Thursday, December 27, 2012

GEM, Downtown Crossing, Boston

Years ago I remember sidling up to the bar at Kennedys in Downtown Crossing and feeling as though I was looking back in time.  The space was old, the clientele was likewise, and though it held a certain "old time" appeal, it was aged and appeared to be on its way out in the face of the rejeuvenation of the area.  Therefore, when I walked past earlier this year and saw a bright, shiney new sign exclaiming the space to now be known as GEM, I was excited to see what had been done with the space.  I was invited in last week to check out their menu and the space. 

GEM has been designed in the style of the European Supper Club, unique to Boston's dining scene, it is a spot spend an entire evening, a fantastic dinner and then linger for the remainder of the evening, enjoying libations and the company around.  Somehow this is a style of evening that hasnt taken hold in Boston previously, and I was excited to check it out.

The restaurant and lounge space of GEM resides on the second floor of their building, and upon reach the top of the stairs it became immediately apparent the overhaul that had been completed within the walls to redefine it.  Gone were the tattered stools and the aged wooden bar.  Gone were the creaky bar tables and dingy surroundings.  In their place was a beautiful marble bar installed bedecked with comfortable bar chairs, luxurious red booths, and intimate spots for reposing. 


We were shown to our table and began to peruse the menu, a dizzying array of dishes ranging from hearty comfort foods to more adventurous offerings.  We consulted with our waitress and she helpfully led our choices- starting our meal off with their Hamachi and Tuna Tartare.  Thick pieces of fresh fish were tossed in a light mayonnaise based dressing, mixed with fresh, refreshing cucumber, piled on to an onion soy sauce and topped with fried onions, and green onions.  To begin, the underlying sauce was delicious-  soy sauce, cut with what I assume was rice wine vinegar, and enhanced with sweet onion made for a perfectly savory, not overly salty back drop for the raw fish.  The fish itself was incredibly fresh and both held their flavor well in the face of other strong ingredients.  I was apprehensive of the mayo dressing, but ended up enjoying the creamy contrast to the umami flavor of the other sauce and the pungency of the onions.  The Hamachi and Tuna was served with crisp wontons which served as a wonderful utensil to enjoy the other flavors with.

We also decided to try out the homemade tatertots.  Crispy fried orbs of creamy mashed potatoes topped with fresh green onion and served with Russian Dressing and Siracha sauce for dipping.  These definitel strayed from the traditional tater tot in their texture- mashed over shredded, but they were punched up with additional flavor from nutty Gryuere cheese mixed in.  As a small bite- these definitely satisfied the craving for something decadent on a cold night.

Chef Brendan then sent out a dish that had been previously on the menu during the summer months, its refreshing qualities were more than welcome.  A beautifully seasoned watermelon and basil gazpacho pooled in a bowl with a small brick of fresh watermelon set in the middle, topped with blackened seared tuna, a section of an orange, a slice of pear and hint of sweet apple compote.  The spice from the tuna, mixed with the sweet fruit and refreshing soup was a lovely combination and made clear why this was one of the chefs favorite dishes to serve.  Each flavor layed delicately together, none overcoming the others but rather benefitting each.  

We turned out attention to entrees next, and while I had been pleased with all previous dishes, I was thrilled with the entrees.  My dining companion for the evening selected their special for the night- skirt steak layered over mushroom risotto and topped with an Italian herb style Chimmichuri sauce.  I chose their Brined Pork Chop, served with a ham hock and white bean ragout, topped with a cranberry agrodulce and rutabaga.   The pork was perfectly cooked, moist, and full of flavor.  It wasn't overly seasoned and its own natural flavors show through.  The contrast that I loved here was the smokey flavor of the hamhock and bean ragout showcased next to it- presenting the different sides of pig.  The cranberry agrodolce, which in its basest form is a sweet sauce, played the sweet tart card well, and paired very nicely with the earthy beans.  Every component of this dish was well thought out and well prepared.  I won't lie to you- if I hadnt been in public- I would have gnawed on the remaining bone of the pork chop- I was sad to see that dish end!

The skirt steak was equally delicious, yet playing on a completely different palatte.  The steak was perfectly cooked, making a normally tough cut tender and full of flavor.  The risotto was creamy and dotted with well prepared mushrooms adding their own earthy qualities.  The chimichurri sauce here stood out- twisting a normally Latin American tradition into an Italian pairing with the risotto- it was bright and well seasoned tieing the dish together. 

Somehow we managed to find room for dessert- and the lemongrass creme brulee appeared on the table with spoons ready to go.  It may just be me, but I often find creme brulee to be a bit played out, and can often run on boring.  I really enjoyed the full lemon flavor of the lemongrass, it was clean and fun, and after a big, heavy meal it felt light and finshed it nicely.  The sugar crust was a great ratio to the lick custard beneath, and all together it was a very satisfying dessert.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when we walked into GEM.  The sexy- chic environment screamed night club to me, and I haven't seen many of those with a good menu to boot.  Every dish we were served was creative and well paired with ingredients that played off of each other well.  As we surveyed the other diners there were a host of other dishes that we knew looked delicious as well and the remarks from all were positive.  Though we may not have many other Supper Clubs around this area, this is a spot that is definitely worth checking out. They are using fresh produce, good quality proteins and producing truly delicious meals. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Fresh City, Various Locations, Boston

Wow I seriously lucked out- a ho hum Friday was elevated into the stratospheres with a little lunch time delivery which satisfied every craving in a fresh and delicious way.  Fresh City specializes in food prepared quickly- but lets not confuse them with a "fast food" spot.  Their offerings are prepared with local, fresh, healthy ingredients all combined into creative sandwiches, soups, salads, smoothies and more offered from Breakfast right through lunch.   

They surprised me with a smorgasbord of their lunch offerings- starting with their Napa Valley Turkey sandwich, their Powerhouse Salad, a serving of their Butternut Squash and Apple soup, their own Sweet Pita Chips and a delicious Berry Blast smoothie. 

