Monday, May 31, 2010

Graduation Dinner

My sister Sam's graduation from Boston College was last weekend. After a bit of research, we decided to celebrate the evening before at a restaurant called Hungry Mother in Cambridge.

Initially, I was drawn in by the website. It's unique, antique and modern at the same time. My initial search was for a neighborhood spot that cared about serving seasonal, local food. As I explored the site, I knew I was in the right place.

The space is small, intimate and inviting. The decor is simple, warm and very much in line with the look and feel of their website. We were greeted by a friendly host and seated almost immediately.

The menu is unpretentious and approachable. It reflects the chefs southern roots and the desire to highlight the best of what the season has to offer by using classic cooking techniques. We decided to try the boiled Virginia peanuts, the spicy pimiento cheese with celery and the ham and biscuits. They were great starters. Just enough salty, spicy, savory to satiate and entice at the same time. The best part was that those boiled peanuts reminded Gramma of trips to the South years ago.

We all tried different entrees. I had a couple of first course offerings as my main in order to try more than one dish. The smoked blue fish pate with crackers and bread and butter pickles was fantastic. My sister had asparagus with a perfectly cooked soft poached egg. It is my belief that if you add an egg to anything it is always better and this tried and true dish did not disappoint.

Chris had Carolina rainbow trout. It was cooked just right and served with the most beautiful, seemingly just picked vegetables. There was also delicious gnocchi with guanciale and pea tendrils. Those little tendrils are so tender and delicate, they taste sweet and just like the peas that grow from them. If you haven't tried them they are a springtime must.

All in all each plate was prepared with care and creativity. Our server was incredible, knowledgeable and passionate about both food and wine. The evening was memorable and I look forward to our next visit to this truly inspiring spot.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sushi and Fries

Chris and I haven’t had sushi since we left San Francisco. I will admit that although I enjoy it every once in a while, I rarely crave it and almost never search it out unless I’m really hungry.

In SF we would occasionally walk two blocks up the street to Osaka to grab a bite. The appeal there was always the service. The owners also work on the floor as servers and chefs. They are kind and welcoming to everyone, especially regular patrons. I think, more than the food, we were missing our old routine a bit, missing the bustle of our neighborhood restaurant and the warm smiles that greeted us there for so many years.

Knowing that the vibe here on the Cape is much different, we set out hungry with very few expectations. We decided to go to Mac’s Seafood on Wellfleet Harbor. We knew they had sushi because we had been once before and that was reason enough to check it out again.

The evening was cool, but absolutely beautiful. We parked the car, walked up to the patio and were greeted by a smiling host. We were dressed for the weather and decided we’d be warm enough outside at the bar. I love to dine outdoors and I’m much happier at the bar. Perfect!

As we seated ourselves the bartender greeted Chris by his first name. It turns out he is a friend from high school who Chris had not seen in years, Ethan. We chatted, ordered dirty vodka martinis, looked at the menu and began to relax.

The martinis were great. Ethan was engaging and helpful. The bar was buzzing but not crowded like it can be in full summer swing. We decided on a few pieces of raw fish, a tuna roll and grilled yellow tail collar (not sushi, but one of my favorite dishes). Finally we added a side of salty, thick cut fries to fill our empty bellies.

We sat talking with each other, taken care of by a familiar face, eating our sushi and French fries on Cape Cod. The air smelled of salt, sand and spring flowers. The music was classic rock that transported us back to being twenty-one and free. The food hit the spot.

Leaving the comfort of our well-established lives in California was a big decision. As we move forward here on the East coast, we know there will be times when we long for aspects of that life. It was so nice to discover that even at those times we might be able to slip into a new, but familiar, routine here that is just as satisfying.

If you haven’t had sushi and fries… I recommend it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Saving up Stories

Well, if you have been reading this blog since its inception you know that Cape Cod is the best way for me to loose track of time and space. I'm sorry for the lack of communication.

We've been at the cottage on and off since last Friday when we drove up to leave our trusty pooch in the capable hands of Chris's mom, Pam. We dropped the dog and then were off to Boston for the weekend to celebrate my sister Samantha's graduation from Boston College.

Since then we've been back to the Cape to grab the dog, back to Boston for a job interview and then back to the Cape again. Along the way I got to meet with old friends, eat some pretty yummy meals and explore new avenues of the local food community here in my back yard.

I think I've got a couple of good stories. They involve delicious sushi and fries on the water in Wellfleet. An amazing dinner at a neighborhood spot in Cambridge called Hungry Mother and, most recently, a visit to the farm of an awe inspiring eighty-seven year old woman who runs an organic farm stand here on the Cape.

Due to the lack of internet access at the house I will have to relate these stories a bit piecemeal, but I think they are worth telling. Hopefully this will whet your whistle and you'll check back in order to get the full scoop.

Monday, May 17, 2010


I didn't feel like the word deserved to be capitalized. I know, that's a little discriminatory but, they are just leftovers.

