Saturday, May 31, 2008

Minty Pea Soup

I'm not a fan of cold soups. And yet, every time I see a recipe for one, I feel compelled to try it. Gazpacho, for example, has always tasted like tomato juice to me. I once found a great cold avocado soup recipe, but I decided it was better as a sauce for lamb than in a bowl by itself.

And so, when I found this recipe for minty pea soup, I obviously felt the urge to make it, especially considering how ridiculously easy it is to throw together. And of course, I wasn't crazy about it cold. So it's good to know that it's pretty good warmed up too :)

Minty Pea Soup
2 10-ounce packages frozen peas, thawed
3/4 cup mint leaves
4 scallions, roughly chopped
3 cups chicken broth
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp sugar

Combine all ingredients and puree until smooth. (Yes, that's it.)

*Yeah, no photo. There was a slight mishap with the bowl and the not-putting-it-on-something-level and the resulting spillage and the sheer frustration of having to clean green soup off the counter...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Foodbuzz Dinner at Dali, Somerville

Frog-shaped candlesticks, a bubble gun, and crazy wine-pouring contraptions all spell "party" at Dali, a tapas bar in Somerville. Surprisingly, the group I was with (a bunch of local food bloggers, all Featured Publishers on Foodbuzz) didn't get to partake of any of that craziness directly.

Ryan from Foodbuzz was on hand to talk to us about and thank us for working with the Featured Publishers program. Click on the button on the top left of the page to check the site out. They've been making their way through cities with large amounts of FP, trying to meet as many people as they can, and it was finally Boston's turn.

Tapas was actually a pretty perfect thing to order for a bunch of foodies - we all got the chance to try a little of everything without getting overly full. And dishes came only one or two at a time, allowing us to savor each for its own merits without any competing flavors.

We started off with sangria and the Plato Mixto, an assortment of meats, cheeses and olives. I have a hard time with cheeses, though, if there's no explanation of what they are - none of us were quite knowledgeable enough about them to tell exactly what they were. Next up were the Esparragos Blancos (above), tender white asparagus served with an herb sauce and a seafood sauce, both delicious enough to warrant wiping the plate clean with bread.

Dishes started coming a little faster, but we managed to keep up with them. I really loved the Queso Rebozado con Miel (above), little fried chunks of something akin to goat cheese, served with awesome honey-sweetened onions. It was oozy and crispy, sweet and tangy, and all-around delicious.

We also shared the Gambas al Ajillo (which came steaming and bubbling in their own little pot), Alcachofas Salteadas (tender artichokes with a little bit of kick), Pato Braseado (duck that tasted almost like pork in a rich and hearty berry sauce), Cordorniz de Castilla (a tiny roasted quail - they always look so naked on the plate, poor quails), Calderata Genoveva (braised lamb with almonds and peas, a little too wintery for my current tastes), and Patatas Bravas (cooked perfectly with a slightly crispy exterior and a soft interior).

We were all full by then, and our hearts weren't much into dessert. But we couldn't not look at the dessert menu, and as soon as we saw the featured desserts of the month, we knew we had to order them. First was a very simple and refreshing combination of cava and lemon sorbet. It reminded me of what we considered our "classy" drink in college (cheap champagne and melty sorbet), only much more elegant and refined. The other dessert, the Fresones (above), was another must as soon as the waitress explained it - two huge strawberries, dunked in a sherry batter and deep fried, and served with a strawberry sauce and chocolate ice cream. Sounds a little strange, but it was a really fantastic dish, and the batter on the fruit was surprisingly delicate. I would never think to fry a strawberry, but now I'm glad I don't have a fryer in my apartment, or I would want to try it myself.

And what about the frog candlestick, the bubble gun, and the crazy wine contraption? Apparently if you're celebrating some kind of event at Dali (we got to see a bachelorette party, a going away party, and a birthday), they turn the lights off, bring in a tall candle being held by a frog, and blow bubbles at you while the waiters all sing. And nothing quite says celebration like a porron, or communal drinking glass, that forces cava into your mouth through a tiny little spout. Unfortunately, the tables with the porrons also tended to be a little on the wild side, so it was often hard to hear our own conversation for all the screeching going on nearby (wow, do I feel old just for writing that...). Seeing how much fun those tables were having, I would definitely head back for a large group dinner.

