Monday, May 31, 2010

Culinary World Tour: Cape Cod

Marc's first lobster roll in Provincetown on the Cape

Friday, May 28, 2010

Brown Sugar Cafe

Food: tasty Thai cuisine that is fairly authentic. Brown Sugar has great traditional favorites such as pad thai and drunken noodle, but also interesting gourmet originals. My favorites are the curry, which comes in a rainbow of red, green, yellow, Masamam and Penang, and you can take your pick of chicken, beef, tofu, pork, shrimp or duck for each of them, each creating a different take on the dish. You can also build your own stir-fry, selecting vegetables, tofu, sauce, etc., to order your own Thai creation. A longtime favorite, as we've returned to the Comm. Ave Brown Sugar many times over the years, is the pad see ew, flat rice noodles, broccoli, carrot, and egg, which they do so well you can't help but want to order it again every single time. Last night we went vegetarian (though it must be noted the dish is very good with both chicken and beef, I can vouch) and the tofu was cooked so exquisitely it appeared a huge, glistening, golden piece of French toast sitting on the plate. The tofu was crisp outside and yet still soft (but not runny) in the middle, soaking up the flavors which marinate so perfectly as it cooks. Makes you want to lick the plate clean. Finally, one must wash down any meal here with a cool Thai iced tea - arguably Thailand's answer to the Indian mango lassi - and of course pop a tootsie roll in your mouth at the door, a Brown Sugar tradition.
Service: varies but last night the servers were quite helpful and quick. They do an excellent birthday celebration in which they turn down the lights in the dining room and flash colored lights around while singing a rousing Thai rendition of "Happy Birthday" - the entire staff joins in - to which the diners gawk in entertainment since it's virtually impossible to sing along (unless you happened to grow up in Bangkok. or speak Thai.) They make a big enough scene to embarrass even the most poised individual, it's great.
Ambience: ho-hum decor inside but the recent addition of the al fresco dining in front, fenced in with charming flower boxes adds a nice touch for dining outside on warm summer evenings.
Price: Affordable sit-down meal. Standard noodle and fried rice dishes range from around $11-$13, and specials and meat entrees are $14-$16. You get a decent bang for your buck, as the portion sizes are large, easily sharable or allowing for leftovers for your husband/boyfriend (aka trusty "garbage disposal" man) and the curry dishes all come with a bowl of rice, of course.
Reservations: not necessary but there's generally a wait and they won't seat you until your whole party arrives, so there's often a crowd awkwardly filling up the foyer. Go earlier in the evening on weekends or risk waiting for an hour for a table. If you're hungry, it's worth the wait.

3.5/5 stars.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Last Night's Dinner (It was a hot one)

Chile rellenos stuffed with manchego and goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, fresh herbs, and pine nuts, in a wild mushroom white wine reduction served over roasted red pepper coulis, as well as spicy homemade chicken mole served over warm flour tortillas and Spanish rice and beans; all washed down with sangria.

For dessert: melon boats drizzeled with lime and a scoop of vanilla ice cream to top them - the fruit provides fresh, edible bowls!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Grand Gran Gusto

Campo Salad: mesculun greens with yellow porcini mushrooms and lemon dressing

Arugola pizza topped with prosciutto and shaved Parmesan

Torta alla Giundia Recipe

From How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson:

6 large eggs separated
pinch of salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
14 oz. nutella jar (resist the temptation to eat it all ...)
1 tbsp. frangelico (I doubled this)
1/2 cup ground hazelnuts (I had much less actually)
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate melted
9" springform pan lined with greased wax paper (I found a greased cake pan worked fine)

4 oz. hazelnuts
1/2 cup heavy cream (here I used half and half with some cooled hazelnut-flavored espresso mixed in to give the icing an extra touch)
1 tbsp. frangelico (again I just eyeball it)
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I was a bit short so I supplemented a bit of semi-sweet)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk egg whites in large bowl, with pinch of salt, until stiff but not dry. (Be patient here!)
2) In a separate bowl beat the butter and nutella until creamy. Add frangelico, egg yolks, ground nuts and blend.
3) Melt bittersweet chocolate over double boiler and cool. Fold cooled melted chocolate into batter.
4) Add a dollop of egg white, about a third, and fold in, and repeat with remaining thirds. Do not overstir.
5) Pour into pan, bake 40 minutes, cool on rack.
6) Toast hazelnuts and cool totally for cake topping.
7) To make the icing: in heavy-bottomed pan add cream, chocolate, liquer, and heat gently until melted. Remove from the heat and whisk smooth. Cool.
8) Frost the cake with icing and top with toasted hazelnuts. Serve.

Monday, May 24, 2010

How to Become a Domestic Goddess

When I saw the title of Nigella Lawson's cookbook How to Become a Domestic Goddess I thought, "mmm, yes please!" Yet keep your kitchen knives lowered, my fellow feminist cooks, because upon reading the opening narrative I discovered that Nigella is one clever Brit. "This is a book about baking, but not a baking book," she delineates, "I neither want to confine you to the kitchen quarters or even suggest that it might be desirable." (LOVE her!) She continues to speak so eloquently and poignantly about the role of baking in our society that I had to agree: "In a way, baking stands for us both as a metaphor for the familial warmth of the kitchen we fondly imagine used to exist, and as a way of reclaiming our lost Eden. This is hardly a culinary matter, of course: but cooking, we know, has a way of cutting through things, and to things, which have nothing to do with the kitchen. This is why it matters."

