Sunday, August 29, 2010

IFBC Food Truck Lunch - A Photo Journey #IFBC

I'm learning to use my camera and I am SO excited!!!

What do you think?

IFBC Food Truck Lunch

The long anticipated afternoon was here, the lunch of the food truck. Food trucks are a new phenomenon in Boston. I began to smell the trucks long before lunch began, and I heard my stomach grumble immediately. At long last it was time and I raced towards the scents.

Outside, the smells were intoxicating, scents of basil mixed with beef, spice and sugar. I ran to the first truck I saw, cheerful red, and promising delicious Mexican food, another thing Boston sorely lacks. I placed my order, two tacos and a tamale. When it arrived I ignored the comments of those around me, and the clicking of their cameras, trying to capture the beautiful meal that would soon fill my belly. The first bite- chicken taco with a perfect mole sauce. Sweet, spicy, & fairly smoky- it was mole like I had always imagined. The chicken stood it's ground against the strong flavor, and offered gamey satisfaction.

A perfect taco to this North Easterner...the flavors of the West lingering on my palate. I looked up and realized that my crush on the Pacific North West was quickly turning into a forbidden love affair. I hope Boston doesn't find out.

International Food Bloggers Conference Day Two recap

The Internet at the hotel was down last night so I couldn't post yesterday, so Day Two is coming at you on the morning of Day Three!

Day two started off bright and early! Up and at em at 6 and we were lucky to catch the first bus to the Theo Chocolate Factory, where all of our seminars will be held this weekend. I must say, for a factory - it is gorgeous! Breakfast included some amazing treats from local bakeries, gorgeous fresh fruits, and good coffee from Caffe Vita. Perfect start to what should be an incredible day!

First session of the day

Diane Jacob, Kristine Kidd, Amy Sherman, all three published authors, spoke to us about the fine art of recipe writing. This hit home for me, as I am far as I could be from the traditional way to write recipes. My style is to write them as my mind works. I have always cooked by my feeling, my preference, and by experimentation. Unless I'm baking, I don't use recipes. I write my posts as a way to remember what I did, and as inspiration. However, I'm not sure I'm really helping you, my audience. So I'm making a pledge to you all to write more actual recipes- with measurements (crazy I know) and more specific descriptions of my process. I can't promise that I won't lapse from time to time, but I am going to make a concerted effort.

What do you think, dear readers? Yay? Nay?

Our second session was on Search Engine Optimization, which was awesome for the geek in me, but I won't bore you with the details.

Our third session before lunch concentrated on really using our senses to describe our food. One of my favorite authors, Kathleen Flinn, who wrote The Sharper Your Knife The Less You Cry, led this session and had us examine a lemon and describe it, without, of course, using the typical words that we all use for them. I really enjoyed taxing my mind during this and really searching for new words to explain the lovely cheerful skin, and juicy tart interior. Of course a few minutes before lunch, the room got a bit punchy towards the end of this session, and Twitter became an outlet of snarky responses. It actually provided a lot of funny quips- if you have Twitter check out the comments under #IFBC for a running conversation of the fun at the conference.

Lunch was amazing, but I've already posted tons about that- so in wont wax on again today.

After lunch we explored the legal side of blogging, again, I was all ears, but I won't bore you all :-)

Finally we explored the idea of local foods, fair trade, and even foraging (truffles in the Pacific Northwest....whoa). If you are at all interested in food, these are topics that are not new to you, however, if you haven't heard of these ideas, I urge you to look into them. I think that each idea presents it's own ideas, and, well if you ask me, aside from Free Trade which I very strongly about, I think that we all need to really form our own opinions on how we want to deal with them. I'll be talking about this in more detail, but right now my brain is spinning.

Our day wrapped with a Sherry tasting cocktail party, and the listening to the amazing James Oseland fro Saveur Magazine who may be my new hero. He spoke to every feeling I have ever had, from childhood when I had to be trying all new things, to today as he urged us to write because we love to write, and because we love food and the two combined are a match made in heaven. He urged us to remember that those are the reasons for our blogs, they are not popularity contests. The applause in the room was deafening for his thoughts, and he further enraptured us with his photos from his trip to Singapore and India a few years back. Let me tell you- captivating 200 food bloggers who are ravenously hungry, with photos of gorgeous food, and not inciting a riot....that takes a LOT of credit.

