Friday, September 30, 2011

Healthy Habits Kitchen in Wellesley

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending a cooking demonstration and dinner at Healthy Habits Kitchen in Wellesley. Hidden in a corporate office building off Washington Street, this meal prep facility was founded by Susan Schochet in an effort to get healthy meals on the table in next to no time. At Healthy Habits, you can assemble your own meal or buy it already assembled for you.

“It’s home cooking without the time-consuming chopping, meal planning and grocery shopping, and superior restaurant flavors without the high cost, caloric content and fat.”

On this particular evening, I joined a small group of Boston Brunchers to meet Susan and learn about her Kitchen. We were invited to bring the wine of our choosing, and we all sat around, sipped our vino and had an open conversation about our blogs and Healthy Habits. 

Susan even showed us a typical small and large meal kit – complete with all the ingredients needed to make that particular recipe (and with all the chopping, etc. already done for you). A half-sized kit usually serves 2-3 people, and a full kit serves about 4-6 - both at $5 per serving.

From there, Susan explained what was on the menu that evening – Cranberry Salsa Chicken (half, $17.99; full, $26.99), Cocoa-Coffee Rubbed Pork with Root Beer Cream Sauce (half, $16.99; full, $25.99) and Quinoa Salad for the vegetarians. For the demo that evening, Susan showed us how easy it is to prepare the Cranberry Salsa Chicken.

Then, we sat down to dinner. The quinoa salad was chocked full of fresh vegetables and balsamic vinegar – it was wonderfully fresh and surprisingly filling.

For dessert, Susan served us two types of her homemade cookies: Dark Chocolate Cherry ($6/dozen; $3/half dozen)...

...And Cranberry Oatmeal (same price as above).

Overall, it was a great evening with some fabulous bloggers, and Susan was extremely informative (and clearly very passionate) about her business. From just eating the quinoa salad and a few cookies, I can’t vouch for her food 100 percent – but I will say what I ate was clearly made with high quality, healthy ingredients.

To try out Healthy Habits Kitchen for yourself, you can visit the facility, catch them at a local Farmers' Market, or even have their meals delivered to your home (delivery charges range from $15-$30, depending on where you live).

What do you think about meal prep services? Have you ever used one? If so, what's your review?

Disclaimer: The Brunchers and I were fortunate enough to try out Healthy Habits Kitchen's food free of charge. Despite HHK's generosity, the opinions expressed in this post are honest and 100 percent my own. 

Healthy Habits Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cooking Matters in Charlestown

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a cooking class at Cooking Matters in Charlestown. Cooking Matters, which was founded in 1993, is a Share Our Strength program dedicated to empowering low-income families with the skills, knowledge, and confidence needed to make healthy and affordable meals. The program is nationally sponsored by ConAgra and Walmart.

Cooking Matters courses are made up of six weekly, two-hour sessions, chocked full of hands-on cooking lessons as well as nutrition information and money-saving tips. The class I attended last Thursday evening was the second in this particular series, and the focus was on whole grains, fruits and vegetables. There were about 15 participants in attendance, and a translator was on-hand for those that did not speak English (which was the majority of the class).

At the beginning of the session, each new participant had to sign a waiver and put on a name tag. Once everyone was settled, a Boston University Master's student studying to become a Registered Dietitian spoke to the group for about 30 minutes about the importance of whole grains and how to read nutrition labels effectively.

Finally, it was time to cook. On the menu: Fruit Salad, Brown Rice and Orange Salad, and Pumpkin Soup. A graduate of the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts led the demonstration while the class was standing around a large table, complete with cutting boards, knives and the ingredients needed for that night's meal. Each member of the class was given a duty, whether it be squeezing lemons, chopping onions, or slicing up fruit.

After all the prep work was done, the aspiring chef had us walk over to the stove where she cooked the meal. Each and every one of the class members' eyes were wide and glued to the pots and pans, clearly trying to obtain everything the cook was saying and doing.

Once all of the food was cooked, we all sat down and ate together at several round plastic tables. The conversation flowed, and everyone clearly enjoyed their meals.

