Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Enchiladas and a Mariachi Band

On Friday night, Z and I used one of my almost-expired Living Social vouchers at El Potro Mexican Bar and Grill in Union Square.

Before Living Social featured El Potro on their site (I got the deal for $9 – it was good for $20 worth of food and non-alcoholic drinks), I had never heard of this praised Mexican eatery. Even from the photos online, I could tell that this restaurant was tiny and nothing fancy, but the reviews had me intrigued.

Upon walking into the restaurant, Z and I were immediately greeted by a jovial man, and were told we could sit wherever we wanted to. Although it was a Friday night, the tables were mostly empty – although, they were mostly packed by the time we left.

We sat at a booth and admired the brightly-colored, authentically decorated interior. Soon after we sat down, our waitress brought us some complimentary chips and wonderfully fresh and spicy salsa (we also ordered some guacamole for the chips).

Sorry for the sideways photo. Gotta love Blogger.

To wash down our chips, we ordered a pitcher of one of El Potro’s margaritas (the pitcher was about $40, and we got a little over four full glasses out of it). Per usual, I was a bad blogger and didn't write down the name of this margarita - it wasn't their house concoction, but it was the next on the list (helpful, right?).

Despite my terrible note-taking skills, I can tell you that this was one damn good margarita. Perfectly sweet, slightly sour and strong, without being overpowered with tequila.

For my entree, I went with the Enchiladas de Espinaca ($11.95), which came with two rolled tortillas stuffed with seasoned spinach and topped with creamy tomatillo sauce. Served on the side was rice, refried beans, lettuce and pico de gallo.

This was an uniquely delicious dish that was rich, but surprisingly light thanks to the fresh ingredients used. I appreciated the careful attention given to the homemade tomatillo sauce, and the dish as a whole was reminiscent of the espinaca dip my sister and I used to binge on at Shorty’s in Nashua, N.H. back in the day.

After dinner, as we sipped our second margaritas, the mariachi band started playing – and they even offered to play us a song.

The band's enthusiasm and great harmonies – mixed with the tequila and our full bellies – made for a lovely Friday evening. I’ll definitely be visiting El Potro again in the near future.

What's your favorite hole-in-the-wall place for delicious food and drinks?

El Potro Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fries and Onion Rings From Alexia Foods

I rarely buy frozen, pre-packaged goods unless it’s vegetables, fruit or pizza. When it comes to French fries, specifically, I’d much rather pick out my own potatoes, season them with my own spices, and bake them on a baking sheet for crispy oven fries – that aren’t pumped full of ingredients and chemicals I’ve never heard of.

So, when Alexia Foods reached out to me last month asking if I’d like to try some of their “all-natural, premium” fries and onion rings, I was intrigued – and somewhat skeptical.

The first Alexia Food product I tried was their Parmesan Lemon Waffle Fries, the first Alexia product to be chosen by consumers in the brand’s “Reinvent a Classic” campaign on Facebook. This product just hit stores in late February.

Despite the fairly long ingredient list, 90-95% of the ingredients were legible and “real.” I was impressed before even putting these babies in the oven.

Once they were done baking, Z and I ate them alongside our beet burgers, and I have to say – these fries were damn good. The brightness from the lemon and added saltiness from the Parmesan made these thick, crispy fries delightfully unique and tasty. 

The second and final Alexia product we tried was their panko-breaded onion rings with sea salt. The ingredient list was similarly long and legible to that of the waffle fries.

I also baked these instead of frying them, and they came out wonderfully crispy. You know how sometimes when you eat onion rings the breading just can’t hold on to that slippery onion, and your hands (and lap) end up a greasy, crummy mess? Not with these rings. I was super impressed with how well the rings stayed together, and the Spanish onion inside was perfectly sweet, which complemented the lightly salted breading beautifully.

Overall, the Alexia Foods’ products I tried were delicious and not full of scary ingredients. Although I’ll always prefer homemade to store-bought – especially when it comes to frozen goods – I would definitely buy Alexia’s products again, especially when I’m in a pinch for time.

