Monday, September 19, 2011

More Anthropologie love

I don't do ornamental kitchen accessories.

My kitchen is naked of bits of wrought iron. There are no ceramic roosters or pigs or cows roaming my counters. (And why is it always farm animals? Not just farm animals. Farm animals on the people food chain. A ceramic kitchen donkey, for example, is pretty rare. A kitchen rooster...not so much. Is it easier to eat bacon if a cute, winking pig sits by your sink?)

Sorry. I'm digressing. And this isn't a sermon on becoming vegetarian. That would be hypocritical. And it isn't a rant about farm animals used as decor. (One of my favorite decorative pieces...a remnant from a French Country obsession I had years an iron rooster that sits in my music room.)

Don't get me wrong. My countertops are cluttered. Always. (Which may be why I don't want to add to the chaos with copper this or china that.) I do love useful kitchen items though. The graceful curves of utensil canisters or mixing bowls or pitchers make me swoon. So I'm always keeping an eye out for something utilitarian and colorful and lovely to add to my kitchen.

So of course I fell in love with these.

These little spice jars from Anthropologie are perfection. They come in four soft, beautifully retro  colors, perfect for a vintage kitchen. Each lid has a rubber ring to make the container airtight. Their size is perfect for spices (or sugar cubes or paper clips or tiny dog treats). I keep salt and pepper and a combination of sugar/cinnamon in mine. I think I'll put sugar cubes in the fourth. Each is numbered and says, "Plein de Bonnes Choses" along the bottom (which frankly veers a bit Martha Stewart for me...although cutely Francophone. Still that doesn't detract too much from this jar's overall adorableness).

Best of all, each spice jar is only $4. Four dollars! Come on. What can you buy for $4? Another dish towel? This is like the perfect little treat for your house.

Just picture these in your Cooking Apple White (or white or cream or yellow) kitchen.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Picnic potato salad

Summer is officially gone and past, but that doesn't mean that picnicking season is over. I love fall picnics. The crisp air. The turning leaves. And for you football fans out there, it's tailgating season. What's a better accompaniment to hot dogs and hamburgers than a good potato salad?

This recipe was inspired by Will's grandmother, Viola, who always included mustard and pickles in her potato salad. That's part of the beauty of food, isn't it? Food is love and memory, and a way we share ourselves with others. Grandma Viola is no longer with us, but we remember her every time we prepare this.

So here it is, from Grandma Viola's kitchen to yours.

Picnic potato salad
inspired by Grandma Viola

1 lb new potatoes
3 eggs, boiled
1/4 onion, chopped fine
1/2 celery stick, chopped fine
1/4 cup pickle slices, diced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Scrub the new potatoes, and add them to the pot. Boil potatoes until they start to become tender. Drain and cool in ice water or in the refrigerator.

Dice potatoes, leaving their skins on. Peel and dice the boiled eggs. Add both to a large bowl. Add onion, pickles, celery, mayo, mustard, salt and pepper, and mix well. Chill for an hour before serving.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A day trip as summer draws to a close

Where did August go? Where did summer go?

Here, it disappeared in a haze of sunscreen and chlorine and a flurry of IKEA bits. Every few days or so, I'd think, "I must remember to share this!" But each time, I'd go to bed without having committed that thought to screen. we are. The lazy days of summer are winding down, and the start of school is just around the corner (if it hasn't already started for you). I'm not looking forward to the hectic schedule of early mornings and homework and extracurricular activities, but I think we need it. The children have grown restless, clawing at the walls and each other.

If your children are restless too, I prescribe a trip to Georges Island, one of the Boston Harbor Islands. It's a short ferry jaunt from Boston or nearby ports. Take a Boston's Best ferry (available from multiple ports). On weekends, the MBTA runs a commuter ferry from Quincy that may be a more affordable option, especially if you have children.

Georges Island houses an amazing Civil War-era fort, Fort Warren. Even if you aren't a history buff, Fort Warren draws you in with its beautiful labyrinths of stone and picture-perfect panoramas up top on its ramparts. Definitely bring flashlights and comfortable walking shoes. We explored for hours and and found so many mysterious nooks and secret stairwells.

