Monday, May 29, 2006

Perfect Beach Day - Wellfleet's Beachcomber

If you're looking for the perfect beach day, get up early, pack up the car and take a road trip to Wellfleet on Cape Cod. It's about an hour and a half from Boston (without traffic) but it's well worth the trip. We went on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend when I anticipated traffic would be light due to the fact that most people had already driven to their destination. Luckily I was right. No traffic in either direction. You gotta love that.

For those of you who don't know, Wellfleet is way down on the Cape, only two towns away from the furthest point on the Cape, Provincetown. What makes it worth the journey? The National Seashore. In my opinion the beaches on the National Seashore (that run all the way from Orleans to Provincetown) are the most beautiful in all of New England (except perhaps some of the beaches on Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard). Stunning cliffs, thick sand and beautiful (yet frigid) open ocean.

Cahoon Hollow Beach is my beach of choice in Wellfeet even though there are many stellar choices. You drive down this long windy road off Rte 6 and are greeted by a truly breathtaking view of the ocean. The beach is located at the base of a huge cliff so you have to decend down a steep path. It's easy going down but the ole calves burn a little on the way up. It's good to burn a few calories before you make it back up to the top where the best waterfront bar and restaurant resides - the Beachcomber. It's the kind of place you find in places like the Carribbean but not so much in these parts. There's an outdoor deck where you can walk in with sand all over you, sit down, get waited on by the same friendly bartenders that have worked there for decades and order up a delicious Mudslide, some freshly shucked Wellfleet oysters (but of course), an amazing grilled swordfish sandwich or a simple but tasty burger. Inside there are tables, pinball machines, a big bar and plenty of space for the great bands they have playing there all summer. I've been going to the Beachcomber for many years and I never get sick of it. Sit down at the bar on that deck, look out at the ocean and you immediately begin to relax. What job? What stress?

After the beach, it's always fun to head to PJ's Seafood which is at the end of Cahoon Hollow Road on Rte 6. It's an old- school stand where you can order everything at the take-out window from boiled lobster dinner to hot fudge sundaes. They have picnic tables you can sit and eat at that are covered with plastic tablecloths - easy to hose down after a messy lobster dinner. Their fried clams are to die for and the chocolate/vanilla soft serve twist is a winner. Don't pass PJ's without getting a snack.

If you do decide to make it a weekend, Wellfleet Center (which is on the bay side of Wellfleet, the other side of Route 6) is a really nice place to stay. There are many inns and bed and breakfasts, great places to eat and several galleries to browse. If you want to venture out a bit, Provincetown is just another 15 minutes away. Plenty of entertainment there!

Don't let the summer go by without hitting the Beachcomber at least once. It's a great escape!

Beachcomber, Wellfleet, Cape Cod, MA

Monday, May 22, 2006

One on One with Om's Chef Rachel Klein

Click image below to enlarge.

When I go out to eat, I often wonder what goes on in the minds of chefs. Where do they get their inspiration? How do they find the best ingredients? Do they go to farmers markets and specialty stores like you and me or do they have special suppliers? What is their background (geographic, ethnic, educational) and how does it influence their cooking style?

I figure if I'm curious about these things, others must be too. So I decided to begin going to the source and interviewing chefs around town about what makes them tick. I have started at the top with Om's Rachel Klein, the hottest new chef in town, who graciously agreed to be my first "victim."

When I originally went to Om, I was blown away by the inspired dishes - the flavor combinations, the presentation and the "deconstructed" nature of many of the menu items. I thought to myself that this chef had ventured into territory not explored by many local chefs. This chef had something truly unique to offer the Boston restaurant scene and I was thrilled she decided to pack up her chef's knives and move here from Providence. I was even more thrilled when she agreed to meet with me and tell me more about herself and her new spring menu at Om.

Om has been open about 5 months and the restaurant has quickly become a hot spot. When I spoke to Rachel and she told me that they now have a spring menu, I was dying to know what would be on it. I was also interested in how she goes about modifying a menu at a new restaurant. How do you change things without alienating customers who have come to love what's already on the menu? How do you introduce new dishes that seamlessly integrate with the dishes that are staying on the menu?

