Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pumpkin, Sweet Potato, Banana Curry

In the hopes of not completely succumbing to my lull in medical school news, I have decided to share some of my budget-conscious cooking. You'll notice I haven't posted in a while. Though partially due to laziness, I also just haven't been eating out. With the exception being my once-a-week trips to either Gold Medal or Pho Ao Sen, neither of which really count. But, I've decided that just because we are saving money doesn't mean we can't eat delicious food. Stepping away from some of my stand-bys, I'll share new recipes that I find to work well and are easy to do in a reasonable amount of time.

One of my new favorite recipes is taken from It's a Thai-style curry that I've found works really well over Chinese rice, and can be done on a tiny budget. It also freezes well. I'm including the recipe itself along with any changes I made.

1 onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, crushed (I preferred grating it)
2.5 cm (1 inch) piece fresh ginger, finely grated
1⁄2tsp fenugreek seeds
1 stick lemongrass, finely chopped (Mince this, otherwise it will be too crunchy, or leave it in big pieces that you can pull out in the end)
4 tbsp Thai red curry paste
1⁄2 tsp turmeric
350g pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and cut in large cubes (about 1 1/4 C, 1in. by 1in. increases cooking time!)
300g sweet potato, peeled and cut in large cubes (about 1 C, 1in. by 1in. increases cooking time!)
300ml vegetable stock (chicken stock also is okay)
300ml coconut milk
2 bananas, peeled and sliced thinly
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onion, garlic, ginger and fenugreek over a low heat for about 5 minutes until the onion is softened. Stir in the lemongrass, curry paste and turmeric. Add the pumpkin and sweet potato and stir to coat them in the spices. Leave to cook over a low heat for 2-3 minutes to allow the vegetables to absorb the flavors of the spices. Pour in the vegetable stock and coconut milk. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Season, remove from the heat and add the diced bananas.

The first mistake I made was doubling the recipe. I tend to double recipes when cooking for David and me because we pack leftovers, but good lord do we still have a lot of curry. Both of us had it for lunch and dinner today, and freezer-packed at least 8 more meals worth. Also, I'd recommend not picking your squash/pumpkin based on what the name sounds like. Whatever you do, pick the one that looks easiest to peel. I ended up going with a Gold Nugget Squash and Carnival Squash, both of which took me a good hour to finish peeling (one was roasted in a different recipe). Instead of using sweet potatoes, I went for the cheaper Garnet Yams. Though not as moist in texture as my favorite Beauregard Yams, they actually contrasted much more nicely with the banana and squash.

I also ended up using chicken broth (thanks to buying an entire flat at Costco), which didn't seem to compromise the recipe at all, and cooking the curry for about 45 minutes, not 20. I'm not sure what she means by large chunks, but for me, my 1x1 inch cubes took forEVER to cook.

And now for the numbers (costs don't include staples and are for the doubled recipe)...

2 onions, $1.00
2 sticks lemongrass, $0.15
8 tbsp Thai red curry paste $2.13
1 small Gold Nugget Squash, $1.22
3 small Garnet Yams, $0.69
2 cans coconut milk, $2.10
3 bananas, $0.35

Total: $7.64, plus $4 for staples = $11.64 for 12 servings

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Biryani House, Berkeley

This is hands-down my favorite Indian/Pakistani restaurant in the area. Not only is the food very cheap ($6 entrees) and filling, but it's flavorful and delicious. I had walked by this restaurant a bunch on my way to MCAT class and one day finally ventured in when I grew sick of eating sandwiches.

I was not disappointed. Biryani House is cheaper than House of Curries, and my Chicken Vindaloo was much more tender (cooked on the bone) and flavorful yet spicy rather than simply spicy. I noticed that the sauces at Biryani House also lack that kind of fake neon-yellow hue that some of the dishes at House of Curry contain, which led me to believe that the food's healthier and maybe (?) more authentic. Who knows though, I still don't know a thing about Indian food except what I think tastes good. And this certainly does.

On subsequent visits, I have tried the eggplant curry, Tikka Masala (for those of us with inauthentic palates), the samosas and the Tandoori Chicken. My tandoori chicken was so flavorful and tender. The eggplant curry was also spicy and delicious, and the naan is really fluffy yet chewy. Despite the soundtrack skipping/playing the exact same song over and over again, I started studying at Biryani House just so I could eat the food more often.

