Tuesday, March 18, 2008

simple chicken

Yikes! It's been nearly a week since my last post. Doesn't mean I haven't been eating though, that's for sure. Life has been a little hectic lately, and I've turned to simple food prep.

Case in point was last night. It'd been a busy day, and I opted to get in a workout late in the afternoon. By that time, Jennifer had gotten called away for work, and neither of us had given dinner a thought. Martha to the rescue. Actually, the rescuer was that little magazine called Everyday Food published by MSL. It's really a nice compilation of quick and yummy recipes. I grabbed a pack of chicken breasts on the way home from the gym and prepped the recipe for cayenne-spiced chicken with avocado salsa. When Jennifer called to let me know she'd be home in 20 min, I threw on the chicken, prepared a small salad, and dinner was on the table when she came in the door. And the spice rub is so simple - 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/4 tsp cayenne, that's it.

The addition of a spice rub or an herb can transform something ordinary into a dish that really offers lots of taste. It's a matter of having it on hand.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


It's restaurant week here in Boston, so for my birthday this past Monday I wanted to dine at Sage. I've eaten there a few times and have never had a bad meal. Usually we eat at the bar and split an appetizer and entry. But this time we had a real table, as we had 5 others joining us in the celebration.

I learned of Sage's special restaurant week menu in the local paper and was pysched to give it a try. We started the meal with a cocktail. I figured, hey, it's my birthday, I'm having champagne so I ordered a very tasty kir royal. We then ordered a round or arancini - risotto balls - for the table. The coating was nice and crispy and the risotto inside was warm, still sticky. They were huge, too! One was definitely enough per person.

For my first course I had a mushroom and buffala mozzarella tart. The presentation was more like a Sicilian pizza - square crust with toppings. Doesn't matter what the term is, the tart was fantastic. I was very happy with my choice. And it went well with the wine selection. Jennifer ordered a bottle of tempranillo. Red, not too sweet, bold but not overpowering, with a bit of a bite to it. another good choice.

My second course was a greatly anticipated pork shank, with rabe and a slow-roasted tomato. The pork shank is what had sold me on choosing Sage when I had read the menu in the paper the week before. I am a big fan of pork. And I had an incredibly tasty pork shank at Jacob Wirth about 2 years ago and I still think about it whenever I pass by. And I was greatly disappointed with the shank at Sage. Very little meat. I have this thing I do when I eat: I eat the rest of the stuff on my plate and save my favorite for last. I had eaten a bit or two of pork that had fallen from the main shank, and then proceeded to eat the rabe and the tomato. Both were excellent, by the way, especially the tomato. Then I dug into my shank. What looked like a nice hunk of meat was a big glob of grissle. There was a bit of meat on it, but for the size of the shank, I'd say it was 80% grissle. It just was poor meat selection on their part and a huge disappointment for me. My friend who ordered the steak was also disappointed. And a friend who ate at Sage a while ago also had a poor selection of meat. My advice - stick to the pastas or meat dishes that are more processed. Their butcher isn't very good.

I had the three canoli (with a candle and a rendition of happy birthday!) for dessert. Each canoli was filled with a different filling - I couldn't tell you what they were right now, but they were fabulous. The shells were about 1/2 in in diameter, about 3 inches long, so not they typical big-fat-cigar type canoli. The pasty held its crispness and the filling wasn't gushy, nor tastelessly thick. I also had a bite of a chocolate timbale which was very dense and rich. A perfect chocolate treat. Even though the timabale was quite small, it's richness made it difficult for my friend to finish the whole treat. Yes, that much chocolate.

In the end, I was very pleased with the evening. I'm incredibly blessed that I have such good friends so close by. The meal was terrific. Next time, though, I'll order the gnocchi.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


It's been a busy week. Yes, we have been cooking and eating, but much of it has been old standbys. Jennifer made a scampi that was terrific, and I made a yummy tortilla soup. Both are so great we'll definitely make them again and I'll write about those again.

Jennifer and I attended a Pink Martini concert at the Opera House last night. Music for the discriminating, I'm tellin' you. They've got that classic 20's-30's style with a bit of kitchy 60s B-movie sound all wrapped up in some great international beats. The concert was absolutely fabulous. They were on stage a full 2.5 hours. And by the time we got out onto the street, we were starving.

