Thursday, December 24, 2009

Montenegrin at Deta's Café, Chicago

Back in Illinois, my beloved land of Slavs, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try Deta's Cafe, a Montenegrin restaurant near my friends' place in Roger's Park. Montenegrin cuisine, like most Balkan cuisines, is a wonderful blend of all the influences that have passed through the region for centuries, from Ottoman to Italian to Hungarian. Located on the Adriatic Sea coast, there is also a wonderful Mediterranean influence that pervades the cooking.

Walking into the restaurant it felt like we were walking into someone's home. We were greeted by presumably Deta, a cute older Montenegrin woman who asked if we were hungry and led us to a table. What ensued was a conversation where she more or less told us what we were getting. That might sound ghetto, but what's fresh is fresh! She had a few salad options, 3 different bureks - spinach, sweet cheese, and meat - and then a gulaš. Ok!

We began with a nice simple salad of red pepper, tomatoes, onion, and feta with balsamic, plus some nice rye bread. It is incredible how delicious just a few fresh ingredients can be!

Next was the gulaš, originally a Hungarian dish but now a mainstay in many European cuisines. The beef was nice and tender - plenty for the three of us to split. It was served with pasta, common in the former Yugoslavia, which was fine, but nothing to write home about.

Last but not least came a massive plate of burek, both the cheese and meat varieties. Burek itself is a flaky, baked (or fried) phyllo pastry filled with a variety of delicious fillings. Brought by the Ottomans centuries ago, burek is now a hugely popular dish in the former Yugoslavia, with the rolled variety being the most prevalent. The flaky, buttery pastry with the savory fillings is a wonderful combination, and it's fun to eat it piece by piece as the roll begins to come apart. Both of ours were delicious, but the slightly salty and crumbly baked feta-like cheese one was my favorite.

Decently-full we still managed to find room for a small portion of homemade apple cake, which she brought out in three petite-sized tooth-picked slices. The cake was super-moist and the layer of apple was outstanding - just the right amount of sweetness.

I'd love to come back here again and have a look at the real menu, just to see what else Deta has to offer! Anyone who's a fan of Greek, Turkish, or other Southeastern European cuisine, as well as anyone up for something new and fun should definitely give Deta's a try!
Deta's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cookie Swap!

Recently, we went to our first cookie swap. It was fantastic, and I hope it becomes a holiday ritual.

Unfortunately, I don't have all of the recipes to share, but I do have a photo of some of the goodies we got to bring home. We took P's now-famous biscotti (12 o'clock on the photo below), and we were glad to know that recipe #5 is a keeper.

Below, you can see what came home with (starting at 1 o'clock and going clockwise) "comic fortune" cookies, chocolate "crackles," chocolate-covered mint cookies, macarons, peanut butter/chocolate chip cookies, fig pinwheels, and orange/ginger slice-'n'-bake cookies (unfortunately, you're not able to see the latter). The event was a great success, and I think the bar has already been set very high, so we'll have to start getting ready for next year now. ;-)

I am going to try my hardest to get the recipes for the macarons and the fig pinwheels so they can become part of my own cookie repertoire! ;-)

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Mayor's Christmas Deals

The 6th-annual Mayor's Holiday Deals have been posted online. There are some fun dining deals as well as other specials. Check it out at

Here's what Mayor Menino has to say:

Your home for the holidays! is your ticket to a festive day, a sparkling getaway, and memories you’ll cherish.

Wishing you good cheer.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

New York Burger Stand on Boston’s Seafood Turf?

The NY Times today has an article about the possibility of a NY burger stand filling the vacant old public restroom building on the commons:

New York Burger Stand on Boston’s Seafood Turf?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Portland's Perfect Pastries

On a recent trip to Portland, Maine, we were taking an evening stroll after having gorged ourselves for dinner at a chowder house and happened upon a little bakery. It was nighttime, and they were closed; but, we could see that the bakers in the back were busy at work. It smelled amazing, and we promised ourselves we'd come back the next morning for breakfast.

Well, lucky for us we did. I'm going to go ahead and say that it was the best almond croissant I'd ever had—even in France!! The buttery deliciousness was crispy and full of delicious almond paste. It was heaven in a paper bag.

We also got some breads to take with us, and they turned out to be delicious as well: one pain de mie and a boule au levain.* Now, I only wish I knew where to get these things in Boston!

Standard Baking Co on Urbanspoon


Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Taste of Nice!

