… since my last post, almost. Frankly, I got sick of analyzing my food and just wanted to enjoy it. But while I’m here, I have a few recos in case anyone still stops by:

Maxim’s 22 just off Centre Square in Easton has been the best addition to the neighborhood and my waistline. Casual French cuisine in a great setting with a professional staff. Great food at good prices from the owners of Sette Luna.

Black & Blue at 683 Walnut St in Easton. A casual, darkly intimate setting with a great beer selection. The food is somewhat hit or miss – but the burgers, sandwiches, and wings are great. And the fries (with creamy barleywine dipping sauce) are the best around. I don’t think we’ve been here since Maxim’s opened, though.

Casera is a new addition on N 2nd St in Easton across from Touch of Thai. They offer a prix fixe Spanish Caribbean meal in a single-sitting each Friday and Saturday evening. The menu changes monthly. Personalized service and home cooking in an intimate setting.

The here is Tapas on Main and the there is Emeril’s Burgers and More, both in Bethlehem.

Let’s start with the there. We spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s bouncing around the house looking for reasons to get out in the Valley. My wife mentioned that some new outlets had opened at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem so I had the idea to grab a burger for lunch at Emeril’s. We’d been there once before, shortly after it opened, and our recollections were positive. Well, on this second visit, things didn’t start out strong. The hostess was nowhere to be found while 10 people stacked up at the doorway staring at a bunch of empty tables. The manager repeatedly noticed the lineup but continued delivering food to tables rather than alert the hostess or jump in to get people seated in the meantime. We were finally seated close to the kitchen and noticed how rapidly the food was stacking up under the warming lights. The place was definitely understaffed. Our drinks took forever to arrive (and we were never offered water), but the food was tasty. Though burgers and fries from Five Guys are more satisfying for half the price. The service was friendly, but the atmosphere was offputting – bright lights, dirty floors and chaos. One might chalk that up to the casino experience but somehow Vegas has figured out how to make even casual dining feel classy. Emeril’s feels like a fast food joint that sells $10 burgers. Total: about $50 for a burger, crabcake sandwich, fries, cole slaw, a beer and a margarita.

Two days later, we found ourselves in Bethlehem again to do a little ice skating. We were shopping on Main Street around 5pm and decided to fuel up before hitting the rink. We considered Mama Nina’s, a new Italian Place called Molto Pazzo, and the Brew Works. A shopkeeper recommended the new Tapas on Main and we figured a couple small plates and a glass of wine would be perfect for our purposes. We chose wisely. They offer a happy hour menu with a handful of tapas dishes, mixed drinks and glasses of wine for $5 each. We ordered the hand-cut fries (ideally crisp with a great aioli), the chorizo (with melted manchego cheese and an interesting chocolate balsamic drizzle), and the coca de calamari (perfectly cooked and flavored). We then shared a petite flourless chocolate cake for dessert. All of that plus 3 glasses of wine, tight service, and great ambiance for the same amount we spent at Emeril’s two days prior.

Some may say the comparison of a casino burger joint to a quiet tapas bar is apples to oranges, but if you’re in Bethlehem in the mood for something casual to semi-casual with a medium budget in mind, these are certainly two places you might have considered. And in the interest of keeping you away from Emeril’s (if wine and tapas aren’t your scene), check out Looper’s just down from the casino on 3rd street. Great casual food, good drinks and decent atmosphere.

For the last few years, I’ve been a firm believer in brining turkeys. The results speak for themselves. I’m a dark meat guy and, of all the white meats, turkey breast was the one I feared the most. But a brined bird will give you moist flavorful white meat. Here’s all you need to know.

There’s a separate challenge with turkey breast which comes from the high position of the breast meat in the oven. By the time the thighs fully cook, the breasts get overdone. The solution is to butterfly the bird:

Take a big sharp knife and cut through the bones along either side of the backbone from head to tail. Remove the spine and save for stock, then take a small knife or shears and remove the ribs. I then take a knife and score the inside of the breast bone right down the center. Flip the bird over and press down on the outside of the breast until the bone underneath snaps and the bird lays flat. Now the thighs sit at the same height as the breasts, allowing them to cook evenly. Tie the ends of the legs together and tuck the wing tips under the body to keep things tidy. You can do the butterflying either before or after brining – though doing it first will help you fit the bird into a smaller brining vessel.

