Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sleep No More | NYC

This past weekend I embarked on a road trip with friends to New York City. A large group of us, Bostonians and New Yorkers alike had tickets to experience Punchdrunk's production of Sleep No More a Macbeth meets Hitchcock inspired immersive theatrical play where audience members adorn white masks and explore some 100 rooms set in a six story West 27th Street Chelsea Warehouse.
It's tough to grasp at first. I'll do my best to explain. The story itself is based on classic text, but even if you know nothing whatsoever about Macbeth (raises hand) this is not going to negatively impact your experience in the slightest. This is definitely not a one-dimensional Shakespearean-lovers production. What it is, is an open-minded, adventure seekers theatrical based dream world.

"Our infectious format rejects the passive obedience usually expected of audiences." ~Punchdrunk

Actor and actress performances range from gentle ensembles through expression and gesture, to physically demanding contemporary dance and movement routines. All the while an eerie, haunting soundtrack plays as you are roaming about this abandoned warehouse, where each room has undergone a massive transformation (think: spooky hospital, bloody bedrooms, a dark graveyard, a hotel lobby, an apothecary, a sweet shop, okay, there's 100 rooms, you get the idea) installed with 1930's based and antique influenced furniture and props.
To quote an introductory welcome message "fortune favors the brave" and while I'll admit it can be seemingly scary at times, it's all in the name of art and defying the norms. Photographs are not allowed and the masks are worn by the audience at all times to encourage anonymity, curiosity and freedom. Check your coats, wear comfortable shoes and pay no attention to the friends you entered with, but do pay attention to the details as you venture off on your own to discover dark mysterious spaces and character scenes as they unfold before you.
Having been to this production in its Boston debut last year (set in an abandoned 4 story school in Brookline) it was absolutely one of the most fascinating, awe inspiring, reality defying, sensory enlightening experiences, ever, and easily worth a trip to New York City alone. The second time time around the show surpassed my expectations in every sense of the word.

If you want to learn more, check out this write up in The New York Times, this one in The Wall Street Journal as well as this interview with one of the producers.

Really, everyone should go experience this. Book a ticket now (if they aren't already sold out?) and hop the next train to NYC.

{photo 1 source}
{photo 2 source}
{photo 3 source}

New York City food and drink: coming soon.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

