Irish Soda Bread

March 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

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February was a time for big projects at work, and also a time of snowstorms and snow days, and a week-long complete office flood. With February good and over, my projects off at the print house, our city all-time snowfall record beaten, the rain coming down, and (sometimes, sometimes) the sun coming out, I have a bit of a lull this week.

I’ve had some time to see people I haven’t seen for awhile. I brought this soda bread to a Sunday brunch gathering this past weekend in Beacon Hill. I placed it out on the table, alongside some whipped maple butter (salted, of course), and fell in love with the light coming in from the bay window. It was such a welcome change from photographing in my apartment, which often involves sweeping the coffee table for stacks of abandoned mail, opening the blinds, and cursing the layer of dust on the window panes preventing the light from shining through.

I’ve been mulling over a lot of life changes recently, and too often this seems to end in a feeling of frustrated dissatisfaction with the present. Sometimes, it doesn’t take much more than a moment admiring a friend’s window curtains to propel me into a state of “Why can’t I have that?” and “Why can’t my life look more like this?”

I keep trying to remember that the prospect of big decisions, and the anxiety that comes with making those choices, is a result of already having a whole lot that is good in my life. Hopefully, that thought will sink in soon. In the meantime, there’s soda bread, and that’s not bad either.

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You can find the recipe here. My skillet soda bread didn’t poof up much in the center, and I wasn’t a big fan of it the next day, but hot from the oven with a pat of butter, it was delicious.

Vanilla Bean Pudding

February 15, 2015 § Leave a comment

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I woke up from a Valentine’s Day induced slumber—read cheese fondue, crusty bread, roasted potatoes, lots of wine, and finished with chocolate pot de crème with fresh whipped cream—to another blizzard. It’s our second blizzard of the season, tempered only by a couple of winter storms, making for the snowiest month Boston has experienced, ever. We’re making history.

In the midst of all of the snow days (I count six in the span of three weeks) and time spent scurrying from building to building lest I spend more than ten minutes outside, I’ve make a lot of food. Not the most practical of foods though, for you know, the end of the world in one white, snowy combustion.

No, I’m making things like this vanilla bean pudding. Things that I can eat for breakfast while I sit in bed under the covers and watch the snow fall out my window.

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Vanilla Bean Pudding
Adapted from the Smitten Kitchen
I made a couple of changes to the recipe, namely increasing the vanilla flavor, scaling down the salt, and using cream instead of milk. Oh, and ensuring a great silky finish by adding the tablespoon of butter as the final flourish.

2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cups milk (I used skim milk)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean
1 large egg
1 tablespoon butter

Split the vanilla bean down the middle lengthwise and scrape the seeds into a medium bowl. Add the sugar, cornstarch, and salt and stir to combine. Gradually pour in the milk, whisking so that lumps don’t form. Then, whisk in the egg.

In a medium saucepan, bring the cream to a boil with the de-seeded vanilla bean for extra flavor. Gradually pour the boiling cream into the bowl with the egg mixture, again whisking continuously so that lumps don’t form. Once it has a smooth consistency, pour the mixture back into the saucepan and heat, whisking constantly, until it begins to thicken and leaves a thin coat on your whisk. Remove the whole vanilla bean.

Transfer your pudding to a clean bowl, and whisk in the tablespoon of butter until it is completely melted. Cover in plastic wrap and chill for 2+ hours. The chill time will help your pudding set up so that it keeps it’s shape (mostly) when you take a spoon to it.

And if you’re me, this makes a great breakfast in bed, kind of like a bowl of yogurt you know? If you’re uh, not me, feel free to eat it for dessert.

#Cookiepocalypse

January 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

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Are you bunkering down for the #Snowpocalypse like I am? The world outside my windows is white, but so far it seems we have overreacted. The only signs that the world is ending were the lines stretching down the aisles at the supermarket yesterday, customers yelling when it looked like you might not take your place at the end of the line, and the shelves barren of bread, vegetables (I’m not sure about you, but I might not stock my house with kale if the world were really ending…), and milk.

But as it is, I don’t have to go in to work again until Wednesday afternoon Thursday, so what better to do than make a bunch of cookies! I love a good crackle on top of a chewy ginger molasses cookie and turbinado sugar does just the trick. I also love the chewy strands of coconut and flakes of oatmeal in these “Chunky Lola” cookies from the Flour cookbook, juxtaposed by blobs of melted bittersweet chocolate. Can you tell, when it comes to cookies, I am firmly in the chewy camp.

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I do hope these cookies will make up for the things I didn’t post…ahem the stickiest sticky pecan buns ever. But if you have something to say, drop a line in the comments section. Oh, and be sure to mention your favorite pizzeria in Rome. I’m so glad spring break trips extend to post-graduation life!

Oahu and Maui

January 1, 2015 § 5 Comments

Soufflé Days went on hiatus for six months, and all you got are some pictures of Hawaii.

