The Açai Bowl

As a dietitian, my personal nutrition ethos is to add more than take away.  Nobody likes to have things taken away from them, especially their favorite foods.  As we find ourselves in the midst of the season of dieting and restriction as people try to compensate for the “damage” they did over the holidays, it is important to remember that there is no reason to go cold turkey and remove all of the “bad” foods from our diet.  While I agree that a few weeks of eating more sugar, salt, and fat than we’re used to can leave us feeling “blah,” a highly restrictive diet, or worse, a juice cleanse, is not the answer. 

I am all for using 2016 to become our best selves, but when I hear people berating themselves for their holiday eating behavior and talking about their new fad diet, I just want to say, “Stop! “ Our bodies are simply craving a return to routine and a few extra fruits and vegetables.

My current favorite way to get fruits and vegetables back into my diet is with an açai bowl.

Açai is the fruit of euterpe oleracaeae, a large palm tree found along the Amazon River in South America.  Açai has gained attention for its antioxidant and phytochemical composition.  High in anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, and other flavonoids, açai is a nutritionally-dense fruit to add to your diet.  You can find açai in your grocery store’s frozen foods aisle, typically located with other frozen fruits.

Açai bowls first burst onto the healthy food scene in Hawaii and Southern California and gained a following, and for good reason.  An açai bowl has it all: it’s quick to prepare, visually appealing, and depending on what you add, it covers all of the texture bases- smooth, creamy, crunchy.  It’s essentially a delicious, thicker version of a smoothie that is eaten with a spoon.  My recent obsession with the açai bowl is, unfortunately, not an inexpensive one.  Even though I have my favorite spots to grab an açai bowl while out and about in Boston, I have taken my efforts to the kitchen, where I prepared an açai bowl that trumps the ones available- and for much less money!

Ingredients:*

·      ¼- ½ cup unsweetened almond milk

·      1 packet frozen açai

·      1 cup blueberries

·      1 banana (save ¼  of the banana for slicing on top)

·      1 cup baby spinach

·      2 tablespoons granola

·      1 tablespoon almond butter

*Aside from the açai packet, you can modify the ingredients however you like- use different milk or coconut water, add strawberries, and top with unsweetened shredded coconut, instead of granola.  The fun is making it to accommodate your favorite flavors and textures.

Directions:

1.  Place the almond milk and the frozen açai in the blender.  Blend.

2.  Add the blueberries, spinach, and banana.  Blend well to ensure that all ingredients are well-incorporated.

3.   Add toppings.

And here are a few examples of the finished product:

           

So, the next time you are in the mood to eat something special and nutritious for breakfast or lunch, whip up an açai bowl.  Enjoy!

The TOP 10 PLACES to eat in Cambridge, MA

This week will be my last as a Cambridge resident.  While I will still be in the area, I will no longer be representing the 02138.  With the impending move on my brain, clearly my biggest concern is... food.  Packing in an 85-degree apartment is fun and all but I'd rather take savor my last moments in this lovely city eating my beloved local foods.  And I thought it would be nice to share my favorite spots to chow down (and their respective dishes) in Cambridge for future residents and tourists alike. 

1. Punjabi Dhaba

This Indian establishment is quirky and always busy.  Of note, this place is CASH ONLY.  Despite how many times I have frequented here, I always forget to bring cash with me- but don't worry, there are several ATM's in the area.  Chicken tikka masala and baingan bharta are my two go-to's.  

Depending on the meal, it may or may not come with naan.  And if it doesn't I would suggest ordering a side order of their naan as it is doughy and a generous portion.  Also, go for a mango lassi to wash it down- they are good to share as they are fairly filling but delicious.  

While you eat, please enjoy the montage of Indian music videos played in the background.  

2. Muqueca

Muqueca is truly a Cambridge gem.  It is a casual spot with consistently delicious yet unique food.  As a creature of habit, I nearly always order two items.  First is the fried yucca with Portuguese sausage as an appetizer.  For those who have not eaten friend yucca before, it tastes similar to a potato but less starchy.  The addition of the Portuguese sausage, or what I presume to be linguica, is fun to alternate with bites of yucca.  The dish comes with a delicious creamy-herb sauce, of which the ingredients I have honestly never really questioned until now.  Anywho, it is very tasty.  Second, for the entree,  I go for the fish and shrimp muqueca for 1.5 (people that is- 1.5 is just the right portion to share between to hungry individuals).  Muqueca is a tomato-based fish stew that is served in a very hot clay pot.  The presentation is always exciting as you don't know if you are going to getting splashed with boiling liquid!  The muqueca is served with buttered white rice and makes for a very satisfying meal.  You will not leave here hungry, that's for sure.

