Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving: A Day For Reflection

Today, all across America, many of us will gather together with family, friends and others, savoring a lavish feast of food and drink. We might also attend local football games, watch it on TV, or check out the Macy's Day Parade. We will talk and laugh, toast and cheer, savoring all the goodness of the day, reveling in the joy of the holiday. However, amidst all this merriment, we should not forget the deeper meaning of the day. It is about far more than turkey and wine, stuffing and football, pecan pie and naps.

Thanksgiving is a day for reflection upon our lives, to ponder and be thankful for all of the positive things in our lives. We need to appreciate the goodness in our lives, to be happy with everything we have (and I don't mean in a material sense). No matter what troubles or adversities we might face in our lives, I am absolutely sure there is also much to bring us joy.

Our focus today, and actually how it should be every day, should be on the positive aspects of our lives. Savoring the positive in our lives can brighten the darker parts of our lives, and place everything in perspective. Complaining and criticizing often accomplish little and instead we should concentrate on solutions. We can make our lives better if we truly desire to do so. It may take time and effort, but we can accomplish much with a positive mindset.

I am thankful for many other things in my life, including family, friends, health, and much more. I am thankful for all my blog readers, as well as the fans of my Tipsy Sensei series. It would take too long to list every single thing I am thankful for here, but I will take the time to reflect upon all of them today. I will try not to dwell on the negative elements in my life. It will hopefully be a day of appreciation and reflection, of hope and a brighter future.

I fervently hope that everyone else can embrace the positive, rather than dwelling on the negative. Share your positive feelings with your family and friends. Tell them that you love them, thank them for being in your life. It may be corny, but a hug and kind words can mean so very much. And you'll never regret it.

I'm going to enjoy plenty of tasty food and drink today, but I will remember that today is about more than the feasting. It is primarily a time for thanks, for all the good that is in our lives, and for being with the people we care about and love.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving Recipes & Wine Advice

This Thursday is Thanksgiving I'm sure many people are in the middle of devising their plans for how to celebrate this festive occasion. You might be trying to select a restaurant, deciding not to cook this year. You might be dining at home and trying to plan a menu of food and drinks for all your guests. You might be dining at the home of family or friends, and have been asked to bring a dish or a bottle of wine. So many decisions so I am here to offer some helpful suggestions that might ease your tension and worries.

Let me begin with some general advice, a sentiment which you should embrace. Stop worrying that everything needs to be perfect because it will never be perfect and it doesn't have to be perfect. This is a holiday where family and friends gather, to share everything they are thankful for and not to complain and nitpick about silly and irrelevant issues. It is a time for fun and enjoyment, to relax and chat, to eat and drink, to savor the day together. As long as people enjoy themselves, as long as the food and wine is good, no one will complain or even care about whether it was "perfect" or not, whatever that term might mean. Just everyone being together is perfect enough.

Now, I'll provide some more specific advice, including some easy recipes to prepare as well as some advice on selecting wines.

If you are cooking at home, or need to bring a dish to someone else's home, then let me suggest some relatively easy, but quite delicious, recipes. I have compiled for you a list of five such Easy Thanksgiving Recipes, including Buffalo Chicken Dip, Sangria, Double Corn Pudding, Special Potato Casserole and Swedish Apple Pie. Just about anyone can make these easy recipes and your family and friends should really enjoy the results. Plus, these recipes aren't just appropriate for Thanksgiving and you can enjoy them at any time. Buffalo Chicken Dip while tailgating? Sangria for your next wine party? Swedish apple pie for Sunday dessert? We regularly prepare their recipes during the holidays as well as the rest of the year and they always earn raves.

Choosing wines for Thanksgiving can seem intimidating but it really is not. Please don't worry about what wines to choose. Start by reading some general advice I previously wrote, Thanksgiving: I Want Wines To Make People Smile. I hope that will help decrease your worry over wine selections. There are so many good choices for Thanksgiving wines.For more advice and suggestions, check out my prior posts, Choosing Holiday Wines Part 1 & Part 2. Finally, for some out of the box suggestions, check out my Thanksgiving Wines? Consider Sherry Or Sakeboth which are very food friendly and would pair well with your Thanksgiving feast.