Dinner was beyond amazing. Tender beef cheeks with stuffed squash blossoms, Marscapone polenta with a tomato corn salad, grits with collard greens and tomato jus, beef carpaccio with watercress and cauliflower, and pureed chick peas from East Washington. Amazing, amazing, amazing food, wonderful chefs, gorgeous presentations...the photos will need to complete the journey of food from last night.

It was a beautiful day, and now here I am, back for Day Three, breakfast done and ready to learn!!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

International Food Bloggers Conference Day 2 - Lunch

After a morning full of blogging, Twitter, tips for good writing and advice, I was famished for lunch. During the last hour or so of the morning session the room was filled with delicious odors, herbs and onions predominated. As lovely as it smelled, it's affect was to drive my hunger level through the roof. When it was finally time to dive into the food, my hunger was reaching all new levels.

I reached the tent of food and wine as quickly as my legs would carry me, and was greeted with a plethora of people, food and wine. Chefs from all over the city had brought in tempting small plates for us to try. My first bite to try? Salmon carpaccio dressed with a light lemon thyme vinaigrette, and a small pile of greens. The carpaccio was a sight to behold, bright pink offset by the contrasting green salad. Each piece input into my mouth offered a sound of satisfaction, fully appreciative of the fresh flavors.

Next I enjoyed a helping of beef tartar, served with fresh bread and fresh arugula. Again here the colors of the pink meet were off set by bright green, but the flavors were far apart. The beef was mixed with mustard, herbs, salt and pepper, the spice a far cry from the freshness of the salmon. Deep, rich and meaty, the tartar satisfied my carnivorous soul, and I had to head back for seconds.

Finally I indulged in the Zucchini in Carpione with apricot purée and fennel. Zucchini fried lightly, and then treated with a vinegar based wash, resulted in fork tender Zucchini, with a flavor similar to cream. This was noth the most attractive dish, but it's dark tint reminded me of the fast approaching fall, and the root vegetables that would soon be here. I ate too quicklynfor photos....

Wine was plentiful in the tent, and as time passed on, voices became louder and the laughter more frequent. I suppose it comes as no surprise that when food bloggers unite, there is no shortage of both chatter, and bonding.

International Food Bloggers Conference, Day 1

Wow that was a whirlwind of a day! Up at 5:15, airport by 6, and then the journey began. All flights went surprisingly smoothly, and we made it safe and sound to Seattle.

I am amazed at how well I did with minimal eating today! After forgetting snacks, we grabbed a quick breakfast, and a celebratory cocktail at one of the eateries in the JFK airport, though for the life of me I cannot remember the name of it. I had a "Mexican Omelette" with cheese and ham, and served with warmed plantains and a tomatillo salsa. Was it fantastic? No- but it did hit the spot and filled me up for the rest of the day. Eggs, despite the bad press they've been getting recently, really are incredible.

Once we landed and made our way from the airport to the hotel, we found a great place for lunch, basically next door to our hotel- Blue Water Taco Grill: I don't know if I was starving, or if those tacos really were the best ever but wow, those tacos were fantastic! Fresh corn tortillas, a sprinkle of cheese, a scoop of marinated chicken, and one of pork, pico de gallo, lettuce and some spicy salsa...heaven.

The conference kicked off later in the evening, and featured an amazing artillery of fantastic food eats, from the best lamb I have ever had the pleasure of eating, to a delicious Bahn Mi sandwich created by one of Seattle's best chefs. Wine was also plentiful and I was able to experience some of Washington's best Vineyards.

The highlight of the night? Listening to Morgan Spurlock discuss the state of where Americans stand in the face-off healthy eating, and what we, as bloggers, can do to change it. Interesting topics were raised, from the demise of the "family dinner" to what we see as the next craze in the food world. Many here seemed to think that might be the idea of foraging and finding our own food- what do you think?

Good night all- long day today, and a busy day tomorrow!

