Restaurant Review: Pescatore and KickAss Cupcakes

Tonight we decided to do something bold: try a new restaurant, one as of yet unrated by Zagat.  Could we rely on the Yelp reviews alone reliable for a neighborhood favorite?  We decided to find out.

Pescatore turned out to be a real find.  Located in Somerville’s up-and-coming Ball Square neighborhood, around the corner from a trendy sommelier and a run-down diner, Pescatore was packed on a Saturday night, full of locals who knew just where to go to find a warm spot in a cold Spring rain.  We squeezed into the only remaining table and took in the sights and sounds around us.  Families celebrated birthdays as grandparents slurped fresh clams and teenagers inhaled homemade pizza.  The first date two tables away appeared to be going well over specialty coffees brimming with fresh whipped cream.  We hungrily scanned the menu, vowing to save room for the limoncello, grappa, and other specialty drinks, as our waitress cheerfully served perfectly spiced, fluffy bread and a plate of salt-cured olives.  

We started with the Haddock Cakes, a welcome and delicious alternative to crab cakes.  The delicate, yet hearty cakes were accompanied by a fresh, tangy, homemade tartar sauce and shoestring onion fries that were so light and crispy that we almost convinced ourselves that they were good for us as we ate every last bite.  Then the entrees arrived, a Haddock Piccatta served with a side of homemade fusilli, and a Haddock Paisano in a homemade tomato sauce with roasted potatoes and sauteed spinach.  The fish was perfectly flaky and tasted so fresh that it could have been pulled out of the Harbor that morning, and both preparations were served with care and style.  Our cheerful waitress told us the restaurant had been there for three and a half years, and that they were thankful Yelp had been so kind.  Next year, maybe Zagat would come.   You should find it before they do.

The dessert menu taunted us with incredible homemade options: a pear-riccotta torte, a chocolate ganache cake, a tiramisu, an amaretto-soaked almond pastry.  But we had a tradition to uphold. We jumped into the car for the three-minute drive down Somerville’s windy streets to another neighborhood institution, KickAss Cupcakes, which serves vegan, gluten free, and “regular” cupcakes, all dripping in chocolate.  They indeed lived up to their name.

Pescatore is located at 158 Boston Avenue (@ Broadway), Ball Square, Somerville, MA. Reservations Recommended.  617-623-0003.  KickAss Cupcakes is located at 378 Highland Avenue, Somerville, MA.  Open until 10 on Saturday nights to better satisfy your cupcake cravings.

Maple-Grapefruit Glaze for Edamame, Beets, and More

More grapefruit from the farmshare.  More creativity required.  Mollie Katzen‘s grapefruit glaze from The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without  is a flavor-packed citrus revelation that can be used to brighten a host of not-quite-there-yet winter and spring vegetables.  I modify the recipe somewhat, using arrowroot instead of cornstarch, and additional maple syrup to sweeten the bitter grapefruit. Cornstarch produces a shinier coating like you see on the beets below.  For food that looks like food and not plastic in the glare of the papparazzi, use arrowroot.

Time: 30 minutes
Serves: Enough to cover 3 cups of cooked edamame, 3 pounds beets, or similar amount


Juice of 1 grapefruit, fresh-squeezed
1 T unseasoned rice vinegar
3-4 T maple syrup, to taste
2 t arrowroot powder, dissolved in 1T cold water

1. Whisk together grapefruit juice, rice vinegar, and maple syrup.
2. Heat mixture in a small saucepan over medium heat until just boiling, whisking frequently.
3. Turn heat down and add dissolved arrowroot powder.  Whisk frequently until mixture thickens and becomes glossy, 3-5 minutes. At this point the glaze can be refrigerated and reheated and re-whisked before serving.
4. Drizzle over vegetables of choice and serve immediately. 

Farewell to Winter Roasted Vegetables

Farmshare vegetables, crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, flavor everywhere.  This would work with any number of vegetables, and is a great way to use up those odds and ends in the crisper.
Total time: 40 minutes
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 Minutes
Serves: 4
1 head cauliflower, stalks removed and separated into florets
2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
1 bulb fennel, bulb diced, fronds minced and reserved
1 red onion, diced
2 large potatoes, diced
2 T EVOO (Extra-Virgin Olive Oil)
sea salt or kosher salt to taste
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Toss all ingredients except reserved fennel fronds in a bowl.  
3. Toss with fennel fronds to taste.  Roast 25 minutes until vegetables are tender and begin to brown.

Sweet Potato Oven Fries with Rosemary and Smoked Paprika

So addictive, you’ll almost feel like you’re eating junk food, but a lot less guilty about it.  This recipe was inspired by a glut of farmshare sweet potatoes and Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe for Oven Fries in the New York Times

You can also use a mix of sweet potatoes and regular potatoes. 

Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 2-4, as a side dish

2 lbs sweet potatoes, or a mix of sweet potatoes and waxy white potatoes
1 T dried rosemary, or more fresh rosemary
2 t smoked paprika
Coarse salt or kosher salt to taste
3 T EVOO (Extra-Virgin Olive Oil)

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees,
2. Line a baking sheet or roasting pan with foil, shiny side up and place in the oven during preheaating.  This step is important to speed the cooking, and also because sweet potatoes can be really tough to clean up.
3.  Cut the potatoes into wedges that are 1/4-1/2″ thick.
4.  Toss potatoes with EVOO, rosemary, paprika, and salt.
5.  Remove the hot pan from the oven and add the potatoes in a single layer.  They will sizzle. 
6. Return pan to oven, lower heat to 450 degrees, and roast 25 minutes or until tender. 
7.  If necessary, loosen the potatoes with a spatula and roast for another 5 minutes.
8.  Taste (carefully) to adjust seasoning.  Serve immediately, or hold in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes before serving. 

Roasted Cod with Caramelized Grapefruit and Fennel

I’m a grapefruit convert.  I have seen the light — the Florida sunlight, even in the dark of a Boston Winter.  My farmshare has shown me the way.  I didn’t even like grapefruit until recently, although you wouldn’t know it from this blog.  But the farmshare kept bringing it, which forced me to get creative.  I love the fresh citrus flavor that grapefruit brings when its bitterness is tempered. 

While in San Francisco at the end of February, I had an amazing sea bass with grapefruit-fennel slaw at The Firefly, and I’ve been trying to recreate it ever since.  This comes close, and was on the table in less than 20 minutes. 

This would work with other fish, with onions instead of fennel, with other herbs, and with oranges, which wouldn’t need so much sugar.  I’m also experimenting with natural sweeteners, but honey doesn’t seem to do the trick.  Cod comes in fresh from Gloucester to our local Whole Foods, making it flaky and delicious — a far cry from that tasteless substance in your average fish and chips.

I love the challenges that come in the box of organic produce each week.   Who knows what next week will bring?

Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 2 (easily multiplied)

2 6 oz cod fillets
1 bulb fennel
2 grapefruits
1/3 c sugar
1 t coriander
1T EVOO (Extra-Virgin Olive Oil)
salt and pepper to taste
bed of greens, such as baby spinach, arugula, or watercress (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.   
2. Slice the fennel into 1″ pieces, removing the tough core.  Reserve and chop the fronds.
3. By now the oven should be heated.  Place cod in a baking dish, season with salt and pepper, and bake for 10-12 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, heat the EVOO over medium-low heat.  Add the fennel and a pinch of salt.  Cook slowly, until fennel begins to caramelize. 
5. While you’re waiting for the fennel to caramelize, section the grapefruits, removing seeds and pith, and place into a bowl.  If you’re not sure how to do this, check out this video.  Toss the grapefruit sections with the sugar.
6. When fennel has begun to caramelize (it will turn translucent, brown a bit, and taste sweet), add the sugared grapefruit to the pan.  Cook for 3 minutes until grapefruit begins to caramelize.  Be careful not to burn.  Add coriander, toss, and turn off the heat. 
7.  Remove the cod from the oven.  Place each filet on a bed of greens (if desired).
8.  Top with the grapefruit-fennel mixture, garnish with fennel fronds, and serve.

Moroccan Winter Fruit Compote with Rosewater

Simple.  Delicious.  Exotic.  More flexible than your yoga instructor.  And a great way to perk up those winter fruits you’re tiring of as March rains make way for Spring.

I made this compote when a friend recently challenged me to come up with a simple non-dairy dessert for brunch.  It packed well into tupperware, and I brought it over to her house still warm.  Dazzling.  And still sparkling for breakfast the next day when served cold with a dollop of thick yogurt.

If your dried apricots are less than perfectly plump — no problem.  Simply start out by soaking them for about 10 minutes in hot water, wine, in orange juice to plump them up.  This process is called maceration, a fancy word that you can throw around and impress your friends.  You can add the macerating liquid directly to the compote for extra flavor.

Rosewater is available in Middle Eastern groceries.  Use it sparingly — its scent is divine, but you can have too much of a good thing.  You can also macerate the dried fruit in the rosewater, or mix rosewater with water and spices for the macerating liquid, but be careful: rosewater can be overpowering.

Mix and match the fresh and dried fruits according to what you have on hand.  Here, I use a mix of apples, Bartlett pears, and dried apricots.  A pinch or two of salt will help imperfect, underripe, tired winter fruit shine.  Oranges might have been interesting added to the mix, and prunes could add depth and contrasting color.  Toasted almonds could change the whole dish.  Experiment.