I immediately tore into the sandwich and the smoothie,  The Napa Valley Turkey sandwich was a fresh baked crusty roll stuffed high with naturally raised roasted turkey breast, fresh avocado, smoked crispy bacon, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and topped with a lemon chive aioli.  The crunchy roll gave way perfectly to well seasoned, moist turkey breast surrounded by the smokey bacon, and creamy avocado.  I love the aioli with this- it added a nice tangy punch of flavor that highlighted the other other flavors.  This was a stacked high, satisfying sandwich big enough where I split it into two meals!

Next up was the Powerhouse Salad, a huge helping of fresh veggies and assorted toppings that made for a filling lunch.  Combining hearty spinach with romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, edamame, carrots, cranberries, grapes, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, toasted almonds and a smatter of grated cheddar cheese- this salad was full of all sorts of incredible vitamins, flavors and great textural changes.  I mowed this down for dinner the night I received it and felt like it was a great size.

Next up the butternut squash soup with apple was rich and creamy, full of spices and offset with the sweetness of full chunks of apple.  I loved this variation, taking a normally monotonous soup texturally speaking and adding sweet chunks of apple.  It was a hearty, satisfying lunch served with a crackly sourdough roll it made for a perfect lunch.

Along with the rest of the lunch they sent a long a Berry Best smoothie- a refreshing blend of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apple juice and raspberry sherbet blended into a frozen drink.  It was nicely sweet and tart, making it a little addictive and easy to finish long before it melted. 

The final addition to the meal, providing an incredibly sweet end were their cinnamon sugar pita chips.  Crispy, sweet and full of rich cinnamon flavor these were a lovely end to several meals.

I have seen the signs for Fresh City around the city and surrounding areas but for some reason haven't ever stopped in before.  I was incredibly excited to find their foods to be fresh, locally sourced, and their dishes creative with exciting flavors and well seasoned to boot.  Fresh City is definitely now on my list of places to head to for a hearty, healthy lunch.



Monday, December 3, 2012

Oak Long Bar, Fairmont Copley Hotel, Boston

Years ago the Oak Bar, located in the Fairmont Copley, was my favorite spot to go for a special occasion cocktail. The ornate, shadowed and deeply masculine feel of the room leant itself to quiet conversation shared over a double pour martini, or a velvety rich pour of Bourdeaux. It was a place to linger, it was a place to speak in hushed tones as the veteran staff attended to every need. The Oak Bar was a place to savor as with a piece of flourless chocolate cake- sparingly. When I got wind that the room, and its accompanying restaurant - The Oak Room, were closing for renovations in honor of the centennial celebration of the hotel, I was devastated. Fearing the worst, I pictured an overhaul to the rooms, losing the mystery, the history of what had been there.


I feared the worst, and as I tend to do, I didn't even want to see the new space. However, I ran into a lady who can easily be known as a treasure of Boston herself, and she began to reveal more and more about the history of the building as it had been, and the reverence that the renovations had paid to that. Stories of a tile mosaic floor unearthed won me over, and I knew that I wouldn't be able to stay away from the new look for long. I have made several visits since then, and each time I have fallen deeper in love. The front halls of the hotel, leading to the front desk, had their linoleum floors removed to reveal a tile mosaic laid at least a century ago. The restoration paid that artistry homage, allowing the tiles missing from their places to be respected, not replacing them with the new and shiny. The Oak Bar and Room have been joined into one room, with a massive bar (83 feet long) the longest in Boston, spanning between them, bedecked with high backed leather bar stools perfect for lingering. Cozy fireplaces have been installed, and where heavy, dark drapes once blocked the light, the room now has an airy feel with rich curtains now welcoming a new era. Remnants of the old room remain, the chandeliers remain, and, if you look closely, the long abandoned track of the carousel that once turned in that room has been polished up and left intact. This is now a room that brings a crowd every night of the week, and whose new look is bright, and beautiful, but remains the historical masterpiece it was built as.

I had the extreme honor of being invited to the Oak Long Bar for dinner one evening and was treated to a sampling of their new menu. I am extremely happy to attest that the food is as wonderful as the restoration, offering something for everyone.

We began our food adventures with the LBK Charcuterie Board. This is a board like no other- served with flourish as every pice is revered as a crucial ingredient. Ours included speck, sopressata, coppa, porchetta and prosciutto amiercano, with a mix of cheeses including local Berkshire Blue, Landaff, and Cabot's Clothbound Cheddar. Accompaniments included a cranberry apricot relish, a mustard spiked with maple syrup, house cured pickles and olives. A charcuterie board like no other. The cured meats were salty and tender, melting as they hit your tongue- exactly the way you want them. The cheese, a perfect sampling of the beauty of New England cheeses complimented those decadent meats with a tangy relief. Portions were nicely measured out- and our table of six couldnt finish the massive offering.

Our next course featured a selection of their wood fired flatbreads: their Backyard Farms Tomato Flatbread, their Pulled Pork Flatbread and their Organic Mushroom Flatbread. You all know my love of Backyard Farms Tomatoes- locally grown in northern Maine, these tomatoes are cared for with love and attention all year long and the farm renders August style tomatoes throughout the year- hence you know that a flatbread in October featuring their tomatoes is going to be special. How about if we add to that flatbread Maplebrook Burrata cheese (another local contender) and allow its creamy center to mingle with those beautiful tomatoes and sweet basil in a way that traditional mozzarella is just not able to do? A masterpiece is created.

Not to be outdone, the pulled pork flatbread entered the race with its own secret weapons. The tender pulled pork, full of smoky flavor had been paired with smoked cheddar cheese to carry through that theme and then topped with pickled grapes adding a contrasting pop of tang. The result was unusual and addictive.

The winner, as though it was easy to choose, was the organic mushroom flatbread which, quite simply, blew the others out of the water. The crisp crust had been topped with tender mushrooms, an earthy truffled vinaigrette (a perfect compliment to mushrooms in my book), spicy arugula and, finally, an Heirloom egg, cooked to perfection so that the sunny yellow yolk spilled over into the rest of the flatbread and mingled with the other components creating a perfect combination of decadence and earthy heartiness.

