Thursday, October 16, 2014

On Broadway!

Folks, if you feel a little extra crackle and excitement in the air, it's because big things are happening this weekend. We're flying up to New York to see none other than Ewan McGregor in the Roundabout Theater Company's production of "The Real Thing" on Broadway!
(photo from Art.com)
I've been a huge fan of Ewan ever since my teenage heart fell in love with Christian in Moulin Rouge (ok, I'll be honest...it's really been since my Star Wars-loving heart met the new Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1999), and I'm tickled pink to finally get a chance to see him perform live on the stage after missing out on his performances in London. Also while in New York, we'll eat and drink our way around the city, and we'll get to spend some time catching up with a friend I grew up with! All in all, a lot to be excited about this weekend!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Barley Salad with Roasted Tomatoes and Shrimp

So there's this salad I really love from the gorgeous blog What Katie Ate. It's absolutely perfect, and I won't judge you if you want to go make her recipe instead of mine. But if you're like me and have the hardest time finding Spanish chorizo, please consider my recipe as a humble substitute. You see, when I was in Boston, I could find Spanish chorizo but never Mexican chorizo. Now that I'm back in Texas, I have the opposite problem. What's the difference between the two? To vastly oversimplify it, Mexican chorizo is crumbly while Spanish chorizo slices into pretty rounds. Both are delicious and wonderful, but in this instance only one will do.

Instead of chorizo, I opted for lovely gulf shrimp seared in bacon grease. I also left out the Puy lentils. This salad is light and refreshing but plenty filling. If baby heirloom tomatoes are still popping up at your grocery store in their pretty reds and yellows and oranges, toss those in, but I'm sure cherry tomatoes would work just as well. Maybe try lime juice instead of lemon. Skip the radishes if those aren't your bag. Or go for different fresh herbs. It's a salad after all, so it's perfectly tweakable. Enjoy!
Serves 2-3
 
Ingredients
1 cup pearl barley
1 lb of baby heirloom tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes), halved
Handful of radishes, very thinly sliced
Handful of green beans, ends trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces
1 Tb bacon grease
1/2 lb shrimp, shelled and patted dry
2 lemons, juiced
1 Tb olive oil
2 Tb cilantro, minced
2 Tb mint, minced
 
Directions
Preheat the oven to 280F.
 
Spread the halved tomatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and roast them for 1.5 hours, until soft and beginning to caramelize. Remove from the oven when done.
 
While the tomatoes roast, blanch the green beans by bringing a saucepan of water to boil. When boiling, dump in the green beans, and lower the heat to a simmer and let cook for 3-4 minutes. Remove the green beans, and plunge into a bowl of ice water to cool. Drain and set aside.
 
Next, add the barley and 3 cups of water to a saucepan (I use the same one I used for the green beans to cut back on dirty dishes), and bring the water to a boil. Cover and simmer for about 35 minutes, until the barley is chewy and tender.
 
When the barley is almost done, whisk together the juice from one of the lemons with the olive oil, and season with some salt and black pepper.

Then heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add the bacon grease, allowing it to melt and warm up. When hot, add the shrimp to the pan, searing them for about 2 minutes per side. When done, remove the shrimp to a plate with a slotted spoon.
 
Pour the juice of the remaining lemon into the pan with the remaining bacon grease, stirring to combine. Let cook for a minute or so, until heated.
 
When the barley is done, drain off any remaining water, and toss it with the lemon and olive oil mixture.
 
In a large bowl, toss the barley, roasted tomatoes, blanched green beans, radish slices, and the warm lemon juice and bacon grease mixture.
 
Serve topped with the shrimp and with a good scattering of cilantro and mint.
 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Feeling Fall-ish

Even though it's October, the temperatures around here are still climbing into the 80s and 90s, and leaves are still as green as can be. But because it's October, I'm bound and determined to bring a little fall into my life, even if it's just through the internet. Here are some things that are making me feel fall-ish!

These pencils! Don't they just capture everything you love about fall?

