Saturday, March 29, 2014

Happy Birthday to Meeee

It's my birthday! It's the one day of the year where I will be endlessly selfish and demand attention. Birthdays are a pass to be the center of attention and egotistical without all the judgement and anti-karma vibes from people around you. Therefore, I always make a thing out of my birthday because I can easily convince/guilt my friends into doing things they may otherwise not want to do or that I would not otherwise suggest. It's also like my actual New Year, a time to reflect on where I was a year ago and where I want to be a year from now.

Georgetown Cupcake's birthday treat
Lemme say that it's been a roller coaster of a year and I could not have foreseen most of the year's events if you had told me of them a year ago (does that make sense...). This year, I'm turning 25 which as far as I'm concerned, is a milestone birthday. Time to set some life perspective and maybe make some course adjustments. My sister taught me for my 13th birthday that part of becoming a woman is learning how to pamper yourself. Note taken! I spent last weekend pampering myself in preparation for birthday week. This included getting a makeover at my local Sephora (because I'm essentially 15 in makeup age and needed some help on how to be an adult) and giving myself an at-home facial with products from the Body Shop. I also gave myself a pedicure, indulged in some ice coffee and cookies, and bought some new shoes--nice tall heels, thank you very much!

Turning 17, like it was just yesterday...
As you can tell from some of my cost-effective meals, I'm a bit frugal so spending time and money on myself was a great birthday gift to me! There seems to be a trend going around of #100daysofhappiness so this week I tried to do something for myself each day that I loved to celebrate birthday week. Here's the wrap up:

Monday: In the spirit of Dine Out Boston, I went to Red Lantern with my cousin and at her encouragement, got a Shirley Temple with my fancy sushi meal. Shirley Temples were what I always got when I was dragged to my parents' parties or country club. I think it started my love of cherries and you can frequently catch me stealing cherries from the bar to add to my drinks, even if they don't typically have cherries on them. I never realized how easy these are to make and I assure you, many of these virgin cocktails will be consumed on my birthday.
Red Lantern recap!
Tuesday: My mom's birthday is two days after mine so we frequently share our birthday celebrations. Maybe that's why I love to make a big deal out of myyyy birthday, to celebrate independently. My mom has instilled many things in me, obviously, including a love of and indulgence in chocolate, hot cocoa, cinnamon toast and daffodils. Daffodils are some of the first signs of spring and come into season just in time for our birthdays. When my mom was a little girl, her grandparents had a huge field of daffodils and she passed this sentimental love down to me. So on Tuesday, I stopped at the local corner flower shop and bought myself two bunches of daffodils. They quickly bloomed into a sunny array of spring cheer.

And then my heart with pleasure fills; And dances with the daffodils 
Wednesday: I wasn't sure what to do with my Wednesday birthday thoughts, I was trying to pace myself and not eat large quantities of cake and chocolate prematurely. But when I got home, I had a package from my grandparents with my birthday gift. Excellent excitement! I restrained myself and didn't open it immediately but I got all giddy for presents.

Thursday: I don't plan these things, I just try to find something good in each day. Who knows what the day will bring. But as Julia Child said "a party without cake is just a meeting". And therefore, a day without cake is just another day. I'm surrounded by cupcake shops and I love cupcakes. Therefore, Thursday was devoted to enjoying a little premature birthday cake. It's someone's birthday somewhere so here's to you, friend!

Lemon-Raspberry cupcake from Sweet!
Friday: If you have ever seen the movie Practical Magic with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, you will understand this reference. If you haven't seen this movie, shame on you, go find it on Netflix. I love Sandra Bullock's witty charm that she brings to every movie. I also loved the idea of living in this house with all of your maternal figures helping you grow. Since birthday festivities will be on Saturday night, I wanted to stay in on Friday and watch movies but was likely going to be up at midnight. Cue midnight margaritas! I hate tequila but love margaritas (it's okay to be contradictory on such things) and celebrated my 21st birthday with margaritas. So it was a toast to me and my younger self and my future self and all the selves in between.

