Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fall in New England

This past Saturday we might have had the perfect fall day. The sun was out, the air was just cool enough. and as we drove out to Western Massachusetts, beautiful patches of foliage dotted the highway. So what else makes up the perfect fall day? 

1) Apple Picking 
Apple picking is my very favorite fall tradition. Each year we try to visit a new orchard. Last year we loved Gould Hill Farm in New Hampshire. Northborough's Tougas Farm is great. And this year, we visited Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, MA
It's a beautiful rambling orchard with rolling hills, old stone walls, and a general store selling everything from fresh cider donuts to fudge and fresh apple cider vinegar to marbles.
You can find standard apple varieties like Macoun, Macintosh, and Cortland, but they also have some cool heirloom varieties like Ginger Gold and Rhode Island Greening. AND this is the first orchard we've been to that has pears! We picked some Bosc and D'Anjou along with our apples.
Red Apple Farm also grafts different apple varieties onto one tree. In the top right image above, you can see two different varieties growing on the same tree! They even have one tree where they have grafted on over 100 varieties!
2) Apple Cider Donuts
After a hard morning's work picking a half bushel of apples, we rewarded ourselves with fresh apple cider donuts. No apple picking adventure is complete without one (or two) of these!
3) Lunch Outside
This is a fall essential, because you have to make the most of every last minute that isn't frigid! We stopped for lunch at Mill No 3 Farmstand. In the back of the store, there's a deli counter where they serve sandwiches, paninis, and soups. I got a delicious turkey, brie, and cranberry sauce panini, and we grabbed a picnic table outside. The last time we ate here, we sat in the greenhouse and had no idea this outdoor spot existed. You can't see it from the road or from the parking lot, so if you're there on a nice day, don't miss out! Down a little hill, the picnic tables are overlooking a picturesque little creek. It's beautiful and relaxing, a great place to enjoy your sandwich.
4) Pumpkin Beer and Octoberfest Beer
Next, we needed to fill up our growlers at Wachusett Brewery. The brewery is literally a couple minutes down the road from Mill No 3, so we sampled a few beers and brought home some of their Imperial Pumpkin and their Octoberfest, both delicious fall specialties.
5) Homemade Apple Pie
Finally, I made an apple pie! Nothing beats the smell of buttery crust and cinnamon and sugar-dusted apples baking in the oven (other than eating the pie). I used the Double Crust Apple Pie recipe from The Apple Lover's Cookbook, and boy was it good!
I hope everyone is having a wonderful fall!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Israeli Couscous with Roasted Tomato, Swiss Chard, and Poached Eggs

This week we scored a dozen fresh eggs thanks to one of my managers who raises chickens. I originally planned on making this soup recipe (one of my favorites), but to put our eggs to use, I tweaked it a bit to make an israeli couscous, swiss chard, and roasted tomato dish topped with a fresh poached egg!  It's hearty thanks to the couscous, intensely flavorful thanks to the roasted tomatoes and herbs, and the oozy yolk gives it a little extra richness. 

And hey, if eggs aren't your thing (or if you find poaching eggs a bit too intimidating even though I promise, if I can do it, you can do it), ditch the egg and this would be wonderful all on its own as a vegetarian main dish or side.  
Serves 4

7 roma tomatoes, halved
2 Tb butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig of rosemary
1 sprig of sage
2 cups israeli couscous
2 1/4 cups water
1 bunch swish chard, stemmed and roughly chopped
salt and pepper
4 eggs, poached

Preheat the oven to 400F. Place halved tomatoes skin side down on a foil-lined baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Put in the oven and let roast for 30 minutes.

While the tomatoes are roasting, heat a large pot or enameled Dutch Oven over medium-high heat. In a separate saucepan or in the microwave, bring 2 1/4 cups of water to boil. 

Add 2 Tb of butter to the large pot. Once melted and heated, stir in the minced garlic and let cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add in the couscous and cook, stirring continually, for about 3 minutes, letting the couscous toast. 

When the couscous is toasted and golden,  pour the boiling water over it, add in the sprigs of rosemary and sage, and then cover and reduce the heat to a simmer for 8-10 minutes.

When the couscous is tender, remove the rosemary and sage, lower the heat to low, stir in the swiss chard, and cover.  Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the chard is wilted (about 5 minutes). 

Once the tomatoes are roasted, remove them from the oven and stir them into the couscous, breaking them up a bit with your spoon. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Once the couscous dish is ready, poach your eggs. I use this super simple method from Smitten Kitchen.

Serve the couscous in four bowls, each topped with a poached egg.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Girl's Weekend to Montreal

This weekend, I visited Montreal with two of my girlfriends from college, Crystal and Liz. Liz flew up from Texas, and I drove up to Crystal's home in Northern New Hampshire so we could pile in her car and head across the border! 