Friday, August 27, 2010

En route...

Good morning!! Katie and I are high above the clouds, en route to Seattle!! Well technically we're on our way to NYC and then to Seattle, but close enough right?

Of course as soon as I got to the airport this morning, and John had driven away, I realized that I forgot snacks, as well as my favorite jacket-I swear, as organized as I think I am....I still manage to forget things! So now, I'm way past my normal breakfast timing, at least relative to the time I woke up and I am itching to see what the NYC airport will have in terms of tasty snacks.

Normally I usually have a granola bar and a piece of fruit with me, and a pack of twizzlers (my indulgent snack of choice for traveling). What is your normal travel snack?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Transformer Meal: Chicken Salad

So this week I've been working with pulled chicken, and using it in a few different recipes. Basically, I've been trying to save myself some time during a busy week when making dinner.  So I started by make a big batch of pulled chicken on Sunday, and then have been making a variety of dishes all week to use it up, but to use it without getting bored of it.

I have made an Italian style eggplant and tomato casserole, as well as pulled chicken tacos.  Today, I gave a chicken salad that is incredibly flavorful, light and very different from your typical chicken salad.  It is also a breeze to make.

Chicken salad, as a salad!
I start by thinly slicing and then chopping two slices of red onion, or however much you want in the salad, and then chopping a small handful of frisee (or curly endive).  Combine the onion, the frisee and a handful of the pulled chicken, again dependent on how much your making.  In a separate small bowl, combine a tablespoon of light, or reduced fat mayo, a tablespoon and a half or so, of coarse ground Dijon mustard, and a 1/4 teaspoon or so of Golden's mustard powder.  Stir this into the chicken mix, and the salad is complete. 

Honestly, this is my new favorite chicken salad.  It has so much flavor from the dressing- spicy and creamy all at once, and great textures from the frisee, and the chicken.  Everything blends really nicely all together. 

Chicken Salad as a sandwich
Again, this is a really easy salad to throw together and bring in a container for lunch, or to pack into a sandwich.  Rounding out this week, we had three entirely different meals all made from the same, easy to make, protein.  Each one was healthy, satisfying, and included such different flavors. 

I know that there are tons of way of switching up a leftover and making brand new dishes from it that are both delicious and easy. 

What are your favorite Sunday meals to make?  Let me know and I can try to twist them up for a week!

Five Elements of Taste- Cafe Fleuri, Langham Hotel, Boston

Can you imagine spending a full afternoon indulging in the most decadent of treats- chocolate?  A whole afternoon sampling and tasting the dark rich treat, an afternoon full of decadence, and complete luxury? The dream becomes a reality at The Langham Hotel located in the heart of the city's financial hub, and steps away from historic Faneuil Hall.  Each Saturday, September through June, the Langham hosts a Chocolate Bar, a buffet full of the king the of desserts. 

The Chocolate Bar has been a standing tradition at The Langham for the past 22 years, and each year they are dedicated to bringing something new and fresh to the forefront.  This year they are basing their buffet around the Five Elements of Taste: Sweet, Savory, Sour, Salty, and Bitter.  Each dessert is designed to exemplify one of these elements, and combined together, all of your taste buds are part of the party.  Sweet is exemplified by tastes such as a White Chocolate Strawberry Parfait, or a Valhrona Gianduja Tart that tasted like the delicious part of a certain candy often put out during the holidays.  Bitter, a seemingly challenging element to conquer for dessert, was achieved flawlessly with a Chicory and Hazelnut Torte.  Savory this year takes on a whole new form for The Langham Hotel, as they are, for the first time, adding bacon to a dessert.  They are incorporating it into a banana meringue tart, where the meringue is as delicious as a melted marshmallow, lightly browned on top and then topped with peppery bacon.  Sour was captured with a delicate Raspberry Dome.  And finally, the Salty component was a delicious Manjari Pave with Fleur de Sel.  This is truly decadent- a dark, rich, flour less chocolate cake, with a light sprinkle of Fleur de sel.

