Friday, September 28, 2012

Mushroom & Fontina Quesadillas

The photo above came out terrible, but I couldn’t not share this simple, delicious recipe with you. It all started when I had some leftover fontina from the Baked Fontina I made a few weeks ago (don’t worry – I made this quesadilla long before the cheese was spoiled. This post is just a week delayed).

You all know how to make a quesadilla, but sometimes it’s fun to change up the fillings. Black beans and salsa can’t always have all the fun!

Mushroom & Fontina Quesadillas
Yields: 2 servings

-2 tbsp. olive oil
-1 small white onion, thinly sliced
-1 tbsp. granulated sugar
-8 white button mushrooms, sliced
-Cumin powder
-Salt and black pepper, to taste
-2 tortillas (I used Trader Joe’s Habanero Lime Flour Tortillas, but whole wheat would work well, too)
-1 ½ cups arugula
-1/2 cup shredded fontina cheese
-Canola oil cooking spray

1.) In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, and cook for 2 minutes. Add sugar, stir, and cook for 7-10 minutes more, or until onions turn translucent and begin to caramelize. (If onions begin to brown, lower heat).
2.) Place onions on a plate and set aside. In the same sauté pan, add mushrooms and cook over medium heat until mushrooms begin to brown and release their juices (about 5-6 minutes). Feel free to add more olive oil if necessary.
3.) Turn off heat and add onions back to the pan. Season onions and mushrooms with cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper.
4.) Spoon mushroom and onion mixture evenly across half of both tortillas. Top with an even amount of arugula and cheese, and fold tortilla over. Spray a frying pan with cooking spray, and place over medium heat. Cook both quesadillas until brown on one side (about 2 minutes), then flip to let the other side brown.

Gooey fontina cheese, spicy mushrooms, sweet onions and peppery arugula. Such a divine combination! I also served our quesadillas with a traditional, medium salsa and some chili powder-rubbed corn on the cobs.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Orzo-Stuffed Cubanelle Peppers (and Tomatoes)

Remember when I met Mary Ann Esposito?

Well, a few nights after I met her, I stumbled across a recipe for her stuffed cubanelle peppers. I was looking for creative ways to use up the final produce from our summer CSA, and I already had most of the ingredients her recipe called for. Although her recipe suggested farro, though, I went for the cheaper alternative: orzo.

Side note: I only had two cubanelle peppers on hand – plus one tomato – so I ended up stuffing the tomato with the remaining orzo mixture. Let’s just say the tomatoes turned out just as delicious as the peppers (I just cooked the tomatoes for about 15 minutes less).

Orzo-Stuffed Cubanelle Peppers
Yields: 2-3 stuffed peppers
Adapted from Ciao Italia
-1/2 cup orzo
-1 1/2 cups vegetable broth (or water)
-1 egg
-1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
-1 small clove garlic, minced
-1 tbsp. dried parsley
-Crushed red pepper, for heat
-Black pepper, to taste
-1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
-2-3 cubanelle peppers

1.) Cover the orzo with the broth or water in a medium saucepan. Bring the pot to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, cover the pot and let the orzo cook until most of the broth is absorbed and the orzo is tender.
2.) Drain the orzo in a colander and transfer it to a medium size bowl. Stir in the egg, most of the cheese, garlic, parsley, crushed red pepper, black pepper, and half of the oil. Set aside.
3.) Cut down 1/2 inch off the stem tops of the peppers and set aside. Tap out the seeds in the peppers or use a small spoon to remove and discard them.
4.) Fill the peppers with some of the orzo mixture, but do not over-pack them; otherwise, they may split while baking. Make a small incision on the side of each pepper with a small knife to allow steam to escape while baking.
5.) Brush a medium-size casserole dish with the remaining olive oil and place the peppers in a single layer in the dish. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle the remaining cheese over the peppers and bake 5 minutes longer. Serve hot.

The end result was filling, cheesy stuffed peppers (and a tomato). I wished the filling had a bit more flavor – adding chopped up vegetarian sausage or peppers and onions would have been ideal. However, for a quick, satisfying weeknight dinner, these stuffed, local vegetables did the trick.

