Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili

Football, beer and chili. They’re just meant to be together.

On Sunday, after our Cape trip and Indian dinner, Z and I wanted nothing more than to relax at home with friends. The Patriots were on in the afternoon, so we spent the morning cleaning, cooking and getting things done around the house. Since we were going to be home all day, I wanted the house to smell of something delicious cooking – which is when I decided to get my crockpot out of the pantry and full of something tasty.

We had several cans of beans in our pantry and veggie sausage that needed to be used up, so I decided to whip up my own recipe for vegetarian chili. The end result was spicy, flavorful, and full of varying textures. Topped with some shredded cheddar cheese, it was a big hit with all of our football- (and chili-) loving friends.

Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili
Yields: 8 servings
-2 15 oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed
-1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
-1 15 oz. can vegetarian baked beans
-1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
-1 1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
-1 onion, chopped
-1 green bell pepper, chopped
-2 tbsp. minced garlic
-10 jarred jalapeno slices, chopped (or 1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and chopped)
-2 vegetarian sausage links, chopped
-1 cup beer (I used Leinenkugel's Oktoberfest)
-1 tbsp. chili powder
-1 tsp. cumin
-1 tbsp. dried parsley
-1/4 tsp. cayenne
-Salt and pepper, to taste
-Shredded cheddar cheese, for garnish

1.) Place above ingredients in a slow cooker and stir. Cook on high for 4 hours (I cooked it an extra 2 hours on low).

On the side (and for dipping), I also made some avocado olive oil “cupcakes.” Recipe to come!

Do you own/use a crockpot? If so, what's your favorite thing to make in it?

The Kebab Factory in Somerville

Rated the #4 best Indian restaurant in the Boston area by Yelp, The Kebab Factory in Somerville is a tiny authentic eatery tucked away in the same building as the highly acclaimed Bergamot. After a relaxing mini vacation on the Cape, Z and I were in no mood to cook once we arrived home – so we took a quick bike ride over to The Kebab Factory for dinner Saturday night.

Z had dined here once a few years ago, but I had never been, so we were both excited to try the place out. We started with a round of drinks – Z went with a Taj Mahal, and I ordered a glass of pinot grigio ($6).

For an appetizer, we ordered the Factory’s Combo Vegetarian Platter ($7.95), which consisted of samosas, pakoras and Aloo Tikki (spicy, deep fried potato patties). We also asked for some accompanying sauces, which included a spicy chutney.

All of the items on this plate were crispy and delicious without being overly greasy. Even without the sauces, each piece was flavorful and well-spiced.

For my entree, I decided on the Gobi Charchari ($12.95), which is a Bengali dish chocked full of peas and cauliflower, tossed in a five spice mixture (and served with Basmati rice).

This dish was beautifully seasoned – the smoky cumin and pungent fennel seeds were most apparent – and the cauliflower was cooked perfectly. Scooped up with some warm, airy Chapathi ($3.50), and this was a very satisfying dish. (Z and I both went home with leftovers, too!)

Overall, our meal at The Kebab Factory was a successful one. Their use of Indian spices and flavors, intimate atmosphere and reasonable prices will encourage us to return for another meal.

Are you a fan of Indian food? 

Kebab Factory on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 28, 2011

Scenes from Thanksgiving 2011

My Thanksgiving on the Cape looked a little something like this:

Z’s parents rented a beautiful home in Wood’s Hole, and many family members and friends joined us throughout the holiday weekend.

Our Thanksgiving meal was very non-traditional. Z’s dad and brother made three different kinds of homemade pasta: butternut squash gnocchi with pistachio pesto; buckwheat pasta with caviar; and pumpkin-goat cheese cannelloni (not pictured).

All in all, it was a heartwarming holiday filled with delicious eats, great people and beautiful scenery.

How was your Thanksgiving?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Leftovers: Cheese Fondue and Pumpkin Pancakes

My recipe for Pumpkin Mac and Cheese somehow left me with quite a few leftovers - not only of the mac and cheese itself, but also several of its ingredients. I especially did not want the Gruyere and canned pumpkin to go to waste, so I incorporated both ingredients into two delicious meals.

Using up the Gruyere for fondue was a no-brainer. My older sister and brother had given Z and I a mini-crockpot set, perfect for keeping fondues and hot dips warm. I melted the Gruyere with some cheddar, Brooklyn Lager and spices to make a gooey, satisfying fondue - perfect for dipping with mushrooms, roasted Brussels sprouts, red peppers, apples, cauliflower, Tofu Pups and baguette slices, to name a few.

