Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Grilled Flank Steak Chimichurri Pinwheels

To kick off my birthday weekend, my husband and I teamed up to make these flank steak pinwheels rolled around a good slathering of chimichurri inspired by a beautiful recipe from the new "Canal House Cooks Every Day" cookbook. As I still have a lot of chimichurri in my freezer, I figured it would be a delicious substitute for pesto (though I think my Swiss Chard and Brussels Sprout Pesto would be great here as well). 

We served the sliced steak along with roasted red potatoes and green beans (simply toss both with a little butter, olive oil, salt, and pepper and grill in foil packets for about 25 minutes). It's a simple yet impressive meal that's great for a special occasion. 
Serves 2-3

1 to 1 1/3 lb flank steak
~1/2 cup chimichurri (see recipe)
salt and pepper

Heat the grill to high heat.
(For our three burner gas grill, we turned all burners to high)

Place the flank steak on a large cutting board with the grain of the meat running vertically.

Using a very sharp knife, butterfly the steak by slicing through the middle of the meat from the right side to the left, stopping about 1/2 inch away from the left side (don't cut all the way through the meat). 

Fold it open like a book, and press flat.

Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper and then spread the chimichurri generously over the surface, leaving about 1/2 - 1 inch of space around the edges.
Roll the meat from right to left until it forms a long log, and tie with kitchen twine every inch or two. Rub the exterior of the meat with any chimichurri that squeezes out onto the cutting board.

Grill for about 10 minutes, searing the meat on all sides.

Reduce the heat on the grill such that one side of the grill is still hot and one side is cooler. 
(We accomplished this on our three burner gas grill by setting the front burner to high, the middle burner to medium, and the back burner to low.)

Move the seared meat to the cooler side of the grill, close the lid, and let it roast for about 20 minutes until the center reaches the desired temperature (we opted for ~140 F for a medium steak).

When the desired temperature is achieved, bring the meat inside, and let it rest on the cutting board for about 5-10 minutes. 

Remove the kitchen twine, and slice in about 1-inch pinwheels. Serve immediately, and enjoy!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Birthday Weekend

Sunday I turned 28 years old. I think this means I am now firmly in my late twenties, no longer able to say to myself that "27 is still totally your mid-twenties." We spent the weekend celebrating, and knowing how excited I get about my birthday, my husband made it such a special weekend for me!

Friday, we snuck out of work for lunch and cheese shopping in Concord. At Trail's End Cafe, we loved the meyer lemonade and basil limeade, and their roasted portobello mushroom sandwich with olive tapenade, goat cheese, roasted red peppers, and arugula was fantastic.  (Just don't bother with the peach gazpacho)
After lunch we drove over to The Cheese Shop, cheese-lovers heaven with towering stacks of cheese wheels, wine, crackers, and other imported goodies.  The shop owner helped us choose a Sao Miguel cheese from the Azores off the coast of Portugal, a Brillat-Savarin triple-creme from France, and a firm French goat cheese whose rind is rubbed in Jurancon white wine called Tomme de Chevre au Jurancon.
After work we opened a bottle of wine and teamed up in the kitchen to make Grilled Flank Steak Chimichurri Pinwheels (recipe to follow shortly). 
Then to continue the celebration, we curled up on the couch, popped some champagne, and had cheese for dessert using my pretty new Laguiole cheese knives (an early present to go along with the birthday cheese). Such a fun evening! 
Saturday we drove up to New Hampshire to visit Kurt and Nina. We spent a laid back afternoon in the pool, grilling, and eating birthday cake, my husband's famous gooey butter cake (fulfilling a promise he made about 3 years ago to make me one for my birthday. Better late than never!).
That evening, we went to the Southern New Hampshire Brewers Festival hosted by White Birch Brewery in Hooksett, NH. We were happy to be back for the second annual festival! 
White Birch is a relatively new brewery that's seriously doing it right. The highlights of the festival were the White Birch Berliner Weisse, a sour German wheat ale on cask, a cigar tent thanks to 7-20-4 Cigars, and a smoked (whole) pig served up as delicious tacos from Burrito Me.
The next morning was officially my birthday! And when staying in Manchester, NH there is no finer way to start your birthday than with breakfast from the Red Arrow Diner!
I had their famous pork pie, hash browns, and over-easy eggs. And of course diner coffee. I'm not sure why diner coffee always tastes so good, but boy does it.
After breakfast, we bid Kurt and Nina farewell and drove back to Boston. It was finally time to open presents! I felt truly blessed with so many thoughtful gifts. My husband got me a beautiful new Chemex coffee maker and pourover coffee kettle (the Hario V60 Buono) that I can't wait to play with!
After an afternoon taking to family on the phone and watching a Firefly marathon on tv (it was so nice of the Science channel to schedule that in honor of my birthday), we headed into town for a very special dinner at No. 9 Park.
We love No 9. Park, one of Barbara Lynch's fabulous restaurants (we also have her to thank for our once-in-a-lifetime experience at Menton and for Drink, recently voted as the World's Best Cocktail Bar). We started with their most popular (for good reason) appetizer of prune-stuffed gnocchi with seared foie gras. It's rich and decadent and heavenly. Finally, once all the plates were cleared, we couldn't possibly eat another bite. Full and happy, we took a stroll past the State House and through Boston Common on our way back to the car.What a wonderful birthday weekend, made so special thanks to notes from friends, calls from family, and finally, that dear sweet man I'm married to.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Shakespeare and Planning a Picnic

