Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Healthified Jalapeno Poppers featuring PopChips

Several weeks ago I was contacted by the great folks over at PopChips to see if I wanted to try out their products.  I had heard about PopChips from within the food community but hadn't yet given them a try so I eagerly accepted their delivery.

PopChips are made in several varieties, either potato based, tortilla based or corn based, and chips are created by "popping" the ingredients rather than frying or baking them.  Basically, their chips are made by applying heat and pressure to natural ingredients and, with the right methods involved, those ingredients pop full of air.  This creates a chip that is much healthier than those fried in oils, and better tasting than those that are baked.  These chips are then dusted with a variety of familiar flavors and PopChips are ready to be enjoyed.

I have been feasting on these chips, as I don't normally allow myself potato chips

or other tortilla based chips, and I just cannot get behind the baked varieties.  These have filled a need in my life that I had long since given up on.  Sour Cream and Onion, Barbecue, Salt and Vinegar...served in individual sized bags- I have been loving a quick snack.

Of course we all know that there is a major snack holiday coming up- Super Bowl Sunday.  When PopChips contacted me they sent along some recipes for me to try- but as all of you know- I am TERRIBLE at following recipes so instead I took a little inspiration from their idea of Jalapeño Poppers and created my own.  These will be a perfect accompaniment to any gathering, especially in that they are much healthier and can be made vegan if so desired.

Healthified Jalapeño Poppers (makes 6)

3 large Jalapeño Peppers
4 oz tofu cream cheese
1 tsp liquid smoke
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 tbsp finely chopped yellow onion
2 bags salt and vinegar pop chips

Preheat the oven to 350.  Slice the peppers in half and remove the ribs and the seeds from in side.  Set inside a small baking dish.  In a small bowl combine the cream cheese, liquid smoke, paprika, cayenne pepper and onion.  Spread this mixture into the shallowed out halves of the peppers.  Crumble the chips into small pieces and top the peppers with these crumbles.

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until the cheese becomes runny.  Serve immediately.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Farm to Post Kickoff- Featuring New England Winter Seafood, Post 390, Boston

People often scoff at the idea of eating "local" in New England during our cold winter months.   Our ground is frozen solid, and our plants are dormant as the snow swirls.  However, there are industries around here that boom during the winter months, and those are ones that deserve tremendous appreciation for they are our fishermen.  These men and women are braving incredible elements to get
their catch, and to make a living.  These are not professions to scoff at.  I recently had the opportunity to dine with some of these great people and feast on their work at Post 390, during their kick off to their series- Farm to Post which concentrates on locally sourced products and showcases them in a variety of ways.

The night I joined the group, we looked at a variety of different seafoods, all sourced from all over New England.  We began with a Poached Cotuit Oyster set in
a Parsnip Vichyssoise, as well as a Nantucket Bay Scallop Ceviche paired with avocado and ruby red grapefruit. The oyster, poached full of flavor, was swimming in the thick Vichyssoise, which I adored was made out of Parsnips and gave it that very unique sweet, with just a hint of earth flavor.  Together these were lovely, but then they were topped with a bacon and Gruyere cheese crumble which lent texture, and then of course those perfectly lovely flavors of smoke and salty cheese.    The scallops were absolute perfection however.   I adore the Nantucket Bay scallops, smaller than the general sea scallops I find that they are much sweeter and a bit more delicate- making them perfect to either lightly sear and caramelize the sugars or to serve raw in a ceviche as done here.  Accented with rich, fatty avocado and the tart grapefruit the dish had the perfect mix of flavor components.

Next we were served Stewed Holland Black Mussels in a traditional Portuguese style.   The mussels had been stewed in a tomato herb sauce, complete with house made chorizo, and served atop whipped potatoes. This was a wonderful modern twist on a traditional dish.  Every flavor of the age old dish was represented, the spice, the fresh chorizo, the herbs and the acidic tomato, but was encapsulated in a cleaner, neater style.  Of course, plating aside, the mussels themselves were delicious. Large and still containing their own natural flavors, they were a great representation of mussels sourced from Bar Harbor, Maine.