It's so true - baking, through its childhood and familial associations, is a classic stress-reliever. On 9/11 when the Twin Towers fell, when my mother stepped inside our home after racing out of the panic-stricken city, she sat down on our floor hugging her daughters and then pulled herself together and said, "okay, let's bake cookies." When my best friend Viki finally finished four long, stressful years of college, I asked her how she wanted to relax and celebrate and she responded, "let's bake a cake." When I come home after a busy day at work and need to decompress, what do I do? Bake muffins. So I have to toast to you on this one Nigella. "Sometimes we don't want to feel like a post-modern, post-feminist, overstretched woman, but, rather, a domestic goddess, trailing nutmeggy fumes of baking pie in our languorous wake."

Now as a British domestic goddess Nigella comes from the world of "puddings" - fruit cakes and mincemeat pies for the holidays, which is a whole world of baking in itself, and the recipe selection in the cookbook reflects this. I found some recipes fit for a proper tea party such as shortbread biscuits, and more decadent chocolate desserts to fuel my longstanding love affair. (Sorry honey, but my love for chocolate is the most serious and committed relationship I've ever had.) The recipes in How to Become a Domestic Goddess never fail to impress: when I saw the Torta alla Giundia, a hazelnut torte, essentially a flourless nutella cake, I knew immediately who to make it for. Someone I know has a nutella addiction, shall we say. And the torta was delectable, so rich even the tiniest bit on your tongue could send you to dessert ecstasy, topped with smooth ganache that may actually be the weakness of my weakness. Cheers Nigella, you truly are a domestic goddess.

Gran Gusto

Gran Gusto restaurant is in many ways the antithesis to dining in the North End. It's off the beaten track, up in Cambridge past Porter Square away from the hustle and bustle of tourist-filled downtown Boston in the summer. The food is authentic, rather than the replicated pasta dishes on Hanover Street where every other place seems to have similar versions of the same menu. Simply put, the North End is for the Italian Americans (certainly no shortage of visitors from New York and New Jersey to the Beanpot city) whereas the patrons at Gran Gusto are Italians - as in from Italy. All the food at Gran Gusto is made in-house, including the freshly baked bread, and they import over 80% of their cooking ingredients from Italy weekly to keep the food fresh and real. From olive oil, flour, truffles, speciality cheeses, bufala mozzarella, to the wine, it's this attention to the basic ingredients that the food is made from that really sets apart the final meal.

Take good quality Tuscan olive oil, for example. Top-notch olive oil is unlike anything I've tasted in the States, frankly; it's thick and rich, you can actually taste the olives, and when you look at it in the bottle it's a brilliant bright green. It's a world away from the olive oil on sale at the supermarket; for me it's as if I had never tasted olive oil for the first twenty years of my life, without realizing it. So when one cooks with real Tuscan olive oil, well the whole dish is infused with flavor from the beginning. Once you've tried it you'll never go back.

Next let's consider the cheese. The stracciatella appetizer special, for example, uses fresh mozzarella, a particularly soft variety with a creamy texture, flown in from Campania. It puts American cheese, all yellowed and coagulated in the plastic film slip, to shame. Or take the bufala mozzarella used to top the Gran Gusto Neapolitan pizzas, which is made from the milk of the water buffalo, not Cow Bessie in Idaho. This cheese is so light and fluffy, truly.

The Neapolitan pizza, which means the dough is rolled thin by American standards and cooked in a wood-fired oven, is Gran Gusto's signature dish. The dough is delectable, thanks to the imported flour and olive oil spread over the top of disk before firing it in the oven, so the result is the softest crust imaginable - it puts Domino's to shame. There is a variety of great toppings to decide between, from the traditional margherita and caprese, to the Diavolo with spicy sausage, the arugola and proscuitto, or my personal favorite, the Sorrentina with basil, tomatoes, and eggplant. The cherry tomatoes absorb the herbal aromas, literally infused with basil flavor in the oven, and explode in your mouth with each bite, paired with pieces of smoky, rich eggplant. Arguably it's the best pizza in the Boston area.

Finishing with a salad course in true European fashion, I recommend the Campo, with yellow porcini mushrooms over mesculun greens in a lemon dressing. (Dairy- and gluten-free, friends!) The mushroom had a buttery softness reminiscent of calamari, providing an interesting texture with the greens. Though there was far too much lemon dressing, the lettuce literally doused in citrus, it seemed, it was ultimately a quite refreshing dish. Pair this salad with any of the pastas, pizzas, or the heavenly eggplant parmesan, and finish it all off with a nice espresso, enjoying the charming decor and cozy ambience, and you will have the true Gran Gusto dining experience. Yes the service is slow and you can find yourself waiting a long time between courses, so if you're looking for a quick meal then this is not the place for you. But if you want to sit back and relax, to close your eyes and picture Napoli, great food in your belly, then look no further than here.

