Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bloody Eyeball Caramels and Other Halloween Chocolates

When I was a kid, my mother and I would make chocolates about once a year, usually around Valentine's Day. She'd fill an electric skillet with water and we'd fill glass jars with different colors of chocolate buttons, rest them in the water, and watch them melt. I don't think I was very patient with the whole process of filling the molds, putting them in the freezer to harden, then shaking the finished chocolates out, because there was chocolate involved! What kind of kid is patient when there's a big vat of chocolate in front of them?!

I don't know where that electric skillet has gone, and I use all my glass jars for canning nowadays. It's only been in the past couple of years that I've gotten back to chocolate making. I still only do it once or twice a year, but I've found that I'm much more patient with the process. And I love the whapping sound the molds make as you hit them on the counter to release any air bubbles.

Last year, I made gravestones, spider webs, and pumpkin cups. I couldn't find my molds this year, so I had to go out and buy some more (I know, rough stuff). When I saw these eyeballs, I knew immediately what to do.

These probably took longer than they should have to make, but that was because I was pretty detailed in painting on the red. I think they look pretty damn creepy, and seeing a whole bowlful stare back at me makes my skin crawl. And I really like the effect of blood-red caramel in the middle (just add some red food coloring to melted caramels, then let harden to cut).

These chocolate-coated Oreos took much less time because they aren't so detailed, but the mold only made four at a time, so there was still a lot of waiting involved. They're a little happier and good for anyone who's too squeamish to eat a bloody eyeball.

Do you make chocolates? Any favorite shapes/holidays/occasions for them?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cheap Eats: Kupel's Bakery

There are plenty of places around to grab a bagel sandwich, but you're often limited in choices or end up paying more than you'd like. At Kupel's (pronounced "couples") just outside Coolidge Corner, though, you have a whole slew of options and get a tasty sandwich for just a couple of bucks.

Kupel's bagels are baked fresh daily in a wide range of flavors. They're chewy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. This Bostonist favors the jalapeno bagel, with just enough spice to make it interesting, but there are so many choices, you could take home a dozen with all different flavors. For the full sandwich experience, choose from a variety of spreads (like honey walnut cream cheese or hummus), fish (like white fish salad or lox) or eggs, and a variety of veggies. You can choose from a number of sandwiches, named mostly for local sports heroes, or pick your own toppings to get exactly what you want.

If you're still hungry after your bagel, pick up a pastry for dessert. The cases are filled with choices, and each type of pastry typically comes in 3 or 4 different flavors. Kupel's hamentashen are so popular, they're made year-round, with fillings like poppy seed and apricot, and they come in two different sizes. This Bostonist loves the flat tires, huge disks of puff pastry with layers of filling (like lemon or chocolate) and sprinkled with coarse sugar, because it's almost impossible to eat one in just one sitting.

Kupel's is located at 421 Harvard Street in Brookline. They are open Sunday-Thursday, 6am-8pm, Friday 6am-7pm, and are closed Saturday. They are also Kosher/Pareve.

Originally published on Bostonist.

Kupel's Bagels on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 26, 2009

Apple and Butternut Squash Gratin

Like I said, I’ve been trying to use apples in any way possible. I love the combination of apples and cheese (enough so that my regular apple pie recipe uses gruyere in the crust) and figured that a savory dish featuring both ingredients couldn’t be a bad thing. After a quick search, I came up with a Martha Stewart recipe for a butternut squash and apple gratin. There were many things about it that I didn’t like, though, so I changed it around substantially and turned it into a much prettier dish. (The original called for laying down the squash, then the leeks, then the apples, and topping with parmesan. I think it looks much better when the squash, leeks, and apple are all layered together like above, but if you’re pressed for time, you can try it the easier way.)

