Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Flemmings Steak House, Back Bay, Boston

Being the carnivore that I am, there is nothing more appealing to me than a good steak dinner. Somehow though, in all of the time that I have lived in Boston, I haven't had the chance to check out any of our major steak houses. Last night though, I finally made it to Flemming's Steak House in Boston's Back Bay district.

The ambiance upon entering immediately sets the mood of a traditional steak house, walls lined with deep woods, wine bottles as decoration, a dimly lit room without too much ordination in the hopes that the steak shines enough. We started with a crab cake appetizer. Two cakes served simply in a red pepper coulis, crispy on the outside, but chock full of lump crab meat. Very little breading appeared to be used, or other seasoning, so that the flavor of the crab was the most present. Dipped in the slightly sweet coulis, the flavors mingled very nicely. Light and delicious, it was an excellent start.

I selected the Petite Fillet Mignon for dinner, cooked medium rare, and we selected the mashed potatoes with roasted garlic, sweet corn, and sauteed spinach as the sides for the table. The steak was perfect. Nicely seasoned without going over board to allow the beautiful flavor of the beef to shine through. The center was nicely pink, slightly warm, but the outside had that wonderful sear all the way around. This was set simply on a large white plate with plenty of room for sides. The sides were clearly overshadowed by the steak itself to be honest. The spinach was lacking seasoning, and was overly greasy. The sweet corn, while tasty, was also a bit on the greasy side, and though the menu stated that it was sauteed with shallots, chives and butter, there was a mystery spice also in there that over shadowed the other ingredients. The potatoes, however, were delicious. Perfectly creamy, with lots of roasted garlic running throughout, they were wonderful.

We ended the meal with a dessert that to be honest- I'm not sure will ever be beat. On a whim we chose to have the Chocolate Peanut Butter sandwich, described on the menu as chocolate cookie crust, Peanut Butter mousse, and raspberry jam, also served with optional whipped cream. The "sandwich" was made from a serving of peanut butter mousse, rolled in chocolate cookie crust as well as chopped peanuts and then placed on a plate garnished with raspberry jam. While we could have used a bit more jam, this was a completely delicious dessert. The mousse was light and peanutty, smooth and creamy, the chocolate was dark and wonderful, and those chopped peanuts added a nice amount of salt that really made the whole thing ridiculously addictive. Our server was right in suggesting that we have the whipped cream with it, otherwise it was an insanely rich dish, and we didn't even come close to finishing-though believe me, I tried.

emmings was a perfect first steak house experience for me. I have heard over and over that often the sides suffer at the expense of a perfect cut of meat, and that that is the risk taken for it. But our server was knowledgeable and efficient, though he did tend to disappear at the end of the meal, and the ambiance was fantastic. For a great piece of steak, a very nice crab cake and an awesome sweet end-Id definitely recommend Flemmings.

Jevelli's, East Boston

Thanksgiving, moving and vacations have kept me rather busy recently and so unfortunately I have neglected my poor little blog. My apologies to my audience though. I can say however, a lack of writing does not indicate a lack of good eating, nor a lack of kitchen adventures. For example-I learned that I have no idea how to successfully carmelize sugar for tart tatin as I thought that I did. So back to the kitchen I go- and if anyone has some helpful tips- I welcome them.

I digress though, and move on to some great eating I have done recently. It has become a tradition, on the way back from the airport, to make a stop at Jevelli's, an Italian restuarant, in East Boston for dinner. Jevelli's is one of those spots that makes you comfortable the moment you walk in. Every patron who sits in their booths, at their bar, or at a table you know has been there a thousand times before, they know the waitstaff entirely, and the waitstaff knows them. Its the type of place that encourages you to be come a regular, to take a load off, enjoy so good comfort food and relax.

My first visit I had their Chicken Marsala which was honestly perfect. The Marsala sauce was light, sweet and delicious and a perfect amount on a well cooked thin breast of chicken. It was served with a little bowl of pasta with marinara sauce on the side, nothing outstanding there, but tasty none the less. As a side note- this is pretty high praise for me for this visit- I went in with a terrible sore throat which I found out was actually Strep Throat the next day. Despite my inability to swallow without excruciating pain, I ate through this delicious dinner.

My second visit I had their steak tips. Served with a non descript starter salad, a baked potato and steamed vegegtables the tips were well seasoned and cooked to a perfect medium rare. The veggies for the night were green beans which were ok-but you have to remember, this is not gourmet food- just good comfort food.

Jevelli's is the perfect spot to welcome you home to Boston after a trip- its almost like going back to moms where she has a great dinner waiting for you.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Steak Croutons

My brain was working over time last night on my way home from work, so I decided to make an appetizer for my salad, basically just in case my salad wasn't all that I was hoping for (luckily it was). So I decided to have a nice heart appetizer.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my experience at Gaslight, a French Brasserie in Boston's South End where we had an appetizer of Fromage Blanc drizzled with olive oil, some thyme and sea salt served with croutons. I decided to make a similar dish last night. I went to the market last night to pick up the ingredients, but unfortunately I couldn't find Fromage Blanc in my corner store last night. So I found another French cheese that looked as though it might have the same properties. Unfortunately I don't have the name of it with me, but one of the ladies who worked there also believed that it might be similar. So I picked up the cheese, and a sirloin steak and headed home.

I sliced a few pieces of french bread that I purchased a few days ago and was on the verge of going stale, and then toasted them in my grill pan. Once they were toasted on both sides I painted them with melted butter enhanced with some kosher salt and black pepper. Then I took the steak I had purchased, salted, peppered and drizzled some vegetable oil on both sides, and grilled in my grill pan until medium rare.

After the steak had cooled, I assembled my croutons- the cheese was spread as a base layer, I drizzled just a little olive oil over the top, ground some fresh black pepper, sprinkled some parsley and then two thinly sliced pieces of steak.

Unfortunately, the cheese was not at all a Fromage Blanc, but more of a Brie flavor. The result was good, very good actually, but I would have preferred the light flavor and delicate texture of the Fromage Blanc then the very flavorful, almost distracting Brie. Otherwise, the steak was a wonderful addition, the olive oil made it almost indulgent, and the pepper and parsley cleaned the taste nicely. Next time I make this, Ill search high and low for the true ingredient- though I wonder now if the Fromage Blanc would be lost beneath the steak? I guess I'll just have to test it to find out.

Chicken and Arugula Salad with a gremolata dressing

Lately, I haven't been able to cook as much as I normally like to, so last night I seized the opportunity to make a nice meal. Last weekend I started to put together an idea for a "fall salad" that might lend itself to a holiday side dish as well. I started a list of ingredients in my head of arugula, snow peas, chicken, almonds, pomegranate seeds and then got a bit stuck. Zucchini is a staple in my diet, but I'm beginning to feel a bit too dependent on it in my cooking so I wanted to branch out. I was also stuck for what type of dressing to use. After a quick consultation with a very knowledgeable friend, I got some more direction.

A suggestion of fennel was one that I hadn't even considered. Fennel, specifically the Florence Fennel, is basically an herb, but has two different parts that can be utilized in consumption. The frawns, or the feathery plant like section has a nice light anise like taste to it. The bulb of the plant can be sliced down and used in salads as a crispy addition for some textural differentiation. The bulb also contains that great anise flavor to it, but also has a similar water component to a cucumber so you get that nice refreshing flavor into your salad. Salads with fennel are always a hit with me so I was excited to use it last night.