DalĂ­ on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cambridge 1, not in Cambridge

Last week, my coworkers (archaeologists and non-archaeologists alike) headed off to see the new Indiana Jones together. Only problem was that we were going to the Fenway movie theater, and a day game at the ball park had just gotten out. Places like Boston Beer Works were too busy. Instead, we headed down to the new(ish) Cambridge 1, right across from the movie theater, for some pizza and beers.

The decor of the place is sleek and minimalist. I really like the high booths, which raise you up enough that you don't feel tiny in the large room and that was large enough to fit our whole party.

There are so many interesting choices on the menu (despite only offering pizza and salads) that I shared two different with a couple of people. The lobster pizza with corn and scallions was my favorite - the corn was really sweet, and there was a fair amount of lobster on it. It was oily because there was nothing to hold the oil onto the pizza, but it was delicious. We also shared the potato pizza, topped with mashed potates, thin slices of potato, fontina cheese, and scallions. I didn't think I'd like potatoes on pizza, but the crust is so thin and crispy that it added a great textural difference.

And how was Indy? Better than Temple of Doom... but that doesn't really say all that much. Overall, it was enjoyable, and it didn't destroy the franchise like so many people are saying it did.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Cheap Eats: Pizzeria Regina

There are few places in this city where you'll find locals and tourists lining up next to each other to wait for a table. But at Pizzeria Regina in the North End, this is a common occurance. True, it's not a classy place, what with the waiting outside, the old school booths, the pitchers of beer, and the occasionally surly waitstaff, but the food is good, and really, that's all that matters.

If it's your first visit to Regina's, a basic cheese pizza ($7.75 for a small, $12.25 for a large) is the way to go. The crust is crisp, with just a little bit of char from the brick oven, which has been in continuous use since 1881. The sauce is filled with fresh tomato flavor; there's nothing weird in it to gunk up the taste. And the cheese - well, it's a little greasy, but what good pizza isn't? Bostonist also likes the Formaggio Bianco pizza ($9.99/$17.99, pictured above), topped with mozzarella, ricotta, pecorino romano, parmesan, garlic olive oil (instead of tomato sauce), and tons of fresh basil. The different cheeses blend together to form a creamy, salty, gooey, fantastic meal.

The original Pizzeria Regina is located at 11 1/2 Thatcher Street in the North End. Sure, you can get Regina's at many local malls, but it's definitely not the same as the real thing from the original store.

Originally posted on Bostonist.

Pizzeria Regina on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Good Intentions Arugula Soup

So I have this problem (I'm sure I'm not alone in this) where I always buy way too much produce than I can use. It stems from good intentions - to eat fresh and healthy. But sometimes the last thing I want to think about is how to use those items before they go bad.

Luckily, my brother was watching Giada on the Food Network last week, and in my grand lazy tradition, I just couldn't be bothered to get off the couch to do something else. The episode was all about how to use leftovers, and one recipe was for lettuce soup. And what did I have in plenty in my fridge, just on the verge of no longer being edible? Lots of arugula, my favorite salad green.

I tweaked the recipe a little, especially to add my favorite arugula accompaniments - honey and pecorino. The original recipe calls for little disks of goat cheese to top the soup, so give it a try either way.

Arugula Soup adapted from Everyday Italian

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large or 2 small shallots, diced
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups chicken stock
washed and dried arugula (about 6 ounces)
salt and pepper
pecorino Romano cheese

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until shallots begin to brown. Add potatoes and chicken stock and bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in arugula. When the greens are cooked down (about 3 minutes), puree with a hand blender (you can transfer the solids to a blender if you prefer). Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, top soup with a drizzle of honey and a handful of shaved pecorino. If you put leftovers in individual containers, add honey and cheese - the cheese gets all melty when the soup is reheated.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Great Food, Bad Decor

It's graduation season, and like so many other families, we spent Saturday celebrating my brother's newly-minted master's degree (congrats!). We headed over to the new Capital Grille in Wayside Commons in Burlington.

