Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Good to be in the know

What should a chef do when he has a bunch of new recipes to try out but has no normal outlet for the creativity? Obviously, he should invent a fictional persona - complete with Mexican wrestling mask - and gather his friends and relations at a café in the depths of Cambridge for an after hours underground dinner. Obviously.

Please meet Chef Delicious. He is not nearly as scary as he looks. In fact, he is rather lovable, especially after you try his food. Chef Delicious is a professional chef in the Boston area who cooks New American food with a focuses on local (to New England), seasonal, and sustainable ingredients. He knows the farmers in the area, he knows when and what the land surrounding Boston produces and more importantly, he knows how to use it all.

I had been looking forward to his Mexican-influenced winter feast for weeks. It was my second Chef Delicious dinner and I could hardly wait, having a good idea of the quality of the food in store for me. To put things in perspective, attending this dinner was so important to the Texan, that he shook off a fever in the middle of his bout with the flu by downing a mouthful of pills of various shapes and sizes and demanding to be brought along to the dinner. Against my better judgment (the Texan may know yeast, but I know viruses), the Texan came along. I didn’t have the heart to deny him a feast, Chef Delicious style.

The Texan’s suffering was well worth it. A group of about 18 people gathered at a café past closing hours (as a favor from the café owners) to mill about drinking tart margaritas, smearing toasts with a spicy chicken liver pate, and hovering over absurd amounts of Island Creek oysters. With at least half the available oysters safely housed in my belly, the time finally came to sit down at long, white tablecloth-covered tables decorated with grant silver candelabras. At one end of the table, sat Alex Whitmore of Somerville’s Taza Chocolate fame. At the other end, my close friends from grad school. I got my dose of celebrity and friendship all in one, topped off by a ton of oysters. The dinner was barely under way but I was already a very happy girl.

First course out consisted of giant platters piled high with large mussels with orange peel and cilantro, paired with a lightly hoppy pilsner. Normally, I hate hoppy beer, but paired with the citrusy mussels, both the beer and the mollusks were transformed, playing perfectly against one another. I only wished I could pour the mussel juice into a glass and drink it. For breakfast. Every day.

Next up, a smooth black bean soup, garnished with a small dice of sweet parsnips and carrots poled in the middle. The black bean soup must have passed through about 15 sieves – it lacked the body I would have liked to have in a winter soup. I heard quiet longings for a crouton or crumbled queso fresco from people on either side of me and I agreed with both. Something was missing. Overall, not my favorite course. And not the easiest to photograph – ergo, the empty plate.

The next course set everything right. Oh how very right. Oxtail mole with sauteed spinach, roasted mixed winter vegetables and roasted potatoes. I don’t have the words to describe this mole. The sauce was thin but packed with flavor, redolent of peanuts and sesame. The meat cooked till it came off the bone, making for a mouth-coating collagen-rich velvety sauce. I wanted to bathe in the mole, to rub it on like lotion every day for the rest of my life. That recipe shall be mine, mark my words. The sweet, juicy winter vegetables played very nicely with the mole love. I was getting happier by the moment.

Next, an aged goat cheese with super sweet red grapefruit sections and a green salsa style sauce with parsley, sesame oil, and perhaps a touch of mint. Building harmony where none was expected, the sum of the course was far greater than it’s parts.

To calm the overstimulated taste buds, a palate cleanser of a sweet lemon and chili sorbet, served in wine glasses.

As if that wasn’t enough to please and satiate, there were two courses of Taza chocolate-centric desserts, beginning with a creamy spiced hot chocolate, followed by a chocolate tart with a cacao nib-studded whipped cream. To say that the tart was rich would be an understatement. The chocolate was very dark and a little bitter, almost tannic in its intensity. I was approaching unconsciousness just two bites in. one bite later I had to admit defeat. Too rich for my blood and too late in the evening for my cranky post-doctoral body.

