Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Caprese Salad, and the secret to finding the perfect tomato

There are few things that I find so perfect as a Caprese Salad. Fresh tomatoes, ribbons of fragrant basil, the all too familiar pungent flavor of garlic, all topped with luxurious, fruity olive oil and fresh cracked pepper...it is the perfect combination of flavors. Of course it can always be kicked up a notch with creamy mozzarella cheese layered in between the layers. It is one of my favorite things to chow down on in summer months, bringing me back to summers in my mothers garden where the tomatoes would ripen under the hot summer sun. Since the temperatures soared into the 90's this weekend, I was brought right back to those times, and I craved a good Caprese salad.

Unfortunately, local tomatoes won't be available for some time, but some places are getting in some pretty great tomatoes despite our regional handicap. Of course it isn't easy to pick out a good one, tomatoes might look bright red and pretty from the outside, but I'm sure we've all felt that disappointment of cutting into it to find it's insides pink and mealy rather than red and juicy. Want to know my secret to finding the perfect tomato? The smell. If, when you lift a tomato to your nose, you don't smell much, you can bank on it being just a so so tomato. However if, when you breath in the tomato, if you smell dirt, earth, and the skin still seems to have the warmth of the sun in it, then you know that you have found a good tomato. I know that sounds like poetic bull, but I promise you it works.

A caprese salad is a simple treasure to make. A beautiful tomato, sliced with care, into about 1/4 inch slices. 4-5 large basil leaves, rolled lengthwise, and sliced into ribbons. A clove (or two) of garlic finely chopped.  Display your tomatoes, generously sprinkle the basil over the fruit, and likewise with the garlic.  Drizzle olive oil over the top, crack your black pepper, and if you desire some salt, as the final garnish, and enjoy with a hunk of crusty Italian bread. 

Summer perfection on a plate.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Win Red Sox Tickets, courtesy of Tickets for Charity!

Anyone else catch that Sox game yesterday?  The one where they beat the Cleveland Indians, the team with the best record in Baseball to date, 14-2?  Pretty great game right?  Our beloved Red Sox have certainly kept us guessing this year- after a rocky start they are now fighting their way to the top! 

How would you like to be a part of the action??  Summer weather is finally here and I can't think of any better way to enjoy it than at good ol' Fenway Park!  So here is your chance to win TWO INFIELD GRANDSTAND TICKETS for June 18th, when the Milwaukee Brewers are in town!  That is a glorious Saturday afternoon game!  Is there any better way to spend a summer afternoon?  Tickets are courtesy of our friends at Tickets For Charity!

To enter- please click on the link below- entries must be received by 6:00 pm EST on June 14, 2011, and the winner will be chosen on June 15, 2011. 


While you're thinking about those fantastic Red Sox, Tickets for Charity has also just released Monster Seats for the Friday night Sox v Brewers game on June 17th as well- get on over there to check them out!  As always all profit from tickets sales of the Boston Red Sox are donated directly to The Red Sox Foundation.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Good Food Made Simple- Steel Cut Oat Meal and Eggs from Your Freezer!

Breakfast is one of those things to me.  I know it's good for me, I know it's the right way to start my day, but I get really bored with it.  I've never been a cereal for breakfast person, and I refuse to get up early to make myself a proper breakfast before work, so I am constantly searching for good things to eat at my desk while I plow through my morning.  More often then not, I settle on a whole wheat sandwich thin, spread with peanut butter and dotted with banana slices.  It has good nutrients, gives me energy for the morning ahead, and is pretty convenient for the office.  I store my peanut butter at my desk, and just cart in a sandwich thin and a banana each day.  Easy.  

Now, to be fair, there are some in my office who go through the intricate work of bringing in egg beaters, an appropriate sized microwaveable container, English muffins, cheese, meats etc and make their own egg sandwiches.  To be honest- this seems like a lot of work to me. I'll be honest- I don't want to fuss with breakfast.  I want to sip my coffee in peace, I want to eat fast, and I want to return to whatever it is I'm working on for the day.  Quick. Simple.  So, when I was invited to a breakfast event showcasing a new company Good Food Made Simple, held at Stir in the South End a few weeks ago, I was intrigued to see what their offerings would be.  

As an aside, Stir, a Barbara Lynch venture where she holds cooking classes, and has an awesome wall for a book store, is a beautiful space, and I was thrilled to get to spend some time there.  Good Food Made Simple is a recently started company that concentrates on creating a product that is made with minimal ingredients, uses simplistic packaging, and is easy to prepare.  Their sweet spot is in the frozen food aisle, as all of their offerings are frozen, and they are pledging to take on the aisle, forcing their counterparts to re-examine the ingredients they use.  

Good Food Made Simple offered us samples both of their Oatmeal, offered in four different varieties- Natural Steel Cut, Steel Cut with Fruit and Berries, Steel Cut prepared with Vermont Maple Syrup, and Rolled Oats flavored with Cinnamon and Brown Sugar, as well as their egg patties, offered in both egg white and natural egg.  

