Monday, January 30, 2006

Low Tea, Upstairs on the Square

Read my other review of Upstairs on the Square too (it's below the Central Kitchen review).

You may ask, "What is Low Tea?" It's a great question. I didn't know either until this past Saturday, when my friend Lisa and I went to Upstairs on the Square for their Afternoon Tea. After being seated in an enchanting room with fire places roaring on either end, our waiter explained to us that when we ordered Afternoon Tea there, it would be Low tea (as opposed to High tea) which means that the savory and sweet treats on the three-tiered serving dish would be served room temperature or cold as opposed to High Tea when much of the food is served hot. Fascinating, but unfortunately incorrect.

After doing some informal online research*, I discovered the real difference between High Tea and Low Tea and here's what I discovered. Low Tea is more of an afternoon snack featuring sweet and savory delights, served on low tables hence the name. High Tea is traditionally more of a meal/dinner served later in the day (5 - 7pm) at a high table. High Tea often includes salads, pot pies, cold chicken, sliced meats, cakes, fruit tarts, custards, fresh fruits and again, of course, tea. Interestingly enough, Low Tea is what you will find at most Afternoon Teas, often promoted as High Tea. Whew. Glad I got that worked out.

Anyway, the important thing is that the waiter was half right. They do serve Low Tea. And it was wonderful! We ordered their "Zebra Tea with a Kick" (the zebra is the restaurant's mascot if you will) for 2. Included on the 3-tier serving tray were an array of mouth-watering treats. At the top of the tray were savory snacks such as mini quiches, scone sandwiches with ham salad, chicken salad in profiterole rolls, and salmon sandwiches. Sweet treats included cream puffs, mini cakes, a side of lemon curd that was perfectly tart and was recommended to accompany the mini madelines. The last, most rich sweet we sampled was a peppermint fudge brownie. Wow. Intense. We had our choice of traditional English teas as well as herbal teas. We went with a classic, Earl Grey. The "Kick" in the "Zebra Tea with a Kick" was a glass champagne. Oh so civilized!

We ordered one other item that I just had to include - Gougères - amazing baked cheese wonders. While theirs were tasty, I found them a little on the greasy side. I have included a recipe below for Gougères I got at a cheese class I took at the Boston Center for Adult Education. I highly recommend making these. An amazing appetizer or Sunday afternoon snack.

I couldn't think of a more perfect atmostphere for Low Tea. A lovely but informal room; friendly, unpretentious service; 2 fireplaces; and tables full of ladies (about 95% women) enjoying the company of their favorite friends and family. As you all know, I'm a huge fan of this restaurant anyway (see my earlier review), and their Afternoon Tea offering is no exception. Take some time for yourself and enjoy an Afternoon Tea. Just remember to have a very light lunch so you'll be hungry come tea time, 3-5pm. Those snacks are actually very filling. You want to leave room to taste them all!

* Sources:
Elizabeth Knight: Topics and Expertise: About Tea
Seeds of Knowledge

UpStairs on the Square
91 Winthrop Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge
Afternoon Tea is offered Tuesday through Saturday, 3 to 5pm.


1 cup water
4 ounces butter
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of white pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of dry mustard (optional)
1 cup flour
4 room temperature eggs, whisked together
1/4 lb. gruyère cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

1. In a saucepan, combine the water, butter, salt and spices. Bring to a boil. Add the flour all at once and cook the paste over low heat, beating until it comes together and forms a ball.
2. Remove the pan from the heat and add eggs one at a time (approximately), beating well after each addition (paste should "plop" from spoon); add the cheese.
3. Using a pastry bag (or cut the tip off of a ziplock bag), pipe out 1-1/2" rounds onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Brush with beaten egg.
4. Bake in oven for 8 to 12 minutes (until golden brown and puffed). Remove from oven, take off pan, and poke a small hole in the bottom of each to allow steam to escape. Serve warm. Can be reheated with a few minutes back in the oven.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Caldo Verde

Caldo Verde is Portuguese for Kale Soup, a hearty delicious soup I grew up eating. I get a hankering for it often during the winter months. Nothing warms the cockles of the soul or will cure what ails you quite like a bowl of Kale Soup. This is a stick-to-your-ribs soup that gets better and better the longer it sits in the refrigerator (you can even freeze it if you haven't finished it off in a week or so - although that's never happened to me).

This recipe is sort of a combination of my Mother's tried and true recipe and a recipe I found on The recipe on Epicurious called for white beans which I was willing to try; however, the Portuguese gods were not having it. Whole Foods did not have any white beans if you can believe that. Instead I got kidney beans which is what traditionally goes into Caldo Verde. Some ingredients are not to be messed with apparently.

Caldo Verde (Portuguese Kale Soup)

1 lb. dried kidney beans (or canned - but put in at the very end if you use canned so they don't get mushy)
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves (or more), finely chopped
5 cups chicken broth
8 cups water
1 Parmesan cheese rind (some supermarkets sell just the rinds, otherwise buy a 1/4-lb piece of parmesan and use just the rind for the soup. eat the rest ;-)
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
8 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
1 lb kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped
1 shin bone (with about 1/2 lb meat attached so you can pull it off later)
1 marrow bone (not necessary but adds nice rich flavor)
1/2 cup sliced linguica (Portuguese sausage) or chorico (a little spicier)

Cover beans with water by 2 inches in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, 1 hour. Drain beans in a colander and rinse with cool water.

Cook onions in the olive oil in an 8-quart pot over moderately LOW heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add beans, broth, 1 quart water, cheese rind, marrow bone, salt, pepper, bay leaf and rosemary, and simmer, uncovered , until beans are tender about 50 minutes. Add shin bone and carrots and cook over another 30 minutes. Finally, add in kale and linguica and cook until kale is tender, another 12-15 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper. Take the shin bone out, cut off the meat that's on the bone into bite-size pieces and put back in the soup. Discard the shin bone as well as the marrow bone and the bay leaf.

Invite a bunch of friends in from the cold and serve with a nice thick slice of fresh buttered bread. Enjoy!

Espresso Granita - Sheri's Dessert

This is the amazing dessert that my friend, Sheri, made recently at her dinner party. I told you all I'd get back to you with the recipe so here it is. It's yet another great pick from Epicurious.

