Monday, December 19, 2011

Chocolate Bark


I made four kinds of chocolate bark to give as gifts this holiday season: dark, milk, and white chocolate, respectively, with cashews, apricots and dried cherries, and orange dark chocolate with pecans and dried cranberries. Let the sugar rush begin..

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ethiopian

Meskerem in Adams Morgan, Washington D.C. is the real deal, serving authentic Ethiopian food that transports you to the Horn of Africa. Traditional Ethiopian food is an assortment of stewed meats, vegetables and legumes seasoned with spices. "Wat" or "wot" means stewed, central to Ethiopian and Eritrean cooking. Meals are served with injera, a sourdough flatbread made from fermented teff flour (see in photo below.) Injera has the consistency of a pancake and is often used to dip into sauces, as Ethiopians traditionally eat with their hands.

Clockwise: kik alichta, yellow split peas; shurro wat, seasoned milled chick peas simmered in hot and spicy berbere sauce; yellow curry with potatoes; in center: yedoro watt, a drumstick and thigh cooked to tenderness in a hot and thick berbere sauce, served in Ethiopian style with hard boiled egg; yebeg kay watt, stewed lamb meat seasoned with traditional Ethiopian spices.

Washed down with Ethiopian wine (tej honey wine serves as a sweet contrast to the spicy sauces) this meal is a feast for celebration.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Masa

Masa in the South End serves upscale Southwestern, something that's harder to come by up here in New England that I'm used to growing up below the Mason-Dixon line. (Of this past we do not speak. Kidding. Sort of.) So Masa seemed a great choice for me, and for the most part it was a nice departure from my usual dining spot, aka my kitchen. (Though note the tiled floors of the restaurant look very familiar ...)

I liked Masa's atmosphere from the beginning. Be it my penchant for wrought-iron chandeliers - thanks Mom, for getting me to spend countless hours this past year looking at lighting fixtures for the new house - or the funky decor, Masa just feels "fun." The bar itself is gorgeous, not to mention the cocktail menu, which had a number of inventive drinks I wanted to try, such as "Smoked Berry" and "Caramelized Apple" margaritas. The dining room is noisy and dim, let's be frank - I'm all for mood lighting but you've crossed a line when you have to pull out your cell phone to illuminate the menu to read it properly, and when we sat down to the table at first it seemed you had to yell over the defeaning noise level. (Later in the night it was no problem - whether this is because our ears had adjusted or the margaritas had worked their magic, I don't know.) And though I was crammed against the table next to me, I enjoyed being in the center of the place.

The menu is my type of food - elegant yet exciting; sure you have the quesadillas and shrimp appetizers of a Mexican restaurant, but everything is elevated and beautifully presented. I began with a sangria margarita (two drinks that I see as completely different concepts; therefore in my doubt and disgust, I had to try it, naturally) and we started with skillet roasted sea scallops and barbecue duck with sweet corn cream. It's seriously good. The scallops were cooked well and the sauce made you want to lick the plate. Also refreshing was the roasted acorn squash salad with grilled artichoke and chile lime and sour orange glaze - spicy, sweet, and sour over crunchy greens - it hit all the right notes.

Masa has a nice dinner selection, with dishes such as Negro Modelo braised pork shoulder, red snapper with smoked mussel salsa, and Jack Daniels glazed lamb shank. For my entree I chose the blackened rare ahi tuna steak with yellow mole, and I'll be honest: it was good. But not great. And gasp - dare I say it - I think the time I made rare tuna with yellow mole at home from scratch it was better. Yeah. I said it. Masa's tuna was cold in the center, and the thing about blackened fish is that you want it to be at least room temperature. Still a lovely pink, of course, but not tasting like it just came out of the ice box. With tuna tartare I embrace the chill, but with a dinner entree served on a heated plate, it's got to have a more even temperature.

The service wasn't great. Our server completely forgot a side order of red chile onion rings with ancho aioli, which came to the table completely cold after we'd finished the meal; he never returned to our table after we'd received our entrees to see how we were doing; and he described specials to us that the kitchen had run out of earlier that night - I really wanted that grilled mahi mahi with papaya mole and sweet potato mash with goat cheese and kale, he got my hopes up and then never delivered. Oh well. I guess what Masa taught me is that I might as well make it at home.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Rainbow Beet Salad

