Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Simple, Affordable and Elegant Dinner Idea

Last week, I had some of my fellow Eversave co-workers over for dinner and vino. 

Photo courtesy of thedailycraic.

Each and every one of my three dinner guests (as well as myself) have different tastes in food, so it took me some time to figure out what to make. For example, one of my co-workers doesn't like cheese, eggs or beans - three ingredients I use in 90% of my meals. I had to be creative, while making the meal affordable and elegant.

And what's more affordable and elegant (not to mention versatile and delicious) than puff pastry?

After flipping through several of my cookbooks, I combined my inspiration from several of the recipes I found. The end result: Leeks, tomato, herbs, salt and pepper, all cooked in a puff pastry.

The pre-baked entree.

 I served the tomato and leek "tart" with roasted potatoes and a simple arugula salad.

The meal ended up being pleasing to all palates at the table - and it was also simple, elegant and ultra affordable.

Do you have picky eaters in your life? Or would you consider yourself a picky eater?

Friday, January 27, 2012

50 Cent Dumplings at The Ginger Exchange

On Tuesdays, dumplings only cost $0.50 at The Ginger Exchange in Inman Square (if you spend at least $6 on drinks). Guess where I was this past Tuesday?

My friend, Amy, lives right in Inman Square, and invited me out for drinks and cheap dumplings at this Japanese sushi bar and restaurant. I happily obliged, met her at the bar, and quickly ordered a Southern Tier "Unearthly" IPA ($6).

The Ginger Exchange serves pork and vegetable versions of their MaMa's Dumplings. I went with the vegetable; Amy went with the pork.

The dumplings were cooked perfectly; I fell in love with the crispy exterior. The vegetable filling, however, could have used some more spices, but, thankfully, the soy sauce helped to bring the dumplings to life. 

Since I had been having craving sushi all week, I also decided to order some Avo-cucumber makimono ($4.75) to wash down my dumplings with. 

This sushi definitely fulfilled my week-long craving. The avocado, cucumber and wasabi were incredibly fresh, and the sprinkling of black and white sesame seeds added a necessary nuttiness to the maki. 

Although we only sat at the bar, I enjoyed the vibe at The Ginger Exchange. A surprising number of younger patrons were also sitting down and enjoying a later dinner (and probably $0.50 dumplings), and our waitress/bartender was friendly and knowledgeable about the menu. I'll definitely go back for some fresh Japanese fare - and not just on a Tuesday.

Ginger Exchange on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Simple Food and Winter Brews at Beer Works in Salem

Sometimes, the simplest of places can consistently fill your belly with a satisfying meal and a few cold beers. For me, Beer Works is one such place.

I've been to the Beer Works' locations in Boston, Lowell and Salem, and for some reason, the Boston spot has fallen flat for me. The other locations, however, have always delivered decent pub grub and brews - nothing outstanding, but affordable and tasty. On Saturday night, I met up with two of my cousins for dinner and drinks at the Salem location.

I started with the Beantown Nut Brown Ale (12 oz., $4.50), which was surprisingly light, and full of toasted nut flavor.

I can never go to Beer Works without starting my meal with their Fried Pickles ($6.95), which are served with a zesty ranch dipping sauce (please excuse the terrible photo).

The fried pickles at Beer Works are consistently crunchy on the outside with a still-snappy, juicy pickle on the inside. The crispy exterior also clings to the pickle, preventing a messy, greasy disaster.

Beer Works unfortunately does not have too many vegetarian options (pizza and a portobello sandwich are just two of the few other choices), so I went with the Garden Burger ($9.95). This burger usually comes garnished with mushrooms, honey Dijon mustard, lettuce and tomato (and served with a garden salad), but I changed my order completely. At Beer Works, you can pick from a variety of sides and toppings for your burgers, which makes the ordering process a little more fun (for the customer, at least) - and only slightly more expensive ($1 for each topping and $1 for some of the sides choices).

I ended up topping my garden burger with avocado, sauteed onions and Cheddar jack cheese. I also got sweet potato fries on the side.

Served on a fluffy, buttery, slightly sweet roll, this burger was downright enjoyable. The toppings were also generous, and complemented the veggie and grain burger quite well. The bun was so big, though, that I ended up eating the second half of my burger sans bread. The sweet potato fries were simply seasoned with salt, and were beautifully crispy without being overly greasy.

