In the Frig – Marinara Sauce (Recipe)

July 12, 2010 3 comments
marinara sauce

Marinara Sauce

If you read my last recipe post, you will see that I have a slight obsession with tomatoes! This delicious fruit (yes, if you didn’t know, tomatoes are a fruit!) is gorgeous, juicy and the color red I ache to duplicate on shoes and clothing.   I eat them constantly in Caprese Salads, with my homegrown fresh basil and balsamic, in juices, on sandwiches and as late nite snacks. When I came across the following Cooking Light recipe, I had to try it! (I searched online for this recipe, but I cannot locate it on the Cooking Light website).

So, what does Marinara mean? Some say it means garlic, tomatoes and herbs. But that to me speaks more of the elements versus the meaning. Marinara actually means “of the sea.” Marinara means “of the sea”, not because it has seafood, but because it was made by sailors who had no meat or refrigeration. So there you go! No matter which definition you subscribe to, you must try this delicious recipe. It’s a tomato-lovers dream and friendly for the vegetarian!

TIPS AND MODIFICATIONS

  1. Do your prep! Make sure you take the time to do all chopping and preparation before you begin cooking. This is a basic of cooking, right? However, because this recipe is so simple, it’s easy to just chop as you go. Don’t do it. I burned my garlic once by not taking a few extra minutes to chop my tomatoes. So take the time.
  2. Garlic! I love garlic! So I add a lot more than the recipe calls for – I add at least 3 cloves, sometimes 4 cloves!
  3. Some like it hot! I like a little heat, so I add some red pepper flake. Since my husband doesn’t particularly care for meatless sauce, I don’t measure the flake out, I just shake it in. It gives the sauce a little punch!
  4. For your Health: I am sure any Italian out there will scold me for this! I apologize up front, but I try to look for ways to eat a little healthier. I use 100% Whole Wheat Spaghetti by De Cecco! You will notice a bit of a difference in texture, but I don’t think enough to be off-putting! Plus, you really don’t notice it once you ladle on this bright tomatoe-y sauce! It’s worth a try!
  5. Tomatoes! The recipe calls for 6 pounds of coarsely chopped peeled tomatoes. In the summer, you can find lovely tomatoes at your Farmer’s Market that would be gorgeous in this sauce. However, the recipe also shares that you can substitute a 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes, chopped and undrained, a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes, undrained, 3 tablespoons of tomato paste and a teaspoon of sugar. I have always made it this way and it’s very good. But in the summer, try to use fresh tomatoes!

Bon Appetit!

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
6 pounds coarsely chopped peeled tomato (about 6 cups)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
8 cups hot cooked spaghetti (about 1 pound uncooked pasta)

Directions
Heat oil in a large suacepan over medium heat. Add garlic, cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add tomato, salt and pepper, bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in basil and parsely, and cook 1 minute. Serve over pasta. Yields about 6 servings (serving size: 1 up sauce and 1 12/ cups pasta).

In the frig – Gazpacho (Recipe)

April 24, 2010 Leave a comment

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Gazpacho (Modified from original recipe by Alton Brown)

Gazpacho

Savory Gazpacho

 My first real experience with Gazpacho was on the lovely island of St. Barthelemy in the Caribbean. My husband and I were on vacation, having lunch at our hotel Le Guanahani. The sky was a beautiful blue, there was a slight breeze, but man, it was HOT! Just the idea of ordering a cheeseburger and fries made me feel bloated. I noticed Gazpacho on the menu. Hmmm…tomatoes, cucumber, served cold – sounded refreshing. It was on that vacation that I fell in love with gazpacho.

I adore tomatoes, eat them almost every day as snacks, as my side veggie for dinner and or add them into scrambled eggs, cottage cheese or sandwiches. Take juicy lycopene-rich tomatoes and toss them with crunchy cucumber and red pepper, jalapenos and it’s my idea of a healthful, satisfying side or meal. When you  make this gazpacho, make sure you chill overnight (so the flavors fuse together) use sharp knives and plenty of time. 

  •  Sharp knives because you will be chopping, dicing and slicing. Please folks, don’t use a dull knife and use an appropriate knife. You wouldn’t use a spoon to cut a steak, so don’t use a butter knife to slice your tomatoes!
  • This recipe takes time! It’s by no means hard, but it’s a lot of work – for me anyway, I am not a professional. Mise en place your veggies (French culinary term for put in place). This means do all the chopping first before you begin assembling. I find it very difficult to try to quick boil the tomatoes and chop while grabbing things from the frig. So get everything chopped and measured, then assemble. Trust me, you will need to be organized otherwise you will have gazpacho in places you would never imagine!

Now usually when I have gazpacho, I will either just take a big bowl for lunch or perhaps serve it as an appetizer before dinner. You can incorporate a little warm bite by serving the gazpacho with a prosciutto, cheese and arugula panini (grill if you do not have a panini press).  When serving guests, spoon the gazpacho into a martini glass or small, short glass, garnish with lime wedge, or a small dice of jalapeno or cilantro or basil. I am no chef, but the photo above was something I did! So don’t be afraid and be creative!   

