Monday, May 23, 2011

Wicked Sweet Boston

A few years back this wonderful little bakery, Flour,  popped up in Boston's South End. I'd heard about it and went for a visit and was truly delighted. A large assortment of interesting and finely crafted sweets and treats, not too sugary (except for their famous sticky buns). Among my favorites are some of their brioche based sweets, including a baked cream danish style treat, and a sugar dusted brioche bun, lemon custard muffins, cracklin'- a danish filled with bitter orange marmalade-topped with toasted almonds, home made oreos, fruit tarts piled high, buttery scones, chocolate glazed dacquoise, creme brulee, and so much more. On a recent trip to Boston, I was happy to discover that is wonderful bakery has grown to three locations: South End, Fort Point Channel and Central Sq., and I had the good fortune of eating from each of them in the 2 days I was there, Oy!!!

In addition to the wonderful desserts, the bakeries serve a number of savory items, but I must admit, I didn't even notice them, I was so busy looking at the sweets. Each bakery has a beautifully designed space with many creative and unique touches. Certainly worth a visit!

If you are interested in more from Flour Bakery:

Flour Bakery Cookbook

Dacquoise recipe from one of the bakers @ Flour bakery
This type of Dacquoise is a french dessert made from almond meringues layered with espresso buttercream and chocolate ganache...very rich and decadent!

More on Boston:
We also stopped by the SoWa Market on sunday morning: farmers' market, craft market and food trucks. Not as packed as I'd hoped it would be, but a fun little adventure.
If you make it up to Beantown, you might also check out:
Foundry on Elm or Bella Luna - both spots feature exceptional food by my friend and talented Chef Sam Putnam.

Hi-Rise Bread Co. - another lovely bakery, this one in Cambridge.

Sevan's Middle Eastern Grocery, Watertown - great food, one of my favorites is their Muhamara - a spread made of walnuts, red pepper paste, pomegranate molasses and olive oil.

Porter Square Exchange - Japanese food court filled with inexpensive and tasty small restaurant stalls, Cambridge.

Super 88 Asian Grocery Stores - I heard rumor that some of the locations have closed, but these are incredible and very large Asian markets. They may have changed name, but it is worth searching out some of the great and large asian groceries in the Boston area.

Do you have any favorite food spots in Boston?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Panini in a Frying Pan

I'm kind of a sucker for a hot sandwich. Call it a Cubano, a Panini, a hot sub, hoagie or hero, I don't really care. Since I generally don't eat meat that is raised on factory farms, most of the delicious sounding sandwiches on a sandwich menu don't land on my plate. When eating out, I usually end up with a vegetarian sandwich, which I know is better for my health and the earth, but sometimes I really crave a little meat, which leads me to making a good hot sandwich at home. I don't own a panini press, just a couple of heavy skillets which double as a sandwich press.

In this panini I used Applegate Farms sliced turkey, a pesto and feta spread from Sankow's Beaver Brook Farms, spinach, and a little extra-sharp white cheddar. The bread is a ciabatta "stick" with roasted garlic from Chabaso bakery. I think it was a fortuitous day, since I don't often have this bread or pesto spread on hand, so this panini was a little more special than usual. One of my stand-by favorite sandwiches is apple, cheddar, dijon and spinach, with turkey or bacon if I have any.  (For a vegetarian alternative, try using smoked tempeh or "Fakin' Bacon".). Honestly just about any combination of tasty ingredients stuffed between two slices of bread and heated between two frying pans will yield delightful results!

One key technique to note is that you can wrap the sandwich in tin foil (butter the outside of the bread if you like) and then set it in a frying pan on medium heat and top with a second frying pan. You still get the nicely browned bread, but you can really press the sandwich without all the fillings falling out and making a mess. If you want more weigh try adding a large can to the top frying pan or pressing on the top pan once the sandwich is warm. Flip the wrapped sandwich over part way through, and cook and press the other side.
Some great sandwich spots: 
Blue State Coffee - New Haven- the menu I created for these cafes include sustainably raised meats and locally sourced ingredients. Try the fabulous grilled cheese with pear and dijon, or the turkey Sriracha with pickled red onions and avocado.
'wichcraft - in NYC - an amazing assortment of finely crafted ingredients and sandwiches from Tom Colicchio and Sisha Ortuzar ( who I worked with briefly at Gramercy Tavern)
Num Pang - A wonderful Camobodian sandwich shop in NYC started by a good friend of mine, Ben Daitz and his partner, Ratha Chau. An inspired and delicious menu, and a line out the door to prove it.

