Tuesday, July 10, 2012

4th Annual Gin Tasting

For this year's gin tasting, we all found a nice variety of small-batch, domestic gins to go along with a few of the more common (i.e., mass-produced) ones, which really made for an interesting—and overall delicious—event.

Our lineup was—in alphabetical order: Barr Hill (VT), Bluecoat (PA), Cold River (ME), Death's Door (WI), New Amsterdam, St. George - Terroir (CA), Tanqueray, and Tanqueray Rangpur.

Here are a few notes from our tasters.

Barr Hill Gin from Caledonia Spirits in Vermont was a favorite. It was bright and sweet and had floral & honey notes, followed by juniper. It was very smooth, sweet, and highly likable. It would make a superior springtime martini.

Last year's winner makes another appearance in 2012. Bluecoat - American Dry Gin from Philadelphia Distilling in Pennsylvania is a nice, traditional gin. One taster found the flavors "very nice and juniper-heavy"

Cold River traditional gin from Maine Distilleries was new on the scene. Some tasters found it good and smooth.

I, personally, was not its biggest fan. For me, the nose had an odd odor to it that I couldn't quite get past. For a moment, I imagined it was crème de menthe.

It was, incidentally, my addition to the lineup, so I have it back at the house for plenty of follow-up tasting. If my mind changes, I'll let you know.

Death's Door gin from Death's Door Spirits in Middleton, Wisconsin was a nice find. My initial
reaction was "hints of black pepper!"and thought that spicy subtlety was great.

St. George — Terroir gin was also a favorite. I wrote "delicious" on my little sheet. Also: "warm spices, cardamom." Jeffrey said this one, to him, was the most unique with a "woody/anise/herbal
thing going on."

One change to this year's tasting was that we took a second taste of each gin with tonic. While most of our gins did not seem to change all that much with or without, I though St. George's citrusy flavors were brought forward with the tonic.

I won't bother discussing the others on the list; I'm sure you've all had them before. Anyway, after all that tasting, we took a vote for favorite gin of the night. With the most hands raised, our winner was...

Barr Hill!

St. George—Terroir gin took 2nd place.

Can't wait until next year!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Pig

I dig The Pig. That's also what the t-shirt I wanted to buy said.

I just got back from having a nice meal at "The Pig" in Chapel Hill, NC. I had read about it in Southern Living, and when I happened to pick up a copy of Chapel Hill Magazine in my hotel room and saw the nice write-up in there of the place, I knew this was where's had to go for supper. 

The Pig takes pride in whole-hog cooking an in sourcing it's food from the area. In fact, they get their meat from happy, "antibiotic- and hormone-free, pasture-raised piggies" raised by the good folks from the NC Natural Hog Farmers Association coöp. I think that's great.

In the CHM article, we get some insight into some of the owner's background and philosophy that is evident in the restaurant's own philosophy. (He was born in Boston, by the way, and is a former vegetarian/vegan.) Quoting CHM quoting him, he says, "[Being vegan], you need to be more aware of what's in food...That food knowledge is still super-helpful." (pg. 58). I agree: that knowledge is super helpful--especially if you want to know what it is, exactly, that you happen to be eating. 

Anyway. While I was waiting on my food to arrive, I started out with that Southern elixir: Sweet Tea. I was truly in hog's heaven. I LOVE tea and miss it so much. (It was really good tea, too!!!)

My food came out quickly. I got a small BBQ plate, which came with the choice of two sides. Having read the article, I knew the whole former-vegetarian thing about the owner and the fried green tomatoes and "sprouts-n-shrooms" caught my eye. Honestly, these two sides were my favorite thing. The meat was good and flavorful, and they had a nice eastern-style vinegar sauce; but, for me, those sides were just so damn good I could have had a plate full of them and left a happy camper. The superlative green tomatoes were nice and crispy and had an almost citrusy hint to them (lemon thyme?). I'm a sucker for good breading; these were done with cornmeal. Fantastic. The [Brussels] sprouts-n-shrooms we're also great, sautéed with a whisper of cumin. (Do try this at home!)

Oh! And as I was finishing up, the owner came in and I overheard him telling a customer that he was just coming back from the farmers' market in Carrboro, NC, where he was selling their house-made hotdogs (from those same piggies). Cool.

If you are ever in Chapel Hill and are looking for some good, local (in both the locally sourced and regionally inspired senses) food, you must seek out The Pig.

Smithson-Stanley, Lynsy. "The Whole Hog". Chapel Hill Magazine. September/October 2011, pp. 55, 58-59.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011


We're always on the hunt for some good Southern food. We love Blue Ribbon for its barbecue and really enjoy the more upscale Hungry Mother for it's French/Southern fusion but last week, we decided to try out Tupelo because it served more than just Southern barbecue and it seemed authentic; plus it got good reviews on by a few bloggers.