Next out to our table though was a crispy yet tender piece of braised pork belly. The meat crackled in its pan, the tender meat permeated from its now crispy roof of flavorful fat. This decadent piece was topped with just a bit of spicy and sweet candied ginger, and another pickled grape lending their own sharp flavored tastes in stark contrast to the unbelievable richness of the dish. While more than a bite or two of this is all that I was able to "muster"- Ill gladly admit that in privacy I may have housed it.

We were next treated to their Prosciutto Sandwich which combined Blythedale Farms brie, local apples, more of that spicy arugula, and fig jam with the salty cured meat, and was served with a kale slaw on the side. The sandwich hit every flavor sensation between the bitty and spicy greens, the creamy cheese, the salty meat and the sweet fruits. The toasted bread added a satisfying crunch to every bite and resulted in a feeling of complete comfort. As much as I enjoyed the sandwich, here it was the crisp, hearty and refreshing kale slaw that I loved most of all. The slaw was delicate, yet had an incredibly hearty vibe to it- and allowed me to feel as though I was getting some crucial nutrients in as well.

We turned our attention next to dishes more pulled from the entree section of the menu, starting off with their Lamb Osso Bucco. Large chunks of slow cooked, tender lamb stewed into a rich, velvety sauce, were served over a mushroom farro and then topped with a pistachio gremolata. This dish hit all of my high points- well cooked protein, with an unique accompaniment, and textural contrasts. The Osso Bucco appeared to be an ossobucco in bianco, which includes flavors of cinnamon and bay leaf as opposed to tomato in its braising liquid and here that concentrated liquid clung to the meat and to every grain of the nutty farrow creating beautiful continuous flavor profile with subtle variations. Here the parsley and pistachio gremolata added a beautiful freshness contrasting the rich sauce and the crunch of the nuts complimented the tender qualities of the rest of the dish. Huddled into this cozy space, I couldn't help but picture enjoying this meal on a dark and snowy night.

Next up was a classic, the New England Clam Bake incorporating Georges Bank Cod with littleneck clams, chorizo, and root vegetables all in a light broth. I am one of those weird New England fanatics who thinks that this is a crucial item to a menu here in Boston. Its such a celebration of what our area is known for, and the cultures that come together here that I am thrilled when one is done perfectly. Oak Long Bar concentrates on the simplicity of the dish, not adding in superfluous ingredients but keeping it pure. In this lack of pomp and circumstance is where the real dish lies- a clean meal that has been made for centuries by the rugged fishermen of New England.

Our final savory dish of the night was truly a dish not to be missed. A "Bone Out" 16 oz Rib Eye served with roquefort butter, a cabernet jus, crispy onions and the bone itself contained grilled marrow for creating an even more decadent offering. The steak itself was perfection- cooked to a beautiful medium rare, not over seasoned to allow the full flavor of the beef to emerge -it was a worthy steak contender for our city. The accompaniments just pushed it over the top in every way. The tang from the roquefort paired with rich butter, the subtle sweetness of the cabernet reduction and the crisp onions all created a dance of flavors.

Dessert was served at once for us and brought with it enough temptations that somehow our very full bellies found the room to fit in a "few more bites". A flourless chocolate cake topped with a dried fruit and nut relish and served with a cranberry and clove coulis, a Creme Fraiche Cheesecake enhanced with a cranberry and dried cherry compote, and finally an Apple Croissant Pudding with caramelized apples and raisins and topped with traditional vanilla ice cream rounded out our selection. My dining companions and I long debated the best of this triplet. The cake was dense and rich, exactly how you want a flourless cake to be, but paired with the sweet tart and citrusy relish it fit in perfectly to the season and walked away from its "typical" role. The Apple Croissant Pudding took a classic bread pudding and created a whole new eschelon of "pudding". Sweet apples and raisins showcased against the buttery delicacy of the croissants and found a result in something with effortless sophistication. My pick for best though was the Creme Fraiche Cheesecake. I am not, on the whole, a cheesecake fan. I often find it monotonous and overly tangy. Here the more diluted sour of the Creme Fraiche created a softer, silkier feel to their offering and when paired with the sweet tart compote the result was elegant and delicious.

The Oak Long Bar is a new shining star in the very heart of Boston. No longer is it a place reserved only for special occasions, it has emerged as a space where cocktails and wine welcome a late evening crowd, while the diverse yet cohesive menu full of local favorites calls out to any food lover looking for a unique and satisfying meal. If you haven't yet had a chance to revel in the beauty of the time honored Fairmont Copley -I urge you to check it out- soon!

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Back Deck, Downtown Crossing, Boston

The Downtown Crossing area of Boston has really come along way in the last few years. Once a place deserted at night, now comes alive as hosts of new restaurants and bars open in the area. One such place though is straying from the norm of the gastro pub and run of the mill taverns and is offering Bostonians the magic of Summer all year long. The Back Deck is adorned with paintings and is decorated in a way to make you feel like the warm, light air is always around despite those frigid temps that are on their way. I dined there on a night where spirits were high among the diners and it wasn't hard to envision the merriment of a back yard BBQ.


We decided to enjoy our summer throwback by ordering several of their smaller dishes and sharing- so we ordered their turkey burger, to which we added Swiss cheese and it was served with a choice of fries, potato salad or slaw (in typical backyard BBQ fashion)- we opted for the fries. We also settled on their Sausage and Mashed, billed as andouille sausage grilled over charcoal and served with mashed potatoes and gumbo greens. Finally we also ordered their Beef Kabob - served with a tomato-caper chutney, cornbread and a green salad.

The beef kabob was delicious- cooked to order, smokey cubes of grilled meat were tender and flavorful. Paired with the acidic and salty chutney, I felt as though I was at a party hosted by a friend- one who served well thought out, well planned foods to please their guests.

The andouille sausage was also very tasty- slightly spicy with the same wonderful char flavor I was looking for. A bite of this fatty (in a good way) meat, with a heaping forkful of the creamy mashed potatoes and I knew Id hit a good combination. Potatoes are such a decadent and delicious way to cool spice- makes me want to always heat heaping mounds of buttery potatoes whenI have anything spicy. The salad served with it was light and refreshing- exactly what was wanted as a palate cleanser.