The flashlights we had brought that day were small, and their light feeble. As we wandered through the echoing rooms, we entered an interior stone hallway. The pale light from far-off windows barely gleamed on the shallow puddles at our feet. I turned the corner and entered a large room. It was pitch black. The faint beam from my flashlight barely cut through the darkness. Things at the edges of the light merged into shadow. Suddenly, scenes from every scary movie I'd ever seen flashed into my mind. A white mist began to rise from the floor. I heard one of my children say, "I'm not going in there." And we all walked veryveryveryfast out into the shockingly normal sunlight. Later, we heard that the fort was reputedly haunted by a ghost, The Lady in Black. Perhaps we met her.

Georges Island also houses a visitors center, a snack shop that offers hot meals, and picnic tables if you want to bring in your own food. No alcohol is allowed. There isn't much of a beach (it's very gravelly and is right by where the ferries come in), but the children spent many happy minutes combing for treasures and came home with pockets bulging with gorgeous seaglass. It's easily the best place for seaglass that I've ever seen.

A wonderful day trip as summer draws to a close. Happy Labor Day weekend. I hope you're enjoying the last of the lazy days. I'm looking forward to getting back to blogging and the crisp days ahead.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Brown butter and vanilla rice crispy treats

Another no-oven recipe for the summer, this grown-up version of the classic rice crispy treat is absolutely delicious. Perfect for bringing to picnics and other outdoor events. I brought it to a Friday evening outdoor concert, and the adults were chowing down faster than the kids. (The kids loved it too.)

If you're looking for a good and reasonably priced source for vanilla beans, I recommend Penzeys Spices. They're currently selling three vanilla beans (Madagascan or Mexican, your choice) for $7.65. Nope. This is not a paid advertisement or lured by freebies. I just love having this huge variety of reasonably priced spices as close as my laptop.

Brown butter and vanilla rice crispy treats
From Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe by Joanne Chang

2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Two 10-ounce bags marshmallows
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
9 cups crispy rice cereal

Butter a 9-by-13 baking pan.

In a large saucepot, melt the butter over low heat. As the butter melts, use the tip of a knife to scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean directly into the butter. (Reserve the pod for another use. I suggest throwing it into a container of sugar to make vanilla sugar; see page 29 of the book.)

Once the butter has melted, it will start to bubble and crackle. If you lean in and listen, it will sound like an audience of people politely clapping their hands. Watch the butter carefully, and you will see it slowly browning. As soon as the bubbling subsides, after about 5 minutes, the butter will be fully browned, and you will need to add the marshmallows. (Note: This really does happen. It's amazing. It feels a bit nerve-wracking at first. Like waiting for the right moment to stop the microwave from popping popcorn. But it works. The butter won't be crayola brown, but you will see the color difference.) Add the marshmallows and salt and stir constantly over low heat until the marshmallows are completely melted, and the vanilla seeds are evenly distributed.

Remove the pan from the heat, add the cereal, and mix well with a wooden spoon to coat evenly. Turn the mixture into the prepared pan and pat into an even layer. (Note: I used a piece of parchment paper to help me do this.) Let cool for about 1 hour, or to room temperature, then cut into pieces.

These treats can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Korean-style hobakjeon (or zucchini pancakes)

We've been literally snowed under (zucchinied under?) by summer squash and zucchini from our CSA and farmers market. What to do with it all? There's savory tacos de calabacitas or the standard sweet zucchini bread. But really, there are only so many tacos and so many loaves of bread one can eat.

So I found this, Korean hobakjeon or zucchini pancakes. Think of them as the Korean potato latke. They're so simple...only five ingredients, all of which you'll have in your kitchen. The hobakjeon is delicious with some dipping sauce (I love it with the Trader Joe's soyaki sauce) or on their own sprinkled with salt.

Korean-style hobakjeon (or zucchini pancakes)
Adapted from

1 and 1/2 cups julienned zucchini
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup water
vegetable oil

In a bowl, add julienned zucchini, flour, water and salt. Add ground pepper to taste. Mix well.

In a large frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil on medium high heat. Using a spoon, spread zucchini mixture evenly and thinly onto the pan to form a large circular(ish) pancake.

Cook for a few minutes, pressing down gently with the spatula, until the bottom turns light brown and crispy. Using a spatula, flip the pancake to cook the other side. Add a bit more oil if necessary.