3. Berry Line

I cannot with a clear conscience, write a post about Cambridge without a shoutout to my most frequently frequented establishment.  Berry Line is a small chain of frozen yogurt (FROYO) shops with locations in Harvard and Porter Square.  The Porter Square location is approximately a 3-minute walk from my apartment.  They are open year-round for the ice cream fanatics like myself.  Berry Line is different in that you can't go crazy with toppings like you do at other self-serve froyo counterparts.  But sometimes this is a good thing.  They always have four flavors of frozen yogurt, one of which is their "original" flavor, a plain, semi-tart yogurt, which is very good.  The other three flavors rotate- sometimes to include seasonal flavors, such as watermelon or creamsicle in the summer.  Once you have chosen your flavor(s), you can select your toppings.  Toppings range from fresh fruit such as strawberries and mango, to classic candies such as peanut butter cups and heath bar pieces.  Berry Line also makes several of their toppings in-house, including mochi and cheesecake bites, both of which are on my list of go-to's.  You can really choose as many as you want but the cups are not the buckets that you find at the self-serve places so you can go too buckwild with your toppings or they will end up on the floor.  I have had multiple heartbreaks as I watch a beloved peanut butter cup fall to the ground.  So I would suggest 4-5 toppings maximum.  My go-to is original flavor with peanut butter cups, mochi, and cheesecake bites.  I always try to branch out but I can never seem to go without those lovely peanut butter cups.  They have ample seating inside or take your ice cream to go and take a walk down Mass. Ave.

4. Oleana

This upscale Mediterranean restaurant by Chef Ana Sortun is one-of-a-kind.  My favorite dish is the falafel.  I think we have all had at least one super dry falafel experience.  But Oleana's falafel will change your life.  They are super moist and beautifully presented- hands down one of the top 5 dishes I've ever eaten.  

The rest of the menu includes mezze (small plates) and other entrees, which change regularly.  You really can't order a bad dish at Oleana.  Aside from the falafel, I always order their Turkish-style profiteroles filled with brown butter creme and covered in sesame caramel and cashews for dessert.  I often opt out of desserts at most restaurants since they are often an afterthought.  But this dessert might be the best I have have the pleasure of enjoying in a restaurant.  

The caramel is out of this world and the contrast of the crunchy cashews with the soft, fluffy profiteroles is heavenly.  While this is definitely a special occasion restaurant, I suggest saving up because this is one Cambridge's best.

5. Greek Corner

A family-owned business that is hopping even on Tuesday nights.  Their chicken gyro has become a staple in my diet.  For an appetizer, I recommend the avgolemono, a rice and chicken soup that is lightened by the addition of lemon juice.  And of course you can't leave without trying everyone's favorite Greek sweet: baklava.  Greek Corner's is particularly good with a generous dousing of cinnamon.  The service here is always very quick, which makes this a nice weeknight option when you want to get food in your belly quickly but want to have a sit-down meal.

6. Formaggio Kitchen

Formaggio is my idea of heaven.  They are best known for their amazing cheese selection (hence the name).  Their staff is highly knowledgeable about the dozens of both local and imported cheeses.  Despite how much cheese I have eaten in my life, I am still always a bit overwhelmed when I go to select cheeses and suddenly feel like the only cheese name I can think of is "mozzarella."  Sometimes I have an idea of what I would like, such as an Italian cheese or a gouda, and other times all I know is that I want to buy a few cheeses for a cheeseboard and the staff is always willing to give you suggestions and a taste before you commit.  In addition to cheese, they have a solid selection of salami and cured meats, local, fresh produce, a great wine and beer selection, confections, a flower shop, and breads from Clear Flour Bakery (the best bakery in the Boston area FYI).  My favorite thing to do in the summer is come here to put together a meal for a picnic.  

I grab a couple cheeses, a salami, a baguette, and a bottle of wine, and I'm good to go.  Formaggio Kitchen also offers classes.  I have attended a wine and cheese class which included a visit to their in-house cheese caves (quite the treat for this food nerd).  

