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Bastille kitchen, Boston

Steve and I helped his mother, Joyce, celebrate her birthday last weekend at Bastille kitchen, a new French restaurant in Fort point. The dining room is lovely; High ceilings, brick walls, iron sconces, and curved banquettes, wide oak floorboards, and a marble bar. We were seated immediately for our 7pm reservation.

After ordering, the bread basket arrived with four hot mini croissants. They had me at hot mini croissant. I could've polished off six of these with some good cheese and been perfectly content.

The menu has classic French items, although they did not have my usual go to, steamed mussels, so I opted for the prime skirt steak frites ($30). Joyce had the salmon au poivre ($28) and Steve won the dinner round with his whole roasted haddock ($36). His fish was perfectly cooked and so flavorful. I had fish envy. My steak was cooked correctly, and I enjoyed the trio of sauces with my cone of crispy salted fries. I did not try the salmon, but Joyce seemed to enjoy it very much.

I was little full for dessert, but you can't have a birthday celebration without a candle to blow out, so I relented. I ordered the citrus Napoleon which was lemon curd and pink grapefruit supremes sandwiched between three large bronzed planks of puff pastry topped with a cloud of torched Italian meringue. I think the ratio of puff pastry to curd was too high. Thinner planks would have been better for taste as well as ease of eating. The dessert had structural integrity problems - trying to take a bite destabilized the whole construct and lemon curd and citrus segments went everywhere. That said, the curd was sweet and bright with lemon and the pastry was a nice textural contrast. Joyce had profiteroles with salted caramel chip and hazelnut gelato, with small pitcher of warm chocolate sauce. Steve just had three tiny scoops of salted caramel gelato. All desserts were $8-$9, which seems reasonable for my mammoth plate, and pricey for the gelato.

Our server was attentive, but not intrusive. The best part of the night is that we discovered that Necco Street garage (behind the restaurant) is only five dollars on Saturdays, no validation needed. Between the cheap parking, the fish and the mini croissants, we will definitely be back.


Dumpling Making Party

I’m a Chinese New Year’s orphan; Mama and Papa Tsoi are across the country, so I am left to celebrate on my own. I decided that it would be a perfect opportunity to host a dumpling making party. There are many traditional foods that one has to have, almost all of them symbolizing wealth and prosperity. Dumplings are essential as they are similar in shape to old-fashioned silver ignots. Legend has it that the more dumplings you eat during the New Year celebrations; the more money you can make in the New Year.

I did a fair amount of research and testing leading up to the party and what I discovered is that dumplings are super versatile. Your basic filling involves a meat, a vegetable, herbs, spices, eggs for binding, cornstarch for absorbing excess moisture, and whatever seasonings you would like. Mama Tsoi makes her wrappers from scratch, but I cheated and used store brought.

I put 9 friends to work, folding and pleating dumplings, while I focused on cooking.

You can steam, boil, panfry or deep fat fry. I prefer the panfry method, as it results in a crispy bottom and tender tops.

They were fast learners and 300 dumplings were done in a jiffy. It was a wonderful afternoon of cooking, eating and drinking (lychee martinis). I feel less like an orphan.

Here’s my recipe, which is a hybrid from all my research:

Classic pork, cabbage and scallion dumplings

Makes about 200 to 250 dumplings

1 head Napa cabbage (about 1.5 lbs.)
3 bunches of scallions
4.5 lbs. ground pork
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper (white or black)
4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
3 tbsp. fresh ginger root, finely grated
2/3 cup soy sauce
3 eggs, beaten
1/3 C sesame oil
1/3 C Shaoxing rice wine
2-3 T corn starch

Commercially available dumpling wrappers (enough to make ~250 dumplings) Twin Marquis was the only brand I could find. I recommend the shanghai style (white) round wrappers.

a small cup of water for wetting the wrapper

Dipping Sauce
soy sauce
sesame oil
rice wine vinegar

Using a food processor (in batches), finely chop the Napa cabbage, using the pulse. Set in a strainer, lightly salt and let sit for 15-20 minutes. Squeeze out excess water.

Chop scallions by using the pulse function.

Separately, add salt, pepper, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, and corn starch to the ground pork and mix well. Combine the vegetables, beaten eggs, and the ground pork mixture, using hands to thoroughly mix together if necessary.

I would cook a small amount and season to taste, accordingly.

I took this 1/3 of this filling and added 1 cup of minced shitake mushrooms, and half a bunch of cilantro for a variation.

My third dumpling was inspired by tomorrow’s Super Bowl, I made buffalo chicken dumplings.

