Sunday, January 30, 2011

Restaurant Review: Cutty’s (Brookline, MA)



We experienced the most hellacious week two weeks ago. It went like this: youngest one had a bad case of croup (again). Oldest one came down with a high fever and nasty cough. I got hit with a nasty head cold. And to top it off, we got hit with another N’oreaster, making our sickly cabin fever that much worse.  By week’s end when we were beginning to feel better, we saw the light at the end of the tunnel – and it was shining on a little sandwich shop in Brookline Village just a few blocks away from the pediatrician's office.


Cutty’s is a small joint with a walk-up counter and seating for about 16 people, including high chairs for wee ones. The simple and clean d├ęcor reflects Cutty’s mission: No bells and whistles, no gimmicks, no pretentious fancy-pants silliness, just honest food served quickly. What family wouldn’t want that?


Cutty’s is owned by CIA trained and Cooks Illustrated veteran Charles Kelsey. His menu mainly consists of hand-crafted sandwiches that would make any sandwich snob swoon. We ordered Grilled Cheese ($3.85) and Tomato Soup ($3.65) for the boys to share. Umdaddy got the house specialty – Roast Beef 1000: slow-roasted beef, crispy shallots, 1000 island, cheddar, on brioche ($7.95). I ordered the Eggplant Spuckie: eggplant, hand-pulled mozzarella, olive-carrot salad on ciabatta ($7.25).


It wasn’t long until everything came delivered and thoughtfully split for the boys. The boys devoured their buttery, cheesy grilled cheese sandwiches. I loved watching my oldest dip his sandwich in the velvety tomato soup – something I used to do as a kid. Our youngest had no interest in the soup, which was just okay by us since that meant we would *have* to finish it for him.


The Roast Beef 1000 was, I dare say, the best roast beef sandwich I ever had. And this coming from a loyal Kelly’s Roast Beef patron. The roast beef is cooked to a pink perfection and sliced paper thin. There is just the right balance of buttery brioche, dressing and cheese. The crispy shallots provided the perfect crunch for the sandwich.

The grilled Eggplant Spuckie (Spuckie is an old-school name for Italian subs) was the perfect combo of cheesy goodness, tangy veggies and crispy ciabatta.

I only had two regrets after our dining experience: 1) not ordering the house made chips and 2) not coming on a Saturday, the only day when the Pork Rabe or Pork Fennel sandwiches are available.

I really hope there won’t be any more visits to the pediatrician's office this winter, but if there are, I can bet we will be stopping at Cutty’s as our elixir to whatever ails us.

Cutty's on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Tale of Two Launch Parties & Finding Myself as a Blogger

I started this blog over a year ago as a way to write about some food I cooked for my family or restaurants we dined in. I barely knew what wordpress was, nevermind the fact that a mommy and foodie blogosphere existed. I looked to several mommy and food blogs for inspiration, but it is only recently have I discovered the distinct circles these two blogging worlds exist in.

So here I am, a year later, asking myself "am I a food blogger or mommy blogger?" Do I chronicle the trials and tribulations of potty training a toddler? Or photograph step-by-step instructions on how to braise fennel? I needed to figure out where I fit in and what better way to do that than to immerse myself in both worlds. So I joined a parent blogger and food blogger network, hoping to find bloggers like me. The Boston Food Bloggers and the Boston Parent Bloggers both held launch parties last week and two months ago respectively. It was my chance to meet local bloggers and hopefully figure out what defined me as a blogger.

Boston Food Bloggers Launch Party

Boston Food Bloggers Launch Party at The Gallows

The Boston Food Bloggers held their launch party at The Gallows in the South End last week. The brain child of Rachel Leah Blumenthal of Fork it over, Boston!, Boston Food Bloggers is an online resource for food and drink bloggers in and around Boston, Massachusetts. Its mission: To help local bloggers network and grow. If Monday's launch party is any indication of progress toward realizing its mission, BFB is off to fabulous start.

