Category Archives: Reviews

Day 43 – How To Eat Irish On St. Patrick’s Day…

It’s the day where Kelly green explodes all over, Guiness and Jameson become trendy, corned beef is bought in bulk, and kilts make a comeback.  St. Patrick’s Day has been a day filled with fun since we were kids.  I am half Irish half Italian, and in that mix I think even my Irish father would agree that the Italian side tends to overtake many things.  However, on St. Patrick’s Day we get to proudly dust off those Erin Go Braugh hats, eat some awesome food, and think of my paternal grandmother Nora as we make sweet breads like her Irish soda bread.  With a cup of tea, and a smear of some real butter, nothing beats it.

Last night, Jay and I wanted a good burger, so we went to one of our favorite places to eat.  A small pub in Cheshire, CT called CJ Sparrow Pub and Eatery.  I’ve written about these guys before (see Panko Crusted Perfection) because they are off the hook amazing when it comes to their food.  Fried smoked gouda, that is all I have to say.  As a cool little twist of fate, we also found out that we know two of the chefs from when we were in high school, both of them super talented guys.

While we were there last night, John told us about all the amazing things they were making for today’s Irish feast.  Corned beef of course, but they also had gotten some fresh ground lamb for the shepherds pie, guiness stew, and for dessert… irish cream cheesecake, Jameson creme brulee, and chocolate Guinness cake.  It took us all of 5 seconds before we decided we would be back for a repeat visit.  So off we went tonight for dinner, again…

When we got there, the place was busy, a little more packed than normal, but not uncomfortable, and we were able to sit right down at an open table.  The staff was festive in shades of greens and our friend Austin was rocking a kilt while working furiously in the tiny little kitchen of magic where regular ingredients go in and culinary masterpieces come out.  Maybe the kilt has something to do with it, I should make Jay try it out at home…

We almost never order off the regular menu here because their specials are just so crazy good and today was no exception.  They had an all Irish menu with a corned beef and cabbage dinner, a really simple corned beef sandwich, shepherds pie (with real ground lamb), Guinness stew, and for an appetizer, some irish nachos.

As soon as we sat down we ordered our drinks and the Irish nachos.  If you haven’t heard of Irish nachos, they are usually thicker cut potato chips topped with cheese, corned beef, and whatever else.  These were awesome with the potato chips being fresh made, lots of cheese, big pieces of corned beef and some nice scallions and tomatoes for a little cut of freshness in with the richness.  YUM…

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Jay didn’t even have to look at the menu, after he had found out they were making the shepherds pie with lamb, he was sold.  He is a stickler for REAL shepherds pie, none of that stuff made with ground beef!  The slight gamey flavor you get from the lamb does make the dish super special and at the same time very rustic. Jay said that he almost felt like he was back at his grandmothers kitchen table in Pennsylvania…not something he says often, so kudos to Sparrows for that feat.  I snuck a bite, and the gravy was rich and very satisfying mixed with the creamy potatoes you can’t go wrong.  Perfect comfort.

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I am a corned beef purist and could probably be happy just sitting there eating a platter of the salty, fatty, bright pink fabulousness.  That being said I went for the simple corned beef sandwich with swiss cheese.  I should have known better when thinking anything at this joint would be simple.  It came on buttered and toasted seeded rye, with the cheese all melted into the soft dough on the inside.  The corned beef was shaved so thin, I’m not sure how they did it.  When you took a bite you got that hard crunch from the griddled outside and then no resistance or pull from the meat, it was like silk.  So tender and delicious that I debated just asking them to give me a to go container filled with it.  Salty, buttery, and obviously cooked in some beer.  Along side the sandwich were fries and a briny bright pickle that was the perfect offset of vinegary tang you needed to balance the richness on the rest of the plate.  It was exactly what I wanted…

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After all these wonderful Irish treats, we were stuffed.  However, how could we not take home a dessert???  I mean seriously, Guinness chocolate cake and irish cream cheesecake…what kind of foodie would I be to pass up those?  So we took home one of each, with the sound advice from our friend that we stick the cake into the microwave for 30 seconds before we ate it.  Off we went with full bellies, little cardboard boxes of sweets to enjoy when we could fit them and smiles firmly in place.

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It didn’t take long for us to crack open the sweets.  As soon as I tasted the cheesecake I knew we had found the gold at the end of the rainbow.  I’m completely serious when I say that this cheesecake is on my list of top 10 best desserts I’ve ever had.  You clearly taste the irish cream, but it is not overpowering and no trace of an alcohol bite that can sometimes creep into desserts made with spirits.  The flavors mingled together flawlessly and with a chocolate cookie crust…Jay is lucky I gave him a few bites.  The smooth and creamy texture coated your tongue and made you go back for more and more and more.  I will give John just about anything he wants if he will share with me the recipe for this one.  So good…

The Guinness cake was not my favorite, but it was still a great dessert, the Guinness flavor was a little too strong for me, but Jay polished off the entire piece in record time, so it obviously was just a matter of personal preference.  The cake was very soft and moist and had a nice thick chocolate ganache between the layers and over the top that was then studded with chopped walnuts.  Winner…

On holidays like this that are so closely tied to the food that goes with them, this meal couldn’t have gotten any better.  It was both classic and innovative, and goes to show the amazing things that can happen when you get a couple guys together who love food, have respect for their product and enjoy seeing people happy.  If you want to feel Irish today, and want to eat Irish too, then find these small local gems and give them a chance.  Thank you Austin, John, and the whole crew at Sparrows for another stellar meal, you guys never disappoint…we’ll be back soon!

Day 42 – How To Make A Kick Ass Steamed Cheeseburger…

So, this post is not so much on how to make a steamed cheeseburger at home, but more on how to go to a place that makes a kick ass steamed cheeseburger.  I will admit that I never had a steamed cheeseburger until a few years ago when I went to THE iconic steamed cheeseburger joint in Meriden, CT called Ted’s.  The steamed cheeseburger was invented there, and it has cemented it’s reputation in the food world for sure.  It was good, really sharp cheddar, cool little steam boxes, home fries, cute ambiance.  But really, I wasn’t in love.  It was just ok for me, and I wouldn’t be running back to get steamed meat right away.

All of that changed last week.  Jay has been telling me about a place called K LaMay’s for forever.  He would constantly assure me that it was better than Ted’s and that I’d love it.  So finally when we had to kill some time before picking up AC for the weekend, we stopped for dinner.  The place is tiny, maybe 5 tables and an open counter to the stove with the steam boxes and fryers.  The girl behind the counter was super nice as was chef working the steam boxes.  Both very friendly and they were even kind enough to indulge me and let me go behind the counter for a few pictures after Jay’s proud announcement that I write a “food blog” as I stood there and turned red.  He really is my biggest fan.

They have a nice wall set up of all their press, and have clearly gotten the seal of approval from both locals and beyond.  The owner of K LaMay’s knows a thing or two about steamed burgers since he actually worked at Ted’s.  He learned well and eventually opened his own joint doing his thing.  I quickly found out why this little place was so popular.

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Jay and I both ordered a steamed cheeseburger with “everything” which is all of the toppings on their “free” list.  Lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, ketchup, mustard, and mayo.  They also have some additional toppings like extra cheese and BACON but I really wanted to get the experience of the burger, so we went with the classic.  I knew we had made the right choice when this showed up at the table.  Can we talk about all that drippy cheese???

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Now for those of you who don’t know, the steamed cheeseburger is made in these big steam boxes that sit on the burners of a gas stove.  The small containers inside hold a water pan along with little containers that you cook the beef or melt the cheese in.  The ones at K LaMay’s hold a larger patty than Ted’s, 1/3 lb to be exact, and that is the first thing I noticed.  This is a BIG burger.  The boxes are really cool and you can even buy steam boxes and make these at home if you want.  They have a cooler in front where you can buy the exact Wisconsin sharp white cheddar that they use too.  It’s perfect.  However, I would rather just go here and have them make me one.

