Saturday, July 30, 2011

Starbucks Iced Coffee Blend

There is nothing more effective to get me going in the morning than a nice, dark, rich cup of coffee. The combination of the deep bitter flavor, combined with the steaming hot cup is an immediate recipe for a good morning. Of course, when it's 90 degrees outside, a hot steamy cup of coffee doesn't sound as appealing as it might say when it's 50 degrees out.

Iced coffee has long been the answer to this dilemma, making it a bit easier to imbibe in the hot summer months. I will say this much-I don't like iced coffee. The ice always melts into the coffee and waters it down far too much for my liking. My normal way around this is to add a shot of espresso to my iced coffee fixes to counter the water, and to drink it quickly.

Coming to the rescue, as usual, Starbucks has come out with their Iced Blend. Earlier this month, they sent me a bag to sample. This blend, a combination of several regions, is very robust, deep and rich. Even chilling this and serving it over ice doesn't water it down. This is a coffee that I have been totally enjoying over ice, a perfect addition to my summer.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Nantucket Gourmet, Nantucket

Saturday afternoon in Nantucket, I found myself with a bit of on my own down time.  I have recently become painfully aware that this type of alone time is difficult to come by, so I chose to relish it.  I took a quick tour around town, and then decided to get a lunch to go, and enjoy it in the quiet serenity of our inn's back yard.  I had been referred to Nantucket Gourmet by several people pre trip and so I took the opportunity to check them out. 

Nantucket Gourmet is a bit of an "all purpose" location, containing a store full of kitchen gadgets and gourmet products, and, in the back, a small deli counter where sandwiches are made to order.  To make ordering a breeze, a large stack of order forms sit on the counter with a plate of pens so you can check off the ingredients that you most desire in your sandwich (or wrap).  The choices are pretty extensive, so your sandwich gets to be as unique as you are (queue cheesy music now).

Breads include Baguette, ciabatta, wheat berry, or a choice of wrap (spinach, tomato, chili, etc).  After the bread is chosen comes the fun part of marking off your fillers- a list of condiments including two types of mustard, dressings, hummus, hot peppers are available to choose from.  Meats are next and include ham, turkey, chicken breast, roast beef, and tuna salad among others.  Finally you get to veggies and cheeses, the list of which stretches out to include the typical (lettuce, cheddar) to the atypical (cornichon, brie).  I had a tough choice in making up my order but finally settled on on a half sandwich made with Wheat berry Bread, artichoke spread, grilled chicken breast, carrots, tomato and cucumbers. 

The lovely ladies behind the counter take your order form and construct your sandwich right then leaving you just the right amount of time to browse, but short enough so you don't get into too much trouble (what do you mean I don't need a single cup French Press?).  Once your sandwich is made, its packed into a paper sack with a bag of chips and little container of olives, and you are ready to take it off on your journeys for the day.

Sitting outside, enjoying the sweet ocean breezes and enjoying a picnic was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday.  The sandwich was stuffed full of fresh crisp vegetables, and tender smoky grilled chicken.  The bread soft and chewy, though I would have loved a stronger wheat berry taste to it.  All in all though, I love all of the options that the Nantucket Gourmet presented me with to create my perfect lunch, and they put them together in a filling sandwich.

I will say that I found the prices a bit steep  ($6.35 for a half, $9.15 for the whole) but I suppose that when you're on Nantucket....      

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Summer House, Nantucket

Oh Todd certainly are a charming one aren't you?  Just when I had all about written you off after some lackluster dining experiences, you go and surprise me.  It was just this past April when Boston Magazine took it upon itself to issue it's break up letter to you on behalf of the city.  I read every word of that letter, I chuckled, and I agreed.  I echoed it's disgruntled prose on you being absent from the kitchens of Boston.  I felt it's abandonment as you have found yourself bigger, more exciting markets.  A few days later, I laughed again, at your supposed response listed on calling the city out for it's insecurities, our romanticism.  I, like a scorned girlfriend, laughed a bit too loudly at your remarks, outwardly casting them aside as utterances of an ignorant man, but inside wondering if they were true.  Either way, I proceeded on with my life, resolved to cut ties with Mr. English, and find new and better chefs to fill my needs.  This weekend however, as I enjoyed the pure beauty of Nantucket's quaint villages and picturesque shoreline, I found myself thrown deeply back in love with Todd English.

Tucked away in the tiny community called Sconset lies a hotel and restaurant bearing the name The Summer House.  Here, with it's majestic views, and private spaces, contains one of the newer Todd English restaurants, taken over just a couple years ago.  My party and I gathered, a bit early, in the lounge of the restaurant, and, seated next to a beautiful grand piano which would later produce wonderful dinner music, we enjoyed a cocktail.  I selected a dark and stormy- a wonderful mix of ginger beer and dark rum- my favorite summer time drink.  The warm and spicy mix of the cocktail warmed me to my surroundings and its relaxed, white, beachy ambiance relaxed me into its hospitality.  

Once we were shown to our table, and menus presented, I found that I had a very difficult time selecting my meal.  I bantered back and forth between starting with an interesting sounding Caprese Salad which included a basil ricotta, or selecting the Beef Carpaccio.  I finally landed firmly on the Carpaccio and was treated to a beautiful dish of perfectly rare beef, sliced to a paper thin perfection, well salted and peppered and then drizzled with a truffle vinaigrette and balsamic vinegar.  This was a perfect rendition of carpaccio.  The truffle vinaigrette was thick and creamy, and while it had the flavor of luxurious truffles, it didn't overwhelm the rest of the dish.  The balsamic played similarly, punching in notes of sweetness, but not overtaking the dish.  I adored this dish.  

