Thursday, April 10, 2014

I Wanted the Chicken Pot Pie, So I Got A Salad Instead

Deep Dish Skillet Pizza - My Kitchen, Cambridge, MA
My cute mini skillet deep dish pizza

     I can't believe I've never thought of doing this before. I'm a huge fan of cast iron, and cooking a deep dish pizza in it is just genius. I stumbled upon this idea on a blog called Minimalist Baker and was intrigued. Truthfully, only basic instructions are necessary. You're totally free to create any type of pizza in any size that you desire. I used my mini cast iron skillet and some pre-made whole wheat crust from Trader Joes, but I'm sure making your own crust would be fabulous. For the toppings, I roasted some of my favorite veggies, cut up an Italian chicken sausage.

Deep Dish Skillet Pizza

1/2 pizza dough recipe (or 1 store-bought crust)
1/4 cup pizza sauce
1/2 cup mixed veggies of your choice (I used onions, red pepper, brussel sprouts, and mushrooms)
1/4 cup Mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup Monterey jack cheese

1) If roasting veggies, preheat oven to broil, toss veggies in olive oil on a baking sheet, and broil for 4-6 minutes on the top rack, tossing once for even cooking. Remove from oven and set aside.
2) Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
3) Coat a cast iron pan with olive oil and press your dough down into the pan and up around the sides about 1 to 1.5 inches. Let rest for a few minutes while preparing the rest of your toppings.
4) Sprinkle in a portion of your cheese, then add veggies and then sauce. Top with remaining mozzarella cheese, italian seasonings (dried basil, oregano, thyme, red pepper, etc.). Definitely do a base layer of cheese, but I'd say you can add the sauce before the veggies if you want.
5) Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the cheese and sauce are bubbly. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting. 


Chocolate Hazelnut Larabars - My Kitchen, Cambridge, MA

Chocolate Hazelnut Larabar ingredients (+cocoa powder)

Again... I was sick of paying money for bars when I knew I could make them for much cheaper. If you recall, I've made the Key Lime Pie and Blueberry Muffin Larabars before and they were stellar (well... the Key Lime ones were). After the struggles I went through making the Blueberry Muffin ones, I learned that you shouldn't throw everything in your food processor at once. It will sound like it's drowning. Pulse the nuts first, pour them out, and then pulse the dates. My little food processor still struggles with the dates because they're so thick and sticky, but as long as you get them mostly broken up and into a ball of mush, then you should be all good. Then at the end I mix all the ingredients together by hand and shape them into whatever I'm feeling. I found this recipe for Chocolate Hazelnut Larabars on a blog called Naturally Ella. These are super easy, have simple ingredients and are a great pre-workout snack!

Chocolate Hazelnut Larabars

2½ cups medjool dates, pitted
¾ cup almonds, toasted
¾ cups hazelnuts, toasted
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
¼ cup dark chocolate, finely chopped 


Emmet's Irish Pub and Restaurant- Boston, MA

Steamed Mussels and Garlic Bread
     Per Dave's suggestion, Meagan, Dave, Karl and I headed over to Emmet's after a chilly evening ice skating on the Boston Common Frog Pong. With wooden decor and stained glass windows, this place is your standard Irish pub with the most delicious sounding Irish fare. The Shephard's Pie, Bangers and Mash, and Chicken Pot Pie were sweetly calling my name, but I had to remember I'm a lightweight. Instead, I opted for the Steamed Mussels. These were native New England mussels that had been sauteed in a succulent butter, garlic and white wine broth. They were a tad bit saltier than I would've preferred, but they were perfectly tender and had such a rich flavor (ahhh thank you butter). They were also served with their homemade garlic bread. I believe the bread was actually French bread, but in addition to garlic I think they added another red spice that I really liked. Paprika perhaps? I'm not sure. I couldn't place it. Maybe someday when I'm not trying to be 130 pounds I'll come back for the chicken pot pie with the mile-high, buttery pillowing crust.


