Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cioppino!

In my religion, in my family, and in my Italian heritage, Christmas Eve is often known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes. The origin of this feast is found in Souther Italy, however the exact meaning of it has several possible answers. The tradition stands though that on the eve before Christ was born, Italian Catholics celebrate with seven different seafood dishes. Each year in my family we pay homage to this idea by creating our entree for the night around a seafood theme. Rarely do we actually meet the seven fishes goal, but always end up with a tasty treat. This year we decided to have Cioppino for Christmas Eve, a perfect and delicious seafood stew.







Cioppino roots back to the 1800's, when Portuguese and Italian fishermen in San Francisco would combine the leftovers of their catches of the day into a tomato based stew. This would often be served with bread (more often than not sour dough-come on it is San Fran- or baguette) on the side. I love these types of dishes, rustic and hearty, geared towards simple preparation but delicious and filling meals.








I was actually surprised at how easy it was to make Cioppino, I had gotten it in my head that it would be complex and stressful- I think I have that opinion about everything that involves seafood. I am, apparently, intimidated by cooking seafood. There you have it. However, Cioppino...easy- peasy!







I loosely followed the recipe from this website (http://www.thegutsygourmet.net/cioppino1.html ), but added more wine, and a bit more fresh herbs and used only littleneck clams, shrimp, scallops, and scrod in my preparation. The base of the soup however had wonderful flavor, with depth to it from the variety of herbs, onion and garlic, and a wonderful rounded finish from the wine. The best part of this dish though was that I was able to start the broth early in the day and let it simmer until it was time to eat, I added the seafood and moments later I was serving a tasty meal to my family.







Cioppino is an easy entertaining meal, quick to prepare, but able to serve with flourish. This one is definitely a keeper!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Baguettes: Homemade, Crusty and Delicious!










I was forced to take a bit of downtime the past few days as I was struck with a dastardly flu bug Christmas morning and am just now recovering. Unfortunately that made it a little difficult to get too excited about food, so I thought I'd save my thoughts on Christmas Eve dinner til I was feeling better.








So to kick things off, I conquered one of my biggest goals on Christmas Eve- I made French Baguettes! I love, I mean LOVE, a good loaf of fresh, crackly on the outside soft on the inside French bread. Is there anything better? I love the very idea of the baguette, the image it's shape conjure of riding through the streets of Paris on a bicycle with a loaf artfully displayed carried in it's basket. Ok maybe a bit cheesy, but honestly it's basically the perfect loaf. It's light flavor perfect on it's own, or paired with simple sweet butter, spread with salty and creamy Brie, or as a vehicle for soups and stews...it is just a perfect accompaniment. So, given my love, it was a big accomplishment for me to set out and make my own.










I decided to follow the recipe on the King Arthur Flour website (http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/classic-baguettes-recipe). I won't completely recap the recipe here, but I will say that it was a lot easier than I had anticipated it would be. I chose to follow the directions for using an electric mixer (the hook attachment on my kitchen aid), which made the initial kneading simple, though I feel that I might have let it go a bit too long and over kneaded the dough. The next several steps were simple, a matter of allowing the dough to rest and rise, punching it down and then again allowing it to rest and rise several times over. Once those steps were complete then it was a matter of forming the baguettes, and again allowing them to rise. From there it was just a matter of "misting" the loaves with water and popping them in the oven. 20 minutes later the bread was a beautiful beautiful golden brown. Having watched far too many hours of The Food Network, I knew that if a baguette sounds hollow on the inside when you tap on it, a good loaf has been made- mine sounded hollow!










My only concern with my bread was that it was a bit dense inside, which I blame on my initial kneading as a bit too much. Otherwise though...it was a success!










I find it both awesome, and slightly dangerous, that beautiful fresh French Baguettes are so easy to make, and so undeniably delicious. If someone needs to roll me out of my front door-you'll know it's because I fell victim to they yeasty goodness of French bread...probably with Brie.












Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Day of Firsts!

It has been a day of firsts here in the kitchen of A Boston Food Diary! I am very excited to host Christmas Eve dinner this year, and I really want to make it a delicious affair. Most of tomorrows menu I can make tomorrow, but I decided to make a cake that I could throw together today, and serve tomorrow. "Throw together" would be the key term on this one.





The recipe I found (courtesy of the Greyston Bakery-I love those guys) included a couple techniques that I just haven't worked with before. The first was boiling oranges. Have you ever boiled an orange before? It was actually sort of cool to watch. The bright orange spheres bobbed along in the water, rotating in the bubbling water, and as the skin became more supple, the bright red juice from the blood orange bled into it creating a beautiful marble affect. It was honestly rather cool.







Next step was to cut the oranges into pieces and purée them. Um awesome. The skin had become so supple that the purée was smooth and wonderful. The smell of pure orange brought me right back to the soccer fields when I was young and orange slices were readily available during half time. Who knew what delights could come from pureeing an orange?





