Sunday, August 31, 2008

Not Quite Daring, More Along the Lines of Cute and Sweet

I was very, very excited about this month's Daring Baker Challenge. I was starting to get discouraged with the sheer amount of butter cream I was making every month. I've never been a fan of the taste of butter cream and so it was starting to feel like it was seeping out of my pores.

So I was so happy to see the Challenge take a new turn this month. Eclairs!!!!! The basic form for the recipe this month was from famed Pierre Herme. The rules stated by our lovely host blogger said that we needed to keep at least one chocolate element. Hmmm, nice. That wasn't going to take much arm twisting for me.

Lately, I've been craving Nutella. I can't keep it in the house because much like dulce de leche, Nutella falls into the category of Crack for me. So I thought I'd do a challenge that included nutella in some way, shape or form.

I decided that I'd make a Nutella "pastry" cream by mixing it with whipped cream and piping it into the pastry shells. This challenge was not only going to be interesting to me (as all of them are) but actually was going to be something I was excited about eating too.

I've never worked with choux pastry before and because there is a heating step to making the dough, I always assumed that choux was hard to make. And that couldn't have been further from the truth!

Luckily, E had already gotten all the ingredients together for us to use. So all I had to do was measure and mix. After I quickly measured and dumped everything into the heavy bottomed pan for heating, including the flour! Eeeek, I had to dump out my first try on the mix due to my flour mistake, but even still, the dough came together fast.

It looked really cool in the bottom of my pan. One cute little dough ball that later because a fairly sticky and gooey dough. Because I'm a fairly utiliartian cook/baker, I don't know a pastry bag or tips. Instead I loaded the dough into a 10 gallon plastic bag and cut off the tip. I considered making mini eclairs like Elizabeth had done but hers were very cute and I didn't want to compete with such cuteness. So I went the opposite direction and made big fat rounds out of the piped out choux pastry. Into the oven they went. I will say that we had to double, maybe even triple our baking time (well I did, of course, but so did E and she made the mini ones). So the baking time on the challenage seem a bit off. In any event, the puffs came out of the oven looking awesome. Behold!

They smelled divine. Egg-y and buttery. I was really excited. I let them cool and went about making a hole in the side of each of them so I could pipe in my whipped cream/nutella. Once I did that, I went ahead and nuked the nutella (or whole food equivelant that E found for me, thanks babe!) for 40 seconds. It was melty and perfect. After whipping my cream to firm peak form, close to butter, but not quite there, I folded in the melty nutella. Using yet another plastic pouch from my stash. I loaded the nutella whipped cream in and cut off the tip.

Much to my dismay, I couldn't pipe the cream into the holes I made. The choux pastry puffs were a bit more dense that I had imagined. So I gave up and just sliced them down the side and put the cream in the middle. It actually worked out better for me because it meant I could really load up the pastries with that yummy nutella whipped cream. Mmmm....

Afterwards, I drizzled on the glaze that Elizabeth had made for her eclairs. It had Iclandic dark chocolate in it. I broke off a piece and liked it alot. But I'll be honest. I didn't see much difference between that chocolate or hershey's dark chocolate. I guess I'm just a low brow girl ;)

I was very pleased with the final product.
Look at how cute they are! How did they taste? Um, let's see chocolate, nutella, whipped cream and freshly made choux pastry...that's a recipe for delicious!!! Needless to say, I was really pleased with the results. The choux was airy and eggy but still more dense than what I imagined it would be. I was actually very happy with the resulting pastry. Fairly simple to make, fairly cheap ingrediants and teedaaahh, eclairs!

The nutella whipped cream wasn't as complex in flavors as what Elizabeth did with hers. She used local Mexican chcolate bitters and added other spices as well to her filling. But there's something to be said for the simple. And since I was craving nutella, this challenge hit the spot with me!

Thanks for picking this as August's challenge. I absolutely loved it!!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I am...

craving anchovies. That is all.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


One of my shops happens to be downstairs from my apartment so often when I'm working I will just put a sign on the door, close the shop, run upstairs to make myself some lunch and amble back down. But I do like the lunch options in Fenway. My staff is kinda tired of the selection so it's a good thing a new Panera bread, Chipotle and a sushi join opening up. Our area of Fenway has a fairly ordinary demographic of a lot of offices in the area. Sure, more people and families are moving in but for the most part, the population tends to be desk jockeys.

