Friday, April 20, 2007

Shanghai Choy and Steak

Going to Super 88 - the Asian supermarkets in various locations around Boston - is always an adventure. They've got LIVE tilapia, catfish, eels and Dungeoness crabs - all of which they'll gladly make un-live for you. They've got neverending aisles of teas, sauces, and candies - as well as dried everything! In the meat section, you'll find jellyfish, rooster testicles, head-on poultry, entire roasted baby pigs, and just about every other part of any edible animal.

We love going there, especially for produce because you can find almost any veggie out there and usually you get better prices than at your supermarket. This time around, we picked up some nice sirloin strips for an unbeatable price, and then hunted for a sidedish.

I was immediately drawn to the choy section... near the Bok Choy which I was familiar with was something called Shanghai Choy - and it looked awful cute - so we took a bunch home and decided to look it up later. Apparently, Shanghai Choy is lighter green than Bok Choy and has less moisture, but to be honest I don't know if I could tell the difference. They key to cooking choy is rinsing it very well. I chopped off roughly 1 inch of the bottom of the bulb (I had 3 bulbs), thereby separating all the leaves. After several rinses and water changes, I spun them in my salad spinner and cut the leafy parts of the stems. I thinly sliced the stems, and coarsely chopped the leaves.

I started some olive oil in a large pan and sauteed some garlic with the stems for about 5 minutes after which I added about 1.5 cups of chopped portabello mushrooms to the pan with a few squirts of fish sauce, 1 dash of five spice, some squirts of Sriracha, and half a cup of veggie stock. After another 5 minutes, in went the leaves and a cup and a half of bean sprouts with a couple dashes of soy. I finished it off by cutting of little bits of Chinese chives into the pan (milder than run-of-the-mill chives in my opinion).

(can you tell we like this stuff?)

And that was it! I served it up with that steak that we had marinated in white wine, sriracha, and some red pepper flake and then quickly grilled. Wonderful flavors, very easy to make, and - as always - an adventure!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Pickled Pink Eggs & Beets

My Mom used to grow beets in the garden and then pickle and can them. Our basement was full of pickle jars, and I used to pretend that I was the shop owner and purveyor of the cellar pickles - such good memories! (what a strange kid! - ed) And this post on A Chicken in Every Granny Cart brought all of those memories back to me! In honor of Easter, I decided to follow her cue and pickle some eggs with beets to give the eggs a pinkish, purplish Spring-time hue and pickled flavor.

I simmered one can of whole small beets (I threw in some of their juice too) in equal parts water and cider vinegar. I threw in at least a half cup brown sugar, a couple shakes of cinnamon and a couple shakes of allspice. Cinnamon sticks and cloves would have been a better choice, but I was without. After simmering, I removed from the heat and added the already hard-boiled and deshelled eggs to the pan. I let them sit at room temp all day before putting them in the fridge. After 24hrs, the pink color hadn't penetrated to the yolk yet, but after a few days, it certainly did. The beets were lovely too, but beware of the beet juice -- it likes to leave stains everywhere!

For breakfast yesterday, I put some mayo on some whole wheat toast, 1 sliced pickled pink egg with some S&P, and a bit of baby romaine. Tasty... and pink!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Boston's South End Restaurants

Boston's South End was our home for many wonderful years and, although we relocated just over a year ago, the South End will always hold a place in our hearts - and stomachs. We especially loved the many restaurants of the South End that were available just a short walk away. To be honest, many of the restaurants in this neighborhood are certainly NOT cheap eats these days, so we'd try to only go out on special occasions... but it was always nice to know they were there! Lots and lots of people are coming to Boston this upcoming weekend for the Boston Marathon, and the South End is perfect for a visit - just south of Boylston Street, which is the main finish line area - so we thought we'd help out with our own little guided tour!

