Friday, April 29, 2011

Kitchen Favorites!

OK, so I have been doing a bit of cooking the past few weeks and quickly realized that there are several items in my "city sized" kitchen that I would be lost without.  Soooo I thought I would share with you all some of my faves... then you can share with me your "go-to" kitchen must haves..

Deal?  Good, then lets get to the sharing.....

Cuisinart Immersion Blender
This tiny kitchen wonder is actually what inspired this post today. A few weeks back I made a "curried coconut milk apple sweet potato soup" that was one of the quickest and easiest dinners I have ever made. 

The reason for the ease was mainly thanks to my Immersion Blender.  After sauteing the veggies for a few minutes I added my broth and let it come up to temp.  When that I was ready I blended my soup into creamy healthy heaven in under 2 minutes!  That was it!  15 minutes from cutting board to bowl.  The traditional process would have had me ladling hot soup into a blender creating a mess and plethora of dirty dishes!

This gem is also a dream when it comes to smoothies, frozen banana ice cream and even has the option for a chopping attachment!

Cuisinart 5-1 Griddler

This baby is another must have!!  Whether I am grilling chicken, vegetables or veggies burgers I never need a full size grill.  Or if the mood strikes me I can whip up pancakes, fry up some bacon or even toast my bun....

Living with a tiny kitchen means space is valuable!  The fact that this tiny multi-tasker can tucked away and clean up is just two simple non-stick plates makes cooking a healthy weeknight dinner easy, fast and enjoyable! 

Kitchen Aid Mixer
I received this epic piece of kitchen gear several years ago from my parents.  I am not lying when I tell you that I grasped on to the box squealing with joy like a "14 year old girl who was just hugged by Bieber"!!!  I honestly thought I was going to have to wait for a wedding registry to get this bad boy.  To me it represents all that is good with cooking.  It is classy, functional, sturdy and can adapt to whatever you need it to be.  Bread - done!  Cookies - Piece of Cake pun intended!)

What's that you are craving ice cream?  There is an attachment for that!  Sausage - an attachment for that!  Pasta?  You guessed it!  There is an attachment for that.

I know what you are thinking... Beth it is so expensive why do I need that?  I truly think that the time that this machine saves you in the kitchen will really pay for itself in a year.  Plus, it is just plain sexy!  Yeah, I said it, I think my Artisan 6QT Stainless Steel Mixer is Sexy!!! 

Toaster Oven
This last gem is probably the most used and yet underrated piece of equipment in our apartment.  I would say the roomie and I use it daily if not several times a day.  From toast to sweet potato fries full meals can be made in this mini powerhouse!

Not to mention when you are cooking for one or two it is soooo much easier to heat this baby up then a full oven.  Your clean up consists of throwing away tinfoil!!!

I have been known to whip up pizzas, fries, sandwiches, chicken dishes, and many other crazy concoctions in this tiny super power house.   It is an inexpensive piece of equipment that deserves the counter space and will surely pay for itself in a matter of weeks.!!!

Ok so those are my top ones!  I could go on and on by knives and micro-planers and coffee pots (oh the coffee pots) but I digress....

Your turn!  What can you not live without when preparing a meal for one or twelve people?

Have a great weekend everyone and get out and enjoy this sunshine!!!!!!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Taking an Online Challange

I like to think of myself as a knowledgeable foodie.  Someone who knows that sweet potatoes are good and Mc'y Ds french fries are bad. 

who doesn't love truffle tater tots covered in cheese?!
Even with all my knowledge of good and bad foods, I have still managed to pack on a few extra pounds over the past year.  Nothing to be extremely concerned about but I am not happy with my overall appearance and want to make a change now before my weight does balloon into an unhealthy range.

Going against my nature of wanting to do it all myself I decided to enlist the help of what seems to be a tried, tested and approved method of revamping my eating habits. I have signed up for the online program of Weight Watchers

The plan is to track what I eat daily (seems simple enough) and try to stay within the allotted points given to me by WW.  As to not freak myself out too much I am starting week one by eating what I normally do and see what the point values are compared to what the recommended allotment is.  And lets be honest knowing that I would be tracking myself I have been preparing salads and veggie snack bags at work.  Even still I was still pretty dumbfounded with the first 2 days of points. 
You mean banana bread isn't healthy?! bleh!