Across the street from me and the store is a place that was once called Know Fat. As the name would imply, it was a fast food place devoted to "healthy" fast food. The signs were done up in such a way that it always made me think of Time Square or the Vegas strip. The sign seemed like it should say something like "Chicago on Broadway" or "Live Nude Girls". It was big and bold and lit up with big colored light bulbs. Sadly, despite the huge sign, I'd always forgot that Know Fat was there and even an option for food. I think I had it in the back of my head that it wasn't a food place. So I never had a chance to visit and try it. My staff had and they didn't love it but they did have good french fries and that seemed to the consensus.

Two weeks ago outside of Know Fat, stood two people dressed up. One as a giant froyo in a cup and the other as giant French Fries. The Froyo and the French Fries definitely did their job because they caused me to take a second look at a place I'd grown so accustomed to seeing in all it's neon glory. But wait! It wasn't there!!! And in the place of the "Know Fat" sign was a much more subdued sign saying "Ufood...feel great. eat smart". Hmm, looked like they changed their name and their sign.

Honestly, I'm not sure that Ufood is much better that Know Fat. Neither name really get me salivating much. But I was intrigued by the idea of a place that served tart froyo. This is probably the point at which you tell me, "Leah, just go to pinkberry".

Um, gladly, if Boston HAD one. And we don't. Seriously, please believe me when I tell you that not only is Boston slow to pick up trends in clothing but also slow to pick up on trends in food as well. Tart froyo is light years away from hitting Boston. Sigh. People are just beginning to infuse bacon into various things like bourbon, vodka but from what I've heard, New Yorkers are already ovah that!

So since our sour frozen yogurt places are few and far between aka we don't have any, I decided to give Ufood a whirl.

The place is set up so that if you want just a smoothie or froyo there is a stand for you in the front. If you're ordering more substantial things you go up the stairs and to the back of the place. The girl at the froyo stand didn't look like a very happy camper for some reason or other. Even those there was just one other person in front of me ordering. Hmm...I decided maybe I'd get a sandwich with my froyo just to avoid Cranky Pants in the front.

I was glad I made that move because the woman at the cash register was loving life. She was sweet and nice. She repeated the order back to me and even smiled several times. When my reciept printed out, she seemed really happy that I got a free coupon for a small froyo. "You can come back tomorrow and get it", she smiled at me. Omg, only if I get to interact with you! She was so sweet. I got my order to go so I could go back and man the store but also because the place kinda reeked of chlorox. And while I like knowing that anyplace involving food is clean, I don't really enjoy eating it in a place that smells like a public pool.

So how was everything? The portabello mushroom sandwich was expensive and kinda bland. It was very fresh and the bun was nice and squishy but eh, not great or memorable.

The frozen yogurt on the other hand. OMG!!! Okay so a small with fresh raspberries cost me $3.50 and if I wanted it plain it would have only been $2.50; seems like a bargain to me. And it was fantastic. The flavor was perfect and the machine it was pumped from ensured that it would be perfectly smooth. Overall, it was a reasonable price to pay for really tasty Pinkberry type yogurt. It might be my newest food obsession. And all thanks to people dressed up as giant containers of froyo and french fries.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dear People Who Make M and M Ads,

I have a bone to pick with you. It was alright when you gave M&M's faces and then even assigned gender roles to the various ones. Okay, it wasn't really alright, it was kinda creepy. I can't even eat a green one without thinking of the girl m&m in little white go go boots, or how about the red one who plays "smartie" to the yellow peanut one? Short of giving them names you made ads that seemed to subtly endorse cannibalism and didn't make any sense what so ever.

And now you are helping to introduce the world to premium M&M's by sexing up the green one. Enough already!!!!! I don't want to think about M&M's doing the nasty when I just a quick chocolate snack. And once again the ads confuse the hell out me. Am I suppose to want to be like green and think I can be a little sexpot if I eat premium M&M's? Does eating premium M&M's make me sexy? And why, for the love of God, why are the M&M's directing and staring in ads that endorse eating them?

Perhaps I'm just dense; I don't get the hip humor and messaging of the gendered M&M ads. So please just make it stop already.

An ex-customer who is too creeped out to eat M&M's anymore (even the almond ones!!!)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Hell's Kitchen - The Kiddie Edition

I saw this over at Serious Eats and just had to share it. I'm sure many of you've seen it by now, but this little kid gets everything about Gordon Ramsey right! Right on down to the hand on the hip with the other hand with fingers pointing accusingly. Omg, even as a child, Gordon is a bit terrifying.

I hope there will be more of these ads to come!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Day in the Life and Rachel Ray, This is How You Do $30 a Day!

"I had a very good food day" I im-ed to E late last night. "Really? Tell me about it." She im-ed back. And I did

And thus is my life with food. I think about food quite often through out the day. But some days aren't such good food days. The days when I forget to eat at the store and end up scarfing down a handful of nuts and a lone cup of water. Yeah, I know.

