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Because the Food Truck, Restaurant and New Shipping Container Just Isn't Enough Mei Mei

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The sibling trio has also launched a specialty food product line, starting with sauces, and Boston fans couldn't be happier (including us).

By 
Nicole Fleming
Just looking at these bottles is making my mouth water. (Photo: Courtesy of MeiMeiBoston.com)

Mei Mei, Boston’s beloved food truck, restaurant, and now shipping container has launched a line of specialty foods, starting with bottled sauces.

As described on the website, the sauces will be available in three flavors: apple hoisin, “sweet and salty like a Chinese barbecue sauce”; cranberry sweet and sour, “bright and tangy”; and smoked maple-ginger that is “perfect for marinating steaks, drizzling on noodles, veggies, stir-fries, rice … basically everything.”

Mei Mei debuted on the Boston food scene in 2012 as a food truck run by a cheerful, eco-conscious sibling trio. After quickly gaining a cult following with creative Chinese-American food, environmentally friendly business practices and affordable prices, the truck won Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston award for food trucks in 2012. The siblings then launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant at 506 Park Drive, near the Kenmore Square and the Boston University campus. This past November, the team started serving food out of a kiosk made from a repurposed shipping container at the Innovation & Design building in the Seaport district.

Comfort food classics on the Mei Mei menu include the famous “Double Awesome,” a scallion pancake sandwich with two poached eggs, Vermont cheddar and homemade pesto; Kung Pao chicken dip with cheese, peanuts and crackers; a “Magical Kale Salad” with two poached eggs, feta, panko breadcrumbs and a rice wine-vinaigrette; and an ever-evolving line-up of dumplings.

The three gluten-free sauces are now available for sale, at the truck, restaurant and shipping container. The cost is $9 for a 12-ounce bottle. Online ordering will be available soon.

Mei Mei - 506 Park Drive, Boston, 857.250.4959, meimeiboston.com

Nicole Fleming writes The Girl Who Ate Boston food blog. She is a long-avowed fan of Mei Mei, which she wrote about on her blog in May, and she thinks you too will be a fan as soon as you try the food. Follow her on Twitter @GirlEatsBoston.

 

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Meet the Cranberry Queen of Massachusetts

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Industry expert Carolyn DeMoranville tells us about local heirloom varieties, and shares timeless recipes for making the most of our state berry. 

By 
Amanda Kersey
 As a 3rd generation cranberry expert, Carolyn DeMoranville knows the New England berry is good for much more than sauce. (Photo: Barrie Nolt)

You could say the berries run in her blood.  Carolyn DeMoranville’s grandfather cultivated a 7.5-acre (bite-sized, in the business) cranberry farm. Her father, who would eventually take over the operation, was such a respected veteran researcher at the UMass Amherst Cranberry Experiment Station that he had a cranberry cultivar named after him. DeMoranville followed in his footsteps when she became director of the East Wareham research center, which focuses on supporting the Massachusetts cranberry industry. From the bog to the baking pan, DeMoranville is the state's resident expert on all things cranberry. 

Amanda Kersey checks in to learn about heirloom varieties, the crop's place on our holiday table and which classic cranberry recipes never go out of style.

Why do you love the cranberry? 

You know, it's unique, part of our local heritage. It’s part of my family heritage. I like the way they taste. They’re really easy to cook with on a simple scale. I mean, you can go crazy, but you can make an interesting salsa or sauce or chutney pretty easily, and there’s a lot of scope for creativity. But also think it's a very unique plant in the way it grows; it grows in these wetland areas with really acid soil. There aren't that many people that work on them as scientists. For all the fact that the research center is over 100 years old, there's still so much we don't know—that we're still learning a lot about the chemistry of the fruit, some of the health benefits, how it interacts in diet, and just learning how to grow it more efficiently, how to manage the water better. It's still evolving. It’s intellectually interesting.  

What were some cranberry foods you ate growing up? 

I have to admit that we—probably surprisingly—did not make homemade cranberry sauces. The little log with the ridges from the can? It was always what we he we had at our house. And I think part of it was because we were a part of the Ocean Spray co-op. That was one of their products. As far as cooking from raw cranberries, what we always had was a cranberry nut bread that has walnuts in it and fresh cranberries. And it uses the juice of an orange with warm water to make up your liquid, which is kind of different from every recipe I've ever seen. Most of them use orange zest or chopped-up pieces of orange rind, so it's much more subtle in its orange. It was a family recipe in the sense that my mother made it all the time, and it was one of my father's favorite foods. But the recipe actually came from an old UMass Extension publication.

Then there’s Cranberry Goodin Pudding, another UMass Extension recipe from the 1960s that you say is still a hit. 

My mother made that a lot, too. In later years, they became popular—these recipes where you mixed all the ingredients and just poured in the pan and it formed its own layers. So it ends up with the bottom part is kind of dense with the cranberries and the nuts, and then the top is a crust. It's pretty tasty.

Are there heirloom cranberries in Massachusetts?

There are. So most of the fresh cranberries you see in the markets around Massachusetts—whether it's a farmer's market, or even the Ocean Spray or Paradise Meadow or Bluewater Farms you see at the grocery store—are heirloom varieties. The heirloom varieties, they just aren't marketed by name. So they just mark them as cranberries. But the two common heirloom varieties from Massachusetts are Early Black and House and they were selections from the wild in the mid 1800s that are still under cultivation today on some farms. They’re the smallish cranberries that we’re used to seeing as the raw cranberry. The newer cultivars are much larger. They're probably twice the size; some of them are fairly round. They look almost cherryish in their shape. 

How does one successfully freeze cranberries to use year-round?

You take the bag and put in your freezer. That's pretty much it. I find it's easier to rinse them off when you take them out rather than trying to wash them first. They'll stay frozen long enough to get them chopped up. But the fresh preparations, you should really have some fresh cranberries.     

How do cranberries fit into New England's Christmas traditions? 

Cranberries have really excellent keeping quality, so cranberries have held through the holiday season — not just for Thanksgiving — as fresh produce, for many years. There was always a desire to have cranberries to hold for the Christmas market. From the decorating point of view, it’s been a longstanding tradition in New England to use strands of cranberries on the Christmas tree, perhaps alternating with popcorn. That’s certainly something we did as kids in my family. In this part of the country, it’s tradition to have turkey at Christmas, and they [cranberries] are certainly associated with it.

How will cranberries show up on your Christmas dinner table this year? 

Well, if I have to be honest, we don’t do Christmas dinner. We eat on Christmas Eve and have leftovers the next day. But they will show up in the form of cranberry nut bread on the Christmas Eve buffet and anything left will be on our brunch table the next morning. 

This interview has been edited and condensed by Amanda Kersey.

Jonesing for some cranberries now? Here are a couple of Carolyn's favorite recipes:

 

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#SquashGoals and Other Tasty Tips for a Healthy 2016

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Forget deprivation. Focus on eating more of the good stuff. Here are 5 foods to add to your daily diet for a healthier you in the new year.

By 
Skylar Griggs
Make-ahead roasted squash can be pureed into a quick comforting soup for weeknight dinners. (Photo: Brent Hofacker)

"This year I'm going to lose weight."

"I'm going to eat healthy."

"I'm going to give up all things caloric and carby and sweet!"

How many times have we all said this? Or rolled our eyes listening to someone else say that when the clock strikes midnight they will become an entirely different person (and eater)?

This year, don't make vague, unrealistic promises that are impossible to keep.  Focus on the good stuff - eating food!

Research has shown that the more specific and attainable a goal, the more likely we are to follow through. So instead of saying,“I'm going to eat more fruits and vegetables,” opt for something that holds you accountable. Like aiming to eat five different colors every day. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is, how much fun meal planning becomes and how it pushes your palate in a naturally healthy direction. Here's a list of 5 nutritional and colorful foods to start incorporating into your daily diet:

1.  Dark leafy greens

You knew kale would be on the list. But what about collard and mustard greens and Swiss chard? Dark leafy greens are the Gronk of veggies - nutritional powerhouses that thrive in the winter chill, and are packed with vitamins A, C and K.  And they're wicked easy to cook with. You can add them to smoothies with Greek yogurt and fruit, sauté them with olive oil, salt and pepper, or add them to your winter soups.

2. Citrus fruits

This is the time of year to indulge in sweet citrus fruits, which are just coming into season. Think lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits and clementines. These fruits may help alleviate the winter sniffles with a hefty dose of vitamin C, and also contain flavonoids -- antioxidants that help protect the body from cell-damaging free radicals. Get the most from citrus by eating the white membranes of the fruit (trust me, it's worth it), which provide as much as five times more antioxidants and fiber than a glass of juice. You can also add these sweet-tart beauties to a variety of salads; combos like beet and grapefruit, or avocado and oranges. Or stay hydrated by placing sliced lemon and lime in your water bottle. And don’t underestimate the boost of an afternoon snack pack containing two clementines. 

3. Anything orange on the inside

I'm not talking about the Halloween Oreos you've had squirreled away since October. Sweet potato, carrots and winter squashes like butternut, acorn, delicata and spaghetti squash, are healthy staples to include in your winter pantry. Most contain vitamin A and cholesterol-fighting fiber and heart-healthy potassium. Swap out white potatoes with sweet potatoes in a recipe for more color and a sweeter taste. Roast butternut squash with garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper (375 degrees for 30-35 minutes) and serve on top of a cool salad with kale and dried cranberries, or in a warm salad of sautéed spinach, tomato and onions. You can also puree carrots, onions and garlic for a savory, warm soup. And if you're a pasta lover, consider replacing spaghetti squash for your noodles. It has about one fifth the calories of traditional pasta and is chock full of fiber. Add marinara sauce and chicken, and voilà, dinner!

4. Seeds

Folks go nuts for nuts, but forget about seeds. Grab a handful! They're an excellent source of fiber and can keep you full throughout the day. Pumpkin seeds in particular are a great source of protein, niacin, iron, magnesium and zinc. And sunflower seeds are another go-to; they contain mono and polyunsaturated fats, which can help lower heart disease risk.  Add them to your salads or mix them with dried cranberries and walnuts for an omega 3-rich trail mix.  If you're a baker, add a handful to your next batch of quick breads or muffins. Yum!

5. Unconventional breakfast grains

Time to ditch the processed cereal box. Oats are the way to go. They're an energy boosting breakfast staple packed with fiber that help maintain your body weight and lower bad cholesterol. Add fresh or frozen berries, a sprinkle of nuts and some cinnamon to your morning bowl to add texture and pump up flavor.

