Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Terramia - a North End gem

Terramia Ristorante, 98 Salem Street, North End, Boston, 617.523.3112

This past Saturday night was the perfect night to hit the North End, Boston's beloved Italian neighborhood. It was warm enough for leisurely strolling, perusing the various menus and peeking into the windows of the Italian specialty food stores. The light snow fall made the restaurant entrances more picturesque and inviting than usual. It was one of those nights when you say, "Why don't we come to the North End more often?"

Saturday afternoon I got a serious craving for Italian food. I blame Mario Batali for that. I was watching the Food Network (imagine that) and he was showing all the fresh pasta dishes he was trying out for his new restaurant in New York. I was drooling. I just had to have fresh pasta that night. I started brainstorming with my boyfriend about where we should go. I went online and wrote down three picks - Taranta, Terramia and Mare. We hopped on the "T" and decided to scope out Taranta because we hadn't been there before. While it looked really quaint and the menu seemed wonderful, I noticed that they had entertainment, a guitar player. We really weren't in the mood to be serenaded. So we moved on to Terramia.

We have been to Terramia before (probably about this time last year). We enjoyed it very much and were hoping for a command performance. We hadn't made a reservation because we had headed out early. Luckily we scored a table without a problem. If you go out any later than 7pm, I highly recommend you make a reservation. While most restaurants in the North End do not take reservations on Saturday nights, Terramia actually does. In fact, you can reserve online at Open Table where you can see which time slots are available which is great.

Terramia is a small restaurant, probably about 10 -12 tables but it is this intimacy that makes it reminiscent of trattorias in Italy. Tables are close (but not too close) and the atmosphere is warm and cozy. Our friendly waiter had a thick Italian accent which always adds to the experience. We looked over the menu and instantly became even hungrier. Everything looked so good. But it didn't take long to make our choices. A few things jumped out at us.

For the appetizer, we split the Calamari Alla Brace - grilled calamari with basil pine nut pesto and beans, shaved fennel, citrus vinaigrette. We loved this appetizer. The calamari was grilled to perfection and was very tender (not in the least chewy). The beans and fennel coated with the citrus vinaigrette were absolutely delicious. The appetizer definitely exceeded our expectations. We easily cleaned our plate. It was nice to have a calamari dish that wasn't fried and where the taste of the calamari really came through.

For the entrée, Kemal ordered Terramia's signature dish, the Raviolini Aperto. It's an "open-faced ravioli" (one large rectangle of pasta under and over the filling - sea scallops, shrimp and fresh zucchini in a lobster mascarpone sauce). After that list of ingredients, do I really need to tell you how good it was? Amazing. It's actually much better than it even looks in the photo. The homemade pasta had the perfect consistency - not too limp, not too firm. The shrimp were cooked just right. Shrimp are often overcooked because they cook so quickly. The scallops were sweet and fresh. And the sauce - velvety and rich but not too heavy. Everyone should have the pleasure of tasting this dish at least once (if not twice or three times).

I ordered the Tagliatelle Bolognese. This dish consists of homemade tagliatelle pasta (wide spaghetti) accompanied by traditional veal, beef & pork meat sauce with a touch of mascarpone and parmesan cheese. Absolutely delicious and exactly what I was craving. The pasta was al dente and coated completely with the rich, chunky sauce; it's almost like eating a stew. You can't help but soak up the remaining sauce with a slice of their hearty Italian bread. You really don't want to leave any behind.

With a meal like that, dessert was out of the question (like most North End restaurants, they don't serve dessert). Will have to save the usual trip to Mike's Pastry for the ultimate tiramisu for another time. But if you can fit in dessert when you go, by all means stop in at Mike's and be prepared to fight your way to the counter. The place is always a mob scene but for good reason.

Terramia Ristorante, 98 Salem Street, North End, Boston, 617.523.3112

Mike's Pastry, 300 Hanover Street, North End, Boston, 617.742.3050

Monday, February 27, 2006

Risotto w/ Scallops & Roasted Asparagus

Click image to enlarge.

Many people are afraid of making risotto because they have heard it's a difficult, time-intensive dish to make. Hogwash, folks. I would call it a labor of love. You just need to stir, add stock, stir. You can chat with your guests while making it and even take turns stirring. Make it a communal event. It is not, I repeat not, difficult to make. It just takes some attention. Once you've made it a couple of times, it will become a dish you make time and time again because it's delicious, feeds several people and really is easy. Buono appetit!

Risotto w/ Scallops & Roasted Asparagus


For the Rissotto:
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (most grocery stores carry this short-grain Italian rice)
8 - 10 cups chicken, vegetable or beef stock or broth (I used leftover Beef Stock I had in the freezer)
1 onion, diced
3 tablespoons Mascarpone cheese (Italian cream cheese, much richer and creamier though)
1/4 cup white wine or vermouth
Grated Parmesan cheese to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 lb. scallops (diver or bay scallops - if you can get your hands on some Nantucket bay scallops, they are THE best, small and sweet like candy)
Olive Oil (about 2 tablespoons)

For the Roasted Asparagus:
12 - 18 spears of asparagus (snap the ends off)
Olive oil - 1-2 tablespoons
Salt - about a teaspoon

How to:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

For the Risotto:
1. Coat bottom of frying pan or dutch oven with olive oil, warm at medium heat until oil is hot.
2. Sauté onions for 4 -5 minutes until translucent.
3. Add rice, coat with olive oil and onions.
4. Add white wine or vermouth, let cook for about a 1 minute.
5. Add a ladle or two full of stock/broth.
6. Stir until stock absorbs, add another ladle full, stir, repeat.
7. Continue this process of stirring and ladling stock until rice increases to about double its size (about 20 minutes).
8. Taste the rice. It should be al dente (not soft, with a little bite left in it).
9. Toss in the scallops. They will only take a couple of minutes to cook.
10. Take off the stove. Stir in the mascarpone cheese. Season the rissotto with salt and pepper to taste.
11. After you plate the risotto, top with 4-6 spears of asparagus and sprinkle the dish with parmesan cheese to taste.

For the Roasted Asparagus:
1. Snap off the ends of the aspragus to rid the spears of the tough part.
2. Spread the asparagus out on a cookie sheet.
3. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over the aspragus.
4. Coast the asparagus with the olive oil.
5. Salt the asparagus.
6. Roast for 20 minutes, turn after 10 minutes.

Broccoli & Porcini Mushroom Quiche

Click image to enlarge.

I have not yet conquered the art of rolling out the perfect dough which my mother has down to a science. When I first made quiche, I cheated a little by pressing out the dough in the quiche pan instead of rolling it out and placing it in the pan. Well I've made it the same way ever since. It's easy, there are no risks of a dough disaster when moving the rolled out dough to the quiche pan. My feeling is "If it ain't broke don't fix it." If you have any fears about rolling out dough, don't buy the crust. Try this easy alternative. Your guests will appreciate the extra mile you went to make the crust from scratch.