Towne - Boston, MA


The bartender's interpretation of
a Blue Lagoon
     Please just go to Towne's website (shown above). Look at how beautiful it is. Just look. As I walked into this place and the hostess directed me to my friends, I said to her, "IIIIII don't make enough money to be in here right now." She assured me I was fine and took me to meet Cheryl, Kate and Emma. These lovely ladies were a couple friends I made on an Ecuador trip back in 2007. Emma was in town from the University of Edinburgh in the UK for a conference that was taking place at Hynes Convention Center. Since Cheryl, Kate and I all live here, it was a great kick in the pants to get us all together again. It was such a fabulous night of reminiscing and story telling.
     To start off, Cheryl asked our waitress if their bartender knew how to make a Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon was a drink we probably had one too many of in a surf town called Montañita on the coast of Ecuador. They held a very special place in our hearts. The bartender hadn't heard of such a drink, but she gave it her best shot and boy was it tasty. Definitely more delicious than the cheap ones we got along the unpaved streets of Montañita.
     We were quickly served a beautiful bread basket with great hunks of a soft and chewy bread. 99% of the time when restaurants served a bread basket, I want it to be warm. Cold bread is much less appealing. However, Towne served it cold, and I really liked it because the inside retained its moisture, and it was chewy. They also had these super long, pencil sized, hard, and garlicy breadsticks. They were salty and delicious, especially when dipped in either one of their spreads. I should've asked what they were, but I was distracted. I'm pretty sure one was a sort of sweet potato spread, but I'm unsure about the other. It was also orange. A mystery.
     Two days before a weigh in, I knew I was ordering a salad. I decided on their roasted kale salad with bay scallops, shallots, pepperoncini peppers, and a creamy soy dressing. As a whole, the salad was tasty, but it didn't seem much of a salad. Let me explain. The roasted kale was... just that... roasted and salted kale. I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting, but it didn't give me the fresh and healthy flavor I was looking for. Delicious... yes... just different. The "salad" idea was debatable also because I'm not sure I saw any shallots and only saw one super thin sliver of a pepperoncini pepper. True, I wasn't paying my normal amount of attention to my food because things were happening, so I may have just missed some of the elements of the salad. The scallops were also very tiny. Like the size of slightly larger marble. However, the way one side of each scallop had crisped up from how they'd been cooked completely made up for their lack in size. Their overall flavor was great, the crispy part was excellent, they were cooked perfectly and weren't chewy. The soy dressing was probably my second favorite part. I believe the dressing had been poured on the bottom of the plate as opposed to poured overtop the entire salad. I can't say I've ever seen that before, and I really liked it because it added just a slight soy/gingery flavor to each bite without feeling like the salad was doused in dressing.
     I can never go anywhere without trying other people's food... which is great. I'm not complaining at all. Cheryl shared her roasted cauliflower and broccoli which was amaaaaazing but I'm sure it was no longer healthy. The veggies had been doused in quite a bit of olive oil for roasting (probably too much), were fairly salted and covered in parmesan cheese. I love salt. I love cheese... especially when it crisps up. So this dish was delicious, but I couldn't eat too much because it was all so salty and rich.
     Emma also let me try her Duck Confit pizza. This, my friends, was a masterpiece. It was a flatbread square pizza with duck confit (duck cooked in fat), caramelized onions, figs, triple cream blue cheese and reduced balsamic vinegar. First of all, the duck was super succulent and tender. The cheese was so smooth and creamy, and, truth be told, I didn't even know it was blue cheese at the time. I didn't get the standard bite you get from blue cheese. I also didn't notice the figs. The sweetness I did notice was from what I believe was reduced balsamic vinegar. It was a thick, brown goo drizzled over-top the whole thing. It doesn't list this on the menu, but I'm sure it was on there. It's an unmistakable flavor, and it had such an great sweetness. If I do anything in life, I hope it's to learn how to reduce balsamic vinegar like that. The combining flavors from the duck, cheeses, onions and vinegar gave the pizza so many dimensions. Genius.