Later I had my first experience with beating egg whites into firm peaks, and then folding them into the rest of the cake batter. Two things- the beating part took a lot longer than I thought it would. It seemed to take forever for the bubbly stage to dissipate and the liquid form into a more liquid state and then start to thicken and then finally stiffen. Second note, it was oddly harder than I thought to fold the whites into the mix. I'm hoping I got them completely folded in. Of course the good part is that the point of adding egg whites is to add air to the mix, so the beautiful part was watching the cake batter "fluff" up as the whites elevated it.





The cakes are currently cooling-recipe and post eating thoughts once I have indulged in what smells like an amazing cake!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Winter Vacation!

Traditions are the best aren't they? Well this one may be my favorite: every year I take off as much time as my schedule will allow for the holidays, general merriment and relaxation. TODAY starts my two week vacation!

So how have I celebrated? Up bright and early for a good gym session, and then back here at home I whipped myself up a bit of a decadent breakfast and am now pouring through cookbooks for recipes and ideas for Christmas Eve dinner which I get to host this year! Cioppino has been decided on as our main course, so now I'm looking at desserts, appetizers and side ideas! This is really is the best way to spend a day!




My decadent breakfast this morning? Christmas morning I always remember having those delicious Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. Piping hot, spicy with cinnamon and sticky sweet with that odd icing in a white little plastic thing? Delicious in my book! Well I bought a pack a few months ago to make an easy apple crisp ( this is the easiest ever-I'll post it some day!), but never made it. So today, in celebration of my winter break- I popped them in the oven.




One of those with a single scrambled egg, a banana and a good cup of coffee- I am ready to brainstorm and delve into cookbooks all day!













Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Party Dips- AND a Give Away- a REALLY good one!

I love dip.  Its a weird infatuation that I have.  Creamy dips, cheesy dips, salsa, guacamole- if I can use it to enhance a chip or a carrot stick-I'm all for it. So when Frito Lay asked me to come up with a few dips that could be served during holiday parties this season, and to be paired with their tasty chip creations- I jumped at the chance! 

I put together two different dips, one cheesy and toasty warm- perfect way to warm up from the chilly air outside, the other creamy, and spicy, bringing a whole different kind of heat to your parties! 

Frito Lay sponsored my dip creations by sending a long a very helpful gift card for me to use in purchasing my ingredients, and they'd like to do the same for you!  So, do you have a party coming up?  Perhaps to kick off the new year?  Post a comment on this post about your favorite dip, or party food, and the folks at Frito Lay will select a random winner, and send them a $100.00 gift card and a few bags of some tasty chips to help out with a perfect holiday shindig!  Sounds pretty great right? Get those tasty party creations in- winner will be selected on December 27th, 2010!


Warm cheesy dip straight from the oven!
 "Easier than Pie!" Cheesy Herb Dip

12 oz low fat ricotta cheese
2-3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
olive oil
salt
1 medium sized tomato, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup shredded, low fat mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

In your food processor, or a small bowl with an immersion blender (my preferred method), combine Ricotta, garlic, basil, and parsley, slowly adding olive oil until the ricotta takes on a "whipped" consistency, smooth, with all of the ingredients fully combined.  Add salt to taste. Stir in tomato and 1/4 cup of mozzarella cheese.  Spoon into ramekins, or one baking dish, top with remainder of cheese and bake at 400 degrees until the cheese melts (about 10 minutes, maybe longer depending on the depth of your baking dish). 

Pair with Frito-Lay Frito Scoops! or Lay's Original Potato chips for a great dip pairing!

Low Fat Creamy Salsa Dip

1 can cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed
6 tsp chopped cilantro
2 cloves garlic
1/2 an avocado
1 lime (juice of)
Olive Oil
Salt
1/2 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen and defrosted)
1/2 cup chopped and seeded tomato
1 jalapeno, chopped
1/2 cup chopped red onion

Combine beans, cilantro, garlic, avocado, and lime juice in a food processor, slowly adding olive oil to form a creamy paste- about a tablespoon to a tablespoon and a half.  Salt to taste.  Transfer the blend into a bowl and add corn, tomato, jalapeno, and red onion.  Stir to combine.  

Serve with Tostito's Scoops! (I like the multi grain variety) and Frito Scoops!  to be sure that each bite has lots of chunky salsa goodness!

So now that I've gotten the ball rolling- what are your favorite dip and party creations??  

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Code Blue: your guide on the road to recovery this holiday season

Anyone else feeling a little rundown lately? As much as I love the holidays, they can really take it out of you! The running hither and yon for errands and picking up gifts for loved ones, parties and gatherings with friends, and then the extra gym visits to keep the merriment in check- it can all really get you feeling out of sorts. Luckily for me, a couple of months ago I was sent a box of Code Blue to try out and it has been keeping me right as rain!




Code Blue is billed as an all natural recovery drink, packed with nutrients and electrolytes (3 times more than the average). It's formula was developed by scientists and includes Glutathione and N-Acetyl-Cysteine, antioxidants, prickly pear fruit extract, which helps liver functions (one too many at the company party last night?), and several other vitamins and minerals to further assist with liver and kidney functions (including vitamin c, b, e, potassium, etc).

Even better, Code Blue is a tasty and refreshing way to put a little pep in your step. Sweetened with Agave juice and lightly carbonated, it is easy to sip and immediately starts refreshing your system. Good stuff.

