Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pork Meatball Banh and Vianne Chocolat

I've ruled out a lot of recipes over the years because of ingredients I never thought I would have in my kitchen. One of those ingredients was fish sauce but ever since I read Betsy's post on bánh mì xiu mai (her take on Bon Appetit's recipe) I've been reconsidering my decision. I decided that a night when we had friends over would be a good time to sneak fish sauce into Matt's dinner... as we all know my husband can't stomach seafood.

Our friends Kaleen and Matt ended up being my lucky victims. My husband was too busy tidying the home before our guests arrived to notice me slipping in the secret ingredient...

I served appetizers and beer while I finished making dinner. Trader Joe's edamame hummus with ak-mak crackers is my new favorite snack. I love the crunchy, crispy, wheat and sesame crackers with the flavorful green hummus.

After a couple of drinks and catching up dinner was finally ready. There was a quick assembly of sandwiches and then we all went to the roof deck to enjoy the view and our dinner.

The sandwiches were a hit... even after my husband discovered the secret ingredient. The layers of flavors are perfect together... crunchy, cool and spicy. It's probably the best sandwich I've ever had or made.

For a dessert I had another little surprise... a new, Boston-based, local ingredient chocolate company had dropped off some samples and we were all going to participate in the little taste test. I had been drooling over the beautiful package from Vianne Chocolat all afternoon so I could barely wait to rip into them.

First we split the two dark chocolate raspberry truffles with cocoa and raspberry powder into halves.

After the truffles I carefully cut the five other chocolates into quarters with my good-enough-to-be-surgeon skilled hands. From the below picture starting with the bottom right corner you can see the delightful chocolates; Chambord filled with raspberry powder, lavender, burnt caramel cup, and mint.

There was one additional chocolate under these four beauties... a rose scented dove. This beautiful little dove was one of my favorites. I really enjoyed the slight hint of rose in the dark chocolate.

All of the chocolates were amazing but my absolute favorite was the burnt caramel cup. I wasn't expecting the liquid center so when I cut into it I frantically shouted for my dinner crew to come quickly... they needed to catch a taste of the caramel before it was all over the plate. I think we all agreed that the caramel was perfect; you can tell that a very talented chocolatier made the perfectly burnt caramel. I may have run my finger through the caramel that was leftover on the plate when no one was looking... maybe...

We all felt so privileged to partake in a tasting of these wonderful chocolates!

The owner, Valerie, also throws chocolate parties which I'm sure would be a great event, perfect for a bridal or baby shower! If you're interested in trying some of these chocolates or setting up a chocolate party go to the website.

Pork Meatball Banh Mi

Hot Chili Mayo
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as Sriracha)*
1 pound ground pork
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
2 cups coarsely grated carrots
2 cups coarsely grated peeled daikon (Japanese white radish)**
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
4 10-inch-long individual baguettes or four 10-inch-long pieces French-bread baguette (cut from 2 baguettes)
Thinly sliced jalapeño chiles
16 large fresh cilantro sprigs
*Available in the Asian foods section of many supermarkets and at Asian markets.
**Available at some supermarkets and at Asian markets

Hot Chili Mayo

Stir all ingredients in small bowl. Season with salt. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.


Line rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap. Gently mix all ingredients in large bowl. Using moistened hands and scant tablespoonful for each, roll meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Arrange on baking sheet. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.
Toss first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour, tossing occasionally.
Preheat oven to 300°F. Heat sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of meatballs. Sauté until brown and cooked through, turning meatballs often and lowering heat if browning too quickly, about 15 minutes. Transfer meatballs to another rimmed baking sheet. Place in oven. Repeat with remaining meatballs.


Cut each baguette or baguette piece horizontally in half. Pull out enough bread from each bread half to leave 1/2-inch-thick shell. Spread hot chili mayo over each bread shell. Arrange jalapeños, then cilantro, in bottom halves. Fill each with 1/4 of meatballs. Drain pickled vegetables; place atop meatballs. Press on baguette tops.

Serves 4

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dinner at the Blue Room, Dessert at Mooo....

We recently had a great food night around Boston. Matt had a work dinner at The Blue Room in Kendall Square, and I tagged along as his "plus one" along with Betsy (who was on the guest list). As we joined the group that had arrived a few minutes before, my gaze fell upon a dark and very tasty looking beer in front of one of the guests. He noticed my stare and offered me a sip. I dropped all sense of decorum and grabbed the closest chalice I could find...a wine glass. So much for class. When it comes to dark beers, everything I learned from fine dining just seems to be so irrelevant. Here is the photographic evidence of my fall from grace. Hint: The beer is in the left glass.

