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?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Villa Mexico, Boston

I admit it- I can be, more often then I care to think about, a food snob. I recognized this clearly back in college. A group of friends and I were driving back from a weekend in Canada, and we were starving on our drive through Vermont. Finally we saw the long awaited fork and knife sign signaling a food establishment off of the next exit. We hurriedly pulled off of the high way, and a few miles down a rather desolate street we came upon the food stop. It was an old building, rusty, with a decrepit sign. We were a divided foursome in the car- the other girl and I flatly refused to go in, the boys desperately just wanting food urged us, claiming that “it couldn’t be that bad!”. We held our ground, the boys finally backed down, and on ward we traveled, looking for anything that looked better, even toying with the idea of slaughtering one of the cows from a passing farm and building a fire. We found a SubWay about a half an hour later. We rejoiced.

As I’ve grown older, I hate to admit, I’ve gotten worse. Fast food is well off my list of indulgences, and so stopping for a snack along a long stretch of high way normally means some sort of air tight, sealed bag of something. I would never, ever, eat a hot dog from a convenience store roller. I admit it, I am a food snob. However, as of last Thursday, I may need to re evaluate. I ate food from a gas station, and I loved every bite of it.

Over the past year or so I have heard nothing but praises sung about the small Mexican establishment named Villa Mexico located on Cambridge Street in Beacon Hill, in, you guessed it, a gas station. I have heard so much that is good about this little hole in the wall that I didn’t think it was possible for it to live up to the hype.

The ladies, as reported, were incredibly nice and helped me navigate their menu. I had been told to get a burrito, and a side of their salsa as it is “best in the city”. Now Ive never been a big fan of burritos and I wanted a bit of a variety with my order so I decided to get their tacos, served two per order, and requested one with their marinated beef, and one with their mole poblano chicken. I must note at this point, that Villa Mexico strongly prefers that you order two of the same tacos, but in my utter confusion of ordering, the very kind ladies allowed me to break the rules that once. My tacos were served with lettuce, tomato, cheese and a side of salsa. I went ahead, bit the bullet, and ordered a side of chips and salsa as well. It was a wise decision.

The tacos were nice and light, the marinated beef very nicely seasoned, and really well offset with the creamy melted cheese, fresh lettuce and tomatoes. I do wish that the mole on the chicken had been a bit thicker as I lost a bit of the flavor of that, but it too was tasty. What I loved most about the tacos were the soft shells. They were homemade, and perfect as simply a carrier of ingredients. With no overpowering flavor of their own, even salt was lacking, they allowed the flavors of the meat and cheese to shine forth and be appreciated. I, of course, didn’t quite notice the little container of salsa served with the tacos as I sat in my picnic setting, but honestly, I’m a bit glad that I didn’t. Next time I go I will happily slather it on to my main course, but this time it may have distracted from the purity of my tacos.

On that note, the salsa was amazing. Dark brown in color, which was surprising, it surprised in other ways as well. Nicely spicy, wonderfully enhanced with vinegar, only slightly chunky, I spent my time wishing I had gotten the large side as opposed to the small so that I could use the salsa in my next week of recipes. It really was the best in the city, fresh and delicious- I might stop just for it in the future.

Now, I can’t say that I have any intention of eating a hot dog from a convenience store in the near future, however, I have learned my lesson. There is some amazing food in gas stations- if you know where to look for it, and are willing to take a chance. Villa Mexico, I tribute you with my conversion.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Lineage, Brookline

A few evenings ago I finally got to check out a restaurant that Ive heard so many good things about. Lineage, located in Coolidge Corner in Brookline, opened in 2006 as an answer to Brookline's cry for more "new American" cuisine in their melting pot of restaurants. Using seasonal ingredients, likely from local purveyors, they have a menu that is known to be fresh, and frequently changing. The menu that I enjoyed was a wonderful showcase of summer ingredients, containing several different types of seafood and vegetables.

We started with a crab cake served over black beans and salsa. I have often felt a little swindled when ordering crab cakes out because often people load them up with fillers and very little crab, basically you end up with a bread cake flavored like crab. Lineage however loaded up their cakes with tons of fresh crab, to the point where it appeared that most of the breading was just on the outside of the cake. With the salsa and beans it was a delightful combination of spice with the mellow crab. The only mar in this dish was that after frying it appears that the chef had rolled the cake in a bit of salt that turned out to be a bit too much salt. However, other than that it was purely delicious.

For my entree I decided, after much debate honestly, on the day boat scallops with spring pea risotto, crispy shallots and a truffle vinaigrette. The scallops looked gorgeous, nicely browned on top and just slightly cracked from the searing, and were beautifully offset by the creamy risotto underneath brightened with the green peas. The risotto was wonderful- creamy and delicious, and mixed with the vinaigrette it had a wonderful contrast. The crispy shallots were a great enhancements to the varying textures. The scallops were big and lovely, and though I would have appreciated mine to be a little less "done", all in all they were wonderful.

It always makes me extremely happy when I hear wonderful things about a restaurant and find that they are true, especially when the concept is so simple. Good food, at good prices, delivered with finesse- you cant beat a well executed meal!

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...