Over the past full week I had the opportunity to travel along the Mediterranean in the Côte d'Azur region of Southern France, spending the largest chunk of time in the gorgeous city of Nice. That being said I was able to indulge in some delicious Provençal cooking, some of it particular to Nice itself. Ironically, however, the one thing I did not consume was the infamous Salade Niçoise. Le must go on.

Lou Pilha Leva
One restaurant which we had read about in our handy guidebook, Lou Pilha Leva, presented us with the opportunity to try several of the city's specialties while in the old town. The first of said dishes were farcis, small roasted vegetables stuffed with a simple pork, egg, oil, herb and breadcrumb mixture but whose taste is anything but simple! In our case the vegetables (or fruits, in the case of the tomatoes!) were tomatoes and courgettes. I'm sure every Niçoise grandmother has her own recipe, and I look forward to perfecting my own at some point.

Our next dish was the Socca, more or less a crêpe made from chickpeas, flour, and oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. To be perfectly honest the socca didn't do much for me - I found them a bit bland - but with some anchovies and olives I'm sure they would be just delicious.

Next on the list was pissaladière, a delicious flatbread/pizza made with sauteed onions, garlic, and olives and topped with bits of anchovie. The crust is a bit thicker than that of what I could consider standard pizza, but its just perfect with all the oil and juices from the toppings soaked into it. Last but not least was a hearty serving of Moules Frites - delicious mussels in a mustardy broth served with French fries. Of the three times I had mussels in the city, these were definitely my favorite - not at all overcooked and very plump and flavorful.

Le Resto
The best restaurant we went to in Nice was tucked away in the Old Town and called simply 'Le Resto'. I couldn't resist doing the menu, given that for around 20€ I'd get 3 courses, so I started out with some nice crisp bread with an anchovy pate and an olive tapenade for spreading. Both were excellent. For my main dish I opted for the Ravioli Niçoise, choosing to lean a little toward Italy and check out some of Nice's pasta offerings. This dish was incredible - the little pouches of dough almost melted in your mouth and were doused in delicious oil and herbs, primarily fresh parsley. Inside was beef and who knows what else, but whatever it was was divine. Alex chose a dish of fresh scallops baked into a small casserole and smothered in buttery breadcrumbs, zucchini, and just overall deliciousness. On the side came a mound of rice with a nice sweet taste that complemented the casserole nicely. Kelsey went with the gnocchi smothered in a gorgonzola cream sauce - how bad can that be?! As to be expected the gnocchi were wonderfully cooked and the sauce left you wanting to lick the plate. My dessert, a tiramisu-esque concoction, was quite tasty but not overly emblematic of the region
and hence not worth writing home about.

One last treat we couldn't help but indulge in in Nice was lavender ice cream! Provence is hands down the place for lavender, so why not make an ice cream with it? This was a winning combo for anyone who likes that strong floral flavor and just the right amount of sweetness.

Oh Nice, I'll miss you!

Notes - Le Resto is located at 2, Rue Rossetti, 06300 Nice and Lou Pilha Leva at 10 rue du Collet - Vieux Nice

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pumpkin Ale

What is your favorite pumpkin ale?

On a recent autumnal trip around New England, we sampled a few pumpkin ales.

Smuttynose was closed, so we headed into downtown Portsmouth, NH. There, at Portsmouth Brewery, we got a nice sampling of 10 different beers, and their pumpkin ale was included. It was very spicy and did not taste particularly of pumpkin. All I could taste was cinnamon. Sure, it was seasonal, but I expected more pumpkin flavor.

Our favorite of the weekend was Shipyard's Pumpkin ale, which was both pumpkin-y and warmly spicy. (Shipyard brewery is in Portland, ME.) P also quite likes the label on the Shipyard Pumpkin Ale bottle. ;-)

Let us know what your favorite pumpkin ale is so we can give it a try!

Friday, October 23, 2009

More Cheesy Vermont

Recently, we were lucky enough to visit some points of cheese interest in Vermont.

Taylor Farm, right outside of Londonderry is a small farm of 50 dairy cows that produces some EXCELLENT local Gouda-style cheeses. They are open to the public, and while you are at the farm, you are free to take a walk around the grounds and meet the chickens, ducks, guinea fowl, goats, and cows!! When we drove in around 4:00pm, the cows were literally coming home; it was milking time!

