Thursday, December 4, 2008

Small Indian Lunchboxes

To all of my fellow readers, my apologies! I have been extremely lax in my goal of sharing tasty dishes and favorite spots, please do accept my humble apologies. Now let's get to the good stuff...

There has been so much to write about! My recent trip to Paris, more Chelsea dinner dates, a surprisingly delicious Malaysian dinner in a Chinatown alley way, the braised short ribs I cooked up with Gorgonzola potatoes ( will definitely re-visit that), but, before I delve into any of the aforementioned, I would like to shine a light on my newest favorite spot, Tiffin Wallah, a vegetarian Indian restaurant in M/Curray Hill.

Tiffin Wallah, which translates to "little lunchbox," is such a great find. The expansive menu is sectioned off in categories like "tiffin," "dosa," "gujarti curries," " punjabi curries," and so on. Clear, formal descriptions of each dish are listed, as well as a helpful glossary on the back page if further assistance is necessary.

I traversed to Tiffin Wallah with my roommates, and we decided to do what any sane person would do, ask the wait staff what they would recommend. We started with Samosa Chat; samosas with tamarind, onion, and cilantro and Pakora; mixed vegetable and chickpea flour fritters. Both were tasty and flavorful and enough to satisfy three ladies with hefty appetites as a starter.

For our entrée with ordered a dosa with curried potatoes. The dosa was the size of my kitchen table. A spiced thin pancake that delicately enfolded the creamy potato mixture that was perfect for dipping in mango chutney and sambar. Not only was the dish huge and tasty, but it was a fun process to pull apart bread, dip, make mini sandwiches, or any other thing you chose to do (no judgment).

We also ordered the Alu Baingan; potato, eggplant, tomato, and onion, which hands down, was one of the best eggplant dishes I have ever had. It was so good, that we had to introduce ourselves to the owner and praise his work. I may have gone over board, but he seemed to enjoy it and recommended a few more dishes for my next respite and also wanted us to spread the word about the $6 lunch buffet that they dish out every day!

All of the dishes arrived promptly and were piping hot. The service was so friendly and helpful and clearly, all waitstaff made great recommendations. The restaurant was also modern, but not overly trendy. More importantly, it was clean. Not only was Tiffin Wallah tasty, but the menu is so well priced. With two appetizers and two entrees that three diners could not finish, the bill came to $34.

My thoughts and appetite still crave for Tiffin Wallah so much, that I am tempted to go for more this evening and sample some of the other recommended fare.

Friday, October 31, 2008

An Artsy Chelsea Dinner

After doing some Thursday evening gallery hopping, my accomplice and I stumbled upon heaven-Naima- an intimate Chelsea wine and pasta bar.

It was perfect treat for our tired artistic feet. Upon entering the dim restaurant, we were immediately greeted by a friendly hostess who let us choose our seats. Later, we were introduced to our server who appeared to be Italian, an extra bonus and the fun only continued from there.

The menu is well priced, as is the wine list. We ordered a bottle of Montepulciano D'Abruzzo for $28 and started with a salmon carpaccio starter ($10) and shared the paccheri pasta with slow roasted meat sauce and fresh ricotta ($15)--a very sweet and savory dish that had all of the concepts to yell "oh my god" with every bite. In addition, each table is treated to bread and a dip of green lentils and garlic that is marinated in olive oil. The food was great. The only thing we requested was a lemon wedge for our salmon and fresh pepper for the peccheri. Naima is a great place to go with a date or friend. I think next time we may sit at the bar and order a new dish to sample...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Mexican Debate Night

As many of you know, I do not like using precise measurements when I cook (sorry!). I realize this may be a deterrent, but I encourage everyone to play around with food, especially when it comes to spice.

That being said, one of my favorite things to make are burritos. Like stir frying and roll-your-own-sushi parties, burritos are versatile--you can add whatever you like and it's a fun group activity. Recently, my roommates and I held an impromptu Mexican Debate Night and encouraged our guests to create their own burritos. Here is what we provided:

+tortillas (any flavor works)
+rotisserie chicken, pulled from the bone (most reputable grocery stores sell rotisserie   chickens and often will half the meat for you if you just need a small portion--but you     probably will mostly likely need to pull your own meat!)
+spicy peppers and onions mixture (I used an authentic Mexican adobo sauce by Dona Maria-- use caution when opening jar)
heat up vegetable oil in skillet and add sliced peppers and onions. Add a spoonful of adobo spice and simmer with three parts water, until you reach desired consistency and spice level
+sliced avocados
+shredded cheese (your preference)
+sour cream
+cilantro
+lime wedges

Heat tortillas in oven- or better yet, fry in a bit of vegetable oil in a pan until crisped (now you have a tostada) and add the fun stuff.

Extra Cajun-y

Like many people, I love spice. The spicier the better. I love the way wasabi can clear up your sinuses and Mexican peppers can make you hydrate like no other. Most recently, I have become a big fan of the cajun spice. Whenever my friends and I want to make cajun shrimp, we make sure to make it extra cajun-y, i.e., generously pour that tantalizing spice. The cajun spice works on so many foods: the aforementioned shrimp, crawfish, chicken, etc. Since I so often reach for the cajun spice jar, I decided to make my own rendition of the blend to use as a rub on a catfish filet. This is what I mixed together: salt, pepper, garlic salt (with judgment), chili pepper and red pepper flakes. After I found a balanced blend, I simply rubbed on filet and put it back in the fridge to soak up the flavors before cooking. An hour later, I set the oven to 350 degrees and cooked the fish in a foil pouch for about 10-15 minutes. And of course it came out extra cajun-y.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Best Salad Ever

This weekend, I had the best salad ever: mixed greens with figs, goat cheese and sugared pecans tossed with a reduced honey port dressing.


What you will need:


Arugula

Radicchio

Frisee

Baby Mission Figlets cut in half (I like these: http://www.valleyfig.com/merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Product_Code=566&Category_Code=RETL)

Goat cheese cut up in chunks (any brand)

Candied pecans (walnuts may be good too)

Port

Honey


To make the pecans, simply coat the nuts with honey and bake on a cooking sheet at 400 degrees for around 5-7 minutes and allow to cool.

As for the dressing, play around with the proportions (think of it as a small challenge): simply add some port wine with a tablespoon or so of honey and let thicken and reduce over the stove top until you reach the desired consistency, stirring constantly. Pour over the salad and voila: the best salad in the world.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Boston's Best Date Place

As my days in Boston slowly come to a close, I am on a frantic restaurant spree, desperately trying to sample and check off all of the restaurants I have been dying to try. Currently, my list is as follows: Addis Red Sea, Toro, Banc, and Lala Rokh. I will be sure to post about any or all that I successfully try.

Although I am focusing on restaurants that I have not tried, I decided to treat my accomplice and I to one of our absolute favorite Boston restaurants---Neptune Oyster. This little gem is tucked away on the bustling Salem Street and is romantic, charming, and most importantly, absolutely scrumptious.

I recommend sitting at the bar (the place is intimate, read: small and crowded) and starting with my go-to; sparkling white wine paired with a few oysters (they shuck right in front of you and have a dozen options, with prices and tasting notes listed for additional guidance). Then try the flash grilled yellow tail served beside a bed of greens and sprinkled with a pomegranate glaze. If you're lucky, they will be serving the blue fish special--roasted fillet, served over crispy polenta with chorizo, and sauteed fennel. Most likely, the striped bass served with pancetta and sweet corn succotash will be offered on the menu, if so, order it. Other dishes that have been recommended to me are the lobster roll and fried clams. I once had a fois gras tuna dish (don't knock it 'til you try it), that knocked my socks off.

