M3 Brunch in Davis Square

Pickles, fried chicken, and chocolate bacon.

I spent a recent Sunday visiting a brand new restaurant in Davis Square (Somerville, MA) called M3. This Southern style spot gets it's name from the meat and three (vegetables or sides) plates popular on restaurant menus south of the Mason Dixon line.  Given my Tennessee roots, this brunch outing was of particular interest. There's a lot of culinary interest in down home cooking and Southern popular culture. How much would the menu deviate from authentic menu items and methods? What aspects would be hyped? Cutting to the chase: I would definitely return.

Two tables of Boston Brunchers were greeted with small plates of a watermelon, cucumber and fresh goat cheese salad. Refreshing, cool, and crisp, this salad was the lightweight among the rest of the brunch dishes. I would have eaten this course halfway through or at end of the meal, as a palate cleanser of sorts.
Next came a variety of pickles: green beans, carrots, onions, and broccoli. Crunchy, tangy, and sour vegetables were a nice foil to the Scotch eggs - quail eggs wrapped in sausage covered in bread crumbs and deep fried.

A chicken biscuit covered in gravy can be found on the "vittles" section of the menu. We learned that the chicken nugget is made at M3; this juicy piece of meat shouldn't be modified, exceptional only to be made better with gravy and a homemade biscuit. The light coating of gravy nappes the sandwich ever so slightly.

One dish that needs a touch of seasoning is the fried chicken and waffles. The chicken breading needed some salt and pepper. I'm not sure if the intention of the breading was a sweet application to match with the sweet waffle and fruit, but without the salt and pepper, the breading tasted like funnel cake batter. The pieces of chicken were golden brown and delicious. I happily tore apart the meat with my hands.

Next on the list of carb-heavy brunch dishes was a plate of blueberry and lemon ricotta pancakes.  Because of the seating arrangements at the table, fellow blogger Erin and I got to split a plate of these cakes. Caught between feeling stuffed and "just have one bite", we took a few bites and agreed it was a solid breakfast stand-by.

Last but not least, we wondered what would end the meal. Plates of French toast and chocolate dipped bacon appeared on the tables. The thick pieces of toast were coated in cinnamon bran, dipped in an egg wash, and cooked on a griddle. Apple butter syrup, fresh berries, and big pieces of chocolate covered bacon topped the toast. It's breakfast and dessert on one plate. I tasted the bacon and could taste more chocolate than salty pork. Not for me, but I would imagine its a popular dish for the enthusiastic bacon lovers of the world.
And what is brunch without beverages: I was triple-fisting with a Mickey Mouse mug of coffee, a mini Bloody Mary (pickles, M3 tomato mix, and aquavit), and a mimosa (Prosecco, pomegranate, orange juice, and a cube of pickled watermelon).

M3's dinner menu offers frog legs, fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, and catfish. Main entrees include three sides; the sides that sound most appealing to me are peach cornbread and the pimento cheese fries.

Y'all come back now.
*Thank you to M3 for providing the food and drinks at no charge to the Boston Brunchers.*

Butternut Squash Pasta + Kale

Its been years since I have cooked a packaged pasta. Buitoni, the longstanding brand of pasta sauces, filled pastas, and noodles, recently announced two new pasta flavors. The nice folks (thanks Sarah!) at Buitoni's agency, Night Agency in NYC, contacted me about tasting these pastas and creating a new recipe or two.  Armed with coupons to try them out, I brought home packages of the Butternut Squash Agnolotti (half moon shapes filled with butternut squash puree, ricotta cheese, and amoretti cookie crumbs) and the Chicken Marsala Ravioli (chicken, roasted mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, and Marsala wine). Both of these pastas are part of Buitoni's all natural reserve product line.  

Preferring the Butternut Squash, I made a list of ingredients that plays well with the agnolotti filling. Nutmeg immediately jumped to the top of the page. Shallots and garlic are always reliable aromatics. Finally, kale emerged as the other star of the show. The green leafy vegetable often shows up butternut squash side dishes or savory pies. Plus, it seems to be everywhere this time of year and for a bargain.

What I didn't want to create was another sauce, especially one chock full of butter or cream. Not that those sauces don't taste good - they just didn't seem to fit with this pasta.    What I like about this recipe is the use of a delicious filled pasta (the filling really tastes like butternut squash) along with seasonal ingredients, not to mention local.  This means cutting out some kitchen time (rolling and stuffing pasta) yet still chopping, stirring, and toasting raw ingredients. Water boils while the kale wilts in the saute pan. Active cooking time means dinner gets eaten sooner. 

