Monday, February 17, 2014

It's Not Quite the Gift I Was Looking For...

Mei Mei - Brookline, MA

Housemade Steam Buns
     Andrew came to visit! I couldn't have been more excited. Actually... that's not true. I know he wanted to eat eat eat... which is what I would normally want to do, had it not been the week of CRASH B's. Regardless, I wasn't going to deprive him of delicious foods and a good time. After researching a ton of restaurants, he decided on a place called Mei Mei (pronounced may-may). This little restaurant is also a food truck here in Boston and has won numerous awards for their innovative dishes. They pride themselves on using local products and meat that is all-natural, pasture-raised, and humanely slaughtered. On their menu they often write which farm their ingredients are from. I think that's really cool, and it's not often that you see a food truck that does that. It's also not often I go to a place like this. By that I mean it's not often that I go to a place with such an intricate menu. Everything is "infused" with everything else and half the time you've never heard of what you're eating.  It's hard to even figure out how I'm about to describe what we consumed. Guess I'll just jump at it.

     To start off, Andrew wanted the Housemade Steam Buns made with North Country Farms flour and served with butternut butter. I'm telling you... I could've eaten the butter straight. Never had I ever eaten butter with any sort of squash in it. It had a subtle sweetness but a definite flavor of the squash. There were some herbs in it as well. I'd guess tyme, but I'm not entirely sure. The butter was soft and spreadable and the buns were so plush. They were delicious separate and incredible together. Andrew was in heaven.
Pork Dumplings
      The next dish to the table was the Pork Dumplings. The pork inside these dumplings was gingery, tender and moist and the outside of the dumpling was just lightly crisp. Pieces of fennel and ground almond were sprinkled on top, black garlic was smeared around one edge of the plate (for an artistic effect I'm sure), and various sized dots of tart apple jelly adorned the other side of the dish. It was so beautiful. The waiter poured a little soy broth in the middle as it was served and made sure to describe all aspects of the dish to us. The tart jelly, the ginger in the pork, and the roasted black garlic were all such unique flavors. Oh and the fennel! I didn't think I really liked fennel, but it gave it all a slight fresh taste.

     Sweet Potato Dumplings came next. I'm going to venture and say that these were my
Sweet Potato Dumplings
favorite thing that we got. They were made with Schartner Farm sweet potatoes mixed with feta cheese, topped with some kind of sprouts, and served on a bed of sour cream with pink pillows of their homemade applesauce on the side. Every flavor combination in this dish was incredible. The dumplings themselves were deep fried, so they were nice and crisp. Their apple sauce was lightly sweet and warm. Next to the warm dumplings and on top of the cool sour cream, the applesauce brought it all together.

Kung Pao Chicken Dip

     Next came the Kung Pao Chicken Dip. This dish had Copitcut Farms chicken, some kind of smooth creamy cheese, and was topped with roasted peanuts. I love love loved the chicken and peanut combination. Something I never would think to do. I couldn't exactly pinpoint the flavor of the cheese. It wasn't smoky, but it was different somehow. There was also a little bit of heat to the dish due to some chilis and peppercorns I'm guessing. The dip was served with a bunch of pieces of their grilled bread for scooping. I couldn't get enough.

Beef Chili Biang Biang Noodles
       Beef Chili Biang Biang Noodles were next. At first glance, this looked like stuffed cabbage, but it was actually just the scamorza cheese encasing all of the goodies. Inside were what I think were only 2 of their homemade hand-pulled noodles. They were super thick, wide and long though and were curled up in the bottom of the dish. Mixed in was shredded beef in a very dark red spicy chili sauce. They said there was something like 40 ingredients in that dish. Maybe it wasn't 40, but it was some outrageously large number of chili peppers. Tossed on top was some more fennel, beet shoots and a much needed dollop of sour cream. The beef was pretty spicy, so the sour cream was a beautiful way to balance it out.

Four Star Farms Grain & Berry Salad
    In my poor, pathetic attempts to be a lightweight, I wanted to order a salad so I could eat that while there were all these other delicious things floating around. Ha. Well... even though the "salad" I ordered wasn't really a salad, it was probably my second favorite dish of the night. It was their Four Star Farms Grain & Berry Salad. It had wheatberries in it, which I've never had before. I really liked their pea-like shape and slightly doughy texture. Anyway, it was mixed with cilantro, pickled cranberries, watermelon radish and spiced peanut brittle in a miso-honey vinagrette. The vinagrette was awesome. Slightly sweet with a little asian flair. The spiced peanut brittle was incredible! I think it was spiced with some kind of chilis and provided a great crunch to the salad while the wheatberries and the cranberries were more soft. I absolutely loved the cranberries and the viniagrette together. I can't say I could tell that they were pickled though. I'm fine with it. The watermelon radish was interesting too. I hadn't ever heard of it before, but it's basically a radish. Same texture, but its color makes it look like a watermelon. It added another great texture and flavor to the "salad."
     There's no way we could pass up dessert at a place like this. Never. I'm sure we'd never find anything
quite like what was on the menu anywhere else. We ordered their Fried Steam Buns. Lord save me. These were phenomenal. I think they basically took their House Steam Buns, fried them, cut them in half, and arranged them on a plate with chipotle nutella, cranberry jam, cocoa nib brittle and asian mint. This dish had everything, including a beautiful vertical nature. Spice from the chipotle, sweetness from the nutella, a tad bit of tartness from the cranberry, crunch from the brittle and a cool, refreshing hint from the mint. Seriously... how do they come up with this stuff? Blows my mind. Each bite of all of these dishes was different. You got different flavors from forkful to forkful, dish to dish. It was like a treasure hunt for flavors. These guys and gals really know what they're doing. They're artists no doubt.
Fried Steam Buns