The recipe I use is from Alton Brown (Good Eats, FoodTV).  I modify ever so slightly.
  •  Garlic: I love garlic, so I double. And if I have a baby clove of garlic hanging around, sometimes I will add three.
  • No Basil: I also do not use basil. I love basil – it’s a wonderful herb and you can use it in sweet and savory items. I do not add it because I prefer that cumin “latin” taste. Some people substitute cilantro for the basil.
  • Jalapenos: Now, I am not consistent when it comes to the addition of heat. It depends on my mood. Sometimes I want more heat – so I will add a Serrano chile. A Serrano will definitely add heat. If the gazpacho is just for me to enjoy, I add it. If you are having friends over, it’s likely a better idea to use the jalapeno. Some people will tell you they like spicy food. If those people travel abroad a great deal or have a penchant for spicy foods (Thai, Indian, etc), you may get away with a Serrano. But by and large when someone says I like spicy, they mean American-style spicy. (If you notice, when you order at a Thai place you can get mild, medium, hot or Thai hot…yeah, Thai hot is SMOKIN’ HOT).
  • Toasted cumin: I do not toast the cumin. Alton loves to toast and roast. I am lazy, so I do not. If you want to toast the cumin, I think it will really release even more of the cumin flavor.
  • SEED THE CUCUMBER: You must do this. If you take the lazy approach, your gazpacho will be watery.

While I do make some modifications, I follow the directions to the “T”. I highly recommend doing the quick boil of the tomato

Enjoy this recipe. Share with friends. If you want to learn more about gazpacho, Google the term or view the wiki.  Find the original recipe at http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/gazpacho-recipe/index.html)  
  •  1 1/2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • Tomato juice
  • 1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chiffonade

 Directions

Fill a 6-quart pot halfway full of water, set over high heat and bring to a boil. Make an X with a paring knife on the bottom of the tomatoes. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water for 15 seconds, remove and transfer to an ice bath and allow to cool until able to handle, approximately 1 minute. Remove and pat dry. Peel, core and seed the tomatoes. When seeding the tomatoes, place the seeds and pulp into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl in order to catch the juice. Press as much of the juice through as possible and then add enough bottled tomato juice to bring the total to 1 cup. Place the tomatoes and juice into a large mixing bowl. Add the cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, jalapeno, garlic clove, olive oil, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, cumin, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Transfer 1 1/2 cups of the mixture to a blender and puree for 15 to 20 seconds on high speed. Return the pureed mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Cover and chill for 2 hours and up to overnight. Serve with chiffonade of basil.  

  

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In the Frig – Awesome Slow Cooker Pot Roast (Recipe)

December 21, 2009 1 comment

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Awesome Slow Cooker Pot Roast
(Modified from the original recipe found on allrecipes.com)

Awesome Slow Cooker Pot Roast

 Whenever my husband says “I think we will have pot roast tonite” I get so excited. I love how the house smells all day. It starts out as just a fragrance, but by the end of the day, it’s a full-on assault of the senses. The process starts with my hubby rolling out of the bed on Sunday morning announcing, “it’s time to make the roast.” On this particular morning, he had leftover bacon grease from breakfast from the day before (Nueske’s bacon and homemade blueberry pancakes!), so he flours, salts and peppers the beef (5 1/2 lbs of pot roast) then sears the roast in the bacon fat in a skillet (don’t use  a non-stick skillet – if you do, you won’t get a good sear).

Once the meat is seared, he puts the meat into the crock pot, then deglazes the skillet with beef broth to get that delicious meat fond and bacon fat.  He adds this to the crock pot as well. A helpful hint: use a crock pot bag.  Clean-up is much easier if you use a crock pot bag. Next he adds two cans of mushroom soup. Now, the recipe on allrecipes.com uses two cans of cream of mushroom. The hubby has modified the recipe and added a can of cream of mushroom and a can of golden mushroom. It’s really good and has a gorgeous color and flavor. However, if you prefer cream of mushroom or cannot find golden mushroom, never fear. Two cans of cream of mushroom soup will still delicious.

The other ingredients include:

  • a one ounce package of dry onion soup mix,
  • 1 1/4 cup of beef broth,
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 medium-sized onion.

 What’s next? Cook on a low setting for about 10 hours. Yes, I know, sounds like a long time, right? It is, especially as the aroma starts really developing and permeating the house. You can cook on the high setting for about 3 to 5 hours, depending on your crock pot.  If you go for the low and slow option, then make this recipe on a Sunday morning or a day where you can let it cook all day. Of course, if you cook it on a weekend or a day off, then you can go into and dip your spoon into the toffee-colored creamy goodness. My hubby ran off quickly to the store to pick up rolls to sop up the gravy. The roast had been cooking about 9 hours at this point. As soon as he left, I ran in, grabbed a tablespoon and slurped three healthy spoonfuls of gravy! It was so good! And I think the “sneaking in” part made it taste even better!

Serve this lovely goodness with mashed potatoes. If you are really into homemade mashed potatoes, then have at it. If not, I highly recommend Bob Evan’s Mashed Potatoes. They taste really good, like your Mom’s mashed potatoes (or not if your mom was not such a great cook), and they are quick. You can heat them up in a pan if you like or throw them in the microwave.

 If you want to get your veggies in, serve with some green beans. My favorite way to eat green beans is to snap the ends of the beans, throw into a skillet and toss with olive oil, two cloves of garlic, salt and pepper. You don’t have to cook them for long, just enough time for them to get a little soft. You want the crunch to still be in the bean. If you are not a bean person, perhaps some steamed broccoli or roasted carrots (a little garlic, a little olive oil, roast in a pan in the oven).

