Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sweet 'n' Spicy Almonds

Last week, my student group (I'm co-chair) hosted a reception in honor of an art show opening on campus. Surprisingly, attendance was very high for a Friday at 5pm - clearly, students and staff don't mind hanging around so much if there's food! Of course, there was plenty of food, and I only added to the problem by bringing a big tupperware of these almonds (plus a few other things). Hopefully we'll be having more social events like this on campus, because I had a great time just sitting around, talking with everyone.

These nuts are super easy to make, although I had a little "oh shit" moment as the sugar started to caramelize faster than I was expecting. I just kept moving, though, and everything turned out alright. I love this combo of sweet and spicy - the spicy is not overwhelming, but will start to creep up on you after a while.

Sweet 'n' Spicy Almonds
1 ½ tsp salt
¼ tsp chili powder
½ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp sugar
3 Tbsp canola oil
½ cup sugar
1 lb almonds, unsalted

Mix together salt, chili powder, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and ½ tsp sugar, and set aside. In a medium pot over medium heat, combine canola oil and ½ cup sugar. Stir until sugar is melted and just beginning to darken. Add almonds and stir to coat, until the sugar is caramelized. Sprinkle in spice mixture and stir to coat. Spread nuts onto a wax paper-lined baking sheet to cool. Break apart any large chunks before serving.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

San Francisco Round-up!

Well, I'm back from my long weekend in San Francisco. I was there for the wedding of one of my college roommates (the friends who commit people to the insane asylum together, stay together), and I was excited for the opportunity to explore the city. I've been to San Francisco once before, but I was a kid and only have vague memories of what we did.

The wedding itself was at One Fort Mason, in a gorgeous room overlooking the water (and Alcatraz - symbolic, as the bride pointed out). We ate and drank well, and my favorite part was when the caterer, dressed in a shiny red/black nehru-collared jacket, served us warm cookies and shots of milk from a giant platter. The rehearsal dinner was at Noonan's Bar and Grill in Larkspur, north of the city. The happy couple met there, so it was fitting that the dinner should be held there. The food was fantastic - definitely a comforting and inviting neighborhood bar.

I started my trip on Thursday, though, with a visit to the Foodbuzz offices and lunch with some of the staff. I wanted to visit after Ben from Urbanspoon gave me crap about not visiting them when I was in Seattle (I didn't know they were based there, I swear!). Dorian, Ryan, and Alexa took me to Taylor's Automatic Refresher in the Ferry Building. Everything looked and tasted great - my California Chicken sandwich (with avocado, jack cheese, red onions, and lettuce) was perfectly cooked, and with a name like that, how could I not order it? Oh, and the fries? Crispy shoestring - my favorite! Check out Ryan's blog for a couple more pictures, and thanks Foodbuzz!!

That afternoon, I met up with my friend Mel (who flew out with me) and her sister Tissa (who lives in SF). We stopped at Arizmendi Bakery and bought Chocolate Things - brioche rolls with giant studs of chocolate. We took them with us as we wandered into Golden Gate Park, taking in the sun and flowers. After a while, we took out our snacks and started munching (the rolls are tasty, but not amazing, although you do find yourself wanting another one the next day). A squirrel approached Mel when it smelled her roll, and she thought it was cute as it inched forward. It put its paws on her foot, and she cooed at it. All of a sudden, it was halfway up her leg, and she shook it off and jumped back. The squirrel then proceeded to charge at us not once, but twice! I was laughing so hard that I could hardly breathe.

We continued walking along, and Mel was still freaked out by the squirrel - until we came around a bend and there, sitting on a park bench, was this German guy, talking loudly into his iphone and feeding something orange (I don't know if it was Cheetos or baby carrots) to a whole horde of squirrels! My thought was that he was training his squirrel army to attack unsuspecting tourists. It was a very David Lynch moment.

Friday found me down by the Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli Square. I will eat ice cream at any time, in any weather, so despite the overcast day, I ordered a mint chip milkshake from Ghiradelli. Definitely overpriced and touristy, but still very tasty.

We also walked by the Boudin Bakery, famous for their sourdough bread. Unfortunately, the bakery tour was closed - I was looking forward to that - but we did get to check out all of the crazy shapes of bread they produce. The special was a big heart for Valentine's Day, but my favorite was this crab. There was also a lobster that looked more like a creature from a bad sci-fi movie than a real lobster. The touristy thing to do at Boudin is to order clam chowder in a sourdough bowl, but I didn't have it in me to travel all the way across the country to have New England Clam Chowder...

And, of course, sea lions. They're loud and cute, but wicked stinky.

