Friday, January 29, 2010

Waffle fries, goat cheese & dark rum at Boston Beer Garden

I rarely venture into the South End of Boston, but the other night, we took our co-worker, Ryan, there to send him off to Australia. Ryan is Irish and had never been to the South End before, so we took him out for dinner and drinks before he moved out of the country. We all met up at Boston Beer Garden, which, to my surprise, is owned by the same folks that own Union Street in Newton. Thankfully, the food at BBG was a little better. I started the night with a Dark & Stormy ($8), and sipped that throughout the meal - clearly, an $8 beverage that I love ended up being cheaper than ordering two $5-6 brews.

For dinner, I opted for the Mediterranean Wrap ($9.99), mainly because I can't go a day without goat cheese. I splurged on the additional $0.99 for some well seasoned waffle fries, which was a worthwhile investment. The wrap itself was chocked full of fresh chicken, creamy goat cheese, sun dried tomatoes and the perfect, small amount of Italian dressing. For a regular old wrap, this sandwich was full of flavor.

At the end of the night, I spent under $20 and I was full and happy (thanks to the dark rum, the goat cheese, and the folks who accompanied me at the table). BBG, I'll be back!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Reader recipe: carrots with ginger ale

I don't know about you, but when I'm making dinner at home, thinking up a side dish to accompany the entree is my biggest challenge. I almost always have bags of frozen vegetables in the freezer which are great go-to side dishes, but sometimes, I just want something a little different. Thankfully, my dear friend Christine (whom I met at Quinnipiac), recently sent me one of her favorite go-to side dishes.

Christine is a nurse and is in the middle of planning her wedding (which is happening in June), so the girl's got quite the busy schedule. Her unique spin on your normal, everyday carrots is perfect for a simple, "dressed up" side dish to make during the week, and the ingredients should keep you well within your grocery budget. 

Carrots with Ginger Ale
Yields: 4 servings

-7 carrots peeled and sliced (could also use frozen, pre-sliced carrots)
-1 tablespoon butter
-1 cup ginger ale
-1 pinch salt
-2 pinches chili powder
-1 tablespoon brown sugar

Directions: Put all ingredients in a covered high-sided saute pan and cook over medium heat until simmering, and butter and sugar are melted (about 5 minutes). Take the lid off, stir and raise the heat to high. Continue cooking on high uncovered until the sauce thickens to a syrup (about 10 minutes).

I can't wait to try this!

What's your favorite go-to side dish to make during the week?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Best deal this week: ending a day on the slopes with The Common Man for $2

I would eat at The Common Man every day if I could – although that would really inhibit my job as a food writer. Regardless, I have been learning how to snowboard at Loon Mountain these past few weeks (a.) because I want a fun winter hobby, and b.) because Zach is an avid snowboarder), and my body is always sore and in need of nourishment after a day on the slopes. My go-to solution after a day of learning: beer and lots of food. However, yesterday I spent $5.75 at the lounge on a Peak Organic pomegranate-flavored beer, which hit the spot, but also hurt my wallet. Little did I know I could have saved almost $4 by driving down the road to The Common Man. From 3 to 5 p.m. every day, The Common Man in Lincoln, N.H. offers $2 drafts and ½ off select appetizers in their lounge. The timing isn’t ideal, as we usually try to get the last run in right at 4 p.m., but I would leave 30 minutes prior for cheap beer and eats after a day of snowboarding – especially after spending so much money at the ski resort.

Side note: The Common Man’s Foster Boiler Room in Plymouth, and The Common Man in Ashland, also have these specials. Foster’s is only on weekends from 3-5 p.m., however.

Friday, January 22, 2010

How you can eat at a fancy restaurant in Boston for under $35 a person

Talk about bargain shopping: Earlier this week, I went to Brasserie Jo at the Colonnade Hotel in downtown Boston with my friend, Dave (@davidgallant). My goal in going there was two-fold: To have a “nicer” dinner, without having to call my bank for a loan. I admit, the prices on the menu were a bit frightening at first ($32.95 for a steak, anyone?), but I was eventually pleasantly surprised at all the options I had to make my meal and overall experience financially realistic for me. Plus, the waitstaff was extremely attentive and informative, and helped us choose dishes that were delicious, yet cost effective. This results in a big thumbs up from me, as I’ve been to upscale restaurants that are immediately inconsiderate if you don’t leave with a large bill.           

