Wednesday, August 26, 2009

News Alert! ABSOLUT Boston

As many of my friends and I agree, there is nothing wrong with a good cocktail once in a while. And when that cocktail embraces one of the very essences of this great city of Boston...well that just takes the cake.

Today, Absolut Vodka will be unveiling their newest, limited edition, flavored vodka- Absolut Boston. In a bottle paying homage to the Green Monster of Fenway Park, flavored with Black Tea and Elderflower, in honor of the Revolutionary nature of this great state, Absolut Boston is designed to capture the spirit (and the fun) of Boston.

As part of the great celebration, Absolut is unveiling the Boston Wall of Pride today. Located in Boylston Plaza, this "wall" will showcase some famous Bostonians favorite city moments. According to the Absolut press release, celebrities include Amy Poehler, Jim Rice, Mayor Menino, Carlton Fisk, The Dropkick Murphy's, Eddie Doyle, Ben Mezrich, John Lithgow, Cam Neely among others. For the next ten days (til September 4, 2009) this wall will be on display, and if you're interested you can even bid on pieces of the wall to keep forever. I haven't gotten a chance to check it out yet myself- but I bet there are some great pieces there- Amy Poehler is one funny chick in my opinion. Another great "Boston Moment"? Absolut is donating $50,000.00, as well as all the proceeds from the auction to The Charles River Conservancy- you know- to keep that Dirty Water clean!

Unfortunately, I have to miss the official unveiling of the wall today (11:00 AM Boylston Plaza), but the fabulous PR lady has offered to send me photos of the event-so Ill post them here for you to check out.--Photos posted courtesy of Ketchum.

Definitely head over to the actual "wall" though! Its not every day that Boston gets a tribute vodka!

UPDATE! Last night I finally had a good chance to try the new ABSOLUT Boston-I gotta say-I have a new favorite drink!!! We weren't sure what to pair it with, so the very helpful bartender pointed us in the direction of Ginger Ale. What a delicious concoction! The vodka has very strong tea notes, with just a hint of that lovely flowery Elderflower, and then the Ginger Ale added just a little of that spicy kick. I am going to be very sad when this limited offer ends- I must go out and stock up now!!! (Photo to the right is from my very poor camera phone- please excuse its blurry-ness.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Roasted Vegetable Stew with Turkey Meatballs

The past couple of days have been hazy hot and humid, the three h's that seem to be making up what is left of our incredibly short summer. But even as my air conditioner chugs a long, my thoughts have been turning towards the brisk days that Fall will bring. One of my favorite things in the fall/winter is holing up on a cold day and making a big pot of soup that I can enjoy throughout the week for lunch. There is something so comforting about homemade soup, and it can be so healthy as well!

Yesterday, I envisioned a big pot of roasted vegetable soup-chock full of nutritious vegetables, and some turkey meatballs for some added protein. Off to the grocery store I went, and picked up loads of fresh veggies- Brussel Sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, onions, celery, spinach, a couple ears of corn and cherry tomatoes. I also picked up two cans of beans- black and Cannelloni, as well as a box of vegetable stock- I know "lazy". Back at home I went to work breaking down all the veggies- I cleaned up and sliced the Brussel Sprouts into quarters, cut down the broccoli and cauliflower into manageable pieces, the same with the carrots and the celery, and then I sliced half the onion into rings. I laid all of them out on a flat baking sheet, and then tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes and chopped rosemary. I popped this into a 400 degree oven, and let them roast for about 8-10 minutes. I pulled them out when they still had some bite to them, but had wonderful aroma of the herbs and the roasting. What a great aroma it all had!

