Friday, October 30, 2009

Stir, The Cookbook, By Barbara Lynch

Chef Barbara Lynch's new cookbook, Stir, will be published on November 2nd. Houghton Mifflin generously provided me with a galley copy of the book.  It is a great read for people who simply want to get a sense of Chef Lynch as a cook and to have a glimpse into her recipes.  It gives an insight into  the rich cooking at her restaurants such as Number 9 Park, Sportello and B & G Oysters.  Few people may actually attempt to recreate her prune-stuffed gnocchi with fois gras, but they can at least read how she creates them at Number 9 Park.  It also gives those of us who fondly remember a dish, such as the tomato jam at Sportello, the chance to recreate it at home. 

Confident cooks will also enjoy this book.  One dish, such as chicken meatballs, includes directions for breaking down a chicken and grinding your own meat.  More experienced chefs could either manage this with Chef Lynch's directions, while others (like me) will feel comfortable picking up ground chicken at the store. There are also wonderful tips throughout the books, such as how to use a gnocchi board or the need for a ricer to make perfect mashed potatoes.  

Be forewarned that many of the recipes include ample eggs and cream. For example,  the recipe for homemade pasta calls for 6 egg yolks, while turnips are simmered in over 2 cups of cream! However, this also means that you can use these recipes for times you want to be indulgent, such as Thanksgiving or having good friends over for dinner. There are also recipes for salads and light sauces.  

I chose to cook a meal from the book. I started with a salad with a fabulous golden raisin, pine nut vinaigrette.  Next, I tried the quick chicken liver pate. It was good, though I used a bit too much port which made the dish too sweet.
The main dish was her "Poulet Au pain" or chicken wrapped in dough. Chef Lynch herself had recommended this dish when I interviewed her over the summer. And it was, in fact, as good as I had hoped. Not only was this incredibly simple to prepare, but it looks fantastic. Best of all, it is best made in advance, so it is perfect for cooking on a weekend afternoon.   While one taster declared it too rich, my husband and sons couldn't stop eating the buttery shell that was heavenly soaked with chicken fat. The chicken itself was juicy and flavorful. 

I served it with B & G Coleslaw.  It also took just a few minutes to prepare with the help of a Cuisinart to shred the cabbage and carrots and a jar of mayonnaise. FoodieDaddy preferred it without onions, but we all agreed it was delicious and went perfectly with the chicken. 
If there is one reason to buy this book, though, it is the recipe for "My Favorite Chocolate Cookies."  I knew these would be rich as they included 2 1/2 sticks of butter, 2 cups of chopped chocolate and cocoa!  I was also thrilled that they are egg-free for my egg-allergic sons. 
 They were quick to prepare and disappeared just as quickly.  They were crumbly, tender and rich. They had a perfect balance of salt, sugar, and, were, of course, deeply chocolatey.  Instead of chopping up a bar of bittersweet chocolate, I used a Trader Joe's bar with almonds which added another delicious layer of texture.  My mother pointed out that they would be heavenly with ice cream. I just kept devouring them with glasses of milk.  I also loved that I could throw the frozen dough in the freezer to bake when I craved them.  This will, without a doubt, be the recipe I use when I need to bring a plate of cookies somewhere. It is that perfect.

Finally, a friend tried the "Slow-Roasted Clams with Spicy Tomato Sauce." She loved it so much that she went on to make it about 6 more times!
She noted that with the exception of the clams, you can easily make this with ingredients that you have in your house, with almost no work.  She also enjoyed the pepper agrodolce (or sweet-sour sauce.)

For a good read, a phenomenal cookie recipe and some treats, you can buy Stir at bookstores on November 2nd, 2009.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Learning about Fair Trade at Eat, Drink and Be Fair

From the Outside In, "Eat, Drink and Be Fair" at the Artists for Humanity Center
Blogging has become an increasingly complex political terrain, especially when "freebies" are involved. Whether it is the Federal Trade Commission trying to set standards, or bloggers themselves struggling with the line between advertising, reviewing and recommending, it can be infinitely messier than it appears on the surface.

