Friday, December 30, 2011

Five Horses Tavern in Somerville

Tuesday was my only day of work this week. I had plenty of vacation days left, so I decided to make Wednesday through Sunday my very own staycation. And what better way to kick off staycation than with a happy hour?

After work on Tuesday, I met my cousin, Carolan, and my friend, Christine, at Five Horses Tavern on Highland Avenue in Somerville for some beers and appetizers. I had been to Five Horses Tavern - a new craft beer bar - once before, but only for a quick bite and a brew. I was excited to go back and enjoy the atmosphere for a relaxing bite to eat.

Five Horses Tavern has a really impressive draft and bottled beer menu (not to mention some awesome-sounding cocktails). After some tough deliberation, I finally ordered my first brew: Dark Horse Too Cream Stout

This beer ended up being a great choice on a cold, rainy day - it was thick, creamy, and packed with rich chocolate flavor.

As I sipped, I perused the very-vegetarian-friendly (and meat-friendly!) menu, as well as the unique, beer-loving decor. 

Carolan and I weren't super hungry, so we decided to split a few appetizers: The Popeye pizza ($12), topped with spinach, black olives, arugula, and goat's milk ricotta... well as the White Bean Hummus ($6), made with cannellini beans, herbs, chilis, and garlic, and served with baguette crisps.

The pizza was phenomenal. The large globs of creamy, fresh goat cheese complemented the peppery arugula and salty black olives beautifully. The hummus, yet simple, was surprisingly impressive - well seasoned, and drizzled with a subtle (yet obvious) amount of olive oil. 

I ended my meal with one more brew: Sam Adams Chocolate Cherry Bock. A creamy, ice cold dessert in a glass. I highly recommend this seasonal beer.

Despite the beer being various and the food being delicious, there's another aspect of Five Horses Tavern that I fell in love with: The menu labeling. Throughout, certain menu items are clearly labeled as being either vegetarian or vegan, where applicable. And this joint isn't just offering up pasta and veggie burgers - I'm eager to go back and try the Pumpkin Pie pizza ($11), made with pumpkin, tofu, kale, and garlic. The Tavern's menu is also primarily locally-sourced, so dishes tend to change with the seasons.

Have you tried Five Horses Tavern yet? What's your review?

Five Horses Tavern on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Leftover Sage Pesto

When you have leftover fresh herbs and/or greens, you just have to make pesto. Or, at least I do. Over the years, I've turned plenty of different greens and herbs into pestos, and have loved every single one of them. So, when I found myself with a handful of sage leaves leftover from my butternut squash lasagna, I decided to improvise. 

Leftover Sage Pesto
Yields: about 1/2 cup
-1/2 cup loosely packed sage leaves
-1/2 tbsp. dried parsley
-1/8 cup chopped walnuts
-1/8 cup Parmesan cheese
-Olive oil 
-Lemon juice, to taste
-Salt and black pepper, to taste
-Pinch of cayenne pepper

1.) Add sage leaves, parsley, walnuts, and Parmesan cheese to a food processor. Add a little bit of olive oil, and pulse. Keep adding olive oil until you reach desired consistency (smooth, but not too oily).
2.) Add lemon juice, salt, pepper, and cayenne; pulse ingredients again, and taste. Add more lemon juice and spices as needed. 

Sage leaves can be rather bitter on their own - and are typically not meant to be consumed raw because of it - but the parsley helped to offset the bitterness. The end result was a slightly bitter, brightly-flavored pesto that went perfectly on a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich.

How have you incorporated holiday leftovers into new meals?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Latkes, Cheese and Julia Child

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday!

Z is half Jewish, so we spent the season celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas. This is our first year celebrating both holidays in the same house together, so we took full advantage of the festivities. On the first night of Hanukkah, we made potato latkes (I used this recipe, but used frozen hashbrowns in place of potatoes, and cayenne and cumin in place of the cajun seasoning) and vegetable kugel - and then I kicked Z's butt in dreidel. It was a good first night.

As the week went on, we opened the advent calendar each morning, and we lit the menorah each night. We are very lucky people to get to celebrate two wonderful holidays together.

On Christmas Eve, Z came with me to my parents' house in New Hampshire. There, we enjoyed my parents' lavishly decorated home as well as about 800 kinds of cheese. My family loves cheese.

