Thursday, January 31, 2013

Common Ground in Allston

Few restaurant owners are as passionate as Bob O'Guin, owner of Common Ground Bar and Grill in Allston. I recently attended a dinner at Common Ground, with the rest of the Boston Brunchers  (Dinnerers?), and I was really impressed with O'Guin's enthusiasm and obvious dedication to his restaurant.

I have to admit, before I walked into Common Ground, I didn't know what to expect. Several people told me that they remember the Common Ground being a dive bar and dance club, when they were in college. Thankfully, the atmosphere at Common Ground - at least on this particular Wednesday night - was nothing like a college dive bar. The dark wood walls were shining with cleanliness, and I immediately fell in love with the exposed brick wall behind the [also very clean] bar. The setting is very casual, but clearly fit for the older-than-college crowd.

Common Ground had prepared a tasting menu for us bloggers, but, per usual, my difficult vegetarian self caused Chef Jaime Suarez to create several veg-friendly dishes. I was really impressed at how no one on their staff flinched at the thought of having to come up with meatless dishes on the spot. Several bloggers in our group had other dietary restrictions, too, that were met with the same ease. Very hospitable!

After a few words from O'Guin, we dug into our first course, which was Sweet Potato Soup (soups range from $3-$7) topped with blue cheese crumbles and green onions.

The soup was wonderfully silky in texture, and I loved the combination of the tangy blue cheese with the sweet soup. The cheese definitely helped to make this a savory vs. overly sweet dish.

After the soup, my omnivore diners enjoyed Brisket Turnovers ($7) and Steak Salad ($10). I heard mixed reviews of the Brisket Turnovers, but since I didn't eat them, I can't tell you for sure. Regardless, I enjoyed a steak-less salad, made with mixed greens, pickled red onions, and feta cheese, served with grilled pita bread.

Unfortunately, there was a bit too much Green Goddess dressing on my salad - I actually had a hard time finishing it because of that. The description of the salad also promised cherry tomatoes, which were nonexistent (this was also the case on all but one salad at my table). 

Thankfully, the Three Grain Veggie Burger ($10) made me forget about the salad mishap. Common Ground's veggie burger is one of the best I've tried in/around the city, hands down (and I eat a lot of veggie burgers). 

Made with white beans, lentils, and chickpeas, this hearty burger was also topped with fresh tomato and cucumber fennel relish, as well as tarragon mayonnaise. The cool, creamy mayonnaise was the perfect complement to this crispy-on-the-outside burger, and I loved the hint of fennel seeds in each and every bite. The soft, airy burger bun was also ideal - it allowed me to actually taste the burger, while still providing a necessary "glue" to prevent everything from falling apart.

As a table, we also shared some Truffle Fries ($5), which are steak fries topped with truffle oil and Parmesan cheese. Pesto mayo was served on the side for dipping.

The fries were beautifully crispy on the outside, with a fluffy, piping hot interior (I wasn't patient enough to wait for them to cool down). I loved the thick curls of fresh Parmesan melting over the top of the fries, too. Seriously addicting.

To wash all of my food down, I enjoyed a glass of Southern Tier Old Man Winter Ale, which was the perfect brew to warm up with...considering it was -500 degrees outside at the time.

Dessert ended the meal with a bang: Chocolate Butterscotch Bread Pudding (desserts are typically $7).

Topped with housemade whipped cream, this was one decadent dessert. I loved the combination of the rich chocolate with the sweet butterscotch, and the fresh whipped cream just enveloped everything as it melted. 

Overall, our meal at Common Ground was a very successful one, and I will definitely return for dinner or brunch (which is served seven days a week) sometime soon. The accommodating staff, the dedication to quality food, and the passion in O'Guin alone all made this a restaurant I'd highly recommend visiting. 

Where did you recently have a great meal out?

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

Common Ground on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Nutella and Banana Turnovers with Sea Salt

These turnovers are so easy to make, it's almost silly to blog the recipe. But despite they're simplicity, these turnovers taste bomb dot com - so I just have to share them with you all. That is, if you like Nutella...and bananas...and buttery pastry. But honestly, if you don't like any of those things, I may just have to kindly ask you to leave. Thanks for understanding.

This recipe is literally as "easy as 1, 2, 3." See for yourself:

Nutella and Banana Turnovers with Sea Salt
Yields: 4 turnovers
Inspired by Nutmeg Nanny
-1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed
-1/2 cup Nutella
-1 banana, sliced
-1 egg
-2 tablespoons water
-Sea salt (optional)

1.) Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
2.) Cut the thawed puff pastry into four equal parts, and place the four sections onto the prepared baking sheet.
3.) Spoon equal amounts of Nutella into the center of each of the puff pastry squares. Then, top with banana slices (about four slices per square). 
4.) In a small bowl, whisk together the egg with the water. Brush a small amount of the egg wash along one side of each puff pastry square. Then, fold one corner of each square to meet the opposite corner (to form a triangle), and seal closed with a fork. Brush the outsides of each turnover with egg wash, and sprinkle with sea salt. Cut a slit into the top of each turnover.
5.) Place in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until turnovers are golden brown.

