Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Reflection On My Blog

Alas, the semester is nearly at a close, and it is now time to wrap up my blog. Looking back I am glad that I chose to switch the subject of my blog from blood diamonds to cooking and eating out in Boston. The change was pretty extreme but I feel that it would have been difficult as well as depressing to try and find enough information to talk about blood diamonds and their impact on African nations four or five times a week. The Boston restaurant scene was a decidedly lighter topic. I also think that this topic was appropriate for a college student living in Boston, because going out to eat with my friends is a major part of my social life as probably anyone could tell if they have read my blog.

The proximity to the subject of my blog also enhanced its quality. For example, I think one of the most successful parts of my blog were the photographs of food and restaurants. It is one thing to describe a dinning experience or explain how to cook a meal, but it is another to see photographs of Ethiopian food or step by step directions on how to make guacamole using pictures. As the old expression goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and I think this is true of the photographs on my blog as well.

Furthermore, I think the YouTube videos and my podcast interview with Libby Sharfstein made my blog more interactive. Written posts obviously made up the bulk of my blog, but these features added a bit more variety. My favorite YouTube video was the “10 Minute Cooking School: Puerco Pibil” because I thought he gave some great tips about cooking and was also an amusing host. I often did not have the time or money to go out to restaurants several times a week so these videos, links to online articles, and home cooking experiments supplemented my commentaries on restaurants around Boston. In the end I think this worked out quite well.

However, if I were to redo this blog I would do things a little bit differently. For one, I wish I had remembered to bring my video camera from home, because I would have liked to have someone videotape me cooking a meal or videotape a night out at a restaurant with my friends (assuming the restaurant would let me do this.) I think home videos are cute and this would have been a great addition to my blog. But oh well, I did my best with what I had.

And secondly, I would have sent the link of my website to my family and friends to let them give me feedback on my blog. I did tell a lot of people I was doing the blog, but then I would stupidly forget to send them the link. I think feedback is essential in the writing process because writing is exactly that— a process. More feedback would have been helpful for me because this blog was actually difficult for me to write. For my international affairs major I am used to writing a lot of formal analytical and research papers, so it was hard to write in the cute and snappy manner that is typical of blogs. Though, I think my writing did improve over the course of the blog.

I guess I will cap off my reflection process with what I have learned from doing this blog. First, I have to admit that up until about two or three years ago I didn’t even know what a blog was, so I have come a long way since then. This is the first time that I have ever written my own blog. This assignment introduced me to the world of blogging, since I read many other people’s blogs while I was trying to create my own. It also introduced me to the idea of citizen journalism as a new and potentially relevant form of journalism. Although many journalists are nervous about the emerging power of blogs, I think it is a wonderful thing and will only add to the discussion of current events. I learned a lot while doing this blog and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience!

Island Hopper

Once again, one of my friends introduced me to this excellent restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue that serves Southeast Asian cuisine. The food consists of a mixture of Burmese, Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese, and other Asian foods. Last night was the first time I had ever been to this restaurant and I tried the Pad Ped Chicken which was very tasty. It consisted of white chicken meat stir-fried with red and green peppers, onions and green beans in a Thai Basil coconut sauce. It came with a side of rice (you can choose from brown rice, white rice, or coconut rice) and a small salad garnish. I couldn't help but indulge myself after a stressful day so I also ordered the Kookie Monster, which is an Oreo smoothie. The food was absolutely fantastic and my friend was also pleased with her meal.

Besides the food, the service was excellent, as our waiter catered to our every need and was friendly and patient while we asked questions about the menu. As far as prices go, I would say they were fairly reasonable for a Boston restaurant, but when adding fruit drinks and other sides it can get quite pricey. And finally, the decor was a mix of colorful modern art with splashes of Asian art scattered around the restaurant. Overall, it was a great dinning experience!

Island Hopper

Assignment #5

On November 28th I was lucky enough to get the chance to speak with Carlos “Junior” Portal, the chef and general manager of Betty’s Wok and Noodle on 250 Huntington Avenue in Boston. I love this restaurant and have always wanted to know how they came up with the idea to have a fusion of Asian and Latino food. Read on and learn the answer to this question any many others.

Q: What is it like to be a chef in a Boston restaurant?
A: It is exciting and it is stressful. Bostonians are demanding, they know what they want and they obviously want quality, so it’s exciting but it’s very stressful, but it’s fun.

Q: Do you find you constantly have to compete to keep up with other restaurants?
A: Well I don’t feel like we do that because, you know, we’re not Chinese, or we’re not Japanese, or we’re not Latino. We are very unique and we do our own thing. So we compete obviously in service and we hope the quality of service is good. But not in food per say, because you know what you get when you come to Betty’s.

Q: Who came up with the idea to have a restaurant that serves a fusion of Asian and Latino food?
A: My partner, Karen Albrektsen. She was in sales and then she always had the idea that she wanted to go into the service industry. She lived in Chicago and there was a restaurant in Chicago that inspired her.

