Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A special meal at The Publick House

Upon my return from Las Vegas early last week, Z and I met up at The Publick House in Brookline for some delicious beer and "special" pub grub. I call it special because The Publick House tends to charge a hefty penny for dishes you can get for less money at most other eateries outside of Boston. However, the food is high quality, and it's not every night we make it out to Brookline - so, sometimes, spending the extra few dollars is worth every penny. Plus, I got two meals out of my $17 entree.

I usually leave the beer ordering to Z, as he is the expert, and this evening was no exception. Especially between the jet lag, hunger, and the lengthy and varied beer menu Publick House offers, I was slightly overwhelmed. Thankfully, our waitress was more than willing to let us sample any of the brews we had questions on, too. I finally settled on a Whale's Tale Pale Ale, and later ordered a smooth Sixpoint Brownstone.

For an appetizer, we ordered the cheese plate, and from a wide selection of rare cheeses, we decided on the Rogue Chocolate Stout Cheddar and Tetilla from Spain (you get your choice of two cheeses).

The cheese plate came with fresh bread, cornichones, and house made spicy mustard. Both cheeses were unique and satisfying, although the chocolate stout cheddar was my favorite. A hint of rich chocolate flavor was present in the background, without taking away from the tangy bite of the cheddar. (Bonus: You can buy any of the cheeses on their menu at their Provisions gourmet food and beer store next door).

For our meals, I went for the Pumpkin Ravioli ($17), which consisted of a heaping bowl of fresh pasta, chocked full of creamy, pumpkin filling.

Personally, I loathe overly sweet pumpkin dishes, but Publick House's version of pumpkin ravioli had the ideal balance between sweet and savory. Between the cream sauce, asiago cheese sprinkling, and the mushroom and tomato garnish, this dish was flavorful, balanced and filling. I ended up eating half that night, and saving the rest for lunch the next day.

Z had the Roasted Fig Salad, which was made with bibb lettuce, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, and red wine-roasted figs tossed in balsamic vinaigrette, and topped with candied walnuts.

I forget the price of this dish (although I know it costs less than $17), but this heaping salad was divine. The flavor and texture combination was incredible - the sweet flavor of the figs went so well with the tangy goat cheese and sugary walnuts, and the balsamic dressing added a necessary salty flavor to round out the dish.

Overall, we had a great meal and some satisfying brews at The Publick House - not to mention helpful, attentive service. Even though the prices tend to be on the higher side, I am positive that we will back for another "special" meal sometime in the near future.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Best deal this week: $2.50 brews and $10 steaks at Sports Depot

I haven't been keeping up with March Madness this year, and I rarely keep up with sports in general - but I can pretend I know what's going on just as well as the next person, and I can sure as heck partake in the social events that come with watching sports. In other words, I can easily get into a sports game when there's beer involved, especially when the beer costs $2.50.

Luckily for me, and for those of you who may or may not enjoy watching sports, the Sports Depot in Allston is celebrating March Madness (or the remainder of it, rather), by serving up $2.50 domestic drafts, along with $3 Miller Lite bottles and $10 steaks. All right, so you might not be able to get a filet mignon at this joint for $10, but you can still fill your stomach with marinated steak tips (normally $15.99), New York sirloin ($19.99), and 10 oz. of top sirloin steak ($16.99).

In addition to their March Madness deals, Sports Depot's got some other deals throughout the week, too. One very notable deal: Appetizers are 99 cents from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, with the purchase of any two beverages. Appetizer options include Loaded or Cheese Nachos, Buffalo Fried Fish Fingers, and Chowder. To see more deals throughout the week, click here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Kind-of-Mediterranean turkey burgers

Goat cheese, kalamata olives, parsley, and rosemary - all wrapped up in one elegant, healthy turkey burger.

I rarely eat red meat or beef when I am at home, so when I'm cooking burgers or meatloaf, I usually use scrambled turkey. Compared to scrambled turkey breast or beef, which cost around $4-5 a package at my local Hannaford, turkey is just above $3. And for this particular meal, I already had the rest of the ingredients in my fridge, minus the crumbled goat cheese.