When I began this blog it was never with the intent (or even idea) that I would receive anything free. The goal was simply to share what I already do: find wonderful food, restaurants and recipes that my family enjoys.  I also have always tried to focus on independently owned places, to highlight chefs who use sustainable and local foods, the joys of organic food and to emphasize the benefits of shopping at farmer's markets and farm stands. 

So when I am offered the chance to learn more about a socially conscious business, I am more than happy to listen. And, if it includes some free samples, that is simply a wonderful benefit. 

That being said, when Green Mountain Coffee invited me to two different events to showcase Fair Trade, I was pleased for a few reasons. First, two of the events featured Will Gilson, a chef that I had followed for a few years.  Second, I am a coffee fiend, incapable of starting the day without grinding my beans and sitting with a cup or two.  Finally, I have long been a supporter of Fair Trade products, even if I wasn't 100% sure as to what that meant.

The advantage of this opportunity was the chance to learn more about coffee itself and Fair Trade.  And, sure, while a skeptic could claim that I was being sold a line, it is hard not to want to support an effort to support an organization that helps local communities to empower themselves and help get themselves out of poverty.  

It is hard to condense Fair Trade products to a few lines and their website (as well as Green Mountain Coffee) can give you the full story. However, these events made me aware of a few key points.  First, Fair Trade certification itself means that a local community (for example in Kenya, Nicaragua or Sumatra) gets, amongst other benefits: a guaranteed minimum price for their products, support for small scale farmers to organize democratic cooperatives, a "social premium" to help communities improve water, education, health and infrastructure, and education to improve their products themselves.  There is also a movement to create have Boston be one of the first "Fair Trade Cities." Again, the criteria is quite extensive, but ultimately it means that Boston would make a concerted effort to get its products from Fair Trade certified communities.  

Green Mountain Coffee currently offers over 41 types of Fair Trade certified coffees. On our night at Garden at the Cellar we sampled the Sumatra Lake Tawar and the Kenyan Highlands Cooperatives. These are available at a range of grocery stores, and, yes McDonalds!  I prefer the espresso brand, whole bean, as I tend to drink very dark roast coffee. In fact, my favorite GMC type is the espresso for the Keurig coffee brewers.

Yet Fair Trade certification goes beyond coffee and includes vanilla, bananas, honey, cocoa, chocolate, tea and sugar. 

At a follow up event, titled "Eat, Drink and Be Fair," 4 chefs were given the opportunity to create courses that focused on these Fair Trade Products.  Chef Will Gilson and sous chef, Paul Callahan (from Garden at the Cellar and The Herb Lyceum) prepared "Fair Trade Smoked Sirloin with Banana Squash Puree and Green Mountain Fair Trade Coffee Sunchoke Gravy. I loved the topping of Taza chocolate nibs.
Chef Richard Garcia  and sous chef, Matthew Maue (Tastings in Foxborough) offered up a "Sea Urchin and Green Mountain Fair Trade Coffee Vanilla 'Cappuccino'.  Despite not loving sea urchin, this dish was creamy and delicious. The coffee added a bitterness that broke the richness of the soup. 

From Bambara, Chef Jay Silva cooked a coffee crusted pork tenderloin with a heavenly sweet potato puree.  
Finally, the official winner of the event was Peter McCarthy of EVOO in Somerville, created a wonderful Green Mountain Fair Trade Dark Roast Coffee Marinated  Duck Breast with Verill Farm's parsnip puree and pickled pumpkins. 
 I loved the crisped duck skin that he served on top, but the pickled pumpkins were persuasive enough to make me want to hide a few of our jack-o-lanterns!

Other vendors were there as well, such as Ben and Jerry's who shared their fabulous Fair Trade chocolate macadamia ice cream, and OKE Equal Exchange bananas.

The food was wonderful, but the highlight of my night were the moments that we had a chance to hear directly from coffee producers from Guatemala. While my Spanish is amateur, at best, I was able to understand from these men, how much the extra money and support allows their communities to be more healthy and to offer better education to their children.  