As I waited for that to cool so that I could start in on the soup, I turned my attention to the turkey meatballs I wanted to add into the soup. I love the idea of adding some sort of good protein to soups and stews as it just can make them so hearty and filling. Turkey meat is always a great alternative as well- not only does it have all that great nutritional protein, but its super lean (especially breast meat) and therefore doesn't contribute unnecessary fat to an other wise healthy meal. I chopped up just a couple of slices of onion, a bit more rosemary, and parsley and then combined that with a mixture of bread crumbs and crushed water crackers as well for texture, poultry seasoning and more crushed red pepper flakes- just a few. Then I added in just a bit over a pound of ground white breast turkey meat, and one egg. Once all was mixed together, I formed small balls and then placed them into a hot fry pan with just about a tablespoon of vegetable oil in the bottom. As I have extreme concerns about germs, I let them cook, turning them to each different side until they were full browned, for about 8 minutes or so, then I pulled them out of the pan, and let them rest.

The vegetables were sufficiently cool at that point, and so I put them into my trusty Cuisinart, with a couple of handfuls of raw cherry tomatoes, and pulsed them til they were ground completely-I then began to add the vegetable stock to the mix to thin it out. Then I added half a can of the Cannelloni beans, and pureed them into the mixture to make it a bit creamier. Once it reached my desired consistency, I transferred the soup to a big pot, added the rest of the beans, a few big handfuls of baby spinach leaves, the raw kernels of corn that I had cut off the ear, the meatballs, and then heated slowly til it was simmering, and the flavors were fully mixed. Big pot of soup for the week done!
(the picture really doesn't do it justice...)

The result? A tasty- yet very filling soup...well more stew-ish really. Thick and hearty this is one that will be perfect on a very cold day in January, and in my very air conditioned office as well. Leaving the spinach, beans and corn whole, meaning un -pureed, creates a really nice texture combination- and those corn kernels are such a nice sweet surprise to a soup that is incredibly earthy, and has a nice bit of kick from the doses of crushed red peppers. The variety of veggies really meld together so you cant necessarily pick out one in particular, though you can see the nice bright spots of orange from the carrots throughout. The flavor really highlighted is that lovely roasted idea...a little charred, but really just deep flavors. The meatballs add a whole other flavor dimension bringing in that brighter parsley taste, and a bit of the sage from the poultry seasoning. Pretty tasty-though when I make it again, Id prefer a creamier texture- so perhaps a bit longer in the Cuisinart, maybe a bit more fat to it- as it is there is very little fat to it aside from any olive oil that the veggies retained from the roasting, and maybe a longer blend with more of the beans?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sensing Restaurant, Battery Wharf, Boston

As I mentioned earlier, Restaurant Week has once again returned to Boston offering lunches and dinners to the hungry crowds of Bostonians and tourists for $20.09 or $33.09 respectively. So while the debate continues as to the pluses and minuses of the whole affair, it does nicely encourage all of us to get out there and dine perhaps a bit more than we normally might. A couple of days ago, a few girlfriends and I seized the opportunity, and relished in the gorgeous weather, and went for a nice Restaurant Week lunch at Sensing, located in the hotel Fairmont Battery Wharf.

Sensing is one of those restaurants which is wisely catching on to the "trend" of utilizing local produce to provide meals to their guests that are as fresh as possible, while showcasing the bounty of the geographic region. Honestly, it pains me that this is a "trend" at all- should this be the standard? It boggles my mind that up until recent history, our local restaurants were paying hefty price tags to have mass produced goods brought in, when we, especially here in the Northeast, have access to such wonderful farms. But I digress. Sensing, which is French in execution, put together a wonderful menu for this week(s), showcasing their local produce, and appealing to carnivores and vegetarians a like. Interesting to note as well, Sensing decided to offer their menu in either two or three courses- for those interested in shortening their meal.

We arrived promptly at noon for our reservation, but found that even at that peak time, the restaurant was primarily empty, and we had our choice of tables. We chose to sit outside on their patio which over looks the Boston Harbor. We were presented with our menus, both their "regular" menu, as well as a copy of their Restaurant Week menu for us to share. Since we had viewed the menu on line ahead of time, we basically knew our selections, and were ready for the waiter when he appeared to take them. I selected the Golden Tomato and Mango Gazpacho with Ricotta Wasabi Raita as my appetizer and their Vegetarian Club Sandwich as my main. We had already decided to do the three course menu, and so I ordered the selection of sorbet's for dessert.

