August 22, 2011 § Leave a comment
Our neighborhood has this gem of a Sunday market—the Sowa Open Market. With our summer travel schedule – both work and pleasure – it’s a not a place we get to a whole heck of a lot. And that’s a darn shame. We definitely are able to get there during the “shoulder seasons” – spring and fall. And if you like to explore all the artsy-craftsy stuff going on in Boston and New England, this really has been the place to go for the last eight years.
More recently – maybe in the last couple? – they’ve also had a pretty nice array of food trucks. I put a question mark down there because, like I said, we don’t get there a whole heckuva lot. With the food truck craze that’s traveling in the left lane nowadays, it’s probably one of the major draws of the Market.
And considering that one of their usual food trucks is participating in the second season of Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, we decided to take one of our atypical in-town weekends are check out Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, among the other dozen or so trucks parked within the Sowa Open Market.
Of course, I scheduled only an hour (including walking time) between my various work-related activities to check out the food trucks. Seriously, not a smart move.
We decided to divide and conquer. We didn’t get far.
I stood in the Roxy’s line while Jennifer stood in the Bon Me line. Guess which line was longer? Jennifer decision to hit the Vietnamese street food truck was smart. My standing in the ‘order waiting to be picked up’ line at Roxy’s was not.
Jennifer was already chomping on her tofu and shitake mushroom banh mi (aka a sandwich on a baguette) before I decided to abandon my chance to nibble on a TV star. She shared, of course. Excellent flavor in the marinated tofu and mushrooms, a nice pickled topping. Great filling. Bread? Not the best, but I’m a bread snob. I’d definitely line up there again.
I was determined to have my own food truck experience, so I lined up for Lefty’s Silver Cart for a specialty sandwich. What drew me to that one? Pressed for time, it was close by, the line wasn’t long, and I judged a book by its cover—I really liked the old-timey font they used. Menu items were intriguing, too. It took me a good couple of minutes to realize they had a vegetarian menu, that’s how fun their combos were. I was torn between the Granny-B-Good – a grilled cheese with Vermont cheddar and Granny Smith apple – and the Figment, which was baguette with truffle-dressed mixed greens, goat cheese and fig jam. LOVE fig jam, so ordered the latter. Can’t go wrong with fig and goat cheese, and putting it on bread makes it a very healthy thing, I’m sure. Very happy with my order. Plus, Lefty’s baguette rocked. Now, if Bon Me had that baguette, they’d kick it up a notch. The difference? Baking technique, definitely. More steam produced a better crust for whoever is making Lefty’s bread.
Dainty Rates: 4 Dots.
If you’re around Boston Sundays through October, take a walk down to Sowa. Save room for lunch.
August 10, 2011 § 5 Comments
Mmmm … fresh pasta.
Have you ever had it? I mean fresh pasta. The kind someone has just made right there in the room. Not the stuff you buy in the refrigerated section of your local grocer. Okay, so that’s not dry pasta—but it’s not fresh fresh either.
What? Are you saying, “I don’t have time for that … “? Or, “Oh, that’s soooo complicated …”? It’s not. If you liked to make mud pies as a kid (and who didn’t?), then you can make fresh pasta.
Of course, I say this not having made fresh pasta myself. Jennifer is the pasta maker in our household. And she makes it look easy. She says it’s because it is easy. She first made it in a cooking class last year, and the technique below is from that class. The recipe comes from The Food Network’s Anne Burrell.
Try it. The only way you can screw it up is by making a horrible sauce.
Homemade Pasta Dough (from Anne Burrell)
- 1 pound all-purpose flour (get yourself a kitchen scale!)
- 4 whole eggs plus 1 yolk
- 1/4 cup evoo
- kosher salt – about 1 Tbs
- 1-2 Tbs water or more
-Set yourself up on a clean and dry work surface with plenty of room. Pile the dry ingredients (flour and salt) right on the work surface, and create a hole or well in the flour, making a doughnut-shaped ring about 8 inches wide.