Broccoli & Porcini Mushroom Quiche

Preheat oven to 375 degrees


For the crust:
(From the cookbook, "The Enhanced Broccoli Forrest...and other timeless delicacies" - available at barnesandnoble.com and other bookstores)

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup flour
Dash of salt
Up to 3 tbs. of cold milk
1 cup grated cheese (gruyère or emmanthaler recommended)

For the filling: (you can vary this part and use whatever vegetables you like)
1/2 cup - 3/4 cup broccoli, chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup chopped porcini mushrooms, fresh or dried (if dried, reconstitute in hot water or broth for about 1/2 hour)
5 -7 scallions, chopped (just use white part of the scallion)
1 Tbs. fresh thyme
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

For the custard mixture:
3 eggs (4 if you use a straight-sided quiche pan)
1 cup milk (1 1/2 cups milk if you use a straight-sided quiche pan)

How to:

For the crust:
1. Use a pastry cutter, 2 forks or a food processor fitted with a steel blade, to cut together the butter pieces and the flour until they are a uniform substance resembling corn meal. Add salt.
2. As you stir with a fork (or as the food processor runs), add the milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough sticks to itself readily. (Push the dough into itself in the center of the bowl as you stir. Stop adding liquid as soon as the dough holds together. Varying humidity affects the amount of liquid needed.)
3. You can chill the dough (wrap it well) to roll it out later, you can roll it out right away or you can "cheat" like I do and press the dough into the pan, spread it across the surface and up the sides of the quiche pan.

For the filling:
(This is just one variation for the filling. Uou can use asparagus, tomato slides, artichokes, spinach - whatever you like.)
1. Sauté the scallions in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for a couple of minutes
2. Add in the broccoli and mushrooms; sauté until the broccoli has wilted a bit but is not limp (3 - 4 minutes)
3. Salt and pepper the mixture to taste
4. IMPORTANT STEP: Sprinkle the grated cheese on the bottom of the crust in the pan BEFORE you add the filling. This is important because the melted cheese creates a moisture-resistant barrier between the crust and the filling so your crust doesn't get soggy.
5. Add the mushroom/broccoli filling

For the custard filling:
1. Beat the eggs and add the milk. Pour over the filling in the quiche pan.

Bake quiche for 35 - 40 minutes or until the top is nicely browned. Serve with a nice salad at room temperature or cold. Makes great second-day leftovers. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Mary Chung's Sizzling Szechuan Cuisine

One of Mary's signature appetizers, Suan La Chow Show

Dun Dun Noodles with Sprouts and Spicy Peanut Sauce

Some days you just want a delicious, quick, inexpensive meal in a relaxed, friendly and unpretentious environment. Mary Chung is just the ticket. It's the kind of place where customers greet "Mary" by her first name because they've been there so often. If you walk in and the rest of your party isn't there yet, they will seat you anyway and serve you a nice hot pot of tea to keep you company. If all you want is a bowl of wonton soup, the waitress doesn't give you the stink eye for not ordering more. If you're having a bad hair day (like I was) and need to leave your hat on, so be it. And if you're eating out budget is eaten up, chances are you'll still have enough for Mary Chung. Nothing on the menu is over $10.75.

And did I mention the food? It's amazing. I crave Mary's food about once every couple of weeks as does every student and faculty member from MIT I think. Mary's menu is unlike your typical Chinese menu and is worlds better than most. First off, don't go in there without ordering the Suan La Chow Show (pictured above). It's a bowl of about 6 large, meaty wontons with a spicy hot and sour sauce and bean sprouts. These wontons are top notch, absolutely delicious. And only $3.95. One order serves 2-3 people. The Dun Dun Noodles are also outstanding. The noodles are typically mixed with a spicy peanut sauce but I prefer to have the sauce on the side because they tend to drown the noodles a little. Besides, that sauce is SPICY! As is virtually everything on the menu that's in RED. Luckily a pitcher of water is always a fixture on the table. Another favorite dish is the Dried Spiced Tofu with Pork ($7.95) which sounds kind of uneventful but it's fantastic. I love this kind of tofu because it's not all mooshy. It really holds up and almost tastes like a thick noodle. My friend, Tom, turned me on to this dish. Thanks Tom! The Wonton soup ($3.95) is also recommended as they use the same wontons they make for the Suan La Chow Show. My final recommendation is the Jumbo Shrimp with Broccoli (enough for 2 at $9.95). The shrimp are huge and succulent. As for the broccoli, there's plenty of it. Makes you feel good eating it when some of the other dishes might not be all that healthy.

So next time you're in Central Square, say "hi" to Mary and settle in for a good meal. Where else can you fill your tummy, clear your sinuses, and read your fortune - all for under $20?

Mary Chung Restaurant, 464 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge (Central Square), 617.864.1991
Mary Chung's has a take-out menu but they do not deliver. They're closed on Tuesdays and they only accept cash - because they can.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Venison Dinner Party-Intro/Part 1-Beef Stock

Saturday night I held my Third Annual Venison Extravaganza, a dinner party for a group of my friends (this year there were 11 of us!) where Roast Rack of Venison is the main event. Not something you have every day. And definitely not something you would make every day. Whew. This menu is ambitious, best to take on over a weekend. It's not that it's difficult, it's just that there are a lot of steps and you need time for preparation. You'll also probably need to hit a few different specialty stores to gather some of the hard-to-find ingredients. It's so worth all the hard work. I got a round of applause at the end of the meal so that's an indication on how much people enjoy this dinner (although that could have been the wine talking).

Following is the menu. I am dividing this posting up into 5 separate postings because the list of ingredients and instructions are long. Please feel free to e-mail me with any questions you might have. I've made this whole menu a few times now so I can probably help you out.

The Menu:

NOTE: If you would like all the recipes in the Venison Dinner Party menu in a text only format, you can download a pdf called "venisondinnerrecipes.pdf" here.

• Cheese Plate (your favorite cheese, olives, cured meats and crackers - a real crowd pleaser and great way to tide people over while the venison is cooking. Click here for cheese plate recommendations and resources.
Baked Oysters with Bacon and Leeks

Roast Rack of Venison w/ Port and Cranberry Reduction (recipe for Beef Stock needed for this recipe is featured below)
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
• Steamed Green Beans (simply snip off the ends of the green beans and steam for about 10 minutes)

Homemade Beef Stock Recipe

The Venison recipe calls for homemade Beef Stock. If you're going to go to the trouble of making this dinner, may as well go the whole nine yards and make your stock from scratch as well. However, unless you get up at the crack of dawn on the day of your dinner party, you will want to make this ahead of time. You can make it as much as a week ahead of time. I highly recommend dedicating another day to it since you'll have plenty of other things to do.

Also, you will have a good amount of stock left over which is great to have around for other things like making soups, risotto, anything you need stock for. You can freeze it for about 4 months if you don't plan on using it within 3 - 4 days.

