Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Eat Dessert First: The Chocolate Tarte and Highland Kitchen (CBS Boston)

Go ahead, eat dessert first! I won’t tell.

There’s a stretch of Highland Avenue in Somerville, heading past the Somerville Hospital and towards Union Square, that doesn’t have much going on. Not much, that is, except for a bakery with the best cupcakes in the world (The Chocolate Tarte) and a fantastic restaurant (Highland Kitchen).

Pro tip: The restaurant often has a long wait, so put your name on the waiting list and then head down the street to The Chocolate Tarte for a sweet “appetizer.”

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

More photos:

Chocolate Tarte on UrbanspoonHighland Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Weekly Vegetable: Spicy Cheesy Kale Chips

Joel and I received a Facebook event invitation from a friend for a potluck dinner dubbed Epic Feast 1, taking place outdoors at a farm in Concord on a Sunday night. (Epic Feast 2, which will be in October, is supposed to really be epic, complete with a whole roasted pig, but the prequel is just a small, friendly potluck.)

Joel made mandel bread (mandelbrodt - Yiddish for almond bread) - a recipe from an aunt's cousin or a cousin's aunt or somebody somewhere on his family tree. He had raved about his amazing mandel bread in the past, but this is the first time I've gotten to try it. It was amazing. I'll post the recipe at a later date if he lets me!

I decided to make use of more of our Week 1 CSA goodies by making kale chips. I've made them once before and they came out great, but that was with curly kale, which seems to be the type featured in most recipes I've seen. I had red Russian kale, though, so I wasn't sure if it would work - I think it's a bit thicker than curly kale, and less...curly.

Since I'm addicted to spiciness, I complemented the kosher salt with a generous pinch (or several) of ghost chili sea salt. I also boosted the heat with a dash of chili-infused oil in addition to the regular olive oil. Since I had some shaved asiago cheese lying around, I sprinkled it on top.

The first batch were kind of fail chips rather than kale chips. Just a bit overdone. Gotta watch these things like a hawk...they go from perfect to fail within seconds. Anyways, this one is a work in progress. People seemed to like the results, but it took me several batches to really get the timing down, and even then, they looked pretty ugly. Pictured below is the first batch, which was the biggest fail.

  • Kale (I used red russian, but curly kale works particularly well)
  • Kosher salt and/or a specialty salt of your choice (I added ghost chili sea salt. Any type of garlic salt would probably be good!)
  • Olive oil
  • Chili-infused oil (Optional)
  • Cheese (Optional. I used shaved asiago because it was in my fridge, but something like shredded parmesan might work better. Asiago cooks kind of strangely, and to get it to a good doneness, you have to let the kale go a bit too long.)

Pre-heat the oven to 350F; cover a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Rip kale leaves off of the stems, wash, and tear these into the desired size. (Think potato chips.) I discard the stems - is there anything you can do with them? They seem so tough.

In a large bowl, drizzle a generous amount of oil(s) on the kale and mix thoroughly so all leaves are coated (like a well-dressed salad - not drowning). Add salt and any additional seasoning you'd like to add, and mix again. Arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet and sprinkle cheese on top.

Set a timer for 8 minutes, but start checking on the chips a few minutes earlier than that. You want to take them out when they're just starting to get crispy around the edges, before they've turned brown all the way through.

By my fourth batch, things were looking up:

Check out the CSA Week 1 intro post to learn more about what was in this week's share.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Art Review: Dale Chihuly's 'Through the Looking Glass' (CBS Boston)

Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass (And What Alice Found There) begins with Alice sitting in a very normal-looking room, talking to kittens. Sixteen paragraphs later, she’s through the looking glass, all mixed up with kings and queens, and beautiful, magical nonsense.

The Chihuly glass exhibit, running at the Museum of Fine Arts through August 7, is certainly beautiful and magical, although it brings to mind the whimsy of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (the original film adaptation; not the creepy recent version) more than Alice’s world on the other side of the looking glass.

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

More photos:

The Weekly Vegetable: Kohlrabi and Beet Salad with Cilantro Dressing

Another day, another CSA meal! Ok, we're only two days in. I hope I'll still be this enthusiastic come November.

The main course Friday night was barbecued chicken drumsticks that we had started marinating a couple days before. They grilled up perfectly. On the side, though, we made a salad that was bursting with leafy green CSA goodness.

