Friday, April 30, 2010

'Grown-up' Turkey Sloppy Joes

This has to be the best meal I've made in a long time.

Sloppy Joes, how I have missed you. Growing up, we had sloppy joes pretty frequently, because they're cheap and easy to make, and oh-so delicious. Plus, messy food can be fun to eat - especially when you're a kid (or a kid stuck in a 25-year-old woman's body).

The traditional sloppy joe sandwich, at least in my house, consisted of scrambled hamburger and tomato sauce sandwiched between two hamburger buns. However, tonight I was in the mood for a healthier, "jacked up" sloppy joe sandwich - and the end result was pretty damn tasty.

Turkey Sloppy Joes
Yields: 2 servings

-1/2 package ground lean turkey (I freeze the other half for later in the week)
-1/2 green pepper, diced into chunks
-Tomato sauce (I used Classico's Fire Roasted Tomato & Garlic)
-1/4 white onion, diced
-3-4 jarred jalapenos, diced
-1/2 tsp. minced garlic, jarred
-Chili powder
-Salt and pepper

Directions: Heat onions in sauce pan with 1 tbsp. olive oil until translucent. Meanwhile, mix turkey, jalapenos, garlic, chili powder, salt and pepper in bowl. Add green peppers to pan with onions, and cook for about 1-2 minutes, until slightly soft. Add turkey, and mix well with onions and peppers. Add desired amount of tomato sauce (enough to cover turkey mixture). Cook on medium heat until turkey is cooked through.

I served my sloppy joes on toasted whole wheat bulkie rolls with slices of cheddar cheese. The cheese melted beautifully throughout the sandwich, and I had all I could do to not lick my plate clean - like I used to do when I was a kid, after eating mom's sloppy joes.

[Stay tuned next Wednesday to find out how I used the leftover ground turkey in a "Second Helping" recipe].

What was your favorite "messy" meal as a kid? 

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Small Plates with Decent Prices

Personally, I think tapas can be hit or miss. Sometimes restaurants sell tapas for $2-6, and you get quite a bit of food considering the promise of a "small plate." Other times, however, you can pay up to $6 or more for a bite-sized morsel that defeats the purpose of sharing the tapas among friends.

Thankfully, places like Moonstones in Chelmsford exists. I ate at Moonstones (owned by the same people of Cobblestones in Lowell) last year soon after it opened, and was impressed by the smooth, modern decor and upscale bar/lounge area. Last week, my cousins and I decided to have dinner there again, to split some tapas, drink some wine, and relax after work. Moonstones serves full entrees (at dinner and lunch), soups, salads, and even sandwiches, but we went specifically for the tapas and homemade focaccia.

There were only three of us, but we all like to eat - so we ended up getting three tapas to share at first, and then ordered two more. We started with marinated olives, hummus, and focaccia ($4.50).

The olives were marinated in a light, citrus and herb dressing, which helped to cut the intense saltiness of the olives. The focaccia was also perfectly airy and crisp, and the hummus was silky smooth and full of fresh lemon flavor.

Next up was the white truffle and parmesan fries ($7.50), which is one of the more expensive tapas Moonstones makes, but also is the most delicious - and one of the largest. The thin, crispy fries remind me of McDonald's, minus the oversalting and fossil fuel. Moonstone's fries are literally addicting, thanks to the fluffy speckles of fresh parmesan that accompany each bite.

Mini cheese fondue ($9) was next, served with crostini, Granny Smith apple slices, and crackers. I admit $9 is a bit high, but you really do get a lot of food with this one. I'm pretty sure we didn't even finish the entire plate. Regardless, the fondue was delightfully rich, thick and creamy. It was so good, we ended up dipping half our fries in it!

My cousins and I love our carbs, and we couldn't resist ordering a plate of Moonstone's homemade focaccia. We tried their focaccia the last time we went, and I've been dreaming about it ever since. Moonstones has some fancier focaccia bread on the menu, but we opted for the simple version with olive oil, roasted garlic, reggiano, and sea salt ($4.50). The bread was incredibly light and airy, and had the perfect amount of olive oil and garlic - bread that light could easily be overpowered by such strong toppings, but Moonstones achieved the perfect ratio.