7. Giulia

Whenever anybody asks me what my favorite restaurant in Cambridge is- I always answer Giulia because 1. it is my Italian namesake 2. it is a unique answer that not too many have heard of 3. it is some of the most authentic Italian cuisine I have had outside of Italy, with a local twist.  

While their menu changes seasonally, I would recommend the warm semolina cakes, the bucatini all'amatriciana, and if their is an angolotti on the menu- don't think twice.  Just order them- trust me.

 Their desserts are also noteworthy- housemade gelati make any dessert a winner.  The atmosphere is lovely, the service equally so, and if you are lucky enough to snag a spot at the chef's table, aka where Chef Pagliarini makes his own pasta by hand daily and is transformed with a white table cloth by night, you will be able to witness the focus and seriousness with which Chef and his team take the food.  

8. Alden & Harlow

Fairly new to the Cambridge restaurant scene, Alden & Harlow is a new American establishment with a local and seasonal flare.  While this description may make it seem like every other new restaurant on the scene, it is not.  Alden & Harlow makes my list for its ambience, cocktails, and small plate options that are perfect for sharing.  They have a secret burger which is delicious- but it is does run out so if you are in the mood for that burger, go early.  Their menu is also changing often depending on the season but I don't think you can really go wrong.  Of note, I recently enjoyed their crispy bok choy with 60-degree egg.  The bok choy tasted just like kale chips but was a welcome change with a bit more meatiness for the white part of the bok choy.  And the lightly poached egg made for the most luscious of dressings.  They also have an impressive cocktail list- that goes far beyond your mamma's Moscow mule (although I do love me a Moscow mule from time to time).  

The ingredients are all very unique and at times overwhelming (think cachaca, pink peppercorns, or smoked cucumber)- but the bartenders are all very knowledgable and willing to help you make a selection- they will not steer you wrong.

9. Simon's Coffee Shop

This cozy, warm cafe is a Cambridge must.  Both their coffee and espresso drinks are rich and delicious.  I've been told their cortado/gibraltar is the best in all of the land.  They also have a great selection of tea drinks for the non-coffee drinkers.  The vibe in here is not pretentious like some coffee shops.  Simon's serves high quality coffee in a laid-back atmosphere.  Service is on point and you never have to wait too long for you beverage.  Also, their scones are delicious.  Go here!

10. Bagelsaurus

I saved the place that I will miss the most for last.  This is another establishment of which I continue to sing the praises.  Unfortunately, Boston is not the bagel mecca that one would expect.  However, Bagelsaurus has changed the bagel game forever.  

And unfortunately/fortunately I am not the only Cambridge resident to notice.  On the weekends, starting at 8am when they open, there is a high probability that there will be line out of the door and they often run out of bagels before their closing time of 3pm.  During the week it is still busy, but not as much so.  So if you are able, check out Bagelsaurus on a weekday when you can enjoy your bagel/bagel sandwich/both in peace.  Even if you can't, Bagelsaurus is definitely worth a visit at any time (except Mondays when they are closed).  My favorite items to order vary on what mood I am in.  If I just want a bagel, I ordered the cinnamon raisin (lightly toasted) with plain cream cheese.  The cinnamon raisin is a popular choice and I have been the next person in line various times when they have run out of my favorite *tears.*

If you're in the mood for a sandwich, my two choices are either the T-Rex (bacon, almond butter, banana, and honey) or the Egg (medium-cooked egg with sharp cheddar and mustard butter.  All of their bagels are delicious- chewy with a hint of sourdough.  Out-of-towners (i.e. New Yorkers) have commented that they really enjoyed them mostly because they are not trying to be "New York Bagels."  They are their own force and one that many Cambridge residents have dared to reckon with.

I hope that you will visit some of these places soon.  I will miss you Cambridge and all of your delectable foods!  

-Girl

Stir

Everybody has a favorite celebrity, whether it be an actress, drummer, or athlete.  While I won't deny that I was once a huge fan of a popstar that will remain unnamed, times have changed and my fandom has been funneled elsewhere.  The celebrity that inspires me the most is a culinary rockstar: Barbara Lynch.

Chef Barbara Lynch is a James Beard Award-winner that owns seven fine establishments in the Boston area.  She is unique in that she has no desire or plans to expand outside of her beloved city. Her story in a nutshell includes growing up in South Boston, or "Southie" and began her cooking career at the age of 13.  She eventually worked her way up and today she is the head of an empire.  However, having seen her speak in person, I can tell you she is the most down-to-earth chef I have ever met.  Moreover, she is a very successful female restauranteur in a male-dominated field.  She is an inspiration.  Girl power!

