Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Night with Gemma

A couple weeks ago, my husband and I made it into the big city for a date night at Gemma. It was a chilly, drizzly evening (as so many have been this month), but inside the restaurant was cozy and warm. We sidled up to a little table for two and started with a round of cocktails while browsing the menu.
My husband sipped on a Fennel Rickey while I tried a Muddled Kumquat Caipirinha. I wished for a little more sour kick from the kumquats, but it was very good!
The food was the real star of the show, though (along with the wine on tap)! I started with a beautiful shaved vegetable salad. Crisp romaine leaves were topped with creamy-tangy dressing, parmesan, and paper-thin but still crisp shavings of carrot, a couple radish varieties, and kohlrabi. We each opted for one of their homemade pasta dishes for our main course. I honestly didn't think we would find good homemade pasta after leaving Boston, but both the pappardelle and the ricotta cavatelli tossed with rich, braised meats were wonderful. Along with glasses of red wine, it was perfect fare for a chilly evening.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Green Frittata

March has been a happy month around here between pie for Pi Day, Irish Soda Bread for St Patrick's Day, and the first day of Spring! To celebrate the change in the seasons, I whipped up a frittata chock full of vegetables (plus a handful of grated cheese for good measure). It's perfect for a quick dinner or weekend breakfast! And wouldn't it be lovely for an Easter brunch? Here's to looking forward to warm weather and sunshine!
Serves  6

Ingredients
Filling
1 Tb olive oil
1 bunch swiss chard, stems removed and leaves sliced into ribbons
1 bunch of asparagus, tough ends removed and sliced into 2" pieces
4-5 mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp herbes de provence

Frittata
9 eggs + 3 egg yolks
1/4 cup heavy cream or half and half
1/2 cup gruyere cheese, grated
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
2 Tb panko breadcrumbs
1 1/2 tsp salt
black pepper to taste

Directions
Preheat the oven to 325F.

Heat oil in a large (10") oven-proof skillet (I used cast-iron) over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, herbes de provence, and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally for 8 minutes or so. The mushrooms should be browned and the extra moisture evaporated.

While the mushrooms cook, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, cream, salt, and pepper. Then stir in the breadcrumbs and grated cheese.

Once the mushrooms are browned, add the asparagus and swiss chard to the pan, stirring for 3-5 minutes until the swiss chard has just wilted. 

Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables, stirring to combine. If you need to, shake the pan a bit or carefully tilt it to make sure that the eggs settle all around the vegetables. 

Smooth the top of the frittata with your wooden spoon, and then place it in the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the eggs are set and cooked through.

Remove from the oven when done, and let cool for a few minutes before serving. Serve sprinkled with a little pinch of grated parmesan if desired.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tucson

Last week, we spent a long weekend (that went by all too quickly) with friends in Tucson, Arizona. We met Kurt and Nina while living in Boston and bonded over a mutual love of good food and drink. They moved to Tucson around the same time that we moved back to Texas, and now that we're settled in our new homes, we figured it was high time for a reunion.
Now, I have to tell you --  I wasn't expecting a lot from Tucson. We were just excited to spend time with our friends. But boy was I pleasantly surprised. We had the best time catching up and exploring the city. First off, there is plenty of beauty to be found in the dessert. Below is the view of the mountains from our friends front porch as well as the view of the sunset from their back porch. Gorgeous. And given that it was snowing in Dallas when our plane took off, we didn't hate the warm, sunny weather!
Things We Did:
We didn't do too much sightseeing on our trip, but we did pay a visit to the Pima County Air and Space Museum. What a treat! The indoors portion of the museum is fantastic all on its own (the highlight is the SR-71 Blackbird, but I was also pretty excited to see an F-14, Maverick and Goose's fighter jet of choice), but the outdoor area is the real star of the show. Rows and rows of retired airplanes are lined up for visitors to admire. You can walk right up to them, touch them, take pictures with them.
Here we are with a very large bomber. Like, very large. At the museum, you can also buy tickets for a bus tour of The Boneyard, a startlingly large collection of retired aircraft located across the street at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. We didn't arrive early enough to take the tour, so we made do with sneaking a peak as we drove past the base. Talk about airplanes as far as the eye can see.
On Saturday, we spent the most fun afternoon playing Putt Putt, laser golf, and go-karts at Golf 'N Stuff. It was a blast, and not just because I tied for first at Putt Putt!
We also spent a good portion of our time lounging in Kurt and Nina's hot tub while admiring their view of the mountains, but I don't think that attraction is open to the public. 

