Monday, March 31, 2014

My 10 Favorite Things in March

What a good little month March has been! Despite the lingering chilly weather and a dusting of snow, I'm starting to believe that spring is on its way! We had a couple of special visitors, we fired up the stove and cooked some memorable meals, we tried some new places around town, and I spent some quiet evenings at home crafting and reading. Here are some of my favorite moments this month!

1) Mom's Visit
She came to keep me company while my husband took a boy's trip to Dublin for St Patrick's Day. It was such a fun weekend and such a rare treat these days to get girl time alone with my mom!
I'm very lucky when it comes to in-laws. Mine are pretty great, and they're a lot of fun to go wine tasting with (pictured: Spicewood Vineyards)
It's such a treat to live down the road from dozens of cute little sugar shacks. Mom and I had a great time driving up to Milford, NH to visit Sammy's Sugar Shack.
St. Patrick's Day is such a good excuse to dust off my favorite Irish Soda Bread recipe, and it's even more fun when I get to bake with my mom! Who needs green beer when you have bread fresh out of the oven?
5) My First Antique Auction
Y'all, this is addictive. I already can't wait to go to another one! Mom and I had the best time at the Antique Co-Op and Auction House in Malden at one of their bi-weekly auctions! I came home with the prettiest lemonade glasses and a rotating vanity stool that I snagged for a mere $15!
 6) My Husband's French Silk Pie
Thank goodness for Pi Day and for a husband who likes baking! And thank goodness for whoever created the French Silk Pie!
 7) Crafting
It's been a while since I started a new craft project, so it felt good to get out the needle and embroidery floss again. I love working with lovely fabrics from Sew Fine Fabric!
One of the tricks in my arsenal for beating the winter blues involves roasting tomatoes and pretending it's summer (it's basically blatant denial). The colorful tomatoes along with the bright lemon and the tangy goat cheese are a good shot in the arm when it's still dreary and gray outside.
9) Re-reading Dandelion Wine
One of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors. Beautiful writing, and you can't help but feel like it must be summer outside.
10) Philip's Visit
There's something special about childhood friends. I've known Philip almost as long as I can remember, and I was so tickled when he decided to take a bus up from Manhattan to pay us a visit! We had a great time catching up, visiting Salem, touring Taza Chocolate, and dining out around town (the highlight was a tapas dinner at Casa B in Union Square)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tomato Goat Cheese Tart

Even though the calendar says it's spring, winter is still hanging on in Boston. Snow is in the forecast for tomorrow! But I firmly believe that spring is around the corner, and in the meantime I'll keep fighting the good fight to ward off the winter blues. If there's anything that's the polar opposite of winter, isn't it a bright, beautiful tomato? Sure, they're not in season, and they're not at their peak flavor like summer tomatoes, but roasting them on top of a flaky, buttery puff pastry tart helps them shine, even in the cold winter months. So if you're like me and can't wait for a little dose of summer, pop this tart in the oven. It's quick to make and delicious for a light dinner. If you are blessed with better self-control, maybe you can wait until tomatoes start to appear in your garden this summer! Either way, enjoy!
(depending on what you serve with it)

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1 large red tomato, sliced, juice/seeds gently removed
3-4 small yellow tomatoes, sliced, juice/seeds gently removed
4 oz package of goat cheese
3 sprigs rosemary, stemmed and leaves minced
zest of one lemon
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

In a bowl, crumble goat cheese and mix well with lemon zest and rosemary.

Fold out the puff pastry sheet, and roll it out with a rolling pin, stretching it a little in each direction. Place the pastry sheet on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet (or use a Silpat mat).

Spread the goat cheese mixture evenly across the puff pastry, leaving about 1/2 inch exposed around the edge to form the crust. Top with sliced tomatoes. Sprinkle generously with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Bake for 25-27 minutes, until the crust is nicely browned, and the tomatoes are roasted. 

Let cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

Variation: For a party, it would be really fun to make individual tomato tarts. To do so, cut the puff pastry sheet into 9 squares. Spread each one with some of the goat cheese mixture and top with one large tomato slice (or a few smaller slices).  Bake until the crust is puffed and golden.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

It's Maple Syrup Season!

It's that time of year again! As temperatures begin to creep above freezing, the maple tree sap begins to flow. It's maple syrup season in New England! 