Steel Cut Oatmeal, due to the way that it is processed, is said to retain more of its natural nutrients than rolled oats, however, due to its unique preparation, it can take about 40 minutes for preparation.  Now 40 minutes may not seem like a long time generally speaking, but on a busy work morning, or when trying to get the kids ready for school (I'd imagine) those are precious minutes that you just don't have.  Good Food Made Simple gives all of that time back to you, by making kettles of the oatmeal and then flash freezing them into individually wrapped pucks that can be tossed into the microwave for just a few minutes and breakfast is served.  

I tested these out at work last week (I do not own a microwave at home which nixes these as a quick, nutritious weekend option for me), and found them to be filling, but delicious.  At Stir one of the chefs there topped the samples with beautiful additions like Marscapone Cheese, Fresh Berries, Golden Raising and beautiful nuts and dried fruits, my toppings at work were much simpler- sticking solely to my banana.  However both ways, with the creative additions from Stir, and with a simple banana, these bowls of piping hot oatmeal stuck to my ribs and definitely fueled me for the day.  Their texture was perfect- the steel cut of the oats gave them a lovely mouth feel without that gummy vibe that oatmeal can get.    

However the real beauty of Good Food Made Simple is the limited ingredient list- every ingredient is a real food, not a chemical, and where possible ingredients are kept basic.  Their Natural Steel Cut Oatmeal contains oats, water and salt.  That's it.  Their others contain purely natural ingredients, and all are listed legibly, in a readable font size, on the front of their box.  

At Stir, and at work, we moved on from Oatmeal to Egg Patties.  I'll be honest here- the idea of these kind of wigged me out.  I don't know what it is about eggs, but I have difficulty with them.  I love them, but I can't think about them for long or I lose my appetite for them.  The idea of frozen, patty shaped, eggs similarly make me a little a nervous.  Putting all of my own weird concerns aside, and pressed forth to try the amazing egg sandwiches that were being made for us in the Stir kitchen.  Buttered, toasted bread, aged Prosciutto, avocado, arugula pesto, oven roasted tomatoes -all these lovely ingredients came together to create two different sandwiches.  My qualms of frozen egg patties were immediately eliminated when these gorgeous sandwiches were set before me.  The eggs, microwaved for just a minute or so, were light and fluffy, defying my concerns that they would take on the properties of a rubber ball.  

Here at the office these have proven to be a much simpler breakfast sandwich solution than the egg white, microwave container make shift situation.  Paired with a whole wheat sandwich thin, a slice of Jarlsberg Cheese and a pile of fresh arugula my breakfast has been light, healthy and delicious-with enough protein to keep me going long past lunch.  

I really enjoyed the products that Good Food Made Simple sampled for us.  I loved them in Stir under the well trained chef hands, but I also loved them at work, where in a pinch I threw them together.  My toppings were not as decadent or well planned, but the quality of the product shone through that and rewarded me with a tasty and satisfying meal.  These are being sold on a national scale- please check your local grocery stores for them and keep your eye out for new products as well!    

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cutty's, Brookline Village, Brookline

Sandwiches, in my family, are a big deal.  My mom grew up in the New York area and compares every sandwich to the New York Deli's she was accustomed to.  Ill spare you the details, however very few sandwiches in this area stack up.  Now, this becomes a problem occasionally when we are out for an afternoon and a sandwich craving strikes.  I recall an afternoon spent driving around the Cape, and then into Rhode Island, searching for a good sandwich.  I spent most of that afternoon threatening to knock on a strangers door and ask them if they had the makings of a sandwich out of pure hunger/starvation.  It has since become a family joke, and often when I describe a place as having a good sandwich, I'll throw in the caveat-"to ME they have a good sandwich"-so my mothers hopes don't get too high. 

About a year ago I heard about a place called Cutty's, opening in Brookline Village, that concentrates on sandwiches.  They tout clean, fresh ingredients, inventive sandwiches, and all served at a quick pace, and reasonable prices.  Ever since I heard about their Saturday sandwich special- the Pork Rabe-I knew I had to check it out. 

This past Saturday I knew I was going to be in the area, and decided to pick up a couple of sandwiches to split with my mom, the ultimate test.  I, of course, settled on the Pork Rabe, and added an Eggplant Spuckie to the order as well.  I got to my moms and we immediately split the sandwiches, starting with the Spuckie, still warm from being pressed pannini style. 

A Spuckie-for those curious- is the grandfather of the basic submarine sandwich.  It was first referred to in Italian American communities in the North East, some even attributing it to Boston.  While the Sub of today can include any number of ingredients, the Spuckie had very Italian basis, typically filled with Italian cured meats and cheeses.  Cutty's offers the traditional version, but also offered the Eggplant as a vegetarian option.  Served on Ciabatta bread, this sandwich was loaded with roasted eggplant, a carrot and olive salad and hand pulled Mozzarella cheese. The hot pressing of this sandwich melted the cheese and therefore bound together the crunchy carrots, salty olives and the earthy eggplant. The result was a delicious flavor and texture combination.  Eggplant, I often find, when cooked mellows its flavor into an almost buttery state, the vegetable takes on a creamy vibe mixed into its natural earthy flavor.  The mix of that with the wonderful cheese and then contrasted with the bright, fresh flavors of the carrot salad made for a perfect sandwich.  I truly enjoyed every bite of this one, and noted at the end of my half that just that half would have been sufficient for lunch.

