Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pho Pasteur, Chinatown, Boston

Eric and I had done the unusual -- gotten up early on a Sunday to see the Chinese New Year parade in Chinatown, and were tired of standing on the sidewalk freezing our bums off. We decided to take refuge in one of my favorite restaurants -- Pho Pasteur -- and eat hot soup while the parade continued outside.

The waitress set off battery-powered firecrackers and everyone clapped.  I sipped my tea and tried to brush my wind-bedraggled hair with my hands as we turned our attention to the menu.

It was not quite ten thirty yet, but we cataloged the numbers of the food we wanted, as all the names of the menu items at Pho Pasteur are written in Vietnamese, so if you do not speak Vietnamese it tends to be less confusing for everyone involved to just give the waiter the number of the menu item.  We decided on Number 96 -- a stir fried version of tofu chowfoon that contained some of the nicest fried peppers I have ever eaten -- and Number 90 -- vegetable, vermicelli, and tofu curry soup.

I don't know how many people outside the Boston area know what chowfoon is.  It was not sold in Northern Massachusetts, where I grew up, or Western Massachusetts, where Eric grew up, nor in any of the numerous Asian restaurants we have been to in Montreal, Los Angeles, Edinburgh, and London.  Chowfoon is a stir fried dish containing large, thick, flat rice noodles that become gluey with depressing rapidity if the cook does not know what he or she is doing.  The chef at Pho Pasteur knows what he (or she) is doing.  

Number 90 was one of the best soups I've ever had. It was so spicy it cleared my sinuses, but the noodles stayed crisp and the tofu absorbed so much of the curry it became golden inside.

We entered Pho Pasteur freezing and bedraggled, we left warm and well fed.  It may have not been typical breakfast food, but it was one of the best breakfasts I've ever had.

Mike's Food and Spirits, Davis Square, Somerville

I hurried into the restaurant at five o'clock, trying to catch my breath from my hustle across two intersections.  I was greeted by the counterlady screaming "I've had enough of your crap!" at the barman.

Okay.  No one was in the restaurant, so this was awkward only for me.  And them.

They saw me come in, snapped to attention, smiled apologetically at me, and asked me for my order.  I asked for a pint of Sam (for me) and a Coke (for the boyfriend who would be arriving shortly).  I heaved a sigh of relief as college students started to stream into the place -- I had been worried about not being on time to get a good table, a perennial issue at a place like Mike's -- but I was able to grab the beer and Coke and snag a booth.

I scanned the menu and the specials, and also spared the occasional glance at the news and the periodic flurries of violent argument coming from the bar.  (The argument would continue for the rest of my time there.  I won't mention it any more, but if during the description of the ravioli you imagine eating that while hearing someone half way across the room yell "that's absolutely RIDICULOUS!" you'll get an idea of what the meal was like.)

Eric came in and we pondered what menu selection would give us the best range of food to try, and settled on splitting garlic bread, bruschetta, and the Broccoli and Cheddar Ravioli with Pesto Sauce.  The garlic bread was intended as a stomach filler / take home treat, was satisfyingly toasted and pleasantly buttery and garlicy, and is currently sitting in our fridge awaiting the vegetable soup I'm serving for Sunday dinner tomorrow.  The bruschetta was also very good, the pesto was fresh, the tomatoes were the best you can get this time of year, and the mozzarella on top was delightfully gooey.

The Broccoli and Cheddar Ravioli were very good.  They tasted like they had had a little Gorgonzola thrown in for good measure, but that might have been my imagination, or the pesto sauce -- which was not true pesto sauce, but a pesto/Alfredo mix that paired up nicely with the cheddar broccoli mixture in the ravioli.  The pasta was al dente and definitely fresh.  $11.95 is a little steep for six ravioli, but they tasted homemade and thus labor intensive and so I won't argue on prices.   If you're on a budget and would like to eat an entire meal, I'd go with their sub sandwich section, or their grill, which is moderately priced and offers the usual range of vegetarian choices (Eggplant Parmigiana, Grilled Veggie, etc.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Broken Jasmine Risotto

I've been developing this recipe for a couple of weeks -- hence my relative lack of recipe posts.  Hope you like it. If we were being technical, I'd have to admit this is technically just a rice dish because I didn't use proper risotto rice, but it's prepared risotto-style, so whatevs. Blasphemy!

Part I:  Garlic Broth

Boil an entire chopped bulb of garlic in 1 gallon of water.  Add pepper, chili pepper, and cilantro to taste.
Afterwards, portion out into containers filled with servings of 2-3 cups each.  This is a good replacement for chicken stock.

