Saturday, January 31, 2009

Restaurant Review: House Of Dosas

You know me, dear readers. I don't ask for much. Just absolute obedience. Haha, I'm kidding I'm kidding .. or am I?! Don't dwell on the disturbed recesses of my mind for too long, or you'll just get sucked in.

What I have for you today folks, is a very pleasant proposition. Here's what I want you to do. I want you to find the nearest South Indian restaurant in your area. Search for it on Google! And go. Maybe not tonight, but hopefully for lunch tomorrow. If you are already a fan of your local dosa (South Indian crepe) joint, then you don't need any encouragement from me - you were probably on your way there anyway! But if you've never been, my oh my, are you in for a culinary treat.

I'm only thinking about your own good, dear readers. In these tough economic times, you'll find South Indian restaurants to be very reasonably priced, but filling and satisfying to the extreme. And healthy! All vegetarian! But so good, that it's one of DH's all-time favorite cuisines, and that's saying something, because as I've mentioned several times before, that boy loves his meat. It'll take a little getting used to if you've never been - the smells will seem a bit strange and overwhelming (food and incense), the menu a little daunting (never fear, just ask your friendly waiter for help), and they usually don't serve alcohol. But who would want a beer when you can have some sweet lassi?

Check out the frothy, yogurty goodness of this sweet lassi!

Let me take you inside my favorite South Indian restaurant and walk you through a typical lunch/dinner for us. The place is called House of Dosas and it's located in Hicksville, NY. They are open every single day, even holidays, and DH and I go there at least once or twice a month (if not more). The service is great and pretty zippy. Meals for us there have been completely satisfying every time, without fail. Now that's a rare find, huh?

We typically start off with our two favorite appetizers: the mini-idly with sambar and the paneer pakoras. Idlis are these little steamed rice balls that you dip in the hot, flavorful, spicy soup-like thing called sambar. They come with little coconut chutneys that you can also dip them into. Paneer pakoras are small slabs of indian cheese, dipped in chickpea batter and fried, sprinkled with chaat masala accompanied by a sweet tamarind dip and the ubiquitous coconut chutneys. These are so damn good that I could eat 50 of them, but then it wouldn't be a very healthy meal, would it?

Paneer pakoras - so addictive!

You have oodles of choice for your main course; vegetarian curries with freshly-made rotis or fluffy puris; different types of rice dishes; or a variety of uthappam (savory pancakes). But this is after all, the House of Dosas, so do yourself a favor and order a dosa already! DH always orders the Cheese Mysore Masala Dosa - a crepe made from rice flour, lined with a spicy masala and melted cheese, and stuffed with a potato mixture. My current favorite is the Onion Rava Masala Dosa - a semolina crepe, extra crispy, dotted with caramelized onions and filled with the same potato mixture. Break into the middle of the crepe and work your way outwards, scooping up the potato mixture with the crepe, and dip it in the accompanying sambar and chutneys. Behold!

Cheese Mysore Masala Dosa - not for the faint-hearted because it's pretty spicy!

My Onion Rava Masala Dosa - less spicy but I love the extra crispy texture!

If that is all you eat at this restaurant and walk out, you will be a happy camper. But I highly recommend that you don't leave without the proverbial icing on the cake - the dessert. A dimunitive portion of their warm home-made badam (almond) halwa, made with ghee and speckled with saffron, topped off with a small scoop of vanilla ice-cream - pure genius! If that doesn't rock your boat, then at least try a sip of their masala tea or masala coffee. You may never feel the same way about your regular morning caffeine fix.

Warm badam halwa with vanilla ice-cream - the one thing DH and I never share!

So will you find your nearest South Indian dosa place and go now? The next time you're in Long Island, definitely try out this one. I recommend it without hesitation. It's not only popular amongst the local desi community (always a good sign), but also greatly frequented by regulars from all communities and walks of life (an even better sign).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Idiot-Proof Individual Chocolate Cakes

When it's this cold outside, then it's time to crank up the heat inside ...

... with this hunka hunka burrrnin' love!

There are times when I delude myself into thinking that I'm a baker at heart; that it's my destiny to be a master pastry chef. Then reality sinks in when I actually attempt to bake something. I've said it before and I'll say it again - "impatience doth not a pastry chef make"! I've discovered a new add-on to that ... "and neither does absent-mindedness"! So when I found that this chocolate cake recipe actually managed to survive both my shortcomings, I had to put it on a pedestal and label it "idiot-proof".

Here's how it went down: on the coldest day of the season so far, all the heaters in my apartment stopped working.

Wait, let me backtrack a bit and tell you about my living situation. DH works in a hospital and we live in the subsidized hospital housing just behind it. All these apartments were built in the '50s, and boy, does it show! Old and rickety would be a good way to describe them. The plumbing is on its last legs. The walls are so delicate that you can't risk leaning against them for too long. And the entire heating/cooling system is held together by duct-tape and prayers. Please don't think I'm whining. I've been living here for over 3 years now, and I love our life here, but facts are facts people! Needless to say, things need fixing from time to time. The heating/cooling system breaks down too many times during the year for me to keep count. Often it comes back up after a few uncomfortable hours. It used to really get to me at first, but now all I do is close my eyes, take deep breaths and chant "Ommm, it's ok Muneebaaaaa, Ommmmm, remember the low rent you're paying to live here, Ommmmmm, anywhere else in Long Island would have cost you a bloody fortune, Ommmmmm Shantiiiiiiiiiiiiii".

So when the heaters went down this time, I wasn't too worried. I gave it a few hours. But the heat didn't come back on all night long. Now, you should know, getting up to a cold house makes mama grumpy. Several phone calls were subsequently placed to Maintenance. In the meantime, I felt like the only thing that could transport me to my happy place was warm, gooey chocolate cake, swimming in its own chocolate sauce.

I usually like to make adjustments to recipes as I go along, but today I was too cold and impatient to use my noggin, so I just blindly followed this recipe that I found on Cookworm's site for Chocolate Self-Saucing Pudding. The minute I put it in the oven, the doorbell rang. It was good 'ol Maintenance. This caused me to promptly forget that I had just put something in the oven, which needed to come out in about 20 mins. I was following the Maintenance guy all over the house, helping him out with anything he needed to fix my heating, so it was only after I smelled something in the oven - after a good 35 mins! - that my stomach dropped and I went running down the stairs, cursing myself, and rescued the chocolate puddings from complete disaster. To my surprise, when I dug into them, they were pretty good! I was so proud of them - such troopers, I tell ya! The only thing was, they would have been more moist, saucy and delicious if I had taken them out on time.
So learn from my mistakes, dear readers! And please make these heartwarming cakes - they survived, despite my idiocy.

Idiot-Proof Self-Saucing Chocolate Cakes (from Cookworm's tasty blog)
Serves 2

For the pudding:
1/2 cup all purpose flour
pinch of salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the topping:
1/2 cup soft dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 cup boiling water

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
2. Sift flour, salt, sugar, baking powder and cocoa powder into a bowl.
3. Add the milk, melted butter, beaten egg and vanilla extract and whisk thoroughly until combined.
4. Pour into large coffee mugs (fill halfway) or ramekins.
5. For the topping, stir the brown sugar and cocoa powder in a bowl to combine, then sprinkle it over the cups of pudding batter.
6. Pour the boiling water carefully over the puddings, then bake at 350ยบ for 18-20 minutes. Remove carefully from the oven and serve hot. Top it off with whipped cream, vanilla ice-cream, or a few toasted marshmallows (which is the route I took, thanks to my handy blowtorch! But you could just as easily stick them under the broiler for a few seconds).