I plan on visiting Neptune as often as possible.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Finding a Calm in the Storm: Greek restaurant in Midtown

Last evening in New York, I had the lovely fortune of dining with my aunt and cousin at midtown's Greek Mecca, Ammos. I found Ammos to be quite delicious, welcoming, and aesthetically pleasing. Located right next to New York's hub, Grand Central Station, Ammos is a breath of fresh air with its accommodating large white walls and light stoned-pillar interior, floor-to-ceiling windows, beautiful hard wood floors, and umbrella-like light fixtures that provides the diner with an authentic sense of the Greek Isles. In addition to the enjoyable atmosphere, the food, presentation, and service were all excellent.

For appetizers, we started with the KRYA OREKTIKA, a fancy way of saying mezzes. Five little squared white dishes appeared with dollops of kalamata-chick pea, garlic-ground almond, Greek yogurt, roasted pepper-feta, eggplant spread accompanied with grilled pita. Although all were good, our favorites were the roasted pepper-feta and garlic-ground almond spread. In addition, we sampled the KOLOKITHOKEFTEDES, fried zucchini balls with fresh mint, Greek yogurt-like cheese, and tzatziki. These were delicious and different from anything I ever tasted. I think the fresh mint added a nice zest to usually bland zucchini and tzataziki sauce. We also ordered the marinated olives, and I was pleased to see the vines still attached--it is safe to say that I have never feasted on better olives in my life. We also couldn't give up ordering the traditional SPANAKOPITA, and were pleased that we did. The crust was flaky and chock full of fresh spinach and feta--again, one of the best traditional Greek dishes that I've had in a while.

For our main course, we agreed to share. We ordered risotto with spring peas, feta, tomato, and mint; tuna herb crusted, fava beans, cauliflower puree, yellow tomato, black salt; and tile fish, that was pan roasted in a cast iron skillet, accompanied by sweet potato, guanciale , blue crab, lemon, and poblano. The risotto was surprisingly light, despite the creaminess, perhaps the vegetables gave it a springier flavor. The tuna was good, although difficult to cut. I believed they used a cut of the fish that we weren't familiar with, but the herbs paired nicely and fish tasted great. The tile fish, which is a white fish, was perfectly cooked and the odd addition of sweet potatoes proved to be an excellent choice. For dessert we all shared baklava with pistachio ice cream, which was quite good.

As mentioned, the service was excellent. Our waiter let us taste our wine choices (even though they were by the glass--I chose a lovely Rose “ Akakies”, Estate Kir Yianni, Naoussa, Amyndeon, Greece) and as each dish was presented, he made sure to address any questions and pointed out all of the ingredients--very informative. Although the restaurant is not by any means cheap (appetizers ranged from $10-$19 and main courses $22-$48), the whole package is such a treat--I'd recommend going back, sharing one order of the mezze and a few appetizers and then splitting a main--and don't forget the baklava!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Panzanella

Last evening, I decided to make Panzanella, an Italian vegetable and bread salad. It is reputed as a very light and flavorful summer dish. Although traditionally served as a side dish, I decided to simplify my meal and just serve as a main course. In the past, my father and I have used Ina Garten's recipe and love it for its simplicity and tastiness: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/panzanella-recipe/index.html.

That being said, I used Garten's recipe as a template and chopped tomatoes, orange and yellow peppers, cucumber, red onion and fresh basil. Then I whipped up a vinaigrette of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, minced garlic, a spoonful of capers, and s&p. For the breadcrumbs I used a fresh ciabatta loaf courtesy of Whole Food's recent 99cent special and sauteed the torn up pieces with olive oil, salt, and Herbs de Provence. I tossed all of the ingredients together and allowed them to sit and blend flavors. To make the meal more protein/main course worthy, I added marinated mozzarella balls.
As an added bonus, I served the leftover bread with a marinated antipasto from my favorite mercato, Monica's, and paired the meal with a 2006 Jean-Luc Colombo Cotes du Rhone. The meal proved to be delicious, relatively health- conscience ( I like to think of it as vegetable-based) and full of fresh summery flavor thanks to the basil and garlic.

If I were to do this over, I would have used a day-old loaf. I think using fresh loaf made the bread mushy, but it still managed to taste great nonetheless.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Icarus or Ick R Us?

So last evening, for my Boston Restaurant Week Summer '08 indulgence, I sampled South End's "gem," Icarus. The phrase I can't put my finger on it sums it up well. Although the service was very good and the menu was quite varied, my dining partner and I did not love it.

Let me start with the ambiance. The main dining area in this subterranean restaurant is dimly lit, crammed with bulky, wooden tables (no white, crisp linens here) and some padded/unpadded chairs that resemble a dining set from Friendly's. Scattered statues of Icarus and Victorian and Art Deco lamps decorate the large, open room and high
windowless ceilings do nothing to alleviate the acoustics. It is as if someone just took their grandparent's dining set, (times 40) and set up shop. However, I appreciate the "funkiness" vibe that was presented, as opposed to the overly trendy atmosphere that we are normally bombarded with.

In terms of food, I enjoyed some of our dishes, but was not overly impressed. For our starters, my dining partner and I chose the fresh field greens salad with orange sherry vinaigrette and the grilled steak salad noodles with ginger and sesame. Perhaps it was my fault for ordering the salad and expecting wonderful things such as crystallized nuts, chunks of fruit and perhaps a dollop of cheese, because I was immediately disappointed when my salad arrived as just greens. Oh, and one cherry tomato for kicks, ouch. I tired to hide my disappointment and immediately set myself up for another let-down, the dressing. My chopped up greens might as well as been served au natural, because not a hint of orange or sherry or vinaigrette, for that matter, was even detected. Just some crunches of sea salt and the fresh black pepper I requested. Next. However, the Asian steak salad was much better. Tender strips of medium rare steak rested upon peanut soba noodles and a nice blend of ginger sesame dressing. For wine pairings we were served a Bordeaux Blanc and R
osé respectively.

For the
entrées , we chose the pan roasted chicken with Provençal vegetables and roasted potatoes and the grilled bluefish with smoked shrimp butter and roasted Poblano pepper, corn and quinoa. Both were actually quite nice. The chicken was cooked perfectly, moist and dripping with flavor. The bluefish was excellent, with a nice Southwestern kick, calmed by the mild quinoa. Each was paired respectively with a Cotes du Rhone and a husky Cabernet.

As for desserts, we decided on the decadent chocolate cake with caramel swirl and the peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream. For pairings, a
glass of Banyuls and Sauternes, which were a great complement to the rather simple desserts.

All-in-all, we were not in love. Granted it was Restaurant Week and quite packed, but we were not blown away as much as the menu enticed us.

Friday, August 1, 2008

There's Nothing Like Ocean Air



Ever since it opened seven months ago, I have been tempted to try Boston's Oceanaire, the new seafood restaurant that has moved into an old prominent bank space downtown. I am so pleased that curiosity got the best of me--I loved it. Although Oceanaire has several locations country wide, do not think of this as another Legal Seafoods chain. It is quite the contrary.

Upon entering the colossal restaurant, I wasn't sure what I was most impressed with: the fantastic service, the actual space, or the menu. I was immediately greeted by a lovely host, who helped me find the perfect seat at the bar. After he left, I was showered with warm, attentive service. Once settled, I had time to get a feel for the interior. Their space is quite impressive: story-high ceilings, wide windows, Art Déco décor, and a curvaceous bar that resembles a modern wave. Their menu was also varied. They had about 20 wines by the glass (prices ranged from $7 - $16), a dozen appetizers and so many seafood entrées, my head hurt by just glancing at the menu. Oceanaire prides itself on offering only the freshest of seafood, so the menu changes day-to-day.

As for the wine, I started with a glass of the Spier Chenin Blanc and was pleased by the generous pour. Immediately after, our kind server brought over a crudités dish of pickled herring (don't judge, it's good), radishes, olives, pickles and carrots and a freshly baked bread loaf with salted butter. In addition, we were each presented with a "compliments of the chef" plate that consisted of squid and shrimp ceviche on a crisp cracker with dollops of spicy red pepper sauce. It was excellent.

