Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wintry Weather

Brrr! This week brought wintry weather down to Texas, and, weirdly, it's been such a treat! I hated the long Boston winters, but there are things that go along with the season that I really enjoy. Things like warm beverages, simmering stews on the stovetop, and the sight of snow falling. This wintry blast gave us just a taste of cold weather, an excuse to partake in the enjoyable accoutrements, without feeling the need to linger for 6 months. After all, it's going to be in the 60s this weekend!

Sunday night, a pretty dusting of snow fell on our little house and yard. As it snowed, we snuggled up on the couch in cozy pajamas with a good fire going in the fireplace...our very first fire in our very first fireplace!
Meanwhile, Charlie, terrified of the fire, curled up between us, trusting us to protect him from the fire breathing monster in the wall. His fear of the fireplace was only matched by his love of the powdery white stuff in the backyard. He had the best time exploring "the frozen tundra" and playing in the snow. Here's our intrepid explorer!
We've sipped on mugs of Hot Apple Ginger Toddies, my favorite winter beverage, and I had an excuse to buy a pretty new coat -- this fanastic Paddington Bear-esque toggle coat from Old Navy (my New England parka is a bit overkill around here).
(Photos from The Kitchn, Old Navy)
 
Finally, the cold weather has helped ease our Boston homesickness a little bit. As much as we love our new home, we find ourselves wistfully missing our old stomping grounds. Now if only we could find some legit Italian food and a good lobster roll, we would be all set!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wurstfest


It's that time of year again! Wurstfest, the self-proclaimed 10 Day Salute to Sausage, is upon us! This weekend, we made the pilgrimage to the little town of New Braunfels, home to a sizeable population of German Texans, to revel in all things bratwurst, beer, and polka!
I was introduced to Wurstfest, arguably the real "happiest place on earth," by two fellow clarinetists in the Longhorn Band who grew up in New Braunfels. Thank goodness for Sarah and Christina! Each year, we would gather a group of friends and drive south from Austin to participate in the festivities. I haven't been back since graduation (and my husband had never been), so this was an eagerly anticipated occasion!
We kicked off the festivities with my favorite Wurstfest combination -- a pitcher of beer and a "Wurst in Taschen." This is a bratwurst under a pile of sauerkraut tucked inside a fluffy pocket. I like mine topped with a couple pumps of spicy mustard. If this doesn't sound like your thing, food abounds in the "Marktplatz" where you can find everything from bratwurst-on-a-stick to reuben sandwiches to bratwurst nachos! A new favorite discovered on this trip were the fried mushrooms topped with cream gravy -- fair food at its best. This is a place where German and Texan cultures collide in the best possible way. Whatever you do, come hungry!
We ate in Das Grosse Zelt (The Big Tent) which is set up like a covered beer garden with a music stage where the Comal Community Band serenaded us with German and Texan favorites.
Our next stop was the Craft Beer Garden for some local brews (favorite name award goes to the New Braunfels Oktooberfest named after the favorite local pastime of tubing down the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers). At the neighboring music stage, we clapped along with the fantastic accordion stylings of Michael Bridge, the Canadian National Champion Accordion Player! 

Finally, we ended the afternoon in Wursthalle with singing and dancing to polka music thanks to The Seven Dutchmen Orchestra.

The festival wraps up this weekend, so if you're in the area, treat yourself and join in the small town tradition! Just don't forget your lederhosen!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fish Tacos with Roasted Poblano Guacamole

When I lived in LA, my roommates and I lived around the corner from a little Mexican restaurant that offered 2-for-1 tacos on Taco Tuesday. We were fresh out of college and loved a good deal, so every Tuesday, we walked down the street for fish tacos (or maybe carnitas) and a glass of sangria. It was a tradition for us, like a roommate family dinner along with whatever friends wanted to join in. It may have been six years ago, but any time I make fish tacos, I miss my LA friends and that little restaurant. If you're in the South Bay area of LA, pay the nice folks at El Gringo a visit for me, but if not, why not have your own Taco Tuesday at home?

These fish tacos are a fantastic quick dinner! The guacamole is creamy and flavorful from the lime, cilantro, and roasted peppers, the hot sauce (which can do double duty as salsa if you have tortilla chips on hand) is sweet and spicy, the radishes add a great contrasting crunch with the tender fish, and the cheese contributes a little tanginess to the mix. Enjoy!
 
Serves 2
 
Ingredients
4 soft taco-sized (8") flour tortillas
2 tilapia fillets
2 small (or 1 large) poblano peppers
2 ripe avocados
1 lime, juiced
~1/3 cup cilantro, minced
3 radishes, ends trimmed and thinly sliced
Habanero Hot Sauce (optional but so good - I use 2 habaneros and add cilantro)
Feta or Cotija cheese
salt
olive oil
 
Directions
To roast the peppers, preheat the broiler to "high." Rub the poblano peppers with olive oil, and place on a foil-lined baking sheet under the broiler for 7 minutes, or until the skin is blackened and charred. Flip the peppers, and return to the broiler for another 5-6 minutes to char the other side.
 