Share some of your favorite sandwich combinations by commenting below!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hot Pot Fun

My Love of food is firmly routed in the passion for food of both of my parents. It is no surprise that the primary focus of each of their wants and desires for a Birthday celebration (or any celebration for that matter) revolve around food.  For my Mother's recent birthday, she requested that we all go out to a local Chinese restaurant for a Hot Pot dinner. Despite my overwhelming love for Chinatown in any city in this country, and the many Dim Sum meals and other great chinese food I have eaten over the years, I have never actually had a Hot Pot or Shabu Shabu  meal, so was very happy to accommodate her request!

Some of you may have seen this type of meal from the sidewalk side of the restaurant window. A large table with a pot set into the middle of it filled with simmering broth, perfect for cooking a large assortment of thinly sliced meat, fish and vegetables by the diners armed with chopsticks, a long handled cooking basket and a hungry belly.

The selection at the Great Wall of China in New Haven, CT worked well for vegetarians as well as meat eaters alike. We had two types of broth, one basic, one spicy with szechuan peppercorn. It is recommended that meat and fish be cooked in the broth first to help add flavor, followed by vegetables and noodles. Periodically a waiter added boiling water to the pot to make up for broth that had evaporated or been absorbed by noodles. Additional sauces were available to add flavor as well.

Over all it was a fun meal. I was not wowed by the flavors, but it was definitely good, and worth the experience.

Popular Hot Pot Restaurants
I have not tried all of these personally, but wanted to list some of the popular restaurants around the country to get you started. Feel free to read reviews on Yelp or ChowHound and have a little food adventure of your own. 
New Haven, CT: Great Wall of China
Boston: Shabu Zen

Have you eaten Shabu Shabu or Hot Pot before? Please comment below and share your thoughts!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Artichokes for Dinner

My original ode to the Artichoke post appeared a week ago, for a mere 12 hours, before being mysteriously deleted by the folks at Google's Blogspot while they performed some updates on their blog service. The spontaneous words and thoughts there-in are now lost to an internet graveyard. I'll try to conjure a bit of the joy and flavor of that post for you again rather than mourn the loss completely. 

These lovely specimens of nature grace our table only on occasion, and usually at the request of a three year-old. I love that freshly cooked artichokes make any meal feel festive and special. For me, they are a splurge and treat, but a great one. I usually just slice off the tip of the bulb and trim the rest of the spiky leaves with a pair of scissors (as seen above). Then toss them into a pot of boiling water with a little salt, lemon and black peppercorns (but plain old water will do just fine). Boil (or steam) the artichokes until a leaf pulls easily off from the bulb, about 25-30 minutes. You can use a pressure cooker to speed up the process if you have one.

A freshly cooked artichoke heart is buttery and smooth, 
nothing like it's tough pickled cousins from a jar. 

When you get to the heart of the artichoke, the leaves will be paper thin. Pull off the few remaining leaves, use a spoon to scrape out the fine "hairs" covering the heart (shown in the center picture). Slice the heart into a few pieces to prolong it's existence and enjoy it, plain, with butter, herbs, salt and pepper or any other way you can imagine. For a simple vegan dipping sauce, stir some miso with warm water, a pinch of black pepper and an optional drizzle of sweetener such as honey or agave.

For this meal I served the chokes with a small bowl of melted butter, and some turkey, avocado and spinach sandwiches. My kids started devouring the food before it left the counter which was a good sign, and we managed to set up a little front yard picnic to build on the festivity. It was one of those wonderful nights that help me to slow down and remember some of the blessings I have: family, food, and space.
One other blessing I discovered was spinach growing in my raised beds, ready to harvest in May!! I planted this spinach last fall in hopes of building a cold frame or a row cover to experiment with winter growing. The building never happened, and the tiny spinach leaves lay insulated under 2 feet of snow all winter. As soon as it melted, the spinach burst to life and I can now harvest tinder 4-6 inch leaves daily. I've planted new spring seeds around the fall patch and they are slowly catching up in size.

How do you like to serve artichokes? 
Please comment below.