Thursday, December 18, 2008

With a Last Name Like Mine, Well the Burger Better Be Good!

I'm sorry that I've been so light with my posts these days. Busy busy busy. And by the time I get around to thinking about writing something either a.) I've forgotten exactly what it was that I ate b.) I don't have any pictures or any motivation to really pull something together. Sadly, my lazy ass ways get in my way too much in my life. But anywhooo....

Well, what sort of things have I been eating lately? A lot of homemade meals for sure. With the economy as poor as it is, E and I spend our monies buying groceries that allow us to not only economize but eat well too. Since we're both food lovers, going out for meals can sometimes be costly endeavors. But cooking at home allows us to enjoy some lovely meals for a fraction of the price of dining out, plus we end up with really fantastic leftovers for lunch.

Most of the meals we've eaten have already been documented here...homemade pasta and bolognese, pork chops but this week E made a really nice chili in the crock pot.

While the chili sauce/broth didn't really thicken up as much as what I'm use to the favors were still very good. And what really brightened up the flavor was a pear and orange pepper salsa that E used to top the dish. With cheddar cheese and fresh corn bread crumbled into the bowl, this dish was delicious, comforting and filling! I could barely finish my one bowl of chili. Maybe E will share the salsa recipe with you, or maybe not. But it's a great idea. I like the kinda homey comfort food chili paired with the freshness of raw pears and peppers. Sounds odd but trust me, it was very good.

As well as we've been eating at home, we certainly have been missing our stepping out for meals. Or at least, I have on occasion! I enjoy the act of sharing a meal at a bar or a restaurant with friends. And so last night E and I met our friend J and A for dinner. We decided to meet at Eastern Standard because they had some business to conduct as well as wanted to stop in for a pre dinner cocktail. I arrived and was famished. Since I hadn't had anything to eat, I decided to hold off on a drink right away. E arrived shortly after and we went back and forth about where to go for a nice meal. While E and I had a lovely quick conversation with Garrett Harker (I really do adore that man) and A + J called over to Tommy, the head bartender of Craigie on Main, to see if they had room at the bar for four. A and J have been raving about the burger, and well, I'm always in search for a good one. It turned out Tommie had room for us and after a short cab ride over the river to Cambridge, we arrived at the new Craigie Street.

What use to be a medium sized mediocre Italian restaurant had been transformed into a lovely cozy bistro style dining room with an open kitchen complete with a "chefs table" of a counter top and bar stools at the entrance. I didn't get to see much of the dining room portion of Craigie because we beelined it over to the bar to the right of the entrance. A little, fairly dark lit space, it oozed the word "cozy". We had a bit of a wait but soon enough we got seats and were able to properly greet Tommy. A and J know Tommy well, but I only know him because of his work at Eastern Standard. He would often take care of me and E. And when he first started she called him Dennis the Menace (a term of affection). Tommy was a very good young bartender. A pro at his craft with an easy manner and a very charming smile...he's a really good guy.

We ordered four burgers off the bar menu (all of them medium rare expect for me. I tend to like my meat as rare as possible) and an order of pate to share as a starter.

The pate was lovely. It was served with small dollops of grainy mustard, minced gherkin pickle, minced shallot, salt and black peeper and a tiny salad of frisee and baby greens on the plate. We all got served good sized bread points (toasted and big!) so we could spread the pate on. I was a little cautious at first and just took a little bit in case I didn't like it. Too bad that wasn't the case! It was absolutely delicious. It was meaty, fatty and creamy. The texture was both smooth but not so smooth that you didn't think it was house made. If I could have toast always spread with this stuff, I'd probably never eat anything else ever. That pate was so good and it truly didn't need any of the other stuff on the plate. I guess the salad was there to break up the meaty fatty richness of the pate but I didn't eat any of it and didn't want it. I was fine with fat and meat pulverized and spread on my toast!

The burgers came soon after. And they were lovely to behold. The buns were so perky and the sea same seeds looked as though they had been lacquered so the bun appeared to be almost looked fake. The burger came with fried sweet potato threads and more of that frisee salad. Tommy said that the buns were made in house especially for the burgers.

