Thursday, December 30, 2010

Quick and Easy - All-Clad to the Rescue!

Not long ago, I was not much of a cook.  I lived by myself, got home from work late and basically did not feel like putting in the effort to cook a meal and then be stuck eating that same dish for the next three meals!  Nick, on the other hand, actually enjoys cooking and is really good at it.  Not wanting to be outdone...and since cooking for two is way more fun, I decided to get my act together and cook some dinners.

However, there were more than a few road blocks in my culinary development.  While my mom had done an excellent job outfitting my kitchen with most necessities, I was definitely missing some things, like a cheese grater, which does not seem like a big deal until you attempt homemade Mac and Cheese that requires grating an entire block of cheddar.  Lets just say using a blender, in my head GENIUS!, was a big mess.  My other big issue was pans.  I only had two cheap non-stick fry pans: one was only for making eggs and the other at best 10 inches in diameter.  Neither was going to help me reach chef status.  Actually, the pans ended up causing more problems that anything - lets just say lots of problems were had!

I realized that it would be worth investing in some good cooking supplies to help me along - making dinner cannot be THAT hard.  Lucky for me, most of my friends had recently registered and done all the research on the different brands of pans for me!  Generally, before I even finished asking the question, they would all reply "All-Clad," they last forever and are totally worth the price.

After much hemming and hawing about whether to bite the bullet, we went to Williams-Sonoma, because whenever I have a kitchen question, they know the answer and have exactly what I need.  So a very pleasant lady at the store in the Copley Mall informed me that my friends were correct, All-Clad was the way to go.  The only question left was what pan to buy.  Only having two pans myself, I had no idea of the varieties there were in just pans, not even counting pots!

I played with lots of the different pans, picking them up, mimicking my "moves" in the kitchen to see if the pans would be too heavy - those big ones can be difficult to even take out of the drawer!  This is where the sales lady was really helpful.  Turns out, All-Clad had this package of two different pans that had only recently come out, one 9 inches in diameter and the other 11.  The set was not even out on the floor yet!

Pans from Williams-Sonoma
While smaller in size (I went in thinking I needed 12 inches), they actually had higher sides, thus held more and were a good combination fry and saute pan.  Even better, the package was on sale!  So I took the plunge and invested in some nice pans.  I can now say, six months later, they were totally worth it.  These pans still look great and really are not difficult to clean up!!  Just do not try pancakes or eggs in these - I still break out the non-stick for those guys.

The dinner I made last night is a perfect example of why these All-Clad pans work so well.  I made sauteed chicken with asparagus and mushrooms, a recipe I found on Martha Stewart's website.  I am a firm believer that Martha can do no wrong!  This recipe really only has three main ingredients: chicken, asparagus and mushrooms (four if you count the rice or pasta).  I added a little onion (as there was an extra in my kitchen) and garlic because some of the reviews say that the dish can be a bit bland.

the basics
So again, I chopped up everything that needed chopping in advance so it would all be ready to go!

ready and waiting
I generously salted and peppered my chicken and added about a tablespoon of olive oil to my 11 inch All-Clad pan and added the chicken.  I made sure everything was spread out with no overlapping in hopes of an even cooking job.  After the chicken was on, I started to boil some water for the pasta.

browning chicken
When I first browned chicken in my pan I thought I was ruining it - there was NO WAY those brown bits would EVER come off.  Turns out, not only are they supposed to stick they actually do come off later in the dish to add delicious flavor.  Even better, the brown bits actually have a name, fond!  In the picture above, you can really see the fond sticking to the pan, one of the main reason to use stainless pans.  After the chicken was finished cooking, I placed it in a bowl and set it aside to be added back later.
Next I added the onion, asparagus, and mushrooms to the pan.  Then I added about a cup of water.  Sure enough, after I added the water and did a few aggressive stirs, the brown bits came unstuck, which always amazes me and now were mainly responsible for adding all sorts of good flavor to the other components of the dish.  Then I sprinkled everything with some more salt and added a spoonful of minced garlic and stirred it all together. 

brown bits doing their thing
When the asparagus reached a nice "done," tender but still crispy (about 7 minutes) I added the chicken back in and let everything cook together.  I plated the pasta I had cooked.  After giving a few good final stirs I took the pan off the heat and topped the pasta making sure I got some of the juices as well.  This helps flavor the pasta better.