As for our main courses, we were in a conundrum- the choices were endless and our waiter was extremely helpful with answering all of our questions. In addition, he was also knowledgeable when it came to the wine list and was kind enough to let us sample a few choices before making the ever so challenging decision. (For the record, I went with a buttery Heron chardonnay, surprise). Since we had already snacked on the generous offerings, we decided to have the chopped Greek salad that is advertised as large enough to share and the special tuna sashimi.

Oceanaire did not let us down. Our Greek salad was chock full of fresh crab meat, baby shrimp and was not overly dressed. The tuna knocked our socks off. We paired our sashimi with dollops of wasabi and a pepper relish served with sides of ginger and seaweed salad. Everything was presented beautifully. It is safe to say that we turned our heads at every other dish that was passed by. We also made mental notes to try the ever-popular grilled calamari and splurge on the jumbo shrimp and seafood platter (one day, we hope).

Whether you are looking for an after work spot with a chilled glass of prosecco and a few oysters, or a three course meal and bottle of wine, Oceanaire will hit the spot.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Few More Recipe Suggestions

Last evening, I threw a few things together and was very pleased with the outcome; white wine buttered scallops, wasabi carrots with roasted yams and a salad tossed with a homemade balsamic dressing. For the scallops, I simply rinsed and patted dry, then dabbed with salt and pepper. I heated oil in a pan and seared the scallops for about 5- 6 minutes. After they were thoroughly cooked, I removed the scallops and added butter, white wine and some of the scallop juice, while scraping the brown bits. I waited for the sauce to reduce,then added scallops back in to cover and dress. For the carrots, I sauteed olive oil, wasabi, sugar and soy until slightly thickened, then added the carrots and cooked for about 5 minutes, until softened. For the other veggies, I heated up the yams and added a dash of butter, s & p and then whisked olive oil, balsamic vinegar and honey mustard for a dressing.

Monday, June 30, 2008

A Venetian Salad

My dear jet-setting friend fell in love with an orzo salad she had in Venice and was kind enough to share the recipe. Feel free to add and adjust as liked. Go crazy with the proportions as well:

orzo salad:
orzo
steamed baby shrimp
a can of drained tuna
basil or parsley
chopped baby tomatoes
roughly chopped olives
(toss all together)


dressing:
balsamic
olive oil
honey mustard
s & p
(whisk well and pour generously over orzo)

It's a nice basic salad that allows you flexibility; I'd like to add fresh crab meat or fresh feta and sun dried tomatoes.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

J-J-J-JO JO

For my birthday dinner, aka the time where I get to pick where I want to eat and have my parents treat, I chose JoJo, one of Jean-George’s oldest NYC restaurants. I figured it would be a safe option; Contemporary French cuisine, easy to find and relatively reasonable, considering the "JG" name. Unfortunately, about a month before our reservation, NYMag featured an article that totally bashed J.G.'s little gem of a restaurant, labeling it as one of NYC's most overrated restaurants, “Once the gleam of [Jean-Georges’s] eye, now the bastard son at the family reunion”). I was scared and I panicked, but remained resilient and after thoughtful considerations, we stuck with our gut and kept our reservation at JoJo. We made the right choice. JoJo is tucked into a beautifully manicured town house on the UES. Inside is intimate, lush and comforting. We were seated on the second floor, tucked in the corner and had a lovely view of the neighborhood, which gave off a very Parisian feel. Our food, was fantastic all around, even down to our butter. We ordered an array of appetizers: pea soup, asparagus and avocado salad, crab cakes and a tuna soy bean emulsion roll that put traditional sushi to shame. For dinner, we all sampled and tried the ginger chicken with chick pea fritters, steak frites, skate with carrots and striped sea bass with roasted artichokes and peas and carrots. No complaints; it was scrumptious with excellent, attentive service and a nice bottle of Pinot Blanc. Go-to-JoJo.

Monday's Meal

Last evening, I was at a loss for what to cook, but I knew I wanted roasted brussel sprouts. That being said, I scoured Whole Food’s aisles searching for anything that would complement my vegetable of choice. I decided to make one of my favorite stand-bys; roasted broccoli. In addition, I ordered two chicken kebabs to sautee (garlic herb and ginger soy), and hand-picked some okra (I needed a challenge). Once back in the kitchen, I immediately got my brown rice ready to go. I also par-steamed the broccoli and brussels. Once slightly cooked, I smothered them in olive oil, crushed garlic, garlic salt and oil and let them roast at 450. I played around with okra; sautéed with olive oil and a little butter, crushed red pepper, chili powder and garlic salt. For the chicken, I sautéed the entire kebab in a pan and covered it for about 10-15 minutes. Everything was delicious and easy; the roasted vegetables were perfectly charred, the okra had a subtle kick, the chicken had a nice crispness, but still tender with tons of flavor, and the rice, well it was rice. But everything was simple, delicious and healthy—a great way to jump start the week.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Summer Meal Utopia

Keeping up with birthday tradition, I attempted to expand the celebration into an entire weekend. That being said a scrumptious dinner party was in order and we had the perfect main course: fresh live lobsters. For sides we fixed up a lemon butter (ok, we just melted butter and added lemon) for optimal crustacean dipping, a homemade caprese salad with chopped tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, grilled corn on the cob drenched in Narragansett beer, butter and pepper, garlic fries served with garlic mayo (a house specialty) and grilled Portuguese fisherman sweet rolls.

The ultimate, perfect summer meal, which was accompanied by a buttery chardonnay and a crisp sauvignon blanc. Delightful. Indulgent. Delectable.

A Mooring is a Nautical Device

In light of a birthday, a special celebratory dinner was called for to reign in my 24th year on earth. My cohort and I chose one of our Newport, RI faves, The Mooring; a classic downtown seafood restaurant overlooking the wharf. We began our event by ordering a bottle of moderately priced Vouvray and gulping down two I.P.A. oyster shooters. For those of you poor souls who are not familiar with the so-called oyster shooter, it is pretty much a verbatim interpretation of the title; a shot (usually vodka) in an oyster. However, The Mooring gives us a little twist on the original and conveniently serves the open faced oyster with cocktail sauce and then provides a generous glass of I.P.A. to wash down the shot. Delicious and different- I liked it. For our main appetizer we sampled the seared Ahi tuna with fresh greens and wasabi mayonnaise and their famous lump crab cakes. Both were excellent. The tuna was perfectly seared and well presented on the bed of greens with swirled aioli on the plate. My only suggestion for the tuna would be to add more aioli, but I am biased in the condiment department. The crab cake, which I have had in the past, was delicious as always: a lovely plump cake full of crab, no annoying fillers and extras—just pure tender crab lightly fried.

For my main, I had the pan seared Scottish salmon with green lentils and sweet corn broth. My salmon was perfectly cooked as I requested; almost rare. However, I found the broth to be rather dull and lacking of seasoning. My dish was accompanied with grilled asparagus, roasted red peppers and a tarragon aioli, which had the perfect light crunch. My cohort’s chili cornmeal crusted scallops with mango barbecue sauce was out of this world. Large fist-sized scallops, perfectly seared and flavored with a powerful zest and “pow.” We finished our feast with complimentary glasses of raspberry champagne and dragged ourselves home perfectly content and delightfully buzzed.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Margs Margs Margs

