Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lessons Learned From Making Stock

I have a pretty extensive list of things I want to make.  Little items that I think I should know how to make.  Whenever I have the opportunity to cross one of these things off of this list (which grows by the day) I get pretty excited.  So you can imagine my extreme pleasure when, the other morning, still basking in the glow of post holiday bliss, I had my first opportunity to make poultry stock.  

In the simplest terms I can muster, stocks are the rendering of flavor from the slow simmering of vegetables in water, or, more commonly, animal "remains" in water with the addition of vegetables and herbs.  The result is a lightly flavored broth, as cloudless as possible.  That word "remains" is a pretty ominous one huh?  Basically it is the bones of the animal, and often the innards that most don't normally eat.  These are all set to simmer in water to extract their natural flavors.  

Now the sheer beauty of stocks are their versatility.  Stock can be used as the base of soups and stews, it can be used to deglaze a pan of it's drippings, it can be used as a light flavoring when making rice or quinoa in place of water.  Stock is one of those ingredients I cannot live without, but I have always just bought from the store.  I have felt ashamed of this fact for years.  However, after this weekend's adventure I now have a good amount of stock in my freezer, ready to use.

I learned several things during my experience.  The first- when making poultry stock- if you want a brown stock, roast the bones.  If not-just throw them in the pot.  Second, I found that butchering down a full carcass is NOT as easy as they make it look on TV- at least not for me.  It took me a fair amount of time, and some very sore shoulders at the end.  Finally, I found that fussing over the pot while the stock simmers is NOT a good idea.  I wasted a lot of time fussing over the temperature of the water concerned that it would boil and I'd have a huge mess.  Stock is easy to make- remember that and you'll be golden.

I followed Julia Child's instruction for poultry stock.  Though I wont write out the full instructions here, they were pretty straightforward.  Place the bones into a large pot, cover with water until there is about 2 inches over the bones.  Simmer until any sludge from the bones rises to the top and you have been able to skim off.  Then add carrots, onions, celery and herbs and simmer slowly for 5-6 hours.  Once I finally walked away from the stock and sat in the living room, it all moved a long without much issue.  

Stock is now my friend, however I think I will leave the idea of butchering a carcass to the professionals- and just go with smaller bone masses. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Santa Brunch at The Beehive

It may be one of the greatest childhood memories, one of those activities that it seems everyone experiences at least once- visiting Santa during the holiday season to tell him what you want for Christmas.  There is some sense of magic to it, some whisper of childhood charm resulting in ask and you shall receive.  Well this year, The Beehive in Boston's South End, is bringing back all that wonder and amusement!  

Saturday, December 11th, be sure to head on over to The Beehive for their Santa Brunch held from 10:30 am to 3:00 pm.  The day will be full of tasty treats from Beehive's kitchen (and bar) as well as carols, photo opportunities, and of course the ability to chat with Mr. C himself and put in for that special gift you've been wishing for.

All ages are welcome, and encouraged!  Please call 617-423-0069 for more information, or to make reservations!

Kickass Cupcakes- FREE Cupcakes and Midnight Madness!

Happy Cyber Monday!  I took a little break over the holiday weekend and spent lots of time with family and friends- however I deeply missed A Boston Food Diary!!!  I hope that you all had excellent holidays as well- and don't worry- I have tons of food stuff to talk to you about!

First off- a fun event for today and one for Thursday!

Kickass Cupcakes is hosting a Cocktail Cupcake Happy Hour today from 5-7 pm at their Davis Square location!  They are handing out FREE tastings of some of their libation inspired treats in mini cupcake form!  How good does a cupcake titled "The Yule Nog" or the "Choc-o-tini" or even the "Lemon Fizz" sound?  Yeah I thought that- no matter how full you are of turkey or stuffing- a sweet treat from Kickass will definitely hit the spot!

Thursday, December 2, 2010 Kickass is also taking part in the Davis Square Midnight Madness shopping event!  Stop by the store between 6pm and midnight and some crazy good deals will be waiting for you!  

Kickass Cupcakes is definitely starting off their post Thanksgiving week right- so get on over there and celebrate the season!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What Wine Will You Serve on Thanksgiving?

Earlier today I was sent an email outlining the best wines to be served with your Thanksgiving meal.  I thought that the article was funny and cute, if not completely true so I thought that today, this day before the day before Thanksgiving- I would post it for your reading pleasure.

From The Center for Wine Origins:

"The Risk-Taker

 You serve tofu to your carnivore-loving family.   Ease their shock with
Champagne,  a non-dosage Brut Nature. Its dry flavors will match the
vegetarian fare, and lighten the mood.

The Traditionalist

You are the Martha Stewart of Thanksgiving and need a wine that goes
with your style.   Unlike your unpredictable sibling, the Risk-Taker,
you believe in  traditions: turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, sweet
potatoes and pumpkin pie.  Your wine is a  Tawny Port; approved by
Pilgrims for  classic pumpkin pie...

