Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pigna di Pasqua

It's been a tradition in my family since the 1800's to make pigna for Easter. Most of the time, when you hear of Italian pigna, it's a bread with yeast in it. However, when my family makes it, it's a type of cookie, very similar to Greek koulourakia. I'm not quite sure why ours is different, perhaps there is Greek influence in Southern Italy that carried over?

The recipe is quick and easy to make. After making the dough, we braid it into the shape of a crown of thorns and put colored eggs around it (to symbolize life after death). Then we make little cookies to go around the crown in shapes like fish or infinity signs or other shapes that have religious significance. It's a simple cookie, not too sweet and good as a quick bite at breakfast or even to dip into your after dinner coffee. Below is the recipe I use from my Grandmother. It should make 2 crown of thorns and a few trays of cookies, you can half it for one family:

Pigna Di Pasqua

2 ½ lbs flour
2 cups sugar
7/8 cup oil
4 rounded Tbsp baking powder
¼ glass milk
8 eggs

Mix eggs, milk & sugar. Add oil slowly & beat very well. Add flour & knead. Shape and brush with an egg wash. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until lightly brown

Use raw eggs to decorate ---making a fish ( several individual sized ones) or crown of thorns (usually three eggs spaced around it).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Beekman Book Signing

The Beekman Boys will be at the Harvard Coop on April 25th from 7-10pm signing their book, "The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir". Stop by to show your support and pick up a great read!

Bistro du Midi

This past Saturday, we celebrated two of our friend's birthdays at Bistro du Midi located at 272 Boylston Street across from the Public Gardens. Bistro du Midi, (as the name suggests) is a French restaurant that specializes in modern Provençal cuisine. We arrived for dinner at 8:30 and after being cheerfully greeted at the door and checking our coats we were escorted up the stairs to the main dining room. A larger room with an intimate feel, the dining room was chic yet understated, clean lines and white walls, it was an upscale comfortable feel but nothing to distract you from the real reason you are there...the amazing food.

We started our dinner with cocktails. All of the cocktails were good and not your typical gin and tonic fair. The one cocktail that stood out resembled a margarita on the rocks but contained tequila infused with poblano peppers and rimmed with salt/pepper. It was spicy but not too much so and was an amazing combination (note to self: buy peppers and start infusing tequila at home).

For my appetizer, I had the pork caillettes with herb salad and basil oil. I was not sure what a caillette was but the waiter was very good at explaining it to me. Basically, what it boiled down to was a mixture of pork meat and added pork fat and seasoning, mixed together and then fried. The outcome resembled a flat meatball and tasted incredible. Others had the marinated beet salad with Vermont goat cheese from Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery (I asked the name and give props to the restaurant for using cheese from VT), the seared foie gras, spicy lamb tartare with quail egg, and the stuffed calamari with lobster Jus just to name a few.

For my main course, I ordered the classic Provençal beef daube with olive oil mashed potatoes. The waiter told us it was one of the first dishes the restaurant chef ever created for the restaurant and it has proven so popular (and delicious) it has stayed on the menu ever since. Needless to say, it was delicious. Resembling a beef stew, the sauce/gravy was dark brown and rich. The beef needed no knife and fell apart on the fork. Combined with the olive oil mashed potatoes (with a layer of melted butter on top) the dish really was incredible. The same accolades were made around the table with everyone else's food. Roasted monkfish, lamb ravioli, and a steak special for two which was probably a pound and half of meat (first presented on a platter and then taken back in the kitchen to be cut up), were other dishes tried and loved.

For dessert, three of us ordered the chocolate souffle which had to be prepped 25 minutes ahead of time. It was the first time I ever had any type of souffle and I really enjoyed it. To be honest, I can't comment on the quality since I have nothing to compare it to but I assume, if we are going by the other parts of the meal, that the souffle was as good as you could get in a Boston restaurant. One item that we passed around the table for everyone to try was a small side item that came with the Chèvre Cheesecake: a basil sorbet. It. was. awesome. Such a unique taste, fresh but sweet and not overly heavy on the basil, it was an unexpected surprise to end the meal.

