Monday, February 28, 2011

For This Jam, I Shall Travel

Tucked into a non-descript building in Davis Square is Sessa's Cold Cuts & Italian Specialities. And behind the bricks is an array of pastas, cold cuts, cheeses, cookies and jams, many imported directly from Italy.
And, see, here is the thing. In the back corner of the store they have this jam: Fattoria Sicilsole Sicilian Blood Orange Marmalade.I had found it in New York at the Chelsea Market and fell in love. It is incredibly tart and just perfect on thick slices of lightly toasted bread and scones and even bagels. It is also, if I may say so, beautiful: thick slices of glossy ruby strands hanging out in the jam. Fattoria Sicilsole makes other wonderful jams and marmalade like a Sicilian Lemon, a Fig and a Tangerine. But while you are Sessa's, don't stop at the jams. I find it hard to resist anything blood orange these days and snapped up a blood orange soda that is perfect on its own or with a bit of vodka. The pasta comes in styles that are hard to find elsewhere, such as foot long strands of dried black squid pasta. So check them out. Let me know what you think.

Sessa's Cold Cuts and Italian Specialities, 412-414 Highland Street, Davis Square, Somerville

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Somerville Winter's Farmer's Market

Amidst a pile of snow and sunchairs blocking the rare parking spot, I found a place to put my car. I quickly realized that it was well worth the battle of the ice and slush. In a twin-domed building built in 1903 as an Armory, lies the Center for Arts in Somerville, just down the street from Davis Square. And inside that is another of winter's newest glories: The Somerville Winter Farmer's Market.
I walked in and could feel the excitement and energy as people milled around the fresh produce, organic meats, lush chocolates and music. It reminded me of all the winter markets I love: Wayland, Natick and the best of all, Providence.

My favorite finds? I first met Kate of Stillman's Farm at the Brookline Farmer's Market. I was thrilled that she had pork bones, perfect for making rich stock from the Momofuku Cookbook. She also had coolers filled with grass-fed and chemical free pork, veal, chicken, turkey and beef grown right on her farm in Hardwick! I headed around the corner to load up on sweet carrots (the winter-storing makes them as sweet as candy) from Winter Moon Farm who also had gorgeous watermelon radish and daikons. I chose Fuji and Mutsu apples to bake at home. Upstairs, Jordan Brother's had their scallops that are so fresh you can eat them raw or saute them for minutes. I also got flounder that I sauteed using a recipe from Dorie Greenspan's new cookbook.
Of course I made sure to get fresh bread from Hi-Rise to toast and top with homemade fresh mozzarella and gooey fig-filled burrata from Fiore di Nonna Cheese. And finally, I treated myself to a bar of the newly created and addictive salt and pepper chocolate bar from Taza.

Go alone or bring the children (it is a great activity for kids). But, a bonus-you don't have to worry about bringing cash as the market takes credit cards! Treat yourself to food that is direct from the source and support the farmer's who work so hard to bring it to you. And the best part-it will taste so very, very good.
There is a rotation of vendors at the market, but this week included: Enterprise Farm in South Deerfield, Winter Moon Farm in Hadley, Stillman's Farm in Hardwick, Apex Orchards in Shelbourne, Globe Fish Company in Boston, Hi-Rise Bread Company in Cambridge, Seta's Mediterranean Foods in West Newton, Elaine Hsieh Chocolatier in Somerville, Taza Chocolate in Somerville, Jordan Brother's Seafood out of Brockton, Fiore Di Nonna Cheese's in Somerville.

Somerville Winter Farmer's Market is at Center for the Arts at Armory, 191 Highland Street, Somerville, from January 8 to March 26 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Enjoying Dorie: Cooking from Around My French Table

My favorite cookbook of the year? EASY. In fact, this might be my favorite cookbook (and I have many). It is certainly the one that I am recommending as fast I can. I shouldn't be suprised. After all, the recipes on Dorie Greenspan's blog are always spot on. Anytime I see reference to her baking techinques, I know I am in for a treat. However, one needs just so many baking books. But, when I saw the publication of her first savory cookbook, Around My French Table, I knew I had to buy it as soon as possible. And, oh, how I love this book. I never intended to cook from it so much, but the recipes make me want to drop everything and run to the kitchen. And, in fact, each recipe is a treat. For working parents, better still, almost all the recipes can either be prepared ahead of time or can be made with minimal prep work.

What have I made so far (in order of the recipes in the book)

Gougeres (Cheese Puffs)-I wanted to love these. But they just don't stay puffed. Needless to say, everyone who has eaten them has raved about their rich taste. They demand a redo!