The place was mobbed with local food and drink bloggers, enjoying snacks provided by The Gallows, SoCo Creamery, Pretty Things, and Geoff & Drew's. My only regret that night was not trying all the goodies that were passed around (d'oh - it was a food blogging event!). I was so intent on chatting it up with fellow bloggers, I did not have a moment to eat - even the Bacon Caramel Chex Mix. That's right. Bacon. Caramel. Chex. Mix. I did "force" myself to the back of the room to try the insanely good dirty chocolate ice cream by SoCo Creamery.

I had the chance to meet food bloggers that have been blogging about food for years and others that were only at it for a few months. Everywhere I looked I saw people happy to see old friends and new. I met the nicest people that night (it was so packed, it was hard to get around to everyone). I even got some positive feedback on the name of my blog. I would describe the Boston food blog scene as a young, fun, supportive community. Yeah, this was my kind of scene.
 
Boston Parent Bloggers Launch Party

Boston Parent Bloggers Launch Party at Barefoot Books

The Boston Parent Bloggers held their launch event back in November at the Barefoot Books flagship store in Concord, MA. Founded by Christy Matte of More than Mommy and Jodi Grundig of Multitasking Mommy, Boston Parent Bloggers is a resource for local bloggers interested in networking with others who focus on issues of importance to parents and families.

If you haven't been to the Barefoot Books Store in Concord, go now. It is the most enchanting, fun, colorful, children's bookstore this side of Lilliput. There was a spread of cold cuts and fruit and veggies provided by Peapod. Wine was free-flowing, and so was the conversation. Over 50+ members gathered to meet with fellow bloggers and sponsors, including Stonyfield Farm, Isis Parenting, Barefoot Books and more.

I finally had the chance to meet some bloggers I have been following for a while. Laughed with some newbies on finding time to shower, nevermind time to blog. The giveaways were insane and the ideas for Christmas gifts were never-ending thanks to the venue. Everyone was super friendly, relaxed and supportive of each other. I could get used to this.

Foodie or Mommy?
I realize it will take more than a couple of parties to define who I am as a blogger. But here are a few things I do know two launch parties later:
  • I do not need to explain the meaning (or pronunciation) of umommy with food bloggers
  • I need to explain what umommy means and how to pronounce it with most parent bloggers
  • I can complain about having to get back home to the sitter and not get blank stares with parent bloggers
  • I will probably be too tired to attend any after parties with food bloggers
  • I am equally as giddy to receive a swag bag full of snacks and coupons to local restaurants as I am to get swag bags full of books, games, and coupons for packaged goods
  • Most bloggers (food or 'mommy') are funny, nice, creative, and supportive 
I've come to realize I am not your typical mommy or foodie blogger. I'm somewhere in the middle. Sure I might write about the ups and downs of parenting or find joy in photographing the perfect roast chicken.  I know I will try to keep being true to me. And as long as I get the chance to meet engaging people and have fun along the way, then maybe it really doesn't matter what kind of blogger I am.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Snow Day


We had our first big snow storm of 2011 blow through here earlier this week. The Boston area got hammered - with almost two feet of snow dumped on our house and neighboring towns. It came to no surprise to hear school would be canceled on Wednesday. This would be my Kindergartner's first official Snow Day. We hooted. We hollered. We slept in. And continued with our day.

But then we got the call that school would be canceled for a second day. Crikey! I needed to come up with some new activities and meals that would make the second snow day just as memorable and fun as the first one the day before. After a busy morning traipsing through the many, many inches of snow and shopping for a new sled, it was time to make use of the leftover Monkey Bread and make lunch (sort of).

First, what the hell is Monkey Bread you ask? I was first introduced to this utterly additive breakfast treat by my MIL. It is typically made with frozen pastry dough, rolled into little balls, covered in cinnamon and sugar, and baked in a cake pan. It is a sticky, gooey mess, but oh so delicious.

