Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Social Media

For those who don't already know, today is Social Media Day across the world! I celebrated by heading to The Seaport Hotel to Boston's celebration with The Small Boston Kitchen. There we listened to lectures from the education realm, the small business person, the marketing arena, and even more "social" aspects.

Throughout the panel we celebated the ideas behind Social Media and what it can really do for all of us. It really Is amazing how sites like Twitter, Facebook and even Foursquare that allow businesses and even ideas to take off without much expense.

I'm rambling now but I do think that this is a fascinating subject and one that I will explore further...

Free Ice Cream Tomorrow (7/1) in City Hall Plaza! Courtesy of The Cooking Channel!

Now here's a real summer treat!!!  Tomorrow between 11:30 am and 6:00 pm, in City Hall Plaza the hottest new food cable network- Cooking Channel is hosting a little ice cream social!  Head on down and get a FREE 1 scoop cup of ice cream from our own JP Licks or other surrounding ice cream hot spots and kick off your 4th of July Weekend the sweet way!

From the formal Press Release:
"The newly launched Cooking Channel has created a one-of-a-kind ice cream truck to satisfy fans’ cravings for summer’s most delicious ice cream flavors.  Visitors to the ice cream truck tour stop will be treated to a scoop or two of their favorite flavor and in some cities get a taste of the on-air talent when they meet the stars of Chuck’s Day Off, Everyday Exotic, FoodCrafters and more! 

“After Cooking Channel’s successful launch, we wanted to celebrate with fans across the country with ice cream, a summertime favorite,” says Susie Fogelson, SVP Marketing, Creative Services & Brand Strategy at Food Network and Cooking Channel.  “Along the way, in the spirit of what Cooking Channel is all about, we are partnering with local ice cream shops to give them the recognition they deserve within their communities. Visitors can also indulge in finding out more of what Cooking Channel is all about from some of the stars themselves. The idea is to engage and have fun with food people from the chefs to the enthusiastic eaters to the bloggers town by town.”

So head on down and score yourself a lovely scoop of ice cream and take part of Boston's own Harborfest!! 

Some photos on the scene from the great Katie at Once Upon A Small Boston Kitchen:

Challenge Accepted! Italian inspired Mac and Cheese

I am one who loves a challenge, so last week when Jon from Local In Season reached out to ask me a few questions, and challenge me to create a twist on a classic dish, well I jumped at the chance!  

I was asked to make classic Mac and Cheese, but incorporating some of those wonderful, local fresh vegetables that we love so much.  So I spent the next few days thinking through everything that is so beautiful and fresh right now.  I was going to add spinach and chicken and some tomatoes, but then, as fate would have it, a wrench was thrown into my planning.  On Friday evening, as John and I meandered around the North End we stumbled upon Monica's Mercato, a small Italian Grocer that I had the pleasure of visiting on The North End Market Tour that I covered for Dine and Cook a few weeks back.  I dragged poor John into the store, and in a crazy (hungry) moment, I requested a pound each of fresh provolone and Prosciutto, as well as a little jar of black olive tapenade.  Oh lord.  Do you have any idea how much Prosciutto COMES in a pound??  Surveying my purchase the next day, I realized that it was not an option, my Mac and Cheese challenge MUST incorporate Prosciutto.  

Sunday, we drove to the lovely Volante Farms in Needham, since in last weeks craziness at the office, I hadn't had time to visit my much loved Farmers Markets.  I must say- Volante Farms were far from a "second choice"-their selection of fresh vegetables- most of which from their own farm- was more than impressive and I left with more than enough vegetables to compliment the Prosciutto.

I have to say-those vegetables were gorgeous, and I had a fantastic time blending their incredibly fresh basil into a lovely pesto, roasting their tomatoes with Italian herbs and shucking their lovely, beautiful peas.  It's funny, as I stood in the farm stand surveying their bounty, I spied the fresh sweet peas in their husks and I was immediately brought back to a trip to Italy I took with my family when I was little.  I remember one evening we got pizza for dinner, and much to my dismay there were PEAS on it!  Peas?  On my pizza?  In my 8 year old head this just wouldn't do.  However through much persuasion, my mother was able to convince me to not pick them off as I was rudely about to do, and I ended up loving the combination of the pop of the pea with the lovely cheese. Looking at the peas on Sunday- I knew that I wanted to try to recreate this sensation.

The recipe in its entirety can be found on the Local In Season site but I'll leave you here with the photographic journey.

The simple combination of flavors between the olive tapenade that I added into the bread crumb topping, to the prevalence of the beautiful pesto combined with the cheesy sauce made this an incredible dish.  The burst of the peas brought me right back to my childhood and sitting in that Italian Ristorante staring at the peas on my pizza-and then the joy of trying them later.  Even better?   I got to use up some of that beautiful Prosciutto- which by the way is incredibly addictive!  I now need MANY more ideas of dishes to throw it into :-)

John is a huge fan of Mac and Cheese, and this was passed the books in his eyes- what is your favorite Mac and Cheese?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Gym happiness and missing Local In Season

Phew what a day!  After work I spent my evening getting in a good work out at the gym (can I just say how much I love my gym?  I don't want to's weird. I know it's weird, but its true. Healthworks- I heart you). Then it was off to the grocery store, and finally I had to take a final stab at a recipe I will reveal later (how's that for a teaser?).  When dinner was complete I sat down, excited to log in to the Local In Season live event- and was sadly denied :-(.  Sometimes my Internet hates me.  Was anyone else able to log in?  Any thoughts?  Those guys are GREAT! I hope that there will be many many more live events!

"Buffalo" Turkey Burgers

It has been pretty busy around here lately with different types of food events, friends in town, and, of course, general summer enjoyment.  Sometimes, that doesn't leave enough time to get a lot of cooking done, and can occasionally lead to "fast" meals.  Of course, you know, as well as I do, that "fast" meals don't need to be bad tasting, or bad for you just because they are quick to prepare, and they can always satisfy a good craving.  

A few evenings ago, I was craving something spicy, and I was craving something that I could prepare quickly since I was returning from the gym and had a hunger that needed to be satiated quickly.  So I decided on something summery, fast, and spicy- and settled on Buffalo Turkey Burgers.  A quick stop at the store for some ground turkey meat and some lovely blue cheese I was home bound ready to make a satisfying and delicious meal.