To end the meal, I drank my dessert - and enjoyed a Black Bat Stout (12 oz., $4.75).

Beer Works' stout was smooth and creamy, and had flecks of oatmeal, coffee and chocolate flavors. This was a great way to end the meal.

Many of Beer Works' brews are seasonal and vary by location, but you can find the full menu for each location right on their website.

All in all, I had another successful meal at Beer Works - that was also extremely affordable. My two cousins are part of the Beer Works' VIP program, which took $30 off our entire bill. Score!

Have you ever been to a Beer Works? What's your review?

Salem Beer Works on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Baking to End Cancer with Nutella Brownies

Remember these puppies?

Well, now you have a chance to get one dozen of these gems, all to yourself (or, to share...but that's up to you). Just head on over to Amanda's (a.k.a. Tales from a Kitchen Misfit's) virtual Bake Sale, and bid on these Nutella Brownies. Oh, and did I mention the bake sale is to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society? Amanda is running the Boston Marathon, and her goal is to raise $4,000 for this great cause.

Let's help Amanda reach her goal, shall we?

Happy bidding!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Thai-Style Tofu and Chickpea Curry

Now that the temperatures have dropped in Boston - and seem to be staying that way through the near future - I'm craving nothing but warm, spicy foods that tantalize my palate and fill my belly. One night after work last week, when I was particularly chilly and hungry, I found this Thai-style Green Curry spice blend in our pantry that my parents had given to us a few months ago.

We had a block of tofu in the fridge, along with a can of chickpeas in the cabinet, so I decided to whip up a comforting, spicy dish to warm both of our bellies.

Thai-Style Tofu and Chickpea Curry
Yields: 4 servings
-2 tbsp. olive oil
-1/2 an onion, minced
-1 tsp. minced garlic
-1 green pepper, chopped
-1 block (14 oz.) extra firm tofu, drained and cubed
-7-8 jarred jalapeno slices, minced
-1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
-2 tbsp. Thai Style Green Curry spice blend
-Palmful of cumin
-Salt and black pepper, to taste
-1 cup vegetable broth
-1 cup cooked Jasmine rice
-Naan, for serving (optional)

1.) Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat; add onion, and cook until soft and translucent (about 4 to 5 minutes). Add garlic, and let cook for 30 seconds; add pepper, and cook until just about soft.
2.) Add tofu to the pepper and onion mixture; stir, and let cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add jalapenos and chickpeas; season with Thai curry spice blend, cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt and pepper. Add broth, then stir.
3.) Reduce heat to a simmer, and cover the saucepan. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes; serve over Jasmine rice. 

This was one hearty, satisfying meal. It was also nice to experiment with Thai curry, since we almost always use traditional curry powder in dishes like these. 

What spices have you experimented with lately?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Giveaway Winner!

As I'm sitting here, drinking my dirty martini, I remember that I forgot to pick a winner for my Freixenet giveaway! Forgive me....

Without further ado, the winner is...Frederick Wright!

Frederick was the first to answer this question correctly: What are the three traditional cava grapes?

The answer is: Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parellada.

Congrats, Frederick! Please email me to claim your prize.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Spicy Jasmine Rice

Enchiladas, burritos, tacos - they just don't taste the same without rice. That's why, when I was making my Baked Chipotle Chimichangas, I knew I had to make rice to go alongside them.

And not just any rice, because, well, let's be honest - plain rice is nothing but bland and chewy without some flavor added to it. 

Spicy Jasmine Rice
Yields: 4 servings
-1 cup Jasmine rice
-1 1/2 cups water
-1 tbsp. butter
-Chili powder
-Dried parsley
-Salt and pepper, to taste

1.) Bring rice and water to a soft boil in a large saucepan; let simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Take pan off heat and let cool for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
2.) Add butter and spices (to taste), then stir. Serve alongside Baked Chipotle Chimichangas

The butter and flavorful seasonings used in this dish really helped kick this otherwise plain-tasting rice up a few delicious notches. The fluffy, slightly sticky rice also complemented my smoky chimichangas beautifully. 

What ingredients or spices do you add to rice to give it some extra flavor?

Side note: Don't forget to enter my sparkling wine giveaway! I'm picking a winner tomorrow morning....