Things We Ate:
Now we're getting down to serious business: food! And since this is Tucson, let's start with the Mexican food. It's so fun to visit different regions of the southwest, as each area has its own specialties. In Tucson, one of those is Carne Seca, beef that has been shredded and dried in the desert sun. We ordered an entire plate full at El Charro Cafe served with rice, beans, calabacitas, and fresh corn tortillas and enjoyed every bite. For breakfast at Poco and Mom's I loved my Green Chili Tamales, but my husband's phenomenal Silver City Breakfast stole the show (a plate piled with scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, green chile sauce, machaca, cheese, and refried beans). Our last meal in Tucson was another local specialty: Sonoran Dogs at El Guero Canelo.
Though it may not sound like it, we did make room for a couple non-Mexican meals, most notably pizza at Reilly in downtown Tucson. Their Speck and Egg pizza was heavenly, and I loved their roasted brussels sprouts with homemade hot sauce and pecan brittle crumbs. Right next to the University of Arizona, downtown Tucson was bustling with life and full of cute local restaurants and bars.
Things We Drank:
Tucson is also not without some great drinking establishments. We sipped cocktails at the Tough Luck Club (in Reilly's basement) and at The Still (located in the back of an Italian restaurant called Vero Amore). While both were great, The Still was hands down our favorite. It was a quiet, cozy little place, and the drinks were absolutely fantastic.
For an early evening pick me up, we stopped at Tucson Coffee Roasters. While I enjoyed my traditional latte, Kurt was more adventurous and ordered a Bulletproof Coffee featuring namely butter and coconut oil. I don't know how you would drink an entire cup, as it was incredibly rich, but it was delicious to sample.

Last but not least, we visited a couple of local breweries, Nimbus Brewery and at Sentinel Peak Brewing Company. With two homebrewers in our midst, how could we not? We started the weekend with a round of Old Monkeyshine at Nimbus and finished with pints of Dewpoint Dunkel Sentinel Peak.
As all good things must come to an end, the time came for us bid farewell to our friends and to catch a flight home, where this little furball was pretty happy to see us!  We're already looking forward to returning the favor of such a wonderful weekend by plotting a great tour of the Dallas area!


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Brewery Tours

As we settle into life in the Dallas suburbs, we have begun our search for good local breweries. We sure do miss places like Night Shift and Wachusett up in the Boston area, but we're finding new beer to love as well. Turns out the Texas craft beer scene has changed a lot in the 7 years that we've been out of state, so we have a lot to learn. We kicked off our search with a short drive up to Sherman for 903 Brewers. Next, we met up with friends at the local McKinney favorite, Franconia. They take a different approach to brewing, but we loved both tours, and we loved the beers that they're pouring.

