Beets: Part II - Beet Greens

>>  Sunday, November 29, 2009

This post is part II of a two-part series on beets. The first part can be found here:
Most people have had beets in some form or another, even if it's not freshly roasted beets.  However, many people are unaware that the beet greens can be eaten too.  In fact, beet greens are more nutritious than the beet root.  They not only contain higher amounts of the same vitamins found in beet root, they also contain high amounts of other minerals, such as iron.  In fact, beet greens have more iron than spinach!
When you purchase beets with the greens attached, make sure to remove the greens and cook them relatively soon after purchase (3-4 days).  Otherwise, the leaves will continue to suck water and nutrients from the beet root, resulting in, eventually, a shriveled and not so pretty beet root.  If the greens are removed, beet roots can last for several weeks in the refrigerator.
You can treat beet greens like any other greens.  I just sauteed mine with some garlic and vegetable oil, Chinese style!  For some "Chinese style" ideas, check out these posts:

Sauteed Hollow Heart Vegetable
Mustard Greens with Garlic
Sauteed Pea Tendrils with Garlic


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Beets: Part I - Oven Roasted Beets

There's something amazing about fresh roasted beets that I love.  Tossed with just a bit of balsamic vinegar, fresh California nuovo oilio olive oil, and coarse sea salt, it's absolutely delicious.  Beets are also really healthy.  Many people who juice for health will choose to add beet juice as part of their diet.  Beets are chock full of vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 and C and bioflavenoids.  They also have other minerals, such as chlorine, folic acid, iodine, manganese, organic sodium, and potassium.
As a vast majority of the Farmer's Markets in Boston are now closed, I went to my local Whole Foods market and picked up 6 beets + stalk!
Preheat the oven to around 400 degrees.  I scoured a bunch of recipes, and oven temperature ranged from 350 to 425.  My guess is that it doesn't matter that much, so I picked a nice in between number, which worked fine.

Cut off the stalk (save it!) and scrub the beats clean.  I used a vegetable brush, which makes the job a lot easier!
Toss the beets with some olive oil.
And wrap tightly in aluminum foil.  Roast in oven for about an hour.  The time will vary a lot depending on how big your beets are.  Mine were pretty huge, so they actually took over an hour before they were done.  You can pierce with a knife - if the knife goes in pretty easily, then the beet is done.
Remove and let cool.

Some people like to remove the skin at this point. This makes for a smoother surface. I didn't think this was necessary, and I really didn't feel like getting my hands all beet-y red, so I just left the skins on.

Chop, season toss with a balsamic vinegar, salt, and olive oil to taste. If your beets are not super sweet, you can also add a bit of sugar.  You can optionally add some cheese, a strong cheese to offset the beets, such as goat cheese or blue cheese, will work best.

Oh, and those beet greens!  Don't forget about those!  Stay tuned for Part II of the beets post! Here's Part II of the post, which discusses how to cook this nutritious vegetable!


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Sel de la Terre (lunch)

>>  Saturday, November 28, 2009

We visited Sel de la Terre in Natick back in June to celebrate a friend's graduation.  While we thought the food was pretty good for the suburbs, we were not that impressed over all.  However, we had heard that the Boston location was better.  Furthermore, Will Gilson from Garden at the Cellar told me it was one of the places he likes to frequent.

So, since we were doing some Black Friday shopping in the neighborhood, we decided to check it out.  We both were intrigued by the value of the prix fixe, which offered a two-course lunch for only $14.
Sel de la Terre - Prixe fix
Course 1: Tuna tartine on crostini and a mixed green salad
The tuna tartine (i.e. tuna salad) was enjoyable.  The flavors were decent, though nothing particularly exciting.  The mixed green salad, on the other hand, was rather over-salted.  I was a little disappointed.
Course 2: Duck Confit risotto
The duck confit risotto was pretty good.  There was some sort of wine reduction on the side that gave the risotto a nice deep flavor.  The parsley that decorated the dish also gave a pungent kick to the creamy, cheesy rice dish.  Over all it was solid, and a pretty good value, price-wise.

But you know what was the most enjoyable dish?

