Thursday, June 28, 2007

Zaftig's, Coolidge Corner

My brother IM'd me yesterday, saying my parents had been trying to reach me all day. I called them right away, thinking something had happened. No, they had read on here that I had a cold and wanted to make sure I was still alive. I assured them that my magic chicken soup had brought me back from the dead and that they didn't need to worry. They were getting ready to head down the Cape for the 4th of July, so they met me in Brookline for some dinner.

My father picked Zaftig's in Coolidge Corner right away - give the man a menu that says "Breakfast All Day" and he's in heaven. He ordered the Banana-stuffed French Toast, as recommended by the waitress. He must have liked it, because it had vanished before I had even finished half of my sandwich.

There were a lot of good things on the menu, and I was tempted to be my father's daughter and go for breakfast - chocolate French toast, specifically - but the chicken Caesar roll-up sounded really good too. So I did what I usually do... wait until the waitress looks at me, then let my mouth make the decision of what words it wants to say. Tonight, my mouth chose "Caesar," so I ran with it.

Overall, this was an excellent sandwich. The dressing was tangy, with a pronounced lemony zip, and there was a ton of good grated Parm. What I didn't like - this is going to sound strange and is probably the only time in the history of restaurant critiques that this has ever been said - there was way too much chicken! It was like the lettuce was just there for show, peaking out of the roll-up's cut edge. When I pretend I'm being healthy by ordering a salad in sandwich form, I want there to be some semblance to salad.

I'm tempted to go back for Brunch sometime, but I really don't like having to wait a long time for breakfast. Especially when they serve breakfast all day...

Note: My mother emailed me this morning with a link she thought would interest me. She mentioned that she was surprised I hadn't written anything about Zaftig's yet. What do you think I am, Mom, a blogging machine?

Zaftigs Delicatessen in Brookline

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Day two of being home with a summer cold. I'm feeling much better, and I think I'll be 100% by tomorrow. So instead of napping all afternoon, I decided to try something I've been wanting to take a stab at for a while - macarons. My roommate had pointed out a bowl of leftover egg whites last night, so I figured it was the perfect time to make an attempt.

The recipe in my Williams-Sonoma Baking book looked easy enough. I subbed almonds for hazelnuts, since that's what I had around. The result? Not so hot. Is my apartment too humid? Were the eggs too old? Did I have too heavy a hand with the folding? Did I pipe them too big? Um, yes to all, probably. Leave it to me to make something with whipped egg whites on one of the hottest days of the year. I didn't even bother making the ganache filling... none of the cookies were the same shape or size, so making sandwiches out of them would have been futile. But as I say, at least they still tasted good.

Anyone have a good macaron recipe, or tips to help in my next try?

Macarons, my variations on a Williams-Sonoma recipe
4 large egg whites at room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup toasted, skinned and ground almonds
2 cups confectioners' sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine egg whites and cream of tartar. With the whip attachment, beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Add the sugar slowly and continue to beat until stiff, shiny peaks form. Beat in the vanilla until blended. With a rubber spatula, fold in the almonds and confectioners' sugar until incorporated. Using a ziplock bag, pipe the batter onto a parchment sheet-lined baking sheet about an inch apart. Let the cookies sit, uncovered, at room temp for 30-40 minutes.

Heat oven to 350 degrees and position the rack in the center of the oven. Place an empty cookie sheet on the rack to insulate the baking cookies. Bake each sheet of cookies for about 10-13 minutes or until golden and firm.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Food for a Summer Cold

Out of the blue yesterday afternoon, my throat started to hurt. I knew what was coming - the most fun of all the different kind of colds, the summer cold. It's that cold you get when the air conditioners first get turned on strong, and it's that cold that is impossible to ameliorate with tea and soup because it's so friggin' hot outside.

So I stayed home from work, and all I could think about was diet Sprite and soup. Yes, steaming hot soup. I scoured my cookbooks and the internet for a while, but all I could find were recipes involving whole chickens and hours and hours of simmering time. Finally, I found something in Cooking Light magazine that looked doable.

This recipe probably took me longer than it would have if I hadn't been sick. Shredding the chicken was an especially difficult task that took more coordination than I actually had at the time, and I wasn't coherent enough to notice that the burner the soup was on wasn't actually heating up. The results were good; this is tasty soup, and I can feel myself getting better already (ah, placebo effect). I really don't think you need the 3 pounds of chicken in the recipe, though; 1 pound of chicken breasts and 1 pound of thighs would have been plenty. The recipe also suggested using the same pot to cook the noodles, then the soup, to save clean up time, hence the noodles cooked well ahead of time. I now have enough soup to last me roughly three weeks.

