The Perfect Meal at Crave Brasserie & Wine Bar

Crave Brasserie & Wine Bar, Amesbury, MA. Photo courtesy of Crave

When I’m at my home in Upstate NY I usually make all my own meals and don’t eat out a lot but when I head up to New England for one of my trips, I splurge on delicious food. My hotel room usually has a microwave and fridge but as my trips are mini vacations, living off frozen dinners really doesn’t appeal. I love freshly made and delicious food and it’s  always a bonus when someone else makes it for me.

As detailed in my blog post A chilly evening stroll in Amesbury back in April, I spent my first evening in New England wandering Amesbury during my last trip. I was quite cold after walking around and the aromas from Crave Brasserie & Wine Bar pulled me in on the way back to my car. I went inside the restaurant with its cozy illumination and reveled in the feeling of warmth seeping back into my body. I was seated at a four chair table by the windows and happily took my coat off as the chill left my skin.

I ordered coffee to wake up a bit and further thaw out and then began looking over the menu. They had an extensive wine and beer list but as I had to drive home after dinner, I couldn’t indulge in any such spirits. My waitress was very friendly and helpful and everything I ordered came in perfect time. I was the only person there alone that I saw but I’m quite used to that by now and settled in to enjoy the atmosphere and food.

Interior of Crave. Photo courtesy of Crave.

As an appetizer, I ordered the Crispy Tomatoes and Wolf Meadow Farm Mozzarella because I loved the mozzarella I had during Wolf Meadow Farm’s grand opening during my previous visit.

Crispy Tomatoes with Wolf Meadow Farm’s mozzarella. Photo courtesy of Crave.

The tomatoes were flavorful, warm and had just the right amount of crisp to go with the delectably soft and creamy mozzarella and I cleaned my plate rather quickly!

For my main meal I ordered the Seared Sea Scallops because I love scallops and hadn’t had any in a while. When the entrée arrived on a nice rectangular serving plate, it looked almost too good to eat!

Seared Sea Scallops. Pic taken on my phone

Seared Sea Scallops. Pic taken on my phone

I forced myself to mar the perfect display in order to eat the food and they were the most divine scallops! Melt in my mouth, full of flavor, cooked perfectly and superbly complimented by the savory creamed corn and roasted potatoes. I didn’t quite clean that plate because I was growing full and wanted to leave room for dessert. There was a fridge back in my room but no microwave so taking leftovers home wasn’t feasible that trip.

To finish the amazing meal off, I ordered the Flourless Chocolate Torte for dessert. It came on a nice round plate with a scoop of ice cream on top and it’s bewildering to me that such sweet, divine and delectable chocolate heaven fit in that simple plate!

Flourless Chocolate Torte. Pic taken on my phone.

Flourless Chocolate Torte. Pic taken on my phone. I nearly licked the plate!

It was absolutely the best form of chocolate dessert I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating! It was like a warm brownie kicked up to the max of chocolate decadence and I devoured it, only to be quite dismayed that it was gone.

I was pleasantly full by the time I was done and glad that I’d finally treated myself to a superb meal at Crave Brasserie & Wine Bar. I highly recommend the restaurant to anyone in the vicinity of Amesbury and to anyone in the world! It’s just one of the many fine dining establishments in Amesbury, MA and definitely one I’ll be returning to on future visits! Why are you still reading this?? It’s Friday night, go to Crave and eat some bewilderingly delicious food!

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The power of cornbread

skillet cornbread

Yesterday morning I woke up craving cornbread. So I made some. This might not seem very monumental but considering I’ve been sick, tired, not quite myself and that my biggest daily feat has been showering, mixing up and baking cornbread from scratch was a very big thing. I baked the bread in one part of the two-part cast iron skillet I received as a gift and it came out perfect and tasty!

An interesting thing happened when I took the first bite of cornbread, I had a sudden idea for a dish to go with it. It was a dish I’ve never seen made before and never made myself but the ingredients for it popped into my head as the perfect complement for the cornbread. I decided to go out that afternoon and get everything I needed, along with ingredients for cheesecake because I’ve been craving that lately. I’ve never made cheesecake before either so it’s quite amazing what just making that one batch of cornbread motivated me to do.

