Virtual Bake Sale!

Attention Chocolate & Wine Readers!

I want/need/must tell you about an amazing opportunity to make a huge difference.  A difference to a first-time marathon runner and an incredible charity.  And an opportunity to get some delicious goodies!

My good friend/fellow Boston blogger and bruncher, Amanda, is running the Boston Marathon for the first time.  She is running for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and is attempting to raise $4,000.  Right now, you can attend her blog’s virtual bake sale and bid on a variety of baked goods by some of her favorite bloggers (myself included!!!!)

These are my Double Chocolate Oreo Balls. You should probably go bid on them.

Simply visit her website between now and January 28th to bid on the items.  All of the proceeds go towards the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and will help her reach her goal.  Amanda is a kind, passionate person who wants nothing more than to run 26.2 miles successfully and have an impact on this charity.  YOU can help her make it happen.

Questions?  Shoot me an e-mail!  And please let me know via comment if you bid on anything/win anything, especially if you bid on/bid on my Double Chocolate Oreo Balls!


For every Chocolate & Wine reader who bids on a baked good from Amanda’s bake sale and leaves me a comment here telling me you did, I will donate $1 to Amanda’s charity.  For every baked good a Chocolate & Wine reader bids on AND WINS, I will donate $5 to Amanda’s charity.  And if a Chocolate & Wine reader wins MY Double Chocolate Oreo Balls, I will donate $15 to Amanda’s charity site!!  Either way, this is a win-win-win situation to help people in need!

(PS – these are based on the honor system.  If you say you bid on something, please make sure you do…)

1.  Bid on an item on Amanda’s bake sale and leave me a comment telling me you did.  Include what you bid on and how much you bid.

2.  If you win an item, leave me a comment telling me what you won and how much you paid for it.

3.  If you win MY Double Chocolate Oreo Balls, leave me a comment telling me you did and how much you paid for it.  Then enjoy them immensely when I send them to you!

I mean... yum.

I’ll keep a pledge tally and tell you how much I will personally be donating at the end of the bake sale.

Good Luck and Happy Bidding!!

It’s Almost Christmas!!!

To start this post today, I’d like to say a very Happy Birthday to my cousin Sam!

Sam's 21st Birthday... 22 will be much calmer.

I can’t believe how fast this year flew by.  It’s crazy to me that Christmas is a mere 2 days away.  Am I ready?  YES YES YES!

Our Christmas Tree... It takes up the better half of the living room.

First, I want to give a special shout-out and thank you to to for featuring my Cranberry & Walnut Biscotti recipe the other day.  Because of you, I reached a record number of page views for one day at Chocolate & Wine!  What a great early Christmas present for my little corner of the Internet.

You should really make these for Christmas..

Lots of people ask me what I cook this time of year for Christmas and the various holiday parties I go to.  To be honest, the list is endless.  I try not to bring the same thing to the same place so it’s always a never-ending search for new recipes to try.

This year, I narrowed it down to a few winners.

For my best friend’s ugly sweater party, I made kale chips.  The recipe could not be simpler.  Take a bunch of fresh kale and wash thoroughly (they can be gritty so really let ’em soak).  Then rip the leaves away from the stems and place on a baking sheet coated with non-stick spray.  Top with more cooking spray (instead of oil to save some cals!), a little salt and a little black pepper and pop into a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.  They become crisp and golden and melt in your mouth.  A really great snack or appetizer for hungry girls watching their waistlines!

Check out those sweaters. We don't play around.

For a Christmas Eve appetizer, I pinterest-ed a recipe (did I mention I’m on Pinterest now?  And obsessed with Pinterest?  Well, I am.) And I found mini toothpick caprese salads.  So easy, so healthy, so beautiful!  I’m even going to make a balsamic glaze to drizzle over the top.

Christmas Day is my favorite.  Because I come from a large Italian family, we do things in a traditional way.  And by tradition, I mean we eat and drink for approximately 6-8 hours and pass out in food comas at the end of the night.

Food Coma 101... Christmas 2007!

Christmas is a time for family and the Torto family’s ancient recipe for homemade raviolis.  These are no joke, my friends.  We already made them (in November) and they are sitting in plastic baggies in my aunt’s basement freezer waiting for their bath in from-scratch, simmered-for-hours tomato sauce.

Christmas day is served in multiple courses.  Antipasti, then escarole soup, then the ravs with meatballs, sausages and pork, then salad, then dessert.  Not to mention the finger foods we munch on before sitting down to the table or the bottles and bottles of Asti Spumonti and 2-Buck-Chuck red wine we go through.

This is Asti and it will be gone.

