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 now...one (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 Random.org 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?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Flour Bakery's banana bread

Yep, another banana bread. There's a method to my madness. Really. (Ahhh...but do I know a hawk from a handsaw? That's the real question.)

Actually, I have not only one, but two whole reasons why I'm inundating you with banana bread recipes. The first is that I seem to have a Goldilocksian relationship with bananas. I either have too many bananas or not enough. It's never just right. (You can guess what prompted this banana bread recipe. When you have three perfect overripe bananas, that's practically a hand-engraved invitation to make banana bread.)

And secondly (more excitingly), this particular banana bread has a close relationship with my next giveaway. Yes, another giveaway! Almost two years ago, I began writing A Bluebonnet in Beantown, and now many posts and several gray hairs later (I don't think the two are related), here we are. So keep an eye out for that in a couple of weeks.

So...banana bread...Does it tell you something about this banana bread that I baked it last night and the entire loaf is already gone? Pretzel Boy, himself, ate five slices. Not all at once, of course. In other words, complete and utter deliciousness. Its texture is perfection.

Flour Bakery's banana bread
From Flour Bakery + Cafe, Boston, MA

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
3 ½ very ripe medium bananas (1 1/3 cups mashed)
2 tablespoons crème fraiche or sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Heat the oven to 325ºF degrees. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment, beat the sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. (Or whip by hand with an electric hand mixer until light and fluffy, about 8 minutes.)

With the mixer on low speed, slowly drizzle in the oil. Be sure NOT to pour the oil in all at once; add it slowly so that it has time to incorporate into the eggs and doesn't deflate the air you've just beaten into the batter. This took about 1 minute.

Add the mashed bananas, crème fraiche, and vanilla and mix on low speed until just combined. Fold in the dry ingredients and nuts by hand until thoroughly combined, so there are no more flour streaks in the batter.

Pour the batter into a buttered 9×5-inch loaf pan and bake for 60 to 75 minutes, until the top of the banana bread is golden brown and springs back when you poke it in the middle. If your finger sinks when you poke it, it needs to bake a little longer. Let cool for at least 30 minutes and then pop out of the pan and serve. Keeps for 2 to 3 days at room temperature, tightly wrapped. Or store in the freezer, tightly wrapped in plastic, for up to 2 weeks and defrost overnight at room temperature.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Blood orange margaritas

I'd planned to post this as a TGIF article. Then a TGIS. Now it slipped to "Thank God It's Almost the Workweek"? Not so catchy. Or fun. I hope your week doesn't warrant one of these, but here's the recipe just in case. This is a beautifully ruby-colored twist on the classic lime margarita. You may choose to salt the rims. I like my margaritas without salt so I've chosen to leave these plain.

Blood orange margaritas
(Adapted from Food & Wine. The original was published November 2007, as part of "Dean Fearing's Dallas Thanksgiving")
Makes 8 servings

16 ounces blood orange juice
14 ounces tequila, preferably reposado
6 ounces lime juice
6 ounces Cointreau

In a pitcher, mix the blood orange juice with lime juice, Cointreau, and tequila. Garnish with blood orange slices.

Serve by pouring over ice into martini or margarita glasses. If serving immediately, you can add ice to the pitcher and strain into glasses garnished with a blood orange slice.

(Make Ahead: The margarita recipe can be prepared through Step 1 and refrigerated, covered, overnight.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Spicy buttermilk ranch dip

Friday, I'm having my wonderful neighbors over for dinner. When we chose our house, we really lucked out in the neighbor department. They're a supportive, interesting, fun bunch.

I love this part of planning a dinner party, the menu planning. It's like putting together a puzzle. A delectable, edible puzzle. I've been dying to use some of my Austin haul, and this dinner presented the perfect excuse. So the menu will lean Mexican. I'd hoped to find some achiote to make achiote and orange juice-marinated chicken, but no such luck. (Note to self. Buy achiote during next Austin trip.) So we'll do grilled chicken breasts and flank steaks with tomatillo salsa and a dried chile sauce on the side. Tortillas for those who want to go full-on Mexican. Rolls and potato salad for those who'd prefer to tread lightly with the spices.

