Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ginger Explosion!

I'm a big fan of ginger in all its spicy, cold-curing glory. I love both ginger ale and ginger beer (what a surprise that was, the first time I ordered a ginger beer...), and I always keep a bag or two of candied ginger around (Trader Joe's makes it without the sugary coating, too, which is so much tastier). But ginger has never seemed like an overly popular flavor past ginger ale when you're sick and gingerbread at Christmas (don't even get started about ginger hair).

Imagine my surprise, then, at an entire event organized around this zesty tuber. eatBoston, who helped organize this past summer's Ice Cream Showdown, put this together, hosted at Grand in Union Square and benefiting the Somerville Arts Council. Little tables were set up all around the store, and five local restaurants served up their best ginger dish.

Ronnarong Thai Tapas, Tupelo, and Petit Robert Bistro all presented hearty savory dishes. Ronnarong's ginger chicken stir-fry (I don't know if it had a real name) was the ideal Thai dish, with perfectly cooked veggies and amazing flavor coming from the huge slivers of ginger. Tupelo's ginger-infused gumbo got it's spice from the ginger in a nice sinus-clearing way, and it was a good spin on the traditional dish (now if only Tupelo would put it on the menu). Petit Robert's ginger veal stew was less gingery after the other two, but the meat was perfectly cooked.

I love how versatile a spice ginger is. It works wonderfully in savory dishes, but it almost works better in sweet desserts. Petit Robert offered up a second dish of ginger macarons (I had my very first macaron at Petit Robert, but I favor their floral flavors over this ginger one). Bambara made classic gingersnap cookies, which had a nice chew and plenty of ginger flavor (although I was hoping for something that more directly represented their menu). Picco served little bites of their amazing soft gingerbread, which is more of a cake than anything. At Picco, the gingerbread is served hot with ice cream and caramel sauce, but it was just as good on its own here.

Of course, eating all this good food got me thirsty. Thankfully, Bambara had gingerbread martinis (with crushed gingersnaps on the rim), and Ronnarong had a hot Thai Toddy, with black tea, sake, ginger syrup, ginger, and lemongrass. I'm pretty sure that toddy would cure any cold, and the next time I'm feeling under the weather, I think I'll have to make a stop at Ronnarong. (They also have a housemade ginger soda on their menu, if sake isn't your thing).

Now, of course, I'm craving ginger and want it in everything I eat. I especially have a hankering for Grasmere Gingerbread, this crazy delicious stuff that's only made in one shop in the small town of Grasmere in England. At least Picco was handing out the recipe for their gingerbread - may have to give it a try this week ;)

I'm definitely looking forward to eatBoston's next delicious event.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pistachio Orange Peel Cacao Nib (Kitchen Sink?) Biscotti

Early in December, my father and I dropped my mother off at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (for a class on gold leafing, which she has wanted to learn for ages), then headed off to tour the Taza Chocolate factory (along with roughly the entire chocolate-loving population of the greater Boston area). In pure Augustus Gloop fashion, we tasted everything they had to offer, including their cacao nibs (both plain and panned in chocolate). I could have bought one of everything in the store, but keeping my budget in mind, I grabbed a tin of nibs, intending to do some baking with them, and headed on my way.

Cacao nibs are chocolate that has been roasted and hulled but not yet ground into a paste, mixed with sugar and other ingredients, and formed into chocolate as we know it. They're not sweet, and they're not particularly chocolatey either. Instead, they're crunchy and nutty, and I usually taste an overtone of banana as well. I like Taza's a lot. They roast their chocolate carefully and in small batches - they know what they're doing.

Onto the baking. My father had been pestering me for a while about making biscotti, something I'd never done before, but he had seen on America's Test Kitchen and wanted to do. I quickly became hell-bent on including cacao nibs and pistachios (my father's favorite nut) in some way. I did a quick search and found these fabulous biscotti from Brownie Points.

These cookies came out perfectly, crispy and packed with flavor. I really like the combination of salty pistachios, crunchy cacao nibs, and sweet and chewy orange peel. I especially enjoyed eating them after they had sat on top of my coffee for a while, like in the picture above - the steam softened them up a bit without needing to dip them into the coffee. Feel free to play with the ratio of pistachios, cacao nibs, and orange peel - include as much or as little as you like. I prefer lots of little bits in my biscotti, so I added probably a little more than is called for in the recipe below. The base of the recipe is great, too, so you can use it with whatever mix-ins you feel like.

Pistachio Orange Peel Cacao Nib Biscotti adapted from Brownie Points
2 eggs
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup chopped pistachios
3/4 cup chopped candied orange peel
1/2 cup chopped cacao nibs

Preheat oven to 350°.

Mix together the eggs, butter, and vanilla until well combined. Add in the baking powder, salt, sugar, and flour, and mix thoroughly. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour. Add in the pistachios, orange peel, and cacao nibs and mix until distributed evenly.

Divide the dough into two halves and form them into two logs (kind of like the shape of a ciabatta loaf). Place logs on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, until the top is slightly golden brown. Remove the logs from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Lower oven temperature to 325°. Cut logs into 1/2-inch thick slices. Place the slices back on the baking sheet, cut sides up (you may need a second baking sheet for this). Bake biscotti for 10-15 minutes on each side, then cool before eating.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday I'm in Love... with Cocoa Metro Milk

If you can ever find a time to wander around a place like Russo's when it isn't busy (is Russo's ever not busy?!), you'll be rewarded with little gems of products sitting on the shelves. Ann and I took a trip to Russo's last weekend, and the sleek packaging of Cocoa Metro stood out against the other milk options - crisp white lettering on a glass bottle, filled with silky-looking, deep brown chocolate milk.

