Monday, March 30, 2009

Brie and Apple Sandwich

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Ile de France, offering me the chance to try some of their brie. I don't think it would have been possible for me to say no, since brie is my favorite cheese. My favorite brie is the Brie de Lyon at Wasik's in Wellesley, but I'm rarely over there to purchase some.

The Ile de France brie was tasty and creamy, albeit on the mild side. I like brie with a little more bite on crackers, but this seemed like it would mix well with other flavors. I opted for a brie and green apple sandwich, which can be thrown together in minutes but tastes sophisticated and unusual. I used my George Foreman Grill as a panini press (it always does a great job), but if you don't have a George or a regular panini press, you can always make this on toasted bread.

Brie and Apple Sandwich
French bread (about 6 inches long)
brie (about 2 ounces, sliced thin)
green apple (about 1/3 of one apple, sliced thin)

Slice bread in half, lengthwise, and place on the hot panini press while you cut the other ingredients. Remove from heat, and layer brie across the bottom slice. Layer apple on top of the brie, then drizzle with honey before topping with the top slice of bread. Place back onto panini press and toasted until cheese is melty and bread is golden. Serve immediately.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Restaurant Week Round Up

Alright, the past couple of weeks have been hectic with school and multiple Restaurant Week reservations - with each dinner out, I found myself falling further and further behind on the blogging. So instead of individual write-ups of each meal, here's a rundown of all the places I tried this Restaurant Week.

Dinner 1 - Marliave

I started my RW meal at Marliave with the rarebits - melted cheddar, lager, chunks of bacon, and toasted bread for dipping. This dish has been getting rave reviews over on Chowhound since the restaurant opened, so naturally, I wanted to give it a try. You really can't go wrong with the combination of cheese and bacon.

The beef Wellington was a huge disappointment. Because it was an individual Wellington and not slices from a larger roast, the pastry didn't have adequate time to cook, so it was dense and a little slimy on the bottom (but nicely browned on the top and coated in delicious fleur de sel). In addition to the typical duxelles, there was a slice of foie gras between the meat and the pastry. I'm not a huge fan of foie to begin with, but this was just wrong - it made the meat taste terrible. I'll grant the restaurant that I made a bad choice with my entree and say that there were a number of things on the menu I wanted to try, so this won't deter me from returning.

I ended the evening with tiramisu, and I ended up bringing half of it home for the next day. This is exactly how I like my tiramisu - not sticky and overly sweet and too soft from being soaked forever. Here, the ladyfingers still had some of their exterior crunch, and yet the flavors melded very well together.

Despite this meal having some issues, I would definitely return to Marliave, even if it's just at the bar for drinks and apps.

Cafe Marliave on Urbanspoon

Lunch 1 - The Melting Pot

Cheese, meat, and chocolate for $20? Yes please! I'm a fan of the Melting Pot, despite it being a large chain. It's hard to find fondue around here, and the Melting Pot does it really well, so when I have a need for melted cheese and chocolate, this is where I head. This was an incredible value for 3 courses, and my friend Ann and I took over 2 hours, leisurely enjoying every bite. Cheddar fondue, with bread, green apple, carrots, celery, and cauliflower; Court bouillon for cooking steak and chicken, potatoes, broccoli, and mushrooms, with 5 different dipping sauces; and pure dark chocolate fondue, with cheesecake, brownies, marshmallows, rice krispie treats, banana, and strawberries. The nicest part was that our server paid attention to which things we were eating the most of and brought us little trays of additional broccoli (with the main course) and strawberries and rice krispie treats (with dessert) when we were getting low.

Melting Pot on Urbanspoon

Dinner 2 - Locke-Ober

Have you read about the calculator? Yeah, the food was fine, but the entire night was overshadowed by the calculator.

Dinner 3 - Clink

Dinner at Clink was a big surprise. I've been wanting to try it out anyway, but part of the draw was the scenery. I've been in the lobby of the Liberty Hotel, which is the site of the former Charles Street Prison, and I expected the dark colors and (clean and new) prison bars to extend into the restaurant. Instead, it was light and bright inside, perfect to match the bright and delicious flavors in the food.

