Monday, November 30, 2009

The best deal I found this week

Curry powder - why is it so hard to find in "regular" grocery stores?

I've been to my local supermarket numerous times looking for the spice, with no luck; until tonight. My local Hannaford, on Main Street in Waltham, hides their curry powder in the International aisle. Personally, this makes no sense to me, especially because their Naan is in the middle of the deli aisle - but I won't complain. Most spices in the spice aisle are uber expensive, priced at least at $3-4 a  jar. So, when I saw that Hannaford had Bada brand curry powder for $3.49 for 7 ounces, I did a triple take. That's a whole lot of curry powder! At first, I was skeptical, wondering if it would taste like authentic, smoky curry. Only time will tell; I'm making a vegetarian-friendly Indian meal tonight, inspired by a Food & Wine recipe, and curry is definitely on the ingredient list. Regardless, I have enough curry powder now to feed most of South India - and I paid almost nothing for it.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Turkey and tapas

Phew! It's been a crazy few days, so I apologize for the lack of blogging. I'll start this post by saying my sweet potato pie came out edible and quite delicious. The only thing I'd suggest is to melt the butter before you add it to the sweet potatoes - I was in a rush, and wasn't thinking like a true culinarian at the time.

My Thanksgiving holiday as a whole was also a success. I spent a lot of quality time with my family, ate a lot of homemade, traditional dishes (without overindulging), and sipped on some budget-friendly, palate-pleasing Yellow Tail wine. I was even fortunate enough to have a second holiday with my boyfriend's family on Friday, but instead of eating the same foods we ate on Thanksgiving, his godfather whipped up some yummy tapas and a holiday cocktail, made with Prosecco and blood orange liqueur. The cocktail was refreshing, and went beautifully with appetizers. I was too busy mingling and gorging to take photos like a good blogger, but the menu ranged from polenta topped with spicy tomato sauce and creamy feta cheese, to a variety of crackers and cheeses, marinated olives, and salmon dip with capers. The spread was vast, and having appetizers and cocktails the night after Thanksgiving was a perfect way to round out the holiday without overstuffing our stomachs two nights in a row.

Needless to say, I have a lot to be thankful for these days. How did you spend your Thanksgiving holiday?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sharing a family favorite Thanksgiving recipe

Thanksgiving in my family is all about eating until we feel sick, and drinking wine until we can't tell how full we are anymore. There's about 25 of us (at least) sitting at a long table, gorging on moist turkey, buttery stuffing, creamy gravy, and the most popular dish of the holiday: sweet potato pie. When my aunt moved back up here from Texas, she began bringing the sweet potato pie to our family Thanksgivings, and our New England palates welcomed it to the table wholeheartedly. Now, most of us eat more sweet potato pie than we do turkey. So, this year, when my aunt told me she wasn't going to make it to Thanksgiving and that I was in charge of the sweet potatoes, I almost had an instant anxiety attack - I have to make the main dish for 25+ hungry Irish people? I managed to take on the challenge, and literally just removed the pan from the oven. I still won't know how it tastes until tomorrow, but, I must say, it smells and looks delicious. Let's just hope it tastes that way - I'll report back after the meal. In the meantime, I wanted to share this sacred recipe with you - it's not traditional sweet potato pie, but it's downright delicious. I guarantee it will be a staple at your Thanksgiving table, just as it's become one at mine. Happy Thanksgiving!

Southern Sweet Potatoes

-3 cups canned or cooked sweet potatoes
-3/4 cup sugar
-1/2 tsp. salt
-2 eggs
-1/3 stick butter
-1/2 cup milk
-1 tsp. vanilla

Directions: Beat above ingredients together until thoroughly blended. Pour into buttered baking dish (8x8 or casserole dish).

-1/2 cup brown sugar
-1/2 cup broken pecans
-1/3 cup flour
-1/3 cup melted butter

Directions: Combine topping ingredients and crumble over potatoes. Bake 35 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Serve and enjoy!

*Side note: I doubled this recipe for my family of 25+.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Eco-friendly invention deserves nationwide recognition

I'm taking a break from recipes and restaurant reviews today to share with you a very smart idea that somebody in the world is cursing themselves for not copywriting before. The world's first pizza "GreenBox" was introduced last month to diners at V&T Pizza in Manhattan, where the cardboard box can be ripped apart to make plates and a storage box for leftovers. Just think of the billions of pizza boxes per year that are wasted, along with the paper plates we normally eat the pie off of! Now there's a use for all that cardboard, and the GreenBox is made with 100% recycled paper.

