Thursday, September 30, 2010

Economical Amaretto Cocktail

I'm always looking for a good deal when it comes to food, wine and beer, but sometimes, I also try to make cocktails at home that are more economical. I rarely have liquor on hand, but my mother had given me some amaretto months ago, and I was in the mood for a sweeter, dessert-like cocktail the other night after dinner. Upon doing a Google search for cocktails with amaretto, I realized most of the recipes included other types of liquor and liqueurs, like vodka, Kahlua, and Bailey's. I wasn't in the mood to go out and buy several other bottles at $20+ a piece for one cocktail, so I improvised with what was already in my refrigerator.

This cocktail recipe - for what I have since named my Economical Amaretto Cocktail - ended up being so easy and delicious. I simply mixed up two shots of amaretto, then half milk and half iced coffee. I sprinkled some cocoa on the top for garnish and added flavor, but it really wasn't necessary.

My only warning: This cocktail goes down a little too easily. The alcohol packs a nice punch, while the sweet, smooth flavor of the cherry and almonds from the amaretto with the coffee is soothing and satisfying. So, be warned.

What's your favorite affordable cocktail to make at home?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bravo Pizzeria: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Although I dine out a lot for "work," there are very rare occasions when I meet chefs, business owners, and restaurateurs that are truly passionate, honest, and enthusiastic about who they are and what they do. Last week, I was fortunate enough to have met one such business owner and chef.

Michael Reza, owner of Bravo Pizzeria in Allston, was gracious enough to have me see his shop and try his food last Thursday evening.

Upon walking in, I noticed the pizzeria was large, spacious, and shiny with cleanliness. I was a little early for our meeting, but Reza's staff was quick to make me feel right at home, asking me if I'd like a drink or a slice of pizza while I waited for Reza. Although I declined their offers, I was more than pleased with the welcome I received.

Soon after I arrived, Reza came in - a bubbly, animated Italian man who I could tell was extremely grateful for my visit to his restaurant. After a quick greeting, Reza immediately had his staff bring me multiple, ginormous slices of pizza, including Barbecue Eggplant ($10 for a small; $15 for a large), Super Veggie ($10.50; $15.75), Sicilian ($15.25 for a 16"), Cheese ($8; $11) and Amalfi ($10.50; $15.95), named after the man (from Amalfi) who used to make Bravo's pizza sauce. The pizza itself is made with fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato slices.

Reza's Italian, so he joked that he expected me to eat all of this pizza myself, but deep down, I don't think he was kidding. My appetite might be abnormally large, but my stomach unfortunately isn't. So I did the best I could - and the food didn't even stop here. But let's talk about these slices first.

The majority of ingredients used in Bravo's pizzas are natural, healthy, and fresh - pineapples are one of the few items you see from a can in this restaurant. Even the crust is made without eggs, and the mozzarella is sliced right on the premises. Bravo is also one of the rare shops in the Boston area that sell Sicilian-style pizza, which maintained a delightfully crispy, airy crust and held a salty, garlic-y flavor compared to the thin crust cheese pizza, which was slightly sweeter with little garlic taste. The Barbecue Eggplant was innovative and delicious, and is the perfect alternative to Hawaiian pizza for vegetarians. Topped with thinly sliced, breaded eggplant coated in barbecue sauce with large chunks of pineapple, this slice was nothing epic, but certainly delicious and unique, in a good way.

As Reza and I chatted, and I gorged on pizza, he continued to bring me samples of his food that he is clearly so passionate about. Reza even told me that his rule for the pizzeria is that if it's not clean enough or if the food's not good enough for his 4-year-old daughter, it's not good enough for anybody. Another thing I should mention: As we sat and talked, every single customer that walked in knew Reza, and Reza knew them all by name. 

In addition to the pizza, Reza proceeded to bring me out samples of his fresh, shredded chicken and tuna salads, his homemade meatballs, and his marinated chicken (marinated in a top secret recipe), which were all obviously fresh and much more flavorful than what you can get in a "regular" pizza shop. However, one other slice of pizza Reza brought out ended up being my favorite of the evening - Bravo's Chicken Pesto ($11.50; $16.95), topped with Reza's homemade pesto, chunks of breaded chicken, broccoli and diced tomato. 

Thick, airy crust smothered in cheese and perfectly oily, basil pesto. This slice was seriously addicting. Although I was well past the point of reaching my stomach capacity, I could have easily eaten this whole slice - but forced myself not to.

As the night went on, Reza and I continued to talk about his passion for pizza, for his restaurant, and for the customers that eat there - some of them who eat there multiple times every single day of the week. The fact that everybody seemed to know each other, and definitely knew Reza, proved to me that this is a quality neighborhood restaurant - which is, unfortunately, very hard to come by these days. 

A few nights after my initial visit with Reza, Z and I stopped in for a slice after grabbing some beers at Sunset Grill and Tap. The place was packed, and Reza was eager to greet us and chat with us, winning Z over, too, with his friendliness and his food. Z plans to bring his father there for a slice in the near future, and I plan to bring anyone that will come with me. Bravo Pizzeria is truly a place worth visiting.

Disclaimer: I was fortunate enough to try Bravo Pizzeria's food thanks to the generosity of Reza and his staff. Despite their hospitality, all opinions expressed in this post are 100 percent honest and my own.