I started off by heating up my grill pan over medium high heat until it was nice and hot.  While I waited for it to heat up I placed the turkey meat into a plastic container, and sprinkled over the top about a tablespoon of garlic powder, a tablespoon and a half of cayenne pepper, and a sprinkle or two of salt.  Then came the fun part- I crumbled about half the small wedge of blue cheese- so perhaps 1/3 of a cup of blue cheese into the meat,
and then mixed it all together until the spices and the cheese were equally distributed.  After that was done, it was just a matter of forming four patties, and throwing them on the grill.

I used their cooking time (a bout 10 minutes aside depending on thickness) to make myself a side salad, and cut up some veggies for toppings (mmm avocado, tomato, red onion and some lettuce), and then I toasted up some bread and spread a single wedge of French Onion Lite Laughing Cow cheese on one side.  Once the burgers were done, I slid them off the grill and threw one directly onto my sandwich.

The flavor combination was really fantastic!  The cayenne in the burger was good and spicy and with the garlic powder and the salt it created a really nice flavor profile.  The blue cheese addition was really great- it cooled off the taste buds and was constantly a nice surprise of creamy tanginess throughout the burger. 

These were a perfect summer time easy dinner, that turned into a couple of nice lunches with the leftovers!  Sometimes things just don't need to be hard!

What are your favorite mid week recipes? 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Kitchen is closing

Soo glad I took some extra time after work to hit the gym! Then we headed over to Cambridge to hit up The Border Cafe (for the second time in a week -ha!). I have to say, I know it's not "good" Mexican food-it's not at all authentic but is is sooooo tasty! I've been going there since high school and it has been consistently, wonderfully the same ever since. Chips and salsa, a corona and fajitas....happiness!

Locally Featured: Crazy Camel Hummus

This weeks Locally Featured brings us a bit outside of Massachusetts, into the lovely state of New Hampshire, finding a product that is both unusual, and delicious.  

It really is amazing how things happen.  I found my Locally Featured Spotlight company for this week on a whim at the Dewey Square Farmers Market, and his product was found almost by accident.  Now, I'm sure we are all aware of the lovely idea of hummus- ever healthy ground chickpeas blended with other ingredients to form a nutritious dip or spread for sandwiches etc.  Hummus, itself, isn't a new creation, however Crazy Camel Dessert Hummus is reinventing it.  With Crazy Camel, gone are those typical savory creations like Jalapeno, or roasted red pepper, those are a thing of the past. Crazy Camel is bringing on the sweets- in a fun natural way.

Crazy Camel, began making dessert hummus quite by accident, as Chuck the owner tried to convince his daughter to give hummus a shot and added a peanut butter to the mix.  What he thought would be a terrible combination won great accolades from all who tasted it, including his former hummus hating daughter.  As of today, Chuck has expanded the line to include 5 other flavors.  Customer's have the tough choice between Toasted Almond, Chocolate Mousse, Caramel Apple, Pumpkin Pie, Maple Walnut, and of course, Peanut Butter.

The road to Crazy Caramel was not an easy one as is often the case for start up businesses, especially in a terrible economy, however Chuck, and his followers had faith in the product, and have persevered. Today Crazy Camel hummus can be found to be purchased either on their website, in select Whole Foods Markets and other area markets, as well as at the Dewey Square Farmers Market.  

I can personally attest that this stuff is amazing.  I had a slight obsession with the Caramel Apple a few weeks ago and was flying through it.  A delicate real apple flavor, enhanced with caramel, and grounded with the nuttiness of the chickpea it is a perfect dessert treat without being overpoweringly sweet.

I have to apologize for the lack of photos for this spotlight- I am in the process of changing camera's and I need to take some with the new camera :-)  I will update soon.

That said- this is a product you have to try whether you enjoy hummus or not.  It will satisfy any sweet tooth, but do so while supplying some great nutrients as well- that's a combination you just can't beat!   

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday night- time to decompress!

Another weekend is winding down here in Boston, and we here at ABFD are getting ready for the week ahead.  By that, of course, I mean that I am watching The Food Network, and writing blogs as I do, and John is taking a little nap on the couch. 

Tomorrow starts a new week- and even better- the week before the 4th of July- what great Patriotic things do you have planned for the holiday- or, even better- what are your favorite 4th of July treats?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Weekend is here!

Another beautiful day here in Boston! Had a wonderfully relaxing (much needed) day bumming around with John and now we're at a local pub watching the game.

How sad was the US loss today? I guess there's always 2014!!!

I've gotten some great feedback on these end of day posts- thanks for taking a break and checking in!

Terramia Ristorante, North End, Boston

There is nothing really more glorious than those perfect Friday nights in the summer.  With the warm sunshine streaming down, and the people of Boston relishing every moment, it really does seem that the world is our oyster.  After enjoying every little droplet of sunlight last night, John and I finally set out on one of my favorite activities-looking for dinner.  I love wandering around an area of town, especially the North End and reading menus until one pops out as interesting.  Last night, after reading several delicious sounding menus throughout the Prince and Salem Street areas, we finally decided on Terramia, and adorable looking ristorante on Salem Street.

I have to admit I based part of my decision on the fact that the place looked so adorable with its divided windows and seemed just so tucked away and cozy.  The place was pretty full of boisterous weekend celebrants, but we were sat immediately, again into a cozy nook.  We ordered a bottle of wine, and after a quick perusal of the menu, we settled on lobster fritters for our appetizer, and I selected their roasted pork tenderloin, and John chose their fillet entree. 

Our first course arrived quickly, and it looked amazing.  I had anticipated the fritters to be cake-like almost as a donut hole would be, with the lobster contained.  We were served full pieces of fresh lobster meat, encased in fried batter, over a sauce of balsamic and honey and topped with a massive pile of fried onion strings.  As impressive as the dish looked it just didn't deliver.  The batter used with the lobster was too thick and if it was fried appropriately so it was crispy, the lobster was over cooked, otherwise the lobster was cooked well, but the batter was soggy and rather unappetizing. I found the sauce was also too sweet to go with the lobster as well which is a naturally sweet meat.  The onion strings were tasty- very crispy and with just the right amount of salt, but there were far too many of them and they completely overwhelmed the dish. 

