/onion/fenugreek (methi) mixture, form it into a patty, and fry it slowly till it get a nice red-brown crust.  Last time, I didn’t have time to let the potatoes thoroughly cool before making the patties.  The result was that they didn’t hold together well and kept trying to break apart in the pan.

This time, Joe made the potatoes before I got home from work, so they sat for about two hours in a covered bowl.  This helped, but when I went to form the patties they were still warm and sticky, and kept breaking apart in my hands.  I was really worried about their ability to hold together. 

As it turned out, they behaved just fine.  A crack or two formed when I flipped the patties, but they held together and were delicious.  Next time, I’d like to make the potatoes a day in advance and keep them in the fridge, and see if that helps.  Also, I added just a bit of chopped green chilli to the dal mixture, which gave the patties a nice little kick.

Last time, we had two patties left over, and we kept them in the fridge and made them the next day.  They held together well and were an easy side dish.  We have two left over this time as well, so I’m looking forward to having them tonight or tomorrow.

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Chana Dal with Lamb

This is the first real dal recipe I’ve done from the Jaffrey cookbook. It’s kind of an unusual one, because it contains lamb, and also you don’t let the lentils fall apart– they stay whole and a bit al dente.

I know I say this a lot, but… this was easy but time-consuming! My Indian foodie friend Nagesh thinks that some of Jaffrey’s recipes are needlessly complicated, which is interesting. It’s certainly true that it’s hard to make a Jaffrey recipe without dirtying half the dishes and pans in your kitchen.

First, you fry four onions’ worth of onion half-rings, till they’re brown and sweet. Don’t burn them. Also, don’t hover over the pot so much that your eyes start stinging and you have to call your husband over to help you scoop out the onions because you can’t see. Not that such a thing would ever happen to me. Set aside.

Next, put your lamb chunks (we got some nice local lamb stew meat from the Fair Food Farmstand) into the hot onion oil and brown them on high heat. Set aside.

Meanwhile, you will have blended your Indian mirepoix (onions, ginger, garlic) into a fine paste in the mini-food processor. Dump this into the oil and fry for close to ten minutes, until it starts to cook off a bit. Then add your turmeric, coriander and cumin. Give it a minute, then stir in a tablespoon of tomato puree (I used paste). Next, the warm spices: mace, nutmeg, cinnamon and ground cloves. I hadn’t used mace before– it has a strong flavor and goes well in the warm-spice mix. Give that about five minutes, then add 4 oz chana dal, the lamb, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and a cup of water. Stir well, bring to a boil, and simmer for an hour, pausing your movie every ten minutes to stir.

Before service, stir in a few tablespoons of lemon juice. I served this with rice and topped it with the fried onions and chopped coriander, which made for a nice presentation.

This was delicious! It had a nice kick– definitely the spiciest recipe I’ve made yet, which isn’t saying much, but still. Tasty. The lamb was very tender, and the dal had this al dente not-quite-crunch to them that was very pleasant. The sweetness of the onions was a nice counterpoint to the heat and the richness of the lamb.

I’m packing some of this for my trip this weekend, and I have a feeling it’s going to get very happy in the fridge!

-Next time, I think I can drain off some of the oil before putting in the mirepoix. It was a little oily.
-Good lamb really makes a difference. We were surprised at how meat-heavy this dish was- we actually used only half the amount of meat called for in the recipe, because that’s what we had on hand, and it was still very meat-centric.
-Be careful when frying onions! I need some goggles or something. Except that if I actually wore goggles around onions, Joe would never, ever let me live it down!

Lamb Chops in Yogurt with Whole Spices; Potato Patties (aloo-ki-tikiya)

For once, I actually made a lamb dish with lamb! Very exciting. And my dear husband Joe made a trip to the Indian grocery store, so we filled in a few of the gaps in our spice cabinet. (International Foods at 42nd and Walnut– check them out!) I finally have cardamom pods and fenugreek seeds! Woo! And let me tell you, cardamom pods? They’re magical. They smell wonderful and they add so much flavor to a simmering sauce… I’m actually a little annoyed with myself for making so many recipes with crappy-ass cardamom powder instead of the real deal. Sigh. No matter– I have lots of pods now!

The lamb had to simmer for an hour, so while Joe was out returning our car, I started chopping. This was a deceptively simple dish. Here’s what you do: Mix 4 tbsp yogurt with water and set aside. Brown your lamb chops in the pan. Set aside. Fry the spices– a cinnamon stick, a red pepper, cloves, peppercorns, and a bay leaf. (We also got some decent dried red peppers– the old ones from the grocery store in Queens just weren’t giving off much flavor. These, on the other hand…) Put in your chopped ginger and garlic. (My ginger got moldy, so I had to break out the emergency jar. Yes, that’s right, I keep an emergency jar of ginger in my fridge. What are you laughing at?) Fry for a minute, then throw in your chopped green coriander. Let it wilt for a bit, then put the lamb chops back in. Pour the watered-down yogurt into the pan, add salt, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and cover. Check it every ten minutes, stir a bit, whatever it seems to need.