The Last-Minute Panicker

You wait until the last minute to get your food in the oven. Dinner is
an hour behind schedule. You need distraction tactics to calm the
ravenous guests. They will thank you for  a White Port and Tonic
aperitif with salted seasonal nuts.

The Nervous Wreck

You will face the future in-laws.  Matching socks: check.  Conversation
cheat sheet: Check.   A gift for your in-laws? You need  Grand Cru
Champagne.  It will make a great impression and pair well with any
mother's Thanksgiving spread.

The Perfectionist

 You are (in)famous for being the host who insists on "Thanksgiving
Dinner Rehearsals". Your meal must be  perfect.  It's a fact of life
that pecan pie tastes best  with a smooth Port.  Just make sure it's
served perfectly, at  room temperature.

The Glutton aka Pig Out aka Turkey Coma

You are the dream guest. Happy to eat, drink and enjoy. All hosts are
thankful for your delight in food. Just show your gratitude and bring
them special wine: a genuine Port from Portugal and an authentic
Champagne from France."

Hope you got as much of a chuckle from that as I did!  It also served to remind of what tasty wines pair with the lovely bird we will all soon be dining on...mmm   

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving = Reunions

It always happens...the week before Thanksgiving renders great

reunions. Tonight was not exception. I met up with a few guys that I
went to college with that I honestly haven't seen, in one room, in
years. Of course good times were had, laughs were had, and perhaps a
few drinks...but even more, we had some great food.

We met at Coppa which i have not been shy about saying how much I
love, and what a meal we had! Duck Prosciutto, delicious broccoli
rapi, chicken with beautifully cooked broccoli, and of course the best
arancini in Boston. Amazing stuff over there. I have to say-every
time I go, I love it more.

Even better- tonight I realized that Formaggio Kitchen South End is
located basically across the street. I have decided that that place
is the awesome-est place ever- of course, if you're a food lover. I
bought all sorts of fun food ingredients that I have no idea what to
do with, but I can't wait to try them out in all sorts of delicious creations.  Stay tuned.

Ok... I have a ton else to tell you all about-but for tonight- CHEERS for

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving, Vegetarian Style

A few weeks ago a Twitter friend asked if I could try my hand at making a vegetarian friendly Thanksgiving entree.  The story was that last year she had made a lemony seafood dish, which while delicious, did not evoke the feelings of Thanksgiving that she had wanted.  I can definitely understand her concerns.  I love seafood, and it pairs beautifully with lemon, but at Thanksgiving, I want something warm and hearty full of the flavors of fall.  

When I started to imagine what would be a tasty Thanksgiving vegetarian option, I started to think about all those wonderful grains that have so many nutrients and can be combined and blended with other flavors to really make them shine.  One of my favorites is Barley.  Barley is chock full of fiber, protein, vitamin B6, calcium, iron and a host of other amazing nutrients.  It also has a great ability to blend with all sorts of herbs and spices and take on a different personality every time.

1 cup barley, prepared as the package directs
2 cloves garlic
Sage (fresh)
1/3 yellow onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 large white mushrooms, sliced
1/2 large zucchini, sliced then halved
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 cup baby spinach leaves
1 wedge Laughing Cow light Swiss cheese
Salt and pepper

I started by cooking a cup of barley according to the directions on the package, basically to wash it, and then boil it in water.  The only change I made was to add two roughly chopped garlic cloves and a few leaves of fresh sage, also roughly chopped, to the boiling water to help season the barley as it cooked.

While that cooked, I blended a teaspoon of whole fennel seed, garlic powder and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon in my mortar and pestle, and ground them till most of the fennel was powder, but some seeds remained intact.  If you do not have a mortar and pestle, put the same ingredients in a plastic bag and use a rolling pin to grind them.  In a large sauté pan, I added a tablespoon of olive oil, chopped onion, celery, and the ground spice mix, salt and pepper.  As the onions began to become translucent, add the mushrooms and cook until they brown slightly.  Add the zucchini and the cranberries.  Let cook for another 2 minutes or so, then add the barley to the mix.  Once that is fully incorporated, add spinach and the wedge of soft cheese.  Break up the cheese the blend it in with the other ingredients.  Finally stir in about a teaspoon fresh chopped sage.

I am incredibly pleased with how this turned out.  The fennel seeds combined with cinnamon, and sage.  The flavors brought forth all of those great flavors of thanksgiving, but into a dish chock full of vegetables and high in nutritional goodness.  I really enjoyed this as a perfect celebration of fall flavors.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Master Chef Auditions: Coming to a city near you!

His very name evokes feelings of admiration, of reverence, and in some cases, fear.  A Michelin Star chef with restaurants all over the world, Gordon Ramsay is often considered the pinnacle of fine dining on a global scale.  His reach goes beyond physical restaurants, producing several television shows all with the idea in mind to help everyone from home cooks, ailing restaurateurs and professional chefs.  His critiques are often harsh, the bleep function frequently employed.  Last year Ramsay brought out a second series, opening his stage to the home cook.Contestants battled it out over a series of weeks to earn the title of Master Chef.  