Finally, our last course was the Chinese chicken spring rolls with sweet and sour sauce ($8.50).

These puppies were incredibly crispy on the outside, but full of familiar, Asian-inspired flavors on the inside. It reminded me almost of a healthier General Tso's Chicken wrapped up in a light, crispy spring roll. Divine.

Overall, our second meal at Moonstones was a success, and I was also happy to see that their special Earth Day menu was based around organic, locally-grown ingredients (although we did not order off that menu). My only gripe: Our waitress was almost a little too attentive. I felt like half the conversations we started were interrupted. But, my glass of Pinot Grigio was always full - so I guess I'll let this one go. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Best Deal This Week: 1/2 Off Appetizers & More at The Living Room

The Best Deal this week was delayed due to the Bacon and Beer Festival recap, but I wouldn't leave you guys without a good deal for a whole week - that's crazy talk!

This week's deal can be found in Boston at a restaurant whose name marks my favorite place in my apartment: The Living Room. Love seats, big screen TVs, and a view of the waterfront - what more could you want? Food, of course, and The Living Room's got plenty of it. Monday through Friday, The Living Room has happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m., where appetizers are 50% off (available in the main lounge only). Some options include spinach and artichoke dip (orig. $10), mini burgers (orig. $10), and avocado tempura (orig. $9).

For the trivia buffs, TLR has Team Trivia Tuesday every week from 8 to 10 p.m., where appetizers, again, are half off.

Finally, The Living Room holds Why Cook? Wednesdays where couples/friends can enjoy one appetizer, two entrees, and a paired bottle of wine for only $40. Seriously - why would I cook?

Have you seen any "best deals" lately? Share them here!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Highlights From the Bacon and Beer Festival

Not many things in this world go together better than bacon and beer; unless it's bacon and chocolate.

The first ever Bacon and Beer Festival went down Saturday afternoon from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Trolley Barn in South Boston. The event sold out in a matter of minutes, and about 1,600+ people were in attendance. 

The festival was put on by Eat Boston and SoWa Sundays, and many local restaurants were on hand to pass out their creative dishes (using bacon). Beer samples were also provided by a number of New England breweries.

I won't bore you with the details of everything I ate that day (especially because I ate quite a bit), but I will give you a quick recap of my favorites. Let me start off by saying tickets for the festival were about $27, and I ate and drank as if it was the last day of my life. In other words, I definitely got my money's worth. Some of my favorites include:

Stoddard's Fine Food & Ale deconstucted BLT:

This was one fancy BLT! The bacon was thick-cut, fatty and incredibly juicy. The ripe tomato and crisp lettuce also offset the chewy, salty bacon perfectly. 

Atwood's Tavern's Maple-glazed Bacon, Egg and Cheese Steamed Buns:

Atwood's steamed buns were like futuristic bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches. The soft, chewy buns were filled with fluffy egg, bits of bacon and melted cheese, with candied bacon on top. Delightful.

South End Buttery's Bacon & Brooklyn Brown Ale Cupcakes:

Decadence has a whole new meaning. These Brooklyn Brown Ale chocolate cupcakes were topped with a thick, creamy layer of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout cream cheese frosting - with bits of crispy, salty bacon as a garnish. The cake itself was incredibly moist, and the bacon/chocolate combination was out-of-this-world delicious. I've never had a more delicious cupcake.

Like the food, the beer samples were also endless during the Bacon and Beer Festival. I tasted my fair share of beers throughout the afternoon, but my favorite had to be the Mayflower Porter.

The rich, mocha-flavored beer was a perfect companion to all the salty bacon dishes I ate over the course of the afternoon. 

