Thursday, June 30, 2011

On Vacation!

As you read this post, I am currently on vacation.  


This photo is a little deceiving, since Z and I are having a very economical, mini getaway in the White Mountains in New Hampshire - but you get the idea :)

I'll be back on Tuesday with a review of some great desserts, a fabulous place to have brunch in Boston, and, of course, a recap of our vacation and how we kept it cheap.

Until then - have a great long weekend and Happy 4th!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Vegetarian Ventures: Pasta with Chickpea Sauce and Brussels Sprouts

Z and I leave for a mini vacation tonight, and won't be returning until Saturday evening. You know what that means...Operation Eat Everything in the Kitchen.

As a result of this "operation," last week, I was faced with having to make dinner with nothing but a can of chickpeas, leftover pasta and some frozen Brussels sprouts (Brussels sprouts are my latest obsession, and are cheap/delicious from the frozen food aisle at Stop and Shop). After asking some of my Twitter peeps what chickpea recipes they love, Megan sent me a recipe for Garlic Chickpea Sauce - and it immediately won me over.

Pasta with Chickpea Sauce and Brussels Sprouts
Adapted from Cooking Whims
Yields: 4-6 servings

-1 tbsp. olive oil
-1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
-2 tbsp. minced garlic
-1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable stock (preferably low sodium)
-3 cups whole wheat fusilli pasta, cooked
-6 Brussels sprouts (frozen), cooked according to package directions and roughly chopped
-1 tbsp. lemon juice
-Parmesan cheese for serving
-Salt and pepper, to taste

1.) Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; saute one minute. Add chickpeas and broth; flavor with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes.
2.) Place chickpea mixture in a food processor and process until smooth. Taste for seasoning. Combine chickpea mixture, pasta, Brussels sprouts, and lemon juice. Sprinkle with cheese, if desired.

In the words of Ina Garten: How easy is that?

I was a little afraid that the chickpea sauce would taste just like hummus (I love hummus, but in pasta? Not so much), but I was pleasantly surprised at the final outcome. The sauce was flavorful, silky and savory without just tasting like pureed chickpeas. The Brussels sprouts might seem like an odd addition, but they added a fantastic additional texture and flavor to the dish - not to mention some added nutrients!

What blog recipes have inspired you lately?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cocktails and Bistro Fare at Kingston Station

Last week, my co-worker, Sara, and I braved the rain for dinner at Kingston Station. Nestled away on Kingston Street in the Financial District, Kingston Station offers bistro fare at EE-friendly prices.

While reviewing the menu and taking in the bustling bar crowd, Sara and I started with a few of their creatively-named cocktails. I went for the Moscow Mule ($7), made with Rokk Citrus Vodka, lemon and ginger beer.

Sara had the Flying Dutchman ($7), made with Ketel One, Sloe Gin, grapefruit, and ginger ale.

Both drinks were incredibly refreshing and dangerously delicious (you could barely taste the alcohol). I would definitely love to enjoy either of these beverages outside on a sunny summer day. 

While we sipped our drinks, we were also brought some complimentary bread with what tasted like sweet butter. The bread was nothing special, but it was nice to have something to munch on while perusing the menu. 

Kingston Station's menu had a nice variety of sandwiches, burgers, salads, appetizers and entrees. There was a good selection of innovative vegetarian dishes, as well as some great-looking seafood items. The menu reminded me of upscale bar fare with incredibly reasonable price tags (for downtown Boston, at least). 

For our appetizers, Sara and I decided to split the Beet Salad ($10), made with roasted beets, fresh goat cheese, candied walnuts and house balsamic vinaigrette. 

I have to say, I was really surprised at how fresh and flavorful everything on this plate was - the beets and cheese both tasted like they were fresh from the farm, and the vinaigrette tasted like it should cost $20 all by itself.

The second appetizer we split was the Spicy Tuna Tartare ($14), which was sashimi grade tuna, sesame, sriracha wasabi mayonnaise and house-made potato chips. 

I rarely eat fish anymore, but this dish was worth every bite (and dollar). The fish packed a fantastic punch of heat, and the salty, crunchy potato chips meshed beautifully with the fish. My only gripe is that I wish the fish was a little colder than room temperature - I think that would have made this dish even more flavorful. 

For my entree, I ordered the Pan Seared Veggie Burger ($14), which is a house blend of white beans, roasted red pepper, portabello mushrooms, roasted tomato seasoned with herbs and lemon, and aioli. The burger came with my choice of fries or a side salad, but since I heard so many good things about Kingston Station's fries, I knew I had to try them. 

The burger itself was perfectly crispy on the outside, and intensely "meaty" and well-seasoned throughout. I also loved the mustard it was served with - the aioli was tasty, too, but I just wasn't in the mood for a mayonnaise-based condiment. The fries were also delicious and well-seasoned, and the portion size was ginormous. 