Though the appetizer was poorly executed, I held on to my high hopes for the rest of the meal.  My pork was described as being roasted with a spicy honey pistachio crust, sauteed spinach, pureed parsnips and a prune sauce.  Honestly the whole thing was pretty terrible.  The pork was over cooked in places and completely dry, and the crust was not a crust at all but rather a sprinkle of nuts over the top with absolutely no spice to them.  The spinach was rather salty, though the parsnip puree had little to no flavor.  With all of that said, the real assault of the dish was the prune sauce which was far too sweet to lend any flavor other than sugar to the dish. I have a hearty appetite- I left 75% of my dinner behind.

John did not fare much better with his dish. The fillet was served with the same sauteed spinach, "creamed" sweet potatoes, a Gorgonzola sauce, and a red wine reduction. Again, the fillet was over cooked, and the Gorgonzola completely overpowered the flavor of the meat.  Again the potatoes had very little flavor to them, and the red wine reduction was incredibly sweet. 

Unfortunately, after such a divine evening, this was just not the ending we were hoping for. Each thing was a miss, including our server who seemed to want to have very little to do with us, aside from rushing us to finish and leave. Personally, I believe that this is a case of a kitchen trying to put too much into each dish.   Every item on the menu seemed to have far too many components to it, and it seemed to result in none of them being well executed.  This is really a shame, especially in an area that is so cluttered with fantastic dining options.

On to better eating for the rest of the weekend....

Friday, June 25, 2010

Happy Friday

What a gorgeous night out!! John and I kicked off our weekend at our favorite summer spot- "The Landing" for some waterside brews. Then we walked around the waterfront until we ended up at our long favorite spot, aptly named "The Waterfront" on the edge of the North End. For dinner we dined in a place to be reviewed later, but where I ate meat in honey...
Hope you all had wonderful nights! Long live the weekend!

28 Degrees, South End, Boston

When I was growing up, and I'm sure many of you can relate, Madonna, a musical icon even today, was making major headlines.  Her ideologies, style of dress and often risque outfits made her the talk of the town, however what was (IS) wonderful about Madonna is that she had the quality of song to back up her "shocking" statements. Sure she was wearing something outlandish, but her  albums changed the way the world looked at Pop music.  So, although the name Madonna gained some strength by her shock tactics, her legacy remains because of her incredible library of songs, which, of course, continues to grow.  There is a restaurant right here in Boston that I think deserves the analogy to Madonna- that restaurant is called 28 Degrees.

28 Degrees opened almost 5 years ago in Boston's South End with a crazy unique twist- they opened with the first unisex bathroom.  It was a shocking idea, it created a lot of buzz for the young restaurant, and then the city of Boston asked them to cease and desist and create the traditional men's and women's rooms.  Of course they complied, and the shocking buzz wore off, but 28 Degree remains a hot spot in the South End- why?  28 Degrees is offering fantastic food in an environment that is aimed at socializing and relaxing, a concept that very few restaurants in Boston have embraced.  

The restaurant actually recently re did their interior, and has brought on consulting chef William Kovel, formerly of the late Aujourd'hui that shut it's doors a bit over a year ago.  The new design of the restaurant encourages even more the concept of Social Dining- a spot for people to gather and really enjoy the company and the food. With it's couch like seats, a gorgeous outdoor patio, and long tables around which friends can gather- it is a spot that you want to spend hours in, and to that note- I did.

Last evening I had the opportunity to head on over to 28 Degrees and check out their dinner menu which changes as as the seasonal produce does.  After talking up how excited I was to try Chef Kovel's food for, well, months, John was excited to join me.  We were seated in a beautiful corner booth with a great view of the restaurant decided to start off with a plate of crispy calamari as we read through the rest of the menu.  The calamari was absolutely lovely.  The delicate rings were fried in a light batter along with slices of jalapenos, a twist that I always enjoy.  They were then laid out over a platter, mixed with dressed fresh greens, over a citrus-y oil.  The combination of flavors and textures was fantastic.  The crispy shell fell away easily to perfectly cooked soft calamari rings.  The greens, mixed with the citrus oil provided for a wonderful fresh feeling to the dish, and the fried jalapenos well- they added some lovely heat!  

As 28 Degrees is designed for a social atmosphere, thy encourage sharing dishes.  No problem there!  We decided to check out the Scallops, their Sweet Pea Ravioli and one of their delicious pizzas.  The Scallops were served over a summer ratatouille complimented with a lemon vinaigrette and a pistou.  I had to look up pistou, I have to admit, as I wasn't entirely sure as to what delineates the basil based sauce from Pesto.  I have learned that it is the absence of pine-nuts that is the difference otherwise a pistou is a combination of basil, garlic and olive oil-all of my favorite things!  The end result of the Scallops dish was light and refreshing with the lightly cooked vegetables from the ratatouille and the lemon vinaigrette.  The scallops were perfectly cooked, seared to a lovely brown on the top, and then just slightly opaque in the center. They were well seasoned and were really well paired with the other ingredients.

The Sweet Pea Ravioli were equally delicious. Beautiful raviolis (seemed handmade to me!) were filled with mashed sweet peas and seemingly nothing else aside from seasonings.  It made for a truly unique, strong pea dish where the main ingredient really shined.  These were laid in a bowl with roasted tomatoes, oyster mushrooms, a lemon based sauce and plenty of fresh mint.  I loved that this was a perfect play on the British mashed pea dish, something that I really miss from my time abroad.  The acid from the tomato and the lemon in the sauce nicely cut the creaminess of the pasta, especially when paired with a lovely mushroom topped with just a bit of Parmesan cheese.   It was a great combination of flavors.

Finally, we just couldn't resist ordering one of their pizzas and we chose their combination of Pesto, Roasted Pepper, Herbed Ricotta and Parmesan cheese.  Wow-as wonderful as everything was last night- this pizza was incredible. The combination of garlicky pesto with comforting roasted peppers, all paired with a very flavorful ricotta and salty Parmesan cheese- the flavors were just unspeakable.  Sadly I was pretty full by this point and had to call it a day after just a single slice, but wow- in different circumstances the pizza would have been polished off easily.