I was pleasantly surprised that most of the food offerings at the festival were unique and light for being a bacon-fueled event. I thought I'd leave there overwhelmed with a stomach full of grease and fat, but I actually left the event satisfied and not overly full. I just wish more of the food vendors provided descriptions of the dishes they were serving - one too many of them were passing out plates without explanations. My second gripe: By 4 p.m., many of the food vendors had run out of food. Thankfully, I got there right at 2 and gorged to my stomach's content. I just feel badly for those that didn't get there until 3 or 4. 

Did you attend the Bacon and Beer Festival? What's your review?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Strong Coffee and Dry Scones

One of my favorite things in the world is a locally-owned coffee shop with incredible baked goods and strong coffee. So when I moved to Waltham last summer, I was ecstatic to discover Cafe on the Common, right on Main Street. The cafe's interior is contemporary and inviting, with small bistro-style, marble-topped tables and comfy chairs. (There's free Wi-Fi in the house, too, although last time I was there it failed to work, and the woman behind the counter had little interest in looking into the problem). Regardless, when it comes to the food choices, Cafe on the Common's got cases full of freshly made baked goods, including homemade scones, biscotti, cakes and various other treats.

The menu, which includes a fairly healthy variety of sandwiches and less healthy coffee drinks, is written on a chalkboard on the wall behind the counter. I've frequented the cafe on numerous occasions for their regular iced coffee, which is consistently strong and delicious, but I hadn't tried their food until recently. Although I've only sampled their baked goods so far, I have to say - I'm not that impressed with their food.

Example: On my way to New York last weekend, I popped in the cafe for a large iced coffee and an oversized chocolate chip scone. The scone was coated in an appealing, sugary icing, and I was so eager to eat every last bite before I even hit 95. However, after a bite or two I discovered that the scone itself was pretty dry and the chocolate chips were few and far between. Plus, a scone doesn't have to be that big. Leave the supersizing to McDonald's.

I still plan to try Cafe on the Common's sandwiches, and even more of their baked goods, but I hope my future meals are more impressive. If anything else, I'll go there for coffee before Dunkin's any day.

Do you have a favorite coffee shop in your town? 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Second Helping: Spicy Shrimp Lettuce Tacos

Every other Wednesday, I will feature a "second helping" recipe, in an effort to turn leftovers into brand new meals. When I cook, it's usually for only one or two people, so I'm left with four to five nights' worth of leftovers, since most recipes yield about four servings. There's no reason why I/we should be eating the same piece of chicken four nights in a row, when I can turn that same piece of chicken into a brand new meal the next night.

So, when I was faced with leftovers of my Garbage Bowl of Mexican Shrimp & Rice, I was not in the mood for the same dish of it - regardless of how delicious it was the first time around. I had some Boston lettuce on hand, along with some Newman's Own Farmer's Garden Salsa, and went to town on some Spicy Shrimp Lettuce Tacos, with brown rice on the side.

I simply wrapped up the remaining shrimp, rice, avocado, and salsa in a few pieces of Boston lettuce, and heated up the remaining rice as a side dish - and wah-la! A nutritious, simple, economical dinner was served.

As with most "lettuce tacos," the crispy leaves made up for the lack of a tortilla shell, and the cool, spicy shrimp mixed with the rice and slightly spicy salsa made for a refreshing, perfect-for-springtime seafood taco. I was completely satisfied with this dish, not only because of how it tasted, but also because I was able to use up my leftovers in a new, innovative way. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Five Guys Dissatisfies

I've never been a huge fan of fast food (minus the years I spent stuffing my face with it, circa 1999-2005), but in recent years, the thought alone of eating McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell, etc. revolts me. Perhaps it's from all the "real food" I've become accustomed to eating as a food writer, or simply the horror stories surrounding each fast food chain finally broke me.

Fast food, as we all know, tends to be unavoidable when traveling, though. Case in point: This weekend, I went to Long Island for my college roommate's bridal shower, and was hungry as soon as I hit Connecticut on my way home on Sunday. Not in the mood for artificial lunch meat from a deli or a petroleum-fueled hamburger from McDonald's, I decided on Five Guys.

