Thursday, July 2, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

Otis the Groundhog eating our grass
1. True Detective Season 2 Episode 2 was much better than episode 1. We started out only half-watching the show, slightly bored by Frank's monologue, but then things got interesting. We decided we had to give the show our full attention, so we put our tablets away and started the episode over. I'm much more interested in the show now. And how about that ending?!

2. We finished OITNB Season 3. Next season should be interesting!

3. This past week I read Some Luck and part of Early Warning by Jane Smiley. They are the first 2 books in a trilogy about an Iowa farm family. Each chapter is one year, the first book is 1920-1953 and the second book 1953-1987. I really enjoy these but in the second novel, I keep losing track of which branch of the family a descendant belongs to and how they are all related. I keep having to refer to the family tree diagram in the front of the book!

4. I'm very excited because the new Daniel Silva novel is out! One of my favorite authors/series of books.

5. We made Pasta with Prosciutto & Peas this week - yum! Definitely one of my favorite dishes.

6. Tonight we are headed to Park Bruges for dinner. I am already looking forward to the flatbread with ham & caramelized onions and chicken with artichokes & mushrooms.

7. Can Donald Trump please go away?

8. Otis the groundhog was out in our yard this morning. He looks fatter than ever.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Chops Deli

I don't know about other people, but for us, there comes a time towards the end of vacation when we are sick of dining out, tired of big meals, ready to be at home eating a salad, or just not eating for a day or two. If we eat "fancy" it seems big. If we eat "casual" it's big because the portions are big. Back in May when we were in Wilmington, NC and near the end of vacation, we were food-ed out! Fortunately, we found a deli with soups and sandwiches and that's where we ate our last few meals.
The deli: Chops Deli. There are a couple locations in Wilmington. We ate 2 lunches and 1 dinner from Chops Deli. The first time was for lunch after walking along the River Walk. I liked the interesting meat and cheese and topping combinations plus the sandwich was a perfect size for me. SP liked the soups and being able to get healthy-ish sandwiches (multi-grain bread, nice spring lettuce mix, etc). Plus, he could get a nice salad. The other plus: it wasn't pricey and we were just as satisfied as after a "fancy" meal.

SP liked the Manhattan Clam Chowder (above photo) and the Plymouth Sandwich (Smoked Turkey Breast, Havarti, Thinly Sliced Granny Smith Apples, and Homemade Cranberry Relish on Multigrain):
He also liked the Monaco (Lemon Pepper Chicken, Mozzarella, Spring Mix, Tomato, and Homemade Tomato Pesto Mayo on 3 Cheese Semolina):
My favorite was the Malmo (Homemade Pimento Cheese, Black Forest Ham, Maple Glazed Chicken, Tomato, Red Onion and Homemade Cajun Remoulade on Multigrain). I got the remoulade on the side. This is one of my favorite sandwiches, ever. To my surprise, I really liked the remoulade and I didn't find it too spicy.
I also tried, and like the La Plata (Black Forest Ham, Smoked Bacon, Baby Swiss, and Honey Mustard on Country White). No photo, though, just like no photo of the salad he ordered. By that last meal, not only was I food-ed out, but I was tired of taking photos of food, especially when for our last meal we got take out and ate in the hotel.

Definitely a good choice for lunch or dinner if you're in Wilmington, NC.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

New Favorite Sandwich (Meat & Potatoes)

This past weekend, we went to see Man of La Mancha and then to dinner at Meat & Potatoes. We were early for our reservation but were able to order a drink at the bar & enjoy it in the lobby area. I ordered my usual: Sgt. Pepper's Old Fashioned.
After we were seated we ordered 2 more drinks: Brown Derby (bourbon, grapefruit juice, honey) for me, on the left, and Cameron's Kick (scotch and nutmeg and other stuff I forget, maybe lemon) for SP, on the right. Both were delicious. And easy to quickly drink! After these, we switched to iced teas.
This time, we tried some new-to-us dishes: Fried Taters with black truffle mayo. I don't know why I wanted these, I really do not much like fries, but these are really good, possibly better than the ones at Park Bruges. Thin, crisp, salty, and cool truffled mayo. We ate them all.
As always, we ordered Fried Brussels with lemon aioli. So good. I like eating the crisp outer leaves that fall off the sprout.
Another usual order: Fried Pickles with spicy ranch. These are still my favorite fried pickles ever. The pickle stays so nice and crisp, not soggy or wet or too warmish, and the breading isn't super greasy and it's nicely browned and crunchy.
This was a special salad: Watermelon with ricotta and hazelnuts. It wasn't as heavy as it looks - the cheese was light and fluffy and melted in my mouth. We inhaled this in no time. A perfect summer salad.

