Lindt Pistachio And Cranberry Bark

Something red and green and very simple... just for Christmas...

All you do to make this gorgeous, tasty bark is unwrap four Lindt white chocolate bars. Break them up in a microwave-safe dish, and microwave the chocolate in 15-second increments, stirring between each, until melted and smooth. Stir in a half cup each of pistachios and dried cranberries. Pour the whole thing onto a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Spread it out the best you can, and pop it in the fridge to harden. Once it has hardened, break it up into pieces, and voila, you have made bark.

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Hope Santa was good to you!


Chocolate Fluted Kiss Cups

We used to make peanut butter balls every year. And every year as the nicely rolled peanut butter balls would crumble into the chocolate dip, we would scream and yell at each other about how we were never making them again. But everyone loves chocolate and peanut butter, so we didn't think we could get away with just taking them off the list without replacing them with something equally tasty.

So a few years ago, I found this Hershey's recipe for chocolate fluted kiss cups. Hershey's to the rescue! When all is said and done, these aren't much easier than peanut butter balls, but they are a lot less frustrating, and maybe a little less time-consuming.

Chocolate Fluted Kiss Cups (Hershey's Kitchens)

1½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
Peanut butter filling (recipe follows)
24 Hershey’s Kisses

Peanut butter filling
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon butter or margarine, softened

Line small muffin cups with small paper baking cups.

Place chocolate chips in small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at high 1 minute; stir. If necessary, microwave at high an additional 15 seconds at a time, stirring after each heating, just until chips are melted when stirred. With small brush, coat inside of paper cups with melted chocolate.

Refrigerate 20 minutes; coat any thin spots. Refrigerate until firm, preferably overnight. Gently peel paper from chocolate cups.

Prepare peanut butter filling; spoon into chocolate cups. Cover; refrigerate before serving. Remove wrappers from chocolate pieces. Before serving, top each cup with chocolate piece.

Peanut butter filling
Beat peanut butter, powdered sugar, and butter in small bowl until smooth.

Notes: I find that using the back of a small spoon to coat the paper cups works much better than a brush. I also try to find festive mini cupcake wrappers so I can just leave the wrappers on, rather than risk breaking all of the candies by unwrapping.

I don't see any need for refrigerating the cups after putting the filling in and then putting the kisses on. Fill, adorn with kisses, then refrigerate. Then if they're going on cookie platters to be eaten later, it doesn't matter how cold they are. If you plan on serving them, take them out of the fridge for a little while before so they can soften a bit.

Lastly, don't be afraid to coat thickly with the chocolate.

Swirled Bark

This is perhaps the simplest bark to make. It's almost as easy as picking up a package of bark at the store, but why not make it yourself if you can? It's white chocolate, semisweet chocolate, and some shortening, all melted and swirled together. You really can't go wrong.

Swirled Bark (from Nestlé, 1991)

One 8-oz. pkg. (4 foil-wrapped bars)
Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate baking bars
3 tablespoons vegetable shortening, divided
One 6-oz. pkg. (3 foil-wrapped bars) Nestlé Premier White baking bars

Melt semi-sweet chocolate baking bars and 1 tablespoon shortening, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat; set aside. Melt over hot (not boiling) water, Premier White baking bars and remaining 2 tablespoons shortening, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat.

Drop spoonfuls of melted semi-sweet baking bars and melted Premier White baking bars alternately into 13x9-inch pan. Swirl mixtures with tip of knife to marbleize. Refrigerate until firm, about 1½ hours. Break into pieces to serve. Store in refrigerator.

Note: I've used Ghirardelli white chocolate chips instead of Nestlé and chocolate chips instead of baking bars. All work well.


Almond Brickle

This brickle is another crowd favorite. I usually make two batches of it separately. This year I doubled the recipe and made both at the same time.

The recipe comes from one of those minimags you find at the grocery store checkout, touting delicious baked goods and holiday recipes. The only change is that I've always used semisweet chocolate chips instead of milk chocolate chips.

Almond Brickle (Nestlé, 1991)

1¼ cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1½ cups firmly packed brown sugar
One 11½-oz. pkg. (2 cups) Nestlé Toll House milk chocolate morsels

Sprinkle almonds over bottom of well-greased 13x9-inch baking pan; set aside. In large heavy-gauge saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in brown sugar until dissolved. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil 7 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour over almonds. Cool 5 minutes. Sprinkle milk chocolate morsels on top. Let stand 5 minutes or until morsels become shiny and soft; spread evenly over top. When cool, refrigerate 20 minutes to set chocolate. Break into 1½-inch pieces.

