Friday, July 31, 2009

Ground Pork Stir Fry

Some of my greatest dinners come sometimes from getting an idea for dinner, and then straying 100% away from it and making something else. Last night, I knew I had a beautiful large zucchini at home that would be perfect for stuffed zucchini. I started to imagine a ground chicken stuffing in it, and from there started to make my shopping list, but as I continued to think I realised that it was just too hot out to turn on the oven, so instead I thought, why not just a stir fry with ground chicken and lots of veggies-and some spice- I wanted something spicy.
So I got to the store last night, and started picking up what looked good- an avocado, some beautiful vine ripened tomatoes, a red chili pepper- the name escapes me but it was touted as hotter than a Jalapeno, and they were out of my usual Serrano peppers, cilantro, a green bell pepper....and then I walked to the meat section. They were out of ground chicken. I was utterly confused. I stood holding my produce...and then I spied ground pork. Not quite the same-but it might work. Finally, I picked up some Orange Juice and checked out.
As I made my way home, I had an idea for what I was making-some type of Mexican themed stir fry- thank god it was just me for dinner last night! I started by chopping some red onion, and letting it sweat in a small fry pan on the stove, with the red pepper, over medium/low heat. Then I chopped a handful of cilantro, and added about a third of that, with a little bit of salt to the pan as well. Once those had melded together, I added the ground pork and left that to cook with the other flavors, stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, I chopped half an avocado, and three quarters of a tomato, mixed them together with a little cilantro, and then added just a couple spoonfuls of a tomatillo salsa I had in my fridge. It was my lazy mans salsa because it was just too hot to get more creative.

Once the pork was cooked, I drained off the excess fat in the pan, and then I added the chopped tomato. Finally, I added maybe just about a 1/4 of a cup of orange juice to the pan as well. I allowed that cook down a bit, and then added several handfuls of baby spinach to the mixture. Then, just as I was about to pull it off the heat, I tossed in a handful of chopped green pepper. Stirred to get them warm, and then pulled it from the heat before they lost their crunch.

I served this on a plate, with some of my lazy salsa spooned over the top, and then fresh cilantro to finish it.

The result was a really fun combination of flavors, between the spicy and the sweet of the orange juice, the crunch of the peppers with the soft avocado. I do wish that

the red pepper had been a bit hotter, as it provided a nice background of heat, but not quite the kick I had wanted. Otherwise it was a really delicious and filling meal. In the future, when I make it again I think Ill add some beans to it, maybe some mushrooms as well- and really bulk up the veggie count.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Vacation Edition- Stowe, Vermont- Jamie's on Main

Stowe, Vermont is one of those beautifully quaint towns in New England-the ones that are pictured in movies and postcards. A town center with a barber shop, a General Store, town post office, a steepled church...all signs of a bygone era when horse and carriage ruled the streets, and going to 'town' was an occasion. Walking around the town you can see the old way of life, a General Store that seems to really contain "General needs" items, and even and old Depot. Within that Depot building, among many other wares and items for sale, sits a coffee shop named Jamie's on Main, whose simple advertisement reads "Good Food".

With simplicity and conviction like that- I knew that Jamie's would be a great place to stop for lunch. The the restaurant itself was small, spilling out into the rest of the Depot, the friendly staff, and other patrons make you feel right at home. Their menu, written on a chalk board above the register, reads clearly of tempting breakfast items (only served til 11 sadly) and delicious sounding sandwiches and salads. Though I was tempted by a helping of their broccoli salad, I instead chose a sandwich consisting of (I believe) homemade hummus, honey mustard, sprouts, red peppers, cucumber(?) and cheddar cheese. My DC chose what they touted as the towns best BLT.

My sandwich was served on a rich wheat bread, thickly sliced, and obviously homemade. The fillings were plentiful, and delicious. The hummus had obviously been made on site, and contained more than just the obvious chick pea-black beans appeared throughout and the combination of that with the mustard was slightly sweet, but with a little mustard kick as well. The varying textures of the rest of the ingredients played very well off of each other and made for a very fresh tasting, nutritious sandwich. I do wish that the bread had been toasted as I think it would have added a little extra crunch, but I think that I could have easily requested that.

The BLT, as it was found, really was a delicious version. Though it was the only one we sampled, I would be surprised if there is one better. The bacon had a delicious smokey flavor that didn't appear to be over processed. Big thick slices of tomato and lettuce- the sandwich was again, stuffed full and made for a hearty meal.

