Thursday, July 31, 2008

Soba Noodles with Fresh Vegetables and Pan-Grilled Tofu

I've been into many things Japanese lately. For years now, I've been enjoying sushi, edamame, and tofu. I've enjoyed many an evening watching Iron Chef and then Iron Chef America.

Lately I've been very fascinated the show I Survived a Japanese Game Show. It's a reality show where 10 Americans signed up and had no idea that the premise of the show was they go to Japan and compete on a real Japanese game show called Majide (which translates to "You must be crazy"). Right now you can watch the episodes now by clicking here. I think this show is outrageous!

One one episode of the game show, the winning team's reward was to see how soba noodles were made and to have them prepared fresh. It looked great! I think on that particular episode, the loosing team had to shell and clean live clams for food preparation - a messy, smelly job.

But in general, I'm intregued by the Japanese culture and its food. So it's time I start experimenting more.

Two weeks ago I went to a restaurant in Harvard Square where I had soba noodles for the first time. I really enjoyed them! They were served with coconut shrimp. Seemed simple enough!

I felt that soba noodles would be an easy place to start my adventures into Japanese cooking. This is a bundle of soba noodles:

Soba noodles are buckwheat noodles. The packages at my local grocery store are 12 oz. and have 3 bundles.

So I've been doing some experimenting this week, making many adaptations to a recipe I saw on I added a lot of vegetables. I love the carrots and the snow pea pods, which remain somewhat crispy when they are sautee. The The dish is sort of sour, but slightly sweetend by the addition of ginger and just a pinch of sugar. For my protein, I chose tofu. Though if you don't like tofu, you could just as easily use chicken! Maybe even salmon would work out well.

I am now very happy to present to you, this resulting recipe!

Soba Noodles with Fresh Vegetables and Pan-Grilled Tofu
Adapted from

8 oz soba (2 bundles)
1/3 lb (4 oz) snow peas (about 3 cups once sliced)
4 oz carrots (about 1 1/3 cup once sliced)
3 oz scallions (about 1 ½ cup once sliced)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (the small grate)

1 tablespoon oil (for sautéing)

1/3 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce (I used low sodium)
1 ¼ teaspoons sugar

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1 brick of tofu

Drain your tofu if you are using it. I would recommend doing this step an hour before cooking. But you can always do it the day before if you want. If you do it the day before, just put it in a Rubbermaid container once it's drained and keep it there until you use it.

Mix the liquids (rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil) and sugar first.

Put enough liquid on the tofu to coat with a slight bit extra. Let it marinate while you cut the vegetables and cook the noodles.

To prepare the soba noodles, bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the soba noodles and cook for 5 minutes. Pour the water and noodles into a colander. Run cold water over the noodles. Drain them and place them in a bowl. Cover to keep warm.

While you prepare the noodles, slice all the vegetables into very thin strips.

Heat a large pan on medium-high flame. Add about 1 tablespoon oil. Then add the carrot strips. Toss to coat and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the snow pea strips. Sauté for 7 minutes more, stirring occasionally.

Add the scallion strips. Sauté for 1 more minute.

Then add the ginger and mint. Stir to mix the ginger and mint into the vegetables.

Place the entire vegetable mixture into the bowl with the soba noodles. Pour in the remaining sauce and toss using a pair of tongs (I found that tongs work best to mix the ingredients evenly). Cover to keep warm while you grill the tofu (or whatever other protein you decide to use).

Heat a grill pan to medium high. Spray with cooking oil. Place tofu steaks on the pan and don’t turn them over till you have beautiful grill marks (about 2 minutes per side).

To serve, plate the noodles and place the tofu steaks on top. Garnish with sesame seeds and fresh mint sprigs.

Serves 4

Soba Noodles with Fresh Vegetables and Pan-Grilled Tofu

I've been into many things Japanese lately. For years ...

See Soba Noodles with Fresh Vegetables and Pan-Grilled Tofu on Key Ingredient.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ponzu Restaurant in Waltham, MA

Last night I had the pleasure of dining at Ponzu on Moody Street in Walthm, Massachusetts. Joining me were my husband, and our friends Bev and Bob, who have both worked with my husband at a former workplace.

I wish I had pictures to show you, but taking pictures really would have disrupted the moment and the conversation. But let me tell you that Ponzu is a must-dine if you enjoy Asian foods (it is a fusion restaurant) and you are in reach of Waltham.

Looking on, I can refer you to these photos taken by other people:

I was in an adventurous mood and we ordered a lot of things I have never tried: sake, sea urchins, and most of the items on my sushi sampler dinner.

I was a wee bit late, so when I arrived, everyone had already gotten started with beer. But I'm not a beer-drinker. I saw sake on the menu. There is warm sake, and there is cold sake. I recently saw a show on sake where they mentioned that good sake is served cold. In fact, Wikipedia states:

heating serves to mask the undesirable flavors of lower-quality sake

So I asked the waitress for a suggestion of the cold sake and she suggested Momokawa Pearl. It was a fairly small bottle, probably the size of an average beer bottle. That was perfect. The sake was served in small, tinted blue glasses. We each got one and everyone tried it. This was the cloudy type of sake, which is not filtered and has rice sediment in the bottle. So before serving, they shake the bottle which turns the sake cloudy. I thought it was mighty tasty. I'd buy it if I were to see it in the liquor store.

