Friday, May 28, 2010

Farmer's Market time is here again!!!!

When you hear the words "it's the most wonderful time of the year" you may think of the winter holiday season.  Snow falling, holiday cheer abounding, hot steaming mugs of mulled cider, crackling is a wonderful time of the year.  But I might argue that it is well rivaled by the current time of the season-the time of year when Farmer's Markets open and the city of Boston becomes a virtual farm land with wonderful fresh produce abounding.  All throughout the city and surrounding areas Markets pop up almost like a mirage in the dessert, and the weary office dwellers are able to head to these spots during their lunch breaks or after their day is complete and scoop up glorious fresh vegetables, fruits, flowers, and other various, locally made, food products such as cheese, fresh meats, honey, breads, and pasta's.  I love winter and everything goes with it, but these fantastic Farmer's Markets are giving it a run for its money.

The 2010 season began just last week, and while the produce offerings are very much reflecting spring in New England (ie limited selections), what is offered is like a breath of fresh air. Glorious bunches of fresh spinach, beautiful local radishes, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, herbs a plenty...they sit perched in boxes and bins a top the cold concrete like a breath of fresh air.  I have been celebrating the start of the season since last week and have picked up a variety of goods.  Yesterday I selected beautiful fresh Spinach and cucumbers, last week I picked up Honey Lemon Fromage Blanc from Foxboro Cheese and Lemon Verbena Honey from the Herb Lyceum Kitchen by way of fresh selections.  I also scored a container of Pesto Pasta with Roasted Red Peppers and Shaved Parmesan from the lovely ladies at Nella Pasta.  More on Nella Pasta in a future post, but I will say this much about them- GO TO THEIR STAND at the next Farmers Market- they are in Hingham on Saturdays and The Pru on Thursdays.  GO-do not miss them- I haven't yet made anything with their fresh pastas, but their prepared dishes are incredible.  Get it?  Go.  Ok.

The most wonderful thing about these markets though is that they just inspire creativity!  Like the first shoots poking through the dirt's surface, I feel my brain starting to work on overtime imagining all sorts of new recipes and possible creations incorporating all of these lovely ingredients.

Last night I went simple with a fresh salad of spinach, cucumbers, red and yellow peppers and red onion topped with sliced steak and a little Parmesan cheese with a simple lemon vinaigrette dressing.

Monday evening I was a bit more creative and made a cheesy pasta dish by poaching chicken in a mixture of sauteed onion, celery, salt, pepper, oregano and thyme with two cans of chicken stock, and 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups dry white wine.  When the chicken was done I pulled the breasts into shreds.  In another pot I boiled whole wheat pasta, then drained the excess liquid and added about a half a cup of the Honey Lemon Fromage Blanc, a little salt, pepper, fresh parsley, lemon zest, finely sliced red onion, halved cherry tomatoes, fresh Arugula and then finally the chicken.  It wound up with flavors reminiscent of Mac and Cheese, but cleaner, fresher taste to it.  Served cold, or even just room temperature this dish had the flavors of springtime, with the comforts of pasta and cheese.  Mac and Cheese loving John rated this one high as a good springtime alternative.  

No matter where your creativity takes you, or what you envision, the best thing about the Farmer's Markets is that you know that everything you purchase is as fresh as possible, and you are directly supporting the local farms in the area- good for you-good for them.  I see no bad side here.

Now -I'm going to go see if I can write new lyrics...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Capital Grille, Back Bay, Boston

In John and my quest to check out each of the different steak houses in Boston, we have now hit The Capital Grille on Newbury Street in the Back Bay three times.  I have failed to review the previous two times for various reasons, but have now been able to give The Capital my full attention and boy-does it deserve it!

The Capital Grille is chain steakhouse with locations all over the United States.  They specialize in beautiful aged cuts of steak, as well as incredibly fresh seafood.  Their menu is typical in the Steakhouse sense whereby all sides are a la carte and their beautiful steaks take center stage on their plates.  Their attention to detail is precise, their service flawless as their waitstaff and bartenders work to bring each guest a fantastic meal.  

Each time we have gone John and I have enjoyed their Chopped Salad as a starter.  They vary this lovely light salad with lots of different types of vegetables, varied by what is currently in season. Garnished with croutons and a mix of olive oil and vinegar as a dressing, the salad is light and refreshing, a perfect start to a decadent meal. 

Now, I am the worst when it comes to choosing what type of steak I decide to chow down on.  Some days I crave the pure flavor of a good steak, untarnished by accents and sauces.  Other days I'm willing to branch out, see what all the fuss is about pairing meet with other flavors.  Of our three visits I have had the Delmonico, which was delicious, strong in the natural meat flavor, but enormous!  Half of it was brought home with me for future meals.  My second journey I selected the Bone in Kona Crusted Sirloin with Caramelized Shallot Butter. This was the ultimate in savory decadence for me.  The Kona Coffee rub added amazing flavor to the meat, but did not give the impression of coffee at all.  It was just robust flavor throughout.  What was really lovely was the creamy delicate flavor of the Shallot Butter in opposition with the strong flavors of the steak.  They were such different flavors and strengths but complimented each other perfectly.  This last time that we went, I selected their Dry Aged Sirloin Steak- which was wonderfully "meaty", the pureness show through without much assistance from other ingredients.  As always it was cooked to a perfect medium rare as I had specified and was wonderfully juicy and tender.  A perfect steak if I do say so.

