Late Night Dinner at Craigie on Main.

If you bump into Keith, do me a favor: ask him what his favorite Boston meal was of 2008.  If he doesn’t say the dinner we had at Craigie Street Bistrot over the summer, I’ll buy you a drink.  It doesn’t count if you ask him after he’s read this, by the way.

craigie-on-main-logoIn all seriousness, the meal was so fantastic that we’ve both been thinking of reasons to get back to the restaurant.  We knew Craigie was relocating out of its Harvard Square neighborhood and into Central Square; we wanted to wait and check out the new space.  Also, we had read about the the new bar and its late night menu (available until midnight) so we headed into Cambridge to check it out.

Before I get into the food, a quick note about the aesthetics: the new Craigie, which is now known as Craigie on Main, has a definitively more modern décor than its previous incarnation’s outdated eighties look.  The walls are a soft taupey gray, and the bright kitchen is amongst the first things diners see upon entering.  I can’t wait to go back and eat in the dining room; I’ll specifically ask for the seats overlooking the shiny surfaces and glossy counters of the kitchen.

craigie-on-mainThere were a few different items on the bar menu that caught my eye; Keith and I decided to share three plates: a potato galette, mussels and pigs’ tails.

I was a little nervous about the galette, as the menu described it as being finished with a horseradish cream — I didn’t want to order anything that was going to send needles up into my sinuses.  After I was reassured of the cream’s mildness, I immediately daubed a bit of it onto a bite of galette; the horseradish was very subtle, lending a faint zing to the mellow potato, crispy bacon, chives and salmon roe ($7.00).  It was a great dish, something like a grown-up latke.

The mussels, with their toasted garlic and dashes of miso, were nice ($12.00) but not nearly as mind-blowing as the pigs’ tails ($9.00).  Braised in red wine and topped with skinny, crunchy onion rings,  it was incredibly tender and flavorful.  The meat was most certainly at the perfect falling-off-the-bone doneness, and shot through with the perfect amount of fattiness.  The menu changes frequently at Craigie’s regardless as whether you eat in the restaurant or at the bar; if the pigs’ tails are available, you don’t want to miss them.

A note:  If you drop into the bar at Craigie on Main, do be prepared to stand in the bar’s entrance until a seat is available, unless you arrive extremely early.  We walked in after ten and while we were able to have a drink while  you wait — water for me, the designated driver, and an Arak Toddy for Keith (Fennel Seed, Citrus, Bittermens Pepper Cake Bitters, $10.00).

Craigie On Main
853 Main Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139
617.497.5511
craigieonmain.com

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Café Round-Up: Crema Café.

What: Crema Café
Where: Harvard Square, Cambridge
When: Three and a half hours spanning early morning to just before lunchtime.
Ordered: Toasted plain bagel with lox and plain cream cheese, and a latte with sugar-free vanilla for $8.51
Info: Extremely busy, though there are a few undesirable tables — wobbly, cramped, in tight corners.  The crowd doesn’t let up at all; there doesn’t seem to be a quiet period.  I pounce on a table near a socket but have to drag another table over since the one in the covetable spot is wobbly.  Very loud, what with customer chatter, background music and employees calling out names for latte pick-up, but I like the commotion.  Wireless limited to certain hours.
Conclusion: Only for those who don’t mind writing amidst hustle, bustle and preying on empty tables.

Crema Café
27 Brattle Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
617.876.2700
cremacambridge.com

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Coming Soon… Boston Area Café Round-Ups.

My laptop and I have been spending a lot of time in cafés together lately, taking up as little space as possible and clickety clickety clickety-ing our little hearts out. It may be cliché, but I recently remembered how much my writing and I both thrive in an atmosphere like this.  The steady hum of the surrounding conversations, the robotic ticking of the registers’ printers, the continual current of people fluttering past, mugs chinking and clinking against plates and spoons, the rich smell of freshly-ground coffee — all of these things help me write.

The sad truth, however, is that not all cafés are equal. Since I’ve been popping into so many lately, I figured I should share my findings. I’ll be summarizing my thoughts on some of Boston’s independent coffeehouses and cafés* here once a week. I won’t pretend that I’m familiar with them all, so if you have a particular favorite, let me know.  I’m always interested in finding a new writing/coffee-drinking spot, so please drop me a line in the comments…

* I’ll focus exclusively on independently-owned businesses, but a few nationals might sneak in.

With Bold Knife + Fork by M.F.K. Fisher.

with-bold-knife-forkI took a shameful amount of time getting around to reading M.F.K. Fisher‘s works, but once I did I realized I had encountered an authoritative force in food and in writing.  Seriously.  I’m not just throwing words around here.  This woman can write.

If you’ve not read anything by Ms. Fisher, With Bold Knife and Fork is an utterly perfect place to start.  Run to the bookstore, click over to Amazon, get thee to a library — I don’t care which method you prefer* as long as readership of this book increases by a significant amount.