Have you ever tried Alexia Foods' products? If yes, what's your review?

*Although these products were complimentary, the opinions expressed in this post are honest and 100 percent my own. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Hidden Gem in Boston

Last Thursday night, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a tour – with some other Boston Brunchers – of the The Jewelers Building in the Diamond District. Our host for the evening was Erin Callanan from Callanan and Klein, and our trusty tour guide was Kim (remember when she taught me how to Zumba?).

Kim, inside her and her father's jewelry store.

The Jewelers Building is located at 333 Washington Street in Boston, and I have to admit – before Renee told me about the event, I never even knew this building existed. And before I had an engagement ring put on my finger, I probably wouldn’t have cared. Let’s just say Renee’s email about this fun Brunchers event couldn’t have come at a better time for me.

Due to the lovely Red Sox/regular Boston traffic, I was an hour late for the event, so I missed the food (which was provided by Scholar's Bistro) and the beginning of the tour. Thankfully, Erin found me when I arrived and I blended in with the other Brunchers quickly and smoothly.

We learned a lot of things about jewelry and the historic building we were standing in that evening. To give you a little background on the building’s history, I took this excerpt from The Jewelers Building’s website:

"Built in 1922, the historic 'Jewelers Building,' has been the heart and soul of Boston’s jewelry industry. Nestled in the heart of downtown crossing, this beautiful art-deco building is home to over 125 jewelers and expert craftsmen: manufacturers, wholesalers, importers, retailers, designers, watchmakers, pearl stringers and goldsmiths have worked side by side for 88 years producing the finest jewelry of incredible value. The Jewelers Building continues to exist as the greatest source for diamonds and jewelry in the city of Boston and beyond."

Over the course of one hour and 15 minutes, us bloggers gawked over rooms upon rooms of shiny, unique jewelry (ever heard of moonstones?). 

Besides the gorgeous, handcrafted jewelry, the biggest thing I took away from this evening was the deep-rooted family connections the employees in The Jewelers Building have. Shop co-owners and the competition down the hallway are likely to be related somehow, or at least are lifelong friends. Most of the stories we heard involved children who grew up working in their parents jewelry stores right there in that building (i.e. Kim), and then eventually working alongside their parents full-time, opening up their own shop down the hallway or taking over the family business altogether.

Elise and her mother, owners of Pearly & Girly.

All in all, it was a great evening with a very informative and inspiring tour of this historic Boston building. I highly recommend visiting The Jewelers Building if you're ever in need of a customized, handcrafted and/or unique piece of jewelry - or, if you just want to browse.

Had you ever heard of The Jewelers Building before, or was I living under a rock?

I was able to attend this event free of charge, but, as always, the opinions expressed in this post are honest and 100 percent my own. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Easiest Dinner Ever

Ready for the easiest recipe ever? Here you go...

Take a jar of this (or a similar curry sauce):

And pour it over a bunch of mostly cooked, fresh vegetables in a saucepan. Let simmer.

Um, yeah. That's it. 

Not exactly "gourmet," but easy, delicious and nutritious. We had quite a few vegetables leftover from last week's CSA, so Z picked up this curry sauce, and we used them up in this simple curry dish. I cooked the vegetables most of the way through (specifically the carrots and onions) and seasoned them with salt, pepper and some cayenne for heat, then poured the curry sauce over them and let everything simmer together. We served ours with some warm garlic naan, but this dish - or, a similar curry and vegetable dish - would be great served over rice, too. We also added some chickpeas for extra protein, but the great thing about this dish is its versatility - make it however you want it!

What's the simplest dish you made recently?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Drink This: Habanero (?) Margarita at Redbones

This might end up being my worst post ever.

