Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Asian Style Dumplings-A First Attempt!

The other night, stuck with leftover turkey meat after making myself a turkey burger for dinner the previous evening, I pondered what I could make for myself that would be different, something new, and something challenging. With a little help from the lovely Twitter world, I decided on making something similar to Chinese Dumplings.

Now- its a known fact- if I get Chinese food there MUST be Peking Ravioli involved. Those little devils are a serious weak point for me, but they are just not at all good for me (of course I don't ever order them steamed-what fun is that?). So when trying my own hand at making a similar product, I wanted to make it a bit healthier. So I started off by combining chopped garlic, ginger, freshly ground black pepper, chives, soy sauce, terriyaki sauce, Dijon mustard, and a few splashes of hot sauce in a small bowl. Then I worked in about three quarters of a pound of lean ground turkey meat. Once I felt that the flavorful liquid was fully combined throughout the meat, I started to assemble my dumplings.

I had purchased wonton wrappers from the grocery store, which, thankfully, are pre cut. I laid out about eight of them, and painted two sides of each square with a beaten egg, this would work as glue when joining the four sides together. Then I used a teaspoon to make portions of the turkey mixture, and placed each portion on a wrapper. I once again learned a lesson I should have learned years ago- I am terrible at guesstimating. When I was little and the library used to have those contests -Guess How Many Jelly Beans in the Jar"- I would lose- miserably- every time. I believe that my standard answers were 20, or a zillion. I'm not known for guessing well. My poor dumplings suffered a similar fate as I found that my portioning was a tad large for most of them which made it difficult to seal them. Onward I pressed though and ended up making about two dozen dumplings- not bad for a modest portion of meat!

I chose to steam the dumplings to keep with the healthier vibe, since I don't own a bamboo steamer as was recommended by a couple of the dumpling recipes I checked out, I decided to use my metal vegetable steamer instead. I placed it in a shallow pan and poured just enough water into the bottom to reach the strainer but not submerge it. I let the water heat up over medium heat, and then I carefully placed my dumplings on the basket, and covered the pan. Terrified of raw turkey, I probably over cooked them, but left them on for a good 15 minutes. They were well done.

Overcooked as they might have been though- those were some tasty dumplings! While I had been waiting, I made a quick sauce from many of the same ingredient in the dumplings themselves- soy sauce, terriyaki sauce, hot sauce and Dijon mustard-equal parts of each- though slightly less of my incredibly potent hot sauce (side note- that Mr. Ortiz-he knows how to make hot sauce!).

Now this is when it happened- I had a real Julia Child moment. As I'm sure many of you did, I grew up watching her on PBS- a treat that both my mother and I enjoyed. Her wit, positive attitude and strength in the kitchen was a major influence on me when I was little and beginning to navigate around my own culinary adventures-its always a joy when I can channel a little Julia. As I plated the dumpling, the over stuffed, over cooked dumplings, some of which were falling out of their wonton wrapper casings to be honest- they didn't look all that pretty and I was slightly dreading taking a photo. Then, I thought back and remembered all those episodes where Mrs. Child would simply "fix" whatever piece looked not perfect, and be utterly proud despite it. So I plated the last of the dumplings, spooned some of the lovely sauce over the top, and the garnished it with lovely chopped chives. The color contrasts were lovely, and the dish looked beautiful. Phew. And then, then it was time to dig in.

I made a small plate for myself with a few of the dumplings paired with a simple salad of Olivia's Organics Asian mix with a raspberry lime vinaigrette that I made. Then-I dug in. The dumplings were,despite all of my misgivings, delicious. They were spicy with a great salty, gingery flair-full of flavor! The turkey meat held up really well, though a little dry, I thought it was even better than the normal pork I am used to in this dish. For my first attempt at dumplings- I have to say these were very close to success.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pops Restaurant, South End, Boston

Sometimes there are just those places that exist that your friends rave about, people always talk about, but you just never make it to. You never make it to, until, of course, you have an excellent reason to go there. Pops Restaurant in the South End of Boston was one of those places. Years ago I remember one of my guy friends wanting to go there one night, but for some reason we just didn't make it over. Since then I have always heard great things about Pops, but have been neglectful of this little hot spot. Until, of course, they shut down for a few weeks to redesign the interior, as well as their menu. They reopened in January of this year, and last night celebrated their re newel with a cocktail party for industry folks, journalists, and bloggers such as myself.

What an event it was! Luckily I arrive promptly at 6:00 pm and was able to take a few quick photos before the place filled with party goers. Pops, in typical South End fashion is a cozy establishment. One of the biggest changes to the room after the renovations is a large bar that extends down the primary wall about halfway through the room. Reports that I have heard noted that the original bar sat just four people and was not at all the focal point of the room. Many seemed very glad to have such an expansive bar added to the area. Especially as they now have quite a few signature cocktails that are inventive and appeal to all different tastes.