Finished Product!
This dish is a great example of how having my nice All-Clad pans keep what is a simple dinner actually simple.  The pans also help to make this dish much more flavorful!  While I would love to expand my All-Clad collection, due to some size restrictions in my kitchen and apartment, we have not added any others.  In general though, this package of pans has worked out great for most of our cooking needs.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Blizzard Stir-Fry

After indulging all weekend with yummy holiday dinners, we decided to cook up some stir-fry as a bit of a break - that and all the ingredients we either had or could get at Savenor's on Charles Street due to the blizzard.  We had some uncooked frozen shrimp, cous cous (rice would have been too easy!), and some stir-fry sauce, soy sauce, and honey.  At Savenor's I picked up some broccoli, summer squash, zucchini, onion, and cremini mushrooms.

The Ingredients

Holiday Blizzard 2010!

Unlike most, I was super excited for the Nor'easter to come and dump lots of snow in Town.  I had already planned a personal day on Monday and was looking forward to being able to hang out and watch the snow fall on Beacon Hill.  My family had all gotten to where they needed to go my Sunday evening so I thought "Bring It On!"

The results were a fun Monday of playing with my new camera and Flip video!  I only braved the winter weather three times - the wind was killer!  In the morning, Holly and I got all dressed up to walk Nick to the T.  I had on my winter snow boots, hat, mittens, scarf AND hooded down jacket.  Holly had on her pink jacket that match her pink sneakers from Little Lily.  The sneakers not only look pretty amazing, but protect her feet from the rock salt covering all the streets and sidewalks.  It was amazing how quiet Charles Street was.  We walked the entire way in the middle of the street - I think only three cars passed us.  There were only a few people out and about, and they were either taking their four-legged friends out (like me), clearing the sidewalks, or attempting to shovel out their cars.
View down Chestnut St.

Holly's and my boots drying

The second time I ventured out was a solo mission through the Public Garden to the gym and then to Savenor's to get supplies for dinner.  Again, most of the city was a ghost town.  Although there was tons of snow everywhere, there was none on the Commonwealth Ave mall right by Arlington St!  It had all blown away and the grass was showing - That is how bad the wind was right there!  Here are some scenes from that mid-day adventure:
Snow covered decorations on Charles St.
Public Gardens entrance
Blizzard views in Public Gardens
Ducklings swimming in the snow!
Snow covered George Washington
Welcoming holiday wreath at the entrance to the Public Gardens
My third and final adventure yesterday involved taking Holly to the Boston Common for a little romp on the parade grounds.  This time I only put on her jacket as I was afraid we might lose a shoe in the snow.  Since the rock salt would still be a problem, if not worse, I slathered Musher's Secret on her paws.  This stuff really is amazing!  Much easier than dealing with booties, and is extremely effective at protecting dog's paws.  Another great thing is it does not track all over the house like olive oil or Vaseline does.  In Boston, I have seen Musher's Secret at Four Preppy Paws on Charles Street and at Polka Dog in the South End.  If you see it, I highly recommend buying it because it really works and it sells out quickly!

Here are some pictures of Holly frolicking in the snow...
She finally stopped long enough to get a nice head on shot!
Right after a face plant or some sniffing around in the snow.  I am not sure which it was!
Almost smiling
The frolicking continues
If it were not already evident by the pictures, Holly really had some fun.  The snow was deep enough that she has to jump up an over to get around.  After only a few runs around the parade ground she was pretty tuckered out!  I was happy because the wind was picking up and there were little snow tornadoes all around us.  So we headed back inside and I warmed up and she had a snooze.

All in all, the adventures outside in the snow were lots of fun and I got to put my new camera to good use and pretend to be a professional photographer!  The camera definitely helped my photos a lot, as the conditions were less than ideal.  Also, it was really easy to use.  I am excited to put it to more good use.  For the Flip Video, I need a little practice holding it steady before I post any here!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone enjoyed their Christmas break, even those that do not necessarily celebrate Christmas!  I celebrated with my mom and brother in the North shore, which made my travels basically non-existent - 25 minutes. 

