Monday, September 26, 2011

Greek Cooking Night featuring Nahir's Lamb Burgers

My dear friend Nahir claims she cannot cook. She loves food and can wax poetic about a new restaurant or a favorite culinary experience. In my experience, people who appreciate the time, labor and love that goes into good food tend to be good cooks themselves. They can't help it - even if they haven't learned technique or are nervous cooks they respect the food and the process of cooking. Upon being pressed on this point one evening over wine she finally conceded she can make two dishes: lamb burgers and paella. I was surprised that someone who purports to lack culinary talent would name those particular dishes so of course I immediately did what any good foodie friend would do and invited her to come over and host a dinner party at my apartment.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Orange-Walnut Baklava

Sweet, rich, flaky, buttery... this is how we often think of baklava. If it's a treasured family recipe, or made by a particularly good shop, it has a melt-in-your-mouth quality that makes us yearn for more. The richness of the nuts, the warmth of the spices, the sweetness of honey and the flaky, buttery phyllo dough - it's hardly a surprise that this dessert has remained alluringly popular across generations and cultures.
In the US we think of baklava as a Greek dessert; but the history of this treasure is a little more complex.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Individual Baked Apple Crisp

Every New Englander knows that autumn is for apple picking. However, when you live in the city and have a crazy schedule, instead of having the bounty of the season in your pantry awaiting your special alchemy to turn bright and juicy apples into luscious, buttery pies you might just have two lonely little apples wondering what their fate will be. Not enough for a whole pie and not the best apples for straight eating... what to do?

Baked apples!

Since Thom was roasting a chicken last night I asked him if he would also make us baked apples for dessert. After some poking around a couple of cookbooks and online recipes, he adapted this recipe from Sunny Anderson on the Food Network to make these individual baked apple crisps:
 For his adaptation, Thom used Zestar apples and he omitted the jam and lemon juice from the original recipe (although I'd probably leave in the lemon juice). He also added minced candied ginger and dried cranberries to the topping.

They were fantastic! The apples were soft and melting while the topping was crispy on the outside and soft and slightly chewy underneath. Not only was this vastly less time consuming than an entire apple crisp, it was also a great way to control the portion sizes! I ate mine warmed up and plain, but Thom put maple syrup on his. I think it might be time to do some apple picking after all!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Lahore Comes to Boston: Masi Tanvir's Pulao and Gobi

My mother's friend Tanvir is a fantastic cook. Dinner at her house is filled with fragrant meats, delicately spiced, fluffy basmati rice with crispy fried onions and vegetables heated with ginger and chilies. She has been abroad for many months and we have all missed her energetic spirit, sense of humor, friendship and yes, her excellent food. And so it came to be that last Saturday when we were enjoying dinner together that Masi and I agreed to document an evening of her cooking.
Masi's spice collection: a partial selection

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Prezza: Restaurant Review

Thom and I pass by Prezza all the time. We sometimes stop, read the menu posted outside, chat for a minute about different items, declare we're going to "go here at one point" and then continue on our way. There is just so much to choose from in this neighborhood - and we often prefer to cook together at home - that actually making it into a new restaurant (instead of an old favorite) can be a challenge.

On Friday, September 16th, along with Mom and her friend Mike (writer of Wine Tripping), the challenge was accepted.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Food for the Soul

Most of us recognize that a special meal shared with family and friends tastes better than the same meal eaten alone. Some of us have friends with whom we can happily explore a new restaurant, share recipes together, ask for cooking advice or friends on whom we test-run our new recipes. If we're really lucky we also have a friend with whom we can cook (as opposed to other friends who, although they are good cooks, we simply don't mesh well in the same kitchen).

I am incredibly fortunate to have several wonderful friends who share my love of food and cooking. But one in particular is quite simply, the platonic love of my life - my dear friend, Gaby.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Think Outside the (Brownie) Box

"I bet you never use box mixes" is a refrain I often hear from friends, sheepishly excusing their visits to the Betty Crocker or Dunkin' Hines side of town.

Who are they kidding? I know there are people out there who would rather die than eat anything that isn't a 100% locally-sourced-organic-from-scratch-lit-the fire-by rubbing-two-sticks-together brownie. To me these individuals are not foodies; they are simply snobs. I'm not suggesting we stop making baked goods from scratch - far from it - but let's not beat ourselves or each other up over brownies. There is a time and a place to think inside the box. Let me be clear - I definitely prefer fresh food over processed. I also think much of our mass produced food is damaging to our ecosystem and our health. To my mind overly processed food and fast food is a waste of time, money and our waistlines. But I also think it is equally important to pick our battles. When you read the ingredient list in a box of brownie mix, for example, and see all the same items you were going to add yourself (flour, sugar, cocoa, salt) it's time to ask ourselves whether that box mix is truly Satan's spawn or the Angel of Convenience.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

In my Grandmother's Kitchen

"If you know how to cook, you can cook anywhere." ~ Elsie R. Rice

Aside from her childhood home outside Liverpool, England my grandmother lived in small rented apartments her entire life. She had little storage space and even less counter space. She began her married life in a small apartment in the Bronx and was exceedingly proud of the fact that she put dinner on the table for her husband, young son and often friends of her husband every night through the Great Depression. She did it again during WWII for her now teenage son and young daughter while her husband was overseas.

SlowFood's $5 Meal Challenge

This weekend SlowFood USA held a $5 Meal Challenge. Most of our meals are on a rather constrained budget so this seemed like a cakewalk to me. Since Thom was headed to a concert with his buddies I arranged to spend the afternoon with Mom and Masi. With the weather being so cold, Mom and I decided it was a perfect time for one of our favorite budget comfort foods: Chicken & Dumplings.