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Baked Chipotle Chimichangas

After I got home Sunday night from a fun – albeit short – snowboarding trip in New Hampshire, I was famished; and oddly in the mood to cook. I had received a new cookbook from Betty Crocker (just for being their fan on Facebook – woot woot), so I decide to flip to the “Vegetarian” tab and get some inspiration for dinner. There is where I found a recipe for baked chimichangas.

I had barely any of the same ingredients Betty used in her chimichangas, so I just improvised with what I had in my own kitchen (including finally opening a grinder of tex-mex chipotle seasoning my mom gave us a while ago).

The end result was a smoky, spicy chimichanga that was crispy on the outside without the typical fried-chimichanga grease. The vibrant filling I whipped together was also incredibly flavorful, and nutritious to boot.

Baked Chipotle Chimichangas
-1 tbsp. olive oil
-1/4 white onion, diced
-1 tsp. minced garlic
-1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
-1 cup frozen corn
-6-7 jarred jalapeno slices, minced
-Tex-Mex Chipotle seasoning (or chipotle powder)
-Dried parsley
-Salt and black pepper, to taste
-Squirt of lime juice
-1/2 cup chipotle salsa (plus extra for serving)
-4 whole wheat tortillas
-1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

1.) Heat olive oil on medium to low heat in a large frying pan; add onion, and cook until soft and translucent (about 3-4 minutes). Add garlic, and stir; let cook for an additional 30 seconds.
2.) Add beans, corn and jalapeno slices; season with Tex-Mex Chipotle seasoning, parsley, salt and pepper. Stir, and let cook for 2-3 minutes.
3.) Squirt lime juice over the bean mixture, and add salsa. Stir, and let cook for an additional minute on low heat.
4.) Spoon 1/4 of the mixture into each tortilla; top with 1/4 part of the shredded cheese. Fold tortillas, and place seam-side down onto a greased baking dish. Cook at 475 degrees for 6-8 minutes, or until tortillas are lightly browned.
5.) Serve with Spicy Rice (recipe to come!) and extra chipotle salsa.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love just about anything deep-fried. But after a weekend of being out on the slopes, it was really nice to have a satisfying meal that was also light and good for me.

What substitutions or techniques have you incorporated to make a not-so-healthy meal healthier?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Freixenet 'Friday' + a Giveaway!

I realize it’s not actually Friday – but it’s Monday. To help us all get through the day, let’s just pretend it is Friday, OK?

And there's really no better way to celebrate "Friday" than with a glass of chilled champagne (or sparkling wine).

I'm not normally a sparkling wine girl - I tend to love my non-bubbly vino or beer. But sometimes, it's nice to dramatically pop open a bottle of the bubbly stuff and raise a glass with friends. There's something elegant and refreshing about enjoying a glass of it.

So, when the folks at Freixenet asked me to try some of their sparkling wines from Spain, I happily obliged. Freixenet sent me a bottle of their Cordon Negro Brut ($12) and Cordon Negro Extra Dry ($12) to sample. We popped open the extra dry one night when Z had some friends over - the flavor was ultra fizzy, wonderfully citrus-y, and slightly fruity. I was a big fan (as was Z and his friends).

We decided to use the Brut (Freixenet's most popular cava, and the number one imported sparkling wine in the world) in cocktails - Z simply mixed it with lemonade, orange juice and lime juice. The end result was a bubbly, fruity cocktail that was delightfully refreshing. The dry Brut also helped to cut some of the sweetness from the juices, making this an easily drinkable beverage. 

Overall, I am a big fan of these two Freixenet sparkling wines, and I'm eager to try some of their other varieties. For only $12 a bottle, the quality and flavor of these wines alone are worth every penny.

As a bonus, Freixenet has also offered to do a giveaway for EE readers! Here's what you could win:

The “Freixenet Friday” package includes six elegant Freixenet fluted glasses as well as The Freixenet Social Survival Guide, a pocket reference guide for social situations. This savvy little red book is filled with common sense advice including: Ten Commandments the perfect guest or host should live by, the sophisticate’s guide to tipping, ordering wine with confidence, quick fix-its on the fly: stains, fallen hems and broken heels, from work to play: 18 hours of style for those working from “nine to wine."

To enter, we're doing some cava trivia. The first person to answer this question correctly wins (I'll announce the winner Friday morning): What are the three traditional cava grapes?

Good luck!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Roasted Vegetables & Herb Goat Cheese in Puff Pastry

I haven’t cooked a “real” dinner in a long time. Z and I have been eating a lot on-the-go or fending for ourselves for dinner, so I’ve been consuming a lot of veggie burgers and egg sandwiches these past few weeks.

