Thursday, January 28, 2010

Open Casting Call- 24 Hour Restaurant Battle

Alright my fellow Bostonian, food obsessed people-do you have dreams of being on TV? Of running your own restaurant? Of working with a close friend or loved one daily? The Food Network has your opportunity!

As some of you may have heard, they are rolling out a new series titled 24 Hour Restaurant Battle. This new show will feature competitors, in teams of two, who battle for the ultimate prize- the funding to bring their dream restaurant to life. The competition itself spans a 24 hour period where the selected teams fully conceptualize, develop, and design a restaurant, along with creating a full menu. As time ticks down the competitors must agree on every detail, and produce their menu. They open the "doors" of their restaurant at the end, and serve their concept, decor, and dishes to diners and judges. Talk about pressure!

Think you have what it takes? Think you have a friend/colleague/spouse/relative who has it too? An open casting call is being held here in Boston on Monday, February 8, 2010 from 10:00 am ET to 3:00 pm ET at the Lenox Hotel located in the Back Bay.

So what is The Food Network really looking for?
  • Two person teams with pre-existing relationships (brother and sister, mother and son, husband and wife, etc.) who would love the chance to prove that they can run a restaurant.
  • A dynamic front of house and back of house duo. One person on the team will run the front of the house and the other person on the team will be the chef and run the kitchen. All levels of experience (culinary school trained to home cook, little or no restaurant experience to a lifelong career in restaurants) will be considered.
  • Lots of energy and charisma! We're seeking personalities that pop.

If this sounds like an opportunity made just for you (and your chosen partner) then head on over to http://24hourrestaurantbattle.com/ click on the Application tab and download TWO applications-one for you and one for your partner. Fill out both and bring them (and recent photos of you both) down to The Lenox (61 Exeter Street, Boston, MA) on February 8, 2009 between 10:00 AM ET and 3:00 PM ET.

If you have any questions definitely let me know and I can try to find out for you- abostonfooddiary@gmail.com

Good luck everyone! This is a show I can't wait to watch!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Leftovers-Pasta with Ground Turkey Sauce

Leftovers are just one of those little gifts in the food world aren't they? Whether they are a complete meal with just too much made, or a portion of a meal that can be added to a new creation- they just make things easier. I, personally, love them. Normally I make too much of something with the pure intention of eating it for leftovers- whether lunch or future dinner when time is short. What better way to make a great meal last longer than to have it again?
A couple of nights ago John and I made plans to head out for an Italian dinner. We amped our selves up for a good pasta night, and then got completely sucked into the game on TV. Playoff Football- it's addicting you know? As time went on- it became increasingly apparent that we were not heading out to dine at a restaurant, so we decided instead to order in. We chose a nicer Italian restaurant in town and ordered for delivery.
I will not mention the restaurant name here as I did not enjoy my meal but hate to base them on delivery. So the food arrived, my dish was a spicy spaghetti red sauce dish with shrimp. It wasn't too spectacular, so I ate the shrimp and then there was quite a bit of pasta, already sauced, left over. I got to thinking about how it wasn't the pasta's fault that it wasn't very good- so I couldn't just let it go to waste. So last night I set to work on making a better pasta dish playing off of the ingredients already used in the dish-spice and garlic.
Now-I felt that these flavors-though present- were sorely lacking so I wanted to punch them up. As I considered what type of a dish I wanted to make- I decided that I would stick with the red sauce theme-but of course make more of it- as the dish was served with very little. So on my way home last night, I picked up some gorgeous vine ripened tomatoes, two Serrano peppers, a pound or so of lean ground turkey meat, fresh parsley, and, for the first time in years, a container of dried herbs. Let it be known-I detest dried herbs. In my (humble) opinion I feel that they have very little- to no- flavor and do very little to enhance the flavor of a dish. That said- I bought a bottle of dried "Italian blend" -a combination of Oregano, Basil, Garlic, Chives, and Parsley. I wanted to try oven roasting tomatoes, and I hoped that the dried herbs would enhance them subtly.
Back at home I sliced two full tomatoes, careful to remove the stem sections at the top of each tomato, and laid them in a single layer on a baking dish. I drizzled a little bit of olive oil over the top of each slice, sprinkled just a little kosher salt, and then a nice coating with the dried herbs. I placed these into a preheated 400 degree oven and them them do their thing. Then I thinly sliced part of a white onion- maybe just a 1/4 of one, several cloves of garlic, and both Serrano peppers-leaving the seeds in place for extra spice. I added these to a saute pan with already warmed olive oil, salt and pepper, and let them sweat over low heat. Once the onions had gotten nice and translucent, and the smell was sweet, spicy and garlicky, I added the ground turkey meat to the pan.
The wonderful thing about roasting tomatoes in the oven is that you can hear them cook, and you can smell them as they get closer to done. I decided against completely dehydrating them, and so pulled them from the oven once the tops started to look a bit blistered and I could see some charring happening. I removed them from their baking sheet, piled high on my cutting board and easily chopped them into a very loose paste. Once the turkey meat was cooked through, I added one raw chopped tomato, and then piled in the oven roasted. A quick mix, and I tossed in the pasta and a few handfuls of raw baby spinach.
Of course, once plated, I couldn't resist a sprinkling of low fat mozzarella cheese- pasta just isn't the same without a little cheese right?
The combination of flavors were really fantastic. Unfortunately I didn't get as much of a punch of spice or garlic as I was hoping for (I think I added too much "stuff") but the over all flavor was really complete. There was background spice, the lovely hint of garlic, the nice round flavor of the roasted tomatoes. Really yummy. Unfortunately the pasta ended up a bit over cooked because of its "second" cooking and its past al dente state when I got it, but I didn't even really notice it all that much. Overall- this is a great use of leftover pasta that otherwise would have ended up in the trash.
On a side note- obviously I am having huge issues with my camera- anyone feel strongly about their camera and want to recommend the type/brand?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Zucchini and Carrot "Pasta"

