Food

Brunching Like a Boss

Toast, Huntington, New York

If there is one thing that I truly love it’s brunch. Since I despise mornings, brunch is the perfect way for me to indulge in my favorite meal (that would be breakfast), but at a much more civilized time (like, around noon). So when I find myself sleeping in on the weekends, a good brunch is pretty much the only thing that will get me out of bed—and starting my day.

This past weekend was no exception. When a friend suggested going to breakfast on Saturday morning, I excitedly researched new nooks that I had yet to try. A quick Google search of ‘best brunch spots on Long Island’ revealed a plethora of options, but one menu stood out in particular. A few lines into perusing the menu at Toast and Co. in Huntington Village, New York and I was sold. Something about the sound of chocolate stuffed cannoli cream waffles made looking at other menus seem superfluous. I immediately emailed my friend with my executive decision and set the time.

The café-like establishment with limited parking and people waiting at the door made me think of New York City hotspots. I was starving, so I feared a long wait. But to my surprise, we were seated immediately. Having salivated over those chocolate stuffed waffles since the night before, I knew what I wanted to order. Still, the menu was worth reading, and it featured the standard brunch fare—eggs benedict, French toast, waffles. You name it, it is probably on their brunch menu!

Despite the packed house, the service was prompt. After we ordered, we sipped our coffee and chatted until our food arrived. The inside of the café was small and fairly loud, but the copious amounts of coffee and prompt service made up for it.

Chocolate Cannoli Stuffed Waffles, Toast

I could hardly believe my eyes when my food arrived. It was a good thing that I was hungry and ready to indulge. I’m usually not a huge fan of chocolate waffles (which might seem strange for a chocoholic), but the rich waffles combined with the creamy cannoli filling almost melted in your mouth. When it was time for a break from sugar, I started working on the strawberries and whipped cream that came with my meal.

Overall, I would visit Toast again. The service was amazing given how crowded it was on a Saturday morning, and they have an impressive brunch and lunch menu. If you are looking for the best of the brunch on Long Island, this place is not to be missed!

Chillin’ with Chobani

Chobani Meze Dips

Can you believe the last weekend in August has come and gone? I know we still have Labor Day ahead, but the summer days are winding down quickly. Speaking of summer, if you have yet to plan a BBQ, now is the time. With Labor Day weekend on the horizon, why not get your friends and family together for one last hoorah? And don’t forget to include Chobani’s Mezé Dips — which will be the star of the show. For now, here are a few other essentials!

How to Throw a Delicious Party with Chobani

When it comes to summer, I’m all about food that is fun to make and fast to prepare (and clean-up that is even faster). My go-to summer dinner lately has been lobster quesadillas (you can get my recipe for the chicken version, here). I love preparing quesadillas because they are so easy and you can put in all of your favorite ingredients. They are always a crowd-pleaser.

Since no party would be complete without some pre-dinner snacks, let Chobani give you a hand!

Chobani Meze Dips

Yes, the people who make my favorite yogurt, and perhaps yours, too, (which in case you are wondering, I’m addicted to Chobani’s Greek Yogurt “flip”) have done it again. Chobani’s Mezé Dips are perfect for serving with appetizers at your next dinner party or just for keeping in the house for healthy late-night snacking. On my most recent shopping endeavor, I picked up the roasted red pepper flavor and have been nibbling on it ever since. It’s delicious on top of pretzel crisps, but would also pair nicely with crudités or any type of chip.

With any luck, I’ve given you the extra nudge you needed to send this summer off in style. For more tips, check out Chobani’s infographic to help you throw a delicious party!

*This post was in collaboration with Chobani. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Burgers at Vauxhall

Vauxhall - Huntington, NY

Over the weekend, after a not-so-beach worthy beach day, I headed over to a corner restaurant that I had been wanting to try. The afternoon had not turned out exactly as planned. I was determined to make it to the beach for what was going to be only my second beach day of the summer, but Mother Nature had other plans. The overcast day quickly turned into a mix of threatening clouds and intermittent downpours. Despite the inclement weather, the humid temperatures more than made up for it, and I headed to the beach nonetheless.

The long swatch of sand accommodated just me and a few other determined beach-goers, hoping to catch a sliver of sun that day. After a couple of hours of on-and-off drizzle, I and all the other hard-core beach fans decided to throw in the towel (no pun intended).

The combination of my morning kickboxing class and dodging raindrops made me work up a hunger — something I would normally resolve with a stop at Herrell’s for ice cream. But this time I figured my body could use something more substantial, and I craved a juicy cheeseburger.

