Monday, December 3, 2012

Wrapro Falafel and Grill in Cambridge

IMG_2066Gail and I finally walked by this little Cambridge eatery while we were hungry. It was a great light lunch for an afternoon of power-shopping. I'm not familiar with the nuances of middle-eastern food, so I can't say whether the Lebanese influence made it special, or just the care they put into the food. You can see the care in the sparkling clean foil and fresh tomato on the shawarma grills.

I had a lamb shawarma wrap. The lamb had a delicately light flavor with a nice spice blend, and a good balance of middle-eastern-dressed salad. Gail had a beef kofta wrap that was equally light and delicious, think middle-eastern meatball wrap. We also shared a lamb kebbee (deep fried lamb ball) and a special sambussa (loose beef in flaky dough).


Our meal was delicious, the shop was spotless, and the service was welcoming. I can eagerly recommend dropping in for an out of the ordinary treat.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Romanesco Fractal Cauliflower

This has got to be the ultimate nerd vegetable. This is a food to enjoy with both your mouth and your head. We got ours at Wilson Farms and cooked it with shallots and shiitake mushrooms. The flavor was mild on its own, taking up the flavors of the mushrooms and shallots. We served it with a side of pork chops that I cooked on the grill. It was great to have such a delightfully warm late-fall day. Gail and I spent the first part of it raking then toodled around together enjoying it.

Vegan Fettuccine Alfredo

Noele has been extending her vegetarian repertoire with some great vegan recipes. She shared a vegan fettuccine Alfredo recipe with us that she really enjoyed. We weren't able to find the raw cashews, so we substituted the walnuts we had.

Ours didn't come out tasting like Alfredo, but it did taste good, more like carbonara. I think you can see in the picture how the nuts didn't chop into a butter like I think the cashews will. We bought some raw cashews today and will try it again soon.

We put the sauce on a fun, flower shaped pasta. It is called Primule Mediterranee from Pasta Di Stigliano. Gail also sauteed a vegetable mix of celery, zucchini and tomatoes that was really wonderful.
Vegan Alfredo Sauce
Makes 2 c sauce

½ c plus raw cashews
Salt and pepper to taste (1/16 t)
½ t ea onion and garlic powders
1 ½ c vegetable broth
2 T olive oil
1 ½ T cornstarch
  1. Pulse nuts with seasonings in food processor.
  2. Mix broth and oil in saucepan; temper in cornstarch. Stir into saucepan; bring to boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to a simmer; cook, stirring constantly, until thickened.
  3. Pour thickened broth mixture into cashews; pulse to puree.
  4. Serve over cooked fettuccine.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Pecan Pear Bites Featuring Trees from Austin to Boston

I got these fresh pecans from from my blogger swap partner in Austin. She got them from a neighborhood tree. The pears are from the pear tree in our own yard. So, this dish really represents the spirit of the Austin to Boston blog swap.

That's a slider bun with a layer of brie, a layer of homemade cranberry sauce, a slice of our pear and a pecan half. It really couldn't be simpler. Thanks for the deliciously fresh pecans, Rachel.

Another Great Bread Bowl ... & Cheese

You'll know from past posts how bread bowls hold a special place for Gail and me. Tonight, Gail made homemade wheat bread bowls, and we filled them with soup made with garden potatoes and leeks. Yum.

We also like a little goat cheese in our soup. Since we still have some cheese left from our cheese share, we did a taste test of how various cheeses compared. We typically use grocery store chèvre logs, so this was the cheese to compare against. The other two were the boucheron-like Ada's Pride from Ruggles Hill Creamery and the brie-like Kunik from Nettle Meadow Farm.

Eaten plain, both the Ada's Pride and the Kunik far outshine the chèvre log. I really expected the Ada's Pride to be my favorite in the soup. Surprisingly, the chèvre worked best in this soup. Well, that's why we do these taste tests.

Gail's bread bowls worked particularly well with the soup. She made a half recipe of this whole wheat sourdough bread from It had a particularly good mouth feel as I scraped the gooey inner walls of the bowl. Gail wishes she had made four loaves with this half recipe, and I agree. Each loaf was too big for one person, but also too big to hold their bowl shapes.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Formaggio Kitchen Local Cheese Share

On Saturday, Gail and I picked up our first local cheese share from Formaggio Kitchen. We signed up for three months, and it looks like something we might keep doing for a while.