Hazelnut Butter Balls

I started making these for the first time last year when I saw a picture of them in one of Better Homes and Gardens' special issues.

I love Nutella, almost as much as I love peanut butter, so these truffles are really a big hit with me, and I found that everyone we gave them away to really loved them as well. I would never have thought to put crushed graham crackers in a truffle filling, but it works. The only thing is the filling can be a bit crumbly. I added extra whipping cream as necessary to make the filling stick together. I also just microwaved the chocolate and shortening instead of dirtying a pan. It works just fine.

Hazelnut Butter Balls (Better Homes and Gardens, Christmas 2007)

1½ cups chocolate-hazelnut spread
24 cinnamon graham cracker squares, crushed
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon whipping cream
12 ounces semisweet baking chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons shortening
2 tablespoons finely chopped toasted hazelnuts (optional)

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper; set aside. Beat chocolate-hazelnut spread and crushed graham crackers in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Gradually stir in powdered sugar. Stir in whipping cream to make a stuff mixture. Shape mixture into 1-inch balls; place balls on prepared baking sheet. Chill for 1 hour.

Cook and stir chocolate and shortening in a medium saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Quickly dip balls, one at a time, into melted chocolate using a fork. Draw the fork across the rim of the saucepan to remove excess chocolate. Place candy on the baking sheet lined with waxed paper. If desired, sprinkle with hazelnuts. Chill for about 1 hour or until set. Makes 54.

To Store
Place candy in a single layer in an airtight container; cover. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Tiger Butter

swirled peanut butter white chocolate with milk chocolate
I'm not even sure where this recipe came from. It's one of those hand-written ones on a now faded and food-covered torn sheet of paper. It's very simple to make and looks gorgeous when it's done, and if you love peanut butter and chocolate (like I do), you'll really enjoy it.

Tiger Butter
1 pound white chocolate
½ cup chunky peanut butter
6 ounces (1 cup) semisweet chocolate morsels

Line a 15½- by 10½-inch jelly roll pan with wax paper. Break white chocolate into 1-inch pieces in a 1½-quart bowl. Microwave on high (100 percent power) 1 to 2 minutes or until melted. (White chocolate chips will require less time to melt.) Stir until smooth. Add peanut butter and microwave on high for 2 minutes, or until melted; stir until smooth. (Microwave an additional 30 seconds if needed.) Spread mixture into prepared pan.

layer of chunky peanut butter mixed with melted white chocolate
In a 2-cup microwave-safe measuring cup, melt chocolate morsels on high for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Pour melted chocolate over peanut butter mixture; swirl through with a knife. Refrigerate. When firm, cut or break into pieces.

peanut butter white chocolate layer covered with gobs of milk chocolate


Home Away From Home: Part 4

We left Kittery and Robert's behind on Friday night and headed to Freeport. We arrived close to 8 and drove through town to see if anything was still open; only LL Bean was. The stores around there tend to close up by 6, sadly. So we went to our bed and breakfast of choice, the Brewster House, checked in and unloaded. Then we hopped back in the car and went to Bean. It's tradition that no matter when we get into town, we always have to go check out Bean. So we strolled around there for a bit, feeling fleeces and flannel sheets, and giggling over tiny ornaments and little cans of Maine blueberries. Then we left and went to bed because the next day was sure to be an exhausting day of shopping.

And it was. We had our breakfast (a lovely egg strudel with sausage and scalloped potatoes) and hit the shops (correction, we hit Starbucks and then the shops). We use this trip for Christmas shopping and a little self-indulgence. Case in point: I knew I was buying myself a new pair of Uggs.

We stopped once for lunch at the Jameson Tavern. We always remember it as being better than it actually is, which entices us to stop in, but then we're usually disappointed with the food. Maybe since I've written about it this year, we'll remember not to go next year.

But in contrast to that, when we finally finished shopping (or the stores closed and prevented us from shopping further), we regrouped, rested up, and ventured out to Conundrum. Conundrum Wine Bistro is one of my all-time favorite restaurants. I only go there one or two times a year, and I wish there wasn't such a long span of time between my visits.

Conundrum sign
Conundrum is dark and cozy inside. This time we were directed to a small table in the back corner. It's right next to the oversized leather couch and coffee table, where some people choose to dine. It was our waitress' third day on the job, but she was spectacular. She brought us our menus and the wine list. I scanned the wine list first, looking for something I might want to try. Somehow the word "monkey" caught my eye. I have a thing for monkeys... so I had to try Barrel Monkeys Shiraz. And with the drinks ordered, it was time to think about food.