Vauxhall - Huntington, NY

Vauxhall in Huntington Village is a relatively new restaurant that has received lots of praise. I’ve read reviews for it in the Long Island Pulse magazine, and knew it would be worth a stop. The menu, which specializes in craft burgers, cocktails, and beers was exactly what I was looking for.

Vauxhall - Huntington, NY

I soon decided on The Villager burger, served on a brioche bun with bacon, cheddar, and tomato jam (which I asked for on the side). And for a cocktail, I settled on the Love at Midnight — a perfect complement to a hot summer day. It was tropical-tasting and had rum and pineapple juice in it, if I recall correctly. It was delicious! (My only complaint was the rather small glass that in came in for $12.)

Overall, my burger was quite satisfying both in terms of quantity and taste. But my favorite part of the meal was ironically the popcorn that came as I was seated. I know, popcorn is nothing special. But this had chili powder sprinkled on top, which gave the popcorn a unique kick that wasn’t too spicy and was definitely memorable.

The interior of the restaurant is on the smaller side, but because of this, it radiates a level of charm. I decided to sit at one of the picnic tables outside so I could people-watch as I ate my meal. The temperature had cooled off a bit, and the awning above protected the diners who chose to eat outdoors from the sporadic showers.

Vauxhall - Huntington, NY

After trying Vauxhall, I can completely understand why they were nominated to participate in Battle of the Burger (you can catch my post about the event from 2014, here), a competition where some of the best burger joints on Long Island compete to become The Burger Champion. Unfortunately for me, it will be a tough choice of whom to vote for, since my beloved Dirty Burger is also a contender. If you’re on Long Island, don’t miss Battle of the Burger, presented by the Long Island Pulse magazine, at the Shorefront Park in Patchogue on August 14th!

Long Island Restaurant Week: George Martin’s Strip Steak

George Martin's Strip Steak

Can we have a moment of silence, please? Long Island Restaurant Week has come to an end — leftovers are dwindling, the fridge is looking sad, and I’m left scratching my head each night as I try to answer the dreaded question of “what’s for dinner?”

You could say Restaurant Week spoiled me with delicious three-course meals and decadent desserts.

Now that my portions have returned to more realistic limits, I thought I would share another restaurant I visited last week. If you are a long-time reader of this site, you may have heard me mention George Martin The Original before. Ever since I was a child, this restaurant has held a special place in my heart — and provided my belly with a lot of good food. Thankfully, what started with George Martin The Original has morphed into a chain of eating establishments in Nassau and Suffolk County. From burgers to filet mignon, you’ll find it at one of George Martin’s restaurants.

I was thrilled when I found George Martin’s Strip Steak in Great River, New York, overlooking the idyllic Connetquot River. The converted residential house is quaint and charming, sitting on a block with multi-million dollar homes. I’ve been to Strip Steak before for other Restaurant Week meals, and it is a restaurant that lives up to its reputation. If you are on Long Island and looking for a restaurant with a lot of character, you should make reservations here!

Gam Strip Steak - Chili Pop Shrimp

For my appetizer I ordered the chili pop shrimp, which was flash-fried and tossed in a sweet and spicy Thai chili sauce. There were a fair amount of petite shrimp for an appetizer, and the flavor was exactly as described on the menu — the perfect blend of sweet and spicy. I’m no fan of spice, so I appreciated that it was not overwhelming in this dish. My only critique would be that I found the sauce to be slightly on the heavy side, where it overpowered the shrimp. But that was nothing a knife couldn’t help remove!

GM Strip Steak - Flat Iron Steak

My entrée was a 12oz USDA prime flat iron steak with grilled Vidalia onions, merlot demi, garlic roasted mashed potatoes, and broccoli. If there is one thing George Martin knows how to do well, it is cook a steak. You almost could have eaten the tender meat sans knife! The portion was large — and easily became a second meal.

GM Strip Steak -  Chocolate Mousse

Of course, a meal is never complete without dessert (and if you know me, you know I judge a menu on the desserts). Strip Steak offered a chocolate mousse, which I normally don’t get too excited over. But this was no ordinary mousse. It was thick, creamy, and very filling. By the time I got to the last spoonful, I was stuffed (and thankful I was going to my kickboxing class the next day).

Overall, I was very pleased with my two meals at Del Fuego and dinner at George Martin’s Strip Steak. Now I will spend the rest of the month burning them off!

