A Sneak Peek - the Vegas Anniversary Trip

>>  Friday, September 30, 2011

The last time I was in Las Vegas over the summer we avoided the outdoors like the plague. With temperatures reaching well over a hundred every single day, most people darted quickly between the casinos in a desperate attempt to stay cool.

Who would have thought I would later find myself lying on a rock in a Las Vegas canyon in the middle of August?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Bryan and I celebrated our tenth anniversary in Las Vegas this year.

For a fun treat, my good friend Emily, a Las Vegas wedding photographer, took us out to Red Rock Canyon and treated us to some of her amazing photography skills. Temperatures were record high (106 °F the day we went out!), so we actually got up super early in the morning to do this "trash the wedding dress" shoot.

Yes, I actually lugged my original wedding dress all the way to Vegas for this. Am I nuts?

The trip was super fun. On top of hiking through some stunning natural landscapes right outside of Las Vegas, Bryan and I also enjoyed a ton of fantastic food to commemorate this milestone anniversary.

Here's a sneak preview of upcoming posts, along with a few more "trash the wedding dress" photos . . . Can you guess where I went?

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Baking Lesson at Panera in Porter Square

>>  Thursday, September 29, 2011

It was an intriguing invitation.

Baking with the bakers at Panera? Really?

Up until recently, Panera has been an institution of the suburbs and this has not really been on my radar. I always thought it was because there was too much competition in the city. I mean, how can a national chain compete with beloved, artisanal local favorites such as Hi Rise and Flour or Bostonian institutions like Mike's or Modern?

The history is a bit convoluted, but essentially Panera used to be the Au Bon Pain Co. In 1993, it bought the St. Louis Bread Company, which was also starting to expand. In 1999, Au Bon Pain Co. renamed itself Panera and sold off a bunch of other brands, including Au Bon Pain. Maybe some sort of understanding that Panera wouldn't step on Au Bon Pain's city-focused turf for some time?

In any event, it's been more than 10 years since those days, and Panera has finally moved into the city. Just this past May, Panera opened a flagship location in Back Bay. In July, Panera opened its first branch in Cambridge, right in Porter Square.

The folks at Panera were kind enough to invite me to come and see the inner working of the bakery.  Most of the baking happens in the wee hours of the morning. Did I want to come at 2AM? I politely declined that option (no way with a full time job!) but after some more emails back and forth, we set up an appointment for early Saturday morning. I would meet one of the day bakers and still get a chance to make some pastries!

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Audubon Circle

>>  Monday, September 26, 2011

Audubon Circle
Have you ever wondered about the origins of how neighborhoods got their names?

Like, why are Harvard, Central, Inman, and Kendall "squares" while Cleveland and Audubon are "circles"? I really don't think any of the Cambridge intersections are actually squares, are they?

According to the Boston Landmarks Commission, Audubon Circle is actually a circle, defined as "a major crossroads distinguished by a central circle, 250 feet in diameter, at the intersection of Park Drive and Beacon Street.”

The circle was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. and represented an extension of the fashionable Back Bay district. Most of the buildings, which are residential, were built between 1888 and 1915.

In the middle of it all sits Audubon Circle, a trendy restaurant/bar owned by the same folks that run Miracle of Science, Tory Row, and Cambridge 1. I was so surprised I had never heard of it, especially considering I know all of their other restaurants.

I had a chance to try out the menu at Audubon Circle last week with a group of bloggers. We sampled new fall items as well as some classics.

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Home Sweet Home Dessert Competition

>>  Friday, September 23, 2011

Happy Friday!

What's with the desserts? Did I all of a sudden decide to let my inner baker out? Ha ha, hardly. Instead, I had a chance to be a preliminary round judge for the amateur bake-off portion of the Home Sweet Home Dessert Competition!

Home Sweet Home is a charity event benefiting the Cambridge Housing Assistance Fund. It's a fun evening that includes dessert tasting (of all the competition entries!), wine, dinner, and dancing (wine + dinner with VIP tickets only). Their tagline? "Eat, Drink, and Dance to Open Doors for the Homeless."

This year it is held on Saturday, October 22 starting at 7PM at the Cambridge Hyatt Regency Hotel's Presidential Ballroom. You can find more details here. Tickets are $40 (general dessert tasting); $100 (VIP ticket includes wine, dinner, and dessert); or $150 for two VIP tickets. There will be music, dancing, and Billy Costa will be hosting!