Last Night's Dinner:
Roasted rainbow beets over arugula (or "rocket" as the Brits say,) with dried cranberries, pear, pecans, and warm goat cheese; drizzled with orange-apple cider dressing.
For the beets: wash and trim beets, drizzling with olive oil and sprinkling of salt and pepper; roast on a pan at 350-400 degrees (depending on your oven) for 35 minutes. (Note: I had an assortment of small rainbow beets from the farmer's market, which took only half an hour to cook, but if using larger traditional red beets then they will take longer to roast.) Let beets cool and remove remaining skin and slice into segments. I had ruby red "Red Ace" beets, golden "Burpee's Golden" beets, and a less-common variety with green skin and swirly purple flesh (Chioggas or Candy Canes?), each providing a distinct flavor to the dish. The sweet, sugary beets worked well with the peppery arugula, soft and chewy paired with a spicy crunch.
For the goat cheese: I used chevre, spooning a mound of soft cheese into a piece of Saran wrap, forming it into a thick patty, and popping into the freezer for a few minutes to firm up. In a shallow bowl I ground some walnuts and added a dash of Italian breadcrumbs (thus seasoned with salt, pepper, and parsley), removed the chilled cheese from the plastic wrap and rolled it in the nut-crumb mixture to cover it as breading. I then placed the cheese on a pan in the oven at 350 for 5-7 minutes (Note: check the cheese frequently to make sure it has not melted too much; you want it to retain its shape to serve as the centerpiece to the salad!) and use a spatula to transfer onto the plate. When you cut into the warm goat cheese oozes a bit onto the greens, the tangy cheese providing a nice contrast to the sweet beats and crunchy nuts.
For the dressing: Pour into a bowl two parts apple cider vinegar and one part champagne vinegar, stirring in (equal to that) orange juice. Whisk in extra virgin olive oil in a steady stream until the dressing achieves desired consistency, slightly thicker than juice *it should taste tangy-sweet. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Drizzle the dressing over the greens just before serving the salad. Orange and beets go together so well - this dressing is light and really freshens up the dish.
Enjoy!

Monday, November 7, 2011

For the Love of Brie

Baked brie wrapped in puffed pastry with blackberry jam and walnuts, served with arugula and sliced Asian pear (Tip: brush your puffed pastry with an egg wash to achieve the golden brown color!)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Culinary Tour of Sicily

I went to a seminar "A Culinary Tour of Sicily," and reaffirmed my suspicions that Sicilian food is some of the best in the world. Looking at maps and discussing the historical migration patterns across the Mediterranean - the Phoenicians sailing west, bringing Arab customs, the Spaniards sailing east, and of course all the Greeks - one appreciates the cultural (and culinary) fusion on the island that's so centrally located in the sea. As different people brought their traditions to Sicily, applied in new ways over time to the produce natural to the climate and landscape, the foods evolved to that we know as Sicilian today.
The seminar, led by a Sicilian culinary historian, took us through the various Sicilian food staples, from the bread shaped into an endless array of shapes to honor everything from saints to children, to the wines (brought from her own vineyard), and of course olive oil. In a taste test of sample Tuscan and Sicilian olive oils, I found them to be distinctly different in flavor: grassier vs. intense, peppery, respectively; we also learned how to determine the quality of olive oil by looking at the details in the bottle packaging. I also learned that Bertolli oil, marketed as an Italian product, was actually bought out by the Spanish!
I also learned about the process to make ricotta (which I learned, by the way, is not actually cheese - ricotta is in fact made from the remaining milk whey after one has made cheese), which in Sicily is made from solely milk-fed sheep, giving it a pure, unadulterated flavor. As we worked through a tasting menu in the seminar, discussing the various dishes and how they relate to the vegetable-based Mediterranean diet, I thought once again how different real Italian food is from the Italian-American food that people here associate with the country. In Sicily the primary foodstuff was traditionally primarily vegetables supplemented with bread, with pasta saved for special occasions for the majority of the Sicilian families. Combine veggies with heart-healthy olive oil and fresh fish - no wonder those Sicilian fisherman live into their 90s!
Here was my plate of "tastes of Sicily":
Bruschetta samples with anchovy, rich pesto, and fresh tomato and garlic; caponata (eggplant-veg medley; here topped with a slice of boiled egg); rosemary focaccia bread made from olive oil and white wine (so delicious and fluffy!); and a light lemon curd cream topped with a sugary pastry. True to real Italian cooking, all fresh ingredients make an incredible meal.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pumpkin Bread

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Polish "King's Feast"

Krowleskie Jadlo, meaning "King's Feast," is a Polish restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn that transports you to Eastern Europe. With open doors flanked by twin suits of armor, long wooden tables in a cozy midevil-style tavern, and massive plates of food piled high with traditional Polish food, you feel as if you've stepped out of hipster-ville Brooklyn into a restaurant in Krakow. There's even a decorative shield with crossed swords on the bathroom wall - like a slightly more authentic (and menacing) Disneyworld attraction.
Polish food, is of course, based on meat and potatoes, with the expected staples such as borscht soup and stuffed pierogis (Polish dumplings); it's "homey" fare. Yet the "King's Feast" aims to serve more elegant, noble dishes in addition to the traditional peasant classics, to emulate midevil Polish kings' dining. These more refined dishes include roasted duck legs, venison meatballs with wild mushroom truffle sauce, grilled pheasant breast with balsamic fig sauce, and stuffed quails with morels. None of these dishes exceed $14 - an excellent price for meals with more obscure proteins, especially in New York. In addition to the starkly Polish blood sausage and Hunters Stew, they serve more modern gourmet pierogis such as those stuffed with spinach and goat cheese with a chanterelle mushroom sauce to appeal to vegetarian palates. It's a real dining experience.

