Tag Archives: love

Kitchen Improv!

NB: This post is quite long. I thought about splitting it in two, but I like the way it reads all together. So sorry, friends, y’all will have to deal.

This is the story of two ladies who have formed a bond of love and friendship over food. Actually, it was originally a bond of love and friendship over a mutual understanding of a Donkey Kong reference, but it grew into so much more, quite a bit of that more being food.

It should be fairly obvious that one of the ladies is me. The other is my dear friend Nandi, who has graced these pages more times than I care to look up and add links for, but for this post we are going to do something extra-special – you are going to hear about a dinner we shared, each in our own words! For those of you who know both of us, you know that this means that you will get one rather whimsical, absolutely beautiful description of the sensations of our meal. And you will also get my half, in which I relay the facts, as I know them. My words will be in the usual font and style. Nandi’s will be in:

well.  hmmm.  let’s just say that it’s hard for nandi (who has now jumped in and is speaking about herself in the third-person, which is an odd habit that she tries not to cultivate, but slips out from time to time, especially when making difficult choices involving typography) to decide what kind of font best describes her style. comic sans? oh god, let’s hope not.  this is not 1998, after all.  oh man, remember the curlz font?  i used to think that was the shiz.  how about this– SKIA!  woooo, this nandi knows how to party!  (to further clarify matters, please be advised that from this point on, nandi will eschew all capital letters unless in a moment of extreme EXCITEMENT THAT REQUIRES YELLING.)

Let’s ride!

The setting of this adventure is TW Food, a favorite establishment for both Nandi and I, despite a name that sounds a wee bit like a chain restaurant specializing in flair.  (seriously true, ms. menace!  tw food is one step away from my all-time favorite bar, tipsy mc staggers.) In fact, nothing could be further from the truth – TW Food is dedicated to using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients in creative ways. Chef Tim Wiechmann (yes, the name becomes more clear. It is in fact a sort of…anti-flair (TEE HEE!)) studied at Le Cordon Bleu and cooked under several prominent French chefs, and it shows in his work. At the same time there is a modern playfulness to the food that I feel like I rarely encounter. In the spirit of that playfulness the restaurant has recently started doing a rather fun new prix-fixe concept – on Wednesdays after 8:30, the restaurant serves a totally impromptu menu with the ingredients of the day. Food allergies will be taken into consideration, but otherwise it’s a totally spur-of-the-moment experience. How could we resist?

Our evening started with an amuse-bouche:
Amuse Bouche
Crispy, with a hint of maple. A lovely start.

lovely start, indeed!  now, normally, i am a bit wary of the amuse bouche.  maybe it’s because i watch too much top chef and it seems like the chef-testants ALWAYS eff up this portion of the meal.  plus i kind of hate the image that its description conjures– according to my main man chef tom colicchio, an amuse bouche should merely AMUSE THE TASTE BUDS.  what the heck does that EVEN MEAN?  but my concerns re: naming and verb choice aside, this was a perfect beginning to our meal.  as ms. menace points out, it was crispy and tart, yet sweet, and left my taste buds clamoring for MORE MORE MORE.  plus, it was served on a tiny spoon.  and goodness knows, i LOVE all things tiny. But ESPECIALLY Tiny Cooper! (darling readers, you don’t know Tiny Cooper yet, I’m pretty sure, unless you’re on the cutting edge of YA fiction (as we are, clearly). But you will, if Nandi and I have anything to say about it. Go on. Click the link. Dare to fall in love with the maelstrom of awesomeness that is TINY COOPER.)

At our first course, I realized that the evening was going to be even better than I had hoped for, because they brought us different dishes. The opportunity to sample twice as many options was enchanting! I was served a salad composed of watermelon turnips and golden beets over julienned parsnips:
Turnip-Beet Salad
Vibrant and outstanding in color, this was crisp and cool, with a hint of vinegar and a bit of warmth from olive oil. and, like snookie, i have never met a pickle i didn’t like.  this was no exception.  the vinegar-laden vegetables were tasty and crisp, but what made the dish special was the aforementioned olive oil.  it was fruity and nutty and mellowed out the acidity of the beets and radishes, giving the plate a depth that you just don’t find at tipsy mc staggers.  or at most restaurants in the boston area, for that matter.

