Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Dreaming

Happy Day-Before-Thanksgiving everyone! Are your turkeys thawed? Have you started cooking yet? Is your family in town? Do you have your stretchy Thanksgiving pants ready? This year, we'll be spending the day with my husband's family, our first Thanksgiving with family in 6 years! I can't wait! But as excited as I am, I'm a little bummed that we're not cooking this year. Gosh did I love hosting Thanksgiving in Boston, spending the day cooking, decorating the house, sharing the day with friends who were also a long way from home (or celebrating with just the two of us like last year). So to help scratch that itch, I decided to put together a Dream Thanksgiving, if you will. If we were hosting this year, this would be my road map, my inspiration, and my menu.

First let's decorate! How fun would it be to make these "I am thankful for..." placemats? And I  definitely would want to recreate these adorable rosemary place setting cards. When it comes to centerpieces, I love to use seasonal produce, greenery from the yard, and candles. They make for lovely and affordable decorations, and arrangements tend to be low and spread out so guests can still see each other. I also love this leaf garland for the dining room wall.
 1) Photo from Oh My Deer, 2) Photo from Apartment34, 3) Photo from Country Living,
4) Photo from Glitter Guide, 5) Photo from Garland of Grace, 6) Photo from A Texas Belle

Now for the food! Every year, I start with these Rosemary Roasted Cashews.  It's nice to have something to nibble on while I put the finishing touches on dinner, and these are light enough so folks don't ruin their appetites.  Also, they're delicious.
(Photo from Family Spice)
For dinner, the star of the show is a smoked turkey. We get up early to get the smoker going, season the bird with this simple but flavorful rub, and by dinner time, we have a beautiful turkey that left the oven free for side dishes. Speaking of side dishes, how good does this Cornbread Chorizo Cherry Pecan Stuffing sound? I don't know if I could branch out from our classic family cornbread stuffing, but this recipe makes it awfully tempting. I'm also itching to make these Mashed Potatoes with Mushrooms. What an ingenious idea. For something green, I love these Seared Brussels Sprouts with Bacon Lardons, which we made last year. And for something green covered in cheese, I like to make my great-grandmother's Green Pea Casserole rather than the more traditional green bean casserole. Finally, we can't forget the Cranberry Sauce! I make this super simple recipe from Sam Sifton, the man who literally wrote the book on Thanksgiving. It made me a believer in real cranberry sauce. In addition to the homemade stuff, I always leave a little room on my plate for a slice of "can", the canned jellied cranberry sauce that I will always love, regardless of stigma.
1) Photo from A Texas Belle, 2) Photo from The Bitten Word, 3) Photo from Joy the Baker,
4) Photo from A Texas Belle, 5) Photo from Serious Eats, 6) Photo from A Texas Belle

After dinner, I would serve theses Hot Ginger Apple Toddies. It's fall in a mug, perfect for chilly evenings. They're great with a generous splash of bourbon or cognac.
(Photo from The Kitchn)
Finally for dessert, I would stick with a classic pumpkin pie, but if I was feeling extra adventurous, I would love to try this Salty Pumpkin Spice Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting too.
(Photo from Libbie Summers)
As a side note, how lovely are these Thank You notes from Rifle Paper Co for thanking the host/hostess or thanking your guests for helping you celebrate? You could also use them for guests to put on paper what they're thankful for this year!
(Photo from Rifle Paper Co)

And let's not forget the day after! I would start the day with strong coffee and this Cranberry Orange Cake with Vanilla Crumble. If you feel guilty eating cake for breakfast, maybe call it Cranberry Orange Coffee Cake. That sounds more breakfast-y, right?
Then to use up all of those beautiful leftovers, here are some of my favorites: Cranberry Brie Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Thanksgiving Leftovers Couscous Salad, Turkey Terrific sandwiches, and Turkey Gumbo.

So there it is! There sure are a lot less dishes to wash this way. As much as I'm going to miss hosting this year, it's such a blessing to have family welcome us in their home and cook for us. I'm so thankful for our families, and I'm thankful to finally be able to share this holiday with them after so many years away from home. And hopefully someday it'll be my turn to return the favor!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wintry Weather

Brrr! This week brought wintry weather down to Texas, and, weirdly, it's been such a treat! I hated the long Boston winters, but there are things that go along with the season that I really enjoy. Things like warm beverages, simmering stews on the stovetop, and the sight of snow falling. This wintry blast gave us just a taste of cold weather, an excuse to partake in the enjoyable accoutrements, without feeling the need to linger for 6 months. After all, it's going to be in the 60s this weekend!

