March 28, 2011

Figgy Pudding

Last Sunday, eight days ago, I made a savory bread pudding according to the method described on Shallots Web.

bread pudding

I haven't made a second, which, if you can't tell from the photo, has required remarkable restraint on my part.

Spoiler alert: this savory dish contains no figs. I've named this post after a dear friend and the author of Shallots Web, Mr. John Newton, whose last name invites a certain fruity nickname that has been expanded over the years to include such names as Fignatious, Mr. Figglesworth, and my own twee contribution, Figgy Pudding. We met in grad school, so my love for him hinges not at all on the fact that he's an excellent cook and bartender.

Seriously, I know the coolest people. If you'll forgive a cliche, try this pudding - the proof, it is there. (And if you won't forgive a cliche, it's your loss if you discount the pudding.)

At the time of baking, I didn't have a ton of leftover veggies or anything, but attempted the dish anyway, with some not-so-healthy additions, because it looked and sounded so frakkin' delicious. For the bread, I used half a day-old French baguette, which I tossed in a mixture of
  • 2 eggs
  • maybe 2-3 tablespoons of milk
  • half an onion, diced and caramelized the day before
  • maybe 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 slices of bacon, microwaved and diced
    Then I shredded a small chunk of gouda over the whole thing and baked it for 35 minutes. In a gratin dish, because I like to be fancy. Prep time amounted to, I don't know. Like, a second. This is really easy.

    The results were a lot drier than your typical dessert bread pudding, largely because I feared too moist a mixture would take too long to bake - we were anxious to get to Southie and scout out a good spot for the St. Patrick's Day Parade. And, of course, being savory, there was no sugary, buttery sauce poured over it all. Still, I really loved eating this. The bread cubes were softened on the inside but golden brown and chewy outside, and the cheese and bacon clinging to each bite certainly didn't hurt anything.

    I'm already fantasizing about changing this up a bit for different occasions. It would be a wonderful way to use up leftovers of my famous ham. And speaking of ham, I think bits of prosciutto, chopped apple, and dried cranberries would be a delicious stuffing alternative alongside poultry. As far as cheese replacements, I have some crumbled bleu I'm going to have to use up soon, and I think I've just decided its fate.

    If you try this, let me (and Fig!) know. And tell your friends - we can all work together to make Savory Bread Pudding the new cool brunch/side dish.

    March 25, 2011

    Tutorial: Saratoga Chic

    For the latest round of the [3x6] Sampler Quilt Mini-bee, I really felt like making some sort of nine patch variation. I was noticing a lot of pinwheel and star type blocks, and I wanted to deviate from that, while keeping the look neat and traditional.

    I've always admired the tidy look of the Burgoyne Surrounded block, but I'd never tried one, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it seems to use a ton of white, which isn't ideal for stash-busting, and I like sending off colorful bee blocks. For another, I've never seen instructions for a Burgoyne Surrounded block that was less than 15 inches square - not ideal for a bee, or even just your average sampler quilt made up of 12-inch blocks.

    Still, it caught my eye again when I was flipping through my invaluable block-a-day calendar, and I got the idea to reduce it down to a nine patch-centric design, replacing the largest white pieces with a vibrant print.

    Here's the block I made for Mona:

    I think the orange dotty sections add a lot of life, letting the center unit and the white bits really pop. Since "Burgoyne Surrounded" is named for what happened at the Battle of Saratoga, I think I'll call this variation "Saratoga Chic."

    To make a Saratoga Chic block in three fabrics, start by cutting a 1.5-inch strip from a 45-inch wide cut of white fabric. Trim selvedges, then cut:

    1 strip, 12 inches long
    2 strips, 6 inches long
    4 strips, 3 inches long

    From your central focus fabric (I'm obviously using red) cut another 1.5-inch strip the entire width of the fabric, then cut that down to:

    2 strips, 12 inches long
    1 strip, 6 inches long
    1 square, 1.5 inches

    You'll also need to cut 4 3-inch squares from the same fabric.

    Finally, for the aforementioned side bits, cut four rectangles from a fun print.

    These should measure 3.5 inches x 6.5 inches.

    To construct the center unit of the block, join 2 of the 3-inch squares with a 1.5" x 3" rectangle. Repeat. Join the remaining 1.5" x 3" rectangles to either side of the tiny 1.5" square.

    Look! It's the beginning of a nine patch variation! Press seams and sew these strips together to make your center unit.

    For the bitty nine patches, take your longer strips and sew them in sets of three, with colors alternating, like so:

    (You can see that I cut some of my strips a little long, because I like a bit of wiggle room.)

    Now, slice each strip set into 1.5-inch long segments.

    The short (6") set will yield 4 nine patch "middles." The long (12") set will yield 8 "sides."

    You know what to do next:

    Few things are as life affirming as a teeny, tiny, nine patch. Make one for each corner, then grab all your pieces, sewn and not, for the final layout.

    See where we're going with this? The most crucial thing at this point is to trim, trim, trim. I use scant 1/4" seams when piecing, so my nine patches tend to be a little large. They won't fit perfectly with the striped rectangles unless the corner patches are 3.5", and the center unit is a perfect 6.5" square.