An Evening at UFood Grill

On Monday evening I attended an event for Boston Food Bloggers hosted by UFood Grill at their Landmark Center location in the Fenway area neighborhood. UFood Grill provided attendees with a complimentary menu tasting as well as treated us to an open bar of beer and wine. While I'm typically reviewing upscale restaurants and enjoying meals of great culinary prowess, I've never been one to hide the fact that I enjoy a Wendy's Chicken Nuggets and French Fries every now and again. I figured it couldn't hurt to check out what this healthy "where delicious meets nutritious" fast food franchise had to offer. Turns out, it's quite a lot, and the foods actually pretty good! Make no mistake, I'm not about to forgo some greasy McDonald's as my fast and cheap go-to hangover cure; but for a healthy alternative on the go, the folks at UFood Grill are definitely onto something. So far they have eight locations in Boston, Dallas and Cleveland. The Boston franchises are located in Downtown Crossing as well as Logan Airport Terminals B and C.
Tom Mackey, the senior VP of Operations was on hand to explain the "fast casual" concept upon which UFood builds their business practice:
1) It has to taste good
2) It has to be nutritional
3) It has to be ready in 3 1/2 minutes
4) It has to make money
(UFood is a publicly traded company)
Tom explained that they actually focus 15% on being healthy and lean and 85% on being better for you than down the street. So in an effort to be as healthy as possible, sometimes that simply means less calories than the competition. In a nutshell; the dressings are lite, the meats are lean, the cheese is low fat, the rice is brown and the bread is whole wheat. The food is always baked, grilled or steamed, never fried and no trans fats are ever used. Tom also mentioned they source locally and use organic ingredients when possible.Okay, now that you have the facts, lets get to the food (and drink! and atmosphere!) Signature colors of bright green and orange set the scene at the 201 Brookline Street location (closed to the public this evening on our behalf.) I appreciated the Under 500 Calories Menu hanging on display. While I'm not in the business of counting calories, this is a welcome point of attention for those who are. In addition, every item on the menu lists next to it the number of calories it contains. I sipped on a Corona Lite while mingling with other bloggers and chatting with the super friendly UFood team members. Around 6:30 we were instructed to take a seat and shortly after we began our meal with a Bistro Salad. This salad contains organic field greens, tomatoes, feta cheese, walnuts and dried cranberries, topped with a blueberry pomegranate dressing. The dressing was light and zesty with hints of sweetness that didn't overpower the fresh ingredients. A plate of french fries - appropriately named Unfries accompanied the salad course. Unfries because they are baked, not fried! The oven baked crispiness as well the lower calorie count gives them a unique appeal. They have definitely succeeded in creating a healthy, non greasy fry without compromising on taste. Up next was an entree of Fire-Grilled Sirloin Tips. (Pictured above is a full size order displayed on the tabletop spread.)These 100% USDA choice sirlion tips are locally sourced from Burlington, Vermont. They are cooked to order in a light balsamic dressing giving them a nice burst of flavor. For a steak tip fire-grilled in 3 1/2 minutes, these are actually very tasty. (I'm not comparing them to the steak tips you'd cook up on your backyard grill, but for what they are, I was impressed.)
The simply prepared sides included Fresh Steamed Broccoli and Sweet Potato Mash. They don't cook with salt so the vegetables lacked seasoning, the point being that the decision to add is up to you. I could have used some salt on my broccoli, but the creamy sweet potato mash stood up well on its own.They offer Personal Pizzas made with organic whole wheat crust and skim mozzarella. We sampled a slice of the Turkey Sausage and later the Pesto. Overall, I wasn't a huge fan. The paper thin crust lacked crispiness and probably would not satisfy a typical pizza craving. And while the pesto itself was good, the spices in the turkey sausage were rather abrasive for my taste. The Fired-Up Burger menu offers choices from ground lean beef, turkey, veggie and all natural free range bison on a multi-grain or sesame seed bun with lettuce, tomato, pickles and ketchup.
Pictured is the Chipoltle Turkey Burger made with lite jalapeno jack cheese and spicy chipoltle mayo. The turkey was surprisingly juicy which was a positive aspect, however the multi-grain bun, cut a little too thin on the bottom was left rather soggy by default. The veggies, especially the pickles were welcome additions and the burger did present a spicy kick that I enjoyed. Rather full at this point, but the food kept coming! The signature UBowl served was the Chicken Tinga boasting slow cooked chicken in adobo sauce and tinga salsa. The chicken was tender with a balanced spice complimented by cool tomatoes. I definitely liked this dish, of the few bites I could manage, especially when accompanied by a glass of red wine!The Grilled Paninis are a job well done. Actually, this might be my favorite menu item of the evening. Chicken Pesto lives up to expectations with tomato and skim mozarella on ciabatta bread. They also offer a selection of Wraps, the Fresh Falafel is made with baked falafel, pickled beets, lettuce, tomatoes, roasted red pepper hummus and spicy tahini sauce. The falafel squares didn't really compare to my standard ideals of falafel, and not unlike the pizza, I'm unsure if this would satisfy a true falafel craving. That being said, it was a well made wrap with an ideal amount of hummus spread and tahini sauce coating crisp lettuce and tasty pickled beets.
The below are even more menu items that were on the tabletop display but not sampled.Chipoltle Chicken Sandwich chicken breast, lite jalapeno jack, chipoltle mayo, lettuce, tomato and pickles on ciabatta.Seems I captured the description of this one in the photo - one less thing to type!Tofusion organic tofu and veggies over brown rice with a ginger soy glaze.
Mighty Chicken Sandwich chicken breast, romaine mix, lite mayo, almonds and caesar dressing on a sesame roll. Okay, so maybe I just had a grand old time photographing the food on display. Wrapping it up, no menu sampling would be complete without sweets! We were also treated to dessert in the form of UBerry Soft Serve Yogurt. Flavors of Original & Wildberry Tart Swirl and Fat-Free Vanilla & Chocolate Swirl hit the spot after many filling dishes. UFood by way of healthy sweet options also offers smoothies, sundaes and parfaits. I was excited to learn more about UFoods concept behind healthy fast food, especially from a well rounded group of genuinely nice individuals. When the fast food nation craves a healthy alternative, UFood Grill is committed to making it easy for people to eat smart while enjoying good food. I want to thank each and everyone of the employees who put on this event for welcoming us into their Landmark Center Franchise and treating us to a generous, well executed sampling of their menu.
UFood Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sweet Tooth

Lately, I've had an influx of cravings for sweet treats. Weeks at a time go by where these cravings are apparently in hibernation mode (don't think I'm busting out a pastry box every night for dessert.) But other days, make that weeks; particularly long days in the cubicle, excel sheets on end, meetings galore, it's all I can manage to walk home without Modern Pastry pulling me off Hanover Street with promises of classic Italian specialties, or LuLu's on Salem Street beckoning me over to her pastel pink sanctuary of sweets. The craving is not for just any type of desserts, but lavish, fancy, good looking dessert.

