Saturday, April 23, 2011

When in the North End....

In the last two days, my kitchen has been cooking up more Italian food than it has seen in the last two months.  I'm not sure why, but apparently I have some sort of Italian fever.  Maybe I just needed some creamy, cheesy, buttery, doughy deliciousness.  Or maybe it's a bit of pride for the adorable little neighborhood we live in.  But probably a combination of the two.
Thanks for the picture Kaitlin Rose.
Obviously, my "Italian" creations will never come close to what the little old Italian women can whip up down the street in their real Italian kitchens.  But hey, at least I can learn from them, or just eat their wonderful food whenever I feel it necessary.

So let's get to these Italian delights.  I have two recipes for you.  A mozzarella/prosciutto/fig spread/arugula/caramelized onions pizza, and sweet potato gnocchi with a gouda cheese sauce.  Hungry?  I don't want to give you an overwhelming amount, so I'm going to tell you about the gnocchi since we made it last night and it is still fresh in my mind.  However, I will post the pizza recipe soon because it was superb.  

Yesterday afternoon I was in the Chestnut Hill area so I ran over and picked up my good friend Joseph who goes to Boston College (and also just ran the Boston Marathon on Monday which is so impressive and cool) and we headed to the grocery store.  We already had the recipe picked out so we strolled the isles of Shaw's grabbing things here and there, as well as grabbing a few items for our upcoming camping trip this weekend in the beautiful Acadia National Park.  After the ingredients were purchased we came home to the North End and stopped at Monica's to grab some cheese.
My favorite place in the North End.

Joseph and I being the inexperienced gnocchi makers that we are, decided to ask the guys at Monica's for a few tips.  And being the culinary geniuses that they are, they gave us step by step directions to the perfect gnocchi.  So here it goes.

  • 1 lb sweet potatoes
  • 6 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 3/4 (approximately) all purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup half & half
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 sage leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 cup Gouda cheese shredded

To start: Poke holes in the sweet potatoes and microwave 5-6 minutes per side or until tender.  Then scrape flesh into a bowl and mash.  Sorry there is no picture of the hole poking.  We failed.

 Grate all cheeses and set aside.
Once sweet potato is mashed, add egg and mix with fork.  Adding an egg was a tip from the guys at Monica's.  They are the best!
When the egg is well mixed into the sweet potato, add the ricotta, parmesan, brown sugar, salt and nutmeg.  Mash.  This is where the other tip comes in.  Once everything is well mixed, push it all to one side of the bowl.  Start with the same amount of flour that there is sweet potato.  Continue adding flour until you have a nice dough that isn't too sticky but also isn't dry. 
Those marathon running legs couldn't bare standing to mix.
Divide the dough into three equal pieces.  Flour surface and roll out into 20 inch long ropes.

 Cut the dough into pieces.

 Drop those bad boys into a boiling pot of water.  When they float to the top you know you've done it correctly!  And they are ready to come out.

Okay.  Now for the sauce.  The recipe that we sort of based this meal on, had quite a complicated way of making the sauce.  So we simplified a bit.  And also didn't take very many pictures of the sauce getting made.  Oops.
 Gouda, onions, flour, butter, sage, garlic, milk.
Saute the onion with the garlic and a little bit of butter until tender.  Then in a small sauce pot combine the milk, onion, garlic, and sage.  Heat for 5-10 minutes but do not boil.  While this is heating up, melt the remaining butter in a separate sauce pan.  When melted, add in flour.  Before combining these two things, skim out the onion and sage.  Whisk the milk mixture into the flour/butter mixture.  Let thicken (5-10 minutes).  Add cheese.  Salt and pepper to taste.
 All done!

 Now...pour decadent cheese sauce over gnocchi.  Then...Eat.  Mmmm.

Sweet potato gnocchi with a gouda cheese sauce and Joseph's nearly famous salad.

