CSA 2008, Week Nine.

Our CSA box from The Food Project just keeps on getting bigger and bigger… This week’s box was jam-packed with the following:

  • One head of lettuce
  • One bunch of cilantro
  • Baby kale
  • Beans
  • Corn
  • Potatoes
  • Garlic
  • Pepper
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Summer Squash
  • Onions

While this is all very exciting, I’ve got to say that as the summer goes by, our CSA experience has created a sort of rapidly-growing sense of nervousness in the very depths of my stomach. As it is, we haven’t yet been told to bring our own packaging for items that won’t fit in our standard box, and already I’m scrambling to come up with clever ways to put all of these vegetables to use. As it is, I still have yet to touch last week’s garlic and summer squash, and this week we will be off to Maine for four days so I’ve got a feeling some of our produce will be going on a road trip as well…

That said, aren’t these potatoes really pretty?

Cocktails and Snacks at Green Street Grill.

Keith and I had some time to kill before meeting up with a visiting friend for dinner in Central Square, so we arranged to meet up at Green Street Grill for some drinks. We had both heard that their cocktails were not to be missed, so we thought it would be the perfect spot to cool down on a hot and sticky Cambridge night.

Don’t be put off by Green Street Grill’s divey and unremarkable façade. As the saying goes, a book (or a bar) is not to be judged by its cover. If you don’t follow this axiom, I suggest this as being the perfect time to start, as the drinks here are superb.

The cocktail menu is full of old-fashioned drinks, some of which are only recently being brought back to bars. Not only that, but some of the liquors and spirits used in these drinks have only recently been allowed in the States, such as the Batavia Arrack, originally from Sri Lanka. I chose the enticing-sounding Blinker, with its fresh grapefruit juice and fresh raspberry syrup mixed with a generous portion of Old Overholt Rye ($7.50). It should be noted that I’m not much of a rye and whisky kinda gal, but regardless, the Blinker was fantastic. Don’t get me wrong — it was a strong drink, to be sure, but the fruit flavors were equally strong and bright.

Since the notion of me drinking on an empty stomach is not a good idea for anyone involved, Keith and I decided to order something to nibble on while we sipped at our drinks. (He started with a truly delicious French 75, which is more along the lines of what I normally tend to like, and finished up with a Sazerac.) Keith and I couldn’t agree upon a snack, so we got two: candied and spiced peanuts and homemade chips and dip (each $3.00).

The peanuts, Keith’s choice, were indeed sweet and candied, but they ended with a fiery finish that set my mouth ablaze. (It should be noted that I have zero tolerance for spicy foods, and that in this case, Keith called me a wimp.) In spite of the flaming sensation I was feeling, I helped myself to several handfuls.

The chips were my selection, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with them. Perfectly salty and ridiculously crisp, they were fantastic. The dip, instead of being of the sour cream variety, reminded me more of a garlicky aioli. I might be biased, as a person madly in love with aioli, but in my mind this was a perfect barside plate. I couldn’t have asked for more in a snack.

If you decide to brave its seedy neighborhood and dicey exterior, do angle for a seat at the bar and not at one of the many tables surrounding it. Trust me, you’re going to want to see the frenzy of activity the friendly bartenders go through to mix your drinks. It’s truly hypnotizing.

Green Street
280 Green Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139
617.876.1655
greenstreetgrill.com

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Dinner at Bistro 5.

I feel like there’s a stereotype out there of city-dwellers, that anything outside of the city limits or anything not reachable via public transit is in an utter no-man’s-land. (That said, I also feel as though there’s an equal-but-opposite stereotype of suburbanites, that they’ll do anything they can possibly do to avoid entering the city.) Though I do like city-life, and do prefer it over suburban living by far, I don’t think things like fine cuisine are restricted by where a restaurant is located. For that reason, when Keith suggested giving West Medford’s Bistro 5 a try, I was all for it.

In spite of its name, Bistro 5 without a doubt leans towards the Italian; the chef hails from Italy, and the menu is interspersed with carpaccio, Milanese and gnocchi.

For our appetizers, Keith and I decided to split two plates: calamari and baked figs. I was a little wary of the calamari; don’t get me wrong — I have a great love for fried foods, but it’s my opinion that there’s only so much that once ca n do with a calamari to distinguish it from the rest. I was really disappointed; the calamari at Bistro 5 was very mundane indeed, even though its descriptions lead us to believe that it could be otherwise. Dredged in semolina with honey, sweet and spicy chutney, and champagne vinegar ($11.00) it did not taste any different from any other fried squid dish available elsewhere. Honestly, I did not taste any of the additional ingredients or components.