I've been to Five Guys before, but, believe it or not, have not had their burgers or fries until yesterday. I've heard  rave reviews of how amazingly delicious their burgers are, and how Five Guys has the best fries on the planet.

I must admit, the fries were damn good - and tasted and resembled actual potatoes (each Five Guys' location also boasts what town/state they got their potatoes from that day in the restaurant). The little burger I ordered with cheese, pickles and tomatoes was also good, compared to anything I could order at McDonald's or Wendy's. But, alas, fast food is fast food, and the Five Guys burger still looked like a Mack truck drove over it...twice. The flavor was good, but the meat still tasted like a bland patty with burger-flavored spray all over it. Although I felt better about not ingesting the toxic waste that is in McDonald's meals, I don't think the $7 and change I spent on Five Guys was worth it. Plus, they give you way too many fries for a "small." This is why America's fat.

Next time, I'll just stop at a deli.

Side note: My apologies for not taking a personal photo of my Five Guys meal - I was famished, and basically sucked everything up like a vacuum. The meal didn't last more than 5 minutes, despite my overall disappointment with it.

What are your opinions on fast food?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Best Deal This Week: Run Around The Charles For Free Food & Beer

In honor of Marathon Monday, I thought I'd give you an extra special Best Deal this week - one that incorporates running with free food.

Every Monday (except for today), Social Boston Sports sponsors a run around the Charles, but not a hardcore 26 mile run. Participants can run 3, 5 or 7 miles - whatever your personal pace may be. The run leaves from McGreevey's in the Back Bay at 6:30 p.m., and ends up back at the Irish pub so runners can get replenished - for free. Yes, at the end of each run, McGreevey's treats every runner to appetizers, and provides the thirsty athletes with beer at the cash bar. Talk about a well deserved treat.

For more information on Social Boston Sports' Boston Community Running, click here.

How are you celebrating Marathon Monday?

Friday, April 16, 2010

It's All in the Envelopes

Not to brag or anything, but I am doing so much better this month saving for Italy. I know it's not time for a recap of this month's savings yet, but I at least wanted to share my money-saving tip that I implemented this month that has made a world of difference. Trust me when I tell you - it's all in the envelopes.

The lighting's a little funky in this photo, but I decided to split up my receipts for the three main areas I'm trying to cut back costs in: Liquor, meals out at restaurants, and grocery bills. Keeping track of my receipts like this has given me an organized, easy-to-access area to go back to in order to review how much I spent the week prior. For instance, I went overboard on groceries last week, spending way over $25 - so, this week, I knew I couldn't go to the grocery store for anything extra. Even though it's been hard, it's also been successful in saving money for my trip.

Another perk of preventing myself from going back to the grocery store this week was that I became more creative in the kitchen. The other night, for instance, I made what I call a "Garbage Bowl of Mexican Shrimp & Rice." I refer to it as that because I used a bunch of spices/ingredients I had on hand, and ended up with a dish that made sense and was tasty - but I wouldn't normally make this if I had the option of going to the grocery store. I had leftover frozen shrimp, a big box of Boil-in-a-bag brown rice that I had been neglecting, an avocado that needed eating, and plenty of spices on hand to give the dish a kick.

The end result was insanely spicy and flavorful, and the creamy avocado was necessary to help cool down the heat from the shrimp.

Garbage Bowl of Mexican Shrimp & Rice
Yields: 2 servings

-Pre-cooked 15-20 frozen shrimp (it's cheaper if you buy them with the tails still on)
-2 cups brown rice, cooked
-1 tbsp. minced garlic, jarred
-Few drops of Tabasco sauce
-Few drops lime juice
-Chili powder
-Cumin (just a little)
-Crushed red pepper
-Dried cilantro
-Salt and pepper
-1 tbsp. olive oil
-1/2 avocado

Directions: Heat the shrimp in a skillet with olive oil. Add chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, and cilantro. Let cook for 3 minutes, then add Tabasco sauce and garlic. Allow to cook for another minute, then add lime juice. Cook for another 30 seconds to a minute, or until shrimp is completely heated through. Remove from heat, and cut off shrimp tails. Serve shrimp over one cup of rice per person. Add few slices of avocado to the top of each plate or bowl. Dig in!

