Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fish Tacos

As summer begins, I start to crave lighter and lighter foods to satisfy my hunger, probably my body's way of saying- "Um excuse me- you need to wear a bathing suit soon", and of course that says nothing about the two huge Italian meals I ate last weekend. However, last night I had a post gym craving of a light, tasty meal to accompany my Celtics watching, and decided on Fish Tacos- that, when not fried, are incredibly healthy. I decided to make them even healthier by adding some non conventional ingredients.

I picked up some Tilapia fillets at the grocery store, as well as some fresh baby spinach, an avocado, and some whole wheat tortillas. Unfortunately they were out of the small "taco" tortillas so I ended up with the huge "burrito" tortillas, but I figured that they would suffice. I also cut out a few corners and picked up a pre cut mix for coleslaw figuring I could doctor it up at home a bit. Sadly, they were also out of cilantro.

Back at home, I opened my package of Tilapia, and generously doused it with lemon juice. Then I chopped up a small amount of a shallot, and added that to about a tablespoon of vegetable oil in the bottom of a fry pan with a little kosher salt. Once that had heated through I spooned a full teaspoon of my ginger spread into the pan as well and allowed it to melt down. Once it had, I added the Tilapia fillets and allowed them to absorb those flavors while cooking.

I then turned my attention to my "slaw". In a small bowl I used just a small tablespoon of mayo, and added a generous helping of hot sauce to it. I was really wishing I had the cilantro at this point, however healthy handfuls of the pre-chopped veggies made for a nice and crispy slaw with not too much mayo, and a nice background of heat.

Once the fish had finished cooking, approximately 3-4 minutes each side, I began my taco assembly. I took one large tortilla, that I had heated in the oven wrapped in damp paper towels and tinfoil, and layed it flat on my plate. Then I put on a generous portion of the fresh spinach, then the fish, a few spoonfuls of salsa, a few slices of fresh avocado and then the slaw on top. I rolled it up, and though I haven't perfected my "burrito" style rolling, it was a pretty taco! The flavors of the fish, from the light lemon flavor to the popping ginger, the heat of the coleslaw and the salsa, and the differences between hot and cold were wonderful combinations. It was filling, and felt incredibly light and healthy- esp with the addition of lots of spinach.

I think I have found another perfect summer meal for myself :-)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

75 Chestnut, Boston

Last night I got to finally check out a restaurant that Ive been wanting to try for quite a while. 75 Chestnut is located on a quaint side street off of Charles Street in Beacon Hill. I think that its quiet sophistication is what has called me to it, nothing showy, and I hoped that those ideals would be passed into its food.

Inside the small sized restaurant you had the same feeling. The room was decorated with trinkets that led you to believe that they were just simply discoveries along the way, from series of paintings of trees to a few jolly garden gnomes. Each of these obscure finds made me feel as though I was in a comfortable spot, somewhere to relax and enjoy. The tower of cheese that greeted us as we entered assisted in this idea as well.

We were led to a table and just after sitting I heard a waiter speaking to the ladies who sat next to us- his manner was increasingly friendly, educating them about the dessert menu in a knowledgeable way, but equally accepting their refusal and encouraging them to sit as long as they like to finish their wine. Being encouraged to enjoy my stay in a restaurant is one of my all time favorites. Too often servers are excited to get the next party to the table and tend to unconsciously rush their patrons. I was pleased at his efforts to have them relax and got a warm feeling that my expectations for the restaurant would be upheld.

We ordered, no surprise I'm sure, the mussels to start. They were served in a wine broth with chorizo sausage, tomatoes, garlic and a variety of herbs. They were wonderful- the broth was thick enough to stick to the mussels themselves and add to their flavor, and the accompanying bread was great for sopping it up. The sausage added a nice heat to the dish.

For my entree, I chose the Nantucket Seafood Stew, which was a nice medley of shrimp, scallops, salmon, halibut and sea bass in a tomato based broth with potatoes and carrots added in. As I started into the stew, I really enjoyed the different textures of types of fish along with the different vegetables. The fish were beautifully cooked, flaky to the fork and had maintained their own flavor as opposed to taking on the general flavor of the stew. The shrimp were equally good, however I found the scallops to be a bit of a disappointment. I believe that they cooked them just in the pot with the rest of the stew, so they lacked that beautiful texture combination of the seared outside and the soft inside that they normally have. They had lost all flavor of their own which was also rather disappointing. However, on a chilly, rainy night in May the stew was hearty and good and made me almost too full for dessert. Almost.