As I was making the gratin, I kept thinking that there was no way that four of us were going to be able to eat the whole thing in one sitting (as part of a meal that also included a pork tenderloin). But from the first bite, it was clear that this dish was fantastic – we polished the whole thing off first. The apples and the squash cook down until they’re just barely holding onto their shape, and the cheese helps hold the whole thing together (while also adding some much needed saltiness to the sweet fruits). This is definitely a warm and comforting dish that would pair well with just about any fall meal. I wish we had had some leftover, if only so I could see how this did when reheated. You can cut and arrange everything ahead of time, although you might want to brush the apples with a little bit of lemon juice to make sure they don't brown and get dried out.

Apple and Butternut Squash Gratin
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp water
2 medium leeks, white part only, chopped and well washed
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
3-4 apples, peeled, cored, halved, and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
8 ounces (or more) cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add leeks and water, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add sherry and sage, and cook until liquid is reduced to a glaze, about 3 minutes. Set aside.

In a large, shallow baking dish, arrange squash and apple slices in alternating rows, as in the picture above. Add leek glaze between the layers. Cover tightly with aluminum foil, and bake for 45 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven, and raise the oven temperature to 450°. Uncover the pan and sprinkled the top with cheese. Bake uncovered for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and begun to brown. Cool slightly before serving.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Eat Drink and Be Fair Cook-Off

Last night was part two of Green Mountain Coffee's celebration of Fair Trade Month with their Eat Drink and Be Fair event. Instead of a sit down dinner like last week, this was billed as a "Top Chef Masters"-style cook off between some amazing chefs. Besides one dish from each competitor, there were also a range of appetizers focused on Fair Trade and local ingredients. And since Green Mountain was the host, there were a lot of other great companies from Vermont showing off their wares - Cabot Creamery, Long Trail Brewery, Ben & Jerry's - it was like going back to Vermont for an evening. My favorite appetizer was simple, and it's something that I think I'll be making at home - local apples and brie in puff pastry bites.

Since I've been telling people about these events, I've had questions about what Fair Trade is. Prior to these dinners, I had the vaguest sense of a definition, but I have a much firmer grasp on the term now. Basically, Fair Trade provides a fair price to farmers for their harvest. Prices can fluctuate wildly, so this makes sure they get a minimum price for their goods. It also creates networks for farmers, meaning they can work together to strengthen their communities (through schools, roads, etc). Fair Trade also allows companies like Green Mountain to get products out of difficult-to-reach regions and cutting out the middleman. Fair Trade can apply to a huge variety of products, including coffee, chocolate, vanilla, fruits like bananas, and even products like cotton. You can learn more about Fair Trade here.

As part of the event, Green Mountain flew some of the coffee producers from Guatamala up to New England to tour the facilities in Vermont and to join us at this dinner. Domingo, the president of their farmers association, spoke for a bit through a translator. One of the farmers had a video camera glued to his hand all night, taking in every bit of the event, and he had the biggest smile on his face the whole time.

OK, onto the food. I've been thinking about this sea urchin cappuccino from Chef Richard Garcia of Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro since I had it last week. This week's iteration was a little different, but probably because they were making a much bigger batch. The coffee, used in place of broth, was a stronger component. I like the idea of using coffee in this way, and it works especially well with the creamy and slightly sweet parsnips. During the Top Chef portion of the evening, Chef Garcia showed off by opening a bunch of sea urchins at such a fast pace that I couldn't even get a photo of him in action. This dish was also the most unique, I think, because it varied from the others, which were all protein over puree, and used the Fair Trade ingredients (coffee and vanilla) in the most unusual way.

Next up was a bacon and coffee crusted pork tenderloin with sweet potato puree, presented by Chef Jay Silva of Bambara. My friend thought the coffee in the crust (the black ring in the photo above) was too strong, but I really liked it. The pork was perfectly tender, thanks to the bacon, and the sweet potato was a fitting pairing, making the whole dish taste like fall.