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We also ordered fries and onion rings and I got one of my all time favorites, cream soda.  One of the first things I noticed was how fresh the veggies were.  The lettuce and tomato were cold and crispy and a perfect contrast to the heat of the burger and molten cheese.  The white cheddar just pours and flows over the edges and gets into all the crevices of the burger.  It’s like a white blanket of cheddar happiness.  It’s sharp and clean and has a great texture.  All of this piled on a really sturdy kaiser roll that holds together well but gives easily when you bite into it.  It was a perfect all around bite right through the bun into the crunchy, cool veg and beyond to the rich cheese and soft, succulent meat.  SO GOOD.  The fries and the onions rings were a perfect compliment, fried golden and crunchy.  I was in heaven.  We did not speak much as we ate.

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The next time you are in the area, go here.  You will not regret it.  If it happens to be in the warm weather months, you can even sit outside on the little picnic table and then slowly meander over to Les’s dairy bar and get a nice soft serve for dessert.  I love little local joints like this that are doing one thing, doing it great, and making people like me happy.  Next time I may have to try the “Hot Cheese Sandwich”, which is just that gooey cheddar on a bun, oh the amazingness.

So thank you to my wonderful husband who is forever teaching me about new places to go for kick ass food, thank you to K LaMay’s for making said kick ass food, and thank you to the gods of sharp Wisconsin cheddar.

Battle of the Beef…

So, as our dear Floridian friend Jo Anne so lovingly told me last week…I have broken my New Years resolution already, and it’s only March! Thanks Jo Anne for the reminder and I will try to do better .  I know I have not written in over a month and it has been bothering me a ton. However, I also know everyone understands that life somehow finds a way to ruin our plans. Although I love my blog and all my bloggy friends, my 9-5 job has been super stressful with a new role and a ton of learning which also means hours and hours staring at a computer screen. The thought of looking at my laptop for even a minute when I got home might have launched me into the throws of a full on meltdown. So needless to say in the hopes of retaining my sanity, I have stayed away.  However, this does not mean that I have not had some freaking rock star food in the past month. So I’m starting out with a bang and going right for the beef. A burger throw down with two of the best places I have been to. Ever.

Before I get into the specifics I will say that both of these joints are huge advocates of the idea of Farm to Table dining and also the humane treatment of the animals that we are consuming. This basically means that you get the ingredients locally and you support your local businesses which in turn yields super fresh food that is a ton healthier with no fillers or hormones. You also support businesses and farms that treat their animals humanely by having proper shelter, grazing, food, and interaction with each other in order to support a healthy life for the animal. I love this movement and I think everyone should support these restaurants that have recognized that in the food industry there is great room for improvement, and in the economy there is great opportunity to help your neighbor and your local community to thrive. In the prime growing season, Jay and I almost exclusively shop at farmers markets for our produce (if we don’t get it out of our own garden) and we have been more and more conscious of buying organic meats. If you are looking for a little more info you can visit the farm to table blog at www.farmtotableonline.org. There is also this great article that I read last year from www.entrepreneur.com that really shows the positive impact on local economies (http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/220357).

The two restaurants that Jay and I hit up for this throw down of sorts were Plan B Burger in Milford, CT and Max Burger in West Hartford, CT. At this point you may be asking yourself “What does all this jargon mean to my burger?” and my response in this case would be “Really, really fabulous beef.”.

I’ll start with Plan B because we went there first (www.planbburger.com). The restaurant in the Milford location is very new, but they have 3 other locations in CT as well. It’s a fairly large place with a lot of warm dark wood, sleek black and chrome accents, and soft lighting. All around, comfy and very inviting.  We were seated quickly and our waitress, Aurora was wonderful. She had extremely honest opinions and was very easy to talk to, especially with two foodies sitting at her table. We had tons of questions and she knew the answers to all of them and also gave us some details about the food we didn’t think to ask about. She also loved food and was excited about the product they had, you could tell. The menu also has the information about humane beef – “Meets the Humane Farm Animal Care Program standards, which include nutritious diet without antibiotics, or hormones, animals raised with shelter, resting areas, sufficient space, and the ability to engage in natural behaviors.” Perfect.

As Jay and I perused the menu and talked about whether to get the “Beef Wellington Bites” or the “Baked Jalapeno Poppers” for an appetizer we became more and more excited about our coming meal.  We decided on what they call “Blue Chips”. They are a huge bowl of house made potato chips that are a thicker than normal cut (to simulate the consistency of a tortilla chip) and fried up to crispy perfection.  They then pour over a wonderful velvety blue cheese sauce and top it with diced tomatoes, red onion, bacon and fresh jalapenos. When the monster bowl came to our table, we were salivating. The potato chips and the blue cheese are absolutely perfect together, it has just enough of a bite to know it’s a blue cheese but it’s also very mild. They were right on with a potato chip for this combo, a tortilla chip would not have worked nearly as well. It’s a good introduction to blue cheese too if you are not sure you want to have your first experience being a chunk of the funky stuff. The kicker in the entire mix for me was those fresh jalapenos. When I say fresh, I mean I would bet they had a potted tree in that kitchen that they picked the green jewels off of. They were crazy good, really crisp and clean and full of flavor. They took out the ribs and seeds, because as any of you who grow jalapenos know, those are very very hot when they are fresh. However, every once and a while you got one with some of the rib left in it and your mouth lit up with fire. The good kind.

We then moved on to our dinner. We both decided that we were at a burger place and so that was what we were trying for our first time around. I ordered the “West Coast” burger which has a fried egg, avocado and a kalamata olive mayo. I added bacon and smoked gouda cheese cause I could, and I thought it was begging for it along with the truffle fries. Aurora agreed and happily put in my order. Jay got the special burger of the day which was a teriyaki steak burger. It was a burger, with shaved teriyaki steak and broccoli on top and the “disco tots”. When they came out, the presentation was lovely on the long white plate. The burger was front and center with the fries on the side of the plate in a silver tin. The burgers here come in two temperatures, some pink, or no pink. This is because of the way they are made. Aurora explained – they grind all their meat fresh daily and when an order comes in they use what looks like an ice scoop to portion out the meat. HOWEVER, they do not form patties; they just put the scoop of meat on the flat top and cook it, and so the burger itself is very loose formed. I was a little skeptical, but my lord does it work. To me, it almost felt like when you cut into the burger it gives all the things you have put on top to incorporate more fully into the beef itself. When I took the first bite, all I could say to Jay was that you can actually TASTE the grass in the beef. It is such a clean beef flavor that I was really taken off guard a bit. The difference in taste and texture that you get from the superior beef product is so distinct and very welcome to my pallet. Mixed with that silken yolk and salty bacon and a hard bite from the kalamata mayo…I was in burger heaven. Jay’s was good too he said, but I hardly talked to him, I was too busy enjoying my burger bliss. The truffle fries were good, but I could have used a little more truffle flavor, it might just be me though. Jay’s “disco tots” were also very good, they were tater tots with gravy and cheddar cheese on top. However, the ones at the ACME Oyster House in New Orleans still have them beat. The real star at the end of the day was the burger itself. We left there absolutely bursting at the seams but thrilled to have found this place. I can’t wait to go back and try a few more of their burger concoctions.

Our second contender in this battle of the beef is Max Burger in West Hartford, CT, part of the Max restaurant group (www.maxrestaurantgroup.com/burger/). I had heard amazing things about this place from my friend Meghan. She says that going here is “an excellent life choice”. I have to say after experiencing it first hand, I couldn’t agree with her more. Max Burger is located in the beautiful West Hartford center where there are tons of great shops and places to roam around in. When we got there they were quite busy but the hostess took our name and cell phone number and told us that they would send a text when our table was ready. How convenient! Off we went to window shop for 20 minutes. We meandered down the road and eventually went into this little spice store that I did not get the name of but will definitely be going back to. We got the text and had to head out. We had AC with us this time and they were very accommodating, sitting us at a booth instead of a table and bringing over some crayons and a kids menu. We looked over the menu and quickly found out that this was going to be a hard decision. Everything looked good, and I mean everything. They have burgers that make your mouth water and also a good amount of other menu items like salads, entrees and sandwiches. Burgers it was for us, after all, we had to compare this to Plan B. Max also has the note about humanely raised beef right on their menu – “MAX Burger proudly serves all-natural Niman Ranch Certified Angus beef. We share their mission to provide humanely raised, environmentally-sustained animals, using no antibiotics, no pesticides, and no added hormones. All Niman Ranch beef is traceable from environmentally sustainable family ranches to plate.”