-Crack all of the eggs and the individual yolk (I always do this in a separate bowl to catch the occasional shell) and add these to the well along with the wet ingredients—olive oil and water.
-Use a fork to beat the wet ingredients together. Then, you’re going to pull in the flour bit by bit into the egg mixture. I say bit by bit because you don’t want to pull too much of the flour into the center and break the ring’s side walls. Then your egg leaks out and it’s a big mess. As soon as the egg mixture has enough flour in it is no longer runny, you can put aside the fork and get your hands in there. Your hands are the best tools to combine everything completely.
-When the mixture is completely combined, it’s time to start kneading the dough. Use your muscles! Get the heels of your palms in there push the dough away from you, stretching it but not tearing it. Push, fold, turn. Push, fold, turn. Put your weight into it, girl! Your goal is to create a dough that feels smooth and looks smooth. Warning: Eat an energy bar beforehand because you’re going to be kneading for 15-20 minutes. No kidding. But doing this by hand is the best way.
-When you start thinking that perhaps you’re done, take a knife and slice the dough in half. Look at the inside of the dough—does it have small bubbles in it? Yes? Then keep kneading. You want the dough to be smooth throughout.
-Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for 1 hour. Put it in the fridge until you’re ready to use, or use it right away.
What next? Get rolling! Usually this is done with a pasta roller. There are ones you can attach to your counter and crank by hand. We have one that fits on our Kitchen-Aid and turns automatically—so much easier. Either way, what you want to do is cut that ball of dough into quarters or eighths, pat it into a bit of a square shape of even thickness, add a touch of flour to make it less sticky, and run it through the pasta roller starting on the thickest setting—usually the number 7. Roll it through twice, then take it down one thickness, and so on, patting it with flour now and then. We usually go down pretty thin, usually to a number 2. As it gets thinner, it gets looonger. We usually cut it in half to make it more manageable, especially if you are cranking the roller by hand.
Going through the roller you end up with a flat sheet. Perfect for making lasagna or raviolis. Or, take that sheet and run it through the spaghetti or linguini cutter (an add-on that usually comes with the roller). Separate the noodles, lay them on a platter, sprinkle with dusting of flour, and toss to prevent sticking. Do one flat sheet at a time this way, each time dusting with flour.
And to cook, all you have to do is drop that pasta in boiling water for 2 minutes, max.
Now, that’s great pasta.
July 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
It’s been a long, long spring and summer. All work and no play makes Dainty a very sad and tense Dot. Good thing we scheduled vacation for this week.
We typically vacation in Provincetown and spend the whole time lying low—as in low on a beach towel. But, as crazy as this is gonna sound, being on a beach towel soaking up the sun can be a bit boring after awhile. Our solution for that is taking a hike.
This time around, we headed to Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s a Mass. Audubon sanctuary on the western edge of the Cape Cod forearm, right on Wellfleet Harbor. Lots of marsh grass and sandy soil, lots of Cape woodland, lots of birds and wildlife, so bring a camera. And there’s lots of green head flies and sand flies, so arm yourself with repellent and you’ll be fine. There are … let’s see … close to 4-5 miles of hiking trails, so pack a light lunch and enjoy it while watching the shore birds at the end of the boardwalk.
The folks at Mass. Audubon must have gotten some inspiration of Groupon deals, because when we arrived at the nature center they were offering a “half-price sale” on membership. $10 would have gotten the two of us into the sanctuary for the day. For just $29, we could have a year-long family membership that would give us free admission to the 50 Mass. Audubon Wildlife Sanctuaries throughout the state. And, it feels pretty terrific to support an organization that is protecting our state’s natural habitat.
Somewhere along this hike my eye decided to focus on the little things nature had to offer. Except for a couple of spectacular angiosperms, I mainly captured slime molds, lichen, fungi and the occasional gymnosperm. (Look at me, throwing around fancy botanical references. I feel like I’m in college again!) The vistas at Wellfleet are beautiful, but some of the coolest things are underfoot.