Note: The Success Boil-in-a-bag brown rice requires, for me, a good tablespoon of butter, salt, pepper, and dried cilantro. This particular kind of rice cooks well, but tends to be bland without enough added flavoring.

Next week, I'll post how I used this shrimp and rice in a "second helping" recipe. Thanks to Fun and Fearless'   request, my second helping recipes will be a new feature on the blog (probably every other Wednesday, but still working out the details).

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Peach-infused Rum & Polenta at The Savant Project

It's not everyday you find a restaurant that understands the importance of combining bacon with chocolate.

Thankfully, The Savant Project is one such restaurant that recognizes this importance. I had dinner there last week, and I have to say - the menu at this place is genius. It's quirky and creative (hence the names of two of their cocktails: Frenching an Asian and A Screw in the Alley), and the quality of the food and drink lives up to the quality menu writing - for the most part (more on that later). Plus, they have a drink called Dark and Slightly Overcast, which is basically a Dark & Stormy, but made with their very own peach-infused rum. Upon seeing this, I was instantly sold on the place.

As you may or may not know, I love Dark & Stormies - but made with peach rum, the drink instantly turns into an extra refreshing summer cocktail. The fresh peach flavor added a welcomed sweetness that plain old dark rum cannot provide.

I must mention that on the night Z and I went to The Savant Project, it was comedy night. To avoid the piercing decibels of aspiring comedian's jokes, we asked to sit outside, which the staff was quick to accommodate. However, we ended up waiting to put in our drink orders for a good 20 minutes (or more), until the waitress finally came out and admitted she forgot about us. Even though I was sober and cold, I'll always accept honesty. 

Moving on: For an appetizer, Z and I split the Truffled Parmesan Polenta Logs with Parmesan Aioli ($8.50).

These puppies were outstanding. They were ideally warm and comforting for sitting outside on a chilly night, and the parmesan aioli provided a necessary kick to the polenta, which would have been fairly bland without the accompanying sauce. 

As a meal, I opted for the House Made Veggie Burger with House Made Red Pepper Hummus, feta cheese, and fries ($12.50). 

The Savant Project normally serves their burgers and sandwiches on Iggy's bread, but at this point in the night, they had run out. Despite the bread disappointment, the burger itself was flavorful and delicious, but it was nothing special, and the house made hummus was next to nonexistent. Plus, the $12.50 burger was the cheapest dinner item on the menu - and really wasn't worth paying more than $10 for.

Z took a smarter route and ordered one of the tapas for his meal: Tempura Veggies with Mustard Peanut Sauce ($8).

I really liked the batter that these veggies were coated in, because it was crispy and light, without being overly greasy or filling. The peanut sauce was a perfect complement to the veggies, too, but if you don't like peanut butter, you won't like this sauce - it's very heavy on the peanut flavor. 

By this point in the evening, we had already relocated to the inside of the restaurant, as comedy night was over and we were getting colder. Our waitress was extremely accommodating the entire night, which made me quick to forgive her for forgetting us originally. 

To end the night, Z and I both enjoyed a new cocktail that The Savant Project concocted. I did not write down the name of the cocktail, but on the menu, you'll recognize it as the gingerbread something-or-other (specific, right?). I know it doesn't sound very tempting for springtime, but trust me when I say as a liquid dessert, it's satisfying - and heavy on the booze, without tasting like it.

Oh, and yes - The Savant Project serves a drink called the Cocoa-Cochon, made with bacon vodka and chocolate. I didn't try it on this night, as I don't think my vegetarian boyfriend would be a fan of his girlfriend drinking bacon - but I am intrigued. 

All in all, I love The Savant Project's creativity and enthusiastic approach to food, as well as their friendly and accommodating staff. I'd love it if the prices were lower, but I'd go back for a special occasion, or even to split a few tapas with friends. No matter how pricey the restaurant is, there's always a way to eat well and inexpensively.

