Italian

Weekend Recap: Bites, Sips, & Splurges

I had such a fantastic weekend that I wanted to share it with all of you!  Yes, Saturday gave us an unwanted spring snowstorm, but Sunday made up for it with the sunshine.  Here’s what I did last weekend:

Saturday, I made plans with my friend Chelsea to meet at a new donut shop, Blackbird Doughnuts.  This place is insanely popular and we had to wait in line that wove around the shop while a new batch baked.

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I tried the cinnamon sugar stack of three mini-donuts while Chelsea went for the lemon coconut.  I was head over heels for mine, and Chelsea enjoyed hers as well!  I will definitely be making a return trip to Blackbird Doughnuts!

Sunday, since it was such a beautiful day, I made some last minute plans to walk around Boston’s North End with my cousin Amanda and her roommate Marisa.  We got sidetracked walking through Faneuil Hall when we stumbled upon Uno de 50.

Headquartered in Madrid, Uno de 50 has unique pieces hand-crafted by Spanish artists.  Each piece is slightly different because they are all made by hand!  The store only gets 6 pieces of each item, so it’s unlikely that you’ll see someone walking around with your jewelry on.  I was slightly disappointed to see that they have a website, but still, the hand-made differences make, for example, the ring I selected look nothing like the website’s version.

We had a great shopping experience with super friendly staff who wasn’t afraid to pull the store apart so we could try on anything and everything.  They poured us wine while we shopped– a sparkling, fruity blush.  There was also a promotion going on where we got a free bracelet, tote bag, and journal with our purchases.

I chose an adorable skull bracelet & cool key wrap ring!

I chose an adorable skull bracelet & cool key wrap ring!  Amanda snapped the wine while we shopped!

What we loved was that each piece has a two-year warranty and can be brought in for free cleaning once per month!  We each left with two pieces!

Off our wine and shopping buzz, we took to the waterfront and the North End enjoying the sun and warmth of the day.  We, of course, stopped by my favorite place, Mike’s Pastry, for a couple of canoli for the Cassaro girls and a zeppole for Marisa!  After enjoying our desserts in the park, we headed home.

more photo credit to Amanda for this shot of me in front of the water.  Nautical + Italian = perfection!  That's the North end.

more photo credit to Amanda for this shot of me in front of the water. Nautical + Italian = perfection! That’s the North end.

I can’t even explain how nice this weekend was!  It definitely felt like spring, even though it’s snowed twice in the last three days…  How was everyone else’s weekend?  And what do you think of my new jewelry?

MasterChef Junior: Whippersnappers

IMG_6906This week’s episode of MasterChef Junior starts out with a giant mystery box to introduce the Mystery Box Challenge.  Inside the big box stand Gordon and Graham wearing age make-up to look 80ish.  Where’s Joe?  He comes in on the most Italian rascal scooter I’ve ever seen!  I’m dying at this whole thing, especially the streaming Italian flag.

When the kids open up their own mystery boxes, they find ingredients that get better with age.

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This box includes dry aged New York strip steak, 2-year aged iberico ham, smoked salmon, black garlic, perserved lemon, 12-year aged balsamic vinegar, and 5-month aged blue cheese.  They also get baby veggies to use and a limited pantry.

The kids get to use some “new fangled technology” to Skype their favorite old person for recipe idea.

When Joe does get up from his scooter, his sweatpants pants are pulled up so high… I’m literally dying.  “This is what old Italian men look like,” he says, and I 100% agree!  I’m going to miss Joe so much!  The judges point out that the balsamic vinegar on the table is older than most of the contestants.  Hah!

For our top three, it’s Jack, Riley, and Andrew.  They make the below, respectively:

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And the winner is Andrew, who heads into the pantry to take control of the Elimination Test.  He doesn’t have to cook in the elimination challenge.  He has to choose between three animals that you could eat, but could also eat you… rattlesnake, snapping turtle, or alligator.  These are all cool but scary… I love turtles, but that snapping turtle is hideous.  Andrew chooses alligator, to the chagrin of some of the young ladies.

The kids seem to do well with the challenge, though!  Here’s some of what they make:

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  • Jenna’s alligator curry | absolutely delicious, tender alligator, great spice.
  • Kyler’s grilled alligator | very tough, but flavor is there.
  • Mia’s fried alligator tacos | alligator has been fried too long and is tough.
  • Cory’s alligator stir fry | one of the best things Graham’s had in the competition.
  • Nathan’s alligator chili | delicious, excellent use of alligator, raising the bar
  • Jimmy’s alligator frajitas | dish is a bit simple

On top: Jenna, Cory, and Nathan!

