Sunday, January 25, 2015

Boston Eats: Ames Street Deli

Backbar's newest outpost, the Ames Street Deli, is much closer to home and easier to get to...I do adore Union Square, but getting to and from there is a pain.

The last time I went, I ended up taking the wrong CT2 bus to get there (there are two, and they leave from the same stop at Kendall, and I'm sorry, I didn't know there were two!).  And then, the MIT Saferide decided to be three minutes early and turning the corner just as I was halfway through the intersection, so I missed the bus back to MIT on an evening when it was 17ºF and feeling like 1ºF.  Walking back 45 minutes is not an option, and no city buses go back to MIT that time of night.  And I'm a luddite and don't have a smart phone, so yes...Union Square is a huge pain.

However.  When you go, they do things like when you order tiki, give you this glass.  Look at it, and look again.



Notice anything, err, large?   This is a tanuki, or Japanese racoon dog, a shapeshifter from locol folklore.  One of the eight traits of the tanuki is "an over-sized scrotum that symbolizes financial luck."  

Ha.  Best drinking mug ever.  

Anyways - it was lovely to finally get in the door to their sister bar and have some drinks!



They have a really cool drink menu, one that compares options based on the spirit and a general characteristic. 

I went for the Cape Peru Fizz, under fruit and refreshing.  Pisco, cranberry, lime, and egg white.  All kinds of delicious.

Not shown: poutine, which was more like open faced toast with melty cheese and pulled pork with gravy.  Delicious, but not at all poutine. 

My favorite thing to do: order something tiki.  This is a Trader Vic's Mai Tai!  So delicious.


Somewhere in the point of conversation "drinking chalice" came up, so our waiter brought one of my friends a gurgle pot.  Isn't it fun?  

(the little glass on the left has incredible expensive amaretto in it, maybe amaretto saliza?  it was so tasty, like marzipan in a bottle!)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Boston in January

Sometimes foggy, sometimes freezing, sometimes gray, sometimes blue.












Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Boston Eats: Afternoon Tea at the Four Seasons Hotel

(I know, afternoon tea twice in two weeks!  I am a lucky girl!  ....or at least one that loves afternoon tea)

While it was a freezing walk from Cambridge to the Four Seasons off the Public Garden, it was the perfect way to prepare for enjoying a cup of hot tea!

Beautiful view of the park!







(offered weekends from 3 pm to 4:15 pm, as of January 10th, 2015)

Ambiance - Afternoon tea took place in their general restaurant on the first floor.  I won't lie to you: it was on the loud side.  My preference for afternoon tea is a quiet retreat, not somewhere that I would ever hear rowdy patrons cheering on the Patriots during a semi-finals football game.  I want serene.  I don't want to raise my voice to speak with my tea companion.

Waitstaff - While the waiters were kind, we felt a little bit neglected in the corner, and it took over 15 minutes to get our check after our plates were cleared.  We resorted to putting our wallets on top of our napkins, and even that didn't work.

Savory - Three sandwiches: chicken salad, shrimp salad, and a pesto sandwich.  Bread seemed fresh, but two of the three were wheat bread...come on guys, it's afternoon tea.  Just go with the white bread. 

Sweet - Three small sweets: a gingerbread whoopie pie, a small tart with pineapple pudding, and a cream puff with salted caramel cream filling.  Delicious.  But a suspicious lack of chocolate.

Scones, clotted cream, and jam - There was only one scone, and it was tasty and warmish, but it was one scone!  This is tea!  If you say that you are serving "Scones and Tea Bread" - that's plural.  More than one.  There was also a small loaf (1"x1"x3") of over-baked quickbread (cranberry?  zucchini?).  The cream was average, lemon curd was nice, and the jam was tasty.

Tea quality - The teapots each held enough water for about one and a half cups of tea, which really isn't all that much.  Normally, if you have a small pot, refreshing it with hot water is something you want to do very soon after the first cup is poured.  Here, a refresh came far after I would have wanted one, and the only other time it was offered was when they were clearing our plates.  And on a day where it was about 5ºF outside, and sitting near the window?  If I'm thirsty, I do not want to drink the ice water on the table.  I want hot tea.  And lots of it.  We were there for two and a half hours---one refresh was not enough.  Sugar was also bit strange: there was an adorable stir stick of rock candy for each person, but unfortunately, a stir stick doesn't really provide you with an optimal sugar concentration - the first cup wasn't sweet enough, and cup number two?  The rest of the crystal fell off and it was far too sugary. 

