Friday, May 30, 2014

Warm Chicken and Rice Salad with Potatoes and Green Beans

Sometimes for lunch I want something warm instead of another turkey sandwich (I get in a rut and eat a lot of turkey sandwiches). Enter this chicken and rice salad tossed with potatoes, green beans, tangy feta cheese, briny capers, and a bright red wine vinaigrette. It's warm and satisfying but not too heavy. It would also be perfect for a light summer dinner served on the back porch with a chilled bottle of rose wine. After all, most things are made better when served out on the back porch with a chilled bottle of rose! Here's to looking forward to the long summer evenings that are right around the corner!
Serves 4

1/2 cup rice or rice and red quinoa blend (I used Rice Select Royal Blend with light brown rice, red quinoa, and freekeh)
~2 cups water, divided
1 Tb butter
4-6 small multi-color new potatoes, washed and diced
1/4 lb green beans, ends trimmed and cut into 1" pieces
1 10 oz can chunk chicken breast in water, drained 
(feel free to substitute grilled chicken breast or rotisserie chicken)
1 1/2 Tb red wine vinegar
1 tsp whole grain dijon mustard
3 Tb olive oil
2 tsp capers, drained and roughly chopped
~3 oz feta cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper

In a saucepan, add 1 cup water, 1 Tb butter, and 1/2 cup Rice Select Royal Blend (or any rice or rice blend) along with a good pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil, and give it a stir. Cover and reduce heat, and let the rice blend simmer for 18 minutes (for a different rice blend, cook according to package directions).

In a separate saucepan, add the diced potatoes, enough water to cover them by about 1/2 inch, and about 1 tsp salt, and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, reduce to a low boil and let cook for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a knife. About 5 minutes into the cooking process, toss in the green beans. Drain when done.

While the rice and vegetables cook, whisk together the red wine vinegar, the dijon mustard, and a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper until the salt is dissolved. Slowly drizzle the olive oil into the vinegar and mustard mixture, whisking continuously to emulsify. Finally, stir in the capers. 

When the rice, potatoes, and green beans are cooked, toss them with the chunk chicken meat, the vinaigrette, and the feta cheese. Serve immediately, and enjoy!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Memorial Day in Vermont

How was everyone's Memorial Day weekend? We spent ours with our good friends and newlyweds, Crystal and Troy. They are fellow Longhorns who have also relocated to New England. We drove up to their home in New Hampshire on Saturday morning and kicked off the festivities with a feast of homemade pasta by Chef Crystal. There was pesto pasta salad, spinach angel hair pasta and fettuccine with bolognese sauce, cheese and mushroom stuffed ravioli, salad, sauteed shrimp, and a fruit and cheese spread. And wine of course! I think I'm going to write my own thank you note to whoever bought them a pasta maker for their wedding!
After lunch, we drove to Quechee, Vermont (home of the gorgeous Quechee Gorge) and shopped for Vermont-y wares like maple syrup, Cabot cheese, maple cream, local honey, Green Mountain Coffee, etc at the Cabot Quechee Store and homemade soaps and candles at Whisper Hill Bath and Body. If you pay them a visit, don't miss out on the Vermont Toy Museum located upstairs of the Cabot Quechee Store!
After driving through adorable Woodstock with its cute shops, restaurants, and Gillingham & Sons general store along Central Street, our next stop was for a beer flight at Long Trail Brewing in Bridgewater. We grabbed a table out on their back patio, alongside the swiftly flowing Ottauquechee River. We snacked on complimentary popcorn, sipped our beers (the favorite was the Berliner-Weisse, their newest Brown Bag Series), and enjoyed the view.
Us at Long Trail Brewing! Cheers!
For dinner that evening, we popped into Elixir Restaurant, a cute local spot in a renovated Freight House right off the train tracks in White River Junction. Small town Vermont prices are so much better than Boston prices, and even more importantly, the food was very good. We loved the coconut-red curry mussels, the truffle fries, and  the filet mignon! But even better than the food and drink was the company!