Over the past few nights we've had some pretty yummy meals. Braised beef short ribs and gorgonzola polenta, mom's spaghetti and meatballs with a green salad, and a summery baked potato with sour cream, parsley and bacon; and sweet corn on the cob with basil and green garlic butter.

Somehow I ended up with a zested lime and orange begging to be juiced. There were also small amounts of wild arugula, red leaf lettuce, basil, and fresh parsley. Two ears of corn, a handful of tomatoes, ricotta salata cheese and a little green garlic round out the left over list.

I'm certainly no expert but... if I could impart some knowledge learned along the way, it would be to keep a grain/pasta on hand that you can use as a base for 'salads'. For example, quinoa, millet couscous, orzo or pearl pasta can all be cooked in no time and combined with almost anything to make a yummy salad type side or even light main dish.

Tonight, I used quinoa. I chopped the green garlic (any allium will do: green onion, chive, shallot) and combined it with fresh orange juice, lime juice, extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to make a bright citrus vinaigrette. Then I sliced up the rest of the tomatoes, stripped the corn kernels off their cobs and picked parsley leaves. I added them all to the vinaigrette. Once the quinoa was cooked and still warm, I tossed it into the bowl with the rest of the ingredients and crumbled the ricotta salata over the top. I also combined what was left of the red leaf, arugula and basil with a touch of olive oil and salt. Finally, I piled the lettuces on a plate and topped them with the warm quinoa salad.

It was light, colorful, flavorful and satisfying.

Leftovers with a capital L.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Simple Stuff

Tonight I'm in charge of the salad. Salad is my absolute favorite. The greener the better I say!

I combined red and green leaf lettuce with the last of the watercress and some fresh celery leaves. I also added a little shaved fennel (shaved is the idea but sliced super thin is the actuality without my trusty mandolin), some fresh basil and pretty darn sweet grape tomatoes. Even without dressing, this bowl full of emerald leaves and such was tempting, but...

The dressing is the best part!

Chives are everywhere right now. There are lovely little bunches of dark green stalks topped with beautiful lavender colored pompoms out in my mom's garden. They tempt the bees all day long and today they lured me in. I cut a few handfuls knowing exactly what their fate would be, luscious sour cream and chive dressing.

It is so easy, so Spring and so yummy. Just chop up as many chives as you can. Add a little dijon mustard, some sour cream, a bit of red wine vinegar and some salt and pepper. You can adjust the thickness with a bit of half and half or even a little extra virgin olive oil. Mine comes out a little different every time but just as good. And, do not forget those purple blossoms. Taste them. They are the essence of chive! Sprinkle them on top of your salad or, really, anything you like. You will be a gourmet for the day.

It's just that simple.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese is oh so versatile, satisfying and delicious. Over the years, I have had three versions that I consider to be stellar, my grandmother's, my friend Robert's and Solstice's.

Gramma's is traditional. It is very cheesey and topped with the perfect crust of breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. Robert's invoves a creamy bechamel sauce and pancetta. Robert is a chef hence the bechamel and fancy cured meat. I have not eaten that dish for over four years and I still crave it. Solstice is a bar that Chris and I frequented just down the street from our apartment in SF. Their version uses a creamy blue cheese sauce and in they top it with finely diced green apple. Ooh, aah!

Given my affinity for pasta and melted cheese, I have tried my hand at this dish many times. This month's issue of Saveur highlights this comfort food and last night, I was inspired once again.

Although I really wanted to test out their recipe for lobster macaroni and cheese, the frugal shopper in me decided to use up the two links of fresh chorizo and half block of cheddar I had left over in the fridge. Of course, I did shop for a few extras that I hoped would enhance this version.

At the market I found watercress. I haven't had it in quite a while so I put that in the basket along with a head of green leaf lettuce for a salad. I also picked up one red repper and some smoked cheddar cheese to add to the pasta.

When I got home I put my pasta on to boil. I decided to break up the links of chorizo and sautee them more like ground meat to be tossed in with the macaroni. I put the red pepper in the oven on broil so that the skin would blister and char. My cheesey sauce started with a basic white sauce; a little butter, flour and whole milk cooked carefully until thick and creamy. Then I added grated cheddar and smoked cheddar. The cheese melted into that sauce and the whole thing was smoky and rich, and really pretty tasty. I chopped the roasted red pepper and then combined it with the sauce, the meat and the pasta. It all went into a baking dish topped with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese to finish in the oven.

So far, this is my favorite version of all of my own versions to date. It was smoky, a little spicy, and super cheesey. I tossed the watercress and green leaf with a little mint and a red wine and dijon vinaigrette. It was fresh and light and went well with the pasta.

Chris thought it needed more salt... I don't think so;)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Grandma's Spaghetti and Meatballs

There is no written recipe. At least none that I've ever seen. Gramma's Spaghetti and Meatballs is just that, Gramma's. I'm pretty sure she sent some form of written instructions to my sister- in-law, Lara, a while ago but it really isn't Gramma's unless Gramma makes it.