Lastly, the event was held at the Artists for Humanity Center in South Boston. This was another discovery that I hope to come back to in a later post.  The center itself was a beautiful space that made use of recycled materials in wonderful ways. For example, the bathroom was created out of the materials that came from the original structure.  It was actually the first LEED certified building in Boston.  More importantly, the Center houses art classes and paid art jobs for Boston youth!  I am grateful for the chance to have been introduced to this place and what it offers teens. 

Garden at the Cellar, 991 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge 
Tastings, Foxborough
Bambara, Cambridge
EVOO, Somerville

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Snakes, Snails and Homemade Challah

At its best, a warm loaf of challah, or egg bread, is tender, moist and waits patiently for butter or slathers of delicious jam.  However, unless you are lucky enough to live right near a bakery, you either need to buy it frozen or make your own. Until recently, my oldest son couldn't eat eggs. Yet, this year, our allergist gave us great news-he could eat baked goods with eggs! I don't understand the science, but I do know the joy of watching him create "snails" (round challah) and "snakes" (braided challah.)  

Although there are many recipes for challah, this is one of my favorites.  First, it is very easy and surprisingly quick as the bread only needs one rise.  This semi-sweet, eggy version is best right out of the oven. By the next day, or even later the same day, it is very dense. However, it is fantastic for grilled cheese, french toast or for almond butter sandwiches.  I suspect that you could also freeze the dough once it has risen and bake it on a future occasion. The bakery that created it is long closed, so if you want to try it-you will need to make it yourself!

When I make this with my son, I help him create mini-challahs (using 12 inch "snakes") .

Adapted from Tuler’s Bakery Challah (Egg Bread) and published in the Boston Globe

 Makes 4 loaves of  Challah

 2 level tablespoons yeast

¾ cup sugar (I often use less)

2 cups lukewarm water

5 eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 cup vegetable oil

10 cups flour plus some for rolling the dough

1 ½ tablespoons salt (preferably kosher or coarse)

 Optional Glaze: 1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, stir together the yeast, 2 tablespoons of the sugar and 1 cup of the water. Let stand for 10 minutes or until beginning to foam.

Stir in the remaining sugar, water, the 5 eggs, and the oil.  Add 7 cups of the flour and the salt and stir well. Change to the dough hook, add 2 more cups of flour and continue to knead for 5 to 10 minutes, adding the remaining cup of flour as the dough becomes sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a well flowered board and continue to knead for 1 to 2 minutes. This is a sticky dough. You don’t want to add too much flour or it will become dry. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. 

Using your hands and a lightly floured board and working one piece at a time, roll the dough into a rope about 18 inches long, making sure one end is fatter than the other. Beginning with the fat end, wind the dough into a coil, tucking the thinner end under when the dough is in a tight spiral shape.  Pinch the end into the dough. Repeat the process with the remaining ropes.

Sprinkle 2 large baking sheets with cornmeal and place the 4 loaves on the sheets. Cover with a towel and set in a draft-free place until double in bulk, around 1 ½ hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg and 1 tablespoon water with a fork. Lightly brush the bread with egg glaze and bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 45 minutes, switching the sheets midway through baking, or until the bread is deep golden and hollow to the touch when tapped in the center.

Remove the bread from the oven and set them to cool on a rack until they cool to room temperature. If you are going to use the breads the same day, wrap them well in plastic wrap and foil and freeze until ready to use.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Barbara Lynch's Stir, Plum Produce, The Butcher Shop and a Meal At Sportello

On the day I was going to interview Chef and Owner, Barbara Lynch at her restaurant, Sportello, I thought I would spend the morning checking out a number of her businesses and restaurants. I started in the South End at…

Stir-Stir wears two hats (and is pictured above). In the evenings, Stir is the host kitchen for cooking demonstrations (and meals) by Barbara Lynch's chefs. What wasn’t clear to me, though, until I walked in, was how unbelievably intimate this space is. So often cooking classes take place at a distance. However, it was clear to me that taking a class here would be a true learning experience. I would visit Stir everyday if I lived any closer, as Stir is also an amazing library of over 300 books (cookbooks, travel books and books about wine and spirits.) It also has a cozy window seat. You can come in to browse, or become a member and borrow up to 3 books a month.