Have you been to Bravo Pizzeria? If yes, what's your review?

Bravo Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Brunching with Bloggers at Lorb Hobo

On Sunday, several local bloggers and I met at Lord Hobo for brunch as part of what is hoped to be a monthly event. I have been to Lord Hobo various times for drinks and/or dinner, and I am mildly obsessed with the lively, young scene, friendly waiters, insanely long and various beer list, and the quality food - which is basically upscale pub grub. I had never been to Lord Hobo for brunch, though, and was excited to try their morning offerings.

Some of the prices seem a little steep, but the amount of food you get for those prices makes them completely reasonable. For instance, I opted for the Grafton Cheddar Omelette ($11), which came with home fries, fresh fruit, toast (I went for wheat) and a side (I got the bagel and cream cheese for me and Z to share).

That's a whole lot of fresh, quality food for $11. The eggs were perfectly fluffy, with a decadent, gooey, cheesy center. Even the home fries were well cooked and seasoned with what tasted like cayenne pepper - wonderfully spicy and well seasoned.

I washed my brunch down with a bloody mary (about $7), which was garnished with a pickled celery stick. While the garnish was basically a sour stick of celery, the bloody mary did hold a great spicy-to-sweet ratio.

We all know how much I love brunch, but, after Sunday, Lord Hobo has definitely been added to my top favorite places to enjoy one of my favorite meals. It was also great to see some familiar faces, like Michelle's, Alicia's, Katie's, Justin's and Melissa's, as well as meet some other local bloggers I admire, like Megan and Renee, who was also kind of enough to organize such a great event!

Have you ever been to Lord Hobo? What's your review?

Lord Hobo on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 27, 2010

Best Deal This Week: Brunch for Under $10 at Masa Southwest Bar and Grill

Brunch is definitely one of my favorite meals. It's rare, relaxing and makes it OK to have a little vodka with your eggs. With its luxuriousness, however, brunch can sometimes be over priced - but other times, it can also be incredibly affordable.

Masa Southwest Bar and Grill in Woburn, for instance, offers a Brunch Fiesta, in addition to their regular brunch menu, on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and on Sundays from 10 to 11 a.m. The price for two plates plus complimentary coffee or tea is only $7.95.

The first course selections during Brunch Fiesta include a Caramelized Plantain Empanada with Mexican cinnamon cream cheese, as well as Granola con Leche with milk or yogurt. The second course includes items such as Creamy Scrambled Eggs with Chorizo and Mexican Farmer's Cheese served with southwest home fries and multi-grain toast, as well as Santa Fe Style Eggs Benedict atop Southwestern Biscuits with avocado and green chile.

Masa's regular brunch options range anywhere from $2.95 to $13.95 a plate, which makes the Brunch Fiesta deal that much tastier. Plus, any place that gives away free coffee is always a winner in my book.

Where's your favorite place to get brunch in the Boston area?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Financial Friday: Accommodating House Guests

Last weekend, I had eight friends coming from Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut to my tiny apartment. Z was gracious enough to accommodate the sleeping arrangements at his place (my apartment is almost too small to sleep two people, let alone eight), but it was up to me to feed them. My first thought: How on earth am I going to feed over eight people over the course of two days and not go bankrupt?

With a little list writing and planning ahead, I managed to spend under $30. Here's how:

-Buy in bulk: Since my out of town friends were all people I went to college with, I knew the evening would include drinking in some capacity - and drinking normally leads to snacking. To make sure I was ready for any late-night snacking, I went to Stop and Shop and bought family sized bags of pretzels and Doritos. To be safe, I also picked up two frozen, store brand cheese pizzas at $2 a pop. My total grocery bill was under $10, easily.

-Share dinner: I wanted to show my friends around town, but didn't want to spend a fortune on going out to dinner. Everyone pays for themselves, but I was looking for something fun yet less expensive for all of us to do. After giving them a walking tour of my neighborhood, we all stopped at Not Your Average Joe's for some appetizers and cocktails. We split about five appetizers amongst the group, and spent only about $10 each.

-B.Y.O.B.: I've been to plenty of house gatherings where the host provides the drinks, but I just can't afford to do that, at least not for eight people - and not a few weeks before we leave for Italy. So, since I was providing food anyway, I asked everyone to bring whatever they wanted to drink for the evening. This also ensured everyone was drinking what they wanted to drink, versus having to consume what the host bought for them.

-Celebrate inexpensively: Over the weekend, we were celebrating two of my friends' birthdays, and I had a Betty Crocker Devil's Food cake mix and whipped vanilla frosting in the cabinet. Before everyone came over, I made a batch of cupcakes - which ended up being about 30. A cake mix costs around $3 - that's about 10 cents per cupcake. That's my kind of dessert!

Overall, my friends and I had a wonderful weekend, and I am forever grateful to Z and his roommate for letting everyone stay at their house. It was also great to know that everybody left well fed - but I wasn't left broke.

How do you prepare for a house full of people, without blowing your budget?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Authentic Indian Fare at Punjab

Indian food is one of my favorite cuisines to make at home or enjoy at a restaurant. That's why, last week, I was ecstatic when Z suggested having dinner at Punjab in Arlington Center to celebrate (more on why we were celebrating later). 