We ordered the “Pickle Wrapped Pastrami” appetizers which were these fabulous little tempura fried bundles of pastrami, pickle, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and a spicy whole grain mustard sauce. They were like bites of reuben goodness, not greasy but light tempura batter and you could really taste every component. Awesome start to the meal.

For our burger choices, I had my first Kobe beef burger experience. They have a burger called the “Kobe Fun Guy 2.0”. It’s an 8 oz burger of Kobe beef with sautéed mushrooms, truffle cheese, an onion mayo and an au poivre dipping sauce. Hello lover. Jay got the burger of the day which was the “Barbeque Burger” on Saturday. It had BBQ sauce, bacon, cheddar cheese, cole slaw and an onion ring, what is not to like about that! AC had a peanut butter and jelly with milk but proceeded to eat all the french fries with ketchup, he has a very refined pallet. Our burgers came and I have to say I was so excited I was squirming a little in my seat. I think our waitress may have thought I was a bit odd, to her credit she didn’t say a thing. I love my burgers with some pink inside, not rare like Jay likes, but medium rare and juicy. When I cut into the burger that was the first thing I noticed, it was cooked absolutely perfectly. The juices were running over and through the meat and soaked into the roll but did not make it soggy.  The mushroom flavor that came through with the cheese and the sautéed mushrooms was wonderful, I love mushrooms and with beef, they are a perfect compliment. I know they had the au poivre dipping sauce for the burger but I will admit I hardly used it. I was too entranced with the rich flavor of the beef and the woody hearty touch that the mushrooms gave not to mention the great mouth feel that you get from a fresh mushroom. It was a tough choice between these burgers. The kobe beef that I had was so tender and so flavorful I can’t imagine having it in a steak or carpaccio like you can get in some high end places. I might need to be revived after passing out from the pleasure. This time I did have a bit of Jay’s burger and it was awesome as well. The BBQ sauce was not too spicy or sticky and you tasted the meat through it all. The fries were also good, crispy and hand cut but you really don’t need them, the burger rocks.

All in all, I think both places had amazing products. The beef was the star over all things and they were both extremely smart in the choices they made when building these burgers. Nothing overwhelms the taste of the beef, everything is in harmony together and in the end you walk away with a huge satisfied grin on your face. I would go back to both places in a heartbeat and look forward to trying more items on both menus. If the burgers are any indication, they will not disappoint.

Plan B Burger – Milford

1638 Boston Post Road

Milford CT 06460

www.planbburger.com

 

Max Burger

124 Lasalle Road

West Hartford CT 06107

www.maxrestaurantgroup.com/burger/

Balance…And Some Bacon…

Along with just about everyone in the world today, we have been trying to eat a little healthier in our house.  Nothing crazy, no vegetarian, no vegan (I’d miss cheese WAY too much), and we still consume the dreaded gluten.  We are really just trying to find some healthy balance between bacon sandwiches and green smoothies.  I’d also like to drop a few digits off the scale which I have started to look at as my arch nemesis in my otherwise harmless bathroom.  It’s starting to conspire with the mirror as well, so someone clearly needs to put a stop to this.

With this in mind, I have tried to walk a couple times a week when I work from home and I have also begun a combat kickboxing class with my sister at a local karate studio 2-3 times a week (when life doesn’t intrude).  I just about die every time I go, and I curse Mr. H (our instructor) for being so evil, but I have to admit it’s fun.  I try to remember just how fun it is when I’m lying in bed staring at the ceiling and practicing my deep breathing because I was blinded by pain when I moved my arm to shut off the alarm.  The good times continue when I almost black out sitting down to pee, every muscle seemingly screaming at me at once for being an idiot while the scale quietly snickers in the corner.  I will also admit that I get some small satisfaction out of making the skinny girls in class look at my robust booty for an hour while I kick and punch with flabby arms and thighs.  I think it’s good for them to know that fat girls can rock out in the gym too, and I’ll be honest, sometimes I do a better job than they do.  I mean seriously, you weigh like 100 lbs. soaking wet, how is it possible that I can do more sit-ups than you?  I have two boulders on my chest that I have to lift up EVERY time!  Big pansies.  It also helps that my sister is a serious drill sergeant and doesn’t let me give up even when I want to.  She is also rapidly turning into one of the skinny girls.  I’m super happy for her…the bitch.

All this is great, moving more, sweating like crazy, etc.  But as we all know, you have to do something about your food as well.  This is where I struggle every time.  Shocker, I know.  I have pledged my life long allegiance to butter, bread, and bacon or as I like to call it the trinity of B.  So what do you do when faced with having to tell them goodbye?  Well, you don’t.

I once went to a nutritionist, who is not only a genius, but who is seriously an amazing person.  He could get you to lose 20 lbs. just because you wanted to make HIM happy.  But one of the best things he taught me was that you can’t deprive yourself of the things you love.  You eat, give or take, 21 meals in a week.  Not including smaller snacks.  So, if every week, you pick ONE of those 21 meals to splurge on, you will be just fine.  It doesn’t negate the other 20 meals that you have been good about.  It also doesn’t mean you can completely fall off the wagon.  But it makes total sense right?  I thought so.  So when you order Chinese food or have that ice cream sundae, DO NOT KILL YOURSELF.  You eat it, you enjoy every freaking minute of it, and you wake up the next morning, eat your yogurt and berries, and smile knowing you can do it again next week.

This has been the mindset that we have been trying to follow.  Sometimes it works great and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes we have rock star weeks where I prep and stock the fridge and I feel like I can start my own “Fat To Fit” show.  Then there are some other weeks when I feel like I could be in an episode of “Intervention” as I rock on the couch dipping a bag of potato chips in chocolate syrup and mumbling incoherently something about finding bacon bits to sprinkle on top while I watch a marathon of “Best Thing I Ever Ate” on the Food Network.  But in the end, baby steps are occurring, I do feel less jiggle, the scale doesn’t laugh as hard or as long at me when I check in with it every week, my skin is better, and I’m sleeping like a champ.

So to keep in line with the whole balance theme, I thought I’d share with you a really great recipe that I found from an awesome book by Christine Avanti called “Skinny Chicks Don’t Eat Salads” and also give you a suggestion for a really great splurge day feast.

Let’s go with the fun one first…

The heavenly picture here is from a joint on State Street in New Haven, CT called Jordan’s Hot Dog’s & Mac.

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This was a serious splurge day.  I had heard about this place through a review in a local paper and decided we NEEDED to go.  So a few friends from work who are big hot dog fans came with and I got the craziest thing on the menu, The Chili Mac Dog Supreme.  The name says it all, but if you can’t make it out, that is a split and griddled Hummel’s hot dog, on a beautifully buttered and toasted bun with mac and cheese, chili, bacon, jalapenos, and parmesan cheese on top.  Yes it was as good as it looks and also seriously surprising.  They had this perfect ratio of toppings to hot dog and you could literally taste every layer, nothing was too heavy or overbearing and you weren’t fighting to get some huge monstrosity into your mouth all while missing half the toppings in the process.  It was really great.  Go there and check them out, they are local, they are super nice people, and they are making some great grub.

Now, on to the less fun, but still yummy one…

This picture is of these really wonderful breakfasty protein muffins.

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I was really skeptical about them at first, protein, cottage cheese, ugh.  However I was pleasantly surprised.  They were so yummy!  You get a huge serving size of 3 muffins for a meal, or you can throw one in your lunch bag for a snack with a protein punch.  I did not bother to chop the raisins, they were fine whole.  Warning though, do NOT use paper liners, I had some extra fiber in my first batch when I couldn’t peel off all the paper from the muffin cup.  I like these room temp or even zapped for a couple seconds in the microwave for a warm treat.  They are an awesome breakfast on the go.  Enjoy!

Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal Muffins

Nonstick cooking spray

1 ⅓ cups liquid egg whites

1 ⅓ cups low-fat cottage cheese

¼ cup omega-3 light spread

1 ⅓ cups oats

¾ cup raisins, chopped

3 Tablespoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons stevia

3 Tablespoons vanilla-flavored protein powder

 1.     Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2.    Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray.

