Ice Pop Extravaganza & Zoku Giveaway

24 Jun

Zoku Ice Pop Maker

I LOVE ice cream. I’ll try any flavor. I’ll occasionally eat it for breakfast. I’m the person at the ice cream shop who asks for scoops of multiple flavors (yes, sometimes I ask if they don’t mind putting them in a certain order…). But, as much as I love this creamy treat, whole fat dairy with delicious chunks of chocolate and swirls of caramel is not the best food to consume in large quantities.

Enter ice pops. I don’t mean those full-of-sugar, five-types-of-food-coloring ice pops in the freezer section. I mean all-fruit, no added sugar, totally good for you ice pops. It’s not exactly ice cream, but it’s a refreshing way to satisfy my dessert cravings.

I’ve been eyeing the Zoku Quick Pop Maker for about a year, so when I saw it a few weeks ago on a beautiful spring day, it was a sign that I should go for it. There are different sizes of the ice pop maker; I bought the one that you can make two at a time in (there are a single pop maker, or three pops/time). What I love about this ice pop maker is that you store it in the freezer. Then, when you take it out and fill it with a cold mixture (see below for some ideas), it makes an ice pop in about 8 minutes. Instant ice pop satisfaction!

Mango Ice Pop

This was the first one I made: just fresh mango and a little water, pureed in a blender. It was so easy and yummy.

Ice Pop Grapefruit Mango

I decided to get more adventurous with my second try: equal parts fresh grapefruit and mango, pureed, with a little water and maple syrup.

Strawberry banana yogurt pop

For my third pop I made my regular smoothie in the blender of frozen strawberries and bananas, blended with yogurt and water, and then poured it into the mold to make a yogurt pop!

I’m not typically into specialized kitchen gadgets, but I have been thoroughly enjoying the Zoku Quick Pop Maker. I love the option to have almost instant ice pops. Plus, I’ve been making four at a time, eating one, and freezing the other three for later.

This contest ended on 7/1/14.

Thank you to all who entered!

The Giveaway!

Want to try out the Quick Pop Maker for yourself? I’m giving away a Zoku Quick Pop Maker! It looks like this:

our_products_quick_pop_maker (1)

(Image from the Zoku site)

Here’s how to enter: Click here to enter! You are required to leave a comment below sharing your favorite ice pop flavor. Then there are some additional ways to get more entries by following EatingPlaces and Zoku on Twitter and Facebook. If you win, you can choose which color you’d like (white, blue, purple, red, orange or green).

The giveaway ends Tuesday, July 1, at midnight EST. Please note: this giveaway is limited to US residents. I will use Rafflecopter to select a winner at random and individually contact the winner. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them below.

I bought the Zoku Quick Pop Maker on my own and was not compensated for this post. Zoku provided the giveaway Quick Pop Maker – thank you, Zoku! All opinions are my own.

Delivered to Your Door: Healthy Habits Kitchen

18 Jun

Healthy Habits Kitchen, based in Wellesley, MA, contacted me about trying their meal kits. As much as I love traditional from-scratch cooking, I’m always open to trying a quick (while still healthy) alternative for weeknight dinners. Healthy Habits Kitchen’s ready-to-make meals are portioned out so the serving size is under 400 calories, with less than 30% fat and no more than 800mg of sodium. Plus, the meals take less than 30 minutes to prepare. I tried out three meals. Please note: while Healthy Habits Kitchen offered to send over these complimentary meal kits, all opinions are my own.

Healthy Habits Kitchen ingredients

How the shrimp with tomato and feta ingredients arrived (each meal is packed inside a mini box)

The meal kits arrived by mail in a small insulated box and were portioned out into the three meals. When they arrived the ingredients were slightly frozen: each box has a ‘prepared on’ and ‘best by’ date. I put one box in the fridge and the other two in the freezer. I chose three seafood meals because I don’t cook fish and seafood as often as I’d like to, and I was hopeful this might provide some inspiration. On the Healthy Habits Kitchen website, you can find all of their current meals: there are vegetarian, red meat, chicken, and pork meals as well.

Here’s what I made:

Shrimp with Tomato and Feta

The first meal I tried was the Shrimp with Tomatoes & Feta: sauce (diced tomatoes and onion), shrimp, orzo pasta, seasoning (lots of dill), and feta. This was delicious and the flavors were different from what I usually put together, which was exactly what I had hoped for.

photo (7)

For the second meal I made Asian BBQ Salmon with Rice. This meal fell flat – the salmon wasn’t high-quality and the sauce was too thick, so the rice and salmon were very plain and dry. I was also craving vegetables in this meal, which is odd because you’d think for the company to be called ‘Healthy Habits’ that they’d have more vegetables incorporated into the meals. I ended up eating the salmon over a spinach salad with oil and vinegar dressing.

Tilapia and coconut curry

The last meal was Broiled Tilapia Thai Coconut Curry with Rice. This meal was slightly better than the salmon, because the sauce was more substantial, but again the quality of the fish wasn’t great. I expected to make a yellow coconut curry (see image below), but this ended up being more of red peppers and shallots in a sweet garam masala sauce. I make quick curries often, so this wasn’t something I’d make again.