Or try Muesli. Developed around 1900 by Swiss physician Maximillian Bircher-Benner, Muesli is known for its high amounts of fiber and antioxidants. It generally contains raw rolled oats and a healthy mix of grains, fresh or dried fruits, seeds and nuts. Mix it with milk (be it cow, soy, or almond) or stir it into yogurt. Or add liquid to your Muesli in the evening, allowing the oats to soak it up in the fridge overnight for a super-fast breakfast. My favorite Muesli preparation is a bowl of Kashi Cherry Cinnamon & Cardamom Overnight Muesli with almond milk. 

Setting a goal to eat better doesn't mean commiting to just rice cakes and broccoli. When you make resolutions, remember to keep them realistic and specific. It's a fun challenge to focus on finding ways to get delicious and nutrient-filled options into your regular diet. So this year, why not resolve to swapping some color for those less healthful items on your grocery list. It all starts with one day, one meal or one great ingredient at a time.

 

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6 Spots for Après-Ski in New England

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Sure, we'd all love a powder day.  But no matter the conditions on the hill, we're here to help you eat well at the bottom.

By 
Nicole Fleming
Warm up and get your sugar fix in one go with some hot apple cider and hot cider donuts at Wachusett Mountain's Bullock Lodge Cider House. (Photo: Courtesy of Wachusett Mountain)

Ski bunnies take heart, Greater Boston has seen its first flurries of snow.  

Food lovers take heart too; whether you like to rip moguls or sip cocoa in the lodge, New England winter resorts are catering to those who take après ski seriously. 

Here's our list of 6 spots worth racing down the mountain for:

1. Solstice Restaurant at the Stowe Mountain Lodge 

For those who prefer their skiing with a side of swank. Solstice Restaurant has an elegant flare fitting with the see-and-be-seen resort accommodations. The menus boast artisanal preparations for breakfast, lunch and dinner, including upside-down pineapple pancakes with cinnamon butter; goat cheese and spinach pizza with egg and herbs; and Bayley Hazen blue cheese-crusted beef tenderloin.

Stowe, VT, 802.760.4735, destinationhotels.com/stowe-mountain-lodge

2. T-Bars Restaurant and Lounge at the Waterville Valley Resort

This popular lunch spot at the base of the slopes showcases sandwiches such as the Jack's Outback—melted brie on multi-grain with sprouts, spinach and tomato, dressed in parmesan vinaigrette—as well as every kind of burger imaginable.

Waterville Valley, NH, waterville.com

3. Castlerock Pub at Sugarbush

Eat up on the hill at The Castlerock Pub on Lincoln Peak. The restaurant has a relaxed bar atmosphere with “better-than-bar” comfort food, including burgers, fish and chips, and mac and cheese. For some warmth and relaxation, try one of their hot drinks, like ginger brandy with hot Cold Hollow cider, or Peppermint Schapps-spiked hot chocolate topped with whipped cream. 

Warren, VT, 802.583.6594, sugarbush.com

4. The Bretton Arms Dining Room at the Omni Resort on Mount Washington

Start or end your day in style at this classic New England resort. Breakfast and dinner stars locally-sourced ingredients and upscale ambiance. Fare includes butter-poached oysters with leeks, fennel, basil and truffle cream; open-faced smoked boar ravioli with homemade ricotta; and Robie Hill Farm ribeye with charred tomato butter.

Bretton Woods, NH, 603.278.8989, omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-bretton-arms

5. The Foggy Goggle at Sunday River

This is a place to let loose. With plenty of cold beer, specialty cocktails and live music, The Foggy Goggle is always a good time. The indulgent comfort food includes shoestring sweet potato fries with Sunday River maple syrup and bacon, Foggy’s famous nachos and a turkey melt on toasted cinnamon bread with a maple spread.

Newry, ME, 207.824.5056, sundayriver.com

6. Bullock Lodge Cider House at Wachusett Mountain

This slopeside cider house — serving goodies from Red Apple Farm in Phillipston— pumps the sweet scent of fresh-fried donuts and hot cider into the crisp mountain air. We dare you to try and pass by without stepping out of your bindings for a quintessentially New England treat. 

Princeton, MA, wachusett.com/TheMountain

Happy trails and Bon Appétit!

Got a favorite spot to refuel after a day on the slopes? Share the love in the comment section.

Nicole Fleming is the author of The Girl Who Ate Boston food blog. Follow her on Twitter @GirlEatsBoston.

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In Massachusetts, Kale is a True Souper Food

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Forget green juice. Portuguese-Americans know nothing beats a bowl of kale soup. 

By 
Amanda Balagur

Here in Massachusetts, locals have been crazy for kale long before it became fashionable. By now you may think you’ve experienced its dark leafy goodness in every form, but have you had a hot cup of kale? No, it’s not the latest green juice fad. I’m talking about cozying up with a bowl of soul-warming, savory kale soup. A local staple composed of just a few fresh ingredients, it's very simple to make. But if you ask anyone of Portuguese descent for their family recipe, you can be sure it’s not the same as their neighbor’s. The one thing everyone can agree on? Their family’s version is the best!

Cathy Melo remembers making kale soup for her family’s Sunday dinner using whatever meat was available to flavor the broth, from beef to chicken to pork sausage. Once cooked, she’d remove it from the pot and serve savory slices on a platter, giving each family member the option to eat it as they liked, stuffed into a sandwich roll or stirred back into the soup.  Cathy and her husband Manny opened M&C Café in New Bedford in 1967; their son Mike now runs the restaurant, but Cathy still cooks there six days a week. Even at the age of 79 she can be found in the kitchen on Sunday (her day off) making dinner for her family, as she always has.

You’ll find some of the best Portuguese food in the country in New Bedford and nearby Fall River, just an hour south of Boston. When it became the center of the American whaling industry in the early 19th century, New Bedford attracted so many immigrants from the Azores and Cape Verde that it was nicknamed the “Portuguese capital of the United States.” The city’s rich history is reflected in a number of family-owned restaurants that serve up local specialties like bifana (grilled marinated pork), polvo guisado (octopus stew), bacalhau (salted cod) and — of course — kale soup.

Mike describes his family’s recipe as rustic and “just like my Vao [nickname for grandmother] used to make.” The result is a soup that’s hearty and flavorful, but not too rich or heavy. Made with water, kale, cabbage, linguiça, beef, potato and kidney beans, it may seem like a simple one-pot dish. But nearly every Portugese-American family in the region has its own take, and they’re quick to snub any interpretation not their own. Where one family would never skip the addition of tomatoes, another says it’s sacrilege. Some insist on adding linguiça, while others prefer the spicier chouriço. The version served at Cotali Mar includes elbow macaroni, but owner Carlos Madeira’s family recipe features fragrant garlic and no pasta.

Cotali Mar's Sopa a Portuguese features elbow macaroni and chourico. (Photo: Amanda Balagur)

Each family recipe is a reflection of which part of Portugal they emigrated from. To make things even more complicated, caldo verde — a traditional Portuguese “green soup” made with potatoes, shredded kale and olive oil — is also sometimes referred to as kale soup. The main difference between the two is the thickening agent, or mash; caldo verde requires smashing up some (or all, depending on your preference) of the potatoes. With kale soup, it’s the kidney beans that get the rough treatment.

While it may have been perfected in Southeast Massachusetts, you can also find excellent versions of a hot cup of kale in the Boston area. From J and J Restaurant in Somerville to Casa Portugal in Inman Square, there are plenty to choose from. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, invent your own interpretation; whip up a pot at home and make it part of your own family’s tradition. Chances are it’ll go over better than the chocolate-kale cupcakes you made last year.

 

M & C Café - 436 Belleville Ave., New Bedford, 508.993.2219, mandccafe.com

Cotali Mar - 1178 Acushnet Ave, New Bedford, 508.990.0066, cotalimarrestaurante.com

J and J Restaurant - 157 Washington St., Somerville, 617.625.3978, jandjrestaurant.com

Restaurant Casa Portugal - 1200 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, 617.491.8880, restaurantcasaportugal.com

 

Follow Amanda on Twitter @amandabalagur.

 

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Meet the Organizer Extraordinaire of the Boston Wine Expo

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Reta Martin makes sure hundreds of international winemakers (and their wines) arrive every year to Boston's largest wine show at the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center. 

By 
Ellen Bhang
Expo attendees visit hundreds of winemakers at a Grand Tasting. (Photo: Scarpetta Photography)

On President’s Day weekend, ten thousand attendees will surge into Boston’s Seaport District for the Boston Wine Expo, now in its 25th year at the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center. Enthusiasts and members of the wine trade go to sniff, swirl and taste nearly 1,800 wines, poured by more than 200 wineries from all over the globe. They also drop by to catch demos by celebrity chefs and take a seminar or two, with proceeds benefitting Tufts Medical Center’s summer camp for children with disabilities.

Producing Boston’s largest annual wine event is no small feat, but Reta Martin makes it look easy. Her secret is building one relationship at a time.

If you were to walk into the cavernous exhibit hall that houses the Expo’s Grand Tasting, you would see Martin, senior sales manager at the hotel, greeting exhibitors as they set up. She knows them all. “My job is to build and create relationships with wineries and other exhibitors,” she explains, saying it’s a year-round endeavor that brings hundreds of vintners, vendors and their wares to the event. It’s a job she has done since 2008.

Martin loves to meet winemakers face to face, especially those who travel to the event from afar. “It’s fun to meet each other, especially if we only talked by phone or email,” she enthuses. With producers coming from 15 countries, her international roster of contacts is always growing. In the spring, she’ll visit Verona to check out Vinitaly, one of the world’s largest conventions for the international wine trade. She also maintains a busy domestic travel schedule, attending wine shows, wineries and trade events in other states.

Being in this role — part-ringmaster, part-liaison to Old World and New World winemakers — was not something that Martin anticipated when she took cooking courses in high school, and later attended culinary school in Danvers. But this Lexington native had a notion she would continue working in food, even after realizing she wanted a change from working in restaurant kitchens.  

“I grew up in a family where we talked about what we were going to eat for lunch and dinner at breakfast,” she says. She remembers her mother’s baking, and loves her father’s signature recipe for pork chops with vinegar-marinated peppers, a condiment from his part-Italian heritage. He kept those pickles in a special crock. Appreciating wine came later.

“Nobody was into wine or winemaking,” she says of family members, although she remembers old-school jugs of Chianti nestled in wicker baskets and occasional bottles of Asti spumante. She did coursework at the Elizabeth Bishop Wine Resource Center at Boston University, undertook a program offered by a local wine distributor, then earned a CSW, a Certified Specialist of Wine. Nowadays, you can find her at wine tastings around town, keeping her palate sharp, and making more contacts in the process.

With the Expo about a month away, it’s a time of “many balls in the air,” as she likes to say. Some wineries are still deciding whether to exhibit at the show. Recently, she chatted with winery reps in Romania. If they decide to participate and eventually market their wines in Massachusetts, they will have Martin to thank for helping them get in front of importers and distributors interested in their pours.

