Hola Empanada

Tacos make dinner feel like a party! I couldn’t remember making tacos since living in this apartment (about a year and a half). Mr. J swears we have but I don’t think so. We’ve definitely had burritos and even a tortilla pie, but I don’t think I’ve made hard tacos in years! I wanted something a bit more than a few tacos for the meal so I thought of empanadas….or my version.
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My favorite Mexian would cringe but I LOVE them with puff pastry, rather than pie dough. Since I’m not the slightest bit Mexican, I don’t care. Puff pastry is so flaky and buttery that I can’t switch to pie dough no matter how much of an impostor it makes these.I had a craving for tacos and was loving the fact that these weren’t going to require too many ingredients other than what I had on hand.Again, work is nutty right now and will be for about 40-something more days so tacos were a fun & quick weeknight meal.Remember when I became a genius and started getting up an hour earlier each morning? I chopped my veggies for the empanadas and defrosted some of the other ingredients so I was a step ahead when I got home.

Ingredients

frozen puff pastry sheets, defrosted
1 zucchini, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 tbs grilling rub, taco seasoning, or chili powder

Directions

Chop zucchini and onion and toss with spices of choice
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Saute until slightly soft
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Unfold puff pastry sheet and cut into 9-3 inch squares
Add zucchini and onion mixture into the center and fold into triangles to close
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Bake 20 minutes at 375 until golden brown
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These are so easy and a great side. Anything goes in empanadas but I think they make for the perfect warm side or appetizer and since I was serving them with tacos, I figured a veggie filling would be best. Puff pastry is flaky and puffs just how the name suggests so mine never seem to stay closed and I’m A-OK with that. This time I pinched the opposite corners together (making them less and less authentic all the time).

My tacos featured ground chicken, refried beans, lettuce, corn, cheese, and salsa in hard taco shells. I used some leftover ground chicken from my lasagna meat mix.

Life Savor Fundraiser Event Meal

The other night I had the pleasure of attending a benefit for one of my favorite organizations: Community Servings. I got to know them because they are a beneficiary of the fundraising my organization works so hard to raise.

Community Servings provides THOUSANDS of meals to patients, their caregivers, and dependants battling critical illnesses. I’ve volunteered in their amazing kitchen and I’ve had their delectable catering. Their annual Life Savor event raised $445,000 this year!

A group of my colleagues and I went and had the greatest time. The event starts with a cocktail party generously sponsored by the Langham Hotel. I’ve been to events at this hotel so amidst the crowds, I brought the gang to the “promise land” as Mrs. A called it: the Grey Goose Martini bar. Yum. We munched and drank while checking out the silent auction items before dinner.

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Dinner is at one of 80 different restaurants providing a special three course meal. Do you see the speckles? It snowed! We are taken on trolleys to a meal I’ll remember forever at West Side Lounge in Cambridge.

We started our meal with an aperitif with house-made, organic, citrus vodka muddled with blueberries. It was so delicious and a great way to welcome us which GM Leo Crowley continued by sending out an amuse bouche of a Chatham Oyster with a dollop of avocado creme fraiche paired with lightly fruity & Loire Valley white wine. From here we perused our special menus.

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As a food blogger, I loved that the GM introduced himself AND took our order. He talked us through the meal as well as the wine pairings. I could tell he pulled out all the stops on this meal. That’s precisely the reason I don’t always love restaurant week with it’s dumbed down menus and annoyed staff. I love that I have a newly discovered nearby restaurant!
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Our first course was a choice of Asparagus Creme Soup or Baby Spinach Salad with strawberries and toasted walnuts. I got the salad and was impressed that the strawberries were perfectly ripe despite this time of year. I didn’t taste the champagne vinaigrette but thought the dressing was good. Chardonnay provided a cool and refreshing pairing.