Surprisingly, when I got home, there was an email in my inbox from the founder of Cocoa Metro, telling me about the product. I told him I already loved the packaging and their tagline (Carpe Cocoa - what, you think I like Latin or something?), and he offered to bring a bottle over for me to try.

I broke the milk out the next morning and gave it a small sip. It's thick and velvety and just sweet enough to balance out the dark chocolate. I'm usually a skim milk girl, so this 2% mix is a little thick for my taste, but it is utterly heavenly. It actually tastes like chocolate, not some weird amalgam of chemicals, with a touch of vanilla to balance it out. Plus, Cocoa Metro uses Callebaut chocolate, some of the best stuff around.

Back to that 2% thing. I knew I could easily have balanced it out with a measure of skim milk to water it down, but I had other things in mind. I poured some milk into a coffee mug, about halfway, then microwaved it until hot. I used my cheapo milk frother to whip it up, but if you don't have one, you can just use a small whisk stuck into the mug and twirled between the palms of your hands. Topped off with regular drip coffee, the Cocoa Metro made a better mocha than what you can get at a coffee shop. And for slightly more than the cost of one mocha at Starbucks, you can get a whole bottle of Cocoa Metro to make mochas at home for a week.

Cocoa Metro is only available in the Boston area: Bread & Chocolate in Newton, Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, Russo's in Watertown, and a number of Whole Foods.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dim Sum at Myers + Chang

I've had dim sum at a number of Chinese restaurants over the years, but I've always felt disgusting a few hours later. After a delicious meal at Myers + Chang in the South End in December, I knew I had to give their dim sum a shot, as I was sure that post-meal sickness wouldn't set in from their food.

I took along my friends Ann, who had never had dim sum before, and Kristen, who loves M+C for their gluten-free menu. When we arrived at noon, the restaurant was almost empty (although I think the holiday weekend had something to do with it). Our waiter gave us little slips with all the dim sum offerings, and we began checking off our order.

First out were the bao, steamed buns with various fillings. I've heard amazing things about the pork belly (in the back of the photo), but it was my least favorite. The braised short rib (left) was tender and tasty, but the soy braised chicken (right) was my favorite, bursting with salty goodness and perfectly cooked meat. The bao aren't huge, but the short rib and chicken both had tons of meat and were pretty filling.

Plates started coming out faster, and we were enjoying every bite. Mama Chang's Pork Dumplings were fantastic - crispy dough with intensely flavored pork without the greasiness inherent in so many dumplings or potstickers. The tea-smoked pork spare ribs (above) were lacquered with a sweet and sticky coating which crisped up all the edges of the meat. The fried rice with pork and pineapple was fine, but I wasn't wild about it. I definitely appreciated the wide range of flavors (and I loved the fried slivers of shallot on top), and the balance between sweet and spicy and savory was on point.

Thankfully, all of the plates are small enough that you can order many different things to get tastes of everything (my favorite way to enjoy a meal). The dan dan noodles (above) were plenty spicy, and the cucumber on top helped cut the heat. The Thai ginger chicken vermicelli was a big hit, especially with Ann, who normally hates Thai food and would never even order anything with the word Thai in it. We also ordered the edamame and celery slaw with candied lemon, which is not usually on the dim sum menu but they added it for the gluten-free menu. I love this stuff and could eat it every day. The savory sesame oil and the sweet lemon peel both bring out the fresh flavors of the veggies - so tasty!

We ended up ordering more than we intended, mostly through some miscommunications with our waiter. So if there's one thing I would do next time, it would be to only ask for a second menu sheet instead of verbally giving an additional order to the waiter. We ended up with 3 of some dishes (where we only wanted 2), and a few things got ordered that we never asked for. It wasn't that big of a deal, though, because everything was delicious and we didn't mind having more of it to enjoy.

Myers & Chang on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pretty Sure I Asked for Pecan Sandies

My brother Ron has the amazing ability to create earworms and catch phrases. No, create is the wrong word - but he is able to pick phrases that stick with you no matter how hard you try to forget them. Usually, our friends and I are left repeating these phrases long, long after he's forgotten all about them. Case in point: At the supermarket this weekend, my friend Ann held up a bottle of Chi-Chi's salsa and asked if we could bring it into the house without guaranteeing a bout of Chicken and Chi-Chi's Cyborg.

Anyway, one of Ron's many earworms, and one that has yet to absent itself from even his own mind, is "Pretty sure I asked for pecan sandies." The line is from the first few minutes of the first episode of American Dad, which I think is even funnier than it's sibling, Family Guy. Roger, the alien that the Smiths keep hidden in their house, gets upset when he finds out the wife didn't buy him cookies (video below). And my brother has been repeating this phrase since 2005, when the episode aired. Somehow, we all still find it funny!

And so I've been meaning to bake pecan sandies for Ron for ages. I didn't actually get around to it until this Christmas, though, when I added it onto my long list of cookie requests. In all honesty, I made them as a joke, but almost everyone amongst my friends and family liked them the best (out of 10 or so different kinds of cookie!). I guess that means pecan sandies are now part of my regular rotation of cookies, so there's no way in hell this ear worm is going away anytime soon.

Pecan Sandies
adapted from Food & Wine
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 cup chopped pecans (I like to use a nut chopper)

Beat together butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract, then slowly add the flour, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go. When the dough starts to pull together, add the pecans and mix until the nuts are evenly incorporated. Divide the dough in half, form into 2-inch-thick logs, wrap in wax paper, and freeze at least two hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut logs into 1/4-inch-thick slices and arrange on baking sheets. Bake 25-30 minutes, until the edges begin to turn golden brown. Repeat with remaining dough.