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The best way to cook quinoa

I first encountered quinoa in 2010 at Dalya’s in Bedford – I loved the “toothsome texture and a great nutty taste,” It was only later I found what a superfood it is; it has twice the protein of most grains, only 4 grams of unsaturated fat and is 22 calories per serving. It has become so popular in America that the poor people of Peru and Bolivia can no longer afford what used to be a staple of their diet.

I have tried a couple recipes, but have had less than stellar results; it always seems to come out mushy, or crunchy. This is Cook’s Illustrated’s version and it was perfect. The quinoa was tender and fluffy. It is also a great blank canvas for any flavor combination. I tossed my pilaf with broccoli and toasted pecans, but the possibilities are endless.

RECIPE: Quinoa Pilaf with Herbs and Lemon
Serves 4-6
1 1/2 cups prewashed quinoa
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
1 small onion, chopped fine
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups water
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1. Toast quinoa in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until quinoa is very fragrant and makes continuous popping sound, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer quinoa to bowl and set aside.
2. Return now-empty pan to medium-low heat and melt butter. Add onion and salt; cook, stirring frequently, until onion is softened and light golden, 5 to 7 minutes.
3. Increase heat to medium-high, stir in water and quinoa, and bring to simmer. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until grains are just tender and liquid is absorbed, 18 to 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking. Remove pan from heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff quinoa with fork, stir in herbs and lemon juice, and serve.

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I just returned from a 4 day Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Ruby Princess, stopping in the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos. I had uber-relaxing vacation; sunning, reading and of course, eating. I won’t bore you with the details of the food on the boat – it was inconsistent. I will say that highlights were: fresh croissants for breakfast in the dining room, scones with clotted cram and jam during afternoon tea, gelato and surprisingly decent pizza. If you are on this boat, you should avoid the eggs (always over cooked) and sushi (the worst sushi rice ever). I would list Princess as 3rd in my ranking of cruise lines (Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Holland America and Norwegian).

Carol and I disembarked at 8am and had the whole day in Miami before flying home. We spent the day on the beach and driving around to Miami’s top Cuban sandwich joints.

Las Olas Café

Las Olas Café was our first stop. It is a simple corner take-out shop, with a counter filled with pork shoulder, rice and beans and other delicious looking Cuban fare, ready to be served. The sandwich was a steal at $5 and it was the best of the day. It had the best roasted pork, as well as crusty bread. The sandwich is heated on the plancha open-faced and then put together and pressed a second time, ensuring melty cheese and a crunchy top. The sandwich was strangely cut in to four quarters, both length and widthwise.

Address: 644 6th St, Miami Beach, FL 33139
Phone:(305) 534-9333

Puerto Sagua

Puerto Sagua has been around for 47 years and looks like it. It is a dark wood paneled diner with a long wraparound counter top. The Cubano comes in medium and large sizes ($8, and $9, respectively). I was disappointed; I found the bread to be cottony and the roast pork was not flavorful. I did glimpse a delicious looking flan, but with another sandwich to try, I had no room to allocate to dessert.

http://southflorida.menupages.com/restaurants/puerto-sagua-restaurant/menu
Address: 700 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139
Phone:(305) 673-1115

Versailles

Versailles proclaims itself to be the “world’s most famous Cuban restaurant” and has been open since 1971. We opted to have our sandwich to go, rather than in the dining room. There is a long bakery counter filled with tempting baked goods and desserts. I could not resist a tre leches cake to go with my sandwich ($6). This was my least favorite Cubano of the three. The bread was also cottony, but the biggest problem was the sandwich did not get enough plancha time. The cheese was not even melted! The tres leche cake was decent, but not the best.

http://www.versaillesrestaurant.com/
Address: 3555 SW 8th Street, Miami Florida 33135
Phone:(305) 444-0240

Joe’s Stone Crab

You would think that half of 3 sandwiches would put me out of commission, but I could not leave Miami without trying Joe’s Stone Crab, which has been around for 101 years. The main restaurant was not open till dinner, but the take-away counter enabled us to get an order of medium claws (7 for $30). The market price goes up as you get larger sized claws. They were simply steamed; served cold with clarified butter and mustard sauce. They were delicious – a perfect example of how simple preparation can let a great ingredient shine. Some of my best meals have involved a bushel of steamed crab and butter – this was no exception.

joes

http://www.joesstonecrab.com/
Address: 11 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139
Phone:(305) 673-0365
Chicken may be ubiquitous on the American dining room table, but in the Tsoi household, it was a roast Peking duck my mother picked up every week during her Saturday sojourns in to Chinatown. It would be hacked up in to pieces, served along with white rice and the other vegetables at dinner. It wasn’t until I was 16 and in Beijing that I had the full traditional Peking duck meal, with the pancakes and all the accompaniments.

