Saturday, October 30, 2010

It's Snowing!

Road trip time! Headed up to Vermont today for a little R&R and is snowing up here! I am one of those very strange people who loves the snow so I have been giddy with excitement for the past few minutes!

On the way up we stopped at the Woodstock Inn and Tavern for lunch. We had heard about the Brewery on The Phantom Gourmet and since it was on the way to the final destination (sorta) we thought we'd give it a try. I have to say, I am consistently unimpressed with what I find on the Phantom. Today's experience was no better. We ended up splitting nachos and a pulled pork sandwich. The nachos were a bit burned and with far too little cheese- a crime in my book- and the pork as a bit dry and rather sweet for my taste. However the house brews were delicious!

Now though it's time for me to sit back, enjoy a pint or two of good Vermont beer and kick off my mini vacation. Happy Saturday all!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Don't Feel Like Cooking on Thanksgivng? Check Out These Boston Options!

I know...we're all putting the final touches on our Halloween costumes, and buying replacement bags of candy for the impending waves of trick or treater's, but that next big holiday is right around the corner!  Thanksgiving is just four weeks away and now is the time to start planning out those menus, or to say "never mind" to roasting the bird at home and make reservations to partake in a Thanksgiving meal prepared by the pros.  If you do decide to keep your holiday dish free at home, here are a few options for Thanksgiving at some great local restaurants!

The Beehive, located at 541 Tremont Street in the South End is featuring an a la carte menu for the day set to the musical stylings of CeCe Kim, Tammy Scheffer and Marsha Lubin.  The festivities kick off at 12:00 pm, end at 2:30 am, and they will be serving up their special menu until 10:00pm.  Call 617-423-0069 for reservations.

Seafood Raw Bar Selection
Oysters, Shrimp, Tuna Tartare, Lobster    Mrkt Price

Cream of Exotic & Wild Mushroom Soup  11
Waldorf Salad, Fresh Lettuces, Apples, Great Hill Blue, Walnuts 11
Candied Baby Back Ribs  12
Truffled Potato & Cheese Perogies, Caramelized Onions, Sour Cream 10
Antipasto Platter, Cured Meats, Cheeses, Olives, Salads 15
Mezze Platter, Hummus, Salads, Whipped Feta, Olives, Pickles 14
Classic Caesar Salad 11
Steamed Mussels with Lager, Tomato & Old Bay  14


Roast Farm Raised Turkey   28
Mushroom Brioche Stuffing, Parsnip Mashed Potatoes, Spinach Cranberry Chutney, Mustard Gravy

Roast Prime Rib of Beef  30
Mushroom Brioche Stuffing, Parsnip Mashed Potatoes, Cranberry Chutney, Mustard Gravy

Grilled Wild Alaskan Salmon 28
Sage Brown Butter Sauce, Wild Rice, Creamed Corn Pudding

Vegetarian Thanksgiving Plate  23

Moroccan Couscous
With Chicken & Lamb 24     Vegetarian 21

Little Pilgrim’s
Kids Turkey Dinner  12
Mac & Cheese  8
Crispy Chicken Dinosaurs with Rice  8

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cheesecake
Apple Crisp with Honey Vanilla Ice Cream

Menu Subject To Change

 If the old world charm of Beacon Hill screams Thanksgiving to you, then Beacon Hill Hotel and Bistro has a menu to swoon over. This multi course prix fixe meal, incorporates all of those great flavors and feel of a home cooked treat, with a little finesse of course!  They will be serving from 1:00 pm until 9:00pm on November 25th for the cost of $55.00 per person.  Please call 617-723-7575 for reservations.

Thanksgiving Day Menu
November 25, 2010

* * *

Native Butternut Squash Soup
Duck Confit, Apples and Pumpkin Seed Oil

Island Creek Oyster Stew 
Leeks, Champagne, and Bacon

Boston Bibb Lettuce
Poached Pears, Bailey Hazen Blue Cheese, Spiced Walnuts

Turkey Liver Mousse and Turkey Rillette,
Cranberry Chutney and Traditional Accompaniments

House Cured Salt Cod Brandade Gallette
Parsley Root Puree, Parsley Salad, Picholine Olives and Walnuts

NV Nino Franco Prosecco (Valdobbieadene, Italy)
or  2008 Huber, Gruner Veltliner « Obere Steigen » (Triasental, Austria)

* * *

Roasted Local Turkey Breast and Thigh
Sausage Apple Pecan Stuffing, Green Beans, Bacon, Roasted Onions, and Turkey Gravy

Red Wine Braised Wolfe's Neck Farm Beef Shanks
Mashed Green Mountain Potatoes, Pearl Onions, Carrots and Parsnips

