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Fancy Dinner Fail

Epic Fail.

This is a sad story.  It’s like I’ve just learned that Santa isn’t real.  I wish I was exagerrating, but I’m not.  I nearly cried at the restaurant out of disappointment and shear embarrassment.

I happened to have a gift certificate for a restaurant group in Boston and Bri-guy had an Open Table check, so we had $100 to fancy ourselves up.  Where to?  Mistral!  I’d been once or twice with my Dad ages ago and had great meals. I was so excited to go again and was tempted by the Dover Sole on the menu.

I’ve been curious about Dover Sole Meuniere for ages.  Its one of those classic french dishes that is the epitomy of good eating and luxury.  Ever since I read My Life in France by Julia Child I’ve been even more curious and excited to try it.  She shares a story in the book about her first meal (sole meuniere) in France as she  & Paul first arrive, and it is the best meal she has ever had.  I wanted that.  I wanted to be wowed.  For the first time I had the opportunity to try it.

The caveat- the “market” price.  And the grand total for this evening’s sole?  $60.  I kid you not.  Flown in daily from England. So I’m thinking, “We have $100, when am I ever going to have this chance, I’m going for it.”  I asked the waiter, is this really the best thing on the menu, I explained I’ve never tried it so I don’t know what to expect etc etc.  He said yes, it’s the most popular and he’s only had it sent back once or twice, and if I don’t like it, he’ll take it right back.

It looks pretty...

Well dear waiter,  I just made your story three times.  Ugh.  I never, EVER, send anything back.  I felt like such a brat, it was terribly embarrassing, but, though lovely, (I died over the copper roasting pan it was served in), I just didn’t like it. And for that much money it needed to be the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my 28 years on the face of this planet.  It just wasn’t.  So, back it went.  It was just off, maybe my piece had a bad case of jet-lag or something.

I didn’t want to have to wait for another entree so I just ordered a caesar salad.  And of course ate off of Bri-guy’s plate too.  His duck was delicious, not amazing, but it was good.  Luckily, I still had a good experience.  We had a fun night, the appetizers were great- tuna tartare (I tried my “no thank you” bite) and crab ravioli (so good!) and honestly, that caesar salad was the best I’ve ever had.  Ha.

What have we learned?  There are some things in life I just don’t like.  I don’t care how pricey it is or “how good!” everyone says it is, I just don’t like it.  I’ve been a picky eater most of my life, but have expanded my palate by leaps and bounds by cooking for myself and trying to new things with friends in the past few years.  Yet there are still things I can’t seem to ease into- most of it has to do with texture (sushi, tuna tartare, most anything that is squishy or odd & chewy).

And there are flavors, even in the best preparation I don’t like- olives, capers- you get the point.  Bri-guy & I had a conversation on the walk home after dinner about what makes a fancy restaurant- you know, what’s in a name, reputation, food quality.  It’s clear that people go to Mistral to be seen.  It is a scene- the people watching was amazing.  But they’re not necessarily a discerning clientele, they go to spend money because they can and they aren’t really concerned with how good the food actually is.  Don’t get me wrong, Mistral has an amazing product, but for the price, to me it should be better.  This is where the Boston restaurant scene fails.  Some of the best food is in lesser known spots, and not even in Boston- but across the river in Cambridge.  I suggested to Bri-guy that we expand our horizon and hop across the river for some amazing food, so hopefully more of that to come!  For now, I’ll be happy that I got to try something I had been wanting for a long time, and I got it for free. (Yes, that lovely waiter left it off the check, we left him a nice tip.)

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Granola Bars

I totes cheated on this one.  I had a nearly full container of Whole Foods Nut N’Honey Granola, but I was tired of it on its own, and granola bars were the next best idea…

Granola, cinnamon chips, canola spray and the pan ready to go!

However, the honey I had to use to hold it all together was a bit, err, crystallized.  I boiled a pot of water and poured it into a bowl with the honey container and left it to melt.

When everything was mixed, I turned it out onto the pan and formed a sort of square, using a well oiled spatula.

Into the oven (350 for 20 minutes) and occasionally took it out and smooshed it with a spatula to make sure everything was sticking together.

And here we have granola “bars.”  Hmmm… we’ll see how they taste!

Sunny-side up

My New Year’s dinner left me with quite a few left-over roasted potatoes… I wanted to do something interesting with them.  I also had a few pieces of bacon left in the fridge- so tried my hand at hash & eggs.

SO GOOD.  I really think my cooking strength lies in the realm of diner food.