Doing Christmas with my mom, she basically indulges our every whim, especially when it comes to food.  On Christmas Eve she made individual beef wellingtons, scalloped potatoes and green beans with some mushrooms.  The beef wellington actually was ordered from Williams Sonoma.
Picture from the website...
While my mom is fully capable of making this from scratch, she basically does not want to do the mushroom duxelles that surrounds the beef within the pastry as this can take some time to make.  These, however, are really easy.  They come frozen and all you have to do is put them on a cookie sheet, coat with an egg/water mixture and bake until they are about 135 degrees.  Really, they do turn out just like the picture - as does everything from Williams Sonoma

Christmas for us is a pretty relaxed day.  We wake up late and have some coffee.  First we open our stockings and a few Santa presents, then we have a little breakfast and finally we move onto the presents under the tree - my favorite part.  While I love to receive gifts, I love watching people open the gifts I thought of.  My brother is particularly tricky as he can be critical of the gifts he receives.  Luckily, I batted 1.000 this year.  One of his favorites was Dive Bar T-shirt of the month club, which I thought could have gone either way.  Basically, once a month for the next 6 months, he will get a T-shirt from a different dive bar from anywhere across the US. 

The big gift I got my mom was a new bracelet that matches the necklace I got her last year, both from Ippolita.  Actually, the sales associate turned me onto the brand last year and it was a great recommendation.  This maker is similar in style to David Yurman, but a bit cheaper.  However, since last Christmas, this brand has exploded - definitely more popular and more expensive, but still beautiful.

Santa was very good to my this year.  I got a bunch of great gifts, including a couple that will make my blog even better!  First I got a new camera, the new S95 Canon PowerShot and I also got a Flip Video, both of which can be loads of fun!

After opening all the presents, we relaxed and watched a lot of basketball and other non-Christmas things.  My mom then cooked another great meal: rack of lamb with potatoes and asparagus with hollandaise sauce.  The lamb was coated in a Dijon mustard and cranberries.  The lamb was my request - something I love, but have not had the guts to make myself.
Picture complements of my brother
Overall, great Christmas!!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chicken, Green Bean, Corn, Cous Cous Salad with Goat Cheese

Tonight I was in charge of dinner.  I knew I had two chicken breasts at home to work with so I found a recipe online.  Before I go any further, I should say I am relatively new to cooking.  Baking I have down, but cooking is a whole different experience that requires more concentration and the ability to coordinate the different components of the meal.  When I cook, things take a lot longer than expected and generally, there is at least one story that goes along with anything I make. 

So all that being said, another adventure in cooking began...

The recipe was the following from Epicurious:
  • 1/2 cup semi-pearled farro* or spelt berries
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 8 ounces skinless boneless chicken breast halves
  • 12 ounces green beans, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 cups fresh yellow corn kernels (cut from 2 to 3 ears of corn)
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallot
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled (about 1 1/4 cups)
While the recipe called for farro (whatever that is!) I had Israeli cous cous in the cupboard that I wanted to use so I made that substitution.  Also, when I went to Whole Foods to grab all the ingredients it was absolutely crazy, it being the Eve of Christmas Eve and all, so I did not even bother venturing around to find the farro...cous cous it was!  Another random thing was marjoram - I had never heard of it before but turns out it a green clover looking herb with a pine and citrus flavor. 

Snow in Town

Unlike a lot of people, I am a big fan of winter.  Growing up in New England you have to either embrace the cold and snow or go south.  Needless to say I have more than embraced it. I actually enjoy going out in the snow, the look of the city completely changes, its so peaceful.  Granted, being able to walk everywhere, not having to shovel and owning the proper clothing makes New England winters a lot easier on me. 

I have a pretty nice walk to work as I get to walk through the Public Gardens each way.  This morning I headed to the gym before work so it was pretty early and since most people took today off, it was so quite, hardly any people milling about.  The best part, however, was it was still are a few shots during my walk that make me actually happy to get up and go each morning!  The blue color may be because it was not really light out and these were with my cell phone...