We all started with the pear and parsnip soup, topped with fried slices of elephant garlic. The soup was smooth, sweet, and savory, with the flavors perfectly balanced. The garlic really made the dish - it wasn't overly garlicky, but the crunchy chips introduced a bit of texture and just a touch of flavor.

For my main, I went with the handcut pasta with pine nuts, parmesan, and sage butter. It sounds simple, but the flavor was huge. The fried sage leaves on top were pretty and delicious. I wouldn't hesitate to order this dish again.

I finished with the peanut ice cream, topped with a florentine cookie - because I will eat ice cream whenever I'm presented with the chance. This, too, was fantastic, and it actually tasted like fresh-shelled peanuts, not peanut butter like I was expecting. I could have eaten this stuff all day. All three courses at Clink wowed me, and based on all the other things on the menu that sounded tasty, I'd definitely head back.

Clink on Urbanspoon

Dinner 4 - Radius

Our last RW dinner was at Radius. I've been once before and was amazed at the care and skill of each dish. This trip was no different. I was very happy to see that they didn't try to skimp or cook in something other than their usual style just to fit into Restaurant Week. They also offered most of their regular menu by putting supplemental charges on some dishes (although there were at least 3 dishes in each course that did not include a surcharge). The gnocchi with bacon, brussel sprouts, and pecorino combined some of my favorite ingredients, and it was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The roast pork loin for my main was perfectly cooked, but the dijon vinaigrette to accompany was a little sharper than I had expected - by the end of the course, though, I was wanting more of the vinaigrette, so it obviously grew on me. And the dessert of the chocolate caramel tart with sage coconut ice cream was the perfect end to the meal. Service was impeccable, just like it would be on a non-RW night.

Radius on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 20, 2009

When NOT to Bring Out the Calculator

So, I've never been a waitress. I've worked at ice cream shops and coffee shops before, though, so I know a little about how to treat customers. One thing I would NEVER do if I were a waitress would be to bring a calculator over to a table who I thought had tipped me too low.

Somehow, though, my waiter at Locke-Ober last night thought this was perfectly acceptable behavior. True, we tipped on the Restaurant Week price and not typical menu prices (although we never even saw a regular menu, so I had nothing to base that on), but a calculator? And he kept saying "I'm sure you meant to tip me well, but..." like we were a bunch of children in school who had done our math homework wrong.

Thanks, but I deal with enough pretentiousness without it being fed to me with my dessert.

Locke-Ober on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rainbow Colcannon

It's funny, but I feel like every Bostonian has a little bit o' Irish in them, regardless (or should I say irregardless?) of their actual heritage. Everyone celebrates St. Patrick's Day (to some degree), and Danny Boy seemed to make an appearance every year in my school choir's repertoire. And when I went to Ireland, I shouldn't have been so surprised to see badges from police and fire departments from almost every Massachusetts town hanging on the walls of the pubs I visited.

Which is why, every St. Patrick's Day, I find myself longing for a good ol' Irish meal. I've been craving corned beef for days, but I've had no time to cook it. I decided to go with the quick and easy dish of colcannon instead, just so St. Paddy's wouldn't go by without a heaping of root veggies.

Colcannon is basically mashed potatoes with cabbage or kale. My version is a little fancier, with parsnips and rainbow chard in the mix. For a more traditional version, trade out the parsnips for one more potato and the chard for kale or cabbage. It is also traditionally served on Halloween, with a coin or ring buried somewhere in the mix, but really, it's good at any time throughout the winter months, when you need a hearty side dish.