 

The verdict: Very easy-to-make meals, slightly expensive for my budget, recipes were hit or miss, lots of packaging

It’s easy: It felt odd to make a meal without prepping anything, but that’s just because I love the process – start to end – of cooking. For someone who doesn’t want to spend time cooking, or doesn’t feel at home in the kitchen, this would be a great option. Clean-up was limited to the two or three (for the curry) pans I used; I didn’t need a knife, cutting board, or any bowls for ingredients, which made clean-up easy. For all three dishes, the recipes were simple and straightforward. The meals took between 20-30 minutes to make.

Cost per meal: I’m cost-conscious while buying groceries and find that cooking a big meal at home saves so much money compared to going out. Portioned out, each serving from Health Habits Kitchen ends up being about $7, so if you typically go out to eat and want to transition to cooking at home, this would be a great option. Or, if you want to cook a healthy meal, and $22 for three servings outweighs the difficulty of planning a meal, going shopping for the ingredients, prepping, and then cooking, this could also be a good choice!

HHKSiteImages

Tilapia Coconut Curry (left) & BBQ Salmon (right) images from the Healthy Habits Kitchen site

The recipes: I enjoyed the shrimp dish, but the other two fish recipes could have been better developed. I would liked to have seen more accurate pictures of the recipes on the Healthy Habits Kitchen website (see above – these are very different recipes, and it looks like there’s chicken instead of fish in the curry).

Something that was a very positive experience for me was learning about portion size. When I looked at the ingredients in the box and saw that they added up to three “healthy portions’ or two ‘hearty portions’, I was skeptical whether this would be enough food for me. I was surprised, though: when it all came together, I portioned out 1/3 of the total amount for a meal, and it was fine.

Packaging: The convenience factor is obviously there with these meal kits, but as I worked through each of the recipes, I realized just how much plastic packaging I was throwing in the garbage. All of the fish was vacuum-sealed in its own bag, each additional ingredient came in a bag or a plastic container. I understand the necessity to have each ingredient in a separate container, but I am careful to limit packaging when possible and recycle everything, so it was hard for me to generate so much waste simply out of convenience.

 

Live in the Greater Boston Area and want to try out Healthy Habits Kitchen? You can order Healthy Habits Kitchen online, and then pick up your meals at their facility, a farmers market, or have them shipped to your home. Healthy Habits Kitchen has offered 15% off your first order. Just use the discount code “EATINGPLACES” through July 31 for 15%off.

 

Thank you to Healthy Habits Kitchen for three complimentary meal kits. As with all EatingPlaces posts, opinions are my own.

Dumpling House in Cambridge

21 May

Whenever I have an opportunity to visit a Chinatown, I’m completely drawn to wandering down its streets. It awakens my senses in a way that I can only compare to walking through a mercado, like the ones I visited in Oaxaca. There are so many countries in Asia on my dream list of places to visit. Until I visit those places, though, I love trying as many new flavors and dishes as I can closer to home. Boston’s Chinatown is a great place to start, and Gourmet Dumpling House is no doubt one of the more popular restaurants for xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings. However, the place is always packed and there are only about 20 seats, so trying to grab a quick lunch or dinner without a 30+ minute wait is a challenge.

Then about a month ago I saw the ‘Dumpling House’ sign along Mass Ave between Harvard and Central Square in the former Buddhist Cultural Center tea room space. Rumor says it’s a sister restaurant to Gourmet Dumpling House. I’ve enjoyed two great meals there so far- they’re still working out some of the service kinks, but the food was great and it’s hard to find a sit-down restaurant with these prices in Cambridge. While I miss the experience of going into Chinatown for Gourmet Dumpling House, Dumpling House is a good alternative.

Dumpling House mini soup dumplings

Delicious soup-filled steamed dumplings, xiaolongbao

The first time I ventured over with Renee from Eat.Live.Blog and a co-worker for lunch. We ordered the beef with long horn peppers – a dish we love ordering from Gourmet Dumpling House – and it tasted exactly the same: super spicy, tender beef, fresh green peppers. We also shared the mini soup dumplings with pork and the Sandong style pan fried dumplings (both orders are $7.25 for 7). The soup dumplings were the same as GDH, too. The interesting thing about these soup dumplings is that, while the filling is extremely moist and has a great rich flavor, the dumpling wrapper is always a little thick and slightly dry/sticky. I really love the contrast of textures while eating these, but I’ve had dumplings elsewhere that have a thinner and more delicate wrapper. I guess it comes down to individual preference; I like both.

Dumpling House has a fantastic lunch deal of an entree, soup, and white rice for $8.50 that we didn’t order, but I look forward to returning soon, because that is an amazing deal.

dumpling house pan fried udon noodles and beef

sauteed udon Shanghai style

Then about a week later I returned with my boyfriend for dinner. We ordered the soup dumplings again, plus the sauteed udon Shanghai style (above) and the sauteed flat noodles with beef (below). Both were solid choices – the udon noodles were slightly salty, but the texture of the noodles was right on and I enjoyed the mushrooms and pieces of beef throughout.