Snow Covered Ducklings.  You can still see their red ribbons!
George Washington with the Christmas light and City Scape in the background.
Snow covered fountain.
Even with only a little greenery, the Garden looks beautiful!

I always hope for a white Christmas, there is just something that makes the holidays that much better with a fresh blanket of white snow covering everything.  Lucky enough, this week the weather played along and we have had some fresh snow, just in time!  But, I will say - a real snow storm could be fun.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Holiday Gala

On Saturday we had our first annual holiday party.  We knew it would probably be a busy night for most, but we sent out the invite right around Thanksgiving and ended up having a pretty good turn out.

The party was supposed to begin at 8 so we did not really need to go crazy with the food and went more of a dessert route.  I decided to do a specialty holiday drink to be a bit more festive: home made egg nog.  I had a recipe from my mom that she got from a friend who always threw a great holiday party and this egg nog was always the highlight.  While I had never attempted to make it before, I figured I would give it a go even though it was a bit daunting.

Recipe is...
Looking at this recipe, it calls for so many unhealthy ingredients.  With the milk, I thought about buying skim milk but realized it would not really work, so I went all out...whole milk.  Also, after using heavy cream and all, what was some whole milk?  Knowing this was going to involve a lot of mixing/beating, I broke out my new favorite kitchen device, the Kitchen Aid Mixer, and of course it made the whole process so easy!  I first separated the eggs and whipped the egg whites...
Excellent separating skills
adding the sugar to the whipping whites
In order to whip the whites to "very stiff" I cranked up the Kitchen Aid mixer to the highest possible setting and backed away.  I was a little worried something may go flying, the mixer was working hard.  Instead, it worked magic and made quick work of the whites.  I transferred the whipped egg whites to another bowl and put them in the fridge.  Next, I added the heavy whipping cream to the bowl and again jacked up the mixing setting, but it actually just splattered everywhere!  So I had to work my way up to the highest setting, but I did make it there and ended up with some delicious whipped cream.

In my party best with my apron, fixing the egg nog
Heavy cream whipping
Finished whipped cream and whipped egg whites
After those, you whip the egg yolks until they are creamy and smooth.  I thought they were done when they were a mustard yellow, but I asked Nick and he said it actually should be a pale yellow color, which after a bit more mixing they did.  Again, thank goodness for the Kitchen Aid Mixer, it made mixing the egg yolks pretty easy.

The next step involved adding the Bourbon and the rum to the yolks.  The recipe called for light rum, but I used the dark rum we had on hand.  People who are not fans of brown liquors (Nick) thought it may have been a bit much so maybe the light rum would have been better for those people...but also the strong flavor could have been from the extra quarter cup of Bourbon I put it!  Surprise!

I then poured the whole milk in the largest mixing bowl I had, added the yolk mixture slowly then went ahead and folded in the egg whites.  Folding egg whites in liquid was a bit weird because I did not want the whites to break down, but I also did not want chunks in there...but it managed all to smooth out after a lot of "folding."  Next I added the whipped cream.  With this there was no issue with having chunks - in fact I left a few on purpose!  But as you can see from the picture below, good thing I did not make anymore because I would have run out of space.
Finished Nog
I took the finished egg nog and added it to the serving bowl.  I borrowed this one from my mom...its one of those punch bowls that also can be a cake stand...a genius product.  Once it was in the bowl I sprinkled more than a generous amount of nutmeg on the top and it was ready to go! 

Egg nog presentation.  Thanks Leigh and Ridge for the flowers!
The egg nog came out really well, but definitely not for those on a diet or lactose intolerant!  I was surprised at the number of people who were into trying it.  I drank it for sure, probably a few more than the recommended amount, but I did also drink some wine in between, otherwise, it could have been messy!  I thought it was well worth the effort and a nice holiday addition.  Again though, the Kitchen Aid mixer made the egg nog a whole lot easier to make.  I am becoming one of those people who will not know how I lived without it!
Some wine, cookies (left over from the Junior League meeting) and the best chex mix ever
The modified chex mix has coco puffs, pretzels, peanuts and lots of deliciousness.  You spread melted brown sugar and corn syrup over the top and actually bake it like a casserole.  The actual recipe is a secret that I am not in on:)  It is a great sweet treat, that also makes a good holiday gift! 
Other options
We also had a variety of cheeses: brie (my favorite) then two Cheddars (one was a smoked maple that really had a great flavor).  We also had a spiced salami and cucumber slices.  The salami was from Harry and David that I received in a gift basket at work.  Needless to say I put it to good use.

