Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Toast Ambassador Contest-Part Two!

As we continue our journey through the amazing day of competition at the Unilever Test Kitchen hosting the I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Toast Ambassador contest, we are finally arriving at the main event. After our Quick Fire was complete, and the amazing Bren was awarded top honors and an additional 5 points towards her score for the main event, we returned to our stations to make our original recipes.

I want to break here to say that the ladies that were assembled as finalists were some of the loveliest ladies I've had the pleasure of competing against. Throughout each round we stopped to check in on each other, lend a hand when needed, and generally just encourage each other. It felt far more like a group of girlfriends cooking together than each of us pitted against each other. I have to give a hats off to you ladies for making the experience so fun!

That said, when I got back to my station, the game face was on and I dove into my recipe full force, taste testing each component, and making sure that the flavors blended together just right. The pesto blended it's way into it's beautiful vibrant self, and the jam and cheese came together with wonderful salty and sweet balance. The crostini toasted to a beautiful golden brown, and I flipped them, spread them with my cheese mix and popped them back into the oven. A few moments later, the cheese bubbled, and it was time to remove them from the oven, drizzle the arugula purée over the top and plate them.

I presented my dish to the judges, and then it was out of my hands. I have to say this was the least amount of nerves I've ever had during any competition.

After each contestant had had time to present their dish, the judges left to deliberate and we stuck around to take photos, and chow down on each others creations. I have to say-sooo glad I wasn't a judge! Every dish was delicious! Every flavor well layered and each incorporation various textures and techniques. I was thrilled to get to eat away!

The fabulous Brook from Cheeky Kitchen, with her amazing Girlfriend Toast (toasted topped with marscapone cheese, fresh raspberries and lemon zest) took home the grand prize, and it was definitely well deserved! Her creation was simple, yet perfect, and really felt like a special treat to enjoy. I will be recreating this one in my own kitchen!

Monday, June 27, 2011

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Toast Ambassador Competition

Last week I let you all know that I had been down to New York City to compete in the I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Toast Ambassador contest. It was a fantastic experience full of fun stories, but today I wanted to concentrate on the competition itself!

It all started about a month ago when I received an email from the wonderful PR folks for I Can't Believe It's Not Butter when they asked if I'd like to compete in their Toast Ambassador program, meaning create an original recipe. I'm always up for a little recipe creation, so I immediatly said yes. In the mood for a little travel, my brain started running to different trips Ive taken, and I remembered my trip to Italy when I was little. Building on my memories, I found myself drawn towards apricots, crostini, bright colors and blue cheese. My Warmed Blue Cheese and Apricot Crostini with an Arugula Drizzle was born.

I was selected as a Finalist about two weeks ago, and last Thursday I traveled to New York to compete! Friday morning dawned bright and early with an amazing breakfast (to be discussed later), and the unveiling of a surprise competition! At breakfast we were asked to pick out our favorite bread, and it would be incorporated into a later competition. Then we were whisked to the Unilever test kitchen to start our day.

We saw some amazing demos, had a great lunch, and then started our first challenge-a Top Chef Quick Fire tribute- we were given our selected breads and asked to make a toast using the ingredients provided in 20 minutes.

I had a momentary brain lapse (those always happen at the wrong times right?), and ended up playing my entry a little safe. I created a healthy breakfast toast by melting I Can't Believe It's Not Butter in a sauté pan with cinnamon and lemon zest, and then toasted my chosen cranberry walnut bread in it. Then I topped the toast with banana slices, and a mix of fresh sweet berries, low fat vanilla yogurt and more lemon zest. The result had bright lovely flavors, and was packed full of good nutrients, though presentation wise it was a little sloppy.

Top honors for that round went to the fabulous Bren (link to follow), ladies this amazing chef does it all in stilettos....color me impressed!!!

Next up...the main event....

Friday, June 24, 2011


Wow! It has been one heck of a 24 hours!!

As I mentioned just a couple of weeks ago, I was selected as a finalist in the I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Toast Ambassador program. Being a finalist meant an all inclusive trip to New York City for a chance to compete in the finals! I gotta tell you, as soon as I got wind of being a finalist I was beyond excited! I love traveling, and I have definitely caught the travel bug lately, so I was thrilled to escape Boston for a bit, even if it was just a quick trip! I won't lie though, I was pretty stoked to make my warmed blue cheese and apricot crostini with an arugula drizzle again as well!

