Coppa!

Coppa is one of those restaurants that I kept meaning to get to. Chef/Owner Ken Oringer is legendary on the Boston food scene, with restaurants as diverse and well-loved as Clio, La Verdad, Toro, and KO Prime to his name. The other Chef/Owner, Jaime Bissonette, has not only worked with Oringer at several of those restaurants, but he’s the sort of young, funky, tattooed chef who gets profiled all over the place. All signs pointed to Coppa being a great dining experience. So what took me so long to get there?

I’ll admit it, location was a huge factor. Coppa is tucked away on a little side street in the South End that just isn’t that convenient to my nightlife. I’m in the neighborhood once a week during the school year to volunteer, but the middle of a work day isn’t the best time to visit a restaurant that calls itself an enoteca – while it’s not literally a wine shop, there is a very serious Italian wine list. I was also concerned that this would be a splurge meal – something I have no trouble doing, but I needed an excuse for said splurge.

One finally came in the form of my third marathon, which I ran with two friends with similar attitudes toward good food and drink. We would celebrate our accomplishment with wine and meat!

Because that’s Coppa’s specialty – a marvelous selection of Italian salumi, cheeses, and meaty delights. This is not a restaurant that vegetarians would enjoy. Thankfully, I am no vegetarian. So, did it live up to my great expectations?

DID IT EVER.

We started with pretty much our only vegetable dish of the evening, little crostini topped with sunchokes and marscarpone cheese.
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(apologies for the blurry picture – it was quite dark in the restaurant. Eventually I caved and used my flash.) This little bar snack is seriously fantastic. If you’ve never had a sunchoke, imagine a cross between a chestnut and a mushroom – nutty but earthy at the same time.

Our other non-meat dish was the burrata, which is type of insanely buttery mozzarella cheese made right in Somerville, MA.
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If it had been acceptable to lick the plate, we would have.

Similarly warm feelings were had about these:
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These are pig’s tails, roasted in a wood-oven and glazed with mostarda. They are tiny nuggets of pure joy. If I could eat them every day, I would be extremely happy for the rest of my incredibly shortened life span.

Naturally, we couldn’t visit Coppa without getting a salume plate. Regrettably, I forgot the name of nearly everything on this platter the minute she put it down, but I DO know there’s some lardo on that piggy, because we asked for it, and it was amazing. Also, how adorable is that tray?

Adjusted Salume Plate

This was an entree special of an extremely decadent rib. Though just one, the meat was plentiful.

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Finally, we did try one of the wood-fired pizzas – bone marrow with beef heart pastrami and horseradish. If, like myself and the ladies I was dining with, the combination  of beef heart and bone marrow on your pizza tantalizes, GET THIS. It is outstanding, meaty and silky and cheesy and wonderful.

Untitled If, on the other hand, like the young couple on a date next to us you are in fact a pair of very confused vegetarians, DO NOT EVEN ASK what is on this pizza. You will be sorry you did.

The atmosphere in Coppa is jovial and close – the space is teeny tiny. Everyone seems friendly and the wait staff is lovely, but if you’re in Boston and want to go, I’d get (I did in fact get) reservations, because there’s really not the space to wait. Since they call themselves an enoteca, a note on the wine: I thought it was fabulous. I also really love Italian reds, so this seems like a no-brainer, but I felt like Coppa carries interesting grapes for a reasonable by the glass price. They don’t have a full liquor license, so the cocktails are all cordial-based (Boston has some weird liquor laws). That’s not really my scene so I didn’t try them – but if you have I’d like to hear about it!

Waffling

One of the joys of a holiday weekend is actually having enough time to do everything one wants to do and still have time to relax. (Note – this statement mostly applies to childless, non-holiday hosts like myself – results may vary.) This weekend I managed to bake two pies, make snacks, clean the house, spend time with family, go out to dinner, play board games – and still have time to lounge around the house aimlessly. Even aimless lounging requires some energy, however, and so a decadent Sunday breakfast is necessary before getting down to the serious business of nothing much.