This Awesome Slow Cooker Pot Roast is so good and makes for great leftovers (depending on the number of folks you are feeding). The gravy is out-of-sight and you will find that you cannot help but take a few spoonfuls of gravy for yourself right before you toss out the crock pot liners! You can find the original recipe for Awesome Slow Cooker Pot Roast at http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Awesome-Slow-Cooker-Pot-Roast/Detail.aspx. Enjoy and Bon Appetit!

In the Frig – On Time Seafood

December 21, 2009 1 comment

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 Dinner at On Time Seafood

On Time Seafood

On Time Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon

With so many Chinese restaurants in Indianapolis, it’s hard to get excited about going out for Chinese.  Most have the same dishes which are too greasy and the same large and intimidating menu. Not that there aren’t many good ones, but there are so many that it’s more like deciding on which McDonald’s to go to (usually you settle on the one closest to you or with the quickest drive thru service). When my husband suggested we check out On Time Seafood, I was indifferent, but hungry enough to go.  It was a great decision as it was awesome!

From the tank to the plate!

From the outside, the restaurant looks fairly unassuming. However, upon entering, it’s a very large restaurant. It has that very “new tenant” look – everything polished and fresh. Flat screen TVs on the wall, contemporary lighting above the tables, but what stood out most was the fish tanks in the back of the restaurant by the kitchen.  Should you so choose,  your dinner will be plucked from the tank and prepared fresh! For those of you who feel slightly bad about the taking of a life of a fish, avert your eyes and focus on the menu. While you can find several of the Chinese dinner standards, there are some very interesting dishes, like whole cooked fish and sea squirts. I began to feel excited about dinner.  As always, my husband and I – growing hungrier by the minute – over-ordered. The waitress seemed genuinely surprised at our order: Hot and Sour soup, crispy duck and Whole Fish in Black Bean Sauce. I wasn’t sure why this sounded like a lot – until the first course arrived: Hot and Sour Soup.

Giant Bowl of Hot and Sour Soup
First, let me say that this hot and sour soup is HUGE! Don’t let the photo fool you, this is a big ole bowl! I think four people could easily share this bowl of hot and sour.  No wonder the waitress looked at us like we were crazy.  However, if there are only two of you are feeling stingy and want left-overs, this hot and sour will feed you and dim sum (Ha..and then some I mean!). The soup is amazing. The flavors of the mushroom, soy, broth – it’s exquisite. Dip in your spoon and the soup will cling to the spoon. It has a gorgeous viscosity. And that wonderful hot bite at the end. It’s not too spicy, it’s just that right heat. This to me is a must have after a long cold day fighting holiday traffic.  Drop in, throw off your coat and order some of this soup. It’s the remedy for your soul!

Crispy Duck - A Feast for the Eyes and Stomach

Crispy Duck is Crazy Good!

I think the photo of the crispy duck above is absolutely gorgeous, but I will tell you, it doesn’t do the crispy duck justice! OMG, it’s crazy good. It is indeed crispy and it was cooked to absolute perfection. The duck was tender and sweet, the coating was awesome.  If you have not had duck, there’s no real way for me to explain the flavor. It doesn’t taste like chicken, or turkey or lamb (someone told me once they thought duck tasted like lamb – quite odd). It’s a dark meat with a rich flavor. It’s phenomenal. If you go to On Time Seafood,  order this dish! I did have a bit of a challenge eating the crispy duck with the chopsticks. I am used to just grabbing little knuckles of sushi or rolls – and the crispy duck, because it’s in larger slices – really did confound me for a while.  But don’t let your chopstick skills, or lack thereof, stop you from ordering this dish. It’s incredible!

I Can’t Believe We Ate the Whole Thing

Delicious Whole Fish

One moment our fish was swimming in the tank, the next moment it was swimming in black bean sauce!  When the waitress brought out the fish, it was like “ooooooo…” I swear, I had to look around to see if there was a studio audience nearby. It was a beautiful thing to behold. The smell was absolutely divine. Now, I apologize to my readers up front – I don’t remember what fish it was. Although it’s only been a couple of weeks ago since we dined at On Time, I have forgotten the fish and cannot locate the paper where I wrote it down. Suffice it is to say though, the fish was excellent. Even though the fish was slathered in black bean sauce, the skin was still crispy. And the flesh was tender and moist. A fantastic flavor. Now, the challenge with eating whole fish is the bones. You will need to take your time when eating this fish. This is where you will need to have fairly decent chopstick skills or no shame in using a fork!  The only critique I have regarding the fish is that there was a little too much black bean sauce. You could still taste the fish, don’t get me wrong. But there was so much sauce that when you grabbed bites of the fish, sauce would slosh out onto the table. It was still quite delicious though and I am glad we ordered the whole fish. We had never had a whole fish before and it was quite tasty.

The Eyes Have It – and So Did We!
I apologize for not having a photo of this culinary adventure, but it was a last minute decision.  I have seen Anthony Bourdain (Travel Channel, No Reservations) and Andrew Zimmern (Travel Channel, Bizarre Foods) eat eyeballs and I can honestly say I have been quite grossed out. Years ago I saw an episode of Lonely Planet where a traveller ate an eyeball and I thought I did that whole gagging thing you did as a kid when your mom tried to feed you that asparagus cooked in a Green Giant bag. AACCK!! But I decided that if I was really going to call myself a Foodie or a culinary adventurer, I had to eat the eye. I picked it out with my chopsticks – which was quite a task. They are a little wobbly and gelantinous so it was hard for me to keep it firmly between the chopsticks. My husband was watching me intently and did do a bit of that retch/gagging thing. Then I took a deep breath and popped it in my mouth. It melted away quite easy. It did have a bit of a squish, but you know what ? It was not bad…really. Now I don’t plan to eat eyeballs on a daily basis, and I won’t say they are absolutely delicious, but they are not bad. If you have an adventurous spirit, go ahead and try an eyeball. It’s a great way to conquer food fears and makes for a great story to tell at parties! And on blogs!

