Saturday, December 26, 2009

'Twas the Night Before Christmas...

Our family's Christmas Eve tradition consisted of visiting our local Chinese buffet. However, with changing work schedules, we needed a new way to celebrate that offered a more flexible eating time. This year, I volunteered to make Christmas Eve dinner and serve it up with pasta bolognese. The recipe is an easy one -- most of the time, it just simmers on the stove and it's pretty forgiving in terms of cooking time. When we were ready to eat, we quickly cooked the pasta and we were ready to go! The pretty red meat sauce (garnished with chopped parsley) made for a festive meal. We ate heartily, trading stories of Christmases past and enjoying each other's company.

Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce (serves 6-8)
(adapted from Seriously Simple)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb ground sirloin
  • 0.5 lb ground veal
  • 1/4 c. milk
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, grated on a box grater
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 c. tomato sauce (I used homemade, but your favorite jarred kind is fine too)
  • 2 tsp dried basil leaves, crumbled
  • 1 c. dry red wine, such as Chianti
  • 3 in. long rind of Parmesean cheese
  • 1 lb tagliatelle pasta (or other medium-wide pasta)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • chopped flat-leaf parsley, to garnish
  • grated fresh parmesean, to garnish

In heavy bottom pot: heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add ground meat and saute until lightly browned. Drain excess liquid. Add milk and cook for 2 minutes or until the milk is absorbed. Transfer to a bowl, using a slotted spoon.

Add remaining 2 tbsp olive oil to same pan and saute onion & carrot, stirring occasionally, for 4-6 minutes or until softened but not browned. Add garlic and saute 1 minute more.

Add cooked meat, plus tomato sauce, basil, wine, salt, pepper & cheese rind to the pot. Partially cover and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer gently for 45-60 mins, stirring occasionally. Remove any unmelted portions of the parmesean rind before serving. Toss pasta and sauce together, garnish with fresh parsley and pass the cheese!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mmmm. Candy!

Having moved to the suburbs last year, I was very excited at the prospect of having trick or treaters. On Halloween afternoon, I swept the front walkway, put out my pumpkin and did an emergency run to the grocery store to pick up some more candy, all in anticipation of the costume hordes. They never materialized; we got 3 trick or treaters the whole night. I consoled myself by eating gobs of candy and drinking champagne.

This year, I won't go all-out with the candy. The reduced stash means I need to prioritize which kinds to get. Sure, there are the old standbys (3 Musketeers, Kit Kat), the old fashioned (Smartees, Charlestown Chews), and the new up & comers (last year's was the Reese's Crispy Crunch Bar), but which to get? Milky Way has already made the cut -- I love to pop them in the freezer and gnaw on them frozen.

What's your favorite Halloween candy?
Almond Joy
Junior Mints
Kit Kat
Milky Way
Reese's Peanut Butter Cup
Other free polls

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sign of the Times?

An interesting article today on discussed how local restaurants have been shuttered due to the downturn in the economy. I'm not sure I'm entirely buying that premise.

Persephone was a media darling, getting featured on the local news sources several times for their cutting edge concept: a high-end clothing boutique paired with a modern restaurant. The article tries to assert that the restaurant closed because of low sales, although it's implied that location had more to do with it than anything else. The author and owners also concede that maybe Boston diners weren't ready for such a concept-based restaurant.

I was surprised to see in the article that Icarus had closed, but as I noted back in January, Icarus' cuisine and service wasn't what it once was. Several years ago, the restaurant was packed with mainly middle-aged and older patrons on a weeknight. In 2007 and 2008, a few trips there showed an emptier dining room and poorer dishes. I definitely credit Icarus was being one of my first "foodie" experiences and I think the Chef's sentiment that foodies are now mainstream and more cultivated certainly rings true. But, I think Icarus' downfall was due to execution, not to more wallet-sensitive patrons.

The article closes by stating that diners now crave "upscale comfort food." With the mainstreaming of foodie culture, this makes a lot of sense; there's a mass market that wants something better than the Outback Steakhouse, but also wants something that's familiar and competitively priced. People will spend $5-$10 more a plate for what they consider superior food, but it has to be food they're willing to eat. Lobster mac 'n cheese, steak & frites and truffle-laced fries all deliver that experience. Restaurants close when they can no longer find their market or aren't delivering food and a dining experience that meets expectations. I think that is the bigger force behind the restaurant closures as opposed to fewer business lunches and aversion to high-priced dining in tough economic times. Cook what the people want, serve it in a nice environment at a price they're willing to pay on a regular Wednesday night and you'll do fine.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Amsterdam Roundup

Ah, Amsterdam. Was it really two weeks ago when we last met? During my extended weekend in town, I did my best to try a hearty sampling of food and drink. Here are some highlights.

