Friday, April 28, 2006

Town Diner's Cosmic Cupcakes & Heavenly Pancakes

My recent trip to Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown had two objectives. One, to treat my Mom who was visting to a nice down-home classic diner breakfast. And two, to check out Cosmic Cupcakes, home of the coolest looking cupcakes I have ever seen.

While the Town Diner is a quick drive from Cambridge, turns out that Watertown addresses don't actually go in order all the time so you need landmarks to get around. As you approach what you think should be 627 Mount Auburn Street, there's no sign of the diner. Just a big Star Market. So keep driving about a couple of hundred yards further. When you see the 7-11 on your right, you are there. You'll see the free-standing, real-deal diner right across the street in all its glory.

The entrance to Cosmic Cupcakes is on the side of the diner (both have the same owner, Don Levy). We spotted their multi-colored "Sea Urchin" cupcakes through the window immediately (they're kind of hard to miss) but decided to have breakfast first and hit the cupcake shop after.

Deluxe Town Diner is a throwback as it should be. Nice, comfortable booths for spreading out as well as bar stools that swivel for those who want to be closer to the action. The menu is immense and covers everything from eggs and pancakes to meatloaf and mac and cheese. But Town Diner goes the extra mile and has some unusual items on the menu you won't find at just any diner.

Exhibit A - Sweet Potato Pancakes. The menu says they have no cholesterol but I'm guessing that the addition of pecans, a heap of butter and maple syrup makes that statement null and void. I have to say I hadn't had pancakes in a really long time and these made it worth the wait. The pancakes were light and fluffy and though you could taste the sweet potato, they were not sweet per se. Just really delicious. Order the short stack. It's more than enough.

Exhibit B - Blue Corn Pancakes. These were equally delicious, and with the corn in the flour, not sweet. But combined with the butter and maple syrup, perfect. They even had a little blue tinge to them which is kind of cool. You don't get to eat blue food that often.

On to Cosmic Cupcakes

When we entered the store, there were two large trays of colorful "Sea Urchin" muffins in the case. What a beauiful, fun display. I asked the woman in the store how long it takes the baker to frost the cupcakes. And she said only about 2 minutes a piece. Clearly she has her technique down to a science.

The frosting is creamy and delicious, so creamy that unless you eat the cupcakes immediately (and why wouldn't you) you should keep them refrigerated since the frosting starts to melt.

There are two cake flavors - chocolate and yellow cake. The chocolate is very good and along with the frosting almost tastes like a Devil Dog (but better). The yellow cake was a bit dry and may need a bit more butter in the batter which seems to be a common problem with cupcakes. They also have a carrot cake cupcake that has a carrot frosting design on top. I think they should abandon the carrot and adorn the cupcake with the sea urchin look like the others. It's one of those foods that's more fun to eat with the wacky frosting design.

I think these folks are on to something. They may soon become the Magnolia Bakery of the Boston area, with lines out the door of people craving these cupcakes. After all, who doesn't love a cupcake? And when it's fun to look at, you just can't resist.

Deluxe Town Diner and Cosmic Cupcakes
627 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown, MA, 617.926.8400
The entrance to Cosmic Cupcakes is on the left-hand side of the diner.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Soft Shell Crabs - Just in from the Chesapeake Bay

Let the soft shell crab season begin! Soft shell crabs have just come in season this week and will be available from now through August. If you have never tried them, now's the time (recipe below). Call your local fish market and see if they have some.

Some of you might be wondering, "What is a soft shell crab exactly?" Well, a soft-shell crab is a blue crab that has just shed its shell in order to grow. They are 20-30% larger than normal at this point so they are even more delicious and meaty than usual. See how they molt.

Soft shell crabs are often called Maryland crabs as well because they are primarily found there in the Chesapeake Bay. However, according to a very informative blue crab website, "the range of the blue crab is from Nova Scotia, down the east coast of North America, off Bermuda, throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea (including the Antilles Islands), and down the east coast of South America to northern Argentina. Although the blue crab is rarely found north of Cape Cod, it has been seen in Maine and Nova Scotia following consecutive warm years."

You also might be wondering, "Do you actually eat the whole crab, body and all?" Pretty much. The fishmonger removes some gills, the eyes and a part called the "apron," but other than that, you eat it all. This might seem weird to those who have only eaten hard shell crabs. But try to put that out of your mind. It is not like biting into a shell. It is like biting into a sweet, juicy crab festival with a little crunch to it. They're out of this world. And very easy to cook. I look forward to them every year. Below is a simple recipe so you have no excuse not to try them.

Cornmeal-Crusted Soft Shell Crabs Recipe

Cleaning or "Dressing" the Crabs
Ask the fishmonger to clean the crabs for you. It only takes them a minute and saves you the hassle. If you would like to know how to clean them yourself, it's actually pretty easy. Here's how.

