Sunday, April 22, 2012

Eleanor's Honey Baked Lentils

"It’s so easy, it’s barely a recipe."
I've got a great coworker who sits a cube away at work that happens to be a shade vegetarian. But what I like about her is that she's not a high and mighty vegetarian, but instead has a genuine enthusiasm for how delicious vegetables are when they're in season and also has an appreciation for some of the savoriness, saltiness, and spices that are served with meat dishes. Generally speaking, she's a good egg, and because she's got a good palate, when she passes along a recipe, I get pretty excited. So, with no further delay, this is Eleanor's recipe for honey baked lentils... so easy, it's barely a recipe. 

Start out by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. You'll need some sort of casserole dish, because the recipe is basically a compiled list of prepped ingredients, and then you can proceed to toss into your baking dish of choice. Now in order to be fair, because I am decidedly a carnivore...carni-whore... carny... carne asada... (we can play this game all day), I'm going to give you Eleanor's vegetarian recipe, and then also [add suggested substitutions for those of us who eat meat or my general suggestions in brackets]. Onto our ingredient list:

1 cup lentils
2 cups water [suggest substituting 2 cups of chicken stock]
Essex Count Honey... damn, just enough
2 tbsp honey (or maple syrup) [I like breaking it up into 1 tbsp honey and 1 tbsp maple syrup]
2 tbsp sesame oil
Ginger rules
1 tsp grated ginger 
1 clove garlic, minced
Carrot, shallot, celery
1 small onion, diced [I used a shallot, because it's what I had on hand]
1 celery stalk, diced
1 carrot, diced 
Salt and pepper to taste
Leftover gingersnap and mustard crusted ham from
Easter dinner
[meat-eaters: definitely add a cup of ham, or some diced sausage - sweet Italian, chouriço, chorizo, latest version of this recipe used a chunk of ginger snap and mustard crusted ham that we froze after Easter dinner... f'ing awesome]
[heat-seekers: add about a tsp of red pepper flakes]

Ready for foil and some time
in the oven
Now that all of your ingredients are combined in the baking dish, cover with foil and throw into the oven for about an hour and a half, but feel free to pull the dish about an hour and change to check to see if the lentils are at the consistency that you like. It really is that easy.
Finished lentils
Eleanor's lentils have clearly become a favorite of my household, particularly to make late on a Sunday night to ensure that the bigger half and I have something guaranteed tasty to devour the following Monday (which always sucks... but having a nice lunch waiting for you can make it tolerable). 
Amazing sweet and savory
flavors in this easy lentil recipe
So aside from the fact that your house smells divine as these lentils are cooking, smokey and savory aromas of ginger and sesame oil wafting from your kitchen for the hour and a half that the dish is in the oven, the flavor of the simply prepared lentils is layered and complex. The sesame oil is nutty, while there is a spicy tang from the ginger. All the sweetness from the maple syrup and honey has mingled harmoniously with those savory flavors of the pork, and of course who could forget how wonderful baked garlic can taste. Every ounce of these flavors, brought together with a touch of heat from the pepper flakes and the use of a homemade chicken stock are soaked up into each lentil and the cooked down mirepoix of onion, celery, and carrot. So fancy pants. Nice one, Eleanor, and thanks for sharing!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Scotty Dog