42-year-old William Walsh is the mastermind behind this eco-friendly invention, and although he currently stores his GreenBoxes in a warehouse in Staten Island, N.Y., he's hoping to hit it big with a national chain. My question is, why aren't the national chains lining up for this guy? In the midst of a recession, where being "green" is the "cool" thing, and pizza will always be popular, Walsh has quite the brilliant invention on his hands. I'm ready to start using the GreenBoxes. Are you?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Five dollar Margaritas and a Mariachi band

I've gone out to eat one too many times this week, but how can you go wrong with margaritas, salsa, and a Mariachi band? That's exactly what we experienced at Paisano Restaurant on High Street in Waltham. (Side note: Paisano is slang for "friend"). I went for a late dinner and drinks with my cousin and this guy last weekend, and was instantly impressed at the authentic atmosphere (despite the glass case of bottled soda right as you walk in). The place was packed with late-night diners and tequila sippers, and the Mariachi band happily provided their melodies throughout the restaurant. We started with the house margarita, which was only $4.99 compared to the $8.50 price tage of the "specialty" margs. The drink was strong, and fortunately lacked the overpowering taste of the sour mix. The complimentary chips and salsa were exceptional, the salsa being fresh and necessarily spicy. For my meal, I opted for the Mexican side of the menu, although Paisano serves both Guatemalan and Mexican fare. I was craving spicy food with lots of veggies, so I decided on the Enchilada Especial ($11.99), which were three corn tortillas stuffed with shredded chicken and smothered in your choice of sauce: mole, green, red.

I asked which one was the spiciest (the red), and went with that. On top of the enchiladas was onions, melted cheese, sour cream, pico de gallo, avocado, and lettuce, with rice and refried beans on the side. The red sauce and fresh avocado made this dish for me - the sauce gave it a much-needed kick, and the avocado helped to balance out the heat from the sauce, and added a creamy texture - without becoming "soupy" like the sour cream did. I'll definitely be going back to Paisano, but be careful how late you go on a Saturday: the back room apparently turns into a dance club, with flashing lights and bad, Top 40's music.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Celebrating a special occasion at Ten Tables

Last night, my wonderful boyfriend took me to Ten Tables in Cambridge for our anniversary. This upscale eatery is tucked away from the bustling restaurant scene, but easily beats out the competition. The place is small (hence the name), and my six-foot-five companion had to watch his head on our way to the table. However, the small, elegant atmosphere helped to make the restaurant that much more special, and the waitstaff was friendly, informative, and eager to please. The menu had few vegetarian options, but the waiter mentioned they have tasting menus every other night for omnivores and vegetarians alike. The four course meat-free tasting menu was also only $28, compared to the price of one entree, which averages at $25 per plate. Since I was "off the clock" last night and didn't want to be taking notes or snapping photos during such a special evening, I cannot remember the kind of white wine the waiter recommended to us - but the result was crisp, and full of the tart and sweet tastes of citrus and dates. When it comes to the food, our first course was complements of the chef, and was a spicy coleslaw-type dish. Next was the salad, which consisted of a bed of greens topped with large shavings of tangy cheese, toasted nuts, crispy croutons, and a flavorful vinaigrette. The main course was handmade ricotta cavatelli with spicy squash, sage, porcini broth, ammaretti cookies, and parmesan cheese. Homemade pasta makes a world of difference, and although the amaretti cookies gave the dish an odd caramel flavor, the spiciness from the squash helped to balance the bowl perfectly. The two desserts, however, were the stars of this meal: chocolate cake with sea salt and Thai basil ice cream, alongside hazelnut semifreddo with bay, oranges and caramel. The hazelnut dish was light and refreshing, but I'll be dreaming about that Thai basil ice cream for weeks. The addition of sea salt was also surprisingly successful, and helped cut the sweetness from the dense chocolate cake.

All in all, Ten Tables helped to make our anniversary extra special - and filling. It's definitely a great place to bring a date, impress a business associate, or just to share some good wine with great friends. What's your favorite date spot in Boston?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Savoring the taste of fall with sweet potato Cool Whip

I'm not a big dessert person - I used to have a sweet tooth larger than Bazooka Joe's, but somewhere along the way, things changed. When I'm hungry, I crave salt. As a result, my dessert-making abilities have fallen to the wayside. However, tonight I felt like a fall-inspired dessert, and I didn't want pumpkin pie (I'll be eating enough of that on Thanksgiving). I decided to research some recipes using sweet potatoes, and found complex recipes for sweet potato bread pudding, sweet potato bread, and sweet potato cookies - I just wanted something simple. After standing in the baking aisle at my local grocery store for a solid 20 minutes, I got it: sweet potato whipped cream with store-bought pound cake. Don't ask me how that lightbulb went off; I think it was a mix between a craving for fall flavors and simplicity. So, here it is: my recipe for very easy sweet potato Cool Whip ($2, Stop & Shop) which I served atop freshly-made pound cake ($3.99, Stop & Shop) and chopped pecan halves ($1.89, Hannaford). This dessert was seasonal, and had just the right amount of sweet potato and nutmeg/cinnamon flavor, without overpowering the delicious taste of Cool Whip.