I was pleasantly surprised at how these burgers came out, although I decreased the amount of goat cheese in this recipe - I added a little too much in the original recipe. The result, however, was an extremely flavorful, comforting turkey burger. It ended up being an affordable meal that I can make any night of the week - but still feel like I'm having a special, out-of-the-ordinary dinner.

Kind-of-Mediterreanean Turkey Burgers
Yields: 2 burgers

-1/2 package of scrambled turkey (freeze the second half for future recipes/meals)
-4-5 jarred and pitted kalamata olives, chopped
-1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese (and a little extra for top of burgers)
-Dried parsley
-Dried rosemary
-Black pepper and a little salt

Directions: Just mix all of the above together in a bowl, and form into two good-sized burger patties (make sure to go light on the salt, as the olives are already pretty salty). Cook in frying pan with a little oil, and serve on toasted whole wheat bulkie rolls with extra goat cheese and sliced tomato.

On the side, I made my favorite oven-baked potato fries - which, to me, are sooo much better (and healthier!) than throwing some sliced potatoes in my deep fryer with a ridiculous amount of oil. All I do for these oven-baked gems is slice the potatoes lengthwise, mix with a tbsp. of olive oil, some rosemary, parsley, salt and pepper, and lay them flat on a baking sheet. I throw them in the oven at 450 degrees for 30-35 minutes (or until crispy), turning them once.

And wala! You have yummy, good-for-you fries.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Best deals this week: elegant fare and cocktails for under $25

Since I have left you without a "best deal" for the last two weeks, here are several at Rocca Kitchen and Bar in Boston. To summarize: You can get quite the booze buzz from $20, and brunch for $5. Here's how:

$20 Pitcher of Dark and Stormy: When Zach first introduced me to this cocktail, I really didn't think I would enjoy it - but now it's one of my favorite booze-infused beverages. Dark rum and ginger beer, baby - and you can get a pitcher at Rocca for a mere $20. (Seven nights a week, with sames hours as the 5@5 appetizer deal - see below).

$22 for supper on Sundays (starting March 28th): From 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Sundays, you can order three courses for $22. The choices are basically salad, pasta, and dessert (pistachio cannoli, anyone?).

5@5 - Five Appetizers for $5 each: Seven nights a week at the bar from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. to close, Rocca serves up appetizers like honey-glazed chicken wings, burgers with fontina and pesto mayonnaise, and cauliflower fritti with anchovy aioli.

$5 Bloody Marys, Mimosas & Brunch Snacks: Every Sunday starting at noon, Rocca offers bloody marys and bellinis (Prosecco made with blood orange, peach or pear) for five bucks. Brunch snacks are also sold for $5, with options like Pizzetta Chicchi-richi (egg, pancetta and roasted tomatoes); Fully Loaded Patatine Fritte (with pesto, three cheeses and tomato); and mixed greens with herb and citrus vinaigrette.

Talk about upscale, elegant dining (and drinking) for under $25, all across the board.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

5 tips for saving money while on vacation

In the 25 years that I have been alive, I have rarely traveled for personal pleasure - but that is about to change. Over the last year or so, I have made it a goal of mine to plan trips and travel the U.S./world, no matter how tight my budget may be. I refuse to be 85 years old, wishing I had spent the majority of my life exploring the world and enjoying the scenery and cuisines of regions outside of New England. With this being said, I also don't  plan to blow my entire savings account on each trip - and have recently realized I don't have to.

Case in point: My and Zach's mini vacation to Bethel, Maine was a great weekend getaway, but also didn't hurt our plans to Save for Italy. By planning ahead and cutting a few corners here and there, we were able to enjoy a nice weekend away without sacrificing our future travel plans/finances. I know a lot of you are also on a limited budget, so I wanted to share some of these money saving tips with you  - because you can still enjoy a vacation now and then no matter what your financial situation may be.