Cooking Light Rosemary Chicken Noodle Soup

4 cups cooked wide egg noodles
1 Tbsp olive oil
8 cups water
4 cups chicken broth
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
2 Tbsp dried rosemary
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast
1 10 ounce package petite-cut carrots (or 1 1/2 cups chopped carrots)
1 6 ounce package fresh baby spinach
juice of 1 lemon
black pepper and salt to taste

After cooking noodles, toss with olive oil and set aside.

Combine water, broth, onion, celery, rosemary, and chicken pieces in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove chicken, cool slightly, and shred with 2 forks. Add carrot to the soup and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 6 minutes or until carrot is tender. Add shredded chicken and spinach and cook until spinach is wilted. Stir in noodles, lemon juice and salt and pepper.

Since I was so with it while I made the soup, I cooked all my noodles instead of the 4 cups I would need for the soup. What to do with the leftovers? Cover them in cheese! (In my head, that sounded like "I'm covered in bees!!" ) There's nothing better than egg noodles covered in mozzarella, dotted with butter, and baked to form a wonderful crunchy, gooey, oily mess.

Think I was done there? No way. I needed some more comfort food, and while I was at the market, the baking section spoke to me. Quite literally, I think, since I wasn't completely with it after walking to the store. Lemon cake mix and lemon pudding mix combine to the tastiest, moistest cake. Even my roommate approved.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Grafton Street, Harvard Square

I've walked by Grafton Street Pub about a million times, but there always seemed to be another restaurant ahead of it on my list. For some reason, the stars aligned last night, and I finally made it in... and man, am I happy I did.

We started with drinks and calamari while we waited for the rest of our party. This calamari was fantastic - very light and tender, not rubbery at all. It was accompanied by a zesty peppercorn dipping sauce, which added a lot more than the typical marinara or garlic aioli could.

Once we had our whole group, we ordered more drinks and the tomato and mozzarella appetizer to split. This was ok, but not great. It's obviously too early for really good tomatoes, so that part was a bit of a loss. The cheese tasted a little too much like regular mozzarella; it didn't have the smoothness, in both taste and texture, of a typical fresh mozzarella. The real winning part of the dish was the pickled red onions. I love red onions, but I don't like that I can still taste them hours later... I didn't get that at all with these. Pickling the onions made them very mild, and they were great alongside the so-so cheese and tomatoes.

Our entrees were back on the same level as our calamari appetizer. The seafood was masterfully handled - sea scallops were perfectly cooked, and the lobster risotto had powerful lobster flavor in every bite.

The steak frites were also very tasty. The cut of meat was a little fattier than I like, but I'm rather picky about that kind of thing. I do think the dish needed more sauce; the fries were ultra-crispy and benefit from being softened slightly by what sauce I could spare.

Overall, I would definitely head back to Grafton Street some time soon. The portions were large, the food expertly cooked, and prices reasonable.

Grafton Street Pub & Grill in Cambridge

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Mystery of the Chip

I don't know about you, but when I'm issued a challenge, especially by a international corporation, I'm going to take it.

Get it. Taste it. Name it. Doritos X-13D are a new, mysterious snack that have found their way onto the market. The creepy black packaging, complete with instructions and clues, lead to the intrigue. The company asks that you give their new flavor a name, only giving you the clue that the taste is an "all-American classic."

I went the licking route... getting the full impact of the flavor powder without the distracting corn-chip background. I was immediately struck by the flavor of meat, although I kept saying "It's shish kebab!" After a short discussion, we decided on cheeseburger... a look at the ingredients included beef flavoring, cheese powder, and tomato flavoring (I don't have the bag anymore, but it might list pickle flavor as well). To go even further, one friend tasted a chip and said "Burger King Whopper!" I'm not sure if Doritos is trying to be that specific or if that's just the flavor that caught her, but her specificity made me laugh.

All in all, I wouldn't eat these chips again. If I want beef flavor, I'm going to eat a real burger...

A few days ago, I was browsing Tastespotting and saw the most amazing picture: a crepe cake made by Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice. I found myself coming back to that picture, wanting to take a bite out of my computer screen, and I knew I had to make one.

Lucky for me, my roommate gets out of work early on Fridays, and he used the afternoon to do all the hard work for me... making the crepes and the pastry cream. He used a different crepe recipe, since we hadn't made the batter the night before. With our electric crepe maker, he made about 30 crepes that were all ready when I got home.

