Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Baby Shower Weekend

This weekend was a baby shower weekend for both my husband and I.  While he helped throw a boy's baby shower featuring smoked meat, backyard games, beer, and baseball at Fenway, I helped co-host the girl's baby shower.  New babies are springing up everywhere with my husband's classmates, and this time, the guest of honor was the lovely Mailee! We're thrilled that she's expecting a little baby girl when June rolls around.  

I teamed up with three other talented ladies, Jessica, Robyn, and Renee, and we had the best time planning a fun, girly afternoon.  Jessica did a fabulous job with invitations, using a darling baby animal-themed design from tinyprints. She also decorated the party and arranged beautiful spring bouquets in pink, purple, yellow, and green. 
The menu was a coordinated effort between all of us, featuring dainty artichoke puff pastry tarts, bacon-wrapped potato bites with a spicy sour cream dip, baked brie in a puff pastry shell (topped with puff pastry baby elephants for an added touch of cuteness), fruit salad, tomato mozzarella stacks, baked chickpeas, buttery cheddar biscuits, chile-lime popcorn, and homemade pizza rolls

To satisfy everyone's sweet tooth, Robyn whipped up the best chocolate-dipped pretzels, frosted sugar cookie flowers, giraffes, onesies, and elephants, and purple-iced cupcakes. And Renee put together adorable little party favors, candy-filled baby owl boxes, to hand out following the shower.
We set up a serving tray to hold the plates, silver cutlery (perfect for semi-fancy girly affairs), and cocktail napkins in yellowgreen, and pink.
For drinks, I made Citrus Cucumber Water (2 lemons, 2 limes, and 2 cucumbers, thinly sliced, added to a drink dispenser filled with ice water) and Sparkling Citrus Punch.  The punch, a mixture of freshly squeezed grapefruit, orange, and lemon juice, topped with ginger ale (in place of champagne), and garnished with sliced oranges, grapefruit, and strawberries, was deliciously crisp and bright.  I served drinks in ever-popular mason jars with citrus wedges and happy yellow-striped paper straws.
Folks began rolling in around 2:00, mixing and mingling over food and drinks while catching up on all the latest girl talk. The cutest lady at the party was little Miss Evie, just a few months old and turning all the grown-up ladies green with envy over her pink tutu skirt.
Mailee opened her presents, where the hit of the afternoon was a teeny tiny pair of silver shoes. This will be one stylish little baby!
Spring has finally arrived in Boston, so trees and bushes were all abloom when we posed for a group shot outside. It was a beautiful backdrop for a beautiful group of ladies. It's sad to think that in just a few weeks everyone will be scattering across the country following graduation. What a pleasure it has been getting to know all of these girls!
After a fun afternoon, we packed up the decorations, helped Mailee get her loot up to her apartment  divvied up leftover food (the biggest perk of hosting a baby shower), posed for a hostesses and guest of honor picture, and headed home. It won't be long until Mailee's little baby girl arrives, and I can't wait to meet her!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Embroidered Cocktail Napkins

Recently I invited some girlfriends over for a Crafty Girl's Night, so I was in need of a new project. I turned to Pinterest for inspiration, and my eyes landed on this beautiful monogram pattern.  A plan was forming!  You see, I've been wanting to throw a cocktail party ever since my husband and I started learning to make cocktails. I want to go all out -- where guests get all gussied up, nibble on dainty bite-sized appetizers, and talk and laugh over drinks. Wouldn't a set of monogrammed cocktail napkins be perfect for just such an occasion? It was an embroidery project waiting to happen.

Since the napkins are small, each one makes for a quick, fun project.  I'll share how I made them!  It's a process that could be used for anything: handkerchiefs, towels, tote bags, you name it.

And don't be discouraged if you're new to embroidery -- these tutorials from Wild Olive, a wonderful craft blog, are incredibly helpful. So here goes!

1) Find a Pattern:

First, find yourself a pattern.  Needle 'n Thread has an entire index of monogram embroidery patterns (including letters other than "C"). If monograms aren't your thing, there are tons of free patterns available online, or browse through patterns for purchase on Etsy.