Formaggio hires passionate people. By coincidence, the first person we asked about picking up our cheese was Erin Carlman Weber, the person who picks what is in the package. She was excited to tell us about the heirloom apple she included to go with the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. Her enthusiasm made getting our package feel like getting a Christmas present.

The package included:

Ada's Honor, Ruggles Hilll Creamery from Harwick, MA
This is a small round of goat cheese. It has a thick, white rind followed by a thin gooey edge and a dry, flaky center. It reminded me of the texture variety of a Bucheron, but with a thinner gooey edge. It was both mild and richly flavored. I'm not sure how that's possible. We both liked this one very much.

Kunik, Nettle Meadow Farm from Thurman, NY
This is a larger round of cheese, like a small brie. And, this cheese tasted like a mild, but not bland brie. It had the same white rind with a slightly gooey center and a nice buttery flavor. It is made with a delicious combination of goat milk and cow milk. I would favor this over the sometimes funkier flavors of a brie.

Dorset, Consider Bardwell Farm from West Pawlet, VT
This is a wedge of soft, moist cheese. It was mild, but had a slight blue cheese flavor. By chance, we had another cheese in our refrigerator from Consider Bardwell: Pawlet. It is a very similar cheese; a bit dryer and firmer but still soft. It has a similar mild flavor without the tangy blue notes. We liked the Pawlet better.

Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Cellars at Jasper Hill from Greensboro, VT
This was not our first Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, but it was the most well aged, flaky-dry example we've had: wow! There was really no slicing this cheese, and I'm not sure how they sliced the piece we had. It just broke apart under the knife. The result was a rich cheddar flavor with a mild hint of the caramel notes of a great blue cheese.

Erin included a D'Arcy Spicy heirloom apple to go with the cheddar. The apple was from Scott Farm in Dommerston Vermont. The apple alone was mildly tart, not the type of apple I would usually eat plain. I'm also not usually an apple and cheese guy, but I can see why people would like this pairing of sweet and salty. The textures matched so that it was hard to tell what was apple and what was cheese. The cheese mellowed the tartness of the apple, and the apple mellowed the blue notes in the cheese. I'd rather have those flavors independent and prominent.

Thanks for the gift, Erin.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

AustiNuts Pumpkin Kernels are Some Kind of Magic

There must be some kind of magic in Austin that removes the stringy shell off the pumpkin seeds and leaves behind the delicious inner kernel. Rachel sent me a bag of AustiNuts pumpkin kernels. These things are rich and nutty, almost meaty: Amazing. I've always liked the idea of roasted pumpkins seeds. Sometimes I even like roasted pumpkin seeds. It's hard to get the salt balance right, but even more difficult to roast them so the shells are edible.

AustiNuts has solved this problem with some magic that gets the shells off the pumpkin seeds. It never occurred to me that this was possible. Since it's almost pumpkin carving time, I'll have to see if I can figure out this trick.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Melting Witch Cookies

"I'm melting, melting. Oh what a world. What a world."
      - The wicked witch of the of the west (AKA Elfaba)
Gail stumbled upon this good idea from Purple Chocolate Home for a cookie that looked like a melting wicked witch. We thought we'd give it a try, and we were very happy with the result. The cookie is a regular sugar cookie with a simple powdered sugar icing. The head is made out of gum paste, but might have been easier with marzipan  but neither of us really like marzipan.

I've included a recipe for sugar cookies and powdered sugar icing at the end, but you can you any cookie and icing you prefer. The original recipe called for rolling and cutting the cookie. We thought it worked just as well to press an uneven shape with our fingers.

Here are the steps for making the witch heads:

Make three colors of gum paste. I used Wilton gum paste in a bag and mixed in Wilton icing colors. These icing colors are very concentrated, and don't dilute the gum paste. I made the black and green using the black and green coloring. To get the purple, I used a combination of red and blue.

Roll balls out of the green gum paste to form the head. To make the nose, pinch a bit out of the ball and form it into a nose.