Homemade Beef Stock
This recipe is from Martha Stewart

Makes 6 quarts

8 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
6 sprigs fresh fresh thyme OR 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
4 sprigs fresh fresh rosemary OR 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
2 dried bay leaves
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 pound beef-stew meat, stew meat, cubed
5 pounds veal bones, sawed into smaller pieces (I had to go to 2 separate stores to get these. Give yourself a couple of days to hunt them down just in case. Ask your butcher to saw the veal bones into smaller pieces.)
1 large onion, peel on, quartered
2 large carrots, cut into thirds
2 stalks celery, cut into thirds
2 cups dry red wine

How to:
1. Heat the oven to 450º. Make a bouquet garni by wrapping parsley, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, and peppercorns in a piece of cheesecloth. Tie with kitchen twine, and set aside. Arrange meat, veal bones, onion, carrots, and celery in an even layer in a heavy roasting pan. Roast, turning every 20 minutes, until the vegetables and the bones are deep brown, about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer the meat, bones, and vegetables to a large stockpot, and set aside. Pour off the fat from the roasting pan, and discard. Place the pan over high heat on the stove. Add wine, and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits; boil until the wine has reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Pour all of the liquid into the stockpot.

2. Add 6 quarts of cold water to the stockpot, or more if needed to cover bones. Do not add less water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a very gentle simmer. Add the reserved bouquet garni. Liquid should just bubble up to surface. Skim the foam from the surface, and discard. Simmer over the lowest possible heat for 3 hours; a skin will form on the surface of the liquid; skim off with a slotted spoon, and discard. Repeat as needed. Add water if at any time the level drops below the bones.

3. Strain the stock through a fine sieve into a large bowl. Discard the solids. Transfer the bowl to an ice bath, and let cool to room temperature. Transfer to airtight containers. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight. Stock may be refrigerated for 3-4 days or frozen for 4 months. If storing, leave fat layer intact to seal the stock. Before using, remove the fat that has collected on the surface.

Venison Dinner Party-Part 2-The Cheese Plate

Click image to enlarge.

The Cheese Plate
Obviously you can go to any grocery store, grab a few hunks of cheese and throw them on a plate with some crackers and olives out of a jar, but come on. You've made everything else for the evening 4-star, why not the cheese plate too.

Here are some recommendations and resources for making the ultimate cheese plate. Cheese is my favorite thing on the planet so I might get a little carried away here but bear with me. Also, if you want to read more about my cheese life experiences, read my article.

1. Take out your largest, nicest platter. An aesthetically pleasing canvas for your artistic cheese display is a great place to start.
2. Pick a nice selection of cheeses. Some people hate stinky cheeses. Some people are bored by more simple cheeses. Give them options.
3. Include a variety of crackers. Some cheeses are so intense and flavorful that a simple water crackers is all that's needed. It's basically just a vehicle for the cheese. Other cheeses are more simple (some goat cheeses and cheddars for example) and a little flavor in the cracker is a nice complement to the cheese.
4. Pepper your cheese plate with cured meats, olives, roasted red peppers, cornichons and other savory items that will be delicious accompanied with your cheese choices. You can also go the sweet route and serve items like fig jam and fruit. I wouldn't mix the sweet and savory accoutrements though. Choose one and go with it.

Sources for the Best Cheese, Olives, Cured Meats and Other Cheese Plate Items

Formaggio Kitchen
2 locations. One in Cambridge, one in Boston. I prefer the Cambridge location. It's larger and seems to have more choices (although they both have a great selection). Lucky for all of us, they also take online and phone orders.
244 Huron Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138 (about a 10-minute walk from Harvard Square)
268 Shawmut Avenue, Boston, MA (South End)
For those who love cheese, you will feel like you have died and gone to heaven when you enter Formaggio Kitchen. They have an incredible cheese selection (two HUNDRED to three hundred at any given time) and you'll find many samples around the store that you can sample. As busy and hectic as it gets in there, the staff is always helpful, patient and more than willing to make reservations. (Once I was in there and ran out of cheese vocabulary. I told the guy at the counter I wanted something "yummy." He simply smiled, pulled out a wheel of his favorite cheese and said, "This is the most yummy cheese we have.") Of course I wasn't disappointed. They even have a cheese cave in the basement that duplicates the conditions found in those ancient caves of England and France. They store entire wheels there until they are perfectly ripe and ready for slicing.

Formaggio also has olives, cured meats, chocolate, mustards, olive oils, various condiments and wine. And adjoining Formaggio Kitchen is a small gourmet grocery store where you can buy fresh produce, homemade pastas, amazing breads and flowers.

Wine and Cheese Cask
407 Washington Street, Somerville (right near Dali for those of you who know that restaurant)
This is a great one-stop shop for cheese plate accoutrements. They have a wide selection of cheeses. They also carry excellent olives, condiments, wines, ports. They also make sandwiches to go. I recommend grabbing one since you won't have time to make breakfast or lunch on this day.

Court House Fish Market
484 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA (midway between Inman Square and the Cambridgeside Galleria)
I know what you're thinking...why is she directing me to a fish market for cheese plate items. Well, this market not only has beautiful fresh fish but they also carry wonderful Portuguese specialty items. They have barrels of olives, a variety of Portuguese cheeses, as well as linguica and chorico (Portuguese sausages). It's a fun, lively place. Well worth a stop. As an aside, they also have a seafood restaurant a few doors down (498 Cambridge Street) called Court House Seafood Restaurant that's excellent. No frills, fresh, inexpensive seafood.

Whole Foods Market
While Whole Foods probably doesn't need promoting, some of you might not realize what an amazing cheese selection they have. The River Street location in Cambridge has been awarded Best of Boston several times for its cheese selection and for good reason (although I still think Formaggio is better).
Dozens of locations across the country. Recommended location in Boston area:
340 River Street, Cambridge

For my NYC friends...
Murray's Cheese
254 Bleecker Street (between 6th & 7th Avenues), Greenwich Village
1.888.MY.CHEEZ (love the phone number)

And if you happen to be on vacation on Nantucket...
Fahey & Formaggerie
49A Pleasant Street, Nantucket
Not only do they have a great cheese and wine selection but they make a mean Cuban sandwich to go.

Venison Dinner Party-Part 3-Baked Oysters

Click image for larger view.

Baked Oysters with Leaks and Bacon
This recipe is from the November 2004 issue of Bon Appétit

Makes about 10 servings

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup whipping cream

8 ounces bacon
4 cups thinly sliced leeks (white and pale green parts only; from 4 large)
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons dry white wine (or Vermouth)
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or Paremesan)

1 cup fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French bread (I used Portuguese bread because I like that it has a little sweetness to it. You can also use Challah bread if you like this idea as it has a little sweetness to it as well).

20 medium oysters, shucked, or four 8-ounce jars shucked oysters (If you're going to make this recipe, I recommend, although it's work, to shuck your own oysters. They're so much more fresh and delicious).

How to:
Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Cover a baking sheet with kosher salt (this will keep the oysters in place and keep their juices from pouring out of the shell).