Good luck and have a great holiday!

When people talk about food “value” they’re usually referring to a fast food menu or discount grocery store – low price and low quality. Sorry, but I don’t see how paying an appropriate price for the quality you receive is the definition of a good deal. Real value comes from getting high quality food for a great price. And considering the huge financial costs incurred later in life by consuming low quality ingredients year after year, finding food value can help your future bank account even more than your current one. Personally, I find value in organic milk and eggs which are proven to be dramatically more nutritious than their conventionally-produced versions. I also make my own wine, grow a garden, can the garden surplus, and grind quality cuts of meat for hamburgers and sausages. Recently, I’ve collected and cleaned a few hundred black walnuts for winter eating and baking. Part of the value in home food production is due to the fact that you don’t pay for the labor. So when you go out to eat it’s a challenge to find an all-around good experience without spending at least $50 per person.

This summer, we were excited to find a great dining value in the Lehigh Valley. Northampton Community College’s Hampton Winds restaurant offers a fantastic prix fixe dinner for $30 per person. The entire meal is prepared by students in the school’s culinary arts program which is supported in part by the restaurant’s earnings. The menu changes seasonally and includes a broad variety of choices. For example the June/July menu had 7 appetizers, 4 soups, 3 salads, 10 entrées, and a dozen desserts. The following pics are from our July visit.

Fresh rolls

Beef Tip Tostada

Grilled Salmon

Roasted Pepper and Tomato Soup

Watermelon Gazpacho

Fresh Peach, Apple and Watermelon Salad

Spinach Blueberry Salad

Citrus Granita (palate cleanser)

Seared Diver Scallops

Ratatouille and Goat Cheese Tart

And then when you’re completely exhausted – they wheel out the dessert cart. It has two tiers and is covered in way too many mouthwatering options. I had the cheesecake and my wife went with a dark chocolate tart. Both amazing.

The Hampton Winds is open Monday through Friday for lunch from 11-1 and dinner from 5-7:30. It’s BYOB and reservations are required for dinner.

We were looking for a dinner spot last Friday and wanted to try something new. I was in the mood for something casual and was pushing for Black & Blue near the Easton courthouse. My wife heard some good chatter at work about Emeril’s new place at the Sands and I could tell she had her heart (and stomach) set on it. It was already 5pm so I was surprised when she was easily able to make a 7pm reservation – we’ve since learned that Saturday is the busy night.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed. I was expecting something as stylish as Emeril’s Chop House across the casino floor, but it was much more casual. The restaurant runs along a wide hallway that extends from the back wall of the casino. There are 3 seating sections – a bar, a prep area, and the dining room. The bar had the most character with a view of the casino floor. The prep area gives you a view of the pizza oven and charcuterie cooler & slicer but the lighting was kinda bright. The dining room, where we were seated, was pleasant but had the vibe of a catering hall. (The curtain near our table clearly indicated that the dining room was designed to be closed off for private parties.) The arched beams leading to a huge chandelier were a nice detail, but the height of the ceiling, starkness of the walls, and view of the adjacent large hallway detracted from the intimacy we look for in rustic Italian dining.

My main focus in the menu was the meat and cheese selection. We created a combination of 3 cheeses (burrata mozzarella, taleggio, and robiola) and 3 meats (prosciutto, coppa, and nduja) from a selection of maybe 20. They arrived accompanied by 2 different chutneys and some small (seemingly fried) breads. Everything was great except the little churro-like breads. They were chewy and stale. My wife also ordered the radicchio and endive salad.

For our entrées, my wife went with the clam pizza and I ordered the meatballs. For a wood-fired pizza, it was rather bland. They need to take a page out of Sette Luna’s playbook and give their crust a lot more seasoning and color. The meatballs, though, were great. There were 3 of them covered in a rich red sauce and fresh arugula all on a bed of soft polenta. If I had one criticism, I would have plated it on a large dish. It really looked like a side order. And I had to take care to avoid splashing with so little room to maneuver on the plate.

