Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cupcake Quest: Wedding Hamburger Cupcakes

This post is part of the Cupcake Quest series on Fork it over, Boston!

This post isn't about Boston, or even an existing store or business, but I just had to share these amazing cupcakes with you. I'm at a wedding in West Palm Beach, Florida this weekend - Joel's cousin Dave is getting married tonight. A friend of the bride baked some awesome cupcakes as gifts for the groomsmen: hamburger cupcakes! 
That is a cupcake! Really! The burger part consists of two pieces of vanilla cupcakes as the bun, a piece of chocolate cupcake as the meat, green coconut as lettuce, and red and yellow frosting for ketchup and mustard. The fries are made of vanilla cake, and there's even a little cup of red frosting for ketchup! The baker, Emily Jahn, really paid attention to the details - sesame seeds on the bun, little crystals of sugar on the fries (for salt), and a cute little picnic napkin. Emily regrettably lives in Louisiana and does not yet have a bakery...but she should. Not only is this cupcake adorable, but it also tasted great, even though most of us had already had several desserts.
"Fries" and "ketchup"
Partly eaten burgercake (apologies for these terrible cell phone pics)
Emily is really interested in making foods that look like other foods, so a few of us were brainstorming other ideas. We were wondering if it'd be possible to make a burger that looks like a cupcake (rather than a cupcake that looks like a burger). Our solution: cook ground beef in a cupcake pan and top the cups of beef with mashed potatoes. Yum! (Ok, maybe not.)
Congratulations Dave and Jill! May your future be as awesome as burger cupcakes :)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lunch at the Farmers' Market

Well, lunch at my desk. From the farmers' market.

May 27, 2010 - Prudential Farmers' Market
I went over to the Prudential market today to grab a sandwich from Iggy's, and surprise! Ben and Jerry's was giving out free scoops of Cherry Garcia or Milk and Cookies. How could I say no to free ice cream? Milk and Cookies is a brand new flavor, and it's made with fair trade cocoa and vanilla extract.
Milk and Cookies!
Then, I headed over to the Iggy's stand and picked up a sandwich: fresh tomato, basil, and mozzarella with mustard vinaigrette on a crusty ficelle ($6). Man, this thing is messy. I'm pretty sure I have mozzarella and/or mustard vinaigrette in my hair. But it tastes sooo good. (The sandwich...not my hair.)
Messy mozzarella sandwich from Iggy's. Yum!
The cheese is dripping all over me, but that's a price I'm willing to pay for a tasty lunch :)

Before I left the market, I had to walk by the Nella Pasta stand to look at their adorable pug. I can't help it; I'm a pug-stalker. Unfortunately I couldn't buy any pasta today since I won't have a chance to eat it in the near future, but maybe next time!

June 1, 2010 - Copley Farmers' Market
Today I braved hurricane force winds to get to the Copley market and back to the office. (Strong winds + long hair + hands full of food = perilous walk.) I made it back in one piece, though, and without dropping anything. Today's finds:
A ginormous herbal spring roll from The Herb Lyceum ($5)! Stuffed full of rice noodles, huge chunks of cucumber, spearmint, cilantro, chives, lettuce, and Vietnamese coriander, this big spring roll came with ginger-peanut-soy-garlic dipping sauce. You'd probably guess that The Herb Lyceum would have fresh, delicious herbs, and you'd be right. My co-worker sitting nearby even commented on how good the spring roll smelled. I was worried this wouldn't be enough for lunch, but it was bursting with noodly goodness, and there was seriously almost an entire cucumber in there.

To go with it, I picked up a couple apple cider juice boxes ($0.50/each) from Carlson Orchards. Juice boxes make lunch feel picnicky! Too bad I ate inside.
It was a nice, light lunch. My only complaint is that the spring roll was packaged on a Styrofoam tray. I guess it's easy to assume that farmers' market vendors are super eco-friendly, but that's not always the case. Despite the Styrofoam, I'm a big fan of The Herb Lyceum; they're becoming one of my regular stops at the market!

Cupcake Quest: Starbucks

This post is part of the Cupcake Quest series on Fork it over, Boston!

Ah, the elusive Starbucks cupcake. I've spotted it on several occasions when I was not yet cupcake questing, so I never tried it. Then, when the cravings started to hit at work, my co-workers and I desperately battled crowds at our nearby Starbucks hoping to find it. It was never there.

Finally, on a Sunday morning at the Somerville Avenue Starbucks near Porter Square, there it was, looking adorable with its delicate pink frosting and tiny white sprinkles. The thing about Starbucks pastries, though, is that they always look a whole lot better than they taste. I have never found an exception to this rule.
Chocolate (coffee?) cupcake with strawberry (coffee?) frosting at Starbucks (Porter Square)
The frosting-to-cake ratio was standard and the frosting had a smooth, light texture, but the taste left something to be desired. Not only did it have a fake strawberry flavor, but it also had a hint of coffee. I'm not sure whether coffee was an intended flavor or just a side effect of being immersed in the atmosphere of the coffee shop, but strawberry and coffee just don't go well together. Strawberry and chocolate, yes. Strawberry and coffee, yuck. No.