Melt butter in small skillet over medium heat. Add flour; whisk 2 minutes over medium heat. Add flour; whisk 2 minutes. Add cream slowly and whisk until mixture thickens slightly. Remove from heat.

Sauté bacon in heavy large skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 6 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings from the skillet. Add leeks, celery, bay leaf, and cayenne to skillet and sauté over mdium heat until vegetables are soft, about 12 minutes. Add wine and cook until absorbed, about 15 seconds. Add cream mixture and bring to simmer. Stir until leek mixture thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in bacon and cheese. Season generously with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Cover and refrigerate.

Place 1 oyster on each of 20 oyster shells or place 2 oysters in each of 10 small ramekins (recommend the shell route). Top oyster in each shell with 2 tablespoons leek mixture, or top oysters in ramekins with 1/4 leek mixture. Place on rimmed baking sheet. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and chill.)

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Divide breadcrumbs among shells or ramekins. Bake until leek mixture bubbles and crumbs are golden, about 8 minutes. NOTE: At the very end, I like to put these under the broiler for 1 or 2 minutes to finish it off. Just keep an eye on them so the breadcrumbs don't burn.

Serve immediately on a platter. Provide small plates since the oysters will be a little too hot to handle with a cocktail napkin.

This image is from epicurious.com. My oysters were eaten before I had a chance to take a picture of them.

NOTE: If you would like all the recipes in the Venison Dinner Party menu in a text only format, you can download a pdf called "venisondinnerrecipes.pdf" here.

Venison Dinner Party-Part 4-The Venison!

Click image to enlarge.

Now for the pièce de résistance...the roasted Rack of Venison!! You can buy venison at specialty butcher shops and there are places online as well. I got mine at Savenor's Market in Cambridge (details at bottom of page). Order a few days ahead!

Roasted Rack of Venison with Red Currant and Cranberry Sauce
This recipe is one of Martha Stewart's.

Serves 6

4 cups Homemade Beef Stock
2 dried bay leaves
1 bunch fresh thyme
3/4 cup ruby port wine
1 one-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup red currant (or black currant) jam
4 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
4 tablespoons whole juniper berries
4 tablespoons dried rosemary
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons butter
2 racks (1 1/2 to 2 pounds each) venison, well trimmed (the racks I purchased were more like 2 - 3 pounds each which is what you might find more readily available)
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries

How to:
1. Combine stock, bay leaves, thyme, port, ginger, and jam in a large saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until stock has reduced to 1 cup, about 1 hour. Remove from heat, strain, and transfer to a clean small saucepan. Set aside.

2. Combine peppercorns, juniper berries, and rosemary in a spice grinder. Grind, allowing some texture to remain.

3. Heat oven to 350°. Place a large roasting pan in the oven. Salt both sides of each rack well, and rub the ground spice mixture into the meat.

4. Heat olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Place both racks in skillet, and brown each side, about 2 minutes per side, using tongs to maneuver racks in skillet. Transfer racks to the preheated roasting pan.

5. Roast venison 30 to 35 minutes for medium rare (NOTE: I found it takes more like 45-50 minutes. Use a meat thermoter. Temperature should be 150 - 160 degrees when you take it out of the oven). Remove roasting pan from oven, and transfer meat to a cutting board to rest 15 minutes.

6. Return sauce to a boil. In a small bowl, combine remaining 2 teaspoons butter with flour; mix until a paste forms. Reduce heat, stir in cranberries; let simmer until berries are soft and sauce is glossy. Whisk in the butter mixture. Serve the red-currant-and-cranberry sauce with the venison.

Venison Source:
Savenor's Market
92 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, 617.723.MEAT
160 Charles Street, Boston, MA, 617.576.MEAT

NOTE: If you would like all the recipes in the Venison Dinner Party menu in a text only format, you can download a pdf called "venisondinnerrecipes.pdf" here.

Venison Dinner Party-Part 5-Garlic Mashed Potatoes

If only you could smell this roasted garlic.

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Need I say more? Really. They're creamy, delicious and are not only the perfect accompaniment to venison but to any other game, red meat or poultry dish. They're also easy to make and almost impossible to screw up which is a bonus when you're entrée is a little on the complicated side. Following is my recipe.

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Serves 10 - 12


8 - 10 Yukon Gold Potatoes (any potatoes will do but I like these best).
About 1/2 stick butter
About 1 Cup of Milk or Half and Half
4 - 6 Roasted Garlic Cloves

How to:

For the Roasted Garlic:
1. Take a whole head of garlic and slice off the top of it.
2. Rub the whole head of garlic with olive oil
3. Wrap in tin foil and roast at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes. The consistency will be soft to the point where you could spread it on bread if you wanted to (oh, and I recommend doing that with your leftovers).
4. Remove the individual garlic gloves from the head of garlic. Wrap the unused garlic cloves in tin foil and put in the refrigerator. It'll keep for a few days. You can heat it up and use the garlic as a spread on bread. Really really tasty!

For the Mashed Potatoes:
1. Rinse your potatoes and put them in a large pot. I leave the skins on but you can peel them if you prefer. Cut the large potatoes in half so they can cook at the same rate as the smaller ones.
2. Cover the potatoes with water.
3. Once water comes to a boil, leave on stove for about 35 - 40 minutes. Potatoes are done when you can easily insert a fork.
4. Warm the milk on the stove. Melt the stick of butter in the same pot. Heating these keeps the potatoes from cooling down too quickly.
5. Put the potatoes in a large mixing bowl. Pour the milk and butter mixture over the potatoes. Add the roasted garlic cloves, salt and pepper to taste. Mash potatoes with a hand masher or use an electric mixer (my preference).
6. If the potatoes seem too dry, add more milk and/or butter.

Try to not eat too much of this before serving it. It's hard to stop yourself.

NOTE: If you would like all the recipes in the Venison Dinner Party menu in a text only format, you can download a pdf called "venisondinnerrecipes.pdf" here.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Periwinkles - Memories of Pocasset

When I was a kid, my grandparents had a cottage in Pocasset on Cape Cod. I have such fond memories of the time our family spent there. We would go to the beach all day long, sit on the front porch on rocking chairs and stare out at the ocean right across the street, flag down the ice cream man at dusk and of course, pick periwinkles. That's right. Pick periwinkles (aka snails or "the poor man's escargot"). We'd go down to the beach and look for the biggest periwinkles we could find - on big rocks, under the seaweed. There were always plenty available because (and I know you might find this shocking), there weren't many people out looking for periwinkles. And what did we do with these slimy little things? Eat them
of course!

I know I may have lost some of you there but for those of you with an open palate and mind, continue on. When we returned to the house with our periwinkle stash, my mother would cook them up on the stove and when they were done we would all sit around the table and have a community binge. On the table would be one big bowl for the yet-to-be-eaten periwinkles and one for the shells. Sometimes my brother, Tom, and I would, instead of eating them one at a time, stockpile a handful of them and then eat them. It was not the most attractive thing to look at but we LOVED it. Eating periwinkles was and still is like taking a bite of the ocean. So salty, a little chewy, all delicious.