2) Gather Supplies: 

Once you pick out a pattern, here's what you'll need to get started:

Printed out pattern
Sharpie  pen
4" Embroidery Hoop
Cloth Cocktail Napkins
Water Soluble Pen
Tapestry Needle, Size 22 or 24 (tips on choosing needle types and sizes)
DMC Embroidery Floss

3) Pick Floss Colors:

I used the following embroidery floss colors, but you can use whatever colors tickle your fancy:

        Letter: 469 - Avocado Green      
        Vine: 3345 - Hunter Green Dark
        Flower: 926 - Gray Green Medium
        Flower center and dots: 729 - Old Gold Medium

4) Trace The Pattern:

To trace the pattern, print it out (sized to fit the napkin), outline it with a Sharpie (optional, but I find it helps it show up through the fabric), and lay it underneath the fabric.  Trace it onto the napkin using a water soluble pen.  

If you can't see your pattern through your fabric, try holding it up against a lit window. Once your pattern is traced, it's time to put the fabric into the hoop and start stitching!
5) Start Stitching

Stitch the Letter C:

Using 2 strands of green floss, outline the letter "C" using the Back Stitch technique.

(Note: Embroidery floss is made up of six strands, and you can vary how many strands you use to create thicker or thinner stitches. For larger projects, I frequently use all six strands, but here I chose two strands for a thinner, daintier finished product.)

Stitch the Vine:

For the vine, I used 2 strands of dark green floss to Back Stitch along the vine and around the leaves, and I used a Fill Stitch to fill in the leaves.

Stitch the Flower:

I opted for a lovely blueish-grey floss for the little flower. Using 2 strands of floss, Back Stitch around the petals. Then fill in the center of each petal using a Fill Stitch.

Stitch the Flower Center and Dots:

Almost done! For the finishing touch, I used all 6 strands of a pale yellow floss to make French Knots at the center of the flower and for the little dots.

(Note: French Knots were a little tricky for me to get the hang of, so if you're new to them, try doing a few practice knots on a separate piece of fabric. Once you get the hang of it, they're a cinch. Here's a video tutorial that I found particularly helpful, though I don't bother using a separate needle for my knots.)

6) Rinse

You're finished stitching!  To get rid of the blue ink, remove the napkin from the hoop, and run cool water over it until it all of the ink disappears.  Once the fabric dries, you have yourself a lovely personalized cocktail napkin.
I absolutely love how these turned out.  I've completed two and have four more to go. A set of these would be perfect for a special wedding, anniversary, or birthday gift.  Or you could make a set for yourself, like I did! 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Mexican Food in Medford: Tenoch

Stop the presses, y'all!  After years of missing the Mexican flavors so prevalent at home in Texas, it turns out that there is some really great Mexican food in Medford!  The good folks at Tenoch opened up in Medford Center about a year ago, and we finally paid them a visit earlier this month. When we walked in the door and began scanning the large menu board, we were like two Texans in a candy store (where the candy is Mexican food).

On our first visit, I tried the Torta Campechana, a mole-smothered pork tamale, and glass of sangria.  Tortas weren't on the menu at TexMex places when I was growing up, so this was a first for me. It was served on buttery toasted telera bread, spread with a black bean paste, and generously stuffed with carnitas, chorizo, Oaxaca cheese, avocado, onion, and tomato, all drizzled with a little chipotle mayo.  The tamale was very good, but the real highlight was the torta. After a couple visits, the Torta Campechana is still my favorite item on the menu.  And the sangria is some of the best I've had in Boston.
On my next visit, they had a special on the menu, a Torta de Pescado.  Lighter than the Torta Campechana, it's still warm and buttery and satisfying. The fish had been crisped up on the griddle, and with the creamy avocado, fresh crisp vegetables, and a little kick from the chipotle mayo, it was a refreshing, delicious sandwich.  I washed it down with another glass of sangria, naturally.
Update 6/2013: Tenoch is now serving Elote, Mexican corn on the cob, just in time for summer, and man is it good. According to my best guess, the corn is rolled in crema and cotija cheese and sprinkled with chili powder and lime juice. it's creamy and tangy and just a touch spicy. I think I'm in love.

Tenoch is truly a hidden gem, and I'm tickled pink that it's right down the street from us.  They're looking to expand into the city, and I believe they will have their very own food truck in the not-so-distant future, but for now, it's most certainly worth a trip into the suburbs!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

It's Grilling Season: Grilled Mushrooms & Asparagus

It's starting to feel more like Spring around here, and it's been sunny and mild this week, which is more than enough excuse to get out the grill.  I flipped through Bobby Flay's Grill It! for inspiration, and two recipes caught my eye  One was Grilled Asparagus with Green Peppercorn Vinaigrette, and the other was Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Hazelnut Pesto and Goat Cheese. Though I usually do exactly what Julia Child tells me, I can't disagree with her more when she says, "there is nothing worse than grilled vegetables."  To me, slightly charred, perfectly grilled vegetables are the delicious epitome of the warm, sunshine-filled months.

