Thursday, March 5, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. Last weekend my parents treated us to dinner at Park Bruges to celebrate SP's birthday. We shared the ham & caramelized onion tarte flambe and an order of frites. Mom & I had our usual sauteed chicken with artichokes, mushrooms, tomatoes, and risotto. SP had mussels and dad had hangar steak with more fries. We shared 2 orders of apple tarte tatin for dessert. It was, as usual, delicious (though dad thought his steak was cooked a bit too much; he likes it rare).

2. Last Sunday, due to weather, we cancelled our planned brunch at Eleven. So sad. I was really looking forward to the Grilled Sticky.

3. This weekend we are meeting SP's family at BRGR for his birthday dinner with them.

4. I know winter officially lasts through March 20 at 6:45 pm, but as soon as the calendar flips to March, I like to think winter is over. Sadly, it is not. I've been using the space heater in my office every day, trying to keep my legs and toes warm. SP got to snowblow Sunday's snow on Monday morning and this morning he got to again snowblow. At least we're getting to use the snowblower.

Happy note: the 10 day forecast on weather.com showed 55 degrees next Wednesday & Thursday!

5. Meanwhile in Georgia, my niece & nephew had school one day in two weeks because of the ice/snow there. School was cancelled for 9 days! They got a whopping 5 inches of snow! One storm caused them to lose power for 48 hours. The thing is, even though school was cancelled for nearly 2 weeks, they still managed to get down the mountain and up another mountain for sledding fun, and my niece still saw her friends. It's like free vacation days down there. It's too cold/snowy to get to school/work (seriously, work was cancelled for a few days, too) but everyone can go sledding and hiking and hang out in town.

I know. It's all in where you live and what your area is equipped for. It's the can't go to work/school but can go out for fun thing that baffles me.

6. This week we've been eating roast chicken for dinner. Every night. It's easy, it's yummy, but I am getting sick of roast chicken. Our vegetables have been green beans or broccoli and for the other side we've had rice or pierogies.

7. My computer has been super slow and annoying. SP has been having issues with his. My tablet got stuck the other day - it just had a gray screen and wouldn't do anything and once SP finally got it working, he said the battery basically drained in half an hour - ? Last night SP's cell phone died. It's stuck on the start screen, just a flashing red blob, so now he's using his old phone, the one that is 4+ years old. It's looking like it could be an expensive month or two.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Beef Bourguignon

This winter has been so darn cold. We've been wanting warm, comforting dinners - like this Beef Bourguignon from Ina Garten. In the winter we really like braising meats - especially when they braise in an entire bottle of red wine! Plus, a little bit of cognac along with the beef broth and tomato paste.
Braising alongside the beef are onions, carrots, bacon, mushrooms, and thyme.
Ready for the oven. We braised ours for 2+ hours, longer than Ina's recipe says. 
The meat was so flavorful and so tender and moist. It was easy to shred it with a fork. The first day, our sauce could have been reduced a bit more, so while we went ahead and enjoyed it with some olive oil bread from Market District, we continued reducing the sauce on the stove while we ate.
This reheats nicely (with the glass casserole lid on). We omitted the garlic and we left out the frozen onions. Definitely a make again dish.

Recipe here.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Beer Cheese Cauliflower