Martin likes to share behind-the-scenes insights. For example, if you imagine that the Seaport Hotel’s warehouse is currently filling up with crates and pallets of wine, Martin will correct that notion. “Just about all of the wine arrives on the Friday before the show,” she says, made possible by the Seaport’s “well-oiled machine,” which utilizes state distributors for domestic wines and a logistics partner for wines coming from abroad.

Asked what gives her the greatest satisfaction, Martin doesn’t hesitate. “It’s the people I meet, all from different backgrounds,” she says. “People are really passionate about their wine and really want to tell you what their wine is all about. I’ve developed a lot of really great friendships.”

The Boston Wine Expo 2016 will be held on President’s Day weekend, Feb. 13 and 14, at the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center. For event information and grand tasting tickets ($99 per person for Saturday, $89 for Sunday, $149 for a weekend pass), visit wine-expos.com.

 

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Hone Your Kitchen Skills, Sofra-Style

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Cooking classes at the eastern Mediterranean bakery are back. 

By 
Nicole Fleming
Shira Melen, formerly of Sofra Bakery, teaches how to make macarons in a December 2015 cooking class at Sofra Bakery. (Photo: Tamar Melen)

Was your New Year’s resolution to become a better cook?  The educational series at Sofra Bakery in Cambridge might be just what you are looking for. 

Sofra is offering a series of single-night culinary intensives beginning in January and running into May. 

The popular bakery was established in 2008 by executive chef Ana Sortun and executive pastry chef Maura Kilpatrick. Sortun is the James Beard award-winning chef and owner of Oleana, an upscale Cambridge restaurant showcasing Turkish and eastern Mediterranean flavors. Sarma — which translates that style to small plates — is Oleana’s more casual younger sibling in Somerville’s Winter Hill neighborhood. The partnership with Kilpatrick, winner of multiple “Boston’s Best Pastry Chef” awards from Boston Magazine, has developed a cult following.

Members of the Oleana and Sofra culinary teams teach the classes, which include tastings, lectures and recipe demonstrations. Classes are held on Mondays from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

January 18: Fish Tales
Halibut in parchment, Brussels sprout tabouleh and spicy walnut sauce; caramelized scallops with Egyptian-style garlic sauce and sprouted lentils; flounder roulade with crab and leek saganaki; and hake with fideos, toasted garlic and saffron.

January 25: Savory Pies

Winter vegetable katayifi, a pie made with thin, wispy strands of pastry; a classic spanakopita with feta; and lamb pide.

February 1: Classic Turkish Cuisine

Kale soup with semolina; stuffed quince with jeweled rice; and lamb stew with chestnuts and bulgur pilaf.

February 8: Winter Cooking with Ana—Pantry Essentials
Chicken and yogurt soup with toasted vermicelli; red lentil soup with Turkish spices; braised chicken stew using a clay pot, baharat spice, leeks and cabbage; and kushari, an Egyptian-style rice pilaf with lentils.

February 15: All About Chocolate
Sofra’s signature brownie-rich “Earthquake Cookie”; chocolate-Turkish coffee custard; and easy-to-make chocolate-stuffed dates.

March 14: Braising Versus Roasting
Braised lamb chops and carrot tabouleh; roasted leg of lamb with turnips and honey; and sweet potatoes with tahini, pine nuts and zhoug.

March 21: Tahini and Olive—Mediterranean Baking Secrets
Sesame cashew sarma with tahini-brushed phyllo; Lebanese semolina cake, tahini hot chocolate; and from Oleana’s dessert menu, frozen olive oil soufflé with blood orange.

March 28: Spice Bazaar
Dukkah and za’atar as condiments for olive oil and breads; Nantucket Bay scallops with beets, citrus and ANA spice; carrot soup; baharat chicken with nuts, dried fruits and tahini.

April 4: Meze—Small Dishes, Big Flavors
Fava bean pate with eggs, capers and herbs; red lentil kibbeh with yogurt sauce; shrimp with onions and garlic; and roasted spring vegetables with tomato-brown butter.

April 11: Family-Style Dinners—Weekday Cooking Solutions
Warm buttered hummus with spicy lamb and pine nuts; baked goat cheese with spicy tomato sauce and Spanish-style crumbs; classic Apulian ceca marito with beans, greens and parsnips; tepsi or “tray” kebobs with bread dumplings and cacik.

April 25: Spring Vegetables & Siena Farms
Spring vegetable borek with yogurt and mint; fatoush with radish and sumac; and roasted cauliflower with beet tabouleh and harissa aioli.

May 2: All About Olive Oil
Chickpea pancakes with olive oil, greens and herbs; skordalia, a garlic, almond and potato spread with olive oil and rosemary crackers; ribolitta with spring greens and pancetta; and salmon with capers, olives and golden raisin emulsion.

May 9: Mother’s Day Tea Party
Sticky toffee pudding with rooibos sauce; popovers with elderflower granite and strawberries; and milk pudding (muhullabeya) with chamomile apricots.

This year, commit to upping your culinary cred.  The only thing better than eating Sortun and Kilpatrick’s Mediterranean fare is being able to make it in the comfort of your own kitchen.

Nicole Fleming is the author of The Girl Who Ate Boston food blog. Follow her on Twitter @GirlEatsBoston.

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Join Us for a Drink? WGBH Hosts Happy Hour

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We need to talk about the future of food. 

By 
Catherine Smart

What are you doing after work?

Join us on Thursday, January 21st for Boston Talks Happy Hour: The Future of Food.

We'll drink craft beer and wine, and chat with other food lovers about what's on the horizon.

Edgar B. Herwick (@ebherwick3) of WGBH's Curiousity Desk will lead the discussion with a panel of local experts: The Improper Bostonian's Managing Editor Matt Martinelli (@MattJMartinelli) will forecast local trends; thought leader David Gracer (@TheDaveGuy) talks eating bugs (have you tried the tasty cricket tacos at Tu Y Yo?); and other surprise guests will offer insights into the changing food world around us. 

Come thirsty and curious. Hope to see you there!

For more information and to purchase tickets, click here. 

 

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Want to Eat Local This Winter? Wilson Farm Has Got the Goods

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Stock the pantry, or let Chef Raymond Ost do the cooking at this year-round Lexington farmstand. 

By 
Liz Koch
Wilson Farm exterior

Winter in Massachusetts is a tough time for consumers who like to eat local.  Happily, we're seeing more weekly winter farmers' markets, like the ones in Brookline and Somerville, and urbanites can rely on the Boston Public Market for fish, produce and even pastrami.  But for silky, sweet parsnips or earthy, nutty squash — even in the dead of winter — many flock to Wilson Farm, affectionately known as Wilson’s by regulars.

Founded in 1884 by the Wilson family, this Lexington, MA farm is a popular place to shop for many northwest suburbanites.  All produce sold at the farm is labeled with the location of origin, helping consumers find regionally grown options.  While Wilson’s offers produce grown from Maine to Peru, they try to source locally as much as possible and always have selections from their own farm available through careful crop planning and storage.  While Wilson’s does not use greenhouses, they sell produce from several other farms that do, ensuring customers can get locally grown tomatoes, even in February.

Winter is widely considered squash season, and the selection goes way beyond butternut.  Wilson’s sells several different varieties: hazelnut-flavored Turks turban; toasty, sweet blue hubbard; creamy, rich butterkin and savory acorn are just a few of the options available.  To help out home cooks, some varieties are pre-peeled and seeded.  The farm offers free recipes, test driven by their culinary team to inspire home cooks to dig into winter produce.

For busy customers without the time to cook, the farm offers convenient and tasty meals to go.  In the fall of 2014, Wilson’s boosted their culinary clout with the hire of Chef Raymond Ost.  A Master Chef of France and fixture on the Boston restaurant scene, Ost was coming off an 18 year stint running his own restaurant — Sandrine’s — and searching for a new challenge.  The opportunity to head up Wilson’s culinary department presented a way to step outside the mainstream career trajectory for professional chefs and work with fresh, high quality produce.  Under Ost’s guidance, Wilson’s prepared foods selection is expanding and offering customers a bargain, especially compared with restaurant prices.  Customers pay $10-$16 a box for restaurant-quality French-influenced cuisine.  

Right now, Ost says he is focusing on dishes that are “hearty and fit for winter.”  Aside from classics such as beef bourguignon, Ost is rolling out new prepared options like a flavorful and rich lamb Navarin stew ($12.99), or a hearty, gamey cassoulet with goose confit ($6.99/lb.).  Both these menu items feature seasonal produce and incorporate Ost’s French background.  I picked up the stew on my visit and was thrilled with the lean, tender pieces of lamb complimented by a rich, warming broth and hearty root vegetables.  This is a dish to chase those winter blues away.

Ost notes that his greatest challenge at Wilson’s is “fitting a beautiful plate into a box, and making it look as appetizing as possible,” but happy repeat customers indicate he's up to the task.

Aside from the prepared foods, Ost conducts cooking classes, teaching consumers to create gourmet meals with ingredients available at the farm. Ost tries to focus on local seasonal ingredients, primarily from the farm’s own selection.  The January cooking class will feature a winter salad with mache, watercress, fennel and haricot verts; baked pork cordon bleu with a cauliflower gratin; and apple tart with vanilla ice cream.

In the name of research, I sampled a few of Ost's pre-made selections, making a meal of seasonally appropriate and comforting butternut squash and apple soup ($5.49/lb.) and a palate-cleansing and addictive kale salad ($8.99/lb.).  Both savory and sweet, the butternut squash soup has a surprising depth of flavor, thanks to its chicken stock base and the addition of tangy celery and onions.  At home, a little handiwork takes this soup to the next level; I suggest topping a bowl with a some chopped apple and mint tossed with champagne vinegar to add texture and zing.

The kale salad helps balance the rich flavors of squash and lamb.  The chopped greens are accented with chewy farro, sweet cranberries, crunchy peas, salty feta, and a refreshing lemon mint vinaigrette.  I will be coming back for seconds (and thirds, and fourths) of this hearty and healthful winter dish.  Ost’s secret to getting the kale so tender?  After chopping it, he massages the kale with a little olive oil and salt for a few minutes.

When asked why he chose to come work at Wilson Farm, Ost’s reply is simple: “it’s the highest quality farm in the area,” he says. This commitment to quality is evident from the raw produce to the prepared foods.  If you are looking to eat fresh, local produce, Wilson Farm is one of Greater Boston's best bets. As Ost says, “no one can get it fresher than I can.”  Except, perhaps, Wilson Farm’s customers. 

Wilson Farm - 10 Pleasant Street, Lexington, MA  781.862.3900, wilsonfarm.com

 

 

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A Sweet Encounter with a Local Chocolatier

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EHChocolatier in Somerville has won quite a few awards. The owners share the story behind their success, and one of their best recipes — just in time for Valentine's Day.