Sel de la Terre Rosemary Fries
Along with the truffle fries at Garden at the Cellar and the rosemary fries at Sorrelina, these are amongst the top fries available in Boston, at least in our humble opinion.  Texture-wise, they were almost identical to the ones at Sorellina.  Narrow cut fries that were airy, light and crispy on the outside yet moist and potato-ey on the inside.  Some fries near the top were slightly over-salted, but not too badly.  I still ate most of them! And the ones at the bottom were fine.

Over all, I think it's still premature for me to gauge this restaurant based on one prix fixe menu and a basket of fries.  So far, I think it's only OK, but I do think I need to come back and at least try the dinner menu before really giving an over all assessment.

For now, I think the lunch menu is rather reasonable, with all sandwiches under $10 and most main entrees $15-$16.  If I come again, I'll try something other than the prix fixe just to get an idea of what some of the more expensive meals taste like.  I remember trying the cheapest "Neighborhood Menu" at Craigie Street Bistrot years back and not being wow-ed the first time I went.  It wasn't until I tried the Chef's Tasting Menu that I realized how amazing a cook Tony Maws really is.

As a general rule, it's true.  You get what you pay for.  :)  Don't order the budget menu if you want to see a chef at the top of his or her game.

Sel de la Terre
774 Boylston St
Boston, MA 02199
Sel de la Terre on Urbanspoon

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Foodbuzz Festival Day 3: Good-by Brunch at Lulu

>>  Friday, November 27, 2009

It has been so long since the Foodbuzz Festival that this post is really a bit late. Nevertheless, for completeness, I am wrapping things up.

This post describes the morning of Day 3 of the Foodbuzz Festival.  For the Day 1 Street food Fair, please click here.  For Day 2 morning , please click here (olive oil tasting) and here (Ferry Building Marketplace) and Day 2 afternoon (Tasting Pavilion) click here.  For Day 2 evening (Community Dinner), click here.

We enjoyed a delicious brunch sponsored by Nature's Pride.  Lulu restaurant took Nature's Pride bread and made various breakfast dishes, such as French Toast and grilled cheese sandwiches, out of Nature's Pride bread.
I met some more great people.  Here I met Shannon from Tri 2 Cook, who is also a Boston blogger, just like me!
Jaden from Steamy Kitchen is super friendly and just as funny and witty in person as she is in her blog.
Rachel from La Fuji Mama and Marc from No Recipes.  I had met Rachel earlier at the Tasting Pavillion and we really hit it off.  Marc is a fellow East coast blogger, from NYC, and was really friendly as well.

I had a fabulous time at the Foodbuzz Festival this year, and I really can't wait until the next one!  The best part was meeting so many wonderful people.  Of course, the food was fantastic as well.

Thanks Foodbuzz for all your hard work in planning this fabulous event!

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An Asian Thanksgiving Feast

We enjoyed a fabulous meal at Bryan's aunt's home last night.  It was one of my first times ever eating a Chinese style Thanksgiving hybrid meal.

Even though Bryan's family is Chinese, they typically eat American style turkey for Thanksgiving.  This is partly because Bryan's mom learned how to make turkey from an American family in Utah when she first moved to the States.  Her turkey is fabulous, and her fixins are beyond amazing (below is a pic from last year).
Thanksgiving 2008

My family never ate turkey partly because my mom hated turkey, and partly because we were Taiwanese.  Instead, we would always enjoy a hot pot during Thanksgiving.