My mother and I arrived at the house in Harwinton Thursday afternoon. The day was warm and smelling a bit like summer and the Connecticut hills were brilliant green. Mama and Papa's yard was immaculate and the house was as welcoming as always. Gramma was sitting in the breezeway, taking a break from her numerous daily chores.

Doris, my maternal grandmother, is eighty six years old. She walks about a mile a day around the neighborhood to stay in shape. It is a routine she and my grandfather maintained together until his death a few years ago. On this day she surely spent time cleaning something in the house before weeding one of the gardens or performing some other outdoor chore. She also made her famous baked beans, no small task, and brought them to the family of a friend who had recently passed. Finally, she made spaghetti sauce and meatballs for our dinner. She is truely amazing.

We sit down together at the small kitchen table. Mom drains the pasta. Aunt Claire and I sit waiting anxiously and Gramma brings a steaming pot of sauce and meatballs to the table. In a way this whole scene is a bit of a ritual. Gramma fussing over last minute additions to the meal. Does everyone have something to drink? Her family helping themselves, a bit greedily, to a nourishing meal that only she could produce. There is always more in the fridge should there be a last minute mouth to feed and, if your lucky, Gramma will send you home with a frozen quart container of the sauce. You can heat it up in your own kitchen, whenever you need her company. This meal always plays out the same and it's familiarity is part of what makes it so special.

I'm sure a recipe might get you close but there is a reason it is Gramma's Spaghetti and Meatballs. It has sustained her family at small and large gatherings, in different kitchens over many years. The dish is simple. Perfectly cooked pasta coated with melted butter and topped with her own savory meat sauce, italian sausage and moist, rich pork and beef meatballs. Grated parmesan is the garnish and usually she serves it with a crisp salad of iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots and a red wine vinaigrette. There is always a loaf of crusty bread for sopping up the sauce. And, a spoon set at each place for those who prefer to use it to twirl. Papa always did.

I believe that there are things in life you must try to imprint in your memory because once they are gone you will never be able to experience them the same way again.

Thanks to my Gramma and her fantastic spaghetti and meatballs for the best memories.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Feed the Bird

I try to make dinner every night. I have a lot of recipe ideas and dinner is an excuse to test them out. Most of the time I'm working with pretty simple stuff. On nights like tonight I'm not recreating some elaborate gourmet meal or trying a complicated or foreign technique for the first time. I just want to put something together that is nourishing and tasty.

There is this great little place called Sandy's just down the road and they carry lots of fruits and veggies from local growers along with the usual specialty items that are sometimes hard to find at the grocery here. Yesterday they had fiddleheads, morels, and ramps in addition to their usual selection. I was tempted, but we're on a budget so I settled for an eggplant, some green onions, a meyer lemon and pearl pasta. I wasn't quite sure then how they would all come together...

This morning my mom returned from the grocery with fresh chorizo. Slowly a plan began to emerge. What about a pearl pasta salad with chorizo and griddled eggplant? I'm a big fan of all things green so I decided that the pasta salad should be served over a green salad. I already had mint and arugula in the fridge. If I tossed that in a meyer lemon vinaigrette it might just be delicious.

So, here it is.

Wild arugula and mint with a squeeze of meyer lemon juice and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil beneath pearl pasta tossed with green onion, shaved fennel, chick peas, sauteed chorizo and eggplant. I also added a bit of fresh parsley and meyer lemon zest to the pasta to brighten the flavor.

A simple and satisfying bite for a hungry bird.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Getting Lost

We left for the Cape a week ago yesterday. Our plan was to stay a couple of days to help Chris' family with some moving.

What happened? Why are we still here?

Well, I'm pretty sure we're lost.

The Cape can whisk you away without the least effort, leading you down paths you rarely allow yourself time to explore. You wind your way through days and sometimes weeks, stopping frequently for only the simplest pleasures. You are isolated in the most welcoming of ways. It is all encompassing and very hard to leave.

We have spent our days moving furniture and sifting through boxes of memories long forgotten in the attic. We raked innumerable piles of pine needles from the yard, built our first garden from scratch and spring cleaned the cottage. We have taken our time talking to friends, family and the occasional stranger about any and every topic imaginable. And, we have cooked and shared some wonderfully simple meals.

A warm salad of frisee, arugula, crisp bacon, roasted potatoes and a perfectly poached egg was a great late night bite. Linguine with oven roasted tomatoes, grilled fennel, tarragon cream sauce and seared scallops turned out quite yummy. Chris's perfectly grilled steak with a warm pasta salad hit the spot after a long day out in the yard. And, homemade pea soup warmed our bodies and souls on a particularly cold and blustery spring evening.

We were supposed to drive back today but, here we are pushing our stay one more day.

It is warm and rainy. The trees that were bare bones just a day or so ago have soft, new leaves. The air smells like summer, cut grass, wet pavement and marshy salt.

We've left the cottage to access the Internet in hopes that a little taste of 'the real world' will help us to find our way back, off the Cape.

Maybe tomorrow :)