Smoked Tamworth Ham
Bacon Braised Cabbage, Apples and Pickled Ramps

New England Shellfish Stew (Clams, Mussels, and Scallops)
Hominy, Potatoes, Smoked Tomatoes and "Ritz" Crackers

Roasted Buttercup Squash
Heirloom Grits Spoonbread, Wilted Spinach, Roasted Carrots and Cider Sauce

2007 Château Moncontour Vouvray (Loire Valley, France)
or 2007 Château Semonlon, Haut Médoc, (Bordeaux, France)

* * *

Selection of Our
Pies and Tarts or Local Farmstead Cheese

2008 Domaine de Fenouillet, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise (Rhôône Valley, France)

* * *
Holiday Accompaniments for Two
$6 each

Roasted Garlic Creamed Spinach • Roasted Buttered Squash • Fresh Cranberry Sauce
Mashed Green Mountain Potatoes and Turkey Gravy • Green Beans, Roasted Onions and Bacon

$55 per person
Optional Wine Pairing For An Additional $27.00
A 20% Gratuity Will Be Automatically Added To Your Bill

 The Langham Hotel is mixing things up a bit and has several options to satisfy your turkey and gravy loving selves.  They are hosting both a Thanksgiving Brunch, with reservations available for 11:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12.00 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:00 p.m., and 4:00 p.m, cost is $65 per person for adults and $30 for children.  

They are also hosting a full Thanksgiving Dinner in BOND, their on site restaurant including New England Lobster Stew then enjoy Cider Glazed Herb Roasted Turkey, Sage Sausage, Exotic Mushroom and Date Dressing, Maple Butternut Squash, Buttery Whipped Potatoes, Cranberry Sauce, and Giblet Gravy.  Cost is $50.00 per person.

However even more unique The LanghamLangham through November 23rd, and all will be ready to be picked up and enjoyed between 10:00 am and 12:00 pm on the 25th.

Thanksgiving-to-Go Menu
Serves 8 to 10 people - $275 plus tax
22 to 24 Pound Vermont Turkey, Herb Scent and Cider Glazed
1 Pint of House Made Whole Berry Cape Cranberry Sauce
2 Quarts of Maple Scented Native Butternut Squash Puree
2 Quarts of Buttery Organic Northeast Whipped Potatoes
1 Quart of Giblet Gravy
Fresh Cranberry Nut and Country Rolls
2 Quarts of Sage Sausage, Wild Mushroom and Date Dressing
2 Quarts of Harvest Vegetable Ragout
1 Pumpkin Pie  and 1 Apple Streusel Pie

Orders and reservations can be made by calling 617-451-1900, extension 7125.

And now- back to those mini snickers and twix bars- I mean you probably wont get THAT many Trick or Treater's right?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ricotta Parsley Lime Dip- a uniquely refreshing and creamy dip!

I love dip.  I mean I really really love it.  Whether I'm scooping it up with celery sticks, pita chips, or using it to form tuna or chicken into salads-I think the stuff is awesome.  Creating new dips is right up there in the love fest with actually eating them, and I wanted to share with you all one that I've been making for the past few months, but have neglected to write about here.  Maybe I wanted to keep it to myself, maybe I thought it was too delicious to share.  Either way- I am begrudgingly handing over my recipe.  Use it wisely....

Last winter I was looking for a dip that would pair nicely with spicy homemade pita chips.  I wanted something cooling, a bit creamy, and something refreshing. I often find that creamy dips don't really provide any refreshment-they are just cream-heavy and indulgent.  I had some fat free ricotta in my fridge that was ready to be used for the last time, a lime, parsley, and garlic.  I thought that I would throw them together and hope for the best.  I started by zesting a bit of the lime into the bottom of my food processor with a single clove of garlic roughly chopped.  Then I added a handful...and a half of fresh parsley, no chopping needed, and a cup to a cup and a half of the ricotta.  I turned on the food processor, and gradually added a small stream of olive oil as it blended.  Total I probably added a tablespoon and a half or so.  The result was tangy and citrusy-adding that wonderful element of refreshment combined with the beauty of whipped ricotta blended to perfection with cooling and fragrant parsley.  

I fell in love with this dip, and since have made it numerous times, including this past weekend.  This weekend I ended up using fresh, beautiful ricotta from Maria's Mercato.  The texture, consistency and flavor was so much better than the fat free grocery store kind, but it absolutely changed the dip so I ended up playing a lot with the ratios of juice to parsley to ricotta.  I think that this is one of those delightful recipes though that asks to be played with, to find the balance of flavors that is right to you.  Definitely give it a shot- it might sound strange, but I'd love to hear your thoughts! 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Story of My Own!