What famous chefs inspire you in the kitchen? My other culinary idols include Ina Garten and Anthony Bourdain (who I've interviewed before!). 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Panera Bread's Sandwich Showdown

If you know me at all, you know I love carbs. Bagels, bread, pasta - you name it, I'll eat it.

My love for carbs is a big reason why I'm such a fan of Panera Bread. It's one of the select few fast food-style establishments I'll eat at - for their delicious bagels, sandwiches and pastries, but also for the variety of "fast food" they serve. It's nice to know I can have half a sandwich and a bowl of soup on-the-go, versus having to succumb to a greasy slice of pizza elsewhere.

My appreciation for Panera inspired me to participate in the restaurant's Sandwich Showdown - a contest that allows New England-based amateur chefs (like myself) to create their signature Panera sandwich for a chance to win some killer prizes.


Participants can submit their original sandwich creations through October 6 here. I created my sandwich last week, and it literally took me five minutes - the site is very user-friendly, and fun! You simply choose the bread, protein, toppings and condiments using their interactive virtual sandwich builder. Panera also asks for the story behind your sandwich, as well as why your creation should be named the next legendary Panera sandwich. With options like Asiago cheese bread, hard-boiled eggs, smoked gouda cheese and avocado to build your sandwich with, the opportunities are almost endless.

After October 6th, Panera will choose the top 20 entries. The public will then be invited to vote online to determine the grand prize winner. Panera will announce the winners on November 12th, and the top four runners-up will each receive $1,000 cash and one $150 Panera Bread gift card. The 15 remaining finalists will each win one $150 Panera Bread gift card. The grand prize winner will take home $10,000 cash, $500 worth of Panera gift cards, free Panera Bread bagels for a year, and will have their sandwich on the menu for a limited time at participating cafes in Boston and throughout the United States. Um, yeah...I'd like to win this one.

What Panera sandwich would you love to create/see on Panera's menu?

*I received a $25 gift card in return for writing this post. As always, the opinions expressed in this post are honest and 100 percent my own.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Lansdowne Pub's New Menu

A few weeks ago, The Lansdowne Pub invited me and a guest to try out their new menu. Thanks to my bike accident and some other engagements, it took Z and I few weeks to finally make it to this Irish pub in Fenway – but last week, we finally had a free night to take them up on their offer.

It was a surprisingly warm night, so we opted to sit outside. The Red Sox just happened to be playing the Yankees a few feet away, so it was also fun to see (and hear) the baseball fans walking up and down Lansdowne Street.

We started our meal with cocktails (naturally). I went for the Queen Bee ($9), which was made with Prosecco, elderflower liqueur, blood orange bitters and honey. It was slightly sweet and dangerously thirst-quenching.

For an appetizer, Z and I split the Blue Cheese Potato Cakes ($8), served atop a scallion cream. The potato cakes were wonderfully plump, chocked full of creamy, whipped potato and just enough blue cheese.

For an Irish pub, the Lansdowne has an impressive amount of vegetarian options, so Z and I didn’t have a hard time choosing what to order for our meals. I went with the Grilled Cheese ($9) and Z went with the Portabello Burger ($10). I washed my meal down with a Guinness ($6)

My grilled cheese consisted of Irish cheddar on soda bread, and was served with a side of tomato chutney. Let’s just say this was the most decadent grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever eaten (not to mention the most filling). The side of chunky, sweet chutney was the perfect complement to the heavy cheese and bread.

Z’s portabello burger was also a success. Served with blue cheese, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions and greens on brioche, this sandwich was much lighter than mine, and packed with flavor. Z’s burger was served with thick-cut fries, while my sandwich came with crispy, salty house-made potato chips.

Although we were stuffed at this point, we knew we couldn’t leave without getting dessert. Our friendly waiter recommended the Warm Bread Pudding ($7), which was served with whiskey caramel and whipped cream. We took his word for it, and we were so glad we did. 

The bread pudding was cooked perfectly, and served with the gooey, whiskey caramel and obviously homemade whipped cream? The only word that comes to mind is sinful. Wonderfully sinful.

Just a warning: It was Thursday night when we dined there, and karaoke/a live band started right as we were leaving (9 p.m.). It was loud, so I’d recommend getting there before 9 on a Thursday if you want to eat a peaceful meal.

