Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tastier than Banana Bread

I don't like bananas. Give me something I don't know contains bananas, and I'll most likely gag (like the monkey-inspired beer at the Publick House). Thus, I'm not a fan of banana bread. Well, I have been known to devour slices of my roommate's Banana Love Bread (I named it that, because it was that good), but that's really an anomaly. Luckily, I've tweaked a recipe, using persimmons instead, resulting in a very similar, slightly spicier, and un-banana-y treat.

Persimmons seem to be the new "in" fruit, as there are recipes for them everywhere right now (like the 6 posts on Tastespotting in just a few days). They can be hard to find in markets, and can be even harder to find ripe. Eating an unripe persimmon can turn you off of them forever. So for this recipe, make sure they're soft and squishy before using. Scoop the flesh out and puree it in a food processor or by mashing it well to get the chunks out. Note that I made this in a flat 9x9 pan, not a loaf or bundt pan like typical banana breads, because the batter is very dense - it wouldn't cook otherwise.

Persimmon bread-cake

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups ripe persimmon puree (about 3 fruit)
1/3 dark corn syrup
3 eggs
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
2 cups flour
1/3 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream brown sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl. Add persimmon puree, corn syrup, and eggs, and beat well. Add ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and cloves and mix to incorporate. Finally mix in flour and boiling water alternately. Spray a 9 inch square baking pan with cooking spray; pour in batter. Bake for 30 minutes, until edges are brown and pulled away from the sides of the pan (the cake is sticky, so you can't test it with a toothpick).

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Kettle Chips Fire and Spice Tasting

For the 4th year, Kettle Chips has taken a unique path to developing and marketing new flavors. They have developed 5 new flavors, but only one will go into widescale production and be available in markets. Tasting kits can be purchased on their website, and voting also takes place online.

This year's potato chip throwdown was titled Fire and Spice, with all the flavors focusing on some sort of hot pepper or other spicy ingredient. From mild to spicy (at least, according to the tasting guide), they are Wicked Hot Sauce, Mango Chili, Jalapeno Salsa Fresca, Orange Ginger Wasabi, and Death Valley Chipotle.

Wicked Hot Sauce - A fairly mild heat, but with lots of vinegary kick. Just tasting a couple chips doesn't do much, but I'm sure this is the kind of heat that would sneak up on you after eating much of the bag.

Mango Chili - Sweet and sassy. The heat is not overwhelming, but the sugar sure is. Kettle Chips has a bad habit of adding too much sugar to their sweeter flavors (Spicy Thai, anyone?), and this chip suffers from it. If the sugar and spice were more balanced out, this would be a nice snack. As it is, the mango flavor doesn't get to come out; it just tastes like sweet.

Jalapeno Salsa Fresca - So awesome. This is the most well-balanced blend of spices in the bunch. The jalapeno does not overwhelm the fresh salsa taste, but you can tell there's some heat there. It kind of reminds me of the salsa-flavored Doritos I used to buy. It's like potato chips and salsa (come on, I'm not the only one who does that), but without the mess of dripping tomatoes everywhere.

Orange Ginger Wasabi - These taste just like the little peas available at asian markets, only they're easier on the teeth (I'm always sure I'm going to break a tooth on one of those peas...). I honestly didn't taste much ginger or orange, which is why this chip doesn't rate higher for me - if it's advertised, I want to taste it. The wasabi is very strong, so it's definitely not something you could eat a whole bag of.

Death Valley Chipotle - Man, you can smell the chipotle as soon as you open the bag. These bright red chips pack a smoky punch. The only thing stronger than the smoke is the heat. They're like a really spicy barbeque chip. I definitely couldn't eat more than a couple (hey, a new way to diet!).

So overall, my pick for winner was the Jalapeno Salsa Fresca. I could eat those until the cows come home. The Wicked Hot Sauce (for all it's name is worth) was the weakest of the bunch, and I didn't think it was really in league with the other flavors. For the rest, they would be good to snack on only a few, but I wouldn't be able to eat a whole bunch of them.