While leaves Kyler, Jimmy, and Mia on the bottom.  Jimmy narrowly escapes elimination, and Kyler and Mia are sent home.

This has been a really fun episode, especially with Joe’s yoga incident (warrior pose gone awry!) and it’s always sad to see kids eliminated.  Kyler and Mia keep their heads held high and there aren’t any tears on the way out.  They must know that they’re all amazing!

MasterChef Junior: 19 New Kids

It’s a brand new season and a brand new batch of talented cooking kids!  And wow, there are a lot of them this time around.  Nineteen hopefuls enter the kitchen in hopes of impressing Gordon, Graham, and Joe, and taking home the trophy and the title of MasterChef Junior.

The winner also takes home a check for $100,000.00!  Young Alexis wants this money for college.  “I really want to get into a good college,” says the 8-year-old, “maybe, like in Hawaii.  Maybe Disney Land.”  I’m dying already.

After foraging around in the pantry to dig out their white aprons, the young home cooks are poised for their first Mystery Box Challenge!

This Mystery Box features salmon, mango, broccolini, corn, ginger, soy sauce, coconut milk, puff pastry, and tomatillos.

This Mystery Box features salmon, mango, broccolini, corn, ginger, soy sauce, coconut milk, puff pastry, and tomatillos.

There is one slight set back during the cooking for 11-year-old Kayla.  She calls for the medic having deeply cut her hand only to realize she’s cut not one, but two fingers.  She gets nervous upon seeing the blood, but Gordon calms her down and she continues cooking.  Her perseverance pays off when it comes to the top three dishes.

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12-year-old Jenna’s coconut rice pudding, 12-year-old Jack’s broiled salmon, and Kayla’s mango turnovers earn high marks from Graham, Gordon, and Joe.  The three top dishes are too close to call, and all three win a trip to the pantry and control of the Elimination Challenge.

In the pantry, the judges show three pasta dishes to Jenna, Jack, and Kayla.  The three winners don’t have to cook tonight and will pick what the rest of the kids do.  With the choice between ravioli, lasagna, and pappardelle, (which I didn’t know how to spell because I was born and raised in Massachusetts and we don’t have R’s here,) the kids consensus is pappardelle!

While some kids have never made pasta before, others aren’t worried.  10-year-old AJ notes, “I’m Italian; I make pasta,” like one qualifies the other.  (As an Italian, I agree with her.)

Here’s what the kids comes up with:

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  • Joe notes that Andrew’s tastes like it’s made by someone who knows what pasta is supposed to taste like and has the skills to render.
  • “This looks great,” says Graham of Riley’s dish.  “It is great,” responds the 8-year-old.
  • AJ’s pasta is uneven and her blend of Italian and Mexican oregano leads Joe to say that too much fusion leads to confusion.
  • Jimmy’s dish gets high praise for the sausage and the texture of the pasta.
  • Jianna achieves uneven pasta and although her sauce is good, there isn’t enough of it.
  • Quincy’s pasta is way overcooked.
  • Parker, who got flustered in the kitchen (to the point where Kayla, watching from the balcony says she can’t watch), ends up with a dish lacking sauce.
  • Philly’s dish lacks salt.
  • Ryan Kate’s beautifully cooked pasta impressed, as does her chiffonade for the basil!

Jimmy, Ryan Kate, and Andrew are declared the winners of the challenge!

It’s always hard to see kids go, and the first group going home is a large one: Philly, Jiana, Quincy, AJ, and Parker.  There are tears from the kids and from me as they leave the kitchen to the now group of 12.

I’m so excited this show is back on!  Any early favorites?

Top Chef Boston: 12 Chefs Walk Into a Bar…

I loved this episode title so much, I wanted to use it for my recap too!  Fresh off Gregory’s back-to-back wins, some of the cheftestants are feeling a bit threatened.  Some, like Keriann, are starting to feel a bit homesick.  Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name

A note telling the cheftestants to meet her at 84 Beacon Street signed “Cheers, Padma” clues the chefs into their next location: CHEERS!  Stacy, my local girl, admits that she may have been asked to leave Cheers once, and was maybe not even aware they had food.

When they arrive at Cheers, George Wendt is there to help judge the Quickfire.  The chefs yell “Norm!” as soon as he appears and I couldn’t be happier.  Padma explains that Boston is a bar town, and that by law all bars must serve food here.  I actually didn’t know that.  The Quickfire Challenge is simple: make a tasty bar snack!