Mainly because I can't, for the life of me, remember what the above margarita from Redbones is called. Let's just say I had it at the start of the Annual Pineapple Pub Crawl last Saturday - a pub crawl where a bunch of fun people decorate pineapples, and then carry their embellished fruit from bar to bar around Cambridge and Somerville. Hence the memory lapse.

My decorated pineapple.

Redbones has a variety of margaritas, but this one, on this particular day, was a special. I can't recall if it was made with jalapeno- or habanero-infused tequila (I'm 95% sure it was habanero), but I can tell you that it was delicious. It had the perfect kick from the peppers without being overly fiery, and the margarita was wonderfully strong while still maintaining an enjoyable, smooth flavor. A few other people in my group also got margaritas, including Redbones' house concoction, and all were spot-on. 

Sorry for the lack of information in this post, but the bottom line is: get to Redbones and get yourself a margarita. It is Friday, after all! 

What are you up to this weekend?

Redbones Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Amsterdam Falafelshop in Davis Square

Last weekend, I checked out the new Amsterdam Falafelshop in Davis Square...twice.

This shiny new eatery - located right next to Diva Indian Bistro - is a falafel lover's dream. Basically, you start with your choice of three or five falafels, in a wheat or white pita (they also have salad options). The falafel are fried-to-order, and although we did not have to wait long, busier times (i.e., prime lunch or dinner time) might require you to wait a little bit longer. But trust me when I say, it's worth it.

Once you pick your sandwich size, you are free to pile your pita high with Amsterdam's wide array of toppings and sauces. On our first visit, I smothered mine in tahini sauce, Thai chili sauce, coleslaw, and pickles. We visited again the next day, and their toppings had changed a bit - something that delighted me, as it immediately inspired me to visit this shop a third time in the near future. Change can be good, people!

Although my topping arrangements need some work, the falafel were perfectly fried and perfectly seasoned, and the toppings were obviously fresh (something that can be difficult with a do-it-yourself toppings bar). The pita also tasted fresh and homemade, and was able to stay strong amidst the heavy falafel and toppings.

I didn't jot down the actual prices for my sandwiches, but I do remember my and Z's meals were affordable (especially given the massive amount of toppings we each had).

If you haven't had a chance to check out Amsterdam Falafelshop yet, I highly suggest you do. The affordability, creativity and downright quality of the food is worth the trip to Davis Square.

Amsterdam Falafelshop on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Beet, Rice & Goat Cheese Burgers

A few weeks ago, Z and I picked up our first CSA box of the summer.

Look at all that loot!

Both of us have always supported and been passionate about local food, but we had never participated in a CSA before. With that being said, we were just a wee bit excited for this box of fresh, local produce. 

We had heard some complaints about CSAs from people who have participated in them before, saying they could never use up all the produce they received in one week; almost everything ended up spoiling before they could eat it. Being vegetarians - who also love to get creative in the kitchen - the price and weekly pick-up of these fresh goodies are perfect for us and our lifestyle. Since the CSA started, our weekly grocery bill has almost been cut in half

We received a few beets in our first pick-up, which I boiled when they were nearing their last day (to help them last longer), and when Z found out he got a big promotion at work, I immediately scoured the internet for delicious beet recipes. One of the first hits was this recipe for Beet, Rice and Goat Cheese burgers.

Beet, Rice & Goat Cheese Burgers Yields: 5 large burgers (or, 6 medium-sized burgers) 
Adapted from nytimes.com 
-2 cups cooked Jasmine rice
-1 cup finely diced or grated boiled beets
-2 tbsp. dried parsley
-1 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed
-1 tablespoon lemon juice
-1 egg
-2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled (plus extra for serving)
-Salt and black pepper
-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, as needed

1.) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the rice, beets and parsley in a large bowl.
2.) Purée the beans with the lemon juice and egg in a food processor. Scrape into the bowl with the rice and beets. Add the goat cheese, salt and pepper, and mix the ingredients together.
3.) Moisten your hands and form 5 large patties (or, 6 medium-sized patties). 4. Working in batches, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil at a time in a heavy ovenproof skillet and brown the patties on one side for 2 minutes. Turn over onto the other side and place in the oven for 10 minutes. Serve with or without buns, tomato slices, and extra crumbled goat cheese.