I diced up the left-over roasted potatoes and set them aside.  I then diced the raw bacon and threw it in the cast-iron skillet

Once the bacon was beginning to brown-up I added the potatoes

While that was coming together I threw on two eggs

I put some hash on a plate, added just a tad of shredded mozzarella,


On went the eggs, and a bit of ketchup on the side… such a tasty breakfast for dinner treat!

Hello 2012!!

Sparkly shoes for New Years Dinner

TGITHT!!

(Thank God it’s two-thousand twelve!)  For realsies.  It’s high time for a new year. 2011 wasn’t all bad- but, it certainly had its moments.  I’m glad it’s long gone and I’m excited at the prospects for a new journeys and exciting things to come.

So, as I discussed in my last post this holiday season has been hectic, and after the whirlwind that was Christmas weekend I was looking forward to some downtime for  New Years.  New Years &  I have a strained relationship, and the older I get, the less I like it.  There’s so much pressure to do something really fun, go to a crazy party- pay a ridiculous cover to a bar, drink champagne and kiss someone at midnight.  As my Dad calls it, “amateur night.”  I would much rather spend the night with close friends, family, and keep things low-key, certainly pop some bubbly, maybe play a round of Scrabble and watch a movie.

This year, my plan was to cook myself a delicious meal and relax; the ultimate treat these days.  I did just that and it was magnificent.  I didn’t feel lonely or sad, it was just perfect.  I am my own best date sometimes.  So here’s to 2012, living to the fullest, staying true to me, and making it all work.

Here’s what I made to ring in the new year…

Chicken au Champagne or shall we say… Chicken con Prosecco.

I made this recipe a few years ago with the real deal- Veuve Cliquot, but I couldn’t justify the nearly $50 bottle for just me.  And, to be completely honest, I prefer Prosecco and Cava.  To me they are drier and more palatable than the traditional French Champagnes.

Look at that roasted beauty…

And to go with it, Ina Garten’s Herbed New Potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts

herbs and potatoes

And yes, that is a glass of bubbly in the background, I love my antique champagne glasses, not the flutes, but the flat saucers almost.

And of course… dessert… Gluten-Free brownies and Vanilla Ice cream.. oh yes.

Hello my loves!

I hope everyone had a lovely holiday, and has lots more to come in the New Year! I’ve been a busy little bee, working away at the cube and over at Williams Sonoma.  I sadly did not have time this year to bake the holiday treats I normally love to, but I was able to enjoy some of our family traditions and some new additions.

The Christmas weekend was a blur and I can’t believe it’s come and gone so quickly.  La cucina made out well- new drip coffee-maker, a Cuisinart Waffle iron, and some fun other goodies including those magnetic salt & pepper grinders for the fridge!

I was back to a busy week at work and was trying to get together easy, tasty, and healthful meals.  A side that my cousins’ wife Ro cooked up at Christmas was delish- it was a zesty quinoa pilaf- so I decided to recreate it, and serve it alongside some grilled chicken.  This was my first foray into quinoa.  I know, I know, I’m late to the party.  I was surprised by how much I liked it!

 

 

The week has been hard at work, so I’ve been cherishing my downtime at home.  The other night after another draining day at the office I wanted to curl up with something comforting.  But, I didn’t want to have to make another big trip to the store and be cooking for hours.  Luckily, I had sausage still- all I needed to do was defrost- it was the apple gouda sausage that I first enjoyed a few weeks ago.

The sausage went on the grill pan, the peas in the steamer, and the potatoes in a pot.  I thought it was a very British meal- reminds me of a pub meal I had in London a couple of years ago.  It was exactly what I needed.  (Yes, the wine in the background didn’t hurt either.)

I may or may not have gone a little overboard with the mashed potatoes- but I couldn’t help myself.  I’ve actually been eating very well lately, (still trying out the gluten-free thing for the most part.)

This weekend is New Year’s- I’ll have to come up with a good resolution by then.  I’m keeping it low-key this year, I may grab a drink with a couple of friends early, but I really want to stay home and cook a delicious meal on New Year’s Eve- really treat myself and relax.  And I promise to have more recipes next week.

 

 

The glamour shot.

So many things to tell you dear readers!!

I’ve recently been MIA due to a new gig I’ve picked up.  In an effort to pay off my student loans before I’m 60 (yes that’s a gross exaggeration) and to stimulate my mind & spirit (since the cube has become dull & repetitive, after 6 years, that tends to happen, ugh) I have a part-time job now at wait for it…  Williams Sonoma!   YAY!

