Sunday, December 14, 2014

All We Did Was Add The Cooking

Apparently, the people over at Just Add Cooking know exactly how busy we are during this holiday season.  So, they asked us to sample their meal preparation service and we have to report that the results could not have been more pleasurable.

What they do is deliver all of the top quality, fresh ingredients one needs to prepare a great dinner. All you do is, well, add the cooking.  My package arrived Sunday afternoon at precisely the time when I am usually home and ready to whip up a weekend meal.  Honestly, I don't know how they do it but there was a text on my phone saying my cooking kit had arrived.  I went downstairs and there was the box.

It was filled with all of the ingredients I needed including an excellent selection of produce and quality meats and seafood.  The scallops were so fresh that I decided to make that meal first.  Now, I am pretty picky about fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses.  Everything that I received was of the quality, or better than, I would have found myself.  This amazed me more than anything and saved me hours of carefully scouring the grocery stores (usually more than one) for the best of the best.

Every meal comes with a full recipe sheet listing all the ingredients, measurements, prep and cooking times - virtually everything you need to know to put together a gourmet meal as easily as possible.

Everything is sent according to the recipe with just the right amount measured for proportions.  You don't have to bother at all spooning, measuring or eyeballing - none of that.

And in case you don't have a huge spice pantry they also include all of the spices you will need for each dish.  SO easy!

Throw the ingredients together, mix up according to directions, set the oven and/or skillet temperatures and you're done.  A child could do it.  In fact this would be a great intro for any teen seriously interesting in cooking.

They even sent us the butter needed for one recipe and it was superb quality Vermont Creamery butter, the best there is (in fact, it's so good that Thomas Keller uses it).

We melted the butter and dropped the scallops in with the bay leaf provided in the container.

In thirty minutes we had this delicious, beautiful dinner of Scallops In Peppery Butter.  Served with the rice and squash basil vinaigrette this was a restaurant-worthy meal made in our own kitchen.  We have two more meals to make but from the results here we are sure they will be equally as fabulous in both flavor and presentation.

The meals are ordered online from Just Add Cooking.  The cost is $79.00 for three full dinners that will serve two people, a great value for us considering the top quality sourcing, time saved and easy preparation.  Why didn't WE think of this?  Congratulations on a great idea!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Nathan Myhrvold: Modernist Cuisine

Nathan Myhrvold was in town recently to present his lecture at the Harvard series on Science and Cooking, a fascinating program that we have attended and written extensively about in the past. In fact, we were one of the first to write about it on the very night Harvard welcomed Chef Ferran Adria years ago to initiate a discussion of the course to be offered School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.  It has been such a success that now schools all over the country are attempting to emulate it.  Because we couldn't make it to the lecture we did stop by the Museum of Science for a short talk and meet and greet he gave to introduce his temporary exhibit "The Photography Of Modernist Cuisine".

His name may be familiar as the mega millionaire former Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft. Since leaving that post he has taken up an avid interest in food and especially the inventive photography of it.

The hallmark of the photography are the stop action and cutaway shots of food in the process of cooking.  It's actually quite fun to see the playful times one can have with all that money, expensive photographic equipment, time and a penchant for cutting things in half so we can see what food looks like as it is cooking.

We hadn't been to the MOS in years and I have to admit we had just as much fun as the kids roaming the place with their parents or the surprising number of couples enjoying a fun date experience. If you haven't been in a while, we suggest a visit.  We especially enjoyed the Polar Express 4D Movie where it actually snows (real flakes of ice crystals not that plastic stuff) in the theater.  Very fun, indeed.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Naumkeag Ordinary

We were recently invited up to Salem to dine at Naumkeag Ordinary, a place we'd never heard of but that never stopped us from checking out a newer dining venue before.  The restaurant has a warm, upscale, tavern-like feel and seemed to be filled with locals enjoying a craft beer and some inventive comfort food featuring new twists on old favorites.  It's  the kind of place one would make a regular spot for dining.  Set just off a small patch of green space in the very heart of Salem, it was a great, casual yet refined dining experience.