Punjab's interior was sparkling clean, dimly lit (in a romantic sort of way), and upscale-looking, although their prices don't reflect this decor. A cool thing about the restaurant's set-up is that they also have a large cloth tent in the center of the restaurant, with tables underneath it - the hostess informed us that's the best place to sit in the house, so we quickly grabbed a table.

While we reviewed the detailed menu, I sipped on a glass of pinot grigio ($6).

There were so many choices for what to order for food, including the usual samosas and masala dosas. However, Punjab also has many "different" dishes you don't see at every Indian restaurant here in Boston, including several goat dishes, Indian-inspired salads, and quail curry. I like how Punjab didn't overly Americanize their traditional Indian menu - it shows they trust that American diners can handle and appreciate their cultural cuisine. 

Once we finally came to a decision, Z and I order the Vegetable Pakoras ($4.75) to split as an appetizer, which went well with the spicy chutney and sweet dipping sauce our waiter set on our table previously.

The vegetable pakoras were deep fried in chickpea batter, which made them extra light and crispy. The interior was bursting with Indian spices and flavors, and the accompanying mint sauce added a cool, almost tangy addition to the pakoras. I also really enjoyed the chutney with these, because it added more necessary kick to the dish.

For a meal, I ordered the Tandoori Vegetable Kebab ($11.95) which was served on a hot plate (similar to how fajitas are served at Mexican restaurants), and chocked full of a variety of vegetables cooked in exotic spices. Although I somehow forgot to take a photo (the horror!), the plate included naan and dal. I asked for it extra spicy, and the dish came just like I ordered - the kick from the Indian spices lingered in the back of my throat beautifully. The dish was also so generously portioned that I went home with plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day, making this dish less than $6 per serving.

I'm so glad Z suggested having dinner at Punjab for our celebration, as the service was efficient, the food was delicious and traditional, and the prices were very reasonable. I will be going back there again - and soon.

What's your favorite restaurant to honor a celebration at?

Punjab Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How Red Bones Saved Dinner

Last week, Z and I were psyched to try out Bengal Cafe (for which I had a coupon), a Bangladeshi restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. However, we were sorely disappointed - not to mention rather grossed out - when we walked into the place and saw several tables covered in crumbs and dirty plates. It was around 8 p.m. and the place was empty - there wasn't even an employee in sight. Z had to walk back toward the kitchen and ask someone if they were open, which they were. We proceeded to sit down at a sticky, also unclean table and were handed menus that were coated in some grimy film. That was enough for us, so we left before even taking a sip of our waters.

By this point, we were both starving, so we decided to bike over to Red Bones. And thank gosh we did.

The atmosphere alone at Red Bones is funky, inviting, and fun, and the staff is always incredibly friendly and attentive. Over the last few months, Red Bones has definitely become one of my favorite area restaurants.

There was about a five minute wait for a table, so Z and I enjoyed a beer at the bar before sitting down. FYI: Red Bones' beer list rocks. Just sayin'.

Once we sat down for dinner, we were "rewarded" with Red Bones' complimentary, homemade cornbread, which basically tastes like baked butter - which is awesome. Red Bones' cornbread is also incredibly moist, considering most cornbreads can be dry and difficult to choke down.

For an entree, I opted for the Pulled Chicken Sandwich plate ($8.99/$6.49 solo), which came with homemade potato salad and baked beans. 

According to the menu description, Red Bones' pulled chicken is made with brown sugar, mustard and spices. This chicken was insanely moist and flavorful, and it was piled so high on the toasted bulkie roll it was served on, that I'm surprised my jaw didn't snap in half. The crunchy pickles and coleslaw also added a necessary crunch and additional textures to this luxurious sandwich.

In the end, Red Bones saved dinner that night. Z and I went home stuffed and happy, and I should also mention that, for a barbeque joint, Red Bones has plenty of vegetarian options, including their Grilled Veggie Burger ($5.99) and Portabello Mushroom Sandwich ($7.99).

Have you been to Red Bones? What's your review?

Side note: Please remember to vote for me in Project Food Blog - the competition is fierce, and I'd greatly appreciate your support! You can vote via the widget on the right-hand side of this blog, or by simply clicking here. Thank you in advance!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Best Deal This Week: Half Price Appetizers and 10 Cent Wings at The Kinsale

When I go out to eat, a lot of times I will order one or two appetizers versus an entree to save a few bucks - and, because the serving size of a typical restaurant entree can be large enough for two or three people. With that being said, I love it when local eateries give diners a discount on their appetizer offerings. The Kinsale, for instance, has half price appetizers every single night after 10 p.m.

Loaded nachos (originally $11), spinach artichoke dip (originally $9) and Gaelic Four Onion Soup (originally $6) are just a few of the items on The Kinsale's substantial appetizer menu. While 10 p.m. is a little late for me to eat dinner, this deal is definitely great for ordering a few snacks with a few brews to share with friends.

In celebration of the football season, The Kinsale also offers 10 cent wings at the bar during all Sunday and Monday NFL games. The Kinsale's sister restaurant, The Asgard, has its own deals, too - including 10 cent wings at the bar every Monday starting at 5 p.m.