Here is a quick Boston primer - the major neighborhoods of Boston Proper (not including Roxbury, East Boston, or Dorchester in this pic):

  • North End - Great Italian Restaurants! Old North Church! Pizzeria Regina is a must for a big, flat, crispy, brick-oven-cooked pizza...
  • Back Bay - Newbury Street shopping - and the bistros - are the place to see-and-be-seen in Boston. Tapeo on Newbury is GREAT for tapas... but we usually end up in the bars and steakhouses on Boylston Street!
  • Beacon Hill - this beautiful old section is the home to the Capital and all the government buildings... Sevens for home-brewed beer, Grotto for a romantic Italian dinner, and Silvertone near Boston Common for great upscale comfort food.
  • Theater District/Chinatown - world-class shows early, certainly good for an adventure later... stay in groups down here late at night and you'll have fun! Penang is good and Shabu Zen for shabu-shabu!
  • Financial District - most bustling during Happy Hours, more bars opening all the time... Lots of great sandwich shops (the Mediterranean) here during the day and lots of trouble to get into down here at night!
  • Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market - big tourist destination, not really a "neighborhood" but I had to include it in here. You can find anything along the row of booths in the Quincy Market Food Colonnade - also a great place for a St. Patrick's Day pub crawl!
  • Cambridge - where 1/2 of us work... MIT, Harvard, great Squares with fun restaurants to visit along the Red Line of the T (Boston's subway). The 2nd Street Sandwich shop has killer sandwiches and the Similans for awesome Thai food.
  • BU Allston/Brighton - a fun neighborhood for the young and young at heart, great place to find a beer and some grub (Sunrise Grill)!
  • South Boston - more great bars and restaurants are popping up there, certainly lots to do in Southie! Salsa's is one of our favorite Mexican restaurants.
  • The Fens - Fenway Park, obviously... this area is a sports-lover's dream with the new Game On and the re-done Cask and Flagon, as well as Boston Beer Works.
  • Charlestown - where the other 1/2 of us work... Old Ironsides and Todd English's Olives, plus great boatyards and views of Boston.

And finally, the South End. Historic brick rowhouses that run along avenues and tiny side streets, a diverse population of all ages walking the uneven brick sidewalks, and many, many great restaurants. We cannot lie - the price point of many of these is high. Again, we were only going to these great places on special occasions... but - as we are known to do - don't be afraid to treat yourself, you're only alive but for a blink. Wikipedia says: "The South End is one of Boston's main restaurant districts offering a diverse mix of cuisines, many at a relatively high price point. Tremont Street is often called "Restaurant Row." The South End's range of restaurants include American southern "Low Country", French, Ethiopian, Brazilian, Indian, Italian, Korean, Greek, Middle Eastern, Cuban, Thai, and Japanese among others."

So on to those restaurants... this list contains but a small selection and we're leaving off GREAT places like Ethiopian food at Addis Red Sea, hot dogs and ice cream at Code 10, Mike's Diner for breakfast (THE best - period.), the romantic South End Dish, Bob the Chef's for bbq and jazz, Icarus and Masa over by Bay Village, Mistral, Sibling Rivalry, Jae's, Flour, South End Buttery, Tremont 647 and Sister Sorel... on and on and on - can you tell there are alot of restaurants? Additionally, cheese shops, bakeries, butchers, and other fun places to find - all within walking distance.

(this map doesn't represent the ENTIRE area of the South End, and that top, left corner above Columbus is Back Bay - but you get the idea...)
  1. Hamersley's (these are in no particular order) - famous chicken, oxtail, great cheaper bar menu, wonderful location in the BCA plaza, very expensive. $$$$$
  2. B&G Oysters - great place for.. go on, guess.. oysters! Local and West Coast Oysters available, plus some great other seafood dishes like HUGE lobster rolls and fresh-made seafood stew. Fun to sit at the bar and watch the open kitchen. $$$$
  3. The Butcher Shop - sister restaurant to B&G (both by Chef Barbara Lynch), this place has a full case of meat available to buy and take home along with a great menu to eat in the store/restaurant. They also have a great butcher block table where they are always doing something fun. $$$$
  4. Aquitaine - classic French bistro and wine bar, we've spent St. Valentine's Day here. $$$$
  5. Metropolis - Another great place along Tremont Street, upscale comfort food but known for brunch. $$$
  6. Franklin Cafe - very small but very fun place for drinks and dining, almost impossible to get into as the night goes on. $$$
  7. Union - Very upscale new restaurant, great to treat yourself. The 10K Tuna is perfect. And you get cornbread in it's cast-iron skillet at the table - yum! $$$$$
  8. Pho Republique - our old Friday Night haunt! A great place for a martini or a drink off of their menu - or share a scorpion bowl - and some traditional Pho, or something more non-traditional. Very hip and the bar becomes more and more crowded as the night goes on. $$$
  9. Stella - a little more off the beaten path, wonderful Italian food. $$$$
  10. The Red Fez - traditional Middle Eastern food like hummus plates, meat pies, and chicken livers. Big place can pack in alot of people, service (and the food, frankly) can be hit-or-miss. $$$
  11. Anchovies - wonderful cheap Italian food with beer and wine, BIG plates in this old divey joint. $$
  12. Clery's - just like many, many other Irish bars in Boston... can be fun, can be crowded, can be rowdy, and certainly worth a visit. Try to get in here after the Marathon this weekend, I dare ya! $$$
Like we said, this list comprises just a fraction of the available bars and restaurants in the area. The perfect Friday evening for us to eat our way through the South End would be to get off at the Back Bay T stop (circled on the map) and walk South down Dartmouth on the brick sidewalks. Take a detour across our favorite street, Appleton Street (if anyone knows of 2-bed, 2-bath all-new condo with a roof deck and parking on Appleton for, say... $400K - let us know! hahaha) over to Clarendon and down to B&G Oysters for an appetizer of a couple of local oysters and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