Yesterday evening, after my work day was complete, a lovely black town car rescued me from the Boston rain and shuttled me to the airport for my flight. Sadly my flight was delayed (a lot) so I didn't make it to "the Big Apple" until far later than I had hoped, but I did very much enjoy the door to door service!

Once in the city, I arrived at the lovely Paramount Hotel, located in the bustling Times Square area, just in time to observe the lively bar scene, check in, and head to my room to catch up on a little work. I am a party animal...obviously. However, this morning I awoke bright and refreshed and ready to hit the competition hard.

The PR firm for I Can't Believe It's Not Butter had really out done themselves and had scheduled a full day of activities, starting with breakfast at the famed Balthazar Boulangerie in New York's SoHo district. I'll be writing a full review of Balthazar soon, but for now let me just say-if you're in NY- GO!!!!!

We then headed to the Unilever offices for the competition. I won't give you too many details now, as there are some pretty phenomenal photos to come, but it was an incredibly fun day of cooking challenges, laughter and some amazing food!

Currently I am awaiting my return flight to Boston (which is delayed...again), but I wanted to give you all a quick update on what's been going on at ABFD since I've been a bit quiet the last couple days.

Happy Weekend!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Aragosta, Battery Wharf, Boston

Dining out, eating in restaurants, is a luxury.  It is the act of paying someone else to do a task that you could do yourself.  However, we dine out, we eat in restaurants for the experience, for the treat of it.  Sure, some of us tell ourselves it's to try something new, to check out a new cuisine, to find inspiration for our own cooking.  These may all be true, however beyond all of that, dining out should be like a little gift we can give ourselves.  This is the reason, I believe, that it is so upsetting when a restaurant fails to deliver.  When we are served something over cooked, or under cooked, something under salted or over, or something just off, well it rankles us.  We have committed to treating ourselves, but are finding dissatisfaction. Never good.  However, far worse than an overly salty bite, or perhaps a tough piece of meat, is a bad experience service wise.

Saturday evening my family and I headed out to celebrate both my birthday and my mothers.  We selected our restaurant of choice, the newly opened Aragosta on Battery Wharf, as the site of our festivities.  Aragosta opened just about two months ago in the Fairmont Hotel and has been receiving great reviews ever since. Their menu read like a delicious dream, and our anticipations were high.

We arrived on time for our reservation, and after a wait despite numerous empty tables, we were led to our table.  My first concern with dinner popped up just as we were sat and our server arrived to take our drink order.  Now, on this particular evening, in a cruel twist of birthday fate, I was under orders to not indulge in alcohol.  Anyone who knows me, probably knows that this was a curse worse than bad birthday cake for me, but I was trying to make the best of the situation.  I read through the drink menu, found one that sounded tasty, and asked if it was at all possible to make it non alcoholic.  Given that the selected drink was a mojito containing just rum with seltzer water, and fruit juices, I thought it might be relatively easy to convert to non alcoholic.  My request, as easy as I thought it was, was met tentatively, with our server stating that it was possible to do, but the bartender may choose to charge me for the drink as it is on the menu, alcoholic or not.  After some back and forth, and the word "silly" being tossed around quite a few times, I requested anything non alcoholic and that surely they could accommodate the request.  The bartender refused to not charge the full price, but, our server to the rescue, offered to absorb the cost of the drink.  I appreciated the offer, but I was left to wonder, what type of a restaurant was I in?  How could they not accommodate a non alcoholic request?

I got my answer throughout the course of the meal.  While our server continued to be helpful and kind, the service around her was an abomination.  The much anticipated drinks took about 20 minutes to be delivered.  They were delicious (alcoholic and otherwise) but were tinged with annoyance.  We ordered a couple of appetizers, the much acclaimed truffled lobster and white bean crostini, as well as a beat salad served with goat cheese, pine nuts and a pomegranate reduction.  The lobster crostini stole the show this round.  Thins of toasted baguette were topped with a creamy white bean puree, and then large pieces of lobster meat were loaded on, gently enhanced with truffle oil.  The decadence of the lobster and the truffle oil were beautifully balanced by the earthy beans, and the crunch of the toast was a perfect texture change.  The beet salad was also tasty, but nothing remarkable.  The duo of beets and goat cheese are time honored, and I had hoped that the pomegranate reduction would have been a unique twist but unfortunately it didn't create the flavor burst I was looking for.  All in all though it was a solid dish.