On To The Food!

The appetizers

We started out with 3 small appetizers. Joe, not being into raw seafood, ordered the Ponzu Hot Ribs. They looked so good! Bev, Joe, and Bob all ooh-ed and ah-ed over them. I withstained, knowing that we ordered a lot of food and that I almost always end up with too much. I regret not taking a little taste, but it's too late for that!

The 2nd appetizer was the Torched Sashimi Napoleon. It was a combination of thin slices of just-slightly seared tuna, salmon, and scallops. It was on top of a bed of matchstick carrots and another vegetable (whose name I don't know). It was really impressive and tasted fabulous. Even Joe tried a taste of the salmon and liked it.

Bev and I went a little wild for the third appetizer. Neither of us had ever had sea urchin, and I was dying to try it. I brought it up and she was equally enthusiastic. The Sea Urchin Shooters came in two little shots. There were about 5-6 pieces of urchin bathing in a ponzu mixture with a raw egg of some sort on top. Wanting to taste the sea urchin specifically, I went at my shot with the chopsticks. Bev drank hers in parts. We found that we both liked sea urchin. The best way to describe it is that it tasted like the freshest of ocean scents, very pleasant and enjoyable.

The Meals

I got the Sushi Martini Sampler. I wanted to break out of the tuna and salmon I always have. I gave those away to others along with the "crabmeat" and shrimp pieces. I sampled the striped bass, eel, octopus, yellowtail (I have had that), squid (never had it as sushi), and there was another I can't remember the name of. It was a really nice sampling platter and had a substantial amount of food.

The other three entrees came in bowls with a very wide rim, so wide that my husband was concerned there wasn't enough food. But the bowl in the center was deep, and Joe said there was actually plenty of food, which made him happy. Rice was served on a different plate for all three.

My husband got a Red Creamy Spiced Curry Chicken. It was delicious (I did try it).

Bev got the Basil Seafood with Malaysian Black Bean Sauce. Had I not ordered sushi, that would have been my choice. It was shrimp and scallops in a very flavorful sauce. The dish was absolutely impressive (I tried that too).

Bob got the Banana Leaf Dried Curry Beef. Wow, that was an amazing dish. We all tasted it and commented on how good it was.

And when we finished our meals, we were brought a complementary Mochi plate for dessert sampling. I've always wanted to try mochi! It was really good. There is ice cream on the inside (one of them mochi was tea flavored - I liked that) of a rice-based outside. That is to say that the outside layer is made of rice, but you wouldn't know by looking at it. It is made into a paste and rolled out so it completely surrounds the ice cream ball on the inside. Very delicious.

I can't say enough nice things about Ponzu. It was one of the best dining experiences I've ever had. The people were nice, they were good at recommending things to me. The atmosphere is chic. We all had a wonderful time.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I'd Like To Thank The Academy (Teresa, that is)...

It's a really special feeling to know that someone who you admire and have high regard for feels the same way about you. I thank you, Teresa, at Mexican-American Border Cooking for this beautiful award. I am most flattered and will proudly display this award for all to see!

I shall now do the honor of passing it along to five admirable food bloggers:

Elle at Elle's New England Kitchen - What an awesome blog by someone who inspires me. She cooks, she bakes, and she takes the time to contribute greatly to the food blogger community.

Ben at What's Cooking? - Ben's recipe repertoire is delicious. While he specializes in Mexican cooking, he ventures into other realms also, including baking! Ben Co-hosted the Daring Bakers braided Danish Bread event last month. Portions of Ben's blog are also available in Spanish.

Meeta at What's for Lunch Honey? - I just "met" Meeta and I am so impressed with her beautiful blog, her photography, and her fine recipes.

Jenn at The Left Over Queen hostess of the Left Over Queen Forum / Foodie BlogRoll. Jenn, I am in complete awe of all you do: cook, bake, blog, run a forum, promote the blogs of others, write, travel, and teach others. You are amazing. I thank you for welcoming me and all the food bloggers of the world into your community.

Dave at Dave's Cupboard - Dave's cupboard is a fun site to visit. He posts recipes and a lot of stories and thoughts about food products, local foods and food-based attractions. He has a way with words and I really enjoy reading his informative and thoughtful posts.

Warm Lentil Salad with Braised Greens (and Sunny Side Up Eggs)

Lentil Salad with Braised Greens is an attractive dish. It's colorful with it's array of vegetables. It has great texture (as long as you don't overcook it). And the flavor is incredible, really. I have a feeling that many people think of a dish like this as bleh. Sometimes, dishes like this are bleh. But not this one, folks! It is bursting with flavors, and I, personally, think that I improved those flavors with my not-so-secret ingredient that I'm going to share with you.