Soft shell crabs (1 - 2 for each person)
Whole milk or butter milk (enough to cover the crabs)
Corn meal
Salt & Pepper to taste
Olive oil or canola oil

How to:
1. Put the crabs in a bowl and cover with the milk. Let sit for 1/2 hour.
2. Place about 4 cups of corn meal in a large plate or platter and season with salt and pepper.
3. Coat the bottom of a non-stick or cast iron pan with oil and let it get hot.
4. Remove the crabs from the bowl one at a time, dredge in the corn meal mixture and put in the pan.
5. Fry the crabs about 4 minutes on each side (or until nicely browned)
6. Squeeze a little lemon over the crabs. Add a bit more salt if needed.
7. You can serve the crabs a number of ways. I plated them over greens with guacamole and browned linguica on the side (as pictured at the top of the page). You can also simply put one in a sandwich on a fresh roll or thick grilled slices of bread with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.


Where to buy them in the Boston area:
As I mentioned, I recommend calling your local fish market or Whole Foods and asking them if and when they have soft shell crabs. I got mine at the Courthouse Fish Market and they were live and delicious. The fishmonger even cleaned them for me and showed me how to do it myself for future reference.

Courthouse Fish Market, 298 Cambridge Street, East Cambridge (midway between Inman Square and the Cambridgeside Galleria)

Where to buy them online:

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Green Steet Grill: Re-Open for Business!

Green Street Grill has been closed since January for renovations which I found out the hard way one freezing, wintry evening after I fought my way through a blistering wind tunnel to get there. But thankfully they re-opened their doors last night. And the place is jumpin' once again.

We walked in around 6:15 and the bar was already full with what looked like friends and family of the Greet Street staff. This place has a heartbeat. It always feels so alive. They play the best music - that night there was a great mix of Motown with the occasional Ben Harper track slipped in here and there. Everyone seemed to know each other. They even collectively applauded when the first dish was broken in the kitchen. You don't see that every day. We were the first to sit in the restaurant section but were soon accompanied by many others including Chris Schlesinger of the East Coast Grill and Steve Johnson of Rendezvous who were seated next to us. It's great to see other restaurant owners show their support.

On to the food. I'm going to do something I have never done before. Talk about the dessert first. Why? Because they make THE best bread pudding I have ever had in a restaurant and perhaps one of the best desserts I have ever had - period. And also, I want to make sure you save room for it! It is described on the menu as Warm Banana Bread Pudding with Rum Caramel Sauce and Coconut Ice Cream. First off, I give them props for committing to always serving it warm. The ice cream and caramel melt down the sides just perfectly. And the consistency of the bread pudding itself is sublime. It tastes like banana bread but much less dense. And the rum in the caramel sauce definitely makes a statement. It's absolutely fantastic. My sister and I split one and devoured the whole thing. I can't recommend this dessert enough. Get on down to Green Street Grill and order one soon.

In terms of the rest of the menu, there are many standouts that tap into the Caribbean and Latin influences which Green Street has been known for in the past.

The Pan Fried Shrimp and Crab Cakes with roasted corn & green onion hot sauce are perfection (and seemed to be a hot item - we saw many orders of it going around). This appetizer does not skimp on the crab or overdo the breadcrumbs which is often an issue with crab cakes. And the corn side is the perfect accompaniment.

The side order of Plantains with spicy ketchup is addictive and not to be missed. The plantains are perfectly soft and browned and the ketchup I believe has chipotle pepper in it which gives it a deliciuos smoky flavor. Excellent.

The Grilled Shrimp, Chorizo and Yucca with Spanish olives and sour-orange garlic mojito sauce has a nice zesty flavor to it. My favorite part was actually the Yucca. It tastes sort of like a potato but with more chutzpah and went really well with the sauce.

The Grilled Chile Rubbed Rib-Eye Steak was the entrée of choice. We decided to split it which was a wise move because it was a very generous portion. It was cooked perfectly medium-rare and served with a very flavorful red onion-tamarind marmalade and french fries. I know comfort food is supposed to be on the back burner for the warmer months but it was raw and rainy last night. That's our excuse and we're sticking to it.

In terms of what's changed, nothing that I minded (although I'm still bitter about the removal of the pinball machine from the last time they renovated). The menu has some new options but is still top notch, they have some new artwork up that is fantastic (check out the happenin' one below), there are some new red hanging lights over the bar and in the dining room that add some ambiance, and the crowd is still fun and up for a great meal and maybe a tasty Zombie or two.

Green Street Grill
280 Green Street, Central Square, Cambridge, MA, 617.876.1655

Monday, April 24, 2006

One Fab Appetizer - Edamame Dumplings

I've noticed that everything I'm making lately is green - Pesto, Asparagus Soup, and now...Edamame Dumplings. Must have something to do with the change in seasons and my desire to eat fresh, healthy food. Anyway, just an observation.