Remove the peppers to a plastic baggie (or a bowl sealed with plastic wrap). The captured steam helps loosen the skin for removal. Once the peppers are cool, remove them, peel off the skin, chop off the stem, and discard the seeds. Finely chop the peppers.
 
In a bowl, mash together the avocados, cilantro, poblano peppers, lime juice, and salt to taste (try to avoid undersalting, the cardinal sin of guacamole).
 
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. While the pan heats, season both sides of your tilapia fillets with salt. Swirl olive oil into the pan (enough to cover the bottom), and once the oil is hot, place the fish into the pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes, flip, and let cook for another 3-4 minutes until the fish is done (it should be opaque and flaky). 
 
Remove the fish from the pan, and serve on warm flour tortillas.  I break up one fillet to make two tacos.
 
Top the fish with a generous dollop of the roasted poblano guacamole, a drizzle of the habanero hot sauce, and a scattering of feta and sliced radishes.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My 10 Favorite Things in October

Happy November, friends! Halloween has come and gone, but before I start thinking about Thanksgiving, I want to take a moment to reminisce on the month behind us. October is busy for us thanks to our anniversary and my husband's birthday, but we also squeezed in some time with friends, some time with family, a date night, and a trip to New York!

1) Ewan!
How can I lead with anything other than getting to see Ewan McGregor on Broadway in The Real Thing, a fantastically funny and thought-provoking play. This isn't just a highlight of the month...it's a highlight of the year!
2) Celebrating a 30th Birthday
These days, I'm married to a man in his 30's (I'm still a cute young thing in my 20s for another nine months)! To celebrate such a momentous occasion, I cooked his favorite meal, beef with snow peas, I baked a pumpkin spice cake topped with cream cheese frosting, presents were opened, and Charlie, our dog, squirmed his way out of wearing a party hat! 
I love barley salads, and this one is no exception thanks to the tomatoes that become almost candy-like when roasted. 
4) Hanging string lights on our patio
 Our patio is beginning to come together, thanks to a new rug and a couple strands of string lights. They have totally transformed our little square of concrete into a cozy, magical spot.
 Now that chilly, drizzly weather is here, I'm craving warm, hearty dinners. These stuffed baked potatoes are definitely a favorite!
6) Celebrating a 2nd Birthday
 We loved helping our friends Liz and Peter celebrate their sweet little boy's 2nd birthday. It was the cutest Cars-themed party featuring Liz's homemade baked goods and kiddie treats (who doesn't love an excuse to snack on string cheese?), and we had a blast catching up with fellow Dallas-area LGO's.
7) Local Neapolitan pizza
For a low key "dinner and a movie" date night, we shared the Cassie with hot sopressata and mushrooms at Cane Rosso, a local chain dishing up Neapolitan pizza from a wood-fired oven. It may not have been quite as life changing as the Neapolitan pies at New York's Motorino, but gosh was it good. We also really enjoyed the fried homemade mozzarella.
8) Celebrating our 4 Year Anniversary
Obviously, these lists are in no particular order, because I do not rank the importance of my marriage somewhere below pizza, no matter how good that pizza may be. To celebrate our 4th Anniversary (the flower anniversary), my husband brought home a stunning bouquet and cooked us his specialty, Pasta Bolognese. Later that week we went out on the town for dinner at FT33 (so far, the best meal we've had in Dallas). Boy do I love this man!
9) New York bagels and smoked salmon
While we ate and drank many wonderful things during our most recent trip to the city (e.g., dinner at Gramercy Tavern and drinks at the Library at the NoMad), I think my favorite food memory of the trip was a simple board at Russ and Daughters Café featuring one of their toasted bagels, cream cheese, beautifully ripe tomatoes, capers, and thinly shaved smoked salmon. I finally understand why this dish is so famous.

10) A Mother-Daughter Slumber Party
 Last but not least, I invited my Mom over for a slumber party this month, and we had the best time. We spent the evening chatting over tea, doing at-home mani-pedi's, and watching a girly movie, and the next morning we let the nice ladies at the Salon at Eaton Court pamper us with facials and a make-over.
 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

New York Adventures

Sunday night, we returned from a quick trip to New York City. In our 48 hours in town, we squeezed in as much fun as we could manage (this usually took the form of food) and had a great time! Most notably, I achieved what can only be described as a dream come true -- seeing Ewan McGregor perform on Broadway!  So without further ado, here are the highlights from our getaway:

1.Dinner at Gramercy Tavern
Gramercy Tavern seems to be an institution in the New York dining scene, and I was thrilled when I managed to get a reservation for Friday evening. We each ordered a 6-course tasting menu, one Seasonal (including meat and seafood) and one Vegetable, and we shared each plate. What an absolute treat! The food was fabulous and so beautifully plated, the wine recommendations were excellent, and the staff was incredibly warm and friendly.
After the relaxed meal drew to a close, some of our favorites were an oyster chowder with trout roe, a plate of radishes and turnips (surprisingly my favorite dish of the night), a fried green tomato, the seared duck breast, and an ash-rind goat cheese. We were even sent home with pastries for breakfast the next morning!
2) A beer at Auger's Well
After dinner and a failed attempt to visit Death and Company for cocktails (we weren't up for a multiple hour wait), we ducked into the nearby Auger's Well, a tiny little place pouring interesting local craft beers. We loved the Kim Hibiscus Sour from Queen's brewery SingleCut (a new one to us).
 