Add the mouth and eyes with small pieces of black. I poked a small hole with a wooden skewer and then pushed the black paste into the hole. I needed to do this because the paste dries quickly. The fresh hole makes a fresh sticky spot to connect the eyes and mouth.

Next, make the hair by making a flat shape approximately like a half circle. This will become the witch's hair. Mold the hair around the back of the head with the flat edge as the hairline. The big area seemed to stick just fine.

Finally make the hat in two parts. First, make a small cone. Then make a disk for the brim. Push the cone into the disk and immediately push the hat onto the witch's head. Again, the bigger area seemed to stick just fine.

Frost the cookies with black icing after they are cool and immediately place the head on the cookie. Piping two green hands finishes the look.

Sugar Cookies
Makes: about 2 doz, depending on size of cutters

Hands-on prep time: 30 min
Start-to-finish time: 3 ½ hr

6 T butter
1 3/8 c flour
½ t baking powder
½ t salt
½ c sugar
1 egg
½ t vanilla
Sugar for dusting cookie tops
  1. Soften butter. In another bowl, combine flour, powder and salt; set aside.
  2. Beat softened butter and sugar until creamy; beat in egg and vanilla. Mix in food coloring, if using.
  3. Gradually add dry ingredients to butter mixture, blending thoroughly to form a soft dough.
  4. Cover and refrigerate until firm, 3 hr-3 days.
  5. When dough is chilled firm, preheat oven to 375 F; roll, a portion at a time, onto floured board to thickness of 1/8”. Keep remaining portions refrigerated.
  6. Cut dough with cookie cutters; place slightly apart on ungreased baking sheet.
  7. Sprinkle generously with sugar if not planning to decorate after baking. Bake 8-10 min, until edges lightly browned.
  8. Cool 2 min on baking sheet; transfer to racks; cool completely before handling. Decorate; store airtight.

Simple Cookie Icing
1 c powdered sugar
4 t half and half
  1. Mix 3 t of the half and half into the powered sugar in a mixer.
  2. Add the rest of the half and half (or more by the teaspoon) if needed for spreading consistency.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

... And Jam for Breakfast

Rachel also sent me peach jam in my swap package. This jam is from New Canaan Farms and had just the right consistency and sweetness levels. I haven't had peach jelly in a long time, and had forgotten how wonderful it is.

Harriet's Original Texas Ranch Dressing

It's rare that we get to eat on the porch this late in the year. What better way to enjoy a warm fall day than with a burger dressed with a treat from my Austin to Boston swap package. Rachel sent me this Texas Ranch dressing from Harriet's Original.

The dressing worked well on both the salad and the burger. Is that called double dipping? The jalapeno flavors are good but not spicy. This will be my go-to dressing for a while.

You might also notice the Lone Star beer in the picture. Unfortunately for Rachel and me, sending beer through the mail is frowned upon. So, in honor of the blog swap I got the only Texas beer I could find. I was reasonably happy with it. This is a light American style beer that I typically don't love. This beer was a good version of what the style should be, without the typically unbalanced sweet aftertaste. It was nice and refreshing.

P.S. Rachel, you are now on my blog roll.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Austin to Boston Food Blogger Swap

I'm writing this having just finished packing a box of local treats for a fellow food blogger in Austin, Texas. This is my first time participating in the Austin to Boston Food Blogger Swap. Putting the package together was like shopping for Christmas.

My swap partner, Rachel, writes at the wonderful blog and then make soup. She seems to have similar food tastes and blogging approach to me: A lot of home cooking with a good sprinkle of the other joys of life. I find that encouraging, because her blog is successful in a way that I aspire to. She has lots of participation in the form of comments. People are engaged with her blog, deservedly.

We both send our packages last Thursday. She sent her package by USPS. I got it on Saturday. (I wrote about the contents here.) I sent my package by FedEx ground. It just arrived today.

Here's the note I sent with the package:

October 11, 2012

Dear Rachel,

I hope you have as much fun with this package as I had putting it together. I had to deal with a few tough questions when putting this together.  First, I had to decide how to go over the top without going over my $30 budget. Since shipping costs don’t count, I thought about being outrageous by shipping ice cream.

