Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bahama Breeze

Wednesday night SP's family gathered at Bahama Breeze to celebrate Googer's birthday. This was also a chance to have a birthday dinner with EPAS and her family since they are in town visiting.

There were 10 of us (Slarb & his family couldn't make it). Googer, Zurdie, ZSO, and the 2 nephews were at the table for 6 while SP & I were at the table for 4. EPAS sat 'in-between' on the 'bench' lining the window wall but mostly at the table for 6. Not sure why Bahama Breeze didn't push the tables together - ?

On the plus side, our table was ready when we arrived. The last time we went there, we called ahead/made a reservation for 10 for a specific time and we still had to wait nearly an hour for our table.

Bahama Breeze is not one of my favorite places. On a good stomach day I am hard pressed to find something tolerable. I immediately rule out anything with garlic, jerk seasoning, spicy flavor, beef (I don't eat beef at restaurants), chili peppers, beans, seafood (other than shrimp and crab), corn... just to name a few 'bad for tummy' foods. All of the above listed items have in the past and likely will in the future upset my stomach. Avoiding the above listed items severely limits my choices.

Now add in 4 days of intense stomach cramping and pains with bloating and the fact that none of my various bottles/pills of over-the-counter antacid, anti-gas, heartburn, indigestion medicines seems to be working and the menu is pretty much limited to one item: my usual choice of Grilled Chicken Cobb Salad.

The salad comes with 2 dressings, both on the side: blue cheese and Island vinaigrette. I like both, but blue cheese is one of my favorite dressings so I usually use the blue cheese dressing. It's a pretty good salad with chicken, lots of big bacon bits, diced tomato, shredded cheese, pumpkin seeds, avocado, egg, and greens. It's nice that it's mixed greens and not iceberg lettuce!SP started off with a cup of seafood chowder:He dumped his package of crackers in before I had a chance to take the photo. For his meal he had the special Shrimp & Grits:There were a lot of shrimp surrounding a large mound of grits and some green beans. He said it was quite tasty and large - he brought half of it home.

SP's dad started with a cup of black bean soup:And he had Margarita Chicken for dinner:Husband of EPAS ordered the ribs in a guava BBQ sauce:He said the ribs were good but he's had better, which isn't surprising considering that they lived for several years in South Carolina and that he has been traveling for work to Austin, TX a lot in the past 4 months. The ribs come with French fries; no veggies, so maybe not the healthiest meal. I personally would like my BBQ with a side such as cole slaw or creamed spinach.

It should be noted that Husband of EPAS almost fell out of his chair laughing at me taking photos of the food. He didn't know about the blog until tonight and was amused by photo taking.

EPAS ordered the Shrimp & Grits and said they were tasty, but not as good as the grits she ate when they lived in SC and in VA.

I didn't see what anyone else ordered since they were far, far away! I was at the far end of the table for 4.

No one ordered dessert. In spite of my stomach distress, it was a very nice evening with family. As for Bahama Breeze, I am not a good person to 'review' this restaurant. They simply do not serve foods friendly to Yum Yum's tummy. I do enjoy the onion rings, but didn't want anything fried tonight because of my stomach. One time I ordered a lobster ravioli dish and it was disappointing - not that many ravioli and neither the quantity nor quality could justify the price. For $2-$4 more I would much rather eat at Bistro 19 or somewhere like that. SP's family enjoys the food there so I'm sure there will be many more return trips there. I'll just stick with the Grilled Chicken Cobb Salad -- and it's only $9.99!!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pancakes & Other Stuff

SP took some vacation days this week, so he's off between Christmas and New Year's Day. This is quite nice. We had all sorts of plans for 'at home' time (him in the basement playing his new XBox games) and 'going on dates' time. However, as Whitney at I Run I Sweat commented, at the holidays you spend so much time with family and friends that when it's all over you're left thinking, hey, I didn't get any time for myself. That is certainly the case for us.

After spending Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Saturday morning with SP's family, we spent Saturday afternoon with some of my friends who were in town. I hadn't seen C and her husband in nearly 2 years (they live in VA) and SP had never met them. C, L (who lives in Pittsburgh), and I have been friends since middle school, so we've known each other a long time.