Auditions are happening now for the next installment of Master Chef, and though the try outs for Boston already happened there is still time to apply!  Please visit their website for details.  For those of you living outside the Boston area, there are still several open calls happening for you to head on over to and try for your chance of cooking glory!

Remaining national casting calls:

Sat, Nov 20, 2010
8511 Commodity Circle
Orlando, FL 32819

Sat, Nov 20, 2010
333 Saint Joseph St
New Orleans, LA 70130

Sat, Dec 4, 2010 – 10am-6pm either/or Sun, Dec 5, 2010 – 10am-3pm
11830 Webb Chapel Rd
Suite 1200
Dallas, TX 75234

Sat, Dec 4, 2010 – 10am-6pm either/or Sun, Dec 5, 2010 – 10am-3pm
361 West Chestnut
Chicago, IL 60610

Sat, Dec 11, 2010
600 SW 10th Ave
Suite 500
Portland, OR 97205

Sat, Dec 11, 2010
675 South Broadway
Denver, CO 80209

So get out there, submit a tape- whatever you need to do!  Working with Gordon Ramsay is an opportunity not to miss!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rami's, Coolidge Corner, Brookline

You might miss it.  You could walk right past and not have any clue what treasures are inside.  I did.  I have walked past Rami's, located on Harvard Ave in Coolidge Corner a bunch of times.  I had never seen it before, until last night.  A bout a week ago, manager Haim sent me a note asking if I would care to stop in and try out their food.  Have any of you ever known me to say no to a request like this?  Honestly-food?  Yes, please.  I have spent a great deal of time in Coolidge Corner-tons really- and yet I had to map quest where Rami's was located.  I am incredibly embarrassed to admit that. I arrived however, Katie from A Small Boston Kitchen in tow, and was ready to indulge in the cuisine of the Middle East.

Immediately after entering the counter service establishment, we were greeted with a very friendly hello from Haim.  Despite the fact that he was awaiting our arrival, I soon learned that this greeting was not out of the ordinary.  Each person who entered was greeted as a friend would be, and each assisted with polite words, and a knowing grin.  I felt immediately at home.  Haim picked out our entrees for us, and we were presented with over loaded plates containing the Rami's Special-touted on their menu as the "Ultimate Pu Pu Platter".  I have to say- if this is their version of a Pu Pu Platter- all others better just sit down.  Rami's Special incorporated a wide variety of textures, temperatures and flavors ready to satisfy any craving.

The Rami's Special included a crunchy salad made with lettuce, red cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, and pickles topped with a creamy dressing, falafel sitting in a creamy pond of freshly made houmos, grilled chicken, and kebabs.  Additionally this massive amount of food was served with freshly made pitas, and a we received a side of Rami's own home made hot sauce.  Faced only with the decision where to dig in, I started with the salad, intrigued by the idea of pickles in the mix.  The lettuce, crunchy and refreshing mixed well with the slightly tart pickle.  It was a combination that I would not have imagined, but was actually incredibly delightful.  

My next stop in my around the plate journey brought me to the houmos and falafel arena.  Ohhhh the houmos....nutty and creamy with all of the decadence of olive oil lightly mixed in- this was some of the best houmos I have had.  So often houmos is served grainy and too thick, but at Rami's it flows with beautiful flavor and perfect consistency.  Sitting atop the houmos were perfect spheres of fried falafel perfection.  Falafel is another food that I will often pass up gladly as they sometimes contain a grainy or gritty texture.  Not at Rami's!  Here their soft and warm insides are en capsuled by a crunchy outer shell- a beautiful contrasting textural profile.  

Next I moved into the chicken, which Haim described as sauteed with onions.  It was a simple explanation, but a much more complex flavor profile.  A variety of spices played off the tender meat making it addictive and delicious.   I quickly found that the combination of the pillowy pita, with houmos, hot sauce and the chicken was my favorite in the plate.  

Finally, I set my sights on the kebabs.  Ground meat, blended with a mix of spices, and then cooked in links-these devils looked right up my ally.  I was right.  The spice was a bit more prevalent in these than in the chicken, creating a bit of fire on the palate-nothing unbearable by any means, but a hint of a kick.  The meat was incredibly well flavored around the spice which made it very palatable, and with great depth of flavor.

The meal was resoundingly delicious.  Each item provided great flavor and texture, and when combined together in different combinations, they played off of each other amazingly well.  The dinner however went beyond the food itself.  Rami is an incredibly warm and inviting space.  It is a place where friends gather, business men break for the evening, and people craving good Middle Eastern cuisine come even on their own.  Every patron seems to have immense pride in the location, one even stopping when he realized we were food bloggers to rave about Rami, declaring their food the best Middle Eastern in the city.  With reviews like that, I urge you not to walk past Rami, but to stop, turn in and feel the warmth, hospitality, and savor the wonderful cuisine.

