Monday, September 27, 2010

Baltimore Wrap Up

Weddings can be a great chance to explore a city that you're not familiar with. I had been to Baltimore a while ago, but most of what I remember from that trip was sitting in the back of my parents' car with my headphones on, trying to avoid interacting with them in any way possible. Oh, and the wonders of the Walters Art Museum.

My second visit to Baltimore was much more interesting. I attended my college friend Rick's wedding and got to spend the whole weekend with my college roommate Caroline. It was a short trip - Friday evening to Sunday afternoon - but we fit in a fair amount of food (yeah, and sightseeing too).

Friday night, after we checked in and took a bit of a stroll, we ended up at Brewer's Art for dinner. I had read online that dining in the bar was a good alternative to the pricier dining room, so we grabbed a small table with two tall wing back chairs and awkwardly made our way through dinner (oh, we need to place food orders at the bar? We need to yell to each other to be heard? OK, why not.). While we waited for our meal, a man in a suit towered over us, and we looked up to see our friend, the groom. Turns out we had picked the same spot as the rehearsal dinner, and since Rick is a foodie too, we knew we were in for some good food. We shared the falafel (fava beans, chickpeas, and green peas with lemon sesame vinaigrette, cucumber, arugula, and tomato), served with super-garlicky parmesan fries and the flatbread (smoked ham, herbed marscapone, bourbon-soaked cherries, mustard seeds, and arugula). They were both fantastic (despite the horrible picture I took of them), but I really loved the flatbread. It was crispy, creamy, smoky, sweet, and salty in every bite. I might have to suggest these toppings the next time my friends make grilled pizza... Brewer's Art also had Ace Pear Cider, which I've only had once before but loved.

On Saturday, we were surprised at how hard it was to find coffee in the morning. We kind of hovered outside one coffee shop until it opened at 10am. After that, we wandered towards Lexington Market to check out all the food stalls. We only ended up tasting an all-lump crab cake from the famous Faidley's, which was incredibly moist and filled with huge chunks of crab, but a lot of the other stalls were enticing.

Since the wedding wasn't until 7pm, we had a light meal at around 4 to tide us over. We stopped in at Iggies, and because of the hour, it was mostly empty. I was thrilled by this pizza and found myself wishing that Iggies had a branch in Boston. Caroline went with the Funghi (mushrooms, leeks, goat cheese, and housemade mozzarella), while I opted for the Pepe (arugula, ricotta, and lemon). The crust was perfectly crisp, and the toppings were light and fresh. The arugula, especially, was dressed just right (including a good amount of salt and pepper!). Man, I could go for one of these pizza right now, in fact.

The wedding itself, held in the Peabody Library, was beautiful. Rick is Chinese and his wife is Jewish, and the rabbi did a wonderful job of combining their two traditions. The party was great, even though I only knew four people in the entire room, and the food was some of the fanciest I've seen at a wedding. For dessert, alongside the regular wedding cake (lemon raspberry), servers came around with mini pie pops (above), hazelnut mousse in a white chocolate cup, and other little sweet bites. It almost rivaled my friend Cicely's wedding, where the caterer, dressed in a red satin nehru-collared jacket and giant Dracula brooch, offered our very drunk group of friends warm cookies and cold milk.

On Sunday, after brunch at our hotel with the bride and groom, I forced a tour of the Walters Gallery on Caroline (who has never been a big fan of art museums, but gracefully always goes along with my plans). I took a ton of pictures of ancient statues, as I am wont to do, and spent much less time in the more modern galleries.

We didn't have much time between the museum and our flights, so we wandered around a bit and finally settled on Maisy's. Our meal started off strong, with an excellent crab and artichoke dip, hot and cheesy. There definitely wasn't enough bread, but we didn't mind - we just cleaned up the plate with our forks. When it came to our entrees, though, things went very wrong. There were three things wrong with our two sandwiches. I sighed and just opted to eat mine(avocado, tomato, spinach, sprouts, spicy mayo, and I added bacon) (I asked for no mayo, but there weren't giant globs of it, just a light coating, so I wasn't too offended), but they screwed up Caroline's pretty bad. She sent it back, and the second try was still wrong. I'm pretty sure this wouldn't have happened if the waitress (the only one on the floor) had just written our order down instead of trying to remember it. At least the dip was good!

Long story short, my trip to Baltimore was a great time, but I wish I had had more time to explore the city. From the little research I did online, there's a lot of good food to be had there. I guess that just means I'll have to go back ;)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

You Know the Food Is Going to Be Good at a Blogger Potluck

At the beginning of the summer, I wanted to have a blogger picnic potluck. I figured with so many good food bloggers around, it would be a great opportunity to eat great food and meet fantastic people. Well, next thing I knew, early June had turned into late August, and still I hadn't planned anything. Luckily, that's when I heard that Maggie of Eat Boutique had the same idea.