Granita Ingredients:
4 cups hot strong brewed coffee
1 cup superfine granulated sugar
1 cup chilled heavy cream
4 teaspoons confectioners sugar
4 to 5 teaspoons Sambuca
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate shavings

Instructions for the Granita:
1. Stir together coffee and granulated sugar until sugar is dissolved, then chill until cold, about 1 hour.
2. Chill until cold, about 1 hour.
3. Pour into an 8- to 9-inch baking pan (1 1/2- to 2-quart capacity) and freeze, stirring and crushing lumps with a fork every 30 minutes, until evenly frozen, about 4 hours. Scrape with fork to lighten texture.
4. Beat cream with confectioners sugar and Sambuca in a bowl with an electric mixer until it just holds soft peaks. Spoon Sambuca cream into 8 glasses and top each serving with a scant cup of granita. Sprinkle with chocolate shavings.

NOTE: Granita can be made 3 days ahead and kept frozen, covered. Scrape with a fork just before serving.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Remember Community Cookbooks?

If you grew up in a small town like I did, you'll most likely be familiar with the homey spiral-bound cookbooks put out by local church groups, garden clubs, etc., usually in an effort to raise money for their organization. These cookbooks would consist of favorite recipes gathered from members or their friends and family. Chances are, your mother has one or two kicking around the house. Maybe you do too. The thing about the recipes in these cookbooks is that you can really find some gems, especially in the cakes and pastries area.

Why I bring this up is because I was browsing through cookbooks on ebay recently and stumbled upon a motherload of these community cookbooks. I acquired 9 of them in a lot for under $20. Score! They were delivered yesterday and I have to say it was great fun flipping through the different books. Most of the books were published in the 70s. This made me nostalgic for my childhood when I first learned to cook, standing at the sink watching my mother work her magic. Among other things, I was always amazed at how she could peel an entire apple without breaking the peel. I still can't do that.

Below are the names of some of the books I acquired. Some amusing titles. As you can see, it was hip to publish these in the 1970s. Most of them were typeset on a typewriter! Can you imagine?! It does seem that people are still publishing these types of cookbooks but not nearly as much which may be attributed to the fact that being a homemaker and making meals at home became less cool in the 80s. More people were going out to dinner or making meals from stuff in a box. It seems to me that while going out to eat is hotter than it's ever been, people more than ever are into having a nice homemade dinner at home with friends (or maybe I'm just getting old). All I know is whenever I say I'm cooking, it's never hard to find guests. Maybe these cookbooks will come back. I think they should. Everyone has at least one great recipe. Why not share it?

Lynne's Old/New Community Cookbook Acquisitions:
"Our Favorite Recipes: Women's Christian Temperance Union Southeast Division" (not to be confused with the Northeast Division LOL), no copyright
"Sweet Things and Such...from the Land of the Pennsylvania Dutch," copyright 1979
"More of Our Favorite Recipes. Island of Maui," copyright 1973
"Cooking with the Women of Moose - Elizabethtown, PA," no copyright
"Portland Symphony Cookbook," copyright 1974
"Miriam B. Loo's Family Favorites Cookbook," copyright 1977
"Library of Recipes: Presented by The Friends of The Village Library of Morgantown," copyright 1996
"Community Favorites: Strasburg Township Crime Watch," copyright 1978
"Quaker Flavors: A Cookbook by Willistown Friends Meeting, Chester County, PA," copyright 1976

There were many similarities in these cookbooks (doesn't everyone have a cheeseball recipe?). But what was really interesting was finding the unusual ones which seem to be a result of where the participants lived and/or their ethnic or religious backgrounds or influences. Below are a few that stood out as "blogworthy." Although I haven't tried them, I intend to and will report back. If you try any of them, please let me know how they turned out!

Top of Stove Cookies,
Recipe provided by Sarah Moore, Gainesville, GA in "Our Favorite Recipes: Women's Christian Temperance Union Southeast Division"

1/2 cup milk
2 cups sugar
1 stick margarine
2 tbsp. cocoa
2 tbsp. peanut butter
3 cups raw quick oatmeal

These instructions are hilarious!

In large frying pan, pour milk, sugar, margarine, cocoa and peanut butter. Cook until this is boiling. Now time 1 minute or count to 60 as you stir. This is what I do. Remove from stove. Add raw quick oatmeal and stir until all oats are covered with fudge. I simply oil the top of the counter with margarine paper from stick. With 2 spoons, dip with 1 and scrape off with other. Do not make scoops too large. When cool, slip spatula under each one to remove. Oats taste like coconut.

Recipe from "Community Favorites: Strasburg Township Crime Watch"
This is a CLASSIC cheesy 70s app. LOVE it. This is a great Super Bowl snack.

1/4 lb. margarine, soften (you know it's a 70s recipe when it calls for margarine. i'm sure butter would work too).
1 jar Kraft Old English cheese spread
1 1/2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 lb. frozen or imitation crab meat
6 English muffins, split

Mix together all ingredients except muffins until smooth. Then spread cheese mixture on muffins. Quarter muffins after cheese is on. Put on cookie tray and freeze until firm. Broil frozen until cheese is melted.

Misty Meadow Cheese Soufflé,
Recipe provided by Faith J. Hidell in "Quaker Favorites"
(This one seems a bit more ambitious but fun for a special occasion.)

1 cup milk
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/16 tsp. paprika
1/4 lb. sharp cheese
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Scald milk. Melt butter in top of double boiler, stir in flour smoothly. Add hot milk, salt, pepper, paprika and soda. Stir sauce until melted and smooth. Remove from hot water - let stand for 30 minutes. Beat egg yolks until light and lemon colored. Beat egg whites until stiff. Beat yolks into cheese mixture, then fold into egg whites. Pour into ungreased 1-1/2 qt. soufflé dish or heavy casserole dish. Bake and do not open oven door while soufflé is baking.

I stumbled on this little quote below the recipe. Good Stuff:
Quaker husband to wife: "All the world is queer except thee and me, and sometimes I wonder about thee."

And now for something a little more exotic. I've had the following dish at Dim Sum before. Very tasty. Not sure where to get the taro (a root vegetable) but I'm sure I'll track it down. Probably most of this stuff can be found at an Asian Market.

Taro Cakes
Recipe from ""More of Our Favorite Recipes. Island of Maui"

2 cups diced taro (1/2 inch cubes)
1/2 up chopped dried shrimp
1/2 cup cooked diced pork
1/4 cup finely diced ham
1/2 cup chopped green onions (aka scallions)
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
3/4 cup water
1 cup flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sesame seeds
2 tbsp. scrambled egg

Fry taro cubes in two tablespoons of oil. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
Combine flour and water to form a paste.
Add all ingredients including taro to the paste mixture.
Grease an eight-inch cake pan and spread mixture in pan. Place in a steamer and steam for 25 minutes.
Garnish with sesame seeds and shredded scrambled egg.

