Tuesday, November 13, 2007
To accompany the bean soup, I made some easy ham and cheese muffins, which managed to turn out well even with the substitution of 1 cup of flour, 1/2 t salt, and 1 1/2 t baking powder for a cup of self-rising flour. For the same meal, I baked and constructed the Pecan Spice Layer Cake from Gourmet's April cover. I needed some help smooshing the crushed nuts around the cake, but the final product closely resembled the photo, and did not disappoint in taste.
Ukrop's and Ellwood Thompson's (a local grocery store with natural and organic products) provided excellent sandwiches for quick meals over the weekend. Ukrop's has a nice selection pre-made paninis that are grilled to order. My favorite is the chicken pesto, which I had on white bread but is sometimes made on flatbread or sunflower seed bread. The chicken is sliced and chopped finely, then mixed with a perfect amount of pesto and layered underneath spinach and tomato. And Ukrop's has great pickles to go with their paninis.
Ellwood Thompson's takes a different approach at their prepared foods counter. Laminated order forms and dry erase markers are perched above the refrigerator with appealing and vegetarian-friendly dishes. Customers can choose various combinations for their meal, and have the option of a sandwich, wrap or panini. On Sunday, thinly sliced smoked turkey, garlicky hummus, mashed avocado and fresh spinach and lettuce on grilled whole wheat hit the spot. I am loyal to Ukrop's, but the quality of ingredients at Ellwood Thompson's is tough to beat.
I suppose now is the time to admit that Davy and I went back to Zeus Gallery Cafe not two weeks after our first visit. In our defense, my parents were visiting and I was anxiously anticipating a look at one of their full menus (which is written on a chalkboard and changes frequently). The butternut squash risotto with duck confit and lamb strip loin I had that night shouldn't be left out, but going into too much detail will only make me want the food more, because I had one of the best desserts of all time at that meal. It was called "melting chocolate cake," and was simply to die for. A tiny scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream and thick curl of soft, high-quality chocolate were nestled against the cake. I couldn't finish it, even with help, which normally would make me feel ashamed, but I was so pleased with the confection that nothing else mattered.
Before I start drooling on my keyboard, I'm going to end this post. I hope anyone who reads this has been as lucky in their edible experiences as I have.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Despite unbelievable October warmth and humidity, the walk to Zeus was pleasant. On the way, I was reminded of another local business that I haven't yet experienced, the Belmont Butchery, which is already a year old. It's also a popular little shop, and I'm guessing it has the same type of feel as the Zeus Gallery Cafe - that of an endeared neighborhood locale.
The owner (or manager) who greeted us was personable and accommodating. He explained that there was going to be a large party in the room where our table was, and that he could try to move us if they became too noisy. I overheard him talking to the couple at the two-person booth next to ours; he wanted to make sure they were full after their three courses, because their portions are bigger when it's not Restaurant Week.
Our server was just as pleasant and helpful, which isn't always true of restaurant staff during this particular week since the fixed price menu can hurt profits. She informed us of two items off the menu - a filet dish and spectacular sounding salad with figs, prosciuitto and goat cheese - before pouring our Dievole Sangiovese.
Although I was tempted by the $11 salad, I settled for organic mixed greens with pumpkin seed brittle and a house vinaigrette as my starter. Cilantro calamari and butternut squash and apple soup were also appealing options, but I decided I should get something healthy out of the meal. Davy had the calamari, which was tender and flavorful, followed by filet meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green beans. I'm not the biggest fan of meatloaf, but his dinner was moist and tasty.
My flounder stuffed with crab meat was rich and delectable. A light lobster buerre blanc covered the plate, and the fish rested on a nest of tomato coulis and swiss chard cous cous. I'm not sure if cous cous can look like pearl pasta, or if the kitchen decided to serve the dish with a slight variation from the menu. The swiss chard also looked and tasted more like pesto, which was not a problem considering I will eat pesto on just about anything.
As the large party next to our booth started getting rowdier, we had a short but satisfying dessert course. I had gone back and forth between the Belgian Chocolate Pate and Tiramisu, but in the end I can never resist trying tiramisu, and Zeus' did not disappoint. The waitress brought a respectable piece with two layers of airy lady fingers sandwiching a thing smear of espresso-flavored mascarpone. The bottom component of the tiramisu was a healthy dollop of the coffee cream, which I happily finished. Some of Davy's warm granny smith cobbler also found it's way into my mouth, and I have no complaints about that.
There's a good chance that my next visit to Zeus Gallery Cafe will be soon after Restaurant Week ends. The restaurant has been established for more than a decade (maybe even two) in the Museum District, and it took me way too long to discover it. Plus I'm long overdue for browsing the Belmont Butchery, and I wouldn't want to shop there on an empty stomach, would I?
Friday, October 05, 2007
Heartier recipes look more appealing now than they did just a few weeks ago, and when I saw one for butternut squash and leek risotto, I couldn't ignore it. The picture was enticing, but I was also anxious for the comforts of autumn flavors.
Of course, I wasn't completely satisfied with the recipe and ended up adjusting it a bit. Rosemary stood in for sage (I couldn't bring myself to buy a huge package of sage when I have a healthy rosemary plant on my front porch), and I substituted 2% milk and half of a tablespoon of butter for the whipping cream. Hoping to include more vegetables in the meal, I also included bite-sized pieces of steamed green beans.
The addition of a hot Italian pepper made the biggest difference in the dish. After a sizeable harvest in August, the one ripe bulb on the plant on Monday was begging to be picked. It was smaller, yet significantly more potent, than its summer relatives. The fiery vapors steaming out of the pot should have clued me in, but it took a taste of the risotto in the middle of the stirring process and an afflicted finger in the corner of my eye to to figure it out. I promptly removed the pepper pieces and hoped the risotto was edible.
Similar to many one-pot meals, the concoction was more developed the second time we ate it, and it provided multiple sensations in each bite. The squash was sweet and tender, and melted in my mouth with every bite; the leeks were subtle with a soft onion essence. Creamy rice stood up to the crisp green beans, and the spice of the hot peppers was pervasive but not overpowering. While I'm not sure I'd make the risotto again, it was definitely one of the more interesting combination of textures and flavors I've encountered in my own kitchen.