WW suggests that I stick with 29 points per day with an extra 49 points to be used throughout the week.  Fruits and veggies have 0 points so I can have as much as I like. 
I can eat this WHOLE table for 0 Points!! (yes I would probably be very sick from that much food but still.....)
Where I was surprised was how quickly my love for feta cheese and my snacks of crackers and pretzels (and nightly beer!) add up.  The first 2 days my scores where 44 and 41!  Now granted that did include an airport breakfast and a bit of binging on homemade banana bread from the boy. 

It was still pretty eye opening to see that a handful of mini-cheese crackers has the same value has the turkey with veggies, mustard on a TJ's sandwich thin!!! 

So whats the plan going forward you ask?  For the immediate future it is to continue to educate myself about what I am putting into my gullet and trying to revamp it through baby steps.  I am not looking to drop 15 lbs by next week.  Quite the contrary, I want to get to a place where I am comfortable knowing what I am preparing and eating. 

My life is only going to get crazier over the years. I would rather know now that if I switch the crackers for a bag of veggies w/ a cheese stick I can be comfortable with the extra glass of wine or piece of dessert and not hate myself the next day.

Who can say no to a cannoli?!

So this is my challenge to myself:
To become aware of what I am shoveling into my gullet every 2 hours.

Yes, I eat every 2 hours & have no shame admitting that.  I love food, wine and everything about them. I refuse to deny myself the immense pleasure a fine wine or hunk of aged cheese can bring to you, but I would like to stay healthy while doing it.  

This challenge will hopefully give me the tools and insight as to what my body needs, craves, can live without and what I must have no matter what (that is where the cheese and wine come in!)
Never give up the wine!

So what about you?  Have you tried Weight Watchers or another online tool?  What are your tips for staying healthy and happy all while trying to locate the perfect burger or slice of pizza?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My Boston - No Reservations

Ever since Anthony Bourdain came out with No Reservations on the Travel Channel  I have been a huge fan!

I say all the time to anyone that will listen that my ideal Travel Channel Show would be a day quahoging on Martha's Vineyard with Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs and then taking all of our plunder to Larsen's Fish Market in Menemsha where Mike, myself and Bourdain would eat and drink the night away on the beach (heaven right?!  I know!!!!)  

So when I saw that the newest No Reservations episode was focused on Boston last Monday I was over the moon with excitement!  Tony was coming to Boston!!!
The episode focused on the Boston of Tony's memories, dreams and pages of mob mysteries of his youth. The more gritty mob/blue collar Boston in Bourdain's mind from movies and books that he has read over the years.
I thought it was a great way to show the city instead of the typical tourist spots you always see. (Not that I don't love Fanuiel Hall but there is more to our city then that and Union Oyster House).

For one hour Tony perused the streets of Southie, Dorchester and East Boston for some yummy eats, great drinks and stories with "local yocals"

What I didn't expect from this show was the large amount of traffic on Twitter during and after the show of people upset that Tony didn't do the typical culinary tour of Boston.  I agree that our city as some amazing world class dining but lets be honest.  The majority of Bostonians are not dining out at high end restaurants every night.  They are dining at the local mom and pop shops or "stumbling" to their favorite dive bar.

So in honor of No Reservations visiting my town and specifically my neighborhood I thought I would share with you all MY BOSTON.  The places that I frequent and have been frequenting since I moved to this side of Boston almost 8 years ago.  

Oh and if someone from the Travel Channel is reading this, I am SERIOUS about a combined Dirty Jobs/No Reservations special... CALL ME!!!

What can I say about the Banshee except that it is true comfort in every sense of the word.  A local pub with great food, off the boat wait/bar staff and a plethora of sports games going at all times of the day.

I started going to the Banshee when I was still in college and since then it is my default place out.  Whether it is a rainy Saturday afternoon or finishing the night out, the Banshee always seems to be my answer.

Where else can you go for a perfect pint, Irish Beef Stew and still be welcomed and brought into a conversation with the old guy on the stool next to you?  Not many places I hate to say it. There is just something about the combination of memories, good beer and people that make this neighborhood gem my favorite place time after time!!

Mul's Diner

Mul's is a Southie institution that life long residents and "newer" southie implants always seem to flock too. 

Whether you chose to snag a stool at the counter with your Boston paper of choice or wait in a line that can easily wrap around the block for a table it is worth it! 