The Scotty Dog
There's something about a beautiful day that just makes you want to eat a hot dog. It kind of defies all logic... that mix of nasty bits whipped up into a large chunk of sodium heart attack delight. But think about it, on a beautiful day, how likely is it that when you have the choice of fried chicken or a hot dog that you choose the fried chicken? Or hot dog versus a salad? Hot dog, obvi. How about a hot dog versus a pizza? Hot dog wins again. Hot dog versus lobster roll? Well... that one's not really fair, is it?
At any rate, there are a few hot dog joints up on the North Shore. There used to be Rondogs, which was kind of a Beverly institution. Unfortunately, Rondog's has closed and the other places available aren't really anything special, so on this lovely day we headed to the location of the original Rondogs to give a new car hop style hot dog stand that had come to replace the much beloved eatery a try.
The new hot dog stand is called the Scotty Dog. It looks similar to the old joint, but of course with a new sign and such. There are three picnic tables, and a few adirondack chairs, but the location, smack at the corner of Rantoul and Elliot Streets is everything you should expect it to be. It's an intersection. Lots of honking, no beautiful vistas, just a few nice young ladies running out to cars to take orders, and the smell of sweet sweet exhaust until your food arrives. 
Now... what to order? Just get a hot dog you dope. Don't go for the burgers or whatever else you might see on the menu. Order up a specialty dog, and I highly recommend the Scotty Chicago Dog.
The Chicago Dog
Gaze upon the symphony of flavor composed within a poppy seed bun. This version of a Chicago dog far surpasses any of the Chicago dog copy cats that you might find at other hot dog stands in the area. Part of it is that they nailed all of the elements. The neon green relish. The sport peppers. The sliver of pickle. The onions. The celery salt, tomato wedges and spicy mustard. There's an awful lot of crunch and spice within the pillow of a poppy seed roll, enough so that you might be able to report to your mother that you actually had a salad with your lunch today. But generally speaking, they've just really hit a sweet spot with each of the components that you might find in a similar dog ordered at Super Dog of Chicago. (Yes, I'm sure it's not as good as that which you find in Chicago, but for around here, it's pretty darn great.) Finally, I do have to speak to the reason for the name of the dish, right? The sausage itself is wonderful: vienna beef, as advertised, with that natural casing snap. It's salty and juicy and savory, plus screams baseball and summer and sunshine like nothing else on this planet possibly could. Go Red Sox!!!!!!
The Eileen Ruben Dog
We didn't stop with just the Chicago dog. Onto the Eileen Rueben Dog. This was another excellent dog. Same vienna beef sausage and poppy bun, but this time served up with a slice of American cheese (don't turn your nose up... you love it), grilled sauerkraut and a couple good squeezes of thousand island dressing. Just as a proper rueben comes together with the sweet and tangy dressing, a salty and sour pickle flavor of the sauerkraut, and the fantastic salty savoriness of a meat element, this dog really is a bad for you symphony of nom nom nom. I don't even know what that means. It was great, that's what it means.
The CFO Dog
For our final tour of Scotty Dog's offerings, we ordered the CFO. Chief Financial Officer? If you see a CFO eating this thing, you should high five the powerman. Again, same solid dog, same solid bun. But this time, topped with grilled onions, a homemade pickle relish (in which the relish resembles an actual dice of dill pickles rather than a sweet glop of relish from a bottle), and another smear of their mustard. With the sweetness of the wilted onions and the sour crunch of those pickles, with the further addition of a touch of minced dill (herbs? on a hot dog!!), your salty vienna sausage really is dressed up to something borderline sophisticated, but still hip enough to party. Needless to say, another winner from the Scotty Dog.
The Fries
I should also say that if you are so inclined to order a side dish, the french fries are pretty darn good. Nicely salted, piping hot, and with that touch of fast food crunch. No complaints here.
So, if you find yourself hankering for a dog on a beautiful day, take a trip down to the Scotty Dog. Despite being located in a kind of crappy area of Beverly... sights and sounds of an angry intersection and all, you'll find their hot dogs absolutely delectable.