The service was good except for one instance when the entrées arrived a few minutes before we were finished with our charcuterie. Our table was pretty well filled with dishes and cutting boards, but the server tried to force the entrées onto the table and take away our unfinished appetizers. I made him cool his jets, but I still felt I had to rush through the rest of the meat and cheese as our food was starting to get cold.

The desserts were petite and excellent. My wife enjoyed the dark chocolate-hazelnut tart and I had the spumoni torta.

We’ll likely go back but will probably be a little more specific about where we want to sit – and probably skip the pizza.

We emerged from the house Sunday morning to confront the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. A leaning nectarine tree was the worst we suffered. We were going a little stir crazy and decided to grab a movie down at the Promenade. Their website had listings so we assumed the theater was operating. Bad assumption. In fact, the entire Promenade was shut down. Car after car was entering the parking lot looking for dinner or a movie so at least we didn’t feel alone in our disappointment. We guessed that Promenade management had planned for a Sunday afternoon with something worse than cloudy skies and a steady breeze. They lost out on a lot of business though.

My first thought was to stop by the casino for a burger at Emeril’s. There was no way the casino would shut down for anything! One problem – my wife hadn’t brought her purse and ID. But surely we could get a burger, right? There are kids in the casino and restaurants so there can’t be an absolute age cutoff. Turns out it’s a bit more complicated. Even with my wife’s very youthful appearance, she’s clearly not a kid so she absolutely had to be ID’d before entering. But there’s a solution! We could get a security escort to and from the restaurant. OK. That’s awkward. But we’re hungry. Let’s do it. Enter buzzkill escort guard to explain that she can only take us to the Irish pub or Emeril’s Chop House. Huh?! There are ostensibly no differences between those places and Emeril’s burger joint – each serves alcohol and opens to the casino floor. Whatever.

Onto Plan C – a swing through Bethlehem to find food. We climbed Main St. looking for an open restaurant and noticed an Italian place on the right and the Brew Works on the left. Good enough. We circled the block and found a spot off Main St. As we walked up Main toward the Brew Works, we passed the Italian place we’d spotted but I dismissed it partly based on the name, Mama Nina’s Foccacheria. The focaccia emphasis gave me the impression they offered mostly sandwiches. Plus the place looked packed to the gills. A guy standing by the door in casual clothes told us we had to try this place. “It’s awesome!,” he exclaimed and gestured to some seats all the way at the back of the restaurant. Wow, what an enthusiastic endorsement from a guy who clearly eats here a lot. OK, let’s try it. Then the guy grabs two menus and leads us to the table! So we got snookered. This had better be “awesome” or this whole afternoon would be a bust.

Well, we loved it. We were immediately served a big dish of fresh baked rolls smothered in olive oil and fresh garlic, plus 2 complimentary glasses of wine. My wife chose one of the specials – Maryland blue crab ravioli. And I went for the “Tour of Mama Nina”– chicken parm, a meatball, sausage, and eggplant rollatini on spaghetti – to try a variety of menu items. We hadn’t brought the camera as we weren’t planning on dining out, but everything looked great. Home style piled-high portions and great flavor. The atmosphere was energetic and comfortable even though the place was pretty tightly packed. (I’m not sure if this is typical or due to the few number of operating restaurants thanks to Irene.) The prices are good – though some of the specials were pricey esp. if they included seafood.

We finished up and, hauling substantial leftovers, emerged onto beautifully sunlit Main St. Bethlehem. Thank you, Mama Nina, for a great end to a cloudy weekend.

We live up on College Hill and our neighbor gave us a strong reco to try Morici’s Sicilian pizza. We’d eaten there once or twice before and have had their pizza via takeout a few times as well, but we’d never tried the Sicilian. We’re not big fans of the dining room – it’s kinda claustrophobic – but I wanted to enjoy the pizza right out of the oven. It just gets too steamy in the box and can lose its crunch on the walk back to the house.

We started with their antipasta salad which is enormous. It had enough dressing that we didn’t think it would survive as leftovers, so we ate the entire thing. Lots of pickled and fresh veggies, artichokes, olives, meats and cheese.

