Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Painted Burro - a restaurant rave

I am lucky enough to be friends with a wonderful woman who is married to a wonderful chef. This makes me lucky because, as a single girl in my 30's, most of my friends are married, and having a friend who's married to a chef means she's husband-free a lot of nights. Not only do I have someone to play with, but I also get to go with her to restaurant-y events and eat delicious food. For example, I spent the two last nights at the "friends and family" pre-open nights of The Painted Burro, the new Mexican place in Davis Square. And now I get to rave about it!

Attending on two consecutive nights meant we could pace ourselves on ordering, and eating for free meant we could try pretty much EVERYTHING.

They began by bringing an adorable tin pail of delicious, warm, tortilla chips, and a small bowl of fresh salsa to the table. We ordered drinks - Margarita de la Casa, which I'll admit was a bit sweet for me, but also lime-y and tequlia-y, so that was good - served on the rocks in a funky glass. Then we got the ordering rolling with the Spicy "Vaquero"Nuts and Corn, which were yummy (I've never met a corn nut I didn't like) to start. Sticking to appetizers and tacos for the first night, we moved on to the Romaine Salad which was a nice Mexican spin on a traditional Caesar salad, and the Guacamole " El Mero Mero," which I'm pretty sure I would eat everyday for the rest of my life if given the opportunity. We got the guacamole with the optional fire roasted poblano and onion rajas - optional deliciousness.

Moving on. The next order was for two sets of tacos: Crispy Maine Redfish and Skirt Steak "Asada." Both were crazy tasty, but the steak ones were definitely the winners in my book. These aren't Taco Bell or Ortega tacos, by the way. These are solid and enormous tacos. The two that come on the plate could easily be a meal. Actually, one could probably be a meal, but I really like to eat.

As a crazy game time decision, we also decided to order the Chicken Liver tacos. I'll admit that these weren't my favorite. I heard afterwards that they might have been a little bit overcooked (it was the first night, that's bound to happen!), but it also could have been that I was already too full or that my childhood love of chicken livers might have faded since I actually now know what function the liver performs.

I had been thinking about what I was going to order all day and I knew our plan was to hit the entrees since we had skipped them the night before. Right away, we ordered two more house margaritas (why not?!), an order of the guacamole (plain this time), the Mizuna and Red Oak salad, and the Oxaca Cheese Grits (which are a side order). The Mizuna and Red Oak salad was awesome. I liked it even more than the salad from the night before. It came with yummy watermelon radish pickles and a tortilla "crostini" with papaya chutney stuff. I could have eaten that as a meal in itself.

The grits were also amazing. I actually had to ask Lauren to move the grits out of my reach at one point when I realized I was dipping deep fried tortilla chips into guacamole and then in cheesy grits. That seemed a bit gluttonous. But those grits were another thing I could have eaten as a meal in themselves, for the rest of my life.

For entrees, I had had my eye on the Flat-Iron "Asada" since the night before, especially after tasting the steak tacos. Lauren ordered the "Street Cart" Chicken since she is mindful of my dietary nuttiness and wanted me to be able to taste hers. Both of them were good. And by good, I mean ridiculously delicious. The chicken dish consisted of half a roasted chicken, flavored all the way through the meat, and cooked absolutely perfectly. I am usually wary of chicken in restaurants because it's so easy to accidentally dry out, but this was ideal. The steak was also cooked perfectly and came with grilled poblanos, green peppers, and charred onions. It was absolutely perfect. (And, I can now honestly say, totally reheat-able. I was the envy of the entire faculty dining room at lunch today.)

The decor of the restaurant is very rustic and funky (I would go for the faucets in the bathroom alone). They used a lot of reclaimed wood for the tables and chairs, and there is a lot of punched and
hammered tin and fun (if not creepy) art on the walls. 

Something I love about this restaurant is how much they are attempting to cater do people with different dietary restrictions. There's an Enchilada "Del Paraiso" on the menu that is all vegetarian, and also a veggie taco, which you hardly ever see. And while the food isn't necessarily inexpensive, there are options at different price points. Bar snacks start at $4, appetizers start at $9, and the tacos, which range from $9 to $14 ($16 for the super special chupacabra taco), and as I mentioned above, are definitely big enough for a meal.

All in all, I was blown away by the quality of food and service. I am pumped about all the other things on the menu I'm looking forward to checking out (short ribs!), since I'm expecting I'll be spending a lot of time at this place in the future, and the ones I want to go back to over and over again (holy guacamole!)

They open TONIGHT, so get going!

219 Elm Street
Davis Square
Somerville, Mass.

You can see a sample menu, and make reservations at!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Strawberry Tart

Here's thing- I had forgotten I like to bake.  It became a chore.  I bought that cookbook and all of a sudden was dishing out $50 a week to make recipes I didn't even really want.  Then I got overwhelmed by the Baked cookbook (which is still utter magic to me).  I guess I got burnt out (which is even funnier when it's a baking joke).

