Looking Back at 2020 on the Blog


Happy New Year to you all. I hope everyone had a safely podded or distanced passage from 2020 to 2021. And, of course, I hope 2021 will not be like 2020 for too long. Among our New Year’s Day rituals is the eating of tteokguk (the Korean rice cake soup) and dumplings. The making of these is the missus’ department—I participate heavily in the eating—which means I have time this morning for my own annual ritual gazing at my navel or my look back at the past year on the blog.

I have to confess that when the stay at home orders started back in March I wasn’t sure that the blog was going to continue for very much longer. I had a few weeks worth of whisky reviews lined up but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to muster the motivation to keep going once those ran out—and it didn’t seem there’d be any reviews possible of restaurant meals. Of course, as invariably happens, sticking with routines turned out to be a way of managing the uncertain. Continue reading

Spice-Crusted Lamb Chops with Chocolate-Curry Reduction


Saala, main toh sahab ban gaya! Yeh lamb chop mera dekho! yeh chocolate-curry reduction mera dekho! Jaise gora koi Londhon ka!

Don’t ask me to translate or explain the above: not everything is for everyone. Just go get a package of lamb loin chops and be happy I am giving you this recipe. Where can you go to get lamb loin chops? How the hell am I supposed to know what the options are where you live? We get ours from our local Costco; I have no idea if they’re a difficult thing to find generally—I had never looked for them before seeing them at Costco. If you can’t find them, feel free to use whatever kind of lamb chops you can find; or in a pinch go ahead and use beef sirloin steak or similar—just adjust the cooking time accordingly. Continue reading

Bladnoch 11, 2001, Lightly Peated


For the last whisky review of the week, month and year let’s go all the way down to the lowlands of Scotland, to a distillery’s whose most famous recent proprietor liked to remind us is close to Ireland than to most of the other Scottish distilleries: Bladnoch.

This whisky was distilled and released in the era of that proprietor, the excellent Raymond Armstrong. Under Armstrong Bladnoch was a unicorn: a small producer that kept its prices down—both for its own releases and those of casks from other distilleries that it released for the Bladnoch forums—and didn’t engage in marketing malarkey. The good times eventually came to an end and the distillery was sold in 2014 or 2015. I’ve lost touch with it since then, as it got the predictable premium coat of paint from its new owners. But I still have a few bottles left of the Armstrong era. This release of their “Lightly Peated” label is one of them. I’ve previously reviewed a 9 yo from this series from 2001 that was a single bourbon cask. This one, featuring sheep on the label, as every Bladnoch fan of the era knows, is a sherry cask and is two years older. Let’s get into it. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 38: Cheng Heng (St. Paul, MN)


I posted my roundup of the year in pandemic takeout on Sunday and noted that I still had one full report to come. This is that report, of our last takeout meal of 2020, picked up from Cheng Heng in St. Paul (on the real “Eat Street”, where else?) on Saturday.

Cheng Heng—in case you live in the Twin Cities metro and still don’t know—is our premier Cambodian restaurant. This may seem like damning with faint praise as there may only be one other Cambodian restaurant (the smaller but also worthy Kolap) but it’s not meant to be. The food at Cheng Heng is very good and they are a true Twin Cities treasure, and at almost 25 years of age, also an institution. Of course, we hope for the best for all restaurants in this challenging time which has seen minimal true support from the federal government for restaurants—especially small, truly independent restaurants—or their workers; but I particularly hope that restaurants like Cheng Heng will manage to survive. Continue reading

Dufftown 9, 1999 (G&M for Binny’s)


Okay, let’s cut back to the Speyside and stop in at a distillery I don’t know much about and have not tasted very much from: Dufftown. Part of Diageo’s massive portfolio, Dufftown is best known as one of the three distilleries in the Singleton series. I believe the Singleton of Dufftown was originally the one released in Europe, though now all three Singletons are apparently being released in all three major markets (Europe, North America, Asia). It pains me to say that I have not had very positive experiences in the past with the distillery’s output. I scored the Singleton of Dufftown a mere 76 points and a Signatory-bottled 18 yo from K&L didn’t fare very much better at 78 points. This 9 yo was actually distilled two years after that Signatory and was bottled by Gordon & Macphail for Binny’s. I’ve lost touch with Binny’s single cask program since they stopped shipping to Minnestoa (or out of Illinois for that matter) but back in the day I always had a high regard for their picks, especially of bourbon casks. Let’s see if this repays my trust. Continue reading