However, being the little piggy I am, I dove right into my half of the Pork Rabe.  A sesame seed bun was stuffed high with thinly sliced pork, steamed to a perfect al dente broccoli rabe and provolone cheese.  Broccoli Rabe is one of those delightful vegetables I had to teach myself to like.  Bitter by nature, if you aren't prepared for it's natural flavor, it can provide a bite that you aren't prepared for.  However, if expected, its purity can really clarify other flavors- and at Cutty's it was paired nicely with the robust pork and that lovely provolone.  

Reviewing the ideas that chef/owner Charles Kelsey put forth when he created Cutty's- I believe he's delivering on most of them.  The sandwiches are chock full of fresh, clean ingredients.  The quality of every item is clear and the products are inventive.  The restaurant itself is clean and pure looking, which only adds to the idea that added impurities won't be found at Cutty's.  My only concern was price where the website touts that their prices could be comparable to other fast food eateries, I found myself a little disarmed at the $17.00 + price tag for the sandwich duo.  That said, I was fully satisfied after just a half sandwich, so had we split just the one sandwich, $8 something for two wouldn't be so shocking. 

Either way, most important to me was that my mother, the toughest sandwich critic I know, enjoyed both sandwiches very much, and I think that Cutty's might just be a great solution to our Sandwich Quandary.   

Friday, May 20, 2011

If the World Were to End- What Would You Eat?

It's hard not to play into the hype.  The past week news outlets, Facebook, tabloids etc have all been abuzz with the prophesied "end of the world" that some say is to occur on Saturday, May 21, 2011.  While I'll leave my personal opinions to this idea out of this post (because really- I could go on for hours- especially if you debate me), it did raise an interesting question for me- if we did know that the world was ending- what would you eat as your final meals?  (Anyone surprised I brought this one right back to food?)

If the reports are accurate, then I figure that we have about three "last meals" to complete- nicely- dinner, breakfast and lunch.  I bet a snack or two could even be fit in.  Perhaps a midnight buffet? 

So lets start with dinner- what would you have?  I'd have to do steak, its a must.  A perfect strip, truffle butter melting on top, crispy skillet potatoes on the side, and perhaps a saute of mushrooms and green beans, perfectly prepared with roasted garlic, maybe a little lemon zest, and some Parmesan cheese?  I think the end of that meal would have to be a cheese course-a fill of perfect cheeses-brie, blue, Gorgonzola, Havarti...- complimented by a 20 year Tawney Port.

After such a decadent dinner, I would think that breakfast would want to be clean flavors, concentrated on freshness.  Coffee- deep, rich, strong coffee poured straight from the French Press after too long a steep would begin my breakfast.  The aroma of chicory and coffee beans filling the air.  I'd compliment those scents with two slices of toasted cinnamon bread, spread with a generous slather of sweet cream butter, and paired with a quick salad of ripe strawberries, cantaloupe, and pineapple, with a shave of lemon zest and a sprinkle of chopped fresh mint for good measure. 

The final lunch I would return to the sandwich that I always come "home" to.  Fresh baked bread, garden fresh tomatoes, warm from the sun basil, chopped garlic, olive oil and fresh mozzarella.  This sandwich reads perfection to me, and always, when I've finished one, I immediately crave another no matter how full I am.  I think that with this in my belly, I would be ready to face anything.

My snacks throughout this time, I am sure, would vary between Peanut Butter Puffins with ice cold milk, and pieces of the best chocolate I could find. 

So the question is, if the world were to end, and you had three meals left- what would you have?  Would you indulge a sweet tooth?  Would you eat lobster every meal?  Pizza?  Burgers?  What would you eat for the last 24 hours? 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Chicago Cubs in Boston: Ways to celebrate this momentous occasion!

Big weekend happening here in Boston- the Chicago Cubs, who haven't graced our city in some 96 years with their presence, are returning for a momentous series of games.  Whether you're from the Boston area, or you're just a fan, you know how incredible it is to have this team back in our town, and ready to play some baseball!

The last time that we played the Cubs in beautiful Fenway Park was in 1918, the momentous World Series that would be our last until we finally "reversed the curse" in 2004 and took it all home.  As Fenway prepares for this epic dual, all of us fans without tickets are left to our own devices for proper celebration prospects.  

Photo courtesy of Kayem
Rumor has it that the dank dreary weather that has plagued the area for the past week or so will start to move out this weekend, which to me means it may just be perfect grilling weather.  The folks over at Kayem, the company of the official Fenway Frank and, as of today, the official Fenway Sausage, have come up with a perfect tribute to the Windy City, easy to make at home- the Chicago Style Hot Dog!

HOW TO MAKE YOUR HOT DOG “CHICAGO STYLE,” courtesy of Kayem (www.kayem.com)

Start with an all-beef, natural casing frank, ideally inside a poppy seed bun.
Add the following seven toppings, in this order:
1) yellow mustard
2) Bright Neon Green Relish
3) Chopped sweet onions
4) Two tomato wedges
5) Pickle spear
6) Two sport peppers
7) Dash of celery salt. 