Nandi received a stunning smoked broccoli rabe soup:
Pea Soup?
This was rich and smoky, with a spiced creme fraiche on top. I think I could have licked the bowl, if it were appropriate. I will say that nearly every soup I’ve been served at TW Food makes me feel the same way.

now, now, now, this was one of my very favorite things that we ate this evening.  then again, you could coat my grody old running sneaker in creme fraiche and i would devour it.  but, as red points out, this soup was smoky and rich and stunningly not at all bitter, which is what i certainly expected from a soup that showcased surly broccoli rabe, the crusty old man of vegetables.  o frothy deliciousness of soup!  your velveteen texture and smoky taste!  your adorable little fold of creme fraiche… you, you, you are the soup of my dreams.

Next I received a Wild Mushroom Croute with Persillade:
Wild Mushroom Croute
I’m sorry the photo is so dark, because this was quite possibly one of my favorite dishes. I really, really love the taste of wild mushrooms, that sort of funkiness combined with meatiness, almost like game. The persillade brightened it up a bit, however – contrasting the darkness while at the same time enhancing it.

and let us not forget the BREAD!  to provide some context, at the time of this delicious supper, i had been experimenting with a gluten-free diet and had not eaten bread for about three weeks.  however, in honor of this event, i decided to throw off my shackles of self-inflicted food ludditism.  and was it ever worth it… the slightly toasted bread served as a grand nest for the mushroom and herb deliciousness that the red menace describes.  firm enough to serve as a good delivery vessel (read: it didn’t fall apart when i shoved the shroom into my mouf), and yet not too crunchy– it’s the attention to even these miniscule deets that make my heart swell.

Nandi’s dish was equally exquisite:
Pheasant in Cornmeal
It’s pheasant, in cornmeal! This is like the fanciest comfort food of all time. The cornmeal was more of a mush consistency than polenta consistency, and that was fine by me. Salty, meaty, cheesy heaven in a cute metal bowl.

a tureen of happiness, i agree completely.  if there was one food that i could eat on this whole earth morning, noon, and night, it would be cornmeal.  (and you could totes do it!  mix it with dried fruit and syrup for breakfast!  eat it plain for luncheon!  and for a decadent dinner, stir in some mascarpone.  drool!  it’s the cher of grains– constantly reinventing itself to remain relevant.)  and so this little number, complete with pheasant and cheese– i have actually compulsively started eating corn chex whilst i type this in order to quiet my hunger pangs.  NOT THE SAME.

Next came our main dishes. I received fluke over a bed of kale:
Fluke with Amazing Sauce
Fluke, also known as summer flounder (and I’m not sure why they prefer to call it fluke, since I get creepy associations with that word, and none at all with flounder) is a local, totally ridiculous-looking fish. They’re flat fish, so their eyes are both on the same side of their head, making them look like something Picasso threw away. I’d never really had fluke, and I was amazed at how much I liked it, as white fish aren’t typically my jam. This was incredibly tender, and it didn’t hurt that it was served in a creamy sauce that seemed to be infused with 5-spice powder. Outstanding.

and so incredibly soft!  i know, terrible adjective choice.  but that’s what this fish was… a buttery (and not too fishy) pillow that fell apart when gently probed with a fork.  (okay, i am just embracing the terrible word choices at this point, much to my own chagrin.)  and the sauce!  magical.  if i was writing a recipe for this particular dish, i would call it soft buttery fish WITH MAGIC MAGIC SAUCE.

Nandi received pork ravioli in a black pepper sauce:
Pork Ravioli with Black Pepper Sauce
I very much enjoyed these as well, though the sauce was QUITE peppery, with a bit of cinnamon flavor hidden just below the pepper surface.  Alas, there’s not much more to say than that.   It’s just a bit hard to write anything exciting about ravioli, and I can’t even cast aspersions on their looks.

since i have already used the word “pillow” to describe the delicious aforementioned fluke, i will have to resort to other turns of phrase to describe ye olde ravioli.  it was expertly made: the dough was tender, not tough, which can be a big problem with homemade pasta, and the filling was meat-laden.  but i do agree with red about the pepper– it overpowered the porkiness (woooo, love that adjective) of the filling, and i was left feeling a little sad that it hadn’t lived up to the expectations that i had placed upon it.  but friends, although i am sort of hinting that this was the lowlight of the evening, please consider my feelings to be similar to my contention that the godfather two was not as good as the godfather one.  like, it’s still an amazing movie, but without sonny corleone, well, godfather two just wasn’t quite there.  (and no, that one extra flashback scene at the end doesn’t count.)