We started with a cheese platter, laden with cheddar, grapes, nuts, and crackers. And then we split the BLT salad. I like to try wedge salads wherever I go. Conundrum's is pretty good; my only complaint was with the lettuce. I just wished it had been a bit greener and a little less bitter. (Burton's Grill is in first place for best wedge salad in my book.)

And for dinner, I ordered what I thought was the robust and velvety beef stew I had always enjoyed in years past. When the stew arrived, I took one bite and knew instantly that something was off. This wasn't my stew. When the waitress came back over, I mentioned to her that the stew didn't taste the way it normally did and asked if the chef had changed his recipe. She went to the kitchen to check and reported back that this was a Guinness beef stew I was eating and that it replaced the bourbon-marinated beef stew I had always enjoyed. I was bit letdown and asked her to suggest that the chefs go back to the old recipe as it was much, much better. Just think about it: Doesn't bourbon-marinated just sound so much more inviting than Guinness? (Even though I do love my Guinness.) Also gone from the menu was the famous shepherd's pie I mentioned in a previous post.

My mom had tossed around a few options and finally went with the roasted chicken with creamy mashed potatoes. The chicken was cooked really well and tasted great, but we both agreed the potatoes could not be described as creamy. We think they were just potatoes, with no additions like butter, cheese, milk, or cream. But overall it was a good dish.

I don't know how, but somehow we managed to have room for dessert. My mother ordered the apple crumble.

And I got the molten chocolate cake, which had a different name that escapes me at the moment. Both of our desserts were amazing. I find that sometimes restaurants focus so much on the food that desserts are a letdown; not so here. The middle of my cake oozed out of its baked shell. It tasted just like underbaked cake batter and had a texture like that of underbaked brownies, maybe a little thinner. I wish I could get my molten cake to come out like this one.

Conundrum is definitely a restaurant worth checking out if you're ever in the Freeport area. I recommend it over any of the restaurants in town, and I've been going to Freeport long enough to have tried most of them. No one is pretentious or snobby -- which you might encounter at the Muddy Rudder. And the food is of a higher quality than what you'd find at Jameson Tavern or Gritty's. Although both are great if you just want a beer and some pub food.


Home Away From Home: Part 3

Because Veteran's Day fell on a Tuesday this year and eliminated the possibility of a long weekend, my mother and I had to rearrange the usual plan for our Veteran's Day shopping weekend in Maine.

I took a half day on Friday, and we decided to stop in Kittery for our first round of shopping instead of plowing straight on to Freeport and hitting LL Bean so late that everything else is closed, as we would normally do.

We arrived in Kittery around 3:30 p.m. and immediately stopped into the Crate&Barrel outlet. I scanned the store for any new gadgets, dishes, or cookbooks I might want. Somehow I only bought some boxes for giving away Christmas cookies and escaped without buying up everything in the place.

We went to a few other stores and decided to stop for a "snack." Unfortunately, there aren't too many options around. There's Bob's Clam Hut, which is great for fried seafood, if that's what you're in the mood for, but we weren't. There's Weathervane, which I really don't like. There's Burger King, which doesn't even count. And lastly, there's Robert's. I love Robert's. I make it a point to go there any time I'm in Kittery.

Thinking we would just pop in, sit at the bar, and have a couple of appetizers, we headed in that direction. Drinks were easy enough: The bartender said "raspberry cosmos," and we said, "OK." Then we started looking at the menu... and the specials.

Our order ended up being two Duxbury oysters, steamed mussels a la Howard, the fall salad, and the linguine with clams special. So much for a snack!

Soon after we ordered, the bartender brought over some crackers and an artichoke spread. We munched on these and sipped our cosmos until the oysters and mussels arrived. I wasn't in an oyster mood that day, so I didn't have one, but my mother said they were delicious.

The mussels a la Howard were definitely my favorite part of the meal. The steamed mussels are served in a bowl of cream sauce with fennel and sausage. I would scoop each mussel out of its shell, swirl it around in the cream sauce, and spear a piece of sausage to eat with it. I've had a lot of steamed mussels in wine sauce dishes before but nothing like this.

Then the fall salad arrived. Knowing we were splitting it, the bartender had asked the chef to put it on two plates, so we each got a dish of greens with cranberries and walnuts, topped with goat cheese and a roasted shallot vinaigrette.