To unveil the new menu to all who were there efficiently, the chef had prepared most of their regular menu in mini size cocktail bites. The kitchen steadily put out tray after tray of Tuna Ceviche, Lamb skewers, sliders, Chicken Lollipops, Lobster Cappuccino, Beef Cakes, Tempura Shrimp Stuffed Peppers, and popcorn. We were a hungry mass though so it was not the easiest task to steal a bite from the great waitstaff as they made their way through the room. My first taste of the night was a small cup of their Tuna Ceviche. This was a really unusual preparation of the dish. Normally I am accustomed to a very acidic Ceviche, where the Tuna is really the star of the dish. Pops had changed this and had mixed a creamier base, avocado, cashews and black rice into the mix. The combination of textures was very nice, the flavors were a bit disarming. I do wish that I had a second cup of the Ceviche to really appreciate the varying ingredients as I spent most of the first taste trying to figure it out. Next we were offered small cups of Lobster Cappuccino. This was a wonderful play on techniques. First sip was of a wonderful froth, very creamy, almost just scented with lobster essence, once you actually started tasting the body of serving however, you were greeted with a very strong Lobster bisque. Creamy which being full of beautiful Lobster flavor. The mind trick between the coffee drink and this soup was wonderful and really created a different type of presentation for what might be considered otherwise ordinary. My third taste of the evening was their Shrimp Tempura stuffed Peppers. The pepper was soft and easy to bite into, if just a bit on the greasy side, but the shrimp was wonderfully crisp and really created a lovely texture variance in the dish. Later, speaking to a fellow party go-er, he noted that his pepper was on the overly spicy side. I did not note this type of heat, so I wonder if there was some variance in ingredients pepper to pepper- either that or I have become far too accustomed to spicy food. In quick succession to the stuffed pepper, I was able to snag a lamb skewer. This was my favorite of the evening. The lamb was moist, perfectly cooked to a beautiful internal pink, and spiced wonderfully. I could have eaten twelve more of these small delights! I then snagged a beef cake that was somewhat unremarkable. Crisp on the outside, and nicely spiced beef on the outside it was pleasant, but by no means a show stopper after the lamb. My final bite of the evening was a mini slider- perfect cooked medium rare burger sandwiched with caramelized onions on a homemade butter brioche roll. Delicious! The roll was so soft and buttery, and it perfectly held and complimented the hearty burger. The onion just added a delightful burst of flavor.

Now one of the complaints of the evening from several of the persons I spoke to was that there just wasn't enough food circulating for the amount in attendance. Luckily, I had had the foresight to visit Pops a few weeks earlier, for an unassuming dinner to get a real feel for their new menu. My dinner that evening was comprised of several of their "small plates" menu. They have devised a menu that can serve a diner either several different tastes, or one larger plate meal. This is a concept that many restaurants seem to be adopting recently, and it is one that I am in full agreement with. The evening we dined there John and I shared their Spinach with Peanut and Sesame salad, Fried Oysters with Bacon Jam, Char-Sui Pork Ribs with Pickled Cucumber, and a Beef Tenderloin Pizza that appears to be the sister of the item listed on their menu now. Honestly, as I review the menu that is posted today, versus what we were served that evening, I believe that some of their items they have already removed. I recall a sushi ball being on the menu that evening that we were excited for, but had more resembled an Arancini. It was tasty, but surprising in the hope of having a fresh rice and chicken ball. The other items that we tried that evening had a solid presentation, but varied in quality. The Spinach salad was delicious-light notes of peanut and sesame from the dressing, but maintaining its light qualities. The Oysters had a bit too thick of a dough on them, but the bacon jam was delicious. The pork ribs were a bit sweet for my liking, and would have been complimented really well with a stronger pickled flavor. The stand out of that evening was the Beef Tenderloin pizza that was served with Arugula and Blue Cheese as I recall. This was a fantastic combination of flavors and textures-the savory meat with the pungent cheese and peppery arugula. Those three flavors combined is one of my favorites and I was glad to see a great execution on this.

I must give a huge hand to the staff last night as well. They were given the extreme task of serving a very large crowd with a smile, and they did it flawlessly. Each member I spoke with greeted every question, comment and joke with a smile and remembered each request. It was a tall order to fill, and they all did it.

All in all Pops has definitely re opened in a big way. The South End is inundated with "bistro's" and while they each have a lovely offering, a change from the typical was needed in this area. Pops redesigned menu offers a great variation to the rest of the neighborhood, while maintaining the charm and beauty of the South End. Also the Pear Ginger Sparkler is a delicious treat!

POPS on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pulled Chicken Tacos

For those of you who know me, you probably know that I can do some serious damage to a salad. Most nights that I eat at home a main portion of my dinner is salad mixed with some type of protein. I love experimenting with new dressings, textures and flavors that can transform a ho-hum salad into something amazing. Knowing this, you can probably appreciate my extreme pleasure a few days ago when I received a huge box full of the fantastic Olivia's Organics salads in the mail. Now Olivia's have long been my favorite choice in salad greens. They are always fresh, their packaging allows them to keep for an abnormally long amount of time in the refrigerator, and their combinations of different greens allows me to experiment with all different types of flavors in my salads. This may have been one of the best packages I have ever received!

The very night that I received the package, I was craving tacos, but not just your regular hard shell, pre mixed tacos-I wanted something fun, something new, and something a bit healthier. So I let my creativity flow. I decided on pulled chicken tacos, a simple salsa, a white bean substitute for guacamole, and the satisfying addition of some simple baby greens from Olivia's.

As some of you may have noticed on, I have recently begun a challenge- a challenge to complete 101 tasks in 1001 days. Approximately 50 or so of the tasks I have chosen are food related (shocking I know) and those are listed on the site HERE. One of those is try new ingredients, so when making my pulled chicken tacos-I decided to try something I've never done before- I made my first ever spice rub! Now I'm not going to give away all of the secrets to it, but it was loosely comprised of salt, brown sugar, hot pepper flakes, ground black pepper, Cayenne pepper, chili powder, and a few other additions (I'd wink at you but that might be strange). The end result was had the great properties of spicy while salty and sweet. I liberally poured this over my boneless chicken breasts and thighs (white and dark meat is always a great combination) and then let them rest and soak in the flavors. Meanwhile, I started a medium stock pot with just a bit of canola oil on the bottom, and added chopped garlic, cilantro, and onion, salt and pepper. After those flavors had mingled for a bit, I added about a tablespoon of mustard powder. About two minutes later I added a large can of Sapporo beer, and about a cup of vegetable broth to the pot. I let that simmer for a bit, and then added the chicken to the pot to cook.