Last night, we went to see the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company perform "The Two Gentlemen from Verona" as a part of  Shakespeare on the Common. They put on a different Shakespeare play each summer, and it's something I look forward to every year. In fact, it's another one of the many reasons I love summer
They usually place the story in an unusual modern setting and always do a fantastic job bringing Shakespeare's words to life. This year the setting was 1960's-era Las Vegas, and performances of Frank Sinatra classics were scattered throughout, tying in with the story. Basically, it was Shakespeare re-envisioned as a musical, and it was so much fun! (If you're in the Boston area, you have until this coming Sunday, 7/28, to catch a performance!)
This is also a prime opportunity for a picnic in Boston Common! I had so much fun planning the meal, and I loved the spread we put together this year. Some of these may seem like no-brainers, but here are my essentials for an awesome picnic:

1) Good Food (that travels well)

I like to pick a variety of items that play well together and travel well.  I try to keep a little variety and have fruit, vegetables, cheese, starches, etc. Here are the recipes I used for this year's menu (many of which can be made ahead of time and actually improve if given a night to marinate).

Tortellini Salad : Cheese tortellini, salami, peppers, red onion, and fresh basil dressed with red wine vinegar, lemon juice, and olive oil. I love this recipe.

Bean Salad : I tweaked this recipe a bit to put together a salad of green beans, chickpeas, edamame, fresh green peas, and slivers of red onion tossed in a vinaigrette of oil, white vinegar, and lemon juice (note: lemon juice and plenty of salt were key for me. I found the original recipe a tad bland).

Marinated Feta : Large cubes of feta marinated in olive oil with rosemary, thyme, garlic, and crushed red pepper. 

Rosemary Lemon White Bean Dip : An alternative to hummus, this white bean dip is so flavorful and great with fresh pita or toasted pita chips

Fresh Fruit : I brought sliced nectarines, which served as a nice, simple dessert
2) Refreshing Drinks

This year I made a pitcher of White Sangria. I used a bottle of Pinot Grigio, 1/4 cup of Cointreau, 1/4 cup of simple syrup, and slices of 1/2 grapefruit, 1/2 orange, 1 peach, 1 nectarine, and a handful of strawberries and grapes. Snacking on sangria-soaked fruit is an added bonus here.  
For something non-alcoholic, I really love this Watermelon Limeade recipe or this classic lemonade. It's also a good idea to bring along some water as well, something I forgot this year.

3) Blankets (or old tablecloths) To Sit On

I use a couple old tablecloths that I inherited from my mom for picnics. My favorite is an old red and white one.  Any blankets or tablecloths you have laying around (that you don't mind getting a little dirty) will work. Or you could splurge and buy a pretty new one like this one from Terrain.

4) A Big Bag (or Picnic Basket)

I use a large insulated bag, which works great, especially for cold items, but I swooned when I saw this beauty from Anthropologie.
5) Support Equipment

No picnic is complete without packing the necessary support equipment. Don't forget plates, utensils (for both eating and serving), cups (I go for sturdy Tupperware cups), plenty of napkins, cute straws (optional, but who doesn't like cute straws?), ice packs/bags of ice to keep things cold, and something to hold any post-picnic trash (I use a gallon ziploc bag). Finally, I bring extras of everything because you just never know what's going to happen when you're eating outside.

It's also not a bad idea to bring some sort of bug repellent, whether it's spray, one of these Off! fans (they totally work), or a set of tiki torches (I kid).