Patisserie on Newbury- Boston, MA

     When I see a fun looking bakery, I can't just walk by it. When Andrew sees a fun looking bakery, he
Just look how cute :]
can't just walk by it... especially when it's French. That's one reason we're friends. We were just strolling down Newbury street while he was here and came upon a bakery called Patisserie and had to go inside. I was instantly in love because they had at least 6 samples out. Andrew was not walking out without making a purchase. He got a blueberry cream cheese danish which was the danish of all danishes. The crust was so buttery and flakey, and the blueberriy jam (or preserves or whatever was inside) paired perfectly with the light, sweet cream cheese. It wasn't nearly like the kind of cream cheese you get in the store. It was if it had been whipped with something sweet and brushed lightly on the insides of this danish. I had a bite. Big fan.
     We share the same affinity for lemon poppy seed cookies, so we split one of those.... as well as the chocolate fudge cookie. The chocolate fudge cookie was super moist and thick almost like fudge. Genius. But the lemon poppy seed cookie was in a whole league of its own. I had a realization. You can make many things that taste like a chocolately cookie. You may not exactly replicate the same thing every time, but you can come close to the flavor. However, you cannot mess with a lemon poppy seed cookie. Nothing else in the world has that flavor. You cannot replicate it in any way. This cookie was just super soft but still dense and just had an incredible and refreshing flavor. Patisserie, you may be my new favorite bakery (for sweet goods) in Boston.

Veggie Packed Meatloaf - My Kitchen, Cambridge, MA

     It was just about CRASH-Bs time and planning meals around work and workouts was going to tough. I
My picturesque Meatloaf... not
wanted protein in an easy to heat, store and consume form. Meatloaf! This was another first for me. I had never made a meatloaf before and was probably unreasonably nervous. I was using some 99% lean ground turkey, and as I mixed the ingredients together, it seemed as though it wasn't thick enough. I was worried it wasn't going to hold up. Meagan "assured" me it would be great. She was right! It came out perfectly. Perfectly done. Full of flavors from all the different veggies and garlic. I loved the crusted ketchup that I brushed on top too... but then again I'm pretty sure I'd like absolutely anything with organic ketchup on it. I could drink that stuff. This loaf is perfect. Thanks Whole Foods!

Veggie Packed Meatloaf

1 onion, quartered
4 garlic cloves
1 large carrot, quartered
1 celery stalk, quartered
2 1/2 cups baby spinach
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 pound lean ground meat (turkey or chicken)
1 1/4 cup quinoa, cooked in chicken broth then cooled (I used half oatmeal because I ran out of quinoa)
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup ketchup or barbecue sauce

1) Preheat the oven to 425°F and line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. 
2) Place onion and garlic in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a large skillet. Add carrot and celery to the food processor, and pulse until chopped. Add spinach and pulse a few times more. Add to the skillet. Place the skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring until vegetables release liquid. Continue cooking until liquid evaporates and vegetables begin to brown, about 8 minutes; add water a tablespoon at a time, if necessary, to keep vegetables from sticking. Transfer to a large bowl. 
3) Add egg, ground meat, quinoa, soy sauce and black pepper to the bowl, and mix gently with your hands. Scrape mixture onto the baking sheet and form into a loaf approximately 4 inches wide and 10 inches long; wet your hands if the mixture is very sticky. Spread top of loaf with ketchup or barbecue sauce. Bake until cooked through and browned, about 40 minutes. Cool 5 minutes before slicing.

Chocolate Almond Energy Bars - My Kitchen, Cambridge, MA

     Sometimes I can't help but crave bars. Something about the dense block of sweet, chocolatey, peanut buttery, crunchy, chewy substance feels great. Finding the energy to try to make them myself is the hard part. There are so many recipes out there, and, just like granola recipes, I struggle to have them turn out like they should. I get nervous. Anyway... this was probably one of my more successful bar recipes I've made and it was super quick and easy. I attribute it to the fact that there was no baking involved. I put my own little spin on a recipe for Chocolate Almond Granola bars that I found on a blog called The Wannabe Chef. Coincidentally, the writer of this blog is from Boston and has similar problems with granola bar recipes. I hear ya, buddy. Instead of using chocolate rice crisp cereal like he did, I used Kashi GoLean Crunch simply because that's what I had. It still provided the essential crunch and some volume. This truly is a great bar recipe especially if you're using it for a pre-workout snack. I loved that it was slightly soft and had a bunch of different flavors in each bite. The predominant flavor was the chocolate, but I loved when I'd get a salt crystal with it. It's that chocolate - salt combo that's tough to beat. For the dried fruit, I used raisins, and I'm so glad I did. The peanut butter flavor throughout in combination with those raisins was really tasty. Here's the recipe I used below, but I think you could alter some of the ingredients to your own liking.