The chocolate bar is absolutely a decadence not to be missed.  Reservations and more information can be found at: 

Not only does the Langham have their decadent Chocolate Bar on Saturdays, they also host a City Brunch on Sundays, full of delicious treats like Steak Carpaccio, fresh mozzarella cheese with local tomatoes, shrimp cocktail salad, pears wrapped in duck prosciutto, and beet salad with whipped goat cheese. 

I had actually never been to The Langham before last night's showcase of their new chocolate bar and city brunch, and I was very pleasantly surprised.  Not only is the interior of the hotel absolutely gorgeous, every person who assisted us was friendly and incredibly helpful.  I am excited to return to the Langham to check out their offerings in more detail!   

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Transformer Meal: Pulled Chicken Tacos

Yesterday, I rolled out the idea of Transformer Recipes- basically the idea of a single protein that can be changed and morphed into new and creative dishes over several days to keep hunger satisfied and eaters interested.  I started with pulled chicken- an easy, fun form of chicken that everyone can have a good time with.  Once the chicken is poached and pulled, I made an easy Italian casserole using farm fresh eggplant and tomatoes in a delicious sauce.  Hearty and filling- it was perfect for a rainy Sunday night.

The next evening however, I wanted something completely different, but was thrilled to have a healthy protein all set to go.  I decided to morph the chicken into something entirely different- pulled chicken tacos!  Now, to be honest- I've been eating tons of tacos lately as I was sent some samples of Maria and Ricardo's Tortilla Factory Tortillas to test out.  I was sent the corn tortillas (my favorite) and some large wheat tortillas- I have to be honest- I haven't even broken into the wheat yet- I have been LOVING the corn!  They have that wonderfully authentic light corn taste, with great texture.  Every taco I've made I've felt has been just a little bit more authentic thanks to these great tortillas!  

I digress however, and going back to the pulled chicken tacos, these little guys were so fast and easy!  They were great for a week night dinner!  I started by pre heating my oven to 350 degrees and wrapping two corn tortillas in tin foil, and then popping them into the oven to heat up- they only take about 5 minutes or so.  While they were heating, I started a saute pan over medium heat, and added a teaspoon of vegetable oil, and then chopped onion and garlic to the pan with a little salt.  When they started to turn translucent- I added a handful of sliced mushrooms.  Once these were nicely cooked- so they had that browning on both sides, I spooned in a tablespoon to a tablespoon and a half of salsa, careful to drain a way a lot of the water, and then sprinkled in a little smoked paprika, and cinnamon.  I also added half of a small red bell pepper sliced thin.  When this had formed into an aromatic smelling sauce, I added a handful or two of the left over pulled chicken, and stirred it into the sauce.  The great thing here is that the chicken only needed to heat up, not fully cook.  When it was hot, I sprinkled some grated cheese over the top, and allowed it to melt.

I removed tortilla from its tinfoil envelope, spread it with a thin layer of cilantro bean dip that I had whipped together a few days earlier, and then piled in the chicken mixture, and topped it with some fresh chopped Romain lettuce from Wilson Farms. I did the same with the second tortilla. 

The end result was a delicious taco.  Great flavor from the onion and the mild salsa mixed with the smoky paprika and the cinnamon- it all combined to a delicious, round flavored sauce, perfect to showcase the pulled chicken.  The bean spread added a great creamy flavor to the taco, perfectly taking the place of higher fat sour cream or other additions.

The best part about this meal was that it only took about 15 minutes to prepare, perfect for a busy week night, and it was 100% different from the Italian style meal the night before.  The complete reversal of flavors completely annihilated the idea that what I was eating was leftovers, and any boredom that those may bring was depleted with it.  And, of course, it was delicious.    

Sportello, Fort Point Channel, Boston- Restaurant Week

I'm going to tell you something shocking- something I have never told you before:  I am a fan of Barbara Lynch.  I know- I haven't made this statement 100 times before-it is very surprising (please see here if my sarcasm isn't strong enough:-) ). Seriously though, when Jessie emailed me a few weeks ago and asked if I'd like to join some fellow food bloggers for a Restaurant Week dinner at Sportello, a Barbara Lynch establishment in the Fort Point Channel area of town, well I immediately agreed.  We assembled at the restaurant around 7:00, a glorious bunch of bloggers- Alicia, Jessie, Katie, Lara and Peter, and sat at one large communal table.  The beauty of Sportello is that it was designed as an upscale lunch counter, so the majority of the restaurant is actually a big counter space.  In keeping with the theme there is even a bakery case showing off beautiful cupcakes, cakes and cookies.