We always select one to two sides to accompany our steaks this time we paired our main course simply with Parmesan Truffle Fries.  This decadent dish contains perfectly fried potatoes sprinkled generously with White Truffle oil and dusted with Parmesan cheese and a bit of parsley. Oh my are these tasty.  The Truffle Oil fills your mouth with the wonderfully earthy flavor that only truffles can produce.  In a time when "Truffled" seems to be tossed around like water from a garden hose in mid July, it is wonderful to actually taste the truffle in the dish.  The cheese adds a really nice salty essence and the parsley does its job of adding freshness to the fries.  We have in the past also sampled their Lobster Mac and Cheese, their Sam's Mashed Potatoes and their Seasonal Fresh Vegetables.  The first two are incredibly rich and decadent.  Exactly what you think you ought to pair with steak- delicious carbs.  The vegetables are tasty as well, though unfortunately not as "fresh" tasting as one might hope as they are sauteed in a bit too much butter for my taste.  

Normally after a steak dinner, I am far too stuffed to eat another bite, but one of the occasions we dined there we were lucky enough to be sent a dessert plate from a friend.  This plate included many of their desserts on it and all of them were delicious-especially their Espresso Flour less cake.  

You know when you're headed to a steakhouse that you're in for an evening of indulgence.  The very interior suggests this with their comfortable booth type seating, and the rich wood paneling that surrounds you.  At The Capital Grille you are pampered to feel like a celebrity with every staff member increasingly more helpful, and knowledgeable.  As we've already been back to the Grille several times- its obvious to note that this is on the -we will return list! 

Capital Grille on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Stella, South End, Boston

There's an anniversary in town, and it just so happens to be for one of the chic-est Italian restaurants!  Stella, located on Washington Street in the South End, is celebrating their 5 year anniversary this year!  They celebrated last night with a lovely cocktail party, and throughout the evening I wondered -why don't I come here more often?

Dinner at Stella is always delicious.  They were the restaurant to introduce me to Arancini, those lovely little fried risotto balls of goodness, and in my estimation- they are still some of the best in town.  I was more than delighted to see them as one of the passed appetizers last night, though their version is so soft and gooey (you try finding a better word!) that they were slightly difficult to eat standing.  They are served in a wonderful Pomodoro sauce-that is just perfectly savory and bursting with flavor.  

Other appetizers served last night included a delicious lobster salad served on crostini that I'm not seeing on their regular menu, however a version of their marinated beets and goat cheese appetizer that they served to us on endive leaves is there- and it was delicious.  The creamy tang of the goat cheese was perfect with the strong flavored hearty beets.  Now as I believe I've stated in the past, I am not a fan of beets at all, but paired with the goat cheese, this was a very tasty appetizer.  Other standouts last evening: the fried artichokes were delicious with their crispy shell giving way to the soft, marinated artichoke heart-absolutely lovely, and their fried shrimp were light and well cooked without too much batter so that the flavor of the shrimp shown through.  Really tasty.  There were some sliders that were passed-which I can only assume were delicious however as soon as the wait staff left the kitchen with a tray they were swarmed and their offering taken within 30 seconds.  I failed in my attempts to secure the treat.

Though a full dinner was not served last night, I can attest that their pasta's are delicious.  I have especially enjoyed their Orechiette served with sausage and tomato sauce.  I love the almost nutty flavor that Orechiette pasta takes on, and it is such a wonderful vehicle for sauce where the liquid gets trapped in its shape.  The sausage served has wonderful flavor, and brings that fatty essence to contrast the acidity of the pasta.  It is a simple dish for sure- but beautifully executed at Stella.

I must say-there were a couple of misses last evening as well- the crab cakes had an odd fishy taste to them that was rather disappointing, and the "spicy" chicken skewers were peppery, but not spicy.  

Over all, Stella is a fun, delicious spot to get a wonderful dinner in a relaxing atmosphere.  And even better- their cafe, adjacent to the main restaurant is open from 6 to 6 offering tasty treats to go!  I am remiss for not having Stella as one of my regular spots- I am sure to return soon- and much more frequently!

Happy Anniversary Stella!  To many more! 

Stella on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 21, 2010

ABFD's Very First Original Recipe Contest!

Big news here at A Boston Food Diary today- we have entered our very first original recipe contest!, a great site published by The Westin Copley with tons of fantastic links to all sorts of events and happenings around town, is sponsoring a seafood recipe challenge with Turner Fisheries.  They have asked the people of Boston, or Massachusetts, or the Country to enter their favorite Seafood recipes for a chance to have them featured on the menu at Turner Fisheries!

My entry is for New England Seafood Salad- a dish incorporating lots of that beautiful seafood we have around here, with fresh herbs, milk boiled potatoes and some of the wonderful flavors of great Clam Chowder!  

The full entry can be found here: New England Seafood Salad, please check it out, and if you like it- feel free to leave a comment promoting it.  Those comments go towards finding a winner!

Thank you all for your support!


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Eastern Standard, Kenmore Square, Boston

Some nights just go down in the annals of your life as "perfect"-maybe everything doesn't work out the way you want it to- but the feelings that you remember from that night are perfect.  Friday evening this past week was one of those evenings from me.  I met John at Eastern Standard in Kenmore Square for what we thought would be a quick drink or two before finding a great spot to watch the Bruins game.  We comfortably sat in the capable hands of the bartenders at Eastern Standard for two drinks before we decided that we should probably head to our next destination to catch the game, and then they opened the doors above the bar to display lovely flat screen TVs, one of which was located directly in front of us.  And then we decided, by happy accident, that Eastern Standard was our destination for the evening.