The meal began with a cutting board of bread served with lard and pickles. The traditional Polish platter, with stuffed cabbage, potato pancakes, pierogis, and kielbasa:

Accompanied, of course, by sauerkrout, more cabbage, and beets.
Sampling a more elegant "King's Feast" dish, the wild boar stuffed with figs and spinach, served with horseradish potatoes and a cognac pepper sauce:
And a creamy hot chocolate for dessert. (Something tells me they didn't use skim milk.)
Despite all their attempts to provide upscale Polish cuisine, the rich dishes have all of the heaviness of boiled potatoes and gravy - it's "stick to your ribs" food that sits in your stomach like a brick. We enjoyed our cultural trip, but all agreed it's a one-time experience.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Autumn Entertaining

From the NEW YORK TIMES:

A GOOD APPETITE

A Dinner Party That’s Warm, Welcoming and Meatless

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Farro and fresh tomato soup with basil.

WHENEVER I wanted to whip up a meatless meal for company, I’d fall back on the time-honored strategy of pouring in the cheese, eggs, butter and cream to make everything seem festive and satisfying.

Multimedia

Instead of adding bacon to a dish, I would blanket it in runny Gruyère. Or put dollops of fresh ricotta on pasta in place of meatballs. Then I met my husband, Daniel, who doesn’t eat dairy products, and my occasional vegetarian meals often became vegan.

Surprisingly, the longer I have done without the cheese and cream, the less I’ve missed them — and the more creative and interesting those meals have become.

That’s especially true in early autumn. This is the traditional harvest season, when a head-spinning number of gorgeous fruits and vegetables ripen all at once. It’s when summer and fall converge; when the first tiny brussels sprouts, orange and blue pumpkins and lusciouspears meet the last of the juicy tomatoes and the season’s final, florid peppers.

Which means, it’s the ideal time to give a dinner party without having to rely on meat or dairy to make the meal feel like a celebration.

Instead, I like to wow my guests by frying feathery maitake mushrooms (also known as hen-of-the-woods) in olive oil until they are crunchy and brittle, and strewing them over a platter of creamy, coriander-spiked hummus.

In lieu of the usual chips or pita, I serve this with homemade sesame-studded flatbreads that bring out the nutty tahini nuance of the hummus. A nearby platter of juicy-crisp vegetables — fennel, radishes, celery — can be dipped or separately nibbled, and provide a snappy counterbalance to all that oily richness.

It goes perfectly with a dish of crisp kale to nosh on, seasoned with lime and chile.

Fall is also a perfect time for hearty, vegetable-based soups, especially tomato. Tomatoes tend to be mushy this time of year, just begging to be puréed into satiny sweetness.

To mimic the creaminess of many tomato soup recipes, I often blend softly stewed tomatoes with a grain, in this case, farro. It adds an earthy flavor, and body, to make a tomato soup with bona fide stick-to-your ribs inclinations.

Although I could easily make a meal of soup, homemade bread and hummus, most dinner parties demand some kind of centerpiece, a focal point to make people gather around and say “ooh.”

A savory, olive oil-crusted tart stuffed full of golden, roasted peppers, jammy onions and some freshly grated pumpkin fits the bill. I like to salt the pumpkin ahead of time to draw out excess moisture, though if you are pressed for time you can skip this step.

To perk up the caramelized intensity of the filling, it is helpful to fold in something zingy like olive or capers, or perhaps a good splash of lemon juice.No meal for company is complete without a special salad. Recently, I have become smitten with the powerfully bitter flavor of dandelion greens. To mellow out their intensity, I’ve been tossing them in a dressing made from sweetly confited garlic and topped with crunchy croutons. The whole concoction is vaguely reminiscent of a sweet-tempered Caesar with a funkier, spunkier foundation.

For dessert, most people are drawn to something luscious and creamy, albeit in this case without the actual cream. Coconut milk is an excellent substitute, especially when simmered into a thick, nearly candied butterscotch sauce to spoon over oven-roasted pears.

Finally, to round it all out, a few squares of bitter chocolate cut the sugar and provide a modest caffeine boost that stimulates conversation and helps your dinner party stretch long into the night. After all, isn’t that why you invited your friends over in the first place?


Monday, October 17, 2011

Roasted Apple and Fennel Salad

I made this salad for dinner tonight on the recommendation of my mom, using a recipe from the Post:

Roasted Apple and Fennel Salad

This salad is hearty enough to serve as a meal with a good crusty baguette. Fill it out with some chunks of roasted chicken or crisp bacon if you like. Smoked Gouda or Spanish Idiazabal may be substituted for the smoked cheddar.

Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 sweet-firm apples, such as Mutsu, Fuji or Honeycrisp, peeled, cored and cut into 3/4-inch wedges
  • 1 large (about 1 pound) head fennel, trimmed, cut into quarters, cored and then cut into 1/2-inch wedges
  • 1 large head frisee (about 6 ounces), trimmed, cored and broken into leaves
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 5 ounces smoked cheddar cheese, shaved into strips (use a vegetable peeler)
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed fresh tarragon leaves
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (see headnote)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 large shallot, cut into small dice (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup toasted Marcona almonds, for garnish

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with silicone liners or aluminum foil.

Combine 2 tablespoons of the oil, 3/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper in a small bowl.

Spread the apple wedges on one baking sheet and the fennel wedges on the other sheet (in a single layer). Divide the oil mixture between them, tossing to coat the wedges evenly. Roast for about 15 minutes, turning the ingredients over after about 10 minutes, until the apples soften and brown lightly and the fennel is tender when pierced with a paring knife, 15 to 20 minutes. (The fennel may take slightly longer than the apples.) Cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, gently toss the frisee, spinach, cheddar and tarragon in a large bowl.

Whisk together the vinegar, mustard and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Continue to whisk as you gradually add the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil, to form an emulsified dressing. Stir in the shallot; taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Add the roasted apples and fennel wedges to the frisee mixture along with half of the vinaigrette. Toss well.

Divide among individual plates. Drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette (to taste), and sprinkle with the almonds.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

First Fall Meal

In honor of the first day of autumn I made baked acorn squash stuffed with spinach, mushrooms, cannellini beans, tomatoes, and turkey sausage, followed of course by a homemade salted caramel apple crisp. Happy Fall!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fireside Chats

Fireplace restaurant in Washington Square hosts "Fireside Chats" tastings twice monthly, in which diners taste samples of local wines, micro-brewed beers, spirits, and seasonal fare. Each chat is themed, with a chat dedicated to chardonnays, a day for pinot noirs, one for red wine blends, to single malt Scotch and cognac; one chat is called "Glorious New England Cheese Paired With Great American Wine." The emphasis is on celebrating domestic products and especially local vineyards and brewers, and educating the diners as they taste the selection: vintners, aficionados and master brewers take diners through the menu with amusing anecdotes and interesting insights - in my experience, our vintner was friendly and the atmosphere relaxed and jovial, thus allowing us to learn about wine in a remarkably unpretentious way.

September's Fireside Chat was "Riesling, Gewürtztraminer, and Viogner", featuring a selection of domestic wines from local vineyards and the west coast, from California, Oregon and Washington State. Having had mostly German Rieslings up to this point, I was really impressed by the quality of these American wines, and really enjoyed the tasting experience. I learned that the Massachusetts climate is in fact hospitable to producing decent Riesling - 2009 Westport Rivers is fruity and almost buttery, it's so good.

Wines came paired with courses in a light fall tasting menu that accentuated the wines' attributes. We began with lighter varieties accompanied by an arugula salad with Asian pear, gorgonzola, and dried plum; the spicy arugula was a nice contrast to the wines' sweetness while the pear picked up on the fruity notes and brought out their flavor. Next we had grilled chicken over sauteed spinach topped with a citrus salsa; again the tart pineapple and mellow papaya of the salsa played off the wine undernotes, while cutting through the dry Riesling Trefethen from Napa (which seemed a desert in your mouth after the "Naked" Gewürtztraminer.) One could argue that the salsa was almost "too wet" over the moist chicken with the fruity wines, but who would say that ...? For our dessert course we had a warm peach crumble paired of course with dessert wine-like varieties, sampling a Truchard with floral notes reminiscent of rose - each course was really well matched and helped us to appreciate the wines that much more.

Of course after all my new oenology in the end I realized that I still prefer the sweeter Rieslings (I could break from this female preferance stereotype but they're just so delicious ... I'm not ashamed) and am reassured that our "house wine" Riesling Kungfu Girl from Washington State is a nice choice.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Quick Fix Tips

Here are some great "quick fixes" I've picked up in the kitchen:
  • For pasta leftovers: when pasta's been sitting in the fridge for a few days getting that dry, old pasta consistency, reheat in a pot with a splash of milk, simmer on low, and within ten minutes you have homemade mac 'n cheese. (Note: this works for plain pasta or that was dressed with cheese and oil/butter - if the pasta had tomato sauce then add a splash of water or the liquid from drained diced tomatoes, and simmer.)
  • For mushrooms as an entree: to give mushrooms a "meaty" consistency, saute large slices with oil and garlic and earthy thyme or sage, and finish with a splash of Worcestershire sauce and even A1 steak sauce, and drizzle with balsamic.
  • For grilled fish: drizzle maple syrup or agave and sear on high heat, and you'll get a delicious caramelized crust. Sprinkle with hot pepper and you'll get a punch of spicy and sweet flavor!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Catch of the Day


