Thursday, September 30, 2010

It's Almost Friday!

Seems fitting for a Thursday evening no?  

"Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza."
Dave Barry

See tomorrow is Friday, and I personally think that all Fridays should be declared pizza and beer day-like a national weekly holiday.  What do you think?  

Hint Water, Naturally Flavored and Delicious

I've been keeping a bit of a secret.  A few months ago I was given a case of water to taste and talk to you all about, and, well, I've been saving it all for myself and haven't peeped a word of it.  Awfully terrible of me isn't it?  Well after this weeks late season heat wave, and I once again enjoyed the product and it's assistance in cooling me off- I thought it was about time.  The time has come to talk to you all about Hint Water.  

Have you all heard of this?  It's been popping up all over the place recently-I even saw it in Starbucks the other day.  So what is Hint Water?  It is pure, natural water, gently flavored with natural fruit and herbal flavorings, with no sugar.  Now normally, I like my water straight up, but Hint supplied just the slightest touch of flavor, well it made what can sometimes be a bit "ho hum" and made it interesting.  

Founder Kara Goldin created her product with the idea in mind of making that lovely water so often served in spas, ice cold, and flavored with rings of apples, or oranges, or cucumbers, in a portable format.  A bottle of Hint Water, and you can imagine that your sitting, wrapped in a comfy bathrobe relaxing.  

Hint Water is absolutely a refreshing thirst quencher- and one that I have been savoring.  Now, I know, it is not the most inexpensive product out there- but is it really that much more than that soda you were reaching for?  And it's SO much better for you!!

For a complete list of flavors please click http://www.drinkhint.com/products/

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Description of My Life

"'When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,' said Piglet at last, 'what's the first thing you say to yourself?' 'What's for breakfast?' said Pooh. 'What do you say, Piglet?' 'I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?' said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. 'It's the same thing,' he said."
A. A. Milne, 'The House at Pooh Corner'

I swear- Pooh and I are kindred spirits!




My Love Affair with Pho

 It started about 6 months ago, I walked into an unassuming restaurant in Coolidge Corner and decided to go with their signature dish.  The restaurant was Pho Lemongrass, and the dish was Pho.  I remember the evening well.  Sitting at their table, enjoying a simple glass of wine, and then a trio of condiments was set before me- little glass containers of Sriracha hot chili sauce, chili garlic paste and Hoisin Sauce.  I was immediately intrigued as to what would be coming next.  My waitress, as though hearing my thoughts, soon delivered a plate piled high with bean sprouts, lime wedges, and thai basil.  A wave of happiness flushed over me as it occurred to me- I would get to add my own variations of flavors to this meal.  To state the extreme obvious- I LOVE cooking, and so when a restaurant allows me the joy of playing with my food to make new flavor creations- well- I'm on cloud nine.  Anticipation was growing by the moment, and then finally, the piece de resistance, the Pho was set before me.  Pho was served in large bowl filled with amazingly aromatic broth, with chives, onions, and cilantro swimming in its steamy goodness.  A pile of rice noodles sat in the bottom of the bowl, a pillow for the rare steak I had ordered as my protein.  The steak, cooking in the liquid was transforming in front of my eyes from it's pink hue of innocence, to its brown, weathered, cooked through self.  The visual presentation was incredible, but as the scent of the soup filled my nose, I knew that my taste buds were the recipients of the real treat.  Pure, the soup was delicious- full of onion, ginger, and spices.  I liberally added the condiments previously served, and masterpiece perfection was born.  Spice from the chili sauces, sweetness from Hoison, earthy sweet goodness from thai basil, citrusy lightness from the lime, and finally a delicate crunch from the bean sprouts.  Pho, I learned that evening, is perfection.  

I have returned far too many times to list here, and each time I wonder if I could possibly love it even more on every visit.  Finally though, I decided, it was time to try my own hand at making it.


I set off for the grocery store and knew that my version would be a bit different.  I had read a few recipes to get the general idea of the broth, but lacking the time to make my own stock (for shame!) I knew that store bought beef broth was in my future.  I also had a weird hankering for barley- so I decided to use it as the starch as opposed to noodles.  The other sad difference, I could not find Thai Basil- so I subbed regular basil.  Do not do this.

Back home- I set to work on my first home creation of Pho.

1 tsp sesame seed oil
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1tbsp ginger, chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (seeds and veins included)
zest of one lime
2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
3 cans beef broth


1 cup barley, prepared as package describes


1/2 pound shaved steak


Garnish:
Fresh basil leaves, torn or chopped
Fresh Cilantro, chopped
Chili Garlic Paste- to taste
1 lime- sliced


Heat stock pot with sesame seed oil, then add the garlic, ginger, onion, jalapeno and zest. Add a pinch of salt here.  Over medium heat sautee these ingredients until they become aromatic, and the onions and garlic translucent.  Add the cilantro to the mix, and then the soy sauce.  Add three cans of broth and simmer for 30 minutes -give or take.  During the last two minutes of cooking add the steak.


In a bowl, add a scoop of barley, ladle the broth, with steak over the top, serve with the garnish.


This was an incredibly easy soup to make, however I made a fatal flaw.  For some strange reason I lost all semblance of culinary prowess during my process here and added four wedges of lime to the simmer pot of soup, and then left them there for a half hour.  Anyone know what happens when you do that?  The bitter peel permeates the soup.  Right.  So I spent another half hour trying to dull out the bitter flavor with a variety of sweeter ingredients.  Overall, this was a delicious soup, and very similar in feel and flavor to my beloved Pho.  I am not, however, satisfied.  More Pho adventures are in my future- stay tuned!
 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Deuxave, Back Bay, Boston

I have had a bit of a countdown going since I heard the news that Chef Chris Coombs, famed chef of Dorchester's Dbar who reached celebrity status after his appearance on the Food Network's Chopped this past spring, would be opening a new restaurant in Boston's Back Bay.  I might have emitted a bit of yelp at the news, and ever since, whenever I walked past the location of the aptly named Deuxave (it sits on the corner of Mass Ave and Comm Ave), I would do a small happy dance.  My first interaction with the chef was at Taste of the Nation held here in Boston in April.  Out of all of the dishes that were offered that night, which were some of the most amazing creations, and delicious delicacies, my favorite dish that evening was from the hands of Chris Coombs.  He had made lamb, and it was perfect.  Even given the massive crowds, and difficult environment- his lamb was flawless.  Since then, I have been waiting for Deuxave to open.

