Sunday, March 28, 2010

Support Two Great Organizations: The Greater Boston Food Bank and the BSO

The Greater Boston Food Bank has documented a 23% increase in the demand for food products since 2005. The Boston Symphony Orchestra has provided music since 1881. While I don't normally use this blog to publicize events that I haven't yet attended, or to pass on publicity releases, the chance to support these two organizations was too good to pass on.

On April 1, 2 and 3 the Greater Boston Food Bank will have a food drive at Symphony Hall. This in turn is connected to the national project, "Orchestras Feeding America." You can attend the performance at the BSO (which will be performing Mendelssohn's Elijah) and bring donations directly to symphony hall. Or you can drop off donations without attending the performance between 7 and 8 pm. each night. The BSO food drive can only accept canned food items, including canned tuna, chicken, or other meats, canned vegetables and fruit, and canned juices, soups, and pasta. For safety reasons, the Greater Boston Food Bank does not accept baby food, baby formula, and glass containers.

A few more details about The Greater Boston Food Bank (from their website): The Greater Boston Food Bank distributes approximately 30 million pounds of food and grocery products annually to more than 600 hunger-relief agencies in a dedicated partnership to end hunger in eastern Massachusetts. The Food Bank serves 83,000 people each week and is a member of Feeding America. For more information about The Greater Boston Food Bank, visit or call (617) 427-5200.

For more information about this event or the Boston Symphony Orchestra, click here. I will get a chance to blog about the event itself, thanks to the generosity of the BSO who kindly donated two tickets to me. I haven't been in years, so I look forward the chance to hear their beautiful music and take part in this food collection.

Boston Symphony Orchestra, 301 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, (617) 266-7575

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Hot Blog Dinner at Trina's Starlite Lounge

I am just not a hot dog lover. But when I was given the chance to attend the Hot Blog Dinner at Trina's Starlite Lounge, I jumped at the chance. Rumors of a great atmosphere, good food and even better prices made it high up on my list of places I wanted to try out. Located in Inman Square, once you find parking, you are in for a treat. Trina's is relaxing enough that I will be bringing my kids with me next time, but it would work just as well for a date night.

Part of the fun of a food blogging dinner is the chance to talk food with like-minded people. In this case, that meant spending the evening with fellow writers from "Eat Boston", Lingo Li, Julia Rappaport, Will of the Boston Foodie, Cambridge Carrie and the editor of Thrillist Boston, amongst others. This night, though, was made even more enjoyable because of the graciousness of both Trina and Beau Sturm. (Who, for the record, are a ridiculously cute couple, too.)

But it was Chef Suzi Maitland who treated us to 4 different riffs on the hot dog, one of the staples of Trina's menu. We began with a salad of arugula with "hot dog lardons." While tossing sliced hot dogs on a salad seemed comical, it was suprisingly good. Better still, for parents, like me, who cook hot dogs on a regular basis, it was a new way to get kids (and the parents) to eat their greens.
The second course: a hot dog banh mi. I have written before about my love of the Vietnamese sandwhiches. Here, Chef Maitland took the best of the bahn mi, the pickled vegetables, and placed them on top of a dog. It worked like an Asian-style relish.
One of my favorite tastes of the night were the baked beans that covered our 3rd course: frank and beans. Chef Suzi was willing to reveal that they were cooked with molasses, brown sugar, A1 and Worcesthire sauce. They were a perfect salty, sweet balance and I will be lucky if I can recreate this one at home.
The final dish: a cheesecake dog with, yes, bacon caramel sauce. Bacon in sweet desserts seems to be a bit of a rage right now, whether it is in caramels, ice cream or fudge. Similiar to the chocolate covered pretzel, it does work, though I think it would be best on a less sweet dessert, like a burnt caramel ice cream.
Throughout the evening, Beau matched our meals with drinks. I am not a drinker, but I loved each one, as well as how he paired the dishes so well.

However, I will return for something entirely different. One of my fellow writers raved about the corn bread. And, yes, I will comfortably say that it was the best slice I have ever had. Brilliantly moist, sweet with corn scattered throughout, I could eat this every day. Served with sweetned butter it was heavenly.

