Mr. E headed back home after a week long frenzy of travel. Friday evening, I picked him up from Logan and we we made our way to Harvard Square. Neither of us went to Harvard, but the area is practically a hallowed ground of some of our happiest moments. We had our first date at Cambridge 1 many moons ago. Mr. E also proposed to me in Harvard Square in a scenario quite similar to this past Friday. I’d returned from a work trip and we were going to have a late dinner at Cambridge 1, that sneaky guy. Before we arrived at the gates of the holy slices, Mr. E got down on one knee and popped the question. I said yes and we went on our merry way, splitting a pie and sharing some old and new laughs like we’d done for years.
This past Friday, we ate a late dinner at Alden & Harlow. I’ve realized under no normal circumstances have I ever eaten at Alden & Harlow. It’s always after picking someone up from the airport at odd hours that I can manage to get in. I’ve tried a few times walking in with no reservation on a Saturday night only to have the hosts smugly tell me it’s a 1.5 hour wait. Yeah cool, thanks guys.
Your best bet is to go late, bee line straight past the host stand and grab seats at the bar. Do not make eye contact, just keep walking with conviction until those damn seats are yours.
Once seated, we were greeted by Dan, our friendly bartender who was happy to prepare “whatever!”. I had a wonderful gin cocktail and a mezcal cocktail to follow. Mr. E had two awesome tiki inspired mocktails. Dan was kind enough to breakdown the ingredients of both the cocktail and the mocktail to me and Mr. E, which is something I respect in a bartender. We’ve had experiences where bartenders will just throw the mocktail down on the bar without a second thought and not bother explaining what they just mixed together.
We ordered and the kitchen sent over a few extra treats —
Black Bass Crudo Popcorn Crema, Basil, Lime & Calabrian Chili – Mr. E and I agreed this didn’t stand out all that much. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. I normally love Calabrian chili, but we must have gotten a pretty mild bunch on our plate. I wanted more acidity and brightness. The crema and the actual popcorn threw me off. Also, the texture of the popcorn after sitting on the wet fish wasn’t for me.
Charred Broccoli Butternut Squash Hummus, Bianco Sardo & Cashew – Incredible flavor on the charred broccoli. It’s definitely one of my tried and true dishes. It’s really well balanced and the charred smokiness, while prominent, does not completely dominate the other flavors of the dish. This is the one dish I suggest to both vegetarians and meat eaters alike when I direct them to Alden.
Chicken Liver Pate Grilled Radish, Basil Oil, Salt & Vinegar Chicken Skins – Favorite dish. If you like chicken liver, you have to get this. Plus, salt and vinegar chicken skins??? Are you kidding me? Loved this.
Pickled Verrill Farm Corn Pancakes Buttermilk, Maple, Shishito – Again with the popcorn. Not following this trend? The pancakes were really delicious, but I’ve had a version at Coppa that I like better. That said, it’s still worth ordering.
Blistered Cherry Tomato Toast Burrata, Garlic Chips, Tomato Leaf Vinaigrette – Fun extra from the kitchen. It was a nice way to get the sweetness of summer while tomatoes are still in season.
Eggplant a la Plancha Smoked Peanuts & Tahini, Ricotta Salata, Jalapeno Seeds – The eggplant was halved lengthwise and dolled up with the works. It was a very hearty dish that made me just sit back in my chair and say, “aaahhh.” The intensity and crunchy texture of the smoked peanuts with the mild nuttiness of the tahini and the meatiness of the eggplant was really pleasant.
Blistered Shishitos Grilled Haloumi, Pickled Eggplant, Spicy Honey & Sunflower Vin – Another extra from the kitchen. Can’t say no to shishitos. The combination of salty, sweet, acidic was nice on this dish. It was impossible to stop nibbling on these guys even after feeling ridiculously full from the entire meal.
Overall, the meal was solid. The bartenders and the chef garde manger were all so friendly. Never once did I get a look of judgment for whipping out my new toy and snapping close to 10 photos of every dish. They were fun, informative, and really enhanced our experience. As we were leaving, Dan bid us adieu and told us to come back soon, which we will definitely be taking him up on that offer.
Alden & Harlow
40 Brattle St
Cambridge, MA 02138
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.
Coconut Cupcakes (recipe adapted from Ina Garten)
- 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
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.
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.