What local restaurant makes your favorite burger? Would you pay more than $10 for it?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cherry & Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

If you're an avid reader of this blog, you've probably noticed that I'm not a big baker. I don't have a huge sweet tooth, and I find the method of cooking much more innovative and liberal than the strict method of baking is. So, when I actually do bake, I normally follow someone else's recipe, step-by-step.

But, sometimes, when I have that "right" ingredient on hand, I get a little crazy with my baking. Crazy in the sense that I add one or two ingredients to someone else's recipe to jazz up an already delicious dessert.

It was my friend's birthday on Saturday, so I wanted to make something special for the occasion. I had everything on hand for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, so I took this Betty Crocker recipe and added an ingredient I also had on hand that I thought would make the cookies that much more special: dried cherries, which I had leftover from a spinach and goat cheese salad I made weeks ago.

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are probably one of my favorite desserts, but I never knew they could taste as good as they did with adding this one simple ingredient. I just added 1/4 cup of chopped dried cherries to the batter. The combination of chocolate, cherries, and the buttery flavor from the cookie melted in your mouth, with the cherries adding that "What is that and why do I like it?" factor.

This recipe wasn't my most creative, but it was definitely one of my more successful desserts. My friend ended his birthday party by polishing off the batch.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Best Deal This Week: 50 Cent Tapas with Free Salsa Lessons

"Salsa is a syncretic dance genre from Cuba, as the meeting point of European and African popular culture." -Wikipedia.

Zach and I have taken ballroom dancing lessons for a few months, including the Foxtrot, Tango, Rumba, and Swing - but we have yet to try Salsa, although I would love to. The dance form just looks so spicy, sexy and fun. But, like most activities, Salsa dancing would be even more enjoyable, I am sure, if food was involved - especially food for under $1.

Masa Southwest Bar and Grill in Woburn gets me. The modern, upscale Mexican/Spanish eatery offers free Salsa lessons every Thursday night from 8 to 9:30 p.m., but the dance floor is open until midnight. All that hip shakin' will make you hungry, so Masa also serves up tapas at the bar for 50 cents (they're usually only a buck, though). Masa's tapas menu is lengthy and versatile, but options include Crisp Yucca Fries; Grilled Chorizo; and BBQ Slow Cooked Lamb Springrolls with Guajillo Bourbon BBQ Sauce. Sounds like a perfect opportunity to try out some Salsa moves, while getting to taste a number of Masa's small plate creations.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

24 Hour Food Coma

After barely making a dent in the heaping pile of breakfast below, I was literally full until dinner time the next day.

Holy eggs and carbohydrates! The masterpiece above was served to me at The Friendly Toast in Cambridge. Z and I went there for brunch last weekend, and although there was an hour wait for a table, we opted to sit at the bar, sip some kickass Bloody Marys, and order our food without a wait.

Two of my siblings have been to the Portsmouth location on numerous occasions, and warned me that the breakfast and lunch joint should be named "The Unfriendly Toast." Luckily for me, however, I had an opposite experience at the Cambridge spot. Our bartender was helpful, efficient, and friendly.

The heaping pile of food you see above was the Guy Scramble ($9.50), made with cheddar, avocado, black beans, and salsa. The picture doesn't show the enormous amount of home fries it came with, but they were there - and for my homemade toast, I opted for the Cayenne Cheddar, which had a spicy kick to it that I expected the bread to lack. The Friendly Toast's bread is insanely airy and flavorful, and the scramble itself was chocked full of the creamy avocado, beans, and chunky salsa. The price of the plate may seem a bit high for brunch, but the serving size could literally feed two or more people - I had more than enough leftovers for breakfast the next morning. In fact, I believe they give you too much food - they could easily cut the price and amount of food down.