Please also note- Rami's is Glatt Kosher.   

Rami's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Happy Holiday's- Punch Is Here!

It's happening...starting now...kicking off the holiday season- a brand new trend is hitting Boston!  It's always exciting to watch these things catch on.  I remember when we were all about wide leg jeans...and then all of a sudden skinny jeans took over.  We were all a- rage for truffles, and now oysters are all over Boston. And now- where Cosmo's once stood, Sangria took a turn, and dirty martini will forever be, we welcome PUNCH to our list of drinks to indulge in this winter.  

Punch has always been high on my list of delicious drinks, and there is just something incredibly festive about a giant punch bowl filled with delicious mixtures, and able to be ladled into pretty little cups.  The whole idea of it just smacks of formal parties of old to me, and I have often thought that it plays so nicely with the idea of the waltz.

Either way- punches rock, and I am thrilled that they are taking over Boston this holiday season.  On Sunday evening I had the distinct pleasure of attending a Punch Party held at Aquitaine in Boston's South End.  Testing out three different types of punch is a lovely way to spend a crisp fall Sunday evening, so I was thrilled at the opportunity.  Nicely the folks at Aquitaine supplied recipe cards with their punches- and I urge you guys to embrace the trend and give them a shot!

My favorite of the evening was a typical looking and tasting punch, fruity, sweet and tart, ruby red in color, and just screamed "holidays" to me.  They named this one The Standard:

The Standard
1 Bottle Russian Standard Vodka
24 oz of Whole Cranberry Puree
8 oz lime juice
Orange Zest

My second favorite was the 1820, which was an incredibly refreshing mix of citrus and herb, bridging the delicate balance of summer into fall.

The 1820
1 Bottle Bols Genever
20 oz Grapefruit Juice
4 oz Lemon Juice
4 oz Absinthe
4 oz Basil Simple Syrup
Top with Sparkling Wine
Fresh Yuzu Zest 

The final punch, which rang in at my least favorite of the three, but that by no means translates it to being not tasty-in fact- it was the resounding favorite of most others at the party!
1 Bottle Don Q Cristal Rum
24 oz Apple Cider
8 oz Ginger Syrup or Domaine Canton
4 oz Lemon Juice
Top with Sparking Wine

I can guarantee that any of these delicious punches will be a fantastic addition to any party you host, or if you want to drop a line to a host of a party- they may make them for you!

Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 15, 2010

One Pan Meal- Spicy Broccolini with Basil Chicken Sausage

Sometimes, time just isn't as plentiful as we all might want it to be.  Sometimes there are those weeks that slip past and my kitchen stands empty- used only to throw together my lunch in the morning, or to heat up a fast dinner of a frozen leftover, or a veggie burger when time is really short.  Though these weeks happen only sometimes, when they do they make me all the way sad.  A longing glance at my whisk, or at a pan sitting neatly on the drying wrack still waiting to find it's way back home to it's friends in the cabinet.  It is a sad state of affairs when time goes by without using my favorite kitchen supplies.  After a period of about a week and a half of this type of kitchen neglect, I finally charged back into my favorite room in the house yesterday afternoon to take it by storm.  I had some serious cooking to do, and not a lot of time to do it.  So in the short time I spent, I whipped up three and a half dishes, the half being one I made the base for but am still working on it's finishing touches.

The best part of the afternoon though was making a simple, delicious meal for me to enjoy right then and there since much of the rest of the dishes were for other purposes.  I had found some beautiful looking broccolini in the grocery store earlier yesterday and had found one of those delightful packages of chicken and turkey sausage flavored with basil.  When I purchased them I figured they would be an easy meal during the upcoming busy week, but last night as I looked at the broccolini, and I heard my tummy rumble I thought it might be best to break them open.  The result- an easy, spicy almost stir fry of broccolini and the sausages with a LOT of garlic.

1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp to 1 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (to your taste)
salt and pepper
1 bunch broccolini, stems trimmed
1 1/2 tbsp red wine- preferably dry
1 package chicken sausage- I used basil flavored, any flavor will do probably
Parmesan Cheese

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet pan (I used a small one- it worked but it was not as easy).  Add garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  When the garlic becomes soft, add the broccolini and saute until the stems are fork tender, at the last 2-3 minutes add the red win to the pan.  Remove the broccolini from the pan, set aside.  Add the chicken sausage and cook until heated through.  These are super easy to use since they are already fully cooked.  Add the chicken sausage to the broccolini platter, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and viola!  Dinner (and lunch the next day) is served!

I love broccolini.  The smaller stems make them easier to cook than the mammoth trunks on typical broccoli.  I find that they soak up more flavor as well- which makes them a great vehicle for spicy crushed red peppers and that wonderful garlic.  Just be careful that you don't stand too close to anyone after consuming.  You may not be very popular :-).

