Wilson Farm + Tomato Festival

Wilson Farm, a family owned and operated farm since 1884 in Lexington, MA, held it's annual Tomato Festival this weekend.  Tomatoes varieties from A to Z including a bloody Mary mix were available for purchase.

Fruits and vegetables looking fresh and seasonal.

Wilson Farm staffers doled out samples of tomato recipes (think risotto, caprese salad, gazpacho, guacamole) and cut up slices of peaches and plums.

Games (such as kid-friendly flip cup) attracted kids of all ages; prizes included tomato planting and canning kits.

Saturday was a beautiful day to eat tomatoes and enjoy the summer sunshine.

An Afternoon at Taza Chocolate

Entry to Taza Chocolate's retail shop and tour site.

Raw cacao beans

Taza sources it's beans from Bolivia and the Dominican Republic; beans arrive in 70 kilo bags.

German roasting machine circa 1950's; found in a used industrial Italian warehouse.

A winnower, a machine used to separate the cacao nib from the shell.  The machine was transported from a soon-to-be-closing candy factory in the Dominican Republic to Somerville.  Shells are by-products at Taza and great for garden multch and loose leaf teas.

Packaging material is compostible.  Taza ships to 45 states, but local Bostonians can receive Taza by Metro Pedal Power.

Cacao pods and chocolate samples pre-tour

Items for sale in the retail store

Pictorial story of chocolate making

Thanks to Taza Chocolate for the delicious tour and samples! Also thanks to Rachel Blumenthal (@blumie) of Boston Food Bloggers (@BostonFoodBlogs) for organizing.

Bully Boy Distillery

10 a.m. isn't the usual time to visit Boston's only craft distillery much less sip vodka, white bourbon, and white rum.

Bully Boy is the brainchild of two brothers, Will and Dave Willis.  The pair use traditional techniques to produce small batch spirits emphasizing quality over quantity and local ingredients over whatever is available.


A small group of Boston University gastronomy graduate students toured the distillery hoping to get an inside peek at the inner workings of Bully Boy's operations.  Every step of the spirit making process is performed by hand.  The 600 liter copper pot still is the workhorse of the facility allowing the brothers to focus complex flavors, aromas, and mouth-feel into their spirits. 

This impressive business has bottles featured in some of Boston's top cocktail menus.  For more details, click here.

Farmer's Market Produce

Moving from Chicago to Boston meant an adjustment in many things including weather, accents, lack of taquerias, and timing of produce.

Working as a farmer's market assistant for Stillman's meant a weekly peek at the lastest and greatest produce offerings. 

Each week new vegetables and fruits would appear. Some berries arrived in limited quantities one week yet the following week tables would be overflowing. 

Colorful beets

Squash, beans and peas by the bushel.

Tomatoes and blueberries await a new home.

Cute boxes of sun gold tomatoes mean summer.

Beef Tenderloin + Rice Salad + Yogurt Dressing

This recipe is a hodge-podge of several recipes cobbled together.  My favorite part of this salad is the cooking method for the rice.  Thanks to Sara Moulton's appearance on food52, I discovered that it can be looked like pasta!  Just boil some water, add salt, add rice, stir, and cook for 17 minutes (that is the only precise part).  No more ratios, standing over the pot watching the rice cook, or heating up the oven (although cooking rice in the oven is my second favorite method).  The yogurt sauce was inspired by a vegetarian dish called mujaddara that combines lentils with onions and rice.  The spiced yogurt provides a cool and tangy flavor to the rice, onions, and beef.

Beef Tenderloin + Rice Salad + Yogurt Dressing
yield: 1 - 2 people

for the salad:
1/2 cup jasmine rice, uncooked
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
thinly sliced radishes (as many as you want)
8 ounces beef tenderloin (or a similar cut)
salt and pepper, to taste

for the dressing:
1/4-1/2 cup full fat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped mint
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Spanish paprika
lemon juice, to taste
salt & pepper, to taste

For the rice, bring a medium size pot of water to a boil. Add several large pinches of Kosher salt and add the rice.  Stir and cook for 17 minutes exactly.  Drain the rice and set aside in a mixing bowl to cool. 

While the rice is cooking, add the olive oil to a small saute pan set to medium heat.  Add the thinly sliced onions and slowly caramelize until soft and light brown.  This step could take about 20-30 minutes.  Add a tablespoon or two of water if the onions start to brown too quickly; the water will slow down the cooking process slightly. 

