Saturday, May 29, 2010

Oleana (Cambridge, MA)

Oleana on Urbanspoon
If you lurk on message boards you may have heard of Oleana. A Middle Eastern restaurant in Cambridge, MA. Reservations are pretty much required to sit inside but the patio is first come first served. Not being able to get a reservation because I hesitated in making plans due to some indecision issues, I thought it best that we get to the restaurant early. It opens at 5:30 and we arrived around 5:10. We were able to get one of the first few tables on the patio. It isn't very big and there was a pretty good line out front by the time the restaurant opened.

J and I wanted to have room for dessert (even though we really don't have much of a sweet tooth) because the reputation of the pastry chef was excellent. We decided to have a few small plates and split and entree. As usual I don't have pictures of everything. I don't like to disturb and be obnoxious during dinner.

We began with Warm Buttered Hummus with Basturma & Tomato and Whipped Feta with Sweet & Hot Peppers. The hummus was topped with butter then wrapped in the beef and topped with fresh tomato puree. It was good but the whipped feta with peppers was even better. Each table receives a bucket of breads and pitas at the beginning of the meal as well.

Our next small plates were the Sultan’s Delight: Tamarind Glazed Beef & Smokey Eggplant Purée with Pinenuts and the Spinach Falafel with Tahini, Yogurt, Beets & Cress. The beef was delicious. Tender and sweet, moist and succulent. The eggplant was ok but not my favorite. The falafel was the best I've ever had and J thought it was fantastic as well. The tahini was very tasty but the beets and cress (which seemed more like arugula to me) weren't what J was hoping for. I welcomed them as unique additions. I did manage to get some pictures after we'd eaten a bit of them so they probably aren't as beautiful as they were. They were quite gorgeous when they came out. There was a large basil leaf on top of the beef. For our entree we split Lamb with Turkish Spices, Pide & Everything Green with Garlic & Yogurt. The "everything green" seemed to be some deliciously sauteed broccoli rabe. The lamb was a ground lamb kebab (kefta style). Way more moist than what we usually eat at our favorite Lebanese restaurant.

We each opted to get a different dessert J had a special of chocolate baklava. I didn't really like the bitterness of the chocolate nib sauce. My dessert was to DIE for though. One of the best desserts I've ever eaten: Salted Butter Ice Cream & Petite Caramel Soufflé with Pineapple & Cashew Crisp. I'm not sure what was better the ice cream or the souffle. It was best when each bite contained a little of each of the dessert. We had beautiful weather for sitting on the patio and I would go back if I had a chance.

Boston's North End

My ethnic background is primarily Italian, if you didn't already know. My parents lived in New Haven in or near (I forget which) the Italian section when they were first married. New Haven Apizza is pizza in my mind.

I grew up outside Baltimore. I've been to Little Italy in Baltimore frequently for meals, cookies, feasts (festivals). The best cannoli ever (if you are into cannoli, which I am not) are from Vaccaro's Italian Bakery and their gelato is to die for.