We also tried the fish cheeks, something else the Zimmerns of the world have added to their digestive lists. Honestly, it is just fish meat- the cheek has a little more texture than the rest of the fish flesh, but it has a good fish flavor. So if you can’t bring yourself to eat the eyeball, try the cheeks! Everyone likes a little cheek!

What was the Damage?
With the three dishes we selected – plus our non-alcoholic beverages – the bill was between $40-$50. Not bad for a whole fish and duck. The service was good. The waitresses were a little aloof, but once they saw our enthusiasm for our meals, they warmed up and encouraged us to return for dim sum.

How do you get there?
Well, there’s a map feature at the top of this page that will give you easy directions. But to give you an idea, it’s at the bottom of the ramp of 65 North when you take the 38th street exit, before you get to Lafayette Road.  No matter where you live, be adventurous and get off your beaten path and get to On Time Seafood!

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In the Frig – Saigon Restaurant

November 19, 2009 3 comments

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Dinner at Saigon Restaurant
3103 Lafayette Rd
Indianapolis, IN 46222-1303
(317) 927-7270

Saigon Restaurant

Saigon Restaurant

Several years ago in my pre-foodie “I only like food that I grew up with” phase, a friend of mine took me to a little Vietnamese restaurant. I was so intimidated that I immediately drew the conclusion that I wouldn’t like it.  And to be honest, I held firm in that belief for a long time. Of course, after a meal at Saigon Restaurant, I realized how much I have missed.

Now, I readily admit that I was a little fearful – some memories die hard - when we firmly decided that Saigon Restaurant was the dinner destination. In fact, I considered opting out of Saigon Restaurant in preference of something more familiar. But I told myself, “Okay  FoodieGal, watcher of Bizarre Foods, advocate for culinary adventure, take your own advice!”  As soon as we walked into the restaurant, encountering the fragrance of broth and vegetables,  I was so glad I listened to that voice in my head (as opposed to the other voices – shhh, don’t tell Sybil – she can be so judgemental). 

We were immediately seated and handed menus. Your first temptation is to open the massive menu, but I encourage you to stop and observe your fellow diners and environment. What I noticed is that Saigon Restaurant was not a well-kept secret. The diversity of diners was amazing: the young and the more mature (that means me and the hubby), Asian, Caucasian, families, college students (hey you can be a college student and not be as young), men and women. The restaurant was bustling, the staff running in-and-out of doors, scurrying to tables serving steaming soupy concoctions. It was not loud, but buzzing with low pleasant conversation, laughter, slurps and the clinks of chopsticks against bowls. It was warm, well-lit (like your home when you have friends over for beer and chili) and comforting – like your favorite neighborhood restaurant.

Ok, To the Menu
Alright, the romance came out in me for a moment. The menu was large. I wish I had good photos to share with you. But as I said, it was like home (see comment above) and I have an iPhone with no Flash (yoo-hoo, Apple, Flash please), so all of my photos of the menu are a little distorted. That said, I suggest that if you have some place to be, like a movie, build in extra time so you can give some love to the menu.

Rocket Shrimp at Saigon Restaurant Indianapolis

Rocket Shrimp - Saigon Restaurant

Being newbies, we were not sure what to order, and I was unwilling to give up that I was a rookie. So we  just started perusing the menu. We settled on items that just looked tasty.  In the absence of knowledge of Vietnamese, we didn’t want to order something a gringo would order. My hubby and I decided upon Rocket Shrimp (ok, so a little gringo-ish, but come on, ROCKET shrimp, sound cool).  For a beverage, I ordered a Soda Chanh, described on the menu as Lime and Soda Water – sounded refreshing. The hubs ordered a beer the waiter swore was Vietnamese, “33 Export.” It’s a lager, much better than Budweiser but not quite as hoppy as Stella Artois. The beer was good, the Soda Chanh was lip-puckeringly sweet. Well, for me anyway. I don’t really enjoy sweet drinks – and it was apparent that there was much more going on here than just lime and soda water. SUGAR baby, the real deal.

The Rocket Shrimps (known as Tom Hoa Tien) were very good. You will not go “wow, what an amazingly different exotic taste” – but they are quite good. They are large shrimp wrapped in a spring roll coating. They are served on sticks – the skin is perfectly crispy – not greasy at all. The shrimp tasted like shrimp – not an overcooked seafood-like substance. And HOT! Very temperature hot. They were served with savory spicy dipping sauce – basically fish sauce and a little sriracha (peppery sauce). It’s not too spicy, really, trust me. My hubby doesn’t care for a lot of heat and he enjoyed the sauce.  The rocket shrimp were quite good – the sauce is a must.

ALERT FOR VEGETARIANS AND VEGANS. This is a great spot if you are vegetarian or vegan. A section of their menu is designated for vegans and vegetarians. You will find lovely things to eat here. Not just dishes sans the meat, but real culinary creations meant to be enjoyed without meat and dairy.