By that time we were ready for new drinks. My mother ordered a blueberry martini made with Cold River potato vodka. We had been to Freeport earlier this year for a food and drink tasting and had sampled this particular vodka. I found the aftershock too harsh, but my mother didn't. I ordered a pumpkin martini, which I think had rum rather than vodka, as well as some nutmeg... and based on how I slept that night, possibly some espresso.

Our entree arrived, also split between two dishes. It was wonderful and was my mother's favorite. I loved it but didn't think it took rank over the mussels.

And to finish our "snack," we had bite-size desserts. I can't even tell you what a great idea this is. By the time I finish dinner, I usually want dessert but know most of it will go to waste because I'm so full. At Robert's you can get any of the desserts in a bite-size version. My mother ordered the blueberry crumble, and I got the mocha fudge cake. They came served in small ramekins. We had enough to sample our own desserts and try a little of each other's. It was the perfect ending to the meal.


Home Away From Home: Part 2

This October I went to the Cape twice -- on Columbus Day weekend (as is tradition) and also the following weekend (to finally check out the Wellfleet Oyster Festival).

I was looking forward to my annual visit to The Wicked Oyster. Unfortunately, things didn't start off so well and kept getting worse. I wanted to go the first weekend when my boyfriend was with me, but we had a group of 7 and couldn't get a reservation. We went next door to the Duck Creeke Tavern instead. While it was nice, it was no Wicked Oyster in my book. The following weekend when I returned to the Cape with some friends, we still had a large group that needed to be accommodated. My mother knew how much I wanted to go to the Wicked Oyster and made a reservation at the only time they had available to seat a party of 8: 9:30 p.m. When we got there at 9:15, we were told we would be seated soon. At 10:30 we finally had a table. If there hadn't been a Red Sox game on in the bar and delicious cranberry mojitos to sip, I might have just given up.

Our waitress didn't seem to think much of the fact that we had waited an hour for a table we had reserved. When I used to waitress, if I had an upset table, I would work my hardest to make my customers happy, even if I hadn't been the cause of their problem. She clearly didn't think that way. She continued our miserable experience by being somewhat inattentive and blase.

But on to the food... I ordered the butternut squash soup and the pan roasted catch of the day. The soup was just ok. My dad makes a better one. And the catch of the day was black cod, served with fingerling potatoes, leeks, and littlenecks in a cream sauce. The fish was nicely cooked and overall I enjoyed the dish.

My brother and my roommate both got the night's special, which was salmon resting on spinach vichyssoise with a cornmeal salmon cake. It would have been fine had the salmon been cooked. My roommate sent hers back in spite of the waitress's explanation that salmon is usually cooked medium rare. No, tuna is cooked medium rare. Salmon should be fully cooked, at least that's what I've always heard, unless you're having sushi. Has she not read this? (Of course I didn't bring it up as dinner, as much as I may have wanted to.)

Everyone else seemed to enjoy their meals (sole, fried calamari, lamb ravioli, veggie ravioli), but I think being seated so late and feeling so neglected left us all feeling a bit disappointed with the whole evening.

I've had other experiences there that have been wonderful, but this year just left a bad taste in my mouth, and I'm not sure I'll be able to go back for more than a cranberry mojito next year, but hopefully I can remember the good times and give it another chance.


Home Away From Home: Part 1

Isn't it amazing how sometimes you can go to a place and feel as though you live there even though you don't? For me this happens with the Eastham/Wellfleet area of Cape Cod and Freeport and Kittery, Maine. I go to the Cape every summer and every Columbus Day weekend, and I go to Freeport and Kittery every Veteran's Day weekend.

October is my favorite time to head down to the Cape because it's so peaceful, the weather is practically perfect (ok, so some years we've had rain, but other years it's been 75 degrees and sunny), and the traffic doesn't really exist. A couple of years ago, my mom and I discovered The Wicked Oyster, a restaurant in Wellfleet. After a cranberry mojitos each, we were hooked. The food is delicious, and we now go every year.

When the oyster cravings hit, we head to the Bookstore & Restaurant, where a man known as "the fossil" is always there, shucking away. My mom can stomach the Bloody Marys, but I find them spiked with just a little too much horseradish.

