Sunday, May 21, 2006



Last week was quite rough, but it ended brilliantly with dinner at Michael Schlow's Radius on Saturday night (thanks to my dear parents). I've been to Schlow's Via Matta in Boston - Radius is far better.

Though I've fought it for a while, I think I finally have to accept the label of "yuppie" now that I consider duck and fennel to be comfort food. My review is here on the Boston Chowhound site.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

sports, sweats & sauce


This guy I know (Andrew) writes for the Dig and the Improper Bostonian, and he did this great piece on "things to do while your girlfriend is away". It's true, a guy's got choices. Some guys watch basketball. Some dust off the old XBox from college. The more proactive types might invest in a kegerator. My friend Ping - he makes BBQ sauce.

I don't have too much back story for the making of Ping's BBQ sauce. All I know is that it involved a 4-hour shopping trip that covered 5 different grocery stores - Super 88, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Russo's, and Costco, and that the yield was massive. Ping used a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa.

Ina Garten's Barbecue Sauce
from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Prep Time: 55 minutes
Yield: 1 1/2 quarts

1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions (1 large onion)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup tomato paste (10 ounces)
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup honey
1/2 cup worcestershire sauce
1 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

In a large saucepan on low heat, saute the onions and garlic with the vegetable oil for 10 to 15 minutes, until the onions are translucent but not browned.

Add the tomato paste, vinegar, honey, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chili powder, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Simmer uncovered on low heat for 30 minutes. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator.

Ping marinated his chicken overnight, and the result was tender, sweet, with just a touch of spice. I was impressed.

I later found out that Ping has considered that kegerator as well, but, after playing out the scenario in his head, realized that drinking unlimited beer every night might not coincide well with the beginning of his rotations schedule (he's a med student).

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

happy pork-chops-and-ice-cream-cake to you


I turn my first quarter-century next week, and have started to wonder if this is that year when it will become increasingly less fun to welcome the arrival of any subsequent years.

That aside, I still have no problem making a big deal of other people's birthdays. My dad's was at the end of April, and we decided to cook for the family instead of risk another mediocre meal at one of Boston's many generic, overpriced restaurants (no, I am not jaded by the restaurant scene in this fine city of culinary magnificence).

It is not easy for my dad (I call him Baba) and me to share a kitchen. "I am the best chef," my dad will periodically remind me, whether he is surveying the steak he scored at Whole Foods, tasting a spoonful of his seafood soup, or pouring himself a Sam Adams. "Really. I am."


I like to create drama in the kitchen when I am cooking with Baba. "GET OUT OF MY WAY!! I NEED THE STOVE!!! arghhh...MOVE!" It's more interesting this way. My dad's too zen, and he spends 80% of his "active cooking time" on the couch, watching golf. Meanwhile, I am zigzagging, juggling my time between prepping veggies, mincing garlic, reducing sauces, rolling out and freezing dough, marinating meats, toasting almonds (I always burn the stupid almonds - arg)'s just not fair.

For his own birthday dinner last weekend, Baba prepared pan-fried pork chops (Taiwanese-style) and miso-baked salmon. I took care of salad and dessert. Yes, yes, I know - it seems unfairly balanced, but honestly, I spent way longer preparing my two courses. Pathetic, I know. (And Baba washed the salad greens, too.)


We composed our salad around a base of sliced honeydew melon and prosciutto, cushioned with frisee and arugula (my dad's favorites, after a particularly good experience at Lumiere in West Newton, MA). I topped the greens with blueberries and candied sliced almonds, then dressed everything with a blend of chili sesame oil, olive oil, cider vinegar, sugar, and toasted sesame seeds. The result was a satisfying mix of spicyness from the dressing and sweetness from the fruits and nuts. (I know it's overkill to post three photos for the separate steps I took in preparing the salad, but I happen to like the photos I took.)



on a bed of frisee and arugula with toasted almonds and chili-sesame vinaigrette

For dessert, I attempted my first-ever ice cream cake. Despite its 4 layers, it was extremely easy to prepare (though if you try it, budget for at least a half-day, to allow for ample freezing time). I followed a recipe orginally printed in Gourmet in 1991. A springform pan is a must.