Biryani House is located at 2011 Shattuck Avenue at University in Berkeley.
They are open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and until 10:30 Friday through Sunday.

Currylicious, Oakland

I really wanted to like Currylicious. They're cheaper than going across the street to the grossly overpriced Khana Peena; and considering I know very little about Indian food, I figured I'd probably like Currylicious just as much as any other of the Indian places I've reviewed.

Not. So. Much.

Maybe my standards for Indian food have improved. I ordered the Chicken Vindaloo and Baigan Bharta (eggplant) with plain naan. It was nice that I was able to tell them how spicy I wanted the food (though on what scale?), but the flavors overall were lacking.

The Baigan Bharta, while visually appealing, had no spice whatsoever, and was very bland. I ordered the Chicken Vindaloo spicy, but it was not even remotely so. In addition, despite being cooked on the bone, the chicken was dry. The consistency of the sauce was a bit off as well. It was very runny and greasy, tasting mostly of tomato water and oil, so not even really worth trying to sop up with naan.

I couldn't believe I found myself missing the fake neon-yellow hue of the Chicken Vindaloo at House of Curries. At least theirs is delicious and in the exact same price range for more food. I could believe that I was missing the absolute perfection of everything served at Biryani House (also the exact same price range). Sadly even the naan was disappointing at Currylicious. It was fluffy but very greasy. Though the parking is terrible in downtown Berkeley, the next time I have a craving for Indian/Pakistani food I'm making my way to Biryani House. Every time.

Currylicious is located at 5299 College Avenue in Oakland.
They are open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Cafe 15 (Part II), Oakland

I'm having a love affair with Downtown Oakland and Cafe 15 is what started it. This is my new favorite lunch spot--so much so that I've gone back 3 times in the past 4 days and still want to go back again tomorrow.

Every time the food has been consistently fresh, tasty, creative, affordable, and filling. I'm usually hesitant to give out rave reviews to any restaurant, so it's the service that truly puts Cafe 15 over the top. Everyone who works there is so nice despite how crowded it gets, and they seem to truly appreciate their customers.

So far the best things on the menu in my opinion are the oyster po' boy and the rustic potato hash with eggs. The spicy pulled pork sandwich with a green tangy salsa served with a fresh slaw and Cafe 15 burger (with mixed in bacon and onions!), though, are also delicious, as is the fried chicken sandwich. The fried chicken sandwich is *different* from Bette's, so I'm not even going to compare them.

I'm always too full to order dessert, but today I was offered a free sample of their chocolate eclairs. I'll make room for dessert tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cafe 15, Oakland

Wow, what a find!

I haven't been so excited about a new restaurant in a while. Cafe 15 is a super cute little spot behind the courthouse in downtown Oakland. There is very limited seating but the space is cozy and gets plenty of sunlight. Despite it being crowded, we were immediately greeted by the woman at the register who was happy to chat and answer any questions we had. She also offered us a frequent buyer card. They give you a stamp for every $5 you spend, and after 15 stamps you get a free meal.

In addition to a very tempting menu (think Bakesale Betty type food with a lot more options--yes, I just made that comparison), there are a bunch of daily specials written on the board. I went with the blood orange lemonade and the oyster po' boy with cabbage slaw. My friend had the eggs and potato/fennel sausage hash with toast. While the lemonade was a little too tart for our taste, the food was spectacular.

The potatoes in the hash were soft and perfectly cooked. The fennel sausage was flavorful and melded everything together into a filling, delicious meal. My oyster po-boy had three gigantic fried oysters on a soft, buttery roll and came with a crunchy, fresh cabbage slaw.

It's obvious that the people at Cafe 15 truly care about the food they are serving. The service is impeccable, and when you dine in the cooks will actually bring you your food. I loved everything about my dining experience here and cannot wait to go back.

Cafe 15 is located at 597 15th Street in Downtown Oakland, between Clay and Jefferson.

