Thursday, February 26, 2009

Petsis Pies and the Harvard Museum of Natural History

Picture above from the Harvard Museum of Natural History

Winter in New England can feel particularly long for energetic toddlers (and their parents!) So Raphael and I were thrilled to discover the free Sunday mornings at Harvard's Museum of Natural History in Cambridge. While stuffed animals wouldn't be for everyone, there are a range of great wonders that made us both smile with glee. Raphael enjoyed seeing animals that he had only read about in books (moose, dinosaurs, etc.) I was amazed by the mastodon skeleton, the beauty of mineral rocks, the artistry of the glass sea anemones and flowers. Raphael had fun using a magnifying glass to check out bugs, seeing a bright blue (live) frog, and reaching up to try to touch a moose's head. Their little store had some particularly fabulous finds, such as children's books with beautiful art.

It seems like we can't make a trip without a stop at a bakery (so much for a New Year's Resolution to work off those post-pregnancy pounds!). And Petsi's Bakery in Somerville (there is also a Cambridge branch that is closed on Sundays) is worth a stop and the calories. I officially declare that her pies are the best I have had. I am particularly fond of the cherry, the mixed berry and the pecan. Each one is so clearly handmade. The crust is flaky without being heavy. The fillings are genuine-without thickeners or fillers. But, the muffins and scones, too are simply heavenly in fabulous flavors like chocolate-hazelnut (which has huge chunks of hazelnuts, rather than simply globs of Nutella), raspberry-ginger and pear-Gorgonzola. The Somerville location is perfect for stopping by on the way to the museum as it is designed as a take out place with just a few chairs. If you have more time, the Cambridge location has more seats, as well as breakfast sandwiches and lunch specials. They even have free Internet if one is without children and has time to write.

Petsi Pies on Urbanspoon
Petsi Pies on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

2 Chicken Dishes for the Whole Family

Home-Cooked "Sticky-Chickies"

For working parents, picking up dinner at the grocery store can be the difference between sanity and parent melt-down. Our local grocery store makes fabulous Chicken wings that my son nicknamed, "Sticky Chickies". He gobbled them up and I ended up with no dishes to clean. However, it also cost over $20.00! So, to save money and have more say in the ingredients I feed my kids, I am finding myself cooking more and more.

The reality is that there are many cookbooks that offer recipes for feeding toddlers. Many of them suggest cutting sandwiches into hearts or putting chunks of cheese on kebob sticks. My goal continues to be offering a range of delicious food that we all enjoy and that doesn't "dumb" it down.

The following 2 recipes are current hits at our house. I just discovered very inexpensive organic, free range chicken at Market Basket in Ashland and in both cases, I have prepared the sauce in advance so the dinner clean up is still pretty minimal. (Though we are still happy to take donations for a live-in cleaner!) The first recipe is by recent mom and great chef, Rachel Klein. The second is a result of trying to recreate the wings in a slow cooker. However, I realized that for the sticky, gooey coating we loved, it was just as easy to roast them in the oven. Both recipes create sauces that are fantastic over rice (sticky rice is great for toddlers) and broccoli.

Orange-Glazed Chicken Tenders, adapted from Rachel Klein, reprinted in the Boston Globe

1 quart orange juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
salt and pepper

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken cut into thin strips
salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbs oil (vegetable or canola)

1. In a medium saucepan, mix the juice, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes or until reduced and syrupy.

2. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper.

3. In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. When hot, add the chicken and cook without moving for 20 seconds. Turn and cook on the other side for 30 seconds or until brown.

4. Add the sauce and simmer until cooked through.

My husband and I added some tellicherry pepper from Penzey's. It was a fantastic addition (for us, not the boys!)

Sticky Chickies (Honey-Orange Chicken Wings)

Adapted from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker

4 pounds chicken wings and/or drumsticks

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup orange marmalade
2 minced garlic cloves
1/4 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the chicken wings in a large roasting pan (ideally non-stick. If not, put in a few tablespoons of vegetable oil.) Heat the sauce ingredients in a pan on medium heat for a few minutes until they melt together. Pour the sauce over the wings. Cook for 45 minutes. Flip them over and cook another hour. Enjoy the mess.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Museum of Science and Four Burgers, Cambridge

Toddlers are a ball of energy. This is great. This winter we have had a good amount of snow. When it first falls, the simplicity of the white outdoors is gorgeous. But when it is really cold for days on end and the toddler is starting to implode…it is not so pretty. Needless to say, a reoccurring conversation with my friends is about great places to take the kids in the winter. Many choose to take their kids to indoor gyms. Alas, although fun, the price quickly adds up.

However, with some careful planning, the Museum of Science can be an inexpensive and wonderful place to let kids expend their energy. Kids under 3 are free (as are teachers) but many libraries also have passes that can be reserved which cuts the cost from about $16.00/person to $5.00. We arrived as it opened at 9 and there was already a crowd forming. Unlike the Children’s Museum, the parking is easy and somewhat affordable ($10.00 for a few hours).