It was a very nice visit with C & her husband as well as L and her husband and kids. We ordered pizza & hoagies from Juliano's for dinner. I will never, ever get pizza from them again, especially not sausage pizza. As if the Ya Fei Chinese food on Christmas Eve didn't upset my stomach enough, the sausage pizza pushed it over the edge. Since Sunday afternoon I've been experiencing extremely painful cramping and stomach distress. I am almost, but not quite, ready to go to the ER. It was so painful Sunday night that I couldn't sleep in bed. I ended up sleeping in the recliner in the living room. It was the first night SP and I have slept apart since moving in together 1.5 years ago. I've been taking a lot of over the counter medicine, but it's not helping much.

Back to the Juliano's pizza: the sausage was piled on way, way too much and wasn't that tasty. The mushrooms looked like canned mushrooms, not fresh. Pizza Milano's sausage and mushrooms are way better, and their crust, too. Sorry, no photos of the offending pizza.

Sunday, SP went to Smokey Bones to meet some friends from college who were in town. He ate smoked turkey and to his surprise really enjoyed it. Sunday afternoon I sat on the couch with stomach pain and we read and watched the Steelers. We both had library books due Monday and Tuesday, so we did a lot of reading on Sunday & Monday!

Monday we spent the day dealing with getting our car repaired (from when SP got rear-ended before Thanksgiving). What a pain -- the insurance people 'forgot' to set up the rental car, then Enterprise didn't have any cars available because of the holiday weekend, one wasn't available until nearly 3 pm at which point the body shop & SP decided to just move the repair until Tuesday, and now we have some crappy Hyundai that neither of us likes. We can't wait to have our 11-year old Civic back.

SP also spent a lot of Monday trying to fix a computer for a friend of ours. Yesterday, finally, we got to have a 'date' -- we went to see Sherlock Holmes in the afternoon. It was fun! The story wasn't as silly stupid as reviews had led me to expect. Definitely a fun movie. We really like our new theater (Cinemark Robinson) and I feel compelled to again mention that the teenagers working there are not moody and surly but friendly, nice, helpful, and talkative! Just like the new Giant Eagle employees we've encountered!

Today marks the beginning of a 3 day visit from SP's sister who lives in eastern PA, so we find ourselves again busy with family. Then it'll be the weekend, filled with lots of chores (2 weeks of laundry!), errands/shopping, and cooking for the work week, which starts again on Monday!!! Yikes!!!So this morning, after snoozing in late, SP made himself comfort food - pancakes. I passed since my stomach is still unhappy. Here's his made-up recipe (he wanted to use up some stuff, like the buttermilk):

  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • blueberries

He was very happy with these. He heated some of the leftover ham from Christmas to eat with his pancakes. They smelled really good, but I stuck to my yogurt.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cookie Gifts

SP and I baked 12 kinds of holiday cookies. About 44 dozen cookies. Although we have been impressive cookie monsters lately, we did not keep all the cookies for ourselves! We gave cookies to SP's family and we gave some to some friends who were in town visiting. Some of our gift trays were piled so high with cookies that we couldn't get the lid on - we used plastic wrap to secure the cookie towers! We hope everyone enjoys the cookies - we certainly enjoyed baking them!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Dinner

Christmas Day I ate lots of cookies! Cookies for breakfast. Cookies for lunch. Cookies for afternoon snacks. Cookies for appetizers. But not for dinner. For dinner, SP & I heated a ham, baked some Pillsbury biscuits, baked a yam (for SP), cooked some spinach (for SP; I don't like cooked spinach), and made a quick version of the green bean & mushroom casserole from Thanksgiving. Quite a tasty meal, enjoyed with a bottle of Coppola Rosso (zinfandel-syrah-cabernet sauvignon blend).After dinner I ate more cookies!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ya Fei

On Christmas Eve we met SP's family at Ya Fei for dinner. SP's mom and her husband are in town for the holiday. Ya Fei is located in Robinson Town Center - the strip mall with the post office, Verizon Wireless store, Jo-Ann store, and the liquor store. We had made reservations and were seated at a large round table with a rather wobbly, unbalanced lazy susan in the center. Everyone quickly poured hot tea to warm themselves (except for me; I don't like oolong).

I've only had Ya Fei's food once before. We had some delivered to the house one day back when we were moving in and too busy to cook. It was OK. This time, SP and I decided to share an appetizer of dumplings.

There were six large dumpling with the usual dipping sauce. These dumplings were no better/no worse than dumplings I've eaten at other Chinese restaurants.

SP ordered Hot & Sour Soup.He said it was tasty.

For our main meal, we shared Velvet Shrimp -- 'slices of large shrimp quickly stir-fried to retain flavor with baby corn, broccoli and straw mushrooms; served in a velvety light sauce.' We also shared an order of Chicken Lo Mein.

