CSA 2008, Week Twenty-One.

My friend Ben lives in LA; if the time difference wasn’t trouble enough, our schedules are so vastly different that we have monthly phone dates scheduled in order to keep in touch.  We talk about not only what’s going on in our lives, but also what we’ve been reading, what we’ve been watching and what and where we’ve been eating.  It doesn’t matter that it will most likely be years before I’ll be able to go to Akasha or Pizzeria Mozza, and we both know that Ben won’t be dropping into Hungry Mother or Picco any time soon — we both simply enjoy discussing food.  In fact, I was on the phone with Ben when I walked into my kitchen to see this week’s box from The Food Project sitting on the counter…  including two long green branches.

“Oh my god,” I said, interrupting Ben mid-sentence.  “There are these things next to the stove.  They’re supposed to be Brussels sprouts but —”

“—They’re boughs,” Ben said.

Two feet long and covered with sprout pompoms, they were most definitely boughs.  And I had no idea what to do with them, so I turned to the rest of the box for ideas:

  • Beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Butternut squash
  • Carrots
  • Celeriac
  • Chard
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Rutabaga
  • Scallions

brussels-carrots-1Apparently, when I was younger I used to love Brussels sprouts; regardless of that, I wasn’t being struck with recipe intervention, so I turned to my magazine collection for help.

I’ve always had a thing for cooked carrots, since something happens when they meet heat  — their  flavor intensifies in such a way that I literally have to hold myself back from eating them all.  Carrots and sprouts make a lovely combination, since the richly sweet carrots compliment the bitter green sprouts perfectly.  The shallots, of course, add a mild oniony flavor, the butter a welcome luxury and the cider a pleasant tang.  It’s a dish whose simplicity is its high point.

Carrots and Brussels Sprouts, from Gourmet
Makes 6 servings

2 tablespoons chopped shallot (from 1 medium)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 pound carrots, cut diagonally into ½-inch-thick pieces
1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

  1. Cook shallot in 2 tablespoons butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add carrots, Brussels sprouts, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to brown, three to four minutes.
  2. Add water and cover skillet, then cook over medium-high heat until vegetables are tender, five to eight minutes. Stir in vinegar, remaining tablespoon butter, and salt and pepper to taste.
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My New Obsession.

img_2177-2.jpg This year we decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve in a very low-key and sort of impromptu fashion. At what could only be described as the very last minute, we gathered a small group of friends in our living room for some snacks and drinks. We spent the evening chatting, eating, drinking and laughing, only turning on the television at exactly 11.58. After the ball dropped, we promptly turned the television off and focused our attention again on each other. In my opinion, it was pretty much the perfect way to ring in 2008.

Something else that made this New Year’s extra memorable for me was the fact that it was my introduction to Lambic. I’m not much of a beer drinker; I mostly drink Belgian-style beers like Allagash. I suppose it made sense that I fell madly in love with the peach Lambic that Darlington brought over on a whim.

Lambic comes in a variety of fruit flavors, but thus far I’ve only tried the peach and the raspberry (framboise). I’ve got a particular interest in the black currant, as my love of the Kir Royale (Crème de Cassis and Champagne) is boundless. The apple is also appealing, but at the moment I am still so enamored with the golden brightness of the peach that even the fizzy raspberry couldn’t sway my affection. That said, I noticed last month that Picco‘s dessert menu includes one especially intriguing item: an “adult” ice cream soda. It is described as “your choice of Belgian Lambic poured over vanilla ice cream,” and certainly sounds as though for it alone is a visit necessary.

Dinner at Picco.

It’s always an extravagance to eat out more than once in a day, especially if you’re not traveling or on vacation. I had dinner with JD at Picco in the South End; we hadn’t seen each other since last year, something that is still strange to say, regardless of the truth behind the statement.

I chose Picco because it’s centrally located, affordable and on the way home for the two of us, even though we live in completely opposite directions. Those reasons, and the food is really good. The menu veers towards the Italian, what with the paninis, pizzas and pastas, but the décor always seems brasserie-esque to me — the red velvet drape around the door, blocking out the cold; the darkly-hued bar with its chalkboard of ice cream flavors (oh, does Picco have ice cream!); the banquette seating and highly varnished apple red chairs. Whether I would classify Picco as an “Italian brasserie” is an entirely different question, but it’s the only reference I’ve got as I’ve never been to Italy. For all I know, Picco is exact replica of a joint in Milan.

JD and I looked over the menu and, for a moment, I thought I was going to have a repeat event from the morning, when Darlington and I ordered the same breakfast from Rachel’s Kitchen. JD and I both decided on the panini pluses, but we chose different paninis and different pluses so I think that makes it altogether dissimilar. JD went with a Cubano panini and French onion soup; I chose the grilled cheese and green salad.

The green salad was literally just that — a salad of greens — tossed with a tangy-sweet honey-lemon dressing that reminded me of a cheese I had tasted this past Sunday at Formaggio Kitchen. It was a soft pillow which had been rolled in golden raisins and was disturbingly delicious. It’s called Regal de Bourgogne and I can’t express how much I now regret not buying it, so I could taste it to see if it really was similar to the dressing, or if it’s just my memory teasing me.

My panini was a little greasier than I liked, but good nevertheless. (A question: Is it possible not to have even a little bit of oil on your fingers after eating a panini?) The cheese was actually not one cheese, but three — Cheddar, Gruyère and Taleggio — and it was so smooth and oozey that it made me think of the cheese sauce in mac n’ cheese. I suppose in a way that could make sense, particularly considering that a primary difference between the two is the form in which the carbohydrate appears. Sometimes a girl wants her pasta, and sometimes she wants to eat with her hands (though one of my aunts makes a fantastic mac n’ cheese that is cut into squares and eaten sans fork). Generally speaking, the flavor behind my grilled cheese panini was nice and mild, comforting and warm. The sourdough had a good crunch to it — not so crunchy that it hurt, or worse still, cut the roof of the mouth, but not so soft that it seemed like Wonder Bread.

For dessert, we split the sampler: three demi-tasses of ice cream. Since each flavor seemed so appealing, we eliminated what we were the least interested in — cinnamon, caramel and honey — and ended up with PB cookie, malted chip and coffee fudge. Of the trio, the clear favorite was PB cookie, JD’s first choice. It wasn’t like the kind of everyday cookie dough ice cream, because the pieces of peanut butter cookie interspersed amongst the vanilla had an intense and vibrant peanut buttery flavor, the depth of which was truly unexpected. I’m a sucker for puffy peanut butter cookies and these chunks of cookie were pretty damn close to perfect, so much so that even though I enjoyed the malt chip (too sweet, not malty enough) and the coffee fudge (more like espresso fudge, replete with gritty grounds) they simply couldn’t compare with the PB cookie. Because I’m such a swell gal, I even let JD have the last spoonful, and that was before he said he was going to treat me. What a pal.

It’s hard to think of now, mainly because it’s snowing outside, but Picco is even better in the warmer weather, when a portion of the over-wide sidewalk in front is set with tables for outdoor dining. Time to start counting down the months…

Picco
513 Tremont Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116
617.927.0066
piccorestaurant.com

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