The time between our appetizer course and our entrees was the most unforgivable issue of the evening.  We waited between courses for approximately 45 minutes to an hour.  We spoke with our server who was understanding, and then I spoke with the manager, who found it amusing.  He laughingly told me that I should be using the time to build my excitement for the food I was about to be served.  Let me tell you- there are very few places where a wait to that length would be used to "build excitement" and not anger.  Those places would be run by world renowned Ferran Adria or Grant Achatz-those are restaurants where the presentation is art and the food is precise.  Aragosta, open for 2 months in a forgotten hotel on Battery Wharf?  You have not yet achieved that pinnacle of expertise and command of your craft.  I was not excited to wait for your creations.

The truly sad part about this was that my entree, seared tuna served over roasted fennel with marcona almonds and sweet raisins was delicious.  The combination of flavors and textures was spot on.  It is clear that the chef is beyond competent, and is, rather, brimming with creativity and strong execution.  His competency however, was completely overshadowed by the abhorrent mismanagement.

I spoke with the manager for a second time for the evening, this time him instigating the conversation I'm sure to receive a glowing report that the food was stupendous.  I agreed that it was delicious, but completely overshadowed by the poor experience of the long wait.  He seemed unphased.  

We were sent dessert to make up for the issues, an incredible chocolate cake, a light and beautiful olive oil cake and a plate of three types of gelato, each delicious.  The underlining notion, even here, was that the food is exemplary, but the service is lacking.  

Aragosta has a wonderful chef team.  Their food is precise.  It is imaginative, well contrived and artfully prepared.  However, if front of the house management is unable to clean up their systems and properly staff their dining room, I fear that the kitchen will forever be overshadowed and under appreciated.     

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sam's at Louis, Fan Pier, Boston

After some questionable weather patterns the past few weeks, we have had some gorgeous days recently.  One one such day Sam's At Louis, located on the Fan Pier in Fort Point Channel area, invited in a group of area bloggers and writers to enjoy their beautiful patio, and sample some of their delicious dishes.

Sam's at Louis opened last year, and I have to say- it has one of my favorite views in the city.  Located right on the water, their patio is elevated and looks at the Rowes Wharf and beyond to the financial district.  There is just no better spot to enjoy the beauty of Boston, short of being on a boat :-)

We were served light bites that evening, ranging from jalapeno crab Rangoon, to pistachio crusted lamb.  Favorite amount what a I tasted the evening was a ceviche halibut, topped with potato sticks and served in a lettuce leaf.  It was bright and refreshing, and had wonderful attention to detail with the texture of the potato. 

The staff at Sam's were wonderfully friendly and helpful, kindly putting up with round upon round of photos as they attempted to angle the plates in the bright rays of sunshine.  After enjoying my evening on their patio, I am certain I'll return for more summer enjoyment.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

King Arthur Flour- Day 2: Pie Crust

Pie, in and of itself, is delicious. Sweetened fresh fruit, bittersweet chocolate, tart lemon, pecans swimming in a sugary there a bad type of pie? However, a pie is not a pie if there is no crust....not really at least. However, how often as you chow down on a tasty piece of pie does the crust become a second thought, just a vehicle holding the contents? Horror of all horrors, it even gets cleaned out and left as an empty piece of pastry on a forgotten plate.  I can tell you why this happens- more often than not- pie crust is made from a mix from a box, and it's flavor is pretty bland.  Our second day at King Arthur introduced us to pie crust, the real kind, made from scratch, and my world was completely realigned.

Real pie crust is flaky, oh so flaky, it is tender, and it is full of flavor.  We were taught three invaluable tricks to making a true pie crust, or as I like to think of it- a work of art.  The first:  Use only ICE COLD water- make sure its super cold, and don't use too much.  I actually found that at first I thought I hadn't used enough water, but then when I turned it out to work it on my table, it came together perfectly.  The second: cut in the butter in two batches.  The first will get beaten in finer, the second set will remain in clumps.  Which brings me to the third: visible butter is NEEDED in good pie crust.  When it's just a dough you should still be able to see pieces of creamy butter throughout the dough- these release steam when they melt and help the flaky process.  The real beauty of this type of pie crust-is that it can be made for sweet or savory pies. We completed ours with a tomato and mozzarella layer and it was heavenly!