Sunday morning, we made the beautiful drive to Norwich, Vermont for their Memorial Day Parade. Crystal and Troy are both members of the Upper Valley Community Band and were esteemed parade participants! While they warmed up with the band, my husband and I explored the tiny, adorable town. From swinging in front of the elementary school to walking along the shaded streets to exploring Dan and Whit's General Store, we loved this little community.
Eventually, we plopped down our chairs along Main Street with the local folks and families and waited for the parade to go by. Children were eating popsicles and waving American flags. Parents were chatting and waving at friends. Puppies played in the grass. Eventually the parade began, local military service members, boy scouts, the band, all trailed by the local fire truck. Small town life at its best!
After the parade, we headed over to Jasper Murdoch's Alehouse at the Norwich Inn for lunch. It's such a pretty inn, and Jasper Murdoch's offers some pretty good brews and food. If you stop in for a meal, give the eggplant fries a shot. Delicious!

After lunch, we made our final stop in Vermont: King Arthur Flour. Located right outside Norwich, this is truly a baker's paradise. On site, they have their own bakery and cafe, they offer all kinds of baking classes, and they have a kitchen store that I practically had to be dragged out of. There are more baking ingredients than you could imagine and a ridiculous amount of cute kitchen accessories: pie pans, kitchen towels, aprons, spatulas, cupcake liners, you name it. What I wouldn't give to have this store around the corner from me, though it's probably better for my wallet that it's not. It was a real treat to pay them a visit.
Sunday afternoon we bid Crystal and Troy farewell and made the trek back down to Boston, the back of the car noticeably more full with all of the spoils from our trip. Now to put everything to good use!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Broiled Salmon with Avocado Tzatziki

Last week I bought some salmon filets for my husband to cook out on the grill. Well, I should have checked the weather, because that evening, it was pouring down rain. Instead of scrapping our plans and ordering pizza, I decided to use the broiler instead. Just like the grill, it was quick, and cleanup was a cinch (thanks to a foil-lined baking sheet). I topped the salmon with a squeeze of broiled lemon and a generous dollop of avocado tzatziki, which while probably inauthentic was quite delicious. The creamy and cool avocado, greek yogurt, and sour cream is incredibly flavorful thanks to the jalapeno, lemon, and cilantro, and the cucumber adds some nice crunch.  It's perfect with the salmon, but I bet it would also be great with grilled chicken, spread onto a sandwich, or even as a dip with pita wedges or pita chips. Enjoy!
Serves 4

~1.5 lb salmon, cut into 4 filets
1 avocado, peeled and diced
6 oz greek yogurt
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 - 1 jalapeno, seeded and roughly chopped
2 lemons, 1 zested and juiced, 1 halved
2 mini cucumbers, diced
1/4 - 1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
olive oil

Preheat the oven broiler to high.

In the bowl of a food processor, add avocado, greek yogurt, sour cream, jalapeno, and zest and juice of 1 lemon. Puree until smooth and completely blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl at least once if necessary. 

Scrape the avocado yogurt mixture into a bowl, and stir in diced cucumber, cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste. Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Rub the salmon filets with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place skin side down on a foil lined baking sheet. Rub two lemon halves with olive oil and place alongside the salmon on the baking sheet.

Place the baking sheet under the broiler for 4 minutes. Remove and flip the salmon skin side up using a spatula. Return the baking sheet to the broiler for another 5 minutes. 