Kale is one of those superfoods that gets lots of name dropping for health benefits and nutritional impact. It is a frequent guest on farmers market tables in the summer as well as the winter. In other words, this pasta recipe fits the summer and the January dinner menus. There are many varieties of kale - use whatever you find at the market. Since they all look like mini shrubs, rip off the stems and tear the leaves. No need to bring out the knife this time.  Unlike the other green leafy vegetable, spinach, it won't disappear quite as quickly in the pan.  Another +1 for this recipe: it only took 30 minutes, from start to finish.    

*I was not compensated for these products or recipes - the Night Agency provided me with coupons to purchase the pastas free of charge*

Butternut Squash Pasta + Kale + Toasted Sunflower Seeds

yield: 3-4 servings

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups kale (any variety), stems removed and leaves torn into pieces
1 small shallot, thinly sliced, about 1 tablespoon
1 garlic clove, chopped, about 1 teaspoon
1/2 cup (4 ounces) chicken or vegetable stock
Fresh nutmeg
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon toasted sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon grated Pecorino cheese
1 package Buitoni Butternut Squash Agnolotti


Cook the Buitoni pasta according to the instructions on the package.

Heat the olive oil in a medium size skillet on medium high heat.  Add the kale and toss the leaves in the olive oil to coat.  Watch how the color changes to bright green.  When the kale starts to wilt a little, add the shallot and garlic. Turn the heat down a bit to avoid burning the shallot and garlic.

After about five minutes of cooking, add the chicken or vegetable stock. The stock will sizzle and start to form a sauce, of sorts. The kale will get more tender. 

Grate the nutmeg over the kale - 20 gratings should do the trick.  Use more or less depending on taste. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper.

When the pasta is ready, spoon the agnolotti into a bowl or plate. Add several spoonfuls of the kale on top of the pasta. Sprinkle with toasted sunflower seeds and cheese.

San Francisco Sights

wine flight before redeye flight to Boston

I definitely left my stomach in San Francisco; everything from wine to pizza to salted caramel ice cream to crudo to a mortadella hot dog. And, there are many places I didn't get to on my list.

 salted caramel + strawberry balsamic: Bi-Rite Creamery in the Mission

menu + refreshing hibiscus drink: Nopalito

Omnivore Books: tiny shop full of cookbooks, old and new

Boccalone in the Ferry Building: Chris Constantino's shop devoted to tasty pig parts

Tasting menu + wine pairings: Commonwealth in the Mission

Pot and Pantry: store sells gently used high end kitchen gear and offers recreational food classes

Marin County/San Rafael Farmers Market: 3rd largest market in California

Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream

Strawberry season might be over and done with in New England. Some farms might have strawberry fields ready later in the summer, but there is no guarantee especially when conflicting weather occurs. Other parts of the US might have strawberries at markets - if so, snatch them up and make this ice cream.

What makes this ice cream extra special is the strawberry puree.  Berries cook until they release their sugars and bubble in a not too thick syrup. Use "good" balsamic vinegar, the thick kind that costs a bit more at the grocery or specialty stores. A little goes a long way, and the extra money is worth the spend. Blend the berries and vinegar into a smooth puree and add to the ice cream base once everything is cooled. The rosy, light pink color looks like summer.

PS: if you want to extend this recipe to include ice cream sandwiches, the full cookie recipe is here. Promise its worth the extra effort.
Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream
inspired/adapted from Food52 & Bi-Rite Creamery
yield: one quart of ice cream

1 1/2 pints strawberries, hulled (stem removed) and halved
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup whole or 2% milk
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

for the strawberry balsamic puree:

Add the strawberries and first round of 2 teaspoons vinegar to a medium size sauce pot. Put the pot over medium heat and cook for about 8 minutes until the strawberries are soft and a lot of the berry juices are released. This step takes close to 7-8 minutes.

Let fruit cool slightly, then transfer the berries and their juices to a blender or food processor. A hand-held immersion blender could also work. Purée until smooth and hold the puree in the refrigerator until the ice cream base is very cold.

for the ice cream base:

In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks and a 1⁄4 cup of sugar.

In a heavy nonreactive saucepan, stir together the heavy cream, milk, salt, and the remaining 1⁄4 cup of sugar and put the pan over medium-high heat. When the mixture has tiny bubbles on the surface (a slight simmer), reduce the heat to medium.

