Monday, May 2, 2016

Green Beans with Tomato-Almond Pesto

I'm getting more & more interested in vegetables with summer approaching and with the garden seedlings growing on the dining room table. I'm tired of winter veggies and simply steaming or roasting them. A couple weeks ago we decided to liven up our green beans and tried Blistered Green Beans with Tomato-Almond Pesto. The recipe was in the November 2015 Bon Appetit.
We didn't really follow the recipe. It was more of an inspiration. I love tomatoes, especially roasted tomatoes, but I am not a fan of blistered (blackened?!) green beans. So we used more tomatoes than the recipe lists and we blanched & sauteed our green beans. We also substituted onion for garlic but sauteed the onion with the green beans instead of blending it into the sauce.
The sauce is like a romesco sauce. We made a romesco sauce, long ago, and used hazelnuts. Either would work here. We had almonds on hand.
We both really liked this dish. It took me a while to really enjoy the almond flavor since I don't really like nuts in my food. At first, we kept everything in separate containers, reheated the green beans, and spooned cold sauce & roasted tomatoes on top because that was the week my stomach was not happy and I didn't want too much sauce on my green beans. This dish is much tastier when all the ingredients are heated together, so after one night of cold sauce, we started re-heating our blanched green beans in a skillet, then spooned some sauce over, then added roasted tomatoes, and made sure everything was thoroughly warmed. I simply picked out the "less sauced" beans and tried to shake off excessive sauce!
Original recipe here.

Our version:

Green Beans with Tomato-Almond Pesto

2-3 pints cherry tomatoes
¼ cup unsalted, roasted almonds
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tsp paprika
pinch of cayenne pepper
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
2-3 lbs green beans, trimmed & blanched
1 finely chopped onion (however much you want)

Preheat oven to 450°. In a bowl combine tomatoes with some olive oil then spread them out on a foil lined, rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt & pepper. Roast tomatoes, turning once, until blistered and lightly charred, 15–20 minutes. Let cool slightly. Finely chop almonds in a food processor. Add olive oil, vinegar, paprika, cayenne, and half of tomatoes. Pulse to a coarse pesto consistency. Season with salt and pepper. 


Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add onion and green beans and saute until onion is soft and green beans are cooked to your liking. Season with salt & pepper. Add the pesto to the green beans and toss until combined. Add remaining tomatoes & serve.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

1. We had a lot of fun trying out our new spiralizer last weekend. In addition to spiralizing potatoes, we spiralized a cucumber. It made lovely, thin ribbons - I love thinly sliced cucumber. We made a salad of spiralized cucumber, kalamatas, feta, and tomatoes with lemon juice squeezed on top.
2. We were enjoying the nicer weather - grilling weather. We grilled shrimp and marinated lamb kebabs. Both were delicious.
3. Grilling weather also means mowing & weeding weather. SP mowed on Saturday and by Monday our lawn was again filled with dandelions.

4. Game of Thrones is back! I read some sort of negative reviews of the premiere, but we both enjoyed it.

5. We are also very much enjoying The Night Manager on AMC.

6. I finished reading The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon. I really enjoyed the book. It's based on real events in NYC in the 1930's, the disappearance of Judge Joe Crater.

7. SP has had bad allergies and finally tried a neti pot. I don't think it's helping much since he is driving me crazy with his snorts and sniffs and coughs and throat clears all night long while we watch TV. Then he snores all night when we go to bed. Last night was the worst. I was having insomnia and every time I started to finally fall asleep, his snore rumbles would wake me up, even through my ear plugs.

8. We have a very busy weekend of errands. I don't mind errands, but thanks to sickness and surgery and family obligations and such, things we want/need to do have piled up. Some of it is "investigative" and that's the kind of errand/shopping that drives me crazy. I like to walk in a store and find exactly what I need/want with minimal browsing, not visit several stores in search of something that in the end seems like we settled for but it still gets the job done so it's... fine. Just fine.

