Friday, August 29, 2008

Another Dover Farm Meal-Sauteed Greens and Chickpeas

As I wrote about in an earlier post, since the late spring, we have been members of the new CSA at the Dover Farm. Essentially, we own a share of the farm which means that we pay in advance, take on the risk of a farmer, but reap the wonderful benefits as the vegetables come in. Each week I have taken my sons on Tuesday afternoons to gather our week's produce. As our infant watches from his car seat, R. (my toddler) and I read the signs that tell us all the treats that are available. I pick R. up, and let him choose the cucumbers, weigh the tomatoes and place the kale gently in our bags.

It has been a unique, wonderful and fascinating experience on so many levels. I have loved watching my son grow accustomed to picking up organic produce directly at the farm. I have found it interesting to wonder how this year's corn crop will do and how the rain affected the tomatoes. One week we were welcome to pick organic raspberries and another week we were given a chance to chose from beautiful flowers.

This week I was also struck by an oxymoron-when I shop at the grocery store, I am greedy. I choose the best tomato with no regard for those who will follow. But at the CSA pick-ups, I want to be mindful of people who are coming after us. So, instead I choose the tomato that isn't quite ripe and leave the big cucumbers and zucchinis for others.

Finally, as a cook, I usually decide what I am going to make and then scout out the vegetables. I also tend to play it safe, buying broccoli and cauliflower, carrots and peas. But I have loved the challenge of being faced with a decent quantity of veggies that I didn't anticipate and don't use regularly in my cooking. Thus, leeks, rainbow swiss chard kale, Italian flat beans, many multi-hued beets, Thai basil and scallions have made their way into our repertoire (and into my toddler's growing vocabulary!)This week we collected more than I ever remember. We could choose from 6 different herbs, multiple types of summer squash and eggplant, scallions, leeks, kale, chard, tomatoes, beans, corn, carrots and big beautiful sunflowers.

At night, I prepared a new dish that we are all loving: I simply sauteed shallots and garlic in olive oil until they were softened. I added chopped swiss chard and kale (you could use any well-washed leafy green) and some chicken broth and let them simmer for a bit. Once it had cooked down (about 20 minutes), I added a drained can of chick peas, a chopped and cored tomato and some salt and pepper. (Red pepper flakes also make a great addition, but then neither my son or husband will eat them!) Last week we ate this over rotini. Tonight, I added some olive oil at the end and ate it warm with some fresh Italian bread. My toddler preferred me to pick the chickpeas out but he did try (and actually enjoy!) the kale. It was quick and easy and, when R. asked, "Where we get the kale, Mommy?", I could say, "At the farm!"

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Unofficial Tomato, Corn and Eggplant Fest

Alas, Verrill Farm cancelled their annual Corn and Tomato Festival due to the huge amount of rain that soaked their fields. But we created our own mini-version, buying enormous amounts of tomatoes, corn and eggplants that we ate throughout the week.

The corn was just phenomenal-really the best we have had. They were selling 3 versions and each were flavorful, sweet and crisp. So often corn tastes solely of sugar or, if it is not truly fresh, of starch. But these were much more complex and delicious.

As for the tomatoes, the first few days we simply sliced them and ate them with a dusting of salt. My son loved asking for tomatoes by color and we enjoyed comparing the acidity and texture of the green, reds, oranges, yellows and purples.

Later in the week, I cored and chopped some San Marzanos and added them to garlic that had been briefly sauteed with oil. I cooked it for about 6 minutes (any longer and the sauce is too sweet for my taste.) When it was done I threw in some chopped fresh basil and some salt. We ate that cold with roast chicken and warmed up over pasta. And then, when the tomatoes began to grow old and we couldn't eat any more, I made the fantastic tomato jam (almost a chutney) care of Mark Bittman and ate that with more roast chicken. It is was a bit too sweet (I left out the jalapeno and ginger so that my husband and son would enjoy it, but I think that it left out critical flavors. Next time I will spice up my own version, at least.) Another night I made a grilled cheese sandwich using sharp cheddar and the jam spiced up with extra cinnamon and ginger.