The Scotty Dog
 437 Rantoul Street
Beverly, MA

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Cherry and Raspberry Cake

Every year, I observe Lent. Yes, that whole not eating meat on Friday, and giving up something you really like from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. I hate it. It sucks. But in order to make up for being a complete pill for most of the year, I try to do good by giving up all sweets and soda. So, one of my favorite traditions for Easter is to make something sweet that I really like to enjoy with family on Easter Sunday. Aside from watching the Ten Commandments, it's one of my favorite Easter traditions.
So this year for my "thank God it's over" moment, I'm making a cherry cake that I had made during the summer after a happy day of cherry picking in Peabody at Brooksby Farm. After my happy day of Hi Ho Cherry-O, I froze the remainder of my cherries, just for an occasion like this.
The recipe for making this cake is super easy. It's almost full proof, and a delicious cake batter. The original recipe can be found here. For this Easter, since the cherries are not quite as glistening as when they were fresh, I also bought a little box of fresh raspberries to scatter over the top of the cake. Otherwise, I followed the recipe word for word. Basically, you prepare the cake batter with your typical eggs, milk, sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, add a bit of lemon zest, and then fold in your cherries. The batter goes into a spring form pan, and is baked at 400 degrees for fifteen minutes. The pan is then removed to make a pretty little design with scattered halves of raspberries. Into the oven for another seventeen minutes, and you have a fluffy, buttery and wonderfully fruity cake, fit for a celebration. 
I've yet to meet a soul that doesn't love this cake. And quite frankly, it's taking all my will power not to take a test slice right now. But Lent is almost over, and tomorrow after a wonderful ham dinner at my in-laws, I intend to tuck into a serious piece of this cake... like a serious "right triangle" piece of this cake. It'll be pillowy and airy with every fork full, the flavor of butter and sweet vanilla only broken by the additional morsels of cherry fruit stored safely in my freezer for Easter indulgence. Then there are those fresh, tart raspberries, baked and merged into the golden brown top of the entire cake. I seriously can't wait. 
Happy Easter everyone!


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C).  Butter and flour an 9 inch (23 cm) spring form pan and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
Rinse, dry, and pit all the cherries. Then take about 1/4 of the cherries, cut them in half, and set them aside to be placed on the top of the cake during baking. Leave the remainder of the pitted cherries whole (to be folded into the cake batter).
In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. 
In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the eggs and sugar until thick and lemon colored (about 3-5 minutes). Add the melted butter, milk, vanilla, and lemon zest and beat just until incorporated. Add the flour mixture and stir just until moistened. Gently fold in the whole pitted cherries (not the cherries that you have halved for the top of the cake). Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with an offset spatula. 
Bake for 15 minutes then remove from oven. Quickly arrange the remaining cherries, cut side down, on the top of the cake. Return the cake to the oven and bake for a further 20 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the cake portion comes out clean.
Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool slightly.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Boston's Oishii