All that was left to do was to thank Chef Delicious profusely for a wonderful and intelligent meal (it's an odd to say about food, but Chef Delicious' preparations really are intelligent. His food is unusual and thought-provoking, with flavor combinations reminiscent of but not quite in line with the expected). I reminded him yet again that I am an excellent chopper and am happy to assist and any and all future Chef Delicious endeavors, thanked his lovely wife, brother, and sous-chef who helped prepare and serve the meal, and rushed to get home, to bed, to sleep, to digest… and to reflect on how good it felt to be surrounded by amazing people, great food, and to be the envy of all the folks staring at the elegant gathering inside the closed café, wishing they were invited to the party. Hehe. Life is good in the underground.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Want not, waste not

Is that how the saying goes? I am not so good with English idioms. Regardless, you know how the garlic that you have kept around far too long starts to push out a little green sprout from every clove? The clove gives up all it's moisture and natural sugars, lending them to the sprout, leaving the clove not so good to eat. If you let the garlic sit around even longer still (say you are not so good with the housekeeping... not trying to self-incriminate here) the clove may even start showing you a little root.

So ok, I haven't been cooking much recently, which explains the copious amounts of sprouting, spawning garlic. Certainly have not been cleaning much. I don't know where my time has been going, I really don't. I am not too busy. I am not out every night. I feel like I am blanking a little, watching my life passing me by and only occasionally engaging. I have a few solid ideas as to why that's the case - having to jump back into herpes land has been about thirty clicks short of fun, for one.

I am in a holding pattern, waiting to see where I end up in another year, dreading the thought of remaining where I am. When the sprouted garlic clove that the Texan jokingly shoved into an empty flower pot (I haven't been so good at keeping plants alive either) took off, started pushing up with a serious sense of urgency, gaining as much as an inch in one day, I got a little jealous. Jealous of having some place to go and the means to get there.

Yea, that's where I am at. I am jealous of a garlic sprout. I am going to be keeping an eye on this garlic. I don't know the stages of garlic development and can't tell you what will happen to it next. When I figure out what happens to the garlic, and what happens to me, I'll let y'all know. In the meantime, if you guys could just fix up the economy a little bit so that I can get me real life grown up job, I'd really appreciate it. Thanx.


Saturday, February 07, 2009

To-die-for bread

I love that I have lived in the same place long enough to have developed traditions and habits. Some may say that’s a sure signal it’s time to move on, and they may be right. For now, however, I am enjoying the familiarity of Boston. I enjoy not getting lost very much. I enjoy being able to give (correct! I think) directions to people who stop me on the street. I like feeling at home and comfortable when I am in the city. I also love going to the same bakery every weekend, getting to know their specials and picking out my favorites.

I have to say in all honesty that this is one of the best bakeries I have ever been to anywhere. I am not saying this because of my love of Boston, or because everything I like has to be the best there is (although there may be some truth in that). I am saying it because Clear Flour blows my mind every time. Clear Flour is located in the middle of a regular neighborhood. There is a playground, some brownstones, lots of cute houses, but nothing that would indicate the presence of the best bakery in Boston. It’s a little hidden, and this makes it even better.

It’s usually pretty easy to find, however – just look for a line out the door and a smell that makes you want to get a cup of tea, a blanket, some snow, and a good book. That’s how good it is.

I always have to get the caneles when I am there – seemingly hard and burnt, the crispy caramel outside gives way to a custardy creamy inside filled with big air pockets and tons of vanilla. They are obscenely good.

A gorgeous canele

The black sesame garlic breadsticks are doused with a garlic herb butter. If I wasn’t pretending to be lady like I would lick the butter off before cracking into the breadstick. Incidentally, breadstick is really a misnomer for this creation – it’s more like a baby baguette, filled with crunchy black sesame seeds and garlic garlic garlic.

Canele, with a black sesame breadstick underneath, and Irish soda bread in the right bottom corner.