Gruyere, Cheddar & Beer Fondue
Yields: 4 servings
Adapted from
-1 1/2 cups, shredded sharp cheddar
-1 cup Gruyere, shredded
-1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
-1 cup Brooklyn Lager
-2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
-A few drops hot sauce
-Salt and pepper, to taste
-Cayenne pepper (optional)

1.) Combine cheeses in a bowl with flour. Add beer to a small saucepan over medium heat. Reduce the heat to simmer and add cheese in handfuls. Stir constantly, melting the cheese in batches.
2.) When the cheese has been incorporated fully. Stir in the mustard, hot sauce and spices. Transfer fondue to small crockpot or fondue pot.
3.) Serve with your favorite dippings.

I sadly didn't get a good picture of the fondue itself, but trust me when I say, it was good, and slightly spicy, which I loved. Plus, it's pretty hard to go wrong when your melting cheese in beer. Just sayin'.

The other ingredient I had leftover from the mac and cheese was canned pumpkin, which I just used this morning for Z and I's breakfast.

Pumpkin Pancakes
Yields: 8-10 pancakes
Adapted from
-1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
-2 tbsp. sugar
-2 tsp. baking powder
-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
-1/2 tsp. ground ginger
-1/2 tsp. salt
-Generous pinch of grated fresh nutmeg
-1 cup milk
-6 tbsp. canned pumpkin
-2 tbsp. melted butter (and extra butter for cooking)
-1 egg

1.) In a large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients.
2.) In a separate bowl, stir together milk, pumpkin, melted butter, and 1 egg; fold mixture into dry ingredients.
3.) Melt some butter in a skillet over medium heat; pour in 1/4 cup batter for each pancake. Cook pancakes about 3 minutes per side; serve with butter and syrup.

They might not look the prettiest, but these seasonal pancakes were a fantastic way to start my day off. The fluffy cakes were packed with nutmeg and cinnamon flavor, with subtle - yet appreciated - hints of pumpkin and fresh nutmeg.

They were also extremely easy to make. I can see a few more batches of these in my near future.

Z and I are off to the Cape until Sunday to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family. Until then, I hope you all have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

What are you doing for Thanksgiving this year?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

I just discovered - late in the game, apparently - how to make cheese taste even better this time of year. Enter: Pumpkin.

After work on Friday evening, I wanted nothing but a comforting, home-cooked meal. I had recently seen some of my fellow bloggers posting recipes for pumpkin macaroni and cheese, so I decided to improvise and make my own version of this seasonal, delicious-sounding dish. (Please be advised that measurements for spices aren't exact - I just eyeballed them as I was cooking. Just be sure to taste as you go to ensure the dish is seasoned to your liking).

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese
Yields: 8 servings
-1 box whole wheat pasta, cooked (I used penne)
-3 tbsp. butter
-3 tbsp. flour
-3-4 cups soy milk, divided
-2 heaping cups grated Gruyere cheese
-1/2 15 oz. can pumpkin 
-1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
-1 tbsp. garam masala
-1/4 tsp. cayenne
-Salt and black pepper, to taste
-1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
-1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1.) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2.) In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and add the flour. Whisk together and cook for about 30 seconds. Add 2 cups of the soy milk and dried rosemary, and whisk until smooth. Add another cup of the milk and continue to whisk. Cook for four minutes while whisking, allowing the mixture to thicken.
3.) Add Gruyere cheese and stir well, allowing the cheese to melt. Add the garam masala, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Add more milk if necessary, if the sauce is too thick for your liking (I added about another 1/2 cup of milk). Then, add the canned pumpkin.
4.) Once the cheese sauce is smooth, add the cooked pasta and toss. Pour into a casserole pan and top with bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.
5.) Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. 

The salty, gooey cheese, rich pumpkin and unique spices (i.e., garam masala) made this one incredible fall dish. The garam masala I used - which consists of black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin and coriander - added that "wow factor" that really rounded out the dish. Let's just say I've never been more excited about having leftovers.

Have the flavors of fall inspired you to make any new recipes in your kitchen lately?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Eat Hummus Enjoy Life

Holy. Hummus.