The cake was incredibly easy to assemble. I decided to use the filling to "ice" the whole cake... our friends didn't know what we were making, and we wanted it to be a surprise when we cut the first slice.

The cake turned out to be very delicate. I spread the layers very thin in order to have enought to cover all the crepes. The presentation was fantastic, and this would prove to be a perfect dessert for a dinner party, since you could make it earlier in the day. This cake looks much more difficult to make than it actually is, and it's incredibly elegant.

Friday, June 22, 2007

A Different View of Mike's Pastry

I've never been a big fan of Mike's Pastry in the North End. It's not that I have anything against their food. It's the fact that, on any given night, there are about a million people shoving their way inside, trying to buy pastry. There's no semblance of order in the place, just a mass of bodies pressed up against the glass case. And God forbid if you actually want table service!

And it's a little strange how the box is something of a status symbol around town. I'm not sure if Mike's would be quite as popular if you couldn't find people, especially tourists and students, carrying their boxes around all over town, like it was a blue Tiffany's bag or something.

For a birthday party at work this week, one of my coworkers brought in a cake from Mike's. I had never had one of their cakes; I expected it to be decent, but not great. This cake was fantastic, plain and simple.

The cake itself was soft and moist, not dried out like I expected. The mousse-y filling was creamy and not too sweet, well balanced out by the overly-ripe strawberries. The chocolate flakes on the exterior provided a nice textural balance to the soft mousse. The only part that didn't work for me was the uber-chocolate piping along the top of the cake. It was way too sweet and dense, and it drew away from the cake as a whole.

Overall, though, I was quite happy with this. I think I wouldn't have as many problems with Mike's if I went during off times and didn't have to deal with the crowds. The problem now is getting down to Mike's at some random time...

Mike's Pastry in Boston

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Arugula and Goat Cheese Stromboli

As I made my way home tonight, I was trying to figure out another use for my arugula pesto. I didn't want pasta, as I thought it would be too similar to my spaetzle. Somehow, the idea of goat cheese popped into my head. It sounded like the perfect pair to the bright and sharp pesto.

Now, it's only in the past year or so that I've been able to eat goat cheese. It just tasted gross to me before. On a trip to France in high school, I had a fantastic meal in a very cool troglodyte restaurant (something like this) complete with a giant brick of chevre. When the old lady next to me saw that I wasn't eating mine, she swiped it off my plate, amazed that I didn't think it was the best thing I had ever eaten. I thought that was a little forward of her, but hey, I certainly wasn't going to touch the stuff, so I'm glad she got some enjoyment out of it.

Lucky for me, I found "Chevre Light" at Trader Joe's. It's made with skim goat milk for a cheese with less than half the calories of a regular goat cheese. It is also milder, more to my taste. I was very happy to find this, and I will definitely be buying it again.

Being lazy, I also bought Trader Joe's whole wheat pizza dough. I tossed the dough to a fairly uniform thickness, then laid it on the counter. That was covered with arugula pesto (about 1/2 of my original recipe, or about 3/8 of a cup), then dotted with the chevre, some chopped tomatoes and a light spray with olive oil. Then I rolled this up into a thin log and baked at 425 for 15-20 minutes.

This was dangerously tasty... I ate way more than I needed to. I was surprised just how well the pesto and the cheese went together. The chevre really brought out the little bit of lemon zest in the pesto for a very clean and light taste.

Using store-made dough and already having the pesto on hand, it only took me 5 minutes to throw this together... add the baking time, and I was eating in under half an hour. This would be fantastic with a big salad or a piece of grilled chicken... anything to keep it light and to carry the flavors.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Spaetzle with Arugula Pesto

The sun is out again here in Boston, and pesto sounded like a great idea... but basic basil pesto seemed a little too pedestrian for today. What better green to use than my favorite, arugula?

I was working off the cuff on this one, but I think it turned out pretty well. I also tried to cut down on the oil, so it's a little more pasty than a typical pesto.

Arugula, about 4 oz. or half a bag
Olive oil, about 1/3 cup
2 garlic cloves
Zest of half a lemon
Shaved Pecorino Romano, to taste

Combine ingredients in a food processor and pulse until blended. Add more of whichever ingredient seems lacking, especially oil if it's too dry or not moving around the blade. This made about 3/4 cup. Obviously, you can adjust the amounts to produce more.