On another visit to the Ferry Building, we stopped for sandwiches at Lulu Petite. My eggplant sandwich was fantastic! The bread was toasted and crispy, and the eggplant and red peppers were spicy and well-grilled. Very satisfying!

I really wanted a meyer lemon cream puff after that sandwich, but we wandered through the Ferry Building and ended up at Miette Bakery. I didn't want much, just a taste of something sweet, so I went with two macarons instead - rose and grapefruit. Both of them were intense in flavor, and I loved the subtle nuttiness from the cookies.

I wanted a chance to wander around North Beach (San Francisco's Little Italy), but I didn't get much of a chance. I did make a stop, though, at Liguria Bakery, based on good words on Chowhound and Yelp. Everything said they have real focaccia like you can find in Italy, and I have fond memories of grabbing a slice after work when I was living in Italy. Surprisingly, this stuff was very close to what I remember! The slices are HUGE and made a great snack. It was a little less oily than I expected and needed a bit of salt, but yum!

Other restaurants I tried? Indian Aroma, Caffe Trieste, Le Meridien, Picco, Bar Norcini, Tartine Bakery, Acme Bakery, Squat & Gobble, and The Grove. Picco, located over the Golden Gate Bridge in Larkspur, was probably my favorite meal of the whole trip. They serve a variety of small plates, meant for sharing, and everything we ordered was fantastic. Cauliflower gratin, polenta with chard, crispy fries with romesco sauce - oh wow, I'm hungry just thinking about it. If you ever find yourself in Larkspur, DEFINITELY give this place a try!

On Saturday morning, before I got ready for the wedding, I went back to the Ferry Building (yes, that's three times in three days...) for the farmers market. I really enjoyed wandering around, meeting farmers and seeing all the things that are available in California in the middle of winter. I picked up a big bag of meyer lemons (which are wicked expense in Boston... when you can find them) and a bag of fresh olives. I just kept wandering in circles, and each time I walked through the market, I noticed something I had missed the first time.

I've heard a lot about Blue Bottle Coffee, too, and I was excited to see that they had a booth at the market. It took a while to get my latte (almost 15 minutes), but once I took my first sip, I didn't care. The espresso was rich and smooth - exactly what coffee should be like. I wanted to order a drip coffee too, but I was still on the tail end of the flu and I didn't want too much coffee. I enjoyed watching the Blue Bottle employees making drinks (especially the drip coffees) and interacting with so many people who clearly care about what their coffee tastes like.

The farmers market was a perfect place to find exciting foodie souvenirs (for myself and to give to family members). I ended up buying way too much, but I'm sure I'll enjoy it. I got tangerine olive oil from Stonehouse Olive Oil, dried nectarines from Frog Hollow Farm, jerkey from Prather Ranch Meats, a chocolate chipper from Scharffen Berger, flavored almonds from G.L. Alfieri, dried white peaches from Blossom Bluff Orchards, and rosemary salt from Allstar Organics. Can't wait to try them all!

Oh, and those olives I bought at the market? The farmer pulled me in when she was talking to someone else as I walked by - I heard "Oh, olives are easy to brine at home" and I was in! The olives are brining now, and I'll post updates on them in the future.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Off to San Francisco

Because my week leading up to departure was filled with fun things like the flu and a really busy time at work, I forgot to mention that I was headed to San Francisco. I'm here for a college roommate's wedding, but of course, I'm eating my way through whatever neighborhoods I find myself in. I've already had some really good meals and will continue to hunt them out - if you have any recommendations, let me know!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Don Julio Tequila Dinner at Masa

Another night, another media event (no, not true - I have nothing lined up now that I'm done with Starbucks and Finale). Don Julio, a premium tequila company, hosted a media dinner on Thursday night at Masa in the South End. I was first going to attend for Bostonist, but another writer ended up taking over for me, so I was free to cover the event just for my own site.

I went directly to Masa from class, and let me say, there's nothing better than ending the week by walking into a restaurant and having a drink placed in your hands. Since Don Julio was sponsoring the dinner, we were treated to specially-designed cocktails throughout the night featuring the tequila. The first offering of the night, as we mingled before dinner, was a variation on sangria that went down easy.

As we settled down into our seats, the chef came out to explain our menu and drink pairings. With every word he said, I grew more and more hungry. Luckily, our first course was not far behind - a chipotle-spiked New England clam chowder, paired with a tres chiles margarita. The chowder was very thick, almost like a pea soup, and had a nice kick from chipotle. It seems that this is the only dish we had that is on their regular menu - don't order expecting a typical New England clam chowder, but it's warmth was welcome and comforting on such a cold day. The tres chiles margarita was my favorite drink of the night, featuring Don Julio Blanco, cucumbers, lemons and limes, and, as the name suggests, three different types of chili peppers. The chilis added some bite but were not overpowering, and the cucumbers and citrus evened out the flavor. Just thinking about it makes me want another one now.

