Favorite Foods at the Village Voice Choice Eats Tasting Event

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A few weeks ago, Todd and I attended the Village Voice Choice Eats tasting event, where hundreds of foodies gathered to sample delicacies from more than 50 restaurants located in Manhattan and the boroughs. We expected the event to be jam-packed, but the crowds spread out pretty evenly and we didn’t have to wait in super long lines to sample any of the food—though certain crowd favorites, such as Luke’s Lobster, ran out of bites before we made our way to their tasting table. Here are some of our favorites, all from restaurants that we had never tried before but have now added to our list of places to eat in and around the city.

This Russian combo platter from Veselka had distinct flavors that merged savory and sweet. The pierogi was especially soft and tasty:

From Fort Defiance we sampled deviled eggs, which had a creamy center that melted in your mouth:

Fort Defiance: Deviled Eggs

We often had to pile plates on top of each other while browsing a row of tables, then we stopped at the end of the row to consume what we had gathered. We tried tangy yet refreshing broccoli soup from The Queens Kickshaw and a crostini with stracciatella, apricots, and roasted garlic from Brucie:

Choice Eats

Todd and I both agree that this Hot Goldie Sandwich from Untamed Sandwiches was the best bite we tasted throughout the entire event. It featured delicious grass-fed beef short rib, red onion, sweet and sour cabbage, and black pepper aioli on ciabatta bread. We enjoyed it so much that we went back for seconds even though we were stuffed by the end of the tasting:

Choice Eats

As much as I loved all the savory samples on the first floor, the second floor continually beckoned with its promise of sweets. I believe I found my favorite dessert of all time. Robicelli’s nutelasagna had lasagna noodles surrounded by cannoli custard, toasted homemade marshmallow, Nutella ganache, and roasted hazelnuts. It was a little messy, but so delicious:

Choice Eats

Here’s another plate of desserts, including banana pudding pie toped with a smoked peanut butter cookie:

Choice Eats

All in all, the event—and the sheer amount of good food—was worth the money we paid for admission ($65 each for general admission at 7 p.m.), and we are already planning to go again next year. It’s a great way to try out bite-size portions from so many great New York restaurants, and I would definitely recommend attending.

Sharing Some Blogs I Love

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My blog has been nominated for a Liebster Award… whatever that is! I admit that I am too lazy to Google search the rules of this nomination, though I am incredibly touched that the wonderful kzzinsky thought to include me in her list of nominated blogs. (Definitely go check out her blog as well; it’s filled with amusing stories and nuggets of wisdom.)

Because I’m not quite sure what the rules of this award are, I thought I’d just forego it altogether and instead just share with you some of the blogs I’ve really been loving lately. I suspect that’s the real purpose of the award anyway—to spread the word about sites that we enjoy reading and want others to visit. So, without further ado, here are some of the blogs I’ve been frequenting lately. I wish I could list them all, but I’m limiting myself to five:

Flake and Cake
Claire covers so many great topics, all tied in to the events of her daily life, which makes this blog a very interesting read! I always love her food pictures, pet pictures, and stories of her own personal journey.

Petals. Paper. Simple Thymes.
Dawn is such a lovely person, who always has a kind word and good advice. Her personality really shines on her blog, which is a meditative, thoughtful place to read about crafting, gardening, and other simple pleasures.

A Touch of Lovely
I love that Kelsey touches upon so many topics on her blog, from delicious recipes to restaurant reviews to whatever she’s most interested in at the moment. There’s always something new to find and treasure.

VeganRunnerNerd
Tammy’s blog provides great vegan recipes and, for all of us runners, lots of motivation and inspiration as she recounts her own runs and marathon training. Definitely a great blog for runners and nonrunners alike!

The Zero-Waste Chef
I love Anne Marie’s stories about her nearly plastic-free and zero-waste life, especially the “how to” posts that help the rest of us get a little bit closer to that goal. Plus, she’s just a genuine and kind person whose blog is well worth the read.

Our New Little Snowman Friend

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We received about 6 inches of snow here in New York during this most recent winter storm, and guess who went outside twice to shovel? (You can’t see me, but I’m totally pointing to myself right now.) When Todd got here, he helped as well—and then we built a snowman! I just quickly wanted to share some pics:

Our new little friend.

Our new little friend.

I stole his hat!

I stole his hat!

Todd is exhausted from too much shoveling...