When both sides are browned and crispy, transfer pancake onto a dish. Serve on its own, lightly sprinkled with salt, or with soy sauce or dipping sauce.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Chihuly at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

What can I say about this Chihuly exhibition? Pictures may say more than a thousand words. In this case, pictures can say more than a thousand blog posts. If you haven't seen it yet, head over to the MFA Boston next week. This exhibit runs through August 8.

An orgy of color, texture, shape. It was sometimes too overwhelming to absorb.

And then there were the quiet, amazing details.

This exhibit featured Chihuly's Persian Ceiling, an almost indescribeable piece. It sounds simple enough: a room with colorful glass pieces thickly scattered over a clear glass ceiling. Entering this room feels almost like entering a fantastical, watery sphere. Colors shimmer and cascade down the walls. People just sat in corners and benches, mesmerized.

This exhibit also featured a number of Chihuly's glass chandeliers, so intricate and oddly organic in shape.

Go see it. It's one summer blockbuster that you won't be able to catch on DVD or Netflix.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sgroppino, an Italian cocktail

Sgroppino is my new favorite summertime cocktail.

...And yes, now that I re-read my blog, I notice that I've been writing a lot about cocktails lately. It must be my muse of the season. Or, more prosaically, it has been too hot and too full of summer activities to cook.

After these past five days of barely surviving nerve-shredding Beacon Hill traffic, I'm savoring a moment of peace and a flute of light, refreshing Sgroppino.

What's not to like about it? Its Italian cadences practically roll off your tongue. Sgroppino. Just saying it, with its easy flow of liquid syllables, evokes warmth, romance, possibility. Its ingredients? So simple. Prosecco, vodka, lemon sorbet, and mint. In this case, apple mint from our garden.

Sgroppino, an Italian cocktail
Adapted from the original by Giada De Laurentiis, published on The Food Network

1 cup chilled Prosecco (Italian sparkling white wine)
2 tablespoons chilled vodka
1/3 cup frozen lemon sorbet
1/4 teaspoon fresh mint leaves

Gently bruise or muddle mint leaves in 2 Champagne flutes. Spoon a scoop of sorbet into each flute. Pour the Prosecco and vodka into the flutes, dividing equally. Serve immediately.

Alla salute!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A mad, mad, mad men cocktail

In honor of the 19 Emmy nominations bestowed upon Mad Men, here's an authentic 1960s-era cocktail. Perfect for a Mad Men marathon or Emmy Awards viewing.

Applejack Rabbit
Originally published in Gourmet in December 1965

Cracked ice
2 ounces apple brandy (we used Calvados)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon maple syrup

Half fill a cocktail shaker with cracked ice and pour over it the apple brandy, the lemon juice, and maple syrup. Shake the mixture vigorously and strain it into a chilled cocktail glass.

I had planned a different Calvados cocktail for Bastille Day today, but ran out of time to concoct and photograph it. I'll bring it out later in the summer. Happy Mad Men viewing! And joyeux Quatorze Juillet or in other words, happy Bastille Day!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Gobble, gobble

Hello, mama, papa, and ten'm assuming that they're mama and papa, anyway. Might just be one big extended family. Or maybe a turkey playgroup.

Sometimes it doesn't feel like we live close to the city...

Friday, July 8, 2011

Lemon sherbet and Prosecco sorbet with strawberries

A refreshing, easy, elegant dessert that's perfect for when it's too hot to cook. For an even simpler version, scroll down to the bottom of this article.

Lemon sherbet and Prosecco sorbet with strawberries
Adapted from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe by Joanne Chang

Store-purchased lemon sherbet (The original recipe features a delectable-looking homemade lemon sherbet. We chose the easier route.)

2/3 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup Prosecco
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
pinch of kosher salt

1 pint strawberries, stemmed and chopped into small pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Remainder of Prosecco bottle from the sorbet recipe

To make the Prosecco sorbet: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat, let cool, transfer to an airtight container, cover, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or until cold, or up to 3 weeks.

When you are ready to churn the sorbet, stir the Prosecco, lemon juice, and salt into the sugar syrup. Churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. You should have about 2 cups. Transfer to an airtight container until serving.

In a medium bowl, combine the strawberries, sugar, and lemon zest, and stir gently to coat the berries evenly. Let macerate for 15 to 20 minutes.