From huge portion sizes of French Toast, Omelets to a traditional Irish Breakfast. Mul's cooks up delicious simple breakfast and lunch goodies that are perfect for even the worst hangover (just saying....).  Like I said, you can usually find a huge line on the weekends your best bet is to sneak in on a weekday and enjoy a hearty breakfast or simple lunch with the locals.  That way you avoid getting the evil eye from the other hungry patrons waiting to enjoy the goodness that is Mul's!
Nestled right in the heart of Castle Island is a take out place that stole my heart the first time I smelled the amazing wafts of onion rings escaping from its open doors almost 10 years ago. 
Surrounded by some of the best views of Boston, Dorchester Bay and the Boston Harbor Islands is a tiny take out spot that is perfecting hot dogs, fried clams and onion rings!  Nothing fancy shmancy.. just great food that you crave when down by the water....

I have been known on many many occasions to walk the 4 miles to Castle Island from my apartment just to enjoy the onion rings and then walk the 4 miles back.  I think anyone who walks 8 miles deserves perfectly battered halo's of goodness.. don't you?!

Prices are reasonable and you are guaranteed great views and even better people watching!!! 
Tucked inside the Blasi's cafe in Dorchester is perhaps the best deli in Eastern Ma!! (yeah i went there!!!).  This family run deli makes fresh, huge and delicious sandwiches that can feed you for days!!  I personal favorite is the roast beef but the menu is extensive. 

As with the other places listed here there is nothing fancy about the Fat Belly Deli.  The staff focuses on giving you delicious and wonderful sandwiches & salad's with the freshest ingredients. 

If you decide you can't wait to eat your sandwich there is a porch outside or even better you can take a seat inside at the Blasi Cafe and order any of the deli's sandwiches right off the menu.  While there you can usually be guaranteed to see locals that have been coming to the deli for years!!  And like the other places I mentioned, sometimes the people watching can be best thing of the day.

This small list does not even begin to scratch the surface of my favorites for Southie and Dorchester but they do represent what I love about these neighborhoods.  These establishments focus on simple good food and service. They recognize that the people of their neighborhoods are what will keep them successful year after year.  Is there anything better than walking in somewhere and seeing that the guy next to you as been coming since he was a kid and is now taking his kid there? 

We all want a connection to our neighborhoods, something that makes us feel a part of a community.  It just so happens that it is usually the corner diner that does it best.

What is your favorite place in your neighborhood?  Did you agree with Tony's view of Boston?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I like weird things!

My confession of the day... I like weird/dorky things. ANYTHING Scify, a near obsession with giant squid facts, stinky cheeses, dark bitter coffee/chocolate & beer etc... you get the point....

As long as I can remember I have liked things that my family has rolled their eyes at or laughed when I asked them to try it. (Tofu sausage egg scramble is probably the most normal experiment I have put them thru).

Some of my tamer likes are turkey sandwiches for breakfast, one pot veggie messes, miso soup at any time of the day and sunny side eggs on my salads....

However as I get older and travel more I realize that my pallete is not unique and there are PLENTY of people out there who love the same quirky food favorites that I eat regularly.  The recipe below is one of my weird craving moments that resulted in a delicious veggie burger that I may or may not have been eating with every meal since (honestly, who has a veggie burger on an onion roll w/ garlic tzatziki for breakfast?  THIS GIRL!)

I have been experimenting with various types of veggie burgers the past few months.  One because they are so expensive at the store and two because to me, the frozen store bought versions actually taste like cardboard to me and not veggies.

So, with an intense craving and fridge full of CSA veggies I got to making a burger!  I had an idea in my head of the recipe from when I made black bean burgers a while back.

I scoured the fridge/pantry and pulled out the following items:

Trader Joe's Spiced Soybeans
Trader Joe's ready to eat steamed lentils
2 med size zucchinis grated
1 large carrot grated
aprox 1 cup of breadcrumbs
2 eggs beaten

Place your beans into a bowl and with a handy dandy potato masher take out the stress of the day on your beans.  You can mash as much or as little as you like.  I prefer a bit of mash and a bit of recognizable beans in my burger mash.
Next add your grated veggies.  Again another chance to work out some stress....

Add in your egg and bread crumbs to the mix
Farm fresh egg! So orange and colorful!!!!
Now the fun part, get your hands dirty and start mashing that gorgeous mixture till it is evenly incorporated.  You are going to have eyeball the amount of bread crumbs you use.  You want the mixture to stick together but at the same time not be overly wet or dry... 
Once you are happy with the consistency, form the little buggers into classic burger patty shapes.

This batch made 7 burgers PLUS enough mix leftover to fill 1/2 a gallon ziplock bag.  I froze that to use another time.

