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« July 23, 2006 - July 29, 2006 | Main | August 6, 2006 - August 12, 2006 »

August 4, 2006

Cooking for a family reunion

I'm heading home early because the kitchen counters are filled with baking pans and the fridge is bursting with food. We're cooking tonight for a family reunion tomorrow. My brother-and sister-in-law are hosting and my husband and I have volunteered to do most of the cooking. On the menu are grilled flattened chickens, homemade sausages, a big chopped vegetable salad, fruit salad, hot dogs for the kids, a tray of brownies, and a handsome chocolate chip cake. Sound simple? We planned it that way, but I'll let you know on Monday if the plan worked.

Posted by Sheryl Julian at 06:20 PM
August 4, 2006

The meals on wheels come screeching to a halt

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Today was my fourth and final day of sampling food from area food carts and trucks. Along with high school interns Phil Donahue and Maria Fontes, I hit the M&M Ribs truck in Dorchester, the little bahn mi (Vietnamese sandwich) cart plus a Chinese pancake maker on the ground floor of the Chinatown Eatery food court, and fried dough on the Common (where a sausage vendor I had wanted to try was MIA). A pretty good day: those ribs (above) were mighty tasty, the sides might have been even better, and the bahn mi (below) was a crispy, creamy, crunchy delight. I'd rather not talk about the fried dough, and I don't mean that in a good way. Look for the story on Aug. 16.

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August 3, 2006

More meals, more wheels

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On Day 3 of my four-day food-truck eating binge for an upcoming package, I had some reinforcements, high school interns Phil Donahue (no Marlo Thomas jokes, please) and Maria Fontes. We had wraps and a burrito at Sami's (yum), Chinese at Yang's (not so yum), looked in vain for the Mister Frosty truck (some soft serve would've hit the spot), and then headed to Harvard for fabulous smoothies and juice (again) and for the most sophisticated dish so far: grilled steak with white bean/parmesan salad and baby spinach. The winner: Sami's. I'd get a falafel and hummus wrap (above) from them anytime, and the burrito (below, left) and California club (below, right) that my helpers ordered were no slouches, either.

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August 3, 2006

Is this stylish?

Sara Dickerman's story on Slate about Gourmet magazine's dreary covers lately piqued my interest. She talks about a "downright depressive cover from February -- a lonely-hearts Valentine's cover if ever I've seen one" that featured a chocolate cake that wasn't the least bit tempting.
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I also agree with Dickerman assessment of May's ribs. When I saw that cover, I honestly wondered if something awful had happened in production to take the luster away.
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July's cover, writes Dickerman, is "colorful enough to draw your eye but retains that muted elegance that's a hallmark of Gourmet style."
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Alas, here's where Dickerman and I don't think alike. The picture you see here is not how the cover was printed. The whole left-hand side was covered with type, more type went above the Gourmet logo, and don't forget the Universal Product Code label, which was on the right-hand bottom corner. I thought it was too busy and the photo lost its charm.

Posted by Sheryl Julian at 12:33 PM
August 2, 2006

Kitchen fires

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Restaurants can be tumultuous places, and it's not just water boiling on the stove. Steve Bailey's story today in the Business section about chef Lydia Shire's $1.2 million-dollar suit for age discrimination against Excelsior owner and developer Ken Himmel is certainly a case in point.

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The "he said, she said" details are outlined in the depositions and will be argued in court. But the underlying tension between creativity and containing costs to make money is a constant in any restaurant. Shire's genius at Biba when it was flying high, with Susan Regis as her collaborator, could be tasted on every plate. The food astonished you (although sometimes the service could do that, too -- less pleasantly). Whether the plates of offal, the tiny suckling pigs, the rich-as-could-be foie gras were cost-effective hardly seem to fit into the picture. Shire was always known for extravagance.

That tends not to be the model anymore. You can go into many a fine-dining restaurant and know pretty much what you're going to get -- especially those set up on a steak-house system -- and be confident you'll get the same quality and about the same flavors time after time.

Consistency can be good, and the better-financed restaurants are usually smoothly run these days. But don't we sometimes also miss those surprises?

Posted by Alison Arnett at 06:02 PM
August 2, 2006

Meals on wheels

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I'm on Day 2 of a four-day food-cart eating binge for an upcoming Food section splash. Yesterday it was Downtown Crossing and the Common for dogs, burritos, wraps, slush, and lemonade, and today it was the MIT food trucks for tacos, shawarma, and pizza (the venerable Goosebeary's truck was a no-show). All of my eating, just so you know, happened in the 100-degree heat, a fact that I'm going to remember the next time someone accuses me of having a cushy job.

The winners so far are the tacos, above, that I had today from Jose's at MIT. I got one pork and one steak, and while both were excellent (with soft homemade corn tortillas, pico de gallo, and pungent salsa verde), it's the pork I'll go back for: The meat was so deeply chile-flavored it must have been stewed for hours. That's what I want in a taco.

Where are YOUR favorite food-cart eats? Go to the message board here and let me know!

August 1, 2006

Hot hot hot

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As comfortable as it is in my office, I know it's broiling out there, and time to head out. I actually got up early this morning to bake a shortcake one more time before it goes into tomorrow's Food section -- as an accompaniment to fresh blueberries. (I like to make all baked goods twice before publication.) This isn't as mad as it sounds. The kitchen isn't hot early in the day and if everything goes according to plan, the oven doesn't get lit again that day.