So on Sunday, I met up with Erin (and CK) of Erin Cooks, and we headed up to Maggie's house. We were greeted by Maggie's gorgeous dog, tables filled with food, and plenty of bloggers enjoying the crisp weather. I brought along my cheddar scallion scones (both with and without bacon), because who doesn't love baked goods involving bacon, and my potato chip cookies, which are nothing if not a conversation starter.

Sometimes I feel like an old hat at this whole blogging thing since I've been at it for over three years. But it's always wonderful to meet so many people that I previously didn't know (or only knew via their Twitter handle). We chatted and ate and drank for hours.

Dale of Drinks Are On Me brought his Champagne Campaign to the potluck, teaching sabrage to those willing to give it a shot (and here he is demonstrating). Kitchen.Seven.Five brought a fantastic carrot and feta salad, 5th Joy created perfectly-wrapped prosciutto, fruit, and herb bundles, and Lady Gouda (who happens to be good friends with my cousin!) made a delicious fig and prosciutto flatbread. It was only the second time I've met Rob and Laura, The Two Palaverers, but they greeted me like old friends (their apple cake was awesome and went perfectly with the weather, too). Bite Me New England offered up a pesto goat cheese torta and a shrimp "ceviche" that I had to stop myself from eating too much of. Jeanine from Apartment Therapy brought homemade applesauce, The Musing Bouche made corn and okra pudding (which I sadly didn't taste because I was already full), and I got the chance to chat with Just A Waitress for a just a minute before we left. Erin Cooks made a wonderful orzo salad with feta, dried cherries, and arugula that I'm going to copy for myself. And of course, our amazing host, Maggie of Eat Boutique, made (amongst other things) pulled pork with mango BBQ sauce. There was more, I'm sure, but it's slipping my mind. (I have a few more pictures here.)

I loved meeting everyone this weekend, and even better than talking with fellow food bloggers is eating their food. What's your go-to potluck dish?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Blogger Dinner at Audubon Circle

I worked in Kenmore Square for a few years, and although we didn't go out for sit-down lunches often and (surprisingly) almost never went out for cocktails after work, I got to know the restaurants in the area pretty well. And yet, there are still places in the neighborhood that I barely know at all. Take Audubon Circle, for example. Located on Beacon Street towards the St. Mary's T stop, it's all of a five minute walk from Kenmore, and yet I had only ever been there once, and only for drinks at that.

So when I was invited to try the food at Audubon Circle, I knew it was a great chance to experience something that kept slipping off my radar. I arrived at the restaurant and settled in next to my good friend The Leather District Gourmet as the rest of the group arrived. We ordered drinks (I went with the Cucumber Kiwi Gimlet, above, which was perfectly tart and fresh) as we perused the menu, and Jayne, who handles PR for Audubon Circle, Tory Row, Cambridge 1, Middlesex Lounge, and Miracle of Science (all owned by the same folks), ordered a bunch of appetizers for us to share.

Soon the table was overflowing, and I got to sample almost everything. The cheese board was a lovely display that would be perfect to share over a glass of wine, and the white bean puree was a garlicky riff on hummus, served with lightly grilled bread. I especially loved one of the specials, pan-seared scallops served over a bed of creamy corn and topped with fresh (local!) peach salsa (above). We were told that this is going to be on the menu for as long as they can get the ingredients, so you have a few more days at least to stop in and order this. I found myself scraping up the last of the corn and peach, savoring that end-of-summer flavor.

As those plates were taken away, new plates arrived. The watermelon and feta salad was just alright, maybe because it's getting a little late for watermelon. The heirloom tomato and burrata salad, on the other hand, was absolutely perfect, bursting with flavor. The use of burrata (fresh mozzarella with a creamy soft center) instead of regular mozzarella introduced a nice texture contrast. The turkey, bacon, and swiss panini was a huge sandwich, something that would make a more than filling lunch - I didn't try the asian slaw that accompanied it, but everyone else enjoyed it. My favorite entree was the pork schnitzel, two large slices of pork pounded thin, perfectly fried, and topped with lightly-dressed arugula and pickled onions. It's easy to overcook such a thin piece of meat, but this was definitely tender, and yet it still had an extra-crispy exterior. I will definitely be ordering this dish again.

At some point in all this, I ordered a second drink - the acrb tea party. Made with tea-infused vodka, mint, lemonade, and lime, it's like summer in a glass. Totally refreshing. I loved the use of mint, which was subtle but recognizable.

Audubon Circle only offers one dessert, focusing on quality over quantity for a restaurant with no pastry chef. The chevre cheesecake with oreo crust is a knockout. I usually don't like cheesecake, but this was light and fluffy, with just enough tang from the goat cheese to be interesting. Definitely a good way to cap a delicious meal.