We ended up having to wait a while for our table despite our reservations, which would normally be no problem, but don't keep telling me it will only be one more minute... for half an hour. Just tell me it's not ready; I can understand that.

Before I go any further, let me just say that we had a fantastic meal. The food was delicious and plentiful - calamari, crab cakes, wedge salad, steaks all around, creamed spinach, mushrooms, giant onion rings, and parmesan fries. Yes, it's pricy, but for a special occasion, well worth it.

Which is why the decor and layout of the restaurant astound me. I have never been in a restaurant that was louder. We had to literally shout to each other and the waiter, which made things like ordering and holding a conversation quite difficult. At one point, with some guy behind us laughing like his head was going to explode, my mother leaned across the table to me and said (shouted) "I feel like I'm eating at a carnival!"

So why is it that a high-end restaurant would build a new branch that is so deafening? The Capital Grille in Chestnut Hill doesn't have this problem. Despite the great food, I doubt I'll be heading back if it means leaving with a full stomach and a headache.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Cheap Eats: Dave's Fresh Pasta

At first glance, Dave's Fresh Pasta in Davis Square may just look like a tiny market - there's a display case filled with ready-to-take-home meals, bottles of wine and beer, and freezers filled with assorted appetizers, pastas, and ice cream. Take a look at the wall above the cash register, though, and you'll see that there are plenty of options for eating right away.

Sandwiches run from $6 to $8 and come in some fantastic combinations. The Mediterranean Wrap ($6.50), pictured above, is one of the most flavorful wrapped salads around - fresh lettuce, tomato, red onion, carrot, cucumber, and kalamata olive covered in creamy, garlicky, homemade tzatziki sauce. Any of the sandwiches, especially the heartier ones filled with awesome combos of meats and cheeses, can be pressed on Dave's panini grill.

For other ready-to-eat options, Dave's offers a handfull of salads (including the Spinach Salad ($6.50) topped with apples, brie, walnuts, and a sweet and tangy honey poppy seed dressing), a soup of the day, and a hot entree or two (served at lunch time until it's gone). And there's always plenty of baked goods around to quell your sweet tooth after your meal.

Another bonus? Dave's offers free wine and beer tastings on Friday from 5pm to 7pm. Dave's Fresh Pasta is on Holland Street in Somerville and is open Monday through Friday, 11am to 7:30 pm, and Saturday, 11am to 6pm.

Originally posted on Bostonist.

Dave's Fresh Pasta on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Fireplace, Brookline

I met up with a couple of my high school friends last weekend for an impromptu lunch. There aren't so many places that offer brunch on Saturdays, though, so we ended up at the Fireplace in Washington Square in Brookline. I live close by, but I've heard not such good things about the dinners there, so I was a little hesitant to try it. The more I researched, though, the more it seemed that brunch was enjoyable there, and I decided that would be fine.

First off, I have to say how entertaining our waiter was. He was joking around with us the whole time, and we made him laugh as much as he made us laugh. Also, the space was very nice with lots of natural light from the big windows. We had a corner booth that was nice and comfortable.

For my meal, I had a hard time deciding on what I wanted. I settled on the beet and orange salad over Boston lettuce with goat cheese, parsnip chips, and citrus vinaigrette. I'll admit, it was the parsnip chips that pushed me in this dish's favor. When it arrived, I was surprised at the vast expanse of beet. While everything tasted good, there were just way too many beets on the dish, overpowering everything else. There's a lot of potential with this dish, but the balance issues just threw me off. (Don't worry, the parsnip chips were delicious.)

The brunch menu has lots of other good-looking treats, so I'm sure I'll give it a try again... but not for beets.

Fireplace on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sunnydale: Come for the Food, Stay for the Dismemberment!

A very interesting party invitation showed up in my Google Reader a couple of weeks ago, and, as my friends know, I've been obsessing over it since then. Stephanie at Dispensing Happiness called for appetizers and drinks in the theme of Buffy the Vampire Slayer... and all I could think about was finding a mug.

