Thursday, March 31, 2011

Veggie Burgers- A Perfect Weeknight Meal

I'll go ahead and state the obvious- I love meat.  Serve me up a nice steak or a juicy hamburger any day and I'll be happy.  I won't daintily pick at it, or feign distaste.  No, I'll dig right in, armed with my sharper than average steak knife, or my bare hands, and chomp hungrily at the carnivorous meal.  I feel no shame in admitting this, no embarrassment for my love.  However, that is not to say that there are some days that I crave a healthy dose of vegetables.  I eat salads on an almost daily basis and I load them up with all sorts of veggies.  I find new ways to fill up on veggies as much as I can.  The other night, I had a craving for a healthy meal, and a spicy one at that, and decided to see what I could make with just the ingredients I had on hand.  A few minutes later, I was laying out the ingredients for some of the heartiest, and tastiest, veggie burgers I've had in a while.

Look at all those veggies!
As I considered the burger, and heard my stomach rumbling, I knew I wanted these guys to really satisfy my hunger.  I wanted a hearty burger.  I took out a can of Cannelloni (White Kidney) beans from my pantry, as well as some bread crumbs, salt, pepper, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and cinnamon.  I turned to my fridge and pulled out spinach, a jalapeno, a red onion, a small zucchini, a bag of corn from the freezer, and um a bag of shredded mozzarella cheese (sue me-I love cheese).

Ok the paste wasn't the prettiest
Playing with the ideas floating in my head, I pulled out my food processor and combined the can of beans (drained), a cup (give or take) of fresh baby spinach, the jalapeno (I used the full pepper, if you want less heat just remove the seeds and the ribs, or use half the pepper), about a 1/4 cup of chopped onion, salt, pepper, and about a teaspoon and a half of the paprika, cinnamon, and garlic powder.  I pulsed these together until a thick paste was formed.

To prep my other ingredients I poured 3/4 of a cup of the frozen corn into a strainer and ran warm water over it until the kernels defrosted.  The zucchini I simply washed and diced.  

I transferred the bean paste into a mixing bowl, added the corn and the zucchini and then slowly added the breadcrumbs.  I wanted to be sure that the breadcrumbs didn't over power the vegetables, but that they did bind together the paste into workable patties.  I probably used between 3/4 cup and a cup.  Then I added a half cup of cheese.  This could obviously be omitted-but come on-its CHEESE!  I mixed these thoroughly together and then formed four good size patties.

I heated a skillet on the stove top and transferred the patties to warm through, melt the cheese, and brown the outsides.  These were fully cooked in about 15 minutes (my patties were kind of huge).

While I waited for the patties to cook, I combined a diced avocado in a small bowl with 1/4 cup red onion, the juice of a lime, 1/2 a jalapeno, salt, pepper and garlic salt- all to taste.  

Once the veggie burgers were done cooking, I slid one on to a plate, topped with the makeshift guacamole, and sat down to enjoy dinner!

These were a veggie burger I can definitely stand behind.  They were absolutely hearty, but they contained really diverse flavor profiles that made them rather addictive.  The spice from the jalapeno offered an initial kick of spice, but then lulled to allow the smoke from the paprika to shine through, coupled with that hint of cinnamon.  The corn gave bursts of sweetness with each bite and the zucchini, not fully cooked through added great textural relief.  I loved the make shift guacamole on top as well- it helped to compliment the spice, but also added that nice rich component from the avocados, and a nice acidic burst. 

I can definitely assure you, these will be a permanent fixture in my week night meal rotation when I tire of salads! 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rock Bottom is Opening, and I'm offering YOU a Free Meal!

So here is a fact that I have learned throughout my adult years here living in Boston- we like our beer.  Sure, we'll down a few Bud's or a Coors now and again, but Boston really does enjoy those artfully crafted beers.  Well starting next week one of the nationally recognized best brewers is re opening their Boston location -Rock Bottom!

Located just off the Common, convenient to all those great theatres, Rock Bottom features award winning beers (125 national awards), a large open air patio (COME ON SPRING!), highly acclaimed soft pretzels and for that fun vibe- table top beer taps.  After a long work week-this sounds like a great spot to relax in to me! 

I haven't yet had the opportunity to check out a Rock Bottom so I'm excited that next week they are opening in soft launch form. This time though, as opposed to me just telling you about my experience there after the fact, I have been given a few tables to raffle off to you guys as well!  Their soft launch is both Thursday and Friday next week (4/7 & 8) and I want to give away a table (four top) for each of the seatings- Lunch and Dinner Thursday and Friday!  So that is 4 opportunities for you to win a free meal, BEER included.  You can't beat that right?

Let's make this pot a little sweeter ok?  As I'm sure you're all aware- this Friday (4/1) starts the greatest time of the year- BASEBALL SEASON.  Even better- next Friday (4/8) is the Red Sox Home Opener at 2 pm.  What could be better- starting off your half day from work (I know you're taking it) with a relaxing, FREE lunch, and then heading off to your favorite spot to watch the beginning of our season?

So lets review:
Complimentary Lunch or Dinner, drinks included, for up to 4 people
Thursday (April 7, 2011) (lunch tables available 11:30 - 1 or dinner tables available 5-8:30)
Friday (April 8, 2011) (lunch tables available 11:30 - 1 or dinner tables available 5-8:30)

To enter to win one of these great meals:

Please comment on this post with what you think the odds are for the Red Sox this season, also please include which you prefer, lunch or dinner and which date.
 
Additional entries:

Join my Facebook page -once you like my page comment on it with the words: SOX to Win it ALL in 2011- enter me to win a free meal! (if you're already a fan you can still get the additional entry by posting the comment) 

Tweet @BostonFoodDiary: SOX to Win it ALL in 2011

All entries must be in by Monday, April 4, 2011 at 12:00 pm EST

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Parker's Restaurant, Omni Parker House, Downtown, Boston

Walking into Parker's Restaurant in the Omni Parker House is similar to taking a step back in time.  Ornately designed from floor to ceiling, it stands like a page taken from the Victorian era, welcoming its patrons with almost regal elegance.  Each person from host to waiter to assistants are kind and courteous, not too friendly, but just enough to make you feel welcome and to know that dining there is special.  Of course it is special.  It is a piece of history in the heart of Boston's historic district. 