This year, for the first time, they have two levels of competition: a professional level and also an amateur level. This past week, a small group of food bloggers had the privilege of judging the preliminary round of the competition. The final round judging will occur at the event!

I can't say too much, but I can show you all the lovely photos that I took of the fantastic entries!


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Grilled Salmon with Mint Honey Mustard Sauce

>>  Thursday, September 22, 2011

Copper River Coho Salmon
Ahh summer . . .

It's really over, I guess! Although today is still technically summer (tomorrow is the official first day of fall this year), it has felt like autumn here in Boston for several weeks now. I finally pulled out the leather jacket this week and resigned myself to wearing socks.

In some ways, I'm sort of bummed that we moved so late in the summer. Our new place has a little yard in the back as well as a balcony and a deck. It would have been fun to be able to make use of these airy outdoor spaces (something I never had in my midrise condo!) before it got too cold.

Despite the impending cold weather, Bryan still decided to buy a grill. He researched for weeks before finally deciding on this crazy Weber Summit grill. Perhaps someday I'll write a more in-depth post about why he chose it. Needless to say, this grill can get crazy hot and bangs out some beautiful, charred "crusts"!

I digress.

What I meant to share with you today was the inaugural meal with our new grill. True, it was a bit nippy outside, but we put on our jackets and fired up the grill to make this simple, yet delicious Sunday dinner.

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>>  Wednesday, September 21, 2011

You just never know what you might do with that MIT degree.

Of course, most of us are boring and end up doing conservative, sensible things with our expensive educations. Bryan and I met at MIT - him a computer science major and me a chemistry major. And, predictably, we are utilizing the skills we learned in college in our day jobs.

However, Ayr Muir, material science major ("Course 3" as MITers like to say) class of 2000 (SM '01), has decided to do something a little different.

After about a decade working a desk job, he decided to take the leap and follow his dreams. He opened up a vegetarian food truck in Kendall Square (right next to MIT). It was a hit.

About a year later, he finally opened up his first brick-and-mortar restaurant. Clover set foot in the ground in Harvard Square just this past year.

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All Star Sandwich Bar Global Street Foods

>>  Tuesday, September 20, 2011

All Star Sandwich Bar
Bryan and I are polar opposites when it comes to the way we eat.

Bryan never snacks; eats three square meals a day right on time (ahem, that is, if you count a cup of espresso as breakfast); and demands a proper, "real" meal for dinner. No sandwiches for dinner, please.

I'm the complete opposite. I love snacking throughout the day. In fact, my ideal day would consist of little bites every two hours or so. I don't have any such "no sandwiches" rule. In fact, I'm a sucker for casual street foods and love exploring them when I travel.

Imagine my delight when I found out about All Star Sandwich Bar's month long special on street foods.  Each week features a new specials menu full of sandwiches inspired by global street foods. Some menu items are obvious "sandwich-like" options, like banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich), whereas other items are more esoteric interpretations, like the tofu pad thai sandwich.

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>>  Friday, September 16, 2011

T.W. Food
Somewhere, hidden in a largely residential section of North Cambridge, lies an unexpected gem.

I know - sounds familiar doesn't it? But no, I'm not talking about that famous restaurant (which, incidentally, has since moved from that leafy location). I am, instead, talking about T.W. Food, a cozy little place right on Walden street between Harvard Square and Alewife.

Tim and Bronwyn Wiechmann are the owners of T.W. Food, a small, intimate restaurant serving dishes made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients.  The menu changes daily depending on what's available that day.  Chef Tim Wiechmann exhibits creativity that's also grounded in solid, classic French training. He's not afraid to experiment and definitely plays around with molecular gastronomy. Don't be surprised if you see some foams (among other interesting things) here.

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Blue Asia Cafe

>>  Thursday, September 15, 2011

pork chop rice (paigufan)
You haven't really tried classic, Taiwanese casual cuisine until you've had either the pork chop over rice (pai gu fan 排骨飯) or the salt and pepper basil fried chicken (sometimes referred to as popcorn chicken).

OK, perhaps I exaggerate, but these are very traditional, classic Taiwanese "bento" dishes that are very common throughout Taiwan. There's often a cult following for the places that make the best ones, and quality varies, a lot.

A traditional Taiwanese pork chop over rice consists of a deep fried pork chop, rice, Taiwanese meat sauce, and pickled mustard greens. Sometimes the vegetable may vary and you may get a soy sauce egg (or tea egg!), all-in-all, though, the basic premise is the same.

Simple, quick, convenient, and very very delicious.