On Christmas morning, after opening gifts, Z made his way to his family's Christmas celebration, and I stayed in New Hampshire to see my niece and older sister. We spent the day cooking (I made butternut squash lasagna), drinking wine, eating our faces off, and watching old episodes of "The French Chef" on television. I'm pretty sure this was the best Christmas yet.

My brother and niece.

Butternut Squash Lasagna.

How did you celebrate the holidays this year?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Last Minute Gift: Organic Jams and Spreads

USDA Organic Certified. Gluten free. Great source of fiber, calcium and phosphorus. Now that's what I call a healthy product.

A few weeks ago, the kind folks at Slater Public Relations sent me a few samples of Rigoni di Asiago's jams to try - along with their Nocciolata hazelnut-cocoa spread. Earlier this week, Z and I sat down with a loaf of challah bread and sampled each one (our lives are really rough).

Among the flavors of jam we tried were strawberry, seville orange, wild blueberry, and wild berries (Rigoni di Asiago also makes flavors like pomegranate and fig, which I'm eager to try). Each jam was bursting with fresh-fruit flavor, and after comparing the ingredients with store-bought jams in our refrigerator, it was clear as to why.

Let's just say Rigoni di Asiago's jams have very short, legible ingredient lists. A 8.82 oz. jar of their jam contains 3 lbs. of 100% organic fruit, as well as 100% fruit juice and fruit pectin. The jams are also naturally sweetened with apple juice, instead of high fructose corn syrup or other, bad-for-you additives.

I enjoyed every flavor of the jams, especially the wild blueberry and strawberry. I have toast almost every morning with my breakfast, and I plan to slather quite a bit of the leftover jams (with some peanut butter) on each slice over the next few weeks.

In addition to the jams, Z and I also tried Rigoni di Asiago's Nocciolata - a spread that may remind of you Nutella. Made with Italian hazelnuts (from the Rome region), cocoa, cocoa butter, sunflower oil, naturally flavored vanilla, raw cane sugar and skim milk, this spread is just as natural and organic as the jams. Similar to the jams, I loved how the Nocciolata was not overly sweet - the natural flavors of the hazelnuts and cocoa were apparent, but were obviously not weighed down with any added sugars. This spread also had a stronger hazelnut flavor than Nutella, which I enjoyed.

Rigoni di Asiago's products can be purchased online (most products are currently on sale for just $5-$6) or at several local shoppes, such as Savenor's Market in Cambridge.

As a result of their natural, healthy ingredients, "real" flavor, and reasonable prices, I definitely plan to buy Rigoni di Asiago's products in the future.

Are you done with your holiday shopping? I just have a few more things to pick up!

Disclaimer: I received Rigoni di Asiago's products to sample free of charge, courtesy of Slater Public Relations. Despite their generosity, the opinions expressed in this post are honest and 100 percent my own.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Smoothies and Omelettes at Zoe's in Cambridge

I am terrible at making bets. Well…that’s a lie. I make a LOT of bets, but never win any of them. This past weekend included another bet I had made and lost – this time with Z. The deal was, whoever lost had to buy breakfast the next morning. Thankfully for me, the place we chose was delicious and affordable.

When we were looking for a place to have brunch on our iPhones, Z and I had a hard time deciding where to go. Darwin’s, per usual? Lord Hobo, assuming they still serve brunch? Brave the lines at The Friendly Toast? It was a hard decision, until we finally stumbled upon Zoe’s right outside Harvard Square.

Parking isn’t fun down by Zoe’s, but we finally found a spot, and hurried into the warm, diner-like restaurant. An older, friendly man greeted us and took our name, letting us know it would be about a 20 minute wait. While we waited, we observed how much of a well-oiled machine Zoe’s was – the host quickly greeted guests, said goodbye to patrons who were leaving, and cleaned tables as soon as they were clear, ensuring anyone who was waiting was quickly seated.

After about 25 minutes, Z and I were seated at a table. I grabbed a menu and was quickly impressed at the various, healthy breakfast options – including a slew of smoothies and fun drinks. I was really in the mood for hot coffee on this chilly Sunday morning, but I opted for a Coffeelicious ($4.99), made with non-fat vanilla frozen yogurt, banana and coffee.

