Monday, October 31, 2011

Wedding Weekend in Virginia

Last weekend Sharon, Anna, and I went to a wedding of mutual friends Dan and Vicky (Vicky, you know from her Bachelorette Party a while back). It was gorgeous, simply said. The personal touches did not go unnoticed and, as it should be, their love took center stage. The ceremony was held outside in front of the water and on a beautiful plush green lawn at The Tides Resort. It was seriously like the movies: with white chairs were laid out and the scenery was so breath-taking any other arrangement would just seem overkill and artificial.

So, since this is a food blog, and the food was exceptionally good, I just had to recap the evening yummies. We started with a cranberry and goat cheese salad with warm rolls. I love warm rolls - and these ones were chewy on the inside and crusty on the outside. The salad, as you can see, was lightly dressed, just the way I like it, and the leaves were fresh and gorgeous. These little things seem small, but when a kitchen is serving 60+ guests, I think it's worth mentioning that the quality was not compromised at all.

On to dinner:

I chose the roast beef entree with red potatoes and carrots. The carrots were buttery and perfectly cooked. The crab cakes were pretty tasty, too- and aren't they beautifully arranged? I was really impressed with the portion size :)

One of the most exciting things was the Sweets Table - which is a new thing at weddings, at least for me...and I love it! Dan's mom made a bunch of homemade cupcakes of different flavors: pumpkin being one of them. And she made fondant leaves to put on top - since it was an October wedding.

The wedding cake was made by Dan's mom as well - it was stupendous. I think it was a white sponge cake, or white cake of some kind, with lemon curd (I could taste the lemon zest), and cream. I high-tailed over to her the moment after having a bite and asked for the recipe...which I need to get from Vicky (note to self).

Vicky's mother made 4 Russian cakes which were equally intricate and yummy. Twelve layers of puff pastry sandwiched between cream. They were flaky and flavorful and must have taken her hours to make. I love it when families help each other with wedding details - it makes the event that much more personal.

And here is the lovely couple - precious, right? All in all, at was a wonderful night and we were super excited to be able to share the memories with Dan and Vicky. Congrats, you two!!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chobani = Love

The people at Chobani know how to please - I contacted them over the summer because we had gotten a whole bunch of them and they'd been improperly packaged or...something...and they were weirdly frothy on top. I sent the company a little email asking if they'd changed their recipe or something because the flavor was also a little weird.

Imagine my surprise when the company emailed me back, apologize profusely for the quality, and sent me over a dozen coupons refunding each individual Chobani that was mis-packaged. I was extremely impressed and now I am even more in love with Chobani. They obviously care a lot about their product.

I went to Kroger and was really excited to see a bunch of new flavors I hadn't tried before: mango and black cherry being two of them.

So now my fridge is stocked with Chobani - and probably will be for the rest of the month.

I will say, the consistency of the yogurt was totally different than when I wrote the email, so I know I got a weird batch. The mango flavor I indulged in the other morning was creamy and delicious and perfect. Thank you Chobani for believing in your product and backing it's quality.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Whole Foods Favs

As I've said before, it's important for me to diversify my shopping to accommodate my budget, but when I want to treat myself, I'm going to Whole Foods. Yes, I've read The Omnivore's Dilemma and am very familiar with the arguments that WFM is just an "organic" supermarket chain - "organic" because the standards of organic in every meaning of the word have been twisted depending on who's marketing a product. I am not much into politics and making a stand against The Organic Man, so I totally buy into the vibe of Whole Foods. My last trip was especially fruitful and I thought it'd be nice to post on a few items I really love.

The first are the apples - they always have great flavor. Gala are in season now but there's always some variety on sale. I head straight to the apple pyramids as soon as I walk through cinnamon-scented doors. By the way, isn't it great to walk in and see fresh produce? The Short Pump Whole Foods is small, but they work what they have...I especially love the tropical fruit stand.

After fruits, I like to head over to the granola bulk bins. Vanilla Almond is one of my favorites and I like to stock up when I can. My mom used to buy this all the time and fill up a GIANT container - I like to nibble on the bigger chucks and put the smaller ones into my bowl of granola in the morning. Spice this up with dried cranberries and some pecans and you have a very healthy breakfast.

Next, to the dairy aisle! I love how the organic Whole Foods brand of milk is only about $3 for a half gallon. I also indulge in one of my favorites...Dutch Processed Chocolate Milk. It is so freaking cute!!! The milk looks absolutely luscious sitting there in its glass bottle. It reminds me of the Dorris Day films, or Breakfast at Tiffany's when Holly brings in the milk while talking to Fred. I save the bottles and use them to hold flowers - super cute and rustic. AND, the brand of chocolate milk changes according to your locations - in Michigan they stock local Michigan dairy farmers and here they use Virginian ones. I really, really like that.