Dinner began with slices of fresh bread served with whipped ricotta cheese, drizzled with olive oil, and accented with a lovely piece of fig.  I believe that this was my first experience with whipped ricotta, and I was amazed at how creamy and smooth the consistency was.  Ricotta is known for being somewhat granular, so to be served this light and delicious alternative- it was really quite special.  The olive oil played well into the smooth texture by accentuating the decadence and the fig provided the perfect sweet contrast.  Spread onto bread the flavor was subtle, but delicious.

Next, the table was served a delightful amuse bouche, Lynch's take on Salmon Tartar served on a crostini.  The Tartar was wonderfully fresh tasting, with little dressing so that the salmon flavor shown through as the star. It was a lovely start to the meal.

I began my three course experience at Sportello with their corn soup, billed as local corn, chanterelle mushrooms and scallions.  This was a perfect bowl of corn soup with wonderfully contrasting flavors.  The soup itself was a perfect showcase of our delicious local corn.  Every spoonful of the delicious, and frothy liquid reminded me of each bite of corn on the cob-with all of the pleasure and none of the work.  The chanterelle mushrooms played an interesting supporting role.  They had been soaked in an acidic wash, vinegar for sure but I thought I picked up on some citrus notes as well.  This bath lent a completely different taste to the soup in complete opposition to the cream of the corn.  The combination of the two together was fully outstanding as the soup mellowed any bite of the acidic mushroom.  Finally, the scallions artfully placed on top of the soup provided a further, subtler relief from the monotone soup making it a complete joy to eat.  In my book, the soup stole the show.

My second course was destined to pale in comparison to the soup, but through no fault of it's own.  I selected the sirloin for my main, served with sliced local potatoes, hen of the woods mushrooms and salsa verde.  The steak was delicious though a far on the rare side of the house rather than the beautiful medium rare I'm normally accustomed to.  It was was well flavored, and beautifully tender.  The salsa verde, predominantly parsley based, was the perfect accent to the rich steak, lightening the flavors.  The hen of the woods mushrooms that we served were absolutely lovely, strong and almost crisp like, a nice back bone to the potatoes that were thinly sliced and soft in the centers.  I did note that there was a bit too much oil used in the saute of the potatoes and that resulted in a bit of a greasy feel.  In contrast to the mushrooms it actually worked nicely, but potato on its own, it was rather over powering. 

I closed out my meal with the final course of chocolate bread pudding, with a lovely caramel sauce and a beautiful pillow of whipped cream.  The pudding, on its own, was delicious. Made with what appeared to be a nice bittersweet chocolate, it wasn't overpoweringly sweet as some desserts can be.  The flavor of the chocolate was strong, rounded by the creamy flavor the bread had taken on.  The homemade caramel sauce was delightful, and something we had all been craving since we had entered the restaurant and smelled the butter cooking.  Isn't melted butter a glorious scent?  The whipped cream was lovely, providing perfect contrast to both the bittersweet and the sweet caramel. 

Sportello has been on my list of spots to try for quite some time and I am thrilled that I was finally able to get there last night! The food was fantastic, our server was lovely despite having to put up with six food bloggers, our intense questions and our incessant photography, and the company was divine.  I will definitely return to Sportello again, and probably, quite soon!

Sportello on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tomato Eggplant Pasta Casserole with Pulled Chicken, an easy meal with lots of leftovers

The last few weeks I have been talking, a fair amount, about leftovers. I remember when I was a kid- leftovers were rarely a good thing. That says nothing about my mothers cooking, which, as I've stated before, was and is always completely delicious, but leftovers were always just sort of "meh". Normally they'd get to a stage of being rather over cooked- lifeless green beans, odd proteins...they were just shadows of their previous selves. However, leftovers don't have to be disappointing- leftovers can, just as easily, be new stars, with half the effort!