And there it is.  Yummy food with great friends.  It was such a fun evening in the kitchen with Joseph.  Hopefully we will be back at it again soon!  And by the way....Don't forget to check out his blog that is full of food and other adventures.  What's Next Please?  

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Lemony Fresh.

Don't worry.  You are not hallucinating.  This is real.  I am actually posting.  Unbelievable, I know.

I was on such a roll a couple of weekends ago when I had two posts in two days!  I really thought I could keep it up, but obviously it didn't go so well.  I had a group project for my Management class that absolutely took over my life.  Luckily however, it is over and it actually went very very well.  So, thank goodness.  And thank you for the patience.  Only three more weeks of class and I will be free.  And only five more weeks until the trip to Ireland.  Mmmm.  It's so close.
Thanks for the beautiful picture Nat Geo.
Okay before I go any further, I have to tell you what is happening in the other room right now.  My ears are being enchanted by beautiful music that is being made in my living room.  Kaston, Nick (My Politic), Steph Barrak, and Eva Walsh are standing around singing and playing wonderful instruments.  Fiddle, banjo, guitar, harmony.  Yes, please.  I wish you could hear it.  It's so lovely.  I'm completely jealous of their talent, but also so incredibly thankful that I get to sit around and listen to it.  Why I didn't run in and make a video to document this is beyond me.  And yes I gave you links to their myspace pages so go listen to them right now!  Do it!

Okay back to food.  Since I have been completely neglecting this blog, I have recipes and pictures that have been piling up.  There are so many!  So, what do I choose?  Well actually, it's easy.  I always abide by the classic rule: Dessert first.  So how about creamy lemon crumb bars?  Yes? Okay, good.  I actually decided to make these today as a little treat for the musical guests.  I have to pay my keep in some way so that I can sit around and enjoy their tunes.

I'm going to jump right in and give you the recipe, with probably far too many pictures.  Oh well right?

Lemony fresh.
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup oats
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cups lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon

1. Cut lemons
2. Squeeze the daylights out of them.
2 dead lemons = 1/2 cup lemon juice.

3. Mix sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, lemon zest until creamy.  Set aside.
I decided to throw in a bit of fresh thyme.  Lemon + Thyme = Yum.
4. Combine oats, brown sugar, and softened butter.  Mix.  Then add flour, baking powder, and salt.  Mix.
5. Press half of oat/flour mixture into bottom of pan.  Then pour lemon mixture over the top and spread evenly.
6. Add the rest of the oat/flour mixture to the top.
7. Preheat oven to 350, bake 20-25 minutes.  Then refrigerate for 30 minutes.
8. Eat!
9. Eat more!
 Look at that.  Less than 10 steps and 2 of them include eating the sweet treats!  That's my kind of recipe.

Listen, I can't make any promises.  However, I will try my very best to be better about posting.  So don't be upset when I leave you for a while, I will always be back with something yummy for your tummy.  (Too cheesy?)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Oregano, Rosemary & Thyme

After Mother Nature's fun little April Fools joke that consisted of rain and snow yesterday, Boston is finally experiencing a little bit of spring weather!  Everyone has come out of hibernation and are out and about on the streets or laying in the parks soaking up the sunshine.

Since it's finally a true day of spring, I figured today is the perfect time to tell you about my new "gardening" endeavor.  I've been wanting to grow my own herbs for some time now, but it took the help of some of my favorite people being in town to make it happen.  This past week we were fortunate enough to have a house full of wonderful visitors!  My mom, Kaston's mom Annette, and my ex-suite mate from Mizzou Kaitlin were here.  It was such a blast having all six of us packed into our tiny apartment.  And no, I'm not being sarcastic.  We got to show them around the city and of course take them to all of our favorite places to eat.
Nick, Mom, Kaitlin, Me, Kaston, Annette
Between the three of them I had the perfect combination of people to get this herb growing started.  Both my mom and Annette are goddesses of gardening so they knew exactly what I needed to get and all the tips on how to plant them and keep them healthy.  Kaitlin of course is the crafting goddess.  Basically our entire year together at Mizzou consisted of crafting beautiful things.  Oh, how I miss it.  Naturally, with her being here for a week we had to craft something.  And what better craft than to paint my new flower pots.  And the rest is history.  I now have three beautiful pots filled with oregano, rosemary, and thyme.  I was really hoping to get parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme to coincide with the blog but these three were my only options.
Doesn't she just look like a crafting queen?
The precious pots.
Pretty, pretty.
It was really hard to contain myself and not put 20 pictures on here.  The pots are my new favorite thing in our apartment.