P.S. As you know, I am participating in FoodBuzz's Project Food Blog to try and become the next food blog star. Voting is now open for the first entry, and I'd appreciate it immensely if you could take a second to click here and vote for me! Voting is open from now until 9 p.m. EST on Thursday, September 23rd. Thank you!! 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Project Food Blog: Ready, Set, Blog!

As some of you may already know, I am participating in a challenge created by FoodBuzz called Project Food Blog. Over the next few weeks, I will be posting blog entries that are relevant to the challenge - assuming I continue on for several rounds. Let's be optimistic here.

The first post requires me to defines myself as a food blogger, and to explain why I should be the next food blog star. My purpose in blogging is to share recipes that are easy and affordable for the "average" person to make at home, as well as showing my readers that you can eat out at the restaurant of your choice without completely blowing your budget. For me, food is a large part of my life, and depriving myself of delicious, quality food because of the small budget I'm working with is unacceptable. My reason for blogging is to show others how you can achieve a balance of quality of life with approachable, tasty, and affordable food.

With that being said, why on earth should I be the next food blog star? I cook, write and preach exactly how I live. You will see no sugarcoating or random product placements and very few giveaways on this blog. This blog is all about me eating, cooking and enjoying the food I want to, despite how small my budget is - and hopefully inspiring you to do the same.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Local, Seasonal Fare at Hyatt Regency Boston

Sometimes, other people's passion for food can be so strong that it ignites excitement in others. Chef Kelly Armetta at the Hyatt Regency Boston is one of those people.

Chef Kelly Armetta (courtesy of Hyatt Regency Boston).

Last Thursday evening, I was invited by Jon of Local in Season to a private tasting at the Hyatt. Although I gladly accepted the invitation, I had no idea what the night would entail - and I ended up being extremely surprised by how the night unfolded.

Although I envisioned a sit-down dinner that included a preview of the Hyatt's fall menu, I was instead greeted with several large display tables covered in intricately presented culinary masterpieces. The Hyatt had set up displays of EACH of their seasonal menus, as well as several cheese displays, a dessert display, and several stands for pouring cold summer Sangria and warm fall/winter Sangria.

Courtesy of Hyatt Regency Boston.

Oh, and I should also mention that the majority of the food served on Thursday evening was local. Yes, a hotel in Boston utilizing as much local food as possible. As Chef Armetta admits, it's not easy acquiring the large amount of food he needs from local sources, but he does the best he can - and it shows in his food.

The highlights for me that evening included the local cheeses and the kobe beef sliders. You forget what good beef is supposed to taste like - until you take a bite into one of these babies. The biggest surprise of the evening, though, was that one dessert in particular ended up being my favorite dish of the night - when, normally, I can easily do without dessert. Behold, Chef Armetta's Chocolate and Cherry Bread Pudding:

Courtesy of Hyatt Regency Boston.

Decadent would be an understatement here. This bread pudding was chocked full of intense, "real" chocolate flavor without being sickly sweet, and the chunks of tart, fresh cherries provided a necessary break from the chocolate flavor. The bread itself was also surprisingly creamy and moist, while some bread puddings can tend to be dried out and chewy.

After eating all of the delicious, local, fresh food at the Hyatt, one thought kept bouncing around in my mind: How ungodly expensive would it be to host a special event here? Due to the quality of the food, my first guess was well over $100 a plate. However, once I looked over the menu that the Hyatt sent me home with, I was shocked.

Take the Hyatt's Build a Breakfast Buffet Farm Breakfast, for instance. The Farm Breakfast includes smoked bacon, three cheese potato pie, roasted eggs with rosemary, roasted chorizo sausage and New England cobb - and the cost is only $8 per person. Plated lunches range from $45-48 per person, and reception meals range from $10-25 per person. Sure, their prices tend to be a tad bit higher for other meals/occasions, but the price tags are still very reasonable for the quality food you are getting, not to mention the animated, kind and passionate Chef that is preparing that food for you. There are also plenty of food and pricing options on their menu to fit anyone's budget and culinary needs.

Another bonus: If you book a meeting by December 30th and hold it at the Hyatt before March 31st, and participate in the Meet and Be Green program at Hyatt Regency Boston, you will be eligible for a 3 percent rebate on qualifying charges on the master bill. Meet and Be Green is a small part of Hyatt’s goal to "conserve energy, minimize waste and create responsible, sustainable corporate practices to care for the earth and guests. By empowering guests to do the same, Hyatt and its planners can help minimize the environmental impact of meetings."

Thank you again Jon, Chef Armetta and the Hyatt for hosting me at such a wonderful event!

Disclaimer: Although I was fortunate enough to attend the Hyatt's private tasting free of charge, all opinions expressed in this post are 100 percent honest and my own.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Second Helping: Chunky Jalapeno & Cilantro Hummus

One of my grocery list staples is hummus. I could eat hummus with a spoon - it's just so creamy, versatile, and chocked full of nutritious, delicious flavors. However, the best thing about hummus is that it's also affordable - especially when you make it at home.

I had picked up 10 hot peppers for $1 from The Neighborhood Farm at the Roslindale Farmers' Market several weeks ago, and finally used them up in various recipes last week. The final recipe that used up the remainder of the peppers was my Chunky Jalapeno & Cilantro Hummus (so, technically, this post should be a Third or Fourth Helping...not Second).

