It’s been a while… but I’m back! I’ve been eating and cooking some pretty yummy things over the past 18 months, and figured it’s high time to hop back on the blogging bandwagon. I’ll try to update this blog with restaurant critiques, culinary finds, and other gastronomic musings.
Narcisssm fuels many blogs, and while I refrain from self-absorbed posting here on So Fraiche, So Clean, humor me while I detail my birthday from a culinary point of view.
First, I ordered a cake from Lyndell’s bakery. Golden cake with chocolate frosting. The chocolate frosting was deliciously fudgy, but the cake itself could’ve been a little more moist. They did a good job decorating it (lavender—my favorite!); however, I haven’t found anything on their menu that I enjoy as much as those “half-moon” cookies.
Another birthday treat: JP Licks Ice Cream Sundae! And the best part? It was FO’ FREE! (Chicken Sandwich and Waffle fries not included) By joining their frequent shopper program, you earn a free ice cream sundae in the month of your birthday. Pretty nifty, yeah? Just ask for one of the JP Licks Cards. It’s absolutely free, so you have nothing to lose.
I also went to Burdicks in Harvard Square to get my macaron fix. Burdicks sells a variety of flavors—from chocolate to pistachio to lavender—but they’re a dollar each. It was tasty, but like most baked goods, it’s cheaper and more rewarding to make it at home.
Turning twenty is kind of boring. Nothing exciting happens; If anything, the twentieth birthday is mildly saddening. No longer a teenager, I am forced to reckon with that nagging feeling that I should be doing something bigger and better. I’ve traded in the vestiges of my teenaged years (awkwardness, acne, and obligatory high school slow dances) for mortgages and marriage and stuff. But you know what? The birthday cake makes every birthday just a little more bearable…
Vegetarians be warned; this is not a post for the faint of heart.
Blue Ribbon Barbeque and I go way back. I first discovered it last year while out on a run in Arlington. I was intrigued by the sign, which promoted their BBQ as “real.” Coming from St. Louis, I’ve had my fair share of cooked meat. I’m no connoisseur, but I know good pulled pork when I see it. And while the fish here is phenomenal, the other meats leave something to be desired.
The menu seemed promising, so I got a group of my friends together. It was the end of freshmen year, and I was ready to smother the pain of finals with some dead animals.
I should tell you all, the portions are quite large. Last year, we ordered the supper for six and didn’t finish. There were eight of us. Eight male college students. We eat like it’s our job. They call it the supper for six, but they don’t specify. Six humans? Six grizzly bears? Six Cthulhus? I’m not sure.
Here are the contents…
1½ slabs of Memphis Dry-Rubbed Ribs
2 pints of Pulled Pork, Burnt Ends, Pulled Chicken, Beef Brisket or Hot Sausage.
2 Barbecued or Jamaican Jerked ½ Chickens
2 pints of Baked Beans
2 pints of Cole Slaw
6 pieces of Cornbread
6 Sandwich Rolls
There are also a myriad of sauces that range from mild to volcanic. For me the Blue Ribbon Gold Barbecue Sauce took the gold, followed by the chipotle mustard. All of my friends and I agreed that the pulled pork was by far the best. If you go, that’s what I’d recommend.
And the most essential part of any trip to Arlington ends with a visit to Boston’s premier frozen custard establishment: The Chilly Cow. Frozen custard is another Midwestern phenomenon that hasn’t taken off in other parts of the country. Much like Blue Ribbon, The Chilly Cow’s serving sizes are a bit warped. There’s kiddie (essentially a small), small (medium to large), medium (big), and large (gargantuan).
So here’s to PETA: People Eating Tasty Animals!
There are some things I will miss when I go abroad for the entire school year. I’ll miss my friends, family, and the Tufts community. I’ll miss the Dunkin’ Donuts; something tells me that they won’t be as ubiquitous in Madrid as they are here in Boston. I’ll miss american holidays and customs, like Thanksgiving and Football (no, not soccer). But more than anything, I’ll miss the food. Things like gargantuan breakfasts or frozen yogurt vendors. Oh yeah, and cupcakes.
