Saturday, July 25, 2009

Jasmine Iced Tea Sangria

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to attend a class on iced teas and tea sangrias at the Park Plaza. The Park Plaza is one of the many places in Boston to treat yourself to afternoon tea, but it is the only place with a tea sommelier, Cynthia Gold, who will walk you through the tea choices and find the right blend for you. She also offers Tea 101 classes, complementary looks into brewing and enjoying teas.

When I first signed up for this class, I thought the focus was going to be primarily iced teas. But we focused rather intently (at least for the first half of the class) on sangrias featuring iced teas. I didn’t think I was going to be a big fan – at least, until I actually tasted it. From the first sip, I couldn’t help but think that this would be a light and refreshing summer drink, and I knew I would be mixing up a batch soon. And although we were given some recipes to follow, the class was really more about learning the guidelines of how to brew a good tea and how to match flavors to make a tasty sangria.

In general, white and green teas pair better with white wines, while black tea pairs better with red wines. Keep the wines light – we used Rieslings in-class, and since Rieslings are my favorite, I was quite happy. Lighter fruits, like nectarines and apples, also work well with white wines, while berries are a little better suited to reds (although I added berries to my white and loved the flavor). And steep the fruit in the brandy overnight to make them thoroughly boozy.

Jasmine Iced Tea Sangria

Summer fruits, sliced thin (I used one white nectarine, one plum, and handful of blueberries, and a few pitted cherries, but try whatever you have on hand)
2 Tbsp loose jasmine tea (I used this lovely tea from Tealuxe) or 6 tea bags
3 ½ cups hot water (not boiling, about 175 °)
1 bottle Riesling, chilled
Simple syrup (I had rhubarb syrup on hand, which added another nice layer of fruitiness)

Place the fruit in a jar or a bowl and cover with brandy. Give the fruit a good stir, then cover and let sit overnight.

In a heat-proof pitcher or measuring cup, add hot water to the tea and let steep for 3 minutes. Too hot and the tea will taste dull; too long and the tea will taste bitter. Strain leaves from the liquid, the chill tea until cold.

In a large pitcher, combine fruit (drain off brandy, although you may want to add a tablespoon or two to the finished product), tea, and wine. Add simple syrup to taste, and stir.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cheap Eats: Stix

Hot and muggy summer days call for cool and light food, and there's nothing like a raw bar to leave you feeling virtuous yet well-fed. But seafood is not usually the cheap option. At Stix, however, you can enjoy a variety of raw bar offerings for only $1 a piece.

Stix' raw bar includes oysters, littleneck clams, shrimp, scallops, and crab legs. "Raw" bar may be a bit of a stretch here - oysters and clams come raw, on the half shell, but all the other choices come cooked and chilled. Selection varies, so make sure to call ahead if there's something specific you're looking for. There are a variety of condiments to accompany the seafood - traditional cocktail sauce, a spicy sriracha sauce, and a smoky aioli - which lend bite to the offerings.

Stix also offers some great drink deals if you'd like something to sip along with your oysters. Frozen mojitos, like liquor in slushie form, are only $5, or choose to add a flavor like mango or coconut for $6. And all bottles of wine are currently half off.

Stix is located at 35 Stanhope Street. The raw bar deal is available Tuesday through Friday, 5-7pm, in the bar and on the patio. Drink specials are available Tuesday through Saturday, 5pm-2am.

Originally published on Bostonist.

STIX Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 17, 2009

Blogger Dinner at Tavolo, Dorchester

High ceilings, large windows letting in plenty of light, long red curtains, cool swirly globe lamps, and one of the coolest wall murals I've seen in a long time all set the stage for a fantastic meal at Tavolo in Dorchester. The restaurant, which mostly has a name as a pizza place, hosted a dinner for ten bloggers last night, and they really took the chance to showcase some of their dishes that stray away from pizza and pasta.

I took a seat facing the wall, and usually I wouldn't spend so much time avoiding my dining companions, but the wall murals by local artist Kiki Ikura were just tremendous - it looked like chalk on a blackboard, but was smudgeless, and was whimsical and lighthearted without being silly or childish. She painted two walls like this, using a cherry picker to get all the way up to the ceiling, and they murals give a lot of life to the room and the restaurant.

We started off with a light salad of watermelon, feta, lemon, olive oil, mint, and basil. Watermelon and feta are really an amazing combination, and this version of the dish was a perfect balance of sweet and salty and tart. I even sopped up the leftover juices with a slice of bread.

Next was gnocchi alla Gricia, little puffs of potato with pancetta, pecorino, and local fava beans. I guess I've had too many bad renditions of gnocchi - hard, dense, gummy, or just gross - but these were fantastic. They were light and fluffy, didn't stick to my teeth, and soaked up just enough of the sauce to take on the flavors without becoming too sticky. The pancetta and pecorino added salt and umami, and the fava beans were a nice surprise of bright, fresh flavor. I would have been content to just eat a big bowl of this and call it a night...