Thus, it was quite interesting to see what another Chinese family does during Thanksgiving.  In this case, duck replaces turkey, Chinese sticky rice replaces the stuffing (inside the duck!), and other traditional sides, such as corn and sweet potatoes, are given an Asian twist.  Check it out!
Cold Starter Plate
This spread of cold appetizers is popular at Chinese banquets as the first course. This particular spread includes marinated jelly fish in the center, soy sauce braised eggs (similar to tea eggs), 5-spice dried tofu, and soy sauce marinated beef shin.
Twice Cooked Pork
Twice Cooked Pork with peppers and dried tofu
Pork Belly with Mustard Greens
Pork Belly with Pickled Mustard Greens
Sweet Potato and Beef
Yams with Chinese beef sauce. Bryan thought this was a funny twist on the traditional sweet potatoes.  It was delicious, and one of the most popular dishes of the night.
Chinese Bok Choy
Sauteed baby bok choy. This is a classic Chinese dish and always a favorite. For the recipe, click here.
Corn with Ground Pork
Another twist on an American Thanksgiving classic. In this case, corn is stir fried with ground pork and Chinese seasonings. This was really good.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts. Hee hee, they actually made this after seeing that the meal was quite meat heavy and knowing that I LOVE vegetables. These were delicious. Roasted with olive oil and a bit of salt at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Yum.
The duck! Unlike a traditional turkey, this duck was filled with sticky rice!
They really stuffed it with TONS of sticky rice!  This dish was also delicious, and the other most popular dish of the night.  I think we ate the whole duck with no leftovers to spare! The skin was nice and crispy, and the meat moist and flavorful.
Dessert was purely American. Bryan's cousin made an awesome apple pie from locally picked apples.
And of course, the vanilla bundt loaf that I brought.
All in all, a truly excellent meal. I'm thankful for relatives away from home who can adopt us during the holidays.

I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving as well!

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Happy Thanksgiving

>>  Thursday, November 26, 2009

I love quiet mornings when I can just wake up at my leisure and enjoy the peace of the morning.  Because I usually play music at church on Saturday and Sunday mornings, I almost never sleep in. I do love playing music at church, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.  However, once in awhile, it's nice to just relax and feel like there's absolutely nothing that needs to be done.
This morning was nice, quiet, and relaxing.  I put the finishing touches on my Hi Rise Vanilla Bundt Cake to bring over to Bryan's aunt's house later on.  If you're curious, I put the equivalent of two loaves worth of batter into one bundt pan and it worked out nicely.  I did have to bake it for about 1 hour and 10 minutes total.

I spent some time reflecting on the bountiful things for which I was thankful. God has truly been gracious and good.  I don't deserve one bit of it.

I hope you all have some time to reflect on this past year.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

I can't wait to eat this cake!!!

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Chinese Sticky Rice (Nuo Mi Fan)

>>  Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sticky Rice
I love love love Chinese sticky rice.  I used to love it whenever my mom made this dish while I was growing up.  There's something about the chewy texture of sticky rice that just makes me want more.  Plus, it just reminds me of home.  It's homemade Chinese comfort food at it's best.

And what better time to enjoy good Chinese comfort food than during Thanksgiving when you're with your family?  When a friend recently asked me for the recipe for sticky rice because she wanted to make it for Thanksgiving, I happily obliged  - by writing a post, of course!
The basic concept for this recipe is pretty simple.  Basically, you need dried black shitake mushrooms, sticky rice, and an aromatic flavoring agent such as dried shrimp, dried fried shallots, ginger, and the like. Meat is optional, but Bryan always insists on meat, so I usually add pork, but you can omit it or substitute it with another meat or with dried tofu.  I've included two versions of the recipe below.  The first one is a bit more traditional (uses dried shrimp), the second one can easily be made vegan if you omit the pork (uses ginger as a flavoring agent instead).

Chinese Sticky Rice (traditional)
Serves 4
Prep time: excluding rice soaking time, 45 minutes 
Recipe inspired by Chinese Cooking: Favorite Home Dishes (Wei quan cong shu)

Important: Soak 2 rice cups of sticky (glutinous) rice in water for at least 30 minutes but preferably several hours (I actually just soaked mine overnight).  Note: a Chinese rice cup is about 25% less than a traditional US "cup" measure.
Sticky Rice Cooker
The Rice
2 cups rice
1 1/2 cup water
1 T soy sauce
1 T vegetable oil (you can use sesame oil if you like its strong flavor)

In a rice cooker, combine the pre-soaked rice (drained), 1 1/2 cup water (or just fill it up to the level written on your rice cooker for 2 cups), 1 T soy sauce, and 1 T vegetable oil.  Cook rice according to the rice cooker's instructions.  The above picture shows you what the finished product will look like.

