Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Blogger Meetup: Vlora

Have you ever been to Vlora in Boston?  Me neither - until last Friday that is....I had walked by this restaurant millions of times (it is located on Boylston street near Copley square) but had never been inside.  The food is Mediterranean with a focus on Greek, Southern Italian and Albanian.  The menu had a great combination of familiar dishes, and some more exotic cuisine.

Chelsea and Susie (We are not Martha) organized a dinner to welcome Erica (Itzy's Kitchen) back to Boston while was in town visiting family. 

Susie and Chelsea arranged for a tasting of some of the Vlora appetizers.
We started with some rolls and olive oil:

  One of Vlora's signature dishes is this watermelon/feta combo with balsamic drizzled on top. 

These phyllo triangles are one of their most popular appetizers.  Each pastry pocket is stuffed with different fillings: Spinach & feta, tomato & onion, and yogurt.

Arancini Siciliani with tomato sauce

Here is my plate with a little smattering of our samples - from the fork: Grilled zucchini and tzatziki, grilled octopus with cucumber (and tomato), arancini, and watermelon with feta

My favorites of the night were definitely these two: The watermelon and feta, and the phyllo triangle.  The watermelon was super refreshing, and the contrast of the salty feta was great.  The tomato filling in the phyllo dough was rich and savory - tasted like a sauce cooked all day!

After we completed our tasting menu, we ordered some additional bites and lingered with some more drinks.  I ordered the Albanian Tava - a baked casserole of zucchini, yellow squash, potato, tomato, onion, okra, b├ęchamel, parmigiana, Swiss cheese.  This was an appetizer and totally filled me up!  Such a great value.

Megan (Travel Eat Love) and Bridget (Yogurt and Berries) both had the Vegetarian Moussaka: a layered medley of eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, potato, Swiss cheese, tomato, served with garlic yogurt and cucumber sauce.  I stole a bite in addition to the picture.  It was delicious, and I loved the presentation.

As usual I had a blast with all of the Boston bloggers and guests! 
In addition to Susie and Chelsee of We Are Not Martha and Erica of Itzy’s Kitchen 
the other bloggers in attendance were :
Colleen of The Daily Craic 
Elizabeth of On Tap For Today 
Bridget of Yogurt and Berries 

Thanks Chelsea and Susie for organizing...And Vlora for hosting, the food was great - definitely a hidden gem.  I can't wait to come back for another meal!

Vlora on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 25, 2010

Vegetable Summer Rolls

Boston has finally been hit with summer weather.  The temperatures have been in the mid-80's and if my curly hair is any indicator of the dew-point, I'd say that humidity has also been fairly high.

Since my diet cannot support an Ice Cream Lunch every day, I decided that I needed to produce some warm-weather recipes that I can enjoy for lunch or dinner when the weather gets HOT.  Last year I showed you one of my favorites - Panzanella. I also like to use the grill when cooking in a hot kitchen is out of the question.  Burgers can get old after a while, so I like to mix things up and make the occasional Grilled Pizza

In the spirit of mixing things up, and since I don't have a grill in the city, I created these summer rolls.  They are loosely based on this recipe by Gourmet Magazine.

They combine some of my favorite flavors of east Asian cuisine (basil, mint, and cilantro), they are light and refreshing, and the only cooking involved is boiling water for rice noodles!  Most of the work to assemble the rolls is julienning veggies.  In my rolls I used carrots, cucumber, red pepper, lettuce, rice noodles, and basil, mint and cilantro.  
Summer rolls are very easy to prepare once you get the hang of working with the rice paper.  They just need to soak in warm water for 30 seconds or so, then you can stuff them with fillings and roll them up.  Think of them as mini-veggie-east-Asian burritos, since the rolling is very similar to rolling up a burrito.

I served them here with my favorite peanut sauce - but when I ran out of peanut sauce I ate the leftovers with some soy-vay teriyaki.  I bet a combo of soy and sesame oil would be delicious too!

