Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tortellini and Turkey Meatball Soup

          The other day I ate a bowl of Italian wedding soup from one of my favorite lunch spots near work. The soup was delicious, but it usually ends up being close to $8 a bowl and since I’ve been trying to cut back I started thinking about trying to make it myself. Instead of looking up a recipe, I just picked up a few ingredients at Trader Joe’s and decided to make a tortellini and turkey meatball soup, inspired by the Italian wedding.

          My soup consisted of three ingredients: frozen turkey meatballs, chicken broth, and cheese tortellini. I heated the frozen meatballs by simmering them in a covered pot with the chicken broth for twenty-five minutes (eventually cutting them into quarters once they started to warm). While they were heating, I cooked the tortellini according to the directions on the package for seventeen minutes. Once the tortellini was done, I combined it in the pot with the broth and meatballs. The result was a delicious soup, somewhat similar to Italian wedding but a simpler, and more creative version.

          I’m always trying to come up with quick and easy dinners, and dishes I can make in bulk to eat for lunch. This soup not only achieved that goal, but it was cheap ($6 for 4-5 servings of soup with half the meatballs and tortellini leftover) and low calorie (about 250 calories per serving).

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Equal Exchange Cafe

          Equal Exchange Café is located in the North End just across the street from the garden. I started going for coffee in the mornings because it’s a five-minute walk from my office. The coffee is great, all organic and fair trade, and they offer several dairy alternatives like almond and soymilk. However, I’ve recently started trying some of their bakery and lunch items, and have yet to try something I didn’t like.

          A lot of the food is brought in from other local restaurants; most of the bakery items come from Petsi Pies in Somerville. Everything always tastes fresh, homemade, and seems reasonably healthy. The muffins and other baked goods aren’t too sugary, and there are plenty of gluten free options available. Many of the lunch options are vegan (I believe some of the sandwiches are the only exception). I’ve tried several of the soups including mushroom barley, bean and barley, curried lentil, and rosemary chickpea, and they were all delicious, filling, and healthy. My favorite lunch item is the Vietnamese fresh roll (one serving comes with three rolls), which includes tofu, rice noodles and mixed vegetables in a rice paper wrapper. They’re served with a Thai peanut sauce that’s addicting!

          Equal Exchange is a great breakfast and lunch spot, and I eat there several times a week. It’s a healthy alternative to the sports bars and sub shops in the area, and provides a little variety.

Friday, March 23, 2012

South End Buttery

          South End Buttery is a both a bakery and a bistro; the bistro side has about five tables and a bar that seats half a dozen people at most. It has a wine bar feel, similar to some of my other favorite south end spots and the menu is mostly upscale comfort food. Some of the entrees on the dinner menu included fish and chips, meatloaf, steak frites, and three different types of burgers. They also had a great selection of drinks, including cocktails with some of my favorite ingredients: lavender, hibiscus, and elderflower. The only missing ingredient that kept it from being my perfect drink menu was cucumber, but since they appeared to still be on a winter menu I’ll let that slide!

         I started with a cocktail of prosecco and hibiscus while I looked at the menu. This came with a whole flower in the bottom of the glass, had a great flavor (not too sweet or strong), and was light and refreshing. I ended up deciding on an appetizer and a side dish to try and make it more of a light dinner.

        I ordered the squash & arugula salad as an appetizer. This came with chunks of warm kabocha squash, thinly sliced apples, shaved manchego cheese, toasted pumpkin seeds, and a sherry vinaigrette dressing. This was delicious and surprisingly filling; it could easily have been my entire dinner.

          Next was the lobster mac and cheese, which was a side dish but also quite large. The sauce was the perfect consistency, not too thin or too creamy, and tasted like sharp white cheddar. There were also bits of Parmesan mixed in, along with roasted shallots. This dish had just the right pasta to sauce ratio, and no breadcrumbs (I prefer mac and cheese without because they can make it dry). There was a good amount of lobster, and I wasn’t able to finish the entire thing. I would have liked to try dessert from the bakery, but I have been before for cupcakes and I was just way too full.

