Hungry Mother Catfish

>>  Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Please welcome my friend, Loren, who I've known since college and is a fantastic cook. Ever since I've known him, Loren has enjoyed trying to reconstruct dishes he's had at various restaurants. He is a master at picking out flavor components within sauces, and can often do a pretty good recreation in the kitchen!

Today, Loren teaches us the tricks he learned while recreating the catfish from one of Cambridge's best restaurants, Hungry Mother. I had the privilege of watching him cook while I was over at his house, and I snapped tons of pictures! 

Please enjoy this guest post from Loren!

I love cooking and eating catfish -- it's cheap, meaty, and can be prepared any number of ways. My favorites in Boston are the Fried Catfish Sandwich at Redbones, the Cornmeal Catfish from Hungry Mother, and the Caramelized Fish from Le's.

I was overjoyed when I saw that Hungry Mother had actually published its catfish recipe, so I decided to try it out. The results were fairly impressive and reproducible, and this was a good alternative for creating a crispy crust without the usual messy deep frying method. I followed the recipe closely, with some minor modifications.

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My Favorite Date Restaurants

>>  Thursday, January 26, 2012

Picasso in Las Vegas
This post was originally published February 8, 2011. I have since updated it with new insights I've gained this year, just in time for Valentine's Day!

Picking a good date restaurant can be tricky.

You want the ambiance to be pleasant, nice . . maybe even a bit fancy. Yet, the last thing you want is a pretentious, stuffy environment that makes you feel uncomfortable. You want to be able to sit back, relax, and really enjoy the evening.

Of course, it goes without saying that the food must be excellent. And, preferably the prices would be reasonably, although we may be willing to splurge on special occasions.

I've lived in Boston for 17 years and I've been with Bryan for about 15 years. Needless to say, we've been on a lot of dates in Boston, and definitely have tried a number of places in the greater Boston area.

Here are some of our favorite special occasion / date places (I've thrown in a couple from New York, California, and Las Vegas as well just for fun!).

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L.A. Burdick's

>>  Wednesday, January 25, 2012

This has been a weird winter. 

After a freak snowstorm that we had in October, we hardly saw a snowflake throughout November, December, and most of January. The weather had been in hovering around the “balmy” fifties, with occasional stretches into the sixties. Bryan even commented a couple weeks ago how our beloved Charles River hadn't frozen over yet, a rare sight indeed.

Well, that changed pretty quickly. The past two weeks, we've seen frigid temperatures flirting with single digits as well as our first big snowstorm. I guess there's not doubt that winter is really here in full force. Perhaps it's time to set up the fireplace, take out the down blankets, and think warm thoughts.

Like hot chocolate.

Mmmmm ... hot chocolate!

There’s no doubt (in my mind at least) where the best hot chocolate in Boston is. Time after time, year after year, we always bring out-of-town guests to the same place. It’s this cute, quaint little chocolate shop in Harvard Square that’s famous for its chocolate penguins, chocolate mice, and hot chocolate drinks.

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Happy Chinese New Year (& Giveaway Winners!)

>>  Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Bellagio in Las Vegas

I'm just a little late, but Happy Chinese New Year!

We enter the year of the dragon this year, a year that many people think is the luckiest of all the Chinese zodiac signs.

Bryan and I just came back from Las Vegas not too long ago. The Bellagio always puts out a fantastic display every year during Chinese New Year. This year, they went all out, complete with huge dragons that blew smoke out of their noses, larger-than-life firecrackers that lit up and made cracking noises every so often, and tons of flowers. There was even a pond filled with live fish!

We celebrated this weekend by having hot pot! Apparently we weren't the only ones in the city who had the brilliant idea of having a hot pot during the new year. Several Chinese supermarkets in the city ran out of thinly sliced beef. We finally "sacrificed" a couple of our USDA prime steaks from the freezer and sliced them up for hot pot (!!).

Although it was delicious, I still think thinly sliced filet mignon (which I prepare at home) is by far the best way to enjoy beef during a not pot. The New York strips were good, but the texture of filet mignon can't be beat.

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Red Bean Soup with Rice balls (tang yuan)

>>  Friday, January 20, 2012

When I was young, my dad loved to turn on the tape recorder and pretend to interview me. There is one particularly amusing recording that sticks with me.

     "Jennifer! Do you want to go to Taiwan?" 


     "Why not?" 

     "Because I want to stay in America." 

     "Why do you want to stay in America?"

     "Because in America, I can eat tang yuan."

Because in America, I can eat tang yuan. What a misinformed little kid I was. I must have had no idea that "tang yuan", or glutinous rice balls (aka mochi balls), were so much more Taiwanese than they were American.

Misinformed or not, even at such a young age, I knew that I absolutely loved eating these rice balls.

Decades later, nothing has really changed.