Chocolate Almond Energy Bars

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup almond butter
1/4 cup honey
1 cup oats
1 1/2 cups Kashi GoLean Crunch (or another crispy crunchy cereal)
1/2 cup almonds, whole or crushed
1/2 cup dried fruit
1/4 teaspoon salt

1) Over a double boiler, melt the chocolate chips. Stir in the almond butter and honey until smooth.
2) Add in the oats, cereal, almonds, dried fruit, and salt and mix until everything is completely covered.
3) Line an 8 x 8 baking tray with wax paper. Dump the batter into the pan and press down into an even layer.
4) Refrigerate the bars until they’ve hardened—about 20-30 minutes.With a sharp knife, cut the bars into whatever size you'd like. Store in an airtight container.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Salted Coffee Caramel Apple Skillet Cookie - My Kitchen, Cambridge, MA
Elaborate Skillet Cookie
      Get a load of that name. For our February Secret Supper Club meeting, the theme was "Winter Foods." Beth made what was by far the best pork roast with sauerkraut that has ever touched my tongue. I could have eaten that and only that for hours on end and have been completely satisfied. The mashed potatoes, roasted veggies, spinach and panchetta salad and homemade bread were fabulous additions, however. For dessert, I made this extravagant skillet cookie that I found on a blog called Half Baked Harvest. I can definitely say that I've got a successful skillet cookie under my belt now, but it wasn't easy. I mean... the cookie dough making process was no big deal. It was the caramel that I screwed up. I thought it said 1 can of coconut milk, but it actually said 1 cup. Rookie mistake. It was my first time making a caramel sauce, so I thought for the longest time that it was just going to take a long time to thicken up. It wasn't thickening because I had waaaay too much liquid in it. After a few additions of sugar, it started to thicken up a tad but never got to the appropriate consistency. Regardless, it was still delicious... even though I don't like coffee. I loved the coffee flavor in combination with the chocolatey oatmeal cookie. And again...  the chocolate - salt combo never fails. Not only is this a beautiful way to present a cookie, but it's also super easy. You can slice it like a pie and serve it topped with ice cream. Oh man... the warm cookie with the cool french vanilla ice cream on top was just the best. 
     I think the addition of the apples wasn't really necessary, as you only would get one or two bites of cookie with the apple. Perhaps you could layer more apples around the cookie, but I think they're truthfully unnecessary. There is already so much happening. The only other changes I made to her recipe was that I didn't use kahlua in the caramel and didn't top the cookie with roasted pecans (because I'm cheap). I'm sure that would've been a great addition though. 

Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Salted Coffee Caramel Apple Skillet Cookie

1 3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons oatmeal
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup coconut oil, melted (or canola)
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4-6 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate, chopped into chunks (about 1 cup)

Salted Coffee Caramel:
1 cup black coffee
1 1/4 cups brown sugar (add 1/4 white sugar if you like a sweeter cookie)
1 cup canned coconut milk (or heavy cream)
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
coarse sea salt, for sprinkling
2 - 3 of your favorite apples
toasted pecans, for topping
ice cream (not optional)

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 10 or 12 inch oven safe skillet.
2) To make the the caramel add the coffee and brown sugar in a medium sauce pot. Bring a a boil and boil 5 minutes. Slowly add the coconut milk and butter, whisk to combine. Bring back to a boil, reduce heat to a low boil and cook 5 -10 minutes longer, until the sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and set aside.
3) To make the cookie dough, in a large mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, add the oatmeal, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, melted coconut oil, eggs and vanilla and beat until combined and the dough holds together (the dough will seem oily, this is good). Mix in about 1 cup of the chocolate chunks.
4) Turn half the batter out into a prepared pan, pushing the dough into pan. Then pour about half of the caramel overtop and spread it out all over the cookie. Place the remaining half of the dough over top.
5) Bake for about 20-25 minutes, just do not over bake. Underdone is always better in my opinion. Remove from the oven and let sit 5 minutes. Top with the thinly sliced apples, a good drizzle of the remaining caramel and then finish with the roasted pecans if you choose to and a sprinkle of sea salt. Serve with vanilla ice cream and your guests will love you forever. 

1 comment :

  1. I feel like I'm gaining weight reading the above. I want to go to that place when I come to
    Boston. The one with the exotic combinations. Sounds great