1 lb skinless, boneless chicken thigh
1/3 C Frank’s buffalo sauce
6 stalks of celery
4 ozs of cream cheese

Pulsed it all together in the food processor. This made about 40 dumplings.

Cooking directions (from tinyurban kitchen.com) :

You will need to work in batches here, since each pan can only pan fry one layer of dumplings at once. Add 1-2 T of vegetable oil to a nonstick (e.g., cast iron pan) pan and heat to medium high heat. Once the pan is really hot, place the dumplings (either fresh or frozen) in one layer (flat side down) inside the pan.
You should hear significant sizzling. Let the dumplings cook for about 2-4 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown.

Add about ½ cup of water (or enough that there is about ¼ inch of water in the pan). Cover, and reduce heat down to medium. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until all the water evaporates and you begin to hear that sizzle sound again.

Gung hay fat choy, my friends!


Almond Butter Crunch Toffee

I tried this toffee as Christmas; it was a gift from Steve’s cousin Tina and her wife, Kate. The texture was perfect and I loved the contrast of the sweet candy and the bittersweet chocolate. I immediately asked for the recipe and Tina said she would ask her mother in law. True to her word, I got a text 2 weeks later.

I made it tonight and it was just as good as it was at Christmas. I used a 65% dark chocolate on top. As always, I recommend a good candy thermometer.

• 1 cup (2 stick) butter, melted
• 1 1/3 cups sugar
• 1 tbs light corn syrup
• 1 cup toasted whole almonds, coarsely chopped
• 16 oz chocolate, melted

Melt butter, sugar, corn syrup, and water in a heavy sauce pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, to 300 degrees. Stir in nuts, spread in ungreased 9x13 pan. Cool completely. Spread melted chocolate on top. Chill to firm, break in to pieces.


Lemon bites (or Lemonies)

I am a sucker for citrus; I love the bright, tart and sweet flavor of lemon desserts and this one is a keeper. I got the recipe from melskitchencafe.com, but she calls them lemon brownies, which is misleading – there is no chocolate involved. The recipe bucks convention (the butter is melted and the sugar is treated as a dry ingredient) so I was worried that it would not work, but they turned out fine. The lemon is the star, and they cut nicely in to pretty squares. They would be perfect for a shower of afternoon tea party. I may try this again, using a traditional method of creaming the butter with the sugar.


The glaze recipe makes a very thin, light layer of sweet, lemony glaze on top of the soft, chewy lemony brownies. If you want more glaze, consider doubling the recipe (just make sure the glaze doesn't overpower!).

Altogether, you probably need 2-3 large lemons for the recipe to get the 4 tablespoons juice and 1 tablespoon (plus 1/2 teaspoon) zest.

These bars are delicious at room temperature but try them chilled and you may never go back.


Lemon Batter:
1 cup (5 ounces/142 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (5.5 ounces/155 grams) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon lemon zest (from 1 large lemon)
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Lemon Glaze:
3/4 cup (2.75 ounces/75 grams) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8X8-inch aluminum baking pan with parchment so that it hangs over two of the edges (to lift out the bars later - alternately, you can just grease the pan really well and slice them in the pan) and lightly coat the pan and parchment with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and lemon zest.

In a separate bowl or in a large liquid measuring cup, whisk together the butter, eggs and egg yolk, lemon juice and vanilla.

Stir the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and mix until combined.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.

Bake for 18-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with moist crumbs (the top of the bars should spring back lightly when gently pressed). Don't over bake or they might be dry.

For the glaze, whisk together the powdered sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest until smooth and combined.
After the bars have cooled completely in the pan, drizzle the glaze over the top (since the glaze layer is thin, it helps to pour it all across the bars instead of in one puddle before spreading) and use an offset spatula or knife to spread evenly over the bars.

Place the bars in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours to let the glaze set before lifting them from the pan (using the parchment overhang) and cutting into small squares. These taste best chilled, in my opinion, but can be served at room temperature also.



Eggroll Lady & Fish Shack, Worcester

It is family run eatery, located in a small roadside shack on a busy street in Worcester. The Eggroll lady and fish shack offers a small menu, primarily composed of fried items, as you would expect.

I was the only customer at 2 PM on a Thursday afternoon. There is only counter service, but there are five high-top tables for two available to sit at. I ordered a small order of the famous eggrolls ($6 for five, $11 for 12). Phuong Lam, the eggroll lady herself, was there and asked if I wanted some crab Rangoon, bragging how delicious they are. I told her no, I was sure they were great, but not today. She insisted that I should try one and threw a complimentary Rangoon in to my order.

