Taste of Cambridge 2011

Taste of Cambridge is an annual food festival, featuring over 50 restaurants. This year’s beneficiaries included Sommerville/Cambridge Salvation Army (providing emergency shelter to families in need) and the Cambridge Special Olympics Saturday program (which is geared to promote social interaction and self-esteem among its participants).  I love events that combine food and charitable causes!!

Two years in a row I read numerous blog recaps of the festival and felt like a loser for not getting my act together earlier to actually attend it (yes I get upset with myself for missing delicious food-centric events!). Also, I don’t spend nearly enough time in Cambridge (it’s just across the river and they have incredible restaurants… but somehow it’s a mental block thing. Why go “so far” when there are dozens of awesome restaurants right here in Boston? Silly logic, really, but my reality). SO, given all of this, I promised myself I’d be more organized this year and yet once again I was thisclose to missing it because it was scheduled to be on the same week as my NY business trip. Oy.

Luckily the stars aligned and the event was postponed by a week due to the rain (it’s outside! pretty awesome on a nice summer day), so naturally I quickly emailed the event organizer for some VIP tickets*. And then started drooling just thinking about all the deliciousness Adam and I were going to consume.

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It looks crowded but it didn’t seem too bad. Maybe my excitement just carried me on. Maybe this baby helped Winking smile [You get 4 drinks with your ticket]

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The best thing about events like these is that you get to taste food from so many different restaurants in the area. And if you can’t live without tasting it again, you can just go visit them some other time. So in typical Elina fashion (since I tried 1 billion things, almost), here are the highlights:

MMMMThe best of the bunch

Crispy Duck tacos from Upstairs on the Square

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It was the place with the longest line (that took like 2 minutes, nothing crazy). I LOOOOVED the melt-in-your mouth duck and all the pickled veggies. The tortillas also tasted super fresh!

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Winner #2 is another taco (tacos were mighty popular this night) from Casablanca restaurant – Morocco Taco (smoked lamb, fried baby chickpeas, preserved lemon, corn tortilla & charmoula <—don’t ask me that that is)

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Meatball sandwich from Stone Heart Pizza

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I am completely obsessed with this place. Their white bean dip and (of course) pizzas are to-die for. Everything is organic. And now this meatball sandwich. Wow. You don’t want to miss this place!! One of the girls took a picture of me taking a picture too, lol :lol:

DELICIOUS BITES – Definitely worth mentioning!

Deviled eggs with micro greens and melon (yes, melon) and shrimp from ??? (omg, blogger fail – anyone remember?) Edited to add: Russel House Tavern. Thanks for getting me straight, ladies :)

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The melon adds a mild sweetness. It totally works!

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Ole Mexican Grill’s Elote con Chile was a little heavy on the mayo but seriously as good as Toro’s!

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They had a little helper too! Smile

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Café Sushi summer vegetable roll with avocado, pickled daikon and marinated eggplant – topped with grape tomato, wasabi oil, balsamic and truffle oil – was outstanding! I’ve never heard of this place before but now I’m going to seek it out next time I’m in Cambridge!

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Sometimes just a piece of sourdough bread dipped in that perfect olive oil is pure perfection, which was the case with Olio Taibi organic Sicilian olive oil, bottled at Central Bottle. I need a bottle of this in my life!

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Amelia’s Trattoria Sicilian eggplant antipasto was surprisingly cold but big on flavor!

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Christopher’s Restaurant veggie burger topped with pesto and roasted peppers also stood out. The patty is made of mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini, oats and a little egg. We (Adam, Shannon, and I) all liked it a lot!

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The guys at that booth were also hilarious!

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NO BUENO – waste of stomach space

Asgard Irish Pub and Restaurant offered a super dry meatloaf warlord in bacon.

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Jose’s Mexican Restaurant Chiles dona Reyna were cold and full of seeds. Fail.

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THE VIP area

It was a small area, which offered cocktails and pork buns (from a whole suckling pig previously roasted on premises )

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[These drinks were not counted towards the 4 on the ticket]

I chose Noir’s Little Taste of CambridgeBacardi, pineapple and ginger syrup, tea and brown sugar syrup, cayenne pepper and cayenne/sugar rim

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I don’t know if they normally have this one on their bar menu but they should! I just loved the burn on the lips from the cayenne/sugar rim, soothed by the smooth and slightly sweet cocktail. Awesomeness in a cup.

Temple Bar made the pork bunsHeritage breed pork slow roasted in a La Caja China served on house made steamed buns with spicy pineapple duck sauce

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Adam was dying of ecstasy. I was dying of fullness (it was delicious but I just couldn’t handle more than a bite at this point).