Sweet Potato Cool Whip
Serves: 25

-3/4 of a 15 oz. can cut sweet potatoes, in syrup - mashed ($0.99, Hannaford brand)
-8 oz. tub of Cool Whip
-1/4 tsp.ground nutmeg
-1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
-Pinch of ground ginger

Directions: Drain sweet potatoes, and rinse quickly with water. Mash in a blender, or with a potato masher. In a separate bowl, fold into Cool Whip. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Mix well, and let sit in refrigerator for at least 20 minutes to allow flavors to mesh. Serve over pound cake, with crushed pecans (I just bought a small bag of pecan halves, and broke them up into pieces).

How do you easily incorporate the taste of fall into your desserts?

Friday, November 13, 2009

NuVal scores: more nutritious dinner, while keepin' it cheap

When I shop for meat at the supermarket, I normally go straight to the chicken and ground turkey – my goals are always cheap and versatile. However, when Tina Haupert, the writer behind one of my favorite Boston food blogs, Carrots ‘N Cake, as well as a NuVal employee, asked if I would be interested in devoting a blog on NuVal scores, my meat-buying-abilities immediately broadened. NuVal is a company dedicated to making nutrition easy by rating certain foods with “scores.” Their website has more information, but NuVal basically rates foods on a scale from 1 to 100, 100 having the most nutritional value. Price Chopper has NuVal scores listed right underneath the product, but I went by the scores right on their website.

On their website, I went straight to the meat section, and noticed that boneless chicken breast only scored a 39, while turkey breast was a 31. I then perused the seafood section, and most of the scores were closer to the 70 to 80 range! Shrimp, for instance, got a 75. When it came to veggies, Aunt Nellie's Ruby Red Sweet & Sour Harvard Beets received an 8, while regular red tomatoes scored a 96. Easy decision: toss up same-old chicken and vegetables for some fresh shrimp and tomatoes. The catch: shrimp usually isn’t cheap.

I stopped into my local, trustworthy Hannaford last night and did some serious bargain shopping. The fresh shrimp was obviously expensive, especially if it was already peeled and deveined. However, I was surprised at how expensive frozen shrimp was; even the Hannaford brand was close to $10-12. After some more digging, I found it: a five-serving bag of frozen, medium-sized shrimp, peeled and deveined, for a mere $4.99. Hello, dinner.

I knew I was going out for nachos and beer for “dessert,” so I made my pre-meal a light one. However, although this dish was delicious as is, I also recommend serving it over rice or pasta – it’s spicy, full of flavor, and the shrimp are perfectly plump and juicy.

Spicy Shrimp & Tomatoes

Yields: two servings

-30 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (frozen, with tails still on)

-1 medium red tomato, chopped

-1/2 tbsp. minced garlic, jarred

-1 1/2 tsp. butter

-Juice from half a lemon

-1 tsp. crushed red pepper

-Salt and pepper to taste

-Parsley, for garnish (optional)

Directions: Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add shrimp (cut off tails if desired). Season with a little salt (very little amount if using salted butter), black pepper, and crushed red pepper. Squeeze in fresh lemon juice, then add garlic and tomatoes. Allow shrimp to cook for 4 to 5 minutes total, or until they can be pierced with a fork. Serve over rice, pasta, or in a bowl as is. Garnish with parsley. (If you have white wine, adding a splash of that would add even more flavor/cut some more of the heaviness from the butter).

Recap of NuVal scores:
Shrimp: 75
Red tomato: 96

*If I had made my usual chicken with broccoli, the scores only would have been:
Boneless chicken breast: 39
Fresh broccoli florettes: 100

How have you used NuVal scores to change up your routine meals/a certain recipe?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stuffed mushrooms and pumpkin ale; British-style

My college friends were still in town on Friday night, so I took them to one of my favorite spots: the British Beer Company (in Framingham). This Brit pub has a great beer selection, outstanding bar food, and authentic British cuisine. Bangers and mashed, anyone? On Friday nights, the BBC also has live music – bonus! There were quite a few of us, and although we had to wait an hour for a table, the time flew by while we sipped some brews at the bar. I had a Shipyard Pumpkin Ale with cinnamon sugar on the rim, which was a little too sticky for me, although the flavor combination was decent. Once we sat down for dinner, we ordered a plate of nachos for the table to split. The nachos were nachos although I wish the cheese and toppings were layered throughout. Layering is key in nachos (BBC should take tips from The Common Man). For a meal, I ordered the Stuffed Portabella Mushroom appetizer. The mushroom was chocked full of fresh feta cheese, kalamata olives, and roasted red peppers, roasted in the oven. The dish was then drizzled with balsamic glaze and fresh basil. The meal was light and tasty, but had way too much tangy feta for my liking. Overall, the BBC didn’t fail us: the live music was good, the beer was ice cold, and the food was not-so-bad. Next time I go, though, I’m sticking to the burgers and bangers.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Turkey meatballs with herbs and garlic

