Tuesday, July 31, 2012

2nd Street Creamery

So if you have been reading along here for any length of time- you've been privy to my stories from when I was in my teens and worked for a local ice cream shop.  My world was full of ice cream scoops, vats of hot fudge, and cartons upon cartons of fresh strawberries ready to be washed and prepped for homemade strawberry sauce.  Long lines would stretch from our windows as my co workers and I buzzed around back, artfully stacking scoops of ice cream and ladling hot sauces on top finally finishing off our masterpieces with a flourish of whipped cream.  We would congratulate each other on our abilities on Fountain as we whipped up frappes and floats and challenged ourselves to remember long orders.  Ice cream was my life those summers and today every time someone mentions those two little words to be I am brought right back to those days. 

Earlier this summer I was contacted by the 2nd Street Creamery, a brand new ice cream maker in the area, to try out a few of their flavors.  Knowing my great affinity for ice cream, I immediately said yes and a few weeks later I received my shipment of ice cream to check out.  I was sent containers of Black Hills Strawberry Rhubarb, Tons of Brownies and Copper Kettle Caramel to check out.  

I got together with some friends and family, and, armed with spoons- we dug in.  Now when I'm tasting ice cream, such a difficult task I know, the first thing I look at is the very base of the ice cream.  First and foremost I want it to be creamy- it may go without saying, but more times than not I find that sweetness overcomes the cream and the result ends up being syrupy sweet. Next up- I want the bases of the different flavors to be distinct. I want to taste the differences between the flavors clearly.  Going into my taste test of 2nd Street Creamery -these were the biggest two items I was looking at.  

A spoon of the Black Hills Strawberry Rhubarb was savored for its creamy strawberry base, full of the sweet tart berries.  Then there was a swirl of Rhubarb sauce that was a hair too sweet for my taste, but the third element of pieces of pie crust was a perfect addition adding a fun texture contrast and a touch of salt.  

Next up for me was the Tons of Brownies.  Now this one struck a special chord for me- I am one of those terrible terrible people who digs through pints of ice cream for the "stuff".  You set a pint of cookie dough ice cream in front of me- within minutes you'll start to see the ice cream itself pushed aside as my spoon has snaked through the pint looking for the bits of the dough.  Really what I'm saying here is never share a pint of ice cream with me- ever.  I was excited about the idea of Tons of Brownies in the hope that my spoon would continuously find chunks of tasty brownies.  The pint revealed a depth of vanilla ice cream, a swirl of fudge sauce and brownie chunks a plenty!  As I scooped out little orbs of the ice cream I found a fantastic mix of the ingredients and a satisfying amount of chocolate.

Finally we had the Copper Kettle Caramel.  I wasn't anticipating being blown away by this one, but to be truthful, I was.  Caramel ice cream, streams of caramel running through it, and then sea salt caramel fudge truffles distributed without- this was a mix of deliciousness.  The caramel base wasn't too sweet despite its roots and sea salt truffles were a perfect hint of savory contrast. 

Each flavor provided a delicious treat of real, creamy ice cream.  The ingredients were obvious of good quality and the flavors are imaginative to keep things interesting.  I found that my check points were easily met making for a delicious summer dessert.

2nd Street Creamery is just launching into stores around New England- check them out online for for more information:  http://2ndstcreamery.com/about/#/  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Landing, Newport, Rhode Island

My view for dinner
My second trip to Newport this summer came courtesy of one of my favorite ladies saying goodbye to her single days and celebrating taking the big leap with her girlfriends.  We journeyed down to Newport and spent our day sitting on the beach, soaking up the sun and girl talk, and then we headed out for a dinner among friends. 

Now the thing about Newport is that there aren't many places that will take reservations, and even fewer who will take them for parties of 12.  So we found one who said they would be able to seat us, and headed on over.  When we arrived however, they decided that their kitchen wasn't able to "handle" a party of 12 and so we set off to find another spot.  We made our way down Thames Street and to the main drag and were guided unknowingly to the Landing, seafood restaurant located on Bowens Wharf, with gorgeous views of the harbor.  Miraculously they cut the hour and half wait down to 5 minutes, and went out of their way to make us comfortable and create an enjoyable atmosphere for us. 

