Thursday, February 4, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

1. I have no idea where the days, the weeks, the months are going because here it is, another Thursday, and I feel like nothing has happened in the past week besides "the usual."

2. We baked Cappuccino Biscotti last weekend. My mom stopped by on Monday and I gave her some. It was the first time she & dad had tried these biscotti and they said they really enjoyed them.

3. Mom stopped by because we were supposed to have dinner with them on Sunday. She had thawed a turkey and wanted our help eating it. But then dad got sick. He had the stomach flu, a fever, cold symptoms. So they cancelled dinner. That has happened twice in the new year - they keep getting sick! Anyway, she stopped by to bring us turkey & gravy, sausage stuffing, and bacon Brussels. Yum!

4. It was extra nice because we only had to prepare one meal for the week: braised pork, scalloped potatoes, and cauliflower.

5. She also brought us a guide book to help us with planning our next vacation. Of course, we both are still having health issues so we haven't made reservations/bought plane tickets, we're just planning, but hopefully in the next 2 weeks after a slew of doctor appointments we'll be deemed "healthy" and we can really plan vacation.

6. Tuesday M, our cleaning lady, was here. As usual, she took several breaks and we "gossiped." She is such a nice lady and it's always fun to hear about the latest craziness with her family!

7. We watched Fantastic Four and Sicario. FF  got terrible, awful reviews, and while it wasn't a great movie, we didn't think it was as awful as the reviews said. Sicario was very good, but in some ways slow. And definitely dark and gritty.

8. In the past 1-2 weeks I have broken 2 soap dispensers. First I broke the nozzle part of my bathroom soap (the soap dispenser I bought at Target that matches my toothbrush holder & cup) and every time I stick it back in place, as soon as I use it, I break it off again. I don't know what I do, but when I push on the top to dispense soap, I also push on the nozzle. So I swapped it with the plastic kitchen Softsoap dispenser. Two days later, I knocked off that one off sink and onto the tile floor with such force that the top part broke off, rendering it useless. So SP bought me a new plastic Softsoap dispenser and he's waiting to see how long it takes for me to break this one.

The grand total: 6. That's how many bathroom soap dispensers I've broken in the 7 years we've been here.

I should also mention that on its fall to the floor, the dispenser bounced off the lid of the Clorox Wipes and cracked the lid so now the freshly opened Clorox wipes are in danger of drying out.

I should also mention that in the past month, I've sent 2 shaving gels crashing into the tub, breaking the plastic nozzles.

I am a disaster in the bathroom.

9. This weekend is the Super Bowl. We're not too excited but we'll watch anyway for the commercials. Maybe even make some unhealthy game day dip.

10. SP went "off list" and bought Pringles when he did the grocery shopping. They were on sale! It was a good deal! Well we all know what happened. Yup. I ate the can of cheese Pringles all by myself. I am now trying to forget that a can of Sour Cream & Onion Pringles exists in the pantry.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Back to Cafe Io

Last October we dined at Cafe Io in Mt. Lebanon and really enjoyed our meal. This past Saturday we were in the South Hills doing some errands and decided to return to Cafe Io for dinner. It was a bit early when we got there, but we both had small lunches and we were quite hungry. After ordering iced teas and a beer for SP, we ordered 2 appetizers. One was Iovino (tempura mozzarella, Italian sweet sausage, marinated tomatoes, basil, organic mixed greens), see photos above & below:
Oh my gosh this was delicious. The sausage had terrific cross hatch marks. The tempura breading was light. The cheese fresh and soft. Crisp greens, Fresh basil. Balsamic drizzle. I think we found a new favorite, always order appetizer at Cafe Io.

The other appetizer was Crispy Parmesan Polenta (San Marzano tomato sauce, shaved parmesan cheese), which we ordered last time, too:
Just as delicious as last time. For his meal, SP chose a daily special, Bronzino with more crispy polenta plus greens and tomatoes:
He said his fish was nicely cooked. Since he needs to watch his carbs, he didn't eat all the crispy polenta. Plus, he ate some of my meal.

Meanwhile I got the same meal as last time, Monster Grilled Cheese (gouda and cheddar cheeses, bacon, egg, pulled pork, tomato, caramelized onions, spinach). And the same side, Tomato Soup.
I chose white bread. This sandwich is so tasty. It has many of my favorite sandwich ingredients: bacon, fried egg, cheese, caramelized onion, tomato plus it has pulled pork. As usual, I ate half and took half home for lunch the next day. And as usual, SP helped me with the soup.
There were 3 desserts from which to choose. We opted for the Mixed Berry Pie? Tart? I forget what it was called but it was really good:
Graham cracker crust, mixed berries, smooth cream filling. I'm glad we both had room to share dessert.

Cafe Io doesn't take reservations and it does get busy. Our service was again great. Friendly, not rushed, attentive, brought extra plates for appetizer sharing. And delicious food. Still on the "return to" list.