As luck would have it- I received an invitation to attend their opening party held last night.  Though I knew that Chef Coombs would create an amazing spread for the party, I wanted to get in before the event to experience the full restaurant and a get a good vibe for the place.  So, poor John got dragged willingly accompanied me to dinner on Saturday evening.  

The physical updates completed on the space at Deuxave have transformed it from the simple cafe it was in its former life, to a trendy spot deserving of words like chic and modern, but with touches, such as a beautiful brick encased fireplace and comfortable booths, which make it cozy and inviting.  The staff are all incredibly welcoming, greeting each new patron with a warm smile, and Chef Coombs is visibly present in the restaurant, speaking to different tables, and even chatting with the hostesses.  Entering Deuxave, I felt the comfort of walking into a friends home, rather than the newest hot spot in town, though I felt right at home in my Saturday evening attire.  

After perusing the menu a bit, and having a lovely conversation with the Sommelier, we chose to begin our meal with their Duet of Prime Beef Tartare & Wagyu Carpaccio.  The Tartare, served in a gorgeous circular mound of rare beef and spices, adorned with a single yolk of a quail egg was absolutely delicious.  Salty and spicy flavor nicely complimenting the velvety softness of the beef, the yolk bring a final richness.  It was delicious.  The Carpaccio...well it was lovely.  Paper thin slices of just lightly seared beef, topped with cornichons, "waffle" type potato chips, and baby arugula.  Each ingredient played off the others so nicely, but still allowed the beef, the star of the plate to shine through in it's elegance.  Overall, this dish was wonderful, beautiful flavors combined to accentuate each other, and varied textures to provide contrast. If I had to pick at anything here, I did find a bit too much of the egg white was visible on the Tartare, however once the yolk was broken the white disappeared into the Tartare never to be heard from again. 

Remembering the amazing lamb dish Chef Coombs presented at Taste of the Nation, I felt compelled order the Moroccan Spiced Colorado Lamb Saddle as my main course.  John, ever looking to find "a closer than Portland" new  scallop favorite entree, went with their scallops as his main.  In perfect timing from the wrap of our first course, our entrees were served, and I was immediately excited.  The lamb, cut into thick slices and laid across a bed of tabbouleh, and mint raita, was perfectly pink.  It had been crusted in pistachios, and the plate was accented with baby carrots, turnips and beets and a natural jus.  The pink of the lamb rightly signified a perfectly cooked piece, and a bite reassured me that the heaven on Chris Coombs dish at Taste of the Nation hadn't been an anomaly.  The lamb was tender and moist, rich with flavor.  The tabbouleh below, grainy and nutty in texture mixed beautifully with the subtle mint flavor of the creamy raita.  The textural contrasts continued with the vegetables that were artfully strewn about the plate, the beets cooked to almost crisp were concentrated flavor explosions to the palate.  The carrots and turnips though were mellow in their own natural flavors, and tender to the fork.  I thoroughly enjoyed my entree.

I stole a few bites of John's entree as well (when don't I, really?), and though he hasn't found his replacement for Street and Co in Portland, these scallops were quite tasty.   The succulent medallions were served atop a fondue of leeks and parsley, with a carrot foam accenting the plate, and a potato hash brown in its center.  While foams may have been over done a few years ago- I was thrilled to see the carrot foam present on this plate.  It was perfectly executed, enhancing both the appearance of the plate, and the overall flavor. The leek and parsley fondue had wonderful slow cooked onion flavor, brightened with the parsley- a perfect ying, and yang appeal.  To me, this was a show stopper and might have even stolen the show from the scallops.  The scallops were beautifully cooked, a lovely golden brown on top, and still slightly rare inside, however they may have suffered a bit of a heavy hand with the salt.

We were sad to have to turn down dessert, though the menu listed some delicious sounding options.  

Returning last evening, I was able to try a few more bites of their offering, from crab cakes to an heirloom tomato salad with a balsamic foam, and each bite was delicious. I didn't experience any remnant of an over salting, so I can assume that the scallops were simply an aberration.  

Chef Coombs, as expected, is putting out not only delicious food at Deuxave, he is putting out incredibly inventive offerings, jazzing up the classics with new twists, while paying homage to their history and culture.  I look forward to visiting Deuxave many more times in the future to see what Chef Coombs does with each of the upcoming seasons.

Gossip Corner:

New little segment here- since there has been a bit of fun gossip I've had my ear on recently...I thought I'd share what I can!
First- Pinkberry is set to open on Newbury Street in late October.  First of all, YAY, and second- Um- has any one googled one of their owners recently?  Pedro Garcia?  Interesting stuff out there...


Second- it appears that one of Boston's best chefs (name withheld though I have spoken of him before) is opening a brand new place sometime this spring!!  Details to follow when available!

(Please excuse the lack of photos from last night's affair.  My camera decided against documenting the evening)         

Deuxave on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hungry hippo!

I gotta say, I was a hungry hungry hippo today! I stuck to my plan from last week of getting in a morning workout, and I did a yoga session early this morning. That rumor that exercise in the am gets your metabolism working must be true because I snacked all day!

I started with a bagel thin at 9:30 spread with The Laughing Cow Light Swiss cheese which staved off hunger until 12:30 or so when I dove into my veggie burger lunch. Then I polished off carrot sticks and grape tomatoes, then grapes, and then an apple. Yikes. A few hors d'oeuvres later and I came home to make dinner, shaved steak, fresh spinach and barley. I think I'm finally full!

I gotta say- I love barley. It is am excellent grain, and really filling. I need to make it more often.

What do you eat when your stomach just won't be satisfied?



Locally Featured: Greyston Bakery, Yonkers, NY: "Greyston Is Saving Lives"

I have spent the past few days searching, searching for words that could possibly express the awe that I have been feeling.  I took a trip last week, and came back with a renewed sense of good in the world.  


