Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Last Dish Crawl -- All Hallows Eats

Over the summer, I discovered my new favorite thing: Dishcrawl. If you haven't seen my past reviews, Dishcrawl is a great foodie event that is gaining popularity in nearly every major city. The name comes from the idea of a pub crawl, but instead of drinks, it's food. Four restaurants, three courses, plus dessert. A foodie dream! Jenn is our Pioneer Valley, MA ambassador, and she has done a wonderful job making Dishcrawl a memorable occasion every time! Amherst's Dishcrawl was October 29th, costumes optional, but prizes for anyone who dressed up.

Christina as the Girl Who Decided Last Minute Not To Wear a Costume and Changed in the Car
Reggie as Tonks from Harry Potter
Gilana as The Girl Who Just Got a New Job
And Me, as a Female Captain America

This Dishcrawl was bittersweet; it was my last one. I'd also been on the Northampton, Greenfield, and Springfield crawls before (Springfield as a photographer and not a blogger, so there's no recap). I was able to bring some friends along for Amherst, and we definitely went out with a bang as we followed Jenn around the streets of Amherst.

The first stop you might remember from my "favorite things" post a few days ago: High Horse. High Horse is a relatively new restaurant that took the place of Amherst Brewing Company's old spot. They are ALSO a brewery, and our first sample was a bit of their house stout.

I am not a huge beer drinker--one because of a possible gluten sensitivity I'm flirting with, and two because I've just never really been a big beer fan, dark beer especially--but I LOVED this. The one time I've had a crush on a dark beer was high atop the Guinness Factory in Dublin. I cannot STAND Guinness now, but something about getting it fresh from the tap at the place it was made just made it great, smooth and rich rather than sharp and bitter. Now I find most stouts way too bitter. Not this one, though. It was creamy and chocolatey and light, despite the heavy mouthfeel. We all gulped these down pretty quickly and though I batted my eyelashes at the waiter to try to get him to gift me another one, but no dice.

Since my mask was probably blocking my eyelash-batting, I also ordered my favorite High Horse drink, a Mr. Pink. Beer plus grapefruit juice is surprisingly refreshing!

The other half of our High Horse sample was probably the most amazing and unique thing I've ever had in a pub food setting: A deep fried cornmeal donut stuffed with pulled pork. Just let that sink in for a moment. Yes, it was as incredible as it sounds. I could have eaten five of these and gone home a happy lady. But of course, Jenn had other surprises in store.

Next up was Panda East. I'd only been there for sushi once, years ago, and never really thought much about it since, as I'm kind of a sushi snob and their offerings didn't really thrill me. However, I did remember that their drinks were deliciously boozy, and ordered myself a mai tai (drinks are not included in the Dishcrawl price, btw). Jenn told us that back when she was in college (Hampshire) this was her favorite place to eat. Because of this, we got to sample two of Jenn's favorite dishes: Scallion pancakes and Formosa Shrimp.

The shrimp was perfect. A bit sweet, a bit spicy, and with a hefty serving of veggies. Our advice though? Don't eat the garnish. It is a garnish, it is not for eating. Even if you are just trying to figure out what the green leaves are made out of... heh. Again, I could have cleaned the plate myself. Served over rice, it was almost like a fried shrimp stir fry. Om nom nom.

The scallion pancakes were equally delicious--crispy outside, warm, soft inside. And the scallion sauce on top was so good, I drizzled some over the rice as well. I would have liked maybe one more sample here, but overall it was a satisfying stop.

I was expecting our next stop to be some sort of fancy Italian restaurant, since the past three Dishcrawls I've been on have included such, but to my surprise we went a different route with White Hut.

I knew White Hut well, an ex of mine used to bring me to the original West Springfield location a few years ago. He also insisted on getting burgers at their Big E stand, which I never understood because we could get the burgers any time at the other location, but the Big E had vendors we'd only see once a year... anyway. Our meal here consisted of half portions of their burgers, fries, and hot dogs. And there were enough leftovers that most people were able to grab two of each.