After a long, beautiful drive through the mountains and rolling farmland of New Hampshire and Vermont, dotted with cows, weathered barns, and trees with leaves beginning to change, we crossed into Canada. There were corn fields almost as far as we could see until we reached the bridge to take us over the St Lawrence River to Montreal.
Our first glimpse of the city!
Our first order of business? Lunch!
With so many people speaking French, we were in the mood for crepes! We ducked into the cozy little Muru Crepe in Old Montreal. My mushroom, spinach, and goat cheese crepe was heavenly with greens and crispy fries on the side. And wine with lunch? Don't mind if I do! It's vacation, right?
After lunch, we stopped at Bar a Beurre, a cute little bakery next door, for coffee and dessert. Now with full stomachs and caffeine in our veins, we were ready to explore Old Montreal!
The bustling area is a bit touristy, but the architecture is too beautiful to miss. I loved the ancient stone buildings, cathedrals, markets, parks, cute little shops, sculpture-lined walkways, and friendly people.
We saw four separate weddings going on in the city that afternoon, and one of those was at the towering Notre-Dame Basilica (where Celine Dion also got married). Sadly, this kept us from seeing the inside of the church, but it was fun to watch, bells pealing as the wedding party exited down the steps to a horse-drawn carriage!
Following an afternoon of exploring, we enjoyed a leisurely dinner at L'Express. In the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood, it's reminiscent of a French brasserie. Once we were seated at a tiny little table, a large jar of cornichons, fresh bread, and a handwritten menu were promptly deposited. Our waiter was warm and friendly, happy to speak English with us when needed. The cornichons were crisp and delicious, the bread was crusty and warm, and my duck confit salad reminded me of my time in Toulouse. Washed down with a couple glasses of Cotes du Rhone wine, it was a wonderful dinner.
Thanks to a day of walking, we figured that we had earned dessert as well. Like I said, it's vacation! We walked from L'Express to a nearby location of Juliette and Chocolat (a local chain). I ordered a cup of tea and couldn't resist the salted caramel crepe. Is there anything better than salted caramel? No. No there isn't.
The next day we headed to a new part of town to visit McGill University, which my friends were interested in seeing. We strolled around the grounds of the prestigious campus, talking as we went. It's hard to believe that it's been 6 years since we were in college together ourselves!
When we spotted a little coffee shop, Cafe Humble Lion, across the street from campus, we stopped for some coffee.
The sun was trying to come out, so we plopped down on a bench out front to enjoy the cool fall weather and to sip on lattes brewed with Intelligentsia coffee and topped with cute little latte foam hearts. It was time to head south, so we headed back to the car and started the long drive home!
On our way, we took a little detour in Burlington, Vermont for a late lunch at the Farm House Tap and Grill. It's a farm-to-table restaurant serving up some delicious local fare. I dug into a burger topped with Vermont cheddar (naturally), thick-cut bacon, pickled red onions, and arugula while sipping on Citizen Cider (also from Vermont). Burlington is an adorable little town alongside Lake Champlain, and after our quick visit, I can't wait to make a weekend trip up there some other time!
While I really enjoyed Montreal, the best part of this trip was undoubtedly the two ladies that I tagged along with. We don't get to see each other nearly enough, so it was a lot of fun to catch up after so many years!  Here's to hoping we'll do this again sometime soon!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Off to Canada

(photo credit The English Muffin Blog)

Guess what? I'm heading to Montreal in the morning with two fabulous girlfriends from our college days!  I'm so excited to explore a new city, to catch up with old friends, and to eat as much as we can squeeze into a 36-hour trip! I hope everyone  has a wonderful weekend, and I can't wait to share our discoveries with you next week!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lentil Soup

With a July birthday, I am a summer baby through and through. I need warmth, sunshine, long days, and bare feet.  When the season starts to change, the days become shorter, the air becomes a little crisper, I usually go into a mild form of denial, clinging to the last shreds of hope that summer might last forever. But when the leaves start to change, as they are right now, even I have to admit that fall is on our doorstep. So to ease the transition, I make a big batch of lentil soup. It's warm, it's earthy, and it's so delicious that it makes fall seem like something to look forward to rather than to dread. After all, apple picking, cinnamon, and pumpkins aren't so bad. So make a pot of this soup, and welcome fall with open arms. Just don't you dare remind me that winter is right around the corner! 