These memories all came flooding back to me today when I took my sister, Carol, on a tour of Inman Square in Cambridge which ended at the New Deal Fish Market. There behind the glass case amidst all the beautiful fresh salmon, codfish, octopus and sardines were my old friends, the periwinkles. At a mere $2.39 a pound, I instantly knew I would be walking out with a bagful. What a nice feeling to channel warm summer memories in the dead of winter.

For those of you who are still with me and might actually want to try these sometime, here are the answers to the questions I think you might have...

Where do you get Periwinkles? If "picking them" off the rocks at the beach is not your idea of a good time, you can often find periwinkles at Portuguese or Asian fish markets. Call ahead and see if that day is your lucky one. If you do "pick them yourself, grab a small piece of seaweed off one of the rocks to add flavor to the periwinkles when you cook them.

How do you cook Periwinkles? It's one of the easiest things in the world. Put them in a pan with just enough water to cover them and season them with garlic salt and pepper. If you have a little seaweed, throw that in too. Boil on the stove for about 20 minutes or so.

How do you EAT Periwinkles? Got a pin or a safety pin? That's your utensil. You should also have two bowls as I mentioned above. One for the periwinkles yet to be eaten and one for the shells. Then dig in. Simply flick off the "eye" (looks kind of like a fish scale), stick your pin all the way in the shell and carefully pull out the periwinkle. Voila.

I hate to admit that if I hadn't grown up eating periwinkles, I might not be too thrilled to try them. To be honest, they're pretty ugly little buggers. But my advise to you is don't look, just eat. You'll thank me. Enjoy.

New Deal Fish Market
722 Cambridge Street (between Inman Square and the Cambridgeside Galleria), Cambridge, 617-876-8227

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Battle of the Bibim Bab

Click image to enlarge.

About a month ago, I raved about the Korean Bibim Bab (hot stone pot rice, veggie and beef dish) at Seoul Kitchen in Cambridge. Last night I had a different - but equally delicious - Bibim bap experience.

A giant Asian supermarket called Super 88 opened a few years ago in Allston (near Boston University). It's an amazing Asian supermarket that is truly a feast for the senses. The produce is fascinating and the fish selection immense. And where else can you buy a 50-pound bag of rice? Adjoining the supermarket is a Food Court with a number of Chinese, Japanese and Korean restaurants. This is no typical food court. The food coming out of these small kitchens is excellent quality and the prices can't be beat. Although it was difficult choosing which one to try, I was craving Bibim Bab so opted for Misono Korean Cuisine.

Click image to enlarge.

A kind older woman waited on us and seemed excited to be preparing our food for us. For only $8.95, we each received our own fresh, enormous Bibim Bab bowl with a side of spicy chili sauce. The most difficult part was carrying this heavy bowl on a cafeteria tray over to our table. Those things are heavy! Small price to pay for a great meal like this.

We sat down and commenced the Bibim Bab dining experience. In the pot are a variety of items layered one on top of the other - sprouts, spinach, carrots, fried egg and sliced beef (you can also have it with just vegetables, chicken or unagi, aka smoked eel). What you do is add in the chili sauce and mix everything together with your chopsticks, cooking everything to your desired taste. Did I mention the stone pot is REALLY HOT? Whatever you do, don't touch it. They rest it on a tray underneath that enables you to grab the edge if you need to hold onto it while you mix your food around.

For the most part, I think the caliber of this BiBim Bab was as good as the BiBim Bab at Seoul Kitchen except I think the quality of the beef is a little better at Seoul Kitchen. Also, Seoul Kitchen is a restaurant with a very cozy environment. You feel like you're in someone's home. So you pay a little more but the ambiance is better. But for quick service and a few bucks less you can sit in the lively open space at the Super 88 food court. So it all depends what you're in the mood for. I would recommend both highly.

Bibim Bab is a delicious cold winter night dinner. And it's so affordable you don't have to worry about breaking the bank. Even better, you can peruse the food court and figure out what you might want to get next time you visit. If you have any room left, pick up a Bubble Tea (cold delicious flavored teas with tapioca balls on the bottom) for the walk home.

Super 88 Supermarket and Food Court
One Brighton Avenue, Allston, MA, 617-787-2288

Monday, February 13, 2006

Best Bar in a Blizzard

I come from a large family so at Christmastime we all pick one name to buy a present for so we don't all go bankrupt. This past year I picked my brother Jim and his gift request was an evening of cocktails and hors d'oeuvres at the Oak Bar. Who am I to argue? It's one of my favorite spots. Plus I get to participate in the gift. His wish was my command.

What we decided to do is wait for a blustery, snowy night where we could watch the storm in action out the huge windows of the Oak Bar which look out onto Copley Plaza and one of Boston's most beautiful churches, Trinity Church.

Yesterday, I woke up to a blizzard and soon after, a phone call from my brother. "I'm calling to cash in." As soon as I was sure the "T" was running and that the Oak Room was open (unlike a lot of other wimpy establishments in Boston who closed their doors for the day), I made a 4pm date with my brother. I needed a couple of hours to pull together my arctic ensemble.

I arrived before my brother and was sort of pacing in the lobby in front of the Oak Bar entrance. The hostess stepped out and said, "We're open." I think she was worried that I, one of the few patrons they would see that day, would think the bar was closed and leave. No chance.

Soon after, my brother was blown into the lobby like a character from a Christmas claymation special. After shaking himself free of the snow on his coat, we entered the wonderful oasis that is the Oak Room and took our club seats in the lovely lounge (calling it a bar just doesn't do it justice).

What's great about the Oak Bar is that it is visually so stately and masculine with dark wood and accents of a red color my brother referred to as "No-ladies-allowed-cigar-smoking-red." However, the vibe is cozy and relaxed. And while the attire is supposed to be "business casual," I was in there with ski pants and nobody batted an eyelash. Others had just rolled in off the street on their cross-country skis and looked the part. The waiters are very friendly and treat you well no matter what. I love that.

After we shed our many layers, we settled in and ordered cocktails. I ordered a glass of champagne and my brother ordered a Cosmopolitan. While their martinis are $12, you get two drinks in one. One of the drinks is poured in your martini glass, the other is kept on ice in a small carafe. Nice touch. They always have seasonal cocktails (they had some special Valentine's ones on the menu) that are fun to try. I had a Pumpkintini in the fall that was top notch.

Unfortunately, the raw bar didn't open until 5:30 so we had to settle for a more limited menu. We ordered lobster bisque (served in delightful classic white soup tureens) and friend calamari. Both were good although we had had our hearts set on the oysters. No matter. We were just happy to be there, enjoying the ambiance and warming up before heading out again in search of oysters.

While most places were closed, the Atlantic Fish Company employees were troopers and kept their doors open. Finally, we got our oyster fix and enjoyed the walk down eerily peaceful Boylston Street before heading home, full and happy.