Lately Mr. Menace and I have been taking advantage of our waffle iron for said Sunday breakfasts, which is a very good thing indeed if we are going to allow it to take up valuable pantry real estate. Over the years I’ve played with various waffle recipes and techniques and I’ve finally found the keeper – right in my old standby cookbook, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. For too many years I stuck with the super easy, most basic recipe in the book, but recently I decided to try the Rich Buttermilk Waffles variation. They weren’t even so much more work than easy version – you just need to have buttermilk on hand, although that can even be faked with the old “white vinegar in milk” routine. That said, I’ve now done it both ways and the actual buttermilk variation seems to be a bit fluffier and richer than the fake-out.

It starts, like all waffle/pancake/muffin recipes, with the dry ingredients:

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Mmm…powdery.

Just some flour, baking soda, salt and sugar. This was a double batch, because Mr. Menace likes to have extra to toast up later. Bittman would consider this sacrilege – he calls waffles “delicate creatures” in the book – but luckily he hasn’t been around to complain.

Next the wet ingredients. First you’re gonna separate some eggs. This is the most time-consuming step of the whole process (not so much the separation but WHY you are separating, which you will see in a moment) but I promise that it’s worth it.

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Sent to separate bowls until they learn to behave!

The yolks will get added to the buttermilk and the largish amount of butter that you have previously melted. Don’t freak out too much about the butter. These are rich waffles, after all. Add some vanilla extract if you’re into that, which I am.

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Just some buttermilk, butter and egg yolks, hanging out in a bowl.

Now you need to beat the whites until the hold soft peaks. If you’re a masochist, you can do this by hand, as I did the first time, or if you’re sane, you can do it with your stand mixer like I did this time. Maybe that’s REALLY why they were fluffier this time around.

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This is what a soft peak looks like.

Now you should turn on your waffle iron and brush it with oil, to get it ready.

Then, you’re going to put the wet bits into the dry bits:

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Gloppy!

and fold your egg whites into THAT mess:

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Gently folding.

 

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Complete integration achieved! See how fluffy the batter is?

Now you’re ready to cook those waffles! Bittman tells you to put a “ladleful” of batter on that iron – for the one I have, 1/2 cup seems to be the perfect amount. Cook it for 3-5 minutes – I found 4 minutes on the highest heat setting yielded the best results, but again, irons vary. It should be delightfully golden brown and come out of your waffle iron without a fight.  The first one might be a little ugly:

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This is what 2/3rds of a cup of batter looks like in my waffle iron. TOO MUCH.

But the next one should be lovely:

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Near perfection!

The first one is always funky. Such is the nature of wafflehood. Now eat them, with plenty of butter and just a bit of syrup, or however you prefer your waffles to be adorned. If you’d like the complete recipe with amounts and so forth you can find it here.

What’s your favorite Sunday breakfast treat?

A Splash of Licorice

It’s no big secret that I love to bake. So when two of my friends took a trip to Atlanta recently, they were kind enough to bring me a new baking book – Sonya Jones’ Sweet Auburn DessertsThis collection of recipes, named for the author’s bakery in Atlanta, focuses on Southern and African-American traditional recipes. 

My attention was immediately caught by one of the recipes – the Sazerac Tassies. Sazeracs are a New Orleans variation on an Old-Fashioned, one of the earliest examples of an American cocktail. Made with rye, absinthe, and Peychaud’s bitters, the cocktail has a distinct licorice note. The word tassie refers to a traditional Southern tart, so teeny that they are served more as cookies. Chef Jones plays up the licorice flavor of the Sazerac in these treats, filling the tartlet with a light custard flavored with anise liqueur.