Our next course was a Roasted Monkfish from the Gilnetter fishery in Newport, RI.
A thick piece of the white fish was placed atop a yellow split pea puree with a smoked ham hock bouillon with just a floater of sherry added for good measure.  I adored this dish.  I am a big fan of split pea soup as it was often made with the leftover ham hock from Christmas dinner when I was a child- this dish brought me back home.  The Monkfish is a beefy fish, able to hold its own against the strong flavors of the ham and the sherry, and here it was cooked to perfection so each portion was light and flakey.  It was topped with a gremolata of nuts and herbs which allowed for a great contrast of textures.

Finally we were served a Skillet Seared Australis Farmed Barramundi, farmed from right here in Massachusetts in a little town known as Turner Falls.  This farm has created the ability to house the great Barramundi fish that mimics their normal habitat in the Indo-West Pacific and source it locally.  Here it was served with house-made Pancetta, Brussel Sprouts, a Barramundi tater tot and a house made cream ale mustard.  The flavors resonating throughout this dish were incredible.  Barramundi is another strong fish.  It has good meaty qualities and can hold its own delicate flavors agains something like the mustard.  The Panchetta added salty decadence and the brussel sprouts were in their roasted deliciousness glory.  The real fun here, you could tell, was the excitement of the tater tot that chef had created as just a secondary way to show the depth of the fish.  As our final course this was an extremely well prepared dish with well executed flavors in a playful and imaginative way.

I love these dinners.  The ability for the chefs in Boston to showcase the beauty of our bounty around this area is incredible.  Whether its a meal centered around locally sourced tomatoes, or showing off the unbelievable treasures of our oceans I am forever amazed.  The seafood industry is one that has been incredibly important to our livelihood in New England since we began and the team at Post 390 did an incredible job of showcasing different offerings and introducing us to some incredible businesses.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Winner Announced! Boston Wine Expo

Thank you all so much for entering the Boston Wine Expo give away!  You guys all have such awesome things that you want to check out there I hope you all use the discount code to purchase tickets if you aren't the ABFD winner!

And without further ado the winner is:
Sima- an email has already been sent to you!

Row 34, South Boston

Jeremy Sewall continues to amaze me.  I first fell in love with his clean style of cooking, and his incredible reverence to local seafood at Brookline favorite, Lineage.  Then, he opened Island Creek Oyster Bar in Kenmore Square and with its incredible list of locally sourced oysters, gorgeous fresh seafood dishes with amazing locally sourced products and one of the best lobster rolls Ive had, and my crush deepened.  And now there's a trifecta- just a few months ago he opened Row 34 in the Fort Point Channel area of South Boston.  

Row 34 is named after the last row of oysters set up in the Island Creek Oyster Bay.  This row was set up as an experiment by setting the crates a bit higher than the other 33 rows which is exposing that row to a different current and different temperatures.  We had the opportunity to compare the Row 34 oysters to the traditional Island Creeks the other evening when we were invited in to check out the space and dine.  I was shocked at the difference between the two.  The Row 34, to my palate was a much more robust oyster.  It had a meatier quality and its flavor was even a bit stronger.  It is incredible the difference just a slight variation can make.

Row 34 has branded itself as the workingman's oyster bar, and has an incredible beer list to pair with their delicacies. We were treated to some incredible beers, paired at the hands of Megan Parker-Gray who is searching the world over to find the best beers to pair with their oysters and the rest of their food offerings.  We had the extreme pleasure of enjoying a great pairing of Troublesome brew from the Off Color Brewery in Chicago.  I have to say this was the best beer pairing Ive had with Oysters.  It had a wonderful lemony flavor, that seemed to neutralize the salt of the oyster without overpowering and instead rounded the flavors out so each was at its height.

After devouring as many oysters as we could handle, we began our coursed
dinner with a selection of small plates of Black Bass Ceviche, Tuna Crudo and Shrimp Sliders.  I failed you, my readers, early on the evening I visited, by failing to fully capture fully the flavors of the Tuna Crudo which I basically just gobbled down for all of it's creamy yet acidic deliciousness, and the Black Bass Ceviche, which was simply gorgeous with its rich red color set atop perfect avocado and sprinkled with fried onion.  The Shrimp Sliders however, with plump full shrimp spilling out of the soft buttery bun, is a dish that I savored.  The shrimp had been painted with a chipotle sauce, and then topped with bread and butter pickles creating the perfect notes of heat, sweet, acid and salt.  I feasted on those....