All in all, our meal at The Lansdowne was a successful one. We were delighted to dine at an Irish pub and still have plenty of meat-free options to choose from. It was also nice to enjoy a cocktail on their patio and watch the Fenway fans walk (or, stumble…) by. The waitstaff was also attentive, knowledgeable about the menu, and accommodating. We will definitely return to The Lansdowne for food and drinks in the near future.

Have you tried The Lansdowne’s new menu yet? If so, what’s your review?

Our food on this particular evening was complimentary – we just paid for tip and drinks. However, as always, the opinions expressed in this post are honest and 100 percent my own.

Lansdowne Pub on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Still Reeling

I know it’s already Wednesday, but I am still basking in the glory of this past weekend. Z and I went nowhere…except, well, out to brunch on Sunday, but more about that in a second. 

After months filled with busy, travel-heavy weekends, we vowed to go nowhere and do nothing this weekend. Of course, being our antsy selves, we ended up painting parts of the exterior of our house that got replaced during the construction (which happened a year ago, mind you), and we also did a ton of yard work, as well as some interior house cleaning. Said yard work even resulted in Z finally ripping up the weed he’s been dying to get rid of since summer began.

Although Saturday was busy, it was rewarding and still relaxing. However, when we woke up Sunday morning, we were both a little anxious to leave the house for brunch. We originally wanted to try Neighborhood Restaurant in Union Square, but once we saw the massive line outside, we decided to walk over to The Independent – our first time dining there.

I started with a Hot Bloody Maria ($8), which was made with habanero-infused tequila. It was spicy enough to wake me up, but mild enough to avoid going down like liquid fire. Perfect combo, in my book.

For his cocktail, Z went with the Grapefruit Gimlet ($8), which was made with vodka, fresh citrus and St. Germain. I only had one sip, but it was delightfully refreshing and slightly sweet.

I was in the mood for something light that morning (I knew we’d be eating and drinking during the football game shortly thereafter), so I went with the Quinoa Patty ($9), which was topped with a poached egg and sliced tomato, and served over mixed greens that were dressed with a zesty lemon vinaigrette.

On the side, I ordered a toasted English muffin ($2) (The Independent also serves Iggy’s Bread, if you prefer toast).

Although the English muffin was a little too toasted for my liking, the meal as a whole was just what I was in the mood for. The crispy quinoa patty combined with the slightly runny egg and the lemony greens was a fabulous flavor combination.

Z went with the pancakes ($6) and the grilled grapefruit with honey drizzle ($3) for his meal, and both were excellent. I had a bite of the pancakes, and they were perfectly fluffy and possessed an intriguing vanilla flavor.

Overall, we plan to return to The Independent for brunch again, and I’d also love to check them out for dinner some evening soon.

What restaurants have you been loving lately?

Independent on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuscan Market in Salem, N.H.

On September 9th, I met Mary Ann Esposito. No big deal.

But this post isn’t all about me. I met Mary Ann because we were both invited to the same media dinner hosted by Tuscan Market – a 10,000 square foot artisanal market with a 65-seat cafe featuring Italian-imported and inspired foods and products. The market - which is located right next to Tuscan Kitchen in Salem, N.H., and owned by Joe Faro – will open in October.

Our evening kicked off with innovative bellinis, which we got to sip while walking around the store and admiring the almost-filled shelves full of authentic Italian items (including olive oil, wine and candy, to name a few).

Delicious, freshly-baked olive bread. 

Handmade pastas.

Parmesan cheese...straight from Italy.

Tuscan Market also features a wide variety of local produce, most of it coming from Smolak Farms in North Andover, Mass.

Our meal for the evening - which was presented and prepared by Tuscan Brands' Corporate Chef Eddie Payne - consisted of five courses. Unfortunately, Z and I only had the chance to try a few of them, since most of the dishes were not vegetarian-friendly - but we still were able to get a good enough taste of what Tuscan Market will have to offer the public in a few weeks.

Smolak Farms' heirloom tomato, caramelized fig, house-made burrata,  local truffle honey, and purple basil.

The vegetarian version of the Cappellacci of Roasted Butternut Squash & Duck Brasato with simple sage sauce, shaved black summer truffle, and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Payne talking about the dishes.