3.    In a large bowl, mix the egg whites, cottage cheese, and omega-3 spread until thoroughly combined.

4.    Add the oats and mix well.

5.    Stir in the remaining ingredients.

6.    Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups.

7.    Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

 The muffins are done when a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

 SERVES 4 (3 MUFFINS PER SERVING)

 Nutrition facts per serving:

394 calories

25 grams protein

54 grams carbohydrates

9 grams fat

 Source: Skinny Chicks Don’t Eat Salads: Stop Starving, Start Eating and Losing by, Christine Avanti

Hot Dog Heaven…

So, for the past year I have been toying with the idea of doing a hot dog tour of Connecticut.  We have so many great places that I could review and compare and I know that everyone would have a distinct memory of some of these old established joints in the state just like I do.  Fun, right?  Well I’ve decided to make it a reality.  However, I didn’t come to this epiphany by having a great long dog at Glenwood or by visiting Super Duper Weenie and having all those great homemade toppings, no.  I came to this necessary revelation by going to a completely new join in Wallingford called Knuckleheads.

Both Jay and I grew up in Wallingford and are in the area quite a bit, so when new places open, we usually notice.  Jay was the first to see that a new restaurant was going in in the downtown area with a funky name.  Not long after, my friend Beth and her husband Kevin raved about the place on Facebook.  Now I take their opinions very seriously because they are fellow foodies.  Beth even has her own cupcake business out of her house in Wallingford called Simply Sweet (check her out she makes amazing stuff).  So, with these glowing reviews in my head, along with finding out that this place has a serious relationship with a smoker and a deep fryer, I was game for a visit.

We showed up on a Saturday night around dinner time, with AC in tow.  When we walked in I had a good feeling about the place right off the bat.  They have this great kind of biker-ish décor and a big framed picture of Anthony Bourdain that says “Cook Free or Die”.  Awesome.  The room was a bit smaller than I had thought with only about 15 tables or so and a counter with a large cooler behind it that housed a pretty impressive selection of micro brews.  The boards displaying the specials and the beers were fun and funky and the staff was smiling and welcoming from the start.  We waited a few minutes for a table but were assured it wouldn’t be long.  The place was packed.  While we were standing there, one of the older gentlemen, who I’m assuming maybe was one of the owners took pity on AC and brought him out a little cup of french fries.  This was the first sign of a good night to come.  I think you can judge a lot from a place by the way they treat kids.  He was a really funny older Italian man that told us that it’s easier to please the adults, the kids are harder to get.  How true.

We were seated shortly after and looked over the perfectly sized menu.  It’s not huge with a million choices and pages to overwhelm you, but has just enough to give everyone an option and to leave you wanting to come back again to try something else.  They also constantly have specials that are really out of bounds with items like deep fried risotto balls and Irish “nachos” made with tater tots.  It’s a cardiologist’s nightmare but Guy Fieri would be proud.  Since it was my first experience here, I really wanted to try the hot dogs.  You see, this place treats their dogs in a unique and totally evil way.  They wrap them in bacon and then deep fry them.  Yes, it’s awful and wonderful all in the same breath.  I’m intrigued, and totally in love.  Obviously this is not for the faint of heart, and not for an everyday affair, but to splurge is to live, and I’m never more alive than when I’m eating something new and exciting.  I picked 2 dogs that I felt I couldn’t leave without trying, the “Red Eye” and “The Moose Dog”.  The Red Eye is a “Bacon wrapped dog with a fried egg and cheese”.  As far as I’m concerned this is the breakfast of champions and I had to have it.  The Moose Dog is a “Bacon wrapped dog with cream cheese and thai chili sauce” some of you might know this as Siracha.  I have a very personal relationship with the spicy red sauce and I never pass up an item on a menu that has it featured.

The Red Eye was pretty much exactly what you expect.  The hot dog comes with a nice light and almost flaky bun that is slightly griddled on the outside with the beautifully browned bacony dog in the middle and the fried egg cut in half and nestled in with the dog and some good old American cheese.  It is like a breakfast sandwich on steroids.  It’s the ultimate late night food that you crave after a good night with some drinks and friends.  Forget the Diner, go to Knuckleheads.

I have to admit though that the Moose Dog was my favorite.  It has the same toasty bun and deep fried dog, but along the bottom of the bun is a good smear of soft cooling cream cheese.  It’s then topped with a healthy zigzag of Siracha sauce.  This was definitely a case where you had to create the perfect bite and look like a total tool doing it.  You absolutely HAD to get all of the flavors and textures together, so you open your mouth super wide and bite the whole thing from top to bottom.  Totally un-ladylike.  Good thing I already snagged a husband or I might be in trouble.  Between the salty crunch of the hot dog with the bacon and that super creamy cheese that tempers the heat from the sauce it was just freaking spot on.  I think I devoured that one without even making Jay taste it.

AC had chicken fingers and more french fries to his delight.  Jay ordered the BBQ Brisket sandwich which is “Beef brisket house smoked for 15 hours” topped with either their honey BBQ or their spicy bourbon BBQ sauces and cole slaw.  The Brisket I will say is probably some of the best I have ever had.  It was super smoky with a deep pink smoke ring and extremely thin and tender.  Jay chose the Spicy Bourbon BBQ sauce and it was awesome.  You could taste the woodiness of the bourbon but you also had a nice medium heat that didn’t overwhelm the taste of the meat itself.  I highly recommend it.  Jay also says the pulled pork sandwich is awesome, apparently they order often for lunch at work.  I have to admit if I worked closer, I probably would too!

All in all, this place reinvigorated my blogging desires and made me WANT to tell you all about the great food here.  The staff was awesome, the food divine, and the atmosphere was fun and welcoming.  They obviously had regulars and some family that were there and it was just what you expect the vibe to be in a small local place.  We will be returning for sure, there are several more items on the menu that I definitely have to try.  I hear the burgers and wings are just as rock star as their heavenly dogs.  So, get out there, bring your appetite, and support a great little local joint doing simple food that is kicked up to the next level and doing it right…

Bagels In The Big Apple…

One of my least favorite things to do is to take down the Christmas decorations at the end of January.  Christmas is by far my favorite time of the year, hands down.  I know not everyone feels that way, with the singing and shopping and craziness, it can be overwhelming if you let it be.  But I just love it, I always have.  There is something so magical about the lights and the music and of course, the food, and I just can’t help but feel the goodness of people everywhere.  Donations are made, families are helped through hard times and there are always Christmas miracles to see.

This year, because of my fabulous family (Thanks to the Old Pasture Kelly Clan) Jay and I got to spend some time in New York City right before the holidays.  I’m 30 years old, and I have never seen the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.  I know it’s crazy because I have lived in Connecticut my whole life and it’s like less than 2 hours away but I just never have.  Something about the crowds and New York in the winter, it’s freaking freezing.  But I found myself super excited about heading down there for a couple days.  Jay’s work Christmas party was the same day we were leaving, so we hit up Michael’s Trattoria in Wallingford, had some great Italian food, and then headed off to New Haven to hop on the train into the city.  It was later than we had planned to leave, but the ride was uneventful and we got into Grand Central at a reasonable hour.  We decided when we got onto the street, that we were going to head over and see the tree that night instead of waiting until the next day.  I wanted to see the tree all lit up and really get the night time effect.  If you have never been to New York during the holidays, the city is a flurry of activity.  They block off roads and every street vendor you can think of is out selling everything from fake Gucci to falafel.  The stores are in full display with all kinds of holiday windows and there are people everywhere.  When you make your way down to Rockefeller Center, the crowds get thicker and you basically have to push your way through to get anywhere near the tree.  Now, crowds really don’t bother me, I don’t mind all the touching, but I know Jay is not a fan.  At all.  So we worked our way in to a respectable distance, took some tree shots, and headed back out.  I have to say it’s cool.  The tree looks nothing like what it looks like on TV, it’s so much bigger and so much prettier than you think it will be.  The attitude in the crowd is also not what people tend to think of when they think of New York.  Everyone is happy.  There was no cursing and yelling and pushing people around, everyone was just waiting their turn or trying to get a picture from right where they were.  It was generally a very happy place to be and you could feel all that positive energy kind of take you into the Christmas spirit.  Kids were amazed and so were the adults, it was like around that beautiful tree, everyone got a little piece of the season to take away with them.  It was so great, and I was really happy we decided to go there that night.