While I waited the 40 minutes or so for the chicken to cook in their broth, I turned my attention to the accompaniments I wanted to serve with the tacos. The first task was to make my extra healthy dip. Now I love guacamole-even the bad stuff is good to me. I just think its fantastic. But, even though the fat contained in Avocados is "good fat" its still not great in large quantities, so I decided to make a white bean dip with many of the same flavors. I place a handful of cilantro, a Jalapeno pepper, and a can of Cannelloni beans into my food processor and blended with a small stream of olive oil until a creamy consistency.

Then I made a very simple salsa of tomato, red bell pepper and cilantro to top the tacos. Finally I painted both sides of a few white flour tortilla's with canola oil, and placed them in a 400 degree oven. After just a few minutes the tortilla's had turned a nice golden brown and beautiful air pockets and sprung up throughout the surface making for a crispy treat.

Finally, the chicken was done cooking, and I transferred it to a plastic container. Once it had cooled just a bit, and I was confident that any moisture had cooled internally in the chicken, I started to pull it apart with two forks separating the chicken into small strands as well as large chunks for texture change up.

After I pulled the chicken apart, I then spread a layer of the white bean dip on one of the tortillas, topped that with a layer of Olivia's Organics Baby Greens, a layer of the pulled chicken, salsa, chopped red onion, and a quick shower of shredded cheese. For a more healthful option I also made a plate without the tortilla, but just spooned some of the dip directly on the plate and then added the other ingredients (and as you might have noticed-some avocado made its way onto my plate-oops).

This was such a fun take on a taco! The bean dip and the chicken spice rub had just enough heat without being over powering and diminishing the rest of the flavors. The chicken itself had fantastic flavor- the spice rub had maintained its qualities throughout the cooking process and you could taste the different palate challengers of salty, sweet and spicy-all with an underlying savory vibe. The bean dip on top of the crunchy shell made a great contrast of textures with the creamy and the crisp. What I really loved though was that the salad greens really grounded the dish. Often times I find tacos are served with iceberg lettuce, and though the mighty iceberg definitely has its place in the greens family, it just doesn't add anything flavor wise. The baby greens added great flavor, as well as texture as they had a sort of toothsomeness that was really pleasant.

Traditional by no means, but these tacos were one for the books. Delicious!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

ArtsBoston Offering Ticket Discounts for Restaurant Week!

Remember the time when "Date Night" meant dinner and a show? Couples would flock to restaurants for a bite to eat, and then to the theatre for some entertainment. Have we lost this idea? It seems that more and more "date night" refers to much looser plans, perhaps dinner in, maybe out, perhaps a party or gathering with friends is even considered a date. Now, I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with this at all, I have had wonderful date nights including a wide array of activities, however I do think that there is something to be said for the tradition. That said, I have some good news for you! The wonderful folks over at ArtsBoston want to bring back the age old date!

ArtsBoston has joined forces with the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau to offer pretty incredible discounts on shows around town in conjunction with the ever popular Restaurant Week. So we all know Restaurant Week is the bi-annual event where some of the most popular restaurants in Boston, and the surrounding areas, offer a special three course prix fixe menu for just $33.10 for dinner ($20.10 for lunch). This event takes center stage throughout the city for the two weeks that it is held, as the people of Massachusetts lunge at the opportunity to catch a deal at some great establishments. The partnership with ArtsBoston this year will allow those diner's to add a great show on to their evening for 50% less than it would normally cost! The list of included shows in this promotion can be found here (, and the great thing is the sheer variety of performances that are open to us all at these great rates! Those looking for laugh out loud comedy at the Improv Asylum to those seeking amazing Piano solos from an acclaimed pianist will all find something on this list of shows!

Restaurant week, and the accompanying schedule of shows from Boston Arts, runs from March 14-19th, and March 21-26th 2010. Grab your sweetie, or that person you've been eyeing on the T, or even just your best pal and enjoy a fantastic meal, and a wonderful show all for a bargain! Bring back that old "date night" feel that we remember!

ArtsBoston ticket information:
Boston Restuaratn Week information:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Merry Table Crêperie

Our time in Portland is always spent visiting a myriad of "tradition" stops- ones I've already spoken of, some that are drinking establishments only, and one that is the only breakfast spot we've tried in the lovely city. Now technically, The Merry Table Crêperie is not only breakfast- it is wonderful lunch and dinner too, but we only go during out breakfast time. The beauty of The Merry Table is that it is tried and true French Crepes. Walking through their front door is almost as though you are walking through a portal into a small cafe in France, you can almost see the Eiffel Tower out the window. The owner has been present each and every time we've been in, and she is always helpful, kind, patient with those of us rusty on our French skills, all while being incredibly and wonderfully French herself. Most of the conversations you hear her engage in are conducted in French, and the menu notes that there are even French only evenings at the restaurant where you must speak the owners native tongue while there. Charming does not even begin to describe this spot.

Over the time period that we have been going to The Merry Table I have tried several different crepe's stuffed with an assortment of fillings. Each has been wonderfully delicious. This time, however, I found one that I would be thrilled to have over and over. Salade de Crevettes, but basically the menu described a buckwheat crepe topped with fresh salad enhanced with shrimp. A masterpiece was presented to me. A beautifully thin, freshly made crepe was placed on a plate and then topped with greens, roasted red peppers, tomatos, red onion, carrot, artichoke hearts, asparagus and gorgeous sliced shrimp. Tossed with a mustard based vinaigrette- this was more a work of art than anything. At the owner's suggestion, I broke my long standing rule of not taking photos in restaurants and snapped a few-it was THAT gorgeous. As beautiful though as it looked- it tasted just as wonderful. The asparagus was sweet and lacked that sometimes obtrusive bitter bite that it can have. The salad was perfectly dressed-not drowned, and not skimped upon either. Finally the shrimp were perfectly cooked, sweet and delicious. What a brunch to have on a cold Sunday morning!

