Thursday, August 27, 2009

Unveiling Absolut Boston

When I first heard that Absolut was unveiling a new flavor "based" on Boston, all I could think of was the creative Absolut ads that people used to collect when I was in high school, including this one titled Absolut Boston. From that ad, it was clear that Boston=tea in many people's minds, and that idea has continued with this new black tea elderflower flavor. The whole concept of city-based flavors (Boston is the third, after New Orleans and Los Angeles) still seems a little odd to me, but who am I to argue when it tastes great?

To celebrate the launch of this new flavor, Absolut asked some famous Bostonians for their favorite Boston moments, and they have displayed them all on a Wall of Pride in front of the Prudential Center. Amy Poehler's (above) made me laugh out loud, because I've spent way too much time at the Burlington Mall (by the way, the Burlington Mall is one of only two MA locations of Chick-Fil-A - yum!). The wall will be up on Boylston Street until September 4th, after which the tiles will be auctioned off (with the money raised going to the Charles River Conservancy). You can see all the tiles up close on the auction page. Absolut and Horizon Beverages (MA distributor of Absolut) are also donating proceeds to the Charles River Conservancy.

After the unveiling of the wall, we headed to Stephanie's on Newbury to actually try the new vodka. They mixed up three different cocktails, and I was surprised at how versatile the black tea and elderflower flavors were. My favorite drink was the Boston Tea Party, which tasted primarily of black tea. I also enjoyed the Homerun, which tasted much more strongly of elderflower. The third choice, a mojito, just tasted like a mojito. There are 14 different cocktail recipes available on the Absolut Boston Facebook page, but my favorite, the Boston Tea Party, is below.

Absolut Boston Tea Party
3 parts Absolut Boston
2 parts lemon juice
1 part simple syrup

Shake Absolut Boston, lemon juice, and simple syrup over ice and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cheap Eats: Dante

The Royal Sonesta near the Cambridgeside Galleria and the Museum of Science may seem like an odd place to go for food, but once you realize that it is the home of chef Dante deMagistris' first restaurant, Dante, the destination doesn't seem so odd. The restaurant overlooks the river, making it a quiet escape in a traffic-harried area. And while Dante's regular menu runs $35 for 3 courses, you can take advantage of Buzz Hour, a menu of special sfizi (whimsies), for only $1 each.

The $1 sfizi menu is available weekdays from 4-7pm in the bar area. With six different choices, you can order them all and still be spending short money. Bostonist recommends the arancini (above), delicately fried risotto balls drizzled with honey. The best value is in the olives and the hummus, both rather large servings considering the price tag. Smaller, but more interesting ingredient-wise, are the fresh ricotta bruschetta and the pepe imbottiti, small peppers stuffed with meat and cheese. Oysters are also available at $1 a piece.

Whether you're looking for a post-shopping rest or a pre-IMAX bite, Dante's Buzz Hour delivers delicious food quickly and cheaply. Even the cocktails are reasonably priced (on Boston's standards, at least). Dante is located at 40 Edwin Land Boulevard in Cambridge, and Buzz Hour is available from 4-7pm weekdays.

Originally published on Bostonist.

Dante on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 24, 2009

The First (Annual? Please?) Ice Cream Showdown

This past Saturday, Sugarbomber, Eat Boston, and Grand hosted the Ice Cream Showdown, a Scooper Bowl of local proportions. Seven local ice cream companies got together in a hot and humid parking lot in Union Square to dole out over 1500 samples to about 500 hungry people. I tasted 6 of the 7 companies (and was only a mere moments from trying the last, b.good, when they ran out of smoothies). I loved trying different flavors, and it really felt like a community event. The whole thing was a benefit to support the Juniper Fund.

The participants were:

b.good - They were blending up what looked like mango smoothies, but they were also the last place we hit, and they ran out with only about 5 people in front of me. Sad.

