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EatingPlaces visits America’s Test Kitchen!

27 Nov

Earlier this month Boston Brunchers organized a blogger tour of America’s Test Kitchen (ATK). Since moving to Boston I’ve watched hundreds of ATK and Cook’s Country tv episodes and Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook is my go-to guide for kitchen recipes. So you can understand how I felt like a 10 year-old waiting for this awesome field trip to Brookline.

Steph Yiu, the ATK Social Media Manager (above explaining the ‘Wall of Awesome’), was our headquarters guide. The wall is full of website comments and image submissions that change weekly to reflect reader experiences. Steph shared ATK history, was patient with all of our necessary food blogger photography, and even let us in on a few secrets.

Our first stop was the library. ATK has thousands of cookbooks and other food-themed literature. Steph explained the reason for having so many books: before a new recipe is developed in the Test Kitchen, there’s a ‘Five Recipe Test’. Five versions of the same dish are made to compare options for the future ATK recipe. Test cooks can easily find variety with so many books.

After the library we visited the photography rooms where photographers use natural light. This is how they achieve the stunning ATK images that you see on The Feed and in their magazines and cookbooks (and why I’ll wake up at 6:30 on a Saturday morning to cook and take photos).

Ever wished you had a few more napkin options for the kitchen table? Not a problem at ATK! These bins are full of fabrics and accessories for photos.
We’re going in!

The most well-stocked kitchen I’ve ever seen (although, as you can see, many of the items are for photography purposes). We learned that ATK buys kitchen items from local stores and everything is home-size with the exception of the hoods and an industrial refrigerator and dishwasher. This allows cooks to test the true quality of items as if they were home cooks. Similarly, they purchase ingredients from markets at home kitchen-size portions (no industrial orders!).

There are about 25 test cooks (and 10 test cook interns) at ATK and editors bring together their work for publication. Two posed for a quick photo op in the kitchen.

If you’ve seen the ATK tv series you’ll recognize this room. I had no idea they film an entire season over a three week period in May (that means those thick winter stews are made in the summer!). The majority of cooks leave the main kitchen during filming because of constant activity in the room. Throughout the rest of the year the kitchen is busy with activity and ovens are on for over 40 hours each week.

I also learned that recipes are made six months in advance, so sometimes you’ll find test cooks grilling outside in the snow with a space heater. That’s dedication!

It was such a privilege to tour America’s Test Kitchen and have a behind-the-scenes look at the dedicated and enthusiastic team. It’s amazing how much work is produced behind these Brookline doors – now whenever I watch ATK shows on PBS I have a completely new appreciation. It was a wonderful experience!


2011 Boston Vegetarian Food Festival

4 Nov

Year Two of living somewhere is great because you can eagerly look forward to annual events. I missed the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival in 2010, so I planned ahead to attend the 16th year of this fun (and free!) weekend.

Based on the abundance of meat-free recipes on my blog, you might guess I’m a vegetarian. I’m not—but I was for nine years until I was in college. My mom visited Michio and Aveline Kushi’s ‘Kushi Institute’ in Becket, MA when I was young and began introducing us to macrobiotic recipes at home, which was my initial inspiration to look more deeply at my food choices. Regardless of your food preferences, everyone can enjoy the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival.

The festival was held at Roxbury Community College’s Reggie Lewis Center, which was great because there were multiple rooms and floors for exhibitors and speakers. These are my picks from the event:

I met the owners of Dirty Vegan Foods and had a great time chatting with them. I also bought vegan coconut brownie bites for my mom (Surprise! I’ll keep them in the freezer for you until Thanksgiving). They’re a-maz-ing.

Equal Exchange had free chocolate, which was the initial draw, but then I started talking with Mallory the Coffee Roaster (left) and fell in love with the company. Equal Exchange is worker-owned and their employees are super committed to fair business practices around the world. Plus their Very Dark Chocolate (71%) is particularly creamy for having such a high cacao content.

I also tried Theo Chocolate. I was very excited to sample cacao nibs (roasted raw chocolate) for the first time – they were delicious – a great blend of bitter, acidic, and super dark chocolate without any added sugar. Theo has delicious nibs and chocolate, but what stands out most in my mind (aside from the nibs) is their gorgeous packaging, designed by KittenChops, an artist out of Seattle. I’m in love with her work.

The Sproutman table was very visually appealing as well. I talked with the Sproutman’s son (‘Sprout’) and learned about the benefits of sprouting in hemp bags. I can’t justify spending $10 on a hemp bag when I have tons of glass jars in my apartment, but if I had the funds I’d try it. I also learned that I can sprout the chia seeds I drink in water.

At Ocean Approved I met Tollef Olson, who created the only commercial kelp farm in the United States with partner Paul Dobbins. It was great to talk with Tollef about sustainable farming in Maine, where Ocean Approved is located (kelp requires no fresh water or land!). I also bought a little plate of seaweed slaw (featured in the image above). I savored every piece of kelp.

The Book Publishing Company had a huge selection of vegetarian cookbooks. I bought ‘Indian Vegetarian Cooking at Your House’ (by Humbad & Schafer Boger) and can’t wait to starting cooking from it! Then literally a second later…

I met the wonderful Mrs. Laxmi Jain who has a website on Indian Vegetarian Cooking. She was giving out spice packets (filled with coriander powder, cumin seeds, turmeric powder, garam masala, and chili powder) and recipes for Kidney Bean Curry, Potato Curry, Cabbage with Tofu & Bell Pepper. Each recipe uses vegetables you can find anywhere and then you just use the contents of a spice packet. What a fantastic (and unintimidating) introduction to Indian cooking!