Vietnamese Pancake at Saigon Restaurant in Indianapolis

Vietnamese Pancake (Banh Xeo) at Saigon Restaurant

The Mains
Yes as usual, the eyes are bigger than the stomach. We ordered the Vietnamese Pancake (Banh Xeo - no, I cannot do the pronunciation – look it up), Pho Dac Biet (I do know Pho – it is pronounced “fuh” – for the adult minds, subtract the “c” and the “k” and you got it), and the Ca Kho To (size small).

FoodieGal Educational Moment:

  • Vietnamese pancake: a crispy rice pancake filled with pork, shrimp and bean sprouts. It’s huge – and not at all like a pancake but more like an omelet. It’s served with a cool dipping sauce which is fish sauce diluted with water. Quite tasty and healthful. Please note it’s huge, so don’t order as a side.
  • Pho: a Vietnamese beef and noodle soup.
  • Ca Kho To:  catfish in a clay pot. Yes, it sounds like some quirky Talking Heads cover band that also covers songs from the White Stripes. Slow roasted catfish in sauce.
Let’s Start with Pho
Pho Dac Biet, Saigon Restaurant Indianapolis

Pho Dac Biet (Vietnamese Noodle and Beef Soup)

The Pho Dac Biet has sliced beef, flank, fat brisket, and tripe. The broth was savory and beefy, layered in was the taste of the cilantro.  I’ll tell you culinary reader, I think the search is over for hangover cures! We didn’t have hangovers, but this gorgeous rice noodle soup that makes you feel warm and safe – like you were being cradled in the arms of a forgiving and loving God (or higher power, or fill in the blank ____).  Seriously, you want to eat this in your jams, with your old woobie blanket over your feet with Star Trek reruns on the tube (with Captain Kirk – none of that Next Generation stuff).

TRIPE! Did you say TRIPE FoodieGal?

Tripe in Pho Dac Biet

A bite of Tripe in Pho

I did say tripe.!And yes, it is from the cow’s stomach. And yes, it’s bumpy and chewy in texture. BUT, don’t let that scare you…honestly. I grew up eating cubed steaks, chili with macaroni (come on midwesterns, you know what I am talking about), and fried green tomatoes. Textures are nothing new to us. The tripe actually picks up the flavor of the broth, veggies and meat, so try a bite. It is a bit of a textural experience, but take one bite. You will discover the flavor is not off-putting, only the texture. You might actually like it. Tell the tale, be adventurous!

Ca Kho To at Saigon Restaurant in Indianapolis

Ca Kho To - Catfish in a Claypot

This dish is amazing. When I ordered, the waiter said “it’s fishy, is that okay?” One might ask why you would have to ask the question, because after all, it is fish. I am still perplexed because to me, it was fishy in the way you would expect…plus a little more.  The clay pot had big chunks of tender catfish in a rich brown sauce. It was slightly bubbling in the clay pot and had this lovely “gravy” smell.  Now fish sauce is salty and it is fishy. But I did not find the sauce to be overpowering. It’s not for the faint of heart, but I found this dish to be as satisfying as my mom’s Sunday roast.

BUT WATCH OUT FOR THE BONES!  Growing up in the midwest, catfish was summertime fare. The bones are small. But I encountered some rather thick bones in my dish.  I don’t know what these catfish ate, but the bones I pulled out were good-sized. Just be careful if you order this dish. Use your chopsticks, if you can, and take care to identify the bones. Take your time and savor and you will be fine.

The Deep Fulfilled Sigh and the Bill
I was so pleasantly full. I went in with trepidation, I left as a convert. The key to me is to savor. Be hungry, but don’t shovel it in like you would mac-n-cheese during a football game. Take bites, sit back and make sure to take deep breaths so you actually taste the food. BREATHE.

We were at Saigon Restaurant for almost 1.5 hours. We had a sugary lime soda, beer, an appetizer and three mains – and with tip, it was about $45.  We will go back! We have a lot of food to enjoy, but seriously, this is a must return. Maybe on New Year’s Day! :-)

Where’s this Place At?
Saigon Restaurant is in strip mall on the westside. It’s neighbors include GuateLinda Restaurant (Mexican/Guatemalan) and a Cairo Cafe.  As always, Google map, Garmin or Tom-Tom the destination. It’s south of 38th street on Lafayette Road. Be adventurous, whether you are hungry for something different or have a hangover, get off your couch, off your beaten path and try Saigon Restaurant! It’s worth the trip!

In the Frig – Caribbean Cravings

November 18, 2009 1 comment

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Dinner at Caribbean Cravings
4632 N. Post Road
Indianapolis, IN 46226
(317) 897-4241
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Caribbean Cravings Restaurant on Linda's Refrigerator Wall at Caribbean Craving in Indianapolis

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I was chatting with a friend the other day and she was lamenting November:  bare trees, cloudy days and early dark evenings! By the end of the conversation, I was ready for an escape to a tropical destination. However, since I don’t own a jet, I opted instead for a trip to the eastside of Indy to Caribbean Cravings!

Caribbean Cravings is a new Puerto Rican restaurant, only open for four weeks, on the eastside of town.  If your Garmin or Tom-Tom is not programmed or you are not direction-savvy, you could drive right past it.  It’s quite unassuming, a small little place next to a barbershop. (Muy pequeno - meaning very small in Spanish – sorry I must demonstrate the little spanish I know!)  Caribbean Cravings is in a small dimly lit strip mall across the street from another small strip mall. 