Everything we tried was flavored beautifully, and all of the ingredients used were clearly fresh. It was a bummer we couldn't try all of the dishes, but we did make up for dinner with dessert. Meet the most delicious, moist carrot cake I have ever eaten (hands down):

The cream cheese frosting was also delightfully tart, smartly lacking the unnecessary added sugar.

We finally cleansed our palates with some house-made pistachio gelato (the market features 24 different flavors of gelato) and a cup of strong cappuccino.

I would definitely return to Tuscan Market once it opens in October. From the freshly-baked breads to the local produce to the authentic Italian products, this will be the one-stop shop for all of your quality, local food needs. Trust me: It’s worth the short drive to Salem. 

Tuscan Market will be open seven days a week: Monday to Thursday 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; and Sunday 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

My food and drinks were complimentary, but, as always, the opinions expressed in this post are honest and 100 percent my own. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Eat This: Baked Fontina

If you’re having people over for the football game on Sunday – or, if you just find yourself craving hot cheese this weekend – then I highly recommend making this

It’s easy, cheesy, and mildly addictive when scooped up with crusty, fresh bread. Just don’t plan to make out with anyone soon after eating it – there’s enough garlic in this dish to ruin anyone's chance for romance.

The only variation I made was that I cooked this in a pie dish vs. a cast iron pan, and it turned out just fine.

Are you happy football season has started, or could you do without it?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Unapologetically Unimpressive

I used to go to Side Street Grille for the free, stale, buttery popcorn…and the free buffalo wings (which, by the way, most likely led to my eventual vegetarianism, given the mass quantities I ate).

I also used to go for the $2 beers (during happy hour), the quirky menu, and the perfectly dive-y atmosphere.

But last weekend, I went to Side Street Grille with some college friends for lunch – a real, adult, sit-down meal - that I actually paid money for. Oh, how times have changed.

Located in Hamden, Connecticut – about 10 minutes outside of New Haven – Side Street Grille is one of the few bars/restaurants located within walking distance of Quinnipiac University, my alma mater. I used to frequent this establishment at least once per week during my college days, so it was fun to go back and see what has changed. Or, in this case, what hasn’t. The place is still a dive – but clean and safe enough to be enjoyed by families and college kids alike. They’re also still serving up complimentary popcorn (which is still wonderfully stale and buttery, mind you). And while the menu has changed slightly, it’s still pretty much the same. The only big change this time around is that I only had one beer, and I paid full price for an actual meal there.

For my entrée, I ended up going with one of their specials that day: a tomato, arugula and mozzarella sandwich on ciabatta bread, served with fries and a pickle (sandwiches range from $9.99-$10.99).

Now that my palate has matured a little bit since college, I could tell that not much on this plate was fresh – meaning, the fries were clearly pre-frozen, and the bread was a little too chewy. However, realizing this gave me some comfort, knowing that the soon-to-be QU alumns would get to experience Side Street Grille for what it is: unimpressive, and unapologetic for it. I can’t wait to go back the next time I’m in Hamden.

Do you have a favorite dive bar/restaurant?

Side Street Grille on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Green-Lentil Curry

Nothing goes to waste in our house – especially when it comes to food. Our summer CSA, which sadly just ended this week, made the “nothing goes to waste” motto that much more interesting over the last few months.

So, when I found myself last week with leftover lentils, a head of broccoli, some garlic and a slew of tomatoes, I decided to make one of my favorite, cooler-weather meals. Because what can be more warming than spicy curry sopped up with warm, buttery naan?

Green-Lentil Curry
Yields: 4 servings
Inspired by Food & Wine
-2 tbsp. olive oil
-1 onion, diced
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 bell pepper, chopped
-1 head broccoli, chopped
-Pinch of cayenne
-1/4 tsp. garam masala
-Salt and pepper, to taste
-1 ¼ cups dried green lentils
-1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
-1 vine-ripe tomato, chopped
-1 jar Trader Joe’s Curry Simmering Sauce (or, your favorite curry sauce)
-Plain Greek yogurt and warm naan, for serving

1.) In a large skillet or wok, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, and cook until they begin to turn translucent (about 5 minutes). Add garlic, and cook until fragrant (about 20-30 seconds). Add pepper and broccoli; season with cayenne, garam masala, salt and pepper, then stir. 
2.) Meanwhile, in a saucepan, combine lentils with the turmeric and 5 cups of water; bring to a boil. Cover partially and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, until the lentils are barely tender. Season lightly with salt.
3.) Add tomatoes to the vegetable skillet; lower heat to a simmer. Then, add the lentils and the jar of Curry Simmering Sauce; stir. Let everything simmer together for 5-7 minutes, then serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt and some warm naan.