Coffee Table Treats
We also had some chips and salsa, but also served the pretzels left over from the chex mix.  Nick made a Vermont maple cranberry dipping sauce for the pretzels that was a mix from the Mulberry Tree Store where you just add cream cheese.  Normally I am not a dip type of person but this was delicious, the dip was actually the one food item that was totally gone at the end of the night. 

Also on the coffee table were Oreo Truffles...Nick tasted these when a co-worker brought them to work and found out the recipe that was actually really simple.  He recently saw the recipe on Beantown Baker so it was fresh in his head.

All you need is a package of Oreos, vanilla, condensed milk and chocolate chips.  First you put the Oreos through the food processor and put the crushed Oreos in a mixing bowl.  Then you add some vanilla and the condensed milk.  After it is all mixed, you take little handfuls and form balls a little smaller than a golf ball, which you place on a cookie sheet.  We lined the cookie sheet with tin foil to make clean up easier.  The rays are then placed in the fridge and allowed to cool.  Next you melt the chocolate chips and dip the balls in the melted chocolate, coating the entire thing and placing it back on the tray.  Once complete you place the trays back in the fridge to cool the chocolate and serve when ready!  These were totally decedent but super yummy!

I definitely am planning on making this an annual Holiday party.  It was great to get together with friends we have not seen in awhile, catch up and enjoy some treats.  Egg nog should happen again, but we will see - maybe I will have to find another holiday specialty. 

Friday, December 17, 2010


Last night, I went over to Nick's work's Christmas party, just another in the long line of them....the party was definitely more aimed at children.  They had face painting, a craft room and an animal room, lots of fun for them, but they still had plenty of drinks for the adults!  I actually attempted to go into the animal room, but had to abort mission after taking a half of a step in because I saw a HUGE boa constrictor and there is nothing I hate more than my one attempt at taking advantage of the activities ended as soon as it started.

Knowing the party was aimed at children, Nick made reservations at Sportello, a Barbara Lynch restaurant, and it totally exceeded my expectations.  The word Sportello is actually Italian for counter service, and this place it counter service at its best.  The restaurant is all open with a serpentine of white counters throughout.  So you are eating in next to people in different parties, but that is actually pretty fun.
The Space
When you sit down the menu is actually the place mat, so you can remind yourself what you ordered...which is perfect for me as I always have trouble with that, especially when the ingredients are a bit different.  The restaurant provides a really delicious sesame bread with a ricotta and olive oil and fig jam spread, great upgrade from butter.
Bread and Ricotta Spread
For appetizers I got a lamb tartare with shallot, farm egg, and artichoke that was amazing.  I have never had lamb tartare but would get it again in a heart beat.  The artichoke really set the flavors off well.
Lamb Tartare with Pita Chips
Nick got the roasted cauliflower with white anchovy, pistachio, caper, and raisin.  When it showed up the dish looked really cool because they used white and PURPLE cauliflower...I am not sure I had ever seen that (or knew about it) before.  The purple ones actually did taste the same as the white ones, and both were yummy.
Roasted Cauliflower
For the main dishes I got the potato gnocchi with a mushroom ragout, peas, and cream.  Everything was so fresh.  The gnocchi was not at all heavy like it can be, and the sauce was flavorful.  I ate and enjoyed every bite of it.
Potato Gnocchi
Nick got the trenette with braised rabbit, picholine olives, and rosemary.  I never tried rabbit before, but I tried his and it was pretty good.  Tastes like dark meat from a chicken or turkey.  So I would highly recommend it if that is your style.  In this dish though, the fresh pasta was really the stand out.  You could just taste how fresh it was.  It made you actually appreciate that it was fresh rather than just knowing its fresh and making yourself believe it really does taste different!  Does not hurt that it was all cooked to perfection. 
While Sportello does have a dessert menu, we opted out, as the cup cakes were recommended to us.  Oddly enough the restaurant has a dessert bar in it with lots of options.  You can just go in and grab some of the baked goods to go.  
Dessert Bar
We decided on a Coconut Cupcake and a Banana Nutella cupcake.  Mine, the coconut one was pretty good.  The frosting was perfect, however, the cake was not as light as I would have liked.  Nick's was good, however, rather than nutella frosting it was just chocolate, so we still are not quite sure where the nutella went!
Cupcakes To Go
For a Barbara Lynch restaurant, the price point was pretty good and as with all of her places, the food was delicious.  Great go to spot in the fort point area and worth it to make it a destination.