Rachel told me that she starts thinking about her menu a season ahead. So during the cold winter months when virtually nothing is in season around here, Rachel is dreaming up her spring menu. She says it's sometimes a challenge because you forget what comes in season first. Produce catalogs are good for inspiration. They tell you what you can get now, what you have to look forward to, where the produce is coming from, etc. These produce catalogs also have "reps" who visit the chefs in their restaurants and bring in ingredients to show them. This is extremely helpful to chefs who are really too busy to go out and about to markets browsing for ingredients. However, Rachel does enjoy going to farmers markets and places like Whole Foods. Because she can see everything at once as opposed to individual pages of a catalog which isn't as inspiring.

In terms of creating dishes for the menu, Rachel's approach is to think about textures first and how they will work together. Then she tries to strike a balance of sweet, salt and spicy to best bring out the flavors of each of the key ingredients. She always has salt, pepper, acid (citrus, vinegar) and sugar on hand in her kichen to help create that balance she is looking for.

The introduction of Om's spring menu has been a staggered process which is a great idea to let people get their feet wet with a new dish here and there as opposed to a whole new menu all at once. This answers my question about how you go about introducing dishes to a menu that is just getting established. So what's on the spring menu so far?

Colorado Lamb. Colorado boneless loin of lamp with braised artichokes, sweet olive relish, coriander emulsion and parmesan shavings on top. When I asked Rachel how she thought to bring all these things together in one dish, she said "salivating." Hmm. Interesting. At first I wasn't sure what she meant. But then she explained...after a bite of each of these items (particularly the parmesan and artichokes), you get this salivating feeling in your mouth. When I started combining all the flavors on the dish and took a bite, I totally got it. What an interesting way to pair things together. And, by the way, an absolutely heavenly dish. Lamb naysayers will reconsider when they try this. The lamb has more of a steak quality to it. It's prepared medium rare and you can practically cut it with your fork. Take a little of everything, combine it and what a burst of flavor you will enjoy. Lamb is actually outselling the steak right now which is Rachel's signature dish. That goes to show you how delicious the dish is.

Korean Beef. Chili spice & brown sugar rubbed sirloin,
yellow watermelon, Asian herb salad. This is a first course but could easily serve as an entree. Again, it's the combination of all the different flavors and textures that make the dish. And as always, beautiful to look at. I love the contrast of the unusual bright yellow watermelon against the greens and the beef. Definitely created with spring in mind.

Also new to the menu is Georges Bank Scallops which includes sweet English peas, Chinese sausage, thai basil, mint, pickled red pearl onions and Chef's garden bowtie arugula. Very fresh and light.

She wants to add a soft shell crab dish to the menu but is waiting for the price of crabs to come down. She doesn't want customers to have to pay outrageous prices, so her plan is to introduce crabs to the menu when the price is more reasonable.

On the dessert front, there are several new creative, tempting choices. I have not personally had the opportunity to try these yet but will definitely have to return to indulge.
23 Karat Gold Cake. Carrot cake and parsnip ice cream sandwich with creme fraiche icing, toasted walnuts, habanero chili caramel sauce and gold dust. How chic.
Linzer Bar. Guava jelly, mascarpone sorbet, hazelnut crust and micro upland cress.
Coconut Layer Cake. Madras curry ice cream, cocoa nibs and baby fennel confit (candied).

As you can see, Rachel is no ordinary chef nor is her menu run-of-the-mill. If you're looking for an adventure, head to Om. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Thank you to Rachel for taking the time out of her busy schedule to let us get in her head a little bit and learn more about what makes her a great chef and Om such a wonderful place.

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

Farmers Market Opening Day!