They are open Monday through Friday from 6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Brown Sugar Kitchen, Oakland

Have you ever gotten to a restaurant and instantly loved it the second you entered? That's what happened to Greg and me when we got to Brown Sugar Kitchen. The space is friendly, gets plenty of light, and has a very sleek yet homey decor. While I do feel like ultimately the service can be improved upon, I was overall very happy with my experience and cannot wait to go back to try more of the delicious California-inspired Soul Food menu.

We started with coffee and a sticky bun, which was not my favorite, though it made waiting for the main attractions a little easier. Maybe I just have a misconception as to how sticky buns should be but I keep imagining and getting excited for a soft, chewy, sweet pastry and am constantly disappointed (this time was no different) when it's dry and crunchy.

Our main dishes, however, were phenomenal. I had the cheesy grits with poached eggs and a side of bacon. The grits were deliciously creamy, very nicely seasoned, and my poached eggs were cooked perfectly. Greg's egg tart was stuffed with fresh asparagus and a wonderful mix of flavorful cheeses; the accompanying potatoes were crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and had great flavor.

My only negative was the service. I don't mind slow service, because all of the dishes are made to order, but I thought that the waitstaff was rather inattentive. They were friendly when we could wave them over, but it was difficult to track down the hostess to get our names on the wait list, and our server never checked in with us during our meal except to bring the check. Just a lesson, don't stand in between two pre-health students and a refill on their morning coffee.

When it comes down to it, though, the blips in service were completely overshadowed by the food. Both Greg and I were very impressed and already have plans to go back.

Brown Sugar Kitchen is located at 2534 Mandela Parkway (yes, you read that correctly, it's in the middle of a bunch of warehouses behind the Home Depot strip mall in Emeryville), between 26th Street and Campbell Street.

They are open Tuesday through Thursday from 7:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m, Friday through Saturday, 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and Sundays 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bi-Rite Creamery, San Francisco

I'd had a gift card for Bi-Rite burning a hole in my pocket since our WCC volunteer appreciation party last year. Being an East Bay kid brought up on Fenton's I had yet to experience what San Francisco had to offer ice cream wise. Bi-Rite did not disappoint.

Despite the long line, the service was impeccable. The employees were completely focused on helping me with my order instead of just rushing me out the door to get to the next. They also use metal spoons for tasting, which I really appreciated--go green! Before making my decision, I tried the honey lavender and coffee toffee. The honey lavender tasted exactly as it sounds, and I think I'm just not that into lavender. Coffee toffee was good, but the salted caramel rocked my world.

I ended up getting a banana split with salted caramel ice cream. Loved it! It came with fresh whipped cream, toasted walnuts, hot fudge and caramelized-to-order bananas. The ice cream was so good though that the sundae wasn't totally necessary. Though their hot fudge has nothing on Fenton's, the ice cream at Bi-Rite hit a home run.

A few other interesting things on their menu that I'd like to try are the toasted banana flavor, and the sundae with olive oil and sea salt (what?!).

Bi-Rite Creamery is located at 3692 18th Street in San Francisco (close to the 16th/Mission BART Station).
They are open Monday through Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m, Friday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., and Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Friday, March 13, 2009

International House Cafe, Berkeley

In addition to being a crazed foodie, I on occasion do my fair share of schoolwork/studying. The plan is to incorporate some cafe reviews into my food blog as well. While most of the places I recommend will not have stellar food, I'm basing my final judgment on these places on a study-friendly scale. But, staying true to my blog the food will be evaluated too. Hopefully this will be useful to all four of my readers. Here it goes...

Internet: Yes, with a UC Berkeley log-in.
Prices: Moderate for the quality.
Noise/Music: Loud, usually playing 94.9 FM.
Parking: 2-hour street parking or UC Berkeley lots.

I'm really Yet I've known the words to every single from Rihanna, Chris Brown, Akon, Lady Gaga, Usher, and Kanye that has come out in the past year, all thanks to the I-House Cafe.

There's something soothing about listening to hip-hop in a loud room where tree-sitters bathed, international students drink beer, the creepy guy gives you dirty looks for taking "his" table, and the smelly chess corner gets overly animated. Plus, taking a study break to look up and see my friend Greg (photo of Greg's ipod here: awkwardly bouncing his head to rap never gets old.