Whatever you do for Thanksgiving, enjoy yourself and appreciate all that you have, rather than worry about what you do not.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Rant: America's Culinary Debt

The fate of Syrian refugees and undocumented immigrats are major issues right now, with plenty of heated rhetoric and arguments. Fear is at the heart of much of the discussion and though the threat of terrorism is real, the actual risks involved are much lower than doomsayers proclaim. The basic humanity of these refugees and immigrants needs to factor far greater into these discussions, and compassion needs to be a prominent value.

America owes a huge debt to the refugees and immigrants which have previously come to our country. They bring a diversity to our country which only benefits us all. Yes, there are some bad apples in the bunch, yet there are bad apples everywhere. We have to understand how these bad apples are the exception and not the rule. Those bad apples do not reflect the general mentality and behavior of the greater majority.

Let's consider but one area where America owes a great debts to refugees and immigrants: our culinary scene.

First, many restaurant kitchens, all across the country, couldn't operate without  the refugees and immigrants who perform some of the most basic, and still very important, duties, from dish washing to prep work. They work behind the scenes, unseen by the restaurant diners who might only see the chef. As they work unseen, too many people fail to understand their role and its importance to what ends up on their plate.

I''ve talked to a number of chefs who have been immensely grateful for these workers. Few others have been willing to do such jobs, from dish washing to basic prep work. Without these refugees and immigrants, it would be difficult to find others willing to do these duties. In addition, the chefs uniformly state that they are some of the hardest working people they know. For a significant number of these refugees and immigrants, they work multiple jobs, maybe in a couple different kitchens. These people contribute significantly to the community.

Second, these refugees and immigrants bring to the U.S. their home cuisines, including different ingredients, recipes and techniques, They have created a greater diversity in our culinary scene, opening diners up to so many new and different foods. Consider Boston and its neighboring communities and try to count the numerous country cuisines which are represented, which wouldn't exist except for the influx of refugees and immigrants to our country. Ethiopia, Lebanon, Mexico, El Salvador, Senegal, Afghanistan,  Vietnam and so much more.

In addition,other chefs have adopted the ingredients, recipes and techniques of these refugees and immigrants. Their culinary heritage has spread across the country, becoming firmly ingrained in our society. Without their contributions, our culinary world would be boring and plain.We revel in culinary diversity but need to understand and appreciate the myriad contributions of those refugees and immigrants.

Rather than worrying so much about the greatly exaggerated risks of refugees and immigrants, let us devote much more consideration to all the positive contributions they can make to our country.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Francesinhas: Hearty Portuguese Sandwichs In Medford

The Croque Monsieur is a delicious French sandwich with ham and cheese, and the Portuguese found a way to create a similar sandwich, except one on steroids, ramping up the meat content. The Croque Monsieur is commonly topped with bechamel sauce while the Portuguese opted for a tangier, tomato-based sauce. This tasty Portuguese monstrosity is known as the the Francesinha and is now available locally, at a small, new restaurant in Medford.

Antonio Pereira, a native of Portugal, recently opened Tasty on the Hill at 321 Boston Avenue, Medford, across the street from the Danish Pastry House. The restaurant is currently open only for breakfast and lunch, with breakfast served all day. The menu has plenty of traditional American breakfast items, from eggs to pancakes, waffles to omelets, all reasonably priced. The lunch items include burgers, wraps, and other classic sandwiches. However, their most unique menu item is the Francesinha though in the near future, they will be opening for dinner, on certain nights, offering a number of traditional Portuguese dishes.

The restaurant seats around 24 people and it is very clean and spacious. It has the ambiance of a diner, and the staff is very welcoming and friendly. I've only been to the restaurant once so this is only an initial impression, but one which was so positive it was worthy of making my readers aware of this new restaurant with its compelling Portuguese sandwich.

I ordered Green Iced Tea, which I was pleased to see was freshly brewed with Organic Bigelow Tea. A good start to my lunch.

Yes, that is one big-ass sandwich!

The restaurant serves six variations (each $13.95) of the Francesinhas, including the Traditional, Grilled Chicken, Tasty Burger, Vegetarian, Bacalhau, and Smoked Salmon. All of the Francesinhas come with French fries. In the photo above,you can see the Tasty Burger, with a burger, American cheese, ham, linguica, bacon, and a fried egg, topped by a special sauce and accompanied with shoe-string French fries.