Definitely check out Code Blue after your next work out, late night baking session, or social gathering!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas is Coming...

“"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best -- " and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called” ~ Winnie the Pooh

That is exactly how I'm feeling today. I LOVE Christmas. I love everything about it- the giving of gifts, the merriment, the decorations, the magic that is in the air... Something about every minute of the days and weeks leading up to the holiday seems to be charged with electricity. But right around now I start to get a little sad because I know that soon it will all be over. So I spent today relishing every minute of this fantastic season.








I started off by getting a Gingerbread Latte from Starbucks. I adore those things!!! I wait for them to come out every year and have to indulge a few times per season. Yum-it's like Christmas in a cup. My cup this morning was perfect, and definitely got me jazzed up for a day of Christmas errands.

I headed into town and picked up the last few gifts, some christmas cards and then it was off to the grocery store! Frito Lay has asked me to come up with some holiday dip recipes for them (yum!) so I stopped off to pick up the needed ingredients. One is done and man, it is addictive!!!

How are you feeling about Christmas? Excited or stressed this year?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fondue Sundays at Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro

Cheese...lets discuss it for a minute. A slice of sharp cheddar over apple pie, the warm and creamy treasure inside Brie en croute, a tangy blue mixed with smokey bacon in a delicious dressing...cheese is delicious in all sorts of forms. Even better than all of those options is that wonderful dish that celebrates delicious melted cheese. Fondue, which features a steaming hot pot of cheese, melted and combined with herbs and wine and all sorts of delicious things, and served with bread for dipping. To me, fondue is a perfect way to celebrate cheese.

Starting this Sunday, December 19, Beacon Hill Hotel and Bistro will be starting Fondue Sundays. Each Sunday, from now till Spring, patrons can enjoy a pot of fondue which serves 2-4 people, for $26.00 between 5:30 and 10:00 pm. Each pot is served with accompaniments of boiled small potatoes, cornichon pickled vegetables and Iggys bread. Additionally, if for some reason some members of your party aren't craving the melted goodness (though I can't imagine why they wouldn't) then the fully regular dinner menu will also be served.

Reservations and more information can be obtained by calling 617-723-7575.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Atlantic Fish Company, Back Bay, Boston

The holidays are all about tradition, aren't they? When I was growing up, every year my family had a tradition of making a group trip to an area mall to Christmas shop. Of course the group trip was more out of necessity than anything as my sister and I were less than mobile not having licenses and all. Even still though, it was one of my favorite days of the year and definitely kicked off the Christmas season for me. When all of the shopping was done, and treasures purchased, we would gather at Legal Seafood, the true New Englanders that we are, and have dinner together. As the years went on and we all got older and busier we lost sight of this tradition a bit, so Saturday night I decided to try to bring it back. In the midst of the mobs of busy shoppers, carols filling the crisp night air, and boughs of evergreen and holly decking the walls, my mother and I ducked into Atlantic Fish Company to enjoy another seafood meal.


Atlantic Fish Company, situated right on Boylston Street across from the Pru, is affiliated with the Back Bay Restaurant Group, a conglomerate of restaurants. Within the Boston food community, restaurants in this group are often not highly regarded, I, however, have always enjoyed my experiences at Atlantic Fish.


We arrived a bit early for our 7:30 reservation, and though the lobby was packed, I was pleased that the hosts were efficiently seating their guests, and even got us to our table before our reserved time. Feeling celebratory, I started with a glass of prosecco as we perused the menu. Our waiter informed us of the specials and I was thrilled to hear that they were featuring fresh Maine shrimp as an appetizer special. I love Maine shrimp, they are small and sweet, and their season is short. We seized the opportunity and ordered the special which was shrimp cooked with artichoke and sun dried tomatoes in a wine and butter sauce. It was decadent and delicious. The artichoke hearts, combined with the tomato created just the right acidity to contrast the rich butter, and the natural sweetness of the shrimp. It was a delicious start to our meal.


One of the aspects about Atlantic Fish that I really love is their list of "fresh caught" seafood choices that you can have prepared to your choosing and pair with your choice of side dishes. I selected the Yellowfin Tuna, grilled to rare, paired with sauteed spinach and green beans for my entree. My mom chose their cod which was laid over corn chowder and paired with shrimp and bits of bacon. My tuna was perfect. A beautiful rare inside, accompanied by wasabi, pickled Ginger and soy sauce. The flavor of the tuna was fresh and clean, I barely dressed it with any of the additives. The spinach was a bit over cooked and a bit greasy for my taste, reminding me of that spinach that is frozen in a box and then steamed to cook- it renders almost a gritty taste to the tongue- I swear that's why kids don't like spinach. The beans were tasty though, if also a little greasy.


My moms dish was absolutely delicious. The cod was perfectly cooked, laid over a rich and creamy chowder. The bacon added a lovely smoky flavor that really contrasted well with the light fish.


