Friday, May 31, 2013

Gone To Texas

Howdy, folks! We're boarding a plane to Texas for the weekend, and I couldn't be more excited! We'll get to poke around Ft. Worth this evening with my good friend Alison, and the rest of the weekend we'll hang out with my parents celebrating their 39th wedding anniversary (that's a lot of years)! Plans include eating lots of TexMex, soaking up some Texas sunshine (keep your fingers crossed that it's not rainy), and going to see my Texas Rangers! Expect a full report once we get back. In the meantime, wishing everyone a fantastic weekend!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Memorial Day Weekend

I hope everyone had a fun and sunshine-filled Memorial Day weekend! Ours was a good one, though it went by all too quickly.  Friday night we had dinner at The Painted Burro and checked out their recent expansion. The bar area was moved to a separate room, creating a larger and quieter dining area, which we really liked. The food is just as good, and they still serve up a fine margarita. I enjoyed their Paloma cocktail this time around with tequila and homemade grapefruit soda. After dinner, we went to Boston Ballet's final ballet of the season, Coppelia. 
On Saturday, our friends Kurt and Nina came down from New Hampshire to spend the weekend with us. We had a fancy evening planned to celebrate Kurt's birthday and the end of school for my husband
Following presents at home, we got all gussied up and braved the cold drizzly weather, excited to introduce them to our favorite snazzy cocktail spot, Drink. We arrived as the doors opened at 4:00, managing to snag a seat before a line formed out the door. Reunited with our favorite bartender, Ray, who mixed up some classic cocktails and then had some fun mixing a few awesomely weird drinks for us. Most notable was my husband's Electric Current Fizz which involved downing an egg yolk topped with bitters before sipping the cocktail itself (it had the added bonus of making him feel like Rocky Balboa).
The evening continued with a nice dinner at Eastern Standard, starting with their jumbo shrimp cocktail and a round of Martinezes (our waiter was even nice enough to snag their Martinez recipe for me after I told him of our unsuccessful attempts to recreate it at home). After sharing their famed butterscotch bread pudding for dessert, our last stop was their sister cocktail bar, The Hawthorne, hidden inside the neighboring Hotel Commonwealth.
After such a fancy evening, we went a little more casual on Sunday morning. We were so excited to introduce them to our favorite brunch spot, Highland Kitchen.
We arrived early to get a good spot in line, narrowly missing the beginning of street closures for the Somerville Memorial Day Parade. We waited outside, bundled up in coats with thoughts of steaming mugs of coffee and piping hot food dancing through our heads. You would have never known it was the end of May. 
The chilly wait was well worth it once we were finally seated in a cozy booth. I tried (and really enjoyed) the shrimp and grits, topped with collard greens, large bits of thick-cut bacon, and savory satueed mushrooms. Everyone else got the practically irresistible Dirty Bird, a biscuit topped with fried chicken, bacon, a fried egg, and copious amounts of white gravy. 
Once Kurt and Nina headed back to New Hampshire, we spent a quiet evening at home, including an indoor picnic for two.  I love indoor picnics, so a gray dreary day is more than enough excuse to start piling up blankets on the floor!  We've been (belatedly) watching older seasons of 24, so we ordered take-out, curled up on the living room floor, and finished Season 2.
We spent Memorial Day at a cookout with some of my husband's LGO classmates, thanks to Brad and Asheligh, our fabulous host and hostess!  It was a tropical celebration with grilled kabobs, corn on the cob, potato salad, cole slaw, and fruity drinks topped with colorful paper umbrellas. Folks played corn hole and ladder golf, chatted, and enjoyed the beautiful weather, as it was finally sunny and warm! 
Finally, I don't want to forget the reason that we are able to enjoy such a fun long weekend. I am so grateful for those who have served in the military and for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we might enjoy life as we know it in this great nation. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Mid-Week Date Night

On Wednesday my husband and I had a mid-week date night, which is pretty wild and crazy for us. Usually we're fairly boring during the week, preferring to just cook dinner together and then curl up on the couch to catch up on TV shows.  But this week, we had a concert to go to! Ramin Karimloo, a singer from the West End (London's Broadway), was in Boston on his "Broadway to Bluegrass" tour.

I originally learned about Ramin while following the career of Hadley Fraser. I fell for Hadley and his simply amazing voice when I saw him as Marius in "Les Miserables" 10 years ago in London.  Last year, I was lucky enough to see him return to "Les Mis" and steal the show as Javert.  Hadley and Ramin have performed together in various productions and are the singing/song-writing duo behind the band Sheytoons. While Hadley is my favorite, I was excited to see Ramin perform for the first time.