The Parker House, as it was originally named, was opened in 1855 and quickly became a hot spot for local politicians and other influential gentlemen of the time to meet.  It was a place where Longfellow and Emerson could mingle with Oliver Wendall Holmes.  John Wilkes Booth is said to have stayed within the hotel.  It was the location for John F. Kennedy's bachelor party.  It was the place to see and be seen.  

The Parker House, however, didn't just play the backdrop to their famous guests.  Rather, it took on a life of it's own and made a name for itself by creating long standing recipes as the beloved Boston Cream Pie and coined the term "scrod".  The Parker House, which was purchased by Omni Hotels a decade or so ago, long ago claimed their name as one of the best hotels in Boston, with a restaurant to be treasured.  

I had the pleasure of dining at Parker's Restaurant this past Friday evening, and was instantly transported back in time.  Entering the restaurant, which has been beautifully preserved to showcase the elegant style of its original form, I could sense the magic of what the room had seen.  I could here the clatter of conversation, the boisterous laughter from a deal gone well, and the heated debate over period issues.  The restaurant is a majestic place.

Caught in the wonder of the evening, I had extreme difficulty deciding what to order, finally deciding on the classic pan seared chicken.  It was described as being served with smoked salt mashed potatoes, swiss chard and a pan jus.  A classic and simple dish.  The presentation was exactly as I anticipated it to be- also classic and simple.  That is not to say it was dated, on the contrary the spiral piping of mashed potatoes upon which the skin crisped chicken rested was a timeless look, beautifully offset by ribbons of swiss chard all in a river of jus.  The chicken was well cooked, juicy and full of flavor, with that crispy skin giving a nice contrast to the meat.  The swiss chard was soft and easy to enjoy, especially when paired with the very slightly smoky potatoes.  My only concern, as I worked my way through the plate was the salt factor.  It seemed as though the chef was very heavy handed with his application and therefore salt unfortunately dominated some of the more subtle flavors.  It wasn't, by any means, inedible, but I feel it would have been a bit more enjoyable without such a liberal application of salt.

As it would have been a complete crime to end the meal without the Parker House's signature Boston Cream Pie, my friend and I chose to split the dessert.  Served in a small round cake, this original Boston Cream Pie includes exactly what you anticipate-vanilla sponge cake sandwiched with pastry cream, and then topped with luscious chocolate icing and almonds encasing the sides.  The contrasting textures is I think the real beauty here.  The thick chocolate frosting gives way to the light sponge cake and velvety pudding like cream, all are then relieved by the delicate crunch of toasted almonds.  Parker's Restaurant pairs this delicately flavored dessert with tangy strawberries and it all comes together in harmony.  It is no wonder that this dessert has made national menus for over a century.  

Ambiance alone, Parker's Restaurant is glorious.  The addition of their rich history, courteous staff, and well executed classic dishes makes Parker's a must try for true Bostonians, and our visitors.                   

Parker's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 28, 2011

Masa, South End, Boston

Years ago I often proclaimed Masa, a Southwestern inspired restaurant located in Boston's South End, to be certifiably delicious.  However, as I continued to frequent, and I brought more and more people with me, I started to falter in my declaration.  There were misses in the service, the quality of food, the attention to detail.  I began to look for other spots to recommend to hungry friends, and I stopped dining at Masa all together.  Over the past few months Masa has undergone a bit of a transformation, back of the house has been over hauled, front of the house has been spiffed up, and I was asked to return.  I entered Masa wondering if their changes could have brought them back to the dependable spot they once had been, offering delicious Southwestern fare, a cuisine which Boston is in need of.

As I waited for my dining companion to arrive, I took a seat at their bar and was greeted by their bartender.  One thing about Masa that has always held true is their cocktails.  They feature an incredible array of tequila's- many marked for simply sipping, and others to be used in their imaginative cocktails.  Tempted by the drinks, I stuck with wine to start as I thought the tequila my impair my taste buds.  After all, I was there to check out the food scene first.

Once seated at our table, we were greeted by our incredibly friendly waiter, DJ and while we perused the menu, he got us started with their bread basket which is served with three different spreads, my favorite being their molasses butter.  This was one of the best parts of Masa that I remembered, their bread basket includes some incredibly delicious corn bread, and, if you ask nicely, they will even warm that corn bread for you.  Picture tasty corn bread, sweet and savory all at once, warmed and spread with decadent molasses butter.  The flavor combination between the corn and the molasses is made in heaven. 

Off to a good start, we decided to start with some recommendations from DJ and began with both Blue Cornmeal Fried Oysters, and their Spicy Ahi Tuna "Cabo Rolls". The oysters were served first, showing off their beautiful blue crust against a cherry pepper aioli and served with a mignonette for dipping.  The crunch of the blue cornmeal was a perfect offset to the delicate texture of the oyster hidden inside.  The salty sweet flavor of the oyster really shown through and when dipped into a bit of the mignonette, its tangy vinegar flavor really showcased their subtle taste.  Personally, I would have liked a bit more flavor in the cornmeal itself as it seemed lend only textural relief for the oysters and I would have loved if it had a personality of it's own.  That said though, these were a delicious starter, a lovely way to bring oysters into the southwest.

Just as we were finishing up the oysters, the much acclaimed Cabo Rolls arrived at our table.  Two large halves of a roll, a crisp fried dough wrapped around rice and then large pieces of perfectly rare tuna, sat atop a swirl of avocado wasabi puree.  I was astounded at the size of these, and struggled with the most "proper" way to enjoy them, but once I finagled a forkful of rice, crispy exterior and tuna, I understood what the rave was about.  The soft, gummy texture of the rice gave way to the tender tuna, with the crisp exterior providing the necessary crunch.  I really loved that this dish, an obvious homage to sushi rolls, incorporated wasabi into the southwestern ingredient of avocados.  Together this became a very tasty fusion, without marring either.  