For the asparagus, I used Red Wine Vinegar in place of White Wine Vinegar, threw in a little whole grain mustard, and opted for capers instead of green peppercorns. For the mushrooms, I used some of my Swiss Chard and Brussels Sprout Pesto that I made and stashed in the freezer a couple weeks ago. We bought some pretty rib-eye steaks to go with the grilled vegetables, and we had a springtime feast!
Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Pesto and Goat Cheese 
Serves 2

2 portobello mushroom, wiped clean and stems removed
~2 Tb olive oil + salt and pepper
1/4 c crumbled goat cheese
1 tsp lemon zest

Drizzle olive oil over top and bottom of the mushroom caps, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Place the mushrooms on the grill cap side down.  Grill over high heat for 4-5 minutes, until slightly charred. Flip and grill for 3-4 more minutes, until cooked through.

Remove mushrooms to a platter, cap side down. Top with crumbled goat cheese and a dallop of pesto, and garnish with the lemon zest. Serve immediately.

Grilled Asparagus with Caper Vinaigrette
Serves 2

1 bunch of asparagus, tough ends trimmed
~2 Tb olive oil + salt and pepper
3 Tb Red Wine Vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp whole grain mustard
2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
3/4 Tb capers, drained and chopped
1/4 c + 2 Tb olive oil

Whisk together the red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, whole grain mustard, honey, salt, pepper, and capers. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking constantly to emulsify.

(You can make this a couple days in advance, storing it in the refrigerator, but let it sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before serving.  I make mine in a little glass jar so that I can give it a good shake before serving, and the jar works nicely for storing leftover vinaigrette in the refrigerator)

Drizzle olive oil over the asparagus, sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.

Grill asparagus over high heat about 3-4 minutes.  Roll the stalks over, and grill 3-4 more minutes, until slightly charred.

Remove the asparagus to a platter.  Drizzle with the vinaigrette, toss, and serve immediately.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Showing Off Boston

Here are some highlights from our weekend with visitors from Texas (my husband's cousin Jaycie and her fiance). It's always fun to show off Boston a little bit! My husband was head tour guide on Friday while I worked, taking them for bagel sandwiches at Magnificent Muffin, a Sam Adams tour, towering pastrami sandwiches at Sam LaGrassa's, and finally a little walking tour in the pouring rain of some of the Freedom Trail and Harvard Square.

That evening, we enjoyed dinner and drinks at Green Street Grill and a performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall. They played a little-performed rendition of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" arranged by Stokowski (rather than the popular Ravel arrangement) that was phenomenal. The final movement, "The Great Gate of Kiev," gave me chills.
Saturday morning, we drove up to the North Shore.  At Woodman's of Essex, we indulged in a fried feast: creamy and light clam chowder chock full of clams, fried hushpuppy-like clam cakes, perfectly battered whole belly clams that tasted of the sea, and chewy, crispy clam strips (my favorite, despite New Englanders' claims that bellies are superior).

On the North Shore you can't go wrong with Woodman's, the Clam Box or J.T. Farnham's. In my humble opinion, the best clams are at Woodman's or the Clam Box, but the friendly folks at Farnham's also serve up delicious fare with a beautiful view to boot.
To walk off our lunch, we spent the afternoon strolling around the fishing village of Rockport, poking around the little shops at Bear Skin Neck, admiring the sea views, and picking our way around piles of lobster traps for a picture with their local landmark, The Motif.
That evening, we made our way back into Boston and meandered through the Boston Public Garden, where the swan boats are back out on the water and the trees are beginning to come alive. The public garden is a special spot to us, the site of our engagement three years ago this month!
For dinner, we went to Eastern Standard. Where else? We spread the gospel of their fantastic food and cocktails to anyone who will listen.  It's our favorite restaurant in town, and we love sharing it with guests. To end the meal, the manager brought us a complimentary mini-cocktail. Due to our shared love of The Martinez, she wanted us to try their spin on it, The Frobisher, using housemade rose vermouth. It was delicious.
Sunday morning we toured the U.S.S. Constitution. She's a majestic ship with towering masts and gleaming woodwork. Her sides, lined with cannons, are so sturdy that they earned her the nickname "Old Ironsides." 
Finally, is there any better way to spend an afternoon than at the ballpark? Fenway Park never fails to create a sense of awe. You can feel the history and the love of the game that are housed within its walls. The press box lined with pennants dating back to the early 1900's, the imposing Green Monstah, the little wooden seats from a time when people were smaller, the aged red brick walls, the smell of hot dogs and beer in the air, and the sound of a wooden bat cracking against a baseball is America nostalgia at its best. I'm a Rangers fan through and through, but I love an afternoon at Fenway.
Sunday evening, Jaycie and Donald flew home to Texas, and life returned to normal.  Tired from the busy weekend, we decided to spend Monday, the Patriot's Day holiday, resting in the quiet of our own home.  