The folks at Eat Well Enjoy Life sent me "some" of their hummus to sample. A small enough amount to have Z and I eating hummus until 2012. Luckily for us, it is by far the best hummus we've ever tasted.

The flavors we received are:

-Edamame Hummus
-Edamame Hummus with roasted red pepper and toasted sesame seeds
-Edamame Hummus with yellow peppers, black sesame and ginger
-Tuscan White Bean Hummus with roasted garlic tapenade
-Tuscan White Bean Hummus with roasted pine nuts and herbs
-Spicy Yellow Lentil Hummus with sunflower seeds and apricot

To be completely honest, I have no idea where to begin. Each and every flavor we tried was unique and flavorful. The combination of innovative tastes (example: yellow lentils with apricot) was surprising and satisfying. The texture of each hummus was also beautifully thick and creamy. We tried each hummus with pita chips, pita bread, pretzel chips - I could have dipped a shoe in this product, and it still would have been good.

Eat Well Enjoy Life's hummus just recently hit supermarket shelves in Boston. One of the co-founders, John Kincaid, is even a Boston area native. Their products are sold at several stores throughout Massachusetts (and New England, for that matter), including Shaw's, the Harvest Co-op, and Omni Foods, to name a few. All of their products are gluten-free, kosher and cholesterol free. 

After trying Eat Well Enjoy Life’s hummus, I think I will have a hard time buying another brand again. I’m not sure the exact retail price per tub, but I know it’s worth every penny. And, if Z and I haven’t gotten sick of hummus yet – they have to be doing something right.

Have you ever tried Eat Well Enjoy Life’s hummus? If not, do you plan to?

Disclaimer: Eat Well Enjoy Life sent me this hummus to sample free of charge. Despite their generosity, the opinions expressed in this post are honest and 100 percent my own.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Brunch at AKA Bistro in Lincoln

On Saturday morning, Z and I enjoyed the beautiful fall weather by taking a drive into the countryside to have brunch at AKA Bistro in Lincoln. Lincoln – which is less than 30 minutes from Somerville – is a beautiful, historic town with very little to it besides gorgeous colonial houses and lush forests. AKA Bistro is definitely a hidden gem tucked away in this small town – a hidden gem we were so grateful to try.

The interior of this Bistro is modern yet welcoming, with a chalkboard behind the bar showcasing their passion for local produce (thanks to the colorful drawings of vibrant vegetables). We were immediately seated at a table in the almost-empty restaurant, which got busier as the afternoon wore on.

Our waitress was extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about that day’s menu, and she recommended several dishes for us to try. Before we could even think about food, however, we both decided to order a mimosa, which had the perfect ratio of champagne to orange juice (i.e., mostly champagne).

For our “appetizer,” we went with the waitress’s suggestion and ordered the Petit Dejeuner ($12) – a basket full of homemade pastries, which are made in-house daily by the Bistro’s pastry chef. Served with their homemade rhubarb and apricot jams, the basket included plain and chocolate croissants, a slice of cinnamon raisin bread, and a madeleine cookie.

As if the pastry basket didn’t provide enough carbs, we also got to enjoy some complimentary rolls with butter, too.

For our entrees, Z got the omelette with fresh fall vegetables with goat cheese ($12)

…And I had an egg over easy atop crispy potatoes and a medley of mushrooms ($10) (I clearly can't remember the actual name for this dish).

Both dishes were exquisite and seasoned perfectly – I even commented that my dish was the first in a while I didn’t have to add any salt or pepper to. There were obvious granules of sea salt throughout, and the crispy, peppery potatoes were the perfect complement to the oily mushrooms and runny egg.

Overall, our meal at AKA Bistro was a fantastic one. Between the dedication to local, fresh ingredients, helpful staff, and delicious food, we definitely plan to make another trip to Lincoln sometime soon.

Where have you had a great brunch lately?

Aka Bistro on Urbanspoon

Disclaimer: Z and I enjoyed this brunch free of charge thanks to Chris Lyons Communications (the PR company for AKA Bistro). Despite their generosity, the opinions expressed in this post are honest and 100 percent my own. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

An Economical Housewarming

On Sunday, Z and I hosted about 20 of our closest family members for our housewarming party. We provided all of the drinks and food (with the exception of dessert, which other people provided). Our mission: To make it as "special" and economical as possible. Thankfully, we succeeded.