Tasting packs are still available through the Kettle Chips website, and this seems to be something they do every year now (as evidenced by a hilarious tasting of ethnic flavors at my family's Christmas party last year). Has anyone else given these a try? What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving at the Taqueria

Not spending Thanksgiving with loved - or at least mildly cared-for - ones?

Don't worry, Boca Grande has you covered! They'll be serving up roast fresh turkey breast basted in brandy, traditional sage and onion stuffing, roasted fall vegetables, ginger-orange cranberry chutney, and homemade gravy, all for $6.50. Now the real question is if they'll wrap it all up in a tortilla for you... I think the Burrito Blog needs to investigate.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How is Pumpkin This Amazing?

So my pumpkin jag continues. I saw these cookies in Everyday Food a while ago, and I got all the ingredients sitting on the counter... and then life got in the way. Isn't that always how it happens? But after long delay, my stomach is filled with moist, cakey, chocolate-covered pumpkin cookies, and all is right with the world again.

Pumpkin is definitely my most-used ingredient this fall. I can't seem to stay away from pumpkin recipes. Savory or sweet, it's just fantastic. Got any good pumpkin recipes for me?

Chocolate-Glazed Pumpkin Cookies from Everyday Food

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder (I can't mix them up if they're both in here!)
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice - you could use more and it would probably taste better
1/4 tsp salt
4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour through salt and set aside.

Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat until smooth. Beating slowly, add flour mixture and pumpkin in small batches, alternating between the two.

Drop dough by heaping tablespoons onto a lined baking sheet. Bake until puffed and edges are golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Once cookies have cooled, melt 4 ounces of chopped chocolate in a measuring cup in the microwave for roughly 90 seconds. Stir until completely melted. Transfer chocolate to a ziploc bag. Cut the smallest of holes in one corner of the bag and pipe chocolate over the cookies. Let chocolate harden before serving.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Making Guacamole a Year-Round Treat

Guacamole. It's probably my favorite dip to accompany chips. But it always seems so summery to me. With a simple ingredient swap, though, it becomes a fantastic holiday appetizer. It's November - tomatoes are out, pomegranates are in!

Pomegranate Guacamole
4 ripe avocados
1 lime
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
handful of pomegranate seeds (1/4-1/3 of one fruit)

Cut, pit and mash the avocados. Add the juice from the lime to the avocado to prevent browning. Stir in onion and pomegranate. being careful not to puncture any of the seeds. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

And can I just add some more Trader Joe's love on here? The TJ's Organic White Corn Tortilla Chips are the best packaged tortilla chips I've ever had. They're perfectly crisp, with plenty of salt. They're even good on their own, once you've run out of guacamole...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tealuxe, Newbury Street

There has been much tea talk around the office lately. One coworker, our newest hire, loves tea, and she makes a different type (or two) every day. She has been buying her supply at Teavana, a place that I've never been thrilled with. I am a hard-core Tealuxe fan. So when we found out that our tea-obsessed friend had never been to Tealuxe, we knew we all had to go for lunch one day.

It's rare that I eat at Tealuxe. In the summer, the patio is always packed, as are most Newbury Street patios. In the winter, only the basement dining room is open. It's small, so there's usually a wait for a table, but it seems like a large area. Everything is brass and mirror, making the tiny room seem huge.

As a group of 6, we had a bit of a wait before we could get a table. No problem, though, as it gave us a chance to take a good hard look at the menus - food and tea.

I settled on the Sonoma panino - chicken with salsa and jack cheese. All sandwiches are served with the choice of potato chips, potato salad, or green salad - but really, the only choice you should make is the green salad. The dressing is very unique, infused with some type of tea (obviously, in a place like this).

And I had the Kir Royale ice tea to go along with my meal. Everyone else ordered hot tea, but I'm not a big fan of hot beverages with my food (unless we're talking coffee with a piece of cake or something). There are always 3 or 4 brewed ice teas available, with different flavor profiles to suit any taste.

Overall, Tealuxe offers a respectable light lunch. I still wish it were closer to my office, but I'll take it as a good thing - I'm not ordering tea there everyday like I would be.