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Our second course was a pasta course. GM Leo told us that they tried making their own pasta and just couldn’t compete with Dave’s Fresh Pasta in my own Davis Square! This pasta course was Tomato, basil, and ricotta ravioli or lobster ravioli. I never turn down lobster so that’s what I went with. These have huge chunks of lobster inside and you can tell Dave’s Fresh Pasta didn’t skimp on the lobster here. Pinot Noir is my favorite red wine so this was one of my favorite glass.

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The main course was a choice of Parmesan Cod from Gloucester with basil mashed, asparagus and a tomato white wine sauce or Lamb Lollies with whipped potatoes and pea tendrils. I can only eat very small quantities of very specific red meat varieites but I went with the lamb. This was a great cut of lamb cooked perfectly pink. I don’t come across pea tendrils often, but I’m not convinced they were really part of the simple salad…the leaves seemed to big to be pea tendrils but I’m no connoisseur so maybe I’m mistaken. This meal was paired with another red wine but I was more focused on the food so I left with wine alone.

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More…yes, there’s more food and wine to come.

Our last (count ‘em, 4 courses) was dessert. Somehow we chatted about figs on the way to dinner and they showed up! Warm chocolate and fig bread pudding or flourless chocolate cake. Thank you West Side Lounge for providing true desserts (each with chocolate). We were busting at the seams so we all shared bites of each one instead of ordering our own. Unfortunately there was so much wine with each pairing, I could barely enjoy the riesling.

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I can’t thank West Side Lounge enough for participating in this very special fundraiser. I loved the meal, I loved the staff, and I will love to go back.

Intense Garlic & Balsamic Vinegar Chicken

I’d categorize Mr. J as a sauce person whereas my sauces don’t always come out perfectly. I think they are coming along. I made a lot of sauce even when making chicken-for-two. This was a FLAVORFUL meal.
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This was a pretty quick meal to put together and I loved the vinegar flavor. It felt different and made me want to use balsamic vinegar more often.

Ingredients

2 chicken thighs
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp butter, softened
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 cup of chicken broth

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper.
Heat the olive oil and cook chicken thighs until a medium golden brown, about 5 minutes.
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Flip the chicken over and cook for about 3 minutes.
Put chicken into the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
Add garlic to the chicken pan (careful: don’t let it burn).
Stir in balsamic vinegar and chicken broth over a low boil.

Whisk in mixed flour and butter to thicken sauce, cooking for about 2 more minutes over low.
Add in chicken and coat in sauce and cook for 5 minutes.
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I liked the balsamic flavor but also think I put in too much (I used about ⅓ cup) so I’d recommend a quantity of a few tablespoons.I eat a solid amount of chicken but I don’t use chicken thighs very often. They were a great change. A little dark meat here and there never hurts.
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I served this with mashed potatoes (with a touch of sour cream) and steamed green beans. It was a really comforting meal.

Bacon & Beer

I cannot believe that the Bacon & Beer Festival 2011 sold out in less than 24-hours. OMG!

This better be an April Fools Joke. I’m on the waiting list, but anyone who wants to bring me or who can get me can:

a) be a guest blogger (you may notice how rarely that happens here)
b) be quoted, and photographed by me at the Bacon & Beer Festival
c) give me a mystery ingredient and read the post where I try to figure out how to use it
d) receive my love via blog, email, facebook, and twitter

I’m sad I might miss this again this year! I haven’t been yet!

Fritters are Fun

Zucchini Fritters are something I’ve been making for years. I’m not sure where I originally came up with them but I love them as a side dish. I think Mum made eggplant fritters now that I think about it….hmmm there’s an idea for next time.
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This time I used yellow squash. I think it added a different flavor but it was a good use for the sad yellow squash in my fridge.

Ingredients

1 zucchini or yellow squash
1 egg
½ cup breadcrumbs or wheat germ
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt & pepper
¼ cup diced green onion (optional)
¼ cup corn (optional)
¼ cup feta (optional)

Directions

1) Shred zucchini/yellow squash and lay over paper towel to remove most of the liquid
2) Mix zucchini/squash with egg, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, salt and pepper and any other ingredients.
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3) Form into patties and bake 15 minutes at 375. Flip and bake another 10 minutes.
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I bake them instead of frying them since they get too oily and it’s way easier. I use my muffin top pan which definitely helps for the shape. It gets a lot more action from zucchini fritters, crab cakes, and the like especially since I’ve never made muffins.