As our waiter began to clear our plates, I realized that I was only just finishing my glass of prosecco, a glass that I had intended to enjoy only during the appetizer section. It was then that I realized how quickly we had been served. I had wanted to linger a bit, so we decided to have dessert, and I had another glass of wine. We decided on their fresh fruit tart to share. The fruit was pear mixed with cherries and ginger, topped with vanilla ice cream, which sounded perfect to me. It was served with a flourish of table side ice cream service. The tart had been warmed and the first several bites were flavor explosions of sweet pear, warm spices, and lovely cherries all coated in a buttery crumble topping. However, as we neared the center of the tart, it became obvious that the tart had been frozen before a short warming, and the center was still icy and the cherries frosted little rocks. I was nearing my shut off so I suppose the under done dessert was a blessing in disguise, but a disappointment just the same.


For the first time, my eyes were opened to the pitfalls of Atlantic Fish. Though service was accommodating and very nice, it was obvious they were trying to flip the table quickly. This idea was underlined by the still frozen dessert, obviously rushed through the warming process. Overall, the meal was enjoyable, however my opinion is a bit lowered and I can see a bit more now why others seem to toss it aside in favor of other spots.

What are your favorite holiday season traditions?





Happenings at Tremont 647!

Big things are happening folks!  Tremont 647 is making waves with a few different events kicking off!

First off- Tremont 647 is welcoming you in for a special Christmas Eve dinner- offering 2 courses of Chef Andy Husband's food for just $15.00!  Pretty fantastic deal for one of Boston's premiere celebrity chefs! 

Menu selections include:

Choice of:
** The Wedge, Iceberg, ranch dressing, apple wood smoked bacon bits
** Macaroni & Cheese, Vermont Cheddar, Ritz crumbles
** Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese, Classic.

 
------------------------------------
Choice of:
** Turkey Meat Loaf, Mash potatoes, roasted carrots
** Fried Chicken, Biscuit, gravy, collards
** Grill Roasted Vegetable Lasagna, balsamic seared raab, garlic bread
 
Tremont 647 is also kicking off their 14th year this year, and to celebrate Chef Husbands is looking for some new color for his walls!  In a bit of a redesign one wall of Tremont 647 will be dedicated to food themed tattoos.  So if you have some ink reflecting your love of culinary creations- snap a photo and send it over to askandy@tremont647.com and you just might see it on his wall of art soon! 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Smithfield Is Giving Back This Holiday Season!

Every holiday season I get caught up in all of the joy and excitement of purchasing that "perfect gift", and planning elaborate meals, menus, and appetizers for the different occasions presented with family and friends in town.  It brings me such joy to be able to do these things, to make special treats for those around me, and, especially if they friends I don't see often, I'll spare no expense.  However, I must be reminded that not everyone can engage in these types of lavish plans.  Many, far more than those who can, worry more about where their own next meal will come from, and how to provide for those dependent on them.
During these two months, December and January, Smithfield, the leading producer of fresh pork products and packaged meats, is making a commitment to help relieve some of the stress and worry from those less fortunate.  They have pledged that for every fan they gain on their Facebook page they will donate a serving of protein to to a food bank.  This is all part of their "Helping Hungry Homes" initiative.

For more information, and to become a fan on Facebook and help this amazing cause, please visit:  www.facebook.com/CookingwithSmithfield

Monday, December 13, 2010

Macadamia Brittle- Not Quite a Success!

Every so often, my mother and I decide to embark on a little adventure in the kitchen.  We choose something that we've never made before, find a recipe, normally tweak it, and then set out to make it.  Many times we end up with amazing successes, like this great bread casserole with pulled chicken and white wine and herbs- it's delicious.  Other times we have little failures that just makes us try again!

This past weekend, we decided to embark on a "brittle" journey, subbing out the classic peanuts, for macadamia nuts, orange zest, crushed pepper corns, and dried cranberries.  We may have gotten a little ahead of ourselves with the amount of ingredients, but I'll get to that later.

The basic recipe seemed easy enough, cook sugar, water and lemon juice together until it turned a deep amber color, place the whole pot in a container of ice water to cool the mix, add the nuts and spread in a greased cookie tray.  I believe that in the process, we made several errors.  The first was that we used a very large pot to ensure that there wouldn't be dangerous splattering of the hot sugar liquid.  The unfortunate part is that because the pot was so large, the candy thermometer couldn't get a good read on the shallow pool of liquid, so we had to by color.  Having never made brittle before- I'm sure we could have been better color guessers.





The second error I believe we made, I mis-read the directions (and you wonder why I rarely use recipes!) and thought that all of the bubbles had to disappear before adding the other ingredients to the cooling sugar mass.  I was wrong- the cooking process just needed to stop.  We added the nuts, fruit, zest, and pepper, but I feel that it was just too late- it mixed together but was a bear to remove from the pot. 

The flavor of the brittle was delicious- light citrus from the orange, lovely toasty goodness from the macadamia nuts, sweet tart flavor of cranberries...however the brittle wasn't brittle.  Though it stuck to everything, and formed a solid mass on every utensil we used, the actual brittle never hardened enough to lose it's full tacky texture.  Each piece we broke off rendered in a "soft" break, rather than the crisp "hard" break that we were looking for.  I believe that this issue comes from not cooking the sugar mix long enough, and to be honest- we probably just had too much STUFF mixed in.  Unfortunately this error made it pretty impossible to eat as every bite would stick to your teeth and make the whole experience rather unpleasant.  Definitely not a successful first attempt. 