Then we headed for the tea-smoked beef sirloin with banana squash puree and a coffee and sunchoke gravy, presented by Chef Will Gilson of Garden at the Cellar. This was probably my least favorite of the dishes, but only because the piece of meat I got was pretty grisly and hard to chew. The flavors were all really good, though, and I loved the use of cacao nibs as garnish. I still haven't been to Garden at the Cellar, and now I'm looking forward to it even more (if only because I want to see what Chef Gilson can do with a dish that I can actually chew). ;)

The last dish was coffee-marinated duck breast with parsnip puree, pickled pumpkin, gala apple, and an espresso-vanilla chimichurri, presented by Chef Peter McCarthy of EVOO and Za. This was pronounced the winner by the judges, and for good reason. The duck was cooked very well (appparently I like duck now, because this is the second time I've had it in a week and I loved both dishes), but the best part was the pickled pumpkin. I don't know how it's done, but it's something I want to make at home now!

After dinner, I grabbed a cup of coffee (Rainforest nut, which I haven't had for ages, and I loved it all over again) and enjoyed the balmy weather by sitting in the courtyard (can you believe it was snowing just a few days ago?!).

Oh, and did I mention Ben & Jerry's was there? They have a variety of Fair Trade flavors, but my favorite was the Chocolate Macadamia (Fair Trade vanilla and chocolate ice cream with fudge-covered sustainable-sourced macadamia nuts). Soooo good!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mummy Pigs!

Ah, Halloween, the one time of year when you can serve gross-looking food and people won’t run away in horror (and if they do, that means you’ve done a good job, not ruined a recipe!). I also love how you can turn everyday foods into something fun and lighthearted, even if it’s just for one day.

This year, my sister-in-law is throwing a Halloween party for my nephew and nieces and their friends, and she asked if I had any savory, kid-friendly Halloween treats up my sleeve. Sweets are always easy to find, but recipes for themed savory foods can be much more difficult. I gave her a bunch of suggestions, but I thought I’d post my favorite – Mummy Pigs (ie Pigs in Blankets). (I’ve also been getting tons of hits on my photo of these on Flickr, so it seemed like a good thing to write about now.)

These are perfect because they combine a food that almost every kid will eat (hot dogs) with something that almost every kid gets interested in, even if only briefly (mummies). You can also make them ahead and just pop them in the oven at the last minute, making them perfect for any Halloween parties you might have planned. True, you can make them with full-sized hot dogs, but I like how the mini hot dogs come out looking more to scale – the regular ones look too skinny to me.

What’s your favorite savory Halloween dish?

Mummy Pigs
1 package (tube) refrigerated croissant dough
1 package tiny hot dogs (cocktail wieners, if you will)

Preheat oven to 350° and line a baking sheet with tin foil. Spray foil with cooking spray.

Unroll croissant dough and cut in half. Cut thin (about ¼-inch wide) pieces, enough for one for each hot dog. Wrap each hot dog with a strip of dough – don’t wrap the dough too solidly (leave a few gaps here and there) or it won’t look too much like mummy wrappings once they’ve baked. Also leave a little room near the “head” for the eyes (but don’t leave enough room for a full face or it’ll look like they’re wearing hats once they’ve baked). Arrange wrapped hot dogs on the tray so that they are not touching.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the dough is puffed and golden. Cool slightly, then add dots of mustard for eyes.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Using Up That Giant Bag of Apples

Last weekend, my friends and I finally got our acts together and headed out to do a little apple picking. We decided to forgo our usual spot, Parlee Farm in Tyngsboro, for a quieter orchard (read: fewer kids and, sadly, no goats in trees). We decided to check out two different spots in Harvard (the town, not the square) - Old Frog Pond Farm and Carlson Orchards.

Old Frog Pond is the only certified organic Pick-Your-Own orchard in the state. We stopped there first, primarily because they were still picking raspberries (on Columbus Day weekend!). They seemed hesitant to even sell us a box, saying they weren't sure if there was anything left on the bushes, but once we got down to the patch, we found plenty of berries (and ended up buying a few more boxes). Because the berries were so (overly) ripe, we had to use them right away - apple raspberry pie that night and some raspberry limoncello brewing away in my cabinet right now. Old Frog Pond also has a nice sculpture walk through the woods - some of the art is not exactly my cup of tea, but it was nice to wander through on a brisk day.