The cake was reasonably moist, but again, a weird coffee flavor contaminated the chocolate. In many cases, that's a good flavor combination, but for some reason, this just didn't work. It tasted too chemical-like.

The Verdict: As far as I'm concerned, the elusive Starbucks cupcake can remain in hiding. If I happen to spot the red velvet version, though, I'll definitely give that a try.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cupcake Quest: Shaw's Supermarkets

This post is part of the Cupcake Quest series on Fork it over, Boston!

I grew up going to Shaw's, and I thought it was great. Then, I moved to Rochester, NY for awhile and discovered Wegmans, and my loyalties switched quickly and permanently. Shaw's does have a decent bakery, though - and Wegmans doesn't exist around here (yet...I'm glaring at you, ultra-slow developers of the Westwood shopping development) - so I don't hold a grudge against Shaw's, despite the usually terrible selection of produce.

Part 1: Mini Cupcakes
If you grew up near a Shaw's like I did, I'm sure you've had these at countless birthday parties. Bite-sized and sprinkled, they're always decent. If the cake part is a bit dry at times, it doesn't really matter because it's gone in a bite. The frosting is a little bit sweet, fortunately without that ultra-chemically taste. This tasting took place at a going away party for one of my classmates from grad school, who just moved back home to Montana for awhile. She loves bugs and spiders, so I decorated the food table with an assortment of (toy) spiders.
Shaw's mini vanilla cupcakes with chocolate or vanilla frosting (spider not included)
Part II: Gourmet Cupcakes
Gourmet? Shaw's? Well, relative to the simple mini cupcakes, yes. We tried three: a giant vanilla one topped with chocolate frosting and white chocolate shavings, a normal-sized chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting and an Oreo cookie, and a normal-sized chocolate cupcake with pink frosting in the shape of a rose. The vanilla cake was very dry; the chocolate was also pretty dry, but a bit more bearable. The frosting on the giant cupcake was nice - kind of like a Hostess cupcake. The rose frosting was practically radioactive: that bitter, awful, fake sugary taste. Yuck. The frosting adhesion on the rose cupcake was also terrible. The nightmarish frosting fell right off the cake (which I guess is actually a good thing in this case). The frosting-to-cake ratio was appropriate on all three cupcakes.
Do not get this cupcake. Ever. Or if you do, let the frosting fall off (it will.) The cake part was actually pretty decent.
Decent cake, decent frosting. This is a pretty safe choice if you like Oreos.
This cupcake is just too big for its own good: it's very dry. The frosting, however, is very nice. If you get this one, try to get it early in the day; maybe it'll be moister.
The Verdict: If you want something cheap and convenient, Shaw's cupcakes are always a solid choice. Play it safe with the minis, or go gourmet, but avoid anything brightly colored. Chocolate and vanilla frostings are the best bet. (Location note: The mini cupcakes were from the Fenway Shaw's and the gourmet cupcakes were from the Prudential Shaw's.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lost Finale Party: Smoke Monster Cookies

I resisted watching Lost for many years, but this year, I finally gave in to the peer pressure so that I could be included in the endless Lost conversations between my boyfriend and his roommates, some of my co-workers, and many of my other friends. A couple months ago, I started watching, and I wasted countless hours getting caught up in time for the finale, including an all-weekend Season 5 marathon. (My brain was pretty fried on Monday.) I was never overly enthusiastic, but it was like a Dan Brown novel: it's often pretty lame, but those cliffhangers really suck you in.

Anyway, we had a small party for the finale, so it was necessary to make some Lost-themed treats. Our friends Geoff and Julia got some ideas from they brought over a fondue pot and talked about all the weird things they wanted to fondue, trying (and failing) to set up the joke "Don't tell me what I can't fondue!" They also brought "Walted milkballs," which were very special for the first hour or so, and then they were hidden for awhile, never to be discussed.

I made some smoke monster cookies. Unfortunately, they lack mind-reading, man-devouring powers, but they taste pretty good!

I used a package of ready-to-bake sugar cookies (the kind that you can find near the jello and pudding). About halfway through baking, I took them out of the oven and covered them with jimmies. (As you can see, I didn't do a very good job - most of the jimmies ended up on the baking sheet!) Then, the little monsters-in-making went back into the oven. After they were a nice golden brown, I took them out and affixed marshmallow eyes and hot tamale mouths with a dollop of black frosting. Voila! *insert scary smoke monster noise here*

Other party food included a tropical fruit salad (mango, pineapple, and watermelon) and biscuits...served next to a bag of Swedish fish.