June 12, 2011 § Leave a comment
I’m throwing a pity party for myself. Bear with me.
My plate is full. Dripping gravy off the side, actually. A sample of what I have going on:
- I’m an editor for a trade magazine. Full time. Travel, writing, managing freelancers and editorial schedules and advertising opps, putting out (a kickass) weekly enewsletter, being a resource 24/7 for my industry, etc etc.
- I am a paid blogger, weekly posts.
- I put in about 16 hours a week managing a series of gardens. Seasonal, but still.
- I’m also a paid podcaster. Twice a month and I’m just the color commentator. But still, it’s about scheduling.
That’s the paid stuff, as meager as it is. On top of that:
- I volunteer for my local garden tour – on the committee, actually.
- I’m on my community garden’s board of directors.
- I’m a die-hard Red Sox fan. That’s three hours a day right there. I know, that’s not a good excuse, but still.
- I run and bake and cook, or at least I try to. When I have the time.
And all I really want to do is that last line. The running and baking and cooking. All I want to do is Dainty.
Get over it, we’re all in the same boat, right? I know that, but why? Because all the work gets us more money which gets us more stuff? That may be true for some people, but not I. My portion of the spoils pays for half the mortgage and monthly bills, and self-employment income tax—that’s about it. So, it’s not about the money. Okay, so maybe it’s about paying the mortgage—banks do like to get paid. But I’m not doing this for the money.
If I’m not doing it for the fortune, it must be for the fame. Ha! Okay, so, when I travel on business, people I don’t even know do come up to me and talk to me like we’re great friends. And that’s only because I appear in their inboxes weekly and mailboxes monthly and Facebook feeds randomly. Is that fame? Nope. It’s kinda nice, but still.
Then I must do it because it’s all easy, right? Wrong. On my daily to-do list, there is at least one thing (who am I kidding? Three things!) that just doesn’t happen. Even remotely. I have so much going on, I can give none of them the quality and respect due to them. Oh boy, and does that stink. My father the farmer, god love him, is and was always saying, “good enough.” The weed-choked garden was good enough. The produce with spots going into the bag for sale, good enough; the plowing job, good enough; the barn in need of repair, good enough. His health, his family, always just good enough. Dear lord, it’s happening to me. Just in order to get it done—and good enough—to move on to the next.
Why am I doing it, then?
That’s a very good question. One I’ve been asking myself a lot lately.
May 16, 2011 § 2 Comments
It may be raining and a bit chilly here today, but I love every minute I spend in Amsterdam. And I love everything about it—the cheese, the beer, the bikes, the people, the canals. The cheese. Did I mention how wonderful Dutch cheese is? You get my point. Oh yeah, and cheese.
This is my third visit to the city – all for business, lucky me – and each time I’ve tacked on at least a day to spend on my own. Each time I’ve tried to add on to my experiences. Even though I’ve just finished an absolutely lovely second day in the city – which I will tell you about in another post – I have a few thoughts about Day 1:
As a rule, the Dutch people are tall and beautiful. I don’t know why or how, but we should be so lucky. I’ll try to provide visual evidence to this affect later this week.
I don’t recommend being like your average New Yorker and just walk along the cobblestone streets with your head down and your headphones on. If you do, you will suffer injuries. Someone will hit you with a bike or moped or tram. Pay attention! And I will now put a positive spin on this: It’s terrific that there’s so much green transportation in this town. But seriously, transporting yourself on two wheels – whether motorized or person-powered – is the fastest and smartest way of getting around. Some mommy bloggers would have a fit if they saw how unprotected children are on the bikes, for sure. But that’s the way this society is, and motorists just motor along with bicyclists’ safety top of mind. Again, we should be so lucky.
