Monday, February 28, 2011

Cafeteria - Easy Night Out

Finally, Nick and I went to Cafeteria down in Back Bay.  I had been hearing about Cafeteria for a while now as an easy go-to for a cheaper dinner.  Walking in, the restaurant is fairly open and airy with a trendy flair.  It was bustling for early on a Thursday night.

They had a pretty big drink menu, including many vodka lemonades, sangrias, and beers.  Taking advantage of that, Nick went with the Chocolate Stout.

Going a bit more out there I had a Rose Sangria. 

Rose Sangria
The drink itself was great, however, I thought there would be more fruit in the drink.  I actually chose this one because of the fruit in it - if this is your thing, my recommendation would be to ask for the fruit if possible.

Rather than traditional specials, Cafeteria does daily dishes that they have each week.  On Thursday's, the special is Chicken Parmesan.  Cafeteria had actually sent me a tweet before heading out recommending this dish, and when we sat down we saw someone at a nearby table with it.  It looked so good that Nick had to go with it.

Chicken Parm
The dish was HUGE and the chicken was great - very moist and the breading was tasty.  However, the sauce was a little thing.  It just was not thick enough to really stick to the pasta or chicken.

Having heard things about the menu, I decided to test out their burger.  They have a number of types including grass fed beef, lamb and Tuna, that you can add a variety of toppings to.  I decided to go with a beef burger with Cheddar, fried onions and avocado.  If avocado is ever an option I will add it!

The Burger
Generally the burgers come with Cafeteria sauce, but not being a big fan of creamy dressings, I asked for it on the side.  It looked like Thousand Island so I steered clear, but Nick said it was good.  The burger was good, especially for the price of about $12, but it just did not do it for me.  The beef was tender and flavorful, but something seemed to be missing.  I was enjoying the toppings more than the burger itself.  I will say the fries and onions were great.  They had a lot of flavor.  The batter on the onions was great - it actually had some taste to it.

Overall Cafeteria makes for an easy night out.

Cafeteria Boston on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Brooklyn for brunch - Le Gamin

After a bit of a rough night in New York (where I enjoyed more than my fair share of red wine) and a bit of a later start, my friends and I were off to Brooklyn to visit CAC's neighborhood and get a taste of life across the bridge.  I was surprised at how much more of a neighborhood feel Brooklyn has - I found it similar to Boston in that way.  There were plenty of cute shops and restaurants to take advantage of.

At CAC's suggestion we headed to Le Gamin to enjoy a later brunch.  Le Gamin is very cute inside, all shabby chic in a french countryside way.  Everything about the restaurant stays very true to its french roots - even all the dishes on the menu were in french!  The kitchen was so small that I really could not believe how they managed to make everything with not much in the way of equipment.  Regardless, the chefs and servers worked magic.

I ordered a cappuccino, which came in a fantastically large mug.  Interestingly, they actually served cafe au lait, which you do not see at most places.  The warm milk is always so nice in those!

My cappuccino
For what ended up turning into more of a lunch, three of us went with a crepe dish.  Wow - these were impressive.  Having an undying love of brie, I got a crepe, made with buckwheat, that had brie, mushrooms and caramelized onions. 

The Lunch Crepe
Words cannot describe how great this dish was.  It was so satisfying but also really light.  The combination of the textures of the crepe with the fillings was great.  The greens were a nice side to the dish and added a bit of color and variety to the plate.

AK went very traditional french and got a croque-monsieur.

Needless to say this sandwich was beyond cheesy goodness!  Adding the fresh bread to the mix was the icing on the cake.

While we were are more than full, we had to have one the dessert crepes - the savory ones were great, but we could not leave without trying on the of the sweet ones!  While I do not have a photo - we took bites that fast! - it was a "simple" dessert crepe with butter and sugar.  Again, this dish did not disappoint!  It was really nice and light and the perfect end to a great brunch.  There was a nice hint of lemon in the crepe that went well with the butter and sugar.

All in all, this was a great meal that just topped off a NYC weekend of great food and friends!

