27 January 2015

Menu Tuesday

Oops. I had no intention of taking an almost month-long blog hiatus, but as it sometimes does, life just got in the way. I had a major project at work due on January 16, cohosted a baby shower the next day, and then woke up last Tuesday with the flu. I haven't had the flu in probably 10 years and I forgot how it just sucks the life out of you. Yuck.

But here I am, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to get back into my routine. First things first: catching you up on all the recipes I've made in the past month. Brace yourselves, because this post is a doozy.

 Flounder Piccata with Spinach (Cooking Light March 2008)
This one is an old standby. I'm not sure I've ever made it with flounder; I usually use tilapia since I always have frozen tilapia filets on hand. I served this with a box of Near East pine nut couscous.

  Black Bean and Cheese Tacos (Everyday Food, June 2011)
I have several binders at home in which I've filed all the recipes I've torn out of magazines over the years. Every time we have a meal from Everyday Food I go through a mini-period of mourning for the magazine's untimely demise. It was the BEST. Martha Stewart, I am still a little pissed at you for pulling the plug on it. Please bring it back. Please?
Anyhoodle, M actually made this recipe and declared it to be very easy. It was quick and really filling, although I thought it could've used just a little bit more salt.

 Pepperoni Bread (I have no idea...I need your help!)
Our next-door neighbor and his girlfriend gave us the BEST Christmas gift in the form of the pepperoni bread. It was readymade with instructions for baking. I put it in the freezer and as soon as we had a night when I just didn't feel like cooking, I fired up the oven. I know I'm going to enjoy anything that comes with the instructions "baste with butter." In the interest of trying to be health-conscious, I basted with olive oil instead.
OMG IT WAS SO GOOD. Does anyone have a recipe for pepperoni bread? Our neighbor travels all the time and his girlfriend lives out of state, so I haven't been able to track down her recipe yet. This would be such a great Super Bowl food. Help a girl out!
Burrata Pizza Pie (What's Gaby Cooking)
I'm not sure I even need to tell you how good this was. My favorite homemade crust + burrata + prosciutto + basil. Yeah. That speaks for itself.
 Camarones Al Mojo De Ajo (Summer is a Verb)
Another old standby around here. Also this is shockingly popular on my Pinterest. It gets repinned all the time!
I happened to have everything on hand to make this and it always tastes like a little plate of summer to me. This time I took the seeds out of the jalapeno and that was a mistake. We both like it better with the spicy kick.
I used thyme instead of rosemary because I had some leftover fresh sprigs on hand. I'm always surprised by how good (and easy!) a simple roast chicken is and this one didn't disappoint. M was SO EXCITED to have roast chicken on a weeknight, which was cute and hilarious. The leftovers make excellent chicken salad.
This recipe is in my top-5 favorites from Skinnytaste. I've been making it for us since before we were married. It's so yummy and comforting. It was made even better with the leftover brown molasses rolls I had stashed in the freezer.