While I was enjoying the beer, the server poured a bottle of Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir. It was a bit of an awkward moment when she tried to fill my glass.

First up, some snacks. Our side of the table fired off a few orders that ran the gamut of sweet, savory and just plain different.

The brown sugar, cayenne spiced nuts put out the right combination of sweet and spice. Never would have guessed that based on what the name of the snack was... but I have to put something in between these photos...

I loved the texture and taste of the real, homemade chickpea dip with crispy flatbread.

The best of the bunch by far were dates stuffed with ricotta and pistachios; a bite sized snack with a lot going on. The creamy ricotta blended perfectly with the date and pistachios, with a hint of honey. I can't wait to try to recreate these at home.

Snacks in the belly. Time for more wine.

No, this is not a prop bottle from "The Great Gatsby," but rather a very earthy Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, California. I am not an earthy wine fan, but in this case it did not overpower the big, juicy flavor of the wine.

For the main, I opted to combine two appetizer dishes; the pasta special and a Vietnamese steak salad.

The pasta was orecchiette with pea tendrils, lemon, and ricotta. It was a light pasta dish which was perfect for the warm night.

Next up was the Vietnamese beef salad with green papaya, fermented black beans, lime, mint, and chili oil. I was initially put off by the fact that the beef was served cold, however it fit nicely with the rest of the salad and the flavor profile complimented the other ingredients perfectly.

Later, the three of us headed across the river into Boston to what we like to call "our living room" (Mooo....) for a nightcap and maybe... a look at the dessert menu.

The ladies decided to go against the stereotype and we ordered...the... Lady's Martini. Ok, not really against the stereotype, but with Lilet blonde infused with fresh lemon, hibiscus syrup and a champagne chaser, it became too tempting to pass over. The martini was full of fantastic flavor but I'm not sure it could be really classified as a martini. Very sweet, not much alcohol... or so it seemed... not bad for a night cap.... not good if it is your first drink of the night because these go down like a Capri Sun and would end your night before you even knew what was happening.

For some reason, the dessert menu taunted us with a very intriguing dark chocolate stout cake. Now I'm not a huge chocolate fan but I do enjoy the "health benefits" of dark chocolate and a good stout. The cake was wonderful and really well done. Thank God Betsy and Matt were there or I might just have developed a real passion for chocolate... and by that I mean I would have eaten the whole thing.

Overall, this unscripted rambling back and forth across the river was a culinary and viticultural success. You can see Betsy's perspective here. Our photos are almost identical. We were snapping dueling pictures so much that Matt had compared us to the most flash happy crowd in Boston in a tweet:

"@upwitholives & @amateurgastro take pics of food like Asian tourists take pics of the Cheers facade #canon #Boston."

Give these ladies a camera that fits in a pocket and combine that with a love of food, and what do you expect? I'll post my pictures of the Cheers facade in another post ;)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Foodless Post

This has nothing to do with food but I just had to share a couple of pictures that I took last week. The view from our roof deck of the Boston skyline at sunset after a storm.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Baby Shower Weekend in Chicago

We arrived in Chicago Saturday morning leaving us plenty of time for food throughout the day. On our way to my sister-in-law's home we stopped and picked up sandwiches from Potbelly for lunch. When we got to their home all the ladies of the family, and Dave (the dad-to-be), were reunited for the first time since Christmas 2008. The baby of the family, Alleigh, has been doing good deeds all over the country, working in Americorps. We were lucky that her break fell during the week of the shower. It would have been great if Matt and his dad could have been there but the two New England men had to stay behind to run the bed and breakfast.

After our little reunion we left to head downtown to meet up with some important Michiganders at Cafe Iberico for dinner. There is nothing better than pitchers of sangria and tapas galore! It was so nice to catch up with the extended family over a fantastic meal. Dinner was over early so a group of us walked over to the Hotel Felix to have drinks in their swanky restaurant, Elate. Of course I forgot to take any photos on Saturday but Alleigh got a shot of her Blueberry Lemonade drink at Elate. I had the cucumber collins which was delicious but I think the table's favorite was the ginger-basil mojito.