Before I knew it, we had moved on to the next course - Tacos de carnitas with three different salsas, paired with a chipotle tamarind margarita. The tacos were perfect, with corn tortillas, salty pork confit, finely chopped onions and cilantro, a smooth avocado mash, and a smoky tomato salsa. I ate all three (even though I knew there were two more courses coming), and I could have eaten even more. The accompanying margarita was intense, perhaps a little too intense for me. The chipotle gave it a real kick (so much so that I couldn't drink it by itself, but only after a bite of taco), and the tamarind added a lot of sweetness and viscosity. Definitely not my favorite, although I did appreciate how smoothly all the flavors went together.

We then moved on to the main course, although we were all incredibly full. The Queso Oaxaca-stuffed Pan de Carne, or cheese-stuffed meatloaf or giant meatball, topped with a smoked Serrano cumino sauce, arugula, and cotija cheese was paired with Masa's Premium Margarita. The Pan de Carne used a mix of veal, beef, and pork, and I was especially fond of the use of the stringy, salty Queso Oaxaca that was stuffed inside it. The margarita was the most typical of all the drinks we had, although its use of vanilla liqueur and a variety of juices made for a rounder flavor than most margaritas.

With dessert, a chocolate truffle tamale, we were served a special concoction of Don Julio 1942, a limited-edition variety that is aged at least two and a half years, and vanilla liqueur, garnished with a slice of vanilla bean and a sugar rim. This allowed for the flavors of the tequila to really shine and was the perfect way to end the meal.

Since the Tres Chines Margarita was my favorite of the bunch, I thought I'd share it. If you give it a try, let me know what you think - I love cocktails that incorporate fresh ingredients and unusual flavors (usually herbs, but in this case, the three chilis).

Tres Chiles Margarita
1 1/2 ounces Tequila Don Julio Blanco
2 cucumber slices
2 jalapeno slices
1 Anaheim pepper slice
1 long hot slice
2 lime slices
1 lemon slice
1 ounce lemonade
1/2 ounce agave nectar
Lemon twist for garnish

In a Boston shaker, muddle slices of cucumber, jalapeno, Anaheim, long hot, lime, and lemon. Add Tequila Don Julio, agave nectar, lemonade, and ice; cover and shake well. Strain ingredients into highball glass over ice, and garnish with lemon twist.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Retro Chocolate Plate at Finale

Most people who really know food understand that holidays (especially ones like Valentine's Day) are not always the best time to go out to eat. It seems, though, that this won't be such a problem this year - Valentine's is a Saturday, and the following Monday is a holiday, meaning that the entire weekend is open for Valentine's-themed meals.

Finale has taken this into account, and is offering a special menu for the entire weekend, all focused around their Retro Chocolate Tasting Plate. They got in touch with me to come try it out, and who am I to say no?

I've had Finale's savory food before and enjoyed it, and I've had their sweets (although as take-out, not plated in the restaurant). The idea of a restaurant that focuses on dessert makes me think of absolute decadence, and the Retro Tasting Plate is exactly that (and isn't decadence a good thing for Valentine's Day?).

The plate is HUGE, and each of the six offerings is definitely decadent. And it's definitely retro, filled with old-school favorites like peanut butter and jelly, s'mores, and malted milk balls. With so many different things on one plate, you'd think all the flavors would get muddled, but the through-line of chocolate ties everything together.

To start, let me say that I'm not a fan of either bananas or the combination of peanut butter and jelly. That's why I was so surprised when I genuinely enjoyed both the milk chocolate banana pyramid and the peanut butter and jelly truffles. In the pyramid, the flavor of the sweetened banana puree was mild enough not to be offensive but flavorful enough to evoke the fruit - if all bananas actually tasted like this, I'd eat them all the time. And PB&J is apparently more pleasing to my palate in truffle form.

Also included on the plate are chocolate-covered pretzels, a molten chocolate cake with orange sauce, a giant s'more with a Tahitian vanilla marshmallow and salted graham crackers, and a white chocolate Florentine "love boat" filled with Ciao Bella malted milk ball gelato. This is a serious amount of chocolate, and I couldn't stop eating it. The low point, if there was one, was the molten chocolate cake - it has become such a common dessert at almost every restaurant that everything else stood out in their uniqueness.

So if you're still looking for someplace to eat for Valentine's Day, try giving Finale a call - the Retro Chocolate Plate is something you'll want to savor with your loved one.