I have been loving all of the great stories you all have been sharing with me for the Le Creuset give away! I thought I had to share one of my own...

It was Easter weekend when I was, oh maybe, 6 or 7 and we were having Pasta for Saturday evening dinner. I was being a huge help by bringing the made plates of food to the table for each person. As is characteristic of me, I was busy chatting away to visiting family and not at all paying attention to the fact that the plate I was carrying, loaded with food, was getting increasingly lighter. Yup, as I walked I was leaving a trail of spaghetti, coated in red tomato sauce, all the way from the kitchen to the dining room. By the time I got to the table, 90% of the dish was on the floor...the carpet to be exact. We, luckily, got a good laugh from it for years to come, especially once we were finally able to get the stain out of the carpet.

Keep entering guys! You have until Sunday night!

Brownie Decorating Contest, Sponsored by Greyston Bakery!

Artwork supplied by Greyston Bakery
Do you like brownies?  Come on-you know you do!  Fudgey, rich, decadent- they are a perfect sweet tooth satisfying treat for the chocolate lover.  Well how about making those sweet treats just a little bit sweeter?  The Greyston Bakery, you remember that amazing bakery employing the "unemployable" in YonkersNew York would like you to decorate your brownies.  Throw a little frosting on top, maybe some orange M&M's, or maybe use up those hated little packets of raisins you know no one will take from your trick or treat basket and decorate your brownies to win some pretty nifty prizes!

That's right, either bake your own, or use pre-made Greyston Brownies, and just decorate them in any Halloween inspired way you want!  Maybe a marshmallow ghost?  How about a licorice bat?  Let that creative gene flow and make your brownies even more delicious!  So what are the prizes??  
  •  12 assorted Do Goodie Brownies
  •  a Do Goodie t-shirt
  •  a copy of the Greyston Bakery cookbook (I have this-it is AWESOME)
Two runners up will receive:
  •  a 4 piece Do Goodie Brownie sampler
Honestly- these are the best brownies I have ever had-you want these prizes...nay you NEED these prizes.

Seriously-this is such a fun contest so why not bake up a batch of brownies for your co workers, decorate them and submit it as an entry?  Entries, in photo format, should be posted on the Do Goodie Facebook page by Halloween night!
Artwork supplied by Greyston Bakery

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Meatballs with Pan Dripping Gravy

I thought that I would begin detailing out the different items that I made for the Fall Party over the weekend with the one that made the biggest splash, and the one that was the easiest to make.  It should come as no surprise that I love turkey meat. This is evidenced here, here, here, here, and here! It is lean, it is tasty, it takes on other flavors really very nicely, and it's a cinch to prepare!  With all of this in mind, and since Thanksgiving (my very favorite holiday) is just around the corner, I thought that Thanksgiving Meatballs would be a really fun and easy hors d'ouerve.

I used 93/7 lean turkey meat. The 93/7 refers to the lean vs fat ration in the package-so here I had 93% lean meat mixed with just 7% fat.  The fat definitely adds a little moisture and a lot of flavor to the meat, so I think that a little is just fine.

1 lb ground turkey meat
1 1/2 tbsp dried cranberries, chopped
1/2 small apple, chopped
2 tsp chopped garlic (or to your liking)
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp fennel seed
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
1 egg
1 -2 cups breadcrumbs

Gravy Dipping Sauce
1 tbsp butter
1-2 tbsp flour
chicken stock
dried sage
ground garlic powder
salt and pepper

In small bowl combine the dry ingredients for the meat balls listed above, with the chopped fruits and garlic.  In a separate plastic container, place the turkey meat, and crack the egg into this container.  Add the bread crumb mixture a little at a time, combining as you go until the turkey meat is the right consistency. It should still be somewhat wet, able to hold shape, but with enough visible breadcrumbs.  

Once the breadcrumbs are fully incorporated into the meat, form small balls, about an inch in diameter between your hands.  Heat a large non stick skillet pan with a tablespoon of olive oil in the bottom.  Add the turkey meatballs to the skillet, and turn to brown on each side.  I finished these off in a 400 degree oven once they were equally browned on each side, for a faster cooking process.