I have a true love/hate relationship with food. I know what I should eat and how much of it I should be eating but I can't stick to such things. If I was good, I'd keep to a protein shake in the morning, salad at noon and a big serving of steamed fish and veggies at night. I'd work out everyday and be all fit and shit. But I don't have the will for such things. I once asked a very cut male stripper at a gay bar, still wearing his g-string, if he ever ate chicken wings. The answer was no. And my response was "I don't want to live in a world without chicken wings". And that pretty much sums it up for me.

Like most women I struggle with thinking "life would be so great if I lost 10-20 lbs!". It's an uphill battle kids. Uphill! But what I've found is that the more I embrace the notion of good food for myself (and that DOESN'T include protein shakes) in any manner or form, the better off I am. I'm happier, more content and yes still motivated to work out and take care of my body. It's only when I veer off in either direction - starving myself (which I have done and it's not fun) or binging a bag of potato chips washed out with a huge chocolate shake that things don't work for me. I start hating my body and well, that's not good.

So yesterday was a nicely balanced day of food for me. It started with the perfect little latte and chocolate croissant. It had been freshly made and it was delightful. The layers were perfect and there wasn't just one but two long strips of dark chocolate folded into the center. I got my breakfast goodies from a place called KooKoo Cafe in Brookline Village. The line was a bit long for such a small place but it moved quickly and the person who was there working the register and getting coffee orders was so nice that I got my goodies and left a couple of bucks in the tip jar.

After that, I was off to run errands and such. Around 2pm I was getting hungry and was around the downtown area. I decided that since it was a very dreary rainy day, I needed soup. But not just any soup. I needed something with homemade noodles and veggies too. I went to my old tried and true spot in Chinatown - Taiwan Cafe. It's a restaurant where lots of additional menu stuff is written in Chinese on the walls. It's a place that served stinky tofu (it's 100% more stinky that durian folks) and makes no apologies for it. I've always loved the food there. I've had clams in a spicy black bean sauce that were so good, I was practically licking the plate, soup dumplings that were piping hot and sufficiently soupy in the middle.

Yesterday when I went, I was spoken to the entire time in Mandarin. When I opened my mouth it was clear I was so Americanized. But liked being treated like an "insider" for a bit. I reviewd the menu but what I wanted was comfort in the form of soup. And so I ordered the spicy beef noodle soup with spinach.

Since I was there quite late, I got to watch the wait staff clean and prep bags full of beautiful fresh green beens. They all sat at one table and did their work, clearly enjoying each other's company. It was nice to see. My soup came out very quickly.

This picture does the soup not nearly enough justice. The broth was very rich and spicy. The noodles perfectly toothsome and long. The beef was marbled with fat and just melted in my mouth. It was the perfect lunch. On most days I wouldn't have been able to finish such a big serving but I was really hungry and ate it all!

When I was finished I watched the people sitting around and loved the diversity around me. An older Asian couple finishing up some clams. A group of three giggling young Asian women dripping in Louis Vutton paying their bill and planning their attack at Saks. Finally I asked for my bill, but not before I was asked in Mandarin if I was done (or so I think I was asked hah!). The bill came to $6.50 and that included my diet pepsi too. Alright so this got me to thinking between my breakfast and my lunch, if I was Rachel Ray and on $30 a day (which we all know she's not b/c she makes 18m according to Forbes), I'd be pumped. But I'd also not give any sort of tip. I'd tip maybe 25 cents. Ugh. So thinking this, I had to overcompensate for that level of evil, I left a ten dollar bill and called it a day.

Later I hit the gym and worked on building up to 50lb kettlebell swings. Oye, one day I'll do a full swing! I was so pleased with my workout that I decided to reward myself with a nice veggie sandwich made on my George Foreman grill. That grill is fantastic for grilled panini sandwiches. I roasted up some peppers and eggplant I got from ghetto shaws and later layered them on top of some Italian bread that I had slathered with my homemade pesto. I added fresh local mozzarella (leftover from this insanely good dinner E had made a couple weekends ago) and green olives.

It was a great sandwich. Melty and crunchy due to time spent on the Foreman grill. I know, I know it's suppose to "knock out" the fat, but come on, it makes a fantastic grilled sandwich any day of the week and that is truly the only reason I still have it lying around.

I think the veggies sent me back around $10 and I bought enough so I could have roasted veggies for the rest of the week as well. So stuff that in your pipe and smoke it Rachel Ray!

Overall, I think I ate mostly locally made foods and fairly whole foods. Okay so the noodles, bread, cheese and croissant are really "whole" but they were all local and really lovingly made. Plus, I get my butt moving at the gym so I ended my entire day feeling really good.