The recipe, which yielded four dinners and a large lunch, is below. I recommend a little bit of tweaking, but add ingredients at your own risk.
Risotto with Butternut Squash and Leeks
1 large butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded, cut into
4 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups (about) chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
3 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
2 cups arborio rice or medium-grain rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
Preheat oven to 400°F. Place squash on large rimmed baking sheet.
Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss
to coat. Roast until tender and beginning to brown, stirring
occasionally, about 40 minutes.
Bring stock to simmer in heavy large saucepan. Reduce heat to very
low; cover and keep stock warm.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in another heavy large saucepan over medium-low
heat. Add leeks and sauté until soft but not brown, about 10 minutes.
Add rice; stir 1 minute. Add wine and simmer until absorbed, stirring
constantly, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup hot stock; simmer until
absorbed, stirring frequently. Add remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time,
allowing stock to be absorbed before adding more and stirring
frequently, until rice is tender and mixture is creamy, about 25
minutes longer. Add roasted squash, cream, Parmesan cheese and sage;
stir until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve
Makes 6 first-course or 4 main-course servings.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
I tend to gravitate towards recipes that closely resemble the ones I already have. In my current recipe collection, I have at least five varieties of Asian noodle dishes (not counting stir fry). One of those, sesame noodles, is a standby for my mom, and it's become an easy weeknight meal for me by adding chicken. The others are going to be deleted today because last night I discovered my new favorite version of peanut noodles.
A few months ago I recreated a recipe for Sczechuan Noodles that I watched Ina Garten make on "Barefoot Contessa." Davy and I ended up eating them for way too long, and there was something about the sauce that was too creamy and rich. The vegetables were heavily coated, and all of the ingredients become condensed in the gelatinous dressing.
The new "Peanutty Noodles" (I'm not sure where the recipe is from) contain enough vegetables to stand up to the sauce, which ties, rather than glues, everything together. The recipe is below, but we ended up making several modifications, minus the suggestion to take a team approach to cooking. Davy and I were able to prepare the ingredients in less than half the time it would have taken one person.
Ukrops' snow peas were no good, and red peppers were $2.29 apiece, so we got a pound of green beans instead. Last week I sauteed red cabbage with a little vegetable oil and soy sauce, so we substituted those leftovers for the red pepper.
We started by browning a pound of chicken tenders with vegetable and sesame oils over medium high heat. When they were close to being cooked through, I threw in a large clove of chopped garlic, lime juice and a little of the chili garlic sauce we bought for the recipe. With the additions, the chicken turned a lovely reddish color before I removed it from the pan. The garlic and chili sauce, however, remained so I could use all of the flavor from the chicken to saute the vegetables.
With the sauce simmering and water heating in a large pot for the linguine, I tossed the green beans until they started to get tender. I took the pan off the heat and stirred in the leftover cabbage and grated carrot. I should have taken a picture at this point, because the colors were vibrant and not a frequently seen combination in food. We poured everything into a large bowl, including more lime juice, and (carefully) tossed it until the chicken was evenly distributed.
These noodles work so well because none of the flavors overpower the others. The pasta is subtly coated by the sauce, and so far nothing has congealed. It's also an easy recipe to modify - an important quality because it really does make ten servings, and I probably should've halved the ingredients. Now that I think about it, "Peanutty Noodles" may not be in my recipe folder by the end of the week...
This dish comes together quickly when one person prepares the sauce while another sautés the vegetables. Break the pasta in half before cooking to make serving easier. These noodles complement the pork perfectly, but they also become their own main dish when you add cooked shrimp or chicken.
2 carrots, peeled
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided
2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup natural-style peanut butter (such as Smucker's)
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce (such as Lee Kum Kee)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups red bell pepper strips
1 pound snow peas, trimmed
8 cups hot cooked linguine (about 1 pound uncooked pasta)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Shave the carrots lengthwise into thin strips using a vegetable peeler, and set aside. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the ginger and minced garlic; sauté 30 seconds. Add chicken broth and the next 5 ingredients (broth through salt); stir until well-blended. Reduce heat, and simmer 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and keep warm.
Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add bell peppers and snow peas; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat. Combine carrot, peanut butter mixture, bell pepper mixture, and linguine in a large bowl; toss well. Sprinkle with cilantro. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield 10 servings (serving size: 1 cup)
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
A Ben & Jerry's is slowly being built in Carytown, just a few doors down from my beloved Bev's in a former laundromat. The laundromat went out of business months ago, so I'm not sure why Ben & Jerry's didn't get moving and convert the building in time for prime ice cream months. Maybe they're afraid. And they should be - a Ben & Jerry's shop used to reside in a different Carytown location, but it couldn't stand up to Bev's back then. With any luck, it won't be able to now either.
Monday, August 20, 2007
The weather was beautiful, the directions were easy to follow, and the festival was in full swing when Davy and I walked through the admission area. There were about 2000 people there, so it was a little overwhelming at first. Tables and chairs were set up under several tents, and there were long tables filled with people enjoying their share of 240 bushels of crabs. I could hardly contain myself.
It seemed that the plastic yellow cups we were given in exchange for our tickets were designated for beer, and we quickly found a Budweiser truck near the entrance. You can imagine our shock when we realized that people were serving themselves - unlimited beer was included in the $25 ticket price! Information about the feast mentioned only "beverages," which I'd assumed were only sodas and water. Even without the beer, I think that all-you-can-consume crabs, hot dogs, Saltines could be considered the bargain of the century.
When we found spots at a long table and had eaten a hot dog each, we started working on a pile of crabs. Firefighters came around occasionally to dump more on the table or clear away the empty shells. The second round was from the top of a bucket, and the crabs were encrusted with a healthy amount of Old Bay Seasoning. I ate for two hours straight and didn't mind standing. Our table never got crowded, and the spots around us were empty after a short amount of time - some people were more dedicated to their Bud Lights than the crabs.