The game began and we perused the menu, tempted by several of the options laid in front of us.  Finally, in a stroke of genius, we decided to start by sharing a King Crab Leg, and then I chose their seared Salmon as my entree and John chose their Steak Frites.  In perfect timing, we were served our massive crab leg, on ice with tarter sauce and cocktail sauce on the side for dipping.  We happily started cracking into the shell as the Bruins took their quick 3-0 lead.  We received word that the great David Ortiz had scored two home runs as we munched on the deliciously sweet meat of the crustacean.  The meat was perfectly cooked, fun to remove from the shell and paired very nicely with Eastern Standards acidic cocktail sauce, and their creamy tarter sauce.  All was right with the world.

After we finished up the Crab, the shell was whisked away from our perch at the bar, and we were served our entrees soon after.  My Salmon appeared perfectly seared, set atop a lovely mound of Israeli couscous enhanced with a black olive puree, roasted red peppers and a Marcona Almond pesto.  Oh my goodness- this was delicious.  The salmon was lightly seasoned so the true flavor of the fish shown through.  The accompanying sides were excellent compliments, and actually proved to be very addictive.  The couscous was well cooked, and contained that lovely buttery flavor to it that couscous captures so well, which made the olive puree the correct contrasting flavor with its salty notes.  The Marcona Almonds were a fantastic finishing flavor and texture, livening up the other, softer pieces to the dish with a satisfying crunch.  Enjoying this delicious dish made the blows of the Bruin's losing their lead a little less upsetting.

John, who has had several misses with Steak Frites, found a great one at Eastern StandardOften he finds that the steak served in this dish is tough, and difficult to cut and chew.  Eastern Standard's version was full of flavor, and while having some resistance to it that is inherent to the cut of the meat, it wasn't difficult at all and really the texture made it incredibly enjoyable to eat.  The Frites served with the dish were lovely, crisp, warm without being too hot, and with lovely flavor to them.  The couple I stole from his plate were even better dipped in the Bearnaise Sauce served with the dish.  As much as I enjoyed my lovely Salmon, a small part of me was rather jealous of John's meal that evening.  

Luckily the debate of whose dinner was better gave me something to consider as the Bruin's finally lost their lead completely, and their shot at glory this year was cleared off the ice as our dishes were cleared off the bar.  The game was a big disappointment, and brought a sad end to a year that has seen some amazing things for the Bruins, including an incredible Winter Classic Game held, for the first time ever, at Fenway Park bringing sports fans in Boston together like never before.  However, as disappointed as we all were sitting at the bar that evening, the friendly staff at Eastern Standard was there to commiserate with us, and by their wonderful food, warm attitudes, and great service the night is still perfect in my mind.  Of course, Ortiz hitting two home runs in the night didn't hurt either...

Eastern Standard on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mother's Day Brunch: Blueberry Peach Bread Pudding

Mother's Day is such a wonderful tribute to thank those lovely ladies in our lives who have dedicated so much time and effort to making sure we are raised right.  Of course, I'm sure that we all dedicate time to this each and every day, but its nice to have a gentle reminder to take time out each year.  Of course, how to celebrate each year is a quandary that always stumps us in my household as we persistently ask my mother- what would you like to do and invariably the response returned is "spending time with you girls is enough for me". Its a lovely concept but we tend to want to treat her as well. For a few years my sister and I took my mother out for brunch, but we were rather disappointed with many of the brunches we attended in restaurants. So, for the past several years we have made Mothers Day brunch instead, this year I tried my hand at a take on a breakfast-y Bread Pudding.

My mother has always made delicious Bread Puddings, and really enjoys them, so I thought it would be nice to treat her to one of her favorites.  I wanted to give it a little spin though, and decided to incorporate Peaches and Blueberries to the mix.  Now, unfortunately, Peaches aren't really in season yet and are far too hit or miss right now to purchase fresh.  So I decided to use frozen peaches since I knew I could find more consistent flavor there.  Unfortunately, after visiting numerous grocery stores, I was unable to find frozen I ended up with jarred peaches.  As if the idea of jarred peaches wasn't abhorrent enough to me- I realized after purchase that they were in white grape juice.  I was pretty sure that any flavor of "peach" was going to be pretty non existent.  I pressed onward however, refusing to back down.  On Mother' Day morning, I laid out a loaf of Pepperidge Farm Brown Sugar Cinnamon Swirl bread on a cookie sheet in a single layer, and popped it into the oven at 300 degrees at first to "stale" the bread, basically to remove the moisture so that the bread would soak up lots of flavor from the custard mix I was going to make.  I upped the oven temperature to 325 after about a half an hour, and that did the trick for another 15 minutes or so.