The term "francesinhas" is said to translate as "little Frenchie," "little French one," or "little French girl." The sandwich, which is most common in the city of Porto in Portugal, has murky origins though one theory seems to be dominant. The most common story is that the Francesinha was invented in the 1950s by Daniel David da Silva, a Portuguese man who was born in the municipality of Terras do Bouro. Seeking work, he traveled to Belgium and France, eventually becoming a barman. When he eventually returned to Portugal, he started working at A Regaleira restaurant.

He was considered to be an inventive cook and one of his experiments was a sandwich which was an adaption of the Croque Monsieur. Daniel David added more layers of meat and topped the sandwich with a spicy sauce, allegedly made with tomato sauce and beer. Why did he call it a Francesinha? The reasons is again uncertain, some saying he did it to reflect the robust,spicy women of France as opposed to the more sulky Portuguese women.

In Porto, you'll find many variations of the Francesinhas, though it commonly is a stack of different meats, topped by an egg, between two pieces of bread with melted cheese atop it and covered by a spicy tomato-based sauce. The recipe for the sauce is usually a big secret, though beer and sometimes even Port, is used in the making. At Tasty On the Hill, their sauce recipe is a secret, though it is supposed to contain 12 ingredients and has been a family recipe that originated about 30-40 years ago. Through some online searching, it seems that the Francesinha is not easily found in the U.S. so Tasty On The Hill is a pioneer in introducing this sandwich to Americans.

So let me describe the Francesinha I ate for lunch, the first of these sandwiches I have ever eaten so I can't compare it to those made in Porto.

It is a hearty sandwich so you need to bring your hunger if you hope to finish it. It also is very much a fork and knife sandwich, or be prepared for a very messy sandwich in your hands. The sauce was tangy, savory and slightly spicy with a strong tomato flavor. Very tasty, it was a fine topping for the thick sandwich. All the different meats provided different textures and spices, and they blended harmoniously together, enhanced by the fried egg and all the melted cheese. The bread seemed to be a large, soft roll and it stood up well to the sauce. It was a carnivore's delight, a hearty meal which should satisfy. And the French fries were a good addition, and I liked their taste with the sauce.

Overall, it was an impressive sandwich, a delightful blend of flavors and textures. I'm looking forward to returning to try some of the other variations of the Francesinha, such as maybe the Bacalhau, the salted cod. I recommend that my readers check out Tasty On The Hill, especially for the unique Francesinhas.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events..
1)  Puritan and Co. will host their 3rd Annual Harvest Dinner showcasing seasonal flavors on Wednesday, November 18, with seatings starting at 5:30pm. Puritan & Company Chef/Owner Will Gilson, Chef de Cuisine Alex Saenz, Sommelier Peter Nelson and the restaurant’s talented team invite guests to enjoy the flavors of the season at upcoming Harvest Dinner, a delicious four-course meal of Puritan & Company’s signature seasonal New England fare and an optional wine pairing.

The Menu can be seen here.
The four-course meal is $60 per person with an optional wine pairing for $35 per person.
For reservations, please call (617)-615-6195

2) On December 2, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a wine dinner with Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards. Since 1973, Sonoma-Cutrer has been producing the finest quality wines since it opened as a vineyard company. Its foundation is built in the hillsides and rocky foothills in the region recognized as the Sonoma Coast Appellation. In the 1970s, the company planted several different grape varieties and virtually overnight Sonoma-Cutrer’s Chardonnay grapes had gained a reputation for exceptional quality and were in high demand by many premium wineries.