The flaky, buttery puff pastry paired with the gooey, sweet Nutella and banana is dangerously addictive. And the hint of sea salt? Ungodly good. I literally had to restrain myself from eating two of these in one sitting. 

What's your favorite salty-sweet combination? Besides Nutella and sea salt, I also adore pretzels and chocolate together!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

$5 Croques at Bistro du Midi

I rarely venture into Boston for food and/or drinks. Most of the time, it's because I'm too damn comfortable in my Somerville/Cambridge bubble (especially when the weather is below 10 degrees). But I also rarely go into Boston because of how expensive it can be. If I know I can walk down my own street and get dinner for under $10, why would I bike into Boston or take the T to pay double that?

Let's just say, Bistro du Midi has given me a new reason to go into Boston to eat. Every Tuesday, this French restaurant on Boylston Street is serving up what they call "Croque Tuesdays." And on Croque Tuesdays, croques are only $5.

Z and I attended Bistro du Midi's kick-off party for their new weekly event, which provided samples of their $5 croques (made by Chef/Partner Robert Sisca), including a vegetarian (or "skinny") croque. Croque Tuesdays also feature wine and cocktail pairings by Beverage Director Todd Lipman, and at the kick-off event, we got to try Lipman's Par Avion (recipe below).

So, was the food/drink worth venturing into Boston for? Yes. The vegetarian croque was really flavorful, and the few bite-size samples I tried were basically just a tease. I definitely plan to go back to Bistro du Midi for a full-size croque, for the tiny price of $5. Oh, and the Par Avion cocktail was good, too. So good, in fact, that I downed three over the course of the night. Here's the recipe:

Par Avion (Bistro du Midi's Todd Lipman)
-3/4 ounce Old Overholt Rye
-3/4 ounce Aperol
-3/4 ounce Averna
-3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
Served down with an orange round

Croque Tuesdays take place every Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Bistro du Midi's bar. 

Regardless of where you live, do you tend to venture into surrounding cities on a regular basis, or do you typically stay in your neighborhood?

The samples provided at this event were complimentary, but as always, the opinions expressed in this post are honest and 100 percent my own. 

Bistro du Midi on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 28, 2013

Black Bean Sliders with Alexia Foods' Sweet Potato Rolls

Doesn't this kind of look like Pac-Man?

It's not my best picture, but I was in a rush when I took it. We had a group of friends over for dinner recently, and we had little food to make for them. Alexia Foods had sent me a bag of their new Sweet Potato Rolls to try, and I had a can of black I decided to turn my Homemade Black Bean Burgers into sliders, and served them with Alexia's rolls.

I have been a fan of Alexia's frozen products for quite some time now, and their Sweet Potato Rolls have only prolonged my dedication to the brand. Despite a moderately long ingredient list (with only a few odd ingredients), these rolls were insanely easy to prepare - you spread them out on a baking sheet, bake them, then serve. The only extra step I had to do was slice them, as I was using them as slider buns.

We topped our sliders with avocado and cheese, and the combination of the slightly sweet roll with the savory black bean patty and the creamy avocado had everyone licking their lips (and plates). I could also see these rolls being great dipped into soup, or used in egg sandwiches at brunch.

Since it's Monday and all, let's start this week off with a positive question: What are you looking forward to this week? 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Homemade Croutons

When life gives you a free loaf of Italian bread, make croutons.

Most weeks, we do our grocery shopping at Shaw's or Star Market. Almost every time we visit either store, we're given at least one new coupon to use on our next visit. Last week, we had a coupon for a free loaf of Italian bread, so I decided to cash it in when I did our grocery shopping.

I used half of the loaf that evening to make garlic bread, but saved the other half to make homemade croutons. We have a ton of leftover salad greens in our refrigerator, and I knew these croutons would encourage us to eat more salads throughout the week (it encouraged me to eat one salad, at least...).

Homemade Croutons
Yields: About 3 cups
-1/2 loaf of one day-old Italian bread, cut into bite-size cubes
-7 tablespoons butter, melted
-Salt and black pepper
-Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
-Pinch of garlic salt
-Parsley flakes

1.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.) In a large bowl, carefully mix bread cubes with the melted butter. Season with salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper, garlic salt, and parsley flakes.
3.) Spread bread cubes in an even layer on a baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking.