It was strongly recommended that I order the braised pork shoulder for my main course, and I decided to take the suggestion.  Served a top garlic mashed potatoes, with baby arugula and a port fig sauce, it sounded like a dish that I would enjoy.  The pork, braised in beer (always good news in my book), was tender and smokey tasting, exactly the kind of flavor that I was looking for in something southwest inspired.  It was topped with sauce tasting of adoboe, a beautiful, rich, slightly spicy sauce which drew out the natural flavors of the pork.  The really beautiful touch to this dish was the fig and port sauce.  Plump spoonfuls were strategically placed around the plate, perfect for the diner to dip into at their whim.  Fig, I often find, can completely overpower a dish.  It is sweet and delicious, but only when used in moderation, when overdone, it overshadows every other flavor.  Masa was able to incorporate it's sweet beauty while still allowing every other flavor their respective place on the plate.  I can absolutely see why this dish was so highly recommended.  I would absolutely order it again- if I wasn't swayed by one of the other delicious sounding options.  

I did also, finally, switch up my drink order to indulge in a unique cranberry margarita.  Sadly the extent of the ingredients isn't currently listed on their website but this one packed a bit of a punch (at least to my normal non-tequila drinking self) but did so while still showcasing great flavors.  It you are at all a tequila drinker you really should try out either their drink list or their specialty sipping tequilas -they are really incredible.

I have to say, Masa absolutely exceeded my expectation, and far surpassed their own history.  Our service was efficient, knowledgeable and incredibly friendly.   The food is definitely coming back to its original place.  Menu items are imaginative and nicely showcase the wonderful flavors of the southwest but with unique twists and turns to keep your interest piqued throughout the meal.  Where I once vowed to not return to Masa, now I look forward to heading back over and trying out more of their menu!

NB: Masa also has a location in Woburn.

Masa on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Look At: The Scottish Development International- Bringing Pure Scottish Salmon to the US

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend the International Boston Seafood Show, which I documented here.  During the show, and at a reception following, I had the pleasure of speaking with the team from the Scottish Development International, and organization committed to expanding their reach into US markets.

I talk a lot, a lot, about buying local.   So it might seem strange to change my tune a bit here and promote not only out of the state, but out of the country.  When I first began corresponding with the Scottish Development International (SDI), I had a similar question- why Scotland?  We have fantastic Salmon from Alaska, why should I look at this import?  One of the most beautiful aspects of seafood, as with other food related products, is how much the environment affects their flavor.  The ocean waters of Scotland are vastly different than the waters of the northern Pacific, and the flavors cultivated in those waters are also different.  Scotland has long been regarded as having some of the best Salmon, among other seafood delicacies, and has been achieved the position of second largest seafood exporter in the world.

Their Salmon is really their crown jewel of their seafood export, and at the IBSS, it was clear that their pride is well placed.  During the conference and at a reception held on Monday evening, I had the pleasure of taste testing several varieties of smoked salmon provided by the Grieg Seafood Hjaltland/Shetland Products Ltd.  By far, this was the best smoked salmon I have ever tasted.  All too often I find smoked salmon to have an unpleasant texture, a gummy feel, an almost too fishy flavor.  This was strong in texture and flavor.  The mouth feel was almost crisp, and robust.  It was clean on the palate, and artfully produced.  The flavors were also perfection- the pastrami salmon was addictive in its peppery deli style- I could imagine it being the ultimate answer in a New York Deli for the person who is craving both a pastrami on rye and a bagel with lox- the joining of the two would be the best of both worlds. 

Speaking with the producers and representatives of the companies there it was obvious why their product was so much better than others that I have tried.  The care and attention that they put into their processes, as well as the fish that they raise is far beyond that of many other companies.  Scottish Salmon is under rigorous scrutiny, and if it doesn't match the stipulations of their government, as well as meet the seal of approval from the Queen, it isn't able to bear their seal.  One of the key differentiators?  Scottish endorsed smoked salmon is completed, start to finish, in Scotland. Their salmon is raised in their waters, prepared by their hands, and smoked with their chips. It is a completely Scottish product.  There are not many producers that can claim that. 

That really is the beauty of this as an import.  The flavors imparted in their salmon are unique to Scotland, we cannot replicate them here in the US, nor should we try.  Their processes are age old, and have been perfected for their seafood over time.  If you see a certified Scottish Salmon product in a store, purchase it- I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

International Boston Seafood Show 2011: A Unique Perspective

One of the things that I truly love about food, is how there is always something more to learn.  There is always a trick, an ingredient, a species or a process just waiting to be discovered.  There are new theories, new practices, and refined ways of doing an old practice being uncovered every day, I believe that there is no better way to discover all of these new things then at a trade show.  This past weekend, thanks to the very kind folks at iPura, I had my second opportunity to attend the International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS), which to me, is the trade show to end all trade shows.

Now, to be fair, I can't say that I have attended many trade shows, the IBSS may be the only, but it is an incredible make up of companies that together seem to represent a full cross section of the seafood industry. The IBSS is held in the Boston Convention Center, an enormous facility opened a few years back in the up and coming Fort Point Channel area of Boston.  The sheer magnitude of this space is your first clue that once you enter the doors you will be in the middle of an incredible event. Beyond the noise of the earnest chatter happening between the thousands of people attending, the first greeting you receive from the huge room is the scent.  Wafts of fried seafood, mingle among the herbs and other seasonings being used to cook the dozens of seafood entree tastes served throughout the show.  The odor is welcoming, alerting the entrant to the fact that their hunger pangs will soon be satiated by countless options.  Every booth seems to have some tasty treat to tempt the passers by, but chowing down isn't the real reason you're here is it?  