5 Tips for Saving Money While on Vacation

1.) Do your research. Weeks before we booked a hotel in Bethel, Zach and I looked online and called around to several hotels in the area, determining which place was the least expensive, but still within reasonable distance to Sunday River. We eventually decided on the Pleasant River Motel in West Bethel, which was a little more expensive then some hotels farther from the mountain, but we would have spent the same amount of money in gas anyway if we went with one of the farther hotels. Plus, we were on vacation - convenience was key.

2.) Pack a lunch. Whether you're going on a skiing/snowboarding trip or not, bringing some of your own meals and snacks saves a ton of money when traveling. So many hotels have fridges now, too, so it's even easier to bring your own food. Zach and I brought sandwich fixings for our lunches and snacks for between meals, and we probably saved a good $40 in three days because of it.

3.) Sharing is caring. On vacation, going out to eat is inevitable - and frequent (at least for me). I go out to eat for a living, but sometimes, by day 3 or 4 of vacation, I'm stuffed to the gills. To avoid this, I always try to share entrees with my fellow travelers, to save money and stomach space.

4.) B.Y.O.B. Similar to tip #2, bringing your own beer or booze on vacation is also essential. Whether you purchase it near home or once you reach your destination, buying your own 6-pack or bottle of wine at the store to have in your room can easily save you $5-10 a pop - hotels, resorts, etc. charge a ridiculous amount of money for booze. And if you bring your own, you can have more on hand for less money.

5.) Don't shop till your drop. Souvenirs are overrated. I understand the point behind collecting items from all the locations to where you've traveled, but how many magnets can your fridge really hold? When I travel, I might buy one small item at a local gift shop to give to someone at home or to use in my own house, but I never overdo it. My 2-year-old nephew is already sick of me bringing him back T-shirts from various locations he can't even pronounce yet. So enjoy the local merchandise, but only buy items you'll actually use - which don't include magnets and keychains.

What are some ways you save money while on vacation?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Eating our way through Bethel, Maine

Last weekend, Zach and I took a mini vacation to Bethel, Maine to relax and do some snowboarding at Sunday River. I hadn't been on vacation since April of 2009, so this 3-day getaway was sorely needed (for the both of us). The town of Bethel is extremely quaint, and fairly old-fashioned (in a good way) for being right next door to a popular ski resort.

I'm very lucky in the fact that Zach enjoys trying new restaurants and discovering a certain town's cuisine just as much as I do. So, when we weren't snowboarding or hanging out, we were eating. I was pleasantly surprised at the various options Bethel had, including a pizza joint that served gluten-free pies, and Cafe DiCocoa's, a vegan/vegetarian-friendly bakery and cafe.

This funky coffee shop had everything from gourmet cheeses to sandwiches/wraps and pastries. I loved the pro-vegetarian bumper stickers they had plastered sporadically around the interior, and the overall eclectic decor. I ordered a simple, perfectly boiled bagel with scallion and chive cream cheese, although some of my other spread options included Nutella and vegan cream cheese. Zach opted for the Brie and spinach whole wheat quesadilla, made with caramelized onions and fresh apples. I had a few bites of Zach's, and the quesadilla was incredibly innovative and tasty. Considering the high quality ingredients they use, DiCocoa's prices were quite reasonable, too.

Another highlight was where we ate dinner our first night in Bethel: The Suds Pub, a watering hole not too far from DiCocoa's on Main Street. Sud's is a pub in the basement of the Sudbury Inn, but the result is a dark dive bar that caters to families, locals, and ski bunnies alike. The place was just so inviting and friendly, and the food was ideal pub grub: burgers, fries, salads, and pizza. Oh, and they have 29 beers on tap. Hence why we went there.

I ordered the turkey burger and substituted regular fries for sweet potato fries.

The burger was simple, served with tomato and lettuce, but the flavor of the meat was anything but bland, which can be a curse of turkey burgers. I also ordered several locally-made brews, like Geary's and Shipyard.

The final highlight is the breakfast we had Saturday morning before our first full day of snowboarding at Bethel's Best. This hometown eatery is tiny, but the staff is more friendly than most people I encounter on a daily basis in Boston. Plus, the food was homemade and comforting. Zach had the tomato, egg & cheese English muffin ($2.99), while I ordered the Western Sandwich ($3.99), which was grilled homemade bread full of eggs with ham, green peppers, onions and cheese.

