Monday, March 27, 2006

Emeril's Roots: A Fall River Food Tour

The Itinerary:
Furtado's (linguica sausage store)
Carreiros Barcelos Bakery
Chaves Market (Portuguese specialty products)
Lusitano (restaurant)

I think it's a good bet that if I asked any of you what you did this weekend, none of you would say "I toured a linguica sausage factory." Well believe it or not I can. Following is an account of my Fall River food tour. I thank my mom and my niece, Kirby, for indulging me on this somewhat odd but highly entertaining pilgrimage.

The other day I was watching a biopic of celebrity chef/restaurateur/Food Network icon Emeril Lagasse. Emeril grew up in Fall River which is about 20 minutes away from where I grew up in Taunton. Both towns, along with New Bedford, are heavily populated with Portuguese people (I often refer to it as the Tri-Linguica area). In the biopic, Emeril (whose mother is Portuguese) spoke about how he felt more Portuguese than American growing up in Fall River. When he was a kid, he washed dishes after school at the local Portuguese bakery. He learned to cook from his mother and a woman named Ines at St. John's Athletic Club, a down-home Portuguese restaurant. He was surrounded by Portuguese food and culture and it has stuck with him to this day. He'll often cook a Portuguese dish on Emeril Live on the Food Network and speak fondly of his childhood in Fall River and what he learned there.

When I was watching this biopic and they were showing his favorite spots in Fall River, I thought that it might be fun to check some of these places out. My mother and I frequently talk about trying to find some great Portuguese restaurants and food markets in Fall River and New Bedford. This was the perfect opportunity. I was on the case. I noted the places Emeril spoke about in the biopic. I did a little research online and found an article from "Food and Wine" in 2000 that listed Emeril's favorite Fall River haunts. I mapped out an itinerary using Google maps, and we were good to go.

Our first stop was Furtado's sausage shop, situated in an unassuming building in a very residential area. When we walked into the place, there was a glass case filled with linguica, marinated pork, chouriço (a thicker type of Portuguese sausage), the usual suspects. But beyond that we just saw some office space. At first my heart sank because I thought we wouldn't get a chance to see where the linguica is made. But then my mother asked the owner, Judy, if the location we were in is where they made the linguica. She said yes and offered us a private tour. Now for a Portuguese person, this is like being invited to tour the underground of Disney World. Needless to say, we jumped on this golden opportunity.

Pictured: one of the smokers used to cook the linguica.
The factory was downstairs from the shop. It was a huge, spotless space with some serious machinery. Who knew making sausage could be so involved. She gave us a tour of the machines - one that grinds the meat, one that works in the spices, one that makes the sausages, one that smokes the meat, and one that shrink wraps the packages. She even showed us the log they have to keep for the FDA that shows the temperature of the meat when they take it out of the smoker and when it leaves the premises. Very involved stuff. And then...the piece de resistance...the linguica. She walked us into the room where the freshly made linguica was hanging (pictured in the photo at the top). Impressive. While it seemed like a lot of linguica to me, when she said they crank out 10,000 pounds a week, clearly this was a drop in the bucket. Judy couldn't have been friendlier and didn't mind our questions or my incessant photo snapping. And this is a woman who has sold her share of the business but continues to show up for work because she's not ready to retire. You gotta love that. Furtado's ships their sausage all over the country so if you don't get a chance to go there in person, you can call or order it online.

Next stop on the Food Tour - Carreiros Barcelos Bakery. Although Carreiros is only a little over a mile away from Furtado's, there is something that Google Maps just didn't take into account. All the one-way streets! If you think there are a lot of one-way streets in Boston, you ain't seen nothing. Every other street is a one-way and it can make for rather frustrating navigating. We finally got on the right track and after ascending President's Avenue (otherwise known as the Seven Hills because you literally climb up seven hills, one higher than the next a la San Francisco), we landed at our destination.

Pictured: Bea with a Boston cream topped sweetbread.
Carreiros is the bakery where Emeril used to wash dishes when he was a kid. In the biopic, he showed where the sink used to be that would be piled high with dishes. The layout may be slightly changed but this Portuguese bakery is still thriving. What an amazing selection of breads, savory snacks and desserts they had. What first caught my eye were the mini sweet breads on the counter, each with a hard boiled egg baked in them. This is a Portuguese Easter tradition. They also had fried cod fritters, large loaves of bread with linguica baked in them, the classic Portuguese mini custard pies (Pasteis de Nata) and much more. We had a great time taking a few minutes to sit down in their cozy café area to sample our tasty purchases.

Next up - Chaves Market, a favorite of Emeril's. Again, we had some navigation issues but I think we had some divine intervention this time around. I stopped at a light, looked to my left and there was the market saying "Bom Dia!" (Hello!). Chaves Market is a Portuguese specialty store with an incredible array of fresh fish, from bacalhau (dried salted cod) and sardines to periwinkles and crabs. The meat selection was top notch too with a large selection and some of the most enormous cuts I have ever seen (Portuguese people love their beef). They even had brain - I draw the line there but they get an "A" for being adventurous. It is obvious that the clientele is mostly Portuguese because they speak to you in Portuguese when you place your order. My mother was fine with it because she's fluent in Portuguese but I was like a deer in the headlights, panicked and had to respond in English. I left with some lovely Azorean-style cheese (very light white goat cheese) that's actually made locally in Westport, MA. My mother snatched up some very lively crabs (we were worried they were going to make a run for it). Definitely a place we would love to return to.

Final destination - LUNCH(!) at Lusitano, Emeril's Mother's favorite restaurant. When we arrived at Lusitano, there wasn't a soul around. Their parking lot was empty, the lights were off, yet the sign said that they opened at noon. Hmm. We knocked and a carpenter opened the door and said the owners hadn't shown up yet. It was a really damp, raw day and we were hungry but we would wait. A few minutes later, an older couple pulled up in their car and yelled out the window "We'll be right there." Whew. We were the first ones in and the only ones in the restaurant for the entire meal. Apparently they are a very busy dinner place but lunch is quiet. That was fine with us. I can see why Emeril's mother would like this place. It's very warm (pictured above w/ my niece Kirby). Dark wood, paintings of matadors all over the walls, low ceilings and an old-school carved bar with martini glasses overheard. And the food...

If you want a light lunch, a Portuguese restaurant probably shouldn't be your destination. Luckily we were hungry. For our appetizer, we ordered this flaming choriço which was delicious. It had a sweet flavor on the outside which was attributed, we found out later, to booze. I swore I wouldn't give away the secret so I can't divulge the type of alcohol they use. We also had their house specialty appetizer, bacalhau fritters (a combination of cod and mashed potatoes). Oh so tasty. We shared entrees that included marinated pork, beef skewers and baked stuffed scallops. As is a custom in Portugal, all dishes came with double carbs - rice and potatoes. With all that food, I had to pass on the starch. Even I couldn't pack all that away. I think my scallops were the best. The stuffing was a combination of bread and seafood and the scallops were fresh-off-the-boat fresh.