Carefully pour 1⁄2 cup of the hot cream mixture (a ladle works well here) and, while whisking the eggs constantly, add the cream to the bowl with the egg yolks. Repeat, adding another 1⁄2 cup of the hot cream to the yolks. This tempering process gets the egg yolks ready to go into the pan with the rest of the hot cream mixture. Not going this would result in creamy scrambled eggs. Using a heatproof rubber spatula, stir the cream in the saucepan as you slowly pour the egg-and-cream mixture from the bowl into the pan. A kitchen helper helping stir would also be a good idea, if you are a first time ice cream maker.

Cook the egg and cream mixture carefully over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is thickened. You will know the base is done when it coats the back of a spatula and holds a clear path when you run your finger across the spatula.

Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container and cover with a top or place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the egg mixture. Refrigerate the base for at least 2 hours or overnight. You want this mixture to be very cold.

Whisk the strawberry purée and the remaining 2 teaspoons vinegar into the chilled base.

Freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Eat immediately or transfer to a container and freeze for at least 4 hours for a more solid ice cream.

B Street Newton Brunch

In March I visited B Street Newton with Renee and Lara. The best thing we ate was B Street's turkey chili as noted in Renee's review. Because it was featured on the winter menu, I crossed my fingers in hopes that it would be featured on the recent Boston Brunchers tasting menu.
Alas, the chili was absent from the menu, but that meant trying many other items.  Eight brunchers were treated to a variety of summer menu tastes. Rose sangria (lots of fruit, but the rose was not punched up enough) and bloody Mary's (slightly spicy) kicked off the brunch. 

First courses were shared and included a potato flatbread pizza with fried eggs and bacon; hanger steak and scrambled egg quesadilla; feta and spinach phyllo tart; challah French toast with apples. All of these courses were well prepared, tasted delicious, but did not leave me overly impressed.   
Feeling like we could stopped eating after the first courses, I split the hangover burger with Liz from Eating Places; similar to other restaurant menus, the burger came on a grilled English muffin with bacon and a fried egg and roasted potato wedges on the side. We slid the egg off the burger due to previous first courses involving eggs. Might just be a personal preference, but I think the fried egg and bacon combo on everything has run its course. 
As a surprise to the group, the pastry chef made several seasonal fruit desserts. The strawberry rhubarb crumble with ice cream was a hit at the table. Sweet and sour flavors prove how this combination is a favorite. 
B Street Newton prefers to adjust it's menu with the season. Having an ever-changing menu keeps customers interested and curious about what is coming next.  

neighborhood destination, I would recommend dining at B Street if in the Newton area; its convenient to the Green D line (Newton Centre stop).

The brunch was provided free of charge, and the opinions are my own. Thanks to Boston Brunchers and B Street Newton's owner and staff for the meal.

White Rice + Technology

This is a story of why rice is an important ingredient to have in your kitchen. Not just because its an inexpensive pantry staple, but because it can save your mobile device. Run to the grocery store and buy a big bag to keep on hand the next time your smartphone decides to take a swim. 

Three days ago I dropped my phone, an Android, in water. The exact specifics of the situation will remain vague in order to avoid further self imposed embarrassment. So mad at myself I stomped home from leisurely reading at a coffee shop.

Recalling the urban legend of rice absorbing any liquids and restoring a phone back to life, I put the entire device in a bowl of rice. All that talk about rice drying out a phone has to be true, right?

I wait a few hours and turn it on. Nothing happens.  I remove the SIM card and put into an "older" flip phone circa 2010. The SIM card works great, and I can make calls and send texts. No fancy picture taking, but it will do.  

The Android stays in its rice bowl over night, and Saturday I march to the nearest TMobile store to see if they can do anything. TMobile dude turns it on! But, moments later, the screen goes black, and he said it might not ever work.  He advises me to look for an unlocked GSM phone on Amazon.com as a replacement. I search the site and find the exact model, but decide to wait because "WHAT IF THE RICE REALLY SAVES MY PHONE?!

Sunday afternoon I pull the phone out of the rice and turn it on. Everything starts to work, battery is fine, signal connection. Except the screen won't respond. So close, and yet so far away. Power the phone off and wait. And wait. A few hours later, after performing a hard master reset (hold the power + volume down + home buttons together), the phone and the screen come back to life. The SD card contains pictures. Other than downloading a few apps, its as if nothing had happened to the phone.

This white rice technique (plus an entire weekend of leaving the phone alone) actually works. If this happens to you, try it and leave a comment or two. While you wait for your phone to come back to life and need a dinner idea, try baking rice in the oven.  There's a lot of rice leftover in that bag.  