By 
Nicole Fleming
A Sweet Encounter with EHChocolatier

EHChocolatier is doing big things in a small space — delicious, chocolaty things, to be specific.

The store, on the second floor of a Somerville building, consists of a glass case and bookshelf in the corner of an industrial kitchen, but that hasn’t stopped co-owners Elaine Hsieh and Catharine Sweeney from hauling in awards at both local and national levels. EH has won Boston Magazine’s “Best of Boston” Chocolate award for the past two years, not to mention Best Chocolate in the U.S. from Food & Wine magazine and Best in the Box from the New York Times.

Hsieh and Sweeney have got some serious talent, and lucky for the rest of us chocolate enthusiasts, they’re sharing it. I sat down with Sweeney to talk about EHChocolatiers and get the recipe for their chocolate ganache, a simple, creamy treat on its own that can also be used as the base for more creative concoctions.

How did you and Elaine meet?

We met in the summer of ‘99, when a mutual friend asked us to make her wedding cake. Neither of us had made a wedding cake before. Elaine was in culinary school at the time, but not making wedding cakes, and I liked to bake, but I wasn’t a cake baker per se. We didn’t know each other. She threw us together, and we actually made this cake. Of course, it wasn’t just any cake she wanted. It was a tiered cake with edible seashells cascading down the side. And her wedding was in Martha’s Vineyard, outside. So you’ve got this perfect storm going, and actually, everything turned out fine. Obviously, Elaine and I hit it off together.

So of all the million food items you could focus on, why chocolate?

I love chocolate! Working with chocolate is a lot of fun, and challenging. There’s a lot of chemistry behind it. It’s great learning. It’s a beautiful medium. Never-ending challenge, really.

People just won’t stop giving you two awards! What’s your secret, if there is a secret?

I think it might just be the detail that we put into it. It might take like eight tries to develop a new recipe so that it’s just right.

One of the biggest things is just that it’s fresh. We make it small batch. So when you get it, it really hasn’t been around too long before you’re eating it, and I think that’s the biggest piece that helps us to stand out. Because over time, the flavors do dissipate in the ganaches. But if you get them right away, it’s wonderful.

What made you decide to open this place? What made you decide to take that leap?

Ever since the wedding cake, Elaine and I became good friends, and at Christmastime, we started making chocolates because we both had a passion for that. That kind of developed into people asking us to make them more seriously. I was at a point and she was at a point where we were ready to change careers. It just happened that it was the same time, and Elaine was like, “Hey, this might be it, so let’s give it a try.”

So the first nine months, we actually weren’t here. We did just a friends-and-family club membership. Once a month, we got together to make all the stuff, and we’d ship it out to our friends and our family that ordered it. It gave us a way to see if we could really work together, to get your feet wet, so to speak, in the chocolate world, to see if we would enjoy doing it. And yes, we did!

After that, we decided to come here, open our real commercial kitchen and get going. I remember we opened in November, five years ago, right before the holidays. We got what we would call a “big corporate order,” and we looked at each other. She was like, “Do you know who that is?” I was like, “No. Do you know who that is?” “No.” I’m like, “Who’s ordering from us who doesn’t even know us?” [laughs] That corporate order comes in every year now still. They’ve seen us grow.

For recipes, you said it could take eight tries. How do you come up with new ideas? What is that process like?

One example, I love Thai food. A couple of the ingredients that are found in a lot of Thai food are lemongrass and chili. I went, 'I bet those flavors would work well with chocolate.' So I got my fresh lemongrass and my Thai chilies, which are very hot, and proceeded to make really small batches. Try to get the flavors to come out in the right balance, like you want them.

You read a lot, you see things. You’re always thinking, 'Would that work with chocolate?' And not that we have to be exotic — just good. We just need everything to be the best it can be.  We’re still working towards that!

What’s next for EHChocolatiers?

I think we’d still like to grow and possibly open an actual brick and mortar shop. Anything’s possible.

Based on the attention you’ve been getting, it sounds like you could do whatever you want next. But it’s that balancing act, right? You want to stay small enough that you can maintain that level of quality, but …

… But big enough that we can actually make a living. [laughs] It takes a lot of work and people don’t necessarily understand what goes into making the product. Chocolate is like wine. The chocolates that we use are very high-end, very complex. When you let them just melt in your mouth, there are multiple layers of flavor that come through. I think that people need to be educated on that so they can really appreciate it. This isn’t a Hershey’s bar.

So tell me about this recipe.

The recipe is for a basic chocolate ganache. A ganache doesn’t have to be difficult to make, and you can do so much with it. A ganache is basically chocolate, cream, and butter.

All the best ingredients in the world, right?

Exactly. With the tea ganaches, you take that cream and you bring it to a boil, and you steep the tea right in the cream, and then you strain it out, and you’ve got tea cream. When you add that to the chocolate, it’s going to keep that flavor. You can add spices to it, you can add zests, you can add oranges, lemons. Anything you want. So this is a basic recipe that people can go anywhere with.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length purposes.
 

Get EHChocolatier’s recipe for chocolate ganache truffles or dipping squares
 

Nicole Fleming is the author The Girl Who Ate Boston food blog. Follow her on Twitter @GirlEatsBoston.

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Create Your Own Cooking Show

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No resume required, just cooking knowledge and the ability to convey it on screen.

By 
Nicole Fleming
Jacques Pépin is one of the judges for the Create TV Cooking Challenge. (Photo: Courtesy of Create TV)

If you’ve got culinary talent, stage presence, and a camera, your own web series with Create TV could be only a short video away. 

The lifestyle-focused TV network is hosting the Create TV Cooking Challenge, a national competition giving both home and professional chefs the chance to share their culinary expertise with a video of two minutes or less, featuring their favorite culinary tip, recipe, project or idea.

The winner will receive $1,000 to finance a web series with at least 10 episodes, each two minutes in length. The runner-up gets $250 to finance a shorter series with three episodes.

The judging panel will feature:

  • Jacques Pépin, internationally-recognized French chef and TV personality
  • Chris Kimball, host of America’s Test Kitchen and founder of Cook’s Illustrated
  • Pati Jinich, host of Pati’s Mexican Table
  • Chef Irie, host of Taste the Islands
  • Sara Moulton, host of Everyday Family Dinners and former on-air food editor for Good Morning America
  • Cynthia Fennemen, CEO of American Public Television, which owns Create TV

Judges will base their decisions on the following criteria: 40 percent demonstrated knowledge of the food; 30 percent ability to present ideas clearly in the allotted time; 20 percent telegenic appeal and charisma; 10 percent unique idea, recipe or tip, and accompanying visualizations.

Videos are submitted by uploading on YouTube and then completing a submission form on the Create TV website. Be sure to check out the submission guidelines and official rules. For instance, no brand names should be mentioned or visible in the video. And as the submission instructions encourage, “have fun!”

Submissions open on February 8 and close February 29, with the judging period beginning February 16 and ending March 25. Winners will be notified between April 1 and April 12.
 

Nicole Fleming is the author of The Girl Who Ate Boston food blog. Follow her on Twitter @GirlEatsBoston.

 

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Matt Rodbard Talks Koreatown and Gives Us a Primer on Korean Cuisine 

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The food journalist shared some of the inspirations for his upcoming book with us at one of his favorite restaurants in NYC. Don’t miss a chance to meet the authors, in Boston this week.

By 
Brooke Jackson-Glidden
Matt Rodbard Talks Koreatown and Gives Us a Primer on Korean Cuisine 

On 35th street in New York, Cho Dang Gol almost disappears beside a large chain hotel, a small sign overshadowed by screaming midtown neon. Inside, the cold of the Northeast winter melts into the mists of warm Korean hotpots, clay bowls steaming with short ribs and tofu stews.

Matt Rodbard, former executive editor of Food Republic, meets me here. He wrote his Koreatown: A Cookbook with big-name Korean barbecue chef Deuki Hong, whose restaurant Kang Ho Dong Baekjong is just a few blocks away. But Rodbard didn’t want to take me to barbecue. He knows I’ve had barbecue.

The restaurant suits the day. It’s cold and drizzling, the in-between kind where you don’t need an umbrella but, after a few steps outside, you’re still wet and shivering. Inside the warm restaurant, the cookbook author from Kalamazoo sits me down between dark wood beams and begins planning out our meal.

For the last two-and-a-half years, the 35-year-old food writer has traveled the globe studying Korean food. He’s visited South Korea four times, and spent months in small communities around the country. He’s dined with critics in the expansive Koreatown in Los Angeles, visited farmers market vendors and immigrants outside Atlanta, ordered dinner in northern Virginia’s Korean pocket, and, of course, sat down for tofu hotpot in the New York neighborhoods where he fell in love with the cuisine in the first place.

“Even if you live in Boston, you still have the opportunity to try these dishes by buying these ingredients at an Asian market, online, or at Whole Foods,”  Rodbard says, looking over the menu. “You can make many of these.”

Now, Rodbard is back in New York, though he’ll be on the road again soon enough: He and Hong are headed to Boston to host a Korean dinner at Somerville’s Kirkland Tap & Trotter on February 10th. Those with tickets will sit down to a cocktail, marinated short ribs (kalbi), and kimchi fried rice at a communal table with Rodbard and Hong themselves. For those without a ticket to the feast, they’ll still be selling their book, ribs, and fried rice to all patrons who visit KT&T that night.

Back at our table at Cho Dang Gol, the kimchis come as banchan, which Rodbard describes as an “amuse bouche to whet the palate, but also you’re supposed to eat these throughout the meal.” He dives chopsticks-first into the assorted cups and tastes. “There’s fish cake in that. Wait — no. Which one is this?” he asks his waitress. “Dried squid.” I look down at the bowl. I thought that was radish?

Rodbard attributes his first lessons in Korean food to his “KBF” (Korean Best Friend), a term he uses in the intro of his cookbook to explain his interest. Koreatown isn’t the writer’s first foray into the cuisine: In 2013, Rodbard compiled a New York Korean restaurant guide, which is where he met his partner. Hong was a restaurant judge for the guide, and Rodbard thought he’d be an authentic guide, expert, and voice from within the culture. The cookbook author recognizes that he’s a “white dude from Michigan” — it’s why he knew, for a book that covers so much cultural ground, he’d need to speak to as many Koreans as he could.

“Cho Dang Gol is one of my favorite restaurants, I mean it,” he tells our waitress as she delivers a steaming clay bowl of kalbi jjim — marinated and braised short ribs dotted with cherry-red jujubes (dates). Orchard fruits often sweeten Korean marinades, along with rice syrup. Rodbard points out white lumps of ddeok in the bowl — chewy Korean rice cakes. They’re soft sponges for the warming sauce.