In addition to the food, I loved The Friendly Toast's funky atmosphere, chocked full of odds and ends that the owner must have been collecting for decades. Even the wall was a bright green color that woke me right up, along with the creatively named menu items (i.e. Sklarmageddon - "an omelette built to kill").

Although I overate (despite the leftovers I still took home), my brunch at The Friendly Toast was one awesome experience. Nothing like a spicy Bloody Mary and a mound of eggs to get you going on a Sunday...or, in my case, to force me to veg out on the couch until my alarm went off the next morning.

Have you been to The Friendly Toast? Was your experience as friendly as mine?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Gettin' our GroupOn at Kathmandu Spice

If you're not gettin' your GroupOn, you are missing out on 50-90 percent off restaurants (and other businesses). Zach has been a devoted GroupOn groupie lately, and his most recent score was 50 percent off at Kathmandu Spice in Arlington. Z spent $20, and we got $40 worth of food and drinks. Hooray! The only catch: A certain number of people need to buy the GroupOn in order for you to get the deal; otherwise, you end up being out $20.

I am a huge fan of Indian food, and since Z studied abroad in India in college, sharing the country's cuisine is one of our favorite things to do. The bonus at Kathmandu: Their menu boasts both Nepalese and Indian cuisine. Kathmandu was next to empty on the Monday night we dined there, which is understandable since - well, it was a Monday. However, our waiter was friendly, eloquent, and informative, and the menu included one of my favorite items that any oddly-named restaurant menu can include: A history on where the name of the restaurant comes from.

To start, we both ordered a light, crisp, ice cold Kingfisher Lager (notice Z's attempt to get in the spotlight here).

For an appetizer, we split the Vegetable Momos ($6.25), which are Himalayan dumplings stuffed with mixed vegetables and served with a spicy tomato sauce.

The momos were perfectly soft and slightly chewy on the outside, with the well-spiced vegetable filling providing most of the flavor.

As an entree, I failed at jotting down the name of my dish - you'd think after six years of food writing, I wouldn't forget to do this anymore - but, I did. The dish isn't listed on the website's menu, either, but it was basically a Nepalese curry dish chocked full of perfectly cooked veggies (the price was around $12).

This dish was bursting with curry and fresh herb flavors, and the sauce was thick enough to coat the vegetables in a nice, warm blanket of deliciousness. The sauce also had a fantastic kick to it (I ordered it extra spicy). I sopped up any leftover sauce with some fresh, warm naan.

Neither Zach nor I have big sweet tooths, so we skipped dessert - but Kathmandu has a pretty decent dessert selection, including mango ice cream and Sagarmatha Rolls, which are bananas wrapped in a crispy roll served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. Another perk: Kathmandu serves a number of goat dishes, which most American-based Indian restaurants don't serve, even though goat is prominent in India.

With or without scoring the deal from GroupOn, Kathmandu was reasonably priced, and we enjoyed a relaxing, satisfying, and flavorful meal.

Random query: Would you eat goat? Why or why not?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Good wine for under $10

Wine is one of my many vices, and although I am not a wine connoisseur by any means, I know good wine versus bad wine as soon as I smell it. When I sit down to have a glass of wine, I want to savor it - so, sometimes, I don't mind splurging on that glass or bottle of wine that's going to taste that much better. With that being said, when I find a wine that's inexpensive and of quality, I become one of the happiest (and drunkest) people on the planet.

Case in point: A few weeks ago, I was in my local liquor store, and a La Puerta representative was on-hand to pass out samples of their wines. Not being someone to pass up a free sample, I tried La Puerta's Chardonnay and was pleasantly surprised at the crisp, citrusy, and perfectly dry flavor. The price tag: $9.99 per bottle. I was sold.

Since that day, La Puerta has been my go-to wine for a number of occasions, and I recently tried their Cabernet Sauvignon, which is full-bodied and rich with cherry and oak flavors.

I definitely recommend La Puerta wine if you're looking to have something on hand throughout the week, or need a bottle to bring to an event/gathering.