We were also taught how to make "pate sucree" pastry- or a sweet tart dough that resembles a sugar cookie.  This dough was much easier to make, as temperature really wasn't a concern, and it just required stirring to bring the dough together.  The result of this dough was much denser, without any concern of flakes, however it's flavor was sweeter, more intense, and absolutely more decadent.  We completed this dough with a strawberry and rhubarb filling that made for a very beautiful dessert.

I walked into King Arthur last week with some serious pie crust anxiety.  I had never attempted to make it from scratch, and have actually voted to have crustless pies served at Thanksgiving.  However now, knowing how easy it is to make real pie crust, and how unbelievably delicious it can be when made correctly- I think the crust is my favorite part now!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Cottage, Chestnut Hill

Sometimes you find yourself doing something that you know is wrong.  You can feel every fiber in your body saying "wait! stop! don't do this", but you don't listen, do you?  You march onward, valiantly going towards what can only be a disastrous end.  A month or two ago I was invited to check out The Cottage, a new restaurant invoking the food and feel of Southern California, which opened in their third location in Chestnut Hill, Newton at the end of May.  I set up my appointment for this past Saturday, and I knew, in my heart, that it was too early to check out the restaurant.  I knew that there would be missteps along the way, but I was comforted by the sincerity of the invitation as well the fact that the restaurant has two other locations, one in Wellesley, MA, and one in La Jolla, CA.  I figured that they must have some idea what they were doing.

We arrived on time for our reservation, and were promptly sat-good news there.  However, sit we did, for quite a while before our server greeted us.  We had decided on both drinks and our appetizer before he arrived at our table, and so were able to immediately place those orders, as well as a request for water.  We selected the Caramelized Onion Tart with Great Hill Blue cheese to begin with.  The tart was delivered quickly, though less of a tart, and more of a crispy flat bread.   The onions however were well caramelized, emitting natural sweetness that was perfect offset with tangy blue cheese.  They had paired these flavors with a smattering of figs and balsamic vinegar which added great contrast to the dish. This was the highlight of the evening.

As we nibbled on the tart, we found that we were drink less-both water and our bar drinks had gone un delivered.  We finally flagged down another waiter and inquired about our drinks, which were then brought immediately (I assume they were just sitting on the bar waiting for us), but water was still missing.  I requested the water a few more times, from several of the waitstaff, it was finally delivered after our appetizer had been cleared.  

We waited a long time for our entrees, which were finally ordered once our server made it back to our table, and when they were delivered, we found that we were utensil less, and then found it impossible to flag down any of the waitstaff to request more.  After debating for a bit, we snagged some off the unoccupied table next to ours.  Frustration.  I had selected their Grilled Dayboat Scallops as an entree.  These were served with spinach, papayas and avocados, and potatoes all in a sweet corn broth.  The list of ingredients screamed summer to me, perfect for a rainy and cold June evening.  Starting with the good- the corn broth was perfect.  Bursting with fresh corn flavor it was a wonderful tribute.  It absolutely brought the ideas of hot summer nights to the forefront.  The papaya and the avocado were both well ripened and added sweetness and decadence to the dish.  The scallops, however, were severely over cooked.  Each had taken on the texture and mouth feel of rubber, making them unappetizing.  The potatoes were missing, aside from one, from my plate.  Conceptually, this was a great dish, it just failed in execution.  

My dining companion had chosen the Grilled Shrimp entree, served with quinoa salad, including arugula, tomato, naval oranges and a citrus vinaigrette.  I stole a quick bite of the quinoa, excited to try a version not my own, and was sorely disappointed- it tasted bland, under seasoned and not at all interesting.  I also received reports that each of the shrimp served were over cooked as well, rubber counterparts to my scallops.  Finally, the tomato was served as two large slices placed over the quinoa salad, completely hiding it from the diner.  This might have been a beautiful presentation if the tomatoes were good, late summer, local tomatoes, however as it was they were rather pink, mealy, winter tomatoes- and the affect was more annoying than anything.

Being dessert lovers, we decided to stick around for dessert, though this meant waiting for our waiter to bring us the menus, coffee, a separate trip with cream, and then an entirely different trip to bring us their version of Boston Cream Pie.  Two thin rounds of cake were placed on top and beneath a thick serving of what I believe was ice cream- it was frozen so I'm going to assume ice cream, and then encased in chocolate and almonds.  It was served with a bit of hot fudge on the side.  Though this was an atypical interpretation of the  Boston favorite, I actually really enjoyed it.  The chocolate was a good quality, the ice cream was rich and creamy, and the cake, though not plentiful was moist and tasty.  It was hard to stop eating this one.

