Thursday, January 31, 2013

Chocolate Tasting at Cocoanuts

          Earlier this week we held another fun Blog and Tweet Boston event  Cocoanuts in the North End. I've been a few times now, and every time I go there are even more new and delicious treats to try!

          Owners and bffs Tara and Jen were excellent hosts, who told us all about the store and kept the champagne flowing! They support local artisans whenever possible, and sell a variety of chocolates, confections, and other goodies. With healthy options such as raw chocolate and mixed nuts also available, there really is something for everyone!


          We also got to meet some of the faces behind the candy including the owners Little Bits Toffee in Weymouth and Yes Chocolates in Brookline. It was so great talking to all of them and learning about (and tasting) their products.

          Little Bits had four types of toffee available, including a brand new coffee flavor. I loved all of them, but the sea salt was my favorite!



           Yes Chocolates had several fun and creative truffles available for sample including Guinness and Sticky Bun. I enjoyed all of them, but was completely blown away by the sticky buns chocolates!



          I also tried some amazing salted rosemary and coconut rum cookies from Lark in Essex MA, and Suss salted caramels!

          Cocoanuts has plenty of specials available for Valentine's Day including pre-made and custom gift baskets. I know where I'll be doing all of my shopping this year!

Second Annual Chili Cook Off at Church

          Last weekend I attended the second annual Chili cook-off at Church of Boston with Jen. Neither of us had been before, and weren't sure what to expect. We were surprised and impressed with the variety and how each preparation was truly unique.

Participating restaurants included:
  • Sweet Cheeks: Chili crab with shrimp, berkshire pork, and crab salad served over white rice. 
  • Church: Beef cheek chili with bone marrow infused cornbread and chipotle cheese fondue
  • Citizen Public House: Pork and white bean chili with house scotch and rosemary croutons
  • Tasty Burger: Beef chili with cheese wizz and fritos
  • Fenway Park: Beef brisket and poblano chili with a hint of coffee and chocolate
  • Jerry Remy's: Beef and smokehouse pork chili
  • Tico: Turkey chili with turkey bacon, white beans, cilantro, cheese, and a house made tortilla
  • Sweet Caroline's: Wagyu beef chili served with home made cornbread.
          My favorite was Sweet Cheek's chili crab, which was extremely unusual and reminded me more of etouffe. I also loved Church's bone marrow cornbread, the flavor of the scotch in Citizen Public House's version, and the smokiness of Remy's.


          The official judges voted Fenway's their favorite, while the audience preferred Tico. I always say that when everyone has a different favorite, it means everything was amazing!



          There were also tequila shots available to wash down all of the chili! I'm not a big tequila drinker, but I enjoyed the Alto silver which was incredibly smooth.


          Although not all of the participating restaurants offer chili on their menus, I loved the event and thought it was a fun way to try and experience some new places. I've definitely added a few to my list to try!

Taste of the Berkshires Dinner at Canyon Ranch

          My last night at Canyon Ranch, I attended the taste of the Berkshires dinner in the demonstration kitchen. It was a delicious, healthy four course meal featuring local seasonal ingredients from area farms and producers. We watched one of the Ranch's chefs prepare the meal while he explained his techniques for our use them at home.

          We started with a Kale and apple salad. It was served with a homemade dressing of lemon juice, mustard, and Parmesan cheese. The dressing was perfect; it was light and highlighted the fresh flavors of the kale and apples.



          Next was a Thai chicken and coconut soup with shiitake mushrooms and fresh cilantro. This was the chef's take on Tom yum soup, a classic Thai dish, and it was the best interpretation I've ever tried!



          The main course was a grass fed beef tenderloin with butternut squash and cauliflower purée, braised greens and romesco sauce. The chef pointed out that the vegetable purées were simply done with no added cream or broth. My whole table agreed that the simple preparation really highlighted the vegetables and tasted so much more rich and flavorful than other similar purees we’ve had in restaurants.

         
          We finished with apple and fig beggars purses: crisp phyllo dough purses filled with chunks of fresh fruit.  These were light and satisfying after such a filling meal.


