Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back to School Contest #2: YoCrunch Fruit Parfait

Did you miss the first FoodieMommy back to school contest? No worries. After Panera rewarded one reader with a gift certificate to their restaurant, Breyers replied with a new gift: coupons to try their new YoCrunch Fruit Parfait. Honestly, this isn't something I would typically buy. I try to limit the sugar that my family eats. I don't love yogurt, nor overly sweet things. However, as a teacher I often find myself scrambling to grab snacks between classes and meetings. So when Breyers offered to send me a sample, I replied, "Sure." My assessment? Think yogurt with granola and jam all layered together. In other words? Sweet. Very sweet. And, well, small. But it was a decent enough snack. And, you, too, can try them if you want. Just leave a comment here and make sure to include your e-mail so I can contact you if you are the winner. You have until next Monday, September September 6th to enter. Best of luck!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Back to School Contest #1: Panera

As readers of this blog know, I am not a chain-restaurant (or chain-anything for that matter) kind-of-mom. I also prefer to cook dinner at home rather than experience the stress of wondering if my toddlers will make it through a restaurant meal before melt-downs occur. However, I am now a single mom. And I am returning to work as a teacher. In other words, the idea of preparing (and cleaning up!) dinner for my kids each night is overwhelming.
And, it is even more so if you add in preparing lunches for everyone, getting breakfast ready and, yes, cleaning up (again!) after all those meals. So, when the folks at Panera Bread offered to send me and a reader a gift certificate, I jumped at the chance. Because, Panera actually works for us. No, the meats aren't organic. But the kids' meal comes with organic yogurt and cheese and I can order sandwiches on wheat bread. And the counter service means my kids can sit and play and get their food quickly. (Though on a recent visit, their highlight was the pager to know when your food is ready!) I've long been a fan of their Frontega chicken panini, oozing with chipotle mayo. But I also recently discovered the Turkey Panini with smoked cheddar and bacon. There is always the salad and half sandwich option. Or I have been known to get their asiago cheese bread and just nibble away at that. And in the winter, the vegetarian soups in a bread bowl are satisfying enough. And, nope, no clean up. (See a theme here?)
So, lucky readers, now it is your chance to have at least one meal before you hit the ground running (with toddlers in tow.) To enter the chance to receive a $20 gift certificate to Panera, just leave a comment before Monday, August 30th. Make sure to include your e-mail so I can contact you if you are the winner. I will choose the random at random, contact you for your snail mail, and send that gift certificate to you as soon as I can.

Best of luck!

Panera Bread is located throughout the U.S. Just check out their website.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Easiest Frozen Yogurt Ever (No Ice Cream Maker Involved!)

My Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker makes glorious ice cream and tangy frozen yogurt. Since my oldest has a peanut allergy, making ice cream means that I can give it to him safely. I also love being able to use organic milk and fruit when making gelato. However, now I have also discovered a plethora of recipes for making frozen desserts without an ice cream machine. I was inspired by the peach gelato recipe from Wednesday Chef and had berries galore care of our excursion to Tougas Farms. Using Luisa's proportions, I threw yogurt, sugar and frozen berries into my Cuisinart.
I whipped it around for a few minutes (the yogurt, not the Cuisinart!). And the result: luscious and creamy frozen yogurt in shades of pink and rose. The best part? To my surprise, the berries and sugar muted the harsh tangy taste of the yogurt. I put it in the freezer in plastic bowls to thicken and served it later to happy friends. Finally, I took a cue from ice cream (and dessert) expert David Leibovitz who regularly uses alcohol to maintain creaminess in frozen desserts (otherwise they can freeze solid.) But, no...I was too chicken to give that version to my children. Instead I just left their virgin yogurt defrost for a few extra minutes. You can even throw it back in a Cuisinart or blender to get it creamy again. Finally, Elise at Simply Recipes has another trick. She adds another few steps, such as straining the berry sauce first, but it may work for those of you that find berry seeds irritating.

