Monday, April 29, 2013

Date Night: Dish West NYC

It happened. I actually hit my food and beverage limit where I could not consume anything else without feeling like my stomach was going to explode. And it was so worth it. On Friday, Matt and I went to Dish West NYC, a food festival with local restaurants, bakeries, breweries, etc. offering tastings of their food and drink. We tried every single dish and drink (hey, it's all you can eat, after all!) and there were a lot of winning dishes and few flops.

One of the first tastings we really liked was from Lobel's Kitchen, a family-owned company offering gourmet pre-packaged foods and catering. The prime steak sandwich (which was Matt's favorite of the two bites) had a crispy, buttery brioche bun with a really tender piece of prime steak. My personal favorite was the pork cheeks with onion jam, which was so flavorful.

Prime steak sandwich (left) and pork cheeks with onion jam (right)
On to one of the most attractive dishes, which was unfortunately disappointing in flavor and texture. Santa Fe, an upscale Mexican restaurant on the Upper West Side, offered a black bean cake with a mole sauce cooked in and presented on a corn husk. As soon as we saw it, we need we had to try to it. However, the mole sauce was really one note and the black bean cake was too dense and lacked flavor. At least we had a margarita shot to try and kick the dish up a notch!

Oh, and now I can tell you about my favorite restaurant, Say Cheese, and my two favorite dishes of the entire night. Say Cheese offered elevated comfort food that was just delectable and a little outside of the box. First, the mac and cheese with pork belly. It was so creamy with perfectly cooked noodles, and the pork belly just melted in my mouth. I could eat tubs of this mac and cheese - it was just the perfect bite. The most creative dessert at the festival was the deconstructed s'more. The marshmallow was roasted, rolled around in graham cracker crumbs, and stuck onto a pipette filled with milk chocolate. When I took that bite and squeezed the chocolate into my mouth as directed, it was just an explosion of all the flavors you'd expect in a s'more without the mess. I even went back for a second one because it was so delicious. I will definitely be going to this restaurant to try out some of their other comfort foods.

A quick mention of my least favorite dish was the vegetarian hot wing from Atomic Wings. I can't imagine this is just me, but chicken wings are meant to be made with actual chicken. There should not be a wooden stick in a hot wing to imitate a chicken bone. As soon as I took that first bite, I realized what a mistake I had made. It did not have any resemblance in flavor or texture of chicken, just spongy, soggy soy product. Stay away!

Rounding out the evening was dessert. Chellaoui Chocolatier provided Peruvian chocolate ganache that was so creamy and decadent that I had multiple pieces. I couldn't help myself! The other bakery that provided multiple delicious desserts was Westville. The pumpkin whoopie pie was moist, a good ratio of cookie to icing, and had a great spicy, pumpkin flavor that really lingered in my mouth. My favorite tasting from this restaurant/bakery was their blueberry pie. The crust was so flaky and the blueberry filling was juicy, sweet and just the right level of tartness.

We had so much good food and drinks (thanks Chelsea Brewing Company!) that I wish we could have been carried home because we were so unbelievably stuffed. It was so worth it and I can't wait to go to some of these establishments and try more of their dishes. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Roasted Garbanzo and Vegetable Salad

Sorry readers (I think there are a few of you out there...) for the delay in blogging! I unfortunately have been out of commission since Sunday, injuring my lower back for the second time this year. Sunday through Tuesday were comprised of sleeping, self-medicating, and watching all of season 7 of How I Met Your Mother. After not cooking all week, I was itching to get back into the kitchen. 

Since I'm not going to be able to work out for the next few weeks as I recuperate, I'm trying to be even more mindful of what I'm eating (even though Matt and I did share a slice of Artichoke pizza and I had a soft serve ice cream cone last night) so I'll start today!

I had a bunch of veggies and herbs in my fridge that I needed to use before they go to waste, so this recipe for roasted garbanzo and vegetable salad only required three ingredients from the grocery store! The garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas), red onion, red pepper and garlic were so aromatic as they were roasting in the oven. 

After they finished roasting, I added the dressing (which required me borrowing olive oil from my neighbor because today of all days, I run out without a back-up bottle in the pantry) and let the flavors meld together for 15 to 20 minutes. I couldn't pull myself away from the nerve-wracking Rangers - Hurricanes hockey game, especially since it ended with an awesome win and playoff spot for the Rangers!