We began with the Lettuce Wrap (above) With Duck, a fresh, flavorful bite that was a great starter to our dinner. Crispy duck and fresh, soft lettuce leaves worked well together as a great contrast.

The Meat And Cheese Board was not a disappointment, either.  Fennel Sausage, Pepper Jam, Grilled Bread and House Made Mustard was a bright sampling of many flavors, textures and colors.

The mild goat cheese in this crispy phyllo dough wrapping was another great appetizer, the crispy texture of the wrap perfectly done.

Roasted Stuffed Acorn Squash:  Barley risotto, roasted root vegetables and a meyer lemon and black pepper vinaigrette.  Hearty and flavorful and a nice vegetarian choice, for a change of pace.  The lattice chips and greens were the perfect addition to this filling, very satisfying plate.

I went with a special of the day:  Sloppy Joe Tacos.  It was warm and meaty with pickled banana peppers and crispy onion strings, bursting with comforting taste.  It was a pleasant surprise to enjoy a Sloppy Joe without the heavy, filling bun.

Dessert was Bread Pudding, a rich, eggy take on this standard served with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. Delicious.

Starters range from $8-13 (for the Meat and Cheese Board) and Entrees are $15 to $22 (A Short Rib Pappardelle Au Poivre).  Everything on the menu looked very tempting so we can't wait to get back and try more.  The craft beer selection and wines by the glass offered enough to satisfy any diner. The menu changes often under the helm of new chef Scott Jensen and owner Matthew Brady with a focus on locally-sourced, sustainable ingredients and all dishes are made from scratch.  The service was excellent.  If you haven't been up to Salem in a while we say it's certainly worth the trip to spend some time there and enjoy Naumkeag Ordinary when you do.  It was a great discovery for us.

Naumkeag Ordinary
118 Washington Street
Salem, MA  01970
Telephone:  978.744.4968

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On Apples With Amy Traverso

Take a quick guess as to what that is.  Chances are, you did probably not guess an apple!  Yet, that is a sliced Mountain Rose Apple, just one of the thousands of varieties you can enjoy.  We had no idea that these even existed.  That brilliant color and the strong berry flavor profile was just one of the many things that we tasted and learned on an afternoon spent with Amy Traverso of Yankee Magazine, undoubtedly New England's apple expert.

The history of apples is fascinating.  Did you know that they are not native to America?  Their DNA structure is more complex than humans?  You can't just plant an apple seed and expect it to grow? Johnny Appleseed was a real person, not a legend?

The author of THE APPLE LOVER'S COOKBOOK, Amy spent an very informative afternoon with us at Bestsellers Cafe and we even tasted some of her favorite food treats.  This would be a great gift book for the holidays.  We can't wait to bake an apple pie with these!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Snappers Snacks

Yes, as you know, we get a lot of product samples to taste and test and most of them never make it into the blog because, well, they are not all that impressive.

The minute we tasted these Snappers snacks, though, we liked them.  Both salty and sweet, crunchy but drenched in caramel and a rich chocolate, we'll definitely put them on our shopping list.  They are brought to you by the same people at Edward Marc Chocolatier, a quality name we've been a fan of for years.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Burtons Grill

The dining scene in Burlington is heating up.  Suddenly, there seems to be a plethora of dining spots and over the past few months we've been invited to sample several spots for memorable meals.  We began the tour at Burtons Grill, which has been there for years but we had never been.

Firstly, all of the food at Burtons is made from scratch following the new wave where even chain restaurants don't relay on entrees prepared way ahead of time.  Everything we tried from appetizers to desserts was very fresh, starting with the Beet Salad pictured above.  A constructed salad, this was beautiful on the plate and certainly creditable. Goat Cheese, Roasted Sweet Onions and Candied Walnuts provided nice layers of both texture and flavor.

The Risotto Fritters were just as good:  Mild Italian Sausage and Provolone Cheese was deep fried to a golden crisp and served with a fairly spicy tomato sauce.

The Pork Loin was served with a colorful, flavorful Cranberry Chutney and Cider Mustard Jus.  I love pork tenderloin and this was, again, very well done, served with a nice stuffing.

