Saturday, February 13, 2010

Caspian from Jasper Hill Farm

You may have read my entry on Winnimere, probably my favorite all time cheese from Jasper Hill Farm a few days ago.  Imagine my surprise when the kind folks from the dairy retweeted and posted a link to my blog on facebook.  I was elated, overjoyed, and jumping up and down with excitement.  Of course, I immediately added them on twitter and FB, and as a result found out about their unveiling of a new cheese called Caspian.  I sent a text to a friend at work asking if we could get it in, and he responded that we already had it - four wheels of it in fact!  WIN!!!!

Caspian is closely modeled on a French cheese called Banon which is made from goat's milk and wrapped in vinegar and eau de vie soaked grape leaves.  Banon is made from raw milk and apparently gets pretty funky if allowed to age.  I have never had it, but I think I would like it based my love of stinky cheese and what I've read about it.  They have named their version of Banon for Lake Caspian which is near the dairy.  Like their other cheeses, it takes its name from local landmarks and/or historic events.

Zenna Noodle Bar, Brookline

Dan and I had some lunch together this afternoon! Sometimes I feel like we are ships passing in the night since he works days and I work nights.  Our delicious lunch was enhanced by the rare opportunity to have a conversation during the daylight hours.  We chose Zenna Noodle Bar, one of our favorites here in Brookline. We've been going there for a couple of years now, and they consistently serve a good lunch.  It's affordable and the food is always fresh and flavorful - oh they were playing Pink Martini on their soundtrack today which we both love!

This afternoon, I felt like something light so I tried their "Zenna" noodle soup with fried tofu, enoki mushrooms, snow peas, and assorted veggies, a first for me.  I added some of the fantastic tamarind sauce provided to my broth, and WOW!  It was a flavor explosion.  The tofu absorbed the flavor of the sauce and I even enjoyed the subtle use of cilantro, which normally isn't my favorite.  It's difficult to imagine a more satisfying vegetarian soup. Dan had the delicious "Zenna" noodle soup with chicken, which is his favorite there.  It looked great with a good amount of thinly sliced strips of white meat floating in a beautifully aromatic broth with, of course, plenty of delicious noodles.

We usually get an order of their fabulous Vietnamese style Spring rolls - and sometimes two orders because they are that fantastic.  They remind me of Spring rolls that we used to get a place my dad took the family to every Friday night for years back home called Acadian Seafood.  We opted against them today in the interest of keeping our lunches light, but they are not to be missed if you haven't been there before.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Fabulously Fierce Friends, Suzanne

Suzanne writes: I am awestruck by the continued creativity of chefs as they experiment with foods from all over the world, and by their ability to present old standbys in distinctive and delicious new ways.

CQ: 1. Who are your role models - food related or otherwise?

Suzanne: Obviously Julia Child, Paul Prudhomme, Graham Kerr

CQ: 2. What is your drink of choice?

Suzanne: Chardonnay, Bellini

CQ: 3. What is your favorite cookbook or other food related book?

Suzanne: Paul Prudhomme's Louisianna Kitchen

Thursday, February 11, 2010

ICA, Boston

At about 1:30 today, I received a phone call from my manager at work asking if I'd like the night off.  My initial instinct was that I should work, but then as I thought about it for a second, my sense of adventure began to get the better of me... and I need to clean my kitchen too!  Anyhow, inspired by the beautiful crisp day outside, I set out to the Institute of Contemporary Art here in Boston.  I had been putting off making it there for a visit for far too long, and given this unexpected free evening with no plans, it seemed an obvious choice for a way to spend my afternoon.

I arrived there and bought my ticket for general admission.  The guy at the front desk let me know that the main gallery was being renovated and as a result, they were offering free admission after the 19th through the 21st of March with the ticket that I purchased today.  WIN!  I will definitely plan on heading back in a couple of weeks with my two-fer ticket that I bought today.  He stressed to me that there would be a lot more to see when I returned.  I got the feeling that what I saw today was a very small part of the collection indeed, but it was a rewarding experience nonetheless.  In truth, it was nice to be able to pop in and out and not feel as though I had missed a substantial part of what there was to see.