Sunday night, a pretty dusting of snow fell on our little house and yard. As it snowed, we snuggled up on the couch in cozy pajamas with a good fire going in the fireplace...our very first fire in our very first fireplace!
Meanwhile, Charlie, terrified of the fire, curled up between us, trusting us to protect him from the fire breathing monster in the wall. His fear of the fireplace was only matched by his love of the powdery white stuff in the backyard. He had the best time exploring "the frozen tundra" and playing in the snow. Here's our intrepid explorer!
We've sipped on mugs of Hot Apple Ginger Toddies, my favorite winter beverage, and I had an excuse to buy a pretty new coat -- this fanastic Paddington Bear-esque toggle coat from Old Navy (my New England parka is a bit overkill around here).
(Photos from The Kitchn, Old Navy)
Finally, the cold weather has helped ease our Boston homesickness a little bit. As much as we love our new home, we find ourselves wistfully missing our old stomping grounds. Now if only we could find some legit Italian food and a good lobster roll, we would be all set!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


It's that time of year again! Wurstfest, the self-proclaimed 10 Day Salute to Sausage, is upon us! This weekend, we made the pilgrimage to the little town of New Braunfels, home to a sizeable population of German Texans, to revel in all things bratwurst, beer, and polka!
I was introduced to Wurstfest, arguably the real "happiest place on earth," by two fellow clarinetists in the Longhorn Band who grew up in New Braunfels. Thank goodness for Sarah and Christina! Each year, we would gather a group of friends and drive south from Austin to participate in the festivities. I haven't been back since graduation (and my husband had never been), so this was an eagerly anticipated occasion!
We kicked off the festivities with my favorite Wurstfest combination -- a pitcher of beer and a "Wurst in Taschen." This is a bratwurst under a pile of sauerkraut tucked inside a fluffy pocket. I like mine topped with a couple pumps of spicy mustard. If this doesn't sound like your thing, food abounds in the "Marktplatz" where you can find everything from bratwurst-on-a-stick to reuben sandwiches to bratwurst nachos! A new favorite discovered on this trip were the fried mushrooms topped with cream gravy -- fair food at its best. This is a place where German and Texan cultures collide in the best possible way. Whatever you do, come hungry!
We ate in Das Grosse Zelt (The Big Tent) which is set up like a covered beer garden with a music stage where the Comal Community Band serenaded us with German and Texan favorites.
Our next stop was the Craft Beer Garden for some local brews (favorite name award goes to the New Braunfels Oktooberfest named after the favorite local pastime of tubing down the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers). At the neighboring music stage, we clapped along with the fantastic accordion stylings of Michael Bridge, the Canadian National Champion Accordion Player! 

Finally, we ended the afternoon in Wursthalle with singing and dancing to polka music thanks to The Seven Dutchmen Orchestra.

The festival wraps up this weekend, so if you're in the area, treat yourself and join in the small town tradition! Just don't forget your lederhosen!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fish Tacos with Roasted Poblano Guacamole

When I lived in LA, my roommates and I lived around the corner from a little Mexican restaurant that offered 2-for-1 tacos on Taco Tuesday. We were fresh out of college and loved a good deal, so every Tuesday, we walked down the street for fish tacos (or maybe carnitas) and a glass of sangria. It was a tradition for us, like a roommate family dinner along with whatever friends wanted to join in. It may have been six years ago, but any time I make fish tacos, I miss my LA friends and that little restaurant. If you're in the South Bay area of LA, pay the nice folks at El Gringo a visit for me, but if not, why not have your own Taco Tuesday at home?