From there, we headed over to Carlson Orchards, also in Harvard. We grabbed our bags and headed into the orchards... and were instantly surprised at the size of the farm and the variety of apples. Most orchards are only picking three or four varieties at once, but Carlson had seven or so ripe for the picking. We tasted them all as we went, but my favorites were the McIntosh and the Macoun - I don't think I actually picked any of the other kinds. Carlson also makes their own ciders (regular and Honeycrisp), and you can get hot apple crisp with ice cream when you're done picking your apples (I tried a bit that was so good, I almost went back in to the store to buy my own - the sugar had all caramelized so it was gooey and amazingly delicious). I really enjoyed picking at Carlson - I think it might be my new favorite place for apple picking near Boston.

Of course, apple picking left me with a giant bag of apples to use. I mean, I really enjoy apples, but that's a lot of fruit to get through. So besides the apple-a-day since last weekend, I've been cooking with them wherever possible. Apple pie? Check. Apple crisp? Check. Apple butter? Check. Apple and squash gratin? Check. Caramel apples? Check!

When I was in the grocery store to pick up caramels to melt for caramel apples, I found a genius product that made the whole process wicked easy - Kraft Caramel Bits. For some reason, they're not on Kraft's website, but they're basically caramel perfect for melting or adding to cookie batters without the need for unwrapping - just open the bag and dump the contents out!

I also love the combination of sweet and salty, so I added pretzels and bittersweet chocolate to my mix. It helped cut the sweetness of the caramel and added texture. I didn't get too creative with this round of apples, but they were tasty enough that I might not deviate from the combination next time.

Chocolate Pretzel Caramel Apples
5 fresh medium apples
5 popsicle sticks
11 oz caramel pieces
16 oz bitterweet chocolate, chopped
2 handfulls of pretzels, broken into bitesize pieces

Line a pan with parchment paper and set aside. Push popsicle sticks into the apples at the stem and set aside.

In a small pot, melt caramels over medium-low heat, stirring frequently to prohibit burning. When all the caramel is melted, remove from heat. Dip apples into caramel, using a spoon to bring the caramel up over the sides. Set covered apples back on the parchment paper; freeze for 30 minutes to harden.

Add chopped chocolate to a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 20-30 second blasts, stirring between each, until chocolate is melted (if you heat it all in one go, it will burn - take it from me). Mix in broken pretzel pieces, then dip caramel-coated apples into chocolate, using a spoon to bring the chocolate up over the sides. Return apples to the parchment paper and return to freezer to harden. Remove apples within 30 minutes and store at room temperature.

To serve, cut the apple into nine pieces around the core (like a tic-tac-toe board). This ensures that each bite is a perfect combination of fruit, caramel, and chocolate.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fair Trade Dinner at Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro

Hi, have we met? If we had, you'd know I love my coffee. I blame my aunt for taking me on summer walks to get iced coffee when I was a kid and my father for brewing multiple pots every morning. My friend Melody calls me a "champion" coffee drinker because I can slug down a cup like it's going out of style. So when Green Mountain Coffee (which I just visited in Vermont) got in touch with me about a series of Fair Trade events in Boston, I just had to find out more.

October is Fair Trade Month, and Green Mountain is calling attention to it through a new website, Eat, Drink, and Be Fair, and by hosting events in Boston, which will be declared a Fair Trade city in 2010. They have challenged a few local chefs to a Top Chef Masters-type event to cook with Fair Trade ingredients, which I'll write about next week.

I got the chance to attend something of a test run for one of the competitors, Chef Richard Garcia of Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro in Foxboro. Chef Garcia uses local or Fair Trade ingredients as much as possible in the restaurant, so he seems like a perfect choice to create a Fair Trade dinner. In fact, he took the coffee theme all the way and included coffee in each of the courses, and not in typical ways like crusting a steak in coffee. The dishes were interesting and adventurous and absolutely delicious.