Now, on to the review. To start, our waiter brought us a warm, crispy baguette with butter, as well as carrot sticks that were coated in a sweet sauce with fresh herbs (carrots not pictured).

For a cocktail, I ordered the Stoli Doli martini ($10), made with Stolichnaya infused pineapples.

The martini was refreshing, and had the perfect balance between natural sweetness from the fruit and kick from the booze. Now, normally I’d get two glasses of wine during an entire meal out, but the average cost of a glass of wine at Brasserie Jo’s is between $8 and $14. None of the $8 glasses struck my fancy, so to save a few bucks, I opted for the martini and got a beer later on during the night ($5.50).

As an entrée, Dave and I decided to split one of the least expensive things on Brasserie Jo's menu: the Tarte Flambee Spinach ($9.95), made with Gruyere and crispy garlic chips. 

We also split the Roasted Sea Bass ($24.95), which was highly recommended by our waiter and the manager of the restaurant.  

The tarte was more than enough for two people, and it had a great bite from the cheese, with a lingering flavor of fresh garlic. The sea bass also exceeded my and Dave's expectations, and was cooked so perfectly it fell apart with the touch of my fork. The fresh vegetables and creamy sauce that accompanied the fish totally rounded out the dish, too. Bonus: The chef split the sea bass into two plates, so we didn’t have to fight over the fish with our forks. According to the restaurant manager, the chef always tries to split the entrée into several plates if he knows people are sharing. More thumbs up!

Finally, for dessert, Dave and I split the Chocolate Mousse ($7.95), which  our waiter prepared  right at our table. The dish was ungodly creamy, and was served with white chocolate sauce and dark and white chocolate shavings. Thankfully, the dessert wasn't too intense, either - I'm not a big dessert person, but I could have eaten five more plates of this mousse.

Dave and I were even fortunate enough to dine at Brasserie Jo on a night when Chef Joho was visiting. Chef Joho is a world renowned chef, and it was an honor to meet him. He was even generous enough to bring us a second dessert, profiteroles, which the restaurant manager told us people drive all the way from Maine to eat. The profiteroles were chocked full of vanilla bean ice cream and smothered in homemade hot fudge sauce, poured on right at your table.

All in all, Dave and I had one amazing dinner - and between the two of us, we spent $69.35, or just under $35 per person. If we had both gotten an entree and a dessert each, our bill would have easily been over $100. Just by sharing an appetizer, entree and dessert, and getting reasonably priced cocktails, we were able to save, at minimum, $30 on our bill. Not bad for a fancy night out in downtown!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Turning frozen burgers into warm quesadillas

I am a sucker for freezing leftovers. I’m just not one of those people who can eat the same dinner five nights in a row – I need variety in my life. So, when I ended up with four spicy beef burgers a few weeks ago, I ended up eating two of them over the course of the week, and froze the remaining two. The other night, I broke out the frozen burgers and turned them into one of my favorite quick, go-to meals: quesadillas.

Even though it had been a good two weeks since I had the burgers, I just wasn’t in the mood for eating a hamburger patty on a roll. So, I cut up the burgers into strips, placed them inside a whole wheat quesadilla, threw in some defrosted frozen corn, and “glued” everything together with freshly shredded habanero cheese for some extra kick.

On the side, I had the rest of my Newman's Own Peach Salsa that was in the fridge.

And walla! I was eating dinner within 10 minutes, and didn’t have to make an extra trip to the grocery store. Thankfully, I also didn’t have to eat another damn hamburger.

Do you freeze your leftovers? Why or why not?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Guest post: how to survive being married and hungry

Hey guys! I have a special treat for you today: A guest post from my newly married cousin, Catherine. Catherine has been my fellow foodie in life since we were babies, and she has recently become accustomed to the lifestyle of an economical eater, after paying for a wedding and saving for a future. I’m confident you will find her tips useful for saving some dough, especially if you can relate to being a hungry newlywed.