To serve, using half the lemon sherbet, scoop small scoops and divide evenly among 8 tall flutes. Spoon the macerating strawberries on top of the sherbet, dividing them evenly. Layer scoops of the Prosecco sorbet on top of the strawberries, then scoop the remaining lemon sherbet on top of the Prosecco layer. Pour the Prosecco over the tops, filling each flute to the rim. Serve immediately with long spoons.

No time to prepare syrup ahead? Try this version of the lemon sherbet and prosecco sorbet.

Prosecco + Lemon Frappé with Crushed Strawberries
By Joanne Chang, from Food & Wine

For a shortcut version of one of Chang's favorite restaurant desserts, fill Champagne flutes with tiny scoops of lemon sherbet and spoonfuls of crushed, defrosted frozen sweetened strawberries, alternating layers. Top with Prosecco and serve immediately with a long spoon.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Garlic scape pesto

This week's CSA box featured:

Garlic scapes.

I'd always wanted to play with these so I was pretty psyched to find them in my box. The girls who were helping offload the veggies into my shopping bag saw some gorgeous beets and started chanting, "Beets! Beets! Beets!"

Because they love beets.

And I thought, "What funny kids I have." I don't think that many other children would summon that kind of enthusiasm for beets. (And just in case you're about to launch into a fugue of mommy guilt, don't. Mine are plenty picky, and turn up their noses at a wide and ever-changing variety of things.)

So pesto. Another quick evening-after-the-pool meal.

Garlic Scape Pesto

From "A Mighty Appetite" by Kim O'Donnell, The Washington Post

1 cup garlic scapes (about 8 or 9 scapes), top flowery part removed, cut into ¼-inch slices
1/3 cup walnuts
¾ cup olive oil
¼-1/2 cup grated parmigiano
½ teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste

Place scapes and walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and whiz until well combined and somewhat smooth. Slowly drizzle in oil and process until integrated. With a rubber spatula, scoop pesto out of bowl and into a mixing bowl. Add parmigiano to taste; add salt and pepper. Makes about 6 ounces of pesto. Keeps for up to one week in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

For ½ pound short pasta such as penne, add about 2 tablespoons of pesto to cooked pasta and stir until pasta is well coated.

Unlike the dark green of the traditional basic-based pesto, the garlic scape pesto was a fresh and lively spring green. It tasted both garlicky and green. It was delicious, but perhaps a little overwhelming with just noodles. The original article's author suggested scattering some cherry tomatoes on top of the noodles. It made me wish for some tomatoes. Mine are still green on the vine. I wondered about crisping some pancetta and adding some peas to this dish.

This pesto would make a fabulous and conversation-starting hors d'oeuvres, mounded atop some crostini and with fresh mozzarella or perhaps a sliver of prosciutto or half a cherry tomato...or...You could really have some fun with this.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Welcome to summer

Back to reality. It's a jarring transition after an idyllic few days in Provincetown with my parents. There's something utterly charming about Provincetown. It reminds me a bit of Miyazaki's quaint seaside towns (if they were populated by the LGBT community).

Here's my youngest, channeling the P-Town mojo.

Of course, any day is a good day when it starts out with fried, sugared dough. The famed malassadas at the Provincetown Portuguese Bakery lived up to their rep. Their texture is amazingly airy, especially when they're hot and fresh out of the fryer. Warning: this is not a ladylike treat. The combination of grease and superfine sugar clings to your fingers like a second skin. You'll be sticky and sublimely happy.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for hosting this great start to our summer. Sun, seafood, sand...and family. Welcome to summer.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Soba noodle salad with ginger and mizuna

Greetings from the Bluebonnet sickbed. Not exactly a primo summer vacation destination. However, to make up for the lack of surf and tropical drinks, we have plenty of iced water and Nyquil. After battling this wicked stubborn cold for weeks, here I sit, unable to launch into summer vacation festivities with the kids. Total and absolute bummer.

Guest chef Will took pity on me and whipped up a fresh, cool, gingery dish that soothes my sinuses. This soba dish incorporates those dark green leafy vegetables (mizuna, in this case) that's supposed to be an amazing source of vitamins, folate, carotenoids, and other goodies that keep us healthy. I'm in dire need of healthy these days. I think I'm personally responsible for deforesting half of the continental USA with my kleenex usage. By the way, if you don't have any mizuna, you can substitute watercress.