My order came out hot and crispy - the kind of hot that burns the roof of your mouth because you are not patient enough to wait for it to cool. The eggrolls themselves are long and skinny, filled with chicken, vermicelli noodles and shredded vegetables. The eggrolls were less flavorful than I expected; I think the ratio of filling to exterior was off. The rolls really be thicker so that the flavor of the filling shines. They also advertise "special homemade duck sauce" - it was too sweet and tasted of applesauce. If you call yourself and your restaurant, the eggroll lady, your eggrolls better be pretty damn good. Sadly, these failed to live up to expectations.

The crab Rangoon was also fried correctly; Within the crispy wonton wrapper was a mixture of cream cheese and supposedly real crab. I did not detect any crab, but the filling seemed to have ricotta and specks of some unknown herb mixed in. It was better than your regular Chinese-American restaurant crab Rangoon.

Needless to say, I don't recommend a special trip to Worcester for these eggrolls. But if you are craving some fried food and are nearby, I would try the carb rangoons. Keep in mind, they are only open Thursday through Sunday.


Bricco Trattoria, Glastonbury CT

It is the younger, more affordable sibling of restaurant Bricco in nearby Hartford. I was there last week with Christine and a friend of hers. The place was packed, so even though we had a 7:30 reservation, we weren't seated for another 15 minutes. A pizza oven is the centerpiece of the restaurant, so I knew I wanted to try one of their artisan pizzas for an appetizer.

We are seated next to a large party of one man and a gaggle of 13 women. They screamed, yelled, hooted and hollered in laughter all evening long. It made conversation difficult, at best. It makes me feel old, but I can’t stand the trend of loud restaurants. Please, invest in some noise dampening panels.

The bread basket was a nice focaccia with a plate of green olives. We shared the crispy rosemary potato pizza ($16) which was described as having Italian bacon, mozzarella and chili oil. We all enjoyed the pizza; The crust had great flavor and texture. The crispy potatoes and the salty bacon played nicely with the creamy mozzarella. The aforementioned chili oil was not apparent.

I had the fennel and black pepper crusted tuna ($29) for my entrée. I told my waitress I wanted my tuna as rare as they would do it, and they cooked it accordingly. It was served atop braised escarole, white beans, green olives and Cara Cara orange segments. The brininess of the olives, the tart citrus and creamy white beans were a terrific combination. I really enjoyed the dish.

Christine had the braised lamb shank ($24) - The meat was tender and it was a perfect hearty winter entrée, but the lamb was served off the bone. When I order a shank, there better be a bone.

Our dining companion had the sirloin steak ($34). I did not try it, but he said it was excellent and finished his dish.

The food came out slowly; our meal took 2 1/2 hours to complete, from start to finish. Our waitress was friendly and kept offering to bring us baskets of bread, but she promised they would be hot and they were lukewarm, at best. Don't promise me hot bread if you're not going to deliver.

The prices are high, but the quality and flavor of the food delivered. I recommend giving Bricco a try if you're in the area and have a couple of hours to burn.

We got a slow cooker as a wedding gift and I love trying new recipes for it. I immediately earmarked this one when I saw it in America’s Test Kitchen’s Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook. The recipe was easy, especially when I used a food processer to mince the vegetables. The sauce was rich and meaty and clung to the fusilli perfectly. My favorite Bolognese has a touch of sweetness so I will use more carrots and substitute port instead of white wine next time. I used some for dinner that night and froze the rest so I have 3 more portions for another rainy day.

Big-Batch Bolognese Sauce
from Slow Cooker Revolution

Note: You will need a 6 quart slow-cooker for this recipe.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, minced
1 carrot, peeled and minced
1/4 cut minced celery
1/4 cup tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 (28 oz) cans crushed tomatoes
3 slices high-quality white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
1 cup heavy cream
3 pounds meatloaf mix
Salt and pepper

1. Melt the butter in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, tomato paste, garlic, and thyme and cook until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in wine, scraping up any browned bits; transfer to slow cooker. Stir tomatoes into slow cooker.

2. Mash bread and heavy cream into a paste in large bowl using fork. Mix in meatloaf mix, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper using hands. Stir meatloaf mixture into slow cooker, breaking up any large pieces. Cover and cook until beef is tender, 9 to 11 hours on low or 5 to 7 hours on high.

3. Let sauce settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from surface using a large spoon. Break up any remaining large pieces of meat with spoon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Yield: 14 cups

Santa Banta, Waltham

Dining in a big group can be difficult; too many opinions, preferences and dietary restrictions. At a recent bridge tournament, I found myself standing on the sidewalk on Moody St, negotiating a restaurant choice. The loudest voices called for Indian food, so we went to Santa Banta (my choice was Moody’s deli, for their excellent pastrami). The restaurant was virtually empty, so we had the undivided attention of all the wait staff. They gave us a complimentary appetizer, small fried balls of samosa filling. They were tasty, but too salty.