Long Island Restaurant Week: Del Fuego

Happy Friday! What better way to finish off the week than by talking about food? That’s a topic we all love! You may recall my teaser post earlier in the week. But if you missed it, Long Island Restaurant Week is going on n-o-w. If you are a fellow Long Islander, or happen to find yourself stranded here for a few days, check out the list of participating restaurants and try one!

I take full advantage of this event when it is held in the fall and spring. Where else could you get a three-course meal for $27.95 per person?

First up this week was Del Fuego. I was turned on to this place in my last job, and it quickly became a favorite spot for lunch. With three locations, two of which are new, you can visit Del Fuego in St. James, Patchogue, and Babylon.

Whether you opt to try Del Fuego for lunch or dinner, you will leave happy. I’ve taken many friends out for a meal here and they have all left saying the same thing: “Wow!” Their extensive menu can satisfy even the most discerning foodie…but the only problem most people have is deciding which dish to try first.

I’m a creature of habit, so when I saw that my beloved lobster quesadillas were being offered on the Restaurant Week menu, I knew I had to pay Del Fuego a visit. And since I had never been to their location in Patchogue, it counts as visiting a new restaurant. Right?

Del Fuego - Bacon Ranch Quesadilla

Let’s start off with the appetizers. What I love about Restaurant Week is that I get to try new dishes. Del Fuego’s portions were perfectly sized to accommodate the fact that you will be eating a three-course meal. For starters, I ordered the bacon ranch quesadillas, complete with mesquite grilled chicken, applewood bacon, chipotle-ranch dressing, and melted cheddar jack. I wasn’t initially too excited about this dish because it’s something I make at home (sans bacon), but the flavors in each bite blew me away. The bacon enhanced the overall taste of the quesadilla and the chicken was sweet and tender. The four little quesadillas were just the right size to leave you still craving your entrée.

Del Fuego - Lobster Quesadilla

For my entrée, I ordered the lobster quesadilla (what a surprise!), with lobster sautéed in a chipotle-honey butter, grilled corn, scallions, and Mexican cheese. Del Fuego does not skimp on the lobster — my quesadilla was stuffed. The addition of corn and scallions (which I opt to have on the side) completes this dish. Again, I’ve made lobster quesadillas at home, and they certainly don’t taste like they do at Del Fuego. You must try this dish. Maybe they can give me the secret recipe?

Here’s where it gets interesting. I guess I was going through a Del Fuego withdrawal, as I ate there not once, but twice in the same week. Because it’s that good, folks! I ordered the exact same dishes on both occasions — with the exception of dessert.

Del Fuego - Churro

{Dessert #1}

Del Fuego - Warm Chocolate Brownie

{Dessert #2}

On the first visit, I ordered the churros served with Mexican chocolate ice cream. I haven’t had a churro in years, so that was a treat. And for the second visit, I ordered the brownie with salted caramel ice cream. I wasn’t prepared for such a huge brownie — which in some cases could be considered an entire pan — to be placed down in front of me. But that’s just what I got. The brownie was soft and warm, but the salted caramel ice cream was what made the dessert stand out.

Del Fuego - Sangria

Oh, and how could I forget the best part? I know, you’re thinking, but Vanessa, you already dished on the dessert. Del Fuego has some of most delicious sangria I’ve ever tasted (outside of Portugal, of course!). No meal there would be complete without a glass of white sangria. If only they would bottle and sell their sangria, my summer would be complete.

So even though my visit to Del Fuego wasn’t really a new gustatory experience, it’s nice to go out and know that you will be enjoying an amazing meal. And that’s always what Del Fuego is.

Del Fuego does not accept reservations, but I’ve never had a tremendously long wait to be seated. But if you do, it’s worth every second.

The Return of Restaurant Week

Long Island Restaurant Week

My favorite week of the spring has finally arrived! If you live on Long Island (and prefer to stay out of the kitchen, as I do), then Restaurant Week is for you. From April 17 – 24th a number of restaurants in Nassau and Suffolk County and the East End offer up an abbreviated three-course menu for $27.95 per person. I review the restaurants I visit during this event every fall and spring — but this time I am especially excited to try two new restaurants that I’ve never been to before. You can read previous posts about my Restaurant Week excursions here, here, and here.

More to come to the blog soon. Stay tuned!

For a full list of restaurants participating in Long Island Restaurant Week, click here!