Being so close to - actually in - Chinatown, we decided to grab a quick sushi snack, so we headed to Ginza. The sushi chefs were still going at it behind the counter close to 11, and other folks had had the same idea as us. I'm not very knowledgeable about "sushi" and all it's incarnations. But I do know I like the little bits rolled up in rice. And I guess that's called maki. My usual order is the spicy tuna maki. The waitress did the up-sell on us and we got something similar to the spicy tuna with a tempura something inside for what we learned was an additional $5. Tasty, but I would have stuck with the spicy tuna. Jennifer ordered a bowl of soup. I was a bit put off by the clam floating in broth, but the broth was very flavorful. We also ordered our standby seaweed salad and avocado salad. The presentation for the latter was really nice - it was formed to actually look like an avocado. And it's always a favorite item for us. We also ordered the caterpillar maki, which was formed to look like a creepy crawler. Nice flavor, but the rice was a bit dry. Oh, and stay away from the soy sauce on the table. It's way way too salty.

The best thing was the speed of the service. Being so late, customers don't want to spend time waiting for food or the check. We were out of there in 20 min. Good meal, not the best sushi I've ever had, but a nice way to top off an evening.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

chicken over pasta, broccoli, and ice cream sandwiches

I haven't been blogging but I have been eating. And eating pretty well from scratch. Case in point: chicken over pasta. A couple of years ago Jamie Oliver appeared on the Today Show and cooked up this very simple dish. What I like about Jamie is his recipes are so incredibly easy to remember. I've never ever written down this recipe - it's that simple.

We went away this past weekend to our friend's ski house in Vermont and met up with about 8 friends. If you've ever been skiing, you know that apre-ski is all about snacks and a big meal. Jennifer and I took on the meal duties Saturday evening, after a great day of skiing at Stratton - 10 inches of fresh powder! But, I'm getting off track. Here's the dish (I doubled for 8):
about 1.5-2 lbs chicken thighs, legs or drumsticks, skin on, season with salt and pepper, set aside
  • In a bowl combine 2 medium/large tomatoes; quartered & two handfuls grape/cherry tomatoes; a bunch of basil, stem ends removed, and roughly chopped. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper
  • Combine the chicken and tomato/basil mixture in a large skillet or dutch oven - use your hands to mix it all together, getting the chicken nice and oiled. Arrange the chicken so it sits on top of the tomatoes, skin side up.
  • To this add one whole head of garlic, placing individual cloves - unpeeled - snuggled into crevices. Count them, because you'll need to remove them later on and it's nice to know how many you started with!
  • Put this into a 400 degree oven for 1 hour. Take a look now and then. You may find you want to baste the skin a bit.
  • Put on some pasta water and boil up whatever type of pasta you like, about a pound. I use linguine or angel hair. Time the pasta to be done about 2 minutes after the chicken.
  • Remove the garlic cloves and let them cool off for about a minute.
  • Remove the skillet from the oven after 1 hour. Place the chicken pieces on a plate and tent with foil.
  • When nearly cool enough to touch, squeeze the roasted garlic from its peel into the tomato basil mixture still in the skillet. Break up the cloves a bit with a fork and give it a good stir.
  • You've cooked your pasta meanwhile, and you've taken it out (not drained) and placed it into a big serving bowl. Add the juicy tomato basil mixture to the pasta and a touch of the pasta water.

You'll totally enjoy it!

For a side, Jennifer made Tyler Florence's roasted broccoli. Did I link to that earlier? It can go into the oven for the chicken's last 20 minutes. Again, an easy dish to prepare. And very tasty.

For dessert, homemade ice cream sandwiches! Nearly homemade, anyway. I use the Nestle Toll house pre-made cookie dough packages where you just break off little squares. It makes 24 cookies. The pre-cut squares ensure the cookies come out all about the same size. Once the cookies are cool, I scoop about a 1/4 cup semi-hard ice-cream (chocolate chip is a good combination) and put between two cookies. Get them in the freezer fast! Let them harden for several hours. I made these the day before the meal.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Upstairs on the Square Aztec Beer Dinner

I have been to plenty of wine pairing dinners but Tuesday night was my first ever beer pairing. Sponsored by BeerAdvocate.com, I believe. The event took place at Upstairs on the Square, a restaurant that always presents a surprise with each meal. Tuesday was no exception.

The meal - both beer and food - had an Aztec theme. Each dish incorporated an ingredient (or two or three) that was part of the Aztec culture (that the Conquistidors so rudely eliminated upon their arrival in the Western Hemisphere). A beer was chosen to bring out not only the flavors of the meal but also for how the meal transformed the beer.

