Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Fresh Baked Bread - It's Easier Than You Think!

I've always been afraid of baking bread. Dealing with yeast, kneading and rounds of rising. Seemed like a lot of work with a high risk of something going awry. So I've left it to the experts - until now. What changed my mind? Well, I was at my Aunt Angie's house a couple of weekends ago and she had made this Oatmeal Bread that was amazing. So amazing that I was finally willing to take the plunge and try it myself. When she mailed me the recipe, I looked it over and saw how few ingredients there were and thought, "I actually might not screw this up!" So I bought the ingredients and blocked out Sunday to give it a try. Turns out, it was one of the easiest things I've ever made. I was shocked and mad at myself for waiting so long to jump in and get my hands doughy. Don't be a wimp like me. If you've never baked bread before, this is a great place to start. Simple recipe and the dough is very "forgiving," as they say. The intoxicating smell that permeates your house when the bread is baking is more than worth the price of admission. And of course the taste is heavenly as well. A little crunch on the "oatside" and soft on the inside. It's such a gratifying feeling to take a warm bread out of the oven that you made from scratch. I have to say I was pretty proud. Thank you, Aunt Angie, for the wonderful recipe and for curing me of my bread phobia.

Aunt Angie's Oatmeal Bread

• 2 cups water
• 1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal (steel cut oats will do the trick)
• 3 tbsp butter
• 1 package dry yeast
• 1/3 cup brown sugar
• 1 tsp salt
• 5 cups flour

Note: I used 3 loaf pans - 2 10x4.5 and 1 8.5X4.5

How to:
- Bring water to a boil. Add butter and oats. Stir in 2 minutes. Cool to lukewarm.
- When oats are cool, combine with 4 cups of the flour, salt and brown sugar.
- Dissolve yeast in warm water with 1 tbsp sugar. Let rise about 10 minutes.
- Add risen yeast to cooled oats and mix well.
- Knead. It will be very sticky so add as much of the 5th cup of flour to make a nice smooth dough.
- Place in greased bowl. Turn to coat both sides. Cover and let rise in warm place for 1 hour.
- Punch down the dough and form into 3 loaves. Place loaves in pans and let rise again for 45 minutes. Pans should be greased (with butter or shortening).
- Bake loaves in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Test with toothpick to be sure they are cooked. Toothpick should come out clean not doughy.

Slice, butter and enjoy!

Risen loaves ready for baking.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Muqueca - My New Favorite Restaurant

Sometimes the best restaurants are right under your nose. I have been walking by Muqueca every day on my way to and from work for the last 8 months. I guess the reason I hadn't tried it was because when I looked at the menu it appeared that their speciality was a boulliabaise-type dish which I often find disappointing at restaurants. However, I was SO WRONG.

Muqueca is an absolute delight from the brightly colored décor to the perfectly seasoned food to the dreamy bossa nova music to the warm hostess and co-owner, Fafa. The whole experience transports you temporarily to Brazil - a welcome respite on a sub-zero evening out.

The name Muqueca refers to Brazilian seafood stew, moqueca, which is cooked in homes in Espirito Santo. The moqueca is served steaming hot in handcrafted clay pots. I worried about the waitresses carrying around such hot, heavy dishes. We tried the Bacalhau a Capixaba - a moqueca with salted cod, hard boiled eggs, plantain and coconut milk. We also ordered the Mariscada - a moqueca with shrimp, crabmeat, mussels and squid with cilantro, tomato, onion and coconut milk. Both of these dishes were wonderful. It is obvious so much care goes into preparing the food. It tastes very homemade. In fact, you feel like you are in a Brazilian familiy's kichen as opposed to a restaurant. While I enjoyed both dishes, I preferred the Mariscada. It seemed that the coconut milk flavors were stronger and I loved the mix of seafood - all perfectly cooked. They also served some ground yucca on the side to sprinkle over your dish. I liked the texture it added. Tasted sort of like cornmeal.

Aside from the moquecas, we had a few appetizers, one of which is highly addictive - the Fried Yucca. Take one bite of the yucca dipped in their amazing "secret sauce" and you are already starting to think about ordering it again on another visit. So amazing. The fried calamari have a very tasty passion fruit sauce worth sampling as well.