Saturday: Waffles. All the waffles. National Waffle Day was this past week but let's be real, it's a brunch food. Growing up, my dad would make waffles every Sunday, complete with strawberries and cool whip. And so, Saturday morning was devoted to waffles smothered in syrup, butter and strawberries. And mimosas, there were mimosas. Later tonight, my friends have been convinced to dress in Gatsby style to celebrate my quarter century. Like I said, I can ask anything of people for my big day. I will be decked out in sparkles and heels, sipping Prohibition Era cocktails.

These are a few of my favorite things
When my nephew was learning to count, we tested him by asking him to count the number of adults and kids at the table. The final count was n+1 and we pointed out he had counted too many. He looked confused and listed out the people he counted as adults and counted as kids. I was both an adult and a kid to him because I was "tall like a grown-up but really more like a kid" (or something like that). I have sadly since been fully allocated to the adult category but I relish being categorized as both and resist being only one. I vote for being childish in all the good ways (and not the petulant ways) and grown-up in all the good ways (like being independent) which leaves no room for bad in any way.

So tomorrow will mark the first day of a new year and a new, older me. More mature (pronounced ma-tour)? Perhaps. Wiser? Definitely. Happier and more adventurous? Abso-freaking-lutely.

See, I'm wiser already 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Shrimp Fra Diavolo

One of my favorite Christmas gifts was a subscription to Cook's Illustrated. Every other month, I get an edition filled with recipes and tips, chopped full of delicious ideas. Unlike other magazines with glossy ads and bright pictures, Cook's Illustrated lacks ads and is printed on regular old paper. It's a nice change and feels like a cook book in itself. I found a recipe for Shrimp Fra Diavalo, which was enticing even with just a little black and white image.

If using frozen shrimp, allow to sit in a bowl of cold water until thawed.
Do not use warm water or the shrimp will begin to cook.
This is a recipe that's in another language, or at least the name of the dish is. I initially thought this was a sauce that goes with pasta but it turns out it's great on its own or with some bread. This definitely falls into the slightly fancier realm of dishes because shrimp is not cheap. Compared to some of my other recipes, this was a little more up there in price but it's so tasty!

Plump tomatoes are pierced to release juices for the sauce and then crushed to create a thick texture
Once the shrimps are thawed and shelled, you brown the shells in a skillet with some white wine. Strained and mashed plump tomatoes are added to the dish and simmered to meld the flavors. I used this time to stomach washing the anchovy filets and mince them with the garlic. I have to say, anchovies are probably good for their fishy flavor but they're weird.

This is what a can of anchovies looks like. You only need one or two so most of the can goes unused.
After the garlic and anchovies saute, the tomato juice is added along with the tomato mixture. I let the whole thing simmer while I chopped the basil and parsley. The pepperoncini are also diced although I did have to Google what they were to make sure I had the right thing. When considering how much spice to add, I thought about the ingredients and how most of them weren't spicy. So I erred on the side of more red pepper flakes. If you don't like spice then I would only add half the amount of red pepper flakes.

Save some wine for the meal!
Lastly, the shrimp is added to cook to a nice pink color. The basil, parsley and pepperoncini are added shortly after the shrimp (so actually lastly). I allowed everything to simmer together while I cleaned up and served up a plate of it with sliced baguette. So fancy! This was very spicy for me so the bread was necessary to mellow everything out. Ultimately, this could also be served with some pasta or even quinoa or eaten plain.

Look at all those yummy spices simmering
If you're looking for a nice go-to for a dinner for two, this is a great way to cook up something new and delightful while still staying in. In my opinion, it's also impressive, if I do say so myself! This pairs well with white wine, conveniently required for this recipe.

