Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Cooking in a New Kitchen

Folks, we've hit a big milestone in our new houseWe can cook again! As soon as the last box was unpacked, I couldn't wait to start making a meal plan. After almost 2 solid months of primarily take-out and restaurant meals, it's such a treat to eat real food again. And to spend time together in the kitchen again, cooking with a favorite Pandora station playing in the background. Here's what was on the menu:

Our inaugural meal was quick and simple, light and flavorful -- a great way to ease back into cooking.  Especially since we're still a bit awkward in the new kitchen as we try to remember where things are now stored, simple is good. We're not a well-oiled machine yet like we were in our old, familiar kitchen, but we'll get there again!
It seemed almost obligatory to include beef in our first meal plan in Texas! While the recipe calls for slowly cooking traditional cornmeal polenta, we opted for quick cook grits instead. We also added a bit more lemon juice to the pan sauce and a splash of Saint Arnold's Brown Ale to the pan.
Back to lighter fare, we whipped up a batch of this pasta minus the obscure and pricey Bottarga.  Especially when continuing to unpack a house, a one pot meal is a very beautiful thing. Who has the energy for dishes?
This week, we finally replaced our propane tanks that we had to leave behind in Massachusetts, so my husband dusted off his grill, and we're back to our summer routine of grilling as much as possible. I look forward to continuing to share our cooking adventures with you as we get more settled!
For anyone else dealing with moving this summer, I will leave you with some tips for that have helped us back onto the cooking wagon in our new home. They're definitely not earth-shattering, but they worked for us:
1) Tackle your kitchen boxes first (ok, and get your bed set up too). For us, the kitchen was the largest percentage of our boxes, so getting through them was a hugely satisfying accomplishment. Also, having a working kitchen really helps a house feel more like a home.
2) Pick meals that are quick and simple. You're exhausted, so it's highly preferable to shy away from time intensive recipes. If you have a quick recipe to look forward to, you're much more likely to get into the kitchen and cook when dinner time rolls around rather than succumbing to the temptation of take-out!
3) Pick recipes that don't require many specialty ingredients since you're still working on restocking your pantry and refrigerator. That way you can gradually restock which is easier on your wallet and makes for a quicker first trip to the store.
4) One pot meals are a great way to go. When your back is tired from unpacking, the less dishes you have to do, the better.
5) If you've relocated to a new state or region, try purchasing a few new ingredients that you couldn't find in your old home.  For me, it's exciting and helps inspire me to get back into the kitchen. Here in Texas, we're stocking up on things like local beers, local stone fruit, okra, and Ranch Style Beans.

If you need some more inspiration, here are a few more fairly simple recipes that I really like:

Kale Salad with Pecorino and Pecans
Chicken Orzo Salad with Goat Cheese
Grilled Pizza
Spicy Shrimp and Avocado Salad
Lemony Pesto Pasta with Edamame and Almonds (Time Saving Option: use jarred pesto)
Udon Soup with Swiss Chard and Mushrooms
Chili, Lemon, Basil Shrimp over Israeli Couscous
Beef with Snow Peas (Time Saving Option: serve over Minute Rice)
Tomato Goat Cheese Tart

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Old Red Lumberyard Junk Market

My mother and I share a love of antiques, and she has offered mentoring in the art of antiquing for as long as I can remember. This year she went with me to my first antique auction, and she taught me about the amazing Brimfield Antique Show. Now, she has introduced me to an event right in my own backyard: The Old Red Lumberyard (ORLY) Junk Market. It's a two day event held once a month from 9am-4pm on the Friday and Saturday before the 3rd Monday of the month. How's that for complicated? If you can figure out the date on the calendar, definitely stop by!
Saturday morning, Mom drove over to McKinney to pick me up. After parking at The Flour Mill, we first visited Fringe, The Event which is another monthly antique market that coincides with ORLY (and is conveniently located right across the street). Items are sold within the little shop, and even more items are spread on the lawn outside. I found the cutest antique shopping basket that I'm going to use to display cookbooks in my kitchen as well as a little bottle holder that's going to be perfect for bitters bottles on our bar cart.

Across the street at the ORLY market, there are even more treasures to be found. Booths are set up in and around the Old Red Lumberyard building (as the name suggests), and vendors sell everything from furniture to dishes to yard art to chess boards with pieces made out of antique salt and pepper shakers. You just can't tell what you might find -- which is exactly why antiquing is so much fun!

