Five Things About Me: 61 62 63 64 65.

61. This is my dearest fantasy.

62. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I cannot imagine a day without cheese.  Last week I thought I had skipped a day, and I practically had a heart attack.  I went straight home and ate most of a fat wedge of Comté.  I immediately felt better.

63. There’s something I find extremely soothing about getting an eyebrow wax.  I’m not a masochist or anything.  I just like a nice arch.

64. I love how seagulls have to find the highest point possible upon which to perch and survey the ground below.  I love how much of the time, the points they choose are the tops of highway street lights.

65.  Holiday mania — particularly Christmas mania — really freaks me out and totally turns me off on celebrating altogether.  That said, I really like this.

Dinner at T.W. Food.

For the second year in a row, Keith and I ended up at Cambridge’s T.W. Food for my birthday dinner.  When the restaurant opened in 2007, it seemed to be on all of the local — and some national — “Don’t Miss” lists, making it something of a culinary darling.  It was the descriptions of Chef Tim Wiechmann’s menu that compelled me to make it my birthday stop last year, and it was the memory of that meal that made me want to repeat the experience.

tw-food-11Like last year, Keith and I opted to do the seven course grand tasting ($69.00) — which in a sense is misleading, as the meal is bookended with extra desserts on one side and an amuse bouche on the other.  (For the record, the tasting is also offered with a wine pairing; that meal is an additional $39.00.)

We received two different amuses: the first was a light egg salad on a circle of toasted brioche, the second was a turnip-ginger mousse on another circle; this one was of puff pastry.  Normally, I favor anything involving a puff pastry; while I will say the mousse was silky in texture and subtle in flavor, the egg salad was so awesomely light that I actually found myself preferring it.

tw-food-21Before our tasting began, we were presented with the one other item that we had ordered: T.W. Food’s oyster shooter ($3.00 each).  Last year, the shooter was a part of the tasting, and Keith can tell you how many often I’ve spoken of its cool brininess.

“Is oceany a word?” I would ask.

And later:  “What about sea-licious?”

This time around, the shooters came in flavored essences — beet, fennel or cucumber.  Keith choose the fennel while I opted for the beet, which was not only intensely flavored of beet but also — well, is oceany a word?

tw-food-31We were never able to resolve the issue, since our tasting then officially began with a smoked foie gras crème brûlée.  It was served alongside a cross-hatch of apples and a round of toast, and while it was incredibly creamy, I’ve never liked crème brûlée; even the foie’s richness couldn’t compete with the caramelized top.  I will say that the sugary top was perfectly crisp and had a pleasant snap to it, and that the foie’s texture was remarkably airy and almost like a custard but that is all.  My bias against crème brûlée prevents me from saying that I truly liked this demitasse of a starter, no matter how pretty it was or how well the crisply sweet apples complemented the foie.

tw-food-41The second course of the tasting was another story altogether.  I loved every aspect of this frothy cauliflower
soup.  Spiced with vanilla, curried gnocchi hid at the bottom of the mug, sidling onto my spoon at the very last minute to surprise me with their wholly unexpected zest.  The broth was at once creamy and light, and tasted almost intoxicatingly of cauliflower — rich, milky and utterly delicious.  What was interesting was the mixture of textures here: breezy cauliflower foam, atop lush cauliflower-vanilla soup, in which pillowy gnocchi swam.  It was absolutely lovely, and I had to hide my spoon from myself when I was done, since I was tempted to dip it into Keith’s mug.

tw-food-51The third course was one I was looking forward to very much, from the moment I read its description on the menu: “German spätzle, a special ‘Schwabish’ recipe: bacon, onion, parsley and Emmenthaler cheese.”  I love spätzle — well, I love noodles and those made with egg have a very warm place reserved in my heart — and I am one of those people who think that the addition of bacon to any recipe is a smart move, so I attacked this plate knowing that it was almost impossible for me to be disappointed.  That said, I think even if I hadn’t been already leaning towards affection, there would have been no chance of me not adoring this dish.  After all, what’s not love about crunchy, salty bacon paired with soft, chewy noodles and the tang of melty cheese?

tw-food-6I was a bit anxious about this next dish of Scottish salmon, but not because I get squeamish around fish.  In fact, I love most seafood, and a pan-seared fillet with wild mushrooms sounded particularly appetizing.  What was  getting me nervous, however, was our server described as “eggplant caviar.”  Here’s the thing:  I hate eggplant.  (I know it’s not cool to hate it, but the truth’s the truth.)  At first I took the childish route, performing surgery on my plate in order to transport as much salmon and mushroom to my mouth as little contact with the eggplant as possible.  Don’t worry, I quickly realized that this was utterly silly and that a little but of aubergine wasn’t going to kill me.  In fact, it was quite good…  for eggplant.