4.5/5 stars.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Kate's Essay "Food=Life"

In celebration of my sister Kate's birthday today I thought I'd post her essay "Food=Life" (which, I must note proudly, she submitted as a college application personal statement and subsequently was accepted to her first choice school! Go Katie.)


Food is an integral part of my world.  When I reflect upon my life, gourmet dinners, fine dining, and elaborate family celebrations rich with food-centered traditions comprise many of my fondest experiences.  As the daughter of two self-proclaimed “foodies,” I have developed more culinary knowledge than a typical prep cook.  Over the years, small Bundt pans, individual ramekins, and a crème brulee torch found their place on my birthday and Christmas wish lists.  Without the influence of my parents, I doubt I would have developed such a passion for food and cooking.

Cooking is my way to demonstrate my creativity. When I was eleven, I made a wedding cake - three tiers with raspberry filling, white chocolate frosting, and pink roses cascading down the sides.  I had no reason to make the cake other than to prove to myself that I could. Through food, I revel in the challenge of mastering new skills.

Although my kitchen cupboard is home to thousands of recipes and dozens of cookbooks, I learned to cook through intuition and experimentation.  The creative process of combining individual components into something greater comes naturally to me.  I am happiest when I succeed in creating a dish that is both delicious and beautiful.

Food is my art. The random and unexpected touches that I incorporate into my edible presentations make people smile. Tiny icing icicles cling to the eaves of the shingled roof and vines creep up the corners of stone masonry walls on my annual Christmas gingerbread house.  It may take eight hours to build and decorate, but the final product never fails to amaze and inspire my friends and family. I express my love for the world around me through my culinary creations."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Skinny Bitch Cookin'

I tried out this recipe from Skinny Bitch in the Kitch and thought it's really fantastic:

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

1 cup safflower oil
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups evaporated cane sugar (or other dry sweetener)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups finely shredded carrots (about two carrots)
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts (can omit)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil two nine-inch cake plans and line with greased/flour-dusted parchment (I used a muffin pan to make mini muffins, which were adorable.)
2) In large bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt.
3) Combine oil, carrots, applesauce, vanilla, stirring until smooth. Stir in flour mixture in 3 or 4 additions, mixing until barely combined. Add walnuts, fold in.
4) Transfer batter to pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, cool on racks for 10 minutes.
5) Spread top with vegan cream cheese frosting.

Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting

12 ounces vegan cream cheese frosting
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 cups powdered sugar

1) In a In bowl combine cream cheese, vanilla, salt, mixing on medium speed until smooth. Add sugar 1/2 cup at a time. Increase speed to high and beat fluffy, 1-2 minutes.

Boston Restaurants on My List To Try

Bar Lola or Pazzo: (Newbury Street) - with summer coming it's time to dine al fresco!
Estragon: (South End) Spanish tapas - I've heard rave reviews
Haru: (Back Bay) sushi - FYI they deliver
Masa: (South End) Southwestern - apparently they have salsa Thursday nights
Oleana: (Cambridge) Middle Eastern - Chef Ana Sortun's acclaimed restaurant, and since I love the cafe I must have the full experience
Rendezvous: (Central Square) Mediterranean fusion - relatively new on the Boston restaurant scene
Ten Tables: (Jamaica Plain) - as the next up-and-coming trendy restaurant in Boston, I predict that JP will see a culinary boom in the coming years
Toscano: (Beacon Hill) Italian - known for it's romantic atmosphere
Zocalo: (Brighton) Mexican - and they do brunch

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chinese Stir-Fry Recipe

My friend Ashley brought back fresh bok choy from the farm in Maine so naturally I decided to make Chinese stir-fry:

Here's the recipe:

Mushroom Stir-Fry

2 Tbsp soy sauce (use wheat-free soy sauce if you are avoiding gluten)
2 Tbsp honey
1/4 cup of chicken or vegetable broth (I used vegetable for my vegetarian diners and it was quite rich and flavorful)

3 Tbsp soy sauce
3/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 teaspoon Asian chili sauce
1 Tbsp corn starch

4 teaspoons minced garlic
4 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
4 Tbsp vegetable oil, preferably a high smoke-point oil such as grapeseed oil, peanut oil, or canola oil
About 2 lbs of cremini or button mushrooms, quartered
2 cups of a long-cooking veggie such as sliced carrots. Other long-cooking vegetables that can be used are broccoli florets, cauliflower florets, asparagus (diagonally cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces), or green beans (trimmed, diagonally cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces)
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup of a more quickly cooking vegetable such as red bell pepper (stems, seeds removed, cut into 1/2-inch dice) or snow peas (strings and ends removed)
1 1b leafy greens - bok choy or napa cabbage (separate the stems of the bok choy and the tougher core of the napa cabbage from the greens)
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)

1) Whisk the glaze ingredients together in a bowl and the sauce ingredients together in a different bowl. In a third bowl, mix the garlic, ginger and 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil.

2) Heat 3 tbsp of vegetable oil in a large, stick-free skillet on medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook, without stirring, until browned on one side, about 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and use tongs to turn the mushrooms to brown the other side. When mushrooms are browned and tender, about 5 minutes, increase the heat to medium-high and add the glaze. Cook, stirring to coat the mushrooms, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer mushrooms to a large bowl. Wipe out skillet with a paper towel.