Plum Produce-In this postage stamp of a store, manager Victoria Kelly was just setting up as I arrived. Plum Produce gets farm fresh produce each day from Verrill and Siena Farms in Concord. They also offer pastas and other assorted items.

The Butcher Shop-You can sit down for lunch or dinner at the Butcher Shop, buy prepared foods, such as sauces or purchase meats ranging from homemade pates to sausages. I didn’t get a chance to stop at B & G Oysters (also in the South End) and haven’t yet found a night special enough to fully enjoy Number 9 Park (in Beacon Hill), though like many of us, I hope to try both places.

Instead I headed over to Sportello, located in the Fort Point area to eat a meal before interviewing Chef Lynch. Sportello is located about a block away from the Children’s Museum. Sportello was bustling on the day I was there, with a range of people perched on counter seats. I enjoyed the open kitchen and the opportunity to watch lunch being prepared. One of my favorite elements of the meal, came first-homemade fresh fig jam sitting on top of whipped ricotta and sitting in a pool of olive oil. Honestly, I may return for this alone and may have to hunt down some fresh figs to try and recreate it. I also enjoyed my salad. It was listed as a “Beet Salad. Pistachio. Feta Cheese.” What actually arrived was a gorgeous plate of fresh greens intertwined with fresh herbs from Verrill Farm. The striped beets were a lovely pink and were delicious with the French feta. The salad was perfectly dressed with a pistachio vinaigrette. This alone could have been a meal when combined with the bread, cheese and fig starter.

Chef Colin Lynch treated me to a taste of the Cacciucco. I expected a bouillabaisse style soup, but what arrived was much more flavorful. Floating in the broth were perfectly cooked shrimp, mussels, clams and calamari against a piece of grilled bread. The broth was clearly a labor of love and tasted of the essence of the sea.I also tried a half order of the Ricotta Ravioli with Duck Polpetti (meatballs of sorts), radicchio and pecorino. This rich dish would be perfect in the fall. I am not sure I could have identified the sauce and meatballs as made from duck, but they were very good, though a tad salty and strong for my palate. I did like the delicate ravioli.

However, I really enjoyed the “Farfalle with Clams, Mussels and Radish.” Again, this was a dish whose name didn’t do justice to how good and complex it was. The homemade and toothsome farfelle were served with perfectly cubed potatoes, slivers of radish and garlic, and plump mussels and clams. It was topped with simple olive oil and butter sauce. This was comfort food at its best. I could eat this every day.

Sportello also has a bakery and cafĂ© area where you can take sweets or savory items to go. Although I thought the toasted marshmallow top cupcakes looked great, I couldn’t resist buying a chocolate-olive tart. Honestly, it may be an acquired taste!  My favorite of the treats we bought was the hazelnut macaroon filled with a dark chocolate filling. They also have pizzas on brioche dough. You can buy ones that are sweet (e.g. with pistachios and ricotta) or savory. Note, too, that the recipe for both of these treats are in Barbara Lynch's new cookbook, Stir, which will be published in November.  Also, f.y.i. she will speaking at the Wellesley Booksmith on November 17th at 7:00. Call to reserve a spot.

No. 9 Park, 9 Park St., Boston 617-742-9991
B&G Oysters, 550 Tremont St. Boston 617-423-0550
The Butcher Shop, 552 Tremont St. Boston 617-423-4800
Sportello, 348 Congress St., Boston 617-737-1234
Plum Produce, 106 Waltham St, 617-423-PLUM
Stir, 102 Waltham St, 617-423-STIR
9 at Home (Catering)
Drink, 348 Congress St, 617-695-1806

Stir, the Cookbook, will be published by Houghton Mifflin on November 2nd.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Taste of Garden at the Cellar and Green Mountain Coffee, Fair Trade Style

This past week I was invited to dine at Garden at the Cellar. This restaurant had been at the top of my "must try list" for so long. I had read a good deal about Chef Will Gilson and his attention to locally sourced food. But I had also heard as much about how good he is as a chef. And, if this first meal was any indication, I will be back soon.  