Next time there's the slightest flurry, duck into the Oak Bar, get a window seat and order up some of their specialty cocktails, some raw bar items and enjoy the free snack mix which they'll refill until you're full.

Oak Bar at the Fairmont Copley Plaza
138 St. James Avenue, Boston, Back Bay, 617-267-7668

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Nor'easter Hot Chocolate

Click image to enlarge.

When there's a blizzard outside, nothing can warm you up inside better than a nice frothy cup of hot chocolate. But skip the powder and hot water. Make some REAL rich hot chocolate. It's worth the extra effort. What else have you to go do anyway? There's a blizzard out there!

REAL Hot Chocolate
This recipe is a variation of one on Martha's site.

Serves 2 -3 (double the recipe to serve more)

For Hot Chocolate:
1 cup milk
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 vanilla bean or 1 teaspooon vanilla extract
Fresh grated nutmeg to taste

Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar

How to:

For Hot Chocolate:
1. Heat milk until scalding.
2. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes. (Make Whipped Cream while milk is resting - recipe below).
3. Strain milk, put back on medium heat.
4. Pour in chocolate and whisk until blended. Optional: to make the hot chocolate frothy, use a hand mixer or wire wisk.
5. Pour into cups and add a dollop or two of whipped cream.
6. Top with grated nutmeg

For Whipped Cream:
7. Combine sugar and milk in a large mixing bowl.
8. Turn mixer on high until peaks form.

Get cozy on the couch with an afghan, watch an old movie and sip this cup of heaven. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The way to a man's heart (or anyone's for that matter)...

Food styling by Donna. Click image to enlarge.

Valentine's Menu (or any time you want to show extra love)

Bacalhua (salt cod w/ mashed potatoes)
Olive Tapenade
Steamed Green Beans
Toasted Baguette

Chambord Chocolate Fondue w/ Colossal Strawberries

Recommended Vinho:
Duas Quintas Red Wine from the Douro Region of Portugal, 2001

They say that there are as many recipes for Portuguese bacalhau as there are stars in the sky. Actually, I don't know if anyone really says that but it's true. One thing they all have in common is that salt cod is the focus of the dish. The word "bacalhau" literally translates to cod or codfish but it is also the name of a traditional Portuguese dish. Some versions of the dish are made with potatoes, others with vinegar, some have hard cooked eggs, others have olives. My family grew up eating a vinegar-based version our "Uncle Jimmy" (who wasn't really our uncle, just a family friend but that's another story) made which unfortunately we never got the recipe for. The recipe in this article is from "The Food of Portugal." I chose it because it sounded similar to a version I have had at Central Kitchen that I love. I added the tapenade as a topping because that's the way I had it there and it adds SO much flavor, texture and color to the dish. I know I'm mixing my cultural metaphors a bit since tapenade is from France but Provence is not too far from Portugal and well, this is America. We can do what we want. The beans also add great color and texture and make you feel better that you're eating a green vegetable. The dessert is a Lynne original which actually doesn't take much imagination - great chocolate, fresh fruit, a little liquor. How can you go wrong. And fondue is so fun. It's like making your own little dessert, one strawberry at a time.

Bacalhau a Conde da Guarda
(Salt Cod Count of Guarda)
Recipe from "The Food of Portugal," by Jean Anderson, available on Amazon and at times, on ebay (that's where I got my copy).
If you liked the Mac & Cheese recipe I posted, chances are you'll love this. It's major comfort food.

3/4 pound dried salt cod filet - no bones (Available at international fish markets like New Deal and even Whole Foods at times but get it from a fish market if you can. It's much better quality and nice to support your local fish market.)
4 medium potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 large yellow onions, coarsely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup half-and-half cream
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

How to:
1. Soak the salt cod in water in a covered dish in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Change the water several times (every 2 hours at first, then every 5 - 8 after that). After the 24 hours, drain the cod and pull the cod into shreds; set aside.
2. Boil the potatoes in enough water to cover, 35 to 40 minutes or until tender.
3. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over moderately low heat, add the onions and garlic and sauté, stirring often, 5 to 6 minutes, just until onions are limp and glassy. Turn heat down low, cover the pan, and allow to cook 10 minutes; add the cod, mix well, then re-cover and cook over low heat 20 minutes, stirring now and then. Let cool a bit and puree in a food processor with a few pulses (doesn't need serious blending).
4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. As soon as the potatoes can be pierced easily with a fork, drain well, peel and quarter. Add the pepper and about 1/4 cup of the cream, then mash the potatoes well with a masher or electric mixer. Continue mashing and adding more cream until the potatoes are smooth, moist and fluffy.
5. Fold onion/cod puree into the mashed potatoes
6. Pour onion/cod/potato mixture into a 2-quart baking dish (9x9x2 or large deep casserole dish).
7. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top
8. Bake for about 30 minutes or until surface is touched with brown.

Olive Tapenade
Very easy recipe from the Balthazar Cookbook, available at Balthazar Restaurant in New York (one of my very favorites) and on Epicurious. Store the extra tapenade in the refrigerator and have as an appetizer with cheese and crackers.

1/2 pound black olives, pitted, drained of their liquid
4 anchovy fillets
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
8 sprigs of thyme, leaves only
4 tablespoons olive oil

How to:
Place all the ingredients except the olive oil in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse to blend. Add the oil and pulse a few more times to form a cohesive but still coarse paste.

String Beans

Simple - cut off the ends, steam for 10 minutes, done.

Toasted Baguette

Also simple - slice a fresh baguette into one-inch slices, brush olive oil on both sides. Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or until browned, flip over mid-way through. You can put these in the oven toward the end of the baking time of the bacalhua.

Load up a slice with some of the bacalhua and tapenade. De-lish. This would actually make great appetizers for a party.

The Grand Finale - Chambord Chocolate Fondue w/ Colossal Strawberries

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (Giardelli bittersweet chips are great. You can also chop up a nice piece of Valrhona)
About 1/2 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon Chambord (Grand Marnier would be great also)

How to:
1. In fondue pot or double boiler (glass bowl over a sauce pan with simmering water), heat the half and half and orange zest until simmering.
2. Pour in chips or cut pieces of chocolate; whisk until melted and well blended
3. Pour in Chambord, blend
4. Serve immediately with large, fresh strawberries or any other fruits you like (Also, you can dip the strawberries, refrigerate them and eat them later - mmm).

I really hope you enjoy this meal. My sister said it is in the Top 5 of all the meals I've ever made and she's tried pretty much everything I've cooked. You can feel the love in this dish. Truly.

Monday, February 06, 2006

A Simple Portuguese Supper

Click image for larger view.

On the Menu:
• Favas
• Grilled Sardines!
• Green Beans with Garlic & Pine Nuts

I have the good fortune to live near a number of great places in Inman Square that carry quality Portuguese ingredients. The other day I set out to my favorite Inman Square spots to do some shopping for supper.