While on our beach vacation my dad and uncle went fishing on the boat and brought home no less than four flounder and a sea bass, so naturally we got creative with them and made: crab "Imperial"-stuffed flounder, Thai-Mediterranean fusion fish with fresh basil and chili, flounder with tequila lime butter, and grilled crispy Asian sesame sea bass. From the water to our table for dinner!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Friday Night Gourmet

"Friday Night Gourmet," as my mother calls it, was a tradition in our house growing up that I've tried to carry on, and last night's dinner was a wonderful summer meal of Southwestern flavors. I got fresh tuna from the fish market, and made grilled tuna with yellow mole - mole is Mexican sauce, most commonly red mole made from poblano peppers and a variety of chiles including ancho, pasilla and chipotle, finished with chocolate to create a spicy-sweet flavor. Yellow mole uses yellow peppers, mango, tomatillos, corn tortillas, pumpkin seeds, white pepper and white chocolate to mirror the sauce preparation, creating a savory-sweet combination that packs a real punch - so good. The yellow mole was perfect to top the delicate tuna, which I served with stewed chayote, a squash typical in Costa Rica. For an appetizer I served lime cerviche of fresh tuna, mango and avocado:


So delicious. The tuna was excellent quality, like soft rubies melting in your mouth, really. This meal was light and fresh, perfect for summer, and filled with flavor. I made my "Lime Breeze" cocktails: limeaid and Brazilian cachaça, garnished with fresh mint and a lime slice. Ahh, summer ...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fresh Crabs

In true farm-to-table fashion, this documents the ... bay-to-table process of crabbing for our annual family Crab Festival.

Catching blue crabs from the boat in the bay:

First catch of the day! (Using chicken necks and lines.)

Cooking the crabs in proper Maryland style, steamed with Old Bay seasoning:


Eating the fresh crabs for dinner that night:


Picking crabs ... and more crabs ...

Until stuffed.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Grilled Nectarine Salad

I made this grilled nectarine salad for our annual family reunion at the beach, and it turned out really well:

Ingredients
6 ripe nectarines (I used half white, half yellow, extra juicy)
A few strips of pancetta or thick-cut bacon
1 leek
Mixed greens
1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds
Fresh mint leaves for garnish

For the dressing:
1/2 cup good extra virgin olive oil
1/8-1/4 cup rice wine vinegar / splash white wine vinegar
1/4 cup apricot preserves
1 tsp. Dijon mustard (I used a French blend with herbes d'Provence)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions
1) Saute pancetta/bacon to render drippings into pan. Slice leek and place pieces in bowl of water to remove grit (dirt will fall to the bottom.)
2) Remove pancetta to drain on paper towel and add leeks to saute in drippings (for extra decadence you can add a tsp. of butter); season with salt and pepper.
3) Slice nectarines in half and remove pits - grill cut side down until caramelized. Cut warm nectarines into wedges and pour all juices into the pan with leeks/renderings. Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine vinegar to bring up all the bacon bits. Remove from heat.
4) Pour nectarine juice/leek/etc. mixture into large measuring cup and whisk in apricot preserves, rice wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, then pouring the olive oil in a steady stream while whisking with the other hand. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5) Toss greens with nectarine slices, sunflower seeds, crumbled bacon and dressing to coat. Chiffonade the fresh mint leaves and garnish over top.

This salad is best if served while the nectarines are still warm - enjoy!

Triumphant. (and wearing a t-shirt over my dress since there were no aprons in the new kitchen)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fresh Ice Cream

Fresh homemade peach ice cream, made from pureed peach, cream, sugar and a hint of vanilla - when it comes to ice cream, using the pure simplest ingredients makes the best product. Topped with dried peach slices, this ice cream was light and refreshing, my best homemade ice cream yet!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Raw

I've been experimenting with the raw diet these past few weeks - after all, what better time to each fresh, raw food that in the heat of summer? I must admit, the first days I went all-raw it was hard (you think, "sushi! Sushi's raw ... oh right, rice. Ok .. sashimi! Hmm, is seaweed salad raw?" Then later: "does raw cookie dough count?"), but after a few days you start to feel really great. Here are some examples of raw dishes I whipped up that I recommend:
Breakfast
Fresh pineapple chunks with blueberries and raw almond slices, tossed with lime juice
Raspberries topped with raw oats drizzled with raw honey or pure maple
Fruit smoothies - blend fruit with fresh pineapple juice
Lunch
Greek salad of fresh cucumbers and tomatoes tossed with lemon juice and fresh dill
Green apple slices with raw organic almond butter
Dinner
Mixed green salad with sliced strawberries, radishes and sunflower seeds
Leafy greens and raw cashews - season with fresh chili for a kick!
Dessert
Sorbet made from frozen banana and blackberries, blended
Pudding made from ripe avocado, a few spoons each of raw cocoa powder and raw honey, mixed
*Note: this sounds strange, I know, but the avocado gives the texture a creamy consistency - I used this as a base for a berry smoothie and it tasted like chocolate raspberry ice cream, but with no dairy - only fruit and the secret vegetable ingredient!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Food Trucks in Boston

Food trucks have come to Boston! The trend that's booming in New York and L.A. has now arrived to Beantown. But can it survive in a city that's so cold for most of the year? Time will tell.