My first stop was an installation by Krzysztof Wodiczko called Out of Here: The Veteran's Project.  It was basically a dark room with basement window projections on the wall near the ceiling.  A soundtrack of an engagement of war played in the room and made you feel as though you were hearing what was going on just outside your own window.  It was eerie and powerful and made me question the validity of war.  It was a shocking and visceral first impression of what the ICA has to offer.

A Beautiful Dinner at Chez Henri, Cambridge, MA

For some reason, I think of Cambridge as being in a different country, even though geographically it's practically on my front step.  It probably has to do with the fact that it requires a transfer on the T, or a bus ride for the most direct route.  I try not to take the bus if I can avoid it.  In fact, we took the bus back from Cambridge after our glorious dinner at Chez Henri and witnessed a fight that nearly sparked a race riot while the bus was in motion, but that's another story for another time...  In any case, I digress.

I had never been to Chez Henri before.  It's hard to believe, I know.  Friends have been telling me about this place since I moved to Boston, and with my penchant for French food, you'd think I'd be a regular there by now.  I figured it was high time that Dan and I make it over there for dinner, and with my jaunt to see the Harvard Museum of Natural History on Monday, we settled on meeting up there after he finished teaching.  We were glad we did.  It was a wonderful way to spend a cold night together across the river.

I arrived early, and having had time to kill I sidled up at the bar for a cocktail and to peruse the menu.  I had a periodista cocktail.  It's a rum drink with apricot brandy and triple sec.  It was tasty and helped chase the cold away after my walk from Harvard.  I enjoyed looking over their wine list and menu while waiting for Dan as well as eavesdropping on the folks at the bar.  There were two men who had lots to catch up on after not seeing one another for twenty years talking about astrophysics, and a trio of octogenarians who were sipping Manhattans and sharing two Cuban sandwiches three ways.  They had stopped in before heading out to snowbird in Florida the next day.  Needless to say, there were plenty of interesting subjects for people-watching.

Leek and Gruyere Mac n' Cheese

There are so many recipes floating around the internet for macaroni and cheese these days.  It seems that this humble and classic dish is receiving more attention than average of late, and for good reason, in my opinion.  It's delicious, filling, simple to make, and easy on your wallet.  I happened to have most of the ingredients lying around this week, so I figured, why not?  It's so easy to warm up when I get home late from work and pretty much just involves adding a little shredded cheese to melt over the top and then letting it bake in the oven for a half hour at 350˚... et voila!  A meal fit for the most discriminating connoisseur.

For this variation, I used some of the most beautiful leeks I've seen in a while that I bought on my trip to the market.  It's rare that I see ones with so much of the tender sweet white part that I couldn't resist buying three of them.  I used some to make a sauté for my chicken dinner last night, some went into stock, and I still had leftover.  So, with the beautiful pasta that my mother sent me from Fresina's back home, I came up with the idea for mac n' cheese.  I love the sweetness of the leeks which is nicely balanced out by the nutty and herbaceous quality of the Gruyere.

Here's the recipe:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chef Chris Bauers' Recipe for Maple Braised Bacon

1lb slab bacon
1qt veal stock
1/2 cup maple syrup
1tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. start an appropriately sized pan on medium high heat. make sure it is large enough both to fit the bacon and allow the bacon to be covered with the stock.
  2. when the pan begins to get warm lay the bacon in so the fattiest side is down. the fat will begin to render and as the pan heats it will start to caramelize.
  3. when the fat side has browned nicely, flip the pork belly and caramelize the other side
  4. when both sides are browned, add the veal stock, maple syrup, molasses and vanilla.
  5. let this simmer uncovered on low heat checking frequently after an hour or so. if the liquid reduces too much add a little water and cover.
  6. the pork will tighten up and then become very tender. before it starts falling apart remove from pan and chill overnight.
  7. save the glaze, it might be the best part!
  8. slice it thin and use it on EVERYTHING! or take the chefs route and warm up a big slab of pork belly and serve over lentils.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Winnemere from Jasper Hill Farm