 For this weeks Locally Featured, I'm going to bring you on the same trip that I took, and hope that through my words I am able to convey every bit of wonder and admiration that I have.  I traveled to Yonkers, NY to visit The Greyston Bakery, a for profit business committed to supporting every person in their community, and by assisting their non profit parent foundation- the Greyston Foundation.  The Greyston Bakery is not your average bakery.  Sure it makes delicious confections- a ridiculously tasty Blondie Brownie, and even those wonderful ribbons of impossibly rich and chewy brownies found in Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream flavors.  However it's main goal isn't really to make brownies- it's goal is to employ people. This  statement reads clearly when you look them up- the Greyston Bakery isn't "hiring people to bake brownies, but baking brownies to hire people".  

You may be reading that quote and wondering "what's the difference?", let me tell you, the application of this idea at Greyston provides a huge difference between the two.

BUTTER!  Greyston Bakery uses only all natural ingredients

To begin with some background information, The Greyston Bakery was founded in 1982, by a Buddhist Priest who recognized the need for action to help the growing homeless population of New York.  Knowing that the best way to help would be to give those who wanted to work jobs, he opened a bakery and instituted a hiring plan known as "Open Hiring".  Basically, this means that anyone is able to sign a sheet, which still hangs outside the bakery, expressing interest in working.  When positions open up, the bakery gets in touch with those persons who have signed up and, without conducting any type of background check, or reviewing a resume, the person is given a job.  The stipulation for keeping that job?  Show up every day you are scheduled and show up ready to work.  This Open Hiring plan gives a chance at employment, a chance at making an honest living, to persons who may previously have been categorized as "unemployable".  

My version of Greyston Blondie's ready for the oven

Saying, however, that Greyston is simply employing those who might need jobs more than anyone else, is an extreme understatement.  At the bakery they are not only giving them a chance to make a regular paycheck, but they are giving them a chance to start over, to change their life course, and to find their true calling.  "Open Hiring" starts off each employee in an apprenticeship program that lasts a period of a year.  During this time management and human resources at Greyston work with each individual.  They learn a variety of tasks, and they are assisted with topics like workplace etiquette, personal hygiene, and career building- topics that they may never have thought about before.  They learn how to write their resume, a document that they can start and grow at Greyston.  They are given life skills.  Once the year apprenticeship is complete, and the requirements of that time are met, the employee is brought on full time with a pay increase, hours increase, entrance into the Union, full benefits, and a $500.00 bonus.  This isn't charity, this is the embodiment of the proverb- If you teach a man to fish...  

During our day at Greyston we had the opportunity to meet and hear from four of employees of Greyston, each who was hired through the Open Hire process.  The first two men we heard from were each celebrating their 11 year anniversary at the company.  They had each been involved in drug dealing and had served time prior to finding work at Greyston.  They had taken pay cuts from $2- 3,000 a week on the streets, to minimum wage in the bakery.  They chose to change their lives.  


When the panel began in which these employees spoke to us, I didn't know what to expect.  I'll admit to you, I anticipated these employees to be hardened.  Perhaps I watch too much Law and Order on TV, but I have a stereotypical viewpoint of persons who have spent time in jail.  The first two who spoke banished those thoughts from my mind.  They were full of pride in what they had been able to accomplish through working at Greyston, and they were brimming with appreciation.  They spoke of their families at home, their children that they wanted to provide for and be a good role model for.  They spoke of being involved in their community, helping others, and watching out for their friends.  They spoke to knowing that if it hadn't been for Greyston, they would not be alive any longer.  


The third gentleman who spoke presented raw emotion to us in the room. He was a more recent employee, having been there just under two years.  He had resisted the idea of joining the bakery, but to satisfy his parole requirements he had signed the sheet at the door to the Bakery.  He measured how much the Bakery had changed his world, and to the extent that they had saved his life that he broke down in tears and found it difficult to speak further.  The emotion that these employees brought to us is beyond the word remarkable.  Each recognizing that their life was saved by a company who simply wants them to bake brownies.  


Greyston goes beyond just employment in making a commitment to each person who walks through their doors.  As with any company, each employee is evaluated, and watched for strengths.  GreystonGreyston ensure that the employees they see managerial promise in, are able to recognize that possibility.  The head of human resources spoke to us about a woman who had been working in the line for some years and promoted to the highest level she could without supervising staff.  As they looked to bring her into this supervisory role, as she continued to excel in her position, they found that she had difficulty reading and writing. Greyston took on full financial responsibility to diagnose a learning disability, and provide the correct treatment for this lady to move past her difficulty.  She moved on in the company and continues to excel.  


Greyston, both in the bakery, and in the Greyston Foundation, is not just providing a chance for people to turn their lives around, they are giving them every possible tool to achieve success.  


An eggplant ripens in the community garden

The Greyston Foundation, the non profit foundation upholding the principles of the Bakery, operates several facilities in the Yonkers area to continue their mission.  Within the foundation is low income housing, community gardens full of beautiful hand grown fruits, vegetables and flowers, an HIV and AIDS center for both in patient and out patient care and a child care center.  Their child care center is nationally recognized, providing care for children as young as six weeks old, and starting their day at 7:30 am until 6:00 pm.  Children in the care of this center are provided with a clean, safe place, filled with natural light while their parents work, and are given breakfast, lunch and snack each day.  Care like this allows parents to continue to work, and know that their children are being cared for.

The work that is being done in Yonkers, on a daily basis, is far beyond baking brownies for resale and for the world to enjoy in tasty ice cream treats.  The work that is being done is in the hearts of people who only needed a chance to see how far they could go.  It is visible on the faces of the men and women who seized the opportunities  presented to them, who have taken on the responsibilities of hard work, and have been rewarded with the opportunity to take college classes, or complete their high school education, provide for their families, and feel pride in their lives once again. 