The burgers were what you'd expect from a made-to-order grill type place, the kind of burger that is dripping with grease in the best way possible paired with some crispy fries. Everything here was delicious. They even grilled the buns! And the fries were incredible. The price is right too--nothing seems to be over $5.

Last up was a local favorite, GoBerry! We were given the Apple Cider Donut fro-yo with our choice of topping. And as Jenn said, we couldn't get much more local than fro-yo made from local cows' milk, flavored with cider donuts from Atkin's Farms, and topped with fresh fruit. For whatever reason, I'd assumed GoBerry was a national chain... nope. It's all local, baby!

We were able to pick our own toppings, so I went with candied ginger. It was a great accompaniment to the apple cider donut flavor (which LITERALLY tasted like you were eating an Atkin's donut!).

Afterwards, my friends and I got one last drink back at High Horse. This was a Dark & Stormy made with Kracken Rum and it was a great way to end the night--plus it gave me one last burst of ginger!

Chloe, a high school theater friend, had won free tickets to this Dishcrawl.
It was great to see her again!

This was an excellent Dishcrawl, and actually the first one that I couldn't correctly guess any of the stops--well done, Jenn! Better yet, it was Halloween themed, and we all know how obsessed with Halloween I am. I got to rock my AWESOME costume (courtesy of my boyfriend's mom who sewed it AND got me the mask and shield), eat amazing food, and hang out with some incredible friends!

 A BIG thank you to Jenn, who has been an awesome ambassador and new friend throughout all the Dishcrawls. She was always able to find little ways to help me afford what can be a pricey night out ($45 for tickets plus a transaction fee) by swapping favors or giving me the heads-up on coupon codes. She's insisting I try to become an Austin ambassador (a foodie city with no Dishcrawl?? HOW??), but we'll see. I wish her the best of luck as Dishcrawl Pioneer Valley continues to grow, and if anyone reading is a Western Masser I encourage you to try out the next Dishcrawl in December! Check their Facebook page for more information, and to be the first to know about discounts, giveaways, and contests that pop up.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloweeny Food Round Up!

My awesome Halloween Party spread last year!

Halloween is one of my absolute favorite holidays, if not my MOST favorite. Every year I plan my costume months in advance, and try to put together an epic Halloween party where I make tons of spooky food. My plan for this year was to have a whole month of spooky, gross-out food, but my Austin move hasn't given me much time in the kitchen.

Instead of glorious pictures and recipes for spooky food--and believe me, I had some awesome ones planned--I've decided to do a round up of some equally awesome Halloweeny recipes from my blogger friends. A virtual party, if you will. And I got some pretty amazing submissions!

Sneak Peek at my Costume, made for me by Cory's Mom!

My Halloween party is doubling as my going away party, which is more than fitting, considering how much I love dressing up and celebrating the holiday. Cory has even agreed to drive the first leg of our trip (we leave for Austin the very next day!) so that I can sleep off any "after effects" of the party, heh. My friends and I are dressing up as Lady Avengers, with a few male friends being the female Avengers. My food spread is going to end up consisting of all the random food that I need to get rid of before I move, so we'll see if Spooky Food is actually going to happen... heh.

I know I'm a little late in the game, since Halloween is TOMORROW, but Definitely check out all of these awesome recipes if you're having a party tomorrow or over the weekend!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Livin da Vida Loca -- Pumpkin Creme Brulee

To say that life has gotten crazy is the understatement of the century. Moving across the country is hard!

I'm trying desperately to see everyone and do everything AND pack up the last year of my life into the smallest amount of boxes possible that will fit into my little Yaris. I have seen a lot of people, done a handful of things, but my amount of boxes stays stubbornly at 4.