The bread was amazingly light and fluffy, although I could have done without all the butter from the grilling - I could have easily wrung out the bread to create a puddle of butter on my plate. But, what the hell - I was on vacation. What's another clogged artery?

All in all, we had a wonderful mini-vacation, with some amazingly delicious (and crazy inexpensive) eats. Since we're saving for Italy, we also saved quite a bit of money in other ways during this mini trip, which I'll share with you in my next blog post.  

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Whole wheat pasta with chicken sausage & arugula

I have been a horrible blogger lately - but my mini vacation to Bethel, Maine was so worth the lack of blogging (blog post to come on that trip - $2 breakfast, anyone?). But for now, I promised you a whole wheat pasta with chicken sausage and arugula recipe - so a pasta recipe you shall get.

I actually saw a tweet on Twitter a few weeks ago about using chicken sausage in pasta, and I thought it was genius. I am not a big fan of regular sausage, and I love vegetarian sausage - but I never even thought of picking up some chicken-based sausage. It was pretty affordable too, although I forget the actual price (I am a horrible blogger, after all). I almost always have whole wheat pasta in my pantry, and I had a bag of arugula and a few tomatoes in the fridge - so all I had to do was pick up the sausage for this meal.

Whole Wheat Pasta with Chicken Sausage & Arugula
Yields: 2 servings

-2 Trader Joe's Sweet Italian Style Chicken Sausages
-2 cups arugula
-1-1/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
-2 cups whole wheat pasta (I used rotini), cooked
-1 tbsp. olive oil
-White wine
-Crushed red pepper
-1 tbsp. minced garlic, jarred
-Salt and pepper to taste
-Dried parsley
-Shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions: In a saucepan, heat up sausages until browned on each side. Take off pan, and cut into slices once cooled. In a separate pan, heat up olive oil and cook arugula until almost completely wilted. Add crushed red pepper, salt and pepper, and dried parsley. Cook for about 30 seconds, then add tomatoes, garlic, and sliced sausage. Add a quick pour of white wine, and let cook off for 15 seconds, then add cooked pasta. Stir, and add shredded mozzarella cheese.

This dish was so satisfying, and took 30 minutes (max) to make!

Are you a fan of chicken sausage? How have you used it in a recipe?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Review of new tapas menu at Stonehedge Inn & Spa

Before I disappear for a few days (Zach and I are headed to Sunday River for a mini vacation), I wanted to share with you all a review I wrote of Stonehedge Inn & Spa's new tapas menu for my other blog, Live Free or Dine. Earlier this week, I was fortunate enough to get a sneak peek at the new menu at this upscale spot in Tyngsboro, and I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of food you get for the smaller price tags. The quality of the food was also outstanding.

Upon my return Tuesday morning, expect a recipe for chicken sausage and arugula whole wheat pasta - one of my most recent and new favorite make-at-home dinners.

Until then...have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chocolate: 5.6% abv

I used to think chocolate with peanut butter was the best combination on planet earth. But I have been proven wrong. Chocolate + beer = the new best combo.

Before I met Zach, I thought beer consisted of Bud Light and Coors. I never thought of sitting down and enjoying a nice glass of beer - why would you waste time sipping what tastes like calorie-infused, carbonated water, with a strong yeast aftertaste? But then, I discovered the phenomenon that is microbrews. Now, Z and I are regulars at Cambridge Common, and I still get funny looks from liquor store attendants when I purchase a 6-pack of 9% abv brews...for myself. So when I started to discover chocolate flavored beers, my world turned upside down again, in a good way. I love the Harpoon and Rogue's chocolate stouts, but sometimes, they can be a bit too sweet for me, and I consider them "dessert only" beers. Luckily for me, Watch City Brewing Co. in Waltham has recently released their Chocolate Thunder Porter - a darker, yet still slightly sweet chocolate brew with 5.6% abv.