The cooking and braising liquid was all stock, but I zapped it with some sweet and extremely flavorful apple cider. Then, it gets a zammo of fresh lemon juice! And a pow from the red pepper flakes! Loads of awesome flavors.

I know I will make this dish from time to time, and that doesn't happen too often in this house! During the past few days I've found great little variations with it too.

Variations on this Warm Lentil Salad:

  • with or without the Swiss chard

  • chopped egg white added in

  • Parmesan added in

  • topped with a delicious egg, sunny side up

It can be vegetarian or not, vegan or not. It lends itself to your personal tastes.

This is my take on a recipe that aired on Emeril Green. Emeril Green is new, but it's already one of my favorite cooking shows. With all his overexposure on the Food Network, I had turned-off to Emeril. But he has completely renewed my respect and esteem for him with his new show on Planet Green, formerly the Discovery Home Network (so it may well be on your current cable system).

One of the things that I love about Emeril Green is that he tailors his recipes to the people he is helping. He's helping people with their dietary needs, and that's great. One of the things that he used to talk about on his live show was how pork fat rules, and that was a bit of a turn-off, as we all watched him expanding and wondered if he'd have a heart attack. Don't get me wrong. Pork fat is tasty, and I do use some from time to time, but we all know what it will do to our arteries!

But on this show, he helps people who need to watch their figures, have appropriate foods for their lifestyles, people with sodium issues and other dietary restrictions. I like this side of Emeril. He's charming, concerned, and incredibly creative with a number of food styles.

Warm Lentil Salad with Braised Greens
(and Sunny Side Up Eggs)
Adapted from Emeril Green

The stems of 2 bunches of Swiss chard (leaves to be cooked separately)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (to cook the vegetables)
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced carrots
3/4 cup diced celery
1 pound French green lentils, rinsed well and picked over
1-2 bay leaves (depending on their size)
5 cups stock (vegetable or chicken stock)
1 cup apple cider

2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 medium red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 lemons, juiced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (for braising the Swiss chard)
2 small garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

the leaves of 2 bunches of Swiss chard

Wash the Swiss chard and beet greens well. Pat dry. Cut the ribs from the leaves, chop into 1/2-inch pieces. Set aside the leaves for later. You can prepare them while the lentils cook.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a dutch oven (a really big, deep pot) over medium high heat. When hot, add the onions, carrots, celery, Swiss chard ribs, salt and pepper. Cook, for about 4 minutes so that the vegetables begin to soften and the onions turn translucent. Add the lentils and the bay leaves. Toss to coat lentils in the oil. Then add the stock and the cider. Bring it all to a simmer uncovered. Then cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until lentils are just tender, about 20 minutes. You will want to taste the lentils once you hit 20 minutes to check their consistency. I felt mine needed more cooking, so I reset my timer for 5 minutes and checked again later. Still, I felt more time was needed and I ended up adding another 4 minutes (9 minutes total). You want the lentils to not be mushy. They should have some bite to them, but not crunch.

While the lentils cook, chop the red pepper up into a small dice. You will be adding them to the cooked lentils after the liquid has been removed. The heat of the lentils and vegetables will be cooking them. No flame or stove top will be involved. Set the peppers aside.

Also, while the lentils cook, chop the chard into one-inch strips. Mince the garlic. Have your red pepper flakes and salt ready.

When the lentils are ready, pour them through a colander, with a bowl underneath the colander to catch the liquid and reserve it. Put the lentil mixture in a bowl and add the red pepper, lemon juice, olive oil, and parsley. Mix well to distribute the new additions. Set aside, covered to keep warm.

This is how my lentils looked a few minutes later (before cooking the chard). If you don't like chard, you could stop right here. It's very delicious, as-is.

Now for the Greens!

Heat a large pan on medium high. Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan. As the oil heats, it becomes thinner and when it's ready, it will act like a water based liquid, rushing to the edges when you tilt the pan. You should add the chard before the oil smokes.

Add the garlic, and red pepper flakes and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the Swiss chard and the salt. Move it around with either tongs or a spatula. As it cooks, the volume reduces a lot. If there is too much chard to put in at once, you can add more as it reduces. Don't cook it all the way. Keep it at the just-wilted stage (sort of "al dente"). It will only take about 2 minutes to cook it.

Add one cup of the reserved liquid from the cooked lentils and cook for another minute. I prefer that my greens have texture, so I don't cook them long. I want to avoid a pile of green mush.

I watched Emeril serve this with the lentils on the bottom. He took a little more lemon juice and drizzled it on top. Then, with his tongs, he placed a neat pile of chard on top. The egg is optional, but I will admit, it's a tasty treat with the warm yolk, coating it all with yumminess!

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Warm Lentil Salad with Braised Greens (and Sunny Side Up Egg)

Warm Lentil Salad with Braised Greens is an attractive dish ...