Before the show, we tried Veggie Planet, a cute little hole-in-the-wall vegetarian restaurant.  I got a tart summery Raspberry Lime Rickey and the Portobello Redhead pizza (their items are served over either pizza or rice).  Topped with portobellos and onion, blanketed in romesco sauce, and dotted with goat cheese, it was very good (though maybe a little too oily).
After dinner, we stopped into Algiers to share a pot of tea.  Named after Algeria's capital city, it's a coffee shop specializing in Middle Eastern food. Almost hidden in a typical Harvard Square red brick building, you step in and feel transported -- the decor is eclectic, colorful, and quite beautiful. There's a downstairs seating area, but I prefer to head upstairs to their lovely second floor with a high dome ceiling, large windows, Middle Eastern artwork, and even a little outdoor deck area.
The service is almost ridiculously slow, but if you aren't in a hurry, both the food and drinks are very good. I absolutely love their mint tea and their lamb kebab sandwich wrapped in a fresh pita.  We finished our little pot of mint tea and made our way to Regatta Bar, excited for the concert to start.
Ramin put on a fantastic show with some very talented musicians backing him up, including a Texas fiddle player with some real chops. The "Broadway to Bluegrass" concept may sound like a weird one, but they totally made it work, playing arrangements of showtunes with a bluegrass flair. Ramin about brought the house down with a moving rendition of "Bring Him Home" from "Les Miserables," and I particularly enjoyed "Broken", a Sheytoons number (sadly lacking Hadley's vocals).
I was pretty tired at work on Thursday morning, but it was worth it for a fun night on the town!  Now it's time to gear up for the long Memorial Day weekend.  Tonight we go to the last ballet of the season (Coppelia), and we'll spend the rest of the weekend celebrating and cooking out with friends. Wishing everyone a very happy Friday and a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Chimichurri (and Chimichurri Grilled Potatoes)

When I was in college, I spent two summer internships in LA before moving there following graduation.  During one of those internships, I joined my friend Diana for a cookout at the home of an Argentenian co-worker. It was a beautiful California summer day, and they had sausages on the grill. The grill master happily placed one on my plate and pointed to a large bowl of green sauce next to the grill. As he drizzled a large spoonfull over the grilled meat, he told me it was called Chimichurri. I immediately fell in love, never having tasted anything like it.  Following the cookout, he was kind enough to share his recipe, and I'm still using it six years later!

While his original recipe called for two bunches of parsley and 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar, I tweaked it a bit. In some regions, cilantro and lemon juice are used, so I added a little bit of both (a great addition for a cilantro lover like me). It's a versatile sauce, good with any grilled meat (or vegetables)!.  Monday, I made a batch to drizzle over steak and then tossed a little bit with grilled potatoes for a wonderful side dish.

1 bunch of parsley, roughly chopped 
1 bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped
1 large clove of glaric, roughly chopped
2 cups of olive oil
1/8 cup of red wine vinegar
1/8 cup lemon juice
1 tsp salt 
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (or more if you like things spicy)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until it comes together into a sauce. Taste and add more salt and pepper to taste.  It's as simple as that! 

This makes a big batch, so store leftovers in the fridge (should last a week or so) or in the freezer (should last a few months).
Chimichurri Grilled Potatoes

1.5 lbs small potatoes, washed and halved (I used a bag of red, purple, and yukon gold potatoes)
~1/4 cup + 2 Tb chimichurri
salt (for parboiling the potatoes)

Place the halved potatoes in a medium sauce pan and cover with cold salted water. 

Bring to a boil, and let the potatoes simmer for about 8 minutes, until they are almost done (you should be able to insert a paring knife into a potato half fairly easily but still meet some resistance).

Drain the potatoes and toss with about 2 tablespoons of the Chimichurri.

Grill over med-high heat for about 2 minutes. Flip and grill for another 1-2 minutes until lightly golden brown.

Serve topped with the remaining Chimichurri.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Reason to Celebrate!

Yesterday, we had a reason to celebrate. You see, my husband finished his dual-degree program at MIT!  As a part of the Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) program, he will be receiving an MS in Aero/Astro and an MBA upon graduation in a couple weeks. I couldn't be more proud of him!
We began this journey together two years ago.  I remember him leaving for his first day of school (with a Big Chief tablet from his mom) and thinking that this was going to be the longest two years in history. But we took it a day at time, and finally, here we are! The thesis and all of the classes and assignments and team projects and late nights are behind him.  And he has not only survived it all, but he has excelled, just as I knew he would. I am so amazed by this man that I am married to.  