Though the scents draw you into each booth, it is the people that keep you there.  Companies from all over the world send their representatives to expand their markets and voice.  The diversity is vast, ranging from cooling systems, vacuum packaging equipment, and ice makers to the fisheries, and activist groups.  I had the opportunity to speak with the Oregon Salmon and Albacore Commissions, who are currently facing the dilemma of wanting to expand, but are cautious due to supply.  This seemed to be the plight of several of the smaller fisheries.  I spent time talking to the Scottish Development International who are trying to break further into the US market with their wholly Scottish salmon.  They find that often their products are outsold by "Scottish Like" salmon, rather than that which is made purely in Scotland.  I watched countless demonstrations for new vacuum sealers (I can't say those caught my attention enough to chat with the representatives) and automatic zip tiers, as well as ice makers.  Finally, of course, I visited the great folks at iPura, one of my favorite life science companies, dedicated to ensuring the safety and cleanliness of seafood to the end user. The work that they do is incredible, please find my thoughts on their outreach in my post from last years IBSS.

The scene at IBSS
As a blogger, I had a unique perspective into every booth.  I wasn't there to make deals, to haggle for the best price, to scope out competition.  I was there to learn, to hear the struggles these companies face, and, best of all to taste.  The IBSS presents a unique opportunity each year to look at the issues facing the seafood world.  This year the community has been rocked, suffering oil spill dangers, and more recently the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, beyond devastating the country, also greatly disturbed much of the seafood from that region.  The stories were real, some were sad, some inspirational, and some hopeful.  No matter your place in the food world, I urge you to attend this type of show if possible.  The view into the personal, and professional struggles is worth the entrance fee, and then some.     

Waltham's 19th Annual Food & Wine Festival-and a chance to win tickets!

Do you like wine? Since you're reading this blog, I assume you enjoy food? Well this Thursday (March 24, 2011) evening (between 6-9 pm) the town of Waltham is hosting their 19th annual Food and Wine Festival!


Over 20 restaurants will gather at the Westin Waltham Boston Hotel serving up their famed dishes, and all will be complemented with a selection of wines hand picked out by the experts over at Gordon's Fine Wines and Liquors. Of course, that's not all-the evening will also include cooking demonstrations, and music MC'ed by Krazy Kulo of JAM’N 94.5, as well live performances by the Waltham Philharmonic Orchestra, and the A Capella group "Talk to the Hand".


This promises to be a great night, full of great food, great wine, and great times, all to benefit the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation.  I have included the full text press release below, and tickets are still available...however- I have TWO tickets to raffle off!

Yesterday I posted about these ridiculous brownies that I am 100% obsessed with- Peanut Butter and Jelly Brownies- since this has started a crazy Peanut Butter obsession for me- I want to know- what is your favorite way to eat Peanut Butter?  Or, if you're allergic to PB- what is your favorite spread?  Leave a comment here for one entry, and join my Facebook fan page for another (if you do that please let me know you did!).  I will select one person to head on over and indulge in a fantastic night with a friend!  Raffle will close at 4:00 ET pm tomorrow, 3/23/11.

AND THE WINNER IS:  Renee from http://eatliveblog.com/ !!!  (Renee-shoot me an email at abostonfooddiary@gmail.com with your full name, email and contact phone number and Ill pass it a long!

Thank you guys for participating- if you didn't win but you would like to attend, please head on over to http://www.localwineevents.com/events/detail/353669 and enter the word COUPON to get tickets for $40.00 a piece!



Full text Press Release:


"FUN, MUSIC AND INNOVATION AT WALTHAM’S 19th ANNUAL FOOD AND WINE FESTIVAL





The 19th Annual Waltham Food and Wine Festival rocks the Westin Waltham Boston Hotel Thursday, March 24, 2011 from 6-9 p.m. Benefiting the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation, an anticipated crowd of 600 people from Waltham and Metrowest communities will enjoy a fun, casual evening of food, wine, music, and innovation.





The evening begins with a glass of champagne to quaff while placing bids at the silent auction, followed by samples of fare prepared by some of Waltham’s most popular restaurants, all complemented by a bounty of fine wines chosen and served by the sommeliers of Gordon’s Fine Wines & Liquors.





Master of Ceremonies Krazy Kulo of JAM’N 94.5 is joined by local celebrity chefs offering live cooking demonstrations, while members from the Waltham Philharmonic Orchestra and a cappella group Talk to the Hand perform. To support the Museum’s mission, the festival also showcases innovations past and present including a 1931 Packard limousine that once belonged to King Gustav of Sweden, exhibits from the Steampunk: Form & Function! exhibit currently on display, an example of the US military’s impact on mainstream fashion from the Lasell Museum Collection, and the Boston area launch of the Second Glass iPhone app which allows users at wine tasting events to easily remember all of the wines they try.





Participating restaurants include:


Bertucci’s Italian Restaurant, Bombay Mahal, La Campania, The Chateau, Edible Arrangements, Firenze, Glam Foods, The Grille at Hobbs Brook, Kitchen on Common, Lizzy's Homemade Ice Cream, Margaritas Mexican Restaurant, More than Words, Paellas at your Place by Antonio, Popkins Ice Cream, Seventy@3rd - Westin, Solea, The Tea Leaf, Tempo, Tuscan Grill, The Upper Crust, Waltham High Culinary Arts, and Wings Express.





Reservations are $45 in advance and $50 at the door. All proceeds benefit the programs of the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation in addition to generous sponsorships from Hobbs Brook Management LLC, Waltham West Suburban Chamber of Commerce, Watertown Savings Bank, Joyce Funeral Home, and Rockland Trust.





To reserve your spot:


By mail: send a check to 154 Moody Street, Waltham, MA 02453


By phone: call the museum’s office at 781-893-5410


By e-mail: send your request to info@crmi.org


Online:  at www.localwineevents.com, event ID: 353669


In person: at Gordon’s Fine Wines & Liquors





Shuttle service between the Westin Hotel and several area corporations is provided by the 128 Business Council. The festival is in the Eden Vale Ballroom of the luxurious Westin Waltham Boston Hotel, conveniently located just off I-95/128 on Third Avenue in Waltham. Visit www.westin.com/boston for directions."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Peanut Butter and Jelly Brownies

You may have noticed-I don't bake very much.  It's not because I don't enjoy baked goods, quite the contrary in fact, it's that I cannot have them in my home for long.  As soon as some tasty treat comes out of my oven I am immediately picking at it.  However, every so often I whip up something, and then banish it from my house immediately.  A couple of weeks ago I was looking for a good recipe to bake up as a treat for a friends birthday, one that I would gladly enjoy with her, and then leave with her. 