Hope you found these recipes interesting. Next time you think of it, I highly recommend scouring your mom's house or your own bookshelf. I bet you'll find one or two of these great books. Let me know if you find and test out any of the recipes.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Paella Aplenty

Click image to enlarge.

I'm going to keep this one short but wanted to share a recipe for Paella that I got out of an old Portuguese and Spanish cookbook called, mysteriously, "The Cooking of Spain and Portugal." I modified the recipe significantly since the recipe was practically large enough to serve the combined populations of Spain and Portugal and also because it had way too many ingredients. But the result was stellar which I attribute to fresh, delicious seafood. I am spoiled rotten. My brother, Dick, goes clamming on Cape Cod almost every weekend (year 'round, people!) so I pretty much always have a source for fresh, briny quahogs (hard shell clams, littlenecks, whatever you want to call them). I also think the reason this comes out so wonderful is because it's baked in the oven in a cast iron pan. Can I just tell you, if you do not have a cast iron frying pan, go buy one! They are about $16 at your local hardware store and they last a LIFETIME! I'm worried that the manufacturer of these pans is going to realize that pots and pans that aren't nearly as great to cook with or durable are going for 10 times that amount. I recommend you go purchase one before they come around.

So here's the recipe. Serves about 4 people but you can add more seafood or rice if you want to serve more. Honestly, make this, the juice from the seafood flavors the rice. It's an indescribable flavor you really should experience.

Lynne's Paella

12 quahogs (littlenecks, hard shells clams, etc.)
12 mussels (make sure they close when you close them or they're no good)
1/4 lb. shrimp
1/2 cup onions chopped fine
1 red pepper, seeded, deribbed and cut into small pieces
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and finely chopped (i think this was the most time consuming step of the whole process but it's necessary so the "sofrito" isn't too watery)
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 and 1/2 cups medium or long-grain rice
2 and 1/2 cups of water
1/4 tsp saffron threads (Whole Foods and other specialty stores carry saffron. You can make it without it but it's worth the effort if you can get it. Not only does it add flavor, but it adds a beautiful warm yellow color to the rice).
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
2 lemons (1/2 for squeezing over dish when complete, rest for garnish on individual plates)

1 cast iron pan or a thick oven-proof pan like a Creuset. Should be 12" in diameter minimal

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a rack in the bottom of the oven since that's where you'll be placing your pan.

Scrub the clams and mussels to remove sand. Remove the "beards" from the mussels if they have any. Ensure both clams and mussels that are open close when you close them or throw them away and use others.

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until a haze forms about it.
To make the "sofrito," saute the onions with the pepper, garlic and tomato. Stirring constantly, cook until most of the liquid in the pan evaporates and the mixture is thick enough to hold its shape lightly with a spoon.

To the sofrito, add the water, rice, salt and saffron. Bring to a boil over a medium to high flame. Turn off the flame.

Add your shellfish to the pan. Place the pan on the bottom rack of the oven for 25 - 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven. Stir in the shrimp. The pan is so hot, it will cook the shrimp in a minute or two. If you prefer, you can sauté the shrimp in a separate pan and stir in but it's not necessary. Squeeze half a lemon over all the paella.

Carry the pan to the dinner table and place on a heavy placemat or towels. Everyone can serve themselves from this one pan. Lemon can be put on everyone's plate in case they want to squeeze some additional juice on their serving.

This is so good, people. Please try it. And post your feedback. I'd love to know how you liked this!

Great Chow and 2 Chihuahuas

My friend, Sheri, is about as crazy as I am when it comes to planning ambitious menus. It was my pleasure on Saturday night to be the guest (along with our friend, Doug) and occasional sous chef (oyster shucking, chocolate shaving, champage pouring) as Sheri and her friend Linda did all the heavy lifting. When I walked in the door, I knew these guys had already been working for hours in the kichen. Been there. Done that. What had they been doing? Rolling out homemade gnocchi, icing up the espresso granita, preparing the topping for the baked oysters. These things take time. And unless you want to serve dinner at midnight, they must be done ahead of time. Sheri's 2 chihuahuas, Mia and Guappy and Linda's border collie, Connor, were at their feet to catch the occasional crumbs that made it to the kitchen floor.

The sign of an excellent host is when they offer you a beverage first thing and, of course, Sheri never disappoints. Linda poured me a glass of wine which I sipped between death defying oyster shucking acts. By the way, I don't care what anyone says. Those expensive oyster shucking knives and metal gloves suck. Go with an inexpensive OXO Good Grips knife (about $7.00 on Amazon) and grab the thickest pot holder you can find - use that to battle off potential knife slips. And then, just jimmy that knife into the corner until you pop that sucker open. There's no easy way. It just takes some muscle to open oysters (no pun intended).

The ladies truly went out. Here is the menu they served:
Baked oysters with bacon and leeks appetizer
• Shrimp with champagne beurre blanc sauce
Arugula salad with ricotta salada and fennel
• Homemade Gnocchi with pancetta and chicken livers
Espresso granita with sambuca whipped cream and shaved chocolate

The oyster appetizer was a-ma-zing. Sheri actually got the recipe from me which I of course stole from Bon Appetit (and is available on The topping can be made a day ahead of time and the oysters prepped a few hours ahead which makes it easier to tend to your other courses (or just to clean up the kitchen a bit before guests arrive). Sheri prepared this a little differently than I did which enabled diners to have 3 oysters at once instead of my measley one (I put them in the oyster shells). She put 3 oysters each in a ramekin, layered over the leek mixture then topped them with bread crumbs. I can't say one preparation is better than the other. Both equally heavenly.

The shrimp with champange beurre blanc sauce was something I probably wouldn't attempt. Using champagne to marinate shrimp? I think it's too precious to not just drink it. But power to you, Sheri. It was lovely.

I had never had ricotta salada until tonight. Didn't even know what it was actually. Ricotta salada is ricotta cheese that is more of a feta cheese consistency, much harder than the traditional cheese I know of which is usually in lasagne and stuff like that. It was excellent in the salad, a course that I can honestly say is one of my weakest. The fennel added a nice added texture and flavor. I'm often weary of using fennel because I think the anise/licorice flavor it gives off will be too strong but Sheri has just changed my view on this. It's not strong at all. Just a nice punch.

The gnocchi was LOVELY. I've been lucky enough to have eaten two great versions of gnocchi in the past couple of weeks (other was at Rendezvous) especially since gnocchi can often come out gummy or too dense or just blah. These came out perfectly. And the pancetta and chicken liver sauce was wonderful, very woodsy and hearty. Sheri felt she would have liked to cook with the chicken liver and then taken it out of the pan before serving but I think it was perfect the way it was. The pieces of liver were small enough so you weren't freaked out by the consistency.