 Oven "Fried" Breaded Pork Chops (Skinnytaste) and Braised Red Cabbage with Vinegar (Bon Appetit October 2010)
The pork chops were great, but holy goodness, the cabbage! Maybe I'm a weirdo, but I have always loved cabbage. Such an underrated little vegetable. There are so many recipes for braised red cabbage out there, but I wanted one that was simple and not too heavy on the caraway. This recipe from the inimitable Lidia Bastianich was perfect.
Skinny Spaghetti Squash Alfredo (The Comfort of Cooking)
Another repeat for us. Now that I feel like I have finally mastered cooking spaghetti squash, I really need to branch out, but this preparation is just so freaking good! It's so filling and easy and tastes much more decadent than it actually is. I knew it was a good sign when I pulled these out of the oven and M said, "Oh yeah, you've made these before!" If he remembers a meal, it's only because it was worth remembering.
Yet another home run from Budget Bytes. For those of you with kids, I would imagine this would be a hit. It's almost got a ranch type of flavor profile going on. It's a one pot meal and it's so darn simple.
I love white chilis. They're my favorite. And while this recipe isn't quite as good as my favorite (Texas White Lightening recipe from Southern Living a million years ago...this says February 2003, but my recipe is from a cookbook published in 1994), it was still pretty delicious. And spicy (which we like)!
These are great, although I have a bone to pick with lasagna rolls. These type recipes are always advertised as SO MUCH EASIER than regular lasagna and I'm calling bullshit. Regular lasagna is way easier. You just layer. What is easier than that?  When you have to roll, I inevitable end up with a few noodles that fall apart (see the middle roll on the bottom) and filling starts seeping out the sides and it's a mess. I love this recipe, but honestly, I think it would just made it as a normal lasagna in the future. Anyone else feel this way?
M was trying to so hard to be helpful when I was sick and he offered to make dinner one night. This was one of the recipes that I had planned and I thought it would be pretty easy for him to execute. That was not the case. (I love you, honey! You are really awesome at making breakfast!) The eggs ended up being overcooked and I was so exhausted from helping in the kitchen that I only ate a little bit of it.
I wasn't super impressed with the meal, but I'm not sure if that was the recipe's fault or just extenuating circumstances. It gets a second chance.
 Bagel Bites
After the previous night's disaster, I just really wanted Bagel Bites for dinner. WHY ARE THEY SO GOOD?
We hosted a few friends for New Year's Eve and I made a batch of Ina's Shrimp and Sausage Jambalaya. A few thoughts:
1. The fact that Ina's estimated serving size is 6-8 helps me understand why she is such a large woman. Seriously. One recipe of this filled two Dutch ovens, fed 5 adults for dinner, and we still had enough leftover for 2 dinners and 2 lunches. And we are not a group of dainty eaters. Ina, I'm impressed. And horrified.
2. I used a can of diced tomatoes in placed of the cup of seeded, diced fresh tomato. This was a mistake. The extra liquid made the rice a little overcooked, gummy, and wet. It bothered me. Next time I would either reduce the amount of other liquids, or just use the diced fresh tomato.
3. I am the only person who was bothered by this. Everyone else loved it. Especially topped with the bacon hot sauce my MIL put in M's stocking.
Last Friday we had tickets to a hockey game, so we scarfed down Budget Bytes' BBQ Beef Stuffed Baked Potatoes in a hurry and I forgot to take a picture. Lucky for you, I've written about these before, so you can see a picture and read my review there.
If you've made it this far, congratulations on suffering through an epic amount of terrible food photography!

01 January 2015

NYC Trip: Days 4 + 5

After a verrrrrry late night Saturday night, we slept in on Sunday morning and researched Ravens bars in NYC.
Everything you need to know about the bar we ended up at (Mustang Harry's) is summed up in their Happy Hour specials: a can of PBR and a shot of Tullamore Dew? a bottle of Coors Light and a shot of Jack Honey? Yeah, no thanks, I'm all set.
We hadn't eaten breakfast and fortunately they were running a brunch special of unlimited Bloody Marys and Mimosas for $12. I had a lot of mimosas along with some not-half-bad French toast. M had some sort of burger that was actually really good. This game turned out to be theeeeee longest game ever, so about halfway through we ordered some Buffalo chicken bites and Cajun fries to snack on. 
By the time the game was over, it had started to get dark. We walked back up to Rockefeller, and after a pit stop at Tim Horton's in Times Square (best French vanilla coffee everrrrrr!), we finally got a picture of the tree and of us in front of the tree. It was an absolute madhouse so we hightailed it back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.
The only picture I took at Babbo. You can just make out the Christmas tree over M's shoulder.
We had a 9:45pm reservation but went down at 6:45 and ended up being seated by 7:30. We had a cozy little table in the corner in the front of the restaurant. It was such a perfect meal to end our trip. The amuse bouche was some sort of chickpea tapenade on crostini that I'm still trying to figure out how to recreate at home. I'm all for chickpeas, but who knew they could taste THAT good? I started with the buffalo mozzarella and pesto and M had the grilled octopus (tastes like chewy bacon). We moved on to buccatini alla Amatriciana for me and goose liver ravioli for M, which he said is one of the best things he's ever eaten. And why not? It was basically pate inside of pasta covered in browned butter and balsamic. I had Guinea hen with truffled celeriac puree for my entrée (OMG AMAZING) and M had some lamb chops that looked amazing, even to a non-lamb eater such as myself. We were too full to order dessert (sad panda) but the waiter brought some little housemade Christmas cookies with the check that were just the perfect little bite of something sweet.
Sometimes I feel like people rave about places like Babbo just because you're supposed to, but it really was a wonderful dining experience. Surprisingly reasonably priced, incredible service from top to bottom, and amazing food.
We were up bright and early Monday morning to grab breakfast and catch the bus home. We got bagel breakfast sandwiches at Best Bagel and Coffee that were ginormous and delicious. We watched Wolf of Wall Street on the way home and I read The Vacationers and The Engagements and finally finished Serial. After basically two weeks on the road, we were so happy to be home. And we had some doggies who were very happy to be back on their own couch...
I'm so glad we went on this trip together. M's job keeps him away from home a fair amount and most of the time he does have off, we're usually trying to host family or friends or going to visit them, so it's rare that we get so much time together just the two of us. As we get older and people start families and move away, it's harder to visit with friends and we felt so lucky to spend the time we did with our friends while we were there. I've dreamed of visiting NYC at Christmas since I was a little girl and this trip was the best Christmas gift I could have asked for. 
The newest addition to our travel ornament collection. I look forward to putting this on our Christmas trees for years to come and enjoying all of the memories from this special trip.

