Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Well, Thanksgiving is tomorrow! My husband and I will be spending a quiet, cozy Thanksgiving for two at our house this year. I've got the menu planned (smoked turkey, gravy, my mom's cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce, my great grandmother's green pea casserole, seared brussels sprouts with bacon lardons, whipped potatoes, and pumpkin pie), and I know how I want to set the table (I just have to iron the tablecloth, my least favorite thing ever).  All that's really left to do is the cooking in the eating, and that's what I'm best at! But before I get elbow deep in crumbled cornbread and cranberries, I want to take a moment to be thankful.  

(Card from Rifle Paper Co)

I'm thankful for the family and friends in my life. I'm thankful for the food on our table and the roof over our heads And I'm thankful for where we are in life, for where we've been, and for the path we have ahead of us. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Colossians 3:17

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sunday Morning in the South End

Sunday was bitterly cold with gusting winds, but my husband and I intrepidly ventured out of our home and spent the morning exploring the South End, a part of town that we don't make it to very often. It's quintessential Boston: gorgeous old brownstones, tree lined narrow streets, and cute little shops and restaurants tucked into every nook and cranny. 

The first order of business was breakfast at Mike and Patty's.  It's a tiny place, and it was packed. The one six-seater table was full, and the rest of us piled on top of each other in front of the counter, happy to be out of the cold. The phone was ringing off the hook with call-in orders, and the cooks were making sandwiches as fast as they could manage. The wait was 30 minutes, which apparently was a pretty slow Saturday morning for them. 
We're normally not fans of crowded spots, but we loved this place. Everyone pitched in to help. People with free hands passed sandwiches from the kitchen to folks at the table. A gentleman standing by the coffee station was on cardboard sleeve duty, passing them over as customers got their coffee.  Those who lived in the neighborhood got their sandwiches to go, while the rest of us waited for seats to open up at the table. We finally squeezed into a spot just as our sandwiches came out of the kitchen. This beauty is the breakfast grilled cheese: salty bacon, a runny egg, and cheddar and american cheese all between two buttery pieces of toasted white bread. This might be the perfect breakfast sandwich.
After finishing our sandwiches, we gave up our coveted seats and headed over to a new shop called Farm and Fable, specializing in kitchen antiques and vintage cookbooks. We had so much fun poking around the shelves, flipping through the books, and admiring all of the pretties. 
I came home with a set of green cut-glass glasses. Aren't they lovely? I can't wait to use them for Thanksgiving!
Across the street from Farm and Fable is the South End outpost of Formaggio Kitchen.  This place is a treasure trove of local and imported food and beverages. Shelves are packed with honey, jam, chocolate, pickles, spices, pasta, wines, craft beers, you name it. One case holds delicacies like foie gras mousse and duck confit while a case in the back is filled with wheels of cheese. A person could spend hours in here!
We sampled a couple wines and cheeses, stocked up on some rare beers, and picked out drinks for Thanksgiving (a Spanish white wine and cider from Normandy). Then my husband dragged me out of there before I could try to buy the entire store!
We then headed back home, spoils from the morning's excursion in tow. It was a fun morning, but we were glad to come in out of the cold. We spent the rest of the day where it was cozy and warm: on the couch watching football!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Stitch Fix: Possibly The Best Thing Ever

Have y'all heard about Stitch Fix? I had a couple friends try it with rave reviews, so I decided to give it a shot myself. And I love it! It's basically a personal shopper service for those of us that have trouble finding time to go shopping (and/or have trouble keeping up with the latest trends).  You simply fill out a style profile (size information, style preferences, and preferred price range), and they send you a box of 5 items selected just for you! Deliveries can be as frequent as once a month or as infrequently as you request them.

My first box arrived last week, and it was like Christmas had come early.
Inside, I found a note, tissue-wrapped bundles, cards to help style my pieces, and even a few holiday recipes.
The clothes were very cute, fit well, and were in the price range I requested (and best of all, I didn't have to step foot into a mall). My favorites were a navy polka dot blazer. a teal knit dress, and a black and white stripe sweater with a pink block across the top and shoulders. A gold knotted pair of earrings were pretty as well. I didn't care for one item, a floral top, but thankfully a friend liked it enough to buy it (Stitch Fix offers a 25%-off discount if you keep all five items -- I'm such a sucker for a deal).  
If you want to send items back, they include a bag for returns that you just drop into a mail box within 3 days of receiving your "Fix." Afterward, check-out online, paying for what you keep and providing feedback on each piece to help them improve for your next delivery. And that's it!

If you're interested, give Stitch Fix a try* ! I can't wait to get another box (though I'm going to wait a few months in an attempt to exercise some self discipline).