I ordered my usual, palak paneer ($15) and was really pleased. It actually tasted of fresh spinach and the paneer was appropriately firm. The garlic naan ($3) came piping hot and was perfect for scooping up the curry. The rice was a letdown; it was hard and tasted stale. I did not try anyone else’s food, but one dining companion called her gohbi aloo “outstanding,”

They also gave us dessert on the house, a few petite gulab jamun and rasmalai, which was a nice end to the meal.

It started so innocently; I was coming to NYC for the weekend and getting together with my college buddy, Kamiye. She suggested we meet at Russ and Daughter’s café for some quintessential NY bagels and smoked fish goodness. I realized 2 other places that I’ve been wanting to try were within walking distance and next thing you know, it became a full blown food extravaganza.

First Stop: Russ and Daughter’s café

Russ and Daughter’s, the shop, has been around selling bagels and smoked fish for 101 years, but their sit-down, table service café opened just last year. The wait was an hour long, but it was worth it for the glossy, silky nova smoked salmon on a toasted everything bagel with all the accoutrements ($16).


Second Stop: Clinton St. Baking Company

Everyone who knows me, knows I love a good biscuit. Clinton St.’s was large and misshapen ($3), but it had a tender crumb and buttery flavor. The fresh raspberry jam was excellent.


Third Stop: Meatball shop

The name says it all – we came for the meatball sliders ($3 each). They allow you to mix and match meats and sauces. We had classic beef with classic tomato sauce, pork breakfast sausage with mushroom gravy and chicken with pesto. They were all good, but I was shocked that my favorite was the chicken. It was tender, moist and had great flavor.


Fourth Stop: Yonah knish bakery

It is a historic knishery that been around for 105 years. It was super old school. Our potato knish was like a brick – but a well seasoned, tasty brick. The cherry cheese knish as equally heavy (although to be fair, we were getting pretty full) but the filling was creamy and custardy.

137 East Houston Street, New York, NY 10002

Fifth Stop: Veselka

They have been serving Ukrainian specialties since 1954 and $7 gets you a choice of 4 delicious pierogis, fried or boiled. We opted for classic potato, spinach & cheese, sauerkraut & mushroom and arugula & goat cheese, fried. They came with sautéed onions, apple sauce and sour cream. They were excellent; crispy, flavorful and managed not to feel heavy, despite the fried doughness of it all. My favorite was the sauerkraut & mushroom; Kamiye loved the arugula & goat cheese. I would love to go back for stuffed cabbage and kielbasa.


Sixth Stop: Baohaus

Fresh off the Boat may not appeal to everyone, but the TV show captures the idiosyncratic nature of a Chinese immigrant family perfectly. The show is based on Eddie Huang’s memoir, and Baohaus is his café. We got a pork belly, fried chicken and fried fish bao ($4, each). The buns were tender and the fillings were flavorful and well balanced; the pork belly was my favorite.


Seventh Stop: Blue Ribbon

This was an unscheduled stop; I had to head back to Boston early and so I grabbed a chicken thigh for a snack later. The chicken was cold by the time I got to it, but the exterior was still crispy and the meat was moist. However, a drumstick might have been a better choice for a eating-while-driving snack.


It was a success; I really enjoy all the different places and I was impressed that Kamiye kept up. The walk was about 2 miles, in total, so I’m sure it burned off all the calories we consumed, right? 

Shabu & Mein, Cambridge

I have been sick all week and when I am sick, I desperately want a bowl of noodle soup (be it pho or ramen). I dragged myself into work on Tuesday because I had court but once it was over I headed straight to the nearest noodle shop I could find, which happened to be Shabu & Mein. The restaurant is small, but sleek and trendy, befitting for its location on the outskirts of Kendall Square near the Cambridgeside galleria mall. On the specials board, there was a big sign for “Crazy pork ramen” and I inquired what made it so crazy. The waiter explained that the ramen had three pieces of char siu, three pieces of pork belly and six pieces of tontoro (fatty pork). If that’s crazy, I don’t wanna be sane.

Given the description, the bowl was smaller than I expected, but all 12 pieces of the aforementioned pig were present and accounted for. The tonkotsu broth a good flavor, and the soft-boiled egg was perfectly cooked, but the noodles were all wrong. They were thin and white and I wanted the medium springy noodles.

The $18 price tag will probably keep me from coming back, but it did hit the illness spot at the time.


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