While this has not been the easiest two years, we have so many wonderful new friends and wonderful memories that were made along the way. We'll be so sad to bid everyone farewell as they scatter across the country following graduation, but for now, it's time to celebrate!  

So how do you celebrate such an occasion? First you start with presents! This should be a no-brainer. 
I got my favorite Sazerac drinker a set of original Sazerac glasses, a super cool Sazerac print, and a muddler so he can muddle together sugar cubes and bitters, as is the traditional method.
Next, you cook his favorite meal, Pioneer Woman's Beef and Snow Peas.  It's nothing fancy, but it's delicious. 
After dinner, since it's a beautiful, unusually warm spring day, you make the most of the last hour of daylight and walk down to the local ice cream shop, hand in hand. Because what's a celebration without ice cream?
Finally, you snuggle up on the couch with your ice cream and watch a movie, like you don't have a care or a responsibility in the world. Because at the moment, you don't. And that's an amazing feeling.


(And then you watch the season finale of The Office and cry like a baby the entire time. Despite its rough patches, The Office holds a special place in our hearts, as we began watching it together as friends in college.  We would hurry back to my apartment complex from $1 margarita night at El Arroyo and plop down in front of the TV.  As the story-lines progressed, so did our lives. We graduated college, we started dating, I moved to LA while he moved to Boston, we fell in love, I moved to Boston, we got married, and he now has two more degrees under his belt. Through all that change, there's always been a new episode of The Office on Thursday nights, so last night felt like the end of an era.  But what a truly perfect ending it was!)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Embroidered Baby Swaddling Blanket

A few weeks ago, we had a baby shower for one of my friends. I was in the mood for a crafty project, so I embroidered a swaddling blanket for her, using a little owl pattern, since she is decorating her nursery with baby animals. Despite being a slightly larger project than my Embroidered Cocktail Napkins, the steps are exactly the same, and it's still fairly quick and super fun.  The stitching will take probably an afternoon or two, depending on how comfortable you are with embroidery.

A muslin swaddling blanket is great for stitching, given the loose weave of the fabric, but this pattern would be equally cute on little bibs, a decorative pillow, or framed for the nursery walls (you could even frame your work inside an embroidery hoop as seen here, here, and here).

So here's how I did it!

1) Find a Pattern

I used this darling pattern that I found on Pinterest.  It was meant for a stuffed plush owl, but it's equally perfect for embroidery.
(pattern from Denise Loves Art!)

2) Gather Supplies
Here's what you'll need:

Printed out pattern (it's a big blanket so I used a whole piece of 8.5"x11" paper)
Cardboard box, broken down
Embroidery Hoop (I used an 8" hoop)
Aden + Anais
Aden + Anais Swaddling Wrap (this brand was highly recommended by friends with babies)
Tapestry Needle, Size 22 or 24 (tips on choosing needle types and sizes)

3) Pick Floss Colors
I used the following embroidery floss colors, opting for a pink-hued palette, as my friend is having a little girl. Blue, green, brown, and yellow would be sweet for a little boy. Or use whatever colors tickle your fancy!
         Owl Outline: 838 - Beige Brown Very Dark
         Wing Outline: 3832 - Raspberry Medium
         Inner Wing Stitches: 3833 - Raspberry Light
         Inner Eye Circles: 676 - Old Gold Light
         Middle Eye Circles: 3833 - Raspberry Light
         Outer Eye Circles: 3832 - Raspberry Medium
         Beak: 676 - Old Gold Light

4) Trace the Pattern

This was actually the trickiest part of this project! Because the blanket was so cozy and thick, I couldn't see the pattern through the material. I was working at night; therefore, holding it against a lit window was out of the question.  So I had to get a little creative, cutting the pattern out of cardboard using the following steps:

Step 1: Cut out the owl with scissors.  Tape the paper pattern to a piece of cardboard, and trace the outline. Use an X-ACTO knife (and an extra piece of cardboard underneath to protect your work surface) to cut the around the outline.

Place the cardboard pattern wherever desired on the blanket (I chose a corner), and trace around it with the soluble pen.