Though I was tempted by the lobster roll, perusing the menu further found me face to face with grilled swordfish, served with grilled pineapple and a peach salsa and complimented with sauteed mushrooms and mashed potatoes.  I skipped the mashed potatoes and settled on just the vegetables and the swordfish for my dinner, and it was a decision I did not regret.  

The swordfish was perfectly cooked, tender to the fork, melt in your mouth texture and full of its natural buttery flavor.  On it's own it was perfection but with the addition of the fruit accompaniments- it was beyond.  The pineapple was presented in two perfect slices, grilled and then stacked on top of the thick slab of fish.  The peaches, diced and paired with herbs and seasonings artfully fell off to the side of the fish, and both added bursts of fresh sweetness to the robust fish.  The sauteed vegetables were anticipated to be an afterthought, but as they sat in their julienned state, bright with the colors of zucchini and carrot, their flavor was fresh and showed the butter they had obviously been cooked in.  I cleaned my plate.  Every last morsel was savored.

I walked into Landing assuming I'd be underwhelmed.  I decided ahead of time that it was a tourist trap and as such, it couldn't possibly have tasty food.  I was proven wrong with my dish, and others felt similarly with their meals.  That isn't to say there weren't missteps however.  The majority of us had only one course, and yet our dinner took a full two and a half hours.  While we all enjoyed the atmosphere and the company, we were anxious to proceed with our plans by the end of the meal.   That said- I would return in a heart beat.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Perro Salado, Newport, Rhode Island

Newport is one of the spots around New England that truly signifies summer to me.  Full of vacationing families and couples, its main streets are packed with tanned people dashing away from the surrounding beaches and in to the variety of ice cream shops, fudge stands, restaurants and shops along the way.  The din of happy chatter replaces the roar of cars as everything seems to move a little slower, just as it should in a vacation spot. I

Ive had the opportunity to head down a couple times already this summer, during the first I had the chance to visit Perro Salado, a family operated  traditional Mexican restaurant in the heart of the downtown area.  The charm of Perro Salado emits as soon as you arrive at their establishment - an antique home whose very floor boards creak with history.  Inside the restaurant bustles with happy patrons, a full kitchen and a friendly staff.

I was there to eat for sure, and started my meal with their guacamole, a staple for me in Mexican restaurants, and their sticky pork ribs, a highly recommended dish.  I dug into the guacamole first and foremost and found it to be a smooth avocado puree flavored with a healthy dose of lime juice, spiced with a gentle heat, and then mixed with chopped onions, tomatoes and pipians (or pepitas).  I loved the addition of the pipians- they added a unique, earthy textural contrast that highlighted the smoothness of the avocado and the brightness from the acidic lime juice.  The guacamole was served with fresh, thick corn chips that served as the perfect vehicle for the dip.

I then poked my fork into the sticky pork ribs.  I soon found that once that initial poke had occurred it became increasingly difficult to stop poking at them.  The meat easily fell off the bone, the result of obvious hours of gently cooking the meat in its sauce of  bursting of rich flavors of orange, cherry, molasses and cinnamon.  The ribs had a slight char to them as well- and together they presented a delightful smokey and sweet combination.  Served with pickled onions, the tangy flavor complimented the ribs perfectly.  They were fantastic.

I decided on the fish tacos for my main course.  The menu billed them as beer battered mahi mahi, but after a brief conversation I found that grilled was also offered and so I later dug into my double corn tortilla encased grilled fish tacos, topped with a cabbage slaw, fresh cilantro, a chipotle flavored mayo and served with fresh jalapenos, lime wedges, more pickled onions and fresh pico de gallo on the side, it was a beautiful dish to view, and a fun one to enjoy.  The fish itself had been marinated in a slightly spicy marinade, which was immediately cooled with the creamy mayonnaise based sauce.  I appreciated the options to add as many jalapenos as I wanted, and loved piling on the pickled onions to my hearts content.  The flavors were fresh and full bodied and created a wonderful harmony as I plowed through them.

I ended my visit to Perro Salado with their Chocolate Volcano Cake- a moist cake which easily gave way to a melted center with a simple fork  puncture.  The flavor was deeply chocolate and spiced with chipotles adding to the intrigue of the dish.  This was served with a mango cream and a traditional whipped cream, both of which allowed for a little relief to ones taste buds in between bites of cake. 