Chunky Jalapeno & Cilantro Hummus
Yields: 6-8 servings 

-1 can chickpeas (which were $0.99 at Stop and Shop last week)
-3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (or more, depending on the consistency you desire)
-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
-1 teaspoon minced garlic
-1/2 teaspoon dried cilantro
-Salt and black pepper to taste
-Juice of 1/2 lemon 

Directions: Pour chickpeas, jalapeno peppers, garlic, cilantro and lemon juice into a food processor. Add olive oil (1 tablespoon at a time) and pulse until hummus reaches your desired consistency (I like mine a little chunky, so I didn't pulse it until completely smooth). Take lid off food processor and season hummus with salt and pepper as needed; also add more lemon juice if needed. Pulse hummus again to mix in salt and pepper (you may also need to add more olive oil as you pulse the ingredients together). Serve with sturdy pita chips.

This was one flavorful bowl of hummus, and I loved how a few whole chickpeas were still present throughout. Although I made this last week, I still have some leftover hummus in my fridge - the stuff lasts a good 1 to 2 weeks, I'd say, and can easily be used for dipping, on sandwiches, or even on flatbreads. 

Bonus: The price of this recipe in its entirety was under $2. Please hold your applause. 

Do you make your own hummus at home? What's your favorite flavor combination?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cheesy Black Bean and Rice Bake

One of my favorite things about cooking is that you can take pretty much any recipe and modify it to make it your own.

Last week, Tina mentioned that her sister had made a rice bake for a family party, and I immediately started researching rice bake recipes. I have had a ginormous box of brown rice in my pantry for a while now, and, in an effort to save for Italy, I wanted to make use of it versus buying more food and thus spending more money. After some research, I found this recipe for an Easy Rice Bake by The Neelys. However, I didn't have onion or spinach to make their recipe, and I didn't want to make 4 cups of rice since it was only me eating the dish. As a result, I ended up making Cheesy Black Bean and Rice Bake.

Cheesy Black Bean and Rice Bake
Yields: 4-5 servings

-1 tbsp. butter
-3 cups cooked brown rice
-3/4 can black beans
-2 chili peppers, seeded and minced
-1 and 3/4 cups shredded Colby Jack cheese, plus extra for top
-3/4 cup milk
-1 egg
-Dried cilantro
-Salt and black pepper to taste
-Squirt of fresh lime juice

Directions: Preheat oven to 350* degrees. Butter a medium-sized casserole dish. In a large bowl, whisk together milk and egg. Add the cheese, rice, black beans, chili peppers, and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper, and add a generous squirt of fresh lime juice.
Pour rice mixture into buttered casserole dish and top with extra shredded cheese. Bake for 30 minutes and serve hot.

The end result was a cheesy, not-too-spicy dish chocked full of texture, flavor, and...well, cheese. Next time, I will probably add some cayenne pepper or leave the seeds in one of the chili peppers for some extra heat, though - it was a little too mild for my liking.

What recipe have you recently modified to make it your own?

P.S. What do you guys think of The Economical Eater's new banner? A big THANK YOU to Tim Anderson, a Massachusetts-based freelance graphic designer for making it for me. Tim can be reached at if you have any graphic design work you'd like a quote on.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Best Deal This Week: $28 for Three Courses and Free Travel at 62 Restaurant & Winebar

Three courses for $28 is a pretty good deal all on its own - but once the opportunity to travel the globe is thrown into the mix, this becomes a while different kind of deal.

Courtesy of

62 Restaurant & Winebar in Salem launched their three-month long Passport Series promotion on September 1st where diners can enjoy a three-course, prix fixe menu that highlights a different European country each month. The dinners are available Tuesday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m. each week, and diners will be issued passports that will be stamped each time that diner orders from that month's featured European regions and cities. Guests that travel to every region in a certain country within a single month will be given a free prix fixe dinner next time they visit 62 with a guest for the Passport Series. Guests that visit one country per month for the entire series will still be entered to win a free European vacation compliments of 62 and Colony Travel out of Lynnfield. The trip includes a three-night stay and cooking class at Relais Riserva di Fizzano, Castellina in Chianti.

Here's the line-up of the European countries you can take a culinary tour of at 62 over the next few months:

September 2010: Spain
-Basque region

October 2010: Italy
-Lombardy - Milan

November 2010: France (this menu goes until December 2nd)

Travel and food for under $30? I dig it. To make reservations, call 62 Restaurant & Winebar at 978-744-0062.

If you could travel to anywhere in the world, where would you travel to and why?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Financial Friday: Write it Down

Courtesy of
When I was in college, I couldn’t remember a thing I learned in class if I didn’t write it down. The same goes for my expenses – if I don’t write how much I spent down, I won’t remember what I spent my money on…until it’s too late.

When I first got a checkbook back in junior high, I used the balance sheet for every single thing I purchased and every single bill I paid. However, as time went on, my expenses became larger and more consistent, and I stopped writing all of my expenses down due to the weighty “chore” it became. But it wasn’t long before I realized that because I couldn’t see, everyday, how much money was left in my account, I was spending more than I actually had – which resulted in overdraft fees, which resulted in (obviously) more unexpected expenses for me.