We decided to split their trio of creme brulee, which was served as three pots of creme brulee, one Tahitian Vanilla, one Passion fruit and one bittersweet chocolate. I have a very strong affinity for creme brulee in its purest sense, so I have to say that I really enjoyed the Vanilla the best. The Passion fruit was very tasty, however the sugar crust hid the taste of the fruit until the very end, and then it was delicious, but I would have liked to have had a stronger presence. The chocolate was good...honestly though it was nothing to write home about. Basically pudding with a crust, I took a few bites and then felt satisfied. For me to turn down chocolate is not a normal affair. I was also disappointed in the latte that they served, the coffee was extremely weak, and whether they had added too much milk or it was just old coffee, it was cold. To be fair, lattes are not on their menu and so it is possible that by doing us the favor of making them we had really asked too much- but I would have been much happier had they just politely declined to serve it.

That said, I really enjoyed my experience at 75 Chestnut. The ambiance, the attitude and the food all combined to a good experience and one that I will return to.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sex and the City Party

Friday night was an evening I have been anticipating for weeks. For the past couple of months, every few weeks, some of my girlfriends and I have been hosting Sex and the City nights to prepare for the upcoming release of the movie. We've gathered at each of our apartments, popped in a season of the show and chomped down on some delicious food and topped it all off with a drink of the evening, starting with a Back Bay Cosmo the first week. This week was my week to host.

Being the ridiculous foodie that I am, I was envisioning my menu since I picked the date. I wanted to do a summery menu, lighter food, especially since a couple of the girls are off to a tropical location in just a few days. I settled on making mussels, my first attempt, baked chicken fingers, and cup cakes- no not healthy but I wanted to test out my hand at baking.

For the mussels I combined a small amount of olive oil and butter in the botton of a large fry pan and turned the heat to medium. after they had melted together I added chopped garlic, basil, parsely and a small amount of salt and pepper and allowed them to sautee together. Then I added some coarsley chopped tomatoes, and then finally about three quarters of a bottle of chardonnay. I covered the pan and allowed it to simmer for a while to cook off the alcohol from the wine. While it was simmering I sorted through the mussels. Mussels need to be kept cold as you end up cooking them while they are still alive. Of course, some will die during transit (ocean to the grocery store, store to your house) so those must be removed before cooking. You can tell which havent made the full journey if the shells are broken or if the mussel has opened its shell. So I weeded out all of the dead ones, and then added all of the mussels that still had their shells tightly closed to the ban which had made a nice broth for them. I covered the pan again and within about 5 minutes, the mussels had all opened their shells and were ready to serve. I decided to serve the mussels with chunks of bread that I grilled in my grill pan and then lightly painted with a butter, garlic and parsley mixture just to give them some flavor. I have to say, mussels were the easiest to make, and incredibly affordable- I think I have found my summer meal!! Yum!!

The chicken fingers I decided to make were rather simple as well. I bought chicken tenders, basically small pieces of chicken breast, skin free, from the grocery store, and soaked them for about a half hour in a mixture of buttermilk, pepper, and tobasco (obviously I add tobasco to everything). Then I dipped the pieces into crushed whole wheat Chex (well the Whole Foods version of Chex) and placed them on a baking sheet. About 25 minutes in the oven at 400 degrees...out came nicely crispy, well flavored chicken fingers that I served with sides of fat free ranch dressing and salsa.

Finally, it was time for the cupcakes. In season 5 of Sex and the City, Carrie has her book release party- pink cupcakes are served. I thought it would be a fun throw back to them to make some fun pink frosted cup cakes. So I made vanilla box cupcakes (I didnt have THAT much time :-) ), and then decided that I wanted to stuff them. So I made a batch of instant vanilla pudding, and then added defrosted frozen raspberries to it. Unfortunately, I hadnt allowed the pudding to gel properly and I ended up making raspberry vanilla pudding soup....not quite the best consistency for stuffing cupcakes. So I decided to thicken that up a bit with some reduced fat ricotta cheese that I had in the fridge. This made a nice thick creamy mixture, perfect for piping into cupcakes. So I pulled out my handy dandy cake decorating set and used the smallest piping attachment to shoot some of the raspberry pudding cheese into the bottom of each cupcake. I found out later- great idea- but I didnt get the mixture as far into the cake as I would have liked- I think either I should shoot it into three separate places next time, or use smaller cup cakes. Then I made a nice icing out of fresh whipped cream, flavored with some raspberry extract as opposed to vanilla, and folded in some of the remaining raspberries. The whipped cream took on a nice light pink color, and was a wonderful topping to my cute little stuffed cupcakes. The girls loved them and luckily I only had a couple left over for my weekend indulgences.