6) Umbrellas In Case of Rain

Even when the forecast calls for 100% sunny skies, as it did yesterday, an unexpected rain cloud can always blow through, as it did yesterday. As soon as we found a spot to spread out our blankets, it started raining! We huddled under a shared umbrella with the lids on all of our food, laughing at our good luck. It only lasted about 10 minutes, just long enough to soak our pants and our blankets (but not our spirits)!
Happy Picnicking!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Reasons I Love Summer

1. Farmer's Markets! 
Medford's is back in full swing this summer, and we're loving the beautiful produce. We also discovered a local salsa maker that we have fallen in love with. Finally someone in New England who gets salsa! She is from New Orleans and lived in Austin for a while (she's a fellow Longhorn). If you see NoLa's Salsas, buy them!

2. Community Events 
Like Medford's Circle the Square, featuring local businesses, the farmers market, food trucks, and even a little beer garden overlooking the Mystic River. 

3. Food Trucks 
They're popping up at markets and community events. 
I was especially excited to see Vesta Mobile Wood-Fired Pizza back in Medford!

4. Ice Cream Outings
Our group at work takes a couple outings each summer to get a little sunshine and ice cream at lunch. 
Local favorites are Kimball Farms and Bedford Farms

5. Peaches
Because peaches mean Peach Cobbler.

6. Refreshing Drinks 
Like Watermelon Limeade, Lemonade, Pimm's Cups (pictured below), 
Rose wine, and Dark and Stormies (with homemade ginger beer).

7. "Pick Your Own Fruit" 
I love driving out to local farms like Tougas Farms to pick fresh fruit like strawberries or peaches!

8. Grilling.
It keeps the house cool in the summer, we get a little sunshine in the long evenings, 
and the results are delicious.

9. Sunny Strolls 
Walks around the neighborhood, hikes in The Fells or around the Lower Mystic Lake and Mystic River, or strolls along the Charles River

10. Trips to Clam Shacks 
A short drive up to the North Shore yields trays full of beautiful fried seafood.
 Pictured below is Woodman's of Essex, but we also love J.T. Farnham's and Clam Box of Ipswich.

11. Baseball
Warm summer night, bright ballpark lights, Fenway Franks, 
the crack of the bat, cheering fans, and a cold Sam Summer. I love baseball games at Fenway.

12. Okra
Whether it's fried, boiled, or pickled, nothing makes this southerner happier than seeing the rare basket of okra for sale at a New England farmer's market.

13. Real Barbeques
A real barbeque means smoked meat (grilled meat = a cookout). Meats rubbed with spices and smoked low and slow on a lazy, hot summer afternoon -- it's practically heaven on earth. Just add a cold beer, potato salad, cole slaw, beans, or some mac and cheese and you've got yourself a meal.
14 Shakespeare in the Common
Each year a different Shakespeare play is put on free of charge in Boston Common.With a blanket and a picnic, it's a fantastic way to spend an evening in the city.
15. Picnics
What list of summer favorites would be complete without picnics? Whether you fix up a humble or elaborate spread, there's nothing like taking a meal outdoors. Summer is rife with picnicking opportunities: the Fourth of July fireworks, hikes in the Fells, Shakespeare in the Common, or a random Saturday afternoon.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Summer Salad Duo

This weekend, I wanted something light for dinner that didn't require a trip to the store. We had just returned from a trip to Buffalo where we indulged in some pretty heavy (but delicious) food (read: chicken wings three times in one day. It was glorious!). After scrounging around, I came up with two salads using the same dressing: one earthy and warm while the other was peppery, bright, and tangy.  It's plenty satisfying thanks to the protein from the lentils and chickpeas, it's simple to throw together, and served alongside some fruit or good bread, it's a great summertime dinner. I also think the arugula and goat cheese would be great tossed with the warm lentil-chickpea salad, the warmth wilting the arugula just a bit.
The leftover lentil-chickpea salad is versatile as well. It would be great for a picnic, perfect with grilled meats, or served chilled alongside a different salad, as I did the next day. I simply tossed spinach with crumbled feta, toasted pecans, a few strips of grilled chicken, and a simple vinaigrette of lemon, red wine vinegar, salt, and olive oil. 
Red Wine-Lemon Vinaigrette
(enough for both the lentil-chickpea and the arugula salad below)

 2 Tb red wine vinegar
1 Tb lemon juice
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp whole-grain mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup olive oil

Whisk together the red wine vinegar, lemon juice, dijon mustard, whole-grain mustard, and salt.

Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking continuously until emulsified.

Warm Lentil-Chickpea Salad
Serves 4

1/2 Tb olive oil
1 cup dried lentils
2 cups water
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
zest from 1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp salt
1 can chickpeas, drained
~2 Tb parsley, roughly chopped,
1-2 Tb capers, roughly chopped
~1/2 vinaigrette recipe, above

Heat sauce pan over medium heat. When hot, add oil. Once the oil is hot, add the minced garlic, stirring for about 30 seconds or until fragrant.