Sportello on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Party Time

Or should I say Holiday Party Time!  It started this past Saturday night, Nick and I went to his boss's Christmas party in Sudbury, we had to rent a zipcar to even get there!  It my my first time meeting his boss so I was a bit nervous, but thought I put together a pretty good outfit and decided to show of my new shoes...
REALLY Cute Shoes

Come to find out when we arrive at the party though, they are a shoeless house hold due to their soft pine floors!  I was so sad I could not show off my shoes!  Instead, they sat in a shelf in the foyer, very sad...

On Tuesday, I had a Junior League meeting that covered fund raising and the Junior League Ball, but turned into a fun holiday get together.  Some of our committee members stayed and were enjoying wine and treats, just chatting the evening away! 
February 12, 2011 at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, all are welcome and it should be lots of fun...See the Junior League website for more information

Originally, I thought I would definitely be home early as the meeting started right after work, but instead I did not leave until almost 9, and was a little tipsy after only having some cookies and cheese and crackers, but was somehow able to continue to refill my wine glass:) 

Last night my neighbors, as in we share a wall neighbors, had their holiday party.  They always go above and beyond with the preparations enough food and drink for 3 times the number of guests.  She is from NOLA and just is the embodiment of the warm southern personality that will go above and beyond for everyone.  Their apartment has the same high ceilings we do, but they know how to show them off!  We hung up a wreath in the window and it just gets lost...Once again, the party was filled with lots of chatting, making time for the sips of wine and not so much food, I did not get any of my holiday tasks accomplished that evening!  But, it is always fun to talk to new people and connect with those you haven't seen in awhile, as in over a year.

Tonight is Nick's work's Christmas party, which is just held in their offices in the Seaport district...which will be nice to see where he goes each day and meet some colleagues, but afterward we are going to Sportello, which I am SUPER excited about.  Firstly because I have not had any dinner in the past two days, but also, I have never been there before and have heard all sorts of amazing things.  I mean, it is Barbara Lynch, how can you go wrong.  Also, because we are in her domain while over there...we may have to go grab a concoction from the bartenders at Drink.  Who knows what they will come up with...but it will be good and hopefully help me brave the cold over there!

Next it will be onto planning our own Holiday party...
While this is not Holly, it sure looked close enough!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

BRUNCH - Met Back Bay

So I have a new favorite restaurant...Met Back Bay...yes I loved dinner there, but I am not just basing this bold statement on that, on Sunday, I went with my mom and Nick for brunch and once again, everything was fantastic!

My mom got the Back Bay Micro Chopped salad that looked (and she confirmed it was) delicious...the salad also had a bunch of choices for proteins, and my mom went with the king crab, and once again, they did not disappoint with the amount, there was a generous portion.  I got the Pork Stuffed Hash Brown fried egg/Vermont sharp cheddar/ jalapeƱo hollandaise, which was AMAZING...highly recommend it to anyone.  Such a great taste to it.  Nick got a cheese burger, that he said was great, but the ONLY complaint was the fries were not as good as he expected.  They are fried in duck fat, so he was expecting a lot more taste that just was not there.

Regardless it was a great meal, and really Met Back Bay has now become my go to place for eating out...such great food and a good price point. Hard to come by sometimes in Boston, especially in Back Bay.

Met Back Bay on Urbanspoon
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