Chilly Cow - Pronounced the winner of the showdown, thanks to votes from attendees, Chilly Cow served up their delicious custard. It's not easy to find frozen custard around (we used to serve it when I worked at Emack and Bolio's), and Chilly Cow's is fantastic - thick and creamy and absolutely heavenly.

Christina's - Serving up the biggest scoops of the day, Christina's mocha explosion was interesting, but I'm not sure I would order it again. There were too many bits of stuff, so the ice cream to stuff ratio was way off. I do love how creative they are in general with their flavors, though. Any place that makes fresh rose ice cream is ok in my book.

Coop's Microcreamery - I had never heard of Coop's before until I realized that Marc Cooper, the owner, used to make ice cream for Herrell's. I was pretty blown away by their mango sorbet - it tasted like I had just taken a bite out of a super-ripe, super-cold fruit, and I kept expecting to run into chunks (although I'm happier that it was nice and smooth). Coop's ice cream is available at the Allston Cafe.

JP Licks - I'm a huge fan of JP Licks and their ever-changing flavors (I may be the only person who enjoyed their pad thai ice cream). They served up fresh mint and oreo cake batter, both of which had tremendous flavor. The cake batter was better for eating a whole scoop of, but the fresh mint was light and seasonal and gave me ideas of what to do with the huge mint plant in my yard.

Toscanini's - I've never been a big fan of Toscanini's, and to tell the truth, the whole taxes debacle last year and this insulting piece by Gus Rancatore about stupid customers (the same people who bailed him out of the tax problem) have all made me dislike the place more. Their Coffee Ice Cream Sandwich flavor was fine, but it didn't blow me away.

Wheeler's - I was pretty full by the time we reached Wheeler's, but I still wanted to try their vegan ice "cream." The salted chocolate was a nice balance of sweet and salty, but the texture was not quite right for me. If I were a vegan, this would be a great option, but I like real ice cream a little too much.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Austin Wrap Up

I was on a plane years ago when the lady I was sitting next to asked me where I was from. "Boston," I said. I certainly wasn't expecting her response - "Oh, I love Texas!" I was a little too shocked to tell her that I wasn't talking about Austin. That was probably my first realization that I do have something of a Boston accent (although not in comparison to many people in the area).

I finally got the chance to visit Austin, though, last week, when I was in town for the Society of American Archivists' annual meeting. Luckily, my grad school classmate Melissa, who went to the University of Texas for college, was my guide, and she took me to all her favorite places.

One of our first stops was Kerbey Lane, a 24-hour cafe with a creative menu. Their queso is probably the best I've ever had - a subtle cheesiness mixed with guacamole and pico de gallo. Three of us couldn't get to the bottom of the bowl, although I was trying my hardest. I could have gone back there at any other point during the trip just for more of this stuff. I ended up stuffing myself further with their gingerbread pancakes, and I had a hard time deciding between the pancakes and the seasonal zucchini bread French toast.
Kerbey Lane Cafe (University) on Urbanspoon

The conference was over by Saturday afternoon, and I was really excited to be able to go to the 3rd Annual Austin Ice Cream Festival. I was greatly disappointed by the event though - I was expecting something more like the Scooperbowl, where you pay your entrance fee and then get to try samples from a variety of different ice cream companies. Instead, each company had their ice cream truck selling scoops (although some were selling sample sizes for $1). This made it hard to try lots of different flavors and purveyors.

An afternoon of ice cream did not stop us from eating more a few hours later. We hit Trudy's for dinner, another of Melissa's favorite restaurants. I stared at the menu for ages, but finally settled on the stuffed avocado, a whole avocado filled with chicken and cheese, then deep-fried and smothered in sauce. I mean, how can you go wrong with avocado and deep-fried?!
Trudy's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, my last full day in town, was filled with more eating. We had brunch at Romeo's. Although it was hotter out than I had been used to (from Boston's weird, cool early summer), the tomato soup was recommended. It is smooth and thick and creamy, with just enough salt to really bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes. I also had a BLT pizza, topped with big pieces of bacon, tomato, smoked mozzarella, and a hearty sprinkling of chopped lettuce, all on a thin and crispy crust.
Romeo's on Urbanspoon

