Monday, September 23, 2013

Our First Food Festival

Hello!  It's been a while!  I apologize for not updating more frequently.  Unfortunately, I started a new job last year that has taken a lot of my time and Schmambs has gone back to school, so that has left little opportunity for us to get together to get together and cook like we used to.  Instead, I've been left to my own devices to forage for food.  And by forage, I mean live on take-out.  Although I have mastered an amazing Minestrone soup, which one of these days I'll have to post for y'all.  

However, in anticipation of the Phantom Gourmet Food Festival that Schmambs and I are planning on attending next Sunday, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to start the blog up again.  For those of you who aren't local, Phantom Gourmet holds a food festival near Fenway Park where they shut down the street and local vendors come and give out samples of what they have to offer.  It is a foodie's heaven.  I'll admit, last year, we tackled the food festival like amateurs.  We fasted before the festival, thinking we would have room for more food.  (We ended up getting full a lot quicker because of this error.)  We allowed ourselves to be pushed out of the way by other festival goers who were too impatient to wait in line, even though, everyone was going to get their free samples.  We didn't bring purses big enough to stuff all the take-home freebies.  The list goes on.  Now that we have one festival under our belt, we know how to handle ourselves this year.  Schmambs is taller and more intimidating so her job is to keep people at bay while I utilize my short stubby legs to dash in and grab our samples.  We hope that we will have a lot more success this year and able to hit a lot more vendor booths this way.

We didn't realize how big the event was until we walked through the entrance gate and we were greeted with this sight.  You literally had to shove people out of the way to get to where you wanted to go.  If I learned anything at all, it's that you should never get between people and free food.  Doing so could lead to a utter chaos, which at times, we experienced.

It's not fair that we keep all the delicious foods that we tried to ourselves, so today, I share our awesome finds with you.

This was one of the first items we tried.  It was shrimp in some type of sauce.  Unfortunately, with so many vendors, I forgot to take notes on where it was from.  This year, I will be bringing a notebook with me to keep track and therefore be able to tell you where to venture to get a chance to taste some of this stuff yourself!

Meatball and sauce from Teresa's Italian Eatery in Middleton, MA.  It was good, but it's nothing I would write home about.  In all honesty, I prefer Schmambs' homemade meatballs.  And I'm not just saying that because she's my best friend.  I can taste the love that went into making them in hers.  There was no love in this meatball.  Just mass production in an effort to advertise and hopefully get new patrons in their restaurant.

Chicken finger from the Chicken Connection in Haverhill, MA.  I would advise you to stay away from here.  It was soggy and kind of bland.  I don't know if it was because they had been sitting under their tent for a bit before it ended up in my hands, but I wasn't impressed.  I'd actually rather go to KFC and get myself some original recipe chicken strips.  But to be fair, I'm also not a huge fan of breaded chicken.

Sal's Homemade Potato Chips produced out of Bolton, MA.  I am a salty person and absolutely love potato chips.  These chips were phenomenal.  Since we were at a food festival with fresh hot food, these chips ended up coming home with me once all the other food had a chance to settle in my belly.  I was a little upset that I hadn't grabbed a couple more bags when we were there.  They are not like the chips you would find in your average bag of Lay's Potato Chips.  These are crunchy and a bit on the saltier side.  I've found them at a local store near my job and have purchased on a few occasions.  The price point is a bit high for the amount of chips you get, but well worth it.  It's the price you pay for "gourmet", I guess.

Now, this was a fabulous find.  Prior to the festival, I had glanced over the list of vendors that were expected on-site and when I saw these guys, I thought they were going to have actual cheesecakes.  You know, like the sweet stuff made of cream cheese and topped with cavity inducing sweet treats.  Boy, was I wrong!  And for once, I was okay with being wrong.  This is a bacon & clam cheesecake from Wicked Kickin' Savory Cheesecakes in New Bedford, MA.  Think of it as being quiche-like with a TON of flavor.  Plus there's bacon in it, and we all know how I feel about bacon.  I don't see them on the list of this year's vendors, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they will somehow magically show up and maybe give me a cheesecake to myself.