Le Gamin Café on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Alta - Tapas in New York's West Village

After a lovely NYC day of brunch, a visit to the MoMa, and mani/pedis, we were ready for a fun evening out on the town.  For dinner my friend CAC made reservations at Alta Restaurant in the West Village, which again did not disappoint!  Somehow we magically got a cab outside our hotel and headed straight out.  It was a cold evening - more windy than the day, which honestly did not seem possible - so I was amazingly delighted with the interior of Alta.  There were at least 2 fireplaces going, with the one in the back of the room in which we were seated looking like it was from the colonial era.  Those, in combination with the big beamed ceilings, the dim lighting and the exposed brick, caused me to warm up immediately upon entering the restaurant. 

Alta had an extensive wine list with a wide variety of prices, so we really relied on our waiter for a recommendation.  When I do this, I always worry about the price range I give because I assume they will go as high as possible.  Instead, our server actually recommended a bottle in the lower price point (the bottom, actually)!  With that we started our first bottle of the evening!

One a few bottles of wine!
Alta is actually a Tapas style restaurant with food of varying influences.  Knowing that we wanted to chat and drag out dinner a bit longer, CAC recommended that we order a few dishes at a time.  The food comes out in a hurry, so before you know it, you could be done with dinner!  We started by ordering about 3 dishes at a time.  Within 5 minutes, the food was arriving at our table - thank goodness for our strategy!
While I attempted to get pictures of everything, I missed out on a few items.

Bacon Wrapped Dates & Olives stuffed with almonds. 
This was in the first round, and we definitely forgot about the olive part and bit right in...for those who love olives it was great!  For me, though, with the exception of olives,anything wrapped in bacon works for me.  I just wished I could taste a bit more of the almond flavor. 

Fried Goat Cheese with lavender infused honey
I honestly do not know what else to say about this dish: if you like goat cheese, you cannot go wrong here.  It's cheese sticks of the highest class.  The honey was great - I definitely had a few more dips of that using only my fork!  One thing that I forgot to get a picture of was the Lamb Meatballs with spiced butternut squash foam, toasted sesame seeds and lebne.  I really could have eaten only those.  They were AMAZING!  They were so good that they disappeared before a photo op.

Sweet Potato Ravioli  with brown butter, hazelnuts, aleppo pepper and sage emulsion
This ravioli dish was interesting.  Believe it or not, under all that foam is a bunch of ravioli (about the size of a quarter) that were pretty good.  But like the presentation, the foam was a but much and a little overpowering for most of us.  AK really enjoyed the foam!

Crispy Brussels Sprouts with fuji apples, crème fraiche and pistachio nuts
These brussel sprouts were amazing.  I typically cannot get over eating what seems like a soggy head of lettuce, but these were so crispy and flavorful.  The apples and the nuts were a surprising addition to the dish.  They did not taste anything like a typical brussel sprout, and I am now officially a convert as long as they are cooked in whatever magic that these were prepared in.

Bruschetta of Spinach & Mascarpone, dried Turkish figs, pine nuts, parmesan & balsamic
I generally do not order bruschetta because of my issue with tomatoes, but this one, again, was not your typical bruschetta, instead of tomatoes there was spinach and it was delicious.

Seared Sea Scallops with parsley root puree, apple cider "caviar", chorizo oil and black olives
These scallops were tasty and cooked really well. 

Pulled Pork Empanadas with sweet spicy cilantro dipping sauce
The empanandas were tasty.  Though the pulled pork had a lot of flavor, the crust did not.  It was a bit greasy and not as flaky as I would have liked, but I enjoyed it overall.

Braised Short Rib of Beef Beet-Barbaresco taglierini and fresh grated horseradish
Unknowingly we saved the best for last.  There was no knife necessary to eat this pork.  It literally fell apart merely using your fork.  The meat itself had so much delicious flavor.  While I generally do not like beets, the pasta was great.  Whatever else they mixed the beet with really complemented the flavor and changed it up enough to add something extra. 

As you can see, I loved basically everything about this restaurant.  It was a fantastic meal and great company.  It was a lot of fun to be able to try a bunch of smaller dishes while enjoying a nice bottle of wine. 
The server was relatively nice about letting us sit.  It was not until we finally started tapering off the food ordering and were ready to move on did they start trying to get us to move.  At that point we needed the push!
I would highly recommend going to Alta for a great dinner. 