The other day, I was shopping at Whole Foods (what else is new) and decided to flip through the April issue of Cooking Light for inspiration. A recipe for Edamame Dumplings immediately caught my attention. Yum. Had to try these. All the ingredients looked amazing and it seemed like a potential hit for Cards Night that I could make ahead of time. So I quickly gathered the ingredients and got to work in the kitchen. Pretty easy to make. Just a little time consuming to assemble the dumplings but put on some good tunes and you'll get in a zone. The payoff is HUGE. These dumplings are a real treat. And the dipping sauce is a perfect complement. I highly recommend giving these a try. I tweaked the recipe just a tad by adding some fresh ginger to the filling. I think it gives it the extra kick it needs. In the future, I think it would be fun to try adding some sauteed ground pork or shrimp to the mix as well. You could try a lot of variations once you get the basic recipe down. I also doubled the Dipping Sauce recipe since the original recipe didn't yield enough sauce.

Edamame Dumplings Recipe


For the Dumplings:
- 1 cup frozen shelled edamame (soybeans)
- 1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp dark sesame oil (I just used regular sesame oil)
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Approximately 24 wonton wrappers (I found them near the tofu)
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- Cooking spray
- 1/2 cup water, divided

For the Dipping Sauce:
- 4 tbsp chopped scallions (aka green onions)
- 2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 tsp honey

How to:

For the Dumplings:
1. Cook the edamame according to package directions, drain.
2. Combine edamame, juice, sesame oil, cumin, ginger and salt in a food processor. Pulse until smooth. I had to add a little extra sesame oil because the mixture was a bit dry.
3. Working with 1 wanton wrapper at a time (cover remaining wrappers with a damp towel to prevent drying), spoon about 1 teaspoon of the filling in each wrapper. Moisten the edges of the dough with water, fold opposite corners of the dough to form a triangle, pinching the points together to seal.
4. Place dumplings on a large cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and sprinkle with cornstarch.

Cooking the Dumplings
You can either pan fry or steam the dumplings. Steaming is healthier but to be honest, pan frying is tastier - you get a nice browned crispy outside and soft, delicious inside. You can also freeze these and cook them on another day.

Pan Frying:
1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Let the pan heat up.
2. Arrange about 5 dumplings at a time in the pan, reduce heat to medium.
3. Cook the dumplings for about a minute or until the bottoms begin to brown then turn
4. Add 1/4 cup water to pan, cover.
5. Cook 30 seconds then uncover and cook for 1 minute or until water evaporates.
6. Repeat procedure with the remaining dumplings and water.
7. Serve immediately with sauce. Makes about 20 dumplings.

1. Steam dumplings for about 8 minute
2. Serve immediately with sauce.

For the Dipping Sauce:
- Combine the scallions, soy sauce and honey.
- Cover and refrigerate if you don't use right away.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Asparagus Season is Here!

In Massachusetts, the first thing to sprout out of the garden is asparagus. And what an exciting day that is because seeing these spears shooting out of the ground means that this is the just the beginning of many months of fresh, delicious vegetables and fruit coming your way.

Asparagus is wonderful simply steamed or roasted (coat with olive oil and salt, roast at 450 degrees for about 20-25 minutes). But I thought I'd branch out a little this year and make some Asparagus Soup. I started thinking about what ingredients might make this King of Spring come to life, headed to Whole Foods and brightened up a rainy Sunday afternoon by making this really healthy, delicious soup. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. And here's to farm-fresh produce for many months to come!

Asparagus Soup Recipe

• 1 large bunch of asparagus (about 20 spears), snap off the ends and chop into roughly 2-inch pieces
• 2 large handfuls of spinach (about 2 cups packed)
• 1 onion chopped
• 2 leeks chopped (white and light green part only - make sure to rinse them well)
• 4 garlic cloves
• 4 cups chicken broth
• 1/4 cup heavy cream
• Chopped chives for garnish (optional)
• Dollop of sour cream (optional)
• Sautéed scallops (optional)
• Salt and pepper to taste

How to:
1. Sauté onions, leeks and garlic for 3 minutes.
2. Add in asparagus. Sauté for 5 minutes.
3. Pour in chicken broth. Bring to boil then cook on low for 15 minutes.
4. Add in spinach. Cook for another 2 minutes.
5. Purée the soup*.
6. Blend in the heavy cream.
7. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
8. I topped each bowl of soup off with a small dollop of sour cream, a few scallops I sautéed in butter and some chives but these additions are optional. The soup is velvety and delicious all by itself.