The entire afternoon was surreal and close to perfect. As hard as it was to believe that the feast actually happened, I was left with a hungover feeling unique to eating copious amounts of crabmeat, and spent much of the evening lying on the couch. My lethargy was a very real reminder that the feast actually happened, and that it was extraordinary.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
The geniuses behind this establishment offer various combinations of Edy's ice cream, their own fudge, and candy. I was so excited to try it that I can't remember the exact name of my order, but it was something like "You Put Ice Cream in my Peanut Butter." Brilliant.
It started with chocolate ice cream on a marble slab (think Coldstone's mashing technique) and then a large chunk of chocolate peanut butter fudge was broken into it. The ice cream, which was soft but not runny, just how I like it, was then topped with Reeses Pieces. Amazing and decadent, I know. It was almost too much for me to handle, and I ordered the smallest size. I may have to recreate this spectacular concoction over the winter to remind me of the beach.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Thursday, August 02, 2007
I never make tiramisu because it can be such an intimidating dessert. Layered and decadent, the full flavor of espresso and the creaminess of mascarpone align to please the tastebuds. This was a sensation I'd forgotten about in the craze of summer ice cream indulgence, but I was having a dinner with homemade gnocchi, pesto and tomato sauce, and tiramisu seemed to be an appropriate dessert route.
The recipe I chose was from a cookbook I used frequently during my semester in Italy (and I won't admit how many times I constructed tiramisu during those four months). It's a fairly simple procedure. Mix espresso, or strong coffee, and rum in a bowl, and dip ladyfingers into the liquid. Line a pan of your choice with the ladyfingers and set aside. Next, using a mixer, beat egg yolks (reserve the whites), a pound of mascarpone cheese, and sugar until blended. Transfer it to a separate container and clean the mixing bowl. Beat the egg whites until they form stuff peaks, and fold them into the creamy mascarpone mixture. Smooth this over the ladyfingers, and then shave three to four ounces of bittersweet chocolate over the top - a simple but impressive finish. My only complaint with this recipe is that the tiramisu has to sit in the fridge overnight, but it is certainly worth the wait.
I am almost finished with Barbara Kingsolver's new book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, in which she documents her family's experiences with growing most of the food they ate for a year. It is packed with information about local farming and scary facts about the present and future state of the human race. However, there are also recipes, courtesy of her college-aged daughter, and vivid descriptions of fresh produce and the meals made with it. I'd be lying if I said the book inspired me to start producing my own food (raising chickens and turkeys doesn't sound easy) but I have learned a ton and am much more conscious about my groceries.
Speaking of groceries, a few weeks ago I purchased a half gallon of delicious Breyer's ice cream. Eagerly I took it home, waiting patiently to open it until after dinner. Much to my dismay, the carton was only filled about three quarters of the way to the top! I've been eating Breyer's for many years, and while I have seen containers not completely stuffed to the brim, this was quite drastic. I took a picture, meaning to write a disappointed letter, but I have been incredibly lazy about my camera so I decided just to submit a complaint online. So far I've gotten an auto-email saying that usually these types of comments are answered with a letter and "replacement coupon." I've heard some encouraging stories about free stuff, so I was hoping for a lifetime supply of Breyer's, but I guess that will do. Stay tuned...
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Boston Beer Works has a few different venues in Boston, but we met at the one in Fenway, which is large and has industrial decor. I had a large Beantown Nut Brown Ale, which was thick but not heavy, and had a smooth, rich flavor. The appetizers were pretty standard - mozzarella sticks, onion rings, and cheese fries - but they hit the spot before a late dinner.
One of Boston's only BYO restaurants, Greek Isles in Fenway was perfect for our group of ten. After ordering from a menu on the wall and paying individually, we moved a few tables together to eat outside. We got cups for wine and water at no extra charge (of which I was aware), and our food came out quickly considering how much we ordered. The restaurant's casual atmosphere was deceiving; the food at Greek Isles is tasty and authentic. I had the privilege of trying the stuffed grape leaves, which were excellent, and I shared a humongous gyro plate. With enough meat for two, plentiful baskets of pita, and two side dishes, the meal was a major bargain for $11.95.
Zaftig's, a popular deli and brunch spot in Coolidge Corner, was quite a different experience from Greek Isles. Our group of seven waited for an hour (maybe more) for a table, but when we sat, there were two baskets of bagel chips with a cream cheese dip. Excellent touch, considering we were almost starving by that point. The brunch menu is slightly overwhelming - everything sounds good, and watching all the food pass assures you that it is good. Challah french toast, granola pancakes, a fried egg BLT and San Francisco Joe's Special (turkey sausage, mushrooms, spinach and eggs) were all contenders in my final decision. I ultimately chose to create my own omelet, with ham, spinach and sharp cheddar cheese. Wheat toast and homefries rounded out my meal, and the omelet did not disappoint. Fresh spinach, large chunks of meat and oozing cheese satisfied my long-endured hunger. It even kept me going until an afternoon snack of frozen yogurt topped with hot fudge at J.P. Licks.
On Saturday night we wandered toward Harvard Square, again with seven people, and decided to try Mr. Bartley's House of Burgers. A neighborhood landmark, the place was the epitome of "no fuss, no muss." While we waited outside for a table, the waitress gave us menus and took our orders before we even sat down. All of the party must be present to sit, no exceptions, and there is no bathroom. Inside, Bartley's is reminiscent of a camp dining hall, with its long wooden tables and open kitchen bordering the room. Numerous posters and entertaining signs adorn the walls, matching the witty menu.
Each of the cleverly named hamburgers (mostly political) can be made with turkey or veggie patties, and the rest of the menu highlights comfort food and thick frappes. I happened to not be in the mood for a burger, so I ordered the baked macaroni and cheese with a salad. I'm not sure if the mac and cheese was actually baked, but it was flavored with garlic and some herbs, and was very comforting. By a stroke of luck, friends on both sides of me ordered onion rings with their burgers. Sweet potato fries were another option, which I would have considered if I hadn't gotten mac and cheese, but the onion rings turned out to be a fantastic choice. Thin and crispy, yet pliable, the huge mounds tempted me several times throughout dinner. It's possible I could have consumed just onion rings for dinner.