Most Bostonians look forward to Red Sox Opening Day. Me, I eagerly await the Farmers Market Opening Day. When farmers truck in from miles away with beautiful fresh produce and flowers. And bakers come bearing breads, cookies and other confections. They sell their pride and joy to city folk like myself who may not have the time, talent or real estate to grow their own. The farmers market I frequent most often is in Central Square, in the parking lot behind Pearl Arts & Crafts. It's every Monday from 12-6. I try not to miss a week because each week something new is in season which sadly means you have to see other things go out of season but such is life.

It's always an adventure going to the farmers market. Since this was the first week, not a lot is in season yet but I was thrilled to see even a few fresh-picked items. Lots of greens are available and some are pretty unusual - chrysanthemum greens, red Russian kale (pictured above) and pea greens (which taste exactly like peas!). Try to find those at your local grocery store.

Also for sale were lots of flower and herb plants both large and small. I bought 4 plants to grow on my window sill—rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage. It's so nice to have fresh herbs in the house. They smell great, they look pretty and they're great to have on hand for cooking.

Two bakeries will be at the Farmers Market all season long. One is Hi-Rise Bakery from Cambridge (pictured above). They make the most delicious cookies. Try the almond macaroons. They melt in your mouth. Breadsong Bakery from Auberndale is the other bakery and their olive bread is amazing. I brought one home and immediately made a turkey, havarti and pea green sandwich with dijon mustard. Heaven.

I will definitely look forward to Mondays for the next 6 months, when I'll be able to go from getting fresh asparagus and greens to blueberries and raspberries to watermelon and corn to apples and butternut squash. I'll keep you posted on what I find each week so you'll know what's in season. I encourage you to patronize your local farmers market. Not only are you supporting the growers, but you're treating yourself to the freshest food available and because it's in season the prices are reasonable. Find out the location of your local farmers market.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Lemon Heaven

My sister came over for dinner tonight and she is the best audience for my cooking adventures so I always try to make something special when she comes over. I knew she'd enjoy some Black Cod Baked in Parchment with fresh littlenecks my brother had dug, some chopped linguica, spinach, thyme - yum. The entrée choice was easy. But what to make for dessert. Something bright, light and spring-like perhaps. Something with lemon! I immediately thought of these adorable lemon soufflés that are baked right in the lemons I had seen Martha make. I thought I'd give it a try.

Don't be scared off by soufflés. I had never made them before and found them pretty easy. There are very few ingredients and the process is fairly simple. I did make one major discovery that I'd like to share with you. It makes a big difference whether you use the hollowed out lemon or a ramekin to hold the soufflé mixture. The finished soufflé in the lemon was so much lighter, fluffier and tastier. The soufflé in the ramekin was more cake-like. You don't want that. Definitely go with the lemons. The reason I used both is because you have to trim off the very bottom of the lemon so that it can stand up straight on the cookie sheet. But even a small slice off the bottom created a hole all the way through some of the lemons. So I had to use some lemons and some ramekins. Midway through I came up with the idea to cover the holes with some of the rind from the inside of the lemon. Worked like a charm! I recommend using that McGyver maneuver so you can use all lemons.

This is a great spring/summer dessert. Give it a try!

This recipe is from Martha Stewart's website. I've featured it below because I have a couple of suggestions based on my experience.


Serves 8
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.


• 8 large lemons, preferably Meyer
• 3 large eggs, separated (use room temperature eggs, they separate so much easier!)
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• Confectioners sugar, for dusting

How to:
1. Preheat oven to 350°; line a baking sheet with parchment. Trim tip end from a lemon so fruit sits level. Cut the top of the lemon off (about one-third of the way down), making cut parallel with bottom; reserve top. Repeat with remaining lemons.

2. Hold a lemon above a strainer set over a bowl and scoop out the insides (use a melon baller or serrated grapefruit spoon). Squeeze the juice from the pulp, and reserve. Repeat with all lemons. Place shells on prepared baking sheet. (By the way, you will have WAY more lemon juice than you need for the recipe so plan on mixing up some cocktails later using all that extra great fresh lemon juice. I made a lemon mojito!).