I have not had a meal out like this one in awhile. Maybe it was the company I was keeping but my whole meal was just such an enjoyable experience, from the drinks, to the waiter, to the food, it was a non-stop class-act. I would definitely recommend Bistro du Midi to anyone who is looking for an outstanding restaurant in Boston.

Bistro du Midi on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Metropolis Café

This past weekend after an afternoon at the theatre we headed down Tremont to settle into an early dinner reservation at Metropolis Café. At around 5pm the restaurant was warm and bright from the late afternoon sun shining in, and although it was empty, we were lucky to have had a reservation given it was booked for the entire evening. We were immediately seated at a table for four and presented with the day´s specials. Though the space is rather tight, the closeness of the tables and the fun counter bar give Metropolis a very neighborhood feel and don't at all leave one feeling cramped.

After enjoying fresh bread with olive oil we decided to skip appetizers and go straight for the main course. Were I to have indulged, a number of items caught my eye, including the Lobster, Goat Cheese and Leek Tarte with Petite Frissee Salade, the Lobster, Scallop and Haddock Chowder with Yukon Potatoes, Bacon and Snipped Chives, and the Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi with Duck Confit, Roasted Chestnuts, Gorgonzola, and Porcini Cream - next time!

I often can't resist nice-sounding scallops on the menu, so I went with one of that day's specials - the caramelized sea scallops with roasted tomato and pine nut fregola, basil pesto, and wild arugula. The scallops were wonderfully cooked and of course slightly caramelized, and the fregola, a Sardinian pasta akin to Israeli cous cous, was just enough to fill the belly.

Someone else enjoyed one of the other daily specials, the roasted squash risotto with herb roasted chicken, baby portabella mushrooms and a fried carrot garnish. Though a little overly rosemary-tasting for me, the risotto was nicely cooked and the chicken was tasty - nothing extraordinary, though. Also ordered were the Gloucester Haddock with Andouille Sausage Haricot Vert Ragout, Pommes Puree, and Roasted Carrot Nage. I must admit I was unfamiliar with what a "nage" was, but it turned out to be little more than a flavoured liquid used for poaching delicate foods, typically seafood, which is then reduced and thickened with cream and/or butter. Lastly was the Metropolis Chicken with Oyster Mushrooms, Haricot Vert, Potato Purée and Savory Pan Drippings. Both were very nicely done, though again, nothing out of this world. With our meals we enjoyed two great bottles of wine, a French grenache and and a Pinot Gris.

In addition to this experience, we've also been for weekend brunch, which, typical of the area, is a great bargain and an overall nice meal. The standard breakfast with two farm fresh eggs with Metropolis homefries and grain toast is less than $7, and other options, like the 3-stack of Maine Blueberry, Banana or Belgian Chocolate pancakes with blended Vermont Maple Syrup, are also fairly inexpensive. I was somewhat underwhelmed by the eggs benedict only because I felt it was on the small side and lacking in ample hollandaise, but it was certainly tasty enough.

Overall Metropolis Café is a solid choice for a good meal, whether dinner or brunch, while in the South End. I would certainly return for another meal, particularly the nightly $29.95 prix-fixe dinner from 5:30-6:30, which includes an appetizer, main course, dessert, and glass of wine!

Metropolis Café on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Gallows

To celebrate a recent success I was surprised to be taken to The Gallows, one of the South End´s newer culinary endeavors. Describing itself as "an extension of your own kitchen, only better", the Gallows offers reasonably-priced hearty fair from local cheeses and meats to poutine, burgers, and chicken and dumplings.

Being a celebratory occasion we started out with cocktails. A dirty martini drinker I couldn't resist the "Mother's Ruin", which consisted of gin, cocchi, house-made pickle juice, dill, and lemon essence - yum! Also sampled was the "Tar & Feather"consisting of vodka, cherry heering, black tea, ginger - also really tasty. At $9 they weren't obscenely priced, and I'd definitely be interested in returning for the "Abbatoir" (French for "slaughterhouse") - batavia arrack, veal stock, caramelized onions, lillet, and port! As for an amuse-bouche we split a hefty Scotch Egg - I mean, how can you go wrong with a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage mixture, coated with breadcrumbs, and deep fried? Other options of interest included a trout and bacon pâté, citrus sunchokes, and marinated mushrooms - next time!