We sat inside the restaurant, though outside seating was available, looking out the windows on to Main Street, watching the town walk by. We we also able to steal some glances at Jamie's pastry selection which looked incredible- the cup cakes in particular were calling to us, but our sandwiches were just so filling- we had to pass them by. However-on future visits, a cup cake shall be had.

Jamie's is definitely a "must stop" on my short list of Stowe eateries- with a friendly staff, quality products, and delicious combinations- I'm wishing it was closer to Boston!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Vacation Edition- Stowe, Vermont- Solstice

Unfortunately, due to our hectic work schedules it's nearly impossible for my boyfriend and I to get away for a summer vacation. Luckily though, after some fancy footwork, and some very stealthy planning, we were able to escape for a couple of days, and headed up to Stowe, Vermont to enjoy the quiet calm of the mountains.

Now, I could go on and on about the amazing quality of our accommodations at Stowe Mountain Lodge, because the hotel was truly fantastic, and I cannot say enough good things about it...But, instead, I'll concentrate on what I know you really want to hear about- the food :-)

Our first evening we dined at Solstice, within the hotel itself. Chef Sean Buchanan, executive Chef at Solstice, is well renowned for utilizing only local ingredients, and serving everything "farm to table". Knowing this, we opted to try his 5 course Chef's Tasting menu that evening. We were started with a smoked duck amuse bouche, which was both smokey and sweet, beautifully cooked, and perfectly pink. Just a bite, and it was the perfect start to the meal. Our first actual course was an arugula salad with citrus segments, walnuts and a strawberry vinaigrette. The beautiful pepper of the arugula was very nicely complimented by the sweet vinaigrette, which actually included sliced strawberries! So often you get a vinaigrette and you have to wonder if real fruit was used, or just some flavoring. This was really wonderful.

The following course was a beautiful piece of yellow fin tune, served with fresh slices of avocado and micro greens. The tuna was beautifully seared on the grill, still pink/red on the inside, and nicely seasoned so you could really taste the beautiful smoke flavors, as well as the excellent flavor of the fish. The avocado was the perfect off set to these flavors with its creamy buttery-ness.

The next course was the absolute highlight of the meal. Local Vermont steak grilled to perfection, topped with seared foie gras and plated aside roasted sweet cloves of garlic and a balsamic drizzle. Steak is completely ruined for me now as this was the best I've ever had. The meat itself was fresh beyond belief. The taste of it was clean and had a natural almost sweetness to it. Paired with a slice of rich and buttery foie gras, and a little of the roasted garlic...it was pure heaven. Honestly words escape me.

The fourth course was a cheese plate, chock full of eight different types of Vermont locally made cheeses from wonderful triple creams to blues to cheddar. Each was delicious, but we unfortunately could not enjoy it as much as we may have liked to as we were already pretty full, and because there had been a very nice cheese plate arranged for us on our arrival, that had been just waiting for us in our room. So though delicious, our cheese plate was left very full.

The final course was a lemon tart served with lots of fresh berries. Though tasty, the highlight of the meal had already passed, and this was purely outshone. I will say though that the pastry crust was really very nicely done, flaky where it should be, but didn't fall apart. The custard was thick without being too thick, though it could have used a bit more lemon to it.

Like the hotel itself, I cannot say enough good things about Solstice. Chef Buchanan has a fantastic eye when picking his produce and matching his dishes. It was a meal that I was very sad to see end, and one that I can only hope to indulge in again.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Onions, Onions everywhere! French Onion Dip and Onion Jam served with Pork Tenderloin

Over the 4th of July holiday, I was looking for an easy, yet delicious dip to bring to a party. As I had a friend in town that I wanted to keep entertained while I cooked, I didn't want it to be too complex. I decided to make a take on French Onion dip. Through this I realized how satisfying it is to caramelize onions, as you slowly watch them turn from their white, crunchy state into that beautiful brown, soft mass. Though I didn't think to take photos of the dip, it turned out beautifully, a mixture of the onions with a little garlic and thyme, salt and pepper, then mixed with sour cream, with a little fresh lemon zest mixed in to brighten the flavors a bit. Served with lots of fresh veggies, and those very tasty Kettle Chips- it was a nice addition to a party that had all sorts of tasty treats.