Rainbow Colcannon
3 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 3 or 4 large chunks
1 leek, finely chopped
1/2 pound rainbow chard, finely chopped
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup milk (whatever you have around is fine, I used skim)
salt and pepper

In a large pot with salted, boiling water, cook potatoes and parsnips for 10-15 minutes, or until tender. Strain with a slotted spoon and place in a large bowl; put pot back on the pot and bring back to a boil. Add leek and chard to the boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the chard stalks are cooked through. While greens are cooking, add butter and milk to potatoes, and mash until the potatoes are creamy. Drain greens and rinse with cold water; squeeze dry before adding to mashed potatoes. Stir to combine, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Girl Scouts Cookie Creations

I've already mentioned my love of Girl Scout cookies. When I saw the announcement for the Cookie Creations event from my local Girl Scout council, I asked my friend Mel to join me for the evening. Mel and I were G-Scouts (as she calls it) together for 12 years - that's a lot of cookies!

The theme of the event - Cookie Creations - was desserts inspired by and using Girl Scout cookies. Eight chefs from local restaurants participated, creating their own confections by using GS cookies as an ingredient. I've done this myself from time to time, but the best I ever got was crushing up Thin Mints and adding to Rice Krispie Treats (awesome, by the way, and worth trying out!). I couldn't wait to see what the chefs would prepare.

When we arrived, the place was already packed. Leave it up to the Girl Scouts to be punctual. The room was lined with tables for each chef and their cookie creation, and the crowds around each table were thick. In the order that we tried them:

Chef Peppino from DaVinci Ristorante created a Mint Caramel Cheesecake, featuring Thin Mints and Caramel deLites. There was a lot going on, what with the mint, caramel, and coconut, but the ratio of crust to cheese was good (and I'm not even a fan of cheesecake).

Chef Morris from Old Town Bread created a White Chocolate and Pink Grapefruit Tart, featuring Shortbread (Trefoils if you're old school, or your council still uses Little Brownie Bakers). It was delicious, if somewhat difficult to eat - the pink grapefruit marshmallow really towered over the rest of the dish. Most shortbread cookies work excellently as the base for a tart, and this was a good example of that use. I might try making just these marshmallows some time...

Chef Personius from Burtons Grill created the Triple Decker Caramel DeLite, featuring Caramel deLites and Daisy Go Rounds. It was basically a Caramel deLite topped with butterscotch and vanilla puddings and whip cream, making it very messy to eat. It would have, however, been excellent as a trifle, with the Caramel deLites chopped up a bit.

Chef Woodfine from Troquet created a Peanut Butter Crunch Torte, featuring Peanut Butter Sandwiches. The peanut mousse (sandwiched between fudge and ganache) was so creamy that it was hard to tell there were any cookies in there at all. This was decadent to be sure, but it was the only one I could see myself enjoying a whole plate of at the end of a meal.

Chef Percoco from BOKX 109 American Prime created a Thanks-a-Lot Butterscotch Cheese Cake with Thin Mint Sauce, featuring Thanks-A-Lots and Thin Mints. I wanted to like this, but I found the Thin Mint sauce to be wicked overpowering, which, when combined with the texture of the cheesecake, had me thinking of toothpaste. Separately, I'm sure each part was very tasty.

Chef Kilpatrick from Sofra Bakery and Oleana created Peanut Butter Parfait Bars, featuring Peanut Butter Sandwiches and Peanut Butter Patties. Yum! These were topped with a piece of salted peanut brittle, which provided something that many desserts are missing - salt! And I appreciated that she used both types of peanut butter cookies in the preparation.

Also featured, although I got no picture because it was pretty melty, was a Caramel deLite and Shortbread Gelato Sandwich from Chef Marini from Olivadi. It was a very simple preparation, with crumbled shortbread as a base, a scoop of caramel gelato in the middle, and a whole Caramel deLite on top. Tasty, but very messy.

Also also featured, again with no picture (this time just because I was getting jostled around and couldn't pull the camera out), was a Key Lime Yogurt Tart from Chef Hooper at Great Bay, featuring Daisy Go Rounds. Again, I'm not a fan of cheesecake, and also not a fan of Greek yogurt (I hate the way yogurt tastes), so this one was clearly not for me, but Mel seemed to enjoy it.

