Friday, November 29, 2013

Gifting for the Holiday Season

It is official now - the holidays are upon us.  Soon enough trees will need a-trimming, carols will be on everyone's tongue and the season of the party will be launched.  We'll all be searching for gifts to present to our friends and loved ones, and, more often than we may choose to admit- those charming, ever so welcoming, hosts.  
Finding the perfect host gift can be incredibly challenging.  Something special is required- something you know they'll enjoy, something easy to pick up, something they may not purchase for themselves, not something too intimate, nothing too big, nor too small, and something that they may want to share, but they may want to keep to themselves.  Its a tall order, but I have some suggestions for you.
It seems that most of us can agree on chocolate being a favorite guilty pleasure.  Milk, white or dark, everyone seems to have a delicious sweet spot for the stuff, so why not present your hosts with a decadent selection? Lindt Chocolatier, renowned maker of heavenly chocolate truffles offers a perfect solution.  Holiday themed bags, bursting with 75 truffles, flavors to be customized by you, for just $25.00.  Personally, Im in love with these bags for a couple reasons- the first is simple- chocolate.  The second is moments of utter luxury you are offering to your host each time they reach for a truffle.  The external shell yielding to a creamy interior demands a pause in a busy day- the perfect reward for a well planned party.
Keeping on the chocolate frame of mind, locally made Harbor Sweets Chocolate Truffles are another great option, especially their new line of Salt and Ayre.  Based out of Salem, Massachusetts, Harbor Sweets launched this new line to capture the beauty of their ocean front location, with its salty air.  It combined this natural flavor enhancer into its famous chocolate truffles and beauty was born.   A nine piece assortment rings in at just $16.00 but has all the thoughtful ness and decadence for your favorite host.  
Of course, let's keep in mind that hosting a gathering can be a bit stressful for our friends.  The last minute details, the uninvited guests, the things that go wrong....after the fete is complete curling up on the couch in sweats with a good movie and an even better glass of wine might be all your host wants.  How about leaving a great bottle of Bridlewood Estate wine behind for them to enjoy after everyone has left?  A bottle of the Bridlewood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon sells for about $13.00.  Opening this bottle though will make your host feel truly pampered with its full body flavors full of 
dark red fruits creating a jammy flavor profile with just sublte hints of caramel.  A smooth finish completed this wine making it easy to pair with some of those party leftovers, or enjoy completely on its own.
Now maybe you want to present your friend with something that you'll all be able to dive into immediately? Perhaps something that everyone can enjoy throughout the party itself?  The company I associate most with holiday party help, HoneyBaked Hams has a variety of tasty items that will enhance or complete any party.  For $20.00 you can pick up a savory platter of Ham and Cheese bites for a perfect appetizer, or a Rum Cake sampler to help out with dessert.  Contributing a bit more?  How one of their signature 7 lb ham to really bring the party alive for about $50.00? No matter what option you choose you'll know that you are giving a delicious dish, and perhaps even better, the gift of time to your host.  
No matter what you choose to give this holiday season, lets celebrate all those amazing hosts out there who slave tirelessly to make a beautiful gathering look effortless.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Boston Love for Washinton, Il

Last week Washington, Illinois was devastated by a horrific tornado.  I know we have all seen the terrible footage of the wind monster moving across the cozy town, and the unbelievable wreckage that was left in its path. These stories are always gut wrenching, and inspire so many of us to reach out and help.  However, this tornado hit much closer to home and affected one of Boston's most beloved bloggers.  Jen, owner of Beantown Baker which I know you all are lovers of, found that her mom's home was completely leveled by the storm.  There are no words to describe the amount of loss that her family is now experiencing.  Being the incredible writer that she is, Jen put her fingers on her keyboard and created a post to help us all give the best things we possibly can to ensure that the people of Washington Illinois are receiving the care and help that they desperately need right now.