Remove the meatballs from the pan, set the pan back over medium heat, and de glaze the plan with the butter.  While the butter melts, use a wooden or rubber utensil to scrape up the leftover particles from the meatball cooking process.  What remains on the bottom of the pan are bits of apple and garlic that will add fantastic flavor to your gravy.  Once the butter is completely melted and the bottom of the pan clean, start to add your flour to the pan.  Add only a little at a time, and whisk while doing so to cover all of the flour particles with the grease.  Continue to add flour until the roux reaches the consistency you desire- it shouldn't be so thick that it stands in peaks like little mountains in the bottom of your pan, but it shouldn't be lakes of runny liquid either.  Once it reaches that in between stage-start to add the chicken stock.  Continue using your whisk to blend the roux with the stock, again until the desired consistency of gravy.  Do so slowly, it's much more difficult to make the gravy thicker, but easier to continue to thin it.  Once it's reached the right consistency, flavor with the herbs and spices to your liking.  (Please excuse the lack of photos here- while it isn't hard work- it did take both of my hands and photos were neglected) 

These little babies were totally delicious.  They had great flavor and texture from the cranberries and apples, and the pan dripping gravy dipping sauce really brought it all home.  The best part is that the meatballs, ok without the gravy, were actually really quite good for you, and just the gravy added that decadence of Thanksgiving.  I might have to whip up a batch or two of these just to mow down on during a Football game during the next couple of weeks!  Perfect noshing food!

Don't forget to enter my Le Creuset give away!  A roasting pan valued at $150.00! 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fall Party Recap and a MAJOR Giveaway!

Just part of the spread
In place of our normal Monday segment- Locally Featured- I am going to twist things just a tad.  This past weekend we hosted a bit of a family shin-dig, a gathering if you will.  Of course, for any occasion where people come together, I feel that food is really the most necessary component, so for most of last week, and really the entire weekend, I was menu planning, prepping and cooking a feast for our guests.  

There is nothing really that brings me more joy than putting together a menu, and this one presented some great challenges for me.  I knew that there would be people of all age groups and, since we lack the ability to serve a sit down meal to that many people (chairs are oddly scarce), I wanted the hors d'oeurves that I served to be substantial enough to be considered dinner -ish.  This was no easy feat, but I was excited to take on the challenge.

I decided to serve a variety of types of foods, from warm, hearty and comforting to light and perfect for picking.  I started off with two types of soup, an incredibly comforting Tomato Soup, made with a combination of fresh end of summer farm stand tomatoes, and canned tomatoes for bulk and consistency.  I also made a light, yet incredibly flavorful Italian Wedding soup incorporating fresh spinach from the farmers market, and chicken meatballs to keep the dish light, yet truly flavorful.  

Thanksgiving Meatballs- YUM

I decided to bring some feelings of Thanksgiving to the party with Thanksgiving Turkey meatballs served with a pan dripping gravy dipping sauce.  These were such fun with tons of flavor of apples, cranberries, garlic, sage and fennel.  Several remarked that they tasted just like Thanksgiving in your mouth!  

I decided to make highly indulgent Mac and Cheese in individual servings as well.  Many of us present have a shared affinity for Fettuccine Alfredo, so I made a play on this classic dish and mixed it up a little by using mini penne and gemerello pastas, topped with breadcrumbs mixed with lots of parsley, garlic and Parmesan cheese.  These were incredibly rich, hearty and delicious!  Also-because I made them in individual ramekins...they were awesome for a party!  People were able to just grab one and a fork and go to town on a filling snack.

To counter the decadence, I decided to serve two lighter dishes as my final "homemade contribution".  I brought back my arugula salad with chicken and pomegranate seeds- one of my all time favorite salads, and I recreated my Tuna Salad Boats.  This time with the boats thought I changed it up just slightly making the tuna with red onion, grapes and mayo over the bean puree I used last time for a more classic feel.  These were a huge hit and another great finger food that was easy to eat while chatting away.  

We also laid out a gorgeous platter of cold meats from Monica's Mercato in the North End with fresh cut bread for sandwiches, and two different types of dip- my own French Onion (no dehydrated packets of flavor here) and my favorite Ricotta Parsley and Lime dip- sooo cool creamy and refreshing!  

Photo courtesy of Le Creuset
I will be updating with recipes throughout the week for those items that I haven't previously talked about but today I wanted to kick off a very exciting giveaway!!!  The holiday's are on their way (at lightening speed it seems) and because of that I know parties like the one I hosted this weekend will be more and more frequent.  The folks at Le Creuset would like to help out a little by awarding a brand new Roasting Pan with Rack to a lucky A Boston Food Diary reader!!!  Le Creuset is the pinnacle of amazing cookware, with their attention to detail and fine tuning of metals-their pieces are of the utmost quality and pieces that are real keep sakes!

To enter to win this amazing prize please leave me a comment on this entry with your best holiday entertaining story (failures or successes, or just entertaining!), and I will enter your name into the drawing.  Don't worry-all will be fair each post gets an entry, and a random integer will pick the winner!  So please post away- I cant wait to award some lucky reader with an incredible Le Creuset Roasting Pan!

I will draw the winner next Monday, November 1st so please get your entries in by Sunday, October 31, 2010 11:59 pm EST.