Alta on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 25, 2011

NYC Bunch - Aurora in SoHo

This past weekend I was lucky enough to head to New York City for a mini reunion with some of my oldest friends - some from high school, and others from even earlier than that!  CAC actually lives in the city and was nice enough to arrange reservations for all our meals, which can be difficult!  I will say now that she did an amazing job with her selection.  Each of the restaurants were a bit different but all laid back.  The main point: the food was DELICIOUS everywhere!

On Saturday morning we has our brunch in SoHo at Aurora Ristorante.  The exposed brick walls and wide plank floors were especially warm and welcoming on such a cold and windy day.  While we all got coffee, which was delicious, we also got complementary cocktails with a brunch order!  Some opted for the Bloody Mary, which was VERY spicy.  I know a lot of people who really love that, but for this crowd it was just a bit too much.  Not being a Bloody Mary person myself, I got a Frizzante, which had champagne and guava juice.

For me, this totally hit the spot.  The juice was really light so that you could taste the champagne (my favorite part).

Most of us stuck with the breakfast menu,  but AK was too tempted by the avocado burger combination.  The burger also came with tomato, caramelized onions, handcut fries, bacon, cheese, and mushrooms.

The burger
While not the best burger we've tasted, it was still tasty and juicy, especially for the price of $12.  CAC went for her standby of Eggs Florentine, which is basically Eggs Benedict but with spinach.

Eggs Florentine
Again, this dish was nice and tasty.  The Hollandaise was flavorful and creamy.  RS followed suit and got regular Eggs Benedict.

Eggs Benedict
Again, the Hollandaise was great and the ham, along with the rest of the dish, was cooked well.

Being a huge fan of Portobello mushrooms, I was immediately drawn to the smoked bacon, mushrooms and two eggs any way you want them.

Mushroom Breakfast
The dish was delicious and perfectly satisfying, but it seemed a bit lonely on the plate.  I think the dish needed a bit more juice from the mushrooms or something.  Some greens on the side would have been nice - there was just no real color interest.  However, it was all cooked well, especially the eggs, which goes a long way in my book.

Aurora let us sit for a while, even when the place started to get really busy (with a wait).  At no point did they really rush us out the door.  Also, we actually left a Bloody Mary on the table because it was too spicy and they gave us another drink for the refill price, which they did not have to do.  Overall the food was tasty and the atmosphere was inviting, allowing the four of us to catch up.  Aurora is a great brunch spot, and I definitely want to try their dinner the next time I am in NYC.

Aurora Soho on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Four Green Fields - an Irish pub?

Being in great need to get together with some friends, we decide to catch up over drinks after work one evening last week.  Not really knowing where to go but always being up for somewhere new, we headed to Four Green Fields in the BNY Mellon building in Downtown Crossing.  I believe the restaurant has only been open for 2 weeks and originated from a similar bar in Tampa.  When people were talking about the bar itself they always referenced the authentic thatch Irish actually can have a little party in there!

The cottage
When we walked in the bar was packed but there were a few tables available in the large downstairs area.  There is a smaller bar upstairs that we did not see.  I think the downstairs is going to end up being the entertainment venue (the website discusses lots of live bands).  The room was really large and had extremely high ceilings, which made it seem loud and a bit imposing,  There was no division in the room other than the tables which did not have much rhyme or reason to their positioning.  Also, there was not much on the walls near where we were sitting, so it just seemed huge.  I am assuming something will go there in time.  The upstairs may have bit more intimate seating.

They did have a few imports that you do not see everywhere, including Belhaven.

Oddly enough, one of my coworkers recently told me out this beer and said it would change my life.  While it was definitely delicious and different that what you can normally get around here, life changing it was not. The other beer listed on the menu was Magner's, a cider available throughout the UK - even in 2 liter bottles - so I was pleasantly surprised to see it on the menu!  However, I was taken aback when the waiter delivered a Woodchuck!

We asked if there had been a mistake and he said "no, this is what we actually have, but they are basically the same."  To all those cider drinkers out there: do not fear, we corrected him on the spot.  Woodchuck is much sweeter than Magner's.  It was a bit of a let down as we were excited for what was listed on the menu.
We did not delve too deeply into the menu as we just wanted some snacks, but they did seem to have a pretty good variety, which included a raw bar.  We ordered the creamy crab dip, which was a fresh lump crab meat in a creamy cheese sauce.

Creamy Crab Dip
The dip was good and the pita chips were a lot better than tortilla chips.  However, there could have been a bit more crab.  We also ordered the sweet potato fries which were great. 