First stop was my favorite fish market, New Deal, which is run by a father and his son. The father goes out every day in search of the freshest fish and his son runs the store and provides excellent personal assistance and advice on all things aquatic. What I love about this place is that they are picky about their fish. You'll only see a handful of lobsters on ice (if any) in the window. They don't believe in stockpiling them in a big tank. Although they have a nice selection, you won't find every selection of fish each time you go in there either. You may find some beautiful salmon and swordfish one day and some fantastic crabs and little necks the next. Rest assured that whatever they do have on hand is going to be the best and you'll leave happy with whatever you buy. I have a friend who makes sushi at home and New Deal is the only fish market in the Boston area she trusts.

My objective was to get some nice sea bass for dinner. While they did not have sea bass, the proprietor pointed to the case where he had 3 or 4 different types of cod, one of which he said tasted something like sea bass. It was called Ocean Cusk. Sounded good to me. Sold. Next, I spotted what looked to me to be THE freshest looking sardines I had ever seen. Their eyes were bright and scales shiny, everything they always tell you to look for when choosing fresh fish. While I had no original intention of buying sardines, I just had to try some. I had never cooked them before and always wanted to try. So I ordered 6 of them. Not only did the proprietor clean them for me, but he also told me how to cook them (flour, salt and pepper, pan fry) although I ultimately decided to grill them instead. I thought I was done shopping when I saw that they carry my favorite Portuguese Olive Oil, Saloio, which is excellent and far less expensive than the Italian olive oils. He also introduced me to Ouro D'Oliva which is an extra virgin olive oil that he says all his customers rave about. Okay, throw one of those in the bag too. You can never be too rich, too thin or have too much olive oil in the house. I was about to cash out (really this time) when I remembered how amazing the salt cod was that I bought here on another occasion to make bacalua (Portuguese salt cod dish - recipe coming later this week). Since I don't get to the fish market as often as I'd like, I bought some salt cod as well. Okay, I'm done. Time to move on.

Next stop was the spice store adjacent to Christina's Ice Cream. Why is a spice store adjacent to an ice cream store you might ask? Well, actually it makes a lot of sense. Christina's buys a lot of spices to make their ice cream at wholesale prices. They make adventurous flavors like Mexican chocolatlavenderdar, adzuki bean - just to name a few. Anyway, they owned the adjoining space and they were already buying all these spices, so they figured why not open the space to the public and sell the spices. Not only do they have every spice known to man (organized alphabetically and beautifully presented in dark wood display cases), but they also have dried beans, mushrooms and peppers; teas; chocolate; oils (sesame, grapeseed, olive, etc.); and other specialty food products. They even have ginger-infused salt. Don't ask me what you'd do with it but it smelled amazing! It's a cook's dream. I never have to worry about hunting down that hard-to-find spice. Chances are, they will have it. As you might expect, I ended up with more than the peppercorns I went in for. I left with dried fava beans, vanilla beans, grapeseed oil (hard to find) and sesame oil.

As a side note, Christina's ice cream is, as you might expect, phenomenal. In my opinion, one of the best in the Boston area (Toscanini is my other favorite). I'll do a separate ice cream review at a later date. Don't want to shortchange the experience.


My Mom's recipe. She doesn't really write anything down so this is an approximation of measurements. It's not a fussy recipe. You can play around with it and not ruin it. Favas are a Portuguese tradition and often served at Fiestas in the summer which is kind of a strange food to walk around with but who's complaining.

2 cans of fava beans (approximately 3 cups). You may also use dried fava beans but you must soak them overnight and pre-cook them for at least one hour in boiling water before adding them to the dish.
3/4 lb. of linguica (Portuguese sausage)
2 large onions or 3 small onions, sliced
1 can tomato sauce
Tsp dried basil
Tsp dried thyme
Crushed red pepper to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive oil

How to:
1. Heat a large cast iron pan or dutch oven over medium-low heat
2. Coat bottom of pan generously with olive oil and add the onions
3. Simmer the onions until soft (about 10 minutes)
4. Add the thyme, basil, crushed red pepper, beans and tomato sauce and simmer for 40 minutes.

Serve with a nice loaf of bread for dipping!

Grilled Sardines!
Don't knock 'em 'til you try 'em. De-lish!!
Recipe from "The Food of Portugal" by Jean Anderson (I bought my copy from ebay. Also available on Amazon.)

6 - 12 sardines (as an appetizer, I'd serve 3 per person)
1 cup kosher or coarse salt
Olive Oil

How to:
1. Turn on the broiler.
2. If possible, ask the Fish Monger to clean the sardines for you. If not, scale the fish with the back of a knife (don't use the sharper side because you might cut into the fish). You can leave the head on or cut it off depending on your level of tolerance for looking at the fish head (personally, doesn't bother me).
3. Place the sardines in a glass dish side by side and cover them with the kosher salt. Place in the refrigerator for 2 - 3 hours.
4. Rinse the sardines, dry them with a paper towel.
5. Rub the sardines all over with olive oil, place on a broiler pan and pop in the broiler for ONLY about 3 minutes each side, until the fish almost flake at the touch of a fork. Serve immediately.

NOTE: There are bones in sardines but thankfully you can pretty much get them out all at once. Just take your knife and flip up the skin on one side, take out the bone and go about your business. Also, if you do eat a bone, not to worry. They are tiny and won't hurt you a bit. So tasty and a great way to get those oh-so-important Omega 3 fatty acids.

Green Beans with Garlic & Pine Nuts
I just winged this one. Look Ma. No recipe!

About 1 lb. or package of fresh Green Beans
3 or more cloves of garlic minced
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup pine nuts
Olive oil

How to:
1. Heat a cast iron or frying pan over medium heat.
2. Coat pan generously with olive oil
3. Sauté the garlic (don't let it burn, keep stirring it)
4. Sauté the green beans with the water to desired tenderness (I like it to have a little bite. I cooked it for about 5 minutes)
5. Add pine nuts a couple of minutes before you are going to take the beans off the stove.

If you're wondering what I did with the Ocean Cusk cod I spoke about earlier, I saved it for another meal. It was so fresh and delicious, all I did was squeeze some lemon on it, sprinkle some garlic salt and pepper on it, and bake it at 375 degrees for 20 minutes along with some asparagus that I coated with olive oil and salt and roasted for about 30 minutes. Simple and sublime.

New Deal Fish Market
722 Cambridge Street (between Inman Square and the Cambridgeside Galleria), Cambridge, 617-876-8227

Christina's Ice Cream (and Spice Store)
1255 Cambridge Street, Inman Square, Cambridge, 617-492-7021

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Bravo, Toro!

New Year's Eve I had planned a fun evening with friends at Toro, Boston's hot new South End tapas restaurant. Come 1pm that afternoon, it was pretty clear I wasn't going anywhere. I got the flu and ended up sprawled out on the couch watching Dick Clark's comeback TV appearance (not pretty). One month later, I finally get the opportunity to go to Toro and it was well worth the wait.