Well, I guess I've gotten slightly wiser. I now know that Taiwan has some amazing rice balls. I also know that you can get pretty perfect rice balls right here in the US, right in your own kitchen.

Here's the little secret. These things are ridiculously easy to make from scratch. Seriously, it takes like 5 minutes, and only two ingredients.

There's no need to ever buy those store-bought frozen ones again.

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Matcha Mochi Cake

>>  Thursday, January 19, 2012

Matcha Mochi Cake

Over the holiday break, I received the most interesting e-mail from a friend.

Dear Jen:

I have a serious proposition for you.

[Our friend] gave me a taste of your green tea mochi that you made for his birthday. It was SOOOOO good!

If you would be willing to make me a batch, I'll pay you for it.

Please consider!

What a proposition! I don't think I've ever had anyone offer to pay me for my baked goods! Usually I'm happy enough if people enjoy my cooking.

In any event, this green tea mocha is easy to make and definitely a crowd pleaser. The friend for whom I made it? He ate an entire loaf in one morning.

Yeah, it's that good.

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Chinese New Year Video with Nina Simonds + Giveaway

>>  Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Can you believe it? Chinese New Year is less than a week away.

On Monday, January 23, 2012, we will usher in the year of the dragon!

Over the holiday break, I had the unique opportunity of getting together with cookbook author and video blogger Nina Simonds from Spices of Life and making a short video for Chinese New Year.

In the video, we show two different ways of making dumplings. I talk about how to make traditional Chinese dumplings (pork, leek, and napa). Nina shares here own creative take on the dumpling. Her deconstructed dumpling soup consists of meatballs (made with dumpling filling), pasta, and kale.

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Homemade Chinese Dumplings (jiao zi)

Nothing beats a homemade dumpling.

OK, perhaps I exaggerate slightly. There are some transcendent dumplings out there that I have no hope of every recreating.

However, by and large, I almost always prefer the dumplings I make at home to restaurant dumplings (in the US), and definitely above all frozen dumplings. I find that most restaurant dumplings (with the exception of those at my beloved Din Tai Fung), are too meat-heavy for my taste. Often, it seems like I'm eating mostly pork, maybe with a little bit of chopped scallions. I personally prefer a more balanced dumpling that incorporates Chinese chives, napa cabbage, and pork in more equal proportions. 

In northern China, dumplings are traditionally made at home on New Year's Eve after dinner. They are meant to be eaten right at midnight as the family ushers in the new year. The Chinese like to eat dumplings because they are shaped like gold ingots (yuan bao), and thus symbolize prosperity and wealth.

Since Chinese New Year is fast approaching (hello year of the dragon!!!), I thought it was the perfect time to share with you how I make dumplings, one of my favorite foods in the world.

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Guchi's Midnight Ramen Pop Up

>>  Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Last night was a crazy night.

Precisely at 12:20 AM on Sunday "evening" (technically Monday morning!), Bryan and I stepped out into the frigid night (it was ten degrees Fahrenheit - brrrrrr!) and headed out for ramen.

Ramen at midnight???

In the wee hours of Monday morning on January 16th, Guchi Midnight Ramen, a pop up restaurant started by a few O Ya chefs, opened its doors for the first time. Rumors had been circulating for months about this mysterious venture. The word was that several O Ya chefs had decided to create a ramen pop up restaurant where everything was to be made from scratch, from the broth down to the handmade noodles.

Handmade noodles??!!  I didn't need to hear more. I couldn't wait for this to open.

Imagine the thrill I felt this past weekend when I received an invitation to attend the first ever opening of this much-anticipated pop up.

Even though both Bryan and I had to work the next day, nothing would stop us from heading out to Bondir at midnight to slurp up that inaugural batch of noodles!

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Menton - White Alba Truffle Tasting Menu

>>  Friday, January 13, 2012

I was born in November. November has always been sort of a dud month in general. I’ve always been jealous of Bryan, whose early October birthday coincides with glorious fall colors and perfect, crisp hiking weather here in New England.

November is that weird month after all the leaves have fallen but before the magical snow of Christmas has blanketed the ground. For my birthday, I could never go on a leaf peeping hike, a lovely outdoor picnic, or a trip to the beach. Instead, for the last five years or so, we’ve bundled up indoors, enjoying a traditional Chinese hot pot for my birthday.
Then I found out something awesome about November.

Two words: white truffles

Yep, November is when the white truffle season goes full bloom. I have been in love with white truffles ever since the moment I tried them. Their fragrant, earthy aroma is intoxicating, and I am drawn to anything that incorporates this mystical fungus.

I even told Bryan I wanted to go to Alba, Italy for my birthday someday.

Well, I didn’t get a chance to visit Alba this past November. However, Bryan did treat me to a White Alba Truffle Tasting Dinner at Menton.