Wow- the impossible happened over the past few weeks. I actually hit a limit with rich food. Who knew? I was lucky enough to spend 10 days sailing around the Caribbean on a Princess Cruise. This means days upon days of beautiful weather, gorgeous scenery, relaxation and tons of food. I'll update soon about the food that we experienced while on board, but tonight- tonight I needed to find a way to eat lots of veggies.
After arriving back home this afternoon, I dropped my stuff off and literally ran to a neighborhood market to pick up some vegetables. All I wanted to eat tonight was something light, something delicious, and something that would re-stretch my culinary legs if you will. I decided to prepare a dish that has become one of my favorites over the past few months- zucchini pasta with tuna.
This is a dish I absolutely fell in love with as
it can be so easily made, and easily adapted to appeal to whatever cravings you might have. Tonight I was craving light, I was craving garlic, and I was craving spice.

I picked up two medium sized zucchini, carrots, cremini mushrooms, red jalapeno, garlic, red onion, tomato, olives and a can of cento tuna. Back home, I finely chopped garlic, and the jalapeno and then added them to saute pan with about a tablespoon of warmed olive oil. Then I added about half of a small red onion, also chopped, and a couple pinches of kosher salt. The aromatics
from this combination really started to blend and I could smell the garlic and the spice and it smelled wonderful. Back on my cutting board I got back to work chopping a tomato, peeling carrots from their grummy outside, and then continued to peal the carrots into long thin strips. Those completed, I added the tomatoes to the pan, and then back at my cutting board- sliced about 5 of the small cremini mushrooms, added
them to the pan and then pulled out the greatest tool ever- the old mandolin- and began slicing the zucchini into those wonderful paper thin slices. Once the mandolin work was done (injury free this time!) I used my knife to slice them into strips. Then I turned my attention back to the pan where the tomatoes had started to break down into a lovely sauce consistency. I sprinkled in chopped parsley, and then added just a 1/3 of a cup of a good red wine. I let the alcohol cook out of the wine, and then added a handful of pitted Kalamata olives. Satisfied with the state of the "sauce" I started stirring in the carrot and zucchini strips, simmered and stirred for a short time- maybe two minutes, and then stirred in the can of tuna.

I love the way this dish looks! Tons of colors, the strips of carrot and zucchini swirled like pasta, and then the smell! Garlic and spice, delicate wine notes in the background...delicious. The taste of this one is even better. So light and full of differing textures and flavors from the different ingredients. The sauce somehow mellows to a buttery feel even though there is no butter present, and the carrots and zucchini provides a bit of a crisp texture. The olives give a saltiness and then the tuna adds a "meatiness" to the dish that makes it filling without that heaviness that can often be found.

Zucchini and carrot pasta, as I like to think of it, has become my favorite dish for those cold nights when I would love to have a real pasta dish but don't want to be bogged down with noodles. Its also a perfect dish if you feel like having lots of garlic, or something super spicy as the flavors are so easily absorbed by the veggies. A great light winter meal when you want something warmer than a salad :-)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Locke Ober, Downtown Crossing, Boston

I have always loved the idea of yin and yang- opposite ideals coming together in beautiful harmony. There is something about their coexistence that I feel creates true beauty- hot and cold, salty and sweet, old and new. One of my favorite buildings in Boston is the Old State House- it sits in the heart of the financial district, skyscrapers tower over it, but there it sits, in all of its colonial charm, a beacon of our history in the middle of our present and future. It was for this reason, this love of combining opposite elements, that I was thrilled to celebrate the New Year at Locke Ober, one of Boston's oldest restaurants.