Balthazar's Keuken: "Keuken" translates into "kitchen" and what you'll get here is a cozy neighborhood restaurant with contemporary flare. In a way, it reminded me a bit of Ten Tables in Boston's Jamaica Plain. The deal with Balthazar's is that they're only open Wed-Sat and only do two seatings a night. We were able to get the "early" reservation (7pm) on a Friday night. For the meal, it's a set appetizer and dessert and each guest can select 1 of 2 entrees. The night we were there, it was meat or fish, and being a party of two, we selected one of each. The appetizer was wonderful -- a delectable sampler that Glenn & I couldn't get enough of. The entrees were OK, but nothing amazing -- one was a roasted white fish on lemony pasta, the other was a local sausage on some sort of mashed potato. The other standout of the evening was dessert...warmed brandied cherries on a shortbread cake topped with mascarpone and pistachios. Oh and the cherries? They were also part of a brandy/prosecco house cocktail that Glenn enjoyed quite a few of!

Appetizer Sampler clockwise from top: Lentils with chorizo, duck confit, escargot with garlic and herbs, warmed gouda cheese, seafood mousse/cream on a Dutch cookie. Possibly butter in the middle, but we didn't eat it!

Glenn has cultivated a palate for the finer beers in life, notably Belgians. As such, one of the places on our to do list in Amsterdam was a stop at Cafe Gollem, noted for their extensive selection of Belgian beers. In this dimly lit pub, crowded on a Saturday late afternoon, they focus on the the beer. We staked out a spot and happily drank away, taking in the large beverage menu, the various glasses set aside for each brand of beer and the cat lazily sleeping next to the cash register.

The Dutch spice trade was a big business back in the colonial days and the Dutch did their best to capitalize on it. Throughout Amsterdam, there's a vast supply of Turkish, Indonesian and Thai restaurants (notably, we only saw 1 sushi place while in town). We jumped at the opportunity to try Indonesian food and booked a table at Tempo Doeloe. Reservations were required for this place and, oddly enough, you were forced to a ring a doorbell before they'd let you in. Once inside, we saw multiple tables stacked with metal trays powered by tealights. The thing to do here was to order a sampler of prominent dishes, have them be served in small ramekins and arranged on the candle-warmed tray to keep their heat. Dishes were served with a combination of saffron rice and white rice. Eating here made me think that the Dutch's involvement with the spice trade was purely monetary and that they did not have an extended history of actually consuming the spices. The menu warned against the "spicy" food and advised patrons to go easy. Upon sampling the food, we found that the dishes were flavorful with some heat, but nothing that would put you off. Except I was careful to avoid the huge chili pepper tucked into one of the dishes. :)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Eten & Drinken

That's "Food & Drink" for you non-Nederlanders.

Recently, I took an extended Labor Day vacation and jet-set off to Amsterdam for a long weekend. I had been to Amsterdam once before as part of a 24 hr layover traveling from Boston to Tanzania. During that trip I had a whirlwind tour of Amsterdam and squeezed in the Anne Frank House, a canal tour and some really good Thai food. For this trip, I had a whopping 72 hrs to explore the city, including sampling the food. Although still short, it was a blast!

Here are some Dutch tidbits I picked up on this trip:
  • Tosti's. Mmm, tosti! This is a grilled/pressed sandwich with meats, cheeses and or veggies. It's served on dense, flat Turkish bread and is closest to an American definition of "panini." Very delicious. They're rather common, but I was surprised that more places weren't open later serving them -- they seemed to be a good call for those with "coffee shop" munchies.
  • Panini. Here in the US, the panini means a gourmet sandwich, served on grilled flat bread and warmed/melted contents (cheese, meats, veggies). Best I can tell, in Amsterdam, this simply means "sandwich" -- white or multi-grain bread with some meat or cheese, served cold or at room temperature. Not that impressive. You have been forewarned.
  • Coffee. Coffee is ubiquitous here and locals and tourists alike cram the outdoor cafes from late morning through early evening to drink a cup and chat. Oftentimes, coffee is served in glass mugs, something I hadn't seen much of in other European countries.
  • Mint Tea. I didn't sample this, but it was on every menu I saw and frequently appeared on nearby tables. It looked beautiful -- light amber-colored water with mint leaves floating in suspension. Will have to try on the next trip!
  • Dam good beer. Amstel, Heineken and Grolsch are the top players, in that order -- judged unscientifically based on the number of signs outside cafes. Bars open early, but I was surprised to see that they closed relatively early (or at least the outside portions) as well.
More on specific Amsterdam restaurants in the next post!