As we dig in, the waitress notices an early copy of Koreatown. Cracking the spine, Rodbard shows the waitress a few pages that feature menu items at Cho Dang Gol: steaming bowls of kalbi, soups, kimchis, and banchan. She also sees portraits of other emos — women who work as hostesses and waitresses in Korean restaurants. The author splices up sections of recipes with short vignettes: conversations with chefs and salespeople, portraits of Korean neighborhoods, interviews featuring non-Koreans with interesting connections to the culture. For Rodbard, keeping people at the center of his book gave its recipes and message clout.

Our emo brings out a bowl of kong biji jjigae, a milky-white tofu stew with the consistency of porridge. Cho Dang Gol makes its tofu from scratch. Rodbard asks her if the jjigae in fact contains pork, and she confirms with a smile. She tells him a story of when she was a child: In her tin lunchbox, she would put bean sprouts, rice, and pork belly on her steamer. The bean sprouts would cook inside the lunchbox, and then, by lunchtime, she could shake up the box for on-the-go bibimbap (mixed rice).

The jjigae is warm, homey, and remarkably flavorful. Rodbard explains that, because Korea is so cold and there’s so much access to water, Korean cuisine is dominated by soups. “It’s really cold there. It’s like Minnesota. In the wintertime, it’s about keeping warm,” he says over his soup. “Not a lot of land, not a lot of meat, lots of fresh water, lots of ingenuity — put that all together, that’s soup.”

“The food is ingrained into the Korean spirit and body,” Rodbard says, chopsticks looming over the steaming clay bowls on the table. “As a journalist, it’s really special to study a culture with an uncompromised view toward food.”

Koreatown: A Cookbook hits bookshelves February 16, koreatowncookbook.com
 

A primer for beginners:

Don’t stick to just barbecue. Korean barbecue may be the most accessible avenue, but Korean food is far more than bulgogi on the grill. “Think outside barbecue. Maybe go to a restaurant that just specializes in soups,” Rodbard says. “You’ll be really surprised by the quality of the meal you’ll get.”

There is no recipe for bibimbap, a favorite in Korean joints; it’s a mixed rice dish served with gochujang (hot pepper paste) and whatever is left over. Rodbard titled his bibimbap section in Koreatown “This is not a bibimbap recipe,” because the improvisational element to bibimbap is what he appreciates. “When we’re finished with our meal, and we’ve had our fill, we’ll save the leftover kimchis and kalbi and serve it over rice tomorrow,” Rodbard says. “What makes bibimbap bibimbap is the sauce.”

Kimchi is more than just cabbage; kimchi is a pickled, fermented salad made with a variety of vegetables and sometimes meat. Most beginners associate the funky dish with cabbage, but there are over 200 different types of kimchi. Of the three kimchis we tried at Cho Dang Gol, the standout was clearly a spicy slaw made with dried squid. “The fermentation piece comes from the fact that there’s a really short growing season and a really long winter,” he says, “I think of kimchi as more of a verb.” The older kimchi is used for soups, while younger kimchis are often used for banchan.

The Kirkland Tap & Trotter, 425 Washington St, Somerville, 857.259.6585, kirklandtapandtrotter.com

 

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Are Your Valentine's Day Plans Boring? Try These 5 Spots

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Love or hate the holiday, these places know how to make it fun. But act now if you want to get in, tables are going fast.

By 
Nicole Fleming
Are Your Valentine's Day Plans Boring? Try These 5 Spots

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and your holiday should be filled with love — love for amazing food, of course! Interpersonal love is great, but top-notch dining transcends the romantic date, the disappointing hookup, the singles celebrations, and everything in between.

Here are five options that would make for a memorable weekend, no matter your relationship status:
 

1. The Love Game at the Tip Tap Room

Get your game on at Brian Poe’s upscale pub in Beacon Hill — your animals-traditionally-hunted-for-food game, that is. Available as a five-course prix-fixe experience for $75, or a la carte, the menu features game of all sizes, including: elk carpaccio, miso soup with charcoal-roasted pheasant, duck confit salad, leg of venison. And for dessert, chocolate mousse with salted caramel ice cream.

38 Cambridge Street, Boston, 857.350.3344, thetiptaproom.com

2. Back Alley Blackheart’s Ball at Night Market

“Down with love, up with sake” is the tagline for the evening. Celebrate being single at the Harvard Square establishment, with bites inspired by Asian street food. The $27 ticket gets you admission and complimentary food, with a cash bar. Alternatively, happy couples should not be deterred; the regular dinner menu is still available.

75 Winthrop Street, Cambridge, 857.285.6948, nightmkt.com

3. Retro Diner Date at Rosebud American Kitchen

Everything was better in the old days, and Rosebud American Kitchen in Davis Square is offering a bit of nostalgic time travel for Valentine’s Day. Court your significant other over a boozy milkshake, smoked chicken wings or fried Brussels sprouts, griddled cheeseburgers, and a slice of one of Rosebud’s famous pies. The retro prix fixe menu costs $49 per person. Reservations suggested, but not required. And for those of you who avoid going out on Valentine’s Day altogether, the menu will also be available on Monday, February 15.

381 Summer Street, Somerville, 617-629-9500, rosebudkitchen.com

4. '80s Themed Meat Market Valentine's Day Bash at Sweet Cheeks Q

For those of you pining for yet a different era, Tiffani Faison’s acclaimed barbecue restaurant in the Fenway neighborhood is throwing it back with punch, a whole roasted pig, dance floor, and an ‘80s costume contest. 21+, $40 per ticket.

1381 Boylston Street, Boston, 617.266.1300, sweetcheeksq.com

5. Sushi Making Class at Red Lantern

If you’re up for splurging on a learning experience, this Asian fusion restaurant bordering the South End and Back Bay is hosting sushi classes Valentine’s Day weekend for $250 a couple. The class, taught by Executive Chef Kevin Long and sushi expert Jim Lam, is offered on both Saturday and Sunday afternoon. The itinerary includes a miso soup demonstration, hands-on sushi instruction and sake and champagne pairings.

39 Stanhope St, Boston, 617.262.3900, redlanternboston.com

Nicole Fleming is the author of The Girl Who Ate Boston food blog. Follow her on Twitter @GirlEatsBoston.

 

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Local Chocolates That Will Make Your Tastebuds Set Sail

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A tour through the Harbor Sweets chocolate factory in Salem will take you far beyond your sweetest, Wonka-factory childhood dreams.

By 
Amanda Balagur
Delectable handmade chocolates are a sweet solution for holiday gift-giving.

I remember, when I was a kid, telling a friend that when I grew up, I wanted to have a swimming pool full of melted chocolate. Now that I’m an adult, the idea no longer appeals to me; besides being messy and — let’s face it — unsanitary, the maintenance alone would be an absolute nightmare! However, my love of that king of confections remains strong. White, dark, milk, studded with nuts, draped over caramel, or simply on its own — is there anything as divine as biting into a sweet, rich, melt-in-your-mouth piece of handmade chocolate? I think not.

So imagine my delight when, a few weeks ago, I walked along the side of the historic brick building that houses Harbor Sweets in Salem, MA. The smell of butter and sugar wafted out into the street below, mixing delightfully with the crisp winter air and beckoning me onward. Once inside, I was greeted by a view that evoked childhood fantasies: shelves lined with beautifully wrapped chocolates, beyond which was the factory itself, featuring antique copper kettles and all sorts of machines and molds for making those magical handmade goodies.

Harbor Sweets was founded in 1973 by Ben Strohecker, the inventor of the signature Sweet Sloop — a triangle of luscious, almond buttercrunch made in-house, dipped in white chocolate, and then marked with a teaspoon to resemble a sailboat, with a “hull” composed of dark chocolate and ground pecans. CEO Phyllis LeBlanc describes Strohecker as a marketing genius with unique ideas on how to do business. Nearly forty years ago, while studying business at Salem State and working her way through college, LeBlanc answered an ad for a chocolate dipper. “It sounded fun and different,” she remembers. LeBlanc continued her career at Harbor Sweets while earning an MBA at Boston University, and, in 1999, she bought the company.

Although she describes herself as a business person who ended up in the food industry, LeBlanc is happy to be where she is. “I’m a sweets fiend,” she admits. “I mean, I love dessert, but in my book, don’t get me a fruit tart — dessert is not dessert unless it includes some chocolate.” Her passion for local history is echoed in her company’s products. In addition to Sweet Sloops, the nautical-themed Harbor Sweets line includes one of LeBlanc’s favorites, the Sand Dollar (caramel and pecan enrobed in dark chocolate). While in grad school twenty years ago, LeBlanc, who does dressage, created a business plan for an equestrian-themed line of chocolates and convinced Strohecker to take a chance on it. Within four weeks of its launch, Dark Horse Chocolates made enough of a profit to cover its own development costs.

“That proved to us that part of our strength is creating something that not only tastes good, but that people have a real connection to,” states LeBlanc. “We try to connect to people’s passions, their lifestyle.” In 2012, she launched Salt & Ayre, which features an assortment of delectable truffles and chocolates in exotic flavors: chai, café au lait and Thai ginger sea salt, to name a few. "It was really fun to develop that line. We wanted to retain the passion people have for travel and local history,” LeBlanc explains. “I’ve always been intrigued by New England’s spice trade history. The first millionaires in Salem made their fortunes trading pepper.”

The people who work at Harbor Sweets are equally dedicated; many of them have worked there for over twenty years. Some live so close by they’re able to walk to work. They just got through their busiest time of year, the Thanksgiving and winter holidays, but Easter, the second busiest, is just around the corner — not to mention Valentine’s Day. If you don’t expect to receive a heart-shaped box of delectable candies from your sweetie, I suggest you hop to it and treat yourself to the R.L. Strohecker Easter Rabbit, a unique solid chocolate bunny filled with an assortment of nuts, caramels, and buttercrunch. As for the future, LeBlanc reveals she’ll be launching a new line of confections this summer. She won’t say much more about it than that it's honey-based, but I’m already buzzing with excitement to try it!

Harbor Sweets – 85 Leavitt St., Salem, 800.243.2115, harborsweets.com

Follow Amanda on Twitter @amandabalagur.

 

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The Culinary Reawakening in Winter Hill

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The brewing, scooping and baking that’s reviving an old-school neighborhood’s food scene.

By 
Amanda Kersey
Winter Hill’s Culinary Reawakening

In 2016, Winter Hill residents will finally be able to order an artisanal latte — from a brewery, no less — without leaving the neighborhood. Winter Hill Brewing Company’s morning cafe will fill a hole that those who know Somerville as one of the best cities to visit, and live in, might be surprised to learn exists. But the neighborhood, home to not-to-miss institutions like Mamma Lisa’s Pizzeria and Winter Hill Bakery, hasn’t become a food-and-drink hotspot like nearby Union Square and East Somerville. As alderman Tony Lafuente put it, the culinary scene has been “nonexistent, really.”