Add the lentils, bay leaf, and lemon zest, and cover with water. Raise the heat to high, and bring the lentils to a boil. 

Once boiling, lower heat and simmer the lentils uncovered for about 25 minutes, until tender.

When done, drain the lentils and toss in a bowl with the salt, dressing, capers, and parsley.

Serve warm (or if you prepare in advance, it can be stored in the refrigerator and served chilled).

Simple Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese and Pepitas
Serves 2

3-4 oz arugula
~2 Tb roasted pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
~2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
~1/2 vinaigrette recipe, above

In a salad bowl, combine arugula, goat cheese, and pumpkin seeds.

Add dressing and toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Buffalo and a Wedding

This weekend we flew to Buffalo, excited to be a part of a very special wedding.  My friend Nate was marrying his beautiful fiancee, Kate. I've mentioned Nate before when we made a surprise trip to Buffalo in January. It was a reunion for "The Trio", Joseph, Nate, and I. These boys hold a special place in my heart after our semester abroad in France, and I love any excuse to get together. And what better excuse than a wedding?
We landed on Thursday morning, and naturally, our first stop was for wings. First up was a big bowl of Duff's Hot wings.  They were even better than I remembered! Not too spicy but spicy enough to make your mouth tingle a bit. Washed down with a Labatt Blue, we knew we had arrived in Buffalo.
After picking up Joseph from the airport, next up was an obligatory visit to the "Home of the Original Buffalo Chicken Wing," Anchor Bar. We ignored words of warning from the locals (the service is terrible, the wings aren't that great, etc), because we had to try it for ourselves. And you know what? The service is terrible. And the wings aren't that great. But now we know!
Once we couldn't think about eating another wing, we grabbed some Spot Coffee, changed for the rehearsal, and drove an hour outside of town to Becker Farms.  It's a beautiful location, complete with roaming clucking chickens and sprawling rows of grapevines.
Following a successful rehearsal, the rehearsal dinner was on the Spirit of Buffalo for a 3 hour sail around Lake Erie, featuring the brides favorite wings and pizza (La Nova). (Side Note: This brought our tally to 3 different wings all in one day.)
We had the best time! The views of the city, the sunset, the breeze, the food, the company! Once the sail drew to a close, we stopped into the nearby Pearl Street Brewery for some local brews with Nate before calling it a night.
Friday was Nate and Kate's big day! We began with a ladies lunch at the Sweet Sixteen Cafe in Lockport (including a fabulous homemade blood orange soda), and then it was time to start getting ready! There was make-up to put on, hair to fix, nails to paint, and pictures to take!
After a sweet "first look" between Nate and Kate and what I'm pretty sure was hundreds of pictures, it was time for the main event. Kate was a glowing bride in her flowing satin dress, and Nate was so handsome and beaming from ear to ear as Kate joined him at the alter. Bubbles filled the air as they walked down the aisle together as man and wife! We spent the reception enjoying drinks and dinner, listening to warm speeches from family and friends, admiring the happy couple's swing dance skills, watching them cut their gorgeous wedding cake (made by the bride herself!!), and then the guests flooded the floor to dance the night away! 
There was a photo booth for silly pictures. There was a popcorn stand and coffee to keep us going. There were cliche group dances (The Macarna even made an appearance). Before calling it a night, everyone gathered around a crackling bonfire, a perfect end to the evening.
I'm so very happy for these two people. I'm so very happy that Nate has found a beautiful woman that makes him as happy as my handsome man makes me! We now have a fifth member folded into the no-longer-numerically-accurate Trio, and we're so glad to have her! 
The next morning, we stopped into Tom's Diner (in Lockport) for breakfast before our drive back to Buffalo. It was a great little greasy spoon spot, every table featuring a big bottle of Frank's Red Hot. After dropping off Joseph, we spent a little time in the Elmwood neighborhood before our flight. Sipping juices from Ashker's Juice Bar, we spotted a local farmers market on our stroll!  What luck! It was fun pretending to be a local, admiring produce, watching honey bees at work, and listening to local musicians.
On our way to the airport, we made a detour for one last Buffalo specialty: beef on weck! Following the advice of a local, we ducked into a gloriously dive-y spot called Kelly's Korner.  Tender roast beef was piled high on a kummelweck roll flecked with caraway seeds and flaky salt. It was served alongside a little pot of horseradish, and while I'm not a big fan of horseradish, a generous smear on the bun made a huge difference in this sandwich. We loved every last bite (and splitting it was a very good idea). 
It was a fun weekend, and I'm so thankful that we were asked to be a part of such a special day for Nate and Kate. I wish them joy and blessings for a long, happy life together!