We are definitely going to try again, hopefully with much more brittle-y brittle!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Funday

Ahhhhh Sunday! I feel as though I have fully maximized this rainy Sunday but getting caught up on a little sleep, be productive with laundry and grocery shopping, and making a giant pot of soup!

I love making soup-it's almost therapeutic to stand in my kitchen, blare my cooking soundtrack and chop veggies. Today's was especially fun, as I made a hearty minestrone that I'll enjoy all week (and then some) for lunch! My freezer is completely stocked with the stuff! I think minestrone is one of those perfect soups, hearty and filling and full of nutrients. That and the pot I have in there is really delicious!

Otherwise today my eating has been sporadic. I neglected to eat dinner before starting in on my "chores" for the day, so when I finally sat down I inhaled the left over corner of tuna I had leftover from dinner last night AND a BLT. Oops. As you can imagine I'm not super hungry for dinner now. I have a feeling it's going to be a "pick" night.

For now though I am watching the Pats dominate again this week...loving their performances!


Friday, December 10, 2010

Geoff & Drews, Gourmet Cookies and Brownies- Perfect for the holidays!

Cooookies... They are everywhere right now.  Everywhere I look there seems to be a plate of cookies just waiting to be devoured- it must be the holidays huh?  Given this delicious state of affairs lately, I was thrilled to accept an invitation to a cookie info and tasting session that was held last night at the Harvard Square Clover.  

The event featured the cookies and brownies of Geoff & Drew's, a locally based cookie gift company started in 2001.  Of course, high end cookie gifts wasn't the way that Geoff & Drew's began.  Started by four friends, their original idea was to delicious fresh warm cookies and milk to area college students needing a break from their studies.  Unfortunately, the logistics of this idea didn't work out as well for them, however they knew they had a good thing going with their cookies.  And so- the gift cookie business for Geoff & Drew's was born.  Today, they offer at least four different types of cookies including chocolate chunk, double fudge, oatmeal with cranberries, and white chocolate cranberry.  Each flavor has a delicate flavor obviously showcasing the quality real ingredients used.  Every bite tastes fully of butter and sugar and all of those wonderful ingredients that make up a delightful cookie.  However they don't stop there- Geoff & Drew's also makes a killer brownie! I indulged in a piece of a toffee brownie last night- and it was absolutely amazing.  Honestly- I don't think I can say too much more about it other than that they are outrageously delicious!

Geoff & Drew's has a great selection of Gingerbread Men and all of their gift boxes are artfully presented thereby making great gifts.  I can see these going over well with teachers, babysitters, coaches, etc.  AND just to "sweeten" the pot a bit, Geoff & Drew's has extended a 20% discount for you fantastic A Boston Food Diary readers!  When placing your order use discount code "Blog20" to receive a discount on your order (sales items not included). 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Boston's Best Chefs Teaching at the BCAE!

In a similar vain to my previous post today concerning all that is going on in Boston on a daily basis, there are some fabulous courses being offered at the Boston Center for Adult Education in January and February!

Of course we are all aware of some of those big name chefs in Boston, well imagine learning to cook with them??  Jody Adams, Gordon Hamersley, Nicole Coady and several others are all going to teaching courses at the BCAE and, in turn, teaching YOU how to cook!  Sounds pretty amazing right?  Not a bad gift idea either for that,um, challenged chef in your life?  

Please note the dates, times, chefs and prices below, and contact the BCAE (617-267-4430) to book!

January 11, 2011
“Behind the Line with Jody Adams”
6:00PM-9:30PM
Student: $70/ $60 Members / $15 Materials
Dinner Guest: $25
January 13, 2011
“Sweet Sips: Dessert and Beer Pairing with Finale”
6:00PM-9:30PM
$55/ $45 Members/ $25 Materials
January 18, 2011
“Winter Soups with Chef Paul Wahlberg of Alma Nove”
6:00PM- 9:00PM 
$60/ $50 Members/ $15 Materials 
January 24, 2011
"Dynamic Wines and Authentic Tapas with Taberna de Haro"
6:00PM-9:00PM 
$60/ $50 Members/ $15 Materials 

January 31, 2011
“Bistro Cooking at Home with Gordon Hamersley”
6:00PM-9:00PM 
$60/ $50 Members/ $15 Materials 

February 8, 2011
“French Inspired Comfort Food with Chef Jacky Robert”
6:00PM-9:30PM 
$60/ $50 Members/ $15 Materials 

Anna's Taqueria Names First Golden Spoon!

You know what I love about Boston?  I mean besides everything I wax on about several times a week (culture, architecture, food, people, sports teams, history, etc)- there is literally ALWAYS something going on.  Now to the untrained eye- we may look like a sleepy little city- town.  We seemingly only come out on weekends and on evenings of major sporting events, however look just slightly below the surface and you will find so many great things going on, every night of the week!