ON TOP OF THE WORLD... or just Poet's Seat Tower

For the past four years, ever since graduating college, I've wanted to get out of Western Mass. I knew if I ended up "settling" here, I'd never leave, and I'd feel tragically unfulfilled. Now my Grand Escape is on the horizon and I'm getting nostalgic and sentimental and sad. And terrified. Still unsure of my employment status once I reach Texas, and I am so worried about money... but I guess I'm ALWAYS worried about money, so that's nothing new. Being in a new place AND worrying about money is the added bonus, I suppose. I keep telling myself it'll all be fine--Cory has a job, I have friends who can get me part-time work if the job I'm holding out for doesn't work out, and there are tons of jobs in Austin and I'll find something to pay the bills. I know once I get there and feel the sun on my face and really embark on my adventure I'll be excited, maybe even when we get on our road trip and we pass through the first state South of Massachusetts...right now the nerves are just making that a little harder to see.

It's the biggest risk I've ever taken. When I stop worrying it's actually quite an incredible feeling. Something that makes me feel like I've finally become an adult, that I'm taking a huge step in the relationship with the man I love, that I'm finally, FINALLY living my dream of moving to a new state! When I stop worrying...

My handsome guy... missing him a ton right now

It's exactly a week until Cory is home, and then it's two more days and we're on the road. It's difficult, not having him here with me when it's getting closer and closer to the move date and the stress is building one block at a time. My cat is getting super snuggly, which helps (it's getting freaking COLD at night here in New England) but it makes me sad that I'll have to say goodbye to him, too, even though only temporarily--Cory's mom is taking Finn for us until we find an apartment in Austin, then flying down with him once we're settled.

How could you NOT miss this face?

I am, however, getting pretty good at getting rid of stuff. Not nearly enough, not yet, but I've probably gotten 1/3 of my wardrobe out of my closet and most unnecessary or less-sentimental knick knacks. Friends are buying any sort of clothing, shoes, furniture, and jewelry I have up for sale (THANK YOU!!) and it is REALLY helping--I've now covered the entire cost of gas for the trip, and possibly a night or two in a hotel.

It's going to be okay. I've just never been a fan of letting go.

I've been sitting on this recipe for a while, because I hated the way the pictures came out and decided I'd re-do the recipes and re-take the pictures eventually. But since October is flying by, it's now or never.

Halloween is my favorite time of year, I really wanted to make more spooky recipes. Oh well. Enjoy this more gourmet-ish one ;)

Pumpkin Custard
(Custard recipe adapted from We Are Not Martha)

  • 1 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • 1/2 t pumpkin pie spice (or more, to taste)
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (use fresh if at all possible, I used canned and there was a slight metallic taste)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 t vanilla
  • Plus...
  • 4 tbs brown sugar
  • 2 tbs white sugar
  • 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and vanilla and heat until steaming

While the milk is heating, whisk together egg yolks and sugar in a separate bowl.

Mix together the dry ingredients and spice, and whisk the dry ingredients into the sugar/egg mixture, being sure to avoid lumps. When smooth, whisk in the pumpkin puree.

Slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking vigorously to avoid curdling. Once the egg mixture is as hot as the milk in the pan, quickly whisk the egg mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk.

Heat until custard is thick and bubbling. Let cool to room temperature.

Set oven to broil and let heat up. Mix together remaining brown sugar, white sugar, and pumpkin pie spice.

Pour custard mixture into four ramekins, and cover with sugar mixture. Place on a cookie sheet and put into the oven. Watch CAREFULLY and as soon as the sugar on top has melted, remove from the heat.


Monday, October 21, 2013

These are a Few of my Favorite Things...

 Sorry for the lack of recipes lately, you all know why. But, to fill up the space I thought I'd 1. Share this awesome picture of my makeup job for Northampton Zombie Pubcrawl this weekend--I did all makeup except the guy on the right, and my friend Emma requested makeup-only, no latex or added pieces--and 2. Share some random things I've been taking pictures of with my phone as I think of them. There is SO MUCH I'm going to miss about the valley of Western Massachusetts, but it'll be nice to come home to on the holidays!

BEWARE: a lot of these pictures are phone quality and therefore crap.

For the past year or two I've been following the blog, Patch & Will, and Facebook-friendshipping Kristen, who writes/photographs for it. At the end of the summer, with her move to PA and my move to TX looming, we decided it was time to meet. Meeting blog friends is SO much fun, even if a little awkward at first! Sadly we didn't get an Instagram Selfie, but we shared some incredible appetizers at High Horse in Amherst. I really, REALLY hope I get to return here before the move, but unless the Amherst Dishcrawl makes it a stop, I'm not sure I'll be able to.