We decided to skip a first plate, but some of the options sounded delicious like the smoked scallops with braised lettuce, pearl onions, peas, warm carrot dressings, and the "hangtown fry" - a fried egg, fried oysters, house smoked bacon, and red watercress. For my main meal I had a taste for a burger and chose the "Carpetburger", which came topped with fried oysters, american cheese, and remoulade. I had ordered it medium rare but the waiter, a medium-rare burger guy himself, suggested I get it done medium since the beef used at The Gallows lent itself more toward longer cooking. I wasn't disappointed. Also ordered was the "Wicked Early Spring Veg Shepherd´s Pie" with a potato-horseradish crust, mushrooms, barley, peas, pearl onions. Both dishes were great. The burger was nice and juicy with a satisfying amount of fried oysters in remoulade on top. The shepherd´s pie was pretty standard, though the nice surprise of plump, juicy pearl onions in every other bite really added to it. Along with my main dish I had also ordered a "red beer", which appeared on the draft menu. I had anticipated a red ale of some sort, but it turned out to be their version of the Latin American michelada, PBR with tomato juice, lemon, and spices, a purported hangover cure. I wasn't hungover, but sure! It ended up going quite nicely with the burger, actually.

After all of that we were ready to be rolled out of there. For unpresumptuous but delicious and satisfying comfort food, I'd definitely recommend a stop by The Gallows. Though it wasn't crowded on a Tuesday night, they only take reservations for 6 or more, and on the weekends I've seen it with a line out the door, so get there early if you can!

The Gallows on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 4, 2011

Saus | frietjes, gaufres, and poutine; oh my!

It was a beautiful day, and we thought a nice stroll and brunch of deep-fat-fried goodies would be perfect. So, to Saus it was. We had been particularly excited when we heard Saus was opening up: I mean a joint devoted to fries and waffles; how bad can that be?!

Once we figured out what to order, it wasn't too long before our hot treats were ready. First out were the waffles. I have to say, they were really delicious. Not at all like the waffles mom makes. Mom's are delicious; don't get me wrong. But these... Yum. The waffles at Saus were golden and crispy--an attribute made possible by the caramelization of the 'pearl sugar' that they use. As you might have guessed, Saus also offers a number of different sauces to go on their waffles. We tried the "homemade 'nutella'" (pictured) and the "lemon cream." Both were very good, but we thought the lemon cream was exceptional. (By the way, we all also really loved the dishes they were served in. I think they are local, but I can't remember from where. Nantucket? If anybody knows, please send us a note!) A few comments from P about his waffle: "I enjoyed the pearl-sugar crunch, and the waffles--although small--were delicious. The homemade nutella was not as hazlenutty as the name brand, but I liked that it was more of a sauce than a spread. The lemon cream was light and delicious, but I do wish there had been a bit more on it since it was so good." 

Soon after we devoured the waffles, they called us to the counter to get our frites. J got a fried egg on top of his, while the rest of us did not. Of course, Saus offers a number of creative condiments to dip your fries in: we chose truffle ketchup (fantastic!) and the chipotle mayo. After I'd already picked up my order, I noticed a few sauce specials on a side chalkboard: the sauce called "Green Monster" sounded great, and I'll definitely be getting that next time. (A recent update on their blog indicates that "Green Monster" will be joining the permanent menu of sauces, replacing their pesto.) We loved the way the fries were served in paper cones, which brought back memories of ketchup-and-mayo-smeared faces during afternoon walks in Brugge. The fries were fresh and good, fried well, and nicely salted. We were still hungry, though. We decided that while we were at it, we might as well get poutine as well.
Now, I never would associate poutine with Belgium; but, hey, everybody's doing fusion nowadays, so why not Belgo-Québécois?! In short, the poutine was great. We all had some and left full. We already knew the fries were good, the sauce brune was very nice, and the curds had begun to melt just enough to where they were creamy yet still held their shape. I only wish there had been more curds to go around. P adds some comments: "The poutine was great and the gravy was not as heavy as some gravy on poutine can be. It will fill you up without making you stuffed."