The Year in Pandemic Takeout


The year is almost done. It’s hard to say when the pandemic will be done though. I’m guessing we’re going to be in the mode we’ve been in for the last nine months till at least the start of the summer before vaccination gets more widespread and infection rates drop meaningfully. There will therefore be more accounts of pandemic takeout meals before it’s all over and we can go back to eating in restaurants with friends. Hopefully, the restaurants will all still be there too. There have been a number of closures in the Twin Cities over the course of the year but as far as I can make out the toll has been heaviest at the high end where there are higher overheads and tight margins. The smaller, immigrant-owned restaurants that we eat at most of the time seem to have mostly weathered the storm—so far (though it’s hard to tell with the minimal coverage of these places in the local media outlets which, by and large continue to identify the local food scene with high-end and white restaurants). And some new places have even opened at the height of the pandemic. Continue reading

Glenglassaugh 30, 2016 Release


Let’s go a bit east from Glen Moray to Glenglassaugh, the distillery that sits right outside the Speyside in the eastern Highlands. It’s a distillery with a checkered history: built in 1875, closed in 1907; rebuilt in 1960, closed again in 1986; and then re-opened again since 2008. I have not had any of the malt made since the stills fired up again. This 2016 release of the 30 yo was, of course, made before the distillery’s most recent closure. As I noted in my only other review of a Glenglassaugh—an even older indie release distilled in 1972—the character and quality of this malt will have no bearing on what’s being made there now.

Before I get to that quality, a word or two on the bottle. I hate to talk about packaging but it’s hard not to with this one. It’s a heavy bottle with a striking teardrop—or is it pear?—shape. Much of the weight seemingly is in the stopper—a honking great, garish gold monstrosity that plugs an extra large mouth. God help you if the cork on your bottle breaks as you open if for the first time—no other cork you may have saved up for emergencies will fit. This over-the-top design approach, thankfully, didn’t extend to the box, which is made of cardboard not wood; doubtless saving me another £20-30 at the least. Don’t get me wrong: it’s nice to have some character in bottle and label design—but maybe lay off the gold a little bit? Anyway, I assume the current releases have regular corks. Maybe I’ll get some use out of this one as a paperweight when the bottle is done. Continue reading

Fish Curry with Coconut Milk


I think I’ve mentioned before that my sister and my favourite fish growing up was white pomfret. This is not a very Bengali thing, pomfret being a sea fish and Bengalis being of the river fish persuasion. But we grew up outside Bengal and particularly loved the quasi-Parsi green masala pomfret my mother made for us as a treat. When I moved to the US I thought my pomfret life was over. And then I discovered it in the large East Asian markets in Los Angeles and again later in Denver. I’ve not yet encountered it in East Asian markets in the Twin Cities—though there are many I have not yet been to—except in the freezers of Indian stores (but I no longer buy frozen fish from India). However, I don’t really miss it since we did find a fish in East Asian markets in Minnesota that is very similar to pomfret: pompano. I cook it in all the ways I cook pomfret: lightly coated in haldi/turmeric and salt and fried to a crisp; fried with onions; made a la my mother’s quasi-Parsi green masala recipe; and most often in this curry inspired by various southwestern coastal preps I’ve had. This is not a traditional recipe—though for all I know I have more or less approximated one by following taste memory. It is very tasty though: best with pompano or pomfret if you can find them, but also excellent with any meaty white fish. As a bonus, our kids love it too. Give it a go; you probably will like it a lot too (I’ve learned not to promise love). Continue reading

Glen Moray 24, 1994 (SMWS)


Okay, time to head north. Let’s go all the way up to the Speyside, to Glen Moray. I still regret not finding the time to tour Glen Moray when I visited in 2018—hopefully, I’ll get the chance again someday. However, since then I have got to enjoy a few Glen Morays, including a 23 yo, distilled in 1994 that was part of K&L’s exclusive haul last year. Today’s Glen Moray is a year older and distilled a year later. Where the K&L cask was a refill barrel this one is from a first-fill toasted hogshead and I suspect that difference will mean more than the closeness in age and vintage. Hopefully, it won’t mean overbearing oak. I’ve been reviewing a lot of SMWS casks of late courtesy a bunch of bottle splits. Every time I hit a run of strong casks I begin to think that maybe I should join the SMWS after all these years despite their high prices. There isn’t a lot of interesting indie whisky around these days at reasonable prices after all. But then I invariably run into a cask that makes me iffy again. Where will this one fall? Let’s see how it works out. Continue reading