Thoughts on Citizen Journalism, Blogging, and Traditional Journalism

The lines are blurring in the world of new media. In some cases, established news stations pick up already-"published" tips from bloggers, who pick them up from Twitter. There's some form of cooperation between traditional journalists and citizen journalists (the bloggers, the tweeters, the podcasters who may or may not have a journalism degree or relevant work experience.) This cooperation leads to an interesting question of citizen journalists' work being used by news outlets for free - for exposure - but that's an issue for another day. Today, I just want to muse about the way news can travel through these new channels with surprising speed.

I often find myself in a strange journalistic purgatory. I recently finished my master's degree in science journalism, and I have a variety of published science, food, and arts clips and photographs, so I feel somewhat comfortable calling myself a professional journalist, albeit a relatively new one. But I'm not currently working as a journalist. (Somebody please hire me.) However, I've been blogging a lot about food right here on Fork it over, Boston!, attending expensive events for free as a blogger, feeling a bit like a press impostor and maybe rightfully so. I've been tweeting 140 character bursts of food news that I find on other blogs, aggregating work done by others. A lot of journalism today seems to be about aggregation rather than creation.

Anyway, yesterday I got more exposure than I've ever had before...because of a bad cellphone photo that I posted on Twitter. (I actually had my real camera at the time and would have taken a nicer photo had I known so many people would see it!) Here's the photo, which now, 24 hours later, has over 2000 views on TwitPic and many more on other sites:

Some jerk with the tag 'better prey' graffitied the Make Way ... on

The story: As I was walking through the Public Garden on my way to work, I smiled at the children playing around the duckling statues and then did a double take. Was that black paint on the ducklings? Just tarnish? Nope, definitely paint. The words "better prey" were painted on the sidewalk right in front of the ducklings, "BP" was on mama duck, and the other ducklings seemed to have lines and maybe more "BP"s painted on them. I was on the phone with my mom at the time and angrily exclaimed that some jerk had graffitied the ducks. I told her I wanted to post a photo of it on Twitter, so we said goodbye, I snapped a photo, and I tweeted it. (Ugh, I hate that verb.) Then, I promptly took out my real camera, snapped some shots of the adorable real ducklings that were wandering around nearby, and continued walking to work. When I got to work, I logged on to TwitPic to add some tags to the photo I had uploaded, and I was surprised to find that the view count was already in the hundreds. Soon, I found that Universal Hub had retweeted my original status and posted about it on the website. Some other Twitter users retweeted and responded to it, including a couple who said that posting photos of vandalism online actually exacerbates the problem. I can see where they are coming from, but since I have journalism in my blood, I feel a compulsion and a responsibility to share things that seem news-worthy.

As the day went on, the views went up. I was a bit embarrassed: I've done work as a real photographer, and everyone's looking at my blurry, poorly lit cellphone pic. Then, legit news outlets started following me on Twitter and I got a number of emails and Twitter messages. (Interestingly enough, most people contacted me through both avenues at the same time. It's a bit weird to think how connected everything is - in a matter of seconds, the same message comes to me on the computer screen as an email and a direct message on Twitter, and both also get routed to the BlackBerry. Sometimes I think it'd be nice to unplug and live on a deserted island for awhile!) By the end of the day, I was contacted by WHDH, WBZ, and Fox25, inquiring about whether they could use my photo on the news that evening. WBUR also contacted me on Twitter to confirm that the picture was, in fact, taken yesterday - they sent a staff member down to check out the ducks, and they had already been cleaned up by mid-afternoon. I watched the WHDH video - they went to the park and did some man-on-the-street interviews with people who were "upset by [the] vandalism." Andrew Phelps of WBUR called the sculptor, Nancy Schön, who expressed her anger about the graffiti. It was interesting (heart-warming?) to see other journalists take my tip and run with it, fact-checking and interviewing and shooting video. I particularly like Phelps' story because he actually describes how the information originated on Twitter (and yeah, of course it's cool to see my name in print!) As a journalist, I find that in some cases, the back story is almost as interesting as the actual story. The vandalism of the ducks is definitely a good (well, sad) story, but the fact that a random Twitter post could quickly blossom into a fact-checked multimedia story on several different channels is also intriguing to me.

So I felt like a real citizen journalist yesterday, which is strange, considering I should theoretically be working as a real traditional journalist. There are plenty of people who are one or the other, and then I'm sure there are others like me who blur the lines a bit. I think it's good that there are distinctions, although some bloggers are pushing to be recognized as legitimate members of the press. I'm on the fence on this issue. In my mind, anyone can be a citizen journalist: snap a blurry photo, post something on Twitter, leave a tip on a news site. We're all capable of sharing information. Blogging takes a bit more work, and there is clearly a wide range of abilities. Anyone can start a blog, but it's the hard-working, honest bloggers that tend to build the biggest following. Traditional journalism, I think, should be arrived at through traditional roots: education, work experience, or both. Of course there are bloggers who follow journalistic standards and journalists who do not, but in general, I think it's good that we have different titles for different types of writers. I read blogs for different reasons than I read the newspaper or magazine. I've read blogs that are very well-researched, well-written, and well-photographed, and those are the ones that dance a bit in the gray area, but in general I look for that type of content in more traditional places. Twitter and blogs are good for breaking news without the background research, real-time announcements of events and happenings, and a whole lot of community discussion.