After making our way through all of the booths, our feet were tired, and we were in need of lunch. Since the market is right alongside the square in downtown McKinney, finding somewhere to eat was easy! Cadillac Pizza Pub is one of my favorites in the area so far, but Mom and I opted for hearty Texas fare at The Pantry.  With its rustic decor and local favorites like Chicken Fried Steak and Chicken Spaghetti on the menu, it seemed like an appropriate lunch after a morning spent at a Texas antique market!
And can I tell y'all that as much as we do miss Boston, it is so nice to be able to do little things like this on the weekends with our families, whether it's driving to Austin for a cookout or Mom driving over for antiquing, etc, etc. It's totally why we moved back, and it's truly a blessing to have family be a bigger part in our life these days! Here's to many more adventures in Texas!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Barnlight Eatery

Since we got our first puppy, Charlie, a little over a week ago, we've been pretty homebound. We spent his entire first weekend at home helping him get used to his new surroundings and routine.  During the week, we take turns coming home at lunch to check on him, and we rush home at the end of the day to let him out of his crate. We spend our evenings eating take-out while he eats his own dinner, and then we go for a walk and play (and unpack boxes) until it's time for him (and us) to go to bed.

This past weekend, we took a few trips out of the house to run errands, but on Saturday night, we decided that a real date night was in order. We wanted to try something new, which isn't hard when you're living in a new city, so we made a short trek to Frisco to give BarnLight Eatery a try.
The restaurant is decked out with weathered wood, mason jars, a chalkboard menu, and a few barn lights (naturally). The outdoor patio opens up to a grassy area that helps you forget that you're dining in a shopping center. The staff is friendly, and they serve what they refer to as modern Southern fare.

We kicked things off with drinks -- a classic margarita for my husband and a delicious Blackberry Citrus cocktail for me made with white wine, muddled blackberries, lime juice, and grapefruit juice. Even though liquor is available, I love that they offer a few wine "cocktails" that are light, refreshing, and perfect for summer sipping.
Things were still off to a very good start when our black-eyed pea hummus arrived with buttery toasted bread and vegetables for dipping. I sure do love being back in a state where black-eyed peas pop up on the menu!
Our entrees didn't disappoint either. My husband tried the fried chicken breast drizzled with apricot-cayenne jam and thyme jus and served with garlic corn mashed potatoes and an arugula and lettuce salad. The chicken was perfectly crispy, and the apricot-cayenne jam was fabulous. My chorizo meatloaf was smothered in a rich gravy and served with buttermilk mashed potatoes, crisp-tender green beans, and a sweet corn relish.
Finally, we dug our forks into a very generous piece of Key Lime Pie. Not too sweet with just the right amount of tartness from the key lime juice and zest, it was a good piece of pie!

We're so glad to have such a great little spot only a couple miles down the road from us. And after leaving all of our well-loved restaurants in Boston, it's exciting and encouraging to start discovering some new favorites here in the Dallas area!

Monday, July 21, 2014


I would like to take a moment to introduce everyone to the new ball of fluff in our lives. Meet Charlie!
He's a Boston Terrier mix (mixed with what, we don't know, but based on that beard, we're wondering if it's not schnauzer). Given our recent departure from Boston, it seemed like a perfect fit. We named him Charlie after the Charles River. When it rains, he becomes, appropriately, the Muddy Charles (also an MIT watering hole frequented by my husband and his classmates during grad school).

So far, Charlie loves playing with his squeak toys, a duck and a carrot. My childhood dog had a favorite stuffed carrot, so I couldn't resist getting one for him. He also loves to gnaw on Pork Chomps. Other favorite hobbies include licking people, sleeping on top of shoes, running around in the backyard, and winning over new friends with his cuteness and sweet, lovable demeanor.
Charlie also likes to get dressed up from time to time like the dapper gentleman that he is. Thanks to our sweet friend Jessica, he has the perfect accessory for the occasion!
We're so excited to have this little guy in our lives! I'll try to keep the puppy posts to a minimum, but I figure from time to time, I won't be able to resist sharing some of his adventures with you!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Baked Eggs with Lentils and Split Peas

As I'm currently living in an empty house with none of my household items, cooking new recipes is basically impossible. So while I impatiently await the movers' delivery truck, I finally got around to writing up this recipe that we loved back in the fall. It's in no way seasonal, but that doesn't make it any less delicious!