Todd is exhausted from too much shoveling…

Recipe: Cinnamon Maple Walnut Butter

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I subscribe to at least 10 different magazines, which I make sure to read cover to cover every month so that I can learn new information, whether it’s about the top vacation destinations or how to take better care of my hair and skin. But the recipes are always my favorite part of any magazine, especially when they’re quick, easy, and delicious. One of my current go-to recipes is the do-it-yourself cinnamon maple walnut butter recommended by Runner’s World as a high-protein snack or lunch. I love it so much that I have plans to try out all of the other flavors, especially the almond coconut butter, and even to experiment with my own macadamia butter.

Banana slices topped with walnut butter and diced dried plums

Banana slices topped with walnut butter and diced dried plums

I couldn’t resist sharing the Runner’s World recipe here on my blog, though of course I have a few disclaimers to make before I do: Although the magazine suggested adding salt, I found that I didn’t need it. And instead of buying roasted walnuts, I just bought a bag of regular walnuts and roasted them myself in the oven. Because I used a little more than the cup of nuts that the recipe calls for, I also added a pinch more maple syrup. I love that the sweetness of the nut butter comes directly from the pure maple syrup, rather than some artificial or added source.

Ingredients
~1 cup walnuts
~1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
~1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Roasted walnuts

Preparation
~Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and pour the walnuts into a small baking pan. Once the oven is hot, roast the walnuts for about 10 to 15 minutes, occasionally shaking the pan to help them roast evenly.
~When the walnuts have cooled, toss them into a blender. Blend for 3 to 5 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides as necessary.
~Add syrup and cinnamon and blend for another 2 minutes or until smooth. The more you blend, the fluffier your nut butter will get. Although the photo on the Runner’s World website makes these butters look as smooth as any nut butter you can buy in the store, I couldn’t get mine to entirely lose it’s slightly crumbling texture. Maybe I’ll have better luck (or more patience when blending) next time!
~Transfer the nut butter from the blender into a glass jar. You should have about 1/2 cup of butter, which lasts surprisingly long. (And for those of us who are nutrition obsessed, it’s helpful to know that two tablespoons of walnut butter have about 200 calories, according to Runner’s World.)

Nut butter in a blender

Running in Winter: My Motivation

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I didn’t run very much or very often over the holiday season. Instead, I baked cherry oat bread, feasted on lobster, and practiced yoga—all of which I enjoyed immensely but didn’t leave me with the elation or satisfaction I experience after a good run. I wanted to run more in the new year, and today I received an acknowledgement of my progress in the form of a Nike+ badge for running five weeks in a row.

Although most of those runs have been brief jaunts on the treadmill or heavily bundled slow jogs outside, I’ve managed to run at least once per week for the past five weeks, totaling about 18 miles. Most of that mileage came in the past week as I started thinking more and more about the spring: flowers in bloom, birds chirping, a refreshing gentle breeze. I imagine myself in the New York Botanical Garden, jogging up and down hills and around flower beds filled with tulips, roses, herbs, and more. I imagine myself in Central Park, circling the gravel-lined reservoir and stopping for a rest at Belvedere Castle. I imagine myself back in the financial district, running along the river and seeing how far I can get before I merge back into the city streets and take a people-watching walk break.

For now, spring is my inspiration and I’m going to run more often and push myself harder so that when it arrives, I’ll be ready to hit the pavement and spend a nice, long run appreciating the beauty of nature.

What motivates you to run through the long winter?

Recipe: Simple and Healthy Flounder Bake

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Because Todd knows that I like to eat healthy foods that are easy to prepare, he recently bought us the Skinnytaste Cookbook, based on the popular blog of the same name. It contains so many delicious recipes that rely on bright vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains.

Now that Lent has arrived and some of us can’t eat meat on Fridays, I want to share a simple fish recipe from theSkinnytaste Cookbook that Todd and I really enjoyed: a broccolini flounder bake. As usual, we modified this version a bit. We cut out the cheese and oregano, added onions and piled on extra tomatoes, and served it over a rice medley.