Perro Salado was a treat to visit.  Every room offered the beauty and the charm of historic Newport, while the food was a welcome deviation from the normal fare of the vacation community.  The chef puts his heart into each dish and creates a wonderful harmony of flavors and textures with every bite. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Spicy Grilled Lamb Sandwich

Lamb is one of those meats that is so under utilized.  Whether people feel that it should only be served in its traditional form, roasted with mint sauce, or if its considered a more holiday meal, it just isn't found that often in new formats.  So, when the American Lamb Board contact me a while ago to enter their contest to start coming up with new ways to serve lamb- I jumped at the chance.

Lamb is a strong flavored meat- presenting more flavor than pork, and and a richer feel than beef, it can be prepared in many of the same ways making it a perfect alternative to the tried and true.  I was sent a boneless leg of lamb and I knew what I wanted to do- I wanted to make a sandwich that would rival a burger- the typical summer barbeque food.  I wanted something that would bring in all those wonderful summer flavors, and something that would be easy to assemble for the hungry masses.  The great thing about leg of lamb is that it's a usually a pretty big piece of meat.  It is easy to marinade and then set on the grill for it to cook to a perfect medium rare.  The flavors here are light and accentuate the denseness of the meat.

Here we use sweet orange juice, smoky chipotle peppers, refreshing cilantro and spicy pickled onions to enhance and complement the flavor of the lamb.

Boneless lamb leg



2 Serrano Peppers, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 red onion, chopped

1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Salt and pepper

Spicy Avocado Spread

2 avocados, mashed

1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped

2 teaspoons adobo sauce

Pickled Onions

1 yellow onion sliced into 1/4 inch rounds and then in half

3 tsp sugar

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 tsp kosher salt

Red wine vinegar

1 day ahead:

Toss the onions in dry ingredients and then place in a small air tight container and fill with vinegar. Store in the refrigerator, shaking to stir every so often.

Combine dry rub ingredient and rub into lamb. Place the lamb into a Ziplock bag pour in the oj until the meat is just covered. Let rest in fridge up to 24 hours.

Day of:

Remove meat from marinade and dry lightly with paper towels. Place in pre heated grill with the fat side up. Depending on size of your leg, turn after 20-25 minutes and cook on the other side. Monitor the lamb until done-the inside temperature should read 145 for medium rare. Remove from grill and set aside to rest.

Combine mashed avocado, pepper and sauce. Spread onto one side of bun. Top with a few pickled onions, fresh cilantro and slices of the lamb. Finish with the bottom bun and enjoy.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Backyard Farms Tomatoes- Summer All Year Long!

If you talk to someone who is obsessed with food enough and a certain thought processes start coming up over and over again- there's the "buy local", the debate over the rise and fall of the cupcake, the beauty of kale...and the much discussed issue of tomatoes in the Northeast.  Here in this part of the country we are blessed with incredible tomatoes- juicy, full of flavor, gorgeous bright red- and those are just are "typical" tomatoes- don't get me started in the heirlooms...but we are also cursed.  Our tomato season is incredibly short- lasting just about a month at the end of the summer and then we gobble them down with such voracity so as to make us happy until the next year.  Of course, this never works and throughout the next 11 months (or so) we seek out BLT's and  Caprese Salads hoping for those full flavors and yet time and time again we are greeted with pink hued, mealy textured, flavorless tomatoes.  It is forever a disappointment, and one that gets taken to heart. 

I have the answer for you though- thats right after years of sadness over bad tomatoes- there is a farm right here in New England that is gifting us with August like tomatoes all year long.  Backyard Farms, located in Maine, was started in 2004 to solve the exact problem we've been discussing.  The beauty of this farm is that through their methods they are able to deliver their tomatoes through out New England (and Maryland but that's as far as they go) within hours of picking their fruit.  Can I repeat that- they are delivered to a variety of stores within hours of being picked- wanna talk fresh? 

Last week I had the opportunity to check out Backyard Farms tomatoes, try their different varieties and see how they hold up against my beloved tomatoes.  The color of each slice as lovely and red, with juice from their seeds streaming out indicating ripeness, and a firm outer exterior.  The flavors were spot on for what I was hoping for- slightly acidic, sweet and the type of fruit that can be eaten just on its own, or perhaps with just a sprinkle of sea salt?