How beautiful is this Butternut Squash and Sage Pizza? Even though I'm sad to leave okra and tomato season behind, I sure do love when winter squash arrives at the grocery store!
(Photo from Alexandra Cooks)

I've got to get a pair of these Long John Pajama Pants. Wouldn't they be perfect for lounging around the house when it's chilly out?
(Photo from Hanna Andersson)

I would love to have one of these gorgeous cable-knit throws for curling up with a good book and one of these rustic plaid throws crisp fall picnics.
(Photos from Pottery Barn (1) and Patron Designs Scoutmob Shoppe (2))

While I may not be able to go apple picking in New England, my grandparents brought back a huge bag of apples from a recent visit to Colorado that they were generous enough to share with me. I can't wait to use some of them to make my favorite Homemade Applesauce.
(Photo from Simply Recipes)
 
I usually take a crafting break during the summer, so I'm ready to pick up my craft supplies now that fall has arrived. I love knitting (something cozy like this ribbed cowl), and I also want to make this lamp shade for the library!

Fall also means steaming mugs of hot tea or mulled cider. Two of my favorite ciders are this Mulled Apple Cider for a crowd or this Hot Ginger-Apple Hot Toddy.
(Photo 2 from The Kitchn)

With Halloween approaching, I love to decorate the front porch and the house with pumpkins. If we get in the mood to carve some, how lovely are these?
(Photo from Southern Living)
 
Once the weather gets a little cooler, I tend to crave hearty greens, especially swiss chard and kale. I love these Brown Rice Bowls with Swiss Chard and Nutty Romesco Sauce and this Pumpkin and Kale Pasta with Lemon Goat Cheese Sauce. I'm looking forward to trying these two soups: Spicy Pork and Kale Soup and Cavolo Nero and Cannellini Bean Soup.
(Photo 1 from The Kitchn, Photo 2 from Eat, Live, Run, Photo 3 from Whole Living)

Finally,  I can't wait to sit by a crackling fire. We have our very first fireplace in our new house, and I'm itching to put it to use!
(Photo from The Bungalow Blog)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Four Years and Counting

You know, in some ways it's hard for me to believe that four years have passed since our wedding day. It still feels so fresh in my memory. In other ways, it seems like we've been married much longer than that (in a good way, I promise). To celebrate our 4th anniversary, we had dinner reservations in the city, but nature had other plans in mind. That afternoon, a crazy storm swept through the area that we had no desire to battle on our way into downtown, so we moved our reservation and spent a quiet night at home instead. My husband even offered to cook which is an offer I cannot refuse.
Due to a failed attempt to beat the storm, I got home Thursday night after driving through the worst part of it to find a stunning bouquet of flowers on the counter (because the 4 years is the flower anniversary), a bottle of wine, and a handsome man chopping vegetables. Is there a better sight?  He made us one of his specialties, pasta with bolognese (we love Mark Bittman's recipe in How to Cook Everything) along with Caesar salad and bread studded with roasted garlic.
Saturday we went out for our delayed dinner at FT33. It was, in a word, amazing. By far the best dinner we've had in Dallas (though, admittedly, we haven't tried all that many restaurants yet). We were seated side by side at the chef's table looking directly into the kitchen, which was really interesting (though not exactly a serene spot). We sipped on a barrel-aged cocktail while browsing the menu. The Final Say was a delicious riff on one of our favorites, the Last Word, with gin, Chartreuse, and lime, and for a place seemingly known more for their wine, we were very impressed. We shared a pretty unbelievable charcuterie board featuring seven homemade treats along with pickled okra, green tomatoes, and cucumber and smears of whole-grain mustard and stone fruit jam.
My entrĂ©e were two giant pork short ribs along with corn, arugula, and crumbles of dehydrated corn shortbread (it sounds weird, but it was airy and crunchy and very good). The tender, rich meat was even better when swiped through the  puddles of arugula chimichurri on the plate. Our recommended wines were both unique and perfect pairings (though I will say that these are some of the most expensive wines by the glass that I've ever seen). At nice dinners, we usually compete to see who picked the better dish, but this is one of the few times that we felt like we both walked away winners, me with my pork and him with his Wagyu beef. The evening came to a close with a cheese board served on a gorgeous wood plank along with honey, spiced nuts, and some more of that fabulous stone fruit jam. Our favorite was a cheese from Utah with a tea-rubbed rind!