Our second seated course was Row 34's unique take on a charcuterie board, replacing the standard cured meats and pates with a large variety of raw, smoked and otherwise manipulated seafoods, their Smoked and Cured board.  This included a Bluefish Pate which was light and rich at the same time, and with its delicate flavors and creamy offset was the perfect choice to spread atop a salty cracker, and my personal favorite, smoked mussels which combined the beautiful fresh mussels and their natural sweetness with a blast of smoky decadence and then cut with pickled vegetables.  Those of you who know me know my love of mussels and these were divine.

We then turned our attention to Row 34's Mini Bucatini offering.  This, for me,
was the course that stole the show.  Thick strands of pasta, cooked to a wonderful toothsome al dente, were combined with a salty and rich butter garlic sauce, broccolini, rich bread crumbs and two clams which sat atop the bed of pasta in a proud, boastful way.  They begged to be tried and when I freed the first from its shell it yielded its wonderful salty ocean flavor enhanced only lightly with fresh Italian herbs.  The flavor that this clam held was the obvious inspiration for the sauce that encapsulated the pasta below and the dish had tremendous harmony.  I originally thought that the bread crumbs (starch) on top of the pasta (starch) may be a bit of overkill, however after combining the two I realized that they were actually the perfect compliment.

Our next course was served family style and included pan roasted Tilefish, with accompaniments of roasted cauliflower, carrots and brussel sprouts, and then fried chicken thighs with biscuits and gravy.  Yup.  We started off with the Tilefish, which to be honest, I have never dined on before.  This small fish is enormously big on flavor with a firm, meaty like texture.  It was rich and hearty, though as a warning it also has one of the highest mercury contents of those creatures under the sea.  Mercury or not though, served with hints of celery, citrus and radishes, it created a perfect meal, light and yet filling.  Paired
with the roasted carrots, a form of cooking carrots that is quickly becoming a favorite of mine as it brings out their natural sugars and seems to intensify every flavor, and those roasted brussel sprouts - it was a meal you can feel good about.  Now turning our attention to the fried chicken- thats just a meal to feast on.  The chicken had enjoyed a bath in buttermilk and mustard prior to frying which gave the meat tremendous flavor, and a unique twist to the generic. The external coating was crispy, hot and just a little salty, exactly as you'd want it to be.  The biscuits were fantastic- buttery, and puffy like little clouds with a crisp exterior.

Somehow, after all of that, dessert was delivered.  Chef Sewall's signature Butterscotch Pudding was paired with an Apple Hand Pie and heaven was served.  If you haven't had an opportunity to try this pudding, you must go, now, and check it out.  I wont be able to do it justice here.  The Hand Pies were glorious, packed full of cinnamon scented apples and with a perfectly wonderful crust- these will give your grandmothers apple pie a run for its money.

Row 34, with no surprise, is killing it.  To be honest, I expect nothing less from Chef Sewall and his team, and I wasn't disappointed.  Their offerings and fresh (as in Chef knows his seafood suppliers and their methods intimately) and they are creative, as in their dishes aren't ones you find on every menu in the city.  Each dish has been carefully considered, every flavor is paired for a reason, and these are creations you can take your time with, and enjoy.  Row 34 opened just a little over a month ago and is garnering huge crowds, get a reservation and go.  You wont be disappointed.  

Monday, January 20, 2014

Boston Wine Expo, February 15 & 16 2014- A Giveaway and a Discount Code

Exciting news- it is once again time for the Boston Wine Expo! 

Held on February 15th and 16th at the Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center, this is the event to attend!  Entrance to the event itself grants each attendee a tasting glass and access to samples from over 300 producers, culinary samples from some of the city's best chefs and the chance to watch complimentary cooking demonstrations.  But then...then there are the seminars!  Whether you want to drill into the world of Chianti, or you want to learn more about what the world of Champagne and sparkling wines really is all about- there are seminars for you.  I've been perusing the list of seminars for a couple of weeks now and there are so many that I'd love to check out it's getting hard to choose!

I mean how about learning the ins and outs to pairing wine with oysters from Island Creek Oyster Bar's GM Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli?  Or what about diving into the little known, but truly fantastic vineyards of the Finger Lakes region?  Of course then there's the wine and cheese matching seminar which I can't imagine being more delicious.  

The truly interesting part of the Expo however is that it's not all wine.  Seminars also concentrate on teaching the basics of Scotch or Rum.  Saturday's session even ends with a battle of the mixologists.  