The drink I decided to make was suggested by D, as a throw back to the cocktail parties of the 50's and 60's- a good sherbet punch. D is also WELL aware of my affinity for champagne :-). So I mixed together just a couple of shots of vodka, black cherry juice, and champagne in a large pitcher, and then topped it all of with a Hyacinth sorbet. It was delicious. Sometimes I find that punch can be a bit too sweet, but this had a nice tartness to it, was good and bubbly, and the sorbet added the cold and a good amount of sugar. Overall-it was a successful cocktail addition- and one that I think Ill be making again soon....Birthday cocktail perhaps??? I think so.

With food in hand and cocktails abounding it was a perfect evening to sit back with some girl friends and season 5. Just a little over a week now til the movie comes out!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Bin 26 Enoteca, Boston

Since my sister was in town this weekend for Mothers Day, we decided to take my mom out for a nice dinner on Saturday evening. Looking for a unique new place that my mother hadn't been before, we decided on Bin 26 Enoteca, located on Charles Street, in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood.

An enoteca, by Italian definition is a wine bar for all intents and purposes, and Bin 26 has done all it can to keep the idea behind a traditional Italian wine bar alive and well in its design. They offer many small dishes perfect for sharing, along with an extremely extensive wine menu. One thing that I really enjoy about how they serve their wines is that they vary the size of the glasses, so you can choose between a traditional bottle, a 100 ml glass, a 250 ml glass or a 500 ml glass. Choosing to have a couple 100 ml glasses allowed me to taste a couple of different wines. Our waitress was very knowledgeable on each of the wines that we inquired about, able to give a clear and concise description of each. While you may anticipate this type of detail in an enoteca, I feel that it is an important detail and one worth mentioning.

We started our meals with a few small plates for sharing, marinated olives, Grana Padano served with an aged balsamic vinegar, fried risotto balls stuffed with fontina cheese, beef carpaccio, and mussels. Grana Padano is a hard cheese, prepared similarly to Parmigiano Reggiano, cooked and ripened slowly, and made from the milk of grass fed cows. It has a similar texture to the Parmigian that we all know today, with a slightly stronger taste. The Balsamic vinegar that it is served with is aged to a degree where it is a thick syrup that has a delightful cut to the cheese. Together, the two are heaven.

The risotto balls stuffed with fontina cheese are another dish that's a basic home run. The risotto grains provide a nice texture contrast to the warm melted fontina cheese, and the fried outside gives a nice crunch to them. They are served toasty warm, two to a dish, and are completely addictive. They were the hit of the evening. Second to those, at least in my opinion as second place is a bit of a toss up, was the beef carpaccio. When done right, carpaccio is one of my all time favorites, and this was done right. Raw beef, that's been only lightly seared, served paper thin drizzled with olive oil and topped with arugula- this dish provides a certain lightness of a salad, while also adding an experimental vibe in that the beef is certainly raw. Sometimes feeling a little daring in your ordering can make things just that much more interesting. Bin 26 provided the perfect combination of beef, greens and oil, while adding, and I'm not sure from where, the hint of mustard that completed this dish perfectly.

As I said, second place for the evening was a tie, the other competitor being their mussels. Served in a spicy tomato sauce, these were cooked perfectly, served without any "rejects", or ones with the shell still closed. The sauce provided an excellent back drop to the dish, nicely clinging to the meat and tasty enough to sop up with the table bread. Completely delicious.

Unfortunately, I was not as impressed with our main dishes. We chose to split two entrees, one a cocoa tagliatelle with mushrooms enhanced with orange rind, and one of their specials for the evening, scallops with a fettuccine. To start with the good- the scallops were perfectly cooked. They were lightly seared, cooked to be tender, and not at all rubbery. They were delicious. However, the fettuccine was nothing remarkable, nor was the sauce served with it. On the same note, the cocoa tagliatelle was only alright. When you were lucky enough to find a bit of the orange rind with the pasta, it was quite good, but sadly those instances were few and far between. The mushrooms that accompanied it were well seasoned, but had taken on that "slimy" affect that can make them rather unappetizing.

This was my second time dining at Bin 26, and I'm sad to report that I had similar experiences both times. The small plates are wonderful- well seasoned, imaginative, delicious- but the entrees almost seem to be an ill conceived after thought. They appear to be on the menu out of necessity, but not because the chef is excited to make them. We all know that love is a key ingredient in any dish, and it just doesn't appear to make it the entree dishes. Don't let it dissuade you though, Bin 26 nails its small courses, and has enough of them to make a plentiful meal, and its wine selection should not be missed.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Spicy ginger shrimp with veggies and mashed potatoes

So last night as I was wandering around the grocery store (one of my favorite places to relax) I found a jar of ginger spread. Looking at the packaging I anticipated it to be similar to crystalized ginger but ground into a paste. Not too sweet and showing that wonderful spiciness of ginger root. So I decided to buy it, and figure out what to do with it later. Today I got the perfect idea- I thought it would be a perfect ingredient in sauteed shrimp.