Not only was this a tour of Emeril's favorite places but it was a sort of back-to-our-roots trip for me and my Mom and a welcome-to-your-adventurous-Portuguese-culture excursion for my niece. But whether you're Portuguese or not, I guarantee you will enjoy exploring some of these places and others in the Fall River area. There are a lot of unassuming gems in this fishing village. Dare to explore. Just make sure you have a good map.

Fall River Food:

544 N. Underwood Street, 508.679.6781

Chaves Market
49 Columbia Street, 508.672.7821

Carreiros Barcelos Bakery
695 Bedford Street, 508.676.8661

822 King Philip Street, 508.672.9104

We didn't quite make it here (even I can only eat one lunch) but this is where Emeril learned to cook if you want to check it out:
St. John's Athletic Club
1365 Rodman Street, 508.672.6845

World's Best Apple Pie - A Baking Lesson with Bea

I know many people claim to make the BEST apple pie in the world. But truly, this is the real deal folks. My mother's pies are famous. My cousins request a pie-of-the-month for their Christmas gift and never miss dropping by her house to pick theirs up. My mother has Yankee-traded her pies for flowers and garden plants (they always got the better end of the deal). She's shipped her pies all over New England and beyond. She shleps multiple pies in to Boston whenever she attends my brother's repertory dance show where a select few are blessed with one of her apple wonders. This is no regular pie. This is Bea's pie. The best there is.

Although I've watched my mother make apple pies a million times (I'd swear she could do it with her eyes closed), I have never made a pie myself. Two reasons: 1. Why would I bother when she's so great at it? and 2. How could I ever live up to her pies? Well, I decided to throw caution to the wind and ask my mother if she would teach me how to make her pie and pass on the joy that comes with eating a nice big slice. She kindly agreed to coach me through my first pie. And I have to say it went pretty well. The dough is definitely the trickiest part and to me, the most intimidating. But I think with a few more tries, I'll have it down. Bea has been kind enough to let me share her apple pie recipe with the world. It was tough to get her to nail down the ingredients since she obviously doesn't use a recipe. But I think we did it. Hope you enjoy it.

Bea's Apple Pie

2 cups flour
2/3 cup shortening
2 tbsp butter, unsalted
5 - 6 tbps of water (approximately)
5 - 6 apples (4 - 5 granny smith; for the other 1 or 2, use the apple of your choice)
1 cup of sugar plus an extra pinch to sprinkle on top of pie
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt
2 strips of tin foil to cover the crust (about 1-1/2 inches wide)
About 2 tbsp of milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

The Bottom Crust
1. Blend shortening and butter together with a fork or wooden spoon.
2. Mix in the flour and a pinch of salt.
3. Add a tablespoon of water at a time. When you see that the dough is starting to come together, stop adding water.
4. Take the dough in your hands and work into a ball.
5. Refrigerate the dough in a bowl for 15 minutes, uncovered.

While you're waiting, peel the apples.

6. Take dough out of the fridge.
7. Wet your kitchen countertop with a sponge, lay down plastic wrap and flour it lightly. You can work directly on the counter but this makes for easier clean-up. Altenatively, you can lay parchment paper down which works great as well. The dough does not stick to it at all.
8. Take 1/2 of the dough and roll it out for the bottom crust. Add flour if rolling pin sticks to the dough. Roll from center out then from center back towards you NOT back and forth because it toughens the dough and may create holes.
9. Fold the dough and place it in the pie pan. Unfold it and readjust so it is centered in the pie pan.
10. Trim the dough about 1/2" around the pan.

The Filling
1. Slice the apples thin and place right into the pie pan. When you're done there should be a heap of apples higher than the pan.
2. Mix the sugar and cinnamon and spinkle over the entire apple surface.
3. Cut 2 tablespoons of butter into 4 pieces and place in different areas of the pie over the apples and sugar.

The Top Crust
1. Roll out the remaining dough for the top crust. Follow technique described above in bottom crust instructions.
2. Fold the rolled out dough in half, make three slits toward the center for air to release while it's baking.
3. Gently unfold onto top of pie.
4. Cut 1/2" away from from the edge of the top dough layer.
5. Take the edges of both the bottom and top crust and fold it under (above the rim not below) a little at the time. Then crimp the edge all the way around between your thumb and first finger.

The Love
1. Cut a heart out of a piece of the leftover rolled out dough and place near the middle of the pie. Shows that you put just a little extra love into there.
2. Brush milk lightly over the top with a pastry brush or your fingers (not too much because it will burn).
3. Sprinkle lightly with sugar.

The Finishing Touch
1. Cover the edges of the crust with tinfoil to protect it from burning.
2. Bake for 50 minutes with tin foil on the crust. Bake a final 5 minutes with tin foil removed from crust.

Let it cool a bit before cutting. Delicious as is or with ice cream. A great dessert to make earlier in the day or even a day ahead.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Oysters Great, Small, Shucked & Fried at Neptune Oyster ♆

Last Thursday night resulted in yet another fruitful trip to the North End. This time out the goal was to enjoy the fruits of the sea, the almighty oysters, at Neptune Oyster. This place is a nice alternative to all of the pasta being tossed around the North End. Although the restaurant does give a nod to Italy with a couple of Italian appetizers and entrees, clearly the main attraction here is fresh, delicious seafood.

Neptune Oyster is charming. It has a nice big window in the front so you can see them shucking the oysters (pictured above). That definitely captures your attention and whets your appetite. Like most North End restaurants, the space is small but cozy. There is a bar to your right where my brother and I chose to sit. There are hooks under the bar so you can hang your purse or bag. This is a huge plus in my book. Any restaurant that thinks of these kinds of details is a winner in my book. To the left are a handful of tables, most adorned with a multi-tier display of raw bar items. I imagine it's rough getting a seat on a Saturday night.

When we indicated to the bartender we wanted to order some oysters, our bartender handed us a small sheet of paper similar to an a la carte order form for sushi. On the sheet was a full list of all the oysters and raw bar items available along with where they were from, the price and much to our entertainment, a colorful description of each. For example, the Potter's Pond oysters we ordered were described as "Medium, high salt start, briny finish, green apple hints" while the Norwalk Blues were deemed "Large, lower salt, very briny with hints of anise." I love oysters as much as the next person but "green apple hints" and "hints of anise?" I think that might be pushing it a bit. Or maybe my palate is just not that sophisticated to pick those kinds of things up. It's fun nonetheless and gives you something to help you choose amongst the many different kinds. We ordered 4 different kinds and although they were all delicious, we hold a special place in our hearts for the tiny Kumamoto, the cutest little oyster you'll ever see which surprisingly packs a lot of flavor (pictured below).

For our entree, we decided to split the Green garlic halibut with cauliflower, almonds, egg crumbs and white anchovy salad. But we also decided at the last minute that we had to try the Fried Oysters (there's one left in the photo below, just before we devoured it) which turned out to be an excellent call. You have got to try these oysters. They are heavenly. Just flash fried so they are not greasy at all and the oysters are still somewhat raw and melt in your mouth. The oysters are accompanied with blue cheese and very thin strips of celery. Delicious.

