Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Restaurant Week Lunch at the Melting Pot

Can I start by saying that it's really hard to take a picture of fondue? Maybe not as hard as soup, but pretty damn close.

Yesterday, my friend Ann and I acted like ladies who lunch and headed to the Melting Pot in downtown Boston to enjoy a leisurely meal, mostly because the Melting Pot was still running their $20 Restaurant Week promotion, and who can pass up that kind of deal? The RW lunch menu includes salad, entree, and dessert, and we added on a cheese course (how could you skip that?!) for only an additional $6 each. I know a lot of people bitch about how RW is a pretty bad deal at most places (I'm amongst that wall of sound), but this is one deal that is well worth it.

Like I said, we added a cheese course because it's sacrilegious (sacrilicious?) to go for fondue and not get cheese. We tried the special of the month, Fondue a la France, which included brie, fontina, gruyere, and raclette, plus bacon, onions, white tuffle butter, and a sprinkle of fresh chives. This was the best fondue I've had at the Melting Pot (and I've tried a number of them) hands down. Bacon! White truffle! Brie! This was serious not-messing-around fondue.

Our salads came just as we were finishing the last of the cheese. I had gone with the Caesar, and was greeted by a pleasant surprise of parmesan-encrusted pine nuts as a garnish. The pine nuts were on the sweet side and didn't quite work with the salad, but I would have liked a whole bowl of them for a snack.

For RW, the entree is cut down in size, but in reality, it's really all you need. We both chose the beef plate, which included six pieces of beef teriyaki and six artichoke and spinach ravioli, as well as a pile of fresh veggies. I probably ate my weight in broccoli, but I figured that was a good idea knowing there was more decadence to come. I love the leisurely pace that this course takes as you wait for your meat to cook in the boiling boullion.

Dessert was, of course, wonderful. What's not to love about dipping sweets in molten chocolate? We opted for dark chocolate with a shot of Bailey's (a favorite of both of us), and surprisingly, neither of us touched the cheesecake - we opted for more strawberries and rice krispy treats instead.

As I said, lunch at the Melting Pot is one of the rare occasions when Restaurant Week works well.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday I'm in Love... with Ben & Jerry's Late Night Snack

Like any good Boston girl, I love my ice cream. It's not uncommon around here to find people lined up for ice cream on a cold winter's night. I also love desserts that are both salty and sweet, so when I heard that Ben & Jerry's had come out with a flavor in honor of Jimmy Fallon's Late Night Show that involved potato chips and salted caramel, I searched high and low to find it.

(Truth be told, I'm more of a Craig Ferguson fan than Jimmy, but Craig doesn't have his own ice cream flavor...yet. This is my favorite clip from the Late Late Show.)

Supermarket after supermarket didn't have Late Night Snack on the shelves, but I eventually found some and dug right in. The ice cream base itself is a premium vanilla, flecked with Fair Trade vanilla beans, and is sweet and smooth. The caramel runs in ribbons throughout, and its saltiness is more pronounced when eaten with only a small amount of the ice cream. And the chocolate-covered potato chip clusters? Crispy and salty (although the caramel is saltier), but not all-together what I was expecting.

These clusters are more like rice crispies - airy and crackly - than like real potato chips. So after a slight disappointment in not finding real chips, I started to get into the texture of these clusters.

Final verdict? I'm hoping this flavor doesn't go away anytime soon. Much like its sibling, Chubby Hubby (vanilla malt ice cream with fudge and peanut butter and chocolate-covered peanut butter-filled pretzels), Late Night Snack appeals to those of us who like a little savory with the sweet. Unlike Chubby Hubby, where the pretzels are a bite in themselves, Late Night Snack's potato chip clusters are just the right size to enjoy in conjunction with the rest of the ingredients.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Little King Cake for Mardi Gras

I have never been to New Orleans, nor have I ever had a real king cake, but that didn't stop me from making one when asked. My friend Ann, who has lived in New Orleans, was the one asking, and since I was using her flour and butter, I was happy to oblige.

I bought Joanne Chang's Flour cookbook before Christmas like everyone else in Boston, but I didn't get a chance to make anything from it until well into the new year. For some reason, I decided to skip any of the easier recipes and jumped right to brioche. The recipe came together with no problems and couldn't have been easier to follow. However, the recipe makes enough dough for two loaves, so half went to make a regular loaf and the other half went to the king cake.

Ann started listing things that would be tasty - I don't think this is actually based on a cake that she has eaten. She wanted chocolate and orange and, of course, something to use as the baby (the small token that brings good luck to whoever gets the piece with it). I ended up dividing the dough into three parts, rolling them into logs, adding a filling, then braiding them together. Ann tells me it was just like king cakes she had in New Orleans (only better, I would assume, because it had both chocolate and orange in it), so I'll just have to take her word for it.

I'm not going to give you the recipe for the brioche, since I used the one out of the Flour cookbook, so feel free to use your favorite brioche recipe. My recipe starts after the dough has had its first rise, but before it has been shaped and given its second rise. Seriously, though, check out Flour - it leaves me wanting to lick the pages every time I look at it.

Braided King Cake
1 brioche dough, after its first rise (half a recipe if using the Flour cookbook)
3 oz dark chocolate, chopped
zest of 1 orange
1-2 Tbsp white sugar
1 large nut (almond, walnut, or pecan are good)
1 egg, beaten
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
milk (about 1 Tbsp)
colored sugars (purple, green, and yellow)

Combine orange zest and white sugar in a bowl and set aside.

Divide dough into three equal parts and roll each into a long rope. Flatten the ropes - lay chocolate down the middle of one, orange sugar down the middle of another, and the nut somewhere in the third. Pinch sides together to seal the fillings in, then reroll if needed back into a rope shape. Braid the three ropes together, then bring the ends together to form a circle. Pinch the ends together to form a seamless circle. Place the loaf on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, then let rise in a warm spot for 3-4 hours, until it has doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350°. Brush loaf with egg. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until completely golden brown. Let cool before icing.

Whisk together the powdered sugar, vanilla, and a splash of milk until smooth. Add a little bit of milk at a time until the glaze is just slightly runny (you don't want it too watery, so go slow!). Drizzle over the king cake, then sprinkle on colored sugars.