3) Heat a teaspoon of vegetable oil in the skillet on medium-high heat until the pan begins to smoke. Add carrots (or other longer cooking veggie) and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup broth and cover skillet. Cook until carrots are tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover and cook until liquid evaporates. Transfer carrots to bowl with mushrooms.

4) Heat a teaspoon of vegetable oil in the skillet on medium high heat until it begins to smoke. Add the bell pepper and bok choy stems or napa cabbage cores and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to brown and soften, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add leafy greens and cook for a minute further. Push the veggies to the side of the pan and add the garlic-ginger mixture in the clearing. Cook 15 seconds, until fragrant, and then mix in with the other vegetables.

5) Add all the vegetables back into the pan (mushrooms, carrots, etc.) Add the sauce to the pan. Mix well and cook, stirring, until the sauce has thickened and all the vegetables are coated with the sauce, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds if desired. Serve immediately - (I served it over brown basmati rice.)

Serves 3 to 4. (Of course I doubled this since I'm typically cooking for 8+)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Skinny Bitch in the Kitch

I first received Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, the cookbook follow up to the New York Times bestseller Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, as a gift. Someone thought she was terribly clever in giving it to me, I can't fathom why. The smash hit offers advice on healthy eating and lifestyle, presenting the facts in an in-your-face manner: "you're ready to hear the truth: you cannot keep shoveling the same crap in your mouth every day and expect to lose weight." Written as a guide to help women to make intelligent and educated decisions about food, the book received critical acclaim for its smart-mouthed approach and even raised a few eyebrows.

I have to admit, when my friend Amanda first read the book years ago, proudly touting her new decree to live a nutritious lifestyle, I was skeptical. I thought, "who has the time to substitute baking ingredients for prunes - I don't want to eat baby food - or Toffuti in half the things I eat? Who can afford it?" Now that I'm embarking upon the world of vegan baking for my dairy-free diet, I've learned that it's actually easier than one would think to make the switch. You just have to acquire the taste for the unfamiliar foods, and start substituting the healthier alternatives into your menu plans gradually. First try soy milk, then experiment with vegan cookies, and over time you will learn to like it. Cooking with primarily vegetables and whole grains (and of course fresh and dried fruit as my all-time favorite snack foods) ultimately makes you feel better in the longrun. And the most important thing here, I want to stress, is not how you look but how you feel. Feeling fresh and energized every day beats the crummy, bloated-I-just-ate-cheese-fries-and-funnel-cake feeling. That's the ultimate point of Skinny Bitch, for me.

Yet Skinny Bitch received considerable backlash from women's rights groups who read into the controversial title and weight loss theme throughout the book, arguing that it's anti-feminist to indulge in one's appearance this way. A male-governed society has constructed the expectations for women to be slender and thus they starve themselves to meet their unrealistic ideals, and this book only fuels the fire, outraged feminists argued. But what about those of us that want to be healthy not to please men, but for our own personal benefit and well-being? Am I any less a feminist because I choose to eat salads rather than adopt a screw-the-world-I'll-eat-a-cheesesteak mentality? I say live for yourself, (which for me includes vegetables,) and once and a while indulge for yourself, and ultimately you'll be as healthy as you want to be.

So I've started trying recipes from the cookbook Skinny Bitch in the Kitch: Kickass Recipes for Hungry Girls Who Want to Stop Cooking Crap (and Start Looking Hot!) because I was looking for tasty vegan baking recipes - dessert should still taste good without butter in it, I say - not because I have weight loss ambitions. So far I've found the recipes to be really good. I tried the carrot cake recipe with my own twist, mini carrot cake muffins, iced with Tofutti cream cheese frosting, and the resounding agreement from my taste-testers was they were really yummy. The secret is apple sauce as a natural sweetener and binding agent - so good. A dessert that is primarily fruit and vegetables (apple sauce and grated carrots) as the main ingredients, which is actually satisfying? How can you not?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Crossword Cooking

Fried goat cheese croquette over spinach salad

Grilled pineapple with pancetta and corn and tomato salsa

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Michael's Cafe

Here's a review I found that I wrote last summer about Michael's Cafe in South Philadelphia, where my friend Bennett who's a chef worked.

"Michael's Cafe, the recent edition to the growing restaurant scene on Passyunk Ave in South Philly, is fast becoming a neighborhood favorite. With the charm of a French bistro, Michael's quaint wood-paneled interior and al fresco seating in front of the adorably decorated façade adorned with floral window boxes evokes a Provençal-inspired theme. Not to mention it's BYOB, and prime for people watching - what more could one expect from a Parisian cafe? Yet the wait staff is friendly and helpful, hardly stereotypical French. Michael's is garnering a loyal following of regulars, who return every week for the cafe's signature breakfast, served until 3 p.m. (This is where the people watching comes in, as the colorful locals include a diverse array of the LGBT crowd, and that includes the "T.") I overheard a woman say, "I'll have my usual French toast," - it's its own Michael's family here. To make the most of the experience, sit back with an espresso at a table out front and watch Philadelphia go by. No rush.