I could literally eat these croutons as a snack. They're delightfully buttery with just a hint of spice from the red pepper flakes. And although these croutons are crispy, they won't break your teeth - the Italian bread makes them a little more airy than some teeth-shattering croutons can be.

Are you a salad person? I really have to be in the mood for a salad to have one, but I adore salads with all of the fixings!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Crock-Pot Chickpea Curry

My "new life" as a full-time freelancer has been going well so far. So well, in fact, that I haven't had much time for cooking (with the exception of a catering gig I helped out with last Sunday). Various writing assignments, blogging work, and media events have kept me away from my kitchen, but I'm hoping to focus more on cooking in the coming weeks.

Last week was busy enough, however, that making dinner out of a can of chickpeas sounded awesome (and so wonderfully easy). I Pinned this recipe from the Savvy Vegetarian a while ago, and I thought this dish would be the perfect solution to having a delicious meal without having to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. And I was right.

I adapted the original recipe quite a bit, in order to fit what I had in my kitchen, but feel free to double this recipe if you're serving four people (or, if you want leftovers the next day).

Crock-Pot Chickpea Curry
Yields: 2 servings
Inspired by Savvy Vegetarian
Print this recipe
-1 tablespoon olive oil
-1/2 yellow onion, diced
-1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
-1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
-1/2 teaspoon cumin
-1/2 teaspoon coriander
-1/2 teaspoon turmeric
-Pinch of cayenne pepper
-1 15 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
-Salt and black pepper, to taste
-1 vine-ripened tomato, diced
-Garam masala

1.) In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, and cook until softened (about 5 minutes). Add garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, turmeric and cayenne pepper, and cook for about 15 seconds. Remove pan from heat.
2.) Add chickpeas and onion mixture to a crock-pot (or large stove pot). Season everything with salt and black pepper. Pour in enough water to barely cover the chickpeas. Cook on low for 3.5 hours.
3.) About 30 minutes before serving, add the tomato to the crock-pot and stir. Allow everything to continue cooking for an additional 30 minutes (so the chickpeas cook for 4 hours total).
4.) Ladle the chickpea curry into two bowls; season each serving with a pinch (or two) of garam masala. Serve with warm naan bread.

*If you don't have a crock-pot, simply cook the chickpea mixture in a pot on the stove for 30 minutes over medium-low heat.

Our house smelled like comfort the entire time this dish was cooking. Although this dish is mostly comprised of canned chickpeas, the flavors were outstandingly exotic. The spices warmed the palate, and there was a slight hint of spice thanks to the cayenne pepper. I wished we had enough for leftovers the next day even before I was done with my dinner.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Newton Winter Farmers' Market

One of my ongoing freelance gigs is being the Lead Writer - and Tweeter - for The site is dedicated to featuring locally grown, seasonal food, and teaching its readers how to use such food in their kitchens. I'm a firm believer in supporting our local farmers and artisans, which is a big reason why I love writing for

I also love going to farmers' markets. While I have my favorites, I also love to discover new ones. So, when Eric Bickernicks contacted me a few weeks ago about Newton's first ever winter farmers' market, I decided to pay it a visit.

Bickernicks is the mastermind behind Wicked Delicious Kettle Corn, and a passionate vendor at the Newton indoor winter farmers' market. Bickernicks told me that he's trying to get the word out about the market to keep him and his fellow vendors in business during the winter months - because if few people show up during the next few weeks, many vendors will likely not come back...which creates a domino effect.

Newton's winter market features about 10-15 vendors, with a variety of options to choose from. Items like maple syrup, handmade soap, cheese, soda, and even hydroponic lettuce are just a few of the locally made gems for sale. (For a full list of vendors, click here).

My loot!

The Newton winter market takes place at the Hyde Community Center every Tuesday from 1:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., and it runs through mid-June. If you're looking for quality, local food and handcrafted items to get you through the winter, I highly recommend paying this market a visit.

Do you go to farmers' markets in the winter? If yes, which one(s) do you frequent?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Tofu, Spinach & Black Bean Tamales + Tamale Beginner Tips

#1: Tamales are not pretty to photograph. At least not the tamales I made.

#2: It took me a few tries to finally make edible, tasty, satiating tamales. See below for some tips on how to be more successful at your first go-round at tamale-making.

#3: Once you buy masa corn flour and corn husks, you will have them for quite a while. They were cheap to begin with at my local grocery store, so it wasn't a risky investment.

#4: It was this book that was behind my inspiration for all of this tamale-making. Z gave it to me a few months ago, and it really is a fantastic guide for tamale beginners.

I created this recipe by combining a few of the recipes in the Tamales 101: A Beginner's Guide to Making Traditional Tamales cookbook, while also using some items we already had in our kitchen to save a few bucks (I am a starving freelancer now, after all). The recipe is below, and I'll follow it with a few tips based off what I learned during my first few attempts at making tamales.