Russo's Monkey Bread

Russo's makes their own Monkey Bread - except they make it with brioche, bake it in a loaf pan, and add raisins, cinnamon and sugar. They call it cinnamon raisin bread, but ask for Monkey Bread and they know exactly what you are looking (jonesing) for.

So here's a French Toast recipe using Monkey Bread that is to die for. And a great way to celebrate a snow day with the kids.


Monkey Bread French Toast
adapted from Alton Brown's French Toast Recipe

INGREDIENTS
1 cup half-and-half
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons honey, warmed in microwave for 20 seconds
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 (1/2 inch) slices day old monkey bread (or brioche or challah)
4 tablespoons butter

DIRECTIONS

1. In medium size mixing bowl, whisk together the half-and-half, eggs, honey, and salt. When ready to cook, pour custard mixture into a pie pan and set aside.

making the custard

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Dip bread into mixture, allow to soak for 30 seconds on each side, and then remove to a cooling rack that is sitting in a sheet pan, and allow to sit for 1 to 2 minutes.

might need to soak a little longer depending on how thick (or stale) the bread is

move soaked bread onto a cooling rack over a sheet pan

3. Over medium-low heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a 10-inch nonstick saute pan. Place 2 slices of bread at a time into the pan and cook until golden brown, approximately 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Cook until golden brown (just as you become really really hungry)

4. Remove from pan and place on rack in oven for 5 minutes. Repeat with all 8 slices. Serve immediately with maple syrup or fruit.


Love this - check out my boy licking the maple syrup off his french toast :)

The Good: Easy to make and so delicious. It also freezes well and is great for those quick, non-snow day mornings.

The Bad: Because the way monkey bread is made, pieces can sometimes break apart. Best when it is stale or left out overnight.

Grade: A+. We love this recipe and make it on special occasions. Perfect fuel too for a full day of sledding and making snowpeople!

Friday, January 7, 2011

In Search of the Perfect Meatball Recipe


Pasta and meatballs. Is there anything else in this world more comforting and satisfying for both tykes and adults? I dare say no. We have our fair share of weeknight pasta dishes. And without fail, pasta and meatballs will make an appearance in our dinner rotation at least once a month. We have our go-to recipe for sauce (or "gravy" as my in-laws from Eastie call it). Nothing fancy - garlic, onions, deglaze with red wine, crushed or diced tomatoes, oregano and season with S & P.

As for meatballs, sometimes I'll just shoot from the hip and toss some ingredients together. And other times, I will seek out a recipe, hoping it will become the family's meatball recipe. We've tried turkey, all-beef, beef/pork/veal combo, all-pork, baked, pan fried, braised. You name it.

Then I came across a recipe from the new Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That? cookbook that included prosciutto and sausage inspired by Mario Batali. I was willing to give it a whirl (with some adjustments). And boy was I glad.

Meatballs
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That?

INGREDIENTS:
1 1/2 cups bread cubes from rustic bread, crusts removed, cut into 1-inch dice
1/3 cup whole milk
1 pound ground beef
1/4 pound sweet Italian pork sausage, casings removed
2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino romano
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large egg, lightly beaten

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line sheet pan with parchment paper.

2. Place the bread in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process until the bread is in medium crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a small bowl and add the milk. Set aside for 5 minutes.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the beef, sausage, prosciutto, bread mixture, pecorino romano, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Lightly combine the ingredients in your hands. Add the 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil and the eggs, and stir lightly with a fork to combine.

4. With your hands, lightly roll the mixture into 2-inch-round meatballs and place them on the prepared sheet pan. Brush the meatballs with olive oil. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the tops are browned and the centers are completely cooked.

5. Serve with your favorite gravy (a.k.a. marinara sauce)

The Good: Great texture. Loved not having to roll them around in a frying pan. Super meaty flavor.

The Bad: A tad bit more effort (removal of sausage casings. preparing bread crumbs). Ingredients  overpowered the prosciutto.

Grade: B+. Definitely will be making these again. Will try making them with a different cheese (Asagio?). Maybe switch to a lean bacon.

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