The Scallops we sampled were served over a bed of fresh corn and Baked Stuffed Zucchini were sliced paper thin and stuffed with an herbed cheese (neither pictured).   Again, fresh, flavorful and very fresh.

All of the desserts are also made in house and this Key Lime Pie was exceptional.  Let's face it, most places do not go to the lengths of making desserts like this every day.  The difference is easy to discern once you've had the good stuff.

The clean, modern design is about what one would expect for suburban dining, the place was absolutely packed with a lively bar scene and the service was very good.  It's clear that Burtons is maintaining their high standards in order to keep up with the growing competition.

Burtons Grill
Middlesex Commons Shopping Center
Middlesex Turnpike
Burlington, MA
Telephone:  781.221.2281

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ming Tsai and Simply Ming At Twelve

We were invited by one of our favorite Boston Chefs, Ming Tsai, recently to help him celebrate the twelfth season of his hit PBS cooking Show:  Simply Ming.  We gathered at Blue Dragon in Fort Point, Boston's new food mecca.  If you haven't been there's a real tavern-like homey feel to the place that invites gathering with friends for a cocktail and some excellent small plates.

We sipped cava and devoured passed plates of Shrimp Shumai, Pork Belly Bao and this, our favorite, Lobster Cakes, fried to perfection and loaded with lobster meet.

It was a great night to catch up with Chef (we asked about his Finding Your Roots segment with Henry Louis Gates which resulted in the oldest documented genealogical tree he's found to date) and an opportunity to meet a slew of new food bloggers we have never met before, including Elizabeth of Little Moments Of Happiness.

The new series explores comfort food across cultural influences and includes a visit to Australia for a peek at their cutting-edge cuisine.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

All Hallow's Eve 2014

We all love it;  the night as dark as black, a streetlamp shrouded in fog, the rustling of leaves, a distant scream in the night.  We'll stay home, shut off the lights in favor of just candles to give out candy then head out to scare up some fun of our own.  If you are still looking for some frightening ideas, here's a few suggestions.

Start out the night with sips of Black Ink wine.  As dark as blood, poured into Gothic wine glasses, it's an ideal start.

After that head over to Pier 6 in the Navy Yard (spooky enough after dark as it is) for a special authentic Transylvanian Cuisine Dinner being served October 31st only.  You'll dine on Goulash and Apple Tart while you sip a drink called "Dracula's Kiss." 

Proceed ominously to the the brand new statue of Edgar Allan Poe near The Boston Common for an appropriate Instagram pic. Dressing in black is advised.

After that it's just a short jaunt up the street for the Gatsby Reloaded Masquerade and Fashion Show at Liquid Art House.  It's their very first Halloween party so it's guaranteed to be fabulous. Get your decadent on and still be home before sunrise.

All one needs to do now is provide the soundtrack.  Happy Halloween everybody!!!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mohegan Sun Brewfest 2014

If you're going to have a craft beer fest then quite possibly the best place to have it is Mohegan Sun. So, we threw a few things in the Armani overnighter and headed out of town for a relaxing, fun weekend away at Brewfest 2014.  We were not disappointed.

We spent the afternoon meeting with brewers and sipping some very nice beer.  Shiner Beer was there with a great Oktoberfest, Blackhog had a Granola Brown, Yuengling gave us their Black and Tan, Victory Brewing Company featured Old Horizontal and then there were our perennial favorites such as that Thomas Hooker Brewing Company Watermelon Ale.

I'm an IPA kind of guy and we sampled some great IPAs from Grey Sail Brewing, Mayflower Brewing and good old Long Trail.

As if all that wasn't enough we had heard in advance that one of our favorite bands, Everclear was slated to appear in the Wolf Den that very night.  For those who may not be familiar with Mohegan, this is the spot where free concerts are held nightly.  We met lots of new friends from around New England, fellow fans, as we gathered for the show.  The concert was great, Everclear playing all of their big hits as well as some new songs from an upcoming album.  

