Foodie Pen Pal Fun – April

The Lean Green Bean

I have a new love. It has replaced what I thought was irreplaceable. This shift in food alliances has happened courtesy of April’s Foodie Pen Pal exchange. This month I was assigned to send a package to Courtney in North Carolina, a high school senior headed to East Carolina Honors College to study Nutrition Science in the fall. She’s quite delightful, and we discovered we had a lot in common including our love for chicken salad. It was super fun to shop for her and send along her very first Foodie Pen Pal package! She also started blogging this month with the April Foodie Pen Pal reveal being her first post. Check out Glitter and Tomatoes to see what she got! I received my box of treats from Laura in New York who, without knowing, sent me some of my most favorite treats ever: organic chocolate peanut butter cups. Cue the angelic music as I lifted not one, but TWO packages of these delectable packages out of the box. We’ll come back to these in just a moment.

In its entirety, my box had many great foodie items in it. Take a gander at all the good stuff, plus this fabulous, pink bubble wrap! I kept that stuff so someone can expect to find that in their package one day. It only makes good sense to recycle! I loved her note with the quote. Because you can’t quite see it, it says, “One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” – Luciano Pavarotti

I’ve only seen the mini packages of Justin’s all-natural peanut butter before; this was my first time to encounter a full-sized jar, and I am so humbled that she saw fit to bless me with one. I am excited to use it, but I’m waiting to open it until I’m all finished with my grocery-store brand of peanut butter. Laura, you may have just ruined me on peanut butter for the rest of my life. 🙂 I will be sure to report back. In addition to the peanut butter, I was graced with both a milk chocolate and a dark chocolate set of organic peanut butter cups from Justin’s. I did not tell Laura that peanut butter cups are my most.favorite.candy.ever. How did she know?? Y’all, these peanut butter cups are life-changing. Life-changing. I’ve been a die-hard Reese’s peanut butter cup fan for AGES. I don’t know that I can go back.

There's even a coupon inside for future savings!

These chocolate peanut butter cups are extraordinary. The chocolate is smooth and creamy, without being overly sweet. Similarly, the peanut butter is not overly sweet either. I’ve seen how they make Reese’s on television so I’m aware of how much sugar goes into those nuggets. I eat them, but I always need milk or water or something to rinse my mouth and throat when I’m done because it’s so sweet. Plus, somehow I also gobble them up, almost mindlessly. Not so with Justin’s peanut butter cups. When I first ate one, I was aware it seemed less sweet, but more flavorful. The chocolate flavor comes through more clearly and intensely. The peanut butter flavor is just more peanut-buttery without so much sugar masking the taste. I also only wanted to eat just one cup that day. It was quite sufficient, so I saved the second one for another day. It was just rich enough to meet my taste bud needs without going overboard. Whether this makes sense to you or not, please go find you some of these and try them. I promise you that you won’t be sorry! Reese’s, please consider this your official break-up notification; you will always be second fiddle from here forward.

Saving one for later!

The other item that I’ve tasted so far and thoroughly enjoyed is the Spicy Maple Pepitas! I opened them just after taking a picture to give them a try. My boyfriend and I both tried a small handful, and they elicited the following comments, “Wowser, these are good!” and “Uggabooga, these bite back!” He was right on both counts. Since they are sweet and spicy at the same time, I can eat a helping of them without too much problem until I notice that my nose is starting to run. But since I do love spicy foods, this is just fine by me. I shared some with a few students at work, and they enjoyed the pepitas as well. I’m not sure I would have tried these on my own, so I’m glad Laura sent them my way.

It’s been another successful Foodie Pen Pal month for this TX gal! It is quite delightful getting to know other foodies from around the country, swapping treats and food love. If you are interested in participating, check out the blog of the mastermind behind the project, The Lean Green Bean. Lindsay has all the details you need to sign up and get involved. Just let her know by filling out the form by May 4th. There is a $15 spending limit per package/month, and you send your package out by the 15th, after receiving your match on the 5th. Every month the Pen Pal program gets larger so I encourage you to be a part of the movement sweeping the nation. You know you want to!

You can also check out the blog link-up on Lindsay’s blog to see what other fun packages were sent around this month! Come back and visit here for more tasty recipes and Foodie Pen Pal fun next month. If you subscribe, you won’t miss a thing! See y’all next time and happy eating!

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Phoenix by Food: Other Tasty Eats

Not only did I eat delicious tasty tacos while I was in Phoenix, but I ate other really great food throughout the rest of the week also. Having traveled previously with me, my friend, Stacey, is now used to the fact that I take multiple pictures of my food and the restaurant around us. It’s standard procedure when our food arrives for me to whip out the camera for a few shots. She’ll even ask, “Can I eat it yet?” Bless her heart having to wait on my documenting my tasty eats for posterity. She is so patient with my hobby. 🙂  Somehow we always manage to find ourselves in places with abundant personality, which is a delight for us both. My two suggestions for you in picking places to eat when traveling are: 1. ask the locals where to go and 2. pick a “top” place to go. This has worked out well for us every time.

Our “top” place for Phoenix was Pizzeria Bianco. We decided to eat here because it was on a list of Top 101 Restaurants in America and my friend in Phoenix suggested we make it a priority also. Saturday night we arrived and set out in search of the pizzeria. It is not exactly difficult to find if you know what you are looking for, but they don’t have bright neon signs out front with a mamajama parking lot either. It’s quite the tiny establishment, really. When we walked up, there were people sitting around outside, and I assumed they were eating. Inside, the restaurant was packed, and the hostess said to us without blinking an eye that our wait would be about two hours. *cricket, cricket* Come again? Stacey said, “Even for outside?” Well, don’tcha know? Nobody outside was eating! Funny how you just see things when you don’t really look. So here’s the scoop at Pizzeria Bianco.