At the Peanut Butter & Co table I tried ‘The Heat Is On’ peanut butter and it was SO hot. I need to buy some to use in my noodles with peanut sauce dish. I also tried the ‘Mighty Maple’, which was addictingly delicious.

At the Cascal table I sampled the ‘Crisp White’ flavor, which is a lightly fermented pear and apricot soda. I expected it to taste like kombucha, but it was much more mild (and sweeter, it’s soda). I don’t typically drink soda, but I could see having a bottle when I’m in the mood for something like wine, but without the alcohol.

I stopped by Taste of Kilimanjaro for lunch after meeting one of the catering employees early in the day when we were in line at a booth. I had heard of them before at an outdoor Harvard Square event, but what sealed my decision was how friendly the woman was while we were talking. That’s effective customer relationship building!

The atmosphere of the festival was very inviting, educational, and fun. It was it was interesting to think about what it means to be a vegetarian, how many diet options there are out there, and how I piece together my own guiding principles (vegetarian, unprocessed, local, or a combination). The festival also made me think about vegetarians who consistently drink protein shakes (there must have been eight different companies at the festival selling powder drink mixes), but these are separate and longer conversations!

I hope you’ll mark the Boston Food Festival on your calendar for next year. Vendors come from all over the country and I met people from throughout the Northeast. It was a great time.

Boston Brunchers Birthday at Island Creek Oyster Bar

17 Oct

What’s better than brunch at Island Creek Oyster Bar? Chatting with food bloggers over brunch at ICOBar!

I was very fortunate to win a ticket to the Boston Brunchers Birthday celebration on Sunday, October 16. Renee from Eat.Live.Blog. beautifully organized the event and, particularly after reading the menu and long list of event sponsors, I was counting down to Sunday all last week.

Boston food blogging events are a wonderful mix of meeting people whose blogs I follow regularly and learning about blogs completely new to me. I sat with a fantastic group of bloggers: Sue (Public Radio Kitchen), Michelle (The Economical Eater), Anthea (Night Kitchener), Robin (Doves & Figs, who gave everyone a delicious-looking Cranberry Chocolate Jam in our gift bags!), and Richard (The Passionate Foodie).

About a year ago I ate one of my most memorable dinners in Boston at Island Creek, so I was very excited to try brunch. When I entered the dining room I saw some familiar faces, tables set in modern-meets-tradition ICOBar fashion, and huge gift bags for each attendee.

A pastry basket for the table featured a variety of baked goods, including the lemon-zest citrus scone that had a crisp, sugar-coated exterior and soft interior with a moist crumb. I ordered the McCarthy’s Crossing cocktail, which appealed to me because it had the creativity of drinks I’ve loved at ICOBar before (from the menu: ‘Clear Creek pear brandy, spiced honey, rose vermouth, fresh lemon, and bubbles’). The flavor reminded me of the botanical-infused ‘Perfect 10’ gin that I love from Nashoba Valley Winery. Aside from enjoying the delicate mix of flavors in ICOBar cocktails, it should also be known that the bartenders consistently make a strong drink!

At our table we all ordered cinnamon french toast topped with apples and toasted walnuts or lobster rolls with chips and cole slaw, so I’m curious to hear how the other two meals were (bagel, lox, and cream cheese; baked beans, bacon, and egg). I paired each bite of my french toast with apple for a perfectly autumn-inspired combo.

There were giveaways throughout the meal from Boston Brunchers sponsors, the service was extremely friendly and helpful, and I thoroughly enjoyed talking with bloggers at my table.

Thank you Renee for orchestrating the event and Island Creek Oyster Bar for providing us a natural-light-filled venue and complimentary brunch with which to celebrate the first birthday of Boston Brunchers. Thank you as well to the sponsors who contributed to the gift bag. I look forward to making my way through some of my favorites, including two new cookbooks!

Island Creek Oyster Bar, 500 Commonwealth Ave, Boston

We Found the Ben & Jerry’s Truck at Whole Foods!

23 Aug

Summer in Boston has its perks, from free concerts to outdoor seating at restaurants. What I like most about living in the city, though, is finding the unexpected: a guitar player on the sidewalk, overhearing bits of history from a Freedom Trail tour, free ice cream…

Have you found the Ben & Jerry’s Truck yet this summer? Last week I caught up with Taylor and Elise, master drivers and super friendly free-ice-cream-givers, in Cambridge.

On Friday, August 19, Whole Foods on River Street celebrated their 10th Anniversary with a block party. There were samples of KerryGold, Grillos, Pretzel Crisps, Ripe juice for all, but the talk of the event was the free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. It was before dinner, but guests were more than willing to risk their appetites.

Taylor, an assistant manager at a Boston Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop, talked with me about her experiences working on the truck. And, of course, I had to sample Cherry Garcia, the flavor I would eat by the pint with my dad at Cape Cod.

This is Taylor’s second year working on the truck – she says it’s “great to give back to the community” by attending public events and visiting offices (20-30 each week!) throughout the Boston area. Before Boston, the truck was also in Miami and New York. The truck accepts location suggestions and announces where it will be via its Twitter account (@BenJerrysTruck) and will continue traveling around Boston until August 29.

In the coming weeks Taylor will begin her senior year at Boston University where she studies Biochemistry. Her favorite Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavors are Half-Baked Frozen Yogurt and Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Snack. She’s also excited about Ben & Jerry’s becoming completely Fair Trade Certified by 2013 – and we’re not talking just a few flavors, but every bit of every flavor – from chocolate chunks to vanilla. Now that’s something to look forward to.

There’s still time to grab a free ice cream from the truck, so check in on Twitter and say ‘hello’ to Taylor and Elise for me!

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