My original plan was for chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting, inspired by the genius of Beantown Baker, and then I got home that night, after a long day of work, the gym and various errands and I realized that I didn't have confectioners sugar, the grocery store seemed very far away, and then I saw that box of brownie mix that was included in a swag bag months ago.  I stared at it for a while, wondering if as someone who constantly goes out of my way to make things from scratch, if I could possibly use a box of brownie mix.  I looked at my aching feet from a too hard work out and declared that I could use it.  With that, my idea for Peanut Butter and Jelly Brownies was born.  I made a quick run to the convenience store for peanut butter, raspberry jam and graham crackers.

The beauty of this recipe, beyond it's incredible ease to make, is it's variations of flavors and textures all while calling to mind those awesome PB&J sandwiches that mom used to make.  Am I the only kid who would occasionally sneak a few chocolate chips into my sandwich when her back was turned?

Your favorite Brownie mix, homemade or box, I'm fine with either. Follow the recipe for an 8x8 pan.
1/3 cup red raspberry jam
3/4-1cup creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 to 2 full Graham Crackers


In a small sauce pan heat the raspberry jam over low heat until it is just melted. Make the brownie batter according to your preferred recipe, pour the batter into a well greased pan. Using a spoon gently drizzle the jam over the batter ensuring even distribution. Bake the brownies according to their directions.


When the brownies are done, remove from the oven and cool completely.


Place the Graham Crackers in a small plastic bag, and, using a rolling pin, crumble the crackers so they resemble grains of sand. In a small bowl combine the peanut butter and the cracker crumbs so that the crumbs the ratio appears 50/50 and the consistency is crunchy.  The key here is to combine the peanut butter and the crumbs together slowly so you can monitor the texture.


Remove the brownies from their pan, and then I find it easiest to cut the square into quarters. Slice each quarter in half-careful to cut under the jam layer enough to not disrupt it, place the top half (jam side) to the side and spread the peanut butter mix on the bottom half in an even layer. Top with the jam side. Repeat with the remaining quarters. I found that for best results, refrigerate the quarters for an hour or so before cutting into bars to allow the layers to set.
I have made these brownies a couple of times now and am finding myself completely obsessed.  They are sweet, rich and decadent.  The rich chocolate of the brownie is nicely cut by the sweet tart beauty of the raspberry jam, and the peanut butter which I often find to be too sticky, takes on a crunchy, unexpected twist.  All together these brownies are completely addictive, and I am once again looking for another reason to whip them up!  

Friday, March 18, 2011

Do You Want To Know? Nationwide Mandatory Displayed Calorie Counts-Yay or Nay?

Photo Cred- J. Zolnierz
Would you purchase something without knowing it's price?  Would you walk into a store pick out an item, walk to the register and hand them your credit card without ever knowing how much is being charged?  Or do you do the "price dance"?  The back and forth of looking at the price and weighing the justifications- is this something I need, is it something I can't live without, will purchasing this item harm my bank account/credit score unnecessarily?  I would be willing to bet that most of us fall into that last category.  Every purchase is weighed against its price tag, and determinations are made as to whether we can "afford" the item in question.  We stick to our budgets, or we face the consequences-money is finite.  So why don't we treat our bodies the same way?  Next week the Food and Drug Administration will be voting on implementing mandatory displayed calorie counts in chain restaurants across the country, as New York did several years ago.  My question is- why is this a vote at all?  

Every day we are allotted a "budget" of calories to spend on nutrients for the day.  This, of course, changes based on body type and need, but generally speaking the US has decided that 2,000 calories per day is the average a person should consume.  If we compare this idea to our financial budgets-it's very much the same thing, and yet rarely do we look at it this way.  All day long we purchase items to eat, but do we have any idea how many calories we are consuming? 

Photo Cred J. Zolnierz
I have been considering this for a couple of weeks now, since my trip to New York where Starbucks slapped me in the face with their calorie counts.  A couple days later I received an email from a friend asking how on earth it was possible that her sandwich (a grilled veggie sandwich without cheese added) could add up to over 800 calories.  She well noted that had a calorie count been displayed on that sandwich, which sounded like the best option to her, she would never have purchased it.  It's like going into a 7/11 for batteries, paying and later finding out that they cost $50.00.  Would you spend $50.00 on batteries?  

Lets look at a typical day of an office working male (I observe these daily).  The FDA has placed his average calorie count between 2,000 and 3,000 daily (http://www.mypyramid.gov/guidelines/PolicyDoc.pdf#page=27) We'll target him for a 2,500 day.  I got my calorie counts here from http://www.caloriecounter.com/ and from http://www.livestrong.com/.  Each morning starts off with coffee (8 oz cup, no cream or sugar added-9 calories) and a bagel with cream cheese (approximately 340 calories).  Lunch comes around and our guy is hungry, he goes out and gets himself a sandwich-turkey (because he's being good), two slices of whole wheat bread, with cheese (because he's not THAT good) and a little mayo (give or take- 500 calories). He also munches down on some carrot sticks (~50 calories).  So our jolly worker is about 1/2 way through his day and he has so far consumed upwards of 900 calories.  He has been eating pretty healthily as well- going for some lean meats, skipping the donut, adding in some veggies...so far so good- he has 1,600 calories to burn.  

Then 3:00 hits- he needs that afternoon coffee break and to stretch his legs a bit.  He runs to a chain coffee shop and is faced with his first tough decision of the day-coffee would be better with a donut right?  They look great sitting in their displays- all sugary and sweet.  He goes for it.  A cup of coffee (9 calories-no cream no sugar) and a glazed donut (via Dunkin' Donut's website- 260 calories).

