Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. Last weekend we received the sad news that SP's uncle passed away. SP felt strongly that he should travel to WI for the funeral so it was a matter of figuring out the details. Flying is expensive, but the drive is long (and goes through Chicago). He couldn't do the drive himself, not with the short turnaround time (and I no longer drive). We had hoped he could share the drive with a sibling or two (and hotel cost), but none seemed interested in also attending, so we paid the ridiculous airfare for a not non-stop flight to WI. He used 2 vacation days (aunts/uncles do not qualify for bereavement leave) and spent $700 (airfare, hotel, rental car, food) to go to WI. Oof.

So it looks like we'll need to replenish and then add more to the "emergency fund." I should have realized it isn't just in case of job loss or unexpected home emergencies (here's looking at you, emergency house problem last week that cost $300) but also for future sudden family events.

2. I am currently being thankful that my husband has a good job and that we are able to save a little every month for things like this. I may have met Uncle E only twice, but he was very kind to me, and his wife is a lovely woman. Their son who lives in NY is the one we visited with last fall in NY. I feel sad for Aunt E & her sons that of the 7 people from "our branch" of the family (not including spouses; there's 11 with spouses) only SP and his dad went to WI to pay respects. I know everyone had their valid/not so valid (depending on your point of view) reason(s) for not going, but SP & I would have been consumed with guilt if he hadn't gone. The only reason I didn't go is because it would have been another $503 in airfare.

3. My mom offered to stay overnight with me, but I didn't want to be some lame, can't be on her own, weak little girl, so I told her I'd be OK.

Then I spent every second after dark jumping at every little creak of the house! I checked everything a gazillion times before bed!

4. We are 9 episodes into Daredevil. I love it! I thought there were only 10 episodes so I was pushing to watch episode 10 one night (even though it was late) when SP pointed out that there are in fact 13 episodes. So 4 episodes to go.

5. Last night was the season finale of The Americans. I found it kind of under-whelming. Definitely not as satisfying and amazing as the Justified finale.

6. I think I saw that Under the Dome will be back for a 3rd season. How are these people still under the dome? Hasn't their air supply run out? Haven't the bad guys killed everyone? How the heck did that crap show get 3 seasons?

7. This week we made madeleines for dessert. Last night when I was all alone I ate 5 of them without realizing it. They're just so light and lemony and soft and delicious. I blame it on the fact that all I had for dinner was salad.

8. The new digital frame is experiencing the same washed out, horrible brightness issue as the old frame. So SP has a chore when he gets home in a few hours. I'm very disappointed in the frame.

9. I had to get out the winter slippers again. The heat has been running quite a bit. So much for readying the sunroom & deck!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Pasta with Prosciutto & Peas

This year our anniversary was on a Friday. Since it was a workday, we didn't want to try to go out to dinner after SP got home. Instead, we decided to cook something a little special and a little indulgent and that also happened to be easy & quick & super tasty: Pasta with Prosciutto & Peas.
The recipe is in the March & April 2015 issue of Cook's Illustrated. It had a lot of my favorite foods: pasta, prosciutto, parmesan & gruyere, plus a cream & butter sauce. Yum! I was pretty excited to try making this dish at home (we've had it out a couple of times and really enjoyed it).
Surprisingly, we had almost every ingredient already. We splurged on some of the pricier prosciutto from the Market District counter and it was sliced wonderfully thin, see through thin. We also picked up a few packages of DeLallo dried egg fettuccine. The CI article said that dried egg pasta is a good substitute for fresh pasta and this particular fettuccine is one of our favorite pastas. Sadly, we cannot always find it at MD.

SP grated the cheeses in the morning before he went to work. I sliced the prosciutto, chopped the shallot, measured the cream and butter, and got the water boiling so when SP got home, we could start cooking the sauce in a skillet and dump the pasta in a pot of boiling water right away. It took 10-15 minutes after he got home to get this delicious dinner on the table.

This is one of the tastiest pasta dishes we've made. It's also one of the quickest and easiest. We couldn't stop eating it and definitely ate more than we probably should have! Al dente pasta, sauce clinging to the noodles, the pop of sweet pea, the salty prosciutto and creamy bite of cheeses - definitely a make again dish.

It reheated nicely the next day for lunch. I reheated it in the oven in a small glass dish for 10-15 minutes.