Take it from me: being newly married, trying to get back on our feet from the wedding, the holidays and paying bills, my husband and I have had to adjust to a lifestyle of bargain shopping and cheap eats! We are a couple who loves to eat, but doesn’t like to spend a lot of money. We are home-bodies, who like the taste of home cooked meals, so we usually try to find good deals right at the grocery store. In order to avoid wasting food, we also try to incorporate ingredients that we already have in the fridge, without completely compromising the quality of the meal. Even making a simple pizza at home saves us a few dollars every week, which adds up over time.

For those of you who are newly married, or could simply use some less expensive meal ideas during the week, here are some of our go-to meals when the wallet is thin:

Baked Pork Chop Dinner
1 package thinly sliced pork chops, $3.99
1 bag bread crumbs, $1.00 (1 package will give you at least three meals)
1 sweet potato, $0.89
1 can green beans, $0.80
1 egg—already had in the fridge
Sometimes a little garlic is added to the pork to add flavor

Dip the pork into a little bit of egg, then cover with bread crumbs. Cook in the oven for 20-25 min (baking keeps them a little more juicy), and then serve with veggie’s on the side.

Cheese Burger on Toast

1 package of ground beef – $2.69 (it’s cheaper to make your own patties)
Toast – bread had at home already, versus buying a $3-4 package of hamburger buns
Cheese - had at home already

Since it's winter, we cook the hamburg patties right on the skillet and then just serve between two pieces of toast with a little mustard and ketchup, have a pickle and a handful of chips on the side, and you have one easy and cheap hamburger.

Homemade Pizza

1 package wheat dough
1 package Market Basket pizza cheese
1 can pizza sauce
If you have any veggies or olives laying around the house, you can throw those on too

Use a little flour and work the dough until it forms a nice circle shape. Please on greased pizza pan or cookie sheet. Cover with sauce (usually the can lasts us two pizzas), then cheese and any additional toppings.

These are just some of the simple meals we like to make when we are in a hurry and on a budget! Any of these meals can be more creative - my husband has a simple palate, so we try to keep our meals pretty uncomplicated.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Best deal this week: Fine dining for $5 at Tempo Bistro

Tempo Bistro in Waltham prides itself on being an upscale, downtown-like eatery with reasonable prices, set in a suburban atmosphere. Located on the culinary strip that is Moody Street, this restaurant’s menu boasts the likes of pan-seared duck confit, racks of lamb, and seared yellowfin tuna – all items that scream “special occasion only” to me. However, Tempo’s not letting us economical eaters turn away just yet. The bistro offers what they call “$5 BARgains” everyday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. (except Sundays), at the bar only. Now, I can’t attest to how large the servings are, but for $5 you can gorge on items like Five Cheese Macaroni and Cheese, Mini Baked Brie Bites in Puff Pastry, Seared Limoncello Sea Scallops and Caribbean Spiced Chicken Tenders. Talk about fancy eating for under ten bucks.

Has anyone tried Tempo's $5 grub yet? I'm hoping to head over there in the next week or two to try it out...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Cure for the common cold: A towering pile of chili nachos from Red Hook

There’s no better way to embrace being "snowed in" than with this monstrosity at Red Hook Brewery in Portsmouth:

Their nachos are basically a tower of cheese, sweet chili, banana peppers and oh-so crunchy tortilla chips that refuse to get soggy from the mounds of ingredients placed on top of them. My cousin and I took a road trip to Portsmouth during the most recent snow storm a few weeks ago just to get some good beer and fabulous grub at Red Hook – plus a tour of the brewery, ending with several ice cold samples. Our decision may not have been the brightest, given it was snowing outside – but it was worth braving the unpleasant weather for. The price for RH's nachos is under $8 (if my memory serves me right), and can easily feed four very hungry people. If you try to split it between two, too many chili-covered chips go to waste.

What kind of food do you crave during a snow storm?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ellie Krieger's 'So Easy' garlic-basil shrimp - with an economical eater's twist

I'll try any recipe that includes carbs and wine...especially if it's simple. I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of Ellie Krieger's So Easy cookbook from my parents this past Christmas, and every single recipe in Krieger's book is simple, approachable and nutritious.