Though I don't have a picture (mostly because consumption of Clear Flour products begins in the car, way before the loaded bags make it home to the table and the camera), Clear Flour croissants are to die for. Really. I know people who would take a bullet for those croissants (my loyalty lies with the caneles). The croissants melt when bitten into, with the perfect combination of crunch and flaky butter. Not doughy, not crispy, not dry nor oily. They are the perfect combination of indecent amounts of butter, air, and flour. Nothing else.

All the things I have named thus far are always on the Clear Flour roster. They also have daily specials that appear once a week. Pick a favorite and show up on that day and come early, else they will sell out.

Last Saturday’s ritual pilgrimage to Clear Flour yielded a fennel and feta flatbread, garnished with thickly cracked black pepper and fennel fronds. I could have used some more fennel, but the feta was briny and light, not cream cheesy creamy, which I can’t stand.

Oh yea, and if you look closely at the very top picture in this post, the one through the bakery window, look closely. See the cakes on the right, labeled Chocolate Whiskey cakes? Enough said. This place is the greatest. It’s places like Clear Flour that make me a little less sad that I don’t have my dream job in my dream city. At least I have the best bread ever of all time. Things really aren’t so bad when there are caneles and baguettes around.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cheese pizza, all grown up

It’s nice to have a man who cooks for me. While I run around, stressing about the job I have, pining for a job I don’t, maintain 3 (three!) blogs and a sad semblance of a social life, I almost always know that I will have a good meal at the end of the day, even when I don't have the energy or desire to make it myself.

This particular meal, however, was a bit of a landmark for me. You see, about three weeks ago I applied for a job I desperately wanted. I thought it was the one, my true love, the job that will get me to London and I would live happily ever after. All the stars were aligned in my favor. Or so I thought. It was web publishing, it was science writing, I personally knew the person who posted the position, it was in London, and I made the mistake of starting to hope.

That was stupid.

I didn’t get the job. It was just between me and one another person and I didn’t get it. To say that I was bummed would be an understatement. I was probably more upset than I should have been. Thirty minutes after getting the phone call which unceremoniously crushed my hopes, I wrote to a lab head at my graduate institution. He had asked me earlier if I would be interested in re-joining his lab for a short term to conduct a set of experiments only I had the expertise to pull off. I gagged, threw up a little in my mouth, and said to myself, “only as a last resort.” And then it was, all of a sudden, time for a last resort. I emailed him and said I would start that following Monday. And I did. And here I am. Back in lab, a place I had sincerely hoped to avoid for the rest of my life. I am the sad loser-ish kid who moves back in with the parents after college, one who didn’t quite make it far enough on their own.

It sounds pathetic and it is, and I felt slightly pathetic (slowly getting over it now, by the way).

Needless to say, I was not much of a party the night after I didn’t get the job. The Texan, that brave (read: naïve) soul, knowing that I was pissy and cranky and decidedly unfun, said that he would come over anyway and make dinner. He came over with pre-made pizza dough from Whole Foods, cornichons, and a block of raclette cheese, determined to a) put up with me and b) re-imagine his favorite starter plate at Eastern Standard, raclette – a bowl of melted cheese with cornichons and fingerling potatoes, served with toasted baguette. When consumed with a beer, it’s in a word – perfect.

Pizza, being one of the Texan’s favorite things to make, seemed a reasonable way to turn raclette into an entrée without flying to Switzerland. He rolled out the pizza dough atop some cornmeal – while I whined – topped it with olive oil, a thick layer of grated raclette, boiled Yukon potatoes, sliced cornichons, a little bit of salt, and tons of freshly cracked pepper. He then popped the pizza into a pre-heated 550F oven until the cheese melted and turned brown on the edges and ridiculously gorgeous (about 10 minutes), while I, also ridiculously gorgeous, blew my nose and wiped my eyes in a completely pathetic manner.