This was a nice twist on guacamole.  Mediterranean Guacamole from Mezcal's Tequila Cantina in Worcester, MA.  They threw in a little sun dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, and feta cheese.  Schmambs and I love a good guac and this was out of this world.  We're not terribly far from Worcester and we've been talking about taking a trip down for a Foodie Road Trip, but due to our schedules, it hasn't happened yet.  One of these days...

Lemon Sherbetter made by Gaga.  A creamy ice cream-like sherbert.  That's the best way I can explain this.  In a festival where most of the food we were trying was hot or room temperature, this was a nice treat. I've never seen this product in stores, but then again, I haven't been looking.  I don't need an ice cream that is "better" for me.  I'll stick to my Haagen Dazs thankyouverymuch.

Who doesn't love a good chicken pot pie?  It's ultimate comfort food, right?  Well, the chicken pot pie's I've eaten in the past include a lot more than just gravy and carrots.  This is a sample of the Chicken Pot Pie's you can pick up at Harrow's Chicken Pies in Medford, Reading, Saugus, and Tewskbury, MA.  This batch had just been cooked so it was nice and hot, but look at it!  The only color you have is the orange from the carrots.  I like more veggies in my pies.  Give me some peas!  Maybe some celery for texture!  Heck, I've had some pies that have had small cubes of potatoes in it!  This was just disappointing.  I'll take it if it's free, but I don't think I'd spend money or effort to go and purchase one of my own.

You can bet everyone was taking advantage of these freebies.  Grilled clams from Summer Shack in Boston.  I'm not a seafood eater, so this was all Schmambs.  For a freebie, they really put effort in their presentation.  Schmambs said they were succulent and delicious as well as the chorizo, bean, and corn salad that accompanied the clams.  They'll be there again this year and maybe I'll be adventurous and give them a shot.  Otherwise, I don't think I deserve the title of "Foodie" if I'm not willing to step out of my comfort zone.  Plus, it was at Summer Shack a couple of years ago that I tried Alaskan King Crab legs for the first time and realized they are one of the most amazing things in the land of seafood.  
This may not look like much.  It's BBQ Chicken Salad from the All Star Sandwich Bar in Cambridge, MA.  I think these guys should've taken some pointers from Summer Shack!  I tasted more bread than I did chicken salad.  I'm not a fan of traditional chicken salad (mayo and I have a weird relationship) so this was a nice spin on a traditional dish.  

Prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil sandwich.  I don't remember who the vendor was, but it was all right.  I am not a fan of fresh mozzarella, so this didn't do much for my taste buds.  I think I took one bite and dumped the rest because it was between holding on to it and snacking on it or picking up the next intriguing dish at the next booth.

Doesn't this look delicious?  Don't get too excited.  Looks can be deceiving.  Shot Cakes in Burlington, MA was offering their Red Velvet Ice Cream Cupcake.  Well, there was no ice cream as far as I could tell.  It seemed like they pumped them with icing which ended up giving me a bit of a toothache.  The cake part was yummu, but the fact that I don't get dental insurance with my job would be an issue if I chose to indulge in more than one of these at any given time.

This chowdah inspired our first ever Foodie Road Trip.  Have you ever tried something that you can't get it off your mind for days after?  Clam Chowdah from Cabby Shack in Plymouth, MA is probably the BEST clam chowdah I have EVER tasted.  No joke.  It is stick to your spoon thick and c'mon, they drizzle some butter on top of each and every bowl.  It hadn't even been 72 hours after the festival that Schmambs and I made an impulsive decision to drive down to Plymouth about an hour and a half away (on a work day) all for a simple bowl of chowdah.  If that doesn't convince you that this is a must try, I don't know what will.

Do you like sweet potato fries?  I like them when they are cooked right and are crispy.  These BBC Sweet Potato fries from Boston Burger Company in Boston and Somerville, MA were neither.  They tossed them in a sweet cinnamon syrupy type concoction made them soggy, which is why a fork was required to eat them.  Even Schmambs who usually likes sweet potato fries couldn't handle them and they ended up in the garbage.  Pass!

I don't know about you, but Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for food.  I think I've mentioned that in previous posts (see Schmanksgiving Eggrolls) so I was excited for this Thanksgiving Sandwich from Diblasi's Cold Cut Center in Everett, MA.  It's your basic Thanksgiving sandwich that you can get a a variety of places.  There wasn't anything that made this stand out from others that I have tried, but it was still pretty tasty.  Plus, Thanksgiving in do you go wrong?  Answer.  You don't.

Have you heard of this new franchise called Cheeseboy?  They make grilled cheese to go.  This is their Tomato and Basil sandwich and it is scrumptious.  Schmambs is an excellent cook so she is able to recreate this at home, but those who lack cooking skills, like yours truly, rely on places as fabulous as Cheeseboy.  The only thing missing was some hot tomato soup to dunk this sucker in.  Lucky for us, they opened one in our local mall and we often find ourselves eating there, not just for the food, but the fun of watching them run the bread through these rollers to butter them up.  Good times.

Island Oasis has some of the best frozen mixed drinks out there.  This Strawberry Daiquiri was super refreshing since there weren't many beverage tents and you had to pay for anything you wanted to drink.  The only thing that would've made this better was if they had added some alcohol in it.  It was a 21+ event, so I don't know why they didn't.  Come on Island Oasis!  Spoil us a little!

This was the perfect dish to end our first food festival experience.  Beer battered mozzarella stick with sauce from Jacob Wirth Restaurant in Boston.  Some mozzarella sticks you get out there taste like breaded string cheese and the breading is soggy by the time it reaches your mouth.  Maybe they don't cook it long enough or it's the wrong kind of breading.  These mozzarella sticks were crispy on the outside and oh so gooey on the inside.  I don't know if it was because it was super fresh or because the people at Jacob Wirth just know what they're doing, but man oh man.  Hats off to the chef!

It looks like this year we'll be experiencing some of the same foods and some different foods as well.  We'll be sure to take tons of pics of everything, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Turkey & Broccoli Alfredo Pizza

If you've been following the last few posts, you'll know that the weekend after Thanksgiving, Schmambs made us a post Schmanksgiving turkey which was big enough to probably feed the whole state of Rhode Island.  Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration, but it was big enough that we were eating it every day.  And to be honest, I was actually starting to get a little turkey'd out.  Almost to a point where I would've been happy not to see a turkey until next Thanksgiving.  Gasp!  I know!  But having turkey oozing out of your ears will do that to you.

There is a place across the street from where Schmambs works.  She has gotten lunch from there a few times and she hasn't been able to stop talking about this chicken and broccoli calzone that they make.  One thing that makes it stand out is that they use alfredo sauce.  Well, we had an abundance of turkey which we could substitute for the chicken.  It wouldn't be the first dish where we've swapped the two proteins.  (Remember Schmanksgiving Eggrolls?)  Anyways, we thought we would give making calzones a try.

We picked up pre-made pizza dough from our local grocery.  Schmambs took the dough out of the packaging and allowed it to proof prior to my arrival at La Casa de Schmambs.  

The dough didn't appear much bigger after a while and we thought we would begin preparing the other ingredients and save the dough rolling until last.  Maybe the dough would magically double in size if we were lucky.  First thing to do was boil the broccoli.  Once cooked, it was drained and then chopped into bite size pieces.

Schmambs put me in charge of making the alfredo sauce.  We cheated and used packaged mix where you just add the milk and voilà, you have sauce in a matter of minutes.  In our defense, it was football Sunday which means it's more important to be watching our team play in the living room than making alfredo sauce from scratch in the kitchen.

While I focused on making sure I didn't burn the sauce, Schmambs took care of chopping up the remaining turkey we had leftover from our post Schmanksgiving feast.

