Monday, August 20, 2012

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Coffee Grading #1 - Thinking Cup

2012 is becoming the year of the numerical food blog posts. I've already completed 4 of 52+ new-to-me recipes from my favorite food websites, cookbooks and recommendations from others. I have planned my first of 12 dinner parties (a January 29th taco night with friends). That covers a lot of the "appetite" aspect of this blog, but not the "appetite" + "instruction."

Given how much coffee and food I consume during grading tests, quizzes and projects, I have decided to start another series: coffee-grading. As much as I love my condo, sometimes I prefer to do work at coffee shops. A latte, some Icelandic electropop, and a wooden table can motivate me to finish my work faster in a comfier environment than my classroom. I am also not tempted to nap on any coffee shop couches (as I would be on my own). The next time you're at your favorite coffee shop, look around for math tests, red pens, and rubrics among the sea of MacBooks...teachers are everywhere!

For this series, I'll write short reviews of my favorite spots around the Somerville, Boston and Cambridge areas with respect to location, food/drink, table space, ease of finding a seat, and atmosphere.

Location: Near the Boston Common, Thinking Cup is popular with tourists and college students from nearby Emerson and Suffolk. It's easy to get to from the Park St or Downtown Crossing T stations. Street parking is difficult.

Food and/or Drink: Excellent. For food, I recommend the peppercorn turkey sandwich, roast beef sandwich, goat cheese, apricot and arugula sandwich, and mini cheesecake. For drink, I recommend the Americano, honey cinnamon latte (pictured below), and watermelon lime cooler (seasonal).

Table Space: All the tables are tiny. They're made for up to two people at most, though I've seen groups of four crowd around them. You could do lesson planning on the computer or grade papers, but not both at the same time. Two teachers and their laptops could not coexist on the same table unless both had teeny tiny netbooks or were okay with perching the laptops halfway off the table.

Ease of Finding a Seat: Bring out your vulture skills, it's like Wrentham Village parking lot on Black Friday in here. The central location and proximity to landmarks causes a huge influx of tourists on weekends, especially on nice days. You'll likely have to put away your Bostonian anti-social face and make friends with a stranger just to get a seat. Luckily, most people are not aiming to set up shop with a computer and work for multiple hours.

Atmosphere: The music varies from downtempo to techno, and the lights sometimes get dim. The playlist is punctuated by many different languages and conversation topics. Try to avoid sitting by the door in the winter, as the constant influx of cold air can interrupt your work groove.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Grocery Challenge #2

  • Steak salad with grape tomatoes, romaine, butter lettuce and chimichurri sauce
  • Alton Brown's pan seared ribeye (bought another steak and more red wine vinegar for dinner)
  • Chicken salad with grape tomatoes, romaine and spinach (left over from last week)
  • Mushrooms with onions, garlic and truffle salt (see ribeye post)
  • Fried eggs (with things like leftover mushrooms or avocado halves)
  • Banana & almond milk smoothies
  • Anchovy and radish salad
  • Lemony roasted potatoes (an oldie but goodie from the Veganomicon cookbook)

Planned But Did Not Make
  • Roasted eggplant
  • Tuna and green bean salad
  • Mint iced tea
  • Egg salad
  • My Ivy Chopped Salad from the GOOP newsletter
  • Tomato and avocado salsa
  • Eggplant
  • 1 avocado
  • Mint
  • Green beans
  • Onions
  • 1 can tuna
  • Anchovies
  • 1/2 a bulb of garlic
  • Zucchini
  • Cabbage
  • Some butter lettuce
  • 1 romaine heart
  • 2 lemons
Why didn't I use up all my groceries? I had a few restaurant meals (Ceia brunch and Sei Bar with my boyfriend & his parents) and bought lunch out a few times. I also noticed a pattern with the "planned but not made" meals. I either used the ingredients for other things (e.g., using up all the tomatoes in salads before they could become salsa) or could not muster up the energy to wash and chop the vegetables for salads.

I could try to change my lunch preparation by making sure to prep the veggies the night before. However, I don't like salads as much after the ingredients have sat for a day, and I've had a few mishaps trying to carry individual portions of salad dressing to school. Either I'll front-load the salad prep on Sundays or try to find things that are quicker to prepare.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Recipe #4 - Pan Seared Ribeye with Truffled Mushrooms and Chimichurri

Ray's the Steaks is my favorite steak place in the D.C. area. When I was last there, I had the Brazilian Strip steak with spicy piranha sauce and roasted wild mushrooms with truffle oil, porcini-fresh herb puree and golden sherry. Recipe #4 is an in-home adaptation of Ray's.