Believe it or not, there was dessert still on the way. And THIS recipe was a keeper. Espresso granita with sambuca whipped cream and chocolate. Light, flavorful, perfect ending to a multi-course meal. The sambuca in the whipped cream was an added treat that I just loved. I will get the recipe from Sheri for this and post it for you all. She said it's easy so we should all be able to make it ourselves and enjoy it.

I realize all the work that goes into pulling off a 5-course meal. And to do it as well as Sheri did takes more than sheer will and mise-en-place prowess. It takes talent, the love of cooking and the entertaining, and the ability to stay awake when you've been away working long hours in scenic Detroit all week. Much appreciated, Sheri!!

After dinner, we retired to the living room where Doug proceeded to CRUSH us in "Scene It," a DVD/board game about movies. Doug is the idiot savant (sorry doug but it's true) of the film industry. NOTE to the Museum of Television and Radio: "HIRE this man!"

Bad Name. Great New Restaurant.

Rendezvous, 502 Mass. Avenue, Central Square, Cambridge, 617.576.1900

NOTE: I have dined at this restaurant a couple more times so make sure you scroll down and read my additional comments.

Rendezvous. Sounds like the name of a seedy towny bar that you would never dare go into. What were they thinking? They do have some branding issues. The name. The typeface they selected. That icky yellow awning out front. If I didn't peek in the window and see how beautiful the place is and discover that former Blue Room owner Steve Johnson was behind this restaurant, I may not have gone in—which would have been a crying shame.

Rendezvous is a fantastic addition to the burgeoning Central Square restaurant scene (see my other review for Central Kitchen). It's location is in a former Burger King. You would NEVER know it. They basically dropped a match to the place and started over. It's beautiful inside and has something that the vertically challenged like myself LOVE—a low L-shaped bar that enables people to sit in normal chairs instead of high bar stools so your feet can actually touch the floor. The bar is to the right when you walk in and straight ahead and to the left is a fairly large dining area. Ceilings are high, ambience is warm, the place was packed. Rendezvous has only been open maybe for a couple of months and they seem to have already hit their stride.

There were 2 seats left at the bar when we walked in right near the flat-screen TV. They seemed to be just sitting there waiting for us so we grabbed them. I immediately noticed a nice touch—carafes of water with long, paper-thin strips of cucumber in them. The only other place I've ever seen this is at a spa. I think cucumber water is supposed to be cleansing or something. Anyway, thought it was an instant indication that they were going to be attentive to details.

Since this was my first time at Rendezvous, I thought it best to get a few appetizers so I could sample more things. Turned out to be a good call. The food here is mostly European in influence although flavors of North Africa are peppered in there as well. I read on that Rendezvous changes a third of their menu every month (just in case you go and try and order these and they're not on the menu). Here's what we ordered:

Gnocchi with oxtail. Sound scary? Not at all. I won't tell you what oxtail is exactly because it's not that appetizing but suffice it to say that it's delicious. It's a slow-cook beef stew kind of thing. That's all you need to know. The gnocchi the oxtail was served over were like little pillows, light not dense - a sure sign that it's made on the premises.

Grilled Portuguese Sardines with roasted red peppers, fennel and capers. I'm Porguese so I've always loved sardines. I know some of you think of them as stinky, jammed in a can fish you would never eat. Well, bury all those preconceived notions for good, stop by Rendezvous and order these. They are larger than what you might think (about 6 inches each). They are grilled and served with great complements which you can eat along with a bite of the fish. It's a little tricky to eat them as you have to cut the fish away from the bone but it's worth the effort.

Crab cakes.I don't remember the official name of these crabcakes but they were tasty. And there was something so unusual about the flavor that I had to ask the owner who was standing by the flat screen watching the Patriots game with us. I actually didn't realize he was the owner at the time. Anyway, he informed me that the crabcakes were actually seasoned with cinnamon and cumin, an example of the North African influence. Really different. Kudos for being adventurous with the ole crabcake.

I'm really looking forward to going back and trying some other things. Everything we ordered seemed to have a little twist on the traditional preparation. It was fun to try and identify spices and taste how they enhanced the dishes.

Rendezvous is now offering a Pix Fixe Supper on Sundays. 3 courses for $29. I tend to like to cook at home on Sunday nights but with offerings like Maine lobster and crab cakes; Cassoulet of pork, duck and sausage; and Ginger crème brûlée on the menu, I might be willing to bundle up and venture out.

Rendezvous Revisited - February 28th, Party of 6 - uh - make it 8
Last Friday I had some friends in from New York and made a reservation for 8:30pm. I made a reservation for 6 but a couple of my other friends showed up. Fun for us. Not so fun for the hostess. Let's just say the hostess wasn't too happy with us. But, hey, that's more business for them, right? There was plenty of room at the table and we worked it out.

It was great to return to Rendezvous with such a large group because we were able to sample a lot more things which now I can share with you. (Keep in mind, items on the menu change frequently so if any of these things appeal to you, you might want to try going to Rendezvous sooner than later before they change the menu. The crabcakes I mentioned above from my last visit are already off the menu.)

First off, the Cardamom Martini is a huge hit. Several people had it. High recommend trying it.

Appetizers that received the highest rave reviews were the risotto of fresh Maine shrimp, fennel and tomato, chives and chervil; and the Boston lettuce salad w/ apples, Vermont cheddar, spiced pecans & dried cranberries.

The most popular entrée was the Wood-grilled Black Angus sirloin tips with Savoy potatoes and green peppercorn sauce. They have an open grill in their kitchen so the steak tastes like it was made on an outdoor barbecue—great flavor for the dead of winter. The Savoy potatoes are amazing. This delicious side dish is a square of baked layered potato slices with butter, milk and grated cheese. Not a low-fat option but delicious nonetheless.

Two of us ordered the skillet-roasted skate with Moroccan spices, lemon, capers & brown butter. We both enjoyed it very much. The fish is crispy on the outside, flaky and moist on the insdie. One thing to keep in mind is that this is a large piece of skate with cartilage in the middle. You must eat the fish on the one side of the cartilage, flip the fish and eat the other side. Just something to be aware of.

Jeff ordered the Braised Niman Ranch Pork "Osso Bucco" with pimenton and jamon serrano. He was very happy with the dish. The meat just falls off the bone. Clearly it's slow cooked for a long time. Nice.

My friend Cathleen had the Monkfish & Littlenecks w/ porcini cream, Jerusalem artichokes & celery root. She said she thinks it is the best meal she ever had! That is a tall order, especially since she lived in New York City for many years. I sampled a small bite and I have to say that the porcini cream sauce is truly something you must try. Heavenly.

