Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmastime Is Here

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here! The day after Thanksgiving, I hauled our little apartment-sized tree and our big box of decorations up from the basement.  We put on our Pandora Christmas music station, and we were ready to get to work.
We pulled the tree from the box, assembled it, and carefully fluffed the branches . We have one of those pre-lit trees which allows you to completely skip over that maddening light detangling step. It's a little lazy, but good grief is it easy. Next comes the strands of little red wooden balls which remind me of the dried cranberry garlands that we wrapped around my grandparents' tree when I was a little girl. Finally, out come the ornaments.
We start with the metallic, glittery glass balls to ensure that they are spread evenly around the tree. Next come the snowflakes. First the lace and then the sparkly variety. Then it's time to hang the odds and ends over the remainder of the tree. We have yet to acquire a tree topper (I swear I can never find one suited for a small tree -- they're all gigantic), so this year I used a little cross-stitched snowman ornament that I made a couple years ago. With that, the tree is finished!
In our entryway, I hung a garland around our faux-fireplace mantle, topped it with candles, and then hung our collection of Texas Capitol ornaments, one for each year since they began selling them. If only there was a real fire crackling in a real fireplace, it would be perfect! 

With that, our little home is ready for the Christmas season. May this time be filled with love, laughter, family, and friends for all of you.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:17

Monday, November 26, 2012


It's back to the real world today after the holiday weekend. I hope that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  Our Turkey Day was full of food, friends, fun, some abysmal football, and then a little bit more food. Since we'll be making the long trek to Texas for Christmas, we stayed put for Thanksgiving, as we have for the past couple years. We were lucky enough to spend the day with the most lovely and gracious hosts, the Ranges.

Our main contribution to the feast was a smoked turkey, which meant that Thursday began really early for us. My husband may look a little sleepy in the photo below, but smoked meat is always worth a little sleep deprivation.
After getting the smoker fired up and rubbing the turkey down with an herby mix of sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic, salt, and pepper, we placed the bird on the smoker. And then we waited. About 6 hours later, it was a sight to behold (and to smell). The wood smoke combined with rosemary was enough to make your mouth water.
As meat smoking is really my husband's territory, I busied myself in the kitchen to prepare the cornbread dressing and homemade cranberry sauce. I used our family cornbread recipe studded with finely diced celery and onion and jazzed up with a bit of poultry seasoning to make the dressing. As it bakes, the familiar smell is enough to transport me back to my mom's kitchen, evoking warm memories of holidays with the family. 

I used fresh Cape Cod cranberries, Texas oranges, and a mix of brown and white sugar for this cranberry sauce -- just sweet enough to balance the delicious tartness of the cranberries. I've always been firmly entrenched in the canned cranberry sauce camp, but this recipe was good enough for me to make room for both on my plate.
Once we pulled the turkey off the smoker using these bad boys (if the man in your life likes to smoke or grill, you might want to invest in these. Hilarious and useful.), we loaded up the car and headed over the river and through MIT campus to get to Brad and Ashleigh's. This is their fantastic view of the Boston skyline. I'm very jealous.
After hugs were given all around and arms were emptied of food, we watched some of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and a little football while putting the finishing touches on dinner.  Finally, the turkey was carved (with each of us sneaking little morsels of meat straight from the bone), the gravy was thickened, the wine was poured, and dinner was served!
We had quite a spread, especially for four people, and we made a very respectable dent in it. The menu featured a spinach salad with walnuts, cranberries, and feta (a little green to balance an entire plate of varying shades of brown), sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, cornbread dressing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, crescent rolls, and turkey and gravy. It was amazing! 
Eventually, we pushed back our chairs and rolled ourselves over to the couch to watch the Cowboys lose. Luckily, Ashleigh made the most beautiful apple pie and homemade whipped cream served with vanilla ice cream to drown our football sorrows. 

All in all, it was a wonderful day with friends who made us feel like we were right at home. We have so much to be thankful for!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Craft Cocktails

It used to be that when I found myself needing to order a cocktail, the only thing that I knew that I liked was a Gin & Tonic. So I ordered Gin & Tonics. Usually, I  avoided mixed drinks all together. However, over the past couple years, we've been branching out and learning more about craft cocktails, thanks to a trip to this place that we kept hearing about that was known for great drinks and a killer cheeseburger (Eastern Standard). We were hooked at the first sip.

As a birthday present for my husband, I bought tickets to a craft cocktail class at The Boston Shaker in Somerville's Davis Square. I got to tag along, because after all, what kind of wife would make her husband go all by himself? It was the selfless thing to do.