A perfect example of this?  Did you know that last week Anna's Taqueria awarded a Golden Spoon to their fastest Spoon Ninja?  Anna's workers are, of course, known for their lightening fast speed within which they can put together a burrito, it's more than impressive really.  So, after careful study, Anna's selected the best of the best and invited them to compete in their first ever Spoon Ninja (a name they refer to themselves as because of their impressive work with their spoons) Battle.  As luck would have it, Boston Herald writer Joshua Walovitch, aka the Burrito Boy, was also invited to compete.  He wrote up his thoughts on the battle here.

Now if you're wondering how you could possibly have missed the Spoon Ninja Battle (as I was when I received an email about it yesterday), it's because it wasn't announced publicly, but have no fear- video was taken of the event.  So I leave you with the video, for your viewing pleasure:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Event TONIGHT! Harpoon Beer Dinner at The Haven!

I'm a little late on posting this one guys, but tonight there is an event happening that is sure to be killer!  The Haven, a Scottish pub in Jamaica Plain serving up some killer Scottish cuisine, is hosting a Harpoon dinner tonight, pairing their tasty culinary creations with those wonderful beers from the Harpoon Brewery- sounds like a match made in heaven to me!

The menu for tonight's festivities is:

First Course:
  • Scotch Deviled Egg (Passed appetizer)
  • Beer Pairing: Winter Warmer (Half pint glasses)

Second Course:
  • Warm pickled PEI mussels, shaved fennel and grilled grapefruit salad, caper berries
  • Beer Pairing: White UFO (12 oz bottle)

Third Course
(family style):
  • Pheasant two ways, wild rice, spicy brussel sprouts, IPA pheasant jus
  • Beer pairing: Leviathan Imperial IPA (Growlers)

Fourth Course (family style):
  • Golden raising bread pudding, walnut craime anglaise, Harpoon cider whipped cream
  • Beer pairing: Munich Dark (Pitchers)                                  

Cost is $65 per person.
Time: 6:30 pm onwards.
Space is limited, please contact The Haven at 617-524-2836 for more information and to reserve your spot!
If you haven't been over to The Haven yet, this is a perfect event to introduce you to their fare, and believe me- the Scotch Egg shouldn't be missed! 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Happy Night

You know those nights where everything seems to come together? Where you look around and can only smile because you start to see the pieces? This was one of those nights.

It was funny because as I sat with my companions tonight, one began to explain why cooking is so enjoyable- that it isn't for the person doing the cooking, not really. It's for those who receive it, it is an ultimate gift. It is something that makes people happy. It is wonderful.

I thought that this quote perfectly summed it up:

"The true cook is the perfect blend, the only perfect blend, of artist and philosopher. He knows his worth: he holds in his palm the happiness of mankind, the welfare of generations yet unborn."
Norman Douglas (1868-1952)
 
I hope everyone is having a great night...GO PATS!

The Good Cookie: A Cookie from Greyston Bakery

A few months ago I had the amazing opportunity to visit the Greyston Bakery, located in Yonkers, New York, to tour their bakery, as well as the rest of the amazing foundation that they are apart of.  The full article can be found here, but as a refresher, the motto of Greyston is "We don't hire people to bake brownies, we bake brownies to hire people!".  This motto refers to the pledge that has been made to employ the otherwise "unemployable", to offer jobs to anyone who needs one, without references, background checks, or resumes.  The work that is being done in this bakery goes far beyond the delicious confections they produces, they are changing the lives of every one of their employees, in a profound and incredible way.

I could ramble on about the bakery, and the Greyston Foundation in general, for hours- anyone who has spent any time with me since my visit knows that, but today I wanted to concentrate on another side of things.  This weekend, after putting up my Christmas tree and relishing it's cheerfulness with its lights and decorations, I had a ridiculous urge to bake cookies.  Far too lazy to spend the time making cut out sugar cookies, or gingerbread men, I decided to pull out my Greyston Bakery Cookbook and turn to these wonderful folks for a recipe.  They did not fail me.  The recipe I settled on was simply titled the Good Cookie- a mix of lovely macadamia nuts folded into base similar to a chocolate chip cookie but with an extra egg.  The result?  Crisp, buttery, light and absolutely delicious.
  

I am choosing not to recount the entire recipe here (mainly because I think that you should all buy the cookbook and support this amazing organization), but I will tell you its highs and lows.  It calls for a cup of ground macadamia nuts- yum.  The texture variation that this added to the cookie, along with that silky macadamia flavor is just a major score.  Every bite gets a little rather than some bites getting a lot, and it creates a lovely special cookie.  The chocolate chips are of course delicious-when isn't chocolate?  They also do a lovely job of varying up the cookie and giving some relief to the macadamia flavor.  The cookie itself was almost effortlessly delicate, crispy where it should be, a little under baking rendered softer centers, less filling than a chocolate chip cookie almost reminding me of a short bread.  The downside?  Getting them off of my baking sheet was a bit of a challenge and I ended up with a few really ugly cookies, however, ugly or not, that didn't affect the taste!