As a note, our table also enjoyed two platters of Vineyard oysters- these were also perfection.  Briney and sweet, these chilled oysters were easy to enjoy, and were actually a pleasure to the palate.

I had an equally difficult time choosing my entree as I did my appetizer, but finally settled on their Halibut, served with prosciutto over the top, and resting on a blue cheese yogurt sauce.  The flavor combination within this dish was outstanding.  I ordered it based almost solely on the blue cheese yogurt component (I'm such a sucker for interesting ingredients), but was enthralled with all of it.  The halibut, a meaty white fish, had delicate, yet clean flavors, and when paired with a slightly smoky, salty prosciutto- the fish was elevated to the next level.  The real beauty here was adding in that yogurt sauce to each bite.  The sauce had the tang of yogurt, with just hints of that stinky blue cheese to it, both flavors playing together in harmony.  I had anticipated one being much stronger than the other, but the result of perfect proportions here allowed them work together and complement the fish, while still allowing the natural fish flavor to shine. This was a perfectly executed dish.  

I ended my meal with orange panna cotta.  Now it takes a lot for me to steer myself away from a molten chocolate cake (a LOT), but just a couple of bites into this delicate dish and I was glad I had chosen it.  Creamy panna cotta, offset with natural orange sweetness comprised a perfect end to my meal.

I walked in to The Summer House, cocky, and daring them to impress me.  I laughed at the name Todd English and thought "that guy? He's yesterday's news".  I entered with my head held high, believing that Boston Magazine had done us all a favor by breaking up with him.  I left, rather begrudgingly after an evening of delicious food, bounteous wine, and wonderful company, wondering if I sent him a box of chocolates if he'd take us back.  Chocolates and a bottle of wine...or two?    

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Company of the Cauldron, Nantucket

A few years ago one of my favorite young chefs, Daniel Silver, was working out on Nantucket at a small, quaint restaurant called Company of the Cauldron.  I had the (mis)fortune of only visiting Nantucket during the off season, when the highly acclaimed Company was closed.  Though I was able to tour the space, and meet with the owners, I didn't have the opportunity to sample their fare.  Since then, Dan has moved on, clear across the country to Aspen, Colorado, but my desire to dine at Company has remained.  This past weekend, during a quick trip to Nantucket, my dream came true.  I had dinner at Company of the Cauldron.

Company of the Cauldron is an intimate restaurant set on the cobblestone street called India, just off of the main downtown area.  A cauldron hanging from the door jam is it's main indicator, though menus outside the door confirm it's presence. Unassuming in decor, the Cauldron has a unique offering to it's guests- a prix fixe meal, with a set menu each evening.  There are no options to the menu, what is listed is what is served.  Of course, if you have allergies or preferences a simple call to the restaurant a few days prior to your reservation will guarantee that tweaks to the nightly menu will be taken.  The restaurant has two nightly seating's, once at 6:45 and one at 8:45.  We arrived at 8:35 pm for our 8:45 seating and found a crowd waiting outside the door, apparently when they say 8:45- they mean it.  The doors to the restaurant were not opened until the minute hand struck the 45 mark, and we were seated as we walked into the space.

It was an interesting experience to me to not have to read a menu at all, we perused the wine list briefly, made our selection, Wild Horse Pinot Noir-one of my all time favorites, and then were free to dip into the bread served with sesame hummus.  I always enjoy when the bread course is served with something a little different and the sesame hummus was a nice twist.  I had to cut myself off though- my excitement for the dinner was rising by the minute.

Our first course was a house made ricotta cavatelli served in a puree of fresh local peas, accented with chopped black truffles, crispy pancetta and mint.  The cavatelli had light subtle flavor, yet had a wonderful chewy texture which gave a perfect textural release when combined with the almost soup like consistency of the pea puree.  Peas served with mint is such a classic pairing, and here the mint assumed it's role of complimenting the fresh peas with finesse. I was pleasantly surprised that the truffles didn't overwhelm the dish, as sometimes truffle flavor can, and I loved the crispy pancetta.  To be frank-I easily could have licked my plate clean.  Out of respect to my sister, my dining companion, and to the staff at Company, I refrained.  

Our entrees were served in perfect timing to our first course plates being cleared- a few moments of rest between the two.  The selection for the evening was a wood grilled sirloin topped with bacon jam, served over Parmesan grits, and complimented with a fennel and fresh peach slaw.  The sirloin, tender to the bite, was served a perfect medium rare, with pure and clean beef flavor ringing through.  The bacon jam was smoky and delicious, and I swear I detected light flavors of cherry as well- which was absolutely wonderful.  I loved the use of grits with this dish.  They were cheesy and delicious, and their slightly grainy texture really made them stand out from a typical "potato" or "polenta" side.  Finally, the slaw was the most unique component- fennel and peaches dressed with an Asian inspired sauce.  Had I known that it would have an Asian feel to it, I probably would have doubted it's addition on the plate.  The rest of the dish seemed almost down home, and Southern, this slaw would have seemed out of place.  However, in it's application, it was light and refreshing, and a perfect compliment to the rest of the meal.  The light soy and ginger flavors lent brightness to an otherwise heavy dish.

