Double Rainbow

The most recent theme for our office potluck was RAINBOW! We each picked a color and brought something in with that color. It was such a fun one. I have to admit I wasn’t daring enough to choose certain colors…ahem:blue:cough:purple.I chose RED and made Strawberry Bruschetta. Toasted French bread + cream cheese + strawberries + balsamic reduction topped off with a little basil. Yum. I highly recommend bringing this one to your next bbq or summer party. I hadn’t ever made a balsamic reduction but it was so easy and worked really well. I loved this. The idea came from Mrs. C. She did a balsamic and honey drizzle and used goat cheese.

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Orange was out sick that day.

YELLOW was Lemon Squares! They were gooey with a fantastic shortbread crust.
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GREEN was guacamole! Ms. C learned how to pit an avocado while making it too!
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BLUE was blue corn tortilla chips and even a special blue dip! The veggie dip had a touch of blue food coloring. What would you bring for blue? Seriously a tough one but we’ve had at least one dip at every potluck. ever.
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PURPLE was Thai Lettuce Wraps in Radicchio! Some were vegetarian with tofu and some had ground turkey. I love bean sprouts so these were really fun finished off with a sprinkle of peanuts. Purple also had a blackberry fizzy drink too.

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BROWN was chocolate from a friend dropping by. We stressed she didn’t need to bring anything but this was a creative little something.

Hope the rainbow has you inspired for something new or different. Another blog I love recently posted about a Grilled Appetizer Party which is a fantastic theme! The photos will have your mouth watering but don’t let that stop you if you’re trying to come up with a fun theme! What’s the next office potluck theme? Ohh just you wait…

Take Out Olympics

Sometimes I’m sure I have the most fun meals ever. Don’t be jealous, make this party happen!

Take Out Olympics are like a take-out potluck. Each guest spends the agreed upon amount on take out and everyone shares! It’s a fun way to get to know food in a new neighborhood, to try something new in the area, or for the host not to spend forever cooking! To make it Olympics you can add the requirement that it be international cuisine and vote on winners for categories of your choosing. You know how much I love to vote on food!

We did a relaxed version for lunch at the office. SO FUN! You can consider it olympic pre-trials if you wish. There was so much great food from all different places! We went with $10 for any cuisine you wanted.

I went to Boston Kebab House and went to the Meze Bar and got some fried zucchini fritters and some tortellini salad. There were so many great ones to choose and I spent $9.13. It came with my choice of wheat or plain pita. Now that it’s nicer out I’ll definitely stop here for lunch items.

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Ms. J got Mmmac & Cheese in Faneuil Hall. We sampled traditional and a beef one.

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Ms. M got chips and guac from Andale which I wasn’t aware is Zolcalo on the go! Unfortch the guacamole didn’t compete with somebody else’s guacamole. Our next Ms. K provided chips and quac from Boloco. Theirs won out because it was richer and they didn’t stretch the avocados too thin.

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Ms. K got us cheese quesidillas with chips and salsa from somewhere nearby, but we didn’t catch the name. Maybe they should remain nameless since they put the salsa onto the chips making them soggy.

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Mr. K went to Thai’s Bistro to get drunken noodles. They were deliciously spicy which I loved and now I know a good spot nearby.

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Not-my-Mr. J went to one of my local favorites, Sultan’s Kitchen. He got a chicken and rice dish with tomatoes.

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Mrs. A had a brilliant thought and got grilled cheeses from CheeseBoy! We had the classic and a tomato basil. Both were as good as I imagined though it seems tough to justify walking 15 minutes to get grilled cheese but I guess the cheapskate in me is OK with it since they’re less than $4.

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Ms. S spent her $10 the most creatively. She went to McDonald’s and got 10 $1 fry packets.

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Ms. C got us dessert at Bailey & Sage. She got strawberry fozen yogurt with oreos and coffee yogurt with heath bars. Amazeballs as she would say.

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It was really fun and actually an ideal amount of food. We were rudely interrupted by a fire alarm but it was wicked fun and a great introduction to some alternative restaurants right around us.

Picnic (Sans Ants)

Sis and I LOVE a good theme party. We were trying to think of something special for Mother’s Day this year. We thought for a half second about a picnic in the Arnold Aboretum for Lilac Sunday. This is apparently the only time a year you can picnic there. Sitting on the ground to eat there just because we can’t normally didn’t quite fit. Also, with the rain on Saturday, we weren’t convinced Mother Nature would play nice.

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That seems like a baby-stroller activity and nobody in our fam is quite there yet. It also kind of seems like something to take a mom to do if her children aren’t around.

