Sunday, November 18, 2012

Weekend Visitors from Nashville!

Last fall my cousin and her wonderful husband were married in Tennessee and this fall we were all lucky enough to have them visit us up in NH! It was such a fun family weekend, and in this family - fun weekends are full of great food!

My parents hosted a fabulous anniversary party at their house - and thanks to expected bad weather, family friends provided a fantastic tent for the day! Pizza, salad, chili, pulled pork and chicken, corn chowder - what a spread we had! As for the entertainment - last year's wedding video screened on the top of the tent!
I made my Chocolate Chip Snickerdoodles for the party, which I first made in August of last summer. This time they came out much taller/fuller but they were a hit at the party still! This recipe lends itself particularly well to freezing. I knew I would busy the few days before the party so I made these earlier in the week and froze them immediately.
The next day we did a little family apple picking and although our intention was to use the bounty for baking, the kids' plans won over and the group set out to make candy and caramel apples. I forgot how much I disliked these apples - you can't chew them at all, the caramel sticks to your teeth and the poor apples that were just picked from a tree are now covered in sugar! Next time, good old traditional apple pie it is!
Our visitors wanted to drive up the coast of Maine, which is a trip I did with visitors over the labor day weekend so I had this all planned out already! High on the priority list was getting some good seafood so we stopped in Kittery on our way up the coast at Bob's Clam Hut. This is the first casual seafood spot coming up the coast when you get off the highway for the outlets, so I think the prices reflect that. Everyone enjoyed the food and the portions were good size, but it was busy and I think the off-the-beaten path places are inevitably going to be better choices. I tried their fish chowder, which was thin and not too creamy thankfully. Everyone really enjoyed the fried clams and my mom really enjoyed her fish sandwich. We were also very impressed with the service - everyone was so helpful and friendly.
The foodie highlight of the weekend was making homemade pasta! My cousin even shipped her pasta making equipment up here since we didn't have the right attachment for the kitchenaid mixer. Given how big the family is, we were attempting to make fresh pasta for like 15 adults and 2 kids. That's a lot of pasta - and as you can see, we had to get creative about where to hang the pasta while it dried. Cleaned off coat hangers seemed like the best option and so, we started hanging pasta all over the kitchen! It was quite the scene - like you were walking into a pasta making shop in Hampstead. While we were waiting patiently for the pasta to dry, we had my lentil and avocado salsa for the first time (which was a big hit!) and other snacky items! We created a sort of pasta bar with different sauces and proteins - so our family had the option of red sauce, meatballs, pesto, alfredo with broccoli or sausage cacciatore! We could definitely open our own restaurant!

If only our dear family down in TN and FL lived closer year-round! Looking very much forward to the next family reunion! Kerri and Adam - Congrats on your first year of wedded bliss and we're looking forward to celebrating many more!

Friday, November 16, 2012

My First Weekend in Newport

In September I went to Newport for the first time! I know, now that I've been there - I'm not sure what took me so long to get there and I'm looking forward to getting back there next summer! I can imagine the area gets a little crazy during the summer season, but thankfully in early September it wasn't too bad. We managed to get a little beach time in, explore the historic down town area, cross the bridge to Jamestown and Narragansett, and most importantly, I got to see some old college friends get married in Portsmouth at the Glen Manor House!

Anthony's Seafood
963 Aquidneck Avenue, Middletown, RI

While in Newport for this wedding weekend, we stumbled upon this great little casual seafood spot in Middletown, Rhode Island thanks to some highly recommended Yelp reviews. They have seafood retail in addition to the restaurant section, and have all the usual seafood dishes you expect to find in the northeast.

I had to try their New England clam chowder ($3.25), which was a thicker variety - that always clues me in to it being an unhealthy version because it must be made with cream and not milk, unfortunately. It was tasty, though I don't really remember it being spectacularly memorable.

We both opted for the same untraditional sandwich that sounded interesting: Grilled Sword Steak with pesto, grilled tomato and mozzarella cheese ($10.95). We were both totally into this sandwich - I know the rule is usually don't mix seafood and cheese, but on this sandwich it worked. The pesto and juice from the swordfish made the bread a little soggy for my tastes after a little time, but I'd rather that than dry fish. I also would've liked the cheese a bit more melted, rather than thrown on at the end just before serving. The sandwich came with pretty basic fries that were also tasty.

Would definitely recommend this local joint!!

Slice of Heaven
Jamestown, RI

I absolutely love going out for breakfast but it is usually the meal I find the least reason to go out for because it's so easy to make in for yourself. Another Yelp find - we sat down to a delicious breakfast at this little local place, Slice of Heaven, just over the bridge from Newport.

My favorite thing to do is share dishes out because it allows me to try more! Thankfully, we were able to agree on two dishes here - one of their omelets and an order of their pancakes - one blueberry and two banana walnut! The omelet ingredients weren't my favorite - the onions weren't cooked completely so they were strong. I liked that it came with fruit salad!
Everything was overall good though and the outdoors seating was nice, but I absolutely loved their pancakes the most - would highly recommend them! Three would've been a lot as breakfast so I'm glad we shared so it wasn't quite like eating dessert at 10am.