After that, a quick walk over to Franklin Cafe to sit either at the bar or a cozy booth for dinner and one of their beers on tap (after a quick stop by Formaggio, the cheese store right next door, to drool). Follow dinner with a stroll southwest to Washington Street to get a martini or other fun dessert beverage at Pho Republique (and to talk to Peter or Big Mike behind the bar). Finally, if we are still up for it, stop by to meet a few friends at Clery's for a pint and some late-night pub grub before taking the T (or a cab) back home.

Certainly let us know if you have any questions, suggestions, or comments on the restaurants in our adopted home of the South End, and if you're coming to Boston to visit, don't miss this wonderfully historic and gastric neighborhood!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Mixed Grill Mole Enchiladas with Cucumber Salsa

We craved authentic Mexican food - the kind we'd get at La Paloma in Quincy or Salsa's in Southie... smooth textures, a little spiciness, cheesiness, and a hint of chocolate lingering in the background, mole-style. We thought we'd try a new one (for us) to satisfy this craving and make Baked Enchiladas.

We had to construct this one from the outside in - so here's what we knew: we wanted the filling to be comprised solely of beans and meat, we wanted some fresh green salsa-type topping to offset the meat and beans, we wanted to make our own enchilada sauce, and we wanted that sauce to be mole-style - with a little chocolate flavor mixed in with just a hint of spicy chipotle.

That left us with questions - firstly, what kind of meat? We knew we'd be making dinner with leftovers in mind (as usual) so we came to the conclusion - we got the room, why not TWO kinds of meat? Why not, indeed. So we picked up an inexpensive steak (top round, about 1lb) and a package of boneless/skinless chicken thighs that were on sale (also about a lb).

Second question - beans. We wanted to make our own refried beans because we know what texture and flavor we like in our beans. Refried beans aren't actually RE-fried - they are only "fried" once. So, what kind of beans? Ummmm.... how 'bout RED!

What kind of fresh salsa? Cuke-and-corn. How do you make enchilada sauce? With a roux, raw tomato sauce, and mucho gusto. What to drink with this enormous meal? Margaritas, of course! Plus we can use some tequila in our mixed grill marinade.

So we did just that - we allowed the chicken thighs and the steak to marinate in separate freezer bags consisting of some healthy splashes of tequila, some good-old American lager (these were some drunk meats), olive oil, cumin, chili powder, and salt. They stewed in their liquor for an hour or so before they were ready to meet the grill.

At the same time, we prepared our Cuke-and-Corn salsa in advance so it would be given time to settle in the fridge: into a bowl went an English cucumber partially peeled and chopped into quarters, two vine-ripe tomatoes cut into chunks, one 8oz can of corn (drained), the juice of 2 limes, 1 tbps olive oil, 2 tbsp chopped cilantro and a few pinches of salt. The salsa needed some heat, so we took out a jar of sliced jalapenos and added four minced little rings. After adding a couple of splashes of cider vinegar, it was ready to go in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Back to the meat - since we'll be shredding these and cooking them again in the oven, cooking times seemed less important - so all the meat went on a hot grill and got flipped and smoked and grilled for a while, we lost track of how long. When they appeared ready (and were tasting deliciously tangy and spicy), they came out for a rest - later to be chopped up into little pieces - and we soldiered on...