It's a great pantry meal where earthy split peas and lentils are brightened up by spices, tangy sour cream, cilantro, and lemon. Dished into adorable ramekins, topped with an egg, and served alongside a simple salad or thick slices of summer tomatoes, it makes for a hearty yet not too heavy meal. So if you can bear to turn on your oven, give it a try!  Otherwise...maybe dust off this recipe when the days turn a little cooler!
Serves 2

1 Tb olive oil
1 shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup brown lentils
1/2 cup split green peas
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/8 - 1/4 tsp cayenne (depending on your spice tolerance)
1 tsp cumin
1 strip of lemon peel
salt and pepper
2 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped plus a little more for garnish
1/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs

Before cooking, rinse and drain your lentils and split peas. Preheat the oven to 350F.
In a medium saucepan, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the shallot and garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, until they began to lightly brown and soften.

Add the lentils, split peas, strip of lemon peel, and spices, stirring to combine. Let them cook for a minute or two until the spices are nicely fragrant.

Pour in the broth, and raise the burner to high heat. Bring the broth to a boil; then cover and reduce the heat to low. Let everything simmer for 30-35 minutes, until the split peas and lentils are tender. Note that lentils cook quicker than split peas, so they will break down a bit in the cooking process.

When done, remove the pan from the heat, remove the strip of lemon peel, then stir in the cilantro and sour cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon the mixture into two greased individual ramekins or gratin dishes, making a shallow well in the center of each. Gently crack an egg into each ramekin, and sprinkle with a little more salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Bake the ramekins for 18-25 minutes such that the egg whites are set and the egg yolks are still a bit runny.

When done, garnish with a little more chopped cilantro, and serve immediately

Note: I recommend using small trivets or a folded napkin or dish towel at each place setting to keep the hot-out-of-the-oven ramekins from damaging your dinner table

Friday, July 11, 2014

Home Sweet Home

Happy Friday folks! We had a busy and exciting (and tiring) week around here. After a whirlwind 3 day house hunting trip back in June (where about 35 houses and 4 offers later, we went under contract for a house) and a month of paperwork and waiting, we finally closed on our very first house this week!
After signing roughly our bodyweight in paperwork, we went out for a celebratory dinner at Rick's Chophouse in downtown McKinney. It came highly recommended by several folks, but I was still very surprised by how good the food was.  It's a lovely restaurant, featuring the historical building's original limestone walls and wood floors. The staff is warm and welcoming. Our waitress, who mentioned that they're required to sample and be well-versed in all of their wines, was able to suggest very good pairings for our dinner. We began with salads, a perfectly dressed Caesar and a delicious Field Greens Salad with spiced pecans, roasted grapes, and feta. When our entrees came out, my husband's filet stole the show, cooked to a rosy medium that just melted in your mouth. My sea bass was no slouch though. Seared with a golden crust and served with whipped potatoes, crisp-tender asparagus, and citrus butter, it was wonderful! They were even nice enough to provide congratulatory desserts on the house!
After a 48-hour leaseback period for the sellers to move out, we finally got the keys and were able to unlock the door to our new house yesterday evening! It's going to be pretty empty for a little while, but we're brainstorming all kinds of decorating ideas. I can't wait for our movers to arrive with our things so that we can start getting settled in.
 So without further ado, here's our little home! I think it's going to be a good one!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Vegetable and Halloumi Skewers

How was everyone's 4th of July? This year we celebrated with good friends who were nice enough to grill for us, as our grill is currently on a truck somewhere between Massachusetts and Texas. We had a wonderful time and had way too much food, as we usually do when we get together -- burgers, sweet corn, roasted radishes, curly fries and onion rings, salad, chips with guacamole and salsa, watermelon, these vegetable and halloumi skewers, and chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches. We powered through so valiantly that our forefathers would have been proud.