Gourmet food trucks are emerging as a new industry serving the growing number of foodies on the go, such as urban professionals on their lunch break, shoppers at outdoor street fairs and festivals, and especially young city dwellers that can't necessarily afford a sit-down meal but still want something better than fast food. These newer food trucks are a world away from the old carts you seen in New York serving greasy, stale food, but instead are mobile kitchens creating a wide array of delicacies. These operations focus on using fresh and more natural ingredients, catering to the demand for healthy alternatives for snacks and quick meals. Clover Food Lab, a truck started by recent MIT graduates, features a seasonal menu using local and organic ingredients, and has developed a loyal following in Cambridge and at the SoWa market in the South End, held on summer weekends. Even Governor Deval Patrick as eaten from the Clover Food Truck. For good reason: Clover Food includes vegetarian-friendly options such as a tasty soy BLT and seitan BBQ, a crowd favorite chickpea fritters, a light beet and mint salad, juicy fried green tomatoes, and even rhubarb agua fresca. This food is creative and fresh, and it's on the move.

New food trucks to hit the streets of Boston include: Bon Me - Banh Mi Vietnamese sandwiches, Cambridge staple Red Bones BBQ, Grilled Cheese Nation, and Kickass Cupcakes. Look out Boston, the trucks have arrived.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Grasshopper

Grasshopper in Allston is a vegetarian restaurant serving Chinese and Vietnamese specialties sans-meat, and it's really incredible. Yesterday we went for the vegan buffet, which is the third Sunday evening every month, where you get an all-you-can eat dinner for just over $10, a great deal. Grasshopper serves everything from spring rolls to lo mein to vermicelli noodle dishes, all with tofu, seitan, or imitation-shrimp, chicken pork, etc.- that's so close to the real thing you wouldn't know it's not real meat unless someone told you.

Buffet favorites include the kale with veggie-beef, the fried dumplings, and the infamous "no-name": battered gluten in a sweet and sour sauce topped with sesame seeds - so delicious it needs no name. It tastes like general tso's chicken, a favorite of Chinese take-out, yet without the extra fat, msg, and other additives. Until you've tried this, you would not believe how much it tastes like chicken. Meat-eaters will be satisfied with this dish, even.

Other excellent dishes include spicy curry with sweet potato and tofu, braised spicy tofu and assorted seitans in a clay hot pot with pineapple and lemon grass, and the crispy taro nest. Being a vegetarian restaurant Grasshopper has every combination of vegetable dish you could desire, from juicy eggplant, meaty mushrooms, tender asparagus, rich kale, crisp carrots, savory spinach, sweet leafy Chinese broccoli, spicy bamboo shoots and root vegetables. The menu is a celebration of vegetables in all their many forms. Finish it all off with a surprisingly sweet and delicious avocado soy smoothie and you'll go home happy. (Truth be told, Grasshopper buffet is the only time when I literally feel I may burst afterward ... it's worse than Thanksgiving by far. Who knew vegetables could be that addictive?)

Now the restaurant itself is somewhat hilarious - bright green walls to go with the grasshopper theme, bizzare paintings of obscure animals adorning the walls, such as zebras and other African safari favorites not indigenous to Asia, and faux-Italian themed tiles of different types of wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon decorated with bunches of cartoon-like grapes - creating a whimsical atmosphere. Nestled among the plethora of ethnic restaurants that help to make Allston the thriving cultural melting pot (and late night munchie destination), Grasshopper truly shines. The vegan pizza place two doors down? Virtually empty. Grasshopper buffet? Literally a line out the door. So the next time you're craving Chinese (a stealthy itch that must be scratched), try Grasshopper for a change. It puts meat to shame.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Di il Mare

Fresh mussels and clams in a white wine tomato broth with spaghetti and stewed artichokes

Monday, July 11, 2011

Veggie Medley

This weekend I decided to experiment with all the fresh produce from the farmer's market and came up with such dishes as grilled portobello mushrooms topped with yellow tomato puree, Sicilian kale: kale sauteed with toasted pine nuts, golden raisins, garlic and chili pepper, and the creation I call my "vegetarian cassoulet":

