Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wings On Fire

One bird, and a million different ways to cook it - my love for all things chicken is evident to anyone who has seen me in its company. Nostrils flare, drool puddles, and the stomach rumbles when I get a whiff of my favorite culinary ingredient.

Having had my fill of the desi, tikka-masala variety, I decided to venture into (so far) uncharted territory - the wing. To me, it seems like this country has it all wrong; why the fuss over the scrawniest part of a plump bird ? At least in India, the wings were tiny - all bone, no meat. All that gnawing on the bone puts me off too. But one episode of Man Vs. Food featured a wing joint in Greenville, so we HAD to check it out.

We arrived at the Quaker Lube Wing Stop ( for lunch, and immediately saw what Adam had ordered - an order of their "Atomic" sauced wings. Here's the scale they use to define the relative heat of their sauces:

And behold, they had topped their own fiery fiesta (the Atomic), with the fierier, hotter, death-wish Triple Atomic !!

Now, you ask - did we ? Nope, we chickened out (ugh) this time. We tried Cajun and Arizona Ranch. And we could have them boneless ! Yay !

Here's the Cajun (served with pita wedges):

and the Arizona Ranch (served with soft pretzels):

While the chicken itself was juicy and nicely done, the AR sauce was almost bland, and the Cajun seemed like one of Maansingh bhaiya's generous mirchi days - a tad hot, but nothing to write home about. So much for the rating of 4000 ! 

This has now boosted our confidence enough that we will, on our next visit, give the Atomic a shot. If we survive that, the Triple Atomic will be our crowning achievement.

Watch this space !!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Crunchy,spicy goodness - Magic Masala

Ahh ! Frito Lays ! The creator of The Chip - that tiny bite of crisp saltiness that gets you hooked. You can choose from a smorgasbord of flavors; some favor the plain salty, some the subtlety of sour cream, and yet others like it cheesy. 

None of those pansy-a$$ flavors for me, though. I like bold, fiery - I want my chip to kick me in the face ! In India, my staple favorite (for years) has been the Magic Masala flavor of the rippled Lays. It's been a constant companion - for studying until the wee hours in college, through the tumultuous years at the job, late night chats or books that I can't put down.

It's what I instinctively reach out for when it rains, or when I get bored of bland foods, or simply when 1 am (or 6 pm) cravings hit. It was an easy (though unhealthy) snack at work - packaged, non-perishable, cheap, and delicious. 

So you can imagine my chagrin when I discovered that my favorite blue bag had not made it to the shores of USA ! I searched desi grocery stores all over Houston and Frederick and Jersey, to no avail. Was I doomed to making do with Doritos, or having dad spend ridiculous amounts  to ship me a few bags ? 

Up until now, yes. But then...........a miracle ! We walked into the friendly neighborhood desi grocery store in Greenville, and presto ! There it was - the familiar flash of blue that had me drooling in anticipation.

I happily slapped 2 packs into our shopping cart; the husband recoiled in horror ! He knew what was coming - arriving home to a sea of crumbs, blue wrappers and a fat wife smelling of garlic and paprika. 

That's when I swore to myself I'd never let that happen. I no longer eat these by the pound; I stretch one 2-oz  bag a whole week. I now treat these calories bombs like an indulgence, not a meal. And I gargle with mouthwash afterwards. 

All is well.

Uh oh, it's 1 am..........

P.S. Some say chips go best with beer; I say nothing beats a chip chased down with a cold Thums Up (more on that later).

Sunday, July 15, 2012

California Chronicles Part 2: Desi Thai Bhai Bhai

A few days into our California trip, we decided to venture out for some good ole' Thai, a good substitute if you get tired of desi and still want the rice-and-spice. Duly checked Urbanspoon, and picked the # 3 recommendation (the top 2 were a tad pricey). 

Thai Spoons - a tiny place tucked into a shopping block, almost unnoticeable. A few minutes into the buffet meal, I wished it HAD gone unnoticed. How could trusty, dependable Thai go so, so wrong ?  My basil chicken looked and tasted like dog food, the hubby's plate (red curry) had virtually none. We paid $8 a pop for tasteless crap - the complete opposite of what Thai should be. 

Fast-forward to yesterday in Greenville - I really needed a Thai fix to help recover from that disaster. We found another tiny little place called Kannika's with great recommendations, and ordered basil chicken again, with some trepidation. What if ............?