Some highlights:

Let's be real, I'll eat anything with an egg on it, but mayonnaise and peanut butter?  You have my attention, sir.

Let’s be real, I’ll eat anything with an egg on it, but mayonnaise and peanut butter? You have my attention, sir.

  • Aaron makes a burger with mayonnaise and peanut butter.  When Padma tastes it, she exclaims, “Oh my god, it’s not bad!”  I am infinitely intrigued.
  • Gregory drops a couple of burger buns as he plates and serves, and ends up presenting an incomplete dish.
  • George and Padma drink beers while they taste.  Padma said this was shot at 6 am, which is obvious from the completely empty bar, and by 7 am she was basically drunk.  Well, let’s just say, she seems like she’s having fun.

Gregory’s burger problems land him on the bottom, with James, who made a crudité that George says “just doesn’t feel like bar food.”

On the top we have Keriann, whose crab put her in favor with George, and Katsuji with his ceviche.  Katsuji wins immunity!  And wow, was this a good time to win it.

Michael Schlow comes out to announce the elimination challenge.  The cheftestants are to group themselves in threes to create a classic 3-course Italian menu at his restaurant, Via Matta.  The team whose menu is ordered the most wins the challenge.  Two will go home this week.

Here are the teams:

  • Orange: Adam, Mei, Doug
  • Purple: Katsuji, Greg, Aaron
  • Gray: Melissa, James, Keriann
  • Blue: Rebecca, Stacy, Katie

Michael Schlow stays in the kitchen to expedite.  Blue and purple get a lot of orders right away.  Gray’s momentum picks up as well.  Orange is pretty slow goings.  Of course, if the judges like your food, you’re safe.

In the dining room, Padma, Tom, Richard, and guest Emmy Rossum (Shameless) eagerly await their food.  There’s one twist: Emmy is gluten-free, and the chefs haven’t planned for this.

Purple is the first to serve the judges.

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For the gluten-free option, Katsuji simple removes the pasta from his pasta dish calling it a deconstructed ravioli.  Despite the sad display, it looks like Emmy got lucky as no one is a fan of the pasta.

Next up is Orange.

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The menu is not a hit with the diners, but the food is a hit with the judges.  Adam handles Emmy’s allergy well, making red quinoa polenta with seafood brodo in place of his pasta dish.  Fun fact of the Orange team: Mei is known as “the fish bitch” at home.  I kind of love that.

Gray goes next.

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Melissa’s dish is well-received as her pasta and peas are better by comparison to other teams’.  Her gluten-free option for Emmy rounds delicious: risotto with bacon-parmesan broth and spring pea purée.  Very smart substitute!

Finally, Blue serves.IMG_6382

Katie’s pasta is delicious, and she makes zucchini pasta for Emmy to keep her dish in-tact.  (That’s supposed to say “basil-walnut pesto” but I guess I capped too fast!)  That’s the best dish for this team, though…

For judging, Michael Schlow joins Padma, Tom, and Richard at the table.

The winning team, the one who sold the most menus, is Purple!  Katsuji’s ravioli gets a lot of criticism, but he had immunity and his team carried him to safety.

Orange is safe, since the judges really liked their food.

On the bottom: James, Stacy, and Rebecca.

James & Rebecca are asked to pack their knives.

 

I might be biased, since Stacy is my hometown hero, but I really think the judges made the right decision tonight.  James lets his point of view get muddled, and ends up forgettable.  His dish didn’t seem Italian to the judges.  Rebecca is no stand-out either– she played it safe with scallops to entice diners and just didn’t deliver.  I love how Emmy pointed out her fennel was promised to be charred, and just wasn’t.

What did you guys think of the double elimination?

Friday Favorites: Let it Go

I’ve blogged before about my love for multi-lingual music.  My iTunes rocks the likes of Japanese, French, and Italian usually, with a couple of others sprinkled in there… Korean, Spanish, maybe a little Russian thanks to Regina Spektor.  Well, the language count on my iPod soared with the discovery of this!  I’m a big fan of Frozen– the movie, but especially the music.  It all started when I stumbled across this video.

I was so impressed.  My Idina Menzel worship remains unmatched, but I still found myself absolutely in awe that there were so many talented singers who could pull of this song well.  I wanted more.  I wanted to hear these foreign language versions in their entirety.  Luckily, I’m not the only one who felt this craving: “Let it Go the Complete Set” exists.  This album available for download on iTunes contains all 41 foreign language versions of “Let it Go” and 9 foreign language versions of the ending credits version of the song.