The Boston Wine Expo offers something for everyone, and I'm offering you the chance to attend!  I'm giving away a pair of tickets to the Sunday Grand Tasting here on A Boston Food Diary!  To enter please leave a comment on this post telling me which piece of the Expo you're most excited about, and your contact information, by 5:00 pm EST on Monday, January 27, 2014.  Please be over the age of 21.

Additionally, the team at the Boston Wine Expo has given me a discount code to offer to you all.  Please purchase tickets here and enter code "Social" (without the quotes) and you will receive a 10% discount to tickets for either Saturday or Sunday's sessions.  

I'll be attending on Sunday- I hope to see you guys there!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

"Standard" Education at Eastern Standard, February 8, 2014

Is bettering yourself part of your new years resolution?  Learning new things?  Having new experiences?  If that was on your list, then Eastern Standard, located in Kenmore Square has put together a full day just for you!

On February 8th, the restaurant will be hosting a Standard day of classes ranging from the study of Sherry, to enjoying cheese post dinner.  Participants can elect to enjoy one class, several or the whole day.  This sounds like an awesome experience, and a great way to dive further into the world of food and spirits.  Details on the classes and how to sign up below (information below pulled from official press release).

Demystifying Sherry ($40)
Jackson Cannon (Bar Director of Eastern Standard and Proprietor/Bar Director of The Hawthorne)
11:00 – 11:50 AM
Fresh off a week in Jerez, Spain, Bar Director Jackson Cannon leads guests on a virtual tour through the country’s primary Sherry production region with a tasting of fortified wines from various bodegas and an overview of the winemaking process. The class will also debunk common misconceptions about Sherry (grandma drink it is not!), discuss its comeback among bartenders and drinkers alike and show how it can be integrated into cocktails.

Raw Food: Classic and Modern ($40)
Patrick Campbell (Executive Chef)
12:00 – 12:50 PM
Explore the raw side of brasserie-style cuisine with Executive Chef Patrick Campbell, tasting through both classic and modern raw preparations (think oysters and tartares served alongside crudo and carpaccio). He’ll offer tips for preparing & serving raw items at home (including shopping tricks!), showcase raw dishes beyond seafood (venison carpaccio, anyone?) and elaborate on how the raw program fits into the ES dining experience.

Vermouth Unveiled ($40)
Bob McCoy (Beverage Programs Liaison)
1:00 – 1:50 PM
This hands-on walk through the history of Vermouth with Beverage Programs Liaison Bob McCoy includes a discussion on the loss and rebirth of the spirit, a look at its use in classic cocktails, an overview of new artisanal production and a tasting/comparison of dry Vermouth, sweet Vermouth and Eastern Standard’s house-made rosé Vermouth.

The Wines of Sud-Ouest France ($40)
Colleen Hein (Wine Director)
2:00 – 2:50 PM
Though Southwest France is one of the country’s largest winegrowing regions, it remains largely unexplored and underappreciated by way of glass and palate. Wine Director Colleen Hein sheds light on the diverse terroir of the Sud-Ouest, tasting through both familiar and lesser-known varietals to showcase the natural spirit of the grapes grown and its vignerons.

Cheese as Dessert ($40)
Matt Baum (Cheese Buyer)
3:30 – 4:20 PM
Tackle the age-old question of whether to cap off a meal with a traditional treat or a cheese course by taking a look at cheese in both sweet and savory settings. Cheese Buyer Matt Baum brings guests through the ES cheese program beginning to end, honing in on what to look for when purchasing cheese and how to form a classic cheese progression (with samples of cheeses unique to the restaurant, of course!).

The Study of Scotch ($40)
Naomi Levy (Assistant Bar Manager)
4:30 – 5:20 PM
With interest in Scotch growing across the country, Assistant Bar Manager Naomi Levy breaks down Scotland’s native spirit by style, region and raw materials. She also dives into how Scotch has made its way into current cocktail culture, when/why people drink Scotch, how to taste spirits and proper serving techniques.

WHEN:                 Saturday, February 8, 2014
                                11:00 AM – 5:20 PM (classes are 50 minutes each)

WHERE:               Eastern Standard Gallery Room
                                528 Commonwealth Ave, Boston

TICKETS:               $40/person per class, sold a la carte.

$200 for the full day of classes.

With the purchase of three or more classes, guests may also choose to add on a five-course dinner at Eastern Standard ($70 for food; $40 for optional beverage pairings) and/or an overnight stay at Hotel Commonwealth at a special rate ($169 plus taxes).