I'd like to ask you all to check out her post and give as you can.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Season's 52, Chestnut Hill

The Chestnut Hill area, located just outside the city limits, has just received a major upgrade.  A brand new shopping and dining development has moved onto Rt. 9, and this group has something for everything.  Known as Chestnut Hill Square, this new area now houses everything from a brand new Wegman's (opening in the spring), to an Equinox gym, to numerous clothing stores, and several dining options.  I had the opportunity to check out one of these new spots last week, and enjoyed a dinner at Season's 52.

Season's 52 is a national chain which has just opened its first two New England locations, the first in Burlington, MA and the second is it's location in Chestnut Hill.  Season's 52 is founded on the idea of presenting a new menu every week of the year, and incorporating fresh local products wherever possible to keep their menu seasonal, and true to the areas they inhabit.  Another key point to differentiate Season's 52 is that all of their menu items clock in at 475 calories or under, making this a very nice choice for an evening out.

I'll be honest- I had my doubts when I walked into the restaurant that evening.  I've never been a big fan of chain restaurants as I've found that they normally present pretty standard menus without much creativity.  However, as soon as I walked through the doors and my tour began I could tell that this was not your average multi location restaurant.  

The space is broken up into distinct sections- the bar area where a pianist serenades the guests seven days a week, the main dining area, a few private
dining spaces, and an area towards the back which serves as a multifunction room, with space for corporate gatherings, intimate receptions or larger parties. The kitchen is open, and every dish can be seen being made from start to finish.  The entire space is open and airy, large enough to accommodate those big Saturday nights, but still providing a certain intimacy needed for a nice evening out.

We began our meal with a sampling of their flat breads- their Blackened Steak and Blue Cheese as well as their Lobster and Fresh Mozzarella.  A thin, crisp crust served as the basis for both, a great surface to display robust ingredients.  The steak and cheese was chock full of tender skirt steak, cremini mushrooms, fresh spinach and caramelized onions, all before receiving a shower of tangy blue cheese.  The lobster had huge chunks of fresh lobster meat enhanced with roasted peppers, scallions and then a drizzle of a lobster enhanced sour cream.  Both flat breads were full of flavor, and had a great mix of decadent ingredients and fresh produce to keep things evenly healthy.

We were then served an Amuse of lump crab and Hass avocado.  This was a
wonderful single bite of fresh flavor with a little acid from a bit of pico de gallo which blended perfectly with the creamy avocado and the clean taste of the crab.  One bite of classic flavors and our palettes were awakened.

Our first course was then placed in front of us organic salmon that had been roasted on a cedar plank, served with a scallop speared with lemon grass, and served with roasted winter vegetables.  The salmon was cooked to perfection and had been roasted with a selection
of fragrant herbs which imparted their delicate flavors into the salmon as well resulting in a deeply flavorful dish.  The paired vegetables were a wonderful hearty addition with carrots and beets creating a natural sweetness to offset the delicate woody flavors from the seafood.

Our salad course was presented next, featuring a baby spinach salad, enhanced with Gorgonzola cheese, walnuts and caramelized Bosc pears.  The stand out piece of this salad, which was overall incredibly clean and fresh with a classic combination of flavors, were the pears.  Chef explained that the "caramelizing" happened simply, by just roasting them, unadorned, in the oven until their natural sugars warmed and caramelized naturally.  These were delicious- warm and sweet, but without anything heavy making them guilt inducing, they provided all of the comfort of a decadent salad.

We then turned our attention to our pasta course.  Sonoma Goat Cheese Raviolis
were set among harvest vegetables, black mushrooms and a roasted onion jus.  The raviolis were tender and full tangy goat cheese.  I loved the contrast of the cheese with the shredded vegetables that both added crunch and texture to the dish, as well as a sweetness that balanced the tang of the cheese.  The onion jus added both a velvety decadence as well as a hint of acid to brighten the other deep flavors.  Others at the table declared this dish their favorite and I could definitely see their point- it had every component for keeping it interesting and delicious.