times square tree

So with visions of world peace and candy canes dancing in my head, we made our way to the hotel for the night.  It was very off the beaten path and we took a cab WAY up Broadway.  We checked in, found the TV was broken, didn’t care cause we were exhausted, slept, and then woke up early the next day because we had tickets to go to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular!  We wanted to stop and get something to eat before we went to the show, so we stopped at this small Deli on the corner called Broadway Bagel our first right move of the day.

broadway bagel

If you haven’t had them before, you can not understand the amazingness that is a bagel in New York City.  You think, it’s a bagel, how much more fabulous could it be?  But it is.  Trust me, they have it down to bagel science.  Having had bagels in the city before, I went straight for one of my absolute favorites which is a salt bagel.  Basically it’s a plain bagel with course salt on the top, kind of like a pretzel but better.  I wanted something hot and not just cream cheese, so I had them make me a bacon, egg, and cheese with it and patiently waited while my mouth was salivating.  When we sat down, we walked by this amazing case they had of like 20 different kinds of cream cheese and cold salads, if we had had enough time I would have definitely come back here for lunch, everything looked so so so good.  There were just mounds of freshly made hand mixed cream cheeses, all of them with a little bit of what was in them on top so you could tell what they would taste like.  It almost looked like a gelato bar.  When my sandwich came out I was just about bursting with anticipation.  I love a good egg sandwich for breakfast, they are simple and so satisfying and a great way to start the day.

bagel sammy

The first thing that we need to focus on is the bagel.  If you don’t have a good bagel, you don’t have a good sandwich.  This bagel was amazing.  Perfect rounds of really soft dough inside this slightly chewy and slightly tough exterior.  When you bite into it, the outer shell gives just enough and you reach that wonderful pillowy center that is surrounding the savory smoky bacon, egg, and cheese.  Combine that with the crunchy salt bits on the outside it’s a textural explosion in your mouth and super salty, which is a good thing.  I had my fresh squeezed orange juice on hand (that came from a little bucket of crushed ice next to the register) for when the saltiness needed to be cut a bit, and the sweet tang of the orange juice mellowed it out just enough.  I love breakfast.  Jay had this Mediterranean wrap that had feta and eggs and spinach and something else that I don’t remember because I was have having a foodgasm.  But he said it was good for him too.

So, with our bellies full for the moment, off we went to Radio City Music Hall!  I have never been to the Christmas show here either, and I have to admit I was skeptical about whether we would really enjoy it or not.  How wrong I was.  The show is just wonderful.  The Rockettes are flawless and make me wish for a minute that I wasn’t 5’4” and pudgy.  Their inseam is probably to my armpits.  The music makes you want to sing along and you are transported back to being a child when you watch all the kids in the audience just jump out of their skin when they see Santa.  I caught myself more than once misting up.  I know, I’m a sap, but remember I really love Christmas and it was just a really happy time.  Not to mention the kids behind us were just too freaking cute and their father told us they had been awake since 5:00 AM pumping themselves up for the show.  The little girl who was probably around 5 years old actually fell asleep before the end, sitting Indian style in her chair, with her head back, and her mouth wide open.  It was priceless.

After the show we walked around for a while, stopped and got a hot chocolate, thought about a few vendors and basically tried to decide what we were going to do with ourselves the rest of the day.  It was really really cold.  Not just New England cold, we are used to that, but it was a truly bitter day with a biting wind so we weren’t going to last long just walking around.  We decided to buy a bus ticket for the tour line that goes all over the city and stopped in a bunch of the places we wanted to hit up.  These are open top busses and Jay and I are complete idiots, so we went right up to the top deck of course.  It was absolutely freezing but still fun to watch the city go by.

The first stop we got off at was Chinatown.  We walked by tons of restaurant fronts with Peking ducks hanging and advertising all kinds of yummy items.  Chinatown is also like the mecca for cheap stuff.  Anything you can think of, all types of kitschy souvenirs and tshirts for $5.  Even with the cold, the streets were lined with shoppers.  We made our way up the hill towards a little section in Chinatown that is dedicated as Little Italy.  We weren’t quite hungry enough for a meal but some good Italian pastry cant hurt anyone, and where better than on Arthur Avenue.  We went right into Ferrara’s and waited patiently for a table to open up.

ferraras

While you wait, they have their own kind of Italian torture by making you stand in line right next to the dessert case.  It’s horrible, and by the time you get to the table you want about 50 items from the display.  The master plan I’m sure.  I got a nice hot cup of tea and Jay got coffee, and I ordered a fabulous hazelnut cream and chocolate layer cake and Jay got a trio of small pastries.  As we sat and defrosted, we people watched, and chatted about where we wanted to stop off next.

ferraras case

The desserts came and they were perfect.  The chocolate cake was soft and spongy with layers of this thick, heavy, almost hazelnut fudge in between.  It was super decadent and I will admit that I could not finish it all.  Jay’s pastries were just as good with crunchy shells and creamy fillings.  They were both really classic Italian desserts that never disappoint.  Ferraro’s is the master at creating them and it’s always a treat to stop here.

When we decided we would get up and let some other weary frozen travelers sit down, we headed again back out into the frozen tundra.  We walked the several blocks back down to the bus pickup and hopped on for the next stop.

We got off this time at a place that Jay and I both had mixed emotions about going to.  Ground Zero.  I knew at some point I wanted to visit the site, but when you are faced with actually being there it is a sobering thought.  The bus dropped us off right around the corner from the new monument, so we did not see it when we got off.  When you turn the corner and the rising tower is right in front of you the feeling is almost unexplainable.  The place itself has a tangible feeling of heaviness.  When you stand there I swear the city around you is quiet, it is the strangest thing I have ever experienced.  We did not know that you had to buy tickets to actually get in to see the memorial so we did not go inside that day, but we walked over to the tower and stood there for a while.  Not many people talk.  The almost natural thing to do after this is to walk across the street into the graveyard of Trinity Church.  As we walked through the century old grave sites the emotions began to build and when we got to the entry to the church there is one gravestone facing the site of the towers that simply reads “They are at peace”.  I couldnt help but break down and cry for all of those we lost and the hope that those words brought.

This church withstood the horrors of 9/11 unbelievably with hardly a scratch and was a sanctuary and home to thousands of volunteers and workers during and after the disaster.  It was a safe haven and a warm place to lay your head, or have some food, or just be held in the arms of a stranger who cared for a while before they went back out into hell.  It is still a working worship place with services held daily and a loyal congregation.  Along the periphery of the main sanctuary there are memorial plaques and stations that tell the story of the days and months after 9/11.  As we walked through and read over all the articles and saw all the pictures and memorabilia it was hard to not quietly pray and cry.  I’m very glad we stopped here and hope that many others do as well.  It’s a life changing trip and something I will never forget, much like the day itself.

After we left and were waiting for the bus to take us to our next stop, we decided a snack was in order.  What can I say, when I’m sad I need food.  We walked across the street and had a New York staple.  A hot dog.  It was perfect to curb the hunger and give us a little jolt.  For the rest of the day we meandered around several places, and ended up back in Times Square, which at night looks like it’s daytime.  Since it was getting later, we decided we needed to eat something and see what train we were going to hop on to get back home.  We decided that the best bat would be to actually eat in Grand Central which has some great places to stop in.  We checked the train schedule, figured we had about an hour and a half and headed off to find our last adventure of the day.