To be honest, when I sat down and saw our menu for the evening, I was not excited. There was nothing (not one thing) that I would ever order. But I figured I could at least enjoy the wine and coffee and then find something to eat when I got home. But then something miraculous happened - I loved almost every single thing presented to me. If the regular menu at Tastings is anything like this, I wouldn't hesitate to go back.

We started with a sea urchin cappuccino, served in the sea urchin shell. In reality, it was a creamy parsnip soup, blended with local sea urchin and coffee used instead of stock, and topped with a vanilla froth. The sea urchin lent a bit of umami to the puree, and the sweetness and creaminess of the parsnip combined with the coffee was definitely reminiscent of a cappuccino. I would have licked the bowl clean if it hadn't have been for the sharp spikes.

Next up was coffee cured Hamachi, topped with a grapefruit vanilla citrette, heirloom red peppers, Marcona almonds, and fennel fronds. The fish was sweet and tender, and the almonds on top served as a crunchy foil to the rest of the dish.

The main entree was duck two ways, highlighting a delicious heirloom breed of duck. Lola ducks are deep red in color and taste more like pork or beef (at least to me) than duck. Chef Garcia describes them here on his blog. The coffee-smoked duck breast was like a nice steak - juicy and meaty and satisfying. The real star of the dish, though, was the confit leg with French roast duck jus. It was so tender and perfectly salty - it reminded me a bit of corned beef or pot roast.

Dessert was the weakest part of the meal, but it still had its strong points. The highlight was coffee- and cardamom-infused dates. Cardamom is often added to coffee in the Middle East (in the Boston area, I know Karoun in Newton serves their coffee this way), and the dates were a great vehicle for these flavors. I could have eaten a whole plate of just the dates. They were served with a coffee gel which was perhaps a little too solid - I was hoping for something more like Durgin Park's coffee jello. But did I mention those dates?

During the meal, we were accompanied by Sandy Yusen, director of PR for Green Mountain Coffee. We spent the whole evening discussing fair trade and local foods (and, well, food in general). After dinner, Sandy walked us through a cupping, or tasting, of two different types of Green Mountain Fair Trade coffee. I enjoyed tasting the Kenyan and the Sumatran side-by-side because I got a much better sense of how they compared to each other. Sandy explained that coffee has about twice the flavor compounds of wine, so using wine tasting techniques can help with identifying flavors. The Kenyan was bright and acidic and earthy, and Sandy compared it to a sourdough bread, while the Sumatran was more full-bodied with a warm and round flavor, more like a Russian rye bread. I'm so used to doctoring up my coffee that actually tasting the profile of the coffee was a nice change - I might have to do cuppings more often!

I'll write more about Fair Trade next week after the Eat, Drink, and Be Fair event. To learn more about Fair Trade, visit the Eat, Drink, and Be Fair website and take the pledge.

Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cheap Eats: Cafe Mami

Porter Exchange, located in Porter Square, is filled with Japanese food stalls and restaurants. Take your pick from noodles and rice bowls to pastries. Cafe Mami is just one of the small stalls where you can get great food for cheap.

With nothing on the menu over $9, Cafe Mami offers hearty meals that will warm you up as our days get colder. The Tokyo Hamburg and the Curry are some of the most popular dishes, and they both come with a side salad and miso soup. For real value, though, go to Cafe Mami during lunch (Monday-Friday, 11:45am-2:00pm) and take advantage of the lunch specials for only $5. The Yaki Don (above), slices of beef and onion in a spicy sauce and served over rice, is just one of the five choices (the others are curry, a milder beef, chicken and egg, and veggie and egg). The ingredients are fresh and delicious, and the meals are satisfying and will keep you full for a while. The lunches come with miso soup to warm you up.

Cafe Mami is tiny, with only 12 seats, so you'll probably be sitting with someone you don't know. If there's no room, you can always order take-out. Cafe Mami is located at 1815 Massachusetts Ave in Porter Square, and their hours are 11:45am-8:45pm. Cash only.