John fell in love with their crepes au sucre, or with sugar, the very first visit and so has faithfully ordered two of these each visit. Sweet, without being overly so, and satisfying, I always picture him heading to the Louvre after enjoying his breakfast.

For us, this is a must stop during our visits to Portland. I must urge you all to do the same- what a wonderful way to start a day in such a fantastic city.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Channel Cafe, South Boston

I'm going to take a quick break from my weekend recap of Portland, Maine because Valentines day is coming, and while we all know that it's a contrived Hallmark holiday, don't we all get sucked into its charms, or witchcraft, every year? Whether single, in a couple, on a date, whatever the circumstances might be, so many of us end up looking for a place to go for a nice dinner. Unfortunately, this need to be out on February 14th results in insanely long lines, limited reservation possibilities, stuffy stereotype romantic settings, and expectations that are far too high. I have a cure for you- are you ready for it? How about heading to Channel Cafe on Summer Street in South Boston?

Channel Cafe is beyond awesome. Located within an art gallery, they bring the words of "hip" and "delicious" together in one glorious marriage. Even better? They are celebrating "Local Love" this year- and utilizing local, sustainable ingredients! How's that for some lovin'? Lovin' the great state of Massachusetts! Ok-want to get ONE MORE better? They are holding their awesome Valentine's Day love fest on Saturday night, February 13th rather than the 14th.

Their menu is prix fixe for the evening- $30.00 for four courses-including the beer mentioned in the first course. So maybe there was one more better...So let's recap- awesome space, great food, reasonably priced, including a great beer AND celebrating local love? Good, Better....BEST.

The menu is:


Organic Vegetable and Local Cheese Pizzette

Narragansett Lager

SECOND COURSE (Choice of 1)

New England Pork Rillette, Grilled Garlic Crostini, Roasted Apple, Red Leaf Lettuce, Apple Cider Vinaigrette

Puree of Celery Root Soup, House-made Creme Fraiche, Gremolata

Roasted Delicatta Squash Salad, Red Leaf Lettuce, Spiced Pecans, Warm Herbed Goat Cheese, White Balsamic Vinaigrette

THIRD COURSE (Choice of 1)

Foraged Black Trumpet Mushrooms and Marsala Wine over Fettuccine, Herb Medley, Shaved Romano

Balsamic Braised Short Ribs, Sweet Leeks, Butternut Squash Homefries

Horseradish Crusted Gloucester Cod, Pan Roasted Wild Mushrooms, House-made Grain Mustard Beurre Blanc

FOURTH COURSE (Choice of 1)

Patron Affogato

Flourless Chocolate Cake -Dulce de Leche

Orange Mascarpone, Chocolate Wafers

If it isn't already obvious- I have a lot of love for The Channel Cafe. Just today I ran over to have a delicious lunch - their Italian Tuna Salad and a cup of Tomato Basil Soup. Their Italian Tuna Salad is a favorite of mine- Tuna mixed lightly with olive oil and lemon juice tossed with mesclun greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, capers and carrots. It is light, well seasoned, healthy and delicious. Their tomato soup had incredible flavors, with just a background of spice. The flavor combination reminded me of the sauce that was served with my mom's stuffed peppers, so it was a wonderful comforting meal for me on a cold snowy day!

My advice- RUN to Channel Cafe on Saturday, February 14th for a unique Valentines experience.

PS-they do take reservations!

Street and Co, Portland, ME

As I have previously stated, Portland has incredible food. Choosing a restaurant for dinner can be a daunting task as they have so many great choices, all utilising the freshest of ingredients and combining beautiful flavors. On our first trip to Portland we did not make dinner reservations, but instead decided to just see who had availability. We were lead to Street and Company located on the beautiful Wharf Street.
Our meal that evening was one of the best we've ever had, and has ruined scallops as a dish at any other restaurant for John-no body prepares them as well as that night. Though we have tried a variety of other great places in town, Street and Co. remains our favorite, and so we were thrilled to head back there on Saturday night.

We elected to start with the Maine Shrimp Cakes, served with Mache, citrus segments and an aioli. I had been reading about how Maine Shrimp were in season and how sweet and wonderful they are, as soon as I saw this on the menu I knew it was a must try. I was really blown away with how delicious these little cakes were! The reviews had been right- Maine Shrimp are incredibly sweet-almost an explosion of flavor when bitten into. They were honestly unlike any other shrimp I've had. I loved that the chef had paired the cakes- which were nicely seasoned even beyond the shrimp, but never overpowering them, with the citrus as the blood oranges added great acid to dish. The finishing aioli was perfect to round out the dish and enhance all of the other flavors. It was the perfect way to begin.

I selected one of their specials Cod served with crab meat, escarole and a deconstructed Picada over top. This was really lovely- the whole dish had been cooked in a skillet, and served in the same. The cod was ever so light, and perfectly seasoned and cooked. It delicately flaked at the slights fork pressure. The escarole was hearty and robust, and had the most wonderful flavor from cooking in what seemed as a light tomato broth. Finally, the most fantastic texture change came from the Picada-a simple combination of toasted almonds, garlic and herbs that provided this lovely crunch in the face of an other wise tender dish. The almond flavor also leant itself well to boosting the richness. Honestly it was a beautiful dish. My only disappointment was the lack of crab meat- I could see the little strands, but could not find a piece of lump meat anywhere. The rest of the flavors made up for it, but it was missed.