The poutine was probably the best I've ever had, and the nachos are seriously tasty and spicy and everything a good nacho should be. I also got a Mr. Pink cocktail (I don't think they have much in the way of spirits, just wine and beer) and it was very satisfying. A few weeks later I was lucky enough to watch a cooking demo from their head chef at Chilifest about how to cook thai curries. That chef knows his stuff! All in all, a great first-meeting with a blog friend, and a great appetizer dinner. Check out High Horse if you're in the Amherst area!

Taken on an airplane

I absolutely LOVE GoPicnic meals. They're like adult Lunchables to me, and I always keep a bunch on hand for quick to-go lunches or for travel snacks. You best believe I am stocking up on these amazing little meals for my cross country move! $3-5 for a full, healthy meal sure beats $5 for drive through. Plus, their social media team really impressed me recently: I Facebook messaged them to share my disappointment that my favorite meal, turkey pepperoni and cheese, no longer had the delicious toffee as the dessert. To make it up to me, they sent me an ENTIRE BAG of them. What great service! They've definitely secured my customer loyalty. 

This is a stock photo of the product. Why is it a stock photo and not a photo of me stuffing my face? Because I'd only had three before noticing my boyfriend had devoured the rest. Oh well. These are the dark chocolate version. While I am not a huge fan of dark chocolate, I think it worked REALLY well here, with the sweet toffee. I'm keeping my eye out for these in stores and going to stock up for my trip as well.

One of my last "Date Nights" with Cory before he left for Texas was to Munich Haus in Chicopee. I'd never really had German food before and didn't really give it a thought, and I had no idea what I'd been missing. I'd gotten a gift certificate during a sale, so we figured we better use it before the move. We started with pierogies, a Polish staple that all my friends growing up loved but I'd never had. They were amazing. Crispy, flavorful, stuffed with potato and cheese and served with sour cream to dip them in. Om nom nom nom. Next, I had the Jager Schnitzel with spatzle. I am still DREAMING of this dish, it was that good! The mushroom sauce and crispy pork tenderloin was just heaven. This is one of those dishes that I really, REALLY want to recreate at home. Cory got the duck, which was on special and not really German. I teased him for not ordering German food at a German restaurant, but one taste of the duck and I shut right up. It was delicious. The entire evening was incredible--they had an accordion player and everything--from the beer/wine/cider selection to the meal to the atmosphere. I hope to make it here just one more time with my German-food-loving roommate before I leave!

Another Groupon place that ended up being more than worth the price--Lhasa Cafe in Northampton. My roommate had the Groupon and shared it with me and another friend. She had never had Tibetan food in America (she DID sample some while in Tibet) but encouraged us all to try the Yak. As you may know, I'm always up for trying bizarre meats, so I gave it a go. Had you not told me it was yak, I would have no clue. It tasted just like beef to me, but apparently it's leaner and lower in calories and fat than beef. The dishes had the perfect amount of spice. My roommate was pleased with her meal, too, and said it was pretty authentic in comparison to the food she had in Tibet.

One of the things I'll miss about home--trivia nights with Emma and Lauren. This is Lauren and I at our local 99 Restaurant, though we also frequent a more intense trivia at a local brewery. We won 2 of the 3 rounds, and the theme was SPORTS. Pretty exciting, considering we guessed on every round. Last week I won the grand prize--a $50 gas card, which will serve me well on my trip!

I'm not the best at apps, but when I was offered a free download of Cook4Lyfe, I was intrigued. With my grocery shopping on a standstill while I eat down my pantry, I haven't actually been able to use this, but poking around and testing out this app has been a lot of fun. Basically, you tell it what's in your pantry, what you need to buy for groceries, and it suggests recipes you can make. It also tells you how close you are to a grocery store. The tagline pretty much sums it up: THE ALL-IN-ONE COOKING UTILITY THAT WILL STREAMLINE AND SIMPLIFY YOUR "MEAL CYCLE"--yeah, it sure is! I feel like this is going to be an AWESOME tool for me to use in Austin, when I am re-building my pantry (and can update my pantry page as I build it) and help me stick to a meal budget. My biggest issue is remembering what's in my pantry when inspiration strikes mid-grocery-trip. This app will definitely help with that!