So while Audubon Circle has been off my radar for far too long, I can guarantee that I'll be back, and definitely not just for drinks!

Read more reviews of the evening from Elina, William, Liz, and Tina.

Audubon Circle Restaurant Bar on Urbanspoon

Full Disclosure note: I was invited to Audubon Circle by their PR person, and this meal was provided to me free-of-charge.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday I'm In Love... with Snow Soda

I know it's not in fashion to drink soda these days, but sometimes you still want something bubbly that's not just seltzer. That's where something like Snow comes in - made with cane sugar and loaded with vitamins, Snow is a slightly more virtuous version of the stuff we love to drink.

Snow comes in three flavors - Lemon Lime, Cranberry PomRaz, and Cola. I really loved the fruit flavors. The Lemon Lime was tart and crisp, not just sweet. The Cranberry PomRaz, combining cranberry, pomegranate, and raspberry, tasted fresh and light, like a fizzy version of cranraz juice. The Cola, on the other hand, did not work for me; it tasted almost watered down, but then, I'm firmly a Coke Zero girl, and nothing else tastes right to me. But those fruit flavors - I enjoyed them on their own, but they make even better mixers!

I am also happy to see that Snow will soon be releasing a no-calorie version of their drinks, flavored with (I assume) stevia. I'm looking forward to giving them a try.

Snow is available throughout southern New England.

Full Disclosure note: Samples of Snow soda were provided to me free-of-charge.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Come to the Dark Side, We Have Cookies

Does my family know me or what? My birthday was last month, and about 93% of the presents I received were cooking related (and this isn't the first time this has happened). One of my brothers, who taught me all the geeky things I needed to know as a child, got me these awesome Star Wars cookie cutters from Williams-Sonoma. I had been lusting after these on a recent W-S visit (along with these nifty pie molds, of which I received three) and was so happy to unwrap the package and have Yoda, Darth Vader, a Stormtrooper, and Boba Fett staring back at me.

And these cookie cutters are fabulous! I took the time to frost them all with royal icing to give to an even geekier friend for his birthday, but by frosting them, you lose all the neat details that the cutter adds (plus, they look great without adding so much work).

This was only the second time I've worked with royal icing, but this project was a million times more ambitious than my first adventure. Nevertheless, I have a better handle on the process and will surely be using it again.

Royal Icing
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
4 Tbsp meringue powder (can be found at a craft store if not at the supermarket)
6 Tbsp water

Combine the ingredients in the bowl of a standing mixer. With the paddle attachment, mix on low speed for 7-8 minutes, until icing is more matte than glossy. This icing is still a little too stiff to work with, but it's better to mess around with smaller quantities than the whole batch. Keep icing covered to prevent from hardening.

Coloring: Gel coloring is a better choice than liquid dyes, but it's a little more expensive. The gel texture doesn't mess with the consistency of the icing the same way that liquid does. Either way, add a little at a time until you reach the desired color.

To pipe: Add water as needed to reach a consistency that will pipe easily (as stiff as you can make it while allowing it to be piped out of a bag in a continuous line). If the icing becomes too watery, add a little powdered sugar at a time and mix. Put some of the icing in a piping bag fitted with a small round tip and outline the area you want to be filled.

To flood: Water down the remaining colored frosting until it reaches a consistency that can run off the back of a spoon. Put icing in a squeeze bottle, or if you're like me and don't have all the proper tools on hand, use a spoon. Add icing to the areas that have been outlined and use a toothpick to push the icing into all the corners and to pop any air bubbles that might come up. Let dry for at least a few hours before adding any other details on top.

Store in an airtight container when frosting is not in use.

I learned all about royal icing from Annie's Eats - check out the blog to get more details from someone who knows much more about the topic than I do.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Getting Corn Off the Cob

I love my corn on the cob, especially when it's at its sweetest at this time of year. But as I do with anything that is only ripe for a few short weeks, I like to work it into as many dishes as possible, which means needing to take it off the cob. I used to stand the cob up in a deep bowl and cut down the sides, but it was an awkward cutting position. There are also tons of gadgets out there that will get this done, but who needs more gadgets? I'm not sure where I first saw this bundt pan tip, but it's been making a world of difference for me this summer.

Just stand the shucked corn cob upright in the middle of the bundt pan (if the pan is nonstick, you can use a paper towel to protect the finish) and cut down the sides to free the corn. Rotate as you go, and if you can't get the last few rows, just flip the cob upside down at the end to cut them off. If you cut slowly, the kernels will fall right into the pan (cut fast and they'll end up all over the kitchen instead).

If you need something to do with your freshly cut corn, you could follow my example and make corn and scallion chowder.