As journalism evolves, I hope that some distinction remains between different types of journalists and different types of media outlets. While we are all capable of sharing news, the most reliable sources should always be the people who have devoted time and effort to studying journalistic standards and ethics, or at least learned these skills on the job or developed them as a professional-minded blogger or freelancer. A non-fiction writer of any kind must take the time to build up a reputation of honesty and hard work. I'm glad that WBUR fact-checked my tweet and didn't just take my photo for granted. While many Twitter users responded to my post with anger about the vandalism - taking my word for it that it actually happened - traditional journalists were doing their time-honored job, seeking the truth, gauging the reliability of the sources, and clearly identifying where their information came from. Sure, I broke the news in the morning in "citizen journalist" mode, but the traditional media took their time and worked diligently to present the story with more facts and more background later in the day. I hope that citizen journalism and traditional journalism can continue to co-exist in this way. Anyone can break news fast, but the professionals can take the time to present more of a complete story.

Edit: Andrew Phelps at WBUR is now referring to the incident as Duckgate - haha - and asking for the tagger to come forward anonymously.

The ducks in happier times:
Someone put Easter bonnets on the Make Way for Ducklings duck... on Twitpic

Saturday, May 22, 2010

MiniBite: Thai Hut Is 'Suspiciously Good'

One of my former grad school classmates, Roxy, is about to move to Brooklyn for an internship, so a few of us got together for a last dinner near her Inman Square soon-to-be-former apartment. Her choice was Thai Hut, which she said was "suspiciously good." Joel said it used to look (and taste) like a drug front, but in recent months or years it has either changed hands or at least undergone a major makeover. We snagged about half the tiny restaurant for the six of us, and the very friendly hostess/waitress/probably owner was accommodating as we dragged tables and chairs together. (The chairs, by the way, are beautiful, but not all that comfortable if your meal drags on for about two hours, which ours did. This is one of those places where you really need to ask for the check if you want it, or it will never come.) The ambiance was nicer than expected from the outside: lots of interesting decorations and more of a cozy feel than a cramped feel.

Thai Hut is BYOB. We BOOB from the amazing Wine and Cheese Cask down the street, and not only did our waitress immediately bring over a corkscrew before we even asked, but she also promptly delivered six frosty mugs with a smile. There's no corkage fee.

The appetizers were nice - try the samosas. I can't vouch for the crab rangoon because I don't really like cream cheese, but my friends liked them.

The food was solidly decent - a few big steps above greasy takeout. Joel got the mango curry, which was especially nice. We both requested extra spicy, and she laughed at us and asked if we were sure (we were.) It ended up being on the mild side, sadly. The flavors were good, though.

Thai Hut's probably not worth a special trip if you don't live in the area, but it definitely has something good going on. I'd go back if I find myself around there again.

Thai Hut on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 20, 2010

First Farmers' Market Trip of the Season

Farmers' Market season is here! Copley and Prudential both started this week, on Tuesday and Thursday respectively, and I checked them both out. (The Copley market is also open on Fridays.)

I've been spending a lot of money on a lot of unhealthy foods lately, so I'm going to use farmers' market season as a way to start eating and spending better. I'll be keeping track of what I spend at the markets - and I'll update posts with the money wasted if I had to throw any of the food out. I find that I tend to overbuy, and a lot of the money I spend on produce goes to waste when I can't eat everything before it goes bad. So, maybe knowing that people are reading about my wasteful ways will help me get better at buying what I can eat and finding ways to make use of slightly-old-but-not-yet-bad food.

So, without further ado, here's my first week of farmers' market purchases, what they cost, what I did with them, and, eventually, if anything went to waste. Pickings were slim - there were virtually no fruits or vegetables - so my purchases this week are a bit random!

Arugula - $5/bag (as shown below)
Atlas Farm - South Deerfield, MA

Chorizo - $12.99/lb (the portion is shown is just below a pound)
Raised and distributed by Stillmans at the Turkey Farm (of Meat Meet fame) - Hardwick, MA; processed at Hilltown Pork Inc. - Canaan, NY

Mint Honey - $3/small jar (as shown below)
The Herb Lyceum - Groton, MA

Oatmeal Molasses Bread
- $4.50/loaf
New Breadsong Corner Bakery - Auburndale, MA

Tropicana Tea (black tea, thistle flower petals, marigold petals, cornflower petals, rose petals, tropical fruit flavors) - $3/small bag (as shown below)
The Herb Lyceum - Groton, MA

Whole Wheat & Ground Flaxseed Fresh Linguine - $8/four portions
Nella Pasta - Jamaica Plain, MA

I put it all together for dinner tonight. The results:

Linguine with chorizo, topped with pasta sauce and aged piave cheese that I already had lying around.