We had a picnic at our parents’ house! The picnic theme was super fun and delicious.

We took inspiration from Bobby Flay since in his throwdowns he always tries to make the everyday a bit better or more special.

We served:
BLTs with pesto mayo and thick cut bacon
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Roast Beef Sandwiches with horseraddish dijon spread
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Tabouli since Mum doesn’t love macaroni salad as much as the average person.
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And pickles, fruit, and Cape Cod chips. I got some delectable treats from Lyndell’s Bakery since I didn’t acquire all the baking skill my mum has (and since I worked about 9 hours on Saturday).

I made a drink too:
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Ingredients:

4 cups lemonade (I used crystal light yellow)
4 cups zero calorie lime seltzer
1 lime sliced

Directions:

Prepare the lemonade as instructed. (I planned to use raspberry lemonade but was short on pitcher space since yellow was already made)
Mix chilled soda
Serve with lime slices (freezing lime bits into the ice would be very cute too)

Just add some cheap-o red baskets & napkins and you’ve got yourself an indoor picnic!

Wish me luck! By the time you see this I’ll be UBER close to the end of the production week and the start of my event. Watch out world, I become a whole new person after I rejoin society!

Easter Recap: Better Late Than Never

We’re now closer to Cinco de Mayo than Easter, but I’m just now catching up.Some things have to be absolutely the same. My Easter basket is one of those traditions I need. During Easter my first year of college I unexpectedly received a replacement basket for Easter at my parents house! GASP! I don’t dramatically overreact too often, but that was one of them. Dad ended up on a chair or a ladder pulling baskets down until we had the right one. Phew. It was iffy.
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Another tradition inside that basket is a dark chocolate egg. I get coconut creme and Mr. J gets fudge, with our names written on top.

Easter dinner was hosted at my sis’ house. We have a fantastic meal and she’s becoming quite the chef! Check out her tablescape! She’s all about the seasonal decor. (She also loves making trifle and I’m impressed with her creativity to use the trifle dish!)
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I made a dip- more about that later.

Our first course was a Baked Potato Soup from Cooking Light. The traditional loaded potato items were on the side for a garnish which made the soup itself a bit lighter since it didn’t include cups of cheese.
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The main course was a Tuscan pork roast, zucchini and corn saute, and a sausage and sourdough stuffing.
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The pork roast had rosemary, garlic, and it was delicious. Sis didn’t like the zucchini and corn side dish, but I did so I took the leftovers. It had some vinegar and I thought it was fresh and tangy.

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.

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!

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.

Cheers to a Wine-Off

Once upon a wintery Saturday night, some friends hosted their annual Wine-off. This competition is not your average wine and cheese night.
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This is a night each couple brings their a-game in the form of an inexpensive wine ($15 or less per bottle). Each is covered and everyone drinks & scores. There were 16 entries before the crowning of the best as well as the Golden Stink Award.
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I was really looking forward to this after thoroughly enjoying it last year AND it was a fun night out after a big work event that day! I’m the wine drinker of the apartment so I pulled a wine out of my wine rack to bring. I never spend more than $15-per-bottle anyway so I was all set! I chose a Malbec, thinking it would be a crowd pleaser and would hopefully score well.Malbecs are a grape variety originally from the Bordeaux region of France but more recently grown in Argentina for this red wine. It pairs with food very well and will stand out against ordinary Merlots or Cabernet Savignons.
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We scored just above the middle of the pack. I wish we brought a chilled white wine since there were so few and after alllll the wine they were refreshing and different.

Ingredients:

friends bringing wine to your apartment
paper wine bags
scorecards
a scoring method to calculate results quickly!
appetizers
dump cups for any heavy handed pours or stinky wines

Directions:

Invite your friends to bring cheap wines to your cocktail party.
Have extra wine bags on hand to conceal the wines.
Make a score card and prepare to tally the scores at the end of the night.
Serve some simple aps.

Presto, you have a wine-off! I love opportunities to have lots of opinions and try new things!

I was so impressed with Miss M’s scorecard. They were so professional it made me anticipate a scantron machine to tally our choices! Cardstock? Bubble choices? Wow!
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Miss M & Mr. R also invited guests to submit a song to the playlist for the night. What a great idea? It was super fun to hear a wide variety and see reactions when somebody’s song came on.

It’s not too late to message your friends and have an impromptu Valentine’s Day get together, or anti-Valentine’s day bash! Careful, it is Monday. This is a great winter party.

I had a small Pumpkin Beer tasting around Thanksgiving which was a lot of fun. I’m thinking about some sort of taste-off for my birthday.