“This has been a very traditional community, and now it’s changing slowly,” Lafuente said. “You’re beginning to get newcomers; you’re beginning to see creativity.”

In 2013, Sarma shook up the landscape with its modern Mediterranean small plates and craft cocktails but remained an island, though a popular and delectable one. With the forthcoming opening of Winter Hill Brewing Company and Tipping Cow ice-cream shop, as well as the recently opened Somerville Bread Company, Winter Hill is on its way to becoming Somerville’s next food-and-drink destination.

Winter Hill Brewing Company

When co-founder and head brewer Jeff Rowe walks his neighborhood of two years, people greet him as the "Winter Hill Brewing guy." And as soon as the city of Somerville gives him a pour license, he and his business partners, Bert Holdredge and David Bailey, are ready to kick open the doors.

In a space that a prepaid cell-phone retailer used to occupy, staff will serve Union Square’s Counter Culture Coffee and locally made pastries from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. After closing shop for a few hours, they’ll reopen as a brewery and restaurant, with five taps and chef Samantha Kerivan managing the sandwich-and-small-plates menu. “Our emphasis,” Rowe said, “is always to be what you wouldn’t necessarily expect in a brew environment.”

When the brewery has its planned soft opening in early March, Rowe said, the five beers on tap will be the year-round house IPA and light ale, as well as three seasonal ones: a Russian imperial stout, a North American strong ale with molasses and brown sugar, and a black IPA.

Old school, meet new school:“There’s a weird dichotomy with Winter Hill and Somerville in general. You have these pizza shops lined up, and they’re all fantastic. And if you duck into the neighborhood a little bit, heading toward Medford Street, there’s Sarma, which is unbelievable. And right down in East Somerville, La Brasa. So in Winter Hill, you’re surrounded by this burgeoning potential.”

What lies ahead: “I think the food’s going to get more elevated, and hopefully there’s less of a divide and more of a mutual respect for what was and is now. A lot of people are looking to us to see how it goes: our relationship to the city, our relationship to our neighbors. Sarma is not going to be alone in being this kind of elegant, upscale place.”

328 Broadway, Somerville, winterhillbrewing.com
 

Tipping Cow

When founder Anna Gaul lived in Winter Hill two years ago, she said there was little to do. Now the Tufts University graduate and Medford resident is getting ready to open a scoop shop in a neighborhood that she describes as “building up very quickly.”

“It’s great; it’s becoming an actual destination instead of just a place to live.”

Tipping Cow’s gelato-style ice cream is already for sale all over Greater Boston, including at Medford’s Whole Foods Market, Cambridge’s Formaggio Kitchen, and Belmont’s The Spirited Gourmet. Gaul grew her following at Somerville’s farmers’ markets, which made the city an inviting place to open a storefront.

Gaul aims to open the shop in late March. She’ll sell all-natural, nut-free ice cream to go by the pint, and there will be at least 12 scoop flavors on the menu, like vanilla-buttermilk, Earl Grey & lemon, dark chocolate and sea salt, espresso, Irish stout, and maple bacon. A Champagne sorbet is in the works.

Winter Hill Community (School): “I’d love for it to be a spot where the teachers could come and get their morning coffee, where kids could swing by after class. We wanted it to be a nice family place because there are a lot of young families in the area.”

Food future: “I would love to see more restaurants move into the area. As an ice-cream place, we want to be a dessert destination. To have more restaurants in walking distance, it would be very beneficial to us.”

City of Somerville: “A couple years ago, we tried to open a store in Medford. And it actually was exceedingly more difficult. It was definitely a big hurdle to get through the Board of Appeals in Somerville. But we were impressed by how easy it was compared to a neighboring city.”

415 Medford St., Somerville, tippingcowicecream.com
 

Somerville Bread Company

A newly vacant storefront close to where bread baker Nick Robertson lives in Winter Hill was too convenient to pass up. So the former commercial pilot and stay-at-home father of five years went for it.

“It might have shoved me a little quicker into this than maybe I was planning,” he said, “But what the hell?”

Robertson started baking while caring for his first-born, getting tips from the San Francisco Baking Institute and King Arthur Flour and then taking his improved loaves to dinner parties, where guests eventually encouraged him to go pro. He ran stands at the Harvard Ed Portal and Peabody farmers markets last summer with the goal of opening a brick-and-mortar.

For now, Somerville Bread Company is a single-man operation, focused on tailored wholesale to local businesses, like Winter Hill Brewing Company. But Robertson opens his shop to the public three days a week to sell baguettes, country loaves, ciabatta rolls, pizza crust, and other subtly sour bread. When he opened Feb. 6, he had about 100 customers, he said, and was three loaves short of selling out.

Baking for WHBC:“Obviously, proximity helps in this case, too, but it’s nice to kind of help each other out, starting up together and kind of grow together.”

Opening day: “The really cool thing about it was, I would say 90 percent of those were people who were in a four or five block radius. They were saying, ‘I live two blocks this way’ or ‘I live on this street; we’re so excited for you to be in the neighborhood.’ Same thing with Tipping Cow; they’re just really excited for options.”

A new Winter Hill? “I kind of like the way it is. What makes us who we are, are these old-school Italian spots, places that have endured time and the rough times. So I’m hoping all that stuff stays. The worry about a neighborhood really developing is that it loses its identity, and I don’t want to do that. I want to tread lightly. That being said, the nature of really evolving is to explore new ways to identify oneself.”

415 Medford St., Somerville, 202.841.4100, somervillebreadcompany.com

Open Tuesday and Thursday, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

 

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A New Café in Watertown is Giving Power to the Community

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Owner of the Power Café, Galit Schwartz's commitment to equality is as strong as her coffee. And her baked goods are absolutely delicious.

By 
Lisa Johnson
A New Café in Watertown is Giving Power to the Community

No need to holla! Galit (pronounced “Ga – leet”) Schwartz knows she has something special with her challah. Schwartz is the founder and owner of Power Café, a new café and bakery in Watertown. She takes custom orders for challah — regular, whole wheat or egg free. Jelly donuts, muffins, and more are available too.

“I started making challah when I got married eleven years ago,” she says. Whenever she made it, her family loved it and said that it was better than store-bought. Schwartz says she is not a fancy chef. “Simple, straight-forward, healthy food” is what she makes. “Mommy’s cooking” is what she calls it.

But Power Café is clearly about a lot more than the challah. Family is noticeably important to Schwartz. Her husband Daniel greeted me and other guests as we walked in. Then he went back to sitting with their children and enjoying some family time. There were a few people visiting solo, but also families with young children. Schwartz also has some new promotions in the works: Mother’s Monday and Father’s Friday, where parents get free coffee. Schwartz encourages local parents’ groups and others to come in and use their location as a meeting space.

The focus on community is also a big part of her mission, which is about far more than food. It’s about empowerment. Power Café was created, in part, to employ people with physical and/or developmental disabilities and help make them part of the mainstream community.

Schwartz’s involvement in the disability community started four years ago, when she began volunteering with Learning Program Boston, which helps children with Down syndrome. “Kids were encouraged in school to develop to their full potential,” she says. “Then when they graduated, there was nothing for them.”

Soon after having this realization, she learned about businesses working with the disability community and wondered why there were none like that in the Boston area. She thought about opening a coffee shop, so that instead of working in isolation, there would be interaction with the community. They would be visible and the community would get to know them.

“This is a next step in the Civil Rights Movement. There is still so much work to be done,” she says.  Schwartz is excited to be part of this movement and doing all that she can to bring about more inclusion. She partners with different organizations and businesses that have similar goals.

The art found on the walls at Power Café is from Gateway Arts in Brookline. Gateway gives artists with disabilities professional support and helps them find buyers for their work. The coffee brewed at Power Café is from Furnace Hills Coffee Company, a small batch roasting company in Westminster, Maryland, providing jobs for those with developmental disabilities.

Finding her two current employees, Rachel Gatzunis and Stephen Mallett, came about through Schwartz’s collaboration with Triangle in Malden. Their Career Pathways Program provides training and opportunities for youth and adults with disabilities. Graduates successfully complete the Culinary Arts Fundamentals Program at Bunker Hill Community College, so they are ready to work in the food industry, and just need a chance.

Power Café is all about giving chances and providing opportunities. Still relatively new — they opened on November 19, 2015 — Schwartz has many ideas for the future. She’d like to expand their hours and is looking for musicians to play during Sunday brunch. An espresso machine is on her wish list, and she’d like everyone to know that they have vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options, too.

As I looked around while sitting in the café, new patrons were introducing themselves to Schwartz and her husband — explaining how they learned about them. It felt warm and homey. A cozy neighborhood spot where, after a while, people may know your name.

Check out their online ordering site , as well as via Facebook using the “Shop Now” button.

Power Café - 45 Lexington Street, Watertown, 617.923.7697, thepowercafe.com

Lisa Johnson writes the lifestyle blog Anali’s Next Amendment. Follow her on Twitter @AnaliFirst.

 

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Eating Local Meets Meal Delivery Service

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Two local food startups are making it even easier to eat locally sourced, sustainable food from the comfort of your own kitchen.

By 
Brooke Jackson-Glidden
Eating Local Meets Meal Delivery Service | WGBH | Craving Boston

Getting into the kitchen should be a noble cause: a way to reconnect with what you consume, to learn how to use seasonal ingredients, to save money. Or is it? Startup culture is all over that game, even if they seem to lose sight of those wholesome goals along the way.

The new favorite foodie fad is the cook-a-box model: customer picks some recipes online from x company’s website. X company sends them a box of ingredients, all pre-chopped and measured, and customer gets to do the fun part — the cooking. But in the age of food-miles and sustainability, how do you know what you’re eating is fresh, let alone local? For places like Blue Apron or HelloFresh, who FedEx their food from New York, that’s not really the point. They’re interested in bringing the fun back to cooking — but no one’s thinking about the consequences: pounds of trash created from the packaging, and gallons of gas wasted for the sake of convenience.

For the environmentally conscious, most cook-your-own meal kits are problematic, and many locavores have opted out. Luckily, Massachusetts has a few options for those interested in cooking — or eating — sustainable food on demand. For those who like meal delivery for the convenience, Somerville’s local-eating pioneer, JJ Gonson, has options available — but they’re not for the DIY-crowd.

“The people who buy those boxes aren’t really my clientele,” Gonson says in a phone interview. “Those tend to appeal to what I call HUMUPS -- Hipster Upwardly Mobile Urban Professionals. They’re aging millennials learning to cook together — and that’s great, it’s just not really my market.”

Gonson, who founded one of the first 100 percent local food businesses in Massachusetts, offers food delivery through her catering company, Cuisine En Locale– centered around packages of fresh meals, already prepared, with completely local ingredients. But to her, the fact that the meal is completely cooked is key to her brand. She’s serving the folks who are too exhausted to cook, but still care about what they’re eating. Starting at $85 for four meals, these fully-cooked dinners are comparable, price-wise, to high-end takeout -- around $21 per meal.

