Wednesday, May 30, 2007

And what are they Reserving this for?

After reading this thread on Chowhound, I was intrigued by all the new Reserve flavors from Haagen-Dazs. Many people on the thread where asking where they could find them, so I assumed, as the name implies, that they were hard to get. Imagine my surprise when I found the whole array at a local market.

Now I’m a little bit of a pomegranate freak. I love the fruit, and there’s nothing like the first pomegranate of the winter to signal the approach of the holidays. Most people lament the hard work involved in enjoying the fruit and are happy with all the new pomegranate products on the market. Being a real fan of the fruit itself, however, I don’t think any of those products actually taste like they should. Tangentially, the only exception I’ve found to this is Polar’s Pomegranate Seltzer. The biggest problem with this rash of new products is that the relatively small crop of fruit are all being juiced. I had a very hard time finding the whole fruit this winter in the market, when the year before, they were everywhere. The ones that did materialize where small and anemic, hardly worth the effort. Pomegranates are the John Mayers and Howie Days of the fruit world – they were better before they became popular and famous… now they just suck.

So vainly, I picked the Pomegranate Chip from the freezer. I would have been much better off trying one of the other flavors, one that wouldn’t disappoint me so completely. The Hawaiian Lehua Honey and Sweet Cream sounds really interesting and is probably the best of the bunch, so if I see that again, I might give it a try, although $5 is a little steep for a pint of prepackaged supermarket ice cream.

And what were my impressions of the Pomegranate Chip? Meh. M-E-H, meh. It tasted like a strange raspberry chip ice cream, nowhere near as good as the raspberry chip yogurt that I devoured when I worked at Emack & Bolio’s. I was expecting some hint of tart-y goodness, something to suggest that, indeed, a pomegranate had even been near the ice cream at some point. I guess it’s just one more product to hold in contempt of taking away my precious fruit.

Shrimp and Fennel

As I stated before, I was not a fan of vegetables when I was growing up. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve really discovered how good they can be. One recent addition to my repertoire is fennel, or anise as my local market labels it. The bulb is like an exotic celery – the consistency is the same, albeit a little less watery and stringy, but the flavor- well, there is flavor, which is not something that celery can really boast. Fennel has a fairly strong licorice taste and smell when raw, but that is all toned down as it cooks.

This dish, aptly named Shrimp and Fennel because I honestly don’t know how else to describe it, is very simple, and the hardest part is just chopping up the veggies. I use cooked frozen shrimp for simplicity, because there’s nothing better than being able to defrost a protein out of the freezer in only a couple of minutes. Total cook time is only about 5 minutes.

1 fennel bulb
1 pound cooked shrimp, tails removed
2 tomatoes (you can also use sun-dried tomatoes for a more pronounced tomato flavor – cook these longer)
splash of half and half
2-3 ounces of feta cheese

Chop a bulb of fennel into bite-size pieces. Also dice 2 tomatoes and set aside.

Saute the fennel in a little bit of olive oil over medium heat until the fennel becomes translucent. Add the shrimp to warm through. After a minute, pour off as much as the liquid as you can, then add a splash of half and half and about 2-3 ounces of crumbled feta. Mix until the feta starts to melt a little and the cream and cheese form a sauce.

As I was enjoying my dinner, I began to think that fennel might be a good snack raw as well. Anyone have any thoughts about what would make a good dip to complement the anise flavor?

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Hi, My Name is Pam, and I'm a Chicken Addict

UBurger is a fast food place in Kenmore Square. It opened about a week after I started working in the area, so I've been lucky to always have it around as a lunch option. For a while, I was visiting about 3 times a week, but I've cut back on that in the past few months.

And despite the name, I still have not tried their burgers. It's always the same things for me: the Sweet Chick (chicken with honey mustard) on a wheat bun or a Greek salad, no dressing, no onions, with chicken. And the simple reason for these orders is that this chicken is downright addictive. At work, we joke that they must put crack in the marinade; I find myself jonesing for it as I stare at my computer. I'm still not sure what makes it so good. The owners are Greek, and there's definitely hints of that cuisine - oregano especially - but that isn't all of it. There's some ineffable quality about the stuff.

UBurger's other strengths are its sides - french fries and onion rings. The fries are thin and extra crispy, the skins giving them a hint of earthiness. The onion rings are thin and crispy, too - the batter is light and thin, allowing the onion flavor to shine through.

Wow, writing this has made me hungry for more. See what I mean about addiction?