Q: Why Asian and Latino food in particular?
A: Well they actually mix very well. There are a lot of similar flavors; there are a lot of similar spices. They are both very interesting, they are both very colorful, but very flavorful and they are trendy. There is a big boom in Asian and Latino food now.

Q: Is there any special meaning behind the name of the restaurant?
A: There was. We wanted to call it “Betty Crocker,” but it couldn’t be done because of Betty Crocker and then it just ended up being Betty’s. Betty is the mother of the 50’s she is looking beautiful, she’s cooking good food, she is having a good time.

Q: Basically you could not name the restaurant Betty Crocker because of copyright issues?
A: Yes ma’am.

Q: Who are your clientele and how do you adjust your cooking styles to fit them?
A: Well we target all groups, all demographics, from children to adults to the symphony crowd which is usually 48 and up. The variety on the menu, we do have everything. For example if you want to be healthy we will steam your vegetables. Whatever you want. I think our menu pleases all types of customers. There is a lot of variety and flavors.

Do you find you get a lot of college students?
A: Yes we do, and we appreciate them a lot. They are the one’s that come after 8 o’clock. We do our first part of the day for the symphony crowd. Our music is different, our lighting is different, the whole mood is different for that type of crowd. And then after 8 o’clock is when we get the younger crowd. We dim the lights; we play all retro music, more kind of lounge like, more fun, louder. At 8’oclock we just go crazy and that’s when the college students like to come in.

Q: What type of music do you play?
A: We are all retro. Everything that I play is retro: 50s, 60s, and 70s from funk to disco to rock and roll. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of good music. And for everyone’s taste.

Q: Do you find with individualizing meals and having such a wide clientele base it is hard to please everyone?
A: It’s easier to please everyone. The hardest part is that some people might be overwhelmed and then we have to guide them through the process, it makes it easier. What’s great is that any kind of diet you have, you could eat at Betty’s and I don’t think all the restaurants could say that.

Q: Have you created a system to be able to individualize meals?
A: We had to create a whole system in order to do this, absolutely. Here one dish is completely different from the next so that’s part of the challenge and we had to find a system that would work for us. I have to say we do it very well. In other restaurants they screw up your pizza and your stake. We try to not make mistakes. Food should come out really really fast. In two and a half minutes we cook your meal.

Q: Do you have any last commentary on being a chef in Boston or Betty’s Wok and Noodle in general?
A: Well like I said before, it’s challenging, it’s a lot of fun. There are a lot of people with great ideas. It’s a labor of love. And you have to love what you do and you have to love to work with people and you have to love to listen to people.
We do our own thing here. We have been on Rachel Ray we have been on T.V. Diner we have been on everywhere. We just try to do our thing, we are not really worried about other people and we try to be always on the creative side. And we understand what going out is, you go out with friends you want it to be fun and you want it to be cool so we want to meet everybody’s expectations. It is a restaurant for everybody.
Betty's Wok and Noodle

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Peanut Butter Delights

Thanksgiving has passed and Christmas is just around the corner. I wanted to post a recipe up on my blog about how to make Christmas cookies, and as usual I turned to my source of inspiration— my grandmother. She was nice enough to share her Peanut Butter Delights Christmas cookie recipe with me and you. My grandmother makes all sorts of cookies for Christmas but of all of her creations these are by far my favorite cookies. I must admit that I have a sweet tooth so for those who do not like sugary, rich concoctions I would not suggest this recipe for you, but if you love chocolate and peanut butter as much as I do, you will surely love these Peanut Butter Delights.

Peanut Butter Delights


1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter softened
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
4 ounces cream cheese softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips

1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
6 tablespoons baking cocoa
3 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Dough Directions:
In a large bowl, beat the shortening, butter, peanut butter, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup brown sugar together until you have a creamy consistency. Add the two eggs to the mixture, one at a time. Beat the ingredients together. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt together. Then gradually add this to the creamed mixture. Using your hands roll the soft dough into 1 1/2 inch balls. Then place the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar on a plate and roll the balls in the sugar, evenly coating them with sugar. Place the sugar-coated dough balls two inches apart on un-greased baking sheets. Using the end of the wooden spoon handle, make an indentation in the center of each ball of dough.

Filling Directions:
In a small mixing bowl beat the peanut butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Next, beat in the sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla. Spoon about 3/4 of a teaspoon of filling into each indentation in the dough balls. Bake them at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until firm to the touch. Remove them from the oven and then place them on wire racks to cool. Next, melt the chocolate chips, stirring them until they are smooth. Dip the bottoms of the cookies in the melted chocolate. Shake off the excess chocolate. Place the cookies chocolate side up on waxed paper. Refrigerate until set.

Topping Directions:
For topping, melt butter in a saucepan. Whisk in confectioners sugar and baking cocoa. Gradually add the water, whisking until smooth. Stir in the vanilla. Then drizzle this mixture over the tops of the cookies. This recipe will make five dozen cookies.

Gram’s Secret Deviled Egg Recipe

The day before Thanksgiving I was sitting at my Gram’s kitchen table and she was preparing the deviled eggs that she makes for holiday occasions. I have been eating her deviled eggs for as long as I can remember, but I never learned how to make them myself. So finally, after all these years I paid close attention to what she was doing and asked her how she made her deviled eggs. And this is what she told me.