In Freeport, we discovered Conundrum. Being a bit farther down the road, it was a nice change of pace from all the restaurants in town. We first went there about three years ago, even though we've been having a shopping weekend in Freeport for much longer than that. November brings some colder weather, and one of my fondest memories of Conundrum is waiting out on the back patio, gathered around huge gas warmers with other patrons, and the cosmos we sipped to keep warm. We always think we can eat more than we can there. The beef stew is listed as an appetizer, but I eat it for my meal now. The shepherd's pie tends to sell out early, as it's a favorite there... and it's easy to understand why. The restaurant is dimly lit and might accommodate about 65 people at the bar, hightops, and regular tables. There's always a crowd.

When we tire of Freeport, we head down to Kittery to finish shopping and pay a visit to Robert's Maine Grill and Market. We've sat by the window and looked at the water with my younger siblings in tow. We've gone other times and sat at the bar drinking Bloody Marys and slurping down oysters. I've taken my boyfriend there as well. I've always had a wonderful experience and a great meal. Here, the atmosphere is a total 180 from Conundrum. You walk in to white and light blue and green and a stainless steel bar. Everything is bright in that crisp, clean way. After you place your order, the waiter or waitress will bring over crackers with different butters or spreads. Last time I had a salmon spread of some sort, which I really enjoyed.

And now I also have to add The Brewster House to my Freeport list. When we first started making this shopping trip a tradition, we would try a new bed and breakfast each year. Once we found the Brewster House, we felt no need to shop around anymore, so to speak.


Peanut Butter Pie

There is no greater combination than peanut butter and chocolate when it comes to dessert, so when I went to meet my boyfriend's family for the first time, I knew exactly what I had to make: peanut butter pie. And we're not talking PB pie like you get at a restaurant that's so dense it's almost cheesecake. And we're not talking one that's sprinkled with peanuts and drizzled with chocolate either. We're talking crunchy cookie crust; light, airy, and creamy peanut butter filling, and soft chocolate ganache.

Peanut Butter Pie

1 3/4 cup chocolate wafer crumbs
(I always use Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers)
3 TBS sugar
5 TBS melted, unsalted butter

Blend together and press into 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 350 for 10 min. Let cool.

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter (I'm a Skippy snob)
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream

Beat cream cheese with peanut butter until smooth. Add sugar and beat until well combined. In chilled bowl with chilled beaters, beat heavy cream until soft peaks form. Fold 1/4 into peanut butter mixture, then fold in the rest. Gently mound filling in crust and chill 4 hours or overnight.

1/2 cup heavy cream
6 oz semisweet chocolate chips

Bring cream to a boil. Remove from heat. Stir in chocolate chips. Let cool 15-20 minutes. Pour over pie. Chill for 30 minutes.

I made a little whipped cream to go on the side, which isn't necessary, but it does help cut the richness of the cake if you don't make your cream too sweet. This pie was a crowd-pleaser, as it always is. My only regret was that I was too full from dinner to even have any. It's good that I was snitching some as I was making it, and licking the bowls, of course.


Roasted Pumpkin, Sage, And Goat Cheese Pasta

Pumpkin, shallots, and sage

I'd never roasted a pumpkin before. Today seemed as good a time as any to try. I've made squash; this couldn't be much different. Also, the recipe I wanted to try was in Everyday Food. I knew it had to be fairly simple because that's a magazine I turn to for straightforward but full-flavored recipes.

So I set out all my ingredients and got to work.

The pumpkin just stared at me dauntingly. I could almost hear it taunting... you think you're going to peel me? Turns out peeling was the easy part. Trying to cut off the top and bottom of the pumpkin was the difficult part. I sharpened my 8-inch Wusthof chef's knife, but it barely seemed a match for the pumpkin's tough flesh. Out came my bread knife. I thought maybe I could saw the top off. At any rate, after a combination of the two, the task was finally accomplished.

Pumpkin with stem cut off

Next up: peeling. My roommate has this really nice handheld peeler -- the whole thing sits in the palm of your hand and you just put one finger through a loop on the outside -- that was perfect for the task.

Peeled pumpkin

The rest of the recipe is beyond simple. Cut the pumpkin into chunks; peel and quarter some shallots; toss pumpkin and shallots with sage, salt and pepper, and oil; and pop it all in the oven.

Pumpkin, shallots, and sage

While that was roasting, I cooked the pasta and mixed it with some of the pasta water, goat cheese, and butter.

Pasta with goat cheese

And then once the pumpkin mixture was roasted and the pumpkin chunks nice and tender, I took it out of the oven and mixed it up with the pasta.