Growing up, my mother made the best meatballs - which is ironic, since her spaghetti was always questionable. Her meatballs, however, were always juicy, full of flavor, monstrous, and slow-cooked in the crockpot. Cold, cozy Sundays always smell like tomato sauce and bubbling beef to me - such glorious foodie memories. Now that I've been cooking for myself for the last several years, however, I've become a bigger fan of ground turkey, and almost always choose the bird over the beef. Although I know I will never be able to make a meatball taste as delicious as my mother can, I strive to pack my turkey meatballs with tons of spices and garlic, while allowing them to still taste like turkey. Oh, and I try to get them as big as my mother's infamous meatballs, too. Here goes:

Turkey Meatballs
Yields: 10 meatballs

-1 package ground turkey (lean, with no seasonings) (turkey breast can be used here, too, although it's usually $1+ more expensive)
-1 egg
-1 palmful Italian bread crumbs
-1 1/2 tbsp. minced garlic, jarred
-1 tbsp. Italian seasoning
-Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Empty package of ground turkey in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix with hands, without over "kneading" the meat. Roll into 10 balls, and place on baking sheet. Cook at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25-30 minutes, flipping halfway through. Check meatballs prior to end cooking time, to ensure they don't overcook/dry out.

I enjoyed these herb-infused meatballs with my pasta sauce (made with frozen veggies this time), and whole wheat rotini pasta. Mangia!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Disappointing fare at Union Street

Several of my good friends from college were in town this week, and we needed a central place to meet up for dinner and drinks. After a quick Google search, I found rave reviews for Union Street Restaurant in Newton. Their website proves that it's a sports pub with innovative American-style dishes, as well as a lengthy beer list. Bingo! We met up on Thursday night, which also happened to be karaoke night - and almost everyone who participated actually knew how to hit a melody. This place was sounding (literally) better and better! However, once we got our food, I was disappointed. I ordered the Chicken & Pear sandwich ($9.99), which was a chicken breast servd with Brie cheese, thinly sliced grilled pear and herb mayonnaise on a toasted French roll with tomato and lettuce. Sounds unique and delicious, right? Unfortunately, the outcome wasn't as yummy. The grilled chicken was tough and overcooked, and the Brie cheese was almost nonexistent. Huge bummer. Thankfully the karaoke and beer selection were decent. For anyone who's dined at Union Street before, how was your food?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Banana Bread French Toast

Banana bread has never tasted so good - which is a heavy statement for me to make. After my epic failure of my mom's recipe this past weekend, I couldn't let two loaves of the delicacy go to waste. So this morning, I experimented, and came up with this:

Banana bread French toast. The outcome was a more dense, richer banana bread with a perfectly crispy exterior. Drizzled with some sweet maple syrup and a light dusting of powdered sugar, I was in breakfast heaven. Thankfully, the dish wasn't super sweet either; the bread was able to hold up its authentic banana flavor while complementing the syrup and cinnamon perfectly.

Banana Bread French Toast
Yields: 2 servings

-Four slices banana bread (homemade or store bought)
-1 egg
-1 tsp. milk
-1 tbsp. butter
-1/4 cup maple syrup (optional)
-Powdered sugar (optional)

Directions: Mix egg, milk, and a dash of cinnamon in a shallow bowl. Melt butter in a skillet. Dip banana bread in egg mixture and add to skillet. Brown both sides, then plate. Dress with maple syrup (1/4 cup serving each; although I only used half that for each plate), and sprinkle with sparing amount of powdered sugar.

What baking/cooking mistakes have you turned into something even more delicious?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Refusing to let bad banana bread go to waste

I am ashamed to admit this, but sometimes the best cooking mistakes yield the most delicious creations. Friday, after work, I got the sudden urge to use my rotting bananas and make them into my mother's famous banana bread - with chocolate chips added, of course. My mother has never failed at baking banana bread (or at much else for that matter), but I was in a rush - and didn't allow the banana bread to cook all the way through. What I was left with was a delicious-looking loaf of bread who's center caved in five minutes after leaving the oven. Now I'm looking for a way to make use of this disaster - banana bread pudding? Banana cinnamon French toast? Thankfully, the possibilities are endless, and the bread won't go to waste. Stay tuned.