Cafe io Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Crab Melts

Whenever the grocery store has one of its "Seafood Stock Up" sales, we try to buy a can or two of crab meat. Usually we make crab cakes but this time I wanted something different and I remembered this recipe for a Crab Melt. It's easy to make plus the crab salad can be made ahead of time and the melt sandwiches assembled and broiled when you are ready to eat.
I liked that there wasn't any mayonnaise. The "sauce" is a dressing of roasted red pepper, lemon juice, olive oil, and hot sauce. It very red. And red peppery. If you don't like red pepper flavor, this is not the dressing to mix with crab. We used our Magic Bullet to make the dressing. This is what was leftover after we made the crab salad:
Mix in Old Bay seasoning, finely chopped celery, dried tarragon & dried parsley to finish the crab salad:
To make the melts, we used Swiss cheese from the deli instead of gruyere, so our cheese was sliced not grated. We didn't butter the muffins after toasting. We also used arugula instead of watercress and didn't put our arugula on before broiling. Actually, we ate the arugula and some sliced tomato on the side, in between bites of crab melt. One day for lunch we used toasted white bread and cheddar cheese. It was all good.
Definitely something we'd make again, especially in the warm summer months or during those weeks when we don't have a lot of free time to devote to preparing meals.

Crab Melt recipe here.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Family Recipes, Spaghetti & Meatballs

Everyone I know thinks the red sauce they ate growing up is the best red sauce ever. It's a comforting food, and part of comfort is familiarity and warm memories. Usually, we make more of an SP-style red sauce, but when I suggested spaghetti and meatballs and SP agreed, I insisted on my mom's sauce. Because it's the best, of course!
My mom's sauce is tomato puree and tomato paste + onion, green pepper, and celery + brown sugar, Worcestershire, pepper, parsley, oregano. It makes a thicker and smoother sauce than SP's family sauce, which is crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and water + onion powder & garlic powder + sugar, black pepper, oregano, parsley, parmesan. SP likes the thinner, chunkier sauce. I prefer smooth and thick.
We did modify my mom's sauce a bit. Gasp! We added some parmesan rind that was in the refrigerator. I was OK with that because I love cheese. My mom browns ground meat for her sauce but we made meatballs and put them in the sauce.
For the meatballs, we used SP's family recipe. After browning them in the oven, we added them to the sauce and simmered it all in the Dutch oven for about 6 hours. The meatballs flattened a bit when they baked in the oven.
 The sauce, simmering in the Dutch oven:
We made the meatballs and sauce on a snowy Saturday. Instead of spaghetti, we used angel hair pasta, which I prefer.
My dad always preferred angel hair pasta and that's what we used for spaghetti dinner when I was a kid. It was years before I realized I wasn't really eating spaghetti. The first time I ordered spaghetti at a restaurant and fat noodles arrived, I was so sad & confused and my mom had to explain it to me. I'm OK with spaghetti, I just prefer angel hair.
Even SP admitted that my mom's sauce was pretty darn tasty. I thought it was excellent and I was quite happy. The meatballs were very good, too. I ate 2 for each dinner, SP ate 3.

My Mom's Spaghetti Sauce

2 large cans tomato puree
1 medium + 1 small can tomato paste
1 green pepper, finely chopped
½ large onion, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
1~2 lbs ground meat (we made the meatballs, below)
about 2 tbsp brown sugar
 2~3 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
black pepper

If using ground meat instead of meatballs, brown the meat in a large pot. Remove meat to drain and clean grease from pot. Add olive oil and saute vegetables in olive oil until softened. Add the puree, paste, brown sugar, Worcestershire, parsley, oregano, and pepper. Add browned meat. Stir well. Add a bit of water if sauce is too thick. Simmer for at least 5 hours, stirring occasionally. Use for lasagna stuffed shells, or serve over your favorite pasta.

SP's Family Meatballs

4 slices white bread
1/2 c water
2 eggs
1 lb extra lean ground beef
1/4 c grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp parsley
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp oregano
1 dash pepper

Break up slices of bread and soak in water for 2-3 minutes. Add eggs and mix well. Mix in remaining ingredients. With wet hands, form meat mixture into small balls. Spray a cookie sheet with non-stick spray and bake at 350 until browned on bottom. Turn the meatballs over and bake until done (or transfer to red sauce and simmer in sauce until done).

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

1. Here at our house west of Pittsburgh, we only got 4-5 inches of snow last Saturday. It was almost kind of disappointing after all of the SNOW! PANIC! on the news. That being said, I do not envy friends in VA & MD right now.

We did not stock up on milk, bread, and toilet paper. We were not snowed in for weeks. For us, the snow started Friday around 5 pm and ended by Saturday around noon. SP cleared the walk and driveway with the snowblower around 2 pm Saturday.