Sweet Potato Fries
The fries were done well - crispy and not overly greasy.

Overall, I would do a few drinks here after work, and there is plenty of space for a big group.  If you are looking for a place to catch up, the upstairs may serve your needs better.  I think in time everything will come together a bit more - flags and a cottage alone, though, do not make an authentic Irish pub.

Four Green Fields on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

UPDATE - Crush Boutique - Where they really do know your name (and style)

For those who do not know this already, Charles Street in Beacon Hill is much more than antique shops these days.  There are a number of fantastic boutiques where you can do a lot of damage to your wallet.  One of my favorite shops is Crush Boutique down near the MGH end of the road.

I stopped in at Crush the day of my 10-year high school reunion.  I already had a dress, but since it was my 10 year and I was running the show, I figured if I found something better I would go for it.  It happened to be the day after Thanksgiving and the shop was fairly busy.  I started to poke around, found a dress I liked and went to try it on.  What happened from there is something I have never experienced before: within the next 5 minutes, Rebecca and Laura, the fantastic owners, proceeded to pull all sorts of different dresses that they thought would work on me, checking to see if the style was OK.  Before I knew it I had gone from 1 dress to about 12 dresses.  I am certainly NOT easy to fit, but each dress looked better than the next.  I think I walked out in each and every dress and they helped me narrow it down, offering an actual opinion - they certainly were not just appeasing me to make a sale.  On one of the busiest shopping days of the year, I spent about 2 hours in their store and walked out feeling amazing with the MOST amazing dress for my reunion!

Since then, whenever I need an outfit for anything - work, a night out, formals, really ANYTHING - I head to Crush and the girls there work their magic.  I hardly need to look at the clothes as they personal shop their store for you!  Not only did they take the time to learn my name, they learned my style and remember me each time I walk in.  Many stores of comparable size and target audiences just don't take that sort of time.

Being a fan of all things Crush, I saw on their Facebook page that they were having a Valentine's Day raffle with the winner receiving a gift bag with $300 worth of goodies.  Not wanting to miss out, but doubting I would win, I entered myself by describing a date where I wore a dress from Crush and posted a photo on their facebook page.  Really, there were plenty to choose from!

To be honest, I had forgotten that I even entered myself until I got back from our fantastic Valentine's Day dinner at Mamma Maria and saw that I had a bunch of new Facebook messages.  Turns out I actually won!

My Loot!

You have no idea how excited I was!  The winnings included (with my commentary):
  • a silver Ada obi leather wrap belt (I already own the camel color one and I will tell you this is the most versatile belt and you will wear it with everything!)
  • a gift certificate to Mizu Salon, worth $50 (Love is in the Hair!)
  • a Crave Boston Book, with coupons (such a great book for Boston shoppers!  Your wallet will hate you.)
  • a $25 gift certificate to Scampo at The Liberty Hotel (I have been here twice and it was amazing both times.  I cannot wait to go back!)
  • a Sage Fragrances garnet scented roll-on perfume
  • a Hanky Panky hearts thong (very cute!)
  • a Coobie lace trim bra in hot pink (best thing for your more difficult tops)
  • a pair of silver heart stud earrings from Freya (great everyday studs)
  • a New Image jewelry silver coil bracelet (which I LOVE to play with and looks really cute)
  • an Aunt Sadie’s Crush Candle (smells great!)
  • a Cosmoholic lip gloss in Promiscuous Pink (works on everyone!)
  • two Cosmoholic amenity bars (“I <3 You” and “Lips”)
As you can see I made out like a bandit.  When I stopped in to get my goodies, I of course had to try a few things on and am now ready for spring.  It is actually spring within the walls of Crush with color everywhere - perfect when dealing with the weather we have been having lately!

Moral of the story: if you have not been to Crush before, GO IMMEDIATELY!  If you have, go back anyways, since there are always new, amazing things to try on, and they could not be MORE friendly!


People have asked about the photo and the dress/picture I posted.  While I won because my name was pulled out of a hat, here is the photo I posted.  I wore this great Alexia Admor dress to a New Years Eve party at Dante - 2009 to 2010.

NYE 2009-2010
It was black strapless with silver polka-dots.  It had a bit of a flair to the skirt.  Unfortunately I don't have the best picture of me in the dress, but here is the best I had!