Cafe Mami on Urbanspoon

Originally published on Bostonist.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday I'm in Love... with Little Lad's Herbal Popcorn

I first stumbled across this stuff a few years ago in a slow wander through Whole Foods. I was intrigued - unlike almost all the packages around it, it only had a small label. The clear bag let you really see what was inside (a novelty for junk food), and it certainly didn't look like any popcorn I had seen before.

Little Lad's is apparently a restaurant in New York City and Maine (2 locations there) (The Phoenix has an interesting article that talks about the restaurants). And they're famous for their popcorn. Luckily, I don't have to make a trip up to Maine when I get a craving (and yes, I crave this popcorn like it's my job). (My, there were a lot of asides in this little paragraph.)

What makes this popcorn so amazing? It's not like anything else out there - it's tossed in a mixture of nutritional yeast and dried dill. Deliciously savory... and did I mention addictive? It sounds weird, and the name certainly doesn't help. The only problem is that you invariably end up with little flecks of dill under your nails - those can be a bitch to get out. It's messier than most popcorn too, so you may want to eat it was a Dustbuster nearby.

I used to find this at a bunch of different Whole Foods, but lately I've only seen it at my local Woburn shop. If your Whole Foods doesn't have it, ask if they can get a box. If you can't find Little Lad's, you can try making your own at home.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cheap Eats: Mr. Crepe

Smack dab in the middle of Davis Square sits Mr. Crepe, a comfortable space with delicious and cheap food. Part coffee shop, part gourmet take out shop, Mr. Crepe offers sweet and savory crepes in traditional and unique flavor combinations.

Simple crepes start at $3.75 and are as big as a dinner plate (and that's after they've been folded). A cheese crepe for $3.85 is like a grilled cheese sandwich, wrapped up for travel, and a crepe with sugar and butter ($3.75) or Nutella ($4.75) is like a cheaper alternative to that vacation in France.

Sure, the specialty crepes on the menu are pricier ($8.25-$9.25), but they're huge and filled with interested ingredients like roasted carrots, merguez sausage, caramelized onions, and shaved fennel. If none of the supercrepes (the French equivalent of the super burrito?) strike your fancy, you can cobble together your own ideal crepe from the long list of ingredients.

Mr. Crepe is located at 51 Davis Square, right next to the Somerville Theatre. They are open weekdays, 7am-11pm, Saturday 8am-11pm, and Sunday 9am-10pm.

Originally published on Bostonist.

Mr. Crepe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Can-O-Rama Challenge - Raspberry Peach Jam

Late in August, Linsey from Cake and Commerce helped put together Boston's Can-o-rama Cantacular, a day filled with learning about all types of canning and general "putting up" of food. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who left eager to put food in jars.

As part of the event, Linsey has started a monthy (or so) canning challenge on her blog. The first challenge was "summer in a bottle," since we were on the tail end of summer produce. I scoped out the farmer's market and decided on white peaches and raspberries for my jam. When I said I didn't need the paper pints for the raspberries, the woman behind me was concerned that they'd all get crushed on the way home. "I'm just going to mush them up to make jam," I told her, and she gave me a look like I was crazy. Crazy like a fox, perhaps...

I have about 8 half-pint and 4 quarter-pint jars of this to keep me in a summery frame of mind throughout the winter. One jar didn't seal correctly in the waterbath, so I stuck it in the fridge. When the urge for more peanut butter cookies struck, I baked my cookies, putting thumbprints in the middle instead of using a fork to push them down, pulled out my jam, and made delicious peanut butter and jelly bites. Yum!

Summery Raspberry Peach Jam
4 cups fresh raspberries
6 cups fresh peaches, chopped
5 cups sugar
1/4 cup bottled lemon juice
pinch of salt

Combine ingredients in a heavy-bottomed pot and mash fruits up. Let stand 30 minutes or so. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and cook for about 40 minutes. As the jam thickens, check the temperature with a candy thermometer - you're aiming for 220°. I'm usually a little impatient with projects like this, so I go with a slightly softer jam (218° or so).