I started my salad last night by creating an envelope of tinfoil and baking my chicken tenders in a bit of olive oil and some lemon herb blend for some flavor. I baked this for about 40 minutes at 375 degrees. Then I started on the dressing. A gremolata had been suggested, and though I had never made one before it sounded like an excellent idea. Gremolata is an Italian based accompaniment normally to veal, comprised of Parsley, Garlic and Lemon Rind. When Ive had it in the past its been a "chunky" condiment, thick in texture and a great addition to a variety of meats and fish for flavor add. Thinned down with an olive oil/vegetable oil combination it could make an excellent salad dressing.

I pulled out my Cuisinart and threw in four cloves of garlic, a couple very healthy handfuls of parsley, the juice of two lemons, and some salt. I started the Cuisinart and then drizzled in some olive oil and then some vegetable oil until I reached my desired consistency. The result was a beautiful light green, with a wonderful flavor of spicy garlic, fresh parsley and then that great citrus punch of lemon.

I then poured some sliced almonds into a pan and toasted them up for another crunch to the salad, and a bit of a different flavor component. Toasted almonds have a great nutty flavor that sort of reminds me of eating nuts at Christmas time with my family. The flavor just screams fall to me.

When the chicken was done I pulled it out of the oven and let it sit to cool down. My goal was a room temperature salad, not a piping hot one. Once cooled I began to assemble the salad. Arugula in first, then the snow peas. I sliced a pomegranate in half and removed the seeds by hitting the bottom of the rind with a spoon. Soon I had a beautiful burst of color in my very green salad. I sliced the chicken into bite size pieces and added them, then I sliced just the bulb of the fennel. Thin slices, cut down into small pieces added just enough to the salad. Then I added the thinned down Gremolata in, and tossed the salad, to the top I crumbled Ricotta Salata, and then the toasted almonds were added. Ricotta Salata may be my new obsession. I have always loved the flavor and versatility of Ricotta cheese as it morphs between savory and sweet dishes. Ricotta Salata is made in the same way, but in its final stages it is salted and dried so that it forms a consistency similar to Feta Cheese. The finished product is the same delicate flavor with a bit more salt.

All together, I really enjoyed the salad. The Gremolata added a lot of flavor, bringing in a bit of spice and the great citrus taste to the peppery arugula. The chicken was hearty, the pomegranate seeds were sweet and juicy, and the fennel added the missing texture of fresh crunch. I will definitely be making this salad again, and I think Ill check in with the family about adding it to our holiday meals- perhaps without the chicken to make it a bit lighter.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Drink and Lucky's Lounge, South Boston

Barbara Lynch is one of my all time favorite chefs, well anywhere, but within Boston for sure. She has this great clean approach to food, using locally grown produce, and exceptional proteins to create interesting and, in my opinion, exceptional dishes. She has several restaurants throughout Boston, one being No. 9 Park which also happens to be my favorite restaurant of all time. Her concentration hasn't just been restaurants though- she's opened a produce stand in the South End named Plum Produce, and next to it a cooking demonstration space, which doubles as one of the best cook book stores Ive been in. Wandering around the small space, leafing through books that explore every aspect of the culinary world is a fantastic afternoon for me. With as much respect and admiration that I have for Chef Lynch, I was thrilled to hear that she would be opening two new establishments on the up and coming Fort Point Channel in South Boston.

The first of her ventures recently opened, a bar surprisingly serving very little food, and so aptly named Drink. The mission of Drink is clear from the moment you walk in- it is to concentrate on extremely well executed drinks without losing time on other flourishes. The room itself is a long rectangle and the "bar" takes up about half the space, with three "stations" where the bartenders perform their magic. There are no drink menus here, a selection of just two beers, and a limited wine selection. But what remains is pure perfection. You are encouraged to speak to your bartender and come to a decision on what type of drink you want based on your preferences. If given the green light- they will make you their own concoctions which are imaginative, and delicious. In my last visit I ordered a Basil Gimlet for my first drink, a wonderful combination of earthy flavors, with just a background of sweet, and then gave our bartender full permission to make me whatever he wanted. The end product was unlike anything Id had before. Mixing gin, vermouth, grapefruit juice, muddled rosemary, simple syrup and a few other ingredients that I'm ashamed to say I don't recall, he came up with a drink that was both strong, refreshing, and utterly interesting.

Through the genius that is Chef Lynch, everything has been thought of at Drink. They chip fresh ice for every drink to provide each with aesthetics, as well as the coldest part of the ice. Their flavorings are out in medicine type bottles complete with the dropper for precision. Every ingredient in a drink is measured carefully, and you begin to understand that a cocktail is not JUST a drink, it's a form of art, of creativity and of exactness.

After having our fill at Drink, we ran across the street to Lucky's Lounge for dinner. Lucky's is a standby for me, a place where it is easy to relax and have an enjoyable meal. If you hit the day right, you might even get to listen to some fantastic live music. A few nights a week they have bands come in who play some great classic tunes, Sunday nights, and sometimes during the week as well they have a Sinatra cover band in. I have to say-those are my favorite nights. They are so good you can almost imagine Sinatra himself on stage. There was no live music that night, but there was some delicious food. I had Grilled Ahi Tuna Fish Tacos for my meal that night. These were served with a jicama salsa and a lime crema sauce, with tomato salsa and guacamole on the side. Three to the platter, these little guys were delicious. The tuna had been treated with a spicy rub previous to grilling which gave them a really nice "blackened" affect-just enough spice for me. Jicama is one of those vegetables that I don't feel gets enough credit for being delicious, so I'm always glad to see it being used on menus. Its satisfying crunch, and refreshing taste varies the textures in the meal to a really nice degree. The lime crema was tasty as well- the lime adding that great citrus flavor, though I would have enjoyed a bit more lime to it. I felt as though there was almost too much of the crema at times, but was missing the lime-I'm not sure how that happened to be honest other than that it was simply overpowered. The side salsa and guacamole were nothing mind blowing, but served their purpose nicely. I do have to note though that I really enjoyed the presentation of the tacos. They were speared together with a wooden kabob skewer, the sharp end of the skewer pointing at a small taco bowl filled with the salsa and guacamole. It was simple, yet affective, and I enjoyed it.

I am really excited for the new face of Fort Point to be revealed. Slowly but surely I'm seeing the changes come in, and each one has been very welcomed. Drink fills a need that Boston was sorely lacking previously. We've had our fill of sports bars, euro lounges, and Irish pubs...a place where the drinks are the focus is a fantastic addition. Lucky's has been around for quite some time, and is an old favorite- the two together are a perfect combination of new and old. Whats that saying- make new friends but keep the old...one is silver and the other gold...

Barbara Lynch's Home Site:

Luckys Lounge

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cauliflower Soup

As the temperature gets cooler, I decided to try out a new concoction that Ive been thinking about. Last march I experienced cauliflower bisque for the first time, and ever since Ive been wanting to try making it for myself.

So on a crisp fall Sunday I marched myself down to the grocery store and picked up a good size head of cauliflower, thyme, lemons and shallots. Back at home I broke down half the head of cauliflower into equal size small pieces and put them into a pot 3/4 full of water with a quartered lemon and a bit of salt. I set that to boil on the stove, and then added a small pat of butter, a little salt, pepper and a sliced shallot to a sauce pan. After the shallots had gotten a bit soft I added a few stems of thyme and allowed them to heat through. Then I added about a half a bottle of white wine, and left it alone to boil and reduce.