So I'm sure you're wondering when I'm going to bring food into this.  Well, the time is now.  Like I mentioned in my last blog, I have been rummaging through other food blogs lately.  My new favorite is The Pioneer Woman.  She has such an impressive and intricate blog filled with all kinds of goodies.  You should check her out.  The Pioneer Woman  While I was looking through her blog I was keeping my eye out for a recipe that I could incorporate my freshly grown herbs into.  And I found just that.  It was a bread that caught my eye.  And it called for fresh herbs, just what I was looking for.

4 cups bread flour (or all purpose)
1 cup water
4 oz. melted butter with your choice of chopped herbs.  I used rosemary and a little bit of thyme.
2 tsp salt
1 tsp yeast

To start, I added the tsp of yeast to the water and let it dissolve for a couple of minutes.  I then combined all of the ingredients in my mixer using the dough hook.  It can be done by hand but when I have a $500 mixer that I bought for $12 I will be using it at any chance I get :)

Freshly picked herbs.
Melt the butter and then add the herbs.  Let it cool and then add to the flour mixture.
I let the mixer go for about 10 minutes until the dough had formed a ball and had an elastic texture.  One of the suggestions on the Pioneer Woman's recipe was to mix until you could make a windowpane in the dough, which is where you stretch the dough until it's nearly translucent.  If you can do this without it tearing it's ready.  Great tip.  Thank you Pioneer Woman.

After it was ready, I covered the mixing bowl with a damp cloth and let it rise for an hour or two.  When it has doubled in size, knead by hand for a minute or so.  Then it is ready to bake.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  The Pioneer Woman baked her bread in a cast iron pan with a top however, I didn't have one that would fit in our tiny little oven.  So I baked in an oven safe glass bowl with a lid.  Whatever works right?  Before putting it in the oven, coat the sides of the dish with olive oil, cut a large x in the top of the bread, and sprinkle with salt.  Bake for 30 minutes with the lid, and then remove and bake for another 15-30 minutes as needed.
Serve warm with melted butter.

I will note that I didn't have bread flour on hand, so I used all purpose, therefore ending up with a more dense bread.  So, if you would like a light and fluffy bread use bread flour, and if you want a dense thick bread use all purpose.  Also, it's wonderful the next day.  I just warmed up a piece and it was just as delicious as yesterday!

If anyone gets around to making this I would love to hear how it turns out!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Just a bit of Southern Comfort: Part 2

Food is on my mind.  I've been flipping through my recipe book, flipping through cookbooks and looking at food blogs like crazy today.  I have discovered and bookmarked some great recipes but decided I should probably continue on with the trip down the East Coast before I just leave it blowing in the wind.