*Full disclosure: I get a $25 credit for referrals, but honestly, this was so much fun that I would recommend it to people with or without the monetary incentive

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mom's Macaroni and Cheese

As Thanksgiving draws near, I always get a little homesick. We stay in Boston for the holiday, and while I love hosting and cooking and decorating, I miss spending the day with family.  To help with the homesickness, I cook. I turn to my mom's recipes written in a notebook that she started for me when I left for college. She cooks based on memory and instinct so this is the only place where a lot of her recipes are written down. Opening the cover and seeing her handwriting brings a smile to my face. As I work my way through the steps, it's like she's in the kitchen with me. Once I begin cooking, familiar aromas fill my kitchen, and I feel like I've been transported back to hers. 
One of my favorites is her macaroni and cheese. Elbow noodles are tossed with a rich cheese sauce and topped with more grated cheese before going into the oven. It's simple and classic, the perfect comfort food. You could jazz it up in a million ways, but I prefer to make it just like this!
2 cups elbow macaroni noodles
4 Tb butter
4 Tb flour
1 1/4 cup milk (it helps if it's warmed slightly)
1 1/4 cups + 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375. 

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, salt the water and then add the noodles. Cook according to package directions.

Meanwhile make a roux by melting the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add in the flour, stirring to combine. Cook, stirring continually, for ~2 minutes to cook the flour.

Gradually pour in the milk, stirring to remove lumps and to prevent scorching. Once all of the milk is added, continue stirring until the sauce begins to thicken. 

At that point, begin adding in ~1 1/4 cups of cheese a small handful at a time, stirring to incorporate. The cheese should melt into the liquid to make your cheese sauce.  If your sauce gets a bit too thick, just add in a little more milk. Salt to  taste. 

Drain the macaroni once it's done, and toss with the cheese sauce. Pour the macaroni into a greased 9"x13" or 8"x8" casserole dish. Top with the remaining grated cheese.

Bake until the cheese is melted and the macaroni is bubbly (~20 min for an 8"x8" or ~12 min for the 9"x13").

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Neillio's Turkey Terrific

As Thanksgiving draws closer, I've been craving one of my favorite sandwiches: the Turkey Terrific from Neillio's Gourmet Kitchen in Lexington. Though it's served year-round, it never seems right to order it until the holidays are drawing near. Neillio's is one of those places you might never notice driving by. Even when you step inside, it's not much to look at. There aren't even seats. But oh, the sandwiches!

Just be prepared for a bustling, slightly unorganized line. It's easiest if you know exactly what you want before you get there, because you need to be prepared to yell your order to one of the gentlemen behind the counter as soon as they look your way. Things move fast back there to keep the line moving.  And try to remember who took your order, because he'll be the one calling out the name of your sandwich when it's ready. This time of year when everyone's ordering the Turkey Terrific, you don't want to accidentally take someone else's! And since this is New England, be prepared for a little bit of friendly ribbing. Even though the guys are busy, they enjoy taking a few seconds to bust your chops if they can. 
Now, let's get down to the important stuff. The sandwich. While Neillio's serves hot entrees, soups, and sides, I've only tried the sandwiches, and this one is the best. Warm, soft french bread is sliced and spread with mayo and tart-sweet cranberry sauce. Thick slabs of freshly roasted turkey are piled on followed by the piece de resistance: a generous smear of warm, savory stuffing. If Ross' Thanksgiving leftover sandwich was this good, his outrage was most certainly justified ("You threw my sandwich away?! MY sandwich??")

Monday, November 18, 2013

Red Salsa

Saturday we met up with some fellow Texas grads to watch the Longhorn game. While the results of the game were disappointing, we at least ate well! Our hostess made two delicious versions of enchiladas with charro beans and spanish rice. She also whipped up some guacamole and queso (a Texas football staple).  I brought over a batch of Roasted Tomatillo Salsa and this Red Salsa, and for dessert, my husband made a classic Texas Sheet Cake from the Homesick Texan cookbook. Even though we're many miles from Texas, we felt right at home. So without further ado, here's how I make my red salsa, based on another Homesick Texan recipe. Just beware. It's addictive!
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes
1/2 yellow onion, cut into two wedges
2 cloves garlic
2 serrano peppers
3/4 cup cilantro (or more -- we like lots of cilantro)
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
pinch of sugar
2 Tb lime juice

Set the broiler to High. Line a baking sheet with foil, and spray with cooking spray or drizzle with oil.

Place the onion wedges, unpeeled garlic cloves, and serrano peppers onto the baking sheet and under the broiler.