After a bite to eat and some prerequisite people-watching we were exhausted so went up to relax in our room.  Impeccably clean and invitingly comfy, we flipped channels on the large flatscreen, our legs up on the foot pillows of the huge beds.  Ahhhh.   We've never had a room yet that did not boast a gorgeous view of the countryside and Thames River, rain or shine.  That night a thick fog had rolled in as the new arrivals snaked their cars around to the valet entrance.  We rested, feeling spoiled that there was plenty of dining, clubbing, things to do and people to see all without even having to take a step outside.

The next morning we awoke to a tray of fresh coffee. We snoozed and relaxed more, reading the Sunday paper delivered to each room and catching up on all the social media on our tablets and phones from people near and far, including other attendees. Eventually we prepared and dressed for the Brew Brunch.  This year it was held in the Uncas Ballroom as the smaller venue where it usually takes place was under renovation being turned into, so we hear, a mini palace of magical modernist cuisine.  We can't wait to go back for that!  Mohegan is also undergoing a major addition that will feature a 14 theater multiplex due to premiere in January 2015.  We've often thought that maybe it would be fun to catch a new movie while there for the weekend.

Needless to say, the Brunch was appropriately decadent.  Just look at that Schnitzel Benedict drenched in Bearnaise Sauce.  There was also a carving station and some great pastas with brew-based sauces and brew-braised meats, fresh pastries and rolls along with all the coffee and juices one could want.

So far, we've attended every Brewfest and it remains one of the great Fall events we look forward to each year.  Hopefully, we'll see you there next year.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The 50th Head Of The Charles Regatta

It's an event that's a Fall tradition with us, when hundreds of thousands of participants, spectators and visitors descend upon Cambridge, Boston and the surrounding communities for not only THE largest rowing event in the world but also a spectacular New England weekend during what many consider to be the very finest time of the year: The Head Of The Charles Regatta.  This year, the event turns 50 years old and the largest ever crowd is expected to attend.  There is an impressive international contingency each year which particpates as well as the many thousands who visit to cheer on their alma mater or country of origin. 

We love roaming about Harvard Square and Cambridge and chatting with visitors, taking in the competition and enjoying the atmosphere.  As most people, we will visit the Regatta for a few hours but usually not the entire day.  Afterwards, we go in search of food and/or a place to meet up with friends for drinks and a bite. 

Typically, we are inundated with emails from readers who would like to know where to go for a great meal, a few, perhaps, celebratory drinks, a nice cup of coffee and fresh pastry, or just a great burger or pizza.  So, this year we're posting all of that information here for some of our favorite spots in and around Harvard Square, Kendall Square and Boston.  Keep in mind that the closer you are to the river, the more crowded all of these places will be and they will be exceptionally busy during peak times.

Restaurants:  Alden and Harlow, The Sinclair (also has live music events), West Bridge (a fave) and Eastern Standard.

Drinks:  Charlie's Kitchen, Meadhall, Beat Hotel (also features live music), Grendel's Den (a bohemian legend) and Park.

Cafes:  Tatte Bakery (European style), Flour Bakery, Crema Cafe (a fave) and Starbucks (Massachusetts Avenue location has a great second floor view of the Square). 

Burgers:  Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage (a legend), Shake Shack, Flat Patties and Tasty Burger.

Pizza:  Pinocchio's (a Harvard student fave), Oggi, Otto (our fave), Cambridge 1 and Emma's (a legend).  Special note:  Emma's has informed us that they will be delivering all weekend by courier to any street corner in Cambridge!

Please feel free to leave comments if I have overlooked or forgotten your favorite local spot.

Enjoy!  The weather is predicted to be spectacular and hopefully we will see you around town!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Tuscan Kitchen Burlington

Owner Joe Faro says his dream was:  "To create the Disneyland of genuine, Italian artisan foods and scratch cooking."  A dynamic personality (as one would imagine) with a passion for great Italian fare, Mr. Faro greeted almost every one of his guests personally to explain his food, sourcing and the the mission of Tuscan Brands.

We visited the original Tuscan Kitchen and Market in Salem, NH a few years back and were quite impressed.  So, we were anxious to see what owner Joe Faro would do with the space he occupied in Burlington, part of an office park near the Burlington Mall.  Could it hold up to the original location?  