Shrimp Fra Diavolo with French bread
  • 3/4 lb shrimp (20-25 shrimpies), peeled with shells reserved
  • 1 14oz can of whole peeled tomatoes
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (more for sipping while cooking)
  • 2 gloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 anchovy filet (rinsed then patted dry and minced)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 3/4 teaspoon minced pepperoncini and 1/2 teaspoon of brine
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
From America's Test Kitchen's Cook's Illustrated 
  1. After peeling the shrimp, toss the shrimp bodies with salt and set aside. Pour the tomatoes into a colander placed over a bowl to catch the juices. Using a rubber spatula or masher, pierce the tomatoes to release the juices. Transfer the drained tomatoes to a small bowl. Reserve the juices and used colander.
  2. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons of the vegetable oil in a skillet over high heat until simmering. Cook the shrimp shells in the skillet, stirring frequently, until they are spotty brown (1-2 minutes). Remove the skillet from heat and add the wine. When the wine stops bubbling, return the pan to heat and simmer until the wine has reduced to about 2 tablespoons (another 1-2 minutes although I found it took longer). 
  3. Add the tomato juice from step 1 and simmer for 3 minutes. Pour the contents of the skillet into the previously used colander (do not clean it out between steps) set over a large bowl. Throw away the shells and wipe out the skillet with a paper towel.
  4. Heat another tablespoon of vegetable oil with the garlic, pepper flakes and oregano over medium heat. Stir until the garlic is straw-colored, less than a minute. Add the minced anchovy and stir until fragrant. 
  5. Remove the pan from heat and add the drained tomatoes and crush until the mixture is pureed. Return the pan to heat and stir in the juice and wine mixture from step 3. Increase the heat to medium-high and simmer until the mixture thickens. I found this takes 5-10 minutes and does not become pasty but less soupy.
  6. Lastly, add the shrimp to the skillet and simmer until the shrimp appear pink and cooked through. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the basil, parsley, pepperoncini and brine. Season with salt to taste. Serve with french bread or over pasta and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sweet Cupcakes

Moving along with the on-going theme of things to do and discover in Boston, we have another blogger event which was hosted by a local cupcake shop, Sweet. I've made and consumed a lot of cupcakes in my time and Sweet was one of the cupcake shops that made my list of places to try when I first moved to Boston. They have a location very close to my office but they have been expanding their business each year, opening more and more locations in the Boston area.

Sweet View from Newbury Street
The first time I entered the shop, I thought it was so open and refreshing. Decorated with glass jars of candy and pink decor (without being overwhelming), it reminded me of a safe and sweet haven. Then I noticed they had Marie Antoinette playing on their television screen which I thought was extremely clever. They rotate movies on the screen related to sweets, providing entertainment to their customers.

Samples of their Irish Coffee cupcake
As for the cupcakes themselves, they have their stocked favorites such as Vanilla Vanilla but they also create seasonal treats. The first time I went to Sweet was in the spring so I sampled their lemon raspberry cupcake which was of course amazing! The cupcakes are made fresh each morning and they use additional bakeries to supply their gluten and nut free options. Recently expanding to also include cakes, they stock cookies, cupcakes, sheet cakes and other goodies like lollipops and cups of frosting. I am definitely one of those people who eats frosting straight from the container so I think it's genius to sell little cups of frosting for those rough days when you need a little extra goodness.

Their double dollop is their signature frosting style
My favorite of their standards is the carrot cake cupcake. After inviting local bloggers to their Newbury Street location, they brought out trays of miniature and regular sized cupcakes, with both their standard and St. Patrick's Day specials. Of course there were Baileys and Guinness inspired varieties as well as vanilla and chocolate decorated with leprechaun hats and shamrocks.

A little St. Patty's Day spirit!
It was great to hear all about Sweet's start in Boston, founded by a busy mom who wanted to be able to provide people with different kinds of cupcakes in a mixed dozen instead of buying straight vanilla or chocolate. Not willing to sacrifice health for flavor, the majority of their baked goods contain little artificial ingredients (with the exception of things like red velvet which has food coloring for that rich red tone). The stores cater and deliver and will even do custom orders for special occasions such as Valentine's Day or rockstars' birthdays (no biggie). Their next location will be opening in Chestnut Hill, branching out of the urban area they typically cater and more into the suburbs. And of course, I'm always happy to have cupcakes for dinner!

I whole-heartedly believe in the power of cake and frosting to turn a day around or serve as a gesture of kindness or forgiveness or happiness. You really can't go wrong with cake (unless you're one of those crazy people that doesn't like cake). So I hope you venture to Sweet and have a little cake for whatever you're looking for in life. Olive branches are weird, let them eat cake!

Almost too pretty to eat....almost

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Popchips Pizza

As part of my New Year's resolution to get out there and meet new people, I joined a local blogger group. This is one of the best decisions I've made since moving to Boston as I've met so many great ladies and had the opportunity to mingle among restaurants, bakeries and wineries. Last week, I attended a cooking competition a la Chopped, hosted by Workbar, Kitchen Surfing and Popchips.

All the cellphone photos
Kitchen Surfing provided the chefs, Popchips provided the product and Workbar provided the space (and cocktails) to create a cook-off and tasting event attended by local bloggers. You know it's a blogger event when everyone takes out their cell phones to carefully craft images of the on-going food prep and drinks served. The three chefs were tasked with incorporating popchips, potato chips that are popped instead of baked or fried, into their dishes. Each one was completely unique from the other. The three choices included popchips cheddar soup, which used over 300 bags of popchips (whaaaaat!!!), a pork sandwich with popchips in both the roll and the braised pork, and chicken and waffles.

The contenders! 
In our goody bags were six bags of popchips and the recipe cards for the dishes we had sampled. We bloggers have been tasked with the same challenge--create a dish that incorporates popchips and enter it into a competition where the public votes for their favorite recipe. Lemons unite!

My personal favorite for flavor and creativity 
I preferred the sandwich from Aprons Off because it used popchips in a unique way, baking them directly into the roll. It inspired me to make a popchips pizza, using the original flavored chips in the crust and then frying chicken that had been crusted with barbecue chips to create a popchips barbecue chicken pizza. My history with breads is pretty limited and my attempt at making rolls didn't go very well so I was a little nervous to try and make my own pizza dough, let alone alter it to include popchips. But that's what experiments are all about!

The lovely products
Turning to the interwebs for a simple pizza dough, I came across this flat bread recipe from the Food Network. It seemed easy enough and I substituted a portion of the flour for popchips. How much? Only a 1/4 cup although judging from the sandwich recipe, it should have been more. I allowed the dough to sit and 'rise' for an hour but it didn't really change much (huge shocker). Nevertheless, I continued with my preparations.

Not sure this is right but at least it's elasticy...
The chicken tenders were dipped in flour and then egg before being rolled in the crushed popchips and fried with vegetable oil. I didn't cook the pieces all the way through since they would be baked on the pizza further. I would recommend cutting the chicken pieces before you fry them instead of after, like I did. While I fried the chicken, I preheated the oven to 350 to bake the rolled out dough for 10 minutes.

Fry up some poppin' chicken
Everything came together with a little barbecue sauce and cheddar cheese. Spread over the flat bread and baked for another 10-15 minutes, the pizza came out looking delicious! Although the bread didn't rise as much as the recipe said it would, it worked very well as a flat bread and I think it tasted delicious with the barbecue sauce.

Altogether now!
It's been my lunch all week and I'm glad I gave this a try! The real reward (prepare for the cheese) was meeting some fabulous ladies at this event and reading up on their recipes as well. Even blogs that are not devoted to straight up cooking have given popchips-Chopped a try.

The final product in all its glory
Voting is now open, check out all of the creative recipes here! Voting is simple. you just leave a comment with your favorite recipe in the article.

Popchips Pizza

Flat bread Dough- substitute 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour with ground popchips from the Food Network's flat bread recipe.

Chicken and Extras- Place flour in a bowl, two whipped eggs in a second bowl and ground barbecue popchips in the third. Place chicken first in the flour, then eggs and lastly popchips. Place chicken strips into a pan with heated vegetable oil and crisp until the chips appear golden brown.

Once the flat bread has cooked in the oven for 10 minutes at 350, cover with barbecue sauce, chopped chicken and cheese. Cook the pizza for another 10-15 minutes until all ingredients are melted and cooked. Slice and enjoy!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Restaurant Week aka Dine Out Boston

In case you didn't know, I live in Boston. I moved here a little over a year ago (and by a little I mean one year and one week, but who's counting?) and have been so excited by all there is to do here. One of the first things I did with my new coworkers was go out to dinner during Boston's restaurant week to Capital Grille. I previously lived in Hartford and restaurant week happened semi-regularly among some of the top restaurants in the area. I knew those places by heart!

Boston, however, has a much larger array of restaurants participating. This year, they have also changed their pricing schema so instead of a fixed price across restaurants, the price varies slightly by restaurant. Even though the menu is somewhat fixed, it's a great chance to experience fancier cuisine you might otherwise pass up. Here are the top places I want to explore!

Boston Chops

I came across this restaurant while researching restaurants on Instagram for another article. While they don't appear to have an Instagram account themselves, so many people hashtagged them that they came up in my search. It sounds like the special in steak, something that has been seriously lacking in my life, but they also have a variety of options on their menu.

Taken from their website menu, this looks good enough to eat!


This place has a nice 1920's vibe with black and white tile throughout so of course I'm attracted to this location. I've been here for lunch before and ate waaaay too many truffle fries but I would be interested in checking out their dinner menu. The last time I went there for dinner, the wait was too long so I ended up around the corner at J.M. Curley's (also an excellent place, get the whiskey smash!). My guess is this place will be hoppin' for restaurant week but here's hoping!

Del Frisco's

After joining a local blogger group, I've had the opportunity to attend a lot of foodie events in the area and meet some great ladies! One of the events I missed was a brunch at Del Frisco's but boy did I see and hear all about it afterwards! Pictures and posts of delicious foods cropped up all over my newsfeeds and now I'm extremely tempted to check them out. They also have a great gluten-free menu, check out Gluten Free Boston's Girl's review!

This is actually a photo from a brunch attended by Gluten Free Boston Girl, sorry I missed it!
Melting Pot

My roommate has a fondue pot and I know she loves cheese, as do I, but we have yet to bust it out. Like I said, one year, one week and counting. I haven't had fondue as a meal before and the thought of dipping things in cheese for dinner sounds delicious. And messy, definitely messy. Personally I hope there's chocolate fondue for dessert.

Top of the Hub

On top of its ridiculous view and ridiculous mojitos, Top of the Hub's food has always looked amazing as it passes me by to more fortunate patrons. This is the place you take your parents and friends who are visiting from out of town to get a taste of how beautiful Boston is from the sky and to enjoy jazz music while sipping cocktails. It's fancy, we're usually under-dressed but they let us in anyways. Based on the level of fancy and their drink prices, this is one of those culinary dream restaurants where I would never spend so much money on dinner but since it's participating in restaurant week, why not? Maybe I can squeeze in a lunch there, see the city in the daylight for once--maybe.

Ummm, yes please
Union Bar & Grille

Another Instagram research find, this place looks like it has more than just burgers. Their website homepage alone has a collage of options that tempt me. A picture's worth a thousand words and they have a dozen of them so that's a lot of words and a lot of salivating by yours truly.

The homepage has a collage of menu options but this setting looks amazing!

There are more restaurants participating than just these ones and you can view their full menu on restaurant week's website. While it doesn't run on the weekends, lunch and dinner options will be available from March 16th-21st and 23rd-28th. What places are you most interested in exploring? Any recommendations? Leave a comment!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Simple Things

Let's get real about Sundays. It's a day to sleep in but not too much or you won't be able to sleep that night, leaving you tired for the Monday workday and it's a day to relax but not too much or you'll get the Sunday night jitters about forgetting to do something for the next day. So basically it's a day of balance where you have to be productive but not too productive or it negates the day of rest.

My Sundays usually start with a mid-day brunch, whether that's with friends or with my cat, breakfast and coffee are a must. Single Lady pancakes are my favorite solo brunch food since it's perfectly portioned and doesn't make a mess. If I could find a Single Lady waffle recipe, that would be a thing (note to self: invent a Single Lady waffle recipe. Make bank.). And there is always coffee. Coffee and brunch are consumed while watching ridiculous Sunday morning television like Say Yes to the Dress or movie reruns that I've seen a thousand times. It makes it easier to get up and get going if I'm not overly invested in a show. Because let's be real: the last two Sundays I've spent re-watching seasons 1 and 2 of Downton Abbey. For reals.

Jalapeno and corn pancakes. Amazing!
The relevant part of this post comes when it's time to do the grocery shopping and food prep. Tracy Shutterbean seems to have this process locked down and I'm inspired by her dedication to meal prep for her upcoming week. I go so far as to make my dinners and brainstorm lunches beyond the typical salad. Last week's lunch was the spicy chili (which is wildly popular on this blog apparently, thanks for reading!) and I've used chili and soup before as a salad substitute. I know it sounds simple but I do take into consideration what I have going on that week. Am I getting dinner with a friend? Is work providing me dinner some nights (yes)? I don't want to waste food or over-stock my fridge so sometimes I'll make two dishes and sometimes I'll make three depending on how bland my life is at the time.

This week, I thawed some leftover beef stew to pair with rice and bought some chicken to cook up a stir fry with some vegetables I already had leftover from the chili. That's the other planning part, determining what I have in the fridge that is going to go bad. Historically speaking, I'm terrible at cooking rice. Everyone told me to just get a rice cooker but I was resistant because it was another gadget that would take up space in my kitchen. Then I learned how to make fish curry and even my friend's Indian mom told me to get a rice cooker. So I did. And it's amazingly simple and always makes a mess but it's a great way to multi-task meal prep. While the rice cooked all on its own at one end of the counter, I prepared the stir fry. Stir fry is not going to take very long so I waited a bit to start cooking to give the rice a head start. I still ended up waiting for the rice but oh well.

Allow chicken to marinade for 10-15 minutes
Chicken tenders are cut into bite-sized portions and left to marinade in Soy Vay's teriyaki sauce. It's a favorite of mine and works great with chicken and salmon. Plus it's a clever name. While the chicken was marinading, I chopped up some carrots and bell peppers (I guarantee there was raw chicken transferred to the vegetables but I decided everything was getting cooked anyways). Carrots and chicken will take longer to cook so I tossed them in the  pan first. The marinade from the chicken also gets into the vegetables for extra flavoring.

So colorful!
Before adding the peppers, I steamed some frozen edamame in the microwave. I looked everywhere for the edamame without the shells but couldn't find it or I would have added it directly to the pan. As it were, I cooked the edamame and then shelled it into the stir fry at the end (which took awhile btw). The peppers and edamame are added once the chicken is almost cooked, essentially after you have browned it for a few minutes. I let the whole thing simmer while I waited for the rice to cook. Once everything was done, I spooned a scoop of rice into a bowl and added the vegetables. Voila! Easy dinner plus extra rice for the already existing left-overs. This could easily be lunch or dinner.

But for lunch this week, we're talking salad. For Galentine's Day, my friend Lisa brought over a salad that was ridiculously delicious and equally simple. There was no dressing required as the fixings were flavorful enough. It's simply spinach, chopped pears, dried cranberries, feta cheese (or bleu cheese) and pecans. Or at least that's what I ended up making. I bought a box of spinach (they were out of bags) and just mixed all the ingredients together to have a ready-made tupperware of salad that I could portion out for lunch.

The Lisa Salad
One hour of prep work later and I am set for the week. When I'm motivated and somewhat ambitious, I also bake on Sundays but recently there has been less baking and more cooking. However, Joy the Baker's pecan scones might bring me around next weekend! Here's to planning ahead!