Last evening was dubbed at Margs Night 2008 as my guzzling partner and I coordinated and planned a Margarita Around Back Bay evening where we could explore and investigate the so-called leading margarita vendors of Boston. We surveyed our options: Mesa (already did the fish bowl marg- good but a little too strong, if you can believe it), Fajitas and Ritas, Cottonwood Cafe, The Cactus Club and Casa Romero. After careful examination, we finally narrowed down our search to a realistic and more- soberly acceptable two: Cottonwood and Casa Romero.
Cottonwood was fun; it has a great reputation, prime Back Bay location and great margs to boot. Our bartender/ tequila connoisseur was a bit rough at first, but eventually warmed up to us and we received a top notch agave lesson. Basically, tequila is made in a few ways: silver, oro reposado and añejo and extra añejo.
Silver tequila is un-aged and stored in aluminum or oak barrels. Good news for your alcs; It is ready to drink immediately! Oro is un-aged as well and is often mixed with coloring to “trick” the drinker that it is aged; often resulting in a gold or caramel color. Reposado is as it sounds; aged tequila, with a minimum of two months, but less than a year in oak barrels. Añejo is aged more than a year but less than three years and extra añejo is aged in oak barrels for more than three years and is the newest trend in tequila. So when one chooses their personal blend, as they do at Cottonwood, it is important to know the following: tequila type preference, orange flavoring liqueur preference (Cointreau, Grand Marnier or Triple Sec) and of course the extras; frozen, straight up, on the rocks or salt. Our bartender was also kind enough to let us in a little secret; Patron is good, but not the best and backed it up by giving us a tasting of Corzo reposado (about $50 per bottle), a tequila aged in small oak barrels for optimum smoothness and flavor.
For margs sampling we tasted Cottonwoods’s Tradicional:
with Sauza Tres Generaciones and Cointreau–“the smoothest” and the Sauza Conmemorativo and Citronge “Boston’s Best” and most popular margarita. We loved both. A perfect blend of sweet and tart and paired perfectly with the salty, hot tortilla chips and four dips: guacamole, red and green salsa and con queso (note to self, stay away from the con queso, not necessary and could have very well come from the always entertaining/inspiring "Cheez Whiz" phenomenon).
After we exhausted ourselves with Tequila 101, we hit the pavement to Casa Romero, a charming sub-ground restaurant in an unassuming alley way around the corner from L’espalier. At Casa we had a fantastic Patron silver marg with salt and on the rocks that literally rocked. Unfortunately, our appetizer selection did not. We ordered the shrimp flauta, ok, but nothing to write home about, the pork tamale, all breaded and barely any pork, also quite under-seasoned, and chicken livers that had gristle and lack of seasoning as well. We should have taken our cue from the stale, flat chips we were greeted with upon arrival. Oh well. However, I will continue to persevere and give this cozy restaurant another try next winter, and I’ll be sure to go the entrée route. Even if the entrees are a let down, we always have that margarita…

Friday, May 30, 2008

Brasserie Faux?

Per our usual tradition, my girlfriends and I hit the town last evening and found ourselves at Sasso and Brasserie JO, two neighborly Back Bay establishments. For the entire month of May, Brasserie JO is celebrating its 10th year anniversary with a daily array of promised fun and deals. Some festivities include a complimentary crepe station, champagne tastings and $10 entrees. Clearly curiosity got the best of us because we narrowed down on the $10 entrees (let’s be honest, it seemed like the best deal). Before we stuffed our faces with French cuisine, we had our aperitifs at the lovely cocktail lounge Sasso, where we all sipped on a delicious N. V. Zonin Prosecco Brut. After whetting our appetite, we wandered next door in hopes of a bargain and satiating meal. The space was impressive; high ceilings with commandeering columns, art deco bar, traditional French brasserie chairs and wait staff that appeared to be plucked from Les Deux Magots. After we being seated, we were immediately served fresh carrots in a tangy vinaigrette and piping hot loafs of fresh baguettes with salted butter. So far, so good. In addition to the daily specials, Brasserie JO was also offering $10 martinis throughout the month. Their martini menu was quite impressive and we chose an array: ginger martini, French cosmos and a Dirty 10 martini, to name a few. All were strong, well infused and went down well. Enough said. We were also quite impressed with the Special offerings, ranging from salmon, trout, sea bass, pork, chicken and steak. Unfortunately, they had ran out of the steak frites, so we all ordered the trout with roasted cherry tomatoes and haricots verts and the sea bass in a fennel bouillabaisse. Usually a big fan of sea bass, I was a bit disappointed in the selection. The portion was less than half of that of the trout, and lacked a lot of the flavor that the trout captured in the herb seasoning. Also, I was hoping for a stronger fennel flavor. But beggars can’t be choosers--I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt--we are talking about $10 entrees. On a more positive note, we also ordered pommes frites that were sensational. I am excited to return and order a huge portion of steak frites off the regular menu and try their $5.50 house draft Hopla brew. A demain.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Leftovers for Pizza

I've been a huge make-your-own-pizza fan for years. It's so easy and you can basically put anything on it and it will be delicious. This week my friend and I rolled out dough, smeared fresh pesto and minced garlic, then added freshly cut tomatoes, shredded part skim mozzarella, sauteed chicken and prosciutto (quel surprise). As a precautionary to prevent a mushy crust, we spread a thin layer of olive oil on the pan and it worked like magic- thin, crispy and unburnt. Other ideas for pizza are barbecue sauce with sauteed red onions and aged gouda, asiago and mozzarella with shrimp, scallops and bacon and feta and fresh roasted vegetables.
On another unrelated note, I also indulged in fondue this weekend as a farewell meal for the season. My companions and I used the traditional Gruyere packet, added some white wine and then cut up two crusty loaves of bread and some Granny Smith apples. Mr. Lincoln spoiled us with his Seduction Salad: fresh spinach leaves, strawberries, kiwis, feta, red onion and a lemon honey vinaigrette. A delicious meal and a perfect finish for the fondue gruyere season.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Hard Peaks

Friday evening called for a special meal to celebrate a special occasion. Naturally, I spent hours deliberating, scheming and dreaming of a feast that would serve worthy of such an event. Needless to say, after deciding on fried risotto balls, steak frites with homemade béarnaise sauce, sautéed mushrooms, asparagus and chocolate soufflé, we were definitely able to revel in the flavors.
To start the evening off, we uncorked a 2006 Napa Valley Avalon Cabernet to let it breathe and then opened up a chilled Prosecco for immediate consumption. There is nothing like buzzed cooking to start an evening off. Now on to the food... Although I had selected a recipe for béarnaise and soufflé guidance (thank you, Gourmet), I was eager to do some experimentation with the meal. I rummaged through the fridge and found my leftover risotto. The wheels started turning; I vaguely remember hearing of a fried risotto dish (NB, 2007). It was one of those dishes that just deemed too time consuming to even think about since it required at least two days of prep. However, since I had the risotto at my mercy, I decided to give it a whirl. Unfortunately, I do not have a professional deep fryer, nor I have a deep fryer thermometer, but being half Jewish, I felt as if my homemade latke frying familiarity had provided me with basic frying proficiency and at least some level of comfort. As I reached for the canola oil, I desperately tried to remember the various heating points of different oils. I know with latkes we used vegetable oil, but I figured canola would be second best. One must make due, after all. After the oil started to lightly bubble, I rounded up the risotto with a small ice cream scoop and gently placed them in the pan. The balls sizzled and quickly browned. We let them cool off and experimented by dipping them in different dressing and sauces. Not bad, but not great. Personally, I found the balls to be too oily and I knew that with the proper equipment and a recipe (I believe Giada has one), I would one day be able to master the fried risotto ball. After our appetizer, we quickly began dovetailing with the other dishes. We thinly sliced potatoes and rubbed them with minced garlic and parsley and set them in the oven on 450d to crisp. After we had the fries going, I worked obsessively on making a perfect béarnaise sauce (success) and my better half buttered a skillet and browned our thick rib eyes to a perfect medium rare. In the meantime, we sautéed mushrooms in butter and boiled asparagus and then sautéed them in the leftover mushroom jus. The timing worked out perfectly and the meal was even better. The steaks were incredible. They were flawlessly cooked to our delight and the béarnaise was the perfect addition with the meat and fries. I made sure to squeeze in extra lemon into the sauce so there was a nice twang at the end of every bite. As I focused on replicating the perfect bite: steak glopped with béarnaise, fries and mushrooms, we guzzled down wine and oohed and ahhed over our masterpiece. After eating every morsel of delectable goodness, we attempted our next challenge of homemade soufflé. I had my first brush of identifying with Laura Ingalls Wilder when I realized that we did not have an electric mixer to whisk the egg whites. Clearly, I was not thinking straight when I settled on a soufflé as our dessert. But we took matters into our own hands and just like they did in the olden days, we frantically took turns whisking the whites. And to our surprise, soft, medium and hard (Ok, more medium) peaks were formed. What is even more amazing is that our chocolate soufflé rose. We were so proud by our exertion and even more amazed by the taste. Three days later, my forearm still hurts, but it was worth it. Needless to say, I'm a little "egged out," but I do look forward to making the dessert again, with the proper equipment, of course. I also hope to one day be back at my body’s appropriate set point, after consuming upwards of 100 grams of fat in one setting.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Vegetable Risotto

