Distant inspiration

Posted by Anita on 12.19.10 3:24 PM

Hungry Mother always seemed like the kind of place we’d enjoy: local and sustainable sourcing, Southern-inspired food, and a great cocktail list. It’s been on our short list of places to try for years, and on a recent trip to Boston, we finally made it there.

It’s easy to win hearts and minds with menu items like pimento cheese, bourbon-braised pork shoulder, and cheddar grits with house-made tasso, not to mention winning cocktails like the No. 43 (rye, tawny port, maple syrup, and bitters). But amid all of these decadent treats was a salad that sounded so tame that I actually felt a little boring for ordering it.

The buttermilk-chive dressing was what pushed me over the edge, luring me away from other options. That, I suppose, and the pecans, which I love but can’t get locally here in Northern California. What I hadn’t expected was that the farro — a humble, wheat-like grain — would be the star of the show, bringing a nutty depth to the dish that made it substantial enough to stand up to the rich main courses that followed.

I woke up the next morning dreaming about this salad, knowing I wanted to recreate it when we got home. I realized that with a few adjustments — walnuts for pecans, wheatberries for farro — I could make it entirely from locally sourced ingredients, making it a perfect candidate for our first Dark Days Eat Local Challenge meal of the winter.

Don’t be put off by the little ingredient-prep recipes that go into this dish; none are particularly difficult or time-consuming, and all of the parts can be stored for future use. And be sure that you’re picking through and using tender frisée leaves, as more-mature ones are unpleasantly grassy and spiky.

Autumn Salad with Wheatberries
- inspired by Hungry Mother; serves 2

6 cups loosely packed tender frisée leaves
3 to 4T buttermilk dressing
1/2 cup cooked wheatberries
roasted beet wedges equal to 1 large beet (or 2 to 3 small beets)
1 watermelon radish (or 3 to 5 small radishes), sliced thinly and cut into quarter-rounds
6 to 8 sweet-savory walnut halves

Toss all ingredients together, and serve on chilled shallow bowls or rimmed plates.

- Roasted Beets
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Scrub the beets and trim off tops and tails. Place in a baking dish about as deep as the beets are tall, and add 1/4 inch of water. Cover tightly with foil and bake until the beets are barely tender through (run a toothpick or cake tester through the center), about 45 minutes for large beets, 20 to 30 minutes for smaller ones. Remove from the oven and let sit, covered, for 5 more minutes. Uncover the beets, rub off the skin, and trim the tops and tails again. Cut into wedges and season to taste with salt. If not using within an hour or so, toss with a bit of olive oil; they will keep a few days in the fridge if well covered.

- Cooked Wheatberries
For the 1/2 cup cooked wheatberries the salad requires, you’ll need 1/4 cup uncooked. However, it’s hard to cook less than 1 cup at a time. Leftovers freeze well, and they make a great base for grain salads, or in place of cooked rice in soups.

Soak the wheatberries overnight, or for at least a few hours. Bring the berries to a boil in a large saucepan of salted water. Reduce heat to a slow simmer and cook until tender but not blown out, about 2 hours. (Depending on freshness, wheat variety, and soaking time, this can take as little as 45 minutes or up to 3 hours.) When cooked, drain the berries and set aside.

- Buttermilk-Green Garlic Dressing
1/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp Champagne vinegar (or white-wine vinegar)
1 stalk green garlic, minced, or 1T minced chives
coarse-ground black pepper, to taste
salt, to taste

Mix all ingredients in a bowl, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

- Sweet-Savory Walnuts or Pecans
adapted from Epicurious

2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp paprika
1T egg white
1 cup walnut or pecan halves (about 1/4 pound)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a rimmed cookie sheet, or line it with parchment.

Whisk together sugar, salt, and paprika in a small bowl. Whisk egg white in a medium bowl until frothy, then stir in nuts, mixing until evenly coated with egg white. Add sugar mixture and toss to coat.

Spread the nuts in the pan in a single layer. Bake, stirring once or twice, until dry and well toasted, about 20 minutes. Loosen nuts from pan, then cool completely.

Farmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:

Massa Organics, Hamilton City: wheatberries
Star Route
, Bolinas: frisée
Mariquita Farm
, Watsonville: beets, watermelon radish
Glashoff, Fairfield: walnuts
Clover Organic, Petaluma: buttermilk, yogurt
Eatwell Farm, Dixon: Pastured eggs (for mayo)
Bariani, Sacramento: olive oil
Katz, Napa: Champagne vinegar
Knoll Farms, Brentwood: green garlic
Guisto’s Vita-Grain, South San Francisco: sea salt
Range Brothers, Capay Valley: pork chop

Exemptions: sugar, peppercorns

Boston, Dark Days challenge, locavore, recipes


DOTW: Headless Horseman

Posted by Anita on 01.19.07 7:53 AM

Headless Horseman drink of the week (c)2007 AECIn our house, we’re New England Patriots fans (Cameron’s an East Coast transplant), and Sam Adams is the usual “football juice” on game day. But with the AFC championship at stake this weekend, a more pointed beverage is in order.

This variation on the Moscow Mule seems a fitting tribute to the Pats. After all, the story of Ichabod Crane is a formidable legend, just like our boys on the gridiron. And when you’re playing a team called the Colts, the mere thought of headless horse-men is enough to make you giddy.

Headless Horseman
2 oz. vodka
3 dashes aromatic bitters
ginger ale
orange slice, for garnish

In a highball glass, combine the vodka and the bitters. Fill the glass with ice, and top with ginger ale. Garnish with the orange slice, and serve with a haunting laugh.

Boston, Drink of the Week, drinks, recipes
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The raw and the cooked

Posted by Anita on 07.02.06 9:17 AM

On the advice of some friends from MouthfulsFood, we made the trek over to the Somerville/Cambridge border for dinner at East Coast Grill and Raw Bar.

Two minor quibbles: First, it's difficult to get to without a car — the nearest T stop is about 3/4 of a mile away, and when it's 90° and 90% humidity, you will feel every one of those 3,960 feet. The other downside is that the place is practically legendary for having lines out the door, but still they manage to have no room to wait in the bar. Those two things — and those alone — are the only barriers between this place and restaurant perfection.

We loved the great white-wine sangria, justifiably famous tuna tacos and "wet bone" ribs; other barbecue items aren't nearly as impressive. The meat in my brisket sandwich was a touch dry, and the sauce was too-sweet and unremarkable. The wet bones have a slightly Asian taste to them, and are much, much better. We were told that the striped bass was a must-order dish if it was available. It was, and it was!

I thought the prices were really a good value for the quality. The decor is a little 80s-dated — Nagel called, and he wants his wall sconces back — but the atmosphere is so funky and friendly that you can't help but be won over.

East Coast Grill and Raw Bar
1271 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02139

Boston, food boards, restaurants, travel
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Mamma mia!

Posted by Anita on 07.01.06 9:09 AM

A bit of backstory: Cameron and I went to Mamma Maria on our first serious date, 10 years ago. We've eaten there a few times over the years, and found the food to be as good as we remembered. But, after eating here last month for our 10th anniversary, I have to say that this place seems to have taken a serious turn for the worse.

All of the food was at least a level below the quality you'd expect for the price. In particular, my lobster ravioli were terrible: the pasta was pasty and gluey, the filling was badly seasoned, and the size of them made them feel more like empanadas than anything italian — too huge by an order of magnitude.


The service was utterly terrible: Our waiter ignored us for part of the meal, brought Cameron the wrong glass of wine (and then sneered at us when we pointed out his error, insinuating that we couldn't tell one wine from another by taste alone), and didn't do anything at all other than take our order and bring our food — at this level, the server should be an active part of making the dining experience pleasant, which he certainly was not.

We left without ordering dessert, sad to see such a sentimental favorite fall so far.

Mamma Maria
3 North Square
Boston, MA 02113

Boston, restaurants, travel
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The Italian part of town

Posted by Anita on 06.30.06 9:03 PM

Greetings from Boston, where it's so freaking hot that we're barely hungry at all… I'm not usually a guided-tour type of girl, but Cameron and I had a great time on Michele Topor's North End Market Tour. The price — $48 for adults — was perhaps a bit high for a 3-hour tour, but our guide took us to a great selection of Italian-american food shops, arranging for tastes of their specialties along the way, and pointing out historic and non-food neighborhood sights in just the right proportion. At the end of the walk, he handed out a list of all the places we'd visited, with addresses and a map, as well as a sheet with North End restaurant recommendations.

North End Market Tours
6 Charter Street
Boston,MA 02113

Boston, shopping, travel
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