The Dress and the Boy
The dress was fun and flirty and was so easy to move in.  More than that, I felt great!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sesame-Sriracha Crusted Ahi Tuna

My brother recently told me about this small cookbook that is entirely dedicated to dishes with Sriracha - as in each and every recipe tell you how to get this hot and spicy sauce into every type of food.

How to add spice to EVERY dish
Nick decided to take the first stab at the spice and went with the cover dish - sesame-Sriracha crusted ahi tuna. 

The necessities...

2 tablespoons of Sriracha
1-1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup white sesame seeds, lightly toasted
1/2 cup black sesame seeds, lightly toasted
2-1/2 pounds of sushi-grade ahi tuna loin
Steamed rice and/or steamed veggies to serve
Sliced green onions for garnish - green part only

Nick was able to find some great sushi-grade tuna at Savenor's Market on Charles - a bit expensive, but when dealing with semi-raw fish you do not really want to mess around.

Nice tuna steaks
In a large mixing bowl Nick added the sesame oil and the Sriracha and mixed it together. 

Up close with Sriarcha
Once mixed, Nick placed the tuna in the bowl and covered each side of the tune with the mixture. 

Tuna smothered in Sriracha
One a plate, Nick spread out the sesame seeds. 

Ready to coat the tuna
While the recipe called for both black and white sesame seeds, we used the rest of our tuxedo-blend sesame seeds, which had both black and white seeds already mixed together, and then made up difference with white sesame seeds since that's all we could find at the store.

Now for the cooking.  According to the recipe, the key to making this dish is using a "superhot pan" so that it gets a nice crust on the outside of the tuna without overcooking the inside.  You are supposed to use a cast iron skillet, but since we have not yet invested in one of those, we stuck with the All-Clad.  While Nick was prepping the tuna, he had the pan on the stove top that was set to high - making it "rocket-hot."  Once it reached this extreme temperature, Nick drizzled 1 tablespoon of sesame oil over the super hot pan and proceeded to cook each side of the tuna for 30 seconds.

Cooking away
Well, the pan was definitely "rocket-hot." The first tuna steak hit the pan and we almost had to call the fire department - lets just say the screaming hot pan smoked a bit, and our vents were not enough!  I stood in the hall and fanned the smoke detectors to get rid of as much of the smoke as possible while Nick quickly seared the tuna.  This two minute time frame seemed to be MUCH longer, but the tuna cooked amazingly!  Once cooked, Nick covered the tuna with tin foil for about two minutes before serving.

The recipe suggested a cucumber side dish that Nick put together a couple of hours before cooking the tuna in order to make sure the flavors settled in and the cucumbers had more than a little kick - Sriracha Sunomono.  Nick sliced up a cucumber nice and thin and tossed them together in a bowl with 1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, and a tablespoon of Sriracha.

A light salad
Once it was all finished, Nick sliced the tuna and plated it over jasmine rice.

Dinner is Ready!
This dish was so good!  I was worried that the Sriracha would be overpowering, but really it just complemented the tuna and provided a great flavor kick.  Having spent more on the tuna than we normally spend on dinner, I was a bit worried using the Sriracha because it it so strong but I would definitely make this again.  The cucumbers were still fresh and crisp tasting.  The sauce, again, had a nice bite from the vinegar and heat from the Sriracha.  I had some of these a few days later for lunch and the heat had definitely increased, to the point where I wished I had some milk rather than water to drink.

Overall, I was almost surprised by how much I enjoyed this dish.  Now I cannot wait to test out the rest of this book!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Met Back Bay Burger Test

After a failed attempt to eat at the new Lolita Cocina (2 hour wait - no way!), we found ourselves at the always delicious Met Back Bay.  This time, we sat in their cozy Library Bar, which has a great atmosphere that is a lot more intimate than the main dining room and the downstairs bar.

I have heard a couple of good reviews of their burger, so I thought this would be an opportunity to put theirs to the test and compare.

Met Back Bay Burger
I went for the Back Bay Dry-Aged Burger, which is a 10 ounce patty with Vermont extra sharp cheddar, double smoked bacon and port wine onions on a organic sesame bun with some duck fat fries.  In addition, the burger comes with a Parmesan wafer. 