Thankfully, we were miles away from the tragic events at the Boston Marathon finish line.  Text messages began pouring in asking if we were ok, so we turned on the news. As the scene unfolded, we sat watching for hours and checking with friends to ensure that everyone was out of harms way.  We feel so blessed to be safe and unharmed, but we are praying for those affected.  And while my heart is heavy for our city, I'm encouraged by the vast outpouring of love both toward my husband and I and toward this great city.
(Image courtesy of Andi on Dribble)

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Week in LA

I spent this past week in LA on work travel. I landed Monday afternoon, and my first stop was, as you might guess, In N Out. At the location near the airport, I got my standard order (a Double Double with Animal Fries), and we grabbed a spot in the sun, digging in as airplanes roared overhead, coming in for their landing at LAX.
After lunch, I spent the rest of the afternoon around the Manhattan Beach Pier. I got a giant Jamba Juice smoothie (another favorite painfully absent from the Boston area, aside from one terribly inconvenient location by BU) and then strolled down to the end of the pier. The whole world was washed in sunshine, and the strong coastal wind whipped my hair around and whipped up strong waves crashing into the pier. 
After admiring the view and peeking into the little aquarium at the end of the pier, I trudged through the sand to the water's edge and let the waves surge up over my feet. Once I lost all feeling in my toes, it was time to head back up to dry land.

Contrary to what you might expect, I don't really miss living in Los Angeles, but I do miss the sunshine. And I miss the food. That evening, after March Madness drew to a close (and after winning $38 for a 3rd place bracket), I needed a Mexican food fix.  The Manhattan Beach El Tarasco is a tiny hole in the wall spot with just bar stool seating along a single countertop. It looks a little seedy, in stark contrast to the usual poshness of Manhattan Beach, but don't let that scare you away. With a plate of carnitas tacos smothered in guacamole, a big pile of spanish rice, and a basket of homemade tortilla chips and salsa, I was in heaven.
The next evening I met up with some of my LA friends for sushi. We tried a new spot (to me), B.A.D. (Best and Delicious) Sushi in downtown El Segundo.  I love El Segundo, a quaint small town oasis in the midst of sprawling cosmopolitan LA, and since sushi is pretty much the unofficial official food of LA, it seemed like an appropriate choice. And it's always so nice to catch up with old friends.
I spent my last evening in town out with my co-workers. Back at the Manhattan Beach pier, we took in the view of rolling waves glowing from the fiery orange sun setting below the watery horizon, the distant mountains black against the vibrant sky, colorful beach houses crowded next to each other, spindly palm trees dotting the shoreline, and sand as far as you could see in either direction.

We tried to go to Simzy's for dinner, but upon hearing that it would be an hour wait, we went to Plan B: more Mexican food at Pancho's.  Now, I prefer to go to Pancho's on Sunday mornings for brunch and complimentary bottomless champagne, but it's still pretty good on a Wednesday night with margaritas.
Yesterday, after three long days of meetings and three nights sleeping in a hotel bed, it was high time to come home. After the long cross-country flight, my sweet husband greeted me at the airport with a ricotta-filled cannoli from Mike's Pastry and a big hug and kiss.  What a sight for sore eyes!
Back in chilly, rainy Boston, I sure miss the LA sunshine, but boy is it nice to be home!  This weekend we'll be taking Brad's cousin Jaycie and her fiance around Boston, so let the fun begin! Happy Friday, everyone!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Swiss Chard & Brussels Sprout Pesto

Pesto is such a simple, versatile concept.  Starting with the basic recipe using basil, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, and parmesan cheese, you can play with different combinations of herbs, nuts, and cheese for almost endless possibilities (cilantro pecan pesto is one of my favorites). It's also a great staple to keep around the kitchen, lasting for months in the freezer. You can toss it with warm pasta for a quick sauce, use it in place of tomato sauce for pizza, spread it on sandwiches, toss it with roasted potatoes for a delicious side dish, or use it mixed into a chicken salad.

