Thursday, April 24, 2014

Picnic and a Hike at Walden Pond

After living in the Boston area for 5 years, we finally spent an afternoon at Walden Pond. It's hard to believe that it took us this long to visit such a notable landmark that is practically in our backyard. It was a beautiful day, sunny and relatively warm, so we packed some picnic blankets and snacks and set out on our adventure.
The pond is just lovely, though given its history, it's a little strange how surrounded by civilization it is now. We picked a front row seat on the "beach", laid out our spread, and plopped down on the sand. The water was lapping at the shore just a few feet in front of us, the sun sparkling on the little waves. As this was a rather impromptu affair, it was a simple picnic, just an afternoon snack. We brought carrot sticks, kettle corn, apple slices with Big Spoon chocolate peanut butter spread (made with local Taza chocolate), and a thermos of hot tea with lemon wedges. Once we had our fill of snacks, we continued to sip hot tea, and I read some out of Walden (what else would you read at Walden Pond?).
Before heading home, we took a little hike around the water's edge past other sunbathers and fishermen. Don't you love how peaceful and beautiful lakes are? I'll choose a lakeside view over the ocean any day of the week.
And finally, we paid a visit to Thoreau himself, pondering life's great questions and poking our heads into the replica of his tiny house.
It was a lovely afternoon, and I know it will be a treasured memory for years to come!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Stuffed Baked Potatoes with Broccoli, Cheese, and Roasted Garlic Butter

Last week, my husband was craving stuffed baked potatoes. The last time I had a stuffed baked potato was one of Jason's Deli's glorious chili and cheese stuffed affairs, roughly the size of a football, sometime during college, which is entirely too long to go without stuffed baked potatoes in your life. What was I thinking? Here's my remedy for such an oversight: stuffed baked potatoes with broccoli, cheese, and roasted garlic butter! 
Serves 2

2 large russet potatoes
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
olive oil
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup colby jack cheese, grated
4 Tb butter, softened
salt and pepper
sour cream (a generous dollop for each potato)

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

While the oven preheats, prick the potatoes all over with a fork. Rub generously with olive oil and sea salt. 

Place the potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet, and bake for a little over 1 hour (or until potatoes are tender when pricked with a knife).

About 30 minutes into baking, place two unpeeled garlic cloves on a square of foil and drizzle with olive oil. Fold the foil around the cloves into a packet, and place in the oven on the baking sheet.

About 45 minutes into baking, toss the broccoli with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a few good pinches of cayenne pepper. Add the broccoli to the baking sheet and roast for another 15-20 minutes.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven. If the potatoes and broccoli are done, remove the garlic packet, sprinkle the broccoli with the grated cheese, and pop the baking sheet back into the oven for another 2-3 minutes, until the cheese is melted. 

While the cheese melts, peel the roasted garlic and mince. Stir into the softened butter until well combined.

Remove the baked potatoes from the baking sheet to a plate. Split with a knife, and mash the flesh of the potatoes with a generous amount of the roasted garlic butter and sour cream. Finally, use a spatula to scrape up the roasted broccoli and melted cheese to top the potato. Serve immediately, and enjoy!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Happy (Belated) Easter!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter! How did you spend the holiday? We spent a quiet day, just the two of us, beginning with reading the Easter story and brunch: polenta squares with spinach and bacon, coffee, and mimosas.
That afternoon we dyed Easter eggs and watched Charlton Heston in "The Ten Commandments". I learned that as fun as "glitter eggs" are, we will never do them with children. I think we'll be finding glitter in our kitchen for months!
And we finished the day with a fabulous Easter dinner of pickled shrimp, marinated asparagus, wild rice, and lemon rosemary roasted chicken with rose wine. It was such a happy spring day to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord!
Today is Marathon Monday in Boston and Patriots' Day, a state holiday. It's hard to believe that a year has already passed since the events of last year's marathon.  I'm thankful that this year finds us safe and ever Boston Strong.
"He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay." Matthew 28:6