Dessert for the evening was Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta served with Yuzu curd and macerated blueberries.  I have to say, this summer, I am loving Panna Cotta, the light, formed similar to pudding dessert is just so refreshing in the hot months.  Company of the Cauldron's version had the perfect amount of vanilla included to make it stand apart, but not overwhelm the delicate dessert.  

All in all, Company of the Cauldron executed exactly as I thought that they would- wonderfully.  Each course contained elements of uniqueness, but with every component complimenting the others.  Every item was perfectly seasoned, and cooked to the correct temperatures.  Every course was creative and delicious. 

I am thrilled to have finally gotten to sample the food at Company of the Cauldron. Though my friend Dan has moved on, I was confident that any place he has worked is an establishment that produces fantastic food.  When you're headed to the beautiful island of Nantucket, please be sure to stop by Company of the Cauldron- you won't be disappointed.

And, because I feel the need to promote friends when I can, Daniel Silver now holds the position of Chef De Cuisine at Syzygy in Aspen, Colorado if you're in that neck of the woods.   

Monday, July 25, 2011

Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse, Liberty Wharf, Boston

Back in March I had the extreme pleasure of touring the still under construction space that would eventually hold Boston's first Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse. Del Frisco's is a national chain, specializing in premium steaks, chops, and seafood. Since the restaurant opened in April, Boston has been buzzing about it, and I have been itching to return. Last Thursday I attended a media dinner and I was finally able to sink my teeth into one of those fabulous steaks I had been hearing about.

The first thing to note about Del Frisco's are the views. Set on Liberty Wharf, the wall of windows incorporated into the structure offers stunning views of Boston Harbor, and the Bank of America Pavilion. The dining rooms, and some of the private dinning space maximizes this view which results in a wonderfully pleasing ambiance, different from many steakhouses which seem to capitalize on few windows and very dark woods.

We were treated to a nice sampling of their menu as our dinner, beginning
with their appetizers. Platters of chilled steamed shrimp dressed in three varieties of sauce (traditional cocktail, a mustard base cream, and an Italian marinade) we laid out in front of us accompanied with their crab cake, tuna tartar, and their beef carpaccio. The shrimp served were large and fresh, sweet with their own natural flavors, and perfect both for showcasing the sauces, and standing on their own. The cocktail, classic in it's base, had been heightened from a sometimes lackluster state to having a nice kick to it. It paired very well with the shrimp. The mustard based cream had been given a very healthy dose of white pepper, which slightly overwhelmed the nice acidity of the mustard making this sauce a little flat. The Italian marinade however was packed with bright flavors stemming from hearty use of fresh herbs, garlic and vinegar. This was, by far, my favorite of the shrimp variations.

The crab cake was unique in it's own right, large portions of lump crab, lightly tossed with seasonings and very few breadcrumbs, baked and piled high on top of a creole inspired mayo based sauce. The crab was succulent, the seasonings were spot on and the sauce had a good blend of both smoke and heat. This was a great crab cake really showcasing the meat and not the fillers.

The tuna tartar was one of the standout dishes I sampled at the opening party back in April. A great mix of fresh tuna, herbs and acid to cut the denseness of the tuna. Paired with crostini lightly drizzled with vinegar, this is a wonderful appetizer. This would actually be what I ordered if I were to return to Del Frisco's on my own. It's light freshness, mixed with the bright acid, is the perfect way to begin a decadent meal in my book.

My final taste of the appetizers unfortunately fell a little flat, the beef carpaccio. I am a huge fan of beef carpaccio and will order it wherever I go. Normally the rare beef is perfectly offset by pepper (either black, or incorporated through arugula), and salt which enhances what is a beautiful thins slice of meet. Unfortunately at Del Frisco's there wasn't enough of either of these two seasonings used, and the meat didn't feel as special as I knew it was.
With appetizers complete, we were served a salad course next, my selection being the Del's signature salad consisting of lettuce served with tomatoes, topped by an avocado goddess dressing and large thick slices of bacon. This salad was a delight. The creamy dressing offset the refreshing lettuce and the tangy tomatoes perfectly. The bacon was simply over the top. Clean and non greasy to the taste, the bacon had pure smoky flavors and a nice chew to it. I could wake up to a few slices of that ban every day happily!Finally it was steak time. I, in my extremely carnivorous ways, selected the bone in rib eye for two reasons-the marbling of fat I knew the cut would contain, and that trusty bone. Marbling of fat throughout a steak is a clear indicator of flavor. While it's cooking, the fat melts into the meat, and enhances the natural flavors. The bone, which I like to think of as the "epicenter of flavor" infuses sits natural flavors as it cooks. The combination is wonderful. I requested my steak to be cooked to medium rare, my usual choice. My steak was flavored perfectly. A simple crust of black pepper and salt, the first few bites were perfection. Towards the center of the steak I did find that the temperature dropped considerably and found a much more rare bite. However, I actually enjoy my steak rarer and happily relished it. We were treated to several side dishes for the evening: chateau potatoes, onion rings, steamed broccoli, and lobster macaroni and cheese. The potatoes, unfortunately, just didn't do it for me-mealy in texture and over salted, I quickly tasted and surpassed them. However, the steamed broccoli which I feared would be over cooked and flavorless was crunchy and well seasoned. The onion rings were completely delicious, large rings of onion, battered with an impossibly light and crunchy exterior, fried to perfection, maintained their integrity of onion and provided a true onion flavor in every bite. Perfection. The lobster Mac and cheese was also a treat, elbow noodles encased in cheese and topped with a buttery bread crumb topping-every bite yielded both melty cheese, and a delightful crunch. My serving didn't have as much lobster as I would have liked, but I think that was my own fault for urging our server to only give me small portions!Dessert gave us options as well, a banana bread pudding, a molten chocolate cake, cinnamon creme brûlée, lemon cake and fresh berries served with fresh whipped cream. I sampled each, a bite of the lemony and sturdy cake, a spoon of the creme brûlée, a bit of the cake, the pudding, however the standout for me, after such a decadent meal were the incredibly fresh berries. Large sweet blackberries, tender and tangy raspberries, and perfect slices of strawberries were the perfect end to the evening satisfying the gentle sweet tooth, but without going too over the top. The addition of fresh fruit to any menu makes me very happy and when the restaurant has found those perfect specimens of in season fruit-even better.

