Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. I'm still feeling sad about the Pirates losing to the Cubs last night.

2. This week we've been eating Coq au Vin, one of our favorite chilly weather meals. We make it a lot! Our other dinner: soup.

3. I still have restaurants from vacation to write about, but here's something we ate on vacation that was awful. I've named it The Worst Soup Ever. It's been on my mind because we've been eating a lot of soup lately.
The WORST Soup Ever (Vegetable Soup)
It was a chilly, windy, rainy, super soggy day and after we went to see the Changing of the Guard (honestly, not all that exciting) we went to Churchill War Rooms. CWR wasn't high on my original list of Things To See, but it is an indoor activity, it is near Buckingham Palace & St James Park, and after mentioning it to SP, who was very enthusiastic, my enthusiasm grew. Turns out, CWR is fascinating. So much information. It can also get crowded with people, people wanting to escape the downpour, and that can make it difficult to move through narrow passageways.

Anyway, we had reservations to see Buckingham Palace at 2:30 pm so we wanted to leave by 2 pm. Around 1:30 pm, we decided to grab lunch from the cafe at CWR. It is a small cafe and it was super crowded. They were out of a lot of the sandwiches, leaving vegetable soup as pretty much the only option. Soup sounded good since it was cold & rainy. Turns out the soup was awful. It was definitely not our idea of vegetable soup. No floating peas, carrot, celery, tomato, green bean. Everything was pureed together and it tasted like pureed squash. Ick. I don't really like squash and if it is prepared as squash puree it is even more disgusting. My mom and I barely touched our soup. SP ate his and declined to help eat mine which was unusual for him and soup. The bun/biscuit/scone thing served with it was bland, dry, and also disgusting. Mom and I ended up feasting on the pretzels and crackers we carried everywhere.

4. One tourist attraction cafe with decent food is Kensington Palace Cafe. We ate lunch there after touring the palace and before wandering through the gardens. It's attached to the gift shop and there is indoor seating as well as outdoor seating. We ate outside because it was a beautiful day.
 SP & I shared a Farmhouse Ham & Mature Cheddar sandwich on brown bread that was pretty tasty.
We also shared a slice of Victoria Sponge Cake. It was OK. Not as light & spongy as I expected, but I liked the plain, vanilla cake with raspberry jam and icing in between the layers.

5. The Victoria Sponge Cake might not have wowed us, but the most disappointing dessert on vacation goes to this strawberry & cream tart concoction from Caffe Concerto:
One evening, I think it was the horrible downpour day and worst soup ever day, SP had run out in the rain for some reason while I tried to dry off in the hotel. He came home with this dessert. I was stuffed and didn't try it because I had a yummy White Chocolate & Orange Cookie from Pret to enjoy. So he ate it.

He said the strawberries were good but the pastry cream was disappointing. The day that my mom spent on her own, she ate breakfast at Caffe Concerto. She said her omelette was just OK.

  Caffe Concerto Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Cauliflower Soup with Herbed Goat Cheese

My magazine pile was quite high after vacation. I started with the latest Food & Wine issue and discovered a recipe for Cauliflower Soup with Herbed Goat Cheese. I've been wanting to try a cauliflower soup for quite some time and this one had less milk/cream than most recipes, so we decided to try it.
Cauliflower, potato, white wine, chicken stock, onion, cream, and thyme. Looks kind of bland! But trust me, it's not. Ours had a mild but tasty flavor. We omitted the garlic and leek and substituted onion, so it might have had some more oomph if we had used the leek and garlic, but I liked it like this. We always omit garlic but the leeks, well, neither of us really likes leeks, plus we didn't feel like buying them and then taking the extra care to thoroughly wash them.