The smoothie was extra thick and absolutely delicious, without being overly sweet or filling. As “dessert-y” as it sounds, it didn’t taste like I was drinking dessert at all, which I loved.

For my entrĂ©e, I went with the Veggie Omelette ($8.29), chocked full of peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, asparagus, and cheddar cheese. My omelette came with home fries and toast – I went with the cinnamon raisin toast.

Everything on this plate was fantastic; especially the potatoes. The omelette was also bursting with vegetables and cheese, and the toast was thick-cut and not drowning in butter. It was a fantastic, diner-style breakfast without the added grease.

Overall, we loved Zoe’s and plan to be back soon. For the portions you get, the friendly service, affordable prices, and the vegetarian-friendly, healthy options (they even have veggie sausage!), Zoe’s gets two thumbs up in my book.

What's your favorite breakfast spot in the Boston area?

Zoe's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cookies of Christmas Past

My Aunt Susie always made the holidays feel special. Her house would be over-the-top decorated with hokey Christmas decorations; every candy dish would be filled with green and red M&Ms; and every gift she gave to my siblings and me was beautifully wrapped, and topped with a bow. The best part about celebrating Christmas with my Aunt Susie, however, was her giant, chocolate-chip-and-M&M Christmas cookies. These suckers were HUGE, perfectly cooked in the middle, and insanely sweet. As a kid, my siblings and I lived for them.

Over the last few years, we stopped hearing from my Aunt Susie. To be honest, she basically fell off the face of the earth - no one can get in contact with her.

I miss her most at Christmas time. And her cookies. The size-of-your-head, candy-filled cookies just made Christmas. So, this year, I tried to recreate them - and failed miserably.

I mean, they came out decent enough. They taste great, but they ended up coming out more like M&M biscuits than the flat cookies my Aunt Susie used to make. Despite not being close to the original, one bite of these cookies still caused me to reminisce about Christmases celebrated with my aunt. That alone was worth the effort of baking them. I'll try again next year to get them perfect. 

Do you have a dish/recipe/etc. that just "makes" your holiday? If so, what is it, and why is it special?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Special Delivery

Last week, I had the pleasure of trying out, a restaurant delivery service. I'll admit: I'm usually skeptical about sites like this. How can I trust that the restaurant I'm ordering from is paying attention? Will it be any faster than just calling the restaurant up to order my food? It's always a gamble.

Foodler, however, proved me wrong. Despite the fact that it's not the prettiest website out there, is incredibly easy to use and to navigate.

I started out by narrowing my search to restaurants near my home address. Foodler then created a long list of nearby eateries, categorized by type of cuisine, including a "best bets" section. I could search the list of restaurants by rating, cost, distance or delivery fee. There was even a list dedicated to vegetarian-friendly restaurants!

Z and I were in the mood for Thai food, so we stuck to that section of the list. We clicked on each restaurant name, and were able to view their menu right on Each restaurant page also lists their delivery and takeout hours, delivery fees (if applicable), and delivery minimums.

We finally settled on Thai Hut in Somerville. We viewed their menu, added the items we wanted to our "cart," and then checked out. I received a confirmation email from Foodler within minutes, and they even gave us an estimated time of arrival as well as a recap of our order. Before we knew it, Thai Hut was knocking at our door with our dinner.

I was pleasantly surprised at how smooth the whole system was, and I loved how easy Foodler's site was to navigate. I will definitely be using the next time we want to order delivery.

Have you ever used a restaurant delivery service? What's your review?

Disclaimer: I received a $15 credit to try out Despite the company's generosity, the opinions expressed in this post are honest and 100 percent my own. 

Thai Hut on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Thumbprint Cookies with Cranberry Chocolate Jam

On Sunday, I had to bake a dessert for our friend's holiday dinner that evening. I wanted to prepare something festive and delicious, and I remembered that I had a jar of homemade Cranberry Chocolate Jam from Doves & Figs - which was in my goodie bag from a recent Blogger Brunch.

After giving the jam a quick taste, I knew what I wanted to make: Thumbprint cookies. Per usual, I found a recipe online and modified it according to the ingredients in my kitchen. 