Mary Beth had Gascon style duck 3 ways: grilled breast, confit leg and country sausage. I sat right next to her so I had the chance to sample her dish. I liked all three duck servings but the confit was my personal favorite.

Once again, we didn't end up getting dessert. The waiter took too long to get back to us. No worries. We cashed out and walked a couple of blocks to Toscanini's for Micro Sundaes. THE best ice cream on the planet. Perfect way to end the evening.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Lunch for 10!

This weekend was Bea's (my Mom's) 75th Birthday and for once, I insisted that she not cook which is like asking Lance Armstrong to take a break from the bike. But she did it. She didn't lift a finger. Instead I handled the cooking — for 10! Not only did I have to live up to my Mom's great cooking but I had to make sure it served and satisfied 10 mouths. I didn't really think about how many people I was cooking for until I arrived at my mother's house and saw the table set. Uh oh. Hope I've got enough food, I thought. Luckily, there was plenty for everyone with even a bit to spare. Whew. The even more amazing thing was that everyone liked what I made. Not an easy task making 10 people happy with one entree choice. Double whew. So if you have a large group to cook for, chances are this is a good bet to please the masses.

I have to thank Celebrity Chef Ming Tsai for his delicious recipes which he recommended combining. These three items work so well together, one layered over the next. Flavors of sweet and salty tickling the ole palette. Creamy sweet potatoes and apples with just a little crunch are great textures that complement the pork. And let me tell you, brining is the way to go. It keeps the pork so moist and tender. Really no risk of drying this out. Here's what I made (recipes featured below):

• Gingered Sweet Potatoes (bottom layer)
• Asian Marinated Pork Tenderloin (middle layer, cut nice 1 - 1/2 inch slice per person)
• Five-Spice Apples (top off dish)

These recipes are from Ming Tsai's cookbook, "Blue Ginger, East Meets West Cooking with Ming Tsai" which is available on his website and of course at Amazon. Everything I've made in this cookbook is delicious. I highly recommend picking up a copy if you don't have it. Also, if you get a chance, go to Ming's restaurant, Blue Ginger. It's in Wellesley, Massachusetts and is wonderful. I'm a lobster snob and prefer not to mess with it - just boil it, crack it open and dip it in butter. However, Ming changed my mind about this. Blue Ginger features a wonderful dish called Garlic Black-Pepper Lobster with Lemongrass Fried Rice and Pea Tendrils. Oh yeah. You must try this!

What worked out best with this recipe is that 80% of the work can be done the day before. I was able to package everything up in tupperware, load it in the car and drive it down the highway and through the woods to Bea's. You can prepare the Five-Spice Apples and the Gingered Sweet Potatoes and then either microwave them or re-heat them in the oven as you're baking the pork. In terms of the pork, you "brine" the tenderloin overnight. The only thing you need to do the next day is rinse the pork, salt and pepper it, brown it on the stove and bake it for around 35 minutes. I baked it longer than the recipe called for because I stuck a meat thermometer in it and it wasn't quite done. Best to do that since all ovens are different.

So luckily the meal was a success. And now Bea can expand her already amazing recipe repertoire by hunting down recipes online with her new iBook, her birthday present we all chipped in to get her! Hey, she's 75. She deserves it. Happy Birthday Mom! Many happy returns!!

Asian-Marinted Pork Tenderloin

4 cups water
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted Szechwan peppercorns
1 tablespoon toasted black peppercorns, plus freshly ground black pepper
4 1/4-inch-thick slices fresh ginger
2 star anise
2 bay leaves
1 4-pound pork loin
2 tablespoons canola oil
Gingered Sweet Potatoes (recipe follows)
Five-Spice Apples (recipe follows)
1/4 cup chives cut into 1-inch lengths, for garnish

How to:
One day in advance, combine the water, salt, sugar, soy sauce, peppercorns, ginger, anise, and bay leaves in a deep baking dish large enough to hold the pork and stir to mix. Add the pork; if it is not covered, add more water. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Rinse the pork thoroughly with cold water, pat dry, and season with the ground pepper to taste. Heat a large skillet over high heat, add the oil, and swirl to caot the bottom of the pan. When the oil shimmers, add the pork and brown on all sides. Transfer the pork to a roasting pan and roast just until the pork is hot through to the center (about 125 degrees F internal temperature), 25 to 30 minutes. The interior of the pork will remain pink.

Allow the pork to rest for 10 minutes and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Divide the gingered sweet potatoes among 4 plates, surround with the pork, and add the five-spice apples. Garnish with the chives, drizzle with the chile oil, and serve.

Gingered Sweet Potatoes

6 tablespoons butter
6 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

How to:
Heat a small saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and ginger and saute, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the cream and reduce by one-third over low heat, about 10 minutes. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, combine the sweet potatoes in a large saucepan with enough water to cover them completely. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until they can be pierced easily with the tip of a knife, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain and trasnfer to a food processor. Add the cream and process until well blended. Add the remaining butter, season with salt and pepper, and puree until smooth. Transfer the potatoes to a bowl, correct the seasonings, and serve.

Five-Spice Apples

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 1/2 teaspoons five-spice powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar, packed
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 cup apple juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter

How to:
Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil shimmers, add the onion and saute, stirring, until brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the five-spice powder, brown sugar, apples, and juice. Stir, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 12 minutes. The apples should retain their shape and some liquid should remain in the pan; do not overcook. Stir in the butter and correct the seasonings. Serve warm.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Save Your Appetite and Savor These Restaurants

I'm constantly being asked where to go to eat. I'm not sure it's a good thing to be known as someone who has eaten at almost every restaurant in town but I'd like to take all the, er, investments I've made in dining out and put them to good use. Let me kick things off by providing a quick summary of a handful of restaurants I love and, in a nutshell, why. I will feature mostly Boston/Cambridge restaurants but whenever I travel, I will be sure to include restaurants I've visited there as well if they are noteworthy. In case you haven't figured it out, I love food and am not on a mission to tear apart a restaurant's food, service or ambiance (unless it is really bad). Instead, what I prefer to do is point out the best of the best so when you shell out your hard earned dollars, you know you'll be getting your money's worth.