I was recently reminded of how fabulous and wonderful Winnemere is when it showed up on our cheeseboard again at work a month or so ago.  As usual it came and went very quickly, but I did manage to sneak a few bits in here and there before it all went to the guests.  It's simply delicious with a meaty smoky funky finish and a creamy butter paste that reminds me of thick mayonnaise.  It tastes like eating a really good ham sandwich.

Winnemere comes from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont which many consider to be among the best in New England.  It's their version of Forsterkase, which is a washed rind wheel of cheese that is bound with a strip of Spruce bark.  It's something the woodsmen would take into the forest to work in Northern Switzerland.  The Kehler brothers of Jasper Hill use their top quality raw Ayrshire cow milk as well as a Lambic beer made right at the dairy to make this delicious domestic version.

Pollo Buono from Epicurean Farms

The most delicious chicken I have ever cooked was one that I bought from Whole Foods a year or two ago.  I haven't seen them at the market recently, until my shopping trip there today. I'm not sure if the market hasn't been carrying them, or if they are simply sold out by the time I get there, but I was so excited to see them today.  I snatched up a nice sized bird around three and a half pounds.

Since it's on the pricey side at $15, it will be good to stretch it as far as possible.  I'll be carving it up and roasting the breasts on the bone.  The flavorful dark meat will go into a hearty cassoulet with salt pork and lentils.  The wings and spine will go into a stock for soup and maybe a risotto later this week.  The joy of buying whole chickens is how versatile the bird is and how many meals you can get from it!

The Pollo Buono birds are raised by Epicurean Farms, a joint project between Rob Saglio and the Hain Celestial Group, an organic food company.  Saglio discovered the chickens on a trip to Italy when he ate one at a small Roman restaurant.  He raises them according to the same methods of the Roman farmer allowing to them to naturally grow ten to thirteen weeks without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics since the birds have a naturally strong immune system.

Marlboro Musicians at The Gardner

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museums is one of the gems of Boston's arts scene, but did you know that it boasts and equally wonderful concert series?  I was fortunate enough to hear one this past Sunday performed by musicians from Vermont's Marlboro Music Festival.  The program consisted of Bartok's second string quartet, a Haydn quartet, a Mozart concert aria, and Schumann's Liederkreis.  It was a lovely program performed in an intimate and warm setting on a cold afternoon in Boston.

I bought the tickets some time ago in hopes that Dan would be able to join me since his quartet, Arneis, is also working on the Bartok second, but he actually had to perform a house concert in Western MA that same day.  I was happy he had work and they managed to raise nearly a thousand dollars for their group, so it was definitely worth missing the concert!  Luckily, my friend, the pastry ninja, from work was able to come with me.  It's always more fun having someone along to talk about the program with during and after the concert.  Beth and I had a great time together.  We ate a quick lunch near the museum and she really seemed to enjoy the whole afternoon, especially the Haydn quartet which was beautifully and elegantly played with Ida Levin on first violin.

Harvard Museum of Natural History

My day off brought me to the Harvard Museum of Natural History this afternoon.  I must admit that I don't make it over the river nearly often enough, but every time I cross the bridge over to Cambridge, I'm glad I went.  The museum today was a truly unexpected surprise and I can't believe that I have lived in Boston as long as I have without having visited there.

My first stop in the museum was the glass flower exhibit.  This is really the reason why I made it there today to check it out.  A friend had told me about how amazing it was and it certainly met and exceeded expectations.  The collection represents work by Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka.  They were active over a century ago in Germany and were commissioned by Harvard to create this exhibit for scholars of botany.  They worked as costume jewelery makers, and adapted their skills quite successfully to amazing lifelike representations of North American flowering plants.