Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Joy of Cooking?

Where's the joy in this?

I realize that some people need convenience foods like this in their life... hell, I've used these bagged throw-it-all-in-a-skillet meals in a pinch. But to equate them with one of the most famous cookbooks, one that can be found in many home and professional kitchens? Does this seem wrong to anyone else?

And since we all need some convenience in our lives (albeit less sacrilicious), what's your favorite frozen food? Of late, I've been a fan of Trader Joe's Garden Vegetable Lasagne and Cedarlane Beans, Rice and Cheese-style Burrito.

Friday, August 29, 2008

End of Summer Days

I know, I know, summer doesn't end until mid-September, but Labor day means classes and cool weather are right around the corner. It kind of feels like the beginning of the end to me. You better believe I'll be packing in all the summery food I can this weekend.

Have any good summery fruit or veggie recipes that I should make sure I try out?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ricotta-Stuffed Squash Blossoms

I have been travelling and/or busy on farmers market days this summer, so I have sadly not been able to partake of all the available goodies very often. I did manage a visit last week, though, and I couldn't have been happier to see squash blossoms welcoming me.

I've been fairly obsessed with squash blossoms since I spent a summer in Italy. There was this fancy pizza restaurant/inn in the next town over, and they made a killer fritti misti plate, with all types of fried goodies. The best things on the plate, though, were the sage leaves and the squash blossoms - so delicate and crisp, it was like eating delicious air. Squash blossoms can be a little hard to find in the states, though, and at one point, I was almost resigned to ordered a whole box of them from a local farm (although how my family could have eaten that box before it went bad was beyond me). One summer, I convinced my father to plate extra zucchini plants so I could steal flowers whenever I wanted.
But now, I can count on seeing squash blossoms at least a couple of times a summer at the Hmong booth at the weekly market. Hell, they might have them every week, but I tend to go later in the day, so they might be sold out. And every time I see them there, I practically jump up and down with joy.

Stuffed Squash Blossoms
12 squash blossoms
1 cup ricotta
1/2 cup crumbled feta, or about 4 ounces
1/4 finely chopped parsley, or about 2 large handfuls of leaves
zest of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup flour
1/2 grated parmesan cheese
olive oil

Blossom cleaning tips: Before using the squash blossoms, gently open them up (which means you may need to rip a small tear down one side)and pry out the stamen using your fingers or a small knife. Then submerge the flowers in cool water while you prepare the filling so any dirt will rinse off.

Mix together ricotta, feta, parsley, and lemon zest until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Gently place a spoonful of filling in each blossom, closing the flower around the filling and lightly pressing closed. Fill all the blossoms before beginning to fry.

Add olive oil to a large pan, about enough to cover the bottom, and heat over medium heat. Once oil is heated through, dunk the blossoms in egg, and then in the flour mixture. Shake off any excess flour before adding to the pan. Flip flowers over after they have browned. These cook quickly, so pay close attention! Serve immediately.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mango Rum Fizz

I was hanging out with friends this weekend and, after spending some time outside in the sun, it was time for a nice, cool drink. We had some mango juice open, and I spotted a bottle of mango rum nearby, so I got to mixing. I was surprised at how smoothly this went down, and it was so easy to mix up, I know I'll be making it again.

Mango Rum Fizz
about 2 ounces mango rum
about 4 ounces mango juice or nectar
pomegranate seltzer

Fill a tall glass with ice. Pour in rum and juice, then top with seltzer and stir gently.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Cheap Eats: La Papusa Guanaca

Who doesn't love melted cheese? La Papusa Guanaca is a small restaurant on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain that focuses on the food of El Salvador, including the delicious, hot and melty papusa. The little crispy corn pancakes ($1.25), about the size of your palm, are stuffed with cheese, cheese and pork, or cheese and beans, and then fried on a griddle. They're really hot, though, when they come out, so save yourself from a burn and wait a minute before eating.

Between the papusas and the other goodies on the menu, it's easy to make a meal for next to nothing. Try the tostada ($1.00), a tiny, perfectly crisp tortilla topped with black beans and a sprinkle of cheese; the empanadas ($1.25), little pockets jammed tight with fillings like shredded chicken; or the fried plantains ($3.50), incredibly sweet, crispy on the outside, and creamy on the inside.

La Papusa Guanaca is located at 378 Centre Street in Jamaica Plain. They are open daily 10am to 11pm and are cash only.