Are you someone who would prefer to enjoy the game closer to Fenway than your own home?  Jerry Remy's in Fenway is hosting their own tribute to the match up by presenting both the traditional Fenway Frank, as well as the Chicago Dog, and they are bringing in Chicago Brews to quench that baseball thirst (from all the cheering of course)!

Their menu for the weekend will include:

(Available option to have one of each styled hot dog):

Traditional Fenway Frank:
  • Kayem all-beef kosher hot dog, sweet relish, spicy mustard, on  a New England style roll: 2 for $9
  • Beer: Samuel Adams Summer Ale: SM. $6 & Lg. $8.25
Chicago-style Dog:

  • All-beef Vienna hot dog, green relish, on a poppy seed bun: 2 for $9
  • Beer: Two Brothers Brewing Company Rotating Draft: SM. $6.50 & Lg. $9.00
Other Chicago themed brews: Domaine Dupage, Cain & Ebel, and The Bitter End.

It will be an exciting weekend here in Boston- I can't wait to see those games!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Gennaro's 5 North Square, North End, Boston

I love the North End.  I love the cobbled streets. I love hearing the snippets of conversation in Italian as I weave through the tourists.  I love the restaurant managers who stand on the streets and try to entice the passerby into their restaurant.  It is a jovial atmosphere, one of indulgence and excitement.  It is quintessential, and it is wonderful.  However, with the seemingly hundreds of restaurants lining the streets, how do you choose which to go to?

The thing about the North End, is that though there are many many options to pick from for sustenance, there is little variation.  Sure, there are stand outs, Mare, for example does an incredible job on Italian style seafood, as does Neptune Oyster.  The Waterfront bar does a great job with pub grub and a great sports atmosphere, and Giacomo's delivers consistently good food, reasonable prices and great staff.  However, for the most part, the restaurants offer the same fare- red sauce Italian, dishes loaded with cheese and butter (not that I have a problem with either), and heaping portions of pasta.  Much of the imagination seems to be lost, and in it's place, a "feed the masses" approach has been taken on.  The dishes are stereotypical, they cater to the tourists who want "real Italian food", and therefore serve up Chicken Parmesan by the platter.  

Friday evening a friend suggested that we dine at Gennaro's 5 North Square Restaurant, located in my favorite part of the North End.  The North Square is a beautiful area, removed from the hub bub of Hanover Street, where the streets are cobbled, the buildings quaint, and the smell of flowers always seems to be in the air.  I transport back to Rome every time I walk through the area.  Having never dined at Gennaro's I was excited to check it out.  

I relished the North End that evening, skimming through Hanover street in my flats, maneuvering past the groups of Boston visitors, pausing at the corner by Gennaro's to change into heels- a practice I engage in far too often to protect against sprained ankles on those lovely streets I admire so much.  I was greeted by the restaurant manager outside the address, and he went through the obligatory sales pitch to have me dine there, as he found that my plans led me to his establishment already, he waved me to the bar to wait as my friend had not yet arrived.  Wait I did.  I waited to be greeted by the bar tender who appeared to be chatting with friends, I waited for the wine menu (still chatting), I waited for my order to be taken (a broken bottle the culprit this time), I waited for my glass of wine (more chatting), and then I waited to pay my bill (reason for this delay unknown).  Finally though, I had my wine, my bill was paid, and we were seated at our table, menus in front of us.  

We chose to start with an order of Calamari, the squid fried golden brown with slices of banana peppers in the mix.  The Calamari were served hot and crispy a fair amount of breading to make them really tasty, but not nearly enough of those fried, spicy banana peppers for my liking.  They were served with two dipping sauces, a standard Marinara, and, bunking tradition, a sweet chili pepper sauce.  That second sauce left me a bit perplexed.  Calamari is such a delicious vehicle for flavors, it seemed odd that this wholly Italian restaurant, un touched by "fusion" cuisine, would add in a sauce that tasted more Thai than anything.  It was ok, but nothing to write home about.  Additionally, the Marinara was served cold, which was a strange sensation with the hot Calamari.

I settled on the rolled stuffed eggplant as my main course, described as grilled eggplant, stuffed with ricotta cheese, roasted garlic and spinach, baked with marinara sauce and cheese, and then served with a side of pasta.  A few things, the side of pasta was actually placed below the rolls of eggplant, so it was impossible to ignore (as I had hoped to do) so I indulged in the nicely al dente spaghetti. The Eggplant itself appeared more fried (bread crumb coating) than it did grilled, however the texture was a welcome relief to the soft eggplant and creamy stuffing.  The ricotta, garlic and spinach came together nicely blending their rich, sweet and hearty flavors into a single note which was well accentuated with the acid of the tomato.  

Gennaro's definitely delivered in providing a typical North End experience.  Big portions of food, nicely settled into the red sauce variety, executed soundly.  There isn't anything overly exciting there, but there is that warm, comfortable feeling that you want if you were visit your Italian grandmother's kitchen.  The wait staff was pleasant, even remembering my friend from a previous visit.  They were efficient, and knowledgeable.  Gennaro's is a place that I can add to my list of "would return to, but not in a great hurry" spots in the North End.        

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Win a Private VIP Tour of Fenway Park via Tickets for Charity!