We had originally planned on making two calzones with the pizza dough.  After attempting to roll out the dough for the first calzone, it soon became apparent that it was not going to happen.  Good thing there's always a contingency plan.  We made rectangular shaped pizzas instead.  

Aside from using a different type of sauce, it was like making a traditional pizza.  Sauce on the dough, cheese, and then toppings.  Instead of the red sauce, we used alfredo sauce and our toppings consisted of turkey and broccoli.  And because we love cheese, we added an extra layer on top of the toppings.


After making our first pizza, I was hit with a brainstorm.  In the corner was a Costco-sized bag of French's fried onions, sitting there since the green bean casserole debacle a few night prior.  To say we had an abundance of fried onions would be an understatement since we misread the recipe and ended up with enough onions for 100 servings of green bean casserole.  Oops.  I really enjoy onions on my pizza, so I thought it might be a good idea to throw them onto our pizza and hope for the best.

After the second pizza came out of the oven and we tried the slices topped with fried onions, it was decided that the next time we attempt this, fried onions all around!  The onion flavor blended really well with the turkey, broccoli, and alfredo sauce and also added a nice crispy texture to each bite.

Turkey & Broccoli Alfredo Pizza

pizza dough of your choice
alfredo sauce
1 Cup broccoli (chopped up)
1 Cup turkey (chopped up)
4 Cups shredded cheese
1/2 Cup fried onions (optional)

Boil broccoli until it is cooked.  Remove and drain excess water.  Chop the broccoli up into bite-size pieces and set aside.  Chop turkey into bite size pieces and set aside.  Preheat oven according to pizza dough cooking instructions.  Roll out pizza dough and top with a thin layer of alfredo sauce.  You don't want to overload the dough.  Sprinkle 3 cups of the pizza cheese on top of the alfredo sauce.  Repeat the same steps with the broccoli, turkey, remaining cheese, and fried onions.  Put the pizza in the oven and cook until the fried onions are browned and the cheese is bubbling.

Let the pizza sit for 5 minutes when you remove it from the onion to allow the toppings to cool and the cheese to set.  Cut into slices and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Turkey Soup

When life hands you a big ol' turkey, make soup!  In my last post, Schmambs made us a post Schmanksgiving turkey weighing in at 18 pounds.  The intention was so that we would have enough leftovers to make other turkey goodies and keep our bellies full for at least a week.  The white meat was sliced and saved for sandwiches.  That lasted about 3 days after Will and the kido were done with it.  But what to do with the rest of the turkey?

Schmambs improvised a turkey soup using ingredients she already had in her kitchen.  Fresh turkey stock from our turkey went into the pot.  While we waited for the stock to return to a liquid form, Schmambs browned some sausage, which she added to the soup for some extra flavor.

I feel like I have to preface why we chose the next ingredient over many other similar ingredients.  In Schmambs' Zuppa Toscana, we use onions.  However, due to an ongoing battle with insomnia, I had been watching Good Eats in marathon fashion and one of the episodes featured leeks.  I had heard about leeks, but had never cooked with them nor was I sure that I had ever tried them.  So thanks to my curiosity and questions to Schmambs about leeks, she included them in the soup.  They gave the soup a delicate onion-like flavor, but there wasn't enough umph.  I love onions, so I was looking for a bit more from the leeks and unfortunately, they did not live up to my expectations.  After discussion, it was decided we would try leeks somewhere else and use onions next time instead.

We also tossed in some cubed potatoes and some kale to give the soup more texture as well as a veggie element, which is important in a balanced meal.  Before Schmambs started cooking for me, the only veggies that ever crossed my path was iceberg lettuce and carrots, and occasionally, cheese sauce.  Iceberg lettuce doesn't provide a high nutritional value.  I can't see any better in the dark (even with my glasses on).  And c'mon.  Broccoli in cheese sauce?  The only good that'll do me is give me a bigger derrière.  However, I am a huge fan of kale ever since trying it in the Zuppa Toscana and particularly enjoy it in soups.  To finish the soup off, Schmambs tosses in a bunch of leftover turkey, which, immersed in the soup, took on a shredded-like texture.  

