Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What to watch?

Month ago, I read an article by Neil Swidey of the Boston Globe on his introduction of the Brady Bunch and other classic 60’s sitcoms to his young daughters.  Their impression of sexist dialogue was interesting, and it got me thinking again about the state of today’s sitcoms.

At the risk of offending some readers, with few exceptions, I think today’s sitcoms are crap.  For every great show like “Modern Family”, there’s “Jesse” or “A.N.T. Farm”, and I could name many, many more.  How did we get from “Must See TV” on NBC Thursday nights (Cosby Show [before we learned "The Cos" was a rapist], Night Court, Cheers and Wings, throw in Seinfeld and Frasier for good measure), or a strong CBS Monday night in the early 1990s (Designing Women, Evening Shade, Murphy Brown) to “Must Avoid TV” like “Two Broke Girls” where every joke is about the size of the girls’ equipment, or their bosses’?  Why, why, why the proliferation of such garbage?

500 channels on satellite or cable certainly do not help.  Those stations are on air, paying broadcast and transmission fees, so they have to fill their airwaves with something, so anyone with a half-baked idea for a sitcom can push their ideas to someone.   In the past, with so few channels, the networks and production companies had the luxury of cherry-picking the best of the best.  Now, with so many shows, networks, production companies, etc…any person with a sharp enough pencil can get a show. 

Even the semi-mainstream cable channels like Nickelodeon or Disney put on quite a bit of junk.  Check out the aforementioned “A.N.T. Farm” or “Austin & Ally”, “Jessie” or an oldie but a goodie…”Zoey 101”. 

Many of the most terrible shows feature or star young actors.  In the past, we only had to worry about the kids from the “Brady Bunch” or “Diff'rent Strokes”, now, there are probably hundreds of young actors that may struggle with work in the future, and only a half-step away from turning in to Dana Plato.  Exhibit A-Jamie Lynn Spears, the younger, yet slightly more promiscuous sister (if possible) of Brittany Spears.  Pregnant at 16, it’s too early to tell how she’ll crash and burn, but if her sister is any example, it won’t be long. 

 

Conversely, outlets like Amazon Prime Video and Netflix are creating or carrying shows of such quality, they have been recognized with Emmy nominations.  Where the Fox Network would rather run episodes of “Bob’s Burgers” than Emmy winning “Arrested Development”, Netflix has been happy to fill the gap, run the fourth season of this great show, and be rewarded with an Emmy nomination.  In fact, Netflix, certainly not a traditional network by anyone’s measure, also received nominations for “House of Cards” with Kevin Spacey.  It won’t be long before we are all watching Emmy award-winning shows on our cell phones at Starbucks.  As Seinfeld has said about “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (one of my current favorites), he tried to create a show that could be watched on our phones…can’t say I’d really mind…TV and coffee, what could be bad about that?










Friday, September 12, 2014

Connoisseurs’ Corner Broadcast Highlights, September 2014

As promised on the recent Connoisseurs’ Corner broadcast, here are excerpts of the spots...some may be abbreviated versions of the full reviews previously posted, some may be new and fresh.  I am nothing if not fresh!


Chelmsford can add “gourmet destination” to its community resume.

Moonstones has an eclectic menu with appetizers, global tapas (small plates) and regular, full sized entrees.  At our table, we tried a number of things and we started with a few small plate appetizers.  We asked our knowledgeable waiter for some recommendations…how about froze grapes with candied pecans and feta cheese?  How about tuna tataki, served with 3 different sauces on a Himalayan salt plate?  The waiter bragged about the tataki being an award-winning appetizer, and he was not lying.  My mouth gives it an award for convincing me that raw fish can be delish!

We rounded out our meal with a variety of other selections.  I had “Fiery Sweet Korean Wings” and a “Asian BBQ Short Rib” braised with a five-spice rub.  Mrs. Palate had a tofu dish over bok choy, and another of our dining companions, Critical Lynn, had salmon and Critical David had Thai noodles.  Despite our general emphasis on Asian flavors, the menu is broad and varied.  All of us were impressed greatly, and satiated.  By the time we were done, we were already talking about our next time.  Certainly a success, especially in my eyes, where people don’t call me “critical” for nothing.