The atmosphere of Tupelo's is friendly. It has a bar up front as you walk in and then a dozen or so tables. We arrived pretty early (around 6pm) because they don't take reservations. Judging on the crowd I don't think you'd have a problem finding a seat before 7:00 on a Friday. Our waiter was very attentive and friendly and excited about the menu (which is always a good sign). We decided to start off with some pimento cheese and saltine crackers, a classic southern dish, which was good but I've had better.

For our entrees I had the daub of beef brisket ($19). The portion was decent and the beef came nice and tender with a very flavorful gravy and horseradish cream. I actually would have liked more sauce because after I gobbled up the gravy on the first half of the meat, the remaining beef could have used some more to dip in it to add that extra flavor and juiceness. My dish came with mashed potatoes; again, they were good although nothing much to write home about. At this point, I think it's probably best to disclose that I am married to a southerner, have had multiple southern meals, home cooked and out at restaurants down South so I may be more critical than a typical Northerner.

B had the fried chicken. He said it was very good and flavorful and that the breading was seasoned very well and the meat seemed that way too. The chicken came with mac and cheese spiced with jalapeño pepper. B liked it and enjoyed the extra kick that the pepper provided. The collards that the dish came with were cooked well but a bit too vinegary and seasoned a bit strangely to B (a Southerner himself), almost like there was Chinese five-spice in it. B is all for exciting but was in the mood for some traditional collards.

J got the North Carolina pulled pork plate. He writes: "Overall, I was not a huge fan of the North Caroline bbq plate. I was hoping for more of a sauce, regardless of whether it was more vinegar or ketchup-based, and I felt the meat's juiciness was more because it was fatty. The "grilled smoky sausage" on top was somewhat excessive and didn't really fit in my opinion. Meemaw's red beans were well...red beans and not much else. I'd honestly have to say my favorite part was the pickles, especially the pickled cauliflower. All the pickles were somewhat unique in the heavy use of ginger. Regardless, it's hard to turn down a big plate of meat, so I didn't have too much trouble polishing most of it off. I guess I was just hoping for more." J also mentioned that he was very pleased with the beer on tap. It was ale you normally don't see on tap at other places.

C got the pulled pork slider for an appetizer ($3). It was a nice size and tasted very good. For an entree C got the rib special which he felt was a bit too greasy. He wished he had gotten more sliders instead. He did really enjoy the pumpkin beer (Pumpking) saying it was the best one he's ever had.
For dessert we all shared the brown butter pecan pie. It was made by Petsi Pies just down the street. It was sweet and gooey and amazing. The crust was buttery and flaky and excellent. A fantastic way to finish off the meal.

Overall, I think we were all generally pleased with our meals at Tupelo but thought that for the price (most entrees were around $18) the food should have been more spectacular than it was. It's decent southern food though and if you haven't ever tried real southern cooking, Tupelo might be a good place to start.

Tupelo on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 17, 2011

Savin Bar & Kitchen

On a recommendation from a friend, we headed over to try out Savin Bar & Kitchen, conveniently located right across from the Savin Hill T-stop in Dorchester. SBK has a nice neighborhood feel to it. It's clean and airy (they had the long windows slid open for a bit) with a modern urban decor. You can sit at the bar to watch a game or head over to a high-top table or a regular table towards the back. We started our meal with some pumpkin beer from shipyard (16 oz for $5) and a Mayflower IPA. The menu is not huge but has a good selection of appetizers, sandwiches/burgers, and entrees. Most of the food is comfort food and sounds good. I decided on the smoked chicken pot pie (pulled smoked chicken breast, peas, carrots, celery, creamed chicken broth, potato pasta, flaky sweet potato crust) while B chose the mac & cheese with fried chicken (bacon, cavattapi, ritz cracker).

The pot pie had a thin but excellent dough crust made of sweet potato (it didn't taste like sweet potato though), it reminded me a bit of pizza crust. Inside there was a creamy very flavorful broth with bits of peas, chicken, and carrots. The potato pasta (gnocchi?) seemed more like mashed potatoes to me but maybe the pasta loses it's shape while it cooks? I didn't mind although I was curious to how gnocchi would taste in a pot pie (I assume delicious). It was a good pot pie, although I wish the inside was a bit chunkier or filled a bit more with items besides broth but I guess it was fine because it definitely filled me up. The best part was the crust on the rim of the bowl. It was salty and nice and crunchy.