Once the cauliflower had boiled through and was fork tender, I pulled it off the heat and strained the water from it, also removing the lemon wedges. Then came the fun part. I received a Cuisenart last year for Christmas but hadn't gotten to use it just yet. Now was the time. I set it up and added my boiled cauliflower to it- I set it to pulsing and my cute little florets began to puree into a liquid consistency. To make it a bit creamier I added some butter to the blend as well. Then I transferred the contents of the Cuisenart to a second saucepan.

The wine mixture had reduced a fair amount at that point so I strained the herbs and shallots out, and then added that to the cauliflower puree. My thought on that was to add flavor first of all, as well as to thin it out some to make it more soup consistent. Unfortunately, I didn't make enough of the wine so it didn't quite do the job I wanted, though it did add fantastic flavor. A little more fresh thyme, and some cracked black pepper and my soup was complete- and delicious.

When I make it again though I think that Ill add vegetable stock as well as the wine reduction to thin it out some and boost the flavor, but otherwise I really enjoyed the flavors of lemon, wine and thyme all together in the beautiful backdrop of cauliflower. I think that this may become my newest obsession...

Friday, October 3, 2008

Anthony's Pier 4; Waterfront, Boston

As I have previously mentioned, I have been reading The Last Days of Haute Cuisine by Patric Kuh for some time now- its one of those that I'm refusing to finish. Kuh's description of how restaurants began, and the image of privilege and wonder is one that has stuck with me. Restaurants today are a far cry from what they began as. Today it is not uncommon for Americans to eat out several times a week, and restaurants have catered to this. Now we have "neighborhood restaurants", kid friendly approaches to make it easier on parents, we hold "pub grub" to high standards because no longer do we go to a bar just to drink- we want a good meal out as well. But at the turn of the century, it was a very special occasion to eat out. Patrons dressed up in their best clothing, and relished every moment of the meal. Restaurant staff catered to every wish, and treated their guests as just that- guests. Wait staff was dressed to impress, and all was served with a flourish. There are not many places around any longer that have held on to this ideal. Many restaurants today encourage a "come as you are" dress code, and many have relaxed their staff uniforms as well. Black pants and a collared shirts still seem to be a staple, but gone are the tuxedos of a few decades ago. However, last Friday, I had the distinct pleasure of walking back in time for an evening, and dining in what I assume is one of the last of a dieing breed- a restaurant maintaining their stance that to dine out is a special occasion and they are going to treat it that way.

Anthony's Pier 4 on the waterfront, opened in 1963, is a long standing staple in Boston's cuisine. Recent reports have found that their quality of food has gone down hill, but they have maintained their place in haute cuisine and all that goes along with it. When we arrived we were greeted by several staff members, the men dressed in tuxedos and the ladies in black skirts and white collared shirts, well pressed. We were led to table with a gorgeous view of the harbor. From there, we were treated incredibly well. Each glass of wine, each course was served with a bit of a flourish, from the bread basket served with a generous plate of marinated mushrooms as well, to our entrees.

We started the meal with a plate of calamari for the table. The batter was light and crisp, and the pieces of calamari were large enough to stand up to the varied flavors of both the batter and the dipping sauces. Calamari is a dish, in my opinion, that is either served very well, or very badly. There doesn't appear to be an in between very often, this was served very well. Each of us then moved on to a cup of their clam chowder. Though I know that the proper way to make chowder is a thinner based mixture of milk and clam juice, I prefer the thicker staple that we are often served normally made with cream or some type of roux. Anthony's was the thinner variety, very smokey in taste, with a great many clams and potatoes. While not my favorite, it was delicious in its own right.

I selected grilled swordfish for my main dish, served with a baked potato and a Cesar salad. The salad was served first, well dressed, fresh lettuce, though I anticipated that. To be served anything less would have been a shock. The swordfish was beautifully grilled, and was served resting in a pool of tomato and olive buerre blanc. The sauce, sweet and salty at the same time from the mixture, was the perfect accompaniment allowing me to enjoy the full flavor of the fish, and breaking up the monotony in places as well. Though I was extremely jealous of the baked stuffed lobster that one of my dining companions ordered, and looked delicious, I was very satisfied with my dish.

They had an incredibly extensive dessert menu that I just wasn't able to indulge in, but all on it looked incredibly delicious. I can note though, that my cappuccino was very well made.

All in all, I was very impressed with Anthony's. Their attention to detail was flawless, down to a staff member carrying a basket of warm popovers around the dining room and filling each tables bread basket half way through their meal. I was there on a business meeting, and so we sat for quite some time at that table, others around us being turned three times, but not once did I feel rushed in the least. Our waiter seemed more than happy to allow us to sit, chat, conduct our meeting as needed, and take over his table for the night. He engaged with us when we asked questions, was very knowledgeable about the history of the restaurant, the area and the menu itself. Was the meal itself one of the best Ive ever had? No. The dishes were not particularly creative, nor were they presented with that artistic flair that Ive come to expect, but the aura that is Anthony's Pier 4 doesn't belong in that sense, it is in the tip of that hat that it gives to what dining out is really all about- making the guest feel special.

Anthony's Pier 4 on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 26, 2008

Santarpio's, East Boston

For some reason the idea of heavy weight boxing has become an easy analogy for comparisons everywhere. Products up against each other are often visualized on either sides of a ring, duking it out point for point. Well imagine, if you will, a competitor in his corner of the ring, his coach talking him up, boosting his ego, he looks determined, ready....and then his competitor walks to the ring. The confidence is unmistakable, and before a bell can be rung, our fighter has run from this competition, terrified and half way home already. Who could be so menacing? So assured of a win? In the pizza world-its Santarpio's Pizza in East Boston.

I love good pizza, and I will always have a very special place in my heart for Antonios in Amherst and will claim that its the best-but its not- not when Santarpio's is in town. Santarpios doesn't need to make their pizzas a work of art, there are no fancy toppings here, just good, clean, classic pizza, made the way it should be- with a little attitude.

The crust is homemade, without a lot of salt to it, which serves as the perfect holder of all of the other toppings. Homemade tomato sauce, where you can taste the herbs and the garlic, just the right amount of cheese, and then maybe some pepperoni, or sausage, or garlic, or jalapenos on top. Each flavor perfectly melds, the cheese is nice and melty and you can almost imagine your self in Italy, on a back stoop of grandmothers house, chomping down on a pie made with love. Nothing feels processed, nothing mass produced.

Now of course, Santarpios has a few other items on their menu. Their bar-be-que lamb skewers are fantastic, and I'm dieing to try their homemade sausage that they cook over a flame at the front of the restaurant. The serve great fresh bread that has the same subtle flavor as their pizza crust-and is perfect paired with some jalapenos. They aren't shy about heat in this place-honestly- they aren't shy about much. Get ready to be treated like a regular, or at least feel like you should be one. Have no fear though- the pizza is fantastic and worth the trip to Eastie to get.

Santarpio's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

O'Hara's Food And Spirits, Newton Highlands

Cheers, the well renowned television show from the '80s may have really been on to something. Sometimes, you really just want to go to a place where "everybody knows your name", where you can watch your favorite game, drink a pint or two, and even better- enjoy a good meal. I find that the combination of all of these things is difficult. Some places are great for the game, but the food is generally lacking, there are amazing food restaurants, but TVs can be sparse, and normally both miss out on that great neighborhood feel where "regulars" abound and "second home" is generally tossed around. O'Hara's Food and Spirits in Newton Highlands fits the bill on all accounts. In that great home-y way your waitress will call you hon, top off your beer, serve you great food, and let you watch the game.

