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Cooking Lately

If you’re a regular blog reader you may have noticed that I haven’t posted a weekly meal plan for the past two weeks.  Believe me, I’ve still been cooking up a storm during the week.  I just haven’t had time to post our meal plan here.  So today, I’m sharing some of the meals that I’ve cooked over the past two weeks.  Again, I hope this post helps you find something new to make for dinner.  Mix up your weekly dinners and try a new recipe!  You and your family might like it!  So on to what’s been cooking lately:

Cheeseburger Tater Tot Casserole from Broma Bakery – This was a family favorite and my daughter already asked me to make this again.  My only criticism of this recipe is that it should be called Taco Tater Tot Casserole.  After looking at some other “cheeseburger” tater tot casserole recipes, I noticed that the others had mustard, ketchup and pickles.  This recipe had none of that but does have taco seasoning.  I forgot to serve this with sour cream and it was still tasty.  This is a hearty, comfort dish that I’ll save to make again in the fall once the weather gets cool again.

Cowboy Spaghetti from Rachael Ray Express Lane Meals – I’ve made this recipe before many years ago.  Although it sounds like a weird combination of ingredients, somehow it works.  I did not use beer in my recipe.  The family enjoyed this meal and this is another recipe that I’ll likely make again, come fall or winter.

Instant Pot Sticky Korean Chicken from Half Baked Harvest –  This was a quick and easy chicken dish.  Instead of the gochugang sauce the recipe called for, I used a tablespoon of chili garlic sauce.  Even that was probably a bit much, since the chicken turned out pretty spicy.  My chicken ended up pretty saucy, which I didn’t mind because I spooned it over the rice.  However, I used a pound of chicken and there was no leftovers and not even enough for seconds.  Next time, I’ll reduce the amount of chili garlic sauce and double the amount of chicken.  I served this with rice and veggies.  This will be made again!

Cajun Chicken Alfredo Shells from Closet Cooking – This was probably one of the more time consuming meals to make over the past two weeks.  The night before I was going to make these my husband pre-cooked the chicken for me in the Instant Pot.  While the shells cooked, I made the sauce and got the chicken and broccoli mixture together.  These were pretty tasty, but I think more work than it was worth.  Luckily, there were leftovers which my daughter and I took for lunch the next day.  I served these shells with a Caesar salad.

Wafflewiches from Rachael Ray Express Lane Meals – If you are looking for a super quick and easy meal, these Wafflewiches are it!  It’s a different take on the Monte Cristo, using waffles instead of French Toast.  My kids rarely eat a cold cut sandwich, but both enjoyed these wafflewiches.

Spicy Shrimp Tacos with Garlic Cilantro Lime Slaw from Pinch of Yum –  Shrimp are quick and easy to cook.  The sauce and slaw was easy to throw together and it packed a lot of flavor!  There was a bunch of slaw and sauce leftover, which we are using in fish tacos!

What have you been cooking lately?

 

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Brunch and a Broadway Show! {Charlie Palmer at the Knick and SpongeBob SquarePants the Musical}

(Thank you to the Charlie Palmer Group and SpongeBob the Broadway Musical for hosting us.  As always, all opinions are our own.)

Dinner and a movie makes for a great date with your significant other.  If you are looking for a fun day out on the town with your child, how about brunch and a Broadway show?!  My children love breakfast foods. I know if we go out for breakfast they will always find something on the menu that they will enjoy. And, really, who doesn’t love bacon and eggs? For a super special parent-child outing, seeing a Broadway show is a real treat! Enjoying brunch before a weekend matinee ensures that you don’t get home too late.  This is especially important when seeing a Sunday show, when your kids probably have school the next day!

My 9 year old son and I recently took a trip into New York City for a mother-son brunch and a Broadway show date.  We started with brunch at Charlie Palmer at the Knick.  This family-friendly restaurant is located on the fourth floor of the Knickerbocker hotel, in the heart of Times Square.

The decor of the restaurant is modern but inviting.  As my son noted: “This is the fanciest-looking restaurant I’ve been to!”  Chef Charlie Palmer creates American cuisine that is sourced locally from the Hudson Valley. For those on the hungrier side, the breakfast menu includes both a Continental and American Breakfast.  The a la carte menu includes a couple of different omelettes, pancakes, waffles, french toast and more. The restaurant also has a different children’s menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Although my son sometimes orders from the adult menu, he opted for the buttermilk pancakes with fresh strawberries from the kid’s menu and added a side of bacon. After seeing the portion sizes, he could have likely finished a meal off the adult menu. As it was, he devoured his pancakes in record time. Breakfast is his favorite meal!

I ordered the Midtown Eggs Benedict.  Two poached organic eggs were served on a potato rosti with Bearnaise sauce, surrounded by chunks of lobster.  This was a decadent and delicious dish!

After we had ordered, a basket of pastries was brought to the table.  We enjoyed these after our brunch to end our meal on a sweet note.  My son especially enjoyed the chocolate-filled croissant. The flaky layers of pastry filled with a sweet chocolate filling was delicious!

I’m not going to lie.  Prices at Charlie Palmer, even for breakfast, are on the higher end of the price spectrum.  My eggs Benedict was definitely a splurge, priced at $26. However, if you are going to have a parent-child date, it’s nice to be a little fancy and treat yourself!

We had 11 AM reservations, which gave us plenty of time to eat before our 1 PM show.  Our food arrived quickly after we ordered.  However, we were not made to feel rushed at all.  After finishing our meal, we sat a bit while I enjoyed my coffee. Service was excellent, with our server being attentive but not annoyingly so.

Charlie Palmer at the Knick is super close to many of the Broadway theatres.  After our delicious brunch, we only had to walk a couple of blocks to the Palace Theatre to see the show. “Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?  SpongeBob SquarePants…..”  If you have tweens you are probably very familiar with that song!  Did you know that the Nickelodeon television show made its Broadway debut this past December?  I have to be honest, my son really wanted to see this musical.  Me?  Not so much.  I’m not the biggest fan of the animated talking sponge.  But guess what?  I am here to tell you that you don’t have to be a fan of the show to enjoy the musical.