Ingredients
Good olive oil
Minced garlic
1 block extra-firm tofu
Fagiole - giant white beans (from jar with tomato sauce/oil)
1/2 cipolla onion (large)
1 zucchini (large)
1 summer squash (large)
1 cousa squash (large)
1 eggplant (medium size)
Forest mushrooms (c. 1/2 cup)
1 tomato, roasted
Yellow tomato puree
Phyllo dough sheets, defrosted
Italian dried herb seasoning
Fresh basil, torn
Fresh parsley, chopped
Parmesan cheese
Red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Method
1) Slice eggplant into 1" rounds and sprinkle with salt, setting in a bowl at room temperature to draw out the moisture.
2) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and drizzle olive oil over the bottom of a 9x9" pan (size can be adjusted for a larger batch.)
3) Slice both squash and zucchini into rounds and grill - I used a grill pan but a proper grill would be great. Slice onion and saute in pan with olive oil and red pepper flakes, until translucent.
4) Remove onions from pan; dust salt off eggplant and dice into cubes. Saute eggplant with garlic and black pepper. Saute onions until browned.
5) In separate skillet, saute diced tofu until edges are crispy, turning so each side of the cubes are golden brown.
6) Begin to build casserole: lay sheets of phyllo dough in pan to cover bottom completely, drizzling olive oil over top. Lay grilled vegetables around on top, scattering sauteed onions, mushrooms and eggplants in between, and pieces of tofu and giant white beans at random. Season with herbs, salt and pepper. Mash roasted red tomato and spread dollops, and yellow tomato puree as well, over top of vegetables as ratatouille sauce. Grate parmesan cheese.
7) Next layer: place another layer of phyllo dough covering the vegetable mixture and repeat, covering with veggies, etc. at random. Layer until baking dish is full. Finish with layer of phyllo topped with grated cheese. In effect the dish is a sort of Greek lasagna, using phyllo rather than pasta and vegetables for the filling.
8) Bake for 25 minutes or until the edges are golden and crispy. Drizzle olive oil over top and garnish with fresh basil and parsley before serving. Serves 4.

This dish is so flavorful with many different vegetables that even the non-vegetarians won't miss the meat - it's hearty and packed with flavor in every bite. I served this vegetable entree with good fresh bread and a roasted red pepper white bean puree on the side (literally a red bell pepper roasted with salt, pepper, and olive oil, blended with cannelini beans) and finished the dinner party with homemade almond gelato for dessert (made from almond milk, light cream, and a dash of sugar and almond extract) topped with slivered almonds, for a perfect, light and refreshing, summer meal.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Farmers Market Finds

It's farmers market season! I went to my local favorite, the Brookline Farmer's Market, yesterday and found some great fresh produce. This farmers market is open through the summer and fall every Thursday and brings local growers from around the region, such as Cook's Farm Orchard, Kimball Fruit Farm and Bob's Turkey Farm, as well as Smith's Country Cheese and local organic Taza Chocolate.




This trip to the market I found some leafy green kale, gleaming yellow squash, shining zucchini, and a less common variety:



Cousa squash, similar to a zucchini but lighter in color, is a great different summer squash. Originated in the Middle East, cousa squash can be found in Persian cuisine, often stuffed with tabbouleh, rice, lamb, or couscous. It's naturally sweet and perfect for summer meals!


I also found some massive heirloom tomatoes, swirling red, yellow and green, that were irresistable:

With this enormous yellow tomato I made a roasted golden tomato puree, by roasting the whole tomato in the oven with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil, for about 45 minutes, then cooling and blending in the food processer with a bit of sauteed onions, garlic, red chili, and basil. The combination of smoky roasted flavor and sweet yellow tomato made a delightful sauce that I used to top grilled portobello mushroom caps, with fresh julienned basil, for a succulent veggie meal. Heirloom tomatoes are also delicious fresh, with some sea salt sprinkled over top -


"You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces - just good food from fresh ingredients." - Julia Child

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bok Choy with Cashews



I was lucky enough to get some greens from Beth's Farm, and I decided to make the bok choy with an Asian flair. Cashews are my newfound love - when I was a kid I thought I didn't like nuts, and slowly over the years have been introducing them to my diet; this summer I discovered that I love cashews! Packed with protein, magnesium, and iron, these nuts pack a quick energy punch and indulge cravings with monounsaturated fat that give the buttery rich taste. Cashews are typical in Thai, Chinese and Indian cuisine, mixed into sauces and used as crunchy garnishes, an excellent way to add protein to a vegetarian dish. I've just gone nuts for cashews! (Terrible pun intended.)


