Friday, June 27, 2008

Baba Restaurant in Worcester, MA

Baba is not only one of my favorite restaurants, but it is a favorite of many in the city. They won the 2007 Worcester's Best Chef award, when the restaurant had only been open for three weeks.

On their site, they describe the food as Asian fusion. I describe it as the freshest sushi in Worcester, and the most innovative. Do know, however, that they serve more than sushi. There is a selection of cooked items as well. And that was a good thing, because I don't have too many sushi-eating friends. Because they had cooked items, my friend Karen was excited about meeting me for lunch there.

That's a photo of the main room. I took the picture from my seat, one of 4 small tables at the front of the restaurant. Straight ahead, in the back, there is the sushi bar. I believe there is more seating around the corner to the left, as I saw a group of people leaving from that direction. But it is a small place, so I'd definitely make a reservation if you are planning on going during a busy time of day. I had lunch there around 1:30 on a Friday and, as you can see, seating was not a problem.

My friend, Karen, who had lunch with me today wanted to make sure that I write that the music was great. During our lunch they were playing reggae, and it did sound good.

We sat down and began with drinks. She got a diet coke and I went hard-core, ordering a pear Grey Goose with cranberry juice, seltzer, and lime. They didn't skimp on the Grey Goose, and it's a good thing because it was a bit expensive, at $9.00!

But let's get to the food.

Karen got an appetizer: the Shrimp Shumai ($5). I wouldn't let her eat it till I got a pic:

Karen was generous and let me try one. It was yummy. I'm used to the
Shumai that I get frozen in a bag at Trader Joe's. I seem to always be in a rush when I eat it, and I try to save calories, so I've never had pan-fried shumai. This shumai was a special treat! Karen really enjoyed it too.

For her entree, she ordered the
Yaki Tori ($7). I took a picture of it, but it came out blurry. I must have gotten side-tracked in conversation, because I never got back to taking another pic! But let me say that the presentation was beautiful, and Karen very much liked her meal.

I have gotten takeout at Baba numerous times. I've ordered the spicy tuna rolls, the Mango Tuna appetizer (ceviche), and the Cajun Salmon appetizer (ceviche). Today, I wanted to try new items from the menu. So I ordered two appetizers. This first picture is the Jalapeño Yellowtail ($10)

Wikipedia says that in the context of sushi, yellowtail refers to the Japanese amberjack. I didn't know that, and I got yellowtail mixed-up with yellowfin, and was expecting to see tuna. But this was delightful and I'm so glad it was a fish I'd never tried! It was in a light lime and jalape
ño liquid. Each slice of yellowtail had a sliver of serrano chile (it was smaller than jalapeño) topped with some roe.

Below is my photo of the Tuna Tataki ($10). OMG, this was the best tuna I've ever had! Their menu describes it as a pan seared tuna with a light wasabi sauce. It was barely seared, and I liked it that way. I thought I tasted a bit of peanut in the wasabi sauce. But I was on the sauce (Grey Goose), so I could have been wrong. Either way, just look at the marvelous presentation!

I even got Karen to take a bite. I forgot to pay her the $5.00 I offered if she'd try it. Sorry, Karen. ;-) I think she was okay with it. She's not a sushi person, so I was impressed with her spirit!

I also ordered a spicy salmon roll ($6.50). I thought I might take one or two bites and get the rest to go, but I didn't! I ate the entire thing. Their sushi is the best. It's always fresh, and always tastes so good.

We both left with full bellies and happy hearts. I always look forward to my next visit to Baba.

Capri Goat Cheese

There are some appealling aspects to life in my part of Massachusetts. I don't usually think of them, as I wish I lived in a more urban area. But there are some nice little surprises. One of them is being near the company Westfield Farm) that produces Capri Goat Cheeses.

Westfield Farm is a little gem located on route 68 in Hubbardston, MA (specifically, 28 Worcester Road). It is on the premises with the home of one of the owners (I'm guessing that's who owns it). You drive up a sort of long, curvy, steep driveway when you see this sign:

At the top of the driveway, you see their shop/factory.

I asked them once where the goats were. They are actually in a town about an hour from here, Westfield.

As I arrived on this particular day about a week ago, the milk was being delivered.