    Now, join everything together, and admire!

    A couple of notes:
    • I started with 45-inch wide fabric each time, because that's what was most efficient for me, but this can certainly be made from shorter cuts. The 12" strip set, for example, could be two identical 6" strip sets. Nine patches can also be pieced from individual 1.5" squares, if you're so inclined.
    • I know I keep talking up using a cute print for the background, but I'm also quite fond of the block I made for Sudi-Laura, using a pale grey solid. Notice the nine patches and the center unit are made from different red prints - you can really get as scrappy as you want with this.
    • One of my favorite things about making this block was that it felt like a really efficient use of fabric. With no triangles or wonkiness, I wasn't tossing out any excess, and that felt like a real plus for me. I can see making a scrap quilt from this pattern, with the white pieces (shown in the first cutting photo) as the unifying element. Since one 1.5" wide strip of fabric = one 12" block, a yard of fabric would yield 24 blocks, which is a large throw, or a good start on a twin quilt.

    March 24, 2011

    {urban} home goods swap

    How awesome is the Urban Home Goods swap?

    I don't just love it because I ended up loving my swag this round - though Kristy of Love Old Houses certainly did an incredible job of it. She sent me this adorable drawstring bag I've hung in the bedroom:

    {urban} home goods drawstring bag

    And to match, a wonderfully practical fabric basket:

    {urban} home goods basket

    Don't be jealous, though - you can make your own basket with her nifty tutorial.
    I think these would make incredible gifts!

    No, what is really invaluable about UHGs is the INSPIRATION. Yes, it's nerdy to type it all in caps like that, but in all my years as a flickr member, I don't think I've ever been part of a group that delivered a constant stream of mind-blowing crafty goodness. Here are just a few of my favorite projects from this round:

    Some UHG swap faves
    1. uhg swap finished, 2. UHG Package from *amisha*, 3. UHG, Sewing Machine cover, front, 4. Hoot Dresden by Poppyprint, 5. Urban Grocery Tote, 6. { Urban } HOME Goods , 7. UHG - clock, 8. Zipped hexie clutch, 9. Close up of Spool on Pillow

    March 22, 2011

    Quilts for Japan

    When you're a quilty businesswoman, there's an upside to having unsold merchandise: there's always someone, somewhere, who needs a quilt.

    Quilters Newsletter Magazine, one of my favorite sources of inspiration for years, has received a request from Patchwork Tsushin for quilts for the people of Japan impacted by the recent tsunami.

    Send quilts of any size from baby to adult to:

    Dana Jones
    Quilters Newsletter
    741 Corporate Circle, Suite A
    Golden, CO 80401

    •    Mark your box: “Quilts for Japan.”
    •    Send quilts as soon as possible and no later than April 30, 2011.
    •    Enclose your name, address, phone number, and email address with the quilts.

    If you have questions, please email Dana Jones.

    March 21, 2011

    Quilt Monday: Hex Flower Progress

    Quilt: Hex Flowers
    Progress: 40/100 blocks (40%)

    I'll just come out and say it: Quilt Monday posts can be a real struggle for those of us who don't churn out several - or more - quilts a month. It's not that I wouldn't love to be so productive. It's just that I'm not.

    I do seem to excel in amassing long term projects, and in keeping them going for as long as humanly possible. A virtue? Probably not, but it is what it is, and chugging along at a slow pace is better than chugging along at no pace at all.

    Which is why, when faced with hour after hour of unseasonable snow fall, I decided to spend the bulk of today working on, like, three hex flowers. Because hex flowers take forever. They wouldn't be worth it, except, in the end, they look like this:

    Which I love.

    I've been making hex flowers and appliqueing them to white squares for about a year and a half now, on and off. I'm happy to say I still find the process quite satisfying, but, in trying to run a business, I don't have as much time as I'd like to devote it. Still, in an effort to finish a bed-sized quilt this decade, I've decided to start tracking my progress here on the blog. The little dotted box at the top of the post is my attempt at keeping the info straight.

    If nothing else, it will save me from having count up my finished blocks every time I add a few to the pile. Which means more much needed time for hexin'.

    March 18, 2011

    Soup is all you need.

    The Beatles, who knew a thing or two about a thing or two, said that all you need is love. Well, I love soup more than most food, so I stand by the title of this post.

    I invented this soup about six weeks ago. Or maybe I didn't - it's not as if it takes a special kind of genius to puree some tubers and broth. Either way, it's served us well for lunches and quick dinners.

    With all the emphasis on squash, I guess it's more of a winter soup, but it's so tasty I might have to freeze one more batch before the official start of spring. Because life is unpredictable. Soup helps.

    March 16, 2011

    Boston's Best Cocktails: 1-5

    In January, Boston Magazine released a list of the Top 30 Cocktails in Boston. Though for us, newish Bostonians and avid tipplers, it's less a list than a challenge. Surely, we could try them all before the same magazine released the 2012 list?