The fruit cooks slowly, leaving you plenty of time to go and do other things, like commenting on this blog post to share your own variation on this recipe.  You can even make this recipe a day ahead.

This recipe was inspired by Mollie Katzen’s fruit compote recipes in her great ode to breakfast, Sunlight Cafe.  And it was also inspired by Morocco, of course — one of my favorite culinary muses.

Work Time: 10 minutes, after chopping the fruit
Total Time: 40 minutes
Serves: 6

2 lbs fresh winter fruit, cut into 1.5 inch chunks, peeled if desired (apples, pears, oranges, bananas, maybe grapefruit, etc.)
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 C dried fruit  (apricots, prunes, figs, etc.)
1-2 T maple syrup, honey, or agave (to taste; desired amount will vary with sweetness of fruit)
Dash of cinnamon (to taste)
Dash of other sweet spices (cardamom, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, cloves)
Dash of salt (optional)
1 C walnut pieces, toasted if desired, or other nuts (almonds, pecans, etc.)
1-3 teaspoons rosewater, to taste (be careful not to overwhelm with too much of a good thing).

1) Place fruit in a saucepan.  Cover and cook slowly over medium heat, stirring about every 5 minutes.  (If using Bosc pears, you may need to add a bit of extra water in step 1 to keep them moist).
2) After about 30 minutes, stir in lemon juice, dried fruit, and salt (if using).  Cook for another 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, toast the nuts, if desired.
3) Stir in sweetener, cinnamon and other spices.  Turn off the heat.
4) Sprinkle sparingly with rosewater, to taste, and taste to adjust the seasoning, salt, and sweetener.
5) Inhale the heavenly smell.
6) Serve warm, room temperature, or cold, plain, topped with yogurt, creme fraiche, whipped cream, soft cheese, or even ice cream.

Aleppan White Bean and Tomato Crostini

Simple white beans are simmered to perfection in a thick, richly spiced tomato sauce to make an exotic crostini topping in a beautiful cultural culinary marriage.  Taking a page from Mark Bittman over at the Minimalist, I’ll call this a “Traditional Aleppan-Italian Dish I Made Up.”

This is not a quick recipe, but it involves only a few minutes of work and can easily be made ahead or simmered while you are doing other things.  This recipe is inspired by Poopa Dweck’s Aromas of Aleppo.  My version is quicker, vegetarian, lower in total and saturated fat, freezes well, and is perfect defrosted on toasted bread for weeks as crazy as this one.  I imagine this recipe would convert well to the crockpot, and I’ll let you know if I try it someday.

Soak the beans according to your favorite method.  I prefer the cold soak method common in most of the world, which involves simply soaking the beans for 6-8 hours or overnight in water.   But soaking is a surprisingly controversial topic, so I leave it to you to decide what works best! 

Tip: Freeze the rest of your can of tomato paste in an ice cube tray.  Transfer the frozen cubes to a ziploc freezer bag for easy access for future recipes.  No waste!

Taking a page from Mark Bittman over at the Minimalist, I’ll call this a “Traditional Aleppan-Italian Dish I Made Up.”

Total Time: 1 hour, 1 minutes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Serves: 2-4, depending on whether side dish or main.  Serve with rice, grains, or crusty bread.

2 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, chopped
2 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
1 cup dried white beans, such as Great Northern Beans or cannelini beans, soaked according to your favorite method, drained, and rinsed
2 T tomato paste
1 8 ounce can chopped tomatoes
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t white pepper
1/4 t kosher salt or sea salt
2 quarts vegetable stock (or meat stock)
Good quality, crusty whole grain bread, sliced and toasted

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  
2. Saute garlic and onion in a medium-sized, ovenproof saucepan for 5 minutes or until onions are translucent.
3. Add all other ingredients.  Bring to a boil.
4. Transfer saucepan to oven and simmer for 1 hour or until beans are tender and sauce has thickened.
5. Adjust salt and cinnamon to taste.
6.  Spread on toasts and serve your senses.

Sprouted Legume Soup with Saffron Yogurt

I’ve been wanting to work sprouted foods into my diet for quite some time now, but I’ve been deterred by taste and logistics.  Enjoying broccoli sprouts on a sandwich at is one thing.  Buying an entire package of them and eating large quantities of them them day after day is quite another.  Then one day I spied a package labeled “Crunchy Sprouts” in the produce section at Whole Foods.  It seemed non-threatening, and only $1.99, so I brought it home.