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We’ve just returned from Oahu and Maui, where we ate lots of fresh poke, hiked to a 400 ft. waterfall, through bamboo forests, and beaches of all colors—red sand! black sand! white sand! salt and pepper sand!—floated over schools of colorful fish, and settled back with our tropical cocktails.

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Right now, in the crisp air of Boston winter—about five minutes outside this morning had me chilled to the bone—the colors of the islands are just a memory. From spicy and shoyu ahi poke over fluffy white rice at Ono Seafood, to crispy and light deep-fried red snapper topped with crunchy, briny papaya salad or drenched in spicy drunken sauce at a small Thai hut in Hana, we ate delightfully well. I never could pass up raw fish and avocado, and so we returned to Ahi Bowl & Pot twice to get our poke fix before leaving Honolulu. Later on, we settled into the back of a roadside farm stand for weekends-only wood-fired pizza night. Spicy tomato sauce, juicy, caramelized pineapple, pulled “pork” jackfruit, and fresh, melty cheese, washed down with a Maui Wine red, out of the red solo cups I had tucked in my purse. Don’t you travel with solo cups too?

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In addition to eating, we hiked the Pipiwai Trail, scaled the shoreline to get to the Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach, and sunk our toes into the Hamoa Bay Beach at sunrise. If you’ve never seen an empty Hawaiian beach, or felt the fluffy pools of sand beneath your feet at one of the top five beaches in the world, waking up at sunrise for Hamoa Beach is well worth it.

On Maui, we had a house to ourselves in an unkempt but beautiful, five-acre botanical garden. You could hear the rain pitter-patter or fall down in sheets on the thin roof while we lay in bed. We watched geckos scamper around the windowsill, and ate a whole pineapple for breakfast with large cups of coffee in the covered, outdoor sitting room. We wandered the garden, swatting at mosquitoes, in search of the avocado trees. And then, when it was all over, we piled back in our two-door car, up the winding Hana Highway, past the sugar cane fields, to our flight back to Honolulu.

And ended it all with half a dozen tropical cocktails, beachside. After all, who doesn’t love it when your drink—the “Tropical Itch”—comes with a wooden back scratcher? Seriously. I was surprised too.

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The Pacific Northwest

July 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

I could say many things about our trip to Seattle and Portland in early June. That it feels like ages ago, that I never wanted to leave, that every part of Portland I fell in love with over and over again, and that, like any vacation, we had to come back from it. In essence, we ate. And we drank. And that’s about it. One morning we stopped to look at some cute backyard gardens in the Greenlake neighborhood of Seattle, and another afternoon we walked along the Willamette river, but mostly we ate and drank. Here’s what we did.

Some of our favorites – (Portland) Biwa with its Japanese pickles, gyoza dumplings, Japanese style fried chicken with nose-cleansing mustard sauce, ramen, and my favorite, the special snap peas and radishes, so creamy and crunchy and just singing freshness. PokPok and it’s signature papaya salad, fried mussels in crispy, broken crepe, and catfish marinated in turmeric and sour rice with vermicelli, fresh herbs, and peanuts. Also the best papaya salad we’ve ever had. We also managed to track down my favorite Lao dish, Nam Khao, or crispy rice salad, at a neighborhood restaurant along 23rd Avenue – I was so excited!

Then there were spicy seafood noodles at the downtown food trucks and Jalapeno cheddar bagels and savory thyme croissants at Nuvrei. Endless beer tastings, Stumptown coffee (which we are told is too mainstream for Portlanders to be into anymore), and a stop by the newly-opened Coopers Hall with it’s open floors, wide light, and industrial exterior for an impromptu wine tasting. We followed that with a visit to Eastside Distilling and topped off the night on the cushioned swing bench on the patio at the Roadside Attraction. Portland having the most breweries per capita in the world, we sampled tons of beers at Rogue, Deschutes, Lompoc, and Harvester, which in addition to having gluten-free beer that’s actually good, also has some great sourdough cornbread with honey butter and beer-braised collard greens.

And then there was my first meal in Portland, which I ate alone at a sunny table on 23rd Avenue, a tuna “poke box” sushi pictured below from Bamboo Sushi, a branch of the first certified sustainable sushi restaurant in the world. I was still blurry-eyed from travel but eager to cram in as much eating as possible into my three days in Portland.

More of our favorites – (Seattle) If our eating in Portland had an Asian theme, Seattle was pretty Mediterranean. I died again for the assorted kebabs with Greek salad, tzatziki, and crushed, fried potatoes at Lola (who doesn’t like crispy fried potatoes?). But by far the best meal we ate in Seattle was at Mamnoon, where my lovely friend Taylor works. We plowed through about five baskets of fresh, warm pita (so good!) while feasting on muhammara, a thick spread of roasted red peppers, walnuts, cumin, and pomegranate molasses, bateresh, charred eggplant and minced lamb, kufteh chicken meatballs with cherries, pistachios and almonds and saffron rice, and habbar charred octopus with a smooth squid ink hummus.