Ingredients for the salad
  • Kohlrabi 
  • Beets 
  • Plenty of leafy greens (We used small amounts of Swiss chard, romaine, red leaf lettuce, and beet leaves. I'm not sure if kohlrabi leaves are generally considered edible, but they seemed to be on the tough side, so we left those out.)
  • Swiss chard stalk, chopped (just for some extra crunch!)
  • Bonus ingredient: walnuts (or another type of nut, dried fruit, goat cheese, etc.)
Ingredients for dressing
  • Cilantro (about half a cup)
  • Olive oil (a quarter cup)
  • Garlic powder
  • Lime juice (we used half a lime)
  • Oregano
  • Tabasco (optional)

Combine all the ingredients for the dressing in a blender until the cilantro is finely chopped.

Peel the kohlrabi and chop it as desired. Have you eaten kohlrabi before? It has the texture of apple slices but the taste of a broccoli stem. Chop the beets as desired; julienned works well here.

Combine the kohlrabi, beets, all the leafy greens, the chopped Swiss chard stalk, and any other ingredients you wish, and dress it. 

This was a substantial salad! With a couple more ingredients, it could probably stand on its own. I'd add goat cheese next time.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Weekly Vegetable: Pan-Fried Gnocchi with Spicy Sauteed Greens

For the first meal made with CSA ingredients, I was thinking big. I was honestly thinking of preparing everything from yesterday's "menu exercise" post. But by the time I picked up my share and dragged it - plus other assorted groceries - home, I was sweaty and grouchy and wanted something much less involved. I decided to push the elaborate salad until the next day and just focus on the gnocchi, which would only require a couple of the vegetables, particularly ones that didn't have to be chopped in difficult ways. I also took the logical shortcut and bought prepared gnocchi at Shaw's.

This dish was ridiculously easy to make. By the way, most of these CSA "recipes" that I share with you won't have exact amounts or cooking times. They're designed to be easy starting points for improvisation. (And by "designed," I really mean that I threw a bunch of stuff together in the kitchen, it actually worked out, and now I'm sort of telling you how to replicate it.)

  • Gnocchi (I used prepared; make your own if you feel like it)
  • Greens to sauté (I used Swiss chard and red Russian kale; spinach and broccoli rabe would probably be good alternatives, as well as most other dark leafy greens)
  • Garlic (chopped)
  • Frank's Red Hot
  • Tomatoes (I used a can of diced tomatoes with chipotle that I received at an event ages ago)
  • Olive oil

Start boiling water for the gnocchi. While it's heating up, get your greens washed and torn and ready to be sauteed. Chop up a clove or so of garlic as well. Cook the gnocchi once the water's boiling; the prepared gnocchi that I bought only needed about two minutes.

Drain the gnocchi and set it aside for a moment. Heat up some oil and the chopped garlic in a pan large enough to accomodate all the greens. (Keep in mind that greens like kale cook down a lot, so use more than you think you want.) Once the oil is hot, add the gnocchi. Don't shake it around too much at first - let one side start getting crispy.

When the gnocchi is almost fried as much as you want, add the greens and the Frank's. (Give it a generous drizzle of Frank's if you like some heat. This is one of the main components of the original Buffalo wing sauce, folks. This and butter.)

Finally, add some tomatoes - diced or however you prefer. Cook everything to the desired doneness. It'll probably only need a minute or so more at this point.

That's it! Not very ambitious...but it was delicious!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Weekly Vegetable: Menu Exercise, Week 1

I still consider myself fairly inexperienced in the kitchen, and I know nothing about recipe development. I generally cook by thinking of an ingredient or style, searching for a variety of recipes related to what I have in mind, and then improvising from the information gathered from those recipes.

As a mental exercise, I'm going to plan a hypothetical menu for each week of the CSA, including every item I receive, and not too many extras. In reality, I don't want to eat everything at once, so these menus will probably not come to life in whole, but I might draw from them throughout the week.

What I received this week: beets, Swiss chard, kohlrabi, broccoli, red Russian kale, romaine, red leaf lettuce, and cilantro. For more information about all the ingredients, read yesterday's post.

The menu:

~Kohlrabi and Beet Salad~
romaine, red leaf lettuce, and chopped swiss chard stems
cilantro dressing

~Pan-Fried Gnocchi~
spicy kale with chard and beet leaves
broccoli cornbread

For the cilantro dressing, I found this recipe, which looks quick and easy (and hopefully delicious). Thinly sliced kohlrabi and beets would be the featured ingredients, while the small chopped pieces of chard stems would add a little extra texture.

I initially thought I'd be receiving collard greens instead of kale based on the pick-ups earlier in the week, so the main course is based on a spicy collard greens recipe, basically greens sauteed with Frank's Red Hot. (You can never go wrong with Frank's!) I did end up making this dish Thursday night (minus the broccoli cornbread), and I'll tell you more about it tomorrow.