Soba noodle salad with ginger and mizuna

1 large bunch mizuna, washed, stemmed, and chopped
1 large carrot or 2 small carrots, sliced diagonally into thin slices
1/2 hothouse cucumber, cored and sliced into matchsticks
6 ounces dried soba noodles
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and diced fine
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Cook soba noodles per directions in boiling water. Drain and rinse with cool water until they are no longer hot.

In a large bowl, combine mizuna, carrot slices, soba noodles, and cucumber.

In a small bowl, whisk together ginger, garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar,
and sugar. Pour over salad and toss. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tacos de calabacitas

After yesterday's haywire contortions, it's nice to return to something simpler, earthier. This recipe takes the best of your summer garden, tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash, and transforms them into fresh, rich, delectable vegetarian tacos. They're simple enough for an everyday dinner and special enough for company. This one is headed straight for our summer menu rotation.

Tacos de calabacitas
Adapted from a recipe by Julian Medina, chef and owner of Tolache in Manhattan, and printed in the June 21, 2010 issue of The New York Times
Yield 4 servings
Time 30 minutes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced onion
1/2 cup diced yellow summer squash
1/2 cup diced zucchini
1/2 cup corn kernels, preferably fresh (we used frozen)
1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 cup diced tomato or quartered cherry tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
dash cumin
1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated
8 corn tortillas
1 tablespoon minced cilantro (optional)

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add squash, zucchini, corn kernels and jalapeno. Sauté until squash and zucchini are lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, oregano, cumin, and salt to taste.

Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring once or twice, until squash, zucchini and tomatoes release their juices and begin to blend, 5 to 7 minutes. Uncover, and adjust salt as needed. Sprinkle with cheese, cover, and cook until cheese is melted, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Preheat a griddle or large heavy skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, warm the tortillas on the griddle, about one minute a side. Place the warmed tortillas on a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.

Arrange two warm tortillas on each of four plates. Place equal portions of filling in the center of each tortilla. Garnish with a sprinkling of cilantro, and serve.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Adventures in ice cream making

Note to self: do not make frozen custard before morning coffee.

Addendum to note: do not attempt to make a very persnickety food for the very first time ever before morning coffee. Ever.

It started with the very best of intentions. (Doesn't it always?) I had some rhubarb pulp left and a handful of strawberries and a new ice cream maker just begging for some play. And Mark Bittman made custard-based ice cream sound so very straightforward. What could go wrong?

If my life were a movie, this is the scene where you'd hear ominous music begin to play in the background. Like when the nubile blonde says to her friends, "I'll catch up with you guys later" in an 80s horror flick. You know it's a very bad idea.

Maybe it wouldn't have gone so wrong if I hadn't taken that extra step of trying to combine roles? Culinary goddess, thrifty domestic manager, and doting parent. You see...the frozen custard called for six egg yolks, and I didn't want to waste six perfectly good egg whites. Especially free-range egg whites approved by Whole Foods (that assuager of vague well-heeled carnivorous guilt). Oh, and I have this very finicky child who rejects most breakfast foods and eats only egg whites, no yolks. (Do you see where this is headed?)

So I decide that the very best usage of our resources is to make frozen custard before breakfast. On a school day.

Was it a surprise that this ended in tears? (Was it a surprise that in the next scene, the blonde is stumbling through a dark woods, screaming her nubile lungs out? It's really amazing how many horror movie suburbias have vast expanses of woods. Super convenient.) Anyway. Back to the custard slaughter...a pot of frothy, curdled custard-wannabe poured down the sink and many muffled curses at Mark Bittman for failing to note that custard must be cooked at a very low temperature. Very low. And that one must not beat the milk into the eggs too vigorously.

So. Take two.

It looks like liquid cat food for your senior kitties, right? Tuna custard for your toothless felines?

Our new $24 retired-model Cuisinart purchased at Costco did not make ice cream. It made...sludge. Product-of-blood-sweat-and-tears sludge. Plus strawberry rhubarb has an odd fleshy color that isn't super attractive, especially when it's not a nicely shaped mound of ice cream.

(It did taste good and was an excellent use of leftover rhubarb syrup pulp.) Oh well. Adventures in ice cream making, take two, is coming soon.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Vanilla rhubarb soda or rhubarb bellini or...