Please visit http://easternstandardeducation.eventbrite.com or email dmarlette@easternstandardboston.com for package and pricing inquiries. 
  
CONTACT:           www.easternstandardboston.com or call 617-532-9100

Monday, January 13, 2014

Chia Seed Pudding


It is definitely January.  The holiday decorations are dismantled, the deep freeze is here, and it seems everywhere you look there are reminders to put down the cookies and start eating better.  Every year however, this looks like a fad, where people jump on board for a couple months and then revert to their old eating habits and start neglecting the gym.  Then, by March, we're all back where we started, perhaps a little more disappointed and less hopeful.  My guess for why this happens?  Because the "resolutioners" as they are often referred to, aren't adopting a healthier lifestyle over all, but rather making abrupt and major changes that aren't sustainable.  

Last year I had the great pleasure of meeting Seattle based personal trainer and wellness coach, Mary Little.  I have encountered many different personal trainers and nutritionists over time and Mary's approach to her lifestyle has been the easiest for me, a insanely food obsessed freak, to relate to.  I firmly believe that the reason behind that is because Mary's approach isn't about "diet", it isn't about working out until you break- it's about a lifestyle that incorporates many different types of exercise, loads of delicious meals that utilize all different ingredients, flavors and textures, but all that pack an incredible nutrient punch, and a generally fun disposition.  Mary runs a Facebook page entitled Wellness by Little where she posts all sorts of helpful hints for achieving your best, healthiest self, and lots of delicious recipes that bring together great flavors and incredible vitamins, minerals and nutrients.  

A while ago Mary posted about Chia Seed Pudding.  Chia Seeds are the seeds of
the herb Lamiaceae, an herb in the mint family.  It is now grown basically only for the seeds, the Chia Seed, which was named by the Aztecs, with the word "Chia" meaning strength.  Strong is a great word for the Chia Seed- it is known as a super food, with these little seeds being high in Omega-3s, Calcium, Fiber, Anti-Oxidants and Protein.  This mix makes them not only an incredibly valuable addition to your diet to use in keeping you healthy, they are also incredible effective in curbing hunger, making weight loss even easier. 

Now Chia Seeds are one of those things that I see in my grocery store but have never bought despite knowing that they have incredible nutritional value, mainly because I haven't been sure what to do with them.  So when I saw the words Chia Seed and Pudding in one recipe header I thought I'd finally found the answer to my problems.  Thank you Ms. Mary!  

Chia Seed Pudding is incredibly delicious- reminding me strongly of the ever delicious rice pudding, or even tapioca, tasting incredibly decadent but actually being a perfect breakfast food or snack.

Mary's Chia Seed Pudding
Photo courtesy of Mary Little


1/2 cup chia 
1 cup almond milk 
Blueberries 
1 1/2 teaspoons maple syrup 
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine all of the ingredients together, let rest, stir about a half hour later just to ensure no clumping and then let rest again for 4 hours or over night.  Simple.

I, of course cannot stick to a recipe so I made a similar version with a few variations.  I had cows milk (fat free) in the house so I subbed in that for the almond milk, and then added chopped almonds and dried cranberries.  

    

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Importance of Good Knife Skills....

I have been loving sweet potatoes this winter.  Several nights a week Ive been dicing these bad boys up, roasting them with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and chili pepper flakes and devouring them...until, of course, this past Tuesday.  This past Tuesday was a long day at work.  It was freezing cold.  I was tired and cranky, and I was sloppy...this combination is never good.  

So there I was, trying to get my potatoes chopped up quickly so I could get them into the oven and start my dinner, and then it happened.  It will forever amaze me how bad things happen in slow motion.  For whatever reason my little pinkie finger found its way under the potato I was cutting and I watched myself slice right in.  A few swear words, a long run under ice cold water, and a fair amount of pressure applied to the wound and 45 minutes later I was back to dinner prepping- this time though, I was in pain, grumpier, and hungrier.  Of course, I could have avoided this whole thing easily.  A little attention to what I was doing, and making sure I was using proper knife skills and my pinkie finger would much happier.  

I thought Id take this moment to refresh my knife skills and I thought I'd throw a video out there for you guys to learn from as well.  Don't worry -its not of me - but my very favorite sarcastic chef- Anthony Bourdain.

 

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