China King will do a complete traditional 3 course Peking duck meal, with 24 hours notice. It’s $39 and will serve 3-4 people. I went with Leslie, Charles and Sumita. The small restaurant was only half full on a Friday evening, with most tables ordering the duck.

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Before the meal starts, they bring the whole duck out, so that we could marvel at the crispy bronzed exterior. The duck is whisked away and returned to us in parts over the course of dinner.

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First, a platter of duck skin is presented with thin homemade pancakes, scallions and hoisin sauce. I spread a thin layer of hoisin on the pancake, top it with a few pieces of duck and fold it in to a neat package. It was awesomely delicious: the pancake was tender, the duck skin shatteringly crispy, and the sweetness from the hoisin sauce balanced the savoriness of the meat. Admittedly, it was a little greasy, but that was part of the goodness.

photo 3 (2)

The second course is a stir fry with the duck meat, but I had read suggestions to get the homemade noodles (additional charge of $6) with the stir fry. The noodles were thick and toothsome, somewhat similar to an udon noodle. It was hearty and satisfying.

photo 4 (2)

Lastly, the carcass of the duck is hacked in to smaller pieces and made in to a soup with mung bean thread noodles and tofu. At first, I was not impressed, the soup did not seem to have much duck flavor and the carcass pieces were bony and awkward. But, I finished my first bowl and had a second, and by the time I reached for my third serving I realized that the hot soup felt cleansing, almost like it was rinsing the grease from my system.

To supplement our meal, we got scallion pancakes ($4) and an order of sautéed Chinese broccoli ($9). The scallion pancakes were crispy, but also very greasy. The broccoli made us feel better about eating all the grease, as we had something green to go with it.

The service was prompt and friendly. The whole meal was a bargain ($72 total). I would definitely recommend getting a couple of friends together for a delicious evening of duck.


There’s no website, but here’s the info as well as a link to the Phoenix’s review of the restaurant in May 2012.

60 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111
(617) 542-1763

http://thephoenix.com/boston/food/139363-on-the-cheap-china-king/

NY Eats

Steve and I went to NYC for the weekend to see the Celtics play against the Brooklyn Nets. Unfortunately, they lost by 16 points, but we had lots of great food during the weekend to make up for it.

Grimaldi’s, Brooklyn

We wanted to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and Grimaldi’s coal brick oven pizzeria is conveniently situated in the shadows underneath. At 5:30 on a Friday afternoon, there was only one party of four waiting in line outside. 5 minutes later, we were seated at the bar. We ordered the classic cheese pizza ($16 for 18 inches); it was topped with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil. The pizza was delicious; crust was thin and flavorful and the thick slices of mozzarella were satisfyingly chewy. We polished off the whole pizza with no problem. There is really nothing like NY pizza.

photo 2 (1)

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http://www.grimaldis.com/

E.A.T, Manhattan

We grabbed a quick bite before an afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. E.A.T is conveniently located just a block away. The deli case was filled with beautiful looking salads and spreads. Our bread basket had a nice assortment of hearty multigrain, a petite baguette and a raisin walnut.

My matzo ball soup was outstanding with a flavorful broth and two large, light and airy matzo balls. Steve’s tomato and mozzarella sandwich ($16) looked great, but it came dressed with a mustard vinaigrette that he did not like. I was also the lucky recipient of his mustard dill potato salad side, as he does not like potato salad either. The prices reminded us we were in Manhattan, which is to say, $14 for a bowl of soup is outrageous.