Our version (we scaled it down):
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 1/2~1 tbsp butter (we had a bit more than 1/2 tbsp on the butter dish, so we used it all)
  • half a shallot, finely diced
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • one package (8.8 oz) DeLallo dried egg fettuccine
  • generous 3/4 c frozen peas
  • generous 1/4 c grated parmesan
  • generous 1/4 c grated gruyere

Slice about 5/6 of the prosciutto into strips. Mince the other 1/6. Melt butter in a skillet and add shallot. Cook until the shallot starts to soften. Stir in the heavy cream and minced prosciutto. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until cream reduces a bit. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve 1-2 cups cooking liquid and drain pasta. Return pasta to pot and add cream mixture, peas, and prosciutto strips. Add some of the reserved pasta liquid and gently mix everything together. If needed, add additional pasta water. Season with salt & pepper. Enjoy.

*This should be enough for 3 servings.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Monterey Bay Fish Grotto

This year for our dinner out to celebrate our anniversary we chose Monterey Bay Fish Grotto on Mt. Washington. MBFG recently underwent a $2 million renovation. Not only did we read about it in various newspapers and on blogs, but we heard all about it from my parents. They live in the same building as the restaurant so they had a first hand view of the renovation action. The restaurant just re-opened a few weeks ago. Neither of us had dined at the old version of MBFG, nor had either of us ever dined in the space when it was Christopher's (long, long ago).

Our reservations were for 5:30 pm and sadly, we were about 15 minutes late thanks to traffic from the Parkway West closure. Grrr. Fortunately, the couple we were joining for dinner arrived on time. We used the valet to park ($6) and rode the elevator up, enjoying a terrific view of the city. Sadly, we were not seated next to a window, so we didn't have the best view, but it wasn't "no view." I could see bits and pieces of Heinz Field, the UPMC Building, and PPG.
A celebratory bottle of 2009 Bjornstad Cellars Chardonnay (Russian River Valley in CA). Normally, we do not order an entire bottle of wine because we cannot drink it all (we were sharing this time) so I do not know what an entire bottle usually costs, but after looking at the list of bottles of chardonnay, I think it's safe to say you can expect to spend quite a bit on a bottle here at MBFG ($75+). There are some for less than that, but... I'd be curious what the retail price is on these bottles.

Our bottle ended up being decanted because there was some sediment in it, and even after decanting, there was still some sediment, which was a bit disappointing given the cost of the wine.
To start, we shared an order of Calamari with scallions, red & yellow peppers, and mango-cilantro sauce. This is some of the best calamari I've had. Definitely in the top 3 that I can remember (one other being in Mystic, CT and the other in Monterey, CA). Not at all tough, rubbery, or chewy. Just soft and lightly breaded and just so good.
As soon as the special soup of the day was mentioned, I knew SP would order it: She-Crab Soup. When it arrived, there was a mound of crab in the center of the bowl and the soup broth was poured over the crab. This was one of the best she-crab soups we've ever had. I tried just a couple of bites. There was a bit of a peppery spiciness, but it was so flavorful, not just cream flavored and a generous amount of crab.
Krim Tomato Salad (artisan greens, krim heirloom tomatoes, cucumber-sour cream sauce, balsamic vinaigrette). I was a little nervous because it's not tomato season, but this was a flavorful, ripe, juicy tomato. The cucumber-sour cream sauce was cooling and creamy and the greens crisp, chopped small, and lightly dressed. Really good.
House Salad (mixed greens, heirloom teardrop tomatoes, parmesan crisp, carrot, passionfruit vinaigrette). The salad was a nice size, definitely more than I could eat so I'm glared SP & I shared. It was very lightly dressed, which I liked, and everything tasted fresh. Not a limp, soggy, hanging out in the chiller for too long salad.
I knew SP wanted to try MBFG because he loves fish. I was a little surprised by his fish of choice: Grouper prepared Monterey style (chargrilled with kalamatas, artichokes, tomato, onion, mushroom sauteed in marsala wine sauce). He said he chose grouper because the accompanying vegetables appealed most to him. SP said the fish was nicely prepared, moist, a nice char, and the tangy olives and artichokes and marsala sauce were really good.
I chose Jumbo Shrimp (stuffed with their signature crab cake, lobster thermidor sauce). The shrimp were tasty, stuffed with a generous amount of tasty crab cake filling that was a lot of crab and little filler. I like that the lemon garnish was grilled. The sauce was quite tasty, too, rich, but there wasn't a lot of it so it wasn't overpowering.
Dessert time! We shared 3 desserts. One was Angel Food Grilled Cheese Sandwich (caramelized angel food cake, cream cheese filling, seasonal berry compote, vanilla ice cream, toasted sweet and salty almonds). This was very good. I really liked the caramelized sides of the angel food cake, a nice, sweet crunch, but still soft angel food cake, and the creamy cheese in the middle.
Blueberry Shortcake (lemon pound cake, blueberry compote, vanilla cream custard, whipped cream, tuile cookie, blueberry coulis). Delicious! I really liked the crispy swirl of tuile cookie. Not too lemony. SP's favorite of the desserts.
Pineapple Upside Down Bread Pudding (warm pineapple crème cake, sour cherry compote, cinnamon ice cream, pineapple chip, dark rum sauce). I didn't try this one because I do not like pineapple very much, but it was a big hit with everyone else. Now that I am re-reading the description, I wish I'd tried the cinnamon ice cream. Oh well!
We ended up with a fourth dessert because of a wee mix up. Instead of the Blueberry Shortcake, the Rocky Road (moist chocolate marshmallow walnut cake, chocolate ice cream, walnut praline cookie, chocolate fudge sauce) arrived. Our server said to just go ahead and enjoy the mistake, so we did. Everyone thought I would order this because of the chocolate and marshmallow, but I didn't because of the walnut. I'm not a fan of nuts with my chocolate. Also, I fear such chocolaty desserts these days. They are usually too rich and too decadent and I feel kind of icky after eating them. 