For her entree, Sara ordered the Seared Scallops ($23), which were served over spring vegetables, fingerling potatoes, and celeriac puree. The dish was finished with lemon beurre blanc. At this point, I was pretty full, but I did try a bite of the carrots with the celeriac puree, which was good. Sara enjoyed the dish as a whole, and I think the puree really helped to round out the dish.

At this point, we were ready for another cocktail. I ordered the Partly Cloudy ($7), which is Kingston Station's version of a Dark and Stormy, made with rum, ginger beer and fresh ginger. 

Sara's second and final cocktail was the Arnold Bomber ($7), made with Sweet Tea vodka and lemon juice. 

Both drinks, again, were innovative, refreshing and perfect for summertime sipping. I'm not normally a fan of strong ginger, so I was glad to discover that the Partly Cloudy possessed a smooth, slightly subtle ginger flavor throughout, without being overly harsh. 

Our waitress didn't come back to our table for a while after we ordered these drinks, so by the time we saw her again, we had decided to order dessert. Based on our waitress's suggestion, we went for a few scoops of Kingston Station's homemade ice cream: the White Chocolate Chip and Passionfruit flavors ($7).

I feel like the difference between homemade ice cream and non-homemade is always obvious, and Kingston Station's creamy, sweet concoctions were no different. I loved the white chocolate chip flavor for it's consistent flakes of chocolate throughout, but the passionfruit flavor was also vibrant on the tongue and unique. (Quick note: Their ice cream flavors change daily).

Overall, our dinner at Kingston Station was a successful one. I loved the innovative cocktails, diverse menu, and reasonable prices - and we even found street parking right around the corner. Although our waitress was a little slow at times to get back to us, she was knowledgeable about the menu, and was helpful with our decision-making. I would definitely go back to Kingston Station for another meal, or for some after work cocktails and appetizers.

Side note: Kingston Station now offers a Less Than $6 Late Night Menu, which is complete with Truffle Fries, Buffalo Wings, Mussels, Hummus, Stuffed Brie and more. This economical menu is available from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. They're also open for brunch on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Have you ever dined at Kingston Station? What's your review?

Disclaimer: A portion of our meal was paid for by the generous folks at Kingston Station. Despite their generosity, the opinions expressed in this blog post are honest and 100 percent my own. 

Kingston Station on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 24, 2011

'Empires of Food' Book Signing

On Tuesday evening, I attended a free book signing at Book Ends in Winchester for "EMPIRES OF FOOD: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations" with Co-Author & Editor of the Improper Bostonian, Andrew Rimas, and Chef Paul Turano of Tryst restaurant in Arlington.

Andrew Rimas reading an excerpt from his new book.

Rimas co-wrote the book with Evan D.G. Fraser, whom he also co-wrote his first book with, titled "Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World." The event, held inside this adorable, local bookshop, was complete with readings from the new book, three different passed appetizers from Tryst, and answers to some thought-provoking questions from the handful of people in attendance - including topics such as the correlation between migration and famine, and the sustainable seafood industry.

The appetizer spread.

The only vegetarian-friendly app. of the evening: Spanakopita. 

Rimas, who is an occasional meat-eater himself, led the book discussion and Q&A session like a very intelligent, passionate pro (this guy has definitely done his research). Although the book only took him and Fraser a year to complete, Rimas was knowledgeable yet non-preachy about the point of this book, which was nominated for a James Beard Award:

"Fraser and Rimas argue that neither local food movements nor free market economies will stave off the next food crash, and they propose their own solutions. A fascinating, fresh history told through the prism of the dining table, “EMPIRES OF FOOD” offers a grand scope and a provocative analysis of the world today, indispensible in this time of global warming and food crises."

Ever heard of Monsanto? I'm currently reading "The World According to Monsanto" by Marie-Monique Robin, and "EMPIRES OF FOOD" seems like a good book to follow it up with. During the Q&A portion of the evening, Chef Paul even pointed out that most of his customers are interested in knowing where the food on his menu comes from - but the majority still go for the cheaper, non-local/organic options. He even told a story about how when he first started out as a chef, he encountered only few diners each month who had food allergies - and now he encounters at least one diner per day. He admitted he is convinced this has to do with what's being put in our food today.

It's clear the food industry is a scary place, and I'm excited to read what Rimas and Fraser uncover in their second book. Expect a full book review once I'm done reading. 

*Side note: The book is only available in hard cover for the time being, and cost me $27 at Book Ends (not including tax). Although it's cheaper on Amazon, I encourage you to check out this locally-owned book shop - it's worth every extra penny.

What are your thoughts on the future of the food industry? Are you optimistic, or as terrified as I am?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Easiest Pasta 'Sauce'

It’s been a busy week.