Originally posted on Bostonist.

La Papusa Guanaca on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hilltop Ale House, Seattle

Another great meal from my recent Seattle trip was at the Hilltop Ale House in Queen Anne. It was, in fact, Liney's favorite meal of the trip, and it's high up on my list as well. Liney's friend Katie showed us around her neighborhood and thought we might appreciate trying one of her favorite restaurants.

First thing I did was make it apparent that I was from out of town. I ordered a Taunton Blackthorn Cider (delicious, by the way), but on the little list on the table, it was only listed as Taunton cider. When I tried to order, though, I only got a blank look. It took me a minute to realized that pronouncing the name like the similar town in Massachusetts was not going to get me a what I wanted, so I used my best TV Newscaster voice to order a second time, and that cleared it all up.

OK, on to the food. I ordered some curried cashews to snack on while we chatted and enjoyed our drinks. The cashews were delicious and satisfying, and the bowl was huge for only a couple of dollars. The curry was a bit strong on some bites, further proving that these were house-made. I think we (and by we, I mean mostly me) ate only about half the nuts before our meals arrived.

For my main meal, I had the blackened salmon sandwich. The seasoning on the fish was just spicy enough to set my lips tingling, but not so spicy that I couldn't really enjoy the taste. The bread, dijon mayo, and veggies were all good, but the salmon was truly the highlight of the dish. It was served with more potato chips than one person could eat.

Liney and Katie both enjoyed the baked goat cheese salad, with warm breaded goat cheese atop a huge pile of mixed lettuce, pecans, and red onions. It looked fantastic, and to see the two of them devouring them so intently, it must have tasted just as good.

Hilltop Ale House is just the kind of local, homey gastropub that makes a neighborhood feel like home. I'm really glad we got to try this less-touristy taste of Seattle.

Hilltop Ale House on Urbanspoon

Matt's in the Market, Seattle

From doing my diligent work on Chowhound before my Seattle trip, I learned that Matt's in the Market was a must-try. And since it was located directly across the street from our hostel, it seemed like an easy choice. Sadly, I didn't get a chance to go over until after Liney had already left for the airport, so I had to go it alone and sit at the bar area.

Not that that was a bad thing. The bartender was a hilarious guy, and he was just the right amount of attentive. When I was clearly into the book I was reading, he left me alone, but if I was paying attention to the restaurant around me, he was there to joke or offer suggestions.

Since it was my first (and only) rainy day in Seattle, I had to go with a cup of soup. The Carrot Chipotle Puree, served with a drizzle of olive oil, was smooth and creamy, and the chipotle added just enough spice to offset the sweetness of the carrot. It was so simple and delicious that it made me feel like I could throw this together at home with no effort... but I know if I tried, my kitchen would end up a massacre of carrot mess.

And for my meal, I was having a hard time deciding between the lamb burger and the special of the day, a pork sandwich. The bartender steered me towards the burger, saying it was their most popular sandwich. So I trusted his opinion, and man, am I glad I did. This is what a burger should be - juicy meat and toppings that accent the burger but taste delicious on their own. Every part was great on its own, but together, they packed a real punch. The bacon was perfectly cooked so that its crispiness would compliment the chew of the burger. The goat cheese was just sharp enough that it wasn't lost, but it certainly didn't overpower. The onions added a hint of sweetness, and the herb aioli countered with a savory bite.

If I do make it back to Seattle any time soon, I would definitely hit Matt's in the Market again. The view, overlooking the Pike Street market sign, is beautiful, and is a nice respite from the hussle and bustle below.

Matt's in the Market on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 22, 2008

Black Bottle, Seattle

My favorite meal on my Seattle trip was at Black Bottle, a restaurant recommended by Liney's friend, Katie. We spent a busy day at the Space Needle, the Experience Music Project, and the Science Fiction Museum, and Black Bottle was on our walk home. We sat at the bar and had the pleasure of talking to two excellend bartenders.

The food at Black Bottle is... oh so good. The concept is "small" plates for sharing, but there's nothing small about them. Plates run around $10 each.

The flatbreads (of which we tried the prosciutto and bechamel) are baked in long tart pans, so the edges get slighly fluted. Crispy and gooey, they're they perfect snack for sharing.