31 December 2014

NYC Trip: Days 2 + 3

The second and third days of our trip to NYC were a marathon! By the end of the 3rd day I felt like I needed a vacation from our vacation :)
We woke up bright and early Friday AM and walked down to Amy's Bread for breakfast. I had an olive twist (pictured above) and M got a breakfast sandwich. We were still hungry after that, so we split an amazing pain au chocolat.
We had some time to kill before the
Rockettes, so we naturally we took selfies in front of the giant ornaments on the Avenue of the Americas.
Then it was across the street to Radio City Music Hall to cross off an item that's long been on my bucket list: the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. I may or may not have shed a few tears when Santa came in and started greeting little kids in the audience. M was pleasantly surprised by the whole thing and thought the Rockettes would make good women's lacrosse players. Of course he would find a way to tie it all back to lacrosse. My favorite part of the performance was the toy soldiers, but I FREAKED OUT for the live animals in the Nativity scene. I have like 10 pictures of those camels on my phone.
A quick trip to Rockefeller Center to wave hello to the ice skaters...
And then we headed to Ippudo Westside for lunch. I've only eaten at the downtown location, so this was a new experience for both of us. We split an order of the pork buns (my favorite!) then I got the akamaru modern and M got the karaka-men. His was definitely better; I loved the extra spice. Not that mine was bad :) I wish we had a good ramen place in Burlington...it's so cozy and satisfying when it's cold out and it's cold here a lot!
We headed over to Le Parker Meridien to take a gander at the Gingerbread Extravaganza. I loved the little Saturday Night Fever Santa, but we both agreed that King Kong was the winner.

