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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Now with better burgers

I love my neighborhood.  I live in Jamaica Plain, more commonly referred to by locals as JP, a neighborhood in Boston that has a bit of a small town feel, which really appeals to me, since I am not really a city girl.  It has a main street with shops and restaurants, quiet streets with historic homes, and lovely green spaces.  When I first moved here in 2006, the restaurant options were fine, but not much to write home about.  There were some respectable ethnic eateries, a few pizza joints, and some Irish pubs.  The notable exception was Ten Tables, which I discovered after its vegetarian tasting menu was featured in Boston Magazine as a best value. My older brother, who is a vegetarian, and I decided to check it out and I fell in love with the restaurant. I still remember the main course from that first vegetarian tasting meal, which was a supremely comforting and flavorful dish of polenta with mushroom gravy and a poached egg.

Since that meal, Ten Tables has been my favorite Boston restaurant. I could go on and on, but this post isn’t really about Ten Tables. In recent years, Ten Tables’ proprietor, Krista Kranyak, has opened outposts in Cambridge and Provincetown, along with a bar expansion of the original JP location. Her latest venture, though, is not another Ten Tables branch.

Blue Devil and truffle parm fries

Recently in JP, Kranyak opened Grass Fed, a counter service burger place. I love a good burger, so I was eager to try it out, but the first week or so they were open the place was chock full, and I like to be able to sit and relish my burgers. Finally the crowds thinned a bit, so on a sunny Saturday, I headed in. Grass Fed is only three doors down from Ten Tables, and they have some things in common: small size, brick walls, blackboard menus around the top of the walls. The menu has a number of beef burgers, of course, but also a chickpea burger and a chicken burger.

I ordered the Blue Devil, which is a beef burger topped with stilton, bacon, fried onion strings, and aioli (but I skipped the aioli, since it seemed decadent enough without.) Continuing the decadent trend, I also ordered truffle-parm fries and a glass of red wine. Then I grabbed a stool at one of the counters that line the walls and are stocked with condiments (housemade ketchup, mustard, and A10 sauce, which is Kranyak’s version of steak sauce.) It wasn’t long before my food arrived. You can see it in the photo above. Man, it was delicious. They seem to cook the burgers to medium to medium-well, and I was worried that would be too done, but the burger was still juicy and flavorful. The bun was buttered and grilled and the bacon, onions, and stilton added saltiness, crispiness, and more flavor. I think my only quibble was that the bleu cheese flavor didn’t come out as much as I would have liked.

Meanwhile, I could smell the truffle oil on the fries, before I even picked one up. Yum! The fries had the crispy, golden exterior and light, smooth interior of perfectly cooked french fries. In addition to the truffle-parm fries, you can get regular fries, spicy, or beet fries, plus poutine with traditional or mushroom gravy, onion rings, or housemade potato chips. My first meal at Grass Fed was so yummy that I went back less than a week later.

Cheeseburger and beet fries

This time I decided to try the beet fries (aren’t they gorgeous?), and I got a burger with cheddar and grilled onions, which I topped with some of the A10 sauce. Even without the punch of bacon and bleu cheese, there was plenty of flavor. The beet fries were a nice change from plain old roasted or boiled beets, but don’t go there if you don’t like beets. I found they were quite good with a little mustard, and I bet honey mustard would be really nice. Or maybe if I get them again I will try them with the cilantro lime aioli on the menu.

Besides the burgers, the menu includes soup, salads, and a few other sandwiches. Plus, there are milkshakes, both traditional and “adult”. I am dying to try those! So you know I will be back.

I’d say Kranyak has opened another great place, and I am glad to have a burger joint in the neighborhood. Life in JP just seems to get better and better.

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Hoo boy, at this rate I won’t finish my London posts until summer.  Eek!  Sorry for the slow pace, but life (and a sometimes slow internet connection, grr) gets in the way of blogging sometimes.  Day three of my London trip was jam packed, so this may get long, but this day had my favorite sights.

My first stop of the day was Portobello Road Market.