Part II:  Broken Jasmine Risotto

4 cups of Broken Jasmine rice
2 cups olive oil
2-3 cups garlic broth
2 glasses wine
1 chopped green or red bell pepper
1 cup Romano cheese
1-2 cups water (vary the amount according to how creamy or toasted you would like the risotto to be)

Toast the Jasmine rice in the olive oil until the rice starts to puff out slightly, then carefully add the garlic broth. Let simmer until it looks dry, and then add the wine and water.  Stir until the water has mostly evaporated, and then add the romano cheese.

Serve with tomato sauce, fresh chopped tomatoes, Winter Pesto, or fried cubanelle peppers.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Passage to India, Porter Square, Cambridge Massachusetts

"Their walls are painted with that thrown-sponge technique that was so popular a few years ago," I muttered to Eric as we walked through the door of the Cambridge branch of A Passage to India.  "It looks kind of weird. There aren't many people here," I continued, "is that a bad sign?"

It was the day before Valentine's Day and we had once again ventured into world of mid-priced Cambridge Indian restaurants.  We had considered going back to Desi Dhaba for the holiday, but had decided to go to a place that had repeatedly caught my eye as I got off the 96 bus to go grocery shopping in Porter Square.  Now that I had actually committed to going to the place, however, I was having doubts.  However, we took a seat and started poking at the bottles of San Pellegrino that had been placed on every table.

"Do these come with our meal?" asked Eric, and after a weird interlude where the waiter started writing the cost of the bottle on the bill, and I suddenly reverted into Scotland Me and asked for "still water, not fizzy", we finally sorted out that the San Pellegrino was not intended to be a freebie, and ordered our drinks and appetizers.

I took one bite of my first appetizer, a paneer pakora, and decided my doubts were unfounded.  The cheese was a perfect combination of fluffy and gooey, and the chickpea-and-caraway-seed batter provided a satisfying crunch.  Having the aloo tikka and vegetable pakora on the same platter were redundant -- two mashed potato based snacks got a little dull -- but both were well flavored and just the right amount of spicy.

I had better luck with my wine this time, perhaps because the food at Passage to India was less spicy than that at Desi Dhaba, but for whatever reason the glass of Blue Fish Riesling I ordered held its own against the flavors of my meal: it was light, fruity in a nicely astringent sort of way, and killed exactly enough pepper fire so that my mouth wasn't burned to a cinder when I dumped a little too much hot sauce on my pakora.

We had Kabuli Channa: a chickpea, tomato, and potato based dish that blended well with rice but could have used a little bit more ginger and garlic -- and Vegetable Korma, which was a mix of fresh vegetables in a really wonderful yogurt sauce.  (Even Eric, who hates a couple of the veggies they used, loved it.)

The naan was a little disappointing, a little too heavy, a little too garlicy, but it was still good enough to bother taking the leftovers home for breakfast tomorrow.

All in all, Desi Dhaba was better, but if you live in the Somerville/Cambridge/Medford area, this place is worth a look.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Spring Picnic Sandwiches

My blogging activities have been temporarily pushed aside by a social life, however the fast pace and lack of time to cook during said social life got me to thinking.  I've been cooking, and posting, a lot of heavy, wintery type food lately.  I want it to be spring.  You know what people do in the spring?  They go on picnics and eat sandwiches.

Here are three of my favorite sandwiches.  Mayo free, so you won't get poisoned from your picnic.


"TBM" stands for "tomato, basil, mozzarella", and is basically exactly what it sounds like: a slightly exotic vegetarian answer to the BLT.  

2 thick carved slices of mozzarella
several leaves of carefully washed basil, or a spoonful of pesto used as spread
1/2 tomato
wheat bread

Assembly should be self evident.  Grills superbly. 

Havarti and Tomato on a French Roll

The beauty of this baby is the texture: somehow the Havarti combines with the French roll to create a blissful, smooth compliment to the tomatoes. Possibly my favorite sandwich in the world. 

1 crusty French roll
2-4 tomatoes, cut into thin slices
1/4th pound sliced Havarti cheese

Cut the French Roll open and stuff it with cheese and tomatoes until it looks like it's going to explode.  
Serve with iced tea, and pickles, if you like them.  

Another variation on this theme is Brie and Tomato, which is also good.  Brie is quite buttery in taste, so if you're not a fan of butter you should stick with Havarti or cheddar.  

Mushroom Cap Burger

1 portobello mushroom, cleaned and skinned
1 tsp olive oil
1-2 garlic cloves

hamburger buns
Various Fixin's:  brown mustard, soy sauce, black bean paste, chili paste, cheddar cheese, pesto sauce

Fry the mushroom in a skillet until brown and wilted.  Make sure you repeatedly press down on the mushroom with the flat of the spatula so that all the water in the mushroom is forced out.  

Serve on hamburger bun with your choice of fixin's.*  Potato chips are good with this dish.  

Can be served either hot or cold.  

*Does anyone else think of Niles Crane when they hear the word "fixin's"? Hee.