9. I don't think we'll be grilling this weekend. Tonight's fun discussion will be the "what do you want to cook this weekend" discussion. I hope someone has some ideas!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Baked Curly Fries

We had been mulling the idea of buying a spiralizer for quite some time but weren't sure we'd get a lot of use from it. But thoughts of zucchini noodles and curly fries kept making us want one. Finally, as an anniversary treat to ourselves, we bought one. We tried it out this past weekend, attempting to make Baked Curly Fries. We made sweet potato and regular baking potato curly fries.
We bought this spiralizer. It suctions securely on our counter. It's easy to set up and use. It's actually a lot of fun to use!
First up, the sweet potato. Cut off each end to make the ends flat and secure the potato on the prong side and blade side.
Crank the handle and watch the curly sweet potato bits spill out onto a cookie sheet.
It takes very little time to spiralize through a sweet potato. 
It also takes very little time to spiralize through two baking potatoes.
Curly potato!
For our first time, we simply tossed the curly potatoes with kosher salt and olive oil, spread them out on a baking sheet, and baked them at 400 degrees. The sweet potato curls took about 30 minutes and the baking potatoes we left in almost an hour while we made the rest of dinner.

We both preferred the sweet potato curls more than the regular potato curls. However, they are not really like curly fries. More like skinny, curly strands of roasted potato. Some bits were nicely crunchy while other bits remained a little soft/moist. Definitely healthier than fried potato curls, but also not quite as tasty. I don't think we'd make baked regular potato "fries" again. They weren't as tasty, but maybe they needed more seasoning than simply salt. We would make the sweet potato "fries" again. 

For the regular baking potatoes, we plan to use the spiralizer to make curly strands then wrap the curls in foil with onion and herbs and then grill the foil packet for the grilled potatoes we like to make in the summer.

I'm looking forward to trying spiralized zucchini (zoodles) and spiralizing some other veggies. I'm also looking forward to more baked sweet potato curls because I liked them a lot, much more than chunks of roasted sweet potato or an entire roasted potato.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Monterey Bay Fish Grotto

This past weekend we went out for our anniversary dinner celebration. Once again, we chose Monterey Bay Fish Grotto on Mt. Washington. We made our reservation for 5 pm in hopes of getting a table next to the window. Happily, we did, a table in the corner with a terrific view.  
MBFG is a special occasion restaurant. It's one of the priciest places we've dined in Pittsburgh, perhaps the priciest, but I'd have to really think about it and compare how much alcohol we drank, number of appetizers/desserts, after dinner coffee, etc., for a fair comparison. The food is good, the service attentive, but really, you're there for the view. Here's what we enjoyed:
Bread with herb butter. Good bread, but we both tried to control ourselves and save room for the food to come.
Appetizer #1: Calamari (lightly fried, scallions, red & yellow peppers, mango cilantro sauce). We really enjoyed this a year ago and it was just as delicious this time. I didn't dip my calamari in the sauce because I dislike cilantro, but SP liked the sauce a lot.
Appetizer #2: Lobster Rangoons (sweet Maine lobster, cream cheese, chives, lobster thermidor sauce). I don't think that was lobster thermidor sauce but it was still good. Definitely a good rangoon.
 We shared a House Salad (mixed artisan greens, heirloom tear drop tomatoes, carrots, crostini, passion fruit vinaigrette). I like the dressing a lot.  
SP's entree: Striped Bass, Monterey Style (chargrilled with artichoke, black olives, tomato, onion & mushrooms sautéed in marsala wine sauce.
 Another view of his striped bass. He really enjoyed his fish and the vegetables/sauce.
 My entree, the same as our last visit: Jumbo Shrimp (stuffed with signature crab cake, Lobster Thermidor sauce).
These were as tasty as I remember. The shrimp were nicely cooked but it was the crab that I kept wanting more of because it was so tasty.
 We don't alwyas order coffee after dinner, usually only when we're celebrating & relaxing. We both got decaf.
We decided to share 2 desserts. Since we were so full, we ended up not sharing and each took home a bot of our dessert for the next night. Above, for SP, Peach Cobbler Cheesecake (peach cobbler, vanilla cheesecake, graham cracker crust, Chantilly cream, peach coulis) and below, for me, Steaming Chocolate Latte (warm flourless chocolate cake, Chantilly crème, chocolate steam, cinnamon dust).
I loved the presentation of my dessert. The chocolate steam rising from the cream dusted with lots of cinnamon and underneath, the warm, rich chocolate cake. One of my favorite desserts. SP liked his dessert a lot, too.

We both still like MBFG a lot. The food is tasty and our server was attentive and friendly. We did each have a glass of wine, a sauvignon blanc for me and an unoaked chardonnay for SP, which I forgot to photograph. The views are terrific from just about anywhere, but we were happy and lucky to have a table right next to a window. As I said before, it's pricey and so a special celebration place for us, but it's a worthwhile dinner splurge.