Okie, my absolute favorite part of Whole Foods is the cheese section. I would go broke on cheese if I had a car...seriously. I just love the stuff. And I love 'em sharp and bold. Seaside Cheddar is pretty amazing - Weston makes killer grilled cheeses for me with this (and a lot of butter). At Vicky's bachelorette party I encountered a new favorite, well, an additional one, because you can never fall out of love with cheese. It's called Bellavitano Black Pepper but if you forget, it's the only cheese with a black pepper crust. It's a harder cheese, super tangy and perfect with pretzels or in pasta or...plain...eaten off the block. Don't lie, you know you've done it too.

I must admit, the prepared foods counter always beckons to me, but I ignore it because it's just way to expensive. Instead, I go to the pizza counter and ask for a ball of dough. Isupplement my pizza with ingredients from Trader Joe's or Kroger and make a yummy dinner at home which will last me a couple meals. The Whole Foods prepared pizzas are a great party idea by the way - $11 for a giant one is not a bad deal at all.

Rotisserie chicken is a wonderful thing to have in the fridge - you can make quick sandwiches or throw it into a stir-fry or serve alongside sweet potato fries. Whatever - if you could use one, get it because it'll save you time and add protein to your diet.

My last purchase(s) are usually a sweet treat (or treats) if one catches my eye. The creme brulee is my personal favorite, but I haven't seen this in VA, only in MI because there's a bakery that makes them locally. Boo-hiss. But the other dessert options are yummy. Chocolate Mousse Cake for Two is a go-to when I have a crazy chocolate craving.

And there you have it: Whole Foods Shopping 101

In other news, I am seriously contemplating a Cheese-a-Month special blogging series where I post on the different cheeses I find - could me a fun side-activity, right?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sensi - An RVA Treasure

A while ago I received an offer from Groupon to purchase a $40 Sensi deal for $20. I jumped on it. I've been hearing about how wonderful this place is for ages - especially their risotto (thank you The Marinara).

We thought the night before Weston left would be the perfect time to use the coupon and so we slipped into our fancy clothes and got ready for a night on the town.

First off, Sensi is located in a really gorgeous area - it's right in line with the River Lofts, an apartment complex Sharon and I wanted to live in but the price tag and the railroad in close proximity deterred us. Sensi is decorated impeccably - rich red and gold colors, slate floor, cool hanging chain around the bar to isolate the area, and an expansive dining area complete with a private area in the back. We met a really cool couple while waiting for our table and they raved about the food.

Weston and I wanted to try a few plates since we heard the pasta is made in-house: we'd also previewed the menu beforehand at home. To start, we ordered the daily risotto (goat cheese with lamb), the gnocci with sausage and tomato sauce, the ribeye steak with roasted potatoes and haricots verre, and for dessert, the cream puffs.

So here's a breakdown - as objective as possible:

The bread here was good - especially the focaccia. They serve it with a basil tomato olive oil dipping sauce. That sauce is gooooood! Don't feel bad if you finish it all: we didn't.

The risotto was @s$& awesome. Yes, that good. Super creamy, the right consistency - definitely homemade and delicious. I'd eat a plate of that - in fact, I will next time. They served it with marinated lamb. The lamb was cut really thin and the flavor on the sauce was great. The two complemented each other perfectly. My only critique is it was a little salty, but that's a personal preference.

Our next course, the gnocchi was also yummy - the restaurant was really accommodating in that we were able to order the primi piatti portion instead of the full entree portion. Some pieces were cooked more thoroughly than others but it was fine because Weston and I were sharing and so we each got a mix of both. They were served in a light marinara sauce and with fennel sausage. Very good, homemade, but not as amazing as the risotto. Just a side-note here: I preferred the gnocchi dish at Acacia myself.

Our final savory course was the ribeye steak. We ordered it medium rare but it wasn't exactly there - slightly overcooked, but there was a 15 table private party so I think the kitchen was a little short-staffed. The flavor of the steak was good, but hard to appreciate since it was dryish. It also came out pretty cold - and for all you readers wondering why we didn't sent it back - we just weren't going to do that on a busy night. It wasn't awful and we were happy enough to keep it. The potatoes were a weird consistency - hard but in a crunchy way. I think they'd been cooked and then roasted but they dried out too much. The green beans were yummy - I'd do well with a side of those alone. We pushed aside the mixed butter but it was a nice touch.

Dessert time! Unfortunately, this course was the one I didn't like the most. Italian style cream puffs - clearly this had been plated beforehand and placed in an icebox. The puffs weren't crispy, but gummy. There wasn't much cream inside and the chocolate sauce was gritty. The strawberry dots on the plate tasted a little like that stuff that comes out of the can.