Trina's menu offers comfort food at its best. In addition to hot dogs, you can have burgers, chicken and waffles, mac and cheese, chili fries or wings, amongst other options. On Mondays, Trina's offers an "Industry Brunch." Lucky for me (a teacher), this option is also offered on holiday Mondays.

Trina's Starlite Lounge, 3 Beacon Street, Somerville (but on the edge of Inman Square, Cambridge), 617-576-0006

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

No Need to Buy Frozen: The Easiest of Meatballs

After I wrote about the common meals I cook, a reader wrote in to ask about my meatball recipe. And, yeah. I get that this picture doesn't make this meal very appetizing. But here is why you should still try it: inexpensive, easy and relatively healthy. Does it get better than that? I got this recipe from my friend and daycare provider. My kids inhaled the meatballs with her, so I knew I had to use the recipe myself. She makes them with ground hamburger, but ground turkey works well. Just stock up when either is on sale.


1 pound ground meat (turkey, chicken, hamburger or a mix)
1 egg (optional, but it makes it bind together more easily)
1/4 cup Parmesan (again, optional)
1/2 cup bread crumbs (white, whole wheat or panko)
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried parsley
3/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp salt

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Form them into meatballs. Heat oil in a cast iron or other large skillet over medium heat.

Place half the meatballs in the pan and brown them on all sides. Drain the meatballs on a plate lined with paper towels while you cook the other batch. Once the second batch is browned and drained, put them back in the pan with tomato sauce. Simmer them gently until cooked through and serve over pasta or on bread.

If you want to eat them later, after browning them, let them cool and freeze them. When you are ready to eat them, you can either bake them, directly from the freezer, at 350 for about 20 minutes. Or, you can put them, frozen in a pan with tomato sauce. Heat them on the stove until they are cooked through.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What is this Harried Mom Cooking These Days?

More than ever this year, we have settled into a food routine. I cook up a few breads and main dishes on Sunday and just hope they last as long as possible. I throw leftovers in the freezer. Then the rest of the week consists of hamburgers, grilled tofu and rice, grilled cheese, pasta and sausages or hot dogs. With some vegetables and fruit, I can rationalize that the kids are eating pretty well. So despite the fact that this blog often makes it seem that I eat out most of the time, I really only can afford to do so once a week, at most!

On the weekends, I always get a few breads made. I start out Saturday night by mixing up dough. As I wrote about here, it is remarkably simple (really, seriously, I promise!) to do this. The dough goes in the frig and is ready to be shaped by the morning. I also throw a bag of dry beans in a pot with water to soak. Finally, I chop as many onions as I need for the next morning-one of the tasks that I can't do with the toddlers trying to help out! The next day I mix the dough with the other ingredients and it is ready to rise in minutes. The beans go into the slow cooker to cook up by lunch.

Here are just some of the things that I have cooked up:

1. Mac and cheese. The real thing. I started with the recipe in the new Pioneer Woman cookbook, but you can also read her great blog and recipe here. It also freezes well. I just throw the frozen mac and cheese in the oven and reheat it at about 350 for 1 1/2 hours.

2. Soup, soup and more soup. I always make at least one a weekend. Typically I cook from "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker." This book remains my bible for slow food cookery. The bean soups are easy, cheap and filling. They also freeze beautifully which means all I need to do for lunch is grab a container of soup. The last few weeks I have been cooking chickpeas. They are so, so much better than the canned version. (Think of how good real pasta is compared to Chef Boyardee!) My favorite cheap lunch: mixing the beans with some shaved parmesan, olive oil, salt, pepper and either balsamic vinegar or lemon juice.

3. Pot roast. There are so many recipes out there. Most consist of browning the meat and cooking it with onions, carrots and some liquid. This dish is great for a Sunday as it is even better by Monday or Tuesday. The slow cooker is great for this, as is a slow braise in my new Le Creuset. (It is worth a drive to the Wrentham Village Outlets just to shop at the Le Creuset Outlets.)

4. Meatballs. We all love them. They freeze well. Adding oatmeal or bread crumbs just extends the meat. I mix the meat up with some dried onion, garlic, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. If I have grated Parmesan I throw that in, too. I brown the meatballs and then freeze them to bake at 350 or simmer in sauce.

