Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Russian Plum & Almond Tart

This week marks another one of our (what seems to be monthly now) ethnic dinner parties. So far we've tackled everything from German, to Indian, to African food. This week is Slavic week. I was in charge of making dessert. I came across a simple recipe for a Russian Plum and Almond Tart. It's quick to make, looks pretty, and tastes good. How bad can that be?! Below is the recipe. Enjoy!

Plum and Almond Tart


1 1/2 cups plain flour
3.5oz chilled butter
4 tbsp sour cream

2oz softened butter
1/4 cup sugar plus 2 tbsp for sprinkling on top
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup ground almonds
6 plums
1/2 cup plum jam
4 tbsp flaked almonds

To make the crust:
Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Add the butter and mush flour and butter together with your fingers until everything is fully incorporated and looks like breadcrumbs.

Add in the sour cream, one tablespoon at a time, and mix to form a soft dough. Wrap the dough in serane wrap and chill for 30 minutes. (The dough is a dryer pastry dough than normal.)

To make the topping:
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Alternate adding in the eggs and ground almonds

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Roll out the pastry dough so it fits in a 12" round tart dish. Pour the almond mixture into the tart dish. Cut down the pastry dough so there is just enough to fold down a bit to create an edge (about 2cm). Cut each plum into quarters (make sure to remove the pit) and arrange on top of the tart in a nice design, skin side up.

Bake the tart for 30-40 minutes or until browned.

Warm the plum jam (15-20 seconds in the microwave) and put through a sieve to remove any large chunks of fruit. Brush over the top of the tart. Sprinkle the flaked almonds on top and glaze again.

Serves about 8 people

Monday, July 27, 2009

French Bread

Last night at 6:30pm, I decided to try out Julia Child's French bread. Ignoring the fact that it would take me at least 8 hours from start to finish (there are three rising stages) I began making my way through her very long recipe. First I mixed, then slapped, kneaded, slapped, tossed (got everywhere) and kneaded the dough which took a lot longer than I thought it would. After all that dramatic flair, I let the dough rise, then deflate, then slapped, kneaded, slapped, tossed (this time it wasn't so messy) and kneaded the dough some more. Again, after some dramatics I let the dough rise again, then shapped it into baguettes (it's more than just rolling it out, lots of folding and creasing is involved). Finally, I let the dough rise again and then transferred to a baking sheet and tossed in the oven. Julia's true master recipe calls for placing a really really hot brick in the oven with a tray of water and tiles (this all simulates a true french baker's oven) but since I had none of that, I followed her more simple recipe which uses a water bottle to spritz the dough at 4 different times in the first 12 minutes. This water is supposed to help the dough rise more and create a brown crust on the bread.

I was finished with everything around 2:30am. The bread looked pretty but it was definitely more of a pain-rustique look than a french-baguette look. Julia says this is okay, it takes lots of practice to get the shape right. The top didn't brown much at all but again, to get that look, you need to use that darn brick/tile method. However, the inside of the bread was excellent for a beginner (at least I think so) and resembled most baguettes I have eaten so I was super excited about that. I think the next time I make the recipe I'll either make it more of a boule shape or go out and get bricks/tiles that are required for the baguette look. Overall, it was a fun experience and one I'd be happy to try again.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty

The House of Mondavi, written by Julia Flynn Siler, is an excellent book that retells the rise and fall of Napa Valley's most famous wine family. You might known Robert Mondavi Wines for their iconic label of a spanish adobe-style winery with grand arch but do you know the drama and scandals that unfolded behind this serene setting?

Beginning with Robert Mondavi's father Cesare and his dream to create a wine empire for his family, Siler recounts how Cesare Mondavi purchased the Charles Krug winery and turned it into a family business. After his death, his two boys Robert and Peter threaten to tear apart the family company with their constant fighting. Rosa, the mother of the boys is faced with a choice, let the business crumble or cast-off one of her sons. After a truly explosive fight, she sends Robert, the eldest son, packing. Faced with no other alternative and already in his 50's, Robert sets out to buy his own vineyard and create his own family run winery for his sons Michael and Timothy to inherit. With fierce determination and an unwillingness to compromise, Robert soon creates one of the most famous and iconic wineries in all of America. However, the family troubles of his past still haunt him and his family, from lawsuits and affairs to sibling rivalry and corporate take-overs, Robert Mondavi is plagued throughout his career with trouble that overshadows his fame.