Roasted pumpkin, shallots, and sage
Roasted pumpkin, shallots, and sage

It was the perfect fall meal.

Pasta with goat cheese, roasted pumpkin, shallots, and sage

And because I had started with a whole pumpkin, I had a whole bunch of pumpkin seeds that could not possibly go to waste. I roasted those as well with a little water and some salt. Something else for me to snack on all day long!


Faith In Restaurant Week Restored

Two words: Henrietta's Table. In an earlier post, I wrote about how discouraged I had gotten with restaurant week. Luckily, I had a wonderful experience dining at Henrietta's Table. There, the restaurant week menu is the normal menu, and you get to pick an appetizer, an entree, a side, and a dessert. I had the rock crab and corn chowder (not a cream-based chowder and I loved it), the pork chop, red mashed potatoes, and the s'mores dessert. My roommate had the pot roast. I wasn't a huge fan of the flavor of the sauce on it, but it was cooked well and came apart easily with the touch of a fork. I think it makes a huge difference to be able to order the same food the chefs regularly prepare as opposed to something devised specifically for restaurant week. I must say the food was excellent, the service amazing, and the atmosphere friendly and welcoming. I immediately marked it as a restaurant I would return to and actually went there for brunch yesterday. Brunch was nearly as remarkable as dinner, except that my poached eggs were overcooked, the yolks all hardened. I can't really use that against them though as I haven't been somewhere in Boston for brunch yet that hasn't ruined my poached eggs.


Immediate Inspiration: Broccoli

I always check the mailbox when I get home from work. It's not that I'm ever expecting anything really exciting. To be honest, I usually get bills. But then there are those wonderful evenings when I open my mailbox to find a new issue of Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Martha Stewart Living, or Everyday Food. Somehow seeing one of those brightly colored, food-porn-laden issues makes my whole night.

On this particular day, it was Food & Wine. I won't say the lavender-colored cover, which seems better suited for Easter, really caught my eye, but the little chicken brioche sandwiches with bacon did. I got inside my apartment, dropped my bag, flopped down in an armchair, and opened the magazine. I got as far as the table of contents before I brought the magazine over to the kitchen counter and began grabbing ingredients for the caramelized broccoli with garlic recipe. As luck would have it, my roommate and I had gone to Costco earlier that week, and we had a huge bag of broccoli in the fridge. I felt destined to make this recipe.

Along with the broccoli, the recipe calls for just a few simple ingredients that one is likely to have on hand: olive oil, lemon, and garlic (and red pepper flakes, but I left those out).

To make a whole meal out of the caramelized broccoli with garlic, I boiled some pasta on the side and then added the cooked pasta to the pan to sauté it up a little with the broccoli.

And to the leftovers the next day, I added tomatoes and sautéed those up as well when the broccoli and pasta were just about heated through.

This is a great recipe. It turns plain old broccoli into a tasty, flavorful dish. Don't forget the lemon juice! And I wouldn't hesitate to throw extra garlic in.


"How Does This Work?" My Mother Asked

I stayed at the Cape with my family last weekend, and on Sunday my boyfriend came up to meet them -- for the first time. Now, there were definitely plenty of things I was worried about. And actually, my biggest concern had nothing to do with him but rather whether our dogs would get along. He has a friendly, submissive chocolate lab, and we have territorial, alpha Jack Russell terriers. Needless, to say, that did not work out so well.

But what I hadn't expected was for my mother to notice how differently my boyfriend and I feel about food. I had surreptitiously and also quite obviously hinted at what should be on the menu when he came up. For breakfast, I suggested pancakes and then went on to make sure that my mom planned to leave the pancakes plain and just add blueberries or bananas upon request and leave all other toppings on the side. I'm not sure why she didn't give me weird looks at that point, considering I'll throw pretty much anything in my pancakes.

Then for the cookout later on, she mentioned doing hamburgers and chicken. That works, I thought. But soon she was rattling off potato salad and macaroni salad ideas and wondering what other sides she could make. Thinking quickly I reminded her I'm not a big fan of mayo-based salads and maybe we could just have some roasted potatoes on the side... and how about corn on the cob since there's a farm stand right down the road? So far so good.

And then the kicker: Since we were having a big group and we were on the Cape, my mom thought it would be the perfect day to have lobsters. And normally I would have agreed, except that the boyfriend is allergic to shellfish. I freak out enough going to seafood restaurants with him. I really didn't want to be responsible for what would happen around a table covered with 5-pound lobsters, people squirting lobster juice everywhere as they cracked open their claws, shells flying -- horrible scenes started running through my head. I mentioned the allergy to my mother, and suddenly we'd moved on to ribeyes. And dessert would be make-your-own fruit shortcakes. Perfect.