As soon as you enter the Palace Theatre you are transported into an underwater wonderland.  From beginning to end, guests are treated to a feast for the senses.  Giant fluorescent set pieces glow under black lights. The cast are dressed in bright, colorful costumes. The continuously changing sets are filled with lights, smoke and more.  There are lots of sound effects and the songs are catchy. Most songs were written by artists like Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Plain White T’s, T.I. and more, specifically for this production.  The show ends with bubbles, confetti and bouncing beach balls.

One of the first things you will notice once the show starts is that SpongeBob is not actually shaped like a sponge.  Ethan Slater, does a phenomenal job in taking on the role of SpongeBob.  He has the voice, gestures and even the laugh spot-on!  Although you don’t have to be familiar with the characters from the show, it helps, so you can fully appreciate how well the show was cast.  There is even a story line to the musical.  Bikini Bottom is in danger of being destroyed by a volcanic eruption.  While most of the residents want to leave, SpongeBob with the help of his friends Patrick and Sandy attempt to save their beloved home.

Although the audience was mostly comprised of families with children (right around my son’s age or younger), I think this show will appeal to the masses.  For anyone who loves a good Broadway production, you will not be disappointed. SpongeBob SquarePants the Broadway Musical is a fun and entertaining show.  This is a perfect musical for a parent-child/family day out and both my son and I give it two thumbs up!

The Details:

Charlie Palmer at the Knick
The Knickerbocker Hotel
6 Times Square
New York, NY 10036
(212) 204-4983

Hours: Breakfast 7 AM – 11 AM, Lunch 11:30 AM – 2 PM, Dinner 5 PM – 10 PM

Price:  $$$ (breakfast – most entrees between $16-$30)

SpongeBob SquarePants the Broadway Musical
The Palace Theatre
1564 Broadway (47th and Broadway)
New York, NY 10036

Show Dates and Times:  7 PM Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2 PM  Wednesdays, 8 PM Fridays, 2 PM & 8 PM Saturdays,  1 PM & 6:30 PM Sundays

Prices:  (Depend on day/time, seat choice and availability)  Tickets start at $49 balcony seating.

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A Peek Inside our Meal Planning Process

 

Check out how I make our family's weekly meal plan.

Meal planning is crucial in making our family dinner time run smoothly.  It also helps keep our grocery bill within a reasonable range each week.  There are many ways to meal plan and there is no one tried and true method.  You honestly have to figure out and do what works best for your family.  I am showing you how I create our weekly meal plan which will hopefully give you some tips and inspiration. IMG_1090[1] 1.  The Calendar:  You can find fancy, online printables if that will help motivate you.  In our house we don’t go the fancy route.  As seen above, I use the back of a piece of scrap paper and set up a monthly calendar.  I plan our menus weekly and write the meals in pencil, so I can erase and move things around if needed.

2.  The Day:  The grocery circular for Shoprite, where we do most of our shopping, comes on Saturday with our newspaper.  Over the weekend I write out the menu and make the grocery list.  Then I do the actual shopping Monday.

3.  Time:  I’m not going to lie.  Meal planning takes time.  Especially in the beginning if you have never done it before.  Even now, it sometimes takes me about an hour, but that’s because I enjoy it.  I rarely, if ever make the same recipe twice.  So, it can take me awhile to go through all of my recipe resources (see below) and pick out the new recipes I want to make for the week.  Once you’ve been meal planning for a little bit and have found some recipes that your family enjoys, you can repeat them throughout the month.

4.  Resources:  So, where do you find recipes?  Well, you can start here on my blog, at the recipe index!  Really though, there are so many food blogs out there, ranging from family focused, quick and easy meals, to more involved recipe blogs.  It can actually be quite overwhelming!  I subscribe to several food blogs and get new posts e-mailed to me.  Here are a few blogs that I use often and recommend:

Closet Cooking – Some of the recipes can be a little more involved but Kevin posts recipes for dishes with a variety of flavors and different cuisines.

Damn Delicious  – For quick and easy, family-friendly dishes.

Melanie Makes – For more quick and easy, family-friendly dishes.

Half Baked Harvest and How Sweet Eats are both great blogs with consistently good recipes.  I’ve rarely made a recipe from these blogs that wasn’t delicious.  However, some of these recipes can be a bit involved or require a bunch of ingredients.

Try cooking recipes from several different blogs.  You will eventually find you like certain bloggers’ recipe choices, presentation, photographs, etc. over others.  You don’t need to subscribe to all of them! I have two folders in my web browser favorites.  One is titled “Recipes” and anytime I see a recipe I want to make I bookmark it there.  If I decide to make the recipe, I bookmark it in the “Cooking This Week” folder, so it’s easier to find when needed.

I also subscribe to Cooking Light and Every Day with Rachael Ray and highly recommend both magazines.  Instead of keeping piles of magazines lying around, I rip out the recipes that interest me and stick them in a folder.

For beginner cooks I highly recommend the website Allrecipes.com.  You can search for recipes by a number of different factors, including ingredients or name.  I’ve found most recipes that I’ve used from the site easy to make.  It’s especially helpful since there are tons of ratings and reviews.  If a recipe has lots of five star ratings, it’s probably going to be good.

Several bloggers post a “Meal Plan Monday” where they share their upcoming weekly menu, often with links to the recipes that they are making.  While you probably won’t follow a blogger’s exact weekly meal plan, it can be helpful for inspiration.  I recently stopped posting my weekly meal plan, but you can find over 85 of my past weekly meal plans for some ideas!

Here are some blogs that I’ve found that share a weekly “Meal Plan” post:

I’m an Organizing Junkie – Not only does Laura provide her weekly menu plan, she also hosts a link-up where other bloggers can link up their weekly menu plan.  Check this blog out for loads of inspiration!

Skinnytaste – for some lighter, healthier meals.

