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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pasta Cucina in Suffern, NY

Comfort foods.  We all have those certain dishes that are comforting and feel good.  For me, they mostly involve carbs and specifically pasta.  On a random work day I ask my friend if we should go out for pasta. Of course!  I have been to Pasta Cucina only a few times so I was not sure if the sign advertising new management was a good or a bad thing...

The Foyer
As a diner or patron, I am easily visually amused and will appropriately ooh and ahh over displays.  The irony is my home is fairly sleek and sparse with minimal fussiness.  I want to be clear, I do not enjoy clutter or groupings of knick knacks just for the sake of having something in a space, but a few items to show a bit of personality are always fun.

Could be potential table centerpieces - cute idea.

The dining area is fairly large and we are one of only two tables seated at noon.  Perhaps lunch starts later or we really are that unusual to be craving pasta for our mid-day meal on a work day?

The menu is fairly extensive and we are also given a special menu.  Even the most discriminating pasta lover should be able to find something as well as those who do not want the luscious carb (who can that be?).

The Dining Room

It is likely fairly obvious to the staff that the two of us are on a lunch hour and we promptly order drinks and meals at one time.  Warm, toasty, crusty bread is cradled in cloth napkin hug and served with seasoned olive oil.

Yes, carbs to begin the carb fest.  EXACTLY what I want for lunch today!

I did not think or realize we would be served a house salad.  The ingredients were fresh, clean, crisp and flavorful.  Had I known, I would have asked for no dressing.  The salad was coated quite well.

For me, the eggplant ravioli in pink sauce.  The pasta was tender without being limp and the meal was filling for even the heartiest of appetites.  The pink sauce was creamy, thick and the flavor of parmesan unmistakable.

Penne a la vodka was the choice for my friend.  If the dish was weighed, I would venture to guess the pasta content was very close to one pound.  While I finished my ravioli, she had to take a portion of her serving home.

While the price may seem hefty for lunch, we were out of the office on a beautiful sunny day and conquered a craving.  It would be a bit impractical and indulgent to eat this way daily, both waistline and wallet would suffer, but as an occasional treat, I felt Fed Well at Pasta Cucina.

Pasta Cucina of Suffern on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 29, 2013

Grilled Shrimp Salad

I first saw the phrase from the above cartoon about a year ago.  I laughed and posted the message on my Facebook.  Funny, right?  

Problem is, most of us (myself included) after say 20 or more years after graduation can maybe only fit into our high school earrings and ok, if we are completely honest - perhaps shoes and socks.  

While I am not overweight, I am no longer that skinny girl either and as each birthday passes, I'd rather not think of buying the next higher size in clothing.  I spend a lot of my time in a chair, at a desk and while I love to eat well, I am also prone to eating what feels and tastes good.  Not every meal, but the time has come to reel things in a bit and rather than take away the bad, add more of the healthy options.  Timing is perfect as the farmer's markets begin to open, the days are longer to allow more time for walking or being active outside.  

First simply prepared and healthier meal is a grilled shrimp salad.  I had it for dinner one day and then the leftovers for lunch the next.  The salad base was all of the available produce basically I had on hand.  Romaine, spinach, tomatoes, carrot, celery and green bell peppers.  The shrimp were marinated in cilantro, parsley, lime juice, salt, pepper and a splash of olive oil.

The vegetables are crisp, fresh and left undressed.  I continue to enjoy a naked salad.  The shrimp are firm, flavorful from the marinade and give the feelings of both lightness and satisfaction.  The Mr. does not feel the salad in any form can be an entree and so he fills two wraps with basically the same ingredients but if putting everything into a shell adds to the experience for him, so be it.  

I have also grown to love a sweet bite after a meal.  This very ripe cantaloupe satisfies the sweet tooth.

In my house I find the desire to be Fed Well is always present.  The final hurdle is in making sure the right foods are readily available.  It  must be just as easy to access as ripping open a bag of chips or else it will be looked over for convenience.  Grilled shrimp salad is as simple to prepare as a hamburger, but leaves me hoping I've made a slightly healthier choice and still feel Fed Well.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Use up the Veggies Pasta

It all comes down to using what you like when preparing a meal - the same as clothes shopping and house decorating.  Forcing something simply won't work because it won't be used, worn or eaten.  Given in to trends or adding exotics can backfire as well.  I try to accommodate the tastes of the four palettes that live here, but sometimes, I just give in to what I like when preparing dinner.  I have learned that they will like it or leave it.  Unfortunately, sometimes I buy things, like eggplant and then I think because I know the others do not like it I let it sit until it is almost too late.  In this case, I performed the eggplant rescue just in time on a weeknight when I barely felt like cooking.