You may see their cheeses in specialty stores, but if you don't, you can order them at their yahoo merchant site! And you should try them! They have award-winning cheeses and offer a variety of interesting cheese flavors (blue goat cheese, white (similar to blue), camambert, wasabi, herb, herb garlic, hickory smoked, chive, pepper, and chocolate). If you aren't quite sure what to do with the different cheeses, you can look through the number of recipes they posted on their site on the home page, toward the bottom.

You can also see my posts on:

I got home and unwrapped my cheeses. Here they are:

I bought regular, wasabi, and chocolate! They are awesome!

I can't recommend visiting their site and trying their cheese enough!

What To Do With Chocolate Goat Cheese

My Capri chocolate goat cheese from Westfield Farm is scrumptious! If you order it online or buy it in a specialty store, then you could be enjoying this:

That's a slice of brioche, toasted, with the chocolate goat cheese and honey drizzled on top. I've also had it on crusty bread in the same style. It was good that way too.

Westfield Farm offers these recipes:

Chocolate Goat Cheese Canape

Chocolate Capri Cheesecake

And I bet you could make the Goat Cheese Pound Cake with the chocolate cheese!

Here's a link to my post on Capri cheeses made by Westfield Farm.

What To Do With Wasabi Goat Cheese

I saw the Capri wasabi-flavored goat cheese when I was shopping at my favorite specialty store, Idlewylde farms. I was tempted to get it, but I figured I'd get it fresher if I went to their production facility near my home. Plus I could get pictures and do posts!

At the shop/production facility, I asked about the cheese, wondering about the strength of the wasabi. They told me that the strength gets mellowed-out by the milk.

So here's what I've been doing with my wasabi goat cheese:

Mmm, a baguette, olive oil, roast beef, wasabi goat cheese, lettuce, red onion, and tomato. That's good stuff!

Here's an idea offered on the Westfield Farm Yahoo Merchant Site:

Wasabi Goat Cheese Canape

Here's a link to my post about Westfield Farm and Capri goat cheese. It's worth a look!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Chocolate Chambord Parfaits Done Light

Mmmm, doesn't that look good? Oh, it is good, real good! You don't have to sit there drooling over it, you can make it yourself. It's a pretty easy recipe that I'm able to make and assemble within a half hour. And I'm hoping to help with pictures so that making it will be a breeze for you.

Not only is it incredibly delicious, it's not totally bad for you! Oh, and you may even get a slight buzz eating it! Both the chocolate part of the parfait and the cream part are spiked with Chambord. I felt very pleasant after having a parfait this evening.

By the way, these parfaits in the picture were in tall shot glasses. I happen to have gotten a deal on them at Pier 1 this past week. The set was only $10. They are the perfect sized glasses for this dessert.

Now, if you are looking at the ingredient list, wincing, just stop! You and the people you serve would never know the secret by tasting this luscious dessert. I'm not exaggerating, honest!

Getting down to the details, the base for the chocolate part of the parfait comes from my adaptation to an Alton Brown recipe called Mooless Chocolate Pie. Well, the chocolate base remains mooless, but I added in the "Moo" with the Chambord-flavored mascarpone cream.

The mascarpone cream is basically the same recipe I used with the corncakes that I made in May. But instead of rum I used Chambord, and I doubled the amount of it! Yum!

Hey, there's plenty of calories and fat in the chocolate, cheese, and cream in this recipe. So I reasoned that it was enough, and I could spare a few extra calories and fat by using tofu instead of more cream in the chocolate base.

If you want to know why I sometimes cook with tofu, then follow the link!

If you are used to using tofu, and you want to save even more calories, you can use the light silken tofu. These parfaits in the picture use the light. In the entire brick of tofu, there are only 150 calories and 5 grams fat.

Look at these parfaits! They are every bit as wonderful as they look. Go ahead, try it!

Chocolate Chambord Parfaits Done Light

Ingredients for the chocolate

2 cups chocolate chips
1/3 cup Chambord Raspberry Liqueur
1 block Silken Tofu
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ingredients for the mascarpone cream

1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Chambord

You will need to melt the chocolate to begin this recipe. If you are unfamiliar with melting chocolate, this next section should be helpful.

Chocolate is a fussy ingredient. The best way to melt it is to use a double boiler. But hey, not all of us have a double boiler (myself included). So here's what to do.

Add 1/2-1 inch water to a small pot. Have a glass or metal bowl that comes close to fitting on top of it. You will notice in the picture below that my glass bowl is too small. It would fall right in if I let go, so I have a trick that I learned somewhere along the line (probably from Alton Brown).