Uburger in Boston

Monday, May 21, 2007

How I Met My Eggplant

I was never a fan of vegetables as a kid. They were usually overcooked and bland, and they weren't something I wanted to waste my time on. One veggie, though, always had a place on my plate - eggplant. And this was primarily because it was always covered in cheese.

My mother's eggplant recipe is easy - so easy, it shouldn't even be called a recipe. Simply slice an eggplant into 1/8-inch thick rounds and soak in salted water to draw out the bitterness. Once the water turns brown (yum!), drain and lay the slices on an oiled baking sheet (I use an oil mister, then spray the tops of the slices too).

Top with grated Parmesan cheese (it wasn't until I had already bought the Parm that I realized my mother uses mozzarella, which is even tastier) and bake at 400 degrees until the cheese bubbles and browns. Try not to burn your fingers as you greedily peel the slices off the pan.

And of course, a girl can't live on eggplant and cheese alone (wait a minute...). I also made some chicken, quickly marinated in some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped garlic and oregano flakes. All I can say is "Wow". The balsamic gave it a lovely brown tone that concerned me while it cooked... it looked burned. Luckily, it was tasty and very juicy.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Fiddle Me This

Fiddlehead ferns are one of the signs of spring here in the Northeast. When I was a kid, the forest behind our house was filled with a sea of green come spring, but I never imagined those plants were a delicacy. I always see them in the market, but I've never cooked them until now. The warnings have always scared me off - MAY CAUSE INTESTINAL DISTRESS is not a way I'd like to start -- or end -- a meal.

So once again, I was in the market and the little green creatures were smiling up at me from their bin -- "Bring us home! Cook us! Eat us!" I'm a sucker for good-looking produce, and into my basket they went. Back home, I followed the instructions I found online - soak in water to separate the brown outer leaves from the fern, parboil to remove toxins, then stirfry with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.

And the results? Meh. It tasted just like asparagus, with a little softer texture. And frankly, that was too much work for almost-asparagus. I am glad I've tried them, but I think I'll be able to resist their siren song next time.

Free coffee all summer?!

In the past few months here in Boston, there have been lots of opportunities for free goodies -- first there was free iced coffee from Dunkin' Donuts (you know I hit that up about 5 times that day), free ice cream at Ben & Jerry's, and free ice cream (on Fenway opening day, nonetheless) at JP Licks. Now JP Licks has done it again, with free iced coffee, not just today, but every day this summer that the temp goes over 81 degrees! All you need to do is flash a little card that they'll give you today and voila, free coffee.

And the coffee is really good... they roast it themselves in their JP branch. I've never had their coffee before because, well hey, they're an ice cream store. But I'm a fan now. It's less watery than Dunkin's, and has a richer flavor than what I get from Bruegger's (Bruegger's will still be my regular coffee supplier, though, since I've invested in my amazing $120 mug).

JP Licks is also my favorite ice cream purveyor near my office. If there were a Brigham's nearby, it would be in second place, but alas... This is a big change for me. When I was in college and JP Licks took over Denise's in Davis Square, we were all devestated. I think I boycotted for a while... I wasn't crazy about their ice cream (different textures take time to get used to) and their prices were higher too. But over time, I've grown to enjoy their wild flavors (Hibiscus Lemon Sorbet, Fresh Banana Peanut Butter Ripple ice cream) and local pride (Cherry Garciaparra Ortiz). Today I had soft red raspberry yogurt to go along with my coffee -- it was luscious and creamy; I don't often order soft yogurt, but this was a winner.

Edit 7/2/07: Apparently the little card they give you is only good once. It was never handed back to me after I got my free cup the other day...

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Quintessential Moving Food

OK, so maybe this wasn't the best time to start a cooking blog.

I've recently moved, and my kitchen is still not in order. I mean, it's better than when I first moved in, but there's still stuff everywhere. I find that I've been spending my time getting everything set up instead of actually cooking. The frozen aisle at Trader Joe's has been my best friend in the past few weeks.

Today, though, called for pizza, the most important food during a move. In Boston, we have many different types of pizza, but my favorite is "Greek pizza." Any pizza joint named "House of ..." is typically Greek-owned in this area. The dough has a good amount of chew, the crust is extra crispy, and the cheese forms beautifully browned spots of goodness. The sauce isn't very sweet, and there's grease everywhere.

This one is topped with bacon... they used large strips, which crisped up wonderfully in the oven. This is one of my favorite's from childhood, but I don't order it often, or I'd be dead.

In addition to a new apartment, I also have a new camera. These pics aren't great, but I'm still learning. And I was too hungry to take many pictures...