My girlfriends and I have begun a tradition of having a dinner party every Wednesday evening. It’s a pleasant way to aid coping with the work week and is also fun to scheme, cook and consume. This week, we used a Real Simple Edamame, Lemon and Tarragon Risotto recipe, but decided to turn up the volume a bit. Like many foodies, risotto tends to have an autumnal/ winter ring, however, with the right mix of vegetables, this dish lends itself well to spring. In addition, the recipe called for vegetable stock, as opposed to the slightly heavier alternative of chicken broth, which added a lighter texture to the dish. Being vegetable freaks, we decided to incorporate additional vegetables and chose crisp asparagus and sweet potatoes. We simply par-steamed the asparagus to ensure a bit of crunchiness and cooked sweet potato until soft, and then diced into bits. I found this dish to be delicious. I liked how the lemon gave the dish a nice spring and the tarragon added a fennel-like spice to the dish. The vegetables were a perfect medley and became the main attraction as opposed to sticky, cheesy rice (although that sounds good too).

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lunch Time ie. Something Other Than Prosciutto and Cheese

Unlike the majority of America's workforce, I tend to bring my lunches in, often polishing off the previous evening's meal, or pulling together scraps from my cabinet (remember the "Risotto alla Tutti"?). Lately, I've been going to Whole Foods with the challenge of finding food that will last for four to five days, has some relatively "healthy" component by some standard, and is in a budget of $10- $15 (there goes the sushi). My go-to is a Greek salad/wrap. I splurge on a $4 pepper of some sort and then buy Cedar's hummus, fresh whole feta (don't be dismayed by the water it sits in, it only means it is fresher), a lettuce product (either a head of Romaine or gasp, even bagged; clearly, I trust Whole Foods to distribute reliable bagged lettuce), cherry or a whole tomato, red onion (optional; due to overwhelming fears of smelling like gas, I am trying to refrain) and pita/bread product, whole wheat preferred. Don't forget a Greek dressing of your liking and you'll be all set.
This week, I was at a loss. It was Monday, and even worse, rainy and miserable. I rambled around aimlessly, scouring the aisles, annoyed at the recent increase of food prices and even more annoyed by the individuals who remembered to lug their Wellies into the office that day. Finally, I identified a suiting direction; tuna fish salad, a lunchtime stand-by. Not only was it already packaged and reasonably priced, but it contained little jewels of Fuji apples, cranberries and a sprinkling of dill. Now that I had identified my gem, I needed to find additional fixings and holders. I immediately headed to the vegetables, where I grabbed a Santa Barbara lettuce bag, some string beans (for additional fiber/ nutritious filler content) and after careful debating, chose Garden City Stone Ground Whole Wheat wraps (great for your Mexican tortillas as well). I threw in another Greek dressing and a bag of 365 Ranch Soy Crispettes for kicks and I was set for the week. See, I knew I could blog about something other than prosciutto and cheese. More affordable, and long-lasting + relatively health conscience lunches to come.

A new one: so this week, I continued with the usual ___-salad item for lunch and went with chicken salad. After a thorough mayo inspection, I decided on an appropriate ratio and then wandered around for a bit looking for fillers. I picked out a whole wheat flax wrap, which sounded just too healthy to pass up, grabbed my go-to green beans, some tomatoes, apples and then frantically started looking for a wild card. Much to my chagrin, I stumbled upon a fresh bunch of watercress, which really got me going. To top it off, I bought a bag of spicy sweet potato Terra chips and called it a day.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Cocktail Party: Don't Scoop the Brie


I, like many other female counterparts, can be labeled as a "cocktail party girl." I love getting a little dressed up, mingling, sipping on champagne and nibbling on caviar
canapés. But are cocktail parties all that they are cracked up to be? Let's dissect.
First of all, it can be awkward. You're basically transported into a world of buzzing strangers and somehow expected to carry on a conversation. Hi, How are you? What do you do? Where are you from? What NESCAC/ Ivy did you attend? Greek life? Sailing? French lessons in St. Tropez? You get the point. Not to brag, but this stuff is second nature to me. I come from a small family, in which I interacted with adults and can carry on a boring, mundane conversation and but will from time-to-time, try to spice it up (insert: lie), to make a dull conversation a bit more interessant.
Two, I find that it is important to attend these soirees with a goal in mind. One must align their aspirations prior to entering the hectic arena. Personally, my main concern is the food, but this can prove to be quite challenging. The second I arrive in a social arena, I need two things: a drink in hand and food in mouth. That being said, I try to make a bee line to the bar while observing and pin pointing food locations around the room. Often time hors d'oeuvre are delivered by a wait staff. Noted. Both situations acquire adept skill. A novice would think presented food is easier to conquer, but this common misconception can be quite the opposite. Since many people assume that cocktail parties are for mindless chatter and a possible networking of-I-may-use- your-name-on-a-cover-letter, these chatterers often pop up as obstacles, just as you're bee lining to the blue cheese and grape platter. Eff. You're stuck listening to financial jargon and where to find discounted Tori Burch shoes (Marshalls). One must be direct and even abrupt. I have been known to say, "Excuse me, I really need that crab cake over there." Often times that can be a conversation starter/ender in itself, whatever you prefer. Although I may be a social creature by nature, but food trumps all.
Now, the latter issue at hand also has it's downfalls. It is important to strategically scope out the wait staff. Are they male or female (this can be important)? Can you manage to make initial eye contact? Where do they appear to be coming from? It is not a faux pas to align yourself near the kitchen door to receive first dibs. Nor is it a faux pas to "casually flirt" with the wait staff. ALWAYS say thank you. Even if you're not interested in the chicken satay because you know you will be inevitably stuck with an awkward stick,* alternatively, always say "no thank you," with direct eye contact and a smile. These people will be come your best allies over the course of the evening. Also, it is imperative to at least mumble some kind of response when refusing a beef tartare as you are masticating on a stuffed mushroom. Timing can be bad, but it's not their fault. I've also been known to be direct with my newly founded friends, often times saying things like "Oh, I really like these!" Miracles have happened; I once was gifted with a small plate stacked of bacon wrapped scallops entirely for me. And yes, I was near the kitchen area.
Here are a few other quirks or advice. Stay away from the spinach. I'm sorry, it's hard, but it's a must. You may not be on the "is there anything in my teeth" level with your cocktail partner.
Even if it's not polite, I try to stuff the
canapé in my mouth in one fell swoop. You don't want any chick peas falling to the floor, or worse, in your chardonnay. Just chew as fast as you say, cover your mouth and make a joke after to ease the tension. Or, it can be best to avoid the two-bite toasted bruschettas, but where is the fun in in that?
When asked a question mid-bite (wait staff excluded), make them wait, you don't want to be caught talking "sea food" My Girl style.
*Always grab a napkin. It can be a great covering tool for the annoying toothpick booby prize you will get stuff with.
When at the cheese platter, don't be intimidated and pressured into the small awkward plates. Just go ahead, scoop into that melted brie. What's the point in hand-picking your grapes onto a plate, you're going to eat them in two minutes? Plus when you have a plate and a beverage in hand, how will you be able to do either? Exactly, ditch the small plate, like I said, go ahead, scoop that brie.
Don't worry about being too direct when it comes to finding food, it's on everyone's mind, you'll just be praised for being so honest. Unless you don't like food and that's a whole other issue.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Other White/Pink Meat