Tofu, Spinach & Black Bean Tamales
Yields: 8-10 tamales
Masa Harina Masa (from Tamales 101): *I halved this recipe, and still had plenty of leftovers
Yields: 12 to 18 cups, or masa for 2 to 3 dozen tamales
-7 cups vegetable stock (or chicken, beef, or pork stock)
-12 cups masa harina (dry corn flour)
-2 cups butter, margarine, lard, or shortening (or a combination of these)
-1 1/2 tablespoons salt

-16 oz. extra firm tofu, cut into bite-sized cubes
-Cumin powder
-Chili powder
-Pinch of cayenne
-Salt and black pepper
-1/4 cup salsa (I used a spicy traditional salsa)
-1 tablespoon butter
-1 tablespoon flour
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
-1 green onion, diced
-1 pound frozen chopped spinach, thawed
-Salt and black pepper, to taste
-1 15 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
-8-10 dried corn husks, which have been soaked in hot water  - weighed down with a heavy pot or platter - for 45 minutes and then washed thoroughly to remove the silk and any dirt (I forgot this step, and we turned out OK...but I recommend soaking them just in case)
-3 cups Masa Harina Masa
-Shredded Monterey Jack cheese (about 1 to 1 1/2 cups)

Masa Harina Masa:
1.) In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the stock until warm. In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, combine the stock and the masa harina. With the paddle attachment on medium speed, mix until the texture is like a firm pudding. Remove the mixture from the bowl and set aside. 
2.) Add the butter and salt to the mixer bowl and whip at high speed for 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of the masa harina mixture and whip for 1 minute at medium speed. Repeat until all of the masa harina mixture has been added.
3.) Increase speed to high and continue mixing for 3-5 minutes, until the masa is a soft, thick paste.

1.) Place tofu cubes in a shallow dish (I used a pie plate), and season with cumin, chili powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Carefully mix in salsa, and cover dish with saran wrap. Place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
2.) Using a fork, combine the butter and flour on a plate until completely worked together. Set aside.
3.) In a large skillet or pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the garlic and onion and saute for only a few seconds. Decrease the heat to medium, add the spinach, salt, and pepper, and saute for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
4.) Add the beans and cook for an additional minute. Then, add the butter-flour mixture and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, to combine flavors. Set aside to cool.
5.) To assemble the tamales, spread 1/4 cup of masa on the smooth side of a corn husk. Place 2 tablespoons of the spinach mixture in the center of the masa and top with cheese (about 1 tablespoon per tamale). Finish using your methods of wrapping and tying. Repeat for the remaining tamales. Steam the tamales for 50 minutes.

-I found the less masa I used per tamale, the better (1/4 cup might even be too much). Also, the more filling, the better, as long as the tamales can still be folded and stay folded.
-There are many ways to wrap and prepare the tamales, but this, I found, to be the easiest (and least intimidating) method: Spread the masa across the center of the corn husk, 1/4 inch from the flat end of the husk. Fold both sides of the husk in tightly to overlap. Fold the pointed end of the husk up to meet the flat end.
-This is the masa flour I used. Any prepared masa I had leftover, I kept in the freezer (it should keep for 1-2 months in the freezer).
-To reheat tamales, I covered mine in a damp paper towel and reheated them in the microwave. They aren't the best reheated, but they aren't terrible either.

Making tamales is definitely a process, but the end result is well worth the extra work and cooking/steaming time.

Have you ever made your own tamales before? If not, would you?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Brunch at Five Horses Tavern

I'm a big fan of Five Horses Tavern in Davis Square (rumor has it they're expanding to the South End, too). The food is always inventive and delicious, the vegetarian options are plentiful, and the draft beer selection is top notch. However, I had only been for dinner before last weekend when we decided to use my Living Social coupon on Five Horse's newer brunch menu.

Five Horses serves brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The menu is chocked full of sweet and savory breakfast and lunch items, as well as several brunch-approved cocktails (their regular beer/drink list is also available). Although Five Horses offers their "Bloody Three Ways" (meaning, you can get a bloody mary with vodka, gin or bourbon), I stuck with the traditional vodka bloody mary ($8).

Made with Five Horse's own house mix, this bloody mary was packed with tomato and horseradish flavor, without being overly spicy. Fresh lemon and lime rinds were found at the bottom of the beverage, which gave the liquid an extra refreshing kick. And any bloody mary garnished with plump, juicy olives is a winner in my book.

I'll spare you the photos of the Donut Holes ($6) we shared amongst the table (those suckers aren't pretty to photograph), but they were definitely tasty, and perfect for sharing amongst five people. The doughnuts are made with a house apple cinnamon dough, and chunks of fresh apple were apparent in each bite. A maple glaze was served on the side for necessary indulging.