Good luck all!!! 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Halloween is Coming! Tips from Stop and Shop and Laughs...

Halloween is just over a week away, and I can just tell that kids everywhere are starting to get pumped up for their impending sugar highs (adults too- come on...admit it)!  Store's are overrun with sugary treats, orange and black seem to decorate every corner, and masks fill the aisles.  No mistake about it...the Eve of Fright is right around the corner!

Have you guys ever heard Jerry Seinfeld's thoughts on Halloween?  It may be the funniest thing ever...

Now I'm sure I could dole out some advice to the grown ups in the audience who may be headed off to adult style parties (dress warmly, eat something substantial, bobbing for apples will destroy your make up for the evening), I haven't been trick or treating as a kid in...well a long time.  So I thought I would pass along some tips from Stop and Shop to make this Halloween a success!

·         Get the best boo for your buck: Be sure to check out Stop & Shop’s weekly circular in advance to get the best deals on costumes, candy, decorations and more. This week, Halloween treat bags, pumpkin carving kits and candy pails are all on sale to help get a jump start on the big night!
·         It’s a Monster Mash: Try a few of Stop & Shop’s seasonal favorite recipes like “Spiced Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies,” or “Frozen Pumpkin Dessert.” Don’t get stuck with the graveyard shift – get a head start on planning your bash now and dodge last-minute prep.
·         Don’t fear the reaper:  When venturing out in the dark, try to carry a flashlight or glow-in-the-dark items, which can be found at Stop & Shop. Some houses have tricky walkways or none at all, which can be dangerous at night. A small flashlight or glow stick will keep you and your family safe and visible!"

It may be obvious but make sure that adults accompany kids out onto busy streets, or non busy streets, and that everyone is dressed appropriately for the weather!

Talking about Halloween reminds me of my favorite October 31 when I was a kid.  I had this ridiculous obsession with She-ra (the warrior princess of course) and I pleaded and pleaded until my parents caved and for me the awesome She-ra outfit, and my dad made me a sword and a shield just like the ones in the cartoon.  I was SO excited- despite the fact that you couldn't see my outfit under my winter coat, and carrying both a shield and a sword made it incredibly difficult to carry a bag for candy too.  It was excellent-until we ran into some kid from the neighborhood who was dressed as He-Man and decided that that made us boyfriend girlfriend for the night!  No thank you!!  She-ra was an independent lady thank you very much!  I'm sure I ran away from the kid, probably crying, straight to my dad- real independent!  Either way...I kept that sword and shield, it was awesome.

What was your favorite Halloween as a kid? 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Fireplace, Brookline

Several years ago my sister and I took my mom to The Fireplace for their Mother's Day brunch.  It was set up buffet style, and I walked away disappointed.  Of course, I could have asked ahead of time what the format was, but I assumed, and ended up with that awkward feeling like I'm back in high school carrying my tray to my seat.  I have some severe tripping fears.  Anyway, after that experience, I hadn't returned to The Fireplace, located in the Washington Square area of Brookline for quite some time.  However, this past weekend we were looking for a spot to grab a quick lunch while we were out and about, and enjoy the BC football game that was coming close to an upset, and The Fireplace appeared before us.  

We sat comfortably at the bar, and the friendly bartender was helpful and kind as he assisted us with ordering drinks and some food.  Their midday menu on Saturday afternoons is quite diverse running the gamut from raw bar selections, to salads, to burgers and even a hot dog, appealing to a wide range of tastes.  I finally settled on their chicken salad with apples, grapes, dried cranberries, walnuts and greens, and John selected their cheese burger.

My salad was perfect for what I was looking for. Chock full of tasty tender chicken and fruit with great textural contrast with the walnuts.  The greens, served on the side of the salad were dressed with a lemony dressing which contrasted the creamy dressing on the "Waldorf" inspired chicken salad.  As a little surprise, this dish was also served with a few pieces of fresh melon on the side which added to the refreshing nature of the lunch.  I found their portion size to be spot on, and I was delightfully satisfied when finishing.

John's burger was pretty darn tasty as well. Plump and juicy with great flavor it sat nicely sandwiched into the bun with lettuce, bright red tomatoes and onion.  His dish also included a heaping pile of french fries that were fresh, and with a good "real potato" flavor.

I am so glad that I finally returned to The Fireplace. Their is food and fresh and well executed. It features unique combinations and delicious takes on classic ideas.  I look forward to future trips- especially this winter when I can warm up by their roaring fire!  

Fireplace on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wine time!

Some days are just a bit crazy-there's lots of running around, some stress, responsibilities... But then after the sun falls and the errands are done, the dinner made and eaten...then it is time for wine...