The first course was a seafood ceviche with avocado, lime & cilantro, paired with a Negro Modelo. A bite of radish and a sip of beer - they both transform into something sweet!
Second course: Duck prosciutto salad with white bean puree, honey roasted squash and pepitas. Paired with a bragget. Not really sure what that was, technically. But the pairing was tremendous. First, duck prosciutto? Fabulous. Had no idea duck had been a big part of the Aztec diet. The white bean puree was fantastic, especially with the drizzle of honey that really elevated all of the dish's ingredients. And the beer was really well-paired with it all, especially the honey. The beer's sweetness really came out.
Third course: Spiced chicken with a mole and corn spaetzel, paired with a German urbock that has been made the same way since 1400's. The beer company dries their hops the old fashioned way apparently - with fire and smoke. So the beer has a smoky aspect to it. On first sniff, my companions all said "where's the campfire?" Smoky beer with spiced chicken? It worked. The breast of chicken was so succulent, skin still on surprisingly. And the corn spaetzel - little balls of corn yumminess. Loved it. Couldn't eat it fast enough.
Dessert: A chocolate bread pudding paired with a chocolate beer. I knew it was coming up, so I saved a bit of my smoky beer to taste with my chocolate bread pudding. I wanted to see if I could conjure up a smores feeling. A little, but more appropriately, the beer they chose went extremely well with the dessert. Leave the pairings to the experts.
I left:
  • feeling full, but not stuffed - just the way to appreciate food
  • slightly tipsy
  • with a greater knowledge of Aztec foods and culture
  • with a greater conviction that beer is a meal in a bottle
  • assured in my opinion that Upstairs on the Square is one of my top places for a consistently outstanding meals in Boston

Monday, February 25, 2008

asparagus lasagna

To go along with the glitz and glam of the Oscars, Jennifer made asparagus lasagna. We've been tuned into the Food Network lately, and this recipe is from an episode of Giada's Everyday Italian. Billed as an elegant restaurant-style lasagna, she certainly was correct. Unlike several of the previous recipes we've put together, we actually had all the ingredients for this one. The prep was fairly involved but working together it all came together fairly well. I'd wash the basil and rinse the jars of sun-dried tomatoes then Jennifer would make the pesto. The process really did click along.

Lasagna without meat or sauce - who knew it could be so good? The dish was prepared with layers of sun-dried tomato basil pesto, noodles (no crazy version with thinly sliced eggplant here), an asparagus-ricotta mixture, diced turkey bacon (ok, it called for pancetta but a good-quality turkey bacon was an excellent substitute), mozzarella and parmesan. I originally suggested omitting the pancetta. What a disappointment that would have been! The bacon gave the dish an occasional taste of smokiness - not in every forkful, just now and then, and each time I noticed it, I thought 'oh, there it is, I'm so glad we didn't leave it out.'

The recipe calls for four bunches of asparagus. We looked at the mound of washed asparagus in the sink and immediately wished we had a more accurate measurement, like cups or pounds. We put in probably three of our bunches, and that was just fine, we didn't need any more than that. Unlike conventional lasagna, this felt lighter. But it was still a hefty meal and we served it with a warm baguette. Yum.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Working from home, I don't get out of the house much. So when Jennifer said she was meeting co-workers for after-work drinks at Clerys in the South End, I came along. And I was also tempted by a possible chance to grab a quick dinner on the way home.

Clerys an Irish-style sports bar on Dartmouth, was particularly full last night. We did meet for drinks but also shared a platter of nachos. What can I say, it was just a plate of nachos. They were pretty good and at least we had the good sense to not get them soaked with beef. It was a nice beginning for what I had been looking forward to: the De-Lux.

From the outside, it looks like a dive bar. The indoor decor doesn't change that opinion much. The walls are filled with old record sleeves, graffiti fills the bare spots, and a velvet Elvis and all the trappings makes up a permanent memorial over by the bar. Not far away is a bar-top Christmas tree that holds its spot year-round. It's a small place, maybe 15 small tables. It's always filled whenever we go. It's an interesting crowd - messengers, artists, old locals, hipsters, and people who love good food.

This is one of my favorite spots to grab a quick and delicious meal. And it's affordable. I've never had a bad meal. The menu changes about ever six weeks, but they do have some permanent items, like the grilled cheese that's to die for. I wish I had a menu on hand to rattle off some other items. You'd expect a dive bar to have iceberg lettuce salads. Not here. Last night we had the spinach salad special with candied walnuts, gorganzola, grape tomatoes, and a fresh vinaigrette. We also had the gnocchi with fresh tomato sauce. The gnocchi were excellent, homemade, very fresh. The sauce, honestly, didn't have time to develop flavor. It wasn't a jar sauce, you could tell it was a can of whole tomatoes with added stuff in it, but maybe they had a run on sauce and put together another batch quickly. Maybe another 1/2 hour cooking would have helped it develop deeper flavor.

The De-Lux - it's fabulous. Don't let the dive bar facade fool you.