What is your favorite food to eat when it's hot out?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ingredient Spotlight: Avocado

The most important part of picking produce, is making sure that your item is ripe.
I love avocados, but if the avocado isn't ripe, it can ruin a whole dish.  It should be soft, but not mushy.  It should have a creamy texture, and the meat of the fruit should be free of brown spots and blemishes.  If you have a ripe avocado preparation will also be easy: the pit will come out easily with a quick twist of a chef's knife.  

I never realized how much I loved avocados until Rafe's sister Aliza made guacamole the first time I met her.  Rafe often makes his sister's recipe with his own spin with some red onion and cilantro, and I request it often.   But no matter the recipe, a huge part of their guac prowess is their ability to pick out the perfect fruit.

Rafe has been tutoring me for about 3 years, and I think I can finally spot an avocado at the market that will pass his test.  The fruit should be deep and dark, the skin should be nearly black.  It should be soft, but not mushy, and if you press into the skin it should give a bit, and leave a TINY indent.
When making guacamole, or simply topping a sandwich or salad with avocado, following these instructions for picking your fruit will ensure that you have a fresh, ripe avocado with a perfect texture.

What is your favorite avocado recipe?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Scooper Bowl

On Tuesday I got a great tweet from Michelle at Fun and Fearless in Beantown:

@cicii3 Hey work neighbor, do you think you're going to head to Scooper Bowl this week? Maybe we could meet up for an ice cream lunch?

For those of you not familiar, the Scooper Bowl is the nations largest all-you-can-eat ice cream festival.  You pay a flat rate for admission ($8 for adults) and are given a spoon and can eat ice-cream to your hearts content.  It takes place right in Government Center in Boston, and all proceeds benefit the Jimmy Fund - specifically cancer care and research at Brigham and Women's hospital.

Michelle and I both work a hop, skip, and jump from Government center, so this was a no-brainer!  Ice cream for lunch?  What a wonderful idea!  I immediately accepted and we made plans to meet up on Wednesday at lunchtime.

Before I met Michelle, I did a little Scooper Bowl research.  I've been to the event before and I know that it can get overwhelming, and you can get full pretty fast.  I researched the Ice Cream purveyors who would be participating, and the flavors they would be sampling.  This way Michelle and I could prioritize the most important flavors for us to try.  Basically I'm a food nerd.

Michelle set priority at anything cherry, and also the blood orange sorbet.  I was dying to try the Olympic inspired Ben and Jerry's flavor of Hannah Teter's Maple Blondie, and the Key Lime Graham gelato. 
We started at Breyer's to satisfy Michelle's cherry vanilla craving.  

I went with the classic strawberry which I feel is usually a good indicator of a brand's ice-cream promise.  We were both happy with our selections.  The strawberry tasted like real fruit, and not too cloyingly sweet.

Breyers Strawberry

The cherries in Michelle's cherry vanilla were perfectly ripe.  The fruit really shined through.
Breyer's Cherry Vanilla

Next up: Gifford's.  I went with the Maine Lobster Tracks described on their website as:
Pure Vanilla Ice Cream with Loads of Lobster (just kidding!!!) Actually with Loads of Lobster Colored Chocolate Cups Filled with a Thick Caramel Swirled with a Unique Eclair Crunch Whirl
The crunch whirl really made this flavor, I liked the contrast of the creamy ice cream and the crunch.  Although this was a vanilla ice cream, it was very rich with chocolate.  I don't think I could eat more than a scoop or so in a sitting.

Gifford's: Maine Lobster Tracks

Michelle had the cherry amaretto chocolate flavor:
Rich Amaretto Ice Cream studded with Cherries and Streaked with a Ribbon of Chocolate.

We both agreed that this flavor was a little too sweet (especially after the more natural-tasting Breyer's immediately before).  It's such a pretty color though!

Gifford's: Cherry Amaretto Chocolate

By the time we hit the Edy's stand, the crowd was really starting to build.  There were several field trips and soooo many children.  We were starting to get trampled by pre-teens.  We forged ahead. 

My Edy's Maxx was VERY good - especially for someone who holds everything to a Ben and Jerry's chunk standard.  This was a chocolate ice cream base with HUGE chunks of chocolate and thick ribbons of peanut butter.  This is peanut butter cup ice cream on steroids.  Rafe would LOVE this.