B's mac & cheese was good as well. He was happy that the fried chicken tasted like actual fried chicken pieces and not just something out of a frozen food bag. He loved the addition of the huge chunks of bacon and enjoyed the Ritz crackers on top which gave everything a suprising salty crunchiness. Both of our entrees were a good size and left us feeling full with some left over on the mac & cheese dish to bring home.

For dessert, I had to try the ice cream sandwich on the menu. It's made across the street at Savin Scoop and it definitely was worth trying. I ordered a whole one for seven bucks. Comprised of a huge amount of ice cream wedged between two huge chocolate chip cookies, rimmed with sprinkles and sprayed with whipped cream, the sandwich was definitely delicious and definitely more than enough for two people. Next time, I'd order half and share it.

Overall, we enjoyed Savin Bar & Kitchen. It's a great neighborhood restaurant with enough interesting things on the menu to set it apart from a standard local pub. If you head there before 6pm they also have dollar oysters which is worth the trip itself.

Savin Bar and Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Brunch at Bon Savor!

With a friend having newly relocated to Jamaica Plain, several of us made brunch plans in his new stomping grounds at Bon Savor. Advertising itself as a French and South American Bistro, the restaurant used to serve dinner as well but now is focusing on only brunch. It was certainly packed enough at 11am on a Sunday, so hopefully that works out for them!

The space is rather small, but very warm and homey feeling with several tables and a bar. We were seated in the corner by the window and, despite the many delicious options on the menu, we made up our minds pretty quickly.

One very fun thing about the coffee served is that you have the option of a personal French press. We went with two larger French presses for the table, and the coffee was delicious. In terms of food, you have traditional options like eggs benedict, but also French and South American staples like croque monsieur and bistec a caballo. Or, if you're indecisive like me, you can get the best of both worlds! My Bon Savor Benedict was essentially a ham and swiss crepe topped with a poached egg and hollandaise, served with home fries on the side. The eggs were perfectly poached, the crepe just right, and the hollandaise not too heavy. The home fries on the side were equally well executed.

My second choice would have been the pulled pork benedict, one of the day's specials, and luckily three of us ordered it! The English muffins were generously covered in the smokey, flavorful pork. Definitely on my radar for next time.

Matt went with the Croque Madame, the glassic grilled ham and Swiss cheese sandwich with a French mustard twist, topped with two poached eggs and Bearnaise sauce. The brioche it was served on was thick, golden and buttery. Parfait!

I'm not much of a sweet breakfast person, but I feel it's fairly impossible to not enjoy a banana and nutella crepe. Topped with a bit of whipped cream, it quickly disappeared into Chris's belly.

Last but not least was the French omelet, stuffed with fresh avocado, sautéed
asparagus, tomatoes, and melted Swiss cheese. In Peter's words, "I am not a huge omelet fan but the omelet was delicious and exceeded my expectations. The size and the taste definitely made me feel like I was getting my money's worth. I'd order it again."

I would definitely return to Bon Savor for another great brunch. There was not a bad plate at our table, and for the price, portion, and flavor I'd say we found ourselves a little JP gem!
Bon Savor on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 26, 2011

Decorative Shortbread Cookies

Going through our DVR on Saturday, I came across a Barefoot Contessa episode in which Ina invites her friend over to show her how to make decorative shortbread cookies. Reminiscent of my mother's Halloween Cookies, I decided to give it a go. The cookies were a lot of work. Not because it took a long time to make the dough or icing (it was super fast) but because I made the whole recipe (I would suggest cutting the recipe in half unless you want 40 iced cookies hanging around). Decorating a few different types of cookies can be difficult with all the food color mixing and prep work that you have to do so I would suggest picking one shape and sticking to it, at least for your first time. Below is the recipe as I wrote it.

Decorative Shortbread Cookies:

For the Dough:

Mix together:
24 ounces all purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt

Then cream together:
3/4 lb butter
2 1/4c sugar
Add 3 large eggs
1tbs vanilla extract

Add in dry ingredients

Wrap in plastic and chill until firm
Roll to 1/8th of inch thick
Bake 350 degrees for 8-12 min

Makes 35-40 cookies

Icing for outlining (royal icing):
1 lb confectionary sugar
3 large egg whites
1/2 tsp lemon juice
Beat with paddle on medium speed until thick.

To make flood icing:
1/4 cup of royal icing
1tsp egg white
Consistency of maple syrup. Add more egg white if need be.

First outline the cookie using the royal icing in the same color that you will use for the whole body of the cookie. Then use a brush (#12 artist brush works best) to push the flood icing around on the cookie and cover up to the edges. Let dry (maybe overnight or a few hours) and then you can use more royal icing in different colors to make the details.