Greyston Bakery brownies, and their recently introduced gluten free line, can be purchased on line at http://www.greystonbakery.com/greatgifts.php.  While I haven't dedicated probably enough time here to their actual product, please know that purchasing their confections- is not only helpful to the mission of the bakery- but to you as they are darn tasty as well.  I was sent home with a tray of brownies that I had actually gotten to make while there, as well as some of their pre made samples- I finally had to stash it all in the freezer to play the out of sight out of mind trick.  It has only sort of worked as I am now developing a real taste for frozen Blondie's.

In conclusion- the words of the Greyston Bakery employees:
"Greyston is like family to me"  
"Greyston is building lives"
"Greyston is saving lives"

Seriously- how delicious does that look?
And one from me- "Greyston is making this world a MUCH better place- one delicious brownie to the next"- seriously try their brownies.  Give them as gifts- to yourself or to your friends and family.   

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Naps & Trying New Things

Over the past few years I've noticed that I have lost the ability to take naps.  I don't know what happened but it was gone.  Today though, I took a good long nap.  I got home from an early morning of gym and grocery shopping along with other errands, and I felt tired so I sank into the couch to watch the Patriots...and as they began to lose a bit, I closed my eyes and woke up when they won.  Perfect timing if you ask me, and my streak of no napping is over!  Wooohoooo!


So lately I have been having a serious love affair with Pho, a Vietnamese soup dish.  I love the complexity of the beefy broth, tinged with garlic, Ginger and Thai basil, the rare meat that cooks away in the broth, and all of the mix INS that come with the soup that let you customize your own spice level.  I have it as often as I can, but that always means dining out.  Today, I decided to try my hand at a very inauthentic version.  Right now it is bubbling away in the kitchen, flavors blending.  I can't wait to ladle up a bowl later.  I'll keep you posted on how my first attempt comes out!


I can't believe it's already Sunday evening- weekends really do fly by don't they?  


What new things have you tried lately? 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mayor Menino, with Union Bar and Grill, to Host a Benefit for the Richel Nova Trust

Some news stories are simply devastating and tug on your heart strings.  They are stories that you hear, and you cannot turn away from, they instill feelings in you, feelings of anger, or disbelief, or just plain shock.  On September 2, Boston was hit with one of these stories when we learned that Richel Nova, a hard working father doing all he could to make a life for his family, was lured to a house and killed for the pizza he was delivering and the less than $100.00 in his pocket.  The idea of this type of act occurring is outrageous, and terrifying. 

Mayor Menino, along with Seth Woods, Matt Burns and Jeff Gates, partners of The Aquitaine Group, and coming together to help the family of Mr. Nova.  On October 4th, they invite the city of Boston to come together at Union Bar and Grille to celebrate the life that was taken, donate to the Richel Nova Trust and share in a lovely evening of food and wine.  Tickets for the event run $125.00 per person, and include opening fall themed cocktails, and a 5 course dinner prepared by Chef Keenan Langlois of Union Bar and Grille, with assistance by Matt Gaudet of Aquitaine, Robert Jean of Sorrelina, and Rodney Murillo of Davios

A silent auction will also be held.

All proceeds from this evening go directly to the Richel Nova Trust.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sunrise Over Boston

Goooood morning Boston! I am up bright and early to jet off to NYC for the day. So I may be a little bleary eyed this morning, but I am pretty excited to head on down to the big apple. Apparently being up early makes me sound a bit like a country bumpkin- what can you do?

It has been an exciting few days actually. Last night I was lucky enough to score some pretty incredible seats to the Sox game. I don't care how far out of the playoffs they are, I always enjoy a good game, and especially when the seats are insanely good. I ended up enjoying a lovely turkey wrap at the game for dinner- gotta say- not so bad. Those types of sandwiches are never particularly good, especially since places rarely put mustard on them. Why is that? Is there a huge mustard allergy that I'm unaware of?

Alright, I'm all boarded and ready to go! Happy Thursday Boston and NYC!



Wednesday, September 22, 2010

9th Annual Masciarelli Wine Company Grand Portfolio Tasting

I may not be a wine connoisseur, however I've never been known to turn down a glass either.  So when I heard about the 9th annual Grand Portfolio Wine Tasting hosted by the Masciarelli Wine Company held yesterday, I leaped at the opportunity to go.  I pictured dozens of wines laid out before me, all ripe for the choosing, and ready to sip. I found that my day dream about the event was spot on, however I had not counted on being a bit overwhelmed!

When I entered the Wharf Room at the Boston Harbor Hotel last evening I was handed a heavy booklet outlining each table station, the vineyards represented, and the varieties available. Each distinct variety was noted with it's year, any awards won, and the prices per case.  Overwhelmed might have been an understatement.   

I began my evening with a Barolo from the Parusso Vineyard, 2006 vintage.  This was a beautiful wine- richly fruity, I thought I detected some sweet cherry flavor, and a wonderful finish to it.  Delicious.  I'm going to be on the look out for this one at my local wine stores.


My absolute favorite of the night though was from Claar Cellars, located in the Columbia Valle, and their 2008 Chardonnay, Barrel Fermented.  This had some of the strongest butter flavors I have ever experienced in wine, but with a great undertone of sweetness.  After falling deeply in love with this wine, I wondered, what was did "Barrel Fermented" mean exactly?  I could, of course, infer a general idea, but I thought a little research was in order.


In basic terms, Barrel Fermentation refers to the idea that the wine is literally fermented in small barrels.  Apparently, under normal wine making practices, wine is transferred into stainless steel tanks, or large vats for the fermentation process.  Barrel Fermented blends actually stay in relatively small batches in their barrels.  This can dilute the actual fruit flavor some, but instills in its place creamier flavors with richer complexities.

Attending last nights event made me realize just how much I have to learn about wine, and the qualifying factors of them.  So I have to ask you, my readers, what do you think is the most important thing to know when tasting wines?  

 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wonder Women

Boston continues to amaze me every day.  I had the distinct pleasure of attending a networking event this evening for the Wonder Women of Boston- those amazing women in this city who are following their dreams, fighting for their success and making a real difference.  I'm not sure how to make my words express how honored I was to be a part of this gathering.  Hats off to some amazing women.