After kicking back a few doughnut holes, I decided to get one of the lighter entree options: The Tavern Breakfast ($10), which came with two eggs, hash browns, fresh fruit, and your choice of toast (I ordered seven grain toast). 

I ordered my eggs sunny side up, and they were perfectly runny. The thick, slightly overburnt toast helped to sop up the luxurious yolks. The hash browns were a little odd, as I am an Irish girl who likes my potatoes "meaty" - but these hasbrowns were thin and crispy enough that I think they'd be best as a garnish on soup versus a side dish. Regardless, the meal was just what I wanted in terms of not leaving the restaurant insanely full, and the fruit made me feel like I started the day with a good, healthy decision. (Side note: Although this menu item isn't marked as "vegetarian" on Five Horses' menu, it is!)

Overall, our brunch experience at Five Horses was a successful one, and I'm eager to go back to try their Chimichanga ($10)..."goat cheese sour cream" hasn't left my mind since we left the restaurant last weekend.

Today's question: Bloody mary or mimosa?

Five Horses Tavern on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

No-Yeast Pizza Dough

Six ingredients. All sitting in your pantry as we speak (type?). That's all it takes to make this pizza dough.

Somehow, it has only recently crossed my mind that making my own pizza dough would be cheaper, tastier, and even easier than buying a store-bought dough or crust. I think years of Boboli crusts and frozen pizzas have warped my mind. Or perhaps it's because, now that I work from home and for myself, I have more time to use my brain? Regardless of the reason, take my advice: Make your own pizza dough. You won't be disappointed.

Over the weekend, I experimented with a few different recipes, and this one was my favorite. The dough was easy to stretch out to my desired thickness, and the combination of white flour with whole wheat prevented the dough from becoming too dense (one of the other whole wheat doughs I made was a little too dense for my liking). Next time, though, I might omit a wee bit of the salt - the dough tasted a little oversalted (my salt fiend friends didn't seem to notice, though).

No-Yeast Pizza Dough
Yields: 1 pizza crust
Adapted slightly from Kristin in Her Kitchen
-1 1/2 cups regular whole wheat flour
-1/2 cup white flour
-1 teaspoon salt
-2 teaspoons baking powder
-3/4 cup water
-1/4 cup olive oil

1.) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine all ingredients together in a bowl and knead by hand in bowl for about 2 minutes. 
2.) Place dough onto baking sheet and press out into desired shape (thinner crust works better for this recipe). Bake for 5-10 minutes (depending on how thick it is). 
3.) Take crust out of the oven, add sauce and toppings, then bake for another 8-10 minutes, or until toppings are cooked and edges of crust are lightly browned. (We topped ours with thin slices of tomato and scallions, and our second pizza was topped with caramelized onions).

*Side note: Before starting step 2, I refrigerated the dough until I needed it. According to Alton Brown, you can refrigerate pizza dough for up to 6 days.

Now seriously: How easy is that?!?!? And SO worth it. You can definitely taste the difference between homemade pizza dough and store-bought. 

Have you ever made your own pizza dough before? What's your favorite recipe?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Porchai's Thai Cuisine in Wakefield

Sometimes, an empty restaurant at lunchtime can be troubling. You're not sure if you want to chance it, and spend your money on a mediocre meal. I had that same hesitation when I walked into Porchai's Thai Cuisine in Wakefield last week, when I met my former co-workers for lunch. But after only a few bites of my meal, I was glad we gave this restaurant a chance.

Porchai's Thai Cuisine is off the beaten path in Wakefield, and the empty tables could have easily been because...well, let's be honest: Wakefield isn't that hoppin'. Regardless of the reason, I'm so glad we gave this restaurant a chance. Their menu is chocked full of Thai dishes that omnivores and vegetarians can get down with, and the prices are also very reasonable.

For my lunch entree, I went with the Spicy Eggplant Tofu ($8.50), which was wonderfully vibrant in appearance.

The dish overall was chocked full of fresh flavor from the vegetables and basil, and the rice was cooked perfectly. The dish was a tad bit greasy for my liking, and I prefer my tofu grilled or sauteed vs. fried, but that's my fault for not inquiring before ordering. Regardless, this was a light yet satisfying lunch; I'd definitely order this dish again.

In this instance, I'm glad we gave Porchai's Thai Cuisine a chance, but I have been disappointed in an empty restaurant's food before...and have discovered, the hard way, why the restaurant was empty. 

Are you also hesitant to eat at a restaurant that's empty during peak dining hours? 

Porchai Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 11, 2013

Guest Post: Hot Mexican Dip from Lightlife

Hey guys! Happy Friday. :) Today's post is brought to you by Meredith Kimelblatt on behalf of Lightlife®. I'm a big fan of their vegetarian and vegan products, and I thought this dip would be perfect for enjoying during the Pats game on Sunday. Enjoy!