The halibut was excellent as well. The only thing we noted was that the fish itself was a bit bland but accompanied with the other items on the plate, it was very flavorful. The almonds added some nice texture to the dish.

There is an excellent wine selection as well as a small but quality beer selection. Service is friendly and the atmosphere is lively. So next time you're up for oysters, try Neptune. And don't be afraid to order them raw and fried or heck, even in a stew. Last but not least, one more hot (or cold item) for you - the luscious Maine lobster roll (served hot with butter or cold with mayo). It passed by us at the bar and we put it on the list for next time.

Finally, if you want to read up on oysters, I recommend "The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell," by Mark Kurlansky. Who knew Manhattan was once the breeding ground for some of the world's best oysters? In addition to the history of oysters, this book also contains lots of recipes.

Thanks, James, for the dinner, the book and the great company as always!

Neptune Oyster
63 Salem Street, North End, Boston, MA, 617.742.3474

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Om, A Zen Dining Experience

When you walk into Om, you are immediately greeted with a soothing wall of water, which clearly indicates you're in for a unique experience. Add the swank lounge, the mood lighting behind the bar and the Tibetan murals created by the owner's father, and you'll forget you're in Harvard Square.

Om is the most inspired restaurant to hit the Boston area in a very long time. They have succeeded in excelling at all the most important elements of a great restaurant - inviting atmosphere, friendly staff and impeccable food (both in its stylish, artistic presentation and its wonderful, innovative flavor combinations).

In the downstairs lounge, hipsters sip fabulous cocktails created by star mixologist Clif Travers (formerly of Cuchi Cuchi) and snack on skewers and momos (Tibetan dumplings). Upstairs is a spacious dining area, as sophisticated as the menu creations developed by Chef Rachel Klein.

The creativity kicks off with the cocktails. Just when you thought nothing new could be done with cocktails, there's Bonnie & Clyde, a refreshing champagne, lemon and ginger cocktail featuring ginger essential oils, apparently a new trend in the libations arena. Definitely a dangerously delicious drink that goes down way too easily.

The fusion menu features several appetizers that are all "deconstructed" - several items paired together but plated separately or at least broken down into more visible components. Sounds sort of technical but the proof is in the plating and the tasting. It totally works.

Take the Hudson Valley Foie Gras. It has a heavenly portion of foie gras, accompanied by pecan pie, pickled muscat grapes, and micro mustard greens. It's an adventure combining the flavors and textures. The Torched Tuna Tartar (pictured above) features a line-up of palate pleasing elements including "torched" tartar (which has a tasty, crunchy creme brullée exterior), pine nuts, currants, pomegranate and ginger gelée. At the end of the plate is a hibiscus chaser - whimsical yet delicious.

Entrées get even more playful and adventurous. The Steak & Eggs (pictured left) is the signature dish. The name is not worthy of the dish it represents which is stellar. Look forward to grilled filet mignon with yukon potato purée, asparagus, fried truffle egg and bordelaise sauce. The fried truffle egg is the biggest surprise and most amazing egg you'll ever eat.

The Surf 'n Turf also has a name that undersells the dish. Enjoy grilled sliced yellow-fin tuna with clementine aioli and radish shavings, brown sugar glazed rutabaga and beef momos. This is not your typical surf 'n turf by a long shot.

The desserts continue to excite and intrigue. The most creative dessert plate is "Tea Time" with a white chocolate and Moroccan Mint Tea tart, Assam tea profiteroles, chai-spiced cake and a shot of earl grey bubble tea. One of the most beautiful dessert presentations I have ever seen (and as you can imagine, I have seen a lot of desserts in my day). The tea tart was the tastiest of all the treats but the bubble tea shot wins for whimsy.

Om is open every evening until 1am which offers a much-needed late-night dining option in Cambridge.

Om Restaurant/Lounge
57 JFK Street
(entrance on Winthrop Street - across from Upstairs on the Square)
Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA, 617.586.2800
Open daily at 5pm

Monday, March 20, 2006

First Day of Spring.
Bea's Chicken Soup Still In Order.

It's the first day of Spring but it's still pretty chilly here in Beantown. Perfect day to make a nice big pot of Bea's Chicken Soup. Bea is my mom and her chicken soup is everything you would expect from someone who's been cooking heavenly meals for large crowds for decades. Hearty, delicious, better the second, third and fourth day you eat it and most importantly, plentiful. We are in the presence of greatness here. Thank you, Bea, for doing us the honor of sharing your recipe with us. You can return the favor to Bea by trying the recipe and posting your results on this page.

Happy Spring to you, Bea, and to all. We're almost out of the woods!

Bea's Chicken Soup


1 small chicken (3 1/2 - 4lbs)
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 onion, diced
1 packet of instant chicken broth (Herb ox instant broth & seasoning recommended)
1 bay leaf
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 cup rice
1/4 cup white wine (or vermouth in a pinch)
1/2 cup spaghetti or the noodle of your choice (optional)

How to:

1. Rinse the chicken and put it in a large stock pot. Cover with water and boil for 1 hour.
2. Remove chicken, set aside to cool slightly. Pour broth through a sieve into another large stock pot.
3. Add the chopped celery, carrots, onion, 1 packet of chicken broth, salt, pepper and bay leaf to the broth. Cook 20 minutes.
4. Then add 1/2 cup rice, 1/4 cup white wine and the chicken, skinned and pulled (I prefer the rustic chunks) or cut up in bite size pieces. Cook another 20 minutes.
5. In the final 5 - 7 minutes, you can add in the spaghetti, egg noodles or any other noodle you like. I put egg noodles in this batch.

Serve immediately. Warm up instantly. A nice slice of bread and butter is the perfect accompaniment. Enjoy!

NOTE: Make sure the soup has cooled to room temperature before refrigerating.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Lineage - Hot New Spot in Coolidge Corner

Click image to get a closer look. Yum.

Coolidge Corner in Brookline has a lot of restaurants. But let’s face it. There aren’t many that stand out. Most are mediocre establishments that may leave you feeling full but not necessarily satisfied. Enter Lineage. A wonderful new addition to the neighborhood that competes with some of Boston’s finest restaurants.

Lineage is owned by former Great Bay chef, Jeremy Sewall, so it’s no surprise the food is amazing. Also on the team is Jeremy’s wife, Lisa, who is a former pastry chef at L’Espalier (what delicious dinners they must have at home). Add some of the friendliest staff I’ve ever met, minimalist but cozy décor and a warm bar (literally, due to the “cool” wood stove behind it), and you’ve got a winning combination.

It’s hard to believe that Lineage has only been open since the end of February. Already the restaurant is running like a well-oiled machine. The staff is on top of their game — they’re attentive and knowledgeable, ready to make recommendations and answer any questions you may have. Our food was delivered in a timely manner and the presentation of each dish was impeccable.