3. Combine egg yolks, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup reserved lemon juice, and flour in the heat-proof bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or if you only have a hand mixture like I do, just use that). Beat mixture on medium speed until pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Place bowl over a pan of simmering water; mix constantly until very thick, about 8 minutes. Remove bowl from heat, and return to mixer. Beat on medium speed until cool, about 10 minutes. Set aside

4. Combine egg whites and remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar in clean mixer bowl. Place the bowl over the pan of simmering water and stir until sugar has dissolved and mixture is warm to the touch. Remove bowl from heat, and return to mixer; beat on low speed until frothy. Gradually increase speed until meringue is shiny and holds soft peaks, 2 to 3 minutes, being careful not to overbeat.

5. Whisk one-third of the meringue into the yolk mixture. Gently fold in the remaining meringue. Fill each of the lemon shells to just below the rims.

6. Transfer baking sheet to oven, and bake until meringue is slightly golden and rises about 1 inch above the shell, about 14 minutes. Remove from oven, and transfer to serving plates. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and garnish with a mint sprig. Serve immediately.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Cuckoo for Cupcakes

America's latest obsession is not Jennifer Anniston and Vince Vaughn, TomCat or even Brangelina. It's cupcakes, my friends! I don't know if you've noticed lately but America can't get enough of them. If you read my review of Magnolia Bakery in New York or of the Cosmic Cupcakes at Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown, you probably were starting to get that idea.

What's up with cupcakes? They're cute, they're delicious and it's like having your own little personal cake. They're also sort of retro. I think they remind us all of a simpler time in our youth when Mom or Grandma used to make them for us and our biggest decision in life was whether to pick the chocolate or the vanilla. But why the recent surge in popularity? My guess is that all the buzz about Magnolia may have sparked the trend. Katie Holmes had a photo shoot in In Style Magazine which showed her eating their cupcakes (that was before she fell under the spell of Scientology poster boy Tom Cruise). Saturday Night Live did a hip hop video on the show that mentioned Mangolia. There's even an East Coast vs. West Coast thing going on with cupcakes. Apparently Yummy Cupcakes in LA is giving Magnolia a run for its money.

Martha Stewart has even joined the craze and not only made a couple different kinds on her show in the past few weeks but she also sent her staff out on a secret search for the best cupcakes in Manhattan. They chose the cupcakes from Billy's Bakery and had the baker in to share his recipe. (How psyched is that guy.) The verdict was that the his cupcakes weren't too rich, the frosting wasn't grainy, they were just right. Unfortunately I found out about this a few days after my return from New York so alas, I did not get the opportunitiy to try them for myself.

Did you know there's even a hot baking book out called (you might have to write this down to remember it) "Cupcakes!" by Elinor Klivans. It's great and is available in book stores and places like Crate and Barrel. Who knew there were so many different ways to make them? I must admit that I have jumped on the bandwagon. This weekend I made some killer Hi-Hat Cupcakes for Mother's Day that I had seen Martha make. The recipe actually comes from the "Cupcakes" book though. The recipe is up on Martha's website but I am including it below because having gone through the process, I have some suggestions/modifications for you. While these cupcakes are time consuming, they are a lot of fun and the smiles and "Yummmms" they bring are well worth the effort.

Have you made or eaten any great cupcakes lately? I'd love to hear from you. Let me know!


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with rack in center.

Makes about 16 cupcakes.

Ingredients for the Batter:
- 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1-1/4 cups sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup sour cream

Ingredients for the Frosting:
- 1-3/4 cups sugar
- 3 lge egg whites
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp almond extract

Ingredients for the Chocolate Coating:
- 1 cup (about 6 ounces) chopped semisweet chocolate
- 1-1/2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil

How to - the Batter:
1. Place chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl, and set it over a medium saucepan of barely simmering water; stir chocolate until melted and smooth. Remove bowl from heat, and set aside to cool slightly.
2. Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
3. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed, scraping sides of bowl as needed, until light and fluffy. On low speed, mix in melted chocolate. Increase speed to medium, and add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla, and beat until mixture is creamy and color has lightened slightly, about 1 minute. Mix in sour cream. On low speed, add half of reserved flour mixture, beating until just incorporated. Mix in 1/2 cup water. Add remaining flour mixture, and mix until just incorporated.
4. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners. Fill each liner with enough batter to come 1/8 inch from top, about 1/3 cup (if you have an ice cream scoop, use it to dole out the batter). Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until tops are firm and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer cupcakes to a wire rack to cool in pan for 10 minutes. (Note: if you like cake batter, you'll love this. Give it a taste!)
5. Remove cupcakes from tin and let cool completely.