Guys. Have I mentioned my new fall obsession? McKenzie's Seasonal Reserve Cider. THIS IS APPLE PIE IN A CUP. Delicious cold or warm, it's the ultimate fall beverage. People keep telling me Angry Orchard or Woodchuck have comparable fall ciders but I think they're crazy. Nothing holds a candle to this awesome sauce. I'm going to try to buy out my local liquor store of the stuff before I leave, just in case it's scarce in Texas.

Oh Zen. How I will miss you and your incredible sushi. Especially the Rock n' Roll lunch special. You are the place that showed me what sushi is SUPPOSED to taste like. Before Zen, I wasn't sure I even liked sushi. Now, it's my favorite food. What will I do when I'm land-locked and hours from the shore? Will I ever love [a sushi place] again? $13, 3 of their best basic rolls. I could eat here every day and never get sick of it. I will miss it so. I've converted TWO sushi haters with just one order of Rock n' Roll. Sadly my current boyfriend was not one of them. Regardless, I promise to drag him here every holiday we're home visiting. That's a promise.

Another Western Mass place of note is Mimmo's Pizza. For $3, you get a slice that is bigger than your head. The late hours mean that this is the BEST drunchies spot in town (drunken munchies). Cory and I grabbed a quick bite here while in town for a tattoo consultation. Despite being 6'5 with a never-ending appetite, Cory had trouble getting this down. I've, admittedly, only been here after many drinks, but the large, greasy slices have prevented many a hangover. And 1/4 of a pizza for $3 is the best deal in town.

Herrell's is another spot that holds an important place in my heart. I've been going here for years, and the owner's daughter was even my roommate in college. Hands-down, the best ice cream I've ever tasted. Pictured is a kiddie sundae with chocolate whipped cream. The flavor was chocolate pudding, which is such a rich yet silken chocolate that it's almost like mousse. All of their flavors are incredible, and I'll probably die never having made a dent out of trying them all. They just introduced an "ice cream sampler" option, and I may just have to make one last stop to try that out before I leave.

Before I left for my interview a few weeks ago, Cory and I went to my favorite Boston restaurant: Addis Red Sea. Ethiopian food is spicy, yet a little milder than its Indian counterpart. The flavors are fresh and complex, and the soft bread it's served with takes the place of any utensils. I frequented the place in college, and it's just as good today. Cory's aunt assures me there's a great Ethiopian place in Austin, but Addis Red Sea has so many memories that it'll probably be a very different experience either way.

And now, for the non-food.

 I follow a few fashion blogs, and one morning someone posted a frantic post telling us all to sign up for Mod Cloth's Stylish Surprise before they were sold out! Thanks to a coupon, I was able to afford THREE of the $15 surprise packs. Here is how it works: You give them your dress size, and you get a mystery item in that size that has a retail value of $30-$300. Above, are my spoils. Overall, I was really happy with them! The sash dress was the perfect thing for the fall wedding I was invited to, the blue flower dress is great for work (with a blazer and belt, too!) and the lacy green dress is my new favorite thing to wear and I ROCKED it all over Austin with my ankle boots and a chunky belt. I googled the prices of the dresses and it looks like the sash dress was originally $100, and the other two were around $60 each. That means I saved a bundle for some wicked cute outfits. I am SO doing this again when they do it again (it sold out within a day) and I'm keeping my eye out for their accessories surprise next time it comes around, too!

After two months of being a little disappointed in my Ipsy bags (twice there were coveted items that only a select number of subscribers got, and the alternate products were not very comparable), this month came through with some great products. While I'm going to have to gift the hair product--spray clay texture won't be great on my frizzy, curly hair--the rest of them I'm really excited to try! And I am really pleased with my "bonus" eye shadow gift for using their referral system. The lip glosses included in the eye shadow pack remind me of little kid dress up kits, but I've already gotten a ton of use from the eye shadows themselves. If you'd like to check out Ipsy, use my referral link above!