We walked in the shop/welcome center and sampled some of the cheeses. Again, Taylor Farm makes Gouda-style cheeses—Vermont's only! In addition to original, they also have maple smoked, Chipotle, Garlic, and Nettle. My personal two favorites were/are the Nettle and Maple Smoked versions.

After tasting some cheese and talking to the fun fowl, we went to visit the ladies in the barn.

We were able to see the milking process—and even taste some of the fresh milk. I'd never tasted better milk. It kept saying it tastes like the field—in a good way. I wish we were able to buy more raw milk products in the US.

Before leaving, we went back into the shop and began asking some questions. Before we knew it, we were shown the cheese-making room! They'd just made cheese that morning, so we missed seeing the cheesemakers in action, but it was still very interesting.

After the curds are separated out from the whey, they are cut, cooked, salted, pressed and formed, and then placed into a brine/whey mixture.

After brining, the cheese is set to dry and cure in a refrigerated room. In the photo above, you can see the difference in the batches made, I believe, a week apart.

Cheese coated in wax and set to age.

I definitely recommend stopping by Taylor Farm if you are ever in the area of Londonderry, VT. Our next plan is to do an entire Cheese Tour of Vermont. I'm excited for that. I would love to visit some of the farms making the cheeses we sampled last year in Vermont as well as the many others the state has to offer. If anyone knows of a particularly good local dairy farm or cheese maker we should include on our tour, please let us know!

Ginger Pear Upside-Down Cake

I had some pears from my parents' trees in Vermont, and I wanted to do something special with them. I found a recipe for a Ginger Pear Upside-Down Cake and decided to give it a whirl. It was good and pretty nice-looking and easy to make. I think I would add a bit more spice to the actual cake though...either that or make some more of the "topping" as a sauce one could drizzle on top of each slice. Give it a try and let me know if you have any suggestions!

Ginger Pear Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Leslie Mackie’s Macrina Bakery & Café Cookbook

For the topping:
3 Tbs salted butter, at room temperature
½ cup light brown sugar
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
4-5 medium to large ripe pears, peeled, cored, and quartered lengthwise

For the batter:
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup light brown sugar
2 Tbs peeled, grated ginger
3 large eggs
2/3 cup molasses
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 ½ cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Oil a 9-inch springform pan, and line the bottom with a 10-inch circle of parchment paper.

To make the topping: combine 3 Tbs butter, ½ cup brown sugar, cinnamon & salt in a medium saucepan. Melt the butter over medium heat for about 1 minute; then pour the mixture into the prepared springform pan, completely coating the parchment paper. Place the quartered pears on top of the butter-sugar mixture, lining the pieces up tightly in a decorative circle so that none of the bottom shows through.

To make the batter: cut 2 sticks of butter into 1-inch pieces, and put them in a large mixing bowl. Add ¾ cup brown sugar, and cream the mixture on medium speed for 3-5 minutes, until it is smooth and a pale tan color. Add the grated ginger, and beat 1 minute more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the eggs one at a time, beating on low speed and making sure that each egg is fully incorporated before adding another. When all the eggs have been added, slowly pour in the molasses and beat to fully mix. The mixture will look as though it is “breaking” or curdling, but don’t worry—it will come together when the dry ingredients are added.

In a separate medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to fully combine.

Alternately, add small amounts of flour and buttermilk to the batter, stirring and folding with a rubber spatula until the dry ingredients are just absorbed. Do not overmix the batter. Pour and scrape the batter into the pear-lined pan, smoothing the top with a rubber surface. The pan will be nearly full.

Carefully transfer the pan to the center rack of the oven, and bake for about 1 hour and 45 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the cake’s center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Cover the pan with an upside-down serving plate; then carefully invert them together. Release the sides of the pan, and lift it away. Gently lift the pan’s base off the cake, and peel away the parchment paper. Allow the cake to cool for a half hour or so, and serve warm, with whipped cream.

Yield: One big cake, likely serving 10-12 people

Friday, October 16, 2009

Panellets - A Catalan All Saints treat

As we get closer to the Tots Sants (All Saints) Holiday, bakery and confectionary windows here in Andorra have begun to advertise for the traditional All Saints treat, panellets. Literally meaning more or less "little breads", panellets are delicious little confections made primarily of marzipan. The most popular and arguably most delicious are those dipped in pine nuts and glazed with egg whites. Any fan of marzipan, almonds, or nuts in general MUST try them. At around 1€ a piece, however, they are not the cheapest sweet habit to get into.