Siler does a splendid job weaving multiple accounts of the events that transpired and gives a balanced point of view of the family squabbles that seemed all-too common for the Mondavi family. The House of Mondavi is not only an excellent history lesson about Mondavi wines, but also of the Napa Valley and it's rise to prominence. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in wine or the trials and tribulations of running a family business.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

NYC 2009 or High Life on the High Line

This past weekend, P and I went to New York City for a wedding. It'd been a while since we were in the City, and we had an excellent time. Being busy with wedding activities, we did not go crazy and eat ourselves through the five boroughs; but, we did have a few culinary adventures.

The most exciting for me was my first visit to Zabar's, a gourmet delicatessen and food emporium in the Upper West Side (Broadway and 80th). I think P was very excited, too, since he has fond memories of going there as a child with his mother.

When you walk in, you are immediately struck by the wonderful scent and sight of olives and other briny things waiting to be plucked from their large buckets to become some lucky person's hors d'œuvre. 
But then, your attention is quickly drawn to WALLS of cheese. It made me cry a little. The prices seemed very reasonable and the selection unending. We tasted an excellent domestic smoked blue, but sadly, we did not take down its name in our hurry to see what was waiting for us around the next corner.

It was meat! And lots of it. Whether it's cold cuts, hot and cold entrees, and sides; salads; or fish, Zabar's has a lot to choose from. We decided to get some lunch from here and chose servings of chicken parm, chicken cacciatore, and pesto pasta. For me, the chicken parm was different than any I'd ever had in that the coating was quite eggy—as opposed to the crunchy breading I'm more used to. They also had a Chicken Milanese, which, I'm sure was crunchier.

Through to the next room, we found a small produce section and the bakery. Again, they had a large number of breads and baked goods to choose from (produce: not so much). They all looked very nice—the challah seemed to be going very quickly—but we were most excited to try their rye bread. Theirs is a nice seeded rye, and P & I were very happy to make a sandwich out of it. In fact, we snacked on the remainder of the loaf all weekend.

Zabar's also has a quite extensive array of fruit preserves, jellies, and jams. Some of my favorites—including ginger preserves and three citrus marmalade—were right there! (Coincidentally, we had gone to the Titanic exhibit the previous evening and seen actual Dundee preserves jars that had been on the Titanic and served to its guests during that fateful voyage. Zabar's preserves selection included today's Dundee preserves jars for contemporary New Yorkers to enjoy.)
As if that weren't enough, Zabar's also roasts their own coffee, and it smelled wonderful in the coffee section as customers' beans were freshly ground for them. Oh yeah, behind and around the coffee were spices, and we found there to be a nice selection there, too.

That's just the ground floor, folks! The 2nd floor at Zabar's is a large kitchen supply store. Their trendency to have a large selection of items (as I found myself repeating above) was certainly continued upstairs.

So, we purchased our items and headed to their café just next door to eat our lunch—opting out of a lovely lunch in Central Park due to P's extremely unfortunate abhorrance of picnics. (One can buy foods in the deli and take them next door to eat at a proper table or counter.) The café also offers panini and cold beverages—as well as tart frozen yoghurt they call ZA-Berry. I had to have some of the latter; so, of course, I did (my justification: "It's for the blog!").  It was actually fantastic. We've had this tart frozen yoghurt at other establishments (cf., Jeff's post) and have enjoyed it very much but could see why some people might disagree. ZA-Berry was just the right balance of sweetness and tartness that I believe should make it popular even with ice-cream-only folks. I got the Za-Berry Special ("It's for the blog!") and chose blueberries, pineapple, and strawberries as my toppings. Man, I want another...

Zabar's Café on Urbanspoon


We went to a wedding later that evening at the NY Botanical Gardens. It was gorgeous, and the food was amazing. We have an unfortunate lack of photos (probably due to our overzealous enjoyment of the drinks and inspired hors d'œuvres); so, you'll have to take our word for it: the food really was very good. At cocktail hour, there were carving stations! There were also other hot and cold offerings at the stations as well as beautiful passed bites. Filet mignon for dinner was followed by a delicious dessert dubbed "Espressomisu" (pictured below). Some photos follow.