The Greyston Bakery definitely has a winner with these cookies-and with their bakery cookbook.  If you like to bake, or know someone who does- this is definitely a great gift idea.  Maybe they will even thank you with some fresh baked treats!    

Sunday, December 5, 2010

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

I swear-the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year!  Everything is cheerful and happy, people are in good moods, there is a wonderful sense of charity in the air and everything is just buzzing.  I just love it.

This weekend was spent knee deep in holiday preparations with some shopping, some baking, and my tree was purchased, set up and decorated!!  I feel incredibly festive and ready for the season.  Though it probably hasn't hurt that the only tv I've been watching has been holiday movies.

I felt that this quote summarized my feelings well:
"There is nothing under the sun better for man than to eat, drink, and be merry. Go, therefore, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with cheer." ~Ecclesiastes 8:15

How do you get ready for the holidays?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Restaurant Pet Peeves

It's Friday.  It has been a long week (especially after a crazy short one last week) and I am in the middle of several recipes. So today, instead of listing off a half complete recipe, I thought today I would discuss my little list of restaurant grievances.  

Now, keep in mind, these are not directed at any particular establishment or person, just some things that drive me nuts when I go out to eat.

1.  The Mayo Paradox.  
There are several types of offenses here, but they both stem from the same origination: too much mayo.  Let's set the scene.  It's lunchtime, and you are craving a delicious sandwich to tide you over for your noon time meal.  You decide on a nice BLT, and you picture this lovely sandwich- toasted bread, juicy, ruby red tomatoes, crisp lettuce, strips of wonderful smoky bacon and a little mayo to tie it all together.  Doesn't that sound delightful?  Maybe it's whole wheat toast, and the nuttiness of the bread you know will just blend so perfectly with the salty smoke of the bacon, and the sweet tomato.  Then, you receive your sandwich, from the outside all seems picture perfect.  The bread is warm, you spy that cheerful tomato peeking out from under its cover of lettuce and there are those meaty strips bringing it all home.  But then, you take your first bite.  You don't taste the tomato, or the nutty grains of the bread, or even that lovely bacon.  All you taste, as it oozes out of the sandwich is the may, applied far too liberally, and thereby ruining a perfectly good sandwich. Shed a tear for that BLT- it's a goner.  Sure you could scrape off the excess offensive white stuff, but by the time that's done the bread will be cold, and you know that it will never fit together again properly so that the ingredients don't squeeze out during consumption.  Criminal.

The second offense with mayo- similar to above, but different in application.  Another lunchtime arrives, and this time your in the mood for a little tuna salad, or perhaps chicken salad, so you head to the deli and order a nice sandwich, the person making your sandwich heaps on mounds of the salad of your liking on to the bread of your choice- and then...to your horror adds additional mayo to the top slice of bread.  WHY?  Why must we have Mayo overload?  Somehow this needs to be addressed- we must stop the excess Mayo situation.

2.  Menu "Mis-Truths".  
"Oh what a tangled web we weave when we practice to deceive."  I will never understand this one.  Don't claim to use truffle oil if you're just using regular old vegetable oil.  Don't farm fresh produce if the lifeless greens on my plate obviously came from whatever distributor.  Don't claim Kobe when it's just not.  I will say this much, I am 100% more upset when I feel lied to on a menu, than if I had known going in what I was ordering.  

3.  Tell Me Like It Is
If you are out of the majority of the menu, please tell me that before I make my selection(s).  I get excited about the food I'm going to eat.  I read menus like they are in the coveted #1 spot on the New York Times Best Seller list.  I read every ingredient listed and imagine how they will be used and how they will work together.  It is truly upsetting to get that excited and then have my dreams killed...especially several times.  If it's just one item, fine, but if most of the menu appears to be MIA, just a heads up would be nice.

4.  Don't Doubt Me
Maybe this is just me, but I have serious cravings for spicy food.  I seek out cuisines that I know will satiate that craving.  Please, kitchens everywhere, when I order the spiciest thing on the menu, and confirm I want it spicy- PLEASE believe me.  It makes me so sad when I get ready to light my taste buds on fire, and I can barely feel any heat at all.  

So there you have it guys, an end of week rant examining my biggest restaurant pet peeves.  

Do you guys agree?  What are your pet peeves?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Journey 'round the World for $15 at the BCAE!

Boston Center for Adult Education has some seriously great stuff going on.  Every time I read their website or pamphlets I am always astounded at all the fantastic classes that they offer in so many different areas.  If you want to learn to paint- head there.  If you want more information on wines- they have a class for that.  If you want to learn what steps you should be taking to get your finances in order- they will assist.  If you want to learn a new language- check them out.  

Today I received word that the BCAE has really outdone themselves.  During the month of January they are offering four nights of classes for just $15.00 a piece!  These classes center around the theme "Around the World for $15.00", and the classes will focus on Morocco, France, Argentina and the American South.  The instructors will lead participants on a tour of these lands (without ever leaving Boston) and explore the cuisine, culture and lifestyle of the people who live there.  

Classes run January 4- 7, 6-8:00 pm.  Please call 617-267-4430, or visit www.bcae.org for more information.

