Friday, December 30, 2011

A Look Back at 2011

It is certainly "that" time of year again- a time to look back and a time to look forward.  It's a time to reflect on the joys and challenges of the year previous, and to make goals and create hopes for the year to come.  2011 was a year of change for me.  It was a year that presented, as I'm sure it did for all of us, challenges, but it also was a year where great things happened.  Both of these types of events are catalysts that I will utilize to propel me into 2012, to create new challenges and new joys.  

As I look back on 2011, I am thrilled to look back on many of the events that I was able to share with you all, the events of A Boston Food Diary:

2011 began with several fiery posts where I defended both the quality of food in Boston, as well as the respect due to the serving staff in the restaurants around this city.  A Boston Food Diary turned 3 years old, and I continued to pursue trying new to me foods.  

I had the extreme honor of being invited to attend one of the Four Season's cooking classes- a unique experience to cook alongside Chef Vosika and check out one of their fabulous kitchens. They are offering classes throughout 2012 as well- I would absolutely urge you to check them out!

Speaking of classes, I was also able to attend two days of baking classes at the King Arthur Facility, and learned so much about different types of flour, baking techniques, and the joy that comes from baking a perfect loaf of bread, and perfect pie crust. King Arthur Flour offers these classes year round- if you have any baking fears, I urge you to head on up there and take a class or two.  Since my attendance I have been baking far more, and and much more comfortable doing it.  If you can't get up to King Arthur- at least check out their website- they have a support chat feature which is truly incredible and they have helped me out of several jams!

In May, one of the top news stories centered around the end of the world.  Being as consumed by food as I am, I spent a moment reflecting on, if that rumor were true, what would I want to eat during my final day.  I certainly do know how to make anything about food huh?

June was a busy month after my adventures at King Arthur Flour, I then had the opportunity to compete in I Can't Believe It's Not Butter's Toast Off campaign, which included jetting down to NYC and competing against some other amazing cooks.  Though I didn't walk away with top prize, I did leave NY with a new found appreciation for the wonder of toast, amazement at the creativity of others, and a burgeoning love for New York City. Recaps:

Summer brought me to Nantucket for a weekend to hang with my sister and her friends as they competed in the Nantucket Tri (my sister is such a rock star).  I was finally able to dine at Company of the Cauldron, a spot I have wanted to try for years. 

I launched the new look of A Boston Food Diary in September, the result of months of work for the brand new logo by the ever patient Krys Mroczkowski.  Seriously- if you guys need logo work done the kid is amazing!

The end of the year grew hectic in my personal life (work) and so I concentrated more on comforting foods and embracing the flavors of fall. However, in this time I was able to present my first wine review.  I have been itching to explore the world of wine more and more, and when I was invited to attend the Mauritson Wine dinner at Legal Seafoods, I was thrilled. 

Recipes from the past year I think deserve a look at:
Butternut Squash Bisque
Pumpkin Pancakes, with Apple Cider Syrup 
Caramel Apple Cupcakes
Pate a Choux
Warmed Blue Cheese and Apricot Crostini
Truffled Mushroom Bruschetta
Peanut Butter and Jelly Brownies 
Salsa Verde

I will be spending the next few days thinking about 2012, it is a year I am thrilled to begin, and I am excited to set forth my thoughts on what I anticipate for the year.

Happy New Year all!


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

California Olive Ranch Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies

Several months ago I had a wonderful time experiencing the deep, rich flavors of olive oil from the California Olive Ranch at a dinner here in Boston.  During the evening the reps from COR spent time talking about the versatility of Olive Oil, a topic I hadn't thought much of.  Normally I just saute with it, or whisk it into dressings, however they spoke of it's ability to take the place of butter in baking and that really piqued my interest.
Of course, butter is delicious.  It is a perfect pairing with golden brown toast, delicious melted over a piping hot mound of mashed potatoes, and a wonderful flavor in cookies and cakes.  However, butter also equals, well, less than nutritious elements and on the flip side, olive oil has so many wonderful properties I wondered how the substitution would be.  