John chose their scallops again, served also in a skillet pan, with Pernod and cream, with a side of cous cous. The scallops were again, perfectly cooked and that delicious sauce of the French liqueur Pernod with cream was a lovely decadent addition. The cous cous was lovely as well, enhanced with fresh mint leaves which John loved with the scallops as well.

Street and Co, and the rest of their restaurant family in Portland, brings dining to a new level. Their concentration on fresh ingredients, some being cultivated just that morning, and on the dining experience is obvious. The restaurant is warm and appealing, boasting an open kitchen, and lovely copper topped tables. The staff is helpful and knowledgeable, with great insight to their wine list, and entrees.

Entering Street and Co. makes me feel as though I've entered some one's home- a person with extreme talent, and care for the bounty of the earth as well as my well being.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

DiMillo's Floating Restaurant, Portland, ME

Saturday dawned cold and crisp in Portland, and once we finally got bundled up to hit the town, we were feeling more like lunch than breakfast. No worries there though- we had our spot all picked out. DiMillo's Floating Restaurant sits on the water in a retired car ferry. The ship itself began its life in 1941 when it began its service as a car ferry in the New York area. As time went on the ship found itself in high demand as a car ferry, and was sold to several other states for their use, and then finally was utilized as a youth shelter and a club. Finally, in 1980, the DiMillo family purchased the boat, and opened their floating restaurant in 1982. While some may consider it a tourist trap during the warmer months, it serves our purposes well during the rest of the year.

For whatever reason, DiMillo's is a spot where we choose to sit at the bar, rather than at a table in their expansive dining room. We have actually never sat at a table, but instead always enjoy the friendly bartenders, the views of the ocean and dock areas. There is something about the ocean in the winter that I just love. Knowing that Portland is chock full of tasty treats for any time of the day, I decided to get a smaller lunch and selected the Maine Crab Roll. Small-this roll was not! The sandwich was served in the traditional fashion- in a hot dog roll- and it was absolutely PACKED with fresh crab meat mixed with mayo and very little else. DiMillo's obviously knows how tasty their fresh crab meat is, and showcased it well. Sweet and delicious, huge chunks of crab, along with the lots of the broken down meat filled the roll to such a degree that it was almost hard to eat-almost. I polished off my sandwich in record time.

John had also elected to go the Crab route-and got the Crab Club. Typical in it's presentation the club was a triple decker, layered inside with crab salad, lettuce, tomato and bacon. I stole a quick bite and really enjoyed the same lovely crab salad mixed with the smokey crisp bacon. Delicious. Our sandwiches both came with our choice of a side, my coleslaw, which I had picked knowing that I wouldn't be tempted by it, had good flavor from the bite I took, but I just am not a big 'slaw fan. John had chosen the rice as his side and ate a good amount of the heaping portion- I took that as a good review.

DiMillo's is a great starting point in Portland. Beautiful water views give you ambiance you couldn't create and a solid seafood
offering with reasonable prices makes this a must hit for us each time we head to Portland.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Brian Boru, Portland, ME

Quite some time ago now John and I were looking for a place to head to for a little weekend away. After some consideration we chose to head to Portland, Maine, as it was just close enough to Boston at about 2 hours away, neither of us had ever been there to explore it, and we had heard wonderful things. After just 24 hours in the great city we were hooked. Almost every time now that we feel the need to escape the hectic life in Boston, we head to Portland for a little relaxation.

As we sat yesterday in one of our favorite spots putting off the inevitable trip home I realised what it is that I love so much about Portland-simply put it appeals to all of my interests and passions. Any location on the ocean is a place where I am comfortable- add to that the wonderful artistic vibe that completely encases the city and reminds me of my long lost days of being a high school band groupie, and finally, of course there is the food angle. Portland is comprised of an amazing amount of restaurants, most of which hold dear the principles of good eating-food, made with love for those who are going to enjoy it and love for where it came from. So many of the restaurant support local farms and produce only making sure that their cuisine is served at its freshest point, resulting in amazing flavors, and wonderful combinations. Finally, it must be noted, that the people of Portland are some of the friendliest and warmest that I've met.

Each trip we start our time in Portland the same way- we head directly to the Brian Boru. Brian Boru, touted as a Traditional Irish Pub on their website, appears in every way to be just that. Sitting inside, at communal tables no less, it is truly a place to gather, to meet old friends, to swig down a beer or two, and to enjoy their truly delicious food.

We found the Brian Boru quite by chance on our first trip up to Portland. We had gotten ridiculously lost along the way, and had forgotten to bring any type of snacks (as we have since realized that we are prone to getting lost-we always have some food with us on car trips). Anyway-once we finally arrived in what we would later refer to as "The Great City", we were starved and went looking for food immediately. What we found was a cheerful red building, sporting the Guinness Pelican on one side-like a beacon to the weary travellers- we had found the Brian Boru. That day we dined on garlic fries, and sandwiches and were filled-it could have been food from the Gods. From then on- as soon as we get to Portland, we make a beeline for Pelican.

Friday evening we had our first dinner experience there, and we were not disappointed. I chose the Hot Roast Lamb sandwich. The lamb had been cooked with a fair amount of garlic, and then shredded, and piled high on a long sandwich role dressed with a sage may. This was so nice. The lamb was delicate, with the flavor of garlic but not over powered with it, and the sage mayo added a creamy, luxurious component with just the right amount of sage flavor. Together the sandwich was hearty and warming, exactly the type of meal that you would want after a long car ride and on a cold night.