At this point, it will look vaguely reminiscent of the Millennium Falcon. (Side Note: How cool would that be on a swaddling blanket?!)
Step 2: With the paper pattern, cut out the wings and along the bottom of the eyes and beak. Lay the remaining piece of the pattern on the cardboard. Trace around it, and cut along the lines, setting the cut-away pieces to the side.

Align the remaining cardboard pattern with the outline on the blanket, and trace the wings and the bottom of the eyes and beak.
Step 3: Now take the paper pattern of the owl's head, and cut around the top of the eyes and beak. Place on the cardboard head and trace. Cut along the lines, so that you're left with a cardboard pattern of just the eyes. (It'll look like cardboard owl sunglasses)

Line up that piece on the blanket and trace around the top of the eyes.
Step 4: Next, cut out the middle circle of one of the eyes from the paper pattern.  Place it on top of the blanket, centered on the eye, and trace around it for each eye. Repeat this method for the inner circles.
Step 5: Finally, I used the edge of a cardboard wing to fill in the wings. Line up the curved edge where you would like to place the lines, and follow the edge, drawing short dashes. Repeat until you have three dotted lines per wing to match the pattern.
Now you're finally finished tracing!

5) Start Stitching

We've made it to the fun part! Place the blanket in your embroidery hoop, and start stitching!  You can use whatever combination of colors and stitching techniques you would like to create your little owl, but here's what I did:
Owl Outline:

Using all six strands of the dark brown embroidery floss, back stitch along the outline the owl, leaving the outer edge of the wings un-stitched (see final picture for clarification).

(Note: Embroidery floss is made up of six strands, and you can vary how many strands you use to create thicker or thinner stitches.)


To embroider the wings, use all six strands of the darker pink floss and the stem stitch (I use Wild Olive's alternate stitch, as I find it much easier than the first technique). The stem stitch gives a little texture to the wings, like feathers. Then, with all six strands of the lighter pink, use back stitches to embroider the dotted lines on the wings.


Stitch the outer eye circles with all six strands of the darker pink floss and the back stitch. Switch to the lighter pink floss, and use all six strands to back stitch around the middle eye circles. Finally, switch to the pale yellow floss, and use all six strands to back stitch around the inner eye circles. Then use a horizontal fill stitch to fill in the center of the eyes.


With all six strands of the pale yellow floss, back stitch around the beak; then fill it out using a fill stitch.

6) Rinse

Now that you're done stitching, remove the blanket from the embroidery hoop, and rinse under cool water to remove the soluble ink. Once it's dry, you have an adorable, personalized, one-of-a-kind baby gift. Ta da!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Lemon Rhubarb Buckle

I would like to take a moment to extol the values of a lesser-known rhubarb sidekick. Strawberry and rhubarb have had a good thing going for a long time now, but what about the lonely left out lemon? It pairs so nicely with the equally tart rhubarb, and it doesn't cover up its rhubarby flavor like strawberries can.  I think there's room for both pairings in the world.

You see, I had a bag of rhubrab in the refrigerator but nary a strawberry in sight when I got the urge to bake something last night.  I started with my Cranberry Orange Cake recipe and tweaked it a bit to get this Lemon Rhubarb Buckle*. I think I like it even better than the original! It's a moist cake dotted with fresh fruit and sprinkled with a crumbly topping.  Its sweetness balances with the tender tart rhubarb and bright lemon zest.  Perfect for a Thursday night of no significance at all, it would also be a great addition to a Mother's Day Brunch menu!

*Side Note: A buckle is usually a cake topped with fresh fruit and then a crumbly topping that "buckles" as it bakes. Here you mix some fruit into the batter, top the batter with more fruit, and then top everything with the crumbly topping.
Vanilla Crumb Topping

1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup + 2 Tb white sugar
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1/2 Tb vanilla extract

Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, combine on low speed until the texture resembles coarse crumbs.

Drizzle the vanilla over the mixture and mix briefly until incorporated. (All of this can also be done by pulsing the ingredients in a food processor). 

When the crumb topping is done, store it in the refrigerator so the butter stays cold while you make the cake. 

Lemon Rhubarb Buckle

1 Tb unsalted butter, to grease baking dish
1 cup Vanilla Crumb Topping (recipe above)
1 3/4 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
zest of 1 1/2 lemons
2 eggs
1/2 Tb vanilla extract
1/2 cup 2% greek yogurt
4 rhubarb stalks (~2 cups), halved lengthwise and finely diced

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a 9-in square baking dish.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer), cream the butter, sugar, and lemon zest on medium-high speed for 3-5 minutes until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the vanilla.