I listened to it non-stop for a couple of weeks, and I’m still not tired of it.  I’m obsessed with the French version… the only other one I can actually understand in its entirety.  I also like the Japanese and the Italian… sensing any patterns?

I happen to think this is phenomenally cool and highly recommend checking this album out!  If anything, it can be your mantra for Friday… just a few working hours separate us from the weekend, so prepare to let it go!

Photo Finish: Spring 2014

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I must say, these last few months have been quite lovely!  You’ll notice my brother, Joey, plays a pivotal role in many of the above photo highlights, which is apt to happen as he’s one of my favorite humans. Since today marks the start of summer, I’m taking a moment now to recognize all the fun things spring brought to me.  Summer, keep the good times coming!

{1} my brother’s Christmas present, WWE Smackdown at TD Bank {2} sunny Mother’s Day in Boston Public Garden {3} dinner in the North End on my brother’s graduation weekend {4} with the Boston College graduate himself at Alumni Stadium! {5} with lifelong friend Stacie, the most beautiful bride, at her wedding reception at Stonehill College {6} Mario Kart 8 was released and I played for hours, unlocking all the characters that day! {7} in the Ocean State enjoying the most Rhode Island shandy where Narragansett beer meets Del’s lemonade {8} Rhode Island again for Father’s Day weekend, having firework fun with Amanda {9} day off Museum of Fine Arts trip

Amazing Race Recap: The Gladiators Are Here

It’s been two weeks since we’ve checked in with the All Stars on their race around the world, but leaving Sri Lanka was about to level the playing field. Their clue leads them to fly to The Eternal City, Rome! All teams were on the same flight to Italy.

Seeing Rome made this Italian girl so happy. I immediately recognized Castel Santangelo where their next clue was waiting for them. Jennifer and Caroline’s Speed Bump was also waiting for them on the bridge leading to the castle.

Speed Bump

The Country Singers had to pick up a typewriter and bring it to a landmark it resembles. Again, I immediately recognized the Victor Emmanuel monument as “The Wedding Cake,” because that’s what my mom called it last time we were there. I guess the locals call it “The Typewriter!” Learn something new every day, eh?

Detour – Gladiator or Charioteer

In the shadows of the Colosseum, the teams could either fight like gladiators or race chariots. In Gladiator, the teams learned a choreographed fight meant to entertain, then put it to use against a big gladiator. If they get all the moves right (including dying at the end,) they get their next clue. This was truly entertaining! Jessica and Jon did it first and both got so into it. Leo and Jamal first tries Charioteer, but came here when it got too crowded over there. They were ever more hilariously intense! Charioteer was really cool too. In this detour, teams controlled mini remote control chariots around 5 laps of a course. The tiny horses were so freaking cute! The tiny charioteers took quite the beating. This reminded me of Mario Party 2 vs. 2 mini-games: one person controlled speed while the other controlled direction. Brendan and Rachel got their first and were the first to finish. It got easier for the other teams once the course cleared off a bit so it was less of charioteer-bumper cars.

Flight Time & Big Easy's charioteer had a hard time... he's completely missing here!

Flight Time & Big Easy’s charioteer had a hard time… he’s completely missing here!

Road Block

Getting to the Road Block was the hardest part. The clue said to find the Piazza where John Keats had an unhappy Roman Holiday. This was the Piazza di Spagna at the base of the Spanish Steps, made famous in “Roman Holiday,” but also where John Keats died. Most cab drivers took the racers to Via John Keats, nowhere near the Spanish Steps. Luckily for Brendan and Rachel, their cab driver knew what the clue was leading to. A couple of other drivers did some research, while the teams that ended up at Via John Keats needed to borrow internet and do some research of their own.

The Road Block was to add the number of Spanish Steps to the number the obelisk at the top of them was erected. The number on the obelisk was a Roman numeral, so they had to convert this to Arabic numerals we’re used to before doing the math. They then had to convert the sum back to Roman numerals, write it on a postcard and present it to the Roman Holiday couple for the last clue. Um, this would so not be my Road Block! Math and stairs—no thanks!

Locals and tourists helped the teams out here. The Globetrotters did not understand the clue, but Jon and Jessica fed them the answer thinking Jennifer and Caroline would still be behind them. It was a foot race to the finish!

The final clue led the teams to Piazza del Popolo.  This leg sure shook things up!  Ready for the results?

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