I decided to check it out with America's classic cookie- the Chocolate Chip.  As American as apple pie, the chocolate chip cookie is flavored by those delicate elements of vanilla, brown sugar, salt, chocolate and, of course, butter.  So how would these cookies stand up without this crucial element?

Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies

by Ashley Viegas | May 31, 2011
  • 2 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ cup California Olive Ranch extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 or 2 Tbsp. of milk (or rice milk)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
Combine sugars, vanilla, and olive oil. Beat in the eggs one a time. Gradually beat in the flour mixture, then add in 1 Tbsp. of milk to make the dough a bit firmer, maybe another tablespoon if you feel the dough is too sticky/dry (I use about 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon).
Roll the dough into balls with your hands and place on a greased and/or lined baking sheet.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly golden and set. (Mine took about 10 and a half minutes.) These over bake quickly, so it’s better to take them out a bit early if you’re unsure. Allow to cool for a bit on the baking sheet, then move to another surface to finish cooling.
Recipe courtesy of Sydney Kania

Now I subbed in California Olive Ranch's Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil in place of the regular Extra Virgin mainly because I didn't read labels.   The Arbequina has a stronger, fruitier flavor to it, so its presence was a bit more recognizable.  However, even with that error, these cookies were fantastic.  They maintained their tastes of vanilla and salt, the chocolate chips were warm and melty, and the cookies bore very very little difference to their higher caloric brother.  I think I have been converted- olive oil in baking- there's a way to start the new year on a healthier note!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Cranberry Mustard Dressing

The holidays are always jam packed with sweet treats and rich foods, so during this time Im always looking for ways to enjoy the flavors of the season but still have a mind for health. Hearty salads become my go to as I combine satisfying vegetales with hearty green leaves to create filling and nutrient rich dinners

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Cranberry Mustard Vinaigrette

Cranberry Vinaigrette
1 tsp mustard seed
1/2 tsp fennel seed
Salt & Pepper
1/2 cup cranberry sauce
1 tsp fresh grated orange zest
1.5 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp champagne vinegar

Salad components:
1/2 cup each chopped rutabaga, turnip and parsnip
1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp oregano
Salt & Pepper
Olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion

In a spice grinder or mortal and pestal combine mustard seed, fennel seed, salt and pepper until a sand like texture is reached. Combine with cranberry sauce, zest, vinegar and olive oil in a small bowl. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the chopped root vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet, sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice, garlic powder, oregano, salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and then toss to evenly coat. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the vegetables are fork tender.
Combine the greens, onion, and roasted veggies in a large bowl and toss with the cranberry vinaigrette. Serve.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Biltmore, New Upper Falls, Newton

Indulgent, decadent...downright sinful.  All of these are words I'd use to describe my dining experience at The Biltmore located in the Upper Falls area of Newton.  I headed over with a group of three other girls, and we were dead set on trying as much of their menu as possible.  

The Biltmore is billed as being a pub with American comfort food as their foremost offering- it has to be said-they take "comfort" to a whole different level.  We began our meal with two appetizers (as I said- indulgent) and settled on the Wrapped Scallops and the Crazy Delicious Pub Fries.  The scallops, wrapped in salty Prosciutto, resting in a pool of cider glaze and topped with apple butter and fried sage leaves were lovely.  The salt from the cured meat was well complimented by the sweetness from the glaze, and the flavorful apple butter worked really well with the large plump sea scallops.  The pub fries are where that word indulgent really comes into place.  Large, crisp waffle fries were mounded on to a plate topped with a mix of three cheeses (ricotta included), slivers of bacon and a fried egg.  The menu stated that gravy would also be present- but I didn't find any on our serving.  However, even without that added punch of gravy, these fries were basically insane.  The potatoes themselves were perfectly crisp and meaty, the cheese was a perfectly blend of salty, melty and creamy, the bacon smokey, and that egg...runny yolk, greasy whites, it was an egg to make breakfast jealous.  The combination was awesome-a perfect dish to sop up any beers you might be imbibing.