Z’s in NYC this week for work, and I’ve had events/dinners/graduations/you name it every day after work this week (except for tonight, in which I plan to sit on my couch, drink wine and watch “The Real Housewives of New York City” like the cultured person that I am). But let’s get back the craziness of this week.

When time’s short, dinner should be easy. And dinner doesn’t get much easier than boxed pasta with a few canned goods and spices – and, believe it or not, it also doesn’t get much more delicious (at least, for the ingredients you’re using and the short amount of time you have).

Busy weeks call for the Easiest Pasta “Sauce” recipe.

Easiest Pasta "Sauce"
Yields: 2-3 servings
-2 cups canned diced tomatoes 
-8 kalamata olives, roughly chopped
-1 tsp. minced garlic
-2-3 tbsp. olive oil
-Crushed red pepper
-Dried parsley
-Salt and black pepper, to taste
-Splash of lemon juice (or white wine)

1.) In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil on medium heat. Add tomatoes and olives, and stir; let cook on medium to low heat for 2-3 minutes. 
2.) Add garlic, and season with crushed red pepper, parsley, salt and black pepper; stir. Add lemon juice, and cook for 30 seconds more. 
3.) Let simmer for 3-5 minutes; pour over pasta and top with remaining olive oil and some grated Parmesan cheese. 

Simple, tasty, and comforting – the ideal dinner to get you through a busy week.

*Side note: If you have leftover canned diced tomatoes, I’d suggest putting them in a sealed container in the freezer – they last for a few weeks, and are great to have on hand for future last-minute dinners.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Habanero-Lime Black Bean Enchiladas With Cilantro-Lime Rice

Habanero, jalapenos, chili powder. These three ingredients always help to create a great dish.

I’ve probably made it clear by now that I love spicy food. The spicier, the better. So, when I had a ton of leftover fresh cilantro from the Spicy Roasted Salsa I made, I knew I had to use it, and quickly. I pulled a can of black beans from my pantry, and picked up these spicy, unique tortillas at Trader Joe’s – and dinner was made.

Habanero-Lime Black Bean Enchiladas
Yields: 4 servings
-1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
-8 jarred jalapeno slices, diced (or 1 fresh jalapeno, diced)
-Chili powder
-Handful fresh cilantro, chopped and divided
-1 tsp. garlic
-2 tbsp. olive oil
-1/4 cup mild salsa
-1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
-Salt and pepper, to taste
-Lime juice, to taste
-4 Habanero Lime tortillas (from Trader Joe's)

1.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.) In a large saucepan, heat olive oil; add black beans and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add jalapenos and spices; add garlic. Add about 1/4 of the chopped cilantro and a generous squirt of lime juice; season with salt and pepper.
3.) Add a heaping spoonful of bean mixture into the center of each tortilla. Roll up tortillas and place face down in a greased baking pan. Pour salsa over top, and cover pan with tin foil; bake for 20-25 minutes.

4.) Uncover; sprinkle with cheese and remaining cilantro. Bake for an additional 2-3 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Even after preparing the tortillas, I still had a ton of fresh cilantro leftover - so I cooked up some Brown Rice Medley (also from TJ's), seasoned it with salt and pepper, and added generous amounts of lime juice and the cilantro.

The rice was the perfect side to help cool the heat from the spicy enchiladas. 

From start to finish, this meal only took me about 30 minutes to prepare - and I was left with four complete (and spicy) meals. 

How do you store fresh herbs so they last longer? I usually wrap mine in damp paper towels and stick them in the fridge - but it didn't seem to work for cilantro for some reason....

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Worth the Splurge: Chocolate, Caramel + Ice Cream

"Silky vanilla bean ice cream enrobed in a luscious chocolatey coating, rich caramel sauce, and thick Belgian milk chocolate."


Drooling yet?

That's the description for Magnum's Double Caramel ice cream bars. I got to try these luxurious gems as part of Foodbuzz's Tastemaker Program, which came just in time for the hot, muggy weather. To me, nothing tastes better after dinner, on a warm summer night, than cold, creamy ice cream. Magnum's Double Caramel flavored bars were nothing short of absolute decadence, with a rich, chocolatey shell enveloping a thick layer of caramel and smooth, ice cold ice cream.

These bars are sold as singles or in a pack of three - which is kind of odd, in my opinion. Regardless, I bought the three-pack, which cost me almost $5 at the Walgreens near my apartment. Knowing I can get a box of 24 ice pops for under a few bucks, I know I would not be able to afford these Magnum bars on a regular basis. Despite the steep cost, however, these bars are definitely worth the occasional splurge - especially in the summertime.