There are nine seats at the bar and about ten tables, give or take any that might be pushed together. When you arrive, they put your name on the list, give you a time estimate for when you will be seated, and promise to feed you even if your estimated time is after the restaurant officially closed. Next door to the restaurant is Bar Bianco where you can go for some vino or other beverages while you wait. There isn’t really any food offered at Bar Bianco, so don’t plan on snacking while you wait. But all those people I saw sitting around? They are hanging out with their drinks from Bar Bianco. There were lots of picnic tables, sets of two or three chairs, and nooks created for folks to sit and wait. At 9:45, 15 minutes prior to closing, they check on who is still waiting to be seated as confirmation of their list, and you keep waiting. It was quite lovely outside, and we had a lot to catch up on, so we didn’t mind. When we were seated, we ended up at the bar, which I liked because it gave us an eagle-eye view of the brick oven.

Y’all, this pizza was worth every bit of our wait. We ordered the Sonny Boy pizza (tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, salami, and kalamata olives – only on half because Stacey is anti-olive) and the Rosa pizza (red onion, rosemary, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and AZ pistachios). Yes, friends, PISTACHIOS on my pizza.

Upon dissecting our pizza experience, we both agreed that we preferred the Rosa pizza because it was just so different from what we have ever had before. Don’t get me wrong, the salami and kalamata olives combination was quite delicious, but the unexpected flavor of the pistachios with the onions and rosemary was amazing. The crust on our pizza was my favorite: crazy thin and crispy. Because it is cooked in the wood-burning oven, parts of it were a little charred, but it just added to the flavor. It came straight from the oven to our table in about 30 seconds or less so the cheese was still bubbly and melty.
It’s possible my mouth is watering as I’m recalling all of this to share it with you. While I haven’t yet made my own version of this pistachio pizza, I probably will at some point. I don’t want to mar the memory, but one day I’ll give in to the longing, and when I do, I’ll be sure to share it with you!

Mid-week I ate some ridiculously delicious lettuce wraps at the hotel lounge restaurant, Icon, of all places. They were so beautiful when they arrived. The wrap had good flavor, and I should be so talented to cook tuna that well. They had good texture with wonton strips with the tuna inside the lettuce with the sauce. My one issue was that the menu did NOT mention a thing anywhere about a spicy condiment on the wraps. I had to get up close and personal to discover a dollop of what I believe to be Sriracha on top.  Boy howdy! I had to scrape that bit of heat off the remaining wraps in order to be able to eat them. Even smelling it made my mouth water and my throat tighten because it was so spicy-smelling. Overall, though, quite tasty.

I was a little anxious about navigating Meatless Monday while being out of town because of the menu temptations. But at Hanny’s, there was the most delicious chopped salad that was meat- free. Look at all the tasty additions to that bed of lettuce!

Who needs meat with all this??

It was so filling and satisfying. Plus at Hanny’s, we discovered they have a special restroom area. We found a restaurant with funny restrooms last year in Philly too, if you recall. It cracks me up when restaurants have personality in the restroom area. Each of these doors leads to their own restroom for one. It’s actually a pretty cool concept, although we were initially a little confused and skeptical when we got upstairs.

Walking in, there are lots of mirrors too!

Breakfast before leaving town was the perfect way to end the week. We chose Matt’s Big Breakfast at the recommendation of some locals we talked to just the night before. It’s another tiny restaurant with a crazy wait situation. This place is about the same size as Pizzeria Bianco, and when you arrive, you write your name on the little yellow notepad outside the door and then wait nearby to be called inside. I’m not even sure how long we waited, to be honest, I think, somewhere in the neighborhood of an hour? Sometimes you don’t want to know. 🙂 It was very intriguing to me how the owner worked the system. She would come out and make sure the folks on the list were still out there, then she’d let you know your table was almost ready, and if she knew you or you were a regular, you had the option to pre-order your breakfast so you didn’t have to wait as long when you got inside. Now that’s expediency!

Stacey and I technically ordered the same thing by choosing The Hog and Chick. However, there were so many options to personalize our plates that we actually ended up with very different meals. She got ham and scrambled eggs with home fries, and I ordered breakfast sausage patties with fried eggs and hash browns. It was all unbelievably good. The sausage patties were almost certainly made in-house due to their free-form shape and unique seasoning blend. They were a little spicy and very flavorful! My hash browns were crispy on the outside edges which I love.

Stacey’s ham was a serious piece of ham – not a slice of spiral-cut, honey-baked ham. It had that good home-cooked, southern flavor (even though Arizona is not really the south at all).

We ate until we were stuffed! It was another place where we were glad we waited it out. As a Food Network fan, I was also excited to see that Guy Fieri had been by and eaten there as well. I hope his experience was as fantastic as ours.

Guy was there!

When you visit other cities, I encourage you to find the local flavors and explore what culinary gems the city has to offer rather than sticking with chains or restaurants that might be familiar to you. Maybe you have to wait a little while to be seated, but I suspect that means there is good food in exchange for your perseverance. At least, that was our experience. 🙂 Thanks for a great food experience, Phoenix. You treated us right!