After everyone had a chance to taste the confections, voting began. There were three judges for an "official" winner, but attendees were encouraged to vote for the crowd favorite. Mel and I both gave our votes to Troquet's Peanut Butter Crunch Torte, but I had a hard time deciding between that and Sofra's Peanut Butter Parfait Bars. This is especially surprising to me because, while I enjoy peanut butter desserts, I tend to prefer mint - but the Thin Mint offerings just didn't wow me. I was really surprised to find out that the actual winners were Olivadi's Gelato Sandwich (judge's choice) and Great Bay's Key Lime Yogurt Tart (people's choice) - neither of my favorites won!

Have you made your own Girl Scout cookie-inspired desserts?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Meyer Lemon Curd

Ah, the continuing story of my bag of Meyer lemons from San Francisco...

After candying slices of lemon and blood orange, I was still left with a heap of lemons to use. After much internet searching (through Tastespotting and Google), I cobbled together a lemon curd recipe that seemed like an excellent and economical use of my treasure.

I've been intimidated by making curd for a while, but this showed me how simple the process can be. I've had the jar of curd sitting in my fridge for a week or so now, so it's a great thing to make ahead and just keep around for when you feel the need for a taste of sunshine. It would be perfect in a pie (I know, I missed pi day...), but I prefer it spread on some cream biscuits, topped with some of those blood orange slices... In fact, now I want to try this with blood oranges, since I have a bunch around...

Meyer Lemon Curd
3 or 4 Meyer lemons, zested and juiced (you want enough for 3/4 cup of juice)
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, cut into small chunks

In a double boiler or a medium pot, bring some water to a simmer. In the the top of the double boiler or in a stainless steel bowl, combine lemon juice, sugar, and eggs and whisk together. Place over simmering water (making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water) and add butter. Continue whisking for about 5 minutes, or until the curd thickens (it will happen suddenly, and you'll know from feeling the whisk move through the curd that it's done). Make sure the water continues to simmer and not boil, and that you keep whisking, or the eggs will cook too fast.

Once the curd is formed, push it through a fine mesh strainer to get out any bits of cooked egg. Add in lemon zest and mix to incorporate. Store in a sealed jar in the fridge and use at will.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Gluten-Free Marshmallow Treats

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know that I like a challenge. Gluten-free cooking continues to be a challenge for me, as I've been hanging out more with my GFF (gluten-free friend) of late and have been trying to think of fun things to make for her. So when U.S. Mills (which manages the brands Uncle Sam, Farina, and Erewhon, among others) got in touch with me about trying some of their cereals, I was most intrigued by their gluten-free options and what I could make with them.

While U.S. Mills has a number of GF options, I asked for some crispy brown rice. Honestly, all I can think of to cook when I see a big box of crispy rice is Rice Krispie Treats. So really, this isn't a new recipe, insomuch as it's a very easy way to adapt a recipe to be gluten-free. The crispy brown rice from Erewhon (as well as the cocoa brown rice from New Morning) are GF, as are any marshmallows that list the modified food starch as "corn" (I used Campfire brand, although most big-name brands of marshmallows are GF).

The best thing of all is that the brown rice is not all that different than regular Rice Krispies. I took these to a party after making them (since I knew there would be a number of GFFs there), and these were the first thing to go - everyone, non-GFFs included, couldn't get enough.

Gluten-Free Apricot Marshmallow Treats
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
10 oz. GF marshmallows
6 cups Erewhon GF Crispy Brown Rice
10 dried apricots, finely chopped and dusted with cornstarch, divided

Grease a 13x9 inch pan with butter and set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter, then add marshmallows and stir until melted. Add brown rice and 3/4 of the chopped apricots, and mix to coat. Pour into the greased pan and, using a greased spoon, pat cereal down. Sprinkle remaining apricots over the top and pat down. Cool before serving.

Chocolaty Gluten-Free Marshmallow Treats
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
10 oz. GF marshmallows
6 cups New Morning Cocoa Crispy Rice
Chocolate M&Ms

Grease a 13x9 inch pan with butter and set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter, then add marshmallows and stir until melted. Add crispy rice and mix to coat. Pour into the greased pan and, using a greased spoon, pat cereal down. Sprinkle M&Ms over the top and pat down. Cool before serving.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It's Girl Scout Cookie Time!

