Add a little spice

November 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

Since enrolling in several design classes this fall, my cooking has taken a haphazard turn. Meals thrown together when I get home from class at 11 p.m. or pieced together in the office kitchen that’s large enough to just turn around, twice—provided there’s no one else trying to cook too.

So the huge kitchen we moved into in September hasn’t gotten as much use as I had imagined. Still, there have been Sunday pizza afternoons, numerous apple crisps, a birthday cake (that I didn’t even make!), and tons of large-portioned, casserole pan dishes meant to last the entire week. I had a chance to make the Bon Appétit October cover cake a few weeks ago and it had such an intriguing flavor profile—pomegranate molasses, cardamon, orange zest, caramel soaked pears—that I wondered why I don’t make recipes from magazines more often.

This fall, I have been relishing time outside, going out of my way to crunch in the leaves and taking that few extra minutes to just breathe in real, fresh air. When you spend most days and nights staring at grids and adjusting alignments to a minuscule point, you need it.

But as exhausting as it’s been, the past two months have been incredibly rewarding. I get to play with patterns and fonts and get real feedback from fellow designers. I’ve met people who are just as particular about color palettes and lines as I am, and that sense of community in itself has made these classes worthwhile.

So no recipe today, but please do make Bon Appétit‘s spiced pear upside-down cake! It’s sweet, but not very sweet, unexpected, and you get the added satisfaction of nailing the cake flip. That is, if you do nail it.

Strawberry fever

June 22, 2015 § Leave a comment

I have strawberry fever over here, which means strawberry shortcake, strawberry lemonade, strawberry drinks, and strawberry breakfast bars, and can you tell I am drowning in strawberries? The strawberry fields on the farm have been overabundant this year, with both the early and late varieties coming in at the same time due to strange weather patterns. Every week, we head out to the fields to pick four quarts!

It’s blazing hot, and we escaped for the weekend to my grandparents’ house on the Cape. On the way out of the city, we stopped by the farm to pick four quarts of strawberries.  I made lemonade to match my painted toes, to sip on the patio after a run down to the beach. I whipped fresh cream and made sugar-crusted biscuits and piled zillions of strawberries on top for a quick summer dessert. This is the life.

It’s no secret that strawberry shortcake is one of my favorite foods. It’s so simple, and yet one of those things where the sum of all the parts (and there’s only three!) really makes something absolutely divine for a summer evening.

For this particular shortcake, I used Smitten Kitchen’s dreamy cream scone recipe (don’t forget the sugar on top!) but I’ve barely met a scone recipe I didn’t like—mind you, I can’t say the same for store-bought scones—so that’s really quite interchangeable. I’m also a fan of the coffeehouse scones from JoyofBaking and am more likely to have buttermilk than cream around the house. But then, you already splurged on the whipping cream anyway, right?

Roma, Italia

April 5, 2015 § 2 Comments

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Rome was packed—packed full of middle school groups touring the monuments and museums. Luckily, the restaurants weren’t, which made my style of vacationing (which this time involved a multi-layered map, conveniently separable into “gelato” “pizza” “coffee” “restaurant” and so forth) much easier to accomplish than seeing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We ate well, and often. I was a particular fan of eating squares of pizza with just a simple tomato sauce for breakfast—a great savory alternative to breakfast pastries. In fact, while this blog tends to document an unwavering relationship with sugar, I veered pretty strongly towards the savory in Rome.

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Some highlights: Pizza with prosciutto di San Daniele, and a bowl of fettucini with the most translucent, buttery and sweet, tomato sauce at Emma Pizzeria, a plate of melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi with strolghino and tomato from Roscioli, the dozens of different kinds of pizza, cut and weighed to order, at Pizzarium, caffe and caffee granita at Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè, gelato at Gelateria del Teatro (around the corner from our apartment) and Fatamorgana, a huge plate of rigatoni at Le Mani in Pasta, at Trapizzino, handheld triangles of pizza bianca stuffed with stewed eggplant and tomatoes, fresh burrata…you get the picture. There were also many plates (only two pictured here) of cacio et pepe, the Roman specialty of pasta with Pecorino Romano and pepper.

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Food aside, another great thing about Rome in March was the opportunity to go outside without a winter coat. Oh, the novelty!

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.

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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