Daedalus - Cambridge, MA

     I often wish I had more brunch in my life. It's such a great idea, and it's rare that one is disappointed with brunch. Mary was in town, and after not getting anything at Sunset Cantina on Friday night (I don't ever recommend watching people eat delicious Mexican food. It's absolute torture) and ordering a plain Greek salad that was very ho-hum from a place called Clarke's in Faneuil, I was really hungry and just wanted something tasty. We originally intended to go to The Boathouse for brunch, but apparently they're closed on a Sunday morning at 10:45... even though they have a brunch menu. Whatever. So we went right next door to Daedalus. Daedalus is a converted 2 story greenhouse with two bars and a rooftop dining area. Unfortunately it was too cold to sit outside, but we'll definitely have to come back sometime in the summer to try out the roof. The inside was very crisp and clean with cushiony leather booths, strange artwork resembling a swamp, funky incandescent light bulbs, standard jazz-y hold music echoing throughout the room and beautifully stained wooden tables. This place was very chic. I'm not sure if I know exactly what that word means, but I think that it fits.
Veggie Fritatta
      I still tried to stay smart healthy and ordered their brunch special Fritatta. I have to admit, I wasn't really sure what the definition of a fritatta was. I thought it was kind of like an egg-bake, but turns out it's a flat, Italian style omelette that's cooked in a cast iron skillet. Basically it's like an open faced omelette. This one was topped with roasted cauliflower, brussel sprouts, roasted red peppers and goat cheese. The eggs were truthfully just a medium onto which the roasted veggies were placed. They were the all-stars of the dish, in combination with the goat cheese. I feel like red peppers take on such a different flavor when they're roasted and Daedalus knew how to do it. It was almost like they were a completely different vegetable all together. The hunks of goat cheese were warmed up perfectly and became so soft and melty. It added such a rich flavor to an otherwise simple dish (not that that's a bad thing).
    At first I was happy that my omelette was served with a small side salad, because that meant I wouldn't be temped to eat a ton of their home fries (which generally always mean delicious things). But, as I should've expected, Meagan got full quickly... resulting in me finishing off her roasted potatoes and a little bit of her eggs benedict with lox. I always think about being adventurous and trying eggs benedict with lox, but I realized today that salmon in the morning just isn't for me. Regardless, the potatoes were perfectly roasted with just a slightly crisp outer layer and soft on the inside. They've got quite a few other things on this menu I'd love to come back and try for brunch... or lunch... or dinner.


Chickpea, Feta and Parsley Salad - My Kitchen, Cambridge, MA

     I was a huge fan of this super fresh salad I found on a blog called Simply Provisions. The reason I was so
in love was also simple. This salad took me back to my Syrian roots. The chickpeas and garlic provided flavors like that of hummus, while the parsley and the lemon provided flavors similar to tabouli. Hummus and tabouli (in a pita) is one of the most delicious combinations on the planet, so it was no wonder that this salad recipe was stellar. The feta gave it a light creamy sauce, and the lemon juice a light freshness. It's worth noting that this salad was the best served immediately. I ate it throughout the week for lunches and it seemed as though the flavors weakened as time went on, so eat up!

Chickpea, Feta and Parsley Salad 

1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tbs olive oil
Pinch red chili flakes
2 400g (14oz) tins of chickpeas
4 spring onions (scallions), green part only, chopped
1 cup chopped parsley
Juice of one lemon
150g (5 ounces) feta
Salt and pepper

1) Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and cook the red onion till lightly golden. Add garlic and chili and cook till the garlic is fragrant. Set aside to cool so it doesn’t melt the feta when you mix it in.
2) Drain the chickpeas, rinse and place in the salad bowl. Add crumbled feta, spring onion, parsley and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper. Add the cooled onion and garlic mixture and remaining oil and mix well.