And that’s only with my family.  I mentioned that Stephen is Italian too, didn’t I?  That’s a whole ‘nother story (and food coma..)

I hope your holiday is filled with family, friends, and great food.  And maybe a surprise or two!

Beautiful pillows of ravioli perfection. Photo courtesy of Miss Ali Reed.

Pinkberry, SYTYCD and dance friends = perfect Wednesday night

Yesterday was one of the best Wednesdays I’ve had in quite a while.

My work day flew by (for the most part) and at 3:30, I was changed into my gym clothes and practically running out the door to get to the gym.  The reason?  Well, I read Ali’s blog every day and she is the NYC queen of fitness classes.  She’ll do Chisel followed by Spinning, all after a long day at work and a 5am run.  Seriously, I want to be her.

So I got myself motivated and chose my class of the day: Barbell Pump.  60 minutes of muscle-conditioning goodness.  The type that provides a special genre of soreness, one I am feeling right now.  But it was awesome.  The instructor is tough, but hilarious and I think we did lunges and squats for a straight 20 minutes without stopping.  I was short on time because of my night’s plans so when I got to the gym at 3:42 (class starts at 4), I quickly set up my area and got in a quick 10 minutes of cardio on the treadmill.  I ran a fast 9:05 mile (READ: I’ve never run a mile that fast EVER IN MY LIFE) and rounded out 10 minutes for a solid sweat.  And oh yes, was I sweating.

The sweat continued throughout the muscle class and I left the gym feeling accomplished and worthy of my Wednesday night treat: Pinkberry and So You Think You Can Dance with my DanceWorks Boston Wednesday night friends. 

After a speedy shower and even speedier dinner (Weight Watchers Ravioli in Marinara… a delicious 7 PointsPlus investment), I was out the door and on the train to Newbury Street to meet up with the ladies.

Pinkberry = Perfect frozen (guilt-free!) treat on a warm summer night.

Chocolate fro-yo with lots of strawberries.

We then headed back to Lisa’s beautiful apartment to watch some quality dancing.  A little DWB Project, a little So You Think You Can Dance… what’s not to love?

I gotta say… Melanie from this season is my absolute favorite.  All of the contestants this year are really talented and there aren’t any obvious weak links so I think kicking people off is going to be harder and harder each week.  All of the dancers have incredible technique but Melanie stands out for me.

Question: Do you watch SYTYCD?  Who is your favorite this season?  And what’s your favorite routine this far?  Mine is a 3-way tie between Melanie and Marko’s stone contemporary dance from week 1, Melanie and Marko’s lyrical-hip hop last night and Caitlynn (my other favorite girl) and Mitchell’s lyrical (with the chairs) from Week 2.

After a spectacular night in Boston, I took the train home, reviewed some NDA material and hit my bed hard.  Sign of a good day.

I also decided I want to open a Pinkberry near my house because the closest one is in Boston and that’s just a tad too far to drive for fro-yo.  Who wants in?

My First Race: The Essentials

Here we are, kids.  The eve of my first 5K.  I’m sorry if you are sick of hearing about it.  I’m not sick of talking about it.  (I promise I’ll start cooking again for real next week though. I’ve missed it!)

So I’m nervous.  Like really nervous.  That’s normal right?  I hope so.  When I dance in big competitions like nationals, I have a habit of… well, losing it (if you know what I mean) beforehand (and maybe after.) Sometimes I cry too.  Just being honest here.

I’ve been researching for quite some time now about what to wear, eat, listen to before, during and after running a race.  Christine is a big help.  Aron is too.  But come on now, I’m no marathon runner just yet.  No crazy carbo loads, no 5 mile easy runs (haha, can’t do those yet, but I did get in some nice cardio yesterday) and no Garmin on my wrist.  However,  I will have a (basic, but cute) running outfit, a rockin’ playlist, a good dinner tonight (a signature pasta creation), a light breakfast tomorrow morning, lots of water and my favorite people there to cheer me on (and take tons of pictures!)

This picture was my night in a nutshell…

So my essentials.  I’ve comprised a (short) but sturdy list of things I’ll do/wear/eat today in preparation for tomorrow.  First, I have been  RESTING.  My legs were a bit sore still today (I dance 3 days a week so yeah) so tonight I watched tv, cut up some watermelon, read, hung out with Tracie for a bit and watched Disney movies.