Then, I was watching the Barefoot Contessa the other day (since all I seem to do in life is go to work and watch the Food Network) and Ina was making miniature strawberry tarts.  This coincided perfectly with the day I had accidentally spent my boss' money on strawberries, which would kill her.  Spending her money wasn't an accident, inadvertently trying to kill her, was.  So, I already had the strawberries and Ina said the tart was French-inspired.  If there's one thing you should know about me, it's that no matter how hard I try to deny it, I secretly want to be Parisian.  There, I said it. Besides, Ina made it look so easy.  Just whip up some pastry cream, whip up a hand made pastry dough, what could be more simple?!

Sarcasm aside, it actually was pretty simple.  Ina Garten's pastry cream recipe was way easier than any other pastry cream recipe I've made and came together perfectly.  I don't even think I used as much cornstarch as she called for (ran out).  And I made the dough without a food processor and it came together well and I am pretty sure the muscles in my right arm are aiming towards Popeye. I don't own a food processor, I really don't have room for it and usually can make do with the Magic Bullet blender and immersion blender.  Not for dough though, and come to think of it,  I didn't have room for the 6-quart enamel Dutch Oven I begged for for my birthday either, and I seem to be making that work (it's beautiful and green and makes perfect bread).  Maybe my dining table will just become storage for oversized cooking baking equipment...

Back to the dough, I thought back to the Cooks Illustrated pie dough recipe and subbed about half the liquid in the dough for vodka and then tossed it back in the fridge.  Hopefully, whatever the vodka does to the gluten in normal pie dough will have the same affect in pastry dough.

Part of my inspiration to take to the kitchen again might be the audiobook I'm listening to.  I like listening to audio books when I'm in the kitchen cause I stay entertained and don't have to worry about missing what's going on on a TV show.  I am currently listening to The Help on audio and the recording is excellent.  I know, I know, I'm about four years late to The Help party, but I was resistent.  It's a grown-up book and about white people saving black people, and I try to avoid both of those things.  I had no idea it was going to be such a good grown-up book about white people saving black people.

The whole tart came together pretty easily, though there were definitely multiple steps to the process.  My tart shell wasn't as pretty as Ina Garten's, and it did shrink a little.  I also don't think I had quite enough strawberries.  The pastry cream set up very nicely, and tastes delicious though; all-in-all I am very pleased with the result.

Here are some pictures:
baked pastry shell

baked pastry shell filled with pastry cream

baked pastry shell filled with pastry cream and topped with strawberries

baked pastry shell filled with pastry cream and topped with strawberries, glazed with
orange marmalade reduction and chopped pistachios
This is my favorite picture, it's the paper towel I dried the strawberries on.

Here's the recipe from the Food Network website.
The things I changed:
1. I made one regular large sized tart because I don't have mini tart shells. The pastry baked for about three minutes longer on the second bake
2. I subbed out about 1/8 cup water in the dough recipe for vodka
3. I used about half as much cornstarch as called for and it turned out fine
4. I subbed bourbon for cognac because I sub bourbon for everything
5. I subbed orange marmalade for apricot jam
6. I chopped the pistachios 

Strawberry Tarts

Copyright 2004, Barefoot in Paris, All Rights Reserved

Prep Time:
35 min
Inactive Prep Time:
1 hr 0 min
Cook Time:
25 min
4 tarts


  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 tablespoons cold shortening (recommended: Crisco)
  • 1/4 cup ice water
  • 2 cups Pastry Cream, recipe follows
  • 2 pints whole strawberries, hulled and halved
  • 1/3 cup apricot jelly
  • 3 tablespoons shelled pistachios, halved, optional


Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a small bowl and place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Put the flour mixture in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the butter and shortening and pulse about 10 times, or until the butter is in the size of peas. Add the ice water and process until the dough comes together. Dump on a well-floured board and form into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Roll out the dough and fit into 4 (4 1/2-inch) tart pans with removable sides. Don't stretch the dough when placing it in the pans or it will shrink during baking. Cut off the excess by rolling the pin across the top of each pan. Line the tart shells with a piece of buttered aluminum foil, butter side down, and fill them with dried beans or rice. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the beans and foil, prick the bottom of the shells all over with a fork, and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.
Before serving, fill the tart shells with the pastry cream. Arrange the berries decoratively on top of the cream. Melt the apricot jelly with 1 teaspoon of water and brush the top of the tarts. Sprinkle with pistachios, if using, and serve.

Pastry Cream:

5 extra-large egg yolks, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups scalded milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Cognac
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon heavy cream
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium-high speed for 4 minutes, or until very thick. Reduce to low speed, and add the cornstarch.
With the mixer still on low, slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture. Pour the mixture into a mediumsaucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens, 5 to 7 minutes. Don't be alarmed when the custard comes to a boil and appears to curdle; switch to a whisk and beat vigorously. Cook, whisking constantly, for another 2 minutes; the custard will come together and become very thick, like pudding. Stir in the vanilla, Cognac, butter, and heavy cream. Pour the custard through a sieve into a bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on the custard and refrigerate until cold.
Yield: 2 cup

Garten, Ina. "Strawberry Tarts." Food Network. Food Network, 2004. Web. 10 Mar. 2012. .