The baked figs, on the other hand, were quite spectacular ($11.00). The young figs tasted exactly how they looked — fresh, green and bright — with bold pink prosciutto di parma slipped underneath their stems. Inside, the figs had been stuffed with a mixture of Gorgonzola and vincotto, and placed atop a grilled flatbread. In all, the combination was nice and summery, with the tang of Gogonzola and salt of prosciutto finishing it off.

As it the norm for me, I was uncertain as to what I wanted for my entrée — lobster ravioli, or scallops and risotto — so I did what I always do in cases such as this: I asked the server for her opinion.

“Oh, I love the risotto,” she said, so that’s what I went with. After she had left, Keith and I overheard the diners at a nearby table speaking at length about the dish’s deliciousness, so I was very eager to get my plate.

Once the entrées arrived, I eyed my plate speculatively. Three fat, seared scallops sat atop a bed of the biggest pile of risotto I had seen in a while. Honestly, aside from the few halved grape tomatoes and a risotto-stuffed “zucchini globe,” the plate was almost entirely composed of the corn-leek risotto ($27.00). Flavor-wise, the dish was fine. (How I hate to use that word. It’s like asking a loved one for an opinion on your outfit, and being told you look “nice.” It is the kiss of death.) The scallops were appropriately scallop-y, the tomatoes tomato-y, the zucchini zucchini-y, and the risotto a pleasant enough combination of corn and something else that I never would have guessed was leek. It also straddled the line of salty and too salty, and the texture was, well — let’s just say that a few more minutes of cooking time over a fire would have been a good idea, as the rice was on the undercooked side.

Unfinished or no, the dish was comprised of simply Too Much Risotto, especially with the overflowing zucchini. Perhaps if it had been stuffed with polenta or quinoa or some other filling, the dish wouldn’t have seemed so overladen.

Afterward, I decided I was too full for dessert and instead went to order a coffee. I didn’t, however, when I caught sight of the prices: five dollars for a cappuccino, four-fifty for a caffe latte, five-twenty-five for a caffe mocha, three dollars for an espresso or a macchiato, and four dollars for a Vienna roast. All teas were four dollars as well. I couldn’t determine if I was being stingy, or if Bistro 5 was just pricing their coffee drinks and teas competitively. Either way, I skipped it altogether.

As we wrapped up our meal, I told Keith it appeared to me as though Bistro 5 was going through some growing pains. Even when Keith said that he thought the restaurant was a few years old, I couldn’t help but think that some of the dishes we had selected had suffered from some elementary issues that could have easily been fixed.

Bistro 5
5A Playstead Road
West Medford, Masschusetts 02155
781.395.7464
bistro5.com

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Dinner at Teatro.

I hadn’t been to Teatro in at least three years; the last time had been with my friend Sarah, who hasn’t lived in Boston for at least that long. When Amanda and I were devising a list of places in the Theater District to stop by for a quick bite before going to an event at Grub Street, Teatro immediately came to mind. I didn’t remember much about the Italian restaurant next to the Boston Common movie theater; I just had a strong recollection of the dramatic ceiling arching over the dining room.

Well, the ceiling is still there, and is as dramatic as ever. So, as a matter of fact, is the food.

Amanda and I were both hungry, so we chose to split a starter of a Caesar salad ($12.00). It was one of the few we could agree on, as Amanda is a vegetarian and I am not. I was surprised and pleased that the restaurant divided the salad amongst two plates for us, as opposed to presenting us with one unruly pile of Romaine leaves to fight over. The salad, while not particularly noteworthy, was light and crisp — very refreshing on a humid evening.

For my entrée, I selected a spinach and mascarpone ravioli ($19.00). Served with crème frâiche and minced parsley, it was surprisingly delicious. I never would have imagined that such luscious flavor could have been teased from such ingredients. The spinach was amazingly rich, and the dish’s sauce was citrusy and decadent. In spite of all of this, none of it felt the least bit heavy. In fact, it turned out to be the perfect amount of food, though I’ve got to say that if it were acceptable to lick a plate clean in public, I would have loved to have gotten every drop of that sauce.