Overall, I think that The Cottage, Chestnut Hill location, has a lot of work to do.  Our waiter was very pleasant, but was missing for most of our meal, and incredibly slow to respond to requests.  I had the impression that this might have been his first server job- which is understandably not easy.  However, work can be done.  The kitchen staff was either overwhelmed, or just sloppy with their execution.  The menu is large, so I tend to assume they were overwhelmed.  Either way, between our over cooked entrees, and our neighboring tables finding "something questionable" on their plate, a closer eye must be paid.  If the both back of the house and front of the house can come together and put out a quality product, I feel that The Cottage will be a great spot in a sorely lacking area.  However, they must step up their attention to detail, or their run will end before it began.

Monday, June 13, 2011

King Arthur Flour, Day 1- Dinner with Sara Moulton

The team at King Arthur Flour had organized an incredible trip for us bloggers at Blog and Bake 2011, including a very special guest.  Sara Moulton, who maintained the titles of Executive Chef at Gourmet Magazine for 23 years, and found her way into the homes of at home cooks through the wonder of the Food Network as one of their first personalities.  Her cuisine is approachable, and her methods friendly for an inexperienced cook.  Her teaching method is precise, and her explanations are easy to understand.  Given all this, I was ecstatic to learn that she would be hosting a cooking demo for us at Blog and Bake, and we would be treated to a dinner with her at the end of the first day! 

After a day learning about breads, both yeast and quick breads, for which the one and only Sara Moulton joined our class, we headed back into the kitchen for a demo of the dishes that we would enjoy that evening at dinner.  She began by demoing boning a chicken, a task that I will forever be terrified by, but she made it look so easy!  A leg, a wing disconnected with ease, and a full breast made it off the carcass in a single piece.  I sat in astonishment from my perch.  Sara worked quickly and efficiently, showing us how to stuff filling under the membrane of a skin on chicken breast, making sure to show us how easy it is to work with that membrane and how much "give" it has to be fully stuffed.  I have used this membrane before during Thanksgiving to butter the meat and season it with sage and spices, however I've always been a little worried about breaking it.  Seeing Sara really work the membrane, and stuff massive amounts of spinach stuffing under it was really a revelation.  I feel much more confident in my abilities to stuff.  She was also careful to note that stuffing chicken in this manner builds a form of insulation, and, as she called it, a foolproof way to make a moist chicken breast!

She also showed us her methods for making mini goat cheese "souffles" (mini muffin pans for the win), spicy caramelized pecans, spaetzle, and mini ginger donuts.  As she delved through her secrets to making these fantastic dishes, my stomach began to rumble and I started to really look forward to dinner.

Our evening meal, with special guest Sara Moulton, was served at The Norwich Inn, who had also provided our accommodations for the trip. Our first seated course was a delightful Arugula salad topped with one of the gorgeous goat cheese souffles we had watched Sara make, and the spicy caramelized nuts.  The flavors of each of the ingredients came together in a beautiful harmony, with the pepper from the arugula mingling with the velvety tartness of the goat cheese, lightened with the wonderful crunch of the nuts.  I loved this as an opening course, its pungent flavors awakened my taste buds and let me know I was in for a treat.

The main course featured the chicken that Sara had demoed in class- plump chicken breasts with a beautiful layer of spinach stuffing mounded under the crisp skin.  Sara had been entirely right- the stuffing had insulated the chicken and the result was moist and succulent meat, tender to the fork and full of beautiful flavor.  This was served with the spaetzle, as well as a saute of gorgeous mushrooms.  The spaetzle, delicate in the flavor paired well with the chicken, and even more so with the earthy mushrooms.  

The final course, dessert, was the epitome of decadence.  We were served those delightful ginger donuts that Sara had made in class, with a spiked chocolate sauce.  I love when ginger, for all of it's spicy goodness, is used in desserts.  It is one of those beautiful ingredients that can cross the lines between savory and sweet with ease, and the application here, in donuts, was a perfect way to show off its versatility.  The chocolate sauce served with it was the perfect mix of decadence and naughtiness with a generous flavor of alcohol present.