I was very happy with this combination. Arugula, olive oil and Pecorino are naturals together. The lemon added a very sharp, fresh taste that intrigued me; it gave the whole recipe a different twist. (Ouch. No pun intended.)

Now, I needed something to put the pesto on. I really wanted fresh pasta, but I don't know where to buy it near me, and I didn't have the patience to make any tonight. Instead, I decided to try my hand at the spaetzle recipe I received a few weeks ago from Paul Turano.

1/4 cup water
2 eggs
3 T melted butter
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup flour

Mix all ingredients except flour together. Add flour once everything else is incorporated. Over a pot of heavily salted, boiling water, push spaetzle dough through the holes of a colander. Work in batches. As soon as the spaetzle float, transfer to cold water to halt the cooking.

I really wanted to take pictures of the spaetzle-making process, but I had to work so quickly, and the potential for bodily injury was growing by the second, so I had to pass. Instead, you get this amazing photo of my naked spaetzle.

I could never imagine the need for a spaetzle maker before. Now I understand. The holes in my colander were just too small, making it almost impossible to get the dough through. The pieces that did make their way through were tiny... almost a joke. And the way they were swimming around in the water was a little obscene... The steam was pouring up through the colander holes that weren't plugged up by dough, and I had to resort to awkwardly holding kitchen towels over my arm in order to keep all my skin intact.

But I soldiered on. After all the spaetzle was cooking, I heated some oil in a pan and sauteed some chopped peapods. Then I added the spaetzle and allowed the dumplings to brown slightly, tossing occasionally.

After cooking, I added a few chopped tomato pieces and a big spoonful of the arugula pesto (about 1/4 of what I had made). I had intended to keep some leftovers for lunch tomorrow, but the small amount of spaetzle didn't stretch as far as I thought it would.

Overall, this wasn't a total disaster. I mean, yes, the spaetzle was more difficult than I expected. So what if I almost scalded my hand off making it? And so what if said spaetzle looked like giant sperm? At least the pesto was great, and at least it still tasted good!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Callooh! Callay!

Gyoza are back at Trader Joe's!

The recipe seems a little different, but they're still tasty. I think the dough is drier... it doesn't bubble as much while it fries as the old ones did. My local TJ's only had the chicken, though...

The Quaker Oats Guy Goes Exotic

My friend has been writing a blog about online dating. She's hilarious, and I keep checking back to see if there are new posts... but she's been quiet for too long. So I bartered with her - cookies for a post. Of course, that means I get a post out of it too ;)

So I set off to make possibly the easiest cookies in the world. Long ago, I mastered the recipe inside the Quaker Oats box. In my ever-evolving desire to make things a little more interesting, I decided to trade the raisins in for a more Armenian taste - dried cherries and apricots. I don't have real measurements on the fruit, because I just kept adding until it looked like a decent amount. Have I mentioned that I love the dried fruits aisle at Trader Joes?

Of course, you can vary the dried fruit however you want, but I really like mixing two flavors in there... it gives the cookie some depth and a variety of textures. In these cookies, the apricots are a little tougher and chewier, while the cherries puffed up a little while baking and are soft and sweet.

With all the fruit in there, these cookies were very chewy, while also having a nice crumb to them. The tops were pretty smooth, with the occasional fruit piece or stray oat rearing it's lovely head. The undersides, however, were a rough mess of oats such that I ended up eating my cookies upside down to avoid crumbs all over the floor.

Cherry-Apricot Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups uncooked Quaker Oats
dried cherries
dried apricots, chopped

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat together butter and sugars until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well. Add flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt and mix well. Stir in oats and dried fruit. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Breakfast of Champions

White peaches and cool whip... the perfect way to start the day.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sunday Experiments - Couscous Crepinettes and Scallion Pancakes

So generally, Sunday seems to be a time when my roommate and I look at each other and say "I really want to cook something new."

With a fridge full of veggies that had nearly overstayed their welcome, I started a search for a recipe that would encompass most of the varied cast of characters. I struck out with a somewhat lame look through my cookbook collection, but the Food Network came to my rescue.

I've never watched Cat Cora on TV. I think I might have glimpsed her for about 5 seconds on a morning talkshow once. Nevertheless, I wanted to dislike her. Don't ask me why; I guess I'm just petty. But I gave her "Vegetable Couscous 'En Crepinette'" a shot, and, with some variations, it actually turned out pretty well.