Work finally ends, and he escapes his office to head home, and since it was a rough day, he and the missus decide to head out to eat.  Craving Italian, they head to Romano's Macaroni Grill.  They choose to split the Calamari Fritti (coming in at 1,210 calories for the full serving, our guy has just added 605 calories to his day).  He chooses the Grill Salmon as his entree (sounds healthy right?  He just tacked on another 1,090).  Finally, to round out the meal, our buddy and his wife decide to end on a sweet note- and share the dessert ravioli- and they each add another 815 calories to their days.  (Calorie counts found on http://eatthis.menshealth.com/)

Full day calorie count: 3,678.  Over budget for the day- 1,178 calories-almost the next days calorie allotment as well.

Photo Cred J. Zolnierz
How do you think this day would have changed had those calorie counts been listed next to the prices?  Do you think our friend would have weighed out his choices, perhaps kept a running tally of his expenditures?  Shouldn't we all be at least conscious of how much items that we eat are costing us? 

Reading through A Boston Food Diary you can see that this is something that I struggle with(this IS the same blog I posted about Chocolate Covered Bacon not long ago).  I often run into days where I really want a sweet treat.  I have a terrible sweet tooth, and with a variety of bake shops its tough to pass up.  But like a balance sheet, I have to weigh the option.  Clearly posted calories would absolutely help me come to the reality that that chocolate chip cookie I so desperately crave will blow my budget for the day.  Just like those killer boots I've been eyeing need to be passed up. 

What do you think?  Do you think that clearly posted calorie counts would help us weigh our choices, or do you think that we would ignore them in favor of satisfying out urges?  

Thursday, March 17, 2011

2nd Annual Boston Wine Week: March 28-April 3, 2011

Some refer to the holiday season as "the most wonderful time of the year".  I agree- it's pretty fantastic- however there is a week coming up that draws a close second.  Boston's 2nd Annual Wine Week is scheduled for March 28-April 3, 2011!

Throughout this week some of Boston's best restaurants will be offering up some of their best selections from their wine lists for jut $9.00 a glass, or $32.00 a bottle.  When some of these bottles usually ring in upwards of $90 a bottle, well you can't beat a deal like that!  Each restaurant who participates has committed to offering at least 6 choices at these discounted prices- so you know there will be something for every palate and every meal. 

Current participating restaurants include:
Bin 26 enoteca
Lala Rokh
BiNA osteria
Jer-Ne
Kingston Station
Woodward at the Ames Hotel
Petit Robert Bistro
Petit Robert Bistro South End
Petit Robert Central
Beacon Hill Bistro
Parker’s Restaurant at The Omni Parker House
Brasserie JO
94 Mass Ave
Back Bay Social Club
Union Bar & Grill
Sam’s at Louis

A complete, updated list is available at: www.bostonwineweek.com

New this year, the week will also be enhanced by the addition of the Second Glass Classy Bar Crawl which will feature stops for glasses around the Back Bay at places like the brand new 94 Mass Ave, Back Bay Social Club and Brasserie Jo.  This event will take place on Thursday, March 31, please monitor the Boston Wine Week website for details.

If you are looking for a reason to get out and enjoy the city during this early spring week- this is the perfect reason to do so!  A glass of summery white on a sunny day is the best way to welcome the change in seasons!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Short's Brewing Company: Featured at Sunset Grill and Tap

My beer flight of Short's Brews
I don't often talk about the imbibing of beer here, mainly because much of my beer swilling is around the "light American" variety, and well, there isn't much to be said.  However, that is not to say that I don't enjoy a good pint (or two) of some of those fabulous micro brews around.  I love the depth of flavor that their beers can provide, the variation of flavors, and the range between hoppy and not hoppy, heavy malt and light malt, etc.  We are lucky in Boston to have several of our very own brewers who make some mean beers.  However, when I know I want to try out some seriously rare or unique beers or just want some serious variety, I know that I should head over to Sunset Grill and Tap located in the Allston neighborhood of Boston.

A massive cup of coffee to start the day off
Sunset sits proudly on Brighton Ave just past Packard's Corner.  It sits proudly knowing that it houses upwards of 500 different beers from breweries all over the US and beyond.  Their beer menu is longer than their food menu, and it is clear that their focus is providing some of the best and most unusual beers out there.  This past weekend, and until the kegs last, Sunset Grill and Tap is featuring a brewery from Michigan known for their unique beers, Shorts.  Shorts opened in 2004, and despite some hardships along the way, have been brewing ever since, creating some of the most uniquely flavored beers I've ever tasted.

I was invited to dine at Sunset for their Beer Brunch celebrating the Shorts Showcase this past Sunday morning.  I headed over unsure of what to expect, and was shocked to find that beer enthusiasts from all over Boston (and beyond?) were lined up outside Sunset ready to dig into beer inspired brunch menu items, and, of course a some of this legendary beer. One heck of a way to start off a Sunday Fun day right?

Sunset's Brunch Bread Basket
I felt as though I HAD to order a beer flight (four 5 oz glasses of self selected beers) to get the the full experience.  Tough work right? I chose four that sounded as diverse as you can get- starting with their Bloody Beer (a play on a Bloody Mary), their Joyous Almondo, their Cup of Joe Coffee Creme Stout, and their Hopstache.  For my first taste I went with the Bloody Beer as it seemed the most fitting for a Sunday Morning.  The first flavors that came through were the clean acidic taste of the tomato, similar to the taste of a bloody Mary, but with the consistency of a refreshing beer. It was accented with dill, horseradish, peppercorns and celery seeds, to create that full bloody Mary feel, though the dill was the most prevalent flavor behind the tomato.  

I decided to go to the sweeter variety next and picked up my glass of Joyous Almondo, touted to having the same flavors as an Almond Joy.  Chocolate was definitely prevalent here, resulting in a sweet beer that was not unpleasant, but remarkable.  The expected almond and coconut flavors took a backseat here, and weren't as prevalent as I had hoped, but it was a delightful dessert wine.

Special for the Day: Malted Barley Blueberry Pancakes!
Next on the list was the Cup of Joe-which was my least favorite of the beers.  It definitely had coffee flavor to it, but to me it tasted more like imitation coffee syrup flavor rather than fresh coffee and left a rather poor taste in my mouth..