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Lumpia (Popiah)

>>  Wednesday, January 11, 2012

There are certain food experiences that remain with you forever, indelibly branded into the far recesses of your brain.

For me, I'll never forget the first time I tried street food in Singapore.

I was in high school. My family was taking one of our first family trips to Asia, complete with stops in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

In Singapore, we were overwhelmed by the countless night markets that stayed open all night long! Singapore is seriously a night owl's dream, with readily available food stalls open 'til the wee hours of the morning.

I remember walking around these street food areas where rows and rows of stalls appeared to go on for infinity. We tried some really fresh fruit smoothies. We snacked on tropical fruits. And then  . . . for the first time in my life, I tried a lumpia.

It was the most amazing combination of flavors I'd ever had.  Fresh cilantro, juicy pork, fresh ground peanuts, carrots, all wrapped up in a soft egg-roll skin. The memory of those bites stayed with me for a long, long time.

It wasn't until about a decade later that I finally learned how to make them myself.

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Sushi Mizutani

>>  Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sushi Mizutani
This is part 7 of my latest travel series: Post Quake Japan. Other posts in this series: KagoDaisan Harumi, Tempura Kondo, Sushi MitaniInakaya, and Aronia de Takazawa.

I never expected ever to dine at Sushi Mizutani.

It wasn’t for lack of trying, that’s for sure.

In my last two trips to Japan, I tried to book a reservation at this tiny, 8-seater, 3-star Michelin sushi bar. Twice, I was rejected. Rumor has it that you have to book at least 2 months in advance, maybe 3 to be safe. Typically (purely a result of my disorganized propensities), I don’t start planning my trips until about 2 weeks before leaving. At that pont, it’s usually too late to reserve the really popular places.

Surprisingly and sadly, I had no trouble reserving a coveted sushi bar spot this time around. The massive earthquake back in March had all but scared foreigners away. No one was coming to Japan, and therefore this sushi master’s table was actually open.

Available for those like me to partake.

Seriously, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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Armando's Pizza

>>  Monday, January 09, 2012

Who doesn't love a neighborhood secret off the beaten path?

Right around the corner from the world famous market "Formaggio Kitchen" (where Julia Child loved to shop) and just across the street from one of my favorite upscale bakeries sits a simple, no-nonsense pizzeria that churns out delicious, hot, and inexpensive pies (yes, in Boston we call pizzas "pies").

I first heard about Armando's when one of Boston's most well-respected and famous chefs commented that it was one of his favorite places to eat.

After moving to my new hood and realizing it was only a 10-minute walk away, I told Bryan we had to try this local favorite.

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Aronia de Takazawa

>>  Thursday, January 05, 2012

This is part 6 of my latest travel series: Post Quake Japan. Other posts in this series: KagoDaisan HarumiTempura KondoSushi Mitani, and Butagumi.

Imagine a restaurant that only serves three tables an entire evening.

It's like going to an intimate dinner party where the chef personally designs your meal, shops for the ingredients, and personally executes the elements, course after course after course.

Welcome to Aronia de Takazawa, a culinary playground for Chef Takazawa right in Akasaka in Tokyo. Here, every night, a small, privileged group of guests get to enjoy Takazawa at his best, sampling his playful interpretations on numerous dishes using both French and Japanese techniques.

There weren't always three tables.

 For the first five years or so, Aronia de Takazawa only served two tables a night. Chef Takazawa felt that with any more tables, he "could not give customers the attention he thinks they deserve," said his wife, Akiko. More recently, due to much demand, Takazawa has hired a few assistants and has increased the restaurant to accommodate three tables.

I had read a lot about this place and had tried unsuccessfully to book a table there the last time I was in Japan. Bryan and I were shocked when we were able to land a reservation this time only one week before flying to Japan. As I have mentioned before in a previous post, the earthquake had all but shattered Japan's tourism industry, and many restaurants had more open seats than ever before.

For us, it was an incredible opportunity to experience a food adventure that Chef Takazawa personally designs for his diners - a food journey that aims to surprise and delight all who take its path.

Join me as I take you through our 11-course tasting experience and get a glimpse of Chef Takazawa at his best.

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Happy New Year 2012! (New Years dinner + Top 10 posts of 2011)

>>  Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Happy New Year!

How did you spend your New Years?

One of our good friends, Peter (who has guest-posted on this blog before), decided to host an Italian wine tasting event. We started at 4PM and began pairing Italian wines with a variety of Italian dishes for the whole night! (I guess it's best to space out 8 bottles of wine when you have 10 people!). Peter even gave a slide presentation throughout the evening teaching us about the different kinds of wines, regions in which they are made, and grape varieties from which they come. We studied wine tasting notes, aromas, etc. and how they paired with the flavor elements in the food. It was informative, casual, and really fun!

Of course, I'm sure the excellent wine, delicious food, and good company didn't hurt!

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