Last night, however, I was determined to make us a real meal – but it had to be quick, as Z had to be somewhere at 7:15 (I get home around 6:30). We had a sheet of puff pastry in the freezer, and I had picked up some peppers and an onion at the market near my work earlier that day. With those ingredients, dinner was born.

First, I roasted the peppers and onions with some olive oil, salt and pepper.

While the vegetables were roasting, I sliced up some grape tomatoes and thawed the puff pastry.

Then, I opened up the star of the meal: Garlic and herb goat cheese from Trader Joe’s.

Within 20 minutes, we had a simple, healthy and satisfying dinner.

Roasted Vegetables & Herb Goat Cheese in Puff Pastry
Yields: 4 servings
-1 onion, chopped
-1 green bell pepper, chopped
-Salt and black pepper, to taste
-1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
-1 tsp. minced garlic
-Splash white wine
-Butter, for baking dish
-1 sheet of packaged frozen puff pastry, thawed
-1/4 cup grape tomatoes, halved
-1 oz. Garlic & Herb goat cheese, crumbled
-Crushed red pepper, to taste

1.) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, toss peppers and onions in olive oil, salt and pepper; spread evenly on a baking sheet, and roast in oven for 10 minutes.
2.) When the vegetables are tender, remove from the oven. Toss peppers and onions with garlic and white wine. Butter a pie baking dish, and place puff pastry in the middle of the dish. Pour vegetables over the pastry.
3.) Sprinkle the tomatoes over the roasted vegetables, and top with the crumbled goat cheese. Season with crushed red pepper and a bit more salt and black pepper. Folder puff pastry over the vegetables and cheese, and dab (or brush) the pastry with olive oil, to help it brown.
4.) Cook the pastry in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown. Serve immediately, while puff pastry is still crisp.

The end result was a crispy, flaky, buttery pastry filled with sweet, flavorful vegetables and tangy goat cheese.

Despite how simple this was to make, it ended up being a rather elegant dinner. Even though we ate this quickly by itself, this pastry would pair well with a side salad for a well-rounded, nutritious (and affordable!) weeknight meal.

What quick-and-delicious meals have you made lately?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Current Obsession

Until recently, I didn't eat buffalo sauce for four years. Back when I was a poor, meat-eating college student, I lived off of the free buffalo wings at Side Street Grille in Hamden, Conn. I ate an inhumane amount of them during my four years of college - I literally got sick of them, along with buffalo sauce.

About a month ago, Z and I went to Christopher's in Cambridge for dinner, and he convinced me to share the Buffalo Tofu ($6.95) with him. After some serious hesitation, I finally caved - and had my first bite of buffalo sauce in almost four years. After eating a whole slab of the buffalo tofu to my face, my obsession with the spicy condiment was back...with a vengeance. Now, I'm a reborn buffalo sauce addict.

My most recent meal with buffalo sauce was last night's dinner: An egg burrito with avocado, baby spinach, caramelized onions and mozzarella cheese on a whole wheat wrap. The buffalo sauce added a fantastic spice and flavor to this simple yet satisfying meal.

If it were normal to put buffalo sauce on everything, I'd do it.

What's your current obsession?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Pitchers and Pizza at Newtowne Grille

Some people laugh at me when I say I love Newtowne Grille in Cambridge.

Isn't that the dive bar on Mass. Ave.?

Oh, it's a bit dive-y. But the drinks and food are cheap, the staff is friendly, and every paying customer eventually becomes your friend.

Newtowne Grille - which has a second location in Billerica - was opened in 1966 by Socrates, the father/grandfather of the current owners. The restaurant is named after the town that used to combine both Cambridge and Newton many years ago.

I've only been to Newtowne Grille a few times so far, but I plan to be back many, many times in the future - especially since we live only a few blocks away, and, well, they have Keno. The best part about Newtowne Grille, though, is their pizza and pitcher special. Any night of the week, when you buy ANY pitcher of beer, you can get a large cheese pizza for only $4 more. And the pizza is good.

The exterior of Newtowne Grille in Cambridge is nothing impressive, but trust me when I say that the affordable prices, delicious pizza, and fun, friendly atmosphere are worth paying them a visit.

What's your favorite no-frills restaurant in Boston?