Next, stir in the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the yogurt in two additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. 

Fold in about 1 1/4 cup of the rhubarb, and then spread the batter into the prepared baking dish. Distribute the remaining rhubarb over the cake, and spread the crumb topping over the rhubarb.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until lightly golden and firm on top 
(a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean when done)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

It's Texas Night in Boston

Guess who we got to meet this weekend? Sweet little Baby Noah! Isn't he a cutie? I helped throw a baby shower for his mama not too long ago, and now here he is!  He was decked out in overalls, a plaid shirt, and best of all, the tiniest pair of cowboy boots you ever did see.  Don't let that sleepy face fool you. He was ready for Texas Night!
Brad and Ashleigh, also from Texas, understand what it's like to be far away from home and far away from the food you crave. On Saturday, we took matters into our own hands and put together a TexMex feast to celebrate the birth of Noah, complete with chips and Roasted Tomatillo Salsa, Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas, spanish rice, black beans, margaritas, and sopapillas with cinnamon vanilla ice cream!  

I also whipped up a batch of lemon raspberry muffins to leave with the new parents. The recipe is from a great little cookbook called Texas Morning Glory, a collection of breakfast/brunch recipes from Texas Bed & Breakfasts.
Saturday afternoon I puttered around our kitchen, happy as a clam and surrounded by the heavenly aroma of peppers, onion, garlic, cilantro, and tomatillos.  I used Homesick Texan's Sour Cream Chicken Enchilada recipe, also found in her fabulous cookbook. It takes a little time and effort, but it's fun to do as a team (grab a friend or significant other and get to rolling those enchiladas). The end results are definitely worth it.

We eventually loaded up the car and headed over to Brad and Ashleigh's.  My husband started things off right by mixing everyone a margarita, and I snuck in a few minutes with Noah before popping the enchiladas in the oven and starting on the spanish rice. I used my brother's recipe, which I'll have to share with you sometime. He lives in West Texas, where an awesome Mexican co-worker was nice enough to share her recipe with gringos like us!
When dinner was served, we gathered around their dining table and dug in while Noah rocked happily in his baby swing. The enchiladas turned out really well, filled with moist chicken and topped with melted cheese, bright cilantro, and a sauce that's creamy, tangy, and just spicy enough. It's amazing how a plate full of food shared with friends can make me feel just a little bit closer to the home I love and miss. 
After dinner, the man of the house went into the kitchen and put together a fine finish to the evening: homemade sopapillas, dusted with cinnamon and sugar and drizzled with honey, served with cinnamon vanilla ice cream. This might be one of the best desserts known to man. 
Noah joined us at the grown up's table once the dishes were cleared away, and we chatted into the evening.  Seriously, I can't get over how cute this kid is! 
What a sweet family! We've loved having them up here in Boston throughout my husband's LGO program, and we had the best time meeting the newest addition to their family. Eventually, we bid everyone farewell and headed home, full and happy. I would say Texas Night was a resounding success!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Chicken Spaghetti

So there's something you need to know if you don't know it already. Chicken Spaghetti is delicious. Now, it's nothing fancy.  It relies upon the Holy Trinity of East Texas: cream of chicken soup, cream of mushroom soup, and melted cheese. It's the comfort food trifecta, if you will.  While you'll find endless variations of this classic dish, I wanted to share my tried and true method. When I pull it out of the oven, cheesy and bubbling, I feel like I'm back at home, back in my mother's kitchen. Serve yourself a heaping plateful alongside a glass of sweet tea, and you've got yourself a meal.
Serves 4-6

1 lb chicken breast tenderloins 
(you could also use boneless skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs)
1 lb spaghetti
~1 tsp salt
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
6 oz mushrooms, halved and sliced
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 tsp Lawry's Seasoned Salt

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Gently drop in the chicken, and boil for about 10 minutes, until cooked through (you may have to boil them for about 20 minutes if you use whole chicken breasts)

When done, remove the chicken from the water with tongs, place on a cutting board, and shred the meat with two forks.

Meanwhile, bring the water back to a boil, and add in salt and the spaghetti. Cook according to package directions. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.

In a large bowl, toss together the spaghetti, shredded chicken, cream of chicken soup, cream of mushroom soup, celery, mushrooms, seasoned salt, 1 1/2 cups of grated cheese, and reserved pasta water.

When well combined, spread into a greased 9"x13" baking dish. Top with the remaining 1/2 cup of grated cheese.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until the cheese is fully melted and the casserole is bubbling.