These fish tacos are a fantastic quick dinner! The guacamole is creamy and flavorful from the lime, cilantro, and roasted peppers, the hot sauce (which can do double duty as salsa if you have tortilla chips on hand) is sweet and spicy, the radishes add a great contrasting crunch with the tender fish, and the cheese contributes a little tanginess to the mix. Enjoy!
Serves 2
4 soft taco-sized (8") flour tortillas
2 tilapia fillets
2 small (or 1 large) poblano peppers
2 ripe avocados
1 lime, juiced
~1/3 cup cilantro, minced
3 radishes, ends trimmed and thinly sliced
Habanero Hot Sauce (optional but so good - I use 2 habaneros and add cilantro)
Feta or Cotija cheese
olive oil
To roast the peppers, preheat the broiler to "high." Rub the poblano peppers with olive oil, and place on a foil-lined baking sheet under the broiler for 7 minutes, or until the skin is blackened and charred. Flip the peppers, and return to the broiler for another 5-6 minutes to char the other side.
Remove the peppers to a plastic baggie (or a bowl sealed with plastic wrap). The captured steam helps loosen the skin for removal. Once the peppers are cool, remove them, peel off the skin, chop off the stem, and discard the seeds. Finely chop the peppers.
In a bowl, mash together the avocados, cilantro, poblano peppers, lime juice, and salt to taste (try to avoid undersalting, the cardinal sin of guacamole).
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. While the pan heats, season both sides of your tilapia fillets with salt. Swirl olive oil into the pan (enough to cover the bottom), and once the oil is hot, place the fish into the pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes, flip, and let cook for another 3-4 minutes until the fish is done (it should be opaque and flaky). 
Remove the fish from the pan, and serve on warm flour tortillas.  I break up one fillet to make two tacos.
Top the fish with a generous dollop of the roasted poblano guacamole, a drizzle of the habanero hot sauce, and a scattering of feta and sliced radishes.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My 10 Favorite Things in October

Happy November, friends! Halloween has come and gone, but before I start thinking about Thanksgiving, I want to take a moment to reminisce on the month behind us. October is busy for us thanks to our anniversary and my husband's birthday, but we also squeezed in some time with friends, some time with family, a date night, and a trip to New York!

1) Ewan!
How can I lead with anything other than getting to see Ewan McGregor on Broadway in The Real Thing, a fantastically funny and thought-provoking play. This isn't just a highlight of the's a highlight of the year!
2) Celebrating a 30th Birthday
These days, I'm married to a man in his 30's (I'm still a cute young thing in my 20s for another nine months)! To celebrate such a momentous occasion, I cooked his favorite meal, beef with snow peas, I baked a pumpkin spice cake topped with cream cheese frosting, presents were opened, and Charlie, our dog, squirmed his way out of wearing a party hat! 
I love barley salads, and this one is no exception thanks to the tomatoes that become almost candy-like when roasted. 
4) Hanging string lights on our patio
 Our patio is beginning to come together, thanks to a new rug and a couple strands of string lights. They have totally transformed our little square of concrete into a cozy, magical spot.
 Now that chilly, drizzly weather is here, I'm craving warm, hearty dinners. These stuffed baked potatoes are definitely a favorite!
6) Celebrating a 2nd Birthday
 We loved helping our friends Liz and Peter celebrate their sweet little boy's 2nd birthday. It was the cutest Cars-themed party featuring Liz's homemade baked goods and kiddie treats (who doesn't love an excuse to snack on string cheese?), and we had a blast catching up with fellow Dallas-area LGO's.
7) Local Neapolitan pizza
For a low key "dinner and a movie" date night, we shared the Cassie with hot sopressata and mushrooms at Cane Rosso, a local chain dishing up Neapolitan pizza from a wood-fired oven. It may not have been quite as life changing as the Neapolitan pies at New York's Motorino, but gosh was it good. We also really enjoyed the fried homemade mozzarella.
8) Celebrating our 4 Year Anniversary
Obviously, these lists are in no particular order, because I do not rank the importance of my marriage somewhere below pizza, no matter how good that pizza may be. To celebrate our 4th Anniversary (the flower anniversary), my husband brought home a stunning bouquet and cooked us his specialty, Pasta Bolognese. Later that week we went out on the town for dinner at FT33 (so far, the best meal we've had in Dallas). Boy do I love this man!
9) New York bagels and smoked salmon
While we ate and drank many wonderful things during our most recent trip to the city (e.g., dinner at Gramercy Tavern and drinks at the Library at the NoMad), I think my favorite food memory of the trip was a simple board at Russ and Daughters CafĂ© featuring one of their toasted bagels, cream cheese, beautifully ripe tomatoes, capers, and thinly shaved smoked salmon. I finally understand why this dish is so famous.

10) A Mother-Daughter Slumber Party
 Last but not least, I invited my Mom over for a slumber party this month, and we had the best time. We spent the evening chatting over tea, doing at-home mani-pedi's, and watching a girly movie, and the next morning we let the nice ladies at the Salon at Eaton Court pamper us with facials and a make-over.