While jam cooks, fill the largest pot you have with water and place some sort of rack on the bottom (I use a lobster pot that comes with a fitted strainer, so I just use that strainer). You don't want the jars to touch the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil. Place clean glass jars in the water and boil for at least 10 minutes to sterilize. Water should come to an inch or two above the tops of the jars. Prepare lids according to manufacturer's instructions.

Remove jars from water when the jam is done. Fill jars with jam, leaving 1/4 inch headroom on top. Wipe the rims of the jar so they're clean and place on the lids on the jars.

Place the jars back in the boiling water, put the cover on the pot, and process for 10 minutes (start timing when the water returns to a boil if it has become cooler). Carefully remove the jars from the pot and place on a kitchen towel to cool. You will hear the jars seal shut as they cool.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday I'm in Love... with KIND Bars

I've known about KIND Bars for a while now, but I've only recently fallen in love. I bought them years ago, but in an effort to cut out calories from nuts, I stopped buying them. (Now that I understand the nutrition in nuts, though, I try to eat a little bit every day.) I was given a few samples last week at the Natural Products Expo in Boston, and from the first bite, I was in love.

KIND Bars are filled with fruits and nuts, unlike their granola bar counterparts which don't always have a lot of substance. The best part? They actually taste like what they're named. The Mango Macadamia (above) tastes like mango and macadamia nuts (with a little coconut thrown in), the Almond & Apricot tastes like almonds and apricot, and the snozzberries taste like snozzberries! (Wait, no...) The Fruit & Nut Delight is probably my favorite, filled with peanuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, raisins, apricots, dates, and honey. And they're satisfying, thanks to the nuts and some added fiber.

KIND Bars are available at tons of locations, like Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Shaw's, and Market Basket. They are also the gluten-free offering at Starbucks stores (now that Starbucks has done away with their awesome GF Valencia Orange cakes). Or, if you really love them, you can order them online through the KIND Advantage program.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Vermont Wrap Up

Since I'm not a skier, spend my summers at the Cape, and have been in school during the fall for what feels like the last 80 years, I've never had a good time to visit Vermont. But now, with a little time on my hands and a kitchen sans counters or sinks, I had the chance to escape for a few days and take in all the good things that our neighbors to the north have to offer.

We left Boston early and headed up through New Hampshire and on into Vermont. We stopped at the Crossroads Country Cafe in White River Junction for breakfast. The place looks like every small country cafe, but it had some of the most amazing pancakes and homemade bread that I've had. The pancakes were light and fluffy with crispy edges and fantastic buttermilk flavor. And thick slices of buttered fresh cinnamon raisin bread? Oh so good. Crossroads Cafe on Urbanspoon

After breakfast, we finished driving up to Waterbury and Stowe. Our first stop was the Green Mountain Coffee Visitors' Center. They have a small exhibit focused on fair trade and the coffee growing and roasting process, as well as a shop with just about any flavor coffee you could want.

How could you visit Vermont and not have some Ben & Jerry's? Just up Route 100, Ben & Jerry's has a working factory that produces about 250,000 pints a day (and 500,000 pints per day in their other factory) while still being entertaining for visitors. Everything was brightly painted, our guide was funny, and of course, there was a sample at the end. The factory floor itself is very small - I'd say it could fit inside a typical school gym. And showing more humor is the flavor graveyard located by the parking lot, where old flavors are retired gracefully.

Driving further up Route 100, there are a bunch of shops that are fun to visit, if perhaps a little overly touristy. Cabot Cheese, The Kitchen Store, Danforth Pewter, and Lake Champlain Chocolates share one plaza, and Cold Hollow Cider Mill and Grand View Winery Tasting Room share another plaza. Cabot and Lake Champlain are available all over the place, but these stores give you the full line of products. In fact, the Lake Champlain store includes a factory seconds area where you can get this chocolate a little bit cheaper. I bought the sodas above, from Vermont Sweetwater Bottling, because of their unusual flavors. I loved the rhubarb raspberry and was quite surprised by the maple. A great local find!