{Modern Pastry favorites}
Delicately placed atop creamy vanilla custard, sitting in a milk chocolate shell are vibrant red raspberries, tart blackberries and perfectly round blueberries, not a dusting of powdered sugar out of place. The crisp chocolate shell vessel ties it all together, holding the luxuriously thick and smooth custard as it cradles sugary bites of tart and sweet berries.

Chocolate Ganache
Soaked with rum and Strega liquor are light chocolate sponges, layered in threes alternating with whipped airy chocolate mousse and then topped with rich dark chocolate ganache finished with zig-zags of white chocolate ganache. A pretty unbelievable combination as the lightness of the mouse and rum sponges hold up nicely to the thick ganache draping over their layers. Delicate hints of sweet rum and qualities of the strega liquer including very faint notions of mint, fennel and saffron elevate this fancy chocolate treat.Lulu's Bake Shoppe serves plenty of sweets such as bagged candies and giant lollipops, and pretty amazing signature cupcakes.
My favorite (and I've tried many) is the Salted Caramel ($2.50).
Dense chocolate cake, layered with glistening chocolate frosting and circular swirls of deep golden caramel, this is as decadent as a cupcake gets. Oh and those crystals of salt pack a drastic punch of flavor in brilliant contrast with all that chocolate.
Runner up is the Chocolate Peanut Butter ($2.50).
PB + Chocolate always makes a stellar combination. Enough said.
What was the last really good dessert you ate?
Lulu's Sweet Shoppe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Slow Cooker Santa Fe Chicken

Hooray, I finally purchased a crock pot! This purchase was prompted by a CSN $50 gift certificate that I won last month over on Lizzy's blog. The first recipe to grace the Hamilton Beach 4 Quart Slow Cooker is adapted from here, and boy was it ever making me appreciate the wonder that is preparing an easy, savory meal without much time or energy. Add the ingredients into the pot, turn the dial up two notches and walk away. Clean up is a cinch as well since both the stoneware and lid are dishwasher safe. I must admit, my feelings are mixed regarding the definition of "walk away". Do you leave a slow cooker on all day when you are at work? Or do you only prepare slow cooker meals when you are home to monitor them? I read many blogs where preparing slow cooker meals falls into the former category, but there is still much hesitation on my end to leave an electric appliance on all day. (Seeking all opinions and advice, thanks in advance!)Now, I'll offer some advice of my own. Make this Santa Fe Chicken in your crock pots as soon as you possibly can! Whether, like me, you need a lazy Sunday at home or you feel confident enough to prepare it and set off to work; this southwestern inspired meal of shredded chicken, scallions, tomatoes, black beans and corn seeping in flavors of cilantro, cumin and cayenne is overwhelmingly delicious.

- 2 large chicken breasts
- 1 can chicken broth
- 1 can diced green chilies
- 1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
- 8 oz frozen corn
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 small tomato, diced
- 3 scallions, diced
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp cumin
- salt, to taste
- shredded cheddar cheese
- avocado, for garnish
- sour cream, for garnish.
- flour tortillas, if desired

Combine the ingredients listed from the chicken broth through the salt in the crock pot. Chicken broth was added first, followed by the green chilies. Next, in went the chopped ingredients - the tomato, onion and scallions.Then the spices and cilantro. P.S. how cute are my new starfish measuring spoons? (Thanks Jackie!)
At that point I gave the pot a quick stir.
Then I added the corn and black beans.
And lastly, the chicken breasts are placed on top. The original recipe suggested cooking on low for ten hours or high for six hours. Since this was an impromptu Sunday afternoon cooking session, Adam shopping for the ingredients around 1pm and my prep completed by 2pm, I chose to cook on high for six hours until 8pm. One half hour before serving, I removed the chicken breasts and shredded them. This takes no time at all because the chicken is so tender it practically falls apart on its own. Then I returned the chicken to the pot and gave it another good stir. Just another half hour to go....At this point I decided to make a box of Near East Spanish Rice. 20 minutes on the stove top and the meal was coming together! I served the chicken and rice over flour tortillas with sour cream and avocado. On top I sprinkled shredded cheddar cheese, fresh scalions and a pinchful of fresh cilantro. The result was incredibly satisfying. This is definitely one of the best, most flavorful meals I've ever made! Really, the slow cooker does all the work. It almost feels like cheating!The side of Spanish rice was bold enough to stand up to the flavors in the chicken, but overall it has a mild spice. It's not often I find myself eating just a pile of shredded chicken with all the fixins. Although to call this "just a pile of chicken" isn't really fair. I did contemplate rolling the chicken up inside the tortilla, but decided against it for at least the first round. When enjoyed by the forkful the cheddar cheese melting with the shredded chicken, hearty black beans and sweet corn accented by a bold crisp from the scallions and a bright burst of cilantro was blissful. Finally learning and enjoying the wonders of the appliance that is a crock pot. #winning!