About a month ago I announced that I would be offering a few different promotions from Tickets for Charity on the blog during this Red Sox Season.  Tickets for Charity is an amazing organization getting you those tickets you want, and deferring the profit to some of the amazing charities in the area.  Well now they are offering you a little VIP treatment at Fenway!

Have you ever wanted some behind the scenes access to the park?  How about heading inside the Green Monster and on to the Field?  Tickets for Charity is offering a private VIP pass to see all of the amazing sites of Fenway, our most beloved ball park, and is even throwing in free lunch!  Sound like fun to you? Tour to take place during the day on May 25th, 2011. 

To Enter:
Click on this link: http://www.elabs6.com/content/12346687/blogger_form.html?utm_source=Boston_Food_Diary&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=RedSoxMay2011 and input your information. 
Entries must be received by 6:00 pm EST on May 19th.
Winner will be notified on May 20, 2011!

Get on over there and enter- this is a SWEET deal!

Also- heads up- they have GREAT seats, at AMAZING prices available for the upcoming Cubs series!!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Spring Lamb Meatballs with a Refreshing, Spicy Yogurt Dipping Sauce

After what feels like a forever, Spring is finally here. The birds are chirping, the sun is shining (sometimes) and the temperatures are inching towards warm...spring is definitely springing. As part of my "thank God I get to cook again" extravaganza this weekend, I wanted to make something uniquely spring like, incorporating all of the light, fresh flavors that the season brings. I settled on lamb meatballs with a yogurt dipping sauce.

1 lb ground lamb
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 cup fresh peas, blanched
2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
1 tbsp lemon zest
1/2 to 3/4 cup bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten

Combine all ingredients in a medium size bowl. In corporate the bread crumbs as needed until the mixture is bound together but not dry. Form meatballs, and then place on a lined cookie sheet and bake for about 40 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Spicy yogurt sauce

1 cup non fat Greek yogurt
1 Serrano pepper, chopped
1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
1 tsp fresh Lemon zest

In a small food processor, or with an immersion blender combined the ingredients and blend, tasting and adding the honey until it's sweetness is present but not over powering the other flavors.

I served these simply, on a plate with the yogurt sauce drizzled over the top.  The flavor combinations were really powerful.  The meatballs had a wonderful "fresh" flavor from the mint and the lemon zest which worked together to really embody the spring feel.  The fresh green peas added a perfect burst of sweetness in each bite, and the dense ground lamb was a perfect backdrop for the flavors to layer.  When paired with the yogurt sauce the dish came alive with the spice from the Serrano pepper, and the sweetness of the honey.  I've been a little obsessed with these meat balls since- I'm already wondering what they would be like using super lean ground turkey rather than lamb...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Truffled Mushroom Rosemary Bruschetta

I owe you all a rather large apology.  My posts as of late have not been a bit scarce over the past week or so.  I moved last week, and with all of the hectic-ness of that, I was sorely lacking kitchen time.  However, now I am settled into my fabulous new apartment, it is basically set up (aside from some wall hanging concerns) and I have christened my kitchen with it's first all day use.  I set out this past Sunday to make far too much food, and I accomplished my goal. 

Inspired by the lovely Mushroom Bruschetta from Bin 26 a few weeks ago, I decided to start my "meal" with my own take of this great appetite wetter.

1- 1 1/2 tsp butter
1 tblsp minced roasted garlic
1/4 cup roughly chopped onions
1 tblsp chopped fresh rosemary
3/4 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
3/4 cup sliced shitaki mushrooms
3/4 cup chopped portobello mushrooms
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley, divided
1 loaf fresh French Bread
Fontina Cheese
Black Truffle Oil (optional)

In a large sautee pan, melt the butter over medium low heat, and then add the garlic, onions and rosemary.  Sautee until the onions are translucent, and the garlic and rosemary are fragrant.  Add the mushrooms, cook through.  Add half the parsley 1-2 minutes before the mushrooms are done.  Transfer the mixture to a food processor, add the remainder of the parsley, and, if you choose, a teaspoon or two of the black truffle oil.  The oil has a very strong flavor so remember that a little goes a long way!  Cover the processor and pulse to blend until the mushrooms look slight grainy, and the parsley is combined.  You don't want a complete paste with the mushrooms, be sure to keep a little texture to them.

Slice the French Bread into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices, and place in a single layer on a lined cookie sheet.  Drizzle Olive Oil, or, as I did, spray a little "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" spray, over one side of the bread, and place in a 400 degree oven until the tops are slightly browned.  Remove from the oven, flip the slices over, spread the mushroom mix onto to non browned side, top with fontina cheese and return to the oven until the cheese melts.  Remove the bruschetta from the oven, drizzle lightly with more truffle oil and serve!

I loved the flavor combination here.  The woodiness of the rosemary played well with the sweetness from the roasted garlic, and the beautiful earthiness of the mushrooms and truffle oil.  I tried this with the cheese, and without, also with the truffle oil and without- and I have to say- the oil absolutely added something more luxurious and I think added to the beauty of the mushrooms.  The cheese absolutely made it more decadent- but wasn't necessary.  I've been eating the mushroom mixture just out of its storage container as well so I think that there is a lot of room to play with this recipe.  I'm already foreseeing some lovely mushroom raviolis in my future...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Prezza, North End, Boston

This year we decided to change things up for Mother's Day this year, and as opposed to having a somewhat rushed brunch on Sunday, my sister and I took my mom out for dinner on Saturday evening.  After much debate, we settled on Prezza, an Italian restaurant located on Fleet Street in the North End.