Inside, the theme of “pequeno” continues – it has around 6-7 tables, a couple tables will seat 5 or 6.  There’s nothing fancy here – plastic tablecloths, silver napkin dispensers, salt, pepper and hot sauce.  The main wall of the restaurant is adorned with a large mural of a tropical paradise – like an image you might see on those “Island” Calendars.  There are no hostesses nor staff that seat you – and there are no big plastic menus with Margaritaville type views.  When you walk into this place, you are walking right into the line and ordering from a white board or a paper sign on the wall.  Not fancy enough for you? That’s ok, because what it may lack in that cheesy ambience you see in most tropical-themed restaurants, it makes up for in FOOD LOVE!!!

At first I was a little intimidated to order because there were no explanations of the offerings. The white board announced “Lunch Special” and of course, it was not lunchtime.  On the line, the chef was serving beans, rice and pork chops, but I saw nothing like this on the menu ( I assume it was the lunch special). A smaller menu/white board announced Mofongo  – con carne or camarones (meat or shrimp) and Flan. And the paper menu (pasted on the smaller white board) listed Alcapurrias, Pastelillos, Tostones (8) and Amarillos (10) – no explanations. You can either be really adventurous and order blind or use this cheat sheet:

  • alcapurrias -  deep fried meat (fritter) shaped like a banana. I saw them deliver one to a table and I thought perhaps it was a plantain. Nope! Deep-fried meat
  • pastelillos – like meat pockets – coin purses with yummy goodness. They may look like ‘Hot Pockets’ but I am bettin’ they don’t taste like ‘em.
  • tostones - plantains which are pressed into flat patties and baked
  • amarillos - plantains fried to golden-brown – crispy on the outside, tender on the inside

I finally gave up and just ordered “what the other person had with the rice, beans and meat.” My hubby ordered the Mofongo con carne (which was pork). We were warned it would take a little longer to cook the Mofongo. This is always encouraging because it means your food is cooked to order!

 
Pork Special at Caribbean Cravings 
El Cuerdo Especial
After about 25 minutes, dinner was served. A young man first brought out my dinner, piping hot and …the smell was delightful. My dinner included two thinly sliced “pork chops,” rice and beans. Wow, it was so delicious! Right now, even after a lovely dinner of homemade tortilla soup, my stomach still rumbles at the olfactory memory of that lovely ham-my smell.  The chops were deliciously salty and perfectly tender and chewy at the same time.  They were out of sight!

Now for the beans! Savory, saucy, spicy and incredibly good. I added a bit of Louisiana hot sauce and holy frijoles, these are holy! These had to be eaten at the last supper! I mean, good! I mixed a few forkfuls into the rice, then slid my fork into the pork. Crazy good. The only problem is you don’t get a lot of beans. If you really love beans, get an extra side of beans OR invite a friend along who won’t eat their’s! You’ll be glad you did.

 
Mofongo Dinner at Caribbean Cravings

Mofongo!
Before we go any further, let me assure you Mofongo is not a Puerto Rican boy band (that was Menudo, which consequently is a Mexican dish made with tripe. More on some other culinary adventure). Mofongo is a dish made from fried plantains, garlic, olive oil and chicharrones (pork cracklings). Some restaurants serve it with chicken broth. It’s served in a dough-like mound and, on this occasion, was served con carne (large chunks of pork in this case) and rice.  The mashed plantains give the Mofongo a starchy texture – like potato mash with gelatin.  It was not pliable enough to construct Devil’s Tower (get it, as in Close Encounters?) and had some give. The chunks of pork were deep-fried and thus had more texture – more “chew.” However, my hubby loved the intense pork flavor. A direct quote from my husband, “the Mofongo was good and I imagine if you grew up with it, it would be comfort food you would crave, but I liked your chops better!”

What about the Alcapurrias, FoodieGal?
We ordered the alcapurrias (deep fried meat fritters) for our appetizer, but the restaurant got a little busy, so we received them after dinner. I am not sure I care for the deep fried meat fritter. Likely because it was a little heavy after a big dinner. But definitely very savory and actually, after a few bites, my hubby grew to like the flavor.

Cheese Flan at Caribbean Cravings
Save Room for Dessert!

We were just finishing dinner when a young lady brought us some flan to sample. Ok, if this wasn’t served at the last supper, it was served at the one before. I readily admit that I am not a fan of the flan. I just don’t like that wobbly texture. But this flan was – in the words of Ned Flanders (The Simpsons) - Flan-diddly-doodly! The texture was dense, like cheesecake, but very light and mild with that caramel coating on the top. It was so incredibly good. I cooed, oohed and ahhhhed. It was almost like a scene out of “When Harry Met Sally.”  Incredible – you must save room! Even now, I remember that creamy texture. Ooooooo, give me a moment!

Upon hearing my sighs of delight, the chef appeared at our table (it’s a small place, you could hear everythng!) He explained how much he had doubled his cooking workload, the demands for rice and beans outlasting his supply! He shared some recipes and thanked us for stopping in. He was very warm and gave us his card “anytime,  you can call to check our specials or order ahead!”


What You Crave

My husband and I really enjoyed our experience at Caribbean Cravings. It was food cooked with love. I loved the simplicity, the family atmosphere (everyone was talking together, it felt like a family dinner with distant cousins…that speak spanish!) and the pork! Vegetarians, I love ya, but seriously, how can you not crave pork. It’s food of the Gods! The check came to about $25. Two dinners, three drinks (just soda) and alcapurrias.  If you don’t stop for cash, no worries, they accept credit cards! (Not sure about Amex though, so bring your VISA or MasterCard). Caribbean Cravings was worth the trip.  If you can’t make the trip to Puerto Rico, or if you are craving PORK,  be adventurous and sample the cuisine of Caribbean Cravings! Work yourself out of your macaroni and cheese groove and get your Caribbean groove on!