When the pizza was ready, I was still grumpy, but ready to eat. And it was amazing. Raclette, for lack of a better description, smells very barnyardy. Slightly off-putting (if you’re a weeny), but oh so delicious once you taste it. The cheese is creamy, earthy, and very distinctive. It was punctuated by briny pickles and velvety, slightly sweet potatoes, held up by the crunchy chewy crust. It wasn’t much to look at, but wow was it good. I didn’t feel better right away (probably because I was on my sixth beer by the time dinnertime rolled around), but I was getting there.

The next day, I was still upset, but I had a fridge full of left over pizza. A person can only whine so much.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A German Photoessay

Everyone should have a German in their lives. Those people know food. I recently had the pleasure of having a wonderful German friend cook a wonderful German meal - and not complain when I got in her way to snap tons of photos. She was even kind enough to write out the recipe.

What I present to you today may be one of a handful of vegetarian German recipes in existence – no pig, no cow, not even a lowly chicken thrown into the mix. Don’t mistake it for a healthy meal, however – it is made of equal parts white flour and cheese (are you drooling yet?), and it’s just so good. Spaetzle, little boiled beads of flour and egg, are a perfect winter food, a perfect hangover food, and perfect with beer (I don’t see a contradiction here, do you?). The Germans, they know a little something about all three of these things.

The secret weapon in making this German delight? No, not David Hasselhoff. It’s the spaetzle maker – kind of like a slide set on top of a large bore colander, in the picture at the head of the post. The slide is filled with batter, forcing drops of it though the holes and into boiling water as it is pushed back and forth.

Spaetzle can be browned in butter and served as a side dish to just about anything. Alternatively, the spaetzle can play the starring, entrée role when layered with ridiculous amounts of cheese and topped with fried onions, German lasagna style (if it's not against the law to call it that).

The following is a visual guide to the making of your very own German delight, provided you have a spaetzle maker handy. If this doesn't make you want to run out and befriend a German with kitchen access, nothing will.

Here goes.

German spaetzle lasagna
Pan fry roughly chopped onions in olive oil until deeply browned. Keep warm. Have a medium-sized pot of salted water boiling.

Count on 100 grams of all purpose flour combined with 1 egg per serving (My lovely hostess combined 300g flour with 3 eggs... I think). One cup is ~125 grams, so you can use it as a general guide for the amount of flour you need.

- Combine flour, egg(s), and salt in a bowl.

At this point, the spaetzle can be gussied up quite a bit. My lovely hostess defrosted and squeezed dry a package of spinach and mixed it in with the batter, under the pretense of off-setting the dietary nightmare that is two pounds of melted cheese layered with white flour and egg. Not that I complained, mind you. I asked for seconds. I can imagine a grating of nutmeg being really nice in there, or maybe even some mushed up peas, for a German-British fusion sort of thing… if that’s not against the law.

Mix the flour and eggs (+ additives of choice) and add enough water such that the batter drops slowly from a spoon in a thick ribbon – sorry that I can’t be more specific as I was just a spectator to this wonderful event. I can tell you that the batter is quite liquid.

- Place the dough in the spaetzle maker set over a boiling pot of salted water.
- Move the spaetzle slide back and forth over the grid, effectively “grating” the batter into the water. See the beads dropping into the water? Maybe? Stir to prevent the batter beads from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

- The spaetzle are ready when they float to the top. Remove spaetzle as they are ready with a slotted spoon and transfer to a dish.

- Layer spaetzle with big handfuls of grated Emmental and Gruyere cheeses – the heat of the spaetzle melts the cheese.

- Top with browned onions.

- To serve, scoop all the way from the bottom of the dish, and have fun battling the strings of melted cheese. Yum. Consume with copious amounts of red wine and a salad on the side. Note: salad is optional.