While I didn’t have dessert at Moonstones, the added benefit of being in Chelmsford is being next door to Westford, home of Kimball Farms ice cream, THE favored ice cream of the Critical Palate, and apparently everyone else on the Route 495 belt, considering the lines at 9:15pm at night.  For your gastronomic pleasure, I post this picture of a small cup of Peanut Butter Cup…literally, the smallest size they have!

A fine meal followed up with fine ice cream…a veritable party in your mouth!


September 20 in Framingham, a celebration of arts, food and culture will take place at Bowditch Field, which will be fed by a food truck festival.

§  We’ve talked before about the food trucks…great options.  Some of the providers will be Bon Me (Vietnamese sandwiches), Captain Marden’s Cod Squad, Cupcake City, Evan’s NY Style Deli, Frozen Hoagies (ice cream and froyo sandwiches), Maine-ly Lobstah, Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, The Happy Taco, Whoo(pie) Wagon

For $5.00 admission, you have access to all these food trucks, plus concerts and artisans selling their wares, all in celebration of the MW.  While each truck has their own charge, this is a great opportunity to try a variety of delicious items in one area.

3. Cheese guild:  Press release from the Cheese Guild reads in part as follows:

MASSACHUSETTS  CHEESE  GUILD
CELEBRATES  ITS  ONE  YEAR  ANNIVERSARY
WITH  AN  AL  FRESCO  CHEESE  TASTING
AT  VERRILL  FARM  IN  CONCORD, MA
SEPTEMBER 18 FROM 4-7 PM


The Public May Join as “Enthusiast” Members


Meet Cheesemakers from Cape Ann to South Coast and from Worcester to the Berkshires

Last fall, the Massachusetts Cheese Guild officially launched, with membership available in five categories:

*  Artisans: Commercial cheesemakers certifying use of Massachusetts-produced milk.

Enthusiasts: The artisan cheese-loving public can join at the September 18 event, at www.EventBrite.com or online at www.macheeseguild.com 

Cheesemakers appearing on September 18:

Appleton Farms                        Ipswich
Berkshire Blue                          Dalton        
Crystal Brook Farm                  Spencer

Foxboro Cheese Company       Foxboro
Great Hill Dairy                         Marion
Mozzarella House                     Peabody

Robinson Farm                         Hardwick
Ruggles Hill Creamery               Hardwick
Shy Brothers Farm                    Westport
Sidehill Farm                            Hawley

Valley View Farm                     Topsfield
Westfield Farm                         Hubbardston
Wolf Meadow Farm                  Amesbury



From the market's website:  The Boston Public Market will be a permanent, year-round, self-sustaining market featuring fresh locally sourced food brought directly to and from the diverse people that make up Massachusetts and New England. At the BPM, local farmers, fishermen, and specialty ­food producers will come together with the residents of Boston and Massachusetts to create a new civic institution, a vibrant marketplace that will let people from all walks of life taste, buy, and understand their food, from how it is made and sourced, to its nutritional value, to its impact on our environment, and of course, how to prepare it to make delicious meals that bring their friends and families together.

Located at the Dewey Square Plaza along the Greenway, across from South Station.  They run twice a week (Tuesday and Thursday) and currently feature different vendors each day.  11:30am-630pm.

Construction will begin on a permanent 28,000 square foot building with 325 parking spaces, at 136 Blackstone Street, at the Haymarket T stop, giving Bostonians a great place for locally sourced fresh fish, meats and produce year-round.  This will be a great addition for foodies in the Boston area.



6.  Pickling:

Its that time of year when many of the backyard gardeners are pulling in the last of their crop, and wondering what do we do with this.  While some hearty New Englanders are in to canning, you can “pickle” the veggies without ever boiling mason jars.