In other news, I'm trying to be a bit of a wonder woman in other areas as well.  I am making a concerted effort to get up early to get some work outs in before the craziness of the day sets in.  I got in a good yoga session this morning, and tomorrow I have big plans of heading out for a run.  We'll see how this goes :-). I need to find some good motivation to get myself out from under the warm covers - any advice?

 

Frito- Lay Factory Tour, Killingly, CT

Last week I fulfilled a life long dream.  When I was a child, I, like many other children, watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood pretty religiously.  I enjoyed the opening tune, the Neighborhood of Make Believe where King Friday reigned over his loyal subjects, and even all of the people who used to stop by to say hello to Mr. Rogers.  My favorite though, my very very favorite part of the show was when Mr. Rogers would take his viewing audience into a factory to see how all sorts of dazzling things were made.  I remember the crayon episode the best- probably because I did enjoy my coloring time as well, and I loved seeing the rainbow of colors come together in neat cylinders just waiting to spread their beauty on a page of paper.  Ever since watching these episodes, I have desperately, somewhat strangely I'll admit, wanted to go on a factory tour to see how things are done.  So, when I was invited to tour the Frito-Lay Factory in Killingly Connecticut last week, well, I jumped at the opportunity- literally.  

Photo Cred- Ketchum
As a disclaimer- I am not a huge potato chip fan.  Sure- I might grab a handful here and there at a party, but I've never been one who has to have them. A lot of this has had to do with health reasons- I figured that they were chock full of chemicals, and yucky things, and couldn't possibly have any real ingredients or net worth to them.  So as an indulgent snack every so often- sure- but as a whole?  I try to stay away.  I have to say- the tour really shocked me.  Of course no one can say that potato chips are GOOD for you, but they really aren't THAT bad.  

Photo Cred- Ketchum
Are you aware that Lay's potato chips, the non baked variety, contain exactly THREE ingredients?  Potato, oil and salt-that's it.  Even more amazing to me?  The potatoes used are normally less than 24 hours from being pulled from the ground.  During the season, Frito-Lay gets their potatoes from Maine, and within a day of the farmers plucking them from the earth they are sorted, washed, peeled, sliced, fried and salted.  Then they are just placed into the bags, and shipped off to your favorite store.  I have to say- I was literally shocked when I heard this- Farm to Table in the last place I would have anticipated it.  

Photo Cred- Ketchum
The Killingly factory processes both potato and corn products, so not only are they producing potato chips but also some of the corn line like Doritos's and Frito's.  We learned that the corn process is a bit longer than the potato as the corn must be dehydrated and then re hydrated to get it the proper consistency for grinding into meal.  From there however it begins to take on a familiar route.  The meal is laid out and shaped by large machines that cut out the individual triangles.  These triangles set off on their journey of being toasted, and then fried, and then, dependent on the type of chip being created-they are then seasoned.  Do you have any idea how amazingly delicious a fresh, warm Dorito is?  I mean, purchased from the neighborhood store these are dangerous little devils, but warm from the fryer and a fresh coating of seasoning?  Addictive doesn't even begin to describe them.  I'll just say that it's a good thing that my wonderful tour guide shuttled us along before I started plunging my greedy little hands into the line of delightful orange chips that was passing me by.  

Photo Cred- Ketchum
The actual work of the machines was incredible.  Very few actual people littered the production floor, and those that were seemed to just be making sure that the machines were operating smoothly.  However that doesn't mean that Frito-Lay is a hands off operation.  Quite the contrary!  Every four hours the quality folks are running quality spot checks, comparing their freshly produced product with a control bag.  The control bag is a sealed, white bag sent from a special Frito-Lay factory.  In this bag are contained, what are supposed to be, the perfect chips.  They are created in a controlled environment, slower than the mass produced chips, and in completely perfect conditions.  The Quality teams at Frito-Lay then use these bags to compare to what is coming off of their production floor.  The flavor, texture, crunch, and appearance of the chips are all called into question, and the team must agree unanimously on the rating scale.  If any of the criteria vary too greatly from the control, the entire line may be shut down and the problem fixed immediately.  Lesser offenses may require a change in the line, though not a full halt of production.  On the day of my visit- the factory in Killingly was making chips that were exceeding the control bag- how's that for quality?

What may also surprise you, is Frito-Lay's dedication to providing as healthy of a product as they can.  Since the '80's they have been consistently ahead of the trend in changing their oil types from good to bad, in bringing out their baked and reduced fats line, and in embracing the ideas of portion control.  Frito-Lay also continues to try to find new ways to add in more vitamins and healthy ingredients to their offerings.  

So what did I learn on my dream come true trip to the Frito-Lay Factory?  
  • Watching a factory perform at peak levels and make their products in minutes is awesome.  No two ways about it- it's awesome.  
  • Frito-Lay chips are not the worst snack ever, in fact they really aren't that bad for you at all.
  • Consistency of quality within every bag of chips is of utmost importance.
So go ahead, grab a bag, those are some tasty spuds in the Frito-Lay bag!   

Monday, September 20, 2010

Project Food Blog- Please Vote For Me!

Good Morning all!

Those of you who know me personally know that I have a severe love for for my blog.  It isn't just something I do to pass the time, it is a tool to help me explore and celebrate my passion in food.  Long before A Boston Food Diary began I was obsessed with food- and remember many a times bringing elaborate dishes to Saturday night parties where food wasn't perhaps the main attraction.  I did this because my brain never stops thinking about food, and A Boston Food Diary has been a great outlet for that.

Over the weekend I posted an entry titled Ready, Set, BLOG! This entry is part of a contest sponsored by FoodBuzz (whose ads you see on the site) for which I am a featured publisher.  The contest is to name the next Food Blog Star, and with the winning prizes in fame and fortune (seriously- top prize is $10,000).  If you have a few moments today- would you please vote for me? http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/1/view/341   

Thank you all so much!!!



Sunday, September 19, 2010

Soup's On!