Monterey Bay Fish Grotto Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

1. Our actual wedding anniversary didn't turn out so romantic and wonderful after my stomach ended up disturbed by something I ate on Saturday. By Sunday afternoon I was having one of the horrible food poisoning cramping / digestive distress episodes. As usual, this one is lasting days, lots of super painful cramping and gurgles and such.

So on Sunday for dinner I ate one cracker while huddled under a blanket in the recliner. SP grilled chicken and shrimp and ate by himself. "For better, for worse, in sickness & in health..."

2. On Wednesday we finally made and ate our apparent annual anniversary dinner: Pasta with Peas & Prosciutto.

3. Other dinners this week have been grilled shrimp and/or chicken with green beans and/or tomatoes. It was so nice to grill this past weekend.

4. I've been sleeping (sitting in pain) a lot but I managed to read Find Her and The Big Rewind. I enjoyed both but Find Her was tough to read because I found it disturbing. I'm glad I made myself finish it. Two more books to read by Saturday. I suspect I'll be renewing one or both of them.

5. This Sunday Game of Thrones returns! There is much excitement in this house.

6. We started watching The Night Manager on AMC. Really like it so far. I haven't read many John le Carré novels, but books/movies of this genre are generally my favorite.

7. Speaking of espionage/thriller stories, I devoured all the Robert Ludlum books in my teen years and in particular am a huge fan of the Jason Bourne novels. So I've watched this trailer a few times already. Can't wait for July!

8. It might only be mid April but we turned the a/c on. Here's the thing: we do not keep the screens in many of our windows. One, it's easier for M to clean our windows when she doesn't have to deal with getting the screens in and out. Two, open windows means more pollen and that means my allergies get really bad. And three, it seems like fewer evil stink bugs get inside because they can't get their evil little legs hooked into the screen and then crawl about and squeeze through wee little cracks. On windows, they're kind of useless and slide off/fall a lot. I prefer my house with fewer stinkies, so we keep the screens off the known bug invasion windows, which, sadly, happen to be the windows we most want to open on warm days.

So since the thermostat said it was 79 inside on Sunday, we turned the a/c on. We keep the a/c set at 78. It helped a lot. It's still on, and still running in the evenings when it hits 79 inside.

We did put a few screens back in because we felt guilty about running the a/c already and decided we'd see how opening the windows would go. The result: we can't open them because there is now a bee trapped between the screen and window in the kitchen. It can't figure out how it got in, and we can't open the window and let it inside.

Should have just left the screen out.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Revel + Roost

Last Saturday we decided to try Revel + Roost, a restaurant that recently opened (mid-March) in the Hilton Garden Inn at Market Square. We found the reservation process a wee bit confusing. 

Revel is downstairs, Roost is upstairs. Revel has been billed as more of a lounge where they expect a younger, energetic millennial crowd while Roost is a more traditional dining experience. We are not young, energetic millennials, but we wanted to dine in the more casual Revel. On their website, it sounded like you could make reservations for either. We made reservations on OpenTable, but it wasn't clear if the reservation was for Revel or Roost. Later when I called, I was told you can reserve for either but the OpenTable reservations are for Roost unless you specify Revel in the comment area. I made sure the reservation was for Revel, but there was still some confusion when we arrived. Fortunately, they were able to seat us in Revel. Note: if you are seated in Roost, you cannot order from the Revel menu.
Revel's interior is spacious, blacks and grays and a bit of red. The front windows were open on the lovely, sunny, warm spring day. The screen plays silent movies and we both enjoyed watching the old black & white films.
Beverages: I chose The Woods (Glenlevit Scotch Whiskey, Luxardo Dolin Rouge, Lemon Juice,
Black Walnut Bitters) and SP chose Pittsburgh Stock Exchange (Jim Beam Bourbon, House Made Apple Shrub, Lemon Juice). 