The point of today’s Financial Friday tip is to encourage you to write everything down. Being able to actually see, on a daily basis, how much you’re spending, what you’re buying, and how much money is in your bank account makes a world of difference – and makes it almost impossible to make any “overspending mistakes.” Keeping track of everything I buy with the checkbook balance sheet just stopped being conducive to my computer-driven lifestyle, although the balance sheet may work better for you – just do what works best for you. Below are some other ways I keep track of my expenses:
-Excel spreadsheet: Using Excel is just like using a balance sheet, but electronically. I sit in front of a computer for most of the day, so Excel is a much easier way for me to write my expenses down – and basically has a built-in calculator that shows my account balance after every new expense without me having to do anything. I have to admit, I was skeptical of at first. A website wants my bank account number? Really? But I’ve discovered it’s a safe and secure site that helps me manage my financial goals, my bank accounts, and will even tell me if one of my accounts is getting low on funds via email.

How do you keep track of your finances? Do you write everything down?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Brunch at The Elephant Walk

Over Labor Day weekend, Z and I took advantage of a late morning (and one of our GroupOns) by having brunch al fresco at The Elephant Walk in Cambridge. I never even knew this Cambodian/French eatery served brunch, but after perusing their menu online, I knew we were in for a fancy treat.

To start, we both ordered a Cambodian Bloody Mary ($7.95), made with Hangar One Kaffir lime vodka, tomato juice, chilies, and a touch of soy sauce. 

You could order the bloody marys mild, spicy or extra spicy - I went with spicy, while Z braved it with the extra spicy. Both of our drinks had a wonderful kick to them, and there was the perfect ratio of tomato juice to citrus to spice, which made for a refreshing morning cocktail.

Before our meals came out, Z and I also split the Fresh Fruit Plate appetizer ($5), which came with fresh kiwi, strawberries, pear and apple slices, and chunks of pineapple.

The fresh fruit was an ideal way to begin our meals. Every single piece of fruit on this plate was incredibly fresh and juicy, and it was the perfect portion size for two people to share before having a meal.

For our entrees, I ordered the Crepes Gourmandes Aux Champignons ($8.95), which consisted of French crepes filled with wild mushrooms, creme fraiche and scallions.

Z ordered the Omelette Gourmande A l'Avocat ($8.95), a French omelette filled with avocado, plum tomato and button mushrooms.

Z and I actually had a hard time picking our meals because the choices were so tempting (I couldn't decide on the crepes or French toast served with a cinnamon cider maple syrup), so we split both of our entrees. My crepe was beautifully crisp, light and airy, and the wild mushrooms provided juicy, welcomed bites of wonderful flavor. Z's omelette was also light and cooked to fluffy perfection, and I love the combination of avocado and eggs, so I was impressed even before I took my first bite. Z's omelette came with bacon, which I ate for him, and the bacon was also cooked beautifully - very crispy, without being burnt.

I also really liked how both the crepes and the omelette were served with a side salad of lightly dressed mesclun greens. This side dish, in lieu of potatoes or toast, made our dishes feel that much healthier, and forced me not to leave the restaurant overly stuffed and useless for the rest of the day.

In all honesty, The Elephant Walk's brunch menu is a little too pricey for me, but we had a GroupOn for the eatery, which ended up making our bill $0. I definitely think their brunch is worth the extra splurge, though, even if you don't have a GroupOn.

What's your favorite place for brunch in the Boston area?

Side note: Eversave is having a great deal today for Savino's Grill in Belmont. The Save is that you pay $20 for $40 worth of food and drink, and 10 percent of the proceeds go to the Foundation for Belmont Education. Savino's is an Italian/Mediterranean restaurant, with a great wine selection and a menu chocked full of fresh, local ingredients. 

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Double Chocolate and Chili Cookies

If you're a regular reader of my blog, it's probably clear that I'm a big fan of spicy food - but that I'm not a huge dessert person. However, last week I decided to combine the smoky, intense heat of cayenne pepper with cocoa and chocolate chips, and the end result was luxurious. Slightly naughty, even.

I got the recipe for these Double Chocolate and Chili Cookies from Food 52 (please excuse their heinous spelling errors), and the only thing I changed was that I substituted all purpose flour for whole wheat, because that's what I had on hand. The end result was chewy, rich, extra-chocolatey cookies with an "oh-my-goodness-what-is-in-these" spicy aftertaste. Seriously - people's eyes were bugging out with surprise when the cayenne hit their throats. Priceless reactions.

If you don't want the cookies too spicy, I'd recommend adding 1/4 tsp. of cayenne, or even just a pinch. For me, though, the 1/2 tsp. was the perfect amount for a nostril-clearing heat with every morsel. 

These cookies were also very affordable to make. I had everything on hand except for the chocolate chips, so the total cost of this recipe, for me, was about $2. 

Do you like the combination of spicy/sweet? Why or why not?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Massachusetts Brewers Summerfest

Courtesy of
On Friday night, Z and I attended the Massachusetts Brewers Summerfest at the World Trade Center Concourse. The event featured Massachusetts-based brewers pouring samples of their summer, fall and year-round brews for hundreds of thirsty beer lovers. Although there was quite a crowd at the event, the lines moved dangerously swiftly (lightweights like me needed to pace themselves accordingly). I also loved how the WTC Concourse was open to the outside with fairly decent views of the surrounding city, which not only allowed for some breaths of fresh air, but also dispersed the crowd enough so it didn't feel like a sardine can in the tasting area.