The meal was sponsored by Green Mountain Coffee, in large part to showcase 3 things:  Fair Trade certification (it is Fair Trade month), Green Mountain Fair Trade coffees, and to preview the Eat, Drink & Be Fair event that will be taking place next week. 
On Wednesday, October 21st, 4 chefs, including Will Gilson, will be creating dishes using Fair Trade ingredients.  (Interested? While it is invitation only, there may still be some tickets available until Friday at the Eat, Drink and Be Fair website.

In a later post I will share my education about coffee and Fair Trade itself, but for now, I will write an ode to a memorable meal.

We started with an "Heirloom Pumpkin Soup" shooters (pictured at the top of this post). So often, pumpkin soup is a syrupy, uniform affair. But not here.  Topped with pepitas and pumpkin oil, the Chef used a perfect balance of spices including ginger, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. This is one of the recipes that I would love to get my hands on. It was that good.  

Next, he treated us to what may be one of my new favorite starters: locally foraged Hen of the Woods mushrooms, topped with a slow cooked egg, truffles and an absolutely heavenly nugget of fried duck neck rillettes.
 Trust me, it was infinitely better than it sounds.  The rillettes were crispy, rich and so good.

The main dish consisted of slow cooked chicken, homemade chicken sausage, kale, fried sage and a coffee (Fair Trade, of course!)-sunchoke puree. 
Again, it was simple but delicious.  The chicken was so moist, while the skin was crisp and flavorful.

Finally, a dessert that made me want to lick my plate: maple caramel with a tea-poached Seckel pear that was served with honey and vanilla bean Chantilly cream.  

Again, the honey, vanilla and tea were all Fair Trade items. And here, I will point out that as much as I try to be a socially conscious consumer, I had never been as deliberate about my purchase of vanilla or honey as I am about coffee.

The atmosphere of Garden at the Cellar was just right on a chilly fall night. The copper tables, the warm setting and lively energy made me want to settle in.  Instead I will just have to return.

Garden at the Cellar, 991 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617-230-5880 

Eat, Drink and Be Fair, Wednesday, October 21st 

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Go for the Grits: Tupelo, Cambridge

Renee McCloud's pies are pretty close to perfection. In fact I have blogged, on more than one occasion, about the treats at her store: Petsis Pies. So, like many other foodies, I was thrilled when I heard that she had opened a restaurant.  Tupelo is located in Inman Square, and from the moment friends and I entered, I was pretty smitten with the place.  I will start by saying that we arrived at 6 p.m. on a Saturday. We had no wait. However, by the time we left it was packed. So-hint, as they take no reservations, arrive early.

It is worth starting dinner that soon. We began with corn bread. It was the cakey variety and was helped with a big smear of butter.
However, it was good that we didn't fill up on bread, as we got hooked on the "Fried Grits" appetizer. What arrived were small squares of nuggets. They were perfectly fried and salted and the crisp outside yielded to smooth, creamy grits. These could beat french fries anytime.
The fried oysters were also well-cooked and were plump and fresh. They were best with a quick shake of salt and the homemade spicy remoulade sauce. 
We also dug into the homemade pickles that were distinguished by a smoky taste, which, not coincidentally came from liquid smoke.

We shared 3 main dishes. First, a jambalaya made with andouille sausage, mussels and crab. It was good, though a bit heavy on the vinegar. 
Next, a plate of pork: served shredded and on the bone. It was served with BBQ beans and homemade coleslaw.  The beans were clearly homemade, instead of canned, and the pickles added a freshness to the dish. 
However, the star was the catfish for two reasons. First, it was perfectly seasoned and cooked. The remoulade added a sharp bite.  The cheddar grits were a perfect bed for the fish. Yet what brought the dish all together were the pickled tomatillos
One of the chefs was kind enough to share how he made them.  The secret? They are chilled and salted overnight, and then simmered in vinegar. The result was a sweet pickle with just a bit of heat that contrasted beautifully with the fish.