They’re a fun side dish with only a few ingredients. I made them one night when we had our own salad bar with these on the side. I’ll probably stick to zucchini next time but add in spinach! Or corn! Or leeks! Or bacon! Or whatever!

Baked Orzo Flop

I thought I was super clever when I started waking up earlier. This gave me the chance to get stuff done before leaving for work. I unloaded the dishwasher, I poked through my RSS feeds, and I planned dinner.

Once again, I started thinking about what I could make with what I had around…anything to avoid grocery shopping. Baked Orzo came to mind and I thought a Greek dish was exactly what I wanted. I had orzo, artichokes, tomatoes and high hopes for this quick meal.
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Ingredients

1/4 pound Orzo
1 tbs garlic
1 jar artichoke hearts
1 cup plum tomatoes in liquid
½ cup red wine
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp oregano
1 tsp cumin

Directions

1) Cook orzo
2) Saute garlic, atrichoke hearts, and tomatoes with liquid on medium high.
3) Add wine and spices and simmer for 5 minutes.
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4) Turn to low and stir in orzo.
5) Sprinkle with Parmasan before baking for 20 minutes.
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Partway through my super speedy meal I hear:
Mr. J: is there cumin in there?
me: yup
Mr. J: ohh ok.
me: why?
Mr. J: ohh. {silence} Cumin is not my favorite.
me: hmmm

That’s where the dish goes awry…but it didn’t have to. I wanted to mellow out the cumin so I peek into the fridge and spot 2 ingredients I think will make the spices not taste as strong. Ricotta or sour cream. I went with the former. I had been a bit heavy handed with the wine so already my Baked Orzo had lost the great red color from the tomatoes (the wine made it a bit purpley).

I chose ricotta thinking it would be creamy and rich. It was indeed creamy but it also wasn’t smooth & silky. It was a bad choice, but you know…they can’t all be winners.

After I got it going I wasn’t feeling great about it. I actually said we might need to order pizza (which we never do to replace a meal). Mr. J was a trooper and ate it. It wasn’t amazing but I think it easily could be a great dish.

This Baked Orzo sounded amazing and is my inspiration to give it another go!

Better luck next time. Spoiler alert: I’ve since grocery shopped.

Honey Mustard Chicken with a Crunch

After a weekend of food, friends, diner breakfast, and drinks I wanted a slightly healthier Sunday night dinner. I was working with what we already had around, since I hate to grocery shop and we had been gone a lot.
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Honey Mustard Ingredients

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup yellow mustard
2 tablespoon orange juice
1 large clove garlic, minced

Honey Mustard Directions

Wisk honey, mustard, orange juice, and garlic
Refrigerate for at least an hour before enjoying

I love honey mustard. I know you can buy it but this is better. I sneak a little spicy brown into it as well which better rounds out the mustard vs. sweet flavor. A splash of cider vinegar would be good too.Honey mustard is so versatile! Marinate chicken in it, dip veggies in it, put it on salad, put it on a sandwich…the possibilities are endless. Bottled honey mustard always has a few weird preservatives and when it’s this easy to make, why buy it?

Honey Mustard Crunchy Chicken Ingredients

chicken tenders or chicken breasts
1 egg (with 1 tbs water), whisked
½ cup flour
¾ cup breadcrumbs (half panko, half regular bread crumbs)

Honey Mustard Crunchy Chicken Directions

1) Marinate chicken tenders in honey mustard.
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2) Set up your flour, eggwash, breadcrumbs, in that order
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4) bake 20 minutes at 375 on a sprayed cooling rack on top of a baking sheet, turning once

This was so great! I really liked that I could taste the honey mustard and the crunch on the outside was awesome. I served it with honey mustard on the side but could have tossed the crispy tenders in the sauce too. I think I was too scared that the crunch wouldn’t stick since they were baked, not fried.
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Mr. J and I thought the chicken was cooked perfectly. It was a fun and different dinner that was lighter than the restaurant equivalent since the chicken wasn’t fried. I served it with couscous (where I snuck in some finely chopped baby spinach for another veggie dose) and some yellow squash and leeks we had.
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Build a Better Lasagna

I haven’t been cooking a ton, nor have I been super creative with meals lately but it’s my crazy season at work. See me at the end of May and I’ll have space in my head to think. Until then, I’ll keep concentrating on work, wedding planning, and meals that don’t require TONS of effort. Also, mother nature seems to be holding spring just out of the reach of us New Englanders.

The other night I decided to grab lasagna ingredients so I’d have a few meals in my back pocket for nights I am too crazed, googly-eyed, and have brought work home with me. Lasagna is such a great freezer item, especially since I’m cooking for just Mr. J and myself. One batch makes 2 small ones…one for now and one to freeze for later! There’s a tiny bit more time in the season for delicious meals like this.
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Lasagna is something I can’t usually order out (red meat factor) so I make it myself. I also think there are wayy too many bad lasagnas out there so I wanted to share a few tips. I think lasagna is best when baked. Let to rest, and baked again another time. I think the small touches are what make lasagna better. Using different sauces is a big one. I sneak some pesto and cream sauce into my lasagna in small amounts. I have one additionsl sauce in there, but it’s a secret. Hey, I can’t give away ALL my secrets!

Ingredients

1 pound lasagna noodles
¾ pound meat mix of your choosing (ground turkey & sausage / sausage & ground chicken / ground pork & ground turkey etc)
chopped leeks, onions, or shallots
2 cups whole milk ricotta
1 egg
2 cups shredded mozzarella
½ cup shredded Parmesan
2 cups baby spinach
spices: dried oregano, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, & red pepper flakes

Directions

Cook lasagna noodles unless using no-bake
Mix ricotta with egg, and dried spices
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Cook the meat layer (I used ground chicken and crumbled sausage) and add in somebody in the onion family
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Spread marinara into pans and layer with noodles and a few red pepper flake shakes
Then add the meat layer with leeks/onions/shallots, some pesto, shredded cheese, and more noodles.
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Spread some marinara or alfredo, and top with ricotta, parmasan, and chopped spinach before adding more noodles.
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Top the whole thing off with more marinara, spices and bake for 45 minutes. If eating right then, top with mozzarella until melted.

The meat mix is important. It is better when there is more than one in there. A few shakes of seasoned breadcrumbs will also make sure it’s not greasy or bland. Different cheeses are also a huge part in a good lasagna. Mixing shredded mozzarella with some Parmasan provides a good flavor combo. I’ve learned my lesson with part skim ricotta…not a corner to cut. It ends up dry & crumbly, not creamy, and even with the help of the egg, it doesn’t bind well.

I like veggies in there, and think it’s a good balance with all the meat and cheese. Mr. J liked the baby spinach this time over shredded zucchini I’ve done in the past. Some mushrooms in there would be good too, but somebody doesn’t like ‘em. I had some leeks so I tossed ‘em into the meat layer.

I used no-bake noodles for the first time. While it would definitely save some time, I was using a circular pan for one of my batches and these buggers were tricky to fit in. If I made a 9 X 13 pan I’d definitely use them again.

Lasagna always reminds me of the time I ate “veggie lasagna” at the home of a very important Children’s Book author who shall remain nameless (well, she didn’t cook it so ohh well). The quotes are important because there weren’t any noodles, instead there was squash slices. There wasn’t any cheese, sauce, or meat…instead, there was spinach. Ohh it was interesting let me tell you…

Any lasagna tricks up your sleeve? What makes yours better than the average lasagna?

Not Crazy about Crazy Dough

I bought a Groupon for Crazy Dough and after some time went by, all of a sudden, I realized it was about to expire! Literally, it was the last chance so Mr. J and I got it for a weekend lunch. It was about 2:30 so I contemplated if we were old farts and it was early-bird dinner or if we were fashionably chic having a late lunch.
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Mr. J gets Crazy Dough for lunch sometimes and loves it so I was excited to try it. The menu looked great. I was intrested in a few I knew Mr. J woudln’t be as excited about so we each got our own personal pizza.I thought the Eggplant & Roasted Red Pepper sounded good. Tuscan Tomato Basil caught my eye. It was Balsamic Glaze and Ricotta that I came back to on the menu.
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Mr. J loooves the Potato Bacon Cheddar pizza but decided to change it up with Chicken Parmasan.Maybe because we got it to go, or maybe because we got traditional instead of Sicilian, but I wasn’t amazed. I popped into the Harvard Square to pick it up and was so excited as I passed the slices of Sicilian. I thought mine would be just as delectable.

The Balsamic Glaze and Ricotta on wheat dough was thin with crispy crust. I thought it was too thin. The balsamic glaze was good, but nothing to write home about. I thought it was flavorful but needed more to absorb it. It was too runny since there wasn’t much cheese or crust. Apparently my pizza was finished with olive oil and fresh basil…I missed that.

The Chicken Parmasan wasn’t anything stellar either. The chicken was in tiny pieces. I prefer to be able to see that the chicken is white meat and not mystery leftovers. The sauce was too sweet…too ketchup-y.
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I’ll give it another go, but I’ll probably eat there and I’ll probably choose Sicilian.

Is it weird that the box boasts best pizza of 2004 & 2007?

Likes: the possibility of great sicilian pizza, interesting toppings
Dislikes: too thin crust, not great sauce

If Phantom approves Amrheins…

So work gives me the day off for by birthday (yes, the bday posts continue) so I spent a leisurely day off before a celebratory bday dinner with Mr. J. They day wasn’t actually very lazy since I was cleaning and prepping for the Mac & Cheese taste off.Anywho, after feeling like a 50s housewife waiting for the man to get home, we went to dinner of my choosing. I love Phantom Gourmet and had seen Amrheins and really wanted to try it. I had seen Lobster Mac & Cheese and some steaks they boasted as better than downtown’s steakhouses.
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This Southie original was full of historical charm. They have the oldest hand-carved bar in America. Since they don’t take reservations for parties fewer than 6, we took our chances. We only waited about 15-minutes…just long enough to grab a drink at that bar I was talking about!

Our waitress had an intense Boston accent which added to her charm. The wait for our meals wasn’t as charming but since it took so long, they threw in another round of drinks-on the house. The menu is pretty sizeable. I thought it was cute that they had some unexpected specials like boiled dinner.

I got the Lobster Mac & Cheese despite the fact that I’d be having the taste off the following day. Since I was privy to the sizeable portions mentioned on Phantom Gourmet, I went with the half size and it was perfect. Perfect in size, perfect in noodle texture, perfect in lobster quantity.
amrheins_lob_290_200Love love love that they garnish it with a fried lobster claw. How cool is that?! Also, I got mine without the peas. I’m pretty sure peas are the the only veggie I don’t care for.

Mr. J got the Cowboy Steak. He was going back and forth and went with this one and steak tips. The Cowboy had blue cheese and carmelized onion butter on top. Yum! He really liked it and thought it was cooked perfectly.
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When I heard his came with mixed veggies I was thinking what you are probably thinking: broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots? Nothing of the sort! The peapods, shreaded carrots, and onions looked amazing. His mashed potatoes were also, very noteworthy.

We had already thought about dessert but since the meals took so long, and we had some drinks, we decided to skip it. Since we were pleasantly full, keeping it that way was the right choice.

Outside the restaurant I lost my camera case taking a photo. I took it as a sign for a new one and everytime I see the new one I’ll remember this birthday!

P.S. Birthday meals are official concluded. I bet you wish yours was as long and delicious as mine was!