Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bella Luna, Jamaica Plain

When I go out to eat, I don't usually think of going to the bowling alley. But I was meeting my friend Michael for lunch, and he suggested Bella Luna, part of Milky Way Lounge & Lanes in Jamaica Plain, so I was more than happy to give it a try.

For the sake of trying a bunch of different things, we shared a couple of appetizers and a pizza. First, we had the curry fries and the crab cake. The fries, served with a curried mayo, were tasty, but nothing spectacular. The crab cake, though, was fantastic - crispy exterior, moist interior, and plenty of crab. There was very little filler, so it was a rather loose cake (it would have been tasty in a sandwich, but would have fallen apart in seconds). It was served on top of cole slaw and red pepper aioli, all of which went deliciously together.

For our pizza, we ordered the Latin Quarter - chicken, avocado, bacon, cheddar and jalapeno peppers. This was probably the most unique choice on the pizza menu, although you can design your own with any of their ingredients. The chicken was a little dry, but over all, this was an awesome pizza. The flavors were all bold, but not overpowering, and complemented each other nicely. And any time there's bacon on pizza, I'm happy.

Over all, this is much better food than I would have expected at a bowling alley (granted, they are in a separate space, but I couldn't get the bowling aspect out of my head). I can understand why so many people make a night out of the Milky Way.

Bella Luna in Jamaica Plain

Friday, January 25, 2008

Baked Mini Egg Rolls

Truth be told, bite-size appetizers are my favorite things to eat. Give me a mess of appetizers over a big meal any day. However, prep for all the different little pieces can be time consuming, which often precludes having too many delicious bites at a party.

I had some wonton wrappers on hand, as well as some excess cabbage, so I decided to try making mini egg rolls, an excellent appetizer. But frying seemed tedious and very unhealthy, so opted to bake them instead. True, they didn't get the same lovely fried exterior, but they were delicious and crispy nonetheless.

These were very easy to make, and the wrapping didn't take all that long. You can add whatever you'd like to the filling (some chicken, finely chopped, would be good). I'm sure you can freeze these before baking and keep them on hand for company (or a dinner of bite-sized treats).

Mini Egg Rolls

1/2 bag cole slaw mix (shredded cabbage and carrots)
1 handful bean sprouts
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 Tbsp soy sauce
about 30 wonton wrappers

In a wok or large pan, cook cabbage and sprouts in oil, until slightly wilted but still a little crunchy. Add soy sauce and toss. Let cool. Working one at a time, lay wonton wrapper on counter so that one corner points towards you (keep the rest under a damp towel to prevent drying). Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling across the diagonal of the wrapper. Wipe water along the edges of the wrapper, then fold using an "envelope" technique: pull two points on either end of the filling over, then the point closest to you, then roll into the final point (damn, should have taken pictures of this). Repeat until all the wrappers (or all the filling) are used.

Preheat oven to 425°. Spray baking sheet with Pam or similar spray. Lay egg rolls down, leaving room so they don't touch. Spray the tops with more Pam. Bake for 20 minutes, turning once. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Oceanaire Comes to Boston

The Oceanaire is a seafood chain with restaurants across the US, and they officially opened their Boston branch last night with a huge open house.

The restaurant is beautifully decorated, combining art deco and nautical motifs. There are hints as to the building's past, with a sign above the stairs to the basement pointing to the bank vaults downstairs. All in all, it had a very Starship Titanic feel about it. All the dining tables had been removed to deal with the crowd, so I'd be curious to go back just to see the room set up; I imagine it would have a very different feel.

The appetizers - both passed and stationary- were delicious and, hopefully, an accurate representation of the care that will go into the dishes at the Oceanaire. Mahi mahi ceviche, served in little tortilla cups, was light and zingy from the lime juice. The clams casino and oysters rockefeller were hot and fresh. A hot dip with cheese and shrimp (perhaps the stuffing that can be added to any fish dish?) was a little too rich, but definitely decadent. My favorite were the little crab claws (on the right in the picture), which had a vaguely Asian influence. Later, mini key lime pies and root beer floats were passed for dessert, and both were light and not overly sweet.

The best part of the evening, though, were the mojitos. There was a table set up with bartenders making only mojitos (a strange choice in January, but delicious all the same). The cucumber mojito (made with pureed cucumber) was fantastic and a perfect pair with all the seafood.

