Restaurant Reviews

Afternoon Tea @ the Boston Harbor Hotel

The last day I was at work before Christmas (Friday the 23rd), I was lucky enough to be invited to a FABULOUS 30th birthday celebration for a coworker & friend at the Boston Harbor Hotel. It made for an amazing interlude between the workweek and the holiday weekend. The hotel offers regular afternoon tea in the Rowes Wharf Sea Grille Restaurant; on the evening we went, the menu included special holiday selections, including a champagne toast and a party favor for everyone at our table. The entire hotel was decorated festively for the holidays. At more than three hours, this fancy tea is worth the indulgent price. (I might even steal the idea for my own 30th birthday this spring!)

The dining room, with a nautical decor and views overlooking the harbor.
Served with champagne: strawberries, brown sugar and Devonshire cream.
Served with the berries & cream: warmed scones and breakfast bread.
The tea menu came tied with ribbon, on a table of scattered rose petals!
We toasted with Piper Heidsieck Champagne (expectant mothers received sparkling cider!)
Each guest enjoyed their own tea service. My choice: organic rooibos.
Next came finger sandwiches.

Selections included caviar, smoked salmon and creme fraiche, Maine lobster salad, Vermont cheddar and spinach, & egg salad mousse.

We did a pretty good job on those sammies and pastries!
A gorgeous Christmas Tree in the lobby on our way out.
And a gorgeous view of the hotel's famous outdoor arch, decorated in all its glory for the holidays. What a lovely sight before my windy walk to the train!

Recipes

Christmas Recipe #1: Corn Casserole

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday! As promised, I’m posting a few recipes from our Christmas Dinner. First up: Corn Casserole, which was a huge hit with the family this year. Props to my aunt’s friend Elsie for passing along this recipe a few years ago!

Ingredients

  • 2 cans of whole kernel corn, drained
  • 2 cans of cream-style corn
  • 4 heaping TBSP flour
  • 1 1/2 TSP vanilla
  • 1 1/2 C milk
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 stick butter or margarine, softened
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • Dash of pepper
  • Pinch of salt

Directions

Combine all ingredients and pour into a buttered glass 9×13 dish. Bake, uncovered, at 400 for at least an hour. Let sit for about 10 minutes after it comes out of the oven so the middle sets. This tends to do really well being cooked the night before and reheated to save you hassle on the holiday!

We also had Broccoli Casserole and Roasted Honey-Glazed Carrots

…..and lots more! I’ll be posting other recipes soon, plus pictures from my Holiday Weekend Tea at the Boston Harbor Hotel.

Recipes

Christmas Menu

As I’ve mentioned a couple times, my husband Mark and I just bought our first home about five miles north of Downtown Boston. It’s a small Bungalow in the American Craftsman style, with four bedrooms, a living /dining area,  1 bathroom, and a teeny tiny old-fashioned kitchen with cabinets so small I can’t fit most modern food products into them! Undeterred by this (or the fact we just moved in one month ago), I agreed to host Christmas Dinner this year complete with eight guests. I’m combining food traditions, serving some Italian food alongside Swedish dishes (which you’d normally see on Christmas Eve).

These are the placecard holders we got -- miniature Nutrackers, since Mark spent this holiday season working in The Nutcracker. Aren't they cute??

Here’s my full Christmas menu, with recipes to follow:

Appetizers

  • Brie, port salut & cheddar cheese platter with whole wheat crackers, red grapes, and rosemary pita crisps
  • Veggie-herb dip (homemade), Onion dip (packaged), with pretzels & Cape Cod potato chips (the best!)
  • Christmas candies (peppermint kisses, milk chocolate M&Ms with peanuts, Andes toffee bars)
  • And my favorite: CRABBIES! These are English Muffins broiled with a savory topping of old English cheese spread and crabmeat. You break them into bite-sized pieces and OHMYGODYUM.

Dinner

  • Swedish meatballs in gravy
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Lingonberry sauce (a popular Scandinavian jam; find it at grourmet/specialty shops or Ikea.)
  • Ricotta stuffed shells with sweet basil marinara
  • Spiral ham
  • Honey-glazed roasted carrots
  • Creamy corn casserole
  • Broccoli casserole (my mom makes this; I request it every year!)
  • Buttered dinner rolls

Dessert

  • Apple pie & Pumpkin pie with vanilla ice cream (we only do Brigham’s in our house) & homemade whipped cream
  • Gingerbread cookies & sugar cookies
  • Pizzelle (my mom makes these, too — my favorite Italian cookie!)

We do dinner late — 3 p.m. or so — and everyone gathers midday to open presents, have appetizers with wine and cider, and just enjoy one another’s company. We have a tradition of giving “joke gifts” based on inside family jokes before all the other presents, and usually it takes us HOURS to get through everyone’s gifts because we also do stockings and spend forever talking.

Next year, I have a couple new ideas I’d like to try.