A good food day indeed!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Places I'd Like to Eat at in the Next Few Months

1.) Hungry Mother
- Hitting it on Tuesday with E and friends.

2.) Salt
-I want to order the roasted duck a day ahead. And as someone said to me "anything you have to order a day in advance has to be good". So true!

3.) Oleana
-I love this place! It's my special dinner place. I never get to sit in their garden and I really want to be able to do that.

4.) Shiki
-Friends raved about this place and I've been dying for some good soba noodles. I don't mean that mass made crap but authentic homemade buckwheat noodles.

5.) Ten Tables
- I've been there twice before and I think I enjoyed it each time. But that was two years ago. Sadly, I don't remember the meals . I do think they were very good, but it makes me want to go back and see if it's truly as good as I remember. Most meals that I loved, I remember. This includes my birthday dinner from when I was 5. Mom made zucchini in a cheese sauce and I ate every damn bite, even though I'm not a huge zucchini fan.

6.) Craigie Street Bistro
-For years I've been meaning to try this place but the truth is I never made it out that far into Cambridge and when it comes time to decide on a place for dinner, it always goes forgotten. I've heard the Chef is a bit of a prima donna but has the chops to carry off such attitude. I wanna see for myself!

The Best Burger in America?

At this year's South Beach Food and Wine Festival, sponsored by Food Network, a competition over the best burger was waged. It was a contest hosted from Rachel Ray. She's a food personality I have very little tolerance for. Over exposed and irritatingly (and fake) perky, her speciality seems to be telling America how to not tip when working with only $40.00 a day and how to "figure friendly" hamburger stew is. Yum-o and sammie are not words and yet RayRay seems hell bent on always using them. Ugh

So since she was the host of this competition, I have very little belief in it's true validity. In any event, the burger at Radius was name #1. And I've been kinda curious about it ever since. It was only after meeting the bar manager from Radius that I decided a trip had to made to see for myself. I dragged E and a few friends along for the ride.

As an aside, I had been to Radius before for lunch during Restaurant Week about two years ago. I thought it was going to be a really fantastic little treat for myself. A lovely lunch to myself. The best thing about the meal? The space was unique and interesting. But the meal? Perhaps one of the worst I've ever eaten. I had an "spice" encrusted fish fillet. The spices were left whole. Have you ever tried eating whole coriander seeds, cumin, black pepper? After a few bites, my tongue actually went numb. It was an awful experience and I hated the fish. The dessert I chose was the german chocolate cake and it amounted to a very dry little lump of cake with caramel and coconut on top. It was like it came from a box mix. It was absolutely lame and I left very disappointed. I chalked it up the overall suckiness of Restaurant week in Boston and vowed that I would never do another restaurant week experience ever again. I feel like people in the food industry hate Restaurant week from the chefs to the servers. Why places participate and always do a half ass job is beyond me. If you don't want to do it, don't!!

And so I was a little wary of returning to a place where I had one of the worse meals of my entire life. But like I said before, curiosity got the best of me.

We met our friends at a table considered still part of the bar but big enough for all six of us. It was nice because it was still located in the bar section but was still part of the main dining room. The bar menu looked decent enough. Nothing too crazy...burgers, fried things...the usual. The only unique sounding thing on the menu was something called "low country" eggs and bacon. Hmm, when we asked about that appetizer, it was explained. It was deviled eggs. Too bad, E and I thought maybe it mean grits would be involved somehow. I was hoping white or red eye gravy. Oh well.

Our friend Avery ordered them. And I ordered the crispy oysters to start.

My oysters:

Avery's "low country eggs":

My oysters were fantastic. They were panko breaded and covered with perhaps $30 worth of saffron stems. The saffron did nothing for the overall taste but did look nice. The oysters were apparently local. They were quite small. I wish they were a bit bigger because much like fried clams what I love about fried oysters is that kinda creamy inside that tastes of the ocean. These oysters didn't have that but they were light and very well seasoned. I did enjoy them.

Avery said the eggs didn't suck but they certainly weren't the best he had ever had. We all loved the whimsical presentation of the bacon. Like a bouquet of bacon!

E, being the expert on alcoholic beverages ordered a lovely champagne for us to share. What the heck it was, I haven't a clue. I think it was rose in color. And it was expensive and special enough that the bartender scolded me when I tried to leave without finishing my glass. I passed the 1/3 left to E and she downed it for me. It was lovely and tasted crisp and bright. I did enjoy it but I'm such a lightweight when it comes to adult type drinks.

Onto the burger. E and I split one and the kitchen was kind enough to cut it half and give us our own plates.