28 Degrees has really succeeded in creating a restaurant like no other in Boston.  As opposed to being rushed through your meal, here the staff encourages you to relax, enjoy your time, and satisfy your soul with delicious food and socialization.  Here the owner, ever friendly, is present and chatting with the patrons like old friends.  That does make sense however, as within moments of being in this spot you immediately feel as though are old friends.  Just like the longevity of Madonna- 28 Degrees has all the makings to be a staple in Boston for the long haul.

28 Degrees, in the words of Madonna, "I'm Crazy for you"!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sweet Endings

It was a no good, very bad day at work today....but my mood immediately improved with a wonderful dinner at 28 Degrees (blog to follow) and several glasses of wine at Flemings. I hope your evenings were better than your fabulous days as well! Good night!

Leisure Station, Kendall Square, Cambridge

I love tea.  I mean I really really love it.  I remember coming home from school on days when that history test got me down, or I wore the same outfit as someone else or some other silly thing, and everything would be immediately resolved with a piping hot cup of Earl Gray tea with honey and cream.  It was delicious.  I think that half of my infatuation with London came from the fact that I envisioned them to drink tea all day long (the other half came from obsessive reading of A Little Princess when I was little).  When I lived in London I decided to uphold my image of Londoners and drank tea constantly- I recall even coming home from evenings out and making myself a lovely cup of tea.  Today, I still love tea, though I find that I often drink coffee instead.  Yesterday however I had the chance to meet with the owners of Leisure Station, a relaxed, tea based restaurant in Kendall Square and I rekindled my love affair with the drink.

The story behind Leisure Station is a fascinating one as the parent company, Easy Way, opened their first doors in 1992 in Taiwan.  The shops have been incredibly successful, and have begun to franchise, opening just three, adopting the name Leisure Station, in the US.  The initial two stores are located on the West Coast, but the third opened just two months ago in our own Cambridge.

Leisure Station specializes in unique tea drinks, incorporating both hot and cold, as well as blended ice drinks and smoothies. One of the great parts of their offering is that you are able to customize anything you want.  Since my high school days I have cut out adding sugar/honey to my tea, and definitely no more cream, so I was glad to hear that though they have a standard way of making their teas, they are more than happy to offer sugar free, dairy free, sugar alternative, and dairy alternative additives.  The also offer a number of "toppings" that can be added to your drink for unique twists.  The most popular are the tapioca balls often seen in "bubble teas", however Leisure Station doesn't stop there.  You can also opt to have  any number of jelly's added (think fig jelly, coconut jelly, lychee jelly or even grass jelly) for a unique flavor twist.  If jelly isn't your thing, they can sub in some pudding as well.  

However Leisure Station doesn't just offer Tea, they also have a line of food products that are uniquely fusion by design.  Fashioned after sushi rolls, patrons can purchase "rolls" filled with stereotypical "American" ingredients such as a hamburger, or a hot dog.  They are also making these rolls with more "traditional" ingredients such as tuna and shrimp though they assure us that all of their ingredients are fully cooked.  Next week, they informed us, they will be rolling out bubble cakes, which are, though I haven't had the pleasure to try them, apparently lovely little cakes, shaped like eggs and filled with an assortment of puddings such as chocolate, taro or red bean. 

I got to try a black tea-which I asked for them to make in the standard format so I could try the "real deal" with the addition of fig jelly, additionally I was able to sample the coconut jelly, the grass jelly, the egg pudding and pieces of both the shrimp roll and the tuna roll.  The tea was delicious- though much sweeter than I am used to, but had delicious flavor under the cream and the sugar addition. Unfortunately, the fig flavor did get a bit lost, I have to wonder if perhaps I just had straight black tea with the fig jelly if it wouldn't be a stronger flavor?  The other jelly's tried were very delicate in their flavors as well, as was the egg pudding.  The delicateness of it was actually quite perfect- I was concerned that the flavor of the jelly might overpower the lovely tea, but really it just gave background hints of alternate flavors.  

The rolls were enormous!  I have honestly never seen a sushi roll so large, and I have to admit I was terribly unladylike eating it.  The flavors however really did make up for the size as both rolls were chock full of fresh vegetables, nicely cooked seafood, and wonderful seasonings.  What I really enjoyed about Leisure Cafe is that everything is made to order.  This is a wonderful point for two reasons, the first being that nothing is sitting out and getting into odd "mushy" states, the second is that if you don't want a certain ingredient in your item- they will just extract it...or you can add in ingredients.  Customization is definitely key-sometimes just want to add some carrots and corn to your hot dog roll!

Finally, it must be mentioned, that Leisure Station has one of the most impressive technical systems I've seen within a restaurant.  At the forefront of this is the franchise owners own creation of texting your order in as opposed to calling or ordering on line.  What could be easier?  You're on the go, you want a tasty cup of tea and an imaginative fusion roll- just pull out your phone and it'll be ready for you!  I was incredibly impressed with this idea and hope that more spots start to follow the trend.  Also -in this little tea shop- they are set to go for Karaoke anytime you want...after 7 pm.  So if you feel the need to sing a little tune, or belt one out at the top of your lungs this is the place to go!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cupcakes Ice Cream? Kickass Cupcakes, Somerville

I don't usually write about items that I haven't personally tried- but this one sounds so good that I have to!  Kickass Cupcakes, located in Somerville, has just rolled out Cupcakes Ice Cream 

Now you might be wondering "What is Cupcakes Ice Cream??"  Well it is vanilla ice cream enhanced with pieces of both chocolate and vanilla cupcakes as well as bits of chocolate.  The clincher?  Kickass will decorate it with chocolate or vanilla butter cream icing if you choose!  This little gem can be purchased as either a cup or a pint- you know for those fantastic birthday gatherings!  

Just check out the photo- doesn't it look great for a summer birthday?

(Photo courtesy of Kickass Cupcakes)

The Melting Pot, Back Bay, Boston- Fondue of Foodies

You may have picked up on that I have a slight love affair with cheese and chocolate.  I mean if I'm going to indulge and satisfy a craving...well its going to either be something with melted cheese or something with rich chocolate.  However probably not the same item.  I just haven't figured out any ideas on melted Mozzarella with a piece of chocolate cake- the two seem to be in opposition of each other.  However there is a restaurant - a glorious hot bed of indulgence- that mixes these two cravings together into a perfect harmony.  I am, of course, referring to fondue at The Melting Pot

The Melting Pot, started in 1979 has locations across the US, specifically in 37 states, and offers an incredibly fun experience for group dining.  For those of you  not familiar with the idea of fondue, its origins are Swiss and revolve around the idea of a communal bowl of a hot liquid (think wine or broth based, oil based, cheese or chocolate based) in which you dip assorted food items and either cook or flavor them.  The Melting Pot offers several different options for each type of Fondue, ranging from the classic Swiss inspired concoctions to American twists utilizing Southwestern flavors, or state specific cheeses.   

