Stepping Out of My Kitchen: Saving Money in Chinatown

Lately, I have been spending a lot of time in Boston's Chinatown drinking. No, not alcohol, but boba. Haven't heard of boba, maybe you've heard of bubble tea? Same thing. It seems like most people drink the milk tea version, but my favorite is green apple. I am allergic to fresh apples, so anytime I can have apple flavored anything I jump right on it. I have been introduced to quite a few places in Chinatown that are fairly inexpensive, which is why I believe I have been spending lots of time there. I'm just being budget-conscious. Two of my favorite affordable places to go to are The New Dong Khanh and 163 Vietnamese Sandwiches & Bubble Tea.

The New Dong Khanh has recently been remodeled and it is such an improvement. The interior is bright and inviting and the new boba counter is up front and bigger and better. I had been in a few times and just had the green apple boba, but recently I went there for dinner with my friend Alison. We both got boba, obviously, and then we got Pho. I got the chicken pho and she got the seafood pho. The total meal with tip was $12.00 (or $24.00 altogether), that included a boba ($3.50) and the meal. My pho was delicious and the serving size was huge. I have been back many times since then and have even become the "mayor" of the Dong, as we affectionately call it, on foursquare. I am looking forward to going back there and trying more items on their pretty extensive menu and of course getting the best green apple boba in the city of Boston.

The other place that I have been to a few times, mostly for green apple boba, is 163 Vietnamese Sandwiches & Bubble Tea. The real appeal of this place is their $3.00 sandwiches. Seriously $3.00 sandwiches. I believe there are four choices: Cold Cut, BBQ Beef, Pork, and Chicken. The first time I ate here they were out of the sandwiches, they run out of all their bread quickly, which is a sure sign that I am not the only one who has discovered this place. I had the chicken and lo mein the first time I was here and it was decent, not great, but not the worse I've ever had either. I think the real reason was the chicken was a little chewy. I was not swayed by the lack of sandwiches and returned to finally try one. I ordered the pork sandwich and a green apple boba. The sandwich was huge and was filled with pork, veggies, and a sauce; it was delicious. I can see now why the sandwiches are always sold out. Trust me if you've never been, go! If you are coming to Boston and want a cheap meal this is the place. My entire meal (sandwich & boba) cost about $6.00, without a tip because this is more like a sub shop than a restaurant. Seriously, why aren't you there now?


Bananas Foster Cakes

Ingredients & Directions:

(adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

14 T butter, cut into 14 pieces and softened
2/3 C packed dark brown sugar
5 T dark rum
3 ripe, firm bananas, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 C whole milk
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1 C granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease (6-8) 6oz ramekins & place on a cookie sheet. Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add 1/3 cup of the brown sugar and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes. Off the heat, whisk in 2 tablespoons of the rum. Spoon a generous tablespoon of the sauce into the bottom of each ramekin. Place the banana slices on top of the sauce inside each ramekin. (I only put four in because it seemed like a lot, but trust me you will want about 8). Whisk the remaining rum, the milk, eggs, and vanilla together in a medium bowl.

In another large bowl, whisk the remaining 1/3 cup brown sugar, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, & cinnamon. Use an electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat the remaining 8 tablespoons butter into the flour mixture and continue to beat the mixture until it resembles moist crumbs, 1 to 3 minutes. Beat in all but 1/4 cup of the milk mixture, then increase the speed to medium and beat the batter until smooth, light, and fluffy, 1 to 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and slowly beat in the remaining 1/4 cup milk mixture until the batter is smooth. Spoon the batter evenly into the ramekins. Bake the cakes on the cookie sheet until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out with a few crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes.

Bananas Foster has been on my must make list forever (everyone has one of those right?). I recently was introduced to the wonders of Paula Deen's blog by Dustin and his attempts to win her weekly cooking contest. I didn't sign up for the contest, but I did participate. The contest for this past week was to use bananas and reinterpret a classic banana dish. Well, I think they came out delicious and super tasty, but it definitely has not quelled my desire to make the traditional bananas foster, I think it has to do with the ability to flambé something.

Remember to put a few more bananas in here than I did, the bananas shrunk down a little while cooking.

Remove the cakes from the ramekin by sliding a knife around the edges and then flip it over on a serving plate. Serve them with some vanilla ice cream and be the envy of all your friends (or not).


Milano Cookies

I came across the Daring Baker challenge, albeit from July, to make homemade Milano cookies and I stopped in place. I knew immediately that these must be made and eaten within hours. Alas, I had to wait one day before making them since it was a busy weekend helping family move. Once the moving was over, the baking began. The recipe I originally used failed; it made basically weird looking cookies that were as flat as paper. I modified it a little and I think they were really successful, or at least that's what everyone told me.

Ingredients & Directions:

12 T butter, softened
2 1/2 C powdered sugar
7/8 C egg whites (from about 7 eggs)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp lemon juice
2 C flour
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter and then mix in the sugar. Add the egg whites gradually and then mix in the vanilla and lemon juice. Add the flour in thirds and mix thoroughly. With a small (1/4-inch) plain tip, pipe 1-inch sections of batter onto a cookie sheet (you could line it with parchment paper if you have it), spacing them 2 inches apart as they spread. Bake for 10 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan.

Cookie Filling: Melt chocolate in either a double boiler or in the microwave. Set aside to cool (the mixture will thicken as it cools). Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat side of a cookie while the filling is still soft and press the flat side of a second cookie on top. Repeat with the remainder of the cookies.

I am so excited that I tried this and can't wait to try it again, but this time I want to try making Mint Milano Cookies.


Purple Basil Pesto

I went to the Farmer's Market near my work the other day for the first time this season. It is always a little overwhelming deciding which tent to go to, what I want, what looks the best, and on and on. I decided to only bring ten dollars with me to buy a few things, otherwise I could have splurged on stuff that may have gone to waste. One of the things I bought was purple basil; it smelled so good I couldn't refuse it. Immediately I thought of making pesto. I know it's a simple common thing to make, but you can do so much with it and get so much from so little.

Ingredients & Directions:

2 C Fresh purple basil leaves, packed
1/3 C Parsley
1/2 C Grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1/2 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/3 C pine nuts
2 Shallots, chopped
3 Garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the basil & parsley in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor or I used the Magic Bullet again (I need one of these for myself). Add the garlic & shallots, pulse a few times more. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

I decided to try this purple basil pest two different ways. The first thing I did was serve it as a spread with some toasted French loaf sliced as a snack. This was a great way to eat it and definitely held me over until dinner time. I also made some pasta and added the pesto to the past with some feta cheese (my fave!). I served this cold and it made a delicious lunch for a few days. My coworker also told me about how he freezes pesto in ice cube trays, puts them in plastic bags, and then has them available in small amount whenever he needs them. I will be trying this next time I make pesto.