My experience at Del Frisco's was pleasurable. The wines served, two from their incredible selection, were well balanced. They nicely complimented the meal, and both were selections from our own West Coast, including one from the great state of Washington, which is my favorite wine region. Our servers were helpful, knowledgeable and funny, a rare combination I've found. The only clear misstep was in their timing, each course separated by lengthy pauses that made us grow a bit restless.  However, the tasty food, gorgeous views and friendly staff made up for that and overall, the meal was a success.  There is some tough competition in Boston for steak houses, Del Frisco's would get a second visit in my book.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Tour of the North End, sponsored by Bertolli

Italian food...the very words conjure up a myriad of images- all of which are delicious: long strings of spaghetti, bright red tomatoes, green leaves of basil, creamy white cheeses and of course the beautiful cured meats that are sure to pop up.  I've so often found that when I announce, to whoever is listening, that I'm craving Italian, well I'm rarely met with opposition.  There is something about the flavors of Italy- silky olive oil, pungent garlic, sweet basil, tangy tomatoes-that when combined just spell delicious in any number of wonderful formats. 

Last weekend I was invited to join the wonderful folks from Bertolli on a tour of Boston's North End to discover the tastes of Italy.  I'm sure you can imagine how quickly I responded yes on that RSVP!  Founded in 1865, Bertolli is one of the leading producers of Olive Oil, entering the US market by the request of Italian immigrants.  As time elapsed the company grew its exportation business, and today Bertolli supplies tomato sauce as well as frozen meals to the people of the United States (and beyond) as a way to bring authentic Italian food into the busy homes of America.  

We all know the pressures of the day- long days at work or school, family obligations, the all important "fun" time that we try to schedule after responsibilities are complete- it doesn't add up to a lot of "free" time.  Bertolli has created their line of products with the idea in mind that we should all be able to enjoy a classically Italian meal without spending hours in the kitchen.  Even further, they know that even more authentic Italian ingredients can be found right in our own back yards-like the North End!

We began our day at Caffe Vittoria, a beautiful cafe located on Hanover Street established in 1929.  Entering Vittoria, I felt like I was in Italy, darting into a cafe in search of good coffee after a morning in the Piazza.  The decor calls to mind this very image, and you know you're in for a good cup of coffee as the walls are adorned with early espresso machine models.  I selected a latte as my beverage, and indulged in an Almond Biscotti dipped in rich chocolate for my nibble.  The coffee was good and strong, with a tight, yet creamy foam on top.  Perfection.  The biscotti was crisp, and full of almond flavor with the right amount of sweetness to offset the coffee.  We were also treated to gelato-mint chocolate chip for me.  The gelato, cold and creamy, was refreshing and indulgent all at once.  It was quite a treat.

Somewhat begrudgingly, it was time to leave Caffe Vittoria, and we moved out tour along to Salumeria Italiana (151 Richmond Street).  Salumeria Italiana may be one of my favorite spots in the North End. Though it's small in size, it's over loaded shelves are chock full of wonderful finds (truffle oil to good tuna, imported pastas, coffee and sauces) and at its head, a deli counter sits full of cheeses, cured meats and prepared salads (think octopus salad). The bounty of it's goods is almost overwhelming, however once you speak to any of the friendly workers they will assist you in finding exactly what you need- and all those things you never knew you wanted.  We were treated to a wonderful cheese and olive oil tasting while we stood- if you ever have the opportunity to do this- please do. It is absolutely outstanding to taste the differences in olive oil.  Just like wine, region, soil quality and weather can affect the taste of olive oil making it sweeter, or spicier, enhancing grass notes, or mellowing to a buttery richness. It is an experience to be had.  Salumeria Italiana is the place to do it.

After experiencing the taste of earthy Italy, we moved on to Gigi's Gelateria, back on Hanover Street, to indulge in the cold treat.  We were addressed by one of the managers who explained the wonderful process of making Gelato, how it includes more milk than ice cream, and how that process makes it far less filling, and far more refreshing.  Gigi's also offers a wide array of sorbets which don't contain milk at all, and I elected to have wonderful cup combining both melon and grapefruit sorbet.  The bright flavors that shown through these icy concoctions were truly outstanding.  The grapefruit (by far my favorite) was the perfect blend of sweet and tart, full of real fruit flavor that made me feel as though I was chowing down on the actual nectar.  Delicious. 