There are a ton of recipes I can't wait to try (including her cheddar-apple quesadillas and white turkey chili), but the other night I opted for her garlic-basil shrimp recipe, under the "Dinner - Rush Hour" chapter. I had leftover frozen shrimp, some grape tomatoes, and Market Basket orzo, so I didn't even have to leave the house to make this dinner. The result: I was eating dinner in under 35 minutes, and the touch of white wine and basil gave this dish a more elegant twist versus just having pasta with sauce. I have included Krieger's original recipe here, with notes of "economical" changes I made.

Ellie Krieger's Garlic-Basil Shrimp (with my changes)
Yields: 4 servings

-2 tbsp. olive oil
-1 1/4 pounds large shrimp (20 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined (I used frozen, medium-sized shrimp I had leftover. Frozen = cheaper)
-3 garlic cloves, minced (I used 3 tbsp. of minced, jarred garlic I had in the fridge)
-1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste (I used more - probably a good 1/2 tsp., and it wasn't spicy)
-3/4 cup dry white wine
-1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
-1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil (I used about 1/8 cup dried basil that I already had. Dried herbs tend to be stronger in flavor than fresh)
-3 cups cooked orzo pasta, preferably whole wheat (I used white, because I already had that in my pantry)
-Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste (I just used regular table salt/pepper)

Directions: Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot, then add the shrimp and cook, turning over once, until just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a large bowl.
Add the garlic and red pepper flakes to the remaining oil and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and basil, and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Return the shrimp to the pan and cook just until heated through. Serve with the orzo.

On the side, I used another one of Krieger's recipes for Herbed Goat Cheese Crostinis. You simply slice a whole wheat baguette in 1/2-inch thick slices, rub with a fresh garlic clove (cut in half), spread with herbed goat cheese, and stick under the broiler until golden. Having two slices of the crostini on the side also made this meal more special, versus just having wheat bread with butter.

What's your favorite go-to cookbook for simple, yet tasty recipes?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Best deal this week: $2.99 menu at Uno's

All right, I know this isn't breaking news - but good food for under $3 should never be forgotten. Friday night, some friends and I went to Uno's Chicago Grill in Harvard Square for a few drinks and some appetizers. We rarely venture to Uno's for any occasion (let alone Harvard Square), and I had little memory of their $2.99 menu, and impressive beer selection for a chain restaurant. Uno's $2.99 menu is served from 4 to 7 p.m. and then again from 10 to close, and the great thing about it (besides the price, of course) is that the menu gives you options - it's not just a few selections including the usual, greasy bar food.

My boyfriend's a vegetarian, as you all know, and I was impressed that the $2.99 menu even included a few selections for him, including the Avocado Egg Rolls. The rolls were made with fresh avocado, sun-dried tomatoes, red onion, cilantro and lime juice, and all served inside a crispy, bubbly egg roll. Tamarind cashew sauce was served on the side for dipping, making this dish an innovative twist on the regular, everyday egg roll.

The menu lists quite a few options - Lobster Slider, anyone? - and it's nice to know you can get dishes at Uno's that you can't get anywhere else, and for under $3. Oh, and the service rocked. If I had eight thumbs, I'd put them all up.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Grill 23 offers $23 bottles of wine

I love my wine, but you won't see me buying a bottle over $15 unless it's a very special occassion. Most restaurants rack up the price of a bottle two to three times what they paid for it, too, which only helps to rob me of my healthy vino addiction. Fortunately, for Boston area wine-os like myself, there's (cheap) hope in site: On Sundays and Mondays, Grill 23 & Bar offers decent bottles of wine for $23. When I say decent, I mean they are selling $35 bottles of wine for 23 bucks. The wines are hand selected by Grill 23's Wine Director, Alex DeWinter, and although the $23 wine list is evolving, you can see the current list here. Cheers!

Speaking of wine...
Check out my post regarding New Hampshire Wine Week on my blog for The Nashua Telegraph's Live Free or Dine.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Best deal I found this week

I'm FINALLY going to start organizing my blog entries - thanks for bearing with me thus far, folks - and starting next week, I am going to post the "Best Deal I Found This Week" every Monday, in hopes that gives you plenty of time to take advantage of the deal during the busy work week. However, I could not wait until this Monday to tell you about this steal - especially because I found it a week ago.

