Sunday, September 27, 2009

Real Deal Peanut Butter Cookies

A few weeks ago, I got the sudden urge to make old-school peanut butter cookies. You know, pressed down with fork tines and all. But most peanut butter cookies don't cut it for me - the peanut butter flavor is subdued by the flour, and you have to keep eating them to get sufficient peanut flavor. (Not to mention the fact that they're usually made with processed peanut butters that don't just taste of peanuts.)

So with a quick Google search for "flourless peanut butter cookies," I found about 40,000 versions of this one recipe. It's ridiculously easy, and because it's so simple, you can play with it however you want. I used an all-natural peanut butter (ingredients: peanuts, salt) because I prefer the taste, although it makes the texture of the cookies just a little bit more delicate. I also sprinkled chopped chocolate on some cookies, but I ended up preferring the plain peanut butter cookies much more. If you play around with this recipe, let me know what you choose to do. Chopped peanuts would be delicious, or you can make them more like thumbprint cookies and add a dollop of jam to the tops.

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup peanut butter, smooth or chunky, at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine peanut butter and sugars in a bowl and mix until well combined. Add egg and baking soda and continue to mix until well combined. Roll dough into small balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press the balls down with a fork to create a criss-cross pattern. Bake for 10 minutes. Let cool slightly on the baking sheet before transferring to a cooling rack. Between batches, cover the dough with plastic wrap, as it will dry out and get crumbly.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cheap Eats: Morse Fish Company

Yesterday may have been the official start to Fall, but Bostonist isn't ready to let go of the summer just yet. And what's more summery than eating fried seafood while sitting on plastic chairs? Luckily, the Morse Fish Company in the South End serves up fresh fish in a clam shack-like environment year-round. The nautical decor, highlighted by a giant mural of fishermen on one wall, might even make you feel like you're by the beach.

Morse Fish is part fishmonger and part fast food joint. You can pick up fresh fish to take home and cook or order that same fish cooked for you in just a few minutes. The sandwiches ($5.95-$13.95) and the lunch plates ($5.95-$11.95), both served with french fries, are great deals and big enough to keep you full for quite a while. For fried seafood, the breading is light and doesn't overpower the flavor of the fish itself. You can also order seafood broiled for an extra dollar.

Morse Fish is also great if you're looking for a little seafood snack. Fish cakes ($.75 each), crab cakes ($1.75 each), shrimp cocktail ($5.95), stuffed clams ($2.50 each), and small side orders of things like calamari ($4.95) are priced just right to be a quick bite to tide you over.

Morse Fish Company is located at 1401 Washington Street in the South End. They are open Monday-Thursday, 11am-8pm, Friday 11am-9pm, Saturday 11am-8pm, and Sunday noon-8pm.

Originally published on Bostonist.

Morse Fish Company on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cake, Lexington

Apparently the cupcake trend won't go away. This summer, the Back Bay's Sweet expanded into Harvard Square, and Todd English is about to open a cupcake bakery on Beacon Hill sometime soon. Quietly entering the cupcake market, on the other hand, is Cake in Lexington center.

Cake opened a few weeks ago on the first floor of a Victorian on Mass Ave, and their focus is meant to be on actual cakes, "made from scratch... using only the purest, finest, freshest ingredients available." But they seem to be doing a brisk business with their cupcakes. At $2 a pop, the cupcakes are a reasonable treat - a good size at a good price with delicious flavors.

For the sake of "research" (ah, the lengths I'll go to...), I picked up one of each cupcake when I was on my way to my brother's house for a full day of Beatles' Rock Band (we ended up playing for 8 hours, because the game is THAT awesome). We cut the cupcakes up into little bites so everyone could get a taste, but I still think I OD'd on sugar a little bit.

My favorites were the Midnight Delight (dense fudge cake filled with sweet chocolate pastry cream topped with Ghiradelli cocoa icing), the Berries & Gold (rich gold cake filled with fresh raspberry preserves and a whipped Chambord buttercream), and the Minuteman (moist gold cake layered with strawberries, fresh from Wilson's Farm, light whipped cream and topped with vanilla buttercream). The Midnight Delight was a powerhouse of chocolate - sweet, with just enough bitterness to highlight the cocoa flavor. The cake really was dense and super chocolatey. The Chambord buttercream on the Berries & Gold may have been my favorite aspect of any of the cupcakes. And the Minuteman was just a beautifully composed strawberry shortcake - yum!

I was not so fond of the Karat Topped (pineapple cream cheese icing set on a moist, full-bodied carrot cake), which I thought had way, way too many nuts (but really, I prefer my carrot cake with no nuts at all), and the Red Carpet (smooth, deep red velvet cake laid out with a decadent cream cheese icing), because I always find red velvet cakes to taste fake, no matter where I get it.

In the picture above, clockwise from the top, are the Karat Topped, Red Carpet, The Minuteman, Mocha Express (bittersweet chocolate cake iced in a cappuccino buttercream and garnished with a mocha espresso bean), Berries & Gold, Midnight Delight, Black Tie Affair (sweet vanilla bean cake filled with pastry cream and dressed in ganache), and in the center, chocolate with vanilla buttercream.