And let’s not forget about Pinterest.  There are millions of recipes posted on that site.  Start creating boards of recipes that you see that interest you and you can refer to your board for inspiration when meal planning!

I’ve found that as much as I enjoy reading cookbooks, I don’t use them very often, since most recipes can easily be found online.  I do have several older editions of the Cooking Light Annual Recipe collection cookbooks.  They have the whole year of recipes from the magazine bound nicely into one book.

Again, the recipes you choose will really depend on your family’s food and dietary preferences.

5.  The Planning:  If you are new to meal planning, it might be easier to start with some recipes that you know your family eats and enjoys and maybe aim for one new recipe a week.  I recommend you use your grocery store circular to start your planning.  If chicken is on sale this week, I recommend making at least one chicken dish and buying some extra chicken that you can freeze for the future.  Some people prefer to have a themed dinner for each day, like Meatless Monday or Taco Tuesday.  This helps in keeping a consistency to meal planning.  My meal plan varies from week to week.  I try to have a meatless meal, a chicken dish a pasta dish, a burger/sandwich, etc.  Other weeks I sometimes plan by cuisine.  I will plan to have a Mexican-themed dish, an Asian-themed, breakfast for dinner, pizza, etc.  Sometimes, if I find a bunch of interesting chicken dishes at one time, I will pre-plan and space them out throughout my monthly calendar.  Once I find a recipe that I decide I’m going to make, I write it in pencil on the calendar, along with the name of the source (blog name, magazine, website).  Although I will have my five recipes for the week written in, I won’t necessarily make them in that order.  When we eat each meal depends on factors like which dishes have produce that may spoil or how busy our schedules are.  I will then write in each box, what day I actually plan on making that dish.

6.  Grocery List:  I then take my grocery list and go through the recipes I plan on making for the week.   I write down the ingredients that I need for each recipe on the grocery list.  I circle the recipe on the calendar to know that I made sure I had everything I needed for that recipe.  Like I mentioned previously, I will stock up on proteins, chicken, ground beef, pork chops, etc. when they are on sale so I have them for the future.  I recommend stocking up on other staples when they are on sale as well.  There’s nothing like having to buy something at full price for a recipe, when it was on sale last week!  Pasta, canned tomatoes, chicken broth, rice, etc. are all items that you will probably use a lot of.

I hope this helps give you a better idea on how to meal plan, if this is new to you!  Please feel free to leave any questions in the comments section or e-mail me.  I’d love to hear how others meal plan and am always looking for tips on how to make the process easier!

 

Holiday Gift Idea: MunchPak Subscription Box

(This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting this blog.)

The holidays are quickly approaching.  Are you like me and frantically trying to figure out what to get everyone on your list?  Do you have some hard to shop for people?  The ones who don’t seem to need anything?  Or, you don’t want to get people “stuff” that they don’t really need.  How about giving a MunchPak subscription box? My whole family loves when this box arrives. We enjoy sampling the snacks over a couple of weekends throughout the month and discussing which ones are our favorites.

Inside each MunchPak box is a selection of international snacks from around the world.  The snack selection includes candy, cookies, chips and depending on what box size you choose, even drinks.  What’s even better is you can decide how frequently you or your gift recipient receives each snack box.  You can choose from 5+, 10+ or 20+ snacks per box.  Then you decide how long of a subscription you want to send.  Do you want to give a one time box or send a box for 3, 6, or 12 months? If you prefer that your recipient chooses which box they’d like, you can send a gift card instead. Bookmark this post, because on Cyber Monday (November 27), you can save 50% off a MunchPak subscription! Otherwise, you can save 25% off subscriptions the rest of the week.  Regular price subscriptions start at just $9.95 depending on which box you order!

Are you wondering what comes in this box?  Like I mentioned, there’s a variety of different types of snacks.  You will receive chips, cookies and candy.  The snacks will come from all different countries from around the world.  Although there is not a card included to tell you where the different snacks come from, they do have an app that allows you to scan the UPC code and find out more.  Many of the products have the country of origin right on the label.  Otherwise, I visit the MunchPak site and search the shop to find out more info.  Curious to see what a box looks like?  Here is a review of our most recent MunchPak box!  Inside our November box was:

Chewits (Blackcurrant) – (Candy from United Kingdom) Our box had the blackcurrant flavor of Chewits.  This is a candy from the United Kingdom.  The squares are individually wrapped.  They start out hard but as you suck on them, they get soft and chewy.  The blackcurrant flavor reminded me of a berry/grape flavor.

Cow Tales Crispy Moo Bar – (Candy from United States)  I had previously heard of the Cow Tales brand of candy before receiving this box.  My daughter had even gotten a Cow Tales candy trick-or-treating on Halloween.  This is a crispy rice bar with marshmallows.  It’s very similar to a Rice Krispy treat with little caramel bits on top.

Chiky Choko Banana Cookies – (Cookie from Costa Rica)  These are banana cookies with a bottom layer of chocolate.  The banana flavor was very faint.  Six cookies came in the package.

Lotte Pikachu Ramune – (Candy from Japan)  The packaging of this candy appealed to my Pickachu-loving son.  Inside are pink balls of candy.  They have a strawberry flavor on the outside and as you suck on it, the texture and flavor changes.  We found the flavor to get sour and then grainy with a banana flavor.

Tayto Ripples (Sour Cream and Onion Flavor) – (Chips from Ireland) These are Ireland’s take on sour cream and onion potato chips.  They were nice and crisp with a light sour cream and onion flavor.

Takis Zombie Habanero and Cucumber Tortilla Chips – (Chips from Mexico) These are a seasonal chip produced by Takis.  I personally wasn’t a fan of the habanero and cucumber flavor combo.  I found them to be hot and sour.  However, my husband really enjoyed these.  He thought the green coloring was unnecessary though.

Vidal Gummi Circus Clowns – (Candy from Spain) Our family loves gummy candy.  These clowns come in different colors but are all cotton candy-flavored with a cherry-flavored nose.  I found these gummies to be a bit hard and on the chewier side.  I couldn’t really discern the cotton candy flavor.

