Pho Hoa

>>  Friday, July 29, 2011

I've been missing out all these years.

I'd always heard from my sister (and my brother-in-law, among others) that the best Vietnamese food in Boston is in Dorchester. I guess for one reason or another, I've mostly kept to my microcosm here - Cambridge, with bits of the North End, downtown, and occasional jaunts to the suburbs. Heck, the South End even feels too far away even though there's tons of interesting restaurants there.

Thankfully, thankfully, my sister decided to take the entire family down to Dorchester after her graduation to try some Vietnamese food from her favorite haunts.

Yes, I know this is a chain, but  . . . wow! Fresh ingredients, very reasonable prices, and a brand new, beautiful space. It's no surprise that Pho Hoa grew as quickly as it did.

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Joyful Garden

>>  Thursday, July 28, 2011

Joyful Garden Watertown
This post is part of a larger series dedicated to my sister, Patricia, and describes meals we had when my parents came to town for her graduation.

You would never ever have expected to find good Chinese food here. I mean, really . . . we're inside a very ordinary-looking hotel/inn. The front lobby reminds me of an extended stay suite, with dated furniture, tired wallpaper, and a bright neon green sign that screams "Joyful Garden!"

How would anyone ever think of coming here - much less dine here?

And then you peer in a little bit closer. Surprise! The place is teeming with Chinese people? Large round tables are filled with Grandmas, kids, and people of all ages engrossed in lively conversation. Cantonese can be heard all over the place.

Could it be? A secret Chinese haven inside of a Days Inn in the middle of Brighton, Massachusetts?

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Aragosta Bar & Grill

>>  Tuesday, July 26, 2011

There's nothing more relaxing than sitting outside on a nice day, looking out into the ocean (or some other pretty view), and enjoying a delicious meal with friends or family.

Whenever it's nice outside, I can't resist seeking out restaurants that offer pleasant outdoor dining experiences. My absolutely favorite thing to do is to walk to such a place, enjoy fantastic food, and then walk home. Ideally, the walk would be very pleasant and last about an hour long (yes, I love walking).

During "good" weather months (in Boston we'll stretch this to include the cool spring, nippy autumn, and summer days that are not unbearably hot or humid), Bryan and I regularly walk to the North End, enjoy some of our favorite restaurants, and then walk home via the Public Garden, Boston Common, down Newbury Street, across the Harvard Bridge (aka "Mass Ave Bridge") back to Cambridge. By the time we've reached home, we've "walked off" the big dinner, had nice long conversation, and enjoyed beautiful scenes from downtown Boston. It's truly one of my favorite things to do.

One drawback to this regularly planned dinner outing is that none of our favorite restaurants in the North End offer outdoor seating. Accordingly, when I was invited to a blogger event at Aragosta Bar & Grill (in Battery Wharf, virtually steps from the North End), I was intrigued at the idea of dining on Italian food while facing the ocean.

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Tiny Urban Tidbits #20: Moves & Changes

>>  Monday, July 25, 2011


It's been a hot hot week hasn't it?

Those of you in the East Coast (and probably most parts of the nation) can commiserate with me. I had the fun job of walking home the other day (about 1 mile) carrying a load of empty boxes.

Why boxes?

We're moving!

Don't worry - I'm not moving that far. I'm moving just a couple miles down the road. I'll still be in Cambridge, so the nature of the content of this blog won't really change at all.

A few things I look forward to in the new place:

1. A window in the kitchen! - finally, my cooking shots will look so much better with the benefit of natural sunlight!
2. A bigger (but still small by suburban standards) urban kitchen
3. A tiny urban garden - maybe I can plant some herbs now!

It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks as I've been packing like crazy (sorry if the blog seems to have slowed down a bit). Bryan and I have also been shopping for all sorts of furniture. Honestly, when we first got married, we set a pretty low budget for furniture. When the money ran out, we just stopped buying furniture, even if we didn't have everything yet. This is why we've gone 10 years without even a headboard on our bed. Yah . . so we have a lot of catching up to do!