We started the evening with dinner and margaritas (research prior to the class, of course) at The Painted Burro. The margaritas were strong, the chips and salsa were plentiful, and the food was very good.
Over at The Boston Shaker, there were bar carts full of mixing equipment awaiting us. The owner of the shop teaches the class, and he's absolutely fantastic. He's very knowledgeable, friendly, and a good teacher. He walked us through the basics, such as which cocktails are shaken and which are stirred, and he demonstrated the basic techniques for measuring and mixing. 
Then it was time to get our hands dirty!  We began with ice and water to familiarize ourselves with the techniques. Then we moved on to the good stuff. First we used the shakers to make a Hemingway Daquiri with rum, lime juice, grapefruit juice, maraschino, and just a splash of cane sugar simple syrup. Next we made a traditional martini with gin, dry vermouth, and orange bitters to try a stirred drink (not shaken, much to James Bond's disappointment, I'm sure). The best part? Trying the drinks!
Afterwards, we received a 10% discount off anything in the shop, so we picked up some nice ice cube trays, some Peychaud's Bitters (for Sazeracs), and a stirring spoon. Included in the price of the class was a Boston Shaker, a julep strainer (for stirred drinks), and a hawthorne strainer (for shaken drinks) for each of us. I would highly recommend this class to anyone. We had the best time!
Now, if you don't really care to make your own cocktails but wouldn't mind drinking some, here are some of our favorite places (so far) to get a good cocktail:

1. Drink - By far the best spot for craft cocktails in Boston with ridiculously knowledgeable (and talented) staff. There's no drink menu, so just let them know what you like and your bartender will take it from there.

2. Eastern Standard - Nice setting (reminiscent of a French bistro) with good food and very good drinks. Some favorites to get here are off-menu cocktails, the Pegu Club, The Martinez or The Hanky Panky. Their Green Fly is also delicious.

3. The Hawthorne - Located in the Hotel Commonwealth, this spot is fantastic. It's like hanging out in a rich friend's stylish living room. A rich friend who is able to expertly mix craft cocktails. Their bar snacks are also delicious.

4. Trina's - Off the beaten path, great food (they serve everything from corn dogs to duck breast), and delicious, creative cocktails. My favorite is the Natale a Padua.
5. Spoke Wine Bar - This tiny spot may be first and foremost a wine bar, but their short list of cocktails is well curated and perfectly executed.  

6. Saloon - Cool speakeasy style bar in Davis Square. My favorite here is the Pimm's Up. 
Update 6/22/13: This place has an extensive bourbon/whiskey list, and the cocktails on their menu are very good. However, based on our experiences, I wouldn't venture too far off the menu, as their staff doesn't seem to have the depth of knowledge about classic cocktails that other establishments do (e.g. Drink, Eastern Standard).

7. Highland Kitchen - For brunch cocktails, I love this little place. Don't miss out on the Hemingway Daiquiri!

8. Craigie on Main - We've had some fantastic cocktails here, and I would love to try more. I enjoyed the Civilian on our last visit while my husband really loved the Improved Whiskey Cocktail.

9. Dutch Kills - Another speakeasy-style spot located in Queens rather than Boston. It's outstanding and definitely worth the train ride to New York.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Whole Lotta Chicken

As I mentioned earlier, I roasted a chicken this weekend using Pioneer Woman's Lemon Rosemary Chicken recipe. It was a fairly gigantic bird for just the two of us, so we had quite a bit of meat leftover, which is fantastic.  With just a couple hours of effort on Sunday (most of which was spent on the couch waiting for the chicken to roast anyway), it has made planning dinner and lunches for the week a breeze.  If you find yourself with a whole chicken on your hands, here are a few of my favorite ways to keep from wasting all of those leftovers

1. For the first evening, do the obvious "Meat and Three" plate (or Meat and Two in this case). Roast your chicken, carve a serving for each of you, and serve it alongside a few vegetables. We opted for steamed green beans and mashed potatoes.
2. We bring a sandwich to work for lunch most days, and a real roasted chicken sandwich is a very welcome change to processed lunch meats. I've been using whole wheat bread, thinly sliced chicken, arugula, provolone, and Miracle Whip (Yeah, I use Miracle Whip sometimes. I make no apologies for my East Texas upbringing).

3. For dinner another night, dice it up and toss it with a green salad, using whatever you can find in your fridge or pantry. I used arugula, carrot, grated parmesan, sunflower seeds, and balsamic vinaigrette.  I served it with some mini pitas and roasted red pepper hummus.
4. Make a batch of chicken salad for another lunch option. I think these two sound fabulous: Italian  Chicken Salad or Wild Rice Chicken Salad
(photo from The Kitchn)
5. Cook up a big pot of chicken noodle soup, using the "extra-easy chicken noodle soup" instructions in the "Additional Notes" at the bottom of this recipe. Already cooked chicken takes this from a fairly quick recipe to a very quick recipe.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Weekend Update

We had a calmer weekend than has been the norm for us over the past couple of months, but we still managed to squeeze in some fun along with some quality couch potato time. Here are the highlights (items such as doing laundry, housework, etc are intentionally omitted).