Lotte Stone Age Chocolate – (Candy from South Korea)  These are different colored candy covered chocolate eggs.

Kidsmania Wacky Monkey – (Candy from Mexico) This was also a super fun candy.  The package has a monkey that claps its cymbals together with the push of a button.  Yes, my son kept the monkey after we finished the candy! The candies are multi-colored, crunchy, sweet bites similar to a SweeTart flavor.

Eiffel Bonbons (Strawberry) – (Candy from France) This candy comes in several different flavors, but we received strawberry.  These have a powdery coating on the outside and are chewy strawberry-flavored balls.

Pei Tien Energy 99 Sticks (Pumpkin Roll) – (Snack from Taiwan) I wasn’t sure how to classify this snack.  It’s not really a chip, cookie or candy.  The outer shell looks and tastes like a puffy cheese doodle without the orange powder or cheese taste.  Inside is a sweet filling, that you couldn’t tell was pumpkin flavored unless you saw the package.

Lotte Milkis Apple Soda – (drink from South Korea) This is a new flavor of Milkis sodas.  Its a creamy bubbly apple juice that tastes extra sweet.

Every box is a surprise of snacks.  This subscription box is a lot of fun and a perfect gift for any foodie or snack lover on your holiday shopping list!

Winston Restaurant Debuts New Fall Menu

Winston Restaurant debuts new fall menu.

(I was invited to a tasting of the new fall menu at Winston Restaurant. As always, all opinions are my own.)

 

Winston Restaurant has been a welcome addition to Mount Kisco since 2014.  Named after the dog owned by Executive Chef Michael Williams, the restaurant serves New American cuisine using fresh, high-quality ingredients. I dined at Winston back in December of 2014, during the restaurant’s inaugural year.  Even then, my husband and I were impressed with the quality and flavors of the food.  It appears that Winston has maintained that high standard of food and service to bring you a memorable dining experience.

Executive Chef Michael Williams recently debuted a new fall menu that I was fortunate enough to get a preview tasting of.  Believe me readers, you will not be disappointed!  The dishes featured below will be replacing some of the summer-type dishes off the restaurant’s a la carte menu.

Six of the delicious signature cocktails on the Winston Restaurant fall menu.

 

Your first decision will be which tasty cocktail to order.  And let me tell you, it won’t be an easy one!  While Winston has a full service bar and extensive wine list, you will want to try one of their signature cocktails.  The fall menu includes (pictured clockwise from top left) a Spiced Apple Margarita, Blueberry Dash, Ginger Redemption, Passion Fruit Bellini, The Herbed Pear and a Pumpkin Mojito.  The only other drink, not pictured, is the Gentleman Fig.   I love sweet drinks and the Passion Fruit Bellini was right up my alley.  Since I had to drive home (and I might be a lightweight) I didn’t try any of the other cocktails. They all have such interesting combinations of flavors and ingredients, and appeared to be well-liked by my fellow diners.

The starters on the new fall menu at Winston Restaurant in Mount Kisco.

The fall menu includes four new starters (pictured above clockwise) Vegetable Spring Rolls, Beef Negimaki, Beef Carpaccio and Gruyere Potato Dumplings.  They were all delicious but I highly recommend the potato dumplings and the carpaccio.  The beef carpaccio is topped with an arugula salad and is a nice light dish to start your meal.  The potato dumplings are small, fluffy pillows of deliciousness.  Accompanied by butternut squash, corn and asparagus, this dish embodies the goodness of fall. The portions are large enough for sharing so why not get both?!

The four new entrees on the fall menu at Winston Restaurant in Mount Kisco.

Chef Williams knocked it out of the ballpark with the new entrees on the fall menu!  The four entrees (pictured above clockwise) include Pan-Seared Diver Scallops with Cannelini Beans, Chipotle Encrusted Cod atop a Butternut Squash, Corn and Brussels Sprout Leaves medley, Hudson Valley Magret Duck Breast with a Moroccan Honey Glaze served with a potato gratin and roasted cauliflower and Asian Braised Pork Shank atop a combo of Fingerling Potatoes and Savoy Cabbage.  Honestly, they are all delicious and I can’t pick a favorite.  I think it really depends on what you’re in the mood for.  The cod has a bit of a kick from the chipotle crust, but isn’t overly spicy.  The braised pork is so tender it falls off the bone.  I love duck and the Moroccan Glaze is on point.  And look at the perfect sear on those scallops!  Again, I recommend ordering different entrees than your dining companions and sharing.

The desserts from the new fall menu at Winston Restaurant in Mt. Kisco.

Finally, we can’t forget about dessert.  No matter how stuffed I am, I always take a peek at the dessert menu…..just in case there’s something that I have to try. Apple Tart served with vanilla ice cream is the new addition to the fall dessert menu.  The nine piece assorted Cookie Plate and The Dirty Winston, a chocolate hazelnut layer cake served with raspberry sorbet are mainstays on Winston’s dessert menu.  My advice: skip the cookie plate.  If you’re going to splurge on dessert, really splurge!  Depending on your sweet preferences both the apple tart and Dirty Winston are really good.  However, if you love creme brulee, like I do, you must order the creme brulee trio. While I didn’t sample this dessert during my most recent visit, speaking from my prior dining experience, they are really good! The flavors change seasonally.

Are you salivating yet?! Winston will still be serving their new fall menu from now until the spring.  Sunday through Thursday they also have a Prix Fixe Menu.  I had never thought of Winston as a “family” restaurant.  However, they have a kids menu featuring favorites like a cheeseburger, chicken fingers and pasta.  The whole family can enjoy a great dinner out!

The Details:

Winston Restaurant
130 East Main Street
Mt. Kisco, NY 10549
(914) 244-9780

Hours: 
Closed Mondays
Tuesday – Thursday:  5 PM – 9 PM
Friday & Saturday:  5 PM – 10 PM
Sunday:  5 PM – 9 PM

Parking:  Street parking available in front of the restaurant.  Village Center Parking Lot is located behind the restaurant.  Meters enforced 8 AM – 6 PM Monday through Saturday.  Free parking Sundays and holidays.