Finally, I could tear myself away from the game and tossed the feta cheese and olives into the mix. I really don't think you can go wrong with any recipe that includes olives and feta. I think I'd feel comfortable adding them to my list of top ten favorite ingredients. Since I love olives of all shapes and size, I went for a mix of pitted olives instead of using canned black olives. My favorite grocery store, Fairway, has a fantastic olive bar with so many options, so I always go with fresh olives over canned.

I added the final touch - strips of basil - to the mixture and voila, dinner is served! All of the ingredients really balance each other - great texture from the chickpeas, saltiness from the olives and feta, a sweet note from the roasted red onions, and a nice fresh kick from the basil.

I can't wait for leftovers tomorrow, although I'm going to eat light because Matt and I have a date night at Dish West NYC, where we get to sample unlimited tastings from 40 restaurants, breweries, wineries, etc. More details to come once I recover from stuffing myself silly!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Thai Tofu Quinoa Bowls

Matt and I pretty much love all types of Asian food - Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese - but I think Thai may be my favorite. Pad see ew - you really can't beat it. But this dish we made on Monday, Thai Tofu Quinoa Bowls, is one of the most delicious dishes we have had recently - and it's vegetarian! We have been consciously trying to eat less meat, just being mindful of what we're consuming, and it's really not that hard when there are so many great vegetarian and fish options out there. 

This dish combines quinoa (my new favorite grain!), tofu, and an incredibly flavorful Thai sauce. I really love the texture of the tofu, which has been diced into small pieces and roasted in the oven. It's a bit chewy, a bit crispy. And then there's quinoa. I just love the way they kind of pop in your mouth as you eat them. Add in some crunchy carrots and roasted almonds - how can you go wrong? Oh, and you can't forget what may be the best part of the dish that really brings it all together - the sauce! It's a little sweet from the sweet chili sauce, a bit nutty from the peanut butter, creamy from the coconut milk, and a nice tart kick from the lime juice. I will definitely be using the sauce in other dishes because it's so versatile.

I've never roasted almonds before, but it really makes a huge difference! Roasting brings out a beautiful golden brown color and a really strong nutty flavor. I definitely want to roast almonds for other dishes - ooh, it would be great on salads!

We squeezed extra lime after dishing it out and it really gave it an extra pop of flavor. I would definitely recommend the extra squirt of lime - it really freshens up the dish. Now, my next to-do - what dish can I use the rest of the coconut milk in? Curry? Ice cream?? Oh, the possibilities!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Date Night: Mexican Food and Pottery

My husband and I try to have date night at least once a month, which is sometimes easier said than done. But we did it this month! Last Thursday, we made the trek out to Williamsburg after work for dinner and painting pottery (and some ice cream, of course). I'm not too familiar with restaurants in Williamsburg since we don't venture out of the city too often, but good reviews and the convenient location to the pottery place made a winning combination. 

Dinner at Cantina Royal was a quirky Mexican dining experience and we both agreed that we want to go back as there were dishes we were very intrigued by, but couldn't eat them all! When we first walked in, the server was really friendly and let us choose where we wanted to sit (there was only one other couple in the small restaurant). Once we were seated, I started to look around at the decor. This is one of those places were all of the pieces individually clash with one another, but together they just happen to work. From the giant crystal chandelier to the giant pictures of galaxies to the showcasing of liquor bottles and electrical equipment on the walls, it was a fun atmosphere.

We started with guacamole and chips. The guacamole was really well seasoned, but had a bit too much red onion so it left that raw onion taste in your mouth. The tortilla chips were crispy and salty, just the way I like them.

We decided to have drinks (hey, it's date night after all!), sticking with the Mexican theme and ordering margaritas. Matt had the margarita tradicional and I had the cucumber margarita (based on our server's recommendation). It was delicious! I've only had a handful of cucumber based cocktails, but this one was so refreshing. I drank it slowly just so I could savor every sip.

For our main dishes, Matt ordered La Mission, which is a fish filet with jalapeƱo cilantro mayo dressing, pico de gallo and a flour tortilla. Despite being a small portion, the dish was excellent. The pico de gallo was incredibly flavorful and a great compliment to the fish (which was fishy, but not too much to overpower the other flavors). 