Friday, April 18, 2014

"Love" Embroidered Wall Hanging

Happy Friday, folks! I know this looks like a bit of a Valentine's post in April, but it's totally not. I firmly believe that any day is a good day to tell someone you love them. After all, people need love all year round. And Mother's Day is right around the corner! So if you have someone special in mind, round up some fabric and some embroidery floss, because we're crafting!
What You'll Need:
 Embroidery Floss (I used brown, black, and a dark red, but use whatever compliments your fabric)
Tapestry Need, Size 24 (tips on choosing needle types and sizes)
Embroidery Hoop (I use an 8" hoop)
Pattern (see below)
Fabric (I used fabrics from Sew Fine Fabric)
The Pattern:
I free-handed this a bit, so it's not perfect, but it'll do! Feel free to re-make it with your own hand-writing! 
What To Do:
1. Using a heart-shaped stencil and the water soluble tracing pen, trace four hearts onto your fabric of choice, and carefully cut them out.
2. Trace the pattern onto your fabric using the water soluble pen, and place the fabric in your embroidery hoop.
3. Lay your hearts one at a time onto the fabric, pinning them in place with one or two straight pins. Use 2 strands of red embroidery floss and the running stitch technique around the inner edge of the hearts to stitch them into place (removing the straight pins as you go).
4. Next, use the 2 strands of black embroidery floss and the back stitch technique to embroider the string that the hearts are hung on. (I actually embroidered two rows of stitches very close together to give the impression of a thicker string. If the weave of your material is loose enough, you can avoid this by using all 6 strands.)

5. Using 2 strands of brown embroidery thread and the back stitch technique, embroider the text. For a little pop of color, use 2 strands of red floss to embroider the little heart at the end of the "d".

6. Remove the fabric from the embroidery hoop, and gently rinse it to remove any trace of the water soluble pen markings. Let it dry.
7. Now that the embroidery is complete, it's time to finish the hoop for display. Using this method, wrap the outer frame of the embroidery hoop with long strips of the red fabric

8. Place the embroidered work back in the hoop, and trim the excess chevron fabric, leaving about 1/2" around the edge of the hoop. Fold that remaining fabric over the inside of the embroidery hoop, and use a hot glue gun to secure it to the hoop. 

9. Finally, cut a circular piece of fabric to lay over the back of the embroidery, and hot glue the edges to the inside of the hoop (if you don't mind the back of your work being visible, you can skip this step).
10. Ta da! You did it! Deliver the finished product to someone you love (preferably along with a big hug)!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Springtime in the Kitchen

Ok, I'm finally calling it! It's SPRING in New England! This week I've seen the first little shoots of green leaves poking out of the ground, and bulbs are about to start blooming! What a relief and a joyous feeling after such a long winter! While I love cooking hearty stews and casseroles with a glorious amount of cheese in the winter, springtime cooking is so exciting and refreshing. Bust out your green peas, your asparagus, your fresh herbs, your fiddlehead ferns, your fava beans, your arugula, all things vibrant and green, and celebrate! Here are some recipes that I'm finding inspiring!

Cilantro Lime Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
Sometimes I think cilantro and lime are my love language. It just might be the perfect combination. And since I have a batch of chimichurri in the freezer, this recipe has me itching to wake up the grill from hibernation! 
(photo from Married Claire)

Minty Pea and Arugula Wonton Ravioli 
So pretty and fresh and green! This would be a fun project with friends or a special someone!

Asparagus with Eggs and Parmesan
How gorgeous is this salad? It looks like spring on a plate.

Sweet Potato, Quinoa, and Cotija Salad
We made this for dinner last night, and it's just as amazing as it looks. Please make it as soon as possible.
(photo from Love and Lemons)

Spring Salad of Asparagus, Ramps, and Peas with Poached Egg and Lemon Zest Vinaigrette
I love how a poached egg elevates something simple into an elegant meal. This is just lovely.

Asparagus-Stuffed Eggs
Are deviled eggs healthier if there's asparagus involved? Definitely. At least that's what I'll tell myself if I down too many of these in one sitting.
(photo from Smitten Kitchen)

This recipe is a favorite of ours thanks to the buttery croutons, flaky smoked salmon, and creamy avocado! Joy the Baker will never lead you astray.
(photo from Joy the Baker)

 Baked Halibut with Chimichurri
A simple, light recipe made even simpler thanks to a few batches of chimichurri in the freezer. We made this a couple nights ago with cod and loved it! 
 (photo from Anjali Prasertong of The Kitchn)

Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus Bundles
Beautiful, impressive side dish that is a cinch to make. We've also made these in foil packets on the grill with great success!
(photo from Gina's Skinny Taste)

Pimm's Cup
Last but not least, the unofficial cocktail of perfect sunny spring afternoons. Cheers!
(photo from Barbara Kiebel of Creative Culinary)

Monday, April 7, 2014

An Old Friend Comes To Town

When I was little, my mom used to sing me a song. It went, "Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold." It's so cheesy, but it's true! While it's wonderful to make new friends, there's something special about those who have known you your whole life. One of those for me is Philip. He lives in Manhattan these days and took the bus up to Boston last weekend. We had a blast catching up! Our adventures began in Salem on Saturday morning. 