Price:  $$ (small plate/starters average $15, most entrees priced between $25 – $35, most desserts are $10 and under)

Reservations can be made via phone or through OpenTable.

5 Essential Cookware Pieces for the Beginner Home Cook

 

I'm a mom trying to get dinner on the table every night. Here are 5 essential cookware pieces that I think are useful for any beginner home cook.

(This post contains affiliate links.  Thank you for supporting this blog!)

As much as I love to eat out, I also like to cook.  I’m not a fancy or creative cook, but I can follow a recipe.  I’m a busy mom and when I’m in the kitchen my main goal is to cook quick and easy meals for my family. While there are all kinds of kitchen gadgets and cookware out there, I hate having lots of “stuff”cluttering my kitchen. Here are 5 essential cookware pieces that I think will be useful for any beginner home cook.  These are pieces that I use on a regular basis to create basic, everyday weeknight meals.

This Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker is one of the kitchen tools that I can't live without. There's nothing like prepping your slow cooker in the morning and having dinner ready when you get home from work!

Slow Cooker – There is nothing nicer than throwing ingredients in a slow cooker in the morning and coming home to a ready-to-eat meal.  As you can tell from this picture, my slow cooker is well used!  I have a 6 quart Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Programmable slow cooker.   I find that this slow cooker cooks things very quickly.  I’ve had it for several years now and know to reduce recommended cooking times in recipes. I use my slow cooker mainly for soups and stews.  However, I’ve also made stuffed peppers, lasagna, Slow Cooker Lentil and Brown Rice Tacos and more in it.

Pizza Stone – I received this Emile Henry pizza stone as a Christmas gift a couple of years ago and it’s become a kitchen favorite.  The ceramic stone is made in France and comes in small, medium and large sizes.  I have a 14.5″ large ceramic stone in burgundy.  When I make pizza, I set the oven to 450 degrees F. and this stone gives the pizza a crispy bottom and crust. Although I’ve never tried it, the stone can be used on the barbecue grill.  Almost every Friday night I use the stone to make homemade pizza for dinner. Lately, I’ve been making plain, cheese pizza.  However, we enjoyed this Onion, Pear & Gorgonzola Pizza with Balsamic Glaze.

Immersion Blender – Have you seen soup or sauce recipes where they direct you to pour the liquid (sometimes hot) into a blender to puree?  An immersion blender saves you this awful step.  While I don’t use it very often, my immersion blender comes in handy often in the fall and winter when I tend to make a lot of soups.   I’ve been happy with our Cuisinart Smart Stick Immersion Blender.  It has two speed settings which is more than enough for my basic home cooking needs.  It’s useful when making Slow Cooker Loaded Potato Soup.

Our Cast Iron Skillet is a kitchen tool that I can't live wihout. It's able to go from stove top to oven and evenly cooks food.

Cast Iron Skillet – A cast iron skillet is such a versatile piece of cookware.  They come in many sizes from individual pans to large Dutch oven styles.  I have a 10-inch Lodge skillet that gets well used. Cast iron cookware is able to withstand high temperatures and retains heat.  It can easily go from the stove top into the oven (with the assistance of good oven mitts!).  It does need to be seasoned to avoid rusting, which is an easy process.  I often sear meat in this skillet before putting it in the slow cooker for extra flavor. I also cook burgers and cornbread in it. My husband makes fried chicken in our cast iron skillet.

Dutch Oven –  A dutch oven is another useful, multi-purpose cooking vessel.  It is a thick-walled pot, often made out of cast iron.  However, dutch ovens can also be made of cast aluminum or ceramic.  I have a 5.5-quart Food Network Ceramic Dutch Oven. I use it to braise meat as well as to cook soups and stews.  It’s also large enough for cooking one pot meals in.  This dutch oven is perfect for making Simple Clam Chowder.

Do you use any of these cookware pieces?  What’s an essential piece of cookware that you use that I didn’t mention?  

Brunching at Calle Dao {Chelsea}

 

{I was invited to a tasting of the everyday brunch menu. All opinions are my own.}

Just hearing the restaurant name Calle Dao, you know you are going to get a global dining experience. Calle Dao serves Cuban-Chinese cuisine, paying tribute to the heyday of Havana’s Chinatown. Located at 461 West 23rd street, the new Chelsea location opened in the beginning of September. This is the second Calle Dao location (the first one is located in Bryant Park).

Owner of Calle Dao Marco Britti.

Owner Marco Britti, a musician by trade, has traveled the world as a drummer.  He has spent a good amount of time in Cuba, playing music and studying the culture and food. Calle Dao Chelsea is his seventh restaurant.

The Dining Space at Calle Dao in Chelsea.

The restaurant’s decor reflects more of a Cuban vibe. The white-washed walls lighten the space and each table has its own overhead light.  The abundance of potted green leafy plants, Chinese prints and neon lit signs add pops of color.  The beats of the Latin music playing will have you tapping your toes and make you want to get up and dance.

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Bradley Warner helped create the menu at Calle Dao.

The restaurant serves brunch seven days a week.  From 11 AM to 4 PM, you can enjoy all the deliciousness they offer!  Appetizers are in the $9-$10 range, with options like these Cuban Sandwich Spring Rolls and Shrimp Empanadas.  I highly recommend the spring rolls that are served with a Mojo Lime Mustard.  They really showcase the fusion of the Cuban and Asian cuisines.

Calle Dao's tasty version of the classic Beef and Broccoli. One of the entrees offered on their seven day a week brunch menu.

Main entrees are priced from $15-$23.  I was most impressed with the restaurant’s take on Beef & Broccoli.  Tender pieces of smoked short ribs are served with Chinese broccoli and noodles in a garlic hoisin sauce.  I just wish there was more than three small pieces of meat.  They also serve a vegetarian, mushroom and broccoli version of this dish.