The end result was a slightly spicy, incredibly flavorful dish – that was healthy to boot. The cool Greek yogurt and naan helped to lessen the heat from the cayenne and curry sauce, while still allowing the dish to have a necessary kick. This was also one of those meals where the leftovers are even more palatable than the original meal, thanks to the flavors having more time to mesh together overnight.

What dishes do you crave when the weather gets colder?

Friday, September 7, 2012

My Honest Review of Honest Tea

For a coffee girl, I’ve been drinking a lot of tea lately.

A few weeks ago, Honest Tea left all of this on our door step: 

Amongst the loot was their Half & Half (half iced tea, half lemonade); Honey Green Tea; Honest Ade Pomegranate Blue; and Honest Kids Berry Berry Good Lemonade, to name a few. In return, I promised them an honest review (no pun intended).

Founded by Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff, Honest Tea’s mission is to create beverages that are healthy, organic, and delicious. As stated on their website, “a commitment to social responsibility is central to Honest Tea’s identity and purpose.” Although a lot of their juice drinks are “from concentrate,” they are not overly sweet, nor are the ingredients illegible. You know what you’re drinking, and I found comfort in knowing all of the ingredients are organic and real.

My favorites in the basket I received: Just Green Tea (straight up green tea, with no added sugar); Heavenly Lemon Tulsi (caffeine-free, refreshing and not too sweet); and the Honest Kids Berry Berry Good Lemonade (we received the "travel version", which is packaged like Capri Sun - but much better for you). Oh, and the Honest Ade Cranberry Lemonade goes great in vodka cocktails. Just sayin’. 

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed all of the Honest Tea products I’ve tried so far. I’m not a big sweet tea or juice drinker, but Z has been gleefully throwing back the sweeter varieties. Once our supply is depleted, I definitely plan to buy more Honest Tea, and I appreciate their dedication to organic, honest ingredients.

Have you ever tried Honest Tea before? If yes, what's your review?

These Honest Tea products were complimentary, but, as always, the opinions expressed in this post are honest and 100 percent my own.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Spring Natural Kitchen in NYC

Whew! What a whirlwind weekend. It started off toasting to my brother’s 30th birthday in New Hampshire, followed by me meeting Z and our friends in NYC for the third day of Electric Zoo and some New York City sightseeing.

My bum foot survived the festival – barely – but it was worth every minute of the show. Come Monday, however, Z and I were both exhausted, and my interest in walking anywhere was at about 0%. We were meeting Z’s cousin and her boyfriend in the Upper West Side for brunch, so we decided to take a taxi there. Z was in the mood for a salad (a.k.a. detoxification), so his cousin suggested Spring Natural Kitchen.

Since we were still on “vacation,” I started with a Bloody Mary (I didn’t jot down the price, but their cocktails, on average, cost $12).

The bloody mary had just the right amount of kick, and the two plump olives were a welcome garnish. 

For my entrée, I went with the Egg White Omelet ($11), made with vegetable ratatouille, and served with baby greens and a whole wheat, morning glory-like muffin.

The omelet was wonderfully fluffy and chocked full of fresh vegetables. It was a bit underseasoned – and our table lacked salt and pepper shakers – but the flavors from the vegetables and the well-dressed greens on the side helped to save the bland egg whites. The muffin was clearly homemade, and just the right size to enjoy alongside an already-filling breakfast.

Overall, we had a great meal at Spring Natural Kitchen. If you ever find yourself near the Upper West Side neighborhood, I highly suggest checking this place out for brunch or lunch (a few of my dining companions got lunch dishes, and they looked spectacular). 

How did you spend your Labor Day Weekend?