As we had hoped the pies, made fresh and delivered from Petsis each day, were delicious. 
Despite being full, we dove into 3: a chocolate cake, a brown butter pecan with bourbon ice cream and a banana cream pie with meringue and caramel sauce.
 They were all so good. 

The atmosphere at Tupelo is relaxing and casual. The prices are also reasonable-averaging about $15.00 for a main dish.  So go, and go early, and enjoy.

Tupelo, 1193 Cambridge St. (Inman Square), 617-868-0004
Petsis Pies, Somerville and Cambridge

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Glorious Taste of Fisher Brook Farm Jam

As any regular reader of this blog knows, I am a fan of the Natick Farmer's Market.  I love the opportunity to meet neighbors, have my children play on the town green, and, of course, to get delicious foods from local sources. However, I also enjoy discovering something new. In this case, I was lucky enough to stumble upon Fisher Brook Farm jams and marmalade made by Angela.  I was smitten with the unusual flavors: Honeydew Marmalade, Meyer Lemon Marmalade, Peach Marsala Jam, Damson Plum , Blueberry & Black Currant.  
But Angela was smart enough to offer samples. One taste of the Seville Orange Marmalade, perfectly balanced between sweet and tart, and I was hooked. Since then I can confidently say that each one was been delicious. The Damson Plum, a glorious ruby red, is elegant enough to top a tart. The Peach Marsala, which Angela generously gave me to try, is laced with vanilla, marsala and cinnamon, adds depth to yogurt. The Seville Orange Marmalade continues to be one of my favorites, scrumptious on top of almond butter or salted butter and fresh bread. I look forward to trying the raspberry and black currant.  In fact, I have enough taken to eating them straight with a spoon. Angela is also trying out new flavors such as Shiro Plum, a Spiced Plum and a Blood Orange Marmalade.
Angela is a warm person and her story makes it that much easier to indulge in a jar (or 2 or 3). When her husband lost her job, Angela realized this was her opportunity to try her hand at selling her treats. Her goal is not only to source all the fruit locally (with the exception of the citrus that is so hard to grow in this climate), but to grow it on their 10 acre orchard. 
You have just a few more Saturday mornings to buy her goods at the Natick Farmer's Market before it closes at the end of October. However, the good news: she may also be at the new Natick Farmer's Market starting at the Johnson School in January of 2010!  You can also order her jams on her website.  My guess? Over time you will see her produce in other stores as well-it is that good.

Fisher Brook Farm Jams and Marmalades, Dover, MA
Natick Farmer's Market; 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturdays between May 16th and October 31st at the corner of Route 27 and Route 135

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chef Tsai's Perfect Fried Rice

In my interview with Chef Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger, he shared a favorite family recipe: his version of fried rice. I later discovered a great video of him whipping up the rice in minutes on How2Heroes. This recipe appealed to me for many reasons. First, as Chef Tsai noted, it was so quick, so easy, so healthy, so inexpensive and it relies on ingredients that are easy to have. I made it even easier by putting shredded carrots and making rice the night before.  The other great benefit of this dish is it is free of common allergens-dairy, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish and nuts.  So often fried rice is made with soy sauce, eggs and nuts, yet my sons are allergic to nuts and eggs.

What I didn't expect, honestly, was that it would be so delicious. I love soy sauce, so I will confess I added a bit of soy and sesame oil on top, but it was much lighter than other fried rice dishes I have had. And, best of all-my 1 1/2 year old loved it. My finicky toddler even ate the carrots, broccoli and tofu that I grilled on the Foreman grill. 

For the recipe, just click HERE. I left out the scallions and used less garlic, which made it even easier.