Here is mine:

The burger cames with the cutest little copper pot of french fries. I have thoughts on both the burger and the fries. First the burger.

We ordered the burger rare. It was well cooked but very, very densely packed. Infact, I almost thought for a second the burger had been medium rare but it wasn't. The bun to burger ratio was decent.

Cheese and horseradish were already on the burger. Since I love horseradish I was ok with this but I think it's odd to make that choice for a customer right off the bat. It kinda reminded me of people who put liption french onion soup in their burgers. I don't know why but it felt like a very odd presumptive move. Plus the cheese really did nothing for me. It seemed almost tasteless or lost against the horseradish.

No lettuce, no onions and no pickles are offered. I guess for a $20 burger they're kinda making the statement that this burger doesn't need such things. But I love condiments and I love the way they enhance a burger. And since it is summer and produce is so great, a slice of heirloom tomato or a crisp leaf of local lettuce would have been a welcome addition for me.

The french fries were on the pale side. I like my fries with a little bit more golden. And while they were fried just fine, they weren't seasoned! It was a very obivious blunder after the intense seasoning applied to the burger. No salt, no truffle oil, no pepper, nothing! It was kinda odd.

Alright, so clearly Radius doesn't get my vote for the best burger. It was decent and by far much better than my earlier experience with the restaurant but overall, a bit pretentious and not completely well executed.

My favorite burgers in Boston still go to Eastern Standard (homemade pickles!!!), Aquitaine (anyplace that put creme fraiche in their mustard and boursin on their burgers is alright with me!) and U-burger (cheap and fantastic "fast food").

However, I was pleased to finally try the burger at Radius and look we even got two fantastic desserts as well. A goatcheese panna cotta thingie and something we all dubbed the chocolate unit.

Both were fantastic! As was the company for that evening. We had a great time and ended up being the most ruckus causing people in the joint. What can I say? I roll with some very fun peeps.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Clearly, I'm still eating but kinda boring meals. Nothing mind blowing for sure. Friday, I had some really good take out sushi from Sushi Fusion in Washington Square that E went off to get. And Sunday we had brunch at Eastern Standard but lately it's been meals at home for me.

The other day, I was in my ghetto Shaws and found local produce!!!!!! It was amazing to see and of course I had to buy some. I got a big bunch of beets. There were also yellow summer squashes and zucchini. Being that I'm not a huge fan of either of them I didn't get those items. I wish I liked squash and zucchini more because it's nice that Shaw's even stocked local produce and that's a move I'd like to support.

Anyway, I got my beets home and they looked great. I cooked the beet greens like spinach and decided I wanted to eat one of the beets from the bunch raw. I didn't know you could eat raw beets until I read a recent entry over at the Amateur Gourmet blog and saw him mention something about having raw beets. I adore beets but have only ever had them cooked or from a can (and I think those are cooked before they get canned). So I wanted to try it and see if it was something I'd like. I took one of the beets and peeled and chopped it. I added it to some yogurt I had on hand and seasoned it all with salt and pepper. I took the cooked beet green tops and the beets in seasoned yogurt and shoved it all into a toasted pita. It wasn't much to look at but it was a great meal! The beets were certainly not as sweet as they are when they're cooked. But they had great crunch and a flavor that was more like celery root or jicama. Plus the beets colored the yogurt bright pink. Fun! I was very pleased and will certainly be using raw beets in in the future.

Saturday evening, E made me dinner! It was delicious. Spaghetti and meatballs plus dessert. It was a lovely meal and a lovely evening spent watching Thoroughly Modern Millie together.

Sunday evening I was again on my own for dinner. I got the hankering for a blt but I didn't have any lettuce and I wanted to have cheese on my sandwich too. As I was reaching for my bacon from the butcher shop out of the freezer, I spotted my aioli that I had made a month before. I didn't use it all and froze it in hopes that it would keep alright. Well, my modified BLT were certainly need something mayo-esque so the aioli came out the freezer too.

I cooked my bacon in the oven and toasted my thick slabs of sour dough bread. I sliced my bacon and snipped fresh leaves off my basil plants and placed all of that on top of sliced fresh mozzarella. I warmed the aioli container under some hot water from the faucet and got it to unfreeze. I poured the homemade aioli on top of everything and when the bacon was ready put it on top of everything else. With a side of pickles and some grapes, it was a very comforting dinner for me. I think I might start putting aioli on all my BLT sandwiches from now on. Plus the basil was a great sub for the lettuce. I don't know that the cheese really added anything so I might leave it out next time but I love cheese and any excuse to try and include it, I'll always take.

So not a lot of meals out, but still a few great meals while staying in...Not a bad thing for sure!