* Puréeing Soup
Puréeing soup while it's hot can be a dangerous task if you purée the soup in a blender. It can blow the lid right off and splatter soup all over the kitchen. I'm speaking from experience. It's not pretty. So I recommend letting it cool first unless you have a Hand Blender (aka Immersion Blender) that you can insert right into the pot. They are great. Unfortunately I just burned out the motor on mine so I had to let the soup cool. In order to expedite the cooling process, I created an "ice bath" for the soup. I took a large bowl, put a lot of ice in it, poured the soup into a smaller glass bowl and sat the bowl of soup in the ice bath on the window sill with the window open. Once it cooled, I puréed it in baches in the blender.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Many Pleasures of Pesto

Pesto is amazing. It's hard to believe that I didn't even know it existed when I was a kid. While I don't recall the first time I tasted pesto, I do know that once I did I was smitten. There's no better way to bring basil to life than by blending it with toasted pine nuts, olive oil and freshly grated parmesan cheese. And luckily you can now buy fresh basil even in the dead of winter thanks to greenhouses. But I do like making pesto most in the Sping and Summer months when I can pick up a fresh bunch of just picked, locally grown basil at the Farmers Market in Central Square (which will thankfully be up and running again on May 22nd - I'm counting the days!).

Pesto can bring any pasta dish to life. I've included a recipe below to get you started. But it's also amazing in soups. Add a dollop to corn chowder or chicken soup. Pesto is also excellent as an alternative spread for sandwiches. A simple tomato and mozzarella sandwich with pesto is the perfect summer sandwich. Pack one for the beach, a picnic, a hike. Marinate some shrimp or chicken in pesto and grill them up on the grill or in the broiler. Absolutely delicious. And that's just the beginning of the many things you can do with pesto. As you can see, pesto is more than just a pasta companion. So make plenty, freeze the extra and have plenty on hand for whenever you get a hankering. Enjoy!



• A large bunch of fresh basil (4 - 6 cups of basil leaves)
• 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted in a pan on the stove in a little bit of olive oil (walnuts can be substituted but get the pine nuts if you can)
• 1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan
• 1 or 2 garlic cloves (depending on how much you love garlic. Keep in mind the garlic will be raw so you don't need a ton.)
• About 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
• Salt and pepper to taste

How to:

1. Wash the bunch of basil, remove the leaves and dry them with a paper towel.
2. Put the basil leaves in a food processor. You may find that you have more leaves than you have room for in the food processor. Not to worry. Just pack in what you can, drizzle in some of the olive oil, process what's in there, pack it down, drizzle some more olive oil and add more leaves.
3. Once all the basil leaves are in the food processor, add the garlic cloves and pine nuts and process.
4. Drizzle in more olive oil if needed. The mixture should be wet but not overly oily.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. You can add the grated parmesan cheese at this point or wait until you actually serve the pesto and combine it at that time. I like to do that because if I have extra pesto, I prefer to freeze it without the cheese in it. Seems to keep better. Also if you just want to keep it in the refrigerator for a couple of days, squeeze in a little lemon juice to keep the color from turning.

(pictured above)

This is just one of a million pasta dishes you can make with pesto. You can use any kind of fish. Chicken is fine too. Or even just go veggie and add zucchini, squash or other seasonal vegetables. I used trout because I was lucky enough to get some fresh from my brother. Yes, I am spoiled. Thanks Dick!

1 lb. fresh water trout, wild salmon or other flavorful fish (personal preference - whole fish, skin on, keeps fish moist)
1/2 lb. pasta (penne or fusilli work great)
About 4 tablespoons of pesto (just enough to nicely coat the pasta)
1/2 cup of frozen peas (thawed)
A handful of toasted pine nuts
1 - 2 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Turn on the broiler.
Boil water for the pasta.

How to:
1. Rinse and pat dry the fish.
2. Cut 3 or 4 vertical slits through the skin of the fish on each side.
3. Rub olive oil on both sides of the fish.
4. Sprinkle sea salt on both sides of the fish.
5. Broil the fish for 4 minutes on both sides.
6. When fish is done, remove the skin and flake the fish.
7. Cook the pasta until al dente.
8. Drain the pasta, add a small sliver of butter to coat the pasta.
9. Add the flaked fish, pine nuts, peas and pesto to the pasta.
10. If you didn't add the parmesan to the pesto when you made it, add it now.
11. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.

You can eat this dish warm or cold. It's fantasic both ways.
Serves 3 - 4 depending on how hungry your guests are. You can always just cook more pasta and add a little more pesto to serve more people.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Plough & Stars - New and Improved?

The Plough & Stars is a Cambridge institution, opened in 1969, beloved by Cantabridgians of all ages over 21 and all walks of life. Its lively atmosphere, great bands, televised soccer matches and perfect Guinness pours attract a quirky, diverse clientele.

About 9 or 10 months ago, they closed for renovations and it was beginning to look like it was the end for the Plough. But thankfully that was not the case. A few weeks ago the Plough reopened. While I was happy to hear this news, I was worried about what the new owners had done to the place. Would the walls still be covered with the line drawing portraits of bar patrons? Would the bands still be squished so close to the restrooms that the base player could tell you whether or not they were occupied? Would there still be a great mix of working class folks, soccer fans, students and professionals? I suppose there was only one way to find out. To go ahead and check it out.