OK, I'll admit it - I'm a Girl Scout. Like, still a Girl Scout. My lifetime membership card is kicking around somewhere in my desk, amid a pile of pens that may or may not actually work.

So every year when Girl Scout cookie time rolls around, I can't help but feel that pull of nostalgia, bringing back memories of wandering around my neighborhood with my sash tied over my huge winter coat, taking orders from the neighbors who I only saw at cookie time and Halloween. Nowadays, I never seem to have my act together enough to actually pre-order cookies, but it's pretty hard not to find a table set up somewhere (the last one I saw was inside the Harvard Square T station) with girls selling boxes of cookies.

But man, have Girl Scout cookies come a long way since I was a kid. This coming Thursday (3/12), the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts will be hosting the 4th Annual "Evening of Cookie Creations" at the Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square. The event will feature seven local chefs and their creations (all of which feature Girl Scout cookies as an ingredient), and winning creations will be picked by a panel of judges and by the crowd. It sounds like a great time, and I'm excited to see what they chefs come up with.

Tickets are $30 (or two for $50) and more information is available here. See you Thursday!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bloggers' Dinner at Fleming's Steakhouse

Steak houses are, to me, a special occasion-type place. My visits are few and far between, and they tend to mark big occasions (like my brother's graduation, although that meal didn't go so well...). When Fleming's Steakhouse invited me and some fellow bloggers to dinner, I was sure we'd be treated to a great meal, but I wasn't sure if Fleming's would be a restaurant I could go to for something other than a special occasion. I'm definitely glad to see that's not the case.

As always, these events are as much (if not more) about getting to know other bloggers as it is about the food. I was happy to see some familiar faces (The Leather District Gourmet, Tales of the Basil Queen, and Megan from Menupages Boston), and even happier to get to know even more bloggers (FoodieMommy, BellyGlad, Grow. Cook. Eat., Forays of a Finance Foodie, and Fork it Over, Boston!). We had a great time talking about food and blogging and why we even bother with it all (not that we actually came up with an answer for that one). We were joined by Michael Dearing (operating partner) and Jason Carron (head chef and partner), who answered our questions and learned a little about bloggers in return.

Now, granted, I know this meal was amazing and plentiful because Jason and his crew were trying to show us what they can do. I would never order everything that they showed off to us. But the quality of everything was fantastic, and the dishes were all plentiful. We started out with the cheese plate, which is given to all customers in place of a bread basket. The specifics change frequently, but the variations we were given were champagne-infused brie and cabernet-infused goat cheese. Um, yes please. Whose brilliant idea was it to combine these flavors, and can they move into my kitchen and do all my cooking from here on out?

Once everyone was settled in their seats, the appetizers began to arrive. The most beautiful was the chilled seafood tower, heaped with shrimp, king crab legs, snow crab claws, and lobster tails. I found myself reaching for seconds and thirds because there was a GIANT TOWER OF SEAFOOD IN FRONT OF ME! How could I not? Each piece was impeccably fresh, and the dish was big enough to share with multiple people as a meal. My other favorite appetizer was the lobster tempura - buttery lobster wrapped in a crispy shell and served with tempura veggies. It was even better than it sounds.

For dinner, we each ordered our own main dish (steak for 90% of the table), and the chef brought out a variety of sides for us to try. I topped my petit filet with Bearnaise sauce (all the while thinking "Don't be saucy with me, Bearnaise") and took little portions of each side.

As much as I enjoy steak (and this was perfectly cooked), I'm more a fan of the sides. Shoestring fries, ginormous onion rings, mashed potatoes (two types - roasted garlic, and parmesan peppercorn), chipotle cheddar macaroni and cheese, sauteed spinach, grilled asparagus, spicy sauteed corn - all delicious.

Dessert was good, but honestly, the savory sides were so good that I was still focused on those. The chocolate lava cake was the stand-out dessert, with a center that was actually molten (unlike in so many restaurants) and served with fantastic pistachio tuille cookies.