Our edits to the recipe:
- I'm not sure why you turn on the oven at the beginning...
- Veggie filling was comprised of zucchini, red pepper, red onion and (uncooked) scallions.
- The couscous was cooked in 1 1/2 cups of water - a compromise between the recipe and the back of the couscous box. I think 2 cups would have been way too much.
- No herbs - we had none.
- Rice wine vinegar instead of red wine vinegar - again, that's what we had on hand.

The assembly took a little while to get the hang of, but I'm wicked smaht, so I caught on.

Now, the recipe called for searing the little packets before serving. I'm not sure if this step is necessary. I ate the leftovers today and, fearing the stench of hot cabbage spreading throughout the office via microwave, opted to eat them cold... and they were better. Although, using plastic cutlery did prove to be a challenge with the cabbage leaves.

As I assembled the packets, my roommate was trying to decide what needed to go with them. The bowl of extra scallions winked up at him from the counter, and neither one of us could shake the idea of scallion pancakes from our heads. I didn't follow what he put in them... all I know is that they were tasty! Since they were fried in very little oil, they didn't puff up much. As they cooled, the dough compressed; it seemed a lot like naan to me after a while. Looking at this picture now is making me hungry...

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Chocolate +Water = NO!

This is more of a reminder to myself more than anything: chocolate and water don't mix. I never can remember this until it's too late...

Scooperbowl 2007!

Today was the last day of Scooperbowl 2007, a fundraiser to benefit the Jimmy Fund. When the Scooperbowl started 25 years ago, there were only 4 vendors serving to about 1000 people. The participating creameries were smaller and more local, something that I think the event is sorely lacking today (How about Kimball's? Or Toscanini's? Christina's? Herrell's? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?)

Basically, for $7, you get all the ice cream you can eat, doled out in roughly 1/4 cup servings. You only get one spoon, though, so if you throw that away, you're screwed.

I managed 10 samples which was fewer than many people out on the plaza, but more than my coworkers (I think they averaged 7 or 8). Yes, I was double-fisting it, just to try the flavors. I didn't finish all my cups, though... some of them were a little too gross.

My hits and misses:

Cinnamon Buns from Ben & Jerry's - Awesome! It was like Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, minus the chocolate, plus a ton of cinnamon. Good stuff, and the dough was nice and chewy.

Baseball Nut from Baskin-Robbins - Gross. It was vanilla ice cream with swirls of raspberry jam and peanuts. Blech.

Oreo from Baskin-Robbins - Pretty decent. I like larger chunks of cookie (Emack & Bolio's, JP Licks and Ben & Jerry's have spoiled me), but this had a good cookie flavor.

Dulce de Leche from Breyers - Too sweet and airy. Who can eat this stuff? Ice cream needs some heft, it shouldn't feel like a marshmallow is dissolving in my mouth.

Dice-Kream from Brigham's - Meh. It's just Curse Reversed (or going way back now) Reverse the Curse, repackaged for the current wunderkind.

Chronicle Coffee Crunch from Brigham's - Also meh. Brigham's was a disappointment. I really liked the crunchy bits (chocolate-covered rice krispies?) but the coffee flavor lacked any depth.

Shock-A-Cone from Coldstone Creamery - Yum! I hate Coldstone, but this was great. It tasted like the perfect bite of a Drumstick cone.

Founder's Favorite from Coldstone Creamery - Meh. This had something to do with chocolate and pecans, but it was too sweety and sticky for me.

Lobster Tracks from Garelick Farms - Blah. It's Moose Tracks under a different name, but the caramel cups are covered in red chocolate instead of brown. This flavor has gotten a little boring because almost every shop offers their variation of it now.

Mint Chip from Haagen-Dazs - Good, but not great. I was surprised that this was the only mint offering of the day, but I was happy that I had it last to cleanse the palate. The mint was too subdued, though. I would much rather have Brigham's Mint Chip or Ben & Jerry's Mint Oreo.

Did anyone else go? What were your hits and misses?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Royal Lady Hannah

In my efforts to not gain tremendous weight on this blogging endeavor, I've been trying to get in as much walking as possible during my days. My favorite route is up Comm Ave towards downtown Boston, a stop at Tealuxe, then walk back down Newbury Street to my office. Not only do I get in an hour of walking, I also get a great no-calorie treat.

With the on-again, off-again nice weather we've been having, I've had the chance to try many of Tealuxe's iced teas. They offer 4 at a time, and one or two always strike my fancy (luckily, they give free samples). My favorite by far has been the Lady Hannah.

The tea is a wonderfully deep red color, bursting with strong fruity flavors. The mix is made up of whole blackberries, stawberries, apple, citrus peel, rosehips and hibiscus.