There's a Milk Bar just across the street from Le Parker Meridien, so we popped in for some compost cookies and a slice of crack pie. We took our treats over to the St. Regis to eat in the lobby before I checked out Bronson Van Wyck's Holiday Pop-Up Shop, which was amazing. It's what I imagine my dream Christmas living room would look like, complete with red Christmas tree covered in jewel-encrusted lobsters. There was lots of tartan and taxidermy and even a few mink lined-and-trimmed tree skirts! I fell in love with these Hessian andirons, but at $495 and us with no fireplace to speak of, M put the kibosh on that purchase.
After we left the St. Regis, we wondered around Midtown to check out all of the holiday windows, of which I took no pictures. There was barely enough room to move with all of the other gawking tourists, let alone pull out a camera (although a lot of people did anyways). Bergdorf's windows were my favorite. Each window was dedicated to one of the arts. The ones for music and film were breathtaking! I did manage to snap this one picture at Ralph's inside of Ralph Lauren:
Antlers + Pheasant Feathers + Magnolia Leaves = Sarah Christmas Arrangement Bingo!
We mozied over to the Plaza Food Hall so I could check out the Eloise store. I could have stayed in there for hours. I was not-so-secretly wishing it was more socially acceptable and less creepy for an almost-30-year-old woman to join in the Eloise tea party going on in the back room. And then we randomly ran into one of M's players and got to meet his entire family. So, so random. 
After we dropped off our bags at our hotel room, we headed back out. We had to make a quick stop to say hello to these charming fellows!
And then it was over to the Grand Central Oyster Bar to meet a friend for drinks. Oysters and sparkling rose are my favorite couple of all time.
Since we were already halfway downtown, we decided just to head to our dinner at Bianca and eat with the old folks at 6pm. This might be my favorite picture from the trip, not because of how cute M looks (but he does look awful purdy), but because of why he is making that face. Bianca is one of my favorite restaurants. M got their lasagna; if you ever go, that is what you should get. It's life-changing. But because I've had the lasagna many times and because we don't like to both order the same thing, I ordered a plate of Gorgonzola gnocchi.
M hates blue cheese. Absolutely will not touch the stuff. But before I could stop him, he took a bite of my gnocchi. And then another bite. And then another...and raved about how incredible it was. I waited until our waitress had cleared the table until I told him he just ate half a plate of gnocchi in a blue cheese sauce. MIND BLOWN.
We were pretty beat after dinner and headed back up to our hotel to grab a drink at Lodge and then call it an early night. I also happened to lose my Metrocard at some point that night. Not a happy scene.

Saturday morning we had plans to meet one of my oldest and dearest friends for brunch at Café Cluny. We got there a little early, so we wondered around the neighborhood for awhile and oogled real estate. I have no desire to live in NYC, but I could be persuaded to change my mind if one of these babies was an option.
Brunch was delicious; I had a short rib hash, M had eggs Benedict, and A had the ham and gruyere croissant. The portions were quite teeny, but mine was so rich that I didn't mind. Café Cluny's dining rooms are quite cozy, so you're eating in close quarters with your fellow diners. I looked up halfway through our brunch to realize that Leslie Mann was sitting right across from us. Apparently she had already caught M staring at her. I spent the rest of brunch trying not to stare.
After brunch we moved the party to Starbucks and caught up over peppermint mochas before A had to catch the train. M and I mozied over to the Union Square Holiday Market. I had such high hopes for this and was disappointed. In addition to the insane crowds that made it impossible to move, I didn't think the booths offered up that much cool stuff. There were a few things that caught my eye here and there, but nothing that I just had to have. Bummer.
The good news is that we had a few hours to kill before meeting up with M's friends and we were only a few blocks from Pete's Tavern, which M wanted to check out anyways. So we went there and had brunch #2 with decidedly NOT teeny portions. They go all out with Christmas decorations inside, so it was a great place to spend the early afternoon drinking Bloody Marys and eating cheeseburgers.
And then there was Rolf's. I had heard of the Rolf's Christmas spectacle before and Molly recommended we go while we were in town. It just so happened that M's friends had suggested we meet up there for a drink before all going out together for the evening. We went and got there early, so went ahead and staked our place in line. We had to wait an hour to get in, but we passed the time by doing shots of Fireball with the folks in line behind us. When our friends showed up, it turns out that the guy offering us shots is the father of one of our friends' girlfriends. Another random interaction. After we were all inside, it was kind of crazy. There is no way it is safe to have that many people crammed into one space, but with all of the decorations (and beer), everyone is in a great mood and doesn't seem to mind the fact that you are cheek-to-cheek (face and backside) with total strangers drinking overpriced beer.
After someone spilled mulled wine all over my coat (it smelled so gross for the rest of the trip), we decided it was time for a change of scenery. We spent the rest of the night bar hopping with M's college buddies, with a pit stop for amaaaaaazing Artichoke pizza. I would like 10 more slices, please.
We pretended we were still fresh out of college and stayed out until 3 in the morning and somehow ended up at a Princeton lacrosse/New York Knicks party in Tribeca. So that's fun.

30 December 2014

NYC Trip: Hotel + Day 1

I always enjoy reading other bloggers' trip recaps, so I thought I would do one of our trip to NYC. I'm going to break it up into a few segments so it's not one giant wall of text.