          This was my favorite meal at Canyon Ranch; I enjoyed the entire experience including the demonstrations, the chance to interact with other guests, and the opportunity to learn about local farms. All four courses came in just under 800 calories and well within my goal of 1500 per day!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Day 2 at Canyon Ranch: The Demonstration Kitchen

           Today at canyon ranch, I had some more amazing meals in the dining room. Breakfast included turkey hash, a poached egg, chicken sausage, and whole wheat pancake ~450 calories


           Lunch included smoked trout salad with bagel crisps ~ 310 calories


         I also attended a class called the fastest meals imaginable. It was a two part class, the first half was a discussion with a nutritionist and the second an interactive cooking demo with one of Canyon Ranch's gourmet chefs.

           The nutritionist gave us great tips on what to keep on hand in our pantries and freezers. We also got a book of recipes to take home, which included lists of preferred brands, vendors, and stores. Many of the tips were simple, but things I wouldn't think of like cooking in bulk, washing and prepping vegetables when you buy them and are putting them away already, or making chili or sauce from a can and adding to it.

           The cooking demonstration was also great! We prepared a four-ingredient shrimp dish, and a steak stir-fry one at a time, in less than an hour total. I can't wait to try them at home and check out the recipes in my cookbook.

           I ended my day at the Taste if the Berkshires dinner, a four course meal featuring seasonal ingredients from local farms and producers. Be sure to check back for a full recap!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Gourmet Food Can be Healthy: Day 1 at Canyon Ranch

          This is the first in a series of posts about my stay at Canyon Ranch in Lenox MA.  If you haven't heard of Canyon Ranch, it's a resort and spa with fitness classes, seminars, outdoor activities, medical facilities, spa services, and of course amazing food!        

         The philosophy on food at Canyon Ranch seems to be that food can be healthy and still taste good. The award winning cuisine is prepared by a staff of gourmet chefs who work with nutritionists to make sure it's prepared using natural whole foods, limited salt and sugar, and served in smaller healthy portions. The calorie counts and other nutritional information is published on every menu. I arrived in time for lunch today, and ate whatever I wanted for both lunch and dinner without regard to the calorie count (until after when I entered everything into my tracker). I left dinner completely stuffed, and under 1500 calories for the day! Here is a sampling of some of the dishes available at Canyon Ranch.

          Croque Monsieur (355 calories): This was made healthier with turkey instead of ham, and served open face over a slice of multigrain toast. The parmesan sauce made it feel indulgent and was hard to believe this was a healthy version of one of my favorite bistro dishes. I ordered this with a side of baked fries which were seasoned perfectly and only 110 calories!


          Vegetable triangles (125 calories): Flaky phyllo dough filled with spinach, tomatoes, and feta cheese.


          Steak (405 calories): Slices of medium rare tenderloin served with truffle mashed potatoes, and brussels sprout hash with turkey bacon and caramelized onion. The steak which was fork tender was just as good as any steakhouse in Boston, and I loved the truffle mashed potatoes!


          Vanilla bean goat-cheese cake with a side of fat free chocolate sauce (~150 calories, just dipping in the sauce): I loved the flavor of the goat cheese, and it tasted much lighter than traditional cheesecake.


          In addition to the dining room and cafe, Canyon Ranch has a demonstration kitchen where you can learn to prepare these types of dishes on your own! I plan to check this out tomorrow, make sure to check back for more updates (and of course pics)!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Puritan and Company

          Last night I tried one of Inman Square's newest additions, Chef Wil Gilson's restaurant Puritan and Company. My friend and I had a fantastic experience, and though I tried many items on the menu there were even more I can't wait to go back and try!

          I started with the bone marrow gratin, which came baked with slices of duck fat brioche. The only way to describe this is pure decadence! I loved the flavor of the bone marrow, and the thick pieces of toasted brioche were the perfect accompaniment.


          The scallop crudo looked amazing and my friend really enjoyed hers. It was one of the lighter alternatives on the menu, and done beautifully!