An entree served on the seven day a week brunch menu at Calle Dao.

Another one of my favorite entrees was the Chorizo and Garbanzo Hash.  The chorizo and garbanzo beans are mixed with sweet potatoes, peppers and onions and topped with sunny-side up eggs.  This was a very flavorful dish with a great combo of flavors.

Other dishes I tried were a Lamb Picadillo & Corn Congee, topped with poached eggs and Huevos Al Horno (eggs baked in a white bean stew with Chinese sausage).  The picadillo was an interesting fusion of the two cuisines.  The Huevos Al Horno was a hearty dish.  However, this was one of the few dishes that I felt that I could make myself at home.  When I dine out I try to order dishes that I wouldn’t make at home due to the complex ingredients, flavors, or cooking methods.

A classic Cuban sandwich served on the everyday brunch menu at Calle Dao.

The menu has a couple of classic dishes like this Cubano sandwich with Mojo glazed pork, cured ham, salami, pickles and Gruyere cheese.

Besides the Mushroom and Broccoli noodle bowl, Calle Dao offers several other vegetarian-friendly options.  They make a Black Bean and Mushroom Burger, Shiitake Spring Rolls and two different salads. More breakfast-y options include a vegetarian omelette, Maduro & Eggs (fried rice topped with eggs), Avocado Toast and a strawberry jam and cream cheese filled french toast.

One of the delicious cocktails served at Calle Dao. I enjoyed a brunch tasting at the newest Chelsea location.

The restaurant has a fully stocked bar and also serves wine and beer.  Master mixologist Joy Daniel has created several unique Cuban-Asian cocktails to accompany Calle Dao’s menu.  I prefer my drinks on the sweeter side and sampled the “Flor de Oro”. Made with vodka, rose and vanilla infused dry vermouth, cherry jam and fresh lemon juice, this cocktail did not disappoint.

Calle Dao serves some amazing desserts like these Bunuelos and Matcha Tres Leches.

You have to leave room for dessert!  I tried both the Bunuelos (fried dough balls, rolled in Chinese Five Spice Sugar and served with a chocolate coconut sauce) and Matcha Tres Leches.  Both were amazing, but if I had to recommend only one, I’d vote the Tres Leches.

Whether you are in Chelsea to visit an art gallery, see a show or to shop, take a brunch break at Calle Dao.  You are in for a great dining experience!

Cardoso Cookies {Made in New York}

Cardoso Cookies are made locally in the Hudson Valley. Anthony Cardoso is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and makes his cookies with all natural ingredients.

I recently attended the Fall Hudson Valley Restaurant Week kick-off event at the Culinary Institute of America.  By now, you know I’m attracted to all things sweet and I was compelled to stop by the Cardoso Cookies table.  There, I had the pleasure of meeting founder Anthony Cardoso.  He graduated from the Culinary Institute in 2002 so you can bet he’s qualified to make a good cookie!

Anthony Cardoso is the founder of cookie company Cardoso Cookies. A graduate of the Culinary Institute he uses fresh ingredients with no preservatives.

 What was his motivation for starting Cardoso Cookies?

Anthony wanted to start a food business where the primary focus was on producing a consistent, high quality, and fresh (made to order & from scratch) product. He didn’t want a brick and mortar storefront or a food truck (at the time it was too big of an investment). While visiting the Rhinebeck Farmers Market, he realized that there was a lack of sweet options.  This helped him narrow his focus down to cookies.  The following months included lots of recipe development, package testing, and test shipments all over the nation to friends and family. Cardoso Cookies was launched on August 1, 2015.

Based out of Hopewell Junction, Cardoso Cookies are primarily available for purchase online. Orders can be placed through the company website and  shipped anywhere in the United States.  Once an order is placed, the cookies are baked to order and usually shipped or delivered the next day. He even offers free local delivery if you happen to live near Hopewell Junction! Additionally, Anthony sells his products at local events and markets to grow a following.  Past events have included the Hudson Valley Wine and Chocolate Festival, the Stormville Flea Market and the Fishkill Farmer’s Market.  You can also purchase his cookies at Crown Maple, in Dover Plains or North River Roasters in Poughkeepsie.

I asked Anthony which was his most popular selling cookie.  He said it’s the Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie. That’s not terribly surprising but it also happens to be his favorite, too!  What sets their chocolate chip cookie apart from a classic chocolate chip is the inclusion of 4 different types of chocolate chips (milk, semisweet, bittersweet, and white).  As a bittersweet chocolate lover,  Anthony also really enjoys the Bittersweet Brownie cookie. The bittersweet chocolate batter and semisweet chocolate chips make it a rich and delicious cookie.

But how do they taste?!

Anthony was offering samples of many of the different cookies he makes and sells.  I took him up on his offer to bring a selection of cookies home to share with the family.  As a family lifestyle blogger, I seek to highlight family-friendly products in my “Made in New York” feature.  I try to have everyone in the family sample and give opinions on the products.  Cookies definitely qualify as family-friendly in my house and my kids were super excited to be cookie taste testers.

Of course, I had to try the famous Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie although I was a bit more intrigued by some of the other variety of cookies that we sampled.

Birthday  Sugar Cookie – This is a sugar cookie filled with sprinkles.  I liked the soft chewiness the most.

Hot Cocoa Cookie –  This is a dark chocolate cookie with milk chocolate chips and marshmallows.  This was a soft cookie and one of the more fragile ones.

“New”Tella Cookie – This is a thick sandwich cookie filled with Callebaut chocolate ganache and chocolate hazelnut spread filling.  I wasn’t expecting the cookies to have a cinnamon flavor and, although they were tasty, I think I’d prefer them with a plain butter cookie.

Red Velvet Cookie – This is a classic red velvet cookie with white chocolate chips.

Salted Caramel Chocolate – This is another delicious sandwich cookie.  A thick chocolate filling and local Hudson Valley-made Cara-Sel Salted Caramel are sandwiched between two chocolate cookies.