What we did:
The Witch House - The only house left standing with a direct tie to the witch trials. Built in the 1600s, it was the home of a judge who condemned the witches. It's an interesting (and quick) self-guided tour.
The Burying Point - This old cemetery would be creeeepy after dark. Lots of historical graves, including a Mayflower pilgrim who died in the 1690s and relatives of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie - Said to be the country's oldest candy company and home of the Gibraltar, a hard candy with two flavors: lemon and peppermint. They also boast an impressive array of chocolates (I loved the dark chocolate-covered dried apricots).
The House of the Seven Gables - As a book worm, I couldn't pass up a chance to see the home perched on the Salem waterfront that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables
Places I want to go next time: Peabody-Essex Museum, Derby Square Books with its towering piles of books (sadly, it was closed the day we visited)

After wandering around Salem without spotting a single witch, we drove up the North Shore for fried clams at Woodman's. I'm so glad they're open year-round, because even in the colder months, I still need fried clams, clamcakes, and clam chowder!
Saturday evening began with drinks at Backbar, one of the last bastions for craft cocktails around town that we had yet to try. Located down an alley, through a subtly marked door, and down a hallway, you're served delicious cocktails and some fantastic spicy-sweet popcorn. My favorite drink of the evening was a rum hot toddy that my husband ordered -- it arrived in a dainty china teacup! We'll definitely go back to this place (and next time we'll be coming for one of their steaming bowls of ramen).
Our dinner that night was the highlight of the weekend: tapas at Casa B! Seated in their cozy downstairs dining area, we shared the chef's tasting menu. A steady stream of tantalizing small plates were brought to the table throughout the evening. Bacon-wrapped yucca-stuffed shrimp, ceviche, serrano ham piled high on potato slices, yucca gnocchi with tender pot roast, sauteed mushrooms, crisp roasted brussels sprouts, wedges of butternut squash, the plates kept coming. Each one was a surprise, and not a single plate disappointed. And I haven't even mentioned the sangria yet! Please do not pass up a chance to order a pitcher of their sangria!
Sunday morning we trudged through the rain for brunch at Coppa in the South End. Once we were out of the rain and I had an Aperol Spritz in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other, I was a much happier girl. I was even happier piling spoonfuls of scrambled eggs with peekytoe crab on buttered toast. And they totally had rutabaga home fries -- who has ever heard of that? Such a good idea!
Our last outing was a tour of the Taza Chocolate factory, where they make "bean-to-bar" Oaxacan-style stone ground chocolate. We donned hair nets (and beard nets for poor Philip) and set out to learn how they work their magic!
Taza uses stones called molinos to grind cocoa nibs (roasted and shelled in house) with sugar, turning it into a beautiful chocolate paste that can be poured into molds or mixed with numerous flavors such as cinnamon, almond, orange, roasted chiles, etc before it's molded and wrapped. It's not as smooth as traditional European chocolate, but it's every bit as delicious. And what a treat to see how it's made (and to taste samples at every turn)!
What a fun weekend reuniting with Philip a very long way from our little hometown in East Texas! Thanks for coming to visit!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tangelo Campari Sorbet

Around here, there's still so much beautiful winter citrus at the grocery store that I can't help bringing home bags filled with different varieties. This week, I got a little carried away, and I knew there was no way I could eat it all before it went bad. Solution? Sorbet!  Honestly, I prefer a good sorbet to ice cream any day. It's light and refreshing and bursting with flavor from fresh fruit.
Feel free to use this recipe as a jumping off point. If you can't find minneola tangelos or honey tangerines, you could use blood oranges, cara cara oranges, meyer lemons, grapefruit, pomelo, whatever you can get your hands on! As for the Campari, it pairs so well with orange, giving it a little depth and a nice twinge of bitterness to offset the bright, sweet sorbet. Feel free to leave it out, but if you have a bottle, go ahead and be brave -- add in a splash!

~1 1/3 cup juice from 4 Minneola Tangelos
~2/3 cup juice from 2 Honey Tangerines
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tb Campari

Heat about 1 cup of the citrus juice and the sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir frequently, and remove from the heat as soon as the sugar is dissolved.

Stir in the remaining juice and the Campari.

Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator (for at least a couple of hours).

When chilled, freeze using an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer instructions.  

Scoop into a container, and store in the freezer until ready to serve.

Variations: You can add in a splash of gin (maybe 1-2 Tb) as a nod to the classic Negroni cocktail. Or serve the sorbet in a wine glass topped with a splash of champagne like these beautiful Tangerine Sorbet Champagne Floats from Completely Delicious.