My mom was in town this weekend to keep me company while my husband gallivanted around Dublin for St Patrick's Day. We had a great time cooking, bidding in an antique auction, eating as much seafood as we could manage (there's not much fresh seafood in northeast Texas), watching girly movies, exploring Cape Cod, and visiting a sugar shack in New Hampshire: Sammy's Sugar Shack!
March is "Maple Month" in New Hampshire, and as a part of the festivities, many syrup producers open their doors for tours and free samples. We made the drive up to Milford and had a great time at Sammy's. The sugar shack is in a beautifully renovated barn located on their family farm (complete with beef cattle grazing out back).  This is only their second year of operation, and as we toured the cozy facility, their evaporator was running with a fresh batch of sap for the first time this season. Shelves were lined with bottles of syrup, maple cream, maple candies made by Sammy's wife, and maple sugar -- we brought home a little bit of everything!
Another I would recommend is Parker's Maple Barn in Mason, NH.  We toured their sugar shack last year when our friends Jimmy and Laura visited from LA, and we loved it. It's a larger, well-established (yet still rustic) facility with an in-depth guided tour. Their roaring wood-fired evaporator is a sight to behold.
If you want to make a morning of it, they also have a restaurant serving up breakfast (including pancakes and their own maple syrup). Sadly, we had to skip out on breakfast as there was a 2 hour wait by the time we arrived later in the morning.
Last but not least, if you want to make the trek to Vermont, the maple syrup motherland, you might want to pay Mom and Pop's a visit in Rochester.  It's an adorable little family-run operation, and we're big fans of their syrup and their maple cream. About 20 minutes down the road, you can also find beautiful handmade maple wood bowls at The Bowl Mill. In between the two is the cutest little shop called Sandy's Books and Bakery (formerly Seasoned Books), a perfect pit-stop for a freshly-baked pastry with coffee, a sandwich for lunch, or a little book browsing.
There are dozens of producers in the area that we have yet to visit, so let me know if there are others I need to try! Here's to celebrating maple syrup season!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Irish Soda Bread

Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone! Are you wearing green? In honor of the occasion, I want to share my trusty Irish Soda Bread recipe with you. Though to be fair, it's not really my recipe at all. The sweet mother of my friend James was kind enough to share it with me years ago. They're a good Boston-Irish family, so unsurprisingly her version has never let me down. I make it at least once a year, and this year, I actually get to make it with my own mom since she's visiting! What day isn't made better by a warm loaf of bread fresh out of the oven (with the exception of those super hot summer days where you can't bear to turn on your oven)?
2 cups all-purpose white flour
(or 1 1/2 cup white flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tb sugar
6 Tb unsalted butter
heaping 1/2 cup raisins
1/2 to 3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven 375 F. Have all ingredients around room temperature.

Sift flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl.

Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal (you can also work the butter into the flour with your fingertips)

Stir in the raisins, breaking them up so there aren't any clumps.

Gradually add the buttermilk to the bowl, mixing at first with a wooden spoon.  As the dough begins to form, I switch to using my hands, carefully gathering the dough into a ball, adding buttermilk little by little until it just comes together.

Gently pat the dough into a slightly flattened disc, and place on greased cast iron skillet or baking sheet. Brush lightly with buttermilk, and cut a cross into the top of the bread (this is said to bless the bread and to help it crack when baking)

Bake for about 30-35 minutes until nicely browned.

Cool on wire rack for at least 20-30 min (I wrap mine once in a clean cotton dish towel to keep the crust somewhat soft; otherwise it can get pretty hard).

Serve at room temperature or warm and spread with a little butter. And enjoy!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Happy Pi(e) Day!

Happy Pi Day everyone! I hope you're celebrating with something sweet (or savory)! This very well may be the only known holiday to combine the celebration of nerdiness and mass consumption of pie, so take advantage of it!  We opted for a French Silk Pie that my husband made for us, but here's some more that I wish I could make today! (In other holiday news, everyone have a happy St Patrick's Day weekend!)

From: Joy the Baker

It's going to be Spring soon, right? Maybe? I'm ready for rhubarb!
From: Smitten Kitchen

How adorable are these? I can barely handle it.
From: Serious Eats

Gorgeous. And I love no-bake pies. For some reason, they always make me think of church suppers and little old ladies.
From The Kitchn

I hate juicing key limes, but man do I love key lime pie. Once a year or so, it's totally worth it.
From: Yours Truly

This is one of my favorite pies of all time -- rich custard balanced with bright lemon. Best of all, it's a taste of home.
From: The Kitchn

Here you can kill two birds with one stone: celebrating Pi Day and St Patrick's Day. Bonus points for Pie Day if you bake it in a round dish.
From: Southern Living

Ok, I know it's totally the wrong time of year for this pie, but doesn't it sound wonderful? I could really use some beautiful summer heirloom tomatoes right now!
From: Yours Truly

If you're a fan of breakfast for dinner (or if you want to throw a Pi Day Brunch), this quiche is where it's at.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Wine Tasting in the Texas Hill Country

Y'all, I'm very lucky to have family that lives in Austin. I tease my husband that it's one of the reasons I married him -- so I would have an excuse to travel back there now that we're graduated from UT and live halfway across the country. On a recent weekend visit, we went wine tasting in the Hill Country. We visited two of the dozens of vineyards in the area: Stone House Vineyards followed by Spicewood Vineyards. It was such a relaxing, fun afternoon (and such a pretty drive) -- I highly recommend it!
First up was Stone House. The land is lovely, and they have a beautiful tasting room. So we could try all of the wines, we divided and conquered, two of us selecting the House Tasting and two of us the Special Reserve Tasting (5 wines each). We passed glasses back and forth, everyone picking favorites and providing opinions. We were a little disappointed to find out that most of their wines are actually made in Australia or California and shipped to the vineyard (as the local vines are still very young), though a couple bottles were made on location with local grapes.