I cubed the eggplant with skins on and sauteed in a splash of olive oil.

Some garlic, salt and pepper.  This cook's little black dress.

Then wilt in the spinach that can also turn quicker than used if I am not careful.  Spinach can be a classic cardigan - always in style.  When my sons were young and curious about what they were eating, I made a spinach and rice soup but told them the greens were "soup vegetable" to prevent them from forming a bias.  

I dice a tomato that I add after the mixture is removed from the heat.

Drain the pasta and stir everything together with another drizzle of olive oil.  Looking back, I could have added some onion and a splash of balsamic.  However, it was still fabulous.

I was the only one who ate this amazing dish.  I brought left-overs to work the next day for lunch.  The Mr. had the same pasta for dinner but with jarred sauce.  I certainly feel mine was the better choice.  Sometimes even foodies make mistakes, in the same way celebrities are shown in magazines with the caption, "What was she thinking?" or innocent pedestrians with a black rectangular bar over their eyes while wearing an outrageous garment.  Sometimes we are simply Fed Well.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Sweet Retreat Cafe in Pine Bush, NY

I have driven past A Sweet Retreat Cafe at least once a week since they opened last year and have been meaning to, wanting to go until finally I met a friend for lunch and now I am looking forward to my next visit!

The business is quite easy to locate and it was no problem to park nearby.  In fact, my friend parked directly in front of the building.

For those unfamiliar with Pine Bush, New York, it is known for people who have experienced UFO sightings.  This April 27 will mark the 3rd annual UFO Festival and Parade.  Some activities include a parade down Main Street and car show.  Many businesses have their windows painted with alien themes to honor the festivities.

What can make an alien seem any more friendly than holding a cupcake?

The Cafe is busy with only two available tables remaining, but we are lucky to have one by a window.  I want to look at everything, catch up with my friend and try to decide on my order all at the same time.  

I decided a few years ago that most restaurants have a signature dish, the one they are known for, proud of and feels best represents them and so I try to look for it or an appealing special.  The problem, all of the specials sounded fabulous - spinach tortellini soup, a selection of quiches, a salad with bacon wrapped asparagus or an open face chicken sandwich.

I decided on "Our Signature Sandwich."

Guests may decide on the bread, but I went with Gerri's recommendation of the ciabatta.  The creamy mozzarella is handmade by the owner's husband.  The pesto was light and flavorful and of course roasted red peppers were delicious, adding color and texture.

My friend ordered the special salad and I think I had to wipe a bit of drool away when I saw those bacon wrapped asparagus spears.  Yes, I can tell you she enjoyed them down to the last bite.

By the way, I eventually decided on the unsweetened black tea.  When I ate my entire sandwich (which I only intended to eat half off since I am nursing a cold),  I had been trying to nonchalantly take photos from my seat, but I can no longer sit still and want to look at everything - the walls, the dessert case, the little gift shop area and so I grab my cell phone and begin to click.

I wonder what influenced the use of some of the meaningful signs... were they purposefully selected with the Cafe in mind, were they gifts, a combination?

I confess, I never really had a sweet tooth until maybe the last five years or so.  Growing up I would always choose a salty snack over chocolate and even today it can sometimes be a coin toss.  But, if I want chocolate no substitutes can be made.

So many details, so many things to look at and admire.  Cute cafe chair cushions (say that a few times fast).

THE Dessert Case - please pause for a moment, take a breath and we will relive the journey together....

An oatmeal chocolate chip and chocolate confection - 

Cupcakes, of course.

Nothing goes better with a dessert in my world than a steaming hot cup of tea.  It is comforting to the soul, soothing, healing and just my favorite.

Every display is eye catching.  A simple rack of teacups has me mesmerized.

The gift shop area includes hand made soaps.

Our dessert is a special sampler.  I am lucky to have the oatmeal chocolate chip not a cookie, not a cupcake and it is delicious.  I appreciate the break from the lush chocolate with the soft oatmeal.

Tea was served in a layered pot.  The bottom layer is the over sized cup.

We talk about life, we smile and greet those we know from the area and spend a minute with one of the Town Police Officers who recognized my friend's car out front.  He wanted to know if one of us could cover a local event since we both write for the local weekly community newspaper.  Hard to believe it is 2013?  Well, small town life isn't all that bad.  Though some couldn't wait to leave when they graduated high school, we stayed, raised our children and are still in nearby towns eating a lovely lunch at A Sweet Retreat Cafe and feeling Fed Well.