I once did a story on what people eat during heat waves. I laughed so much while interviewing on the phone that my office mates looked at me strangely. Several said they don't eat; they simply go to a multiplex movie theatre and eat popcorn and drink sodas. One couple told me they watch TV, eat pizza, and keep their feet in buckets of cold water, with lots of fans. And so on. Some things I couldn't publish in a family newspaper.

Posted by Sheryl Julian at 08:23 PM
August 1, 2006

May the best brat win

OK, so I know that every sporting event from major league baseball to competitive tiddlywinks has to run on ESPN. I mean, any 10-year-old knows that. But a sausage-eating contest??

Yes, Saturday ESPN will air the 2006 Johnsonville (Wis.) Brat-Eating World Championship, pitting the "undefeated" top competive eater Takeru Kobayashi bratpix.jpg against Joey Chestnut and Sonya "the Black Widow" Thomas (I'm not making this up).

Johnsonville brats , or sausage, are the No. 1 brand, according to a press release, and the brat festival, one of several held in the Upper Midwest, has been held annually since 1953. The festival raises money for community organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Sheboygan recreation department. But the interest in eating contests, especially televised ones, is much newer. Sort of gustatory reality TV, where people hope to gain fame and fortune -- the brat contest prize is more than $20,000 -- by risking stomachaches or worse.

Somehow, though, describing competitive eaters as athletes and showing the contest on ESPN seems a little, well, unappetizing. Don't eat while you watch.

Posted by Alison Arnett at 05:23 PM
July 31, 2006

Corn etiquette

This is not a fingers or no fingers question. When eating corn, use your hands! The etiquette questions arises when you're buying corn. A colleague at the Globe was standing in front of a stack of corn at a farmers' market over the weekend, opening the tops of the stalks to see if the corn had developed all the way to the tip. You know maddening it is when you get home and find no kernels on the top couple inches. You want perfect ears, right? corn.jpg As she was peeling down the tops of the stalks, a young woman working the stand came over to her and scolded her. My colleague was told she was ruining all the ears of corn and if she wanted some, the worker would put them into the bag -- which she proceeded to do without checking the tops.

So, dear blog readers, what is the proper etiquette? Take your chances that every ear you drop into your bag is fully developed? Or peek inside. (I'm a peeker, too.)

Posted by Sheryl Julian at 06:21 PM
July 31, 2006

Anything but vanilla

As this week's Table Hopping column in City Weekly shows, local ice cream makers are nothing if not imaginative. Don't think I'll rush out to get the clam chowder ice cream, but soursop? I'm there. Peter DeMarco gets the scoop.

July 31, 2006

Crazy for melons

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I'm researching melons for a story that will run in the Food section next week and suddenly I'm dreaming melons -- canteloupe (my all-time favorite), organic honeydew, pink-fleshed (actually orange) honeydew, Crenshaw, Galia, Ambrosia (too sweet for me). The list is endless. Then there are watermelons -- personal, seedless, seeded, yellow, Baby Doll -- not as many varities, but according to produce managers, the most popular fruit in the summer.

However, I haven't yet come across answers to a curious custom that seems to cut across ethnic lines. When I was growing up, my second-generation German-immigrant relatives put salt on watermelon and pepper on canteloupe. I've talked to other people whose families reversed that -- pepper on watermelon, salt on canteloupe. It's not difficult to see where the impetus comes from. Salt or pepper would offset and even heighten a melon's sweetness. But how did they decide which one got the salt and which got the pepper?

Posted by Alison Arnett at 06:11 PM
July 31, 2006

Department of unnecessary gadgets

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Tell the truth. When you prepare to wash and dry your lettuces, herbs, or other greens, do you ever think, "If only I could plug in my salad spinner, and let electricity do the job!"? Of course you don't. But that hasn't stopped Westinghouse from designing and marketing an electric appliance for a job that honestly requires no such thing. I discovered this gizmo when researching salad spinners for an upcoming "Gadgets" column, and it strikes me as the equivalent of using nuclear weapons on a backyard anthill. OK, I exaggerate, and in all fairness, this thing also acts as a food processor, chopping vegetables and grating cheese. But you probably already have a Cuisinart or the like, anyway, and I'll bet it works much better than this. For delicate greens, a more delicate touch does the job.

July 31, 2006

Boston looked beautiful

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Last night, we joined friends on their 12th-floor balcony on Cambridge Parkway, next to the Royal Sonesta Hotel. Sipping wine and nibbling on Old Chatham Sheepherder's camembert-style cheese, we could see Boston from the Zakim bridge on one side, up the Charles River to the spires at Boston College on the other. It was breathtaking! We were all on our way to Neptune Oyster in the North End (no reservations), but our friends insisted that we wait until sundown, when all the buildings along the Charles turn from golden to persimmon as the sun goes down. It was worth the wait.

But in the North End, which was in the middle of a St. Joseph's celebration, the tiny Neptune had been so crowded that many items weren't being made (no vitello tonnato, no lobster roll!). I had a North End cioppino with grilled fish and saffron rice in the concentrated broth, a prize.

And then homeward. The shortcake I had made earlier in the day and set on the counter to cool was still sitting there. The recipe will be in Wednesday's Food section. Well, we had to taste it. And that led to another nibble. And then a cup of tea. Then a nibble. One of those nights.

Posted by Sheryl Julian at 02:34 PM
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