Saturday, September 29, 2012

Island Creek Oyster Bar

I've been twice now with my nephew, Nicholas. It's his Sunday night haunt and actually I couldn't think of a better place to usher out the weekend when you're in town. Boston's Island Creek Oyster Bar is located at the Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square. This candlelit bar and restaurant bears the same name as the delicious oyster that's farmed in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Skip Bennett started his oyster farm with a dream to "grow the world's finest oysters and have the best possible time doing it" and lucky for us he teamed up with Jeremy Sewall and Garrett Harker to open this restaurant which adheres to that same mission. They work closely with purveyors to find the best oysters and freshest seafood that's available daily. They also feature top quality meat entrees for those who prefer eating from the land. The staff is knowledgeable about every aspect of the menu and will guide you through your selections to ensure you have an superb dining experience. 

It's a hip, rustic decor with a slew of candles gracing the tables and the bar. We ate at the bar which is what you do when you're hanging out with Nicholas. Sunday night is especially nice as the place is full, yet not crazy crowded like a weekend night. We started with a dozen of a newly featured Island Creek oyster called Tumblers. They're a bit smaller than the original and Nicholas tells me, "they grow them on a line that constantly rotates, very slowly, making them tumble over each other as the line turns". I don't begin to know the science behind it, but I can tell you that this process produces one sweet, briny delicious oyster. While I encourage you to try a selection of the oysters they feature on their menu, don't forget to include these little gems.

We shared a prawn entree (it was a special that evening) and roasted corn. Next it was on to the appetizers which seems kind of backwards, but it worked. The Crispy IC Oyster Slider was so good I could have eaten a half dozen, but I needed to save room for the Pan Fried Jonah Crab Cake which was outstanding. The standard menu fare never disappoints and the nightly specials are always enticing.

Our bartender was attentive and surprised me with a lovely French white burgundy which happens to be one of my favorite wines.  That's just how the evening delightful surprise after another. 

 Stop in, you'll be glad that you did.

Island Creek Oyster Bar
500 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-532-5300

Here's a link to my post from last year's Island Creek Oyster Festival. It was my first encounter with these delectable little gifts from the sea.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Beet and Avocado Smoothie

If I told you that you might possibly be able to get your child to eat beets, broccoli and avocado for breakfast you'd probably think I'm nuts. Well this morning I did. Yep, all mixed up in this tasty smoothie. I've made lots of fruit smoothies, and Ally likes them, but since getting the Vitamix I've been introducing some delicious fruit and vegetable combinations.

Inspiration for this one comes from a recipe I saw on my Facebook feed yesterday which I can't for the life of me find today. I like to give credit when I'm inspired by other food bloggers. Oh well, I hope I'll get a pass this time. This is an adaptation of the original recipe.

Raw Beet and Avocado Smoothie
Serves 3-4

2 small raw beets (peeled and cut into 1" pieces)
1 ripe haas avocado (peeled and pitted)
1 lime (peeled)
1.5 cups orange juice
1 cup water
8-10 baby carrots (or 2 regular size)
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup of ice
2 - 3 tablespoons lavender honey

I cut the avocado in half, remove the pit and then scoop out the flesh with a spoon. This is much easier than peeling and nothing goes to waste.  You can also increase the honey a bit if you think a little more sweetness might help the medicine go down. It sometimes helps when introducing these new tastes to your family.

Add all the ingredients to the blender container and turned the Vitamix to variable (this button controls the blending speed) and as soon as the ingredients start to come together switch to high speed and increase the high variable speed dial to 7 or 8. Blend until smooth. I let this one go for about 1 minute so it turned out very smooth and creamy. The beets give it a mild earthy flavor and the tang from the citrus juices is a refreshing complement to the vegetables. It was a hit and good for you, so I'll definitely make this one again.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Vegetarian Delight with Juicy Tomatoes

I hate to waste food. It's expensive and when you eat organic whole foods even more so. With that in mind, I took a quick inventory of my fridge and here's what I had to work with: a bunch of kale, one baked sweet potato, green beans from the garden, a summer squash, green peppers, tomatoes, scallions and a few leaves of rhubarb. I'm definitely seeing a meal here.

Sweet Potato Quinoa with Roasted Vegetables and Sautéed Greens

So let's start cooking. Chop the peppers, summer squash and green beans (be sure to remove the stem and the pointy end of the bean as this will make your French friends very happy). Lightly coat the veggies with olive oil or a good vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt, lemon pepper and sumac. Toss well. Roast in a cast iron skillet in a 375 degree oven, or on your gas grill over medium heat until golden brown.

Add one cup of quinoa and a pinch of salt to two cups of boiling water. Simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. Mash the cooked sweet potato and set aside. Slice the scallions and sauté them in about a tablespoon of olive oil until tender. Add a teaspoon each of tamari and honey. Mix the mashed sweet potato with the scallions and then combine with the cooked quinoa.

For the greens, sauté two cloves of sliced garlic in olive oil. Before they start to brown add the chopped kale and rhubarb leaves. I removed the stems of the rhubarb, sliced them and added them to the roasted veggies, but you can sauté them with the greens if you prefer. Cook them slowly over medium heat. This allows the greens to absorb the garlic flavor.

Now for the pièce de résistance... juicy tomatoes. My mother serves these over steamed veggies, with broccoli being her favorite, so we've taken to serving them over all kinds of dishes this summer and they're a nice addition. Just chop up some tomatoes and add a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and fresh basil. Let them sit at room temperature (this is what makes them juicy) and spoon them over the grains and veggies before serving. You'll wonder how  you've survived without them. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Tangy Pear Lime Green Smoothie

It's day two with the Vitamix and I'm officially in love with this gadget. I've juiced for years, but decided to go the smoothie route and there's no better machine out there than this one. Take a look around their site and you'll see a plethora of food preparations that this nifty piece of equipment can perform. I bought a refurbished 5200 model for $329.00 so be sure to check out their specials. These machines were barely used and then throughly tested before being sold again. It's a great deal! In addition to daily smoothies, I look forward to preparing some fall soups now that the markets are overflowing with hard squashes.