When I found out that Boston has it's own Little Italy known as the North End. I knew we would have to spend some time there. In addition to two dinners, gelato and pastry we also found the North End to be full of specialty grocery and pasta stores. Sadly, traveling by air meant we could not buy meats, cheeses, fresh pasta, and anything liquid to take home with us. We did buy some Brioschi for heartburn and some friselles (black pepper/fennel seed).
Our first dinner we went to Carmen Trattoria. My parents had recommended it. It is extremely small. I had no idea how small but I'm glad we got a reservation. We actually showed up early and they seated us early. There are only 9 tables and a bar for 2. The whole place probably only seats 25 (by my count). With our glasses of red wine we set out to peruse the menu. J decided to be unconventional since it was his vacation and order pasta for both his first course and his main course. I was only a little less bizarre ordering a flatbread and a risotto. The menu on the website is not completely accurate so I took a photo of it as well.If you can see the menu, I had the grilled flatbread with caramelized leeks, Valle D'Aosta Fontina, Golden potatoes, pancetta, toasted pine nuts, and drizzled with truffle oil. The only complaint was that the crust could have been a little crispier. The flavor was fantastic though. The flavor of J's Homemade Gorgonzola Short Rib Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter and Hazelnuts was even better. I think it had a little balsamic vinegar or reduction drizzled through the brown butter sauce. It was so tasty I was using little bits of the bread to sop it up (on my fork of course). The ravioli could have been a little softer but again the flavor made up for any short-comings in texture. We ate them so quickly I wasn't able to get any pictures. I have so of the main dishes but as I don't like to use the flash when dining in nicer restaurants the quality isn't fantastic. J had the Baked Penne with Tiny Apulian Style Meatballs, Fresh Mozzarella, and Roasted Tomato Sauce. It came baked in a parchment paper cocoon. J really liked it. I would have been disappointed if I had ordered it myself. J commented that he really doesn't enjoy Italian food as much as he used to though.I ordered a lovely Spring Risotto with Pan Seared Sea Scallops, Fava Beans, Proscuitto, Fresh Mint and Parmesan finished with Mint oil. The scallops were perfectly done. I've never had fava beans and so they were harder than I had imagined. I also feel that the mint and mint oil may have been basil oil (which is fine with me because I prefer it).
The most interesting part of the meal might have been the goings on at the next table. I don't mean to poke fun at another person's ignorance but I thought it was rather an amusing turn of events. A woman and her daughter were visiting, looking at colleges. The mother was a vegetarian. She orders bolognese sauce (over crespelle filled with mushrooms). She tries to decide whether or not it is meat. Then proceeds not to eat it. My problem with the whole thing is: if you are a vegetarian (or have any dietary considerations that the kitchen should know about), and you don't know what a specific ingredient is or contains, wouldn't you ask the server? In every restaurant I have ever been to, the servers have been very gracious about dietary needs and will try and get something else for someone if what they have ordered is not able to be eaten by that person for that reason. The woman did tell the server at the end of the meal. I think it just made the server feel worse. (Although bolognese sauce by definition, at least as I understand it, contains meat.)

They do not serve coffee or dessert because clearly there is no room for after dinner lingerers. So we decided to embark in search of some at Mike's Pastry.

At Mike's we ordered a tiramisu (not as good as the one from NYC), some cookies and a raspberry gelato. It blew the gelato J had gotten at the little place at the entrance to the North End out of the water.

Our last night we got some pizza at the famous Pizzeria Regina (the original location). J was on the phone doing business but the pizza was decent and I felt like I was in an old movie with the pizza girls and their Boston accents (some of the first we'd heard all weekend). They had lots of specialty pizzas but we got a plain sausage.

Burrito Friday

I've been away a while. First it was getting ready to go to Boston. Then I was in Boston. Then I got sick right after Boston. But basically, I'm back and ready to blog. Blog about Boston. We went to a variety of restaurants and hopefully I can remember enough about each place to write about them, even though it's been a week.
When we first got to Boston we headed to our hotel in Beacon Hill. Across the street was Anna's Taqueria. I had read that the burritos there were some of the best in Boston and being the burrito lover that I am we decided to check it out.

Having read a little about what to get, I opted not to get my usual chicken but try the much lauded carnitas. Juicy and tender meat from heaven. I also read that the chili verde was similar meat but much spicier. I told this to J and he decided to give it a try. Coming from the man who covers his Asian noodles in sriracha and asks for spicy at the Thai and Indian restaurants, this is TOO SPICY. He actually couldn't finish his burrito. Here it is:
This first visit we each got a super burrito which comes with rice, beans , cheese, choice of meat, and toppings. I thought it was really good! We actually went back on night because they are open to 11 pm at the MGH location and I got a regular burrito, which is much smaller and does not contain rice and while still pretty good, I think I preferred the super. I also tried the horchata which is pretty good as well. They have lots of Jarritos soda flavors as well. Plus all the employees speak Spanish. J looks a little overheated from the spice so we try and find him a second burrito.This time we had to walk a little farther (Boston is a walking city you know), but we ended up at Viva Burrito around the corner.
He was a little too hungry so I didn't get a picture. This time he went for the chicken. It was pretty good. I still think as CHICKEN burritos go, I prefer Chipotle (gasp! I know it's a chain). Maybe those big chains put something in their food to make you want to eat their food? Anyway Viva Burrito was a little bit of a wait. They don't walk you down the line and make it in front of you. They have more options and combinations and not everyone who works there is Hispanic. Better or worse? I can't judge that from two different types of burritos! For the price and if you want quick Mexican they are both pretty tasty. Is a one "not to miss" in Boston? Probably not; because really, is Boston supposed to be known for burritos?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hot Melon Salad

Hot Melon Salad, it sounds almost dirty...