"If soup isn't hot enough to make a grown man wince, it's undrinkable."
~Grey Livingston

"Soup is just a way of screwing you out of a meal."
~Jay Leno

No matter which you agree with, today was a monumental day for me. Today was the day that I made my first pot of soup for the season! I love soup. I adore making a big pot of warming, hearty soup during the colder months and bringing it for lunch all week long. I honestly cannot think of a better lunch than soup with a crusty loaf of bread....yum.

What do you look forward to as a favorite lunch?

Happy sunday! I'm off to enjoy the end of my weekend!







Friday, September 17, 2010

Ready, Set, BLOG!


We have a long standing family joke- don't ask my mother to make the same meal twice. When my sister and I were young, she used to make to most delicious meals. However, my mother, like me, rarely used recipes, and rarely measured her ingredients. As a result, try as she might, she was often unable to replicate meals that she had made. The best example was when my sister requested duplicate of a delicious Italian pasta salad for her birthday one year. The resulting dinner had many more qualities of lo mein. I started A Boston Food Diary as a way to keep track of my own recipes, so I wouldn't suffer the same fate of course, and to explore my inherent passion of food.


New England Seafood Salad
While keeping track of what I'm making has been incredibly helpful as there have been some meals I have wanted to make over and over, I think that it is my passion and my unique twists on classic dishes that really define me as a food blogger. One of my greatest joys is thinking about ingredients and devising new ways to use them. I rarely use recipes so I get to let my imagination run wild to include whatever finds I can pick up at local markets, or what I can use in my very own fridge or pantry. A half pound of turkey meat asks to be made into a mock sausage patty for a decadent burger night. A simple can of beans transforms itself into a hearty, warming bowl of soup in a moments notice. Almost forgotten spinach finds itself blended with garlic, Parmesan and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice for a unique pesto. Every ingredient can be matched with others to find entirely new twists on old favorites.



Blueberry Thyme Pancakes
To me, food isn't just about sustaining ones self, it is about finding comfort in art. It is about finding utter joy with each forkful. It is about creating memories through each pinch of salt, and each teaspoon of parsley. Through A Boston Food Diary I try to bring you, my readers, through every bite with me, from my thoughts and desires in deciding my next meal, through my selections and choices, and finally through every forkful that crosses my lips. I even like to throw in a few educational pieces here and there in case you like to know exactly what it is that makes blue cheese blue, or the difference between pesto and pistou.

So why should I be the Next Food Blog Star? Food blogging isn't something I choose to do, it is just a part of me. Food inhabits every piece of my being and it is only a natural act for me to discuss it with all of you. Beyond that...I promise to bring you only the tastiest recipes and keep trying new ingredients to share with you!





2nd Annual Hogtoberfest, Nantucket

Like pork?  Enjoy some good barbecue?  The 2nd Annual Hogtoberfest is coming to Nantucket October 16th and 17th!  This full weekend celebration of the pig is organized by Chefs Michael LaScola and Matt Jennings of American Seasons and The Farmstead and La Laiterie respectively.  These two have cooked up an itinerary that should make connoisseurs and pork novices alike drool with delight:

(From the press release):
Saturday, October 16
                        ‘This Little Piggy’ Carving Demo – 10am, $25
Enjoy a back-of-house demo, led by Michael & Matt, on how to maximize an   entire pig from snout-to-tail. These chefs are well versed in using low-on-the-pig cuts in preparing delectable dishes.
                       
                        Pork & Beer Tasting at Cisco Brewers – afternoon
Savor grilled sausage, bacon and other pork bites with craft beer pairings while touring Cisco Brewers, Nantucket’s famed micro-distillery. 

                        ‘All Things Pork’ Dinner – starting at 5:30pm
Enjoy a bevy of pork specials during dinner service along with wine pairings from American Seasons’ 500+ all-American wine list, including 30 high-end, small production wines by the glass, and pigtails (pork-inspired cocktails).  

                        Sunday, October 17
                        Beer Master Class – afternoon
Beer Genius Kirk Struble of Westside Brewing Company demonstrates how pork & beer is truly a match made in heaven with a tasting that pairs craft brews with pork delicacies.

                        ‘Ode to Pig’ Dinner – starting at 5:30pm, $135
Michael & Matt come together to create a prix-fixe dinner made entirely of “This Little Piggy.” Each course is paired with craft beer from Portland, Maine’s Peak Organics Brewing Company and wine from American Seasons’ extensive, all-American wine list.  Pigtails will also be featured
Sounds good right?  If you'd like to attend please call 508-228-7111 to save your place at these great events!

Morton’s and the Mondavi Families: Celebrating the Legendary Blend

Steak and wine, in my mind go hand in hand.  I love a delicious pure tasting steak, complimented by a perfectly spiced, warming glass of red wine.  To me, there is no better pairing.  On Thursday, October 7, Morton's is bringing this match made in heaven to an all new level by hosting  the largest ever Virtual Wine Makers dinner.  In history breaking fashion the Mondavi families are setting aside their differences and coming together in one grand fashion.  Michael Mondavi of Folio Fine Wine Partners, Tim Mondavi and Marcia Mondavi Borger of Continuum Estate and Peter Mondavi, Sr., Peter Mondavi, Jr. and Marc Mondavi of Charles Krug Winery will all be broadcasting live from the Carriage House at the Charles Krug Winery in Napa, into the private dining rooms at Morton's across the US as they lead their dinner guests on a tour of their vineyards, all paired with the cuisine of Morton's.  

The menu includes:
Reception
Smoked Salmon Pizza
Tenderloin Crostinis
Miniature Crab Cakes
Charles Krug – Peter Mondavi Family, Napa Valley, Sauvignon Blanc, 2009

Salad
Harvest Green Salad with Sea Bass and Roasted Caper Vinaigrette
Isabel Mondavi, Sonoma Carneros, Chardonnay, 2008
Entrée
New York Strip Sirloin
Baked Sweet Onions with Gruyère
Roasted Tomato stuffed with Leaf Spinach
Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes
Continuum, Napa Valley, 2007
M by Michael Mondavi, Amino Vineyard, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006
Charles Krug – Peter Mondavi Family, Napa Valley, VS Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006

Dessert
Cappuccino Cream
Charles Krug – Peter Mondavi Family, Napa Valley, Zinfandel Port, Lot XIII

 The evening kicks off at 8:00 pm on October 7th at the Morton's Seaport in Boston.  It winds down at 10:30 pm and includes a silent auction as well.  Tickets cost $175.00 per person, tax and gratuity included.  Please call 617-526-0410 to make reservations.