Edy's Maxx Chocolate Peanut Butter Chunk

Michelle had the Birthday Cake flavor, and we both agreed that the flavor was spot-on yellow cake.  With the sprinkles and colored swirls it reminded me of funfetti.

Edy's Birthday Cake

We were both really looking forward to the Ciao Bella Gelato tent. I had never heard of the company before - and I always like finding new brands. I thought their flavors were the most original - and a quick look at their website indicates that these flavors are just the tip of the iceberg.  They have flavors like prickly pear and blackberry cabernet.  I'm going to be on the lookout for them in stores!

I had the Key Lime Graham....I was expecting something super citrusy, but instead this was a nice balance between citrus and the creaminess of the gelato.  I loved the flecks of graham cracker. 

Ciao Bella Key Lime Graham

Michelle loved her Blood Orange sorbet.  It was flavorful and refreshing.  And look at that beautiful color!  

Ciao Bella Blood Orange Sorbet

When I was younger, my grandmother worked for Friendly's Ice Cream....having gallons upon gallons of Friendly's Ice Cream in the freezer, and being forced to eat it all the time takes away some of the charm of an ice cream treat (though I still love the sundae cups). For me, it was a HUGE deal when my mom would buy a container of Ben and Jerry's.  We'd have to hide it from Grandma of course, but I loved the really inventive flavors - it was a great treat compared to all that Neapolitan.  Or the dreaded Jubilee roll!

For me, Ben and Jerry's is usually the one to beat - the guys did not disappoint yesterday either. 

Bonaroo Buzz: Light coffee and malt ice creams with whiskey caramel swirls & English toffee pieces
This is a unique flavor in that it is ONLY available at Ben and Jerry's Scoop Shops.  The flavor is a joint venture between the Bonaroo Music festival and Ben and Jerry's.  The music festival has pledged to donate their share of the profits to the Bonaroo works fund - community investment and philanthropic endeavors.  How about that?  Delicious Ice-cream with a side of philanthropy.

Since the Olympics, I've been dying to try Hannah Teter's Maple Blondie:  Maple Ice Cream with Blondie Brownie Chunks & a Maple Caramel Swirl.  So good, and huge chunks of blondies, YUM.

The Scooper bowl is on today - from Noon - 8pm - so try and get down to Government Center.  For $8 admission you can eat all the ice cream you'd like.  Michelle and I only scratched the surface of the possibilities.
Thanks Michelle for inviting me along!  This was a great way to spend the lunch hour, and now that we know how close our day jobs are, we definitely have to have some more lunch dates!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

RIP Canon Powershot

Well, I just got a new camera - so I'm putting the old one to bed.  It took great pictures and was really easy to use, but somehow a piece of dust or something got into the lens, and there is a big dark spot in the middle of all of my pictures. There are a few pictures still on my memory card, so I decided to make a post dedicated to my Canon Powershot SD1000 - these are the last dinners I have to blog from my old camera.

You've been good to me old friend.  Thanks for the memories!

Breakfast Pizza:
I have seen a lot of these 'breakfast' pizzas on the Internet (meaning pizza's with eggs baked on top) - my favorites being Elina's and Deb's.
The crust is a whole wheat crust from Trader Joe's.... The greens are kale sauteed in a little olive oil with onions, garlic, and crushed red pepper and the pizza is topped with a little bit of mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.

I started by blind-baking the crust for a few minutes - I like my crust really crispy and almost charred.  I then topped the crust with the greens and cheeses.  I made 2 little wells in the toppings, and cracked an egg in each of them.  I seasoned the eggs with a little salt and pepper (the same way I do when I make myself a sunny-side up egg.

In true Clean Plate Club tradition, this 'breakfast' was actually for dinner....and again for lunch the next day.  It was YUMMY.
Vichyssoise, or Potato Leek Soup:
Wow, I made this a long time ago.  I had gotten leeks, potatoes, and parsnips in my Boston Organics Box and it was early spring.  I wanted to make a soup that could be served hot or cold, since the weather was (and still is) being a little non-committal. 