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Kohlrabi Crunch Salad

>>  Thursday, July 21, 2011

I love summer for so many reasons. Living on the East Coast, you really have a super short window in which to soak in the sun, eat outside, and enjoy fresh local produce.

This is my third year participating in a CSA (Community Support Agriculture). The first year, I bought a share with ReVision Urban Farms, which is a great nonprofit program that works in conjunction with a women's shelter to teach women real life work skills. The vegetables were fantastic, and it was my first time experiencing a farm share.

Last year, I signed up through my workplace with Siena Farms, whose beautiful produce is also used by the likes of Oleana, No. 9 Park, Menton, Market by Jean Georges, Upstairs on the Square, and Hungry Mother.

This year, my company decided to switch farms, mostly because people did not like having to deal with the various exotic vegetables that came out of Siena Farms (even though I personally loved experimenting with it all!).

So, this year I've been enjoying my share from Silverbrook Farms. It's been fun in a different way. They give us farm fresh eggs, jams, cheeses, along with fresh vegetables from their farm.

Recently, we received a few stalks of kohlrabi, one of my favorite summertime vegetables.

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Amelia's Kitchen

>>  Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Amelia's Kitchen feels like a true, neighborhood restaurant. It's been in the Teele Square Somerville neighborhood since 1995, opened by the Delio and Amelia Susi who came from the Abruzzi region of south central Italy. Their menu consists of family recipes that Amelia brought over from Italy. Amelia passed away in 1994, but her husband and son continue to serve her special family recipes.

From the moment we entered, we felt like we were visiting someone's home. The man who served us (he acted like the owner - but we were not sure), was so friendly and hospitable, we immediately felt at ease in this cozy little Italian restaurant.

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Easy Homemade Mochi

>>  Monday, July 18, 2011

mochi (n) a Japanese rice cake made of glutinous flour pounded into a paste and molded into shape (source: Wikipedia)

I've always had a weakness for the chewy texture of rice cakes. It doesn't really matter what form these  rice cakes take. I'm just as happy chewing on savory stir-fried Chinese rice cakes (chao nian gao) as I am snacking on sweet Japanese mochi.

The traditional method for making mochi is time-consuming and labor intensive. First glutinous (or sweet) rice is manually ground, soaked, and then steamed. This mound of cooked rice is then pounded vigorously for 10 minutes until it becomes one big, sticky mass. Finally, this mass is hand-kneaded until it becomes the desired texture.

It's no wonder virtually no one in America makes mochi at home.

Thankfully, with the help of modern technology, there are much easier ways of making mochi at home. I've chosen to even skip the pounding step. Although it yields a mochi that is less dense, it's still sweet, chewy, and quite enjoyable.

Hard to beat for just 15 minutes of work. :)

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Thelonious Monkfish

>>  Friday, July 15, 2011

I'm so ignorant when it comes to my knowledge of jazz musicians. That's exactly why when I first saw that the new restaurant in Central Square was going to be called Thelonious Monkfish, I thought the founders were out of their minds.

Then I found out that Thelonious Monk was actually a really famous jazz musician.

Ahhh! - the fish symbol with the musical staff makes sooo much more sense now!

I've felt for a long time that there's been a dearth of good Asian restaurants in Cambridge, especially Central and Harvard Square. So, when Thelonious Monkfish opened with the promise of reasonably priced sushi and Southeast Asian food, I definitely wanted to check it out right away.

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Machu Picchu Charcoal Chicken & Grill

>>  Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fried plantains

Same food, half the price?
Years ago my family visited San Francisco as tourists for the first time. We did all the classic touristy things: walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, ride the famous trolley, and marvel at the sheer size of the biggest Chinatown in the US.

We found a fantastic hole-in-the-wall restaurant with simple formica tables, super bright fluorescent lights, and incredible food. The best part? It was super cheap.

One our second day there, the waiter told us that a much fancier Chinese restaurant upstairs served exactly same food but charged twice as much. Of course, the decor and service upstairs were much nicer, but the food was identical. In fact, it came out of the same kitchen.

We chuckled, feeling like we had found some amazing secret about which the clueless, duped tourists upstairs had no clue.