Friday night, we had a fun evening out with our friends Kevin and Andrea, fellow Texas grads, for dinner and margaritas at Sunset Cantina. The food is solid bar food, but the real highlight (other than the good company, of course) is their extensive tequila list. We opted for the house margarita with the Don Julio Anejo tequila. Delicious.
Saturday, I roasted a chicken for dinner, and afterward we had a date night at the movies to see the newest Bond movie, Skyfall, complete with a bag of buttery, salty, heavenly popcorn (shaken, not stirred of course).  The movie was, in a word, awesome. Go see it. You won't regret it.
You also won't regret making this Lemon Rosemary Roasted Chicken, smeared with a combination of rosemary, lemon zest, and butter. It was easy to execute, wonderfully flavorful, and guaranteed to impress -- perfect for a romantic dinner or for a small dinner party with friends. Just be sure to wash all of the butter from your hands before your guests arrive.
Sunday morning, we flew to New Bedford for brunch at the Airport Grille (attached to their little airport).  This isn't your usual greasy spoon airport diner. They serve things like frittatas and french toast, complete with mimosas and a live jazz trio. That evening, I made this cheesy  Pasta Bake with prosciutto, tomato sauce, and mozzarella, and we  watched one of my favorite movies of all time, Singin' in the Rain. I could watch Gene Kelly dance for hours. His seemingly effortless and completely masculine style of dance is so eloquently summed up by the man himself, "If a man looks like a sissy when he's dancing, he's just not a very good dancer." Needless to say, Gene does not look like a sissy when he's dancing.

A Little Disappointed

Prior to an event at MIT on Thursday, we decided to finally try the much-hyped burger at Craigie on Main. We arrived just as the doors were opening (recommended due to the very limited supply of burgers, usually around 20 per night). We were seated in the bar and sipped cocktails, a Civilian for me, a delicious mezcal concoction, as we eagerly awaited our food. Their "libations" menu is quite impressive, and they obviously have some very talented folks behind the bar.

When our burgers arrived, they were served with steak fries and a salad along with house-made ketchup, pickles, and slaw. I usually prefer skinny shoestring-style fries rather than thick wedged steak fries, but I have to admit these were fantastic -- well seasoned, perfectly crisp, and meticulously plated. And although I'm pretty sure that a salad should not be a highlight when having a burger, I could have eaten my weight in this simple side salad. The dressing was that good.  

Unfortunately, I have to admit that we were both a bit disappointed when it came to the burger itself.  While it's beautiful to look at, ridiculously juice and meaty, and VERY good, it just didn't live up to our (admittedly sky-high) expectations We had trouble putting our finger on it, but I think we narrowed it down to our desire for more texture in the patty and  for more (and maybe a tad sharper) cheese. I'm glad we tried it, but I think from here on out we'll stick with our go-to "fancy-pants burger" from Eastern Standard

Thursday, November 8, 2012

How to Survive the First Snow

Yesterday afternoon, I looked up from my desk to see snow flurries swirling outside my office window. Immediately I was torn between a thrill of excitement and a heavy sense of dread that, just like that, winter was upon us. Yesterday it was still fall. But today it's winter.
I've survived three winters in Boston already, one of which was of epic proportions, but the transition into this very long, very cold season is still a struggle. Thankfully, I have a few tricks up my sleeve for brightening even the bitterest winter day.

1) Don't leave the house without a good coat, boots that will keep your feet dry, and at least one functional but cute accessory that makes you feel pretty, like this brightly colored scarf.
(photo from Gap)

2) As soon as you make your way out of the snow and into your little home, turn on all the lights (this helps fend off those Seasonal Affective Disorder blues due to lack of sunshine), and then change into something warm and cozy  -- your favorite hoodie, fuzzy socks, sweat pants, you name it.