The desserts we had were creamy and delicious. We ordered the Passion Fruit Mousse which is sweet, light with little crunchy passion fruit seeds floating on top. The gentlemen at the table ordered the Chocolate dessert which seemed to be a form of mousse pie with jimmies sprinkled on top.

There's no alcohol served however they make some mean blended fruit drinks that are not to be overlooked - mango, papaya, passion fruit and coconut milk are just a few of the mixers you can choose from.

Muqueca gets loco on Saturday nights with the crowds that pour in so you may want to make a reservation. We waited an hour for a table and there's nowhere to wait except for tucked against the door under the heater. They will let you leave the restaurant and call in to check on things but once you get a look at the food, somehow you don't want to leave for fear of losing your table to someone else.

I have since returned to Muqueca for lunch. They open at 11:30 which is great if you're trying to get an early lunch in. We ordered 2 of their soups which both tasted so homemade and delicious - Black Bean Soup and Collard Green Soup. Just $3.50 for a generous crock of soup and bread. You cannot beat that! Clearly I am well on my way to becoming a regular.

1093 Cambridge Street, Inman Square, Cambridge

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cauliflower - Broccoli's Neglected Sibbling

If cauliflower could speak, it would probably say, in the words of the late Rodney Dangerfield, "I get no respect." Cauliflower never gets showcased in the produce department like broccoli, asparagus or artichokes. It always seems to be the last veggie chosen on crudité platters at parties. And if you ask most people if they like cauliflower, they'll say yes but not with the same enthusiasm as their other favorite veggies. What I think is that this neglected veggie is not given the love it needs to make its flavors shine. Following is a delicious soup recipe that makes cauliflower the hero. Give it a try. And remember, cauliflower is a good source of protein, thiamin, riboflavin, phosphorus and potassium, and a very good source of fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin k and Vitamin B6. So you'll be doing your body good. Enjoy.

Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Leek and Asparagus
from Healthy Cooking, January 2007 (nice magazine I picked at Whole Foods)

- 4 tsp olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 leek, sliced thin (white and light green part only)
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1 head cauliflower, chopped (no stems)
- 1 small red potato, diced
- 1 tsp diced fresh rosemary
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 lb asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley - optional
- 2 - 3 chicken sausages (sliced into small pieces and browned on the stove) - optional (I added this to the recipe. It adds nice contrast in flavor and texture to the soup)

How to:
• Combine olive oil, onion, garlic, celery and leek in a large pot.
• Cook on medium for 5 to 6 minutes.
• Add broth, cauliflower, potato, rosemary and thyme.
• Bring to a boil, reduce heat and summer for about 40 minutes until cauliflower is very tender.
• Remove the cauliflower from the pot and puree (or if you have an immersion blender, just turn off the stove, and put your immersion blender right in the pot).
• If you removed the cauliflower, put it back in the pan. Either way, bring the soup to a boil.
• Add milk and asparagus and reduce to simmer.
• Cook for 15 minutes, remove and add salt, pepper and parsely to taste. Also add in the chicken sausage at this time.

Taste how great cauliflower can be. Mmmm!

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Peaceful Meadows - Best Ice Cream Southeast of Boston

Peaceful Meadows began as a dairy farm in the early 1920s. Milk, cream and other dairy products were produced and processed on their farm. In 1962, they started making the all-American favorite - rich, creamy ice cream made with only the finest quality ingredients. The business began in their Whitman location and has expanded over the years to 2 shops in Plymouth and one (thankfully) in Middleboro, just a few miles from my Mom's house.

I have been going to Peaceful Meadows for as long as I can remember. When someone at my mother's house mentions ice cream, we all perk up, make eye contact and the next thing you know we are all putting our jackets on and heading to the car to go get our fix.