The chef seems to have his wood burning stove routine down pat. He goes back and forth from the kitchen, carrying his cast iron pans and adorable individual serving casseroles to either cook or finish the dishes in the oven. Those pans must get heavy after awhile but all that hard work pays off. The smells coming out of that oven are incredible – is that truffle oil?

The cuisine can be classified as upscale American with both French and Italian influence. You’ll find an array of choices as well as price tags on the menu so you can go the budget route ($9.00 for a wood-grilled pizza) or splurge a bit ($28 for the Grilled New York Steak with gruyère potatoes and French green beans).

My sister, Donna, and I had a tough time ordering because with a menu like this, we wanted to be sure we ordered different items so we could sample a bit of everything.

I finally settled on the Duck Confit Canneloni for an appetizer and the Idaho Golden Trout for my entrée. I noticed that they had Organic White Grits on the menu. How many places in Boston have grits on the menu? I figured if they were going to attempt to make them, they must be good. When I found out they were from a farm in South Carolina, I was sold. My friend, Jen who lives down there steered me towards grits when I visited and I remember they were heavenly.

In terms of the Duck Confit Canneloni I have to say I’ve never met a duck confit I didn’t like. And this was no exception. The duck was pulled (like pulled pork) and wrapped in a large sheet of pasta, cooked in a cast iron casserole with leeks and melted piave which I discovered was an Italian sheep’s milk cheese (just when I thought I knew every cheese…). This was an appetizer believe it or not. In the future, I would be happy to order this as my entrée. It’s a generous serving and quite filling.

You don’t see trout often on menus. I thought the combination of the fish with pearl pasta, bacon, almonds and French green beans sounded appealing. This dish exceeded my expectations. First of all, it was gorgeous to look at. And once I took a bite of the fish I knew this was no ordinary fish dish. It was moist, flaky and the skin was nice and crisp. The sides were all cooked to perfection and I believe the bacon was Italian pancetta, cut in cubes with loads of flavor.

The grits were, let’s just admit it, sinful. Penance is a 5-mile run on the Charles for this one. But so worth it. Creamy, fluffy, buttery and cheesy (they use the same piave cheese that is in the Duck Confit Canneloni). The grits are an alterative to mashed potatoes you should definitely try.

My sister was not complaining about her order either. She was one happy camper and loved her Braised Cod Cheeks appetizer (yes, it’s actually the meat from the cheeks of the cod fish – go figure). The cod is cooked in tomatoes with chorizo (Portuguese sausage) with oregano and golden raisins. Raisins? Yes. It’s a nice sweet/savory pairing that works very well. Kudos.

The entrée that spoke her name was the Hand Rolled Gnocchi, which was served with baby spinach, shitake mushrooms and topped with parmesan cheese and a little butter. The gnocchi were like little pillows – light, airy and nap inducing. It may be the best gnocchi we’ve ever had. Although Donna couldn’t quite finish the dish, she was not leaving it behind. A doggy bag was definitely in order.

We had some terrific drinks to sip along with dinner. I ordered the delicious Pear Sidecar which was made with a pear liqueur called Pear de Brillet along with sour mix, vodka and a blood orange garnish (which I recommend squeezing into the drink). My sister had the Pomegranate Punch which actually packed a serious punch. Wow.

For dessert, we decided to split the Butterscotch Pudding. While we obviously didn’t have much room left, we made room for this creamy, delicious dessert. It’s so much more than a pudding, more of a parfait. Delightful.

In case you’re wondering where the name Lineage comes from, it’s a local family affair. Jeremy is a descendent of Judge Samuel Sewall, a prominent Brookline resident in the 17th century. Just around the corner from the restaurant lies Sewall Avenue, named for the Judge. How very Boston.

If (when!) you go to Lineage, try and sit at the bar and enjoy the warmth of the wood burning stove as well as Nathan, your friendly neighborhood bartender and multi-tasker. Tell him I sent you.

242 Harvard Street, Brookline, MA 02445, 617.232.0065
Open for dinner, Tuesday thru Sunday at 5pm
Sunday brunch, 10:30 – 2:30

Monday, March 13, 2006

Atasca Restaurant - feliz aniversario a mim (happy b'day to me!)

Saturday night was my birthday (29 - again) and I can't think of a better place to celebrate than at Atasca, a warm, inviting Portuguese restaurant over by the Kendall Square movie theater. While I wish they still had their old cozier location on Broadway, I've grown fond of the new space. A grand matador painting greets you at the entrance, colorful Portuguese pottery adorns the walls, and lively conversation and vinho verde (light Portuguese "green" wine) fill the room.

Now this is not a place to go if you want to see elegant, vertical plating. While the dining is fine, the plating is simple. Portuguese food is not fancy. It's peasant fare. And you could care less how it looks on the plate because it tastes so good.

As soon as we sat down, black olives were served as well as Portuguese cornbread and a salty, olive oil with garlic for dipping. These appetizers are on the house which is a nice touch. I'm more of a green olive fan but these black olives were excellent - briny and firm. The bread and dipping sauce were great. I had to keep reminding myself, "Don't fill up on bread."

The first appetizer we ordered was the Lulas à Alho, sautéed squid with garlic topped with milho frito croutons (polenta). The squid was so tender (they serve both the rings and the tentacles which I love for the variation in texture) and the sauce it was in was citrusy, garlicky and well, yummy. I really liked the polenta croutons, too. They were very light and soaked up the juices nicely without getting soggy.

The other appetizer we ordered was one my sister and I sit around and talk about often, the Queijo com Paté. It's a plate of Portuguese white cheese with chourico paté with grilled garlic corn bread. Where else in the world can you get chourico (Portuguese spicy sausage) paté? If you go to Atasca, this is something not to be missed. It's a layering process. Take a piece of the grilled corn bread, top it with a smear of paté and top it off with the very smooth, light white cheese. Now THAT's a killer appetizer.

For dinner, I ordered what I always order there. I can't help it. It's so good. It's called Galinha com Vinho do Porto which is sautéed chicken breast with mushrooms and Port wine, served with a white kidney bean risotto. Wow. What a feast for the senses. Way too much to eat in one sitting. Makes heavenly leftovers. Based on the recommendation of the waitress, I ordered a glass of Sinfonio from the Alentejo region of Portugal to accompany my meal. It was wonderful. For those of you who don't know, Portuguese wines are a great value. There are a number of liquor stores in the Inman Square area that carry Portuguese wines from the Douro, Dão and Alentejo regions, known for their excellent wines. Most are under $15.

My boyfriend, Kemal, whose idea it was to go to Atasca (bless his soul), ordered the Bife Atasca com Ovo a Cavalo. This is a very traditional Portuguese dish that seems like a crazy idea but is actually a fantastic idea. It's a traditional marinated 12 oz. sirloin steak sautéed with a garlic, red wine sauce and Portuguese butter, topped with a fried egg (that's right, a fried egg), served with Atasca's fried potatoes and mixed vegetables. It's a heavenly combination. I just want to note that the fried potatoes are not to be overlooked. They slice small potatoes in round slices about 1/4" thick, fry and salt them. Sounds simple but there is something special about these fried potatoes. They are both crispy and soft at the same time and highly addictive. They're also available (and may even be a little better for some reason) at Atasca's sister restaurant, O Cantinho (further details below).