For many years my dad used to make me try cantaloupe at Sunday morning breakfasts. Similar to when he made me try broccoli at dinner (although I actually like broccoli now). I still don't like cantaloupe but technically I think this salad is supposed to be a mix of both cantaloupe and honeydew melons. I made this last Labor Day but we had a really difficult time because we didn't have proper equipment. This really is best made using a wok. Last time I had a nonstick skillet and I used a combination of honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon and it heated up too slowly and ended up being very mushy.

Having done some research, ie: trying each type of melon when it was on a fruit try at work, I have decided honeydew melon is the only one of the three main melons that I actually like. So here is the very monochromatic, yet oh so tasty hot melon salad.

Hot Melon Salad (adapted from Alton Brown)

1 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
16 ounces small-diced honeydew melon, approximately 2 cups
1 tablespoon fresh basil, cut into chiffonade
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon pine nuts
  1. Heat a wok over high heat.
  2. Once the pan is hot, add the olive oil, followed by the onion, and saute for 3 to5 minutes, moving the pan continually.
  3. Add the melon and saute for another 2 to 3 minutes or until the melon starts to take on color.
  4. Add the basil, salt, and pepper and continue to cook for another minute.
  5. Pour mixture onto a serving platter, sprinkle with the cheese, vinegar and pine nuts, and serve immediately.
I served this with seared chicken, roasted green beans, and a white bean and rosemary mash. The green beans and chicken were good but the white beans left something to be desired.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Grilled Shrimp and Chopped Vegetable Salad

Sadly, the weather and timing of this dinner didn't agree with the plan of grilling but we were able to salvage the food and create something tasty anyway. Ideally, you would grill everything. I attempted to roast the vegetables and used the grill pan for the shrimp.

Now that it's been days since I cooked this, I forget the majority of what I cooked. Basically roast some bell peppers (I like red and yellow better than green but whatever) with red onion, garlic and olive oil. Season with salt. Toss with salad greens and grilled shrimp. Before I grilled the shrimp, I tossed them with a tad of olive oil and cajun seasoning. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Gnocchi and Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

Ever since I read about this simple tomato sauce one of the blogs, maybe it was smitten kitchen,
I have been hankering after this sauce. Besides my family's Sunday sauce, I haven't been able to enjoy any of the tomato sauces, I've been making in the last few years. This all changed tonight. Sadly it is probably a little too fattening to be be something I'll make often but it's just delicious. Only three ingredients! I'm not going to gush because it seems to that this particular sauce has been blogged to death from what I understand but if you haven't seen it or tried it, you must!

Enough exclamation points for now. Let me talk about the gnocchi. I've made prepackaged gnocchi before, which is very hard. Heavy and sits like a rock in the stomach. I've made gnocchi from instant potatoes which have turned out quite well in the past. After talking with my (Italian) grandmother, it turns out that she almost always used instant potatoes to make her gnocchi.

The following recipe for gnocchi is 2 ingredients and very, very soft and light. From what I have read, that's the goal for gnocchi. The best gnocchi I have ever eaten however, were on special at Aldo's in Baltimore's Little Italy. If you can't travel there to eat them, or perhaps if they aren't on special the day that you, you can make this recipe instead.


1 russet potato
1/2 cup flour, plus a little for rolling out the dough

  1. Peel the potato and cut it into large chunks.
  2. Boil the chunks of potato in water for 20 minutes.
  3. Drain thoroughly and put potatoes through a food mill (or ricer).
  4. Cool potatoes a little and add flour 1/4 cup at a time, mixing the dough together. Be careful not to over mix the dough.
  5. Roll the dough into approximately 1/2" wide ropes.
  6. Cut eat rope into 1" long pieces and roll each piece over the back of fork tines to create ridges for the sauce.
  7. Bring a pot of water to boil and lower gnocchi in using a slotted spoon. Be careful not to break up the gnocchi.
  8. Gnocchi are finished when they rise to the top.
  9. Top with sauce and cheese.
Next time I think I would add a little salt to the dough. No need for egg however.

