Dim Sum Brunch with Herbivoracious

As a spring semester social media intern for the Harvard Common Press, I was paired with one of HCP's blogger authors, Michael Natkin. Last week, I along with a small group of Boston Brunchers had a chance to chat with Michael about his new book Herbivoracious and enjoy dim sum brunch at Moksa.  Boston was one of Michael's stops on the Herbivoracious book tour. A Seattle cook, writer, blogger, and now author, Michael wrote a globally inspired book of recipes full of unique flavors.  After spending several months "socializing" Michael's book, Herbivoracious, with vegetarian and food enthusiastic audiences, it was a treat to see the newly released book, especially seeing the color photos.  Michael shot all the photos in the book, all 80 of them. Herbivoracious contains vegetarian recipes with some conversions for gluten free or vegan options.  This conversation with Michael at Moksa, a two and a half month old restaurant in Central Square, Cambridge, proved to be a great setting to enjoy a Sunday dim sum brunch.
Moksa's dim sum brunch menu has a range of small plates and larger plates for sharing.  Chef Patricia Yeo (owner of Om Restaurant & Lounge) opened Moksa as Boston’s first Pan Asian Izakaya. Small plates are divided into Asian bbq meats, pan fried, steamed, and fried. Larger plates for sharing are noodles, rice, pancakes, and eggs. The dessert menu rotates on a daily basis. Moksa was very quiet during our Sunday brunch. The space has the feeling of a nightclub driven by a cocktail list.  Even though our group was the only party in the restaurant, our server explained every detail of the menu. We ordered a variety of vegetarian and meat dishes that the chef thought would be appropriate for the group.  Thanks to Moksa for the warm hospitality and the complimentary brunch. Special thanks to Adam Salamone and Bruce Shaw of Harvard Common Press for the fantastic internship experience.

A Day on the Farm

Today was spent visiting Stillmans at the Turkey Farm in Hardwick, MA. A few of us farmer's market assistants spent the afternoon at the farm.

Kate, the owner/farm girl/mom of an almost four year old, is in the middle of lamb-ing season. 

He is cute baby ram. Horns to come.

Baby lambs are born every day and at all hours of the day.  

The barn and house are just shy of 300 years old.

Adult rams - one is named Bernie, and he likes to misbehave.

Brunch at Bakers' Best

What's a little brunch before watching the Academy Awards?  A group of Boston Brunchers visited the catering machine known as Bakers' Best, a catering company located in Needham. Michael Baker, founder and owner, started his business due to a poorly constructed turkey sandwich eaten during a business trip.  That was 28 years ago.

Today, Bakers' Best focuses it's business on corporate accounts, special events, charities, and schools.  The company has nearly 120 employees; the hallmark of the culture is their people. Many employees stay with the company for five, ten, or even 15 years. Diane Wilson, director of sales, leads a team of 13 who work seven days a week. During the brunch, a sales member was at her desk taking orders.  In the catering world, work never sleeps.

Chef Phyllis Kaplowitz (graduate of Johnson & Wales who cooked at the James Beard House and member of Les Dames d'Escoffier) and her culinary team prepared a feast with beverages, passed appetizers, amuse, and buffet. As we toured the office, kitchen, storage, and delivery areas, Michael explained each area's role. The entire place was humming with activity; Bakers' makes 100+ deliveries each day. A team of overnight bakers prepares breads, pastries, and baked goods.  The company makes an effort to source some ingredients from local farms and purveyors.

pastry basket: Meyer lemon blueberry scones, jelly donut muffins, cinnamon buns, sweet potato biscuits, and lavender butter

Here is the menu Chef Phyllis created for the group:

typical scene at a food blogger event! citrus cured gravlax with pickled onions, lemon crème fraiche and frissee in "everything" bagel cup
maple brown sugar bacon cup with sweet potato hash
bite size waffle egg sandwich with house made turkey sausage, tomato jelly and Camembert
mini bloody mary shots with jumbo poached shrimp, green beans, and celery salt dusting
spicy tuna tartare in miso sesame cup with spicy mayo and soy pearls
baby seasonal quiches: spinach/mushroom/leek & goat cheese, bacon/potato/onion, tomato/asparagus/feta “beet ravioli” with field greens, shaved fennel, citrus and Spanish vinaigrette

challah french toast • assorted toppings and Vermont maple syrup

A special thanks to Michael Baker, Adam Klein, Erin, and Boston Brunchers for putting this complimentary event together.

Lunch at Ducali with Cookbook Author Crescent Dragonwagon

I recently joined a small group of Boston Bruncher bloggers to have lunch and conversation with the noted and published author Crescent Dragonwagon.  The setting was Ducali, a casual Italian restaurant in the North End. Crescent's publisher, Workman, graciously sent each blogger a copy of her latest cookbook, Bean by Bean.  The book is divided into chapters by season and includes everything from appetizers to desserts (yes, beans can be used in sweet preparations).  She gives helpful hints for bean storage, soaking, and the always interesting historical background of bean varieties.  Conversation with Crescent and her husband, David (an accomplished writer and photographer) ranged from her thoughts on creative writing to starting a writer's colony in Arkansas to her favorite beans,

Bean by Bean was a book four years in the making.  Crescent is no stranger to the lengthy writing process as she has published 50 books in her career.  She has a children's book called All the Awake Animals coming out in the Fall of 2012.  To Crescent, "the best part of writing is the writing". She encouraged writers (especially young writers) to write across genres, Another key takeaway was to find your voice in every story.  Crescent leads creative writing workshops that encourages writers to do just that.

All of the bloggers commented on Crescent's warmth, perspective, and humor. She can be reached via Twitter as @cdragonwagon

All this talk about the cookbook and writing was served up alongside pizzas and salad.