So how does the conscious cook coexist with the convenience cook? The mileage of cook-a-box businesses are drastically higher than getting those ingredients yourself — double the shipping, for the ingredients to get to the prep site, and then to your door. But those gas-guzzling businesses are tantalizing time-saving, and addictively fun.

Enter the Boston-based alternative, churning out recipe components from its Dorchester headquarters. Just Add Cooking was packing those boxes before word got out about the big meal delivery services. Three years ago, Anders Lindell and Jan Leife decided to bring a Scandinavian business to US soil (these cooking boxes were already popular in their native Sweden), but it wasn’t just about cooking convenience. The two knew sustainability and locality had to be key to the business — so they started working with local farms.

Let’s say you want to use Just Add Cooking. You’ll go to their website, pick the ideal plan (two-person or four-person boxes), pick a delivery day, and wait. The JAC team will pack up your box with fresh ingredients in the morning, and ship the food out that day using a local courier. You’ll get completely recyclable or compostable packaging filled with local ingredients, for recipes designed by local chefs (Jason Bond, anyone?). That cuts down your food mileage, while keeping all the convenience of out-of-town competitors.

“Many of our customers were previously Blue Apron users, and they’ve said the level of freshness can’t be compared,” says Kevin O’Neall, operations manager for Just Add Cooking. “Our customers like to know where their food is coming from.”

O’Neall, a 30-year-old cyclist and former teacher, began packing boxes with Just Add Cooking two years ago as a favor for a friend. Now, he serves as the face of the business time and time again. He likes that the business not only connects locals to their food, but also teaches home cooks how to use local ingredients.

“My friends used to get CSA boxes, and they ended up surprised by what they got,” he says, sipping a coffee in Jamaica Plain’s Fazenda Cafe. “They’d see something and say, ‘What is this? What do I do with this?’”

Instead, Just Add Cooking develops recipes that teach you how to use those fiddleheads and oyster mushrooms to make tacos or gnocchi.

And the benefits of staying local go beyond the ingredients: Once, when a customer missed delivery day, O’Neall strapped a box to his back and biked to Charlestown so she could cook dinner the next night. Plus, shorter travel distance means less overhead: Three meals for two people is just a few bucks. $39 for first-time customers, bumping up to $69 after your first meal. That’s only about $11 a meal at regular price, but remember: the cooking’s up to you.

Getting back to your kitchen — and eating local — really are noble causes. These hyper-local food startups can help make it easier.

Cuisine en Locale - 156 Highland Avenue, Somerville, 617.285.0167, cuisineenlocale.com

Just Add Cooking - 196 Quincy Street, Dorchester, 617.708.1316, justaddcooking.com
 

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Sweet Rewards from Your Own Backyard

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Maple sugaring is a New England tradition you can — and should — tap into!

By 
Amanda Balagur
Sweet Rewards from your Own Backyard | WGBH | Craving Boston

As a kid, I loved to read the Little House on the Prairie books. One of my favorite chapters included a whimsical description of the maple sugaring process. I remember pestering my mom about tapping the maple trees in our suburban New York backyard, only to find out there weren’t any. Undeterred, I quickly recovered from my disappointment by suggesting we fill a cake pan with what snow remained on our patchy winter lawn, then top it with maple syrup as a treat, just like little Laura Ingalls Wilder had done. Slightly horrified at the thought of me gulping down a plateful of dirty snow for dessert, my mother encouraged me to stay indoors and snack on something else. I promptly forgot my quest to recreate the scene in the book, and that was that. Little did we know that further north, in parts of New England, eating “sugar on snow” is a welcome tradition.

During sugaring season, maple syrup is boiled down and drizzled over fresh packed snow or shaved ice in order to transform it into a stringy, taffy-like consistency. To mitigate the sweetness, it’s often served with a strong cup of coffee, a plain donut and a dill pickle, known in Vermont as a “sugar on snow supper.” Some people prefer to boil the syrup down to a luscious maple cream and scoop it up by the spoonful, or pour it into molds to make melt-in-your mouth candy. Whether it’s frothed into a latte, churned into ice cream, or slathered over chicken and waffles, Americans have long enjoyed the rich amber goodness of New England maple products.

A sweet New England history

In the first half of the 17th century, cane sugar was a highly prized and extremely expensive commodity. So, when the Pilgrims and Puritans set sail for the New World, they brought beehives with them to produce honey as an economical alternative. Back then, sugar maples were abundant in northern New England, and it is said that the Abenaki tribe traded maple sugar with the English colonists and taught them how to make it. In addition to tending bees for honey, the colonists wholeheartedly took to tapping maple trees for their sweet sap. By the 1750s, nearly every farm in New England was producing hundreds of pounds of maple sugar per year as an off-season cash crop. Farmers often produced enough to supply their own family and sold the remainder to big city markets like Boston.

Sweet Rewards from your Own Backyard | WGBH | Craving BostonIt was around this time, in the 18th century, that the different grades of maple syrup were established. The paler “fancy” grade was considered most desirable because it had the most neutral flavor in comparison to cane sugar. More than just a sweetener, maple sugar became a product with ideological significance. Between the American Revolution and the Civil War, New Englanders who supported the abolitionist movement advocated its use over cane sugar, labeling it an “antislavery alternative.” But by the 19th century, cane sugar dominated the market and maple syrup gradually became a luxury item. It still is; as of 2014, the average price per gallon was estimated at around $36 — ouch!

Maple syrup DIY

If you’re seeking a cheaper, more direct way to get your maple fix, look no further than your own backyard. Even if you don’t have trees you can tap on your property, if you live in New England, it’s likely someone in your neighborhood does — just make sure to get their permission before you tap them. To learn how to do it, I recommend taking a backyard maple sugaring class like the one I recently attended through Mass Audubon. You’ll learn which types of maple trees you can tap (there are four: Norway, Red, Silver and Sugar), how to identify them, what equipment to use, and how to collect the sap, store it, filter it, and turn it into syrup.

Tia Pinney, a naturalist and instructor at Drumlin Farm and Wildlife Sanctuary, remembers making maple syrup in her grandmother’s kitchen when she was a child; the boiling sap generated so much steam, it made the edges of the wallpaper curl. Unsurprisingly, Pinney recommends making syrup outdoors, especially when dealing with large quantities. It’s best to boil the sap continuously in a metal container with a large surface area so it evaporates more quickly. To eliminate too much foaming, you can stick a knife in butter and then stick it in the boiling liquid to break the surface tension. Some people prefer to stick a hot dog or sausage in the syrup as it boils to accomplish the same thing, and then eat the maple-soaked meat once it’s cooked through. Other sugaring tips include: tapping the tree under a large branch to get the best flow; storing sap at 38 degrees or cooler to prevent it from spoiling; and wetting the felted wool filter prior to pouring the syrup through, so the syrup filters rather than getting absorbed.

Sweet Rewards from your Own Backyard | WGBH | Craving Boston

While a yard full of trees hung with silver collection buckets may sound quaint, be forewarned — backyard maple sugaring is a venture that’s not to be taken lightly. To produce just one gallon of syrup, it takes at least 45 gallons of raw sap. One tap may produce 3-5 gallons of it on a good day, so collection buckets should be checked and emptied regularly (depending on your setup, this could mean daily). You’ll need a place to store the sap until you’re ready to boil it down into syrup, which is a time-consuming process that requires close attention. If all of that sounds like too much of a commitment, you may prefer to see how it’s done at a local sugarhouse during Massachusetts maple weekend in March. But if you’re sufficiently prepared, backyard sugaring is a rewarding activity the whole family can do together, right at home. It’s a way to connect with the rhythm of the seasons, and even to local history. And if the opportunity to make sugar on snow presents itself, take it and enjoy it — just remember to use clean snow.

Visit MassMaple.org for more information on local maple syrup production. Follow Amanda on Twitter @amandabalagur.

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Celebrate Maple Season in New Hampshire

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Tapping the trees and savoring the sweetness — what a lovely time to be a New Englander! Take a road trip and enjoy the syrup and eats at Parker’s Maple Barn.

By 
Liz Koch
Celebrate Maple Season in New Hampshire | WGBH | Craving Boston

Maple season is upon us!  While some make the pilgrimage up to a B&B in Vermont, I prefer to stay a bit closer to home, and get my fix at Parker’s Maple Barn in Mason, New Hampshire.  Nestled into the woods amidst active rural farming communities, Parker’s is the perfect blend of history, kitsch, excellent food, and friendly service.

Just north of the New Hampshire border

My Parker’s experience begins by exiting 3 North and following the well-paved, rolling hills of Route 130. Motoring enthusiasts take note: While maple season may be in March and April, these roads are perfect for a summer jaunt followed by a hearty meal of syrup-saturated pancakes.  After the invigorating drive, customers arrive at a dark wood complex tucked away in the trees.  Parker’s is made up of the 1700s barn, which now houses the restaurant, a gift shop, a donut-and-coffee shed, and the all-important sugar house. During maple season when the sap is running, guests can tour the sugar house and learn how this sweet elixir is made. The sugar house also has a front room museum where the evolution of maple syrup — from its Native American origins through its more modern incarnations — are discussed. 

Celebrate Maple Season in New Hampshire | WGBH | Craving Boston

Parker’s maple syrup

During the sugar house tour, Parker’s details how they make their own syrup. In an interesting twist, almost all the trees Parker’s taps for syrup are located off-property. The original Parker family who started this operation only owned two maple trees, so they went to their neighbors and friends asking to tap their trees in return for processed syrup. The exchange continues to this day, with sap coming in from properties surrounding the Maple Barn and as far away as Groton. Once the sap is gathered, it’s taken back to Parker’s for processing. Maple sap is almost all water with only 2-3 percent sugar. To make syrup, the sap must be boiled, evaporating out the water and concentrating the sugars. Parker’s still uses a traditional wood fire evaporator — rather than oil or gas — which lends a delightful smoky quality to the syrup. After about eight hours of boiling, the sap hits a 67 percent sugar density, and is ready to be filtered. Parker’s uses diatomaceous earth to help draw out impurities like sand and dirt, and then strains the syrup again through several more paper filters ensuring that customers receive a perfectly sweet and incredibly pure finished product.    

Beyond the sugar house

If the interior of Parker’s doesn’t make you smile — nothing will. The main house of the restaurant is the actual barn referenced in the name.  The original barn stood at about 30 feet by 50 feet and dates back to 1782. It was purchased by the Parker family in the 1960s — saving it from demolition — and then dismantled, relocated, and reassembled piece by piece. By 1969, it had been transformed into a restuarant. Current owners, Ron and Sandy Roberts, purchased the property in 1987 and continued the tradition of delicious food and maple syrup production. The Robertses were looking to escape city life when they learned about the opportunity to purchase Parker’s. They set out down the twisty, wooded roads of Mason at night, and despite initially losing their way — the local fire department set them on the right course — toward their destiny. After a lovely dinner, the Robertses “fell in love with the place” and put in an offer. Running Parker’s was a bit of a change from Ron’s previous occupation of running an industrial cleaning business, but the couple adapted well, and expanded the original structure and business while keeping the same comforting and homey atmosphere that customers love. 