You probably thought you were past heavy-eating season now that the holidays are over, right? But between college bowl games, the NFL playoffs, and the Super Bowl in early Februrary, the same dips and goodies that were present at your holiday spreads always seem to reappear during January and Februrary. If your New Year’s resolution this year was something along the lines of eating healthier or eating more vegetarian diet food, don’t worry! It’s definitely possible to enjoy winter get-togethers and delicious foods while still keeping your body feeling great—and you won’t even feel like you’re eating healthy!

This Hot Mexican Dip is a great example of a stereotypically “bad for you” dip that’s been lightened up a bit. Not only is this dip vegetarian and only 126 calories per serving, but it’s also incredibly delicious. The kick from the mix of green chilies, onion powder and chili powder, and the combination of soy ground beef and beans makes it hearty enough to fool even your most carnivorous friends. Play around with spices to fit your taste preferences and feel free to experiment with different soy cheese options to find your favorite. If you’re a tomato fan, adding some diced tomatoes or salsa to the top after it comes out of the oven gives this dip another layer of flavor and freshness. Try it out the next time you have company over for a healthier alternative to traditional taco dip. Enjoy!

Photo Credit: Lightlife®

Hot Mexican Dip (from Lightlife®)
Yields: 15 servings
-1 package (12 ounces) Smart Ground® Original
-1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
-1 teaspoon onion powder
-1 tablespoon olive oil
-1 can (16 ounces) fat-free refried beans
-1 can (4 ounces) diced green chilies
-3/4 cup taco sauce
-2 cups shredded reduced-fat Mexican cheese blend
-1 cup Greek yogurt or light sour cream
-1/3 cup green onions

1.) Crumble Smart Ground® into a large bowl. Add chili powder and onion powder; set aside.
In a 13x9x2 baking dish coated with olive oil, layer the beans, Smart Ground Original mixture, green chilies, taco sauce and 1-1/2 cup cheese.
2.) Cover and bake at 350°F for 25-30 minutes or until the cheese melts and bubbles around the edges.
Cool for 5 minutes. Spread yogurt or sour cream on top; sprinkle with green onions and remaining cheese. Serve with sliced veggies, tortilla chips or pita chips.

Did you make any resolutions for the new year? If yes, what were they?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Lemon Tofu with Creamy Asparagus Sauce

I spent most of last night flipping through The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook my older sister gave me yesterday. If I haven't mentioned it before, I love Ina Garten. She is actually one of my biggest culinary idols. I just adore her dedication to simple, seasonal, quality food - she is one of the main reasons why most of my recipes have only a handful of ingredients, and take only a few steps to prepare. Ina has definitely helped me to see over the years that simple is always better, when prepared correctly. 

I recently was sent a review copy of The 30-Minute Vegan's Taste of Europe, and I have to admit that, at first glance, a lot of the recipes seemed a bit overwhelming. But as I read more closely, I realized that the recipes in this book could still provide me with inspiration to try new recipes that I may never have though of before. Like, for example, serving tofu with a creamy asparagus sauce.

The original recipe calls for 16 ounces of tempeh, but tofu was much cheaper at the grocery store this week, so I used that instead (and it worked out fine). I also omitted the pine nuts, which were meant for the asparagus sauce. Pine nuts are crazy expensive, but I can see why they would work here (the cheese and butter I added helped to make the sauce creamier, but nuts would have been preferable). Each recipe in the book thankfully recommends alternatives for certain ingredients, and this one does mention that pine nuts can be swapped out with cashews or macadamia nuts.

As I went through this recipe, I was relieved to find that - although the ingredient list and directions were long - this really wasn't that difficult or time consuming to prepare. And, in the end, we had a new-to-us dinner that was light, flavorful, and packed with fresh lemon flavor.

Lemon Tofu with Creamy Asparagus Sauce
Yields: 4-6 servings (in our house, it yielded about 3)
Tofu Marinade:
-1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
-1 tablespoon olive oil
-1/4 cup white wine
-Salt and black pepper, to taste
-1 garlic clove, minced
-14 ounces extra firm tofu, sliced into eight 1/4-inch-thick cutlets
Creamy Asparagus Sauce:
-1 tablespoon olive oil
-3/4 cup thinly sliced white onion
-3 garlic cloves, minced
-1 pound asparagus, ends removed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (3 1/4 cups)
-1/2 cup white wine
-1 cup low-sodium vegetable stock or water
-1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
-2 teaspoons reduced sodium soy sauce
-Salt and black pepper, to taste
-Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
-1 tablespoon dried basil (original recipe used 2 tbsp. chiffonaded fresh basil)
-1 tablespoon dried parsley (original recipe used 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley)
-2 tablespoons butter
-1/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese

1.) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place all of the marinade ingredients, except the tofu, into a 9 by 13-inch casserole dish and mix well (I used a slightly smaller dish, which worked fine). Add the tofu and allow to sit for 5 minutes, flipping once to ensure an even coating (I marinated mine for 30-40 minutes; the longer the better!). Bake for 20 minutes. 
2.) Meanwhile, prepare the asparagus sauce: Pour the olive oil into a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently (in the future, I'd add the garlic after 1-2 minutes, as mine began to brown too quickly). Add the asparagus and white wine and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the vegetable stock and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the remaining ingredients, except the basil, parsley, butter and cheese, and mix well.
3.) Transfer the contents of the saute pan to a strong blender (I used a food processor, in batches) and carefully blend until smooth. Return the mixture to the saute pan. Add the basil, parsley, butter, and mozzarella cheese. Mix well.
4.) To serve, place a liberal amount of sauce on each plate, add the tofu cutlets, top with a small amount of sauce, and garnish each serving with a lemon wedge. We enjoyed our cutlets with some egg noodles, which resulted in a great combination of textures.

Although I tweaked the recipe a bit, I could seriously eat this creamy asparagus sauce with a spoon (it also helps that I'm a big fan of asparagus). I have to admit, though, that this dish wasn't super filling. I think next time, I'll also serve some sort of vegetable side dish to help "beef up" the meal. Either way, it was fun to try a new recipe, and to eat something we wouldn't normally eat during the work week.

Which do you most often prefer: simply prepared food or more elaborate dishes? 

*My copy of The 30-Minute Vegan's Taste of Europe was complimentary, but, as always, the opinions expressed in this post are honest and 100 percent my own.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Way Better Snacks

Somehow, word's gotten out that I like chips (and pretzels). But I'm not complaining.

The photo above shows the generous amount of chips Way Better Snacks (a division of Live Better Brands, LLC) sent me a few weeks ago. The company boasts a tasty, hearty chip that's also full of ingredients that are actually good for you. Each chip contains nutrient-dense grains and seeds, and lacks processed ingredients. For example, Way Better Snacks' Simply Sunny Multi-Grain chips contain ingredients like chia seeds, golden flax, quinoa, radish seed, brown rice, and broccoli seed. 

Way Better Snacks' Simply Sweet Potato chips.

However, we all know healthy snacks can sometimes mean tasteless. Thankfully, that is not the case here. 

So far, I've sampled every flavor of Way Better Snacks' chips (with the exception of No Salt Naked Blues and Simply Unbeatable Blues), and each chip was packed with flavor. The texture was also wonderfully hearty (perfect for dipping into salsa!), and delightfully salty. I shared each flavor with Z and our friends, and everyone was a fan (and we have some picky eaters in our group). Being a spice fiend, my favorite flavor is the Simply So Sweet Chili - it's got a punch of heat, and pairs beautifully with sandwiches and dairy-based dips.

If you'd like to try your own bag of Way Better Snacks' chips, click here to find a store near you that sells them. 

Have you ever tried Way Better Snacks' chips before?

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

Monday, January 7, 2013

KitchenAid 3 Speed Hand Blender Winner

Happy Monday! I hope you all had a great weekend. I spent most of mine playing with my nephew and nieces in New Hampshire - it was glorious!

I'm off shortly to figure out the lovely world of health insurance for freelancers ;), but I wanted to announce the winner of my KitchenAid 3 Speed Hand Blender giveaway before I took off. (The winner was chosen using

The winner is: Jess!

Here's what Jess is looking forward to in 2013:

My wedding :) (Bet you can relate!)

Congrats, Jess! Please email me within 48 hours to claim your prize.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Curry Hummus

Hummus is an expensive and extremely versatile thing to make. I love how you can take a can of chickpeas (that costs less than $1) and turn it into something delicious.

I never use tahini in my hummus recipes, and in all honesty, I don't miss it. Especially when I make a hummus chocked full of spicy seasonings, like this one. I made it for a belated holiday gathering with Z's extended family, and it was a huge hit. I served it with pita bread, but pita chips or Pretzel Crisps would pair just as well with this zesty dip.

Curry Hummus
Yields: 8-10 servings
-1 15 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
-1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
-1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
-1 teaspoon minced garlic
-1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
-1 teaspoon cumin
-1/2 teaspoon turmeric
-1 tablespoon dried parsley
-Pinch of cayenne
-Pinch of salt

1.) Place above ingredients in food processor and pulse until smooth. Add more olive oil if needed (depending on the consistency you desire). Taste, and adjust spices as necessary.
2.) Garnish with an extra drizzle of olive oil before serving.