Here's my Bok Choy with Cashews recipe:


Ingredients

Cashews (to taste - I used about half a cup)

Bok choy (1 head per serving)

Bunch green onions (2-3 per head of bok choy)

Few tsp. peanut oil

Few tsp. minced garlic

Splash of sesame oil

Pinch of hot chili paste (I used , authentic Asian)

1/2 tsp. soy sauce (I'm not a huge fan of soy)

Sesame seeds (to taste)

Salt and pepper to taste

Method
1) Toast cashews in a dry pan on medium-low heat until the nuts are fragrant. I used raw cashews (unsalted allows you to control the level of sodium in the dish) and toasted them for about 20 minutes and then removed them from the pan. Toast the sesame seeds as well if preferred.
2) Add the peanut oil to the pan and chopped scallions, including both the greens and the whites. Once the scallions are getting soft, add the minced garlic to the pan.
3) Wilt the boy choy into the pan, roughly chopped, adding splash of sesame oil, soy and hot chili paste. Toss with tongs to coat bok choy evenly in oil and mix around seasoning.
4) Turn heat down to low and cover, cooking for a minute. Add cashews and sesame seeds back to the pan and season with salt and pepper.
Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pie in the Sky

Pie in the Sky in Woods Hole, MA is the best place for a date in town. (And not because it's one of the only places.) The bakery and cafe is of course famous for its pies, and also serves homemade pastries such as croissants, baked goods such as cookies and popovers, and breads - the air always smells heavenly around this cozy joint by the harbor. With an assortment of organic coffees, espresso and cocoa for the colder months and savory foods such as made-to-order sandwiches, Pie in the Sky hits all the spots. The outdoor patio seating and smoothie/juice bar is perfect for summer days, and for Sunday breakfast the place was literally overflowing with people, packed to the brim at 9 a.m. It's the best place in town.

The rotating selection of seasonal pies never fail to impress: upon my visit I saw a rhubarb pie, pecan pie, key lime pie, and a decadent chocolate creation - at Pie in the Sky you can get pie around the clock. (Ever had pie for breakfast? Awesome.) The bakery had served up classic chocolate chip cookies, blondies, seven-layer bars, a decadent-lookin chocolate peanut butter bar, and key lime raspberry bars that were tart, light and refreshing despite the massive-sized serving they give you - we ate it with a spoon.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cape Cod Cranberry Orange Muffins

I decided to make orange cranberry muffins to bring in a picnic basket to the shore over the weekend, and created this recipe for a healthier breakfast treat:

Ingredients
1 cup dried cranberries
3 oranges, zest and juice
2/3 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup Earth Balance butter
2 eggs (applesauce snack-sized cup as vegan substitute)
1/4 tsp. almond extract
3/4 cups flour (can use almond flour as substitute)
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup 2% milk (soy or almond milk as substitute)
1/2 container orange yogurt (I used Yoplait orange creme mousse for a light and fluffy tang)
Few tbsp. turbinado sugar

Method
1.) Place dried cranberries in a small saucepan on low heat with a few tbsp. water, the juice of one orange, and a few tbsp. brown sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon, allowing the cranberries to soak. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease muffin tin.
2.) Zest the oranges, while allowing butter and eggs to come to room temperature. Cream butter and sugar and add the orange zest of all three oranges, the juice of another orange, and then the eggs and extract.
3.) Alternate between adding dry ingredients and milk and yogurt, scraping sides of the bowl with a spatula but not overmixing.
4.) Remove plumped cranberries from heat and fold into batter, reserving their soaking liquid. Add the juice of the last orange. Pour into muffin tin and top with turbinado sugar and any remaining orange zest.
5.) Bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick comes clean. Cool and enjoy!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Farm Fresh al Fresco

Dining al fresco: heirloom tomatoes stuffed with basil-shallot couscous, steamed beet greens, and a green salad with radishes, slender sweet carrots, and juicy strawberries from the farm.

My friend Ashley brought back produce from her family's farm in Maine, a gorgeous place with a farm stand, Beth's Farm Market, that sells fresh produce home-grown on the farm, bakery items, and greenhouse flowers. The strawberries are incredible, with made-to-order strawberry shortcakes in the summer that have become infamous in the area:

(see photo)


(On my trip up to the farm the summer before last. Nothing better than eating strawberries next to the field they're growing in ...)

Beth's Farm Market has everything from wild Maine blueberries to sweet corn to an array of greens: curly leaf and lacinta kale, dandelion greens, red and swish chard, to Chinese cabbage. Not to mention rhubarb, kohlrabi, and 11 kinds of squash. Definitely stop by if you're heading to Maine!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Oh, Canada ...

In honor of Canada Day, an ode to poutine, a typical dish in Quebec:


(fries covered in gravy and cheese curds)


If you're craving this indulgent late night snack, it can be found in Boston at the Beehive in the South End, which is one of my favorite places, hands down. This restaurant and bar has an excellent ambience with funky, speakeasy decor, good food and delightful cocktails, and live music with everything from soul to Afro-jazz to reggae - it's a vibrant scene unlike the rest in the city.
Try the Flying Dutchman martini. But be warned: they pack a real punch! You may just need some poutine after to soak it up...


In the Canadian spirit, check out my previous post: http://princess-peach-kitchen.blogspot.com/2010/06/montreal-dining.html