The menu is expensive, with entrees mostly in the $30-50 range (of course, there are plenty of extras that can jack that up further). I would give them a try for a special occasion, or more likely, appetizers and cucumber mojitos at the bar.

Oceanaire in Boston

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sometimes a Girl Just Needs a Brownie

You know what I'm talking about. Sometimes you just need a brownie, but it's too damn cold out to buy more provisions, so you're stuck making an inferior recipe because you only have enough ingredients to make that and not an awesome brownie recipe.

You know exactly what I mean.

I guess this is a lesson... always keep on hand more butter than you think necessary.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Boston's Cheap Eats

You know, I've been thinking... I clearly must not be keeping myself very busy with work and school and my intership and this blog and life in general. That, or I've gone insane. Because I've signed up to write cheap eats reviews for Bostonist. Keep an eye on Bostonist every Monday for a review of a restaurant with prices (ideally) under $10.

Last week was Basta Pasta, and this week was New England Soup Factory.

If you've got any great cheap eat tips, please send them my way! And if you want to join me on a chow crawl, just drop me a line!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Spicy Mango Galette

National Pie Day is coming up next week (why it's not March 14th, I can't tell you). I'm not particularly good at pies, but I try my hand at them every once in a while.

While going through the freezer this past weekend, I found one Trader Joe's pie crust, leftover from when I made prune pie at Christmas time. I didn't really like the crust (tasted too much like sugar cookie, and there were no flakes), and I realized that the remaining piece was probably going to just sit in the freezer until the freezer burn was too horrible. I also realized, looking at my fruit bowl, that there were some perfectly ripe mangoes from a trip to Super 88 that I wouldn't be able to eat before they went bad.

And thus, a mango galette was born, in preparation for National Pie Day.

Spicy Mango Galette

2 mangoes, evenly chopped
1 tsp cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 tsp cayenne pepper
1 unbaked pie crust (homemade or store bought)
sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 450°. In a bowl, mix chopped mango, cornstarch, sugar, and cayenne together until evenly distributed. On a foil-lined sheet pan, lay down pie crust. Pile the mango filling in the middle of the dough, leaving about 2 inches of dough on all sides. Carefully fold up the dough over the mixture, crimping as you go. Sprinkle dough with sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Cool before serving.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Almost Mu Shi

Since I was a kid, one of my favorite options at the Chinese restaurant has been mu shi. It's relatively healthy, comprised of mostly cabbage and mushrooms, but I think I really liked it as a kid because of the pancakes. I don't know why - they're not much more than flour and water, but I've always been a fan.

Sadly, there's no good Chinese food near my apartment. True, I could take the T into Chinatown, but sometimes a girl just wants to stay in and watch a whole season of My Name Is Earl on her DVR. So I decided to finally try my hand at mu shi in my own kitchen.

I combined quite a few recipes, none of which seemed complete. And my results? Not great (certainly not good enough to provide a recipe), but about as close to the real thing as I'm going to get any time soon. It'll do in a pinch, when I really don't want to leave the house, but I'd still venture out to get the real thing.

Anyone have a good mu shi recipe for me to try out?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mariposa Bakery, Central Square

I've been hearing about Mariposa Bakery in Central Square for a while, mostly because they used to host a Chocolate Lounge, featuring Taza Chocolates from Somerville. I was in the area this weekend and decided to give the place a try (finally).

I had a day of eating ahead of me, so I didn't want to fill up, but I still wanted to try a variety of things. My friends and I sampled a few different baked goods to get an idea of what the bakery could do.

We started with the chocolate chip coffee cake. It had a nice level of density (not too light, not too heavy... Goldilocks would have been quite happy) and was very moist. There was lots of chocolatey flavor without it being overwhelming. The semisweet chocolate drizzle on top was a nice touch, balancing out the sweetness of the cake.

The lemon scone was fantastic and very lemony (but not in the Lemon Pledge kind of way). The dough was not too dense, and it had a slightly crunchy crust, especially at the bottom edges. The frosting was probably just lemon juice and confectionary sugar, but it was perfect as a glaze for the scone.

The biscotti was a big surprise to me, and was maybe my favorite of the samples. It was filled with dried cherries and whole pistachios for a very middle eastern flavor. My favorite part, though, was the texture - not break-your-teeth hard like most biscotti, but just hard enough that it could stand up to a cup of coffee. It was, actually, fairly soft, making the crunch of the pistachios stand out. I would love to be able to make biscotti like this (that gives me an idea.... anyone have a good recipe for softer biscotti?).