Central Kitchen, 567 Mass. Ave., Central Square, Cambridge, 617.491.5599
Central Kitchen is my favorite restaurant in the area. It is in Central Square so it's just a hop, skip and a jump from my place. What do I love about it? Delicious, consistent Mediterranean/American food. Every time I've gone (many times), I and whoever has come with me, LOVES the food. I prefer to sit at the bar. It's just more relaxed and frankly, I always find the service better and more attentive. Just grab a stool, greet the friendly bartenders and within minutes you can have some nice bread, olive oil and wine in front of you. Now you can relax, peruse the menu and see what others around you are eating. I often just order appetizers as opposed to an entrée (although they are amazing as well). That way you can try different things and share. They have everything from olives and oysters to cheese and a "back bar cure" (a special meat appetizer) to an always amazing soup of the day to brined pork chops and one of my personal favorites "brandade" (a whipped cod/mashed potato dish with olive tapenade on top - major comfort food - don't knock it 'til you try it). And don't forget dessert. Hands down, the best crème brullée this side of the pond.

Central Kitchen is not one of those restaurants you hear a lot about. I think it's because there is no celebrity chef and related fanfare. But trust me, it is one of the best and is always very busy. I'd much prefer to go to a place that packs them in based on consistency and word of mouth than a place that has a huge publicity machine behind it and a celebrity chef that makes an appearance maybe once a month. If you go on the weekend, make a reservation. I have popped in there and been told there is a 2-hour wait on a Saturday night. Of course you can always see if you can nab a seat at the bar. Again, best seat in the house.

UpStairs on the Square, 91 Winthrop Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge, 617.864.1933
I was heartbroken when, a few years ago, UpStairs at the Pudding, closed its doors. I had always loved the old world ambiance there as well as their lovely outdoor space that made you feel a million miles away from hectic Harvard Square. They decorated it so beautifully around the holidays. It was a place your mother would love (and mine did). Well, thankfully, the lovely ladies from UpStairs at the Pudding found a new home for their amazing food, impeccable service and fancy yet friendly and comfortable sensibility. UpStairs on the Square is just a few blocks from its original location, just above the well-known watering hole and restaurant, Grendel's Den (shame on them for swapping out the real fireplace with a fake one that doesn't even give off heat!).

Upstairs on the Square may even top UpStairs at the Pudding. When you walk in the door, you are always greeted warmly no matter what you are wearing or whether or not you have a reservation. You then have a choice of whether you want to eat downstairs (the more casual Monday Club Bar) or upstairs (the more formal but still not stuffy Soirée Dining Room). When I was there recently, the hostess (quirky cool co-owner Mary Catherine Deibel), bent over backwards to seat us at a great table with minimal people around us and offered to move us if we got too warm sitting near the fire. I felt like I was on a different planet since you just never get service like that anymore. You're lucky if hosts/hostesses acknowledge your existence let alone pamper you like that.

The decor is a little crazy but it's fun and I think contributes to keeping the place from feeling too formal. You'll see green and gold plaid walls (referred to hilariously as "bad girl plaid") and the "Zebra room" with raspberry walls and zebra patterned carpeting. It's out there but it's great. There are fireplaces on both floors (they are gas but very real looking and do give off a lot of heat). Whenever possible I try to get a table near the fireplace. It's soooo nice.

Okay, I guess I should talk about the food at some point, ha? It's all excellent and focuses on seasonal and local ingredients. From the down-home Grilled Cheese and Tomato soup (downstairs) to the Slow Baked Atlantic Cod with maple celery root purée and shallot vinaigrette (upstairs). The desserts are heavenly as well. I was there around the holidays and had "Buche de Noel," a traditional French Christmas cake that is decorated like a log with meringue "mushrooms." I mean where else can you order that?! Had to get it. It of course was delicious and the presentation was gorgeous.

Don't miss the cocktails either. They shake things up with some innovative drinks such as the Jackie O (Stoli O, Apricot Nectar, Lemon Juice, Creme de Cassis and Champagne) and the Femme Fatale (VEP Chartreuse, Hangar One Citron and Champagne). What is VEP Chartreuse you might ask (as I did). The bartender informed me that VEP Chartreuse is a 110 proof herbal liqueur made by monks and legend has it that only 3 people at a time know how to make it. You need to order one just based on that story alone, don’t you think?

They also now offer Afternoon Tea with both sweet and savory treats, Tuesday thru Saturday, 3 - 5pm. Click here to read my review.

Seoul Kitchen, 1759 Mass Ave, Porter Square, Cambridge
If you ever crave Bibim Bab (and who doesn't), Seoul Kitchen in Porter Square is the place to go. Bibim Bab is a classic Korean dish that comes in a very hot black stone pot. In it is rice, veggies, egg, steak (or you can opt for tofu, chicken or grilled eel instead). You mix the whole thing up with your chop sticks, add in some hot chili paste and go to town. What's cool is that this meal continues to cook and get even tastier as you eat it. Steam pours out of the bowl as you mix all your ingredients together with your chopsticks. They give you a spoon so you can scrape up the crispy rice from the bottom. I thought I was doing a good job until the owner came over and showed me how it's done. My sister and I watched in awe as she took my spoon, used her apron to grab the hot stone bowl and scraped every last bit of rice off the bottom. She didn't want me to miss out. At that point, I had no choice but to finish the entire thing (it would have been rude not to, right?).

Chez Henri, One Shepard Street, Near Harvard Square, Cambridge, 617.354.8980
7 words - Get the cuban sandwich and a mojito.
Chez Henri's entire menu is wonderful. It is French with a cuban flair, not something you'll easily find elsewhere. Everything on the menu is fantastic. But it is the almighty pressed Cuban Sandwich that brings me back. It is like no other I have ever eaten. They use a light crispy croissant-like bread and inside are classic Cuban Sandwich ingredients (pork, ham, swiss cheese, pickles) but oh, so much better. And you can ONLY order the cuban sandwich in the small bar area so go early or expect to wait (it'll be worth it, trust me). The Cuban Sandwich is immense so you can split it with a friend (otherwise they might be putting the paddles to your chest and yelling "Clear!"). The mojito is a nice, light perfect companion.

East Coast Grill, 1271 Cambridge Street, Inman Square, Cambridge, 617.491.6568
Chris Schlesinger, owner of East Coast Grill, is one of the "celebrity chefs" I actually think is the real deal. You can still find him in the restaurant running around and greeting folks. He has published many books on his expertise, grilling, but you won't find his mug constantly on the Food Network or talk show appearances. I think he'd rather be cooking frankly. And his dedication to cooking and grilling manifests itself in a consistently amazing seafood and bbq-oriented restaurant, which, although off the beaten track in Inman Square, is always packed.