Thick Mints Cookie – This is a super thick, chocolate and mint flavored cookie, covered in a chocolate coating.

All of the cookies were delicious.  However, the unanimous family favorite was the Hot Cocoa Cookie.  Although I didn’t try them myself,  Anthony had other varieties available to sample including the Brookie (1/2 chocolate chip, 1/2 brownie), Bittersweet Brownie, and Apple Oatmeal.  He also sells Maple Doodles, Peanut Butter cookies, Peanut Butter Cup cookies, Oatmeal Raisin, White Chocolate Macadamia Nut, and a S’mores cookie.  He even sells a vegan chocolate chip cookie.

As you can see from the labels, these cookies are made with all natural ingredients.  Because there are no preservatives, these cookie are best eaten with a week. You probably won’t have to worry about that because there’s no way they’ll be sitting around uneaten! If you’re planning to save some cookies for a future date, though, they can be frozen for up to three months.

Besides cookies, Cardoso Cookies also sells edible cookie dough. The dough contains no eggs or egg products and is ready to eat.  The 3-pack sampler contains 10 oz. jars of Classic Chocolate Chip, Birthday Cake and Brownie Batter.

The cookies and cookie dough make great gifts and party favors.  Gift tins and boxes are available and would make great holiday gifts or a tasty treat for a dinner party.  His prices are quite reasonable too.  Small gift tins of 6-8 cookies start at $12.99.  A (21-24 count) sampler pack of 3 different cookies of your choice is $36.99.

Be sure to follow Cardoso Cookies on Instagram and Facebook to stay up-to-date on where they are selling.  They will also soon be offering special deals for social media fans.

Thirsty Thursday: September Beverage Round-Up

A September Beverage Round-Up of the different drinks that we tried throughout the month.

It’s hard to believe that it’s already the end of September.  For this month’s “Thirsty Thursday” I’m doing a beverage round-up of new drinks we’ve tried during the past month.  Just when we think that the beverage market has reached its saturation point, new drinks continue to be created.  And, of course, NY Foodie Family has to try as many interesting newcomers as we can!

Included in our September beverage round-up this is a 5 calorie antixoxidant-infused beverage.

bai Antioxidant Cocofusion – bai launched in 2009 and is the Mandarin Chinese word for “pure.”  It is also an acronym for “botanical antioxidant infusions.”  The company creates beverages using only natural flavors and without artificial sweeteners.  This was our first time trying a bai beverage and I picked up this Antioxidant Cocofusion in Puna Coconut Pineapple at our local Acme.  It was on sale but but normally retails for $2.29 a bottle.  This is a coconut and pineapple flavored coconut water and the flavors were noticeable. The drink is sweetened with stevia which I thought had a noticeable taste.  My husband noted that this particular flavor might be enhanced with the addition of some rum.  There are four flavors in the Cocofusion line including Andes Coconut Lime, Maui Coconut Raspberry, Molokai Coconut and this Puna Coconut Pineapple that we tried.  Although we weren’t huge fans of this particular flavor, I am interested in trying drinks from some of their other product lines.

Izze Fusions – Izze brand beverages was co-founded by best friends Todd Woloson and Greg Stroh. The brand is named after Todd’s daughter.  The Izze line of products include sparkling juice, sparking water and these fusions. Izze Fusions are fizzy fruit beverages that come in three flavors:  orange mango, lemon lime and strawberry melon. The drink is sweetened with stevia extract, which had a noticeable taste.  The rest of the family enjoyed these though. Fusions are sold in a box of eight at local grocery stores and retails at our local Acme for $5.99.

Langers Cucumber Lime with Mint Juice Cocktail – Langers is a family-owned juice company that has been producing a variety of beverages since its formation in 1960.  When I saw Cucumber Lime with Mint juice cocktail on the shelf I had to give it a try, since I’ve never seen anything comparable before.  This juice cocktail has no high fructose corn syrup.  It definitely has a very evident cucumber and lime flavor.  I have to be honest, neither the kids nor I were fans of this drink.  My husband made good use of it by mixing it with some bourbon to create a cocktail.  I purchased this beverage at our local Shoprite on sale for $1.99.

This kombucha energy beverage comes from Poland. It was included in our MunchPak snack subscription box.

O by Oshee (Kombucha energy drink) – This beverage came in our MunchPak snack subscription box.  While I don’t think that this beverage is available in local stores, it is available through the MunchPak store. This drink comes from Poland.  My husband enjoys kombucha but when he tried this drink he couldn’t detect any kombucha flavor. Instead, this drink reminded him of a regular Red Bull.

Ocean Spray Cran-Pineapple – I grew up drinking Ocean Spray cranberry juice cocktail.  Over the years, Ocean Spray has continued to expand their line of cranberry juice beverages.  Whenever I see a new cranberry flavor, I have to try it.  We all enjoyed this Ocean Spray Cran-Pineapple.  I liked the combo of sweet and tart flavors.  These drinks tend to be sweet and have quite a bit of sugar.  But we always dilute our beverages with 3/4 seltzer and 1/4 juice which makes a nice spritzer.  I bought this juice at our local Shoprite on sale for $1.99.

Included in our September beverage round-up ROAR organic is an organic coconut water.

ROAR Organic Electrolyte Infusions (I received samples of this beverage for review purposes only.  All opinions are my own.) ROAR Organic kindly sent me a sample of their beverages to sample.  Founded in 2016, ROAR Organic is a line of USDA certified organic coconut water-based electrolyte infusions.  They currently come in four flavors (Pineapple Mint, Cucumber Watermelon, Strawberry Coconut and Mango Clementine).  They are made with all-natural flavors and sweeteners.  We received the three flavors pictured above.  Like many of the other drinks reviewed this month, these drinks contain stevia.  I find stevia to have a bitter taste and prefer to drink beverages that do not contain the sweetener.  However, my husband and kids enjoyed these drinks.  The electrolyte-infusions in these drinks set them apart from the other coconut waters on the market. Out of the three flavors we tried, the favorite was the Strawberry Coconut.  ROAR Organic can be purchased online at Taldepot.com and Amazon.com.  They are sold in bulk and retail on Taldepot.com for $31.00 for a pack of 12 (18 oz) bottles.