Pan Seared Ribeye: Alton Brown + Truffled Mushrooms (me) + Chimichurri: Simply Recipes

1 boneless rib eye steak, 1 1/2-inch thick
Canola oil to coat [used olive oil]
Kosher salt and ground black pepper [used Murray River sea salt]

Place 10 to 12-inch cast iron skillet in oven and heat oven to 500 degrees. Bring steak(s) to room temperature.

While doing this, start the mushrooms:
2 packets of gourmet mushroom blend
2 tsp truffle salt [did not have any sherry, fresh herbs or porcini]
1 small onion
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil

Heat pan on medium, then put in the olive oil. Once the olive oil is warm, put in the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is soft. Put in the mushrooms, sprinkle with the truffle salt and let it cook on low heat.

Make the chimichurri while the oven continues to heat.

1 cup firmly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, trimmed of thick stems
3-4 garlic cloves
2 Tbsp fresh oregano leaves (can sub 2 teaspoons dried oregano) [subbed cilantro]
2 Tbsp scallions [added this because I had scallions and wanted to experiment]
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp red or white wine vinegar [used red]
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes [doubled this]

Finely chop the parsley, scallions, cilantro, and garlic (or process in a food processor several pulses). Place in a small bowl. Stir in the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Adjust seasonings.

Back to Alton...when oven reaches temperature, remove pan and place on range over high heat. [I forgot to do this and only had it on medium, because I was running around squawking and trying not to get meat juice on the olive oil bottle]. Coat steak lightly with oil and season both sides with a generous pinch of salt. Grind on black pepper to taste. Immediately place steak in the middle of hot, dry pan. Cook 30 seconds without moving.

Turn with tongs and cook another 30 seconds, then put the pan straight into the oven for 2 minutes. Flip steak and cook for another 2 minutes. (This time is for medium rare steaks. If you prefer medium, add a minute to both of the oven turns.)

Remove steak from pan, cover loosely with foil, and rest for 2 minutes. Serve whole or slice thin and fan onto plate. While the steak is resting, prep a quick red wine vinaigrette over romaine lettuce for a side salad.

My Thoughts
Deliciousness: Why did I wait seven years to cook steak this way? I dig it and can't wait to cook it again. The mushrooms turned out great too. The truffle salt was definitely worth the impulse buy! I am now obsessed with chimichurri and want to create more variations with red onion, capers, and oregano. Chimichurri is the savior for home cooks who don't want to waste cilantro and parsley.
Ease of Preparation: The whole meal took about an episode of the Office to complete (prepping of ingredients, then the process for each of the four components). It helps to have a fellow cook to help you sprinkle the seasoning on the steak and time the 30-second and 2-minute intervals.
Leftover Staying Power: Projected five stars, but we ate it all, so I will not know until I make a double batch.

Monday, January 16, 2012

My First Boston Brunchers Experience - Ceia

The Peeps

Went to Ceia today with the Boston Brunchers, a lively bunch of ladies (and gentleman) who had lots of fun restaurant tips, cooking ideas, social media and jokes to share! I'm looking forward to enjoying more delicious food and drink with these folks.

The Meal

Upon arrival at our seats, out came our array of SLRs, iPhones, and point-and-shoot cameras.

We started with the St. Germain 75 cocktail: Tanqueray, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, and sparkling rose. The St. Germain 75 was much smoother and more complex than a mimosa.

Up next was the oyster escabeche: lightly cooked oysters and a bit of grapefruit in a light mignonette. This was a great amuse bouche, though I still prefer raw oysters with a little lemon juice.

Then came some bread with olive tapenade (not pictured).

The salad course was incredible. I inhaled this gorgeous concoction of cold smoked asparagus, smoked asparagus puree, organic mache, fresh mozzarella, shaved cipollinis and aged balsamic faster than you just read this sentence.

In between the salad and main course, my tablemate got the Rosemary Lemon Drop, which consisted of Ketel One Citron, fresh lemon juice, limoncello, and rosemary simple syrup. I was too busy drinking the french press coffee to try another drink, but hers sure looked good!

Another tablemate commented that the poached eggs on the linguica and sweet potato hash with quail bearnaise would be the first poached eggs she would ever try. What a way to get introduced to poached eggs...these were perfectly cooked.

Not on the menu was this Chilean late harvest sauvignon blanc, a delicious dessert wine paired with the...

...raspberry coconut pain perdu. I had only ever seen pain perdu on Chopped, and now I know why contestants are always making it. What an end to a delicious meal!

The Place

I would recommend Ceia as a great date or ladies' brunch spot. It's stylish, comforting and homey.