Interestingly, bars/restaurants serve only particular beers. Like some restaurants in the States have either Coke or Pepsi products. For the bigger beer companies, they’ll serve Heineken or Amstel—that’s regular Amstel, not Light—or Grolsch or whichever other. Oh, and by the way, Holland, you need to have bigger beer glasses. If only to keep around in service for American customers.
For the foodie types out there, I have an interesting food delivery gadget for you. I ordered the largest piece of apple cake I’ve ever seen “to go,” or as they say, to take away. And check out the cardboard sleeve they placed the slice into. It’s not a pastry box, but it still gives support to the baked item. And it uses minimal cardboard. Who knows, maybe these are commonplace somewhere in the U.S., but I’ve never seen it and I think it’s a fabulous way to box up a to-go pastry.
The hotel I’m staying in has the most amazing line of toiletries. I stayed at the same hotel last year—Jennifer joined me at the end of the trip for a few days, too—and we snagged as many of the teeny tiny bottles of shampoo, shower gel and lotion as we could. Especially the lotion. The brand is called Rituals, and I believe it’s made in the UK, but I’m not sure. We’ve been very judicious in our use of our bottles from last year and are constantly on the hunt for it. In fact, I nearly accosted a flight attendant last week because I swore she was wearing the stuff. I slather as much lotion as possible on myself each morning and seriously, I should be a little worried about this obsession. I wish smell-o-vision was possible, but until then, here’s what the bottle looks like:
This is truly a beautiful city. Picturesque beyond words. I don’t have the best photography skills but I think this might capture just a bit of what makes Amsterdam so special.
Day 2 coming up next.
April 28, 2011 § Leave a comment
Several weeks ago I attempted my first-ever Indian-spiced meal. Cauliflower masala. Turned out pretty well—read about it HERE. That was then followed by a chana bateta from the Brooklyn Eats blogger, not blogged about here but really tasty. That one includes potatoes in a homemade tomato-based curry. From those two recipes I figured if you have some mustard seeds, cumin, coriander and a touch of heat—and a whole bunch of other stuff—you can whip up a curry.
Last night’s meal is what I’m calling Dainty’s Concocted Curry. I had 2/3 cup of coconut milk I needed to finish off, and I didn’t have all the ingredients for either of the above recipes, so I kinda/sorta combined the two. Believe me, it can be tweaked here and there, especially in the heat department. But I’m pretty proud that I even attempted getting jiggy with these East Asian flavors.
Dainty’s Concocted Curry
2 shallots, thinly sliced
3-ish garlic cloves, minced
0.5-1.0 TBS grated ginger
1-2 TBS oil (I always use olive but you can use canola)
1 tsp mustard seed
1.5-2 tsp cumin
2 tsp coriander
0.5-0.75 tsp cayenne (Would have added a touch more if we had it.)
1 tsp tumeric
couple pinches fenugreek
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes
2 big dollops of tomato paste
2/3 cup coconut milk
salt and pepper
-Heat oil in a fairly deep fry pan, medium heat. Add shallots and garlic. Move ’em about in the pan now and then and you’re looking for them to be a bit translucent or, better yet, wilted. At this point I just grate the ginger right on top of that, guesstimating a tablespoon’s worth.
-While this is happening, put the mustard seeds in a small skillet with a slight amount of oil and heat on med-high. Cover! These seeds will start popping when they are ready – not long, about 3 minutes.
-When shallots/onions/ginger are done, add mustard seeds and all the spices to the mix. Stir about – it’ll be kinda pasty. You just want to get some heat on them to begin releasing their aromas. Doesn’t take long – a minute or two.
-Now, this can of whole tomatoes—one recipe called for one diced tomato, the other for a 14 oz can diced tomatoes. Other than a handful of cherry tomatoes, all I had was this 28 oz can of whole tomatoes. Open the can, reach on in there and grab one or two tomatoes, hold it over the pan and squeeze—carefully, otherwise it’ll squish tomato juice all over you. Do this for the entire can, then add the juice. And also add the tomato paste‚—that’ll help thicken it. Add coconut milk and stir. Give it a taste and see if you need to add salt or anything extra. Since I added way more tomatoes than I needed, I gave the mix a few extra shakes of all the spices except the cayenne (no more left) and the mustard seeds. Bring to just about boiling, then turn down to simmer and thicken. We had this on low while our brown rice was cooking for 45 minutes. Stir now and then and check up on it.