For the cornbread, I'm having trouble finding recipes that don't contain cottage cheese, an ingredient that, to be honest, really grosses me out. I've heard that you can't actually taste it, though - and Joel's parents make fantastic cottage cheese pancakes that even I enjoy, so I guess I know it's possible to use it and not taste it! Still, I'd rather avoid using it if possible. Do you know of any good cornbread recipes?

How'd I do? Does this menu look absurd, just edible, awesome? What would you do with these ingredients?

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Weekly Vegetable: My first CSA!

Today I picked up my very first farm share! Joel and I are splitting a small share from Parker Farm this season, and I'm hoping to blog regularly about the produce we receive, what we do with it, and where we go wrong (for example, what we end up wasting...hopefully not much!) Keep an eye out for posts titled "The Weekly Vegetable" - these will all be CSA-related.

So, Week 1 (6/16/11-6/22/11). Here's what we got, along with a little background info on each vegetable:

Beets have been cultivated since the second millenium BC, somewhere in the Mediterranean region, although this was a leafy variety (similar to kale) rather than the purple root vegetable we most often think of when we hear "beet." The purple-red beetroot can be eaten raw or cooked, and the leaves are also edible, tasting similar to spinach when boiled or steamed. Studies have suggested a variety of positive health effects from eating beets: protection against liver disease, lowered blood pressure, and increased athletic performance are just a few.

Broccoli has somehow become the stereotypical hated vegetable by kids everywhere (along with Brussels sprouts). This member of the cabbage family gained popularity in the United States around the 1920s. It's nutrient-rich, especially in Vitamin C, and studies suggest anticancer effects, particularly against breast cancer. Broccoli is also a great source of the retinal carotenoid lutein, which helps fight age-related macular degeneration and other vision problems. (For more information about lutein and vision, please read this article that I wrote after attending a carotenoid conference.)

Cilantro is part of the herb coriander; generally the seeds are called "coriander" and the leaves are called "cilantro" or "Chinese parsley." Cilantro seems to evoke a love-or-hate reaction, with those who hate it reporting a soapy taste, while others detect citrus notes. Research suggests a genetic link between one's affinity or aversion to cilantro. The herb is often found in South Asian and Mexican foods.

Kohlrabi is a member of the cabbage family, a hardy grower with a taste like a broccoli stem, but milder. Common in the Kashmir, this vegetable is a result of artificial selection for spherical shape. The word has the same German roots as the German word for a rutabaga; both contain roots referring to cabbage and turnip. (The latter refers to the shape rather than the derivation.) Kohlrabi can be cooked or eaten raw.

Red leaf lettuce is a mild lettuce with the added nutritional bonus of beta-carotene, a pigment causing the purplish mottling of the leaves. While data is inconsistent, some research suggests a cognitive protective effect from beta-carotene; read my article from a carotenoid conference for more information. Red leaf lettuce should be eaten within a few days of purchase (and stored in the fridge) - it tends to go bad fairly quickly.

Red russian kale is a sweet and tender variety of kale, less wrinkly and less curly than other varieties. Don't bother with the stems; they're tough and will remain tough through cooking. Just rip the leaves right off. The name comes from the purple-red stems and veins, seen only subtly in the above photo. The leaves also develop a deeper purple color in cold weather.

Romaine (also called "cos" due to its supposed origin on the Aegean island of Cos) is a sturdy lettuce bursting with nutrients, particularly Vitamins A, K, and C, along with folate. It's the main component of a Caesar salad, and it's also found in Middle Eastern cooking. Available year-round, romaine is crunchy and complex, great for salads.

Swiss chard is a leafy vegetable derived from the sea beet. When young, chard can be eaten raw; when mature, cooking it yields good results. It tastes like spinach, but with a more refined flavor. The stems are very edible and often very attractive, particularly in the rainbow variety - think technicolor celery. Bonus: it has tons of nutrients, particularly Vitamins A, C, E, and K, plus iron and manganese.

Throughout the week, I'll be posting about what I've made with these vegetables.

Are you doing a CSA this year? What types of veggies have you received so far?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Restaurant Review: Muqueca (CBS Boston)

Two years ago, I went to Muqueca on a first date. Recently, we finally got around to a return visit (not to celebrate our anniversary, though, because my boyfriend thought re-doing the first date would be too cheesy). When we first tried Muqueca, a Brazilian seafood restaurant with a focus on cuisine from Espírito Santo, it was in a small corner spot on Cambridge Street in Inman Square — cozy, lively, and loud. Since then, it has moved to a larger space down the street, making it a little less intimate but still quite homey.