Part cookbook and part memoir, With Bold Knife and Fork is almost novelesque in its structure, starting with Ms. Fisher’s research of turn-of-the-century recipes and their communal lack of specificity, advancing on to her own youth under her puritanical grandmother’s roof and continuing with her daughters’ culinary endeavors.  Interspersed throughout the anecdotes and observations are recipes relating to the topic at hand; some are Ms. Fisher’s, and others are credited to friends, family and her mother’s cook.

While I have an almost unnatural fondness for Ms. Fisher (it feels strange, calling her Ms. Fisher, but what am I supposed to do, refer to her as M.F.K.?) I can’t deny that she and her writing keep on popping up during coincidentally convenient times.  Take the first time I read one of her books: I meant to pick up a copy of Gastronomical Me, as per my friend Beth‘s advice, and the next day my friend Marcella gave me the book as a present.  Then there were those days a few weeks ago when Ms. Fisher seemed to be talking right to me, from the Great Beyond, as I made risotto and contemplated consuming brains.

Then there’s this, a quote from With Bold Knife and Fork which sums up precisely how I feel about inventing my own recipes, something I do with great infrequency:

Perhaps I should feel more actively ashamed, that I am so torpid. Why do I sit back and let other people sweat to do all my figuring and inventing? I am a clod.

Honestly, this is a woman after my own heart.  With grace and wit and candor, she just gets me.  And I love that.

* Technically speaking, this is a lie.  Support your local independent bookseller!

Kate’s Kitchen in London.

kate-4Where do you live?
I live in a Victorian flat in North London with my boyfriend Jeremy and new favourite American friend, Darlington.

kate-8How often do you cook or bake?
I cook lunch and dinner most days and like to do some cake baking every week or two.

kate-5What is your favorite kitchen utensil?
My favourite kitchen utensil is the potato ricer. I find it a little tricky to use but am always amazed at how creamy it makes your mash.

kate-71Which part of your kitchen do you like best and why?
The best bit of our kitchen is the stereo (even though it is melted and does not work properly) as singing Abba and cooking is so much fun — there are so many dance moves you can incorporate!

kate-2What was your biggest kitchen accomplishment?
I’m not really sure what my biggest kitchen accomplishment might be — it could be best to ask someone else — however one of the most enjoyable is definitely Delia Smith‘s Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding. I’ve pasted the recipe below, however I never include the cinnamon or rum.

Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding, from The Delia Collection: Chocolate by Delia Smith
Makes six portions

9 slices, each ¼-inch thick, good-quality white bread, 1 day old, taken from a large loaf
5 ounces dark chocolate, 75 % cocoa solids
3 ounces butter
15 fluid ounces whipping cream
4 tablespoons dark rum
4 ounces caster sugar
good pinch cinnamon
3 large eggs
double cream, well chilled

  1. Begin by removing the crusts from the slices of bread, which should leave you with 9 pieces about 4 inches   square. So now cut each slice into 4 triangles. Next, place the chocolate, whipping cream, rum, sugar, butter and cinnamon in a bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, being careful not to let the bowl touch the water, then wait until the butter and chocolate have melted and the sugar has completely dissolved. Next, remove the bowl from the heat and give it a really good stir to amalgamate all the ingredients.
  2. Now in a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and then pour the chocolate mixture over them and whisk again very thoroughly to blend them together.
  3. Then spoon about a ½ inch layer of the chocolate mixture into the base of a buttered 7 x 9 inch ovenproof dish and arrange half the bread triangles over the chocolate in overlapping rows. Now, pour half the remaining chocolate mixture all over the bread as evenly as possible, then arrange the rest of the triangles over that, finishing off with a layer of chocolate. Use a fork to press the bread gently down so that it gets covered very evenly with the liquid as it cools.
  4. Cover the dish with clingfilm and allow to stand at room temperature for 2 hours before transferring it to the fridge for a minimum of 24 (but preferably 48) hours before cooking. When you’re ready to cook the pudding, pre-heat the oven to gas 350°. Remove the clingfilm and bake in the oven on a high shelf for 30-35 minutes, by which time the top will be crunchy and the inside soft and squidgy. Leave it to stand for 10 minutes before serving with well-chilled double cream poured over.

A Baking Weekend.