On the menu: Roasted veggie and tofu kabobs; bruschetta with caramelized onions, blue cheese and walnuts (courtesy of the Cook's Illustrated Cookbook); baked Brie with raspberry jam; and some of the best hummus you'll ever try (review to come in a future post). 

Despite the variety of finger foods we offered, we kept things as simple as possible - and we made everything before our guests even arrived. To keep it inexpensive, we also took an inventory of what we already had in our kitchen, and built the menu from there. Thanks to Trader Joe's, we also got plenty of beer and wine for a decent price. Our guests had a great time, and everyone left with smiles and full stomachs. 

It was so nice to host our families in our new home, enjoy great food and wine, and not spend a fortune doing it. 

Are you hosting any holiday parties this year? How do you plan to keep things economical?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

White Bean Soup with Pasta

Whether you're a vegetarian or not, I encourage you to buy this book. It's basically a bible for delicious, flavorful, meat-free recipes that anyone who eats can enjoy. I've shared one recipe with you guys already from this book, and last week, I made another one - which was just as successful. I only changed a few things about the recipe, mainly to make it less time consuming and more economical for me (i.e., using canned beans versus dried).

White Bean Soup with Pasta
Adapted from "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone"
Yields: 8-10 servings
-2 cups canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
-2 tbsp. olive oil
-2 tsp. dried rosemary
-1 onion, finely diced
-2 carrots, finely diced
-1 celery stalk, finely diced
-5 garlic cloves, sliced
-1/3 cup chopped parsley
-1 cup diced canned tomatoes, with their juices
-Salt and black pepper, to taste
-1 cup dried fusilli pasta (or any pasta you prefer)
-Grated Parmesan cheese

1.) Heat the oil with rosemary in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and cook until the onion is softened and starting to color, about 10 minutes.
2.) Stir in the garlic and parsley and cook for a few minutes more. Add cannellini beans to the pot along with the tomatoes and 3 quarts water. Bring to a boil, lower heat, then simmer, covered, about 30 minutes.
3.) Season soup with salt and pepper, and let cook for 15-20 minutes more (or longer, if desired).
4.) Puree half the soup to give it some body (or leave it thin - I pureed half of mine, because I like my soups a little thicker). For a thicker, smooth soup, puree all of it.
5.) Cook the pasta in boiling salted water, then drain. Ladle the soup into bowls and add some pasta to each. Sprinkle Parmesan over each bowl and serve (we enjoyed ours with some When Pigs Fly bread).

This soup is perfect for a cold night - the broth was silky and flavorful, and I loved the varying textures in every single bite. Soups usually don't fill me up, but between the pasta, beans and load of vegetables, this ended up being one satisfying bowl of soup. 

I need to start making more soups! What are some of your favorites to make once the weather turns cold?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lavender Cookies

On Sunday, I was trying to delay having to paint our pantry for as long as possible. Our pantry is a glorious, large, open-to-the-kitchen pantry, and it desperately needed painting...but I wasn't feeling having to start that project as soon as I woke up. To stall time, I decided to make use of the lavender extract I bought at Sur La Table over the summer. And since I knew Z's Mom was a fan of lavender, I decided to bake her something special as a belated birthday gift.

Lavender Cookies
Adapted from
Yields: About 20 cookies
-1/2 cup butter, softened
-1 cup sugar
-2 eggs
-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
-1 tsp. lavender extract
-1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
-2 tsp. baking powder

1.) Preheat oven to 375*F.
2.) In a bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
3.) Beat in the eggs, vanilla and lavender and mix well.
4.) Combine the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl; add to the lavender mixture. Stir until well blended.
5.) Drop by teaspoons onto an ungreased baking sheet and bake in the oven 8 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges.
6.) Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for a minute or two before transferring to a cooling rack.

The end result was a light, fluffy cookie that was chocked full of lavender flavor (without being too potent). I also loved how the sweet, calming vanilla extract helped to tone down the flowery lavender a bit, without totally masking its floral taste. 

Have you tried any new baking recipes lately?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Three Little Figs in Somerville

Last week, Z came across a new cafe/bakery on Highland Avenue in Somerville - Three Little Figs - which has an obvious focus on utilizing local sources in an effort to create quality, delicious food.

Three Little Figs is, in one word, adorable. The place itself is tiny, with just a few tables, and the fig theme throughout only adds to its charm. The bakery display is chocked full of fresh baked goods that are inspired by Greek family recipes and are made with natural, organic and local ingredients. The abundant number of staff members cleaning tables, slinging baked goods and taking sandwich orders were also a friendly bunch who made you want to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee.