John actually surprised me with a trip to the Melting Pot last fall and we had a ball cooking meats and vegetables in our wine based broth, and even more fun with the appetizer and dessert courses of cheese and chocolate fondues.  So when I received an invitation to attend a Boston Blogger meet up at The Melting Pot in Boston's Back Bay I immediately responded yes!

The meet up was set up in one of their larger private rooms that was set up with four stations of fondue excitement.  The first was a long table filled with four different cheese fondues- Traditional Swiss, Fiesta, Wisconsin Trio, and Cheddar.  Each one had its own unique flavor enhanced by different ingredients.  The Fiesta (my favorite) had a wonderful spicy flavor that I could picture over tacos, while the Classic Swiss had a lovely background of white wine.  The Wisconsin Trio obviously had a little Blue Cheese in it with it's tangy flavor, and the Cheddar was just comforting and cheesy where when you pulled your tester out (bread, apples, or crudites) a string of cheese would mm.

The next table contained two pots of their Spinach and Artichoke Fondue that was basically that great dip on steroids (not that I endorse the use of performance enhancers for any reason) but this stuff was mighty tasty.  Through these tables I enjoyed kidding myself that using a carrot stick or a celery stick to scoop up the lovely melted cheese was somehow making it better for me.  I'm going to stick with that idea.

The next two tables contained the dessert fondues.  Oh my goodness!  The first with what they refer to as "The Original" which is a delicious mix of milk chocolate and peanut butter (dangerously addictive), and their Pure Chocolate which was just as heavenly.  The second dessert table included their Cookies and Cream (Chocolate base with Oreo's crushed in), Banana's Foster, and the Flaming Turtle contained a base of chocolate, with caramel and pecans mixed in and then flambeed...yum.  All of these lovely fondues were served with fresh strawberries, pieces of brownie, and rice krispie treats, all in sizes perfect for dipping.  Of course I loved all of them, but my favorite combinations were absolutely the rice krispie treat with the Original Fondue, and the brownie piece with the Bananas Foster.  Both were out of this world!

The Melting Pot is such a fun place to go with a group, relax, enjoy a nice glass of wine from a good collection, and play with your food!

Thank you to The Melting Pot, and in particular Kirsten, for hosting us!  It was a great time to catch up with old friends, and trade ideas with the great food obsessed of Boston- (IE: Katie, Tina, Michelle, Pam, Melissa, Alicia, Megan, Jen and Kristen)  

Monday, June 21, 2010

Locally Featured: Local In Season

A new week is once again upon us and as such- it is time for another installment of "Locally Featured"!

This week I want to take a look at a service, rather than an actual product.  As the summer months have been creeping in I realize that more and more I've been discussing Farmers Markets and all of the wonderful local farm stands that we are lucky to have around the region.  Local farmers make it easier for us to gain access to their produce and we are all able to benefit from the glorious, nutritious products that our own soil helps to produce.  You know what though- wending our way through those delightful farmers markets isn't always "easy".  What are half those products?  What do I do with them?  How do I plan my weekly menus to accommodate them?  I have a solution for you-stop by Local In Season website-they have all of your answers!

Local In Season, or LIS as I've come to know them, is a Massachusetts based website that takes a deep dive into where to get that great local produce, what is best in what season, and what to do with it once you get it home.  In business for under a year, LIS has already put together a great network of local food bloggers who put together recipes and ideas for what to do with your market hauls.  All of their suggestions and recipes can nicely be found all in one place- on the Local In Season website.  

So why not ask a question that perhaps you've asked yourself- why local?  As in -why would you want to buy local?  What is the difference really?  I'll let Co-Founder of Local In Season Jon Ross-Wiley respond: "I think many people come to the local/slow food movement because they realize that there is a global responsibility component to it.  When you buy local food, you are reducing the overall footprint required to put meals on your table.  You are also sending a message that smaller farms and the farmers that run them hold an important place in our food culture.  At LIS, completely value these components of buying local, but we also are in love with the idea because local just tastes better.  The LIS tag line is "Better food is the reason.""  For the record-I completely agree.  The US has always been a country that can self sustain itself with produce and food products from our own farms.  Subscribing to the methodology of supporting those farms in our very own backyard, not only send a clear message that they are important to our community, but by cutting down on transport emissions, we also start to make all of those products safer, and the earth happier.  Besides that- they are completely right- a carrot that was picked up out of the ground that morning, as opposed to one that has been shipped all over the US is just so much more delicious.

Wonderfully for us, some of the great chefs in Boston have begun featuring local ingredients on their menus.  LIS provided some of their favorites, which I heartily agree with! 
  • Tony Maws--Craigie on Main
  • Jody Adams --Rialto
  • Mary Dumont--Harvest
  • Ming Tsai--Blue Ginger
Checking out any of these establishments will give you a feel for what eating local really is all about:  playing off of the flavors of the season.

However, with all of that said, we all must recognize that it is not always possible to only eat local food.  Our growing season is abbreviated due to our snow winters and diet essentials (at least to me) like spinach, greens and fresh tomatoes become more and more scarce.  Have no fear though, Local In Season provides you with what to do when those times set in including how to preserve the summer harvest, and ingredients to gather when Local isn't an option.

I urge you all to check out Local In Season weekly (at least though I find   myself on that site often for inspiration) to keep up to date on what is in season right now, and gather ideas for what to do with it all. 

LIS is a fantastic local service, bringing you local produce.   
 LIS Founders Patrick Kent and Jon Wiley-Ross

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sounds Like Greek to You? Two easy week night meals inspired by the Mediterranean!