Portobello Road Market
storefront sewing machines
Portobello Road
sign shop
(more…)

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My second day in London was largely spent wandering the turrets, keeps, and walls of the Tower of London.

jumble of towers

While it may not be the most charming fortress, it has so much history and drama that it was a must-see for me.  My first order of business was one of the guided tours by a Yeoman Warder. The Yeomen Warders, also known as Beefeaters, mostly serve as ceremonial guards and tour guides and live on the Tower grounds. The Warders give a tour that hits the high points of the Tower’s history, and the tour is the only way to gain access to the Royal Chapel of the Tower, St. Peter ad Vincula.

Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula

The chapel, built around 1520 during Henry VIII’s reign, is a pretty little space, but you aren’t allowed to take photos. Several famous Tower prisoners are buried in the chapel, including Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, and Thomas More, and during a renovation in the Victorian era approximately 1500 unidentified remains were found under the chapel floor. Yikes.

After the Warder tour, I spent quite a while wandering on my own. First I checked out the Crown Jewels, which are housed in the Waterloo Block and, of course, carefully guarded.

Waterloo Block
guard

I didn’t expect to be as interested in the Crown Jewels as I was. For one thing, I was amazed at the size of some of the stones, like the Cullinan I in the Scepter with the Cross, which, at 530 carats, is the second largest diamond in the world. It was also neat to see the ways the style of crowns has evolved over the centuries.

After viewing the jewels, I headed to the White Tower, which was built by Williams the Conqueror in the late 11th century and is the oldest part of the Tower of London.

White Tower
corner tower

The outside of the White Tower is distinctive with the light stone trim around the windows and architectural details. It was designed to be defensible, so the entrance is on the second floor, reached by wooden stairs that could be knocked down so that attackers could not reach the door.

White Tower

Inside the tower, there was a big exhibit of arms and armor. I got to see several sets of Henry VIII’s armor, horse armor, ceremonial armor for a child, etc. The variety of the armor was really impressive and interesting, and many had gorgeous inlay, engraving, and other decorations. My favorite pieces were the child’s helmet with a little dragon on top and a very intricate ivory saddle.

articulated armor
intricate armor decorations
Henry VIII's armor
dragon helm
ivory saddle

After seeing the White Tower, I wandered the grounds, walls, and several of the towers.

grounds

The Tower is home to a number of ravens, and legend has it that the kingdom is only safe so long as the ravens remain at the Tower. Until I saw them, I wasn’t really sure I could tell the difference between a raven and a crow, but there’s something regal and mysterious about the ravens. But it could just seem that way because crows are more familiar.

Tower raven

In addition to ravens, the Tower of London has had many creatures in residence in its long history, and an exhibit called Royal Beasts gave some intriguing facts about them. Lions were kept at the Tower for over 600 years, and James I designed a bottle nipple for feeding sick cubs. The royal menageries also included tigers, kangaroos, elephants, and even a polar bear. Apparently, the polar bear belonging to Henry III was tied to a rope, so it could swim and fish in the Thames. And I also spotted a couple more fantastical creatures around the Tower.

Gargoyle

In various structures there are placards and displays relating to some of the stories from the Tower’s history. The Beauchamp Tower has carved graffiti left by prisoners, who were kept in the Tower in varying degrees of comfort. In the Bloody Tower there are interactive exhibits on the mystery of the Little Princes. In the Wakefield Tower you can see torture devices. And in the Medieval Palace you can see the royal living spaces built for Edward I.

private chapel
chapel stained glass
Chapel

As you can tell, there was plenty to see! I think I spent over six hours at the Tower. Before I left, I visited the gift shop and snagged a wee, silver Tower for my charm bracelet. Then I headed out to Tower Wharf, where there are lovely views of Tower Bridge and London’s South Bank area.

Tower Bridge illuminated
South Bank

That could have been enough for one day, and I was pretty tired, but I was determined to have authentic fish and chips while in London. I had read that one of the best places for fish and chips is the Golden Hinde. So, after wandering a bit through the streets of the City of London (including the eerily lovely garden of St. Dunstan in the East, which grows among the ruins of a Wren church that was bombed in the Blitz), I headed to Marylebone for dinner.

fish and chips!

Yum! I enjoyed my crispy, flaky fish and rested my feet a bit before hitting the streets again, this time to take in the lights and do some shopping.

holiday lights

Without meaning to, I ended up at the Liberty of London store, which was beautiful, inside and out, from the window displays to the merchandising.