For dinner, we made the pilgrimage out to the town of Driftwood to eat at the Salt Lick. Friends have been telling me about this place for years, and it really did deserve the hype. We got the family-style meal, which includes unlimited brisket, sausage, ribs, cole slaw, potato salad, beans, pickles, and bread. The meat was amazing - I'm not usually a fan of sausage, but I loved the seasoning and the snap of the casing. The ribs were so tender that they were almost impossible to eat by picking them up - the meat just fell right off. I even enjoyed the cole slaw and the potato salad because they weren't the traditional kind, loaded with mayo, but were vinegary. We saved just enough room for the peach cobbler - I definitely needed something a little sweet at the end of the that huge meal.
The Salt Lick Bar B-Q on Urbanspoon

Of course, that wasn't all we hit. We also visited Hut's Hamburgers (amazing onion rings), Walton's Fancy and Staple (a beautiful bakery with delicious pastries), Epoch Coffee (if I lived in Austin, I would hang out here all the time), Mekong River (delicious Vietnamese), The Jackalope (Ace Pear Cider is my new favorite cider, although I don't think you can get it in MA...), Cornucopia (40+ flavors of popcorn? Uh, yes!), and Whataburger (the honey chicken biscuit makes an amazing breakfast).

Overall, my trip was great (although exhausting), and I really enjoyed the city. I wouldn't mind going back (maybe during a cooler time of year) to see more of the area.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cheap Eats: Moody's Falafel Palace

Moody's Falafel Palace may not look like much - cramped quarters with little sitting room in a building that looks like a shack - but the food more than makes up for the lack of ambiance. Whether you're looking for a fresh lunch or a late night meal to sop up all that excess booze, Moody's will deliver your food cheap.

As the name suggests, Moody's specializes in Middle Eastern fare. Roll-ups cost between $3.99 and $4.99 and are the perfect meal to eat on the go. This Bostonist favors the lamb shawarma (below), filled with lettuce, onion, tomato, pickles, tahini sauce, and crispy and juicy shavings of meat. Plates, heaping meals that are sure to fill you up, cost between $5.75 and $8.99.

On a hot summer day, though, there's almost nothing better than a salad that is both refreshing and filling (often a tall order). Bostonist recommends the Mazza salad (top). It's a heavenly mixture of freshly-fried pita chips, crunchy cucumbers, soft tomatoes, and plenty of flavor, thanks to a boatload of herbs and a lemony dressing. The serving is huge, and for only $4.75, is an excellent value.

Moody's Falafel Palace is located at 25 Central Square, about half a block down Western Ave from Mass Ave. They are open daily from 11am to midnight and extend their hours until 3am on Friday and Saturday. There's a minimum credit charge of $15, so make sure to bring some cash (unless, of course, you want to pay for everyone in there). And because there are only a few people working there, it may take some time to get your food - you can always order a slice of baklava to tide you over!

Originally published on Bostonist.

Moody's Falafel Palace on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 14, 2009

Julia Child's Hungarian Shortbread

Julia Child is seriously everywhere right now. I've been debating whether to even write about Julie & Julia or the fact that Mastering The Art of French Cooking is currently the #2 seller on Amazon, since everyone else is writing about that too. I will say that I ended up seeing Julia & Julie twice (once with this amazing group of food bloggers) and loved every minute of it (but especially when they showed Julie's husband working at Archaeology Magazine - made me miss all my awesome co-workers at the AIA).

So in honor of what would have been Julia Child's 97th birthday tomorrow, I decided to try one of her recipes. I've had her Hungarian Shortbread before, as part of the prix fixe brunch at Gaslight (they also sell slices a la carte) and loved the buttery, crumbly texture. That wonderful texture comes from freezing and then grating the dough - it's a bit of a pain in the ass, but the results are so delicious that I would do it again. Other than that, this recipe is really easy and makes about a million bars (you can, of course, cut to whatever size you want, but they're so rich that small pieces don't feel stingy).