Wow...what a week.  Between late work meetings, and other birthday type activities throughout this week, I haven't had much time for cooking.  Of course, that hasn't stopped me either.  I honestly don't think that there is anything that I enjoy more than coming home and putting together a delicious meal.  I admit, I did consider getting sushi take out one of the nights to provide a review for you guys, but the idea of making something from scratch was just TOO appealing to pass up.  Sushi review to come another time :-).  

I had a bee in my bonnet this week to try out some Greek inspired cuisine (ok I just wanted an excuse to eat olives) so I put together two quick and easy meals loosely reminiscent of the Greek style of cooking.  Tuesday night I kicked it off by heading to trusty Trader Joe's and picking up a jar of what they called Artichoke tapenade, Kalamata Olives, fat free Feta cheese, mushrooms, grape tomatoes, Spinach and ground turkey meat.  Obviously, I was also running low on food in the house.  I did, however, have a yellow pepper, a random jalapeno, a red onion, garlic and a collection of fresh Parsley, Oregano and Rosemary.  Leftover groceries are always strange in our house.

I started by crushing three cloves of garlic and slicing and chopping maybe an 1/8th of the red onion.  I added this to a hot pan with tablespoon of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a little salt and pepper.  As the garlic and onions started to turn translucent, I added two tablespoons of the artichoke tapenade to the pan.  Then I got lazy.  I started to realize that my pan was too small for all of the turkey meat, but I wanted to cook it all for leftovers for lunch.  So, refusing to dig out my huge saute pan, I just added it all to the too small pan.  It worked, the meat cooked- but word to the wise- just dig out the bigger pan if this happens to you- it is SO much easier to stir things.  

After the meat was cooked it became a lovely fun time of adding all sort of ingredients as I wished.  I started by adding a few small Baby Bella mushrooms thickly sliced.  I covered my small pan since it was rather full.  Then I added a handful of grape tomatoes, and chopped sprigs of parsley, rosemary and oregano, I put the cover back on and got out the olives.  I ate a few olives- ok I absolutely decided to make a Greek themed dinner so I could buy olives.  I'm not ashamed.  Once I was finally able to pull myself away from the jar I added about a handful to the pan with the rest of the ingredients, as well as a bit of the juice they lived in, and a 1/2 cup of dry white wine I had on hand.  I placed the cover back on, and cut the yellow pepper into bite size pieces.  I wanted the peppers to maintain their crunch just a bit, so I added them about a minute before I took the pan off the heat, just before the tomatoes were going to burst.  

Making this even easier, I added spinach to a Tupperware container, as well as a sprinkle of feta cheese, some more chopped herbs and then added the turkey mixture to the container and tossed.  The heat from the turkey wilted the spinach and all was right with the world.  

This was a delicious meal- that honestly could not have been any easier!  The flavors blended really nicely giving that Mediterranean feel, and the textures were a lot of fun as well.  The tomatoes were cooked to that moment just before they burst so each bite of one was a bit of an explosion in ones mouth of sweet tomato, paired with the salty olives and Feta cheese.  I had this cold for lunch as well the last two days and have really enjoyed it at both temperatures.  I will definitely make this again when I'm running short on time...or I just want olives.

Last night- having many leftover ingredients, and once again without much time to spare- I made a quick dish with similar flavors, but entirely different.  I started with a pork chop that I lightly seasoned and then grilled in my grill pan until done.  In the meantime I added two tablespoons of ricotta cheese, a tablespoon of the artichoke tapenade, olives, parsley and garlic powder to a container and used my immersion blender to create a puree.  Luckily I also had a beautiful Farmers Market tomato on hand, and, that same red onion.  

When the pork was done and had rested about 10 minutes, I sliced it thinly, laid the slices out on a plate with some slices of tomato, spooned the puree on top and then sprinkled a little red onion over the top.  

Another quick, incredibly easy, delicious meal on a weeknight where time was not on my side.  This had many of the same flavors as the nights previous dinner, but was a completely different application.  It's always nice to find different uses for the same ingredients -especially tasty ones.  It cuts down on waste without getting bored of the same thing over and over again.

What are your favorite twists on "leftover" ingredients?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Metropolis Cafe, South End, Boston

We are in the midst of a very busy week here at A Boston Food Diary as it is the week of my 30th birthday and I have jam packed a ridiculous amount of activities into the week.  Last night we were supposed to head on over to 28 Degrees in the South End to check out their new design and their new menu creations.  Recently chef William Kovel formerly of the sadly now departed Aujourd hui, teamed up with 28 Degrees as a consulting chef.  This spells excitement to me.  Unfortunately, schedules got conflicted and my date with 28 Degrees has been put on hold for a bit.  However never fear- a delicious meal was still had.  It was suggested that we check out Metropolis Cafe also located in the South End on Tremont Street.  The suggestion included a hearty endorsement for their Asparagus Tartar- it sounded fantastic and so the decision was made.  Off to the South End we traveled.

Metropolis Cafe gives off the warm comforting vibe of a favorite neighborhood spot.  It is one of those places that you know you would feel comfortable falling into on a cold winter's day when crave simple comfort.  Their food falls in line with this idea, but with unique twists and turns to make it interesting.    We started, of course, with the Asparagus Tartar which I was convinced that John wouldn't eat because it had avocado in it.  I was wrong.  The Tartar was served as a molded round with the beautiful crisp Asparagus mixed with the creamy pieces of avocado making up the base layer.  This was topped by fried leeks, and a drizzle of aged balsamic decorated the plate.  What a gorgeous dish, and amazingly tasty!  The flavors were so well paired together, and the textures combined so well it was just perfect.  I loved the contrast of the soft avocado pieces with crunch of the asparagus and the crisp of the leeks.  It was really lovely- light and refreshing a perfect appetizer for the summer months.  

We originally planned to stay for just a couple of appetizers and then move on, so we also ordered the Duck Confit Gnocchi.  Oh my delicious.  Little puffs of potato pasta served with decadent duck and shaved brussel sprouts with a rosemary jus.  The duck was so tender it basically melted in your mouth, and the gnocchi had just that wonderful pillow-y softness that you always look for with gnocchi.  I really loved the shaved sprouts, both in their texture as well as visually with their bright green color against the mostly beige background.  The rosemary jus was a wonderful addition- just enough flavor without overpowering the delicacy of the other ingredients.