As for the gorgeous white eggplants, once again, these were as good as it gets. One night we sliced them in thick rounds and grilled them with some olive oil and salt. They were meltingly tender and truly creamy with no bitterness. The next night I cubed them and sauteed them in a cast iron skillet. I then served them over polenta with some grilled sausages and more of the tomato sauce. They were not inexpensive, but they were worth it.

Finally, for the first time, we bought sandwiches at the market inside and had a lovely picnic with our boys. The eggplant panini (a hot pressed sandwich with grilled eggplant, fresh mozzarella and pesto) was absolutely addictive. And the setting, fields of corn and beautiful flowers was serene, while the atmosphere, benches set under tents, was perfect for a toddler to run freely after he ate his lunch.

A 2 for 1 Special: Deluxe Town Diner and Artesani Park

One of our favorites spots is also the ultimate FoodieMommy find: The Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown. We headed their this past weekend when the weather couldn't have been more glorious. What parent wouldn't love a restaurant where the food is fabulous and the hostess smiles as she welcomes your toddler, puts him in a special seat and hands him crayons? In our case, she also helped to guide us in placing the infant car seat in the booth so that our baby could enjoy the surroundings. The din of the restaurant alleviated any stress that the infant would disturb others and the action kept our toddler entertained. Have I already said how good the food is?

This is definitely not your greasy spoon. At lunch they offer Greek salads with excellent feta and olives, Reubens that are light on the mayo and heavy on flavor. They have many veggies options (vegetarian sausage, anyone?) My toddler, who is allergic to eggs, eats their enormous and tasty bagels. At breakfast they have 5 types of pancakes, ranging from potato to buckwheat, blue corn and regular corn. We come for the sour cream pancakes (pictured above). They are truly as big as a plate and so rich that we can barely make it through the short stack of 2. They are incredibly moist and flavorful. I am convinced, though, that what puts them over the top is the generous portion of salty butter that oozes its way through. They are worth every calorie. We still haven't made it for dinner but the offerings that range from tofu stir fry to mac and cheese sound fabulous.

Full from breakfast, we drove less than 10 minutes to arrive at our next destination: Artesani Park in Brighton. Although I have fond memories of coming here as a child, it is even more wonderful as a parent with young children. First, I love that there are 2 playgrounds side by side. The first, is used by older children who can climb and slide. The second, pictured at the top of this post is in excellent condition for toddler fun.

However, as much as R. loved the tunnels, swings and slides, his highlight was the pool. It is a shallow pool designed for the toddler set, though bigger kids clearly also love the sprinklers that are operating all summer long. There are bathrooms, showers and plenty of lifeguards. The water is clean (at least in the morning) and the level is just right for a child who is learning to love to splash and play.

My favorite part of the day was when R. decided to have lunch (the rest of his bagel.) We sat on a bench in the shade and enjoyed the beauty of the Charles while he ate. We talked about the wildlife (ducks, geese, pigeons and sparrows), the River (as people went by in motorboats, skulls, kayaks and canoes) and urban life (the mix of people walking, rollerblading and biking). R. was enchanted and we were relaxed.

Deluxe Town Diner on Urbanspoon

Date Night #2: Restaurant Dante

If you just did the math, you will in fact realize, that, yes, we have only gone on 2 dates in about 6 months. Ah, the life of parents with young children. Since we still haven't quite ventured beyond using our own parents as babysitters it is that much more challenging to really go out. However, as luck would have it, we found ourselves with our in-laws available to watch the kids the same night that Dante had a last minute opening. Better still we had a new gift certificate from (Another mom friend had just told me about this site and it is pretty terrific if you are trying to eat out and pay the sitter. You register and receive e-mails which enable you pay $5.00 for a $25.00 gift certificate to local restaurants. While I am not about to race out to most of the offerings, Dante had been on my "must try list" for a few months.) We were actually celebrating our anniversary...2 months late...but it was ultimately worth it!