Our waiter not only kept refilling our pita basket, but also recommended we reserve a table at the Knee High Stocking Company as our next stop. A real-life speakeasy with a locked door, doorbell, and a host that comes to answer the door when you ring, you have to text ahead to make a reservation to get in the door. Once seated, we settled into a little dark room and an extensive menu of cocktails. Dan ordered the Widow’s Kiss – Calvados Boulard, Green Chartreuse,  Benedictine, and bitters – a choice for which he received compliments from the waiter for ordering.

And then what trip wouldn’t be completed by a bourbon Moscow Mule and a stop in the photo-booth at Montana?

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Of Cakes and Flours

April 23, 2014 § 1 Comment

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Clockwise from left: a huge mug of homemade hot chocolate from last weekend; at the Prohibition Pig is Waterbury, Vermont; a young sheep rolled in hay at the barn down the street from my office (the perfect lunch break!); at a sugar-shack in Vermont.

I’m sitting on the couch in utter defeat because I have failed, again, at cooking rice. Predictably, as I was chopping broccoli and snap peas, my rice turned into a gelatinous glob of sticky starch. And here I am once again struggling through several meals of mushy rice. What a mess. And hardly surprising by now.

I’ve recently become obsessed with the abundance bowl from My New Roots. I’ve tried several riffs with spring vegetables, tofu, avocado, and variants on both her spring and winter sauces. Buttermilk, garlic, parmesan, green onions, maple syrup, and lemon juice? Yes please. That was my riff on spring abundance. Pumpkin seeds, lime juice, maple syrup, and mint? Bring on the winter riffing. Now if I could just get the rice right. Until then, this girl is going to stick with quinoa.

My experimentation with grains tends to come and go in phases. I’ll occasionally go on a bender of “weirdo” flours and try to sneak buckwheat and oat flour into everything, but my cupboards are generally stocked only with white, wheat, and spelt flours. Spelt has made it into my regular rotation and is a staple in my weekend waffles. Aside from that, I’m a real butter, white flour kind of baker.

So Passover presented an exciting challenge. I picked up a bag of brown rice flour and started using it for everything! I made chive pancakes from 101 Cookbooks, and made a second batch of the batter several days later, repurposing it for a sweet breakfast of lemon-sugared crepes. And then I made a cake. That’s right, I made a gluten-free cake, something I never thought would appear on this blog.

Dense with almond meal, and moist even days later, this cake is a real winner. I used all olive oil in place of the vegetable oil and melted butter, and rice flour in place of the all-purpose flour, and served it with slices of grilled pineapple. The cake isn’t kosher for Passover because of the leavening ingredients, but hey, you win some you lose some.

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Sushi and Sunday brunches

March 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’m laying in bed this Sunday morning recovering from an over-the-top brunch of goat cheese and pear stuffed french toast with whipped cream and a side of home fries at the Ball Square Cafe, and thought I would share my sushi-making night. I got together with a couple of girls from work last Thursday to make veggie sushi with an array of ingredients – carrots, cucumber, mango, cream cheese, shallots, avocado, apple, watermelon radish, shiitakes, and even some homegrown pea shoots that Allison brought in from her backyard. I loved the avocado with mango and bit of crunch from the shallots, but the cream cheese with apples was also a popular choice. Making sushi was actually surprisingly simple, led by our in-the-know sushi-maker Beth who grew up rolling sushi with her dad for parties. I can’t wait to buy my own rollers so I can make it at home. I brought over my fourth batch of blondies in about two weeks, this time packed with Canadian smarties because that’s what I had on hand. At the end of the night, after cups of tea and some puzzling (that would be, working on a puzzle of insects, fish, and platypuses on the coffee table), I came home with enough sushi for lunch the next day, a potted plant that Allison had just separated from her mother plant, and a baby succulent. My plants are now sitting next to my windowsill, soaking in the sun of our first spring-like weekend. Whenever I complain about winter here, Boston people always tell me that having brutal winters and “real seasons” makes them appreciate the nice times more. I’m still not sure that I buy the idea that you need almost five months of freezing temperatures, snow, ice, and slush to appreciate spring in the air, but I sure am liking the sun. I headed out for a 12-miler with the team yesterday along the Newton hills of the Boston Marathon course and, even though my left arch continues to cause me problems, was inspired by the camaraderie of all of the runners out training. I won’t be running Boston this year, but I’m more driven to run next year as a result, and, of course, show up at mile 20 to cheer on the team this year while drinking beer :) Now I’m equal parts giddy from all of the sugar from brunch and exhausted from eating so much, so I’ll leave you alone with this pecan sticky bun I had for breakfast the other day at Flour. photo (7)

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