We decided on Junior’s which is a great chain sandwich shop that has fabulous corned beef and amazing cheesecakes.  I ordered a corned beef reuben and Jay got a burger, we also got some onion rings for good measure.  They bring over to every table, some great pickled beets, pickles, and pickled cabbage which are typical deli fare that I happen to love.  Jay gave me all the beets with his nose turned up, but we split the pickles and cabbage.

pickles

When the sandwich came I was like a kid at Christmas.  Reubens are by far one of my favorite sandwiches ever and the crazy thin sliced meat with the ribbons of fat running through it and the crisp sauerkraut on top with the creamy thousand island dressing, all on toasted rye bread…good god I could have them every day and be 500 lbs and deliriously happy.

reuben

We ate our fabulous fatty food and took a mini cheesecake and a cheesecake brownie home with us for the ride back on the train.  It was the perfect sweet end to a great day in one of the biggest and best cities on earth.  I forget sometimes how lucky we are to live where we do.  We are so close to these amazing sites that people sometimes go their whole life without seeing.  We took full advantage of our time here this trip and still have more places to see when we return.  Next time it will be sooner rather than later…

 

Ferrara’s Cafe

Little Italy in the Bronx

9/11 Memorial site

Junior’s Cheesecake at Grand Central

 

A New Year, A New Blog…

So it’s the new year.  A time for resolutions and fresh starts; new adventures and soul searching.  This year, I’m embracing the hype, taking a look back, and also a look forward for what is in store with The Curvy Cook.  When I started this blog around a year ago I had no idea where I wanted it to go.  I didn’t know if I would be able to write well, or even if anyone would want to read what I had to say!  Over the year I have received some great feedback from family and friends.  You all have been so great and so supportive and it has given me some “food” for thought as it were.

Something that started off on a whim has turned into a passion.  I’ve loved sharing my life with you, my memories of food and my adventures to find new and exciting eats.  In this new year, I’ve decided to really commit myself to The Curvy Cook and to all of you.  What does this mean?  It means more, more, more.  I’m making a promise to post at least once a week, whether it be a restaurant review, recipe idea, or just some curvy ramblings about life.  I’m hoping to become your new favorite distraction, your lunch break read, and your late night perusal. I want you all to love this blog as much as I love to write it.

I’m excited for this new step and I’m excited to see where it might take me for the future.  Now I know all of you are just dying to know what you can do to help…right?  Well here it is…read.  Read the posts, make comments, tell me what you think, and pass the site onto your friends.  Help me create a buzz for The Curvy Cook.

Thank you all so much for the support so far and I can’t wait to hear from you in the coming year!  Happy reading!

Bourbon Street Bliss…

Well here we are in New Orleans!  Our trip here was pretty uneventful with a 9.5 hour drive over 2 days through Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana.  Along the way, we saw some really beautiful country and even stopped at one of the biggest peach and pecan orchards ever called Lane Orchards.  It was over 5,000 acres!  We sampled their peach cobbler and also their black berry cobbler.  Both were amazing with a heaping pile of ice cream on top…YUM.  We then spent the night in Mobile, AL before making the final drive to New Orleans.

We got to the hotel, dropped off the car and found out that the hotel had upgraded us to a corner suite on the top floor.  It is absolutely stunning with views of the entire city, a sitting room, 2 bathrooms, and a wonderful jacuzzi tub, it’s the absolute perfect way to end our trip, we couldn’t be happier.  We have been so lucky between weather and fabulous sights and food and now this, I just feel like we are being looked after by someone special up there!  We truly are blessed.

new orleans

So, dropping off the car and checking into the hotel was really tough so we had to get something to eat to get our energy back up…or we were just hungry and couldn’t wait for our first foodie experience here.  Whichever it was, we headed off to Cafe Beignet for some lunch.  The cafe is set in this pretty little courtyard called Music Legends Park where they have live music and statues of some of the great jazz players of the past.

cafe beignet

We looked over there pretty large menu (for a cafe), I decided to get my first jambalaya, Jay went with the shrimp po’ boy.  We sat down at the wrought iron table and waited for our food while listening to the old school jazz that was being played for us.  It was not such a beautiful day with occasional down pours, but we were under an awning and it did not effect our mood one bit.  We were both super excited to be here.  The food came out in about 5 seconds and I’m sure I looked like a kid on Christmas.  My jambalaya was piled high in the bowl with a couple pieces of beautiful light french bread on the side to help battle the spice of the dish.  I immediately dug in.  The first thing you taste is the sausage and it is so spicy and fatty that it just makes you instantly happy.  The rice was cooked wonderfully and was not at all mushy.  You find those little gems of chicken in there too all blended together in the fabulous tomato based sauce that pulls everything together.  It’s spicy enough to make your mouth dance but not so spicy that you cant taste all the individual flavors each item brings to the bowl.  It’s starchy and savory and satisfying.  Jay’s po’ boy was great too and he was really happy with the light texture of the bread.

jambalaya

After we finished and were sitting there for a few minutes just enjoying the atmosphere and the music, we decided we wanted something sweet.  Jay had been eyeballing the chocolate eclair that was in the bakery case and I was ready for my first beignet.  Now if you don’t know what a beignet is, it is very simple, just a french doughnut really.  It’s fried dough covered in mounds of powdered sugar.  It is not something to eat while wearing black, that is for sure.  These come in an order of 3, and when they dropped them on our table, I could not believe how big they were!  They are cut into squares and were roughly about the size of my entire hand.  They were scorching hot from just being fried to order and were mounded with powdered sugar.  The aroma of the yeasty dough cooked so quickly in the oil was intoxicating.  I couldn’t wait to break one of them apart and eat it.  They were a pretty dense dough but not even a little bit greasy, and I mean not at all.  They were really soft and hot and the sugar on top just melts into the dough and some forms a crust on the top, and some just ends up all over you, that’s half the fun.  Fabulous…really fabulous.  Check off 2 items on the Curvy Cook New Orleans Must Have Foods list!

beignet 2

We listened to the jazz for a bit longer and then decided to head off and explore.  We went back to the hotel for a bit first to get changed.  It was freaking hot.  Not that the temperature was too much, it was only about 81 but it was humid as hell and I needed to take my jeans and sneakers off.  Once we were sufficiently stripped down, we headed to Burbon Street.  The rest of that night was spent walking, shopping, and me drinking a 24 oz. hurricane from a styrofoam cup and getting hammered.  Poor Jay.

Bourbon was everything I had imagined, and some I hadn’t.  It was teeming with people and places to stop in with bars playing music everyplace (even in the off season).  We stopped and listened to some creole music for a while, Jay got to play the washboard, and I got to play the tambourine!  Super fun people.  I also had one of the famous hand grenade drinks here which are supposed to be the strongest drink you can get on the street.  It was, and with the hurricane, oh boy.  We also saw a couple karaoke bars and every kind of band from jazz, to country, to blue grass, to hip hop.  The other thing that is EVERYWHERE are strip clubs.  I mean like every other store front, it’s insane.  I had no idea there were so many here and the girls were making me hysterical calling in anyone who might walk by.  Jay and I got offered no cover for couples.  Wooohooo!

When Jay decided that he was hungry again, or maybe that I just needed something to soak up some of the alcohol, we stopped into a small sandwich shop that is owned by the famous Court of the Two Sisters.  We both got po’ boys.  I got smoked sausage, and Jay the roast beef with gravy.  Now, my apologies, but I do not have pictures of the sandwiches.  Remember, I was inebriated and a camera would not have been a good idea.  Take my word for it, they are AWESOME drunk late night food.  There is something so freaking fabulous about the sausage here.  It is not like anything else you have had before.  It’s so smoky and spicy and perfect, I’m really going to miss it.  Po’ boys come pretty much the same every place you go with lettuce tomato and pickles, some have mayo some don’t, some have dressings, some don’t…but the premise is the same.  The bread here is also really great.  It’s light and airy and a little chewy with a crunchy crust.  It soaks up anything you put on it and makes for an all star sandwich every time.