Take a big piece of tin foil and loosely bunch it up into a snake-ish figure. put it on the rim of the pot. Now when I put the glass bowl on the rim it fits great! It's good and sturdy and I'm ready to melt chocolate.

Here's the ingredients that are going to make my parfaits totally tasty:

Heat up the assembled double boiler on a medium-low flame. Add the chocolate chips to the top of your double boiler. Begin stirring almost immediately and continue to stir till you have nice, smooth, melted chocolate.

Add the Chambord and vanilla. Stir into the chocolate and remove it from the stove top.

Cut a slit in the plastic cover of the tofu and let the water (there won't be much) drain out of it. Then place the tofu in the blender. Scrape the chocolate mixture in on top of the tofu. Pulse the blender to blend it all into a smooth, thick, pudding-like substance. To get the mixture to blend, you will need to scrape the sides with a rubber spatula. You may also need to add a tablespoon or two of milk if it is too thick.

This is what the mixture look like. Notice how not smooth the mixture is that is on the upper part of the glass. It's the stuff that is lower in the blender that is totally smooth and creamy - just like pudding.

For the Mascarpone Cream

Whip the heavy cream in a metal or glass bowl until firm peaks form. Add in the mascarpone and beat until you have smooth peaks. Add in the sugar and Chambord. Beat until blended.

Now you are ready to assemble.

I recommend using a pastry bag. By doing so, you won't get pudding all over the glass and your parfaits will look more attractive. But I didn't have a pastry bag, so I made one with wax paper. Was it ideal? No. But it did the trick:

Without getting the chocolate on the edges of the glass, pipe it into the glass.

You may have some air bubbles. If so, try tapping the bottom of the parfait glass onto a firm, but soft surface. You need to tap hard enough so that the air bubble collapses, but you don't want to break your glass.

Now pipe in the mascarpone cream in the same way.

Garnish with fresh raspberries and mint.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bistro 63 at the Monkey Bar

My friend, Maureen, and I took a ride out to Amherst and then Northampton, Massachusetts today. The towns are in an area known for its five-college system: Smith, Amherst College, University of Massachusetts (my alma mater and the wonderful place where I met Joe), Mount Holyoke, and Hampshire College.

Amherst and Northampton are great places to visit in the summer. Why, do you ask? There are no crowds. You don't have to drive around endlessly looking for parking (especially in Northampton), and you can walk right into a restaurant and be served! Perhaps the only thing that isn't great is the lack of good people-watching. But it's good enough in my book.

It's been a while since I last walked up and down the streets of Amherst. I saw some old hang-outs and found a new, cool place to eat with a funky name:
Bistro 63 at the Monkey Bar. It's right on the main drag in town, 63 North Pleasant Street. For anyone familiar with Amherst center, it's across the street from CVS and next to Judy's (not a favorite of mine).

This was the beautiful dining area as you walk into the restaurant. There's a bar on the other side of the room. I loved the blue mosaic tile.

But it was a perfect day outside, so when asked for our preference, we chose outside.

We were led down a hallway and past this next dining area (which I think is for functions during the day, and perhaps dancing at times):

Then we reached the beautiful covered porch area outside.

The menu had a good variety of dishes - especially for lunch. One of the specials was something that I see on their dinner menu online, and it is what I got for $13.95.

Seared Ahi - sushi grade blackened Tuna with vegetable slaw and Tofu Spring Roll with Dipping sauces

Here's a different view (but missing one piece of tuna!):

Now, that's a thing of beauty! And the taste was equal to the presentation. It was totally delicious, and I'd go back any day just to get it again.

I didn't want to intrude on Maureen's lunch so I have no pictures. But her fish sandwich with fries looked really tasty! It must have been a special because I don't see it on the menu.

There was another item I couldn't resist getting, but I knew I didn't have room for it, so I got it to go:

Lobster Corn Chowder - Creamy New England Classic, with red bliss potatoes, bacon, corn and fresh thyme.

The cup was only 2.95 and as you can see, it was a substantial amount. And it tastes fantastic! Dieters beware! It's loaded with cream.

I am going to have to find a friend to bring to the Monkey Bar as soon as possible. That was good stuff!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tropical Egg White Omelet

What to do with leftover Spicy Peach Salsa? How about a delicious breakfast?