We also ordered the lamb plate, which was really a hummus and baba ganoush plate with a couple small lamb skewers. Don't get me wrong, the lamb was tender and very well cooked, but it wasn't the focus of the dish. And while the hummus and baba ganoush may not photograph very well, they taste fantastic. The portions are so large that we were glad we ordered a veggie side for dipping.

Now, I'm never one to go to a restaurant and just order a plate of veggies, but I would go back (if I were in the area) for a plate of their broccoli. It was a huge plate (I mean, huge) of perfectly roasted, deliciously garlicky and salty broccoli. And the hummus and baba ganoush were perfect compliments, adding creaminess to the crunchy veggies. Just thinking about that broccoli has got me jonesing for some right now.

Black Bottle on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Seattle Wrap Up

I've just gotten home from a 10-day trip to Seattle with my college roommate, Liney, and man, did we have a great trip. While we were planning, people kept telling us that 10 day was too long, and that we needed to rent a car to be able to see anything, but lucky for us, we found that neither of those thoughts were true.

We stayed at the Green Tortoise Hostel, which has possibly the best location in Seattle. It is literally right across the street from the Pike Place Market (where we went almost every day), and it provided easy access to Pioneer Square to the south, Seattle Center to the north, and to all the bus lines for transportation outside the downtown area. At first, we felt a little too old for the whole hostel thing, but the great thing was that the Green Tortoise is not a "youth" hostel - it was filled with people of all ages, and there were even a couple of families there as well.

And like I said, we didn't find the city difficult to navigate without a car at all. The buses were easy enough to figure out, and the city really is a small place and is easy to walk... except for all those damn hills. But hey, when you eat as much as we did, trying to sample so many different foods, you kind of need those hills to keep you in check.

We did tons of touristy things, but lots of less touristy things as well. We visited the Seattle Art Museum, the Central Library, took an Underground tour, walked through the International District including the Uwajimaya Market, enjoyed the view from Kerry Park in the Queen Anne neighborhood, took the monorail to the Space Needle, geeked out at the Experience Music Project and the Science Fiction Museum, were confused by Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, enjoyed the aquarium, geeked out again at the Pacific Science Center, picnicked in Volunteer Park where we saw an outdoor art exhibit and explored the Conservatory, walked down to the Japanese Tea Garden, got spooked on the Market Ghost Tour (I got an orb in one of my pictures!), took in an improv show, took the SubSeattle Tour, saw tons of animals at Woodland Park Zoo, wandered around Fremont and saw the Fremont Troll.

And man did we eat. I knew Seattle had lots of good food, but I didn't know there was this much! We ate at Local Color Coffee, Lowell's Seafood, the Chocolate Box, Guamaya Cantina, Pike Place Bakery, Cherry Street Coffee House, Saigon Bistro, Oasis Tea Zone, Hilltop Ale House, Daily Dozen Donuts, Piroshy Piroshky, Revolution Bar and Grill, Black Bottle, Cafe Umbria, Market Grill, Virginia Inn, Mae Phim, Seattle Coffee Works, Palace Kitchen, Mama's Mexican Kitchen, Le Panier, the original Starbucks, Pink Door, Pike Place Brewery, Tully's, Triple Door, Three Girls Bakery, Red Door, Fremont Coffee Company, Seattle's Best Coffee, Matt's in the Market, and Beecher's Cheese. Yeah, a lot of great places, and there will be a few individual reviews coming up. The only place we missed, due to their short hours, was Salumi, but I guess that just means I'll have to take a trip back, right?

Bella Luna Blogger's Lounge

Bella Luna, the restaurant over the Milky Way bowling alley in Jamaica Plain, hosted a Blogger's Lounge last night to introduce Boston's blogging community to Bella Luna's new executive chef, Jacob Zachow. Of course, it was also a great chance to meet and chat with other bloggers. I even got my friend Ann to go to her first blogging event!

I've gotta say, I already enjoyed the food at Bella Luna, but from what I saw last night, it's even better now. The fried Bella Moon Mozzarella was tender and light, a far cry from the typical fried mozzarella. The flat breads were full of flavor and topped with unique combinations, like house-made sausage, fennel, and ricotta. The Lemon and Basil Grilled Salmon was well cooked and served with a delicious sauce. And the Key Lime Pie.... just yum! The cocktails were also delicious and well-mixed - I'm a fan of the Martinique now.