We were so in love with the appetizers we shared, John and I chose to stay right where we were and enjoy dinner at the Metropolis Cafe as well.  Continuing his quest for Steak Frites, John selected their version served with Truffle whipped potatoes and watercress, and I selected their pan seared sea scallops paired with lemon Fregula and Arugula.  My scallops- perfectly seared with that lovely crust that scallops can get- were delicious.  Light lemon flavor absorbed from the Fregula hinted at freshness without overpowering the lovely natural flavor of the scallop.  I have never had Fregula before, but really enjoyed it as an accompanying dish.  I learned today that it is a type of pasta made from rolled Semolina dough. These little pearls were full of flavor and a great doughy consistency that really worked, especially when combined with the peppery arugula served with it.  This dish had great texture combination as well as flavor pairings.  

John's steak was another winner. Well seasoned without being obtrusive, and well cooked so that the naturally tough meat was easy to enjoy. The Truffle whipped potatoes had distinct flavor of Truffle, a big win in my book.  Additionally the potatoes were silky smooth which John loved and couldn't stop raving about.  I have to get in gear when I make them for him since my potatoes contain the ever charming lumps :-).  

We couldn't resist dessert from their menu, especially when we spied a Banana Split listed.  I can't tell you how long it's been since I've indulged in a Banana Split so we just had to share one.  I feel as though I need to call Metropolis and ask where they got their ice cream- it was DELICIOUS!  Perfect vanilla flavor, not too sweet, creamy and just the perfect little scoops.  I loved it.  It was topped with a drizzle of hot fudge, a squirt of whipped cream and walnuts, of course with a banana surrounding it all.  This dessert brought me right back to my teen years when I worked at an ice cream stand during the summers and I loved every minute of it.

I must say- it was a happy scheduling conflict that landed us in the welcoming arms of Metropolis Cafe.  This is an absolutely cozy spot that makes up for it's small size with full flavored dishes, and imaginative creations.  I can't wait to return! 

Asparagus Tartar is one of the more unique dishes I've had- full of interesting flavors and textures.  What is the most unique dish that you've had in a restaurant?

Metropolis Café on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 14, 2010

Locally Featured: Nella Pasta

Happy Monday all!  

Monday, here at A Boston Food Diary, means that it's time for another edition of Locally Featured! As I explained last week, I'm looking for locally based, small food companies who are making incredible products full of quality ingredients, as well as true food passion.  I am especially excited to bring you this weeks featured company as their product line is close to my Italian heart- Pasta!  Specifically that amazingly delicious pastas created by the ladies at Nella Pasta.

Nella Pasta began selling their incredible pastas to the public in May, 2009 and have been growing their line and their business ever since now including both fresh "dry" pasta ready for you to prepare at home, and delicious pre-made pasta entrees that can be enjoyed hot or cold-dependent on how long you can resist them.  I have only eaten them cold if that's any indication for the quality of these great products.

The story behind Nella Pasta is really a showcase in "living the American dream", co-founders Rachel and Leigh met just a few years ago, bonding immediately over their shared love of food, as well as the fact that they had both taken time to study in Italy during their college years, just blocks away from each other.  They decided to take the leap and open their own company celebrating their true passion in food.  After speaking to Rachel and Leigh even just for a moment or two it is impossible to miss not only their passion for their product line, but their respect for food in general.  Their mission statement is simple and clear: "Our mission at Nella is to create healthy, fresh pastas using local organic ingredients whenever possible." A quick read of their website enforces this as their weekly menu lists ingredients from a variety of local farms, ensuring that every dish is as fresh as possible, celebrating the flavors of the season.

As a small company it could be said that it would be easier for the owners of Nella Pasta to find a general wholesale distributor to purchase their ingredients from, however they have chosen to find the freshest quality knowing that this would translate into a better end product for their customers.  They are correct.  When eating Nella Pasta every flavor pops and every texture is complimentary, showcasing the real, natural ingredients used.  
This past weekend I had the opportunity to try two varieties of Nella Pasta- the first was a ready made entree consisting of wheat and ground flax seed linguine mixed with really beautiful grilled broccoli rabe from a local farm, scallions, sesame seeds and oil, and chopped peanuts.  I could barely wait to rip the lid off of this amazing creation that they titled Asian Noodle Salad.  I was right to put my will power on hold and I dug into this as soon as I possibly could (i.e. as soon as I got to my desk!).  I'm actually not sure where to begin with this one. The flavor combination was unbelievable.  The first thought that I had was "ooh it's like lo mein!  Healthy lo mein!" but as I continued to eat I knew it was so much more than that.  The sesame flavor was strong, but not overpowering in the face of the beautifully bitter broccoli rabe.  The pasta was hundreds of times more flavorful than your average pasta with great notes of the flax seed and hearty wheat.  The scallions added that lovely onion flavor, and peanuts added great texture variation.  This was a perfectly beautiful dish, both taste wise and visually speaking.  The ladies at Nella Pasta certainly know how to put together a dish!

While their prepared entree was obviously out of this world, I was equally as excited to try out their fresh ravioli (spinach variety) and make a dish of my own with it!  Not wanting to overpower the flavor of the pasta itself (especially after that great Asian Noodle Salad) I made a simple sauce while I waited for the water to boil for the raviolis.  I started by chopping three cloves of garlic and adding them to a warmed saute pan with a twirl of olive oil.  As they became aromatic in my kitchen, I added about three leaves of fresh basil chopped.  I chopped a lot more than that but put the rest to the side for garnishing later.  Then I sliced and quartered two tomato's that I picked up at the Farmers Market in Dewey Square last week.  I added these once the pan was good and hot with the garlic and oil, and cooked it all together, with the basil, a sprinkle of garlic powder, salt, peppery and a 1/4 cup of dry white wine until the tomatoes were soft and a sauce came together.  At that point the ravioli's were cooked (took about 2- 2.5 minutes for them to cook) and I added them to the sauce.  After serving, I put a quick sprinkle of Parmesan cheese over the top with lots of fresh raw basil and dinner was served.  

Local really is better.  Nella Pasta ravioli's were amazing.  Light, while still being decadent with their ricotta cheese filling, full of flavor, but a perfect vehicle for sauce as well.  I was happy as a clam chowing down on this meal of fresh, local, beautiful products! 