This meal showed me that Fleming's can be a typical steakhouse, with finely cooked steaks served with massive side dishes, but it can also be a place to experience 100 different wines by the glass (or in flights) while enjoying your favorite appetizer or side dish, or taking advantage of one of their great deals, such as their Sunday prime rib dinner (prime rib, salad, one side, and dessert, all for $35). Fleming's is also participating in the upcoming Restaurant Week, so if you're feeling like a complete meal, it's a great chance to try the place for little money down.

Fleming's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Candied Citrus Slices

As I mentioned, on my trip to San Francisco I was lucky enough to get to wander through the Saturday morning farmers market at the Ferry Building. I bought myself plenty of souvenirs, including raw olives (I'll post about them once the brining process is done) and a huge bag of Meyer lemons.

Of course, when I got home, that left me with a giant bag of lemons and not many ideas of what to do with them. I've had worse problems before ;) With a little internet scouring and a snow day, I managed to make my way through most of the lemons.

I've done candied citrus peel before. It's tasty and makes a great gift. But I wanted to try something a little different this time, so I opted to try candying whole slices of fruit (I also had a few blood oranges kicking around, so I candied them as well). The key here is to get super-thin slices, as thin as you can make them while still keeping the slices whole. It's also important to keep an eye out for seeds - take them out as soon as you see them, as they can make slicing a little more difficult.

Note: If you're using different types of citrus, candy the lighter colored ones first. Here, I cooked the lemons first, then the blood oranges. The oranges turned the syrup a beautiful deep ruby color (which I saved for drink mixing), but it would have stained the lemons if I had reversed their cooking order.

These are delicious for snacking, but they also make gorgeous garnishes on desserts and drinks. I'm keeping them wrapped in parchment paper in the fridge, ready for use.

Candied Citrus Slices
3 lemons (or Meyer lemons)
3 small oranges (or blood oranges)
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water

Cut citrus into very thin slices, discarding the ends that are all pulpy white. Set aside.

In a large frying pan, combine sugar and water over medium high heat. (If your pan is too small, use 2 cups sugar and 1 cup water). Once sugar has dissolved, bring to a boil for about one minute. Reduce heat to medium low, or a gentle simmer, and add lemon slices in a single layer. Cook for 30-40 minutes, or until the rinds begin to turn translucent. Remove slices from the pan with a slotted spoon and arrange on parchment paper to cool. Repeat process with orange slices.

Once citrus has cooled, roll each slice lightly in sugar and put back on the parchment to dry for a little while. Store wrapped in parchment paper in an airtight container.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

My Father's Popovers

The snow today left me wanting one thing - popovers. I couldn't help but give in.

For my parents' wedding, they received a Farberware Open Hearth Rotisserie. As far as I know, it has only ever been used to make roast beef for family gatherings. When it comes to cooking on the rotisserie, the task falls firmly in my father's domain, much like the grill. In fact, when I was growing up and we had roast beef for dinner, he would take on even more of the meal and make popovers to go alongside. And although the beef is always juicy and well-cooked, the popovers are my favorite part of that meal.

When I moved out of my parents' house, this was one recipe I made sure to have with me. Popovers are definitely a comfort food for me - the edges are crunchy, the inside is soft, and the whole thing is amazingly buttery and delicious. Sometimes I use the batter in a large glass dish and sprinkle in chopped apples, but for this snowy day, I opted for the traditionally large and billowy popovers, baked in individual ramekins.

My Father's Popovers
6 eggs
2 cups milk
6 Tbsp butter, melted
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 375°. Grease 6 8-ounce ramekins (you can also use a muffin pan, but you'll get smaller popovers) and arrange on a baking sheet; set aside.

In large bowl with mixer on low speed, beat eggs until frothy. Add milk and butter and beat until combined. Add flour and salt and continue to mix until there are no lumps. Pour batter into ramekins, filling until 3/4 full.

Bake for 60 minutes, then make a small slit in the top of each popover for steam and bake for another 10 minutes. Serve immediately.