Our next food stop- DePasquale's Homemade Pasta Shoppe, located on Cross Street.  Frank DePasquale is a household name here in Boston, as his empire owns some of the best restaurants in the North End including Mare, Bricco, Gigi's and many others.  I have been itching to go to his Homemade Pasta Shoppe since it opened a few years ago and welcomed this opportunity. We learned, as we crowded into the small space, that within those walls one single lady makes all of the pasta for all of his restaurants.  While we were there, she stood, behind the counter, rolling out pasta dough and creating ribbons of spaghetti.  The Shoppe produces numerous selections of handmade short pasta, flat pasta, shaped pasta, and ravioli.  Their filled pastas are all inventive (think Eggplant and Fontina, or Artichoke and Goat Cheese), some are made gluten free, and all are made by hand.  It is an amazing labor of love.  I was able to take home a package of the ravioli-I'll report back once I've had a chance to indulge.

After we wrapped up at DePasquale's, we headed to Lucca's for dinner. Lucca sits at the head of Hanover Street and offers classic Italian fare.  We were treated to antipasto plates, which I was thrilled to note included all of the key points I look for in antipasto- pickled vegetables, fresh seafood, cured meats, olives and cheese.  Lucca added some heat to their vegetables which I enjoyed but heard from others might have been a bit much.  They dotted the plate with beautiful fresh octopus, gorgeous fresh mozzarella and salami. I was in heaven, and I practically licked my plate clean- I remembered manners at the last moment.  

We were treated to a dual entree- a split plate between a tagliatelle with large chunks of lobster meat and sweet corn both pureed and left whole adorning the dish, as well as a ravioli of sweet caramelized onions and goat cheese enhanced with fava beans and blistered cherry tomatoes. As much as I loved the tagliatelle, I was disappointed in the ravioli.  I found the onions almost too sweet and overpowered the other, delicate, flavors of the dish.  However, that tagliatelle was a show stopped with well balanced flavors and a generous portion of lobster.  

We, being the over indulge rs that we apparently are, ordered all the desserts on the menu to sample.  Standouts- a vanilla bean panna cotta which was creamy and light with perfect vanilla notes, and the chocolate torte which was rich and decadent.  

Overall, the meal at Lucca was a wonderful showcase of Italian cuisine.  Their Antipasto plate showcased the bounty of Italy from their Mediterranean seas to their olive trees and cheese makers.  Their pasta was fresh and flavorful, and their desserts invoked that lovely sweet tooth that we all know Italians have.  I've been to Lucca before and have always enjoyed my meals there- it is definitely a spot to check out.

I left our group after dinner and walked away feeling full.  Sure, partly I was full from the decadent tour Id been on, but mostly I was full with knowledge.  I was full from the feeling of knowing that finding good, authentic Italian products isn't more than just a trip to the North End, or, even better, a trip to your neighborhood grocer for a bottle or two of Bertolli Olive Oil or Pasta Sauce.      

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Give Away Time! I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Host a Warmed Blue Cheese and Apricot Crostini Give Away!

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Toast is pretty delicious isn't it?  I've done a lot of thinking about toast recently, especially during and after the I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Toast and Tweet party last night on Twitter.  Delicious bread, gently warmed til the outside gives a satisfying crunch when bitten into it, topped with any myriad of toppings, the heat from the bread gently warming those as well. I gotta say- toast sounds pretty darn delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner. 

If I'm going to be accurate here, really, my love affair with toast began a few weeks ago.  It all began when I was invited to compete in I Can't Believe It's Not Butter's Toast Ambassador contest.  I loved coming up with the recipe for my Warmed Blue Cheese and Apricot Crostini, and I have to say- testing out the end product wasn't such a chore either.  My hard "work" paid off, and my recipe was selected as one of the finalists in the Toast Ambassador program!  I was flown on down to NYC to compete in the contest, and happily made my creation in the Unilever Test Kitchen.  Though I didn't get to win top prize for my little crostinis, I did walk away with the pure joy of competition and the honor of being a finalist! 

Photo Courtesy of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter
Of course none of that helps you now does it?  Sure, I can wax on about how I had a great time, how the trip was lovely, and how delicious my toast creation was, but those are just words to you now aren't they?  Well, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter wants to change all that!  They want to help you, my dear readers, create Warmed Blue Cheese and Apricot Crostini at home! 

They have offered to sponsor the
Photo Courtesy of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter
following giveaway to be awarded to one of my readers! 

  • Spreader and set of four herb jars
  • Cuisinart 4-cup Mini Food Processor
  • Avignon Serving Platter
Photo Courtesy of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter
Let me tell you- I am IN LOVE with my Cuisinart Mini Food Processor and I cannot tell you how excited I am that I Can't Believe It's Not Butter will be bestowing one on one of you guys!  It is one of the most useful kitchen tools- makes prep a breeze just like it's larger version, but in much more manageable sizes!  Round out this amazing prize with herb jars, a gorgeous serving platter and a fun spreader- you really can't get much better! 

For your entry tweet me @BostonFoodDiary using #ToastTues with your favorite toast recipe! Contest is available to US Residents only, and entries must be in by: Monday, July 25, 2011 at 11:59 pm ET 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

WIN Tickets to the Red Sox Picnic In The Park!