Even with all the turkey that we used in the soup, we hardly made a dent in what was left of the dark meat.  What else could we make?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Post Schmanksgiving Turkey

I don't know if you know this, but turkey is awesome.  It's a shame that most times, the only time anyone goes through the effort of making a turkey is Thanksgiving.  We spent this past Thanksgiving at Schmambs' in-laws.  The food was delicious, but with the family turnout, there weren't many leftovers to bring home.  And Schmambs and I understand the importance of Thanksgiving leftovers.  We were not going to deprive her in-laws of all things turkalicious.  So we concocted the brilliant idea of having a post Schmanksgiving dinner at her house and making all the dishes again so that we would have leftovers.

Two years ago, for my birthday, I requested a turkey dinner.  Schmambs made a bacon turkey.  Instead of flavoring the turkey with all that bacon goodness, she decided to try her mother-in-law's method of brining the turkey prior to cooking it.  We took a few pictures of the brining process, but let's be honest.  There's no way to make a turkey look attractive in salt water in an over-sized clear plastic bag.  With the turkey brining in the fridge, there was nothing left for us to do until the next day.  

I'm a late sleeper and missed Schmambs and Will's turkey stuffing party the next day when they removed it from the brine, seasoned it, and threw it in the oven.  When I got to their house, I took over the duty of rubbing butter over the turkey every few hours to help the turkey achieve a nice bronze color.  Of course, it was a tease every time the turkey came out of the oven as the smells were wafting through the house and I just wanted to dig in!  But there was still more food to make as the turkey cooked.  Mashed potatoes from scratch, stuffing, and green bean casserole.  

Having grown up in a Chinese household, the only other American food (aside from turkey) served during Thanksgiving dinners were mashed potatoes.  In my lifetime, I've had green bean casserole only a handful of times.  I had no secret recipes or family tricks to try.  But the recipe was simple and didn't seem like there was much room for error.  Alas, error found me and we ended up with a pretty inedible casserole.  Sigh.  I think my mistake was not cooking the green beans (yeah, they were raw), and the soup we used was 98% fat free or something like that.  No one goes fat free during a turkey dinner.  No one.  It was pretty though!  Hopefully the next casserole will be a success.  And by success, I mean edible.

Finally, the turkey was done.  A few hours later than anticipated.  Good things come to those who wait.  The turkey was so moist and flavorful!  I'm not sure if we'll ever cook turkey any other way.  The only way for Schmambs to top herself with the next turkey is to feed us a brined bacon turkey.

Eighteen pounds of turkey.  Three adults and a child later, 16 pounds of leftover turkey.  What are we going to do with all that turkey?  Stay tuned and find out.  But on post Schmanksgiving turkey night, this is what we ate.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bacon & Broccoli Cheddar Soup

I grew up in New England, which means I should be accustomed to the cold weather.  I'm not.  Schmambs grew up all over, but she wasn't engineered to withstand cold weather.  Since our daily threats of moving to a warmer climate didn't seem to be getting us anywhere, we decided we should make soup instead.  A recent issue of Food Network Magazine featured a delicious-looking broccoli cheddar soup on the cover.  We like cheese.  We like broccoli.  We like hot bowls of soup on cold wintry days.

Oddly, it was Schmambs, not me, that came up with the idea of slightly altering the recipe by adding bacon to the soup.  As any sane person would tell you, bacon makes everything better.  Am I right?  In goes the bacon.

This recipe called for all hands on deck.  While the bacon was frying, Schmambs took care of cutting the onion and celery while the kido peeled potatoes and even though I was supposed to be helping with the potatoes, I took pictures.  Eventually I had to abandon the camera and take over potato peeling from the kido.  She was doing a great job, but we were looking to eat before the new year and tummies were starting to grumble.