A little background - I'm only a recent Buffy convert, but it didn't take more than an episdoe to get me hooked. Thankfully, I was able to fly through all seven seasons on DVD. When I started library school last year, I tried to find a copy of Giles' "Kiss the Librarian" mug, but the search got difficult and I gave up. This party invite started the search anew, and I had people across the country searching for something similar. Still no luck. So, using a little Buffy girl power, I took matters into my own hands and painted the damn mug myself. Yes, I am a geek.

With the important matters out of the way, I had to decide on an appetizer. Not knowing what kind of party this would be (gathering - brie, mellow song stylings; shindig - dip, less mellow song stylings, perhaps a large amount of malt beverage; or hootenanny - chock full of hoot, just a little bit of nanny), I went with something that would work for all three.

Staked and Dusted Flank Steak with Rhubarb Dipping Sauce
1 pound flank steak
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
4 stalks rhubarb (about 1 pound), chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 Tbsp cider vinegar
6 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

Place steak, soy sauce, oil, and roughly chopped garlic in a large ziploc bag and let marinate overnight in the fridge. Remove from fridge roughly 1 hour before cooking.

While steak is warming up, chop rhubarb and garlic and combine in a medium pot with vinegar, honey, salt, and mustard. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the rhubarb falls apart. Transfer mixture to a blender or use a stick blender to give the sauce a smooth texture (you can add some red food coloring here if you really want to go for the bloody effect).

On a grill at roughly medium-high heat, grill steak for about 4 minutes on each side. Let meat rest for 10 minutes before slicing thinly against the grain. Thread steak strips on skewers and dust with fresh black pepper and sea salt. Serve with rhubarb sauce for dipping.

Bloody Cosmos - I know, not really a cosmo, but it's close enough for me
2 oz. cranberry vodka
4 oz. blood orange juice
lime-flavored seltzer

In a tall glass filled with ice, combine vodka and orange juice. Top off with seltzer and give it a good stir (bendy straw optional).

Wellesley Bakery in (Surprisingly) Wellesley

Another stop on my recent wander through Wellesley was the Wellesley Bakery. Ann thought we should hold off on dessert at Susu and hit this stop instead (hey, I wasn't going to argue, since I'm all for trying as many places as possible).

Entering the Wellesley Bakery is almost a culture shock after Susu. Where Susu is polished and gleaming and fancy, Wellesley Bakery is more homey and a little more what a real working bakery should feel like. The workers are clearly busy in the back, because there's even a bell to ring if they're not at the counter.
Everything looked so good in there that I had a hard time making a decision... so I didn't. I ordered a bunch of different cookies and proceeded to eat them over the next three days. The linzer cookie (above) was my favorite - truly delicious, buttery, flaky cookies sandwiched around gooey, condensed raspberry jam. I would be very happy if I could make cookies that good. The peanut butter cookie was chewy, not hard and dense, and I really liked that. It was also not overly peanut buttery, and it had little peanut butter chips in it as well. The oatmeal chocolate chip was my least favorite of the bunch, but that doesn't mean it was not good - the oats and the chocolate were well balanced.

I also ordered a raspberry croissant, but I didn't get around to eating it for a few days. And while it was still good when I did eat it, I'm sure it would have been fantastic when fresh... *sigh*, I guess I'll just have to go back.

As I was standing at the counter, I spied some interesting sodas in the case out of the corner of my eye. Mash ("a water drink") comes in some interesting mixes, like mango-blood orange and pommegranate-blueberry. The flavors were intense and delicious. They're made our of sparkling water and juices, so they're slightly better for you than a Coke. I just wish I knew where to find them closer to the city.

Wellesley Bakery on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 12, 2008

Cheap Eats: Flat Patties

At a restaurant named Flat Patties, the obvious choice is a burger. And sure, the burgers are cheap and tasty, but there are other winners on the menu that are just as good (if not better) and don't require much cash in your pocket.