Along with the food, we were very happy with the friendly staff. They were very attentive and checked to make sure everything was to our liking. The décor was also very cute. Seating is limited, but hopefully that won't be a problem come summer as folks are more inclined to get a cone of fries to go.

We left happy and satisfied, talking about what we'd order the next time...

Saus on Urbanspoon

Pomodoro! A History of the Tomato in Italy

About a year ago, I was feasting on some pasta when a thought popped into my head. What did Italian people eat before 1492? Since the tomato is a "New World" fruit (yes, it is a fruit), there were centuries of Italian cooking before it was introduced to Europe. Well, as a Christmas gift this year, I received a book that explains just that. Pomodoro! A History of the Tomato in Italy, by David Gentilcore, traces the tomato from its humble written introduction into Italy on October 31, 1548 (it was viewed as a strange and horrible thing) all the way up to present day. While the book can be a bit dry in parts, overall it is quite fascinating. I learned a lot of interesting tidbits. For example, tomatoes didn't get consumed by the masses in Italy until around the 1700's and it wasn't until the mid 1800's that tomato sauce was married to pasta and became the popular dish it is today. Strangely, the tomato really only started to catch on in Italy right when Italy was becoming unified, so technically, Italians always used tomatoes in their cuisine (by that same logic though, you could say Italian cuisine is less than 200 years old). If you are Italian or just love Italian food (the book includes some recipes) and history, Pomodoro! is definitely worth a read.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Max Brenner

For months now I've been fascinated with the opening of Max Brenner since the giant blow-up rat appeared on Boylston street in protest of the chain's apparent use of non-union construction workers. Elsewhere around the world the chain has been boycotted for its connections to Israel. When it opened last week scores of union workers stood outside handing out pamphlets and discouraging people from entering. This was a place I was interested in checking out.

Walking into the restaurant it's clear that the theme is centered around "Max Brenner Chocolate Culture" as the entire place smells like chocolate. To the left is what would best be described as a gift shop with various chocolate products, to the right is a long bar, and ahead is the main dining area. The atmosphere reminded me of Cheesecake Factory given the warm browns, oranges, and reds throughout.

The menu is huge, with everything from white chocolate cheesecake crêpes to the chubby smoked turkey club. There is a wide variety of chocolate-based beverages like hot chocolate, chocolate chai tea, and a mocha frappé using cocoa from all over the world. Since it was brunch time we decided to go with something sweet and something savory and split them.

I opted for the "illegal chocolate chocolate chocolate pancakes" with 60% dark chocolate truffle cream, pure milk chocolate shavings, spiced pecans, caramelized bananas. This arrived very nicely arranged with two cute beakers of white and dark chocolate sauces. The 3 pancakes were tasty enough, and it was an overall very chocolatey experience. At around 15 dollars I would have to say they were overpriced, but I was by no means disappointed.

Our other dish was the "Sliced & Diced Steak “Pillow” Panini" -char-grilled & thin sliced skirt steak tossed with
diced caramelized onions on a bed of asiago cheese crisps, baby spinach, roasted tomatoes, red pepper aioli. Underwhelming. For as much good stuff as there was in there it should have tasted better - more salt? Nonetheless the bread was nice and crisp and light, and the beef was good as well. The best part was the waffle fries dusted with chili and cocoa powder. Though I didn't get much of the chili and cocoa powder, it's hard to make a bad-tasting waffle fry, especially dipped in the red pepper aioli served alongside the panini. At about 16 this dish, too, was overpriced for what it was.

Overall I'd have to say I was disappointed. The food was okay, the prices were too high, and the atmosphere was non-descript. I will say, however, that some of their sweets like the "chocolate chunks pizza" and the "deep fudge chocolate cake & shake" do sound delicious, so if I were to find myself with a sweet craving I would consider coming back.

Max Brenner on Urbanspoon