Yipee!! All my glimmering has not been in vain! My first round of restaurant reviews for Nature Network Boston is up. The editing process was somewhat painful, but the eating and writing were all pleasure. Any comments or suggestions will be greatly appreciated (congratulations might not be so bad either).
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Monday, March 26, 2007
The worst sound on this earth is that of crunching fiberglass and caving fenders. Nothing can compare to it. How do I know this? I got into my very first car accident this weekend. Not bad for 13 years of driving. True to type, I hit a completely innocent and perfectly stationary car. D’oh. Oh but that’s not all. The car I so unfairly dented and scraped just happened to be the brand new SUV belonging to my landlady’s father. D’oh. When I realized what I had just done, I saw the goosebump-inducing crunching sound for what it was - a prelude to the giant waive of denial soon to be dwarfed by sheer panic, quickly followed by clammy dread of all the crap I had ahead of me. ____ ( ← please insert the worst curse-word you can think of).
From the worst sound in my world, let’s move on to a few of the best: the tearing of an envelope holding a real old-fashioned, hand-written letter; a cell phone booting up after you accidentally (or intentionally) drop-kick it across the pavement; the tearing, crunching and shattering of a crusty loaf of bread; wine hitting the bottom of a glass as it swirls, bubbles, and settles down; and the sizzle of food cooking on a stovetop.
Sizzling is warm and promising. It sounds like you’re doing something right (as opposed to say, backing into shiny new car), as though progress is being made. It also makes tofu really really good. I happen to adore tofu but I acknowledge that I may be in the minority. I like all tofu – from the squishy and jiggly silken tofu to the dense extra firm. It is the extra firm tofu that benefits most from a good sizzle in some olive oil. Tofu cubes hold their shape much better when their outsides are cauterized, so to speak. The insides remain soft, giving something generally shapeless and textureless a contrast between chewable and meltable.
I can’t pretend to have put together a recipe for this stir fry. I was too hungry while making it to be paying any attention to the amounts of ingredients I impatiently tossed in. I can say that I threw some tofu cubes into very hot olive oil and moved them about till they were golden on most sides. I then added in some chopped ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes. After those became fragrant I added snowpeas and stir fried them until they were bright green but still crunchy. Finally (as I was getting close to dying of hunger) I poured in soy sauce, about two teaspoons of sesame oil, a tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds, salt and pepper.
I am now in the process of conquering my new fear of driving and acute paranoia of every crunch being a shattered tail light. The sound is lingering in my head. I wish I could just listen to sizzling tofu all day.
Monday, March 19, 2007
It is with some reservation that I write this post. I always knew that the time would eventually come for me to write it, but it didn’t know it would come so quickly and feel so frightening. Yes, it’s true. I am about to write about my most favorite restaurant in Boston. Since this blog reaches millions and millions of people every day (or maybe it’s just me, checking it millions and millions of times a day… whichever) this favorite place of mine will become flooded with people that I am certain to dislike and I will not be able to ever return. So don’t tell any more people than you absolutely must, ok?
If you must tell people about this glory of a restaurant, please make sure you’re not telling total a-holes... For example, someone who believes HIV was engineered by the government… [oh yes, first and last date with the stupidest man to ever walk this earth] or anyone who has ever done a keg stand. Those people are totally not allowed. I discriminate and am proud of it.
So, with all the disclaimers and subtle threats in place, I shall now proceed to actually write about the restaurant – Audubon Circle, just outside of Kenmore Sq, and perilously close to Fenway Park. It’s my go-to spot. Whenever I don’t know what I feel like eating, whenever there is a concert later on that night, whenever I am meeting friends for drinks, Audubon is always my choice. It’s low key and lacking in pretense, with dark wood paneling on the walls and black slate-topped tables and bar. I know the entire menu by heart (ok, it’s a totally short and never-changing menu, but still…) and have tried close to everything on it. I have yet to feel let down.
Tuscan white bean paste sounds so unappealing, doesn’t it? It’s the word paste. It makes me think of Home Depot and Colgate, in that order. Regardless, the white bean… spread… is so much better than it sounds. Cannelini beans are ground super smooth with olive oil, rosemary, garlic, and whatever other Audubon magic fits in the food processor, sprinkled with Kalamata olives and plopped alongside giant pieces of grilled bread. It’s perfect hangover food… and importantly, the perfect food to consume while earning your hangover.
Their Reuben is more panini than traditional steamed Reuben. It is rich but not overwhelming, crunchy on the outside and melted on the inside, with a perfect ratio of meat to sauerkraut to dressing (not too much of any one thing and not too much filling as a whole… very low risk of spilling down one’s chin or pants), served with a perfectly fresh salad tossed with a mustardy vinaigrette. There is also a green apple and brie pressed sandwich, cubano, black bean and regular burgers, and a grilled turkey breast sandwich that gives turkey rare sex appeal.