I enjoyed the Grand View Winery Tasting Room the most out of this bunch. For $1, you get to try six different types of fruity wines - much sweeter than most wines out there, but then, I prefer sweet wines. Flavors range from pear to blackberry, and my favorites were the raspberry apple and the hard cider.

For dinner, we ended up at Pie in the Sky, just a few doors down from our hotel. I'm a sucker for "gourmet" pizzas, so this place really hit the spot for me. We ordered the Blonde Vermonter (above, with olive oil, cheddar cheese, green apples, and ham) because it seemed like the right thing to do on a Vermont vacation, and the Thai Pie (peanut sauce, chicken, cilantro, red onion, and broccoli) because that's my mother's favorite type of pizza. Both were excellent, with crispy crusts and terrific flavor combinations. The menu there is huge too, with unconventional toppings like leeks and black beans. If this were closer, I'd eat there all the time (and apparently they have a lunch buffet for $7.25 with pizza, soup, salad, and soda - an amazing deal well worth taking advantage of). Pie In the Sky on Urbanspoon

The next day, we headed out to Cabot to visit the Cabot Cheese Factory. All the Cabot shops, including the factory, have samples of all their different cheeses out so you can try them all. Their newest flavors, Tuscan, Tika Masala, and Chili Lime, are all fantastic. Part of the tour included a video outlining the history of the company, and they focused on the fact that Cabot is a co-op, meaning all of the roughly 1300 farmers who supply the milk are also the owners of the company. In a time when so many people are focused on trying to eat locally and support small farmers, it's great to see a big company like Cabot that runs exclusively on that concept. I also found it interesting that Cabot created the niche for Vermont cheddar - before they coined the phrase, nobody was looking for cheddar from Vermont, but it's now one of their biggest products.

Another thing I love about Cabot? Tons and tons of recipes on their website, some of which I have already tried and loved.

After that, we headed down to Woodstock and Quechee. We wandered around the center of Woodstock, which is a beautifully picturesque New England town, then did some shopping at Quechee Village (which has a really fantastic antique store that I could have gotten lost in for days, plus another Cabot Cheese store). For dinner, we headed to the beautiful Simon Pearce factory, store, and restaurant, which is what got my mother interested in taking this trip in the first place. We wandered around the store, where I picked out things that I may never be able to afford, and looked out over the gorgeous waterfall before heading into the restaurant. Just about everything was delicious, but the standouts were the arugula salad (with Manchego cheese, Serrano ham, marcona almonds, and quince paste) and the horseradish-crusted cod (above, with crispy leeks, herb mashed potatoes, balsamic shallot reduction). Service was attentive without being obtrusive, and you get to try out all the glassware in the store as you eat. This is a perfect special occasion or fancy night out restaurant. Simon Pearce Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Breakfast the next morning had us back at the Quechee Village shopping center, where the Farmers Diner is located. It is a quintessentially Vermont diner, filled with amazing local ingredients and country fare. Local eggs, meats, cheeses, and flours are all over the menu. Their hash browns have just a little bit of spice and fantastically crispy edges, while the pancakes, mixing white and wheat flours, have a slightly nutty flavor while still being light and fluffy. I only wished we could have stuck around to have lunch there too - the menu looks fantastic! Farmers Diner on Urbanspoon

By this point, we were a little tired of being in the car together, but we had one stop left before we could head home. King Arthur Flour is just up the road from Quechee. The complex includes a store, a bakery, and an education center. I'd love to take a class there sometime, but there was nothing we wanted offered in the few days we had free. Instead, we used our time to wander around the store and bakery. I could have blown a lot of money here, but I exercised restrain and only picked up a few things (including an olive bread mix that I'm dying to try).

This was a great, quick, and fun trip, filled with delicious food, beautiful foliage, and plenty of shopping. If you're interested in taking a similar trip, I've put together a map with all of my stops, and I have some more pictures here on Flickr.