Archive for the ‘Restaurant Review’ Category

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September 17, 2015: Cucumber Soup

September 17, 2015

Cucumber SoupAs I mentioned in my last article, when my family visited last month we went to the Colonial Inn in Concord, Ma. Cooking for myself like I usually do, I’m very impressed when I go out to eat these days to find almost every restaurant caters to the vegetarian palate to some degree. Sometimes it’s just soup and bread, but I can almost always find something to eat.

Once in a great while I find a restaurant that raises the bar on their vegetarian dishes to the unique and noteworthy. Such was all the dishes we  tried at the Colonial Inn.

My niece ordered the Colonial’s Black Bean Burger. I saw this on the menu as was almost going to order it, but changed my mind at the last second. As she was on the other side of the table, I didn’t hear her order and was very pleased when she offered to share a taste with me.

One problem with black bean burgers, homemade and store-bought, is that they often add just a tad too much cumin in the mix. Cumin is one of those spices that it takes an expert hand (and tasting while tweaking the addition) to keep the balance from interesting that can quickly shift to overwhelming. The Colonial got that balance just perfect. Topped with a tiny corn relish and a fine roll, the taste was easily the best of any black bean burger I’ve ever had. The texture was very close to a meat burger, which shows the skill of the chef, as veggie burgers often fall to pieces when soft like this, but because we’ve never had one with such a delicate texture, both my niece and I agreed that it was rather unfamiliar.

I was pleased to find Truffle Fries on the menu and they were very good at the Colonial and seemed to be fried in truffle oil. But after one taste, I realized the down-side of knowing a master chef like Yoshio. He makes truffle fries and tops them with real grated truffle (which makes the dish far too expensive to make for mass distribution.) Yoshio has forever spoiled me this way, but the Colonial’s fries were a very delicious and welcome second.

I also ordered what the Colonial called their Cucumber Gazpacho Soup. The name was a little confusing (as gazpacho is usually a tomato-based broth and cucumber soup is usually a cream-based broth) so I asked the waitress to describe the soup. She explained that it was a cold, creamy cucumber soup with a topping of salsa. I loved the addition of a tiny bit of heat into the cool, slightly sweet, very smooth, cucumber base and I was inspired to make my version. Again, made for mass-consumption, there was nothing wrong at all with the Colonial’s soup….I just tend to like my soups a bit more on the savory side and I don’t mind a slight amount of texture that the Colonial carefully got rid of.

Cucumber Soup

2 Medium Leeks (washed thoroughly; chopped; green part for stock)

6 Large Cukes (washed; de-skinned (save skins for stock); de-seeded

2C. Baby Kale (washed; chopped)

6 Tblsp. Fresh Dill Weed   2 Bullion Cubes

2 C. Heavy Cream         3 Tblsp. Butter

Make stock of cuke skins, green part of leeks, and baby kale stems. Sauteé veggies in oil until tender. Add 1 Qt. H2O. Add bouillon cubes to fortify. Bring to boil and then reduce to simmer for 20 minutes. Strain.

Sauteé white part of leeks in butter until tender. Add de-seeded cukes (cubed into 2″ pieces) and baby kale. Add stock and H2O to cover veggies. Bring to boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover until veggies are tender. At the end of the simmer, add dillweed, salt & pepper and grind with an immersion blender. Add cream.

Top with a splash of hot sauce, then sour cream and a dab of mild salsa.

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September 09, 2015: Beer Accents

September 9, 2015

Lime-Crusted BeerA couple of weeks ago, my family did me the honor of visiting me. They had seen all the sites in the Marlborough area, so this time I took them around to nearby Concord, Ma.

To my surprise, they were game for “Sleepy Hallow” Cemetery, so we saw the resting places of Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne, and the Alcotts. Just down the road from Sleepy Hallow was Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Here, my family braved the observation tower heights to get a spectacular view of the vista that is Great Meadows. We caught the season perfectly as water-lilies were still in bloom and purple loosestrife lining the edges of the pond.

Then, it was down to walk the paths for an up-close encounter with Nature. This was cut short by the presence of a large, black snake sunning itself at the beginning of the path. My niece and I were at the fore-front of our group. Seeing the snake at the same time, we had polar reactions: mine was to move closer for a better look, and my nieces’ was to skedaddle post-haste back to the parking lot!

Perhaps indicative of a much earlier garden of Nature guarded by snake, our mutual reactions were consistent: the descendant of Eve expressed a natural caution, perhaps motivated by the memory of have been burned before. Adam’s scion however…has never learned, and still has a bumbling attraction to all things reptilian. Our Nature-hike ended, my nephew etched “Big Black Snake” in chalk on the nature watch chalkboard and it was into town, to allow sleeping reptiles to lay.

We bounced from shop to shop with no particular agenda. I tend to shop, by myself, as if a mercenary with timed mission: in and out, so I enjoyed the luxury of just ambling around (and spending nothing!) We also had the pleasure of lunch at the Colonial Inn. Before a rather amazing meal at the Inn, the waitress suggested to me a pumpkin ale, the rim of the glass lined with a cinnamon-sugar. Never having even considered a libation as perfect as pumpkin ale needing embellishment, I was intrigued…and subsequently pleased with the effect! The balance of spice-to-sugar at the Inn was so perfect, I was itching to try it myself.

I thought I had gotten my chance a few weekends later. I was asked to work on    a Saturday which has the fringe benefit of being mere steps away from a Farmers Market. Amidst stalls selling unusual veggies like baby bok choy and tri-colored potatoes, I found a stall selling mead…specifically pumpkin mead!

In my beer-making days, my two best concoctions were a pumpkin stout and a raspberry mead. Through chance or  some mistake of mine, the mead had a little bit of fermentation still going on at the end of the aging. This shouldn’t have happened, but the tiny bubbles made the mead taste like a champagne with slight tastes of the raspberry and the honey from which the mead gets its main flavor.