I could continue down the entire menu and comment on each entry but no one has that kind of time. I will say that everything is supremely fresh, every sauce and accompaniment (ketchup included) is made in the restaurant with their own twist. The consistency of the food is remarkable. It’s always good and always the same. I know exactly what I am getting every time. The totally aloof and cooler-than-me servers have never once gotten my order wrong even though they never write anything down. Except for game days when Audubon is flooded with the Red Sox fans, it’s never terribly packed, never too loud, perfect for lunch, dinner, or a drink… or a drinking lunch that extends into dinner. It’s been known to happen.
Now my secret restaurant crush is out in the open. I feel exposed. Please share Audubon wisely, should you have to do so.
Audubon Circle Restaurant and Bar
838 Beacon St
Boston, MA 02215
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
My Russian Jew of a mother taught me how to make fried plantains. In my world, this is funny. I had never heard of half the things I eat now when I was little. Not surprisingly, there were not too many plantains… or anything besides apples, really… for sale in Russia close to 20 years ago (oy. 20 years). I had only seen coconuts and pineapples in cartoons before moving to the U.S. To tell the truth, I hardly believed pineapples were real – they were just too alien-looking to be people-food.
There were a few more discoveries to be made along those same lines. For example, we had to learn that limes are not in fact, unripe lemons. If left on the countertop for extended periods of time, they will not miraculously morph into lemons. Also, coconuts are a complete bitch to open if you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing. An electric drill may or may not have been called into action. I shall say no more.
A lime's true identity and coconut techniques are things I bet many people take for granted. For myself and my family, however, it was a steep learning curve (for like, a month). I am fully adjusted and adapted now, and can even make fried plantains, the most un-Russian of all foods (I plead the fifth on the coconuts).
My Mom went on a trip to Brazil and brought back an undying love of plantains. [And some great earrings for me, but that’s beside the point.] They turn out to be stupidly simple to make but taste like a dream– peel a very ripe (almost black) plantain and slice on the diagonal, fry in canola oil, drain on a paper towel. That’s it. With frying, the outside of the plantain slices caramelizes, becoming crisp and a little chewy. The inside almost melts. Imagine a hot banana infused with butter… and mixed with a little bit of potato. That’s a fried plantain. Sweet and slightly starchy, they are best eaten oozingly, meltingly, scaldingly hot, sparing neither the skin of your fingertips nor the tip of your tongue.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
The good (and very very clever) people at M80 and Nestle sent me a new chocolate to try (Nestle Chocolatier Baking chocolate) as part of what I understand to be a grassroots advertising campaign - they make bloggers do all the work for them. See? Clever. Again, as I understand it (or imagine it), Nestle is trying to compete with Ghirardelli in the upscale chocolate chip market – you know, an option besides the Hershey’s or Tollhouse “chocolate flavored” chips. Ick.
Try out the chocolate I did. I have been a baking machine for the last week. A machine, I tell you. One pain in the ass cake and two batches of brownies later, I am approaching baking burnout (hee) but still have a ton of chocolate left over and some very happy lab-mates, who have been the direct beneficiaries of my baking binge.
So, the pain the in ass cake. I am desperately unoriginal in my desperate love of Julia Child. However, taking in the sight of my kitchen, with every bowl and appliance dirtied from making one of her recipes, I almost (almost) fell out of love. With a splat. The fifteen thousand steps that went into making the Reine de Saba (Queen of Sheeba) cake required the use of pretty much everything in my kitchen. I may be exaggerating (a little), but it was a pain, and close to one of the most complicated things I have ever baked.
The cake consists of almonds ground with sugar, mixed with chocolate, and lightened with beaten egg whites. Sounds simple enough, right? Sure. The instruction that broke the camel’s back was Mrs. Child asking me to sift cake flour. Sift. Cake. Flour. Look, lady – the whole point of cake flour is that is has been twice sifted before packaging. Some nice person in a big plant did it all for me. Why do I have to do it again?? Is this a French thing? A torture-the-grad-student thing (oooh that’s redundant)? What?
But I relented (as in, sifted). The cake was finished, the ganache icing went on, the kitchen was resuscitated, and all was well. The cake itself was light, with some texture provided by the ground almonds. I should have used a little more chocolate in the cake than I did… the consequence of that being that I couldn’t form an opinion on the chocolate that I used (other than tasting the naked chocolate itself).
This is why I made the brownies - to test the chocolate… not at all to make a ton of brownies. Yeah. I first heard about these brownies on an NPR food podcast (I know I am a dork) and they sounded great. Thick and fudgy, stuffed with nuts and chocolate, complete with a fantastical story of their origin – apparently, the recipe was Katharine Hepburn’s own. Whether that is true or not I cannot say, but the brownies sure are good.