These courses were followed by two of the most amazing cheese plates I have ever had. This is actually a bit of a tragedy, because our server (Bronwyn, wife of Chef Tim) carefully explained what each cheese was, and then we didn’t write them down, but we were blown away by them, so we asked a bus boy what they were, and he not only had no idea, he did NOT go ask Bronwyn for us. SO. SAD.

hey, busboy!  your ineptitude (or laziness) is now revealed to the WORLD!  HA. HA. HA.  SUCK ON THAT!

Anyway, I received this:
Cheese Plate I
The harder cheese was actually transcendent. I will never forgive myself for not knowing what it is. (the softer cheese was good as well, but it’s the other one I’m kicking myself over.) The cranberries served with it were torched in some way and tasted like roasted marshmallows. This was amazing with the cheese.

amazing.  amazing!  i have no other words, except to express my sadness that we will NEVER KNOW what the delicious cheese was.  (shaking fists at busboy… why i oughta!)

Nandi’s cheeses were also excellent, though a bit subtler in flavor:
Cheese Plate II
They came with an apricot compote, also delicious, though it doesn’t help me remember the cheese names one bit.  but what does it matter, ms. menace?  these cheeses, much like all other cheeses that i will eat for the rest of my LIFE, will never measure up to the deliciousness of the phantom cheese of ought-ten.

At last we reached the dessert portion of the evening. I don’t normally order dessert in restaurants, in part because I am far more of a salt fiend than sweet and in part because I don’t eat dessert at home, either. But when I get one in a prix fixe I’m usually pretty jazzed about it. Mine was a pumpkin mousse tart:
Pumpkin Mousse Tart
The crust tasted like sugar cookies – I would like the recipe. The ice cream is creme fraiche, and I’m not sure they meant to make the coulis smile at me, but I like it.

Nandi’s dessert was in another direction entirely:
Chocolate Budino
That, my friends, is a Valrhona chocolate budino with candied nuts, sea salt, and olive oil. It is also pretty much my perfect dessert – barely sweet, with salt and crunch. For those of you who don’t know, budino is an Italian pudding, similar to mousse but more dense. Heaven.

i am not a dessert afficianado, either, for a multitude of reasons.  i actually grew up in a bakery– my mom ran a cake bidness out of the basement of our home.  and like any good daughter, i tended to overlook the amazing things that my parents did, and therefore never was really big into the whole dessert thang.  but then a few years ago, i was diagnosed with diabetes and suddenly, guess what!  i love dessert!  but, of course, now i cannot really eat it (especially now with this whole gluten-free escapade), except for on special occasions.  special occasions like kitchen improv night at tw food, that is.

so, because red received the punkin mousse tart first, i was graced with the valrhona chocolate budino.  “chocolate budino!” i thought to myself as it was lovingly set in front of me.  “what an adorable name for something so decadent!”

and then i took my first bite.  what. the. eff. i had gulped the world’s largest spoonful of olive oil.  salty salty olive oil with peanuts.  and maaaaaybe a slight hint of chocolate, but i wasn’t exactly sure.

“well,” queried the red menace, eyes somewhat cloudy and distant from her own punkin-induced haze.

“um.  it’s.  um.  i don’t really know how it is,” i admitted, whilst steeling myself for another bite.

as ms. menace points out, this dessert was barely sweet and very salty, which definitely threw me off.  but i am no stranger to salty dessert items (these were ubiquitous on my wedding day, par example), so what i think really threw me off was the gigantic spoonful of EVOO that coated my entire first bite.  after that, the dessert still packed a heavy and powerful punch, but the olive oil just amplified the punch, instead of whacking me right in the jaw.

meanwhile, the punkin mousse tart was lovely.  but it was a bit too nice– the leather-wearing, scooter-driving valrhona chocolate budino left little miss punkin in its dust.  tasty as all get-out, but really not so different from the punkin pies that you meet on thanksgiving day.  however, my compliments to mr. tw food for his delectable homemade creme fraiche ice cream!  any feast that delivers not one, but TWO, items involving creme fraiche ranks at the top of my list.

i would like to offer my most heartfelt thanks to the red menace for allowing me access to her blog and therefore the ability to wax poetic on foodstuffs.  although food writing is not my forte, food eating is, and i have had a big big BIG amount of fun documenting this joyous occasion.  and so i would like to propose a toast to the red menace and her excellent blog– may you continue to adventure!  may you continue to eat!  and may you continue to invite me along for the ride, especially when there is creme fraiche and phantom cheese to be had!

Aww, many thanks, Nandi ‘o mine! Thanks to you both for eating with me, and for helping me to write this post. I will raise the glass with you, and say, to many more joint adventures! And to Tiny Cooper, long may he reign!


Holiday Cookies

Happy holidays, everyone! I apologize for the longish blog silence, but between the holidays and some other madness that’s gone on, there hasn’t been much time for writing. Additionally, there is a big post in the works that I hope to publish in the next week or so. In the meantime, how have you all been, my fellow food-adventurers? If you celebrate your holidays in a gift-giving way, did you give and receive great gifts? I certainly did! Friends and family were very generous with the kitchen-wares this year, and I’m excited to spend some time working with my new tools and sharing them with you all!

Before I get into that, however, I thought I’d update you with my annual Christmas baking. Long-time readers will remember that Mr. Menace and I host an annual cookie decorating party, and this year was no exception! In fact, we hosted more people than any year yet, which meant quite a bit of baking. Luckily, I had two stalwart companions to help with this process. The first was my sister, Kelly, who generously donated her time and talents to helping me roll out and cut over 160 sugar cookies! (She also assisted with decor and platter-making – thanks, Kel!) In her honor I created a new cocktail at the party:
1.5 oz Barbancourt Rum
1 oz Laird’s Applejack
.5 oz St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram
.5 oz lime juice
Barspoon Trader Tiki’s Cinnamon Syrup
Dash Fee’s Whiskey Barrel Bitters

Shake ingredients with ice. Strain and serve! (Full disclosure: The lime juice was an afterthought in the original, but it makes a HUGE difference from something a bit too heavy and sweet into something much brighter and tastier.)

My second helper was the sugar cookie recipe from the Flour Bakery cookbook. I’ve mentioned this cookbook before, but it bears repeating: these recipes are fantastic! Well-thought out and easy to execute. I suspect you may be subject to another post or two as I work my way through this. In any case, people really enjoyed the cookies, and the dough was very easy to work with – I know because while Kelly did a lot of the heavy lifting on the party cookies, we made them again for family cookie decorating, and my 5 year-old niece and I rolled and cut those. Thank you to Joanne Chang for a super recipe!

This year I did not take pictures of the individual winners of every category as the party went a bit late, but I did get pictures of the voting plates – we had so many cookies that I asked folks to submit their cookies into the contest. We also changed the categories up a bit this year to include a “Rookie of the Year” – the Rookie Cookie, if you will – to acknowledge the many folks who’d not had the chance to hone their skills over 5 years of frosting manipulation. So here we have:
The Classics – mostly folks using the shapes as they were intended:
That said, the winner here was the Mr. Hanky cookie, which I would NOT consider traditional use of the shape. What can I do, though, the people spoke! Kudos to The Goog.

Next we have the opposite category, Best Use of Shape:
The winner here was that lovely mermaid! It began life as a trout, but became so much more. Congratulations, Jenn!

The Most Artistic Cookies:
The winner here was Mr. Menace, with the fire-elemental. Truly he has a talent for the frosting medium.

The Rookie Cookies:
This vote ended up being a battle between two pop-culture titans – as well as between the couple who decorated them! It came down to one vote – for Raphael the Ninja Turtle, just beating out The Thing. Congratulations, Jill – I hope Matty has forgiven you.