How to - the Frosting:
6. In a large heatproof bowl, combine sugar, 1/4 cup water, egg whites, and cream of tartar. Using a handheld electric mixer, beat on high speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Set bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Beat on high speed until frosting forms stiff peaks, about 12 minutes (if you're like me and don't have a free-standing mixer, you might want to ask someone to take turns holding the mixer - your arm starts to get sore!) . Remove from heat; stir in vanilla and almond extracts, and beat for 2 minutes more until frosting thickens.

7. Transfer frosting to a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain pastry tip (or in a pinch, cut the tip off of a Ziploc bag and use that instead). Leaving a 1/8-inch border on each cupcake, pipe a spiral of frosting into a 2-inch-high cone shape. Transfer cupcakes to a baking sheet, and refrigerate while preparing the chocolate coating.

How to - the Fun Part - the Chocolate Coating!:
8. Combine the chocolate and oil in a medium heat-proof bowl set over a medium saucepan of barely simmering water; stir until melted and smooth. Transfer to a small bowl, and let cool about 15 minutes.

9. Invite your friends in for this part. It's a blast. Holding each cupcake by its bottom, dip cupcake in the chocolate to coat frosting, allowing excess to drip off. Transfer to a baking sheet fitted with a wire rack. Spoon more coating around edge of cupcake and any exposed frosting; none of the frosting should show. Let cupcakes stand at room temperature 15 minutes.

10. Place cupcakes on a serving platter, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to let coating set. Cover, and refrigerate for 2 hours more. Serve cold. Cupcakes can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Note: You can remove the cupcake papers but I would wait until after they've refrigerated for a couple of hours. I tried it before putting them in the refrigerator and the cake part started to fall apart. Once they've set for awhile, they stay together better.

Recipe from "Cupcakes!," Chronicle Books, U.S., June 2005

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Start Spreading the News - NYC Food Finds

New Discoveries and Old Friends (locations at bottom of page):
A Salt & Battery
Doughnut Plant
Rosa Mexicano
The Boathouse, Central Park

There are so many reasons to love New York. The theater. The shopping. The David Blaine stunts (well, maybe that's a reason not to love New York, along with the Yankees). But the God. So many choices. One block has more restaurants than most towns. And they certainly run the gamut, from Chinese to Indian, upscale to pub-style, bagels and pizza. You name it. They have it. And we ate lots of it. Which is why I walked all the way from the Upper East Side to Soho one of the days I was there. It's the best way to see the city anyway. That's how you stumble upon those cool, out-of-the-way places.

Where to begin. Well I guess A Salt and Battery is a great place to start. My boyfriend is originally from New Zealand and has been on a 14-year quest to find authentic Fish & Chips here in the U.S. Well, this weekend he reached the end of his journey at a "Chipper" (pronounced "Chippah," nickname for a fish & chips joint) on the west side of Manhattan. A Salt & Battery is run by English expats who also own an English café and specialty store in New York called Tea and Sympathy. So this place is the real deal. The menu is short, sweet and all deep fried — fish & chips, giant battered "bangers" (tastes like breakfast sausage but looks like the street sausages you buy at Fenway Park), Mars bars (yes, the candy bar), pineapple, you get the idea.