The geniuses at Watch City base their chocolate beer on the style of an American Robust Porter, and add 50 pounds of TAZA Chocolate (70% cocoa), made right in Somerville, to the recipe. The end result is a smooth ale with a subtle hint of cocoa flavor. I could easily sip this beer while eating a burger, or a brownie. For a chocolate beer, it is pretty versatile.

Are you a fan of chocolate beer? Why or why not? 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Honoring my Irish heritage at Keltic Krust Bakery

Growing up, my mother made sure we knew that we were Irish (although her side of the family was mostly Scottish – my father’s side had most of the Irishness). On Sundays, our New Hampshire cape would be warm with the aromas of pot roast and potatoes baking in the oven, while the sound of the hyperactive cabbage boiled on the stovetop. During most work weeks, a household favorite was also shepherd’s pie – made with instant mashed potatoes, scrambled hamburger, and creamstyle corn from a can. The pot roast wasn’t glamorous, either – it took me years to realize pot roast did not have to be chewed 25 times in order to swallow it safely. And I have still yet to meet a boiled cabbage that I like.

But, I have to give the woman credit for her cooking – my mother did raise four children (one who is mentally disabled – and no, I’m not talking about myself), and she always worked. We were a middle class, Irish and Scottish family in New Hampshire – so what if our staple Irish meals tasted like we were on welfare?

Regardless of the Irish dinners I ate growing up, I have grown to love and cherish my Irish and Scottish heritage, mostly thanks to my mother. So when I stumbled upon Keltic Krust Bakery in West Newton last weekend, I instantly fell in love. Perfectly risen loaves of Irish soda bread, crusty scones, and airy Eccles cakes lined the bakery shelves like hard-to-resist gems. Just walking in there made me feel proud to be an Irish fatty.

For breakfast that morning, I opted for an Eccles cake (a classic British puff pastry tea cake filled with raisins), and a decadent hot cross bun. The Eccles cake was perfectly light and airy, with the moist center and crispy sugary coating that I now crave just about every morning. Keltic Krust also didn’t overdo it on the raisins, which made this cake that much more enjoyable (and less chewy). 

The hot cross bun was downright traditional, but also very tasty. The dough was well spiced, and had just enough raisins to give it flavor and texture, but allowed the dough to be the star of this baked good. The icing on top was also thick and sweet, which complemented the almost-savory bun perfectly.

To wash it all down, I ordered a large iced coffee. The coffee, of course, was nothing special, but it was strong and brewed well – no sign of being watered down at all.

I’m already craving my next visit to Keltic Krust – there is so much left for me to gorge on. My only gripes: The d├ęcor and atmosphere were disappointing and bland, and I was confused by the gluten-free, vegan breakfast bars. Great item, but weird to have at an Irish bakery, in my opinion. 

Monday, March 8, 2010

Best deal this week: $18 for three courses in Dorchester

I spent the weekend snowboarding, celebrating, and dominating badminton with some of my favorite people, but amidst all of the fun, I never went grocery shopping. Now I am left choking down a vegetarian hickory smoked turkey sandwich on stale wheat bread, with one-day-too-old avocado. Blech.

Because of the sad, waste of a lunch I'm eating right now, this deal in Dorchester is causing me to salivate more than it probably should. Plus, eating my way through a different region of Italy every Wednesday for $18 would be great practice for my upcoming tripTavolo in Dorchester is where this deal exists, and it happens at 6:30 p.m. every week.

 Chef/Owner Chris Douglass and Chef Maxwell Thompson present guests with a 3 course Italian meal of regional specialties (pasta is, of course, a major component). However, be warned: There is only one seating every Wednesday, so reservations are mandatory.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Meals on wheels: The inevitable Dunkin' Donuts

Many people believe the life of a food writer is glamorous. Eating exotic meals at high end restaurants, meeting some of the most esteemed chefs, getting to eat and write about the whole experience for a living. However, the reality is more about having to eat at three restaurants in one evening in order to meet a deadline, praying on a weekly basis that you dodge food poisoning from that sketchy new pub you had to review, and eating non work-related meals in the car because you work at least one to two other jobs. But if you love it - if you live for the luxury of being able to indulge in food (whether good or downright bad) and tell everyone about it in writing - then every chomp, gulp, and trip to the ER is worth it.