We were treated to tastes of their three varieties- on the vine, beefsteak and cocktail.  I dont believe I've had the opportunity to try cocktail tomatoes before, and found these little orbs to be impossibly sweet and a wonderful snack.

Backyard Farms hit the Boston restaurant scene a couple winters ago when the Executive Chef at Neptune Oyster Michael Serpa ran to a nearby market looking for tomatoes to satisfy the off season whim of the restaurant owners daughter.  He found pretty looking tomatoes with the Backard Farms sticker attached and hoped for the best.  What he found, in the middle of a snowy winter, was a consistent, delicious perfectly ripe tomato.  He has continued to use them ever since as a way to keep those summer favorites on the menu all year long.

We were treated to a few sample of his incredible food all using the Backyard Farms tomato throughout our evening- a lobster caprese (yeah) and an off menu sardine, arugula and tomato crostini that was absolutely delightful. 

I walked out of the evening knowing that my woes of unripe tomatoes were done, that if I could have a Backyard Farm tomato- I would be a happy camper all year long.  It also renewed my incredible desire to return to Neptune Oyster for what is definitely the nest lobster roll in the city....

Monday, July 2, 2012

Cooking Matters: Sitting in on a mock course

I've talked to you about Share Our Strength before- but mainly in regards to their chief fundraising activity -their annual Taste of the Nation events that take place nationwide.  Share Our Strength is a far more than just tasting galas, however and the funds raised by those events go to a variety of truly incredible outreach programs that they have created.

Of course the main mission of Share Our Strength is as their motto proclaims- "No Kid Hungry"- they are pledging to end childhood hunger right here in the United States.  The exceptional end of Share Our Strength and one of the reasons that I will normally drop all other obligations or commitments to hang with their people or help them out, is because they are not an organization that is just pumping money into things without a good eye on how those funds are used, and how impactful they will be in the long run.  One of the programs that I am most impressed with is Cooking Matters.

Last week I had the opportunity to learn about Cooking Matters by participating in a mock class.  Cooking Matters, in its most basic terms, teaches parents, and their children, how to cook.  It is so much more however than how to add heat to some ingredients and make a meal.  Every course, offered through community centers, churches, etc is hosted by both a chef and a nutritionist and the six week course concentrates on everything from knife skills, to comparing ingredients to give the most nutrition, to introducing the participants to brand new to them foods, fruits and vegetables.

The evening that they invited us in, they prepared a "typical" meal- starting with whole wheat pineapple carrot muffins, and black bean and corn whole wheat quesadilla's and a mango salsa.  The chef walked us through how to cut into a mango, the right way to season the ingredients, and the safest way to cook them together.  The nutritionist pointed out the pairings of food, the different subsitutions that can be made to keep things healthy without losing flavor, and the best ways to get food like barley palateable to those who may be averse.

Different colors representing all those vital nutrients!
The course spends a fair amount of time in the kitchen, but they don't stop there.  All graduates of the course receive a cookbook made especially for the program, they receive the ingredients necessary to make the meals they made in class at home each week, and on the last weeks they are brought to a local grocery store and led through each aisle pointing out the most nutritious and cost affective items that they can serve to their families. 

The ideas presented within the Cooking Matters curriculum are not new- they are classic, time old truths that so often get forgotten for supposed convenience.  It seems so much easier and cheaper to hit a drive through for dinner and throw back a hamburger and fries than it does to go to a grocery store, purchase ingredients that so often can carry what seems like a hefty price tag, and then spend time at home cooking a meal.  The classes educate them all on how easy cooking can be, the enjoyment that can come when it is made into a family activity, and the ability to stretch one meal into several with leftovers. 

Cooking Matters leaves no stone unturned with their work, making sure that every person who completes the course walks away not only with skills, but knowledge.  Their success stories clearly portray that those graduates understand the full impact of "healthy eating" on their children, and how it doesn't need to be anymore expensive than those nightly take out meals. 

Cooking Matters is always looking for volunteers- so if you have some time to assist the team in these courses, or you know someone who might benefit from such a course, please visit http://cookingmatters.org/

Restaurant Reviews: A dead art?

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