(Side Note: This probably doesn't apply at all to folks back home in Texas where they're still facing a couple months of extreme heat. In your case, maybe it's best to crank up the AC, make a batch of this soup, and keep the faith that fall will someday arrive and provide a relief from the heat!)
(recipe modified from the Lentil Vegetable Soup in Lucinda Scala Quinn's fabulous cookbook Mad Hungry)
Serves 6

2 Tb olive oil
3/4 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
12 tsp salt
~6 baby bella mushrooms, diced
1 or 2 canned whole tomatoes, diced (or 1 small fresh tomato)
1 Tb tomato paste
1 3/4-2 cups lentils
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
~1/4 tsp black pepper
4 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
2 cups water
1 chicken bouillon cube, roughly chopped to help dissolve
(you could also use 5 cups stock and 1 cup water to avoid using a bouillon cube)
2 tsp red wine vinegar

Heat a dutch oven or large pot over med-high heat. Add olive oil, and once heated, add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and 1 tsp of the salt. Stir and then reduce heat to medium. 

After about 2 minutes, add in the mushrooms, stir to combine, and let cook for another 2-3 minutes until vegetables have started to soften.

Add the tomato and cook for 2 more minutes. Then add the tomato paste, stirring to combine, and cook for another 2 minutes.

Next, add the thyme, bay leaf, and black pepper to the pot. Stir to combine, and after about a minute add in the lentils, broth, water, bouillon cube, and remaining 1 tsp of salt.

Turn the stove to high and let the mixture come up to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and let simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes until the lentils are tender. 
(Note: I prefer a lentil-heavy soup, but if you want a thinner soup, add in a little more water at this point. Just heat it up in the microwave before adding.)

Stir in red wine vinegar to give it a little brightness, add salt and pepper to taste if needed, and serve alongside some crusty bread or a side salad.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

36 Hours In New York City

This weekend we took a quick trip to New York, heading down at the crack of dawn (literally) Saturday and returning Sunday afternoon.  Roughly 36 hours is about as long as I can spend in Manhattan before I'm ready to head home, but we had an absolutely fantastic time! We went for a play Saturday night, and the rest of the time we spent eating and drinking around town. Here are highlights from our trip! 
Mandatory first stop in NYC? Shake Shack! We grabbed a spot in the outdoor seating area of the Upper East Side location to enjoy those ridiculously good cheeseburgers, a tray of their new fresh cut fries doused in cheese sauce, and a heavenly caramel shake. Once we finished, we weren't quite ready to leave the patio, so we lingered a little longer over a round of Shackmeister Ale from Brooklyn Brewery. (Side Note: As a former LA resident, I can confirm that Shake Shack is better than In N' Out. There. I said it.)
We dropped off our bags at the hotel, which was down the street from the awe-inspiring Chrysler Building. Manhattan, you can have your Empire State Building, but the Chrysler Building I want to steal and bring back to Boston!
Next on the agenda was a visit to the Rooftop Garden of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I learned abut this summertime opportunity thanks to a tip from A Cup of Jo. Drinks on the rooftop of a world-famous art museum overlooking Central Park and the Manhattan skyline? Yes, please.
After getting a ticket (did you know you can pay whatever you want, more or less than the requested ticket price, to get into The Met? Crazy!), we wandered through the first floor of the museum and a breathtaking array of sculptures just to find the elevator to the rooftop. Once upstairs, we got our drinks, checked out the exhibit, and took in the spectacular view. 
Sipping champagne and hanging out with that handsome husband of mine is not a bad way to spend an afternoon!
Our next stop can be explained by my love for Sabrina (the 1995 version of course). It's a little silly, but ever since I heard Linus Larabee (played by my first actor crush, Harrison Ford) mention "drinks at The Carlyle," I've wanted to go there. We ducked into Bemelmans Bar, complete with tufted leather seating, a 24-karat gold-leafed ceiling, glowing table lamps, and walls scrawled with whimsical paintings by Ludwig Bemelmans (the artist behind the Madeline books). We cozied up in a corner booth and sipped on overpriced cocktails while enjoying music from a pianist. And though it didn't quite live up to the old-money-glamour that I had imagined, it was a fun experience and a fine way to start our date night in the city.
For dinner, we tried Flex Mussels, starting with fried clam strips and a couple oysters and finishing with the star of the show, two steaming bowls of mussels and a bottle of cava. My mussels were served in a creamy broth with fresh herbs, roasted garlic, and mushrooms, and served alongside a cone of fries and the crisp cava, it was a great meal.
After dinner we strolled over to the Park Avenue Armory to see The Machine,  featuring the incredibly talented Hadley Fraser (though sadly we didn't get to enjoy his gorgeous singing voice this time around). And what a cool venue the Park Avenue Armory is, an old castle-like building filled with character and history. They had chess boards set up, so we sat down for a game beore the show. Fortunately for me, we had to take our seats before my inevitable loss!
The play tells the story of the 1997 chess match between Chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov and the IBM super-computer Deep Blue. Now, I know what you're thinking: a play about chess sounds awfully boring. But they pulled it off! It was captivating. Hadley did a phenomenal job, and we really enjoyed it!
The next morning we met up with my friend Philip for brunch at The Spotted Pig. Philip and I grew up together, and he lives in Manhattan these days, so it was a lot of fun to catch up, two small town kids out in the big city!
The Spotted Pig was a little tricky to find, but we eventually spotted (no pun intended) a little pig above a door and knew we were in the right place. It's quirky and cozy inside, and we had a great time, though I will admit that I was a bit disappointed in my poached eggs and corned beef hash. They were fine but did not live up to my expectations based on the restaurant's reputation. We did love our a side order though, perfectly crispy shoestring fries tossed with fried garlic slivers and rosemary.
After brunch, we stopped into the nearby Think Coffee for more caffeine. It's a cute little spot, and I really enjoyed their single source pourover coffee.
Next, Philip suggested that we walk a couple blocks to an entrance to The High Line, a park created along an abandoned elevated train track along the west side of the island. On our way there, we spotted a group of mannequins hanging out on a street corner. Can you tell that Fashion Week is going on?
We climbed the stairs leading up to the 14th Street entrance and began the roughly 1 mile trek north.
The views are fantastic, and the landscaping is beautiful.  You feel completely elevated and separated from the bustle of the streets below you. I loved it. Since it was a warm afternoon, we stopped at one of the many food stands and bought frozen treats from People's Pops (the Cantaloupe Cardamom popsicle was delicious and a little weird all at the same time).
My honey and I above the city streets!
Before skipping town, we managed to squeeze in one more meal: a slice at NY Pizza Suprema! Across the street from Penn Station, it's usually a "must" for us before catching the train or bus home. Now, I am no expert on New York pizza, but a piping hot slice of their pepproni pizza makes me a very happy girl.
Until next time New York!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Date Night Idea: Movie Night