Thus far, we had eaten everything placed in front of us. Then this arrived:
Lobster Mac (taleggio, white cheddar, doritos, truffle). We each had a few bites. Deliciously cheesy and creamy and for the first time ever, the lobster wasn't over cooked & tough. We only had a few bites because this was also on our table:
Three Little Pigs Sandwich (pork milanese, ham, pork belly, swiss, fried farm egg, grilled bread). Oh. My. Gosh. This is my new favorite sandwich.
I don't even know how to describe it other than porky deliciousness. The yolk wasn't too runny, which I liked. Moist breaded pork. Melted cheese. Thin ham. Thick slices of pork belly. Mustard. Grilled, crusty bread that held together and didn't tear. We each ate half of a half - it was enormous. I have no idea why we never before ordered this.
I really wanted to try the Butterscotch Pot de Creme for dessert which is why we decided to eat only some of the Lobster Mac & Three Pig Sandwich and take the rest home. We ate the whole dessert - it was just the right size and very tasty, not too heavy.

I already want to go back and eat more Three Little Pigs Sandwich.

Meat & Potatoes is still one of our favorite restaurants in Pittsburgh. Yes, our eyes are larger than our tummies, but it's so tasty that we can't resist plus we only go 2-3 times a year. We never mind restaurant leftovers, especially when they're this good. Especially when they give us enough for an entire delicious dinner the next day - it's like 2 nights in a row at Meat & Potatoes. And especially in this case, 2 nights in a row of The Best Sandwich Ever.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Apricot-Thyme-Glazed Roast Chicken

By now we have made enough roast chickens that they do not seem too difficult. We think of them as an easy dinner when we don't have a lot of time on a Sunday to cook for the week. But I do get kind of bored with roast chicken. No matter how much butter/lemon/onion/herbs we rub under the skin and stuff inside it, the leftovers are always kind of boring. That's because we don't eat the skin after the first day and the skin is where all the yummy flavor ends up. Plus, we never make any kind of gravy from the drippings.
I keep searching for a recipe that will give roast chicken leftovers more oomph. The March 2015 issue of Food & Wine had a recipe for Apricot-Thyme Glazed Chicken and that sounded good plus we have lots of fresh thyme and we have some dried apricots leftover from the Apricot-Mostarda Pork. Basically, you make an apricot-thyme-butter to season the chicken.
What I like about this recipe is that some of the apricot-thyme-butter mixture is saved and served alongside the roast chicken. This recipe also calls for chicken broth to be poured in the pan under the chicken and then turned into light gravy (pan jus). This means that on leftover chicken days, a small amount of the butter and some pan jus can be heated together in a small bowl and used as a topping. That improves the appeal of leftover roast chicken. Flavor! Also, I find the orange butter color appealing.
We used a smallish chicken, about 4 lbs. Lemon is squeezed all over the chicken then stuffed inside and chicken stock poured in the pan. After roasting for about 35 minutes, some of the flavored butter thinned with olive oil to make a glaze is brushed over the chicken every 10 minutes. The every 10 minutes glazing is done until the chicken reaches 165, about another 20-30 minutes.
At first, we thought this was too much work for so little flavor. The payoff was on leftover nights. Sunday after dinner SP took all the meat off the bones for easier leftover evenings. On those leftover evenings, with just a wee bit of heated apricot-thyme butter and pan jus spooned on top, the leftover chicken meat was very tasty and definitely much more exciting than our usual roast chicken leftovers.

So I guess the answer to boring roast chicken leftovers is that we need to always make a little gravy for our roast chicken. I suppose we don't need to make the apricot-thyme butter as well, but it sure did add to the pan jus and chicken flavor.

Recipe here.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Fresh Strawberry Pie