While discussing the meal on our way home, Weston and I both agreed that the meal was good. Very good. But based on the risotto alone - it held the meal. The steak wasn't earth-shattering. The gnocchi was good but not as memorable as we thought it would be while eating it. We'll probably go to Sensi again, on a night when they aren't trying to feed 60 people short-staffed and by no means am I saying I did not enjoy myself. The waitstaff was impeccable and the food was delicious. Were there a few points we'd like a do-over on? Yes? But when it comes to Sensi, a do-over is not a bad thing. I'll take an excuse to visit again.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Getting Back on Track: How to Bounce Back from a Blow to Your Workout Schedule

I am trying to return to my normal posting-twice-a week-routine. At the moment I am attempting to balance school, school, and .... school, so thank you for bearing with me.

I wanted to take a minute to write about something I haven't yet - and I should have, but it didn't quite occur to me because it was also part of my routine: exercise.

How does one fit in a good hour and a half of exercise when they work (or go to school) from 8-6. I mean techinically, plus waking up early, I am busy from about 7 am to 7 pm and I don't think I'm alone in that respect.

When I only had class time until 2 - 3 then sure, I could have a nice long workout - but as my class schedule increased, I found myself tired by the time I got out (plus, my body naturally starts to peter out once the sun goes down). I know this about myself and so I've experimented with different rhythms to try and find a new pattern. I like patterns - they make me feel centered.

The first week of my 8-5 schedule, I hardly made it to the gym. I was tired and needed that evening time to study and eat dinner - and oh yeah, I had 2 exams.

The second week, I ignored my body's begging me to go home and lugged myself over to the gym. I HATE night workouts. I can no longer deny this fact. Every moment on the ellipitcal felt like a day. And I was super tired when I got home, so I was extremely unproductive the rest of the night.

I walk 20 minutes to class and that's where the gym is, so this past weekend the thought of waking 20 minutes, working out for 2 hours, and walking home was enough to keep me at home and counting calories instead. I didn't like this...believe it or not, I need to be at the gym. It is a part of me now. Can't believe I am saying that.

So today I tried a new idea: lunch workouts. Now, my schedule is really tight - we get 1 hourexactly for lunch because class starts again right after. So I ran out of my noon class and over to the gym (I had prepped by wearing a clean workout shirt under my scrubs so changing was super quick), and hopped on the machine. Ahhhh...much better.

I only got in 30 minutes of cardio, but that plus the run to and from class, plus the walk to class and home after, should be enough to keep my body happy and stable. I am noticing I eat less (or munch less, rather) since I only bring a set amount of food to school. I make my lunch the night before so I have time to think about each item: granola bars for energy after my workout, a piece of fruit as a midday snack, yogurt for breakfast, and hummus and pretzels at 11 before my workout so I don't keel over.

It's only been a day, but I feel really good. I've decided to really monitor what I eat because I am losing that 30 minutes or so of working out, but a little less is better than none at all. I'm also trying to fit in about 15 minutes of yoga/floor exercises before bedtime, just as a way of calming down before drifting off to dream land.

My body is thanking me - and so is my brain, because a happy Sheila is a functioning Sheila. Updates to follow.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Week of Treats and Eats - Perly's and The Cheesecake Factory

An explanation is needed for why I haven't posted in - a week. I know, I know, I'm a bad blogger. I just haven't - a) made anything I haven't posted on and b) been eating leftovers from when Weston came to visit me this weekend :) Yes, my wonderful boyfriend woke up last Friday at 4am, drove 13 hours, and took me to the Dental Ball. We had one of the best weekend ever - full of yummy food and great experiences.

We went to Perly's with Sharon, my roommate and had an amazing brunch - Perly's never disappointments. I trust them with my life...or at least, my omelettes. Weston had a sandwich and onion rings which I mention because the onion rings had 2 layer of onion so they weren't completely batter. Kind of ingenious, right?

We also revisited Bev's for some pumpkin ice cream (I was having a very specific craving that day because we had just visited a pumpkin patch with friends).

A trip to Short Pump was also on the "menu." Now, Cheesecake Factory isn't a Richmond locale, but I haven't been there in 3 years and I was craving a certain item - you'll see it pictured below in all its glory. I have to say, the food was yummy. I'd hold off the on the appetizers, though, because they do give you a lot of food AND most of the apps are high in fat. We didn't get cheesecake, but I think we'll be back for that on a later date.

Maybe I'll get critiqued for giving a review of what we ate here, but I think it's a good idea. I mean, not everybody visiting Richmond is looking for RVA local restaurants...especially if you're at Short Pump and dining options are limited.