Okay so first thoughts: I wasn't happy that traditional french fries weren't served with it. I also wasn't happy that we weren't offered ketchup or mustard. I also forgot to ask for bacon for my burger for which I'm sure I would have been stoned by the chef. Anyway, all that aside...

The burger was very seasoned with salt. I liked that but I could see how that might be off putting for some people. I mean, I like salt and have been known to add salt to potato chips at times so that should tell you something. The meat was very loosely packed almost to the point of falling about too easily for it to truly be a "burger". While I don't love a dense pack, I do like a burger that holds together well. The meat was almost fork tender in terms of texture. Apparently it was a mix of lamb, beef, marrow, fat. It had a very good meaty mouth feel and I liked the amount of fat they used. The taste was everything a burger should be but the texture of the patty threw me a bit. I was pretty happy with it and thought it was so delicious that I didn't need mustard or ketchup but like the pate we were served prior, at least the grainy mustard was on that plate so I'd like to offered those staples.

The fried sweet potato fries or threads were very good but not my favorite. They got very cold fast and I actually found them hard to eat. I gave most of mine to Elizabeth (who loved them!) who traded me the other half of her burger. The little salad was a nice touch and I enjoyed it as a way to break up the meatiness of eating one and a half burgers. At this point, I also order a regular coke so I could enjoy the sugary sweet carbonation against the backdrop of the burger. I get a little nostalgic when I eat burgers. It reminds me of Dad grilling burgers when I was young. And the drink of choice back then? Well, regular coke, of course!

Overall, I enjoyed the burger quite a bit. I felt that it was well made and actually worth the $19 price tag. Yes, I would go back for the burger and definitely rate it higher than the Radius burger hands down!

However, is it possibly the best burger I've ever eaten? No. Burgers serve all sorts of different purposes for me from the nostalgia of Dad grilling to my poor college student days at Mr and Mrs. Bartleys eating a triple "Clinton" burgers elbow to elbow next to my fellow starving student friend to a relax burger at brunch with friends just because I can! I think that Craigie's burger certainly has its place and is possibly one of the best in Boston for sure. But I also think it shows the caliber of Craigie (it was very thoughtfully made and well executed) and made me more hungry to try other things on their menu. I want to go back for the chef's whim menu and some of those Nova Scotia smelts (think they're better that New Castle, PA smelts?).

But what made the evening so great was being able to share the meal with E, J and A and Tommy too. I will definitely rate that evening at Craigie very highly for the company and the food. So everything combined, the evening rated a perfect 1o for sure!

And on closing, I will say I finally had a drink after my meal. Tommy mixed what I think was called a 50/50 with this beautiful Vermouth I think that was called Doylton. It was a perfect end to a lovely night out with friends and loved ones.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving, My Single Contribution

Elizabeth did all the cooking this year! I was so happy to just chop veggies and make my daring bakers cake. I did contribute one item which I will detail later.

We ordered a locally raised turkey from Savenors and had to go pick up it. So after work on Wednesday (only a half day!) E and I took my rolling suitcase over to Beacon Hill to pick up the bird. I think the key to urban living sans car is a rolling cart or suitcase of some sort, fo' sho!

We decided to make the most of our time on Beacon Hill and went to Bin 26 for a lovely romantic pre Thanksgiving Day dinner. True to form, the service was great as was the company. The chef changed and so the food, while usually quite good, was a bit too salty. Actually a lot too salty. I felt awful but I actually (me, Queen of the Salt) had to send my entree back. It came back and was pitch perfect. Yum. A lovely evening spent with my favorite person.

So Thanksgiving dinner...I had nothing to really report. The meal was very good and there certainly plenty of food. The only thing I made was the cranberry relish which is a family tradition and one of my favorite things in the world. You can use it to cover the turkey or any other part of the meal that you might not find as tasty as other things. It's a wonderful little side because this relish is still really tart. Plus it's really simple and can be left on the stove to just simmer away while everything else cooks. Try it!

1 package fresh cranberries picked over for bad ones or stems
2/3 cup oj
3 tablespoons orange zest
2/3 or less cup brown sugar (clearly the less you use, the more tart the relish)

put all of the ingredients in a pot on the stove over medium heat. as the cranberries start to heat and pop, you may turn the heat down if desired but keep cooking the relish until all the cranberries had pretty much burst and the liquid has thickened.
can be eat hot or cold.