The end result was a slightly spicy and wonderfully flavorful hummus that was insanely easy to make.

Friendly reminder: You have until Monday morning at 9 a.m. EST to enter my KitchenAid 3 Speed Hand Blender giveaway!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Belgian-Style Fries at Saus

One of my best friends from college used to dream about opening her own restaurant. In her fantasy restaurant, she would serve nothing but French fries and a mind-blowing array of dipping sauces. When she'd talk about her dream restaurant, I always thought what a genius idea it was...and right before we left for New Orleans, I went to a similar restaurant and finally experienced a taste of my friend's dream.

Saus, located in Faneuil Hall, serves up Belgian-inspired street food in a casual (and tiny) setting. The star of the show here are their crispy, perfectly salty Belgian-style fries, served with your choice of dipping sauces. Other menu options include lighthearted fare that pair well with fries (and are greasy enough for optimal late-night snacking), including waffles and sandwiches. 

Z and I started with a "Big" order of Belgian-style fries ($7) (if you order the Big size, you get a free dipping sauce...and the Big was the perfect size for two people to share). For dipping sauces, we tried the Green Monster ($0.75), made with jalapenos, habaneros, fresh cilantro, and garlic, as well as the Ole Chipotle ($0.75), made with spicy chipotle, lime juice, cilantro, and homemade mayo. 

The perfectly fried, surprisingly non-greasy fries were dangerously addictive on their own, but after trying them with each of the spicy dipping sauces? Incredible. If I had been drunk, I would have ordered at least eight more "Big" servings. 

Since we didn't want our dinner to consist of just fries - although we easily could have - Z and I both ordered one of the few vegetarian entrees on the menu, the Veggie Croquette Pocket ($6.95).

Served with mixed greens, parsley vinaigrette, shredded carrots and samurai sauce, all loaded into a whole wheat pita, this was one satisfying sandwich. The veggie croquettes are similar to falafel in shape, but were much fluffier and lighter in texture. The inside of the croquette had almost a whipped texture, which was downright delightful.

In addition to the food, Saus also has some really impressive beers on tap, that seem to change often (I was hoping they'd still have Southern Tier's Creme Brulee on tap, but unfortunately, it was long gone). I'd love to go here before and/or after a night at the bars, or even just for another dinner out.

Have you ever had a "restaurant fantasy?" I've always dreamed of opening my own bakery, despite the fact that I don't bake that often....

Saus on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Tomato-White Bean Soup + KitchenAid Hand Blender Giveaway!

I hope you all had a great New Year's Eve/Day! We hosted a party at our house on New Year's Eve, then spent a relaxing day with friends yesterday (let's just say we watched three movies and played lots of card games). It was a glorious holiday!

After two days of sitting around, drinking, and eating unhealthy food, though, I am ready to eat some vegetables today...or, anything remotely healthy for that matter. So why don't we kick 2013 off with a healthy recipe (and a giveaway)?

Tomato-White Bean Soup with Arugula Pesto
Yields: 4 servings
Adapted from
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1 yellow onion, chopped
-1 tablespoon minced garlic
-2 cups canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
-1 can (14 oz). diced tomatoes
-1 tablespoon dried parsley
-1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
-2 Turkish bay leaves
-1 1/2-2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (amount depends on how thick you like your soup; I used about 1 1/2 cups)
-Pinch of cayenne pepper
-Salt and black pepper, to taste
-Four generous dollops of arugula pesto, for garnish

1.) In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion, stirring occasionally, until golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic; cook for an additional 1-2 minutes (just watch the garlic carefully so it doesn't burn).
2.) Add beans, tomatoes, parsley, thyme, bay leaves and vegetable broth. Season with cayenne, salt and black pepper. Bring soup to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 10-15 minutes.
3.) Remove bay leaves from soup; discard. With a hand blender, puree soup to your liking (I pureed mine completely). Divide soup among four bowls, and dollop each with pesto (I stirred the pesto in so it swirled throughout the soup).

For being really easy - and cheap - to prepare, this soup was wonderfully elegant and delicious. The arugula really makes this soup, so I highly recommend not skipping out on using it!

If you don't have a hand blender, you can enter my giveaway. ;) I'm giving away a KitchenAid 3 Speed Hand Blender in Contour Silver (pictured below):

This product blends, purees, whisks, and chops just about anything. I have a hand blender, and I seriously use it all the time for everything from soups to iced coffee drinks. 

To enter to win this 3 speed hand blender, simply comment on this post telling me what you're looking forward to in 2013. For an extra entry, simply tweet: "I want to #win a @KitchenAidUSA 3 speed hand blender from @MichellePC!" Just post a second comment saying you tweeted. 

I will pick a winner the morning of Monday, January 7th. Good luck!