I made my new main dish this evening and it turned out exactly as I thought it would. The taste was how I imagined it would be and I was impressed that I’d bought all the right ingredients to create it. I didn’t do a lot of measurements, I don’t usually when I’m cooking, but it included tomato paste, cooked winter squash, ground pork, ground turkey, lentils, pinto beans, corn and all the perfect spices to accomplish a savory, delicious, hearty and satisfying dish. Dipping my cornbread in it was divine and I was so proud of myself! I made cheesecake too and while I haven’t tasted it yet, it looks and smells yummy!

I’m happiest when I’m doing something, especially when it’s creative. I consider baking and cooking just as creative as my writing, painting and clay work. Being too tired to express any part of my creativity has been extremely frustrating for me. Now that I’m feeling better and am awake more than asleep, I’m certain I’ll continue my creative work and find new avenues for expressing my imagination. Behold, the power of cornbread!

Sunday Evenings

Pancakes made from my own special recipe.

Pancakes made from my own special recipe.

This won’t be a long post but I didn’t want to fall behind again and have to play catch up. Sunday evenings are about my girls. If it’s my weekend with them I’ve had them since Saturday morning, if it’s my ex’s weekend then I don’t get them until 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Regardless, I always have them Sunday evenings and our Sunday dinners are always a nice little relaxation before the school week begins anew.

Tonight I made tacos for dinner and while that wasn’t a fancy meal, it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes I make pancakes or waffles for dinner and carry on my father’s tradition of making breakfast for dinner every once in a while. I own tons of cookbooks but only open them now and then for bread or cookie recipes. Most of the dinner meals I make are ones I’ve been making for years or something I come up with on the fly. I have a decent idea what ingredients taste good together by now and while I will never have my own show on a cooking channel, I always please my most important tasters, my girls.

Past Traditions, Future Prospects

My girls all festive with their hats.

My girls all festive with their hats.

A new year has begun and 2014 holds even more promise and potential than the year that has passed. I embrace it, welcome it and charge into it with fresh determination! I will never forget the lessons and fond memories of my past though, they make me what I am today.

Growing up, my family would all gather around the wok on New Year’s Eve to make tempura. I don’t remember if we did it every year but it seems like we did. I don’t know why or how it started but it was a great way to get all of us together and participating in the same activity. We cooked vegetables including mushrooms, cauliflower and onions and for meat, chicken and shrimp. I always enjoyed sticking the food on the long fondue forks and placing them in the oil where they’d bubble away as they cooked. I imagine that doesn’t all sound like the healthiest thing, but it we only did it that one time during the year and it was special for me.

I decided that this year I would finally start that tradition again. I didn’t even own a wok so I remedied that and got a set of fondue forks exactly like the ones my family used. I bought a whole bunch of vegetables and some shrimp and found a recipe for tempura batter that sounded easy enough. The girls had no idea what tempura was and they still need to expand their culinary tastes but they humored their mother.

I cut up the vegetables, thawed some shrimp and only then realized how much effort my parents had put into this family tradition. I got my wok at just the right temperature and set to work. The girls came over to watch the food bubble and stuck a few pieces in but after that, they went back to playing in the other room. That’s okay; all that mattered is that I started the family tradition back up.

The girls weren't real sure at first but they liked watching the bubbles

The girls weren’t real sure at first but they liked watching the bubbles

Veggies and shrimp bubbling away!

Veggies and shrimp bubbling away!

As with all family traditions though, I think sometimes they benefit from some improvements and adaptations for each new generation. For example, now that I have my very own, shiny wok, I’ll be able to cook up all sorts of new stir-fry dishes, starting very soon thanks to all the vegetables still in my fridge! So perhaps the tradition of the Corbin New Year’s Tempura will transform into the Corbin New Year’s Stir-Fry. Not forgetting the past traditions, just realizing the future prospects and evolving into a new way to honor what has come before.