For dessert, we ordered the Arroz Doce (Rice Pudding), a staple dessert in many cultures. I love their rice pudding. It's very light and creamy, not dense or hard and crunchy on top like some versions. They don't say so but I believe they put lemon zest in the pudding which gives the dessert that little something extra.

For a special night out or simply a night of rustic, home-style fine dining, try Atasca. Bom appetit!

Obrigada, Kemal!

O Cantinho - a More Casual Alternative

If you want a more casual ambiance but similar food, try their sister restaurant, O Cantinho in Inman Square. I absolutely love the atmosphere in there. It's a small place (about 8 tables), pottery everywhere and a few wonderful paintings on the wall - portraits of what seems to be the Portuguese "every man." You can see into the kitchen and know when your meal is being made by the smell. The waitresses there are always very warm and friendly.

I highly recommend the bacalhau sandwich (lightly fried salt cod with a spicy piri piri mayonnaise sauce). It's served on a Portuguese roll and comes with those addictive fried potatoes I mentioned in the Atasca review above. So fresh and delicious. The Favas com Linguica (stewed fava beans with onions and Portuguese sausage) is fantastic. A little on the spicy side but not too hot. Every friend I've asked to try this has LOVED it. Wash it all down with a mini bottle of madacujar soda. It's a passion fruit soda and I promise you, you'll love it. It's light, refreshing, not too sweet. I fell in love with it when I visited Madeira Island and was thrilled to find out that they serve it. Finally, for dessert, their mini custard pie desserts (Pasteis de Nata) are to die for. You can take them to go if you're too stuffed to eat them there. I like the basic custard (it always has a sort of signature burnt layer on top) although they also offer vanilla, coconut and red bean (seems more Asian than Portuguese but whatever).

O Cantinho is open all day from lunchtime through dinner so if you're ever in the Inman Square area, definitely stop in for a bite. You'll be glad you did.

50 Hampshire Street, Cambridge, MA, 617.621.6991
Open for lunch and dinner. Outdoor seating in the summer.

O Cantinho
1128 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA, 617.354.3443

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Restaurant Week Part I: Mamma Maria

In the past, Boston Restaurant Week only took place in the summer to drive tourists and those not fortunate enough to have summer homes into participating restaurants for a very appealing and affordable 3-course dinner. But this year, they decided to do it in the winter as well which turned out great for me because it just happened to be the week leading up to my birthday. Jackpot! So I had the pleasure of enjoying two wonderful dinners out with two great friends, Lisa and Carla.

Restaurant Week Reviews:
Mamma Maria, North End, Boston
Tangierino, Charlestown (for Review, see "Restaurant Week: Tangierino")

Last Tuesday, Lisa and I went to Mamma Maria in the North End. I had been wanting to go to this restaurant for a long time. It looks so charming from the outside and I had heard it was very good. Lisa and I were instantly smitten. They offer valet parking and Lisa is from the 'burbs so this is a huge plus in her book. The interiors of Mamma Maria are absolutely beautiful. It's really a large home and feels like one inside. If you've ever been to L'Espalier in Boston, Mamma Maria is similar but not as formal. White tablecloths, tasteful paintings, a view out onto North Square and Paul Revere's House, and a very Martha Stewart color palette (neutral organic tones). Many of the North End restaurants are small and cozy but sometimes a little too cramped. Mamma Maria has many rooms throughout the restaurant/house so it feels intimate yet comfortable and spacious. The acoustics are excellent as well. As the number of people in the room increased, the noise level didn't. I was amazed. The service was excellent with little niceties like re-folding your napkin and putting it at your place setting when you step away from the table. And the food...

Since it was Restaurant Week, the main menu was a three-course prix fixe dinner. In the past I found those menus a bit limiting but Mamma Maria offered plenty of selections for each course. However, if you couldn't find something you liked, they allowed you to order off the regular menu (at regular prices) which was nice. I found plenty of interest on the prix fixe menu and ordered quite a lovely meal:

For the appetizer (antipasti):
Wellfleet oysters baked with a Champagne zabaglione and crispy leeks.
This was a huge appetizer (for me to say this means it was really huge) with about a 1/2 dozen oysters. 3 was more than enough for me as they were very rich. The most pleasant surprise was the crispy leeks. They tasted like a cross between an very thin onion ring and french fry. Nothing wrong with that.

For the entree (principalli):
Freshly made papardelle pasta with slow-roasted Sonoma rabbit, pancetta and fresh rosemary
(sorry Carol - my sister has pet rabbits). The slow-roasting comes through loud and clear in this dish as the rabbit meat just falls apart. A very hearty dish.

For dessert (Dolci):
Espresso panna cotta with burnt caramel sauce and warm biscotti.
Wow. This was so much more delicious than I had expected. The espresso flavor really made the dessert. Didn't even need the biscotti.

Lisa ordered off the prix fixe menu and was equally pleased:

For the appetizer (antipasti):
Creamy “small farm” buffalo mozzarella from Naples with tarragon pesto and cracked black pepper.
This cheese reminded us of the mozzarella we had eaten at a restaurant in New York that was so good we though it should be illegal. Smoother and creamier than your average mozzarella.

For the entree (principalli):
Lobster-filled pasta tortelli with grilled asparagus and smoked pancetta.
As you can imagine, this was wonderful. The homemade pasta makes a huge difference because it is so much lighter than dried pasta and pairs with the lobster perfectly.

For dessert (Dolci):
Sweet toasted coconut bread with chocolate sauce and coconut gelato.
Lisa and I both love anything coconuty and this was no exception. The coconut flavor in the coconut bread was much more subtle than in the coconut gelato which we preferred.

Grazie, Lisa!!

Mamma Maria
3 North Square, North End, Boston, 617.523.0077

Friday, March 10, 2006

Restaurant Week Part II: Tangierino

My birthday week and Boston Restaurant Week continued with a surprise restaurant destination. Carla picked me up at my house on Thursday at 7 with Mapquest directions in hand. We were off to Charlestown, to an exotic Moroccan restaurant called Tangierino.

You don't know quite what to expect when you step off the historic, quaint streets of Charlestown into a place like Tangierino. Luckily, once you walk into the restaurant, you soon realize you're not in Charlestown anymore. You are in Morocco. Beaded light fixtures, shades of ruby red sheers flowing from ceiling to floor separating out the space, and lush couches with ample throw pillows all work seamlessly together to provide a comfortable environment to have drinks, appetizers or a full meal. A separate room even offers hookah tobacco smoking for those who are adventurous and long for the days of smoking in restaurants. An occasional belly dancer even wiggles by, accepting dollars tucked in her minimalist attire should you be inclined to tip her (seems a little stripper-esque for me but clearly I'm not her target audience).