Monday night was probably the last Kickass Cupcake Happy Hour I will attend until September 2011. After all, I won’t be here over the summer. You know the drill: last Monday of every month means three free cocktail inspired miniature cupcakes. Fittingly, I went with a friend who recently got his Bartender license, for which he had to memorize over one hundred drink recipes. This month, we had Chocolate Kahlua Kiss, Scorpion, and Lemon Drop.
The Chocolate Kahlua Kiss was easily my favorite. The chocolate cake was very moist, and the white chocolate flakes garnished on top of the mocha frosting provided a nice contrast. The Kahlua cream filling was disappointingly subtle; I didn’t even taste it. Maybe there just wasn’t a lot of filling in it. It is interesting to note how prevalent fillings have become in cupcakes. It seems as though half of all cupcakes offered at bakeries nowadays have some sort of filling. As cupcake vendors become more and more common, the offerings become more and more complex.
On that note, the Scorpion was probably the most ambitious. I found the almond cake to be a little on the crumbly side, but the orange liqueur frosting tasted great. I’ve made a Gran Marnier frosting before, and that had turned out quite well. The crushed cherry jolly rancher garnish seemed superfluous and detracted from the orange frosting. On the whole, it was certainly a different cupcake, but not one that I could see myself actually ordering, especially if it were full-size.
The Lemon Drop succeeded where the Scorpion had faltered. The Lemon Drop consisted of a Lemon Cupcake soaked with Limoncello and topped with a lemon frosting. By using Limoncello (an Italian lemon liqueur), the Kickass bakers tempered the sugary cupcake with perceptible tartness that I certainly appreciated.
I noticed that Kickass had updated (i.e. raised) the price of their cupcakes from $2.75 to $3.00. Not exactly sure when that happened, but as long as they keep offering free cupcakes at the end of every month, I can’t complain.
I know. I know. I get it. I’m a flaky, good-for-nothing butthead. But seriously guys, ME SO BUSY!!! Between the inexorable schoolwork and the fruitless job hunting, I’ve let the blog fall by the wayside. I haven’t even had a chance to cook, let alone flog.
Alright, enough with the apologies. Let’s get to the meat of this article. What meat you ask? Chorizo! Chorizo is a heavily seasoned, spicy sausage. It’s Spain’s answer to the Polish sausage. Most of the chorizo you’re gonna get is cured, so the sausage is ready to eat. But this is Chorizo, not some run-of-the-mill Slim Jim. It’s distinctive flavor (which comes from Pimentón—Spanish Paprika) adds incredible depth to a dull dish.
Fried Chickpeas and Chorizo! This recipe comes from Mark Bittman’s “The Minimalist” segment on “The New York Times.” This dish is pretty straightforward, and requires no extra seasoning, thanks to the deep flavor of the sausage. The crunchy breadcrumbs and crisp chickpeas contrast well with the soft spinach. The recipe only called for 4 ounces of Chorizo, so I had leftover chorizo to put in my eggs the next morning. As the Spainards would say, está para chuparse los dedos.
On the topic of Spain, I’ve decided to study abroad next year for both semesters. While there, I will flog about Spain’s food culture. My hope is to use my blog as a platform to discuss Spanish gastronomy, similar to David Lebovitz’s Parisian food blog. After all, I’m sure there’s a lot more to Spain than tapas…
Recipe courtesy of Mark Bittman’s The Minimalist (February 24, 2010)
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, as dry as possible. We will be shallow-frying them, and we want them nice and dry before adding them to pan
Salt and black pepper
4 ounces chorizo*, diced
½ pound spinach, roughly chopped
¼ cup sherry
1 to 2 cups bread crumbs, enough to cover the dish.
1. Heat the broiler.
2. Put three tablespoons of the oil in an oven-proof skillet large enough to hold chickpeas in one layer over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add chickpeas and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until chickpeas begin to brown, about 10 minutes, then add chorizo. Continue cooking for another 5 to 8 minutes or until chickpeas are crisp; use a slotted spoon to remove chickpeas and chorizo from pan and set aside.