Monday night, O'Hara's provided the best back drop for the game in which we tied those devilish Devil Rays for first in the AL East. We started with boneless buffalo wings which were absolutely some of the best I've had. The chicken had maintained its crisp, something which is sorely lacking in many other places. I often find that the breading is almost too much, and as more chefs concentrate on the heat of their sauce, that great fried crunch goes by the wayside. O'Hara's nailed the crunch. Personally, I could have standed a little more heat in the sauce, but it did pack a nice punch, and the big bowl of blue cheese dressing was perfect for it.

For my main course I decided to have their Steak and Blue salad, a nice mix of marinated steak tips, salad greens, grilled red onions, blue cheese, tomatoes and roasted red peppers. I had requested for the tips to be cooked medium, and they absolutely were. The big chunks of meat were nice and pink in the middle, and with a really great steak tip flavor. I'm sure that they use the same terriyaki based marinade that most places use (at least it tastes terriyaki based to me) but its that familiar flavor that we've all come to expect with steak tips. There was a very generous sprinkling of blue cheese over the salad which gave that really nice and tangy flavor to the dish and worked well with the plum tomatoes and greens. The roasted red peppers were unexpected and added a great new flavor of smoke and sweetness that was missing from the rest of the ingredients. I did wish that the onion had been added a bit differently. It was obvious that they were just there for aesthetics as they had basically just taken two small onions, sliced them in half and grilled them. They did wonders for the presentation with the great contrasting colors of purple, charred black on the top and then sprinkled with the white blue cheese, however I do enjoy red onion in my salad- so maybe they could have taken a slice or two and diced it? Just a thought from someone who really loves that flavor with her steak...maybe a little too much. The salad was delicious though-one that I look forward to having again.

Overall, their whole menu looked delicious. Nice pub favorites all with a good twist to them that made my decision making process a little bit hard. Additionally, not only could you get your favorite brew there, they had a nice little wine list as well as a pretty imaginative cocktail menu.

All in all, it was a winner of a night. The Sox won, and I got to experience one of the greats...a place with good food, good drinks, and a great attitude.

O'Hara's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Chicken Tacos with a Veggie Slaw

After two weeks of not cooking, attributed to a week where I couldn't eat thanks to Strep Throat, and a week of checking out some restaurants around town, I was incredibly excited to try my hand at a new dish last Friday night. I had gotten this idea to make chicken tacos for a luncheon at work, but since I didn't want to infect my co-workers, I chose to postpone their inaugural run. So Friday night- I set to work.

I picked up a couple of chicken breasts at the store along with a shredded broccoli and carrot mixture, tomatoes, avocado, red onion, cucumber, cheese, small sized wheat wraps, cilantro and Serrano peppers. Then I made one more stop, and picked up a six pack of Dos Equis beer.

Back at home, I combined a small amount of butter (to create a richer background), a little salt, a whole Serrano pepper (seeds and all), some chopped red onion and bunches of cilantro in a pan over medium/low heat. I let these meld their flavors together for a short time, and then I added two bottles of the Dos Equis to the mix. I have to say-I'm really loving cooking with beer! The flavor really concentrates and you can smell all of the great flavor in it. Once that had sufficiently reduced so that the alcohol was out, I added the chicken breasts to the pan to let them cook in the mixture. I turned them every 10 minutes or so.

In the meantime- I set to work on the slaw I wanted to have over the top- easy enough. I combined a couple of handfuls of the broccoli/carrot mixture with thinly sliced cucumbers, tomato, avocado, red onion, lime juice, 3/4 of a Serrano pepper (seeds removed this time), and a bit of salt. Then I made a dressing for this of a little mayo, about twice the amount of Dijon mustard, more lime juice, and a tiny shot of champagne vinegar. I tossed the veggies into this dressing and the dinner was almost complete.

Once I felt that the chicken was cooked, I removed it from the liquid, and shredded it using two forks in a big bowl. Then I assembled the tacos- a little cheese on the bottom of the wheat wrap, a layer of the shredded chicken, and then a healthy dose of the veggie slaw over the top. These were some incredibly filling tacos! They had really nice flavor from the beer, good heat from the slaw, which also added a nice light yet creamy flavor, and the necessary crunch of veggies to the meal. I really enjoyed the different textures and flavors that all of the different kinds of vegetables added to the dish. The tomatoes were nice and soft, the avocados backed up the cream of the sauce, the carrots and broccoli were the sturdy backbone, and the onions and cucumber added some great texture and flavor. The cheese was a good addition, but got a little lost under every thing else. I also, again, in my panic over chicken germs, over cooked the chicken. Id rather be safe than sorry- but in the future Ill need to be more careful then that. Ill definitely make these again- the chicken had such a nice flavor to it!!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Gaslight, South End, Boston

Last night I finally got the opportunity to dine at Gaslight, a French restaurant that opened just over a year ago or so in the South End of Boston. Since its first reviews I have wanted to check this place out. The ambiance was talked up as authentic Parisian cafe style, with street lights to floor tiles imported from France, and the menu was to match. I have always been a bit obsessed with classic French style, and so the idea of a place that pays enough attention to detail to ensure its style is spot on, is really exciting to me. So, and without too much pleading from me, we ventured over to Harrison Ave, took advantage of their complimentary parking lot, and got ready to be entrenched in French cuisine.

The space was much larger than I had anticipated, and could immediately see why many of the reviews that I had read about it warned of noise issues. The high ceilings didn't seem to give much help in limiting how much sound could travel. Luckily for us we were eating a later dinner last night, and so the place was relatively empty when we got there. No noise problems for us. We ordered a bottle of Merlot and began to study the menu. We chose to start with an appetizer of Fromage Blanc, a delicate soft white cheese topped with a sprinkling of herbes de provence, sea salt and a hint of olive oil, served with croutons and a medley of pickled vegetables. The dish was delicious. Fromage blanc is made similarly to a typical hard cheese, however it is constantly stirred during the process so the curds never settle, this creates a lovely spreadable texture similar to a light Ricotta. The herbs and salt gave a subtle back flavor, and when spread on a crouton and topped with a pickled carrot, or onion, or cucumber it gave a really beautiful combination of bite, crunch and cream.

I decided to have the roasted leg of lamb with pommes morbier. The lamb was perfectly cooked, pink on the inside, nice sear and flavor to the outside, and the spice rub that they used to enhance the meat was delicious. Spicy without being over powering, just really enhanced the good meaty flavor. The pommes morbier, or basically potatoes au gratin, with the cheese being morbier cheese were ok. They were cooked well so that each layer of potato held their shape, but the flavor was lacking. The cheese wasn't strong enough to hold its own, and there didn't appear to have been any other enhancers (salt, pepper, herbs of any kind) added as well. The best part of it was the top layer that had been nicely browned in the oven so it had good depth of flavor. Sadly- that part was pretty small.

I have to say though, as pleased as I was with my lamb, and I was very pleased, I had a bit of jealousy for J's meal. He had ordered their bar steak served with caramelized shallots, a mustard cream sauce, and frites. It was, in a word, outstanding. The steak was well cooked, nicely seasoned, and the mustard cream sauce was absolutely perfect with the shallots. The flavors combined to make just a wonderful combination of complete indulgence. The fries were also excellent, nice and crisp with great flavor and color to them.