East Coast Grill has two areas. The main restaurant area and the "Lava Lounge" area. In the main restaurant area you can order anything off the menu except the Pu Pu Platter (I’ll talk about that later), which can only be ordered in the Lava Lounge. Every night, Chris features fresh fish and shellfish from areas both local and remote. He lists where everything comes from so you can make an educated decision on your order (scallops from New Bedford, littlenecks from Wellfleet, oysters from Prince Edward Island, etc.). One of my favorite things they make are flash fried oysters. This appetizer features about a half dozen lightly fried oysters (still gooey in the middle – the only way to go), each on its own spoon in a bed of crunchy vegetables, Waldorf relish and house tartar sauce. Outstanding. Their ribs are also out of this world. The Xiao Jianmings Wetbones (don’t ask me what that means) can be ordered by the bone so make for a perfect appetizer.

If you get a chance to sit in the Lava Lounge, it's a lot of fun. They have a volcano on the wall and lights simulating lava oozing down the side. This is where you can order the so-called "Pu Pu Platter." Worlds better than any other Pu Pu Platter you've ever put down. It includes: Coconut Fried Shrimp, Hoisen Spareribs, Duck-Ginger Eggrolls, Grilled Sirloin Skewers, just to name a few things. Whatever you get at the East Coast Grill, make sure to order one of their fun, tropical cocktails, most of which come accessorized with a dolphin, monkey or mermaid hanging off the edge. Somehow they just make the drinks taste even better.

East Coast Grill also holds the hilarious Hell Night once a year where everything on the menu is scorchingly spicy. It’s actually held over 3 nights and is reservation only. This year it will be held January 23 – 25th. I have never been but have walked by when it’s going down and it looks like a blast – if you have the stomach for it. I unfortunately don’t.

Locke-Ober, 3 Winterplace, Downtown Crossing off Winter Street (I know - odd location), Boston, 617.542.1340
Locke-Ober is a Boston institution which, at one time, only allowed men to dine there believe it or not. In 2001, one of Boston's most beloved chefs, Lydia Shire, took over the kitchen. She has kept the classics like JFK's Lobster Stew and Broiled Boston Scrod with Crab on the menu but has added her own flair. Locke-Ober is yet another place where I prefer to eat at the bar. I always seem to have the same fantastic bartender, Carah. She's friendly without being in your face and mixes a mean Sidecar. For some reason the bar is never crowded so if you pop in on a whim, you can almost always get a seat. This is no typical bar food, mind you. We're talking foie gras, clams casino, escargot bourguignon, and mini lobster melts with fried ipswich clams (incidentally, my friend sheri and i are responsible for them now creating this appetizer for 2 instead of just 1 - unfortunately it's off the menu for the winter). Every appetizer is tastier than the rest and the old world ambiance is very relaxing. People do dress up to go there but I've never had anyone there give me the stink eye when I've walked in wearing jeans. Locke-Ober is a true oasis from Winter Street, a loud, heavily trafficked area full of retail stores and fast food joints.

Stay tuned for more reviews. I'll keep 'em coming.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Beef Stew and Board Games

Mac and Cheese. Lasagna. Meatloaf.
Beef Stew.
Chocolate. Comfort food for the stomach.

Monopoly. Sorry! Scrabble. Comfort food for the soul.

What better way to spend a weekend than combining a bit of both.

So late last week I kicked things off by making Anthony Bourdain's recipe (from his "Les Halles Cookbook") for Boeuf Bourguignon in anticipation of having it over the weekend. Don't be intimidated by the fancy name - it's just French for Beef Stew basically and it's super easy. And like anything else that cooks for a long time, it's always better the second, third, as the flavors get more intense. It came out pretty darn tasty if I do say so myself. For dessert, I tackled Chocolate Mousse for the first time. Another classic comfort food. Also surprisingly easy. Man is that stuff intense. If you like chocolate, you'll love this recipe. I'm sure Mr. Bourdain wouldn't mind my sharing. Recipes are below. His cookbook is great if want to pick up a copy. He's got quite an edge to his writing which is hilarious and refreshing. His recipes are really straightforward - he doesn't want you to screw up. LOL. As an aside, I'm also reading his book, "Kitchen Confidential" which gives a hilarious insider's view of what goes on in restaurant kitchens (some things you don't want to know but it's very entertaining nonetheless).

And what better companion to one of the ultimate comfort foods than an old school board game. Lately I've been on a board game buying rampage. I think I'm craving some lo-tech activities in my life since I spend so much time with my laptop, iPod, cell phone blah blah blah. I just wanted to break out a simple board game with no plugs or lights or system upgrades and kick back old school. I recently acquired Scrabble (and of course had to get the accompanying official Scrabble dictionary for those times when we need to challenge the opponent). I've also picked up Sorry! (quite a vicious game actually - I LOVE it!) And of course, Monopoly, which, by the way, is difficult to find in its pure original state since there are all these stupid customized versions of the game (Boston Monopoly, Disney Monopoly, Star Warms Monopoly...I'm waiting for the Crack 'Hood Monopoly). Anyway, I bought the original. Nothing compares. Playing these games brought back a lot of fond childhood memories. I have 6 siblings and we spent a TON of time playing board games. Some of us were better sports than others (you know who you are) but we always had a great time.

I highly recommend a Beef Stew and Board Game weekend. If you're lucky enough to have a fireplace and get hit with a blizzard, all the better.

Anthony Bourdain's Boeuf Bourguignon

• 2 lbs of stew meet
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 4 onions thinly sliced (i just threw them in the food processor)
• 2 tbsp flour
• 1 cup red Burgundy (i used some nice pinot noir i had in the house. the key is to use a nice red wine you would actually drink. a sip or two while you're cooking recommended)
• 6 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
• 1 garlic clove
• 1 bouquet garni (again, don't be intimidated. this is just 1 sprig of fresh parsley, 1 bay leaf, 2 sprigs of fresh thyme tied together in cheese cloth so you can remove it later)
chopped fresh parsley for garnish

These two things are not in the recipe but I think they add some texture/flavor:
• Egg noodles (cook these and serve under the beef stew - they absorb the stew gravy. mmm)
• Toasted sliced almonds (just saute them in butter for a minute or two and put them over the beef stew - dee-lish)

Step One
Season the meat with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven (or heavy-bottomed pot of some sort), heat the oil over high heat until it is almost smoking. Add the meat, in batches (NOT ALL AT ONCE!) and sear on all sides until it is well browned. Sear the meat a little at a time, removing it and setting it aside as it is finished. When all the meat is a nice, dark brown color and has been set aside, add the onions to the pot. (NOTE: FYI, this makes a lot of noise and stinks up the kitchen a bit - I had a contractor working in the kitchen and I think it was torturing him to smell it!) Lower the heat to medium high until the onions are soft and golden brown (about 10 minutes). Sprinkle the flour over them. Continue to cook for about 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the red wine. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to get the "fond" mixed into the stew. Bring the wine to a boil.