Recently, I've seen recipes trading winter greens in place of herbs. Why haven't I thought of this before? It's genius and so very simple. With just one extra step of blanching the greens, you're ready to make pesto. I used a combination of swiss chard and brussels sprouts, but you could use kale, collard greens, turnip greens, you name it.  This winter pesto is earthier than its bright summery cousin, but it's perfect for these lingering wintery days as we eagerly await warmer weather and fresh herbs springing up in our gardens.
(Recipe adapted from The Kitchn's Winter Greens Pesto)

1 large bunch of swiss chard, stemmed and roughly chopped
1/2 12 oz bag of brussels sprouts, stems trimmed,  tough outer leaves removed, and sliced
large bowl of ice water
2/3 cup almonds, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 heaping cup pecorino romano cheese, grated
1/4 tsp lemon zest
3 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
pinch crushed red pepper (optional)
1/2 cup + 2 Tb extra virgin olive oil

Using a dry (no oil) skillet over medium heat, toast the chopped almonds for about 5 minutes until they begin to smell toasty and turn golden brown.  Be careful not to let them burn. When done, remove from skillet and let cool.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil to blanch the swiss chard and brussels sprouts. Have a large bowl of ice water ready.

Once boiling, add in the chopped swiss chard and brussels sprouts. Let the water come back to a boil, and stir to ensure that the leaves are all submerged. After about 3 minutes total, once the chard has wilted, drain in a colander, and then plunge into the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.

Drain the swiss chard and brussels sprouts in a colander again, squeezing out any excess water. Place drained greens on a clean dish towel, rolling the dish towel around them, squeezing out any remaining water.

Place the swiss chard and brussels sprouts into the bowl of a large food processor. Add toasted almonds, garlic, grated cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper. Pulse a few times and then puree until ingredients have become a paste.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and then turn food processor back on. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil. About halfway through I stop, scrape down the sides again, and resume until all of the oil is incorporated into the pesto.

At this point, you can serve the pesto, store it in the refrigerator for a few days, or freeze it, where it will last for a few months. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Medford Community Read Program: Bon Appetit!

Recently, I learned that Medford hosts an annual "Community Reads" project, courtesy of the Friends of the Medford Public Library and the Medford Arts Council. Each year a book is selected for participants to read, and events are held throughout town that coincide with the theme of the book. How cool is that? This year's selection is one of my favorites: My Life In France by Julia Child. Julia's memoirs are captivating, and it's such a beautiful read, filled with her joys and struggles and lots of cooking.
On Tuesday night, Bestsellers Cafe hosted this year's Kick-Off  event, "Memories of Julia Child." As they recently re-opened in Medford Center (quite a story in itself) I've been dying to stop in and check it out. Combining some of my favorite things under one roof (books, coffee, and food), it's a great little bookstore. It reminds me of a smaller community version of Trident Booksellers and Cafe on Newbury Street, which I've gushed about before.
For the Kick-Off, they invited Mark DeVoto, son of Julia's close friend Avis DeVoto, to come speak about his memories of Julia Child.  Julia and Avis began their friendship as pen-pals who had never met, and in each other they found their soul mates. Much of their correspondence is captured in As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto edited by Joan Reardon, which I'm currently reading. It's an enthralling glimpse into the hearts and minds of two fiery, magnificent women. Eventually, they became neighbors in Cambridge once the Childs moved back to the US.
Tables and chairs were set up in the back of the cafe, with Mark seated in the center. The back wall of the shop is lined with French Doors, allowing the light to flood in and offering a beautiful view of the Mystic River. I got a big mug of spiced cider and a few snacks courtesy of the culinary program at Medford High School.  I settled into a seat in the back corner, sharing a table with a woman who confided that she once went to a dinner party where Julia was present!
The talk was laid back, and Mark graciously shared his memories and conversed with the audience, speaking fondly of a Thanksgiving spent at the Childs, a soup Julia once made with all of the vegetables in his little garden, the fact that Julia loved McDonalds french fries (that got a good laugh), and memories of his mother.  I enjoyed the evening thoroughly, and I'm so thankful to the Medford community for organizing such a special event. What a priceless opportunity to learn more about a woman that I so love and admire.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Irish Cheddar Ale Soup

This fall, I shared some of my cooking goals for the year, and I've been slowly chipping away at them. I officially got the "canning bug" after making and canning apple butter, and my husband and I had a blast teaming up to make homemade pretzels.  I checked off another with this Irish Cheddar Ale Soup, featuring some of my husband's homebrew.  