Next up was the turkey burger and here was a the miss of the evening. It goes without saying that turkey meat doesn't have as much fat in it as beef does and therefore can be drier if not handled correctly. Unfortunately those steps were missed, and the result was an extremely dry patty. The potato bun it was served on was nice, it had nice flavor, it was a good size for the burger itself, the dish just lost itself on its star. I did not end up spending any extraneous bites on this one.

We ended our meal with the dessert that couldn't be ignored- the Back Deck's S'more. Touting homemade graham crackers, and cranberry marshmallows we couldn't resist. The graham crackers had a wonderful rustic look to them, enforcing their homemade premise, and were full of rich spicy flavor. The cranberry marshmallow nicely hovered the line of sweet and tart, and was oozing forth from the graham crackers with the gooeyness of a good roast over a fire. My disappointment here lay in their decision to pair a classic Hershey square with this. The waxy, almost fake tasting chocolate distracted from the flavors of the other ingredients and poisoned them with its cheapness. A good piece of dark, rich chocolate would have been the piece to make this dessert worth returning for.

Overall, I enjoyed my time at the Back Deck. The frivolity of the atmosphere combined with their dedication to charcoal grilling will make them stand out as a spot to head to as the snow swirls through the narrow alleyways of Downtown Crossing. There were, of course, some misses, but as the grill falls into its routine more and more Im sure those can be ironed out.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Thanksgiving Meal Meatballs with a Cranberry Glaze

The temperatures are starting to dip down into chillier and thoughts are starting to turn to the bounty of harvest- root vegetables, squash, sweet tart cranberries and all things paired with sage.  Yes- one might say it's becoming the best time of the year ;-).  Friends and I decided to celebrate this bountious season with a Fall Themed potluck dinner, and I was awarded the appetizer course.  I played with a variety of ideas for weeks - soups and small bites mesmerized my brain and then I finally settled on my offering.  The first would be Thanksgiving Meal Meatballs with a Cranberry Glaze.

Our menu for the night was based around Thanksgiving favorites, but we had opted for a Cuban classic pork entree (a very wise idea) instead of the traditional turkey, so I
thought I wanted to bring in those traditional flavors.  The result had the beauty of sage and turkey meat together with a hint of savory onion, the sweetness of apple and then a little indulgence with sharp cheddar cheese. 

1 lb ground turkey meat
3/4 of a Granny Smith apple, pealed and chopped
2 oz Sharp Cheddar Cheese, diced
1 tsp onion powder
1/3 cup chopped fresh sage
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 cup to 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
1 egg

Pre Heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Combine the ingredients, starting with just a cup of bread crumbs and adding more until the mixture sticks together but isnt wet.  Form small meatballs, about an inch in circumfrance and place on a cookie sheet.  Bake for 20- 30 minutes dending on the size of your meatballs.

Cranberry Glaze

1 cup cranberry sauce (prepare via the instructions on package of cranberries)
2 tbsp fresh orange zest
1 tsp molasses

Combine ingredients, and blend until smooth.  Spoon or pour over the baked meatballs and serve. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Chocolate Bar at The Langham Hotel

As kids-did anyone not wish to take a trip to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory? To wander through a land comprised of seemingly endless chocolate confections, a place where something achingly delicious is around every corner? Well, fear not, the Chocolate Bar at Boston's Langham Hotel is in full swing again this year to bring us face to face with Wonka-without any of the rather menacing sounding side affects of the Factory.


Each year the Chocolate Bar launches and each year it somehow out does its previous self. Running from September to June this years offering is variable based on chefs whim and encompasses every side of chocolate from the illusion of white to the deepest dark.  Imagine running through aisles of chocolate covered strawberries, dark chocolate filled cannoli, cookies, brownies, a sundae bar, and a chocolate fountain?  What if that was just the start?

On the day that I was invited to attend fresh cotton candy was being spun, there was a crepe station offering made to order creations, and then there were the truly artistic, imaginative offerings.  A Black Forest Chocolate Pyramid full of deep, rich chocolate cut with sweet tart cherries, an Earl Grey and Milk Chocolate Mousse Torte with Toasted Almonds- a perfect combination of the refinement of Earl Grey tea with creamy sweat chocolate and an Orange Marmalade Varrine which combined those favorite flavors of citrusy orange with deep rich chocolate to make a heavenly dessert rounded out my personal favorites.

I had been able to attend a special media tasting of the Chocolate Bar some years ago and I was blown away then, this year though, wandering through the great room filled with tortes, tarts, a hot chocolate bar and even a design your own cupcake bar- it was like being transported into my childhood dreams.

It is beyond worth it to check out the Langham Chocolate Bar for any special occasion, or any craving.  Also- its definitely a needed mention that The Langham just completed an incredible renovation of their common spaces- it is gorgeous in the historic building!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Robinhood Meetinghouse Biscuits- a Local Treasure

One of the things I really adore about "southern food" is their biscuits.  Big, flaky treasures of buttery goodness-biscuits are perfect to enjoy on their own, paired with hearty chili's, or topped with fresh fruit and whipped cream as a delicious dessert.  Several weeks ago I was sent boxes of biscuits from Robinhood Meetinghouse to review.  I was in the midst of packing up my life when they arrived, and in the throws of moving, I neglected to write me thoughts for you to enjoy earlier, but I could not resist indulging in these right away.

They generously sent me three different types of their biscuits- their Triple Ginger, Sweet Potato, and Cream Cheese varieties.   First off, I had to try the original recipe- their Cream Cheese Biscuit.  These had the classic flavor, delightfully rich and decadent.  The tang of cream cheese was offset by the sweet cream butter flavor.  The thing with biscuits really though is are they layered and flaky?  Do they melt in your mouth with every bite?  Are they flavorful enough to enjoy all on their own but perfect to pair with your favorite dish.  Robinhood Meetinghouse's were deliciously flaky and I could picture them topped with any number of gravies or toppings.