See Warm Lentil Salad with Braised Greens (and Sunny Side Up Egg) on Key Ingredient.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Two Beautiful Additions To My Sidebar

El Premio (the Award) Arte y Pico

I'm so flattered to get this award! It is the Premio Arte y Pico. It originated in Uruguay with a blogger who makes dolls. I'm familiar with the phrase "y pico" but not used in this way. So I'm going to quote her blog. On her site (99% written in Spanish) she writes:

it translates into a wonderful phrase in Mexico, "lo maximo." LOL! It will never find its counterpart in English, but if it HAD to, it would be something like Wow. The Best Art. The Best Art. Over the top. Over the top.

It comes to me from Elle, who writes the blog Elle's New England Kitchen, which is an excellent blog. Elle is so awesome. She's incredibly kind and supportive as a fellow blogger, and I really admire her. Oh, and she's a dog person! That makes her even better in my book.

It comes with some responsibility, to obey the rules! One of those rules is to post said rules, so here they are:

1) You have to pick 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award, creativity, design, interesting material, and also contributes to the blogger community, no matter of language.

2) Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.

3) Each award-winner, has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.

4) Award-winning and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of "
Arte y
"blog , so everyone will know the origin of this award.

5) To show these rules.

So, as the recipient of this award, I hereby pass it along to these fabulous blogs:

Teresa, who writes Mexican-American Border Cooking. She inspires me each time I view her blog. And I can pass on what I learn from her to my Spanish students, who love when we do food-related activities.

Joe, who writes Culinary in the Country. His was the first food blog that I began visiting regularly. He was one of my inspirations to start a food blog!

Fiona who has more than just a blog, but so much more! Her main page is Recipes2Share. Within that site, she has her own blog, promotes the blogs of others through her BlogView and through the photo gallery that others contribute photos of their successes, and she gives food-related book reviews. She is a tremendous asset to the food blogger community. Her heart and soul goes into her site and I cannot express how much I appreciate her!

Susan whose blog is Fatfree Vegan Kitchen. I don't know Susan, and I don't know if she has ever seen my blog, but I love her blog for many reasons. It is beautifully designed and a pleasure to look at in general. Her recipes and photos are wonderful. While I'm not a vegan, sometimes I tend to go toward the edge of vegetarian. I so appreciate the fabulous way that she presents healthy food to the world, and to me!

I'm writing this next one in Spanish so that it can be understood by the recipient:

Inmaculada (aka: Adi), que tiene el blog Pan y Varios. Encontré este blog solo hace unas semanas y lo visitaré regularmente. Su fotografía es fabulosa y estoy segura que voy a usar sus bonitas recetas muy pronto. Me da ejemplos de la comida española. También, me da una idea de como usar el vocabulario correcto cuando hablo de la preparación e ingredientes de la comida. A propósito, Inmaculada también contribuye al blog Verduras Para Todos.

The Hard Working Food Blogger Award

Elle (
Elle's New England Kitchen) created this lovely award for all of the hard-working food bloggers of the world:

When she introduced this award, she wrote the words that we food bloggers feel, so I want to quote her here:

... because you take care in what you post. You stop during cooking to take step
by step photos. You set up shots and take 20 or 30 (or maybe even more) photos
to find the one that's just right, which means you often eat cold food. You
upload, edit and post photos that you secretly pray Tastespotting or Foodgawker
or any of the others will publish. You try to write interesting and witty things
about your food, and sometimes have no clue what to write. Then you hope that
your readers will like what they see. I know all of this because I go through it
every time I make food and a blog post.

That sums up my life these days! I, therefore, proudly display this award! Thank you, Elle.

Rainbow Chard

Look at the pretty colors!

I somehow never noticed rainbow chard in the stores until I saw an episode of Emeril Green last week. It was a great recipe. The recipe didn't specify the rainbow type, but that's what he had on TV, and there it was in the store, looking so beautiful and costing no more than regular red chard.

I've never used Swiss chard stems before, so this was two firsts for me. I think I had mixed them up in my mind with rhubarb. Is it that the leaves of rhubarb are poisonous? But I mixed it up and every time I had chard, I was thinking it was the stems of the chard.

It was so pretty, I almost hated to cut it up, but I did. That will be my next recipe entry.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Fudgy (Yet Light) Mocha Brownies

As many a chocolate lover knows, coffee enhances and intensifies the flavor of the chocolate to create a special treat when used together in baked goods.

Several years ago (2002 to be exact), I came across this recipe in Cooking Light Magazine and have made it as my brownie treat ever since. It is the only brownie recipe I make over and over again to this day.

This recipe makes the absolutely most fudgy batter I've ever come across, which is pretty impressive for a light brownie. I have photographic proof as you look at the pictures further into this post. It's really quite incredible.

When made in an eight inch pan, there are 16 brownies, and each has 121 calories, which is pretty impressive.

Fudgy (Yet Light) Mocha Brownies
Slightly adapted from Cooking Light Magazine

1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon hot water
2 teaspoons instant espresso granules
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used double vanilla extract)
1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cooking spray
1 tablespoon powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325°.

