Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wild about Willy's (Restaurant Review)

There are endless lists of blogs, reviews, and guides on finding the best burger in town. People are crazy about burgers. I've even heard of people going on "burger crawls" (the ground beef equivalent of a pub crawl). I'm by no means claiming to be one of these burger connoisseurs. But I know a good burger when I've tasted one. And I can confidently say there are good - no, make that really good burgers at Wild Willy's.

Boston has its fair share of tasty burger joints - Bartley's Burger Cottage, Uburger, Four Burgers, Krazy Karry's Backyard Grill. And new to the New England burger scene - Five Guys Burgers and Fries. I have yet to try all of these places, but will tell you why we enjoy Wild Willy's so much as a family.

Quality: Willy's burgers are char-grilled to order, made with 1/3 lb of certified Angus Beef and your choice of fixings. All burgers are served on a buttered, grilled bun. You also have your choice of ordering your burger with grass-fed beef for an extra couple of bucks. Willy's menu offers over a dozen different burgers with names matching the western theme. You'll need lots of napkins while eating your burger, especially if its fully loaded - but I see that as a sign of a quality burger. And their hand-cut fries, with the skin still on, are satisfying in a hearty-but-no-crisped-to-oblivion way. They also offer other items such as salads, chili, chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, and grilled cheese. But it is really about the burger, isn't it?

Casual but not fast food: The western-style atmosphere is clean and laid-back with plenty of large booths, four-tops and counter seating. The open kitchen and made-to-order burgers signal that you're not at your usual fast-food joint. The western theme is a little on the cheesy side, but not over-the-top like so many other national chain restaurants. You place your order with the cashier, who then gives you a number to place on your table. Food runners bring your food on plastic trays to your table when ready. Patrons clear their own tables. Just the right amount of self-service when you are wrangling (pun intended) your kids.

Family-friendly: Willy's has plenty of high chairs and booster seats. And the open, casual dining room is very forgiving of restless, sometimes loud young patrons. Kids love the real saddles as stools at the counter. They even have children's books for families waiting for their food after placing an order to-go. You know it's a family favorite when you see families with kids still in their soccer uniforms, belly-up at the counter to place their order fresh from a game.

Wild Willy's has 6 locations, or outposts as they like to call them. Crawl, run, skedaddle, (enter cowboy cliche here) to one soon. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Wild Willy's
46 Arsenal Street
Watertown, MA 02472-2604
(617) 926-9700
Wild Willy's Burgers on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Lunch Box: AB/CC & S Sandwich

Believe it or not, packing my son's lunchbox can be stressful. Lunchtime is a big part of my son's school day. Lunch begins with a sweet, nonreligious blessing wishing everyone a "happy lunch." Teachers stress "quiet moments" so the children can focus on eating. Children are even encouraged to eat their "protein" first.

As with any parent in charge of packing lunch, I ask myself "Is this nutritious?" I want to make sure there's enough food to avoid any low blood sugar meltdowns. And most importantly, I want to make sure that lunchbox does not come back home still packed with the lunch I sent him to school with because my kid "didn't like it." I don't know about you, but I end up eating any untouched food, even after I've had my own lunch that I liked very much.

BTW, I'm very excited about finding wendolonia. Great lunchbox (or bento box) ideas for when I need to shake things up. Plus Wendy's site is eye candy.

To celebrate the start of strawberry season, I would like to share one of our favorite lunchbox sandwiches: Almond Butter, Cream Cheese and Strawberry sandwiches. Great peanut butter alternative (for those in need of peanut-free options). Super-easy to assemble. And truly tasty - might even pass as dessert! Goes well with dinosaur lunchbox or adult brown bag.

2 slices of whole wheat bread
1 tbs almond butter
1 tbs cream cheese
2-3 strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 tsp honey

1. Spread the almond butter on one slice of bread and the cream cheese on another

2. Arrange strawberries in an single layer on top of cream cheese
3. Drizzle honey on top of strawberries
4. Place the other slice of bread with almond butter on top and enjoy

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Dish: Spinach and Ricotta-Stuffed Shells

Because umdaddy (my husband) grew up on raviolis, it's pretty much in regular rotation in our family's weeknight menu. I was delighted to try a new recipe that makes a nod to ravs and puts little fingers to good use. Did I mention this recipe only has seven ingredients?

  • This is a great dish to cook with kids. I had the boy count out the shells, grate and measure cheese, and mix ingredients. He also liked stuffing the shells - perfect for little hands.
  • I added raw spinach to the mixture, which left me wanting more. I will try sauteing in oil and garlic next time before adding to the ricotta mixture.
  • Marina sauce is not pictured above because umdaddy was upset that I went with store-bought (Russo's) instead of homemade gravy. But did he clean his plate? Yes he did. And the kids gobbled it all up.