Eating your way through a city is a great way to explore it, and I was lucky enough to do so in Boston, surrounded by friends. I can recall dining experiences with a big party that haven't gone so smoothly, but those incidents seem distant compared to my delicious memories from the weekend.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Ginger dressing tied it all together, and a refreshing cocktail, the Sweet Sweet Rosie, was an appropriate accompaniment. It's made with a third of a glass of sparkling dessert wine, a few ounces of sparkling water, an ounce of orange juice, a splash of grenadine, a squeeze of lemon and a shot of rum on top. For a slightly different version, the Sweet Rosie, use a dry sparkling wine instead of the dessert version.
I dare anyone to complain about eating the same food two days in a row, or for trying new combinations with random edible items. In fact, I'm counting down the minutes to lunch, which consists of my wonderful lemongrass chicken leftovers.
I'll admit I've been stuck in a Thai food rut for several months. Mom's Siam is the closest eatery to my apartment, and their takeout orders are ready and hot after 5 minutes. Anytime I'm walking to or from Carytown, the tantalizing aromas of fish sauce and hot oil evoke a craving for Pad See Ew (a wide noodle dish with chicken and broccoli) or Pad Prik King (creamy red curry with green beans and chicken). This wouldn't be nearly as pathetic except that there are four Thai restaurants in Carytown, two of which I've never even tried. Last weekend I decided it was time to branch out, so Davy and I made the difficult ten minute walk to Ginger.
Small yet tasteful and attractive, the restaurant has a lovely patio for outdoor dining, which was of course unavailable on a Friday night around 7:30. The interior is full with tables, although I didn't feel crowded, and that's a tricky balance. I only noticed two female servers, but they were quick and efficient in meeting customers' needs. Our crab rangoons, crispy dumplings filled with tasty crab meat, were a light and pleasant start to the meal. I ordered lemongrass chicken, which had a subtle tanginess that didn't overwhelm the tender chicken or fresh vegetables. Ginger's Pad Thai is served with lime and peanuts on the side, which is a thoughtful approach for those who like fewer or more nuts. The dish was excellent and not at all greasy, and both meals left plenty for another dinner.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
My meal was Roasted Red Snapper. The fish was prepared without much seasoning, so I was able to really appreciate its mild freshness and flavor. Drizzled around the plate was paprika coulis, a smooth red-orange sauce that paired with all of the other components very well. Tomato confit (slow-clooked tomatoes that were delicious and tender) and swiss chard made a tasty bed for the snapper. When my meal first arrived I was afraid Can Can had mistakenly substituted my chickpea polenta. I thought the golden brown square on my plate was tofu, but when I broke off a piece, it was yellow and luscious on the inside. Slightly spicy and buttery, the polenta turned out to be my favorite part of the dish.
Can Can hasn't really changed its dessert menu since it opened, but I still haven't gotten my hands on the chocolate mousse. I'm dying to try it, so hopefully next time I won't be too full for dessert.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
The entire meal can be described in one word: pleasant. Our server was warm and efficient in the number of times she came to the table. A mimosa cost $4.50 (or $11 for a pitcher!) but it came in the same size glasses as our water and proved to be quite tasty. I consider it a good sign when I have a hard time choosing one thing from a menu. Kitchen 64 has an extensive, diverse brunch menu, and I doubt I would have been disappointed with any of the options. Greek Nachos, Mini Burgers over French Fries, an Asian chicken salad, and all of the breakfast items were abandoned for the Avocado Melt and Cold Plate.
Each sandwich and salad comes with sweet potato fries, french fries, or pasta salad. Luckily we were both enthusiastic about the sweet potato fries, and they certainly didn't let us down. Thin but not too crisp, the fries were lightly salted and not at all greasy. The lovely sweet potato flavor was not overpowered by oil, and the fries could go well with several of the menu items.
I've had all-veggie paninis that have been too vegetable heavy or skimpy, but the Avocado Melt ($6.95) was nearly perfect. The avocado was sized so that it was prominent but not dominant in the sandwich, and the provolone cheese complemented the other ingredients (cucumber and I can't remember what else) but wasn't oozing everywhere. Most importantly, the bread was grilled and had some crunch, but it still had some give when I bit into it. It drives me crazy trying to eat sandwich bread that crumbles into pieces because it's so hard.
As far as cold plates go, Kitchen 64's is the best I've seen. There's a choice of tuna or chicken salad, and pasta salad, cole slaw, fresh fruit and Greek yogurt with honey are all included. It sounds like a lot of food, and it is, but it makes the dish worth $9.95. Both the pasta salad and cole slaw were lightly dressed; the pasta salad was made with feta cheese and multi-colored spiral noodles. I thoroughly enjoyed mixing red and green grapes, cantaloupe, and pineapple with Greek yogurt and honey. Perhaps the most remarkable component of the plate was the chicken salad, which had small pieces sun-dried tomatoes, cucumber and green pepper in it - an interesting variation on a dish that is usually standard and not always desirable.
Dining at Kitchen 64 is difficult only because all of the food that comes out isn't yours. I watched several hearty and attractive meals go by, and saw many expectant and pleased diners when the plates arrived at their respective tables. The interior of the restaurant looks equally as casual and aesthetically pleasing as the patio. A large, funky bar and a refrigerator with revolving shelves add character to the laid-back atmosphere, and I noticed that the crowd ranged from young to old. Everyone seemed content at Kitchen 64, whether they were eating or talking or waiting tables. I can't ask for much else, and I can't wait to go back.
I saw Ratatouille last Friday, and was impressed by just about all of it: realistic and amazing animation, enticing restaurant food, a happy ending and interesting themes. The best part was that I was able to forget about Remy, the protagonist, being a rat. His family and friends were creepy and a little gross, but Remy was separate from them in the best possible way. Walking on two legs, savoring his food, and not eating from the trash were certainly some of the qualities that allowed me to relate to and care about the leading character.