I thought to myself, this place is beautiful and exotic but how good is the food? Once we took our first bite of our appetizers, we knew our expectations would be exceeded. I started with a Tuna Tartar appetizer - layers of spicy yellow fin, crab meat, honeyed mango, wild mint, cucumber and guacamole. Not only did it melt in my mouth, the presentation was absolutely beautiful as you can see from the photo to the right.

Carla's appetizer of choice was the delicate domed phyllo pie of chicken, toasted almond and mint yogurt sauce. When the appetizer came, it looked more like empanadas than a phyllo pie but again, the presentation was stellar. The flavors of this appetizer were wonderful, both sweet and savory, kind of like an appetizer and dessert combined. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Not at all.

For dinner, Carla ordered the house specialty, Sultan's Kadra (pictured below), which consists of Za'atar spiced filet of lamb, cheese filled eggplant, shitake mushrooms, poached figs, carmelized apricot with rosemary reduction. Seems like an overdose on ingredients but the flavors are very harmonious. The eggplant is stacked on top of the lamb so you can slice down through the whole thing and enjoy all the flavors in one bite. I've never had anything quite like it. I think I recommend ordering this the most out of everything we tried.

I ordered the Tagine of lemony chicken, rubbed in herbs and preserved lemon, with spinach and green olives, shallots and friend potatoes. A tagine is a Moroccan triangular shaped cooking vessel that keeps all the moisture in the dish. The waiter brough the tagine to the table and lifted the top when he served the dinner. Very nice presentation. The dish itself was very nice. The strongest flavors were the lemon and olives which I love with chicken. Not as eventful as the Sultan's Kadra but very good nonetheless.

We both had sangria with our dinner and it was excellent. Sometimes sangria either tastes too much like pure red wine or too sweet and fruity. This sangria had the perfect balance.

Even after all that delicious food, I was still skeptical about dessert. I wasn't sure they'd put as much effort into the dessert as the rest of the foods (many restaurants fall short on dessert so they wouldn't have been alone). However, much to our surprise the desserts were beautiful and deliciuos as well. Carla's molten flourless chocolate soufflé was rich and delicious, however we agreed that my almond chocolate mousse cake was the winner hand's down. The chocolate on the outside was crunchy (almost Eskimo Pie-like but with nuts) and the inside featured layers of moist rich cake with chocolate mousse. I loved the combination of textures. It was a huge dessert however and had to leave most of it on the plate. Pity.

Tangierio is definitely worth the trip to Charlestown. Hit up a friend for a ride, call a cab, reserve a zipcar. Whatever it takes. Just round up your friends and transport yourself to Morocco for an evening. It's a fun, unique experience.

Thanks for the more than pleasant surprise, Carla!

83 Main Street, Charlestown, MA, 617.242.6009

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

NYC in 24 – cupcakes, cheesy poofs & way-better-than-average eggs

Daniel gives Magnolia Bakery's frosting two thumbs up.

I had to go to New York for a meeting yesterday and it’s not in my DNA to go to New York (one of the food capitals of the world) and not go out to eat, even if it is for just 24 hours.

Snacktime, 5:22pm
My first stop was Magnolia Bakery, famous for its cupcakes. I was walking to my friend Mary Beth’s place in the West Village and just stumbled upon it. Everyone raves about this place including Martha Stewart. The bakery even made it into the lyrics of a funny rap song called "The Chronicwhatcles of Narnia," performed by 2 of the cast members on Saturday Night Live. This “bit” made it onto the Internet and was one of the most highly circulated videos over the holidays last year. So that’s the level of fame Magnolia Bakery had reached (only in New York). Apparently now tour buses stop there and the lines are around the corner. Luckily, it was late afternoon when I went in so it wasn’t too crazy.

So does Magnolia Bakery live up to the hype? Well, the place is absolutely adorable. Exactly what you’d expect a bakery that specializes in cupcakes to look like. Small and quaint (or cramped depending on whether you’re a glass half full or half empty kind of person), pastel colors, several Kitchen Aid mixers working overtime on batter, glass cases full of yummy treats including banana pudding with vanilla wafers, multi-layer cakes, etc.

The cupcakes are “self serve.” You go over to a table where all the cupcakes are on display, pick the cupcakes you want and put them in a box that fits 4 cupcakes. Due to such high demand, 12 cupcakes is the maximum you can buy. Apparently they sell over 2,000 cupcakes a day! Clearly I am in the wrong business.

It’s a little stressful acquiring your cupcakes because the place is so “quaint.” Picture this – Lynne (aka “bull in a China shop”), in this dainty shop, with a huge laptop backpack and overnight bag, trying to maneuver over to the cupcake table through the crowd, balance a pastry box, pick out a few freaking cupcakes so I could then wait in line to pay for them. Okay, so this isn’t the scenario for most people going into the bakery. But it was a challenge! And I can’t imagine during their busiest time how crowds of people get near that table. I’m sure it’s not pretty.

The cupcakes were definitely delicious, especially the red velvet chocolate cupcakes – creamy frosting and rich, moist chocolate cake. Pretty much worth the $1.75 each. However, this past summer I had a cupcake that far exceeded these. In West Stockbridge, MA. When I went to visit my sister and brother-in-law there, the first order of business was to get me to try the most out of this world cupcake they had ever had. I was thinking to myself, “How good can a cupcake be?!” Well, I soon found out. They whisked me off to Edible Adventures in West Stockbridge where Owner/Baker Matt Hauck frosted the cupakes right then and there for us. The cupcakes were much bigger than Magnolia’s and the FROSTING (it was pretty much all about the frosting although the cake part was good too) was a chocolate ganache (chocolate with cream folded in). Wow. Now THAT was a cupcake worth standing in line around the block for (we didn’t have to although a “pre-order” was necessary).

Dinner: 6:47pm

For dinner, we walked a few blocks down the street from Mary Beth’s apartment to an unassuming Mario Batali haunt (he's a partner in the biz) called The Spotted Pig.

This restaurant has a great ambiance. Dark wood, small tables, glass mirrors on the wall featuring the fairly extensive beer and wine list. The menu is a bit eclectic but I would classify it as upscale comfort food. “Bar snacks” include marinated olives, roasted almonds and “roll mops” (a house specialty - pickled sardines).

Appetizers (or what they call “plates”) run the gamut with salads (Apple and Pear with Mrs. Quickes’ cheddar and walnuts; Fennel and Celery salad with lemon, olive oil & bottarga; and Jerusalem Artichoke Salad with goat’s cheese and hazelnuts) and other interesting dishes like Spiced Lentils with crispy parsnips & crème fraiche and smoked haddock chowder with homemade crackers.

The list of entrées is smaller and features a nice range of choices as well from the Chargrilled burger with Roquefort cheese & shoestrings to Pork Belly with cabbage, carrots & juniper.