We all have memories embedded in the kitchen, or in our favorite foods, whether we are cooks or not. My grandmother was the queen of chicken & dumplings and Mom carries her torch well. Some of my happiest memories are eating the meals my mother and grandmother prepared together when I was a child. My mother's good friend Tanvir, whom my brother and I call Masi (Auntie), is an extremely accomplished cook as well. There is nothing like a dinner at Masi's house with her from-scratch Pakistani cooking. In fact, her food is so good we routinely invite ourselves over. We can't help ourselves - her cauliflower with mustard seed and fried onions are so good you come begging for more.

Tonight, however, was an evening channeled straight from the memory banks of my grandmother's repertoire. Her recipe not only produces a delicious meal, it consists of simple ingredients prepared in a straightforward manner.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Cardamom-Ginger Peach Cobbler

Late summer is perfect for peaches in New England. With the peaches purchased earlier this week from Cider Hill Farm I decided to make a cobbler. We all have our way of cooking; some people wing it completely, some follow a tried and true recipe to the letter. I usually work somewhere in the middle by reading up on the experiences and recipes of others and then incorporating my own experiences and flavor palate. This particular recipe is still a work in progress but as I write there are some fantastic scents coming from my oven. Here is the process in pictures:

"Is this still good?"

I will preface this post by asking you not to be a moron. Don't eat something just because I said its probably okay. Use your best judgment and accept the consequences. I am not responsible if you get sick. I do not prepare your food or clean out your fridge. Personal responsibility, dude. Learn it. Love it. Live it. 

I grew up in a frugal household. You didn't throw out an unopened container of yogurt just because the expiration date had come and gone. You did the sniff test. Same thing with milk and anything else with a sell-by date. Green spots were cut off cheese and brown spots were cut out of fruits and vegetables. Leftovers were served for lunch or reinvented into a completely new meal the next night. (Later, my expertise in this area earned me the moniker "Queen of Leftovers"). It comes as no surprise then that about twice a month I'll receive a call, text or email from someone asking, "is this still good?"

The short answer to that question is generally yes. If it's not obvious to you by either its appearance or smell that an item has gone bad then it is generally still safe to eat.  But let's go beyond that a bit into the longer answers.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Day at the Farm

A good friend introduced me to Cider Hill Farm this week. On one of the hottest days we've had since August we made the 40+ mile drive out of the city to this herbaceous oasis just outside downtown Amesbury, MA.

The view up to the orchard
I expected an apple picking and cider operation plus a little farmstand. Cider Hill Farm is so much more - a fantastic fresh bakery, the ubiquitous Stonewall Kitchens products* amongst Cider Hill's own jams and honeys, refrigerated goods as well as fresh fruits and vegetables from the farm. The first thing you notice, as with most autumn farms in New England, is the heaping display of pumpkins marking the entryway. Once inside the store the display continues with tiny white and yellow gourds.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cakes on Parade

In my quest to develop the ultimate chocolate cake recipe I have been fortunate enough to create, and therefore eat, many amazing cakes. Here are just a few of my more memorable attempts...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Facciamo la pasta!

Living in the North End I am constantly asked, "what's your favorite restaurant?" I know people would love to hear a succinct answer but the fact is it depends on what I'm eating. I go to Maria's Pastry for cannoli and rainbow cookies; but if it's after 7pm and Maria's is closed (or I want some torrone with my cannoli) I go to Modern Pastry. If I want tiramisu I go to Villa Francesca. I also go to Villa Francesca for the house salad which is truly the most life changing house salad in town. For wine I go to The Wine Bottega (helloooo Friday night wine tastings!) If I want pizza and I'm alone I go to Ernesto's. If I'm with a friend Il Panino Express. And if I'm with out-of-towners Pizzeria Regina.

But if I want pasta, I stay home.


Thank You, Boston

I love my city. I love my country and I love my state but I especially love my city. I know that my husband and I are incredibly fortunate to live in the North End, the oldest neighborhood in Boston. With each step down these narrow, dirty and overly inhabited streets I see history unfurl before me like a well-loved quilt patched with moments from before my time.

I'm not a flag-waving-love-it-or-leave-it-you-pinko-punk kind of patriot but I love my city. I know that I could never do the job it takes to protect our little corner of the world and I marvel at the fact that I ended up married to a man who not only works a tough evening-nighttime schedule but does so in one of the most thankless civilian jobs available in our city. I am still amazed at the fact that he goes to work every day happy to work in a job that exposes him to the worst kind of folks and some great folks who happen to be at their worst or experiencing their worst moments.

These last few weeks surrounding the anniversary of September 11th have been tough on all Americans and many in the 90 other nations who lost citizens in the heinous crimes perpetrated that day. My eyes well up even writing these words.

What could I do? What could I possibly say to anyone about how it feels to remember, to reflect, to hope for better? What could I do to let those few and brave men and women who get up every day to keep my corner of my beloved city safe and beautiful know that I appreciate them?

It sounds trite. It sounds silly. But I could make cookies.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Masa - Upscale Southwest in the South End

I took advantage of the cool September evening last night to venture out of my beloved North End neighborhood to walk to the equally food-centric South End where I met up with Mom and Maya for dinner at Masa.

I had never been to Masa and didn't really know anything about it. I was pleasantly surprised to find an unassuming space with a shabby-chic vibe complimented by simple wrought iron decor. The bar and lounge area was pretty well filled for early evening on a Thursday but I was thrilled with the extra row of seating in front of wide open windows. Who doesn't love a little people watching in the South End while waiting for their friends to arrive?

New Look, Same Great Taste

Welcome to my new home on blogger!  My former blog detailing my life as a culinary student was no longer productive for my current incarnation as a domestic goddess. I hope you brought your appetite for fresh new Cake!