Imagination always plays a large role in children's movies, but the food in Ratatouille didn't necessitate any creative thought. A few months before the film came out, I read an article about the animators' great effort not to make the cuisine look too lifelike. In my opinion, there was just enough cartoonishness in the kitchen to mesh with the people, who were the least convicing aspect in terms of realism. However, I still left the theater feeling a little hungry. When Remy encounters a fresh loaf of bread, it is appealingly crusty, with textured crevices and a crunchy exterior. The famous soup bubbles happily on the stove, and watching the characters inhale its aromas made my mouth water.
Without giving anything away (there were a few twists, surprisingly), I have to point out my favorite moment in the film. Anton Ego, upon taking his first bite of ratatouille, is immediately transported to his childhood. The filmmakers quickly and elegantly capture the powerful influence food has through our lives in about five seconds, but that scene will be stuck in my head indefinitely. Not too shabby for a kid flick about a rodent.
Friday, July 06, 2007
I went to Weezie's Kitchen expecting a dineresque experience, with low prices and casual fare. While the welcome was warm, and the waitress was friendly and competent, little about the atmosphere or cuisine said "comfort food." I recognized the elegant bar, white walls and decorative red highlights of red from Duro, which were only different from Limani because they weren't cobalt blue.
The menu included a page of appetizers and dishes with an insert listing alcoholic beverages and entrees for the day. The items on the menu were fairly inconsistent - chicken tenders, salad options, meatloaf and grilled fish aren't not usually grouped together under the comfort food category. After we ordered, the server brought us four warm pieces of white, homestyle bread with packaged butter.
For an appetizer, we tried the chicken tenders, which were light, crispy, and clearly homemade. I chose crabcakes for my main course, and picked two side dishes from ten to twelve options. My roasted red potatoes and green beans were decent but not spectacular, and the crabcakes were tasty but on the mushy side. Some of the entrees had designated side dishes, while others allowed for choices - interesting and a little confusing. Nothing at Weezie's Kitchen made me feel strongly about going back, but if I liked meatloaf I might be happy about the Carytown addition.
Another disappointing new venue just took over my favorite Fan coffee shop. Crossroads, whose first location is on the Southside, opened a second shop in the old World Cup. Serving Rostov's coffee and Bev's ice cream (minus the rich hot fudge on their sundaes), Crossroads doesn't offer much in the way of originality. Their breakfast, lunch and vegetarian options are pretty standard, and their scones look weak compared to the robust triangles of sweet pastry World Cup sold. I had a bagel with packaged peanut butter, which was barely toasted and seemed to be as mediocre as the old bagels, and a Naked Juice, which you can get almost anywhere.
I don't see Weezie's Kitchen in my future, but I will most likely end up at Crossroads again, just to be sure it doesn't live up to its predecessor.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Here is a link to an interesting article about Waitress in The New York Times which has details about the film and the sad story of its writer, Adrienne Shelly.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
I'm not a seasoned wedding guest (I may be by the fall), but I've worked at enough receptions to recognize appropriate wedding fare. After a pretty, laid-back service that I went to in May, servers butlered ham biscuits and pink lemonade masquerading as cosmos. Dinner was a sizeable buffet, the highlight of which was an impressive beef tenderloin carving station. The overall effect of the meal complimented the wedding itself - elegant yet modest - and the cake was so tasty that I had two pieces.
The second wedding I attended was anything but simple. My cousin and his wife had a conventional Hindu ceremony with select Jewish prayers and traditions. Immediately following the wedding, the families provided cheese and crackers, challah, and a sweet nut paste with an unfamiliar name (I didn't hear the details but I imagine it's customary for Indian weddings). If that wasn't enough to keep everyone on their toes, the bride had a mullti-cultural upbringing, and the food was a blend of international cuisines.
I heard a couple different rumors about who made the food, one being that the drumming group that played at the reception also cooked dinner. In addition, it was supposed to be a combination of Indian, Trinidadian and Caribbean recipes, all of which were vegetarian as per Hindu custom. Unfortunately I didn't find out the names of the dishes, and I don't know exactly what went into them, but I know that I tried some new spices and flavor combinations.
Aesthetically speaking, the food wasn't the most appealing I'd ever seen, but I enjoyed eating most of it. There were huge chafers of rice, which could accompany all of the food, and two large platters of flat bread that could serve as a utensil. One of my favorite dishes had chickpeas and potatoes in it, and a taste that my ethnically deprived tongue identified as curry (there's a good chance my assessment is incorrect). I also liked the pumpkin, which was mashed and sweet, and a dish with slices of mango in a sauce that was spicy and reminded me of coffee still stands out in my mind.
I wasn't as excited about experimenting with the wedding cake. While the red icing with gold design was gorgeous, the cake itself was almond-flavored and filled with passion fruit. To be fair, the part that I disliked the most was the icing, which reminded me of bad whipped cream. But the cake certainly didn't come close to ruining the meal or the festive atmosphere at the wedding reception.
While I thoroughly enjoy the familiar and sophisticated highlights of weddings, I'll also never tire of experiencing adventurous ceremonies and trying new and mysterious foods.
Monday, May 21, 2007
I will start with wine because it is the most important part of any French meal. In France there are various varieties of red, white, and rosé wines. According to a few French people I have talked to, rosé is not a “real” wine. It is made by reusing the grapes that had already been used for making other wines. Therefore there are many who say not to drink it! The next important thing to know is that France is famous for a wine called Beaujolais Nouveau. This is a red wine that is produced every year and drunk without any aging. My “host dad” does not allow this wine in his house because he says it is terrible quality and it is for tourists. He said that France exports millions of dollars worth of it, but here, it is not well liked. Red and white wines come in various varieties from Bordeaux to Champagne. Some are aged (normally red wines) and some are drunk at a young age. There are many different wines that are unique to regions in France and some are produced differently than others. These are the wines that you really want to try. I highly recommend red wine from Bordeaux and white wine from Bourgogne (Burgundy). In Bordeaux the best chateaus that produce wine were given a title in the mid 1800’s which distinguishes them from others. These wines named “Grand Crus” of Bordeaux tell you that a wine is made very well and will usually be a higher quality bottle than other wines from Bordeaux. Although many people believe that certain wines are drunk with certain food, that rule is not always followed in France, many say enjoy a wine that you like with food that you like. Rules were meant to be broken!