For lack of other vegetables...a bowl of plain arugula, drizzled with some dressing I already had.

And for a later evening snack, oatmeal molasses bread with mint honey. I also had a cup of the Tropicana tea.

I have to admit I'm not quite won over by whole wheat pastas yet, but I'm trying to make the switch. I find the texture a bit odd. The pasta I got at the market was good for what it was, though, and I'd like to try other products by Nella Pasta. The chorizo was mild - I was hoping for a bit more heat - but still very nice. I did, however, have to engage in an epic battle with my smoke detector to get it cooked. I can't wait to move to Somerville, where the kitchens are normal-sized and there's room to cook without getting attacked by the Smoke Monster. I'm intrigued by the mint honey: it tastes like mint and it tastes like honey, but the flavors don't really mingle. You can taste each strongly and separately. The tea tastes/smells like a bouquet of flowers on a tropical island. I generally like teas that aren't as in-your-face floral, but this is a nice change from the simpler green teas I've been drinking lately.

Farmers' Market Bonus
A Pringles rep was at the Prudential market offering samples of the new multigrain Pringles in original, cheddar, and ranch. I'm very very picky about chip flavors, so I stuck with the original. Not bad! They tasted very Pringles-y but without the harsh chemical saltiness, and with a bit of added graininess. I probably wouldn't go out of my way to buy them because I don't generally buy chips, but if they were on a table at a party, I'd eat 'em. 

Cost analysis
Total spent = $36.50 (the meal shown above accounts for less than $6 of the total)
I'm worried that a good deal of the bread and arugula will go to waste. I should have bought a smaller portion of arugula, scooping my own portion size from the loose arugula rather than grabbing a bag. As for the bread, I guess I'll have to figure out ways of using it if it gets stale - croutons, perhaps? Any other suggestions? I'm ok with the amount I spent on the chorizo, because I already froze what I didn't use for tonight's dinner, and I'll defrost it as needed. The pasta was on the expensive side. It's nice to splurge on fancy, fresh pasta once in awhile, but for the most part, I should probably buy cheap dried stuff at the supermarket. I'll be able to stretch out the tea and honey for awhile, so the cost is justified.

Rest of the Week
I can have three more pasta dishes, and I have four or five meals' worth of chorizo and arugula left. I can get a few breakfasts out of the bread and honey before the bread goes stale.

Lessons Learned
(1) Never buy ready-bagged stuff; portion it out myself to save money/avoid waste.
(2) Avoid fancy pasta unless it's a special occasion.
(3) Bread is OK as long as I'm prepared to freeze it or find a use for stale bread. I can't go through a whole loaf on my own in a few days' time.

Do you have any suggestions for ways I can use my old bread? Did I do a good job my first week at the market, considering the very limited supply of produce? 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

MiniBite: MiniBar

Julia, Joy, and I have all been working together since mid-February, but somehow we have never gotten around to going out for drinks after work until today - just days before Julia leaves and weeks before Joy and I are finished. Figures we'd find a good place now!

First, we stopped by the Copley farmers market - the season started today! (I'll write a post about our trip to the market next.) Then, we headed down Huntington Ave to Minibar, which is in the cozy/trendy lobby of the boutique Copley Square Hotel. On Mondays through Thursdays, 5pm to 7pm, Minibar has $2 kobe beef sliders. Yep, $2. Kobe beef. Massaged, fatty, tender beef.

We started with drinks: a mojito for me, lychee martinis for Joy and Julia. They had to run out somewhere to replenish the lychee supply, so they brought over the ungarnished martinis and came back a few minutes later with a toothpick-impaled lychee in a shot glass. It was kind of adorable. favorite
Julia and her lychee martini. Do you pronounce it LEE-chee or LIE-chee? Julia and Joy both say LIE, but I thought it was LEE.
Joy and I each got a slider. And then we had to order seconds. This was my first taste of kobe beef, and it seemed much juicier and fattier than other beef. The sliders came with melted provolone and truffled aioli (which I had them hold because I hate mayonnaise more than anything). My only complaint is that the bun was kind of cheap, which is understandable and excusable because I was only paying $2, but it seems like a shame to put such a nice hunk of meat on a supermarket-style bun.
Doesn't matter that the bun was lame...the beef was great!
Julia, who maintains a mostly vegetarian diet for ecological reasons, resisted the meat but watched us hungrily. She has somewhat of a fetish for watching other people eat meat. (BBQs must be a lot of fun for her!) She ordered squash potstickers. I'm not sure how she felt about them since I was too busy stuffing my face full of burgers to ask questions, but she did finish them all, so I'm guessing they were decent!
Squash potstickers. Julia's sexy legs not included.
We also split an order of parmesan and rosemary fries: lighty, crispy, and a nice accompaniment to the burgers.
What's with the upscale fry cone? I've seen this so many places.
It was a tasty and quiet spot for some after work relaxation; I'd definitely go back. I mean, how can anyone resist $2 kobe beef burgers?
Minibar on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Best Meal I Have Ever Had

I've written about East Coast Grill a lot lately, so I wasn't planning on writing about Joel's birthday dinner there last night. But it turned out to be The Best Meal I Have Ever Had, so I felt compelled to at least mention it.