They are the "boys of summer", they welcome the warm weather and celebrate their victories in the midst of cook outs and beach days.  In Boston, the Red Sox players embody the wonderful season of summer.  It really is no surprise then, that our "boys" are local celebrities. Sighting a player around town is always exciting, and discussed in great detail for weeks afterwards.  Well, how would you like the opportunity to meet some of those great players?  To share a meal perhaps and ask for all the autographs you want? Every year Fenway hosts their Picnic in the Park, which gives attendees access to a 40 minute autograph session with the players, a cookout in the outfield, auctions, entertainment, and a goodie bag!  

Do you want in?  Do you want to go to Picnic in the Park?  Well, Tickets For Charity is giving away a pair of tickets to head on over to the park this Sunday (July 24) and experience the Picnic after the game has wrapped up! 

To enter, please click here, to be taken to a fun game that will enter you to win this fantastic prize.  All entries must be in by midnight on Thursday, July 21st, and the winner will be named by 9 am ET on Friday, July 22.  Good luck all- I've heard only the BEST things about Picnic in the Park from past years!

For more details on Picnic in the Park please click here.

To enter the contest please click here.

For more information on Tickets for Charity please click here

Monday, July 18, 2011

Apple Pie- the Ultimate Comfort Food?

Sometimes life is hard.  Sometimes, things are stressful, days are long, and there doesn't appear to be an end in sight.  Sometimes you just want something comforting to envelope you like a big hug and squeeze until that monster under your bed has found a new home to live in.  Sometimes you just want to indulge in something that brings you back to childhood, when your biggest concern was staying up past your bed time, and not that terrible deadline that is looming.  On days like those, a nice big slice of apple pie is often all that's needed to bring you the comfort that you so desperately seek. 

Now, I know what you're going to say- it isn't the season for apple pie!  Apple pie is supposed to be made with it's cold outside and the wind howls and that "white stuff" falls from the sky.  Traditionally, sure, I agree with you. However, when life is handing you a rough hand, I see nothing wrong with perking up with a nice slice of homemade apple pie- and maybe even top it with some ice cream!

With all of this in mind, I set off this weekend to my first ever apple pie- a task I have always left to my mother.  I began with the pie crust.  Ever since my trip to King Arthur Flour earlier this summer, I have wondered if my pie crust knowledge would translate in my own kitchen, or if I would fail without the watchful aid of the King Arthur Flour ladies on my side.  I figured there was no way to find out without trying and so I cracked open my big King Arthur cookbook and got to work on their basic pie dough.

2 2/1 cups all purpose flour
1 cup butter (cold)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup - 1/2 cup ice cold water

As I was taught at KAF, I whisked together the salt and the flour, then I cut half the butter into the dry ingredients and combined the two with a fork.  Then I added the remainder of the butter in the same way.  The idea here is that when you add the butter in two batches, pieces of the butter remain in tact to some degree and are pretty big in the dough.  The benefit to some of the butter keeping its size, is that when you go to bake the dough later, the butter melts in the oven and creates steam.  That steam creates that lovely flaky affect in the pastry.  After adding the butter- is the "tricky" part.  Add the water, just a little at a time, until the dough holds together when you make a ball.  The challenge here it to a. not use too much water (pasty-yuck), and b. to not over work the dough.  If you handle the dough too much, the butter will melt and you can say good bye to those flakes we were hoping for.  Once the ingredients are combined, turn out the dough, which will still be a little crumbly, and lump it together on your counter top.  Using the heels of your hands, push the dough together and then kneed it out away from you in one motion, fold it and kneed it one more time.  The dough should be well formed at this point, wrap it in Saran wrap or wax paper and refrigerate for at least two hours- I left if there over night.

The next morning, armed with my pie crust and 7 Granny Smith apples, I made my way to my mothers to take full advantage of both her expertise and her air conditioning.  We peeled the outer skins off the apples, cored them, and sliced them.  Then we combined a bout a cup of sugar, a couple of tablespoons of flour, cinnamon and nutmeg to taste and just a spot of salt in a small bowl.  We had no exact measurements.  My mom's apple pie is a feeling- if the apples are very juicy- a little extra flour is added, if they are a bit dry, less is used.  If the apples are extra sweet, less sugar is used- and so on until perfect marriages are found.  We added the dry ingredients to the apples, tossed, and then let them hang out together, marinating in the spices and allowing the juices and flavors to mingle.  

I rolled out half my pie crust and lined the bottom of a square pie plate, and then rolled out the other half for the pies top.  In this piece of dough I etched a tree-some might have called it an apple tree-personally I don't think my artistic skills warranted that.  However, once the oven was heated to 425 degrees, we loaded the apples into the pie plate, dotted the top of the apples with just small little pats of butter for a little extra "love", covered them with the top pastry level, squeezed the two pastry layers together and painted the top with heavy cream to give color to the top dough.  Then, as an added touch, we sprinkled an even mix of cinnamon and sugar over the top for some fun crunch and flavor. 

I ask you-is there anything, anything, so wonderful as apple pie?  The spicy flavors from the cinnamon and nutmeg combined with the sweet tart apples all encased by flaky is heaven on a plate. 

What is your favorite comfort food?  When you've had a tough day- what do you most want to help you get through it?   