Add the onions to the bowl of cooled rice; its fine to let them stay at room temperature.

Mix the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl.

For the steak, season with salt and pepper on all sides. Heat the vegetable oil in a medium sized skillet over medium heat until very hot. Cook the steak, turning once, for about 3 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. Remove the steak to a plate or cutting board and set it aside for 5 minutes.

To serve, scoop some of the rice mixture into bowls. Thinly slice the meat and arrange some slices on top of each serving, add the sliced radishes, and spoon some of the yogurt sauce over the salad.

Rhubarb Strawberry Cobbler + Cornmeal Biscuits

This is part 2 of the "what to do with 2 gallons of strawberries" series.  In part 1, I made jam with chiles and black peppercorns.  I had this recipe filed away for about two years and finally finally! decided to make it with some slight changes: swap the raspberries for strawberries and use two types of sugar.  The dessert is delicious hot from the oven or straight-from-the-refrigerator cold. 

Rhubarb Strawberry Cobbler + Cornmeal Biscuits

adapted from the New York Times
yield: 8 servings

filling:
2 cups rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch pieces (about 5-6 stalks)
2 pounds fresh strawberries, washing, hulled, and cut in half
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon raw sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

biscuits:
1 cup all-purpose flour, more as necessary
2/3 cup fine cornmeal
1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2/3 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To make the filling, toss together rhubarb, strawberries, sugars and cornstarch in a large bowl. Allow mixture to stand while preparing biscuit dough.

To prepare biscuits, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.  Add butter and use two knives to cut butter into flour mixture. Pour in cream and continue stirring until dough starts to come together, scraping down sides of bowl if necessary.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently pat it together. Divide it equally into 8 balls, then flatten them slightly into thick rounds.

Pour filling and accumulated juices into a 2 1/2-quart gratin or a 9 by 12 inche baking dish. Arrange biscuits on top of filling and brush with cream. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until filling is bubbling and biscuits are golden.

Black & White Cookies in the North End

Looking for a unique outing on Saturday night? Interested in checking out the North End section of Boston, but don't want Italian delights? Start a black & white cookie crawl. 

Last weekend's spontaneous idea with friends proved to be a fun sugar filled walking tour of the North End.  The group consisted of three BU Gastronomy students and visited four bakeries. Each person purchased one cookie from a store. After the first visit to a bakery that yielded no cookie due to a sell-out, we decided that one person would survey the cases before getting in line. Once all cookies were purchased, we employed a "critical tasting analysis" upon conclusion of the tour.  After two attempts to seek a dry seating area due to rain, cookies were lined up so that we could observe the color, size, and shape.  After taking bites of each cookie, it was immediately obvious which cookie reigned supreme.  The analysis lasted about five minutes leaving a few crumbs.

Some historical background:  the black & white cookie is also called a half and half, a drop cake or a half moon cookie.  It is considered a Manhattan or New Jersey dessert.  Common differences occur in the texture of the cookie and the flavor of the fondant or icing.  More details of the cookie's origins can be found here.

Thanks to foursquare for some tips, maps, and one "crunk" badge upon check-in. 

Stop #1: Modern Pastry (257 Hanover Street)
The line at Modern Pastry spanned the length of two to three businesses.  The wait was close to 30 minutes, and sadly, no black & white cookies to be found.  Modern was sold out.  We did debate the merits of finding an alternative cookie, but that would be outside the evaluation limits.  During the wait, we discovered overpriced ceramic mugs.

Stop #2: Mike's Pastry (300 Hanover Street)
Always a popular favorite in the North End, the line to get into the shop was a bit misleading.  One long line on the right side of the building did not seem to notice the empty space on the left side of the building.  We quickly swooped in, got in line, and purchased a cookie ($3.50) without too much of a wait.  The cookie came in Mike's distinctive box with white and blue lettering and string.

Stop #3: Bova (134 Salem Street)

This 24 hour deli/pastry shop was a fantastic find.  The line inside was short consisting of locals or folks who knew where they were going.  Located off the main drag of the North End, the black & white cookies were large and $2.50 apiece.  Hot sandwiches lined the counter along with deli meats and fresh breads.  Returning for a meatball sub might have to go on the to-eat list this summer.

Stop #4: Maria's Pastry (46 Cross Street)

The last stop on the black & white cookie tour ended at Maria's, a shop on the front lines of the neighborhood.  We walked right into the shop after passing a cat hanging out by the front door.  Like Bova, the cookie was $2.50.

