Monday, April 26, 2010

The Natick Organic Farm

I have long contended that the Natick Organic Farm is one of the gems of Natick. First, they offer an opportunity that is rare these days: the chance to see a working farm, including animals, any day, for free.
Yup. You can just wander in for a few minutes or an hour and check out the bunnies, chickens, sheeps, goats, pigs and cows. My kids love it and I love that it is so low-mainteance. It is a lovely open space that can be explored in all seasons.
They also offer classes for adults and children ranging from cheese-making to being a "little farmer." While my sons haven't yet tried out a class, many friends have complimented the staff on helping children to learn about farm life and the animals.

We have also attended two different festivals at the farm. A few weeks ago we went to the "Maple Magic Day." It consisted of two parts. You could head to the neighboring elementary school for all you could eat pancakes with maple syrup direct from the farm. I am a bit of a pancake snob these days, but thought they were excellent.
The secret ingrdient? Buckwheat flour! The price (which went directly to the farm), included milk from Crescent Ridge dairy, hot chocolate and coffee and applesauce. It included entertainment from local musicians and education from different organizations who promoted everything from "Freecycling" to beekeeping.
As a history teacher I was just as entranced with the maple syrup tour at the farm. Our tour guide showed us maple trees and explained how they were tapped. My sons loved tasting the sap directly from the tree.

Other volunteers then showed and taught us about how maple syrup was created by the Native tribes who lived in the area, as well as the colonists. It was a wonderful opportunity to give kids a chance to see how directly food can be created.
We also attended last year's Spring Spectacular. At this event, which is also a fund raiser, you pay to enter, and then pay for tickets to do different craft projects.
The price did add up, but I believe that supporting a place we go so often is worth it. In addition, the craft projects were fun for the kids and offered me a chance to learn about, for example, what to do with leftover seeds. (Answer? Make collages.)

I highly recommend both events...with this caveat. The parking situation is pretty bad. In fact, some people spent quite a while waiting in their cars to both park and to exit. So, my typical recommendation: get there EARLY and park as close as you can to the exit. Alternatively, shuttle/carpool with a few friends.

Finally, if you can't get to the farm, you can also enjoy produce grown at the farm. Just head to the Natick Farmer's Market for some delicious organic produce.

This year's Spring Spectacular takes place on Saturday, May 15 from 10 to 3, rain or shine. Just click here for more details.

To learn more about the farm, click here. You can find links to more information about classes, events, etc.

Finally, for another write up (and a lead to a great blog), check out Dadventures in Beantown's write up of the same day.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Chef Ming Tsai's Chicken with Lettuce Wraps

Inspired by Ming Tsai's stories of cooking stir fries for his sons, I set out to do the same. I have made very few stir fries since having children as it is hard to do last minute cooking when my little boys are playing/grabbing my legs. However, as my older son is allergic to peanuts and can't eat at Chinese restaurants, I wanted to start making more stir-fries for him at home.

Here is the original version. I left out the chili paste and used ground chicken. Don't get intimidated by the ingredients. These days you can actually find jicama and Mung Bean noodles at the supermarket. If not, you can just leave the out. The first ingredient, sweet soy sauce is an Indonesian sauce, also called Kecap Manis. I found it at Super 88 (in Chinatown and Brighton) and C-Mart in Chinatown. However, while I haven't tried it myself, I suspect you could reduce soy sauce mixed with sugar or honey on the stove. It should taste syrupy.

This recipe is from Ming Tsai himself.

Serves 4

• 3/4 cup sweet soy sauce
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
• 1 teaspoon sambal oelek (Indonesian chili paste))
• 1 tablespoon minced ginger
• 1 tablespoon minced garlic
• 1 pound chicken thigh meat, boneless, skinless, and cut into small dice
• 1 onion, cut into small dice
• 1 carrot, cut into small dice
• 3 celery stalks, cut into small dice
• 1 small jicama (baseball-sized), cut into small dice
• Mung bean vermicelli noodles (1 package)
• Bibb lettuce leaves
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• Canola oil

Fill a fryer or stockpot one-third with oil and heat to 400 degrees. In a bowl, combine sweet soy sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sambal, ginger, and garlic. In a large saute pan over medium-high heat coated lightly with oil saute chicken until almost cooked through, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Add onions, carrot, celery and jicama, season with salt and pepper and toss. Add sweet soy deglazing mixture and saute; allow to reduce almost completely. Check flavor, season if necessary. Fry vermicelli, it will take seconds to puff up, and remove to a paper towel-lined plate. To serve, divide chicken mixture among 4 small bowls and place on 4 dinner plates. Divide Bibb lettuce leaves and mung bean vermicelli among plates.

To eat, make a lettuce wrap and enjoy! Alternatively, serve in a bento box for extra fun.

Copyright Ming Tsai 2008

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dim Sum at Myers and Chang, Boston

I am a huge fan of Joanne Chang. Her bakery, Flour, consistently offers the best bread, cookies, and baked goods. My respect for her as a business owner has also grown this year as I have begun to follow her blog and her Twitter posts. So, when a friend asked where we should meet for lunch recently, I was thrilled to remember that her other restaurant, Myers and Chang offers dim sum on the weekends. The first thing to note is this is a different dim sum than what you will find in Chinatown. I am used to a huge variety of sweet and savory tastes that often leave me feeling full for days. However, at Myers and Chang, dim sum is lighter, a bit simpler and more fusion style.