I'm just going to get it out of the way and throw out a whole bunch of words at you that food writers should rarely use: amazing, delicious, insanely good, wonderful, overwhelming, impressive, perfect. That should do it. (And no, I'm not exaggerating.)

Everything about my meal was perfect. I had to keep pausing in awe. I've had very few dining experiences like that, and the thing that makes this one special is that it didn't have the pretension of a ridiculously expensive white tablecloth tasting menu with tiny portions and twenty ingredients you've never heard of. Sure, those meals are great, but there's something transcendental about getting that kind of quality from something so down-to-earth.

The details: I got southeast Asian jumbo shrimp served with wilted chili spinach and fried sweet potatoes. The shrimp had some kind of sausage topping. Everything was garnished with fried onion strips...and even that garnish was amazing. This was on the daily specials menu, but there's a similar dish on the regular menu that has the shrimp plus scallops, the wilted spinach, and ginger-garlic noodles. My first bite was of the spinach. I have never tasted a vegetable that made me so happy. Then, I tried the shrimp, and it was quite literally the best shrimp I have ever had. Honestly, I'm afraid to eat shrimp again because it'll never be this good. Smoky, flavorful, juicy. And then, I finally moved on to the fried sweet potatoes.

I'm pretty sure Heaven is made of fried sweet potatoes.

The people next to us must have thought we had never eaten food before. We were both full of awe at every bite we took. It was kind of ridiculous. (Ok, maybe it had a little bit to do with the ridiculously strong overproof rum.)

Joel's meal was great, too - the best mahi mahi in the world. Delicious fried plantains. Rice and beans - I didn't try those because I don't like beans. But I'm guessing they were good as well.

Other food: we started with oysters and grilled bread with roasted garlic. We ended with the banana chocolate pie with candied bacon that I tried at the Cinco de Mayo dinner. If you haven't had bacon for dessert, you haven't truly lived. (Unless you don't eat bacon, in which case I guess you're fine without trying it.)

A few reasons why this meal is The Best Meal I Have Ever Had:
1) It had creativity, flavor, and high quality ingredients while remaining totally down-to-earth.
2) The staff at East Coast Grill is efficient, friendly, and fun. We were sitting right near the kitchen and it was impressive to watch how quickly they worked without it feeling chaotic.
3) Although East Coast Grill really shines when it comes to seafood, the fruits and vegetables are masterpieces as well. Many restaurants don't focus nearly as much on the sides, but East Coast Grill gives them equal time in the spotlight.

East Coast Grill has attained a level of epic awesomeness for me. I just want to go as often as I can and work my way through everything on the menu. But I'm going to take it slow, because I don't want to ruin all other restaurant experiences for myself.

East Coast Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cupcake Quest: Long Distance Cupcake Love

This post is part of the Cupcake Quest series on Fork it over, Boston! It's also my friend and coworker Joy Uyeno's first guest post. Say hello to Joy, everybody!

There are about a million reasons why I love working with Rachel in cubicleville, one of which is our common love of cupcakes. Almost daily, we spend the hours between one and three convincing ourselves that today is not a cupcake day. And despite our massive quantities of willpower, we do break down every once in awhile for the sake of the quest for the perfect, most delicious cupcake.


Cupcake Jones on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rangzen Cures Everything

I hate to throw around cliches and overused terms like "hidden gem" and "delicious" - and since I used "delicious" in my previous post I'll avoid it today - but Rangzen, a tiny Tibetan place in Central Square, qualifies for "hidden gem" status as far as I'm concerned. First of all, it actually is kind of hidden in a literal sense, tucked away on a side street with an unassuming exterior. Joel had been there before - a friend used to live right above it - but it took a bit of wandering for us to find it. (I'm not sure how his friend survived living there. I think I'd have to eat there every day...and there's a lunch buffet. Very dangerous.) Joel's band was scheduled to play later that night downstairs at the Cantab, so we were looking for something light enough to not weigh us down but heavy enough to soak up the beer that would be consumed later. We were also still suffering the effects of a late gig we both played the previous night - our folk band, The Bowties, played a house party in Cambridge. It was our first gig, so there was much partying and whiskey-drinking afterward. Rangzen cured our tiredness, hunger, and pretty much everything else that ailed us. (Ok, I had a little help from 5-hour energy.)