This promises to be an incredible evening.  I have always been a fan of the Mondavi Vineyards and have found their wines to be consistently delicious.   Though a bit pricey- this event may just be worth it!!

 

Culinary Guild of New England Kicks Off Their Year!

Over the past 30 odd years the culinary scene in Boston has evolved into a vibrant and exciting place.  Begun in 1979, the Culinary Guild of New England witnessed the full evolution, and some may say helped spark it.  They are kicking off their 2010-2011 season on October 4th with it's annual Opening Meeting for both members and the general public.  This meeting will be held at the Commanders Mansion in Watertown, and features guest speaker Kathy Gunst, the voice held as the resident chef on the NPR program "Here and Now".

The Culinary Guild of New England began as the brain child of several local women who were beyond passionate about food, and though they dedicated much of their time to the craft, they lacked any type of support network.  They began the Guild as a way to form connections and bonds between other women who were wrapped up in food.  Today they accept membership from both women and men, and strive to bring a series of events each year that will cultivate conversation, learning and support for all members.

Of course many of their programs are member based, but their Opening Meeting is open to the public, and all are welcome!


Complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served.


October 4, 2010; 6:30 pm
Commander's Mansion, 440 Talcott Avenue Watertown, MA 02472
Reservation Required!



Thursday, September 16, 2010

Skoah, South End, Boston

Soooo I cheated a little... I got an invitation for an event tonight that wasn't about food, and I went anyway. I do try to keep the events about town to food related, but when I'm asked to come down and check out a hot new spa opening up in the South End, well I just can't resist!

Skoah is now open on Tremont Street in the South End.

Skoah is a Canadian based company with an interesting tag line "personal training for your skin". This is a no frills product line committed to getting you results. Their. Product line is committed to solving the concerns you have, and their staff is committed to helping you find the right match for your skin. Even this evening, as popular as the event was in a cozy space, the staff was incredibly helpful and ready to assist with any questions.

I'm excited to try out Skoah for a treatment, but I have a great feeling about it.

The rest of my evening was cozy and warm with a delicious bowl of hot soup for dinner, and now Entourage on the TV. Happy Thursday night to you all!


Skoah, South End, Boston (off the food topic)

Soooo I cheated a little... I got an invitation for an event tonight that wasn't about food, and I went anyway. I do try to keep the events about town to food related, but when I'm asked to come down and check out a hot new spa opening up in the South End, well I just can't resist!

Skoah is now open on Tremont Street in the South End.

Skoah is a Canadian based company with an interesting tag line "personal training for your skin". This is a no frills product line committed to getting you results. Their. Product line is committed to solving the concerns you have, and their staff is committed to helping you find the right match for your skin. Even this evening, as popular as the event was in a cozy space, the staff was incredibly helpful and ready to assist with any questions.


I'm excited to try out Skoah for a treatment, but I have a great feeling about it.

The rest of my evening was cozy and warm with a delicious bowl of hot soup for dinner, and now Entourage on the TV. Happy Thursday night to you all!

“Slow Cooked Bolognese” For a Wednesday

Bordering on getting a little too sappy- there are some people who just make me smile.  I met my friend Lauren in French Class during my freshman year of High School.  I was the new kid in school, and I was terrified, but she, and a few of the other kids in that class somehow made me feel welcome and became some of my first friends at the new school.  Actually, now that I look back- that French class was pretty awesome!  There were some great people in there.  Kudos to learning verb conjugation and watching crazy French movie!  C’est Boom?  I think there was a movie called that.  Anyway- I’m stumbling down memory lane as opposed to finding my point.  Lauren and I have remained good friends and so the other day when she asked if I would like some tomatoes from her mom’s garden- well- I couldn’t refuse! Of course, knowing Lau’s mom I should have known that the package that was brought to me would be more than just a few tomatoes from the garden.  Lauren’s mom is always so lovely and generous, and had included not only some beautiful red and yellow tomatoes, but beautiful tiny round tomatoes (Sweet olives?), a gorgeous eggplant, two lovely peppers, and wonderful packages of herbs (parsley, basil, thyme, rosemary, mint…) all labeled and perfectly preserved.  I was in gift garden heaven!! 

I wanted to rip into the bounty immediately, unfortunately my schedule the past few days prevented me from doing so until last night.  Last night, dinner at home, and John’s request- something with Pasta and with Meat.  There we stood, in the market, staring at the meat counter as I racked my brain to come up with the perfect meal that would satisfy John’s craving.  Finally, I had it.  Steak tips cooked in a tasty red tomato sauce, bursting with flavor from beautiful, lovely eggplant, and wonderful herbs.  We purchased the necessary, and some not at ALL necessary, ingredients and headed home to make dinner.

“Slow Cooked Bolognese” For a Wednesday:
3 strips bacon, cut into small pieces
1 tsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1.5 lb steak tips, patted dry and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper
½ cup of good red wine
1 small eggplant, diced
1 small green bell pepper, diced
1 small red pepper, diced
2 tbsp + 1 tbsp fresh Italian Parsley, chopped
2 tbsp + 1 tbsp fresh Basil, chopped
1 large can, San Marzano Diced Tomatoes
1 tbsp Sundried Tomato Tapenade
1 tbsp Olive paste
1 tsp Tomato Paste
Salt and pepper

¼ lb orrechiette pasta, or your favorite type, cooked al dente


Begin by placing the pieces of bacon in a single layer in the bottom of a large skillet, pre heated, over medium to medium high heat.  Once crisped, remove the bacon from the pan, and discard 3/4s of the bacon grease.  Remove from heat for a few moments to allow to cool slightly, and then add the olive oil, and the garlic.  If your pan is too hot the garlic will burn and become bitter, if you see this happening, remove the pan again from the heat and continuously stir the garlic for a matter of minutes. 