5. Chicken soup. Although there version is incredibly high maintenance, I love the Cook's Illustrated version. It has a number of steps, but the broth is fantastic. When I am too lazy, I just simmer a chicken in the slow cooker.

6. I try to prepare any vegetables I have for the week. It is easy to peel and seed a squash. Once it is cut in chunks it can stay in the frig for a few days. I love roasting it with shallots and serving it over pasta with asiago cheese. Broccoli, cucumber, cauliflower, carrots and radishes can all be sliced up for easy snacks and dinner side dishes.

7. Tofu. Russo's has some truly delicious versions, but any will do. My kids are happiest if I simmer it for a few minutes and serve it with noodles or rice and soy sauce. I love it Korean style as I wrote about here. This week I used cooked noodles from H-Mart, and simmered them with bok choy, tofu and Vegetarian Oyster Sauce. It was fabulous and cheap.

So what are your go-to meals?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chung Shin Yuan, Newton

I love unexpected food. That can mean when a student gives me a taste of her Korean crackers that are simultaneously sweet and salty. It can be when a friend orders a dish that has spicy punch that I didn’t anticipate. Or it can be when I order a food that sounds so mundane, and what arrives instead is so different. I have driven by Chung Shin Yuan more times than I can count, especially since I grew up just a few miles from it. From the outside, honestly, it looks like a fairly dumpy little hole in the wall. But I had been told that their Taiwanese style Dim Sum brunch was so good that lines often snaked down the street. And while I continue to be hesitant in taking my peanut allergic son to dim sum, a morning on my own provided a perfect opportunity to brave the crowds and try out the food.

I have always enjoyed solitary dining, and, in fact, dim sum was the perfect forum for being alone. I used this chance to get recommendations from the other people who were waiting (read: squished) while waiting. Even better, neighboring dinners actually offered me tastes of their dishes, so I was able to meet some new people and try many new dishes.

I began with a beef noodle soup. It was redolent of star anise and was full of thick noodles. Sitting in the broth was meat that had fat clinging to the edges, making it rich and filling. Even better, though, was the suggestion of a customer that I dip the “Chinese Fried Dough” in there. The dough was actually more like a whispy cruller than the heavy saucers that you can get at a carnival. The sticks absorbed the broth creating a crouton of sorts.

I also dipped the cruller in one of my favorite treats: hot soy milk. This warming dish is simply sweetened fresh soy milk that is a cross between a beverage and a dessert. But it isn’t rich and is something I am coming to crave more and more. The steamed pork buns were very good. The wrappers were chewy, while the pork was moist. What made the dish, though, was a new twist: slivers of ginger that added a sharpness to each meaty bite.

The chive pies (pictured at the top of this post) consisted of little half moons. The pastry was flaky, resembling a more traditional turnover. But inside was a subtle mixture of chives, bean threads, tofu and garlic. They begged for a bit of soy sauce, but overall were tasty.

The most surprising dihs of my meal was listed as “spareribs and chitlins.” I expected to see traditional spareribs and fried chiltins (intestines) What arrived instead was an huge dish of…meat. On top were chunks of ribs, as well as earthy smelling pig intestines. While the chitlins were more of an acquired taste (and smell!), I loved the bed of roasted sweet potatoes that were smothered in garlic and tasted of pork.

I was simply too full to eat any more. But I will be back for two other dishes that people recommended: the “peking noodle” and tofu jelly with peanuts.

While Chung Shin Yuan would never be categorized as a relaxing experience, if your kids don’t mind waiting to enjoy a good meal, it is a great place for children.

Chung Shin Yuan, Newton, 183 California Street, 617-964-0111

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My Secret Save: Market Basket in Ashland

When a mom's group first recommended Market Basket in Ashland, my snob factor rolled on in. No way it would have organic food, excellent produce and whole grain baking products, I thought. But since I am always open to saving money, I decided to check it out. And, despite the narrow aisles and the crowds, I will admit that I instantly fell in love. And, each time, I giggle at how unexpectedly fabulous it is. On a recent visit I even found myself smiling about the great carts for toddlers which had a bench that my boys could sit on.

