Monday, December 26, 2011

Uncommon Delights at the Common Ground

The month of December was quite an exciting month for this blogger.  I was invited to more than my share of blogger events, brunches and tastings!  I know... who knew that somebody besides my mother read this blog!  WooHoo!!

One of the most unexpected and delicious events I went to was a quaint blogger lunch at the Common Ground in Allston.  When I received this invitation a few weeks before hand honestly I was a bit unsure.  The last time I had been to the Common Ground was right after college in the early 2000s and lets just say I didn't go for the food :)

The invite was for a Thursday during the day but thankfully I had already taken a vacation day to pamper myself with a fantastic lady day before the craziness of the holidays began. (FYI, you should make haste to Marc Harris Salon in the Financial District and Adara Spa on Lewis Wharf! They are amazing!!!)

So on a cloudy but unusually warm December day I made my way down the Green Line B train to Allston.  It was really nice to get reacquainted with Allston.  Admittedly living in Dorchester, I tend to stay close to home because of ease and plethora of great establishments. 

I am so glad I ventured out of Dot!  I was able to meet some new to me bloggers and also get to know the new faces of the Common Ground!  After a delightful meet and greet we were invited to help ourselves to the most amazing buffet! A selection of sandwiches, clam chowder, macaroni and cheese and deviled eggs along with a tasty beet salad.

The Cuban sandwich and macaroni and cheese stole my heart!  The perfect blend of salty and savory flavors without being too heavy.  The chowder was also great!  You could taste the salt pork and fresh seafood but it was not overly thick.  A perfect mix of soup/stew that you want in your chowder.

Who doesn't love the crusty topping on a good Mac ' Cheese!?!?

Before we started inhaling our tasty dishes Bob introduced Chef Jaime Suarez who helped create and inspire the menu (especially the Cuban Sandwich).  It was great to put a face to the genius behind the dishes.

You could tell from listening to Bob speak, the passion the whole staff at the Common Ground has for making their restaurant a neighborhood establishment that people want to come back to day after day.  I know Allston is too far to ever make this my go-to spot.  However, I will be back again and again if only for the deviled egg you see below here.....

The winning item on my list that day has to be the deviled egg!  Bob proudly expressed how the chef makes his own bacon for the restaurant.  I can attest from the several amazing morsels I devoured on top of those deviled eggs that he should be making a banner and taking out adds to advertise about this bacon!  It was knee shakingly good!  I would come back to the Common Ground in a heart beat just for the bacon!!

I actually praised the bacon so much that Bob began telling us about the Turkey Bacon they also make and how good it is.  Of course, we all nodded politely but our faces must have gave us away. I mean what foodie really is going to think that Turkey Bacon can be good right?  Well I was proven wrong!  They brought us out samples and by god my friends it was salty and delicious!  Exactly what you want when you are craving bacon!  I don't want to know how they do it, but I am pretty sure it involves Unicorn Dust or somebody selling their soul to the devil..  Yeah, it was that good!

I cannot wait to go back to the Common Ground!  It was an unexpected hidden jewel to find in a city that I thought I knew so well.

Common Ground provided lunch and a $25 gift card to all attendees but my opinions are 100% my own.

Savory Soup On Christmas Day

Christmas Day has become a very relaxing day over the past 10 years.  Instead of running from house to house my parents and I now enjoy the Holiday at home eagerly awaiting the arrival of my sister with her family.  The beautiful thing is we really get to appreciate the day, cook and watch as two precious little peanuts tear through wrapping paper before we savor a delicious home cooked meal.

I was raised in a big Italian family with Sundays filled with huge gatherings eating Macaroni n' Meatballs.  I may have an Italian last name, and a love for pasta but I am part English as well.  So while Christmas Eve is reserved for all things Italian Christmas Day has always been a tribute to all things English.  A proper English Dinner with Yorkshire Pudding, roast and roasted veggies!

This year we changed it up a bit, we went with Porterhouse Steaks, Butternut Squash Soup, Brussels Sprouts and baked potatoes all smothered in a creamy Whiskey Cream Sauce.

Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato and Apple Soup:

Roast two sweet potatoes and 2 butternut squash for about 45 minutes (until meat is tender).  Saute one medium onion in butter until soft.  Add in the flesh of the sweet potato and squash along with 2 peeled and diced apples.  Sprinkle about 1/4tsp each of Ginger, Cardamon, Garlic, Nutmeg, Cinnamon and Chili Powder.  Let apples saute for about 5 minutes and then cover with broth (turkey, chicken or vegetable) I used about 1 box of broth.

Simmer for about 20-25 minutes until all the apples and potatoes are soft.  Using a hand blender puree entire mixture. (Can also transfer to blender if you don't have a hand blender, but I highly suggest getting one!  Makes life soo much easier).  Serve hot with either croutons, fried onions or a dollop of greek yogurt.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Future Foodie?

Somehow I think my nephew may end up either in the food industry or a lifelong foodie...  For Christmas my 4 year old nephew asked for the following items:

  • Super Powers
  • Easter
  • A Baby Brother 
  • A Salad
Yup!  Kid will have to wait for Easter and I highly doubt sister foodie plans on more kids. However, a salad Santa can do!!
This is one happy kid eating a HUGE salad at 7am from Santa!!!  A foodie aunt could not be more proud!!

Stay Calm and Eat Your Greens my dear nephew!

Happy Holidays everyone!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to everyone out there who is celebrating the birth of baby Jesus!

In my family Christmas Eve has always been the big night for our family to gather.  All the aunts, uncles and cousins meet to enjoy large amounts of pasta, cookies, wine and more cookies! 

As a child it seemed like Xmas Eve lasted for days ending in a mass chaotic explosion of gift wrapping and cookie eating!  These days, I get to watch the gift giving from a safe corner while the younger kids carry on the tradition of running for the tree when the go sign is given!

It really is one of my favorite nights of the year!  Getting to spend time with my family, embrace all the glory that is being an Italian American and watching the pure glee on my cousins/niece & nephew when they open there presents!

The Q Family has grown over the years thanks to an amazing couple who met on a dance floor many moons ago!  I know everyone says it but I have the best grandparents any kid could ever ask for! (both sides!!)

I am so blessed to have been raised in such a loving, loud, honest and caring family!  They tell you like it is, laugh with you, cry with you and always have plenty of food to share!

Wherever you might be during this holiday weekend I hope you are with people you love.  Family does not have to be a blood relation to be family.  Be grateful for those in your life and the blessings you have!

Happy Holidays to all of you!  I will be spending Christmas Day at home with my parents, sister and her family.  It is a quiet day filled with lots of family time and a proper English Dinner (mom's side of the family influence).  That and a lot of cuddle time with my two favorite little people!!

Oh and did I mention I have a superhero for a nephew?!  Yeah! He is AWESOME!!!

Happy Holidays to you all!  No matter how you celebrate/spend the day make it a great one!!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Weekend at Home

Leaving in a few hours for a weekend with my family!

Here is what I am looking forward too!

How will you be spending your holiday weekend?

Happy Holidays everyone!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

First Impressions

So I  went to a chain restaurant with co-workers for lunch.  I can say that I was a bit biased walking in the door.  I am not really a fan of big chain restaurants that seem to dumb down their menus to please the masses (Yes I know this makes me sound like an uptight New Englander...)

I also get that as a foodie living in Boston, I am blessed to be surrounded by AMAZING mom n' pop restaurants in almost every genre/ethnic background...  However, I do enjoy the occasional outing to a chain.  ( I dream of a certain Italian Restaurant Chains' hot round little rolls and lunch pizzas!) There is something comforting about knowing that where ever you might be that one dish you love will taste the same.  

This restaurant had some pros and cons going for it.  I am not in love with it but will probably give it another shot (when it is not 5 days before Xmas and at a busy mall) just because you never know what is really going on with a place after just one visit.