Prezza mimics the food of the Abruzzi region in Italy, where they depend heavily on polenta, fresh vegetables and pork dishes.  With spring upon us I was excited to see how they played with the bounty of spring vegetables that are out now. 

It was evident, as soon as we entered the restaurant, that they were extremely busy.  The bar was bustling, a large party had a private space cornered off in the head of the room, and our table was about 10 minutes behind.  Seated finally however, we were greeted by our pleasant waiter, and promptly served rustic Italian Bread and Focaccia with olive oil, and allowed us time to review our menus and make our choices.

We settled on two appetizers- my mom's favorite of stuffed squash blossoms and wood grilled octopus and and squid.

The star of this round were those stuffed squash blossoms.  These beautiful flowers had been fried to a beautiful light crisp, and then placed over soft, cheesy polenta accented with pancetta and tomatoes.  I loved the texture contrasts between the very crisp flower, with its very delicate flavor and natural sweetness, and the rich, creamy polenta.  The tomatoes added a perfect touch of acid to break up the richness, and the crisp pancetta lent smokey pockets as a final twist within the dish.  I had a hard time keeping my fork from drifting to this plate more than a few times.

The wood grilled octopus and squid were served with braised cannelloni beans enhanced with parsley.  The octopus and squid were both well cooked- both brought to a perfect textural state without being chewy- a difficult line to stay on the right side of.  Both were clean and fresh tasting, which paired beautifully with the dense beans and bright parsley. This was a beautiful dish, full of the flavors of Italy.

We finished our appetizers and I was excited to move on to the entrees, unfortunately we had a wait before they were brought to our table.  I am not sure what caused this exactly, other tables were served promptly, our neighbors sat while we enjoyed our appetizers and left mid way through our entree after having a complete meal.  Our entrees, for whatever reason were delayed at least a half an hour to forty minutes, with little to no explanation.  Unfortunately, while it doesn't reflect the food, an error like a long wait, to me, plays a big part in the over all feel of the meal. 

As the case may be, I was very excited when, after the long wait, our entrees were served.  My sister had decided on their pea raviolini prepared with Jonas ham, fresh spring peas and marscapone cheese, I settled on the grilled swordfish swerved with a chunky artichoke and potato "stew" and my mother chose the crispy pork chops served with vinegar peppers.  My sisters spring pea raviolini were delicious- silky marscapone sweetened with fresh peas and encased in well made pasta.  It was a wonderful dish, though I did think that the peas were a bit under cooked and therefore a bit toothsome.  My mothers pork was incredible.  A huge bone in chop, crusted in panko bread crumbs, moist and perfectly cooked.  The fattiness of the pork was wonderfully offset by the vinegar peppers which were perfectly tart and still had a bit of crunch to them.   I envied this dish.  My swordfish however was not as successful as the other two.  The fish itself was well cooked, but hadn't been seasoned before it was grilled.  I found that the stew, a puree of artichoke and potato with larger pieces kept whole for contrast, was also woefully under seasoned.  The unfortunate result was a rather bland dish, and one that I had difficulty eating due to its lack of flavor. 

We decided to split a dessert as well- and chose their fig turnover, paired with a port wine reduction and a pistachio glace.  The fig in the turnover was encased in a beautifully flaky crust, light and buttery all at once.  The filling was natural fig, sweet in and of itself.  By itself this was delicious, however when paired with the port wine reduction, the syrupy sweet over took the light crust and resulted in a too sweet combination.

Overall, Prezza is a beautiful restaurant, with friendly staff and some great ideas.  They are not a "typical" Italian restaurant, however it appears their execution is a bit lacking.  Under seasoning, long waits, these are things that can be easily fixed so it's a place that I would try again, however at this time, I'll try a few other places before returning.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Event Alert: Chef Collaboration Dinner to Benefit Cooking Matters!

You know what gets my heart all a flutter?  When I see several chefs collaborating, especially when that collaboration is for a good cause.  Several weeks ago I spoke to you all about Taste of the Nation Boston, a stellar event bring over 70 chefs together in one room, each offering small plates of food to attendees, showcasing some of their best dishes, and all proceeds donated to Share our Strength.  On Monday night a much more intimate collaboration is being held, with all proceeds donated to another chapter of Share our Strength- Cooking Matters.

Cooking Matters is a cause near and dear to my heart, a course offered by Share Our Strength that teaches its participants how to grocery shop effectively.  This, of course, means buying the highest nutrient rich ingredients, at the lowest cost.  The knowledge gained in these courses give parents the ability to serve their children nutritious meals, aimed at ensuring their children are getting the vitamins etc they need to grow and to promote learning, without breaking the bank.  For more information on this great initiative please visit their website here.

Monday, May 9, 2011 five wonderful Boston based chefs are coming together at Andy Husband's Tremont 647 to cook a meal together to benefit Cooking Matters.  Pulling from all of their own creativity, they have put together a cocktail party followed by a five course meal, all including wine pairings. Tickets for this great event are $60.00 per person and reservations can be made here.