Breakfast went well, and I made sure not to tell my boyfriend that he had put turkey bacon on his plate until after he ate it. A girl's gotta have a little fun. And I don't think it was really obvious at that point what his likes and dislikes are. I have younger siblings who are ten times pickier than he is anyways, so much so that my sister always tries to skip breakfast and my brother requests eggs every day no matter what else there is.

Later on, after a competitive game of Scrabble (which we won only with everyone else looking at our letters and helping -- not my favorite game), playing with the dogs in the water, and taking the canoe out, it was time to eat again. When my boyfriend was putting together a cheeseburger later, my mom pointed out the onions, tomatoes, etc., that were on the table. I know I made some comment about how he wouldn't eat any of those, and my mom said, "That's fine if he just wants ketchup," to which I responded, "He doesn't even eat ketchup!" That may have been the first clue...

Of all the questions I thought my mom would ask throughout and by the end of the day, the one she came out with was not the one I was expecting. "How does this work?" she asked. She went on about what a big foodie I am and wondered how my boyfriend dealt with that. We both looked at each other speechless. I guess we had never thought about how we make it work because it just kind of works.

If I had to think about it, I guess it works because if we go out to eat, we each can choose our own meals and don't have to worry about what the other is eating. When we cook together, we tend to make more things that he would like, but it doesn't bother me because I cook the more complex stuff for myself, my friends, my family, parties, etc. And he doesn't mind if I make some fancier recipes as long as there are still parts he likes. And he's really probably not any fussier than the next person. It's probably more that I am in the extreme other direction as the most unfussy person around.

I'm also happy just being able to cook something for someone else.


Restaurant Week (Boston)

Now, I'm not going to start writing restaurant reviews, as I have no real authority to do so, but I do want to make a few comments about restaurant week. If you haven't heard of it, here's how it works: Here in Boston, we have restaurant week twice a year (once in the summer and once in the winter). Given that it's 2008, restaurants serve 3-course prix-fixe lunch and dinner menus for $20.08 and $30.08, respectively. (Next year will be $20.09 and $30.09 and so on.)For someone like me who absolutely loves food but doesn't have the budget to go to all the restaurants she wants to try all the time, restaurant week seems like a great opportunity. Of course restaurants like L'Espalier and Top of the Hub only offer prix-fixe lunches, so I will never be able to get to those (restaurant week always excludes Saturdays, and most places exclude Sunday lunch). I understand it's probably not economical for these places, given what they usually charge, but it would be nice of them to offer a dinner.

I see restaurant week as an opportunity to determine whether I enjoy the food enough at a well-known and revered restaurant to go back and eat off the regular menu and pay the regular prices. Given my experiences the past two restaurant weeks and now last night, I'm not so sure restaurants feel the same way I do. I can't imagine that people would pay full price for some of the food I've eaten during restaurant week. Two of my experiences have left me leaning toward never needing to go to those restaurants again. One of these was a much-talked about restaurant by the waterfront; the other a restaurant in the South End, a location known for its amazing restaurants. My only good experience was in the North End. But I still have another reservation next week, so we'll see how that goes.

I've talked with other people who have gone to some restaurants that I have not, and they all seem to have had the same experiences I have. Friends I've dined with have questioned whether restaurants downsize their portions since the price tag is smaller. I question whether the food is thrown together haphazardly and thoughtlessly. I don't care so much about how much food I'm getting but rather how delicious that food tastes. I expect creative things, mingling flavors, well-executed dishes. If I read a mouth-watering description on a menu, I want what's on my plate to match. I don't want a fascinating-sounding salad to be a pile of lettuce on a dish. And at the very least, if I order a filet medium rare, it should not come out medium well. It's sort of insulting, like these restaurants think that people who eat out during restaurant week know nothing about food.

I feel like many restaurants might see and treat restaurant week as something they HAVE to do rather than something they should do to attract new customers. Yes, there are some people who will eat out during restaurant week and never go to such nice restaurants again, but that doesn't mean they don't deserve a good experience. But then, there are also people like me who are looking for new places to dine and would return again and again if a restaurant could show me it was worth it.

I've been impressed by the atmosphere, I've been impressed by the service, but I've been let down by the food. I feel like returning to these restaurants would be a waste of time and money.