The full-sized cakes at Cake seem a little pricy (I think the sign said that they start at $20 for a 4-inch round), but the cupcakes are a fantastic deal at $2. Cake is located at 1628 Mass Ave in Lexington and is open Tuesday-Thursday, 10am-6pm, Friday 10am-8pm, Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday noon-5pm, and closed Monday.

Cake on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cheap Eats: Tacos Lupita

It may be a little more out of the way than many taquerias around town, but Tacos Lupita in Somerville definitely has food to warrant the trek. Serving both standard Mexican fare as well as Salvadorean treats, and with nothing on the menu over $9.50 (although most run closer to $5), Tacos Lupita is a delicious cheap eat.

As the name implies, tacos ($2.50 each) are an excellent choice. Two corn tortillas come piled high with ingredients, and the tomatoes, onions, and cilantro on top make every bite burst with fresh flavor. Choose from steak, pork, chicken, or chorizo to top the taco off. The tacos are served with a spicy green salsa, but you can also ask for a mild or a spicy and smoky red salsa. You can also order a taco plate for $8, which includes three tacos as well as rice and beans.

But there's more to the menu than just tacos. Burritos, quesadillas, tortas, gorditas, mulitas... there's plenty to keep your taste buds busy. Bostonist recommends the Salvadorean pupusas, which are like corn-flour pancakes stuffed with cheese and pork and served with a tangy pickled vegetable slaw. While this version is a little on the greasy side, the combination of the cheese, meat, and slaw are phenomenal, and at $2, worth a try.

Tacos Lupita is located at 13 Elm Street in Somerville. They are open from 11am to 9pm daily. It's not a fancy place, so while the weather is still nice, get your order to go and eat in one of the nearby parks.

Originally posted on Bostonist.

Tacos Lupita on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Edible Word: Confections of a Closet Master Baker, Part 2, Plus my recipe for Katayif

As I mentioned, one of the moments that hit me hardest while reading Confections of a Closet Master Baker was when Gesine was talking about her mother's favorite recipe, Zwetschgendatschi. She talks about baking this for her mother as she was dying from cancer, and she talks about baking this for a man who had first tasted it in Germany during World War II. It's a short chapter, but I fought off tears as I read that her mother, who kept a very strict diet, made and ate an entire tart on the day she dropped Gesine off at college, and how Gesine made her version for her aunt's birthday. I wanted to go home and bake one immediately, to pay tribute to tradition and family (even if it's not my own family or my own tradition).

But I discovered that my mother had taken the tart pans with her to our summer house, and my friend only had a large tart pan (too large for the recipe in the book) for me to borrow. I'll hold off on making Zwetschgendatschi, then, until I can do it right.

In the meantime, I wanted to contribute a recipe to the Edible Word that means something to me. It's not my mother's favorite recipe, nor does it hold any special memories like Gesine's Zwetschgendatschi, but it does remind me of family and tradition and all that jazz.

I don't read or write or speak Armenian, which definitely separates me from many of my Armenian friends and acquaintances. Being second/third generation American can do that to you. But between my mother and my own curiosity, I have learned to make many Armenian dishes that my peers would never contemplate making. I grew up eating many of these dishes, but there are few in my generation who make them, and they are something of a lost art now.

I remember going to a cooking class at our church when I was a kid (one of the few times that non-religious me stepped into a church) and watching all the old ladies, dressed in black with their hair tied up in buns, as they showed us how to bake things like simit. And I remember sitting at my grandmother's kitchen table, "helping" (but really just mucking everything up) as we made berag and she taught me how to fold the dough into tight little triangles.

Katayif is another Armenian dish that you don't find all that often. And that's a shame, because it is pretty easy and amazingly delicious. It used shredded filo dough (often labeled “Kataifi" on the package) and a delicious vanilla custard that thickens up (especially when eaten straight out of the fridge). One pan serves a ton of people, too, so it's great to serve at a party.

Cream katayif also always makes me laugh. When pronounced correctly, the "K" sounds like you're clearing your throat, kind of like the word "loch". And somehow, the "C" of cream invariably always gets pronounced the same way. But "cream" is in English, and "katayif" is in Armenian, and yet they both get the Armenian pronunciation. My brothers and I always over-pronounce the hell out of those "C"s and "K"s, and just thinking about it makes me laugh.

Cream Katayif

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups light cream
4 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup cornstarch
½ cup whole milk

2 lbs shredded filo dough (often labeled “Kataifi”), divided
1 lb (4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and divided

2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp vanilla extract

Make filling ahead of time and cool completely before proceeding. Combine heavy cream, light cream, sugar, and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Mix cornstarch and milk together until cornstarch is dissolved, then add to cream mixture. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened (to pudding consistency). Cool completely.