Sitting at the bar would be just as fun as sitting at a table.

Check out these awesome wall-mounted wine racks!

Looking forward to coming back to Ceia for more food...I don't think I can wait until this year's Yankee Homecoming Ten Miler. Perhaps Newburyport High School will need some science fair judges this year...and what better way to prepare for judging than another Ceia brunch!

Disclaimer: Brunch was provided free of charge to Boston Brunchers. We only paid gratuity and were not required to write a review.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Grocery Challenge #1

Introducing...the grocery challenge!

I would like to get better at long-term meal planning, so I decided to track my purchases at Whole Foods and see what I ended up making and throwing out. I used to live within walking distance of a Whole Foods, but that was very dangerous for my budget--it was too easy to pop in after work and buy prepared food or impulse purchases. We've all been there at some point--went to the store with the best of intentions but came home only to find a bag full of organic soap, a hand-woven basket, starfruit and sushi. Now I drive to a nearby Whole Foods, which enables me to make larger purchases and dissuades me from impulse buying.

Here's my first haul and what it created:

Meals & Parts of Meals
What Was Left at the End of the Week
  • 4 apples
  • Spinach
  • 6 eggs
  • Basil (had to toss)
  • Mint (had to toss)
  • Cilantro (had to toss)
  • Chickpeas (didn't end up making chickpea soup)

I am still trying to find a balance between fresh ingredients and week-long sustainability. I went out for dinner a couple times (Tuesday and Thursday) and ended up buying lunch a couple times (Thursday and Friday). The dinners were planned, but peanut butter & bacon bagels were definitely *not*.

Recipe #3 - Adobo and Coconut Cauliflower Rice

Adobo: Burnt Lumpia

(Adobo adapted from March 2007 Sunset Magazine Easy Chicken Adobo recipe + the Burnt Lumpia commenters)

1 Tbsp olive oil [did not have achuete oil]
1 tsp smoked paprika
8 bone-in chicken thighs, with skin
6 cloves garlic, minced [added one more...I love garlic]
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns [added too many by mistake]
2 bay leaves

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, place the chicken in the pan, skin-side down, and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Flip the chicken over and brown the other side, another 5 minutes.

Remove the browned chicken from the saute pan and place in a large bowl. Pour off all but 1 Tbsp of the drippings from the saute pan and return to low heat. Add the garlic and saute until lightly brown and fragrant, about 1 minute. Deglaze the pan with the soy and vinegar, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine. Return the chicken to the pan, along with any accumulated juices from the bowl, and bring to a gentle simmer. After the liquid reaches a simmer, cover the saute pan and cook for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, uncover the pan and increase the heat to medium, cooking for 15 minutes more or until sauce thickens to your liking. While the chicken cooks, occasionally stir and spoon sauce over the chicken. Remove the bay leaves and serve [with coconut cauliflower rice]. Drizzle chicken and rice with sauce.

Coconut Cauliflower Rice: Stuff I Make My Husband

1 head cauliflower, leaves and large stem removed, cut into chunks
1/3 cup (heaping) unsweetened coconut flakes [omitted]
1/2 Tbs fresh grated ginger or 1/2 tsp good-quality ground ginger [used the fresh]
1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (depending on how spicy you like it) [used 1 tsp]
1 cup fresh cilantro sprigs
1/2 cup roughly chopped scallions [used parsley instead, the scallions at the store were wilted]
2 tsp coconut oil (probably optional) [used this instead of coconut flakes]
Salt to taste

Pulse the cauliflower in a food processor until it resembles rice. Set aside and wipe out food processor bowl.Put all remaining ingredients in the food processor. Blend until very finely chopped. [Boyfriend cut the cilantro and parsley himself]. Combine the mixture with the cauliflower. [Instead of cooking in the microwave, we pan-fried it with some of the chicken drippings. We accidentally burned it a little, hence the much browner color on the final plate.]

My Thoughts
Deliciousness: 5 stars. This hit the spot and reminded me that I need to cook other Filipino foods with my mom and aunt (pancit palabok, pancit canton, pancit bihon, chicken sotanghon, lumpia, empanadas, embutido, leche flan etc.) so I can learn their cooking secrets.
Ease of Preparation: 3 stars. There is a lot of chopping and processing involved, so I am very grateful to my boyfriend for helping out with that. Even with the combined powers of two people, this took us over an hour to make. I used my Rachael Ray pan and my Le Creuset dutch oven, and I would have preferred to use a much wider pan for one batch.
Leftover Staying Power: 3.5 stars. I took some to school two days later, and the cauliflower rice didn't hold up as well as I thought it would.