We were ready to start the final two componants - the sauce and the beans. We started a roux in one pan with a couple tbls of canola oil with a couple tbls of flour. When that was a nice tan, we added a bunch of chili powder and slowly mixed in one 8oz can of tomato sauce, then about a cup-and-a-half of water. That got to a great consistancy right away, so we added some cumin and a little salt and let that come up to a simmer.

In the other pan, we started sauteing some garlic and onion, and then we added two cans of drained red beans. Then Stacey got out her masher and went to work. After the mashing was complete, we added some liquid that we mixed from some of that enchilada sauce combined with water. When that liquid combined with the mashed beans achieved the texture we were looking for, we added some of those same old Mexican spices until the beans were the exact flavor we were looking for.

The final touch on the sauce - some semi-sweet chocolate chips (only about a dozen or so of them, a little goes a long way) and a few shakes of ground chipotle to LIVEN things up.

Oven to 400-degrees, we were ready to assemble. First, we spread a little enchilada sauce across the bottom of a glass baking dish. Then, wheat tortilla in hand, we spread some beans on the bottom and topped with the now-shredded meat, rolled the tortilla up, and placed seam-side down in the baking dish. Repeat for a total of four times with chicken and four times with steak.

(we need a new camera)

Over that? All that mole enchilada sauce... poured over it and spread out so everything gets moist. And over that? What do you think - cheese! A good amount of shredded "Mexican" cheese.

Into the oven for ~25 minutes, the cheese on the top browned up nicely (we actually finished it by firing up the broiler for 5 minutes) and the bubbly concoction came out. We plated one steak and one chicken for each of us and topped with some healthy scoops the cool cuke salsa (cool? spicy!)...

Absolutely delicious - such a great texture and the tortilla edges had crisped up a little... just a hint of chocolate (you can smell it more than taste it) and a touch of spicy chipotle, all cooled down with the cuke and cilantro. Wonderfully authentic-tasting - and with two kinds of meat! We enjoyed these with a margarita and the Red Sox night game and thought about warmer summer temperatures to come.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Turkey Sausage & Kale Soup

It has cooled back down this week in Boston, giving me the need to have something to warm my bones. I don't know about you, but the easiest way to warm me up is a nice bowl of soup. I had some sweet turkey sausage on hand and some frozen kale, so I knew I had what I needed as the base of the recipe.

The sweet Italian sausage was in links, so I browned them whole in the Dutch oven until all sides had crisped up. After removing from the pan, I added some olive oil with thinly sliced onion a celery (3 ribs) and 2 cloves-worth of chopped garlic. After cooking down for 10 minutes, I deglazed with a little white wine, threw in 2 bay leaves, salt, black pepper, a tsp of dried thyme and a 1/2 tsp of ground chipolte. I then added 8 cups of chicken stock, the now sliced sausage, 32 oz of rinsed chickpeas and 1 cup of small diced rutabega. After bringing that up to a simmer, I added 2 cups of thawed kale and let the somewhat thick soup simmer for another 30 minutes. In less than 1 hour, I had some great tasting soup that will fill my belly for days.

Although fresh greens like spinach and kale are best, you can't knock the versatility of having the frozen versions on hand. yum!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Braised Brussel Sprouts with Bacon

The salad bar in my cafeteria at work has played host to brussel sprouts for the past few months and I scoop them up whenever I don’t pack a lunch. I’m not sure of their cooking method, but however they do it leaves hardly a trace of bitterness. The only way that I’ve ever had them at home was frozen, and then I would just thaw them and sautee them in a bit of butter or oil. This time, I decided to buy them in the raw and see if I could master the art of the sprouts.

I rendered about 3-4 strips of diced bacon in our dutch oven, adding 1 small diced onion about 10 minutes in. After the onions softened, I removed both the bacon and the onions from the pan and wiped out most of the drippings. I had about a pound of brussel sprouts which I had rinsed, trimmed the stems and halve lengthwise through the stem.

I added some olive oil to the pan and sautéed the sprouts for a few minutes before adding 2 cups of chicken stock (not quite covering the tops of the sprouts), a bay leaf and some S&P. I returned the bacon and onions to the pot and let everyone simmer for about 15 minutes.

They weren’t mushy and even my husband liked them enough to eat several! The only thing I would’ve done differently would be to reserve some crunchy bacon to serve on top after they’re plated. We had some DELICIOUS grilled ribeye steaks along with some grilled sweet potato fries with the sprouts. The sweetness of the fries and the slight bitterness of the sprouts played off each other really well!