Some of the participating brewers included Rapscallion, Watch City, Mayflower Brewing Co., Cape Ann Brewing Co., and Haverhill Brewery. Live music and food were also provided, and the venue even had vegetarian options (i.e. veggie burgers). I was impressed by this, as many festivals like this one are normally meat-fueled, with no consideration of the meatless diners.

I did not snap any photos, because there are only so many photos of beer one blogger can take - but here is a quick recap of my favorite brews poured on Friday evening:

-Stone Cat Pumpkin Porter by Ipswich Ale Brewery: This gem was a perfectly poured, smooth porter with just a hint of sweet pumpkin flavor.

-Milk Stout by Wachusett Brewing Co.: A creamy, rich stout with subtle, yet noticeable, hints of cocoa and malt. I could easily drink this beer in place of water for the rest of my existence.

-Nitro Coffeehouse Porter by Berkshire Brewing Co.: Can you tell I'm on a porter/stout kick lately? Berkshire's Coffeehouse Porter is beautifully dark and creamy with intense notes of fresh coffee beans and a sweet, enjoyable aftertaste of chocolate. This beer would be perfect for an after dinner drink, or sipped with a thick cut, dry-rubbed steak.

-Autumn Wheat by Mayflower: Normally, I am not a fan of wheat beers, but Mayflower's autumn option was out-of-the-ordinary, as far as wheat beers go. The color was light amber, and the taste itself was crisp, hearty and refreshing, with flavors of caramel and malt present throughout.

The evening overall was a successful one, and tickets were only $29 (for the first 500 people who signed up; $35 normally). I tried many beers from various, local breweries that evening, but, despite the quick-moving lines, was able to pace myself properly over the course of the evening. I would definitely attend this event again next year - and would encourage other beer lovers out there to attend, too.

What's your favorite beer or cocktail to drink during the fall season?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Best Deal This Week: Free Dessert September 15th

Courtesy of
Long Weekends are always so much more relaxing than short, two-day weekends. So far, I've spent the holiday weekend outside bicycling; going to a Red Sox game; spending quality time with family and friends at various barbecues; and having brunch al fresco, casually sipping on a Bloody Mary, not caring what time it is in the early afternoon. Because on holiday weekends, drinking vodka at any hour just seems OK.

Despite the unfortunate fact that long weekends are few and far between, we all deserve that sense of relaxation and the mindset that doing out-of-the-ordinary things - like drinking vodka with a late breakfast - is just fine. And having your dessert for free can be just fine, too - on September 15th, at least.

In celebration of Bravo's new show, "Top Chef's Just Desserts," many area restaurants are giving two diners per table a free dessert (with the purchase of one entree each). The catch? The participating restaurants are part of, a website that allows you to make reservations online at area restaurants, and often offers discounts, such as this one, to OpenTable members only. It's free to sign-up, and all you have to do is wait for discounts to hit your mailbox - or make restaurant reservations with a few clicks on your computer. 

Some of the restaurants participating in Free Dessert Day include Alfredo's in Quincy; Savino's in Belmont; and Tryst in Arlington. For a full list of participating restaurants, click here.

How have you spent the long, holiday weekend so far?

Friday, September 3, 2010

How2heroes Hoedown at Smolak Farms

In lieu of Financial Friday, I must post a more timely recap of the how2heroes Hoedown I attended at Smolak Farms last Sunday. The event, which was held from 1 to 5 p.m., featured locally-sourced food samples from some of the area's best restaurants, as well as beer and wine from Narragansett and the Wine Connextion, a pig roast, hay rides, cooking demos, and even an amateur baking contest. The cost of admission was $25.00, with a percentage of proceeds benefiting the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets.

Quick disclaimer: I was fortunate enough to attend the Hoedown with my cousin, Catherine, thanks to Image Unlimited Communications, Ltd. Despite their generosity, all opinions expressed in this post are 100 percent honest and my own.

Catherine and I ate more than our fair share of food on Sunday, but here's a recap of some of my favorite culinary offerings that day.

Bread & Chocolate - Sweet Corn Buns with Sage:

Bread & Chocolate's corn buns were incredibly dense, albeit incredibly delicious. The sweet, fresh, whole kernels of corn were prominent throughout each bun, and the bread itself was buttery and perfectly flavored with the sage. These buns were a great way to get started for the culinary tour to come. 

Sweet - Ginger Peach Whoopie Pies:

No pun intended - these whoopie pies were incredibly sweet. There's really no other way to describe them. Fortunately, the bright, eye-popping flavor of the ginger helped to cut the sweetness slightly, while the peach provided a refreshing, additional taste to the pies.

Orzo - Pasta Salad: 

I love pasta salad, and Orzo's sampling was top notch, as far as pasta salads go. The dish was made with tortellini, and was wonderfully dressed with a vinegar/citrus coating and fresh herbs. 