This morning's green smoothie will definitely wake up your tastebuds. It's tangy yet just sweet enough to satisfy even those new to the world of 'green' drinks.

Tangy Pear Lime Green Smoothie
Yields: 1 Quart

3 small pears (quartered and seed core removed)
1 lime (peeled)
1 cup greens ( I used Olivia's Organics Cooking Greens, Baby Saute Blend)
1 small english cucumber or a 1/3 of a big one (ends removed as that's where the bitterness resides)
1/2 banana, peeled
1 cup orange juice or one orange
2 healthy pinches of unsweetened coconut
2 healthy pinches of raw sesame seeds
3 slices of fresh ginger

Place all ingredients in the container. Turn on to variable (this button controls the blending speed) and as soon as the ingredients start to come together switch to high speed and increase the high variable speed dial to 7 or 8. Blend until smooth. 

A delicious glass of green goodness to start your day. Yep, I drank the whole quart.

Note: Feel free to experiment with other fruits. My choices are usually driven by what's ripe and sitting on the counter. I leave the skin on all fruits and veggies, except for the citrus fruits and bananas. You can also add a handful of ice cubes if you like your smoothie really cold.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pad Thai

For some reason I thought making this dish would be difficult, but when you think about it it's really just a rice noodle stir-fry. My daughter always orders it when we go to a Thai restaurant, so surely a homemade version must be even better. That was my thinking anyway, and when I was looking for the ingredients I came across A Taste of Thai pad thai noodles and sauce. They even have a recipe on the box which I used as a starting point.

The key to a good stir-fry is in the prep. Once you have everything sliced, chopped and ready to go it's just a matter of cooking it in the proper order to create a dish worthy of what you'll find in most restaurants. 

Pad Thai
Serves 4

Flat Rice Noodles (16 oz box)
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons of grape seed oil (or any vegetable oil)
1 full boneless chicken breast
3/4 lb of large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 bunch of scallions
1/2 cup chopped peanuts
1 cup of pad thai sauce
1 teaspoon of tamari sauce
1/2 bunch of cilantro, chopped
1.5 cups bean sprouts (I forgot to buy spouts which is why you don't see them in the photo)
2 limes, quartered

Soak the noodles in hot water for 25 minutes. Cut the chicken and shrimp into 1 inch pieces. Slice the scallions, chop the peanuts and cilantro. Place those imaginary bean sprouts into a bowl, too. Put each ingredient in it's own container so you can quickly add them to the stir-fry.

Pour 2 tablespoons of oil into a wok or large frying pan. Warm it over medium high heat for a few minutes. Add the egg and cook for 30 seconds, stirring to break it up. Add the chicken and shrimp and cook for another 4-5 minutes, or until both are cooked through. Drain the noodles. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan and add the noodles. Continue stir frying for 4-7 minutes, or until the noodles are tender. Keep turning them in the pan so they cook evenly. Add the scallions, peanuts, bean sprouts, pad thai sauce and tamari and cook for another minute. Place on a serving platter and sprinkle with fresh chopped cilantro. Garnish with the quartered limes and squeeze one over your pad thai just before eating. Oh, and homemade is better.

Note: If you're not crazy about bean sprouts then omit them. Ours tasted fine without them.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cast Iron Cooking Continues...

Okay, I'm on a roll with this cast iron cooking on the grill. Not only is it effective when trying to beat the heat in the kitchen, it's also a good alternative for cooking those messy dishes like stuffed peppers. You know how it is when you pan fry them on the stove, they splatter everywhere and you're trying to get the grease streaks off the stove for days.

Voila! Here's my solution...

Yep, stuff those babies and fry 'em up on the grill. They'll brown up nicely and there's no messy cleanup. I served them with tortellini and homemade pesto along with a tomato and cucumber salad.

Oh, and wait there's more. I braised some cabbage and beets in the oven then finished them off on the grill.  If you're a fan of both, you'll love this recipe.

I paired that with sausage and peppers. Yes, those wonderful sausage from Fancy's Market in Osterville, again. I cooked the peppers and onions (lightly coated with olive oil) over medium heat until they started to brown, added the sausage and closed the grill cover for about 15 minutes, then removed the peppers and browned the sausage.  What a combination of flavors.

Braised Cabbage
Serves 4 

Head of cabbage (green or red, although I found the green to be more flavorful)
6-8 small red beets, peeled
1 tablespoon grape seed oil
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 healthy pinch of Victoria Taylor's Toasted Sesame Ginger Seasoning
1 healthy pinch of sumac seasoning
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup of organic chicken stock

Remove the outside leaves of the cabbage and cut into quarters. Slice out the inside core of each quarter. Add to a baking dish along with the peeled beets. Add the oil, vinegars, seasonings and toss to coat the vegetables. Allow to marinate all day, turning a few times throughout the process, or leave them overnight in the fridge.

Add the chicken stock and cover the baking dish with foil. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour, or until the vegetables are tender. Remove the foil and cook for another 10 minutes, or just until they start to brown. Remove from the oven and transfer the vegetables to a cast iron pan (pan juices included) and continue to brown them over medium heat on your outdoor grill. 

Note: If you've put your baking dish in the fridge allow it come to room temperature before putting it in the oven as it might break.