We decided to split our entrees, so we settled on their Chicken and Waffles, the Burger special which, for the evening hailed from Ireland with Irish Bacon and Irish cheese, the Smoked Duck Grilled Cheese, and the half rack of their Memphis Ribs.  What was I saying about decadent?  My favorite of the evening, hands down, was the Chicken and Waffles.  Crispy fried chicken, a golden brown Belgian Waffle, and a variety of sauces and spreads made every bite delicious.  Stacking together a warm piece of waffle, topped with apple flavored butter, a bit of hot sauce, chicken and then a drizzle of apple flavored maple syrup hit every taste bud. Sweet and savory, breakfast and dinner- it was every bit as delicious as I had hoped.  

I am pained to say I cannot give a great review of the burger, I was in charge of divvying that one out and somehow cut the quarters oddly and ended up with only a small piece of burger between my section of buns.  However, what I did have looked well cooked, and tasted fine.  Ill have to return (twist my arm).

The Smoked Duck Grilled Cheese was the down fall of the evening for me.  It was billed as Duck Confit with Fontina cheese, and a blue cheese mustard, served with apple butter, and apple slaw.  The sandwich was jam packed with well flavored duck, however the cheeses and mustard were barely present making it much more a duck sandwich rather than a grilled cheese.  Adding the apple butter mixed up the flavors a bit, but I was sad to be missing out on the tang of blue cheese, the heat of mustard and the creaminess of the Fontina. 

The Memphis Ribs, however, were fantastic.  Meaty and well flavored with a tasty barbecue sauce, the meat itself contained that wonderful sting of smoke from a good fire, and the barbecue sauce coated well without being overly messy.  These were served with the same apple slaw, baked beans and fries.  

Over all the fries that accompanied the meals were limp and greasy, not their best showing.  However, as we had polished off the plate of Pub Fries earlier- they were not missed.  

We finally, decided to end the evening on a sweet note.  To be honest- we were set to leave after our entrees, but then we remembered- the sinful dessert that we had read on the menu.  That item that couldn't be missed- a fried fluffer nutter.  When we saw it on the menu it was as though it was illuminated in light from heaven with angels flying around and harps playing...well and a little devil sitting in the corner with his little horns on and his pitchfork spouting fire.  It seemed too good, too exciting, too "bad" to miss.  And so it arrived, wedges of a fluffer nutter, stuffed with banana slices, battered and deep fried and then drizzled with raspberry sauce.  It appeared just as I imagine, fluff oozing out of the crisp exterior, but the result was lacking.  The crispy exterior had an odd flavor to it, as though this sweet dessert had been fried with the french fries, or had been dunked in oil that was a bit too old.  The peanut butter was delicious, but used too sparingly, and the fluff got a bit lost in the mix.   My piece didn't contain any bananas, so it felt as though I was simply eating fried bread.  Sinful yes, but the treat I was going for it was not.

The Biltmore is definitely creating some showstopping menu items.  Their fare is rich, it's comforting, and it's definitely warming.  Their menu does concentrate on the hearty meals, and offers little diversity for one seeking a lighter alternative. This can be ignored however, especially as we are in the season to "bulk up" for the winter months.      

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lemon Goat Cheese Nachos

We're all pretty well aware of Nachos right?  Chips, cheese, some beans, salsa, sour cream...the ingredients are pretty standard, and, I won't lie- pretty awesome.  I mean honestly- you melt some cheese and combine it with salty crisp chips and then top it all with spicy salsa- well you've got a hit.  Nachos were first created in 1943 in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico as a quick snack using what was readily accessible in the kitchen of a closed restaurant for some hungry shoppers.  Since then Nachos have been made time and time again and are now the snack food of choice in restaurants, bars, ball parks etc for anyone searching for a cheesy treat.  Watching football always seems to instill the craving in me, so when a friend suggested making some Nachos for the Patriots game this weekend- I was all in.