Chocolate, Crawls, and Cravings

Chocology Unlimited

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of taste testing a new fudge flavor from Chocology Unlimited. You may remember that I raved about how amazing their fudge was a few months back (you can read the post here). This new flavor lived up to my every expectation…and then some.

Chocology Unlimited

After chocolate and peanut butter, my second favorite combination is chocolate and mint. Chocology’s new dark chocolate mint fudge was the perfect marriage between the two flavors; it is sweet and subtle, with just a hint of mint. There is an addictive quality in both mint and chocolate. I tried to take only a couple of bites to let the flavor marinate in my mouth. But one bite turned into two, and then four, and then — goodbye fudge. Once you try this flavor, you’ll see why it’s so hard to resist devouring it in one sitting.

Since I was already coming down with Coldmaggedon 2.0 (as I have officially dubbed my second cold of the month!) on Easter, I didn’t get to satisfy my sweet tooth (to the fullest extent). Sure, the Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs were sufficient. But what could be better than some fudge? So this weekend, I’ll be heading to Port Jefferson, where Chocology is located, and I will treat myself to some belated Easter sweets.

Chocology Unlimited

If you’re on Long Island, this Saturday (April 2nd from 12 pm – 5 pm) is the Port Jefferson Shopping Crawl. The weather should be nice, there’s tons to see and do, and it’s a great way to support local businesses on Long Island. Hey, you might even run into yours truly. If you’re not local, follow me on Snapchat (username: livinginsteil) to see some of my favorite places to shop when I’m in town. You know I’ll be stopping at Chocology!

Thank you for the fudge, Chocology!

Nibbling on Nuts (and Other Healthy Snacks)

Healthy Snacks

In the past, I’ve posted a lot about my love of all things sweet. To keep with this year’s goal of focusing more on my health, I realized that I needed to make significant changes in my diet.

I have given up those decadent White Chocolate Mochas from Starbucks (it’s been 23 days since my last sip. But who’s counting?!), swore off those sugary Reese’s (for now), and imposed a moratorium on baking.

But what’s a girl to do when she needs something sweet? When Nuts.com asked me about healthy snacks, I knew this would be the perfect project to keep me working towards my goal and to let all of you in on satisfying treats that won’t leave you guilt-ridden after you eat them.

Nuts.com is a family-owned business that brings nuts, dried fruits, and healthy snacks right to your door. You can’t ask for anything better when you are trying to be health-conscious and pressed for time. One quick look at their website will leave your mouth watering — from chocolate-covered pretzels and custom trail mixes to Goji berries and mulberries. Nuts.com won’t make you nuts when it comes to snacking. Check out their healthy snacks page for more of their offerings.

When I’m in need of a snack, here’s what I reach for:

Trader Joe’s Rolled Oats and Peanut Butter Fiberful Granola Bar: When I crave a candy bar, but know I shouldn’t, I eat one (or two) of these instead. I swear, these bars taste way more sinful than they are. Rich and chewy, they contain 9 grams of fiber and only 6 grams of sugar, so go ahead and indulge your sweet tooth.

High Valley Orchard Spiced Pumpkin Brittle: Pumpkin season may be over, but that won’t stop me from snacking on my favorite flavor — in January. Thankfully, High Valley Orchard had me in mind with this spiced pumpkin brittle. These sweet and crunchy pieces are the perfect pick-me-up when I need an afternoon sugar rush.

Power Crunch Protein Energy Bar: At first bite, you may think this is a Kit Kat bar. These French vanilla wafers have 14 grams of protein and 5 grams of sugar — but you would never know that based on its taste. These bars come in multiple flavors, including chocolate and peanut butter, and each one tastes better than the last.

KIND Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Pecan Bar: With 7 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein, these crunchy bars provide just the right amount of sweetness. They contain 5 grams of sugar and are all natural and non GMO, gluten free, and have no trans fats. KIND bars come in plenty of flavors and are great to keep in your desk at work, car, and in all of your bags.

Zing Nutrition Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar: If you like more traditional nutrition bars, then this one is for you. It contains 13 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber, plus it’s gluten free. Just half of this bar will keep you full all day!

Walnuts: Don’t forget about those nuts! I love to throw walnuts in my oatmeal for breakfast or bring them along with me to snack on throughout the day.

Still need more healthy snack ideas? Nuts.com created a handy chart to reference the next time you’re facing a snacking dilemma. And don’t forget to check out some of the healthy snacks at Nuts.com.

Healthy Snack Hacks - Nuts.com

What are some of your favorite healthy snacks?