Monday, January 12, 2009


Ugh, sweet lord, I have missed blogging. I really have. The last few months kicked my butt kind of completely. I applied for jobs which I did not get, ended my internship working on things in which I had no background nor education (and succeeding, shockingly, despite my own predictions of complete and profound failure), and avoided pondering my impending unemployment by running away to Rome, then Austin, then Philadelphia. Now I am back, unemployed (did I mention that I have no job?), with all the time in the world to blog and a back log of about a million pictures and stories that I had neither the time nor the physical and emotional energy to record before now. So here I go.

In the middle of all the work, and the job search, and the impending darkness of the 9-month long Boston winter, my little social circle suffered a terrible loss – one of my closest friends and inspiration for numerous blog posts on this very blog – left me, cold-heartedly, for three years in Paris. I am happy for her and all her baguettes and crepes, obviously I am happy for her. Meh. I am just sad for me.

Before she left me for Parisian cheese and wine (and can you blame her, really) we had one last hurrah at my place, a going away party with lots of friends, lots of booze, and of course, lots of food, close to Halloween. A momentous departure demanded a momentous dish. The Texan and I pulled off one of the more spectacular things that has ever come out of my oven – a whole pumpkin (picked with my own two hand at the same farm as the apples), hollowed out and stuffed with alternating layers of baguette, Gruyere, heavy cream and a tint of nutmeg, baked until the cheese and cream liquefied into a fondue, the pumpkin softened to a puree, the skin blackened and blistered.

The glorious party centerpiece, complete with rivulets of hot cream running out of the cheese fondue inside

The melted cheese and cream soaked bread, piled onto a plate next to a scoop of baked pumpkin flesh made for a picture perfect (and dramatic) way to bid good-bye (a temporary good-bye) to someone you love.

All hollowed out.

The recipe here.

Happy Birthday, Melissa! I miss you very much and am jealous, daily, of the newly Parisian you. And happy for you, of course.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sweeter Than Candy

Wooo, it’s been quiet on this little blog of mine. I am trying to figure out what I am going to be when I grow up, you see. This takes time. My internship is up in a month. If I don’t get a job before then, my butt is going to be a) unemployed or b) folding sweaters at the Gap. And I hate the Gap. I do, with a passion. The job applications and my current work are taking up all of my time, leaving nothing for sleep, much less blogging or the gym. My ever-tighter pants are testament to this. Sigh. They shrank in the wash, I swear.

Though I suppose that all the food related activities around New England in the fall could have something to do with my tightening pants. Autumn in New England is apple picking season. There are loads of farms around Boston growing multiple varieties of apples on short little mutant apple trees that you don’t need a ladder to pick from – standing on your tippy toes will get you to the top of most trees on these farms.

And these trees were loaded with apples. They covered the branches and spilled out on to the ground in a thick red layer. Apples on the ground were no better than banana peels in cartoons when it came to slipping and falling on your rear, but the smell they gave off was stunning, for a yuppie such as myself – like fresh, slightly fermented cider with a smell of grass and farm mixed in. It was intoxicating.

The apples themselves were marvelous. I can’t for the life of me remember which type of apples they were – either Macoun or MacIntosh. Alls I know is that thin bright red skin gave way to blindingly white, juice packed flesh. There is absolutely nothing like the experience of biting into an apple you just pulled off a tree. It's still alive and full of moisture and warmth from the sun and the tree. You can still see that the stem end is moist and green, still alive, still capable of pushing sweet fluid to the fruit from the tree. You don’t get freshness like this in stores. It’s an entirely different experience. The amount of juice in these apples was shocking, watermelon level juiciness, with the sweet juice running down your chin. Better, and sweeter than candy.

The apples weren’t as sweet as the apple cider donuts though, another mainstay of New England autumn. These donuts are spiced with cinnamon and apple cider. The ones at Boston Hill Farm were freshly fried, still warm and crisp, yielding to sweet and spiced on the inside. Unbelievable, New England fall taste.

Did I mention that most of the jobs I am applying to are in London? Yes, London. The UK kind. I will miss New England autumns, if I am lucky enough to make it across the ocean. My fingers, and my toes, are crossed.