Finale on Urbanspoon - Downtown Boston
Finale on Urbanspoon - Harvard Square
Finale Coolidge Corner on Urbanspoon - Coolidge Corner

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Mission, Brigham Circle

Despite the fact that I've been attending my school for a year and a half, there are still very few restaurants in the Longwood area that I've tried. Some are good, some are just meh, and some are just gone. So whenever I have the chance to try someplace new, I'm excited.

Yesterday I finally got to meet up with Erin of Erin Cooks. She and I have been talking online for a while now - we met randomly through LibraryThing, figured out we both have Boston-area food blogs, and finally realized that we both work in the same area of town - perfect for a lunchtime meetup! She suggested heading over to Brigham Circle to eat at the Mission, and I jumped at the chance to try a new (to me, at least) place.

The Mission Bar & Grill
was the perfect place for us to sit and talk on a nasty, snowy day. I spent a good deal of time checking out the menu - I can't help but want to order fish and chips whenever I'm in a pub. I wanted something slightly healthier, though, so I went for the vegetable panini, stuffed with grilled eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, peppers, and topped with pesto and cheese. The veggies were beautifully grilled and full of flavor, and the bread was crisp and not too thick. I thought this was a fantastic sandwich, and if I'm in the area and looking for a sit-down pub-type lunch, I'd definitely try The Mission again.

So thanks again to Erin for introducing me to a great new place and for plenty of interesting conversation (oh, and for a homemade peppermint patty!). I love meeting other local bloggers :)

Mission Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 2, 2009

Starbucks Tea Party

A while ago, I mentioned that I was enjoying the new tea drinks at Starbucks. What I didn't mention, though, was that I was so enjoying the London Fog latte that I couldn't convince myself to order any of the others, so I had no idea what they tasted like.

Luckily for me, not long after, I was invited to a tea tasting at Starbucks, an event with the sole intention of getting Boston-area bloggers to try all the new tea drink flavors. I was joined by many different local blogs - The Boston Teacup, Yogurt and Berries, Tri 2 Cook, Carrots 'N' Cake, Healthy and Sane, and The Boston Foodie- and we all enjoyed the chance to taste lots of delicious goodies and talk about blogging. We were also lucky to be joined by Missy Franklin, a local Starbucks tea and coffee master, who walked us through our tasting.

We started with the lattes - full-leaf tea bags, steeped in water, sweetened with syrup (simple or vanilla), and topped with steamed milk (water to milk ratio is 1:1). They're all ready to drink as soon as they're handed to you, but I preferred to let them steep a while longer for a more intense taste.

The Black Tea Latte was simple and comforting - the tea version of a regular espresso latte. The tea is a bit sweet and tart, like caramel and black cherries. Understandably, it pairs well with the apple bran muffins, which are studded with sour cherries - the tart and sweet from the fruit really does bring out those similar flavors in the drink. We also paired it with slices of lemon loaf, which is bursting with lemon flavor - yum!

The London Fog Latte was next, and the only one I was familiar with. The tea used in this is slightly different than the regular Earl Grey bags used for cups of tea - they include lavender on top of the bergamot, which always makes for a richer flavor (at least, for me). Because they add vanilla syrup to this one, it had a broader sweetness, and the lavender gives it more of a floral taste. We paired this one with raspberry and mini vanilla scones. The vanilla scones are drier and sweeter, while the raspberry scones have a great tangy flavor (from both the dough and the berries) and a bit of crunch from the sugar topping.

Next up was the Vanilla Rooibos Tea Latte. Rooibus (pronounced ROY-bus) is fruity, with a little bit of spice, and it's a great caffeine-free alternative to chai. It had a great honey aroma, which Missy informed us was coming from the combination of the vanilla and the mix of spices. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this one, especially considering that caffeine is usually a big factor in my wanting a latte :) But the fruitiness melded really well with the milk, forming a light but flavorful treat. This one was paired with red velvet cupcakes - who doesn't love a red velvet cupcake?

We then moved on to the tea infusions, which blended chai concentrate with rich juices. The Berry Chai Infusion was a burst of berries, currents, and spice, and after one person remarked that it tasted like mulled wine, that was pretty much all I could taste. The Apple Chair Infusion is similar, with the chai blended with sweet apple juice - this one tasted like a spicier version of the steamed cider that Starbucks offers in the fall. Neither of these were really my "cup of tea" (if you will) because I'm not a fan of the spiciness of the chai. We paired with Berry infusion with blueberry and cinnamon coffee cakes, but they'd work well with anything containing fruits or spices. The Apple infusion was paired with an apple fritter, which I absolutely loved - apple donuts? Yes please!

So thanks to Starbucks for introducing me to all the new tea flavors that they have on hand. The funny thing is, though, that I think the London Fog is still my favorite, and I'll definitely keep ordering that one.