Once the pan has been returned to the heat, add the steak tips, in a single layer and brown on both sides.  Lower the heat to medium and add the 2 tbsp parsley, the eggplant, and the wine.  Let simmer for a few moments as the alcohol cooks out, and then add the peppers, 2 tbsp basil, the tomatoes, tapenade, and the pastes.  Allow to simmer and taste periodically, season as needed. 

Allow the sauce to simmer for about 20 minutes to a half an hour (or as long as you can wait for dinner) over low heat, and then add the pasta and stir. Plate in big bowls, sprinkle the crisp bacon, and remaining herbs over the top.

Serves 3-4

This was such a tasty meal!  The flavors of the sauce, I’m sure helped along by the smoky bacon grease and the wine, were nice and full, rounded as they might have been if they had been a slow cooking recipe.  The beauty though was that after a long work day, this same type of flavor was achieved in a much shorter amount of time.  The steak tips were moist and tender, filled with lovely flavor of bacon, wine and fresh herbs. This was a perfect meal on a chilly fall evening. 

Recipes like this one, you can definitely go a bit lighter on the salt because this incorporated ingredients like store bought canned tomatoes, and the sun dried tomato tapenade, and olive paste where I wasn’t able to control the amount of salt.  Definitely taste as the sauce develops to see if you need more salt before adding it. 

I am so thrilled I was able to incorporate so many of the lovely garden veggies and herbs that Mrs. T sent over- they were all perfectly beautiful. I actually made myself a monster salad with the tomatoes as I couldn’t bear to combine them with canned anything, and they were absolutely delicious!!!  Thank you so very, very much!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What Would You Do?

I have had a very hectic week running around Boston and even other states, so I was thrilled when John suggested having an "in" night tonight. We had originally planned on heading to one of our favorite Italian spots, but staying in sounded soooooo much better. I asked John to name what he wanted for dinner and he gave me two words - meat and pasta. Normally those two words are music to my ears, but tonight it left me scratching my head in the store. I finally settled on a mock slow cooked meal, a rustic Italian meal full of deep flavors. I love when a meal I felt lost about comes together in the end....

What would you make if you were given the words Meat and Pasta?

I'll post my solution later in the week.

Off to watch Bravo Top Chef Finale now!



International Chocolate Day at The Bristol Lounge, a Recap

I would never attempt to deny it- I love chocolate.  I love it.  Every year for my birthday when I'm asked what type of cake Id like- I request the same, chocolate cake, chocolate icing, raspberry jam filling.  It's tasty, it's decadent....well it's amazing.  My family may get a little tired of it- but that's what birthdays are for right?  Chocolate is my go to when I've had a rough day, when I want to celebrate something, and when I'm craving just something sweet.  It is the ultimate indulgence for me, that I might indulge in a bit too often.  However, when I heard that Monday September 13th was International Chocolate Day and the Bristol Lounge in Boston's Four Seasons Hotel was sponsoring a little celebration- well I knew I had to be there!

I attended a similar event in celebration of Oyster Day a few weeks back and had a ball at the Bristol. Their lounge is just the right mix of sophistication and fun, elegance and casualty, and their staff is charming and helpful.  The International Chocolate Day event included a full chocolate buffet, catered by Hotel Chocolat on Newbury Street, all for the cost of a wonderful chocolate martini, or a bit of food.  I had to start with the martini, I truly enjoy a proper dessert martini, and I had a feeling this one would be delicious.  I was correct.  I was served a beautiful chocolate raspberry martini, the rim coated with shaved chocolate, deliciously cold, perfectly bittersweet, and accented with the most lovely fresh raspberry in the bottom of my glass.  I long sipped that martini, thrilled to have it's luxurious refreshment.  I must admit, I could have used a bit more raspberry flavor to the mix, though the hints that I did have were subtly in the background and allowed the chocolate to shine. 


Finally, after much hemming and hawing, I headed to the chocolate table to score a few bites of "the good stuff".  Now, several months ago I visited Hotel Chocolat and tried their indulgent wares and had some concerns over their flavorings.  Since that time I have retried their chili chocolate and have found that it's heat is actually quite nice, contrary to my original thought that it wasn't quite spicy enough.  I had not re tried their liquor truffles though, and I was excited to give them a second go.  I found their truffles a bit of an enigma.  They have very strong flavor to them.  Each bite makes me feel as though I should hold my breath and just do it, as if it were an actual shot of alcohol, however I also find them to be insanely addictive.  As much as I dreaded the "shot" feeling- I went back for more and more.  The quality of the chocolate itself is quite nice, pure and smooth, not overly sweet, the perfect mix really.  The liquor fillings in the truffles are quite simply addictive.  I remain a bit perplexed with Hotel Chocolat, happy to have tried them again, and considering a third approach...I might be under their spell...

I must also mention, we had the opportunity to try the Bristol Lounges French Fry Trio.  Wow- those were some amazing french fries! Three little baskets of fries arrived, one filled with truffle fries, spotted with fresh parsley, another sweet potato fries shining in their simplicity, and the last were a Cajun creation-sweet and spicy all at the same time.  With them arrived four dipping sauces, the first a jazzed up ketchup, deliciously lacking any acidic burn but rather mellowing out to a lovely spot after the initial flavor faded, an absolutely delicious lemon mayo that I found almost more addictive then the fries themselves, a spicy ketchup with the flavors of salsa in a lovely thick sauce, and finally an herb cream sauce, with similar flavors to a ranch but 100 times better.  This was my first introduction to food at The Bristol Lounge, but I can tell it won't be my last- the fries, as ordinary as fries can be, were delicious.

I can confidently say that I am a fan of events at The Bristol Lounge- they are well put together, and appealing to many.  The casual atmosphere lends itself to a fun evening, while the elegance allows one to easily savor the finer elements.

Of course, I am still glowing from my win of their prize of the evening- a lovely bag to be filled with chocolate from Hotel Chocolat, and an overnight stay in a suite at the Four Seasons.  I rarely win contests- and this one made my day!  I am already planning a meal at The Bristol the evening of the hotel stay :-)

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