3) Breakfast at Russ and Daughters Café
I was never up for standing in line at the original Russ and Daughters, frequently lauded for making some of the best bagels and smoked fish in NYC, so I was incredibly excited when they opened a sit-down restaurant. Finally I could see what all the fuss was about! We started with a first for me, Matzo Ball Soup. Not quite breakfast fare, but gosh was it good. It's basically the Jewish answer to Chicken and Dumplins right?
Next, we tried the classic bagel and smoked fish boards. I went with the smoked salmon (The Classic) while my husband tried the smoked sable (The Shtetl). We topped our toasted plain bagels with a thin layer of cream cheese, strips of the delicately smoked fish, tomato slices (perfectly ripe somehow in the middle of October), and a sprinkle of capers. I ditched the onion, because, to me, it overpowered the fish which was so good, that I had to eat a few bites of it all by itself. During breakfast we even caught the end of a proposal. When they entered the cafe, everyone broke into applause and cheers!
4) Coffee at Berkli Parc
After breakfast, we needed more coffee, so we spent a lazy morning chatting over lattes in wine glasses (??) at a cute coffee shop down the street from Russ and Daughters Café.
A confusing Subway ride and a short walk later, we arrived at a fountain ringed by autumn trees, just in time for lunch. Luckily, we were right across the street from one of the best pizza joints in Manhattan (or so we've read).
I'll be the first to admit that I'm no connoisseur of New York pizza (heck, I grew up eating Domino's), so I can't definitively confirm that this is indeed the best pizza in Manhattan. But I can tell you that we loved it. So much so that we returned to the counter for a second slice. I know the crust is supposed to be a big factor in New York pizza, but I think my favorite thing is how light and...zesty?...the sauce is. Whatever the secret is, I like it!
6) The Friends building!
Since it's only a couple of blocks from Joe's Pizza, I couldn't resist finally paying a visit to the apartment building used in the exterior shots on Friends. Interestingly enough, there were quite a few other girls on that corner, all in their late 20s or early 30s.
7) Drinks at The Library at the NoMad hotel
Next we headed to The Library, a gorgeous bar lined with books. As it was still early, we had one of New York's premiere cocktail bards entirely to ourselves for an entire hour! Pretty incredible! We cozied up in the corner by the spiral staircase and whiled away the afternoon sipping cocktails.
While all of the drinks were wonderful, our favorite two were hands-down The Jitney (mezcal, Campari, dry vermouth, coffee-infused dry vermouth, and absinthe) and the Loisaida Avenue (mezcal, tequila, Chartreuse, lemon, and angostura bitters).
8) Dinner at Fedora
While not quite comparable with Gramercy Tavern, we enjoyed a pre-theater dinner at this cozy, bustling little spot. The local burrata drizzled with walnut pesto appetizer was fabulous, and the serving size was so generous that we couldn't even finish it!
10) Ewan!
I don't even know where to start on this one. Ewan has been my favorite actor for about 15 years now. Saturday night still feels like something out of a dream. But what I can say is if you find yourself in New York before January 4th, please go see the Roundabout Theater Company's production of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing! What a fantastic play! The cast is great (along with Ewan, Maggie Gyllenhaal was pretty phenomenal). The dialog is dense and quick and witty. You really have to pay attention, but it's so dang entertaining and funny and thought provoking. (And as an added bonus you do get to hear Ewan sing a little bit!)
We just had the best time, and the play was over all too quickly. Afterward, we made our way to the stage door to see Ewan and for autographs. After Maggie and Cynthia Nixon made their exits, Ewan was the last to leave the theater (surprisingly along with John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, who made a quick exit in front of him). He kindly made his way around the group signing Playbills (even though some rude people pulled him away for a photo right as he was signing mine).  Once he finished, instead of ducking into a private car like the other actors, he hopped on his bicycle and rode away into the night. After watching him go, we made our way out of the craziness of Times Square and back to the quiet of our hotel room where I tried to process what all had happened that evening. 14 year-old me wouldn't even believe me if I told her!
11) Catching up with Philip
Last but not least, we met up with my friend Philip for brunch at Jones Wood Foundry Sunday morning before catching our flight home. Philip and I grew up together, and I love getting to catch up with him whenever we visit New York!