Cost - $32 per person

Overall - Honestly, I wasn't as impressed as I thought I would be.  The food was good, but not stellar.  And the atmosphere just wasn't the quiet and relaxing environment I want for an afternoon tea.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Boston Eats: Afternoon Tea at the Boston Public Library

I made it just in time to try out the Boston Public Library's Holiday Tea, and let me just say, it was lovely!


It was a beautiful day in Copley Square!







Afternoon Tea at the Boston Public Library (Holiday Tea)

Normally offered Wednesdays through Fridays from 2-4 pm (as of 1.5.15).  Be sure to call directly, their online reservation system is unreliable.

Ambiance - The room was significantly noisier than the last time, though that may have been the time that we went: the had opened up reservations for tea starting at 12:30 pm, which is during the lunch rush.  It quieted down as the afternoon wore on. 
Waitstaff - Attentive and helpful.  We never felt rushed.

Savory - Eight separate lovely sandwiches: wild mushroom and butter, lobster and chive, smoked salmon, cream cheese, roquefort and walnut jam, egg salad, deviled chicken, and cucumber. 

Sweet -A mix of holiday cookies, some peppermint bark, a lemon poppyseed mini bundt cake, a sugar cookie, a miniature mint brownie, and a gingerbread man.

Scones, clotted cream, and jam - One currant scone, one regular scone - tasty and warm.

Tea quality - Since we both chose the same tea, one pot arrived and was refreshed liberally throughout the tea.

Cost - $35 per person for holiday tea; $32 normally

Overall - I only wish this was served on weekends!  It's such a nice tea service, and especially good for those already in the neighborhood exploring the library. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Second Family Christmas!

Sadly, actual Christmas Day had no snow in Minnesota - the first brown Christmas in a while.  Thank goodness by the time we got back from the cabin there was a nice dusting!



Playing a round robin gift game - all had to be $5 or under...such creativity resulted in giant bags with $1 nips of things like whipped cream vodka, a USB man, a lime squeezer, and cans of pringles.



Plus spritz cookies! 



Thursday, January 15, 2015

Minneapolis and St. Paul Eats: Brunch at The Happy Gnome

My Minneapolis friend shlepped all the way to St. Paul for brunch at The Happy Gnome - delicious, and tons of food!

Bloody Mary, fresh from the incredibly well stocked bloody bar.  Six different blends of tomato juice and about 20 garnishes.  Not messing around, oh no.  

(also, for those readers not familiar with getting beer with your bloody mary, it's definitely a thing in Minnesota and Wisconsin - it'll either be called a beer chaser or a beer back....or if you're really traditional, a snit).

The croque madame almost did me in...I gave up halfway through, partly due to the volume of food, but also due to the fact that our chilly spot next to the window had rendered my food rather cold. It was quite tasty, though!


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Family! (and ice fishing!)

Guys.  Baby alert.  (no, not mine)


Ice fishing on Woman Lake!



Bubbles in ice on lakes come from seaweed photosynthesizing and producing oxygen like they do...but with specific conditions, the top of the lake becomes cold enough to freeze, and the oxygen gets trapped in the ice!




I tried to explain that licking the ice was not a good idea, but they weren't really listening to me.  Ha.

Rocking the MIT BE hat.






Requirements for ice fishing: hat, gloves, jacket, snow pants, boots (preferably with crampons to help you walk on the ice), and a chilled adult beverage in a red solo cup. 


Decked out in our holiday finery!

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Chilly Cabin Holiday

Can I spend all my time here?  Yes?  Yes.













My spot is the best spot.  Yes, it's the pull out couch...but it's a pull out couch that is an air mattress that you inflate!  Genius.  Just...genius.



Cabin, I will see you in 2015!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Serious Eats Sous Vide Christmas

This summer I got really lucky and was able to support the Anova Precision Kickstarter and buy my brother an immersion circulator for the low price of $99!

They came to my intention through an excellent food blog called Serious Eats.  A mixture of restaurant reviews, recipes, cookbook spotlights, and other food-related news, my favorite articles are almost always from "The Food Lab," a column descended from a cadre of incredible science of cooking educators: Harold McGee, Shirley Corriher, Alton Brown.  It's written by an MIT grad and all around wizard, Kenji Lopez-Alt.  I saw his steak demo at the MIT Museum last year, and he's just as knowledgeable and fun in person.

So - Eric has played around with his shiny new immersion circulator a few times, but we decided that obviously this had to be a Sous Vide Christmas.  We took over Christmas Eve and Christmas day from mom, and planned it all out. 