The panellets, along with roasted chestnuts (castanyes torrades), sweet potatoes (moniatos), and a dessert wine like a sweet moscat (moscatell dolç) make up the traditional Tots Sants dessert spread. I'm thinking I need to learn how to make panellets myself and post a recipe ;-)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sagres - Cerveja Portuguesa

After a bit over a month of residing in the Principality of Andorra and enjoying all the wonderful food here, I think it is about time I shared some of my experiences. I hereby decree the commencement of 'A Taste of Iberia and the Pyrenees', with frequent installments featuring products, recipes, and anything else related to food and beverage in this glorious corner of the world.

For this first entry I would like to recount a small beer tasting we held casa nostra in which we progressively tasted the 3 primary varieties of the Portuguese beer 'Sagres'. Given that the Portuguese make up some 12% of the Andorran population, it is no surprise that Portuguese food and beverage are easy to come by. The name Sagres comes from the Portuguese town of Sagres, located at the Southwest tip of the Iberian peninsula. The biggest selling beer brand in Portugal, Sagres was first introduced at the 1940 Exposição do Mundo Português and has had great success ever since.

The first beer to be tasted was the simple Pilsner Sagres Branca, the flagship brand and biggest seller. The taste was simple and clean, but nothing to write home about. It is comparable to many of the other inexpensive pale lagers produced in Spain and Portugal and would probably be best described as a simple table beer. It has a 5% alcohol value.

Next on the list was the Sagres Bohemia. Launched in 2005, Bohemia lager is a noticeably darker amber color and presumably inspired by the beers of the Czech Republic. This is my favorite of the 3 for an everyday beer - it is aromatic and flavourful but not too heavy on the wheat, which can make one feel uncomfortable after throwing a few back. It has a slightly higher alcohol content of 6.2%.

Last but not least we tried the Sagres Preta (with Preta meaning "dark"). At 4.3% alcohol it is the least alcoholic of the three, but what it lacks in punch it makes up for in flavor. Also available since 1940, it was for a long time the only available dark beer in the Portuguese market. To me it had a slightly smoky flavor, and I was surprised by how light it was considering its darkness. Andrew and Mike picked up some some coffee and nutty tones, but unfortunately my congestion prevented me from any deep tasting insight. I could definitely see myself drinking this while stuffing my face with say...pork ribs, since clearly I would want to fill up on the meat, not the alcohol, but at the same time would still want to have a nice, rich beverage to enjoy.

Still on the list to try are the LimaLight - Sagres' answer to BudLight Lime and all of those other Chelada-type beers - and then the Bohemia 1835 Reserve. Unfortunately I have yet to see either in the stores - and trust me, I have explored the grocery store options here in Andorra. Given the number of Portuguese in Massachusetts, I know as a fact that Sagres is available back home, but as to the Bohemia and Preta varieties, that I couldn't tell you - keep your eyes peeled!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

San Francisco Day 4 or "Leaping Menageries and French Deliciousness"

Our second day in Napa started out by Bry and I driving another way into Napa so we could see Sonoma Valley on the way. Sonoma has such a dynamic landscape, we both thought it was much better to go this way, over the Golden Gate Bridge, than over the Bay Bridge as we did the first day. Our agenda for day two was: Frog's Leap Winery, followed by Grgich Winery, lunch at Bouchon, then Stag's Leap Wine Cellars.