Then I ripped into the Triple Ginger first and was greeted with a burst of spicy ginger flavor.  Robinhood Meetinghouse had blended together fresh ginger, ground ginger, and even candied ginger into these little pillows and when combined with their base cream cheese biscuit recipe the sweetness of the biscuit with butter was a delicious twist to the classic. 

Finally, I checked out the Sweet Potato biscuits.  Starting with the same great flaky base, these had a lovely natural sweetness with a hint of cinnamon which I feel could make them a perfect addition to a holiday meal- a little turkey, a little cranberry sauce- these will make those leftovers fly of the table.

No matter which variety you choose, Robinhood Meetinghouse has a great product created which can be found easily in your grocers frozen food section.  These are a great addition to breakfast lunch or dinner, and an incredibly simple way to bring decadence onto your table.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Olive Oil Biscuits with Raspberries and Cream

We have arrived at our final chapter of our delicious Chilean Olive Oil adventure- the dessert course.  Every dish thus far was bursting fourth with bright clean and spicy notes from the beautiful fresh olive oils that sponsored the dinner.  I selected Olive Oil Biscuits with Raspberries and Cream for our final tasting note.  I was excited to see how Olive Oil could replace butter in a sturdy biscuit and was thrilled to milk a little more out of summer with fresh tart raspberries and whipped cream.

The batter, unfortunately, did not turn out as anticipated.  Instead of forming a dough, one to be shaped and molded as the directions stated, I wound up with a loose batter, which I baked off as a cake.  Honestly- it didnt matter either way- the flavor of the olive oil paired with strong, bright citrus notes was fantastic.  A ruby red raspberry and a dollop of fresh whipped cream finished off a lovely piece of cake and dessert was a great showcase of olive oil in baked goods.

Olive Oil Biscuits with Raspberries and Cream


● Ingredients:

○ 7 eggs

○ 2 cups of sugar

○ Zest and juice of 2 lemons

○ ¼ cup of milk

○ 7 ounces of cold butter

○ 1 ¼ cup Smooth CEVOO

○ 2 cups of flour

○ 2 teaspoons of baking powder

○ 3 pints of Raspberries

○ 2 teaspoons Vanilla extract (for cream)

○ 2 tablespoons confectioners sugar (for cream)

○ 2 cups heavy cream (for cream)

● Instructions:

Cookies

○ Preheat oven to 350F and Prepare a cookie sheet and cookie mold so the batter won’t stick.

○ In a medium sized bowl, with an electric mixer, mix eggs and sugar.

○ Add and beat in gradually the lemon zest and juice and the milk.

○ In a larger, second bowl, beat together the butter, CEVOO, flour, and baking powder.

○ Combine all the ingredients into the larger bowl.

○ Pour into the prepared cookie sheet/molds. Bake approximately 10 minutes.

Prepare the cream now.

○ Serve with cream and raspberries.

Cream

● In a large bowl, beat the cream until peaks are about to form.

● Add in alternately the vanilla extract and the sugar until peaks form.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Goat Cheese and Mushroom Ziti

I had thought that picking a main course for my Chilean Olive Oil party would be difficult. I tend to be pretty carnivorous in my day to day eating, but I knew that I have a vegetarian in the house and I didn’t want to make her eat around things. My next move, when I apparently cut out meat, is to add in cheese and cream (why I do that one I have no idea) but I had some dairy allergies as well in the group so I looked through the recipes that the Chilean Olive Oil group sent me a little halfheartedly. What could possibly be in that list that didn’t include any type of meat or fish, or any cow milk or cream? Then, about mid way through the list, illuminated with bright lights from the heaven (no not really) it was there- Portobello Mushroom and Goat Cheese Pasta. The ingredients sounded perfect, and with an attendee running the BAA Half Marathon the following day- well it couldn’t have been more perfect for carbo loading!


I was pretty thrilled with this recipe- it was creamy and cheesy, decadent in all the right ways and then grounded with big chunks of earthy mushrooms. Freshly chopped parsley added a bright freshness to the dish and overall it was entrée deliciousness. Allergies and food preferences aside- I would gladly serve this again.

Goat Cheese and Mushroom Ziti

● Ingredients:

○ 5 tablespoons butter

○ 10 tablespoons CEVOO

○ 7 ½ onions, chopped

○ 2 ½ teaspoons salt

○ 1 ¼ sugar

○ 2 ½ pounds of portobello mushrooms, stems removed, caps halved, and cut

crosswise into ¼ inch slices

○ 10 tablespoons chopped parsley

○ ½ teaspoons fresh ground black pepper

○ 1 ¾ pound ziti

○ 10 oz soft goat cheese

○ 10 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving


● Instructions:

○ In a large frying pan, melt half of the butter with half of the CEVOO over

moderate heat.

○ Add the onions, ½ of the salt, and the sugar, and cook, stirring frequently until the

onions are well browned. Remove from the pan.

○ In the same pan, melt the remaining butter and olive oil over moderate heat. Add

the mushrooms and ¼ of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and

brown.

○ Add the remaining onions, parsley, salt, and pepper.

○ Boil the ziti until just done. Put aside 1 ¾ cup of the pasta water, and drain.

○ Toss the ziti and a ½ of the water with the mushroom mixture, the remaining

CEVOO, goat cheese, and parmesan. If the pasta seems dry, add more of the

water.

○ Serve with additional parmesan.



Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chile Olive Oil Dinner- Fresh Tomato Treat

I was given the opportunity to choose the dishes to be served at my Chilean Olive Oil party and after reading through all of the possible appetizers, I quickly decided on the Fresh Tomato Tart.  Puff Pastry filled with a creamy basil egg mix and then topped with slices of fresh tomato- I couldnt imagine anything better to start off a gathering of friends on the patio.

Turned out- I was right.  The tart was a beautiful combination of creamy mousse, buttery pastry and fresh, acidic ruby red tomatos.  The olive oil was blended into the cream and egg mix giving it a smooth body and a richer feel.  This was an incredibly decadent appetizer, but one that is perfect for an elegant gathering.