In the mean time, I removed about four halves of the peaches from their jar, sliced them, and then added them to a food processor with Almond Extract, fresh nutmeg, and a little salt.  I blended these flavors together and continued to taste, adding more of different ingredients until I found a nice balance of flavors.  I had been accurate- the peaches in white grape juice were lacking in vibrant peach flavor, but had a background with it.  I blended the peaches till they were completely pureed, and then set to work on the custard.  Several of the recipes that I had read stated to mix 4 eggs with 2 cups of milk, but that was for a slightly smaller quantity of bread.  I decided to increase to 5 eggs and 2.5 cups of milk, and a half a cup of granulated sugar, that I then mixed with the peach puree and several handfuls of blueberries, as well as slivered almonds.  When the bread was done, I cut it into bite size squares and mixed the bread and the custard mixture together in a big bowl.  I let the bread soak up the liquid for about 10-15 minutes, and then poured the bowl into my waiting, buttered, baking dish, and popped it into the preheated 350 degree oven for about 45- 55 minutes, or until the inserted knife came out completely clean in the middle.
We let the hot pudding rest for a bit and cool.  When we just couldn't wait any longer- I cut three squares from the pan, and set out maple syrup for my family to drizzle over their pudding as needed. 

As frustrated as I was at having to use jarred peaches, I really loved the flavors of this bread pudding.  You could detect the light lovely taste of the peaches, the delicious flavor of the almond, the sweetness from the sugar, and it as all offset by the tartness of the blueberries. One of the things that I really love about bread pudding is the consistency that the bread takes on- spongy almost with just a wonderful texture to it.  I loved the addition of the almond slivers with this as they countered the soft pudding like quality with a bit of a crunch.  

Overall, I would deem this, my first attempt at bread pudding a success, though I am itching to make this again when fresh, ripe, beautiful summer peaches are available.  I hope my mother is up for a Mother's Day re-do!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rich Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Sauce

Some things just don't work out as you plan for do they?  I was hoping to make a lovely birthday cake for my sister on Friday evening, but ended up with a sleepless night the night before and fell short in my cake making.  Luckily my mom is a pretty fantastic baker so there was no shortage of birthday cheer.  Still though, I was excited to make the cake I had envisioned so I decided to make it anyway just to see how it would come out, but make cup cakes instead and give them away.  

Over Christmas, my mom had found salted caramels that she knew my sister had been hankering for. These things were incredibly addictive- gooey caramel encased in a chocolate shell, sprinkled with sea salt.  The flavor combination was incredible, with every taste bud jumping to life with these.  They were delicious.  I wanted to re-create this idea my making chocolate cake with a salted caramel sauce.  

I found a recipe from Cooking Light for the cake portion that described the cake as being moist and with a very deep chocolate flavor.  It sounded perfect to be the backbone of my dessert.  The recipe was incredibly easy to follow, and luckily I had most of the ingredients already on hand, aside from the buttermilk.  They asked for fat free buttermilk in the recipe- I just couldn't find it- so instead I went with regular old, packaged, dried buttermilk.  The basic steps of the recipe were to combine the dry ingredients (I included the package of butter milk in with the dry), blend the butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla extract together, and then slowly add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk in alternating fashion.  First a little flour mix, then buttermilk, then flour- and so on.  Now since the package of buttermilk said to add the actual dried buttermilk to the dry ingredients, and then add the appropriate amount of water to the recipe when requested- I alternated flour mix and water in to my mixer.  The finished batter was a bit thinner than I had anticipated, but it handled well when I poured it into my cupcake tins.  These baked for just about 30-35 minutes at 350 and I pulled them out of the oven.  They had not risen as much as a "normal" box mix cupcake does, but I hoped that this would simply mean that they might be a bit denser.

While those cooled, I turned my attention to the salted caramel sauce.  As I have not made Caramel sauce before, I adhered strictly to the directions that I found on Food & Wine.  The recipe was easy enough, and I can definitely see myself playing a bit more with it once I get comfortable with the process.  It was a simple process of combining sugar, water and corn syrup in a pot, and allowing it to boil until it turned a nice amber color.  Unfortunately my pots and pans are rather dark in color, so it wasn't as easy as I would have liked to watch the color
progression.  From the photos above- I should have taken it the caramel off the heat 30 seconds later than the second photo- I left it a minute.  Once removed from the heat I quickly added the butter, cream and salt and whisked as quickly as possible.  Note to those who try this- the steam from the pan is HOT- wear a glove or something when whisking- it was slightly painful!  But after just a few moments of whisking I had a beautiful caramel sauce -piping hot but ready for drizzling once it cooled.

After quite possibly the longest 45 minutes of my life- I deemed the caramel cool (sure) and selected a cupcake to try.  I peeled the wrapper off of my cake, set it on a nice white plate and had FAR too much fun drizzling caramel over the top!  It had beautiful consistency- smooth and the perfect thickness so it would drizzle without glopping or disappearing.  

The combination was absolutely amazing.  The cupcakes were wonderful, deep rich flavor, incredibly moist but without being heavy.  They had a nice spring to them, and were absolutely delicious on their own.  The caramel was just the ultimate in decadence.  The salt hadn't melted completely so it wasn't AS salty as I had hoped, but it was sweet and wonderful with a very small hint of salt.  I realize that I had let it go just a touch long and there was a bit of a odd background flavor that appeared occasionally.  Overall though, this was a perfect pairing.  

I managed to send these off to work with John this morning and the reviews have been great.  I'm definitely looking forward to making these again! 

Monday, May 10, 2010

Erbaluce, Bay Village, Boston

Springtime is always such a busy time of year as the people of New England emerge from our warm winter cocoons and venture back out into the world.  This weekend was especially busy for us here at A Boston Food Diary as my sister's birthday fell in close proximity to Mother's Day making for a wonderful joint celebration.  We decided to kick things off by a nice dinner out on Saturday evening.  