Since the sandwich menu is small (on this day, there were four options), it didn't take Z and I long to decide on what we wanted to eat. For a drink, I went with the Carrot Beet Celery juice, which was nothing but vegetables. It was surprisingly tasty, and provided a very healthy way to start my day.

For breakfast, Z and I both went for the egg, spinach and feta sandwich. Three Little Figs' menu changes frequently, but I'm glad we had a chance to try this - I loved the combination of the "stinky" feta with the egg. The clearly-homemade bun was also wonderfully light and airy, preventing this sandwich from being overwhelmingly filling.

It was so light, that Z and I were still a little hungry after we finished eating. Since all of the baked goods looked appealing, we decided to split an avocado muffin. The muffin was incredibly moist and delicious, with an obvious avocado flavor.

I really love Three Little Figs' adorable decor, friendly staff and dedication to delicious, quality food. I'll definitely be back there for an iced coffee and another baked good (or two) soon.

Did you try any new (to you) cafes or restaurants this weekend?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Cupcakes for Kambiri

If you’re anything like me, you probably realize that cupcakes are essential to making life great. I rarely bake, but when I do, I almost always bake cupcakes. But sometimes, it’s also nice to indulge in a moist, delightfully sweet creation from a local bakery – a local bakery like Sweet.

Awarded Boston's Best Cupcakes 2009 by the Improper Bostonian, Sweet’s handcrafted cupcakes are made fresh daily with innovative cake and buttercream flavors. But the amount of buttercream loaded on top of their cakes is not the only generous thing about the masterminds behind Sweet – they’re also generous when it comes to donating to a worthy business.

Sweet has teamed up with Franklin Park Zoo to build a cupcake in honor of Kambiri’s first birthday.

Courtesy of Robert Klein

The cupcake is a dark chocolate cake topped with banana buttercream and a toasted banana chip. $1.00 from the sale of each “Bananas for the Zoo” cupcakes sold between November 5th to 11th at all four Sweet locations will be donated to Zoo New England.

Courtesy of Marlo Marketing/Communications

In honor of Kambiri's birthday and this limited edition confection, Franklin Park Zoo will be throwing a celebration on Saturday, November 5th. The zoo’s Tropical Forest will be showcasing the gorilla exhibit, allowing on-lookers to watch as Kambiri and the gorillas enjoy birthday treats made especially for them. The first 250 visitors will receive complimentary treats of their own - delicious miniature versions of Sweet’s Bananas for the Zoo cupcakes. The event takes place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and tickets cost $16 for adults.

I hope some of you can make it to this event - have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Buona Vita in Arlington

A few months back, I bought an Eversave coupon for Buona Vita in Arlington - and last week, Z and I finally had a chance to use it.

I'd heard a lot of great things about Buona Vita, despite it's unimpressive exterior and tiny dining space (the restaurant only has about 12 tables). But the biggest thing I heard about was their authentic Italian fare - so I was excited to check it out.

We started with fresh bread, served with quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar (a fantastic combination).

Don't mind Z's fingers in this photo...

I wanted to just relax and enjoy the meal without writing every little thing down, so unfortunately, I don't have the actual names and prices for these dishes. I fail as a blogger.

The appetizer we split was asparagus served with cheesy polenta and a balsamic drizzle. This dish was simple, yet wonderfully flavorful, and the asparagus was cooked to "snappy" perfection.

For my entree, I went with the seasonal ravioli - which changed my life forever. It was fig ravioli with gorgonzola cream sauce (and more balsamic). Unreal. Besides how innovative this dish is, the flavor was also spot on, and the combination of the sweet fig with the salty cheese was borderline magical.

Z went for the gnocchi for his entree, with obviously-homemade marinara sauce and fresh mozzarella and basil.

I can't say for sure, but both of our pastas tasted like they were made right at the restaurant. Everything was incredibly fresh, authentic and full of flavor.

Our Italian waiter was also welcoming, knowledgeable about the menu (he even made some recommendations for vegetarians) and attentive. The prices were also very reasonable - our Eversave voucher covered just about all of the food - and, as a bonus, Buona Vita gave every patron that night a $25 gift certificate for their return visit. We'll definitely be returning!

What's your favorite restaurant in Boston to get authentic Italian food?

Buona Vita! on Urbanspoon