Though Michael's is known for the omelettes, it's the daily specials where the food truly shines, as it is here that Chef Bennett gets to experiment and show his creativity. "I call it crossword cooking," he explains. "I look at the ingredients that I have and then fill in the missing blanks to create a new dish. That's how I've come up with some of my best ideas." His experimental ventures have proven to be successful, leading to such dishes as the orange ricotta pancakes that were such a crowd favorite that they are now on the regular menu.

My favorites of his specials are the spinach salad topped with a warm fried goat cheese croquette and the grilled pineapple dishes. The spinach salad was really incredible, as the soft, warm goat cheese broke through the light golden brown herb crust to emulsify with the fresh baby spinach leaves with dried cranberries and walnuts drizzled in a tasty strawberry vinaigrette, resulting in a fusion of fruity and savory flavors. Despite being a salad it was incredibly rich and filling, and even with the half-sized dish I requested the portion was still huge. Great value for an $8 entree.

The grilled pineapple special was another blend of the sweet and savory, with a thick slab of grilled pineapple topped with chunks of salty pancetta, corn and tomato salsa. (Too much cilantro for my taste, but that's a matter of preference.) The only complaint I had was the puddle of juice that formed on the plate with each bite, soaking the meat as I ate. Yet the culinary experiment of the day was still delectably mouth-watering, and the leftovers kept considerably well, allowing the salty and fruit flavors to marinate over night and satisfy the next day. "Crossword cooking" method succeeds.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Swedish Smörgåsbord

A Scandanavian meal served buffet-style with multiple dishes of various foods at the table, a smörgåsbord is part of my childhood. (My mother had a habit of proclaiming dinner a "Smörgåsbord!" every time she served a ton of leftovers to clean out all the random tupperware in the fridge.) Swedish meatballs were a Christmastime tradition for us, honoring her Swedish heritage, and for me the rich smell of that buttermilk-soaked meat evokes warm memories. My first trip to Sweden confirmed that this association with meat/dairy and Sweden was well founded, especially the dairy. I'll never forget my amazement at my first Swedish breakfast: bread and cheese so creamy it melted on your tongue, a milky Nordic version of yogurt called filmjölk, preferably strawberry flavored, the strongest coffee imaginable to me (at the time) with heavy cream, and then of course they always asked if you wanted milk with your meal. Don't get me started on the Swedish chocolate. Oh, bliss.

Of course traditional Swedish food includes an overuse of pork (and cabbages, I'm sorry) and the stereotypical reindeer meat and ligonberry jam, which is surprisingly tart and pungent, and my all-time favorite Swedish fish. Yuletide in Sweden is celebrated with gingerbread and glogg, spiced mulled wine, that warms the belly right down to the toes.

Don't get me wrong, seafood is prevalent as well. The surge in recent years in the popularity of sushi in Sweden, and all over Scandanavia now, reflects the benefits of globalization, bringing a formerly unknown Japanese cuisine to a fish-laden region. I saw double if not triple the number of sushi restaurants in Stockholm over the decade between the first and most recent times I visited. Fish is a part of the traditional Swedish cuisine as well; for example, the smörgåsbord spread was much lighter at Midsommar festival to celebrate the longest day of the year - sunlight at 11:30 at night, it's wild - and heavy on the wine, not the stomach. The fare was mostly fresh fish and grilled vegetables, taking advantage of the excellent salmon and cod of the North Sea waters. No Midsommar meal is complete without herring and fresh strawberries with cream.

Yet hands down the best meal I ever had in Sweden was the hearty dinner shown above, a Swedish version of beef bourguignon that my friend Madde made at home in Stockholm one even. It's an example of Swedish husmanskost, which denotes the classical every-day Swedish dishes using local ingredients. A köttbullar inspired by biff stroganoff, this meal exemplifies my roommate Marc's edict that "the worst-looking foods are the best tasting." Contemplate chocolate mousse for a moment. Yes, the köttbullar may look like caca (or "skit" as they say in Sweden,) but it's absolutely delicious.

Allston's Finest

Rich with a diverse selection of authentic ethnic cuisines, Allston is chock-filled with "hole in the wall" eateries that outshine many of their pricier Boston and Cambridge counterparts. Yet due to the economic downturn Allston has seen a decline in commercialism, with numerous restaurant closings in recent years. There was the devastating fire of the Grecian Yearning Diner in 2009 that purportedly cost $2.5 million in damage and ended the era of the greasy spoon diner and longtime neighborhood favorite. Then came the closing of Reef Cafe, one of the best take-out Middle Eastern restaurants ever to hail the New England region, and a slew of other establishments followed. Throw up your arms and blame the economy, but that won't bring the falafel back.