Marcella and I had A Plan for my Valentine’s visit.  For several weeks we had been swapping recipes, talking about kitchen tasks and asking each other questions about cookies, so it seemed only natural that we would have a baking weekend — in addition to our normal to-dos like catching up, gossiping and eating out.  Not too long ago, Marcella had purchased a new cookbook — Baked: New Frontiers in Baking — that was calling our names, and I had been wanting to try another madeleine recipe, so I packed my pans in my bag before leaving home.

browniesAfter thumbing through Baked (which, I should mention, is from the men at the eponymous Brooklyn bakery), we decided to make brownies, which apparently is one of Oprah’s favorites.  Since we didn’t have quite the right size pan, we doubled the recipe — big mistake.  Normally, having twice as many brownies is a scrumptious and wondrous thing, but in this case it was terrible.  You try dealing with two times as many fudgy-on-the-inside, crunchy-on-the-outside chocolate bombs and then tell me how you feel.  Honestly.  We cut them up into bitty bites for a reason.  These suckers are intense.

madeleinesAlso intense are David Lebovitz‘s madeleines: a lemony glaze amps up the sunny citrus flavor, and each little cake walks along, holding hands with her friends Moist and Dense, combining to make the most perfectly textured thing ever.

We gave a shell-shaped sweet to Marcella’s mother; not knowing what she was eating, Mrs. Hammer said, “I’m sitting underneath the Eiffel Tower.”  When we told her what she had in her palm was a classic French treat, she beamed.

Indeed, I can’t tout this recipe enough, though when I make them again I will omit the baking powder to compare the difference in its consistency.  I’m not worried though — like Marcella says, “You can’t go wrong with a recipe from David Lebovitz.”

So true.

“Baked” Brownies, from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
Makes twenty-four brownies

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 ½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.  Butter the sides and bottom of a 9-by-13 inch glass or light metal baking pan.
  2. Whisk the flour, salt and cocoa powder in a medium bowl.
  3. Put the chocolate, butter and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water; stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth.  Turn off the heat but keep the bowl over the water; add sugars.  Whisk until combined, then remove the bowl from the pan.  Cool the mixture to room temperature.
  4. Add 1 egg to chocolate, whisking to combine.  Repeat with remaining eggs, whisking each egg thoroughly into the chocolate before adding the next.  Whisk in vanilla.  Do not overbeat.
  5. Sprinkle the flour mixture over chocolate.  Using a spatula, fold flour into chocolate until just combined.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan at the halfway point, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out with only a few moist crumbs sticking to it.  Let cool completely before cutting into squares.
  7. When tightly covered with plastic wrap, the brownies will keep at room temperature for up to three days.

Lemon-Glazed Madeleines, adapted by David Lebovitz from his book The Sweet Life In Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious — and Perplexing — City
Makes twenty-four cookies

for the cookies
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
rounded 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder (optional)
zest of one small lemon
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature, plus additional melted butter for preparing the molds

for the glaze
¾ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons water

  1. Brush the indentations of a madeleine mold with melted butter. Dust with flour, tap off any excess, and place in the fridge or freezer.
  2. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, whip the eggs, granulated sugar, and salt for 5 minutes until frothy and thickened. Spoon the flour and baking powder, if using, into a sifter or mesh strainer and use a spatula to fold in the flour as you sift it over the batter. (Rest the bowl on a damp towel to help steady it for you.) Add the lemon zest to the cooled butter, then dribble the butter into the batter, a few spoonfuls at a time, while simultaneously folding to incorporate the butter. Fold just until all the butter is incorporated. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (Batter can be chilled for up to 12 hours.)
  3. To bake the madeleines, preheat the oven to 425°.  Plop enough batter in the center of each indentation with enough batter which you think will fill it by ¾’s (you’ll have to eyeball it, but it’s not brain-surgery so don’t worry if you’re not exact.) Do not spread it. Bake for 8-9 minutes or until the cakes just feel set. While the cakes are baking, make a glaze in a small mixing bowl by stirring together the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and water until smooth.
  4. Remove from the oven and tilt the madeleines out onto a cooling rack. The moment they’re cool enough to handle, dip each cake in the glaze, turning them over to make sure both sides are coated and scrape off any excess with a dull knife. After dipping, rest each one back on the cooking rack, scalloped side up, until the cakes are cool and the glaze has firmed up.

Storage: Glazed madeleines are best left uncovered, or not tightly-wrapped; they’re best eaten the day they’re made. They can be kept in a container for up to three days after baking, if necessary.

Note:  If you use baking powder, they may take another minute or so to bake since the batter will rise higher. They’re done when the cakes feel just set if you poke them with your finger. Avoid overbaking them.

Very Fine Design.

Ben and I have been friends for almost thirteen years now, and so we know each other pretty well.  When he sent me an email recently with nothing in its body but a link, I knew it would be directing me to something good.

I was so right.

Graphic artist M.S. Corley “redid” both J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter books and Lemony Snicket‘s A Series of Unfortunate Events in the style of Penguin paperbacks of the 1960s.  I think they’re tons of fun, and so well designed that I kind of wish they were real.

Actually, I really wish they were real.

corley

You can see the rest of the Harry Potters here, and the rest of the Snickets here.  For a similar film-related project, check out the “I Can Read Movies” series at Spacesick.