Newport Vineyards
909 East Main Road, Middletown

The morning before the wedding a group of us decided to take advantage of our proximity to area vineyards by scheduling a wine tasting and tour at Newport Vineyards. The tour was interesting, but I've had better guides at other vineyards. There were a few wines we liked enough to buy - and settled on purchasing a white and a red.

No wedding weekend is complete without a wedding cake! This wedding weekend had cake and matching cupcakes, in additional to lots of other sweet treats and a candy station too! Beautiful wedding Danielle and Zach - and thanks for giving me a perfect reason to get down to Newport for the first time!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

MasterChef Cooking Classes

What does one birthday present and one mother's day equal? Two fabulous days at Le Cordon Bleu in Kendall Square for their MasterChef Cooking Classes! Their Saturday classes are three hours and they pack a lot into that time - almost too much. There were a few too many people in the classes in my opinion, making it difficult to get independent time with the chefs or with the ingredients (which you shared with a 'team'). Still though, the cooking classes were a lot of fun and I would recommend them to others!

Hearty Italian Cuisine
Minestrone Genovese
Sicilian Bread with Blessing
Risotto Milanese
Rabbit Brochettes
Apple Crostada

This class had two chefs and two classrooms full of people because it was so popular. They had pre-made the bread dough in advance, and just explained what they had done before we arrived - then we got to shape it and make the oil 'blessing' for it that it would be baked with and dipped in afterwards. I love fresh bread out of the oven so I wish we had gotten more direction on this one, but I also understand that you can only fit in so much with a 3 hour class, especially when you have a bread that must rise before shaping and baking.
Having all of the ingredients pre-measured and chopped was such a treat! It made cooking everything so much quicker and less messy! For each of the recipes the chef did a demonstration at the front of the class first and then we were sent back to our stations to complete that part of the meal. I liked this apple dessert because it didn't use a pan, but rather just folded the dough up and over the apples. This would've been better with vanilla ice cream, but it was still delicious and not overly sweet!
They also made fresh pesto, which is the key ingredient that makes Minestrone Soup "Genovese" compared to regular old minestrone soup. I learned that you never add uncooked pasta to soup, but rather always cook it in advance and store it separately, adding it to individual portions when you want to heat it up and eat. The pasta (ditalini in this recipe) will continue to absorb the broth in the soup, which makes it more difficult to season and the pasta will also get overcooked over time.

I'm not a big fan of rabbit - it's just got a bit too gamey of a flavor to me, and has seemed tough to me in the past. I was a good sport and tried it, but I would say I'm still not a fan. We wrapped ours in prosciutto and then skewered it with local sausage from Bianco's. We also used fresh rosemary to flavor the oil we brushed on the brochettes before putting them on the grill.

International Cuisine 101: Oktoberfest
Veal Schnitzel
Hot German Potato Salad
Braised Red Cabbage

I was excited about this class because I don't know much about German food and I like learning about new things! I've tried making spaetzle before and it was a major failure, so it was good to see it made by a professional and get some tips. The key here was putting the cooked spaetzel into an ice bath right away to stop the cooking before adding it to a sauce later on.
Apparently I've made 'spaetzle' before - but I've always called them cutlets instead. It's the same concept though, of dipping a protein in flour, an egg wash and then breadcrumbs, then cooking in a frying pan. The way we cooked ours in the class used WAY too much butter - that was pretty much the theme with everything we made actually! I typically make mine with turkey cutlets - we used veal in the class.
While they had already pre-made the bratwurst for us, they did do a demo of how to make it using the usual mixer attachment that many have at home. Seeing it made actually made me less interested in eating it - the concept of the casing for making sausage just ruins it for me and the use of fat in making the sausage also turns me off. It just makes you realize how bad sausage can be for you, particularly when not buying an all-natural or organic brand.
Overall, I think my favorite was the new take on potato salad and the braised cabbage, which was also made ahead and just demo-ed for us. I usually don't like potato salad because of the mayo in it, so this was a nice alternative with cider vinegar, roasted red peppers, bacon, and lots of other yummy ingredients! The cabbage was also amazing - such a great flavor and once I'd love to try and replicate myself!

The nice thing about these classes was that in both cases there was so much food leftover we were allowed to take plates home of the food we had made. I didn't love the team approach to cooking in these classes - probably just because of my control-freak nature in the kitchen, but in both classes we did get to meet some cool people and it made the class more of a social experience.