When date night is so infrequent, you just hope that all will go well: minimal traffic, a good meal, good service and, most of all, no phone calls from the sitter! This was definitely our lucky night. It was one of those gorgeous August evenings, we were seated on the patio and our children slept soundly the whole time. In just 30 minutes, we found ourselves going from life in the suburbs to watching the sunset on the Charles River. It made it that much easier to settle into the evening and just enjoy the pleasure of being on our own for a few hours.

The night was even more wonderful (and I am truly not being paid by Dante for this) as the food and service were fabulous.

We instantly were impressed with our waiter, Steven. He was laid back and professional. He gave us great stories with the dishes, while explaining them in intricate detail. At the same time he was not pretentious. It was clear that he had a passion for food and wine and that he also enjoyed his job. One of the highlights of the evening was when I asked him for a recommendation for one of the pasta dishes. I had heard so much about Dante's homemade pasta and now that I am eating wheat again (my infant grew out of his colic!) I was excited to finally try it. Steven said that while the homemade pasta was wonderful, he was taken with a new pasta that Dante had started to buy in Italy from the town of Gragnano. After extolling the texture and taste, he noted that the restaurant was actually not serving it this evening. Moving on, I began to throw out my individual requests: could the pasta dishes on the menu be made without shellfish or nuts? (Although D. is over the colic, he is still at risk for food allergies...) Steven went to check with the kitchen and told me that not only could they make me a custom made pasta replete with my favorite mushrooms, chanterelles, but they had found some more Gragnano maccheroncelli in the back!

After eating way too much of the heavenly olive oil and bread plate, when the noodle dish arrived, it was as good as Steven had said. The macaroni are particularly thick (they take 20 minutes to cook) and toothsome. They were perfect for the rich porcini crema and meatiness of the mushrooms. I thought the addition of the sliced asparagus and pea pods were perfect as they added crispness and color to a wonderful dish.

My husband's flat iron steak was also excellent. Perfectly cooked (alas, he still insists on it being cooked to medium!), it was sitting on caramelized shallots (a bit sweeter than caramelized onions), next to a perfectly dressed watercress salad. The highlight, though, were the frites (thin french fries) that were dark and served with an ethereal truffle ketchup.

Dessert was also one of the best parts. We enjoyed a chocolate hazelnut cake, but I will return over and over for the fritelle. A cross between donuts and fritters, the little dumplings were light and pipping hot. They were served with 4 sauces: a dark chocolate (I would have preferred a bit less sugar), a deliciously bitter caramel, a raspberry and, my favorite-ginger creme anglaise. The ginger cut the richness perfectly and was unforgettable.

And now, the apex of the evening. Dante (owner and chef) himself, came to talk to the customers at the next table. When he stood up, my ever-friendly husband said, "Hello, Dante" and proceeded to compliment him on the meal. Dante was the antithesis of the "celebrity chef." Instead he was down to earth and friendly, taking the time to tell us that the fritelle recipe came from a friend of his who is a chef in Venice. When I pointed out how much I enjoyed the pasta, Dante went to the kitchen and returned with a bag of the it for me to take home! What can I say-some people would swoon over a purse, others over Red Sox tickets, for me it doesn't get much better than imported Italian pasta from a great (and very kind) chef.

Dante on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 8, 2008

I Dream of Cheese: Formaggio, Cambridge

I love cheese. I love good cheese. In fact, what I really love is the smelly unpasteurized type of cheese that transports me to the streets of Paris where the scent literally wafts onto the street. In fact, you know you are a foodie when you think the best Valentine's Day present you ever received was a gift certificate to Wasik's in Wellesley or my other favorite cheese store, Formaggio in Huron Village in North Cambridge.
I like Wasik's, but at heart, I really am an urban girl and Cambridge still feels like home.