John had chosen to have their pulled pork sandwich which he's had before and absolutely loved- so he was crushed when he was informed that they were out of it. A quick selection later though- he ordered their Rueben. I snagged a bite of his-wow. The corned beef was obviously homemade and incredibly well spiced. I have had my fair share of Rueben's during my time and often find that a lot of the flavor comes from the sauer kraut and not the beef-here the beef played a very rightful center stage, delicately enhanced by the creamy cheese and the kraut.

The Brian Boru hits the spot every time. From their food-to their great selection of beers- to their live music during the evenings, there is no better way to kick off a great weekend in Portland than indulging in one of their fantastic meals.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cabot Cheese, A Give Away, Mussels and Biscuits!

I love cheese-its just a fantastic product isn't it? It is just so versatile as it comes in all different flavors and tastes, textures and application possibilities- a warm pot of melted cheese and wine for Fondue, a comforting grilled cheese sandwich on a cold day, gorgeous fresh mozzarella standing up to fresh tomatoes, sweet basil and garlic in salads. Finally, there are those wonderful cheese plates to end a meal with- beautiful cheeses to satisfy the sweet and savory tooth. Who can resist lovely cheese?
One of my favorite types of cheese is cheddar and one of the best suppliers of cheddar cheese is none other than Cabot, which was begun in Vermont in 1919. One of the very cool things about Cabot is that they are actually a Coop- meaning that their cheese comes from dairy farmers all across New England-so buying Cabot here in Boston means buying local. Even more exciting though is that Cabot is not just local- they are sustainable as well. Cabot upholds the principles of sustainability farm to farm- and cow to cow. They know that their cheese is a direct product of the land they live on, and they want to take care of it. I tip my hat to them for their efforts!

Here's the fun part- THE FIRST EVER A BOSTON FOOD DIARY GIVEAWAY! Send me a note with a suggestion for your favorite way to use Cabot Cheese-whatever you like, where ever your imagination takes you- we'll select the best one- and the winner receives a lovely Cabot Cheese Gift Basket! This is sure to be a crowd pleaser so get in your entries by noon on February 11, 2010, and we'll choose a winner! Entries can be sent to

To get you started on some ideas- the lovely folks over at Stephanie's on Newbury sent me some recipes earlier this week to try out-featuring Cabot Cheese. Though they all looked amazing- I only had time to try out two last night- the Mussels Au Gratin and Cabot Chipotle
Cheddar Cheese and Bacon Biscuits -yummy!

I started off by making the Biscuits, deciding that they might just be a delicious vehicle to soak up the broth from the Mussels. Recipe is:

®Cabot Chipotle Cheddar Cheese and Bacon Biscuits

3 C all purpose flour

4 t baking powder

1 t salt

1 stick (8 T) butter, cold and unsalted

1 C ®Cabot Chipotle Cheddar Cheese, hand shredded

1/3 C scallions, finely chopped

8 bacon strips, crispy fried and finely chopped

1 ½ C milk

Preheat oven to °400. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl mix together flour,
baking powder and salt (sifting together is preferable). With a pastry blender cut in cold butter until the mixture looks like crumbs. Add cheese, bacon and scallions and mix lightly. Add the milk and stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula being careful not to over mix. On a lightly floured surface, hand pat down the dough until about a ½ inch thickness. Cut into 4 inch circles and place evenly on the cookie sheet. Bake biscuits until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Now I am not a baker- by any means- but this recipe was easy and the biscuits were delicious. A few notes- I sadly couldn't find the Chipotle cheese in my grocery store- so I subbed in Chili Lime. I actually wish that I had added a bit more cheese as I wasn't able to taste the flavors of it as much as I had wanted but the Bacon and the Scallions added in these great flavors of smokey and onion- and even better those ingredients did a great job of breaking up the texture. I would love to have made the Beef Stew recipe that was sent a long- I bet these guys would have been awesome with that!

Once the biscuits had been put in the oven I turned my attention to prepping for the Mussels Au Gratin. Recipe followed is:

Mussels Au Gratin

1 # mussels, de-bearded, washed and patted dry

2 T butter (unsalted)

½ T canola oil

½ T garlic, minced

1 T shallot, minced

1 T parsley, chopped

1 T tarragon, chopped

¼ C white wine, dry

½ C heavy cream

3 T Parmesan cheese

¼ C ®Cabot Private Stock Cheddar Cheese, shredded by hand

Pre-heat the oven to °475. In a medium sized sauté pan over high heat melt the butter and heat the oil. Do not brown. Add the mussels, garlic and shallots and sauté until the mussels start to open. Add a ½ T of each herb and sauté for an additional 1-2 minutes. Add white wine, heavy cream and 2 T Parmesan cheese and reduce by half. Place mussels in an oven proof serving dish and top with bread crumbs and cheddar cheese and bake until brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle remaining Parmesan and herbs. Enjoy.

Now I love Mussels- but I've never baked them before so I was excited to try this new way of cooking them! I have to say-I think I failed here. Mussels-I know-cook very very fast. They are one of those easy great things that you can cook just before people arrive because the are a breeze. I think that I moved a bit too slow last night. Where the instructions say to saute the mussels until they start to open-I believe that I left them a bit long at this stage before adding the herbs, and then perhaps the time between the herbs and adding the cream and wine should have been a bit shorter. By the time I transferred the little devils into my oven safe dish-they were all pretty much done. The browning time in the oven just sorta added insult to their injury. Now don't get me wrong- that broth is killer-creamy but perfectly seasoned from the garlic and the shallots. Little hints of parsley and tarragon are like notes of flavor throughout. The cheesy crust created during the baking was awesome-totally decadent. It added nice texture to the dish which was other wise lacking. The mussels-the ones I hadn't overcooked- had adopted all of those wonderful flavors and were delicious.