Tealuxe in Boston

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Food Can Do Crazy Things to a Person

Pam: i hate you
Sarah: what? why?
Pam: why did you have to introduce me to baked cheetos?
Sarah: ah hahaha
Pam: luckily they come in 100-calorie packs
but still!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Pasta with Kale and Turkey Sausage

Mark Bittman caused a bit of a stir a few weeks ago with his New York Times article about saucing pasta. Americans, he points out, were long used to oversaucing their pasta, allowing it to swim in the bowl. But when Mario Batali and other Italian chefs came on the scene and started to show people how pasta is "meant" to be served, many Americans began to cook pasta that way - cooked al dente (often a little too undercooked, but that's a different topic) with just a touch of sauce, letting the pasta shine.

But Bittman turns the tables on that, encouraging readers to "oversauce" again. But he's not just talking red sauce. He instead talks about using the pasta as an accompaniment to veggies. The recipes he offers look fantastic (I keep meaning to try the winter squash one), but I tried something a little different, but still in the same vein.

Pasta with Kale and Turkey Sausage (adapted from a Cooking Light recipe)

8 ounces whole wheat pasta
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
10-15 sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in water and chopped
1 pound spicy turkey sausage, casings removed
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp Italian seasonings
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 14-ounce can fat-free chicken broth
1 pound fresh kale, chopped
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans
Parmesan cheese, shaved

Cook pasta according to package. Drain and keep warm.

Drain tomatoes from water. In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add oil, tomatoes, onion, and sausage. Cook 10 minutes or until sausage is browned, stirring to crumble the sausage. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add Italian seasoning, pepper flakes and broth to pan. Add kale, folding it in to help it wilt. Keep stirring until kale is all wilted down. Stir in pasta and beans. Top with Parmesan shavings.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Vapiano - Dupont Circle, DC

I was a little bummed out that I had to work the weekend before Halloween (that's two years in a row now!). The trustees of my institution met in Washington, DC. A highlight of the meetings themselves was Friday evening at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History - drinks in the Hope Diamond room and dinner in the Hall of Mammals. Pretty classy, and I'm slapping myself now for not taking pictures.

Another great part of the weekend was getting the chance to hang out with one of my high school friends. Saturday night we watched the Sox from a bar packed with Boston fans - we couldn't help but laugh as the group behind us talked about going to Sturbridge Village with their elementary school classes... yep, done that.

On Sunday we wandered around the city, shopping and dining as the spirit took us. By the time we were headed back towards my hotel from Dupont Circle, we were both a little peckish. She spotted Vapiano, a place she's been dying to try for a while, and me, well, I'm always up for Italian food, so we headed on in.

This place reminded me a lot of Marche, which used to have a huge outpost in the Prudential Building in Boston, only this was much smaller and hipper. When you enter, they give you a card which you have to swipe at each station as you order your food. At the end, they just run the card through the register, and each order is added up. Much easier and neater than those Marche paper slips and stamps. Everything is red or black or a neutral color, and there are no regular tables, just deep leather chairs with short tables or bar stools along long high tops.

For our first course, we ordered the rucula pizza, a made-when-ordered cheese pizza topped with tons of fresh arugula and loaded with shaved parmesan. Have I mentioned before that arugula is possible the best green in the world? I could eat this pizza every day and be quite happy. The crust was very thin, although a little unstable, especially with the load of salad on top. Definitely a pizza to eat with knife and fork.

Course two was from the other half of the menu, pasta. Right away, both of us were drawn to one unusual combo - lime and mint. The sauce is simple and delicious, and I'm sure I'll be copying it at home. A little olive oil, a little butter, some lime juice, some fresh mint, and garlic, topped with grated parmesan and lots of fresh black pepper. Mmmm. I think I'll add some lime zest when I try it out, it could have used just a touch more lime zing.

And of course you need a little sweet to end the meal. There are a few desserts on the menu, but we opted for the candy dish on the way out. Now, most restaurants offer mints or small chocolates. Not here. Gummi bears, baby!

So the next time I'm in the area (who knows what that'll be) and need a quick and cheap bite, I know I'll be headed for Vapiano.

Unfortunately, this international chain's only US locations are in DC. Testing the waters, I'm sure. I'd love to see this come to Boston where it would fit in well, despite the plethora of Italian food.

Vapiano M Street in Washington