Upon walking into Rangzen, we were immediately hit with a comforting wave of smells; the scents of Tibetan spices seem to have almost magical aromatherapy powers. The restaurant is very cozy, and not in the real estate way of describing a tiny, cramped apartment. Yes, it's small, but not uncomfortable unless you're waiting for a table. Shivering from the unseasonable cold, we warmed up with some darjeeling tea. It was prepared with milk and tasted like a less-sweet chai. It came in a mug with a little cap on it, I guess to keep it warm. For some reason, I found it adorable. They also have a traditional Tibetan tea called Poecha, which is made with butter, milk, and salt (not sugar). I wasn't in a very adventurous mood last time, but I'll definitely give it a try next time I go.

We split an order of Sha Phaley to start: Tibetan-style whole wheat bread stuffed with minced beef, cilantro, and garlic. (Speaking of cilantro, did you see this April 2010 article in the New York Times? Apparently there's a possible genetic predisposition for hatred of cilantro. Until recently, it never occurred to me that there was such a love/hate divide. I enjoy it, but I never realized that the flavor was strong enough to evoke such a response. If you're on the hate side, don't wander into Somerville's Tacos Lupita. I was there last week and there was a large table quite literally covered with a mountain of cilantro.) Anyway, back to Rangzen. The bread was good! Maybe it was a bit heavy for an appetizer, but I ended up getting a vegetarian entree, so I wasn't completely overwhelmed.

Joel ordered the Langsha Chow: noodles sauteed with beef, shredded cabbage, carrot, red onion, cilantro (there it is again!), tomato, scallion, spinach, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic, sprinkled with cilantro (yes, more). It had some similarities to a Chinese lo mein dish but with less grease and more flavor. I got Bok Tsel: baby bok choy and shogo (potato) sauteed with ginger, garlic, tomato, onion & spices. The flavors were nice and light, and it was more substantial than I imagined a vegetarian dish would be (in a good way).

The menu is full of other dishes I'd like to try. A few potential highlights: pan-fried momo (dumplings) with chicken or beef, spinach, celery, ginger, garlic, and cilantro; spinach soup with tomatoes, onion, garlic, ginger, and lime juice; and tomato mango salad with red onion, green apple, cilantro, and lime juice. The menu does seem to lean heavily on the ginger/garlic/cilantro/onion combo of flavors, but fortunately, it tastes good!

Bonus recommendation: Joel says the mango lassi is great.

Rangzen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 9, 2010

EventBite: Cinco de Mayo Dinner at East Coast Grill

There are a handful of places that make Inman Square worth visiting, despite its inaccessibility: Muqueca, New Deal Fish Market, and East Coast Grill are a few of my favorites. I've spent two Hell Nights at East Coast Grill as well as a regular dinner or two, and I've always been impressed by the flavors. So, when Nicole from All Heart PR invited me to a Cinco de Mayo dinner to talk with Chef Chris Schlesinger and sample some of his summer dishes, I jumped at the chance.

After a margarita, a mojito, and two glasses of 10-year tawny ports, the evening became a warm fuzzy blur, but I do remember that I loved every dish, even those with ingredients I didn't think I'd like. I know, I know - the d-word should be stricken from food writing, except in extreme circumstances, but I just have to say it - pretty much everything I've ever had at East Coast Grill has been delicious.

Check out the slideshow below for a run-down of everything I tasted at the Cinco de Mayo dinner. Highlights included grilled jumbo shrimp in lime-cumin vinaigrette; grilled tuna taco with watercress and mango; grilled sweet and Idaho potato steaks with sour cream, bacon, and scallions; and banana chocolate pie, which was topped with candied bacon! I was also a huge fan of the Inner Beauty hot sauce, which has a lasting bite while still having an actual (good) flavor.
It was a blast meeting some other food writers from the area. We were a rowdy bunch, appropriate for the holiday and East Coast Grill in general, which is always loud and lively. Some interesting stories were told, but I'll keep quiet about my fellow writers' scandalous tales. All I'll say is that one person at the table who shall remain nameless allegedly had a one night stand in the 60s with a very famous rock star who shall also remain nameless.

It's not just the food that makes East Coast Grill worth the trip (and often, the long wait). The atmosphere is full of a joie de vivre that'll make you feel like you're singing "Under the Sea" with Sebastian and friends...and then eating them all. Whether you go for Hell Night or a Whole Pig Roast or just a regular dinner any old night, you're sure to find something amazing at East Coast Grill.

See also: Hell Night: A Culinary Adventure That Will Make You Cry Like A Baby 

East Coast Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

EventBite: The (Re)opening of Anthem Kitchen + Bar

...where I ate a bunch of stuff I usually don't like...and I liked it!

Anthem is back from a several-year hiatus. Once located near Boston Garden before closing in 2007, now it's at the end of Faneuil Hall's South Market, where Plaza III existed until recently.