Our first course was carciofi (broiled artichoke) served with homemade garlic aioli.

The baby spinach salad with goat cheese and dried cranberries was enjoyed by all, as evidenced by these almost clean plates.

We tried three pizzas, all vegetarian.

Spinaci fresh mozzarella, garlic and spinach, topped with black pepper and Romano cheese.

The rugola, a mozzarella topped with arugula, drizzled with truffle oil and topped with shaved Parmesan cheese. The chunks of cheese were salty and irresistible especially with the drops of truffle oil.

Grilled eggplant, mushroom, zucchini and mozzarella topped with fresh goat cheese.

Ducali (@ducali on Twitter) is located along the northern border of the North End out of the fray of Hanover Street.  The restaurant's name comes from the nickname of a soccer team in Parma.
Blogger's note: Lunch was provided free of charge by Ducali and the cookbook was also provided by Workman Publishing.

Maple Granola

So many granola recipes, and not enough time to recipe test all of them.  What makes this recipe crunchy and delicious is the extra virgin olive oil. The maple syrup lends a sweetness along with the brown sugar.  The pieces of fruit add pops of color. Granola can be stored in an air tight jar on the counter or in the freezer.  My new favorite container is this Weck jar - will try not to buy them by the dozen.

Maple Granola
Adapted from Orangette who adapted her recipe from Food 52

1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup raw hulled sunflower seeds
1/2 cup silvered almonds
1/2 cup raw pecans, chopped
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup maple syrup (the real stuff, not pancake syrup please)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup each of dried cherries, dried apricots, raisins

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line a small to medium size baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, almonds, sunflower seeds, pecans, light brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Stir to mix.

Add the olive and canola oils and maple syrup, and stir well. Spread the mixture evenly on the lined sheet pan. Bake, stirring every 15 minutes, until the granola is toasted, about 45 minutes. Remove the granola from the oven, and season with more salt (if needed). Cool completely on a wire rack. Add the dried fruits and stir.

Store in an airtight container.

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Rosemary + Lemon + Olive Oil Cookies

These cookies are a hit. Expect an empty plate so be prepared to snag a cookie before sharing with your next party. A Meyer lemon (cross between an orange and a lemon) is the aromatic choice with intense and fragrant juice and zest. Rosemary is equally pleasing, but thyme is another option. Use a middle of the road extra virgin olive oil since this ingredient isn't the start of the show, but a key understudy.

Rosemary + Lemon + Olive Oil Cookies
adapted from FoodNetwork (yep, that one)
yield: 16-20 cookies

1 cup AP flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
8 grinds of black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary (thyme can also be substituted)
1 small lemon (Meyer, if available), zest and juice
2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons milk

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, black pepper, rosemary and zest.

In another small bowl or measuring cup, stir the lemon juice, olive oil, and milk together until blended.

Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Feel free to add additional milk by the 1/2 teaspoon if the dough looks too dry.

Scoop the dough into ping pong size balls and place on a parchment lined sheet pan.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges are golden. Let cool and serve with tea.

 

Steamed Mussels + Wine

Steamed mussels might be the easiest one pot dinner possible. A little wine, some tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil go into a Dutch oven or stock pot large enough to hold the mussels.  After a few minutes of simmering, the mussels are open and ready to soak up the sauce.  French fries are a traditional side accompaniment.  But, so is a Belgian beer.

PS: this piece of paper should accompany the bag of mussels; it is usually attached to the bag. The paper tells the harvest location, harvest date, type of shellfish, and shipping date. It also tells the name of the seafood distributor and where the shellfish was sold. I bought these mussels from a farmer's market.

Steamed Mussels
yield: one (entree) or two (first course)

Note: mussels that do not open after cooking should not be eaten.

2 pounds mussels, washed and free of any black fibers or beards
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red or white wine
1/4 tomato sauce
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste if needed

Pour the olive oil into a medium size stock pot and heat until the oil shimmers.  Add the wine and tomato sauce and heat until simmering, 2-3 minutes.

Add the mussels to the pot and cover with a lid.  Increase the heat to medium high. Cook the mussels for 4-6 minutes. Stir them once or twice during cooking. 

Remove the mussels from the pot and transfer to a bowl. Pour the wine and tomato sauce over the mussels. Serve with crusty bread and enjoy immediately. Use a second bowl for the empty shells.

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Ceia Kitchen & Bar: Boston Brunchers visit Newburyport

Spending a Monday morning at brunch isn't a typical occurrence, but when a holiday falls on a Monday, making brunch plans is a nice option.  Boston Brunchers organized a day time road trip to Ceia Kitchen and Bar in Newburyport, MA.  Ceia opened in the summer of 2011 and has received high praise from local and national media. 

Located in this charming Northshore town, Ceia garnered the attention of the Boston Globe and earned a mention on the newspaper's list of "best new restaurants of 2011".  Wine Spectator also named Ceia in its issue featuring the "2011 best restaurant wine lists in the world".  With a list featuring 120 bottles, the owner, Nancy Batista-Caswell, knows the importance of training her staff on the finer points of wine service.  Nancy recently spoke about her management practices in the January 2012 issue of Restaurant Management Magazine.

The word Ceia means “supper” in Portuguese, and the restaurant's menu reflects flavors from Spain, Italy, and Portugal. The brunch menu featured four courses with a cocktail with the first course and dessert wine to conclude. 
St. Germain 75
Oyster escabeche
Cold smoked asparagus with mache and mozzarella
Poached eggs, linguica and potato hash with Bernaise
Raspberry and Coconut Pain Perdu with a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc from Casablanca, Chile

Thank you to Nancy and her team for opening the restaurant early for the group.  This enjoyable meal was provided to Boston Brunchers free of charge by Ceia; writing a review was not a requirement to attend.

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