tw-food-7Our last of the main courses was game-centric: venison two ways.  The first was the cured and roasted leg meat, and the second was with braised and packaged in pasta.  While it should be noted that everything on the plate was  delicious (especially the smeared dollop of turnip purée and the tender wedges of pear), I found this dish to be exceedingly heavy.  Had the grand tasting been six courses, with the venison as the final savory plate, that would have been one thing, but to face it after the not-so-light salmon and the filling spätzle…  I thought it was a bit of a misstep on the planning stage of things.

tw-food-81Stage one of our dessert was a small cheese plate featuring Noble Cheddar from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and my beloved Comté from Jura, France.  As with the salmon earlier in the evening, I had some hesitation when approaching this dish.  This time, however, it was because of the cheddar.  I am a great aficionado of cheese, but I am most certainly on the fence when it comes to cheddars.  In fact, of all the different varieties that I’ve had, I can only think of three that I’ve liked:  Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Montgomery’s and Keen’s.  I’m sad to say that the Noble didn’t make my list, though my wedge did find itself on Keith’s plate.

tw-food-91The final course of the grand tasting was one that I was quite curious about: pears suspended in a chamomile tea gelée with a sweet cream panna cotta and a pumpkin coulis.  I don’t know if it’s trendy to confess this, but here I go regardless — I really enjoy a nice gelée.  I like its slippery texture on the tongue, and I like its concentration of flavor.  This gelée satisfied me immensely, as did the panna cotta, which was perfectly balanced between firm and satiny.  The one aspect that I found myself spooning away from, however, was the pumpkin coulis.  Flavored with cinnamon, it was so overwhelming that a few smears on my spoon were more than enough for me to get a taste; after he had finished his, I swapped my goblet with Keith, a fan of cinnamon.

tw-food-101Immediately before we were presented with the bill, we were given some extra desserts to speed us home.  My absolute favorite was a sweet that tap-danced the line dividing cookie from cake; made of almond flour, it was so delicate and so subtle that I found myself chewing more and more slowly so that I could enjoy it even more.  The second-place finish goes to the golden brown tuille, whose sticky crunch was impossibly fun.  In the absolute dead last position were the sugar-dusted Concord grape jellies; after one bit I forfeited my candy to Keith.  I don’t know what it is about grape (and cherry, and raspberry) but I infinitely prefer the authentic fruit to a reproduction, or even a boiled down version of its essence.  I don’t know why this is, especially as I’ve no problems with candified versions of apple, peach and watermelon; grape, for whatever reason, is at the top of my can’t-stand-it list.

Now, first things first:  I love T.W. Food.  I love the casual-yet-refined ambiance, I love the eclectic mix of furnishings, I love the fact that our server remembered us from last year, and I of course love the practically worshipful attention-to-detail Chef Wiechmann and his team possess.  What I don’t love is that I’ve come to realize that there are so many foods and flavors that I dislike: crème brûlée, eggplant, most Cheddars, cinammon and concentrated grape.  Did my food preferences cause me to enjoy my meal any less?  Of course not; I just find myself wondering what else there is out there that I find unpalatable, and hoping they’re not on the menu next year.

T.W. Food
377 Walden Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

T.W. Food on Urbanspoon

Brunch at Sel de la Terre.

By now, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that I can often get stuck between a few menu choices.  This time, at brunch at Sel de la Terre, it was a couple of sandwiches holding me up, and the obvious solution was to con someone into splitting them so I could sample them both.

The first sandwich I was hankering to try was the slow-roasted pork. Served with baby arugula, a sundried tomato aïoli and Comté (one of my favorite cheeses!) on black olive bread ($8.95), it sounded too good to pass up. Unfortunately, this was an incidence of an item not quite reaching its full potential. The flavors were there, but they were not nearly as intense as I would have hoped. Not only that, but I could barely taste the Comté. (Really, that’s me being kind and diplomatic — I couldn’t get any sense of my beloved Comté at all. In fact, I forgot it was supposed to be there until I consulted the menu a second time.) Also, I couldn’t help but think that there was something missing from this sandwich — aside from depth of flavor, that is. I will say that I would be curious to try this as a panino; now that I think about it, this would be a great panino… with a more generous amount of Comté, of course.

The other sandwich calling out to me had one of my other favorite cheeses as a component. The skillet-roasted crabcakes with Gruyère, house-made bacon and romaine was served on a crunchy baguette ($8.95) and was absolutely delicious. The crab was sweet and delicate, with the bacon adding a nice savory saltiness to the mix. It, unlike the slow-roasted pork, was absolutely perfect as is, and would not have made a great panino. There’s no other bread that could have possibly stood in for the baguette; this sandwich would have been the sorrier for it otherwise.

The brunch offerings at Sel de la Terre definitely skew more towards lunch than breakfast; if you’re in search of apple-cinnamon pancakes with maple syrup, I advise you to keep walking. However, if what you’re craving is a duo of poached eggs with house-made bacon or perhaps a marinated chicken sandwich with hot house tomatoes, then make Sel de la Terre your first stop.