First up, 903 Brewers. I have a soft spot in my heart for this one, as it's named after the area code used throughout East Texas, including my hometown of Paris. We made the trip to Sherman around lunch time, so we stopped at a wonderfully dive-y local spot, City Limits, for lunch prior to our brewery visit. They're famous for their chicken fried steaks and for good reason. You get a generous portion doused in creamy white gravy served on paper plates with french fries and a side salad. It's nothing fancy, but to be fair, it shouldn't be.
After lunch, it was time to sample beers! At the brewery, there's a great outdoor seating area along with a large area inside for cold afternoons (or really hot ones). We started with a pint of Coffee Pecan Porter, a special release of their Pecan Porter brewed with locally roasted coffee. Delicious. Next, we split a sampler of four beers, served on an old cafeteria tray. Our favorites were Sasquatch Chocolate Milk Stout, Chosen One Coconut Ale (surprisingly good and very refreshing), the 903 Blonde, and the aforementioned Pecan Porter. While you pay for your beers, the tour given by the owner and brewmaster himself is free as well as short and sweet. We got to see a few iterations of his brew equipment starting with a single homebrew pot that he started brewing with to shiny new kettles that require a ladder and a paddle to stir.
Our visit to Franconia was on a perfect, sunny Saturday morning. Before the brewery tour, we tried Bill Smith's Cafe for breakfast. It's the oldest restaurant in McKinney, and when we pulled in, the parking lot was packed (mostly with big farm trucks). If the guys in farm trucks approve of a greasy spoon breakfast spot, that's a good enough endorsement for me! There's kitchy, faded decor on the walls, ranging from old signage to vintage photographs to high school football posters. It looks just how you would expect the oldest diner in town to look (and I mean that as a compliment).  I opted for the chicken fried steak and eggs served with hash browns and a side of biscuits and gravy. Please don't ask me how biscuits and gravy qualify as a side, because I just don't know. I figured it was best not to argue! Y'all, this was such a great breakfast and such a great atmosphere.  I can't wait to go back! Also, it's starting to look like I can't visit a brewery without first stopping for chicken fried steak. I assure you this isn't the case, but maybe it wouldn't be such a bad tradition to adopt.
We arrived at the brewery maybe 10 minutes before the tour was to begin at 11:00, and folks were already crowding around the entrance, excited for the doors to open. The brewmaster, a fourth generation brewer from Germany, came out to welcome everyone and to lay down a few ground rules. After paying our $5 entry fee, we were able to enjoy unlimited samples (Pro Tip: be sure to bring a glass from home so you don't have to buy a glass there) and a highly entertaining tour of the facilities thanks to the brewmaster's vast brewing knowledge and sense of humor. As you might expect from a German brewery, the beers adhere to the German Beer Purity Law allowing only water, barley, yeast and hops to be used. You won't find any sours or pumpkin beers here, but there's still plenty of variety to enjoy. While all of the samples were great, my favorite of the day was the Wheat, perfect for sipping while we soaked up some sun outside of the brewery. Though what we most enjoyed was getting to sample a new beer poured right from the spigot of a fermenting tank!


Saturday, January 24, 2015

My 10 Favorite Things in December

My final installment of "Favorite Things" for 2014 is better late than never, I suppose. I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas! December is always such a whirlwind month between finishing up tasks at work for the year, shopping for presents, Christmas parties and activities, and in the special case of this particular year, coming down with the flu! Despite being under the weather for a few days, there was still plenty to be thankful for throughout the holiday season.

1) Our first big Christmas tree
It was so much fun decorating our new house for our first Christmas back in Texas. From the full-sized Christmas tree that actually fit in the living room (instead of the little tree we had to put in our dining room in Boston) to stringing up lights on the house, things felt downright Christmas-y!
My in-laws drove up for a weekend visit and joined us for the McKinney Christmas parade, complete with all the local marching bands, classic cars, fake snow, adorable kids, and floats lit with thousands of lights!
3) Nate and Kate's visit
December also brought us visitors from Buffalo: Nate and Kate! We had a great time taking them around Dallas along with our friend Joseph!
4) My husband's homemade buttermilk white bread
My husband has many talents, including a knack for baking. One chilly morning in December, he got the itch to bake bread, and opted for an absolutely delicious buttermilk white bread from Beard on Bread. That was a good day!
5) Catching a hockey game with my mom and brother
My mom and brother came to town for a little Christmas shopping, which also gave us a good excuse to catch an Allen Americans game. There's nothing like watching grown men get into fist fights on the ice for a little family bonding.
6) Christmas with our families
This one kind of goes without saying, doesn't it? Despite being under the weather, we loved spending time with both of our families this Christmas. 
7) Decorating Christmas Cookies
I loved watching my husband bake his grandmother's famous Christmas cookies, and we made a glorious mess decorating sugar cookies with (homemade) icing and sprinkles and such.
8) Visiting friends in Victoria
We don't get to see our friends Jimmy and Laura too often these days, so we were tickled pink when they invited us to spend a few days with them in their hometown of Victoria over the holidays. We had the best time! We laughed and caught up, we ate Gulf oysters and fresh-caught flounder, we sipped Jimmy's homebrewed sour beer, we lounged in the hot tub, and we even visited the beach! 
9) Fried Flounder
Growing up in Northeast Texas, we didn't exactly have access to fresh seafood, even from the Gulf of Mexico. So eating fresh Gulf seafood right out of the fryer while visiting Jimmy and Laura is right up there with a lot of my favorite food memories. The fried shrimp and fried oysters were wonderful, but the flounder is what really stole the show.
10) Charlie's First Christmas
Can you even believe how cute Charlie is in his little Santa vest?! Nope, didn't think so. This little guy loved every minute of his first Christmas. He got more attention than a puppy could ever dream of, new chew toys, and even a tennis ball cannon! Does it get any better?