The coffee's terrible and the food mostly comes out of a microwave, but the nachos are a huge guilty pleasure of mine, and the lasagne isn't half bad if they re-heat it all the way through. I also really like the Italian Salad (topped with artichoke hearts, olives, tomato, red bell pepper, garbanzo beans, and mozzarella that I substitute with chicken). Skip the pastries (they're never as good as they look) and any espresso drinks. Also, skip the pasta salads. They always have a weird acidic taste that I can't quite put my finger on. That said, over all if you know what to order and appreciate a place that stays open late, this is one of my favorite study venues.

I'll keep studying here until the university realizes I've stolen my sister's wireless password.

Santa Ramen, San Mateo

On a quest to do Michael Bauer's job for him, Scott and I drove down to San Mateo to check out Santa Ramen, which was the most highly recommended ramen joint from the reader comments. It being a Saturday morning, the traffic wasn't bad at all, and we were ready to eat--Santa sweater and all:

As we walked in, we noticed that there were in fact tons of actual Japanese people patronizing the place, and we were immediately hit with the delicious, salty/meaty smell that can only come from a fresh bowl of ramen. Service? Not so much. After walking inside, we stood awkwardly at the door for about five minutes and were just stared at by the waitstaff. Eventually, we just walked in and sat at the bar. Whatever, I could care less about service if the food's off the hook. It was.

One of my favorite things about Japan was that the restaurants would specialize at certain dishes instead of trying to encompass every aspect of the cuisine. Santa Ramen does just that. They only serve ramen, and they do it well. The menu:

Santa Ramen had me at "not vegetarian." Considering my utter lack of love for vegetarians, I was already sold on the place before trying anything. The menu is set up so you have a choice between three different broths, and then can add toppings. I chose the traditional pork broth made spicy and since they were already out of the highly recommended miso broth, Scott got the soy sauce flavor made spicy.

Then we went to town with toppings. I got green onions, roasted pork, kikurage mushrooms, fried garlic, bean sprouts, and bamboo shoots:

Scott got green onions, bamboo shoots, roasted seaweed, roasted pork, cod roe, "special" stewed pork and kimchee on the side:

O Chame can really take a lesson on pork making from Santa Ramen. Both the roast pork and stewed pork were delicious. My roast pork was juicy, flavorful, and had the perfect amount of fat on it. But the stewed pork on Scott's was out of this world. If I hadn't been so full from everything else I would have ordered just a piece of the special pork on the side. It's made with a somewhat sweet marinade and is tender beyond belief.

The pork broth was just what I remembered from Japan. This is the only place where I'd say that something salty, white, and murky could be delicious. The only way to get a broth that opaque is to boil pork bones until they no longer exist. Scott's soy sauce broth was decent too, but it reminded me more of the broth that you get from packaged ramen. A great salty wonder (though not as oily), but not as fulfilling. My noodles didn't quite have the bite I was hoping for but it could be because I spent so much time ogling Scott's pork that they got soggy. The flavor, however, was there.

As for the toppings, order however you want but I'll give my take. Especially because they can add up and get pretty expensive. Definitely get the stewed pork if you didn't pick up on my recommendation earlier, and if you like spice, it's worth the $1.50 to make the broth spicy. I'd pass on the fried garlic next time. Though it sounds amazing, I think the overall flavor of the soup was compromised because the garlic was so pungent. You also can't really go wrong with bean sprouts, bamboo shoots and green onion. Santa Ramen should leave the kimchee making up to the Koreans, though. Not worth it. I could give or take the cod roe. I did discover that I just hate cooked cod roe that is still in its sac (see Japan sushi entry) because I was a fan of the roe Scott had. However, next time I go to Santa Ramen (yes, there will be another time), I probably won't order the roe with everything else on the menu.

This is the first in what I hope to be an ongoing series on finding the best Japanese noodles in the Bay. Please weigh in on any other recommendations or opinions!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


My goal to stay sane while studying for the MCAT is to update this blog once a week, no more, no less.

You'll notice I made it a little easier to navigate. On the right hand side I've grouped entries based on cuisine and meal types. You can also subscribe or follow the blog (and make me very happy) by showing your love and commenting or becoming a "fan."

Any suggestions for how to make this site more accessible will actually be considered.