Exploring Boston during a long, hot weekend

If your significant other is on the same coast of America, you should make all efforts to see each other.

That was my thought when Tom said he’d be in Boston in July working a conference, since Boston is only 490 miles away, rather than San Diego’s 2,700 miles. My research quickly turned to planes and trains, and what you may call “apartment b&b’s” through the growing site airbnb.com; I was determined to make the trip work, and ecstatic to be in the same time zone, not worrying about family get-togethers and holidays, as we so often do when we see each other. Instead, the weekend was just about the two of us (and a few friends), and exploring a new city.

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The only snag in our fun long weekend getaway was Mother Nature. Boston may usually be a temperate city, but when a heat wave strikes the East Coast, the city is not ignored. 100 degree days didn’t mar our trip, though the heat slowed us down and necessitated plenty of extra water, and maybe a few fewer historic stops. And the heat also could be blamed for us missing out on a tour and tasting at Sam Adams? Though, perhaps our negligence at planning ahead could be the culprit. (But really, why would the largest craft brewery close at 3 p.m. on a Saturday?! Still makes no sense to me.)

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A morning get-away to Culpeper

Sometimes, you just have to get away. Go on an adventure. Leave your everyday responsibilities behind.

Even if that adventure ends at 2 p.m., when the newsroom beckons.

This week, Robyn and I were both feeling the pressures from everything around us. It was time for an escape.

Culpeper is just a tad less than an hour away on Route 3, a straight shot with little traffic usually. I’d only been once, to sit in a courthouse for a few hours, but had always heard that the small town was full of great finds.

The day began and ended at Knakals Bakery, with donuts for breakfast and treats to take home. While the service isn’t great (the women behind the counter seemed particularly rude), the donuts were fresh and hit the spot, fitting in with our day of splurges. A dozen donuts disappeared off the calorie counter literally within seconds from Robyn setting them down. Hungry reporters and editors swarmed to the white box Wednesday afternoon; I hadn’t even made it into the building by the time they were gone. Guess we should have picked up two! But my favorite purchase from Knakals, in business since 1935, was the cinnamon raisin sticky rolls. Not cloyingly sweet, but incredibly tender, I could probably eat these for a midmorning snack everyday if allowed. Perhaps it was smart to split the six rolls with Robyn.

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TWD: Croissants

Two exciting things to share: I finally made croissants, and I’m the new food blogger for my newspaper!

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The flaky pastries took the entire weekend, but my relatives and my family devoured almost all of them. Let’s not think about the butter that was consumed. Despite my worries and the amount of time and work involved, the croissants turned out wonderfully.

You can find the whole story here on the Front Burner blog, but I wanted to share more photos here. Better late than never!

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Brown Butter Gnocchi with Spinach & Pine Nuts

I’m sorry this isn’t the prettiest picture ever. It certainly doesn’t tell the whole story of this dish. Robyn will attest to this, but I quickly scrapped together the last of what was in the skillet to at least try to show you what I made as we were finishing our Oscar-night dinner. 

But this Brown Butter Gnocchi with Spinach and Pine Nuts is a dish you need to try. If you didn’t have to boil water, it’d take less than 10 minutes. And the short ingredient list doesn’t foretell the delightful blend of indulgence (butter) with healthy (spinach). Wilted greens combine with little potato dumplings and accented by the crunchiness of pine nuts and saltiness of cheese.

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This Cooking Light recipe has been a family favorite for years. My mom tore the glossy page from a magazine early in 2009, and it’s been in the recipe binder ever since. If you were better at grocery shopping and planning ahead than I am — or had more than one mouth to feed — you could serve this with a simple green salad and maybe even some good bread, if you’re a carb lover. And definitely some wine.

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Chocolate cravings? Make brownies

It’s Friday afternoon. It’s time for chocolate. Preferably brownies.

A co-worker asked the other day if I had a good brownie recipe. Do I ever. My mom long ago adapted the recipe from one of her old red Betty Crocker cookbooks for a  9×13 pan full of fudgy browies, which is really how brownies should be. Not cakey. No icing, either. Just delicious brownies.

I don’t have any photos of the finished product. I don’t even really have a copy of the recipe. This scrap of paper is what I do have, after calling my mom too many times to ask for the recipe over the past few years. (Brownies and chocolate chip cookies were staples during college, and I’d lug my big plastic box full of ingredients and cooking supplies down to the dorm’s kitchen to satisfy my cravings, and tempt my dorm-mates with fresh baked goods.)  I’m sure the other times I’ve copied it down, the paper has ended up splattered with chocolate. But really, the recipe isn’t much harder than what I’ve written here.

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The Best Fudgy Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from Betty Crocker

  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped (4 squares Baker’s brand)
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a microwave-safe bowl or over a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter together. Be careful not to burn the chocolate in the microwave — it works best to cook for 1-2 minutes at medium-ish heat, then add additional increments of 20-30 seconds, stirring in between. Mix in the sugar and let cool slightly. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Add flour and salt.

Pour into prepared 9×13 pan. Sprinkle on mini M&M’s or chocolate chips if you want. Bake 20-30 minutes. Let cool slightly before cutting to allow brownies to set up. Enjoy!

Basil Tomato Tart

Did your basil and tomato plants produce well this summer? Mine definitely did not. Remembering to water is not one of my strengths, thus, dead tomato plants and dying basil. Oh, well. At least my parents had beautiful produce this summer. (I haven’t even told you about the pounds and pounds of zucchini they picked.) This tart graced our table a few weeks ago, packed with incredible summer flavor.

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This tomato basil tart may not be the healthiest meal, packed with cheese and mayo, but it has such a richness that you only need a small piece to be satisfied. Serve with healthier sides to round out your lunch or dinner.

Basil Tomato Tart (from Nancy Myers)

  • one refrigerated pie crust
  • 1 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella, divided
  • 5 – 6 fresh tomatoes, sliced (Roma works well)
  • 1 c. loosely packed basil
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 c. mayo
  • 1/c. grated parmesan
  • salt/pepper

Roll pastry to fit 9 inch tart pan. (do not prick) Line shell with 3 thicknesses of heavy duty foil. Bake 5 minutes at 450. Remove foil and bake 8 more minutes. Remove from oven. Reduce heat to 375. Sprinkle 1/2 c. mozzarella over hot crust. Arrange tomatoes over chees. Process basil and garlc until coarsly chopped. Sprinke over tomatoes. Combine mayo, parmesan, salt and pepper and remaining mozzerrella. Spoon over basil. Bake uncovered 20-25 minutes or cheese is browned and bubbly.

TWD: Berry Galette

Stay tuned for an article in my newspaper about galettes. I’m obsessed. The Julia crust is flaky and easy, and the filling combinations are endless.

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Our assigned recipe while at the beach was for the berry galette–my mom and I used a mix of strawberries and blueberries. YUM.
I’ve also made the galettes with tomatoes and cheese, and asparagus and ricotta. I’m hoping to make one with peaches, or squash and cheese. Galettes offer a simple way to create a photo-worthy dish. Find the berry galette recipes here.

We had a great week at Folly Beach, though baking in a beach cottage meant searching for aluminum pie plates because of a lack of cookie sheets, and  rolling dough on a wooden table since the counter was tiled. But now I can’t wait to go back to this beach next year!

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