The Outfit

Okay, so I don’t really have a running wardrobe yet.  I do have great running capris from target that I’ve been training in and LOVE.  A regular t-shirt will suffice for this race with a light zip-up over it.  I’ll decide when I get to the race if I need the jacket or not.  I doubt it since it’s supposed to be nice out and I sweat … a lot.  Sneakers? I have a confession… I never got new ones.  I know.. SO BAD.  But I’m going to suck it up for this first race and if I enjoy it as much as I hope I will and decide to sign up for more races (and longer distances), I will go to a specialized running store, get fitted and invest in good sneaks.  For now, my Champs will have to do.

The Carbo Load

Just kidding.  But there will be a little pasta.  And veggies (duh, don’t you know how much I love em?)  So here’s what I’m chowin’ on…

Breakfast (Today): Cup of fruit salad, small sliver quiche, small iced coffee with skim milk/2 sweet n low, water.

Lunch: Garden salad with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, a few croutons and fat free ranch, 1 orange, water.

Dinner: Whole grain pasta (angel hair is my favorite), throw in some of Stephen’s “quick sauce” (fam recipe sped up for convenience but still delicious).  Then I’ll saute zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and mushrooms in a skillet and added it to the pasta.  Yeah.. the perfect dish for some pre-race energy.  Matched with a large glass of water, it’s a tremendous, digestible and san-heavy dinner.

Breakfast tomorrow: Slice of wheat toast with 1 TB low fat peanut butter, small banana (3 hours pre-race), water

The Playlist

I’ve done lots of mixing and matching to get the perfect approximately 40 minute playlist so every second will be accounted for… hopefully I won’t even need the whole thing.  I’m not a big song jumper – I pick the winners ahead of time and play the whole thing.  Here’s what I’ve got.. yes, a song or 2 are repeated but only because they pump me up so much.

1. King of Anything (3:27)- Sara Barielles.  Upbeat for the warm-up few minutes.

2. The New Workout Plan (5:22)- Kanye West.  If you want the best push-yourself song there is, download this.  It’s so funny and makes you want to run… or do sit-ups, whatever.

3.  Best Love Song (3:17) – Chris Brown.  Got this one from Christine.  It’s a great pacer song.  I find my stride easily.

4. Can’t Be Tamed (2:28) – Miley Cyrus.  I can’t be tamed, what about it?  Plus, it’s short and a nice break up in between the long songs.

5.  Born This Way (4:20) – Gaga.  “I was born to survive.” Enough said.

6. On the Floor (3:50) – J.Lo & Pitbull.  I could dance to this, run to this, anything.  It’s just awesome.

7. Who’s That Chick  (2:47) – Rhianna.  Another one I can dance to.  For some reason, when I think of dance routines while I run, it makes me enjoy it so much more.

8. The New Workout Plan.  Repeat.  I know it’s 5:22 so when its over, it’s a big chunk of time I got through.

9. Mean (3:57) – Taylor Swift.  I play this at the end but I’m hoping I don’t need it.  It’s one of those “you think I’m nothing but look what I’m doing now” sort of songs and it makes me want to prove to myself that I CAN DO IT.

The People

Obviously I’ve never run a race before but I completely believe all you runners out there that the crowd pumps you up and keeps you going.  I’ve got a terrific group coming to cheer me on including my mom, my sister, my cousin Ali, my aunt, my work peeps.  I plan on getting as much energy and motivation as I can from them and HAMMING it up in front of the cameras.  And I’m giving Tracie a set of poms to shake around.  Yeah, we’re legit.

If you just happen to be on the North Shore tomorrow morning, say around 9ish and you want to come watch a 5K, head to Marblehead (Beach St./Ocean Ave.)  Find me and say hi.  I’ll love you for it!

What are your Running Essentials?  Were you nervous for your first race and if so, what did you do to de-stress yourself? (Seriously peeps, I need all the advice I can get on this one!)

Sunday Brunch at the Biltmore

Last Sunday, after waiting about 3 weeks for the Boston Brunchers’ event, I finally made my way down to Newton to where my friend and fellow blogger, Megan, lives (in an adorable apartment I might add.)  Megan and I went to college together and when she found out I too write a food blog, she was more than supportive.  I mentioned to her that I wanted to get more involved in the food blogging world and when she won two tickets to this event, she didn’t hesitate to ask me.  If that isn’t blogger love, I don’t know what is.

When we arrived at the Biltmore Bar & Grill, the host took us through the front bar to the back part of the restaurant.  There were vintage signs and old-fashion art plastered on the walls and our long table was set with flowers and a white tablecloth.  I must admit, I was pretty jittery all morning in anticipation of the brunch.  Since it was my first time meeting all the other guests (minus Megan), I wasn’t sure how I would fit in with the seasoned bloggers.