After being terrified by stitches, busted lips and Javier Bardem’s performance in No Country for Old Men, I decided to lighten up the Sunday downer mood and create un petit masterpiece. I was in a creative spirit and wanted to venture out of the chicken / steak box. Although this may sound silly, my knowledge of the Other White/Pink Meat is minimal at best, so I decided to play around with pork to boost my confidence. I played around with a past recipe that used apples, whiskey and balsamic and eventually reduces to a glaze. To boost up the recipe, I sautéed shallots and garlic in butter (decadent, I know), browned some onions, seared the thick pork chops, added apples, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard and a dash of grenadine (I know it doesn’t replace whiskey, but it's used in alcoholic beverages so I let it slip). I also roasted some red potatoes with herbs, olive oil, some cubes of butter (!) and bread crumbs, roasted a yellow summer squash and made a basic stuffing ( I lie! I used a pre-stuffing mixture, no judgments, I’m not Martha). I learned that I can now comfortably use butter to my liking. And I also learned that the Other White/Pink Meat is as easy as they say it is to cook. It was juicy, flavorful and lends itself well to a mustard-balsamic-fruit glaze.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Food for the Masses

Sunday may have been more beneficial if I had merely written a check to Type II Diabetes, Attn. Diabetes Administrator c/o M.O. Then I could have avoided the fattening food binge I succumbed to. But that wouldn’t have been as much fun. Instead, I did it the hard way and participated in my fair share of consumption that will eventually contribute to my impending Diabetes case that I will develop in 35 years. But enough with the administrative details, I’ll delve into Sunday’s eateries because that was the most absurd. So I woke up, had a double dose of caffeine (black coffee and afternoon tea) and a handful of antioxidant infused Smart Start. That was my starter. Then my fellow comrades and I went to check out a new restaurant, Fieldstones, in Portsmouth, RI. Fieldstones was pretty good--they took the basic menu and turned up the volume. I ordered a smoked chicken sandwiches layered with alfalfa sprouts, cranberry mayonnaise and bacon. Although the bread was a bit too doughy, I certainly didn’t have a problem polishing off my sweet potato fries, and helping myself to my fellow diner’s waffle fries, Portobello burger and Rueben. After this greasy brunch, I was satisfied…for about 2 hours. Then I got a sudden craving for sweet so I rummaged through my host’s cabinets and had a handful of crystallized ginger and chocolate chip morsels. One hour later, I went to the Cookie Jar and had the tough decision of choosing between oatmeal chocolate chip and oatmeal butterscotch. I did what most people would do and got both. No use in driving yourself crazy. It is Sunday after all. Now here is the part that kills me. After scarfing down our treats my accomplice and I keep walking down the wharf towards the water, until we pass The Black Pearl. And although we have both frequented this Newpy establishment, neither of us had the pleasure of indulging for quite sometime. So that being said, we hastily conjured up some ridiculous reason as to why we needed to go to the Black Pearl after we had indulged in brunch and cookies. We cleverly came up with a desperate need to “re taste” the famed clam chowder and used this poor suggestion as our excuse. At least I was pleased. The Pearl is cuter than I remembered. It has that traditional New England sea fare flair—low beamed ceilings, dark wide set polished wood floors and walls, boat-like tables. If you were wondering, our re tasting was worth it. The chowder was delicious and the crackers and hot rolls with salted butter complemented the rich dish well. I was so full from the creamy soup and immediately vowed to have a small green salad for dinner, or at least something on the lighter side. But I was heavily mistaken and found myself eating beef fried dumplings, fatty spring rolls and pad thai noodles. Nicely done.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Hillster

Perhaps many of you are familiar with the Sunday F U. It usually begins with severe depression when you arise groggy in the am/pm (whatever your preference may be), then a manic happiness sets over when you realize you have a “full free day” (let's be honest, a half day), and then severe panic sets over again. Finally you attempt to get your ducks lined up in a row and enjoy your last moments of freedom before the Monday Grind. Sometimes this may involve going to a bar, attending a cocktail party ( my father's style), but I like to go out to dinner and indulge in some decent wine and food. So the challenge is to find a nice way to procrastinate into the work week, usually bearing a slight hangover, a nice "finger" to the upcoming week. Per my usual Sunday Funday I went out to dinner, and was politely convinced into going to the Hill Tavern, a local Beacon Hill mainstream haunt.I've been to this institution several times, mainly to indulge in the half price appetizers during an early "happy hour" at 4-6PM. My first sandwich experience was pretty blah. Eggplant, red pepper and zucchini. Unfortunately, cheese wasn't present and I don't think sandwiches or panini or wraps or any other bread product with protein and maybe some veggies should ever show itself the to the general public without adding at least a slice of cheese product. But that being said, besides contradicting the Cardinal Sandwich rule, the sandwich was....mediocre at best.

Now, after gently being coerced to give sandwich another try, I blundered over my decision once again. This time, I took my advice and ordered the mozzarella, avocado and caramelized onions and cherry tomato panini. Much to my dismay, this was a flop too. Yes, avocado, tomato and mozz produced a lovely basic blend, but another cardinal sin surfaced--the onions weren't caramelized. They were not sweet (hence the "caramel" function of the word) but mushy and lacking of flavor. Enough said.

At least I got a UFO in a frosted beer glass, approximately one foot tall.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Divine Burger Quest

I’ve decided to keep a running post on discovering the perfect burger and all that it can be. Now, my philosophy is that a burger can encompass a variety of desires, so this posting will research and reflect the discovery of a variety of perfect matches; the Gourmet Burger syndrome, the Burger Joint syndrome, the Most Creative Burger syndrome, so be it.
For instance, the Burger Joint hidden away in the Parker Meridien offers a perfect NY Burger Joint offering. Just simply hidden behind a curtain (follow the grease smell), you will unearth this cult classic-- a small dive with fake plaster graffiti-ed walls, tacky red cushioned booths and a line out the wazoo. It is greasy, rushed and slightly anxiety-inducing, but damn, their burgers are good. I like them with the works: mustard, mayo, ketchup, onions, tomato, lettuce and a pickle for fun. Their fries are even better and are served in a brown paper bag that really has the ability to show off the grease factor. You can also order a pitcher of Sam Adams, but only this. No thrills. Perfect. The food is more based on atmosphere, or lack there of. This isn’t an angus beef burger, it’s just beef, plain and simple with a tacky and crazed atmosphere to pump up the volume. But it’s fun and a great place to go with friends and colleagues, if you can battle out the line and get your order down to perfection.
A similar Boston counterpart would have to be Charlies in Harvard Square. Charlies is a lot less frenetic and hidden, but has that same basic burger joint idea. The main counter top bar is decorated with a marquis and surrounded by fake red leather stools. Plastic red booths are set up around the perimeter and the salt and pepper are served in corona bottles (nice use of recycling). The menu is pretty expansive and their specialties are of course burgers. Mostly double burgers as well, making my suspicion confirm that this was going to be a real burger joint, with mediocre meat, as opposed to the amazing kobe beef burger with crispy onions served at Harvard Gardens. I was right, well partially. My date ordered the double guacamole with cheddar, served with a side of chips (um...well I guess they're for guacamole bits). I had the regular burger with the works, plus bacon. It was pretty good. Thin patty-ed meat, decently crisped fries, but all around, a standard greasy burger joint.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Baccala, Anyone?