Since my sister moved out of Boston, I have decided that she of course doesn't have any access to the web or knowledge of Boston restaurants, so my mother and I put together a list of restaurants that either we've heard wonderful things about, or have just been wanting to check out, and sent my sister the list for her to choose where to go to dinner.  She narrowed it down to two places, and I made the final decision that we would head to Erbaluce, an Italian restaurant located in the Bay Village area of the city.   

Erbaluce opened in the fall of 2008, and has since placed incredibly high on my list of "go to" restaurants, but for whatever the reason, I just hadn't made it there. I selected it as an option, and ultimately the choice, for my sisters birthday as it concentrates on Italian cuisine, but does so without creating enormously heavy meals.  Chef Charles Draghi looks to incorporate the beautiful flavors and feelings of an Italian meal, but works to do so without clogging all of our arteries with heavy butter and cream sauces.  Additionally, I've heard that Erbaluce is open to diner's sharing different courses and creating more of a "family" style dining experience than a traditional restaurant.  As my family enjoys trying a little of this and a little of that- this sounded perfect to us.

We arrived at Erbaluce and were immediately welcomed by the hostess who made us feel right at home, despite our table not being available yet.  Unconcerned by this, we headed to the bar area to have a cocktail as we waited.  However, even before we received our order, our table was ready, and we were assured that our drinks would be served to us at our table.  I always have a pet peeve when restaurants refuse to transfer bar tabs to the table.  It seems rather finicky, and creates much more stress for a patron to have to quickly try to close a tab in order to appease a waiting hostess, and then juggle drinks and coats to your table.  Erbaluce-thank you for transferring our tab for us and bringing us our drinks to the table.  Points to you.

Once we were seated at our table, drinks successfully delivered, we began to pour through the menu while nibbling on the delicious bread that was served with a fantastic herb ed white bean dip.  Judging by the dip alone, I knew that we were in for a treat.  We finally decided to share three of their first courses, a pasta dish, and a seafood entree.  We started with their Razor Clams, a dish that I've read countless rave reviews on, their Radicchio salad with locally made Buratta, and their Speck with Apples and Mint.  The clams did not disappoint- served in a broth of fennel, leek and white wine, the flavors were clean and delicious.  I love roasted fennel as it takes on such a lovely sweet taste, and after my obsessive lunch at On The Marsh and their delicious Potato and Leek Soup- well I'm taking a whole new look at Leeks.  The combination of the light onion Leek flavor combined with the slightly sweet Fennel with a clear and robust broth was absolutely delicious, and the clams, a bit milder than the clams I'm used to were well cooked, and a lovely pairing when your fork contained a bit of each.  My sister, detective that she is, spied a big hunk of bread in the bottom of the bowl when we finished the clams that had soaked up as much of the broth as it could hold, and was now this lovely flavor filled soaked bread that forkfuls of were deliciously decadent.  

Speck, as our waiter described to us, is similar to smoked Prosciutto.  Further research provided me with an answer of ham enhanced with the flavor of Juniper berries.  At Erbaluce they paired it with tart Granny smith apples and finely chopped mint leaves.  The combination of flavors was surprising, but lovely.  The savory ham with the sweet tart apple and twist of mint created a really intriguing flavor that was spring like, and gloriously light.  

 My favorite of the first course though was the Radicchio salad with locally made Burrata and Pistachios. I really love Radicchio.  There is something about it's incredibly bitter flavor that makes me think that it is chock full of vitamins and good things.  Now I may not be too far off- apparently Radicchio is a leafy version of Chicory which is said to assist in the demise of parasites in the body.  After the water scare here in Boston last week- I'm in favor of anything that kills parasites.  That aside though,I was excited to try this simple salad.  The Radicchio had been lightly dressed with what tasted to be a lemon vinaigrette, simple and non overpowering, and then laid on the plate with a beautiful mound of Burrata cheese in the middle, sprinkled with whole Pistachios.  Burrata

However, more delights awaited us.  We selected their Scallops and their Gnocchi dishes as our shared main courses.   The Scallops were amazing, both in taste as well as in presentation.  Erbaluce graciously plated our Scallops separately even though we had asked for just one serving, and ensure that we each received a beautiful Scallop shell, generously served with three Scallops per person and shrimp as well.  This was served with a lovely pea green salad and gorgeous lemon enhanced butter beans.  The most intriguing part of this gorgeous dish?  Each shell that we received had its own Scallop inside, so we became responsible for removing them from their own homes.  While this sparked much conversation, it was incredibly interesting to be a part of this process and I believe created a more intimate dining experience.  It also solidly reinforced the knowledge that everything that Chef Charles Draghi is serving is impossibly fresh.  All that aside, the dish really was delicious.  The Scallops were perfectly cooked and seasoned with a fresh herbs and a light broth, and the pea green salad was the perfect accompaniment to a lovely spring dish. 

After enjoying my Scallops, I tuned my attention to the Gnocchi dish, served with a ragu like sauce of boar and root vegetables. Though this was a perfectly wintry preparation, we immediately understood why it remained in early May.  It was wonderfully delicious.  The Gnocchi were perfectly soft pillows of potato pasta, so well made that they defiantly stood against the common thought that Gnocchi is "heavy" meal.  Despite their own lightness though, they stood up to the strong Boar, which, though it demanded the strong brown sauce it came with, was wonderfully flavorful without weighing down the dish.  The two together were a perfect match and one that shall not soon be forgotten.  

