Summer Drinks Tasting At Finale, Coolidge Corner


You won't usually find me trekking all the way over to Coolidge Corner, but when I was invited to a complimentary cocktail and dessert pairing at the Coolidge Corner location of Finale, I made an exception. I mean, desserts plus cocktails -- that's not something I say no to!

Luckily, Emily was going too, so she offered to drive over. We walked into Finale to find five cocktails and five small desserts at each place setting.

We were soon joined by the rest of our table mates, including Daisy, and after we had a few minutes to catch up with each other, the tasting began.

Finale's Executive Pastry Chef Nicole Coady led us through the dessert aspect of the tasting, while Horizon Beverage's Tim Murphy took us through the cocktails. Nicole explained that she would set up a pairing by tasting the dessert first and then figuring out what complemented it while Tim would do just the opposite. Different people have different priorities, right?

We started with the tropical sunset cocktail and a crustless mini cheesecake. The cocktail was made with X-Rated Fusion Liqueur (a mixture of French vodka, blood orange, mango, and passionfruit), pineapple juice, raspberry puree, and a splash of soda water. A sip of this went perfectly with the ultralight, ultra-creamy cheesecake.

The cheesecake was made with Mexican vanilla and had a light, almost fluffy texture. I prefer that kind of texture over a dense texture, so I really enjoyed this cheesecake.

Next up was the more risky wild berry mojito and the lemon tart. I call the mojito risky because it was made with cava rather than rum, which was then combined with a mixed berry puree, crushed mint leaves, peach schnapps, and a splash of Sprite. Some people found this cocktail bitter. I wouldn't say I found it bitter, but I could taste the Sprite, and that made it a little unpleasant to me. I'm not sure why... because I do like Sprite. Maybe I just didn't want to taste it in my cocktail.

The lemon tart, on the other hand, was simply luscious. Nicole explained how she always uses the best, freshest ingredients for the best final result. So her tart shells are made with a European-style butter that gives way to a rich, sweet tart shell. The lemon curd in the tart shell is made with fresh lemon juice and was rich and velvety.

The third pairing incorporated the cocktail I was most looking forward to: a St. Germain sparkler and creme brulee. If you haven't heard of St. Germain yet, then you haven't been reading my blog because I profess my love for it all the time! In the sparkler, the elderflower liqueur was paired with a moscato, a sweet dessert wine. Because St. Germain is already syrupy and sweet (so sweet it can replace simple syrup in most drinks), pairing it with the sweet wine almost took the sweetness level over the top. I still really liked the drink though.

However, I didn't love the creme brulee. Something about the texture was just not right to me. I thought it should be a bit smoother, but that could just be personal preference. Nicole talked about how the brulee part is a bruleed thin layer of sugar. When she emphasized how thin that layer of sugar should be, it brought me back to my days of torching creme brulee at Flour. It took some practice to get that thin layer of sugar without burning the cream.

Moving on to even sweeter and now chocolatey territory, we found the chocolate bliss cocktail and tiramisu awaiting our attention. The chocolate bliss cocktail was beyond decadent. My first sip made me think I was drinking really rich chocolate milk. After a bite of tiramisu, I took another sip of the cocktail and found it to be exuding boozy flavors, making it less chocolate milk-like and more boozy chocolate adult drink-like. The cocktail was made with Godiva Caramel, Godiva Dark, Creme de Cacao, Finale Chocolate Ganache, and vanilla gelato. Oh yeah, it was that good.

The tiramisu had layers of mascarpone mousse (Nicole, thankfully, does not allow fillers like cream cheese in her tiramisu) and coffee-soaked ladyfingers topped with Valrhona cocoa powder. Go big or go home, right? The cocoa powder adds chocolate flavor and also a necessary bit of bitterness to balance the sweetness of the delicate pastry. Most tiramisu I've had in the past has been soggy, and I was pleasantly surprised at the stable layers of Finale's tiramisu.