 Let broil for about 5 minutes, until things are beginning to char. Turn the onions, garlic, and peppers such that the blackened sides are facing downward, and broil for another 5 minutes.

Remove from the oven and place the peppers in a plastic sandwich bag to steam (this helps with peeling off the skin). Once cool, peel the garlic cloves and roughly chop. Clean away the blackened skin from the peppers, chop off and discard the stem, and remove the seeds (or leave the seeds in for a spicier salsa); then roughly chop the peppers.

Add tomatoes (with the juice), onion, garlic, serranos, cilantro, spices, and lime juice into the bowl of a large food processor. Pulse a few times and then puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste.

Note that salsa is best when made at least a day in advance. Store it in the refrigerator, and it should last about a week.

Friday, November 15, 2013


Last  Friday afternoon, when my husband and I were leaving work we made a spontaneous decision to go out for a dinner date. Pretty crazy for people who like to plan their calendar at least two weeks in advance! So we set our course for Somerville's Union Square to finally try the much-talked-about German fare from Bronwyn. It's owned by chef Tim Wiechmann's who we're already a big fan of thanks to his first restaurant, T.W. Food
Outside a cold wind was blowing, but inside their heavy wooden front door it was warm and cozy. We were seated in their dining room at a table with fantastic throne-like chairs. We'll wait for a warmer day to enjoy their outdoor biergarten!
(Photo from Boston Eater, by Chris Coe)

We started with the Giant Haus Bretzel and mugs of German beer. The pretzel is appropriately named as it's quite giant (and quite delicious). It's served with sharp and pungent horseradish mustard -- probably great for horseradish lovers but a bit too much for me. 
For the main course, I got the jagerschnitzel and my husband got the sauerbraten. The schnitzel was two perfectly fried pork cutlets, crispy and buttery, topped with a celery root cream sauce, walnuts, and chanterelle mushrooms. It was fantastic, but the sauerbraten really stole the show. It's brisket braised in a vinegar sauce until it's fall apart tender, perfect for a cold evening!

It was a great date night and a great way to kick-off the three day weekend. I'm already looking forward to returning to try more German beers, their homemade wurst, and pretty much everything else on the menu.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rib Knit Cowl

It's knitting season again! I may hate the winter, but I love an excuse to get my needlework out. I'll happily sit curled up on the couch for hours, work spread over my lap and watching re-runs of Friends. Throw in a mug of hot tea, and you've got yourself a fine afternoon. I'm such a little old lady at heart. 

At last season's Medford Winter Farmers Market, I picked up a skein of this lovely hand-spun yarn from Natural Specialties. Finally, I came across the perfect project for it: a ribbed knit cowl pattern from Tentenknits. It looked so pretty and warm. 
So I got out my yarn, my needles, and my knitting bowl and got started. It's a simple pattern that I was able to finish over the weekend. Here's how I made mine using straight needles rather than circular needles, as the original pattern calls for. (Someday I nee to learn how to use those).

Size 8 Straight Knitting Needles (I used 14")
Skein of yarn
Yarn needle

Cast on 64 stitches (starting with a yarn tail of ~32 in)
*Knit 4, Purl 4, *repeat the pattern until row is complete.
Continue until you have about 12"-13" inches completed (~50 rows).
Cut the yarn free from the yarn ball, leaving a tail that's around 1.5 ft long. 
Thread the tail through a yarn needle, and use a whip stitch (similar to this method) to stitch up the sides of the rectangle, forming a long tube.
Once stitched up, cut off any of the remaining yarn tail.
Ta da! Simply pull it over your head in place of a scarf to keep yourself cozy and warm all winter. I've been using mine for a couple of days now, and I love it. 

Pumpkin and Kale Pasta with Lemon Goat Cheese Sauce

This weekend I cooked some of my Halloween decorations -- the cute little sugar pumpkin sitting in my entry way turned into a delicious dinner! I tweaked this recipe from Serious Eats, opting for tangy and bright goat cheese, a little extra lemon, and a splash of white wine to liven things up. It's a hearty and comforting dish that satisfies my cold weather cravings while still including plenty of vegetables (this time of year, I tend to only want to eat things involving lots of cheese, carbs, and cream of mushroom soup). In other news, we had our first snow yesterday. I'm not ready for that yet!
Serves 5-6

2 Tb olive oil
2 lb sugar pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1" cubes
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
~1/2 cup dry vermouth (or white wine)
12 oz farfalle pasta
1 large bunch of kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
2 Tb lemon juice
2 oz goat cheese
salt and pepper

Heat a dutch oven (or soup pot) over medium high heat. Pour in olive oil, and once hot, add in the pumpkin. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. The pumpkin should begin to soften a bit.