We did use those biscuits to sop up the broth as well- that was a lovely combination!!

So there you have it- those are the suggestions from Stephanie's on Newbury for two types of Cabot Cheese- what are yours???

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Audubon Circle Restaurant Bar

As I have previously stated, it's darn cold in Boston right now. It has been this way for a week-I think- I've lost track-I just know that I'm now repeating the cycle of the ridiculously warm sweaters that I own because light wool isn't going to cut it. Anyway- when it is this cold- I tend to abbreviate the length of the walks I normally take around this great city. However last night I decided to brave it, and walk over towards the Boston/Brookline line to pick up John from his place of employment after work. This is a wonderful walk as it leads through lovely shopping as well as ending close to a very nice little eatery that I have neglected for far too long- Audubon Circle Restaurant and Bar.

Audubon was found to a few of my girlfriends and I quite a few years back now, just after we had moved into the city. However as years went by, and I've moved around the city, I lost sight of this great little place. So, I decided as I walked over towards that area, it was time to check it out again and see if it is still as good as I remember.

We got there right around 7:00 pm-prime dining time, but were able to find a nice table right away- and as far from the door as possible to cut down on any possible drafts. We were greeted immediately by our server, who took our drink orders and left us with our menus. I actually had a pretty difficult time deciding what I wanted. I had heard that the burgers there were pretty tasty and so encouraged John to order it, but I knew that after my meatballs and chocolate french toast from the weekend- I wanted something lighter. I finally decided on a grilled chicken salad. We also decided to start with an appetizer of grilled shrimp.

The shrimp arrived in good timing-not too short where you had to wonder how long they had been sitting around waiting for someone to order them, but not so long that you started to wonder if the staff had had to go find shrimp somewhere. Six shrimp were served on a bed of Arugula, circled around a citrus based dipping sauce. The shrimp were perfectly cooked, plump and delicious. They had subtle enhancing flavors to them including a sprinkling of white sesame seeds over the top. They had countered this in a delightful Ying/Yang fashion by including a sprinkle of black sesame seeds over the dipping sauce. The sauce itself was thick, sweet and full of flavor. I really enjoyed these as an appetizer-they were the perfect amount and the flavors really awakened the taste buds.

Our entrees were served soon after we finished the appetizer. My salad looked fresh and delicious with large pieces of grilled chicken layered over one side of the plate and greens piling out from under. They had added a couple of handfuls of roasted pumpkin seeds as well as some dried cherries to the mix as well, and then had tossed the whole thing in a lemon cilantro dressing. It is safe to say that I cleaned my plate-completely. The chicken was really well cooked-and held the bright lemony flavor from the dressing perfectly. The salad was very fresh, had great crunch from its own natural texture, and was really enhanced with the pumpkin seeds and the sweet tart cherries. I am currently craving more of this salad.

John enjoyed his burger as well, especially noting that the bread it was served on was really good. However, he did not enjoy the accompanying potatoes. What was served seemed more like a breakfast potato then a burger potato, and it just didn't vibe well for him. Luckily, the burger was good enough to overcome any disappointment in the potatoes and so he felt dinner was still a success.

It should be noted, because of the work that obviously went into the design, that the vibe of the restaurant is very cool. It maintains laid back while being slightly edgy, welcoming customers of all ages and backgrounds. Additionally, the inside of the restaurant is incredibly clean, though watch out for the glasses-one of ours had to be returned.

Audubon rejoins my list of favorite restaurants in the Fenway/Brookline area with a pledge to return more often.

Audubon Circle on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Pasta and Meatballs-the ultimate cold weather food!

The past few days in Boston have been brutally cold-so cold that the ice that forms overnight doesn’t defrost during the day. It’s so cold that even my warmest sweaters don’t feel warm enough. It is certifiably frigid out there. So what does frigid mean? It means warming, comforting foods-the type of food that says “Hey! You there-come on inside, close the door and don’t even think about leaving again til it warms up 20 degrees or so”-yeah, that’s the type of food I’m looking for. So I made some. Sunday afternoon, with no football to watch, no place to go, we hunkered down and I made meatballs, with fresh homemade tomato sauce.

There is something about tomato sauce that I just adore. I think it’s partially how versatile it is. Tomato sauce can take on so many different forms- from rustic with big chunks of tomato and simple seasonings, to much more involved creations blending smoother textures, different types of alcohol, spices, and herbs. Making tomato sauce from scratch is purely therapeutic for the simple fact that it allows your creativity to flow and explore.

Sunday morning I had made a nice breakfast for John and I, including the all wonderful ingredient of bacon that we all know and love, and I had a good chunk of
the package left over. What to do with half a package of bacon? There are many, many ways to answer that question but I decided to brown three slices, cut into small pieces, and have that be the base of my tomato sauce.

I am a big believer in baking bacon. Its easier, cleaner, and faster-place your strips on a baking sheet lined with tinfoil for easy clean up, pop them into a 400 degree pre heated oven, and let ‘em cook for about 10 minutes (depending on thickness of cut, and varying ovens) they come out crispy, and delicious. They also leave behind a lot of their grease on the baking sheet. Hmmm bacon grease… I decided that it shouldn’t go to waste and so I sliced plum tomatoes in half, spread them out on the same bacon dripping pan, topped with finely chopped garlic, parsley, and basil, salt and pepper. Back into the 400 degree oven til they started to blister.

