this n’ that

OK, so it’s been so long since I last posted that I wondered if I should even bother… but the fact is I haven’t been doing much foodie type stuff lately. Instead, life has been consumed with looking for jobs and (though you’d never guess from this blog) counting calories…

Anyway, a few things I have been up to:

Travels. Headed to Portland a couple weeks ago on something of a food pilgrimage. Had an Allagash White and a meatloaf sandwich at Duck Fat, which is high on my list of all-time favorites. Stopped by Two Fat Cats for cookies, which I’d read were supposed to be the best, but I found kind of meh, just a bit too crisp for my taste. And I spent well over an hour inside Rabelais Books, one of the few stores in the nation dedicated solely to books on food.

Though I’d read the NY Times article and visited their blog, I wasn’t sure what to expect at Rabelais.  I envisioned a cross between a Williams Sonoma and a Borders, and I’m glad I was wrong. The store was a bit smaller than I thought it would be, lined with book shelves and filled in with book covered tables. The place maintained a good balance of older (ie used) and new books, and was full of all sorts of little treasures, like books on foraging for mushrooms or dressing game, and first editions of several cooking classics. I pawed through a first-edition “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” ($1,500!) and discovered the folks from River Cottage, who put together a fine book on fish (A particular interest, as you might have noticed).

After a lot of hemming and hawing (I am unemployed, after all) I chose a little book for some vegetarian friends and approached the counter to pay. On top was an old Fannie Farmer cook book. “God, I covet these,” I said to the woman working. A brief conversation about our grandmother’s beloved cookbooks ensued. “I have a few extras here that the owner said I could give away at my discretion,” she said, picking up a stack of old Fannie Farmer’s. “Pick one out, if you like.”

Incredulous, I looked through the pile, which included a few books from the 1920s and earlier. Some of the spines were broken, some had loose pages. None were in sell-able condition. But there was one from 1917 that was mostly intact, seemingly with all its pages and enough stains on the cover to ensure it had been well-loved. “Really?” I asked. “Take it,” the woman replied. And that is how I came to have my very own “Boston Cooking School Cook Book.”

Notable meals. Yes, there have been a few, on both ends of the spectrum. I had a birthday recently, which gave someone a good excuse to take me out for a fancy meal. We headed to Moo, which I couldn’t have been happier about. I’m the first to admit that I’m not a steakhouse kind of girl. But my companion isn’t really a gourmet kind of guy. And for us, Moo was perfect. For starters, it doesn’t feel like a steak house. The inside is cool and hip, more South Beach than Boston and the menu, while beef focused, has a lot of other stuff to offer.

We started with steak tartare, which came with warm pita crisps and a quail egg on top.  I love raw beef, but after getting food posioning a few years ago, I’ve largely shied away from it… However, beef being Moo’s specialty, I figured I was safe. And I was right. It was soooo good, I filled up and couldn’t finish my entree. Dinner was Beef Wellington and a smorgasborg of sides: squash, mashed potatoes, truffled fries, creamed spinach and brussel sprouts. Yes, we took quite a doggie bag home. The service was impeccable, just exactly what it should have been with a waiter who helped us choose a lovely wine and brought us a plate of homemade s’mores with candles in them. This will go on the list of “Best Meals 2009.” Yes, I keep track of things like that.

If Moo was one of the best meals of the year, Estragon provided one of the worst. I cannot tell you how disappointed I am to say this because with its funky decor and great wine list, I really wanted to make it a favorite. But the bottom line is they served me bad meat. Twice. But more on that in a sec.

Chicky and I headed there earlier this week on a whim. At first glance, everything seemed great. our server suggested a wonderful bottle of wine and the menu appeared to be creative, with lots of the stranger cuts of meat that Chicky and I treasure. But any excitement evaporated when the food arrived. The veggies were ok, but the two meat dishes we ordered were awful. Awful. At first, I thought that maybe it was me, maybe I just don’t like beef cheeks or something (I know I don’t like liver or tongue). But a quick consultation to higher culinary powers confirmed that no, beef cheeks are not supposed to taste “gamey.”

“It tastes like old meat,” Chicky said. And she was exactly right. Both of our meat dishes smelled like that hamburger that’s been sitting in your fridge for two weeks. We tried to be nice, yet honest when our server asked how the food was, but he didn’t pick up on it. Instead, he stood at our table and talked very quickly at us for 25 minutes about Provincetown while not very discreetly wiping his nose on his sleeve. If the whole kitchen was as high as this guy, it’s easy to see why the food sucked.  We sent back more than half of it untouched and while the wine was good, I wish I hadn’t paid $87 for this experience.

Cooking. Now that it’s fall, I have occasion to make some of my favorite things: soups and pies. Made an “everything but the kitchen sink” lentil soup last week that was supreme. Onions, garlic, carrots, mushrooms, celery and kale. So yummy, and with all those veggies, you know it’s good for you.

– I was late getting into the Thanksgiving cooking spirit. But I’ve got it pretty good now. Just finished making a chocolate-pecan pie and will tackle “Grown Up Green Bean Casserole” tomorrow. The pie looks really really good… and smells about the same. If I was smarter, I would have made two pies and then had one to taste today… but as it stands now, the taste-jury will be out until tomorrow. I used a Gourmet recipe for “Waiting for Wilma” pie and then adapted it to what was in my own cupboard.

My version:

1 9-inch frozen pie crust. (Sorry, but pie crust isn’t delicious enough to warrant making my own)
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon Pusser’s dark rum
1/4 teaspoon salt
3.5 oz milk chocolate, melted (in my case, a giant Cadbury Dairy Milk bar)
1 1/4 cups pecans, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together corn syrup, sugar, eggs, flour, butter, vanilla, rum, cocoa and salt until combined. Stir in melted chocolate and pecans and pour into pie shell. Bake until top is puffed but slightly wobbly in center, about 50 minutes. Serve at room temperature.


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