Easiest Frozen Yogurt

1 cup yogurt (I used Total whole milk yogurt which is incredibly thick, and I rationalized still lower fat than ice cream)
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups fruit (I used blackberries one time and strawberries another. You can use fresh or frozen, but the better the berry, the yummier the result.)
1 Tbs rum (optional)

Throw in a Cuisinart (or a blender) and mix until smooth. Put in a freezer-safe container to thicken slightly for about 30 minutes.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

From Blueberries to Brisket: Tougas Farms and The Texas BBQ Company

All summer I had promised the kids that we would go blueberry picking. Last year we went to both Ward Berry Farm in Sharon and Honey Pot Hill in Stowe. But Kami had raved about the huge blueberries at Tougas Family Farm in Northboro. She wasn't kidding! And, to make it even better, we hit the mid-August jackpot: we picked raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, apples, peaches and nectarines...in the same day! Tasting them was like tasting each fruit for the first time. Suddenly I understood the seductive, almost floral flavor of a nectarine, even though I had eaten store bought versions my whole life. The blueberries were also more subtle and luscious than any I have tried previously. My sons were as entranced and thrilled with the opportunity to load up on their favorite foods. The blackberries varied from mouth-puckering sour to sweet, but were still perfect for making into jam and frozen yogurt (recipes coming soon!) We had so much fun, that despite leaving with pounds of fruit we were already making plans for a return visit.

Before departing the premises the kids checked out their animal collection (turkeys, ducks, chickens, a pig and many a goat), and their assorted play structures. I had hoped to take them to a restaurant, but cranky behavior led me to grab lunch at Tougas.
At least they offered grilled cheese on wheat bread, while the pickier of my two sons ate his unfortunately common hot dog. I tried their raspberry slush made with their own raspberries and a tender and homemade blueberry donut.
Really, though, I was saving room for what I hoped would be a great meal. I knew almost nothing about the Texas BBQ Company, but I had a sense it would be good, even if I had to take my meal back home instead of eating it there.
I am not a BBQ expert by any means, but their ribs were finger-licking fantastic. They taste vaguely sweet and were lightly caramelized on the outside. They barely need the wonderful barbecue sauce that was served on the side.
Their brisket was so tender that I didn't need a fork. The sausage was clearly made in house, with a spicy kick. The cornbread was a cakey, sweet version. The coleslaw was "Texas style" and unlike any I have had before. It consisted almost solely of cabbage with vinegar and spices and was perfect for the beef. But my favorite food (shared by my two year old): the fried okra that will convince anyone that okra is a delicious veggie. Next time, we will eat it there!

Tougas Family Farm, 234 Ball Street, Northboro
Texas BBQ Company, 309 Main Street, Northboro

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Almond Brioche By the Beach: PB Boulangerie Bistro, Wellfeet

For 30 years, summers on Wellfleet Cape Cod have consisted of slurping raw oysters, indulging in fried clams and breakfasting on mediocre muffins. Then, starting a few months ago, friends started telling me about "this new French place" (otherwise known as PB Boulangerie Bistro) that had opened near our August rental. And as soon as I walked into my mom's house, she extolled their fruit tarts and scrumptious white chocolate bread. And then I tried the tarte au citron. Graced with burnt meringue, it consists of suave and perfectly tart lemon curd sitting on buttery crust. And, on top, a glistening layer of clear jelly. Heaven.
There is a price for this indulgence, as well as the other treats that I love there. First, is the wait. And then a longer wait. On each of my visits (and each time I have driven by), this place has been distinguished by some of the longest lines I have seen at the Cape. And, each time I have made it to the front of the line I have noticed some remarkably inefficient service. The place can be forgiven: It just opened in March and August on the Cape often means restaurants are short-staffed while the crowds pour in.
Needless to say, the one hour wait in line (!), can actually be worth it as the executive chef, Philppe Rispoli and baker, Boris Villatte are the real thing: from Lyon, France.
Their backgrounds explains the incredibly flaky croissants. (They are so good, and so popular that Villatte is making over 1,500...a day!) And the barely sweetened almond cream that fills pockets of moist brioche topped with raspberries. And the exquisite raspberry "danish" that consist of pastry cream topped with raspberries and sitting on flaky pastry. And the crackly, sugar-kissed tops of the orange-chocolate chip brioche. And the luxurious, better-than-trendy macarons with jelly, rather than buttercream gracing twin meringues.
Another of my absolute favorites is their pain au fromage or cheese bread. Having stood in line since 7 a.m., I was lucky enough to get one directly out of the oven. Filled with pockets of molten Asiago cheese that also creates a crisp bottom my son and I ate the entire loaf! You can also buy it with smokey bacon (or lardons), though I preferred the simplicity of the cheese bread. In fact I plan to buy a few loaves to store in my freezer when our vacation comes to a close.
In addition to the bakery, you can also have dinner at the restaurant. Because I was hesitant about service issues, overwhelmed by the prices (the average main dish runs in the mid-20s!), and limited by scarce reservations (I am a weary mother by 9 p.m.), friends and I headed there for dessert. While the inside dining room is solely for reservations, you can wait for an outdoor table on their patio any time of the night.
We arrived at about 8:30 and were seated by about 9:00. As soon as we sat, I knew we made the right choice: many customers were trying in vain to get the attention of the limited wait staff. Ironically, though, we were struck by the sight of numerous chefs in the kitchen, so I don't doubt that the food is delicious. And, I can say this: we were more than pleased by dessert. We shared three items.
First, a silken buttermilk panna cotta sitting on fresh berries. Then, thin crepes swimming in a buttery sauce, contrasted with thin slices of bitter orange rind. Homemade vanilla ice cream melted onto the dish.
Finally, we devoured a wonderfully light beignet served with subtly sweet chocolate mousse.
And all three items came promptly. Even the bill was accompanied by 8 tiny madelaines. Needless to say, during that time, a group of three, seated at the same time as us, still hadn't been given bread!