And that was the big snowstorm Jonas here.

2. We watched 2 animated movies during the big snowstorm: Inside Out and Hotel Transylvania 2. Both were cute, light, & fun. I mailed both back and now we again have 4 DVDs from Netflix to watch: Burnt, Fantastic Four, Sicario, and The Walk. I'm not sure how/why we keep having 4 DVDs out at a time, but... the price hasn't changed so I'm not going to investigate.

3. We decided to delete the Heroes Reborn episodes on the DVR. We read some not positive reviews after the final episode aired and read that it was not renewed for another season so with everything else we watch, we decided to not bother. "Regular" TV starts up again soon and in March The Americans returns plus Netflix will have new Daredevil episodes and Amazon will have Bosch Season 2. On HBO Game of Thrones returns in April plus a new one (Vinyl) starts soon. So no need to bother with a show that, if we had to rank everything we watch, would be near/at the bottom.

4. We get the biggest laughs when we watch Food Network's Worst Cooks in America on Sunday evenings. I can't believe some of the worst cooks they find to compete - these people are nuts! That being said, I now want to try poaching eggs at home.

5. Another week and no library books read. I did read the new Food & Wine and Pittsburgh magazines.

6. It's going to be warm this weekend: 46 on Saturday and 54 on Sunday. Yay! Next Tuesday is Groundhog Day. I'm hoping for an early spring.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Rack of Lamb with Polenta

Over the summer, my parents told us they had been buying rack of lamb at Costco and they enjoyed it more than the lamb chops or leg of lamb. I was surprised because rack of lamb seemed intimidating. When dad needed computer help in July, our payment was rack of lamb dinner. It was so good that when SP saw them on sale at Costco a few weeks ago, he bought a rack for us to make.
We didn't marinate ours, although you could. We simply seasoned the lamb with salt and pepper, seared it in a skillet, and then roasted it in the oven. While the lamb roasted, we made Giada's Basic Polenta. Even though the recipe doesn't call for it, we added some grated parmesan to the polenta.
While the polenta finished and the lamb rested, we roasted some asparagus.
The polenta was the best we've made at home. The lamb was good, too, but next time, we need to give it 22 minutes instead of only 18 in the oven because it was just too pink for me. We did use a meat thermometer, which said the lamb was cooked, but when we sliced it, it was more to SP's liking than mine. I talked to my mom and asked her how long she had given the lamb in the oven and she said 22 minutes. That was perfect for me.
I liked the rack of lamb a lot and it looked impressive. I'd happily make it again. Next time I might marinate the rack in our usual lamb marinade or sprinkle on rosemary with the salt and pepper.

*We followed the cooking instructions on the lamb packaging for roast time/temperature.

*Basic Polenta recipe here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Happy Birthday, Dad! Brunch At Eleven

Today is my dad's birthday. Happy Birthday, Dad! We celebrated on Sunday with brunch at Eleven. After my parents moved back to Pittsburgh, I signed them up for the Big Burrito emails, mailings, and coupons so dad had his Big Burrito Birthday coupon to use. SP & I were just at Eleven for my birthday brunch back in November and we tend to order the same things, so it was nice to have people brunching with us and seeing the food they ordered. 

SP ordered his usual Bloody Mary while the rest of us enjoyed Mimosas. SP also ordered his usual first course, Three Greens Salad, and my dad ordered the first course I love, the Grilled Sticky. My mom chose Smoked Salmon (everything bagel, egg, capers, onion, scallion cream cheese): 
She said it was excellent. Much to my surprise, she ate the entire bagel! 

I decided to order the other first course that always catches my eye: Beignets (Meyer lemon, pomegranate, hazelnuts): 
Powdered sugar dusted pillows of deliciousness. They look huge, but they are light and fluffy. SP ate one of my beignets, I ate the other 3. I'm not sure which I like more, the Grilled Sticky or the Beignets. It's a tough call. 
Yes, I am a creature of habit, and since we never poach eggs at home nor do we ever make hollandaise, which I love, I had my usual Eggs Benedict. My parents both ordered Prosciutto Cotto, Caramelized Onion, & Aged-Cheddar Omelet with fingerling potatoes and bacon while SP chose Mushroom, Red Pepper, & Goat Cheese Omelet with fingerling potatoes and bacon.

With four people to share dessert, we decided to split Pear Crostata (Greek yogurt sherbet, toffee walnuts, honey):
It was delicious, the warm crostata with the cool sherbet, soft pears, sweet & crunchy walnuts. Everyone got 3-4 bites, which was just enough after the other 2 courses plus bread basket.

I'm glad we got to introduce my parents to Eleven and glad they enjoyed it so much. Next month is SP's birthday so hopefully I'll get to enjoy another Big Burrito Birthday Brunch.

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