My all time favorite however was the Hopstache.  This was touted on the menu of having real grapefruit flavor, and I looked forward to seeing if they were able to achieve this result.  I was beyond impressed with how much grapefruit flavor they had jammed into this little beer.  The initial flavor made me feel as though I was simply drinking a glass of real grapefruit juice, as the liquid made its way down my throat then I began to get the familiar beer flavors.  This was an intensely flavored beer, but incredibly refreshing.  I would love to drink a nice pint of this one on a hot summer day.  

Another look at my beer flight
Shorts has stocked Sunset with quite a few kegs of their tasty beers for tapping, and even a few bottles, however quantities are limited and so if you want to get in a taste-go quickly.  They had already sold out of their Carrot Cake brew when I was there on Sunday- to my extreme disappointment. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cafeteria Boston, Back Bay, Boston (a second review)

It has been quite some time since I wrote about my less than stellar experience for Brunch at Cafeteria Boston.  So after tooling around the Back Bay this past weekend with my family, and finding several other spots were all booked up for lunch/brunch, I thought it might be a good time to stop in again and give it a second go.  Cafeteria, located on Newbury Street, offers sophisticated twists on American comfort food, daring their diners to venture perhaps a bit out of their norm.  At least, that is what they say they do.  My first visit to Cafeteria featured disappointing "truffle" eggs, the disappointment being the lack of any truffle.  I held out hope with the years that had passed and brought my family to Cafeteria.

We were seated upstairs in their very open, bright and airy dining room.  I actually love the ambiance of Cafeteria, all is very white, and the large windows really allow the sun to stream in and illuminate the room.  The brunch menu is very diverse, offering standard breakfast fare, as well as a substantial lunch offering featuring salads, sandwiches and hamburgers. After much debate I settled on their Huevos Rancheros.  I have to say- I often opt for this dish at brunch time- featuring black beans, eggs and a spicy salsa usually, it's a dish that is filling, tasty and right up my ally.  I was thrilled to see that the menu at Cafeteria offered the eggs in the dish "any style" which always means poached to me.  Huevos Rancheros is the perfect dish for poached eggs as the runny yoke is soaked up by the black beans, and the soft egg whites pair perfectly with the salsa.  Knowing this to be the case, you can imagine my sadness when I was informed that Cafeteria does not offer "poached" as an option for their eggs.  Apparently, they are limited on their "any style" abilities.  Saddened, I tried to change my order, but I couldn't find anything that appealed to me as much, so I stuck with my Huevos Rancheros and ordered the eggs scrambled.  My eggs were served bright yellow, and nicely scrambled to a soft done quality, topped with both red and green salsas, next to a pond of slightly spicy black beans and a helping of home fries that looked crisper than they were.  Overall, the dish was tasty.  The salsas had a fair amount of spice to them, and gave great flavor to the eggs.  The beans were nicely cooked, soft and pliable, and as noted, with a hint of spice that I really enjoyed. 

Around the table was a chipotle BBQ burger, served with fried onion rings and french fries.  It was noted that the burger it self was quite good, and cooked to the "well" specification, however the BBQ sauce was too sweet and needed to be scraped off.  However the onion strings were deliciously crisp and the french fries were also enjoyed.  Another diner had the smoked salmon plate which was served with olives rather than the advertised capers.  Finally, the final diner for the day selected the Buttermilk Pancakes served with sausage links and they were declared to be delicious (they actually looked really good).  

Overall, my experience at Cafeteria was much more pleasant than my previous visit.  Our server was kind and courteous, efficient and yet didn't rush us, and the ambiance was lovely.  I am still disappointed in the lack of poached eggs, but it seemed that the rest of the meals had some great high points.  I would return to Cafeteria to test them out non brunch time.

Cafeteria Boston on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Boston Food Diary Hits the Half Millenium Mark-500 Posts!!

Big day today. This post marks- wait for it...A Boston Food Diary's 500th post! It has been a great 500 posts- full of delicious meals, challenging recipes, great discoveries and fun events. I thought that in honor of the post, I would take a look back at some of my favorites:

Starting with: Where it all began- the very first post for A Boston Food Diary!

Writing A Boston Food Diary has given me a voice to speak out about things that interest me, and things that outrage me-a few examples:
I have eaten some amazing food at local restaurants:
I have found some great local businesses and organizations that I've been able to interact with:
I have used A Boston Food Diary to expand my own cooking repertoire. I have challenged myself in the kitchen, found new techniques and made some classic meals.
Finally, writing this blog has given me the opportunity to attend events I may never have been able to otherwise. There have been some fantastic company launches, restaurant openings, cooking classes, factory tours- some amazing things in the world of food!
The past 500 posts have been, quite simply, incredible. They have spanned over three years, seeing the rise and fall of restaurants, the successes and failures of my kitchen, and ultimately have really documented my life through food.

Thank you so much dear readers and friends for following along for the past 500 posts-stay tuned- there are some great things lined up for the next 500!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bricco, North End, Boston

It's that time of year again!  Restaurant Week has come to Boston!  I have written about Restaurant Week several times over the years, with mixed experiences.  This year I have several reservations at a variety of places around town, I'm interested to see how the experiences differ from spot to spot.

Last night I joined two friends at Bricco in the North End.  Bricco is part of the De Pasquale family of restaurants, similar to Mare.  It presents itself as sophisticated twists on classic Italian dishes.  The menu for Restaurant Week was large with several options for the first and second courses.  I was impressed at the diversity of the dishes, it seemed that every diners craving could be met within that menu.  I was in a seafood mood, so I elected their mussels for my first course, and the monk fish entree for my second course.    The mussels were described as being in a garlic and oil broth with caper berries, olives and a chickpea fritelle.  My dish was tasty, but oddly not what was described. The mussels were served in a wine and garlic broth, without caper berries, with tomatoes rather than olives, and missing the chickpea fritelle.  Overall they had nice flavor, however several of the shells were broken,  a few mussels were over cooked, and there was a little sand present, but overall they were tasty.  I was a little sad that they weren't exactly as described, I was intrigued by the chickpea fritelle.