Oh, Fudge!

Chocology Unlimited

As a self-diagnosed chocoholic, I know good chocolate when it touches my tongue. If only being a chocoholic were a profession, I would surely be the CEO (I should probably look into that to make sure such a career path does not exist). So you can imagine my excitement when I arrived home one day to find a sweet treat waiting for me from Chocology Unlimited, a family-owned chocolate shop on Long Island.

Chocology Unlimited

A box of Fat Ass Fudge (with a name like that, you know it will be good!) and a nice note from the owner, Linda, surely beat the mailbox full or circulars, bills, and junk mail that usually greet me. Within minutes I opened the box of fudge and began devouring — I mean, slowly savoring the rich taste of each morsel. I soon realized that I better take photos of this gooey goodness, or else subjects would begin to vanish.

But lack of willpower aside, this was the best fudge I have ever had. And from all of the horse shows, fairs, and festivals I’ve attended, I know good fudge when I taste it.

Fat Ass Fudge is handmade with a few simple ingredients — Belgian chocolate, goat’s milk, and goat’s butter. It is also gluten free. So that means I can eat as much of it as I want, right?

Chocology Unlimited

First up, was the cappuccino fudge. Chocology uses espresso to enhance the taste, which was evident by the bold flavor of the cappuccino. It was so delicious that I had no choice but to savor each bite — and the flavor became richer the longer it was in my mouth.

Chocology Unlimited

Next up was the chocolate and walnut fudge. I loved the crunch factor of this piece. The walnuts gave the fudge a unique texture and complemented the chocolate nicely. The solid dark chocolate fudge was also incredibly decadent.

Chocology Unlimited

But for the most unique taste of all, I would have to hand that award to the peppermint fudge, which tasted like a candy cane. And who doesn’t love candy canes? I have never experienced peppermint fudge, but it exceeded any expectations I could’ve had. It was very sweet, but packed with flavor and crunch from broken candy canes in each bite.

Chocology Unlimited

With just four pieces of fudge, Chocology has melted my heart and became a new favorite. I’m always happy to support local family-owned businesses, and I love that Chocology takes my passion for sweets so seriously and strives to create a sensory experience for their customers with each bite. And did I mention that they make a donation to charities they support with every purchase? That’s right, eating chocolate can be good for you and the community. If you are on Long Island, visit them in their Port Jefferson location. If you’re not local, you can order one of their beautiful chocolate boxes (their collections look incredible!) or join their Chocolate Lovers Club, a 3, 6, or 9-month subscription service (sign me up!). You can also read their blog, Chocology Today, to learn more about chocolate, and follow Chocology on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Chocology’s chocolates and fudge make great gifts for just about any chocolate lover in your life — or gift some to yourself just for being you!

Thank you for the fudge, Chocology Unlimited!

Thanksgiving 101

Thanksgiving Turkey

Once again, my procrastination tendencies are hard at work. Thanksgiving is t-minus three days away and the menu has yet to be decided, grocery items still not purchased, and the idea of having Thanksgiving dinner at IHOP is sounding better and better. Pumpkin waffles still count as Thanksgiving dinner, right?

I’m sure you are all way more prepared for the holiday than I am. But in case you find yourself needing some Turkey Day inspiration, here are helpful posts and recipes that I’ve rounded up from fellow bloggers.

First off, I am mostly interested in the dessert menu. So let’s start there. Camille Styles shared the recipe for a delicious no-bake pumpkin mascarpone pie (emphasis on no bake!) on her blog last week. It’s doesn’t get any easier than this delicious looking pie that will have your guests thinking you’ve been in the kitchen baking away for days. And if you’re still looking for side dishes to impress your guests, Camille’s got you covered with her post on 15 easy and delicious Thanksgiving side dishes.

If appetizers are your thing and you want to prepare the perfect spread for guests, then check out Emily at Cupcakes and Cashmere. She offers guests variety before the big meal by mixing simple fixings with decadent bites such as sliced cucumbers topped with crème fraîche and caviar.

And if you need help planning the meal from start to finish, Megan’s post at The Fresh Exchange is a life-saver. Megan lays out a breakfast, lunch, main course, side dish, and dessert menu that is fit for a King (or a Queen). Of course, we can’t forget the drinks — a cranberry orange bourbon cocktail, which sounds like it will be a crowd-pleaser on Thanksgiving.

What’s on your Thanksgiving menu?

Photography by Vlad Polchaninoff