You can quickly turn garden cukes, green beans, cauliflower or any vegetable into a nice pickle in 48 hours.  Here’s a simple recipe, cultivated from several websites:

2 pounds baby cucumbers
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar, if you prefer a bite)
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons kosher salt
6 garlic cloves, peeled (2 per jar/container)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper per jar (3/4 teaspoons total)
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns per jar (1 1/2 teaspoons total)
Wash and slice the cucumbers.
In a large saucepot, combine vinegar, water and salt. Bring to a simmer.
Arrange jars (or other container with a re-sealable lid) on counter and dole out the spices to each. Pack the cucumber slices firmly into the jars. You want them packed tight.
Pour the brine into the jar, leaving approximately ½ inch headspace.
Apply lids and let jars cool. When they've returned to room temperature, place jars in refrigerator. Let them sit for at least 48 hours before eating.
7.  No knead bread:
 This is the time of year when we start thinking of cooler temps and a chance to enhance the smell of our homes with the sweet aroma of freshly baked bread.  But who really has the time in our busy lives to mix, knead and beat down?  Jim Lahey from the Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC has come up with a seriously simple recipe, and has become an internet sensation.  Here is the basic method (from the Sullivan Street Bakery website):

3 cups flour
1½ cups water
¼ teaspoon yeast
1¼ teaspoon salt
olive oil (for coating)
extra flour or cornmeal

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add water and incorporate by hand or with a wooden spoon or spatula for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Lightly coat the inside of a second medium bowl with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest 12 hours at room temperature (approx. 65-72°F).
Remove the dough from the bowl and fold once or twice. Let the dough rest 15 minutes in the bowl or on the work surface. Next, shape the dough into ball. Generously coat a cotton towel with flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal; place the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with flour. Cover the dough with a cotton towel and let rise 1-2 hours at room temperature, until more than doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 450-500°F. Place the pot in the oven at least 30 minutes prior to baking to preheat. Once the dough has more than doubled in volume, remove the pot from the oven and place the dough in the pot seam side up. Cover with the lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake 15-30 minutes uncovered, until the loaf is nicely browned.”
I say, take it out, put on a cooling rack, and enjoy after cooling, if you can wait that long.  Make sure to have some butter handy, because nothing tastes better than a hot piece of bread with melted butter soaked into it

8.  Orchards

Massachusetts is blessed with one of the greatest gifts on earth…apple orchards.  Not only do I have fond memories of apple picking when I was a kid, but we’ve enjoyed family apple picking for many years.  One of my favorite places on earth is Honey Pot Hill in Stow, Massachusetts. 

Honey Pot isn’t just an orchard, it’s New England!  In addition to “pick your own” (and you can check their web site for what is available), they have pigs and goats and bunnies and ducks, a hedge maze, hay rides and a great shop where you can buy pre-picked apples, as well as their other produce, and cider and cider donuts.  With plenty of parking, you can’t get much more New England that a trip to Honey Pot, or any of the other great local orchards here in Massachusetts.



I’ve been spending more time on the North Shore lately, discovering all the delicious offerings I can.  After visiting my friends at Chococoa Bakery in Newburyport a few weeks back, my wife and I walked along the water, and after being shut-out of most of the sit-down restaurants, we found the most delightful sandwich shop, the Port City Sandwich Co., winner of the “Best of North Shore” for sandwiches 2 years in a row! 

I was very impressed.  This is a small, clean, efficient and courteously run shop.  They gentleman taking orders was very accommodating with my wife’s food allergies, and the service down the line was prompt.  We dined al fresco at some picnic tables on the water, watching the ships and kayakers.  With a variety of made to order salads and sandwiches, some gourmet choices like Grilled jerk spiced chicken strips with red peppers, lettuce, tomato and ranch dressing;
Southwestern Chicken-Grilled Cajun spiced chicken strips with lettuce, tomato and sour cream
The Mediterranean-Grilled chicken strips, crisp romaine lettuce, feta cheese, black olives, tomatoes and Greek dressing

I was really pleased to return to dining on well-prepared and deliciously simple, and simply delicious foods.