One day, we took a stroll on the High Line, a new park in NYC which was built on an old elevated train track structure. Section one opened recently, and it is a must-see; it was beautifully conceptualized, designed, and excecuted. (Check out http://thehighline.org/ for info.) Many fun restaurants have sprung up in the vacinity—perhaps most notably in the meatpacking district in which the High Line ends (@ Gansevoort St.). You really should see this for yourself. Until then, here are some photos.


On our way back from the High Line, I wanted pizza, so we stopped at Ray's—ahem—"Famous Original Ray's Pizza" in Chelsea. I love eggplant pizza, and I knew Ray's had it. Luckily, I got the last slice as well as a slice of Margherita. P got a slice of bacon and a slice of sausage & pepperoni. (We also splurged and got a few garlic knots: "It's for the blog!") My pizza was exactly what I wanted. They were nice and crusty, and the eggplant was tasty. It was not the best pizza I've ever had, but I was satiated and satisfied. Peter was less happy with his choices:
"I hardly thought Ray's was memorable pizza.  I felt it was too heavy on the cheese, not enough sauce, and the crust was just okay.  Maybe my expectations were too high but I've had much better at chains like Papa Gino's.  Growing up in the area, I know NY/NJ has much better to offer."

Famous Original Ray's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Billionaire's Vinegar

I just finished reading Benjamin Wallace's in-depth look into the "Jefferson wine bottle scandal" back in the 1980's. His book, "The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine" dives into the mystery surrounding the Forbes family's purchase (from Christie's) of a bottle of 1787 Lafite claimed to have been owned by Thomas Jefferson. With thrilling detail, Wallace works as a detective to uncover the wealthy world of vintage-wine collecting and the famous, wealthy, and sometimes shady people who are involved in the business. It's a fascinating read, not only for the mystery of the Jefferson bottles (were they ever really owned by Jefferson? Are they as old as they claim to be?) but also for the amount of knowledge you gain from Wallace's research into old wines. If you're looking for a great story about wine and the wine culture of the rich and famous, this book is definitely for you.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Teranga - a taste of Senegal in the South End!

A month or so ago I was reading 'Stuff' magazine and came across an article about 'Teranga', Boston's new and only Senegalese restaurant. The word Teranga, itself, translates to something like 'hospitality' and having gone there yesterday I can certainly attest to the place's hospitable nature!

The restaurant itself is small and decorated with what I might call "modern African" decor. There are perhaps 7 tables for two along the window, another set of 7 or 8 along the side wall, and finally a bar that seats - you guessed it! - perhaps 7 or 8. On a Wednesday night around 7:30 I was pleased to see it was doing well, with two-thirds of the restaurant full. The menu itself is fairly simple, with half a dozen appetizers and a decent number of entrees. To drink they have a number of domestic and international beers, including options from Haiti and New Zealand, wines by both glass and bottle, and several wonderful-sounding fruit juice concoctions with ingredients like hibiscus and orange flower water.

We started with a round of beers - the 'Prestige' American-style lager from Haiti and New Zealand lager 'Steinlager'. Both were nice and light and went well with the Shrimp Brochette we chose as an appetizer. The shrimp came skewered with a number of vegetables including eggplant and onion and were drizzled with a delicious orange sauce. It was reminiscent of Thousand Island dressing looks-wise but less abrasive in its flavor - nice and creamy and not overpowering. The shrimp and vegetables were outstanding and had this incredible smokiness to them.

For my entree I chose the 'Thieboudienne', Senegal's national dish consisting of a white fish, rice, and a smattering of vegetables - carrot, cauliflower, cabbage, and cassava - all in a delicious tomato-based sauce. The fish was very meaty and had an almost salt-cured flavor to it which I enjoyed. I enjoyed the variety of textures and flavors with the vegetables, from the very starchy cassava (in the yucca family) to the soft cooked cabbage.

Chris chose the beef version of our shrimp appetizer - skewers of marinated beef and vegetables with a side of mixed greens and yucca fries. Again the skewers were drizzled with the tasty orange sauce. The beef was perfectly cooked - tender and flavorful with that outstanding smokey flavor. We both had a glass of wine to accompany our main dishes, but the names of them escape me.