We ordered fish and chips with two different kinds of fish - cod (the classic) and halibut. When we got our chips I realized why they have that name. I never really thought about it until then. You see, English "chips" are all different sizes, many of which are little crunchy chip-like pieces that you quickly find yourself hunting for amidst the chunkier sizes. We also ordered a banger. I have to say one bite was more than enough. It was good but man, it had evil written all over it. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

I couldn't wait to see what the expert thought. Would this fish and chips live up to Kemal's expectations? He had been let down so many times before. I figured if this didn't cut it, his only alternative at this point would be to hop place to England or New Zealand to satisfy his craving. Luckily, after the first bite of fish, it was clear that he was a very happy man. The batter was just the right consistency and the chips were both soft and crunchy depending on which chip you grabbed. Whew. What a relief.

I tried to get the guys who work there to cough up what makes English fish and chips so darned tasty. They sort of blew me off but I did discover that they use vegetable oil and it's probably different than the vegetable oil we use here. Also, often french fries here are fried in peanut oil so that changes the flavor too obviously. I don't know what the secret is but it was really good. I'm almost thankful that they're the only place this side of the pond that makes them that good. Could be dangerous.

Although Kemal had extolled the virtues of the deep-fried pineapple, neither one of us could go there at that point. Besides, we had another evil item on the agenda for later in the day...

Doughnut Plant

I've been hearing about the Doughnut Plant for the last few years. Owner Mark Israel started the business out of his apartment using his grandfather's donut recipe. Now he has a very successful shop in New York, supplies many upscale stores like Balducci's and Dean and Deluca and also has 7 shops in Japan! I love entrepreneurial stories like that. Based on that success, I figure the doughnuts must be pretty delicious.

The facade of Doughnut Plant is sort of industrial looking and the neighborhood is a little gritty which I kind of like. It's a nice departure from the sometimes overly-polished neighborhoods like Soho. A glass front to the shop lets you instantly see the array of freshly made doughnuts, which is enough to suck anyone in who happens to be passing by. A very friendly, gregarious gentleman originally from Sri Lanka was working the counter. We asked his advice on what to order and he said, "One of everything." Yikes. That wasn't going to happen. After further prodding, he suggested the coconut and almond doughnuts. We ordered one of each. Both doughnuts were square which I didn't quite get until I realized the point - to have more room for filling! The coconut doughnut was incredible. Coconut flakes on the outside, coconut cream on the inside. Wow. I love all things coconut anyway but this was something extraordinary. The almond doughnut was excellent as well. The ingredients they use are clearly the best quality. They also have some unusual flavors like Valrhona Chocolate, Pistachio and Ginger and change them up based on the season which is unusual. These doughnuts are definitely a step above any others I've tried. I can see why they're so popular. By the way, the tasty looking beverage in the doughnut photo above is called Agua de Jamaica. They made it especially for Cinco de Mayo. It's made with Jamaican flowers, sugar cane and spring water. Very refreshing and so pretty to look at.

Since it was Cinco de Mayo we felt the need to join in the festivities somewhere. We had just taken a gander at David Blaine bobbing around in the fish bowl and spotted Rosa Mexicano right across the street. Bingo. It was still early enough to beat the after-work crowd so we headed inside. Apparently a lot of people knocked off early for a bowl of freshly made guacamole and some margaritas because the bar was packed. We noticed that everyone was drinking this red drink so of course we had to have one. Turned out to be a Pomegrante Margarita. HIGHLY recommend trying these. While we didn't eat there that night, I have eaten there several times in the past. The food is amazing.

So we pretty much overdid it that day which I guess is an understatement. But hey, we were in New York.

The next morning we decided to do something really touristy. Have breakfast at The Boathouse Café in Central Park. The weather was so beautiful we wanted to sit outside and a lot of the outdoor cafés in New York are just too close to traffic and noise. The Boathouse is gorgeous. What a spot. Right in Central Park overlooking a pond where people can rent row boats. It's a nice escape from the city that never sleeps. The food is actually nothing to write home about and there are tons of tourists there (a large table of visiting birdwatchers were next to us) but we didn't really care. Just sitting there and looking out at the water and the blossoming spring flowers was more than enough to make us happy.