The next time I go to Teatro, you can bet I’m ordering that ravioli again. In fact, I might even see if I can tease a few tidbits about its ingredients out of the members of the waitstaff. I’ll let you know if I learn anything new.

(Now, I have to acknowledge these pictures. I know they are terrible, and for that I apologize. I had forgotten to charge my camera’s battery, and was not going to take any photographs at all until Amanda reminded me that I could use my cell. It’s something I always forget about since I rarely, if ever, use that feature on my already too-complicated phone.)

Teatro
177 Tremont Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02111
617.778.6841
teatroboston.com

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Mind-Boggling.

This food-oriented quiz from The Guardian is so hard, I’m not even remotely embarrassed to tell you all that I got less than half of the questions right. Come to think of it, I’m actually proud that I got as many correct as I did! In all honesty, however, it should be noted that it was only because Amanda used the exact same phrase on a dinner party invitation last week that I was able to get number twenty-nine — Who said: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well”?

Anyone think they can pass this quiz? No fair cheating, by the way.

Dinner at Match.

I’d only ever been to Match on Mass Ave for drinks, so when JD and I were trying to brainstorm dinner places that were convenient to us both, my mind started thinking Back Bay and the South End. Well, I don’t really consider Match to be in Back Bay, though I’ll admit that if you were get down to it, the burger and martini joint just might be right on the line.

Before we even decided what we would order individually, JD and I made a list of the side dishes we wanted to share. I’m a pretty easy-going kinda gal when it comes to sides, if I do say so myself, because as long as there are fries I’m happy as happy could ever be. Match’s fries ($2.50) are more of a wedge than a stick, but I had no problems at all with their shape. I only wished they had been a tad crunchier on the outside.

JD selected the other two dishes for us to split: grilled asparagus wrapped in prosciutto ($3.75), and a dish of mac and cheese (the price of which I forgot to jot down). Though I’m not normally an aficionado of asparagus, it must be noted that these had precisely the right balance of crisp and tender; each bite had a truly great snap to it. The mac and cheese, while not extraordinary, had a nice breadcrumb crust that JD and I both commented on.

The menu at Match is divided into starters, mini burgers, mains and sides; JD and I had purposely ordered three sides because we were each intrigued by some of mini burgers’ descriptions. Though I was especially interested in the lamb, I ended up with the lobster burger ($8.00), mostly because I really wanted to try the roasted red pepper aiöli. While my burger itself was extremely tender and moist, I really struggled to get a taste of the aiöli. It was subtle, but so much so that it was as if it didn’t even exist.

In the end, dinner at Match was a nice time, though I would have to describe it in the exact same way as the mac and cheese — not extraordinary. The food was perfectly fine and the ambiance was chic, though in an “expected” way with its sleek banquettes and moody lighting. Ultimately, though, would I return to Match? That’s a trickier question than it appears. Let’s put it this way: I wouldn’t suggest it as a dining destination, but if I were invited there by a friend, I wouldn’t turn him or her down. I would, however, order a lot of drinks.

Match
94 Massachusetts Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts 02115
617.247.9922
matchbackbay.com

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CSA 2008, Week Eight.

I can’t believe Keith and I are already on week eight of our CSA with The Food Project. It feels like it was only last week that we had such a teensy tiny box of greens, turnips and parsnip; now each week seems to bring us a veritable bounty of vegetables that I honestly feel like I’m stealing. This week, for example, our box runneth over with the following:

  • Basil
  • Chard
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Garlic
  • Green beans
  • Lettuce
  • Peppers
  • Scallions
  • Summer squash
  • Tomatoes

I’ve only the vaguest idea as to what I’m going to do with all of this fine produce, but I can tell you that I have already decided the fate of those peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and scallions. The first three I know I’ll eat raw — probably while lying prostrate on the sofa, watching Project Runway, with three fans pointing directly at me. The scallions I’ll bake into scones. I’ve been on a scone kick this year, but I think it’s high time I try my hand at some savories rather than sweets. Not to mention Keith happens to love scallions and baked goods…

Susan’s Savory Cheese & Scallion Scones, adapted from Farmgirl Fare
Makes eight large scones

2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (you may omit this if your feta is particularly salty)
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 scallions, green and white parts, chopped
¾ cup half-and-half or milk
2 eggs
1 tablespoon milk

  1. Heat oven to 400˚. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add cheeses and gently mix until combined (I used my hands). Add scallions and gently mix until combined.
  2. In another bowl, beat ¾ cup half-and-half with one egg; fold into dry ingredients. Mix until soft dough forms; add up to ½ cup additional flour if dough is too sticky.
  3. On a floured surface, pat dough into a circle approximately one-inch thick. With a sharp knife coated in flour, cut circle into eight wedges; place wedges on greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.
  4. Beat together remaining egg and tablespoon of milk. Brush tops and sides of scones with egg glaze, then bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack and refrigerate in an airtight container.