Toro has a warm rustic feel to it. Open beams on the ceiling, exposed bricks, a roaring fireplace in the back, high community tables in the middle. It's a bit small which makes for a fairly long wait for a table, even on a Wednesday night (45 minutes). Per usual, when a couple of seats popped up at the bar, we nabbed them so only ended up waiting about 35 minutes before eating which was still painfully long because the restaurant smelled heavenly and we could see all the great stuff being prepared in the open kitchen.

We ended up ordering a few things at a time which was a great way to go and something you can probably only get away with sitting at the bar. Following are the tapas we ordered, not one of which we wouldn't be happy to order again.

Pan con tomate - Served compliments of the house. I think they saw the crazed hungry look in my eyes and wanted to calm me down. It's basically the Spanish version of Italian bruschetta (tomato, garlic, olive oil on toasted bread). Good start!
Maiz Asado - Grilled corn rubbed with garlic mayonnaise then rolled in cotija cheese and sprinkled with espelette pepper and lime. There's a reason it's the "Specialty of the House." Soooo good despite the fact that corn is way out of season. Imagine how much better they will be in the late summer! A bit messy but who cares.
Patatas bravas - Chunky fries (roughly 1" each) served with a tasty aioli (a garlic, oli, mayo mixture) and spicy tomato sauce (wasn't spicy though)
Mini Kobe beef burgers - Now I'm not sure how these are Spanish but they were a hugely popular item, flying off the grill. I preferred my other selections. I actually think these mini burgers are on the menu to placate the large frat boy element in Boston who are hesitant to venture out too far.
Pimientos de Padron - Fried salted green chilies. These were very tasty and not spicy which was fine with me but a disappointment to my friend.
Vieiras - Sliced diver scallops with butter. Served room temperature to cold. Melts in your mouth. With a name like Vieira (my last name, slightly different spelling), it has to be good.
Garlic shrimp - Least eventful of the group but simply prepared and flavorful.
Foie gras with pear - They have 3 foie gras options on the menu which I have to say I've never seen. The bartender recommended this version. It was very good and nice and small. Foie gras is so rich. You can only eat a small amount anyway.
Churros - Strips of deep-friend pastry served with dark, chili-infused chocolate for dipping. Perfect ending.

With one drink each, the bill came to just over $80 for the two of us which I think is pretty reasonable for Boston. Even though the plates are small, we left full and happy. I can't wait to go back and try some other tapas. The list is extensive (over 20 choices) and includes cuttlefish, salt cod fritters, sardines, pork belly, paella for 2 - just to name a few. Olé!

Toro, 1704 Washington Street, Boston, South End
They do not take reservations so get there early or be prepared to wait.

More Restaurant Reviews

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

3 Touchdowns for Super Bowl XL

Click photo for enlarged view.

I know most of you reading this don't really give a rat's ass about the Super Bowl but hey, it's a good excuse to park yourself in front of the TV for hours and enjoy some great comfort food. Following are a few of my favorites recipes I thought you might enjoy:
1. The Best Macaroni & Cheese
2. Finger-licking 5-Spice Ribs
3. Flavorful Couscous with Olive-Raisin Relish

I actually made them for Cards Night at my house last night so I could include pictures for you. I always think it's easier to make something if you have a photo to aspire to.

Both the Mac & Cheese and the Ribs are baked at the same temperature which enables you to cook both at the same time, so you can have them hot for gametime or whenever you serve them. The Couscous can be made ahead of time so you can get that out of the way earlier if you want.

The Best Mac & Cheese
Mac & Cheese is all about the quality of the cheese you put into it. Don't skimp and buy pre-grated or cheap cheese. Invest in nice hunks of quality Swiss (gruyere or emmenthaler), Cheddar (no Kraft singles please) and some nice Parmesan to top it all off.

I got this recipe from a cheese class I took at the Boston Center for Adult Education. It's a keeper.


1/2 pound pasta of your choice (penne or ziti work well)
3 cups cheese, grated (a mixture of swiss, cheddar and parmesan is delicious)
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
2 tsp. dijon mustard (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs (use a nice loaf of italian or french bread)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1. Cook pasta according to package directions
2. Melt butter over medium-low heat, add flour and stir constantly for 3 minutes (do not let it burn). This is known as the roux or the thickening base for the sauce. Gradually whisk in the milk. Add grated cheese in handfuls and stir to combine. Add the Dijon mustard. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Combine milk and cheese mixture with the pasta and pour into a baking dish. I use a 12" round, deep quiche dish but you can use whatever you have. Top with breadcrumbs.
4. Bake for about 10 minutes just and then put the Mac & Cheese under the broiler until the breadcrumbs are browned. I drizzle a little Truffle Oil over the top which is over the top but oh so good!

If you like this mac & cheese recipe, you might love this hearty codfish & mashed potatoes recipe called Bacalhau. It's as good if not better.

Finger-Licking Five-Spice Ribs
This recipe is from the June 2005 issue of Bon Appetit and can also be found on Epicurious.com. I tweaked it slightly after making it a couple of times.

1 or 2 racks of pork spareribs

For sauce:
1 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/2 cup honey
3 tablespoons Port or dry Sherry
2 tablespoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

For garnish:
1 bunch of chopped scallions (white part only)
Toasted sesame seeds (optional but adds texture and looks nice)

How to:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

1. Season the rack(s) with salt and pepper and roast on a rimmed baking sheet for 1 hour.
2. In a small saucepan, combine all the sauce ingredients listed above and simmer until reduced to about 2 cups (about 20 minutes). It will thicken slightly.
3. When the racks are done, take them out of the oven and baste with the sauce. Place the rack(s) back in the oven and cook for another 25 minutes.
4. Cut rack into individual ribs, sprinkle with chopped scallions and sesame seeds and serve.

Flavorful Couscous with Olive-Raisin Relish
The recipe for the relish is from New York chef Marc Meyers, of Five Points Restaurant. Saw him on Martha Stewart the other day. He's very creative. I added the Couscous part to the recipe. Try this. It's an unusual combination of flavors. Give it a chance. It's really flavorful. The olive and raisin mixture can be used as a topping for simple baked or grilled fish as well as chicken. I ate it with some Cod one day and in the couscous the next.

1/2 cup raisins or currants
1 cup pitted green olives
1 tablespoon minced shallots (or garlic)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1-1/2 cups couscous (I prefer the larger couscous but you can use whatever you like)
2 cups chicken broth (or water)

How to:
1. Place raisins in a small bowl, add boiling water to cover. Soak until plump and softened (about 1/2 hour); drain.
2. Stir in olives, shallots, olive oil and balsamic vinegar; mix well.
3. Bring the chicken broth (or water) to a boil, pour in the couscous, turn off the burner, cover the pan and let sit until liquid absorbs (5 - 10 minutes).
4. Mix the couscous in with the raisin and olive mixture. You can serve this warm, room temperature or even cold. It's a great side for the ribs and can be made ahead of time.