Feeling that our first night here in New Orleans was a success, we headed back to the room.  With my Frommer’s New Orleans book on my night table, we were ready for the next two days here in the Big Easy…more to come…

Mushroom Madness…

Lazy southern days might just be the best so far.  Our last full day here in Savannah was just that, lazy.  We woke up and had breakfast in the hotel with some regular morning fare.  We had then decided that we wanted to spend some time down at the Riverwalk since we had not made it over there yet.  As we walked out of the hotel we couldn’t help but notice the completely fabulous weather today.  It was blue skies and mid 70s with a nice breeze.  Just perfect.  We walked the few blocks down to the main road by the water and made our way down.  In Savannah, the area that is right on the water is about 25 feet lower than the main land, if you can picture a plateau above and then another level below that is water level, that is kind of what it looks like.  There are staircases to walk down and and curved hills for cars at each block.  We walked down one of the many set of stairs that are old and stone and pretty steep…all I could think of was that my mother would never make it because you could see straight down the wall on the side of the staircase and it was a bit disconcerting for those who don’t love heights.  Once you get down to the river though it is about 12 blocks of shops and restaurants and places to buy tour tickets.  It is very busy and very pretty with old cobblestone streets and little benches and courtyards on the water to just sit and enjoy the area.

We did some shopping and ended up getting tickets to a one hour riverboat cruise for the afternoon.  We had some time before we had to board the boat so we kept walking down the strip and ended up at 2 market areas that had a little vendor outside in a courtyard that sold drinks and hot dogs and snacky type things.  We sat down for a while at one of the tables enjoying the water and the weather, and then decided to get a bite to eat before we had to go on the boat.  Jay headed over to the small vendor and found out that they had Chicago style hot dogs!  Score!  We both ordered one and were pleasantly surprised.  It was a real Chicago dog, complete with the neon green relish and celery salt.  It was perfect to hold us over to dinner and we sat and soaked up the wonderful sun before we went to the dock.  The tour was a very nice ride up and down the river and the guide talked about the Savannah port and the businesses and history around it.  All in all a nice way to spend an hour on the water.

steam boat

Once we got off our tour we decided to return to the hotel for a bit before dinner and change.  Yesterday, while walking back from the street fair, we passed by one of the places that my Aunt Barbara and Uncle Dick had found while they diligently searched the internet for great places for us to go on this trip.  It is called Alligator Soul.  Now, the name itself begs for you to go see it, but the menu posted on the wall made us want to go even more.  I called and made us a reservation and off we went.  It was nice to get a little dressed up and go out, it was almost a little reminder that this is our honeymoon and is really very romantic and exciting to be doing all of this traveling together.  W are very lucky.  When we got there we were pleasantly surprised.  It is in the basement level of a building, so you walk down some stairs to the door.  When you walk in, there is a lovely wood bar to the left and a small hostess station to the right.  Next to the bar there is a cozy sitting area with a few couches, through a large opening, there is the entrance to the where the tables are.  The place is not huge, maybe 30 tables or so, but it’s very warm and welcoming with soft lighting and a lot of stone and wood.  You would find places that look very similar in Ireland and England I would imagine.

As soon as we sat down I liked the place.  At our table was a small white box with a note on the top that read “Happy Honeymoon!  We hope you have a lovely evening!”.  Inside were two little pecan tartlets.  Totally classy move.  The hostess had asked if we were visiting for a special occasion when I had called for the reservations and I had told her, but who would have thought this would be there for us.  When the server came to our table, she was super friendly and very knowledgeable about the menu.  She also rattled off the specials without hesitation.  Jay and I both ordered appetizers.  I got the fried green tomatoes, cause I’m thinking they are becoming something of an addiction for me, and Jay got the special which was a craw fish and andouie sausage cake (almost like a crab cake).  The tomatoes came with this beautiful peppadew pepper relish and was tangy and spicy and very very good.  Jay’s was also great with the sausage adding some spice, and the peach chutney on top adding that sweet kick.

fried green tomatoes2

Now, for dinner, we had quite a choice.  There were about 5 specials and they all sounded fabulous.  However, I could NOT pass up one of them.  Wild boar tenderloin with a porcini mushroom bread pudding, and a cauliflower and truffle puree.  Yeah, I’m all over that.  Jay went with the fish of the day which was striped bass (basted in duck fat) with a roasted onion quinoa and a red cabbage, apple, and cranberry slaw.  We couldn’t wait!  I also ordered, on the suggestion of our wonderful waitress, a glass of Campus Red Zinfandel.  I wanted something that was not too overpowering but was still a red that could stand up to the flavors of the boar.  It was perfect.  It had hints of dark berries like cherry and raspberry and finished very clean with little aftertaste that I sometimes don’t like with heavy reds.  As we sat and chatted and people watched we enjoyed the atmosphere and each other.  Our dishes were brought out and I was drooling.

Wild Boar

wild boar

Striped Bass

striped bass

My dish was a perfect execution of mushrooms all around.  From the porcini bread pudding, that was pretty much like the best stuffing ever, with big pieces of mushroom wrapped around cubes of moist bread soaked in custard totally rocked.  It was very firm and not at all soggy (I hate soggy bread pudding).  Savory bread puddings aren’t always pulled off successfully, but this one nailed it.  It paired really well with the rich demi glace on the sauteed boar tenderloin.  Now, the coup de grace of the whole thing was the cauliflower and truffle puree.  There was a sweep of it right by the meat so that you could create the perfect bite of bread pudding, boar, and swipe up some of the creamy white goodness at the end.  Pure genius.  The truffle was not overwhelming but rather made this burst of mushroom flavor in your mouth that complimented the meaty boar so, so well.  It left you with this velvety mouth feel and earthy meaty flavor resonating throughout your pallet.  It was also served with two little piles of spaghetti squash, which were perfectly cooked and very good but could have been dancing bears for all I cared.  The mushroom madness that was created on my plate had me totally mesmerized.  This was the best dish of the trip so far.  No question.  I don’t mean to down play any of the food we have had to this point, but this was complex and deep and rich and really as perfect as you can get and totally another level.  For Jay’s part, he said the cole slaw was the best he has ever had.  Anywhere (that’s big).  He also said the fish was cooked perfectly and you could taste that slightly smoky flavor of the duck fat along with the onion quinoa.

We were stuffed and decided to order dessert to go.  The Jets were playing the Patriots tonight after all and we HAD to watch it.  We ordered a vanilla bean creme brulee with savannah honey, and some banana beignets.  We havent had them yet, they are siting on our hotel room desk but we will break into them soon.  I’m sure they will be just as amazing as the dinner.  Our last night here in Savannah was a complete success.  As we strolled back to the hotel, we chatted about how much we really enjoyed our time here.  Savannah is a beautiful southern city with true southern hospitality and a leisurely southern pace.  I can’t think of a better place to come visit.  When we leave tomorrow to head off to New Orleans, we will leave with very happy memories here and the knowledge that we will be returning again for sure.

 

http://www.alligatorsoul.com/

http://riverstreetsavannah.com/

Savannah Street Fairs And Sights…

Well, since our last post, we have made our way through the first leg of our road trip!  We left Nashville and had an overnight stay in Atlanta, then continued on to Savannah last night.  The drive was beautiful, we have been so lucky with weather, and at this point down here the trees are in full color, it has been lovely.  We even drove behind a truck carrying some nice sweet potatoes on the way…

sweet potatoes

Atlanta was a beautiful city where we stayed in a kick ass Omni hotel right downtown where we got lucky and were given a king size corner room on the 21st floor overlooking the whole city.  It was stunning and we felt super special.  We hung out in the hotel that night for the most part and grabbed some quick dinner at the food court in the CNN headquarters building, which was right next door.  The next day we visited the Georgia Aquarium.  It was SO  great!  The tanks are just huge and you feel like you are actually in the water with the fish!  We also went to the dolphin show and I don’t even know if Sea World has a better one.  The kids would have loved it, and it was one of the first times that I have missed everyone back home.  Once we had finished up the aquarium we were back on the road.

We arrived in Savannah around 5:30 on Friday night.  We checked into the hotel and got ourselves settled in our home for the next 3 days.  We decided to take a walk around and see a bit of the city and to grab a bite to eat before we went to bed.  Our hotel is in the perfect location and is in walking distance to just about everything.  We strolled up and down the main drag a while and walked through the City Market area.  Savannah is so pretty and we noticed that it looked like a street fair was happening this week, we started to get excited.  We ended up stopping at a Japanese restaurant right across the street from the hotel and ordered a few sushi rolls for takeout.  We sat in our room and ate and then proceeded to go to bed early so that we could get a good start to the day.