Push the pumpkin to the sides of the pot, exposing the bottom of the pan. Add the shallots and the crushed red pepper to the center of the pan, and let them cook for about one minute before stirring to combine. Next, add the garlic, and cook for 30 seconds, or until fragrant.

Stir in the stock and vermouth, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits. Raise the heat to high, add another pinch of salt to the liquid, and then stir in the pasta. 

Once the liquid comes to a boil, partially cover and let cook until the pasta is about 4 minutes away from being done (the box called for 10 minutes for al dente, so I let it cook for about 6 minutes), stirring occasionally to prevent pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

At this point, begin adding in the kale a handful at a time, stirring it into the liquid so it will begin to wilt. Once all of the kale is wilted down and the pasta is done, turn the heat down to medium low. 

Stir in the lemon juice and goat cheese. The goat cheese will combine with the remaining liquid to make a creamy sauce. Taste, and feel free to add a little extra goat cheese or lemon if desired.

Serve and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Pumpkin Carving Party

Last weekend we hosted our very first pumpkin carving party. With our friends Kevin and Andrea, we celebrated all things fall -- warm comforting stew, pumpkin beers, football, mulled apple cider, carving pumpkins, and roasted pumpkin seeds! This post is pretty belated since it's no longer the season for carving pumpkins, but hey, at least it's still the season for everything else!

For dinner, I set the table with fall linens (when you get married in October, all of the linens you receive are in fall colors) and a bowl of apples that we picked for a centerpiece. My husband was the chef for the evening, and he whipped up a delicious Pork and Green Chile Stew (Chile Verde) to serve with homemade flour tortillas (homemade tortillas require a little extra effort, but man are they good!). It was warm and hearty, perfect for a chilly evening.
After dinner, it was time for the UT game.  And since you can't watch football without beer, we decided to sample pumpkin beers, serving mostly local options: Southern Tier Pumpking (our favorite), Cambridge Brewing Company Great Pumpkin Ale, Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale, Sam Adams Oktoberfest (not a pumpkin beer but it's Fall-ish!), Cisco Brewing Pumple Drumkin (we didn't care for this one).
I also put on a pot of mulled apple cider right before our guests arrived. I have a super simple recipe that I use, and it can sit and simmer until you're ready to serve it.
Mulled Apple Cider
In a slow cooker, pour in 1 gallon of plain apple cider and stir in 1/4 cup brown sugar. Then put 4 cinnamon sticks, 3 tsp whole cloves, 2 pods of star anise, ~1/2 inch of ginger, thinly sliced, all onto a piece of cheesecloth, and tie it up with a piece of kitchen twine. Add the bag of spices and slices from one orange into the slow cooker. Heat on Low for at least a couple of hours before serving. (And while delicious on its own, it's also good with about 1 oz of bourbon stirred into each mug!)
Around halftime, the Longhorn game had a rain delay, a perfect opportunity to start carving pumpkins. I spread out a big table cloth in the living room, and we put a few pieces of newspaper under our pumpkins to keep the innards from seeping through the table cloth and onto our rug. Using tools and patterns from grocery store carving kits, we got to work! (It's also a good idea to put out a few bowls for pumpkin innards and paper towels and/or kitchen towels for wiping hands).
It was so much fun, and everyone's pumpkins turned out great! I tried out the engraving technique, which was fun but disappointing because it didn't glow like it was supposed to when I put a candle inside. I guess I didn't scrape away enough of the pumpkin.  Everyone else went with traditional jack-o-lanterns. Here's the line-up:
And here they are after the official lighting ceremony! :)
With the pumpkins done, I poured everyone a mug of cider, and we served the delicious homemade cookies and ice cream that our friends brought for dessert. And finally, before they headed home, I roasted some of the pumpkin seeds leftover from carving.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Preheat oven to 300°F. Scoop out the seeds and then clean by rinsing them in a colander and removing any remaining pumpkin flesh. Dry the seeds by dumping them onto a towel and patting dry.  Once dry, pour the seeds into a bowl. Add in olive oil, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, and chili powder. For seeds from one pumpkin I used  a couple teaspoons of oil, a couple good pinches of salt, pepper from a few twists of my grinder, 1/4 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp paprika, and 1/8 tsp chili powder. Place the seeds on a foil-lined baking tray and spread them out in a single layer, and place the baking sheet into the oven. Roast for about 20 to 25 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the seeds just begin to brown. 
It was such a fun evening -- a great excuse to get together with friends who we don't see nearly enough! We put our pumpkins out on the front porch to greet trick-or-treaters on Halloween. And now, somehow it's already November with Thanksgiving right around the corner. Where is the fall going?