Nella Pasta is currently primarily sold at Farmer's Markets (I always visit them at the Farmers Market at the Pru on Thursday evenings), but rumor has it that soon we'll start seeing them in boutique style markets (YAY).  I urge you to check out Nella Pasta- I can assure you that their products are chock full of nutritious, wholesome, local ingredients.  

I have to give a big hat's off to Nella Pasta Their product line is exactly what we love to see here at ABFD!  Now I need to plot out my next purchase from Nella...I feel a pasta craving coming on!

Please note that a full list of Farmers Market locations, times, and weekly menus are located on their website

Reader question:  What is your favorite type of pasta?  Favorite way to serve it?   

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Clover Food Lab, Dewey Square, Boston

Fast food, and all that goes along with that idea, has generally speaking, "skeeved" me out.  Aside from rock stars like Boloco and a few other nearby eateries that can serve good food fast, I tend to run, as quickly as possible from any type of fast food eatery.  Something about the extremely high sodium levels, or the high saturated fat content....or the oddly high sugar contents...or just the general amount of grease that is used/visible around their products that turns me off.  Earlier this week however a new type of "food truck" opened in the South Station area of Boston, also known as Dewey Square, one that caters to healthy, fresh, local fast food. 

Since I was headed down to the Farmers Market in the same spot during lunch today, I thought I might as well check out this new phenomenon known as the Clover Food Lab.  The "lab" is very simply an RV, parked in various spots of the far corner of South Station (I've been stalking it for a few days).  Two extremely helpful and friendly gentlemen who will take your order, make change, and answer any questions you may have.  I had several.  Luckily other people did as well- so I listened to the answers and didn't have to ask too many myself.  I settled on a Barbecue Seitan Sandwich, and a container of Jicama Slaw.  

What is Seitan you might ask?  Well that is a great question-apparently it is wheat gluten, with the moisture drained out until it has a firm texture.  This is then cooked in a variety of different ways, and eaten.  Clover Food Lab painted these nuggets with a spicy barbecue sauce and what appeared to be pan seared them.  They then placed these in a whole wheat pita with a little Mayo, fresh lettuce and tomato.  The end result was incredibly tasty having all the flavors of a summer barbecue sandwich with the fresh vegetables and the great sauce.  Having never had Seitan before I did not know what to expect and the texture definitely threw me a bit, as it was a bit mealy, but overall it was a delicious sandwich and one that I would order again.  

The Jicama slaw was also delicious, dressed with lime juice and cilantro and mixed with shredded carrots and red and yellow bell peppers.  Light, crunch and satisfying- I felt as though it was a perfect summer compliment!

The Clover Food Lab prides itself on changing up it's menu frequently to accommodate what they have access to.  The thing I loved the most though is that when you ask what the ingredients are for certain dishes, they can name the farm that grew them.  You just can't beat that for freshness!  Also while they don't serve any meat that I can see, they are able to customize your order to be completely vegan if you wish.

The Clover Food lab just opened this week and are still working out their kinks but are open for breakfast and lunch, Tuesday through Thursday with hours that seem to vary between 7:30 and 8:00 am and 2:00 to 3:00 pm.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Matt Murphy's Pub, Brookline Village, Brookline

Living in Boston, I have become accustomed to several things:  we love our sports- every sport- we support all of our teams to the nth degree; we will push for outdoor seating as soon as the weather hits above 50 degrees; we will complain about all types of weather no matter how bad or how nice; and finally, there is an Irish pub on almost every corner.  Now, while I love a good Irish pub, I find that, save a few exceptions, they are all very similar- dark lighting, lots of wood and chrome, a few pictures and signs from Ireland, good brew selection and usually a rather middle of the road food offering.  So when I passed by a nondescript sign above a door in the middle of a strip of other stores and restaurants simply stating Matt Murphy's, I chalked it up to be the same old thing.  One day though, one day we walked inside on a lazy Saturday afternoon to have a pint and I realized how wrong I was.  Matt Murphy's Pub was not at all ordinary!

Inside, the spot has a rustic, farmland feel with dark walls accented by pieces of birch trees and subtle paintings of rabbits.  This feel is carried through to their dining accents from their place settings to the water pitchers-everything is homelike, it is comfortable, it is familiar and it is lovely.  We perched at the small bar that fateful day, as we were only there to have a beer or two, but as I fell further and further in love, we stayed longer, finally deciding to share their cheese plate to see if their food was as good as the atmosphere. It was.  Three types of lovely cheese, nicely toasted bread, a river of honey to accent the cheeses and a port wine reduction.  Yes- that did the trick that Saturday afternoon- I was hooked.  

This past weekend we returned for brunch.  I chose their lamb sandwich as I was feeling more like lunch than breakfast.  The sandwich was served on wonderful fresh bread, with a lightly dressed green salad on the side- and was a perfect lunch.  The lamb was actually ground lamb spiced, and seemingly baked- almost like a slice of lamb meatloaf.  The flavors of the lamb were really tasty, just enough salt, a bit of spice- a feeling of a very hearty, rustic meat-the way you might see it served on a farm.  The meat was enhanced with what the menu labeled "green sauce", which i was quick to clarify was not mint jelly.  As an aside- I detest mint jelly- something about it just weirds me out.  I don't eat it- ever.  Back on topic however, I was assured by our waitress that no it was not mint jelly.  And that it was not.  The sauce had a background of mint, but appeared to be mint blended with Dijon mustard into a beautiful green/yellow sauce.  The flavors were incredible together-both hearty yet refreshing, with a slight kick as well.  I was in heaven.  The chef had also added some roasted red peppers to the sandwich, but to be honest, I didn't feel that they were necessary aside from adding a beautiful burst of color.  The salad, while nothing remarkable, was light and refreshing- a perfect compliment to the hearty sandwich.

Others at my table had the farmhouse cheese sandwich which received great reviews as well, and the french toast with marmalade and clotted cream-which was amazing.

Matt Murphy's Pub laughs in the face of a typical Irish pub.  It is open and airy, clean yet rustic, and offers some fantastic fare, much of which is reminiscent of traditional Irish food.  This is a spot that I can definitely see returning to time and again- I just wish they had a TV for all those sports we love to watch!   

Matt Murphys Pub on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Reviews: A dead art?

Last December I declared 2023 the year I would return to food writing.  It was a bold statement (even now as I look at my last published dat...