Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Awesome BrewCo Food and Lame Sushi...

I have an arbitrary goal of posting (something non-bunny-related) about once a week, which I seem to be falling short of at the moment. Thus, here I am on Wednesday posting about some good (and bad) food I found in my neighborhood on Saturday... It's unbelievable to me that it's almost March already, by the way. Time moves sort of insanely fast when you're busy, I guess, but wow... Anyway, during my first full totally-unpacked weekend in Waltham, my friend Joe drove out to visit me on Saturday afternoon. It had been a very long time since I'd had the pleasure of hanging out with Joe, so it was definitely a welcome visit, especially in this new city where I'm still working on the whole friend-making thing. It was also nice because Joe is extremely awesome. (And I'm not just saying that because he might read this at some point... Hi, Joe!)
Trying to embrace this whole "spontaneity" thing, we set out for Moody Street with no real destination in mind, hoping to see if it was as full of cool restaurants as rumor had indicated. Our initial decision was to try Sadie's, where I plan to do my NFL-watching come September (yes, I have already invested a solid chunk of time figuring out what sports bar will be best for me... you don't want to leave these things until the last minute), but as we (finally) found a parking space I saw that the sign on the place across the street from Sadie's said "Brewing Company" at the bottom. Thus, always up for a good micro-brew, we decided to check out Watch City Brewing Company instead. This felt like a gamble since the exterior of the building seems to be going for a trashy-diner-chic vibe, but the interior was surprisingly nice. Turns out Watch City has beer ranging from really good (the Stout) to good (the IPA) to odd (the Christmas-y one that Joe tried) and food that is quite delicious. Joe decided to check out their version of a pulled pork sandwich, being quite the connoisseur of such things, and said that it was actually the best he'd ever had.
I went with the Lamb Burger with Feta Spread, which was the first thing I saw when I picked up the menu and struck me as a brilliant idea. My only complaint is that the waiter asked how I wanted it cooked (medium-rare), which he probably shouldn't have done if they were going to just cook it past medium anyway... But if he hadn't asked then I would have been content with the burger as it was (cooked to about the doneness I've come to expect from most restaurants), and the feta spread with its hint of rosemary was an absolutely brilliant compliment to the lamb burger.
The fries (which were of the "seasoned" variety) were actually pretty good, too. I will definitely have to check this place out again, if only to try the rest of the beers that they make. They are among the 51 restaurants that deliver to my apartment, but I don't think they deliver the beer so I'll just have to go ahead and drive the ~1 mile to eat in...

Saturday night (a few hours after Joe had started his long drive home) while perusing the menus of those 51 places that deliver to my apartment, I decided that sushi seemed like a good idea for a late dinner (because sushi is pretty much always a good idea for a kid like me). I've had a bad delivery-sushi experience in the past, but that was in Raleigh, NC... and in New Orleans, LA, now that I think about it... OK, so in hindsight I shouldn't have hoped for much. I ordered Unagi Donburi which is one of my favorite things on the planet. I make it for myself pretty frequently (it's actually fantastic for breakfast...), but I haven't gone out to buy eel here yet, so I decided to go ahead and order it. Plus: It's impossible to screw up eel on a bed of rice, right? Ummm... apparently not. This was actually kind of gross. I have no idea how they found a way to make it taste less than delicious, much less to make it taste bad... but they did. Sigh.
I ordered a couple rolls, too, which turned out to be brilliant given that I didn't feel like eating much of the eel. The Philadelphia Roll (yes, I know it's not authentic in any way, but I love me some cream cheese in sushi rolls...) was delicious and definitely the highlight of the order. The Spicy Tuna Roll was way too spicy, which isn't to say it was too spicy for my palate (it's hard to make things too spicy for me), but it was too spicy to taste the tuna at all. Lame.
So, yeah... Note to self: Stop trying to order sushi for delivery. Seriously.