Daring Bakers Challenge November

This month's challenge comes from:
Shuna Fish Lydon’s recipe ( … he-recipe/)

And hosting this month:

I'm late in posting due to a weekend of missing internet access. Oh well. Better late, then never?

I admit that I let out a long sigh when I saw that this month’s challenge was yet another cake with buttercream frosting. I’ve made so many cakes since joining this group and well, I like cake as much as the next person but I’ve never enjoyed buttercream frosting in any form. It has a mouth feel of biting into a stick of butter for me. So to say I was a tad bit disappointed might be an understatement. But you know, I joined this group so I could bake more and learn more. And well I had done those two things so being a part of Daring Bakers is well worth mastering buttercream!

This month’s challenge was a caramel cake with a brown butter frosting. I saw that there was a homemade caramel syrup that had to be made and immediately that was where I’d tweak the recipe just a bit.

I had a new bottle of Bittermen’s Bitters that had been created just for my clothing shops. It was cleverly titled the “Sexy Freudian Slip” and had the essence of ginger, lemongrass, anise and hot peppers. What I wanted was a bitters that not only worked as something edible but also something wearable as personal scent. And did it succeed? It did! It’s a lovely earthy little perfume that is rather interesting and a bit musky and spicy. Plus it helps to make damn fine cocktails too!

So I decided to shake some drops of my “Sexy Freudian Slip” into the syrup once it cooled. Upon tasting the syrup, the flavor of the bitter really came through very nicely and I was surprised how well all those flavors went with the caramel syrup. It was quite a tasty little creation and I imagine it might be fun to use as a sauce for vanilla ice cream. It would definitely keep your guests guessing what you used to flavor the sauce!

Once the syrup was done, I moved into making the cake. I didn’t have a cake pan that I thought would be deep enough so I made two cakes instead of the instructed one. I cut down the baking time but I still think I might have overcooked the cakes a little. I considered soaking them in something to moisten them up, but personally, I felt that to do so would have been cheating a bit. However, the dry cake might have more to do with my crappy electric oven. Cakes never seem to cook well in my oven. Sadness!

Once the cakes were done, into the frosting. And here is usually when I sigh deeply and think “oh yet another buttercream.” But this recipe was different! And actually really kinda cool. Browning the butter was kinda like a fun science experiment. Who knew that butter contained so many solids? I strained the butter filtering out most of the lumpy solids but some of them did get into the frosting. The frosting was ridiculously easy and came together quickly. I took a quick swipe at the bowl mostly to test the consistency. As I started before, I hate buttercream so I wasn’t expecting to like what I was about to taste.

And what a complete shock I was in for! The frosting consistency was a bit more tender that most stiff buttercreams I’ve tasted plus browning the butter gave a really kinda complex flavor to the frosting. It was in short, freakin’ delicious! Sadly, the flavored caramel syrup taste didn’t come thru at all but the frosting was still an interesting and tasty creation. I was quite pleased with it. And definitely will be making the frosting again. Who knew that browning butter would make such a huge difference in taste?

The next day, in time for Thanksgiving dinner, I assembled the cake. I toasted coconut and pecans to put between the layers with the frosting. And began frosting my cake. The frosting was a bit firmer due to time in the fridge overnight. I had to nuke it for a couple of seconds to get it pliable. My finished product:

I think that the cake came out a little too dry as a result of my two cake solution or perhaps due to my oven. The short term eating solution? Cutting a slice of cake and pouring a bit of milk on top of it. It sounds odd but it’s really good and solves the dryness isse. Besides who am I to throw away cake?!? The frosting was kinda this amazing thing and I wasn’t about to throw that out! Sadly, even though the “Sexy Freudian Slip” shined through in the caramel syrup, the flavor was all but lost in the final product. Perhaps I could try soaking the baked cakes in the syrup next time?

Overall, this cake definitely will take some tweaking from me to get it right! But it’s definitely a keeper and I’m thrilled that I had a opportunity to make it. And this praise is coming from someone who was not thrilled at having to make buttercream, so you know this sh_t is the tight!!!