Remove the baking sheet and return the salmon to skin side down. The fish should be flaky and done. Squeeze the broiled lemon over the filets, and serve topped with a dollop of the avocado tzatziki.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Date Night at B&G Oysters

On Saturday night, we went out for a classic "dinner and a movie" date night in Boston.  Over the years, we've been working our way around Barbara Lynch's wonderful restaurants (she just won the James Beard Award for Best Restaurateur for good reason). We've had fabulous dinners at Menton, No. 9 Park, Sportello, and Drink, so the next spot on our list was B and G Oysters in the South End. 
Now that spring is officially here, their back patio is open for business, and we were lucky enough to be seated out there under strings of white lights and overhanging trees. We started with local oysters, shrimp cocktail, and rose wine. Is there a better combination while sitting outside on a warm evening? Their cocktail sauce was a bit horseradish-y for me, but the seafood was perfect.
For my entree, I went with homemade pasta with fresh Jonah crab meat which was very good though a tad under-seasoned. My husband opted for tile fish served alongside some of spring's finest vegetables: fiddlehead ferns and ramps. After our plates were cleared, we lingered over the last of our bottle of wine, enjoying the nice evening.
After dinner, we walked to the movie theater rather than taking the T. It was a good night for a stretch of the legs. From the brownstones and brick sidewalks of the South End to the towering Hancock tower around Copley Square to the sidewalks around Boston Common,  we soaked in the views of this beautiful city that we've come to love so much.  It was a pretty great impromptu date night out on the town. Though you really can't go wrong with an evening spent at a Barbara Lynch restaurant. She would never lead you astray!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Brimfield Antique Show

Folks, can I tell you how much I love antiquing? I have my mom and grandmother to thank for this. I love wandering and weaving through haphazardly piled and stacked antiques. You may find nothing but junk but you just might find a hidden treasure! My favorites are kitchen antiques -- glassware, china, enamel coffee pots, Pyrex, cocktail paraphernalia, pitchers, you name it, and this weekend when we visited the Brimfield Antique Show in Western Mass, I was in heaven.
Three times a year, the little town of Brimfield is host to one of the largest outdoor antique shows in the country, and it's right down the road from us! A half mile strip of Route 20 is lined on both sides with more tents and booths than you could possible visit in one day. Dotted along the  highway, food vendors offer everything from steak bombs to lobster rolls to fried dough and kettle corn to macaroni and cheese or Italian sausage dogs with peppers and onions. Lots of New England comfort food!
We had the best time. We wandered for hours, poking around the tents that caught our eye. It was a perfect day for it, sunny with a cool breeze. And since we visited on Sunday, the last day of the show, vendors were in the mood to "dicker" and make bargains.  At the end of the day, we didn't come home with much, but we did add to our collection a pretty decanter, green tiki glasses, and a collectible Return of the Jedi drinking glass sporting Han Solo and Luke Skywalker! I call that a success!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

My Brother's Spanish Rice

My big brother lives out in West Texas, a land abounding in fabulous Mexican food, and he's been lucky enough to learn a few tricks of the trade from some of his hispanic co-workers. When I play my cards right, he's nice enough to share those tricks with me! One Christmas, he taught me how to make this Spanish Rice in our mom's kitchen, and now it's my go-to recipe anytime homemade TexMex is on the menu. Last night, we grilled skirt steak fajitas to serve over fresh tortillas and alongside this rice -- so good! Gosh are we glad it's grilling season again!
Serves 4-6

2 Tb bacon grease (or vegetable oil)
1/4 yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup rice
3 cups water
1/2 can Original Ro-Tel (Optional: Ro-Tel with Lime and Cilantro)
4 Tb (2 oz) tomato paste
1/4 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt

Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and add enough bacon grease to cover the bottom of the pan.

Once hot, add the uncooked rice, the diced onion, and the garlic to the pan. This will toast the rice and begin to brown the onion and garlic. Stir frequently, cooking for at least 5 minutes, until the rice is browned and the onion has begun to soften.

While the rice toasts, heat the water in the microwave almost to a boil, and mix the Ro-Tel and tomato paste in a small bowl. (the remaining Ro-Tel can be frozen to use in another batch of rice).

Once the rice is browned, pour in the water, and stir to combine. Then add in the tomato mixture, cumin, and salt.

Lower the heat to a simmer, and let the rice cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is done. If your liquid evaporates before the rice is done, heat a little extra water in the microwave to add into the pan before continuing to cook. 

Adjust seasonings to taste, and serve immediately.