We made it to the last pairing to find an espresso martini, made with Svedka vodka (the No. 3 vodka behind Grey Goose and Absolut), Godiva Dark, Kahlua, and, of course, espresso. The espresso martini was delicious on its own, with strong coffee notes, but became a bit too bitter after a bite of the chocolate decadence. Tim mentioned that the cocktail was intentionally made without vanilla vodka to keep the bitternes in the drink; I think I would have liked it better with the vanilla vodka.

The chocolate decadence was the one dessert on the plate I had been eagerly eyeing since the moment we arrived. It is a fudgy, flourless, truffle-like cake with a hint of coffee. I remember trying it for the first time at the first Taste of Cambridge I ever attended back in 2006. The cake can be purchased from the case but is not on Finale's plated dessert menu. It was such a treat to see it on our plates that night. The cake is so rich that I could only take very small bites of it, but I loved every bite.

Finale desserts

Does any of this sound appealing to you? If so, make sure you make a reservation for one of Finale's remaining two summer drinks tastings.

Summer Drinks Tasting
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Finale Coolidge Corner
6:30 p.m. - 8 p.m.
$19.95 per person


Fried Pumpkin Blossoms With Feta

Fried pumpkin blossoms with feta

As soon as I saw fried zucchini blossoms in the July issue of Bon Appetit, I was determined to make them. Nature and timing seemed to be working against me though because I couldn't find zucchini blossoms at the farmers market for a few weeks. One time I saw the empty bin where they should have been -- but that was as close as I got to finding the blossoms until my most recent trip to the Central Square Farmers Market.

Pumpkin blossoms

I caught a glimpse of orange peeking out of a bin at one of the farm stands and ran right over to ask if what I was looking at were zucchini blossoms. The vendor informed me they were pumpkin blossoms and that they were basically the same thing. I was mildly disappointed that I hadn't found zucchini blossoms, but if pumpkin blossoms were pretty much the same thing, I figured they would work just as well. I bought a dozen for $4 and spent the rest of the day dreaming about frying them up.

Back at home, I went through and snipped the stamens out of each one -- which is really a more frustrating task than it needs to be. I ended up tearing some of the blossoms in the process. Luckily that doesn't matter because you can basically "glue" them back together with the batter.

I followed the recipe in Bon Appetit but only made a half batch and made one small change: I stuffed my  pumpkin blossoms with small pieces of feta cheese. I figured they were already fried, so I might as well take them over the top with the addition of cheese! You can leave them unstuffed or just stuff half of them if you like.

Fried pumpkin blossoms with feta

Fried Pumpkin Blossoms With Feta (adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2011)


Vegetable oil (for frying)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 ounces chilled club soda
12 small pieces feta (small rectangular strips fit best inside the blossoms)
12 pumpkin (or zucchini) blossoms, stamens removed
Sea salt


In a Dutch oven, heat 1 to 2 inches oil to 350 degrees.

Combine flour and salt in a small bowl, and whisk in the club soda just until combined. (Do not mix too much or you'll deflate the batter. We're going for a light batter.)

Place a piece of feta inside each blossom, and gently twist the top of the blossom.

Start with three or four blossoms. One at a time, dredge each blossom in the batter, making sure to keep the blossom closed, and carefully place it in the oil. (If you're not stuffing the blossoms, just dredge them and let the tops spread open.)

Fry three or four blossoms at a time, about 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until golden brown.

Fried pumpkin blossoms with feta

Transfer the blossoms to a plate lined with paper towels, and sprinkle them with sea salt.

Fried pumpkin blossoms with feta

Repeat with remaining blossoms.

Serve hot.

These crispy, salty blossoms would make a perfect appetizer or summer snack.

Is there anything you keep searching for but keep missing out on at the farmers market?


Zucchini, Tomato, And Ricotta Tarts

Zucchini, tomato, and ricotta tarts

Two Saturdays ago, I was finally around to visit my favorite farmers' market: the Union Square Farmers Market. I live about 5 minutes walking distance from the market and truly look forward to strolling over there on Saturday mornings; selecting farm fresh fruits and veggies, and figuring out ways to incorporate them into our meals.

When I get to the market, I usually wander around to see what all the stands have to offer, and then I treat myself to an Iggy's cranberry pecan roll and start shopping.