I was intrigued because the Sazerac is a favorite cocktail of mine, as a lover of all things licorice, and I liked  the idea of the cute little tarts. So when the third Comicazi Cookie Clash rolled around, I decided to bake the little guys as my wild card entry. I was pretty sure that they wouldn’t do well in the judging – anise is a very polarizing flavor – I know far more folks who don’t like the black jelly beans than those who do (whereas I have loved them from an early age!) I decided to make them anyway because it was something new and it’s important, when one is baking six dozen cookies for charity, to make cookies that you want to eat.

Baking from a new recipe did not prove to be without its challenges, however. The process isn’t terribly complicated – you make a dry, crumbly dough reminiscent of a Mexican Wedding Cake and let it chill in the fridge. Roll it out and press it into tart pans or mini muffin tins. Whip up your custard (I flavored mine with Pernod), pour it into the tart shell, and bake.  It should have been easy, and yet…
despite a mini muffin tin with a non-stick surface AND some strategic use of cooking spray, my tassies stuck. Hard. Any attempt to remove them, from a sharp knife around the edges to some gentle tapping on the bottom led to the tops dislodging. In the end I had to scrape the entire first batch out of the pan and into a giant, sticky mess that I regrettably neglected to photograph.

However, did I let disaster stop me? Heck no I did not! For the second half of the dough I added a key ingredient – mini cupcake liners. I’d considered them at the beginning but since they weren’t called for had decided to leave them out. I fretted that I would still have a sticky mess, this time with paper embedded in it, but thankfully this was not the case – round two came out beautifully!

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Tiny, tasty perfection.

 The tart dough was buttery and light, the custard sweet and full of licorice flavor. From my point of view they are the perfect treat!

As I suspected, the judges disagreed and these cookies did not do well in the Clash (although my Mexican Chocolate Brownies placed in the bar category, thank you very  much.) However, my fellow licorice-lovers adored them, so I feel quite justified in my choice. If you hate licorice but like the idea of mini, flaky tarts, I think the flavoring could easily be changed to lemon or almond or anything you might prefer – the recipe can be found at Serious Eats. I’ll definitely make these again and would love to hear about any modifications you make!

Do You Heer What I Heer?

A new thing I am getting into is making cocktail ingredients at home. Don’t worry, I’m not distilling anything – that would be both illegal and crazy.  I am, however, a fan of taking things that other, reputable people have distilled and making them better.
The process is known as infusion, and it’s a great way to make your own unique cocktail ingredients, as my friend Tiny Doom does here. It’s also a fun technique for duplicating or even tweaking the flavor profiles of known liqueurs.  I decided to try a recipe for Cherry Heering. Cherry Heering is a, you guessed it, cherry flavored liqueur manufactured in Denmark. I’m a big fan because it is a component of one of my favorite tiki-style cocktails, the Singapore Sling. However, it can be a little expensive and until recently was hard to find (Thanks, cocktail resurgence, for making many ingredients easier to procure!). So when I found this recipe I decided to give it  shot.

First, I washed and pitted about one million cherries.

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Life is a bowl of cherries.

It is messy work, this. Ask Tiny Doom about the time we made a cherry tart. I think her hands might still have a reddish tinge.

Next I parted the cherries from their sweet, sweet blood. I mean juice. This exsanguination was performed with a muddler, one of my favorite cocktail tools/words. I put the juice in the freezer because I wasn’t going to need it for about a week.

Separated

The juice and the cherries are separated for their own good.

Then all the cherry corpses went into a jar with some vodka, brandy, and a cinnamon stick. This all got to just hang out for the aforementioned week, getting to know each other and get comfortable.

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Just doing its thing, infusing.

I needed a bigger jar, because the fit was a wee bit tight, so I got the biggest jar I could get my hands on at local cocktailing emporium, the Boston Shaker. Otherwise the juice would not be able to rejoin the party!

So I boiled the juice with some sugar:

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Boiling juice.

and brought it together with its friends in my new, larger jar.

The final infusion

Together again!

That sat for a few more days, and then I strained it, leaving a gorgeous, deep red liquid behind.

Finished Cherry Heering

It’s ALIVE! Okay, not really. But it *is* done!