In the words of Benjamin Franklin:
"Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance."
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

L'Espalier, Cheese Tuesday with Fiore di Nonno, Back Bay, Boston

Boston has several truly notable "fine dining" restaurants within our city limits. These are places that elevate any occasion to "special".  They are places where you roll out your best clothing to go.  They are places where every detail is taken care of.  Bostonians often award top place in this category to L'Espalier, located in the heart of Boston's Back Bay neighborhood.  Centering their offering on New England cuisine mixed with the classic French flair, they are widely acclaimed as "perfect" in their culinary execution and "spot on" with their hospitality.  Despite my obsession with food, I have failed to enjoy a meal here, until, last night.  Each month L'Espalier selects an evening to showcase a certain type of cheese, and incorporates it into three courses, complete with wine accompaniment, for a "prix fixe" price.  When I saw that last nights offering was centered around Burrata (a type of mozzarella cheese containing an external shell of mozzarella with a softer center comprised of mozzarella and cream), I knew that it was the night I should first dine at L'Espalier.

Entering L'Espalier we were immediately greeted by their entry way staff, the name of the reservation requested, and the elevator to bring us to the dining room level signaled for.  As we stepped off the elevator, our coats were whisked away, and we were immediately led to our waiting table.  No need for us to identify ourselves again, the staff had been told who was arriving and where they should be seated.  With the rest of the Cheese Tuesday guests we were sat in the Crystal room, a modern, clean space with glass walls displaying the restaurants extensive wine collection.  My excitement was palpable as I sat waiting for our evening to begin.

Soon enough we were poured our first glass of wine, a 2008 Triennes, "Sainte Fleur", Viogner, Vin de Pays du Var- simple white, crisp to the scent and to the palate with a simple aftertaste.  This was paired with our first course of roasted beets, arugula, and stracciatella.  We were lucky enough to have the cheese maker, Lourdes Smith from Fiore di Nonno, with us at the dinner both regaling us with stories about her family cheese making history as well as demonstrating the art of cheese making.  She explained to us that Stracciatella is actually just the "inners" of the Burrata- the creamy center made from mixing Mozzarella with cream.  I had a difficult time choosing if I ought to be listening to Lourdes, or diving into the dish in front me, however once I chose to sample the salad, there was no going back.  The greens had been enhanced with a creamy dressing, with very strong notes of onion.  At first bite the flavor of the onion seemed almost too strong, but as second, third, fourth bites were taken, it became addictive. It paired very nicely with the peppery arugula, and was a wonderful burst of flavor contrasting the earthy end of summer beets. The star of this dish, of course, was the Stracciatella, coating the palate with its richness, and mellowing the onion and pepper flavors.  This was a perfect start to the meal.

Just as I finished my first glass of wine, a second was poured, a match for our second course.  This was a 2009 Crios de Susana Balbo Rose of Malbec, from Mendoza.  Sommelier Kate Moore described this wine as a Rose made solely from the Malbec grapes, without any type of blending, and a greatly abbreviated aging process.  Rose in color but with a mellower, richer flavor than most, this Rose provided a perfect compliment to our next course.  The plates which arrived in front of us provided a wonderful contrast of color- the bright orange pink of smoked salmon, topped with the white cream color of a marscapone burrata, and dotted with capers, nasturtiums, ans micro greens.  The salmon, smokey and slightly salty showed the beauty of the rich, dense marscapone burrata.  I was delighted that the marscapone maintained its incredible natural flavor.  The final element, the nasturtiums and the greens were delicate and yet packed a punch of earthy of flavor when combined with the other components.  

Our third pour was a 2007 Il Secondo di Pacina from Tuscany, a Sangiovese with background note of oak, and gentle yet full on the palate.  This was served with what turned out to be my favorite presentation of the evening, chicken wrapped in Prosciutto, placed on a bed of creamy polenta and kale, enhanced with a serving of fig burrata.  I am not sure if there is a more perfect combination of flavors than this dish.  The chicken, tender and moist, cooked to perfection, and flavor enhanced with smoky Prosciutto, dotted with a bit of the sweet and fruity fig burrata was perfection on a fork.  The kale, a strong green, was cooked into submission, tender to the fork, and a pleasure to enjoy, especially with a forkful of creamy polenta.  As delicious as each component was, the fig burrata was the flavor I kept returning to, lightly sweet, and densely creamy.  

Our final course, (though the site had outlined three courses we were served four) was paired with a pouring of 2009 Scagliola, Primo Bacio, Moscato d'Asti- a sweet somewhat fizzy wine.  I have enjoyed a glass or two of Moscato previously and know that it is a lovely sipping dessert wine, but find it too sweet to enjoy on its own.  I was excited to explore it with the chosen final cheese course, a chili and lavender honey  burrataburrata, again and as expected, was the pinnacle of this dish.  Lightly scented with the soothing and perfumy flavor of lavender, and enhances with the natural sweetness of honey.  I was only able to detect faint signs of the chili in my portion, however although the flavor was so subtle it was not missed overall.  The creamy and dense cheese, with it's more savory accompaniments provided a perfect vehicle to carry the sweet dessert wine.  

