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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.

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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 just downloaded the entire camera card for the first time in a while and it gave me a chance to scan all the pics in iPhoto. I found some random food stuff that I might as well share:

Salted pumpkin caramels I whipped up for Thanksgiving.

Bûche de Noël with cocoa and almond meringue “mushrooms” for Christmas dinner dessert. The cake was rolled up with a filling but i can’t quite recall what it was – buttercream with almonds maybe.

Bang Bang Shrimp from Bonefish Grill. My dad’s fave. Very tasty but a little greasy. We think they toss them is some mayonaissy sauce while they’re still hot.

Klein Farms had beef shanks at a really good price so I bought a bunch and made some osso buco. I then shredded it, blended in lots of Parmesan cheese and turned it into whole wheat raviolis. A couple hours of work and we had enough for a dozen meals-for-two.

I was watching Bacon Paradise on the Travel Chanel the other week and was inspired to make some bacon waffles a la Hash House a go go. Three strips of thick cooked bacon laid across the waffle iron after the batter is poured in. If I make them again, I won’t cook the bacon so crispy.

I planted heirloom Touchon carrots last year and left them in the ground over the winter. I dug them up at the beginning of March. They were never thinned out so they stayed kinda small, but it was quite a bounty of 2-4 inch carrots.

It’s been a while since we’ve been to Sette Luna down on Ferry Street – maybe 2 months? The problem with having favorite restaurants is that you can get bored with the menu really quickly. Their daily menu hasn’t yet changed, but we can always count on Sette Luna for some decent seasonal specials. Some massive shrimp and pasta for my wife, while i enjoyed another great pizza with figs, goat cheese, and prosciutto (added after it was taken out of the oven).

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Their pizza crust is seasoned perfectly, with just the right amount of chewy and crunchy, and is thin enough to let you appreciate the delicate combination of flavors. And even after i devoured the entire thing, i still had room (barely) for dessert. My wife was just going to have coffee, but i convinced her to go for the chocolate mousse. She was glad she did.

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I opted for the special: a blend of ricotta, whipped cream, orange zest and mint (it had a technical name but i couldn’t really comprehend the pronunciation) set in a pool of chilled rhubarb soup. Damn, this picture looks disgusting, but i’m a sucker for anything rhubarb. It was OK – some nice flavors but the textures weren’t that pleasing. Bolete’s goat cheesecake with strawberry-rhubarb consumée was much more successful.

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My mom’s birthday falls within a week of Mothers Day so I usually use that as an excuse to only give her one gift. Parents are impossible to shop for, so we tend to just go out for a nice “meal of food.” I’ve been raving about Bolete since last fall and finally had the perfect occasion to take her there. Bolete is in a great building with a strange location, at the intersection of Seidersville Rd and Emmaus Ave in the Fountain Hill section of Bethlehem. Frankly, the historic farmhouse looks like it was just plopped into its suburban neighborhood. That uniqueness is reflected in the food – an innovative (though short) menu utilizing as many locally sourced, seasonal ingredients as possible. Note: Take the menu on their website as an indication of Bolete’s typical range – not what they will be serving on a particular evening.

Saturday’s menu had a number of compelling choices. Tough to decide. For the first course, my wife went with the mixed green salad with goat cheese and blueberries, my mom chose the calamari (not local obviously, but it’s amazing), and i had to choose between the steak tartare and the roasted quail. Since I was leaning toward beef for my entrée, I went with the quail. Plus, I’d never had quail and I was curious to see what the dish would look like.

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We convinced my wife to go for the softshell crab with fingerling potatoes for her entrée. My mom chose the house-smoked pork chop with polenta cakes and I had the braised beef shank with grit croquettes and oyster mushrooms. I ended up eating the body of the crab. The guts freaked my wife out a little. Totally understandable. There’s no way I would eat that junk out of a steamed crab, but somehow i trusted that Bolete’s chefs wouldn’t feed me anything that would taste bad. Their smoked pork chop is great. You really gotta brine and smoke pork to keep it moist – farmers are breeding them way too lean nowadays. Bolete seems to offer the chop year-round. They just change the prep and the side dishes seasonally. My beef shank was tender and tasty. And i loved the grit croquettes – crispy and creamy and perfect for soaking up sauce.

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We were stuffed but i made a strong case that we absolutely needed dessert. Seeing the dessert menu sealed the deal. Some sharing was considered but quickly abandoned. Fresh doughnuts filled with lemon custard, coated with lemon sugar with a scoop of blueberry sorbet. Lime custard in a macadamia nut pastry shell with spearmint sorbet. Chocolate hazelnut ice cream with white chocolate cream and grapefruit. We appreciated the plating for about half a second before we attacked. Too good.

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Oh, and i forgot to mention the drinks. Bolete has an excellent wine list and some nice beer choices but we went with the mixed drink specials. My wife had the strawberry sangria and i went for the berry margarita with cucumber juice. My mom loves Corona but it wasn’t on the menu – at least not as a stand-alone drink. The Lehigh Valley Lemonade blended Corona, fresh squeezed lemonade and Ketel One vodka. It might be my mom’s new favorite drink.

Needless to say, we had a great time and my mom was really impressed with the food. Can’t wait to go back. Fathers Day is comin’ up right?

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  • bakery-style butter cookies + the new book is here!
    Today my second cookbook, five years in the making, Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant & Unfussy New Favorites, at last leaves my noisy, messy kitchen and, perhaps, makes its way into yours. I am, as ever, a nervous wreck. I hope you love it. I hope you find a new favorite recipe (or 5) in it. I hope you make the granola biscotti and have them on hand […]

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