Included in our September beverage round-up ROAR kids is a line of water-based beverages for kids.

ROAR Kids – (I received samples of this beverage for review purposes only.  All opinions are my own.)  ROAR organic also sent me a sample of their new kids line of beverages.  ROAR Kids is a water-based beverage that is naturally flavored.  As you can see, they partnered with Disney’s Marvel Studios for their packaging.  With just 2 grams of sugar per serving, ROAR Kids comes in Grape, Apple and Fruit Punch flavors.  Both my kids enjoyed these drinks, with their favorite being the grape-flavored.  ROAR Organic can be purchased online at Taldepot.com and Amazon.com.  They are sold in bulk and retail on Taldepot.com for $21.00 for 12 (12 oz) bottles.

Have you tried any new beverages recently? 

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MunchPak Subscription Box {Review}

{Sponsored post – As usual all opinions are my own.  This post contains affiliate links.  Thank you for helping to support NY Foodie Family!}

Subscription boxes continue to be very popular, because who doesn’t like receiving a mystery box of fun each month? If you are an adventurous snack eater and want to try snacks from around the world, then MunchPak is for you!  The MunchPak snack subscription is easy to customize.  You choose how often you want to receive a new box (weekly, every two weeks or monthly) and how many snacks you want in each box (5+, 10+ or 20+).  The company realizes that some of their customers may have either food allergies or a strong preference in snack choices. There is an a la carte menu of 15 choices priced at an additional $1 each so you can ensure you receive only specific snacks.   Drink options are also available as an add-on to the box (tea, coffee, soda, juice, energy drink or water) for $5/each.  Yes, you have to be careful or the price can really add up quickly!  However, a basic, 5+ snacks box delivered once a month can cost as little as $9.95/month if you prepay for 12 months.  If you choose to subscribe month-to-month, it will cost $12.95/month.  You can use code: SNACKIN for $2 off your first MunchPak.com order!

There’s no set theme to the snacks you receive in your MunchPak box.  Each box includes a variety of full-size snacks and treats from different countries.  Unfortunately, there’s no information card included to tell you about the snacks you just received.  However, you can download the Snack Scanner app and scan each snack’s barcode to find out what country it is from. You can also find out more info on the MunchPak site by searching in the “Our Shop” section.

We recently received a snack box for review.  It has been almost two years since we last tried MunchPak, so we were excited to see what we’d receive in the box.  Our 10+ box included the following eleven snacks and drink:

Draze Apacz Pomaranczowe – (Poland – candy) These candy balls had the flavor of an orange creamsicle.  They were crunchy on the outside but grainy on the inside.  We found them to be overly sweet.

Jacquet Bakery French Crepes (France – cookie) – These crepes are made in France but Jacquet Bakery has had a US prescence since 2013.  We received a 1.1 oz single crepe with chocolate filling, however the crepes are also sold with a strawberry filling or plain.  There are no artificial ingredients or preservatives in the crepes and they can be warmed up or eaten as is.  Since we were traveling in the car, we ate it as is.  We found the crepe to be very dry and the filling too sweet.

Au’some Chewy Bites – (China – candy) These chewy bites are small and pebble-shaped with a sweet taste.  The texture reminded us of the inside of a jelly bean.  Although we received strawberry flavored bites, we thought they tasted more like grape.  These are available in pineapple flavor as well.

Cookania Nutsy – (Pakistan – cookie) The description on the package describes these as “real peanut pistachio cookies.” There were three, small cookies in the package. We found them to be very dry and crumbly but liked that there were actual pieces of pistachio in the cookies.

Hanuta Haselnuss-Schnitte – (Germany – cookie) These cookies are made by Ferrero.  The package contained two square cookies, each encased in its own little tray.  Each consists of a thick chocolate, hazelnut filling sandwiched between two wafers.  These were really tasty!

Mieszko Zozole Musss – (Poland – candy)  This was such a fun bag of candy.  The bag contained approximately 15 pieces of individually wrapped lemon and orange flavored candy, although there was only one orange candy in the bag.  These were hard candies that had a fizzy, liquid center.  They were very different from anything that we have had before.

Doritos Pizzerola – (Mexico – chip) This bag of Mexican, pizza flavored Doritos did not last long.  These had a pizza flavor with a slightly bitter after taste.

Bebeto Laces – (Turkey – candy) These are raspberry and tangerine flavored candy strings with a sugar coating.  They had a sweet and sour gummy flavor that reminded us of Sour Patch Kids.

Goralki Nougat Wafers (Poland – candy) This is a candy bar consisting of layers of nougat flavored wafers encased in chocolate.

Stark Smoki (Serbia – chips) This snack has the looks and texture of a cheese doodle.  However, it has a slightly salty peanut flavor.

Mommy’s Palms Waffles Dulce de Leche flavor (Russia – cookies)  -These are stroopwafels, two thin waffle cookies with a thin layer of caramel between them.  The package contains six large cookies.  These had a taste that reminded us of a Girl Scout Samoa cookie without the chocolate.  You can warm these up in the microwave for a few seconds.  But they were super tasty as is.

Oshee Kombucha Drink (Poland – drink) My husband is the only kombucha drinker in our house so this drink was all his!  When I poured it into the glass it was fizzy.  I took a tiny sip and found the drink to be really sweet.  My husband didn’t taste any kombucha flavor.  He said it reminded him of a Redbull and if he hadn’t seen the can, that’s what he thought he was drinking.

As you can see, the MunchPak box includes different types of snacks including cookies, candy and chips from many different countries. While we didn’t enjoy all the snacks that came in the box, we always like giving them a try.  If you really enjoy a snack from your box you can visit the “Our Shop” section on the website and order some more!

Ready to try MunchPak.com? Use code SNACKIN for $2 off your first box!

Have you ever tried MunchPak?