This is another recipe from one of those old Cook's Illustrated magazines I ripped apart. Fresh Strawberry Pie is from the May-June 2011 issue. Personally, I like strawberries best just plain or on top my breakfast yogurt. I've never much cared for strawberry pie even though it was always popular with my friends when we'd eat at King's or Eat'n Park. I always thought, meh, what's the big deal about wet and too sweet, somewhat gloppy berries in a pie crust and topped with whipped cream?
But after the success of our peach and apple pies, I've been wanting to try more pies. The problem is that the 2 of us can't eat an entire pie before it goes bad (or as sadly happened one year to the peach pie, shows signs of mold). Father's Day was the perfect time to make another pie. My parents would help eat it and could take home leftovers. My mom wasn't too excited about this pie. I suggested it to dad and he was on board. SP was on board because he likes fruit desserts and because the crust is the one with vodka and he's been wanting to try the vodka crust. I was willing to try this strawberry pie because it's from Cook's Illustrated and their recipes are usually excellent.
It doesn't take much time to whip up the glaze for the berries. Puree some berries then cook them with cornstarch, sugar, low sugar pectin (it's important to get the the pink box), and salt, then stir in some fresh lemon juice and let it cool. It's important to use these 2 thickeners. CI did a lot of tests with various thickeners alone and in combinations to determine which would make the tastiest pie. After it cools, add the other berries to the glaze and then arrange in the baked pie crust. 
The crust is easy to make in the food processor. The pie crusts we like best use both butter and shortening, like this one. The difference here is that the shortening is chilled. This dough was a little different to work with than the pie crust recipe we usually use from Joy of Cooking. SP said it kept wanting to spring back when he rolled it or stretched it into the pie plate. As soon as we removed the pie weights, the crust shrank down the sides as it finished baking, which was disappointing. He told me later that after making the crust, he went back and listened to an America's Test Kitchen podcast in which it was pointed out that some people don't like this pie dough for this pie because it does have a tendency to shrink and fall down the sides as it bakes. If it was a pie with lattice or a top crust to latch onto, that would help.
It does make a nice flaky, crisp, delicious crust that held up nicely to the "wet" pie filling. Even the next day, the bottom crust wasn't soggy. Of course strawberry pie needs to be topped with whipped cream. For SP, lots of whipped cream:
The strawberries were better than I expected. Not too sweet, not too moist, not bland, no yucky, gummy glaze.
We'd definitely make this again. Next time I'd use our usual pie crust recipe with this strawberry filling.

Recipe here.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

 1. The rainy, muggy weather isn't great for having outdoor fun, but it sure is great for our herbs and garden. The past couple of weeks, things have really taken off and now we have lots of fresh herbs ready for use. We used a bunch last weekend for Father's Day dinner with dad. Fresh basil on tomatoes and mozzarella with balsamic syrup:
 And dill, mint, and parsley in a yogurt sauce:
 We put the sauce on top thinly sliced cucumbers:
Herby Cucumber Salad
 2. Dad wanted fish for Father's Day, which made SP very happy. We grilled shrimp and scallops:
 And a piece of mahi mahi:
I tried the mahi mahi and it was OK, fishy, and yes, it's fish, but my problem is that I just don't like fish smell/taste.
All the seafood was simply prepared: rubbed with olive oil, salted & peppered, then grilled. 
The final part of dinner: bread from Mediterra.
 3. Later Sunday evening, after mom & dad left, we watched the premiere of True Detective Season 2. It was just OK. It definitely didn't draw us in and keep our attention the way season 1 did, but maybe the next few episodes will get better.

4. The Orphan Black finale was good. We're 4 episodes into OITNB. It's nice to not have as many shows to watch.

5. Reading: I read Girl At War by Sara Novic, which I thought was excellent. I finally finished last month's magazines and already 3 new issues have arrived so the magazine pile is again tall.

6. We watched a couple of movies: Blackhat (not bad but SP rolled his eyes a lot at the computer stuff) and Unbroken (I read the book and there was just so much more this movie could have been, it seemed like just a biography without much character examination or emotional impact). I watched Still Alice and gosh was it good but it really hit home, especially because a few friends are starting to struggle with parents/grandparents and dementia.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Bob's Kennedy Diner

A couple weekends ago, Z was in town visiting from MD. We met her for brunch on Sunday morning at Bob's Kennedy Diner. It's in McKees Rocks/Kennedy in the same strip mall area as a Giant Eagle & a restaurant named Rockefeller's off McKees Rocks Road.
We both like Bob's for diner breakfast food. We've also been to the one in Carnegie. SP likes to order My Dad’s Favorite (two eggs, one pancake, one slice of bacon, one sausage link, and your choice of toast). I didn't get a photo of his huge pancake. As usual, lots of filling, tasty breakfast food.
As always, I ordered Bob’s Famous Breakfast Sandwich (two thick, grilled slices of fresh Mancini bread layered with eggs, cheese, and your choice of bacon, ham or sausage). I chose bacon. It was delicious - and big. I hadn't been feeling too great that weekend, so I could only eat half my sandwich. I took the other half home and ate it later in the day.

Sometimes I wish we didn't stay up so late, which means sleeping in late, which means we hardly ever get up and moving in time to go out to breakfast. We can, and have, made all these foods at home, and it's always good, but there's something wonderful about being served breakfast food and not having to do the prep work, cooking, and clean up. It always tastes better when someone else makes it.

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