We used the immersion blender instead of transferring the soup to a blender/food processor to puree it. After pureeing, the soup gets "doctored up" and extra tasty, putting stuff on top, stuff like this:
Roasted Brussels sprouts leaves. Yes, picking the sprouts apart is a bit of a pain, but these roasted leaves are so crispy and delicious.
I ended up eating them on the side as a side dish instead of atop the soup because I felt like the soup destroyed the crispiness of the leaves.
Tiny bits of roasted cauliflower. I love roasted cauliflower. These bits added a nice bit of chunky texture to the smooth soup.
Herbed goat cheese - goat cheese with chopped chives and thyme mixed in. The tangy goat cheese melts into the soup. So good! Plus, extra herb flavor from the fresh chives and thyme.
We ate the soup with toasted Multigrain Loaf bread from Mediterra Bakehouse. It's really good. Smooth, silky pureed cauliflower & potato with roasted cauliflower bits, crispy & salty roasted Brussels leaves, and tangy, herby goat cheese. And a wee bit of cream stirred in.
We'll definitely make this again. It was easy and didn't take too much time plus it was a great warm and comforting dinner on the suddenly chilly early October evenings.

Recipe here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Cafe Rouge

On our second day of vacation, we went to Stonehenge & Salisbury. It was an early & busy morning - we left the hotel at 7:30 am to walk to Waterloo train station, then we took the 8:20 am train from Waterloo & arrived at 9:43 am in Salisbury. Next we took the 10 am Stonehenge Bus, the only bus that runs out to Stonehenge. It took three hours from when we left the hotel to when we arrived at Stonehenge!

Stonehenge is spectacular and we easily spent 2 hours there. By the time we were back in Salisbury, it was after 1 pm and we were very hungry. There aren't restaurants at Stonehenge - that area is beautiful, rural countryside. Salisbury is a very cute and quaint town and there were lots of options for lunch. We pretty much decided on the first place we saw that looked reasonably priced & had something for everyone: Cafe Rouge. Turns out, Cafe Rouge is a chain that features French cafe inspired food. We ended up having lunch at Cafe Rouge in Salisbury, Canterbury, and Greenwich.
The first time we all ordered Croque sandwiches with salad on the side. Croque Monsieur (smoked ham & gruyere) for me, Madame (smoked ham & gruyere with fried egg) for SP, and Saumon (salmon & Gruyère cheese with horseradish crème fraîche and lemon) for mom. I always ate the Croque Monsiuer because it was the perfect size for me and the gruyere and bechamel sauce was quite good. And the salad was vegetable - we always feel like we don't eat enough vegetables on vacation so if there is a side salad option, we choose it.
For one lunch, mom tried Champignons a L'ail (mushrooms in a cèpe & garlic cream sauce on grilled rye bread). She actually wanted the Croque Champignon but she was kind of shy about attempting to speak French and I think her slightly flustered manner confused our server, who instead of a croque sandwich served her this petit plat. Mom says she pointed on the menu to what she wanted, and I seem to recall she did, but I guess our server just messed up. The Champignons a L'ail was just OK.
For one lunch SP ordered a side salad an this petit plat: Croquettes de Canard (duck croquettes, pea shoots and frisée with orange & chili marmalade). He really liked his duck croquettes.

Cafe Rouge is good place for lunch or dinner if, like us, you are a tourist in search of a quick, tasty, reasonably priced meal. We had the best service at the one in Salisbury, and it was the tastiest, plus nothing on the order got confused and we got to sit outside on a sunny, blue sky day, a perfect travel day. Both of the others had outdoor seating, but in Canterbury it was a rainy, chilly, damp day so we sat inside and in Greenwich we sat outside but for me, it was ruined by the number of people smoking while dining outside.

Café Rouge - Salisbury Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, October 5, 2015

Cafe in the Crypt (St. Martin in the Fields)