4. Add the remainder of the 1/4 cup of oil to the pan; when it’s hot, add spinach and sherry, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook spinach over medium-low heat until very soft and the liquid has evaporated. Add chickpeas and chorizo back to the pan and toss quickly to combine; top with bread crumbs, drizzle with a bit more oil and run pan under the broiler to lightly brown the top. This should take at most a minute. Mark says you can serve it either hot or at room temp, but I personally think it is far superior when served hot.
Yield: 4 servings. Great as a side dish or even a light main course.
*Note: I used the brand Palacio’s when choosing my chorizo. They carried it in spicy and non-spicy. Don’t be intimidated by the label—go with the spicy. The spinach and the chickpeas help to diminish the spiciness. I made the dish with someone with a low spice tolerance, and she was fine.
I know I’ve been writing a lot of sweet entries as opposed to savory. The reason? Desserts always go over well. Yeah, a braised lamb shank will get you some attention, but a molten chocolate cake is always appreciated. Here at Tufts, there are a lot of vegetarians and unadventurous eaters (think Bacon Ice Cream), but everyone loves desserts. After all, why do you think BAKE sales are so popular? Who knew that clearing one’s conscience only takes a $1.00 and a couple of brownies!
So with that in mind, here’s a twist on a popular dessert, Bread Pudding. I’ve had some pretty amazing bread puddings in my day, so I was eager to try out this recipe. Here are a couple of reasons to love it.
1.) The thing is made in a casserole dish, which means easy cleanup and preparation. This is a HUGE plus when you don’t have a dishwasher (or a kitchen sink).
2.) Carmelized Onions. Lots of them.
3.) Since it’s based on French Onion Soup, the requisite use of cheese helps to bind it together. And who doesn’t love gooey melted cheese?
I thought that the pudding was good; however, I still prefer bread pudding as a dessert. But if you’re looking to try something easy and different, give this a go. It tastes a lot like a quiche, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While they say it’s an appetizer, my friends and I found the pudding to be pretty heavy and thought that it could just as easily be the main course, depending on the occasion.
French Onion Bread Pudding (adapted from The Cookworks, 2003)
Serves between 8-10 people as an appetizer, and 6 as a main course)
1 1/2 pounds onions (2 to 3 medium onions), thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
3 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons clarified butter*
1 tablespoon sweet sherry ( I didn’t have any Sherry, so I used apple juice as a subsitute)
1 large Italian or French bread loaf, crusts removed, cut into 5 by 1-inch pieces
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups grated Gruyere cheese
1.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2.) In a large skillet, saute the onions, sugar, and 1 teaspoon of the salt in the clarified butter over medium-high heat; stir constantly to prevent burning. They should go from opaque to translucent to golden brown. They should be quite soft by this point. If the heat is too high, you’re gonna end up frying the onion to crisp, so just be aware. Add sherry and stir to lift any caramelized onion on the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside.
3.) Spread out the bread pieces evenly on a baking sheet. Place in the oven for about 5 to 8 minutes to dry the bread slightly but not to add color. Set aside to cool.
4.) Whisk together the eggs, cream, mustard, thyme, the remaining salt, and pepper. Soak the bread in the egg mixture for 5 minutes.
5.) In a casserole dish, layer the bread with the onions and cheese. Pour the remaining egg mixture over the top.
Bake for 35 minutes or until the egg mixture is set.
*About clarifying butter: Clarified butter is unsalted butter that has been slowly melted, separating the milk solids from the liquids. Milk solids are the things that foam up to the top of butter when you melt it down. Since these milk solids can burn and tarnish the taste of the butter, cooks often remove it when they decide to saute food. Do this by removing any foam/milky residue off the top of the melted butter. Clarified butter is used to cook at higher temperatures because it has a higher smoke point. If you aren’t comfortable doing this, just use olive oil, since it has a high smoke point. Butter is used for the flavor, but don’t worry about it
This past weekend the Tufts’ student theatre group—Pen, Paint, and Pretzels; affectionately abbreviated to 3Ps—put up an amazing production of Eric Bogosian’s “SubUrbia.” The play was incredibly powerful and scarily relatable. The acting was great and the set was phenomenal. So at the end of the show I enthusiastically applauded the cast. I decided that I would treat them to a little something extra. Some people give bouquets of flowers, I give baked goods. Because after all, flowers are nice to look at, but their beauty is short lived. Food is equally temporary, but at least you get to eat it. Booyah roses.