For appetizers, of course we would have chips, guacamole, and salsa. And olives (just because I love Russo's pitted mixed country olives). And for something healthy, crudites and dip are always safe.

Now I have to admit. I used to buy premade dip. The kind in a plastic tub with the peelaway lid. Lately though, I've gotten on this homemade kick and fallen in love with homemade salad dressing. It's so incredibly easy and beats the pants off anything I've tried from the grocery store. (I haven't tried them all though. Maybe someday...nope, not even then.) So why not homemade dip? My girls' favorite ranch dressing is Annie's Natural Cowgirl Ranch (must appeal to the cowgirl in 'em). So I thought, why not make my own ranch dressing...and add a little kick to it? Deliciousness. And really, really easy. Who needs the plastic tub?

Spicy buttermilk ranch dip

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh chives, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 jalapeño pepper, cored and seeded, finely diced
1/4 teaspoon cumin
tiny pinch (less than 1/8 teaspoon) cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients together and let chill for an hour. Keeps for a week in the refrigerator.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tulips and a love note

"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."
~ Marcel Proust

What a brilliant day, surrounded by my charming gardeners.

I hope your day was filled with love. Happy Mother's Day.
Gena, A Bluebonnet in Beantown

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Will's cornmeal pancakes

My kiddos love pancakes. Pancakes. Pancakes. Pancakes. The girls, especially, can devour a frightening number of pancakes. It seems impossible, a violation of some scientific principles, that so many pancakes could fit into a small child's stomach. And as I've mentioned before, my eldest loves cornmeal pancakes. To satisfy the calls for pancakes on weekend mornings, Will has been playing around with cornmeal pancake recipes, in search of the perfect pancake. This one's a winner. Light and with a lovely texture.

If your children would like to help make mom breakfast in bed, this would be a great, simple, delicious choice.

Will's cornmeal pancakes

1 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Mix milk and cornmeal in a medium bowl. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes so that the cornmeal can soften.

Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour in the wet ingredients, and mix well.

Cook in a lightly oiled skillet over medium heat.

Devour! (Freeze any extra pancakes for easy weekday breakfasts. Layer with paper towels to make it easier to use individual pancakes.)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mexican quinoa loaf with roasted tomatillo salsa

An early happy (and healthy) Cinco de Mayo to you! And to help make it healthier, here's a delicious quinoa dish with a Tex-Mex flourish. This quinoa loaf is great on its own or as a side dish. Even better, the girls loved it.

So quinoa. As you may have read recently, quinoa has the reputation of being a superfood. A staple grain of the ancient Incans, quinoa has more protein than any other grain. According to epicurious.com, "It's considered a complete protein because it contains all eight essential amino acids. Quinoa is also higher in unsaturated fats and lower in carbohydrates than most grains, and it provides a rich and balanced source of vital nutrients."

Sounds perfect right?

Sadly, quinoa has been my own personal Waterloo. A few years ago in a healthy eating frenzy, I cooked up a quinoa pudding that was...well...disgusting is too mild. Vile. Repulsive. Repugnant. Vomit-inducing. Second only to the disturbingly crunchy, yet slippery pickled jellyfish on my yuck list.

Ever since then, I've been too chicken to try quinoa again. Til now. I mean, who could resist something called A Giant Quinoa "Tamale"? (I renamed the dish because...well...it didn't seem very tamale-esque to this transplanted Texan.)

Mexican quinoa loaf with roasted tomatillo salsa
Adapted (very slightly) from Mark Bittman's The Food That Matters

Makes: 6 to 8 servings
Time: About 2 hours, largely unattended

Use the tomatillo salsa recipe on its own for a quick sauce that keeps well and comes in handy for serving with steamed vegetables, beans, fish, or tortilla chips.