Of course, these weren't any ordinary nachos we made.  It all started with a purchase of Wild Boar Salame.  Wild Boar has a really unique taste to it, strongly influenced by the boars diet of grasses, roots, and berries. It is stronger than your average pig flavor, and is also a fair amount leaner.  The salame is often made by combining this boar meat with pork to add some fat to it.  The flavor is rich and intense, with deep flavors.  Wild Boar Salame in hand, it was time to imagine the rest of the nacho ingredients. 

After a fair amount of discussion and planning, the ingredients became less and less similar to "ordinary" nachos.  Goat cheese, lemon zest, parsley, cheddar cheese, red bell pepper, mushrooms, and green onions found their way on to regular, salty corn chips, and our nachos were born.

1 bag, shredded cheddar cheese
5 oz goat cheese
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp lemon zest
8 oz sliced baby bella mushrooms
3 + 1 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 oz Wild Boar Salame, sliced and quartered
1/2 a red bell pepper, diced
Corn chips
Olive Oil

In a skillet over medium heat, drizzle 1 tbsp of olive oil, add 3 cloves of chopped garlic.  Once the garlic begins to smell, add the mushrooms and saute until cooked.

In a small bowl combine, the final clove of chopped garlic, half of the parsley, lemon zest, goat cheese salt and pepper, and then drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil and combine by whisking.  The result should be thick, but loose and easy to spread without being runny.

Lay out a layer of chips on a baking sheet, spoon a dollop of the goat cheese into the middle of each, and then place a piece of the boar salame, and mushrooms on each.  Top with cheddar cheese, red peppers, and green onions, then repeat with another layer until the ingredients are used.

Bake at 400 for approximately 7 minutes, or until the cheese is melted, and a little bit brown on top. Top with any leftover chopped parsley, peppers and green onions.  

While this mix of ingredients may seem odd, the result was addictive.  The lemon zest added a wonderful burst of brightness to both the rich Boar meat as well as the tangy goat cheese.  The sharp cheddar cheese lent striking contrast to the goat cheese, and surrounded the mushrooms.  I loved the different textures all throughout these nachos. The crispy chips paired well with the saucy cheese and the soft mushrooms.  These were definitely not a typical nacho preparation, but one that truly worked.   

Friday, December 9, 2011

Grog, Hog and Nog and Aquitaine Boston: Sunday, December 11, 2011

Oh my dear, dear friends.  I have been a terrible, awful, no good, very bad blogger!  My day job took a turn for the crazy the last few weeks and extended hours have caused for a tired lady, and one without a lot of time to get writing.  My sincere apologies, but please note, I have some really fun projects in the works for you all, a list a mile long of restaurants I NEED to check out, and soon some wonderful vacation time with which I hope to get it all done :-)

However, I do have an awesome little event to let you all know about!  This Sunday, December 11, between 5:30 and 7:00 pm Aquitaine in the South End is opening its doors and inviting you in for their Grog, Nog and Hog party!  Stop on by to taste some tasty appetizers, sip on a cocktail and even take home some of their delicious recipes!  I attended last years event (all about punches for those Holiday parties) and had a blast, so I can definitely encourage you guys to check it out.  I would also encourage you to stick around after the event, grab a table and order up some of their amazing in the city if you ask me!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Finale Dessert and Wine Tasting, Boston

Is there anything cozier than gazing across a table at your sweetie, your forks clinking over a decadent dessert, and a glass of wine lulling you into the evening as the snow swirls outside?  I didn't think so.  It's tough sometimes though to find that perfect spot to simply share a dessert, and that is where Boston's own Finale steps in.  Opened in 1998 as the brainchild of Harvard Business School grads, it has long since withstood the test of time with its offering based almost entirely in the dessert category.  I've had mixed feelings on the place for the past few years, but was lured back in recently to try a late fall sampling of their desserts.  