    • In honor of our home’s architectural heritage, I am planning to make the “Bungalow Brick” cocktail as a special treat to sip with Christmas apps: 1.5 oz cognac, 1 oz Bailey’s or creme de cacao, and 2 oz eggnog or dairy-free coconut eggnog.
    • I found a great slow-cooker recipe for apple butter that I’m going to make with all the different varieties I pick in the fall. I’ll serve this with the cheese and crackers (but this year, I may make some anyway to test the recipe and then give it out as Little Christmas presents, which my familiy also celebrates every year on January 6).
    • If I can plan far enough in advance, I’d like to make my own Vanilla Extract.
Courtesy: Artistta Blog
Recipes

A festive breakfast

Found at Target: a holiday-special whipped cream cheese — brown sugar cinnamon — that I couldn’t resist! Spread on a fresh bakery bagel, it was amazing with piping hot coffee.

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Recipes

Multi-Grain Spaghetti with Spinach & Chickpeas

I made a whole mess of this on a Saturday night (just like the blogger who inspired my recipe) and had tons of filling leftovers for my upcoming workweek, which promises to be hectic. If I had to do this one over again, I’d probably use that new Philly Cooking Creme to add an extra punch of flavor instead of plain old cream cheese. But, it’s a little bit healthier the way I made it, with a few scoops of lite cream cheese and pasta water as a sauce.

Ingredients

  • 1 package of whole grain pasta (I used Barilla Plus)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, sliced or chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans)
  • 1 package frozen spinach, or a couple bunches fresh
  • Pecorino cheese, freshly grated
  • Olive oil
  • A touch of butter for sauteeing
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: red pepper flakes or chilli flakes, to taste (I used a touch)

Directions

Set pasta to boil. I like Barilla Plus because it has high fiber but tastes almost identical to regular pasta. I used a little less than a whole package (1 lb. of spaghetti).

If you are using frozen spinach, defrost it in the microwave for about four minutes and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a saute pan. Add a touch of butter to keep the garlic and onion from burning, then add the chopped onion and minced garlic (because seriously, garlic that burns can ruin your entire dish). Saute 5 minutes.

Add the chickpeas and spinach, stirring. Season with salt and pepper and, if using, red pepper/chilli flakes to taste. Cook, stirring, for several minutes.

Add the cream cheese to the edge of the pan, letting it melt along the edges so that it doesn’t clump up in the middle of the pan as you stir it into the spinach mixture.

Drain pasta and set aside, reserving at least one cup of pasta water.

Add the pasta water bit by bit to the spinach mixture, stirring and adding more as necessary to achieve desired consistency.

Toss with pasta; taste and adjust seasonings (I added more salt and pepper).

Serve with freshly grated pecorino cheese. Voila!

Now, obviously this would taste best with fresh spinach and high-quality olive oil to drizzle on top before serving. But if all you have on hand is a block of frozen spinach and supermarket olive oil for cooking, that’s fine! It’s better to experiment and try new recipes than to hold back because you don’t have premium ingredients. In fact, next time I might even try it with Ricotta to give the dish some light fluffiness. This blog is about appreciating the freshness of natural food, but it’s also about fitting home cooking into your crazed schedule. So go ahead and adapt. And more importantly, enjoy!

Drinks & Smoothies · Recipes

Vanilla Vodka Chai Tea

How amazing does this look! Chai is one of my FAVORITE beverages, and if there’s a classy way to add booze (and cinnamon sticks), I’ll do it. Check this out, courtesy of the My Life as a Mrs. blog. It’ll be showing up at my Christmas Day celebration, that’s for sure.

Ingredients:

6 oz. strong Chai Tea (I used 1 tea bag for 6 oz. water)
2 oz. vanilla vodka
¾ oz. amaretto liqueur
½ oz. simple sugar
½ oz. half n half

Directions:

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil and steep 4 tea bags for 2 to 4 minutes (following the tea directions on the box). Allow to cool and refrigerate until time of use (3 cups tea will yield 4 drinks).

In a cocktail shaker or tall glass, combine ingredients and shake or stir generously (shaking will froth up the half n half and help release the infused flavor in the spirits). Fill glass with ice and pour drink over ice. Garnish with a cinnamon stick or two.

Visit CuisineofIndia.com for Indian Food Expert Madhu Gadia’s authentic spiced chai latte (masala-chai) recipe, if you’re interested in making the real thing from scratch!

Tips and Tricks · Uncategorized

Natural gift ideas for little ones

No, I don’t have any little ones of my own (yet), but I do have a niece and nephew to buy for! This blog, Mama Natural, is a great resource for moms and moms-to-be. Even though I’m not a Natural Mama myself yet, this blog is all about the same things that mine focuses on — unprocessed, natural living in a consumption-focused world! So check out Mama Natural’s Christmas gift ideas for babies and toddlers, and perhaps you’ll get a “natural” gift idea for the little ones in your life.

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She also has some pretty cool gift ideas for Natural Women on the blog

And even the Natural Guys in your life!

(More recipes coming soon — right now I’ve got the flu!)

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