When I started researching restaurants in London for our trip, I was overwhelmed. I tried to limit my focus to the areas closest to our hotel and I tried to find reasonably priced places to dine. Dining out in London can get very expensive and we didn't want to be spending $150+ every meal. We also knew that we'd be so busy sight-seeing that we would not want to be bound to a reservation time at a "fancier" dinner. One of the places I found was Cafe in the Crypt at St. Martin in the Fields. It's cafeteria style dining in a crypt.
They are open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner. There are sandwiches, soups, salads, desserts, and a few entrees from which to choose. I was not too excited by the entrees the evening we went (our first dinner in London) but my mom tried the Piri Piri Chicken. It came with a biscuit, salad, and rice. She said it was very tasty but much spicier than she had expected.
SP and I shared a trio of salads: Greek Salad, Couscous with Roasted Red Pepper, Eggplant, Zucchini, and Harissa, and Potato Salad. I really liked the couscous salad. It was a bit spicy, but I couldn't stop eating it. Next to it, the potato salad was nicely cooling with its creamy dressing. The Greek Salad was good, too, tomatoes, cucumbers. kalamata, and onion in a dressing.
We also shared a Chicken~Bacon~Tomato Sandwich. It was good, but I enjoyed the salads more than the sandwich. We were in a bit of a hurry because we had tried to go to several other places but couldn't get in so we arrived a bit late for a Wednesday dinner, probably a bit before 6 pm, and on Wednesdays when they host live jazz, only ticket holders can use the cafe after 6:30 pm. So we quickly ate and then went back to the hotel to catch up on sleep.
As I wrote, it's cafeteria style, so you grab a tray and move through the line, selecting your food. The servers behind the counters were very nice & happy to answer questions. It was neat, not creepy, to sit under those brick vaulted ceilings and have tombstones underneath our feet. It was a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of Trafalgar Square just above our heads. It might not be for everyone, and the options can be a little limited, but we were happy with our experience and suggest it to others.

  Café in the Crypt Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, October 4, 2015


A rarity! Blogging on a Sunday, that is. SP is outside doing yard work and I was paying bills - ugh. At least it's not raining. Last night we decided to try a new to us restaurant for dinner, Bakn in Carnegie. It's on East Main Street near the Black Lamb Consignments Shop.
We parked in the parking lot next to One Thirty One East, Carnegie Coffee, and the liquor store and walked to the restaurant. Inside it's gray, a gray floor, gray seats, exposed gray ducts. And not surprisingly, pig decor. I think every dish on the menu has bacon, or if not bacon then pig, so this is definitely not a place for vegetarians. There is a full bar but we opted for tasty fresh brewed iced tea and started off our bacon fest by trying the Bacon Flight:
From left to right: peppered, candied, boar, applewood smoked, and all natural. Our candied piece was a little small so our server brought us another slice. That one was my favorite. Sweet, sugary bacon. The peppered was my second favorite. I liked the boar, but I don't think I'd like it in a large portion.
We also shared Signature Housemade Biscuits with Bakn-Slapped Honey Jam. The biscuits were smaller than we expected, but that was OK because they were a more manageable size then we expected. The jam was OK. I expected a jam like what we get at Burgatory, but this was dry & crumbly, almost like just bacon bits.
 It was tasty, just not what I expected, and I'm not sure I'd order it again.
SP ordered the Bakn Pastrami Reuben (house prepared pork belly pastrami, apple braised sauerkraut, applewood smoked bacon, Swiss cheese, dressing, served on marble rye). He added a fried egg to his sandwich and chose salad for his side.
It was a large sandwich and he said it was even tastier than he expected. The salad was a nice size, too, and had fresh, crispy greens and tomatoes. The pork belly was leaner than he expected and that is a good thing.
I chose a Fried Egg Sandwich (fried egg, peppered bacon, Jarlsberg cheese, oven roasted tomato, arugula, baconnaise, on sourdough). It was served with home fries.
I really liked this sandwich. It's one of the best breakfast/egg sandwiches I've ever had if not the best. The oven roasted tomatoes added a nice roasted flavor. The egg was fried just how I asked for it (with the yolk not runny). Lots of peppery bacon. Yummy sourdough. I was sad that I only ate half before feeling full, but then again, bringing home the other half meant I got to enjoy more deliciousness for brunch at home today. The home fries were good, too.

Our server was cheerful and very good - I asked about garlic in the roasted tomatoes and she checked with the chef and then checked with me on just how much garlic bothers me because they use it in the restaurant. She kept SP's iced tea filled.

I was a little confused because the NoWait app said there was a 15-30 minute wait so we put our name on the list as we were driving there, then we walked over, and then found out there were several available tables but we had not received a text that a table was ready - ? It was fine because we were seated right away, but it seemed odd.

I like that Carnegie has some great places now and I'm happy I didn't move too far from Carnegie so we can easily enjoy the tasty new places. We'll definitely return to Bakn.