Black & White Cookie Analysis

The clear winner was Bova due to the cookie's price, visual appeal, and flavor of cake and both white and chocolate frostings.  The vanilla frosting on Mike's cookie was preferred (detection of lemon juice), but that cookie's chocolate frosting tasted fake and lacked real chocolate flavor.  Maria's cookie tasted stale and had a matte finish; the cookies from Mike's and Bova's shined and appeared fresh.


Total cost of this adventure was $8.50 with a side of colorful people watching and knowledge of shops for return visits.

Feel free to comment on your favorite place in the North End (bakery or otherwise).  

Strawberry Jam + Chiles

What to do with two gallons of strawberries? 

This is a redux recipe from last year.  I've been looking forward to making this strawberry jam again because there is nothing quite like fresh, ripe strawberries fresh off the vine.  This version of jam uses two kinds of sugar with the addition of a few whole black peppercorns for an extra kick.  No special canning required as this jam doesn't last very long in the refrigerator due to it's popularity.

Strawberry Jam with Chiles
adapted from Food52
yield: 2 to 2 1/2 cups

2 pounds sweet, ripe strawberries, hulled and halved (or quartered if large)
2 New Mexico chiles (or more) to taste
4 whole black peppercorns, optional
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup raw (demerara) sugar
Juice of 1/4 lemon

Place the strawberries in a heavy, medium-size pot. Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles (no soaking is required) and discard. Roughly chop the remaining dried chile flesh, and add it to the strawberries. Add the sugars and black peppercorns (if using).

Set the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil -- as the fruit begins to juice, the sugar will melt. Reduce the heat to a steady simmer and cook for about 1 hour. Gently stir every 10 minutes. Taste it every now and then to make sure there's enough chile heat and flavor.

As the jam cooks, use a spoon to lift off any scum that rises to the surface. The jam is ready when the strawberries are shrunken and lightly candied, and the syrup has slightly thickened.  Stir in the lemon juice and remove the pot from the heat.

Serve on toast, scones, ice cream, cakes or biscuits. Refrigerate any leftover jam.  Smile...you just made jam.

Gnocchi

I don't have an Italian grandmother, a nonna if you will, which probably explains why I never learned how to make gnocchi.  Actually, it has intimidated me for quite a while.  Eyeing (or eye-ing) this recipe and it's short list of ingredients gave me the determination to try it.  Knowing I could freeze the batch provided an extra dose of "make this now for another day when you don't have ricotta".  This makes enough pasta for 2-3 meals especially if the gnocchi are frozen. 

Gnocchi
adapted from Food52
yield: 2

1/2 pound (8 ounces) fresh whole milk ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/8 cup (2 ounces) finely grated Parmesan cheese
freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1 cup AP flour, sifted, plus extra for rolling dough
1-2 tablespoons butter
Lemon, for sauce

Mix ricotta cheese, egg, and olive oil.  Add grated Parmesan cheese to mixture and add with nutmeg to taste.

Add sifted flour a little at a time and continue to mix thoroughly until dough comes together.

Dump onto generously floured surface and work with hands to bring together into a smooth ball. Add more flour as necessary until dough is smooth and no longer sticks to your hands.

Cut off slices of dough and roll into ropes 1-1 1/2" inches thick by spreading hands and fingers and rolling from center out to each edge of the rope.

Line one rope parallel to another and cut 2 at a time into 1-inch pieces. Roll each piece off the back of a fork to make imprints that will help hold the sauce.

Transfer gnocchi pieces to a lightly floured or non-stick baking sheet so they don’t stick together and put in the freezer while making the rest of batch. If you plan to save any gnocchi for future use, allow them to freeze entirely on the baking sheet before storing in a plastic bag to prevent sticking.

When ready to eat, bring a large stockpot of generously salted water to a boil.

Add gnocchi to boiling water and gently stir once with a wooden spoon to create movement and prevent gnocchi from sticking. As gnocchi rise to the top {a sign they are done cooking} scoop them out with a mesh strainer and immediately place in serving bowl shaking off excess water.

Heat a small saute pan and add a tablespoon or two of butter.  Let the butter brown and then add the gnocchi.  Let the pasta cook in the butter to develop golden edges; this should take a few minutes.  When all the pasta is lightly browned, turn off the heat and squeeze lemon juice over the pasta and butter.

Plate the gnocchi, grate Parmesan cheese over the top, and serve.