While it's not quite tomato season yet, I found Sweet 100 tomatoes at Parker Farm and couldn't resist buying a pint. Then I grabbed some zucchini, basil, peaches, and raspberries at Kimball's Fruit Farm Stand. I already used the peaches and raspberries in a kaiserschmarrn (or Austrian pancake) and in salads with some fresh arugula, also from the farmers' market. With zucchini, tomatoes, and basil left to use up, I knew I could come up with something tasty.

I found a recipe for zucchini, tomato, and ricotta tarts in Cooking for Two 2011 (from the editors of Cook's Illustrated) and decided I wanted to use that as a starting point. As the name of the magazine implies, the recipes are scaled down to just make two servings. I had a lot of zucchini and tomatoes to use, so I decided to double it because I didn't want to go through the effort of using the tarts to just end up with two of them.

Zucchini, tomato, and ricotta tarts

The tarts have a simple press-in crust, which is buttery and tasty, but it came out a little too thick for my liking, so next time I will probably make a regular batch of a roll-out dough, use what I need, and freeze the rest for a future tart recipe. I also might drizzle a little balsamic on top of the tarts next time too. Other than that, I enjoyed the tarts and thought they were well flavored and really showcased my farmers' market finds.

Zucchini, tomato, and ricotta tarts

Zucchini, Tomato, And Ricotta Tarts (adapted from Cooking for Two 2011)
Makes 4 tarts


All-Butter Tart Shells
Baking spray
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
4 tablespoons ice water

18 to 25 Sweet 100 or cherry tomatoes
Kosher salt and pepper
Small zucchini (about 6 ounces), halved lengthwise and sliced 1/8 inch thick
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 ounces (about 1/2 cup) ricotta (I used Maplebrook Farm)
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil


For the tart shells: Spray four 4-inch tart pans with removable bottoms with baking spray.

Pulse flour, sugar, and salt together in food processor until combined, about 6 pulses.

Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture, and pulse until butter is dispersed, about 20 pulses.

Add 2 tablespoons of ice water, and process until large clumps of dough form and all of the flour mixture is incorporated. If mixture does not clump, add remaining 1 to 2 tablespoons of ice water, as needed.

Divide the dough into four equal pieces (mine were about 80 grams each).

Tear each piece of dough into walnut-size clumps, and pat the dough into the prepared tart pans. (I tried just patting the dough in, just to experiment, but it's much easier to tear it into clumps first.)

Press a piece of plastic wrap over the dough and smooth it with your fingertips to even it out, and then cover each tart shell with plastic wrap.

Place tart shells on a plate or on a sheet pan, and freeze until firm, about 30 minutes (or up to one day).

To bake the shells, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove plastic wrap, and place frozen tart shells on a baking sheet.

Cut four sheets of aluminum foil, and spray the bottom of each with baking spray. Press a piece of foil into each tart shell, and fill the shells with rice or pie weights.

Bake the shells until edges just start to color and dough under foil no longer looks wet, about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove the foil and rice or weights, and bake the shells for another 5 to 10 minutes, until golden. Let tart shells cool on wire rack.

While shells are baking, prepare the filling. Slice all but four tomatoes into 1/8-inch-thick rounds. You'll get about four or five slices from each tomato. Quarter the reserved four tomatoes. Toss the tomatoes with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and lay them out on paper towels in a single layer.

Toss the zucchini slices with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and lay those out on paper towels in a single layer. Let vegetables drain for 30 minutes.

Then combine 2 tablespoons oil and the minced garlic in a small bowl.

In another bowl, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, ricotta, and mozzarella, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Once the tart shells are cool, spread the ricotta mixture evenly in them.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Shingle alternating slices of zucchini and tomatoes all the way around the perimeter of each tart.

Zucchini, tomato, and ricotta tarts

Place the quartered tomatoes in the center of each tart.

Zucchini, tomato, and ricotta tarts

Drizzle the tarts with the garlic-olive oil mixture.