Fresh Tomato Tart (recipe by the Chile Oliva)


• Time Estimates

○ Preparation: 20 minutes

○ Cooking: 40 minutes

○ Level of Skill:

○ Medium

○ Ingredients:

○ 1.5 puff pastry sheets (however many necessary)

○ 1.5 cup fresh basil leaves, washed & dried

○ 1.5 cups heavy cream

○ 4 ½ tablespoons of Smooth Chilean Extra Virgin Olive Oli (CEVOO)

○ 4 extra large eggs

○ 3 large ripe tomatoes

○ Coarse sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

○ Instructions:

○ Preheat oven to 400F. Line a 12in tart pan w/ pastry. Put whole square sheet inthe pan, cutting & patching as necessary.

○ Combine the basil, cream, 4 tablespoons of CEVOO, eggs, salt, and pepper into a food processor, process until the basil is very finely chopped.

○ Pour mixture into pastry pan & bake for 30-40 minutes until cooked through,
golden, and fragrant. The tart will puff up in the oven, but will immediately deflate when it starts to cool.

○ While tart is baking, slice the tomatoes thinnly. As soon as the tart is removed from the oven, arrange the tomato slices on top. Drizzle the remaining ½ tablespoon of olive oil over the tomatoes.

○ Serving Suggestions:

○ Serve slightly warm. After slicing pieces for guests individually, drizzle CEVOO over the top.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Chile Olive Oil Party- Tasting the Oils

Olive Oil is one of those truly wonderful ingredients.  A chameleon of shorts, this ingredient can be found on its own as a drizzle over rich ingredients, blended with acidic counterparts to create emulsified dressings, cooked into savory entrees, and even baked with.  A few months ago I was asked to host a dinner party showcasing olive oil from Chile.  You may not be too familiar with Chile as an Olive Oil producer.  Just making it's entrance into US markets, Chilean Olive Oil is full flavored, with all of the same great health benefits as its Italian or Greek counterparts.  Chile's location, between a desert, the Pacific Ocean, the Patagonia and the Andean range gives it the shelter that Olives can thrive in. 

For the party, I was sent both Smooth and Bold Olive Oils, along with a whole host of ingredients and several recipes to try out the oil in.  First up though, my guests and I did a little taste test of the oils.  I will say- if you haven't taken a sip of pure olive oil before- it can be a little daunting.  The folks over at Chile Oliva, the National Association of Manufacturers of Olives and Olive Oil sent along some helpful hints.  Similar to wine, the method includes swirling, taking a deep sniff in, and then a slurp.  Here, acidic green apples are used to cleanse the palate. 

We started with the Bold labeled version and found that the flavors did in fact pack a punch.  As I sniffed to start the flavor was mild and I was a bit disappointed, but then as I sipped the blend of Arbequina, Frantoio and Leccino olives the bright spice and a peppery back drop assured me of its "bold" flavor.  The Smooth variety had a similar scent to the Bold, but its flavor was much rounder and fuller.  Its flavor was full of sweet grass which balanced with the slightly bitter undertone.  It was clear that while the Bold would adjust the flavors of what it was used in, the Smooth would simply enhance those already present. 

We dove into the rest of the recipes incorporating these great oils which included a Fresh Tomato Tart, a decadent Goat Cheese and Portobello Mushroom pasta and a bright and citrusy Olive Oil cake topped with fresh raspberries and whipped cream.  Stay tuned...

Monday, October 8, 2012

2013 Boston Wine Expo Preview

Every February the city emerges from its winter cocoon and welcomes what I've come to regard as one of the first, early signs of spring-the Boston Wine Expo. Joining together almost 200 wineries this annual event serves to educate and expand the horizons of the novice wine drinker to the experienced oenophile. Between the seminars held yearly, the lively discussions created and the ability to taste over 1800 wines, this is the event to attend.


Of course, it's not just October, so why am I discussing an even that doesnt take place for another 5 plus months? Quite unabashedly, I'm pumping you up-do you feel pumped up? This years Boston Wine Expo promises to be the best one yet, with wineries celebrating their anniversaries by pouring from their vintage stock, rumors of a rare Port pouring (my personal favorite), a much improved Mobile App allowing users to find their favorites to purchase before and after the show, and a Social Media lounge keeping those of us Twitter happy for the duration of the event.

I was able to attend a preview event and had the opportunity to taste some amazing wines there-I know that this years event will be one to be sure to attend. Over the next couple of months I'll bring you the news as it transpires, some discount ticket codes (stay tuned) and maybe even a free pass-Get ready folks- 5 months and counting!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Urban Grape, South End Location Open Now!

Wine can be somewhat daunting to a novice chooser. The bottles lined up in an average store can appear somewhat dizzying, as each one touts their genealogy by region, farm, grape, year-but what does all that mean? When you're getting ready to serve that grilled chicken breast in your backyard, how do you know which wine to serve as opposed to when you're sitting down to a steaming bowl of pasta slathered in a spicy red sauce? It's not always easy to figure out, and The Urban Grape which just opened their second location in the bustling South End, has answers for you.

The Urban Grape has developed their own, unique system for presenting wines to their consumers, bunking the "usual" methods of region or grape type. Here they measure their wines, reds and whites separately, by their viscosity. Ah Viscosity-there's one of those "wine" words right? What does that mean for the average consumer. In plain terms, they are dividing their wines by weight- ranging from a light bodied wine to the heaviest. This system is designed to help that novice consumer pair their wine perfectly with the dish they are serving and look like experts to friends and family.

The Urban Grape has a knowledgable staff ready to assist in your purchase and tastes available as well. Don't go thinking though that you have to be looking to refine your palette to enter their stores, they have a great selection of beers and ciders to boot, making it an easy drop in.