Our final savory course didn't hold any punches, bringing surf and turf to a whole new level.  Here we had an oak grilled lobster tail with a New Zealand venison chop.  These were paired with roasted brussel sprouts, truffle mashed potatoes and a red wine demi glace.  Can we talk just for a moment about Lobster....and Venison?  This is a delightful pairing.  The lobster simply grilled with clean natural flavor, and the venison with a bold meaty flavor, offset nicely with the demi glace.  It was a gorgeous pairing of flavors.  Also, it must be said- those were some deliciously roasted brussel sprouts.

Finally we ended with Season's 52 signature selection of Mini Indulgence
Desserts.  Every table receives a selection of these to pick from, and I would urge you to try several.  Current fall selections include Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse, Key Lime Pie, Mocha Macchiato, Pecan Pie with Vanilla Mousse, Pumpkin Pie with Ginger Snap Crust, Belgian Chocolate Rocky Road, Raspberry Chocolate Chip Cannoli and Market Fresh Fruit.I indulged in two
of these (to my defense they are small) and chose the Raspberry Chocolate Chip Cannoli, which combined creamy ricotta cheese with a raspberry sauce, and chocolate chips, and then out of the top sat a mini cannoli shell.  My second pick was the Pecan Pie with Vanilla Mousse which presented layers of sticky, gooey pecan pie filling with vanilla bean mousse.  Both desserts presented a wonderful combination of textures and were just decadent to make you feel as though you had indulged, just on a small scale.  

One of the true jewels in the crown of Seasons 52 is their Sommelier.  George Milliotes is one of the few Master Sommeliers in the US and he is using his extreme knowledge to pack an incredible amount of wine into the offering.  With over 60 wines offered by the glass, there is something for everyone at every price point.  George expertly paired each of our courses and I wanted to point out the most notable.  The Aveleda Vinho Verde (2012) from Portugal was paired with our Amuse and its slight effervescence and light body was the perfect accompaniment to create a ready palate for the intricate meal ahead.  The Mer Soleil Chardonnay (2011) from the Central Coast was a perfect compliment to our Salmon entree offering an incredibly smooth mix of cream and oak without being overpowering in either.  Each sip was interesting and kept me reaching for my glass to discover the different layers of the wine.  Finally, for fun, George poured us Alto Moncayo Garnacha (2010) from Aragon.  This was an incredible wine.  If you put stock in these things, it is a 100 pt wine and with its dark red fruit flavors mingled with chocolate and perhaps just a hint of smoke that fades into a clean finish, this was a perfect wine.  I'm a little obsessed.

Season's 52 far surpassed my expectations.  Every dish was crafted artfully with care, and utilizing practices to infuse copious amounts of flavor without burdening the dishes with butter and cream.  We indulged in an incredible multi course meal, but leaving the restaurant I felt content, not weighed down as so often happens with these types of dinners.  I will confidently suggest Season's 52 as a wonderful place to dine, and to try some amazing wines...


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Nespresso Limited Edition Masala Chai

They have done it again.  Honestly, since my very first introduction to Nespresso they have continuously delighted me.  Every machine I've tried has been soundly crafted and beautiful to look at.  Their milk frothers create silky smooth, fluffy foam that provides a perfect complement to a strong cup o' Joe.  Then there are the coffees.  Each that I've tried has presented itself in a perfect light for all of my moods.  Whether its an early morning wake up call, a mid-morning jolt between meetings, or a wind the night down light cup, each has been met with a variety of strengths and even a flavor dabbled for good measure. While I am not usually a huge fan of flavored coffees, Nespresso's true flavors have hit the spot each time.  Let it be said though that their latest Limited Edition, out just in time for the holidays, has blown the others out of the competition.

Boasting a cozy blend of cinnamon, star anise and clove, the Masala Chai brings together all of wonderful flavors of this season.  As soon as I brewed the first cup, my kitchen was filled with the homey scents of fall- the same wonderful spices that fill our pumpkin pies and remind us of the crunching of leaves beneath our feet.  My first sips were gently hinted with the same.  This is the part I love most about the flavors from Nespresso.  They don't smack you in the face with flavor.  Coffee, the true flavor of coffee is primary, with just these wonderful background notes of spice.  

I have to urge you all to go and check out the new offering from Nespresso- it will be the perfect complement to your holidays.  

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...