We didn't have any big travel plans for the Labor Day weekend, so Sunday we were able to spend a much needed quiet day at home.  For a stay-at-home date night, we decided to turn our living room into a movie theater.  Sure, this isn't exactly the most creative idea, but we had the best time (best of all, the seats are more comfortable and more conducive to snuggling)! Here's what we did to turn a "ho-hum" movie night into something really fun!
1) Pick a signature drink for the evening. 

I wanted something with a little carbonation, reminiscent of getting a Coke at the theater, so I made a pitcher of Long Faced Doves, which was delicious (and contains a good splash of ginger beer). It would also be fun to pick a drink inspired by your movie choice.  When watching Sabrina, maybe make a champagne cocktail fit for one of the Larabee's famous parties!  And your signature drink doesn't have to be a cocktail! A bottle of French wine would go perfectly with Amelie. You can even go non-alcoholic: a pitcher of water with fresh fruit and mint, a "mocktail", flavored lemonades, etc. The key is to make something a little out of the ordinary to help make for a special evening.
2) Pop some popcorn! 

You can't go wrong with a big bowl of buttered microwave popcorn (or a bag of kettle corn, our choice since our microwave sucks). If you can find it, try Quinn Popcorn, from right here in Massachusetts! Their natural, organic microwave popcorn comes with flavor packets to toss with the popped kernels. We tried the Vermont Maple + Sea Salt and loved it! Next time I want to try making my own flavored popcorn (or a treat with popcorn inspired treat)! Here are some recipes on my "To Do" List:

3) Stock up on your favorite movie theater candy.

How often do you indulge and eat candy at home? If you're like us, never (Halloween leftovers don't count). So splurge a little and get a box of your favorite candy (after all, it's cheaper than at the theater).
4) Put to use those cute plates, napkins, and paper straws that you usually reserve for parties

If you're like me, sometimes you have a tendency to reserve your cute little party wares for guests. But a date night is a special occasion too! Going to a little extra effort to doll up your spread makes the night seem more special and out of the ordinary.

5) Pick an old favorite to relive together.

I am slightly addicted to buying cheap DVDs, so I have racked up quite a collection thanks to $5 bins. They're all movies that I could watch over and over, but I tend to forget about them in favor of Netflix new releases. For a date night, it's fun to pop in an old favorite, one where you can probably recite every line together. For an added romantic touch, maybe watch something that you originally saw at the theater on one of those early dates!
6) Get creative! Make your own rules!

So we also had some cheese and crackers for our movie night. Do you normally have cheese and crackers at the movies?  Definitely not. But did cheese and crackers sound good to us while we were at the store? Absolutely! Things don't always have to fit perfectly with the theme to be fun! So whatever you can dream up to make for a special night, go for it! 

7) Enjoy spending the evening with someone you love!

No explanation necessary for this one, whether it's a date, good friends, or your family!