Friday, November 12, 2010

Breakfast- the Saving Grace

Breakfast...I remember my mother always telling me it was the most important meal of the day. I never quite understood why, and as I got older I thought it was the perfect way to cut out calories in my diet- totally useless breakfast.  I maintained this thought process until just a few years ago when I learned something about it speeding up metabolism and helping to actually shed weight-sounded good to me - eat more to lose more- fantastic.  The whole idea of it however has remained pretty mysterious to me though, so when I received an invitation to sit in on a media session sponsored by General Mills last weekend discussing the health benefits of eating breakfast-well I was all ears.

The session was led by Mindy Herrmann, MBA, RD, Bruce Barton, PhD, and Susan Crockett, PhD and RD.  These three minds have spent countless hours researching the ideas behind breakfast and tracking studies over time to see the real cause and affect of breakfast on the human body.  Their studies concentrated on the affect on children, and provided some sound support for ensuring that breakfast should be a part of their daily diet.  

As the little frosted mini wheat's in the commercials suggest, there is data that supports that children who eat breakfast behave better in class, perform better on tests and quizzes and have an overall better attitude for school.  I gotta say- those are three great reasons right there- I mean how many 10 year old's do you know that are doing the best they can, paying attention to their teachers and actually want to go to school?  

As great as the performance incentives are, there are some pretty major health incentives as well.  Through the study that Dr. Bruce Barton completed which followed over 2,000 girls for over 10 years in different parts of the country, he found that girls who eat breakfast are at a moderately lower risk for obesity than their breakfast skipping pals. This held true for adults as well.  Further, the study showed that children who skip breakfast are lacking in some pretty vital nutrients such as Vitamin D, Calcium, Potassium and dietary Fiber.  I am sure that it isn't coincidence that these nutrients are found in most breakfast foods.  This is also true for adults.

The forum, yes from General Mills, though it did make sense otherwise, held that eating cereal for breakfast with fruit or fruit juice would sufficiently feed a child for the start of their day, and provide those vital nutrients that we all need in our lives.  Seems pretty easy right?  Have a bowl of cereal each morning, keep yourself focused on the day at hand, and keep yourself full of nutrients.  

I was feeling pretty good about the whole discussion as I sat there, it seemed to make sense, and seemed almost fool proof, until the conversation of school came up.  I remember getting to my bus stop before the sun came up.  I remember standing there, in the cold, thinking about whatever exam I had that day, or whatever social drama was occurring.  It was far too early for me to consider breakfast.  The panel noted that this is the same for many kids today.  The school bus comes at an unforgivably early hour and children just don't have the time to sit down to a breakfast at home.  They also noted that more and more schools are doing away with breakfast at school programs, and are discouraging the idea of kids eating at their desks.  After everything that was discussed this seems like a cruel joke.  It seems as though by eliminating the time for breakfast at school, our school systems are almost harming our kids.  How are we letting this happen?  And even better- how do we stop it?  

I obviously don't have the answers.  It's something I will be thinking about, but in the mean time, the rousing response from the mom's in the room was plastic baggies- apparently those little devils make it easy for kids to take some cereal on the bus and get their nutrients in motion.

So what do you think?  Do you eat breakfast every day?  Any ideas on how to get the schools doing away with the breakfast option to bring it back?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Anna's Taqueria Celebrates 15 Years!

That's right- that little chain of burritos that has somehow attracted an almost cult like following is celebrating their 15th Anniversary!  That means that for 15 years Anna's has been serving up burritos, tacos, quesadillas and the like to the hungry people of Boston.  It also means that Anna's is including you, their faithful customers and fans in their celebrations!

Image courtesy of Anna's Taqueria
Every 15th of the month, between now and July 2011 (hint- Monday is a 15th) Anna's will be giving away complimentary treats to their customers!  These offerings may include items such as chips and salsa, perhaps an authentic Mexican coffee, a taco, or a fountain drink.  Anna's urges you to follow them on Facebook (Anna’s Taqueria) or on Twitter (@annasboston) for more information about these great giveaways!  Personally-I'm pulling for some guacamole- but then...when am I NOT pulling for some guacamole?