I made two batches – one with almonds/almond extract, another with almonds/almond extract and dried sweetened cherries. Mmmmm. Heavy, smooth, just barely set, with a depth of flavor beyond the ordinary brownie (I really wanted to type "pedestrian brownie" but stopped myself. For a second). They were the intersection of brownies and fudge. The striking thing about the brownies was the strong chocolate taste – not the sugary, candy-like chocolate taste, but the slightly bitter, fruity chocolate that grown-ups like, probably from including both cocoa powder and chocolate. The Nestle chocolate chips were very soft and fudgy. Even after the brownies had cooled, the chips were smooth and crunch-less, almost melting into the batter, yet still maintaining their own chocolate chip identity. I am not sure if the depth of chocolate flavor was there in the chips themselves, but they served their purpose marvelously.
Chocolate Fudge… Brownies
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for NPR Food.
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces (or not cut, if you are as unobservant as I am)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup toasted almonds, very coarsely chopped (or ¾ cup almonds and ¼ cup chopped, dried cherries)
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Butter and flour an 8-inch square baking pan.
- Whisk the flour and salt together.
- Put the butter in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and place the pan over low heat.
- When the butter starts to melt, sift the cocoa over it while mixing. Continue to cook, stirring, until the butter is melted and the cocoa is blended into it. Remove from the heat and cool for about 3 minutes.
- Using a whisk or a rubber spatula, beat the eggs into the saucepan one at a time. Next, stir in the sugar, vanilla, and almond extracts (don't beat anything too vigorously — you don't want to add air to the batter), followed by the dry ingredients, nuts and chopped chocolate. Scrape the batter into the pan.
- Bake for 30 minutes, at which point the brownies will still be gooey but the top will have a dry papery crust. Transfer the pan to a rack and let the brownies cool for at least 30 minutes.
I am out of butter. Again.
Sunday, March 04, 2007
It was recently brought to my attention that there is fairly little information about me in my blog. I made the decision to keep it as impersonal as possible when I started the blog but now I can’t figure out why. It seems contrary to the whole concept of blogging. It’s not a lot of fun to read a blog when it is suspended in empty space, so to speak. So in an utterly tacky move, I am tagging myself for a meme that’s been making the rounds (it’s ok! Amanda said I could) – five things you don’t know about me. Assuming you want to know them. If you don't, stop reading now.
Deep Breath (as my cell phone tells me every time I open it). Here I go.
1. I am in grad school, working on my PhD in Virology. I work in a basic science lab studying… ready for it? Herpes. No, not the one “down there”. The other herpes, HSV-1. It’s not as good an ice breaker as one might think. Although I totally win over my friends who study HIV - usually people just back away slowly from them. I should (please please) be done by next winter. And then… Then will be then. Deep Breath.
2. I wear the same bracelet every day. I used to have a bit of a bracelet fetish and still have piles of them but I am now committed to the one perfect bracelet. My parents brought it back for me from Ireland eons ago. It has almost become a part of me, much like my signature scent. I feel odd without it. And the photo was taken in my kitchen, so whatever you see in the background is where I make all the giant messes that serve as preludes to dinner.
3. I love (love love) Jane Austen. Can take or leave the Brontes, Dickens is a’ight, but it’s Austen that I cannot get enough of. I am pacing myself, not letting myself gorge on all her books in one fell swoop because then they will be done and I will have nothing left. That day will, unfortunately, come and it will be a very sad one, matched only by the day when I finish the last Harry Potter book. I am telling you now that I will crying and I am not ashamed to admit it.
4. Now this is getting hard. I am running out of things to say… Oh, I know! I sail and ski. Those are my two big activities. Summer is all about sailing – on the Boston Harbor. I hardly ever get to cruise for fun with a bottle of wine and lots of cheese… ooh I miss that… I have mostly been racing Solings once a week (I’m foredeck).
The boats at the dock are the ones I cruise on (J24), the smaller boats on mooring balls in the background are the ones I race. FYI, I am maybe one step above sucking when it comes to racing. Skiing I love but never do more than twice a year which I am trying in vain to remedy... but I love it.
5. Now I am totally done. Four is the best I can do. Now maybe the food I make and eat can be taken in context. Context of what I am not entirely certain, but you can be sure that I am likely wearing that bracelet.
Friday, March 02, 2007
... I want to be Kelly Liken. Having trained at one of the best restaurants in the country, she is now the chef/owner of her very own posh and fantastic restaurant in uber posh and gastronomically competitive Vail, CO. She is really nice, totally adorable, monstrously talented, and, yeah, she is my age. Bugger.
I was honestly too distracted by the food to take pictures (the three bottles of wine before dinner may have had something to do with the distraction) but suffice it to say that it was a very memorable meal, due to the combination of excellent service, creative and well-executed food, and of course, the wine.
I have Kelly to thank for this, my new most favorite quote, as well as the best duck breast I have ever had in my entire duck breast-eating life.
" "When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"
"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"
"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. "It's the same thing," he said. "
A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner.