Holiday Feasting

If your holiday season was anything like mine it included goodies of all kinds, and often. Here’s a journey through the last few days of family, friends, and FOOD.

A holiday gathering with friends was made more special with delightful holiday beer. Of course they had the regulars as well but I’m a sucker for seasonal beers. I thought it was a really nice touch to have a few seasonal varieties on hand.

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Some other fun additions they served was a decadent bark. This would be a fantastic post-halloween treat as well. Bittersweet chocolate was topped with pretzels, melted red & green chocolate, and all the candy and cookies you can think of. Bittersweet chocolate was definitely necessary since milk chocolate would make it over-the-top sweet. The pretzels added a nice sweet/salty/crispy aspect.

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Lastly they served roasted chestnuts! I hadn’t ever had them but fell in love. They have a real woodsy flavor. They are meaty and substantial. A little cut on the bottom made them easy to pop right out. Check out how nicely the bowl complimented the nuts too!

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Ok, lets move on to some holiday meals. Breakfasts are my favorites. Christmas Eve was already my 2nd day of holiday celebrations with the C family and we had a crockpot scramble dish including ham, egg, cheese, and shredded potato. We also served Ebelskiver (translation: dutch filled-pancake). These are tasty and really fun. Mr. J is a master at turning them so he did the honors. We filled them with raspberries, banana, and chocolate chips. More than 3 options just gets confusing.

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The pan only allows for a few per batch but we found out the first time making them that this is probably all that we could keep up with at a time anyway. Williams Sonoma makes fancy turners for $12.95 but bamboo skewers work just fine. We kept them warm in the oven while making the rest. I’ll post again about these…they’re that good.

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After discovering a Christmas journal from 1987 we realized the R fam has been eating a traditional Christmas breakfast since at least since then. It is a casserole (to be made the night before) with rice, eggs, velveeta, ham, and asparagus. It’s delectable and nobody is ever ready for a change.

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The other benefit is that it just gets popped into the oven while gifts are in progress and nobody misses anything! We also have a partridge and a pear tree, minus the partridge. Though I’m not sure why, the top of the tree gets a sugar cube with a drop of flavored extract lit on fire for a second.

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Dinner time? There’s no set tradition with the R family so this year we had ham. Yum! Sides included the best sausage stuffing ever, creamed onions, green beans, and a baked fruit on the side.

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Check out the BLT skewers I made with Mrs. C. She brought them to church on Christmas Eve and they were such a hit. How is it that I’ve never had super thick cut bacon? I’m now enlightened. Wow. We cut one end of the grape tomato off to make it stand better.

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One last delectable thing I ate (and ate) was sis’ sticky buns. The recipe will follow soon! Hope everyone else had great meals too!

In the zone, the CALzone: Turkey Meatball & Spinach

I loooove to make calzones. I think the ratio of crispy crust to inner fillings or would-be pizza toppings is the best. It is also a great use for leftovers or the occasional less-than-perfect ingredient.

This calzone was turkey meatball, fresh spinach, and cheese. Dough definitely plays a big role in the calzone but dough varies in ease and quality. I went with refrigerated dough and pre-made turkey meatballs.

The trick is to fill the calzone much more than it looks like it can hold. Calzones fall into those “contents may settle while in motion.” I bought a ton of spinach and thought I could use it here.

Ingredients

1 ball of refrigerated pizza dough
4 turkey meatballs
2 cups shredded mozzerella
3 cups spinach, chopped
1 egg, whipped

Directions:

1) Stretch pizza dough out using your hands and spread out on lightly greased pan.
2) Top half of dough with sliced meatballs, spinach, and cheese alternating layers.

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The trick is to fill the calzone much more than it looks like it can hold. Calzones fall into those “contents may settle while in motion.” I bought a ton of spinach and thought I could use it here.
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3) Fold over and secure all the way around. Make a few slits to let steam out before brushing with eggwash.
4) Bake at 375 degrees for about 30-minutes until golden brown.
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Some of my other favorite calzones include: green apple, brie, and prosciutto; chicken parmesan; and ham and cheese. Literally anything could fill them up but I draw the line at going too far out of the box with Chinese or Mexican. That’s just crazy.
Calzones are great appetizers or as a meal. I might bring some to Christmas with the future in-laws!

Ardeo Mediterranean Deliciousness

Our winter girls family get-away weekend included one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. We dined at Ardeoa Mediterranean restaurant with 5 locations in Cape Cod.ardeo_sign
I simply adored it. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in awhile and I can’t say enough good things. Mum, Sis, and I loved each bite.

Mediterranean cuisine is definitely a favorite of mine because of some of the spices and the unique flavors. There was such a great freshness and boldness that I was 100% content with my meal choice.I had lamb mousaka. I saw it and knew I couldn’t pass it up. Lamb is the only red meat I eat so I was pleasantly surprised to see this Greek classic made with a twist! Lamb instead of beef? Yes please! It was served on what would be a serving platter in my home. I ate it for two, albeit hefty, meals.

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The menu boasts: flash fried eggplant with seasoned ground lamb, sauce bechamel, thinly sliced potatoes, spinach and feta cheese. This doesn’t do the plate justice. I loved the eggplant, cooked perfectly and not at all bitter. The sliced potatoes were great since often they are whipped for mousaka. The feta was salty and there was a MOUND of fresh spinach barely wilted on top. I did have to dig a bit to get to my dinner beneath the leafy green. Delicious nonetheless.

Mum got a petit leg of lamb stuffed. The lamb was perfectly pink and stuffed with brie and asparagus. There was a sweet potato hash and a sauce beyond her words. Mum smartly didn’t try to take any home knowing it wouldn’t be the same reheated.

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Sis got Eggplant Rollitini. Her eggplant was also flash fried and then stuffed with garlic, basil, spinach, ricotta, and Romano cheese. It then is baked with mozzerella and pink sauce. Hers was also topped with a MOUND of fresh spinach too.
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This meal was really great. Fire roast anything and it’ll be better. I thought the ingredients were incredibly fresh tasting. How refreshing that they serve quality food done right. There weren’t any crazy surprises. Everything just worked and the talent of the chef was obvious.

Likes: oversized portions, freshest ingredients
Dislikes: no locations near me, too much spinach on some entrees.

Flour

Flour Bakery & CafeI’ve enjoyed all different foods at Flour and I will miss working right near the new Central Square location when my office moves. This one bakery/restaurant shines above all the others and I’m so glad they took a chance on Central Square Cambridge.

Everything is good. Everything is unique. Everything tastes like they made it just for you. Some of my favorite sandwiches there I COULD make myself, but they do it better.

I recently had a great tomato, mozerella, pesto sandwich and one of the homemade oreos. The sandwich is so great because instead of basil leaves, they smear pesto on and you can smell the freshness even before taking a bite.

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Another fantastic choice is the smoked turkey, vermont cheddar, and cranberry chutney. You can get any of the sandwiches pressed which brings out the love in this one. The roasted lamb, goat cheese, and tomato chutney is good, but might have too much goat cheese.Bakery items are to die for…you can’t go wrong! I had the oreo for the first time recently and thought it was great! I expected it to be more spongy, like a whoopie pie. It was perfectly crisp and delightful.

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I look forward to more of Flour’s goodies.Likes: oreos, cookies, and sandwiches
Dislikes: pricey

Sweet Potato (Take Deux) Pasta

I made mashed sweet potatoes and, as is the case with all mashed potatoes, there was so much more than we needed. I actually googled to find out more about freezing them. Most of my findings remarked about how inexpensive they are so what’s the point. What’s the point? The point is that I hate grocery shopping and recreating leftovers is a challenge I’ll gladly accept! Reusing leftovers is in my blood.
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This pasta was based on a pumpkin pasta I love and worked pretty well as my leftover re-do. I should have blended it for a smoother texture but it was pretty good. Carbs + carbs = yummy.

Ingredients

-Salt
-½  pound short pasta (farfalle)
-1 cloves garlic, chopped
-½ cup chicken broth
-1 cup canned pure pumpkin puree OR 1 cup mashed sweet potatoes
-½ cup heavy cream
-1 pinch ground cinnamon
-1 pinch nutmeg
-4 leaves fresh sage, thinly sliced


Directions

Cook pasta

While the pasta is in the water, in a medium skillet, heat 2 tbs olive oil olive oil and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the chicken broth, pumpkin and cream. Add cinnamon and nutmeg; season with salt and pepper.

Lower the heat and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the sage.

Toss the pasta with the sauce.

Don’t Spare the Flatbread

Flatbread Company at Sacco’s Bowl HavenBowling and beer. What a great combo? Flatbread Company thought so for their newest location in Davis Square. This isn’t your average pizza and I was really impressed. Mr. J and I had a Sunday afternoon date and loved it! FYI, Sundays are QUITE busy. We reserved a lane and came back for our pizza before bowling time. We had been meaning to go for a while and our Groupon was just the motivation we needed.

The bar area was huge and since a large group was about to move into the dining area so we chose to sit at the bar. The bartenders were friendly and attentive.

We chose ½ and ½ from the specials menu. One half alfredo, chicken, and broccoli, the other half butternut squash, apple, ricotta, and dried cranberries. Wow. Delicious. The crust was crispy and had great doughy bubbles.

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The white side (contrary to the orange side) was definitely lacking in the chicken criteria. I loved the broccoli florets. The alfredo was creamy and the perfect amount.

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The orange side was my favorite. I was oooing and awwing so much I couldn’t bite as quickly as I wanted to. The butternut squash was sweet and nutty. I’m not sure, but I believe Flatbread Company made the ricotta. It was amazing, homemade or not. Apple slices rounded it out but our pizza was missing the dried cranberries.

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I’d definitely be back to Flatbread Company. These pizzas are delicious and worth it. I see a take-out flatbread in my future. I wish the server had mentioned that we’d pay a lot more to have half and half, but it was worth it.

On the way out of the bar we got a peek at the baked squash I had just enjoyed so much. Look how amazing they look!

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Bowling was fun but it was highly disorganized. Everyone’s games end at the same minute AND you have to keep score yourself. If you’re anything like me and have spent more bowling time tying laces on your friends funny shoes than learning the rules, then you too don’t know how to keep score. We just played until we had our fill and left our shoes to be sprayed.

The atmosphere is part old-school bowling ally, part stylish organic pizza. This is a genuine good time.

Likes: the specials are amazing, quality ingredients, comfortable vibe
Dislikes: 1/2 and 1/2 pizza costs more, bowling was disorganized

Mess Soup

I wasn’t feeling under the weather. I wasn’t feeling down. I just like soup…all the time. Sometimes it’s just time for soup, and that time usually lasts about six servings. My “recipe” is more of a method than than a recipe per se.I learned from my mum that every leftover there is can be transformed. Mum always makes soup that can’t be replicated…because the ingredients differ each time and she deserves all the credit of my soup.

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We freeze leftovers, all together. Everything is cooked first, spices for the soup comes from the spices when I cooked it the first time. My freezer container starts to have this cool layering affect from the many ingredients. I call it Mess Soup because that’s what it is.

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This batch included corn and white rice with cilantro from a Mexican meal. There were some caramelized red onions, lots of swiss chard, cous cous, and a surprisingly minimal quantity of chicken.I add a package of soup starter to pull it together. It cooks for about an hour and it’s great. Mess soup has great combinations and makes me feel warm and reminds me of the many meals that this came from.

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I like how thick it gets and much it needs to be stirred…I come from a long line of avid stirrers.

Adorable Betsy’s Diner

Betsy’s Diner – Falmouth, MAOn a family girls trip to Falmouth, MA we went to the legendary Betsy’s Diner. Sis, Mum and I had some great meals you’ll hear about later. We rounded out the weekend with a traditional diner breakfast.

I love diner food, especially breakfast. Betsy’s Diner was great. The inside was so adorable with  great vintage tables and accessories. There was a very cool, partly 3D mural that had some seasonal inserts. Santa was there now!

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Our server was prompt and kept the coffee coming. There were a few specials featured that day: some sort of chocolate chip pancake, eggs benedict, and a Portuguese eggs Benedict with linguica.

I chose my standard: sausage, egg, and cheese on a bagel. The bagel was grilled crispy and buttery. I love love love when I get to choose the cheese. My choice? Cheddar, obviously.

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Stuck on an island with only one meal I’d have sausage, egg, and cheese on a bagel or croissant. This one was delectable.

The hash browns weren’t the best. At such a charming spot I expected them to actually make their own hash browns…what a bummer. Ohh well, can’t win ‘em all.

Likes: endless supply of coffee, cheddar
Dislikes: hash browns could be better.

“Easy” Oreo Truffles

These no-bake cookies, excuse me, truffles, are by no means easier than baking a cookie. I’m not an avid baker but this turned out to be about the same amount of work. Mrs. E saw them in a magazine add so we gave ‘em a whirl. They were fun to eat, didn’t use many ingredients, but they were definitely more of a challenge than we anticipated.

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I think these “Easy Oreo Truffles” have been around for awhile but they seem to be a crowd pleaser. Kraft Foods included them in a recent magazine and the recipe is online everywhere!

Ingredients

-1 package Oreo Cookies, divided
-8 oz. Cream Cheese
-1 pkg. Baker’s Chocolate, melted

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Directions:

Set aside 6-8 cookies for the topping.
Crush cookies in food processor or in a sealed bag until finely chopped. Add cream cheese and blend.
Roll into 1″ balls with a mini melon baller or teaspoons.
Dip in chocolate, and sprinkle top with crushed cookies.
Refrigerate until chocolate hardens.

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These are extremely sticky. Mrs. E and I would advise figuring out a few tool options prior to getting your hands oreo-ified! Refrigerating the cream cheese mix and crushed oreo might have helped make it easier to form.

I also recommend melting chocolate chips instead of solid chocolate pieces. We used a double boiler allowing us to take our time to dip them. I first attempted toothpicks, to no avail…maybe it would have worked if the formed balls were frozen. I ended up dropping the formed balls into the melted chocolate on the double boiler and spooning them out.

What else could go inside? Maybe nuts would have been good for a varying texture. The recipe calls for 1” balls, we made them smaller but maybe bigger would have been better. My last thought was making them a cookie bar with a chocolate topping or making them into mini muffin tins with chocolate topping, of course.

Pasta with Home Baked Goodness

Miss L had me over for a delicious dinner. She made Baked Pasta as a deviation of Martha’s recipe. Ours didn’t include chicken sausage but Miss L has made it with it, or with chicken instead. The possibilities here are endless.

This was so good because of the strength of flavors but none were overpowering. Baked pasta warms the heart, especially in pink sauce with fontina. Yum!

Miss L was the perfect host by laying a premade dip (thanks to Trader Joe’s) and pita chips while dinner spent the last few minutes baking. Miss H poured the wine and the night began!

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Ingredients

Serves 8
-Coarse salt and ground pepper
-1 tablespoon olive oil
-1 medium red onion, chopped
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-1/4 cup vodka (optional)
-1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes with juice, lightly crushed with hands
-1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
-1/2 cup heavy cream
-1 pound rigatoni
-10 ounces baby spinach
-12 ounces smoked chicken sausage, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
-6 ounces fontina cheese, 4 ounces cut into 1/2-inch cubes and 2 ounces coarsely grated
-1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic. Remove from heat; add vodka, if desired. Return to heat; cook until almost evaporated, 1 minute.
  2. Stir in tomatoes and oregano; cook until tomatoes are falling apart, 10 to 15 minutes. Add cream; cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook pasta in the boiling water until al dente, according to package instructions. Add spinach, and cook just until wilted. Drain, and return contents to pot.
  4. Add tomato sauce, sausage, and cubed fontina to pot; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Divide evenly between two shallow 1 1/2-quart baking dishes.
  5. Top with grated fontina and Parmesan. Bake until browned and edges are crisp, 20 to 30 minutes.

This dish reminded me I don’t eat enough rigatoni or enough pink sauce. Martha kindly reminds her readers this makes enough for two smaller pans (to freeze one). The noodles were cooked perfectly and they absorbed the right amount of sauce to keep the flavor throughout.

I really liked this dish and thought it would be a great one to share with friends because this dish actually enables the host to enjoy the guests while it does it’s thang. There’s nothing worse than missing your company because you’re stuck in the kitchen.