After learning about their history, and all the hard work that goes into creating a perfect batch of syrup, it was time to sample the goods!

The don't-miss dishes

No matter the time of day, I recommend you start out with the maple coffee. It has a wonderfully pleasant maple flavor that cuts through any bitterness, plus it adds a lovely aroma.  Breakfast is served all day at Parker’s and is where this restaurant truly shines.        

For me, the corned beef hash is where it’s at!  This salty, meaty concoction comes atop a chewy yet crunchy English muffin and is topped with a perfectly poached egg and rich, creamy hollandaise sauce.  The crispy and perfectly seasoned home fries on the side help to mop up some of the delectably runny yolk and are impossible to stop noshing on.

Celebrate Maple Season in New Hampshire | WGBH | Craving BostonFollow up any breakfast beginning with one of the stellar pumpkin pancakes. Biting into the tender, fluffy delicacies delivers an explosion of sweet and spicy flavors. I prefer my pancakes spread with some salty whipped butter and drowned in warmed maple syrup, but there’s no wrong way to accentuate the sinfully sweet and comforting flavor of these insanely popular treats.

All things maple

If you happen to crave maple on everything you order, Parker’s has you covered. From maple baked beans to spicy maple chicken fingers, this is the place to get your maple fix. The baked beans are the perfect balance of flavors: sweet, spicy, and earthy with a firm but chewy texture.  Spicy maple chicken fingers are phenomenal. This is not your average wing sauce!  The exterior of the tenders are perfectly crispy and crunchy. Up front, you taste the sweetness of the maple, followed by a swift kick of spice. Pair these tenders with a side of blue cheese dressing and crudités to help balance the heat.     

Celebrate Maple Season in New Hampshire | WGBH | Craving BostonWhether you’re looking for syrup education, or a maple-filled meal, Parker’s is the place to go for all things maple this spring!

Parker's Maple Barn - 1316 Brookline Rd, Mason, NH, 603.878.2308, parkersmaplebarn.com

 

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Fact Or Fiction? Even When It Comes To Food, It's Hard To Tell With Rasputin

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Worshipful female followers fought for the Mad Monk's leftover bread crusts. His infamous sweet tooth led to his death. Or did it? A century later, rumors about Russia's czarina whisperer still swirl.

Worshipful female followers fought for the Mad Monk's leftover bread crusts. His infamous sweet tooth led to his death. Or did it? A century later, rumors about Grigori Rasputin, Russia's czarina whisperer, still swirl. (Photo Credit: RGALI/Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

He was Russia's Mad Monk. A pale, bearded, wiry, horny, green-eyed debauch who was the preeminent power broker of the Romanov dynasty in its waning years. A party fiend, a drinker, a healer and a prophet who was poisoned, shot, drowned, and burned by his enemies.

But was he really?

The answer is, we will never know. The life of Grigori Rasputin, the Siberian peasant who, through a charismatic combination of spiritual and sexual power, rose to become chief mentor to Alexandra, the last czarina of Russia, is such a thick borscht of fact and fiction that it's hard to distinguish the truth from the lies.

But historian Douglas Smith, in his magnificently researched new book, Rasputin: Faith, Power and the Twilight of the Romanovs, attempts to do precisely that. It's a herculean task, for as we soon learn, even when it comes to something as seemingly uncontroversial as food, there are competing versions of the truth.

Did Rasputin have a sweet tooth? Was he a glutton who feasted on champagne, ice-cream, expensive fish, and caviar? Did he really lick his fingers at the dinner table and hold them out for the grand dames of Saint Petersburg's salons to kiss?

As Rasputin's notoriety spread and his hold over the lonely and impressionable empress tightened – she fervently believed he could soothe and protect her hemophilic son and heir to the throne, Alexei – whispers about him being a wicked, orgiastic cultist began to grow, as did his list of enemies. It was put about that the rube who once slurped on cabbage soup and raw garlic now glutted himself on the finest fruit, fish, caviar and champagne. It turns out that while Rasputin's love of fresh fruit – oranges, strawberries – was real enough, the rest of the menu was made up.

"He did not eat too much or rich, heavy foods," says Smith. "He kept a simple table. It may have at times been loaded with fancy foods and drink, but these were gifts from admirers and petitioners trying to curry favor. He liked ukha —fish soup — and dark bread, radishes, onions and other plain vegetables. He drank tea, like nearly every Russian. Also, note that Rasputin never became fat or really even portly. His body remained trim his whole life."

His table manners, it is true, were alarming. His beard was flecked with food, he licked the spoon before using it to serve others, tore the bread and fish apart with his fingers and wiped them on the table cloth. Some were revolted by his crudeness, others saw it as part of his charm, and it's quite possible that he exaggerated his gaucherie to set himself apart from the effete and mannered aristocracy. He cast such a spell on his worshipful female followers that they were known to kiss his freshly licked fingers, and vie for the leftover crusts of bread on his plate.

It was Rasputin's rootedness, however, that made him sensitive to the hunger pangs of ordinary Russians. He immediately recognized that the serpentine bread lines in Saint Petersburg – the food transportation system had broken down as a result of the First World War – were dangerous and contained the seeds of revolution.

Rasputin driving his carriage. Of peasant stock himself, this close adviser to the czarina immediately recognized that the serpentine bread lines in Saint Petersburg, Russia, were dangerous and contained the seeds of revolution. His warnings went unheeded. (Photo Credit: Fülöp-Miller/Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Genuinely stricken to learn that corn was rotting in the imperial warehouses while the people starved, he sent telegrams to Czar Nicholas II, who was away fighting the Germans on the front line, begging him to increase food supplies. But Nicholas – despite Rasputin's missives, the labor strikes, the 300 percent inflation, and simmering anger in Moscow and Petrograd (the city 's new name that replaced the German-sounding Saint Petersburg) – did nothing.

Rasputin tried to get Alexandra to distribute food in the streets to show that she felt the people's pain, and though she seemed agreeable, it never happened. He even wrote to senior government officials appealing for action – short, unpunctuated notes that testify to the sincerity of his pleas:

kind dear apologies forgive me much meat is needed, let Piter [Petrograd] eat, listen help rosputin

kind dear apologies allow oats taken, much woe in zlaenburg province, lots of oats, Petrograd cart drivers are worried, that's not good, Siberia is full of lard please feed Petrograd and Moscow

"His notes were often scribbled and hard to decipher. His grammar and spelling were atrocious. His meaning was often hard to make out," says Smith. "But yes, Rasputin was very serious about the food problems in Petrograd. The czar did not heed his advice, regrettably."

Rasputin proved fatally prophetic. The February 1917 Russian Revolution was ignited by food riots, when hungry marchers stormed the legendary Filipov Bakery, whose delectable black breads, piroshky, kopeck buns, and chocolate cakes were daily delivered to the czar's palace. The Cossacks, called out to quell the riot, refused to open fire. A petulant Alexandra, sounding like Marie Antoinette, relayed it all in a letter to her husband: "They smashed Filipov's bakery completely. ... A hooligan movement, young boys and girls running about and screaming that they have no bread, only to excite..."

By then, Rasputin, whom Alexandra lovingly called "our dear Friend," had been dead for two months — murdered in the early hours of Dec. 30, 1916 (Dec. 17, according to the Russian calendar then in use).

Which brings us to his sweet tooth.

This portrait of Rasputin, looking very much like a Mad Monk, was painted by Alexander Raevsky and commissioned by a female acolyte. Exhibited at the Academy of Fine Arts in 1912, the portrait was lost during the Russian Revolution, but photographs survived. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux)Several biographies state that Rasputin was exceedingly fond of sugar – with one even citing his black teeth as proof. But his daughter Maria flatly states that her father disliked sweets. A trivial point of discrepancy — except that it has a bearing on how he died. The standard version is that Rasputin's murderers, a group of monarchists led by Prince Yusupov, knowing of his supposed weakness for sweets, laced cakes and wine with cyanide and served them to him, and, when he miraculously survived the poison, shot him dead.

So whom do we believe? Smith is unequivocal. "I believe his daughter," he says. "The stories that he loved sweets come from less-than-reliable sources. Black teeth? Hard to say. I've never seen a single photograph of him with his mouth open. The love of sweets belongs, I would say, to the realm of myth."

And while it's true that the 48-year-old Rasputin was lured to a cellar and served cake and wine on his last night (perhaps Yusupov & Co. bought into the sweet-tooth myth as well) while Yankee Doodle played on the gramophone, neither contained any poison. The autopsy report said as much.

"As I write in the book, either no poison (real or fake) was used, or it was substituted for something else — maybe ground-up aspirin," says Smith. "The entire description of the murder, which comes to us from the memoirs of Prince Yusupov, is highly unreliable, if entertaining."

Rasputin's excessive fondness for Madeira is undisputed. "Go on, drink, God will forgive you," he would urge his dinner companions. "I love wine," he declared in 1916, by which time he had become a functioning alcoholic.

His daughter Maria, while admitting that her father's drinking was out of control, said he was far from a typical booze-hard. "She noticed," writes Smith, "how he never spoke so beautifully about God as when he was drunk."

Nor dance so well. After a few glasses, Rasputin was known to leap to his feet in his tall, patent leather boots and dance with ecstatic abandon to the music of three minstrel gypsies who accompanied him to his evening parties.

What comes as a surprise then, is to learn that the Madeira Monk supported the temperance movement, speaking out against the scourge of vodka and endorsing the Sobriety Society in his village. Smith spotlights this paradoxical nugget:

"I would not say I'm the first to write about this, but no previous biographer has explored it in such depth," he says. "It is a definite puzzle, given his own troubles with the bottle in his latter years. I'm still not fully certain how much of the press coverage about his support for the temperance movement was genuine or 'fake news.' It's difficult to say for certain."

Smith's comprehensive biography portrays an intriguingly multifaceted figure who enjoyed power and had a seductive vitality, but who was also an earthy and compassionate family man. It's a far cry from the demonic Rasputin of the irresistibly catchy 1978 Boney-M song, with its fantastical claim that Ra-Ra Rasputin was a "lover of the Russian queen" and "Russia's greatest love machine." The former is salacious gossip. The latter is hard to prove, but in the succinct words of another historian, Robert K. Massie, "He would send out for prostitutes late at night as people might send out for pizza."


Nina Martyris is a literary journalist based in Knoxville, Tenn.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.
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