Thumbprint Cookies
Yields: 2 dozen cookies
Adapted from
-1 cup of Melt, room temperature
-1/2 cup of sugar
-2 eggs, room temperature
-1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
-Pinch of salt
-2 cups of whole wheat flour
-3/4 cup of Cranberry Chocolate jam (or your favorite jam)

1.) Cream the butter and sugar together for about 3 minutes.
2.) Separate the eggs. Add the yolks and vanilla extract to the butter mixture.
3.) Add the flour and salt. Mix until just combined. Place the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
4.) Roll the dough into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Place the balls on greased or parchment lined cookie sheets.
5.) Press down with your thumb to make a small well in the center of the cookie. Do not press too hard or the cookie will fall apart. Fill with 1/2 teaspoon of jam.
6.) Bake for 12-15 minutes or until slightly firm. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet to firm up before moving them to a wire rack to finish cooling.

The end result was a buttery, thick, soft cookie and the rich cranberry jam really made these something special. The jam itself had a hint of cocoa, which complemented the tang from the cranberries quite well.

What's your favorite holiday cookie?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thai Red Curry and Tofu Stir-Fry

A meal this good deserves a much better photo….

Once I piled my bowl high with this spicy stir-fry, there was only one thing between me and a forkful of it in my mouth: my camera. I knew I had to take a few photos for the blog, so I snapped away frantically - and walked away with one mediocre photo that was somewhat post-worthy. Despite the photo, this meal is a keeper – the aromas, Thai and Indian flavors, and varying textures made for one delightful meal. Dig in.

Thai Red Curry and Tofu Stir-Fry
Yields: 4-5 servings
-1 cup Trader Joe's Thai Red Curry sauce, divided
-1 16 oz. package extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into bite-size cubes
-1 box Asian rice noodles, cooked according to directions on box
-2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
-1 medium yellow onion, diced
-1 green bell pepper, chopped
-6-7 button mushrooms, chopped
-1 bay leaf
-Garam masala
-Tandoori seasoning
-Salt and black pepper, to taste
-Squirt lemon juice

1.) In a large bowl, marinate tofu with 1/2 cup Thai red curry sauce for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator, covered.
2.) In a large wok (or frying pan), heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, and cook 5-6 minutes or until mostly soft/translucent. Add tofu, and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the green pepper, mushrooms and bay leaf, and let cook for an additional 2 minutes. Season with cumin, garam masala, cayenne, tandoori, salt and pepper and lemon juice. Stir, and lower heat slightly.
3.) Pour the remaining 1/2 cup Thai red curry sauce over the tofu and vegetable mixture. Add the cooked noodles and stir. Let cook on medium to low heat for a final 5-6 minutes, or until noodles are al dente.

What's a recent recipe you created that has become a "keeper"?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Banana Bread Beer Banana Bread

It's Friday. Put some beer in your banana bread.

Yes. I went there. We had a bottle of Wells Banana Bread Beer in our fridge, and a package of Trader Joe's banana bread mix in our pantry. I made the mix according to the directions on the package, and after the bread was done baking, I poured about 1/4 cup of the beer over the top. The beer fizzled down into each nook and cranny of the bread - the end result being an incredibly moist bread with just a hint of banana beer flavor.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Better Butter

Butter makes everything better. Popcorn, cookies, toast - where would they be without butter?

One of the downsides to the dairy product, however, is its fat content. It's really not that not good for us - although, everything is good in moderation. I won't even go into the story about how, when I was little, I literally ate butter by the spoonfuls....

Regardless, there's now a healthier butter substitute that is rich, creamy and full of flavor: Melt.

The kind folks at Melt offered to send me two tubs of their better-for-you butter, and I've since sampled their product in several different ways.

The main differences between Melt and real butter: Melt is organic and consists of virgin coconut oil, flax seed oil, palm fruit oil and canola oil. I first tried Melt in one of the most traditional ways possible - spread on my toast at breakfast, alongside some scrambled eggs.

I then tried Melt in my roasted broccoli. I simply roasted the broccoli with some extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper; while it was roasting, I melted some Melt with minced garlic and lemon juice. When the broccoli was done roasting, I poured the Melt over it and sprinkled some sunflower seeds over the dish.