I rushed home to sample the mead that I had bought to see if I could then add the cinnamon accent. At this point, let me mention, that while my raspberry mead was perfection, I have never had a bad mead, even the store-bought ones. And I love pumpkin. I’m one of those people who just go ga-ga in the Autumn, scarfing up pumpkin cookies, ice cream, butters, etc. So, the first taste of the pumpkin mead was more than a letdown…it was seriously one of the most awful libations I’ve ever tasted! Like…spit-take worthy! Picture…if you can stomach it..turpentine and cat piss, mixed with a tad of dishwashing soap! Later, I was thinking perhaps I had overreacted, and tried another sip. NOPE! I finished the rest of the bottle by cleaning out my kitchen sink with it!

So, my plans bruised, but not broken, I thought, “OK, if what you expected to like didn’t turn out, what do you know you like and adapt the idea to that?” The answer to that was pretty easy. My  Summer guilty pleasure libation is lime-beer. It’s affordable, easily obtained and refreshing on those really hot days. And I like lime almost as much as I like pumpkin!

I took a lime and used a fine grater to get zest and added the tiniest bit of sugar to make it bind to the rim of the glass. I juiced the lime and dipped the rim into the juice and then into the zest-sugar. Delicious, decorative, and unusual. This beer-accent has broadened my Summer drink repertoire by one!

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June 25, 2012: A Wayside Memory

June 25, 2012

Homemade Ravioli Stuffed with Butternut Squash and Greens. Topped with a Garlic and Parsley Bechamel Sauce.

I was tooling around today making lunch for myself from a variety of leftovers. I came up with an acceptable meal of store-bought stuffed ravioli with sauce of butter/parley and jazzed up a bit with parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper. As I said…acceptable, and more than tasty, just not perfect. So, I simultaneously got a flash of an old idea for a recipe and a very important insight, so simple that I can’t believe it has never fully coalesced in my consciousness before: the best things I have ever created have been for, in the presence of, or inspired by, someone else. Living alone (and in a near vacuum) as I do, you can see how problematic this might be to an aspiring chef! At my old job I had my students to sometimes cook for, and often I came up with challenging recipes to make for them. These days, I still have the occasional dinner for friends, but these are sparse at best.

A few years ago, my former student Regan (who I will always think of as my first student) did me the honor of visiting me. I don’t quite remember why I didn’t actually cook for her, but somehow we decided to visit the best place to eat, short of my own kitchen: The Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Ma. As a unique combination of restaurant, inn, and museum, the Wayside is a treat for anyone that likes really good traditional American food, great ambiance and a rich history with a splash of literature (Longfellow wrote “Tales of the Wayside Inn” here.) It doesn’t hurt that it is only a few miles from my house. As we were eating, I considered that one of us ordered squash and one ordered ravioli. It occurred to me that a mixture of the two would be a good blend. This was a number of  years ago, and since I have seen this combination on many, many restaurant menus, but I have never actualized my version before this.

Homemade Ravioli Stuffed with Butternut Squash and Seasoned Greens with Garlic and Parsley Béchamel Sauce:

[OK, I’m already going to lose a couple of you right here: not everyone has the time, patience, or equipment for homemade pasta. Making pasta from scratch can be fun if you have the time, and it is well worth the effort, but if this is a difficulty, just buy the frozen store-bought kind. There are some nice ones that are stuffed with cheese and greens. Skip the pasta and stuffing parts and go straight to the béchamel sauce.]

My recipe for pasta dough was 2+1/4C. Flour+3Eggs+2Tblsp. Olive Oil that had saffron threads crumbled into it. After kneading dough, I put it into a bowl and waited about 30 minutes, cut it into 5 pieces and put it through a pasta-press with smaller and  smaller distances between the rollers until I got to the setting of “7” and then dried the pasta sheets on a wooden drying rack while I cut each sheet into pieces. I uses a teabag envelope as a guide for size. I put about a tablespoon of the stuffings into 1 piece, covered it with another; folded and crimped the edges with fork tines.

For each of the stuffings, you want a fairly dry-ish consistency. Excess water content will weaken the pasta and could make it break during boiling. I kept the two stuffings separate in their own ravioli.

Butternut Squash Stuffing: In a small pan add 1Tblsp. butter+4 Tblsp. diced onion and saute for 2 minutes. Add 1C. diced butternut squash and 1/4C. veggie broth and bring to a boil. Lower to simmer, add a dash or salt, pepper, ground sage, clove, and allspice. Cover and simmer until squash is soft. Mix well and mash slightly with the back of a spoon. Pour off any excess H2O and cool. Before adding to ravioli, mix in 2Tblsp. ricotta cheese to the squash mixture.

Greens Stuffing: Saute 2C. turnip greens and 4Tblsp. onion in 1Tblsp. butter until soft. Add 1Tblsp. mint. Cool. You may add 4Tblsp. ricotta cheese.

Garlic and Parsley Béchamel Sauce: In a medium pan saute 1Tblsp. finely diced elephant garlic and 4Tblsp. washed, dried and diced fresh parsley in 2Tblsp. butter for two minutes. Add 2Tblsp. flour and cook an additional 2 minutes over medium heat. Add 1+1/2C. milk and whisk until thickened. Add a dash of salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Thin with a little milk if too thick. Pour over cooked and drained ravioli.

The squash ravioli was perfect. I liked the ravioli with greens but I’m used to stronger flavored greens. I suspect my guests would prefer a spinach variation ravioli instead.

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April 07, 2010: Review-Lowell Beer Works

April 7, 2010

Taking notes on eight delicious beers from Lowell Beer Works

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