I had made reservations for the tour and tasting at Frog's Leap on the recommendation from the NY Times. Before going on the tour, I didn't hold Frog's Leap in very high regards, but afterwards, I consider it, one of my favorite wineries and wines. We met our tour guide Rachel in a beautiful house that was relatively new to the vineyard. It had huge windows facing out onto an organic garden and vases of flowers and straw hats dotted the rooms throughout. The tour began with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Rutherford in the dining room of the home. It was crisp and lovely. Rachel took us then outside to get a better view of the vineyard and gardens and gorgeous mountain view. She explained to us that Frog's Leap is an organic and biodynamic vineyard (it's LEED certified). Frog's Leap also believes in "dry farming", this means that the vineyard does not use a drip irrigation system to water it's vines. This causes the vines to grow their roots deeper into the soil, some 22 feet (this is the same method used in France but those roots reach 100 feet deep). Not only does this make the vine stronger but it enables the farmer to till the soil around the vine 4 ft deep. Drip irrigated vines have shallow roots and root balls and if you were to till around them, the roots be ripped apart. Not being able to use a tiller creates the problem of weeds for the farmer so they resort to weed killers, chemicals, and other non-organic fertilizers (since the weed killers destroy the good bacteria in the soil too). On top of all this, since the root system is more shallow, the vine is not as strong and therefor needs to be replaced every 13 years or so whereas the organic deep-rooted vine can live up to 80 years before being replanted. This is one of the reasons why Frog's Leap can produce more consistent, cheaper wine that some of it's competitors. Since each vine costs 1000 bucks to replace (yes, $1000....I didn't type that wrong) other vineyards must mark-up their wine to cover the cost of the replanting as well as their expensive oak barrels that they use (again, these cost $1000 a barrel). Since Frog's Leap is organic, they do not want to mask the flavor of their wine at all so use the oak barrels for about 8 years before they replace them which give a much more subdued oaky taste then brand new barrels and again this causes the wine to be cheaper in price as well.
Each of the Frog's Leap wines were delicious (besides the Sauvignon Blanc, we had a Zinfandel from Napa Valley and Merlot from Rutherford) but the one that really stood out was their 2005 Rutherford wine. At $75 a bottle, it's about half the cost as other wines that taste just as good. The Rutherford wine comes from a single vineyard run by Frog's Leap but owned by a guy that everyone lovingly refers to as Uncle Joe. The tasting and tour at Frog's Leap is only 15 dollars and is worth every last penny. The property, our tour guide, and of course, the wine were all just fantastic.

After Frog's Leap, we headed over to Grgich Hills. Grgich is known for their whites because the man who started the winery Mike Grgich was the wine maker who was at Chateau Montelena when it won the Judgement of Paris in 1976. Needless to say, the Chardonnay and Fume Blanc we tasted were both excellent (as were the reds: a Zinfandel and Cab) but the most amazing part of our tasting was that Mike Grgich was actually there and he signed a bottle of his Fume Blanc for us! I was in happier than a pig in mud. This bottle will definitely be my favorite souvenir of Napa.

After all that excitement, we needed a break so we headed over to Yountville for lunch at Bouchon. Bouchon is owned by Thomas Keller, one of the top, if not the top, chefs in America. Keller owns the French Laundry but since reservations there are nearly impossible, many settle for his more casual, French bistro-style restaurant Bouchon. Bouchon is wonderfully appointed, it's a relaxed Napa-infused French bistro atmosphere where palm trees dominate the dining room and warm reds and tiled floors make diners smile with delight. The food is perfect. Simple but truly delicious. The menu is printed on butcher paper that's folded up and wrapped around your napkin.

After reviewing the menu, I ordered the Boudin Blanc, a white sausage with potato puree and French prunes. Bry ordered the Gigot d'Agneau, a roasted leg of lamb with merguez sausage, braised kale, crispy polenta, pearl unions, and lamb jus. As a side we ordered the Macaroni au Gratin (no translation needed). We were served bread in the shape of a wheat stock which we thought was super cool. The bread was good but we both thought it was slightly a bit too crusty. My sausage was delicious and it was so nice to know that the actual sausage was made right on the property and not store bought and just thrown on the grill. (It's good to note that near Bouchon, and across from the French Laundry, Thomas Keller has a vegetable garden where he grows many of his ingredients. Anyone is welcome to walk around and take in the sites and smells) The prunes and potato puree were excellent as well. Bryan said his lamb was very tender and flavorful, they told him it would be rare but when it came out Bryan said he could have had it a bit more rare. He thought the fried polenta was the most intriguing for him (he's southern) and that everything worked very well together.

For dessert, we ordered the profiteroles which came with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce and the special which was a "bouchon". Many times, when you order profiteroles, the puff is not tasty and you end up enjoying the ice cream the most...the puff becoming just an after-thought. What I liked about these profiteroles was that the puff was so fresh and not chewy. The bouchon was three small chocolate cakes (similar in texture to a brownie)shaped like a wine cork that were served with mint ice cream, chocolate sauce, a champagne gastrique, and a wisp of solid chocolate. These bouchons were delicious. They were warm and soft in the middle and with the gastrique sauce (which I can't even begin to explain) combined with the mint ice cream (that tasted like real mint!) was the perfect end to a perfect meal.

With a full belly and wonderful memories we headed back into San Francisco; another day beautifully spent.

Bouchon on Urbanspoon