The last category was also a subject of some shenanigans. This was the “What the Hell?!” category, a popular one in the voting. Technically, Mr. Menace won this category as well. However, he did not submit his own cookie for voting, and had already won, so I stepped in and judged in favor of the next cookie, the “Out of Body Experience” cookie by Emily. I am not going to post the picture directly because Mr. Menace’s cookie is…well, NSFW. I will link the photo page and you may click if you feel up to it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Congratulations on your win, Emily! Sorry your cookie shared a plate with…that.

To cleanse us of that image, here are some bonus photos from family Christmas:
Aren’t they great? Mom did the elf, and my sister Kate made the Foofa and Megamind cookies (among others).

Cookiethulu and a micro-cephalic angel.

My five-year old niece did this one:
I think it’s pretty great! Then again, her mom did the Mega-mind in the first photo, so talent must be hereditary, though I think it skipped me.

Kelly did the Big Bird!

Dad clearly likes the creative use of shape category:

Thank you so much to everyone who came and decorated cookies with us! I feel so privileged to know so many amazing, creative people and I love sharing the holiday with you. I hope you have a very happy New Year, and that we will see you at Cookie Decorating 2011 – the Reckoning!

Game Night!

No, no, this post isn’t about a rousing game of checkers or Scrabble!
Instead, this is a story of friends, family, and hunting! Not to mention perhaps the most exciting game of all: PREPARATION!


Do you see that, how beautiful it is? That, my friends, is the preparation rainbow! Well, okay, more literally, it is the mise en place that I put together to get me through one of the recipes in this post, but it is also SYMBOLIC of the massive amounts of prep work that made the following story possible.

So what I am really talking about here was a feast, held two days after Thanksgiving, thrown by Mr. Menace and myself. It all began with some venison and salmon that Mr. Menace’s parents had given us – I’ve mentioned before how fantastic and generous they are! The venison had come from Mr. Menace’s uncle, a hunter extraordinaire, and the salmon from a co-worker of Rich, Mr.Menace’s step-dad. Both wild, both caught by people we knew (at least by proxy!) and both copious. There were about 15 steaks of venison and eight pounds of salmon, and there is clearly only one thing you can do when there is that much delicious and rare meat filling your freezer – throw a colossal dinner party!

The guest list was easy – the folks who’ve joined in on previous food adventures, who’ve proven they have what it takes to eat slightly weird things (for us urban folk, anyway) and be present for a good time. Limited by the amount of food and our plates, we also kept it a fairly local crew. The menu was also fairly easy, since our main courses were already all picked out and just waiting to be cooked. I decided on recipes that involved a bit of marination, since the meat had been frozen for a little while. For the venison, I picked a low-stress but flavorful-sounding recipe – 2 heads of garlic! It was marinated overnight, getting me started on my preparations well ahead of time.

For the salmon, something a bit more involved – still nothing crazy, but I needed to prepare more than just the marinade – there was a fresh relish to top it. By happy coincidence, both recipes needed to be roasted in the oven at 450° – the first step I took to streamlining the entire process and making it all possible with a minimum of stress.

For sides, we went with cornbread, mashed potatoes, and roasted veggies. My other time-saving tips – have your partner in crime be an awesome prep cook. Mr. Menace chopped up all of the veggies the morning of the party – 8 whole pounds of them! This let me roast them at my leisure ahead of time:
The secret ingredient is butter! (sorry, vegans) In a weird way, these ended up being the hit of the dinner party. My Vegetable Therapist title felt well-earned. I also made a quick cherry-sauce for the venison:

Mr. Menace was also responsible for making the mashed potatoes, because he is that awesome. I hate making mashed potatoes, and so it’s great living with someone who guarantees you never have to do it.

Basically, we cooked all day, he chopping veggies in the morning, me starting with the cornbread. Then, I roasted the vegetables, and prepped the relish for the salmon:
The disparate bits of the mise above, in a bowl.

All together now!

Once folks arrived, I readied the meat for the oven:
Mmm…24 hour marinated venison.

And here it is all roasted:
This was super-quick and easy! Yes, the venison is a creepy purple color from the red wine straight out of the fridge, but it cooks out!