This week I designed some ideas around this concept of making things a bit easier.  I started on Sunday evening, realizing that I had a very busy week planned ahead of me, I decided to make a lot of something that I could then easily morph into fun, creative, and delicious dinners and lunches throughout the week ahead. I decided to go with something both easy and fun to make, and settled on pulled chicken. Pulled chicken is just so versatile as it can be added to any number of different dishes. Additionally, if you poach skinless breasts, there is the added benefit of lean chicken without additional fats added in. The other great thing about it- "pulling" chicken is so much fun! I do it with two forks and just pull against the grain, but it can also be done with just your hands. If you let it cool enough- this is a perfect task to have your kids help you with :-)

I made a quick broth for my chicken to poach in using just what I had in my fridge- the end of a pack of parsley, three cloves of garlic, half a red onion, three stalks of celery cut into chunks, a few sprigs of thyme, and then two cans of low sodium chicken broth, 10 cups of water, and a dash of white wine vinegar. I started by lightly sauteing the veggies and herbs in just a little vegetable oil, with salt and pepper, and then when they started to smell amazing, I added the liquids. I had four large chicken breasts to add to a big pot which is why I used so much liquid- if you are doing just two breasts, then you can use less liquid- I would cut down on the water front if possible than the stock side. The four breasts too about 35-40 minutes in the boiling liquid to cook fully. Once my trusty meat thermometer read the right temperature I pulled them from the liquid, and placed them into a Tupperware container to cool, and to pull into when they were sufficiently cooled.

Once the chicken was done, and fully pulled- it was ready for my week of dishes!

I started with an Italian themed dish utilizing some of the great fresh veggies I purchased at Wilson Farms over the weekend. I started with five cloves (most on the smaller side) of garlic, and a quarter of a red onion that I chopped and added to a big saute pan with a tablespoon of olive oil. I heated this slowly, over a low heat so that the garlic and the onion would become sweet and really flavorful. Too high of a heat would have made them burn and bring out more of an acrid taste. While I waited for them to cook, I chopped up two tomatoes, and two of what were called Second Eggplants on the label at Wilson Farm. For the life of me, I have no idea what that means, other than that they were longer and thinner than a regular eggplant with lighter purple skin. The inside looked identical. As the case may be, I halved and then sliced two of these, and then added them and the tomatoes to the pan with a healthy addition of torn basil. I maintained the pan over low heat hoping to achieve really deep and rich flavors. The tomatoes broke down to a gorgeous sauce like consistency, and the eggplant softened and lost it's purple hue. The bitterness of the fruit raw went away and a creamier flavor shown through. At this point, I lightly blended the chunks with my immersion blender (silly idea as my gray t shirt is now freckled with red stains). Despite my t-shirt casualty- the sauce did take on a nice texture, if I were you- I would use a blender to complete this step :-). Then I added a bit of the pulled chicken. Maybe a breast worth. The rest, I put away for other uses. In a separate pot I boiled water for pasta, and then when the pasta was complete, I added it to the sauce pan so that it became covered in the tomato and eggplant mixture. I transferred this into a quick casserole dish, topped with shredded mozzarella cheese and put into a 350 degree oven for about a half hour- or until the cheese was completely melted.

This was a great meal for a Sunday afternoon. It was incredibly easy to prepare, required no real attention to detail, and basically cooked itself. It was warm, hearty and satisfying. Personally, I would have enjoyed a bit more onion flavor, or perhaps a little spice, but this is one of those recipes you can play with as you see fit. There are no rights or wrongs here. I love that about cooking- you can figure out what tastes the best to you and go with it.

As you may have realised- I have a LOT of pulled chicken left over now. Don't worry- I have a few more dishes to utilize it for, even faster uses for it that make hearty and delicious dinners and lunches. It's amazing how far a simple chicken can take you, especially as the summer winds down and hectic schedules take over again.

These are Transformer Recipes-and will hopefully not  only transform ingredients from one meal to the next, but transform your weeknights as well, into much more enjoyable affairs!

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...