Favorite wines: Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc, Special Reserve Merlot, Angela's Wish
A little ways down the road was Spicewood Vineyards, our favorite of the two.  The tasting room is a little cozier and more causal, and the staff was a little warmer (and provided us with more information about each wine we tasted, which I really appreciate). They have a nice outdoor seating area that would be great for a warm, sunny day (not the chilly, drizzly day when we were there). We all opted for the "Regular Tasting List" featuring 7 wines that we really enjoyed (Bonus Points: not only did we prefer the wines to those at Stone House, they were cheaper to boot!). Another thing we loved about this vineyard? They have an adorable puppy named Elway that'll perform tricks for you in the tasting room (or run head first into a glass door).

Favorite Wines: Basically all of them, but particularly the Touriga, Cabernet Claret, Albarino, and Viognier.
Even more important than the wine, it was an afternoon spent with the family we love and don't get to see nearly often enough. I'm always so thankful for those times! Cheers!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Udon Soup with Swiss Chard and Mushrooms

In honor of the unending New England winter (are you tired of me complaining about winter yet?), here's one of my favorite soup recipes. Especially with a little spicy Sriracha stirred in, it'll warm you up from the inside out. Based on what's in your kitchen, you can start with this basic idea and adapt it (because no one wants to go to the grocery if it's snowing). It would be great with a little shrimp or shredded chicken, napa cabbage could be used in place of swiss chard, toss in thinly sliced carrots or snow peas, or how about soba or ramen noodles rather than udon? Here's to soup and to hoping it's warmer wherever you are!
Serves 4

1 Tb olive oil
~6 oz baby bella mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
1 star anise pod
2 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
4 cups water
pinch of salt
1 bundle of udon noodles
1 bunch swiss chard, stems removed and thinly sliced into ribbons
1 block extra firm tofu, sliced into 1" cubes
Garnishes: cilantro, soy sauce, sriracha

Heat a dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Pour in olive oil, and once heated, toss in sliced mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes until the mushrooms are nicely browned. 

Add bay leaves and star anise pod, and let cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Pour in the water and chicken stock along with a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil.

When boiling, add the udon to the pot, and cook according to package directions (mine required about 10 minutes).  

When the noodles are almost done, stir in the swiss chard. Once the chard is wilted and the noodles are done, add the cubed tofu, and remove from the heat.

Remove the bay leaves and star anise, and serve sprinkled with chopped cilantro. Stir in a little Sriracha and/or soy sauce, according to your taste.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Beating the Winter Blues

It's March, and it snowed again today. In the frozen tundra of New England, we have at least one more month of cold and snow before we can even begin thinking about warmer weather. I'm a summer girl that needs warmth and sunshine, and right now I've got to tell you that I've got a bad case of the Winter Blues. So in an attempt to think about sunnier things, here's my plan:

1) Bake this beautiful Tomato Tart from The Endless Meal
Does anything say summer more than tomatoes? And as these tomatoes are roasted, the recipe is a little more forgiving when using sub-par winter tomatoes. Bonus Points: In the winter the house isn't so warm that I can't turn on the oven!
(photo from The Endless Meal)

2) Mix up one of these Sunburnt Margaritas
Using some beautiful in-season citrus in place of traditional lime, these look like summer in a glass.
(photo from What's Gaby Cooking)

3) Throw an indoor "Garden Party"
Why not turn up the heat, invite some friends over, throw on flouncy sun dresses, put out fresh flowers and colorful decor, and pretend we're having a garden party on a warm, breezy summer day? I totally want to make this happy garland and napkins for the occasion. 
(Photo from Project Nursery)
(photo from The Purl Bee)

4) Indulge in an At-Home Spa Day
How fun would this be? Make a homemade sugar or salt scrub (like this three ingredient Lemon Salt Scrub) for the shower, spread on a face mask, cozy up in a fuzzy robe, paint my nails with a bright summer color, the works!
(photo from The Beauty Department)

5) Buy more fresh flowers
Fresh flowers in a pitcher on the dining room table or in a vase in the living room do so much to brighten up a dreary winter day.

6) Light cheerful candles
In the winter, I'm usually drawn to bright citrusy scents. Two of my favorites right now are the Mandarin Lavender from Paddywax as well as their Pomegranate Spruce.

(Photo from Paddywax)

7) Start a craft project
Having a fun project to work on makes the days seem a little less dark and dreary. One I've been itching to start is this adorable cross stitch featuring one of my favorite Jane Austen quotes.
(photo from Gazette 94)

8) Curl up with a good book
I've been reading the incredibly dense Dr Zhivago. A story of people caught up in the tumultuous Russian Revolution, it is by no means "beach reading".  I'm pretty ready to get through the last 25 pages and start something a little lighter. Something perfect for spending a lazy morning on the couch curled up under a blanket with a cup of hot tea. I think I want to re-read Bradbury's beautiful Dandelion Wine.
(photo from The Kids Stick Together)