I love this. It embodies the very best of what I love about cooking and food.

Simplicity. Taste. Versatility.

What am I talking about? Rhubarb syrup. You can't get any simpler than this. Best of all, you use every bit. After cooking down the rhubarb, use the syrup for making amazing vanilla rhubarb soda or bellinis. You can use the pulp as jam or ice cream topping. If you haven't already made something like this, you're going to swoon. Promise.

By the way, I have a shameful admission for a self-professed foodie. This is my first rhubarb encounter. Before it showed up in my CSA box, I don't think I'd recognize rhubarb if you'd bopped me on the head with it. Of course, I'd had it in pie, usually of the strawberry rhubarb variety. But by then, it had been cooked down into indistinguishable lumps. Did you know that rhubarb looks like beautifully rosy celery? Who knew?

Simple rhubarb syrup
Adapted from the kitchn and The New York Times

4 cups rhubarb, chopped crosswise into thin slices
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
approx. 1/4 vanilla pod, sliced lengthwise

Combine rhubarb, sugar, water, and vanilla pod into saucepot. Bring to a boil. Cover and turn down to a simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb has broken down and the liquid has thickened.

Let cool. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve or cheesecloth. Refrigerate pulp and syrup separately. Use within one week.

This turned out to be very sweet. Syrupy sweet, in fact. Next time, I might dial back the sugar just a bit. Then again, it was syrupy perfection.

The pulp wasn't very photogenic, but made an amazing topping for a buttered multigrain English muffin. An easy, delicious start to the day.

Add 1 part rhubarb syrup to 4 parts sparkling water for an all-natural, unusual, delicious soda. The girls both gave it two thumbs up. I don't remember how they pulled off this contortionist feat while guzzling the soda down as fast as possible.

And if you're feeling a bit more celebratory (or have a more adult audience), mix 1 part rhubarb syrup to 4 parts prosecco. One sip immediately flung me back to my college days, downing bellinis with friends at Birraporetti's. This rhubarb bellini is even better.

The possibilities for rhubarb syrup cocktails are endless. Next on my to-try list might be rhubarb whiskey sours. Or these rhubarb mojitos. Cheers!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sweet birthday sprigs

I'd forgotten. I had a birthday a little while ago. I've gotten to that age where one year slides inconspicuously into the next, and I wouldn't want to count all the candles on my cake. Actually, no one should put that many candles on one single cake. Fire hazard.

My girls presented me with their gifts.

They wandered the yard, gathering flowers from every corner.

I love these sweet little arrangements so much more than the most elaborate and rare florist's display.

It's the little things. Really.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Grilled soy-ginger salmon served with wilted bok choy and rice

Now that the outdoor pool that we belong to has opened, we swim most evenings. And as much as we love relaxing and splashing in the perfect cool water, pooltime pushes our dinner later. After all, school is still in session for us. So our evenings sometimes end in a flurry of delivery pizza or grilled hot dogs. Not exactly good for you stuff. This is a perfect meal for those hot summer evenings. Quick, easy, and healthy.

Grilled soy-ginger salmon
Adapted from

1.5 pound salmon fillets
1/3 cup brown sugar, divided
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (1 inch) piece fresh ginger root, minced
1/3 cup orange juice

Mix lemon pepper, garlic powder, and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Rub salmon with this seasoning mixture.

Into a small saucepan set over medium heat, pour soy sauce and olive oil. Stir in ginger and remaining brown sugar. Bring to a gentle simmer, stirring constantly until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, and stir in orange juice.

Place fish and marinade into a resealable plastic bag, seal, and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 3 hours.

Preheat grill on high for 5-10 minutes. Turn burners down to medium-low. Place salmon on grill, skin side down. Close grill top and cook for for about 10 minutes until the fish is opaque throughout.

Wilted bok choy with soy sauce and cashews
Adapted from The Food Network

1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (optional)
1 bunch bok choy, sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices
1 and 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup cashews

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add bok choy and sauté 3 minutes. Add soy sauce and red pepper flakes and cook 2 more minutes, until bok choy stalks are tender-crisp and leaves are wilted. Season, to taste, with black pepper. Arrange bok choy on plates and top with cashews just before serving.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Congratulations go to the winner of my second anniversary giveaway:

Comment #12: laxsupermom

Enjoy your new cookbook, a hardcover copy of Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe (by Joanne Chang). It will be shipped to you shortly, and I hope you make many delicious treats from it!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Scrambled eggs with chive flowers

This week's CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box had another generous bundle of flowering chives. Finally! A chance to taste them.