Place sugar and eggs in a large bowl and beat with a mixer at high speed until thick and pale (about 5 minutes). This might seem like excessive beating, but the theory behind it is that the more you beat the eggs and sugar, the more crackly the top crust will be.

Mine was looking pretty white and pale, though I will admit to having only beat the eggs and sugar for about three minutes. The batter was become almost meringue-like. There were thick waves behind my beaters as I moved the mixer around. In the end, my crust was on the verge of being crackly when it came out. So perhaps I should have gone the extra two minutes.

Combine the hot water and espresso powder, stirring until all the powder dissolves. Add the espresso mixture, the butter, and vanilla extract to the sugar mixture and beat at low speed until combined.

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine the flour, cocoa, and salt, stirring with a whisk. Gradually add the flour mixture to sugar mixture, beating with the mixer on low speed, just until the dry ingredients are incorporated into the batter. This batter will be thick! To get it out of the bowl, I used a rubber scraper that I sprayed with cooking oil spray. That way the batter won't stick to the scraper.

Spread batter into an 8-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray. But as you look at this picture below, you will see that this thick, fudgy batter needs help to reach the corners of the pan. It doesn't spread throughout the pan. It just sits there.

To spread the batter throughout the pan, I coated a wide plastic spoon with cooking spray.

I am going to advise that anyone looking at the above picture do a better job of flattening out the surface than I did. Even in the oven, the batter doesn't change it's form. So those lumps that were in the corner and along the edge remained.

Bake the brownies at 325° for 22 minutes or until brownies spring back when touched lightly in center. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Let them cool completely to room temperature before you do any cutting. By being patient and waiting, the brownies will hold their shape and won't fall apart as the knife cuts through. But if you can't wait, I guess I can understand. After all, these things are good!

I garnished my brownies with powdered sugar. I was looking for that extra something special to add, but I had no fruit. So I thought about the coffee in the batter and used coffee beans. Ideally, if you can get those chocolates that are in the shape of coffee beans, those would be awesome! Or, you could get chocolate covered coffee beans, but they don't have that pretty shape.

Yield: 16 servings (serving size: 1 brownie)

CALORIES 121(30% from fat); FAT 4.1g (sat 2.3g,mono 1.3g,poly 0.2g); PROTEIN 2.4g; CHOLESTEROL 34mg; CALCIUM 10mg; SODIUM 75mg; FIBER 1.4g; IRON 1mg; CARBOHYDRATE 20.6g

Fudgy (Yet Light) Mocha Brownies

As many a chocolate lover knows, coffee enhances and intensifies ...

See Fudgy (Yet Light) Mocha Brownies on Key Ingredient.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Portland, Maine: A Foodie's Paradise!

My friend, Karen, recently moved to Portland, Maine. I had the luck of going to visit her on the most incredible day for good weather! I left, hopelessly in love with the city of Portland. Luckily it is only about two and a half hours away, and I will be able to return some time soon.

Let me just begin by saying, it is a beautiful place! The city, the port, the beaches, the lighthouses, they are all such pleasant sites. And every time you breathe in, you inhale the fresh sea air and feel at peace with the earth.

As Karen was driving me to from one scenic area to the next, we stopped for a bite at the
Scratch Baking Company. Karen tells me that this is a place that you need to get to early in the day because everyone loves their artisan breads and they tend to sell out. I didn't feel comfortable bringing in my camera like I did in the old port, so I don't have photos of their beautiful breads, but they were amazing. Karen got a blondie and I got a ciabatta roll. Both were incredibly delicious (I tasted the blondie!) and the bakery definitely lives up to it's good reputation. I recommend anyone make a stop there when visiting the area.

I did take a picture outside, but there were workers there putting up an awning, so I am going to refer you to this site if you want to see what the bakery looks like:

After visiting a number of lighthouses and beaches, we went to the Old Port area of the city. This is the most charming area, full of fun shops, markets, and restaurants. This dolphin statue is outside of one of the more special hotels in the Old Port:

We stopped at
Fetch, a fun place to buy fun toys, treats, and walking and clothing accessories for your dog or cat. You can also buy greeting cards (including doggy party invitations) and bumper stickers. I got a magnetic sticker for my car that says "more wag, less bark." That's a great way to view life and the people around you!

Karen took me to a number of excellent fish markets.
Harbor Fish Market is one of them:

If you live inland and want some fresh lobsters, Harbor Fish Market will ship them right to you! That's so cool.

There were quite a few hip-looking restaurants right on the wharf. One of them is a pretty well-known pizza place with a great deck overlooking the port. I didn't eat here, though Karen says it's pretty good. It's called the
Flatbread Company:

We ate at one of Karen's favorite restaurants,
Walter's. I was looking like a tourist, carrying my camera around my neck. As we were outside looking at the menu, people coming out from the restaurant told us we should eat there. They were quite pleased with their lunches!

