Birthday Brunch at Craigie on Main, yummy entrees!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A nice touch!

Craigie on Main
853 Main Street, Cambridge
(617) 497-5511


As a major fan of CoM for years, it only seemed fitting and extra special to spend a leisurely brunch there as part of my birthday week. Accompanied by 2 lovely friends, we set out to get wow-ed and wooed by the clean and rustic menu. Upon arriving, our party made immediate plans to get the $33 prix fix menu. Unanimously, everyone got the house-made doughnut. It was perfectly crispy and light, gently drizzled with a runny caramel sauce and topped with powdered sugar. The interior was both fluffy and custard-y. It is definitely not a dunkin nor a Krispy Kreme for sure, but an elevated, sophisticated cousin.

The entrees were more impressive. We got the panino, the salted cod and the beef hash. Of the panino, I certainly did not expect that I would enjoy the fries the more than the sandwich--it was not only perfectly cooked and creamy on the inside, the fries had a uniformly-crisped shell and spiced perfectly! My cod was very delicious and had a nice, salty aroma in a hash of bread crumbs. The chorizo imparted a meaty dimension to the dish which I enjoyed...not to forget the perfectly-cooked poached egg sitting atop the brandade! The beef hash was also very good I'm told, considering that the friend who had it ordered it twice in a row!

The desserts were all-time classics. While I'm more for interesting, creative desserts, the ones we had made up for the lack of through their fresh ingredients and quality. My favorite was the rhubarb and plum crisp (tangy enough to whet my palate), followed by the amaretto profiterole then the panna cotta. I love panna cotta but almost never order it in restaurants because it just screams lack of effort (since I can prepare a really good one in less than 10 minutes at home).

Brunch was superb, especially the savory plates. Overall, we were too full so next time I'll skip the first course.  After doing the math, I also figured that it might be a better deal to order ala carte instead. If entrees average $15 and desserts at $10... then the doughnut is an un-worthy $8.

House-made Doughnut, confiture de lait.
House-cured Pastrami, Comte and Shelburne Farm Cheddar Panino-Shelburne, Mace ketchup, garden pickle thousand island dressing, watercress, crispy potato fries.
Grass-fed and in-house brined corn beef cheek and Smoked beef tongue hash-slow-poached farm fresh egg, crispy onion rings.
Baked House-cured Salt Cod Brandade-garlic bread crumbs, chorizo, slow-poached farm fresh egg, grilled country toast
closeup of the perfect egg
Plum Rhubarb Crisp-walnut-oat streusel, buttermilk icecream
Sour Milk Pannacotta
Amaretto profiteroles

(NSFW) Penis and Boob and Butt and VJJ Birthday Cupcakes-Awkward to eat, but you know you want to!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My smokescreen

Making Stuffed Jalepeno Peppers and Margaritas (for Cinco de Mayo)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ingredients: Jalapeno Peppers, cut lengthwise, deseeded; mixture of crumbled cheddar, pepper jack cheese, cilantro, cream cheese, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper.
Instructions: Stuff, broil in oven at 400 degF or 200 degC for 5-10 minutes.
Ta daaaa!
Jen's yummy margarita with beautiful orange ombre salt and a corona.
Yeah I know Cinco de Mayo was a few weeks ago but who says we can't enjoy stuffed jalapenos and margaritas year-round? Nom!

My life in Groupons (or equivalent Deal Vouchers)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How does an inveterate bargain hunter with book-keeping tendencies keep track of her crazy amounts of vouchers?--Why, using a google spreadsheet of course!

Since I might as well be living off my n vouchers, I should seriously consider another blog evaluating what I bought. Besides the sites I use the most (ranked in order) like BuywithmeGroupon, Living Social, there are also CoupmeOpentable Spotlight,  Gilt City Boston, Rue La La and mediocre ones like Tippr (deal didn't work and they finally refunded my purchase after months of followup) and Wow What Savings (uninteresting, in the surburbs, crappy deals, emails-only referral).