Now I may not currently live in Manhattan, but I still get to participate in Boston’s whirlwind version of Restaurant Week (Thank you Open Table!). Per usual, much deliberation and debating went into narrowing down our numbero uno choice, but lo and behold, my seven counterparts and I managed to opt for Avila, a Mediterranean restaurant in Back Bay.
Now I’m mixed about restaurant week. It seems like a great opportunity to gain bragger’s rights about top tier, high-end restaurants, but at the same time, I can’t help but feel like a pauper or a fake when the waiter asks me what menu I want to order from…”Um, restaurant week, please, and please don’t judge me,” I mumble. But enough, food is food. The only downsize is that some of these high end restaurants anticipate a flux of bourgeois so they “soften” their menu a bit to represent their new clientele. However, despite the aforementioned hesitations, Avila was quite good. I started with a baccala cake; a Mediterranean cod that is salted, rather than packed with ice during its trip over seas to retain freshness. That being said, the dish is salty. Quite salty. The fish was slightly breaded and presented similarly to a crab cake, with a mustard mayo dollop and dressed greens to cut the saltiness of the fish. It was still too salty. But at least I tried a new dish.
For my entrée, I chose the grilled swordfish with a chorizo aioli and served over paella. Swordfish can be tricky; often too dry and even a bit stringy. But these open kitchen chefs did a stellar job serving a troublesome fish that was moist, flavorful and also hot. That being said, the fish was good and I liked the paella, not loved it. For dessert, I ordered the gingerbread plated with a fruit and caramel glaze and topped with fresh Chantilly cream. This was delicious, but almost a bit too sweet, although the whipped topping did help cut the richness. So, Avila was good. Not stellar, but at the same time, they’re dishing out the same six dishes two weeks straight, so I will cut them some slack. I did like the setting; creamy walls, light polished food floors, floor-to-ceiling windows with textured cream drapes, extraordinary high ceilings, light wood accents to match the flooring and straight back wooden chairs that were surprisingly comfortable; modern and contemporary, but still managed a warmness. Next time, I’m sitting at the bar and ordering tapas.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Suburban Beverage Mall Phenomenon

For some unbeknown reason, my Beacon Hill counterparts and I picked In the Land of Women as our weekly film last evening. Maybe because Adam Brody stars in it. Maybe because Meg Ryan stars in it. Je ne sais quoi... the reasons are endless. But we were mesmerized, nonetheless. As we watched the cinematic masterpiece, a suburban phenomenon surfaced; the cult shopping mall beverage, Orange Julius. Now one person, who will go unnamed, was not even remotely aware of this classic American mall sensation. It got me thinking: How could I describe this tasty refreshing beverage, known as the Julius that is Orange? I mean clearly, someone named Julius created a twist on the juice, but what else did I have to offer my friend who stood so far into the darkness? Thinking back, I tried to remember my virgin encounter. Funnily enough, I discovered the classic treat in 6th grade Home Ec. Go figure. I guess I hadn't had my share of suburban shopping mall experiences (clearly, The Short Hills did not apply, think more of Charlotte Russe and Things Remembered). Frozen orange juice concentrate, milk, water, sugar, vanilla and ice cubes blended et voila; a frothy frosted concoction is created. I suppose adolescence distracted me, because it wasn't until I made a maiden voyage Freshman year in college to The Crustal Mall, c/o New London, CT, where I was re united with the real thing, tacky stand and all. Delicious. After vividly recounting my two distinct experiences, I decided to do some research on this tacky shopping mall staple. Thanks to the handy rollover time line feature on the website, I was able to learn that as early as 1929, Julius Freed had already opened up as many as 100 franchises, impressive.
I also learned that Johnny Carson and Alan Shepard and received the Orange Julius Lifetime Pass, something I hope to aspire to as a life goal. I'll have to revamp my schedule to make the schlep out to the tacky mall and divulge in the mid-America beverage phenomenon.
Just like Auntie Ann's and the cleverly titled Master Wok, Orange Julius is just a mall stand away...


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Risotto alla Tutti

Since I am recently on major budget mode, I decided to do some cabinet poking in hopes of discovering some forgotten, long- bought goodies. I was in luck! I found an entire box of Arborio rice( risotto, for you novices) that I knew could do wonders for my new financial plan. Once identifying my main ingredient, I immediately ran through an ingredient list compiling the basics: onion, chicken broth, veggies, etc. Considering that I had none of the aforementioned*, I knew I had to use a creative spin. But thanks to Blog Master M Dawg, I had faith that I too could veer from the universal and familiar style of the Italian staple dish.** I started digging, especially in the spice department, since I have recently returned from a favorable trip to Polcari’s. I decided to sautee some garlic and crushed red pepper, making the essence of my dish full of heat. Then, I added my rice and let the grains heat up and suck in some of that flavor. I just guesstimated and slowly started adding water, stirring constantly and waiting patiently until I reached the consistency that I desired. It worked. Then I went spice crazy—herbs de Provence, thyme, rosemary, parsley—some butter, a few cherry tomatoes I conveniently stole from my roommate and grated cheese. Voila! This is a fool-proof, ridiculously simple version of the dish that allows for creativity and cabinet restoration.

* Please don’t judge, I’m in a financial re-planning status, code yellow, and always have those basics in stock…no pun intended.

** Memories of Italian Made Simple, created by Chef Blog Master M Dawg & Fashionista K, NYU Dorms, summer 2005, dance through my head.

Cost of Beautification

Cost of beauty; remember the days of $1Wet & Wild nail polishes, or thick, chalky, dare-I-say lip liner that you could even casually try on if no one was looking at the local pharmacy? Those were the days. Now, as we age and our supple 20-something skin elasticity begins to fade (weep, weep, but seriously, a few subtle lines have begun to slowly creep on my face), and as our culture’s status quo shop-online-and-have-a-bagillion choices continues to cultivate (Hello Marketing Department at Sephora!), we are bombarded with expensive potions, lotions, make up and pills that claim to revamp nature’s course. Here is my question; why does cream of the sea NEED to cost $125 for 1oz? Is it really that great? Some say yes. When asked to comment on her favorite product, my dear friend, Ms. C. Brewer simply responded: “Oh my, was I spotted at Neiman’s stocking up?” Enough said—clearly this is a cult classic. But can the go-to, fraction of the cost, dermatologist recommended Neutrogena deliver the same results? And why is choosing a product confusing? Ok, we can go with the natural, cost friendly Burt’s Bees, but then I look to my right and there is another product with not only shea butter, but it has almonds AND helioplex. The choices are ridiculous. Lately, I’ve been trying to narrow in on Bumble & bumble and who can blame me? Cute packaging, great reviews and a nice price tag to match (the perfect equation for my consumer self to fall for the trap). That being said, I splurged on the B&b Styling Creme for $30 (ok, I lied, it was only $22 with my Extra Care Rewards Points from CVS, another consumer trend that I conveniently fell into). The bottle reads: “In a word-magic.” I was intrigued. After using the crème and my Bed Head Superstar Lotion for volume (half the price of B&b), I was impressed. My hair truly looked coiffed. Now I’m not saying Jackie O coiffed, but still, I noticed a real improvement. My affirmations were confirmed when I arrived to work where three of my coworkers complimented me on my hair (please keep in mind that I only work with four employees, so I have a 75% hair approval rate). Does money really buy good products? I guess the jury is still out for tomorrow’s result.
Now as we matriculate into more expensive products, when does it stop? What about Botox? Do we go there? By the time we’re 40 will it be an everyday routine, much like flossing (hardly) or applying an anti wrinkle eye cream? I’d like to think that by the time we actually need Botox, there will be a natural, non-poisonous alternative.
Let’s backtrack to the world “natural.” Let’s face it, we’re going Green these days. I remember when the three R’s, reduce, reuse, recycle were the big rage and in Grade School and we’d all take practicing shots into the blue bins with our tin foil balls. But like Grade School, we have graduated. Now we’re into non comedogenic, fragrance free, all naturally, organic products, which are inundating the market. Heck, they’re even building Green hotels with Zagat-like star ratings, judging the amount of “green” air. Funny, as I opened up Sephora’s website to research a few organic products, the home browser was dedicated to the Green movement, displaying the slogan: Be As Natural As You Want To Be--Natural, Organic, Paraben Free? Find Out What It All Means.” It’s not enough that Leo and Lori David are preaching it, even our prime make up supplier is shouting it from the rooftops. I guess our favorite intoxicating alcohol smelling hair spray is passé too. I guess I’m falling for the craze, but am I better for it? Good bye Cover Girl pressed powder foundation with orange greasy smears. Instead, I use a mineral-based face powder by FX for $30. Expensive, I know, but at least I’m more au natural.
Thanks for listening to my trite quips as I try to untangle my way through this complicated underworld of beauty products.
Just when did life get so complicated? But don't worry, I'll be sure to make up for this shallow commentary with an insightful look into Ahmadinejad's rule or the current state of the U.S. economy. Thanks for coming!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Panna, Vodka & Scallops