I sautéed them in a little salted butter and sprinkled them on scrambled eggs. They were absolutely delicious, tasting delicately of chives. I'd steeled myself for bitterness, but to my surprise, they were not bitter. Unfortunately, the sautéing process softened the blossoms and rendered them not-so-photogenic. Next time I think I'll try the flowers raw or maybe sauté them very lightly. That would make a much prettier presentation.

So be brave and try your chive flowers! In the immortal words of Willy Wonka, "Everything inside is eatable. I mean edible. I mean you can eat everything!" (By the way, these were just regular old chives and not Chinese or garlic chives which have white flowers.)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Beef picadillo enchiladas with ancho-chipotle gravy

A traditional food in many Latin American cuisines, picadillo is a wonderful comfort food. Its name derives from the Spanish picar which means "to mince" or "to chop." As suggested by its name, the main ingredient in picadillo is chopped meat, usually beef. Other spices and ingredients can vary from tomatoes and onions to olives or raisins or even honey.

For a recent dinner party, we spooned picadillo onto corn tortillas as enchilada filling. Combined with this slightly spicy gravy, it was absolutely delicious, intriguing without being too outré for a palate unused to Mexican food. The picadillo was also fabulous paired with rice and black beans. The mixture of sauced ground beef and starch reminded me of a Mexican shepherd's pie. Good, honest, happy food. (As you can see below, the dinner party was happily buzzing along. The enchiladas were well on their way to being demolished before I remembered to take a photo.)

Beef picadillo enchiladas with ancho-chipotle gravy
Gravy adapted from the Homesick Texan

2 lbs lean ground beef
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced
2 medium potatoes, diced
3 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoon chili powder
1 cup beef broth

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef and make sure it is well broken up. Add the onions and garlic to the skillet and cook until the onion becomes soft and somewhat translucent.

Add carrot, potatoes, tomatoes, oregano, chili powder, and beef broth to the skillet.

Stir well, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for approximately 30 minutes or until the potato and carrot pieces are very tender, stirring occasionally. If the picadillo has too much liquid in
it, simmer uncovered until the liquid is reduced.

For the gravy:
1 dried chipotle chile, seeds and stems removed
2 dried pasilla chiles, seeds and stems removed
2 dried ancho chiles, seeds and stems removed
1/4 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
3 cups beef broth
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

In a dry skillet heated on high, toast the chiles on each side for about 10 seconds or just until they start to puff. Fill the skillet with enough water to cover chiles. Leave the heat on until water begins to boil. Turn off the heat, cover the skillet, and let the chiles soak until soft, about 30 minutes. Once hydrated, discard the soaking water and rinse the chiles. Place in a blender.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil on medium heat and sauté onions for a few minutes until they become tender. Add garlic and sauté for another minute until the onion becomes translucent. Remove onions and garlic from pan and add to blender. Add cumin, oregano, and the broth. Blend until smooth.

Keep saucepan on medium heat. Whisk flour into the oil remaining in the saucepan until well incorporated. Gradually whisk in the blended mixture and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt and black pepper to taste and adjust other seasonings as needed. 

For enchiladas:
a dozen corn tortillas
shredded cheese (Monterrey Jack or blended Mexican cheese)

To make the enchiladas, preheat the oven to 350ºF and lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish. Wrap tortillas in a damp towel and microwave for about 60 seconds on high. Lay each tortilla on a plate and add about 2 tablespoons of picadillo. Roll the tortilla and place in baking dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Pour sauce over enchiladas and top with grated cheese. Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned and bubbling.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A second anniversary giveaway

This giveaway is now closed.

Has it been two years?


It doesn't seem possible. Two years ago, I was anxiously fretting over our house closing and moving cross-country. I'd never lived through a winter of snow. Heck. I'd never lived through a single day of snow. Except for a brief ski vacation in Colorado, and that doesn't really count because I spent most of my time in the hot tub. I had no friends here. No connections. It was all a huge, daunting blank slate waiting to be filled.