We also enjoyed a taste of the house's meatballs, which were amazing. They were homey and evenly spiced, and the tomato sauce they came in was something that the chef had obviously spent a long time cooking. On the regular menu, the meatballs feature prominently - they can be added to many of the pasta dishes, or can be front-and-center in a panini. Definitely a dish to take advantage of.

After the gnocchi and meatballs, we moved on to a swordfish involtini. This was one of the many things that were on our menu that I would never order, but yet greatly enjoyed the way it was cooked at Tavolo. I'm just not a fan of swordfish - but after eating this, I think it may be because it is usually served in thick steaks without much seasoning, which brings out the fishy flavor to me. The involtini was a thin slice of fish, wrapped around a mash of fontina, garlic, and parsley. It was so tasty, in fact, that I cleaned the plate. (Note for my parents, who are undoubtedly going to read this and think swordfish is now my favorite fish: Unless you wrap it around cheese and garlic, I don't want it.)

Next up was a roast duck breast, served over faro and fresh string beans, with a little bit of red currant jam. Duck is another thing I don't like, but this rendition was nicely cooked and had a delightful crispy skin. The beans were perfectly cooked - still crispy, but not raw, and with enough salt to really bring out their flavor.

By then, we were all stuffed, but still felt the need for something sweet to wrap up the meal. We were served a blueberry "Genetti" cake - toasted blueberry pound caked with a touch of whipped cream and a light blueberry sauce. (For those of you keeping track at home, blueberries are another food I can't stand, but were very actually quite tasty in this form.) I absolutely loved that the cake was toasted - the edges were crisp and almost caramelized, which took something simple like pound cake to a whole different level.

Looking more closely at my menu and the restaurant's regular menu, I see that almost all of what we ate is not on the regular menu. That being said, each and every bite was delicious, and I'm sure the regular offerings are just as good. Tavolo is really trying to get away from their image as "just" a pizza place, and if the dishes I tried were any indication, they are definitely doing a great job of it.

Tavolo on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cheap Eats: The Hen House

For the longest time, I thought chicken and waffles sounded like the weirdest combination of foods there could be. But after one taste, it was clear why this is a favorite meal of so many people. Crispy and gooey, salty and sweet, chicken and waffles are perfect for when you can't decide if you want breakfast or dinner. Luckily, Boston has it's very own source for chicken waffles in The Hen House, where $7.49 buys you a full plate of warm, gooey, crispy deliciousness.

The instructions for the chicken and waffles meal takes up a full page of the menu - choose your waffle (buttermilk, multigrain, cornbread), your butter (homemade whipped, 5 herb, cajun), your syrup (maple, clove honey, maple BBQ), your chicken (tenders, wings, or whole pieces), and your sauce (with over 12 choices). The syrups and sauces are self-serve, meaning you can try as many as you like - half the fun, in fact, is sampling them all. The Teradactal (a soy-based bbq sauce) and the Apricot Chipotle (which tastes, um, exactly like it sounds) are two particularly strong choices. This is definitely a meal where finding that perfect bite is up to you, and while figuring out which list of ingredients is right for you is a little time-consuming, the reward is well worth it.

If you're still not sure about the sweet and savory combo, The Hen House has plenty of other offerings to keep you full. Fried chicken in just about any form you could want, ribs, sandwiches, salads, and plenty of Southern-style sides make up the rest of the menu. And for dessert? The waffle ice cream sandwich is your only choice, but really, is there any other way to finish off this meal?

The Hen House is located at 1033 Mass. Ave. in Roxbury. They are open Sunday 11am-8pm, Monday through Thursday 11am-10pm, and Friday and Saturday 11am-4am.

Originally published on Bostonist.

Hen House Wings 'n Waffles on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Herbed Corn from the Grill

So Mother Nature decided to hold up her end of the bargain this weekend, and I in turn took to the grill. And with corn, one of my favorite foods, coming into season, grilled corn was a natural choice. (I also grilled some potatoes, which didn't work quite so well, but were tasty. But then, anything covered in cheese is tasty.)

And since it's still early in the season, I whipped up some herb butter to make the corn a little more interesting (in case it didn't end up very sweet, which was not a problem). The recipe below is enough for 6 ears of corn. I also used some on my potatoes, which added a lot of flavor, and really, this would be good on any veggie or meat fresh off the grill. Because, after all, it's butter.

Herbed Corn on the Cob
6 ears of corn, cleaned
olive oil
1/2 stick butter, softened
2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
2 Tbsp. minced fresh chives
1 garlic clove, finely minced
zest of 1/2 a lemon
1 tsp white wine vinegar

Lightly brush corn with olive oil and place on a hot grill. Grill until slightly browned on all sides, turning as needed.

Combine softened butter, parsley, chives, garlic, lemon zest, and vinegar in a small bowl. Using a fork, mash all the ingredients together until well combined. If the butter gets too melted, place in the fridge until needed.