We ended the meal with their Tart Tatin, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. This was really only ok. The apples were slightly over cooked, the caramel could have had a bit more flavor to it, and the crust was basically non existent. I was looking for a nice deep brown caramel that you knew was just oozing that wonderful flavor, and an apple with a bit of bite left in it. As it was the apples had good flavor, but were difficult to cut, and the caramel was enhanced greatly as the ice cream melted into it.

All in all though, I adored my experience at Gaslight. The ambiance was wonderful, the food had very high points that far out shined the lows, and I felt very well taken care of by the wait staff. I will definitely return to Gaslight, and perhaps take in their bar a bit more, and indulge in one of their famous cocktails!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Bleacher Bar, Boston

Summer is sadly coming to a close here in Boston, and while I love the fall, and the winter for that matter, I also have a great love for summertime in this city, and all that goes along with it. As I have mentioned several times already here, I love our Boston Red Sox, and heading to Fenway is one of my all time favorite summer activities. That warm night air, a cold beer, and the excitement of our beloved home town team battling for a title...its all just thrilling. I have been incredibly fortunate this year to make it to quite a few games thus far, last nights blow out of the Baltimore Orioles being the latest. There are a ton of great bars in the area, some very near and dear to my heart for pre and post game socializing, but there is a new one in their midst that I am quickly falling in love with. The Bleacher Bar opened earlier this season and boasts a view that no other "outside" bad can compete with. Built under Fenway stadium, a section of their back wall looks out on the field, at field level. I have been in a couple of times now, and each time am amazed by the view. Standing there, looking out on our own "field of dreams", its a majestic sight- whether there is a game going on or not!

Last night one of my girl friends and I decided to grab a bite there pre-game to add a little variety to our Fenway dinner fare. I was surprised at how limited the menu is, though that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I walked in anticipating "pub" food- burgers, the requisite salad or two, pizzas etc. The menu concentrates, almost wholly on sandwiches. They boast 7 different varieties of a club sandwich, and then have offerings of hot sandwiches and cold sandwiches, all with a variety of different types of meats. Boston is not known for its brisket and pastrami, so it is exciting to see those types of meats being used in sandwiches.

Being raised by a former New Yorker by way of New Jersey, I grew up with a taste for a good Pastrami sandwich on rye- heavy on the mustard. It was an immediate decision to order it last night, and when the waitress clarified- "we serve that with mustard is that ok?" I'm sure I didn't hide my disbelief that someone might actually order this awesome combination of salt and fat and spicy mustard WITHOUT the mustard. There is just something about the flavors of the sandwich that go so perfectly together, that the thought of ruining that with- I cant even imagine what- Mayo??- is just blasphemy in my book. I assured her that mustard was just fine by me. The sandwich, served in record time for us game bound ladies, was exactly as I had pictured it. A stack of pastrami, sandwiched between two pieces of light rye bread which just adds a delicious sour tangy flavor to the meal, and spread with spicy mustard was exactly what I wanted, and was served with a cute little bag of potato chips, and a whole pickle. To be a little picky- the pastrami could have been a bit hotter temperature wise, and for my taste, I would have appreciated a bit more mustard, though this was easily remedied as they had provided a bottle on the table. Overall though- it was a tasty sandwich, with nicely flavored potato chips, all washed down with a beer before running to our seats for the first inning- it all added up to an awesome evening.

Sometimes there are just great ideas out there, and while the food at Bleacher Bar may not be particularly inventive, or even complex, it serves its purpose well, AND the space provides more atmosphere than you could ever want. Bleacher Bar is now ranking as my favorite Fenway hang out.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Carlo's Cucina Italiana, Allston

Years ago I was looking for a great first date spot to suggest to a man that I had recently met. I wanted something cute, unassuming, and easy. My friend immediately suggested Carlo's Cucina Italiana in Allston. While my love affair with the gentleman was short lived, my love affair with Carlo's is still going strong. In fact, it hedges for one of my favorite Italian spots in the city.

Carlo's doesn't look like much from the outside. On Brighton Ave in Allston, if you aren't boasting a diverse beer menu, or cheap beer, the general population over looks you. But Carlo's quietly stands strong, offering delicious Italian meals, complete with homemade pasta, and servers that make you feel like one of the family.

Last week I had the opportunity to return to Carlo's after about a year and a half hiatus, walking back through those doors made me feel like walking back home. We were seated and our server was the daughter of the owner, who Ive had numerous times before, and is both informative, and welcoming.

My dinner for the evening is my long time favorite- Fusilli con Salsiccia & Broccoli Rabe which is basically homemade fusilli pasta with sausage and broccoli rabe in a light garlic and oil sauce, that I swear is slightly enhanced with a broth. Parmesan cheese is liberally sprinkled over the top and the dish comes together beautifully. There is something about homemade pasta that just makes me happy- the clean taste of it, the lack of preservatives, and the softness of it, is just wonderful. I also have this idea, and I'm happy to be wrong, that it absorbs the flavors of its accompaniments better. So the delightful peppery spice of the rabe is nicely imparted along with the garlic of the sauce. Maybe that's just me though. However I can say that the portions of pasta, broccoli rabe and big chunks of sausage are perfect in the dish. I often find that some places over use sausage and the resulting dish is incredibly heavy. The use of the nice light sauce, and the slightly bitter rabe offset the heaviness of the sausage so it all comes together perfectly.

I have to say, every meal that Ive had at Carlo's has been stellar. I have had several conversations with Irene, who was our server this time as well, and the love that goes into each dish is clear. The place has been in her family's hands for decades, with her father making lasagna on Sundays as the special, some of the pastas being made by hand, and her mother making the Tiramisu. The restaurant is small, but it produces some of the best Italian food I've had, and the biggest amount of heart.

If you haven't made the trek to Allston, no not for the beer, but for this absolute gem of a whole in the wall- you should. Immediately.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

La Morra, Brookline, Restaurant Week

Restaurant week has returned to Boston once again, and we all know what that means- some of the best restaurants in the city put together a limited menu and charge just $33.08 for a three course dinner. For many reasons- you just cant beat it. The price is right, you get to go to restaurants that you may normally not be able to, and it feels like a fantastic night out! However, there are reasons that Restaurant Week is not the best- people often complain that the food is not of the highest quality, that the chefs don't bring their "A game" and that the waitstaff isn't as attentive as they might be. There is something to be said for that. If the chef is used to creating a seasonal, fresh menu, and utilizing whatever is in season that week, and having some variety in the dishes he's preparing, then to prepare the same three entrees over and over may prove to be incredibly repetitive. However, being the food freak that I am- I cant resist hitting at least one spot in honor of the week.

Sunday night I dined at La Morra in Brookline to taste their offerings. I was very impressed with their menu to start because they had expounded on the normal three options for appetizer, three for entree and three for dessert. La Morra offered a full four course meal, with 6-7 options for each. For my appetizer I chose the Arugula and Zucchini salad with shaved Parmesan. I have been a little obsessed with the peppery qualities of arugula for quite some time now, and zucchini has been a staple of my summer diet. So to have the two together, esp with the addition of Parmesan cheese- I was quite excited about it. The salad was definitely tasty. It was well dressed without being too much, and the zucchini and the arugula nicely balanced each other. The dressing was very lemony, which was a great compliment to the pepper of the arugula, though I believe it was a bit too heavily salted. The cheese however was delicious and sturdy- just as it should have been to stand up to the bold flavors of the dressing.