Honestly, one of my favorite parts are the long corridors that allow Raphael, our 3 year old, a chance to explore (um…run). I was excited for him to see the new Triceratops and an exhibit on frogs, but to our amusement he mostly wanted to check out the novelty that was the escalator! He liked being able to go into a space ship, but a number of the other exhibits offered too many words or were too complex for him to get very engaged.

Ultimately, the two best sections for our kids (who are 3 and 1), were the animals upstairs (featuring little monkeys called tamarins and baby chickens) and the Discovery Center that is on the main floor. This area offers a few great features. The entire area is closed off to older kids which makes it particularly safe. Then, inside there is a wonderful space for non-walkers. My one year old enjoyed the toys. My older son absolutely loved the discovery boxes: sets of dinosaurs, shells, etc. that are packaged with magnifying glasses. As he said, “I can touch everything, mommy!” In the second floor level are building blocks, musical instruments and other manipulatives.

By 11:30, the museum was packed and we were hungry. It was almost impossible to choose a place for lunch as the museum is near so many great restaurants in Chinatown, Brighton and Cambridge. However, we settled on the recently opened 4 Burgers in Central Square. The owner, Michael Bissante is both the long time owner of The Paramount Restaurant on Charles Street in Beacon Hill and father to a son. Perhaps that explains the family friendly atmosphere and great food at reasonable prices. My kids had hot dogs (nitrate free!) with homemade potato chips (called waffle chips). I am not sure which was a greater hit, but they devoured everything. Although the restaurant offers 4 types of burgers (beef, turkey, salmon and veggie) and salads, we stuck with the basic burger made from all natural meat from Brandt Beef. I loved mine-not greasy, perfectly cooked. I recommend the “secret sauce”, a sort of jazzed up French dressing. The sweet potato fries were good, but the “regular” French fries were my kind of heaven-mealy and soft inside with perfectly crunchy and salty skin-covered outsides.

We went home full and tired.

Four Burgers on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Two Framingham Finds: Danforth Museum and B and R Artisan Breads

The Danforth Museum in Framingham is one of those gems that once you find, you ask yourself, "How did I ever miss this?" Since my son was little we have done art projects, which often means gluing pieces of paper to...pieces of paper. But he definitely enjoys it. Recently I discovered an amazing series of books called "I Spy" by Lucy Micklethwait. These aren't your traditional "I Spy" books as Micklethwait includes paintings from Warhol to Picasso, from Himalayan Prints to Dutch Paintings. We had read these books for a few weeks, and I also knew that the fabulous Faith Ringgold was on exhibit (I had actually assigned extra credit to my 8th grade students who went to her exhibit.) Finally, the Danforth is part of the Bank of America free weekend series. So, I knew that Raphael and I could go on the first weekend of the month, and if melt down struck, no money was lost. But I was also optimistic that I could play "I Spy" with him through the museum.

And, in fact, it was a success all around. As soon as we walked in we were warmly welcomed and handed a pencil and a sketchboard for Raphael to draw. The kind docent also pointed out that there was a children's room on the second floor, as well as a reading room. I loved the intimacy of the museum, the fabulous exhibits (currently mixed media textiles, Ringgold and more) and was also impressed by their permanent exhibits which includes Gilbert Stuart, Whistler, Bierstadt and Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller. And while I can't say I was able to enjoy the art as much as I normally am, it was a pleasure to see Raphael reacting to the colors and shapes of the paintings and sculpture. And the reading room was fun, too-full of art books designed for children. Finally, I was excited to realize that they have relatively inexpensive art classes for kids and adults.

Our other stop of the day was one we have visited many times: B and R Artistan Breads. This is truly a hidden jewel. In fact, I have sent more than one friend out to find it and they have come back empty handed! I will admit that I am a French Bread snob. While Clear Flour in Brookline comes close to those of Paris, B and R's version is even better. The baguette has that incredible balance between a crisp crust and soft, airy and moist inside. It has just enough salt. But what sets it above the rest is its pure taste. This is no supermarket french loaf! You need to eat it that day as its airiness really makes it only good for croutons or bread pudding by day 2. But we never have any left. They do have other delicious breads (whole wheat, rye, etc.) and some good cookies and scones. But I go for the baguette and I never regret it.

B & R Artisian Bread on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Comfort of Food: Barley Casserole

So often, when an event happens, whether a new birth or a family member is ill, people ask, "What can I do?" In those times, I am often so overwhelmed that I can't even quite determine what I really need. What I have learned is that one of the best gifts is when a friend simply brings over a dish of good food. When all we need to do is to reheat and there aren't any dishes to be done, then we know that in food we are cared for. That makes those make difficult times easier.