We began with their peanut noodles.
They were good, though I would have loved a bit more of a kick.
The next dish was my favorite: soft steam buns, folded around salty, fatty pork belly. We then shared homemade vegetable filled dumplings.
The filling was fresh and salty, though I think steaming them might have made it easier to appreciate the vegetables. The tamarind shrimp were even better with a topping of soy sauce.
The last dish, recommended by the waiter, was my other favorite: Indonesian fried rice or nasi goreng. This unusual dish consisted of rice that was blackened, covered with pork, fried shallots and spicy sauce.

On the side of Myers and Chang is a mini-patio with great seats for people watching on the edge of the South End. So, if you can, go on a glorious day (especially one that is paired with a walk through the great art galleries of the South End/ SoWa area.) And, better still-diagonally across the street is Ming's: a phenomenal Asian supermarket that, alone, is worth the trip to this end of Washington Street!

Myers and Chang, 1145 Washington St, Boston MA 02118, 617-542-5200

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Braised Root Vegetables with Garlic Oil

For the last 4 years, the main acoustics in my life have been both the voices of my sons and their favorite musical group, the Wiggles. If you have actually listened to this Australian based musical extravanganza, you will well understand why I relish the moments that I am alone in the car and can set my IPhone to play podcasts. And when I do, I inevitably turn to the Splendid Table. Crafted by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, it includes interviews with chefs and food critics, news about the food world as well as restaurant recommendations by the lively duo of Michael and Jane Stern of RoadFood. Lynne Rossetto Kasper, though, is also the author of two great cookbooks and is herself talented at both giving callers assistance with their meals and sharing her own cooking tricks. In fact, each week I get her "Splendid Table" newsletter that includes some meal that can easily be made in less than an hour (or even 30 minutes).

Recently, she shared her creation of this dish. She didn't give recipe amounts, but the dish sounded so easy, so delicious, and just so perfect, that I had to give it a try. And I am already making it for the second time in two weeks.

This dish is so adaptable. You can use any root vegetables that you have. You can mash them up or leave it chunky. It could be a vegetarian main dish or a side. In fact I loved it with cut up chicken on top. It tasted like an instant shepard's pie.

So, in honor of Lynne Rossetto Kasper, here is my attempt to put her idea into a recipe.

Braised Root Vegetables with Garlic Oil

Any assortment of root vegetables (such as carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, potatoes, celery root), peeled and sliced thinly
One sliced onion
3-5 garlic cloves, chopped
Olive Oil

Boil a very large pot of salted water. Toss the root vegetables and the onion in the boiling water. Boil for about 10 minutes until just tender.

In the meantime, film a large skillet with olive oil. Heat it on medium heat. When the oil is hot, place in the chopped garlic cloves. Add enough water to just cover and braise the garlic. When the vegetables are done, lift them out of the water and place directly into the garlic/water mixture. Turn the heat off, cover and let sit for at least 10 minutes to absorb the garlic oil.

You can use the remaining boiled water as a stock for soup.

To listen to the Splendid Table podcast, just click here.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Cottage, Wellesley

When The Cottage first opened in Wellesley, I was optimistic about a new restaurant in the MetroWest area. And then, I heard the initial reviews from friends and colleagues: pricey, poor service, mixed food. However, over the last year, the comments became more and more positive, as the Cottage settled into a grove. And since my first meal there, I have been pleased with my food and the service.

On this past trip, I was lucky to be joined by other bloggers: Susan of In A Handbasket, Kami of The Fence, Erin of Ladybugs Picnic, Liz of Goddess in Progress, Charlene of Metrowest Mama and Cindy, author of the blog for Isis Maternity. We are all moms (total we have 14 kids!) and we spent a good part of the evening laughing loudly about the trials and trivialtions of trying to manage it all. It reminded me of how much, how essential, it is to connect to other people who are in the same place-in this case, parents of toddlers and pre-schoolers.
But we also all enjoyed the food. We started with fried calamari. While a bit more salt would have added to the flavor, the side of remoulade had a kick to jazz it up. Although the serving of guacamole was small, it was full of lime juice, making it tastier than others I have previously eaten. We tried a few dishes. Cindy recommended the granola-crusted mahi mahi.
The Cottage, which has another branch in California, is known for this granola. Made with condensed milk, cranberries and huge pecans, it is pretty fabulous. (Thanks to the Cottage's General Manager for giving me a chance to try it!) I predicted that it would have overpowered the white fish, but a light coating give it just enough sweetness and crunch. My favorite part of the dish was the beurre blanc that benefited from a touch of garlic.
Our other dish, a salad nicoise (pictured at the top of this post) was fine, if a bit less exciting. Served with seared ahi-tuna, it was lightly dressed and consisted of steamed potatoes and green beans. For $14.95, though, it was fresh and substantial enough for a light meal.

Liz enjoyed the carne asada tacos, which were topped with more of the delectable guacamole and mojo sauce.
Drinks are also creative and there is a wide list of both cocktails and wine.
We were less impressed with the desserts. We tried the mini mud pie, the rocky road brownie, the marscapone cheesecake and the warm chocolate souffle. I continue to think that even with good pastry chefs, desserts present a challenge for most restaurants. Typically, like these, they are so sweet that they mask any other tastes. And in this case, the desserts were sugary and rich...and didn't offer much more. The saving grace of the brownie was that it was loaded with toasted walnuts that offset the chocolate (and I am a chocolate fiend.)
I haven't yet made it to the brunch, but I have heard positive reviews for that meal as well. It is also particularly child friendly. Lunch, when entrees hover around $14.00 offers a way to try the restaurant for a bit less than dinner. If you go at dinner, do try to make reservations: it makes it even more relaxing.

The Cottage, 190 Linden Street, Wellesley, 781-239-1100