In reality, we never did confirm or validate the waiter's statement. He played to our instinctive values - the desire to get a good deal.

Whenever a successful (and expensive) restaurant opens a more casual joint with the same trade name, people tend to get excited (think Jean George or Daniel Boulud), thinking that they can get something amazing for much cheaper.

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>>  Monday, July 11, 2011

Every couple months, I check out a new restaurant with a small group of food-loving women from my church. We kicked off our first meeting by dining at Henrietta's Table (good old New England style cuisine). We then moved onto ethnic places, such as authentic Mexican cuisine at Angela's Cafe and  the more adventurous Senegalese food at Teranga in the South End.

And then it was time to decide where to go next.

We were intrigued by stories we had heard of a little, cozy Italian restaurant that focused on fresh, local ingredients. It was a restaurant in a tiny corner in Bay Village, the area between Back Bay and the South End. The menu changed daily.

It had received rave reviews from critics and diners alike.

Why, oh why did we choose Restaurant Week, of all weeks, to try this place first?

The food's excellent here. But I would definitely order outside of the Restaurant Week menu, which was a minor disaster.

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Chinese Wok Starter Kit Winners!

>>  Friday, July 08, 2011

Hi everyone!

Happy Friday! I'm thrilled to announce the winners of the Chinese Wok Starter Giveaway, sponsored by Nina Simonds, author of the popular cookbook Spoonful of Ginger.

Congrats to the following!

Lillie_Amelia who said "Hunanese spicy fish!  And any form of lotus root."

The Culinary Lens who said "I guess my favorite is not a dish but rather a Dim Sum brunch"

Alexis, who said "Xi hong shi chow ji dan!  Stir fried egg and tomato.  I ate it nearly everyday when I lived in China and I really ought to learn how to prepare it!"

Chris Yang, who said "Chinese red braised fatty pork belly!"

The Nervous Cook, who said "Pan-fried noodles! Oh my goodness, I haven't had pan-fried noodles in so long, and I love them so, so much. This looks heavenly -- I would NEVER have thought to broil the noodles to make them crunchy! Thanks for introducing me to Nina's work: I am looking forward to following her & trying out some of her other dishes. I bet she's covered my favorite go-to Chinese comfort food: Egg-drop soup!

Please email me at jen{at}tinyurbankitchen{dot}com to get your prize!

Thanks for playing!

For those of you who didn't win, you can still pick up Nina's book Spoonful of Ginger for some great accessible Chinese recipes and feel like a winner when you cook cool dishes like the one below. :)

Have a great weekend!
Garlic Chicken Golden Noodles

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Homemade Gravlax (Copper River Sockeye Salmon)

>>  Wednesday, July 06, 2011

It's all about the quality of the fish.

I received my second shipment of Copper River Salmon this week. If you missed my first post explaining the background of this beautiful, luxurious salmon from Alaska, check it out here.

Last month I got Copper River King salmon, which is prized for its fatty, succulent flavor. It was seriously the best salmon I'd ever had in my entire life. This month I got a shipment of Copper River Sockeye salmon, a fish known for its naturally deep red hues and intense flavors.

I had two fillets, so I decided to try something a little different this month.

Why not try making my own house-cured salmon? 

Wow. So easy to make, yet so elegant and fancy at the same time. This dish presents beautifully and takes only about 15 minutes of active work to prepare. It's simple, popular with guests, and super enjoyable to eat.

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Papa Galos - Oceanview Dining in Santorini

>>  Tuesday, July 05, 2011

It was our last day on the gorgeous island of Santorini in Greece.

Up until this point, we had dined on pretty simple food: delicious chicken gyros for lunch and grilled seafood for dinner.

For this last day, we wanted something a bit more special. We asked the inn owner, "can you recommend a place with really good food and a great view?"

He paused and then chuckled.

"The places with the best views do not have good food, and the places with the best food do not have the best views."

We decided we could forgo the best views in exchange for really good food. He recommended a lovely place in Oia called "Papagalos." Only a five minute walk from where we were staying, Papagalos was the perfect place to enjoy our last meal out in Greece.

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you can contact me at: jen[at]tinyurbankitchen[dot]com
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