What's your favorite treat to indulge in during the summertime?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sambosas With a Side of Keno

I never imagined eating at an Ethiopian restaurant that was equipped with a juke box, Keno or a neon Budweiser sign in the window. But earlier this week, I did just that.

Fasika in Somerville is no ordinary Ethiopian restaurant. It's more like a bar for locals, with a tiny dining room meant for those who actually want to eat their cuisine. The tile floors, lively bar scene and scant decor immediately make you think the food must be terrible - but don't let the first impression fool you. Despite its odd appearance, Fasika's food is actually pretty good.

Fasika also has an impressive list of Ethiopian draft brews (about four to five options). I opted for the Harar beer, which was light, crisp and refreshing - but nothing too special.

For our appetizers, Z and I split the Ayeb Be-Gomen ($4), which was homemade cottage cheese mixed with finely chopped collard greens, herbs and spices. 

We also split the Vegetarian Sambosas ($4.50), which were made with seasoned lentils, onions, and jalapeno peppers, all wrapped in a deep-fried thin dough. 

For our entree, we split the Vegetarian Combo ($12.95), which came with our choice of five vegetable or appetizer dishes (except for the Vegetable Curry, Sambosas and Ayeb Be-Gomen). Z ordered the five dishes - and I wasn't paying attention - so being the good food blogger that I am, I couldn't tell you the exact names of the dishes we ate. 

Injera - the Ethiopian bread used as an eating utensil. 

I can tell you, however, that each dish was fairly well seasoned and tasty - but definitely not the best Ethiopian food I've had to date (which hasn't been much). I know that the lentils, potatoes and collard greens on this "plate" should have been more flavorful. I wouldn't say it was a disappointing meal - but it also wasn't spectacular.

Despite the so-so food, Fasika's casual atmosphere, odd charm and affordable prices may lure me back in there one day for a pint and some sambosas - and possibly even a round of Keno. But when I want real, authentic Ethiopian fare, I'll probably head elsewhere.

Have you ever been to a restaurant with a really odd decor/atmosphere? What was it like?

Fasika Ethiopian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lanes and Games

Carpeted walls, cheap beer and pool tables. 

No, I’m not describing our new house (which we just closed on yesterday!).

I’m talking about Lanes and Games in Cambridge.

Z, myself and a few of our friends ventured out to Lanes and Games on Sunday afternoon to drink some affordable brews and play a few strings of bowling.

To be honest, I am a terrible bowler….but I think Wii Bowling has made me better! The $3-$4 draft beers served in plastic cups probably made me a better bowler, too (Lanes and Games has an impressive amount of beers on tap, for being a bowling alley – and they have a nice, large bar/lounge area, right by the lanes on the second floor).

The d├ęcor and technology at Lanes and Games proves that nothing there has been changed since the 1980’s – but that is part of its charm. The carpeted walls, horrific animations on the old school scoreboards, and incredible 1980’s/early ‘90s music blaring on the speakers bought me right back to my childhood. Except I was a better bowler back then.

Lanes and Games is located dangerously close to Alewife, and we already have plans to head back there on a Friday or Saturday night in the near future. They also have pool tables and arcade games - so it would be very easy to spend an entire evening there. Did I also mention they have cheap beer?

What's your favorite thing about the '80s?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Celebrating an Inspiration

A 21st birthday party and graduation are milestones in and of themselves.

But when both of those milestones happen to occur at the same time, a party is in order.

And when, 21 years ago, it was unclear whether or not either could have been achieved by this person, the celebration is that much more critical...not to mention emotional.

Because when you're born prematurely, only to discover holes have ravaged your heart and a life-threatening open heart surgery is the only thing on the agenda - during which your heart stops for two and a half whole minutes - no one ever expected you to live to 21 years of age, let alone celebrate a graduation from your hospital internship program, despite your mental disability. 

My little sister, Amber, was the hero at the center of Saturday's celebration, held at my parents house. Tears were shed (mainly by me), cheers were whooped, and plenty of food was enjoyed - all the while not forgetting the hard-working miracle we were honoring that day. 

Amber even planned the menu for her party. Despite having heart complications at birth, her food choices aren't always the healthiest - but no one judged her at her own party.

I even made this Spicy Roasted Salsa (I got the recipe from Michelle's blog), which was a hit with the party guests. Just be warned: This is one spicy salsa. I only used two jalapenos and seeded them, too - but it still had a wild (albeit awesome) kick. 

Why must Blogger do this to my photos?

As if Saturday's celebrations weren't enough, Amber has since discovered that - thanks to a wonderful organization called Project Search - she just landed her first "real" job at a hospital in New Hampshire, right by my parents' home. 

On a daily basis, my little sister amazes and inspires me. She is living proof that hard work, dedication and hard-earned independence can be achieved, no matter what. 

Who inspires you on a daily basis?