What's your favorite, reasonably priced wine on the market right now?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Best deal this week: $5 skewers and $8 cocktails at Casablanca

For me, nothing says "winter's over" more than refreshing cocktails on the balcony and dinner sizzling on the outdoor grill. Last night, in fact, Zach and I had dinner with his parents, outside on the patio - dinner being Tofurky sausages fresh from the grill, with light couscous salad on the side. Hellooo, Spring.

This Spring and Summer, my goal is to eat more innovative meals cooked on the grill, versus the same old hot dogs and hamburgers - although there is never anything wrong with eating such a summertime delicacy. But after finding out about Casablanca's weekly skewer deal, I've decide that grilling up skewers this summer is going to be a priority - they're not only versatile (and can please both the omnivores and vegetarians in my life), but, if made correctly, they're also downright tasty and healthy.

Before I get that grill fired up on my apartment's tiny balcony, however, I'm taking advantage of Casablanca's $5 skewers - and washing them down with an $8 cocktail. This 1955 creation in Harvard Square (named for the classic film starring Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart), gives us economical eaters three skewers and two sauces for the tiny price of $5 - and our choices range from lamb, veggie or shrimp skewers, to tzatziki or salsa verde sauces, to name a few. The $8 skewered cocktails they serve include a Dark & Stormy with candied lime skewers and a Manhattan with a cherry skewer. Innovative, fancy and affordable - what's not to like?

Casablanca offers this deal every Monday and Tuesday from 5 p.m. to close. Who wants in?

Friday, April 2, 2010

March recap: Saving (or Losing?) for Italy

As it turns out, I am not doing well so far saving for Italy. Here's how much I spent in the month of March:

Groceries: About $135 - used to spend: $120/month, so lost -$15
Booze at home: $69.35 - used to spend: $80/month, so saved $10.65
Dining out: $96.35 - used to spend: $160/month, so saved $63.65

TOTAL SAVED: About $59

Cha-ching! Not really - but I have to stay positive, right? ;) I have definitely been spending less than I used to, but I am still not completely in-line with my new monthly goals. However, sitting down and reviewing my receipts has taught me a few lessons, which I plan to apply in the month of April and moving forward. I am determined to have a financially worry-free time while I'm in Italy, so I am buckling down today. Here's what I learned, and the actions I am going to take to avoid overspending in the future:

-Review grocery receipts every week; not just at the end of the month. Reflecting on how much I spent one week will put me into the next week with a clear idea of my budget. 
-Don't go to the grocery store hungry - it's dangerous, and I end up buying insanely unnecessary items.
-Make a grocery list/menu plan for the week. I used to be so good at this, and due to lack of time/patience lately, I've stopped. But preparing my meals for the week is extremely valuable, and keeps my wallet in check when I'm wandering the grocery store aisles.
-Use a basket vs. a cart: I normally am only shopping for myself and maybe one other person, so this tip's easier said than done. But if my arm's hurting and the basket's full, I won't keep walking around the grocery store for more items.

I still have quite a bit of time to save for this trip, but the sooner I get serious, the better off I'll be come vacation time.

How do you prevent overspending at the grocery store?

Second helping pizza

Growing up in my parents' house, leftovers for dinner was a regular occurrence. There were six of us total, so when my Mom cooked, she cooked enough for an army - and we'd eat the leftovers until they were gone. So when I started cooking for myself in college, I realized that you can still use the same leftovers (as I hate wasting food), but you can turn them into a new dish the next night, to prevent a horrific case of Dinner Boredom.

And that's what I did the other night. I used up the rest of the chicken sausage from my whole wheat pasta recipe (I had frozen the leftover sausage), bought some pizza crust and crumbled goat cheese, and used up the rest of the arugula in my fridge to make one healthy, indulgent pizza.

The crust I used was Molinaro's Thin Crust ($4.49 at Hannaford), which comes with two pizza crusts, both with their own package of pizza sauce. The end result was a crispy, decadent pizza, and the Italian chicken sausage paired perfectly with the creamy, tangy goat cheese and peppery arugula.

How have you used leftovers to make a brand new meal?