I may have another friend from relatively-nearby coming to visit this weekend, and hopefully we'll venture out and find more exciting restaurants in the surrounding areas. In general, life continues to be good. I love my job. I love my apartment. I love my ridiculously adorable rabbits. If sub-par sushi delivered to my door is the worst thing that happens to me in a given week, then who am I to complain?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hip-Hop Styles for Him

Maybe it's just me, but the sub-heading in at the bottom of this screen-shot (from my search for a Marshall's in Burlington) struck me as one of the more random things I've seen a discount-crappy-stuff store advertise:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Frozen Corn is for Losers.

I have this strong memory from more than 10 years ago of watching the PBS cooking show that starred Jacques Pépin and Julia Child. There was an episode where they got into a semi-heated argument about whether or not it was ever appropriate to use frozen vegetables. Julia believed that there was no circumstance under which it was acceptable to substitute frozen vegetables, but Jacques maintained that frozen peas (particularly the baby or "petite" ones) were OK to use when you couldn't find fresh. At the time I agreed with Jacques, and remember thinking to myself "I would say corn falls into that category, too." The more I've cooked with and enjoyed fresh vegetables, though, I find myself drifting over to Julia's side of things. (After she'd tasted Jacques' frozen peas, by the way, Julia admitted that maybe frozen peas were OK to use if you had absolutely no other options...)
I still use frozen peas from time to time, particularly in dishes where the peas are likely to get soft anyway (like when I make paella or Cauliflower, Chicken, Potato, and Pea Curry), but when peas are the star (like the peas delicately cooked in butter that sit atop the Pacific Northwest Salmon Chowder that I make from Jasper White's brilliant "50 Chowders") I would rather omit the peas entirely than tarnish my dish with frozen...
Getting back to the corn: I love corn. In my youth, a bowl of microwaved frozen corn with a sprinkle of salt was a delicious snack. Obviously it didn't compare to a grilled ear of fresh corn, but I felt like it was a pretty good substitute when fresh corn wasn't around. I used frozen corn in my cooking without giving it a second thought... Then I moved to California, started hanging out at a farmers' market, and realized that I could get copious amounts of fresh corn dirt-cheap when it was in season, so I started using fresh corn instead of frozen in my cooking. The recipe that changed everything for me was a Spicy Black Bean Soup, which got a little extra texture from, among other things, some fresh corn stirred in at the end after the majority of the soup was puréed. I loved that soup, until I made it once when all I could find was frozen corn. I still remember my first bite of that frozen-corn-substituted soup, even though it was over 4 years ago. The corn was mushy and soft, lacking that brilliant bite that fresh corn brings to the table. I felt seriously angry each time I bit down into a stupid piece of stupid mushy frozen corn, and ended up not eating most of that batch of soup. I made a promise to myself that day: Never again.
I have fresh corn on the brain today because I made a big pot of Chicken Tortilla Soup this weekend using 5 ears of fresh corn (shown above, freshly sliced off the cobs) from the totally awesome produce store in my neck of the suburbs. I'd made this soup for years with frozen corn (it's a great soup to make primarily from pantry items if you use frozen... I'll post the recipe one of these days...) and it was pretty good, but it is absolutely fantastic when prepared with fresh corn. Every bite that contains a piece of corn is seriously a joy to eat. With the reminder from this soup (which I was crankily thinking I would have to make with frozen corn before I stumbled across the fresh), I can't see myself cooking with stupid frozen corn ever again. I even used fresh corn the last time I made my mom's awesome Chicken Enchilada Casserole (an old-school casserole recipe featuring cream of mushroom soup and everything, written in the days when they would never dream of having easy access to fresh corn), and it completely elevated that dish, too. In hindsight, I don't know why I was surprised to discover that Julia Child was right all along...
In summary: Fresh corn. Accept no substitutes.
Also: Never doubt the near-infinite wisdom of Julia Child.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Moving? Done.