I must apologize to anyone who reads Soused Blueberries. I've not written as much as I've wanted lately, because we're in the process of trying to sell our condo in Salem, and in doing so, I've had to cook much less. Keeping a condo clean enough to "show" kind of sucks. That being said, if you're looking for a place in Salem close to the train and in the middle of everything, I'd be very psyched to see this home go to a good soul.
All that being said, I kind of lost it a bit the other day, and the bigger half and I need a little culinary reprieve from this whole realty thing. So we splurged on sushi. Good sushi is worth the splurge. And if you're asking yourself whether your nearby sushi place is as good as Japan, unless it's a little nosebleedy, yeah, it's not as good as in Japan. In fact, the rice probably sucks, and that's the true sign of an unworthy parody on what can only be considered a years-of-practice art form overseas.
Still, there are places that are great in the US. There are a number in New York, the best that I've experienced being that of Sushi Azabu. But in Boston, we're kind of at a loss, and it pains me to say so. I've tried Uni, my favorite of Ken Oringer's restaurants, but to be fair, it's not a sushi restaurant... it's a sashimi restaurant which prides itself on being tremendously creative. Then there's Oya, which everyone seems to love in Boston, but I really don't think that they can be called "classic sushi." I've only been there once, and though it was very expensive, I thought they overused items like truffle oil and sesame oil. Also, having attended a dinner during mid-week, they may have been less attentive than during the Friday or Saturday dinner service. I found a bone in one of my pieces of fish, and to add insult to injury, a shell in the lobster salad, which frankly I wouldn't have ordered at all but it was in their current omakase offering.
So what is the best sushi in Boston? It's undeniably Oishii. Having been disappointed by the food at Oya, I had been reluctant to try Oishii. But I had a hankering and in my madness, the bigger half said that he would treat me to a lunch at the restaurant we had resisted so long to try.
The sushi bar
It's a rather large space, with a couple smaller dining rooms on the main floor, and additional space on the lower floor. The sushi bar is longer than others that I have seen, with a large variety of fresh fish available for all diners to see. There's an area of the bar dedicated to sea urchin, and another to varieties of roe. Then there is fish upon fish upon fish, and three sushi chefs chatting in Japanese to each other. Acetically pleasing? You bet. It's quiet and comfortable, intimate but not cramped... a lovely place for a celebration dinner... or for a "my wife is freaking out and we need action" dinner.
Enough. Onto the food.
The bigger half and
sakura smoked hamachi
Smoked hamachi
Sakura Smoked Hamachi Sashimi: Every blog entry, every review, and even an episode of TV Diner I had watched featured a little spot on this appetizer. It's very dramatic, and a lovely preparation with every element of drama serving a purpose. A tall glass arrives at the table, with a mound of little grains on the bottom of the cup. On top, there is a small tin filled with something smokey, hopefully the sakura wood as promised in the title of the dish. Then there's a little grate on top, and a wooden cup resting above that. This cup is filled with a sweet, almost plum-flavored sauce, slightly sticky and delightfully salty. And within the sauce are four generously thick-sliced morsels of fatty hamachi. The server instructs that when we are ready to eat, we may lift the little glass lid off of the cup, allowing a bit of smoke to escape, and then it is time to consume the hamachi. The smokey flavor had penetrated the flesh of the fish, giving way to a nicely sweet and briny bite of tender, unctuous yellowtail. With that sweet sauce, the smokey pieces of sashimi are quite a delight, and definitely achieves a wow factor right from the get go of the meal.
Yuba soup
Yuba Soup: As a second appetizer, we also opted for the yuba soup. Back in Japan, I first had the pleasure of trying yuba, the skin that forms when making tofu, at small restaurant specializing in preparations of the dish in Nikko, a city famous for it's temples and a certain sleeping kitty carving (nemuri neko). Every dish we had there focused on different textures available in this one very special type of food, and it has left only the most delicious impression in my mind. Whenever I see a dish with yuba, I have to go for it. This soup's yuba was house made, and a very good version. The generous helpings of gently folded blankets of yuba swam in a shallow broth of sweet and aromatic dashi. It had the essence of the sea, broken up by the slight resistance and chew of the yuba. The coup de grâce on this subtly elegant dish was a sprinkling of mountain caviar, also known as tonburi. These seeds have the mouthfeel of caviar, bursting with a touch of earthy flavor as each bulb squeaks between one's teeth. This was another fantastic dish, and definitely worth ordering if you've never had yuba before.
Grilled hamachi collar
A morsel of hamachi
Grilled Hamachi Kama: If you have ever been to an izakaya, first off, YOU RULE! But more importantly, you probably miss wonderful dishes like simply salted and grilled fish. If you're a little adventurous, and a bit of a glutton, you probably really miss the grilled collars of fish. The delicate meat from around the neck and face is a treat when done correctly. And with each morsel of meat that you're able to separate from bone, you're treated to a juicy, lightly salted, and fresh flavor of the ocean bite so wonderful that one would have tremendous difficulty suppressing a smile. Oishii features the grilled, salted collar of hamachi. Delicate white flesh, juicy, and dipped into a vinegary soy sauce pooled at the bottom of a large bowl is delicious. There is the traditional strands of daikon meant to further deliver sauce with the fish to your mouth, and I can't emphasize enough how wonderful the quality of fish is that they are grilling at this restaurant. This isn't a fancy dish, but more one that takes some timely picking apart, and is fun to share among friends.