Overall the I think the VIP ticket doesn’t provide enough extra value for the additional $25 but of course it’s all for charity so you can definitely feel good about paying a bit more… perhaps with Noir’s cocktail in hand Winking smile

SWEET ENDINGS

I was getting FULL by this point so just a few bites of select few were tasted. Everything I’ve tried (although I really was super discriminatory) was delicious Smile

Veggie Galaxy had a ginormous table full of vegan desserts! Shannon and I split their cheesecake and double chocolate cookie. Yummm!

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I also couldn’t resist one of Craigie on Main’s hob nobs, which I tried at the latest Taste of the Nation event.

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[Although I do think it’s a bit of a cop-out for a famous restaurant to bring just dessert. I know it’s cheaper but don’t you want us to come to your place for the savory food??]

I couldn’t really breathe at this point but Adam and Shannon somehow found space in their bellies for some Lizzy’s ice cream. I had a teeny tiny taste of the strawberry sorbet which burst with real strawberry flavor, and the ginger and chocolate ice creams – both of which were creamy and delicious. I’m officially a fan! Open-mouthed smile

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A little dancing…

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Ok not really. I was ready to be wheeled out of there but this point.

Super happy bellies! What a fun event!!! Open-mouthed smile

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*I received 2 free tickets for this event. As always everything in this post reflects my own opinions and experience.

Any fun plans for the weekend? Mine will involved lots of eating, I can tell you that! Smile with tongue out

30 by 30: making marshmallows

Before we begin here, I’m going to wet your appetite…

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Are we good? Winking smile Ok.

SO. I’ve had pictures of a delicious summer soup sitting in my Russian Bites drafts folder for weeks now. It’s one of my favorite summer meals from childhood and I have a lot to say about it. But you see, the pictures came out awful (at least for my standards) and even though these marshmallows were made only a few days ago (and I just blogged about the challah bread here), I’m letting those okroshka pictures sit in the drafts folder for just a few more days so I can tell you about these gorgeous (and delicious! don’t forget delicious!!) marshmallows. What can I say, pictures inspire me. And these are very pretty Open-mouthed smile

Now marshmallows. How do you feel about them? Love ‘em, hate ‘em, indifferent? I’m generally kind of in the indifferent category but here are 2 reasons why they ended up on my 30 by 30 list (knocking off item #2 baby!!). First of all, they were a mystery to me. What the hell are marshmallows? Some kind of product of a chemical reaction? You have to agree they don’t exactly look or taste like real food. Not the boxed kind anyway. So this brings me to reason numero dos: homemade stuff tastes waaaaaaaaaay better than the store bought variety (in most cases). And I wanted gourmet marshmallows. I don’t know why. Sometimes I surprise even myself.

Anyways, wanna see how they’re made? They’re real food in fact (consisting pretty much of various forms of sugar and gelatin but “real” nonetheless). I used the Martha Stewart recipe, originally found through We Are Not Martha.

Scenes from the kitchen…

Sugar bubbling away… (make sure you have a candy thermometer, really key here!)

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Then whisk whisk whisk (a Kitchen Aid stand mixer would have been handy here but this worked too… just took a bit longer. Maybe 20 minutes?)

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From syrup to marshmallow fluff!!

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It’s ok to lick the whisk. I won’t tell Winking smile

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Pour into a 9×13 pan and cool.

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Time to clean up… or play with gadgets. Whatever Winking smile

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3 hours later…

Cut!

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… and toss in powdered sugar. This is really key! You may notice the texture difference from the picture above to the one below. They go from sticky (and shiny) to perfectly fluffy (and matt) and hand-friendly Smile

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Pretty Rolling on the floor laughing

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Can you tell how fluffy they are? I love the little air bubble holes.

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Oh and btw, I used only 1 cup of light corn syrup (all I had) and they turned out great so I’d totally do the same thing next time.

[Extra] Fun time!!

Ok, so I obviously couldn’t just stop right here (although as my sister’s boyfriend said “they were already dreamy”). It was s’mores time… with a twist!

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It was my friend Katy’s brilliant idea to dunk them in chocolate and then graham cracker crumbs. We tried the marshmallow lollipop route but these sticks weren’t working… and you know what, it was actually even more fun to really get in there and dunk away!