We really loved this soup. It's all kinds of rich, using almost unseemly amounts of sharp cheddar and Irish Cheddar, but some days you need something that's comforting, creamy, and cheesy (and topped with bacon crumbles). For a contrast to the richness, it helps to serve it with a hunk of hearty whole wheat bread, a crusty baguette, or even a soft pretzel for dunking. 

Serves 6

6 thick-cut bacon slices, cut into 1/2 inch strips
2 Tb unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup (~3 small) carrots, peeled and sliced 
1/2 cup (~4 small) celery stalks, sliced 
1/4 tsp cayenne
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup amber ale (I used my husband's homebrew)
(The remainder of the 12 oz bottle is an added bonus for the cook)
1 Tb Worcestershire sauce
2 cups whole milk
2 cups chicken broth
3 cups (~2/3 lb) Irish cheddar, grated (I used Kerrygold Kilaree)
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Set a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the bacon. Cook until crisp, stirring occasionally, then transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Scoop out excess bacon grease, leaving about 2 Tb in the bottom of the pot, and lower the heat to medium.

Add the butter to the pot. Once it melts, add in the onion, carrots and celery. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened. 

Add the cayenne and garlic, cooking just until fragrant, about 30 sec-1 min. 

Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly to make a roux (cooking the flour keeps it from tasting raw).

 Add the beer gradually, stirring constantly to incorporate with the roux. Cook until the mixture forms a thick paste, about 2-3 minutes. 

Stir together the Worcestershire sauce, milk, and chicken broth.  Add to the pot gradually, again stirring constantly until all is incorporated. 

Increase the heat to medium-high, and let the soup come to a simmer. Then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and puree the soup with an immersion blender (you could also use a food processor or a food mill, pureeing in batches if necessary)

Set the pot back over medium-low heat, and begin adding the cheese a little at a time, stirring constantly to incorporate (be sure to scrape the bottom periodically to prevent sticking). The soup has to be warm enough to melt the cheese, but be careful not to allow the soup to come to a boil. Continue until you've added all of the cheese and the soup is smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Serve topped with the crumbled bacon. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Breakfasting in Medford

Probably due to my small town upbringing, I love the sense of community and quality found in little "mom and pop" shops.  The Boston area is chock full of them, and nationwide chains are largely absent, which is pretty fantastic (except for those times I would give my right arm for some fried chicken). While Medford isn't as bustling as Somerville or Cambridge, it shouldn't be overlooked. Medford has lots of hidden gems.  In fact, we found another one this weekend!

Saturday morning, on our way to spend the weekend with friends in Porstmouth, NH, we decided to try Donuts with a Difference.   I must have driven or walked past their shop a hundred times and never once noticed it. It's just a tiny unassuming glass-window store front, squeezed between a smoke shop and a dry cleaners. Inside, a glass counter is lined with trays of freshly made donuts and a few muffins, and there's a narrow bar-top along the back of the shop where you can enjoy your breakfast while catching up on the local gossip. We got half a dozen for the road: two chocolate glaze, two chocolate cake, and two honey dipped (is this "New England" for a glaze donut?).
When my husband bit into his first donut (despite his best intentions, he ate three), a look of complete bliss washed over his face.  I'm not exaggerating. This is a man of few words, yet he couldn't stop gushing. Now y'all, I don't even like donuts, but after that reaction, I had to have a taste. The honey dipped were airy and light, spongy and warm, and perfectly sweet. The box was polished off in no time. These folks in their little no-frills donut shop are the real deal. The "difference" is obviously a local shopkeeper who cares about their product and their community.

Also, don't miss out on Mystic Coffee Roaster, right across the street. Because what's a donut without coffee?  They're brewing up their own locally roasted beans, so you're getting a fresh, quality cup of coffee.