While some feel that the UG system is too unique, it's one that I think is great for the novice who is looking to understand more about how to choose wine and how to pair it. Give them a try-I know youll learn something!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Corn Soup

The thing about corn is that it always confuses me.  I picture long days of eating corn on the cob, savoring each burst of the kernels under the hot summer sun...but then every year the harsh reality sets in -corn doesnt come into season until late summer.  Of course, once it's here, I tend to take every opportunity to enjoy it.  When I was thinking up dishes for what to bring to our Progressive Dinner party, I knew I wanted to do something with fresh local corn. I was tasked with second course, which I translated into Soup and a salad....Corn Soup of course. 

Corn soup is always just slightly tricky.  I find that often it's so loaded down with cream that it turns into much more of an indulgence than wanted, or its thinned with wines or beers and the flavors overpower the sweet, delicate flavor of the vegetable.  I wanted to make a fluffy, flavorful, light (er), corn soup. 

I began with six ears of corn, freshly shucked (I beg of you-shuck your corn at home before you eat it- NOT in the store- it just loses moisture) and set them steam above three bottles of Harpoon UFO White beer and two sweet onios, quartered.  Once the corn was cooked, I removed it from the cob, placed it in my food processor with 4 teaspoons of butter (sorry kids had to happen), and ladeled in some of the reduced, boiled beer to think it out.  I pulsed and pureed, added more of the boiled beer, and salt and pepper to taste.  Then comes the "fun" part.  Once the the corn has been thinned by the beer mix, use any small hole collander to strain out the larger bits of corn, and use the back of a spoon to push the liquid through.  Set aside the thick mash that results, and once all of the corn has been sifted through, redeposit the mash back into the food processor, and add another bottle of beer, plus one of water to the original steaming pot with the leftover onions.  Boil until the alcohol has cooked out of the beer and add the liquid to the food processor.  Repeat the steps finally setting aside the mash either for corn cakes or for trash and preserving the liquid. 

The resulting, which can be served at room temperature without any adornment has all of the beautiful flavor of fresh corn with just a background hint of beer, salt and pepper.  I enjoyed every bite as though I was biting into a fresh ear of corn that I'd buttered salt and peppered and was enjoying with an ice cold beer.  It was a perfect soup with a light consistency and full rich flavor. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Ginger Diesel Cocktail

Photo courtesy of Beantown Baker
As I mentioned yesterday, in addition to the recipes from Maine chefs cookbook, I also received a cocktail book- Drinking In Maine:  50 Cocktails, Concoctions and Drinks from Our Best Artisan Producers and Restaurants.  Written again by Michael Sanders, this handy guide walks through the the varied seasons and offers boozy beverages for each.  Those of you who know me outside of the blog- you know how much I love this.

A few friends and I gathered a couple of weeks ago to have a Progressive Dinner party, wending our way through each others homes and supplying delicious foods and cocktails at each.  Friends Katie and Adam were gracious enough to allow me to host my course at their abode, as my current place just doesnt accommodate that many adults, and I consulted my Drinking in Maine cocktail book to find the perfect drink.  Now this group of friends are excellent connoisseurs of a fine drink, and have often selected the Dark and Stormy as their drink of choice.  So, when I found a Ginger Diesel listed in the book- I immediately jumped on it.

Combining ale, ginger beer and fruity creme de cassis this was a cocktail to love.  It was hearty, spicy and sweet.  It was light and effervescent making it lovely to serve with food, and unique enough to be special for a good group of friends.  I will definitely be serving this one again.

Ginger Diesel (supplied from Bar Lola, Portland)
6 oz Maine Root Ginger Beer
6 oz Allagash White
1/2 oz Creme de Cassis
Lemon Wheel

Pour ginger beer into a pint Pils glass.  Add the creme de cassis.  Slowly add the Allagash White beer, preserving the head.  Garnish with a lemon wheel.  No stirring required!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Recipe Testing: Fresh from Maine: Recipes and Stories from the State's Best Chefs

A couple of months ago- in the midst of my summer craziness- I was sent two cookbooks.  Lets rephrase- I was sent two cookbooks from MAINE, designed by MAINE chefs, using MAINE ingredients- since I'm basically in love with Maine- I was unbelievably eager to get moving on cooking from these bad boys.  I'll rephrase again- eating and drinking from them- that's right- one is a Maine based cocktail book- even better.

I spent weeks flipping through these books- the first- Fresh From Maine- Recipes and Stories from the State's Best Chefs, written by Michael S. Sanders made me happy with every flip of the page.  Treasures from Maine, from their shores, their lands, and their imaginations, were captured in every recipe, and each show cased a different side of the Maine lifestyle.  I think that's the real beauty of Maine- the state is full of fishermen and farmers, but doesn't leave their artists behind either.  The books shows all of the personalities with hearty classics, and refined creations.

I was immediately drawn to the Crab Salad with Fried Tomato and Avocado which was supplied by Chef Henry Ares from his restaurant Anneke Jans found in Kittery.  Layering thick slices of crisp tomato, creamy crab salad, spicy micro greens and decadent avocado splashed with tart sherry vinegar- it all sounded too good to be true.

This was a simple to prepare recipe, with full flavors of the summer season.  I devoured every bite.

Crab Salad with Fried Tomato and Avocado

Crab Salad:
2 lbs fresh Maine crab meat, Peaky- Toe or Jonah
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
1/2 stalk celery
1 small red Holland pepper
Salt and Pepper to taste

Fried Tomatoes:
2 firm heirloom tomatoes, like Brandywine or Cherokee Purple, in 1/2" slices
2 cups all purpose flour for dredging
2 cups milk
2 eggs
3 cups Panko crumbs
2 cups Canola Oil
1 cup Micro Greens
3 ripe avocados
Sherry Vinegar
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

For the crab salad:
Roast the pepper in a 450 degree (F) oven 10 to 15 minutes until skin turns black.  Remove and, under running water, peel off the skin and pat dry before dicing finely.  Run the crab meat through your fingers lightly to check for shell and cartilage.  Mix the mayo, celery, crab meat, and pepper in a bowl and then salt and pepper to taste.