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Musings on a Hot Night

"One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.". ~Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, Pavarotti, My Own Story

For those of you who read A Boston Food Diary regularly, you may have noticed that my updates have not been as consistent as they were. Over the past few weeks, my professional life has gotten a bit more hectic, all for good reasons but it has left me a bit more harried after work and on weekends with a bit less time to update. Never fear though-I am working on a new system and will return to "regularly scheduled programming" postings....shortly :-)

In the mean time though-I continue to devour delicious food, and experiment in my kitchen (lemon strawberry ice cream anyone?). Updates to follow!

Is Savannah, GA In Your Future?

Love her or not, Paula Deen has brought butter back. Banished for years to the "unhealthy" food aisle, Paula Deen has single handedly made it cool again. I, for one, think she might even be a bigger ambassador for butter than Julia Child.

Ms. Deen however isn't just about butter though. Several years ago she signed on with one of the best ham companies out there- Smithfield. Well, for all you Smithfield and Paula Deen fans out there they have created the ultimate contest.

From the official announcement:
A trip for winner and one guest to Savannah, GA in October 2011 (dates TBD with Paula Deen); including round-trip coach class air transportation, two night hotel stay, Paula Deen Tour of Savannah, Lunch at The Lady Sons, Dinner at Uncle Bubba’s Restaurant and transportation, additional meals for two days. See contest rules and regulations for a complete description of the grand prize.

To enter, please visit:!/CookingwithSmithfield

I have to admit, Savannah is high on my list of "to visit" spots!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Guest Post: James Kim, from Food On The Table, Breaks Down Eating Local!

It is certainly now that glorious time of year again where farm fresh produce is abundant and our local farms are kicking into high gear.  Over the past couple of years, and definitely during these warmer months, we have been exposed to the cry from the masses to "eat local"!  I have often played my own hand at that, talking about different farms I frequent and markets I shop at.  However, I still feel that there is some mystery about the easiest ways to eat local, so when writer James Kim asked if he could submit a piece on breaking down, "eating local" I immediately said yes. 

James breaks down the best ways to find that local food around you, and a bunch of great on line resources to help you out.  Without further adieu- I give you James Kim:

"How to Eat Local

You hear the benefits of eating local preached everywhere. Minimizes air pollution. Strengthens local economy. Gives you fresher food. The list goes on and on. But now you want to implement local foods in your meal planning. Here are some easy tips to help you get started.

Know Your Seasons

In our globalized economy, you can now buy nearly any grocery item year round. But buying food in season can cut miles and miles out of food travel and minimize air pollution. Smart Living provides a search engine which provides a list of seasonal food for each state. To help you and your family internalize your list of seasonal foods, create rituals! In summer, you can bake a pie out of your favorite seasonal fruit (find a great vegan pie crust recipe here). You could even go ultra-local and plant a fruit tree in the backyard. Imagine: fresh peaches, right in your backyard!

Farmers’ Markets

Find a farmers’ market near you by visiting the USDA website, which contains a farmers’ market search engine.

Take a Field Trip

No really. Take a “trip” to a “field” by visiting a nearby farm! Not only is this good ol’ fashioned fun, but it’s educational for the kids (in addition to yourself). Learn about the methods used to grow and harvest your food straight from the source. Find a local farm on the Eat Wild website.

Another great field trip to take? Head to the country and go to a u-pick farm. Here, you can pick your fruits or veggies straight off the farm and pay for what you’ve picked when you’re done. Try the Pick Your Own website to find a u-pick farm near you.

Eating local doesn’t have to be tedious. Take these steps to going local, and have fun doing it!

James Kim is a writer for Food on the Table is a company that provides online budget meal planning services. Their goal is to help families eat better and save money."

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Woodman's, Essex, MA

I have this rule-I just don't eat seafood in place too far from the ocean. Maybe it's from growing up in New England where I'm always close to the Atlantic, maybe it's a bit of food snobbery, but I just enjoy seafood more when I know that vast body of water is close by. Now, if I can enjoy my fish and crustaceans where I can actually see or hear the ocean- even better!

Saturday evening I had the opportunity to visit one of Massachusetts' treasures- a long revered, much loved seafood spot right on the water in The town of Essex. Begun in 1914, Woodman's is a family run business that specializes in classic New England fare- and even lays claim to inventing the New England tradition-fried clams.

As soon as you walk up to the front door, you know you're in for a treat. Large grills sit outside the restaurant with lobsters grilling on top- all cooked to order. Inside, in true rustic fashion, a line forms where you order your food, they ice you your order number, and you wait for you food to be ready. Fear not a long wait though, there is entertainment to be had. The kitchen is open and for the kitchen mosey (like me) there is plenty to become engrossed in. Finally however, your number is called and and then, cafeteria style, you can wend your way through the crowds and find a spot to enjoy your feast.

Feast is, by all accounts, exactly what you will do. Beyond the portions sizes being generous, what Woodman's serves is real food. It's pick it up with your hands, dig in, make a mess and satisfy the hunger that a day spent in the sun can build.

I opted for a crabmeat sandwich, served with potato chips for my meal. A hot dog roll, filled over the brim with fresh lump crabmeat, was set surrounded by a lake of chips. The crabmeat was fresh and tender, mixed with the right amount of mayo just to hold it together. I personally enjoy the addition of celery or onions to these types of sandwiches mainly for the texture variation, which this sandwich was lacking, though not to it's detriment necessarily. I will say that the contrast of the creamy salad with the salty and crispy chips was very nice, and a far better choice than fries in this case.