          Next was the frisee salad, which included bits of seared foie gras, bits of duck cracklin, and a sunny side up egg on top of a homemade johnny cake. I loved this just as much as the bone marrow, and again, decadent is the only way to describe it!


          My friend also enjoyed her broccoli salad, it was the most impressive broccoli preparation I've ever seen.


          For my main course I tried the wagyu steak with pommes ana and "boiled vegetable dinner". The steak was done perfectly and topped with an egg sauce, which added a great flavor.


          My friend opted for the grilled cobia with escarole and peas porridge. Neither of us had heard of cobia before; it was a meaty white fish similar to swordfish.


          Even though I was stuffed, I had to try the cookie dough sundae! It was everything I hoped it would be, a chunk of chocolate cookie dough covered in chocolate, served in a plate of vanilla ice cream. This was one of the best desserts I've had in a long time!


          It's rare that I can say I truly loved everything I tried at a restaurant and would order it all again, but this is how I felt about Puritan and Company. If there weren't so many additional menu items I want to try, I would go back and order the same thing all over again!

 Puritan & Company on Urbanspoon

Cafeteria

          Earlier this week I decided to check out cafeteria on Newbury with Jen for a fun girls night out with good drinks and food!

          We were seated in the newly renovated upstairs dining room in one of the best tables in the house, by a window directly over looking Newbury street. The atmosphere was fun and energetic, and although I opted for wine there were some interesting sounding cocktails on the drink menu.

          We decided to share a fig pizza, which came with arugula and caramelized onions. It was a great combination and the crust was thin and crispy just how I like it!

 
          For my meal, I went with a recommendation from Beantown Eats and tried the lamb burger. This was a great choice, topped with tzatziki, black olives, tomatoes, romaine and feta and served on griddled bun. Jen opted for the scallops which looked amazing, she said they were great and we were both impressed by the presentation!


          Although the dessert menu was tempting, we were both too full and had to pass. I'll definitely have to same room next time!

 Cafeteria Boston on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Journeyman

          This past weekend I had the pleasure of dining at Journeyman, a restaurant that’s been at the top of my list to try for a few months. The location, sort of hidden in the back of a parking lot makes it a bit hard to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for. It’s also a tiny place, so make a reservation.

          The interior has a very industrial, NY feel. The menu changes weekly and includes five or seven course tasting options (each with a an omnivore or vegetarian alternative) for $65 or $85. After 8:30pm, there is also a $40 four-course chef’s choice menu. There are additional supplemental courses available like a cheese course or foie gras or steak for two. Drink pairings are available and include a mix of beer, wine, and cocktails. The two main Chef's are Asian and Russian, and you can definitely see the influences in the food.

          I went with a group of four, and we opted for the seven course tasting menu with two bottles of wine to share. The wine list had only a few selections by the glass, but an extensive selection by the bottle including several rare and unusual varietals. We shared one white (orange) a 2009 Monastero Suore Cistercensi "Coenobium Rusticum" Bianco, and a red NV Frank Cornelissen Etna MunJebel Rosso. The wines were amazing, and at the end of our meal, the staff told us how excited the sommelier was that we had selected them!

          The first course was a parsnip soup with a giant oyster, country ham, and fresh cranberries. This was one of my favorite dishes, I love parsnip soup and the tart cranberries and smoky ham were a perfect contrast.

          The second course was a mackerel sashimi with a sun choke puree and sliced scallion. This was light and fresh, and I enjoyed the combination of the sashimi and sun choke.
          The third course was another of my favorites, torchon of foie gras spread over toast, served with borscht (chilled beet soup). The foie gras was smooth and creamy and tasted even better when dipped in the borscht.
          The fourth course was rabbit three ways: roasted heart, liver mousse, and confit leg all served with different sauces. My favorite was the confit leg, which was braised perfectly.
          The fifth course was the quail, which came with two legs cooked perfectly and served with a citrus puree (grapefruit) and chiles.
 
          The sixth course was the pork with turnip and bitter greens, which was delicious and the perfect way to finish the savory portion of the meal.
          To transition from sweet to savory, we had a pallet cleanser of celery sorbet with fig puree. This was light, refreshing, and seemed an unusual pairing but it worked!
          Dessert was a plate with little bites of french toast, and several accompaniments including orange, coffee, and chocolate ice cream.
          Overall I had a fantastic experience at Journeyman and would definitely go back. I'd be curious to try the four course menu which is chef's choice, and see if the selections are completely different than the set menus. 

Journeyman on Urbanspoon

Wine Expo Winners

          Last week I announced the Boston Wine Expo Giveaway: two lucky winners selected at random will get a pair of tickets to Sunday's Grand Tasting. The event will take place Sunday February 17, 2013 from 1 – 5pm at the Seaport World Trade Center.

          The two winners are: John Carrabino and The Foodie Journal! Please email me with your address so I can mail you your tickets!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Blog and Tweet Boston Event at Cocoanuts

          With Valentine's Day right around the corner, Cocoanuts in the North End is hosting a tasting and open house Jan 29th from 6-7pm, where bloggers will get to sample sweet and savory treats including delicious chocolate truffles, roasted nuts, and more! You'll also have the opportunity to chat with local artisan vendors and learn more about where and how these goodies are produced. All items will be available for purchase at a discount during the event, so come and do all of your Valentine's day shopping!


          The event is invite only, as space is limited. If you're interested in attending follow @BlogAndTweetBos and DM your email address or join our Facebook group and leave a comment with your email address.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2013 Boston Wine Expo Giveaway

          Want to attend the 2013 Boston Wine Expo? Here’s your chance to win a pair of free tickets! I’m giving away two pairs of tickets to Sunday’s Grand Tasting. The event will take place Sunday February 17, 2013 from 1 – 5pm at the Seaport World Trade Center.

          The lucky winner(s) will have a chance to taste wines from over 185 wineries from around the world, plus sample delicious cuisine from some of the areas best Chef’s and restaurants!

          For more information on the expo visit their website, or read my post on the preview event where I sampled wines from several of the featured wineries.

          To enter just comment on this blog telling me why you’d like to win! For additional bonus entries do any of the following (each will earn you an additional entry; if you’re already a follower or group member, your comment and tweet will count for each eligible entry).

· Follow @blogandtweetbos on twitter and tweet that you'd like to win with a link to this post
· Follow @itakepicsoffood on twitter and tweet that you'd like to win with a link to this post
· Join the Blog and Tweet Boston Facebook group 

           Winners will be selected one week from today and announced on my blog by 10PM EST. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss out!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Estelle's

          I love southern food, so I’m very excited about what seems to be a trend in Boston lately. I also love that each of the new southern style restaurants in the area has its own unique twist on the cuisine and are quite different from each other. Estelle’s is no exception, and if I had to categorize their take it would be southern – gourmet.

          I tried Estelle’s about a month after they opened, breaking my rule of not dining alone (to save money and sample more dishes) because I wanted to try it that bad! It was everything I hoped it would be, and more.

          I had looked at the menu online and narrowed my entrée selection to four choices. On the ten-minute walk over, I narrowed it further to two: the etouffee or fried chicken. When I sat at the bar, I had already decided on a special request but pretended to consider the menu wanting to appear more normal before my fellow bar patrons saw me pull out the camera and start taking pictures.

          I started with the fried chicken thigh appetizer, but requested the sausage gravy that came with the entrée instead of the BBQ sauce. This was a generous portion, served boneless with a delicious crispy batter and radish watermelon salad (the entrée came with bacon mac and cheese). The sausage gravy was lighter and thinner than I expected, which was nice. It gave the chicken a great flavor but wasn’t too heavy or filling.


          Next was the side of cornbread with molasses butter. This was cooked perfectly - crisp on the edges but perfectly moist inside. I loved the molasses butter and could have eaten it plain, but I restrained myself.