So thanks to Bella Luna for the great food and for hosting all the crazy local bloggers!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Obscene Amounts of Food at Maggiano's

Dinner at Maggiano’s has become a roughly once a year tradition with my friends. We always do the family style meal – all you can eat for $26 – and because there’s so much food, it’s no surprise that we only manage it once in a blue moon. For a chain restaurant with such a low price point for the whole meal, it’s amazing that the food is any good at all… but it is surprisingly tasty (oh, and did I mention plentiful?). In fact, I think the quality is better than many of the more touristy places in the North End.

With the family style meal, you pick two appetizers, two salads, two pastas, two entrees, and two desserts, and they’ll bring refills of whatever you want – plus wrap up whatever you haven’t finished so you can take it home. With so many choices, it leaves plenty of room for everyone to get something that they want.

On this outing, we ordered the Spinach and Artichoke Dip, Mozzarella Marinara, Caesar salad, Chopped salad, Gnocchi in Vodka Sauce, Chicken and Spinach Manicotti, Lemon Salmon, Chicken Saltimbocca, Chocolate Zuccotto Cake, and the Profiteroles. The Apple Crostada was given to us as well to make up for some bad service – I don’t know if it was a timing issue with the kitchen or what, but the second half of our meal was mired by longer than normal waits and inattentive service. The food, though, was all delicious. We had to keep reminding each other that more food was coming so we wouldn’t fill up on any one dish. I don’t think I would order the mozzarella (fairly mundane) or the salmon (boring, and more fishy-tasting than I expected) again, but everything else was great – the manicotti and desserts stand out in particular.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Chapoquoit Grill, Falmouth

Chapoquoit Grill in Falmouth is a restaurant I used to go to frequently with my parents, but as we explored other nearby places, Chapoquoit seemed to fall off of our list somehow. But I had grown tired of the usual restaurants, so I thought it would be a good time to give it another try.

And I’m glad we did. I had forgotten just how good their pizza is. The pasta… not so much, but the wood-oven pizza is amazing. We got the Fig Pizza, topped with fig jam, prosciutto, ricotta, gruyere, and chopped scallions. The only word for it is amazing. The sweetness from the jam melds perfectly with the saltiness of the meat and the creaminess of the cheese. I could have easily eaten the entire thing myself – it was a little larger than a dinner plate, overhanging the sides – but we had ordered it as an appetizer, so I was forced to share ;) They had other interesting pizza combos, plus a wide array of unique ingredients for a make-your-own. But the Fig Pizza… it’s something I’m definitely going to try at home (on a grilled pizza crust), because I absolutely loved the mix of tastes and textures.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Do my friends and family know me?

Do my friends and family know me well or what? Not surprisingly, the majority of my birthday gifts this year were food-related: a French press, animal cracker cookie cutters, tons of prep bowls (in both melamine and silicone), a rolling pin, a citrus press, amazing French chocolates, strawberry tea (well, tisane), a mini tea cake pan, pewter measuring spoons, and a parakeet-shaped garlic press (because I have a parakeet as a pet). Looks like I better get busy with the cooking and baking!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Watermelon Salad

My birthday dinner this year, like last year, was lobsters on the deck at my family’s Cape house. Our deck looks out over a beautiful fresh water estuary – I could sit out there all day (in fact, I did spend my whole birthday out there, enjoying Breaking Dawn and iced coffee). So I always look forward to having lobsters out on the deck at least once during the summer.

I threw together this salad to sate a craving for watermelon and because I was looking for something that was both sweet and savory to serve alongside the sweet lobsters. I love the sweet mixture of sweet watermelon, peppery arugula, clean-tasting parsley, salty olives, sharp onion (soak slices in cold water for a few minutes to lessen the impact), creamy cheese, tart lime, and unctuous olive oil. All the measurements below are rough; proportion the ingredients as you see fit.

Watermelon Salad

3 cups arugula
1 cup parsley leaves
2 cups watermelon, cut into bite-size pieces
6 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
Red onion, sliced as thinly as possible (about 1/6 of an onion)
Feta cheese (about 3 ounces, crumbled)
Juice of 1 lime
Olive oil

In a wide, shallow bowl, toss together the arugula and parsley. Top with watermelon, olives, onion, and feta. Squeeze lime juice over the salad, and drizzle with olive oil. Toss lightly before serving.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Cheap Eats: Rami's

Is one neighborhood big enough for two falafel joints? For the sake of comparison with last week’s Shawarma King review, we decided to try out Rami’s in Coolidge Corner. Rami’s offers Israeli falafel, as opposed to Shawarma King’s Lebanese-style. And while Rami’s version is absolutely delicious, the differences between the two sandwiches are huge, proving that there is indeed plenty of room for two falafel restaurants. If only the two restaurants could work together to form the perfect falafel sandwich...