On approaching The Plough, everything looked the same from the outside. As you can see from the photo, there was a throwback dude checking out the menu so that made me feel better. They haven't alienated the Plough crowd. Good sign. But when I stepped up to look over the menu, I realized that they were now serving dinner, lunch and brunch. Dinner? I had never thought about eating at the Plough in the past even though they used to have lunch there. Just didn't seem like that was their forté so to speak. But hey, it's a new day, a new Plough. Give it a chance.

When I walked inside, the layout looked pretty much the same. Bar to the left, tables to the right, in the back and tucked in near the front entrance. But the portraits on the wall were replaced by faux painted red walls and a Guinness ad. Sad. New tables and chairs, a long bench built into the wall and refinished hardwood floors spiffed the place up. A plus. A wall now separates the rest of the bar from the restrooms. Big improvement. Now the bass player can focus on playing instead of monitoring bathroom activity.

Seeing people sitting at tables with menus was definitely odd. And the crowd? Seemed a little clean cut and dare I say trendy but it was early. I don't think the changes are drastic enough to alienate the regulars. Thank God. What's on the menu? A nice range of items, from Cuban Sandwiches, Creole Wings and a Banger Press (grilled Irish sausage with mustard cheddar and tomato) to Pan-seared Halibut with chorizo polenta, garlicky greens and smoked tomato coulis (think they went a little crazy there). While most prices are very reasonable, I kind of have a hard time forking out $17 for an entrée there. But maybe I have too much baggage from the old place. New people probably won't think twice about it.

We tried out two of the entrées: the special, Blackened Catfish with black beans and rice (picture above) and the Roasted Half Chicken with asparagus spears and mashed potatoes. Our meal took forever to come. The waitress informed us that for some reason the Roasted Chicken takes a really long time to cook. I'm sure they'll work that out over time. Thankfully, the food was worth the wait. Really good. Better than I expected. I was impressed.

My first reaction was to turn my nose up at the new place. "The Plough has gone upscale!" But once I had my meal, I realized that this is a new Plough that I will still frequent to get a beer (a great selection as always) and take in some live music. And now I think I'll actually even go there for lunch occasionally (something I would have never done in the past) or to grab a Friday night dinner. While there are many great upscale dining options in the Central Square area, there really isn't a classic Irish pub that serves good food. So it's nice to now have that option. As long as the same fun, eclectic crowds and great bands continue on, I'll be happy. Change can be good.

The Plough & Stars
912 Massachusetts Avenue, Central Square, Cambridge, MA, 617.576.0032
It's about a 5-minute walk from the Central Square "T" stop or take the #1 bus down Mass Ave. and get off at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Hancock Street.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Deliver A Bouquet of Bitesize Pecan Pies

I'm going to my Mom's for Easter dinner and since I know there's going to be a ton of food there, I thought I'd make a dessert that satisfies everyone's sweet tooth but doesn't put them over the edge. These are very easy to make and can be baked a few days ahead of time and stored in a covered plastic container to keep them fresh.

Biteside Pecan Pies (otherwise known as Pecan Tassies)

This recipe is from the April 2006 issue of Martha Stewart Living which is full of amazing Easter projects and recipes bound to make almost anyone feel like an underachiever. This recipe is a simple one though. You can do it! I adapted it slightly based on my experience making them.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

What you need:
1 or 2 mini-muffin tins
Electric mixer
Food processor or coffee bean grinder


For the Dough:
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese. (If your grocery store doesn't carry mascarpone cheese, you can substitute cream cheese.)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

For the Filling:
1 large egg
1/4 cup light-brown sugar
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup pecans, finely chopped

How to:

To make the dough:
1. Process pecans in food processor until finely ground. Set aside.
2. Put mascarpone and butter in a bowl and blend with an electric mixer on medium.
3. Add flour, ground pecans and salt; mix just until dough comes together. Alternatively, stir together with a wooden spoon.
4. Roll dough in your hands into 1-inch balls, and press into bottoms and up sides of cups of mini-muffin tins.

To make the filling:
1. Whisk the egg, sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, butter and salt in a small bowl.
2. Stir in pecans.
3. Spoon about 1-1/2 teaspoons of the filling into each crust.

Bake until crusts begin to turn brown. This recipe says about 15 minutes but I used silicone muffin tins and it took more like between 20 - 25 so take a peak at 15 and if they're not brown at all, let them go another 5 minutes or so.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


I thought you might be interested in gathering your ingredients and groceries from some of these excellent, extra special independent markets. I highly recommend all of them.


Formaggio Kitchen
244 Huron Avenue, Cambridge, MA (10-minute walk from Harvard Square)
268 Shawmut Avenue, Boston, MA (South End)

Murray's Cheese Shop, New York
254 Bleecker Street (between 6th & 7th Avenues), Greenwich Village
1.888.MY.CHEEZ (love the phone number)

Fahey & Formagerie, Nantucket, MA
49A Pleasant Street, 508.325.5644


Burdick's Chocolates
52-D Brattle Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA, 617.491.4340
Heavenly homemade chocolate mice (their signature chocolate), truffles, the works. Choose one of three hot chocolates to go (milk, dark or white hot chocolate).

