Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mmmmm Cookies

My parents are in town for a visit so I decided to bake some of their favorite cookies: Pizzelles & Madeleines.

This afternoon, I made a batch of the vanilla-anise pizzelles. My mom loves pizzelles and she helped - the best kind of help: she cleaned everything up! She sat and talked to me while I used the pizzelle maker and sampled every so often, just to make sure they were OK. So we have some pizzelles.

Tonight, SP & I made madeleines. I love madeleines. I cannot explain why. I'm not even sure how I first came to know about madeleines. I suspect my madeleine obsession started when Bon Appetit published a recipe for Earl Grey-Honey Madeleines alongside a photo of adorable, delicate, mouth-watering, shell-shaped delights. I was hooked.

Of course, I didn't have the proper pans. One day, SP & I were in a kitchen store and I saw madeleine pans and commented about how I'd always wanted to bake my own. Thus far, I had settled for madeleines bought at a coffee shop or in a huge tub at Costco (which are pretty tasty!). My next birthday present: madeleine pans.

We have made many batches of madeleines, not just the basic recipe but also lemon-almond and chocolate. SP even made gluten-free, rose water flavored madeleines. The chocolate ones weren't very good, but my father loves the lemon-almond.

So tonight we toasted almonds and then ground them, grated lemon, and whipped up a batch of these shell-shaped delights. Even though my pans are non-stick, we always grease them with butter and then flour them.
In addition to the ground almonds and lemon zest, this recipe calls for 4 eggs, sugar, flour, almond extract, and melted unsalted butter.

Here's some batter-in-the-molds and just-out-of-the-oven photos:

I don't enjoy these as much as regular madeleines - these always seem to be 'stickier' to me, but they are still quite tasty. The last step: sprinkling with powdered sugar. I sampled only one madeleine tonight and it was wonderful!
Such basic ingredients, a hint of lemon, spongy goodness. Yum.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Burgers

Last night was burger night. SP doesn't eat beef, so he had turkey burgers. I had beef burgers. Fortunately, there was a break in the rain when it was time for dinner, so we were able to grill our burgers. Unfortunately, the gas ran out towards the end! But fortunately, they were cooked enough by the time the gas ran out!

We buy large packages of ground meat at Costco and then divide it into smaller portions and freeze it. Our portions of ground meat give us each 2 burgers. I never seem to make my patties the same way twice; I'm still searching for the 'perfect' homemade burger, but I have decided I don't like bread crumbs in the meat. No egg last night - you really don't need an egg to hold the patties together. I really like Worcestershire sauce in burgers, so I added that plus some black pepper and parsley. And of course BBQ sauce. Sometimes we have homemade BBQ sauce but last night we used a bottle of Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce.

SP likes his cheese melted on the burger and his bun toasted. I like to put my cheese on after and I prefer an untoasted bun. Last night we added roasted red pepper and avocado to the burgers. SP also added romaine. There really is a burger under all that stuff on his plate!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

CSA Week #7

Tuesday = CSA Night. This week's box contains a loaf of organic whole wheat bread, eggs, green onions, rhubarb, romaine, broccoli, broccoli rabe, and a sweet basil plant. Yes, that's right - a plant. I feel pretty confident about the survival chances for this sweet basil -- after all, I've never failed at basil, just at parsley. I guess the parsley dying is a 'blessing in disguise' (?) since it frees up a pot for the sweet basil!

Nothing like fresh produce - and the critters it brings. SP brought everything in last night and dropped it off at the top of the stairs before returning to the basement to feed the cats. I went over, all nosy, to check out the mail & produce. And that's when I saw it - a huge black spider. EEWWW! I yelled for SP - yes, I am a girlie girl when it comes to bugs. I shriek, back away in terror, quiver with fear, keep my eye on it, and call for SP to kill it. My definition of a 'big bug' is questionable, but SP said that this spider was indeed a big one and it really squished when he killed it. EEEWWW GROSS!

The point of the spider story - the side of the plastic basil container was covered with a very thick white spider web, and there were small grayish-black blobs on the web. Fearing hatching spiders, I wiped off the web and made SP take out the trash - after all, wouldn't want anything to hatch in the trash and come marching out into the kitchen. Always check your CSA for critters.

Memorial Day Picnic

Yesterday was Memorial Day. As we were driving to a picnic, I felt a bit bad that we seem to treat the day as 'an extra day off work for fun' instead of actually doing something related to the holiday, like attending a parade or visiting a cemetery or hanging a flag.

But SP's friend had a flag hanging, so I felt better. SP made a macaroni salad for the picnic and we took some pizzelles. Other food included grilled burgers & hot dogs & brats, another pasta salad, chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, vegetable pizza, macaroni & cheese, coconut cream pie... I forget what else! It was all very tasty and I was stuffed when we left. I hadn't had vegetable pizza in a while and it was very tasty!

SP's macaroni salad included red pepper, celery, onion, green onion, and eggs. I think his 'sauce' was a mix of mayo & vinegar -- I didn't help make it nor did I eat it as my sensitive stomach doesn't like macaroni/potato salad with mayo dressing.