Bakn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Admiralty

Right across the street from our hotel on Trafalgar Square was a pub: The Admiralty. The above photo shows the pub from the exit we used at the hotel. Literally cross the street. Every time we walked past & thought about going in, it was packed, inside & outside. Plus, there were 2 steps to get inside. We were sad because it was super convenient and because they serve ale & pie. Pies with ale. Meat pies. Yum!
We ended up eating there 3 times (the nice employee at the door, we called him the bouncer guy, helped get the wheelchair up the 2 steps). The first time was after a day spent in Canterbury touring the gorgeous cathedral. That was a Saturday evening, mom's big birthday, and we were very surprised to find an empty table around 6 pm. 
The second time was after getting drenched the day we went to the Changing of the Guard, Churchill War Museum, and Buckingham Palace. DRENCHED. It was around 5 pm that day and we hadn't had much for lunch so everyone was super hungry and tired of getting DRENCHED so we popped our heads in on the way back to the hotel, saw an empty table, and decided to grab it and eat early.
The third time was on our last day in London. It was a Saturday evening, we had reserved a table for 6 pm, and it was also the weekend the Rugby World Cup started. We know nothing about rugby. We didn't even know if the USA had a rugby team in the World Cup (they do). Anyway, you know how crazy people in the US get for the Super Bowl? Especially Pittsburghers if the Steelers are in it? Multiply that by 1000 (or more) and you have rabid rugby fans in a London pub on a Saturday evening. Newly set up TVs were tuned in to the Japan-South Africa match. People were crowded around them. Lots of yelling & cheering & groaning.
Honestly, it was pretty fun. It was neat to experience.
Mom always drank pinot grigio. I always drank afternoon tea with milk. And SP tried the ales. The first time, he tried Oliver's Island:
The second time he got to try the Seafarers he had wanted the first time (but they were out of it) and the final time, he tried Front Row:
My tea, with white and brown sugar cubes and a little bottle of cream:
Turns out I really like brown sugar in tea. I also really do like milk in my tea, but only in tea like breakfast or afternoon tea.
On her birthday, mom finally got her Fish (Cod) & Chips:
She said the fish was excellent and everyone really liked the chips. She even ate her minted peas. They were tricky buggers on a platter, not plate, and more than a few spilled off & bounced onto the floor, but she was happy they weren't mushy peas, which SP had with his fish somewhere and were, as one of our tour guides told us, an "acquired taste."
On our first visit, SP and I both got a pie. He got his Chicken, Ham Hock, and Fuller's Organic Honey Dew pie with chips and salad while I got my White Texel Dorset Leg of Lamb pie with mash and salad, below:
SP and I both liked his pie, but we both liked mine better. Inside SP's pie:
Inside my lamb with red wine , rosemary, and mint gravy pie:
Lots of lamb, excellent rosemary & mint flavor, and the best gravy we had. We all ended up dipping mom's and SP's chips in my gravy pitcher. My mash was also really good and really large, too large, but so good I couldn't stop eating it.
The pie plate was a little too carb filled for SP so, figuring he could "help" me with my chips and pie crust, on subsequent visits he ordered Seared Trout Fillet (potatoes, roasted cherry tomatoes, lemon cream). 

Mom ordered ESB Marinated Chicken Breast (spring greens, bacon, new potatoes, beer & mustard sauce) on the last 2 visits:
They both said their meals were delicious. My last 2 meals were Steak & ESB Pie (caramelized shallots, button mushrooms, mustard & ESB gravy):
I always chose the salad of greens, cucumber, and fennel and the chips (instead of mash) the last 2 times because these "french fries" are so much tastier than any fry I've had (except for maybe Belgian style frites). Lots of tender steak inside the pie:
I liked this one best of the three pies we tried, but I liked the lamb gravy best of the 3 gravies we had.
SP did indeed "help" me eat the pie crust and chips, as did mom. The pie plate is quite filling.
On our final night, we decided to share a dessert, the pavlova with berries. It was so pretty! A tower of cream and fruit and meringue with pretty flowers. It was light and just right for us to share. Probably one of my favorite desserts ever.
Obviously, we really liked The Admiralty. It was in a great location for us. The employees were cheerful and helpful. By our final meal, mom was even comfortable enough to go up to the bar counter and order by herself! The food was tasty. It was relaxing even with all the cheering on rugby night! Definitely check it out if you are in the Trafalgar Square/Westminster area, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, they serve all three.

The Admiralty Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato