Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hamersley's Bistro

Abby and I are putting together a list of restaurants that we need to go to before we move to Chicago (if you know of any can't miss places in Boston, please let us know and leave a comment), and last night we got to check out Hamersely's Bistro, a place that I had been wanting to check out for quite some time. This restaurants has a reputation that spreads beyond Boston, and I guess it's supposed to be a shining example of French bistro cooking. It wasn't disappointing. The meal was thoroughly satisfying and the service was good. If you're in the mood for unfussy French food, I would highly recommend this place.

Since there were four of us - we went with our friends Kyle and Susan - we were able to try out several different appetizers, including a roasted beet salad (comes with the vegetarian prix fixe), country style pork pate and chicken liver pate with toast points (below)...
warm oysters with periwinkles...
and a grilled mushroom and garlic sandwich on country bread.
All of the appetizers were great. The pate was good, but it was pretty much like any other I've had...not that I was expecting anything new. The warm oysters were a bit different than any I've ever had before. Usually I have oyster raw or battered and fried. I don't think that these oysters were cooked through, because the texture was closer to that of a raw oyster. Warming them up really brought out the briny flavors in the oyster, though. That's a good thing. The fact that they were topped with tiny little snails was also sort of novel.

Of all the appetizers, the mushroom sandwich was the standout. I usually hate mushrooms, but I actually liked this, which is saying something. In this dish, they don't hold back on the garlic or butter, so I think that helped a lot. (Abby's note: Sam is understating how deliciously awesome the mushroom sandwich was, although I have no idea why bread was involved - the mushrooms were tasty little explosions of warm, earthy goodness, and anything else just seemed extraneous. The bright, tangy notes of the side salad did provide a good counterpoint between bites, however.)

For the main course, Abby ordered the roast chicken and I went with the cassoulet. Both of these are classic bisto dishes, so, when in Rome....or when in a classic bistro, these seemed like the appropriate things to order. I've always maintained that you can judge a restaurant by it's chicken dishes - these are often the most boring dishes, so it takes some skill to make it shine - and by that standard, Hamersley's comes through in a major way. The skin was perfectly crispy, and the lemon and garlic flavors in the chicken were bold, without getting in the way.
The cassoulet is a different type of dish. It's the type of soul satisfying one pot meal that is just perfect when the weather takes a turn for the worst. I lacked the piquant, lemony notes and the variety of texture in the chicken, but it had the depth of flavor that one looks for in a dish like this. I liked it, but if I had to choose between the two, I would go with the chicken.
We finished off with a cheese plate (forgettable), chocolate cake (a bit dry) with coconut sorbet, and bananas foster bread pudding (awesome, a must order).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Wild boar bellies

Every time I go into Savenor's, I walk past the first case in the meat section that has things like wagyu beef, venison, antelope, wild boar, and sometime even bear. That's all I do, though. I look at it, think how cool it is that I can get this stuff right next door, and then I buy something boring like chicken. Well, the other day, I walked past that case and saw this stuff staring back up at me. WLD BOAR BELLIES. This stuff is so wild it can't even be bothered to include vowels in its self-modifying adjective. Abby asked the butchers if this stuff was any good, and they said of course. For one, "its pig" (agreed...can't go wrong there). Secondly, "it has tusks." I'm not sure how this relates to flavor, but I liked the explanation.

I don't know the first thing about cooking boar bellies, so I tried this recipe. I was intrigued by the cure mix that uses just about every spice in my pantry.
While the cure is nice, the verdict is that it isn't the best thing for boar. Boars spend their life running around in the brush, not getting fat on some pig farm, so the boar bellies are quite a bit thinner than those of their domestic porcine counterparts. As a result, the ratios are just all wrong, and the cure totally overpowers everything else. The boar has quite a bit of flavor on its own, so next time I'll use the same cooking method but just stick to a bit of salt and pepper for seasoning.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Steamed Red Snapper with Chiles & Ginger, Braised Baby Bok Choy

This is one of my favorite recipes - it's so quick, easy, and healthy, with lots of delicious yet playful flavors. I love how the snapper delicately absorbs all the spicy chile and ginger juices without any effort on my part at all. In general, the recipes that I (Abby) put up here will require a lot less culinary acumen than Sam's dishes, so you can rely on my posts for our more remedial meals. ;)

The ingredients aren't fancy:
  • 1 (1-pound) red snapper fillet with skin (3/4 inch thick)
  • 1 tablespoon medium-dry Sherry
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 (3-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/16-inch-thick matchsticks (1 1/2 inches long)
  • 1 scallion, cut lengthwise into 1 1/2-inch-long very thin strips (1/3 cup)
  • 2 fresh serrano chiles, seeded and cut lengthwise into very thin strips
  • 1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
All you have to do is score the skin of the snapper several times, rub both sides of the fish with a mixture of the sherry and salt, and place it skin side up on an oiled plate (or parchment paper) that can fit in your bamboo steamer. Meanwhile, bring the water in your wok to a boil.

Now, in a small skillet, heat the oil and saute the ginger, scallion, and chiles for about 30 seconds, until fragrant but not browned. Spoon all this over the fish, letting the oil seep into the scored parts. Then, all you have to do is place the plate of fish in your steamer, put the steamer over the boiling water in your wok, and cover it tightly. Steam the fish until it's cooked through, about 7-8 minutes. When you serve the fish over rice, make sure to transfer as much of the yummy juice as possible.

Sam and I like to add some cilantro (here added to the ginger/chile mix) and a squeeze of lime to the dish to top it off. You end up with a lovely mix of well-balanced, subtle flavors - with a bit of a spicy kick! You can check out the original recipe and other peoples' ideas at

Braising the baby bok choy is also very simple. First, mix a teaspoon each of minced garlic and ginger. Then, saute it in a pan big enough to braise the bok choy in. Add enough water to fill the pan about a quarter of the way; a dash of soy sauce and mirin (about two teaspoons each); a quarter teaspon of dashi (which is a kind of japanese fish bullion that's good for soup bases like miso); and 2-3 tablespoons of sake. Leave it on medium-high heat and let the liquid reduce by about half. Reduce the heat to about medium and put the baby bok choy in (we used four small bunches for two people, cut in half). Cover the pan and cook for 6-8 minutes. You can use the braising liquid as a sauce after further reducing it - just remember to strain out the garlic and ginger before serving. That's it! Enjoy!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pork braised in milk with roasted red pepper potato puree

Here are the ingredients you'll need for this dish. It's really pretty simple.

  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 leek (white, light green parts only), finely chopped
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • bouquet garni
  • 2-2.4 c whole milk
  • 2-3 lb pork center cut roast

Start by seasoning the pork with salt and pepper and browning on all sides in a Dutch oven until it looks like this:
Remove and cook the onions, carrots, garlic, and leeks. After about 10 minutes, add 1/2 to 1 T flour. Stir and cook an additional minute or two. Add milk and bouquet garni. Bring to boil, stirring constantly.
Add the pork, reduce heat to low, and cover for one hour. Turn the pork occasionally and stir the content of the Dutch oven to avoid any scorching. After an hour, remove the pork and let it stand. Meanwhile, strain the solids out of the braising liquid and bring to a simmer in a separate pot. Season with salt and serve over thinly sliced pieces of pork. Here, the pork is served with blanched and sauteed green beans and potato puree with roasted red bell peppers.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Turkish style lamb shoulder chops

Given the fact that Oleana is probably the best restaurant in Boston and its suppliers are right in my neighborhood, I really should cook a lot more recipes from the Oleana cookbook. The few times I have used it, I've really liked the dishes that came out, and it's not like I can't get the ingredients or anything. Here's another dish to add to the list. I'll just say that the dish tastes much, much better than it looks. The natural sugars in the marinade got a little charred in the grillpan, but the flavors were all there. I can't wait to try this out on a real grill in the summer. This marinade would be awesome for lamb kabobs.
Here's the recipe:
  • 2 T red pepper paste (I just threw a piece of grilled, jarred red peppers in the food processor)
  • 2 T Aleppo chiles (I didn't have these in my pantry, so I used Urfa chiles)
  • 1/4 c tomato paste
  • 1/2 c canola oil
  • 1 T chopped garlic
  • 1 T Turkish Baharat spice mix.
For the spice mix, combine 1 T each cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, and corriander, 2T each dried mint, dread oregano, and ground black pepper, 1 t each ground fennel, allspice, cloves, and mustard seeds, and four ground up bay leaves. Remember to toast all your spices before using them to get the most flavor out of them.

Mix together all the above ingredients and marinate the lamb overnight. Wipe of the excess marinade, cook on the grill, and serve with whatever you like. I made couscous with diced red and green bell peppers, onions, garlic, and olives and a side of green beans with red pepper flakes, garlic and sea salt.

Risotto with langostines and scallops

I saw this product called "Better than Boullion" at Market Basket the other day, and they had a number of different variaties including lobster stock and shellfish stock. I decided to give these a shot since seafood soups and risottos are a fairly regular dishes in my kitchen. For this dish, I used the lobster stock as a base for a risotto that also included some tomato paste for color, langostines, and scallops. Instead of adding a lot of salt and butter to season and enrich the risotto at the end, I topped the scallops with an anchovy butter sauce that could then be stirred into the risotto.

Maine Shrimp

When Abby and I stopped in at New Deal to get supplies for our sushi party, there was a big line of people at the counter asking for Maine Shrimp. When that many people are clamoring for the same thing, you almost have to give it a try. These little things are only in season a few weeks each year when the come towards the shore in droves to lay their eggs, and a lot of the shrimp were, indeed packed with roe. You can sort of see it if you enlarge the picture.
One of the interesting thing about Maine shrimp is that they start out their lives as males and then turn into females when they got older, which explains way most of the shrimp had roe, or so the internet tells me. They're also pretty darn tasty. Main shrimp have a really nice sweet, almost lobster like flavor that is really far superior to any other type of shrimp I've ever tasted.

We didn't get around to eating them until a day after we bought them, so I wasn't that interested in eating them raw, but we did lightly saute them (just a few seconds) with butter, a pinch of red pepper flakes, garlic, and kosher salt.
We tried them both with the shells on and off. I like them with the shells on since you can get the heads with the all of the good stuff inside of them, its also a lot easier to prep. Unlike the standard gulf shrimp I usually buy frozen at the store, these don't need to be deveined, making prep extra easy. If you live in the Northeast, I would highly recommend giving these a shot while they're in season.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sushi Party!

This weekend, we hosted a sushi-making party! The setup: each guest brought an ingredient or two of their choice, while Sam and I set up the chopping and rolling stations, provided the nori, prepared the rice, and cooked up other basics like tempura shrimp, soba noodles, and soy bean sprout salad.

Everyone showed up with a few goodies, which meant we had a lot of innovative ingredients to play with. On the seafood side, we had fresh tuna, salmon, yellowtail, sea bream, broiled eel, octopus, and squid. On the veggie/fruit side, we had mango, cucumber, avocado, asian pear, green apple, carrots, sweet bell pepper, scallions, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, tofu, mushrooms, tamago (egg), umeboshi (pickled plum), and more! Here are a few highlights of the evening:

Jon, Lindsay, and Sebastian fix the first rolls of sushi for the night, as Luke looks on.

Some ingredients on the table, including a bowl of spicy tuna sauce, made from a simple mix of mayo and sriracha hot sauce.

Maia perfects one of her artistic creations.

Adam shows off his diverse presentation skills with some tamago nigiri, yellowtail sashimi, and a tempura shrimp & avocado sushi roll.

Adam and Simon try their hand at sushi-making for the first time, while Sam and Kris plan their next moves...

Luke demonstrates how to prepare an inside-out roll, using the mat covered in seran wrap, to avoid getting rice stuck between the bamboo rods. This roll had a spicy kick!

Kim specializes in the veggie rolls...

Maia, Nathan, Sharlene, Elana, Sebastian, Matt, & Angie sit back to enjoy the fruits of their labor in the living room, aided by japanese beer and sake.

Kris, Lindsay, & Matt clean off their plates.

The most creative sushi of the night! Brian's "candy sushi", made of rice krispies and melted marshmallows, stuffed with maraschino cherries, chocolate syrup, twizzlers, and gushers...all wrapped in fruit rollup "nori"! It sounds crazy but was actually pretty yummy, albeit somewhat perilous - Kim was shocked into a sugar high for the rest of the evening.

Mark and Brian show off their "roast beef sushi", with a meaty substitute for nori. The goal of the night was to make creative yet tasty sushi. Mission Accomplished!