Though lacking it's heyday glory (circa 2006, that is) Allston still has some great places to eat. Here is my selection of Allston's bests:

Best breakfast: Bagel Rising (now that Grecian Diner's pancakes are gone.)
Best pizza: Inbound Pizza beats Bravo and T Anthony's, hands down.
Best wings: Wing It is better than Pizza Wings, with their super spicy varieties.
Best burrito: so long to Burritos On Fire - walk over Ana's Tacqueria.
Best Latin food: Camino Real - Colombian food with the tastiest (and only) fried yucca in town. Must try: empanadas.
Best Indian food: Punjab Palace or Indian Dhaba, it's a tough call.
Best vegetarian-friendly meal: Grasshopper, awesome vegan Asian food. The tofu tastes just like chicken, it's amazing. Go for the Sunday buffet - $10 all you can eat!
Best quick fix: a sweet red bean sticky bun from the Asian bakery on Brighton. It may sound odd, but they're seriously addictive.
Best dive bar: Silhouette bar, where the cheep beers come with complimentary popcorn. It's grungy and dark and always a good time.
Best dessert: Angora Cafe's frozen yogurt - you pick the mix-ins and then watch them churn your creamy treat! Sit al fresco on warm summer nights.
Best cafe: Herrell's Cafe. From the colorful atmosphere to the menu that ranges from breakfast burritos to vegan cupcakes to freshly-made ice cream, it's my favorite place in Allston. Hands down.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Culinary World Tour - Spain

Paella by la playa in Valencia, Spain

Paella at another beach ... Cape Cod

Friday, May 7, 2010

Recipes to Try

My mom requested that I help her brainstorm the dinner menu for her birthday tonight (Happy Birthday, Mom!) so I thought I'd share the options I came up with:

1) Duck with Confit Butter (could serve over greens of your choice)

4 5-ounce skinless duck breasts, boned and defatted
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Confit Butter:
1/4 cup minced shallots
1/4 cup merlot or other dry red wine (I recommend infusing the wine with dried pitted cherries – Monterey are my favorite – since they pair well with duck)
5 dried figs, minced
1/4 cup low sodium chicken stock
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter


1. Lightly mist a medium sauté pan with canola oil spray. Sauté shallots over medium heat until caramelized. Add merlot and figs to pan and reduce until dry. Turn heat to low, add stock, vinegar, salt and pepper and cook 8-10 minutes or until figs are very soft and mixture is thickened. Slowly whisk butter into mixture.

2. Preheat grill or broiler.

3. Grill or broil duck breasts 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until desired doneness.

4. Serve each duck breast topped with approx. 2 tablespoons Confit Butter.

2) Arugula Pear Salad (other go-to arugula salads for me are with apricots or figs and cheese; can also use almonds instead)

2 Bartlett pears, cored and cut in half
4 cups fresh arugula, washed
4 teaspoons toasted chopped pecans
1/2 cup Rosemary Vinaigrette salad dressing (see below)
1 ounce bleu cheese, crumbled (I would do gorgonzola personally)


1. Slice pears and place in steamer basket over boiling water for about 3 minutes, or until soft.
2. In a large bowl, combine arugula, pecans and dressing.
3. Divide into 4 equal portions and top each with 1/4th of the crumbled blue cheese and sliced pears.

Rosemary Vinaigrette:

2/3 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup champagne vinegar
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon minced shallots (I know you’re not a fan of uncooked onion/garlic so why not sauté this first?)
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons white miso paste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary


1. In a blender container, combine all ingredients except for oregano and rosemary and blend until smooth. Add herbs and mix by hand.

2. Pour into storage container and refrigerate for up to two weeks.

3) Spinach Salad with Strawberry Champagne Vinaigrette (I did a variation of this on my birthday with goat cheese and Balsamic)

1 cup sliced apples
4 cups spinach leaves
4 teaspoons chopped toasted walnuts (I can see it now: Mom yelling, “my nuts are burning!” …)
4 tablespoons crumbled chèvre cheese
4 tablespoons dried cranberries

Strawberry Champagne Vinaigrette:
1/2 cup strawberries
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon evaporated cane juice
Pinch sea salt


1. In a blender container, combine all ingredients for strawberry champagne vinaigrette and puree.
2. In a medium bowl combine spinach and strawberry vinaigrette and toss together.
3. Serve spinach topped with apples, walnuts, crumbed chèvre cheese and dried cranberries.

4) Mixed Greens with Pineapple Vinaigrette

Pineapple Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup frozen pineapple juice concentrate
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped mint

4 cups mixed greens
4 teaspoons chopped toasted walnuts
4 tablespoons crumbled chèvre cheese


1. In a blender container, combine all ingredients for pineapple vinaigrette and mix well.
2. Serve 1 cup of mix greens with 1 teaspoon toasted walnuts, 1 tablespoon crumbed chèvre cheese and toss with 2 tablespoons pineapple vinaigrette.

5) Frisse Lentil Salad with Sherry Shallot Vinaigrette (this would also be good with quinoa I bet, and you could omit the fresh mango if it looks unripe, or if they look good you could leave out the dried)

1 cup cooked red lentils
1/3 cup chopped, dried mango
1 cup chopped and packed frisse lettuce
3/4 cup chopped and packed shaved fennel
1/2 cup grated Gouda cheese
1/2 cup Sherry Shallot Vinaigrette (see below)
1/2 cup diced fresh mango
2 teaspoons diced red bell peppers


1. Reconstitute dried mango in hot water for 5 minutes until softened then chop.

2. In a large bowl, toss together lentils, dried mango, frisse lettuce, shaved fennel, Gouda and Sherry Shallot Vinaigrette dressing until well combined.

