Brunching at Back Deck

As I walked into the Back Deck Restaurant on West Street in Boston on Sunday, I couldn’t believe that it had been over a year since I last attended a Boston Brunchers‘ event. It was also the first brunch where I got to use my new fancy camera!

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Since the Patriots were playing in the AFC Championship game later that day, I knew I had to work at 3pm, so when Renee sent a contest around to win a seat at this brunch from 12pm-2pm, I knew I couldn’t pass up the chance to enter. When I was selected, I was beyond excited.

When I sat down, I was greeted by a few familiar faces, like Erika, Meghan, Liz and Jess.  I wasted no time choosing a signature drink from their menu: an Orange Cooler, complete with OJ, orange vodka, Cointreau and lime juice. I loved it. If it was acceptable to have one of those every morning, I would. The alcohol was subtle, but present and the juice was fresh. Perfect start to brunch.

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Each bruncher got to choose an item off of the menu to try and we decided to start with some appetizers to share at the table: grilled zucchini with a garlic mayo, eggplant spread on pita, squash soup, chicken livers, hot wings with dipping sauce, and a honey-drizzled grilled grapefruit.  I wasn’t particularly fond of the chicken livers, and the grapefruit was difficult to eat, but everything else was delicious.

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As I perused the menu trying to decide what to order, I felt the brunch menu leaned more towards lunch than breakfast. Maybe I’m just strange, but even during “brunch”, I almost always choose a breakfast item. So that’s what I did, settling on Eggs Diablo. I must’ve been feeling a little adventurous since a) I almost never order egg-y breakfast items and b) this dish came complete with a habenero sauce (which I asked for on the side just in case…)

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I would say that the dish was good, but not mind-blowing. The eggs were perfectly cooked: fluffy, light and just runny enough, but I didn’t taste much spice on the “spicy” pork. The black beans and tortillas tasted as they should. I think I would’ve preferred toast to the tortillas under the beans. I didn’t really eat much of it. The crispy tortilla strips on top, however, were a textural element that I enjoyed. When I took taste of the habenero sauce, I was instantly thankful that I asked for it on the side. While tasty, even the smallest amount warmed my mouth and throat and any more would’ve overpowered the whole dish. When I was able to get everything on my fork all at once, I must say it was quite delicious. Separately, however, the elements on the plate were good, but not great.

The other menu item I was eyeing was the Challah French Toast, which the bruncher sitting next to me happened to order. The moment I took a bite, I knew it would’ve been more my style. It was crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside, and had a bourbon and caramelized banana sauce… Heaven. And, it was huge!

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But we weren’t done yet. Our server came over with a dessert menu and, like our appetizers, we got a few to share. The “Drunken 3 Musketeer” ice cream was by far my favorite.

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Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this brunch and would recommend Back Deck for any Sunday. Heads up – they have a kiddie menu too so don’t be afraid to bring the kiddos along!  If you’re looking for a reasonably priced good time, try it out!

*The Back Deck provided brunch free of charge to the Boston Brunchers and I was asked to write a review of the meal and experience I had. ALL opinions stated here are my own.

February Restaurant Review: The Landing at 7 Central

Happy Valentine’s Day all!!  Welcome to my February edition of Chocolate & Wine’s Restaurant Review.

This month, I wanted to find something completely different than anywhere Stephen and I have been.  Plus, being Valentine’s Day, we decided to go out on Friday for a nice, quiet evening instead of fighting the crowds today.

I’ve gotten lots of restaurant recommendations (Thanks! Keep ’em coming!) but this is a place I found via Google.  I wanted something in the “hidden gem” category and that’s exactly what I found: The Landing at 7 Central in Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA.

I made a reservation for two at 8pm (ya know.. just in case) and we found it pretty easily.  It was elegantly lit and very inviting.  The hostess sat us right away, directly across from a cozy fireplace.

The Landing in Manchester-by-the-Sea

Our waitress, who’s name escapes me, was friendly and attentive.  She took our drink orders and returned quickly with ice waters, freshly baked rolls that were still hot and the most delicious olive oil I have ever tasted.  A few minutes later, my Argentinian Malbec and Stephen’s Sam Adams-something-or-other-beer was in front of us.  It was efficient service without the feeling of being too rushed.

The menu itself was ridiculous.  There were so many options and everything sounded incredible.  Things like “Chicken Jessica” and “Pan Roasted Salmon” jumped out at me but in the end, I settled on what I really wanted but rarely get: Seafood Risotto.  Stephen got the Prime Rib special.

Seafood Risotto... Yes, please.