The Fridge that Ate My Kitchen!

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Delivery guys in the pouring rain

Delivery guys in the pouring rain

This past spring, my refrigerator broke. The compressor stopped working and when I looked into the cost of replacing it on the over 20 year old fridge, I decided I’d figure something else out. I couldn’t afford another full size fridge at that time so I bought a little hotel-size fridge as a temporary solution. That temporary solution got me through almost 9 months as I waited to be able to afford the fridge of my dreams.

Sure, I could have picked a fridge just like my old one which was a basic freezer on top, fridge on the bottom with no bells or whistles. But after dealing with that tiny fridge for so long, I decided I was going to go big for my home. I went almost as big as they come but didn’t opt for the water and ice dispenser in the door because I have sulfur water. I’d be changing filters every other day with my nasty water so that was a “convenience” feature I didn’t need. The one I picked has an ice maker, they almost all do, but it won’t be getting hooked up because cubes of frozen sulfur aren’t any more appealing than liquid form.

I shopped around in stores and online for a while and ultimately decided to go with the fridge I fell in love with at first sight. It’s a Samsung and I didn’t even know they made appliances! I wanted a black one and it was so large, dark and lovely in the store that I couldn’t help but keep opening and closing all the doors. It was destined to be mine, it was fridge fate.

I ordered my fridge and anxiously awaited delivery day. That day dawned cold and rainy and the appliance store truck drove by my house the first try but they eventually found their way back. There were two men in the truck and the older man took out his measuring tape and began measuring my walkway, steps and front door. There was much frowning  and discussion and they eventually realized they’d have to take the doors off the fridge to get it in my house. I was a little embarrassed by my choice of a monstrous fridge for my tiny house but I didn’t regret my choice. This was one of those very rare times that I splurged on myself and I felt it was overdue.

The door to the freezer drawer

The door to the freezer drawer

The doors to the fridge

The doors to the fridge

It took the two men about an hour to get the fridge disassembled and reassembled in my house but they were quite efficient and courteous. I felt bad that they got all wet out in the rain taking the doors off but they were nice about it all. Once the fridge was set in its place I was ecstatic! It stuck way out into my kitchen and took up more space than I expected but I was still giddy!

Monstrous fridge in my tiny, "lived in" kitchen

Monstrous fridge in my tiny, “lived in” kitchen

Now I could finally go big grocery shopping and buy whole gallons of milk and orange juice instead of half gallons. I could buy fruits, vegetables, eggs and cheese all at the same time and have them all fit! For months getting things arranged in my little fridge had been trying to solve a puzzle that kept items from falling out on my feet. I chose a fridge with the freeze on the bottom so I’d never again have to deal with heavy ice cream landing on my toes.

The girls and I went out shopping to help fill the fridge and even with what we got, the fridge is barely full. No worries though because that just means I have tons of opportunities and space to fill it up with new baking and cooking creations! Every time I put something in the fridge or easily take something out without having to rearrange everything and crouch on the floor, I almost giggle with joy. I’m not a materialistic person but in this huge necessity in my life, I chose luxury for once. Who needs diamonds? The fridge that ate my kitchen is this girl’s best friend!

Blends right in now! Magnets rock ;)

Blends right in now! Magnets rock 😉

The Desire to Share

As I’ve said many times, I love to cook and bake. I used to be a great hostess when I was married and my then husband’s friends and coworkers would come over. I put together food for our annual Halloween party that included delectable treats for kids and adults. I love cooking a lot of food for a house full of people and enjoying it with them. That element of my life evaporated when I got divorced and all of those “friends” chose my ex over me. I haven’t hosted a party in four years, I don’t have enough friends to fill a house anymore.

I still love making lots of food and trying new recipes though. I have great hope that eventually I’ll have a social circle again. I’m pretty sure it will happen when I live in Massachusetts or New Hampshire. I get glimpses of what can be when I visit North Shore Massachusetts. Complete strangers are kind to me, people I’ve never met before treat me like a friend and want to see me again. For a semi-introvert, still inwardly shy girl like me, that means a lot. Someday I won’t be a tourist anymore, someday I’ll be a resident.

cider bread ingredients

The hard cider bread ready to come out of the oven.