When we were invited to the soft opening for media and guests, we quickly accepted.  We were greeted at the door with a sparkling glass of prosecco and freshly-sliced chunks of parmigiano reggiano drizzled with an aged balsamic vinegar.  We knew instantly that the experience was going to be every bit as good.

We sipped and nibbled as we wandered the cavernous rooms.  The place is huge, with seating for 543 guests.  Some rooms are intimate, elegant, with roaring fireplaces on this cool, damp evening.  Others are geared more toward small dinner meetings and events.  

The large bar area is comfortable and intimate at the same time with an extensive wine collection including wines on tap.

The Affetati Misti buffet including House Made Porchetta, Fig Jam, 24 Month Prosciutto di Parma, more Parmigiano Reggiano, Local Truffle Honey, House Made  Burrata and loads of freshly-baked Artisan Stone Hearth Breads, Cheeses and Grilled Vegetables..  The quality of everything was top drawer.  My favorite was that Porchetta.

Our Antipasti Course:  Crostini Di Granchio - Wild Caught Jonah Crab, Grilled Ciabatta, Semi Roasted Tomatoes and Pickled Mustard Seed.  The Tonno Crudo - Navel Orange, Calabrese Peppers and Crispy Prosciutto with an Extra Virgin Drizzle.  Again, the very top level of flavor and consistent quality in every bite.

The Primi course consisted of a Canneloni Di Vitello - Thin sheets of Rosemary Pasta stuffed with a Slow-braised Veal Breast, Wilted Spinach and Tuscan Bean Mista.  The Truffled Mascarpone Gnocchi (my favorite) included Wood-roasted Mushroom, Fava Beans and Shaved Pecorino Tartufo.

I opted for the Cod as my Secondi.  Although Cod can be hit-or-miss, including downright terrible in the hands of the wrong cook or chef, I had a feeling this was going to be fine.  And it was.  Pan Roasted Cod Steak with Rock Shrimp, Sweet Pea Saffron Risotto, and Herb Leek Butter Crust.  It hit every note right, including the creamy-yet-al-dente risotto and the fleshy, tender consistency of the cod - without a trace of oily, old fish taste.

The other Secondi option was Filetto Di Manzo:  Aged Wood Grilled Filet, Caramelized Garlic "Riduzione", Truffled Parmigiano Fingerlings and Brussel Sprout and Pancetta Slaw. Every bit as satisfying and delicious.

For the Dolci course we had the very special treat of being invited into the Tuscan Market area (the shop that marks the restaurant entrance) to wander about and taste as we pleased.  The cafe seats 30 people and all of the pastries and gelatos are freshly-made.  We snacked on amazingly fresh lemon cookies, gelato made in the machine right beside the case and sipped coffees while letting our eyes feast on the goods and prepared foods in the case. Sumptuous!

Although there are spots where the faux, Disneyesque veneer is apparent it is overall the real deal and the absolute quality of all the foods is truly impressive.  I would have no qualms at all about bringing euro friends visiting us, even Italians, here for a great, memorable meal.  Congratulations!

Tuscan Kitchen and Market
24 New England Executive Park
Burlington, MA 01803
Telephone: 781.229.0300

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Newport Mansions Wine And Food Festival

We were lucky enough to be invited to the Newport Mansions Food And Wine Festival 2014 and what a grand affair it was!  It is no exaggeration to say it was one of the best events we have ever attended.  From the flawless organization and the ornate splendor of Marble House to all of the food (think plenty of salmon, blue fish pate and lots of artisinal meats and cheeses) and hundreds of wines it was just incredible.  The weather was picture perfect, the crowd was exceptionally well-behaved but very fun.  We were steps away from the Cliff Walk with sweeping views of the water plus we got to meet one of our all-time favorite TV Chefs, Sara Moulton.  Saturday was a sellout crowd this year keeping our record of every event we promote and attend selling out intact.  We could not have imagined a better day spent out-of-town and will, without question, be back next year.  Enjoy the pics!  We are already looking forward to 2015!