Bostonians apparently are the nation’s biggest consumers of ice cream, and we have an amazing collection of premium ice cream shops. We have one of the best shops, Rancatore’s, in our town. My daughter worked there all through high school. Since you mentioned how much you missed our local sweet corn, I was considering asking the owner to make a batch of sweet corn ice cream. Unfortunately, you convinced me that it wouldn’t even survive FedEx. I’m disappointed I couldn’t pull that off.

To meet my budget I decided to include a larger variety of sample sizes rather than larger versions of fewer things. In addition, I sent some ingredients and recipes, which will give you more variety of local flavors. I also included some homemade ingredients that I think might be highlights of the box.

My next tough question was figuring out what I would consider local. One great option was to send you maple syrup. You really need to try grade B maple syrup. That’s what the Vermonters keep for themselves. That would have made “local” mean New England. I also thought about including products from New York since that’s where my daughters live. That would have made “local” mean the northeast. Ultimately I decided to stick to Massachusetts.

The last tough question was how to make a centerpiece for the package. With all the sample sized items, I needed to have an item that would stand out as the “main” gift. And, I had to do that without spending too much on one item so there wasn’t enough budget to fill out the rest of the box. I was fortunate to find a great cooking item at an unbelievable price courtesy of a local discount kitchen supply shop, China Fair.

What follows is a list of what I’m sending and why. I hope you like everything.

Boston Baked Bean Pot – This is your main gift, and at under $5, an amazing bargain. This will let you make the dish that has “local” in its name. I’ve included our recipe at the end.

Navy Beans – You’ll need these for the baked beans.

Ocean Spray Cranberries – Cranberry bogs are a prominent feature on the road to Cape Cod. The Ocean Spray factory is in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Although, you can make an excellent cranberry sauce by opening a can and shaking it out onto a plate. Really, I love that stuff. You can also make an excellent sauce by cooking the fresh berries like apple sauce in a sauce pan with a little water and sugar. I’ve also included that recipe. Try it on vanilla ice cream.

Sourdough Starter – This is the ultimate in local. It comes from our own homemade starter created with local Lexington lactobacillus. I sent you half our starter. That will make sense soon. The starter is packed in a screw-top plastic container for shipping. You’ll need to feed it soon to get it going.  Unpack the glass Mason jar I’ve included. Pour the starter into the Mason jar. Add a cup of flour and a cup of warm water. Mix it with the handle of a wooden spoon. Finally, cover the jar with the elastic food cover to keep out dust, but allow gas to escape. Put the jar in the fridge. Each time you use it, you’ll take out about half the starter, and feed it with more flour and water. I’ve included some recipes at the end.

Bay Leaves – You should have found these in the Mason jar. They are from a plant in our garden. I know you have a full spice garden, but I took a chance you didn’t have bay leaves.

Homemade Madagascar Vanilla Extract – This is another homemade ingredient. I make it by the gallon using Madagascar vanilla beans and vodka. After a few months, we have an extra special vanilla extract.

Cain’s Mayonnaise – This mayonnaise is made in Ayer, Massachusetts and can only be found in the New England area. It is the correct mayonnaise for the perfect lobster roll.

Sliced Hot Dog Rolls – These are the kinds of hot dog rolls you need to make a proper lobster roll. I’m sorry I couldn’t send you lobster, but I suspect you can get lobster in your own local market if you want. These rolls are also great for hot dogs.

Taza Chocolates – I’ve included two disks of Taza chocolate. These are made in Somerville, Massachusetts. One disk is plain chocolate. The other is ginger flavored. I’ve included recipe cards for both hot chocolate and iced hot chocolate, but they are just as good to eat right out of the package. Last year, this chocolate was in almost every swap package sent from Boston. I didn’t want you to be the only person not to get some this year. Gail and I picked these up at the factory store.

Pepperidge Farms Lexington Cookies – This is more of a tribute to the town we live in. They aren’t made in Massachusetts, but they are a good cookie.

Fig Newtons – These are named after the city of Newton, Massachusetts where your sister lives. They are now made by Nabisco, but were originally mass produced in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Okay, the last two stretch “local.”

Lark Shortbread Trio Cookies – Finally, these cookies are made in Essex, Massachusetts. They are unexpectedly delicious. Burnt sugar and espresso chip seem like delicious flavors, but the salted rosemary stand out with an unusual flavor that happens to be a wonderful adult treat.