Despite the rich appearance, the cake was actually pretty light. It was definitely moist and chocolaty. Thankfully, it wasn't drowning in sticky sweet fudge sauce. The marshmallows were small but light, moist, & fluffy, not hard and dry.This ended up being my favorite dessert! 

Overall, I really liked MBFG. For us, it's a special occasion restaurant. If you eat the way we ate (wine, appetizer, salad, entree, dessert) it's a pretty pricey meal, so not an everyday (or every weekend) meal. The food was very good. The service was above good but there were a few small hiccups. At first, the wrong bottle of wine was brought to our table (a Pinot Noir instead of Chardonnay), then there was the sediment in the wine (it was fine, it tasted good, but I wondered if it really should have been replaced by a fresh bottle; I'm not sure what proper wine etiquette here is), and the wee dessert mix up (but free 4th dessert - whoo!). It's soothing inside, the chairs looked comfy and were cushioned, not hard wood, and the view is fantastic. 

Definitely a place we'll go again for a special occasion.

Monterey Bay Fish Grotto on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 17, 2015

Happy Anniversary, SP!

Today is wedding anniversary #5! It seems like it was just yesterday that we got married at Old St. Luke's Church on a breezy & chilly day. 
No special plans today. SP is at work. He'll come home, we'll eat, and then crash on the couch. So exciting! Originally we planned to go away over our anniversary, but then we changed our minds. Instead, we'll be celebrating with dinner out on Saturday. The past couple of years, we've enjoyed our anniversary dinner at Arlecchino and while I really like it there and want to go back, we picked somewhere new this year. More details on that meal later - it's a new-to-us place! 

 Happy Anniversary, SP!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. Yesterday morning we were shocked and saddened to hear that an idiot driver drove through our favorite donut place, Better Maid, AKA the pink house donut place. I've always worried a bit when we pulled off to the side of the Steuben Street and SP crossed the street to get our donuts because that stretch of road seems to have a good number of idiot speedy drivers.

Sadly, two people were injured and the building is so badly damaged it must be torn down. SP & I hope everyone is OK and that the donut shop can re-open soon, not just because he's a great guy and it's his livelihood but because we're selfish and we want yummy donuts again!

2. It finally feels like spring. Actually, it feels a bit like summer, at least in our house. A couple of days this week it got warm enough/sunny enough outside that inside the thermostat said it was 77 degrees. Warm! So we ran the a/c for a bit right before bed. I feel kind of lame, it's only April, but it sure was nice to get the stuffiness out of the house & be able to sleep.