Julia Child's Hungarian Shortbread

4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 lb (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 egg yolks
2 cups sugar
2 cups jam (whatever flavor you want - I used homemade ginger nectarine butter)
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter until pale and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and sugar and beat until well combined. Slowly add in flour mixture and mix until the dough just begins to come together. Form dough into a ball and cut in half. Wrap each half in plastic or wax paper and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°. Remove one piece of dough from the freezer and grate into a 9x12" pan (use the large holes on the grater). Pat the dough down evenly. Spread the jam over the dough, then grate the other piece of dough over that. Pat the top down lightly (don't compact it too much). Bake for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately dust with confectioners' sugar (the sugar will get soaked in a bit). Cool completely before cutting.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Taking Advantage of Green Garden Tomatoes

I'm headed out of town later this week for a conference (in Austin!), and as I checked out my garden this weekend, I got a little worried about my tomatoes. The plants are filled with green fruits, but they are also showing developing signs of late blight, the fungus that is wreaking havoc on crops throughout New England, thanks to the crazy wet weather we've had this summer. I wanted to make sure that I got to use at least some of my tomatoes, because who knows what they'll look like when I get back from my trip.

So I harvested a few of the tomatoes (probably only 1/20th of what's out there, though), as well as some Japanese eggplants ("Are they supposed to look like that?" my brother asked. Yes, yes they are.), basil, parsley, and scallions. I combined a few different recipes that I found online to form what I think is one damn good fried tomato. The combination of flour, buttermilk, and panko breadcrumbs created a tender, crispy crust while keeping the tomato and eggplant fresh. Another plus? It didn't soak up a lot of oil during frying, so it was light and not greasy.

Fried Green Tomatoes (and Eggplant) with Buttermilk Dressing
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, divided
juice of 3 limes
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp honey
2 sprigs of basil, minced
2 sprigs of parsley, minced
1 scallion, minced
1/2 tsp salt
2 large green tomatoes
1 large or 2 small Japanese eggplants
1 cup flour
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp Cajun seasoning mix
Vegetable oil for frying

In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup buttermilk, lime juice, olive oil, honey. basil, parsley, scallion, and salt and whisk together. Cover and refrigerate until serving.

Slice tomatoes and eggplant into 1/3-inch thick slices. Arrange three bowls for the coating process - one for the flour, one for 1 cup of buttermilk, and one for the panko and Cajun seasoning (mix the seasoning into the panko to evenly distribute). Dredge slices in flour (shaking off extra flour), dip in buttermilk, then coat with panko. Coat all slices before beginning to fry.

In a large pan, heat about 1/2 an inch of vegetable oil over medium-low heat until it just begins to bubble. Cook tomatoes and eggplant in batches until golden brown on both sides. Do not crowd the pan. Drain on papertowels before serving. If needed, you can keep the cooked tomatoes and eggplant in the oven on the lowest setting (about 200°) until all the batches are done. Serve with dressing.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Blackberry Scones

There's something so very greedy about berry picking, and it's not just the inherent one-for-now, one-for-later mentality as you pull them off the branch.

My friend Melody invited me by her house to pick blackberries from the wild bushes nearby. After being thwarted by some rain, I finally got my chance - sunny, gorgeous weather in the low 70s. I grabbed a big metal bowl and started exploring her yard. I found the two major areas (back yard = huge bushes with giant berries, front yard = medium bushes with much smaller berries like the ones above) and got to work.

And it was as I was picking that I realized how greedy I was becoming. I worked the whole area, picking only what I thought was ripe and wasn't to hard to reach within the brambles. But as I walked back to my car along the bushes, I realized how much more fruit was on there. Had I missed all these ripe berries the first time, or had they magically ripened in the sun in the last few minutes?