Navigating to Caribbean Cravings
The restaurant is located just south of Pendleton Pike on Post Road. If you are driving south on Post, it will be on your right. It’s a small place next to a Barber, and you might miss it. Plug the address into your Garmin and take a drive!

In the Frig – Ichiban’s Noodles and Sushi Restaurant

October 25, 2009 Leave a comment

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Dinner from Ichiban’s
8355 Bash St
Indianapolis, IN 46250
(317) 841-0484

ichiban sign

Ichiban Noodles on Urbanspoon 

It’s a blustery fall day and we want noodles! Not chicken and noodles, but noodles in a lovely asian broth. So out we headed to Ichiban.

Several years ago, after an extended visit to the annual New Year’s car show, hungry for sushi, we visited Ichiban. I remember it being small, but not as small as it was on this evening’s visit. It’s the size of 1/2 a house. It has a three-seat sushi bar when you walk in, and two very small dining areas. If you have more than 4 people in your party, you will likely run your waitress ragged.

We were seated quickly in the one of the dining areas. There were three waitresses working and all seemed to be bustling. I think there were 10 people in the place, maybe 12. But remember, it’s a small place, so they were hustling about. For such a small place, the menu was fairly big. Ichiban offers several appetizers – most you have likely seen in other Japanese restaurants in Indy. They had several entrees, noodle dishes, sashimi dinner, nigiri sushi dinners, and bento boxes. It seemed they had something for almost every taste.  If you like Japanese food. 

Ichiban also had a selection of rolls and sushi. If you are a sushi enthusiast and have been to Sakura, Ocean World or Naked Tchopstix (NT’s), you may be disappointed with their roll offerings. Ichiban offers a few rolls, spicy tuna, scallop, Bob’s roll, a soft shell crab roll and a few others as well as the typical sushi. But they do not offer an equivalent to NT’s playboy roll (to die for) or anything that resembled a rainbow roll (various fish wrapped around rice with avocado and Krab with a K). They keep it simple with a few rolls and sushi offerings.

Spicy sushi roll and Louis roll

For starters, we ordered the shumai, steamed dumplings filled with shrimp and served with ponzu sauce.  We also ordered a spicy tuna roll and a Louis Roll.  The spicy tuna roll was pretty good. It wasn’t at all spicy, but it was smooth and cut into perfect bite-sized pieces. A rookie with chopsticks will have no problems managing the spicy sushi rolls. The Louis Roll is tuna and tempura chips in a spicy mayo sauce and was also good.  If you have been to Ocean World or Sakura, it will almost remind you of the soft shell crab roll, sans the crab. The crunch of the tempura batter was nice, and you could taste tuna, but it was a little heavy on the spicy mayo sauce. By the way, this roll also was not spicy. I think ‘spicy’ refers to the preparation of the spices in mayo more than it means ‘hot.’

Shumai from Ichiban

Next on the list was the shumai. Now as dumplings go, I am a fan. Most times I have them fried and to be honest, you could probably dice up shoe leather, wrap it in dough and fry it and it would likely be tasty. However, these dumplings were steamed, which mean you actually taste something more than the “fry.” They were quite good. These little pearlescent dumplings were very delicate and pretty. One might expect to see these lovely little packages at a lady’s tea party.  They were a little hard to pick up with chopsticks as they wanted to slink out of the grip of my chopsticks. I finally gave up trying to show off my skills at the sticks, so I just pierced the dumpling with my stick and dunked it into the sweet ponzu sauce. WOW! Very nice. Again, very delicate, sweet but cooked perfectly. They were not doughy or too dense. Just light, mild and sweet. Without the sauce they are still very good, the texture of the dumpling against the flavor of the shrimp is very lovely. We gobbled them up quickly!

Noodles!
Ramen Shoyu  seafood udon

Within about 10 minutes of our appetizers, our noodle entrees arrived. (Ramen Shoyu on left, Seafood Udon on right). I do not think these pictures do the size of these bowls justice! These are big steaming bowls of noodles. When my waitress put my Udon in front of me, I sighed and said “No way I can eat all of this!” After my hubby received his Ramen Shoyu, I knew we could have split an order. But oh well, we’ll take one for the team, so we can share with you, the hungry inquisitive reader!

Noodle Knowledge for your Noggin’
Ok, short break to explain noodles. Ichiban serves three kinds of noodle dishes; ramen, udon and soba. The Ramen noodles are what most of us are used to seeing in packages, those thin stringy noodles. Udon noodles are thick white noodles made from wheat flour.  They have much more of a bite than ramen noodles. Then there are soba noodles. Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour and resemble spaghetti. The things you never knew about noodles! Now back to the food!