Cranberry Hot Pepper Jelly – This treat was the perfect combination of weirdness, local flavor and deliciousness. Cranberries provide the local flavor and this jelly is from our own Lexington farm stand, Wilson Farms. It goes great on a cracker with cheese or just on its own.

Necco Wafers – These candies are made at the New England Confection Company. When we were in college in Cambridge, Massachusetts we could smell these being made in the nearby factory. A water tower on top of one of the buildings was painted like a stack of Necco Wafers. The factory has since moved to Revere, Massachusetts. Now, we use these wafers as the roof shingles on our ginger bread house. The broken ones end up in my mouth.

Well, that’s it. I’ll be interested in hearing how your beans turn out. And, I’m hoping you love the sourdough starter enough to share it with someone else.

Very best regards,
Boston Baked Beans
If multiplying this recipe, make sure the bean pot is big enough for dry beans to double in volume.
Makes: 6 c
Hands-on prep time: 25 min
    5 min night before
    10 min mixing
    additional 10 min over 6-hr baking time
Start-to-finish time: 21 hr

1 lb (about 3 c) dried navy or pea beans
1 c dark molasses
1 t maple syrup
1 T dry mustard
1 t salt
½ t finely chopped garlic
¼ c light brown sugar
Boiling water
Liquid smoke
½ lb chopped bacon (optional)

1 ½ qt bean pot or covered casserole
  1. Cover beans with cold water; bring to a boil; cover; let stand overnight.
  2. Next morning, drain; rinse and drain once more.
  3. Transfer beans into 6-qt pot; cover with 2 qt cold water.
  4. Bring to boil; reduce heat; cover; simmer 30 min; drain thoroughly.
  5. Preheat oven to 300 F; bring water to boil; mix remaining ingredients, except water, in a large bowl.
  6. Mix beans with molasses mixture. Transfer mixture to bean pot; add just enough boiling water to cover bean mixture, about 1 c.
  7. Place in oven over baking sheet to avoid spills. Bake, covered, 6 hr. Stir every hr, adding more boiling water, a few T at a time, if mixture is dry.
Cranberry Sauce
Couldn’t be easier!
Serves: 10 (makes: 2 ½ c)
Hands-on prep time: 15 min
Start-to-finish time: 4 hr

1 c sugar
1 c water
3 c fresh cranberries (about 12 oz)
½ t fresh citrus zest (optional)
  1. Dissolve sugar in water in med saucepan; bring to full boil.
  2. Meanwhile, rinse cranberries very well; pick over.
  3. Add cranberries to boiling sugar water; return to boil. Berries will start to pop. Reduce to simmer; cook 10 min, stirring occasionally.
  4. Optionally, stir in fresh citrus zest before cooling.
  5. Transfer to serving bowl; cool completely at room temperature; refrigerate until set, several hr. Sauce will thicken as it cools.
Sourdough Pancakes
Recipe adapted from:
A good use for the pour-off from sourdough starter. Mix in 2 ½ - 4 c measuring cup for easy pouring onto griddle.
Serves/makes: 9 4” pancakes
Hands-on prep time: 1 hr
Start-to-finish time: 15 min

3 T oil for griddle
1 c sourdough starter, room temp
2 T sugar
3 T veg oil
1 egg
¾ c flour
1 t baking soda
½ t salt
Up to ½ c water

Butter & syrup for the table

2 ½ - 4 c measuring cup with pour spout
  1. Bring starter to room temp and soften butter if necessary. Warm syrup; oil and preheat griddle to 375 F.
  2. Mix sourdough starter and sugar in the measuring cup; add oil, egg, and flour, stirring well after each addition.
  3. Combine soda, salt and water, add to batter. Add additional water, 1 T at a time, to desired consistency.
  4. Thin with milk (sour is fine) instead of water.
  5. Pour onto griddle; cook until bubbles form on surface; flip; cook another 1-2 min.
  6. Serve with butter and warm syrup.