We’re pretty much done at this point. We did a take-out sorta thing with this when it came to assembling the meal. I roasted some broccoli and also baked some marinated sliced tofu. We put a big spoonful of brown rice in a salad-sized bowl, added some of the broccoli and a few tofu slabs, and then spooned the curry on top. Not too bad, I have to say.
You? You can add some cubed potatoes (as in one of the original recipes) and let those cook away while the curry is simmering. Or, maybe add some mushrooms. Maybe some stir-fried chicken. Steamed veggies. It’s a curry, and you can use it to add a little East Asian flair to your Wednesday evenings without leaving the house.
March 8, 2011 § 1 Comment
Where’s Dainty been these last few days? Not blogging, obviously. It think it’s a misdemeanor to blog while in the big warm world of South Beach. We jetted away last week to find some relief from this lagging winter.
While down there, I had to make good on a bet. Thanks to the Pittsburgh Steelers, I owed Jennifer a meal at the Fountainebleau Hotel – a fabulous haven for the young and rich who want to be seen. We just wanted to check out the glitz.
After a little research, we found that Scott Conant had a restaurant in the compound call Scarpetta. Scott Conant – he’s one of the judges on Chopped, the one who practically had someone cuffed and thrown into jail for including cheese with a fish dish, apparently a big Italian food no-no. You don’t know me if you don’t know how I feel about such restrictions. Wanting to learn more about the man’s culinary viewpoint—and secretly wanting to put cheese on fish while on the guy’s turf—we decided that Scarpetta would be it.
The restaurant – dimly lit, private, modernly comfortable. The front-of-house girls – Jennifer even called them vacuous to their faces and they giggled. The waitstaff – well-trained. Although our guy looked vaguely like a thin Charlie Sheen. We were seated on the veranda, which typically has ocean and pool views but was enclosed due to high winds. Maybe our seating had something to do with 50 Cent and his entourage dining inside. Who knows.
Anyway … I’m not going to tell you about our entire meal – I’m sure there are enough reviews out there for your reading pleasure. You can assume it was great. If it wasn’t, I’d write all about it. What I’m going to tell you about is my appetizer, which – and I’m not kidding – may be the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life.
Burrata atop heirloom tomatoes. I will forever remember this dish, and here’s why.
A burrata is a fresh cheese creation consisting of a solid mozzarella shell and mozzarella and cream interior, served at room temperature. It takes a caprese salad and makes it look like McNuggets. The burrata is like a pillow of dairy with a creamy dairy filling. This topped a thick slice or two of fresh heirloom tomatoes, perhaps lightly tossed in evoo – it was a little hard to tell after I cut into the burrata, but more about that later. When I ordered, I was skeptical of the “fresh heirloom tomato” bit, but silly Northerner that I am, Florida can grow fresh produce during the winter. I do wish they had specified which tomato variety they used. I know they’d have to change out the menu frequently if they did that. Perhaps the waitstaff could relay that info as the “heirloom tomato of the day” like the “fish of the day.”
Now, about that burrata – this was a mozzarella that must have just begun to form and was immediately served to us, it was that fresh. And delicate. So, so delicate. Cutting into the burrata released a small dose of warm cream, coating the ripe yet firm tomato. Someone’s Italian grandmother was in the back making this. I just know it. So, there was this small bite of rich and creamy cheese contrasting with the bright light tang and texture of the thick slab of tomato. The taste and texture could make me believe angels exist, it was that good.
I had wanted to save a small corner of the burrata to put on my turbot entree, but I just could not leave a drop of it for later. I must learn to make burrata.
Dainty Rates: The burrata – off the charts.