          Overall this was a great dinner, and I would definitely go back to the bistro or the bakery. The menu seemed to be seasonal, and I would like to come back to try some more summery dishes.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Wine Review: La Loggia Barolo (Trader Joe's)

          Barolo is a northern Italian red wine from the Piedmont region, made from Nebbiolo grapes. It’s a DOCG classification, the highest quality and most strictly regulated, and is therefore very expensive. I’ve rarely seen bottles for less than $50, and those are the low end – upwards of $100 is more common. When I saw the La Loggia Barolo at Trader Joe’s for $15 a bottle, it seemed too good to be true but I gave it a shot.

          It wasn’t a bad wine for the price, but it was definitely not as flavorful as a traditional Barolo (or some of the less expensive Italian wines). Barolo is generally rich and complex, but not as full bodied as a Super Tuscan; it is often compared to Pinot Noir. The La Loggia reminded me of an experience I had in Napa a few years ago while visiting an Italian style winery. The more common American versions (like Pinot Grigio) were good, but the less common varietals tasted like watered-down versions of their Italian counterparts. I’ve found Trader Joe’s to be hit or miss when it comes to wine, they have some good values but you have to hunt for them. My favorite Trader Joe’s reds tend to be the less expensive Spanish and Italian varietals that TJs sells for $8-$15 and other places typically sell for $15-$25 a bottle. I have found some great bargain wines including Montepulciano, Barbera, and Tempranillo.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Butcher Shop

         I’m a big fan of steak and Barbara Lynch, so naturally the Butcher Shop in the South End is one of my favorite restaurants. Although steak is the specialty, this place has more of a wine bar feel and the menu is a little more diverse (and gourmet) than a typical steakhouse. They have a regular menu with 2-3 apps, entrees, and desserts, as well as a daily menu of specials and cuts of meat for the day.

         My most recent visit was during the Back Bay blackout. Just about every restaurant in the South End was packed, but I walked in and was able to grab a spot that had just opened up at the bar. I noticed that night’s menu included misty knoll chicken, which is some of the best chicken I’ve had and used by some of my other local favorite restaurants. Although the chicken was tempting, I went with the smallest steak (hanger) on the menu so I’d have plenty of room for apps and desserts.

          I started with the cauliflower bisque; it was served with chunks of ham hock and drizzled with white truffle oil. This was delicious, and perfect on a cold night. The flavors of the ham and truffle complemented each other and went well with the glass of nebbiolo I was drinking.

          Next was the hanger steak, with their signature A-9 sauce. This flavorful and juicy, cooked to a perfect medium and tasted great on its own or dipped in the sauce. The steaks come a la carte, but I also tried some of the fingerling potatoes. These were roasted simply with a little olive oil and sea salt and went really well with the steak.

         For dessert I shared some chocolate with mousse with some neighbors and fellow foodies also trying to escape the blackout. It was a small portion, but so rich that no one could eat more than a couple of bites. The mousse was more of a bittersweet dark chocolate and topped with a little whipped cream.

          This latest meal at the Butcher Shop was a great experience, like all of the meals I’ve had there in the past. It’ s a little more casual than some of Barbara Lynch’s other restaurants, but the food is up to the same standard. It’s the type of place you can go for a glass of wine and some apps, or a multi-course gourmet meal.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


          The Helmand is an Afghani restaurant in East Cambridge, on the same block as the galleria. Never having tried Afghani before I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was excited to try something new. It was a unique (and delicious) experience, but if I had to compare to another type of cuisine I’d say it’s most similar to Lebanese.

          We walked in around 8:30pm on a Monday night and the place was about half full. We were seated right away next to the large stone hearth used for baking bread. The woman who seated us (I wasn’t sure if she was a hostess or manager) told us it was the best table in the house. She was very friendly, asked if we’d been there before, and when we said we hadn’t, she reviewed the menu with us and pointed out some of the house specialties. We ended up trying all of her recommendations and had a great meal.

        We started with two appetizers, the mantwo and kaddo. The mantwo was described on the menu as homemade pastry shells filled with beef. I was expecting more of a crispy shell, but when they arrived it was more like two large homemade ravioli stuffed with braised beef. This was served with two sauces (yogurt and tomato with beef), and chickpeas. The kaddo was about half of a baby pumpkin, pan fried with cinnamon and sugar, and served with the same yogurt and tomato sauces. We enjoyed both appetizers equally, and it was the perfect balance of sweet and savory.