Spread the butter mixture on the hot corn and serve.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

An Open Letter to Mother Nature

Dear Mother Nature,

I thought we had a deal. You provide nice weather and tons of fresh produce during the summer, and I in turn eat healthier, laying off things like homemade croissants or baked pasta, and get time to work in my garden.

Believe me, I would be keeping my end of the promise if I could. But it’s hard to eat a garden-fresh salad when my garden is drowning. And it’s hard to stop baking when the last thing I want to do is leave the house.

Therefore, you have left me no choice. There will be baked orecchiette and cheese for dinner, followed by a batch of cookies. I will continue to cook as if it were February until you hold up your end of the bargain.

I eagerly await your response.



Sunday, July 5, 2009

Chowderfest 2009

Man, Boston really lucked out this weekend. After a month of being seemingly transported to the Pacific Northwest (minus the great coffee shops), the sun finally showed up. I spent the 4th at a friend's house, where we all just sat on the lawn, enjoying the sun and eating the half-ton of food that was spread on the tables. My friend even made my coffee jello, horrifying the attendees but then winning them over with just how awesome it is.

With more sun on Sunday, it seemed like the perfect weather to take advantage of Chowderfest. I headed down to Government Center, where the plaza was packed with thousands of chowder fans. We bought our tickets, headed into the crowd, and started eating.

Overall, though, I was really disappointed with the offerings. We started at the Ned Devine's booth, and that remained the standard to which we measured all the others and was the clear winner (both in my mind and officially). Some of the other chowders were just ok, while others were downright inedible.

My thoughts on the competitors:

Ned Devine's - Creamy, with a dense (but not too dense) broth. The potatoes and clams were evenly and well cooked, especially the potatoes, which were tender but not falling apart. This chowder was also evenly spiced.

House of Blues - I literally spit this one out after my first bite contained a giant piece of clam that was tough as rubber. The red potatoes tasted like dirt, and the broth was water-thin. The awfulness of this chowder was independently verified by someone who overheard us talking about it.

Farmer Brown's - This chowder had very thick, almost pasty, broth, and while the clams were well cooked, they were filled with grit and totally off-putting.

Parkers - Want to drink a cup of cream? Then this chowder's for you. There were almost no chunks of anything in this, and it needed some seasoning and salt to taste like something.

The Fish Pier - This tasted like nothing. No, I take that back - it tasted like flour.

The Algonquin Club - BACON! This had a nice thick, buttery broth, but the overwhelming taste was bacon. In fact, I dubbed this "bacon chowder." Very, very good, but not what I was looking for at all.

Beer Works - This chowder tasted very "New England." I'm not sure why, maybe it was the way the celery paired so well with the bacon, but I just kept thinking that this was what was meant by "New England" clam chowder. The broth was a little too thick, and the potatoes were a little undercooked, but I would definitely not mind eating a bowl of this.

Yankee Lobster Company - First of all, Yankee Lobster gets points for getting into the mood - all their servers were dressed like pirates or had crazy hats. Their chowder, however, was very odd, with a thick, weird texture akin to tapioca. It was more of a potato chowder than a clam chowder, but still was tasty, with lots of black pepper and celery. Not what I was looking for, but interesting.

With so many off-putting chowders, I feel like I need to make my own now, just to get a better taste in my mouth.

Did you go to the Chowderfest? What was your favorite?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cheap Eats: Rocca

It seems that happy hour is truly back in Boston. No, bars still can't offer drink specials like in so many other states, but they can offer a close second with cheap and delicious food. Rocca is one of the many Boston restaurants that has picked up on this trend, and their 5@5 deal is one of the best around. Two choices would definitely be big enough for a meal, or order them all and share with friends.

Take a seat at the bar at Rocca Monday through Friday from 5 until 6:30 to take advantage of their special menu. They offer some of their regular appetizers at basically half price. The corn and tomato pizzetta (above) is a satisfying, crunchy pizza, with something closer to cracker for a crust than the usual dough. The calamari (below) with red pepper aioli, served in a pile larger than you'd think for $5, is light and crisp, a delight compared to so many bad versions of the dish that are available out there. The farinata, a type of flatbread made with chickpea flour and mixed with mushrooms and caramelized onions, is crunchy and dense - a full meal by itself. The zucchini fritti features long spears of squash with the same crispy exterior as the calamari, and it is served with a garlicky yogurt and a tomato relish. Oh, and a lobster slider? Served with fennel mayo, pancetta, tomato, and arugula, it's hard to say no.

Rocca is located at 500 Harrison Boulevard in the South End, and they offer free parking in the lot next to their building. The 5@5 bar menu is available Monday-Friday, 5:00-6:30. Rocca also offers a three-course dinner Sundays and Mondays, 5:30-10:00pm, for $22, for those looking for a slightly more expensive cheap eat.

Originally published on Bostonist.

Rocca on Urbanspoon