Royal Pastry Shop - Somerville, MA

Carrot Cake from Royal Pastry Shop
     My coworkers are just too sweet. Literally. Nearly everytime they go to the store, they come back with a sweet treat for some. Oftentimes it's more than one treat because they couldn't decide. One day Melanie came back from running and errand and walked in with 2 big huge cake boxes. I knew they were cake boxes. There's no mistaking those. My eyes got super wide and she said "They're cakes for a birthday party after work, but don't worry... there's something for you on your desk." What a dear. She brought me back this precious little carrot cake. We had been talking about desserts the day before, and she remembered I had said I loved carrot cake. This little nugget was from a bakery on Cambridge St called Royal Pastry Shop. I'll have to go back on my own someday to take an inventory, but their carrot cake was stellar. I normally like the cake part of my carrot cake to have large pieces of shredded carrot and big walnuts, but the cake mix in this one was relatively fine. It was still delicious, however, just no visible chunks. The cream cheese frosting was out of this world. It was dense and not airy like some cream cheese frostings. I really liked this one because it was less sweet and more cream cheesy. Great cheese to sugar ratios happening here. I was so grateful for the midday treat. 


     For Malcolm's birthday, he wanted to go to an Asian place called Red Lantern downtown. I had never been, but I heard you might drop a pretty penny or two if you chose to eat and drink there. I ate dinner before going, but was not opposed to sampling when I got there. Inside the huge wooden doors was an enormous dining area and bar. The tall ceilings were draped with sea shells and hundreds of hanging red lanterns. The whole restaurant had a very sophisticated and luxurious feel with all deep red hues and dark furniture. With the flicker of fire from their open kitchen, exposed brick walls and the rugged Asian art on the walls, I felt like I was in sophisticated urban China.
Lobster Rangoons
     Being the generous guy he is (even on his own birthday), Malcolm ordered some lobster rangoons for the table that were, hands-down, the best rangoons I've ever had. The insides were perfectly warm and had an awesome rich lobster flavor. It all just melted further in your mouth. Served with scallions and a sweet soy sauce, the rangoons had such a beautiful blend of succulent flavors from the cream cheese and lobster, contrasting textures of the crisp wonton shell and the creamy insides, and a hint of salt and sweet from the soy. Absolutely amazing.
     While there, I also sampled a piece of Malcolm's White Mountain Roll, some of the Duck Buns and had a sip of a Mai Tai. All of these things were amazing, but I don't feel as though I had enough sensory experience to give them the review they deserve. Aside from the fire alarm going off during the meal (which was rather hilarious), it was a great night out and super fun to experience a dining environment I'd wouldn't normally catch myself in by my own personal choice.


Peanut Butter and Jelly Skillet Monkey Bread - My Kitchen, Cambridge, MA

PB&J Skillet Monkey Bread
     PB&J might literally be one of my favorite things to eat on this planet. No joke. I suppose it's the peanut butter really that gets me. I could sit for hours eating it out of the jar with a spoon. Sometimes I like to take a spoon of pb and then a spoon of jelly and let them mix in my mouth, and I'm not ashamed to admit that. It's a delicious combination. I originally found this recipe for PB&J Skillet Monkey Bread on a blog called Picky Palate. I really really like the idea, but I didn't want to use all the ingredients she used. I wanted it to be kind of like pb&j on toast rather than the super sweet treat she made it into. Plus, adding butter, heavy cream, and sugar to a recipe that's basically already loaded with sugar and fat doesn't quite seem like a good idea if I'm trying to stay in the same sized pants. So... I just took her idea of breaking up hunks of bread dough, throwing them in a lightly buttered pan, drizzling on some peanut butter and dropping on a few spoonfulls of jelly. Then I just baked it for 15-18 minutes or so. Poof! Perfection! Warm peanut butter is just the best.


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