The recipe called for two unusual ingredients that had Schmambs and I scratching our heads for a while, contemplating the texture of the final product.  Russet and sweet potatoes.  Not a fan of the sweet potato, I wasn't sure I was going to like the flavor of the soup.  The kido doesn't like "sweet tomatoes" and declared that she wasn't going to have any soup for dinner that night.  



With everything sliced and diced, we were finally ready to start building the soup.  We cooked the celery and onion in the bacon fat before transferring them into a pot with the potatoes, half and half, chicken broth, water, and bay leaf.  When the potatoes became tender, it was time for them to meet their fate with the blender's blades.  Schmambs was not equipped with an industrial size blender, so we had to puree the soup in batches.  Of course, our first instinct after pureeing the first batch was to taste.  Without the cheese or broccoli, I'll be tasted like a sweet potato puree.


Veggies are not very popular at la Casa de Schmambs.  Will eats the occasional greenery, but the kido tries to avoid them at all costs.  But there's no getting around your veggies if they're chopped up and mixed in an ooey gooey delicious soup, is there?  Especially when the soup is made out of cheese.  

With the broccoli thrown in, it was starting to look a lot more like the picture on the magazine cover.  Even though the recipe instructed us to cook the broccoli prior to adding it to the soup, we decided to forego that step.  The reason is simple.  We wanted  our soup to look exactly like the soup in the magazine picture and we didn't think the broccoli would hold its shape in the thick soup if it was cooked.


Onto my favorite part.  The bacon, of course!  Schmambs did a fantastic job at chopping the crispy slices into so many little pieces that I got a little bacon in every spoonful of this soup.  I think the bacon even won the kido over who, after tasting the final product, changed her mind about "sweet tomatoes" since she couldn't taste them and asked to have a bowl of soup for dinner.  We told her we had figured she'd like it and already had a bowl ready for her.  With all the ingredients mixed together, we decided that next time we need to reduce the amount of sweet potatoes since it was still a little too sweet for our liking.  However, it was incredibly delicious and truly hit the spot.

While planning the dinner menu one night, we decided that we were going to serve our soup in bread bowls.  Everyone else does it.  Why should we be any different?  So an idea was born.  Originally we thought it would be easy to pick a few up pre-made ones from the local grocery store.  The store we went to didn't have them.  Bummer.  Most people would shrug and eat soup from a regular bowl.  Oh no.  Schmambs and I were determined (and ambitious) to have our soup from a bread bowl.  When we explained our quest for bread bowls to the guy working in the bakery, he directed us to pizza dough.  He told us we should be able to get the same result.  He was right.  Thankfully Schmambs has some bread smarts since I would've been clueless otherwise.  After proofing the dough, Schmambs brushed some egg wash over the dough to hopefully give it a nice golden color.  

We did it!  I never doubted Schmambs, but I was impressed that it turned out successful, since there had been some doubtful moments.  Clearly you cannot ladle soup into big balls of bread.  Something had to be done.  Schmambs took control.  A little cut here, a little scoop there, voila!

Dinner is served.  

Bacon Broccoli Cheddar Soup

1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups half and half
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
2 cups broccoli florets, chopped
salt and pepper
1/3 lb sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 lb bacon

Fry the bacon in a skillet.  Once the bacon is done, lay on paper towels to drain excess oil.  In the bacon grease left in the skillet, add the onion and celery and cook over medium-high heat until softened.  In a large pot, combine the onion and celery with chicken broth, half and half, potatoes, bay leaf, 2 cups of water and a pinch of salt & pepper.  Bring contents in the large pot to a boil before reducing the heat to a medium low and simmer until the potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally.  Cook Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.

When the potatoes are tender, remove the bay leaf from the soup and transfer the contents of the large pot into the blender.  You can repeat this step in small batches if your blender isn't big enough.  Simmer the blended mixture in the pot while adding the cheese and stirring until melted.

Ladle soup into bowls and enjoy!