Both dishes were fine. As I said about the dumplings, no better/no worse than similar foods I've eaten at other Chinese restaurants (Sesame Inn, Sichuan House, Pacific Ring). The meal was fine. Would I go back? I suppose if a large group wanted Chinese, sure, I'd go back. But as with other Chinese meals I've eaten in the past few years, it left me feeling somewhat queasy in my stomach. I emphasize all Chinese food for the last few years, not Ya Fei in particular. My sensitive stomach seems to have started being sensitive to Chinese. I'm not sure if it's the grease, or oil, or... whatever. There's something that makes me feel rather ill after I eat it. I didn't sleep well last night because my stomach was not happy. So I would only go back if I was part of a large group that wanted to eat Chinese.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Raspberry Shortbread Bars

Christmas Eve morning after cuddling in bed until very late morning, we made our final Holiday Cookie: Raspberry Shortbread Bars, Holiday Cookie #12.

This recipe is from Food & Wine. I've made it several times before. SP really likes these. My sister-in-law also really likes these - one year I made them and took them to my brother's house for Christmas and his wife ate these cookies for breakfast every morning!The dough is pretty standard and easy. The 'hard' part might be separating the eggs, but after you separate eggs a couple of times, it is pretty easy. After the dough is mixed, it is divided into two logs and refrigerated for at least an hour.Before getting the dough out of the refrigerator, you need to butter an 11 x 8.5 inch glass baking dish. Then, you take one log and, using a box grater, grate the dough into an even layer covering the bottom of the baking dish. Next, spread the preserves on top. The recipe from Food & Wine uses raspberry but notes that any preserves can be used. Last year we used peach (I thought peach was just OK) and this year we chose cherry preserves. The second log is grated evenly across the top of the preserves layer.Then it bakes for about 35 minutes. The nice thing about this recipe is that it is a bar cookie, so once all the dough is in the baking dish, you're done. No shaping of dough, no dropping by spoonfuls, no cookie sheets, no removing individual cookies and cooling on a cooling rack. Just bake them all at once, remove, and cool in the pan until ready to cut into bars.
Ours took a bit longer than 35 minutes, as it has in years past. The cherry preserves are quite delicious. Much better than peach. Yum!

Regular Pizzelles

Wednesday afternoon I soldiered on alone with the Holiday Baking!! After making the palmiers and cappuccino pizzelles, I made Regular Pizzelles - Holiday Cookie #11. 'Regular Pizzelles' are, in Yum Yum's mind, flavored with anise and vanilla. I love the smell of anise and there's something about anise pizzelles - I think they're my favorite pizzelle flavor.

I whipped up the batter and again settled in at the kitchen table to drop batter into the pizzelle maker.I actually find this part kind of relaxing. Scoop batter, drop batter on pizzelle maker, shut lid, sip hot tea and gaze out window at winter wonderland & new construction until the light turns green, remove to cooling rack, repeat. You can see wisps of steam coming off the pizzelle maker right after I drop the batter on and shut the lid:About 45 minutes later I had nearly 4 dozen pizzelles.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cappuccino Pizzelles

Wednesday morning I made Cappuccino Pizzelles - Holiday Cookie #10.

This was the first time using the replacement pizzelle maker. Last August the latch broke on ours so we took it back and exchanged it.This was the first time making Cappuccino Pizzelles. The batter for these pizzelles includes instant espresso powder, cinnamon, and coffee liquor. We used Kahlua.The batter smelled really good. Pizzelle batter is easy to make - combine sugar and 3 eggs, add melted & cooled butter and flavorings, add flour & baking powder.SP left for work and I sat at the kitchen table, sipping my morning tea and drooping spoonfuls of batter into the pizzelle maker.The new one works fine. It's taking me a while to figure out which 'brown' setting I want it set at (I think 3.5-4 is a good setting).I sampled one for breakfast. It tasted pretty good. Maybe a wee bit dryer than I expected and not quite as much coffee flavor as I expected but usually pizzelles taste better the next day, so I am reserving judgment!

Almond Frangipane Palmiers

I mentioned that during the 2001 holidays I was not working. During that time, I took a holiday cookie baking class at Crate in Green Tree. One of the recipes from that class is Almond Frangipane Palmiers. I made these palmiers for Christmas 2001 and everyone really liked them, but they never made it back onto the holiday cookie tray. This year, for some reason, I really wanted to make these. So, after making the Walnut Cups, we started making Holiday Cookie #9: Almond Frangipane Palmiers.