          For my entrée, I tried the etouffee with cornmeal fried oysters and duck confit. This was unlike any etouffee I’ve had, with huge oysters and a whole duck leg on top of a bowl of spicy rice and tomato sauce. This was delicious, but I had trouble finishing much more than the oysters and duck.


          I left Estelle’s with a list of dishes to go back and try again soon including suggestions from some regulars I chatted with at the bar (hush puppies, red velvet whoopee pies, shrimp and grits cake)! I can’t wait to visit again for dinner and check out the brunch menu!

 Estelle's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Cinquecento

          I’ve always been a fan of the Aquitaine group’s restaurants, so when I heard about Cinquecento their new Roman style trattoria in the South End it quickly made my list to try. When I started hearing rave reviews from trusted (foodie) sources it moved to the top of my list even more quickly. I went in with the bf recently on a Sunday night and we enjoyed a multi-course meal, sampling as much of the menu as we could possibly eat!

          We started with several antipasto selections to share including the bruschetta, veal tonnato, and the special (a duo of lobster ravioli and cannelloni). The bruschetta was a nice twist on the classic dish, and instead of your traditional tomato topping this came with burrata, speck, and a pignoli-currant marmellata. The crusty Italian bread was grilled perfectly, and all of flavors just worked together.


          The veal tonnato consisted of several pieces of thinly sliced braised veal topped with scoops of tuna aioli and bits of toasted garlic. Veal tonnato is one of my favorites, and I loved this preparation with the toasted garlic. Our sever (who was quite knowledgeable about all of the dishes and their origins) explained that in Italian this dish is called Strangers on a Plate because the veal and the tuna are so different, they shouldn’t go together, but somehow they just work.

          The lobster special was also delicious; lobster ravioli is another of my favorites, and I inhaled this dish almost too quickly to notice Cinquecento’s distinct flavors and characteristics, but I thoroughly enjoyed both the ravioli and cannelloni.


          For our second course, we shared a salumi plate. There were several meats and cheeses available, which could be ordered a la carte, or as a custom plate with three or five selections. Of course we chose five: the finocchiona (fennel salami), soppresata piccante, culatello (similar to prosciutto but much leaner as it comes from the back of the leg only), robiola and parmigiano reggiano cheese. This came out on a board with pickled red onions, peppers, and sliced carrots. I loved this dish, and especially loved trying some of the more unusual cured meats I hadn’t heard of.


          For our third course, we each ordered a half order of pasta (the menu lists the full entrée portions but all are available in half sizes). The portions were large, but surprisingly light and I had no trouble finishing my tagliatelle Bolognese which was made with veal, pork, and pancetta in a very light tomato sauce without cream. The orecchietee with radicchio trevisano and rapini served with garlic, chili flakes and olive oil was simple and well done



          Next was a surprise course from the kitchen and one of my two favorites, a poached quail egg with fried pig’s tails. I’ve never had a quail egg done so simply before; it’s always been overpowered just enough by the other ingredients that I wasn’t able to fully taste and appreciate its difference from a chicken egg. This was the best egg I’ve ever had (in part due to preparation, I’m sure) and I’ve been having a hard time putting into words the difference in flavor, but I’ve settled on subtler, cleaner, and more delicate. The fried pig’s tails were perfect with the quail egg, and this felt like a gourmet take on bacon and eggs.


          My entrée, the porchetta was my other favorite dish. The skin was crispy, the layer of fat just right, and the parsnip and cherry sugo were excellent complements. I was way too full to try a bite of the special braciolone over rigatoni, but it looked like a good hearty dish for a cold winter night.


          I did manage a small taste of the dessert, a zucchini cake topped with a scoop of vanilla gelato. Like several of the earlier courses, I enjoyed this both for its flavors and the opportunity to try something new and different.


          Overall, the food and service at Cinquecento were fantastic, and I will definitely go back. Despite having tried so much of the menu, there were several dishes I’d love to try. The restaurant is a great addition to the South End, and already seems to be filling a void in the neighborhood’s authentic Italian options.

 Cinquecento on Urbanspoon