Wine Connextion - vino:

The folks at the Wine Connextion (a brother/sister team) were incredibly friendly and helpful in picking a wine each attendee would enjoy. They had plenty of red and wine options, but I had two chilled glasses of white throughout the day. After visiting their booth, I'm eager to go back to the Wine Connextion after the friendly and attentive service I received on Sunday.

Smolak Farms - Peach Crisp and Apple Cider Doughnuts:

Confession: I didn't try either of these items, but they looked amazing. By this point, I was already in sugar overload, and needed a break from eating. We decided to take a breather by going to see the pig roast - which had just ended.

As soon as we realized we missed out on the pig, we heard the tractor pull up to the parking lot, and knew the next hay ride was about to leave. With our wine glasses in hand, we caught up with the tractor and jumped in. The hay ride took us all over Smolak Farms - I had no idea how large their land is! 

The ride was beautiful, although really humid - but it did provide a much needed break from eating. After we got off the hay ride, we went back for some more samples.

How2Heroes - Zucchini Bread and Rosemary Lemonade:

This was the moistest zucchini bread I've had to date, and the bright flavors of the fresh zucchini were completely evident in each bite. At this point in the day, no lemonade was found, but the delicious zucchini bread made up for it.

Other highlights of the day: The Chilled Corn Soup with Toasted Cumin by Parsons Table, and 62 Restaurant's ribs with spicy red cabbage. There was also plenty of entertainment throughout the afternoon, including a dunk tank and “The Hoedown Throwdown Baking Contest," an amateur baking contest presented by King Arthur Flour and how2heroes using farm fresh produce as the main ingredient, as well as King Arthur Flour.

The how2heroes Hoedown was a fun, unique way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon. The vibe at Smolak Farms is always inviting and relaxing, and I really enjoyed perusing their bakery and store after the Hoedown festivities. I may or may not have left with a homemade Peach and Raspberry pie from their bake shop...which I highly recommend you purchase the next time you're there.

What are you going to miss most about the summer?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Olivia's Organics Recipe Contest

Last month, Olivia's Organics ran a contest on their Facebook page where at-home cooks had to whip up something using Olivia's Organics salad greens and fresh, seasonal ingredients. The grand prize winner, who will be announced on September 10th, gets their recipe featured on Williams-Sonoma's website, as well as a $500 Williams-Sonoma gift certificate. 

I submitted my recipe for Arugula Pesto with a Kick. The peppery arugula blends beautifully with the pine nuts and tart lemon juice, while the small addition of cayenne gives every mouthful of this pesto a serious kick-in-the-pants bite. 

Arugula Pesto with a Kick
Yields about 2 cups

-2 cups packed Olivia's Organics arugula
-2 cloves garlic
-1/4 cup pine nuts
-2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
-1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or Romano cheese)
-Juice of 1/2 a lemon
-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
-Salt and black pepper, to taste

Directions: Add above ingredients (except for salt and pepper) to food processor and pulse until smooth. Taste, and add salt and black pepper as necessary. Serve over whole wheat pasta, smear on French bread, or simply indulge with a spoon.

This was seriously good pesto. I'll let you know if this ends up being the winning recipe!

Second Helping Cheesy Corn Tortilla Pizzas

I am literally sticking to my couch from humidity as I type this. Probably way too much information for most of you, but the fact is, it's hot in Boston tonight. Only me and a few other, hungry wack-jobs would turn on their stoves on a night like this. But that's exactly what I did.

I'm leaving for Italy in less than five weeks, so it's really crunch time for saving every extra dollar I can. So, over the next few weeks, expect to see a lot of out-of-the-pantry recipes like this one.

Since it was so hot tonight, I wanted a quick yet delicious dinner. I had whole wheat tortillas leftover from last week's Tofu and Black Bean Quesadillas, I had corn in the freezer, and I always have cheese and a jar of sliced jalapenos in the fridge. I decided to throw them all together and made some Cheesy Corn Tortilla Pizzas.

Cheesy Corn Tortilla Pizzas
Yields: 2 servings

-2 whole wheat tortillas
-2 cups of corn
-10-12 jalapeno slices
-1 1/2-2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
-1 tbsp. olive oil (plus a little extra for the tortillas and cookie sheet)
-Chili powder
-Salt and black pepper, to taste
-Squirt of fresh lime juice

Directions: Preheat oven to 350*. On the stove top, heat up 1 tablespoon olive oil in a saute pan on low heat. Add corn, and season with chili powder, cumin, cilantro, salt and pepper. Once mixed and slightly heated, take off burner and squirt some lime juice over the corn.
Place both tortillas on a greased cookie sheet (I just rubbed some olive oil on the sheet), and brush a tiny bit of olive oil on each tortilla, to help them brown in the oven. Coat each tortilla with the shredded cheddar cheese, and pour equal amounts of the seasoned corn on top of the cheese layers. Place 5 to 6 jalapeno slices on each "pizza," and pop the sheet in the oven. Let the pizzas bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until cheese is melted and the edges of the tortillas are lightly browned and crispy.

The end result was a light, cheesy, slightly spicy dish that was perfect for a hot, humid evening. I loved how crispy the tortilla got in the oven, and how well the buttery, well seasoned corn complemented the richness of the cheddar. This was a fantastic use of leftovers.

Are you a fan of leftovers? Why or why not?