And finally here are my friends and I being dorks on Zombie Pub Crawl night again. I am not sure what we're doing but apparently it's Star Wars related.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Crazy Times -- Corn Chowder

 As you've probably figured out, with my recent decision to move from Massachusetts to Texas in less than a month, life has gotten super crazy.

Please stick with me, and know that long periods of dead air are probably going to occur in this blog as my kitchen things are packed away and my pantry is eaten down in preparation for the move. November 3rd... half a month away, now!

Austin Skyline from South Congress

Though, I don't think it'll be quite as crazy as last week, at least until it's "go time" anyway. Last week I flew myself down to Austin for a job interview--can I get some fingers crossed and a lot of luck sent my way? I'd REALLY like this job!--and because a popular music festival was going on, I had to shift my dates a bit in order to save a few hundred dollars on my plane ticket. Plus, it was my birthday week, AND I got a random, slightly embarrassing illness the first day there, so adding to my crazy schedule was trying to figure out how to get medicine when my insurance had run out THAT DAY (I turned 26, no more parents' plan) and when I was a plane ride away from my doctor... woo boy. It was a crazy trip indeed.

Birthday Dinner at Sushi Zushi

Oh and, note to self: rental cars are a ripoff. Unless absolutely necessary, I will not be using one again. I got charged for a ton of stuff I didn't need and still have a $350 hold on my debit account because I didn't want to pay with credit. I don't even like thinking about the chip that took out of my Austin Move Fund. Oy.

When I got back on Saturday, I immediately stepped off the plane and drove to my friend Jessa's wedding. Despite being a drizzly day for an outside wedding, it was GORGEOUS. Jessa was my alternate roommate when I studied abroad in college, and I remember we clicked immediately. While we don't get to see each other nearly as much as I'd like, we always hop right into being friends whenever we do find time. Every last detail was amazing. It was a true Autumn wedding and I was so happy to be there to share in her and Frank's wonderful day. Plus one of my college besties, Heather, was Maid of Honor. Two friends and one amazing day!

Finally, Cory left for Austin yesterday. He secured a job that needed him earlier than I could leave Massachusetts, so by tomorrow he will be settling into the city and beginning work. I will join him when he flies back to drive my car down on the 3rd. To celebrate his last day, we had a wonderful date together before my birthday party on Sunday (I told you it was a crazy week! Austin-Wedding-Birthday, rapid fire!).

We started the day with breakfast at our favorite local spot--The Brass Buckle--then took a short jaunt to Poet's Seat, a gorgeous summit point in town, and then wandered around the Butterfly Conservatory. I took a million pictures, obviously.

I'm going to miss him tons, but it's only three weeks. I keep telling myself that. Then, it's off to Austin and our next big adventure!

Cory's truck, packed up and leaving town

I've had this corn chowder on deck for a while, but kept forgoing it for apple or pumpkin recipes that popped up. I hope to make this just one more time before I leave, it really is the perfect hearty soup for the Autumn chill. Extra points if you can get fresh corn on the cob, but the season seems to be just about over...

Corn Chowder
(I watched the chef at our last Reenactment make this, so the recipe is hers but the measurements are mine)

  • 2 large ears of corn, corn removed from cob
  • 2 large red potatoes, cubed
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/2 package bacon, cut into small pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbs corn starch + 2 tbs water
  • salt and pepper, to taste

-Cook the bacon in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until desired consistency is reached. (If you like it crispy, remove from pan and set aside so it doesn't burn. I like it chewy, so I cooked it until just done and left it in the pan).

-Add onions and garlic, and cook in the bacon fat until translucent. Add the potato and chicken broth.

-Gently simmer until potato is fork-tender but not falling apart. Stirring gently, add the heavy cream. Simmer until cream has thickened, then add corn starch to thicken further.

-Serve hot, with bread for dunking. Also a great addition: chopped roasted red pepper.