Coffee Almond Ice Cream Cake with Dark Chocolate Sauce
1 1/2 cups fine chocolate wafer crumbs (couldn't find any - I used Oreos)
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 pints coffee ice cream, softened slightly
1 1/2 cups well-chilled heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups crushed amaretti (Italian almond macaroons, though I used crushed biscotti)
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

For the dark chocolate sauce:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
4 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3 to 4 tablespoons Amaretto, or to taste (I substituted with Bailey's)

To make the cake:
In a bowl with a fork stir together the crumbs and the butter until the mixture is combined well, pat the mixture onto the bottom and 1 inch up the side of a lightly oiled 8-inch springform pan, 2 1/2 inches deep, and freeze the crust for 30 minutes, or until it is firm. Spread the ice cream evenly on the crust and return the pan to the freeze for 30 minutes, or until the ice cream is firm. In a bowl with an electric mixer beat the cream with the vanilla until it holds stiff peaks (do not overbeat!), fold in the amaretti thoroughly, and spread the mixture over the ice cream. Smooth the top of the cake, sprinkle it with the almonds, and freeze the cake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the top is firm. Freeze the cake, covered with plastic wrap and foil, for at least 4 hours or overnight. Just before serving, wrap a warm dampened kitchen towel around the side of the pan, remove the side, and transfer the cake to a serving plate. Cut the cake into wedges with a knife dipped in hot water and serve it with the chocolate sauce.

To make the sauce:
In a small heavy saucepan combine the cream and the brown sugar, bring the mixture to a boil over moderately high heat, whisking occasionally, and boil it, whisking, until the brown sugar is dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolates, whisking until they are melted. Whisk in the butter and the Amaretto, whisking until the sauce is smooth, and let the sauce cool slightly. The chocolate sauce may be made 1 week in advance and kept covered and chilled. Reheat the chocolate sauce over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until it is warm.

I can't wait for my dad's birthday next year.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

project cornbread


If I say, "I work in West Newton", I get blank stares. But if I add "Down the street from Blue Ribbon BBQ", I get nods of acknowledgement and murmurs of envy. (This is a shared experience for many of us at Design Continuum, as I learned over yet another large platter of oysters last night).

Blue Ribbon BBQ is a local cult phenomenon, mostly because the food is really good. The pulled pork is really good...the mashed potatoes are really good...and the cornbread is awesome. My current diet regimen requires at least one large square of Blue Ribbon cornbread per week, whether as toasted croutons, baked stuffing, or crumbled into a bowl of white bean chili, simple and unadulterated.

I figured, if Blue Ribbon bakes something like 2 million squares of really good cornbread per day, it couldn't possibly be that hard for me to make 16 squares of my own.
(It was harder than I expected.)

Project Cornbread, Take 1 (shown below, right)
Variation on Joy of Cooking's Southern Cornbread
[with diced green chili peppers and corn kernels]
The crumb was moist, but the texture was light. The cornbread also lacked richness in flavor - I should have known something was up when I didn't see "butter" in the recipe. Cornbread should not be made without butter.

Project Cornbread, Take 2 (shown below, left)
Variation on Joy of Cooking's Northern Cornbread
[with rosemary and toasted pine nuts]
The butter played a nice role in rounding out the flavor and creating a crumbly texture, but omitting corn kernels from the batter (without compensating with more liquid) resulted in a dry product. Also, the additions were weird. Pine nuts are not exactly indigenous to North Carolina.


Project Cornbread, Take 3 (pictured at top)
Spicy Chorizo Cornbread
inspired by America's Test Kitchen

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup white or yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 can (8 oz.) corn kernels
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
2 large eggs
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), melted and cooled slightly
1 medium chorizo sausage, diced

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 8-inch-square baking dish (preferably glass) with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cayenne, and salt in medium bowl until combined; set aside.
2. Mix brown sugar, corn kernels, and yogurt until combined. Add eggs and whisk until well combined.
3. Using rubber spatula, make well in center of dry ingredients; pour wet ingredients into well. Begin folding dry ingredients into wet, giving mixture only a few turns to barely combine; add melted butter and chorizo and continue folding until dry ingredients are just moistened. Pour batter into prepared baking dish; smooth surface with rubber spatula. Bake until deep golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes; invert cornbread onto wire rack, then turn right side up and continue to cool until warm, about 10 minutes longer. Cut into pieces and serve.

Success! A fine cornbread made with the help of ample butter and corn, plus the spice of cayenne and the goodness of chorizo.

P.S. Hooray for everyone walking in Project Bread's Walk for Hunger today!