Peaceful Meadows remains one of those ice cream shops from days gone by. You line up at the sliding glass windows, linger over the long list of flavors, place your order and snag your napkins from the dispenser in anticipation of your desired flavor. There are a couple of benches outside but most folks end up lapping up their ice cream while sitting in their cars, SUVs and oh yes, even pick-up trucks. Ice cream has mass appeal unlike anything I've ever seen. Young. Old. In Between. Beachgoers. Fishermen. Families. I've often thought that the United States should air lift ice cream to countries around the world to try and improve world peace because, let's face it, who doesn't love ice cream.

We all have our own favorite flavors. I'm a huge advocate for the Coconut Chocolate Almond - creamy coconut ice cream with chocolate covered almonds. My only complaint is that they used to put whole chocolate covered almonds in the ice cream and now they're chopped up into little bits. But one of their employees informed me that they still have them whole as a separate topping so I may change my strategy next time I go and just get them as a topping. My Mom and my brother Dick love the Maple Walnut which has New England written all over it. Very intense maple flavor with big walnut chunks mixed in. My niece Kirby, an ice cream connoisseur, prefers the Orange Pineapple while Dutch Chocolate Almond is a winner with my brother-in-law Norman. They also feature a variety of wonderful seasonal flavors like Peach (my sister Carol's fav), Ginger (my brother Jim's pick) and Eggnog (my sister Donna's Christmas craving).

As you can see, this place is not a one-hit wonder ice cream shop. And yes, even in the dead of winter, there are plenty of other folks at Peaceful Meadows besides us. It's a mecca for ice cream lovers in the area.

Peaceful Meadows also makes ice cream cakes, fountain drinks like Lime Rickeys and Sherbet Freezes, and about 10 different kinds of sundaes. I highly recommend the Hot Apple Sundae with spicy apple topping smothering a scoop of vanilla ice cream and topped with whipped cream and nuts. Another all-American classic.

If you're looking for a nice day trip out of Beantown, consider including Peaceful Meadows in your itinerary. It's a small detour on your way to the Cape and well worth the mile or two off track.


Whitman (the original location)
(open read round)
Route 18 in Whitman, MA (just north of the East Bridgewater town line)

(open year round - thank God)
2 miles south of the rotary on Route 28 in Middleboro, MA

Plymouth (2 locations):
Village Landing
170 Water Street, Plymouth, MA
(open year round)

115 Water Street, Plymouth, MA
(open March thru November)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Z Square - Hidden Gem in Harvard Square

Harvard Square has no shortage of places to eat but to me, there was a need for a good, straightforward American food restaurant that fell between the high-end restaurants like Om and Upstairs on the Square and the simple places like Au Bon Pain and Bartley's Burgers. Z Square has filled this gap and is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

First off, Z Square has multiple dining options - casual café upstairs, a sleek modern restaurant and bar downstairs and a great little outdoor seating in the warmer months that has a quiet, private feel yet it looks right out onto the chaos of Harvard Square.

The menu is very good too. Excellent pressed sandwiches - the Prosciutto, Mozzarella & Artichoke sandwich pictured here is outstanding. The bread is really crunchy and the combination of ingredients is delicious. With a sandwich, you get your choice of curried potato salad (best option), green apple slaw or mixed greens. They have 3 soups (plural) of the day - nice to have more than one option which is typical of most restaurants. They also offer fantastic burgers (beef, turkey, even chickpea for the vegetarians out there).

But what really makes a visit to Z Square special are the crêpes. They are THE BEST this side of the pond. I recommend the Carmelized Apple & Cinnamon Butter Crêpe or the Lemon Butter Crêpe. It's not on the menu but they will make you a Chocolate one which is amazing too. They also offer Savory Crêpes which I have not tried yet but I'm sure are equally good - Sautéed Mushroom & Swiss Chard, Smoked Ham & Gruyere, Smoked Salmon & Goat Cheese and Roasted Farm Vegetable & Goat Cheese. All options are less than $10, a steal if you ask me.

Z Square is open from 6am to 2am which is fabulous when you're looking for a place to eat on a late Sunday afternoon, a time when most restaurants close before opening for dinner.

So if you're in Harvard Square and craving a great, well-priced meal, an incredible crêpe and a place to watch the Pats game, check out Z Square. It's just steps from the Harvard Square "T" stop on JFK Street.

Z Square
14 JFK Street, Harvard Square

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