10.  Grilled Cheese

As we’ve spoken about before, the classic comfort food, grilled cheese, is experiencing a renaissance.  With food trucks (Roxy’s) and kiosks (Cheeseboy at South Station and malls), now you can get funked-up grilled cheese in Providence and Kingston, RI, with UMelt.  With these two locations, and the Providence location serving beer and wine, they are serving some very funky, and delicious grilled cheese combinations, like the Vermonster-Cheddar Cheese, Maple Glazed Bacon, Caramelized Onions, on Marble Rye Bread and The Veggie-Havarti Cheese, Hummus, Roasted Peppers, Zucchini, Avocado, on Multi Grain Bread, you get the idea that these are not your mother’s grilled cheese.  As Emmajean Holley of the Brown Daily Herald says, “UMelt might be the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

 

 



11. Penny Candy!

Nothing harkens me back to my youth quicker than penny candy.  Unfortuantely, most are not just a penny anymore, but seeing the apothecary jars filled with small, sugary treats takes me right back to the General Store in Centerville, MA, where I spent many a summer day.

So it was with great delight that I found myself at the Wayside General Store in Marlborough, MA (on Route 20, on the Sudbury line). 

Not only do they have a great selection of all the penny candy we remember, but fudge and hand-dipped chocolates, and it also has a great history.  Founded, owned and operated by Henry Ford in 1929.  For great, fresh penny candy, and to step back in time a little, visit the Wayside General Store, and check out their website.














Thursday, August 14, 2014

Over the Moon...


With both kids away for the summer, Mrs. Palate often take the opportunity to eat at places that we wouldn’t otherwise, if we had the kids in tow.  To that end, I was excited to have the opportunity to try Moonstones in Chelmsford, MA. 

With apologies to my good friends and fraternity brothers from Chelmsford, there is nothing in Chelmsford, except…well, nothing.  Having driven through there a few times, it is probably a great place to raise a family…a relatively quiet commuter community, away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.  Happily, Chelmsford can add “gourmet destination” to its community resume.

Moonstones was a strong recommendation from charter subscriber David, who had eaten there a few times for work.  I had heard about it myself through some avenue, and was excited when we had a warm, breezy Saturday night to try it; it would not disappoint.

The building housing Moonstones gives off a slight hint of a former Howard Johnsons…not sure if it was a HoJos, but it does sit in the front parking lot of a hotel…just sayin’.  While it might hint HoJos, it screams sophisticated cuisine.  Walking past an outdoor seating area (beautiful couches with a gas fireplace), we were greeted by a cheerful hostess warmly welcoming us. We were led past an open raw bar, past large dining room and a bar area, and seated in a more intimate, smaller dining room.  While we had an early reservation, the place filled up quickly.  Apparently, Chelmsfordians like this place…a lot.

Moonstones has an eclectic menu with appetizers, global tapas (small plates) and regular, full sized entrees.  At our table, we tried a number of things and we started with a few small plate appetizers.  We asked our knowledgeable waiter for some recommendations…how about froze grapes with candied pecans and feta cheese?  Can you say “unusually awesome!”? 
Frozen grapes with feta!
How about tuna tataki, served with 3 different sauces on a Himalayan salt plate?  Even for me, one who won’t eat cooked fish, let alone raw, I say “bring it on”.  The waiter bragged about the tataki being an award-winning appetizer, and he was not lying.  My mouth gives it an award for convincing me that raw fish can be delish!

Korean wings and braised Short Rib
We rounded out our meal with a variety of other selections.  I had “Fiery Sweet Korean Wings” and a “Asian BBQ Short Rib” braised with a five-spice rub. 
Tofu and bok choy

Mrs. Palate had a tofu dish over bok choy, and another of our dining companions, Critical Lynn, had salmon and Critical David had Thai noodles.  Despite our general emphasis on Asian flavors, the menu is broad and varied.  All of us were impressed greatly, and satiated.  By the time we were done, we were already talking about our next time.  Certainly a success, especially in my eyes, where people don’t call me “critical” for nothing.

While I didn’t have dessert at Moonstones, the added benefit of being in Chelmsford is being next door to Westford, home of Kimball Farms ice cream, THE favored ice cream of the Critical Palate, and apparently everyone else on the Route 495 belt, considering the lines at 9:15pm at night.  For your gastronomic pleasure, I post this picture of a small cup of Peanut Butter Cup…literally, the smallest size they have!  
Chocolate Peanut Butter and Mocha Chip!

A fine meal followed up with fine ice cream…a veritable party in your mouth!

Go to Chelmsford, for what else, I don’t know, but make a reservation and have a great meal at Moonstones.