All in all, I probably went over each bush four times, collecting more and more fruit every time. And yet I continued to become greedy. At every pass, I would pick berries that maybe weren't quite dark enough and reach that much further into the thorns, scraping up my arm but coming back with a handful of sweetness. I found myself concocting plans for my next visit, including bringing leather gardening gloves and maybe some clippers to cut off unruly branches. And all for berries in someone else's yard!

Back home, I sorted the berries by size: the smaller ones were perfect for baking, while the larger ones were delicious as-is. I turned to my copy of The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book, which is my absolute favorite baking book, and found a great recipe for fresh berry scones. I was a little turned off when I was instructed the grate the butter - it was like herding cats (which I coincidentally also did this weekend...) - but the results were worth it. Oh, and I adapted the recipe slightly because I can't ever manage to read directions correctly...

Blackberry Scones (adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book)

1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, frozen, plus extra for melting (about 2 Tbsp)
1 1/2 cups fresh berries
2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest (about 1/2 a large lemon)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream

On the large holes of a box grater, grate the butter into a small bowl. Once grated, place butter back into the freezer. Place berries in a bowl and set in the freezer - they do not need to freeze, just get sufficiently chilled.

Preheat oven to 425 ° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, salt, and baking soda. Add in the grated butter and lightly toss until the butter is evenly coated. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and sour cream, then add to the flour mixture. Fold in with a spatula until just combined.

Turn out dough onto a well (and I mean well) floured board. Lightly knead the dough until it just pulls together, adding more flour if the dough is too sticky. Pat the dough into a 12-inch square, then fold the top third and bottom third of the dough over the middle (like folding a letter). Then fold up the sides of the dough over the middle to form a square. Place dough on a floured plate, then place in the freezer for about 5 minutes so the butter doesn't soften too much.

Place the dough back on the floured board, and roll out to a 12-inch square. Arrange berries on top of the dough and lightly press them in. Roll the dough up into a tight log, pinching the ends and seam shut. Flatten the log into a 12x4-inch rectangle. Cut the dough lengthwise into 4 even rectangles, then cut each rectangle diagonally to form 2 triangles (8 total).

Place scones on baking sheet, brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tops of the scones are golden brown. Turn the sheet once during baking. After baking, transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cheap Eats: Dorado Tacos & Cemitas

Brookline is certainly not lacking in Mexican food, and with the opening of Dorado Tacos & Cemitas one week ago, the pool of offerings has gotten richer, not more crowded. The restaurant, located in JFK Crossing on Harvard Ave, is bright and sunny, with a focus on high quality ingredients and eco-friendly materials.

The menu at Dorado is heavily focused on tacos. They offer a variety of types, including 4 different fish tacos, all with their own combination of proteins and condiments. The salsas, guacamole, and veggies are all fresh, making each bite shine with flavor. The tacos run about $2.50 each, which is a little high, but the quality of all the ingredients makes you forget the price tag. Three tacos would be enough for a meal, or try the taco plate for $6, with your choice of two tacos, perfectly cooked black beans, Mexican rice, and a whole charred jalapeno. This Bostonist recommends the shrimp taco, heaped with beer-battered shrimp, thin slices of jicama, orange salsa, and Baja crema.

The menu is filled with other options as well. The cemitas, Mexican sandwiches for $6, combine your choice of protein (chorizo, pork Milanesa, and portabella mushroom are just some of the options) with black beans, chipotles en adobo, avocado, Oaxaca cheese, and cilantro on a sesame seed roll. Take out a whole rotisserie chicken, with a nine spice and citrus marinade, for $10, or enjoy a half rotisserie chicken plate, with black beans, rice, and corn tortillas for $7. Dorado also offers salads (Caesar or chopped chicken), definitely big enough for a meal. And don't forget to order a side of elote - grilled corn with mayo, ancho chile, lime, and cotija cheese. It's not quite as transcendent as the version at Toro, but it's definitely a fantastic side dish or snack.

Dorado Tacos & Cemitas is located at 401 Harvard Street in Brookline. They are open daily from 11am to 10pm.

Originally published on Bostonist.

Dorado Tacos & Cemitas on Urbanspoon