I recently discovered Scoutmob, and so far I really liked their site interface. What I'm sold on and highly recommend is that their deals can be sent as simple text messages. This deal format eliminates the need for paper printouts and doesn't discriminate against my phone's level of intelligence. Yes, I'm still using a dumb phone (as opposed to a smart phone) so no apps for me :) Bonus: I scored this fabulous free discount coupon for BonChon Chicken. My friend Eric is launching Boston Deal Ninja next week so I'm looking forward to more deals that would allow me to live life large on a shoestring budget. Speaking of budget, the column named "Lunch?" also reminds me that I could also stretch my vouchers on cheaper mid-day meals instead of dinner. w00t!

Seriously. I've got fitness (#2), shopping (#27), haircuts and grooming (#19, #23-25), laundry and dry-cleaning (#14), gourmet food supplies (#4, #21-22) taken care off. Not surprisingly, the remaining 16 left pertain to food. And hence more fodder for this blog.

*Update: Right after I posted this, Ajay recommended an app called City Pockets which provides email reminders and imports vouchers easily (no sharing of voucher inventory with friends though-score 1 for spreadsheet). The folks at CP are still in the process of adding more providers so their list is incomplete (darn) but the absolute highlight is their Marketplace feature which allows you to sell your unused vouchers. Genius! Who hasn't let their vouchers go to waste before/ sold them for less on craigslist? I'll definitely be signing up....although I find it both funny and tragic how a prevailing app phased out my oldskool spreadsheet overnight...pretty, color coded tables and boxes, anyone?

Making Macarons/Luxemburgerlis! One tiny fish in a sea of macaron posts.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Green Tea and Cherry Blossom Macarons with 2 fillings: green tea-chestnut and rose creme.

I finally got down to making macarons because of a dessert party. Akin to gilding the lily, I adorned each maccie with the cherry blossoms Keiko and I pickled last summer. Overall this batch was phenomenal even if I do say so myself. They were everything a macaron's supposed to be: thin, crisp shell with chewy and moist interior. If I could improve on it a little, I would bake the meringues at a slightly lower temperature because rogue maccies had a slight singe on them. in addition, although I managed to obtain "la pied" for my meringues but for some reason they weren't very uniform.

Each matcha sandwich exuded a delicate but noticeable almond flavor which went well with the ganache fillings I made. Preferences for the fillings were equal on both sides. Proponents of the green tea-chestnut flavor raved about how the slight bitterness of green tea complimented the complex smokiness of the marrons (My friend Dorise even thought it tasted like bacon for a moment). Those in support of the rose creme thought that the floral notes accompanied well with the grassy green tea notes. Everyone's a winner :)

Be warned though. Despite what the recipe says, making macarons is time-intensive and requires at least 2 days of prep time. Tips from various bakers and bloggers suggest using egg whites left at room temperature for several days and rapping the baking sheet to dispel air bubbles in the maccies (people are divided on this). Also, get a candy thermometer and piping bags/tips because they make everything so much easier. If I can get past my inertia, I'll venture into different flavors some time soon.

Basic Parisian macaron Recipe
Total time: 1 hour, plus cooling and assembly timesServings: 2 to 2 1/2 dozen sandwich cookiesNote: Based on a recipe from "Macaron" by Pierre Hermé. The almond meal (or flour) should be finely ground. If a bit coarse, process the almond flour and powdered sugar in a food processor for a finer texture before running through a strainer or sifter. Additionally, if the almond meal feels a bit moist, spread it out on a lined baking sheet and place in a 325-degree oven to dry out, about 3 to 5 minutes.