    So far, our progress has been good. Here's our take on the first 5:

    We started at Stoddard's, for no other reason than it's close to the movies, and we wanted to see The Fighter before the Oscars. The recommended drink was the Moscow Mule: vodka, lime juice, ginger beer and mint, a combination that yields more than the sum of its parts when served over tons of crushed ice in a copper mug.

    The mug alone is gorgeous, as are the bar, the restrooms, the decor (vintage corsets!) and the food. We had meant to have one drink. We stayed for three and dinner. After a second visit and a broader sampling of the cocktail menu, which features drink recipes from as far back as the 1850s, this is possibly my favorite bar in the whole city. An auspicious start to our endeavor. But was it the best Moscow Mule I've ever tasted? Sadly, it was my first, and I've nothing to compare it to. I shall surely endeavor to correct this error - provided I can be coaxed away from Stoddard's, that is.

    Our next stop was a no-brainer. Not only do I love a classic champagne cocktail, but the featured establishment, City Bar at the Lenox Hotel, is probably the closest bar to our apartment. When a gorgeous drink can provide a quick respite from freezing rain along the way from our empty fridge and Shaw's, we go for it. And having been to City Bar a bunch of times, we'd never ordered a champagne cocktail there before. And it was good - not great, but good. I'm not sure what brand of bubbly is used at City Bar, but I'm pretty sure it was the x-factor here. I'm happy to drink cheap champers, but I do like it to be dry, and this drink was on the sweet side. Sugar fans are sure to love the kane-stalk garnish, however. Fortunately, the rest of the cocktail menu has never disappointed, and we're quite fond of both apps and sandwiches here, so if you skip this drink, don't skip the bar.

    I was pretty excited to try the Bloody Mary at Masa when I read that it contained 22 ingredients. Unfortunately, it turns out that 22 might be a few items too many. It was salty and sour - this from a woman who includes a liberal amount of pickle juice in her homemade version - and I missed the tomato-y purity that makes this such a refreshing drink.

    But that's not all - rude service and a lackluster meal hurt the overall experience. Hambone ordered some sort of mimosa, and we found it to be equally unexciting. It was our first, and, hopefully last, true disappointment of our cocktail crusade. Luckily, I enjoy making these at home, and California friends can try my favorite spicy Bloody at Max's Opera Cafe.

    With a college friend staying downtown one weekend, we thought we'd have ample opportunity to hit a number of financial district bars, but we had a bit of ill luck and ended up at Stoddard's for much of the evening. (Where our luck changed, natch.) But before striking out at Mr. Dooley's (over capacity!) and Locke-Ober (closed temporarily for renovations), we were able to find some very chic seats at Woodward, located inside the Ames Hotel, just a stone's throw from the Old State House. Ordering a Daiquiri - the old school kind, sans strawberries - at Woodward is tough, considering that it has one of the craziest cocktail menus in town. (Campfire Hollows, anyone?) But I went for it, and it was quite a pleasant experience. A mix of just three ingredients - white rum, lime juice, and simple syrup - means a nice clean taste, and if I were a rum person, I'm sure it would have knocked my socks off. And, let's be shallow for a moment: the daiquiri is served straight up in a martini glass, so it's a good choice for those nights when you want to be seen holding a martini glass, but don't feel up to gin or vodka. Cocktails at Woodward arrived with a dish of house-made pickles, many of which were fruit, all of which were delicious, and our server was very sweet. So if you want to get all Far From Heaven somewhere in Boston, stop by the Ames Hotel.

    Having been somewhat haunted by Mr. Dooley's after being turned away at the door, we returned the following Saturday for lunch. I feel no shame about drinking during a weekend lunch, but for those of you wearing judgey pants, 1. we wanted to be sure to get a table, since the place is clearly uber-popular.  2. !e wanted to warm up after standing in front of the State House for 90 minutes. 3. Irish coffee is one of the great day drinks of all time. I first had an Irish coffee at the Buena Vista in San Francisco, quite by accident. Which is hilarious, because I would later learn that this is the definitive American Irish coffee. It may be the definitive Irish coffee worldwide. Who knows? So I had high hopes for Boston, as it's way more Irish than anyplace in CA, and, after watching the bartender at Stoddard's (yes, I'm obsessed) go to great lengths to fix us a round, we speculated there must be some sort of code: No bartender in Boston is allowed to refuse to make you an Irish coffee. Lunch turned out to be a great idea. There were plenty of tables, and it gave us the opportunity to (duh) have lunch, and Mr. Dooley's serves wonderful Irish food as well as the Ted Kennedy burger. Which I, of course, ordered.

    Boston Magazine postulates that it's the atmosphere at Mr. Dooley's that really makes the drink, and I will concede that it is authentically pubby and wonderful. The Irish coffee was good, too, and hit the spot on a cold day. Was it Buena Vista, though? No, and I'll tell you why - proportion. Buena Vista serves theirs in a signature glass, kind of a baby goblet, and the ratio of whiskey to coffee to whipped cream to single cube of sugar is what makes it the platonic idea of Irish coffee. With sweetened whipped cream standing in for the sugar cube, Mr. Dooley's hasn't quite achieved the sublime, but does a pretty good job.