Pierre Herme's Olive Sables-These are...interesting. Mixed reception, but worth trying. The texture is so wonderful that I plan to substitute citrus for the olives.

David's Seaweed Sables-I love seaweed, but I didn't love how the taste transformed after baking. However, some of my taste-tasters thought they were fabulous!

Almost Cheez-Its: Another hit at a party. As a parent, I loved that they took minutes to make and can stay in the frig or freezer until you are ready to make them. They are also just delicious.

Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts-So far, the simplest and greatest success of the book. These are devoured. I have made them with almonds, pecans, and walnuts. No one can identify the use of chili powder, but it adds a subtle smokiness.

Pissaladiere-This was good. The key? Delicious and salty olives to counterbalance the sweetness of the onions.

Corn Soup-This was good, though a bit one dimensional. I far prefered it with bacon on top.

Leek and Potato Soup-Another healthy hit.

Celery-Celery Soup-Delicious. Even better with bits of bacon floating on top!

Creamy Cauliflower Soup Sans Cream-Fabulous and so easy. It will convince anyone to love cauliflower.

Orange Scented Lentil Soup-This is wonderful. It froze beautifully, making for an easy lunch or dinner.

Cheating on Winter Pea Soup-this soup is brilliant. First, it relies on the easiest vegetables to have in the house, including frozen peas. It takes minutes, but the final result is so delicious and misleadingly elegant.

Provencal Vegetable Soup/Garbure from the Supermarket-I mixed these two soups together after a fabulous haul at the Winter Farmer's Market. The key is the sausage. While the soup was delicious on its own, and was a wonderful vegetarian option, spicy andouille lifted the soup to another level.

Beggar's Linguine: This dish beguiled me with the idea of mixing figs, pistachios, almonds and orange zest into noodles. Next time I would just cut back on the butter as it was so rich. This dish would be fabulous with chicken, but I loved it on its own with a glass of wine.

Almond Flounder Meuniere: I loved this. The almonds add a wonderful crunch and this dish is incredibly light. And, of course, it was ready in minutes.

Scallops with Caramel-Orange Sauce-As evidence of my cooking-geekdom, I stared and grinned as the sugar melted into brown caramel. The sauce seemed to be a bit of a cooking-chemistry miracle and is wonderful. I can see it working equally as well on shrimp or even seared tofu.

Chicken in a Pot: A loved the idea of wrapping bread around a chicken. And the resulting chicken was delicious, though my bread tasted more like matzo donut. But it was lovely dipped in the stock/gravy.

Chicken Couscous (Sans Chicken): I had many root vegetables, even after making the Garbure. I also added cinnamon and some aleppo pepper. But it was warm and soothing on a cold winter's eve.

Steak a la Bourguignonne: Oh, this was so delicious. As I was a vegetarian for years, I struggle to make a decent steak. Finally, with the help of a cast iron, some butter, shallots and red wine, it was delicious.

Mashed celery root: This grew on me. In fact, I liked it more when I mixed in some mashed potatoes and some butter. I liked it even more when I browned it in a hot non-stick pan.

Braised endive-while my apples never quite melted, the endive had a soft bitterness that was wonderful with the fruits.

Broth-braised Potatoes: Classic Dorie. I got this ready in less than 5 minutes. They were as healthy as can be, so flavorful and perfect with the Bistro steak.

Long and Slow Apples-These are so ridiculously good. I cut back on the butter and enjoyed them as much warm as cold for breakfast the next morning. Think fancy applesauce or baked apples. The coriander adds an alluring citrusy scent that is hard to identify.

Sable Breton Galette-This sweet, salty and tender oversized cookie is delectable on its own with coffee or tea. I also topped it with some Meyer Lemon curd.

There are over 300 recipes in this book. Part of the joy, then, is that I know that I can continue to take pleasure in the photos, the treats and the techniques that Dorie Greenspan describes so clearly.

The book is available at most bookstores, and, of course, on-line.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bring on the Snow, Mother Nature: We Have Marshmallows!

Two boys under 5. 4 snow days and counting. An apartment. What exactly do you do? You play in the kitchen, apparently.

Marshmallow Creations: On one of the first snow days, desperate for activity, I grabbed what I could. A few hours later, my kids had created massive asteroid-like sculpture with marshmallows and toothpicks. They used food coloring to create shapes on paper plates and spread it around with straws. I just kept finding things in the kitchen-paper bags, cups, plates, raisins. No, this wouldn't win any environmental awards, but it kept the kids busy and happy.
Pretzels: By the next snow day (and an early release from school!), I stocked up. This time the day began with pretzels. I wrote about them years ago, and they continue to be one of the best things to bake with the kids. Regardless of the shape they create, the recipe from Smitten Kitchen ensures a delicious success as long as you eat them when they are warm. (A day later and they could break your teeth!)