In one scene, the hyperactive Buff (played brilliantly by Greg Berney) waxes poetic about Oreos. The show’s producers got really into the whole Oreo thing; they even placed a Technicolor Oreo on the posters. I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is no. I didn’t make them oreos. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So I decided to make Whoopie Pies, which are kind of like Oreos on sterioids. Instead of crisp cookies, the creamy center is sandwiched by two moist chocolate cakes. I decided to swap out the normal buttercream filling with a salted caramel frosting. This added some depth to the cookies, befitting the play’s intensity.
Whoopie Pies originated up here in the Northeast, specifically in Amish-country, Pennsylvania. The Whoopie Pie’s popularity has reached an all-time high. Swanky dessert places hawk reimagined whoopie pies for ridiculous prices (think Finale). Even Nabisco has hopped on the bandwagon, selling a bastardized Whoopie Pie in the form of “Oreo Cakesters.” This version requires the use of Dutch-process cocoa powder. This gives the cake a more distinct flavor. If you don’t know the differnce between Dutch-processed and non-dutch cocoa powder, then check to see if the box specifies. If it says “Natural,” then you probably have non-dutch. Go for European brands, such as Valrhona. Hershey’s Special Dark is partially dutched. Generally, brands will label accordingly, saving you the time and trouble. If you want to learn more, check out David Lebovitz’s encyclopedic FAQ about cocoa powder.
But enough cocoa-powder musings. Back to “SubUrbia!” The entire play takes place in front of a 7/11. The characters saunter in and out of the parking lot and pass the days and nights by loitering out front. So I figured that I would re-create the Giant Hostess Cupcake for the cast. Hostess is the quintessential convenience-store snack food, so it would only be right to make that.
RECIPE FOR WHOOPIE PIES
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
1/4 cup DUTCH-PROCESSED cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheets.
In a large bowl, cream together shortening, sugar, and egg. In another bowl, combine cocoa, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a small bowl, stir the vanilla extract into the milk. Add the dry ingredients to the shortening mixture, alternating with the milk mixture; beating until smooth.
Drop batter by the 1/4 cup (to make 18 cakes) onto prepared baking sheets. With the back of a spoon spread batter into 4-inch circles, leaving approximately 2 inches between each cake.
Bake 15 minutes or until they are firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
MAKING THE FILLING
* 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
* 1 cup marshmallow cream such as Marshmallow Fluff
*1 cup salted caramel (see recipe below)
* 1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat together butter, caramel, marshmallow, and vanilla in a bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Shmear the inside of halve the cookies, and then top them off.
ASSEMBLING THE WHOLE THANG
When the cakes are completely cool, spread the flat side (bottom) of one chocolate cake with a generous amount of filling. Top with another cake, pressing down gently to distribute the filling evenly. Repeat with all cookies.
Deep, Dark Salted Butter Caramel Sauce
(this makes way more than a cup, but believe me, you won’t mind one bit)
1 cup sugar
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) salted butter,
1/2 cup plus two tablespoons heavy cream, at room temperature
Melt the sugar over medium high heat in a large pot (at least two or three quarts) whisking or stirring the sugar as it melts to ensure it heats evenly. If the sugar begins to clump, then you’ve been over-stirring. Should this happen, let it sit for about twenty seconds, before you continue to stir. Cook the liquefied sugar to a nice, dark copper color. Add the butter all at once and stir it in. Once you turn off the heat, pour in the heavy cream (The sauce will foam up quite a bit when you add it; which is why you want the larger pot), whisking it until you get a smooth sauce. If any pieces of hardened sugar remain, they can be strained/picked out.
You use it right away or pour it into a jar and store it in the fridge for up to two weeks. When you take it out, it will likely have thickened a bit but 30 seconds in the microwave brings it right back to pouring consistency.