Last night I got the idea to make something of an onion jam to be served with a beautiful pork tenderloin I had purchased. To start off, I preheated my oven to 375, and then gently massaged salt, pepper, cinnamon and vegetable oil on the loin. When it was nicely covered, and the oven was pre heated, I placed it in the oven and let it do its thing. Then I set to work on some accompaniments.

First, I whipped up a quick dip using garlic, small white beans, lots of parsley, salt and pepper. After a rough chop of the garlic and parsley, I added them to my food processor with the salt and pepper. I added the beans, turned on the machine, and slowly started adding some olive oil to the mix. Just about a minute later I had a nice bean dip, with tons of flavor. Garlicky and fresh with parsley, it was a lovely healthy dip. I then toasted up some fresh French Bread rounds on my cast iron grill pan, and served them together as a little appetizer.

Then I got to start on my interpretation of Onion Jam. I thinly sliced about a half of a white onion. Looking back now-I probably should have just done the whole thing. Then in a small pan over a very low flame I melted a bit of butter, to add richness, with a little salt and pepper- to draw the water out, and to add some flavor. Once the butter had melted, I added the onions. Caramelizing onions takes time, and patience. The only way I can get them to properly caramelize is to keep them over very low heat, and stir very frequently so that they don't burn- or get at all crispy. As the onions started to cook down, I added in some fresh chopped sage, and then as they turned a light brown, I added chopped dried cranberries. As the cranberries began to break down, I added a few tablespoons of apple juice to the pan and let it absorb into the onions- soon I had a really beautiful combination of the brown onions, the red cranberries, and the beautiful green sage. Just at the end of cooking, I added a quick handful of sliced almonds for texture.

Finally, after about an hour and twenty minutes of cooking, with a few bastings with apple juice (I still love the idea of pork chops and apple sauce), the pork was finished. I quickly sauteed some spinach with garlic, and dinner was complete.

I served slices of the pork dressed with just a little of the onion "jam" on the plates, with a side of spinach. The pork had delicious flavor with the cinnamon rub, though I had left it in the oven a hair too long. The onion jam though- it really brought the meal together. Soft and sweet, the onions mixed beautifully with that wonderfully earthy sage, and the slight tartness of the cranberries. The almonds provided a nice crunch to the dish that without I think it would have been pretty monotone. I found the dish really delicious, an all star had the pork been not quite so well done.

My real praise though? My DC asked for seconds-of all- and doesn't even like onions. I feel as though that is a real accomplishment.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The James Hook & Company, Financial District, Boston

Growing up here in New England, I have been fortunate enough to never be far from fresh seafood. I actually take this for granted pretty regularly, never thinking twice about either purchasing seafood to make at home, or going out for it. To celebrate the 4th, a good friend of mine who resides in Minnesota came to visit. Being the history buff that she is, we ran all over the city exploring the different sites, museums, and tributes to the great part that the city of Boston played in our nation's Independence. While she had many places on her list of "must sees", she had only one real "must eat" and that was seafood. Now, of course, Minnesota is not by any means landlocked, but it doesn't regard eating our critters under the sea with as much excitement as we do here. So I made it a priority, as packed as our days and nights were, to fit in an authentic seafood experience for her.

I found that our best opportunity arrived on Saturday the 4th. It was a beautiful day in Boston, one of the first in about a month, and all I wanted to do was enjoy the sunshine. After stopping by a few museums, and doing some shopping for souvenirs, I realized that at lunch time, we were close to a spot that I had been meaning to check out.

The James Hook and Company has been distributing their lobsters to the restaurants of Boston since 1925. As the years went on they started selling to individuals as well, and, according to their website, today they are shipping over 50,000 pounds of lobsters all over the country, every day! That's a lot of crustaceans!
This remains, even after a devastating fire last year that destroyed the building of their original location. Today, during rebuild, they have set up shop next to their old digs, and operate quite a business out of there. Prepared products such as crab cakes, fish cakes, lobster rolls, de shelled lobster meat, and many other raw fish products are for sale to the public. As tempting as all of those are, Saturday I had a mission- we were there for their lobster rolls.