Using a grill pan or broiler sear these beauties until browned on both sides (aprox 5-6 minutes)
Once cooked enjoy these healthy fiber packed power houses however you desire.  My choice that night was onion roll with Tzatziki dip, sliced cucumber, spinach and a side salad w/ all the fixins'

Voila! Happy Hippie Crunchy Dinner for One
Oh yeah... I also paired this uber earthy crunchy dinner with my all time favorite stout... A GUINNESS!!  (what! I can't be all crunchy all of the time!!!)
Waterfall of pure happiness aka Guinness!!!!
So what are some of your favorite things that are not so popular with your family and friends?  This is a safe place, I won't tell anyone I swear!!  hahaha

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Have you ever thought to yourself... I would love to start my own veggie garden, brew my own beer or hell make my own pasta but then the reality of the project is too terrifying to attempt?  

Yeah me too!!!

However, sometimes I am an impulse consumer and attempt projects on a whim.  All of the road races I have run and many many nail polishes have been purchased over the years on a whim and an insane notion that "hell that sounds easy"......

This very impulse hit me several weeks ago when I kept reading about home brewing your own Kombucha Tea online.  The tea is very tasty and has many health benefit claims attached to it (read Kombucha benefits here)

This fizzy pro-biotic tea is a hit amongst food bloggers and frequent visitors of Whole Foods Market alike.  (it pairs perfectly with a hot bar "to-go" dinner!!) The down side to this healthy carbonated elixir is the cost.  The average bottle costs anywhere from $2-4!  That can add up pretty quickly. 
so good but sooo expensive!!!

So the frugal lady in me thought: "hell, i can do that".  So I went online and ordered my very own starter kit.  To be honest, after I ordered I started to freak out!  

How was I going to brew my own fermenting tea?  

Where was I going to store it?  

Will the whole apartment smell?  

Am I going to get myself sick by drinking something that went bad? 

How would I know if it went bad?!

Welcome to my brain! 

So when my packaged arrived I was even more freaked out.  The bag containing the SCOBY (your starter "mushroom") had leaked a bit and it reeked of vinegar. 

Did I mention I had it delivered to work?! (you can imagine the questions I got from reception when a leaky box reeking of vinegar came addressed to me). 

Yup its for me, no its not poisonous...I am going to attempt to make tea, yes I know it smells....
Yes it is actually drinkable and good for you... STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT......
Ok so maybe some of that was in my head but it was still awkward......

When I got everything home, I waited a few days to work up the courage and I knew my roommate would be out of town.  She puts up with a lot of my experiments, so I thought I would spare her one that smelled of old wine barrels!

I don't have any pictures of this first stage, because honestly even as I was making it I had already convinced myself that it would end badly..... 

But you know what.....  IT DIDN'T!!!

A little over 2 weeks of mixing my sweet tea mixture with the provided mushroom, this girl had a perfectly fermented jar of Kombucha Tea with the prettiest "mother" mushroom starter to show for it!

Yeah, this is my mushroom!  So happy & healthy!!!
I strained the tea and reserved the mushroom and about 2 cups of liquid to start my second batch.  The rest was ready to be bottled and flavored. 
Strained TEA!!!!
Being a bit worried that my first batch might be a bit too sour I purchased some organic Dark Cherry Juice to jazz up the flavor and give my kombucha bacteria a little sugar rush to help with carbonation in the bottle.

I put the cherry juice in my Ball Mason Jars first and then filled them to the top with tea.  ( I snagged these jars at BB&Beyond for around $10.  Seal-able, Glass and Reusable!!  SWEET!

My first batch harvested 5 jars of tea (aprox 16oz each). Not bad for someone who thought it was all going to get chucked in the first place.
Not jelly... but tea!!!!
Instead of storing the "mother mushroom" I instantly got to brewing a second batch of sweet tea.  I think I am going to go these pretty quickly and already plotting buying a bigger glass jar to make more tea (anyone have a 2-5 gallon glass jug they care to donate? haha)

All and all I am so pleased with this experiment.  The minimal $$ it took to start this process is a drop in the hat compared to what I would have spent on tea from the store.

If you have any questions about the specifics of brewing or where to get your own starter kit I HIGHLY suggest heading to KombuchaKampCom.  They are amazing, answer any questions you have and always ensure that you are getting fresh organic products!

Side note, I was not paid or given any incentives to promote Kombucha Kamp, this was based on my own experience with them and my opinions.
Can you see the happy pro-biotics hanging out?