My risotto was flawless.  It had muscles, tender scallops, perfectly cooked shrimp, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, all wrapped in a not-overly-cheesy bed of puffed up rice.  I had to stop myself from eating too much of it, knowing that I could devour the whole bowl if given the opportunity.  (Not that it made it until the next day anyway due to a midnight snack craving but that’s besides the point..) Stephen’s prime rib was perfectly medium rare, accompanied by a blue cheese butter (amazing) asparagus and thick, garlicky mashed pototoes – comfort food for a chilly night.

Seafood risotto - sorry the photo is a little blurry, but check out all those beautiful colors!

Tip: Always ask what the special is!

That prime rib was HUGE!

There was only one thing that threw me about The Landing.  The tables were set with white linen tablecloths with a blue overlay, lovely cutlery and a single candle.  And then, resting on the dinner roll plate, under said cutlery was… a paper napkin?  Wait, come again?  A beautiful restaurant with paper napkins?  Again, it’s small.  Tiny even compared to the wonderful time we had but I think a place like that should reconsider the paper and switch to cloth.  Just my two cents.

Overall Rating: 9 out of 10.

Just like January, we had another terrific restaurant experience.  Wonderful, friendly service, gourmet food, good prices and the perfect atmosphere for any romantic date night out.  Be aware that for young adults and students on a budget, it may be a little pricier for you, but still 100% worth it.

But please Landing friends, lose the paper napkins…

I want to know:  Do you have a restaurant you’d like me to review?  Been to The Landing and have a difference experience than I did?  Let me know!

Happy Things

It’s Friday… the best day of the week!  Many happy things going on lately.

Grad school starts in 3 weeks.  I’m excited and nervous.  I won’t be all alone; one of the guys who went to my high school also got into my program, so at least I’ll have one friend.  Nevertheless, the nerves are definitely there.

DanceWorks Boston is back in action.  I’m in 5 routines and could not be happier that I get to dance 3 nights a week.  It keeps me sane, the show is going to be out of this world and I’ve met some great friends through it.  And my piece is going to be unreal, just saying.

I ran 3.1 miles yesterday at a 9:50 pace.   My first 5K pace was around 10:50 min/mile, so I was thrilled to get through the same distance today, 3 months later, a whole minute per mile faster.  I felt great doing it and I was super sweaty at the end.  Win.

I have 2 more 5Ks and my first 10K coming up.  Chelmsford, Salem and finally, the Tufts Women 10K in Boston.  Obviously I still have more training to do for the 10K, but I think I’ll be able to pull it off.  P.S. If you’d like to be my running buddy for any of these, please let me know!

I plan on running a half marathon before next spring.  Yes, you heard me correctly – a half marathon.  13.1 miles.  I considered the Cape Cod Half at the end of October but at the moment, it’s not in the cards.  I have some awesome training plans and lots of support thanks to my runner friends.  A half is definitely happening within the next year.  I currently have my eye on the 2012 Great Bay Half Marathon in Newmarket, NH.  We’ll see.

I made a kickass dinner last night.  Chicken breasts stuffed with a spinach, low fat ricotta cheese and pancetta mixture, spiced corn-on-the-cob and broccoli.  Anything with spinach and cheese just calls my name.

Colorful = Healthy

I’ve lost 10 pounds.  Thanks Weight Watchers, you really work!

I want to know… what’s happy in your life?

Guest Post: Cooking for Beginners

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a lovely woman named Barbara.  A frequent reader of my blog and experienced writer herself, she asked if I would consider letting her write a guest post for Chocolate & Wine.  I happily agreed and after reading some of her work, decided that she would be the perfect person to write a “How-To” post for beginner cooks.  It is insightful, includes recipes and helpful videos, and can help any cook no matter what your skill level is.

Thanks for posting Barbara!!

Cooking 101: The Basics for Beginners

This guest post is contributed by Barbara Jolie, who writes for online classes.  She welcomes your comments at her email Id: barbara.jolie876@gmail.com.

Cooking—while some have a natural gift for it, others simply improve with trial and error. If your first attempt at cooking was an utter disaster and you’re hoping to be part of the latter group, a good place to start improving your culinary skills is to do some light studying. No worries— quizzes and exams will not be administered, but brushing up on your culinary vocabulary is great way to make sure that you follow your recipe-of-choice correctly. After all, what good is reading a recipe if you don’t know what you need to do to make sure the meal comes out right? With that said, below are some explanations of common phrases and key words that pop up in most basic recipes and a list of supplies every kitchen should have to execute. Make sure to check out some simple semi-home made recipes found at the bottom of the article as well and put your freshly new knowledge to the test.

Must-Know Phrases/Key Terms

Sauté: This French term can be used when referring to both meats and vegetables. All it means is to cook the item of choice in a small sautéing pan (a skillet can be used in its place) until the meat is no longer pink or

Cook Vegetables Until Tender: This phrase is used to describe the state where a fork can easily insert into the once-raw vegetable with ease.