There were a few specials the night we went. Two appetizer specials really appealed to us so we ordered those. I had the Gruyere cheese beignets (which we affectionately renamed “cheesy poofs”). They were bite-size balls of cheese flash fried, nicely salted and gooey in the middle. It would be impossible for me to find anything negative to say about these except, perhaps, that they must be extremely fattening. C’est la vie. Mary Beth’s appetizer was tasty as well. The waiter told us that it is an Indian appetizer. Deeply brown fried onion rings with a side of raita (yogurt and cucumber mixture) for dipping. I wasn’t sure it fit with the rest of the menu but it was very good.

For dinner, Mary Beth was well behaved and ordered the Apple and Pear with Mrs. Quickes’ cheddar and walnuts. She enjoyed it but was not “wowed” by it. I ordered the Roasted Sea Bass with cranberry beans and herb salad which was wonderful. The sea bass was a wonderful cut – thick and narrow with the skin on which was very crisp and flavorful. The side of cranberry beans (my absolute favorite kind of beans not often found on menus) was in a brown sauce that I loved. No complaints here.

I almost thought about passing on dessert until the waiter told us that their Flourless Chocolate Cake had been recently voted the best in New York. The words “We’ll have one of those” immediately slipped out. My one complaint is that calling it “cake” is false advertising. THIS is no cake. It is more like a mousse. Rich, very light, no fork necessary. And it was served with a fluffy sour cream side which was a nice balance for the richness of the dessert. I would highly recommend ordering this should you be in the neighborhood.

Morning Fuel, 8:47am

My morning train out of Penn Station was at 10am which meant I had time for one more meal in Manhattan. When a local favorite diner of Mary Beth’s in the Meatpacking District was not open, we stepped over camera equipment and walked past a movie crew to the corner and settled in at Pastis (sister restaurant to one of my all-time favorite restaurants, Balthazar). Walking into Pastis is like walking into a Paris café (minus the lack of smoke). Small bistro tables and chairs, enormous distressed mirrors, dark wood bar.

Last time I was at Pastis, smoking was still legal. The place was packed, smoke-filled and you could cut the attitude in the air with a Wusthof (even though the food was good). This morning was a completely different experience. It was relaxed, people were reading their morning paper, the heavenly smell of lattés and cappuccino’s filled the air, life was good. I wished I could be staying for lunch.

Mary Beth ordered a latté which she said was outstanding (I’ve given up coffee so could only enjoy the smell). She also ordered eggs with home fries which she said she orders there often. I ordered some tea, a flaky, almost-as-good-as-France croissant and some eggs with ham. I know this sounds weird because eggs are usually eggs but I took one bite of my eggs and thought…these are different. They tasted lighter, fluffier, creamier. I know there’s probably a bad reason why they were so good (cooked in fat, extra butter, something) but I didn’t ask. I just enjoyed. What a great way to start the day and get fueled for the long Acela ride home.

Thanks for the hospitality, Mary Beth, Jim, Daniel and Sarah!

When in New York…
Magnolia Bakery, 401 Bleecker Street, West Village, 212.462.2572
The Spotted Pig, 314 W 11th Street, West Village, 212.620.0393
Pastis, 9 9th Avenue, Meatpacking District, 212.929-4844

Or if in West Stockbridge...
Edible Adventures, 5 Center St. West Stockbridge (Western part of the state), MA, 413.232.7722

Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover - Dolphin Seafood

I have lived in Cambridge for many years and must have walked by the restaurant Dolphin Seafood about 1,000 times. It’s located between Central and Harvard Square in sort of a strip mall environment. I always thought it looked a little cheesy and if I’m going to go out for seafood, I want it to be a nice place where I can trust the quality of the fish. So I always bypassed Dolphin even though I had heard it was very good.

Last Saturday, I took a walk to The Games People Play, a great store that has board games, chess sets, cards – anything to do with games that aren’t of the video nature. I purchased Cranium (a really fun game) for the evening’s game extravaganza. It was lunchtime and I was starving. Not many options right in that neighborhood. For some reason, I decided to put my skepticism aside and finally try Dolphin Seafood.

While the exterior signage for the restaurant is cheesy and dated, after one step inside the restaurant, I realized that the exterior was doing a disservice to the interiors which were bright, modern, and welcoming, making me feel instantly at ease eating seafood here.

The menu at Dolphin Seafood is extensive and provides both healthy (steamed, broiled) and indulgent (fried) preparations of their fish, clams, oysters. They offer a New England clambake (lobster, steamers, chowder) which is not something easily found in Cambridge. Specials such as blackened catfish are also a nice surprise.

While we were trying to be good, my boyfriend Kemal couldn’t resist ordering the fried oysters for an appetizer. And I have to say I’m glad he did. They were just how I like them. Crispy and salty on the outside and still gooey on the inside. For an entrée, he ordered kabobs of grilled seafood: marinated swordfish, shrimp and scallops, server over a Caesar salad. Everything was cooked to perfection. This was Kemal’s first time eating swordfish and he instantly became a huge fan. I ordered the Almond Crusted Salmon Fillet. The salmon was baked perfectly so it had a nice crispy outside and flaky inside. It came with rice and broccoli which was simple but good — the broccoli was not overcooked or rubbery which can sometimes happen with vegetable sides.

So if you’re ever hungry and in that sort of no man’s land between Harvard and Central Square (near the Crate and Barrel Furniture Store), definitely don’t judge Dolphin Seafood by the outside. Take a walk in without thinking twice about it and order some delicious, fresh, well-prepared seafood.

Dolphin Seafood, 1105 Mass Ave., Cambridge, 617.661.2937

Also, check out the The Games People Play for the best in board games.
1100 Mass. Ave., Cambridge, MA, 617.492.0711

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Roast Chicken w/ Soy Ginger Marinade and a Gourmet Sandwich To Go

I love making Roast Chicken on Sundays. You don't mind getting up from reading the Sunday paper or watching an old movie to baste it every 15 minutes. It's an easy thing to make, it makes the whole house smell great, and there are always leftovers so you can make chicken salad or soup. This Sunday it was especially nice to have leftovers because my boyfriend was flying to San Francisco that night and I wanted to make him a nice sandwich which he would be happy to have when they came around offering lame snacks like Terra Chips (no offense to Terra Chips but that's not exactly a meal). I'm sure the person sitting next to him was jealous.

Roast Chicken with Soy Ginger Marinade
I love this recipe because you don't have to use ANY butter. Believe it or not, sometimes I like to take a break from the butter. Basting with the marinade is a much healthier alternative.


For the chicken:
A 3-5 lb. chicken (organic if possible)
1 lemon, quartered
A handful of fresh thyme sprigs

For the marinade: (this marinade is also great for cornish game hens)
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup sugar
About 1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped (make it easy on yourself - grate the ginger on a cheese grater)
1 tsp. corn starch

How to:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

For the Marinade:
1. Pour all marinade ingredients into a sauce pan and stir over low heat until sugar has melted down.