Step Two
Return the meat to the pot and add the carrots, garlic and bouquet garni. Add just enough water (and two big spoonfuls of demi-glace if you have it - Whole Foods sometimes carries this in the meat department) so that the liquid covers the meat by one third. This is a stew, so you want plenty of liquid, even after it cooks down and reduces. Bring to a boil, reduce to a gentle simmer, and let cook for about 2 hours, or until the meat is tender (break-apart-with-a-fork tender).

Check the dish every 15-20 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot to make sure the meat is not sticking or scorching (it's hard not to burn a tad of it but don't worry about that). You should also skim off any foam, scum or oil collecting on the surface, using a large spoon or ladle. When done, remove and discard the bouquet garni, add the chopped parsley and sliced almonds and serve over some egg noodles.

Chocolate Mousse

NOTE: If you can get your hands on it, use Valrhona chocolate. It's the best. If you're going to put the effort into making this, suck it up and pay for quality. Whole Foods carries Valrhona. This is a very rich dessert. If all bittersweet is too intense for you, you might want to (this is probably blasphemy to Monsieur Bourdain) mix it with milk chocolate. Hey, it's your Mousse. Do what you want.

• 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
• 2 ounces Grand Marnier
• 4 tbsp butter
• 4 eggs, separate the yolks from the whites
• 2 tbsp sugar
• 1 cup heavy cream
• sprigs of mint (optional garnish - i skipped it)

Prep the Chocolate
In a medium pot, bring a few cups of water to a simmer. Place a glass or stainless steel mixing bowl over the pot and add the chocolate (serves as a double boiler). Stir gently with a whisk to help the chocolate melt and prevent it from scorching. Whisk in the Grand Marnier - it's going to really thicken, don't panic, just stick with it. Then whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Sitr in the egg yolks one at a time (or if you've broken them just pour it in a little at a time).

Lighten the Mousse
In another mixing bowl, using an electric mixer (recommended) or whisk (too much work), whip the egg whites until they hold soft peaks, gradually adding the sugar. Whisk one fourth of this mixture into the melted chocolate, then use a rubber spatula to fold in the remaining egg-white mixture. Gently transfer the mousse to individual ramekins or whatever you want to serve the Mousse in. Cover each with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Garnish and Serve
Just before serving, whip the remaining cream until it holds stiff peaks. Serve the whipped cream on top or alongside the Mousse. Don't leave out the fresh whipped cream. It makes it! Garnish with a sprig of mint if you like. Dig in!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Welcome to Good Eatin With Lynne!!

Hi there.
For years I've been spending a lot of time, energy and calories cooking, watching others cook, eating at great restaurants, watching the Food Network and Channel 2 cooking shows ad nauseum—basically enjoying everything there is about food. It's gotten to the point where people are always asking me where to go to eat, how to cook certain things, etc. Not that I'm an expert by any stretch of the imagination. I'm just an enthusiast. Some might say a little over enthusiastic. But what can I say? I grew up in a house where food was king. My mother is one of the best cooks in the world. She takes it to an artform with not a lick of training, just sheer talent, experience and love. I hope to become half the cook and baker that she is. I have definitely inherited her love of food and desire to feed folks and gather them around the table for fun and lively conversation. My goal with this blog is to actually provide valuable information about cooking and dining out. I hope you'll find it informative and entertertaining.

To start, I'd like to share my experience over the holidays. Each year, my mother Bea (pictured above) makes Portuguese Sweetbread (don't get scared - it's actual bread not calves brains or anything). She learned this recipe from her mother who was born in the Azores (island off the coast of Portugal). With that same dough she also makes Malasadas which are light, airy doughnut-like confections (but so much better) which are deep fried and placed in an old school lunch bag with sugar and shaken. Nothing is more pure and delightful than a bite into one of those babies. Anywho, I'm getting lost in my food memories. Why I bring this up is that, in all the years my mother has been making this, there is not one photograph, video clip, nothing that captures the two-day loving process Bea goes through to create this wonderful food for our family. And there is so much to it than just making bread. There's lore and love. So, I decided to video tape it. In fact, I've made it with the intent to send it to Martha Stewart. I know what a fan of baking Martha is. If she doesn't love this recipe, I'll know she's a fraud. If you're interested in viewing the "How to Make Sweet Bread" video, you can download it here - the file name is "". This film personifies "food is love."

Over the holidays, I also had my first experience making chocolate truffles. I saw a recipe in Gourmet magazine for Gingerbread Truffles and thought, hmm, never made chocolates before let alone truffles but why not, these sound amazing. Well they were but man was it a battle. I actually think there is something wrong with the recipe because there is a part of the process where you have to put the chocolate in the refrigerator after you've mixed in all the ingredients. You're "supposed" to be able to take it out and with a melon baller, make the trufffles. Well, the chocolate was hard as a rock. I was sweating forming these damn truffles but I was like, I spent way too much time and money on these ingredients. I WILL make this work. And I did. But it was hilarious. I had to very carefully consider who would actually receive these truffles. It would have to be folks who would actually appreciate them. Luckily most of the people I know do like good food. Turns out, however, that the people I sent them to did not realize I had made them until I told them. I mean what kind of LOSER would send out chocolates in a box with a personalized label and NOT make them. Apparently they are out there. My friend, Mary Beth knew however and e-mailed me immediately to tell me she had eaten the entire box upon opening. I would say that means they are a success. I plan on e-maining Gourmet and questioning them about the recipe. It's up on If someone who's an expert with working with chocolate wants to look at the recipe and tell me what you think is wrong, I would be thrilled. I think maybe leaving it in the refrigerator for 6 hours as it states is just too damned long. See what you think. In the meantime, I'll try to get some answers to this oh-so-important issue from Gourmet.

Another recipe of note I recently made and highly recommend is called "Bobotie" - basically a South African version of meatloaf. It's in the January issue of Gourmet (I do get recipes from other places believe it or not). As an aside, my policy will be to only provide recipes from Gourmet or Bon Appetit once they are up on epicurious. But I will tell you the magazine issue in case you want to pick it up before then. They usually wait a month or so before posting their recipes. Back to the meatloaf - this is a recipe you MUST try. It's meatloaf alright but SO MUCH tastier. It has granny smith apple, slivered almonds, grated lemon - definitely takes the standard to another level. If you get the magazine, it's on page 82. Try it! Youl'll love it. It's one of those recipes that's even better when you reheat it.

Don't want to scare you away with too much info too soon so I'll let you ponder this first posting and leave other topics for next time. Hope you enjoy.