Instead of being petty and telling you everything I hated and calling them out (already did that on twitter, doh!) I figured I would go over some things restaurants SHOULD do in my opinion to make customers happy and welcomed!  Would love to hear your comments on what makes (or breaks) a restaurant in your book!

  • Acknowledgement! Even if you are jammed packed, please take 5 seconds to smile and say that you will be with me in a moment!  People will wait calmly if they know you are coming back instead of ignoring them....
  • Turn down your music:  Unless I am in a nightclub, I don't need to strain my voice just to talk to the person next to me. (FYI, this place was playing Rob Zombie at 12pm!!)
  • Bring H2O or take drink orders promptly.  Again, people will happily wait for their server if they have a cocktail or ice tea to sip on while chatting with their company.  
  • KISS: No, do not kiss your customers... Keep It Simple Stupid!  I don't know how many places I have gone over the past few years were the menu ranges from 5-40+ pages!!!  You cannot be giving 100% to your dishes if there are 100s of choices.  I would take a 1 page menu over a 5 page elaborate menu any day of the week!
  • Be prompt in serving your dishes.  I don't care if I am there for lunch or a leisurely 3 hour meal.  Once I place my order, I expect that my first course should be out in about 10-15 minutes.  It really begins to spoil an outing when you start checking your watch, telling your stomach to settle down and guessing if you will make your 130 meeting back at the office.  If there is something wrong with the order, COMMUNICATE to your table.   Let us know the problem, we are more likely to understand than if you just avoid the table for 30 minutes....
I know this post is not my normal happy go lucky foodie post, but they are the things that will make or break a restaurant visit for me!

What are your pet peeves?  Or the little things places do to make you running back week after week?

What I was doing instead of blogging this weekend

400+ cookies took over my life...

More cookies and cooking to come this week. Hopefully also some time for blogging!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday Season in the City

Another reason why I love this city....
Picture taken by my talented roommate!

Harpoon Xmas anyone?

Common Ground in Allston

Columbus Park

Customs House!
Happy Holidays!  What is your favorite holiday scenery?

The Paint Bar

I will be the first to admit that when my good friend Steph said that we would be celebrating our friends Kate's Bday at the Paint Bar I was totally apprehensive!  I mean, come on... I can barely make a stick figure never mind paint an entire picture with a plethora of paints! 

However, knowing the fabulous ladies that would be in attendance and that it was Kate's bday I was convinced we would have a great time!  Little did I realize how much fun we would have on a Sunday night!

Right off of the Pike in Newtonville
Our group arrived early to enjoy some appetizers we brought and a few glasses of vino provided by the Paint Bar. We were also able to chat with Co-Owner Jill about the Paint Bar. She was great!  Jill definitely made us feel welcomed and confident about being able to create a painting by the end of the class! (I still thought she had met her match with me!!)

The painting that we would be recreating!

You can see the fear in my eyes!!!!
Only 4 brushes?  Honestly, where are the rest?!?!?!

Our fabulous teacher Jackie!

Happy Birthday Kate!!!

What mix the white AND the blue on one brush?!  What if I mess it up?!?!?!

Yes I know it is upside down!  The teacher told us too!!!

Did I mention it was couples night??! Yeah, but no fear, all the single ladies just rocked the left side of the painting...
Look Mom, I made mountains and happy little trees...

You want me to put a black line thru my happy little trees?!?!?!?!
I am pretty sure it was at this point when she told us to paint a big black line thru our paintings that my type A brain blacked out!  I had made it thru mixing blue and white on one brush but this was sheer insanity!!!
But alas, as you can see this foodie actually managed to produce a 6th grade version of the original painting! My mom better make room on her fridge for this masterpiece!!!!
Note the beer, it was prescribed by the peeps at the paint bar whenever our type A personality started acting up...

As you can see some of the ladies in our group are WAY more talented than me...

Thanks to Steph for planning this night and the ladies of the Paint Bar!  We are already planning to go back around St. Paddy's day.  Want to join us?  The more the merrier!