3) Whip up something comforting for dinner. Last night, I made a big pot of homemade Chicken Noodle Soup, which really hit the spot. I'm a sucker for egg noodles. 
4) After dinner, have a steaming mug to sip from as you curl up on the couch.  You can't go wrong with tea or hot chocolate, but one of my favorites is this Apple Ginger Hot Toddy recipe. Apple cider, mulling spices, ginger, lemon, honey, and a splash of booze will warm you right up.
5) Start a crafty project to keep your hands busy, like crocheting a scarf or knitting a throw blanket.
(photo from lombok)

With that, I think I'm ready to face the cold!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Black Bean Poblano Dip

This dip wouldn't win any beauty pageants. It's hard to doll up something that's kind of a drab gray color. But what it lacks in aesthetic appeal, it makes up for in deliciousness. I whipped up a batch in about 30 minutes for a friend's surprise birthday party this weekend, and it was a hit. It's cool and creamy with just enough spice from the roasted chiles.
(inspiration recipe: Poblano Black-Eyed Pea Dip)

2 medium poblano chiles
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup diced yellow onion
1/4 lime, juiced
1/4 tsp cumin
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Turn on the broiler. 

Rub the poblanos with some olive oil and place on a baking sheet.  Put the unpeeled garlic cloves on a square of aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, and wrap them in the foil. Place the garlic on the baking sheet beside the poblanos, and put under the broiler for about 7 minutes.

Flip, and broil for another 7 minutes, or until the poblanos are charred.

Remove baking sheet, and place the chiles in a plastic baggie to let them sweat. This will ease the peeling process. Remove the garlic cloves from the foil, peel them, and roughly chop.

After about 5 minutes, remove the chiles from the baggie, remove the stem and seeds, peel away all of the skin, and roughly chop.

In a food processor, pulse chiles until finely chopped

Add black beans, onion, lime juice, garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper. Puree. 

Add sour cream. Puree until just incorporated. 

Add 2 tablespoon cilantro (or maybe a little more if you love cilantro as much as I do). Puree until just incorporated. 

Taste the dip, and adjust seasoning as you see fit. Serve with remaining 1 tablespoon of cilantro sprinkled on top.

Monday, November 5, 2012

At the Ballet

The first ballet of the season for the Boston Ballet was this weekend. We decided to get season tickets a few years ago, and we've continued to renew our subscription. It makes us feel terribly grown up, and it makes for a wonderful date night every so often.
The ballet performs at the Boston Opera HouseEvery time we walk through the doors, I gaze up to the intricate gilded ceilings and the sparkling chandeliers, and I can't help but smile. Because I feel like a little girl again. A little girl attending her first ballet, dressed up in her prettiest dress, a girl who loved nothing more than tutus and pointe shoes and who dreamed of someday being a prima ballerina. I don't dance anymore, and I never get to wear tutus to work, but the ballet is a little bit of magic for me, and I love getting to share that with my husband.
We began the evening with German food and beer at Jacob Wirth, strolled over to the Opera House, found our seats, enjoyed three very different short ballets, and then, once it was over, took a moonlit (and chilly) walk to the car through Boston Common.  

To quote A Chorus Line, 
"Everything was beautiful at the ballet.
Graceful men lift lovely girls in white."

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Roasted Pumpkin & Bourbon Ice Cream

Happy Day-After-Halloween -- you know, the day where you are in a mild state of shock wondering how on earth you are going to get rid of all that leftover candy.  We had a whopping four groups of Trick-or-Treaters (though that did include one very adorable baby cowboy), so it was a pretty quiet evening for us.  Not anticipating the heaps of leftover candy, my husband and I made a little "treat" for ourselves this week -- a batch of Roasted Pumpkin Ice Cream with a splash of bourbon for good measure. It's to die for (no Halloween pun intended). 
(recipe based on David Lebovitz's Sweet Potato Ice Cream in The Perfect Scoop -- I love this cookbook)
makes 1 quart

1 sugar pumpkin, at least 1 lb.
1 cup plus 2 Tb of whole milk (we substituted heavy cream)
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
a few drops of lemon juice
1 oz of bourbon

Preheat oven to 350

Slice off the pumpkin stem. Cut pumpkin in half and remove seeds. Rub the outside of pumpkin with a little bit of olive oil and then place it cut-side down on a foil-lined baking sheet (to make clean-up easier). 

Roast at 350 for about 50 minutes, until a knife can easily pierce the skin.  The skin will be darkened some, and the flesh will be soft.

Remove pumpkin from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Scoop the flesh out of the skin using a spoon or ice cream scoop. Add scooped out pumpkin (along with any juices that accumulated in the baking sheet) to a food processor and puree until smooth.

Measure out 16 oz of pumpkin puree (you can freeze any puree that you have leftover) and add to a large mixing bowl. Add whole milk or cream, light brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract, salt, lemon juice, and bourbon. 

With a stand mixer or a hand mixer, mix until well combined.

Put the mixture in the refrigerator and let chill for a few hours.

Once well chilled, pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to your ice cream maker instructions.