I ordered Enchiladas De Mole Chocolate, three chicken enchiladas covered in mole sauce made using Mast Brothers Chocolate with a side of rice and refried beans. This was my first time having mole so I don't have anything to compare it to, but the mole sauce left something to be desired. When I first took a bite, I tasted a subtle chocolate flavor combined with a variety of spices, but it quickly faded as I began to taste the flour tortilla and chicken within the enchilada. A bolder sauce with more depth of flavor would make this dish great. The rice was so fluffy and I loved the pieces of corn and carrot incorporated throughout. I honestly felt like the rice was my favorite part of the meal, with just the right texture and flavor. The refried beans were so creamy (and I'm not a bean fan in the least) and well seasoned, topped with some crumbled Mexican cheese. 

As we were leaving, the other server (who we actually think is the owner as he was watching over the restaurant throughout the night) came over and gave us each a shot of tequila complements of the chef. It was a really nice touch to end the meal and gave us a little buzz to head over to the pottery place! I can't wait to try the octopus BLT, Mexican pork ribs, and salsa sampler next time.

The second half of date night was painting pottery at Baked in Brooklyn. You choose a piece of pre-made pottery and they provide all of the paint and supplies to create whatever design you choose. Since I'm avid tea drinker, I went for the teacup and saucer. Matt wasn't sure what he wanted to paint so he let me choose. I went with a serving bowl since we can actually use it at home, as opposed to the Angry Birds bank that will just sit there collecting dust (although it was quite cute!). The studio is also BYOB so we enjoyed a few beers while painting. Although our pieces haven't been fired in the kiln yet to get the full effect, here they are!

Matt's masterpiece - serving bowl
My masterpiece - teacup and saucer
On our walk back to the subway, I hinted at getting some ice cream from a shop I saw on our way to the restaurant (I'm always keeping my eye out for dessert!). We stopped at Williamsburg Creamery and shared a cone of the chocolate cabernet wine ice cream. It was creamy, rich in chocolate with a subtle wine flavor that gave a bit of a kick at the end of each lick. Another frozen treat to check of my list - boozy ice cream!

Overall, date night was a great success! We don't try a lot of new restaurants, primarily because we tend to get stuck in a rut with the places we know we like, but it was really nice trying something different and delicious. We both have a bit of a creative streak, so it was nice to get some arts and craft time in (especially when you pair it with beer!). Here's to our next date night!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Springtime and the Frozen Treats are Fine!

Finally, the beautiful spring weather is here! I can't believe we hit 80 degrees today - I only had to wear a cardigan over my dress today. Speaking of my dress, I love love love it. I just bought it a few weeks ago at Loft and the second I put it on, I knew I had to get it. It just fit like a glove and I felt so pretty.

Back to the beautiful weather. I'm a lover of all things sweet, especially frozen treats. The warm weather only makes me want to eat ice cream/custard/frozen yogurt/anything cold and delicious all the time. So after looking at endless recipes and seeing many for frozen desserts, I figured, why not do it myself? So the exciting news for Tuesday is that I am now the official owner of an ice cream maker (well in two days when it gets here)!

I can't wait for all of the concoctions that will be produced with this beautiful machine! In preparation for the arrival of my newest kitchen gadget, here are a few of the recipes I can't wait to make:
  1. Pink Grapefruit Tarragon Sorbet - I can only imagine the tart and herb combination will be delicious
  2. Grapefruit Sorbet - Only two ingredients to make? You can't go wrong with that
  3. Basil Chip Ice Cream - I love basil and choclate so this sounds like a delightful duo to pair together
  4. Peach and Honey Frozen Yogurt - I can't wait for peaches to be in season so I can make this! I've had fresh peach ice cream once so it'll be great to make my own variation
  5. Coffee Ice Cream - I've become much more a coffee drinker since living in New York so why not turn it into ice cream?
  6. Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream - One of my favorite drinks is Thai iced tea - I even bought a bag of the Thai tea leaves awhile ago and yet to use them so this seems like a great opportunity
Bring on the frozen sweet treats in my very near future!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Foodgawker Night

Oh Foodgawker, my favorite food website addiction and biggest time waster. We have a love-hate relationship - so many delicious recipes that I can't wait to make in exchange for hours of non-productivity. If only I didn't love food so much than maybe I'd be able to have a bit more self control. I introduced one of my friends to Foodgawker and immediately warned her of what was to come. And as expected, a new addict was born! Based on our mutual love for the website, we decided to have a Foodgawker night and test out some new recipes.