The inside was really pleasant. I took this picture without my flash, as not to disturb everyone inside, so it's a bit fuzzy:

I loved the brick walls, and those hanging lamps were mesmerizing ! The almost floor-to-ceiling front windows let in lots of natural light, and we were seated one seat away from the prime front-window table.

We began with drinks. Karen told me that this restaurant is known to have a fantastic Bloody Mary, so I jumped on that one. She ordered a Margarita with a bit of Chambord in the mix. I do have to say that my enormous Bloody Mary, while not strong in alcohol, was the best-tasting Bloody Mary I've every had. It was spicy and had a generous amount of horse radish. Karen enjoyed her Margarita, but said she would have preferred it without the Chambord. But that's a matter of personal taste. She didn't feel they made a bad drink.

For our lunches, Karen ordered the Grilled Fish Tacos. Had I not just made fish tacos earlier in the week, I probably would have ordered them as well. But I did get to take a taste, and they were juicy and flavorful.

I did choose well, and I ordered the Baja Summer. The menu describes this dish as:

Spice seared shrimp and scallops on a roasted pablano (that's their typo) and sweet potato salad with grilled green onions, crumbled goat cheese and a sweet and spicy avocado crema.

Not only did it look special, but it was pretty tasty. I loved the sauces that were drizzled in various areas of the plate. The scallops and shrimp were cooked to perfection. They were tender and the flavors of their spice rubs and grilling were very pleasant. The cooked seafood had good contrast to the flavors of the chilled sweet potato salad underneath them.

We did a bit more browsing in the Old Port area after lunch.

This picture, below, is of the front steps to a potter shop. These animal figures were metal watering cans. I took quite a liking to the cow, but figured that it would end up in a dusty corner, so I passed on the purchase.

We returned to one of the beaches, and then went swimming in Karen's apartment complex pool. The complex is directly across the water from Old Port, and the pool is right up along the water. It really was an amazing experience.

When her husband arrived home from work and we had picked up her daughter from day care, we all hopped in the car to go to the Lobster Shack which is outside the city in an area by a state park called Two Lights. The line was out the door and about 30 yards deep, so I decided to order sushi on my way out of town so that I'd get home before 11 pm.

I got my sushi at a place called Sapporo. At dinner time it was very hard to find parking near the restaurant. I drove around the block twice. There are garages nearby, but since I was just running in for a takeout order, I ended up parking illegally in the parking lot of the Black Tie Restaurant (which didn't appear to be open).

Sapporo was beautiful inside, though I have to say that my spicy tuna roll and spicy salmon roll were nothing to write home about. Too bad.

But the so-so sushi was not enough to change my opinion of the wonderful city of Portland. I am looking forward to returning before the summer ends and having another wonderful day.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Crostini with Prosciutto, Cheese, and Fresh Figs

Fresh figs always look so good when you see them in magazine recipes. But, somehow, I've never had fresh figs! So there I was, in Trader Joe's, and there they were, on the shelf. It was a large package, and there was no price tag. I was, indeed, intimidated. When I asked the guy working there how much they were, I was expecting to hear a high number. but he went and checked and came back with a reasonable figure. So I put them in my cart.

Having spent many hours looking at food magazines, I made a beeline for the prosciutto. I always see figs paired with prosciutto. So I got that too, along with a demi baguette (a half-sized baguette) and headed home to figure out what exactly I would do with my ingredients.

And therefore I present to you my Crostini with Prosciutto, Cheese and Fresh Figs. I used two different kinds of cheese. On half of the crostini, I used my local Capri goat cheese. On the other half, I used a Spanish sheep's milk cheese called Torta del Casar. I bought it earlier in the day when I was in the town of Concord, MA. They have a place called The Cheese Shop that I just love.

I saw the Torta del Casar and asked about it. The man behind the counter asked, "do you like strong cheese?" I answered, "sometimes." He opened it up and gave me a taste. It was definitely strong, but in a good way. I liked it and got a small portion to bring home.

I was very pleased with the combination of flavors and textures. All together, there was that wonderful sweet and salty mix that I adore. The crostini was crunchy. The cheese was savory and salty. The prosciutto was perfectly flavored, and held up to the strong flavors of the cheese. And then, the fresh figs brought the soft and sweet to the dish. I like fresh figs!!!!

Crostini with Prosciutto, Cheese, and Fresh Figs

(Ingredient amounts are approximations)

1 Small (demi) baguette, sliced on a diagonal
1 (6 ounce) Package of Carando Prosciutto
1/3 - 1/2 Pound goat cheese (or a soft sheep's milk cheese such as Torta del Casar)
1 Pound fresh figs, stems cut off and quartered
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat the grill on the highest setting for approximately 10 minutes.

With a pastry brush, brush both sides of the slices of the baguette. Grind some black pepper on both sides.

Brush both sides of each fig half with olive oil as well.

When the grill is preheated, place the slices of bread on the grill and cook to a light brown. Remove them and top with the cheese while still warm.

I turned off my grill and then put the slices of prosciutto on for 30 seconds to heat it up as well.

