Monday, February 25, 2013

Brussels Sprouts, Bacon, & Walnut Pasta

Last night (Oscars night!), my poor husband was battling through the final throes of thesis writing.  I thought that a warm dinner and a glass (or three) of wine might do him good, so I paused the Red Carpet coverage and began poking around the pantry.  I had a bag of brussels sprouts in need of attention due to a grocery store impulse buy last week, but I didn't have all of the ingredients for one of my favorite brussels sprouts recipes.

Well, you know what they say about necessity being the mother of invention. What my fridge lacked in pancetta and shallots, it made up for in bacon and spanish onions. I was fresh out of pine nuts, but I had plenty of walnuts (also a cheaper option).  I took a few liberties with the recipe and ended up with a hearty and satisfying dish that I liked even better than the original.
1/2 lb spaghetti (I used a mix of plain and whole grain)
3 slices of thick-cut bacon, sliced into 1/4"-wide pieces
1/4 spanish onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
12 oz bag brussels sprouts, stems trimmed and outer leaves removed
1/4 c chicken broth
2 Tb vermouth 
(or white wine, but I wanted to save all of mine for sipping during The Oscars)
2 Tb walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1/4 c grated parmesan cheese (plus a little extra for sprinkling)
salt and pepper

Using the slicing attachment of a food processor, thinly shave the brussels sprouts (you could also use a mandoline or do it the old fashioned way with a knife).

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook bacon until crisp. Push the bacon toward the outer edges of the pan, and add the onion and garlic to the center. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes until the onion begins to soften.

While onion and garlic cook, add spaghetti to boiling salted water and cook according to package directions.

Once onions are softened, add brussels sprouts, chicken broth, vermouth, and salt and pepper (to taste) to the skillet, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook for another 5 minutes, until brussels sprouts are tender.

Drain pasta when done, reserving about 1/4 cup pasta water. Add pasta and reserved pasta water to the skillet and toss to combine. Add walnuts and grated parmesan cheese, and toss. 

Serve immediately, sprinkled with a little more parmesan. (A little extra cheese is always a good idea)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Adventures at Home: Drinks at Drink and Dining Out

When I got home from Taiwan, I needed some recuperation time. I went to bed early, didn't leave the house, stayed in my pajamas until about 3:00 in the afternoon, indulged in good ol' American comfort food (e.g. pizza, beans and cornbread), and saw no other human beings (other than my husband, who I had missed terribly).  Finally, after two full days of rest, I felt like a person again. When Monday rolled around we had the day off, and I was ready to go out on the town!

We started with cocktails at Drink, one of the best craft cocktail bars in the country (no really) where on the weekends there are lines down the street to get in the door. I'm an old woman at heart and hate crowds, so I'm going to tell you our secret. It's the best possible way to get the Drink experience without having to battle the rest of Boston for a bar stool. 
Go on a week night, and get there as soon as they open!  Now, this is a little tricky for those of us who work in the 'burbs, so when we have a Monday off, we jump at the chance to spend an afternoon at Drink, arriving at 4:00, right as the doors are opening. And it's amazing! You get a seat at the bar, and you have the almost undivided attention of some of the best bartenders in the country.  

There's no menu, so ordering is simple.  Just tell the bartender what you're in the mood for, say a gin cocktail that's a little citrusy, and they make you something.  Something wonderful. We watched as our favorite bartender, Ray, methodically and carefully made our drinks, a Bohemian and an Air Mail for me, and a classic Sazerac for my husband.  
Eventually the crowds began to pour in after work, so we paid our tab and made our way to Garden at the Cellar for dinner.  The restaurant is small and cozy and a little off the beaten path as it's halfway between Harvard and Central Square. We were seated quickly at one of their gleaming copper-top tables and  started with homemade tater tots, a favorite of my husband, and a generous pour of wine.  My stuffed chicken was served over swiss chard and wild rice. It was warm and comforting, just what I wanted for a blustery evening.  

You know, it's awfully fun to take foreign adventures, but adventures at home with the man you love are pretty nice too.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Adventures in Taiwan

I'm back in the good ol' US of A! After about 48 hours of sitting on airplanes or in airports and a fantastic week in Taiwan, it's good to be home. The trip was an unexpected opportunity when my friend Mindy generously asked me to join her for a visit home to see her family, and I'm so glad she did.  We explored, we ate, we celebrated the Chinese Lunar New Year, and we ate some more (this is becoming a common theme).