Keep in mind I have not made these since Christmas 2001. When I made our cookie baking ingredient list, I only glanced at the ingredients, not the actual recipe. When it came time to make these and I actually read the directions, I thought 'uh-oh' because, as it turned out, my typed recipe, after an 8 year hiatus, seemed way to vague and I found myself with many questions. Oops.

SP was annoyed not just because of the vague directions but also because these turned out to be much more work than just sprinkling some stuff on puff pastry, rolling into a log, and baking. He was not happy with these (or with me).

'Roll one piece of puff pastry in almond mixture.' The almond mixture is almonds, sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon, if desired, processed together until finely ground. SP was grumbling about having to use the food processor. That's extra clean up, all those parts - not a simple and quick step. We doubled the recipe, but doubling the almond mixture seems like it was a mistake - we had nearly half of it leftover. Oops. I couldn't remember if both sides of the puff pastry got covered with the almond mixture, or just one side. We went with one side.

'Spread with a thin layer of filling.' The filling is unsalted butter, sugar, almond paste, egg, and cake flour.It's a bit tough to spread because it's rather sticky. It kept pulling up the almond mixture. SP was sort of... cursing. Naturally, when I took the class, the instructor made spreading the filling look oh-so-easy. We did use all the doubled filling.

*It should be noted that I was finishing up the walnut cups when SP started the palmiers - so I wasn't helping out much with the palmiers. My lack of participation, vague directions, and it turning out to be more work than anticipated did not make for a happy SP. It's my fault. I should have read the recipe ahead of time and then googled similar recipes to look for more detailed directions.

Those two steps are the hard parts. After those steps, you roll up the dough, refrigerate until set, slice, and bake. We left the rolled up logs in the refrigerator overnight.

This morning, I sliced and baked the logs.Baking the slices on parchment paper is a must. They'll stick and flake apart and burn if you don't use the parchment paper.Much like the last time I made these, the filling seems to ooze out of the rolled up puff pastry, and then the oozing out part turns really brown. I wouldn't say burnt exactly, but... very dark brown and crispy. I'm not sure why this happens on some and not to others. I was careful to not let the slices unravel, but clearly I was not careful enough.They are tasty. But I am just not sure that they are tasty enough to make again. Maybe another kind of palmier. I just don't like that the filling seems to bubble up and over and out of the palmier shape and then almost burns to a crisp. The filling bubbling up ends up hiding the swirl of the puff pastry, so they aren't as pretty as they should be, clearly showing a layer of flaky puff pastry and a layer of filling. I'll have to have SP try one when he gets home and get his opinion.

Walnut Cups

Tuesday evening, we made Holiday Cookie #8: Walnut Cups.

I was unemployed during the 2001 winter holidays. I had just accepted a job but didn't start until January, so I had a lot of free time. That was the first year that I did a lot of cookie baking. The year that my family eagerly tasted all 10 or so kinds and played 'Cookie Survivor' and voted one kind off the cookie tray. The year that that I found the Walnut Cups recipe online. I know I found it online, I typed it and printed it, but I have no indication on the paper of the source of the recipe.These cookies seem to be permanent members on the Holiday Cookie Tray.

While SP made the dough (simply mixing cream cheese, flour, and butter) I got out the mini muffin pan, my dough tamper, and got ready for these slightly labor intensive cookies.

The dough is rolled into 1 inch balls. One ball is placed in each muffin cup.Then I use my dough tamper to press the dough balls into cup shapes.The first year I made these, I did not have a tamper. If you are going to make a mini muffin cup cookie, get a tamper. It makes life so much easier and the cookies so much prettier. Just remember to dip the tamper in flour before pressing it into each dough ball or else the dough ball sticks to the tamper.

While I made the dough cups, SP mixed the filling: egg, butter, vanilla, brown sugar, and chopped walnuts. Sometimes we use pecans.Next I carefully spooned the filling into the cups. This is another time when my baby spoon is very useful! Then the muffin tin goes into a 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. The recipe cautions to not fill the cups all the way to the top. I thought I left enough space, but unfortunately, many of my cups boiled over.Ugh. Scraping this goo off the pan is not fun! You'd think that in my 9th year of making these I'd be able to get bakery/pastry chef perfect walnut cups!

I've never used paper liners when making these. I've never greased each cup because it's a non-stick pan. However, after last night, I think I am going to start using paper liners. The dough was just flaky enough that nearly every walnut cup crumbled/lost some cup part when I removed them from the pan. That's frustrating after all the work.In spite of the flaky crusts and boiled over filling, they taste good!