We were served rolls to munch on while waiting for our first courses to arrive, and we each elected their multi grain roll. A little dry for my taste, but it had good flavor for a snacking roll. The wait staff were definitely used to a more leisurely crowd, and therefor were absolutely at a more relaxed pace of serving. Our first courses arrived, and a rather large portion of Gazpacho was placed in front of me. Gazpacho is a cold soup, tomato based, but may have other raw vegetables with it. Its origins, though now attributed to the Spanish, are believed to have come from a primitive Arab bread soup. Apparently the Spanish added the tomato aspect much later. Sensing's was a blend of golden tomatoes and mango fruit which provided a beautiful acidic base, lightened by a sweetness from the mango. One of my chief complaints with many tomato soups is that they are just too acidic, but this had a really nice contrast to it. The color of the soup was absolutely fantastic- that mid way point between orange and yellow, and it was accented with a gorgeous drizzle of pureed arugula. The presentation was just beautiful. It was served over the ricotta Wasabi Raita, so when digging one's spoon through the soup, you found the delightful surprise of a creamy, and slightly spicy mass on the bottom of your bowl. When blended with the soup it offered a delicious combination of the richness of the ricotta, cut with the acidic sweetness, and then just a little heat. We also detected some diced cucumber within the Raita as well- which added little bursts of refreshing crunch to the soup. What I found interesting, is the Raita's are normally a yogurt based sauce found in Indian cuisine, used to cool spicy foods- in this presentation it was actually combining the two-bringing the spice and the cooling agent all at once. A really interesting take on it. The Gazpacho was a really nice flavor awakening- each complimenting the other.

Once we had finished sampling our first courses, we waited patiently for our main meals. We were served a second helping of rolls, though I was beginning to watch the time as it passed. It took quite some time for our entrees to be served, which for a leisurely lunch that isn't a bad thing, but I do wish that they had taken into account that it was a work day, and perhaps asked if we had time constraints. That aside though, when my vegetarian club sandwich arrived- all my attention turned to it- packed full of fresh grilled veggies, roasted red peppers, and the surprise of the day- grapefruit segments- all between two slices of toasted bread- one side pumpernickel one side rye. I tasted hints of pesto in between wonderful bursts of char grilled zucchini and eggplant. The red peppers had that wonderful luxury that oily peppers do, and a hint of sweetness, offset by the tart pink grapefruit. That was the real gem on the sandwich- while it made it slightly more difficult to eat, and my friend and I who ordered the same, found that the sections would slide out of the sandwich if not held properly, the flavor and texture contrast that they added was just out of this world- and an ingredient I had never before considered for a sandwich. The sandwiches were served with a helping of french fries that were spiced with what tasted like a bit of a Cajun seasoning- tasty- but on a hot day I was able to stay away from the hot fries.

As I finished up my entree, I realised that my time for lunch was briskly ending, as I had a meeting to get back to the office for. I had to skip dessert, and cut my meal short, which was disappointing as both my appetizer as well as my entree were so delicious. Aside from timing, I have not a complaint about Sensing. Their dishes were creative, and really well thought out, using imaginative ingredients and flavor combinations. Given their beautiful setting on the wharf, I will definitely be back to try the rest of their menu, just not on a day with any type of time constraints.

Sensing on Urbanspoon

Morton's Steakhouse, Seaport District

I have been a bad blogger. Its not that I haven't been cooking-I have- but all items being prepared over the last week will be put together into a surprise this weekend. But don't worry-I have been taking photos of it all so it will be well journaled!

In the meantime, last night was a much anticipated date night. J has either been on the road or working his crazy hours for the last three weeks, last night was the first opportunity we had to have a night out. He was craving a steak, and so we decided to continue our tour of steakhouses in Boston, and settled on Morton's in the seaport district for the evening.