Cardullo's Market
6 Brattle Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA, 617.491.8888
Confections from all over the world! Highly recommend the German Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs with toys inside. Fun and delicious.


Support your local farmers!
Visit the Massachusetts Farmers website to find the Farmers Market in your area.
The Central Square Farmers Market is in the parking lot behind Pearl Arts and Crafts and takes place every Monday, 12pm - 6pm, from May 22nd to November 20th. Harvard Square also has a Farmers Market in front of the Charles Hotel, Fridays 1pm - 6pm and Sundays 10am - 3pm.


New Deal Fish Market
722 Cambridge Street (between Inman Square and the Cambridgeside Galleria), Cambridge, MA, 617-876-8227
Carl the owner knows everything there is to know about fish including recommendations on preparation. Super friendly guy and unbelievably knowledgable. I learn something new every time I go in there.

Courthouse Fish Market
484 Cambridge Street (midway between Inman Square and the Cambridgeside Galleria), MA, 617.491.1213
Official website
In addition to a wide selection of fish, they also carry amazing olives, Portuguese cheeses and bread, olive oil and other specialty sundries.


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


Christina's Spice Market, 1255 Cambridge, Street (adjacent to Christina's Ice Cream), Inman Square, Cambridge, MA, 617.492-7021


Carreiros Barcelos Bakery
695 Bedford Street, Fall River, MA, 508.676.8661

Central Bakery
723 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA (specialize in heavenly Portuguese corn bread, sweet bread and rolls), 617.547.2337

Chaves Market
49 Columbia Street, Fall River, MA, 508.672.7821
Incredible fish, amazing meats and other quality Portuguese ingredients. A feast for the senses!

Furtado's - sausage market
544 N. Underwood Street, Fall River, MA, 508.679.6781

Super 88
Multiple locations in Boston metropolitan area but the Allston location is huge.
One Brighton Ave., Allston, MA, 617.787.2288

Monday, April 10, 2006

Think Warm - Caribbean Guava-Stuffed Chicken

Click image to get a closer look.

Even though it's spring, it's definitely nowhere near beach weather unfortunately. So I thought I'd "think warm" and make a Caribbean-influenced dinner that would transport me to warm azure waters, sandy beaches and a vacation state of mind. If summer isn't coming fast enough for you either, you might want to try this dish - and a little daydreaming. It may seem ambitious but it's actually very easy. You just need to make sure you allot time for the marinating. Enjoy!

The Menu:
Spinach Salad (or Mixed Greens) with Orange-Fennel Vinaigrette
Guava-Stuffed Chicken with Caramelized Mango

Spinach Salad (or Mixed Greens) with Orange-Fennel Vinaigrette

This recipe is adapted from the April 2006 issue of Bon Appétit
The original recipe serves 8 but I've modified it for 4.
There's nothing like making your own fresh dressing. Highly recommend giving this a try. It's easy. Just a lot of ingredients.

1/4 cup fresh blood-orange juice or fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp (packed) grated orange peel
1 tsp honey
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh fennel bulb (They recommend finely chopping it. I prefer large slices or chunks so you can really taste the fennel.)
2 tbsp chopped fennel fronds
3 blood oranges or seedless oranges (I used Mandarin orange slices from a can instead. Really tasty.)
8 - 12 cups (depending on how many you are feeding) chopped spinach (or you can use any kind of mixed greens)
2/3 cup walnuts, chopped

How to:
1. Whisk orange juice, shallots, thyme, orange peel and honey in a medium bowl to blend.
2. Gradually whisk in olive oil, then mix in the chopped fennel bulb and fronds.
3. Season dressing with salt and pepper to taste. (Can be made one day ahead. Cover and chill. Rewhisk before using.)
4. Combine spinach (or greens) with toasted walnuts and the Mandarin slices (if you use oranges, you need to remove each segment from the skin - way too much work if you ask me).
5. Toss salad with enough dressing to coat evenly.
6. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed.