Salmon, fresh from roasting in the oven.

And dressed in its relish:

Elise brought some game sausages from a traditional butcher shop in Philadelphia to add to the mix! Here’s venison with sumac:

And wild boar with cranberry and lingonberry:

These were a delicious addition to the feast! Jenn brought some lovely wild mushrooms that we had as an appetizer, and Jess, Valerie, Jess B., Matty and Jill brought desserts, but I neglected to photograph them. You’ll just have to take my word for it that they were fabulous. Mr. Menace selected a terrific Malbec to go with our meal – deep purple, fruity, yet well-balanced, it paired well with food.

Finally, after all of the cooking and all of the preparation, I was able to sit down, surrounded by some of my dearest friends, and enjoy the fruits of my labors:
(Yes, we ran out of plates, and yes, that is a plastic one with a blue monkey on it beneath my food. God bless sisters.) The venison was rich and meaty, and paired well with the sweet cherry sauce. The salmon tasted incredibly fresh and clean with the orange relish. The vegetables were insanely sweet and rich from the butter, and I wish I’d made 8 more pounds worth! The house was filled with joy, and laughter, and people eating good food. There was a real sense of the closeness that can come from breaking bread together. Well worth, in my opinion, a bit of preparation.

PS: Mr. Menace also washed all of the dishes from this party, because he is a rockstar. Is it any wonder I love him?

Date Night

Last Sunday was a totally gorgeous preview of spring here in the Boston area. Abundant sunshine, crisp, light jacket sorts of temperatures, and the tiniest hints of flower buds were in evidence everywhere. In celebration of this joyous occasion, Mr. Menace and I elected to shelve our much-needed house cleaning until the afternoon in order to take a walk.

However, we are not really for-its-own-sake sorts of walkers. We are walkers who require a purpose, a destination. We decided to head over to Fresh Pond shopping plaza to stock up on Trader Joe’s coffee and, since we had a $10 gift certificate, treat ourselves to something truly spectacular from Whole Foods to be our dinner that evening.

After we arrived at Whole Foods and ate some pricey but delicious lunch from their hot bar (really, how could I resist the fried plantains?) we scoped around for the special something worthy of our date-night meal. We were tempted by the wild-caught scallops in the fish section, but finally settled on something a bit closer to our budget but still impressive – two and half pounds of the most beautiful short ribs I’d ever laid eyes on. I usually buy my short ribs at McKinnon’s, where they are boneless and about an inch thick – tasty, but nothing to get all worked up about. Whole Foods’ short ribs, on the other hand, were the Platonic ideal of short ribness. Bone in, about three inches thick, marbled with fat and rosy – truly, this would be a treat!

I decided to make my favorite short rib recipe – Anise-Scented Short Ribs from Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. The Asian-inspired flavors play surprisingly well with hearty beef, and the reduced cooking juices are so good I would eat my running shoes in it.
It’s sweet without being cloying, salty enough from the soy sauce that further salt is totally unnecessary, and the meat becomes incredibly tender when infused in it. Add to this that outside of rice this is practically a one-pot meal, and you can see why I like it so much. I linked the recipe from See, Sip, Taste, Hear rather than reprint it for you because her tips about the spices (outside of where to buy them) are pretty spot-on.

Rather than make this with the white rice the recipe calls for, we got even fancier with Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Medley. I love this stuff – nutty brown rice, chunky black barley, and little zippy daikon radish seeds! Much healthier and more exciting than white rice. While it was cooking I threw some broccoli into the steamer basket to beef up our vegetables quotient. When it was all done we opened a bottle of very nice wine and sat down to this:
Gorgeous, isn’t it? And the difference between these and our usual scrawny short ribs was amazing. These were so meaty, but still succulent; tender, but with a perfect slightly chewiness; it was heaven on a plate. Mr. Menace declared that, since the recipe takes about two hours to prepare, it wasn’t really worth doing without such quality ingredients!

We capped the evening off with some unbelievably fudgey brownies, also courtesy of How To Cook Everything. If this had been a restaurant excursion, I’d say five stars – highly recommend! Given that we were able to do all of this with the added comfort of our own home, I’ll simply say it was a joyous day.