I have always wondered about L'Espalier-wondered if they could really live up to the buzz that swarms around their name.  Too often when something, anything really, is raved about to such a degree, I am usually disappointed when I experience it for myself.  I am ecstatic to say that L'Espalier lived up to my expectations, both in culinary prowess and in service.  The flavors of each dish were layered with precision, each leading to the next, and bring my taste buds on a journey of each.  I enjoyed each member of the staff I met, from the lovely team of greeters at the door who joked with me about the perils of heels, to the Sommelier who described each wine personally, and with passion.  

I look forward to future visits at L'Espalier, and their unique way to turn an ordinary Tuesday into an extraordinary evening.     

L'Espalier on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter- Used in Every Day Cooking

My addiction
I have an addiction to bread and butter.  I have tried to cut it out of my life- I've tried to go cold turkey.  I've tried to phase it out.  But nothing works.  I love it.  There is just nothing better than a fresh piece of perfect French bread (you know the kind- soft and chewy on the inside, crunchy and crackly on the out) spread with sweet creamy butter.  I think it must be the simplicity of it and the way that each ingredient makes the other shine.  There is just nothing better.  Of course, there are MANY things that are better FOR you.  Lets face it, butter, while delicious, is just not so kind to the body- inside or out!  However, there are alternatives out there, and this past weekend I was introduced, up close and personal, to I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, the leading butter substitute.  

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter contains 70% less saturated fats than real butter, 0 grams of cholesterol and is gluten free- a few things that make I Can't Believe It's Not Butter the healthier choice.  Now, I know what you're thinking- most of these types of products, especially in the butter substitute arena don't taste very good (I've had several that taste distinctly like yogurt-yuck), or are rock hard and won't spread, or they don't melt.  How terrible is a lovely piece of toast if the spread just sits on top, white and gloopy?  Or how about steaming mashed potatoes topped with a hunk of "butter" that just stares back at you from the plate?  No thank you.  I Can't Believe It's Not Butter both spreads and melts- and actually tastes like butter!  Sure it may not be the same as fresh from the farm sweet cream butter, and yes, it does contain some of those hard to pronounce preserving chemicals, but it's flavor is darn close- and has some great nutritional value to it as well.  For example- did you know that it contained Omega-3's?

Chef Susannah Locketti
To take a closer look at how the butter would work in every day cooking, a few local bloggers and food lovers were brought on a tour of the Charles Square Farmers Market over the weekend, and then to the Cambridge Center for Adult Education to do a little cooking.  We were led by chef Susanna Locketti through the market, finding treasures to explore in the kitchen.  We loaded up on eggplant, squash, apples, tomatoes, swiss chard, breads and a humongous scallion.  

Back at the kitchen, we divided into teams and made beautiful compound butters to dress the fresh produce with.  I was on the sweet team (a selection I had no problem with) and we were charge of peeling and dicing apples, and creating a butter using, of course the the spreadable I Cant Believe It's Not Butter, combined with brown sugar, walnuts, orange zest and pumpkin pie seasoning.  The butter was pretty lethal when done-I sorta wanted to just slather it on everything.  We actually ended up using a tablespoon of the butter in a hot pan to melt it, and then sauteed the apple chunks in it with a few raisins and some fresh squeezed orange juice.  The result was bright and flavorful, the butter flavor subtle in the background, and the spices taking center stage.

The other butters made were a delicious curry butter that was used to enhance an open faced sandwich chock full of eggplant, swiss chard, tomatoes and fontina cheese (delicious) and a was used in the roasting and sauteing of those ingredients for half the sandwiches, and the other half were seasoned with an Italian butter.  Finally we used the giant scallion to make a scallion butter- and that was just tasty on its own-or with a sweet potato chip dipped in.

Whether roasting, sauteing, spreading or just enjoying, each of the butters were very tasty, and we all remarked that the use of the I Can't Believe It's Not Butter simply enhanced the great flavors of the fresh produce, and didn't mask any delicate nugget.  We did also note that the product is salted, so when using in cooking be sparse with any additional salt-you could easily over season your product.

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter is a product that I have been familiar with for ages, especially since they have always had...catchy commercials.  Now however, I don't know them just for their jingles or for their use of Fabio, now I know them for a delicious alternative to almighty stick of butter.

Mmmm now I MUST go find myself a crusty piece of bread... the craving has hit

Monday, October 18, 2010

What do you think?