Macaroni Sculptures: Taking advantage of a project from my sons' school, we took macaroni and smooshed them into play dough.
Ironically, one of their favorite activities? Classic: Boxes. Yes. At the last minute I got a few big boxes at the local store. We created beds for stuffed animals, a train and my kids raced up and down the hall in their "Boats." Cheap tongue depressors and q-tips helped add a few more minutes of building and designing.

But, because mother nature is what it is, I am creating next-snow-day back up plans.

First, goo: Just mix cornstarch with water and you get a few hours...and a bit of a mess. But, hey, there is always time to clean it up!

I may also try this new trick: using my i-phone and Legos to create mini-movies. Apparently that is a new You-Tube rage!

We have a box of sugar cookie mix to decorate and, I think pizzas may be up for next time.

Friends added a few ideas: water tables, playing with shaving cream or pudding painting.

Meanwhile I am also planning to buy an indoor trampoline, some roller skates and the new mini-scooters to get my kids some exercise. Red light-green light only goes so far!

Tammy of Food on the Food has written a few great articles about her attempts at fun on these indoor days.

And you? Any other ideas?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Twist on Some Old Haunts (And One New One!)

Over the last few months, I have had a chance to rediscover some of my favorite places. I also finally made it to the Clover Food Truck, which is popular in food circles...

Chirashi Sushi at Oishii

Oishii was long one of my favorite places to eat, but between distance and cost, haven’t been back in almost 2 years. (Though I have made it to the fabulous Oishii 2 in Sudbury.) One return visit and I remembered why this place is so special. The fish is so fresh and exemplifies sushi at its best. The Chirashi offers a great big bowl of wonderful sushi rice topped with ebi, tamago, many types of of fish and octopus. As good as the fish is, for me it is the perfect sushi rice that makes Oishii stand apart. They have lunch specials, but I am always temped to order off the broad sushi menu.

Breakfast at Sofra

Shakshuka poached eggs in spiced tomato sauce with shoug and pita crumbs: tomato sauce with cilantro; warm tomato soup with just a bit of heat; garlicy and cilantro. This is just one of a few breakfast specials that you can have before 11 during the week and 3 on weekends. I was actually proud that I chose that instead of the decadent looking sweet pastries are of Chef Maura Kilpatrick. (I also pondered the olive oil granola, but instead made a fabulous batch at home care of Melissa Clark's recipe.) However, you can still go for their delicious hummos and sandwiches (which I wrote about here) anytime.

The Bar at Craigie on Main

Craigie still reigns as my favorite restaurant for a nice night out. You can read about those dinners here and here. But I have long wanted to try out the bar menu and to sit and enjoy their fabulous drinks. On my first visit, I indulged in pigs’ tail. I had eaten them once before at Coppa and, this time again, was struck by what a delicious way to enjoy pork. Think salt and fat and wonderful meatiness. For the squeamish, you can be calmed by the fact that it looks like chunks of pork, not a curly tail care of Wilbur! (Update: since I wrote the post, Chef Maws has incorporated their bar menu into the appetizer section of the main menu. So, you can get the bar food at the bar...or the restaurant.)

Pad Thai at Rod Dee

The New Rod Dee is another of my favorites. (In fact, the first post I ever wrote was about the original (and recently closed) restaurant.) And each time I go I try to order something different. Their menu is so ample and offers so many dishes that you can’t find elsewhere. But on a recent visit, I went with “boring.” And the pad thai that arrived reminded me, again, as to how good simple food can be. The tender noodles, the sweet-sour taste, just begged to be inhaled spoonful by spoonful.

Lunch at the Clover Food Truck

The folks at Clover Food Truck make the 8 hour round voyage to Brooklyn, of all places, to pick up thick, soft pita bread to use as the base of their sandwiches. On my first trip to the truck, I munched with content on my veggie sandwich. It included slices of sweet roasted squash, onions roasted with thyme, a white bean spread with maple syrup and fresh swiss chard. The Clover Food Truck also recently opened up a restaurant in Harvard perhaps that is a place for a future visit.

Oishii Sushi Bar, Chestnut Hill

Sofra, Belmont

Craigie on Main, Cambridge

Rod Dee, Brookline (and soon Porter Square in Cambridge)

Clover Food Truck