Oh, I know what some of you are thinking. Why egg whites? Why not just make an omelet? To understand the answer to that question, please see my post In Defense of Tofu and Egg Whites.

Now, I've made egg white omelets before, but this is definitely the best one of the bunch and worthy of sharing. Oh, and I think it is safe to say that not only is it extremely tasty, but it is healthy! I will go even further and say that it is satisfying. After I ate it I took a 2-1/4 mile walk in the heat, and didn't feel weak or hungry when I came back.

I served it with toasted crusty bread with just a smidgen of butter. As I ate, I began piling pieces of the omelet and fruit onto the bread. It was crunchy and made me feel special.

Tropical Egg White Omelet

3 egg whites
2 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
1 small jalapeño, minced
1/4 cup chopped sweet onion
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 Tbs. crumbled goat cheese (that's going easy on the cheese - just enough for flavor here)
cooking oil spray

Spicy Peach Salsa

Spray the pan with cooking oil spray. Sauté the jalapeño and onion in the cooking spray over medium-high heat with salt and pepper. Once I added the onions and chiles to the pan, I sprayed them again. When it's almost done, add the garlic and cilantro. Cook one minute longer. Set aside.

Add the egg whites to the pan. Salt and pepper the surface.

When it's ready, try to flip it so it remains in one piece. Then top 1/2 of it with the sauteed onions and chile mixture.

Sprinkle with the cheese and turn off the flame.

Fold it over so the toppings are covered.

Plate the omelet and top with the Spicy Peach Salsa.

Mmmm, yummy.

In Defense of Tofu and Egg Whites

Before I post my Tropical Egg White Omelet recipe, I am going to head off some foreseen criticism.

After my Coconut-Crusted Tofu with Spicy Peach Salsa experience, I got a lot of commentary from friends and family. I don't want to say it was negative, it wasn't. But when I talk about eating tofu, and edamame, and things like that, people make faces. In response to my mentioning the Coconut-Crusted Tofu my niece actually said to me, "why not Coconut-Crusted Shrimp?" Because we were sitting together at a party, I got to see her WTF face, too.

My first gut response would have been to say, "because I felt like it, jerk." But I know that's not the right thing to say, so I bit my tongue and pondered on it until I composed my thoughts today. I have four good reasons why I cook and eat tofu and egg-white omelets.

Reason #1: It's Healthy
Hey, I'm overweight and my cholesterol is a fairly high number. Granted, my good cholesterol is off the charts as well, but the main number is sort of scary. So, with tofu and egg whites, I'm avoiding saturated fats. There were other elements to each of these dishes that weren't the most healthy, so these were the sacrifices I was willing to make.

Reason #2:
Even if you disagree with the health factor, it makes me feel good.
Isn't that what it's all about? To be able to eat good food and feel good?

Reason #3:
It tasted good.
Yes, I like tofu. And I like egg white omelets. As I was finishing my breakfast this morning my husband walked in from an errand and commented on how good my breakfast smelled. In fact, this breakfast was so good, I'm going to make the Spicy Peach Salsa again, just to have this breakfast again.

Reason #4: Variety is the spice of life.
Wouldn't it be boring to always eat chicken, or beef, or fish? I think so.

So there you have it. Those are my deep thoughts for the day.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Coconut-Crusted Tofu with Spicy Peach Salsa

This is the kind of dish that makes me think it wouldn't be bad to be a vegetarian. Well, not really, but it is a great vegetarian dish that non-vegetarians could enjoy. I sure did. After all, it's flavorful, colorful, and tasty.

I really do like tofu, but it sometimes seems like there isn't a lot of variation in tofu recipes. So I was excited to see something that looked different, but manageable in a recipe.

It's been a while since I cooked with tofu. For cooking, I prefer the extra firm tofu. I want some texture to my tofu. To add even more texture, I
drained my tofu very well. Be sure to see my link on tofu draining if you aren't familiar with tofu! I think the terminology is a bit misleading for the process. By draining the tofu, it becomes more chewy and "meat-like". No, tofu will never be like meat, but if you drain it, it will hold it's shape, and even require a knife!

This recipe gets and additional thumbs-up for summer cooking because you won't have to heat up the house with the oven if you eat it as soon as it's cooked. If you are having company, you could prepare everything up to, and including, coating the tofu ahead of time. Then, just pan-fry it and serve. The pan-frying only takes a few minutes.