So where the hell am I going with this? Case in point: I ate breakfast in my car this morning, and opted for one of the many fast food joints that completely deface what food is meant to be (and taste like): Dunkin' Donuts. I'll admit, I have beef with this place - I worked for a number of years at a Honey Dew Donuts, and immediately discovered how low quality DD's food and coffee are. But the pink and orange king is on every goddamn street corner - some mornings, I just can't avoid it. And this morning, I have to admit I was happy I couldn't.

I really had no interest in trying one of Dunkin's flatbread egg sandwiches, but my roommate and Zach have given them rave reviews - so I caved. I ordered the egg white veggie flatbread, and although it looked like it was ridden over by a Mack truck, the taste was surprisingly vivacious on the tongue - with a subtle kick to it.

The neon orange cheddar cheese was even perfectly melted, and I didn't even mind the microwaved, fluffy eggs and bland flatbread. I found myself (gasp!) enjoying a Dunkin's sandwich. The coffee, however, still tasted like water with cream and sugar; but I'll let that one go for today.

Are you a fan of Dunkin' Donuts? Why or why not?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spicy black bean & corn quesadillas

I think I have a weird obsession with quesadillas. I make different variations at home all the time, and, sadly, I order them way too often at restaurants (and not just Mexican restaurants). Quesadillas are just so versatile, tasty, and chocked full of one of my favorite things: cheese.

So, the other night, I fed my obsession by purchasing some fixings for a vegetarian-friendly quesadilla - plus used up some items I already had at home. Buying all the goods to make them right in my own kitchen is so much cheaper than ordering them at a restaurant, too - for less than $10, I had enough ingredients for four quesadillas!

Spicy Black Bean & Corn Quesadillas
Yields: 4 servings

-1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed
-2 cups frozen corn
-1.5 cups grape tomatoes, halved
-9-10 jarred jalapeno slices, chopped (less or more depending on your spice preference)
-Pepper jack cheese, shredded
-1 ripe avocado, cut lengthwise
-4 whole wheat tortillas (or white, depending on your preference)
-1 tbsp. jarred minced garlic
-1 tbsp. olive oil
-Chili powder
-Tabasco sauce
-Salt and pepper to taste
-Generous squirt of lime juice

Pour beans and corn into a sautee pan with olive oil, and cook on medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add jalapeno slices, and flavor with chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, and Tabasco sauce (I never measure spices). After another 1-2 minutes of cooking, add in the tomatoes, Tabasco sauce, and garlic, and cook for another 30 seconds. Add lime juice and cook for a final 30 seconds.

I know you all know how to build a quesadilla, but here's how I layered mine: I placed a generous layer of shredded pepper jack cheese on one side of each of the open tortillas. Then, I added an even amount of the corn and bean mixture to each, and placed 1/4 of the avocado slices on each tortilla. I topped the mixture with some more cheese, then folded the tortilla in half. I then placed it on a frying pan (which has been sprayed with cooking spray), and cooked until golden brown on each side of the tortilla.

The end result was spicy, full of flavor, and extra cheesy, without being too filling. I will definitely be making these again!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Best deal this week: $5 tapas at Rendezvous

$5 tapas. This might just be the best deal ever. Every Monday night from 5 to 10 p.m., Rendezvous in Central Square offers $5 tapas at their bar. The menu changes every week, but tonight Rendezvous is serving up dishes like grilled swordfish with toasted cumin seeds and preserved lemon, baby brussel sprouts with extra virgin olive oil, Merguez sausage with yogurt sauce, quince and pomegranate, and salty head-on shrimp with garlic and chili oil. You could easily split four to five of these tapas amongst two people, and walk out the door with a bill for $25 or less!

I've been to Rendezvous once before (on Valentine's Day), and the food was excellent. You know those restaurants that you can just tell when they're using high quality (and sometimes even local) ingredients? Rendezvous is that kind of restaurant.

Will you be taking advantage of Rendezvous' $5 tapas tonight? Share your review with us if you go!