Dinner was a positive delight- each course delicious, and we were lucky enough to be able to not only catch up with the bloggers we had been working a long side all day, but the staff at King Arthur, and Sara Moulton herself.  For the record, Sara is an absolute joy.  She is funny, extremely knowledgeable and just down right charming.  I'm searching the Internet to see if I can link to the recipes she made- if I can't I'll try to type them up for you all!  

Friday, June 10, 2011

King Arthur Flour -Day 1: Yeast Breads

It has been said that those who bake rarely cook, and that those who cook rarely bake.  The process for each are entirely different from each other.  Baking includes precise measurements, and following directions- perfect for an organized person.  Cooking, however, is less precise, an error is easily rectified, and the boundaries are much looser.  I fall into the "cooks" category.  I haphazardly throw ingredients together, a little of this, a little of that, and hope for the best.  I rarely follow directions.  So, I'm sure you can imagine my stress levels when I am faced with the need to bake.  My measuring containers are lacking, and I rarely have the needed ingredients.  This past weekend I was invited to attend several classes at the King Arthur Flour factory in Norwich, Vermont.  I leaped (literally) at the opportunity to familiarize myself with the principles of baking, and become more comfortable with the processes.

My excitement grew for weeks as the date of the "Blog and Bake" as it was termed came near.  I must admit a bit of my fears came to a head as well.  I have made simple breads before, but it takes me hours to make them since I read the instructions 100 times, would I be too slow?  Pie crust was on the itinerary- I didn't even want to touch pie crust with all that butter and temperature monitoring!  Pizza dough was the next big topic- I'll admit- concern about learning pizza dough was far more for my waistline than anything ;-). 

DAY 1:

Mise en place in the baking world- add all ingredients before
stirring so you know what's been added
 We began our first day of classes concentrating on yeast breads.  The staff at King Arthur Flour didn't just walk us through the process of putting together a bread and letting it rise, on the contrary, they gave us step by step instructions, including tips on how to measure flour- shake in flour to properly aerate it, and then level it for best accuracy- and why luke warm water is best for yeast- too hot and you'll kill it-, but they also gave us detailed, yet understandable descriptions as to the chemical reactions that take place in the dough.  These descriptions made it easier to understand why yeast breads behave the way they do, and, in my opinion, made it easier to comprehend and apply.  As a beginner baker with pretty limited experience- this class was perfect.  

Sure enough, when we were sent back to our stations to make bread, I whipped through making my dough, and then, when it was set aside, it rose up just as it was supposed to.  After just a bit of kneading, we divided the bread into two parts, and made a loaf out of one, and braided the other side to really get a feel for different types of breads.  Two gorgeous loaves of perfect white bread were mine, and I immediately started dreaming of a piece of toast with butter lightly melting over it. 

Mmmmm bread....

With my bread making fears tackled- I was ready to dive into the rest of our course work.  To come- a dive into flour- which to use when, and what the differences are, a look at "quick breads" with one of my favorite baked goods of all time- the scone, pizza dough, pie crusts, and a cooking demo by a very special chef!


King Arthur Flour assembled a wonderful group of bloggers to attend this two day course- there are some wonderful posts being written about it- please be sure to check them out as well.

Aimee: The Apron Archives

Amber: Bluebonnets and Brownies

Casey: Good. Food. Stories.

Corin: Vermont’s Seven Days

Donna: Cookistry

Glenda: Busy-at-Home

Jen: Savor the Thyme

Kelsey: The Naptime Chef

Maryellen: Love and Scraps

Jean and Bonnie editors from the Northeast Flavor Magazine, an beautiful new print magazine, which just published its third edition.  Jump on this now!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Freixenet Tastings & Tapas Truck Visits Boston This Weekend!

Every now and then, I strongly feel, a celebration is in order.  Perhaps it's in honor of a new job, an engagement, a new home, or maybe it's to celebrate getting everything done on a "to do" list, having a good day at work, or maybe even "just because".  Celebrations can really be about anything in my book, and the best way to kick off a celebration- with a glass of bubbly. 

This weekend Freixenet, makers of "Black Bottle Bubbly", Cava is rolling out their Tastings and Tapas Truck all over Boston.  At each stop games and prizes will be a plenty, as well as tapas and of course you'll have the opportunity to toast the evening with a little bubbly!