Liberty of London
Liberty window display
fabrics for sale
rug room

As I recall, I pretty much fell into bed that night, happy and exhausted from a full day of drinking in London’s past and present.

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In the late fall, I decided I needed a vacation. Work had been crazy, friends were having rough times, and so on. At first, I thought I would just take a week off from work, but stay in town. With the help of an airfare voucher and an ad for good fares to London, though, my vacation plan got much more grand. I had been to London once before, my senior year of college, but the visit had been cut very short. It was 1997, and I was supposed to fly from Boston to England on April 1st for about four days in London and a long weekend in Chichester, where a friend was getting married. Alas, April fooled us big time with a blizzard that delayed my trip three days. So, I spent less than 48 hours in London that trip, which made me eager to go back.

St. Pancras exterior

So, 15 years later, I got to actually spend my four days in London, in early December, and it was awesome.  I packed a lot into the days, but left knowing there was so much more I could have done.  I arrived in the morning, a little bleary from the long, overnight flight, but eager to get exploring.  After leaving my luggage at the hostel, I headed to King’s Cross/St. Pancras.  This is a transportation hub and shopping area, with two stations right next to each other.  King’s Cross is sleek and modern, while St. Pancras is ornate and Victorian.  Both house rail platforms, restaurants and shops.  St. Pancras is, at least to me, more picturesque, so it bore the brunt of my shutterbugging.

St. Pancras Station

ornate

Everywhere I looked there were lovely decorative elements, inside and out. And on the upper level of the station I stumbled upon the Olympic rings and a huge sculpture that I found charming and perfectly suited to such a busy place of departure and arrival.

Olympic rings at St. Pancras

statue

Honestly, one of my main reasons for visiting King’s Cross/St. Pancras was to check out Eat St., which is a spot where a variety of food trucks and vendors gather at lunchtime a few days a week. There were so many delicious sounding items that it took me a while to decide on my lunch. I finally settled on a pork taco from Buen Provecho and a noodle soup from Yum Bun.

pork taco

soup

After lunch I headed around the corner to the British Library. I think this was the only attraction I visited on both my trips to London, which isn’t really surprising, since I am an avid reader and majored in English. The Library, though, is rather different from what I remembered since it’s current site (created to bring together the parts of the collection that had been scattered around London) opened in 1997, but after my visit. My romantic side kind of prefers the old look, with the glass cases of manuscripts surrounded by two stories of shelves, but I have to admit that the new galleries are better organized and more informative. I found it thrilling to see the original manuscripts of books and authors I love, Austen, Bronte, Shakespeare, along with letters to and from royalty and other historical figures. This time I also really enjoyed the impressive collection of religious texts, many gorgeously illustrated, from all sorts of faiths. One of the temporary exhibits was on Dickens and his historical context, from which I learned a lot. Well, truly I retained only a little, but I have notes. (Yes, I am such a nerd that I take notes on vacation.)

British Library passageway

My final tourist stop of the day, though I was nearly falling down tired, was the Wellcome Collection. This place is a quirky museum that began with the personal collection of Sir Henry Wellcome and has expanded to include art and other exhibits that relate to health and medicine. Seriously, quirky. The main collection ranges from chastity belts and fertility charms to amputation saws and prosthetic limbs. There are rotating exhibits, as well. I was particularly taken with the Mexican votives in the Miracles and Charms exhibit. The votives, or miracle paintings, are painted on tin roof tiles or other small plaques and created in gratitude to God for deliverance from illness, accident, or some other difficulty. There were dozens of these works, and they were somehow both uniform (standard size and some very common compositions and motifs) and diverse (folksy to sophisticated and all sorts of stories from bandits to electrocution.) Fascinating stuff.

By then it was evening and, not having gotten much sleep on the flight the night before, I was exhausted. So after heading back to the hostel, I had no trouble at all going to sleep, even though it was only afternoon back home.

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Dinner and a show

Rather than make excuses about why this is my first post in months, I am just going to say hello and dive back in to tell you about the awesome night I had yesterday.

My friend, M, snagged us tickets to seeLe Vent du Nord, a Quebecois folk group, at the Somerville Theater. We decided to have dinner before the show at Posto. At a friend’s birthday dinner the week before, we’d been talking about the space Posto occupies and how businesses seem to come and go there, so maybe that’s why I was inclined to check it out, beyond the fact that I’ve heard good things about the food.