Half of the reason for this decision was a plan to stop for a bit at the Boston Harbor Hotel to listen to one of their Summer Concert series artists. Each Summer, the Harbor Hotel brings in a variety of bands each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday who perform different selections of Soul, Blues and "Timeless tunes" outside under the stars. Friday night is movie night. This is one of my favorite Summer activities in the city- being outside in the warm night air, listening to great music, and enjoying a cocktail or two. Unfortunately, when we arrived last night- there was no music playing. It appeared that the concert had been canceled for the evening. (More information on the Summer Series can be found here.) Though I was sad to have missed it- we carried on to Morton's.

As the first pre season game for the New England Patriots was on last night, we opted to sit in the bar area to enjoy the start of what will hopefully be a great season for the team. After all of my raves over the Blue Cheese Fries at Morton's that I had last year during a quick trip to the Boylston St location, we decided to start the evening with an order of those. Once again-they were served piping hot, and the fries had a really nice crunch to them. The cheese had melted over the top of them, I think even more so than my first batch, and had created a gooey mass of tangy goodness. One of the things that I had really loved about this dish the first time I had it was the heat that crushed red pepper flakes had added to it- unfortunately I don't think that last night's order had as many used because it was missing a bit of that spice burn, but over all- these are a delicious treat- and one I'm glad that I got to experience again.

We then moved on to actual dinner. To our surprise- Morton's was participating in Restaurant Week-so although the rest of the menu was being served, we opted for the Restaurant Week offerings- because honestly you cant beat a Filet Mignon with two other courses for just $33.09. The options for the appetizer course were both salads-one Caesar, and the other was the Morton's salad- explained as a mix of salad, blue cheese dressing, chopped eggs and anchovies. I selected the latter, though swapped out the blue cheese for a lighter vinaigrette dressing. The salad was tasty- iceberg lettuce that I haven't had in forever which provides a nice refreshing crunch, the vinaigrette appeared to be a pretty basic Italian dressing-which was good- again especially when you haven't had it in a while, and the egg was a nice creamy counter to the crunchy lettuce. I have to say- I didn't detect any anchovies. Granted- I'm not a huge fan of them so I wasn't over upset about their absence- but it is worth noting. On the other hand though, I tasted J's Caesar salad, and the flavor of the anchovies in the dressing was almost over powering. Maybe they put mine in his?

We had both elected to have the Filet Mignon's for our main's, the other choices being a chicken dish, or a salmon one. We had a choice of sides with our steaks- between mashed potatoes, french fries, garlic green beans, or broccoli. J chose the green beans, I chose the steamed broccoli. My steak was served a perfect medium rare- a beautiful "cooked" ring leading into a large center of pink rare. Its honestly a little sad how much I love steak- and this had wonderful flavor to it. They served it with a little dish of Bearnaise sauce, but aside from a quick dip with one piece of my steak to experience the differing flavors, it sat basically untouched next to my plate. I can never understand why people want to detract from the flavor of a great steak.

The broccoli was perfect steamed, and served in a very large portion. They did bring a side of Hollandaise for it, though again, aside from one quick dab to check out the benefits of it-if any- it was not used. From the quick taste I did have though- I have to say it was one of the better Hollandaise sauces I've had, deliciously creamy, with a perfect consistency that didn't get that terrible congealed look as it sat on the table. The green beans had been sauteed in oil and garlic, and while delicious- were rather greasy.

Dessert for me was a chocolate mousse, topped with whipped cream and a fresh raspberry, J chose their New York style cheesecake. The mousse was tasty- made with a milk chocolate base, it had a similar flavor to instant pudding which is definitely "tasty" though I was hoping for something a bit more...The whipped cream was also not the fresh whipped cream I had imagined, so a bit of sadness there. The cheesecake that I stole a bite of was very rich, as cheesecake tends to be. It had a nice graham cracker crust to it, though it could have been a bit thicker to off set that steady cream cheese flavor.

As we continue our exploration of Boston steakhouses, I think that that rounds out the well known chains. I enjoyed Morton's, though I think that Flemming's has a slight edge to them with a better variety of sides etc. Even so- I feel as though I'm splitting hairs, Morton's provided a delicious steak last evening, and for that I am quite happy.

Mortons Seaport on Urbanspoon

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...