When I took the first bite of my toast, one flavor was more apparent than the others: coconut. The coconut oil, especially when melting Melt, is potent. However, I will say that initial punch of coconut flavor dissipated as I ate, and by the end of my meal, I completely forgot that I wasn't eating real butter. 

Over the broccoli, the Melt was fantastic. It wasn't overly heavy or greasy, and it added a slightly sweet flavor to the otherwise bitter broccoli. I also loved the texture of Melt, pre-melted - it almost has a whipped consistency, and it's incredibly rich and smooth. 

Melt is available at several stores, and you can also buy Melt online here (two tubs cost $7.98). 

For a healthier alternative to butter - with great added flavor - I could definitely see myself buying Melt again. I'm excited to use the remaining Melt I have in cookies for the holidays. I'm sure the slight coconut flavor will go really well with chocolate!

Would you trade up real butter for Melt? Why or why not?

Disclaimer: Despite Melt's generosity in letting me try their product free of charge, the opinions expressed in this post are honest and 100 percent my own. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How to Become a Healthworks Member Without Going Broke


After paying only $10 a month at Planet Fitness for several years, I finally decided to take the plunge and sign up for a membership at Healthworks. One of the top fitness centers in the United States for women, Healthworks is a spa-like gym complete with a variety of fitness classes, equipment and more. It also costs a pretty penny - up to $98 per month, on average. Here's how I justified paying $88 more a month for a gym membership:

-I signed up for their emails. Without being obnoxious, Healthworks consistently sends out current promotions and discounts to non-members, including open houses and free classes. By being on this list, I was able to take advantage of a few free classes and trips to their fitness center without having to pay a dime. These visits also helped me make an educated decision on whether or not this gym was for me.

-I did my research. Before signing up, I looked at Healthworks' class schedule online, at the location I would be going to. I made sure that there were classes that intrigued me at times that I could actually go. What would be the point of paying more for a gym if I can't even attend any of their classes?

-I took advantage of discounts. One of the most recent emails I received from Healthworks said that, through November, they were offering $0 enrollment - and the month of December was free. In addition, if you signed up before November 30th, you received a massage and a personal training session. I ended up signing up right before they closed on November 30th.

-I inquired about my health insurance. Most health insurance programs offer discounts for a variety of gyms. When signing up with Healthworks, I asked if my health insurance offered a discount - which it does. All I have to do is go onto my insurance's website, print out a fitness reimbursement form, and $150 goes back into my pocket. Obviously, all health insurance programs will differ, but this is what mine offers.

-Some things are just worth the money. After thinking it over for a few weeks, I knew that attending this gym would motivate me to work out more and be healthier overall. Some things, such as my health, hair products and good food, are just worth the extra money.

What's the maximum amount of money you would pay for a gym membership?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Avocado & Olive Oil Cupcakes

When I made my spicy slow cooker chili last weekend, I knew I needed to make something to go alongside it. Last year for Christmas, my little sister had given me a cookbook called Cupcake Heaven, and I had yet to try a recipe from it. After flipping through the pages, I eventually came across a recipe for Avocado & Olive Oil Cupcakes. Improvising a little, based on what I had in my kitchen, I whipped up a batch.

Avocado & Olive Oil Cupcakes
Yields: 1 dozen
Adapted from Cupcake Heaven
-2 medium hass avocados, peeled and roughly chopped
-1 tsp. lemon juice
-2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
-Pinch of salt
-1 tbsp. baking powder
-2 lightly beaten extra large eggs
-1 cup soy milk
-4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
-4 tbsp. butter, melted
-1 1/2 tbsp. lemon zest
-1 tsp. black pepper

1.) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan.
2.) Place the avocados in a small bowl with the lemon juice. Crush lightly with a fork.
3.) In a medium, bowl, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder. Beat the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add the flour mixture, stirring until nearly combined. Fold in the avocados. Do not over-mix.
4.) Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and cool for 5 minutes.Then, remove the cupcakes and cool on a rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

The end result was a tasty, fluffy “cupcake” that was perfect for scooping up the chili. The cooling avocado was also a great complement to the spicy chili. I didn’t mash up my avocados to a smooth consistency, but I enjoyed the added texture – if you prefer “smoother” cupcakes, I suggest mashing the avocados more. 

Are you a fan of savory cupcakes? What’s a recent flavor you’ve tried?