3. Evenly divide salad onto 4 plates. Garnish each salad with fresh mango and red bell peppers.

Sherry Shallot Vinaigrette
1/3 cup Dijon Mustard
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup diced shallots
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup canola oil

Instructions: Combine all ingredients in a blender except for canola oil and blend until well mixed. Slowly drizzle in canola oil.

6) Creamy Carrot Soup - the “wild card” recipe I decided to include for variety – combining your desire for something creamy for your burnt mouth and the tradition of your carrot (cake)-themed birthdays

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup diced yellow onion
1/4 cup diced celery
2 tablespoons white wine
3 1/2 cups diced carrots, about 1 1/2 pounds
4 cups low sodium chicken stock
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/3 cup half and half
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped dill


1. Heat butter in a large saucepan and sauté onions and celery over medium-low heat until translucent, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add wine and cook until evaporated. Add carrots, stock, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Cook until carrots are tender, about 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.
2. Transfer to blender container and puree until smooth. Add half and half and continue to puree. Transfer back to saucepan and reheat. Add lemon juice and dill.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Holiday Drinking

Drinking is a key component of gastronomy, of course, and I came across a great Time Magazine list that I had to share:

Top 10 Drunkest Holidays

10. Superbowl Sunday
9. Purim
8. Derby Day
7. Halloween
6. Thanksgiving Eve
5. Fourth of July
4. Mardis Gras
3. New Year's Eve
2. St. Patrick's Day
1. Cinco de Mayo

Oh, America (sigh ...)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cinco de Mayo

My Mexican Favorites in Boston:

Best burrito: Ana's Taqueria. Any Boston native can tell you it's the best - beats Qdoba hands down. My favorite menu item: quesadilla, which they wrap up like a burrito, with salsa verde.
Best margarita: Sunset Cantina. So many to try.
Best nachos: Sunset Grill and Tap. They're endless.
Best full Mexican meal: Sol Azteca. My favorite menu item: the chiles rellenos, green chiles stuffed with cheese and covered with a sauce of tomatoes, mushrooms, almonds, raisins, and white wine. Their margaritas are really good as well ...

Buen Apetito!

Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer

From May 3-11, participating restaurants, bakeries and cafes in the Greater Boston area are donating the proceeds of selected desserts to benefit breast cancer research and care at the Dana-Farber Cancer Research Institute. The participants include a wide variety, from the Beacon Hill Hotel Bistro (designated desserts: strawberry rhubarb crisp with mascarpone creme, oatmeal shortbread and basil ice cream) to Flour Bakery (vegan low fat chocolate cake) and Cafe to Party Favors in Brookline (jumbo cake with pink roses) - other sweet treats around town include cupcakes, whoopie pies, and of course Pie in the Sky's Cookies for a Cause. What could be better than baking for breasts?

For a complete list of Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer participants visit:

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dairy Free is the Way to Be

For May I'm eliminating lactose from my diet, for me no easy feat. Here are some of my friend Kris' (who's lactose intolerant) tips for dairy-free cooking:

"Dairy-free products:
for a butter substitute I like Earth Balance Buttery Spread, available at most grocery stores now.
milk: I like Silk, and if you are concerned about calories they have a light version that is good also. The Very Vanilla is sooo good, but I wouldn't cook with it. I do cook with the plain though, like if I'm making mashed potatoes or something.
mayo: mayo does not have dairy in it, but it does have eggs which are another thing I cannot eat. Not sure if you are thinking about giving up eggs too, but if so, I like Spectrum eggless mayo. I've only ever seen it at Whole Foods.
Chocolate: good quality dark chocolate does not have milk in it, but things like Hershey's and M&Ms Dark do, so be careful. I don't eat a lot of chocolate because I'm not a huge fan of dark chocolate, but there is vegan milk chocolate, made with (I assume) soy milk.
Ice cream: I have tried all the soy ice-cream products out there. I can say that Tofutti brand is the best (all Tofutti products are great), especially if you want plain chocolate or vanilla. Try their Marry Me bars, you'll never miss ice cream. I also like the Purely Decadent pints of soy ice cream if i'm looking for flavored varieties like cookie dough. So Delicious is fine, although their vanilla has a bit of a soy-ish flavor. Lastly, Purely Decadent makes a coconut milk-based ice cream, dairy free, that is good too. Definitely tastes like coconut milk, but if you like that it's great.
Cream Cheese and Sour Cream: Tofutti, hands down. Available in most grocery stores.
Cheese: I don't have a lot of experience here. I like the Galaxy Rice slices, but they have casein in them, which is milk protein, so you should stay away from them. There definitely are vegan cheese out there, just be careful when you're in the grocery store bc a lot of them that look like they are milk-free have casein in them, so look for "vegan" explicitly. I have heard great things about Chreese brand, but I can't get it here. Keep an eye out for it.
Baking mixes: I love Cherrybrook Kitchen's products. I use their dairy-free egg-free pancake mix alll the time. They also have a great chocolate cake mix, frosting mix, cookie mix, etc, and they are local. You can find all their products at Whole Foods.

Blogs and cookbooks:
I look for mostly vegan things, because it's a shortcut for dairy free, and if you are in the mood for meat you can just add it. is a great site that features all kinds of food, not all dairy free, but it does have a vast dairy-free recipe collection. The common thread between all the recipes is the use of local, in season vegetables and whole grains. is a good site, i'm dying to try the man n' cheese although i'm a little scared. is another good vegan site. I've made lots of stuff from it and been happy with most things.