Marshmallows –> melted chocolate (thinned out a bit with heavy cream) –> graham cracker crumbs or chopped toasted almonds  

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This would be a really fantastic interactive dessert for a party! Just have a chocolate fondue, marshmallows and lots of different toppings. You better believe I’m stealing my own idea for my next gathering Smile

Let these babies set.

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Then take lots of pretty pictures…

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… or just dig in!!

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Another winner!

Now what should I do with the remaining ‘shmallows? Marshmallow brownies… or should I eat them plain? I need ideas!! Smile

30 by 30: making challah bread

Today is kind of special. It marks the day I crossed off the very first thing off my 30 by 30 list (over a month after my birthday… I better pick up the pace, heh).

As you know, I spend the week on a conference in NY (btw, Adam is loving all the meals I made him… and thank you for your sweet comments. I did feel like an awesome wife for doing that). This weekend I’m staying at my sister’s place in Brooklyn – hanging out with her and my friend Katy, and of course, baking and cooking. The natural light is too good at her place to miss such an opportunity! [Remember last time’s cookie baking extravaganza, rice crispie treats, sugar-free brownie dough balls, and baking with protein powder? Those are my favorite pictures from the blog!)

I’m focused this year with the list so I knew I wanted to tackle at least a few items from it and maybe a thing or two for Russian Bites. Every single Saturday morning, my sister and her boyfriend make French toast for brunch so I decided to take on the challenge and make French toast with homemade challah bread [challah was part of my 30 by 30 challenge.]

I used the Bon Appetit recipe that my blog friend Michelle recently tested. Wanna see some pics from the process?? [Say yes!]

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[yeast, sugar and warm water get all bubbly]

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[Mixing dough by hand]

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It got pretty gluttonous.. and sticky for a while. I just kept kneading and adding flour.

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Eventually it was time for it to rise… and time for me to go out with my friend Katy (we went to the Westville Restaurant btw, and ohmygod guys… if you’re ever in NY, go there!!!! Best meal in recent memory and not expensive!)

The dough was supposed to rise for 30 minutes… it’s been many hours. So yeah, it got a little over ambitious Winking smile

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I punched it down and put it on a well floured countertop. It was all good!

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Love the pockets of air!

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At this point I divided the dough into 2 balls (it makes 2 loaves) and braided one and put the other half in the fridge. I read right after that if you don’t want to bake it right away, you can actually store the dough in the fridge for up to 2 days so I put away both the braid (which you shouldn’t do anyway) and the other dough ball, and went to sleep.

Next morning, it was time to braid the other dough ball. Here is how we do it:

Roll (by hand) into three 9-10” ropes (if you want a fat braid for sandwiches, etc… you can also have longer ropes which would make a longer but skinnier challah… just make sure they’re all the same length.

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Now, right over middle; then left over middle

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Repeat… (new) right over middle, (new) left over middle

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Pinch the ends; flip the braid

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Repeat the same process (left over middle; right over middle… pinch the ends)

Yay, it looks like challah!

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Cover with towel and let it rise for another 30 minutes while the oven is preheating. Then it’s egg wash time!

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Pretty!

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I’m obsessed with this picture (below)!!!!

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Don’t you just want to rip a piece off? We did Smile

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Ready for the best french toast of your life?? This one goes in the “sane” category because there is not much healthy about it… but man, is it good. Going on the favorites list for sho

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Crème brulee French toast (note I attempted the broiling method for the sugar topping but was so scared to burn the tops that I ended up just taking them out and shaking off most of the sugar. It was beyond fantastic even without it… and hey, just a tad healthier Smile )

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Custardy (not to be confused with soggy… it definitely was not) french toast with some organic raspberries… and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. This tasted like it came straight from a fancy restaurant’s brunch menu, and I felt pretty good about making it all from scratch!

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Mmm, this was slightly reminiscent of lemon pound cake with berries.

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When can I have this again?? Winking smile

Have you ever made challah bread? I definitely plan on doing it again to perfect it. It will be even easier with my KitchenAid at home. I do think I’m going to try a different recipe though… this one was slightly lacking in the salt and maybe even sugar dept (although pure perfection in French toast form).

Oh and… this is off topic but… Taste of Cambridge this year is on June 28 (this coming Tuesday) and I scored tickets over the weekend and am beyond excited to attend the event. I wasn’t around last year and read numerous recaps from my blog friends and was super jealous, so I know it’s going to be a fantastic evening of food, drinks and friends! You can find more info about the event here. This year’s beneficiaries include The Salvation Army Cambridge/Somerville Corps “Restoring Lives Capital Campaign and The Saturday program of the Cambridge special olympics. If you come, definitely say hello!! :D

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