Our family friend, Elizabeth is a wonderful cook. Her gift is creating meals that are both savory and comforting. Throughout the past years she has brought us so many delicious dishes. We love her chicken with orzo (it is so flavorful and redolent of cinnamon and sauteed onions. The orzo and tomatoes kept the chicken moist. It reheats in minutes in the microwave.) Her barbecued turkey, her chicken soup and her sauteed vegetables are all delicious. She takes the time to bring us something healthy (it counteracts meal upon meal of take out) and to make sure that we all like the ingredients (she always adds edamame for Raphael). She also takes the time to make it special, whether by adding in flowers or a delicious dessert. And once, she brought us her barley casserole. We all ate multiple helpings. We all felt her care. We appreciated it deeply.

This is the dish that we find ourselves returning to again and again. It is so simple (it really takes minutes to cook, especially if you buy pre-chopped vegetables) that we are now making it for others. My kids love it. It can easily be adapted (by adding shredding chicken, cooked beans), is inexpensive and delicious.

Note: I love the mirepoix or the chopped, raw onion, celery and carrot mixture from Trader Joes. I just saute that before adding it to the barley and tomato sauce. I have also just skipped cooking the mushrooms and added them in raw. I have also made it vegetarian by eliminating the chicken and adding canned (or cooked) chickpeas or cannelini beans.

Tomato Barley Casserole

1 cup large pearl barley
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups tomato sauce
salt and pepper
2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
about two cups diced cooked chicken
1/2 cup diced raw carrots.
some oregano, some rosemary, some basil

Brown mushrooms and onion in a tablespoon or two of olive oil until soft and slightly brown. In 3 quart casserole place uncooked barley, broth, tomato sauce, spices, sauteed onions and mushrooms, salt and pepper. Stir well. Bake in 350 degree oven uncovered for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring a few times during baking. The barley will absorb liquid and should be tender. Add the chicken during the last 5 minutes of cooking

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

O Ya

It began with a kumamoto oyster with watermelon pearls and cucumber mignotte. It was one of the best things I have ever eaten. Sweet. Cold. The essence of the sea, with the sweetness of the fruit. It ended with foie gras and cocoa, along with a sip of aged sake. Rich and subtly sweet. A fine and unexpected closing to an fabulous meal.

These were just 2 of the different courses and tastes that I was lucky to have recently at O Ya. My brother and sister-in-law treated me to this exceptional meal as a belated birthday gift. My husband isn't a sushi eater, but he was very willing to stay home with the kids. I am thankful to all of them as this was one of those great meals I will eat. Alas, the price for this isn't something most parents (most people) can afford. But if you can, just once, even for one or two of these plates...try it.

O Ya couldn't be any less inconspicuous-simply a flag outside on a dark street with an unmarked door in the Leather District of Boston. Yet once you figure out how to enter, you find yourself in a modern and warm space. Our waitress was not only nice, but she also helped to steer us in a great direction: the tasting menu. O Ya's menu is so unique, that having the chef make the choices (which you can limit by price, by type (sushi vs. cooked food)) means that you can sit by, relax and just enjoy. Best of all, the chef chose the progression of dishes-from cool to warm, savory to sweet.

I will do my best to list the dishes with the photos. The artistry of these little bites entails about 5 chefs (for 37 seats!). Each morsel consisted of outstanding rice with 3 to 4 other elements. The dim lighting doesn't do justice to the artistry of the plating, and the menu titles don't capture all aspects of each dish. But I have listed each dish just to give a sense of this meal.

Overall, my favorites were both of the oyster dishes, the warmth of the torched fish plates and the sweetness that Thai Basil gave to two of the pieces. Each one was pretty unforgettable.

Dish 2, pictured below: hamachi with spicy banana pepper mousse.

Dish 3 (above) : Salmon tataki, torched tomato, smoked salt, onion aioli.

Dish 4 (above): Warm eel with thai basil, kabayaki, fresh Kyoto sansho.

Dish 5 (above): Homemade la ratte potato chip, perigord black truffle.

Dish 6: (the photo is the first on this blog): Fried kumamoto oyster, yuzu kosho aioli, squid ink bubbles

Dish 7 (above): wild bluefin maguro tuna, soy braised garlic, micro greens
Dish 8: Wild Maine Ama Ebi nigiri, marinated uni hojiso (above).

Dish 9: Scottish salmon, spicy salmon ponzu, yuzu kosho and scallion oil (below).

Dish 10: Suzuki sea bass, cucumber vinagrette, avocado, cilantro
Dish 11 (above): Wild bluefin tuna tataki, smoky pickled onion, truffle oil.
Dish 12: (above) hamachi, viet mignotte, thai basil, shallot
Dish 13: peruvian style toro tataki, aji panca sauce, cilantro pesto
Dish 14: foie gras balsamic chocolate kabayaki, raisin cocoa pulp, sip of aged sake

O Ya on Urbanspoon