This winter we've been eating a lot of cauliflower. A few weeks ago, we tried this version, from Joy the Baker: Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Beer Cheddar Sauce.
This is a lot of work! A lot of steps and ingredients and time. The first step is to cook the cauliflower in boiling water seasoned with a lot of stuff: bay leaves, lemons, red pepper flakes, salt, peppercorns, olive oil, butter, sugar. It boils for about 15 minutes, until a knife can easily slice into it.
Drain the cauliflower and place it in a pie plate. You could use a casserole dish, but Joy the Baker used/suggested a pie plate, so that what we used.
Drizzle olive oil on top and sprinkle with smoked paprika. Then roast for 30 minutes. After that, broil it 3-5 minutes to get it extra brown.
Meanwhile make the beer & cheese sauce.
When both the cauliflower & sauce are ready, pour the cheese sauce around the cauliflower and serve.
Overall, this is a great idea: roasted cauliflower with beer-cheese sauce. But for me, it was way too spicy. We used the full 2 tsp of red pepper flakes even though I do not usually like hot/spicy. We figured it was just in the boiling water, not in the cheese sauce, so most would just drain off, right? Wrong. We failed to account for the fact that the red pepper flakes, as well as the peppercorns, would be swished throughout the water and consequently throughout all the nooks and crannies of the cauliflower and then become stuck in the nooks and crannies. They did not just wash out when we took the cauliflower out of the boiling water.
I couldn't even taste the flavor of the beer-cheese-mustard-Worcestershire sauce because there was way too much heat in the cauliflower for me. I couldn't eat this. This is why I hate hot/spicy foods: there is no discernible flavor, just burning heat and gasping and chugging of water. SP swears he could taste the beer-cheese flavor along with the heat, but personally, I think he long ago burned all his taste buds off.
I scooped some uncontaminated sauce from the pie plate to try it and it was delicious. I would definitely make the sauce again, maybe for alongside some plain roasted cauliflower (just roasted, not boiled and roasted), or with some bread, or with soft pretzels. But I wouldn't boil the cauliflower with red pepper flakes and peppercorns. Even though SP loves the spiciness, he got a bit annoyed picking out the peppercorns that got lodged in the nooks and crannies since the bite of whole peppercorn was a bit much for him.

In the future, we'll simply roast the cauliflower and serve it alongside the sauce. If you like heat/spice and don't mind whole peppercorns and red pepper flakes wedged in the nooks and crannies of your cauliflower, then this is a terrific dish. But it does take a lot of time - definitely allow 1-1.5 hours.

Recipe here.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. Last Saturday we braved the snow to go see Phantom of the Opera. It was the one show of the season that I really, really wanted to see. SP cleared our driveway, our road was fine, the problem was when we got on the so called main roads. Sigh. Given that it had stopped snowing/slowed down for almost 2 hours prior to our departure, the condition of the roads was abysmal.
The worst roads? City of Pittsburgh Cultural District. They were a mess of 3+ inches of dirty gray slush crap. Can you see the wheelchair tracks in the above photo? It's a good thing I had SP to drag me backwards through the mess because there was no way the wheelchair could have made it through going forwards. The front wheels would have been stopped by the slush and ice chunks. After we made it across, I took a photo.

Given that there were 2 performances of Phantom of the Opera, 2 performances of My Fair Lady, and a Fiddlesticks show that I know of, all in the Cultural District, it's disgraceful that the roads in that area were in this condition. It was very difficult for people to walk across these streets.

But Phantom of the Opera was fantastic! I'm just sad we had to cancel our dinner reservations at Butcher & the Rye - after the show we decided to head home before the snow started again.

2. Today is SP's birthday! He got to pick his dinner, which we made & ate last Sunday and we're eating the leftovers tonight. He chose lamb chops. Sunday afternoon he successfully chiseled the grill out of the ice against the house so we were able to grill them.
We grilled 10 chops, from Costco, and ate 5 on Sunday. We'll eat the other 5 tonight. We also made breaded chicken for this week. Our sides for the week are roasted asparagus, sauteed green beans with lemon, and macaroni & cheese.

3. What about dessert/birthday dessert? Well, yes, there will be birthday dessert tonight, but it's a surprise for SP. All I will say is that my mom & I slaved away in the kitchen this morning making it. I hope he likes it!

4. This terrific way below normal temperatures winter weather has our furnace running a lot. That means the house is dry, dry, dry. The furnace humidifier and our bedroom humidifier are just not enough. My skin is so dry and worse, my eyeballs are dry! I've been putting drops in to help, but it's not helping much. The skin around my eyes is so dry that I am moisturizing every few hours, blowing through the expensive eye cream. My nose is dried out and constantly on the verge of bleeding while SP has been getting nosebleeds. My dry nose is also making me breathe through my mouth, which makes my throat dry, so I'm guzzling water because my throat is constantly dry and sore.

I can't wait for warmer weather and less/no furnace!