The history of Locke Ober, located on Winter Place in the Downtown Crossing district, begins roughly in 1870, when it is believed that a man by the name of Luis Ober took over ownership of a small restaurant that was being operated in the location, and redefined its purpose. Locke Ober was born several years later, and with it the true meaning of haute cuisine in Boston was established. The detail that Mr. Ober placed into his dining rooms was glorious. He imported much of what still stands in the restaurant today- mahogany panels, mirrors, silver, art work, etc. It truly was a magnificent place.

Unfortunately the magnificence faded for a time during the later 1900's but was restored to its greatness by its purchase in 2001 by the Winter Place LLC with kitchen leadership by the great Lydia Shire. My experience with it before now was of almost whispered greatness, and knew it be the pinnacle of what it means to dine out.

What better place could one celebrate a new year? A new decade? In my opinion- no better place.

We arrived out of the cold and revelry of First Night into the warmth of the restaurant, which I can only explain as austere, and yet welcoming. We were led into the main dining room, which is gorgeous in rich mahogany and brass, with acclaimed artwork, and looked like a picture with patrons laughing and waiters bustling. We were seated at a small table under a beautiful painting towards the back of the room, which gave us a wonderful view of the room and all those who had chosen to spend their last evening of 2009 in this beauty.

I wish that I had read the full history of Locke Ober prior to dining there, perhaps then I wouldn't have been so surprised when a family chose to stand beneath the portrait that hung just slightly to the side of our table to have their photo taken. It seemed so out of character for the restaurant, that we had to ask our server if there was significance to the painting. He informed us that the portrait of a lady, was once known as the guardian of the room, a men's club for many years. He told us that historically women were actually not allowed in the room aside from two occasions- New Years Eve, and the eve of the Harvard Yale football game, on both occasions the portrait would be covered. That tradition has evolved slightly now, and on the eve of the big game, should Harvard lose, the lady is covered, apparently to hide her disappointment. We vowed to return to Locke Ober for the game sometime in the future.

Turing our attention to the food- we decided to start with a shared appetizer of Sea Scallops with parsnip gnocchi and a bacon vinaigrette. This was such a delicious way to begin. The Scallops were perfectly cooked and paired so beautifully the beautifully soft gnocchi that really were just delicious pillows with the ever so light taste of parsnip. The smokey bacon presented a gorgeous flavor throughout and they had topped the dish with what I assume were fried strips of parsnip which really added a great texture contrast.

Our next course was also shared- a salad of baby iceberg enhanced with Humboldt Fog cheese and what they described again as a warm bacon vinaigrette. This vinaigrette though was entirely different from the first as this seemed to have a creamier base. The bacon was thick cut and really wonderful and the iceberg was crisp and refreshing. That Humboldt Fog cheese though- wow! Rich and creamy-a wonderful compliment to the freshness of the lettuce.

I had chosen to have their grilled Atlantic Salmon for my main course. This was described as being served with an Oyster and bacon souffle and a horseradish buerre fondu. The salmon itself was quite delicious. Great flavor, crispy skin, perhaps a bit more over cooked than I like, but cooked to the description that our server told me. It was a really beautiful piece of fish. On the side was actually what seemed to be a broiled Oyster served in its shell, and the molded souffle. The Oyster in its shell was delicious- it had been well seasoned and had almost a slight kick to it. Lovely. The Souffle did not seem to have any of those great "airy and light" textures that you come to expect from Souffle. It seemed to have almost gelatenous qualities. The flavor was nice, but I couldn't get past the texture unfortunately. Sadly I also didn't detect any horseradish and remain unclear as to where the "Fondu" was located on my plate.

John had chosen the Filet Mignon for his dinner, which had incredible flavor but was a bit dry for his taste.

They also brought sides of sauteed spinach and mashed potatoes to the table- both were fine. Well executed, well cooked, though nothing particularly remarkable.

We chose to end the meal with their Baked Alaska as you so rarely see it on menus anymore. We were thrilled by our selection. Our served came to our table to show us the dessert prior to serving it, and then stepped away from to the table and flambeed it for all to see. He then plated and served it to is- what a gorgeous dessert- ice cream encased in flambeed meringue that tasted more like fire roasted marshmallows. Just delicious.

Locke Ober was a tremendous meal. Though there were some hang ups with the actual food, the service and ambiance more than made up for it. A while back I read the book The Last Days of Haute Cuisine by Patric Kuh and have since longed to experience what those glorious places must have been like. The attention to detail, the bustling servers, the way things used to be. Locke Ober opens a page of history and makes dining a very special occasion. Chef Shire seals the deal with some very delicious dishes. I can't wait to return and cheer on Harvard!

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