So here we go.  After our night in Charleston, we headed to Folly Beach.  Like usual, food was part of the reason we headed to this spot.  Before I travel anywhere, I obviously do research and figure out what kind of delicious food the place has to offer (this should be a compulsive habit everyone partakes in)  Awhile back my precious mother had sent me a magazine article about seafood in South Carolina.  For some reason the best fish tacos section caught my eye, on which Taco Boy took the top spot.  So I did a bit more research and found out that Adam Richman, from Man vs. Food, had designated this place as his favorite place for fish tacos.  So obviously we had to try it out.
Taco Boy.
When we arrived in Folly Beach we found that the charming little beach town was rampant with St. Patty's Day festivities.  While we had no intention of participating in the festivities it was incredibly entertaining to watch, especially at 11am.  What time did these people get up?  Anyways, the restaurant had the perfect "beachy mexican" feel, with the wild colors on the wall and the eccentric decorations.  We were fortunately lead to the only open table left, which was outside on the patio so we could enjoy the warm air while watching everyone else enjoy their St. Patty's Day beverages.   I ordered two different types of tacos.  The first was the tempura shrimp taco, which was made up of crispy shrimp, white cabbage, cilantro and nuevo remoulade sauce all wrapped up in a homemade corn tortilla.  The next was the grilled fish taco which was chipotle marinated mahi mahi, cilantro, dijon sauce, field greens and salsa cruda.  Both tacos were absolutely delicious.  The tempura shrimp had the best textures with the crispy shrimp combined with the remoulade sauce.  But for some reason the fish taco easily went down as my favorite, and I can't point out my favorite part of it because it was ALL delicious.  And...I would like another right about now.
Tempura Shrimp Taco
Grilled Fish Taco
After we filled our bellies we jumped back in the car and headed to the beautiful mountains of North Carolina.

As much as I would love to tell you about all of the fun things that happened along the way, I'm going to jump to our next meal, which was at a quaint, yet hip little barbecue joint called Luella's.  By the time we got to Luella's we were starving and were prepared to try out what was claimed as the best barbecue in western North Carolina.  When we finally got a seat (it was absolutely packed) we went ahead and ordered sweet potato chips to ease the hunger pains.  They were served with a creamy ranch and topped with cinnamon sugar.  I love sweet potato chips to begin with, but top it with a little bit of sweet and a side of yummy sauce to dip it in?  Yes, please.  After the chips, I ordered the only type of barbecue dish that should ever be ordered in North Carolina.  Pulled pork.  The pulled pork was so tender and had a great smoky taste.  It was served with fried okra and mac and cheese.  Both of which were delicious.  The okra had the perfect amount of batter and salt, and the mac and cheese was so incredibly cheesy and creamy.  What's missing here?  Ah, the sauce of course!   Each table was decorated with a bucket of barbecue sauces.  My favorite was the sweet pisgah sauce, and scooters vinegar sauce.  Western North Carolina is famous for it's vinegar based barbecue sauce.  And there is definitely a good reason for it.
So, so sweet.
Pulled pork, hush puppies, fried okra, mac & cheese.  Yes please.
 Luella's was my favorite stop of the trip, even though we had some other really great food.  The food, service, and atmosphere were top notch.  Next time I'm in Asheville, North Carolina I will definitely be going back to visit.

Okay, there is one last thing I have to mention.  This past summer Kaston's family turned me on to a classic southern dish.  They fed me boiled peanuts.  Dangerous.  I'm not sure I could ever live in the South due to the fact that I might die from an overdose of boiled peanuts.  Luckily, Kaston and I were only in boiled peanut territory for a few days.  We did however, make a pact not to leave the South until we had gotten boiled peanuts.  So as we were driving along the highway just north of Asheville we spotted a road side stand.  Our reaction could have been in a movie.  We slammed on the breaks, made a hard left turn and pulled over.
Ah, how I miss this place.

You're jealous aren't you?
The man running this roadside stand was possibly the cutest old man I had ever seen.  We told him we would take some boiled peanuts, so he got out his huge mason jar filled it up with the peanuts and dumped them into a bag, $4 for a pound of boiled peanuts, talk about a steal.  He asked where we were from, we told him originally Missouri but we were living in Boston now, and then he proceeded to have a 5 minute conversation with us using his best Bahstan accent.  I could have stayed there all day just to hear him talk.

Other than the wonderful food, this trip proved to be just what I needed to relax and get my mind off of school for a bit.  The East Coast is a beautiful place, I'm so happy to be living here and have the opportunity to drive around and see it whenever I please.
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