Heading to Formaggio's for me is a true experience. But it is definitely not the place that I would bring my toddler. He may enjoy jab chae, but he isn't quite at the point of appreciating the texture of a Chevrot. Instead, it is where I go to escape. It is where I can meander trying their delicious samples of many of their phenomenal cheeses. I always check out their incredible chocolates, olive oils, meats, jams, jellies, honey, spices, and more. Each item is hand selected by the owners. I even get caught up admiring the artwork on the jars and the stories that the owners write up about many of the products.

Almost everything is artisanly made. And, quite honestly, the prices usually match. So, between my worry that my sons would knock down the bottles of wine and what it would cost me, I tend to visit this place contentedly alone.

However, 2 restaurants nearby are good for kids and parents, too. Full Moon is one of the few restaurants I know that has high quality food that both parents and children will like, as well as a dollhouse and train table in the back. It invites parents to bring their kids, unlike other restaurants where families can feel like an intrusion. It can be a bit snobby and it is definitely not cheap, but it is nice to be able to relax and eat while the kids play. Across the street is a book shop and Henry Bear's Park, an independent toy store that I love for its diverse selection of arts supplies, building activities and creative toys.

On my most recent visit, though, I went to the Hi-Rise Bread Company. Everything is made by hand with great ingredients. This is the type of place that offers baguettes with Plugra butter and Valrhona chocolate. Order a "bread basket" and you will be handed 6 thick slices of semolina, brioche and rye bread, along with maple butter, more Plugra butter (I could eat this plain!) and creamed maple syrup. I will warn you: it costs $10.00 but it is enough food for at least 2 people.

The baked goods are decadent and range from beautiful little pies to homemade Oreos to gingerbread muffins that are full of fresh and candied ginger. Somehow they don't quite capture me like those of Flour in the South End, but they are still good and they are certainly rich. They have a kids' menu, too, and the best entertainment: an open kitchen so that children can watch breads rising, being formed and baked. It can be crowded and the competition for limited seating sometimes makes it easier to just take out. But on weekdays it can be a pleasant (and calorie-laden!) spot to spend time catching up with a friend.

Finally, the Huron Village area itself is beautiful and easily walkable with a few parks scattered throughout. Until I can afford the trip back to Paris, this is a much more viable option!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

An Easy Summer Meal

Today, with a friend coming over in an hour, I was able to gather items from the farmer's market and make a fast meal. It is healthy, toddler friendly and definitely colorful.

First, a great recipe from a great website, Chocolate and Zucchini. This is a salad of grated beets and carrots mixed with oil and vinegar. However, as the author Colette points out, you can add fresh herbs and/or nuts. Since there isn't any mayonnaise you could keep this outdoors and take it to the beach or on a picnic. If her recipe seems at all complicated, just do what I did: peel and grate both fresh (raw!) beets and carrots (you could even just use one or the other) and add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to your liking.

I served it with a delicious fresh mozzarella that I bought from Fiore di Nonno at the Harvard Farmer's Market and bread from B and R Bakery.

For dessert, an incredibly simple fruit crumble from Ruth Reichl, editor-in-chief at Gourmet. FoodieDaddy and I first saw her make this on Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie on PBS. She uses a pie crust, but I eliminated to make it just a bit healthier. (I know, there is a stick of butter in here, but I can pretend!)

I had bought some inexpensive fresh apricots at the Super 88 and had a few leftover local blueberries. Although you could really use any fruit, the pleasure of apricots are many and you can find them at farmer's markets right now. You don't need to peel them and if you just cut them in half, the pit falls right out. I also think that the apricots clinched the dessert as their subtle fruit flavor and tartness prevented the dessert from being too sweet or rich.

You simply halve and pit 2 pounds of apricots (or your mix of fruits) and lay them down in a pan. I used a cast iron skillet. Then, melt 1 stick of unsalted butter in the microwave. Add 3/4 of a cup of sugar and 3/4 of a cup of flour. Mix. Crumble it over the apricots and sprinkle with cinnamon and/or nutmeg. Bake it in the oven at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes or until the top is brown.

Enjoy. It is just as good warm for dessert as it is for breakfast the next morning (if there are any leftovers!)