5. Tonight is the finale of How to Get Away with Murder! So excited!

6. SP has never seen The Sound of Music. That boggles my mind. We need to fix that.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Homemade Pierogies - the Second Time

It was about this time last year that we made pierogies for the first time. They turned out quite well but given how busy we always seem to be on weekends, they are a pretty time consuming undertaking. Earlier this year I suggested to SP that we use one of his winter-time 3 day weekends to again make pierogies and he agreed.
I also suggested that we invite my mom to help and he agreed. Mom might not roll out dough or pinch dough together but she is excellent at clean up. My dad dropped her off early one morning in January (yes, this post has been in drafts for quite a while!). Of course mom and dad were looking forward to payment for her assistance - payment in the form of pierogies.
Since we were going to eat some pierogies that week, give some away, and wanted some for the freezer, we decided to make a batch of the same pierogies as last year plus try a second "kind" of pierogie. By kind I mean a different dough, not filling. Last year we made a dough with sour cream in it and while the pierogies were really tasty, I'm not sure that adding sour cream to the dough is very authentic.
I did some research. I founds of lots of recipes. Doughs with varying amounts of flour, water, egg/no egg, oil/no oil, milk, butter - kind of overwhelming!
I finally settled on a recipe I found at Brown Eyed Baker. The one she tried is a Cook's Illustrated recipe. We find that the Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen recipes always turn out tasty, so we decided to try it.
The finished pierogies: King Arthur Flour version on the left, Cook's Illustrated on the right. KAF has sour cream, butter, and an egg. CI has egg and egg yolk, water, and oil.
SP did the rolling and he found the CI version a bit more difficult to roll. The dough was "springier" - every time he rolled it out and stopped to cut, it would sort of shrink again. I didn't notice a difference when filling and pinching shut. There is a difference in taste, though.
My parents like the KAF verison better. SP does, too. In some ways I do as well. It's a little more flavorful and the sour cream really adds to the taste. However, in terms of what I think authentic pierogies should taste like, I think CI's version really hits the mark. There's something about that dough that really pleases me. It fries up a little crisper and flakier, I think.

Both versions are very tasty and make satisfying pierogies. Both freeze well. And I think from now on, we'll have to make both versions. With an extra helper in the kitchen, it's much easier to crank these out.

*We made our own version of the filling again, the same as last year. We added a bit more sauteed onion to the filling this year.
*We had leftover filling, on purpose, because we wanted to make a few twice baked potatoes for the freezer. We had enough for 8 twice baked potatoes and gave my mom some of those, too.
*KAF recipe here.
*CI version here.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Marbled Mint Chocolate Pudding

Growing up, my idea of pudding was instant pudding. Open the packet, dump the powder in a bowl, add milk, mix, chill, eat. I never thought about making it from scratch - not until I met SP and he turned his nose up at instant pudding and told me it was super easy to make homemade pudding.
One day he made homemade chocolate pudding for me and it was fantastic. It was very simple, a basic, beginner recipe, but my gosh it was so much better than instant pudding. I'll never go back to instant. Last week we made a more complex pudding: Marbled Mint Chocolate Pudding from the February 2015 issue of Bon Appetit.
It's not really that complex. It has few more ingredients and you make two puddings to swirl together. We made the white chocolate-mint pudding first.In spite of constant stirring, it curdled a bit on the bottom of the pan. We just dumped that part. It happens sometimes when we make ice cream custard, too, which is why we often pour the custard through a fine mesh sieve.
Smooth and creamy. Next up was the chocolate custard, which looked exactly like the white chocolate-mint custard until we poured it over the chocolate and started stirring.
Smooth, creamy chocolate pudding.
We had more white chocolate pudding than chocolate pudding. I'm not sure why. Oh well.

We didn't do the best job of layering and swirling, but here's a side view of one of our dessert bowls:
This pudding was delicious. Minty. Chocolaty. It was pretty rich. And it seemed thicker than other puddings we've made. The recipe says it yields six servings. We made four servings because we had only four glass dessert bowls. The pudding was rich enough that we each struggled to eat one on our own. On subsequent nights, we shared a bowl.
Definitely something we'd make again.

Recipe here.

*We didn't top the pudding with crumbled chocolate cookies as suggested in the recipe.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Taste of Braddock's Brasserie

Recently, we were fortunate enough to be invited to sample several dishes at Braddock's Pittsburgh Brasserie. When we first dined at Braddock's last November, we both really enjoyed our meals, so we were excited for this tasting. We bundled up on a frigid winter evening and headed into the city. Once we arrived, we warmed up with cocktails: Hot Buttered Rum for SP and a Braddock's Smash for me. Soon enough the food started to arrive.
Shrimp & Grits. Last time we were at Braddock's, we had this and thought it was phenomenal. This time, it was again phenomenal - this is one of my favorite dishes in Pittsburgh. Chef Jason told us that he orders his grits from a company in Mississippi and just a few days after ordering, freshly ground, authentic southern grits arrive in Pittsburgh. I've always noticed a slight difference between grits we've enjoyed during our travels in the south and grits we've tried in other parts of the country. The source (and freshness) really does make a difference - these grits are so delicious.