After spending 5-6 hours per night after work (starting Tuesday) every night and all day Saturday, I am officially moved in here in Waltham. I am absolutely in love with my apartment. Moving in here has made it clear to me how different my attitude was in Melbourne (where I knew things were short-term). Here, where I have a long-term job with what is quite possibly the best employer EVER, my apartment feels much more like a real home rather than a place I'm just trying to furnish enough to get by. My place is cozy, but it's very "me." On Friday I woke up feeling light-headed and nauseous (I had been coming down with something for a few days prior to this), and ended up leaving work before lunch to take a sick day. I worked on unpacking as much as I could in the evening, but decided to stop by 7pm and just get some yummy food delivered, watch crappy TV on my computer, and try to recover. Every night before this I had come home from work, spent hours unpacking, then grabbed a quick bite at around 11pm before heading straight to bed, waking up early for work, and repeating the scenario the next day. To actually enjoy a leisurely dinner here followed by a good night's sleep (before once again facnig my giant pile of boxes) was pretty freaking awesome.
There are actually 51 different restaurants that I can order from online for delivery to my apartment, which is both awesome and dangerous. For my first night here I went with Thai food from Tom Can Cook. Overall I would say it was a good experience, with one exception. I ordered Tom Yam Soup, Crab Rangoon, and Massaman Chicken Curry. The soup was the exception to the goodness. I ordered it with shrimp, but it came wtih chicken. It was nice and spicy, but not particularly flavorful. I expect some good solid lemongrass, galangal, and lime leaf in my Tom Yam broth, all of which were lacking here. I don't think I would order this again even if they hadn't messed up the protein.
The Crab Rangoon, on the other hand, more than made up for the soup. This version was much more rich and creamy than the one that me and my people often make. I may have to do some tweaking of my recipe to try to replicate this brilliance...
The curry was actually pretty damned tasty, too. Now that I'm settled in, one of my first orders of business is to make my own curry pastes (starting with Massaman) to try to replicate some of the kick-ass curry that I had in Thailand. Still, as far as Massaman curries I've had here in the States go, this was awesome.
After sleeping in a bit (until 8am) on Saturday, I got to work finishing up the bulk of the unpacking. While putting away some glassware that required me to get up on my kitchen stool, I discovered this incredibly tasteful salt-and-pepper set that had apparently been left behind by the previous resdients (shoved into the back of one of the top shelves). I have censored the image for my more sensitive readers:
Below are a few apartment pictures for those who are interested. It's hard to capure the colors properly, so you may have to take my word for it that it looks totally awesome. Starting in the kitchen, where Pedro and Rico pretty much dominate things:
I've taken to hiding dried cranberries (which are like crack to the little guys) in the tube to encourage exploration... but that backfired when Pedro took his new-found love of tunnels one step futher, went exploring under the heater (the exit of which is blocked by the cage), and got stuck. Poor, stupid little guy. In non-bunny news, I've had to utilize some above-cupboard space for storage, but it actually seems to be working quite well.
The living room is dominated by a wall of bookcases (full of books) and a corner of bookcases (full of my cocktail shaker collection). I hadn't seen my cocktail shakers in about 2.5 years, so it was a lot of fun unpacking them.
The office/guest room/TV room/den is one of my favorite rooms (and where I'm hanging out as I type this). The bookcase in here is full of my cookbook collection (those books that could not fit are being donated to a charity book drive). This room is super-comfy and looks great. Assuming you're not a stranger reading my blog, consider this your open invitation to come crash in this room (on a blow-up mattress... you wouldn't have to sleep in the chair) if you ever make it over to Boston...
Now that I'm settled in, I'm planning to take it easy for the rest of my 3-day weekend (Yay, Presidents' Day!) and revel in the fact that I really live in this totally awesome place...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Let's Be Clear...

Dear Food Manufacturers,

The fact that you used spices to prepare your food does not make said food "spicy," just "seasoned."


(This message brought to you courtesy of the "Spicy Hummus" I bought for dinner last night, not having kitchen supplies here to make my own yet...)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hectic Times...