It was an absolutely lovely evening, and even though we had to modify our plans a bit, the weather gave us an excuse to celebrate our anniversary twice, which made for a pretty special way to kick off our 5th year of marriage. I will say that I feel pretty lucky to have found this man, and I look forward to where the coming years will take us together!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Southbound 35

Last weekend, we made the trek southbound on 35 to Austin so we could attend Grammy and Pampa's monthly "Last Saturday of the Month" get-together with the whole clan on my father-in-law's side of the family. It was our very first to attend, and with 24 folks in attendance, it was such a fantastic opportunity to catch up with the whole family! Moments like these are exactly why we moved home, and I'm so thankful for them! And as an added bonus, we got to have some fun in Austin!
We drove down Friday afternoon with the puppy in tow, and he behaved like a champ for his first longest roadtrip yet. As we pulled into Lakeway, we promptly got stuck in Lake Travis homecoming traffic, but we finally made it past the stadium and pulled into Sandeez Hamburger Hut, one of the last Lakeway restaurants remaining from my husband's childhood. It's the cutest little place with picnic tables out front, and the burgers are just the greasy burgers you would hope for from such a place. You can go classic or you can go with something like my Guacaholic smothered with guacamole and queso.
Saturday we headed into the Austin city limits to attend a book signing with Lisa Fain, the Homesick Texan, at the Byte of Texas book fair. I ran into a sweet friend from college, Kathryn, who was involved in the conference, and she was kind enough to bestow upon us an amazing goodie bag that was chock full of treats like Yellowbird Habanero Hot Sauce, Stubb's Wing Sauce, Michele's Granola, and little baby pies from Royer's Pie Haven.
We lucked out and were the first people there for the signing, so we had a great time chatting with Ms. Fain until other admirers arrived. It was such a treat to meet her, as she and her wonderful stories and recipes were so instrumental in my survival away from Texas for so many years!
After the book signing, we popped into Freedmen's for some BBQ, because "when in Austin..." For those of you who, much like us, do not have the patience or the perseverance required to wait in a 3-4 hour line at Franklin, but still want to try a new BBQ spot in downtown, give Freedmen's a shot. The chopped beef sandwich was heavenly. Their sauce, while not necessary for the meat, is delicious with a great kick. They make their own pickled cucumbers, onions, and jalapenos that pair well with the meaty brisket. The pit chili is smoky and spicy and appropriately topped with fritos, grated cheddar, and a sprinkling of red onion. While very good, the cocktails probably won't change your life, but that chopped beef sandwich sure might!
Gosh I love adventures with this guy!
To ward off a meat coma thanks to stomachs full of chopped beef and chili, a pit stop at Quack's 43rd Street Bakery was in order. While I studied at almost every coffee shop around Austin during our time at UT, my most frequent haunt was Quack's, and it holds a dear place in my heart. I hadn't been back since before graduation, so it was a glorious reunion and walk down memory lane. I was relieved to find that the little coffee shop really hadn't changed much in the past 7 years despite how drastically Austin itself has changed. It's still a quirky spot full of quirky people, and they still make the best gingerbread cake I've ever tasted.
Once our coffee mugs were emptied, we headed back to Lakeway via another walk down memory lane, this time for my husband. First he took me to the base of the Lake Travis dam. Before the neighboring bridge was built, driving across the dam was the only way into Lakeway. In the base of that "new" bridge is a time capsule containing student contributions including one from my husband! Next, we went to the top of the dam where you can still see the little two lane road running its length (though gates now restrict access) as well as views of the lake.
Finally that evening, we joined the family at Grammy and Pampa's for chicken spaghetti and family bonding. We brought Charlie with us, and he had a blast playing with the 5 great-grandkids, all under the age of 5. I've never seen him as pooped as he was after chasing them around all evening! We loved catching up with folks and finally being able to attend a family event rather than being "those weird cousins/grandkids/kids that live in Boston that never show up for anything." Like it or not, they better get used to seeing us a little more often these days!