The grilled chicken sandwich ($3.25) is well-seasoned and super moist, a big plus for a dish that can often be dry and tough with poor cooking. The Shredded Pork sandwich ($3.25) is heaped with tiny pieces of pork and little chunks of onion in a sweet tomato sauce - a little strange, but something that is impossible to stop eating. All burgers and sandwiches are served on fluffy buns that are grilled to achieve a crispy layer between the meat and the bread.

And what would a fast food meal be without fries? At Flat Patties, they serve fries of the shoestring variety, which are crispy and delicious. There's nothing worse than having soggy fries left at the end of the meal, and that is definitely not a problem in here.

Flat Patties is located in the food court of the Garage at JFK Street and Mt. Auburn Street. They open at 11:30am and close at 10:00pm on Sunday through Wednesday and 11:00pm Thursday through Saturday.

Originally posted on Bostonist.

Flat Patties on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Susu Bakery, Wellesley

My friend Ann and I often act much older than our years and use our preppy upbringings to visit "ladies who lunch" -type places. It's usually for tea (like our recent trip to the Taj), but on Friday we had lunch at Susu Bakery in Wellesley.

Susu is in a beautiful space, with lots of light and huge tables. There's even a granite countertop in the bakery section. One particularly large table was hosting a book group when we entered.

The lunch menu is short, but the choices cover plenty of ground - salad, sandwiches, soup. I opted for the tart (because I'll eat pretty much anything if there's pie crust involved). There was a solid layer of spinach along the inside of the crust, and a half of a tomato was in the center, with the egg mixture poured in around it. The quiche was served with a fresh salad tossed in a slightly creamy vinaigrette - nothing special, but it rounded out the plate well.

It was nice to see the care taken in plating the food. The sandwiches in particular looked very nice, with little cherry tomato halves topping each triangle. It definitely helped to add sophistication.

We grabbed a few baked goods on the way out, because what's the use of visiting a bakery if you don't get dessert? I tried a currant scone that was fabulous - flaky and buttery without being overwhelmed by the fruit. Made me want some clotted cream.

Overall, Susu is a little pricy for what it is, but it's clear that there is a lot of care taken with the food. I'm not sure I would go back again for lunch, but I really loved that scone, so I'm sure I'll be back for more of those.

Susu Bakery on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 9, 2008

Bring Me a Bucket!

Finally! My semester finally came to an end yesterday, and one of the craziest times at work is done too, so it’s time for a break. Nothing like a bucket of frozen drinks!

I mean, they’re not the best drinks in the world, but they’ll get the job done. Cheers!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Cheap Eats: Angela's Cafe

Being as it's Cinco de Mayo, everyone in the city is going to be trying to grab some Mexican food and cervezas tonight. Most of the options are less than ideal, however. For truly great and authentic Mexican (no beer yet, though, but they're working on it), head to Angela's Cafe in East Boston.

Angela's is a small storefront that focuses on food from the Puebla region of Mexico, but it also offers American fare for the less adventurous. Puebla is a focal point of cuisine in Mexico, and Angela herself is in the kitchen, cooking traditional recipes like her amazing mole poblana. This authentic mole combines chocolate, chilis, and a vast blend of spices to form a sauce with a rich and deep flavor. The mole is very good on the enchiladas ($10.95), three corn tortillas stuffed with a mix of vegetables or shredded chicken. Many dishes, including the enchiladas, are served with standard rice and black beans, but the taste is anything but standard. The beans are especially delicious, with so much more flavor that you'll find at other Mexican restaurants.

Another standout on the menu is the freshly made guacamole ($8.95). Served in a pig-shaped molcajete, the guacamole is packed with flavorful cilantro and tomatoes. It is served with house-made tortilla chips that are thicker and flakier than usual. Nine dollars may seem a little steep for guacamole, but once you taste it, you won't mind the extra cost.

Angela's Cafe is located at 131 Lexington Street in East Boston and is accessible via the T at the Airport station on the Blue line.

Originally posted on Bostonist.