Guava-Stuffed Chicken with Caramelized Mango

This recipe is adapted from the May 2006 issue of Bon Appétit which is all about the Caribbean and its food. Great issue. Highly recommend picking up a copy.
Serves 4


3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
6 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
4 large skinless boneless chicken breasts
3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons guava paste (available in the international aisle of the supermarket which is where I found it, or at Latin specialty stores.)
2 1/2 ounces fresh spinach leaves, chopped (2 cups lightly packed)
2 tbsp canola oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup low-salt chicken broth
3 tbsp butter
1 large mango, halved, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

How to:

Prepping the chicken:
1. Whisk first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Add chicken breasts; turn to coast. Cover chicken breasts and chill 1 - 2 hours (3 - 4 if you have the time), turning occasionally.
2. Blend the cream cheese and guava together with a wooden spoon. Stir in spinach until well-coated with the mixture. Cover and chill to firm slightly (about an hour).
3. Remove 1 chicken breast from the marinade, scraping excess marinade back into bowl.
4. Insert small sharp knife (paring knife works great) into 1 side of chicken breast; move knife in arc to create large pocket, keeping opening about 1 1/2 inches long. Repeat with remaining chicken.
5. Spoon cream cheese/guava/spinach mixture into a pastry bag (or put in a zip-loc bag and cut off the tip).
6. Pipe the mixture into the chicken breast to fill pockets.
7. Close openings with toothpicks. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and chill.)

Cooking the chicken:
1. Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a large skilllet over medium heat
2. Once the pan is very hot, add 4 chicken breasts to the skillet.
3. Cook until brown, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to plate.
4. Add wine and broth to the skillet. Bring to boil.
5. Add chicken breasts back in the pan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
6. Transfer chicken to work surface. Let stand 10 minutes.

Caramelizing the mangos:
1. Melt butter in a heavy skillet or dutch oven
2. Sauté mango slices until brown (about 4 minutes)

Reducing the sauce:
1. Heat the wine/chicken broth sauce until slightly thickened and sauce is reduced to 3/4 cup, about 3 minutes.

Plating the dish:
1. Place a chicken breast on the plate, drizzle sauce over chicken. Top and surround chicken with mango.
2. Put salad on the table and let people serve themselves or put a nice-sized portion on their plate for them.
3. Serve with rice pilaf (I just use Near East - simple to make) or couscous.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Red House - First Al Fresco Dining of the Season

Spring is here! We made it. Survived another New England winter. And what a payoff. The sun is shining. The flowers are budding. The birds are chirping. People are friendlier. And everyone wants a table outside.

For my first al fresco dining experience of the Spring, I can't think of a place I would have rather been than The Red House in Harvard Square. This place exudes charm. The Red House is literally a red house, built c. 1802. It sits on top of an ancient stone retaining wall that dates back to c. 1634. Until recently this was a private residence. What a treat that it is now a restaurant open to the public so everyone can get a chance to enjoy this historic spot. The waitress told us that they love the building too but because it's such an old house "We're always wondering what will break next."

Inside the restaurant is cozy, with original restored woodwork and working fireplaces (wish I had known this a couple of months ago). But outside is where we wanted to be and this is probably the nicest outdoor restaurant deck in the Boston area. The doors from the bar push out to the sides so there's a nice vast entrance onto the deck. The environment feels more Newport than Cambridge with its adirondack-inspired chairs and tables. The deck is perched up high so it's a great spot to people watch, too.

The new spring menu consists of mostly lighter dishes - many seafood items, salads, simple pasta dishes, just what the waistline needs right now. Also the portions are small which I actually found refreshing. Why do most restaurants serve so much food anyway? It's crazy. There is still one decadent option that was very tempting - lobster pot pie. I saw one pass my table and it looked pretty amazing.

For the appetizer, we split the house salad with field greens and a simple vinaigrette. It was accompanied with marinated onions and toasted walnuts which added nice texture and flavor.

For the main course we had the Mussels Linguini, homemade linguini with fresh Maine blue mussels, chorizo, arugula & white wine. The dish was a little uneventful but the mussels were excellent.

We also ordered the Aegean spiced chicken which was served with a delicious cucumber-yogurt sauce over a bed of greens. This was excellent. Defnitely something I would order again.

Overall, the food is good not great but you know what, who cares? The spot is so lovely you really don't care what you're eating. It's just so great to sit outside in a lovely, relaxing ambiance and kick back.

This little narrow street has really become a hot spot for dining, with Om next door and Upstairs on the Square just across the street. You could have an appetizer at Om, dinner at The Red House and dessert at Upstairs on the Square without having to walk more than 20 feet.

The Red House
98 Winthrop Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge, 617.576.0605

Open Tuesday thru Sunday
Lunch: 12-3pm
Intermezzo menu: 3pm - 5pm
Dinner: 5pm - 11pm

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Orinoco - Venezuelan with Mis Amigos

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of being introduced to Arepas made from scratch by my friend and Venezuelan native Carla. Arepas are grilled corn pocket sandwiches (almost like an incredible oversized English muffin). The bread is baked in the oven, grilled, sliced open and stuffed with beef, cheese or other savory fillings.

While I was able to enjoy them once more at a shoebox-sized Venezuelan spot in New York's East Village called Flor's Kitchen, I haven't had them since. You couldn't find them at any restaurant in Boston. Until now.

Orinoco recently opened in Boston's South End and the place is already packed every night. I have not been to Venezuela but according to my friend Carla, this place is very authentic, in both its décor and cuisine. It is this authenticity and the reasonable prices (nothing over $14 on the menu) that I believe draws the crowds.