Tako Sashimi: I love tacos and I love tako. Good god, I love great, somewhat juicy, tender, and perfectly fresh octopus sashimi. I prefer octopus in a sashimi preparation rather than sushi, because I feel that the flavor of the flesh is very delicate, even more so than any white fish. It is lightly briny, a tad salty, but only if you are really thinking about the flavor. There is a touch of funk that is only found in octopus. The most interesting part, of course, is the texture, which is chewy, but in fine tako, it should not feel like rubber. It should give way in a few chews, adding additional flavor to be savored.
Ankimo Sashimi: Every food show that features interesting food coos over their love of monkfish liver. And they're right to do so. It's undeniably the foie gras of the sea, same fattiness, same smooth pate-like texture. It's salty and firm, but creamy beyond what you would expect from anything else you would find from the ocean. I love ankimo. The preparation at Oishii features a touch of spicy sauce, and grated radish. It's a wonderful complement to the sweet and creamy monkfish liver, and I would definitely order this again.
Saba Sushi: I don't know why everyone hates on saba. What did saba do to you? It's the flaky, slightly pickled flesh of mackerel, served with just a sliver of skin, and the dark part of the flesh staring you in the face. I'm convinced that anyone who likes pickles, and let's face it, if you don't like pickles, you're a complete weirdo, but anyone who likes pickles would like saba. The vinegar of the fish complements the wafts of tangy vinegar in the sushi rice, which has been formed like a pillow to collapse on first bite. You have wonderful slightly salty and tangy fish, and that perfectly fussed over sushi rice. Don't tread on saba. It's awesome.
Glistening ika
Ika Sushi: If you need a benchmark for the good versus the mediocre, it should be the squid sushi. Bad sushi restaurants present something that is devoid of the delicate cuts in the freshest and cleanest of squid. When you put in your mouth, it's kind of like biting into the eraser at the top of a number two pencil. It sucks. It's chewy and doesn't give way the way it's supposed to. But great ika... goodness... it's sweet. It gives way gently between your teeth like the must luscious of... I don't know... bacon fat. It's amazing. The sweet, tender, and delicious ika at Oishii confirms the restaurant's dedication to collecting fine fish.
Uni Sushi: I've waxed poetic of the beauty of fresh sea urchin before... say at the restaurant Pai Men Miyake in Portland, Maine. I'll spare you the bible I could write about uni. But I will say that someone once told me it tastes like a man. hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. All kidding aside, it's a little murky, very creamy, but should be firm when freshest. When it mingles with the slightly tangy sushi rice, you are in for a real treat. If you haven't tried uni before, I assure you, ordering the Hokkaido uni at Oishii is a good idea.
Amai ebi
Amai Ebi Sushi: The first time I tried amai ebi, or sweet shrimp, frankly, I was grossed out. Having eaten many a cooked shrimp, raw shrimp can be a little bit of a shock. It's a little mushy, and the coldness and sliminess without the satisfaction of the chew of lobster, crayfish, or other crustaceans, just feels weird. But raw, sweet shrimp is really something that you learn to appreciate. It's the little bits of sweet flesh that really make one enjoy this dish. I guess I can't explain, because I know almost for certain that anyone that already doesn't love amai ebi can't possibly get past that first squish without a seriously open mind. Give it a try at reputable sushi restaurants only.
Anago Sushi: Anago is the lesser seen eel variety in this country. We often see salt water eel, also called unagi, but the fresh water eels are a little harder to get, or so I've been told. I've also been told that most of the unagi that we get at cheap take out sushi joints is frozen and prepared somewhere overseas, sauce and all. So what's the difference then between good versions of the two varieties? From what I can tell, anago is a bit milder in flavor, with a lighter touch of salt. It doesn't taste cleaner, but there is just more of a whiff of a fresh stream, clean water, rather than a salt water snake that's been doused with salty sweet sticky barbecue glaze. The anago at Oishii, again, was excellent. It was fresh, and only lightly dressed with a sweet glaze. The flesh was tender and flaky, maybe more so than its saltwater cousin.
Kobe Beef Maki: Kobe beef is not something to be taken lightly. It's not only a bit harsh on the wallet, but once having tried it, it haunts your dreams. Those delicate strands of fat intertwined with the most nourished and pampered bits of muscle come at you at random intervals and day dreams. The meat melts in your mouth, but if you dare to chew, and in this case, combined with the pillow of rice beneath, you are given only the most succulent of pieces of beef, raw beef to consume until your mouth is saturated with the utmost of buttery luxury. Steak-lovers will long for another and another and another piece of this wonderful nigiri. It's simply perfect.
To say that we enjoyed our experience at Oishii would be an understatement. To say that we'll be back soon is highly unlikely, because... yeah... the whole trying to buy a house thing is a real drag. But this little splurge was well worth it. I'll say again that this is the best sushi that I've had in Boston, especially the best classical sushi. If you really want to know what fine sushi is, better than your local joint in the 'burbs, if that is your place in life, then you have to make a reservation at Oishii in the South End, and throw a little caution and cash to the wind. You may find yourself captured by the very reason why people empty their pockets for sushi. You may even find yourself booking a ticket to Japan. I give you my full endorsement. Try Oishii and make it happen.

1166 Washington St
Boston, MA 02118 - 4113