Personally, I love beets and goat cheese, so this recipe was right up my alley. I know Z is a fan of both those things, too, which is why I went with this recipe to help celebrate his exciting news. On the side, I served a lightly dressed arugula salad as well as some Alexia Parmesan Lemon Waffle Fries (more to come on those in a future post). 

We definitely didn’t need buns for these filling burgers, but the fresh tomato slices and additional goat cheese on top helped to round out the burger's fresh flavors.

Have you ever joined a CSA, or would you like to? Why or why not?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sunny Day Diner in Lincoln, N.H.

The morning after our meal at Gypsy Café – a.k.a., the morning of the day we got engaged – we had a lovely breakfast at Sunny Day Diner in Lincoln. We decided to eat at Sunny Day Diner based off their 4-5 star reviews online.

I started my meal with a piping hot cup of coffee (Sunny Day Diner also offers iced coffee).

Since I knew we were going for a hike that day, I wanted to make sure my breakfast was filling and full of protein. I eventually opted for their veggie omelet, which was served with crispy hash browns and homemade toast (I went with the cinnamon raisin). 

The omelet was jam packed with veggies (I wouldn’t call them “fresh,” but it was still tasty), and the homemade bread was thick and full of sweet cinnamon flavor, albeit a bit too crispy for my liking.

Sunny Day Diner does not have an online menu, and I didn’t make note of their prices – but it’s a diner, so...it's affordable. Trust me!

When you're on vacation, how do you decide where to go out to eat? Online reviews, hotel staff suggestions, etc.? 

Sunny Day Diner on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Gypsy Cafe in Lincoln, N.H.

The night before we got engaged, Z and I kicked off our mini vacation with dinner at Gypsy Café in Lincoln, N.H. 

Gypsy Café offers “food from around the world,” and is located right on Main Street in Lincoln, not far from Loon Mountain. It was a warm night, so we opted to sit outside. The friendly and honest hostess warned us that their kitchen was currently backed up, but they’d be happy to seat us and get us a drink while we wait to order our food. We happily obliged, and eagerly reviewed the creative cocktail list.

I went with an Elderberry martini (Gypsy Café doesn’t have a menu online, and I didn’t take notes…so sorry for the lack of info./prices), and Z went with the Key Lime Pie martini, which was unfortunately sans the graham cracker rim.

Despite the lack of graham cracker, our martinis were fantastic. Mine was refreshing and perfectly strong, while Z’s tasted exactly like a key lime pie, without being sickly sweet.

By the time our martinis were finished and we ordered our food, we decided to move to a table inside. The bugs outside were getting insanely annoying, and our waitress was happy to accommodate us.

We split an appetizer, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what it was (I swear my brain stopped working after I got engaged). So, we’ll go right to my entrée: Malai Kofta ($14.99).

Despite Gypsy Café not being a full-blown Indian restaurant, I was really impressed with this dish. It was wonderfully spiced and addictively fragrant – and the enveloping sauce was silky and perfectly flavored.

I washed my dinner down with a Wasabi-Cucumber martini, which was a special on this particular evening.

The martini had the obvious flavor of wasabi with a slight kick, but nothing earth-shattering, which was nice – I love my spice, but drinking it is not my favorite thing. Gypsy Café really nailed this flavor combination.

Overall, we had a great meal at Gypsy Café despite a few minor hiccups (Z’s entrée came to the table with shrimp on it, but the kitchen quickly made him a new dish). Next time we're in Lincoln, I’d love to go back and try another dish on their menu, as well as another cocktail (or two).