The "Goodies"
1/2 lb (225g) pork (I used pork loin) thinly sliced [can use more or less based on preference]
3 T fried shallots
2T dried shrimp
5 dried shitake mushrooms, sliced

Flavoring Agents
1/2 T cooking rice wine
2 T soy sauce
1/2 t salt
1 t sugar
1 T sesame oil
Sauteing mushrooms
Soak the shitake mushrooms in hot water for about 10-15 minutes, until soft.  Slice into thin strips.  Heat 2 T oil in a wok.  Add mushrooms, dried shrimp, and deep-fried shallots.  Stir fry until fragrant (1-2 minutes).    Add the pork and cook until the pork becomes opaque, about 2-3 minutes.
Sauteing pork and mushrooms
Add the "flavoring agents" (rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, salt, and sesame oil) and stir to mix well.  Set this aside until the rice is done in the rice cooker.  Once the rice is done, combine everything together and garnish with cilantro (optional, but Bryan love cilantro so it becomes a garnish for everything . . actually, he even eats it like a vegetable sometimes.  Yeah, seriously.  Like full stalks).

Note: Some people are really turned off by dried shrimp.  If you are one of those people, here is a modified recipe that works pretty well.  This modified recipe can also be used for a vegetarian or vegan version of this dish - just omit or replace the pork with something like 5-spice dried tofu.

Chinese Sticky Rice (Ginger-based)
adapted from Homestyle Cooking of Taiwan by the members of NATWA

2 cups rice
5 dried mushrooms
10 slices of ginger
1/4 to 1/2 lb of pork (optional)
1 1/4 cup hot water
2 T soy sauce

Crush the ginger slices in a plastic bag with a rolling pin to release the ginger "juices".  Heat 2 T sesame oil in a wok and brown the crushed ginger in the oil.  Once browned, remove the ginger slices.  Now saute the pork and mushrooms in the ginger flavored oil. Add soy sauce.

At this point, you can either add the cooked rice made from the above rice cooker method or add the soaked (but not yet cooked) rice to the wok.

Rice cooker method
Combine the cooked rice with the "sauce" (pork, mushrooms, etc) and serve.

Wok Method
Add the soaked rice to the wok, stir to combine ingredients, and add 1/2 cup hot water.  Cover wok and cook at high heat for 2 minutes.  Stir again and add the remaining 3/4 cup of hot water.  Continue stirring until rice is cooked.  Cover wok and cook at low heat for an additional 10 minutes.  Serve.

Enjoy! This one's for you, Jess!
Sticky Rice

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Basta Pasta Enoteca

>>  Tuesday, November 24, 2009

We have been long time fans of Basta Pasta in Cambridge.  In fact, when they first opened in our neighborhood (circa 2007), we used to eat there every week.  The place provided tremendous value, both in terms of quality and quantity.

After going weekly, we got to know the owners, brothers Reno and Altin Hoxallari.  They are good, honest hard workers, and have really become successful through their dedication and hard work.

A tiny bit of background . . . Reno spent about 10 years working in some of Boston's well known high end restaurants before finally deciding to branch out on his own.  Though the original Cambridge restaurant looks like a casual pizza joint, just take one bite of one of Reno's specials and you'll know that this is not a random pizza joint.

Imagine our excitement when we found out that the Hoxallaris were opening their second Basta Pasta! This new one, in Quincy, has a full bar, full service, and also offers a wider menu selection that includes several seafood dishes, dessert, and coffee.

They finally opened in October, and we FINALLY had a chance to visit last week.

We had a fabulous time.
Antipasto with Grilled Fennel, Roasted Red Peppers, and Italian Cured Meat.  The vegetables tasted great and the cured meat was fine.  I'm not a big cured meat fan, so I only thought it was OK.  Bryan said "the salami is pretty good!"  I actually do not know if this is on the menu, but Reno treated us to this starter to welcome us to his new restaurant.
We tried four appetizers.  Upper left: Sauteed calamari with garlic, capers, olives, and tomato sauce ($6.95) Upper Right: Sauteed  Shrimp and Clams [this was a special because they had run out of PEI mussels, which are usually on the menu] Lower Left: grilled shrimp and arugula salad [this was the special of the day], and the Mini Arancinis ($5.50) - deep fried rice balls stuffed with Fontina cheese.