So how does it stack up to the original? Mr. Menace and I did a little taste test.

Taste Test

Mine on the left, original on the right.

As you can see, the actual Cherry Heering is way thicker. In a surprising twist, it was also quite a bit more fiery – my homemade liqueur was much thinner but also more delicate and less alcohol-tasting. We actually preferred it, overall,  so I completely recommend this experiment. And hey, even if you decide against, that’s no reason not to buy some Heering and whip up some Singapore Slings! My preferred recipe is the Singapore Sling #2 from Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology:

2 oz gin
.5 oz Cherry Heering (or your own!)
.25 oz Benedictine
.5 oz triple sec (I am fancy and like to use Cointreau)
2 oz pineapple juice (less fancily, I generally use canned)
.75 oz fresh lime juice
Angostura bitters to taste
club soda

Shake everything except the club soda, because that would explode and your drink and your shirt would be ruined. Strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top with the club soda and enjoy! Feel free to throw in a cherry if you’re into that, or a paper umbrella for whimsy.

Magic

I recently purchased the most magical kitchen tool. Actually, to be fair, I purchased several magical kitchen tools, thanks to my parents, who generously gave me a gift certificate to Kitchen Outfitters, a wonderland located in Acton, MA, where all of your dreams come true, if your dreams involve extremely fancy knives and potholders made of silicone. (Full disclosure: said gift certificate was my birthday present two years ago. Sometimes it takes me a long time to get on with things.)

In any case, I bought many wonderful tools, but the one that’s captured my heart is my immersion blender. Also known as a stick blender, this nifty little machine lets you blend, chop, or whip liquids right in the container they’re already in. What’s the big deal about that, you might ask?

Well, it means that with no need to pour things from container to container, it’s considerably easier to make things like pureed soups without pouring boiling chicken stock down your legs. I’d consider that a win.

It’s particularly timely because this year I’ve gotten really into making squash soup. I’ve always liked it, but until recently had never found a recipe I really, really loved for home use. One, with apples, was a bit too sweet. Another, thickened with yogurt, was too tangy. They were all pretty good, but they weren’t that Platonic squash soup of my dreams.

And then I discovered this.

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Squash, en route to being soup.

It’s six ingredients, if you even count salt and pepper, which I barely do. It’s basically extra-mashed cooked squash. How could this be the ultimate squash soup?

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Golden and delicious.

I don’t know, but it manages. It might be the homemade chicken stock. It might be the freshly grated nutmeg. It might be that the squash we have right now is really, really excellent.

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So rich!

Whatever it is, this soup is GOOD. Rich and creamy, sweet and savory, it is everything a squash soup should be. I gussied it up with some bacon and homemade croutons, but it was starting with near perfection, so that was practically gilding the lily.

And I owe it all to my magical immersion blender, without which I’d never have gotten the right texture. So easy, and no mess – thanks mom, dad, and Kitchen Outfitters!

Glory

So last week I showed you how to preserve tomatoes in their own precious juices (okay, really, the precious juices of olives, but that’s not as dramatic.)

And now you get to see the wonder of what I did with them. You should go out and do it too. Right now, after you finish reading this post. Because the tomatoes aren’t going to be this good again. In fact, it’s mid-September. It might ALREADY BE TOO LATE. Hold onto this recipe though, and be ready for next year, because I promise that you won’t be disappointed. This is a tomato tarte tatin – an upside down fruit tart traditionally made with apples in which caramelize the fruit in sugar and butter. Barbara Lynch twists the concept into a savory dish using tomatoes – and what a dish it is!

So you’ve already made your tomatoes en confit.

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Tomato confit.

Next, you’re going to caramelize some onions:

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Onions pre-caramelization!

Those guys are just getting started. We’re going to really caramelize them. So that doesn’t mean throw them in a pan and blast them with high heat until they’re burnt and terrible.