Man... I know I've already whined about it more than once, but this whole moving-while-working thing blows. I spent over 20 hours this weekend driving all over tarnation to deal with apartment stuff, arriving back at my hotel on Sunday just in time for the stupid Super Bowl that I refuse to talk about (other than to mention the culinary aspect of it below). Every day this week after work I've had to drive around doing apartment-related things for a couple hours before I could come home... then it's back to work bright and early the next morning. I really miss leisurely early-evenings, where you can come home from work and relax for a while before dinner... Getting home at 8pm feeling frazzled and starving to death is no fun at all... But enough whinging. On to the positive, which starts with the fact that:
I have a totally awesome apartment!!! The more time I spend at my new place, the more I totally and completely love it. I find myself waiting for the other shoe to fall (wondering why such an amazing place is so affordable...), but it certainly seems like I just lucked into a great place. The majority of my driving around on Saturday was to buy a washer and dryer from some guy on the other side of the state:
These puppies are pretty big and barely fit through my kitchen door and into the laundry closet... (Thanks, highly skilled delivery guys!) My favorite purchase of the day (maybe tied with the washer and dryer) was definitely either my drill or my knife:
My brother always carries a sharp knife with him, and damned if it doesn't come in handy. I've been using that thing constantly around the apartment... And the drill? Let me tell you, every grown-up should have a drill. They are absolutely fantastic, and using your drill as an electric screwdriver makes the whole cheap-furniture-assembly process much less exasperating. Yay, power tools!
I also did some painting for the first time ever, converting the massive (still empty until Saturday) rabbit cage into a work table in an attempt to make it seem a little less massive (or at least more practically so). It looks pretty cool in person, and it turns out painting isn't as scary as one might think...
With all my running around over the weekend, I was only able to make progress in the kitchen and bathroom (zoomed in shot of my awesome bathroom pictured above) since I still had no furniture or floor-coverings. I drove home just in time to watch that thing I'm not going to talk about, and ordered up a pretty fantastic spread (which ended up being 3 dinners) from another sketchily-named local restaurant ("Not Your Average Joe's"). The BBQ Chicken Pizza was much more restrained than I'm used to in such things, with a nice thin crust and a fascinating accent of roasted garlic (although that accent became the dominant flavor by the time this was leftovers). The crab cakes (bottom left) are surprisingly delicious (the restaurant's name put me in a place of lowered expectations) featuring bits of roasted red pepper mixed in with the yummy crab and drizzled with a roasted pepper aioli. The chicken quesadillas were also seriously delicious and different than one might expect, filled with grilled chicken, caramelized onions, roasted pepper, and mozzarella and pepper jack cheeses and topped with a chipotle sour cream. Totally awesome.
Finally came the ahi tuna wontons with wasabi aioli (pictured larger below). The wontons were a little not-so-crispy by the time this was delivered, but the tuna was absolutely delicious. I think I probably wouldn't bother with the pizza again (I can make better), and the pineapple salsa that comes with the quesadillas doesn't seem to compliment them particularly well (though they're fantastic without it), but all in all I was pretty impressed... Definitley some things here I was thrilled to have leftovers of...
Two of my three rugs were delivered to my apartment on Tuesday, which required me working from the apartment while stalking the UPS guy. In case you've never tried it, getting an 8' x 10' rug out of its plastic sleeve (the one that says "DO NOT slice the down the length of this sleeve!!!" all over it) by yourself is no easy task. In the end, though, my rugs look fantastic, if nothing like the pictures I based my order on... The living room rug in particular looks completely different than its picture, but in a way such that it's exactly the rug I would have ordered if I had seen a picture of what it actually looked like. It is absolutely perfect. The rug-buying gods were clearly smiling down on me this time... (I'll post a picture once I get some furniture in there.)

This weekend it's off to adopt the world's cutest pair of rabbits on Saturday, then getting my sofas delivered on Sunday (at which point I will move out of the hotel and into my apartment)... Definitely looking forward to getting settled in...