Little Donkey

Mr. E and I went to Little Donkey shortly after its opening on July 18th (happy 1 month anniversary guys!). The small plate and raw bar restaurant was opened by James Beard Award winners and overall Boston heavy hitters Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette, who finally made their move across the bridge to Central Square.

We arrived at 5:15 for an early meal with no reservation and managed to grab a table on the promise that we’d be out of there by 6:00.

At the start of our meal, I ordered a Baronesse Spritz, which put me back $11.  It delivered on its namesake and was an unsurprisingly refreshing spritz. Our server suggested 2-3 small plates per person, which felt about right given our experiences at Toro and Coppa.

Here’s what we landed on:

+ Oysters Standish Shore (Plymouth, MA) Norumbega (Pemaquid, ME) and the Fin de la Baie (New Brunswick, Canada).  I was totally digging the raw bar and couldn’t pass on trying a sample of their oysters.  I’m a stickler for briny and crisp oysters, so I stayed in the northeast. These were all super delicious and didn’t need anything more than a nice light squeeze of lemon.

+ Tuna Poke gochujang, pickled bean sprouts. This was quite possibly the best thing I ate.  The warmth of the sesame and the spice of the pepper sauce were perflectly balanced with the pickled sprouts.  Everything sung out in harmony on this one.  I’d go back to eat 2-3 plates of this.

Black Pepper Popovers wagyu steak tartare. The popever was light as a feather, but the seasoning of the steak tartare wasn’t quite there.  Overall, this dish was a little on the bland side, which was a terrible let down after I convinced myself it would be heaven. High hurdle, I know.

+ BLT Lettuce Wraps lamb bacon, pimento cheese, tomato jam, pickled red onion. I was only able to try one of these make your own lettuce wraps because Mr. E gobbled them down so quickly.  This was his favorite dish of the meal.  I had to admit, the lamb bacon was seriously addictive and the tomato jam was a nice concentrated version of the good ol’ tomato we all know and love in a BLT.

+ Foie Gras plum jam, bee pollen, nepitella. Another one of Mr. E’s now you see it, now you don’t tricks.  While I didn’t get to try it, I was promised this was very good. I trust Mr. E’s judgment on that since he’s become something of a foie gras connoisseur recently.

Matzo Ball Ramen chicken broth, burnt onion, schmaltz tare, corn, spicy chicken. While it’s easy to get swept up in the kitsch of it all, it just wasn’t good. Oddly enough, with all the bells and whistles going on, it was flat. The broth was a far cry from the full bodied ramen broths I’d expect. And I don’t think the classic matzoh ball soup fans out there are going to get behind this one either.  Skip this one.

+ Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough milk espuma, cocoa nibs. Mr. E got this to go as our check came at 6 on the dot.  I’m not sure if because we were being rushed out a bit that they forgot to add the milk espuma. The to go box only included a large wad of cookie dough, which Mr. E had no complaints about. I, on the other hand, couldn’t pass up a micro scoop from Toscanini’s which was so dangerously close.

One disappointment that I could not overlook was the promise of nachos.  There were no nachos.  However, I’ll give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt since all new restaurants have some kinks to work out. I’m excited to try this place again in a few weeks to see what tweaks they’ve made.

Little Donkey
505 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 945-1008

Bottega Fiorentina – Newton

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spaghetti carbonara

This past Sunday, I had every intention to split a bowl of ramen with Mr. E at Little Big Diner.  Sundays are recovery day in my very scheduled fitness life, as well as meal prep day.  The last thing I felt like eating before prepping all of my healthy meals for the week was something healthy! I mean, why on earth would I want to do that?!

We arrived at 3:15 because we couldn’t get our acts together to eat lunch at a normal time.  We realized our blunder immediately, seeing the staff having their meeting before dinner service at 5. My hunt for noodles brought me to this little gem a few doors down.  I had been to the Bottega Fiorentina location down in Coolidge, it it’s been YEARS.

I scanned the chalk board filled with pastas ranging in price from $5-7 ($5 on Wednesdays and Sundays).  I threw caution to the wind and ordered the GD spaghetti alla carbonara. Inspired by my devil may care attitude, Mr. E followed suit.  We grabbed our plates at the counter (quickest service ever!) and perched ourselves at two window seats.

The first thing that struck me was the portion.  It was less pasta than I’m used to seeing at American Italian restaurants.  This was actually portion controlled. I wanted to hug the owner for doing this.  I can see this bothering some people, but I respected their bold stance to do this.  The spaghetti had a nice al dente bite and the sauce was rich without being overwhelming.  It’s definitely not my cousin Aly’s carbonara, which is my favorite, but it was good.

With a very attractive price point and a wide variety of pasta and sauces, you can mix and match to your heart’s content without breaking the bank.  A plus is that they sell a nice variety of dried pastas, sauces, oils, and Italian treats.

If I’m in the area, it’ll be very tough for me not to beeline directly to Little Big Diner because I’m obsessed with their spicy miso ramen. That being said, if the mood for pasta hits, I’m heading down to Bottega Fiorentina for the no frills, quick and easy counter service.

Bottega Fiorentina
1231 Centre St
Newton, MA 02459
(617) 564-0713

Coconut cupcakes

Baking has always been a stress relieving activity.  The discipline and precision is what I find very soothing.  When I cook, I have the ability to freestyle.  Because I cook so often during the week, I find the exactness of baking (because I do it so infrequently), is very peaceful.

These days, I have been trying to focus most of my free time toward my personal fitness.  While it isn’t exactly the stress free activity baking is, the dopamine levels I can achieve feel almost immeasurable.  I feel like a total bad ass after a solid HIIT workout or after I’ve run farther than I’ve ever gone before.

I got a friendly reminder last week from my work family that they miss my stress relieving cupcakes.  I have to admit, it has been several months since I’ve brought any treats in.  A favorite in the office are my Elvis cupcakes.  I wanted to throw it way back and bring in coconut cupcakes which were the reigning favorite of a team I was on almost six years ago.

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Coconut Cupcakes (recipe adapted from Ina Garten)

Ingredients

  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 extra-large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 14 ounces sweetened, shredded coconut

For the frosting:

  • 1 pound cream cheese at room temperature
  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1 1/2 pounds confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In 3 parts, alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry. Mix until just combined. Fold in 7 ounces of coconut.

Line a muffin pan with paper liners. Fill each liner no more than 3/4 to the top with batter. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a baking rack and cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the frosting. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, cream together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla and almond extracts. Add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until smooth.

Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with the remaining coconut.

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One word of warning, you can probably scale back the amount of frosting you make.  I stretch this recipe out to 24 cupcakes instead of the 18 to 20 Ina suggests.  I modified the cupcake recipe above to fill the liners 3/4 vs. to the top.  They run over the liners considerably, so beware or you may end up with overflowing batter in the baking process.  Even with the additional cupcakes, I always end up with about 2-3 cups of extra frosting.  If you really love frosting and want the extra, then I say go for it!  Otherwise, it might be wise to have something else you can frost handy.  I just hate waste.

These have been a favorite of mine for years, which is especially shocking since I despise most coconut desserts. They’re definitely not for the faint of heart.  It seems to have more sugar and more butter than any other cupcake I’ve made before, but leave it to Queen Ina to bring the force. They’re pretty simple to make, so I’d encourage everyone to give it a try.  Your family, friends, and coworkers will thank you.

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