First off, skip the bread. It's not to-die-for and your main meal comes out pretty quickly.

The appetizer we got was the crab and artichoke dip. It was good, but I just felt way to guilty eating it. I couldn't really distinguish the crab from the artichoke even though the combination tasted good. We were starving and that's why we ordered it, but if my stomach wasn't doing to ordering, I think I'd have skipped this and gone straight to the entrees. Then we wouldn't have been too full for cheesecake - which we were so we opted out of getting some.

I'd also say the Skinny menu shouldn't be tossed aside because you think you'll look like a fool ordering out of it. There were some yummy options there - including butter lettuce wraps which you could get done 3 ways. I didn't order them, but they looked good. Pastas I try to avoid at restaurants, unless they are made in house and I know the portions are a little smaller. Cheesecake Factory portions are enormous and I'd rather spend $13 on an entree I know I won't get at this GIANT burrito!!!

The flavor was actually really good but if I order it again, I'll ask for it without the cilantro cream sauce...that's just unnecessary fat. Lucky for me, Weston used it as a dipping sauce for his pizza crust. The black beans were GREAT - really flavorful. I asked the waiter if I could order it as a soup and he said, "Sure..." like I was a crazy person. I'd do it, though, because the beans were thin enough to be eaten as a soup. FYI: this fed me for 3 meals.

Weston got a pepperoni and sausage pizza with olives which sounds pretty tame, but I was surprised with the care the restaurant put into this pizza: the pepperoni was super flavorful, the sausage with spicy, and the olives were kalamata so they had great flavor.

I had a great time here, but maybe I'm biased because I was with a very special diner - and we went to Nordstrom right after and he treated me to a very pretty gift :)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hash Dinner - a newby and a goody

This hash recipe is going to change your life. It changed mine - and Sharon's. The inspiration came from Weston, who is coming into town tomorrow. I know how much he likes hash browns - he makes them for me when I visit Michigan - so I thought he'd appreciate some leftovers after the long drive. They turned out very, very well. I think Sharon will be requesting this next time I make dinner for us.

I used a non-stick skillet for this because it cut down on cook time, and didn't make a huge mess that I had to scrape off. But if you have a cast-iron griddle, that'd be even better.

What you need:

5 Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped into pretty small cubes (1/4 inch)
1 1/2 cups chopped ham - about as big as the potatoes
1 jar of Trader Joe's roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
1 onion, chopped

What You Do:

In a skillet, fry the onion until it is translucent. Add the ham and red pepper, salt and pepper to taste, and a lot of garlic powder (maybe 1 tsp+). Continue frying until the mixture is pretty dry (adding the red pepper can also add a lot of moisture) and the ham starts to brown. Set aside.

Add more olive oil to the pan and fry the potatoes. Continue to cook/fry until they are browned from the ham mixture you just fried in the same skillet. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Once the potatoes are a little tender, add the ham mixture back to the skillet and continue frying for about 30 minutes, until the flavors meld and the potatoes are crispy-ish.

This recipe does take a while to make, but it's worth it for the flavor. Add fresh parsley to the finished product if you want, and experiment with other additions, too!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bachelorette Extravaganza!!!

This past weekend I celebrated my friend, Vicky's, last night as a single lady (well, technically, the wedding is in a couple weeks, so not exactly LAST) It was my very first bachelorette party and Vicky's Maid of Honor did a great job planning fun activities and arranging an enormous limo to drive us around.

I offered to make the food for the party - and I think everything was very tasty - judging by the fact that we brought the brownies with us on the road.

I made a non-mayo based potato salad (as per Vicky's preference over one swimming in mayonnaise) with boiled Yukons, red onion, tarragon, and a vinaigrette of lemon juice, olive oil, salt & pepper, and dijon mustard.

Chicken salad was my take on Waldorf - I added chopped walnuts and green grapes. Instead of a creamy dressing, I just made a quick sauce of olive oil and lemon juice. I think I threw in a little Parmesan dressing that I found in Vicky and Dan's fridge. Normally I use a mix of mayo and sour cream, but improvising yielded a new recipe.

An antipasto platter was on the menu:

and Vicky's fiance, Dan, picked up some wonderful cheese selections from Whole Foods to add to the spread. I threw out the wrappers without documenting their names :( But one had a black peppercorn crust and it was DIVINE. I am going to look for it next time I visit the store.

For dessert, some decadent brownie bites - undercooked a little so they stayed gooey - topped with homemade whipped cream and a raspberry. Raspberries are so fun and cheerful. They are packed with vitamins (most berries are) and they always make me think of a fancy celebrations.

The evening was a huge success and quite memorable...ish :) So glad I could be there, Vicky - you were a beautiful bachelorette!