The monk fish was very delicious.  Monk fish is a very rich fish, almost meaty in consistency, and with deep flavor.  It had been paired with a spicy tomato sauce and accented with mussels and clams.  The acidity and the spice of the sauce worked really well with the dense fish.  The clams and mussels had nicely picked up the flavor of the sauce as well, but were again over cooked to a chewy state.  Also the menu described it being served with a garlic crostone (basically garlic toast) which was also oddly missing from my plate.

Dessert was a choice between bread pudding, and chocolate molten cake, I, being the chocoholic that I am went with the chocolate cake.  It did not disappoint.  Rich, chocolaty, warm...it was everything I wanted and in a perfect portion.

The dinner definitely had highs and lows.  The monk fish and dessert were delicious, the shellfish were only ok.  The really troubling part of dinner was the timing of it.  We had a 7pm reservation and were seated around 7:10 or so based on our own arrivals.  We had an extremely pleasant waitress who was friendly and helpful however, it took an extremely long time for our first course to come, and an equally long time for our second.  The table next to us was having their appetizer when we ordered, and they were gone before we got our second course.  Believe me when I say those two love birds were not rushing through dinner. I didn't mind too terribly as I was glad to be catching up with friends, but it did seem awkward.  

To use a word to described Bricco I'd use "acceptable".  It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either.  If you're looking for Italian Fare, it's a fine choice, though I can think of far better alternatives in Boston.   

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Del Frisco's Hard Hat Tour, Fort Point Channel, Boston

I have been lucky enough to spend the past almost seven years frequenting the area now known as Fort Point Channel.  When I started my journeys to this area of Boston, it was just known as Southie, or "that area by the courthouse", or "over by the childrens museum".  There were very few places to go for lunch then, limited basically to a spot catering to the take out lunch crowd, a dunkin donuts, and a random sub/pizza place that everyone claimed was bad.  We had a few bars to frequent- and these were separated into "winter" and "summer" bars (basements or patios).  Over the past few years, this area has been radically changed.  Lunch decisions are plentiful, and even upscale dinner options are available in the form of Sportello, Menton, Morton's, LTK, etc. More bars have been built, some old have been transformed, and the remaining links to the old area are treasured.  Condo and apartment buildings soar to the sky, and those old alleys that were visible in The Departed are gone.  Fort Point Channel has been transformed.  One of the crown pieces of this development is slated to open in its entirety this spring, the site of the old Jimmy's Harborside. 

Del Frisco's will inhabit the second floor
There are actually two building slated to open in this gorgeous waterfront property, one a three story Legal Seafoods, it's new flagship, and second a gorgeous space holding both a Jerry Remy's Bar and Grill (already open), and Boston's first Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse.  Del Frisco's is a Texas based steak house chain begun over 20 years ago.  Boston will be Del Frisco's 9 location city, ranging across the United States.

View from the Best Seat in the House
So what sets this steak house apart?  Beyond their aged USDA Prime Steaks, their fresh seafood, and their inventive sides (read cauliflower and brie au gratin) lies their extensive wine selection, their incredible physical restaurant and the exemplary service.  I was taken on a hard hat tour of the new space yesterday, and learned exactly what these difference mean.

Upon entering the space, GM Gregg Rinaldi pointed out where the beginning of their wine emptire would begin.  Thousands of bottles of wine will be held in glass wine walls throughout the restaurant, offering selection like no other.  This display begins in the entry way, and then continues throughout the space, separating private rooms and ushering the diner throughout the restaurant.  

The incredible view from the Dining Room
The restaurant, it must be noted is going to be gorgeous, though I was there when extreme work is being done, the vision is incredible.  Featuring sweeping views of the harbor, it mixes classic steakhouse decor of dark wood panneling with the beauty of a sunny seaside escape.  The design team has taken extra steps to ensure that this view is enjoyed by all who dine, by raising portions of the interior dining room.  Additionally they feature a patio, over looking the water, which will be equipped with wind blocking features so that sea breeze doesn't disrupt a dinner with flying napkins.  If, for some strange reason your seat at your table doesn't face towards the majestic harbor, have no fear, you're "second choice" view is of the beautiful boston skyline- not a bad seat in this house.

Raised floor to mazimize the view
Finally, I want to dedicate some time to the service.  Some on line research resulted in finding multiple awards the restaurants have received based on their customer service concentration.  It's one thing to receive awards though, its another entirely to watch it transpire.  I arrived for my tour a bit early (as usual), and so waited for Gregg for a bit watching the buzz of activity in the hiring office.  Each person who walked in the door to apply for work was greeted with a smile and a friendly hello.  Those who had been met previously were recognized, and greeted as friends.  When the news that an employee had been hired was announced, it was received with a rousing round of congratulations from all present.  Each person I spoke to and interacted with was beyond kind, welcoming and efficient.  I have long believed that when you are treated with respect, you treat others with respect.  It was obvious that Del Frisco's believes in this premise as well.  Throughout my tour Gregg, who has worked at other Del Frisco's before they moved him to Boston, spoke of the company, and his co workers with pride.  It was obvious that working at Del Frisco's was as rewarding as enjoying one of their steaks.  It does not surprise me at all that this type of attitude has won them the awards they have, and the praise from diners that it has (twitter search helped me with that one). 

View from the patio
Earlier I mentioned the full name of the restaurant as Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House.  As I toured the restaurant yesterday, I wondered about the reference of Double Eagle.  I had to ask.  It invokes a rare golf occurrence where the hole score is 3 below par.  Quite a score!  Del Frisco's has brought their matra on to show how rare of restaurant they are, a cut above the rest.

Now, I have not eaten at a Del Frisco's, so I cannot testify to their food first hand, but the space, the sheer extensivity of their wine selection and their service all appear to be first rate.  Del Frisco's holds great promise of being an incredible addition to the new Fort Point Channel.  

Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House is slotted to open in late April, 2011.  

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