I never know what to expect when I get invitations to food events. Sometimes they're intimate sit-down meals with a few other bloggers and the chef. Sometimes they're big cocktail parties where most in attendance are friends and family of the owner, and I know no one. This was the latter. After watching the mayor attempt - with some difficulty - to cut the ribbon, I escaped the impending downpour that was seconds from starting and slipped inside, grabbing a champagne on the way.

Mayor Menino cuts through the ribbon...after a bit of a struggle.
The mayor stands with some important people and some entertainers.
Important people...owners and family, I think. Plus, the mayor.
Anthem has a warm, dark ambiance: hard wood floors, stone walls, and mesh curtains (reminiscent of Rialto) give it a neo-colonial sort of feel. It fits right in with Faneuil Hall but maintains its own sleek bourgeois air.

After searching the room for familiar faces and finding none, I retreated towards an empty area and hid behind my camera. An endless stream of waiters began bringing me hors d'oeuvres, sealing my decision not to mingle and just to sit and try all the food.

View the following slideshow to take a peek at the food I tried:

Anthem will do well with the Government Center happy hour crowd. The bar area is spacious and pairs TVs displaying sports games with classy dark wood and dim lighting. The glassed-in patio area is also nice, providing great people watching of the Quincy Market crowd.

The prices seem right - maybe even a bit low - for such a touristy area: wood-grilled pizzas (individually sized, I presume) are $13, entrees are $15-29, and burgers and sandwiches are $9-13 (except for the $19 lobster roll).

Some things on the menu that I'd like to try:
-mac & cheese (four-cheese with herb-crumb topping) and add-ins such as butter-poached lobster, grilled hot dogs, or shaved bacon
-American chop suey with slow-roasted meatballs, fresh pasta, tomato gravy, roasted peppers, blistered baby onions, and four-cheese sauce
-line-caught Chatham cod in a pan-roasted shellfish bouillabaisse with baby potatoes in a light tomato broth

The menu is very New England-y and heavily features cheeses (especially gruyere and goat) and meats.

If you don't live or work nearby, you'll have to decide if it's worth braving the tourist throngs to come here. I would return if I found myself in the neighborhood, but I wouldn't make a special trip to the area for it. I feel the same way about Faneuil Hall as I do about Harvard Square: I love it, but I wish other people didn't love it quite so much. It's better when you're not tripping over people.

In case you didn't view the slideshow or read the captions, in summary, the food is solid. I even tried some things I normally don't eat (mushrooms, goat cheese, bleu cheese), and I found that I enjoyed all of them in the context of their dishes.

Finally, here are a couple of gratuitous Faneuil Hall shots.
Ooh, impending storm!
It's Marine Week!

Anthem Kitchen + Bar on Urbanspoon

EventBite: 'you be the fudge' Brownie Tasting at the W Hotel

I was invited to unwind at a brownie tasting at the W Hotel last night, helping the soon-to-open Bliss Spa decide which bakery's brownies to feature at their brownie bar. Mmmm! (Side note: The owner of the W Boston filed for bankruptcy protection last month but said that hotel operations would not be affected, so it seems likely that the spa will actually open as planned. For more information, see coverage in the Globe and Reuters.)

When I first arrived, I stopped by the lounge in the main lobby, which is really quite pretty, for a pineapple mojito - a nice taste of summer! After finding some other bloggers, I headed upstairs with them to the tasting room. There, we were greeted by three heaping platters of brownies: one from Flour Bakery, one from Rosie's Bakery, and one from South End Buttery.

The brownies from Flour were light and not overwhelmingly sweet. I really liked them, and it was nice that they didn't feel very filling.
Brownies from Flour Bakery
Rosie's brownies were richer, denser, and sweeter than Flour's, which could be good or bad depending on what style of brownie that you like :)
Brownies from Rosie's Bakery

South End Buttery
I hate to say it, but I really didn't like these brownies. They tasted dry and brick-like to me. I know they got at least one vote, though; one blogger liked them because she enjoys cakey brownies.
Brownies from South End Buttery
Drum roll please....

It was a tough decision between Flour and Rosie's, but I ended up voting for Rosie's because they were a bit more decadent, which seems to be a better fit for a pampering day at the spa!

Not only did we get brownies, but we also got massages! Bliss masseuses gave arm/hand massages using a variety of Bliss body butter flavors. I chose the blood orange. I'd never had a professional massage before - it was nice!

And, in addition to brownies and massages, we all left with goodie bags of Bliss samples. Yay!
I tried out the Tidy Towel, a "refreshing face and body cloth" (read: moist towelette) (not pictured). I used it after my shower this morning, which may or may not have been contaminated water from the last day of Aquapocalypse 2010, and it was refreshing!

I'm not really a spa person; I generally find the prices are a bit too high to justify going. Bliss seems like a nice place, though, so I might check it out once it opens.

And, of course, it was very nice to see some fellow food bloggers: Richard (The Passionate Foodie), Pam (Cave Cibum), Chels and Sues (We Are Not Martha), Will (The Boston Foodie), and a whole lot more!
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