One thing you won't find in there, though, is tea, making Lady Hannah a tisane, or herbal infusion. So no caffeine, but really, this makes for an even better ice tea. You can drink a gallon of it, and it will still be refreshing, not dehydrating at all.

Getting thirsty yet?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Cooking with Paul Turano

My parents have been doing some major shopping for new kitchen appliances. One great thing about shopping for appliances at a place nicer than Sears is that they know how to treat you well. Last night, my parents (and by extension, me) were invited to the Thermador showroom in Canton for a cooking demonstration. The guest chef for the night was Paul Turano, of Tryst in Arlington and Spitfire in Canton.

Paul was hilarious and spent the 2+ hours joking with the small audience. His approach to the cooking was very loose and had a lot of improv aspects to it, something he was trying to impress on the stuck-in-a-rut home cooks in attendance. As he said, "you can't be intimidated by [cooking]. If I can do it, anyone can do it."

The meal was simple but delicious, and proved that you can eat gourmet at home with not much effort. We started with asparagus soup with truffle whipped cream. I was too anxious to try it, so no picture. It was more a pea-asparagus soup, and the two veggies balanced each other out; it was not too woody from all asparagus.

The entree was roasted chicken with herbed spaetzel. Paul didn't focus on the chicken, but spent his time with the spaetzel. He claimed it only takes him 5 minutes to make, but he was talking so much that it took much longer. It was fun to watch him push the dough through a colander directly into the boiling water to form the pasta. I've never realized how easy this is to make, but I will definitely be giving it a try.

Dessert was a beautiful creme caramel, equally as easy and delicious as the other courses. Again, Paul got so into the conversation with the crowd that he burned his first batch of caramel. Now, I've made similar custards before, but I was much happier with the density of this creme caramel - it had substance and oomph to go along with incredible flavor.

I had a great time, and I appreciated the chance to hear a chef talk about his everyday experiences running his own restaurants. Hopefully, my parents will take a long time to make their decisions, and we'll get the chance to enjoy some more nights like this.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

La Spina, Davis Square

La Spina ("the thorn") is a new Italian restaurant in Davis Square, Somerville, nestled behind the Rosebud Diner (right where a thorn should be). We arrived at 8 on a Saturday night to find the place almost empty... not the best impression. The food, however, was fantastic. Everything was fresh... you could actually tell what all the ingredients were.

Our waiter was fun and quirky, and as soon as he told us that one of the specials was panzanella, I jumped on it. I first had panzanella in the little town of Murlo in Italy, and I've been hooked ever since. It's a great way to use leftover bread in a fresh salad. This version was very tasty, but I was a little disappointed in the variety of the ingredients - tomatoes, basil, and olives. I like to make panzanella a little more salad-like, with cucumbers and red onion. There was also a little too much dressing, leaving the fresh tomatoes overwhelmed by too much oil and vinegar.

I wasn't terribly hungry, so I went for a second appetizer for my meal. I had heard that the eggplant involtini was even better than that of another nearby Italian restaurant, Sagra, so I had to give it a try. I liked this version very much, as it was less oily than Sagra's. The ricotta filling was more dense, but smooth, and was just slightly sweet. The eggplant was soft and broke apart easily under my fork. I would definitely order this again.

La Spina in Somerville

Mojito Cucumber Salad

Mojito Cucumber Salad screams summer. Here in Boston, it's been alternating hot and muggy days with cold and clammy days, so I've been needing something to make me feel like summer has actually arrived (um, we'll gloss over the fact that it won't actually be summer for another 19 days...).

This recipe couldn't be easier, and the hardest part is waiting for a while to let the cucumbers pickle slightly. These cukes are a great snack by themselves, touching the bases of sweet, tart and spicy, all in crispy little bites.

Mojito Cucumber Salad

1 English cucumber
10-15 fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup sugar (I actually prefer Splenda for this)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1-inch fresh ginger, chopped
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

Slice the cucumber into paper-thin slices (a mandoline works perfectly). Put slices in a large bowl and set aside.

In a blender, puree the rest of the ingredients. Pour over the cucumbers, tossing to cover with the dressing. Refridgerate for at least half an hour to let the flavors meld. I would imagine this keeps for quite a while, but I usually eat it before day 2 is over.

Yes, I know there's no lime or rum in this, making for a pretty strange mojito. But the acidity in the rice vinegar really makes up for the lack of lime. The rum, on the other hand... I guess you could always add a splash!