Needn't have worried. This is what Thai should taste like - bright, crisp, spicy curry, succulent chicken and fragrant, fluffy jasmine rice. This time, the $8 each seemed perfectly well-deserved. 

Such is the conundrum of Urbanspoon - some days, it leads you to little gems hidden behind the Toys R Us and Staples; other days, to culinary hell-holes whose bad taste stays in your mouth long after the meal is over. 

Do you use Urbanspoon or similar websites for restaurant recommendations ? What has it led you to ?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

California Chronicles: Part 1

This past week, the husband and I were in California, visiting family. Families, of course, have to eat, and eat we did !

After hiking (riding in a car and occasionally getting out to walk 200 m) in Yosemite National Park for 2 days, and surviving on cold cheese sandwiches and microwaved pizza, we were really looking forward to a good meal on our drive back. We chanced upon a tiny place called Anarkalee (, which seemed decent.

Turns out, it was the long-lost firang cousin of our very awesome Karim's ! Gaint, thick fluffy naans (albeit not greasy, even a tad dry), rich curries, good gulab jamuns, and paan - can I say Chandni Chowk ? 

I still remember my first trip to Karim's - the Delhi Metro had just been inaugurated, and I had talked fellow foodie AB into coming along. Got off at the Chandni Chowk station, asked around, got lost, took a rickshaw, walked some more - and there it was, tucked into a tiny corner, sending stomach-rumbling whiffs our way.

I think I saw a look of panic on the guy's face when he took our order - 6 dishes for 2 people ! And I am proud (ashamed?) to say - we finished every last bit, even chewing up a whole naan plain, without any curry. Yes, it was that good. Of course, we were immobile for an hour afterwards. 

Prompted by my gushing reviews, the husband made the trip once......and came back not quite impressed. Hmmm. Maybe he visited on an off day. 

While living in Gurgaon, I chanced upon a Karim's.......3 blocks from my house ! At our next soiree, we ditched our usual desi take-out place and ordered Karim's instead, even though it rung up a much bigger tab. The food was good, not great. Apparently the CC location is the only one that gets it just right.

As I dipped big chunks of naan into the fish curry at Anarkalee, the great memories of Karim's came rushing back. And just for that, I'd give it 5 stars. 

Have you been to Karim's ? How was it for you ? 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Tea Tales

It's only apt that my first post should be about that irreplaceable, irresistible classic - a steaming cup of tea.  It's what wakes us up, calms us down and sets the stage for the best gossip sessions.

"Anyone for tea ? I'm making some !" has been my rallying cry to sleepy-eyed friends on many a cold/rainy afternoon.......and no one has ever said no (except G, who, for some incomprehensible reason, dislikes tea !). Whether it's 2 pm or 2 am, chai is the perfect background for whatever you're doing. 

It was my most essential tool in my working days. Without the 4 cups a day, I just wouldn't function. Now that I don't need that level of focus any more, I'm down to 1-2 cups a day. But I put in much more effort into that one cup, and it satisfies so much more than those 4 hurriedly made, dunk-teabag-add-milk-back-to-work cups.

I'm of the old-fashioned, brewing-tea-in-a-pan-for-eternity school of thought; teabags seem like the poor cousins of the mighty loose-leaf. Here in the US, there's very few options for people like me - it's either make do with that Starbucks disaster called "Chai Tea Latte" (a cacophony of cinnamon, nutmeg and syrup that tastes less like tea and more like hipster juice) or stay at home and brew the darn cup yourself. 

Now, I love the results of the brewing; I'm just not very fond of the work it requires. The  million dirty utensils that are left behind in the wake of that perfect cup sometimes, sometimes, make it seem not worth it. 

Which is where this genius invention steps in to save the day !!! The tea mesh ball that eliminates the need for a sieve, and the pot stays clean !! Discovered this in a tiny shop in SF Chinatown.........for $2. 

So far, it's worked well - tea leaves stayed in, expanded well, and no pot scrubbing ! I might even go up to brewing twice a day. Aaaaaaaaaaah. 

What's your take on tea ? Brewed, teabag or none at all ? How many cups a day ? Cinnamon and nutmeg, or plain Tata/Red Label ?