Image courtesy of Anna's Taqueria
That isn't the only celebration going on though!  As I said before, Anna's has an almost cult like following, and so of course, almost every person I know has an incredible story about how much they LOVE Anna's.  Maybe it got them through the late nights of college, or it was a place of bonding with their significant other, or it was their solace through the tough times...no matter what- everyone seems to have a story.  Anna's wants to hear your stories!  Submit your entry for how Anna's has positively impacted your life and you could be entered to win a party featuring Anna's burritos for 50 of your nearest and dearest!  To enter, and for more details please go to: http://www.annastaqueria.com/15.htm

Great celebration of a Boston favorite- Happy 15th Anna's!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sol Azteca, Brookline

I love Boston.  I know that that is not an especially surprising statement. It seems pretty obvious from flipping through A Boston Food Diary.  I love that it sits on the ocean rendering a great Lobster Roll in the summer.  I love that it has a fantastic Italian influence in the North End.  I love that Fenway sits in the middle of this great city making it easy to enjoy a hot dog and a game.  I love that many different people of different ethnic backgrounds have found places to open restaurants celebrating their culture.  However, there is one area which seems to allude us up here in the Northeast.  We can get some good Cantonese food, some darn decent French, we have places that celebrate Greek cuisine, and some rock star sushi, but for some reason, we are sorely lacking in tried and true, delicious Mexican food.  Yes, there are a handful of places that are authentic and tasty, but by and large, Mexican food in Boston appears to be a mass of some sort of protein, wrapped in an elastic type tortilla with tasteless re fried beans heaped on top and all covered with a mountain of cheese.  Don't get me wrong- I love cheese- but really?  Is this REALLY how we're celebrating the culture of Mexico?  It appears that for every dozen of these garishly decorated spots, there is one, or maybe two places that put love and care into every dish that they create and truly present the beauty and complexity of Mexican cuisine.  One such place lies in Sol Azteca, located both on Beacon Street in Brookline, and in Newton Center.

Over the past couple of weeks I have dined at Sol Azteca multiple times and each time I have been greeted by a friendly staff, who are helpful with the menu and with a joke from time to time if needed.  Each time I have been I have ordered the same, beef fajitas.  The steak is tender, and arrives to the table almost sizzling, but not in that Chili's type of way, in a good, delicious way with the aroma of the peppers and onion cooked with beef mingling with spices to give off an inviting scent.  Rice and beans accompany the dish, but the rice is clean and well seasoned, not overly salted as I've found other places.  The guacamole served with is made fresh, with chunks of avocados mercifully spared from the masher and giving the spread the most enjoyable texture.  My favorite part though?  The tortillas served to encase the other ingredients, are homemade, and have the perfect subtle cornmeal flavor that can only be an authentic tortilla.  They are served warm and supple, up to the challenge that I put before them of over stuffing- because really if you aren't a mess after eating a fajita-whats the point?

Other good points to Sol Azteca- their delicious mole sauces, served in several varieties, the salsa served with the chips at the start of the meal- though it isn't spicy it is addictive and delicious, and the lovely server who will tolerate Spanish speaking...for a while.  Though Sol Azteca holds merely a candle to its West Coast counterparts, it is a delicious fix for a sit down Mexican meal here in Boston.


Sol Azteca on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Meat Glues- Revolutionizing Cooking, But For The Better?

Last night I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by the famed chef, Wylie Dufresne.  Known for this his pioneering methods in the fields of molecular gastronomy, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to hear him speak.  Molecular gastronomy looks at the different physical and chemical changes that take place during the cooking process.  It takes a much more scientific eye to the development of dishes, rather than the rather artistic one that I am used to.  Dufresne explained that for as long as he could remember he'd been told the proper length of time to roast a chicken, or bake a cake.  He was taught the reactions that would occur with traditional ingredients, and the going answer to the question "why" as -"because". Curious as he is, Dufresne turned to the ideas of molecular gastronomy to help explain these ideas, and a whole new world of cooking opened.

In his restaurant, WD50 located in New York City, Dufresne spends much of his time experimenting with new ways to treat traditional ingredients to provide better results.  Last night he concentrated on the use of meat glues- chemicals which would react with proteins to bind them together.  Dufresne showed us several applications starting with shrimp pasta, noodles made entirely of shrimp, ground into paste and with the addition of a meat glue, and a little bit of fat.  Dufresne stated that these noodles bore striking similarities to their starch laden counterparts, and uses them in a similar application, boiled, doused in tomato sauce enhanced with garlic and basil.  Just like Grandma used to make, right?  

Dufresne's next example was less radical perhaps, but just as remarkable.  He used another meat glue compound, in slurry form, applied with a paint brush to join pieces of flank steak together, to make the typically thin and often tough meat, thick as a fillet and able to be treated similarly.  Applications like this, and with the fillets of cod that he used next, allow for practical uses of meat glue.  These uses show the ability to take often passed over pieces of protein and turn them into much more favorable selections, able to stand uniform cooking times, and serving applications.

However, I have to look at the full picture here.  Yes, the ideas that Dufresne brought forth last night are fascinating.  They are revolutionary even.  I wonder though- are they really where we want the food world to be headed?  