For the Roast Chicken:
1. Remove the giblets from the chicken and discard.
2. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Pat dry with paper towels.
3. Insert the quartered lemon and the thyme sprigs in the cavity of the chicken.
4. Baste the chicken with the marinade and put in oven.
5. Baste the chicken every 15 minutes.
6. Chicken should be cooked 25 minutes for each pound or until a meat thermometer registers 170 degrees in the breast meat and 185 degrees in the thigh meat.

You won't get this on Jet Blue.

For the Cumin Chicken Salad Sandwich:
1. Cut the remaining chicken into nice bite-size chunks.
2. Add 2 - 4 tablespoons of mayonnaise depending how much chicken you have leftover (just add enough to make the chicken salad moist).
3. Add some chopped celery (again, depends on how much chicken you are using but typically a couple of tablespoons will do).
4. Add 2-4 tablespoons of cumin.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Get a nice loaf of multi-grain bread if possible. Slice nice thick slices.
7. Layer salad greens on bread slices to keep bread from getting soggy.
8. Add the chicken salad (and tomatoes if you like).
Sandwich Alternative: Instead of cumin, I often add curry powder, sliced grapes and walnuts.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Everybody Loves Lasagna

Have you ever met anyone who doesn’t like lasagna? I haven’t. There’s a reason for this. The sight of a bubbling lasagna straight out of the oven with zesty sauce and cheeses oozing over the edge of the pan is enough to make even the most finicky eater drool (not to mention beg for seconds).

I have been making lasagna for years whenever I’m planning on having a large crowd over. I had a Head of the Charles Party once (nobody actually made it to the Regatta) and made 2 lasagnas (among other things). It was a food frenzy. I barely had time to get the lasagna out of the oven before people started slicing into it (which isn’t ideal since lasagna is best if it gets to sit for about 10 minutes after you take it out of the oven). I made it twice in the last week. One for cards night last Thursday and one for board game night on Saturday (people’s evil sides really come out during board games, just a side note). Each night, the lasagna was a hit and each night I packed up leftovers for everybody (something you can’t even look at right then because you are so full but that you are happy to have next time you open the refrigerator and see that all you have is a bottle of ketchup and some butter). What I’m getting at is if you want to please a crowd, go for the lasagna. And serve some garlic bread alongside. It’s easy to make, delicious and a great vehicle for scooping up the extra sauce on the plate.

The following lasagna recipe is an adaptation of my mom’s recipe. Thanks Bea! The garlic bread recipe is just one of those things you make up as you go along. I’ve included a recipe which you can vary depending on your garlic tolerance and your preference for herbs.



1 package of NO BOIL lasagna noodles (you can just lay the noodles in the pan without having to cook them; so much easier).

For the cheese mixture:
2 cups of ricotta cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 whole mozzarella, grated (Whole Foods sells great mozzarella from Maplebrook Farm in Westbrook, Vermont) or 2 cups already grated mozzarella

For the sauce:
1/2 lb. ground veal and 1/2 pound ground beef (or you can use beef, ground turkey, whichever you prefer)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 28-oz cans of crushed tomatoes
1 6-oz can of tomato paste
1 onion
3 – 6 cloves garlic, minced (depends how much you like garlic)
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms (I like the brown crimini mushrooms)
1 roasted red pepper (optional – details on how to roast a red pepper are below). If you don’t roast it, you can just chop it up as is and throw it in.
2 tsp. sugar
Pepper to taste.

For the garlic bread:
1 fresh loaf of Italian bread
2 – 4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 - 3 tablespoons of minced chives (fresh if possible)
2 - 3 tablespoons of minced oregano (fresh If possible)
3/4 of a stick of butter at room temperature if possible (easier to work with when it’s soft)

How to:


The roasted red pepper:
Rub olive oil over the red pepper (don’t go crazy, just enough to coat it).
Turn on the gas stove.
Place the pepper right on the flame. Keep an eye on it. Turn as needed with a spatula. When pepper is blackened all over, remove from flame.
Let cool for 10 minutes or so.
Place a plastic grocery store bag or plastic wrap over the pepper and scrape the blackened part off the pepper (this keeps your hands from getting dirty).
Remove the seeds and top of the pepper. Cut the pepper into 1/4 inch – 1/2 inch pieces.
NOTE: You can also roast the pepper in the oven but it takes a little longer. Rub olive oil on pepper, wrap in tin foil, roast at 400 degrees for 20 – 25 minutes.

The meat sauce:
In large non-stick pan, heat 1 tbsp. oil over medium flame.
Sauté onions and garlic until translucent.
Add the oregano. Mix in to release the oils in the herb.
Stir in the ground meat, separating meat with wooden spoon so it’s not all clumped together.
Stir and cook 10 minutes until beef is browned. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, basil, 1/2 tsp. salt, 3 tbs. oregano, pepper.
Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally 30 minutes.

The cheese mixture:
In bowl combine ricotta, slightly beaten egg & 3/4 of the parmesan cheese.

The layering process:
In 13x9x2" baking dish spread:
1 1/2 cups meat sauce
1 layer of noodles (overlap them slightly)
1/3 of the mozzarella
2 cups sauce
1/2 cheese mixture
Repeat once. Then top with remaining noodles, sauce, mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Bake in 350 degree oven for 40 - 50 minutes (to make sure it’s done, stick a fork through the lasagna to ensure it’s good and hot inside). Let stand 15 minutes.

I don’t think I need to tell you that lasagna makes the best leftovers. Just reheat at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes.


Chop the butter into 1/4 inch pieces (easier to blend that way).
Add the herbs and garlic and blend with 2 forks, your hands, whatever it takes to make it into a nice paste.
Cut vertical slits into the loaf of bread. Rub the butter into the slits and all over the top.
Place on a cookie sheet or tin foil and bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes (until top is crispy and butter is melted).


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Soup is Good Food - Try Lentil

Mmm mmm good. Campbell's had it right with that ad campaign slogan. Soup is mmm mmm good. And typically good for you. In fact, lentil soup leads the pack in nutritional value. Lentils are a great source of protein, calcium, iron, fiber and magnesium. So not only is lentil soup delicious but it's also very healthy too. And on a day like today when it's 25 degrees but "feels like 5" (don't you love those forecasts?), nothing warms you up better than a bowl of hot soup. So go ahead. Make yourself a pot. And ladel yourself a cup without an ounce of guilt.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups lentils, washed and drained
5 cups chicken stock or broth

Lentil Soup

Melt butter over medium-high heat in a large stockpot or Dutch oven (it's important to use a pan with a heavy bottom because your onions will stick to the pan otherwise). Add the onions and salt and sauté the onions until deep brown, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add garlic, ginger, and pepper. Cook until aromas are released, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Add lentils and cook an additional 3 minutes, constantly stirring so the beans are evenly cooked.

Add chicken stock, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, about 1 hour. Stir soup regularly to ensure even cooking so the beans do not burn. When done, beans should be soft inside, with no chalkiness. Serve immediately or keep in the fridge and warm up for on a cold night. Great accompanied with a nice thick piece of Italian or French bread.