As They Were by M.F.K. Fisher.

I remember when I first read writing by M.F.K. Fisher: it was two years ago, and my friend Beth had suggested I read The Gastronomical Me. At the time, I was feeling very frazzled and frugal — Keith and I were getting ready to buy our first place, and I felt as though I couldn’t spend any money recklessly, not that I consider book-buying reckless spending. Later in the year, I received a gift certificate to Barnes & Noble for my birthday; when I tried to purchase it, the book was out of stock. I truly felt as though I was fated to never read Fisher at all.

But then… my friend Marcella came to visit. Neither Beth nor I had spoken with her about my M.F.K. Fisher woes, and yet what else did Marcella bring me as a gift but The Gastronomical Me. If that’s not proof of something, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, I thought The Gastronomical Me was wonderful, so much so that I soon found myself at the bookstore again, this time stacking around myself all of Fisher’s books like a little kid building a fort. I soon realized that it would be truly impossible for me to purchase them all, since there were almost thirty different titles heaped at my feet. That day, I left the shop with only a few items in my bag and a much longer shopping list than when I entered. Imagine, then, how pleased I was last month to find a three-dollar copy of Fisher’s As They Were while wandering the aisles of Powell’s Books for Home and Garden, the Hawthorne District‘s branch of Powell’s Books that features literature focusing on cooking, gardening and crafts.

If you’re a lover of food and travel and you’ve not read M.F.K. Fisher, I urge you to start now. As They Were, as the title implies, is a collection of Fisher’s memories, her recollections of her past — where she lived, whom with and what she ate. I’m a sucker sometimes for nostalgia, and Fisher’s tone throughout the book overflows with it, with a powerful longing for days gone by. Regardless of whether Fisher’s writing is about her funny little kitchen in Provence, traveling by sea or fine dining experiences with children, captured on each page is a fondness and exuberance for life that is simply — well, simply enviable.

Dinner at Hungry Mother.

I’ve been anticipating the opening of for Rachel Miller Munzer’s new restaurant space for what seems like years. I’ve been such a fervent fan of her eponymous Bay Village breakfast-and-lunch spot Rachel’s Kitchen for ages — you know, now that I’m thinking about it, it might have been the first restaurant I blogged about. Over time, I had heard that Miller Munzer’s original restaurant concept, The Village Table, had fallen through; when the rumblings of a Cambridge eatery reached my ears, the nail-biting and toe-tapping began. After all, I had seen (and smelled, and eaten) what this woman and her husband Alon Munzer could create for breakfast, so I couldn’t wait to see (and smell and eat) what the two could come up with for dinner.

A few months ago, I found out where the future restaurant was located — 233 Cardinal Medeiros Avenue — and my heart sank. Since the it’s right down the block from the Kendall Square movie theater, you would think that anything occupying the space would do a brisk business, but I never thought that was the case. During my years in the area, I’ve seen a handful of bars, pubs and restaurants come and go in that exact spot. I wanted to make sure I was able to drop by ASAP in case the place wasn’t able to put a kibosh to the curse, so when Alyssa and Guillaume asked us out to dinner, I immediately suggested Hungry Mother.

The menu skews towards Southern comfort food, an culinary arena I must admit that, as a child of foreign parentage, I am not at all familiar with. I am very familiar with bacon, however, so I insisted that the group of us place an order for the deviled eggs and with bacon ($4.00). Listed in the menu under “To Tide You Over…” these creamy little egg halves were pretty close to perfect.

I’m trying no to subscribe to the school of thought where, if you like something, you must have more and more and more; shouldn’t you instead savor and relish and thoroughly enjoy the quantity you’ve got? More doesn’t make anything better, after all. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that three egg halves divided amongst three people — Keith abstained — should have been more than enough… but it wasn’t. I wanted so badly to ask for more and more and more.