We woke up early, got ready, and headed down to the concierge desk to see what we could get for reservations today.  She happily set us up with the open trolley tour and promised she would call and see if she could get us reservations to Lady and Sons for lunch…YAAAAAAY!  The trolley tour was perfect with the guide telling us all the history of the city and drove us by 15 stops along the way.  The live oaks with the Spanish moss and the monuments and architecture were amazing.  While we were on the tour, our fabulous concierge called me and told me that we had a 1:15 reservation at Lady and Sons!  I’m pretty sure I squealed a thank you and almost jumped out of my seat.  We were going to see Paula (well, maybe not her exactly, but close enough)!

lady and sons

We had some time to kill after our trolley tour so we decided to hit up the street fair that we had seen set up last night.  When we got there we saw that it was actually an art fair that was related to the Savannah College of Art and Design (or SCAD as they call it).  There were about three blocks of vendors selling items from oil paintings and photography to pottery and jewelry.  The local shops on the streets were also open, so you had your pick of places to browse.  The fair ended in one of the many courtyards with more vendors and also live music and a local cafe who had set up a food booth selling a short list of items.

As we walked down the street on the first block we stopped here and there to look around.  Then we saw the sign for The Salt Table.  I was intrigued…a store just for salt?  We eagerly headed inside.  As we walked in, I realized it really WAS a store selling all kinds of salt!  Heaven!  They had little plastic cups around and encouraged you to taste the different kinds of salt that they had along with their oils, dips, flavored sugars and loose teas.  They also sold huge salt stones, used for serving or marinating some foods, and smaller pieces of salt stone all of which you could actually microplane and flake your own salt from.  This store rocked.  Pun intended.

As we went up and down the 3 aisles of salt, we heard one of the owners talking with several patrons explaining the items…which he loved, which to try, which were most popular, etc.  These people know their product.  Jay and I had our tasting cups ready and were happily trying several as we found more and more on the shelves.  We found some amazing bacon salt (hello outrageous baked potato), some roasted garlic salt, and some beautiful grey salt.  Then, we saw it.  The black truffle salt.  It was glowing like a beacon from the wood shelf that it sat on and I think I may have heard faint trumpets playing in the background.  When you opened the top and took a deep sniff we knew it was going to be amazing.  We shook a few granules into our cup and went in for the goods.  As soon as it touched your tongue, it exploded and coated your whole mouth with that unbelievable and unique earthy taste of truffle.  Jay and I looked at each other and just said “OH MY GOD”.  The next words that came out of his mouth are probably some of the best I have ever heard, and the most spot on assessment of a food item ever. “That is like sex in your mouth”.  I love that man.  It was true.  In the bag it went.  We also bought a brine mix for turkey and some citrus green tea.  They also had four large containers of brewed iced teas that you could buy by the cup.  I had a very serious relationship with this strawberry peach sweet iced tea that was their special brew for the day.  I had 2 cups, it was fabulous.  We headed over to the sugar section and also put in our bag a jar of coco flavored sugar that will be great on about a thousand kinds of desserts and coffees.  All in all it is my favorite store we have found and I was super excited to know that they are a very new budding business that has only been open about 4 months.  If today was any indication, they are going to take off like wild fire.  They are getting their full website up and running soon, and I can’t wait til they do so I can order more of the truffle salt whenever I need it!  If you are in the Savannah area, I highly recommend a stop here, the experience was unforgettable and totally fun.

It was creeping close to 1:00 so we headed down the street to Lady and Sons not wanting to be late even for a second.  We stopped at the hostess station and gave them our name and she sent us into the waiting room between the store and the restaurant.  I was grinning from ear to ear.  There was Paula swag everyplace and I couldn’t wait to browse the store after we ate.  In a very sort time, they called our name and sent us up to the third floor where our table was.  The place was packed and the buffet was steaming with all kinds of goodies.  We were seated in the bar area, and looked at the menu for a few minutes.

I decided that to really get everything I wanted, I had to get the signature southern buffet.  Jay got Paula’s other signature dish which is the chicken pot pie, topped with puff pastry.  We also ordered a fried green tomato appetizer, cause we had to, yes this was not an option, fried green tomatoes are a necessity.  The tomatoes were really good with a not too heavy batter and this tomato based sauce dotted on the top along with an onion slaw.  The onions were raw but were super sweet and provided that hit of acidity to cut the richness of the fried food.  They were soaked in some vinegar and I think buttermilk, they were great.  We finished them off in no time.

fried green tomatoes

When Jay’s pot pie came, it was a work of art…they lattice the puff pastry to form this beautiful top to the bowl of thick, creamy pot pie underneath.  It was chock full of chicken and you could taste every single ingredient in there.  It wasn’t a big mush of flavor like some pot pie can be, but you could really taste the peas and carrots and chicken all together, and the veggies were still standing on their own and not completely soft.  It was perfect and the puff pastry cover dipped in there was pot pie gold.

pot pie

As he broke into his meal I headed off to the buffet to fill my plate.  It was a bar of southern goodness.  There was fried chicken, ribs, collard greens, black eyed peas, butter beans with ham, green beans with potatoes, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, brown sugar sweet potatoes, cream corn, gravy and I can’t remember what else.  I got all my favorites, some fried chicken, cream corn, mashed potatoes, butter beans, green beans, collard greens, and black eyed peas and mac and cheese.  I did share a few bites with Jay of each of the items, but for the most part I scarfed it all.  Not to mention the biscuits and hoe cakes that come to the table along with yet again another large glass of sweet tea (I’m an addict by the way, I’m going to need sweet tea detox when we come home).  Everything was amazing.  The greens were the best I have ever had in my life, anywhere.  Hands down.  Everything was salty and porky and buttered and it all was the better for it.  That woman knows her stuff and I bow down to the butter queen.  The meal was everything we had hoped for.

southern plate

Then they brought dessert.  Jay got the gooey butter cake and I got the peach cobbler.  OMG peach goodness in a bowl.  I’m making this at home for sure, I got the recipe downstairs in the store.  It was not only peaches and a topping, but it was also this thick pastry cream inside.  It was so sweet and so gooey and good.  The butter cake was also wonderful with a crust that tasted like home made graham crackers and a sweet brownie like texture on top.  YUM.  We left feeling totally satisfied and a little more in love with southern cooking than when we had gone in.  We also decided that walking the rest of the day was not a bad idea.  We do have to fit on an airplane to get home after all.  I hit up the gift shop for a few minutes, got some recipes and some Paula swag and we headed back to walk around the rest of the art fair.

southern dessert

The rest of the day we spent walking and shopping and generally enjoying the gorgeous weather that we had been blessed with.  As the day wore on, we did eventually get hungry again, many hours later, and we decided to stop at the small food tent at the end of the fair.  The first thing we tried were these lovely chocolates from a local chocolatier called Chocolat by Adam Turont.  They were not only beautiful, but also some of the most complex flavors in a little chocolate package that I have ever experienced.  We tried the salted caramel, the hazelnut truffle, the pumpkin pie, and the liquid honey centered spiced chocolate mousse creams.  They were all top notch and the spices that were added to the chocolate highlited the flavors beautifully.  Perfect little bundles of happiness.

After our chocolate snack we purchased 2 mini sliders of pulled pork, a cup of tomato soup, and a cup of turkey chili from the cafe next to the chocolates.  The tomato soup and the turkey chili were both great.  Thick and rich and perfect for the cool night it was becoming.  But those sliders.  On man.  It was not your regular pulled pork.  There was no red BBQ sauce to be had, but instead there was this mustard and beer based sauce that was not only mixed into the meat but also slathered on top of it.  I know it sounds strange, but the flavors all together almost tasted like corned beef.  They were to die for.  I wanted to lick the sauce off the little paper boat it came in.  They were totally unique from any other pulled pork sandwich I have ever had, and I’m sure we will have a great time trying to recreate that sauce!

bbq sliders

For the rest of the night we sat and listened to the live band for a while and then walked back to the hotel, stopping for some hot chocolate for me and ice cream for Jay.  Our first day here being a total success, we are heading to bed with visions of Wall’s BBQ and Alligator Soul dancing in our heads for tomorrow!  More to come…

 

http://www.salttable.com/

http://www.ladyandsons.com/