1 pound tomatillos (about 5 or 6 large), husked and rinsed (canned are fine; drain and reserve their juice)
1 large poblano or other fresh mild green chile
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, smashed
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing the loaf pan
2 cups quinoa, rinsed well and drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried
A pinch of ground cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons lime juice
Black pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup grated Monterey Jack, shredded Mexican four cheese, or crumbled queso fresco, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon chili powder
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

Heat the oven to 400°F. Put the tomatillos, chile, onion, and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of oil. Roast, turning once or twice, until the chile skin is blistered and everything is browned, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the pan but leave the oven at 400°F if you’re making the tamale right away.

Meanwhile, put the quinoa in a large pot along with a big pinch of salt. Add water to cover by about 11⁄2 inches. Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the grains are very tender and begin to burst, 25 to 30 minutes. If the grains get too dry, add just enough water to keep them submerged. When the grains are starchy and thick, remove from the heat. (You can cook the quinoa up to a day ahead and refrigerate; return to room temperature before proceeding.)

Remove the skin, seeds, and stem from the chile and put the flesh in a blender or food processor along with the tomatillos, onion, garlic, and any pan juices. Add the oregano, cayenne, lime juice, 1⁄2 cup water (or the reserved canned tomatillo liquid), and a large pinch of salt and pepper. Blend or process until smooth, adding enough water to thin the mixture into a pourable sauce; taste and adjust the seasoning. (The salsa can be made ahead to this point and covered and refrigerated for up to a day; return to room temperature or gently warm right before serving.)

When you’re ready to make the loaf, generously grease a 9 × 5-inch loaf pan with some oil. Mix the baking powder and a pinch of salt into the quinoa with a fork. The consistency should be thick but spreadable; if it’s too stiff, add a few drops of water. Spread half of the quinoa mixture in the bottom of the pan and sprinkle with the queso fresco and chili powder. Add the remaining quinoa, smooth it out evenly, and press down a bit to seal the loaf. Cover the pan tightly with foil. (At this point the quinoa loaf can be covered and refrigerated for up to several hours.)

Bake the loaf for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake until the top is golden brown, another 30 minutes or so. Remove the pan from the oven and let the tamale sit for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a platter. Garnish with the cilantro and a little more cheese, cut the tamale into slices, and serve, passing the salsa at the table.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Magic lanterns...and redecorating spring festival style

This morning over coffee and a bagel, I fell head over heels for a lighting piece.

Isn't it magical? And by the way, darn you for this temptation,  New York Times' T Magazine. (Photo by Coppi Barbieri, via the New York Times)

The basket chandelier designed by Marco Dessi for J. & L. Lobmeyr. This is not simply a light fixture. It's an illuminated work of art. The basket is created from glass tubes bent in hexagons and stacked into a shape inspired by traditional lanterns. The creation is woven with silk cords and lit by a twisted spiral of halogen bulbs.

So, will a Dessi basket be coming home? Not likely. My low-ceilinged Colonial has nowhere to showcase this gem. More to the point, it costs as much as I'm hoping to spend on my master bathroom renovation. Hmmm...incredible jewel of a light fixture or a new bathroom without a Tupperware lid glued to the shower ceiling? When put like that, it's not really a hard decision, is it?

I did do a little spring redecorating. Let's say it was inspired by our local spring festival. Or rather, using things brought home from our local spring festival. (If you were there and saw a man wearing a silly balloon hat, that was my husband. The good sport.)

An homage to Friday's royal wedding?

It's not Chihuly, but it does have a certain something, doesn't it? Speaking of Chihuly, I still haven't gone to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston's Chihuly: Through the Looking Glass exhibit. I've been an enormous fan of Dale Chihuly's since I saw his Chihuly: alla Macchia exhibition years ago. I can't wait to go.