My seafood udon had a large scallop, shrimp, and fish in a very light, very slightly salty broth. It was not what I expected. I think when you order noodles and you see the big pieces of seafood and the vegetables, you expect something intense in seafood flavor. But it was not. It was very light on the palate. It was warm and brothy and I immediately thought “this is something one would have the morning after one to many martinis.’ The scallop was large but mild and had poached nicely in the broth. The fish was also very good. They used tilapia which is a very mild fish. It had also cooked quite nicely in the steaming broth. The shrimp however were a disappointment. Shrimp are so hard to cook. It takes very little to overcook shrimp. You can almost just show shrimp to a fire, grill or burner and they will cook. I don’t know if they put the shrimp in a little too early or if the broth just cooked them too quickly, but they were a rubbery. I am not sure if you can order uncooked shrimp, but if you can, perhaps you order a few cleaned raw shrimp and plop them in as you eat. I ate them because, well, they ARE shrimp, but I didn’t enjoy the texture. To kick up the intensity of the broth, I added some light soy and some chili pepper which ultimately gave my noodles the “umph” I felt they were missing.

My husband had the Ramen Shoyu with crispy fried pork. Shoyu is a broth with soy sauce, chicken stock, dashi (a Japanese soup stock) and sake. It is a very mild broth. The pork, surprisingly enough, was actually crispy. The ramen was thin and stringy and my hubby struggled for a while with his chopsticks and ladle. But, he finally conquered and slurped the noodles while grabbing bites of pork with the chopsticks. It had a different flavor than my dish, although it was still very unassuming, given you had crispy pork floating in this brown broth.  He also added soy and chili pepper to give it some kick. At the end of it, I got too full. My husband decided mine was better, pushed aside the remaining bites of ramen and slurped up my amber-tinged broth!

Not your Average Ice Cream
Lychee and Black Sesame Ice Cream
Unfortunately my husband and I never seem to save room for dessert. But this time, I pushed away my noodles early enough to have some ice cream. Most Japanese restaurants will offer fruit or ice cream for dessert. I have seen the odd offering of cheesecake, but that seems a strange dessert to offer in a Japanese restaurant, so I usually steer clear. Ichiban offered six flavors of ice cream: green tea, red bean, lychee, mango, black sesame and cappuccino. Green tea and red bean are usually typical dessert fare in the Japanese restaurants in Indy. Mango may or may not be standard, but it’s a more common flavor these days. But the black sesame? I have never seen this on a menu, so it was on my list to try. SIDE NOTE: I am not sure where cappuccino fits in – I am guessing it was selected to provide a more palatable flavor for the skeptical diner.  Well, we had to go with something different, so for our two scoops, we selected lychee and black sesame. 

You know what? We ordered well.  The lychee ice cream tasted like pear. For those of you unfamiliar with the lychee is a berry, reminiscent of a grape, only sweeter. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what it was. I couldn’t place the flavor. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying it.  I have had to learn to give the flavor a chance to develop on your palate before making a judgment. Sometimes an unfamiliar flavor can turn you off. But after my second bite, I thought, wow, it’s mild, sweet and reminds me of a pear. I am not a huge pear fan (unless the pear is poached in a lovely wine, then oh yeah, it’s on!), but I did enjoy the flavor.

Next, the black sesame ice cream. Sounds totally weird, right? First, I smelled it and yes, it smells like sesame. I was put off because sesame flavored ice cream sounds like an accident. I can tell you though, it is quite good. You get the taste of the sesame, but it’s not as overwhelming as you think. It’s there, oh yeah, but in the ice cream, it’s almost like a coffee flavor. The texture reminded me of Lindner’s chocolate chip ice cream. Lindner’s was a local ice cream store, back in the day. If you are younger than oh, 35 or not from Indy, you won’t remember Lindner’s. But trust me, the black sesame scoop looks like chocolate chip ice cream. It was really interesting and I really enjoyed it. I highly recommend it.

The Damage
The bill was very reasonable, in fact, surprisingly reasonable, at $40. Most lunches for two at Ocean World or Naked Tchopstix will easily set you back $35-$40.  Ichiban was very reasonable – their rolls were very cheap, running on average around $4-$5. My seafood udon was only $10.95.  So for $40 we had shrimp shumai (5 pieces), spicy tuna roll, the Louis roll (both 6 pieces), two big bowls of noodles, two good-sized salads with ginger dressing(comes with entrees), and ice cream. Not bad for a Saturday night. The service was good, not overly intrusive and friendly enough to make you feel at ease.

My husband asked me for a grade, which I have never given in my reviews. I don’t think in terms of grades. But he really wanted to know and suggested I rate from 1 – 10.  Hmmm, I give Ichiban a 5 – 6. The rolls were fine. They were not “OH MY GOD” good, but they were good. I didn’t talk about the salad, because, well, it’s salad, but I did like the dressing a lot. And they were generous with the dressing and the salad. I thought the shumai were very good. The noodles were ok. They were not bad at all, and on a cold day (or after a 3-martini evening), they would be good for what ails you! But if you are looking for something really flavorful, I don’t think the noodles will quite do it for you. The black sesame ice cream was most memorable to me.  But you know what, it’s a decent meal for a good price with good service. If you have a craving for sushi and noodles, but cannot afford the $60-$70 dinner at H2O Sushi or Naked Tchopstix, Ichiban will like scratch your …itch!  But the only way you will know is if you leave the comforts of your neighborhood! Be adventurous and wander off your beaten path!

Directions
I ALWAYS say the same thing, google map it. Then I give you general directions. Well, this time, I am going to be REAL general. Ichiban is in the Castleton area on Bash Street. I’ll give you a vicinity. Bash is just west of I-69 off 82nd street and east of Castleton Square.  If you turn on Bash, left or right, you could still miss Ichiban because it’s a small house. Do yourself a favor and google map it or put it in your Garmin.

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