Zucchini, tomato, and ricotta tarts

Place the tarts on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake them until the vegetables start to wilt and the cheese is bubbling, about 20 to 25 minutes. Allow the tarts to cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes.

Zucchini, tomato, and ricotta tarts

Remove the tarts from the tart pans, and sprinkle each one with the chopped basil. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Zucchini, tomato, and ricotta tarts

What are you most excited to find at the farmers market during the summer?


Kaiserschmarrn With Peaches

kaiserschmarrn with peaches

Do you prefer sweet or savory foods for breakfast? I tend to choose egg dishes over pancakes, waffles, and other sweet dishes. When I'm out, I like to order eggs Benedict, and when I'm home, I like to make poached eggs and hash or loaded-up omelets. Most of the time when I make pancakes and waffles at home, it's really for Jeff. But when I saw the kaiserschmarrn with peaches in the August issue of Food & Wine, my preference for savory breakfast foods was suddenly swayed. After I found peaches and raspberries at the Union Square Farmers Market on Saturday, it was a done deal.

kaiserschmarrn with peaches

Kaiserschmarrn is an Austrian pancake that's usually served as a dessert, but the recipe note in Food & Wine suggested that it could also be served for breakfast. That sounded like the way to go to me. The original recipe called for blackberries, but since I only found raspberries at the farmers' market, I used those instead. I also cut the recipe in half since there are only two of us. And the final change I made was to remove Jeff's half of the pancake from the pan before adding the peaches and raspberries because he prefers his pancakes without fruit. Instead of giving you the crazy recipe with all of my changes, I'll direct you to the recipe on Food & Wine's website and give you the step-by-step photos here.

Kaiserschmarrn With Peaches

Saute peaches in butter with lemon juice and sugar until caramelized, and then transfer peaches to a plate.

Mix egg yolks, flour, lemon zest, milk, and sugar in one bowl. Whip egg whites with salt and sugar in bowl of electric mixer.

Fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture.

Melt butter in skillet, and pour in the batter.

Let cook 4 to 5 minutes, until bottom is golden brown and top starts to set.

Slide the pancake onto a plate, and then place the skillet over the pancake, and carefully flip the pancake back into the skillet.

Cut the pancake into squares.

Add butter and confectioners' sugar to the skillet, and toss the pancake squares around so they get coated with the butter and sugar.

If someone you're making breakfast for doesn't want fruit in their pancake, transfer some of the pancake to a plate, dust with powdered sugar, and serve.

For those who want fruit, which I highly recommend, return the peaches to the pan and cook them with the pancake for a few minutes, and then add raspberries or blackberries, and cook those for about 1 minute.

Transfer the mixture to a plate, dust with confectioners' sugar, and serve.

kaiserschmarrn with peaches

This recipe yields a light, fluffy pancake, with hints of lemon, lots of fresh fruit, and a touch of sweetness. I really enjoyed it and didn't miss my savory breakfast foods the morning I made it. It was also great to find a dish that let me incorporate my farmers' market finds.

Do you go sweet or savory for breakfast?


A Weekend In Quechee, Vermont

Quechee, Vermont

A couple weekends ago, Jeff and I ventured up to Quechee, Vermont, for a wedding. Neither of us had been to Quechee before, and we had no idea how gorgeous it is.

We got up there on Friday afternoon, after a small detour to King Arthur Flour. It's pretty much impossible for me to get that close to the store and not stop in.

King Arthur Flour store

We checked in at the Quechee Inn at Marshland Farm, where we would be staying and the wedding would be held, and then we did a little driving around to check out the area. We found the Cabot store at the nearby Quechee Gorge Village and bought some wine, cheese, and crackers to snack on and share with friends back at the inn. We also ventured down to Woodstock to see what was there but found all of the shops closed up for the night, so we headed back to the inn.

Later, we went out for dinner and then gathered for a pre-wedding soiree outside on the lawn at the inn, complete with a small fire for making s'mores. The bride and groom had arranged a little get together so all those staying at the inn could mingle and get to know each other before the wedding. I thought it was such a fun idea.