That’s pretty much it. This was nice and low-maintenance. The lamb came out really tender and moist and just a hair above medium rare. I realized just now, while writing this, that in halving the recipe, I got a bit confused and added too much water to the yogurt, which may be why the sauce was really thin. I didn’t treat it like a sauce, more like a poaching liquid, and that worked out well.

Then there were the potatoes. Madhur Jaffrey recommends boiling the potatoes whole two hours before dinner, then chopping and mashing them about half an hour before showtime. But I had to work late tonight, and Joe had to run to South Philly to pick up a package from UPS, so our potatoes got chopped, boiled and mashed in quick succession. They sat for maybe twenty minutes while I dealt with their filling.

The filling: this is a recipe that requires some advance planning. You have to soak 3 tbsp of urad dal for 24 hours. The problem with such recipes is that I’m a total slacker, and if it’s been a rough day and I have cramps and I worked late, I’m liable to put off the dinner I’d planned and order takeout. Which is what happened yesterday and the day before. So by the time I got around to making this dish, my dal had been soaking in a glass of water on the counter for three days. There was a funky, bubbly skin of lentil starch that had formed at the surface of the water, and the whole thing smelled like it might have fermented just a bit. But they looked fine and the texture was right, so I decided to give it a shot. (Very unusual– I’m normally a bit of a paranoid freak when it comes to food safety. I’ve had some bad experiences.)

Turned out the urad dal was just fine. I put a few fenugreek seeds in hot oil– those smell great too, by the way. Then I added chopped onions and a pinch of cayenne pepper– the recipe calls for green chilies, but we didn’t have any. You’re supposed to let the onions get just a bit brown at the edges, then put in the coriander. I cooked everything at the correct heat, etc., and put the coriander in just as the onions got brown at the edges, but I found that by the time I’d reached for the coriander the onions were close to burning. I had to turn the heat down very quickly to save them. I was using the cast iron pan, which I suspect conducts heat better than the average frying pan. So dear readers, if I have convinced you to use cast iron (which, I admit, is one of the secret goals of this blog), keep that in mind. OK, so you fry all that for just a little bit, then put the (drained! not wet anymore!) dal in the pan and keep stirring for five minutes or so. Madhur says it’ll all turn into one big lump in the pan, but that didn’t happen– I suspect she used a smaller pan than I did.

While you’re doing that, your potatoes are resting. Wake them up and bring them over to a cutting board or other useful surface. Divide them into balls– Madhur Jaffrey calls for 12, I halved the recipe and did 6. Now take a ball and flatten it in your palm. Take a spoonful of the dal mixture and put it right in the center, then gently, gently form the potatoes into a ball with the dal at the center. Then flatten it out (again, gently) so that you have a nice little potato pancake with a spicy dal center.

Meanwhile, put just a bit of oil in your cast iron pan, which you cleaned out after making the dal. Once it’s hot, put the patties in. Make sure to leave them some room. I had six patties, but ended up only making four because I didn’t have time to do two panfuls. (Pansful?)

Once the patties are in the oil, LEAVE THEM ALONE. 8-10 minutes. Just let ’em sit, with the heat on medium low. My potatoes were a bit less thick than I’d like, probably because we made them at the last minute, and I was concerned that things were so liquid-y that a crust wouldn’t form. Silly me, I should have trusted in the amazing crust-forming abilities of my cast iron pan. The crust was lovely and golden brown. Once that forms, it’s time for a flip– a fish spatula (flat, slotted metal) is ideal, just be eeeever so careful when you turn them over. These have a tendency to break if you’re not really gentle.

There it is, that’s your dinner. Plate and serve. We had this with a Flying Fish Belgian-Style Dubbel, which I think went particularly well with the potatoes. The potatoes had a nice little kick from the cayenne, and the combination of crunchy crust, smooth inside potato and spicy, slightly crunchy dal was delicious and fun to eat. It went well with the lamb, too– I still can’t believe how tender that lamb was! We got it at Trader Joe’s– I’m always happy with their lamb chops.

Things to consider for next time:
1. When halving the recipe, halve the freakin’ recipe. If you accidentally use twice as much water as you need, your sauce will be too thin. Duh.
2. Real spices make a real difference. As does freshness.
3. If Madhur says to do something ahead of time, she probably has her reasons. I saved the two patties I didn’t cook tonight– I’m going to make them this weekend and see how their time in the fridge changes their behavior in the pan. Purely for scientific inquiry, of course, it has nothing to do with the way they melt in your mouth… mmm… aloo ki-tikiya…

If attempting to describe a tasty meal turns you into Homer Simpson, that’s a good sign, right?

There had been talk of grilled mangoes (Mexican, we still haven’t landed Indian mangoes) and ice cream for dessert, but we ate late and then Joe fell asleep on the couch, so I think we’ll have to save that for tomorrow.

Comments imported from Blogger: 2

Nagesh said…
June 13, 2007 1:19 AM  
Sarah said…
Hee. Ready to come down for dinner yet?
June 13, 2007 8:28 AM  

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