Where to go on Saturday night... I had of course done a lot of research and had some options in mind but I decided to go somewhere I had been before because I had such a fond memory of the place. Tabla. It was even better than I remembered. Tabla is a very cool place without being super trendy or obnoxious. The cuisine is classified as New Indian. They combine classic Indian spices with western flavors. The upstairs is more formal and the downstairs area is called the "Bread Bar" and offers many small plates, sort of like Indian tapas. I prefer the downstairs and you get seated quicker there anyway. Everyone from the hostess to the bartenders to the wait staff were very friendly and totally on top of their game. The second I started thinking I needed something, someone would appear and take care of us. They made you feel that they were happy you had picked their restaurant for dinner which is the way you'd think all restaurants would be but as we all know, that is just not the case.

The highlight of the meal were the Goan Braised Brisket, something we made ourselves order because it sounded different than anything else we had tried at an Indian restaurant. It was absolutely delicious. Slow cooked with whiskey and sweet spices. Also tasty was the Asparagus Caldin which was prepared with coconut milk. Very unusual. You can also choose from a variety of chutneys and sauces for dipping some of the small plate items. We liked the Tamarind Dhutney the best. We dipped our chickpea-battered fish in it. Fantastic.

The menu at Tabla's Bread Bar is also very affordable for New York. The small plates are all in about the $8.00 range. An excellent value. I highly recommend trying this place next time you visit this fine city.

Where to Find Them:
A Salt & Battery
112 Greenwich Street, between 13th & Jane (West Village)

Donut Plant
379 Grand Street (between Essex and Norfolk Street), Lower East Side

Rosa Mexicano
Three locations:
First Avenue (been there-cozier than Lincoln Center location)
1063 First Avenue at 58th Street
61 Columbus Avenue at 62nd Street (that's where we went - very cool water wall)
9 East 18th Street (bet. 5th Avenue & Broadway)

The Boathouse, Central Park
East 72nd Street at Park Drive North

11 Madison Avenue (at 25th Street)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Empanaditas & Margaritas for Cinco de Mayo

click for a closer look

Cards night at my house calls for creative snack ideas. We always eat a lot and play cards a little. Usually we opt for an amazing spread of cheese and crackers, shrimp cocktail, fruit and the occasional evil peppercorn salami. But in the spirit of Cinco de Mayo we switched things up a bit and opted for some festive Empanaditas and Margaritas. The Empanaditas can be made ahead of time and frozen so all you'll have to do is pop them in the oven and focus your energy on squeezing some fresh limes for the Margaritas, well worth the effort for your amigos. Hope you enjoy! Happy Cinco de Mayo!

This is another one of my Mom's stellar recipes. The cream cheese in the dough makes it so easy to roll out and delicious to eat. Thanks Bea. Another hit!


For the dough:

- 2 1/4 cups flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup butter, cut up into pieces
- 8 oz. cream cheese, cut up into pieces
- 2 eggs, slightly beaten
- 2 tbsp ice water

For the filling:

- 1/2 lb. ground beef
- 1/3 cup grated cheese
- 1/4 cup red wine
- 1 sm. onion, diced
- 1 clove of garlic, chopped
- 1 pinch of dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp. cumin
- 1/4 tsp. chili powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Dash of hot sauce
- Dash of Worcestershire sauce
- 1 egg, lightly beaten for sealing the empanaditas

How to:

For the Dough:
1. Mix flour & salt in a large bowl & add butter & cream cheese.
2. Blend with fork until mixture resembles bread crumbs.
3. Sitr eggs into ice water & add to flour mixture. Stir to form dough.
4. Turn dough onto lightly floured board and knead until smooth. Add flour to your hands to keep the dough from sticking to them.
5. Form dough into a flat, round cake, wrap in foil & refrigerate for 30 minutes.

For the Filling:
1. Sauté the ground beef in a dry skillet until brown.
2. Add wine, onion, garlic, thyme, cumin, chili powder, salt, hot sauce & Worcestershire sauce & continue cooking 5 minutes or until liquid has evaporated.
3. Remove pan from heat & cool completely. Then mix in the grated cheddar cheese.