My first experience in Taiwan, quite fittingly, involved food. Once Mindy's dad and sister brought us home, her mom was in the kitchen readying lunch, Gua Bao. It was introduced to me as a Taiwanese sandwich: doughy buns lovingly filled with tender braised pork belly, bright cilantro, pickled greens, and crushed peanuts. Delicious!
During my time there we visited the National Palace Museum, where I saw a very famous jade cabbage, graceful calligraphy, artwork, and ancient and intricate carvings. We did some window shopping at the pricey shops at Taipei 101, formerly the world's tallest building. I learned a little Taiwanese history at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, honoring the first elected president of Taiwan.  On New Year's Day, we visited the Longshan Temple along with, seemingly, the rest of Taipei. It was filled with countless worshipers holding incense and praying for blessings in the year to come.
We visited Bitan, a lake nestled within the mountains with scenic walking paths, a pedestrian bridge, restaurants with outdoor seating, and even paddle boats.  Another afternoon was spent strolling along a boardwalk area on the Danshui (or Tamsui) River with carnival games (I failed miserably at trying to catch fish with a little easily broken net), more street food than you could imagine, and shops. We sipped tea overlooking the river, enjoying a rare sunny afternoon. I even tried stinky tofu (not as bad as the name suggests but still not my favorite)!  We explored the mountain town of Wulai, ate local specialties such as mountain bubble tea and rice baked in bamboo shoots,  and then marveled at a lovely waterfall cascading down one of the mountains (after a very long trek due to a broken train).
We explored both the sprawling and unbelievably crowded New Year's Market and the bustling traditional market. At the New Year's Market, we stocked up on snacks and goodies for the holiday and sampled as many items as we could manage: dried veggie chips, jerky, sugar cane juice, pig's blood cake on a stick (yes, you read that correctly), candies, roasted nuts, and on and on. At the traditional market, where Mindy's mom does her day to day shopping, there were booths of produce, boxes of live frogs and eels (totally normal), fresh meat ranging from fish, live chickens killed and sold on site, and every part imaginable of cows, pigs, and goats, piles of homemade noodles, fresh flowers, and even more street food. We snacked on dumplings as we explored, took pictures, and waved at vendors who were so friendly and kind to the foreigner poking around their market with her big camera.
We also spent time with Mindy's sweet family. For New Year's Eve, we enjoyed a multi-course meal at a local hotel. For New Year's Day, Mindy's mom cooked an unbelievable feast, where the dishes never seemed to cease. We chatted with cousins over a large, simmering hot pot, we visited Mindy's grandparents, and we even went "shrimping" and shared a plate of grilled shrimp that we caught ourselves.
It was a wonderful week spent with wonderful people. And they're memories I'll cherish forever.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Week in Pictures

I spent Sunday afternoon in the kitchen canning a batch of Mexican Pickled Carrots & Jalapenos (based on a Homesick Texan recipe) and then watched the SAG Awards red carpet.
Monday I left work a little early to avoid a terrible snowy commute. I did some work from home with a big mug of morrocan mint tea. I kind of screwed up dinner, so that called for an after dinner drink: Hemingway Daiquiris!
Tuesday night I came home to a big pot of homemade chili simmering on the stove, thanks to the wonderful Texas man I married. After I played all of the notes in my little clarinet at Charles River Wind Ensemble practice, it was time for another cocktail.
Wednesday night was uneventful. We watched quite a few episodes of Ugly Betty. I got all four seasons for Christmas. I love reliving each episode, and my husband is totally hooked now.

Thursdays means the Medford Farmers Market. They had Vesta Mobile Wood-Fired Pizza cranking out fabulously cheesy and crispy pizzas outside, so we got a Pepperoni and a Vesta (chicken, bacon, tomato sauce, and cheese) and loved them. I also picked up a skein of beautiful hand spun yarn from Natural Specialties. Now I need to find a worthy project!
Date night! Our first stop was dinner and drinks at Green Street Grill in Central Square. We started off sharing the best warm farro and kale salad with goat cheese, cranberries, and pepitas. Dinner was followed by a bandoneon concert by the JP Jofre Quintet at Jordan Hall featuring the music of tango composer and bandoneonist, Astor Piazzolla.  They put on a fantastic show.
I met up with girlfriends for mani-pedis on Saturday. I went with this super dark red. Afterward, we walked over to Punjab (in flip flops in the bitter cold) for lunch and then poked around Arlington Centered, a local little shop selling everything you never knew you needed. For dinner we met up with friends at Trina's, one of my favorite new spots.
We started the day with heart-shaped eggs. While my husband worked on his thesis, I made a batch of cheese crackers for a friend, and that evening I whipped up some poblano macaroni and cheese for our Super Bowl dinner. I also started a new embroidery project -- a kitchen towel featuring a bacon and egg love story!
Happy Monday, everyone!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Apple Puff Pastry Tart with Honey Apricot Glaze

Though I'm really not much of a dessert person (I have more of a salt tooth than a sweet tooth), I do love a good fruit dessert. And when you're married to a man with a sweet tooth, it's always nice to have a few dessert recipes up your sleeve to surprise him from time to time. This weekend I made this Apple Puff Pastry Tart with a Honey Apricot Glaze, and it took some serious self control to keep ourselves from downing the entire thing in one sitting.  It's simple, it's pretty, and between the tart apples, the buttery flaky pastry, and the delicately sweet honey apricot glaze, it makes for a really wonderful after dinner treat.
1 sheet frozen puff pastry dough, thawed
2 1/2 medium Granny Smith Apples, cored and very thinly sliced
1/2 cup apricot jam
1 Tb water
1-2 Tb honey
1/4 lemon, juiced
sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 F

To make the Honey Apricot Glaze, whisk together the apricot jam, water, honey, and lemon juice.

Remove the thawed puff pastry dough from the packaging and unfold onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet

Tile the apple slices in three columns on the puff pastry sheet, leaving the edges exposed. Brush generously with the glaze, and sprinkle with a little bit of sugar

(I actually had quite a bit of glaze leftover, which I stored in a jar in the fridge for future use)

Place the tart into the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until the pastry is puffed and golden.

I would recommend serving this right out of the oven.