I started by cleaning and chopping my leeks, and then sweating them in a pot with a little oil. Once they were soft, I added 4 cups of chicken broth and 2 cups of water....and a now undetermined number of potatoes and parsnips....I cooked until the tubers were soft.  Then blended the mix.

I topped the soup with black forest bacon from whole foods, and some chives.  Yum!
So I believe that is that last of the canon pictures. It was a great camera, and I did use it nearly every day, so I certainly got my money's worth!  My next posts will be with my new Nikon Coolpix 8000.  I'm really happy with my purchase so far....!

Nikon Coolpix S8000 14.2 MP Digital Camera with 10x Optical Vibration Reduction (VR) Zoom and 3.0-Inch LCD (Black)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Happy Monday! A Winner!

I am so delighted at how many people entered the giveaway!! I have never gotten this many comments on one post!!!  You should know that I get *SO* excited every time I get a comment - it never gets old.

I loved hearing about everyone's favorite posts - it was great to get some feedback.  Mami2jcn - I took your comment about New England food seriously - and dusted off my Kennedy cookbook. Expect some New England dishes in the future.

And now - the winner!  I put everyone's name whoever left comments or tweeted into excel (twice if they tweeted & left a comment) and used random integer generator to select the winner.

Random Integer Generator

Here are your random numbers:
Timestamp: 2010-06-07 14:36:00 UTC

And the winner is.....

THE SBK - Katie send me your email!

Thanks to everyone who entered!  I'll be doing some more giveaways soon, stay tuned!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

CSN Stores Giveaway

I hope you all had a good Memorial Day!  I have some exciting news - I'm teaming up with CSN stores to do a GIVEAWAY!
CSN Stores have tons of items, such as home decor, track lighting, bedding and my personal favorite: cookware!

They sell products by many well-known brands, and with over 200 stores there is sure to be something for everyone, so be sure to go check them out! 

CSN has offerred up a $40 gift certificate code for a reader of The Clean Plate Club - to use on anything your heart desires!  With the spring fruit starting to abound, my thoughts are on baked, fruity deserts, so I am partial to this Le Creuset Stoneware tart dish - but you can use it for absolutely anything!*

There are 2 ways to enter:
1.  Leave me a comment telling me your favorite post or recipe from The Clean Plate Club - or what kinds of posts you would like to see more often
2. Retweet this message:  @cicii3 hosting a CSN giveaway on The Clean Plate Club http://bit.ly/3gd5a6

*(Please be aware that there may be shipping charges or in the case of Canadian readers, international fees, for certain product) 

GOOD LUCK TO ALL!  You can enter until midnight on Sunday June 6th - I will announce a winner on Monday!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Rafe's Chicken Pitas

If the best meal in the world is one that is cooked by someone you love, then it stands to reason that the 2nd best meal in the world is when you get to keep the leftovers.  I had a great weekend with Rafe that included our own mini bar crawl, cocktails with friends, and Sunday brunch on Newbury street.

The best part of the weekend though, was when Rafe made one of his famous dishes for me (because I was a little too tipsy from the aforementioned bar crawl to be trusted wielding a knife).  Now, if you couldn't tell based on the blog, twitter account, facebook page, etc....I'm pretty much the cook in this relationship.  But it should be noted that Rafe has a few amazing dishes in his repertoire as well.  My absolute favorite is his chicken marinade.

The recipe for the marinade will have to come at a later date (I've tried to recreate it but cannot get the ratios down - and have urged Rafe to take some measurements) - However, this particular meal was inspired throughout.  He made Middle-Eastern Chicken pita sandwiches.

Chicken, tomatoes, red onion, and tzatziki sauce in a whole wheat pita pocket - (taken with my old camera - new food pictures to come soon) - served with a simple green salad with balsamic vinaigrette.

The best part of this sandwich it the tzatziki - a Greek yogurt sauce.  Rafe doesn't use measurements, but it includes the following: Plain Greek yogurt, finely chopped cucumber, a little chopped garlic, olive oil and salt.

Now if I can just get Rafe to measure out everything for the marinade - we'll be in business!