A Highly Subjective Ranking of Indian Restaurants in the Twin Cities Metro Area


I have argued before that we are currently in a new era of Indian food in the Twin Cities metro. Indeed, I’ve gone on about it on more than one occasion (most recently, here) and so I will spare you yet another replay of the whole dissertation. Suffice to say, there’s been a quantum leap in the last few years in the quality of Indian food available in the metro area and that the mainstream food media in the Cities has been all but completely quiet about it. This development—the former, not the latter—took us by surprise. When we arrived in Minnesota in 2007 the Indian food scene was quite bleak. In those pre-blog times we tried a couple of the North Indian places everyone recommended to us and were never moved to go back. Then in 2014 I first attempted a survey of the scene to see where things stood then and had to abandon it after the second stop. The last half-decade or so, however, has seen an influx of white collar Indians to the area and specifically people from the South Indian states. This has been reflected in the offerings at Indian groceries around town and in the arrival of a number of restaurants that are parts of franchises that operate elsewhere in the country where large populations of Indians can be found: Bawarchi, Hyderabad House, Kumar’s, Godavari. All in all, a new Indian food scene has emerged, one that exists in parallel with the old one of North Indian curry houses, which continues to be what the local food media and non-Indian reviewers on Yelp etc. largely focus on. Continue reading

Springbank 12, 1996, Cream Sherry Cask


Let’s stay in Campbeltown, at the Springbank distillery, for one more day; but let’s not get any more timely than last Friday’s 2010 release of the Springbank 18. Indeed, this whisky was released in 2009. It was one of four sherry cask releases for the US market under the “Wood Expressions” banner. All were distilled in 1996. I’ve reviewed two of the others: the oloroso and the fino. This cream sherry cask was actually the first one I opened even though it’s the last I’m reviewing—I’d saved a 6 oz sample from it as used to be my usual practice at the time. Well, usual but not invariable: I have no saved sample I can find of the amontillado cask even though my spreadsheet says I’d consumed a bottle of that around the same time as this one. Ah well. I stopped preserving 6 oz samples from bottles a few years ago, as my shelves had gotten overrun with them and I was worried they’d degrade before I got to them all. Most of the ones I’ve opened recently have been in perfect condition, however, both making me thankful that I saved some of these to try again many years later and making me wonder if I should re-start the practice now so I can savour some of the bottles I’m opening now in another 8-10 years. Time warps and whatnot. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 37: Back to Bawarchi (Plymouth, MN)


My ranking of Twin Cities metro area Indian restaurants is coming next week. Before finalizing it I wanted to get back to Bawarchi in Plymouth and we managed to do that last weekend. We were last there more than six years ago, back when I last tried to do a survey of local Indian restaurants, a survey that came to a grinding halt after a disastrous lunch at the now defunct Dosa King. We’d liked that lunch at Bawarchi quite a bit though. At the time I’d noted that while it was good it wasn’t quite good enough to justify the two hour round-trip drive for us. However, I was curious to see how they would stack up to the new(er) competition. And so we went back last Saturday to pick up a large order that we ate by ourselves first for lunch last Saturday and then over a few more meals in the ensuing days. Herewith a quick report. Continue reading

Fun with Flageolets

Last month we split half a pig with a friend. When putting in the cut order we asked for the chops to be cut as thick as possible and some rather thick chops duly showed up. I finally got around to defrosting some earlier this week. I dry-brined them for a couple of days while I figured out what to serve them with. In the pantry were a packet of Rancho Gordo flageolet beans. I’d never cooked flageolets before and didn’t remember purchasing these. But I decided to give them a go anyway.

I cooked them very simply with a few small parmesan rinds (and salt added at the end). I drained some on Wednesday and tossed them simply with a dressing of garlic, kosher salt, pepper, olive oil and the last of some lemon-infused white balsamic vinegar. I let the beans sit in the dressing while the pork chops came up to room temperature and got grilled. Once the pork had rested, I sliced it thin and served it atop the warm beans. It was dynamite. Continue reading

