Thursday, August 23, 2007

Squash Blossoms - Incredible & Edible

When I was a kid, we grew all kinds of squash in our garden - zucchini, butternut squash, summer squash. Although I thought the blossoms on the plants themselves were pretty, I never really gave them a second thought. I certainly never thought of eating them. It wasn't until I moved to Boston after college and started seeing them on menus and at farmers markets that I realized that they were edible - and incredible.

Squash blossoms are plentiful in August and perfect for stuffing with your ingredients of choice and pan frying them. As I always say, when you're cooking with fresh seasonal ingredients, the simpler the better. You can eat the entire blossom except the bottom of the blossom and the stem. They're probably edible but I don't recommend eating them. Here is my recipe. The crab and chevre combination is quite heavenly. But feel free to experiment with your own stuffing combinations. I recommend starting with cheese and going from there!

Crab & Chevre Stuffed Squash Blossoms Recipe

Serves 2 - 3

- 6 squash blossoms (2-3 per person is a nice serving)
- 6 ounces of chevre or goat cheese
- 6 ounces of fresh crab meat
- 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tsp freshly grated lemon peel
- 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- salt & pepper to taste

How to:
1. Carefully remove the stamen from the inside of the blossom. Be careful not to tear the blossom but if you do, it's not the end of the world. The filling will hold it together.
2. Cut the stems of the blossoms down leaving enough so the blossom holds together and is easy to pick up.
3. Mix the chevre, lemon zest, lemon juice, thyme, salt and pepper, and crab meat. Fold in the crab last so it retains its meaty texture.
4. Stuff each of the squash blossoms with the mixture. You can get fancy and pipe it in but I just used a small spoon. It worked just fine. Sort of squeeze the blossom together with the mixture so it'll stay intact throughout the prep and cooking process.
5. Lightly scramble the egg and place the cornmeal (seasoned with a little salt) on a plate.
6. Coat each squash blossom on all sides with the egg mixture, then with the cornmeal.
7. Melt 2 tbsp of butter in a cast iron pan or heavy bottomed sauté pan
8. Sauté the squash blossoms until lightly browned (about 3-4 minutes each side).
9. Serve immediately.

That's it! Very nice with a small side salad and glass of white wine.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

August Corn - How Sweet It Is

It's that time of year. Prime corn season. When you use the word "shuck" more than all the other months combined. When it's acceptable to roll a freshly boiled ear of corn in a brand new stick of butter. When raising your corn at mouth-level and going to town on it typewriter style until you're done is really the only way to go. Oh how I love August.

It's also the only time of the summer where I really get excited about making soup. Corn chowder. Nothing like it. Pure, fresh, simple, slightly creamy. I love it. Here's my easy recipe. Hurry and try it. Sadly, summer is almost over and so is the chance to indulge in the sweetest, most tender corn of the year.

Corn Chowder Recipe

There are probably as many recipes for Corn Chowder as there are kernels of corn in the world. This is my take on it. Very minimalistic - lets the corn be the hero.

- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion
- 2 tbsp flour
- 1 bunch of scallions (5-7), chopped (only the white parts)
- 6 ears of corn, shucked, hold vertically and cut the corn off the cob
- 8 cups vegetable or chicken broth
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- salt & pepper to taste

How to:
- Melt butter and add olive oil
- Sauté onions for about 8 minutes over low heat.
- Add scallions and sauté for an additional 3 minutes.
- Mix in flour a little at a time, stirring continuously for about 4 minutes - you will see the mixture thicken.
- Add the broth and corn, bring to a boil, reduce to medium and cook an additional 10-15 minutes, until corn is tender.
- Turn off the stove and stir in the heavy cream while soup is still hot.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Purée soup with a hand blender or put in a blender (just be careful not to fill too high - it might splatter). You can strain the soup if you like but I prefer it with some texture to it.
- Serve as is or with a few seared scallops or chicken sausage slices in the bowl.

Summer on a spoon!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Cuchi Cuchi - Tapas & Cocktails with Vavoom

First off, Cuchi Cuchi is pronounced "koo-chee" "koo-chee" and based on the fact that there's a picture of Charro on the wall, I'm guessing the name is a nod to the over-the-top but actually talented Mexican guitarist. What it has to do with the restaurant, I haven't a clue but maybe it's Charro's quirky joie de vivre that they're tapping into.

One step in the doorway and you get the vibe. High open-beam ceilings, Victorian and Deco décor - warm, cozy, a place to settle in for the evening. The waitresses dress in vintage and I've been told by an inside source that there's a massive dressing room downstairs and the waitresses are encouraged to change throughout the evening to entertain guests - and I'm guessing themselves. How fun.

The bar is straight ahead from the entrance. It's beautiful - with three stunning stained-glass windows from the 1890s behind the bar. The atmosphere is fun, lively, usually crowded - and the bartenders make KILLER drinks, many with fresh squeezed juices and muddled herbs such as basil and mint. They also mix up an amazing White Wine Sangria which is a very refreshing summer beverage that goes down very easy - so beware.

The tapas (they prefer the term "small plates") is not limited to Spanish. In fact, the small plate options span the globe and include delicious bites influenced by Russia, France, Indian, Argentina, Italy and China. And with the most expensive dish going for $16 (the Boulliabaisse), you may as well experience a few cultures and order up a range of flavors.

Three small plates each usually does the trick. There are several that are "must-orders." The Guatemala-inspired Seafood-Filled Avocado is incredible. The avocado is peeled, cut in half and filled with succulent lobster tail (the good stuff), shrimp, octopus, scallops and salsa. It is so amazing. Just $15 for all those delicious ingredients. If you want to be naughty, go for the Brie en Croute ($12) - brie, almonds and bacon in a puff pastry. So sinful. The Cuban Cigars ($13) are sort of like Thai spring rolls on the outside. On the inside, it's all Cuban with flavorful beef short ribs and black bean salsa. Another favorite is the Savory Cornets with Tuna Tartar and Avocado Mousse which are a tribute to The French Laundry's Thomas Keller. While these are absolutely melt in your mouth wonderful, the cornets themselves do not match up to Keller's which I have had the pleasure of trying at his restaurant in New York, per se. Nevertheless, they're tasty and probably about a tenth of the price of Keller's (just $12 for 3).

As for the drinks, it's hard to go wrong. The Ginger Gimlet has a spicy, citrusy flavor I love. The Strawberry Basil Martini is a winner as well. I wouldn't necessarily put basil in my cocktails but, hey, it works! Champagne cocktails and Sangria are also winning options.

You see what I mean when I say it's a place you'll be settling in for the evening? So many tempting options to keep you there!

Cuchi Cuchi
795 Main Street (Central Square), Cambridge
Tel: 617.864.2929