We ordered our rolls, which were pre-made for display, and then wrapped in tinfoil once sold, watched the massive lobster tanks for a moment, and then headed down to the waterfront to eat looking out on the harbor. James Hook does have several picnic tables on their property, but the view just wasn't what I was looking for. Finally seated on a bench, we unwrapped out lobster rolls. Hot dog rolls stuffed full of fresh claw and knuckle meat, just a hint of mayo holding it together, without anything else distracting from the flavor of the lobster- it was perfection. My Minnesotan friend after getting over her shock of a hot dog bun that actually stayed in one piece (Minnesota- I don't get it- why don't you have good hot dog buns??), decreed it delicious as well- a real piece of Boston cuisine.

I truly believe that. For as many nice restaurants that Boston has, many with wonderful food, beautiful decor, and outstanding ambiance, is there anything better, or more Bostonian, then chowing down on a lobster roll while looking out over Boston harbor (the best ambiance possible), a place where our Independence was fought for and gained? If there is, let me know...I'd love to check it out.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bernard's, Chestnut Hill

Finding good, quality Chinese food is sometimes difficult when heading into Chinatown is not an option. Often you find meals that are just swimming in grease, un flavorful, and all around unappetizing. So when you find a spot that serves above average Chinese food- its a real treat.

Saturday evening we were looking for a easy, convenient spot for dinner in the Brookline area. I had a craving for something spicy, but my dining companion just wasn't in the mood for Thai-my original suggestion. Then we remembered having a really delicious meal years ago at a Chinese restaurant inside the Chestnut Hill Mall. A quick look on line brought us to Bernard's. Though we couldn't find their website, we did find their menu on menupages.com (every helpful for compiling all of the menus in the greater Boston area) and thought it all sounded great. Reservation made, we were excited to re-visit.

The restaurant was packed when we arrived, and we were very grateful that we had made reservations. Once seated, we looked again at the menu-though we had done some homework before arriving and had already picked out a few interesting sounding items. We decided to start with their Pan Seared Spinach Vegetarian Ravioli. They arrived with the traditional accompaniments for Peking Ravioli, that spicy mustard that I am slightly obsessed with, and a nice soy sauce. I had been anticipating that the raviolis would be similar to the general Peking Raviolis I am used to but with a spinach/veggie filling in place of the usual pork. I was very mistaken. When they arrived, the raviolis themselves were made from a spinach dough, and stuffed with a cabbage based filling. The filling unfortunately had the exact same flavors that are found in Spring Rolls, which are not my favorite. They were not bad, by any means, but I had definitely been hoping for a different type of filling. Either way, the order included 8 small raviolis, and they were a perfect starter.

We chose Shrimp with Avocado in a Plum Sake sauce as one of our entrees for sharing, and Sauteed Beef with a Mandarin BBQ sauce as our second. Both were served with a helping of white rice. The shrimp were really fantastic. Over sized shrimp served with lots of avocado chunks, tomato wedges and pieces of onion, all topped with a sweet plum sauce-made for a delicious combination. The shrimp were cooked perfectly, and really nicely offset by the creamy avocado. Tomatoes added some acid to a dish that was other wise rather sweet, and the raw onion provided great contrast of textures. I didn't detect a lot of sake in the sauce, and would have liked to have sensed a bit more, but otherwise I thought that this was more than a delicious dish.

We had chosen the Beef with Mandarin BBQ sauce as the menu had noted that it was a spicy dish, and I was hoping for it to satisfy my earlier craving. The meat was nice and tender, well cooked, and the sauce was tasty -perfectly complimenting that great "meaty" taste of the steak, but it wasn't at all spicy. Perhaps I should have requested extra spicy, or perhaps just have inquired to the level, but I was disappointed. However, the taste of the dish was very good, and the fried noodles (?) that were served underneath the beef were very fun as well.

At the end of the meal we were treated to some nice pineapple chunks and the customary fortune cookies. As an aside- what is the deal with Fortune Cookies lately? I remember years ago they told your future "beware of falling rocks", "you will have a good financial year" etc-now they are just words of wisdom which really isn't what I'm looking for. So I have to wonder- in this law suit happy society we live in- did the Fortune Cookie manufacturers have to stop predicting the future??

But I digress....the service at Bernard's, is friendly and efficient, giving off the feeling that they know their customer base well, and aim to keep them happy.

Bernard's is a great alternative in the Chestnut Hill area to heading in to Chinatown. While it may not be as authentic as many of those restaurants are, it delivers high quality, flavorful and inventive dishes.


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