While the bacon grease was working its magic in the oven, I had it working up on the stove as well. Once the small pieces had started released a fair amount of juice in the bottom of my stock pot, I started to add chopped garlic and chopped onion to the mix. As those started to turn translucent, I added fresh ground black pepper, and a few shakes of crushed red pepper flakes to the mix. Finally, once everything in the pot seemed to be coming together into a very fragrant mix, I added in a few handfuls of chopped parsley and basil to the mix. Then I added in three cans of stewed Muir Glen tomatoes because I just love the texture that they give to sauce. This summer though-when local tomatoes are wonderful I plan to can my own. We’ll see how that goes. The final step- those lovely roasted cherry tomatoes-with all of their delicious flavor were added to the pot with everything else. Then it was time to sit back and relax for a while as I let the combination of flavors blend over low heat.

About an hour or two later (time flies when you’re playing the Wii), after stirring the pot at varying times, I pulled out my trusty immersion blender, and pureed the tomato sauce into a smooth, fragrant, wonderful pot of deliciousness. I have to say-I was completely amazed by the work of the blender. Past uses have been a bit frustrating- but Sunday afternoon-it was a dream! I put the pot of soup back over very low heat, and began work on the meat balls.

In a medium sized bowl I mixed together finely chopped garlic, onion, parsley, and basil, salt and pepper, freshly shredded Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs and an egg so that the ingredients resembled wet sand. Then I added in a ½ pound of ground beef and a ½ pound of ground pork. I combined them well together, and then formed 12 smaller size meatballs. Placed on a freshly cleaned baking sheet, again lined with tin foil, and into a 400 degree oven they went. The great part about
baking meatballs is that they tend to dispense a lot of the grease that they have from the meat, and they don’t absorb any more as they would in pan frying. Additionally-they are much more hands off. 20 minutes later or so, I removed some very nicely browned meatballs from the oven and placed them into the sauce pot to further mingle the flavors.

When it was time to eat, I heated my pasta water, boiled the pasta til nicely al dente, ladled some of the sauce into a fry pan, and then transferred the pasta into the meatball free pan of sauce to coat it. A quick plating of helpings of pasta, a couple of meatballs, and a fresh grate of Parmesan cheese and dinner was served!

What a wonderful, hearty and comforting meal on such a cold night! The sauce had great flavor and body to it. The smokiness from the bacon didn’t overpower the other flavors, but more maintained a nice background to the dish. There was a slight kick to it from the red pepper flakes, the herbs kept their unique flavors, and even the pepper was present. The meatballs were also quite tasty-they added nice texture to the dish, and while they maintained the delicious flavors of the sauce, they also added their own with the great combination of beef and pork, along with their smattering of Parmesan cheese. This brought me right back to my mother’s kitchen on cold winter nights- the perfect place to warm up.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cocoa Metro and Chocolate French Toast

I am a choco-holic. Chocolate is one of those perfect creations-especially dark chocolate where the natural bitterness is JUST hidden with sweet sugar. Yes-I have a problem and I refuse to get help for it! You can imagine my delight when, a couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a company called Cocoa Metro-I wasted no time in reading that one!

Cocoa Metro is a Massachusetts based chocolate milk company whose single product is the richest, most decadent dark chocolate milk I have ever tasted. Make no mistake-this is in no way a diet drink. Cocoa Metro is a creamy concoction -made with 2% milk, though it tastes a lot richer than that- with such a strong chocolate presence that renders almost bitter, but cut by sweetness and fullness of flavor. Others have complained of addiction to this product- and I can definitely see why. It is amazing.

Since my brain is forever working over time to concoct new blending of ingredients, I decided to try to work Cocoa Metro into a dessert last night. French Toast, to me, is one of those wonderful little luxuries that I just don't allow myself that often, so it seemed to be the perfect vehicle to create an incredibly decadent dessert. I picked up a loaf of just regular white sandwich bread at my grocer, and a shot of espresso when I got my daily coffee. Then, pre dinner last evening, I mixed together three eggs, about a cup and a half of Cocoa Metro, the shot of espresso and a pinch of salt. Then I place two pieces of bread in the mix side by side and let them soak it all in, flipping occasionally. After the dinner dishes had been cleared I set to work on the dessert.

First things first- I made fresh whipped cream. I have to say-there is nothing on earth quite as amazing as fresh whipped cream. A cup of heavy cream, a little sugar, a teaspoon of Vanilla extract-yum. I do have to stop here and sing the praises of my immersion blender. I used it twice yesterday- one of which was to whip my whipped cream- wow- fast and efficient. What a great kitchen tool!

Once the cream was whipped though- I took out my big fry pan, melted a teaspoon and a half of butter, and then placed the soaked bread in the pan. While they were cooking, I spooned two tablespoons of red raspberry jam into a small sauce pot, added a two teaspoons (or so) of Cointreau and heated them over a low heat to break down the compounds and join them into a sauce. Once the toast had browned on both sides, I placed one slice on a plate, spooned some of the raspberry orange sauce over the top, place the second slice on that, and then place a heaping teaspoon of whipped cream on top.

Wow. I don't make dessert often, nor do I eat it especially often (not because I don't adore it believe me) but this was some good stuff. I could have amped up the chocolate a bit- perhaps a bit more salt to round out the flavors, and some nutmeg I think could have provided nice contrast. The espresso served mainly to give some body to the dish as opposed to impart actual "mocha" flavor, but the end result didn't suffer. Creamy and delicious with the sweet raspberry and orange sauce to provide contrast and the whipped cream there for a little relief- absolutely wonderful.

Now, it might just be me-but I see a lovely, and easy, Valentines dessert here. Hint hint...

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