In order to ensure the participants use what they learned in class back at home, Cooking Matters sends everyone home with a grocery bag - filled with all the ingredients needed to make the dishes prepared that evening - as well as the corresponding recipes.

As an observer of the program, one thing was clear: The class was eager to learn about nutrition and how to cook a healthy meal. It was very heart-warming to experience a program that provides hungry people with a free way to learn how to cook, grocery shop, and save money while doing both. At Cooking Matters, these participants are literally learning skills that they can apply in everyday life to ensure their eating habits are successful and affordable moving forward.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Brews and Billiards at Flat Top Johnny's

On Friday night, Z and I were in the mood to grab a casual dinner and some brews. We had several Eversaves and Groupons to use, and we finally decided on Flat Top Johnny's – dinner, brews AND billiards? Sounded like the perfect Friday night! 

Flat Top Johnny’s, located in Kendall Square, is a dimly lit, always bustling pool hall and bar. There are only a few high top dining tables in the place, complete with a bar and about 10 pool tables.

Z and I started our meal with the some CBC Pumpkin Ale and 9 Ball Nachos ($7), which looked as if they were piled high with jalapenos black olives, cheddar jack cheese, salsa and sour cream.

The beer was tasty, but the nachos unfortunately lacked proper “layering” of toppings, so it was mostly plain tortilla chips with some jarred salsa and cheese.

For our meals, Z and I split two entrees. I ordered the Veggie Sliders (six for $12 - you could also order three for $7), made with grilled squash patties, cole slaw and cajun aioli. 

Z got the Vegetarian Stuffed Ciabatta ($6), made with peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, cucumbers, cheddar cheese and house sauce.

I loved how creative the sliders were – I never thought of using grilled squash as a “burger” patty – and with the zesty coleslaw, these were quite the satisfying cold sandwiches (I just don’t recommend going for the cole slaw on the side – it is possible to eat too much cole slaw. Blech).

Z’s ciabatta, on the other hand, was warm, cheesy and chocked full of varying vegetables, flavors and textures. I also stole several bites of his side of creamy potato salad, which my arteries aren’t thanking me for – but my taste buds still are.

Overall, I didn’t expect a mind-blowing dining experience at Flat Top Johnny’s, but the food was better than I initially anticipated. The prices and portions are also fantastic, and the craft beer list is ever-changing (and supports the local brewers, too). Plus, I beat Z in several games of pool after, so – it was a successful evening all around.

What’s your favorite local place for simple food and cold beers?

Flat Top Johnny's on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 26, 2011

What the Fluff? 2011 Fluff Festival

Did you know that Fluff was invented in Union Square by Archibald Query in 1917?

Did you also know that the Somerville Arts Council and Massachusetts Cultural Council pay homeage to this man and his invention in Union Square each year?

Oh yes, people - an entire festival devoted to Fluff. Z and I attended the event in its 6th year on Saturday. Let's just say when people eat that much Fluff...things get fluffed up.

The What the Fluff? Festival is full of Fluff-loving characters – there were people in costumes, local residents dancing to live music and a crowd of hungry people mowing down on everything Fluff.

The festival was complete with a recipe contest, where the contestants had to make an innovative recipe using Fluff (we didn’t stick around to see who won, though – but there were some interesting displays on the table!).

Although admission to the festival was free, you had to pay (in cash) for anything you wanted to sample. Z and I tried a few things, including some Teddie Peanut Butter with Flax, Taza Chocolate, and a Fluff, chocolate and peanut butter truffle from the Holiday Inn.

We also tried a Fluffernutter cupcake from Kickass Cupcakes – a chocolate cake filled with salted peanut butter and topped with marshmallow frosting and Fluff drizzle. The cupcake cost $3, but I easily would have paid $30 for it.

The star of the festival, however, was the Fluffelmousse: a Pretty Things beer float with malted Fluff (instead of ice cream).

I have to say, the combination of Fluff with beer was not as bad as I was expecting. It definitely wasn’t great, but it was a fun drink to try, and I liked the creativity of it.