Later on that night Alleigh and I met up with one of my best friends who moved from Boston to Chicago a couple years ago. We all caught up over a couple of beers at The Bad Apple. It wasn't nearly enough time but we all had to get up in early in the morning.

Sunday morning, after a quick run along the Lake, we headed to the suburbs for the baby shower!! The shower was held where Carrie and Dave got married almost two years ago, the Riverside Reception. It was a beautiful day for a perfect baby shower!

Here are some photos of the room and the view

A little sweet favor

My mother-in-law made the most beautiful diaper bag for Carrie. For the rest of the weekend everyone referred to her as Linda Bradley.

Our gift came from a little boutique in Boston, Red Wagon. I loved how they wrapped the gift in a small pizza box. Too cute!

All of the food was fantastic!

After our big lunch there were two desserts, cake and ice cream! The beautiful cake was a chocolate sponge cake with a cherry filling.

We were so full that we couldn't even imagine eating dinner.

Here I am with Matt's beautiful twin cousins. Before Saturday, I hadn't seen them since my trip to Michigan in October.

Here I am with my two gorgeous sister-in-laws getting ready to open all the gifts.

When we were finally back in Chicago and had made room for dinner, we enjoyed pizza and a salad while we watched the season premier of Drop Dead Diva. We love the talented Brooke Elliot! She's a college friend of Carrie's and we're all so proud of her! It's been so much fun watching her on her show. Here is my favorite photo of Brooke with Matt at Carrie and Dave's wedding.

I love spending my weekends in Chicago but it doesn't happen as often as I would like and when it does happen it's always over too quickly. Before we knew it Alleigh, mom, and I were getting ready to leave for the O'Hare airport Monday morning. Before we left we wanted to get one last photo of all of us.

Then I took another one just for good measure. You can see we're all laughing because Duncan, their chocolate lab, was very confused as to why we were all standing there so he started to bark at us. Silly Duncan!

After reuniting with the hardworking men back in Boston we went to dinner at Scollay Square. I started with one of my favorite salads in Boston, the roasted pear salad, and a Blue Moon.

Then Matt and I shared the buffalo chicken mac and cheese. We feel better about eating this heavenly, fatty dish if we share it!

It was a great long weekend and I can't wait to meet the newest member of the family!

Date Night at Market

I felt like a little giddy school girl the night of our last date. All I knew about the evening was our meeting place... Boston Common at 6PM. From there we took a little walk down the street to the W Hotel. The plan was drinks at the lobby bar then dinner at Market by Jean-George. When we got to the hotel we discovered that they were filming a movie at the lobby bar so we walked right past the doors into the hotel and ended up at Avila for our pre-dinner drinks.

We sat down at the bar and ordered our drinks. A slightly dirty Grey Goose martini for Matt and a Hendricks martini with a twist for me. I forgot how potent gin martinis are and had to leave half of my gin in the glass. I knew that if I had finished my martini I would not have enjoyed (remembered) much of dinner. We really liked Avila and I made a mental note to come back for dinner some time.

On to Market! We felt so special walking into the restaurant; walking through velvet ropes to get to the lobby, having our names checked off on a list and passing through the movie set to get to our table. From our table you could see some of the film equipment outside the restaurant windows.

The restaurant was beautiful. I loved how the table was set with different dimensions and textures.

We ordered a bottle of Barbaresco for dinner. It was a very young wine that needed to open a bit so we decanted the bottle.

After a short perusal of the menu we figured out what we wanted to order.

We started with the arugula and Boston lettuce salad with a mustard vinaigrette and fine herbs.

For my dinner I ordered an appetizer; rice cracker crusted tuna with a citrus-chili emulsion.

To make my dinner a little bit more robust I also ordered the fine herb and Comte fritters. They were the most delicate, mouthwatering cheese fritters I have ever had! I definitely didn't want to share but after much bickering I finally let Matt have one or two.

Matt ordered the Parmesan crusted organic chicken with white asparagus and a lemon-basil butter. It was really good but it was basic enough that I think I can recreate this dish at home.

My man's dish was lacking a little bit of substance so he also ordered a side of mashed potatoes.

Dessert was the most amazing part of our meal; caramelized banana cake with a praline crunch and salted caramel ice cream. Words can't even begin to describe how much we enjoyed this dessert!

Our date was so much fun and delicious. I can't wait until Matt plans our next one... sometime in July!