We took the Megabus to New York. It was both of our first experience with Megabus and it was about what you'd expect. Although having read and heard horror stories, it seems like our experience was pretty good. It was long and uncomfortable and boring, but it was cheap and got us where we needed to go and was on time. So no real complaints.
We stayed at the Hudson Hotel, having gotten an incredible deal on Priceline. I was a little apprehensive. I booked it using one of the Name-Your-Own-Price deals where you only find out which hotel you're staying at after you've paid. Once I found out it was Hudson, I read some less-than-favorable reviews online, but none of them turned out to be true (other than the room size).
-The location was great. Hudson is located just across the street from the Time Warner Center, so there is an easily accessible subway stop and a lot of taxis circling the area. You're just across from the south end of the park and far enough from Midtown that you don't feel like you're a part of the crowds, but close enough to walk to all the sights within a few minutes.
-Unlike many of the reviews I read, we found all of the hotel staff we interacted with to be friendly and helpful. They all seemed genuinely happy to help and answer any questions and easily cracked jokes with us when I lost my MetroCard (uggggghhhh), when our room key wasn't working at 3am, and when we needed scissors to cut tags out of a sweater.
-Whenever any of our friends in the city asked where we were staying, their first response was, "Oh great bar scene!" They are correct. Hudson has several bars on the property, plus a nightclub. We went to two of the bars: The Library Bar, which has an old school men's club vibe, and Lodge, which is made to look like an indoor après ski lounge. We didn't make it to the nightclub, but on the aforementioned evening when we returned at 3am, the club was packed and the DJ sounded great.
-TINIEST ROOMS EVER. Even by New York standards, our room was laughably small. There was hardly enough room to walk around the bed, let alone have a place to put our luggage and get dressed. The bathroom was even worse. You couldn't use the sink and have the door open at the same time. There was not enough room to stand in front of the mirror and dry hair or put on make-up. The room had a weird window to the shower, which was all glass, so unless you closed the shower curtain at all times, the person in the room could watch you use the bathroom. Awkward.  And the shower was worst of all. While our sink had hot water in record speed, you could run the shower for 10 minutes and never get it above lukewarm. Add in nonexistent water pressure and showering was just a totally unpleasant experience.

That's pretty much the only con. The good news is that we didn't come to New York to spend time in our hotel room, so we really weren't there very much. Overall, I liked Hudson and considering the insanely good deal we got on it, I don't have any complaints about our stay.

On to the fun part! Once we were settled in our teeny tiny room and had freshened up in our teeny tiny bathroom, we walked down to the theatre district Shake Shack and got down to the business of burgers.
While I thought the burgers weren't all that great (In-and-Out is way better in my book), those cheese fries...wow. I would happily eat them every day for the rest of my life. So simple, but so good. Sometimes when you order cheese fries, it's the same nasty sauce they use for nachos, but this sauce reminded me of the cheese fries of my youth, eaten at the pool snack bar every summer for years. 
Then it was on to 'Book of Mormon'. I'm not even sure what to say about it except that at the end of the show, we were like, "Well can we just sit here and watch another performance of it?" It was so wonderful! We spent all weekend talking about our favorite parts and singing bits and pieces of it, "Baptize Her" being our favorite. I'm not much of a showtunes person, but I'm planning to download the entire original cast recording. Just so well done and hysterical. I'm hoping the national tour makes its way to Burlington some day so we can go see it again soon!
When the show was over, we were exhausted from a long day of travel. We headed back to the hotel, grabbed a drink at the Library Bar, and GrubHub'd some pizza, inspiring many Elf and Seinfeld references for the rest of the trip.

29 December 2014

Menu Monday

Hard to believe it's been 3 weeks since my last Menu Monday post (or my last post at all)! Lots of catching up to do around here...