After my short introduction to wines, it is time to dive into the food of France. Although French food is very good, some regions have better cuisine than others. Regions by the water are known for their seafood, regions in the northeast for heavy dishes with lots of meat, and other regions are known for various delicacies. I will guide you through a traditional French meal in Paris (from my experience with my host family).
The meal starts with an entrée. However, an entrée in France is an appetizer, not a main dish. French appetizers vary, but normally they involve pate, vegetables, or meats. With my family I have had pate of duck, pate of goose and various other pates; normally one eats this with a fresh baguette and pickles. Also, we often eat dried meats similar to our hard salami our bologna with bread and pickles or olives. One of my favorite entrees was an uncooked filet of salmon that was cut into small pieces and eaten with what I call French wasabi (a mixture of Dijon mustard, soy sauce, Tabasco, and freshly squeezed lemon juice). Finally a very traditional entrée is radishes Parisian style which means that one takes a whole raw radish and puts a little butter on it, then dips it in salt and eats it. They are delicious. Another common French entrée is quiche, which comes from the northeastern region (Lorraine). Quiches can be just egg and cheese or they can contain a mixture of meats, cheeses, and vegetables.
Sometimes an entrée can be a soup or salad, but in a normal French meal, those are in a separate course following the entrée. Soups and salads are not much different than in the U.S., but the salads are always really fresh because people do not normally buy in mass quantity in France, so they buy fresh vegetables from markets the day that they eat them.
The next course is the main course. This varies a lot depending on the region. In Paris, with my family, the main course is normally a really fresh meat or chicken dish served with rice, vegetables, and/or noodles. Some of my favorites that I have eaten with my family are: steak tartar, steak au poivre (steak with pepper), chicken with mushroom sauce, tomatoes or peppers stuffed with a mixture of meat and spices, lamb, and a few other chicken dishes. Steak tartar is amazing when done correctly. With my family it is a high quality piece of beef that they request their butcher to grind into ground beef. They said never to do it with meat that is already ground. The meat is served on a plate raw with an egg yolk on top. You then mix the meat and the egg with homemade mayonnaise, mustard, onions, salt, pepper, Tabasco, and Worcestershire sauce. It is delicious like that! It may sound gross to some people, but it is one of the best things I have eaten on this continent! Anytime we eat beef, it is always served with homemade mayonnaise which I will provide the recipe for later.* My family told me if there is one thing I learn in France, it is of utmost importance to learn how to make mayonnaise. One afternoon they showed me how and that is the recipe that I have provided for you. I normally do not prefer mayonnaise over mustard, or to mix mayonnaise with high quality food like filet, but this recipe is very good. Mayonnaise in France is different than in the U.S., and is used differently here, but the best stuff is made at home, because the bottled stuff is not even close to being as good. It is a great combination of flavors. Chicken with mushrooms or mushroom sauce is a great dish. Sometimes the chicken is cooked with chopped mushrooms and spices on it and other times, the sauce is cooked separately and then added at the table.
The next part of the meal depends on the family, sometimes it can be a soup or salad after the main course, but, if not, this is the cheese course. Cheeses in France are hands down the best in the world. What we eat in the U.S. even if it is French, like Brie, do not compare. All of the USDA regulations cause American cheese to be completely different (these regulations can affect some wines also). My favorite cheese of France comes from the North and is only made during the winter and early spring. It is called Vacherin or Mont d’Or (I believe Mont d’Or is the most famous producer of the cheese). It is an extremely soft cheese that is normally served with a spoon because it is so rich it is almost a liquid. Other good cheeses include: Blue Cheese, Brie, Reblochon, Camembert, Chevre (goat cheese), and many others. When I eat chevre with my family, we mash it up with a fork and mix in olive oil and pepper. It is delicious that way. In France the best cheese always comes from a cheese shop and the attendants can always guide you to choose. I tried Muenster one time, and French Muenster is much different than in the U.S. It was the strongest cheese I have ever eaten, and it was good, but a lot to handle. A normal cheese course consists of 3-5 types of cheeses and it always accompanied by fresh baguette.
As the meal begins to wind down it is time for dessert. Desserts in France are traditionally a fruit tart or pie, ice cream with a fruit sauce, sorbets, and some other cakes. The French do not eat much chocolate for dessert - it is reserved for breakfast and with coffee. My family typically has ice cream with a raspberry sauce, and sometimes a tart or a type of cobbler.
The meal always finishes with a coffee. With my family it is usually a really strong coffee like an espresso or a cappuccino. The coffee in France is delicious and I actually drink it here (I never drank coffee before coming here). The coffee course is usually accompanied by a dark chocolate. My favorite chocolate here is called Cote d’Or and it is a Belgian chocolate that is amazing.
That is a run down of the important things I have learned in France. The meal I explained can be lunch or dinner. Don’t forget: if you make a trip here, eat pastry from the bakeries, because that is one of France’s signature foods and the éclairs here are the best I have ever eaten.
*Mayo de Marotte:
2 Egg yolks
Freshly ground pepper
Mustard (Dijon or strong/spicy)
Half a lemon
Sunflower Oil or Vegetable Oil
Put egg yolks, salt, pepper, and mustard in a bowl and beat on medium using a mixer. As you beat the ingredients add oil in small portions. Once it becomes thick, stop beating, and add pepper and chives and squeeze the lemon over the mixture for juice. Then mix with a spoon. Refrigerate for a few hours allowing flavors to mix.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
"We're eating like we're poor!"
Members of my family (my parents and I) like to quote this cranky outburst, which came from my brother's mouth on a trip to Canada. My parents, aware of the culinary possibilities, stopped the car at a local grocery store to buy bread and cheese for our lunch. Evidently Evan wasn't supporting their decision, and both of us stayed in the parking lot while my mom and dad selected our next meal.