We four decided to split an appetizer as well, opting for the shrimp and grits ($9.00). Guillaume, Frenchman that he is, had never had grits, and this sounded like too delicious a version to pass up. Grits, or coarsely ground corn, are very Southern; Hungry Mother amped up the Southern-ness by serving it alongside two other Southern items: tasso ham and maque choux. Both can trace their origins to Cajun cuisine, and they added a nice jolt of flavor to the plate. I’m surprised we were all able to share so well. We did, however, ask for extra bread to sop up all the remaining juices, of which there was plenty to go around.

As soon as I saw it on the menu, I knew I was going to order the catfish ($17.00), but not for the regular reasons. See, I don’t really like catfish, and I thought that if I was going to trust anyone to serve me a catfish that might have the potential to change my mind, it would have to be Chef Barry Maiden. (Think about it: if Rachel’s Kitchen can get me to wax poetic about a bagel, what could Hungry Mother make me say about a fish?) Here’s my verdict: fantastic. The fish had a crispy and golden cornmeal crust, and was tender and flaky beneath — a nice combinations of textures. You can’t really see it in the picture, I’m now realizing, but also featured on the plate were some really delicious collard greens. I’ve been told that collards are normally quite bitter but these were sweet and citrusy, two of my favorite flavors. Some Carolina Gold Rice middlins (literally broken grains of rice) and a mustard-caper brown butter sauce finished everything off.

After eating all this food, I simply did not have the capacity in my belly for dessert. If that hadn’t been the case, I most likely would have tried the watermelon sorbet; it is summer, and I can’t think of anything more refreshing on a hot night than that. Another exhilarating thought came to mind as Keith and I said our goodbyes and goodnights: is the jinx of 233 Cardinal Medeiros at its end? Has a restaurant finally come along that will last the long haul?

God, I hope so.

Hungry Mother
233 Cardinal Medeiros Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02141
617.499.0090
hungrymothercambridge.com

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CSA 2008, Week Seven.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
And whether pigs have wings.”

All right, so maybe that’s a smidge dramatic or odd, but what can I say — sometimes I like a bit of odd drama. The truth of the matter is that our weekly CSA box has gotten to be so big, that the time has come to take photographs of single items up close and personal. This week’s box had the following bona fide pile of incredible vegetables:

  • Beets
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Japanese eggplant
  • Parsely
  • Pepper
  • Tomato
  • Turnips
  • Salad mix
  • Scallions
  • Spicy salad mix (primarily of arugula and mizuna)

Here’s a picture of my gorgeous little turnips, some of which were barely the size of my thumbnail. This photograph came about when I was soaking these in a bowl in the sink; I was about to give each one a nice scrubbing and then dock their spindly tapered tails like a breeder with so many puppies, when I decided to take the shot. I thought the light was just so nice. Afterwards, I used a tried-and-true recipe that I’ve come to really enjoy, but with a few herb substitutions and the juice of one lemon. Both versions I thought were delicious, so if you’re going to try it out, I really urge you to think about adding lemon if you’ve got a liking for citrus the way I do.

Later in the week, I roasted the beets to toss in a salad with goat cheese, toasted walnuts, strawberries and a quick balsamic vinaigrette. I hadn’t ever used beets before, though for years I had read about using the juice as a dye for things such as paper and Easter eggs. I got the proof as to the permanence of their juice as I peeled and cubed the beets; not only were my hands stained, but so was my T-shirt. Luckily it was one I’ve never been overly fond of, but now it appears as though I have memento of my first foray into beet cookery.

Roasted Beets and Salads, adapted from Alice Waters‘s Chez Panisse Vegetables

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Remove the tops of the beets, leaving about half an inch of stem; wash the beets thoroughly and put them in a baking pan with a splash of water. Cover tightly with foil and bake for forty-five minutes to an hour, until they can be easily pierced through with a sharp knife. Uncover and allow to cool.
  2. Peel the beets and cut off their tops and bottom tails. (This is where you will inevitably stain your hands.) Cut the beets into halves or quarters, depending on their size; sprinkle generously with vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. Add a pinch of sugar if the beets are at all bitter. Do not add any oil until the beets have sat for at least half an hour and have had a chance to absorb the flavor of the vinegar. Adjust the seasoning.

Prepared this way, the beets are ready to join other ingredients into a salad. The following are some suggestions for combinations:

  • Beets, sherry vinegar, orange zest, tarragon and crushed garlic.
  • Beets, sherry or balsamic vinegar, blood orange segments and mâche.
  • Beets, balsamic vinegar, shallots and toasted walnuts.