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
(Adapted from smitten kitchen's adaptation of Marcela Hazan’s recipe from Essentials of Italian Cooking)

1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, peeled and halved
Salt, to taste
  1. Put the tomatoes, onion and butter in pot over medium heat.
  2. Bring the sauce to a simmer then lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes.
  3. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon.
  4. Remove from heat, discard the onion, add salt to taste and serve over pasta.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Southwest Pork Kebabs with Vegetables

After last night's dud of a meal, I did not have high hopes for tonight's dinner. The sad thing, for those of you who know about them, is that I passed up free hot-chee dogs for this. There is a restaurant called the Hamilton that is similar to a diner, where I live. They aren't on the menu but a hot-chee dog (or burger or omelet) consists of American cheese, mustard, chopped onions and "sauce" which is like a Greek chili on a hot dog. At the school carnival today they were 75% off for students and free for teachers. I resisted in order to be able to eat my dinner. Luckily, dinner was delicious. I really liked this pork marinade. We cooked this dinner using both the grill and the oven. I haven't quite gotten as far as grilling vegetables. So I roasted the squash, zucchini, and onions. The grape tomatoes, J grilled on skewers. The pork was also grilled on skewers. I desperately need to buy some metal skewers because no matter how long I soak the wooden ones, they still tend to burn up. This dinner was just delicious. I'm definitely going to save the marinade recipe. I even forgot the cilantro that was supposed to go on the tomatoes but I didn't miss it at all.

Southwest Pork Kebabs with Vegetables (adapted from
Ladyberd's Kitchen)

Juice of one orange (about 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (plus a little more or a spray for the vegetables)
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsp. minced garlic (approx. 4 cloves)
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. Hot smoked paprika (I used the Hungarian variety because it was all I could find)
3/4 tsp. dried oregano
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
~1 lb. pork loin (here I used pork tenderloin), trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes
1/2 pint grape tomatoes
1/2 yellow squash, thickly sliced
1/2 zucchini, thickly sliced
1 red onion, quartered
Combine all of the marinade ingredients in bowl.
  1. Add the pork and toss to coat thoroughly.
  2. Cover and put it in the fridge for at least an hour (mine marinated for approx. 3 hours).
  3. Just before cooking, preheat grill on high.
  4. Thread pork and tomatoes onto separate skewers. Discard excess marinade.
  5. Grill on high direct heat for 3-4 minutes on each side. Let rest 2-3 minutes before removing from skewers.
  6. Before the pork and tomatoes go on the grill, line a baking sheet with foil (for less clean up) and broil the remaining vegetables (zucchini, squash, and onion) in the oven on high until they reach desired doneness (approx. 10 min). Everything should be ready at about the same time.

Thai Chicken Slaw

This was not very well received. I thought it was ok but J said he felt like he was eating weeds. I had so much left over that I decided to change the leftover dressing recipe. I put the changes in parentheses for you to see. On the positive side: This was a super easy, as well as nice and cool for a muggy summer evening. It was pretty good with the dressing additions though.

Thai Chicken Slaw (adapted from Wives with Knives)

1 head napa cabbage, shredded
7 oz. chicken breast, cooked and shredded (raw weight)
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 fresh jalapeno, cored, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 red bell pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup rice vinegar
juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon fish sauce
3 tablespoons soy sauce
6-8 mint leaves, chopped
6-8 basil leaves, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, lightly chopped
1/4 cup peanuts, coarsely chopped
(2 tbsp peanut butter)
(1 tbsp hoisin sauce)

  1. Combine the shallots, jalapeno, honey, rice vinegar, fish sauce, lime juice and soy sauce (and peanut butter and hoisin) and whisk thoroughly.
  2. Combine the rest of the ingredients and serve.