1/2 cup (3 to 4 large) egg whites, at room temperature, dividedFood coloring (optional)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)
1 1/2 cups blanched almond meal or flour (5.3 ounces)
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar (5.3 ounces)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons water

1. Pour half the egg whites into the bowl of your mixer. If you're using food coloring and/or vanilla, stir them into the other half of the whites in a bowl. Push the almond flour and powdered sugar through a strainer into a large bowl and whisk to blend.
2. Bring the granulated sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, washing down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Increase the heat to high, insert a candy thermometer and boil, undisturbed, until the syrup reaches 240 degrees.
3. Meanwhile, beat the whites in the mixer with the whisk attachment over low to medium speed until foamy, then increase the speed and continue until they hold medium-firm peaks. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly pour in the syrup, being careful to avoid hitting the whisk attachment. Beat the meringue on high until the peaks are firm, about 2 minutes, then set aside to rest for about 5 minutes.

 Getting everything ready
 4. Pour the unbeaten egg whites over the almond-sugar mixture and top with the meringue; fold everything together, then stir the batter briskly until it falls off the spatula in a slow, moderately thick band. If you want more coloring, add it now.
 Now add the last meringues to the green almond egg white mixture
 Mix well until you get a batter
 5. Spoon half the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a half-inch round tip and,
 keeping the bag vertical and 1 to 2 inches above the sheet, pipe rounds about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 2 inches apart onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
 pipe fail. But not really. The batter smooths as it flows. 
 6. Rap the pan against the counter (or don't), refill the bag and pipe out a second sheet. Set the sheets aside in a cool, dry place, allowing the rounds to rest until you can gently touch the top of the mounds without having any of the batter stick to your finger.
7. Meanwhile, center a rack in the oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place one of the baking sheets on top of a spare baking sheet and slide the double-pan setup into the oven.
8. Bake the macarons for 4 minutes, then quickly open and close the oven. Bake them for another 4 minutes and open and close the oven again. Continue to bake the macarons until the tops are rounded and firm and a craggy ridge, the foot, has formed around the base, about 4 minutes (check themacarons after a couple minutes, as the baking time will vary by oven).

** I put some pickled cherry blossoms on top**


9. Slide the parchment off the hot baking pan and onto a counter and set aside until the macarons are cool.
10. Repeat with the second sheet of macarons.
11. Peel the cooled macarons off the paper and match them up for sandwiching.
12. Pipe a generous amount of filling (about 1 teaspoon, or as desired) on one half of the macaronsand top with their mates. Pack the sandwiched cookies in a container and refrigerate for 24 hours (or for up to 4 days) before serving. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before serving.

**3 types of ganache, made with white chocolate:
i) rose syrup
ii) green tea
iii) chestnut

Yay, my macarons had "pied"!

 Bottoms up! 

Making Chocolate-covered Marzipan Mice

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chocolate-covered Marzipan Mice with strawberry twizzler tails :)

Having bought lots of almond flour for macaron-making, I flirted with the idea of making marzipan animals, which led to a fabulous inspiration to make mice, considering I'm a scientist and all. I found simple and easy instructions (below) although I definitely spent more than 45 minutes to finish this project. I brought them to 2 different parties and people seemed to like them alot; it was pleasantly misleading too because my friends had the misconception that I was incredibly artistic and skillful

Taste-wise, I found that the chocolate overpowered the delicate almond taste of the marzipan. To overcome this, I'll encase them in a thin and hard caramel sugar coating in the future to keep the flavors as clean as possible...Or I could increase the intensity of the almond flavor by spiking the marzipan with almond extract. Another observation I found is that marzipan dries out super easily so it might be pertinent to cover the dough with a wet paper towel and have some water lying around to revitalize the malleability of the marzipan. 

Recipe (adapted) by Desserts Magazine:
Makes 2 dozen
Prep Time: 45 min (plus chilling)

  • 7-oz marzipan (store bought or home made like me)
  • almond slices (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1-1/2 cups semisweet chocolate/white chocolate chips
  • Twizzler laces, cut into twenty-four 1 1/2-inch tails and 24 dots for eyes (I was lazy and dabbed contrasting chocolate to make the eyes)

1. Cut the marzipan roll in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 12 equal pieces and shape each piece into an oval. Pinch the small end to make the nose and eyes.
2. To make the ears, working with 1 mouse at a time, wet 1 end of 2 almond slices and stick them into the marzipan above the eyes.3. Insert a toothpick into the wide end of each of 12 mice.