And (mostly finished) new kitchen, two winters of snow, and lots of amazing friends and experiences and food later...

I can even navigate the dreaded asterisk intersection with élan.

Thank you, my friends and readers, for joining me on this journey. I hope the next two years are just as delicious.

And now...{trumpet fanfare here}, to commemorate the second anniversary of A Bluebonnet in Beantown, I wanted to share something that I've wanted myself. So here it is. To be shipped to one lucky reader: one hardcover copy of Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe (by Joanne Chang). List price $35.

How to enter:
- Leave a comment here, telling me what is your favorite baked good or dessert. This may be done only once per entrant for this giveaway.

- Contest is open to the residents of the U.S. only. Sorry to my international readers. You must be 18 or older.
- This contest ends on Tuesday, June 7, at 10:00 pm EST.
- Winner will be announced by Friday, June 10.
- Any entries after the deadline will be deleted.
- Only one person per household may enter. By entering, you agree to forfeit your prize if it's determined that you entered under more than one name/email.
- Winner will be chosen at random via generator.
- Winner has 48 hours to respond by email or another winner will be chosen.
- Leave your email address in your entry.
- If you don't leave your email address in your entries, make sure your profile is public.
- Please comment on this post only when entering.

Thanks and good luck to all!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Oddly beautiful...

...or beautifully odd...

I've heard they're delicious dipped in tempura batter and fried.

Chive blossoms, that is. Mine are mostly buds. I'm thinking of sautéing them and sprinkling them on scrambled eggs. Then I read that Chinese chive buds (otherwise known as garlic chives) are delectable while other varieties can be bitter. Hmm...I think I'm going to be culinarily brave. I'll let you know...

I think they'd make really interesting, almost sculptural tabletop additions to a picnic or informal brunch. In a few small vases. Maybe clustered with some simple, upright flowers. A new edible twist on those grassy centerpieces that I've seen on home shows.

And I'd thought that chives were just for snipping onto sour cream for baked potatoes.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mexican spicy pickled carrots (zanahorias en escabeche)

My husband loves this stuff. He could...and often did...scarf down bowlfuls (accompanied by tortilla chips and margaritas, of course.) If you're ever in Austin, try the pickled carrots at Polvo's. And their salsa selections. And their margaritas. (Just a travel tip from me to you.)

Who knew that one of his favorite dishes was so simple to make? See? This is what I love about dinner party menu-planning. You're always discovering really great foods that you'd never imagine that you could cook at home.

I found a pickled carrots recipe on the Homesick Texan. (If you haven't been to this blog, you must visit. Now. I wouldn't lead you astray when it comes to something as important as food.) A few adjustments later and voila. Zanahorias en escabeche, an unusual, tasty, and easy nosh with cocktails, is a perfect prelude to a Mexican dinner.

Mexican spicy pickled carrots (zanahorias en escabeche)
Adapted from Homesick Texan

1 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups white vinegar
5 dried red chile peppers
1.5 ounces fresh serrano chiles, seeds removed, cut into long strips
1/2 jalapeño, sliced
2 large garlic cloves, cut in half
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound carrots, cut into thin coins
1/4 cup slivered onions

In a medium-sized pot, add water, vegetable oil, vinegar, garlic, serranos, and dried chiles. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to medium. Cook for 5 minutes, uncovered.

Add cumin, oregano, black pepper and salt. Continue to cook on medium for 5 more minutes. Add carrots, onions, and jalapeño. Cook for 10 minutes, or until the carrots are your desired texture.

Cool and refrigerate. Will keep for one month refrigerated.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Beautiful Arsenic

You know how you're shopping and something just catches your eye? I picked up a copy of June 2011's Real Simple at Costco today. This is what caught my attention.

So many things I love about this cover. The pretty beadboard. The simple, but lovely shapes of teapot and bowls and pitcher. The perfectly casual, but arranged collections on the open shelves. And that color. What is that color??

Farrow & Ball Arsenic.

Arsenic had seemed so intimidating, so intense on my color swatches. In this photo, it looks beautifully vintage and inviting. It just might be the perfect color for my mudroom (which has been bare drywall for months and months).

Here's an image of Arsenic from the Farrow & Ball site. What do you think?