I have a cookbook called Veganomicon that I really like, and aside from recipes for every occasion and meal it has good general info on vegan cooking. It is by two authors that are really well known in the vegan cooking community, leading the way with recipes. One author also wrote a book called Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World that has gotten a lot of press.
I also have a cookbook called Vegan Baking, but i haven't made anything from it yet.
It seems like everyone is in to vegan baking now, so even the NYT has some vegan baking recipes and articles. I think people think it's healthier...

Whole Foods has great vegan muffins!"

My First Taste of Senegal

Friday night we went to Teranga in the South End, known as Boston's only Senegalese restaurant in the city. Its unassuming facade and small, dimly-lit dining room was nothing out of the ordinary, save for a few African pottery pieces on the tables, but the food was anything but ordinary.

Typical Senegalese appetizers, I learned, are of the fried variety: accara (seasoned and fried black eyed pea batter), fataya (savory pastry stuffed with fish), nems (spring rolls), and croquettes de poisson (pan fried fish cakes.) The fare seems to be predominately lamb and fish, with a number of savory stews - tomato stews fish fish or chicken, or lamb stew with a ground nut sauce - and everything served with jasmine rice. With the rich Muslim heritage in Senegal today it's rare to find pork on the menu, and instead coastal cooking such as fresh grilled fish prevails.

Tasting each the meat and fish (my preference is of course fish over red meat any day, but that's just me) we found the Michoui to be the best dish on the menu, marinated roasted lamb shank served with Moroccan couscous. The meat was cooked to tender, almost buttery soft pieces that fell off the bone, with the deep marrow flavor permeating through the meat and accented by the carmelized onion sauce with a unique flavor unlike any onions I have tasted before, taking on the spices of the marinade. My first taste of Senegalese food was truly delectable.

The national dish the Thiebou Djeun, herb stuffed white fish cooked in tomato stew, was served as is traditional, which is too dry for my taste. The firm swordfish filet had not enough of the aromatic red sauce to dress the otherwise bland-tasting fish, and honestly at first I thought the herbs wrapped around it was skin (though upon discovering the herb's peppery bite that sent a sudden surprise to the tongue, I found it sparked up the tangy sauce.) They served the filet atop stew-soaked broken jasmine rice - really good, begging the question why the sauce could not have soaked into the fish likewise. I would have preferred even more vegetables, as there was only one of each: carrot, cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant, pumpkin, and a starchy root I learned to be cassava, a woody shrub native to West Africa and South America, which I tried for the first time and found to be very good and filling.

I paired the meal with a South African Chenin Blanc, which seemed more culturally appropriate than an Italian Pinot Grigio. Though Senegalese cuisine has a strong influence of foreign cooking styles, due to the integration of French and Portuguese colonists' traditional fare into the African dishes, it retains its own distinct flavor. As for Teranga's authenticity to its mother country I am hardly the expert to determine, but I did enjoy the traditional percussive mbalax music (though it did add to the already cumbersome noise level with the closely-packed tables in the small place.) Set away from the "South End strip" of busy Tremont Street, Teranga appears to be a quiet unknown restaurant but come inside and discover it's packed.

To cleanse the palate Teranga has great thirst-quenching juices, such as the Bissap juice - sorrell and hibiscus juice and Bouye juice, which is the fruit from the baobab tree - each respectively mixed with pineapple juice and and flavored with orange flower water and vanilla sugar. The juices were incredibly fresh and sweet, with the perfect hint of vanilla; as if a hibiscus flower bloomed in my mouth (the red sorrell leaves are dark in color; stained my tongue pink) and the Bouye was a creamy white froth, silky smooth and refreshing. The juices washed down the hearty meal serving as a liquid dessert, and bringing a feeling of the tropical breeze of West Africa to Boston.

3.5/5 stars.

Appreciating Food

With this weekend's pipe rupture that cut off the clean water supply for Boston and its surrounding neighborhoods, reminding how we take for granted simple life necessities such as drinking water. There has been no doubt a surge in bottled water sales, not to mention a sense of panic as people react to the unexpected mishap. Yet an estimated two billion people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water as we do - what to these Boston residents seems a crisis is in fact the daily reality of many other places in the world. So I think it prudent to stop for a moment and appreciate what we do have.

It is unfair to discuss food as an art form without recognizing its essential nature as a means to life. As the fortunate (well-fed) it is our duty to work to fight hunger worldwide, and use this passion for food to help others. A perfect example is Taste of the Nation, a culinary benefit dedicating to ending childhood hunger in America, which brings the culinary genius of professional chefs to donate their time and talent to raise funds to fight hunger.

"I believe passionately, that we, as chefs, have to use our unique position to educate people about the importance of food and good nutrition, the scarcity of food for some families, and the importance of local and sustainable approaches."

-Mindy Segal, Pastry Chef/Owner HotChocolate

For more information visit http://taste.strength/org

Salad Idea

"San Mateo" Salad

Baby greens, granted carrots, cherry tomatoes, golden raisins, roasted almonds, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, crumbled feta, citrus dressing (can add slices of chicken.)