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http://www.elizabar.com/EAT-C25.aspx

Levain Bakery, Manhattan

After walking all around the Met, we were ready for a snack. We strolled across Central Park and went to Levain Bakery to get one of their famous chocolate chip cookies ($4). They are huge hockey pucks, weighing in at 6ozs each. Steve had the dark chocolate chocolate chip and I opted for the classic chocolate chip walnut. I’m sure this is how they want to serve it, but I felt it Steve’s cookie crossed the fine line between warm and gooey in to raw and underbaked. It had no structural integrity and Steve’s hands looked like he tried to strangle Count Chocula. 10 minutes after he finished the cookie, he was still debating whether he liked it or was grossly overwhelmed by the decadence of it.

photo 4 (1)

http://www.levainbakery.com/

Barbuto, Manhattan

The roast chicken at Barbuto has become so much of a house favorite that Jonathan Waxman has even dubbed it the JW chicken. I knew we had to go and try the signature dish. Barbuto, an Italian inspired restaurant, is located in the West Village. It is a large industrial space, with a garage doors that open on to a casual patio. Steve and I went with Wendy and Shane, on a warm Saturday night. We were seated immediately with our 6:30pm reservation.

We started with the charcuterie plate ($19) – it had prosciutto di Parma, cacciatorini & soppressata. The meats were uninteresting, but tasty. Why only two small slices of bread, Barbuto? Our PEI mussels were steamed in chardonnay and served with fregola ($13). The serving was small, but I really enjoyed the combination of the chewy pearls of pasta with the tender briny mussels.

I ordered the bucatini alla carbonara ($18). The pasta was perfectly cooked, the pancetta added a nice meaty chew, and the egg was thick and luscious, but the dish was overwhelmed by the amount of black pepper.

Both Steve and Shane got the famous JW chicken ($19) and the consensus was that it was “good, but it’s just chicken,” I liked the salsa verde topping – I thought it was reminiscent of Mama Tsoi’s cilantro garlic sauce.

Wendy’s whole roasted porgie took the prize for oversized entrée. It was huge; hanging over two sides of the plate. It was tender, although it needed lemon and salt. I helped Wendy polish it off. I love dissecting a fish head.

The winning dish of the night was the potatoes ($8). They were outstanding; fried crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. They were dusted with pecorino and rosemary. I found a recipe online and it makes me wish I had a deep fat fryer.

Crispy potatoes with pecorino and rosemary recipeCollapse )
We finished the evening with a chocolate budino ($8). It was a creamy, rich chocolate pudding – a lovely way to end a nice meal. The service was competent and the prices were extremely reasonable, especially for Manhattan. Sorry, I did not get pictures - it was a little too dark in the restaurant.

http://www.barbutonyc.com/

Rendezvous, Cambridge

Rendezvous opened in an old Burger King space in the middle of Central Square in 2005. The website states that “the menu is inspired by the flavors and aromas of the western Mediterranean -- Italy, France, Spain and North Africa.”

On Monday evenings (5-10pm), they have a special tapas menu ($5-$8). It was previously only available at the bar, but now you can order it from the dining room (which means you can make a reservation!). I went with some friends from work and sampled a bunch of dishes:

cassoulet

Mini-cassoulet of pork, duck + sausage ($7) – It was rich and hearty. A perfect dish for the kind of cold miserable weather we have been having.

sardine

Grilled Portuguese sardines with fennel-caper vinaigrette ($7) – This was a winner. I think more places should serve sardines.

ribs

Salty head-on shrimp with chili oil + lime ($7) – The shrimp were large and tender, bursting with flavor. I tried to convince my dining companions that sucking the shrimp head was the best part to no avail, so I got the heads all to myself.

Slow-roasted grilled lamb ribs with Berber spices ($8) – My friend Azelene felt the ribs were too fatty; I thought they were deliciously succulent and the spices balanced the gaminess of the meat.

Other dishes (that I did not try) at the table included:

Lobster fritters with peppers, crème fraîche+ scallions ($8)
Goat’s milk feta, muhummara + marinated olives ($5)

And from the regular dinner menu:
Potato gnocchi with braised oxtail and grated horseradish ($12)
Little lasagna of Swiss chard and fresh ricotta with chanterelles, pesto and salted almonds ($13)

pudding

cake

We ended the meal with the lemon-buttermilk pudding with huckleberry sauce ($7) and warm chocolate cake with chocolate sauce and cinnamon cream ($8). I thought the cake was a little dry and chalky, but the lemon buttermilk pudding was excellent.

The food was enjoyed by all. The server was attentive and continued to bring refills of Iggy’s Francese bread to sop up sauces. This is a terrific deal and you should take advantage of it while you can.


http://www.rendezvouscentralsquare.com/
I have a ginger molasses cookie recipe from Cook’s Illustrated that I really love and I brought it in to work for the annual cookie swap. My friend Carol P. (not to be confused with my other friend, Carol W.) told me about a ginger cookie that her ex-husband’s grandmother used to make. She got the recipe, but could not make heads or tails of the half written directions on the index card. I told her to bring it in and I would have a look.