My second course was a Tomato Risotto. I loved that they mixed yellow and red cherry tomatoes, as well as sliced sun dried tomatoes. Together these had a really nice contrast and showed the versatility of the fruit. I'm always a fan of a chef using several different variations of the same ingredient in a single dish. However, the risotto itself was undercooked. The grains had an unsettling crunch to them and it was rather distracting to the flavor that was so lovely. Perhaps this is an example of the chef not bringing his "a game" to the restaurant week crowd, but in my estimation, if you're going to offer risotto, you should know how to cook risotto.

Third I had a hanger steak that was served with a potato gratin made with ricotta, grilled zucchini, and a salsa verde. Unfortunately, I found the entire dish flavorless. The gratin, to be honest, didn't hold a single rewarding quality. It was bland to taste, and bland to look at. A bit of parsley, or thyme, or any herb would have gone a long way with it. The steak didn't appear to have been seasoned at all, again-a little salt and pepper perhaps? It was rather dry and had nothing exciting about it. The salsa verde, which I was most excited about, was more of the same. Very little of it was served, and what was on my plate was just tasteless. I got the impression, that someone in the back had rationed out my salt intake for the evening, and used it all up in the first course. I would have been much happier had they spaced it out a bit.

For dessert, we split the tiramisu and the panna cotta with raspberry coulis. Though the presentation for the panna cotta was lacking, a big piece had been shifted out of its molded spot, the flavor and texture was delicious. Just enough vanilla bean was visible to the eye and was tasted throughout, and the raspberry coulis was perfect in addition. This was a winner of a dish. The tiramisu was also tasty. Quite a bit of rum soaked the base layer, and the fillings were nice and creamy. The heavy sprinkle of cocoa powder on top was perfect to add the chocolate factor to the dish. Dessert was delicious.

Our server was also great. He was able to speak to every dish on the menu, and provide suggestions as well as clarifications to what certain items contained. He was friendly and pleasant and made the night quite enjoyable.

However, overall, both my dining companion and I were dissatisfied with our meals. She had started with a grilled potato salad, that again- was seasoned nicely, if not too much, but she found the potatoes very tough and wondered how old they were. Unfortunately, that's not the best impression of a restaurant. I would try La Morra again in the hopes that Restaurant Week is just not the best time to go, but for now- I'm in no rush to return.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bar 12-21, Morton's, Boston

A few days ago a friend of mine and I were out for some drinks and decided to get a little food, more of a snack, to go with our beers and wine. His suggestion was Morton's bar, 12-21. It turned out to be a fantastic suggestion. The bar itself was relatively quiet, just a few people scattered around it, while the restaurant and private rooms were still jumping. We settled in, got some drinks, and perused the menu for what our evening snack would be. 12-21 has devised a really creative "bar menu" full of tasty selections for a reasonable cost. Honestly, we had difficulty choosing what we were going to have, but finally decided on the Four Petite Filet Mignon Sandwiches and the Blue Cheese French Fries. I was VERY happy with our selections.
The filet was served medium rare (as it should be) in sandwich form with a tasty mustard mayonnaise that really complimented the beef well. If there is one thing that I am- its a tried and true carnivore. I really enjoy the taste, the flavor, of beef, so I really enjoyed that the sauce wasn't at all over powering, but simply added a bit of wetness to the bread, and another dimension to the offering. I do have to note though- the portions of filet were not generous. They were thin slices of the beef, maybe two to a sandwich. Now-I wasn't anticipating a full serving at the prices that they were charging, but the meat got a little lost in the bread that that they served it on. If they were looking for suggestions, I would think maybe a smaller serving of bread- as opposed to a soft roll, maybe toast (?) or a ciabatta bread that seems a bit thinner by nature? Something that doesn't completely over power the rest of the ingredients as they are spot on, and completely delicious.
The Blue Cheese French Fries were...honestly...to die for. The fries were crisp, perfectly crisp, and piping hot. The blue cheese crumbled over them gave that beautiful tangy flavor, and the softness of the cheese really offset the crisp fries. The part that I really loved though, was that they had sprinkled some red pepper flakes over the top as well. It was a fantastic addition- the lovely fried, starchy flavor of the potato, the tangy and creamy cheese, and then spicy hot pepper flakes- it was a perfect dish.
The setting of the bar was also very nice. Morton's in the Back Bay is underground, so I almost had that "gentleman's club" feel while there. Its quiet and elegant inside, with several private rooms for intimate dining. The bar was spacious, and to my initial happiness, the bar tender was chatty and friendly. However, I fear that my friend and I slightly abused him with some Red Sox post- trade banter. With any luck, he wont remember me though- I have to go back for some of those fries- they were out of this world!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cityside, Brighton, MA

I do love food, and some might consider me a "foodie"-though does anyone know what the real definition of that is? However there are some restaurants that make me incredibly happy, even though their food is only so so. These are the places that hold memories, that you've had great times in with friends or family, and that going back to, again and again in some cases, make you feel as though you're almost going home. I recently got to re-visit one of my favorite restaurants from when I first moved into Boston- Cityside Bar and Grille in Brighton.

The food at Cityside is not stellar. Its nothing out of the ordinary- general pub food really- but being there just brings back these wonderful memories and feelings. I enjoyed my grilled salmon salad well enough- the salmon was fully cooked-something that I relish in a place that isn't known for great seafood, and the greens were fresh. The dressing, nicely served on the side, was light, fresh and delicious. Was the meal inspired? Is it somewhere that Id tell out of towners they HAVE to go to? No. But Cityside remains one of my favorite spots.

I think that that is one of the best things about food-wonderful feelings can well up from little things. Of course there is something to be said for a beautifully prepared, perfectly cooked, well plated meal. I will never knock that, and completely appreciate it, however how often do you order a slice of apple pie and emphatically proclaim that your mom's is better? Is it really? Well maybe, but more so you're probably associating the taste with the love of being home again, in mom's kitchen enjoying the fruits of her labor. In that case-its not about what schools the chef went to, or where they were trained, but more its about those wonderful feelings that are instilled from the memories of what apple pie means to you. That is what Cityside is to me- its a place that I know, that I feel as though I had some of my first "after work cocktails" in, and became the city girl that I am in.

Cityside- your food may not be off the charts (though I challenge anyone to not enthusiastically suck down a house made MGM cocktail in record time) but you hold many wonderful memories for me, and have won a place on my list of favorites.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Individual meatloaf, tomato beer sauce, lazy mans mashed potatoes

After what turned out to be a very hectic week last week, all I wanted to do on Friday was relax at home, and unwind by cooking myself a good meal. I decided that since it wasn't ridiculously hot out, I could try making an idea I've been playing with for meatloaf over the past couple of months. Basically, I wanted to do individual servings, complete with mashed potatoes, and greens. My original idea had concentric circles- a little round of meatloaf, potatoes around that and then the final circle of greens- most likely spinach. I got a little lazy on Friday and so I amended this slightly- individual meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and then this tomato based sauce with arugula over the top. Similar- and I am pleased to say- really good.

After work, I headed to Whole Foods to pick up the meats for the meat loaf. I like to combine a variety of different meats to give a really good flavor. So I got a third of a pound of ground veal, a third of ground pork, and the same of 85% lean ground beef. I also picked up a package of pepper rubbed bacon, some tomatoes, parsley, basil, and garlic.