Flounder Bake

Ingredients
~3 teaspoons olive oil
~6 oz broccolini (or baby broccoli)
~2 cups multi-colored cherry tomatoes
~3 garlic cloves, chopped
~4 flounder filets (about 4 oz. each)
~1 whole sweet onion
~Crushed red pepper flakes
~Salt
~Black pepper
~Paprika
~Fresh lemon juice

Flounder BakeCooking Steps
~Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
~In a large pot, boil water for the rice. We used a red, black, and brown rice medley from Trader Joe’s, but I think just about any type of rice would work with this dish.
~In a large skillet over medium heat, pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season onions with paprika and sauté until they start to soften.
~Trim 1 inch from the broccolini stems and add them to the skillet, seasoning with salt and cooking until they start to become tender.
~Next, add the tomatoes, garlic cloves, and pepper flakes. Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes longer, stirring occasionally.
~While the veggies cook, season the flounder with salt and black pepper. Drizzle a baking dish with 1/2 tablespoon of oil, lay the flounder in the dish, then sprinkle with remaining 1/2 tablespoon of oil and lemon juice, to taste.
~Bake the fish until it is partly cooked, about 5 minutes.
~Remove the dish from the oven and top the fish with the veggie mixture. Return to the oven and bake until the fish is cooked through and opaque, about 10 to 15 more minutes.
~Serve atop the rice medley and enjoy!

Flounder Bake

Restaurant Review: Moon Star Grill in Riverdale

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One of my best friends has lived in many places, including Mexico, Oregon, and Chicago. Luckily for me, she’s back in New York for a while—and that means we get to try out a ton of great restaurants together. This weekend, Todd joined us for dinner at an Asian-fusion gem, Moon Star Grill, in Riverdale, New York. This sleek spot features high-quality Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, and Japanese offerings in a setting so friendly and serene that we lingered much longer than planned, sipping hot Jasmine tea and nibbling on chilled pineapple chunks.

Appetizer: Fried Vegetable Dumplings

Appetizer: Fried Vegetable Dumplings

Though we took nearly 20 minutes to place our orders because everything on the menu sounded delicious, the waitstaff never rushed us or seemed frustrated by our indecision. Finally, we decided on soups and an appetizer to share. My friend got a steaming Wonton soup and Todd decided on a delicious La Sa Ga, a soup with curry chicken, coconut milk, and rice vermicelli. I had wanted to order the same soup, but had hesitated because it was marked with a spicy pepper on the menu; however, when I stole a sip from Todd’s bowl, I didn’t taste much heat at all, just a rich flavor that lingered in my mouth until our appetizer, fried vegetable dumplings, arrived. Crispy on the outside and filled with soft vegetables inside, they were so good that Todd offered to eat my second dumpling if I didn’t want it. I did.

Entree: Mango Shrimp

Entree: Mango Shrimp

Though we’d already had some soup and an appetizer, we still wanted more food. So, even though each entree came with white or brown rice, we decided to also order a plate of Bun Xao noodles to share (in the background of the picture above). We all loved the soft, stir-fried rice noodles tossed with shredded vegetables, egg, and chopped peanuts, and I took at least two helpings during the course of the meal. The noodles also came with a garlic-infused nuoc cham dipping sauce on the side. For my entree, I chose a simple Mango Shrimp dish, which I thought came with a fair amount of shrimp, a ton of mangoes, and an ample amount of sweet dipping sauce to mix my rice into. I really enjoyed this dish, though I was glad that we shared all of the entrees as a table because it might have been too much of the same sweet flavor if I had tried to finish it all myself.

Entree: Chicken with Ginger and Scallion Sauce

Entree: Chicken with Ginger and Scallion Sauce (and my friend’s finger, because she was too impatient to wait for me to take a photo)

While reading this review, some of you might be thinking that the dishes look like they aren’t anything special: there’s no fancy plating, they’re shining with sauce, and they might resemble the fare you could get at your local Chinese takeout place. I want to take this moment to assure you that they are so much tastier than all of my local Asian restaurants, and that this is probably one of the best casual dining spots I’ve been to in a long time. If you like variety, this is truly a great place to try out. My friend’s plate, Chicken with Ginger and Scallion Sauce, had a nice tang to it and came with crisp vegetables. Todd’s order, Bo Xao Gung, featured sliced, tender beef with red pepper, mushrooms, squash, snow peas, water chestnuts, and onions. No matter how picky of an eater you might be, I think you’ll find something to love at Moon Start Grill—and if you aren’t yet impressed by the food, then maybe the desserts can tempt you.

Fried Green Tea Ice Cream

Fried Green Tea Ice Cream

For dessert, we split two ice cream dishes: fried green tea ice cream and three scoops of regular pistachio ice cream. The fried ice cream was perfect: warm and slightly crisp on the outside and soft and cold on the inside, topped with a generous serving of whipped cream and a cherry. After we finished our meal, the waitstaff brought us another dessert surprise: a glass (same size as above) filled with ice and sweet pineapple chunks! By the time we left the restaurant, we felt so full, and more than satisfied with our meal. (Plus, we had leftovers for my friend to take home!)

Me and my friend at Moon Star Grill

Me and my friend at Moon Star Grill