Newtowne Grille on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Acitron Mexican Bistro in Arlington

Last week, Z and I decided to use our Eversave coupon for Acitron Mexican Bistro, one of the latest culinary additions to Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington. I had been hearing quite a bit of buzz around this new Mexican eatery, so I was eager to give it a try (for half price, of course).

Our meal started with fresh, chunky salsa and salty tortilla chips.

Clearly, the chips and salsa were good...

Then, we ordered a round of drinks: Acitron Margaritas ($8 each), made with Acitron's homemade margarita mix. 

These margaritas reminded me of Skinny Girl Margaritas - meaning, not weighed down with a sugary sour mix. They were crisp, light, refreshing and perfectly strong (we both ended up ordering one more with our dinners). 

For an appetizer, we split the Aguacate Frito ($7.95), which consisted of avocado slices dipped in a chipotle beer batter and lightly friend. The fried avocado was served with a cilantro-jalapeno sour cream.

While I could have easily drank the cilantro-jalapeno sour cream, the fried avocado left much to be desired. There was nothing really outstanding about it, and it lacked flavor. It was nothing more than just fried avocado. 

For our entrees, I went with the Tortitas de Zucchini Con Nopales ($15.95), which was two zucchini patties topped with grilled nopales, grilled red onions, and tomato with salsa verde...

....which came with my choice of two sides. I went with the grilled vegetable medley (but got "elote," or corn on the cob, instead) as well as the black beans, which were the beans of the day.

For his entree, Z ordered the Crepas de Rajas Poblanas ($15.95), homemade crepes stuffed with grilled poblano strips, corn, yellow squash, zucchini, and sour cream.

Although my zucchini patties don't look that pretty, they were pretty darn awesome. Packed with flavor and well seasoned, these discs of deliciousness were also surprisingly filling. I ended up eating one, and taking the second home for lunch the next day. Z's crepe was also very tasty - and rich - and the zesty sauce his crepe was smothered in really made the dish. 

Overall, our dinner at Acitron Mexican Bistro was a successful one, but it didn't blow us away. If we didn't have an Eversave coupon with us, this meal would have been really expensive, for our budgets. The margaritas were tasty, though, so I'd go back just to have another one of those.

Have you tried Acitron Mexican Bistro yet? If so, what's your review?

Acitron Mexican Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 2, 2012

Second Helping: Brownies with Rum, Amaretto & Ricotta Swirl

Booze + Chocolate = Happiness.

First off: Happy 2012! I hope you all had a safe and fun New Year's.

And speaking of New Year's...let's talk booze, shall we?

After making butternut squash lasagna for my family's Christmas dinner, I was left with half a tub of ricotta cheese. I took most of last week off, so I had plenty of time to research a few ricotta recipes on the Internet, in hopes of making use of my leftovers. When I stumbled upon this recipe for spiked ricotta brownies - which I had most of the ingredients for - I immediately decided to make my own version of them.

Brownies with Rum, Amaretto & Ricotta Swirl
Yields: One dozen large brownies
Adapted from lifesafeast.blogspot.com
-1 box chocolate fudge brownie mix, prepared via directions on the package
-1 cup ricotta cheese
-2 tsp. dark rum
-1 tsp. Amaretto
-3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
-3 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
-1/3 cup sugar
-1 large egg
-4 tsp. whole wheat flour
-1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

1.) In a small bowl (separate from the brownie batter), mix ricotta, rum, Amaretto, cinnamon, butter, sugar, egg and flour. Add chocolate chips to brownie batter.
2.) Pour 2/3 of the brownie batter into a greased 8-inch square brownie pan and spread evenly. Pour the rum-Amaretto-ricotta mixture evenly over the layer of brownie batter. Pour the remaining brownie batter over the ricotta mixture, and carefully spread evenly (try to avoid mixing the ricotta with the brownie batter).
3.) Marble the brownies by cutting through the batter with a sharp knife quickly from side to side (creating a "swirl" design).
4.) Bake the brownies for about 45 minutes in a 350 degree oven (my oven took about 60 minutes to fully bake the brownies - but just check them often). Once a toothpick comes out clean in the center, the brownies are done.

The end result was an incredibly moist, decadent brownie with a very subtle "booze-y" flavor. The ricotta and chocolate chips only helped to make these brownies wonderfully indulgent and rich. You can't go wrong with a brownie mix!

What are you looking forward to in 2012?