October, in the blog world at least, was Unprocessed Month- a month in which bloggers from all over the US gave up processed foods.  They spent the month reading labels trying to keep themselves from eating unwanted chemicals in a goal to eat the purest possible foods.  As a society we are constantly reminded that chemicals which we cannot pronounce the names of are probably best left outside of our bodies.  I personally spend much of my time in my kitchen making things from scratch as a way to ensure that I know exactly what I am eating.  I look for farm fresh produce, and locally sourced goods as another way to keep my brain and my stomach connected.  Doesn't molecular gastronomy, used in this sense of meat glues, directly compete against those ideas?  The application itself is adding chemicals directly to our foods.  This chemical doesn't burn off during cooking, Dufresne was sure to mention that it maintains it's properties even in a fryer.  So I have to wonder- what would it do inside my stomach?

Now if you know me, you know I am not the purists of purists.  Far from it actually, I do the best that I can.  I have those moments of weakness and enjoy a pack of M&M's, or a Twizzler or two-and lord knows there are some crazy chemicals in those items.  Somehow though, it seems like an entirely different situation to me, to have a chemical slurry painted onto my cod, or combined into my shrimp for effect.  

Still, as I debate this within myself, the possibilities that stem from these ideals are amazing.  The feats possible with the assistance of these glues are endless, they are incredible, and they are mind blowing.  As I sat last night, and watched as Dufresne torched a Terrine of Foie Gras and it maintained it's perfect shape, simply absorbing the caramelizing of its outer later, I heard my stomach grumble.  This is a combination of flavor and texture not possible before.

So I guess the question remains-Meat Glues- good or bad?  Experimentation gone too far or just the beginning of a whole new way to enhance our culinary experiences?  What do you think? 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tatte, Fine Cookies and Cakes, Brookline, MA

It's a quiet little store front.  Tucked into a strip of stores lining Beacon Street just as you cross over from Brookline to Boston, lies a small cafe, seating just a few in a few small tables inside, and a few small tables outside.  The inside, bright and airy even in it's cramped space, boasts little artwork, but is instead decorated with the beautiful pastries that are so artfully crafted there.  Tatte Bakery, specializing in fine cookies and cakes, exemplifies a true small business, and the passion that is innate to them.

I visited on a bitterly cold Sunday morning, itching to get some writing done over a steaming cup of good coffee with perhaps a sweet treat to savor as I worked.  Surrounded by chain coffee stores that lack that "sit down and relax" vibe to them that I was desperately craving, I meandered over to the St. Mary's T stop on the C line, and entered the inviting warmth of Tatte.  I placed my order for a medium latte, and for a lovely looking pastry called a Hazelnut Rose which the lady behind the counter offered to warm for me.  I was rewarded with a light airy pastry, eluding images of beautiful rose buds by its shape, but the flavor was so much more.  Hazelnuts studded the top of the rose, while inside lay a doughy texture, enhanced by hazelnut paste and hints of cinnamon.  The flavors of yeast, butter and the nuts mingled into a wonderful symphony, and, with a sip of my latte with extra stiff foam, I felt transported to Paris, with the leisure time to relax over such wonderful delicacies.

Reading the story of Tatte it comes as no surprise that the pastries conjure up such feelings of warmth and comfort.  The owner weaves a beautiful story that, to me, embodies all of the beauty that is cooking.  She tells of her childhood, the happiness that she experienced in her mother's kitchen, and then as she continues she speaks of the joy that comes with making a present for a loved one and having that gift received with gratitude.  What is cooking, or baking really, if it isn't to share the warmth and love of your own kitchen?  

Tatte is a beautiful spot in which to relax, to catch up with friends, or to try to meet a deadline.  I can assure you that sitting within the confines of their walls, a smile will take over your soul, as their coffee warms you from the inside out.

Tatte Pâtisserie and Café on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pinkberry Open on Newbury St, and thoughts from Ron Graves, President and CEO

Refreshing, light, fun, fresh...and delicious!

Last night, in the midst of hundreds of happy yogurt seekers, I had the opportunity to chat with Ron Graves, the President and CEO of Pinkberry, Boston's newest tart frozen yogurt purveyor.  They are entering the Massachusetts area, after many yogurt shops have opened before them, with the state of mind that though they are not the first in the area, they are the best.

So what makes them confident?  Graves was specific- their ingredients are the freshest possible, and their flavors and taste are the best out there.  Pinkberry spends the time each day to clean and prepare fresh fruit for their toppings, they offer the best dry ingredient toppings they can find from Belgium chocolate, to all natural granola.  Pinkberry believes that these little extra efforts go a long way- and they do.  It doesn't stop with their toppings though, Ron Graves was passionate
about the entire product line explaining that all of their yogurts are made from the freshest ingredients possible, and they work hard to come up with unique flavor combinations utilizing more fresh fruit.  They have 6 flavors all year round, with one as a rotating seasonal variety.  Currently they have a very delicious pumpkin flavor, accented by graham crackers, a dusting of cinnamon and bursts of their swirly whip- as they say "it's pumpkin pie in a cup!". Over the summer though, and I am so sad we missed it here in Boston, they featured a watermelon flavor which combined fresh watermelon, their signature yogurt and even cucumber to create an incredibly fresh flavor, perfect for those hot summer days.  I am certainly hoping that that one comes back next summer!  