Official description: Bacon Wrapped Shrimp with Cheddar Grits and Allegheny BBQ. The side salad served alongside this was Arugula Salad with roasted pear, pepitas, bacon lardon, sweet onions, mignonette vinaigrette. It was an excellent salad, but when there's bacon wrapped shrimp and cheesy grits in front of me, the salad, no matter how delicious, is an after-thought!
Next up was Double Dipped Chicken Livers with bacon lardon, grilled onion, honey sriracha BBQ. I had never before tried chicken livers. They were good, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, but for me, eating just one of the two pieces was enough, plus the sriracha made it a little spicy for me, the spice wimp. SP loved this dish. He finished mine and scooped up all the sauce.
On the left, Confit Rabbit Pappardelle roasted beets, grilled yams, spinach, oyster mushrooms, reggiano cheese, rabbit glace and on the right Butternut Squash Risotto with crispy Brussels sprouts and parmesan snow. Pasta and risotto - two of my favorite things. I started with the risotto, mostly just because I wasn't quite ready to tackle the pappardelle because I always make a mess when I eat this kind of shape pasta (you do not want to see me eating spaghetti or angel hair). The risotto was so good. Creamy arborio. Salty parmesan. Crisped Brussels. I couldn't stop eating it. I always marvel at how restaurants get such lovely, crispy yet still so flavorful and not burnt/black Brussels sprouts - we're still working on getting it just right at home. I was getting full when I finished the risotto and turned to the rabbit pappardelle.

I liked the rabbit pappardelle. This was the best dish of the night, according to SP. There was a very nice, for me, ratio of pasta, shredded rabbit, and veggie bits. SP loves rabbit and has eaten it frequently when we dine out. I had not before tried rabbit. It is, to me, an OK meat. I'm not really sure how to describe it because it was shredded so it's not like I had a huge hunk in my mouth. It is a mild flavor, it's not gamey to me, but neither does it taste like chicken to me (which is what many people think). It was very tender and moist, shredding easily. I couldn't eat all of it but SP happily finished it for me.
On the left is Bourbon Candied Pork Chop with sweet red onion & bacon confit sitting atop cheddar grits and with asparagus. On the right is Whiskey Short Rib Goulash - borscht short ribs, butter dumpling with seasonal vegetables (carrot). Chef Jason told us the dumpling is a German dumpling with equal parts butter and flour. The key to the dumpling is to freeze the dough before cooking the dumpling.

The pork was SP's second favorite dish of the night. The grits were again amazing. The pork slices were so moist and flavorful with sauce and bacon and onion flavor on top. Much as I love good pork, I love well prepared short rib even more, especially since we do not make short rib at home. This meat was so moist, so easy to pull apart, just so darn delicious. The dumpling was really good, too, especially if you remember to eat a bite of it with a bite of the short rib, but I got into a laser like focus zone on that short rib and ignored everything else until it was gone.
We finished with Flourless Chocolate Cake with salted caramel ganache, blackberry compote, pistachio crunch, and candied bacon. Of course I love candied bacon (how shocking). This was delicious, chocolaty but not too rich , and I liked the blackberry flavor with the chocolate and caramel. Much as I enjoyed the entire dessert, I could have happily eaten just 3-4 pieces of the candied bacon for dessert.

I'm not sure why it took us so long to try Braddock's for the first time. The cocktails we've tried have been terrific, the food delicious, and service excellent, definitely some of the best service we've experienced.

Many thanks to Braddock's and Kristen for inviting us. It was great to meet Chef Jason. He spent some time cooking in New Orleans and he was happy to talk about that as well as what ingredients are in his dishes and how he sources his meats and other ingredients. We find that very interesting since we try (but don't always succeed) at eating local, sustainable, organic, whatever you want to call it, to us it's just our personal food evolution and trying to be a bit more aware with our food choices.

If you haven't yet tried Braddock's, you should. It's definitely in the top of our favorite Pittsburgh places.