Sourdough Bread 
It’s best to get comfortable with the look and feel of basic bread dough before attempting sourdough, since the varying flour-liquid balance of the starter makes ingredient amounts only approximate.
Makes: 1 loaf
Hands-on prep time: 1 hr
Start-to-finish time: 2 days

Equal parts (at least 1 c ea) sourdough starter, warm water, flour

2 c sponge
4 t sugar
2 t salt
Up to 3 ½ c flour
1 t gluten per c flour

Lg measuring cup
Glass bowl
  1. Two days before baking, make sponge: if starter has separated, mix hooch and flour paste back together. Measure starter; pour all into bowl. Measure equal part warm water in measuring cup; pour into starter jar; swirl to pick up remaining starter from jar; pour into bowl. Stir in equal part flour to form sponge, which should be the consistency of pancake batter. Some lumps are OK --- yeast will smooth it out.
  2. Proof sponge in warm place, uncovered, until bubbly and sour-smelling, several hr to overnight. Meanwhile, wash and sterilize starter jar.
  3. Day before baking, mix dough: pour 2 c sponge into mixing bowl with dough hook; return remainder to sterilized jar for next time.
  4. Mix sugar and salt into sponge. Add 2 c flour and 2 t gluten; mix 5 min, then add ½ c flour and ½ t gluten at a time, mixing 5 min between additions, until dough pulls away from sides of mixing bowl. Knead a few min by hand if necessary. Since flours and sponges vary considerably in moisture content, always trust eyes and hands more than recipe amounts.
  5. Place dough in baking pan; set to rise in warm place until doubled in volume. Sourdough has already done a lot of fermenting and doesn’t need to rise twice. Even so, most sourdoughs take much longer to rise than regular bread; we always start our dough the day before we plan to bake and serve it. In warm (70 F +) weather, set bread to rise no more than 12 hr before baking, or punch down again right before bed and bake in morning.
  6. On baking day, preheat oven to 350 F, bake 30-45 min, until crust starting to brown. Cool a few min but best served warm.
If short of time, add 2 t yeast to dough with sugar and salt. Do not add yeast to starter to be returned to jar! We found, quite by accident, that this yeast-added bread is excellent for slicing and sandwiches.
Sourdough Starter
Recipe from:
Extra vitamin C enhances the yeast.
Makes: 1 qt
Hands-on prep time: 5 min
Start-to-finish time: 24 hr - 3 weeks

1 2/3 c bread flour
1 t rapid-rise yeast
1 t sugar
½ 500-mg vitamin C pill (not chewable), crushed
2 c warm (105-115 F) spring water

Sterilized 2-qt sealable container
  1. Combine dry ingredients in med bowl.
  2. Place water in container; whisk in dry ingredients; combine thoroughly. Starter may be slightly lumpy.
  3. Cover container with lid slightly ajar; let stand in warm draft-free area 24 hr. Starter will separate into a brown liquid (“hooch”) at the top and pasty flour mixture at the bottom. If starter doesn’t separate, it may not be getting enough air; loosen lid.
  4. Starter is useable at this point, but develops more flavor by adding 1 c ea warm water and bread flour; letting stand until foamy, about 2 hr, then refrigerating at least 3 weeks, stirring every few days.
To use in recipe: substitute ½ c starter, 5 oz liquid and, optionally, ½ t rapid-rise yeast for dry yeast and every c of liquid.

For every c of starter taken from container, add 1 c ea of warm water and bread flour; let stand until foamy; return to refrigerator.

Use extra starter for pancakes and waffles, batters for fried foods, etc.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Full English Food Rock Buns

Oh my goodness, these cookies (or biscuits) were amazing. My Austin to Boston swap package included a package of Rock Buns from Full English in Austin. We're thinking of moving to Austin now.

Rachel wrote about these treats better than I could:
"These rock buns are sort of a marriage of scones and shortbread with currants thrown in. Very dense, crumbly yet a little chewy, perfect for morning coffee, afternoon tea, an after-school snack, midnight cravings, I can’t think of a time when I wouldn't want to eat them."
She has been trying to recreate the recipe with limited success. Her latest recipe is in the article. I'd say the thing that characterized the buns for us was the crispy, buttery sugar nibbles. Gail and I think a way to get this might be to add sugar to the bottom of the muffin tin before adding the dough. We'll have to try it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mesquite Olive Oil from Texas Olive Ranch

As soon as I scoured through my Austin to Boston swap package, I knew I had to run out and get a nice loaf of bread. Rachel from the blog and then make soup included a bottle of mesquite olive oil from Texas Olive Ranch. What a delicious treat. Look at the bright green color of a great olive oil base. The smokey flavor was intense, but not overdone. I kept trying to place the familiar flavor. It was the same smokey flavor of the oil in canned smoked oysters. I love that flavor.