It isn't just the flavors or the toppings though, Graves was very clear that one of the aspects that they are most proud of their product is the taste of it.  Pinkberry has a very fresh taste to it, it doesn't have the flavor of chemicals, or the lingering mouth feel of them, or of that heavy coating of cream.  Pinkberry is light, and they strive to continue to exemplify that as the main attribute- a tasty treat, light on the palate.  It is also light on the waist band- a fat free treat weighing in at only 100 calories per 1/2 cup- this is one easy dessert (snack? breakfast?) to eat without any guilt!

Pinkberry is now open in Hingham and on Newbury Street in Boston, with another location to be opening in Harvard Square, Cambridge soon. They are entering the region with a splash, and a well deserved one.  If you have a chance, stop on by and check them out! 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cabot Serious Snackers- Perfectly sized, mighty tasty, reduced fat cheese snacks!

How great is cheese?  Honestly- is there anything better than sinking your teeth into the creamy and decadent folds of dairy deliciousness?  I didn't think so.  However, it must be noted that cheese, while high in protein and calcium, fat also lurks there making it an enjoyable treat to have only every so often (at least in my world).  So you'll understand my extreme excitement when the kind folks over at Cabot asked if I would like to try their newest creations- Serious Snackers- a brand new snack sized cheese individually wrapped, and with less fat than their original line.

I selected two flavors to try, their 50% Reduced Fat Garlic & Herb Cheddar and their 75% Reduced Fat Habenero.  Ohhhh my goodness.  These are little snacks of heaven, bursting with great flavor, I couldn't even tell that they were reduced fat- and usually I have a keen taste bud for fat.  The Garlic and Herb had subtle hints of delicious savory garlic with a hint of earthy herbs mixed throughout.  The Habenero, I'm sure it comes as no surprise, was my favorite.  Packing some serious heat, my mouth didn't even have time to look for any defects it was immediately consumed by delicious spice.  Exactly my kind of cheese.  I could picture this draped over a big bowl of chili adding a final level of spice.  

I haven't seen these in my grocery store yet, but I am definitely counting down until I do- they were tasty, healthy and completely satisfying for a cheese craving.  I can't wait to try out the other flavors as well: 50% Reduced Fat Sharp  and 50% Reduced Fat Pepper JackBring on the Serious Snackers! 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Alchemist, Waterbury, VT

This has been such a lovely long weekend and a great start to the winter season! I am such a snow freak and I was wishing for snow up here ever since the mini vacation got planned. I had no idea it would snow every day! Each time I taken a walk, or looked out the window small little flakes have been swirling, and I have been delighted! I occasionally act like a small child, clapping and giddy, I have definitely been doing that all weekend!

I have also had some pretty tasty food a long the way! The best thing about having friends to visit outside of your city is that they always know the best spots for food! Last night my friend Ryan suggested that we head to The Alchemist for dinner located in Waterbury, VT. Such a cool brewpubs with 7 of their own taps flowing with tasty beer creations! Figuring that after this weekend I will be eating basically rabbit food to make up for the amount of cheese I've consumed, I decided to go strong one last time and I got the smoked pulled pork sandwich served on a fresh roll with coleslaw and a lovely slice of cheddar cheese. I had originally thought I could tackle this beast of a sandwich with my hands, but as barbecue sauce started to drip out with the very first bite, I quickly reconsidered. After removing the top bun I enjoyed all of the lovely pork with my fork and knife and saved myself a lot of embarrassment. The pork had amazing smoke flavor, the kind that reminded me of some amazing pulled pork I had in the remote western part of North Carolina last year. If nothing else, North Carolina where it borders Tennessee knows it's 'cue. The Alchemist's version featured the same great smoke, and with the addition of the coleslaw it had that amazing combination of cream and spice from the barbecue sauce. The texture from the cabbage blended perfectly with the soft meat. The only down point I did notice was that the pork was a bit dry in spots. The sauces did their best to make up for it, but the meat definitely had some toughness that was slightly displeasurable.

Overall though all of us diners enjoyed the meal, and the brews...I'm sure it's a place that I would frequent if I lived a bit closer!

A bit of housekeeping- I recently had the extreme honor of being nominated for the title of Boston's Best Blogger. I am so thankful to even be nominated, and astounded at the support. If I could ask you, voting opened yesterday, and I would greatly appreciate your vote! Please click on this link http://boston.cityvoter.com/a-boston-food-diary-blog/biz/586604 and vote for me if you have a minute or two. Thank you so much!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Winner Revealed!

Alright all!  The time has come!  The winner of the Le Creuset Roasting pan is NIA from To Boston and Bake Again!
Please email me at abostonfooddiary@gmail.com with your mailing details and I'll get that sent over to you!!!  Congratulations!! Good luck hosting your first Thanksgiving!

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...