Springbank 18, 2010 Release


Okay, done with the heavy peat but let’s stay on Campbeltown through the end of the week. Having lapsed into relevance on Wednesday with a review of the 2020 release of the Longrow 18—a whisky that is still available—let me now go back to my core competency: reviews of whiskies released 10 years ago. I reviewed the 2016 release of the Springbank 18 last month and mentioned then that I had a reference sample saved from my first-ever bottle of the Springbank 18, released in 2010. I managed to locate it and tasted it somewhat nervously, fully expecting that it had gone flat. But it had not and indeed tracked very well with the truncated notes I’d taken on the bottle in those pre-blog days. I drank the rest of this down in very quick order after taking these notes. Spoiler alert: I really enjoyed it. However, I doubt I will buy another bottle of Springbank 18 anytime soon. This is not due to the fact that the current Springbank 18 has less sherry in the mix but because it costs the bloody earth. Continue reading

Carrot Halwa Cake


May my many-armed gods have mercy on my soul for I have messed with one of Madhur Jaffrey’s recipes. Her classic recipe for carrot cardamom cake, to be specific. I believe this recipe was first published in her cookbook World-of-the-East: Vegetarian Cooking but I have never read that book. I heard about her recipe some years ago when my friend Pradnya posted about it—on Facebook or Instagram—and found it on some website that looked like it hadn’t been updated since 1995. I can’t find that site anymore but it lingers elsewhere on the web. I was drawn to the recipe because in the headnotes Jaffrey refers to it as being halfway between carrot cake and gajar/carrot halwa (one of the few things that makes life worth living) but without the hassle of having to stir gajar halwa for hours. Now, it’s a different matter that courtesy a friend—the late, great Sue Darlow—I have a recipe for a pressure cooker gajar halwa that is barely any hassle, but the thought of a carrot cake that could scratch my gajar halwa itch was enticing. And so I made Jaffrey’s recipe. And it was good; perhaps the best carrot cake I’d had. But it did not scratch my gajar halwa itch. Despite the fact that I am an indifferent baker I resolved to try to figure out how to make it scratch my itch and to my great surprise I hit upon it on the first try. Now you too can have your life changed for the better. You’re welcome. Continue reading

Longrow 18, 2020 Release


Okay, I am done with my mini-tour of Islay (stops at Caol Ila, Bowmore, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg). But I’m not done with peat. Let’s take the ferry back to the mainland and head south, to Campbeltown. And let’s get quite timely for a change. This is the 2020 release of the Longrow 18. I reviewed the 2019 release last year and thought it was just excellent. Will this be as good? Well, it’s certainly not made in the same way. Though I did not note it in that review, the 2019 release was put together from a vatting that was 75% ex-sherry and 25% ex-bourbon casks. This year’s edition has a more complicated composition, being from 25% ex-bourbon, 55% ex-sherry and 4520% ex-rum casks. Now, I’ve never had a Longrow that had been near rum casks before—that I know of at any rate—and I’ve never been too impressed with any whisky that came out of a rum cask, but I am a little bit intrigued anyway to see what that might do to Longrow’s trademark austere character. Let’s see. Continue reading

A Love Letter to Favorite Recipes of Rice County Extension Homemakers 1965 (Volume IV)


A week ago, Sunday our friends Daniel and Emily dropped off a plate of cookies at our door. Like many others, they’ve apparently been baking a lot during the pandemic. There were some Moravian wafers on the plate and some Swedish almond rusks. I enjoyed one of each greatly with my evening tea, especially the rusk. I Whatsapped Daniel later with compliments and learned that the Moravian wafers were out of a Maida Heatter book but that the rusks were from something called Favorite Recipes of Rice County Extension Homemakers 1965 (Volume IV). This, he said, was a book they’d literally found on the street and that it was a trip. He sent me some pictures. I asked if either or both of them might be interested in writing up a review or appreciation of it for the blog at some point. Emily would, he said. And a few emails and a scarily short amount of time later this wonderful essay landed in my inbox. Continue reading

Ardbeg 12, 1998 (Chieftain’s)


Here is the last stop on my little tour of Islay this month. I started at Caol Ila a week ago, Friday and then moved on to Bowmore last Monday. After that I cut across to the south shore, stopping first at Laphroaig and then at Lagavulin. Today I go another mile up the road, to Ardbeg. (My apologies, by the way, to Bunnahabhain, Kilchoman and Bruichladdich—I will try my best to get to them next month in another whistle-stop tour of Islay.)

As with all the other whiskies from this tour, this is an indie bottling. It was released by Chieftain’s in 2011. For reasons I cannot explain it has taken me till 2020 to get around to opening it. But better late than never, to coin a phrase. I opened this bottle in early October. I was fully expecting to be underwhelmed: a single cask bottled at 46% by one of the lesser indies. But, as you will see, I was more than whelmed. Continue reading