Now, as we were dining in honor of a birthday, we decided that dessert could not be over looked. So we indulged in an orange chocolate tart topped with beautiful whipped cream and lovely candied orange rind.  Oh my very goodness.  The richness of the chocolate paired perfectly with the light citrus taste of the orange.  The only misstep that I can see here, or really through the entire meal was the crust of the tart was a bit loose to stand up to the bold flavors of the chocolate and the orange and sadly got a bit lost in the enjoyment.  However, the ill effects of this were incredibly minimal.

Many of the reviews that I have read of Erbaluce hold it as the best Italian Restaurant in Boston, and place it well within the top overall restaurants in Boston. I went on Saturday evening anticipating a fantastic meal, but worried that my high expectations may not be met.  I am very happy to report that my expectations were more than met, and were in fact, well exceeded.  Chef Draghi has a wonderful skill in matching beautifully fresh ingredients into thoughtful and delicious flavor combinations.  With each dish it is obvious that he takes care to ensure that every one is show pieced and their qualities recognized.  

Erbaluce- you are one amazing spot- I will definitely be back!

Erbaluce on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Culinary Class at On The Marsh, Kennebunkport, ME- Part 3: Rose Flower Water Creme Brulee

As we continue with our journey through a Culinary Class at One The Marsh in Kennebunkport, ME- after the gorgeous Potato and Leek Soup and the amazing roasted, boneless leg of Lamb stuffed with Mushroom Duxelle, I didn't think that anything comparable could possibly follow.  However Chefs Jeffrey and Christine had one final piece of our dinner for us to learn to prepare- dessert!  They had a perfect choice for it as well- what better to kick off the spring and summer months than something floral?  How about Rose Flower Water Creme Brulee?  Oh my goodness!

We started this dish by taking long smells of the Rose Flower Water.  It's scent was beautifully delicate, but wholly of lovely roses.  It had a very clear perfume-y vibe to it as well, making it clear that a little would go a long way.  The chef's backed up this theory stating that too much of the Rose  Flower Water could turn the creme brulee from a beautiful delicacy to into an experience similar to drinking perfume-not pleasant.  After we had each gotten a good feel for the flavor we were working with, Chef Chris took to the front to show us the nitty gritty of making creme brulee

She began by heating heavy cream, granulated sugar and the Rose Flower Water in a sauce pan until it boiled. While we waited for that, she showed us her favorite methods of separating eggs, and gave us each a chance to try it for ourselves.  I have to give HUGE kudos to John here who has never separated an egg in his life, and tackled two that day!  Once the cream mixture had boiled and the sugar dissolved, she began to add the cream very slowly to the egg yolks.  She was careful to reinforce that tidbit of knowledge that adding a hot liquid too quickly to eggs will cook and scramble the eggs- not exactly the pudding that you might have imagined.  So whisking continuously, Chef Chris slowly added about a cup of the cream to the eggs, and then when satisfied that they were fully tempered, she added the rest of the cream to the mix.  Though we skipped this step in our class (basically because Chef Chris is awesome and it wasn't needed :-) ) she instructed us that under normal circumstances we ought to strain the liquid pudding prior to baking.  She then just divided it into several different bowls, placed them each in a pan filled just to the bowls half way point with water, covered them, and placed the pans into the oven.  What was really wonderful to see here is that the baking time obviously varies.  While they timed for a certain amount, they checked the bowls regularly to see if they had set.  They noted well that cooking times, especially for these types of dishes can really vary, and stressed not to remove the pans from the oven too early.  

Once they were satisfied with the brulees, when they were set and there was no liquid spots remaining, they took them from the oven and placed them directly into the refrigerator to allow them to set fully.  Luckily we had a delicious meal to enjoy while these set, so we went off to tackle that.  When it was time, the chefs called us back to the kitchen to assist (yeah right) with the brulee process. 

At this point pastry chef Michelle McEwen had arrived, so she took over the charge of guiding us through our fun with fire.  The piece that I found the most interesting is that you really shouldn't use regular granulated sugar for brulee-ing, but rather should use raw sugar, or a Turbinado sugar as they used.  As I recall, their thoughts on the matter were simply that granulated sugar creates more of a burned flavor than the others.  So Chef Michelle had us each sprinkle the Turbinado sugar over our creme brulees, now fully set, and shake off the excess.  She also noted that it was important to clean off any rim of the dish that you were using to be sure that you aren't making more of a mess to clean later.  Then we each took a turn with the torch- a real welding torch- non of that sissy creme brulee style kitchen torches for On The Marsh.  Nope-they handed us this very capable torch-you know the kind you can find at home depot.  No big deal.  Because of my extreme fear of fire- I was rather hesitant, but ended up totally loving the experience over all.  The sugar didn't melt as quickly as I feared it would- so I had time to go over each piece and watch as the crystals melted together and turned a beautiful golden brown.  When we were done with the first layer, Chef Michelle had us complete a second layer on each to ensure that the sugar crust was thick, and would give way to a satisfying crunch when we dug our spoons into it.

