Saturday, September 19, 2009

Lamb Biryani

Everybody around me seems to be big on lamb and quite frankly I don't get it. For the longest time I couldn't even tell the difference between that and beef. Even now if you were to put a plate of each in front of me, the only way I could tell them apart is that lamb is just a bit "gamier", read stinkier, than beef. But since eating alone is among the few things I dislike more than a root canal, I had to cater to the lamb crazies around me with this Biryani. Now Biryani quite simply put (and because I'm not a purist) is just curry mixed with some fragrant rice. Hyderabad, the place my mother's from, is known for its special take on Biryani. I never understood the hype about this either till my cousin took me out to try some 3 years ago. Wow! I really don't know what they do differently, but the meat (chicken in my case) is super tender, spicy but not overly and it has just the right amount of heat that adds flavor without searing your tastebuds and clearing your sinuses (searing and clearing, ha, biryani poetry!). My recipe although pretty good, just does not come close to the Hyderabadi yardstick. I don't even bother trying to mimick it, I'll just let the experts do what they do best and hope that someday (if and) when I go back my cousin will take me there.

Now if I'm making this recipe on weeknights I just use an entire pack of the store bought biryani masala (I like Shaan). That really wasn't my plan this time around, but I caved into pressure at the last minute and threw in a tablespoon of the store bought stuff. I don't think it was necessary or made a big difference but I was less nervous that it was there. This biryani is spicy and a definite tear jerker just like my favorite movie of all time, The NoteBook. At the risk of overusing youtube's embed option (this phase too shall pass!), here's a compilation of all the great scenes to Chantal Kreviazuk's perfect song, Feels like home.


1.2 lbs of lamb cubed (substitute chicken if you prefer)
2 bay leaves
2- 2 inch sticks of cinnamon
4 star anise
1 tbsp chilli powder
1/4 tbsp corriander powder
1/4 tbsp cumin powder
1 tbsp biryani masala (optional)
2 large onions, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
2 potatoes cubed large
2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tsp turmeric
1 lime cut into thin slices
Crispy fried onions, raisins, toasted cashew nuts and cilantro for garnish
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp of salt (or to taste)

For rice:
3 cups of Basmati rice (you want specifically Basmati, a different variety could get mushy)
7 cups of water
1 bay leaf
2 inch cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 200F.
Take a large oven proof dish (something like a stock pot or dutch oven). Add bay leaves, cinnamon, anise. Let cook for a few seconds. Add onions and tomatoes and all the spice powders. Let cook for till the onions and tomatoes become this nice brown mush. Add the meat. On another burner and in another big pot (doesnt have to be oven proof) bring rice, bay leaf, cinnamon and star anise to boil with the water. The rice should only partially be cooked, ie, it should have elongated but if you bite into a grain there should still be powdery bits in the middle. The meat in the other pot should turn opaque (this usually happens at the same time as the rice). Add potatoes and lime slices to the meat and stir for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat from the meat. Drain rice and layer over the meat. Cover the pot with aluminium foil, make sure its well sealed before putting on the lid and placing the pot in the oven. Its nice to leave it in the oven for about an hour or longer with a minimum of half an hour. Take pot out of the oven, unseal and garnish with cilantro, fried onions, cashews and raisins (the last two fried in ghee is super!). Gently mix from bottom up to get the curry and rice mixed uniformly (well, semi-uniform is also ok).

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pastrami french dip- the best sandwich EVER

Lately its been pretty cloudy here in Baltimore with the occasional shower here and there. Now, I love the sun, ice cream, swimming and basically all things summer related just as much as the other person. But lately I've found it terribly comforting after a long wet day at work to run inside a nice warm home and snuggle in front of the TV in cozy wooly p.j's. It also helps being kept company with notably the best sandwich ever known to man.

Theres something primal about eating with your hands- you grab onto your food and with great dexterity and skill, shove it into your mouth. Not too different than the average caveman back in the day-- have to say average 'cos those guys on the Geico commercials seem way too refined to fall into this category. Anyways, back to the food...ahh yes the humble sandwich- in all its simple, versatile and portable glory theres nothing quite as satisfying as a warm toasty, oh-so-slightly-spiced, cheesy sandwich dunked in a pool of herby oniony soupy goodness. The latter of course being the "au-jus" or dip part of the creation. Its just the perfect companion to a weekday blockbuster treat, in this case, it was Will Smith's "Seven Pounds". Its a good thing that sandwich was wiped out waaay before the serious part began, the only thing I wanted near me at that point was a box of tissues. Seriously, as if finding that perfect someone that you got along with and loved wasnt hard enough, you have to complicate things by seeing and feeling the presence of that person knowing full well that the mistakes you made would keep you apart forever because it was the right thing to do! SAD, so depressingly sad, I was bawling like no one's business during and after the movie. It was a great movie though, not the kind I would ever want to see again but nice.

Sorry, sorry didnt mean to depress you after that movie review, but maybe I can cheer you up with the recipe for an amazing sandwich and a beautiful, hilarious (look at the 60 yr old guy fake a muscle pull while dancing with a much younger woman) Telugu remixed song.

Here's the recipe:

For dip
1 red onion sliced
1/2 can of beef broth
A stem of fresh thyme

Fry onions and thyme in a little bit of vegetable oil for about 10 minutes on medium heat till soft and light brown. Take out half of the cooked onions and reserve for sandwich. Add beef broth and bring to a boil. Adjust salt and serve hot with sandwich.

For 1 Sandwich
2 slices pumpernickle bread
4 deli slices of pastrami (beef/turkey, your choice)
a handful of arugula
A slice of swiss cheese (I used grated Gruyere, my current fave)
A handful of caramelized onions
1/2 tbsp of horseradish sauce
1/2 tbsp of butter for toasting on pan.

Spread horseradish sauce on both slices of bread, layer on meat, arugula, onion and cheese. Spread butter on the slice of sandwich that faces up, invert that side onto a pan thats on medium high heat. Let it sizzle for about 20 seconds, in the meanwhile butter the other side of the sandwich that should be facing upwards on the pan. Flip sandwich, toast for another 20 seconds and serve with dip.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

R for a PERL nut

So for days I've been trying to make sense of R. I've been told by many people that although the learning curve is "steep" its very useful in the "long run". B.S.

The learning curve wouldnt be that steep if there was some decent documentation with simple instructions. After about 3 weeks, I've finally figured out how to generate a simple scatterplot. Even perl with its primitive GD and chart options wouldnt have taken longer than 4 hours to figure out. What a waste of time! But I guess in the "long run" figuring out how to actually do it maybe useful.

I thought I'd just post what I'd done for the benefit anyone else in a similar predicament.

1. Start R client by typing : R
2. read in tab delimited file, substitute , I just needed the first 39K rows hence nrow, you have to read the function into a variable (my case 'd') otherwise it prints to stdout, ie, the screen:
d=read.table ('',sep='\t',nrow=39450)
3. Check if all rows read in using (remember d is your variable):
4. If your file doesnt have headers as is the case with mine, your columns will be called V1, V2, V3, etc. To generate a scatterplot (this is the default graph type in R):
plot (d$V3,d$V2)
remember d is the variable for the matrix of values, you prefix with $ to access any of the columns. I wanted V3 on the x axis , so I specified that first.
5. Quit from R:
6. You should be asked if you wanted to save images from your session say yes.
7. File is stored by default under R.pdf

I haven't figured out how you specify an output file name or if theres an easy way to generate and concatenate multiple plots. But hey, there should always be a start! Even if its with P-I-T-A "R" (just my personal sentiment, for now at least).