Cook Until Translucent: This phrase is typically used whenever onions are involved. All this simply means is to cook the onions until they become more transparent and are no longer a deep white or deep yellow—they should look more “see through.”  Other words associated with onions and other vegetables include “chopped,” which are large cut square pieces of onion; “minced“, which are tiny miniscule cut pieces of onion; or “sliced” which are cut pieces that will appear like rings.

Brown Meat: This phrase is typically used when referring to ground meats such as hamburger or turkey. This means to cook the meat until it is no longer pink and bloody. To make sure that your ground meat gets cooked and “browns” properly, break apart the meat with a wooden spoon so that is distributes into small round pieces as it cooks.

Beat Eggs: This phrase is simply asking you to briskly stir the egg yolk and white together using a fork or whisk until the two components are thoroughly incorporated into one runny yellow mixture. Eggs must be mixed in a separate bowl by themselves to be considered “beaten.” To get a better idea of how it’s done, check out this video.

Stir Frequently: This means to repeatedly use a spoon to make sure all of the ingredients in the pan/pot are well-mixed, “Frequently” is typically about every 3 minutes or so. This instruction is usually given so that ingredients don’t stick to the bottom or sides of the pan.  

Must-Have Kitchen Utensils/ Equipment: 

Ovenproof Frying Skillet

Medium-Sized Sauce Pan

Large Pot

Baking Dish; 8 inch square and 12-inch square

Mixing Bowl

Cutting Board

Strainer/Colander

Measuring Cup and Measuring Spoons

Wooden Spoon, Spatula, Large Knife, Whisk

Semi-Homemade Easy Recipes for Beginners

Potato, Bacon and Green Onion Frittata
Prefect for breakfast or brunch, this easy-to-make dish is a great meal to test your elementary cooking skills.  Omit the bacon for a vegetarian version. (Serves 4)

Ingredients:
6 slices of bacon
1 cup of Shredded Potatoes (can be purchased in the frozen isle)
1/2 cup of chopped green onion
6 eggs, beaten
1 cup of finely shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:  Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook bacon in an ovenproof nonstick skillet until it is crispy (add no oil, bacon will make its own). Take the bacon out and place on a plate. Dab with a paper towel to remove excess oil. Drain excess oil from skillet. Chop cooked bacon into chunky pieces. Add chopped bacon back into skillet and add potatoes and green onion. Cook for about 6 to 8 minutes or until potatoes are crisp, stirring frequently. Stir in eggs. Sprinkle one layer of shredded cheese on top of egg mixture. Cover the skillet with appropriate lid and place in heated oven. Bake for 20 minutes or until the center is thoroughly cooked. To check this, insert a fork directly in the middle of the frittata; if no uncooked egg remains on the fork when you take it out, it is cooked.

Creative license for image here.

Saucy Lemon Pepper Chicken 
Prefect for lunch or dinner, this great dish only takes about 15 minutes to make and requires no complicated marinating yet still has a burst of flavor. And if it doesn’t ( or you accidently burn the meat) the special sauce will disguise it. (Serves 4)

Ingredients:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 ¼ of lemon pepper seasoning
4 tablespoons of butter
1 cup of sliced mushrooms
¾ chicken broth
1 tablespoon of flour
¼ cup of sour cream
1 teaspoon of minced parsley

Directions: Sprinkle chicken with lemon pepper seasoning, making sure that all areas are covered. In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Place the chicken in the skillet and sauté for about 10 minutes on each side, or until the inside is not longer pink.  Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside on a different plate.  Add remaining butter to skillet and sauté mushrooms for about 2 to 3 minutes. While cooking, whisk broth and flour in a mixing bowl until all of the lumps are gone. Pour liquid over cooked mushrooms. Bring the liquid to a rapid boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 3 minutes.  Add sour cream and stir. Add chicken back into skillet, making sure to spoon sauce over chicken. Sprinkle parsley on top of chicken and serve immediately.

Veggie Lasagna & 3-Ingredient Chicken

So I’ve been on a Hungry Girl kick lately.  I want to make everything in her new 300 Under 300 cookbook and I’ve been trekking right along.  Tuesday nights are my biggest cooking nights during the week because after work and the gym, all I want to do is make new recipes for my family.  So far, they have turned out pretty well.

I decided on a complex, no-noodle veggie lasagna recipe with so-simple-I-could-make-it-with-my-eyes-closed bacon & ranch chicken.  I say the lasagna was a bit complex because it requires a good amount of prepping before the actual oven cooking begins.  It was worth it.  It takes about 30 minutes to cook at 425 degrees so when there was about 15-20 minutes left on the timer, I slid the chicken in too.