Place the prosciutto on top of the cheese.

Top with a quarter of a fig.

Drizzle with extra olive oil.

I plated the crostini with fresh mint for garnish.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Fish Taco Platter

These tacos are my entry in the Royal Foodie Joust, a competition that takes place between the food bloggers who participate in the Foodie BlogRoll. You can see the widget to the Foodie BlogRoll to the right, below the recipe index. I recently joined this very friendly and supportive group of food bloggers and I just love it!

I think of the Royal Foodie Joust as being similar to the Iron Chef competition. Each month, the hostess of the message board, Jenn (The Leftover Queen) announces the ingredients that must be used, and we all get to work, presenting a dish that includes those ingredients. Then all of the food bloggers on the board vote on the winners. Since I am new to the board, this is my first time in the competition.

The Joust ingredients this month were cilantro, seafood, and sesame. I knew I wanted to do fish tacos. I love fish tacos and they've been on my list of things I wanted to make for several months. I ended up adapting the recipe that appeared in Bon Appétit.

I was very proud of the results. As I photographed the tacos and accompaniments, I was praying that they would taste as good as they looked. But first things first. It's important to get the photos done as soon as possible, while the food is fresh and looks that way.

As soon as I finished the photo shoot (you wouldn't believe how many pictures I took) I made a fresh batch. And they did taste every bit as good as they looked! Maybe even better.

I will say that eating these tacos is like having an explosion of Latin flavors in your mouth! There are so many layers of flavor, and they work together - like you dream about! The roasted tomatillo salsa is amazing. It has a tart, complex flavor. Roasting all the vegetables before blending them with the fresh cilantro makes it incredible.

The salsa adds zip, and the red onion and jalapeño pickle, well, adds a lot of pickle. It's wonderful, but needs to be used sparingly in my mind.

The Baja Sauce is creamy and seems to pull all the flavors together.

And the fish is the star of the dish. The recipe calls for halibut, sea bass, or striped bass. Well, my local fish market is closed for vacation and I absolutely insist on having fresh fish, so I had a tough time getting the fish. The supermarket had snapper, so I bought it. I used the frying batter to introduce the third ingredient of the Foodie Joust, the sesame.

I don't think that people tend to think of sesame seeds in Mexican cooking, but they are actually very popular in some Mexican recipes. The most common example I can think of is any kind of mole (pronounced moh-lay). Mole is a complex sauce that changes from region to region in Mexico and is most often served on chicken or turkey. The most well known mole is Mole Poblano, from the state of Puebla.

The length of this recipe may look a little intimidating, but there are several components to this dish that can be made a day or more ahead of time:
  • The Pickled Red Onion and Jalapeños
  • The Tomatillo Salsa
  • The Baja Cream

The other components of this meal are:
  • Corn Tortillas (can be store-bought)
  • Fresh Salsa (can be store-bought)
  • Marinated and Fried White Fish (halibut, snapper, or sea bass)

Fish Taco Platter
Adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine

I have put the components in the order that it most makes sense to me to make them. Remember, they don't have to all be made on the same day. It's easier to do this recipe by making the pickled onions and Jalapeños, the baja cream, and the tomatillo salsa a day or more ahead of time. If you are going to make the red salsa, that can be made ahead of time also.

Pickled Red Onion and Jalapeños

1 medium red onion, halved lengthwise, sliced thinly
5 jalapeños, cut thinly lengthwise
2 cups seasoned rice vinegar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt

To Prepare:
Place onion and jalapeños in heatproof medium bowl.

Mix the vinegar, lime juice, and salt in small saucepan. Bring it to a boil, stirring until the salt dissolves.

Pour the hot liquid over the onion and jalapeños. Let it stand at room temperature at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours. (Can be made 1 week ahead). Cover and refrigerate.

Tomatillo Salsa Verde

These are tomatillos as you would see them in the grocery store.

1 lb. tomatillos, husks removed and tomatillos washed
4 scallions
2 cloves garlic
2 jalapeños, seeded and deveined
2 Tbs. lime juice
1 1/4 cup cilantro

To Prepare:
Preheat oven to 375. While it is heating up, put the first 4 ingredients (tomatillos through jalapeños) in a roasting pan. Pour 1 Tbs. olive oil on it, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Mix it around with your hands to cover all the vegetables with the oil and seasonings. Roast for 20-25 minutes. they will look like this when they are done:

Don't throw away the juices. Add everything (including the juices), to a blender. Also add the lime and cilantro to the blender. Pulse to blend into a thick liquid. Here's my sauce:

Baja cream


1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 Tbs. finely grated lime peel

To Prepare:
Mix together and refrigerate.
I put some in a squeeze bottle because you have more control of how much you use and it looks better that way when you put it on the taco.

Marinated and Fried White Fish

Ingredients for the marinade:
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons hot pepper sauce (hot red sauce is fine)
1 tsp. coarse kosher salt
2 Tbs. fresh lime juice

2 pounds fish (halibut, sea bass, stripped bass, or snapper)

Mix all the marinade ingredients and add the fish in the mixture for 1-3 hours.