All in all, the 6th Annual What the Fluff? Festival was quite an experience. We’ll definitely be at next year’s!

Are you a Fluff fan? Why or why not?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Renovations and Burritos

My last few dinners have been eaten in my car and on the front steps of our in-the-midst-of-being-renovated home. All my meals, in general, over the last few weeks have been anything but creative, and have been wolfed down within minutes. Our house was supposed to be ready this weekend, and now it looks like another 2+ weeks of renovating are ahead of us. Needless to say, I’ve been stressed and unexcited about food. 

Until I finally made a trip to Anna’s Taqueria in Porter Square, which is right up the road from us.

All of my friends (and Z) rave about Anna’s, but I’ve never tried it before two nights ago – and ended up having it for dinner two nights in a row. The first time, I had worked out at Healthworks (for free – details to come in a later post) and stopped in for a quick dinner. I ordered the veggie burrito - which cost me under $6 – and which was chocked full of grilled vegetables, veggie rice, fresh salsa, cheese and guacamole.

The burrito was filling and unexpectedly well-seasoned, without being unnecessarily greasy. I finally discovered what all my friends had been talking about!

So, when the next night rolled around and Z and I were rushing around to get paint supplies, he suggested grabbing a quick dinner to-go at Anna’s. I couldn’t pass up that offer, and Z ordered us quesadillas filled with the same grilled vegetables, veggie rice, jalapenos, hot sauce, beans, cheese, salsa, and guacamole. The quesadilla was a little more greasy than the burrito, which was expected (it was grilled and involved more cheese), but it was still satisfying, delicious and flavorful.

Although I won't be having Anna’s again for dinner tonight, I must say it will be dangerous living so close to them. I love how you can add as many toppings as you want to a burrito, taco or quesadilla (to name a few), and the homemade touches (i.e., their salsa) help to make a world of difference in every single bite. Their inexpensive prices don't hurt, either.

Have you ever eaten at Anna's Taqueria? What's your review?

Anna's Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Exploring Salem, Massachusetts

On Sunday, my parents, Z and I took advantage of the beautiful, almost-Fall day by walking around Salem, Mass. My mother has always expressed interest in visiting some of the museums there, so we visited three on our "field trip."

Witch House.

Salem Witch Museum.

The House of Seven Gables.

Each of the museums were extremely interesting - especially The House of Seven Gables. Admission to each was, on average, about $10, and well worth the money. It was so interesting to be reminded of the witch trials' era, as well as to see how people lived back in the 1600 and 1700's.

It also didn't hurt that Salem is a beautiful waterfront town, and is easily enjoyed on a clear, sunny day like Sunday was.

After all of that walking around, we were famished, and stumbled upon Victoria Station. A few of the restaurants we checked out had few impressive vegetarian options, but Victoria Station had quite a few that stood out, so we went inside and were seated right away. 

To start, I ordered a Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale

We split several appetizers amongst the table, including the Wharf Rat Ale Battered Artichoke Hearts ($8.29), which were served with a tangy bistro sauce... 

...As well as the Beet Goat Cheese Stack ($7.59), which was served on a bed of field greens and lightly dressed with a citrus vinaigrette. 

The fried artichokes were plump, juicy and perfectly crispy - and made for a perfect pairing with the slightly spicy sauce. The beet and goat cheese salad was simple yet obviously fresh and generous on the portion size. 

For my meal, I ordered the Eggplant Parmesan Burger ($8.99), which, at first glance, looked like nothing put a slab of eggplant lasagna inside a hamburger bun.

Surprisingly, though, this sandwich worked - the thin layers of breaded eggplant and ricotta cheese were easy to bite into, and tasted delicious with the buttery roll and crispy French fries. My only warning: This is one filling dish. I ended up eating half, and taking the rest home for lunch the next day. 

It was so wonderful to bask in the beautiful day, learn about some local history and enjoy a delicious meal. It was a very relaxing day trip, and was a welcome break from painting and furniture shopping for the new house.

How did you enjoy the beautiful weather this weekend?

Victoria Station on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 16, 2011

For the Love of Gin

It's Friday. We could all use a cocktail. 