Legal Sea Foods will team up with Winemaking Director, Mick Schroeter, to host a four-plus-course dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with his selections from the Sonoma-Cutrer vine. The menu will be presented as follows:

Sandy Neck Oyster on the Half Shell, Blood Orange Granita
Ponzu-Marinated Cod, Cucumber Cup, Mizuna Micro-Greens
Bang Bang Shrimp Skewer
Sonoma-Cutrer “Winemaker’s Release” Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley, 2014
Nantucket Bay Scallop Casserole (lemon, garlic, mixed greens)
Sonoma-Cutrer “Les Pierres Vineyard” Barrel Selection, Sonoma Coast, 2014
Lobster “Pot Pie” (lobster Newburg sauce, English peas, baby mâche)
Sonoma-Cutrer “Founders Reserve Legacy” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2012
Grilled Tuna Steak (chanterelle duxelles, farro salad, beurre rouge)
Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2013
Roasted Pear Crostata (mascarpone, honey ice cream)
Sonoma-Cutrer “Winemaker’s Release” Late Harvest Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2012

COST: $95 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9397

3) With the holidays now upon us, there’s no better way to celebrate the season than by throwing a festive fete and treating your guests to tasty tipples and tempting sweets. Join Temple Bar on Saturday, December 5t, from 3pm-5pm, and let Bar Manager and trained pastry chef Jenn Harvey show you how to take your holiday food and beverage game up a notch.

Calling upon her training in both confecting and cocktailing, Jenn will walk you through cocktail basics while sharing three ingeniously easy punch recipes sure to help your friends and family get their fa-la-la on. And what are the holidays without a cookie or two? Once everyone has wet their whistle, Jenn will share a few of her own family’s cookie recipes to help step up your baking game this season.

While snacking and mingling, learning has never tasted so sweet as Jenn explains the finer points of pairing desserts with drinks.

COST: $30 (tax included) per person

4) Zebra’s Bistro and Wine Bar has earned acclaim for its delicious seasonal dishes and thoughtful wine collection. But when it comes to the holidays, it is perhaps best known for its Annual Parent-Child Gingerbread House Making Class. Held every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you can choose to either build and decorate a Gingerbread House, or decorate a hand-made pre-built house that the Zebra’s pastry staff will build for you. Prices range from $69-$99 depending upon the number of people at the table (no more than 3); and if you want the house pre-built. The class lasts 1-1 ½ hours.

Private Class For a Group of Six or More Adults
Did you say Gingerbread Martinis? Gingerbread Houses aren’t just for kids anymore. Zebra’s hosts private Gingerbread House classes for adults with a group of six or more. There will be a house for each adult to build and decorate, and cocktails as well! Each group has its own instructor to help lead the way with building and decorating tips. Gingerbread House & Martinis is available for adults, $69.00 per person, weekdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas, 4pm-5pm. Advance Reservations required.

Planning a December birthday party or holiday celebration between Thanksgiving and New Year? This is the one that everyone will talk about. Each guest receives handmade gingerbread pieces to assemble their own house and decorate under the guidance of Zebra’s pastry staff. The houses are yours to keep and to use as a centerpiece for your holiday celebrations. Please call early, dates and times go quickly.

Zebra’s Gingerbread House Making Kits are available to purchase. With the kit you can build and decorate your gingerbread house at home. The kit includes the baked gingerbread pieces, a foundation board, royal icing, and plenty of candy decorations. $59 per kit; or $69 for a pre-built house ready to decorate at your home. Please call in advance for pickup, Nov. 27-Dec. 23, 2015.


5) This holiday season, Bar Boulud invites novice bakers and pastry perfectionists to join Chef Robert Differ for an intimate pastry class featuring the traditional Parisian holiday dessert: Bûche de Noël.

Upon arrival, participants will transform into a pastry apprentice as they sip a complimentary glass of bubbly prosecco or a rich cup of hot cocoa while preparing to expertly craft a standout, celebratory sweet that’s guaranteed to impress guests at their next joyful occasion. As the demonstration gets underway, Chef Differ will highlight the history, preparation, technique, and assembly required for crafting this iconic dessert in the confines of each home cook’s kitchen. Each participant will then be presented with a pre-rolled Bûche de Noël that serves as a confectionary canvas, ready to receive each student’s artistic touch.

Emphasizing festive decorating techniques, this tailored class allows students to focus on all of the fun aspects of holiday baking without the stress of measuring, mixing and manipulating each ingredient from scratch. Each class participant will depart with a recipe for crafting this iconic Christmas-themed dessert at home, along with a freshly-baked Bûche de Noël to share with friends and family.

WHEN: Sunday, December 6 and Saturday, December 12, 11am-12:30pm
COST: $85 per person (plus Eventbrite fees)
Reservations can be made through Eventbrite. For more information please call 617-535-8800