Adapted from Real Simple, May 2010
Serves 4

20 jumbo pasta shells (about half a 12-oz box)
{dirty little secret ingredient} store-bought marina sauce
2 15 oz containers ricotta
2 cups baby spinach, chopped
1 egg
1/2 cup grated parmesan
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 cup grated mozzarella

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Cook the pasta according to the package directions; drain and run under cold water until cool.

2. Spread the marinara sauce in the bottom of a large broiler-proof baking dish.

3. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, spinach, Parmesan, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper. Spoon the mixture into the shells and place them on top of the sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella and bake until the shells are heated through, 10-12 minutes.

4. Increase heat to broil. Broil shells until the cheese beings to brown, 2-5 minutes.

Friday, May 7, 2010

5 Kitchen Secrets I Learned from Mom

My sister and I grew up in our family's restaurant, watching my parents work tirelessly to see the family business endure for over 40 years. My dad was the chef and my mom the GM. I watched in admiration as my dad whipped up one dish after another. Needless to say, many of our family meals were staff meals at 'restaurant hours'. But it was in the intimacy of our home kitchen I learned how to cook from my mom.

In honor of mother's day, here are some tips my mom passed on to me that I now share with my boys:

1. Fresh ginger: a little bit of fresh ginger goes a long way in almost every Asian dish. Add it to steamed rice, soups, stir-fry, tea - anything that could use a little spice, mellow sweetness, and warmth.

2. Making perfect rice: growing up in a Asian home, I thought the only way you cooked rice was with a rice cooker (Uncle Ben's was completely foreign to me). Here's how to cook rice in a rice cooker: 1) Measure uncooked rice and pour into cooking pot. 2) Rinse with cold water 2-3 times and tip and drain water. 3) Place pot on flat surface and place your palm down flat on top of the rice. 4) Fill cooker with enough water so that it just about reaches your knuckles. 5) Wipe outside of pot and place in cooker. 6) Press cook and enjoy! BTW - this is for white, long grain rice.

3. Fresh ingredients: only use the freshest ingredients for any dish. My mom will inspect every piece of produce to ensure it hasn't been picked over or sitting around. It really does make a difference in overall taste and quality.

4. The Wok - great multitasker: Woks are more than just for a stir-fry. It can be used as a steamer for many traditional and healthy asian dishes. You can use bamboo steamers or set a platter on a steamer rack. Woks are great for deep frying too. I've also used woks for blanching veggies.

5. Treat yourself to a nice meal: We've all had those days - too tired to prepare a home cooked meal or find yourself in a menu rut. Pizza and takeout are perfectly fine solutions for days like this. But some of my favorite memories are of eating out at good restaurants as a family. Besides eating a delicious dish, there's nothing more satifying than enjoying a really good meal and not have to do a single thing.

So to all moms out there - Happy Mother's Day and here's to a day of not having to do a single thing!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Zojirushi Electric Air Pot - Not Just For Water Emergencies!

There's a good chance you'll find these in many homes of Asian families - hot water pots. A hot water pot boils and stores hot water. Instead of filling a tea kettle and waiting around for it to whistle, with a hot water pot, you push a button and out comes hot water instantly. Okay, why would anyone want hot water at all times? Well, if you're a tea drinker, its a godsend. It's also great for instant noodles, reconstituting dried mushrooms or noodles, or heating baby bottles. Feeling it yet?

Okay, well if you're living in a community affected by the boil water order, then you just might see the beauty of this appliance. For those not from the greater Boston area, thanks to a 'catasrophic' break in the underground pipe that carries clean water to 2 million people in the Boston area, a boil water order has been issued until the damage is repaired. Officials are advising people to boil water before using it for drinking, cooking, washing dishes and hand washing. This event has made many people realize how we take drinkable water for granted.

Residents are either loading up on bottled water or boiling water on their stove tops. It was only this afternoon I remembered we needed to replace our old hot water pot and timing couldn't have been better. So now we have sanitized water by our kitchen sink at all times.

Hot water pots can be purchased at Asian grocery stores or online. Zojirushi (with the elephant) has been the brand of choice for my family for ages. They are a little pricey for a kitchen appliance ($99 for 3 liter pot), but I think it's worth it - especially during times like these!

H Mart

3 Old Concord Road
Burlington, MA 01803-5168
(781) 221-4570

ps: Our model does boil the water for 1 minute. There is a re-boil button if you want to be extra sure!


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