The food that Woodman's serves is simple, it's atmosphere is real. As I sat enjoying my sandwich that evening, feeling the cooling night air, and listening to the chatter around me, I felt a unique sense of pride of being from this great state. Woodman' has captured the real essence of what it is to be from Massachusetts: real, simple, and proud.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

White Mountain Creamery, Chestnut Hill, MA

I refuse to open this post with a cliched chant, but when it gets hot out, don't we all, really, scream for ice cream? That cold, creamy goodness is the perfect way to celebrate summer and indulge. I swear, ice cream in the summer is calorie free...or something.

I was reintroduced to one of my favorite childhood ice cream spots this summer-White Mountain Creamery. White Mountain was first opened in 1985 in Wellesley as a small shop, making ice cream on site utilizing local cream. They concentrated on interesting flavors and quality ingredients and soon built a following. They opened their second location in Chestnut Hill, across from the main BC campus a few year later and their empire was complete.

Now there is a fair amount of competition in the area for ice cream, sometimes it appears that an outlet for the frozen treat is on every corner. So what makes White Mountain stand above the rest? That's exactly what I wanted to find out.

The store fronts are cheerful and in some way make me feel nostalgic. The counters are manned by teenagers, half loving their jobs and half counting down until they are able to escape and enjoy their freedom. It feels like the perfect spot to get ice cream. The menu is eclectic, including flavors like fluffer nutter, apple granola, and Myers Rum. Saturday evening, with the hankering for something cold and sweet alive, I settled on a special flavor of the day, Oreo Cheesecake.

Cheesecake, in my opinion, can sometimes be a very dominating flavor, the tang of the cheese overtaking any other flavor. White Mountain however blended that rich flavor with the delicious chocolatey Oreos to create a wonderfully perfect scoop. With this creative flavor, White Mountain Creamery won me over to their tried and true ways.

What is your favorite spot for ice cream?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Balthazar Restaurant, New York, New York

As part of my wrap up of my exciting trip to New York City, I wanted to delve into breakfast Friday morning.  The amazing PR firm for I Can't Believe It's Not Butter treated us to a wonderful meal at the famed Balthazar Restaurant located in the SoHo district of the city.  Now-visiting the great restaurants of New York is insanely high on my to- do list- to the point where I have been making tentative plans for a "Food Trip" to New York in the upcoming months. Never before did I imagine that on my little contest trip I would have the opportunity to dine at one of Restaurant Magazine's "World's 50 Best Restaurants"!

Entering Balthazar, you immediately know that you are somewhere special.  The soft golden hue of the lighting bounces off the walls adorned with mirrors.  Waiters bustle through the space delivering pastries, and pouring hot fresh cups of coffee.  The scent, of warm baked bread and the hint of sweetness from the bakery section is enticing, and makes your stomach start to rumble.  Within minutes of entering Balthazar, you succumb to it's incredible charm.

As guests of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter we were shown to a large table that had already been adorned with baskets of bread.  We soon learned that we were taste test each type of bread (white, wheat, olive, chocolate, and cranberry walnut) and select our favorite which would be used in our Quick Fire challenge later.  As hard of a task as it may seem, we got right to work ;-).  Fresh and clean tasting, each bread showcased it's ingredients well.  The white and wheat were exactly what you would hope they would be- simple and hearty, with pure flavors and good texture.  The olive was spotted with lovely black olives throughout bringing their tang and saltiness to the slice.  The cranberry walnut wasn't shy about its additions with the sweet and sour cranberries and meaty walnuts generously throughout.  Finally, we had the chocolate.  Obviously, I am a bit of a chocolate fiend.  However, I am not a huge fan of chocolate bread- I often find it too sweet, or oddly sour with the hint of a sour dough mix.  It just doesn't do it for me.  Balthazar succeeded in a beautiful piece of indulgent bread.  The chocolate was rich, with dark chocolate flavors, subtle sweetness and just a hint of bitter.  This was a delicious slice of chocolate bread. 

Of course, bread wasn't the only option for our breakfast.  The morning menu at Balthazar is diverse full of savory and sweet dishes, indulgent and health conscious options.  It was a tough decision but I finally settled on Eggs Florentine, served with spinach and artichokes.  I had a bit of ordering remorse as I started to see the dishes of my companions arrive, however all of that faded when my skillet arrived full of beautiful poached eggs surrounded by lovely wilted spinach and nicely cooked artichokes.  The eggs were perfectly poached, with semi firm white exterior easily breaking into a beautifully runny yellow center.  The yolk poured fourth and mixed in indulgent fashion with the buttery sauce that encased the vegetables.  Mixed together the flavors were rich, but perfectly portioned so I was able to move on from breakfast energized and not full and heavy from the meal. 

Balthazar's was the perfect way to kick off my day- every moment of my time within its walls, from the moment of entry, to when my perfectly foamed latte was set before me, until my well finished plate was cleared from my place was a treat.  The staff, even dealing with us bloggers with our photos, and never ending questions, were patient, kind and knowledgeable.  I felt as though every need and request was met with a kind smile, and utter helpfulness.  I will definitely return to Balthazar- it was the perfect New York morning.

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...