Thanks Rachel.

How Long to Boil an Egg

Water boils at 212°F. You probably already knew that. But, that's only true at sea level. The boiling point of water changes with pressure, and there is less pressure at higher altitudes. So, at the lowest point in Colorado (3,317 feet) water boils at about 205°F.

The other interesting thing about boiling water is that it never gets hotter than its boiling point. As heat is pumped into the water, the hot water turns to steam and boils off. The remaining water sits happily at the boiling point.

Remember, though, that the boiling point of water changes with the pressure. So, if you put a lid on the pot, the steam fills the space in the pot, the pressure goes up and so does the water temperature. It doesn't go up by much because the pressure releases as soon as it is high enough to push past the weight of the lid.

All that is by way of introducing an experiment Gail and I did on how long you need to boil an egg to reach different degrees of firmness. You might be familiar with the 3 minute, or soft boiled egg. They are cooked just enough to whack open with a knife and eat with a spoon. It's the sunny-side-up of the boiled egg world.

On the light side of the boiled egg world is the coddled egg. A coddled egg is boiled for 1 minute to both slightly firm up the whites and to disinfect the outer shell. Coddled eggs get used in Caesar salad dressing or to prep an egg for better poaching.

On the other side of the boiled egg world is the hard boiled egg. There are two ways to hard boil eggs. One is to boil the heck out of them for 15 to 20 minutes. The other is to put the eggs in cold water, then bring the water to a boil. When the water is boiling, cover the pot and turn off the heat. In two hours, the eggs will be perfectly boiled and cool enough to handle.

We were looking for the perfect egg for the center of a Scotch egg. We want them firm enough to peel, but runny enough to add some moisture to the dish. So we test boiled eggs for various lengths of time. Here are the results:

3 minutes
    1/4" of soft cooked whites with some remaining runny
    completely runny yolk
    not possible to peel

4 minutes
    fully firm whites
    yolk starting to firm, but still runny
    hard to cut open like a soft boiled egg
    might be possible to peel with patience and luck

5 minutes
    fully firm whites
    1/4" firm yolk, with runny center
    can be peeled with care

6 minutes
    fully firm whites
    1/4"+ firm yolk, with runny center
    easy to peel

7 minutes
    fully firm whites
    1/8" firm yolk, with runny center
    can be peeled with care

8 minutes
    fully firm white
    mostly cooked yolk, with 1/4" soft yolk center
    easy to peel

9 minutes
    fully firm white
    mostly cooked yolk, with 1/8" soft yolk center
    easy to peel

Note that the 7 minute egg seems much like the 5 minute egg. We switched to a new batch of eggs at 7 minutes. The new eggs were slightly larger and a bit fresher. This happy accident points out that you can't perfectly time how done an egg will be. If you need a specific level of cooking, you might do a test egg at 6 minutes and use the table above to predict the result you are looking for.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Austin to Boston Swap Package Arrived

I received my Austin to Boston swap package today. My swap partner, Rachel from the blog and then make soup, sent a package beyond my expectations. I'll run down the contents in a minute, and you can all come back for details on the contents in future posts.

But first, we both sent our packages last Thursday. Rachel sent hers via USPS and it arrived this morning, safe and sound. I sent mine via FedEx ground. It's not there yet. I'm disappointed.

Here is me opening Rachel's package. See the confusion on my face as I try to figure out what the three unlabeled items are. Rachel warned me in an earlier email, "Oh and if any of the items need explanation, email before tasting! Fair warning..." and "that which does not kill us..." I resisted my inner two-year-old's urge to put them into my mouth, and emailed for an explanation.

Finally, the contents:

The unidentified items were kaffir lime leaves, bay leaves and "wild" chili piquin all from Rachel's yard. That's the best. The pecans are from a neighbor's yard.

The packaged goods included Texmati mushroom medley wild rice, Roundrock honey and honey lip balm, Texafrance bluebonnet honey mustard, austiNuts dry roasted pumpkin kernels, Central Market peach salsa, Harriet's Original Texas ranch dressing (with jalapenos), Texas Olive Ranch mesquite olive oil, Full English Food rock buns, and New Canaan Farms Fredricksburg peach jam.

Rachel also included a shopping bag from H-E-B market and a copy of edible Austin magazine. The last item was a supply of business cards for her blog. I'm thrilled with this because I recently made a card for my blog. So now I know I'm not the only one. I had planned to include one in my box, but it fell out of my brain.

Thank you, Rachel. I'm thrilled with my package. I'll be reporting individual items in later blogs. We've already started digging in.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Mary Chung's in Cambridge: Our Favorite Chinese Food

Last time we went to Mary's we were so eager to dig in, we forgot to take pictures for the blog. So this article is well overdue. Mary Chung's has been our favorite Chinese restaurant since we started eating there in college. We've since hooked our daughters on it and they are jealous whenever we go without them.

By appearance, Mary's is a typical Chinese hole in the wall. But make no mistake by ordering the typical chow mein or pu pu platter. The menu is not American-classic-Chinese. Instead of wonton soup try the suan la chow show, a soup-like dish of wontons over beansprouts in a super-spicy ginger sauce. Instead of those red spare ribs, have the pan fried Peking ravioli, which comes with the same spicy ginger sauce. But go ahead and have the chiken wings. They are the best you will ever have, with a much richer flavor not simply overpowered with salt and oil.

My favorite dish is one of their specialties, dun dun noodles with shredded chicken. It will be hard to believe this is so good, but trust me. These are thick lo mein style noodles in a spicy peanut sauce. I've gotten close to making this at home, but never with the complexity and richness that Mary's has. My main ingredients are peanut butter, garlic, soy sauce, pepper sauce, vinegar and stock. By the middle of the dish, I'm quenching the peanuty fire with enough water to make me explode, and I want more noodles.

Last night we had another dish that is becoming a new standard for us, the lion head. It's a giant pork meatball in a light broth with cabbage. Don't skip the broth. We also had the general Bau's chicken, which comes with crispy broccoli and large, juicy chunks of slightly spicy, slightly citrusy chicken. As usual, we walked out with over-stuffed bellies and a big bag of leftovers. It doesn't get better than that.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fall Love from Lexington to Noele

Talking to Noele yesterday, she mentioned she was missing the fall views in Lexington. We miss her, too. Here are some shots I took for you yesterday, Noele.

View of the Battle Green

The Bandstand

Battle Green Detail
The Town Pool

Tree Near the Monroe Tavern
Details of that Same Tree
And finally, Ranc's

Oktoberfest Celebration Meal with Friends

When I think about Oktoberfest, I think more about beer than food. We had friends over for an Oktoberfest meal recently. The beer I had was not worth a mention here, but oh my the food was great. Gail researched traditional Oktoberfest foods, we practiced the ones we weren't familiar with and made a feast of rich German dishes.

For an appetizer we made pretzels and a cheese dip loaded with butter, garlic and caraway seeds called obatzda. The pretzels were firm and chewy, but didn't hold enough cheese in each bite, which was probably okay because I would have eaten large amounts of that cheese if the pretzels had held it. Gail made some extra pretzels with cinnamon on them that were perfect as a light breakfast.

For dinner we made whiskey roast chicken, steckerlfisch, bratwurst, spaetzel with mushrooms, potato pancakes, tomatoes, and sauteed green beans with tomatoes. The vegetables were from Gail's garden. There probably aren't any legitimate Oktoberfest vegetables. We used trout for the steckerlfisch, and it was really amazing. I'm glad we practiced it once before. The first time it came out over-cooked, but this time worked out perfectly.

I made an apple strudel for dessert using the recipe from the Joy of Cooking. It was an awful lot of work, but it came out very well. The recipe says that an expert can stretch out the dough to a square yard. I was able to get about half of that, and can't imagine how it would be possible to get it that thin.