Back at home, I cubed up about four tomatoes, layed them out on a baking dish and covered them with lots of parsley, basil, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, and then put them in the over under the broiler to roast them a little bit. I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to do with these tomatoes, but I knew I wanted them somehow. I love ketchup, tomato sauce on my meatloaf. I also started my lazy mans mashed potatoes, by cubing up red potatoes, skins still on, and putting them in a pot with cold water. About half way through making the rest of my dinner I turned on this pot to get them a boiling.

To get started on my meatloaf, I chopped up some onions, baby portabello mushrooms, and zucchini. I added the onions to a saute pan with a little vegetable oil and some thyme and let them cook over medium/low heat until they turned translucent. I then added the mushrooms and zucchini til the were cooked through. While they were hanging out, I combined the three types of meat in a bowl, added parsley, garlic, basil and one egg. I mixed these together, and then started adding bread crumbs til the mixture dried out a bit. Once the veggies had cooled a bit, I added them in, and then countered the additional moisture with just a little more breadcrumbs, and of course a little salt and pepper. Then i divided the mixture into five ramekins, topped each with two pieces of the peppered bacon and put into a 400 degree oven. They baked for about a half hour before they were ready to come out.

Meanwhile, I opened a bottle of Sam Adams Brown Ale, and added it to the saute pan I had cooked the veggies in, with just a teaspoon of butter as well. I allowed this to simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes or so, until I saw the liquid reducing, and the smell had concentrated quite a bit. Then I added my roasted tomatoes to the beer, and made a sauce from that, and some arugula that I added in last minute. The smell of this was amazing. It had a great herby tomato smell, and enhanced just sightly by the caramel of the Brown Ale.

The final step was just to mash up the potatoes with a little butter and cream, and dinner was ready. I laid out a little bed of potatoes, removed the meatloaf from its ramekin, and placed that on top. Then I spooned just a bit of the sauce on top of the meatloaf.

I have to admit-I used a bit too much salt- but otherwise I am really pleased with this meal. The mushrooms and zucchini added a nice texture and flavor to the meat, and sauce was delicious. This was my first experience with making a sauce from beer, and I really liked it. Ill definitely use it more often, I'm already starting to think of what else I can use with it...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fresh Baked Chocolate Chip Cookies

There is just nothing more comforting than a home made, fresh baked chocolate chip cookie. Ive been making these since middle school, and even then I remember the kids in my class making a big deal out of them. As though it were yesterday I remember a good friend of mine, who remains a close friend today, looking at me very seriously while chomping down on a cookie, and saying, almost in a whisper, "these are better than my moms". I took that to be the highest of praise, esp from a 12 year old boy. Since then, making cookies has always been one of my favorite things to do, though I rarely make them due to, well...all of the hours at the gym Id have to make up if I did. However, as my office is entering into our insanely busy time, I thought that my co workers deserved a treat. So last night I ran to the grocery store to pick up some missing ingredients, and set to work on my cookies.

Ill tell you the secret of my chocolate chip cookies- I'm not scared. I use the recipe on the back of the Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chips. Its out there for the world to see. I love these cookies- they are soft without being cakey. I am strongly opposed to a cake like cookie-if I wanted cake- Id eat cake. Why am I eating cake when I want a cookie? But at the same time- completely crisp cookies don't thrill me either. Too crunchy and Ill only eat a bite. So I need that perfect combination of soft, chewy and cookie like. Of course to achieve this, the perfect amount of butter is needed-hence my sporadic nature of making them.

I wont site the whole recipe here- its on a bag of chocolate chips in your nearest grocery store- but I will tell you my other secret. I don't make JUST chocolate chip cookies (hold the nuts thank you)- I make special ones. I add a healthy dose of Heath Bar chips. They add this great caramel flavor, enhance the chew factor and make my cookie eating friends say- "oooh what is that?". My mom and I learned this trick years ago- and I have to say, to this day, Ive never seen Chocolate Chip Heath Bar cookies anywhere else. Have we discovered a great new cookie? If you go off and make these for yourselves, readers, please-let me know what you think!

I do know that I need to broaden my cookie making abilities, as these little pieces of heaven are really all that I ever make as they are my favorite. However, last spring I got to have some amazing Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies...they were outstanding. And so maybe its time for me to start more experiment with textures and flavors within my baking...hmmmmm

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Eat This! 1001 Things to Eat Before You Diet, by Ian Jackman

I have a severe problem- I'm obsessed with food. I recognize it, and I know I should be getting help for it, but I just cant. I refuse. Part of my addiction, aside from eating and cooking, is reading. I read every book I can find about food. I find them inspiring, as well as educational. Heat by Bill Buford I got tons of inspiration out of, and seriously wondered if some great chef somewhere would allow me to apprentice in his kitchen. The Last Days of Haute Cuisine: The Coming of Age of American Restaurants by Patric Kuh, taught me the history of the American restaurant as it changed from something that only the highest echelon of people would go to, to a standard in our day to day lives. The introduction of credit was the beginning of this change, and the types of restaurants that accepted credit was the beginning of the divide. Food has been a deciding influence, whether we choose to see it or not, for ages. I had never considered it before but garlic was once considered peasant food, and would never cross a proper Frenchman's plate. Today, you can hardly find a dish that doesn't incorporate its goodness-at least in my humble kitchen.

Now, as odd as it may be, I tend to do my food reading at the gym. Call it inspiration during perspiration and the kick I need to keep going. Anyway, my current gym read has been Eat This! 1001 Things to Eat Before You Diet by Ian Jackman. I present this to you with the caveat that I have not yet finished this book. Actually not even close- so I'm not going to present this as book report. However I do want anyone who loves food to read this. You can borrow my copy when I finish it-but I want it back- this will be used as a type of encyclopedia.

Jackman starts off his accounts with fresh produce. He visits farms all over the US showcasing their incredible wares. The best apples from New York State, tangerines from Rhode Island, and where they got their start. He discusses celery, and where it gets its green color from, and how tasty its white counterpart is. Berries from the NorthWest, which all sound wonderful and I can personally account for Marion Berries from Oregon. They may be the best berry ever. He finds fruits that Ive never heard of before, and actually I don't think he had either, and determines the best way to eat them. After exploring all the fresh fruits and vegetables he can, he delves into prepared foods. Pickles and mustard (TONS of mustard) and other wonderful condiments. Then into Cereals. Who knew that the oldest cereal, at least in this study, is Grapenuts? We're starting in on baked goods now. Hes gone through the best donut hes ever had (let me tell you- that was good gym reading), and other tarts. I'm currently still reading his baked goods descriptions, and I'm loving every minute of it.

This is a book that makes me want to hop in the car, drive across country and stop at every stand, market and festival hes talked about. The US is chock full of undiscovered treats, and savory findings- who wants to head out on a road trip with me?

FYI- National Mustard Day (which DOES have an accompanying festival) is August 2nd this year!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Grilled Steak, Broccoli Salad, and Grill Roasted Potatoes

Summertime to me equals many things, some of which Ive already mentioned here, but above all, Summertime equals bar-be-ques to me. Grilling over an open flame like our fore-fathers used to do. Man versus nature- there's just something pure about it. Its almost...religious? Maybe I'm going a bit too far, but I am a huge fan of grilling on nice night, and all that goes along with it.