Awwww yeah, this was sooooo freakin' good. The soup was rich, hearty, and flavorful...and mostly healthy if you can get past the heavy cream (I can).
M and I are not big chain restaurant people, but we both have a weakness for chain restaurant carbs (I'm looking at you, Olive Garden breadsticks). When we were first married and lived in a barren culinary desert, we would hit up Outback Steakhouse for date night and would've been perfectly happy just to sit and eat basket after basket of their rolls. I happened upon this recipe on Pinterest and knew I had to make them. I am somewhat intimidated by homemade bread, but these were basically foolproof (proof...haha, a yeast joke! So punny). They tasted pretty close to the real thing too.
This is another old favorites from Budget Bytes. It's one of those meatless meals where you truly don't even notice that there isn't any meat. Plus it's easy and healthy and so delicious. (They would be vegan if I hadn't added big dollups of sour cream on top.) I used up the bag of quinoa hanging around, so I had to add in a little bulgur wheat. And I had a can of kidney beans in the pantry, but no black beans, so that's what we used. Another victory on my mission to clean out our pantry before our Christmas travels.  
Yet another Budget Bytes/clean out the freezer meal. This has quickly become one of my favorite ways to fix tilapia or any other flaky white fish. Our grocery store often runs BOGO deals on bags of frozen, individually packaged tilapia or swai filets (I always make sure to get something that is Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch approved!). The tomato topping is so flavorful that you would never know you're not eating fresh fish. I like to serve it on top of rice or couscous to absorb all of the sauce.
 Quiche a la Clean Out the Fridge and Freezer
Our flight back from visiting M's family in Baltimore didn't get in until midnight the night before. We were leaving again for NYC in less than 48 hours and I was determined not to grocery shop in between, so this was what I came up with.
 I used Kate's recipe as a base for this. I had a Wholly Wholesome whole-wheat piecrust leftover from making Thanksgiving pecan pies. I added frozen peas, some sautéed ground beef and Italian sausage, and a ton of feta cheese, and then topped it all off with some Parmesan. Et voila! It was actually really quite tasty, considering the randomness of it all.
Black-Eyed Pea Soup and Cornbread
No real recipe here. Just sautéed some onion, carrot, celery, added in the beans and a hambone and let it simmer away for a few hours while we packed and took care of last minute things around the house. The cornbread was a cheat; I used Bob's Red Mill mix and added a little creamed corn. This was our last meal at home before heading to NYC and it made a ton, so I just froze the leftovers and now the only thing I have to make for our traditional luck and money New Year's Day meal is the collard greens.
 Baked Manicotti with Sausage and Peas and Cheese and Rosemary Breadsticks (recipes by Giada de Laurentiis; modeling by my husband)
This was our Christmas Eve meal. As you can see, it was a very formal affair. I normally do something a little fancier for the Christmas meal I make for the two of us; the first two years of marriage I made individual beef Wellingtons and last year I did steak with Bernaise sauce. But since we were doing a Christmas Day potluck dinner with friends that we knew involved prime rib, I went with something a little more casual.
Every time I make manicotti, I remember why I only make it once in a blue moon. Stuffing those little pasta tubes is a total pain in the ass, but these were so good I didn't mind it too much. SO MUCH CHEESE. I served it with a kale Caesar salad and we opened a bottle of wine from my favorite vineyard back home. A perfect little Christmas Eve feast for two.  
Snake Bite Chili Dip (Katie at the Perks)
Our skiing plans last weekend had to be put aside due to M's Achilles injury, so instead we ate an entire batch of this dip and watched college football and basketball. So the weekend wasn't a total bust after all.
This dip is SO SO GOOD. M was a little skeptical; he just couldn't figure how the sweet mango salsa was going to go with the cheese and sausage. Turns out there was no need to worry. We inhaled this as fast as we could. This would be a great addition to your Super Bowl party spread!
I'm not sure how much of a recipe this is, but I make it a lot. After all the junk over the past few weeks (see above), it was nice to just have something light and healthy. I used some Williams-Sonoma potlatch seasoning on the salmon in place of salt and pepper and served with some steam-in-bag haricots verts and some roasted baby potatoes. The potatoes roast at the same temp as the salmon, so I just prepped the salmon while the potatoes roasted for about 25 minutes and then added the salmon on top for the last 15 minutes. Then just whip up the sauce and microwave the green beans while everything's in the oven. Easy peasy and minimal clean-up!
 That about does it for the past 3 weeks. As sad as I am to see the holidays go, I am a creature of habit, so I'm looking forward to getting back into our normal, healthier meal routine.