Tonight, once I got home from a particularly rough day at the office, I formulated the rest of my menu. I decided on mashed potatoes, some sauteed veggies, and the star- the shrimp. Into a small sauce pan I put in red potatoes with the skin left on chopped into bite size pieces. I covered them with water, and set them a boiling. Once they were cooked through I would add a bit of butter, some cream and asiago cheese and mash them all together for a cheesy take on mashed potatoes. Back at my cutting board I chopped three cloves of garlic, a serrano pepper, some thyme, and baby portobellow mushrooms. Into a sautee pan I put in about a teaspoon each of butter and olive oil, then half the garlic and the thyme. Once those were smelling good, I added in the sliced mushrooms. Then I added a bit of fresh arugala that I had left over from earlier dinners, as well as some baby spinach and allowed those to cook down. I removed them from the pan, but left some of the garlic and the thyme in the pan as I was going to use the same one to cook the shrimp. I put the vegetables aside, and added a little bit more butter to the pan. I then added the rest of the garlic and the chopped serrano pepper. I then added my special ingredient- just a teaspoon of the ginger spread. I allowed the spread to melt into the butter combination. I then added the shrimp and cooked them for two and a half minutes each side.

I decided to serve this creation layered- base of mashed potatoes, then the vegetables and then the shrimp on top. The shrimp were absolutely delicious- the pepper gave them a lot of heat, while the ginger added a second dimension of heat along with adding a really nice sweetness to offset it. The potatoes gave the heat a nice and creamy back drop, though they could have used some more salt. And the vegetables have been a staple of my cooking for the past couple of days so they were fantastc. I love the goodness of a nice portobello along with some spinach and arugala. Just a delicious mix.

I have to say- this is one for the books- Id entertain with this dish without a doubt.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Fenway Favorites

We are about a month into my one of my favorite times of the year- Baseball Season. Overall, this season represents everything fantastic in the world, warm summer nights, cheering on the home town team, grilling with friends, enjoying a cold beverage or two...there is just nothing better than a Sox win, a frosty beer and some tasty Fenway food.

I have been lucky enough this year to have already gotten to four games. Each time Ive gotten to sample different fun treats at the park and each time Ive have a fabulous time with fabulous people- win or lose.

Under normal circumstances, I don't incorporate sauasage or hot dogs into my daily diet. However, when at Fenway- there is nothing more obvious than ordering these items. The first game I went to- I walked around for quite a while trying to decide how I wanted to kick off my season of eating- Fenway Frank- the old standby? Sausage with onions and peppers? My friends advice that the cubans there are to die for? Or stick with something light and do a bit of a "Fenway Tasting"? I chose to go for the Sausage with peppers and onions- loaded with quite a bit of mustard. There is just something about the greasy sausage topped with cooked green peppers and onions with a nice yellow mustard layered on top that screams special treat a., and b. summer is here. I thoroughly enjoyed my sausage but was rather disappointed that they were out of the big pretzels when I went for one later, and only had kettle corn in place of real hot popcorn. Needless to say- I skipped my 7th inning snack.

Never fear though- last week I was able to satisfy some more cravings at my third game of the season. First stop on entering the park- the pretzel stand to indulge in one of those extra large, hot out of the "oven", nicely rock salted twisted bread sticks. I never use more yellow mustard than I do at the park- and I absolutely loaded up my pretzel that night. The combination of the acidity of the mustard along with the doughy pretzel and the salt is one of my private heavens. Later in the game, after much tracking of the stand seller, I got my first Fenway Frank of the season. I have to say...I know that they are riddled with non nutrients, and if thought about carefully, are a pretty disgusting food, but sometimes nothing hits the spot better than a nice hot dog, in a soft bun with- you guessed it- yellow mustard. There is something about them that reminds me of childhood, and the pure simplicity of it all.

This past weekend I enjoyed my final Fenway tradition- a sausage from outside the park from The Sausage Guy- this guy knows his stuff. More flavorful than inside the park, though including the same general ingredients- there's just nothing better.

Now obviously- the diet from meals at Fenway is seriously lacking some key nutrients, but it is my firm belief that when you are inside the home of the Boston Red Sox- you can eat or drink as you please and it just doesn't count. Walk off homers in the 9th! :-)

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...