Friday, May 9, 2014

My Mom

With Mother's Day approaching, I've been thinking about my own beautiful mother. I'm so thankful for her and have so many fond memories with her. Growing up, she read to me at night from books like Little Women, Pollyanna, The Secret Garden, or Anne of Green Gables.  She cooked family dinners for us even though she must have been exhausted from teaching all day. She's been there for every big moment in my life (and is there for all of the small ones too via emails and phone calls).  She leaves cute little notes around the house for me to find after she goes home from a visit, and she sends care packages in the mail so I know that she's thinking about me. She cooks with me at Christmastime, and we curl up on the couch together to watch White Christmas each year. And she's nice enough to write down her recipes for me so that I can make them while I'm far away from home.
Since so many of my memories with my mom involve books or food, is it any wonder that those are two of my favorite things? Though as a child, I used to tell Mom that I had no interest in cooking, and that I would just have to marry a man who would cook for me. She would smile and say "Ok, honey. That's a good idea."
When I excitedly told her of my new-found love of cooking after studying abroad in France, Mom smiled as if she knew all along that this day would come. At last I've graduated from watching football with the guys to joining Mom and Grandmom in the kitchen to help cook holiday feasts and family dinners. It's a lot of work, but it's so much fun watching them cook, lending a hand, and learning the family recipes and traditions (Example: If rolls are on the menu, someone must sit in a chair staring into the oven to ensure that they don't burn. We learned this the hard way).
Thank you Mom for helping make me the woman I am today and for providing me with such a beautiful example of the woman I strive to be!
(Card from Rifle Paper Co.)

Happy Mother's Day to all of you mother's out there! 

Friday, May 2, 2014

My 10 Favorite Things in April

April brought spring to New England, Easter celebrations, weddings, and two trips to Texas (thanks to the aforementioned weddings)! We got to see family and old friends. We got to venture outdoors for backyard BBQ and picnics. The trees are finally in full bloom, and every now and then the sun shown through the April showers. These were my favorite moments of the month (in no particular order).

Mimosas, coffee, and Breakfast Polenta Squares with Spinach and Bacon along with the Easter story were a great way to start the day.
2 ) Crystal's Bachelorette Party
Man was it fun celebrating Crystal and her upcoming wedding with a gaggle of girls and plenty of margaritas!
3) Picnic at Walden Pond
Such a great picnic spot! Perfect for soaking up sun, admiring the view, snacking, and a little reading.
4) Alison and Matt's Wedding
I couldn't be happier for my beautiful "friend from the womb" and her dashing new husband Matt. What a lovely wedding, and congratulations!!
5) Crystal and Troy's Wedding 
Wedding #2 this month was a weekend long affair at Moon River Ranch in Satin, Texas celebrating the marriage of two wonderful friends. There were good friends, wide open spaces, skeet shooting, horseback riding, paddle boats, farm animals, swiming, TexMex, BBQ, and cowboy boots -- it doesn't get much more "Texas" than that! Congratulations you two!
6) Spending time in the Texas sunshine
Somehow, I made it 28 years before trying Topo-Chico, and man have I been missing out. Turns out that an ice cold Topo-Chico and a view over the Brazos River while skeet shooting with friends on a ranch in Texas is a fabulous way to spend an afternoon. Thanks Crystal and Troy!
7) Firing up the smoker for the first time this season
There may be no truer harbinger of spring than firing up the smoker for the first time since winter and spending the day out in the backyard checking on the meat, sipping a cold beer, and playing Jenga on the picnic table praying for the wind to stay calm during your turn.
8) Date Night with Kurt and Nina at Backbar and Bronwyn
Gosh do I love these two! We had so much fun over Backbar's cocktails and Bronwyn's German fare.
9) Receiving the new Homesick Texan cookbook
I think I squealed when my pre-ordered copy of Homesick Texan's new cookbook showed up on my doorstep. I can't wait to start trying her new recipes!
Last but not least, I really love this Tangelo Campari Sorbet. It's light and refreshing, sweet with just a pinch of  bitterness. Delicious!