These skewers and especially the halloumi were a huge hit. Halloumi is a Mediterranean cheese, originally from the island of Cyprus, that is firm and wonderfully salty. It has a high melting point, so it's perfect for grilling. It's a little pricey and hard to find, but if you can splurge a little, it's a treat that's well worth it! Happy grilling!
Makes ~8 Skewers
3 medium zucchini, sliced into 3/4" rounds
2 orange bell peppers, seeded and cut into roughly 1" squares
8-10 cremini mushrooms, halved
8-16 oz halloumi cheese, sliced into ~3/4" cubes
(I made do with 8 oz to be a little more frugal)
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, quartered, and pieces separated
2 Tb red wine vinegar
2 Tb lemon juice from 1 lemon
1-2 Tb fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Optional: 1 lemon sliced into wedges for garnish
Note: If you're using wood skewers, be sure to soak them in water, at least 30 minutes, prior to placing the vegetables on them and grilling. This will keep the skewer from burning up on the grill.
In a large bowl, whisk together red wine vinegar, lemon juice, mint, and salt and pepper until the salt dissolves. Then whisk in the olive oil until combined.
Add the vegetables and halloumi to the bowl, and toss with the vinaigrette until well coated. Let sit for a couple of minutes and toss again (I repeated this a couple times)
Thread the vegetables and halloumi onto skewers, alternating as you go. Thread the halloumi gently in an attempt to prevent it from splitting.
Grill the skewers over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes. Flip and grill for another 4 minutes, or until the cheese is beginning to brown and the vegetables have slightly charred and begin to soften.
Serve immediately and enjoy! (For a little extra flavor, you can squeeze a couple lemon wedges over the skewers once they come off the grill and before you serve them)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

My 10 Favorite Things in June

June has been a month of big changes for us. We have uprooted our life, moved it 2,000 miles across the country, and here we are back in Texas without our car, without our worldly belongings, and without a home. But hey, other than that, it's life as usual!
So the month was filled with goodbyes to friends and favorite restaurants in Boston, a stressful house hunting trip, preparing our home for movers (we threw away and donated a lot), packing up and shipping our belongings and car, and finally settling in and starting new jobs. Phew. It makes me tired just thinking about it all. In the midst of all of this, thankfully there has still been time for a little bit of fun. So here goes:

1) Pennypacker's Porchetta Sandwich
It may look like "just a sandwich." but I think this is as close to life changing as a sandwich can get. I'm still kicking myself for discovering it only a few weeks before we moved.
2) Chicken Fried Steak as big as your head
On our house hunting trip, we discovered the massive (and massively delicious) Chicken Fried Steaks at The Pantry in downtown McKinney.
Back in Boston, we stirred up some Orange Pimm's Cups, a refreshing summer drink if I've ever had one. 
We love hanging out with these two. We love it even more when we're in an adorable little college town nestled up against Lake Champlain in the beautiful Vermont countryside. 
 5) Night Shift's new brewery and their Harborside Gose
Night Shift's new digs are super cool and much roomier than the original. Still in Everett, they continue to make some wonderfully weird brews, like this ridiculously delicious Harborside Gose brewed with Wellfleet oysters.
 6a) Farewell to Lobster Rolls at The Barking Crab
The Barking Crab may feel a tad touristy, but it offers one of my favorite views of the Boston waterfront while sitting out on their patio. It's hard to beat one of their lobster rolls, a cold glass of Barking Crab White Ale brewed for them by Harpoon, and some summer sunshine.
6b) Farewell to Kevin and Andrea at The Barking Crab
Kevin and Andrea kept us good company while enjoying some of our last New England seafood. We've loved hanging out in Boston with these fellow Texans!
 7) Strawberry and Honey-Preserved Plum Crisp
Featuring strawberries that we picked with my family last spring, white plums I preserved in honey syrup last summer, and some chopped Texas pecans from my mother-in-law, this crisp was the last thing I baked in our kitchen. Not a bad way to say goodbye to a kitchen filled with many years of good memories.
8) Spoke's Asparagus Carbonara
Yet another farewell dinner around town (there were lots of farewells this month). Spoke, to me, is the perfect wine bar. I wish I could convince them to move to McKinney with us! Alas, we paid them one last visit, and while the food, cocktails, and wine were stellar as always, we were particularly blown away by this asparagus carbonara of shredded asparagus, bacon lardons, an oozy soft cooked egg, and grated parmesan!
Not two hours after stepping foot off the plane and onto Texas soil, we found ourselves at Rio Bravo Tex-Mex Cuisine with a very large margarita and a plate-full of enchiladas. It was not a bad way to begin adjusting to life back in Texas!
I love any type of concert in the park whether it be Shakespeare, community bands, local singers, you name it. We were lucky enough to catch McKinney's last Jammin' in June concert, and we had the best time. It was a perfect evening for it, warm and sunny with a great breeze, the scenery was lovely, and the music was entertaining.