Line them up!

Line a baking sheet with wax paper. In a small bowl, microwave the chocolate chips at high power, stirring every 20 seconds, until smooth, about 1 minute. 
Working with 1 at a time, dip the mice into the chocolate, tapping the toothpick on the side of the bowl to remove any excess. Transfer to the prepared pan and refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes. I then dotted each mouse with contrasting chocolate where the hollow of the eyes are. Let chill for 15 minutes.
  Close ups :) White mice. My sis says that they have sheep faces. :)
 Close ups. Brown mice
 5. Remove the toothpicks from the chocolate mice, then insert the twizzler tails. Serve at room temperature. I rested my new babies on a bed of leftover almond slices :)

Food Travels-Barcelona, Spain

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

After France, I landed in sultry Spain and my first night was nightmarish at best! After getting miserably lost on the way to where I was to be staying (2 hr delay), I had no idea that street numbers ran bi-directional and waited for my host, R. to pick me up (3 hr delay). Armed with apartment keys, I got lost once again in the apartment building as I realized finally that I was on a wrong half-floor (!!!) and was messing with keys to another apartment (30 min delay). I believe I scared the bejeesus out of some poor family. Lastly, after reaching the correct apartment, the keys wouldn't open (30 minute delay). I later learned, counter-intuitively, that I needed to turn 2 keys at once (wtf to the max) So yes. I arrived in Barcelona at 6 pm and didn't make it to the apartment until 12 midnight.

Stranded along the Ramblas before giving my tootsies a well-deserved rest at some plaza.

Determined to set the next day straight, I visited the Sagrada Familia, of perpetual construction.

 Barcelona Cathedral and geese.
Belgian waffles and ice-cream was sooooo good under the sweltering heat.
Walking along La Rambla.
Casa Batll√≥. Gaudi's an effing genius. 
No trip would be complete without a visit to the markets and checking out Jamon! Yummers!
Dream come true. Mmmmm. I splurged to get some Jamon Iberico and it was heavenly!
 Paella Negra, made with squid ink. Mineral-y and umami with tender morsels of seafood. Also stained my teeth, giving them a greyish hue. Hot!
MNAC. Beautiful dancing fountains and modern art.

 Slabs of moist eggy cake sold by weight at a night market.

Overall, my short stay in Barca boasted of tapas, paella and copious amounts of sangria and bootleg whiskey. Wonder if I'll be able to afford El Bulli someday.....

Food Travels-France Part Deux. Paris.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Back to the city after a weekend in the Loire valley, just in time for Bastille day!
Hanging out at the Basilica of Sacre Coeur, Monmartre.

Art for sale.
Moulin Rouge, Pigalle. The iconic windmill.
Guess who got interviewed by a French reporter? I replied "Ooh Lala" and "viva la France" in response to whatever she said.
Catching a glimpse of the first spark in the sky, right next to the camera man.
At the Trocadero, Waiting for a good Spot for the Fireworks on Bastille Day.

After a tiring night of jostling with rowdy people and someone who (unsuccessfully) tried to pickpocket me on the Metro, I set things straight the next day with Pierre Herme's Macarons!

Guess who spent 80 Euros on pastries? To be unveiled after dinner. 

My friend M. brought me to the marche to do some shopping and made me dinner. The lineup: 
Seared Duck liver salad
Horse Steak. It was a tougher, gamier version of boeuf. Food list. Checked.
For dessert, From Pierre Herme:
Apricot Mille Feuille (Finally managed to pronounce it!)
Raspberry-Pistachio topped off with a meringue
Chantilly cream with apricot jelly and gold leaf
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