The Tastings and Tapas Truck will be at Mojito's Latin Lounge (48 Winter Street, Boston) tonight (Thursday) from 9 pm to 1 am.  Tomorrow it will stop at Tapeo (268 Newbury Street, Boston) from 8 pm to 12:00 am.  Finally, Sunday, it will be at the Stuart Street Block Party (Stuart between Arlington and Berkeley) from 12 noon til 8 pm. 

So why not, this weekend, celebrate the start of Summer and indulge in a little Cava?

For more information please visit

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Warmed Blue Cheese and Apricot Crostini with an Arugula Drizzle

Memories are an incredible thing. Some come through as snapshots, quick glimpses back in time, others play out like a movie, every detail captured. Some though surface as feelings, the details of events foggy, but the emotions real and present. I find that most often these types of memories are triggered by a scent or a taste.

I was very fortunate to travel to Italy when I was a little girl. My memories are scattered from this trip, I have quick snapshots of bright, beautiful flowers cascading from the trellis' of the home across from the hotel we stayed in, the funny tour guide we had in Assisi, pizza adorned with peas-the strangest thing I surely had eaten at that time. I remember the scent of my mothers perfume, and the smell of the roses warmed by the sun in the rose garden. My most vivid memory however, not surprisingly, is of our breakfast each morning. The hotel we stayed at had a limited offering- Melba Toast, or something very similar, and apricot nectar. I was not a fan of either. Today though, whenever I enjoy the sweet deliciousness of apricot jam I am brought back to Italy, and I smile at the idea of sipping on apricot nectar in such a beautiful place.

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter invited me to enter their Toast Ambassador competition -a contest where bloggers create and submit original recipes utilizing toast as a main component and an I Can't Believe It's Not Butter product as an ingredient. Toast, to me, more often than not, means crostini, which means "little toasts" in Italian. As I considered my entry for this contest, I thought that it would be perfect opportunity to pay tribute to my childhood journey to Italy.

Warmed Blue Cheese and Apricot Crostini with an Arugula Drizzle

Arugula Drizzle
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tbsp walnuts
1 cup arugula, washed
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and pepper

Blue Cheese and Apricot Blend
1/3 cup apricot jam
1/3 cup blue cheese
1/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

8-10 slices of French Baguette 1/4 inches thick
I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Spray with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Preheat the oven to 375.

In a food processor, combine the garlic, walnuts, arugula, and pinches of salt and pepper, pulse to blend, adding the olive oil gradually until pureed. Set aside.

In small bowl combine the cheese and jam-using a fork to break up the cheese, and blend it with the jam. Fold in the walnuts.

Place the bread slices on a cookie sheet, and spray each liberally with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Spray. Bake for about 10 minutes, monitor so you remove them from the oven when they are browned. Flip the slices over, spray the non browned side with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter spray. Spread the cheese and jam on to the bread, and place back into the oven for 5-7 minutes, or until the cheese starts to melt.

Remove the crostini from the oven, place onto a serving platter, drizzle with the arugula purée. Serve immediately, or at room temperature.

These make a perfect light bite for a party or gathering. The combination of blue cheese is cut beautifully with the sweetness of the apricots, and the arugula purée brings a brightness and a bit of relief from the dense spread. The walnuts do add a nice texture change, but can be easily omitted for those with allergies.  I loved using the I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Spray with Extra Virgin Olive Oil to coat the crostini.  The spray evenly coated the bread, getting into each crevice, and allowed the slices to toast up perfectly, creating a golden brown outside, a lovely crunch, and a moist inside.  The taste of the spray was just a little salty, but with a natural Olive Oil flavor that really rounded out the other flavors of the dish.  Together, the salty and sweet, combined with the wonderful indulgence of the spray and the brightness of the arugula really became a beautiful bite.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Two Glorious Days at King Arthur Flour

Phew!! That was an intense two days! As I mentioned I was up in Norwich, Vermont at The King Arthur Flour factory, learning the in's and out's of all things baking! I have to say, being a limited baker, I had no idea how idea how much I would learn! I was completely unaware of how many types of flour there are, and how important protein in the flour is to the end result! We were taught the tricks to making flakey pie crust, perfect tarts, delicious pizza dough, and glorious breads. At the moment I feel the need to sort through all of my experiences and new knowledge, so my detailed posts will be forthcoming. Today I'll present you with just a little teaser of what's to come!

Restaurant Reviews: A dead art?

Last December I declared 2023 the year I would return to food writing.  It was a bold statement (even now as I look at my last published dat...