Rami’s Houmos Falafel Pita, fully loaded, contains a big shmear of hummus, hot sauce, plenty of well-fried falafel balls, shredded lettuce, finely chopped red cabbage, tomato, cucumber, and tahini sauce. The falafel themselves are tender, nicely spiced, and very tasty. And the hot sauce is not some thin liquid, but a thick mash of spice and herbs – if you like heat, it’s definitely a great addition to the sandwich. The pita, however, can prove a little difficult to eat – the size and shape of the bread makes it hard to get a bite that contains more than just a couple of the ingredients, so it might be advisable to go at it with a fork.

Rami’s is located at 324 Harvard Street in Coolidge Corner. It is open Sunday through Thursday, 10am to 10pm, Friday 10am to 3pm, and closed Saturday.

Originally posted on Bostonist.

Rami's on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 8, 2008

More Cakes from Rise Bakery

So it appears that Rise Bakery in Ashland has become our family bakery. It started with my brother's birthday cake last October, a week before the World Series. The latest, pictured above, is what we got when my sister-in-law asked for "something beachy" to celebrate our summer birthdays at our Cape house. Their designs are always unique and expressive, and the cake... yum! Dense and delicious, you can cut small slices, so that cake could have fed about 20 people with no leftovers.

Rise really needs a website to showcase their awesome work...

Monday, August 4, 2008

Cheap Eats: Shawarma King

Besides burritos, falafel is another contentious subject matter in the Boston food world. Everyone seems to be in some sort of camp. Granted, this Bostonist hasn't done extensive research, but Shawarma King on Beacon Street in Brookline serves up one damn good sandwich.

The falafel are made up of a mixture of chick pea and fava bean, flavored with plenty of parsley and garlic. The crispy little balls are served with tomatoes, a mild pickle spear, tons of onion slices, a bit of parsley, and a good amount of nutty tahini sauce. For the falafel roll-up, the fillings are all surrounded by grilled pita bread, adding extra crunch to the sandwich. For $5, that's one filling and delicious meal.

Originally posted on Bostonist.

Shawarma King on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 1, 2008

What's in the Fridge Fresh Rolls

It took me a while to get into Vietnamese fresh rolls - I think it was the rice wrapper that weirded me out - but sometime during the past year, they became one of my favorite foods. I love how simple they are, but how they can contain just about anything. I don't make my own very often, mostly because by the time I know I want one, I no longer have the patience to cut any vegetables up, so I'm usually left to order out. This past week, however, I found myself with both the time and the wherewithal to make my own, not just once, but twice!

One great thing about fresh rolls is, like I said, they can hold anything. Including whatever's floating around in the fridge or freezer that needs to be used. Case in point - one-third of a bag of frozen shrimp that had been taking up space for months. All of the shrimp were, unfortunately, freezer-burned, but once I sliced off any burned bits, there was still enough that was salvageable to include. I threw them into a quick makeshift marinade of teriyaki sauce, lime juice, fresh ginger, and hot pepper flakes while I washed and cut up some other veggies - tiny batons of cucumber and carrot as well as sprigs of cilantro and mint. On the other fresh roll occasion, I used the same marinade (well, soy sauce and honey instead of teriyaki) on chicken, and included leaves of lettuce and slices of mango and avocado.

And making the rolls couldn't be easier. Sure, there's prep work involved, especially if you try to cut everything into pieces of the same length for uniform rolling, but that is well worth the time. Just submerge a sheet of rice paper wrapper into warm water for a minute, until it begins to soften and lose rigidity. Then carefully arrange the fillings in a small pile in the middle of the wrapper. Fold one edge over and around the filling and gently tuck it beneath the filling, pulling tight so that the insides are not at all loose. Then fold the two ends over, sealing the edges, before rolling the rest of the wrapper around the roll. (Gah, did that make any sense?) If you have nice pieces of herbs, like the mint leaves in the picture above, arrange them on the final piece of wrapper so that they show through after you've finished. I usually just serve these with watered-down hoison sauce sprinkled with fried garlic.