Gypsy Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Rubies Are a Girl's Best Friend

This is where Z and I met on November 6, 2008:

I was a recruiter at the time, and my company took his company (TripAdvisor) out for a happy hour. We talked to each other most of the night, but I thought nothing of it. The next day, my boss was adamant about Z and I getting to know each other, and against my wishes, my boss emailed Z my screen name…and the rest, as they say, is history.

On Saturday, July 7th, Z proposed to me in front of a gorgeous waterfall on a hike at Lonesome Lake. WE’RE ENGAGED!!!

Clearly, I was sobbing before this picture was taken.
July 7th is the day right in between our birthdays, and my ring has a ruby (the July birthstone) in the center of it. It was a very thoughtful proposal!

We've spent the last few days telling family and friends and drinking champagne. I feel like I haven't slept in eight weeks, but the excitement has clearly taken over. 

More recaps of our trip to New Hampshire are on their way!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Chocolate-Blueberry Stout Cake

The secret to a good relationship is butter.

Four sticks of butter, specifically...baked into a birthday cake that also happens to include chocolate and blueberry-flavored beer. That, my friends, is love.

Chocolate-Blueberry Stout Cake
Adapted from Epicurious.com
-2 cups Shipyard Smashed Blueberry (or any chocolate and blueberry-flavored beer)
-2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
-1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
-4 cups all purpose flour
-4 cups sugar
-1 tablespoon baking soda
-1 1/2 teaspoons salt
-4 large eggs
-1 1/3 cups sour cream

Chocolate Ganache Icing:
Recipe from AllRecipes.com
-9 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
-2 cups heavy cream

For cake:
1.) Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour three 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. Bring the beer and butter to simmer in large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.
2.) Mix flour, sugar, baking soda, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add beer-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. 
3.) Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Bake cakes until toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Transfer cakes to rack; cool 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto rack and cool completely
For icing:
1.) Place the chocolate into a medium bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring just to a boil, watching very carefully because if it boils for a few seconds, it will boil out of the pot. When the cream has come to a boil, pour over the chopped chocolate, and whisk until smooth.
2.) Allow the ganache to cool slightly before spreading between cake layers and pouring over the top cake layer. (I put the ganache in the fridge to let it cool faster, and whisked it again before spreading on to the cake). Garnish top of cake with fresh blueberries. (Since it was so humid outside, I also put the cake in the fridge until we were ready to eat it).

The end result was a massive chocolate cake that's texture was super moist, rich and full of chocolate-blueberry flavor. The birthday boy was a big fan, as was the other chocolate lovers at his birthday party.

What's your ideal birthday cake/dessert? 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Backyard Farms Tomatoes

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to eat some delicious, local tomatoes - with a side of fresh lobster. I wrote all about my experience over at Local in Season - you can read the article here.

Hope you all had a great Fourth of July!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Drink This: Cherry-Lime Martini

July 4th is not only a celebration of our nation’s independence...it also happens to be Z’s birthday. I am reminded every year that the fireworks are actually in his honor – who knew?

Tomorrow, in celebration of the U.S. and Z, we’re having a barbecue in our backyard with a bunch of our friends, complete with lots of food, lawn games and plenty of beverages. And since tomorrow is all about the red, white and blue (and Z), why not sip on a drink that’s the color red? It’s only festive.

Cherry-Lime Martini
Yields: 1 cocktail
-1 oz. vodka
-Splash of simple syrup
-2 oz. cherry juice
-Splash of lime juice
-Club soda

1.) Pour all ingredients, except for the club soda, in a cocktail shaker. Shake lightly, then pour into a chilled martini glass.
2.) Top off your glass with a generous splash of club soda. Serve with a lime wedge (preferred).

The end result is a tart and sweet libation that's dangerously easy to gulp down. The sweetness from the cherry juice and the citrus from the lime juice are the main flavors of this drink, although the simple syrup and club soda help to smooth out the entire beverage. I highly recommend sipping this cocktail in your backyard in the sunshine tomorrow...while someone else cooks for you on the grill. ;)

Have a great 4th of July! How are you celebrating the holiday?