Now, just a heads up about the serving size.  Obviously, it’s one chicken breast per person but the lasagna also serves 4.  When I read the recipe in the HG cookbook, it said 4 SUPER-HUGE portions.  I didn’t believe her.  I mean, an 8×8 isn’t that big.  The portions can’t be that big either.  How wrong I was.  I couldn’t even eat the whole portion.  You’ve been warned.

No-Noodle Veggie Lasagna    
Adapted from Hungry Girl             

Ingredients:
1 large eggplant, ends cut off and sliced lengthwise into wide, long strips
2 large portobello mushroom caps, stems removed, sliced
3 medium zucchini, ends cut off and sliced lengthwise into thin, long strips
2 cups crushed tomatoes with basil
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 (16-ounce) package chopped spinach, thawed, drained and thoroughly dried
2 TB liquid egg subsititute
1/8 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
2 TB reduced-fat parm-style topping

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Bring a large skillet to high heat and spray generously with nonstick cooking spray.  Lay some paper towels next to the stovetop to drain excess liquid from veggies as they cook.

Cook as many zucchini and mushrooms you can lay flat in the pan at a time for 2-3 minutes per side.  Remove to paper towels.  Continue until all zucchini and mushrooms are cooked, respraying in between each batch.  Cook the eggplant 4-5 minutes per side, also respraying in between batches.

Next, stir garlic powder and onion powder into the crushed tomatoes.  In a seperate big bowl, combine the spinach, ricotta cheese, salt, pepper and egg substitute and mix thoroughly.

To assemble: Spray a deep 8×8 baking dish with nonstick spray.  Even spread 1 cup of crushed tomatoes on the bottom of the dish.  Layer half of the veggies over the tomatoes, eggplant first, then zucchini, then mushrooms.  Top veggies with half of the spinach-cheese mixture.  Lay the rest of the veggies over the spinach-cheese mixture in the same order as before, followed by the rest of the spinach and cheese.  Top with the remaining crushed tomatoes and spread evenly.  Sprinkle mozzarella cheese and parm-style cheese over the crushed tomatoes.

Place on a large baking sheet and pop in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, until heated through and the cheeese on top is bubbly and golden brown.

Bacon & Ranch Chicken
From Hungry Girl

Ingredients:
4 (5-ounce) lean chicken breast cutlets
2 TB dry ranch dressing mix (I used DIPS)
2 TB real bacon bits

Spray a small baking sheet with nonstick spray.  Lay the chicken on the sheet and spray the tops with nonstick spray as well.  Rub 1/2 TB of ranch mix on each breast, front and back, and repeat with 1/2 TB bacon bits for each.  Lay flat on the baking sheet and bake in preheated oven until cooked through and tender, 15-20 minutes.

So much to talk about..

First of all, I’ve been gone again for way too long.. almost a month, which for a blogger is almost completely unacceptable.  I will try to make up for lost time.

Barcelona was amazing.  I indulged in all of the food I intended on trying – patatas bravas (fried potatoes with a spicy sauce), gelato of all flavors (twice a day.. literally: nutella, straciatella, brownie, sweet biscuit, tiramisu) I could not get enough of the stuff.  I think I should open my own gelato francise here in America -I would make so much money.  Sangria and red wine were staples – by the bottle or the jug.  I only had paella one but it was so flavorful and satisfying, filled with chicken and saffron and shrimp (that unfortunately still had the eyes on it..) that I found bliss instantly.

Even the plane ride there and back was incredible; I definitely know why people splurge for the internation Business class.  The second we sat down, I was handed a glass of champagne.  To follow, as much wine as I wanted and a three course dinner. PLUS, a two course snack later and rolls with delicious, creamy German butter. 

Needless to say, I’ve been dieting ever since, but doing very well. (A full 13 pounds down at least!) 

To bring us up to date, I’ve still been experimenting with appetizers for my family.  The mushroom tartlets didn’t go over as well as I hoped but my mom and dad LOVED the spinach-mozzarella balls I made them.  They just need to be a bit smaller, those were huge suckers.  I’m going to give a lemon-rosemary chicken skewer the old try next.

I’ve also been trying to cook things other than the same chicken every night.  Last night, I took a recipe by Robin Miller and spiced it up by adding a few things here and there, throwing it in the crockpot and letting it go for 5 hours on high.  It was like autumn on a plate – apples, onions, chicken, rosemary, creamy soup and a bit of salt and pepper.  I’ll post the recipe in my Tried & True section because it definitely deserves to be there.

Tonight, I’m thinking fish.  Any suggestions?