The restaurant has a warm, rustic feel with distressed tin ceilings, vintage photos on the wall, and old somewhat rickety chairs (a guy actually broke his chair that night which his friends will never let him live down I'm sure). To spice things up, on the wall are colorful masks worn during Venezuela's festival, Los Diablos de Yare, which is held in the town of Yare. Packages of Venezuelan chocolate and flour are also displayed on shelves on the wall which makes the place feel homey.

After waiting about an hour for the table (Orinoco only seats about 20 people) and watching countless delicious-looking plates come out of the open kitchen, we were finally seated. I left the ordering up to Carla since she would obviously know what's best. Her boyfriend Eugene knew exactly what he wanted. She has taught him well. Unfortunately a couple of the things she wanted to order were not available that night for some reason. But what we ended up with suited me just fine.

We started with the Empanadas Verde (pictured at top), delicious turnovers made with plaintain dough and filled with mushrooms, piquillo (sweet, slighly piquant red pepper), manchego cheese and salsa verde. It was accompanied with a nice, light salad. These empanadas were different than others I have tried which I believe were Spanish in origin and used more of a flaky pie dough. The plantain dough gives these empanadas a flavor reminiscent of a Mexican tamale. It was a pleasant surprise.

Another appetizer on the table was the Tostones, crispy green plantain mini-cakes with mojo sauce. Unlike other fried plantains I've had which are usually sliced horizontally, these were prepared as little discs, easy for dipping in the flavorful mojo sauce which is typically a combination of olive oil, garlic, paprika or chile powder, cumin and lemon.

Of course we had to order an Arepa. But which one? They offer 7 different kinds. Carla suggested the Arepa Mechada which is stuffed with Venuzuelan-style stewed shredded beef. So good. The meat falls apart as any slow-cooked beef should. Look forward to going back and trying some others.

Asado Negro was the entree of choice, featuring panela and onion slow-cooked beef and sauce with rice and sweet plantains. Panela is a densely packed sweetener similar to brown sugar. Carla said that when growing up, she would come home to this dish after school. Lucky chica.

For dessert, we felt we had to try the traditional Arroz con leche, Venezuelan-style rice pudding. Frankly, it was nothing to write home about. I'm picky about my rice pudding. Carla and I agreed that each of us can make a better version. And in terms of restaurants, Atasca wins for best rice pudding hands down. The Torta Fluida (molten chocolate cake made with Venezuelan chocolate) sounded really good. Maybe next time we'll give that a try.

If you haven't been introduced to Arepas and the comfort food of Venezuela, I recommend you try Orinoco. But get there early or wear comfortable shoes and settle in for the wait.

477 Shawmut Ave., South End, Boston, MA, 617.369.7075

Monday, April 03, 2006

Spring Ahead to Lighter Fare - Baking Fish in Parchment

With the warmer weather comes the worries about tighly fitting jeans and that extra "protective" layer you may have developed during the winter months. Time to lighten up the menu folks. Following is an easy, delicious recipe that you can vary a lot based on the types of fish you use or the herbs you choose to add. There are no oils or butter in this dish. The moisture of the fish is retained by the parchment packets and the added lemon slices. It's no mac and cheese but it's very tasty and you'll feel better about yourself for taking the healthy route.

This recipe is adapted from Martha.

Serves 2

Hake & Clams in Parchment Paper

• 1 large russet potato, scrubbed and sliced 1/8 inch thick (highly recommend using a mandoline for this. it will make your life so much easier.)
• 2 ounces baby spinach
• 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 6 sprigs of thyme (remove the leaves or use the sprigs as is and take them out after the fish is cooked)
• 1 lemon, thinly sliced
• 1 lb. (or a little less) of Hake, Cod or Halibut, about 1 1/2 inch thick, cut into two pieces, seasoned with salt and pepper
• 4 small littleneck clams/quahogs
• 2-inch piece of linguica or your favorite sausage chopped into small pieces (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

How to:
1. Cut 2 pieces of parchment paper (roughly 12 x 17 inches). You can find parchment paper next to the tin foil and plastic wrap in the grocery store. Fold each sheet in half crosswise.
2. Place 1 piece of parchment down. On one side, place half of the following ingredients: sliced potatoes, chopped garlic, spinach, chopped shallots, 2 lemon slices, thyme sprigs.
3. Place the seasoned halibut on top of the ingredients above, top with some linguica and tuck in a few small quahogs.
4. Fold parchment over all the ingredients. Fold the top and bottom of the parchment paper together starting at one end and going to the other (you form the parchment into sort of a crescent shape - see image above).
5. Repeat the same process for second piece of fish.
6. Place packets on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes.
7. Serve packets right on plates and either cut open or let the individual diners cut open their own serving. If you take it out of the packets and then serve it on the plate you will lose a lot of the juices.