Have you gone out for restaurant week? Is there anywhere you have had an amazing experience? Have you been somewhere both during restaurant week and outside of restaurant week and had drastically different experiences?


Trying To Find Hawaiian Food In Hawaii

When I cruised Hawaii last month, all I really wanted was some fresh fruit and fresh fish. I thought the cruise ship I was on, which traveled from Hawaiian Island to Hawaiian Island would offer such things. But what I found on board were canned peaches and mandarin oranges. Granted there was the occasional pineapple slice and on the last day, some drinks served in hollowed-out pineapples, but I had expected more. So on each island stop, I went in search of traditional cuisine.

Splashers (Kona)
We spent a beautiful day in Kona. We drove past lava fields, visited a green sand beach (where I found no green sand), saw the southern-most point of the United States, touched the sand on a black sand beach, and wound up famished.

We had tendered from the cruise ship to the island and were under strict time constraints.

Just across from where we needed to board the tender boats, we found a small restaurant called Splashers.

Splashers, Kona, Hawaii

They had fish sandwiches on the menu, and we were sold. We placed our order to go, raced over to the tender boats, and endured other passengers' inquisitiveness as to why we were bringing food back onto the boat with us (it must seem odd to buy your food when you're on an all-inclusive cruise). One bite of the sandwich made it clear as to why it was worth forgoing boat food that afternoon. We sat by the side of the onboard pool and savored our lunch. Made with fried and lightly battered ono on a fresh roll, it was the best fish sandwich I have ever had.

House of Noodles (Kauai)

One thing I had read about in a few guidebooks was saimin, a traditional soup. I had been looking for it on every island and finally found it on Kauai. That morning we had driven all the way to end of the road to go the beach. After tiring of basking in the sun and listening to the crowing roosters, we headed back down the road. Eventually, I saw a small restaurant advertising saimin. I convinced my travel companions that we should stop and have a small bowl of soup to take the edge off while we searched for the fish tacos. Well, we soon found out saimin does not come in small bowls. My dad and I ordered the saimin with pork, my mom got it with chicken, and my friend Erin ordered it with tofu. Our waitress soon placed the oversize, steamy bowls before us. My dad had not been impressed with any of the food we had encountered thus far; he cleaned his bowl... and then finished what my mom had been unable to. The broth was flavored just right, and mounds of pork settled on top of noodles, bok choy, and dumplings.

House of Noodles, Kauai, HawaiiSaimin at House of Noodles, Kauai, Hawaii

I'll forever be searching for a soup as good as that one. And if I ever make it back to Kauai, I'll definitely be stopping in for a bowl.

Roy's (Oahu)

Perhaps Roy's is a touristy place to go, but as he's one of Hawaii's most-famous chefs, I wanted to sample some of his dishes. I couldn't leave without doing so. I spent my last day in Hawaii swimming in Waikiki Beach, then got cleaned up and packed up, and wandered around town with my parents and Erin. When we started to get hungry, I suggested that we try to find Roy's or Sam Choy's, as I had heard a lot about both places and chefs. We hiked all the way over to Sam Choy's to discover that on Sunday afternoons, they offered only a buffet. I would have liked to have had the opportunity to order off the menu there, but as it was the last day, that wasn't going to happen. So we all trekked back and went in the other direction and wound up at Roy's. We sampled various appetizers: tuna, crab cakes, butterfish, and if I'm remembering correctly some spring rolls and potstickers. All these sound pretty basic, but it was the things they were served with and the way the flavors combined that made them so delectable. And perhaps the strong drinks we had with them... and the fresh pineapples soaked in Malibu Rum and Stoli Vanilla.

Roy's, Oahu, Hawaii

Some other food experiences...
We also went to Cheeseburger in Paradise for our first breakfast. I bravely ordered an omelette with Colby Jack cheese, chorizo, and pineapple. I wasn't so sure about the pineapple and egg combination but was very pleasantly surprised.

And we had breakfast at a place, I think on Kauai, where I ordered french toast and discovered how wonderful coconut syrup is. I later bought some at an ABC store to bring home with me.

And we had some of the most delicious, moistest banana bread in Maui.

I wish I had been able to spend more time on each island, trying the local flavors. If I ever return to Hawaii (which I hope I will someday), I plan to visit each island, rather than cruise, so that I can wander around and try different places and not worry about having to catch a boat.

Have you been to Hawaii? Do you have any memorable food experiences to share? Is there somewhere I absolutely need to try should I return? I'd love to hear your stories too.