We were a bit too full for dessert, instead asking who we presume to be the owner to recommend one of the fruit juices for us. She suggested her favorite, the Bouye juice, whose primary ingredient is I believe juice from the Baobab fruit. The juice was surprisingly white - very rich and creamy and surprisingly reminiscent of melted rainbow sherbet.

Having finished our meal we were thoroughly satisfied. For around $35 I had half an appetizer, a sizeable and delicious main dish, a glass of both beer and wine, plus a wonderful juice to end my experience there. I would highly recommend this new South End establishment to anyone looking for someplace fun and relatively inexpensive to have a meal!

Teranga on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Lala Rokh

I must admit, I hardly ever go to Beacon Hill in the summer....the amount of tourists on Charles Street usually is enough to deter me and drive me nutso but the rainy weather has seemed to keep some of the masses at bay, so I was more than happy to join my friend Julie for some good food and great company at Lala Rokh.

Lala Rokh is tucked away on Mt. Vernon street, right off of Charles St. The food is Persian and has won accolades from around the country. Seemingly small from the exterior, Lala Rokh is quite a large restaurant for the area with butter yellow walls, white table clothes, and warm lighting. Julie and I started off with some wine. The wine list was a good size with about 10 different types of wine by the glass (ranging from 7-12 dollars) and more half/full bottles that you could choose from. I got a delightful Riesling that paired perfectly with my main course.

We started off with appetizers.
(Now, before I begin, I have to tell you in advance: for some reason Lala Rokh does not publish their menu online or have take-home menus available (we thought that maybe the menu changes frequently?) so, being the consummate American, I found it very difficult to remember the names of the dishes we ordered, so you will have to pardon the lack of terms and just play along.)
We ordered two sets of appetizers. One appetizer was a beef croquet and was absolutely delicious. The croquet was a bit lemony and tangy and left our taste buds watering and wanting more. It was served with an awesome fig sauce that we happily slathered on. Our second appetizer was an eggplant tomato medley that was served chopped up—another good dish. It tasted a bit like tomato sauce (no complaints from me!). We ended up using our bread that we were given to scoop it up since it felt more like a dipping dish than something you'd eat with a fork.

For our main courses, I ordered the Loubia which is braised beef with green beans and cinnamon and pollo (pollo is not chicken, it's a type of flavored rice). The entrees were around $17-$22, but the portions were sufficient; and, by the end of my meal, I was full. My beef was excellent. It was slow-cooked, tender, and marinated with a mild sauce that reminded me of Indian food. Actually, to me, most of the food was similar in flavor to Indian food except less spicy (in my book, that's a big plus). Julie ordered another type of beef that had tomato in the sauce and it was excellent as well.

We opted out of dessert. Neither of us found anything that tickled our fancy too much. The desserts did look interesting though, most had some sort of rose water combination to them.

Overall, we had a fantastic dinner at Lala Rokh (in case you were wondering, it means Tulip Cheeks...don't worry, they explain on the back of the menu). The restaurant has a good atmosphere, great food, good portions, competitive prices, and the wait staff is friendly. If you love Indian food you will really like the food here as well. Definitely worth a trip to Beacon Hill....even in tourist season.

Lala Rokh on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 6, 2009

Frozen Yogurt at Berry Line!

Over the past year or so I've noticed a number of new frozen yogurt places opening up, reflecting the new trend of "tart", healthy, natural frozen yogurts as an ice cream alternative. While in Cambridge the other day I had the opportunity to try what Berryline, which opened in 2007, had to offer. Since then they have opened up 2 additional locations - one in Fenway and the other in Porter Square.

The choices are simple - they have the "original" flavor, plus two additional flavors each day. After choosing your yogurt type and size, you choose up to 3 toppings of fresh fruit, chocolate, graham crackers, and much more. Since it was a nice warm sunny day I kept it light with passionfruit frozen yogurt and fresh kiwi on top. It was very light and refreshing, and I could feel good about it considering it was fat free and made with skim milk and cane sugar. Check it out for yourselves!

Berry Line on Urbanspoon