Menu for May 9, 2011 (heads up- its Soft Shell Crab time!):

Lunazul Cocktail reception with passed appetizers followed by 5-course dinner paired with wines

First Course - Marc Orfaly of Pigalle
Chile Roasted Shrimp
orange, achiote, garlic

Second Course - Andy Husbands of Tremont 647
Chicken Chicharrones
crispy guacamole, amarillo salsa roja

Third Course - Josh Ziskin of La Morra
Soft Shell Crab
white asparagus, smoked jalapeno grilled tortilla, tequila

Fourth Course - Dante de Magistris of Restaurant Dante
Beef & Pork Fiesta Candy Wrappers
salsa verde, avocado

Fifth Course - Sara Ross of Kickass Cupcakes
Tres Leches Cupcake
Strawberry Margarita Cupcake

The evening kicks off at 6:00 pm and it is sure to fill up with that all star line up- get your reservations in asap!

Tremont 647 & Sister Sorel

647 Tremont St.
Boston, Massachusetts 02118
(t) 617.266.4600
(e) office@tremont647.com

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Boston Neighborhood Walking Tours- presented by the Boston Center for Adult Education

Obvious statement time:  I love Boston.  I love everything about it- from its architecture to its spirit to its history-everything.   Most of all, I love how easy it is to walk from one side of town to the next.  A beautiful walk along the water can bring you from the North End, to Southie, a stroll through streets lined with brownstone houses brings you from Beacon Hill to the South End.  All over this city there are beautiful places to explore, all steeped with Boston culture and beckoning to be uncovered.  The Boston Center for Adult Education has once again found the best way to help you look deeper into the great neighborhoods of Boston Proper-walking tours!

Starting in mid June, the BCAE will be offering walking tours of Beacon Hill, the South End, Back Bay and the Theatre and Financial district.  Each tour will last two hours and will end with a complimentary appetizer at one of the neighborhood restaurants. This is a perfect way to enjoy an early summer evening, and become better acquainted with the great city of Boston.

From the Press Release:
"Tour Schedule:
A Walking Tour of the Back Bay: Please join us as we explore one of America's most remarkable Victorian neighborhoods. During the course of the tour, we'll discuss the land making operation that created the Back Bay, the street plan that was influenced by developments in Paris, view residences that represent a variety of architectural styles and consider the colorful personalities such as Isabella Stewart Gardner, Phillips Brooks and H.H. Richardson who are associated with the neighborhood. Receive a free appetizer at Poe’s Kitchen at The Rattlesnake following the tour! Wednesday, June 15th, 2011 from 6:00PM - 8:00PM; $20.00

A Walking Tour of The Theatre and Financial Districts: On this tour, we'll seek out tucked away nooks and crannies including Lyndeboro Place, with its stage set-like charms; Boylston Place, now the epicenter of Boston’s nightlife; the historical murals of the Little Building; the high relief sculpture of the Liberty Tree and much more! These neighborhoods have many secrets to be revealed! Receive a free appetizer at the historic Jacob Wirth restaurant following the tour! Tuesday, June 21st, 2011 from 6:00PM - 8:00PM; $20.00

A Walking Tour of Beacon Hill: Discover the history and elegance of Beacon Hill Seek out the few surviving wooden houses, explore hidden alleys and cul-de-sacs and view streetscapes enlivened by vintage storefronts, copper oriels, and ornate fire escapes in this two hour tour. Receive a free appetizer at the historic 21st Amendment bar and restaurant following the tour! Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011 from 6:00PM - 8:00PM; $20.00

A Walking Tour of the South End: During the mid-nineteenth century, Boston’s South End developed into a fashionable neighborhood of tree-shaded oval parks and bowfront bordered avenues. Explore this delightful neighborhood on foot, and discover the topographical and architectural development of this fascinating, multicultural, urban community. The tour will encompass an 1810 burial ground, a 1830s wooden house tucked away in an alley, and a number of charming masonry town houses. You will want to come back on your own to visit the many vibrant shops, galleries, and restaurants we will stroll by in the course of our tour. Receive a free appetizer at Stephi’s on Tremont following the tour! Sunday, June 26th, 2011 from 11:00AM - 1:00PM; $20.00 "
For more information please visit www.bcae.org or call the Boston Center for Adult Education at 617-267-4430

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Celebrate Mother's Day with the Wine ConneXtion!

Mother's Day is this very weekend (!) and for those of you last minute planners- the Wine ConneXtion in North Andover has just the event to set you right for the day!  If you haven't been out to the Wine ConneXtion yet, this is a golden opportunity.  On an average day they have countless bottles of wine, table wines to treasures, all at fantastic prices.  Honestly, walking through their aisles is a bit like walking through Willy Wonka's factory- new discoveries and happy finds at every turn. 

They are rolling out the red carpet however for this Mother's Day and on Saturday, May 7th, they invite you (and your mom) to their store to sample treats from A&J King, a bake shop located in Salem, MA and to chat with the folks from Ocean Spray and sample some of their delicious juices!  Staffers of all involved will be on hand to give you tips and tricks to make this Mother's Day a success!!