We ordered a bunch of small plates/appetizers to share, all in the small portion. Here's what we ate:  
Market Vegetable Salad (seasonal vegetables, romaine and endive spears, goat cheese,
peppercress, honey dijon vinaigrette). I'm sure that's the salad we chose, that's what the receipt says, but there wasn't any goat cheese nor was there a honey dijon vinaigrette that I can recall. I remember carrots, radish, cucumber, broccoli rabe, tiny pattypan, and some leafy greens.
Lobster Fritters (lemon and herb aioli). Fried dough with lobster. Tasty.
Sun-Shrimp + Grits (crispy pork belly, aged cheddar, redeye gravy, scallion). I liked that the slightly spicy to me gravy was off to one side so I got to enjoy most of the dish without giving my stomach the usual grief of spicy food. I really liked this but had to make SP handle the shrimp head part before I could eat the shrimp. My second favorite dish.
Fried Cheese Curds (honey dijon aioli, pickled veggies, herb salad). I don't recall the herb salad, just pickled broccoli rabe and the tiny pattypan. The cheese curds were good, but since they were huge curds, almost a little too chewy and squeaky for me.
Fried Quail + Waffles (cheddar waffle, raspberry-maple hot sauce, pickled veggies). SP loved his fried quail and I let him eat it all because he was so excited about quail. I ate most of the waffle which was good. The syrup was tasty, too, but a wee sweet, even for me. This was SP's favorite dish of the meal.
My favorite dish was this: Apple Smoked Chicken Salad (cheddar cheese puff, granny smith apple). I'm ready for warmer weather foods like smoked meats and chicken salad. The chicken had a nice smoked flavor and made me anxious to pull out our smoker.
 Hearth Oven Pizza, New York or Chicago Crust. We chose Chicago crust and mushrooms. It wasn't what I was expecting. I expected deep dish pizza, with a deep crust, almost like a pie or tart shell, filled with layers of sauce and cheese, baked in a pie/cake pan. This was just a thick crust. We both wished we gone with New York crust because thick crust like this isn't our kind of pizza crust. 
 Twice Baked Fingerling Potato (smoked cheddar, crème fraîche, house made bacon, chives). These were very good but we were so full by the time they arrived that we took a tiny bite just to try and then took the rest home. They made a tasty lunch the next day.
Yes, we ordered too much food. We could have/should have ordered 2-3 fewer to try and we would have been full. I'm glad we tried everything we tried. Our server was wonderful, very friendly, attentive, kept SP's iced tea filled, brought extra plates, spaced out our plates of food nicely. It's in a great location and there's a parking garage right there. We'd go back.

Revel + Roost Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Baked Risotto

I've seen many recipes for almost hands free or baked risotto and always wondered if those methods really resulted in a creamy risotto. Even when we pay attention and slowly add broth and stir, we sometimes still end up with slightly crunchy risotto. When we made the Osso Buco, the notes suggested serving it with this risotto. Since it was Baked Risotto and seemed pretty simple and not too involved, we decided to give it a try. Plus, it's from Cook's Illustrated, so we felt the chances of tasty success were pretty darn good.
It uses a pinch of saffron. It's optional, but we happened to have some (pretty darn old) saffron tucked away in the pantry, so we used it. I don't think I'd make a special effort to acquire the saffron. It does give the finished risotto a nice yellow color.
Like more involved risotto, this starts with sauteing the onions and toasting the risotto.
Add the wine.
Pour into a 13 x 9 pan.
Add the chicken stock and bay leaves.
Bake at 400 for 25-30 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and stir in the parmesan.
At first we weren't sure about this risotto. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't quite like the stove top risotto we make. It wasn't quite as creamy. It was a bit firmer. But in the end, we decided it is very tasty, and definitely less labor intensive. We especially liked it on nights when it was re-heated and crispy bits developed on top. We'd definitely make Baked Risotto again, maybe next time trying the Mushrooms & Red Wine version.

Baked Risotto
from Cover & Bake
*our version

3.5 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 onion, minced
salt
2 cups Arborio rice
pinch saffron
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Bring broth and bay leaves to simmer in a saucepan. Once simmering, reduce the heat to low and cover with a lid to keep it warm. Melt butter in a skillet. Add onion and salt. Cook until onions are softened. Add rice and saffron to skillet and stir/toast until the risotto edges become translucent. Stir in the wine and cook until the wine is absorbed. Pour the risotto into a 9 x 13 baking dish and spread it out. Pour the warm broth mixture into the baking dish. Bake about 25-30 minutes, until the liquid is all absorbed. Take out of the oven and remove bay leaves. Mix in the parmesan cheese until it is melted and creamy. Season with salt and pepper.