They have a large Sicilian with 4 toppings for about $20 which seemed like a good deal. We went with ham, sausage, spinach and mushrooms. It was quite good, but we were so stuffed from the salad that we ended up taking 90% of it home. My wife generally avoids thick crust pizza but she really enjoyed this pie. The crust is nice and crispy on the outside and the inside isn’t too dense. The toppings were generous and fresh. FYI- the cheese is under the sauce.

I highly recommend reheating a slice in a cast iron pan and topping it with a fried egg. It makes a great breakfast.

Two quick reviews from this past weekend:

Looper’s Grille & Bar in southside Bethlehem
We checked out the First Friday festivities in Bethlehem and the top item on the agenda was dinner. Looper’s on 3rd caught our eye with a huge white tent out back and a big specials board visible just inside the front door. We were disappointed to find out that there was a one hour wait but we spotted 2 seats at the bar and quickly grabbed them. I grabbed a Shock Top and my wife got the excellent house margarita. There were a half-dozen entrée specials which all sounded great. My wife ordered the fish tacos and I had the pulled pork tacos. The fish tacos were topped with purple cabbage slaw and came with chips and salsa. The pork tacos were topped with diced watermelon and had cornbread on the side. It was all great – and watermelon is my new favorite bbq pork accompaniment.

On The Border in the Airport Center shopping plaza off Rt.22
We were starving on our way back from a visit to the Lehigh Valley Mall and decided to try On The Border for a quick bite. The crowd was spilling out the door and my hopes for a speedy meal were dashed. Luckily most of the parties were 4 or larger and they had a table for 2 readily available. The menu wasn’t too different from Don Pablo’s or Chili’s and the quality was about the same as well. I had a combo platter of a pulled chicken taco, a pork tamale, and a guacamole tostada with rice and beans for only $9. Our server, Cory, was really on top of things so we were able to get in and out as quickly as I’d hoped. Nothing amazing but it worked for what we needed.

I’ve been working from home since November and have found that podcasts are a great substitute for office chatter. Most of my faves are in the comedy and politics categories, but I just found my first food-related show – The Sporkful. In each 15-25 minute episode, hosts Dan and Mark tackle topics like soft vs. hard pretzels, what’s the best dip for fries, buffet strategies, and popcorn etiquette. Check out their blog too.

We got a mailer promoting the new Buffalo Wild Wings (near the Wegman’s on 248) that opened just this past Monday. I love to indulge in some wings on occasion and wanted to check the place out while it’s still new and clean. The mailer mentioned something about “Wing Tuesdays,” and I wasn’t in the mood to cook so we figured the timing was right.

Well, the line was out out the door at 5:30. As I made my way to the host’s podium, I was already questioning if I was in the mood to wait for a table. It was a madhouse – tons of little kids, noise and chaos. I chalk a lot of it up to the newness of the staff and the novelty of a new restaurant. From an atmosphere standpoint, my first thought was that it was more like a cafeteria than a sports bar. Bright lighting and a high ceiling – with hints of yellow being the big interior design “idea.” I really wanted it to be cool. Too bad.

It turned out they had a table for two available near the bar so I didn’t get a chance to reconsider. Overall it was nothing too special. The wings were good but my wife’s meal was just OK. It was happy hour (weekdays 5-7) so the draft beers were half price. And “Wing Tuesday” means 45 cent wings. The basic rundown:

  • Lots of draft beers
  • Maybe 15 wing flavors (along with other typical sports bar food)
  • Video trivia you can play remotely from your table in the bar area
  • Lots of TVs

It’s probably a wild scene during big games in the fall – if that’s your thing. I doubt we’ll go back unless it’s on off-hours when the chaos is at a minimum. The beer selection is a plus, but there’s more satisfying food and atmosphere next door at Five Guys.

RSS Go feed yourself

  • baked eggs with spinach and mushrooms
    Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms Adapted from Gourmet, June 2004 I triple the original recipe, which makes enough for four eggs, or an lovely weeknight dinner. You can find those yields in the link above. But I’m usually making it for a crowd, and any leftovers, even though the centers of the eggs will […]

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