To keep the spirit of giving going, the Wine ConneXtion will also be accepting donations (not required but lovingly appreciated) for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.

As a way of tempting your palate a bit, the folks at A&J King and Ocean Spray have sent a long a couple of recipes- more of these for sure at the event!

The Details:

Saturday, May 7th, 2011 wine tasting from 12:00PM to 5:00PM
Mother’s Day treats served from 2:00PM to 5:00PM

The Wine ConneXtion, 117 Main Street in North Andover, MA

COST: Free. Donations are encouraged and will be donated to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. 
Now for the fun recipes!
A&J King Artisan Pancakes

Makes 8-10 pancakes
Heat griddle or large pan to medium high.
1.5 cups milk
1 tablespoon melted butter
2 eggs
2 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
2. In a larger bowl, mix the remaining ingredients. Stir the dry into the wet, using a whisk, until just barely smooth. Add more milk if necessary to achieve desired consistency.
3. Butter or grease the griddle and scoop your pancakes, making sure that they do not spread into each other. When the pancakes are golden on the bottom and the small bubbles rising to the surface to not fill back in when popped, carefully flip. Serve immediately, or reserve in a warmed oven until all are cooked.
4. Serve as you like – Andy and Jackie just use soft butter and real maple syrup.

Wine ConneXtion Ocean Spray Pomegranate and Cranberry Bellini's

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup ice
1 1/2 cups simple syrup
2 1/4 cups Ocean Spray Ocean Spray® Cran•Pomegranate™ Juice, chilled
1 750 ml bottle Prosecco, chilled
2 limes thinly sliced
1 bunch fresh mint for garnish
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) pomegranate seeds for garnish

1. Place ice in a 6- to 8-cup capacity punch bowl.
2. Add simple syrup, pomegranate juice, and cranberry juice. Stir well.
3. Slowly pour in Prosecco.
4. Garnish with lime slices, mint sprigs, and pomegranate seeds, and serve.
5. As an alternative to serving in a punch bowl, make Bellini mixture in a 6- to 8-cup pitcher. Divide pomegranate seeds between 12 champagne flutes, add 1 slice of lime and 1 sprig of mint to each glass, and pour Bellini mixture into each.  

Monday, May 2, 2011

Deep Ellum, Allston

Deep Ellum sits off the main drag of Allston's busy restaurant scene.  It sits far away from craziness that often overcomes the intersection of Harvard and Brighton Ave's.  Quietly, without any pretense, Deep Ellum sits proudly offering a unique beer list, some of the best cocktails in town, and a solid food offering.  Saturday evening I had the opportunity to relax in their hospitality, enjoy their staff, and indulge in some of their food.

We started, in rather perfect fashion for a relaxed meal, by sharing the Charcuterie plate, and the Crab Stuffed Avocado.  The Charcuterie was a pretty incredible blend of house made pates, mortadella, coppa, pickles, pickled onions, mustard and whipped lardo.  It may go without saying, but fresh foods and ingredients are infinitely better than their processed counterparts.  Mortadella, which can be found in deli counter, and often has a very flat, overly salty flavor, on this Charcuterie plate it stood out with clean flavors, delicate spice, and terrific mouth feel.  The other stand out from this plate was the whipped lardo.  If you haven't experienced lardo before, it is an incredible indulgent pleasure, quite literally fat from the back of a pig who, very often, has been fed a "healthy" diet composed of walnuts and apples among other decadent treats to ensure that the pig is "robust" in the correct areas, and that flavor is sweet and well flavored.  Deep Ellum whips this treat and adds salt and crushed red pepper flakes which creates a beautiful harmony between the pure fatty nature of the lardo.  This was pure pleasure. 

The crab stuffed avocado was a perfect contrast.  Though the avocado was rich and creamy, it was piled high with the crab salad that felt light with its citrus and cilantro notes.  Texturally this salad was perfect.  The large lumps of crab meat blended well with the ripe, but still firm avocado, forming many "perfect bites".  Paired with a frisee salad that was dotted with cherry tomatoes and a beautiful slice of a yellow heirloom tomato-it felt like a perfect entry to summer dining.

Finally we split the Saffron Israeli Cous Cous which combined large pearl cous cous with eggplant, chick peas, olives, tomatoes and zucchini.  While the saffron was undetectable in the dish, the rest of it was well contrived.  Israeli Cous Cous has the incredible ability of tasting buttery and rich without losing it's healthful qualities.  The eggplant and the zucchini were perfectly cooked, keeping their toothsome qualities and lending their earthy flavors to the dish in contrast with the buttery cous cous.  The chick peas, mealy in nature and therefore containing an entirely different mouth feel, gave a wonderful relief in texture, and the salty olives served on top provided a wonderful burst of salt.  

Deep Ellum is the perfect example of the age old saying "don't judge a book by it's cover".  From the exterior it appears to be a stereotypical pub-lack luster beer, the occasional shot of whiskey, bad nachos and worse burgers.  Step inside however and you'll find creative and well executed dishes, fantastic cocktails and a great selection of micro brews.  Deep Ellum is definitely worth the trip.  

Restaurant Reviews: A dead art?

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