So I have to put this out there. Yesterday, as we sat in a pub enjoying the Patriots win, we observed two "gentlemen" walk in with burritos from Anna's. They took a seat with their friends, laughing about how they had snuck food into a restaurant. Later, as they began to enjoy their burritos, one of the servers of the establishment noticed the situation and explained that they could not eat outside food in the restaurant. Upon hearing this, the kids got angry with the server, and stormed outside to finish the "illegal" burrito. The friends still seated at the table continued to complain to any server who would listen about how rudely they were treated.

Now I ask you...who was rude here? The server upholding the "obvious" rules of the establishment, or the kids who felt that they should be able to bring in outside food? I left the place a few minutes later rather outraged that the servers were poorly treated as a result of rule breaking. What are your thoughts on this? Am I wrong to be irritated by this?

Morton's Back Bay, "Uncorked" Tasting Series, October 25, 2010

Morton's is at it again!  Their tremendously successful "Uncorked" Tasting series is being held once again at their Back Bay location on Monday, October 25th beginning at 6:30pm.

As each in this series has concentrated on different aspects of wine, this one will concentrate on wines from Napa Valley, and will be paired with five different hors d’oeuvres.  Cost is $40.00 per person (inclusive of tax and gratuity) and reservations may be made by calling 617-266-5858.

Brookline Booksmith- October and November 2010 Culinary Author Events

Without a doubt, Brookline Booksmith, located in the heart of Coolidge Corner, is my favorite bookstore.   I believe that it is set up as bookstore SHOULD be set up- with lots of nooks and crannies to find literary treasures in, a gently loved section in the basement where rare treats of books can be rifled through and purchased for a fraction of what they were, and, perhaps best of all, Brookline Booksmith brings in those authors you've always wanted to meet for signings and readings.  Like the treasures it holds, Brookline Booksmith is a true joy, and one that should definitely be checked out if you're in the area.

Speaking of- over the next several weeks Brookline Booksmith is bringing in several authors in the food world to speak starting this Thursday night!  If you can, definitely stop by-they should be amazing experiences!

October 21, 2010, 6:00pm:  Madhur Jaffrey, Seven time James Beard award nominee.  Chef Jaffrey will be in to discuss her new cook book "At Home with Madhur Jaffrey",  as well as her memoir, "Climbing the Mango Trees".

October 27, 2010, 7:00pm: Jonathan Alsop will be present to showcase his book "Wine Lovers Devotion"

November 3, 2010, 7:00 pm: Mark Kurlansky will share his book "Edible Stories"

November 4, 2010, 7:00 pm: Alissa Cohen will be on site to discuss her new cookbook "Raw Food For Everyone"- an interesting concept today

November 27, 2010, 7:00pm:  Our very own Joanne Chang will be present to discuss her new book- "Flour", aptly named for her delicious Boston based bakeries. 

Definitely try to get to some of these great events. The Booksmith is a "don't miss" in the Coolidge Corner area- and they are featuring some really wonderful authors!

Locally Featured: Fall Farmers Markets

All summer long it seems that Boston is obsessed with the Farmers Markets.  Every location is a happy hive of people buzzing from stand to stand picking up their favorite berries, herbs, greens and vegetables.  The hot summer sun, warming the tomatoes as they sit prettily in their cartons, fills the area with the scents of the farms, beckoning to the city dwellers.  However, as the summer sun starts to fade a bit, I've noticed attendance at these little oasis es dwindling.  Do we forget about what amazing bounty is available to us during these fall months? 

I had the great fortune to be invited on a Farmers Market Tour yesterday morning, to check out what is "ripe for the plucking" right now.  It was a beautiful day in the Charles Square Farmers Market (located right in the heart of Harvard Square), and the fruits and vegetables were bountiful.  I will talk more about what we found yesterday, and how it was utilized, and enhanced later, but today I wanted to concentrate on the beauty of the local products.  

Local In Season has supplied us with a list of all of the wonderful items that are in season now, so definitely be on the look out for those items at the markets.  A list of your local markets- and their dates and hours can be found here.  Also, Megan, author of Delicious Dishings, is the Examiner of Local Farmers Markets-check out her stuff here.

A welcoming greeting

Somewhat typical but oh so yummy gourds and sugar pumpkins

Massive scallions

Tomatoes at their peak- still warmed by the sun

Sweet greens- fully of fresh nutrients
Carrots and Turnips

Storage onions- great for soups

Bell Peppers, Eggplant, and hearty greens-oh my!

Fennel- raw, roasted, or in soup- a delicious vegetable


Tomatoes and herbs- ready to jazz up your root vegetables

Apples of all different varieties

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