On Wednesday night, Z and I enjoyed dinner and drinks at The Elephant Walk in Cambridge. I don’t normally order the more expensive, “fancier” drinks when I got out to dinner (I’m more of a beer or wine girl), but it had been a long week – and I wanted gin.

The Elephant Walk has a pretty diverse and innovative list of cocktails, so I went for the gin-heavy Hendrick’s Heaven ($9.25). The Hendrick's Heaven, as described by The Elephant Walk, is "the ultimate gin martini," made with juniper, coriander, cucumber, and rose petals with splash of St. Germaine Elderflower liqueur. Garnished with a cucumber and a green olive, this cocktail was smooth, exotically sweet, and perfectly strong.

What local restaurant/bar serves your favorite cocktail? 

Elephant Walk on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The First Frittata

Five eggs. A splash of soy milk. A slew of veggies and cheese. And a wicked cool pan that could make or break the dish.

This was our challenge. Our frittata challenge.

Z’s parents have the traditional two frittata pans – one for starting the cooking process, and one to help flip the frittata and cook it on the other side (action photos to come shortly). Since Z and I both love eggs (and protein), we decided to be brave and make our very first homemade frittata – in these very intimidating pans.

I am one of those people that suck at carefully taking a loaf of bread out of the bread pan, or a bundt cake out of the cake pan and setting it perfectly on a serving plate. No – my breads, cakes, etc. usually come out of their respective pans with at least one deformity each. I am not careful or graceful, by any means…which is why Z was the one flipping the frittata pan.

First, I cooked up some chopped mushrooms, tomatoes and rocket arugula with some olive oil in our first frittata pan. While the veggies were sautéing, Z mixed five eggs with a splash of soy milk, and seasoned the eggs with salt and pepper. Once the veggies were mostly cooked through, Z added the eggs to the pan and I further seasoned them with a little bit of cardamom, a lot of chili powder and some red pepper flakes.

Z continuously lifted the bottom of the egg batter with a spatula, to prevent it from sticking to the pan. Then, once the egg mixture was mostly cooked through (i.e., wasn’t runny anywhere), we added some crumbled feta and then Z attempted the flip.

It was a quick, hold-your-breath kind of moment.

Although the frittata didn’t stay together 100 percent, we still considered the flip a success.

We let the bottom of the frittata cook through (about 4-5 minutes), and then we cut the frittata into four pieces. We served ours with some toasted pita bread and salsa (a weird combo, but hey – we’re working with what we’ve got).

The end result might not look like a perfectly fluffy frittata, but for our first attempt, it was successful. We both loved the combination of the veggies with the tangy feta, although I will change up the spices next time – the frittata was a little too “breakfast-y” and not as savory as we had hoped.

Have you ever made a frittata? What spices/ingredients do you like to use in your's?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Quality Over Cost

Since painting and moving are my new hobbies, I’ve had little time to cook or go out to eat these days. (But, on the bright side, painting is coming along quite nicely!).

Because I have little food content to share with you, I was interested in picking your economical brains. Last night, I was thinking how my cheap self would rarely ever purchase items like cereal, chips and wine if they weren’t on sale (because there are plenty of their counterparts that are), but I’d always pay full price for these things:

-LUNA Bars

-Beer (specifically, microbrews/craft beer)

-Avocados (because I love them and they’re hardly ever on sale)

-Bread (I eat too much of it to not buy the good stuff!)


Although I'm economical at heart, there are just some foods/drinks I love that are worth buying despite the price tag. In certain cases, quality is more important than cost.

Now, it’s your turn: What foods/beverages would you always pay full price for?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Easy Mediterranean Salad

This Mediterranean salad makes a perfectly light, simple and fairly economical side dish for any gathering. This vibrant dish is chocked full of tomatoes, cucumbers, kalamata olives, crumbled feta, red onions and red peppers - and dressed simply with olive oil, lemon juice, black pepper and fresh oregano. Z made this dish for a family party we attended on Saturday, and it was a huge hit - especially with me. I had about five three servings of it!

What simple side dishes do love making for get togethers?