We headed back to the table after we were done with our fire play, and they served us the Creme Brulee's with two lovely shortbread cookies that Chef Michelle had enhanced with chopped rose leaves, and with two beautiful sugar crusted rose petals!  I had thought of making sugar crusted something or other a few weeks back, and was astounded to learn how simple it really is.  All that Chef Michelle had done was paint each petal with egg whites and then sprinkle granulated sugar over the top.  Easy as pie!  AND they looked beautiful-like snow covered rose petals.  It was a gorgeous dessert.

It was more than just gorgeous though- it was delicious!  The Creme Brulee

The Culinary Class at On The Marsh was one of the greatest experiences, not to mention surprises, that I have ever been a part of.  Every person made you feel welcome and seemed to enjoy and appreciate every question that we had-no matter how silly.  The conversation was easy and flowed, and I haven't learned so much in I don't know how long.  I have to strongly recommend that if you are at all planning to be in the Kennebunkport, ME area- please see if there is available space in one of these classes.  You will not regret it- or just go for dinner- I promise it will be incredible! 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Culinary Class at On The Marsh, Kennebunkport, ME- Part 2: Roasted Boneless Leg of Lamb with Duxelle Stuffing

Our second course to prepare (and devour) at On The Marsh in Kennebunkport, ME was leg of lamb stuffed with a mushroom duxelle. If you are a frequent reader of A Boston Food Diary you may realize that my feelings for lamb are not in the "like" category, nor really the "love" category, but more the "OBSESSED" category.  If it's on a menu, most likely I'm going to order it.  I love its light taste, its lovely soft texture, and its ability to showcase so many different flavors.  It's a beautiful, wonderful meat.  The chance to learn how to cook such a delicious dish using this protein- well-if I could have been transported any further into heave, I would have.  

We started by making the mushroom duxelle which began by removing the non tasty parts of about 6 different types of mushrooms.  I unfortunately do not recall all of the varieties that we utilized, though I know that there were two types of Oyster mushrooms....mmm mushrooms.  So we began, by removing the hard sections that hold the clumps together, and by chopping half a quart of shallots.  The mushrooms and the shallots were then combined into a food processor and finely minced. Chef Jeff then placed these into a saute pan with vegetable oil and cooked over high heat for 15 minutes.  Then he de-glazed the pan with red wine, added a finely chopped bunch of thyme (John and I worked very hard on that thyme) and salt and pepper.  For something that sounds somewhat complicated (or maybe that's just me- but "duxelle" sounds complicated) I couldn't believe how simple this was.  After it was all combined, the mushrooms had melted to almost a paste, and to me the end product reminded me of a darker pate.  He transferred it to a bowl and set it aside to cool.   

The next part of our course was one of the most fascinating.  Chef Jeffrey showed us how to "clean up" the leg of lamb so that each bite would be succulent and delicious.  He did this by first cutting through a section of the meat so that it lay flat.  Then he began to work through the meat removing any unnecessary fat, membrane or just those hard modules you sometimes find.  This whole process was so fascinating to watch!  He identified the membrane as "silver skin" because of its iridescent appearance.  He also noted well that waste, while limit-able, is impossible to avoid.  Often to get a piece of something unwanted out of the meat, good pieces are lost as well, though he noted that many of these can be trimmed away from the "bad" part and used for other dishes, such as a shish-kabob on the grill or stew.  Mmmmm lamb stew!  When he was done cleaning the meat, it looked wholly different than when he began, smooth and neat.  He separated the meat into two pieces, and then tenderized both pieces with a meat tenderizer mallet.  I have to say-I've always seen this done-but have never actually used a tenderizer.  I have no idea what my aversion to it is, but man- I've really been opposed to it.  I think I'll have to run an experiment soon to see the real benefit of beating a piece of meat with one of these mallets.  Other, of course, than taking out my own aggressions. 

I digress, when chef Jeffrey was done with the tenderizing, he coated both sides of the meat with a quick marinade of olive oil, rosemary, shallot and mustard. Then he laid a thick coating of the (cooled) duxelle on top of the meat and began to roll them firmly so that they rolls would be somewhat tight, and not too loose.  He tied it in the same fashion, using 5 pieces of twine, three around the bulk, and two around the ends but ever careful to be cognizant of the pressure on the meat.  Once tied, these gorgeous rolls of lamb, herbs and mushrooms were placed into an oven to roast.  

This was the second course that was served to us in the dining room, and as much as I could have eaten three bowls of the Potato & Leek soup- the Lamb was just as addictive.  The chefs had plated the lamb rolls with a side of couscous decorated with multicolored micro greens, lightly sauteed fiddle head ferns and just a ladle of stock on the plate.  The presentation was beautiful.  As lovely as the plate was to look at however, it tasted even more delicious.  The lamb was a perfect medium rare, with beautiful notes of rosemary and shallot present, but not overpowering the subtle lamb flavor. The really wonderful part was the shallot flavor from the lamb melded so nicely into its subtle hints in the mushroom duxelle.  The duxelle was a really lovely accompaniment to the lamb in its own delicate nature. The couscous and the fiddle heads (another vegetable that I refused to eat as a child...and, um, last week) were the perfect choices for sides with this lovely spring dish as they were both light and flavorful.  The couscous with that almost impossible creaminess, and the fiddle heads that had been sauteed so lightly in garlic with strong notes of their natural flavors and lovely garlic.  

Next we explore fire-and all of the fun we can have with it!       