Sadly, despite the lovely weather on Saturday, Mariposa had no iced coffee, so I had to settle for iced tea...

They have some interesting looking sandwiches, and it seems like a friendly environment to study in. If I find myself in the area during the semester, I might grab a cup of coffee and a biscotti and get down to reading.

Mariposa Bakery in Cambridge

Friday, January 11, 2008

La Morra, Brookline

My roommate's firm very nicely invited me to their holiday dinner, rounding the list of attendees out to an even 6. I, of course, had to make it 6 1/2 by toting along my camera.

Now, I've had my eye on La Morra in Brookline Village for quite some time, and I would have eventually made a trip there myself had this dinner invitation not come along. The menu, especially, was intriguing, with a more authentic Italian palate than most places, like baccala and game meats.

We started with some items off the cicchetti menu. Cicchetti are bar snacks, served in small portions. We had the arancini stuffed with braised beef and mozzarella, the pickled vegetables, the salt cod crostini, and the fried sage and anchovies. Now, I have to say, I've never been a big fan of salt cod or anchovies, but these were delicious, filled with salty goodness. The arancini were melt-in-your-mouth when they were hot, but started to lose some of their quality as they cooled (as with most fried foods).

Dinner was a hard decision. The pastas sounded wonderful, especially the squash gnocchi with roasted pears and amaretti, but I heeded the steak's siren song instead. The hanger steak was grilled to a redder medium than I would have expected, but tasted fantastic nonetheless. It was served with forgettable potatoes, delicious wilted arugula in a lemony dressing, and a chianti sauce of which I sopped up every last drop.

Chocolate seemed like a good dessert to follow the steak, so I ordered the Torta Caprese, a flourless chocolate almond cake with raspberry sorbet. The cake was good, but wasn't much more than a brownie. But hey, who am I to argue with chocolate? The sorbet was very good, with a bright, fresh raspberry flavor that added depth to the cake.

So after this wonderful dinner (filled with wonderful conversation), I know I'll be back to La Morra soon, to try the gnocchi and some more cicchetti if nothing else.

La Morra in Brookline

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Pie Bakery & Cafe, Newton Center

Pie Bakery & Cafe is located in Newton Center, between my apartment and my friends' house. I drive by it all the time, but it's usually closed whenever I'm nearby. I love how simple the name is (can't beat the Pie Hole, though), and you know what you're getting when you go in there. There's even a giant pie mural on the wall, so it's hard not to figure out what they sell.

Surprisingly, I didn't order pie on my first visit. Well, not a typically piece of pie. Instead, I opted for a hand pie and a "pie" cupcake.

The roasted veggie handpie was very tasty, although a little unappealing looking. The vegetables (mostly zucchini and eggplant) were a dull brown inside the glossy wheat dough wrapper. However, the flavor of the dough and the light lemony sauce inside more than made up for the looks.

It felt almost blasphemous not ordering a slice of pie for dessert, but the Boston Cream Pie cupcake looked too good. It was mostly all looks, though. The cupcake was too dense, and the chocolate coating on top was very hard. The cream, however, was fantastic, with little vanilla bean flecks throughout. I could have just eaten a bowl of the cream instead. And while it was tasty, it wasn't great, and I would definitely try the real pie next time.

Pie Bakery & Cafe in Newton

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Garrett Popcorn, Chicago

I'm back from a week-long business trip to Chicago, where I unfortunately ate mostly hotel food for 7 days. I managed to get out a few times, but then I was usually too tired to sit down to a full meal.

On my roommate's recommendation (as he grew up outside of Chicago), I found a Garrett Popcorn Shop for a late evening snack. I could smell the place from about a block away, and I let the aroma pull me in.

The shop was small, and a man behind the counter was scooping popcorn out of giant plastic bags - not terribly appealing. There were only a handful of choices, but really, how many popcorn flavor choices do you need? I opted for the Cashew CaramelCrisp and was quite pleased. The cashews were not too soft, as can often be a problem when they're incorporated with other ingredients, and all of the popcorn kernels were well popped and not break-your-teeth hard. It seemed a little pricy at over $7 for a large bag (8-10 ounces perhaps?), but I was impressed with the quality of the product.

It's a good thing, though, that it's not something you can get in Boston, because I'm sure that would be a problem for me...