As usual, my weekend proved to be quite a gourmet experience.
Friday began with a little happy hour at, (gasp) The Living Room. Now don’t laugh, I had my reservations too, but honestly, if you come with low expectations, it’s not so bad. I can’t say too much since I only tried the half priced seared scallops over bed of frisee with mushrooms, balsamic reduction and shaved parm. Ok, the scallops were seared perfectly, so immediately, I was relieved. Then I was confronted with the confirmation of the Italian culinary rule: Do not mix seafood and cheese. Although I take this “rule” with a grain of salt-particularly when it comes to an Italian seafood stew, that I usually drench in cheese shavings, or that one time I made a creamy mushroom and scallop risotto so thick of formaggio, I could hardly stir--however; the true rule need apply to this situation. The cheese was too rich for the seared scallop. I liked the combo of the crimini mushrooms, parmesan and reduction sauce and I liked the scallop, but not the mélange of the two entities.
After our “amuse bouche” we went to Salumeria, the famous Italian grocer
to accomplish my mission of creating a homemade vodka sauce with thick pancetta. Salumeria had all we needed and more; we got a fantastic baguette, thick pancetta and panna, an Italian cream (where the gelato flavor Panna Cotta originates from); essentially it’s an Italian version of sour cream /heavy whipping cream. Needless to say, my mission accomplished. I made sure to preserve some of the pancetta pan drippings for the tomato sauce and I also added extra panna, vodka and kilos worth of cheese.
Another lovely, but much less economically friendly meal was held at Carmen’s, conveniently nestled in the Paul Revere triangle. Carmen's is sandwiched between Paul Revere’s house and abig Italian (surprise) monster of a restaurant, Limoncello; making it easy to miss. It is worth stumbling upon. Inside, exposed brick, small candle votives and dim lighting make the interior intimate and cozy. We chose a 2004 Montepulciano Abruzzo, which my counterpart was hesitant on, but I loved from the get go. For a first course, we shared a sweet grilled flat bread topped with caramelized onions, butternut squash and chunks of melting goat. My only criticism was that I wished the chefs had used larger shavings of butternut squash, rather than small diced cubes of butternut, but who knows, maybe they were going for a dainty effect. Also, the bread was tough to cut, but I’ll stop complaining. Our next two dishes were a scallop truffle oiled risotto (must have been on my mind) and homemade butternut squash ravioli (repetitive, yes, but it has a reputation of being a crowd pleaser; don't worry, I asked). The scallops were seared to perfection, with the perfect hint of rich truffle oil. However, the risotto was more root vegetable based and I think threw off the richness of scallops. In addition, the vegetables weren’t as buttery or cooked through as I would’ve liked, so it was a bit distracting. Although extra points rewarded for pretty the plating. However, we were much less disappointed with the ravioli: as I slipped my fork into the transparently thin homemade ravioli, pureed butternut squash oozed out. I knew I had made the right choice. The wide, flat ravioli was smothered with butter and herbs and topped with hazelnuts, this dish was right on the money; delectable and absolutely savory; a perfect meal to celebrate the end (hopefully) of winter. Carmen’s isn’t cheap, but the menu is a-typical of the tiresome Americanized Italian fare that we are bombarded with in N.E. It proves to be a great date place, but better yet, go with your parents, so your meal isn’t weighing in on your prized checking account.

Say It Slower, Say It Louder: A Night In Asia

Saturday was spent with great company in Newton for a much- anticipated DP.
After meticulous planning and relaying back and forth (read: 60+ emails) Lindy, Kelsey and I elected an Asian themed meal; the spotlight would shine on a miso glazed Chilean sea bass served on a bed of sticky rice, served with a side of cellophane glass noodles and a highlighted dollop of fresh colorful vegetables.
Kelsey and I were in charge of appetizers. We stuck with an oldie but a goody; the red pepper aioli. For our wild card, we chose a fig and balsamic spread to be paired with a mild manchego. The appetizers were served with a fresh baguette and a white Cotes du Rhone.
Now onto our main attraction… Our amuse bouche was an endamame and vegetable gyosha, lightly sautéed and steamed, served with a soy-based sauce, which definitely whet the appetite, as amuse bouches are famously invented to do. Our main course was the much anticipated Chilean sea bass that looked fresh enough to dig in raw. We whisked together a miso glaze and smothered the massive hunks of bone white fresh Chilean sea bass. The fish was perfectly cooked, chunky flakes fell off my fork, rich, buttery and fresh. We served the fish on a bed of sticky rice. We also made cellophane noodles with a sesame soy sauce, topped with red and yellow peppers, scallions and crushed peanuts. The texture was of the noodle dish was diverse; slightly aldente noodles accompanied by crunchy fresh vegetables and crumbles of peanuts, spicy tastes upfront*, yet surprisingly smooth flavors on the end note, thanks to the generous portion sesame oil I so heartily poured. (*Please note my hommage to snotty wine tasting remarks). Our vegetables were sautéed patti pan and mini zucchini with black sesame seeds, which added a nice base to the flavorful miso and spicy noodle sauce.
As for the wine selection, La Crema Chardonnay was the perfect accompaniment; a buttery, rich, crisp white that paired exceptionally well with our Asian flavors. Dessert was a Chambord infused chocolate mousse, paired with a wonderful California cab. A few rich-inducing stomachs aside, a decadent treat of an evening. I look forward to A Night In Asia, aka Say It Slower, Say It Louder, Round Deux.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Boston Cult Classic

Since today was so dreary AND a Wednesday, I figured I really could use a pick me up. That being said, I went to the Boston Financial District Cult Classic, Al's State Street Cafe. Novices beware, you have to be quick, aggressive, demonstrate great eye contact ability and be able to follow through in the end. Despite the chaotic atmosphere of this take out shop, the food is delicious, generous, simple and CHEAP. Their famous chicken salad is a basic recipe, but delicious all around. It will also make you feel like crap afterwards, so if you wish to go easy, I suggest not ordering red onions. My favorite sandwich, hands down, is the State Street Cafe Special; fresh mozzarella, proscuitto, basil and tomato with balsamic dressing served on a hot crispy baguette ($4.50 for small, $7 for large). Another great find is the salad. Four bucks gets your a huge, crisp salad, dollar extra for chicken or tuna AND a huge loaf of even hotter bread. I think Al's has really nailed it for the business professionals in this quirky city. Although seating is non existent, the place is booming and will be a nice place to take out and eat in PO Square when spring and summer finally arrives.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Returning from Paradise

First of all, my apologies for not congratulating and upholding Ms. Cahill's contribution to the Bloggidy Blog world! Your courage, humor and all around great commentary will be shared and appreciated amongst all avid readers. I look forward to future posts. I am even being honored with a Guest Post next week...the excitement continues to haunt me at great lengths.

For now, I don't have much to say. I just returned from Richard's 60th birthday celebration in Puerto Plata and am too depressed to hatch into details about my trip. However, I will say, I will miss stretching on the beach, tanning ( with 70 SPF), wading in aqua waters, drinking pina coladas at all times of the day and eating my heart out. Cheers to the DR!