The next morning, the day of the wedding, we had a lot of free time to check out the area. After having some breakfast at the inn, we drove over to the Quechee Gorge and wandered around some trails that led to different vantage points. It was so nice to breathe in the Vermont air and be surrounded by nature.

Quechee Gorge
This is the view from the bridge over the gorge

Quechee Gorge

Quechee Gorge

Dam overlook

Quechee Gorge

Quechee Gorge

Bottom of the gorge
Once we left the gorge, we drove around again and this time found a bakery to stop at. The Trap Door Bakehouse & Cafe was situated in a gorgeous house right by the water. I wasn't super hungry since we had breakfast not too long before, but I had to try something, so I got a small piece of opera cake there. The decadent cake had chocolate layers on the top and bottom and was filled with coffee-soaked sponge cake layers.

Then we went back to the inn and sat outside for a while. It felt so nice to just soak up a little sun and relax, something I don't do often enough.

It got to be about lunchtime, and we decided to grab lunch at Simon Pearce with one of my friends and her boyfriend. I had been hearing about Simon Pearce for quite some time and knew I didn't want to leave the area without eating there.

Simon Pearce, Quechee, Vermont

The glass blowing and pottery shop and restaurant is housed in a restored mill. A nearby covered bridge makes the whole setting completely picturesque.

We spent some time wandering around the shop marveling at the beautiful pottery and glass. Inside the restaurant, everything is served in Simon Pearce glasses or on Simon Pearce pottery.

We were lucky enough to get a seat out on the terrace overlooking the falls.

Simon Pearce, Quechee, Vermont

Simon Pearce was offering a few special drinks that day, and one, the blueberry lemonade fizz, caught our attention.

Blueberry lemonade fizz at Simon Pearce, Quechee, Vermont

Blueberry lemonade fizz at Simon Pearce, Quechee, Vermont

I absolutely loved the presentation in the Simon Pearce glass with the mint sprig on top, and we all found the drink refreshing and delicious.

Don't I look so relaxed?

The waiter brought out some bread. He called those small bread nuggets buttermilk scones. I didn't think they had the texture of scones at all, but they were tasty. The brown bread was sort of like a pumpernickel.

Bread and scones at Simon Pearce, Quechee, Vermont

My friend ordered the cheese platter as an appetizer, and I helped her by sampling some of the cheeses and that vibrant strawberry mostarda.

Cheese platter at Simon Pearce, Quechee, Vermont

I got an order of the crisp Maple Brook Farm cheddar bites, which came with a tomato chutney. The chutney was sweet and spicy at the same time and was just the right complement to the cheddar bites.

Cheddar bites at Simon Pearce, Quechee, Vermont

For lunch, Jeff ordered the caesar salad and asked for grilled chicken on it. We were all a little confused by the presentation at first. On top was a parmesan whipped cream. Jeff kept it to the side, but my friend also got the caesar salad, and she cut up her lettuce and stirred the cream in, and it nicely coated all of the lettuce along with the dressing.

Caesar salad at Simon Pearce, Quechee, Vermont

I went with the spinach salad, which came topped with smoked bacon, a farm egg, blue cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette. I wished there was a teensy bit more balsamic, but other that that I truly enjoyed this salad. The egg was finely crumbled, and I liked it that way much more than just a chopped egg. The yolk and white were more incorporated this way.

Spinach salad at Simon Pearce, Quechee, Vermont

Simon Pearce uses tons of local, seasonal ingredients and even has a whole list of farms and local companies it supports on its menu. This was really evident in the dishes I tried.

If you're passing through Quechee, I would definitely recommend stopping at Simon Pearce for the sights, the glassware, and the food.

Simon Pearce Restaurant on Urbanspoon

After lunch, we had to head back to get ready for the wedding, which started at 5. The ceremony was absolutely beautiful, and we had a fabulous time at the reception. It was one of those weddings where everything just looked perfect, and the bride was absolutely stunning.

Whether you're headed up there for a wedding or not, I think Quechee is a hidden gem worthy of a weekend stay. I felt incredibly recharged after our stay there and wished we had a little more time to hang around the area and explore.

Where have you gone recently that has left you feeling rejuvenated?