The space is still industrial and modern, but it manages to be somewhat cozy, too. The brick, concrete, glass, and high ceilings make the dining area a little loud, but not so much that you have to shout a conversation. A wall of wine shelves, the wood oven, and sleek, light wood chairs help offset the harder elements. But you should visit Posto for the food, not the decor.

With a nice number of starters, pastas, entrees, and pizzas on the menu, it took us a little while to decide what to order. For a large party, you can even order a whole pig! While M and I aren’t wine aficionados, by any stretch, we were both struck by the several types of wine we’d never heard of in their by the glass selection. M got a Sangiovese that didn’t impress, but I loved the Terre Primitivo I got; it was fruity and extremely smooth.

We shared the baby arugula salad to start. It was simple and tasty, just a nice mix of greens, endive, and creamy gorgonzola, perfectly dressed. Then we each ordered an appetizer sized pasta, carbonara for me and goat agnolotti for M. Both were excellent. The carbonara was made with pork belly and brussel sprouts, and was creamy and al dente. Even the appetizer portion was generous enough that I took some home. The agnolotti were filled with polenta, surprising but delicious, and topped with rustic, flavorful goat ragut. Overall, it looks like Posto does excellent Italian food with slight twists. I’ll happily return to try the wood-fired pizza.

The evening continued to be delightful. I was not terribly familiar with Le Vent du Nord, but M’s taste in music seems nearly identical to mine, and I liked the few songs I had heard. Without much in the way of expectations, these guys blew me away. There are four men in the band, and they are clearly all excellent musicians, and also a little quirky. The instruments involved in the show included a hurdy gurdy, fiddle, guitar, three different accordions, piano, jaw harp, and bouzouki. The fiddler provides percussion by stomping and tapping his feet (on an amplified surface, I believe), and in one song the bassist bowed his bass like a cello. And they have lovely voices, especially Nicolas and Simon, that they put to use in rich harmonies.

I adore it when musicians really get into their performances, and these guys are one of those groups that make you wonder how they keep that engagement and enthusiasm night after night, song after song. They clearly love what they do, and they are not only fantastic to listen to, but fun to watch. I was grinning through pretty much the whole show. It didn’t even matter that I couldn’t understand the lyrics – since they are from Quebec and play traditional Quebecois music, everything is in French, and my high school French only helped me pick out a word here and there. It was a fantastic concert, and now I just have to figure out what to download on iTunes.

It was such a lovely night, and now I think that leftover carbonara is calling me.

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pupusas with refried black beans and curtido (spicy slaw)

My brother and I made pupusas from this Saveur recipe last summer with our CSA veggies.  Pupusas are El Salvadoran stuffed masa cakes, typically served with a vinegary slaw and tomato sauce.  The Saveur recipe was my first encounter with pupusas, and I really liked the cheesy masa cakes paired with the tangy slaw, called curtido.  I wanted to make them again this summer, but was not eating dairy at the time, so I decided to try a black bean version that is vegan.  It turns out that beans are a traditional filling for pupusas, along with cheese and meat.  Alas, I failed at stuffing the black beans into the masa cakes, but, undaunted, I just decided to spread them on top of plain masa cakes and top with the curtido.  They turned out quite tasty, though since they weren’t stuffed with anything they probably aren’t technically pupusas. They are pretty simple to make, so you should give them a try if you want to add a Latin American dish to your arsenal.

I doubled the amounts of the slaw ingredients, because we can all use more veggies in our diet, and I had a lot of vegetables that needed to be used from the CSA.

veggies for slaw

I used half of a medium head of cabbage, two carrots, one daikon radish (not in the original recipe), one onion, a scallion (another addition, mostly because I wanted some green in the slaw), and a dried guajillo chile (a substitution for the chiles de arbol.) These all got thinly sliced or shredded and tossed in a big bowl with vinegar, sugar, salt, and oregano.

curtido

You may notice I used the seeds from the chile – guajillos are a pretty mild chile, so keeping the seeds added just a touch of heat. While the slaw marinated in the fridge, I made the masa dough, which is ridiculously easy, just masa and water.