A friend of mine quite nicely offered up his grill the other day for my use since I am grill free in my apartment sadly. I leapt at the chance for some steaks, so off to the grocery store I went. I picked up two steaks, and all of the ingredients for the sides I wanted to do. Back at home, I salt and peppered the steak, and then put it in a zip lock bag with fresh squeezed orange juice, lots of thyme and garlic. I then popped it into the fridge to let it marinate before I headed to my friends place. Then I made what I felt like would be a tasty and nutritious salad. I steamed up some broccoli and some green beans, and then allowed them to cool for a bit. Then I just added chopped cucumber to the mix. For a dressing, I mixed together non fat greek yogurt (quite an obsession of mine because it is SO good for you), lemon juice, a tiny bit of honey to balance the acidity, and dill- for that classic twist. A little bit of salt to meld it all together, and then I just tossed all my veggies in the dressing. The salad was ready to go.

My final side is a throw back to a childhood favorite. When I was really little, I remember grilling with my dad, and we would always make potatoes on the grill. Basically, we used to cut potatoes down into chunks- usually about an inch, inch and a half in size, wrap each one individually in tinfoil, and then pile them on to the grill. These were delicious to eat, but an absolute pain to make- literally and figuratively as unwrapping hot potatoes caused for a few burns. So a few years ago I got the idea to instead of wrapping each one, use a tin foil pan, and just roast them open air. I added olive oil and herbs, and had a really flavorful potato. Lacking a tinfoil pan, I improvised on Wednesday. I sliced thin slices of red potato, then layered them on half a sheet of tin foil with lots of thyme, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil. Once I had enough layers I folded over the other half of the tin foil and sealed them together- a nice envelope for the grill.

I packed up my food and set off for my friends place where I remembered that grilling, at night, after the sun has gone down-is not the easiest thing to do. I take full responsibility for over cooking the steaks-which was incredibly sad as the marinade was really good. The sugar from the oranges had caramelized some on the outside and given that nice crust to the meat, and the inside had just the delicate flavors. The salad was nice and refreshing- light, crisp and cool on a hot summer night. Exactly the flavors I was looking for while giving all the nutrition of good vegetables. The potatoes were also good- great flavor from roasting them and a really nice tribute to meat and potatoes.

All in all- I have to say I was extremely happy to be sitting outside on a gorgeous summer evening, grilling and eating away- I'm telling you-there is just something about it that screams "IDYLLIC SUMMER" to me :-)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

La Verdad, Boston

Friday evening I had the good fortune to get to go to the Sox game. There is something about baseball on a warm summer night that just screams "fantastic" to me. Deciding against park food (pahk food if you'd prefer), my friend and I decided to get some Margaritas, eat outside, and check out La Verdad, a newer restaurant down by Fenway.

This is a place Ive been meaning to check out for a couple of reasons. The first- Ive heard very different reviews of it- some saying its the most authentic Mexican place in Boston, others saying its completely horrible. The second reason, after my lovely experience at Villa Mexico a couple of weeks ago- Ive been on a bit of a taco kick.

So we scored a table on their outside "patio", basically just a roped off section of the sidewalk, which is awesome because its outside, though in reality-its less than awesome. We ordered a pitcher if their Margarita's-which between two people- maybe a bit much as we had to race to finish them, but they were very tasty. Then I ordered the three taco combination- the first their Carne Asada-which was recommended to me by my friend, and served with caramelized onions, guacamole and a salsa. The second was their Pescado-fried fish served with cabbage, an avocado puree, crema, salsa, and a chipotle mayonnaise. The third I chose Pastore Traditional- pork adobo, roasted pineapple, lime, cilantro and onion. These were served with side accompaniments of re fried beans and yucatan slaw. Over all I found them to be really good. The soft taco shells tasted home made, nice and salt free to allow the flavors of the stuffings to be clear.

The Carne Asada was delicious. The steak was nice and tender and the caramelized onions were a perfect addition-added that nice sweet taste to offset the meaty steak. The guacamole and salsa added that great Mexican flair to it, while bringing the heat and creamy flavors to enhance the taco. The Pastore Traditional was also really good. The pork was nice and spicy and the accompaniments were nice and refreshing. I am not someone who really enjoys cilantro, though am upset when it is omitted from Mexican cuisine where it is obviously needed, and in this dish its flavor was perfect. Exactly what the pork needed. The Pescado was only so so. I found the flavor of the fried fish to be overwhelming to the rest of the ingredients, and nothing else was of note. To be honest- I ate it as fast as possible to have it be done with. The re fried beans were nice though, sometimes I taste a burnt taste in them that I didn't find here, and the slaw that was placed on top if them added a nice refreshing crunch when eaten together.

I will definitely return to La Verdad. Though the ambiance is not great, and visions of its former self as the Tiki Room, or whatever it was called, kept coming back to me, I did really like the food. And the margaritas were quite good :-)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Stephanie's On Newbury

Being a nervous flier, I asked my mom to brunch Sunday morning before I left on my little business trip to San Francisco. Knowing that neither of us had been to Stephanie's on Newbury Street, we settled on that as our location.

Stephanies is one of those Newbury Street restaurants that gives the image of “see and be seen”, where the posh take their break from shopping at Marc Jacobs and Burberry to sip cocktails on their expansive patio in the summer, and near their fireplace in the winter. I was highly anticipating my meal there, hoping, for their quality to be at the level that their location and popularity demands.

Their brunch menu is good. It is large and nicely separated in to items with a “breakfast feel” and items with a “lunch feel”- the true experience of brunch. My mother and I both decided to choose off of the breakfast side, her with frittered French toast, stuffed with cheese and raspberry jam, and I chose their roasted chicken and sweet potato hash with poached eggs and a jalapeƱo hollandaise sauce. I was really excited for the circular chicken experience, and the different take on eggs benedict. The jalapeno sauce sounded pretty tasty as well. The chicken was nicely roasted, and combined very nicely with a healthy serving of potatoes. The potatoes had nicely been able to keep their original flavor, that wonderful delicate flavor that I feel that too often people try to expunge with sugar or marshmallows, or just too many herbs. Stephanie’s did a wonderful job of preserving that flavor. The two eggs that sat on top of the pile we cooked perfectly so that a slight puncture of the fork allowed the yolk to spill out, and was actually really delightful sopped up with potatoes as opposed to the usual bread. The hollandaise sauce was alright for a hollandaise sauce, though it congealed a bit to quickly for my liking. It also, at least to my taste buds, contained very little jalapeno. I saw flecks of green in the sauce that I assumed were the peppers, however there was not heat to the sauce, which was actually the part of the dish I was most looking forward to. A nice healthy heat, cooled by egg yolk I think would be a fantastic start to a day. Alas, I was let down.

The frittered French Toast was as decadent as you might imagine though. Two slices of bread, slathered with cream cheese and raspberry jam put together and then fried created a really wonderful, sweet dish. The outsides of the bread were really nice and crispy, and the bread had been able to maintain its yeast like texture. My mother commented that often with French Toast the bread is soaked so much that you lose the integrity of the bread all together. This was perfectly done. The only complaint- that perhaps cream cheese was not the best filling. Its tang was a bit much with the rest of the flavors, and we dreamed of the delicate cream of Marscapone Cheese, or something similar. Perhaps even a combination of Marscapone and Cream Cheese? One can dream.

Stephanie’s had a very inventive menu, one that I had a difficult time choosing between and I would welcome the opportunity to taste their other offerings, especially as we both noticed that their salads looked very good.

I do have one question for management though- it appeared that half the tables received a basket of breakfast breads, and the other half did not. They were not on the menu- who decides who receives and who does not?

Restaurant Reviews: A dead art?

Last December I declared 2023 the year I would return to food writing.  It was a bold statement (even now as I look at my last published dat...