It was also really interesting to see how the chefs of the class interacted with the volunteer LCB students helping out for the day. It definitely shows you the students are at the bottom of the food chain - they weren't even paid for their time helping us at the class, despite the high cost of the class. That bothered me a bit, but I suppose as students in the LCB program the experience is good for them. There was a lot of, "Yes, Chef" coming from the students when the head Chefs asked them to do things throughout the class - and the students did all of the cleaning after we cooked, which I have to admit was a nice treat!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Everyday Food Mini Magazine

One of my favorite little recipe books that's put out seasonally is Everyday FOOD, from the kitchens of Martha Stewart Living. I picked up a copy this past winter, their January/February issue, because it had so many recipes in it that sounded good! This past week I tried out two of them and as usual, they were a jumping off point and I didn't follow them exactly:

Rustic Chicken Minestrone Soup
olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 can of petite diced tomatoes
6-8 cups of chicken stock
1 cup shredded, cooked chicken
1/2 cup uncooked pasta (I used elbows)
1 cup baby carrots, sliced
2 cups baby spinach, chopped
1 zucchini, diced into quarter slices
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 frozen basil cubes from TJ's
salt and pepper

1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat and add the chopped onion, cooking until softened (about 5 minutes), then add the garlic and cook another minute more. Add the tomatoes with all of their juice and cook for 5 minutes more.
2. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the carrots and cook for a couple of minutes, then add your uncooked pasta (it will cook in the hot broth). After another 5 minutes, add the chickpeas and the basil cubes. After another couple minutes you can finally add your zucchini and spinach. Those last two will cook pretty quickly so you want to be careful not to overcook.
3. It's important to remember that the soup will continue cooking while it cools once you turn the stove off, plus it will cook more anytime you reheat if you've made up a big batch. Season to taste - so try a spoonful and if its needs a bit more flavor, feel free to add some salt and pepper.
4. Serve with some fresh parmesan sprinkled on top!

I used chicken from Sweet Cheeks BBQ restaurant, so this minestrone came out really smoky - probably too smoky for some people's tastes, but I liked it! That is easily avoided by using your own chicken, from a meal earlier in the week or just shred a chicken breast after cooking it. I also learned in a cooking class that you should never use uncooked macaroni in a soup because it will get overcooked and keep soaking up the liquid. It seemed to work okay this time though!

Triple Chocolate Brownies
SECRET INGREDIENT: 1/3 cup black beans!
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 eggs plus 1 egg white
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
dash of cinnamon (optional)
1/2 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and get your pan ready - lightly butter or spray your pan (9-inch square) and also line it with parchment paper, which will make getting the brownies out WAY easier.
2. In a food processor, puree the black beans. Then in a large microwaveable bowl, combine butter, beans and chocolates. Microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring in between each until the combination is melted and smooth. Should take 2-3 minutes.
3. Whisk in the sugar, eggs and egg white, and vanilla until smooth.
4. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the melted chocolate mixture, but be sure not to over mix.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and you'll bake for about 25 minutes. A toothpick you put into the middle of the brownies should come out pretty clean or with crumbs attached, but not with liquidy chocolate on the toothpick - that means it's not done.
6. Let the brownies cool before you try to take them out with the parchment paper hanging over the edges.

These brownies are pretty fudgy and less cakey - but they were a big hit! Everyone was so surprised to hear there were black beans in the dessert - the three types of chocolate really make them rich and decadent, oh yeah - and delicious! I would even try making them with more black beans instead of some of the butter or egg yolk next time.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

My Thai Vegan Cafe

A few months ago a friend that lives in the area near this restaurant said that she ordered from here a lot - and after looking at the menu I could understand why! Their menu is sort of like Cheesecake Factory's - 10+ pages and a lot of variety. Just last week an old friend from a prior job and I met up for our occasional dinner out and agreed we had to try this place in Chinatown! I will admit there is certainly nothing on the outside that would draw you into this place, on the second floor of a rather rundown building on a side street in Chinatown. The food is definitely worth checking out though - it's vegetarian, but they have lots of vegan options as well. Actually, I'm not sure why it isn't called 'My Thai Vegetarian Cafe.' Plus, even better, you cannot beat the prices here! For two soups and two main dishes our bill came to $24! I should also point out that this was with my of my vegetarian friends, so the prospect of having an entire menu to pick from must have been amazing!
My Thai Vegan Cafe
3 Beach Street, Chinatown

After dealing with how overwhelmed we were, given just how many dishes sounded amazing, we ultimately settled on sharing two main dishes and each of us tried their Wonton Soup to start. You'll find categories like: salads, soups, chef specialties, light entrees, thai fried rices, stir-fried noodles, tofu specials, thai curry specialities, vermicelli, and then categories around their different 'proteins' - veggie beef, veggie pork, veggie duck, veggie chicken, veggie seafood.

Wonton Soup - a mixed vegetable soup with chinese-style wontons filled with ground veggie-chicken, tofu, mushrooms and onions. I didn't love the wonton filling in these, but the soup broth itself was delicious and it was full of vegetables!

Cashew Nut Chicken - sliced 'veggie-chicken' sauteed with roasted cashew nuts, onions, mushrooms, red bell peppers, snow peas, scallions and celery. Loved all those veggies!

Pad Thai - their signature thai dish, pan-fried noodles with veggie-chicken, veggie-shrimp, onions, scallions and bean sprouts in a sweet and sour sauce, topped with fresh bean sprouts and ground peantus and served with sliced lime.

They don't seem to have their own website, but Boston Menupages does a good job giving you information about the restaurant.

I was a little nervous about all of these 'veggie' proteins but in the end I was pleasantly surprised with how much flavor all of the dishes had. If I hadn't known, I don't think I could have told you that it wasn't chicken given its similar texture and look, so be adventurous when you come here and don't just get the tofu and veggies dishes!