When it arrived at the table I was really excited - the burger looked really juicy with well-melted cheese.  I was totally looking forward to my first bite, but when I bit in, it was overcooked!  I was so disappointed.  I ordered the burger medium rare and it came more medium well.  Further, I did not get much flavor from the wafer like I had anticipated.  Overall it was good, but not nearly as good as I was expecting considering the $18 dollar price tag.  The duck fat fries were tasty but the duck fat did not seem to add much flavor.  With plenty of amazing things on the menu, I'll definitely be going back, but I am not sure this would be one of my go-to options.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ski Weekend at Sunday River

This past weekend, Nick and I headed up to Sunday River for the weekend and were lucky enough to stay right on the mountain - ski on/ski off.  About three hours from Boston, it is a bit further than some of the New Hampshire mountains, but not having to deal with the traffic on route 4 goes a long way.

Skiing, Snow and Sun!
Somehow, even though it was a great February weekend the mountain was so quite, and there were points where we actually were the only ones on the trail.  For me, it was a bit of a homecoming as I used to ski at Sunday River most weekends for 8 years.  Nick, however, had not been skiing for about 10 years, so this was a bit of a "welcome back to skiing" weekend for him - and he did great! (thank goodness, as I love the sport.)

The conditions were great - plenty of snow, and almost the entire mountain was open.  Add to that the lack of crowds and we really had a great experience.  The mountain is so large that you never get sick of the trails - there is always something new to explore.  On the first day we stuck to the newer area of the mountain, including Jordan Bowel and Aurora Peak where there are some solid greens and nice blues.
Locke Mountain Peak
The following day we headed over to the original part of the mountain, including Barker and Locke Mountains and Spruce peak.  While the snow was fantastic on Spruce Peak, you have to deal with one of the only two remaining slow triple chair lifts.  This weekend, though, it was well worth the slow trip up because those trails had some of the BEST snow.  The chair at Barker was actually replaced recently, so that was even better!  Of course passing over the huge jumps and Agony, the mogul trail, is always entertaining.

The Right Stuff
The mountain has changed a bit and has a bunch of new restaurants.  Rather than dealing with the crowds at the base lodges, we headed to the Jordan Grand Hotel and ate at Sliders.  It is a great open restaurant with paneled ceilings and was perfect for an afternoon bite and drink.  I had been there before and they had a great list of warm hottie totties, but for some reason they didn't have it this time around!  I was so disappointed, but the hot cocoa and Bailey's was more than delicious. 

Saturday night we went to Shipyard Brew Haus at the White Cap lodge.  The thing we learned there was that all of Shipyard's beers are delicious.  Nick is a huge fan of the Pumpkin Head that comes out each fall, but we really had not tried anything else.  The Export, the Thumper, and the light were all great.  I can't wait to buy some here.

All in all it was a great weekend and reminded me why I love ski weekends so much.  I cannot wait for another.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mamma Maria's - Such an Amazing Dinner!

On Monday, Nick and I headed to Mamma Maria for a Valentine's Day dinner.  Although Valentine's Day kind of sneaked up this year, we randomly got our acts together in January to make a dinner reservation (thanks to Open Table's reminder email!).  Although we made this reservation early, many restaurants we wanted to try were no longer taking reservations.  When I saw Mamma Maria was available, though,  I booked it as quickly as possible.  I had been there for a rehearsal dinner a couple of years ago and had nothing but great memories of the food and setting.

Flash forward to Valentine's Day where I'm looking at the website in an effort to get an advanced peek at the menu and I see that it was going to be a prix fixe menu for the evening.  I almost canceled the reservation!  As I have said before, I am NOT a fan of prix fixe menus for "big nights out" because the food does not seem have the same quality as the regular menu on a normal night.  With only hours to go before Valentine's dinner, I figured it would be hard to find another option.  Also, even with the price fixed, there were at least 6 options each for main courses and appetizers - a lot more than you're usually offered - so we just went for it.  Thank goodness we did!  This was one of the best meals we have had in a long time.

To start off the evening, Nick came home with a beautiful bouquet of flowers that even had tulips, my favorite! 

They were so nice and bright during this cold and dark winter.  Really, I should have known then how lovely of a night we were in for!