I don't doubt that this place will succeed. And, in many ways it clearly has as people drive in from Brewster (and further) to try these treats. Hopefully, they will be able to work out the service issues. In the meantime, your best bet is this: they allow you to place an order and pay in advance. The advantage? You can literally bypass the ENTIRE line and pick up your pre-order (which may or may not be ready....but still an improvement!) For example, you can show up to the bakery at 7 p.m., pay for those scrumptious treats and have them ready for you the next day. Believe me, if you have young children, this is far better than waiting! Last warning: they are currently closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the lines are unbelievable on weekend mornings.

So, go. Bring a newspaper (they even sell the Boston Globe and the New York Times), make friends with others in line, and look forward to the prize at the end of the line.

***UPDATE: I wrote this post in August, at the height of the summer in Wellfleet. As you can see from commenters below, by the fall the lines had died down. It makes me want to head back for a day trip....***

PB Boulangerie Bistro, 15 Lecount Road, Wellfleet, 508-349-1600

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Petey's, Prescott Park and the Seacoast Science Center at Odiorne Point State Park

My children have loved music since they took Music Together as infants. Unfortunately for me, their favorite group has been the Wiggles. Catchy tunes, but I have a serious limit to the number of times I can groove to "Henry the Octopus!" Luckily, we discovered Ben Rudnick at the library. Think Grateful Dead...but for children. And really talented!

So, when I saw that he was playing at Prescott Park in Portsmouth, it seemed like a great excuse for a day trip.

I had never been to Prescott Park before, and have been to Portsmouth only once or twice. And it is clear to me that I need to return to explore it further! Prescott Park, however, was a huge hit with the kids. What a glorious location for free concerts! Situated at Portsmouth Harbor with easy parking less than 5 minutes away, it was a joy to listen to music while we watched sailboats glide pass! I chose to be lazy, and for food settled for their sandwiches (bought from Moe's.) The music was as groovy as I had hoped and the ample bubbles and dancing children added to the joy. I discovered, too, that Prescott Park has arts festivals throughout the summer, making this a clear return destination!

From there, we were hungry enough to stop at the Ice House, just south, for some scoops of ice cream.
Well satiated, we head to Odiorne Point State Park, hoping to explore tidepools.
However, we had missed low tide by about 3 hours. Instead, we got some beautiful views...and 1 stressed out mother as I had visions of my children slipping on rocks and rushed into riptides.
It all turned out for the best, as we turned back to the entrance to the Park, and the Seacoast Science Center. What a perfect place for toddlers! It has touch pool to gently touch sea urchins, snails, starfish and mussels.
It has a lobster boat for kids to climb in.
It has a cozy nook to read books about the beach.
It has microscopes and sea anemones and a model Harbor boat that overlooks Portsmouth Harbor.
By now my sailors were hungry (again!) and so we continued South on beautiful 1A. There we found the last parking spot at Petey's. And I was glad we did, even if we made the mistake of sitting in the non-air-conditioned deck!
One son was happy with his hamburger and fries, while the other child and I gobbled up perfectly fried fish.
I kept going, indulging in tiny, sweet fried Maine shrimp and, yes, even going so far as to taste their lobster roll. For the record, it was full of tender claw meat, with nary a chewy piece in sight (and is pictured at the top of the site.)
Needless to say, 5 minutes in the car, and back down the road, both kids fell sound asleep, bellies full of fry and heads full of music and the ocean.