This is what she brought me:

photo

My favorite line is “flour to handle,”

Carol is currently taking time away from work to help her husband recover, post-surgery, so I thought I would stop by with a batch of Grandma Sole’s cookies. As you can see, the card does not include directions, so I started combining the ingredients in a traditional cookie method (cream the fat and sugar, add egg, add the rest of liquid. Combine dry ingredients, add to wet.) It was all going well – I creamed the shortening and sugar together, added the molasses, added the eggs and then got ready to add the 1 cup cold coffee. I looked at the batter and knew instinctively that it was not going to work – the batter would not absorb a whole cup of liquid. If had had followed my gut, I would have swapped instant espresso power for the coffee, keeping the flavor without adding additional moisture. But, I told myself to have faith in Grandma Sole and dumped it in. Disaster. The fat/sugar mixture seized up and curdled immediately. I swapped the paddle attachment on the mixer for the whisk and whipped it for a good 5 minutes, and the coffee marginally incorporated itself. I decided to forge ahead with the dry ingredients. I started with 2 cups of flour and it became clear I was not getting cookie batter – the consistency was completely wrong. I added an additional ½ cup of flour and realized it was closer to cake batter. I shrugged and prepped a 9x13 cake pan. I guesstimated 40 minutes in a 350 degree oven and when I checked at 38 minutes with a toothpick, it was done.

I allowed it to cool and cut myself a small piece. I was shocked that the texture was light, moist and tender. The flavor was grown-up; dark, roasty and a little bitter from the molasses and coffee. This was not a 6 year old’s birthday cake. I felt like it needed some additional sweetness, so I whipped up a batch of my favorite cream cheese frosting and it complimented the cake perfectly. So, there you have it, Grandma Sole’s ginger cookies, er cake.

photo 4 (2)

photo 3 (2)

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Journeyman, Somerville

Journeyman busted on to Boston’s dining scene in 2010, garnered lots of rave reviews and quickly became a darling on the food boards. They only served tasting menus (choice of 3, 5 or 7 courses) and most everything is made in house. Times have changed and the limelight has moved on. Journeyman changed their menu structure; there is no choice, dinner is $85 and includes 9-12 dishes per person.

Steve gave me a gift certificate to Journeyman, but requested that I take someone else to dinner - the idea of having no control over his food did not appeal to him. I took my friend Peggi who was happy to try everything.

There were only two other tables occupied when I arrived for our reservation. I was alarmed – no restaurant should be this empty at 7pm on a Friday night. The room was also unimpressively cold and industrial and I was seated in a chair that screamed IKEA.

Dinner was an elaborate parade of tiny, precious dishes that were better described as interesting or imaginative than delicious.

photo 1

There was a bread basket, with 3 types of hearty bread and soft salted butter. We also got a flaxseed chip with a yogurt dip. It was reminiscent of Chinese shrimp chips in texture.

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Raw oyster encased in a smoked gelee wrapper. It was visually fascinating, like a see- through ravioli.

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Sea scallop with celery and apple. The texture was firm and pleasing, with a fresh briny flavor.

photo 4

Charcuterie plate with a soft boiled egg and pickled cauliflower. The 3 thin slices of coppa were unremarkable.

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Hearts of palm, caperberries, cracklins and a single walnut. I, literally, can not think of anything to say about this dish.

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Monkfish, escargot, and brisket. The monkfish was tasty, but it was the size of a small McNugget.

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Liver agnolotti with shallots and bacon. This was my favorite course of the night – if only it was 4 times the size.

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Veal with radishes, artichokes and mushrooms. It was yet another precious, tiny plate of food. It was lovely to look at, not terribly exciting to eat.

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Egg nog custard. It was announced a as “pre – dessert”. The custard was served warm and it was delicious.

photo 5 (1)

We were served 2 different desserts; I had a sweet potato mousse with hazelnuts and a coffee smear. I am not a big fan of sweet potato, so this dessert did not appeal to me.

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Peggi’s was an olive oil cake with candied olives, apple sorbet and a tube of banana pudding. The candied olive was the strangest thing I tasted all night, but as I continued to eat, the sweet, briny, crunchy combination started to grow on me.