Sweet Retreat Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Celebrating 83 Years of the Mr.'s Mom

When I was little, I couldn't imagine living until the year 2000.  It seemed so far away and yet, I would only be in my 30's.  My mother-in-law was born in 1930.  Historically speaking, not a fabulous time for our country although the good or bad could be pointed out for each decade, don't you agree?

An informal surprise party was thrown when she turned 80.  Surrounded by friends and family (she has 8 living grandchildren, 1 great grand-daughter at the time and was predeceased by one grandson) and was overwhelmed and brought to tears when she took it all in.  Don't tell her, but I'm hoping we can hold a smaller but upgraded version for her 85th - some place nice perhaps on the Hudson River.

Meanwhile, for 83 I suggested the Mr. and I take her out for dinner.  The gathering grew to include the Mr.'s sister and her family.  Initially, I named a locally owned lobster restaurant, but my MIL was mildly confused and thought I meant the lobster restaurant chain and said, "I have a coupon."  Ok, we can do that instead.  

On the evening of her birthday, one granddaughter bought a beautiful corsage which the birthday girl wore with pride.

We were seated fairly quickly and 2 servers were provided to take care of our party of 9 which later grew to 10 when my younger son finsihed work for the evening.  We ordered 2 appetizers, one lobster pizza and one warm artichoke dip with nacho chips. 

Next were salads.  Yes, about 99% of the time I ask for my salad without dressing.  This has nothing to do with fats or calories, but everything to do with taste.  I want to taste the vegetables in my salad, not a big glop of dressing.  I notice the chain has fancied up their salads by dicing ingredients fairly small.  Neither like nor dislike - just an observation.

My meal.  Yes, it is a horrendous, heaping portion I will never finish in one sitting.  However, it also came at a fairly peak price for a chain dining meal.  This was no $9.95 special.

One family member ordered fish en papillion - fish prepared in parchment paper.  While it appears pretty, she was not happy with the scorched paper or many of the soggy vegetables.  

Notice the change in portion size in the salmon dish below.  While yes, this was less expensive than the first two dishes, it seems a bit less carefully plated and a lot less filling.  What about balance?

Many of the rest of the family ordered mix and match meals commonly referred to as Feasts.  Sort of the same idea as old school Chinese restaurants, selecting one dish from column a and one from b.  The portion size was a bit more fair and consistent.  Have to admit, I had a few of my son's fries.

Did we laugh, yes.  Were we happy to celebrate the Grand Dame's birthday?  Yes.  Did the server's come over with candle lit slice of cake and sing the obligatory song?  Yes.  Did our server take a group photo for me with my phone? Yes.

However, when the bill came, it did not seem to match the quality and amount of food we received.  This is a restaurant that nationally advertises to families and stresses their value.  Not every restaurant deserves a glowing recommendation on the blog and in kindness I will not name them in case ours was a unique bad experience.  We had a lovely time and felt Fed Well, but I for us we see value differently.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Sunday Night Round Up

It has come down to that one night a week when our family of four plus our older son's girlfriend (who is quickly becoming family) can gather for a meal together.  Yes, it happens to be Sunday.  Better for the cook - I can plan a little bit and have a bit of room before everything has to be on the table at the same time and temperature.

To begin, I season 5 chicken breasts with bones and skin. Yes, quite old school.  Salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme into a preheated 375 degree oven.  Walk away from it.

Corn on the cob.  Funny, since they had braces my sons always run a knife down the cob and make a pile of corn on their plate anyway but I can't stand the frozen or canned versions.  It was mere minutes in a stainless steel mixing bowl with a pot lid that perfectly matches so the ears stay steamy and toasty hot.

By request from my older son, a cucumber salad.  For us it means making fancy peel marks (skipping space in between) the cucumber then slicing almost paper thin.  I take the time to assemble the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and giving myself room to stir.  A pinch of salt, pepper and dill, and a conservative spoon of mayonnaise.  I know many are tempted to splash vinegar, but I do not.  Combine and transfer to a serving bowl.

Younger son loves bruschetta!  Loves it!  I diced four tomatoes, a fist full of parsley, a few garlic cloves, salt and pepper.  That's it.  Served with broiled Italian bread slices.

No fresh fruit in the house today, but a can of sliced pineapple rings were a nice sweet finish.

We talked about, scalloped potatoes among other things.  Do you make them?  How? 

Fed Well and together on a Sunday night.  What more could you ask for in life?