I served it with the Spicy Peach Salsa that was in the original recipe (though I adapted it to my taste) and a recipe of Coconut Rice with Ginger, Chiles, and Lime.

Coconut-Crusted Tofu
Adapted from Eating Well Magazine

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsweetened flaked coconut (I get it at Trader Joe's)
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 14-ounce package extra-firm water-packed tofu
Egg Product (ie: Better'n Eggs)
rice vinegar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Spicy Peach Salsa

Mix the coconut, flour, cornstarch, and salt in a shallow dish. Remove the tofu from the package, emptying the water that surrounds it. Cut the block of tofu lengthwise into 8 thin steaks. Drain the tofu.

Get your tofu-preparation station together:

For a splash of flavor, I dabbed rice vinegar on my tofu, and then I dipped it in the egg product. From there, it went into the coconut mixture to coat evenly.

Heat the oil in a nonstick pan. When it's ready, add the tofu. Let it brown on the bottom. Use plastic-coated tongs to gently turn each piece over.

When each piece is ready, remove it from the pan and drain on a paper towel.

Be sure to impress everyone with a pretty presentation!

Spicy Peach Salsa

This spicy peach salsa was an accompaniment to the Coconut-Crusted Tofu dish I made today. It really made the dish something special.

I was lucky in that I found a few peaches in the supermarket that weren't rock-hard. I tend to not get peaches very often because of that. I actually went into the supermarket prepared to get a ripe mango because I had little faith in finding ripe peaches. So that is my suggestion to you. Mangoes actually do have a somewhat peach-like flavor and would be a good replacement in this salsa.

If you do end up with mangoes instead of peaches, one is probably enough, depending on which type you get. See my post on how to chop a mango if you are unfamiliar with working with mangoes.

Spicy Peach Salsa

Adapted from Eating Well

3 medium peaches (or one large mango)
1-2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons minced sweet red pepper

1 2-inch piece fresh lemongrass, minced, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, or one frozen cube
tablespoon rice-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Peel the peaches, remove the pits and dice the fruit. When peeling peaches (and apples), I cut off the top and bottom so I can stand them up and then slice off the skin in a downward direction.

Add the peaches and minced peppers to a bowl.

Add the lemongrass.

Note on dried lemongrass: Being unfamiliar with dried lemongrass, the jar I bought had 3-inch stalks of lemongrass instead of being totally shredded. I found out that once dried, lemongrass doesn't chop. So I ended up making a tea with the rice vinegar in the recipe and my lemongrass. I microwaved it for about 30 seconds and let it sit for several minutes, covered with plastic wrap. I'm guessing that my method worked well. It was very fragrant, and I poured in the tea and through away the remaining hard stalks of lemongrass.

This was my dried lemongrass just before I poured in the heated vinegar:

As for the basil: I didn't have any fresh. But in my freezer I had one of these packages of tiny little frozen basil cubes that I got from Trader Joe's. I used one cube. After all, the package says that one cube is equal to one teaspoon fresh basil. It's so well minced that it looks like pepper - but it's basil!

Add the rest of the ingredients and toss to combine.

Serve with Coconut-Crusted Tofu.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

How to Drain Tofu

When I cook with tofu, I drain it. You would think that draining it means that you put it in a strainer, or simply remove the liquid from the package. But that is not what recipes mean when they instruct you to drain your tofu.

Once you remove the tofu from the package and the liquid that it's packed in, cut the tofu into the pieces that you will need for the recipe. For my photos in this post, I have cut tofu steaks. I divided my brick of tofu into seven steaks.

Step 1: Lay the tofu pieces on either a towel, or a bunch of paper towels.

Step 2: Cover the tofu pieces with another towel, or a bunch of paper towels.

Step 3: Place a board on top of the covered tofu.

Step 4: Put a heavy object on top of that board. Because you used the board first, the weight of the heavy object will be more evenly distributed.

When I don't have a lot of time, I may only drain the tofu for 15-30 minutes. an hour is plenty of time, but if you accidently drain it longer, that's fine. On this particular day I planned ahead and I wasn't thinking and it drained for 3 hours. My tofu good and dry! This was my final product:

Make sure that if your towells are completely soggy, that you change them. They can only soak up so much liquid.

With three hours of draining, the tofu steaks were significantly smaller and very dry indeed. It makes them have a chewier texture, which was exactly what I wanted for today's recipe: Coconut-Crusted Tofu.