For the fried tomatoes:  in a bowl whisk eggs, and milk together until blended.  Put the flour and the Panko crumbs n two shallow dishes.  Dredge the sliced tomatoes first in the flour until well coated on both sides.  Then dip the tomato slices in the egg mixture, shake off excess then coat in Panko crumbs.  Put the 2 cups of canola oil n a deep sided saute pan on high heat.  When very hot, about 375 degrees (F), place the tomato slices in the oil and cook 3 to 4 minutes each side, watching carefully until golden brown and crispy.

To serve: peel and pit avocados and slice lengthwise into 1/4" slices.  Fan the avocado slices in the center of each plate, and put the fried tomato on the avocado slices.  Place a late spoonful of the crab mixture atop of the tomato. Top the crab with a small bunch of micro greens and drizzle the whole with sherry vinegar and oil, season with salt and fresh ground black pepper.

SERVE :-)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Salvatore's NEW Late Night Menu Deal!

You know those nights...those nights when it's late, and you're hungry and you want something GOOD. You dot want bad take out Chinese food from that sketchy place down the street, you know the selection at your local 7-11 is going to leave you depressed and yet most kitchens are closing down and you're fear that your stomach will have to wail all night is starting to take hold. Fear not, Salvatore's, with locations in the Theatre District and on the Waterfront has you covered. A new menu is launching- a menu that kicks off at 10 pm and satisfies that need for delicious food...and does so at a bargain price.

How's this for a deal: 10 pm til close, a selection of inventive wood fired pizzas, 6", $3.00. Right?

I had the opportunity to head into Salvatore's on the Waterfront to check out this new menu recently and let me tell you -I wasn't disappointed.

I started my tour of pizzas with the Sausage and Ricotta,  a mix of sausage, creamy ricotta cheese, a splash of tomato sauce and a generous heaping of banana peppers- all piled on Salvatore's signature crisp crust.  I really enjoyed the variations of flavor and texture here.  The peppers were spicy, but instantly cooled with the creamy ricotta, and the sausage made this slice hearty and filling.

Next on my list was a unique pie named Soppresata Picante which combined spicy and salty Soppresata ham with creamy fresh Mozzarella cheese, a sprinkle of Parmesan, a bit of Pomodoro sauce and the finishing flourish was a drizzle of spicy honey.  This was a pie that I felt immediate love for.  The combination of salt, spice, and sweet was perfect and when it was accompanied with the traditional cheese and tomato combination it made for a unique pie that I could go back for again and again.



Rounding out my favorites for the evening- the Vignola Cherry.  So for all you youngin's out there- this one comes with a warning- you must be 21+ to enjoy.  That's right- this one includes some honest to goodness alcohol which may just be the perfect thing you're looking for at 10 pm....  A crispy pizza crust is fresh mozzarella, tangy Gorgonzola, Prosciutto, a drizzle of orange blossom honey and then, scattered about on top- Bing cherries marinated in raspberry vodka.  I create some weird food combinations- but I never would have devised this one in my head, but man- I'm glad someone did.  The rich cherries were perfectly offset with the salty ham, and that sweetness from the honey cut the alcohol so every bite was full of everything nice. 

This is one of the best deals in town, and you MUST head over (now-well wait for 10pm) and then rush over and check out Salvatore's new late night menu- you will not be disappointed!!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Red's Best Seafood Partnering with I Love Blue Sea to Bring Local, Sustainable Seafood to Your Door

Last week I took a little poll about what people think of when they think of New England food. Overwhelmingly the responses came back listing seafood as #1. Answer after answer listed lobster, clams, scallops and cod. Each response listed the tried and true-those delicacies found in the ocean that we've all come to love, but I had to wonder-is that all that New England has to offer?


I got my answer just days later-no, not at all.

I had the opportunity to hang out with the guys at Red's Best Seafood, a seafood distribution center in the heart of Boston's Fish District. I'd normally phrase that differently, and say I "met with" or "joined" or something to that affect, but none of those terms would be right because this time I literally hung out with the guys. Beer in hand I watched as truck loads of seafood from Hyannis and Plymouth rolled up to their door and pallets of Scup, Grayback, Monkfish, lobsters and conch were carefully removed. These treasures had been safe in their salt water homes just hours before and now they lay before me, ready to be sold to the market.

I stood in the middle of their floor, often in the way of the pallet jacks and trucks that were attempting to work around me and I was completely enraptured.  This was a scene that I haven't had an opportunity to observe, and to be frank its one that I hadn't spent too much time considering.  I've gotten to speak with chefs and purveyors of seafood, I've concentrated on sustainable seafood, I've touted our local offerings, but actually looking at the mechanics of ocean water to our markets was new. 

Fortunately, the guys at Red's Best have thought it all through for us.  Not only have they thought it through in terms of getting their local catch out to the US efficiently, but now they've contrived ways to get it straight to your table, and mine, in the same fast, fresh way.  They are partnering with San Francisco based company I Love Blue Sea, a business formed by people who both love and respect the sea, who have worked to bring sustainable seafood direct to the consumer.  Their technology, combined with the technology already developed by Red's Best allows their consumers to know exactly when their fish of choice was caught, when it came off the boat and how it traveled to their door step.  You can even see the name of the boat it was caught on, how's that for answering that all important question- "do you know where your food comes from"?

This partnership will bring the residents of New England, and beyond, the ultimate confidence in knowing not only that they know precisely what they are eating, and that their confidence in its quality is first rate, but they'll also be certain that the fish they are enjoying was caught in a sustainable setting and that they are supporting their local fisherman. 

Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island....we are all fisherman at our roots, and the time has come for us to return to our ancestors culture and indulge our taste buds in what nature is providing to us just off our shores.  The time is here to try those delights that have been a part of our marine life for decades or more, but haven't yet been made chic on the menus of our cutting edge restaurants.  I'm throwing out the challenge - eat local, and be a trendsetter- check out Scup, or Grayback for your next seafood feast, or try a local conch.  You can't go wrong with enjoying some fresh, local seafood and watching the Patriots this fall- now can you?

Grab a beer and check out:
http://www.redsbest.com
http://www.ilovebluesea.com
Order some fresh caught seafood and report back on your finds! 


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