There is something to Evan's statement, considering that my friends and I survived six weeks in Europe off of market food. However, the cheese from that Canadian store was sharp and savory, and I certainly learned my lesson. Going to a city's food market or grocery store for lunch is one of my favorite vacation activities. The fruit, bread, and cheese are fresh and unique, and the attitudes of the other shoppers and the stall owners are too entertaining to pass up.
Buying goods in a town where you don't speak the native language is challenging, yet fulfilling. People look at you like you have no idea what you're doing, because you're buying lunch while they're getting produce for the week. I always find it amusing when I perceive those reactions; I'm having fun while most of the shoppers are going through the motions of a regular chore.
The guidebook I brought to Montreal claimed that the city has two prominent food markets, one of which is more "upscale" than the other: Jean-Talon, in Little Italy, and Atwater, downtown on the Lachine Canal. I did notice a distinction between the two, although it was caused more by the clientele than the quality or prices of the commodities that were available.
The consumers at the Jean-Talon market were pushier and louder, and the market itself is scattered between a couple buildings and slightly confusing to navigate. The Atwater market is two floors of even rows, and there were tables on the second floor. Both locations house the same local bakery chain, which carries delicious baguettes.
Our meal at the markets, as I mentioned before, didn't vary much from the basic staples. In Little Italy we got tasty clementines and two types of cheese to eat with our baguette. One was locally made and creamy, similar to brie, while the other was from the Basque region, and it was hard and peppery. I also tried some type of sausage from a cart outside, which hit the spot, and got three chocolate truffles at a specialty shop (hazelnut, mocha and mint).
At the "sophisticated" Atwater market, I spoke briefly with one of the guys at a cheese shop who grew up in Montreal but has Italian heritage. He talked me into getting a luscious French cheese that melted in my mouth. It was mild but still interesting. The other cheese we tried was a more familiar variety, similar to a havarti, and it went well with the prosciutto we purchased.
The highlight of the Atwater venture was tasting maple syrup taffy. From the end of February to the end of March, the weather in Quebec Province is warm enough that the sap starts to flow from the maple trees, and Canadians celebrate with all sorts of syrupy products. For the popsicle-like delicacy I had the privilege of tasting, thickened maple syrup was poured on a table of crushed ice and rolled onto a popsicle stick. I'm not sure if it's the texture or the chill that makes it special, but I saw Montrealers of all ages enjoying the candy. Apparently, enjoying a seasonal treat isn't exclusive to any market.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
One of the biggest mistakes I made ordering food in a restaurant involved a Canadian all-you-can-eat mussels joint. I don't remember the exact town we were in, or what I chose instead of the fragrant buckets of mussels, or why, but I can still feel the disappointment that marked my meal. My family members were generous and sympathetic enough to share with me, so I wasn't completely deprived of mussels. I learned my lesson and made sure that we found a similar venue on our next Canadian trip, which occurred a couple years later in Montreal. I'm not sure how those mussels compared, but they did leave me with a favorable impression of the city.
I returned last month, after about five years, armed with positive memories and a decent guidebook. I had to order room service on the first night (after fourteen hours of traveling), and I was a little upset about having to eliminate one of my restaurant choices. Luckily I found hazelnut mousse on the dessert menu, and nothing else seemed to matter after I started eating it.
Within a block of the hotel was a cafe called Chez Simon, and their muffins were just about perfect. I tried carrot and lemon poppyseed muffins during the trip, and they both melted in my mouth. The muffin tops had the slightest bit of crunch and were larger than average.
The first dinner I had out of the hotel room was at Red Thai, which turned out to be a dimly lit, chic room with Buddhist statues and crisp white tablecloths. The waitress brought warm towels before our food came, which was consistent with the exotic atmosphere of the room. I ordered a beef dish, which is somewhat uncharacteristic, but it turned out to be both subtle and spicy at the same time - a common enigma in Thai food. I didn't pay close attention to the name of my meal; it was made with tender pieces of filet along with mushrooms, tomatoes, bell peppers, dried chile peppers and onion.
Patati Patata was listed in my guidebook as a good place for burgers and authentic Montreal dining. The restaurant consisted of two small bars, with about 8 chairs between them, and four two-top tables. There was a menu high up on one of the walls, written all in French, and two employees cooking, taking orders, working the cash register, and assuring customers that they'd have seats within a few minutes. They were right too - for such a small place, the tables turned every ten minutes or so, I guess because the menu was limited and the food was quick. Small burgers, tofu burgers, and fish burgers (for $2.25 Canadian at the most) were grilled shortly after they were ordered. A fresh salad or a hearty serving of hot, browned fries accompanied the sandwiches for $3 each. Pitchers and half pitchers of local beer and poutine (gravy, french fries, and cheese) rounded out the menu. Patati Patata wasn't a tourist stop at all, although I felt like a tourist eating among French-speaking students. Even though the waiter had to help me with some of the menu, eating there was one of my favorite traveling experiences.
In contrast, La Moulerie was in one of Montreal's nicer neighborhoods, and the average diner was probably fifty years old. I had to try it because of my fondness for mussels, and I certainly would recommend dining there. My mussels - mussels sicilienne - came in a sauce of pesto, roasted tomatoes, goat cheese, and pine nuts, and they were fantastic. It's easy to distinguish good seafood from bad seafood, and I had no complaints. Nor did I have any reason to complain about the homemade ice cream that I got down the street, which was rich and smooth. Montreal may only have a few months of warm weather, but it's a city where even frozen treats are made well.
Stay tuned for another installment from my Canadian vacation...
Monday, January 29, 2007
The Harrison Street Coffee Shop, located among other VCU venues and residences, was closed the first two times I tried to go there - once for "vacation" in the summer and once before 11 am on Saturday morning. I guess students don't normally get up for coffee before that hour anyway, it just seemed a little strange for coffee shop to open that close to noon. When I finally succeeded in entering the unassuming shop, I was confronted with various meatless and vegan culinary menu items, including "fakin'" and "soysage." I guess I should give them credit for the creative names, but even the pastries were unappealingly vegan, with not a bagel in sight. Was I asking too much of the Harrison Street Coffee Shop? The tea I got was very tasty, but my boyfriend's coffee was watery. We decided not to purchase any food and moved on to Church Hill, having been to World Cup the day before.