At Mamma Maria, we sat in the smaller back room on the first floor that was painted in two tones of chocolate brown.  The room only had about 6 tables so it was an intimate setting and perfect for the occasion.  Needless to say my flash photography during the night was even a little embarrassing for me!  The wine list was really extensive, and the server seemed to have a good understanding of the different wines available.  Nick being a chianti/sangiovese lover, and I drink ALL read, we ordered one of the blends that was a reasonable price.

The Wine
The wine was a La Storia merlot/sangiovese blend that was very mild and smooth (read: easy to drink!). While we were waiting for our appetizers, we enjoyed a hearty white bread that had a great thick crust.   

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Burgers for Meatless Monday?!?

While Meatless Monday this week is being sacrificed in the name of St. Valentine, I have a bit of a back log, so last week's Meatless Monday adventure works for me!

Once again, Yum Sugar has proven to be super helpful in finding creative meals for Meatless Monday, fit even for the cold winter evenings we have been having.  Being a huge fan of "real-deal" meaty burgers, I generally avoid imitations - they're just NOT real burgers!  In an effort to stay true to my reasons behind Meatless Monday, I decided it was about time to see what these "burgers" were all about and decided on this Black Bean Burger, which was adapted from Gourmet.  I went for this recipe because it seemed to have a juicy, hearty look to it, and I wanted something with a good bite (also, I'm a sucker for a good recipe picture.)

Black Bean Burger
The Necessities...

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 (14-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup plain dry bread crumbs
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 soft hamburger buns
sour cream, salsa, guacamole, lettuce, for serving

Upon reading the reviews of this dish I learned that the key to having the ingredients stick together was to make sure the beans were washed and dried thoroughly - otherwise, you are left with a crumbled mess.  I must say, this was really helpful because I think I would have just washed and added the beans.  Having read up on this, I washed the beans and let them sit for awhile then I took a couple of paper towels and patted them dry.  While I did not compare dry to wet beans, my burgers stuck together, so something worked!  Another note about the beans: while I bought BLACK beans (the cans were clearly labeled as such - Nick even verified!), what came out definitely looked like red beans. I am not sure how this happened but I still went for it.

"Black" Beans
While the beans were drying, I chopped up the onion, cilantro, and jalapeno.  I first allowed the onion to saute in olive oil for about 5 minutes, and then added the jalapeno and allowed the mixture to cook for another couple of minutes.  Finally, I added a bit of the already prepared minced garlic and stirred and sauteed for another 2 minutes. 

In a larger mixing bowl, I combined the bread crumbs, spices, and cilantro.  While the recipe did not indicate either way, I used Panko breadcrumbs because the only regular ones I had on hand were Italian seasoned, which wouldn't have been the right flavor for this dish.  This dish had a surprising number of spices, which I figured would provide a lot of much-needed flavor.  Obviously I was worried about what these "burgers" would taste like!   

Dry Ingredients
I added the dried beans to the dry ingredients and also added the sauteed onions, jalapenos and garlic to the bowl.
All the components
The next step was fun: mashing it all together.  While the recipe said to use your hands, I tried using a pastry blender, but realized that it was not really helping.  It turns out my hands really were the best tool!  I mashed the components together until it formed more of paste, then broke it up into 4 equal parts that resulted in 1/2 inch thick patties. 

"Burger" Patties
In a saute pan with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil I cooked the burgers - about 3 minutes per side.  The recipe said to cook for a total of 5 minutes or until the outsides were crisp and a light brown, but I will tell you it was really hard to tell!  I ended up cooking them for an extra couple of minutes.  Also, these things sucked up the oil really quickly - be careful not to burn them.

Almost a "Burger"
I bought some bakery-style burger buns and toasted them in the oven while the burgers were cooking, trying to give the authentic burger feel.  For toppings I used salsa, guacamole and sour cream - or, I should say, Nick used the sour cream as that falls into my "ewww" category.

The Black Bean Burger
I was pretty impressed with the results.  In my opinion, this is in no way a replacement for my beloved beef burgers, but definitely a great dish - even with suspect "black" beans.  The burger had loads of flavor and stuck together really well.  It did satisfy that burger urge while really skimping on the calories.  I should have gone for a smaller bun as these were a little overwhelming, but still good.  The toppings made everything come together and left me completely satisfied.  This is an easy weeknight dish with components you generally have on hand, and one that I would totally recommend.
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