Preheat oven to 375°. Butter the bottom and sides of an 11x15 inch pan. In your largest mixing bowl, pull apart 1 pound of dough until it is light and fluffy and there are no clumps. Pour ½ lb (2 sticks) of melted butter over the dough and toss to coat evenly. Press dough into the pan, patting down as tightly as possible. Pour cooled custard evenly over the dough. Repeat the shredding and buttering process with the second pound of dough and ½ pound butter, then press into pan over the custard.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown. While kadayif is baking, combine sugar, water, and vanilla extract in a small pan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil until syrup is clear.

Pour hot syrup over hot katayif, then cover with foil for 15 minutes. Cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature. Leftovers are good straight from the fridge.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Edible Word: Confections of a Closet Master Baker, Part 1

In today's book market, it is quite possible to read only food memoirs and have no time left to read anything else. And I would probably read many more food memoirs if I didn't love a variety of other genres and wanted to spread the love around amongst them all (I'm currently reading some time travel comedy, although it's lagging a little, and I'm ready for some short story horror). So when Stephanie at Dispensing Happiness said she was organizing a reading/blogging group for a new food memoir, I signed up immediately.

And I'm really glad I did. I was sent a copy of Confections of a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado and felt immediately compelled to put down that time travel comedy (yes, I've been reading it for a while now - I told you it was laggy!) and dive straight in. I mean, with a first line of "I saw the devil at age three and he gave me chocolate. It changed my life forever." how could you not want to start reading?

I loved every moment of this book. Gesine jumps around from her childhood in Europe (where her mother was an opera singer) to her life in Hollywood (working for her sister's production company and slowly losing her soul) to the machinations of a working bakery in Vermont (where she escaped to after Hollywood), and yet the story doesn't feel disjointed at all. Each snippet of story lets us into her world a little more. While reading, I wanted nothing more than to curl up on the couch with some coffee and a piece of cake and keep reading (I was on the go, however, and it was above 90° out - curling up wouldn't have felt that good). Gesine's tone goes from light and entertaining to heartfelt and sad in moments - I was choking back tears, sitting in a cafe that wasn't nearly as nice as her own bakery, as I read about her mother's favorite recipe.

I was excited about this book even before it arrived on my doorstep. I was in Austin a few weeks ago for a conference, and while doing my food research for the trip, I discovered that Gesine had recently helped to open a new bakery in town. And on my first day in town, my friend and I went to Hut's Hamburgers for lunch and noticed that Walton's Fancy and Staple, Gesine's new bakery, was just down the street. So we stopped in for dessert, and I totally fell in love with the place. Over the course of the trip (5 days in total), we visited the bakery three times, bringing more and more people with us each time. I loved the space, filled with cozy cafe tables and a variety of plants and beautiful furniture and objects like the jars above. It was airy and bright, and there was even a second room of seating that provided a more intimate and quiet space.

So over three visits, I got to try many of the bakery's offerings, including a few that I would later read about in her book, such as Golden Eggs and Savory Rock Scones. Above are a cream puff and one of Gesine's famous macarons (and a lovely cup of espresso). And everything at Walton's was downright cheap, at least according to my Boston sensibilities. When I got home and started reading the book, I was happy to have a better idea of all the foods Gesine was mentioning. Reading the book made me hungry enough - at least I knew what some of the stuff tasted like!

You can also check out Gesine's blog and read the first 15 pages of the book on Amazon.

Part 2 of my post is here.

Walton's Fancy and Staple on Urbanspoon Walton's Fancy and Staple

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Cheap Eats: Zing Pizza

There are plenty of pizza shops out there, vying for your pizza dollars. That's when something a little different can really stand out from the crowd. Zing Pizza in Porter Square offers up that something different with fresh, creative pizzas and salads.

Zing's pizzas are oblong, meaning that slices are not the standard pie shape. Instead, they're long slices that overhang the plate. Zing also only offers five choices at a time, although they offer them all by the slice or whole. How many places offer five choices by the slice?! Slices run $2.50 to $3.50, while whole pizzas are $14.50 to $19.50. Some, like the John Dough and the Holy Pepperoni, are always available, but the other flavor combinations change as they see fit. This Bostonist really enjoyed the Dracula's Dilemma (packed with, yep, garlic, as well as mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, caramelized onions, and pomegranate syrup), but other intriguing combos include the Blue October (with butternut squash sauce, spinach, and blue cheese) and the You Say Potato (with rosemary red bliss potatoes, sun-dried tomato pesto, and ricotta). You can always make your own pizza, too, but they only have the ingredients needed to make their five choices, so you'll have to stick to those ingredients. And for those with a gluten-intolerance, Zing also offers gluten-free dough (available for whole pies only) from local company Glutenus Minimus.

Zing Pizza is a tiny space facing Mass Ave, but it's kept cheery and bright thanks to bright walls, tables, and chairs, and plenty of sunlight. Zing is open Monday through Wednesday, 11am to 9pm, Thursday through Saturday, 11am to 10pm, and Sunday, noon to 9pm. They are located at 1925 Massachusetts Avenue, right next to the Dunkin Donuts.

Originally posted on Bostonist.

Zing! on Urbanspoon