As a Boston food fiend, I have made it my mission to make it to all of her establishments: No. 9 Park, her flagship fine dining establishment overlooking the Boston Common, Sportello, a casual handmade pasta heaven, Drink, a cocktail crazy's dream, the Butcher Shop, a must for meat lovers, Menton, her Relais & Chateaux masterpiece, B&G Oysters, an upscale oyster bar with a local feel, and Stir.   After last night, B&G Oysters remains the only one I have yet to try.  

Regardless of which of Barbara Lynch's restaurants you choose to attend, from the moment you walk in the door and are greeted by the hostess to the time you walk out, you are made to feel special.  I actually feel famous when I am a guest in one of her dining rooms.  While my admiration of Chef Barbara certainly stems from the delicious food and drink that she provides for her patrons, the hospitality is what takes each and every dining experience to the next level.  I think that it was makes a uniquely superb restaurant: amazing food and unwavering hospitality.  And that is what keeps me coming back for more.

Stir is different from all of Barbara's other restaurants in that its classified as a "demonstration kitchen" where you have the opportunity to eat the food that we all know and love, but to also learn.  The space, just off of Tremont Street in the South End, initially served as the spot where Barbara worked on, photographed for, and produced her cookbook, of the same name, "Stir."  Once the cookbook was completed, the beautiful space was opened up to the public to enjoy.

The primary reason I had not yet made it to Stir is because it is just so darn difficult to snag a spot at one of their 10 seat maximum classes.  Reservations are made available online on a specific date each month.  I have never been able to successfully register as classes fill up very quickly.  As a self-proclaimed Open Table expert, Stir continued to evade me.  However, to my joy, a Stir newsletter tip offered the chance to obtain admission to a class that had some last minute openings.  

Last night I was able to find out firsthand why Stir classes fly off of the internet shelves like hot cakes.  The title of our dinner last night was "Chef's Table Tasting."  This session differed from some of the other classes offered at Stir in that, we didn't have to get our hands dirty.  I truly enjoyed this because it was like dining at a restaurant with an open kitchen, for which I am always a sucker.  But this one was different in that we were actually in the kitchen.  Myself and eight other guests were seated around a beautifully outfitted kitchen while a highly skilled chef, Chef Andrew, that prepared for us a 5-course meal with wine pairings.  *Swoon*

 Chef Andrew making a beef tartare quenelle.

Chef Andrew making a beef tartare quenelle.

 Stir it up.

Stir it up.

First, the amuse bouche: Beef tartare crostini with cornichon dijonnaise.  Amuse bouche literally translates from French to "happy mouth."  It is usually presented at the beginning of a meal to get your palate working.  And this was certainly a mouth pleaser.  Beef tartare is a classic for a reason.

Roasted carrots with saffron yogurt, dates, and mint.  The saffron yogurt sauce was my favorite part of this dish.  The carrots are seasoned with ras el hanout, which I learned means "house seasoning" and is used as a common spice in middle eastern cooking.  Those chickpeas you see there were fried- so good.  I propose to fry all of my chickpeas from now on!  Once I am gifted a frialator...

Monkfish with celeriac, brown butter, and salsa verde.  Monkfish is a white fish that is a cross between lobster and haddock.  It has the "meatiness" of lobster and the flakiness of haddock.  The base of the salsa verde was chervil, which is an under-utilized herb.  It tastes like parsley but with a hint of anise- it provided a lovely fresh hint to the dish.

Crispy polenta with taleggio, egg yolk, and mushroom.  This was my favorite dish of the night.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, there is nothing sexier than a perfectly poached egg yolk.  The polenta was delicious.  Polenta is a grain more often used in the northern regions of Italy including rice, bulgur, farro, and cornmeal.  

Hangar steak with romesco, charred leeks, and sunchoke.  Sunchokes taste like a mix between a potato and an artichoke.  I once went through a sunchoke phase (don't judge)- they are tasty just roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  This steak was perfectly cooked.  All I could say while it eating it was "WOW." I learned that all of the meats that Stir uses comes from Savenor's, an upscale butcher with locations in Boston and Cambridge.  So if you want Chef Barbara Lynch-approved meat, go there.  The romesco sauce is like the Spanish version of a pesto, in my opinion.  The base of this is roasted red peppers and almonds.  Very simple to make but the result is delicious.

