These crispy spring rolls were inspired by an appetizer at the neighborhood restaurant David & I go to whenever we want a low-key night out. Living in the North End, there are a ton of options for fancy Italian dining, but somehow David & I find ourselves drawn to Panza over and over again. I think a big pull for me is their generous use of goat cheese in pasta sauces. And, they have a spring roll appetizer stuffed with mushrooms. It’s always warm, slightly sweet, and wrapped in just the right amount of crunchiness….
I love butternut squash ravioli and sweet potato ravioli, but it’s so hard to find a recipe for this dish that doesn’t feature a sage and brown butter sauce. Instead, I wanted to find something equally (or more) appetizing to top off my pillows of pasta. I opted for figs and prosciutto with a balsamic dressing, and it turned out really well. I added freshly grated Parmesan to top it off.
I had some dried figs leftover from a goat cheese and fig crostini I made as an appetizer a few weeks ago.
On Saturday mornings, once a month, I join a handful of volunteers in my neighborhood to distribute groceries and share coffee & conversation with residents who often have trouble getting to the grocery store or find themselves with limited resources. The people who come to our post to pick-up goodies tend to be on the older side and Italian immigrants (this is the North End). I got the idea for this dish while talking to one of our residents last month: it’s a dish he remembered from his younger years. He described eggs poached in a simmering broth of tomatoes and garlic served over toast. He didn’t have a recipe per se, just thoughts and memories on ingredients and flavors.
Last weekend, I took a shot at the dish based just on our conversation. Instead of toast, I thought it would be fun to serve the eggs over a bed of polenta. I made it for both Saturday and Sunday breakfast, cooking the polenta by baking it first, and by pan-frying it the second day. Since poaching eggs can be a delicate task taking up much of a small stove top, I thought it simplified things to put the polenta cakes in the oven and just let them be.
Also, the first day we made it, I thought the tomatoes overpowered the flavors of the eggs. When you make this, it’s important to let the tomatoes cook long enough so they start to break up and form a sauce. The softer your tomato component, the better it will blend with the creamy polenta and runny yolks.
We’re studying milk and milk products this week in my Food Science class at Boston University. We taste-tested several milk products and milk-alternatives that might be useful to recommend to patients who need to up their calcium intake or are lactose intolerance. Understandably, the argument goes that if you’re counseling someone with milk allergies or lactose intolerance, you need to be well-versed in what other choices are out there to help meet calcium and vitamin D needs. And, don’t recommend something to patients without having tried it yourself. Makes sense, right?
There were several drinks on the list that were new to me, including goat milk (the apparently soon-to-be-mainstream foodie favorite) and Kefir. I know Kefir has been around for a long time and is popular with people because it has probiotics, but I’d yet to get on board. We tried different varieties in class: plain, peach, and raspberry. The plain version was mouth-puckeringly sour. But the raspberry one was delicious!
Pastas with cream sauce are my weakness. I can’t get enough of them! As a dietitian-to-be, I’m in favor of cooking with real butter and cream — making a meal from scratch is a better tasting and more satisfying option than processed foods. I first got the idea for this dish when I was working as a server at a local restaurant because I was attracted to their use of an egg yolk as a thickening agent in pasta dishes. It added a really complex, rich element to dishes that normally rely on cream, butter, and cheese. And since whole egg logs in at about 70 calories total (yolk + white), it’s a great way to reduce the total caloric impact of a rich creamy dish. A quick look on the internet shows that both 1 Tablespoon of heavy cream and 1 egg yolk both have about 50 calories. And believe me, most creamy pasta sauces I make usually call for a lot more than 1 Tablespoon of cream!…
I bought my first strawberries of the season last weekend. A little premature, given that it was actually snowing again in Boston today. Another sign that I was a bit ahead of myself was that I hadn’t devoured them within the first day, so, after a few days, they started to look a little dull and limp. To avoid wasting them completely, I turned them into a healthy breakfast: strawberry muffins made with whole wheat flour… except a few years ago, I bought a mini loaf pan that is now my stand-by for muffin tins. It makes fewer finished goods, but it also turns out a nice breakfast portion, including whole grains and fruit. So, here’s my take on strawberry muffins, turned into miniature loaves.
For dinner last night, I made enchiladas with a sweet potato and shrimp filling. This is actually a pretty healthy dish — it helps you get one of your 2x/week servings of fish and sweet potatoes are an amazing vegetable. In the midst of winter blah, sweet potatoes are a perfect choice for supper.
For restaurant week, I met my friend & former publishing colleague Lindsey for dinner at Gaslight Brasserie in the South End. I know restaurant week gets a lot of mixed reviews — people tend to think chefs put in less effort and just focus on churning out cheaper dishes that are quick and easy to prepare. But I like it because it gives me the chance to try out new places that I wouldn’t otherwise go to and serves as a reminder to get out and sample what the town has to offer.
The South End has a lot of hype, but overall, the meal was pretty good. We started off sharing a portion of escargot, which was good… but not great. It’s hard to compare to the ultimate BEST escargot I’ve ever had — at Bistro Citron in the New York City’s Upper West Side. My sister Claire and I also spotted McKee from AMTM sitting outside enjoying a glass of wine and their escargot one summer. But she was coming out of the Subway next door.
Next up Gaslight was a goat cheese salad, part of their restaurant week menu. It was also pretty good, but would have been amazing if they’d served the goat cheese warm.
For the main entree, Lindsey and I both ordered the tagliatelle with red-wine braised chicken and bacon lardons. First of all, everything tastes better with bacon, and second, the chicken was soft and tender. Restaurants routinely overcook chicken and serve it dry — a pet-peeve of mine and the main reason I never order chicken out at restaurants. But I was pleasantly surprised with Gaslight’s dish.
Plus, they incorporated a complimentary glass of Merlot as part of their menu. Nice touch.
As part of my birthday present David gave me tickets to the Lady Gaga concert! Yay! I’m not usually a big concert-goer… I see most of my live shows at smaller venues in Cambridge, and my mainstream concert history is pretty much limited to the Spice Girls reunion tour. Yup, and that was amazing, too. So I thought Lady Gaga is such an amazing performer that her show would be a spectacle.
And, to top it all off, we started the night with some lobster Mac & Cheese from the Mercato del Mare, right in my neighborhood. As David said, the night was all about decadence.
Here are some pics: