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!

Family Birthday Dinner

I know, you’ve seen lots of my birthday celebratory meals but there are a few more to post! What can I say, birthdays are important to me and what a better way to celebrate than with friends, my Mr. J, and family?

Here’s my amazing meal with some of my favorites:

We started with stuffed mushrooms
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Then we had roast lamb, zucchini and summer squash, and a potato cake.

The lamb was really good. I can’t eat most red meat and lamb seems to be the only one that doesn’t make me sick. I need smaller portions so it just means I have to really savor each bite.

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Mum has a touch with zucchini and squash. Most other people end up with slightly mushy or a soggy mess. Hers somehow is always perfect. She baked it with a touch of marinara and cheese.

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I LOVED this. It was deceptively good. I want to make this with a bunch!

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Now, the star of our family birthdays…THE cake. This cake is amazing and my main reason for sharing this meal with you. Mum has made this cake and served it so many times we’ve lost track. It is just amazing. Without further ado, I present to you: Chocolate Ring of Coconut Fudge Cake.
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Not too many more bday meals. I hope you’ve enjoyed them as much as I did! Next is my bday dinner out with Mr. J.

Figs Does Pizza Right

Miss L and I love food more than the average people. We also LOVE birthdays. She took me out for an early birthday dinner at Todd English’s restaurant Figs. It was as amazing as ever.Want to know what else is amazing (other than a race)? I won another blog’s giveaway! Yesss! I have a b.good gift certificate coming my way!

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Mid week, the small Beacon Hill location was bustling. At 6:30 PM on a Tuesday we could wait 20 minutes or sit at the bar. To the bar we went! Miss L ordered a sangria as I peered at the open kitchen.

We decided you cannot eat at Figs and not order the Asparagus Frites. The asparagus spears are blanched, breaded in Panko, and lightly fried. They are served on arugula with honey mustard aioli. It is an amazing appetizer because the asapargus flavor comes through with a delightful crisp exterior. It is a simple but well executed idea!

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As good as the other dishes sound, pizza is the specialty so that’s what we got! We each chose our half. I got Portabello. It has garlic, oil, mushroom puree made out of Portabello stems, Fontina, roasted red onion, and truffle oil.

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At first sight, I thought the red onion was going to take over. The pieces were huge! These pieces might be big but the mushroom puree was amazing and was hidden but an awesome flavor. Also, you could put truffle oil on a flip flop and I’d love it.
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Miss L got a four cheese with Mozzerella and Ricotta. Also, some pieces were cut beyond my half of the pizza, giving me a bite of the sweet marinara and rich cheese. Miss L enjoyed it.
The pizza is thin but holds up well to delicious toppings. I want to try several of the others.Miss L, Mr. J, and sis ALL don’t care for mushrooms. Since they are the most common eaters of my meals it makes any dish with mushrooms shine with a halo on a menu.

A few ladies next to us at the bar were served very efficiently since they were heading to a show. Miss L and I lingered a bit but weren’t at all forgotten. I really should eat at Figs more often.

Make-Your-Own-Falafel

I looove falafel. I think there’s something about the nutty crunch, the cucumbers, tomatoes, and creamy tahini. I hadn’t really even thought about making it myself until a couple of years ago.
falafel_plate_290_200At that point  a few years ago, I soaked the chickpeas overnight, I cooked them for an hour, mashed them, etc… It’s such a process unless you’re mass producing falafel! The mix is the way to go…10 minutes and it is ready to cook. I bake them instead of frying them, partly for ease and partly for health. They get crispy and delicious.

Ingredients

1 package falafel mix
2 wheat pita pockets
2 cups lettuce
1 tomato
1 cucumber
¼ cup feta cheese
Italian, Greek, or Balsamic salad dressing
3 tbs tahini

Directions

Prepare falafel mix with water (as package directs)
Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes on each side.

falafel_baked_290_200Chop lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and toss with feta and dressing.
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Serve in pita, drizzled with tahini.
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I’ve made these as appetizers like a slider in halved mini pitas. They’re always a hit and super easy to make. I definitely don’t think you need my instructions, BUT I think falafel is something that doesn’t always come to mind to make at home.

Mac & Cheese Taste-Off

The much anticipated Mac & Cheese Taste-Off finally arrived! Ok, so I was probably the most excited…but it was amazing! So good! So fun!

Birthdays are a super big deal to me. This year I had about 5 birthday celebrations. Each amazing and all involving delicious food. I decided to have a dinner party style Mac & Cheese Taste-Off at my apartment with friends.

I read about an annual mac and cheese face off on a blog I love: Wicked Good Travel & Activities and thought it was a fantastic idea. I was brainstorming taste-off ideas since the Wine Off in January.

I invited everyone to come and enjoy. They were welcome to enter one, or enjoy one of the many mac & cheeses here. We got many more than I even expected! There were 10 entries! I made 2 thinking that it would help the number of entries. Ha! My competitive and culinary inclined friends proved we didn’t need help with the entry numbers!

Mr. J made really awesome ballots with criteria including: cheesiness, noodle texture, creativity, and overall taste complete with voting bubbles and printed on orange and yellow paper. We had name cards for chefs to name their dish and let everyone know what the featured cheese is.

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Here they are:

1. Bacon & Scallion Mac & Cheese in a calzone (or outside the calzone!)
featuring: Cheddar & Cream Cheese score: 278

mac&cheese_calzone_290_200 2. Spicy Sausage Mac & Cheese
featuring: Cheddar score: 289
3. Chicken Bacon and Ranch Mac & Cheese
featuring: Cheddar, Asiago, and Monterey Jack score: 232
mac&cheese_ranch_290_200 4. Southwestern Mac & Cheese (that was mine!)
featuring: Pepper Jack & Cheddar score: 292
5. Classic Mac & Cheese (mine too!)
featuring: Gruyere & White Cheddar score: 229
mac&cheese_290_2006. Jalapeno Surprise
featuring: Kerrygold Cheddar score: 258
7. Children in India Are Starving
featuring: Gruyere score: 234
mac&cheese_india_290_2008. White Truffle Mac & Cheese
featuring: Asiago score: 284
9. Winning
featuring: Cheddar, American, Mascarpone score: 270
10. Pepper Jack Mac & Cheese
featuring: Pepper Jack & Cheddar score: 161

I was wowed! They were all soooo good. Not a bad one in the bunch! One recent Mac & Cheese I made wasn’t amazing, you may remember it here. This time I really turned it around. My Southwestern mac and cheese had ground turkey with taco seasoning, roasted red peppers, cheddar, pepper jack and taco seasoning in the cheese sauce. I took my Dad’s advice and mixed in some sour cream before it baked. My classic had orecchiette, Gruyere, Sharp White Cheddar, and breadcrumbs on top. This one was by far my favorite. I use buttermilk and I think it made a nice difference.

Tallying the scores was very hard. It was fun to have different categories with so many entries but it made scoring take a long time. We awarded prizes of grow-at-home herbs, Easy-Mac, Kraft Mac & Cheese, Annie’s Mac & Cheese, and naked mac (aka noodles). The top 3 also got fun award ribbons.

I didn’t take as many photos as I would have liked but there’s always next time. I think next time I’d do it in rounds or recommend half batches to better fit them into the oven. Somebody had a great idea of bringing a crock pot to keep it hot (I should have done that)!

We brainstormed all the other ideas. 10 may have boarded on too many. Half mac & cheese and half brownies would have been a fun competition. Wings? Burgers? Pizzas? The sky is the limit of taste-offs!

There was beer, wine, champagne, and sangria (red wine, cranberry vodka, lemonade, and apples) as well as some light aps. I was really grateful that there were so many friends and so many mac & cheeses! It was a great way to celebrate 27.

Chopped at Home

I love watching Chopped not only for the food factor, but the competition aspect! I’m not always in the mood to be told how to make something on another cooking show. Plus, that 10-second countdown at the end of each round? Eeeek! It’s also fun to see where the chefs have come from and I love some of the judges.

My sis and I play chopped sometimes. It brings us back to the days of Ready-Set-Cook from ‘95. Ready Set Cook had studio audience members bring mystery ingredients to cook along side the chef.

On Chopped, there are 3 rounds: appetizer (20-minutes); entree (30-minutes); dessert (20-minutes).  Each round includes a basket of mystery ingredients which need to be included (in any amount) in the meal with any of the pantry items. We don’t always make 3 courses and we definitely don’t have a time limit.

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My ingredients:

Cannellini Beans
Zucchini
Israeli Couscous
Whole Peeled Tomatoes

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Sis’ Ingredents:

Leeks
Thin Cut Pork Chops
Spam

Our Meal:

Pork chops in mustard sauce
Couscous with spam and leeks
White bean, leeks, zucchini, and tomato hash

Directions:

Chop the leeks and bathe or salad-spin the dirt/sand out of them.
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Mix dijon mustard, chopped garlic, salt and pepper together and spread onto the pork chops while a grill pan is heating.
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Drain tomato and bean cans before dropping into a skillet. Add leeks, chopped zucchini and season generously with salt, pepper, and italian seasoning.
chopped_hash_290_200Finely chop spam and pan fry as if it were bacon.
Start cooking the couscous while adding spam and leeks. This will take about 5 minutes so set the pork chops on to grill.

The spam was totally the curve ball here. I have to say, it’s not as weird when sliced into small strips and fried until crispy. Sis and I eat our share of pork so we went with it.

The pork chops were good! I think our sauce had a nice not overpowering flavor. It was a good quick fix that will come in handy sometime in the future.
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I loved the hash. It also provided a good vehicle for leeks 2 ways. It was fresh and a nice medley.

We toasted the couscous before adding the liquid for a more nutty flavor. Spam was the salt factor and dropped leeks in as well.
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Overall, I think our meal would have scored well…it did by our critique! Sis’ idea for leeks 2 ways was a good one…it tied everything together. I ate the leftover veggie hash for lunch and it was still good. I probably wouldn’t have given much credit to canned tomatoes but it was a great variation from my usual sides.

In the past we’ve made ratatouille stuffed, pita chip crusted pork tenderloin with green beans and no-bake chocolate marshmallow cookies.

I highly recommend you try this game sometime! It’s a good challenge to use something you have on hand or to try something new…spam?

I have several of birthday meals to post soon (Figs, Amrheins, and the Mac & Cheese Taste-Off) so stay tuned!

Not-Your-Average-Sandwich

Mr. J and I had lunch with my parents at their house and were lucky enough to join while they recreated a restaurant favorite. They ride bikes on a trail in Bristol, Rhode Island and pass an unassuming sub shop called Ricotti’s. One sandwich has captivated them. Our lunch was a recreation at home.
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Turkey, bacon, cranberry, tomatoes, and melty cheese are the highlights in this. Mum made one big sandwich and we all dug in.

Ingredients

oversized loaf of white bread, uncut
turkey breast, cut in thick slices
3 slices bacon
3 slices cheddar
jellied cranberry sauce
1 tomato sliced
lettuce

Directions

Hollow out the bread by slicing off the top and scooping out some inner bread.
Layer slices of turkey, cheddar, and bacon.
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Replace the top and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes just to melt the cheese and warm everything through.
After removing from the heat, layer tomato and lettuce before replacing the bread top.
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Slice and enjoy!

They were right, it was a really good flavor combo. Mum thought baking it mid-way through layering the fillings was key. This meant the sandwich was warm and melty but still had the crisp lettuce and juicy tomatoes.

I liked the cranberry but since I love tart cranberries so much, I would have liked whole-berry cranberry sauce. Mum and Dad like a marinated turkey breast that they had for dinner and used some leftovers for this lunch!

Everyone liked it…definitely a crowd pleaser. It was a fun lunch and Mum even whipped up dessert. Stay tuned for that!

I Hate to Bake (well, hate is a strong word)

Allow me to introduce you to the  I Hate To Cook Book by Peg Brackenand an easy chocolate cake!Anyone can make this cake…even a non-baker like me! I grew up with homemade cakes, cookies of all varieties, cream cheese frosting, trifle, yogurt coffee cake, and a different dessert all the time. Mum is the best non-professional baker I’ve ever met but I rely on her for my treats and I don’t bake much.

She makes a mean Milky Way cake. I don’t love fruit desserts so I lean towards something with chocolate or caramel or nuts…why not all three?!

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Our family doesn’t deviate from our favorites. Birthday cake is ALWAYS chocolate ring of coconut fudge cake. Nobody will choose anything different. I was at my parents house for lunch and Mum whipped up a cake to go with it. It’s one we made way-back-when and it’s like a wild card…play it when nobody is expecting it.

Ingredients

1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup sugar
3 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cocoa
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 cup water

Directions

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Assemble dry ingredients in a 9 x 9 pan and stir to combine.
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Add wet ingredients and stir well.
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Bake at 350 for 20 – 30 minutes.
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(It’s a bit tricky to remove from pan.  Don’t be in a hurry.  If you are in a hurry, serve it directly from pan.)

It is fluffy and actually tastes like chocolate. I hate cheap brown cakes…they’re not chocolate! I inherited an intense love for chocolate from both of my parents. Dad loves something chocolate after certain meals.

All desserts are welcome in my world, especially to help me celebrate my birthday on Thursday! Stay tuned for my Birthday Mac & Cheese Taste-Off!

The Pork is More Than Just Brine…With Butternut Squash Risotto

I don’t end up cooking much meat so I’ve never brined meat before but there’s a first time for everything. I was excited for a new technique.
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I set the country style boneless pork ribs set up in brine for the workday. The pork should absorb a lot of liquid and when this cooks off, the meat will be more tender. True story.

Ingredients

2 cups ice cubes
1 cup cider vinegar
¼ cup salt
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tbs peppercorns

Directions

Boil cider vinegar.
Add salt and sugar stirring until dissolved.
Add ice cubes and peppercorns.
Put pork into the brine and let sit for 8 hours.
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To cook, remove from brine, smother with bbq sauce and bake for 1 hour, covered.
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The pork came out smelling amazing! It was uber tender. Fork tender…no knives required. It would have been really special with homemade barbecue sauce but was so good and I was really happy with it.

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I made butternut squash risotto to go with it. I love risotto and don’t make it nearly enough. It is creamy and delicious with so many variations! I’ve made a weight watchers one with tomato juice and zucchini. The tomato juice makes it red, flavorful, and creamy without being overly acidic. Enough about that, onto today’s risotto.

Ingredients

1 cup aborio rice
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups butternut squash
½ cup white wine
¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Directions

Toast aborio, stirring consistently until golden.
Heat broth and wine on medium low.
Steam butternut squash and add to rice.
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Add ½ cup broth until absorbed and repeat until all the liquid has been absorbed.
Serve with plenty of Parmesan.
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The risotto was sticky and delightful. The squash was a perfect addition. What a great orange color! Needless to say, I ate leftovers for days. I thought making a ½ cup of rice might be weird to have strange quantities but we definitely had more than enough. Maybe arancini will be a fun use of these leftovers.