Breakfast Sandwich with Avocado

The breakfast sandwich is a hot item these days. Cafes, restaurants, and food trucks have one on their menus and each claims to be the best. While I have my favorites (here's looking at you Cutty's, Clover, and Area Four), I like the lazy freedom of making one at home whenever I want.

This sandwich comes together fast, so be prepared. Get your coffee, tea, OJ, or Diet Coke (hey, no judgement) ready, toast the bread, slice the cheese and avocado. While the eggs cook, don't leave the kitchen to check your email or send a tweet (except to say you are making a breakfast sandwich at home) because the eggs will overcook faster than you can say "Instagram isn't working! How will I capture this gastronomic moment?"

Breakfast Sandwich

inspired/adapted by Deb/Smitten Kitchen
yield: 1

1 sliced Brioche roll, English muffin, or 2 pieces of bread
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 egg
Black pepper and Kosher salt
1 tsp water
thin slices of avocado and white cheddar cheese
dashes of hot sauce (optional)

Get your breakfast drink of choice in progress.

Heat your broiler or toaster. Place the pieces of bread under the broiler (or in the toaster) until lightly toasted. Watch the bread carefully to avoid burning.

Heat a 9 inch nonstick skillet on medium low heat. Break the egg into a small dish and using a fork, beat the egg with the water and season with a pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper.

Melt butter in the pan. Pour in the egg and roll it around so the egg covers the pan like a crepe. The egg will cook in about 60-90 seconds; the edge will be firm when prodded with a fork or small spatula.

Fold the "side" of the egg nearest to you (similar to folding a letter). Repeat this action on the three remaining egg "sides"; you should end up with something resembling a square.

Leave the folded egg square in the skillet to cook for another 30 seconds, then slide onto one piece of bread. Add slices of avocado and cheese. Before topping with the other piece of bread, add a few dashes of hot sauce.

Eat immediately.

Cricket Creek Farm

In continuing the tour of Massachusetts farms, last Sunday I visited Cricket Creek Farm with my friend Elizabeth and her four legged companion, Jackson. Our friend, Jenni, is spending the rest of this year as a cheese-maker at CC, and we wanted to check out her new home. From Boston, the drive is all of three hours, but it's a scenic drive on Route 2. 

Located near Williamstown, Cricket Creek is a small, grass fed dairy with a herd of 40 Brown Swiss and Jersey cows.  Pigs, chickens, and guinea hens also roam the farm, and Cricket Creek is one of the few Massachusetts farms licensed to sell raw milk.  It is very delicious and unlike any milk found in the grocery store. Thick, smooth, and fresh. 

piglets hang out under the a-frame

afternoon nap from the sun


The farm includes a store stocked with bread, eggs, beef, pork, milk, and other condiments. Customers use the honor system when paying for their items.  A CSA (community support agriculture) program allows customers to receive weekly shares of meat, eggs, and dairy products. Boston cheese fans can purchase the award winning cheeses at Formaggio Kitchen. Central Bottle, and City Feed and Supply.  

a cat named creamy on watch in front of the store

Asparagus Salad

Admittedly, asparagus isn't a favorite. However, thinly shaved and tossed with a honey vinegar dressing, I think asparagus and I could be friends.  This pencil-like vegetable is best in the spring and sourced from your farmer. The mizuna is a hearty green that can be eaten raw or cooked. It just adds some extra bulk to the asparagus.  Pick your favorite fresh herb, chop and sprinkle along with some cheese.

Shaved Asparagus Salad

Serves: 2
Adapted from Food52

1/2 bunch asparagus
1/2 cup loosely packed mizuna or arugula
1/2 teaspoon chopped lemon verbena or mint
1 teaspoon Sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, thinly grated

Use a vegetable peeler to thinly shave the asparagus lengthwise to create strips.

Whisk together vinegar, honey, and olive oil. Toss with the lettuce and asparagus. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Grate the cheese on top. Sprinkle the lemon verbena or mint as the final touch on the salad.

Bacon + Brunch at Common Ground

Bacon. Bacon. Who's got the bacon?

Common Ground would be the answer.

Boston Brunchers visited Common Ground, a bar and grill located in Allston on Harvard Avenue, on a sleepy Mother's Day morning. CG has a new owner, new chef, and new menu. The group was greeted by a very enthusiastic owner, Bob O'Guin. After loading up our plates at the breakfast buffet, he brought each table plates of smoked and satisfyingly salty pork belly. Across the street from Common Ground is a building called "Bacon Chambers". Coincidence? Bob and his front of house managers just laughed. Special thanks to Bob, Nancy, and the CG for making our brunch enjoyable and "on the house". Your hospitality and generosity is appreciated.