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They also gave us a “post-dessert” of caramels, truffles, praline, madelines and homemade marshmallows. I enjoyed this small dish of treats far more than the actual dessert.

The service was excellent; they were extremely attentive and friendly. It was clear that a lot of time, energy and thought went in to each careful composed dish. I think there were some hits (the liver agnolotti) and some misses (sweet potato mousse). When the bill comes in at $240 (the meal, 2 cocktails and tip), my expectations are high and Journeyman failed to meet them.

http://www.journeymanrestaurant.com/menu.htm

Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies

Brian and his wife Nicole have been on the Paleo diet and tomorrow is Nicole’s birthday, so I decided to try making a diet friendly cookie for them. A simple web search for a recipe resulted in almost half a million hits. I scanned through a handful before deciding on this one from a crossfit website.

The recipe trades almond meal for flour, coconut oil for butter and maple syrup for the sugar. The cookie was a decent facsimile, but the texture was too soft. The combo of the coconut oil and almond meal reminded me of an almond joy. It is a decent alternative for those who need a gluten free, dairy free option.

photo (2)

http://www.crossfitcu.com/foodie-friday-best-paleo-chocolate-chip-cookies-yet/

RecipeCollapse )

Cuvee, West Hartford CT

My tour of West Hartford happy hours with Christine continues with Cuvee, a “food, wine and champagne room.” They have an amazing happy hour discount – 50% off *everything*, Sunday – Thursday, 5 – 7pm. It is also the only happy hour I know takes reservations for the lounge area.

We were seated in low comfy leather seats, kitty corner to a low glass table, adjoining the bar area. We started with fun martinis ($4.5, each) and ordered a signature flatbread ($6), wild mushroom arancini ($5.5), a charcuterie plate ($5.5) and potato wedges ($4).

The flatbread was topped with red peppers, ricotta and prosciutto. It was small and oblong; I would be unhappy if I had paid full price for this. The crust was decent and the toppings were okay. It was not noteworthy.

The arancini were 3 large, crispy globes of tender mushroom risotto. It came with a delicious creamy onion dipping sauce.

Flatbread

The charcuterie plate had duck pastrami, salami and I don’t even remember what the third offering was – it was that unmemorable. It came with 2 sad streaks and 2 dots of mustard, none of the regular accoutrements that normally come with charcuterie. The duck pastrami was the best of the three.

charcuterie


The meal was fairly lackluster up until the potato wedges arrived. They were a glorious mound of perfectly cooked fries topped with a creamy gorgonzola sauce and big crumbles of bacon. It was outstanding. I could go for some more, right now.

wedges


We shared the blackberry cabernet cheesecake ($4) for dessert. It was creamy and tangy and came with a large dish of supermarket vanilla ice cream.

cheesecake

The room was packed and astonishingly loud. Our server was harried and inattentive. Twice, we garnered the unwanted attention of men, so it’s a bit of a meat market. Despite the excellent happy hour prices and the delicious potato wedges, I doubt I will be back. As much as it pains me to say it; I am too old for this.

http://www.cuveewesthartford.com/htmlsite/index.html

Roast Cod with Potatoes and Onions

This is a stunningly simple, but delicious recipe, perfect for a weeknight dinner. It is also versatile – I wanted salmon instead of cod and I was able to cook both. The prep is even easier with a mandolin or a food processor to do your cutting. I used the thin slicer blade on my food processor and blitzed through 4 Yukon gold potatoes and a Vidalia onion in less than a minute. I tossed the potatoes and onions with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread them out on a foil lined (easy clean up, too!) half – sheet tray and roasted it for 35 minutes in a 425 degree oven. When the edges on the potatoes were starting to brown, I placed an 8oz cod fillet on one side and an 8oz salmon fillet on the other (The fish was also drizzled with olive oil and seasoned). 9 minutes later, the fish was cooked perfectly, and the potatoes and onion were tender and creamy. It reminded me of scalloped potatoes, but without the fat of calories of heavy cream, butter and cheese. I found the recipe on www.pinkofperfection.com. It appears she adapted it from How to Cook Everything which is an excellent cookbook by Mark Bittman.

Sorry, I forgot to get a picture before we devoured it.

http://www.pinkofperfection.com/2010/03/roast-cod-with-potatoes-and-onions/

Roast Cod with Potatoes and OnionsCollapse )

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