A dozen eggs
Dried Mustard
Worcestershire Sauce

First hard boil a dozen eggs in a large pot. Wait for the eggs to cool and then take the shells off the eggs without actually breaking the eggs. Next cut each egg in half length wise. Place the egg yolks into a separate bowl and put the white egg halves on an egg plate. Then chop the egg yolks into a fine powdery substance. Add a teaspoon and a half of dried mustard, ½ to ¾ of a cup of mayonnaise, 5 drops of Worcestershire Sauce, and a dash of salt and pepper to the cooked egg yolks. Mix the ingredients together well until they become a pasty consistency. Once the filling is ready, take a spoon and fill each of the white egg halves with the newly mixed yokes. Mound the filling in the egg whites. After all the egg halves are filled, sprinkle a little bit of Paprika over the egg yolks. And you’re done!!! This is a delicious recipe that is great to bring to parties or holiday gatherings.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Punjab Palace

I was trying to remember the name of a fantastic Indian restaurant that my friend and I used to go to and sure enough after a couple of minutes of searching and reading reviews online I was able to find it.
Punjab Palace
is an elegant but reasonably priced Indian restaurant located at 109 Brighton Avenue in Allston, Massachusetts. The food is wonderful, the service is friendly, and I especially love the Indian music videos that they play on a wide flat screen television on the wall inside of the restaurant. For first-timers at Punjab Palace I recommend trying their nan, vegetable samosa, and Chicken Tikka Masala or Chicken Madras. According to the descriptions on their website, nan is an "unleavened white flour bread freshly baked in a clay oven," vegetable samosa is "a pastry filled with potatoes and peas," Chicken Tikka Masala is an, "all white tandoori boneless chicken cooked in tomatoes and creamy sauce," and finally Chicken Madras is, "boneless chunks of chicken breast cooked in special tamarind sauce with a touch of ginger, cashews and garlic." All their meals are delicious so whether or not you choose to follow my recommendations I'm sure you will be pleased with your choice!


A week or two ago I was lucky enough to have the experience to try Asian hot-pot for the very first time. My friend is from Japan and she told me about a restaurant in Chinatown called, Shabu-Zen, that serves Asian hot-pot. Up until that point in my life I had never heard of hot-pot, so I thought it would be adventurous to expand my knowledge of Asian foods and try it out.

When we arrived at the restaurant it was packed with people. Shabu-Zen consisted of one large room with separate tables for groups to eat at as well as a long table that wrapped around the center of the room where people were squished in together much like the setup at a bar.

We waited only a few minutes and were seated at one of the private tables toward the back of the room. Our waitress brought us our menus and one of my friends and I decided to order the chicken meal, while my other friend opted for a vegetarian dish. I wish I had remembered to bring my camera with me that night so I could display pictures of the unique style of eating associated with Asian hot-pot, but I will simply have to do my best with a written description.

Asian hot-pot works something like this. Built into the center of the table there is a heater that the waitress places a bowl of flavored water on top of so the water will heat up and boil. There are many flavors to choose from to add to the water, but my friends and I eventually decided to have a beef flavoring on one side of the pot and an Asian spice with Chile peppers on the other side of the pot (the pot is split into two sections.)

Then the waitress brings out your individualized meal. The chicken dish came with a plate of thinly sliced raw chicken and a plate of raw vegetables, while my friend's vegetarian dish came with a larger plate of vegetables. The vegetables consisted of slices of raw tomatoes, corn, carrots, Asian cabbage, lettuce, and mushrooms as well as other vegetables that I did not even recognize. Each person also has the choice to pick either noodles or rice to come with their meal. And finally, the table also came complete with several toppings for general use such as soy sauce, garlic bits, sliced up Chile pepper, and dry beef flavoring. You then use chopsticks to place the raw ingredients into the boiling water to cook and absorb the water's flavor.

Asian hot-pot requires a little bit of creativity on the part of the individual because you have to determine for yourself which ingredients taste the best together. I tried to make lots of soups by scooping up the water from the pot and placing it in my bowl. I then cooked the noodles, vegetables, and chicken in the pot and added them to my bowl. I used the garlic and soy sauce for extra flavoring. However, the simplicity or complexity of the meal is really up to the person. For example, sometimes I just cooked the vegetables in the Chile flavored water and then ate the vegetables plain and other times I tried to invent a new soup. By the end of the night we were all stuffed and content with our meals.

In the end, the thing that stood out to me most about my first Asian hot-pot experience was its communal nature. Everyone at the same table shares the same pot so you work together to try to remember whose food is whose. The unique style of eating also brought up some interesting cross-cultural conversations between me and my friends. One of my friends is from Japan and has also lived in many other parts of the world, the other is originally from Argentina, and I am from the United States, so we were really able to bond over our eating experience.

If anyone wants to break the ice with some new friends or just enjoy a night out with some old pals, I strongly urge him or her to give Asian hot-pot at Shabu-Zen in Chinatown a try.