I was thrilled to discover yet another Taiwanese casual place that has just opened up in Allston not too long ago. It looked promising full of all sort of classic Taiwanese dishes such as various boba teas, shaved ice, Taiwanese maki rolls, and, of course, the beloved pork chop over rice.

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>>  Sunday, September 11, 2011

There are at least two reasons to visit the Scampo if you're in Boston.

First, it's housed in the storied Liberty Hotel, a former prison that's rich with all sorts of history. The former Charles Street Jail housed prisoners from 1851 to 1990. The US district court ruled in 1973 that the jail violated the constitutional rights of the prisoners because of terrible overcrowding.

Massachusetts General Hospital now owns the property and opened a luxury hotel in the space in 2007. They have maintained some of the original architecture, so it's quite fascinating to see the former jail decked out in luxury finishes.

Of course, architecture and history alone would not be enough reason to visit a restaurant. The second reason to visit Scampo is that it's another restaurant by Lydia Shire, probably one of the most well known chefs in Boston. A driven woman who worked her way to the top during a time when male chefs dominated the industry, Lydia Shire continues to wow us with her current empire, which includes the venerated classic Locke-Ober, the trendy Towne Stove & Spirits (opened this past year), and Scampo - the ever so popular restaurant inside the Liberty Hotel.

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All Things Taiwanese

>>  Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Ice Monster Taipei
Eating shaved ice with various mochi toppings at Ice Monster in Taipei

"lı́ hó bô? chiah-pá-bô?"

Taiwanese was the "secret" language that my parents used when my sister and I were growing up. While they spoke Mandarin Chinese to us, they spoke Taiwanese to each other all the time.

I still sound like a wako lang (foreigner) when I attempt to speak Taiwanese. However, my parents' plans for a secret language totally failed. Kids absorb languages like sponges, and we were no different. Surprisingly, though I never spoke a word of it growing up, I can actually understand quite a bit of Taiwanese. This proved to be quite useful many times in my life - talking with relatives in Taiwan, ordering Taiwanese food at restaurants, and just getting around in the streets of Taiwan.

Why all this focus on Taiwan all of a sudden?
Ding Tai Fung Taipei

I'm pleased to announce that TaiwaneseAmerican.Org, a foundation dedicated to all things Taiwanese American, has published an interview with Tiny Urban Kitchen today at their site. Check out the interview here!

As one who grew up relatively isolated from a large Asian American community, I think sites like these are great for helping fellow Taiwanese people connect and share the love of their country, heritage, and culture.

In the spirit of the interview, I've gathered all my Taiwanese content and put them together on a few pages dedicated to Taiwan. Definitely check out the recipes page (where you'll find mouthwatering recipes for Taiwanese classics such as bawan, lo ba bng, and batzhang), as well as the restaurants page, which describes Boston Taiwanese favorites as well as other restaurants I've visited in Taiwan and elsewhere.



Yong He Soy Milk
A typical Taiwanese breakfast from Yong He Soy Milk Shop

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Antico Forno

>>  Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Linguine pasta with clams, mussels, calamari and shrimp sautéed in a plum tomato sauce baked in parchment paper $21

The North End is one of our favorite eating neighborhoods, and I write about it frequently on this blog.

However, I've realized that most of the places I've described are more suited for special occasions. The ever-so-quaint-and-charming Mamma Maria (inside of a lovely townhouse overlooking the square) is wonderful for a first date (or even a proposal!). The elegant Prezza is great for a snazzy work dinner or a special celebratory meal. These establishments undoubtedly serve some of the best Italian food in Boston, and you'll pay a pretty penny for the experience.

What about good, solid everyday Italian? The type you can enjoy on a random Friday night without breaking the bank?

Time and time again, Bryan and I have met friends at Antico Forno, a casual, boisterous and friendly restaurant which serves excellent food in a very inviting and kid-friendly environment. The best part? - the surprisingly reasonable prices that come with such high quality food in this prime location.

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Ten Years Ago Today

>>  Thursday, September 01, 2011

Che Wedding 2001 (48 of 48)
Ten years ago today I married my college sweetheart.

Our first dinner out together was the result of a lost "bet" over a game of ping pong (or was it pool? how weird that our memories fade so quickly as we get older). Mind you - it wasn't the first "bet" that had been lost. I lost the first time, but cooked a simple dinner of sauteed chicken and broccoli with rice as my "payment." When Bryan lost, he "paid" by taking me out to a nice dinner on Newbury Street.

Sneaky sneaky.

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