Angela's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 4, 2008

White Dog Cafe, Philadelphia

I spent this past weekend in Philadelphia for work, listening to archaeologists talk all day. We had a great reception at the UPenn Museum on Friday, but on Saturday, we took most of the attendees to the White Dog Cafe for dinner. Our group was so much bigger than we expected that a couple of us staff ended up at our own table (where I didn't feel so awkward about photographing my food). The restaurant takes up three adjacent brownstones, and the tables are distributed throughout a bunch of little rooms with eclectic decor, leading to a homey and intimate feel.

As we browsed our menus, the waitress explained that White Dog is focused on using fresh, organic, and local ingredients, and this ideal makes all the difference to the food they serve. Some restaurants do this more as a gimmick, but that's not true in this case.

I started off with the heirloom apple salad. It consisted of matchsticks of red delicious apple, mixed microgreens and herbs, cubes of local Amish cheddar, candied walnuts, garlic chips, and a bright cider vinaigrette. The ingredients couldn't have been fresher, and there was a great balance to the dressing that made all the flavors taste very even. I really loved the addition of the garlic chips because, although there weren't too many of them, they gave a nice flavor zing every few bites. I'm going to try recreating this at home sometime, but I'm not so good with dressings, so I don't know if I'll be able to get that right.

I had a hard time choosing a main because they all sounded so good, but my eyes kept coming back to the description of the strip steak. My steak was cooked perfectly (although my tablemate had a few issues with hers) and incredibly tender. The dish was served with a rosemary and burgundy glaze, chive mashed potatoes, garlicky kale, and two huge beer-battered onion rings. The potatoes and kale were a perfect pair, and the onion rings had lots of beer flavor without it being overwhelming.

I was very full after I cleaned my plate, but the desserts sounded so intriguing that we felt compelled to split one. We went with the rosemary olive oil layer cake (sensing a theme?) with grapefruit mousse. The cake was very moist, and despite the olive oil and rosemary, it was still a sweet (but not too sweet!) dish. The mousse was delicious, but the grapefruit taste didn't come out until I tasted it on its own. This was a really fantastic cake, and I feel the need to find a similar recipe now.

Overall, this was the best meal I've eaten in Philadelphia. Granted, I've only been there twice, both times for work and without much free time. Still, the quality of the ingredients and the care they were cooked with was fantastic, and it's clear that this restaurant knows what it's doing.

White Dog Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Mango Grill, Watertown

In an effort to expand our dining horizons, my friends and I tried out Mango Grill in Watertown this past weekend. I walked by the place a million times last fall, as my internship was nearby, but it always seemed somewhat empty. When we went to eat, though, it was about half full the whole time.

It's a bright and colorful restaurant, with an open kitchen where you can watch the chefs cook (and talk, as we found out). The menu is pretty long, and it consists of a vast array of Central and South American dishes.

We split a couple different appetizers to start - the fried plantains and the empanadas and taquitos. Now, I've never liked plantains before - when I've had them, they were soggy and starchy and not appetizing. These, on the other hand, were fabulous. I could have eaten the whole dish with no problem (and that says a lot for someone who hates bananas). They were perfectly crispy on the outside, but creamy and sweet (and neither starchy nor too banana-y) on the inside. The mixed plate of empanadas and taquitos were tasty, but not as miraculous as the plantains. The shells were nicely crisp, but the filling (which was chicken and only chicken) was a little bland. The dipping sauce and the accompanying pickled cole slaw helped a lot.

For my main, I ordered the shrimp quesadilla. (I've had a bad cold recently, and apparently all I've wanted to eat is cheese, so this was perfect.) It was also nice and crisp, but it wasn't fantastic, especially for $14. Plus, the accompanying guacamole tasted a lot more like what you buy at the supermarket than something that is homemade. Everyone else ordered fajitas, and the steaming pans were heaped with meat and sliced veggies in a tangy, fruity sauce - definitely a better choice than the quesadilla. One friend asked for some cheese to put on her fajitas, and we could hear the chefs talking about it ("Cheese? What does she want cheese for? You don't put cheese on that..."). They sent out a little ramekin of parmesan cheese instead... strange.

Overall, it was tasty (especially the plantains), but I can't see a huge reason to go back.

Mango Grill on Urbanspoon