First on the menu to celebrate the fact that it's Friday (finally!) is frozen sangria. Oh sangria, a delicious combination of fruit and wine. But who knew that adding sorbet into the mix could make this drink even more satisfying? Both the raspberry and blood orange sorbet blended nicely with the cabernet sauvignon to create a refreshing fruity drink, which is exactly what I wanted on a beautiful spring day. We also added in a handful of fresh strawberries for some texture. 

On to the main entree! I've never cooked with farro before so I wasn't sure what to expect when using it to make risotto. It took longer to cook than arborio rice, but the texture of the grain added a lot of dimension to the dish. It was a bit chewy with a nice bite, but never got to the point of being gummy, which can happen to arborio rice if it's cooked too long. The addition of beets, spinach and goat cheese really elevated the dish. The beets provided an earthy tone while the goat cheese gave a creamy, salty zing. I would definitely make this dish again, found here.

Lastly, dessert! I haven't made a dessert with so few ingredients and such decadence in such a long time. How many ingredients, you ask? Only three! And the most surprising of the three? Silken tofu. I had never heard of this type of tofu, never even seeing it in the grocery store. But I was in for such a pleasant surprise. The tofu made this mousse so creamy and velvety, and the Nutella added the chocolate hazelnut decadence. This will definitely be one of my go-to desserts!

Now you see it...
Now you don't!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Weekend Shenanigans

My hubby and I kicked off our long weekend volunteering at the NYC Craft Beer Festival - Spring Seasonals on Saturday. I was pouring beer for Harpoon Brewery, handing out tastings of their White IPA and 100 Barrel Series Director's Cut, a blend of a stout and pale ale, similar to a Black and Tan. Matt was pouring for a lesser known brewery, Three Heads Brewing, based out of Rochester, NY. Since I'm more of the extrovert in our relationship, I wasn't sure whether Matt would enjoy chit chatting with a massive crowd of strangers demanding beer or dreading the whole experience. I was really happy that he had a great time, especially since we were able to attend the second session of the festival as a perk for volunteering!

Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures while we were there - hey, we were too busy sampling different beers from 75+ vendors! I was smart enough (courtesy of Matt's suggestion) to record our favorite beers on my phone so I could listen to my comments later and remember what we liked. My favorite - which was surprising to me because I wouldn't think of coconut being a welcomed ingredient in beer - was the Kona Brewery Koko Brown Ale. The beer had a very smooth, well-rounded, nutty flavor with hints of coconut that were pronounced enough without being overwhelming. Matt's favorite was the Samuel Adams New World Tripel, which had a very rich, sweet flavor of banana, reminding him of the Hefeweisen from Trader Joe's that we both enjoy so much. I can't wait to volunteer at the next festival in the fall and sample all of the seasonal beers - I'm already excited thinking about porters, stouts, and pumpkin ales!

Matt's family arrived in NYC yesterday afternoon to stay with us for part of the week while his brother is on spring break from high school. We went for a long walk through Central Park, down to the Wollman Rink at the south end of the park and back up to our apartment. It was a bit chilly and rainy, but you can't help but feel happy when you're walking through such a beautiful park. I can't wait for spring to really stick around so we can hang out on the Great Lawn with a picnic and frisbee in hand.

The Plaza - on my bucket list to stay here for just a night!
We kicked off today with a spot of tea and some scones at Alice's Tea Cup. I really love this place, partially because it's literally across the street from our apartment so we can walk there in about 30 seconds. They have an exhaustive list of all varieties of tea, including their own signature blends, and a delicious selection of scones that you can't wait to eat with a cup of tea in hand.

Since it was still earlier in the day and we all wanted a caffeine kick (even though I already had two cups of coffee), I chose the Boston Tea Party black tea, which has a really robust black tea base with subtle hints of citrus, for Matt and I to share. We also chose the vegan Cranberry Coconut scone, which unfortunately you couldn't taste any coconut, and the Strawberry Oatmeal scone, which was really delicious. 

We had a great time immersing ourselves in Alice's fantastical world (and acting like British royalty sipping tea at high noon) and it was a great way to kick off our wanderings through NYC. We went to the Union Square Farmers Market where I bought sourdough bread and apricot butter - a bit tart and so flavorful. We walked the streets in East Village, visiting a few shops, and stopped for an afternoon beer on St. Marks. Our final destination (that Matt's little brother couldn't wait for) was Nintendo World near Rockefeller Plaza. Can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring!

Pika Pika Pikachuuu!