They stared at me for a few days with their little squiggly sprouts seeming to wave each time I opened the fridge.  I tried to eat them raw and found them bitter, with a strange aftertaste.  The one day I realized that I could use them to satisfy my craving for hearty lentil soup that always accompanies the snow.  And sprouted lentils offered a huge smart advantage, since sprouted legumes cook in a fraction of the time that regular legumes cook in.  And it was delicious. 

I started with Heidi Swanson’s recipe for Lively Up Yourself Lentil Soup, modifying it significantly to match the sprouted legumes and our dietary preferences.  You, too, can mix and match, adding grains and greens of choice.  If you aren’t lucky enough to have a huge bag of Middle Eastern saffron lying around, try mixing cinnamon in with the yogurt.  It will still be divine.

Time: 10 minutes
Serves: 4

8 oz sprouted legumes
4 c water or stock
1 bunch kale, chard, or other leafy green
28 ounce box or can of tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste.

Saffron (or Cinnamon) Yogurt:
1 large pinch saffron (or cinnamon or cardamom)
1 T boiling water
1/2 cup yogurt or 1/2 c soy yogurt + 1 T cider vinegar
1 large pinch salt

1. Boil water or stock in a large saucepan.
2. While waiting for the water to boil, make the saffron yogurt.  Steep the saffron threads in 1T boiling water for a few minutes.  Stir into the yogurt with a pinch of salt. 
3. Add sprouted legumes to the boiling water.  Cook 3 minutes.  Adjust heat to a simmer.
4. Stir in tomatoes and kale.  Add salt and pepper to taste.   
5. When kale wilts, taste and adjust seasoning.  Serve topped with saffron yogurt. 

Smart Green Gourmet Goes to Cairo

Cairo is a city of contrasts.  Ancient pyramids loom over resplendent Nile villas,  graying but glorious mosques, devastating shantytowns, and American fast food chains.  The desert of Giza sits alongside the fertile farmland of the Nile Delta.  In a city of twenty million, somehow everyone knows your name.  Each day seems schizophrenic, elating, depressing, and hazy as a smoke-filled argeilah parlour.  Even if you don’t love Cairo, it’s hard not to respect it.

Here are some foodie scenes from my recent journey to this fallen yet rising capital of the Arab world.  Related recipes to follow soon.

Fruit seller near the American University of Cairo’s Downtown Campus
Labneh with olive oil, a favorite throughout the Middle East.  
Pita for sale on the street near the American University of Cairo.
Oranges hang in bunches in front of a shop.  In other stores, raw meat hangs on similar hooks awaiting purchase. 
A delivery boy speeds away to deliver Cairene fast food.  As in New York and other American cities, Cairo’s bikers weave deftly and dangerously through traffic. 

Pita for sale amid the ruins.  
Shawerma for sale on the street. 
A hungry crowd waits to eat the shwarerma and other after-work snacks.

Iraqi Chicken in Spiced Yogurt

Remember this from my cooking class with Iraqi refugees in Cairo?

The cooking class didn’t really give us recipes, instead sending us home with a sheet of general instructions like “add spices to chicken.”  They certainly didn’t give us instructions on how to make the recipes without access to an outdoor grill, and they most certainly didn’t give us instructions on how to make them kosher!

Never fear, dear readers.  The Smart Green Gourmet did some research and put her nose and palate to the test and figured out how to make an Iraqi-style chicken so delicious that my husband and I used bread to mop up every last bit of the sauce in true Iraqi style.  I used soy yogurt here due to aforementioned kashrut concerns, but this recipe should work with regular yogurt, omitting the extra tablespoon of vinegar.  I normally can’t stand soy yogurt, but in this recipe, it worked beautifully.

I’ve left this recipe intentionally flexible.  The marinade directions below made more than enough for the 3 chicken thighs that I used.  If you’re using more meat, make more marinade.  You may also wish to adjust cooking times and temperatures according to what you’re making.  If you’re using boneless white meat chicken breasts, for example, lower heat would probably be appropriate.

This recipe couldn’t be easier: whisk together the marinade, toss it with the chicken, and bake.  It can easily be made ahead, or you can marinate the chicken overnight and bake it the next day.  It is easily multiplied.

Prep time: 30 minutes
Work time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Serves: 3 (or as many as you would like)


3 bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed of all visible fat.
Tip: It’s OK to loosen the skin or skin the thighs completely in this recipe; the yogurt will keep the meat moist during cooking and you can save on saturated fat this way.

1.5 c plain soy yogurt (I used
Juice of 1 lemon
1 T cider vinegar
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 t tumeric
1/4 t coriander
Pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Whisk together marinade ingredients.  Toss marinade with chicken.  Let marinate 15 minutes or overnight.
3. Arrange chicken in a baking dish in a single layer.  Bake ~45 minutes or until meat is done.
4. Serve with bread to mop up the sauce.