Muqueca is named for moqueca — a traditional Brazilian slow-cooked stew containing fish and shellfish, cilantro, tomatoes, onions, and a few other components. The reason for the spelling discrepancy is unclear; the “o” version is used throughout the menu. There are plenty of other things on the menu to try (a friend of mine reports enjoying the shrimp bobó), but I’d recommend going for the namesake, which is served in an authentic clay pot imported directly from Brazil. For a variation, try ordering the Bahian version, which includes palm oil and coconut milk. On the side, you’ll receive rice and pirão — a fish-based gravy made with cassava flour.

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

More photos:

Muqueca on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 13, 2011

Carnival of Weird: A Guide to Boston's Art Rock Scene (CBS Boston)

Glitter. Stilts. A giant weather balloon. Venetian masks, bunny ears and ghosts. All of these made appearances at a recent show at the Middle East Downstairs in Cambridge. It was a night featuring some of Boston’s most excitingly bizarre bands: Holiday Mountain, Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling (releasing their second EP, Questions Are a Burden to Others), Mighty Tiny (releasing their first full-length album, White Dog Rough Again), and Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys.

These four bands are among a growing sub-genre of rock where music is a dark and whimsical performance art, often incorporating elements of the circus, vaudeville, steampunk, and burlesque. From themed costumes and props to instrumentation well beyond the standard guitar-bass-drums, these bands are leading a carnival march against the mainstream, one accordion at a time.

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Restaurant Review: Trina's Starlite Lounge (CBS Boston)

It’s late at night. You and your date are in the mood for hot dogs, but you also want to go to a classy place, maybe grab a cocktail or two. Impossible combination, right? Wrong! Try Trina’s Starlite Lounge on the Somerville edge of Inman Square.

The vibe of the place mirrors the unusual combination of food and drink offerings: a little bit dive bar, a little bit classy. From the outside, it really does look like a dive bar; the exterior is nondescript and the restaurant sign is completely overshadowed by a Miller High Life sign. Once inside, though, you’ll find it dark and romantic with a bit of a retro feel. Stay in the bar, or wait for a spot in the dining room to the left. Vintage light-up beer signs make up some of the decor, and they’re subtle enough to avoid tackiness. A dark wood bench lines one wall, but if you’re with a large group, you might get one of the luxuriously curved booths by the windows. Noise from the lively bar carries heavily into the dining room. Romantic and candlelit, yes, but probably not a spot for a first date unless you don’t really want to talk.

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

More photos:

Trina's Starlite Lounge on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 6, 2011

Boston Typewriter Orchestra: The Revolution Will Be Typewritten (CBS Boston)

Taptaptaptaptap. Swoosh-DING! If you were born after me (somewhere in the mid-1980s), this sound is probably completely unfamiliar to you. I only remember it faintly from playing with an old typewriter at my grandparents’ house when I was very young. Have you ever seen one of these near-extinct creatures? (A typewriter, that is — not my grandparents.)

A few years ago, a group of Bostonians heard music in those taps, swooshes, and dings, and they decided to resurrect these clunky beasts for a decidedly louder purpose than writing. Enter the Boston Typewriter Orchestra. Clad in white collared shirts and ties and glasses straight from the 1950s, the BTO alternates between office-themed banter and rhythmic songs (yes, they’re really songs!) — some with chanting, some with singing, and some with just a whole lot of typing, banging, and smashing. It’s a good thing these typewriters have no self-awareness, because if we were in the Twilight Zone, you can bet they’d all be typing “GET OUT OF HERE FINCHLEY” again and again.

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

More photos:

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Restaurant Review: Machu Picchu (CBS Boston)

In southern Peru, the ruins of Machu Picchu sit high on a mountain ridge, fairly intact for a 15th-century relic. In Union Square, Somerville, Machu Picchu sits on Somerville Avenue, a roomy restaurant offering an authentic taste of Peru — complete with Andean music (and not just flutes).

Peruvian food relies on a few staple crops — corn and potatoes, especially — and is heavily influenced by Spanish cuisine, so most of the ingredients at Machu Picchu are familiar, but the dishes themselves tend toward strange combinations I haven’t encountered before. Bisteck A Lo Pobre, for example, consists of steak with fried plantains and a sunny side up egg… and french fries… and rice. Palta Primavera features avocado halves, filled with chicken salad. A few less common cuts of meat, like beef heart and tripe, make an appearance. Perhaps the most surprising section of the menu is the page that is vaguely Chinese-influenced. Several dishes are described as Chinese-Peruvian fried rice. Another choice features spaghetti and soy sauce. Later, I learned that these dishes are examples of a cuisine called Chifa — what 20th and 21st century Chinese immigrants created with the Peruvian ingredients available to them.

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

More photos:

Machu Picchu on Urbanspoon

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