masa + water = masa cake dough

I was talking to someone at work the other day who is way more experienced in making pupusas than I. She told me that you need to use hot water (not boiling, just hot from the tap) and work the dough a bit, so that it becomes soft. Not having these directions may have been the reason I wasn’t able to stuff the beans into the pupusas. The dough wasn’t elastic enough to encase such a soft filling. Anyway, after giving up on the stuffing attempts, I just took balls of masa dough and patted them into discs.

formed masa cakes

Then I browned them on each side in a skillet. Another tip the woman at work gave me was to put a little oil on your hands when you are forming the masa cakes, so there is just a touch of oil on them for cooking.

masa cakes getting golden

Then all I had to do was slather some black beans on the cakes and top them with curtido. Yum! To be honest, I tend to be pretty skeptical of vegan food. I love dairy, and cooking without it or eggs just sounds like deprivation to me. But these were really tasty. The refried black beans were rich and salty enough to add flavor to the masa cakes, and played off the crunch, tangy flavor, and slight heat of the slaw. I think they were as good as the original cheese version. That said, I think the next time I make them I will use beans and cheese. 🙂

Vegan Pupusas with Refried Black Beans and Curtido adapted from Saveur

1⁄2 cup cider vinegar
3 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. oregano
1 guajillo chile (or other chile you like), chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
1 medium-large daikon radish (or several small radishes), peeled and shredded
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1⁄2 head green cabbage, shredded
Kosher salt, to taste
1 can refried black beans
2 cups masa harina
1 3/4 cups hot water
vegetable oil

Combine vinegar, sugar, oregano, vegetables, and chile in a large bowl and add salt to taste. Refrigerate while you prepare the masa cakes.

Stir together masa harina and water until a dough forms. Knead dough a bit. If dough is dry and cracks when you handle it, add a bit more water. Put a little vegetable oil on your hands and form golfball sized balls of dough. Pat each ball into a disc shape. Cook the cakes in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until lightly browned on each side, approximately 10-12 minutes. Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to do this in several batches. Keep finished cakes warm in a low oven until the others are ready. To serve, spread each cake with a generous layer of black beans (you can warm the beans if you like, but I didn’t bother) and top with plenty of curtido.

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components

Soon I will stop apologizing about my poor quality photos. You know, as soon as I either get better lighting in my apartment (especially the kitchen) or get a new camera. Hopefully the latter. But for now, sorry for these blurry, yellowy photos. They do not do this tasty dish justice. Hopefully the images won’t prevent you from trying to make these fritters, because they are delicious.

As I mentioned in the post about the dinner I hosted, I made artichoke fritters from Tyler Florence’s, Dinner at My Place. The recipe in the book includes a simple and lovely batter, along with not entirely clear instructions for taking whole artichokes and turning them into slices of raw artichoke heart. Let’s just say that while the artichoke fritters were tasty, I did not skillfully butcher the artichokes. And it felt like a waste to have to discard all those lovely fresh leaves, but I don’t think there is a way to avoid it with the recipe.

After making the dish, I had a lot of batter left over. I wasn’t sure whether it would keep, but it seemed worth a try. A couple days later, we got our first zucchini of the summer in our CSA share, and I decided to try making zucchini fritters. Unlike the artichoke version, this iteration was super simple and came together in no time. The batter was a tad dry after sitting in the fridge, so I added a splash of hard cider, sliced up the zucchini, and heated some canola oil on the stove.

frying up

Then it was simply a matter of dipping the slices in batter, dropping them in the oil, flipping them once, and cooking until both sides were lovely and golden brown.

ready for nomming

I put them on paper towels layered over a brown paper bag to drain, salted them, and they were ready to eat. And I pretty much ate a bunch of them for dinner that night. They were good plain, but they were wonderful with a bit of malt vinegar or balsamic cream (a mixture that has not actual cream but consists of reduced balsamic vinegar and grape must.)

zucchini fritters, two ways

I am away from home for the weekend, so I can’t post the recipe for the batter at the moment. I will try to remember to add it when I get home, so you folks can make all sorts of battered, fried, tasty items (or you can buy the cookbook, which has lots of lovely photos and mouth-watering recipes.) I plan to try this batter with a number of other items, fish, more veggies, and even squash blossoms, if I can get my hands on some.

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