Sel de la Terre
255 State Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02109

Sel de la Terre on Urbanspoon

CSA 2008, Week Three.

In January Keith and I first started looking for a CSA, purposely searching for one that had a nearby pick-up spot. We went through the list of options and eliminated the programs which required us to head out to the farm on a weekly basis. We knew that we wouldn’t be able to commit to driving the twenty-some miles to The Food Project‘s location in Lincoln every weekend in order to pick up our box.

When Keith got our first box, the coordinator explained that as the seasons begin to transition out of spring and into summer, our weekly share would gradually get larger. Eventually, she said, the produce may not even fit into the box; there may be melons and miscellaneous squash to tote home as well. Well, the weather hasn’t even begun to level out and already our box has gotten a little bigger. In fact, I couldn’t even photograph the vegetables in the box, because of crowding issues. I had to line everything up on my counter, like so. This week, we received the following:

  • Two heads of lettuce
  • Swiss chard
  • Radishes
  • Scallions
  • One lonely zucchini

As in weeks before, I chopped up the lettuces for a mixed green salad; I skewered the zucchini and scallions with some beef that I had marinated with sesame oil, chili, ginger and garlic. Since I knew that we would be visiting my parents in New York this weekend, I saved the radishes to bring home to my dad… which left me with that bouquet of Swiss chard.

Each week, our box comes with a handful of recommended usages for its contents. This week’s box came with a delicious-sounding recipe that I had to try out: Chard Pie. I love a nice pie, but have actually never made one from scratch (read: homemade crust). The recipe actually didn’t come with instructions on how to make a crust; I turned to my cookbook library to help me out, and I’ve got to say I was so pleased with the results.

One more thing to mention: the pie recipe does not specify what kind of cheese to use. I happened to have some Parmesan and Fontina on hand, so I used a mixture of both. The next time I make this pie, I think I’ll use Comté or Gruyère Alpage.

Chard Pie, from Asparagus to Zucchini
Makes about eight portions.

1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch chard
1 teaspoon Balsamic vinegar
6 eggs
1 cup shredded cheese
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh thyme or rosemary, chopped
½ recipe Basic Pie Dough (below)

  1. Heat oven to 400˚. Heat oil over medium flame; when the oil is ready, sauté onion and garlic until golden brown.
  2. Trim and chop chard; add to pan with vinegar and cook contents down until the greens are wilted. Remove from heat.
  3. Beat eggs in a bowl; mix in cheese, salt, herbs and chard mixture. When fully incorporated, pour into pie shell. Bake 30-40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Basic Pie Dough, from The New Best Recipe Cookbook from Cook’s Illustrated
Makes enough dough for one double-crust nine-inch pie.

2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup vegetable shortening, chilled
1 ½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
6-8 tablespoons ice water

  1. Process the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor until combined. Add the shortening and process until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about ten seconds. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture; cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse crumbs, about ten one-second pulses. The butter bits should be no larger than small peas. Turn the mixture into a medium bowl.
  2. Sprinkle six tablespoons of ice water over the mixture. With a rubber spatula, fold in to mix. Press down on the dough with the broad side of the spatula until the dough sticks together; add up to two more tablespoons ice water if needed.
  3. Divide the dough into two balls and flatten each into a four-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour or up to two days before using.

On Comté.

Keith went to Formaggio Kitchen last Sunday (I was busy) and came home with, amongst other things, a sizable wedge of Comté. This is all that’s left of it, and the baguette that Keith bought to accompany it.

I may or may not have said this before, but I love cheese. It is a torrid affair that we are embroiled in, cheese and I, full of longing, yearning and desire. I should add the word “unrequited” as well, but I’m hopeful.

Comté is certainly high on my list of go-to cheeses; along with Pointu Gaborit, Gruyère Alpage, Boerenkaas-Veenweidekaas and Piave Vecchio — which I think is possibly one of the prettiest wheels out there, with its sunny yellow and vibrant blue seal.

Made from cow’s milk, Comté is from the Franche-Comté area of eastern France, near the Swiss border. It’s a harder cheese, but one with a bit of resiliency to it; Comté doesn’t crumble when cut, unlike various Parmesans or a triangle of Mimolette. As for the flavor, well — it’s utterly delicious. Creamy and nutty, it’s similar to Gruyère, with a nice amount of saltiness and a smattering of crunchy calcium lactate crystals sprinkled throughout.

Apparently, Comté is wonderful in fondues and its texture probably lends itself really well to melting. I can just imagine how lovely a Comté and potato gratin would be, or a Comté-based mac and cheese… Truthfully though, I wouldn’t know. Comté never lasts long enough around my house for me to do anything more advanced than slicing off a piece and popping it in my mouth. And I’ve got to say, if that’s all I ever do this cheese, it’s more than enough to make me happy.