3. Our new yard guys have been here a few times. They've cleaned up the yard, trimmed stuff, edged, mulched, and started work on cleaning up the woods. It feels so nice to have the yard looking nice in April instead of August (looking at you, old yard guy who never showed up until it was almost fall).

4. My mom came over earlier this week and helped me spring clean. We cleared out the glass cabinets in the kitchen and washed everything inside and washed the glass. We washed the glass on the French doors between the dining room & sunroom. And mom washed the sunroom windows & screens and glass deck doors. It looks so much nicer and cleaner.

5. Over the weekend SP and I removed the glass tops from the sunroom wicker tables and cleaned both sides. That was the first time that's been done in 7 years! It's amazing how dirty they were underneath (the tops are regularly cleaned, but not the bottoms).

So the sunroom is ready for warm, sunny weather. We've been spending our evenings in there. It's quiet because it's in the back of the house, and it's bright with light yellow walls, and you feel kind of cut off from the rest of the house so it feels kind of like you're on a mini vacation from things.

6. We started watching Daredevil on Netflix. We're really enjoying the show but the violence sometimes gets to me, like the bowling ball scene and Russian guy & the car door scene. We've watched 5 episodes so far.

7. Justified ended, so I'm sad, but better to end on a high than go out on a low, overstayed its welcome note. And what an ending! I thought it was a great end and that it really did come full circle. I will miss Raylan & Boyd.

8. The Americans season ends next Wednesday. I won't write anything spoiler-ish, but I'm looking forward to seeing how several things get resolved, or if they even do, because there's a lot going on, just like in Game of Thrones. The first hour of this season flew by on Sunday and I was left thinking, wait, is that it?! There's so many stories to follow in GoT. It seemed like things were just getting started and then the episode was over.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Blog Anniversary - Grandview Bakery Cupcakes

Today is the anniversary of the day I started this blog! It's been 6 years! I cannot believe it's been that long. I cannot believe that I am still photographing all our food and writing about it! It has become second nature. Well, usually. Sometimes we'll got out somewhere or sit down for dinner in the kitchen and I'll start to eat and SP will stare at me until I realize that I forgot to take photos!

Who knows how much longer I'll keep doing this. As long as it's enjoyable and not a dreaded chore. 

So I'm celebrating with cupcakes! Not really. My mom came over yesterday to help me do some spring cleaning. Over the weekend, she and my dad had dad's cousin and his wife over for dinner. There were a lot of leftover dessert items, so she brought over some cupcakes for us. The cupcakes are from Grandview Bakery on Mt. Washington. I've never tried anything from that bakery, so I was excited to try these red velvet cupcakes.

They were a tasty dessert last night while we watched Daredevil on Netflix. The cake was surprisingly still moist even though dad bought them last Saturday morning, so they were 2+ days old. The frosting was not too sweet nor was it grainy. I'd like to try more baked goodies from Grandview Bakery. Since mom & dad now live on Mt. Washington, perhaps they should frequent that bakery and bring treats to us?! That would be nice.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Spring Vegetables with Warm Vinaigrette

Every few weeks I vow to focus on the vegetable part of our meals and make it more exciting. That lasts one week and then we're busy with chores and the meat or pasta becomes the focus of the meal and vegetables become a sort of afterthought. We still eat them, lots of them, but if they're not already in the main dish, they're simply & quickly roasted or steamed or sauteed in oil. They're still tasty, but they aren't WOW! tasty. This past weekend I was back on the "make the vegetable more exciting" bandwagon. I even presented SP with a recipe ripped out of the April 2015 Food Network Magazine: Spring Vegetables with Warm Vinaigrette.
These are definitely WOW! tasty. They'll be even tastier when we have fresh dill & parsley. For now, we settled for dried herbs. This is a little time consuming because the veggies have to be blanched then sauteed, but the blanching can be done in the morning and the veggies kept in the refrigerator until it's time for dinner. It doesn't take very long to heat the veggies and vinaigrette in the skillet (probably 5-10 minutes). The white wine vinegar & Dijon vinaigrette with the dill & parsley are a very tasty combination on the crisp-tender asparagus and carrots.

Definitely a make again vegetable dish.

Recipe here.

*Notes: Instead of baby carrots, I sliced regular carrots into sticks, like I do when I make a veggie & dip snack tray. We used a half a small onion, diced, instead of spring onions and omitted the sugar.