Assembling the Empanaditas:
1. Roll out on lightly floured board to about 1/8."
2. Use a 4" round cutter to stamp out discs. Makes 24 - 30 discs.
3. Brush edges of rounds with beaten egg & put 1 tsp. meat filling on each circle, leaving a 1/4" border. Fold over.
4. Dip tines of fork in flour & press edges to seal.
5. Lightly grease baking sheets. Set empanaditas on them & refrigerate for 15 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve at once.
Note: If you decide to make them ahead of time, freeze them in a single layer so they don't stick together and bake them for an extra 8 - 10 minutes.


If you're having more than a couple of people over, mix up a pitcher of Margaritas instead of shaking them up one at a time.
But do take an extra 5 minutes to squeeze fresh limes instead of using a Margarita mix. They're tart but fresh and a little simple syrup gives them a perfect blance of citrus and sweet.

- 2 cups tequila, chilled
- 1/4 cup Cointreau, chilled
- 1 3/4 cups fresh squeezed lime juice (about 12 - 14 limes)
- 1/4 cup simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water warmed over a stove to dissolve the sugar)
- 4 - 6 lime wedges
- Coarse sea salt
- Ice

How to:
1. Mix the tequila, cointreau, lime juice and simple syrup together.
2. Add a couple of handfuls of ice cubes.
3. Rub lime on the rims of the margarita glasses.
4. Pour salt onto a plate.
5. Rub the glass rims in the salt.
6. Pour margarita into glass.
7. Add lime slice for garnish.

Makes about 6 drinks. Beware of the tequila. It'll sneak up on you ;-)

Monday, May 01, 2006

From Shubael's Pond to My Dinner Table - Fresh Trout

click image to get a closer look

As I've mentioned before, my brother Dick is an avid fisherman and I am very fortunate to reap the benefits of his hard labor. Last night, two trout (along with some freshly dug clams and asparagus from my Mom's garden) made it to my apartment via my sister Donna, the seafood Sherpa. My brother had just caught the fish earlier in the day at Shubael's Pond on Cape Cod. Doesn't get any fresher than that. I was planning on getting some steaks for dinner but when I got the call about the fresh fish, I put the steak idea on the back burner so to speak.

Fresh fish, as you may well know, doesn't need a lot of fuss. Just a couple ingredients to bring out its flavors. I decided to go with the simple, classic pairing of trout with green beans and almonds, otherwise known as Trout and Green Bean Almondine. If you're not lucky enough to have a fisherman in your family, many of the fish markets now have trout. Give them a shout.

Recipe for Trout with Green Beans Amandine

- 2 whole trout with skin on (heads removed, descaled and gutted - ask your fishmonger to take care of it for you)
- 1/2 lb haricots verts (or string beans)
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
- 1/2 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp canola oil
- Salt and pepper

How to:
1. Rinse the fish inside and out, pat dry, salt and pepper both sides.
2. Heat a non-stick or cast iron pan on medium-high.
3. Add the canola oil.
4. Let the pan get hot and add the two trout. Cook 4 minutes on each side.
5. Remove the fish from the pan and keep warm by covering it with tin foil.

1. Bring about 8 cups of water to a boil.
2. Blanch the haricots verts/green beans for about 3 minutes.
3. Drain the green beans and put them in an ice bath or run under cold water for a couple of minute to stop the cooking.
4. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a pan and sauté the green beans for another 3 - 5 minutes so they've still got some snap to them but aren't too raw.

1. Add the 1/2 stick butter to the fish pan over medium-high heat.
2. When butter starts browning, add the almonds and cook until browned.
3. Add the lemon juice and let cook for another 2 minutes.

1. Get a large platter.
2. Plate the fish.
3. Arrange the green beans all over the plate.
4. Pour the almonds and butter sauce over the fish and green beans.
5. Serve family style to a happy audience. Serves about 4 people.