Ingredients for the sesame seed batter:
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup fine cornmeal
1/2 cup sesame seeds

Frying the fish:
Remove the fish from the marinade. Put it in white flour only. You only want a the slightest coating of flour on the fish. Just a dusting.

Put the fish in a bowl of 2 eggs beaten with 1/4 cup of the fish marinade.

Put the fish in the sesame seed batter.

From there, the fish goes into either a fry-daddy or a pan with 1" of heated oil. The temperature of the oil should be about 350 degrees.

Note on the tortillas:
Tortillas are more pliable and taste better if you put a drop or two of oil in a pan, swoosh the tortilla in it, and lightly toast it on both sides (very lightly). See my previous post on Taco-Making 101 for visual examples.

Here's the fun part!

To assemble your taco, take a tortilla, add some fish, salsa, pickled onion & jalapeños, baja cream, and tomatillo salsa. Garnish with the onion and jalapeños and a slice of lime.

And then you have some delicious tacos!

¡Buen Provecho!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Grilled Salmon with Tangy Cucumber Sauce

This recipe was suggested to be part of a New England Fourth of July meal. I've lived in New England for about 20 years now, and even though I eat a lot of salmon, I don't particularly think of it as a New England seafood. New England makes me think of Cod, or Scrod (the mysterious white fish), lobster, and clams. But Cooking Light tells us that salmon was once common in the waters of the northeast!

Whatever the case, the ingredients looked like a wonderful combination! Salmon really tastes great with tangy sauces, and this one is pure tang! It has tangy Greek yogurt, eye-opening horse radish (yum!), and mouth-puckering lemon. But all that tang is balanced by the coolness of the cucumbers and the smooth creaminess of that Greek yogurt. And the dill and green onions deepen the flavor and make it awesome!

I invited my friend, Maureen, over for this patriotic salmon lunch. She, too, is a big fan of salmon.

One wonderful thing about this recipe is that it's quick and painless. I didn't start preparing it until she arrived. The recipe didn't require deep thought, so we had pleasant conversation while all the ingredients came together. All we had to do was make the sauce. Maureen helped and it was ready in just a few minutes.

I pre-cut my salmon into individual portions. That makes it easier to work with on the grill. The original recipe called for an enormous salmon steak, to be turned over in one fell-swoop. Well, I'm not one to set myself up for such a disaster!

For the grilling I used the technique I learned on America's Test Kitchen. The steps are in the recipe below. But I made a mistake. I hope you don't make the same one. I brushed my fish with oil, but I didn't spray the aluminum-foil pan/boat. You really need to do that. I lost my pretty grill marks because the top of my fish stuck to the pan and flipping it over wasn't what it should have been.

As for the point of doneness, some people like their salmon on the drier side, as did Maureen. But some people like theirs much more rare. It's a personal decision. I'm flexible, so I let my guest decide when she felt it was done.

Salmon is wonderful. I didn't used to be a big fan, but I trained myself and now I love it. It was worth the training, because every time I eat it, I feel like I'm doing something good for my body. It's fairly low in calories, high in protein, high in vitamin D and B vitamins, and it's high in omega 3 fatty acids.

Health Benefits of Omega 3 Fatty Acids:

* greatly reduce risk of heart disease
* stimulate blood circulation
* reduce rate of inflammatory diseases like arthritis and migraines
* reduce the clogging up of the arteries with cholesterol plaque
* lowers risk of cancer

So eat your salmon, readers, and make it tasty with a great recipe such as this one!

Grilled Salmon with Tangy Cucumber Sauce

Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine

1 cup cubed and peeled English cucumber
1 1/2 cups 2% Greek yogurt
1/4 cup chopped green onions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1.5 pounds salmon fillet (about 3/4 inch thick)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cooking spray
Dill sprigs (optional)
Lemon wedges (optional)

Combine the first 7 ingredients (cucumbers through salt) in a medium bowl. Stir well. Cover and chill 30 minutes. About 20 minutes into the chilling time, start up your grill on high. You need to heat it up for about 10 minutes to get the grates good and hot!

Cut the salmon into portion-sizes. If you like, remove the skin. Brush the salmon with olive oil. Then salt and pepper it to your liking.

For the grilling I used the technique I learned on America's Test Kitchen. There are pictures of me using the technique in my post for Saucy Grilled Salmon.

Fish Grilling Steps:

1. Create little pans of aluminum foil. Use the heavy-duty foil. Cut off a piece and fold up the edges into a pan shape.

2. Spray the aluminum foil pan with a substantial amount of cooking spray. Don't skimp!

3. Turn the flame down on the grill to medium.

4. Put the fish on the pan, presentation side down (aka: face-down). You will need to grill it now for about 4 minutes.

5. When the fish is half done, flip it over. You will only flip once, so choose the right moment!

Serve the salmon with the yogurt sauce, dill sprigs, and extra lemon wedges if desired.