Was it good?  Oh man.  It was so good.  I can't even.  I am so mad at myself for not buying one for me. 

Gorgeous steak from Widmer's Supermaket in the MacGroveland neighborhood of St. Paul.

Prepping the water bath!  The other nice thing about this process is that it frees up oven space.  You can really put the water bath and machine wherever you'd like, as long as there's adequate heat protection below (trivets are your friend).  Normally we put something roasting in the roaster on top of our washing machine, but the only pan that we had that would fit three steaks wasn't tall enough to attach the circulator properly, so we had to attach it to a taller stock pot, and the two didn't fit on the washer.  Oops.

Is something cooking?  You can bet Ayden will stop by.  

We cooked our steaks for about three hours at 140ºF, or medium.  But with this method, you'll end up with the entire steak being cooked at medium rather than the outside of the meat overcooking and ending up with a gray band of meat.  No one likes that gray band.

However...the meat after being in a bag for three hours does look really gray on the outside, despite the appearance of perfectly cooked steak once you open it.  There is something you miss in cooking a steak sous vide: a nice crust.  Restaurants solve this with a blow torch, but at home, it's a bit more straightforward to sear it for about 20 seconds on each side in a screaming hot pan.

Final sear!

(also: things you don't realize you miss until you don't have them?  a hood fan that vents to the outside of the house!)

I realize this is a terrible picture, but I can't get over how pretty that steak is.  So much delicious.  And with green bean casserole, confirmation potatoes***, and rainbow jello dessert?  Perfect Christmas Eve dinner.

**frozen hashbrowns + shredded cheddar cheese + cream of chicken soup + sour cream + butter soaked cornflakes.  =the best.  I love the midwest.

The next day, we decided to sous vide a turkey breast to go with a ham from our favorite meat market up north.  You should have seen us, for a 1 pm dinner, we had to be up at 9 am dealing with raw turkey skin.  It was hilarious.  You've never seen Christmas until you've seen two adults trying in tandem to remove turkey skin from a turkey breast.  At 9 am.

"Carefully remove turkey skin in one piece and set aside. Using a sharp boning knife, remove breast meat from breastbone. Set breastbone aside. Season turkey generously with salt and pepper on all sides. Place one breast half with cut-side facing up on a work surface. Place the second breast half face-down, with the fat end aligning towards the skinny end of the first breast half. Gently form into an even cylinder."

First problem: carefully remove turkey skin.  Seriously?  Okay.  How does one do that?  Is there a video for that?  Fat is sticky.  Erhm.  Gahhhh.  It's grosssssss.

(Also, and very sadly, there are directions in the recipe to make crispy turkey skin by sandwiching it inbetween parchment paper and sheet pans, and we were dumb and didn't check it enough and just went by the recommended recipe time.  Big mistake!  Check it at 20 minutes. It was burned beyond use when we took it out at 35 minutes.  Womp womp.)

Second problem: don't even get me started on the knives at our house.  The main kitchen knife we use is a super crappy serrated knife that has gone 15 years without sharpening.  You take your life into your own hands when you pick up that knife.  We ended up digging through our "knife drawer" (my mom hates knife blocks) and found a sharper knife, one that I guarantee my grandfather sharpened 20 years ago for processing ducks in his basement and it somehow ended up here.  Of course.

Third problem:  you did not mention that there would likely be a neck we had to deal with.  Gahhh all these parts.  Where are the bones?  Gah.  AND THESE KNIVES AREN'T WORKING.  We finally had to use a mallet to pound on the top of a knife to get it through the bone. 

We finally went to this tutorial, which helped, but not as much as we would have wanted.  It's hard to look at a giant thing that you know has breasts but also has lots of other stuff, but you can't tell what to do where.  I hereby admit my ignorance, Serious Eats.  Please help!

We ended up cooking the turkey at 147ºF, or halfway between the "white tender moist" and "tender and traditional roast texture."  I think it still really skeeved out my mom because turkey for her has always been food safety approved rather than food safety AND tasty approved...it took a few articles online to convince her that, in fact, we weren't going to make her sick or kill her with our 147ºF turkey. 

Ayden's back!  Anyone surprised?  No?

THE BEST TURKEY EVER, some incredible tasting ham, stuffing, wild rice, and a new potato dish (which was good but unnecessary, especially given the really standout gravy recipe).


I cannot emphasize how good this was.  Easily the best turkey breast I'd ever had.  The funny turkey-loaf-like presentation didn't even matter to me.  It just tasted so good!