Dumpling House sauteed flat noodles with beef

sauteed flat noodles with beef

Of the two dishes, I prefer the sauteed flat noodles with beef  – I’m just obsessed with those flat rice noodles (the same kind used in drunken noodles) and the beef was perfectly tender. While I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to spicy dishes (i.e. when I ate the beef with long horn peppers I also consumed multiple glasses of water and an entire bowl of rice…), I realized halfway through the meal that I should have ordered something with a bit more of a kick. But there will be a next time!

With two overall positive experiences, I can’t wait to go back. The only warning I should include is that it’s a new place, and there is a certain amount of confusion that sometimes comes with recently opening: when we went for lunch, we asked for the dinner-size portion of the beef and peppers so we could share. They brought us the lunch-size, but charged us for the dinner portion. We asked if this was the correct size for what we ordered and they assured us it was. I didn’t believe them, but what did I know, maybe that’s the standard size? Then, when we went for dinner, the portions were huge, confirming that they over-charged us and gave the wrong portion during my first visit. It’s a small detail that I’m sure will be worked out in the coming weeks.

In summary, check out Dumpling House, and feel free to invite me.

Dumpling House, 950 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA

SoulCycle & Brio at Chestnut Hill Square

15 May

Last week I joined the Boston Brunchers for the first time in a while – it was so nice to get together with some great folks like Renee from Eat.Live.Blog and founder of the Boston Brunchers and Erin from A Girl & Her Mutt. I also finally met Tiffany from The Fab Empire and Melissa from Foodies at Work!

This was the plan: meet up at Chestnut Hill Square (the new complex across from Chestnut Hill Mall, where you can find Wegmans and a bunch of other retail stores and places to eat), check out a SoulCycle class, have brunch at Brio, and then do some shopping in the square.

SoulCycle at Chestnut Hill Square

First up was SoulCycle. SoulCycle has a great environment and their high level of customer service is everything you expect from a boutique workout spot. This is the kind of place that makes you want to work out: the music is loud, the staff beautiful, everything is spotless, and the regulars make spinning look like a viable way to get incredibly fit. I. Want. That. And for $30/class, you should get all of that.

Maybe I’m easily converted to fun workout options in general (okay, I am – I love exercise classes!), but I’m a fan. I’ve attended good spinning classes before, but not on bikes that require clip-in shoes, not in a room that’s lit by candles, and definitely not from a teacher who doubles as an enthusiastic fitness instructor AND a ripped DJ in a sports bra. I had such a good time that I forgot for small stretches of our 45 minute class that I was intensely exercising. Our instructor Molly was phenomenal – she’s based in LA and was teaching for a few weeks in Boston.

Here’s some of the Boston Brunchers clan after the class:

SoulCycleGroup

Following the class we walked next door to Brio Tuscan Grille. Opening in November, the Ohio-based chain restaurant’s Chestnut Hill location is the first to open in Massachusetts. Brio’s concept is Tuscan-inspired food, but the brunch menu seemed disconnected from this. Entrees on the eight-item brunch menu are fairly standard.

We started with bread and fruit salad – I was so hungry after the spin class, so it was nice to start with fruit. We sampled four items family style:

  • Berries & Cream French Toast: This was tasty, but very sweet, so it was good to have a small portion.
  • Ham & Biscuit Benedict and Turkey Sausage, Spinach & Biscuit Benedict (I didn’t try the latter, but looked very similar to the ham benedict): The benedicts are made with a biscuit on the bottom, which was a nice twist on the classic and provided a buttery base that complimented the hollandaise.
  • Roasted Turkey Sweet Potato Hash: The hash seemed more steamed than roasted – the flavor was good, but the preparation seemed a little off.

The Bloody Mary was mediocre – lots of ice, regular tomato juice, and horseradish. I’ve been spoiled by so many inventive breakfast cocktails that this wasn’t great in comparison. I always hope for some kind of kick (alcohol or otherwise), which was lacking from this drink.

Brio Brunch at Chestnut Hill Square

 

Brio Brunch at Chestnut Hill Square

With all of the high-endorphin levels and good vibes in the SoulCycle class, it was hard for brunch to Brio to live up to the occasion – in general, the whole brunch experience fell kind of flat. The servers seemed inexperienced, the atmosphere had a Cheesecake Factory kind of feeling, and I left feeling full, but wishing I had just stopped by Equinox’s Squeeze Juice Bar instead. We’ve had some AMAZING brunches through the Boston Brunchers (like The Sinclair, The Painted Burro, and Moksa); Brio was just in that less-memorable, but not terrible, category.

Following brunch we wandered around the square a bit, stopping to be fitted for sneakers at True Runner. I was super impressed that they offer an orthopedic-style analysis of your stride before fitting. We were ready for a nap after our busy morning, so we didn’t venture into Wegmans, but I’d like to check out their new location another time.

Thank you Boston Brunchers for planning such a fun Sunday! It was great to check out Chestnut Hill Square.

The SoulCycle class and food portion of brunch at Brio was complimentary through the Boston Brunchers, and I did not receive compensation for writing this post. I paid for the drink and tip at Brio. As with all EatingPlaces posts, opinions are my own.

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