$1.99 for a box of six granola bars at Trader Joe's. It may not sound like much of a deal at first, but I'm used to spending over $3 a box on Kashi granola bars, so saving a buck or more for just-as-delicious bars is well worth it to me. My bottom desk drawer at work is always full of granola bars, and since I usually eat one as a pick-me-up at the end of the day, I don't want to buy the sugar-infused varieties that tend to be cheaper than Kashi. Trader Joe's bars are made with organic ingredients, and keep my stomach full until dinner (usually).

Trader Joe's had quite a few choices for these $1.99 snacks, but I opted for the Peanut Butter and the savory/sweet Trail Mix. Both bars are perfectly chewy, and full of natural ingredients, which shows in the flavor. Quick side note: Trader Joe's tends to be inexpensive in general, which surprised me.

Do you shop at Trader Joe's on a regular basis? If so, do you find that you save money, versus going somewhere else?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Reader's recipe: Holiday morning French toast

I never thought of baking French toast, but trust me when I tell you, it's a wonderful idea. After speaking with my friend, Wayne, at a recent tweet-up about his family's holiday breakfast tradition, I had to get the recipe. Wayne was kind enough to send it to me several weeks ago, but it wasn't until this past Sunday morning that I had a chance to give it a try. The snow was coming down hard, and I wanted a comforting, warm breakfast - and that's exactly what I got.

Wayne's wife, Genni, is really the mastermind behind this dish, and she normally uses Challah bread when she prepares it. I did not have any Challah bread at the time, though, so I prepared the dish with a less sweet, wheat Italian bread. This choice ended up being perfect for me, as I'm not really a fan of eating sweet things in the morning. The dish is prepared the night before, and baked for 40 minutes with butter, brown sugar, apples and raisins. Delicious, satisfying, and light enough that you won't be glued to the couch for four hours to digest it.

The main changes I made to Wayne's family's original recipe is I cut down the size tremendously (his served 12; mine serves two to three people), and I replaced the bread type.

Holiday Morning French Toast (courtesy of @WayneNH & @GenniK)
Yields: 2 generous servings

-4 thick-cut slices of wheat Italian bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
-3/4 McIntosh apple, peeled and thinly sliced
-1/8 cup raisins (or cranberries)
-2 eggs
-1/4 cup milk
-2 tbsp. butter, melted
-1/2 tsp. vanilla
-2 tbsp. brown sugar
-Few dashes of cinnamon

1. Combine brown sugar, butter, and a dash or two of cinnamon in a square baking dis. Add apples and raisins. Toss to coat well. Spread apple mixture evenly over bottom of baking dish. Arrange slices of bread on top.
2. Mix eggs, milk, vanilla, and a few more dashes of cinnamon until well-blended. Pour mixture over bread, soaking bread completely. Cover and refrigerate 4 to 24 hours (I refrigerated mine for 12 hours).

3. Bake, covered with aluminum foil, in a pre-heated 375*F oven for 30-40 mins. Uncover and bake 5 minutes more. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve warm.
The result: A darn good reason to be snowed in.

How did you spend the snowy weekend?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Snowed in with Pini's Pizza

There's no better way to cure the winter blues than with a satisfying piece (or two) of pizza. I had a really lazy day today, and made the most of the Boston snowfall with my book, a blanket, and some brain-draining television. When lunch finally rolled around, I was starving, still lazy, and didn't want to make my own lunch. Craving something unhealthy yet light, I called into Pini's Pizzeria in Waltham - I've been meaning to try out this place since I moved here in August. I opted for their Veggie Deluxe pizza on whole wheat crust, topped with mushrooms, roasted red peppers, onions, spinach, and tomatoes ($8.10, for a small 12'').

The pizza was completely satisfying and fulfilled my pizza craving, yet wasn't overly greasy. The whole wheat crust also had exceptional flavor that white crust can't provide, while the veggies were fresh and sat atop a thick layer of melted cheese.

I was psyched that Pini's offers whole wheat crust, too - I tend to prefer whole wheat over white, as it's healthier and just has a better flavor. All of Pini's pizzas are available with whole wheat crust, and some of their other noteworthy specialty pizzas include Ranch Chucken & Bacon, Spicy Buffalo Chicken, and Roasted Red Pepper Pesto. I'm excited to try most, if not all, of the combinations while I live right down the street in Waltham.

Have you ever tried Pini's? What's your review?