So, what do I love? First, the prices. They are shockingly low. Friends insist that they save 30% off of prices elsewhere. When ever I can, I purchase the Market Basket brand and have never been disappointed by the quality. For some items, such as the oatmeal I use for granola, the price alone is worth the trip. Second, the turnover is so good, that the produce fits the bill when I need something I can't get at the local farmer's markets.

But what I love most is the selection. They have an fabulous cheese selection with an unusually broad array of Latino cheeses, such as queso foundo, queso fresco, and queso blanco. In fact, their whole Latino selection means I stock up on masa harina, puposas, arepas, and plantanos each time I go.

They also have a wider array of "fun pasta" than anywhere else I have seen. My family has fallen for the Pastene brand with wonderful long hollow spaghetti, narrow lasagna noodles, super curly corkscrews ...
They have inexpensive organic, free range meats. They have the heavenly Kate's brand buttermilk (if you are lucky enough to arrive when it is in stock) and the best ricotta I can find at a supermarket: Biazzo. They have more beans than anywhere else I have been to. They also have a huge selection of all natural and organic products such as Bob's Red Mill Stone Ground Cornmeal, King Arthur Flours and cereals.

I even stock up on parchment paper and other staples.

Best of all, they have the old standbys that we need, such as Stonyfield Farm brand yogurt.

Do I go each week? I wish. But it is just a bit too far out of the way. But when I go, I stock up and always wish I could go more often.

Last (and critical tip): Go at the oddest hours you can. I suspect that they save money by stocking the aisles at the main times. That means that to shop there is a bit like the Indy 500 as you navigate among boxes, people and children. So since it is open on most days from 7 to 7, try and get there early or late.

Market Basket, 49 Pond Street, Ashland, 508-872-7410

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Few Breads Worth Discovering and Even Making! Peter Reinhart's MultiGrain Bread

My friends' eyes typically roll backwards when I tell them that I made another loaf of homemade bread. I remain perplexed as to why bread either seems to difficult or time consuming that it takes on the illusion of being something "other people do." Some of my favorite breads take minutes of actual cooking time, granted with the use of a very old and almost defunct Kitchen Aide Stand Mixer. (I have taken to entering any contest where one is offered just because I am not sure what to do on the morning that I wake up and it is dead!) Bread is so perfect to make in the winter as we are often in the house throughout parts of the day, making it that much easier to punch the bread down, put it in a pan, etc. But one of the myth's of good bread is that it is finicky. If the dough rises a bit more or less it will still survive! I love that it is one of the easiest foods for my toddlers to make with me. I love that it fills us up all week. I love that it freezes so well.

While I have about 10 different bread books, my hand's down favorite is Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice. He takes artisanal breads and has found a way to write the most simple and clear recipes for home cooks. Better still, as many of his recipes use an overnight chill in the refrigerator, they are actually great for parents. My sons and I will mix it up the night before. Then in the morning, they help me to shape the loaves. By lunch, they are gorgeous and ready.
I have had success with all his recipes: his pizza dough, his bagels, his ciabatta and his semolina bread. This weekend I tried his pain de campagne and met with rave reviews from the whole family. By using just a little bit of rye flour it added a lovely earthy taste. But the bread itself was so tender, that the whole family couldn't stop eating it.
But the bread I turn to almost every weekend is his "Multigrain Bread Extraordinaire." On Friday night, I mix cornmeal with multigrain cereal in a bowl of water. I also put the rest of the dry ingredients (except for the yeast) in the mixer. The next morning, I just throw the cereal mixture in the mixer with yeast honey and warm water and mix it until the dough just comes together. "
The bread, which is also made with the leftover rice that I always have around, is completely tender and smooth-despite being a multigrain bread. In other words, it is perfect for finicky children that don't love oats in their bread. It toasts up beautifully and makes heavenly grilled cheeses on the George Foreman.

Finally, if you are still daunted, Peter Reinhart recently came out with a new book: Artisan Breads Ever Day. I am not lucky enough to own yet, but a peak at a bookstore made me confident that it has the same easy techniques and clear directions, along with modified ways to make bread even easier for busy people. In fact, if you want to try out one of his recipes, just check out his bagel recipe at Leite's Culinaria. If you are still interested, you can check out last year's post about the joy of baking bagels with kids.