         We tried two of the lamb dishes for our entrees, the chowpan and dwopiaza. The chowpan was one of the recommendations and was the only bone-in lamb dish on the menu. It included three lamb chops cooked to a perfect medium, served with a slice of poached pear, pallow rice (rice baked with cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin seed and black pepper), fresh baked bread, and a sautéed eggplant that reminded me of an Italian caponata. This was by far my favorite dish of the night (although the entire meal was outstanding). The dwopiaza was seasoned lamb tenderloin, cooked with onions, split peas, pallow rice, and fresh baked bread. This dish was also very good, but I always prefer the flavor of bone-in meat to boneless.



          We were so full we ended up taking half of each entrée home, but couldn’t leave without trying dessert. We ordered the rice pudding based on our server’s recommendation, and were very glad that we did. The only rice pudding I’ve had was Indian, and this was completely different. It was more like a crème brulee without the crispy top, and had a consistency more like custard than pudding. I asked if this was traditional Afghani rice pudding or Helmand’s version, and the server explained that it was completely authentic.

Rice Pudding

          Overall, this was a great meal and I would definitely go back. There were a few seafood dishes on the menu, as well as some interesting sounding desserts (like homemade pineapple cake) I would like to try.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Diva is an Indian restaurant in Davis square in Somerville, and a part of the One World Cuisine restaurant group. I really like several of their restaurants (Mela and Kashmir especially) so I was excited to try Diva and see how it compared. When I go out for Indian I usually do the buffet, and most of the local places have many of the same standard items. Diva doesn’t have a dinner buffet so this was a good opportunity to try some things I wouldn’t normally. We had a gift card for $25 and needed to spend $50 on food (not including drinks, tax, or tip). We were worried at first this would be difficult, but when we saw the menu it turned out to be easy. There were a ton of things we wanted to try, we were about spot on with the $50 and had a ton of leftovers. 

                We started with the tandoori mixed grill, which included boneless spiced chicken breast (tangari chicken), bone in tandoori chicken (chicken tika), lamb sausage (seekah kebob), and tandoori shrimp. Everything was delicious and this dish could have been a meal in itself; it came with white rice, salad, and a red curry sauce (similar to tika masala).

                For entrees, we ordered the lamb vindaloo, baingan bhartha (eggplant), and chicken naan. The lamb was served in a spicy tomato curry sauce with onions and potatoes, and the eggplant was mashed and mixed with curry and spices. Both were spicy, and tasted great with the chicken naan.

                The dinner at Diva was excellent, and up to the standard I’ve come to expect from One World Cuisine. I was glad I tried some new dishes, but I’m excited to go back to try the Sunday brunch buffet, which I’ve heard is one of the most impressive in the area.
See my favorite dishes at this restaurant on Tasted Menu Diva on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Penang is a Malaysian restaurant in Chinatown that had been on my list to try for several years.  I finally checked this one off my list a couple of nights ago, and was sorry I hadn’t tried it much sooner. The food was delicious; it was the first time I’d tried Malaysian food and it seemed to have influences of Thai, Indian, and Chinese. The restaurant was relatively crowded on a Thursday night, but we were able to walk in around 8:30 and get a table for two. They were also able to accommodate our unusually large order and moved us to a larger table so that everything would fit!

We started with two appetizers, the roti and a combination plate. The roti was much lighter than I expected, and made me feel a little bit better about the amount of food on the way.  It was a piece of fried bread like a thinner, crispier naan, and came with a side of curry sauce for dipping. The sauce had a piece of bone-in chicken in it for flavor, and tasted similar to Indian tika masala sauce. The combo appetizer included fried pork rolls in tofu skin wrappers, fried tofu pieces, and shrimp pancakes with hoisin and sweet chili sauces. This dish reminded me of Chinese dim sum (one of my favorites) and was definitely more filling than the roti.  

          We also ordered two entrees, the Buddhist Yam Pot with Chicken and the Teow Chow style striped bass. The Buddhist yam pot included mixed vegetables and cashew chicken, all served in a bowl of fried mashed taro. I love taro and really enjoyed this dish, but it could have used just a touch more sauce. The bass was steamed whole and came with salted cabbage, pork, and bean curd. It also had a few jalapenos under the skin, which gave it a little kick but did not make the dish overwhelmingly spicy.

Overall, this was a great meal and I really enjoyed every dish. Usually one thing stands out as a favorite, but everything was so good I would have hard time choosing. I’m excited to go back, and will add Penang to my rotation of regular Chinatown spots.

See my favorite dishes at this restaurant on Tasted Menu Penang on Urbanspoon