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Closer…

It means we will be patient. We will cook them slowly. Gently. And 45 minutes to an hour later, we will have the softest, sweetest, lightly browned onions imaginable.

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Perfection!

Now you can either keep going, or save those for a day or two until you’re ready, because there’s a bit of work left.

Ready? Okay. Mix those onions up with some Dijon mustard and some basil – preferably basil from your garden – that you chopped up. Mix it good! Sadly, I seem to have neglected to photograph this, but it looks like you’d imagine.

Grab your tomatoes, some tart pans, and some frozen puff pastry. (I know, I know, but you won’t ALWAYS have the kind of time to make your own puff pastry, will you?)Use the tart pan to cut the appropriate sized puff pastry circles. Let that hang in the fridge while you work.

Then, take your little tart pans, and spread some honey on the bottom. Place your tomatoes in a layer skin-side down on the honey.
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Top that with your onions.
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Get out your puff pastry circles, and put them on top of it all. Whip up some egg and brush it on.

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Now put your little pans on a bigger pan (because this WILL get messy). Bake it at 375°.
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Give them a few minutes to rest and relax. But not too long, or they’ll stick! Run a knife along the edge and unmold. Admire the beauty.
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Now you get to be artsy! Get some more basil leaves, and fry them for a few seconds on either side. Be careful, because they will spit a bit. Grab some marscarpone and just dab some in the middle of your tarts. Garnish with your fried basil leaves.

How’s that for glory? Serve them immediately, they deserve to be eaten hot. They will be sweet and savory, buttery and delicious, a perfect encapsulation of the end of summer.

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Glorious!

If you would like a more precise recipe, you can buy Stir, or you can visit The Pêche, who have laid it out nicely.

An Abundance of Tomatoes

My dad grows a lot of tomatoes in his garden – both in quantity and variety. He and mom love a wide variety of heirlooms, but also grow some conventional tomatoes since the heirlooms don’t produce nearly as much fruit. They eat a LOT of tomatoes in the summer, in salads, scalloped, and just straight off the vine. Luckily for me, they still have enough to share, and a few weeks ago, they brought me these beauties:

Shiny

Home-grown tomatoes.

I was super excited, because as we all know, a tomato fresh from the garden is to a supermarket tomato as bacon is to a piece of cardboard. They are full of flavor – the very essence of summer. But! I was also worried, because it was a LOT of tomatoes, and they go bad so quickly, and Mr. Menace does not care for tomatoes in their un-sauced, un-ketchuped state. WHAT TO DO?

Then I remembered, vaguely, that Barbara Lynch’s Stir had a recipe that might do the trick – help me to extend the life of the tomatoes without completely removing the fresh sweetness of them.

People – you can confit tomatoes.

Okay, maybe this isn’t as exciting to you as it is to me, or maybe you don’t know what confit means. It’s often done to meat, specifically waterfowl in the French tradition, and usually the legs. You take your duck legs, you salt and season them, and you poach them in duck fat. This preserves them, and also makes them incredibly tender and delicious. Any non-waterfowl prepared this way (say, chicken legs in goose fat) would be properly called “en confit.”

You can also confit fruit, with sugar. Essentially it comes down to preserving your food WITH the essence of the food, right? So how do you confit a tomato?

With olive oil!

So fresh and so clean

Ready to go!

You core and de-seed all of your tomatoes:

THE SLAUGHTER

Tomato guts

Delicious

The tomatoes are ready to go!

Then cover them with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and some thyme (which was from my own garden!), and let them slowly cook in the oven:

The result is soft, incredibly flavorful tomatoes and some pretty tasty olive oil, as well! The best part is that they’ll keep for 5 days, far longer than the tomatoes will on the counter.

What can you then do with these products? I used the oil to cook up greens, flavor some quinoa, and over pasta. The tomatoes can be put in salads or a supremely tasty grilled cheese sandwich, but the confit recipe is actually part of a larger recipe in the book – tomato tarte tatin. I made those beauties too – so check out next week’s post to see how they came out!