I used to go in there on weekends, and just stroll around the store, touching fabulous cookware, dreaming about the day I might finally register for a KitchenAid Stand Mixer, a set of All-Clad (yeah, right), or and endless collection of cookbooks. (That I would most likely only peruse for fun and continue to Google recipes much like I do now.) Being the week before Christmas I’ve been super busy between the cube and the pre-holiday retail rush.  I’ve been there every night this week until 11 or later.  That means not much time for cooking!  It also means that hopefully I’ll have some fun gadgets to share with you or experiences at the store.  And, it means that I have to be very strategic in my meal planning.

This week I made a lasagna for dinner Monday, and to have the leftovers for lunches.  For a quick dinner each night before heading to the mall I’ve heated up some squash soup that I made a batch of a couple of weeks ago and froze.

Onto the main event: Lasagna Bolognese.  I didn’t intend for it to be gluten free- but, my roommate is GF and I always feel bad making things that I can’t share with her.  And, by default, Whole Foods seemed to be out of any other kind of lasagna noodle that night.  The DeBole’s No-Boil Rice Lasagna noodles worked perfectly! Just make sure to handle your grocery bags with care or you’ll end up with more pieces than sheets… oops.

In the end it worked out because I used a smaller, oval casserole dish and had to use the broken pieces to fit.

For the main sauce I used the last and final frozen container of the big fat bolognese.  Dang that was a lot of sauce!  I was racking my brain for what else to use it for- I’d done just the sauce & pasta, stuffed peppers- lasagna was the last iteration I could come up with!  (Now if that isn’t a 25 cent word, I don’t know what is.)

I of course Googled lasagna bolognese and lot of folks use a bechamel sauce as well.  I wasn’t feeling that adventurous, and, if it was going to be gluten-free I would have had to make substitutions.  Instead, I mashed together a few recipes and came up with a layer of ricotta mixed with one egg (to help bind), thawed frozen chopped spinach, chopped crimini mushrooms, (more veggies to off-set the cheese), and shredded mozzarella.

I lost track of the order of my layers, but it went something like this:

Sauce, noodles, cheese

Noodles, sauce, cheese, noodles, sauce, mozzarella. (I think.)

Into the oven it went!

Now that is a thing of beauty.  Mangia!

Sights & Sounds of the Season

(we’ll get to tastes later, this is after all, a food blog.)

The holidays are finally in full swing around these parts!  I don’t know if it’s the warm weather, or the lack of a Christmas tree in my apartment, but I haven’t yet gotten into the holiday spirit.  Which, some of you may know, is really weird.  I love Christmas.  And not the the crazy family get-together and exchange presents part, but the holiday season- the music, the decorations, the lights on the trees, sending cards, all of it. Love love love Christmas.  Two of my favorite things are the annual trip to see the Boston Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker, and Christmas peeping around town- seeing how people have decorated their apartments & condos.

As for the Nutcracker, I really enjoy the music component, I’ll listen to it at home wrapping presents or baking cookies, and I love the ballet- it’s so elegant and those dancers make it look so easy!  But one of my favorite parts is one that you might not get unless you’ve been to the ballet- I love the sound of ballet pointe shoes on the stage floor.  They make this tap-tap-tap that I absolutely love.  It’s weird, I know, but I have supersonic hearing, I hear everything- sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse.  Anyway, my lil’ golden retriever style ears pick up everything and that tap of the shoes on the stage when there’s a lull in the music is just the perfect addition to an already amazing tradition.

 

And decorations… well, they do it right here in Boston.  In my neck of the woods, Beacon Hill, every year there are greens & red bow on all the lamp-posts.  All of them.  Volunteers decorate at the beginning of the month and they stay up until New Year’s.  It’s such a nice touch, looking down the block at the old lamps and their holiday cheer.  I highly recommend a stroll through this ‘hood this time of year.  City-living certainly doesn’t always mean getting a good does of holiday decor, at least not on the outside- you won’t see apartment blocks competing for who has the most lights, but there are subtle touches people add.  This morning, when I went for my walk, I decided against my usual Charles River route (thought it was too cold & windy) so I opted for a walk through the Back Bay.  (And the real reason I did this was so I could take a peek at what the fancy people were doing to deck their halls.)

My oh my did that decision pay off!  One of my favorite streets in Boston- Marlborough St.- had things done right. Geez louise I wish I had brought my iPhone to take photos for you all!  There were trees in the windows, wreaths on the doors, decorations on the small patches of “lawn” that some of the homes have, it was utterly enchanting and a great way to start my day.  Then, then there was Santa.  As I was on my return back up Beacon Street I was startled by a life-size replica of Santa in a window.  Where most people might place a tree, there was a rather, dare I say, creepy, Santa in the window.  Not my favorite.  Not as creepy as a mall Santa, but still.