Cultivating Flavor with Dan Barber, Is there a moral dilemma here?

As you may have heard Harvard University has added a new course looking at the Science of Food to their curriculum this semester.  Within this series  they invited several prominent chefs to come and speak about their experiences and applications with using science in the kitchen.  Being the wise individuals that they are, they opened a few tickets to the public of Boston, and I was lucky enough to attend two of these lectures.  The first I wrote about a few weeks ago, which was led by Wylie Dufresne and concentrated on the idea of Meat Glue, a subsection of Molecular Gastronomy.  The second lecture I attended took a wholly different approach, and explored what happens before food even enters a kitchen.

Chef Dan Barber, Executive Chef and Co-Owner of Blue Hill in New York, presented.  Blue Hill is a restaurant which sits on acres of farm land, the majority of the output of which is earmarked for use in the restaurant.  This gives the restaurant staff a unique view of the produce and the meat that they are using, and allows the animals raised there to be raised to be their most succulent.

Barber holds that while manipulating food In the kitchen is of course a fine practice, he believes that the manipulation ought to start in the ground, and end with purity within the kitchen walls.  The premise is that if the quality of the food is at it's best, then there shouldn't be a reason to add a lot of other flavorings or chemicals.  

Of course this isn't a new idea, in fact it more closely resembles "going back to basics".  Barber holds that animals taste best when they have been exposed to the proper nutrients for their individual  make ups.  Feeding every type of animal the same diet, as many farms are now doing with a mix of grains and grass, doesn't take into account the biological make up of the animal.  Some, such as lambs, don't have the correct organs to digest grain properly and thus results in a much fattier, less flavorful, end product than a lamb who feasted on the proper nutrients.

The grass versus grain diet however isn't the only contributing factor.   At Blue Hill they concentrate not only on the grass diet, but further, on the types of grass, the length and age of the grass and are continuously adjusting the animals position so their grazing incorporates all of the best nutrients.

The idea behind this really stems from the concept that flavor starts from the moment the animal begins it's digestion process.  Every nutrient, or lack of nutrient affects how the animal matures, and ultimately how they taste.  

It seems an odd way to think about it.  Care for the animal so it's taste is improved, it's almost the side of food that I don't always like to think about.  Of course I know that that steak on my plate was once part of a living cow, but it's a side of things I choose not to concentrate on.  I know there are tons of people out there who would have much to say about that attitude, but it is the one I have adopted as I truly enjoy being a carnivore.  However, it does seem odd to think about raising an animal simply for our own enjoyment. Throughout the lecture, as images of cute lambs grazing were shown, and then the skinned animal waiting for buthering, I had a tremendous sense of guilt. I enjoy a tasty piece of lamb, but is it really right to raise these animals for my own pleasure?

What are your thoughts on the subject?  Vegetarians- do you abstain from meat because of these ideas?  Meat lovers- do you ever think about the actual item that you're eating?  Any guilt involved?       

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Chicken and Rice Soup- perfect for cold winter days!

After making a large pot full of Stock over the weekend- the question became- what to do with it?  As I talked about yesterday there are TONS of uses for stock, so it was really just a matter of choosing.  To be honest, the choice was pretty easy for me.  I was looking for something to take for lunch for the week.  Something easy, something tasty, and something easily transportable.  I decided on a nice big pot of chicken and rice soup.  

I love chicken soup- and I love it in all forms.  Those gross dehydrated packages Lipton chicken noodle soup?  I love them.  I have to have them in my cupboard at all times.  I am not at all ashamed to admit that.  However, as tasty as those little packages are, nothing really beats homemade chicken soup, with all of those wonderful touches that only you can put in.


Fiona's Homemade Chicken Soup, with Homemade Turkey Broth

2 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 small onions, chopped (divided)
2 carrots, diced (divided)
4 celery stalks, diced (divided)
2/3 cup chopped fresh parsley (divided in half)
10-12 stems fresh thyme (divided in half)
6 leaves sage, chopped, (divided in half)
4 cups white wine (divided in half)
4 to 5 white button mushrooms, sliced or diced
1 small zucchini, cut into large chunks
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup (raw) brown rice, prepared according to package
Stock
Water
Sat and pepper


In a small pot combine half the onion, carrots and celery with a tablespoon olive oil over medium heat.  Add half the herbs as the onions become translucent.  Add the chicken breasts, half the wine and enough water to cover the breasts.  Allow them to poach until done.  Remove the breasts from the liquid and set aside to cool, and dice.  Discard the liquid.  

In a large pot, combine the remainder of the onion, carrots and celery.  Following the same as above, add the herbs, salt and pepper, and then the stock, and the remainder of the wine.  I let this simmer for about 15- 20 minutes before adding the chicken and the rice, mushrooms and zucchini.  I served over a bed of baby spinach leaves so they would just wilt in the liquid.


Chicken soup is just so satisfying, and it can be so versatile by varying the types of herbs and vegetables used.  This pot rendered a slightly sweet flavor, with a lot of herbal overtones, and great big pieces of vegetable and chicken to make me really feel like I was eating a lot.  


What is your favorite way to make chicken soup?

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