My anxiety quickly diminished as I sat down at the table.  The others immediately introduced themselves and I recognized a few of them from their blogs.  I could feel my face turn a not-so-subtle shade of fuschia as I told them who I was and I what the title of my blog is.  They welcomed me with open arms and I knew it was going to be a good morning.  My fellow bloggers included Megan, of course, Corey, Krista, Kimmy, Justin, Amanda, Carolyn, Josie, Katy, Michelle, and our wonderful host, Renee.

–Oh! And by the way… since my camera doesn’t want to cooperate and upload my photos into my computer for actual use, all of the photos in this blog post are courtesy of Renee. (Thank you!!)

When the restaurant host came out with paddles of sample cocktails, I was instantly intrigued.  The first was a homemade Bloody Mary, the second, a Mimosa, made with the restaurant’s freshly squeezed OJ.  I’m not really a huge fan of tomato juice so I only had one small sip of the Bloody Mary but the Mimosa blew me away.  I had to restrain myself from draining the glass in one gulp.  Someone sign me up to juice oranges in that place if it means I can drink those everyday.

The first course consisted of a lobster frittatta.  Now – I rarely eat lobster.  I don’t love it when it’s merely dipped in butter but throw it in a soup or on the top of fluffy egg and cheese and call me SOLD.  The egg itself was crispy on top and along the edges and creamy (yet light) in the center.  I immediately ate the green tendrils off the top.  As tempted as I was, I knew I couldn’t eat the full amount of every course so I dug into about half the frittatta, picked off and ate all the lobster, and prepared for the next course.

Before I go any further, I have a confession to make.  It’s no surprise now (although it was to my fellow brunchers) that I gave up carbs for Lent.  Now, I don’t really believe in the whole “You can have what you gave up for Lent on Sundays” and I haven’t used it as an excuse at all this Lent with the exception of this past Sunday.  I could not justify being at this beautiful brunch with complimentary food from an obviously very talented chef and at least not TRY it.  I think you’ll forgive me when you see what’s coming up.

When the second course came out, so did my Lenten secret.  Nevertheless, my new friends were not judgemental, just awestruck.  The plate in front of me held a (very large) chive biscuit topped with a poached egg (perfectly runny, just how I like it) and a jalepeno cheese sauce.  I carefully broke the yoke, letting it ooze down the sides of the biscuit.  I sloshed the mixture onto a piece of egg white and a bit of chive biscuit and let the whole thing melt into my tastebuds.  Now normally, I don’t eat eggs (only egg beaters) or just avoid the yokes, but I couldn’t resist the golden hue of the egg mixed with the cheese sauce.  It was all-around heavenly.  This time, I ate the whole egg and all of the sauce with a few bites of the biscuit, but sadly had to leave most of it behind.

Course three was a play on a popular dish: Pigs in a Blanket.  Instead of the mini hotdogs wrapped in crescent dough we all remember from childhood, this piggy was a maple breakfast sausage wrapped in a warm buttermilk pancake.  It was served with apple-maple syrup.  Okay, I know this might be a stretch but the syrup just might have been my favorite thing about the ENTIRE brunch; I kid you not.  It was thinner than regular maple syrup and infused with an apple-cider taste that was uncomparable to any syrup I have ever had.  As I said multiple times during the brunch, I could drink a vat of the stuff.  Sure I’d be on a sugar overload after and probably feel sick, but hey, this syrup was WORTH it.  The actual pancake/sausage combo was delicious as well.  Sweet syrup, savory meat and fluffy pancakes are always a good combo in my book.

Next up: Chicken & Waffles.  I won’t lie – I was nervous about this one.  I don’t never eat fried chicken or waffles.  Although I am aware of the Southern significance of the dish and despite the fact I have been to the South more times than I can remember, I had not yet had it.  But when the waitress set the plate down in front of me, I was pleasantly surprised.  The fried chicken was crisp not not oily at all.  The waffles were sweet and both were accompanied by the same apple-maple syrup I swooned over in the previous course.  The host told us that normally, our plate of 1 piece of chicken and 1 waffle was just one-third of the normal sized meal.  Granted, I was already filled with 3 courses prior to trying the chicken and waffles but the thought of eating triple the amount dumbfounded me.

Finally, the last course, our “dessert” was served.  A simple parfait of homemade granola, fresh berries and a dollop of fresh whipped cream garnished with a strawberry finished the tasting menu.  The granola was crunchy and slightly sweet and was the perfect accompaniment to the tart berries and thick whipped cream.  It might just have been my favorite course at the brunch.
Overall, the Biltmore Bar & Grille provided delicious food, excellent, friendly service, an ecclectic atmosphere and an experience that I will not soon forget.  I plan on attending many more Boston Bruncher events in the future and hope to see my new friends there as well!