We began our journey with an Apple Cranberry Pie, paired with a Banylus, a red French dessert wine.  The combination of sweet apples and tart berries was a lovely mix, and the pie was cooked well throughout, however it didn't shine out to me as a stellar pie.  However, my mom makes the best apple pie so its entirely possible I'm a bit bias.  The wine pairing however was really lovely.  The Banylus was rich and sweet without being overpowering and when sipped just before a bite of the pie, I found stronger notes of cinnamon and spice from the dessert.  

We moved on to Pineapple Upside Down Cake, which was paired with a lovely Italian Moscato.  The cake was absolutely delicious.  I often stay away from this homespun classic fearing it will be too sweet, or the pineapple will overpower.  Finale's version concentrates on wonderfully buttery spongy cake, a nice piece of pineapple lending fresh sweetness, and is topped with an almost bitter caramel sauce to balance it.  The combination is wonderful, elevating yet not overshadowing this cake.  The Moscato was a nice pick with it, though it was a bit sweet for my liking.

Next was the Pumpkin Cheesecake which I was prepared to dislike, to be frank.  Cheesecake and I don't always love each other.  Often I find it too tangy and it ruins the experience for me, however Finale's rendition was full of pure pumpkin flavor and was far creamier than the cheesecakes I feared.  The result was incredibly decadent, with the flavor of pumpkin puree combined simply with cream.  This was paired with Dr. Loosen Late Harvest Riesling Auslese, which was light, crisp and sweet.  

We then tried out the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie.  Pecan Pie is my weakness -I absolutely love the stuff.  Its sweet, decadent,'s perfection.  Finale's version has a chocolate base layer that is a nice addition, though in my book, not needed.  This was paired with a beautiful Vin Santo, which, when paired with the pie, brought out notes of orange which was lovely and created a bit of diversity in the dish.  

Finally we dug into the Peanut Butter Pie- layers of peanut butter mousse, peanuts and chocolate ganache, all together a perfect harmony.  This is a far cry from what your mother might have made when you were little, but the upscale rendition was perfection with notes of creamy mousse, bitter chocolate and salty peanuts in wonderful harmony. This was served with my go to Port- a 10 year Tawney.  I found the combination a bit unpleasant on this one- the port, sweet on its own, became slightly bitter in the face of the very sweet pie and created a dissonance.  Something perhaps less sweet or fuller bodied might have paired a bit better here.

Overall though, I was very pleased with the Finale Tasting.  I was thrilled with the desserts chosen and will definitely return for a piece of that Pineapple Upside down Cake- that was heaven on my plate!  

Tastings like this one are held close to monthly at the Park Plaza location, and are open to the public for nominal fees. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Starbucks Sun Dried Ethiopia Harrar

Bleary eyed and often pressed for time, Coffee is the beverage we reach for to put some pep in our step and start the day off right.  That bitter flavor from roasted coffee beans awakens our senses and the caffeine brings that jolt of energy we so often need.  Of course Coffee isn't just something to swill down on the way to the office.  Coffee, is so much more than that.  Different regions, and techniques greatly vary the flavor of coffee, making it clear that every cup is as diverse as the mugs we all use. 

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I was sent a package of Starbucks latest reserve coffee: Sun Dried Ethiopia Harrar.  Truly, this is a coffee unlike any other.  There are times when I read packages of food and the flavors sound amazing, but the delivery is a far cry from what was promised.  Sun Dried Ethiopia Harrar packs a powerful punch- bringing in rich, dark notes of chocolate, rum and berries.  This is a perfect coffee to pair with dessert, as the refined sugars bring out the natural sweetness of this very full bodied coffee.

Sun Dried Ethiopia Harrar is cultivated in a single small region in Ethiopia and harvested uniquely, resulting in this rich brew.  This coffee is dried as a full fruit, under the sun, and then husked once it is fully dehydrated.  Allowing the bean to fully dry in its hull gives it the full flavors that make this coffee so unique. 

Starbucks sells this only for a short time, and for a steep price tag, but it is definitely worth it for pairing with all of your holiday desserts.

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...