Graham cake with Italian meringue, chocolate mousse, and cinnamon.  I will admit that at first, I was skeptical that a dessert with "graham cake" would live up to be as good as the other courses.  But man was I wrong.  This dessert is essentially a fancy s'more on steroids.  It was nostalgic of that classic summer treat with richer flavors.  The chocolate sauce was swoon-worthy and the cinnamon gelato added just the right amount of spice to provide depth to the sweet flavors.

Overall, Stir will definitely be added to the list of reasons why I admire the Barbara Lynch Gruppo.  I appreciated the more casual atmosphere but with the same level of warm hospitality and thoughtful, memorable dishes that her restaurants provide.  Also, I did indeed find the class to be educational- I actually learned a lot of new information at Stir that I will take back with me to my own kitchen.  Reservations at Stir make a great special occasion gift or if you just want to treat yo self.  If you are looking for an alternative dining experience that impresses, Stir is the place to go.

-Girl

Shiso Kitchen.

I have taken a handful of cooking classes.  They have ranged from very hands-on classes in which you are given a recipe and trusted to produce an edible product, to just observing, wine glass in hand, while a chef prepares food, explains the process, and you are then allowed to eat the results.  However, sometimes I just want to drink wine AND participate in a cooking class where I have the opportunity to learn something new but without having too much responsibility.

Shiso Kitchen is a combination of hands-on and laid-back.  It is perfect for a date night or girls night out.  Or as I learned, you can even organize your own personal cooking party with Shiso Kitchen.  Despite how to choose to attend, I recommend that you check out Shiso Kitchen.  It is a welcome addition to the Somerville food scene.

 

The theme of the class was "Couples Date Night" so the menu included a series of "romantic" dishes: Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad, Risotto Milanese, Herb-Roasted Pork Chops, and Creme Brûlée.

After donning our aprons and meeting our class/dining mates for the evening (there were 4 others in the class in addition to me and my date), we got down to business.

First up, risotto!

IMG_0366.JPG

Owner and teacher, Jessica Roy, is actually a professionally trained sushi chef but has traveled the world and thus has learned how to properly make other dishes including classic risotto milanese.  Risotto is a notoriously daunting dish for even the more seasoned home cooks.  Its reputation is mostly the result of the fact that it requires a decent amount of time and attention to be done right.  And while this is true, the results are worth it and your efforts will be rewarded.

 

Shiso Kitchen is equipped with beautiful, clean equipment that made me feel like royalty after having been cooking in my cramped Cambridge kitchen (that I love oh so very much).  Also of note, is Jessica Roy's personality.  She should seriously have her own cooking show!  She was filled with stories (both personal and cooking-related) that kept us laughing all night.  However, she is very knowledgeable and takes the cooking seriously.  She made sure that we were focused when necessary.  Aside from the delicious food, Jessica was my favorite part of the class and made the class very fun.

Next up, herb-crusted pork chops.  Super easy as you just rub the chops in a mixture of herbs and garlic and olive oil and bake them.

Then, came my favorite part...

Creme Brûlée a.k.a. an excuse for playing with fire!

The custard was just a simple mix of eggs, egg yolks, cream and sugar.  After distributing them into individuals ramekins, we baked them in a bain-marie (fancy name for a water bath).  The water bath produces steam in the oven which prevents the custard from cracking.  It also provides a gentle and uniform heat for the delicate custard.  This is a common procedure for similar desserts such as cheesecake.

Not going to lie, I asked for a creme brûlée torch for Christmas.  So expect to see a recipe of my own for this delicious dessert soon!

TA-DA!

In addition to the pork chops, risotto, and creme brûlée , we prepared a roasted beet and goat cheese salad.

All in all, I would definitely recommend attending a class at Shiso Kitchen.  It is appropriate for both novices and experienced home cooks alike.  It is also a nice alternative to your usual date or girls night out.  Plus it's BYOB and so you can enjoy some wine while you cook, which is always nice.  There a variety of classes to choose from in addition to the one I attended, including "Thai Style Favorites" or "An Evening in Paris."  And again, you can choose to be as hands-on as you want.  But if you do get the chance, I suggest testing out the blow torch.  WHAT. A. RUSH.

 

-Girl