Monday, May 3, 2010

Culinary Class at On The Marsh, Kennebunkport, ME- Part 1: Potato and Leek Soup

I am currently speechless.  John and I took the opportunity to head up to our favorite destination spot of Portland, Maine this weekend, and on the way home he had planned a big surprise for me.  Just a half an hour from Portland lies the beautiful little seaside community of Kennebunkport.  Best known as housing the summer homes of some of our former presidents, this is a gorgeous little town, with huge amounts of New England charm.  Within that little town there lies a lovely restaurant called On The Marsh.  This establishment has been voted one of the 10 best restaurants in Maine, is a recipient of a Wine Spectator award of Excellence, and the chef has presented at the James Beard Foundation.  Those are some pretty great credentials.  John had found out that they offer intimate culinary classes on Sunday mornings and had signed us up to take part.  The boy knows me all too well.  

Of course being the great surprise-er that he is, I didn't get a clue what we were doing until we pulled into the driveway of On The Marsh.  Complete glee took over as he explained that once inside we would be cooking with the Executive Chef and the Chef de Cuisine, and pulled apart my overnight bag searching for my sneakers which were of course more appropriate shoe wear for the kitchen then sandals.  Once inside the elegant house converted restaurant which sits directly on a marsh offering beautiful views, we were greeted by Patrick, head man in charge of Front of the House.  He gave us a brief run down of our day a head, took us on a quick tour of the house and then led us back in the kitchen where Christine, the Chef de Cuisine and Jeffrey, the Executive Chef.  He also showed us to the Chefs table in the kitchen where fresh baked raspberry muffins with blue agave butter were waiting for us....and of course mimosas.  We sat and flipped through our binders for the day which included the menu which we would prepare and the accompanying recipes, as well as a frequently used term guide, suggestions for good cook books and other great pieces of information.  While sitting at this incredibly quaint table in the kitchen the chefs came over and began introducing us to their lives in the kitchen, their philosophies on their food, and what was clearly the main passion in life.

I, of course was in complete rapture and could barely contain myself from jumping up and down- literally.  The muffins were heavenly- warm and buttery, with a wonderful sweet tart flavor from the raspberries. They were a delicious way to kick off the day.  After we had snacked for a bit, and had some of the lovely mimosa's the chefs led us to a prep table where four spots had been laid out with cutting boards and knives ready for us to begin work!  Our menu for the day began with a potato and leek soup.  Now, I recall, vividly, having a bad experience with this type of soup when I was little, and therefor banning it from being served in my household.  I laughed when I read that it would be our first course as my mother would be glad to know that I will once again eat it.  

They began the soup by having us chop onions, leeks and potatoes, helping us with our knife skills as we went. They showed us how to properly hold a knife-which I have been doing wrong for years, as well as how to hold the item being chopped.  While I absolutely haven't mastered it yet- I feel good knowing the proper grips- I'll definitely be practicing!  After we had sufficiently chopped our veggies- Chef Jeffrey added them to a huge pot with
half a pound of butter, as well as a little salt and pepper.  Next to him on the stove sat another healthy pot filled with homemade chicken stock that he would add to the veggie mix.  Homemade stock is one of those things that you KNOW you should use.  You know its healthier, tastier, and just all around better.   You know that layering flavors is far better than just adding whatever.  We all know that homemade stock is the way to go, however those lovely cans and boxes of stock that line out grocery store aisles are just so appealing.  Chef Jeffrey had us each taste the homemade stock though and it was incredible.  As opposed to being something that I would never eat on its own, this was rich and full of flavor something that I would be thrilled to sit down to a cup of.  Fantastic.  So now my goal- for the next weekend that I have some free time- is to make a huge pot of lovely stock and freeze it for future use.  I am thrilled at how much better my soups could be!  Anyway-once the leeks and the onions were beautifully translucent, and everything was gelling together, Chef Jeffrey added a half a cup of apple cider vinegar, to "brighten" the flavors", and the chicken stock.  A half hour later, he added heavy cream (yum) and fresh thyme.  Lovely....

While the soup simmered, we got to work on the rest of the menu for the day- more to come on that later- but then later, just as we were finishing up the other dishes, they brought the giant pot of soup to our prep table.  The soup smelled absolutely divine.  Honestly-it was the best smelling soup ever.  I cannot even begin to describe it but it was astounding.  Chef Chris began ladling the soup into their huge industrial blender (one that actually can be used with hot liquids unlike the average household blender) and blended it together into a smooth soup.  The chunks of potato, leek and onion became one liquid with the stock and cream.  Each blended batch was them strained through a chinoise to further annihilate any lumps and create a velvety smooth texture.

After that was complete we were led out to the dining room to be served.  This soup, our first course in an incredible meal, was absolutely beautiful.  After our exit from the kitchen Chefs Jeff and Chris had poured each serving in a beautiful bowl, and decorated the top with a few precious drops of white truffle oil, scallion and red pepper flakes.  The final presentation was gorgeous with the creamy brown soup, bright green scallion and  red from the pepper.  The taste was incredible.  Light onion flavor from the leeks and the onions, richness from the stock and all of the flavors that went with it, and the gorgeous cream from the potatoes and additional cream.  I could have had a second and third bowl of just this soup, but more courses were due to arrive...

Throughout this week I'll continue the journey through the kitchen at On The Marsh which included more playing with knives, AND fire!       

Restaurant Reviews: A dead art?

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