Richmond was named for a view of the James River in Church Hill, making the neighborhood one of the most historic in the city. There's also a distinctly eerie feeling about it, considering the gruesome murder of the Harvey family that occurred last winter, and the "rougher" areas that are only a few blocks away. Church Hill is slowly being revamped from run-down into a popular up-and-coming area; the cute, colorful houses are gradually catching up with a handful of quality dining options.
Captain Buzzy's Beanery, which has been in business for two years, is one of the aforementioned local establishments. It occupies a quaint corner of East Broad Street, and has an inviting, cozy atmosphere with an eclectic blend of furniture and decor. A big glass case next to the register contains bagels and a wide variety of baked goods - muffins, scones, cupcakes and chocolate layer cake. The thought of applesauce scones with cinnamon cream cheese filling lures me back to Captain Buzzy's even though I haven't taken the plunge and tried one yet.
On my first trip to the coffee shop I tried one of three types of quiche - spinach and three cheese - which was tasty and supported by a dense yet flaky crust. Last weekend when I returned, I was craving a breakfast sandwich and tea, and I wasn't disappointed. Captain Buzzy's Beanery is everything it should be - quiet, relaxing, and satisfying to a variety of needs. I'm anxious to go back to try some of the soups, lunch sandwiches, and sweets, although I may steer clear of the vegan options.
Friday, January 26, 2007
- My brother is currently studying abroad in Paris, and is keeping a blog that occasionally includes moouth-watering descriptions of his meals. He also posts pictures, so if you have any interest in Paris or what he's doing, check it out:
- An ESPN writer called "The Sports Guy" (Bill Simmons) started letting his wife make football picks. In exchange, she writes a short column about whatever she wants, and often mentions food - donuts, cookies, etc. I've picked up some unique tips from The Sports Gal:
- My parents made prosciutto-wrapped breadsticks (a Giada de Laurentiis recipe) for their holiday party, and the results were stunning:
Friday, January 19, 2007
Since I first learned about the method for making risotto, which is endlessly stirring the ingredients over a hot stove, I never thought there could be a short cut (aside from a pre-made packaged mix). While searching for a way to use some leftover goat cheese, I came across a recipe for "Baked Risotto" on cookinglight.com, and there's no mention of stirring aside from adding some of the ingredients to a pot on the stove.
Usually when I make risotto I like having it as a one pot meal, so I tend to include vegetables and meat with the arborio rice, garlic, onions and cheese. For this recipe, I omitted the asparagus and added 10 ounces of hot Italian turkey sausage, which is a staple in my standard risotto dish. I squeezed the meat out of the sausage casings and browned it in a pasta pot (I don't have a dutch oven, which the instructions call for, so I had to use a pot and a casserole dish), then proceeded with the recipe. The only other change I made was a splash of white wine, and it only added to the various flavors of the dish.
My resulting meal was better than I could have hoped for, and just different enough from my standard risotto that I will happily cook either one in the future. The tiny amount of nutmeg was a surprising compliment to the spices in the turkey sausage, and using stock with a small amount of wine emphasized but did not overwhelm the other ingredients.
Giada de Laurentiis' veal Marsala is lighter and simpler than some versions I've seen, which is what originally attracted me to it. It's an elegant meal without overexerting oneself in the kitchen. My only problem with the recipe was my fault, because I forgot to get mushrooms, and I know they would have contributed texture and absorbed all of the earthy aromas from the different ingredients. I don't normally eat veal, so I'll probably try again with chicken, but I was pleased with my efforts.
Meatballs and pasta in tomato sauce are one of the ultimate comfort foods, and my mom always used to make chicken pesto meatballs. I got the recipe from her, and it may have originally come from Gourmet, so if you're at all interested you can contact me for the directions. What makes the meatballs so appealing, aside from the bonus of the pesto, is that they're made with breadcrumbs and an egg white, and are substantial without being too dense.
Italian cuisine is probably my favorite to cook at home, and while I know that I can't replicate the wonderful meals I ate there, I can experiment and revise to my heart's content.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
Despite my holiday indulgence, I know that the only way I could ever give up meat is if I could eat the Vegetarian Special at the White Dog Cafe for dinner every day. Unless I'm excited about a pasta or risotto dish at an Italian restaurant, it's rare for me to order a meal without meat or fish when I'm eating out. Strangely enough, I've ordered vegetarian food twice out of five dining experiences at the White Dog.
On my most recent visit, the cuisine was so rich and satisfying that I didn't miss having animal flesh to compliment the starches and veggies on my plate. I started the meal with a bruschetta trio - artichoke spread, hummus, and sun-dried tomatoes and feta on toasted bread. The bread at the White Dog is textured and great with olive oil, but it wasn't the best choice for the bruschetta because it was a little too heavy and not chewy enough. In addition, none of the toppings on the bread were exceptional, but it was still a decent appetizer. One nice addition to the plate was a selection of vegetables - fresh, roasted or pickled - seasoned with dill.
My entree, on the other hand, was beautifully presented and equally delicious. The waitress described the special as a "spinach, tomato, and artichoke heart struedel with parmesan cheese and a side of potato gnocchi." When she served it, it looked more like a bowl of pretty gnocchi in a creamy sauce, with thin green beans and a long slab of vegetable pie resting above the other food. The pie, or "streudel," had a thick buttery crust encompassing the filling, and a professional-looking criss cross design composed of puff pastry on the top. In other words, it was a vegetarian masterpiece, and I congratulated myself mentally for my choice with every bite.
I guess I have to conclude that I'm a true omnivore, and that I don't intend to eat only meat or no meat if I can help it. Luckily, when I need to get rebalance my diet, there are fulfilling and tasty vegetarian meals only blocks away.