We have had the Sauteed calamari and Mini Arancinis many many times in Cambridge, and they both tasted the same here.  The calamari has great flavor, and tastes especially good with the grilled flat bread that comes with the dish.  The Mini Arancinis are really good too.  Eat it quickly though!  I waited too long to eat mine and it had turned cold and soggy.  It's delicious when it's fresh! We thought the shrimp was just slightly overcooked in the Shrimp and Arugula salad, although it was perfectly cooked in the Sauteed  Shrimp and Clams, which we all agreed was the best appetizer. The flavors in this dish were beautifully fragrant, with that aromatic broth you can only get from seafood.  Long after the shellfish was eaten, we continued to dip bread into the broth because it was THAT good!

Handmade Fusilli from Basta Pasta
They make their own homemade fusilli, which has an incredibly delicious chewy texture.  It's totally worth the extra $1.95 to get fusilli as your pasta option.
Butternut Squash ravioli
I ordered the special of the day: Butternut Squash ravioli in a Brown butter Sage sauce ($18).  These were clearly homemade, and the texture was incredible.  I couldn't stop chewing it!  The mushrooms were also very flavorful, having absorbed much flavors from the sauce.  The arugula added a nice peppery balance to the dish.  I really loved it. Yum.  Reno is an excellent cook and I have always loved his specials at the Cambridge location.
Frutti di Mare from Basta Pasta
One person ordered the Frutti di Mare with Linguini ($18.95), one of the several dishes that is unique to this location.  The seafood was fresh, and the flavors were delicious.  Furthermore, the portions are large and generous - we both took a significant amount of pasta home with us.
Orrechiette with broccoli rabe and sausage
Another person ordered the Orrechiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage [this was another special of the day].  I've had this at the other Basta Pasta before, and it's pretty good.  The pasta was cooked to a good al dente texture and the ingredients were fresh.
Frutti di Mare with Fusilli
Bryan ordered the Frutti di Mare with Fusilli (same as above but with fusilli) - $18.95 (plus $1.95 for the fusilli).. This dish was an excellent value.  The portion size was generous and there was a lot of seafood.
Brick Oven from Basta Pasta
As we were enjoying our meal, Reno stopped by and excitedly told us about the new brick oven they had at this place. Check it out! We tried a simple Marguerita Pizza ($11.95).  It was fantastic.  The brick oven really makes a difference, and this pizza is actually BETTER than the ones made in the commercial ovens at the Cambridge location.  The pizzas range between $12 and $13 and are personal sized.
Marguerita Pizza from Basta Pasta
This location also has dessert, so we had to try all of them.  We tried the Homemade Cannoli ($4) and the Homemade Tiramisu ($5).  Both are solid, though not as good at the ones you can find in the North End.  The cannoli has a pretty good shell - solid with a hefty crunch.  The filling was pretty good and not too sweet.  Each order comes with 2 cannolis, so I shared an order with Bryan.
Cannoli from Basta Pasta
We also tried the Homemade Tiramisu, which definitely had a strong rum flavor (maybe just a tad too strong).  I thought it was OK - there are lots of tiramisus that I like better than this one.  It could be a matter of personal preference, I'm no sure. This tiramisu is still not bad, just nothing special.

We enjoyed a few espressos with the desserts.
Tiramisu from Basta Pasta
Over all, we think this place is a great addition to the Quincy dining scene, and personally I'm more than just a little jealous of people who live in Quincy.  I would love to have a restaurant like this near me. We have always wished that the Basta Pasta in Cambridge sold alcohol and seafood.  Furthermore, Reno's an amazing cook, and he's cooking full time in Quincy now.

We're going back next week!

Basta Pasta Enoteca
150 Hancock St
Quincy, MA 02171-1706
(617) 479-7979
Basta Pasta Enoteca on Urbanspoon

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