The hard cider bread ready to come out of the oven.

I’m looking forward to being that house on the street that emits such amazing sweet and savory smells everyone wonders “What’s Julie mixing up now?” and then comes over to find out. The way I bake and cook, there will be plenty to go around! I’ll enjoy soaking up the feedback on new recipes and revel in any compliments I receive. I’ll have infamous cookouts where people come watch me battle grill flames and come out victorious. I’ll deliver trays of cookies, muffins and breads to nearby businesses just to make them smile. Yes, it will be lovely!

My girls favorite little crescent dogs

My girls favorite little crescent dogs

I miss sharing that part of myself, the part of me that I express by making irresistible food. I put a lot of thought and care into what I bake. I’m always tweaking recipes to make it just a smidge better and trying new flavor combinations. I spend my days of solitude now preparing for that life when I have a social circle again. Four years is a long time for a hostess not to have the opportunity to do what she does best.

Making More With Less

If I could, I’d spend all day baking and cooking in the kitchen. Well, all day in the cold, snowy weather at least. In the nicer weather I prefer working after it gets dark so I don’t feel like I’m missing a beautiful day outside. I do that often enough when I’m writing freelance.

The kitchen of my dreams that I discussed in my previous post might seem a bit extravagant I suppose but believe me, I’d make great use of everything in it! The kitchen in my current house isn’t overly big but it’s set up pretty well for baking. I have a nice peninsula on one side that I can use as a baking prep area when it isn’t covered with school papers and design magazines. The countertop space otherwise isn’t overly plentiful and with my coffee maker, toaster oven, spice rack, baking canisters and dish rack on them, the surface area is greatly diminished. I make do with the space I have though and have learned to consolidate and tuck away.

The secret ingredient in my applesauce.

The secret ingredient in my applesauce.

My range is a nice gas unit with reliable burners and ample oven space for two sheets of cookies. In my previous home there was an electric range and I was worried about using gas because of my occasional mishaps with open flames. I got the hang of using gas pretty quick though and I love how much easier it is to control the temperature on the burners. Thankfully my microwave is a space-saving unit above the oven so it doesn’t use up any premium counter space. Oddly enough the microwave is black but the range, dishwasher and previous refrigerator were white.

My least favorite part about cooking and baking is washing the dishes. You didn’t read wrong, I did just say I had a dishwasher. However, I also have sulfur water and it’s not very effective at removing dishwasher detergent from plates, glasses and silverware. So instead I wash everything by hand because then there isn’t nasty film all over everything I eat off of. My nice big refrigerator died this spring and as I couldn’t afford to replace it with another big unit, I bought a small fridge/freezer combo similar to what you’d find in a hotel. It was supposed to be a temporary fix but I’ve been living with it for six months. Putting groceries away is kind of like a puzzle but I’ve got a system now. Hopefully I’ll be getting a new, grown-up size fridge in the near future. In the meantime, I make do.

My latest batch of fluffy pancakes!

My latest batch of fluffy pancakes!

The size of my kitchen doesn’t prohibit me from making what I love. I’m always mixing up cookies, muffins, soft pretzels, bread and cakes. I love to cook fish, rice, veggies, pasta, tacos, you name it! Would I love more area for my prep work? Or one of those neat fridges with the freezer on the bottom? Or enough counterspace to keep my food processor, blender and mixer out? Or a dishwasher that washed dishes? Of course! I’d be in paradise in a nice big kitchen. I like the ones where the burners are in the middle of the island so people can watch what you’re making. I could pretend I have my own cooking show when I’m entertaining! That would require a social life and friends to entertain as well as the kitchen, but oh well. My dream, my personal cooking show.

The picture below is similar to my kitchen layout (with way nicer appliances) only the island in this one is a peninsula against the wall in mine.

Below is an example of a kitchen that’s a bit over the top even for me. Talk about open flames!