It was a very nice, relaxing, food-filled Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mitchell's Fish Market

Tonight we went to Mitchell's Fish Market for SP's youngest sister's (SPYS) birthday dinner. There are 2 Mitchell's locations in Pittsburgh - the Galleria in Mt. Lebanon and the Waterfront in Homestead. We met at the Waterfront. They have a big fish sculpture outside (hard to see but it's in the middle of the photo - no zoom on the cell phone camera; or if there is, I haven't mastered that feature yet!!).

SP's family really enjoys the mussels in white wine-garlic-tomato broth so they ordered 2 servings of those to start. I will take their word that they are delicious; I cannot eat garlic. While they enjoyed the mussels, I ate a lot of sourdough bread. Yum! SP & I both ordered a 'Mitchell's Favorites' for dinner. It's a complete meal: choice of salad, entree, and dessert. We both chose the house salad instead of the Caesar salad. I really enjoyed the poppyseed dressing. Tangy and sweet but not overly sweet. The house salad includes pine nuts and dates, a nice change from the usual lettuce-tomato-cucumber house salad at restaurants.

There are 3 options for an entree on the Favorites menu. I chose the Lobster & Shrimp Cakes. SP chose the Asian Salmon Duet:
I really enjoyed the Lobster & Shrimp Cakes - there were lots of seafood bits and very little filler. Much tastier than the crab cakes I've had in the past at Mitchell's. Happily, I was able to substitute the mixed vegetables for the sweet corn saute since I don't really like corn. The carrots and green beans were a bit crunchy for me, but at least they weren't cooked until they turned into mush! SP says his salmon was tasty and just the right portion size. He also enjoyed helping me finish my cakes!

CSA brother ordered Shang Hai Sea Scallops and enjoyed them. SP's dad got the Shrimp, Shrimp, Shrimp dish and said all 3 kinds of shrimp were delicious.

I was too far away to actually see/photograph what everyone else ordered. Sister-In-Law ordered the third option on the Favorites menu, which is Shrimp & Scallop Mixed Grill. Brother-In-Law is a bit of a picky eater; he ordered the Beer Battered Jumbo Gulf Shrimp. We think SPYS enjoyed the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake & Broiled Gulf Shrimp. We think SP's other brother (SPOB) ordered the Blackened Scallops.

Since SP and I ordered off the Favorites menu, we had a choice of creme brulee or fudge brownie for dessert. I chose the creme brulee. Mitchell's creme brulee is very tasty and always has lots of vanilla bean bits in it. This is a smaller portion and does not come with the orange shortbread cookie (yes, that greatly disappointed me as I like the cookie almost more than the creme brulee). Tonight, the burnt sugar was a bit too thick for me - I prefer a very thin layer of burnt sugar. SP chose the fudge brownie, which came with a scoop of coffee ice cream, and we shared desserts.

SPYS ordered the carrot cake. I think this dessert could have fed us all. She'll have dessert for the next week! It was ENORMOUS!!!

And speaking of ENORMOUS desserts: SPOB ordered the Sharkfin Pie. It's a concoction of butter fudge ice cream, oreos, fudge, peanut butter and who knows what else - I was blinded by the size! SP & I started making 'Man Vs. Food' jokes.
In this case, Food defeated Man. Even with help from BIL, SPOB still took about one third of it home.

Lastly, SP & I ordered an Irish Coffee. We were telling his dad & CSA brother about my Irish Coffee quest and I had just finished describing, with disgust, the Irish Coffees I've had that were served with that green gel-like stuff squeezed on top in some sort of design - as if a green gel swirl will make it more Irish. Yuck!!! And what showed up? You guessed it. The Irish Coffee came with such a swirl. Disappointing.

I guess it's a shamrock? It tasted fine, it just wasn't the Buena Vista...

Overall, this was a very good meal. The Favorites menu is nice not just because it's a complete meal for $19.95 but also because the portions are smaller, which means that after salad, entree, and dessert, you don't feel as if you need to walk the 15 miles home! And for me personally, not being a huge fan of fish and usually ordering shrimp or crab, the Lobster/Shrimp Cakes was the best entree I've had at Mitchell's.

Lastly, I should mention that the 14-month-old member of the family really, really enjoyed the sourdough bread and oyster crackers.

Mitchell's Fish Market: http://www.mitchellsfishmarket.com/

Killing Plants

I like plants. Artificial plants are fine, I think they can make a room nice and cozy and homey, but I really like real plants. I nurtured some houseplants in my dorm room throughout college just fine. In my apartments, I've grown basil on my kitchen windowsill almost year round. My Lucky Bamboo is alive and well and thriving. I had a prayer plant that did amazing (I gave it away when I moved out west). I'm certainly no expert, maybe I got lucky, maybe all of the aforementioned are indestructible, but I really had no qualms, no fears, no worries about getting some real plants for the sunroom.

In April, we bought and potted greenery for the sunroom. It made the sunroom so much cozier. The sunroom became a relaxing retreat from reality. Time for an update on the plants, and it's not a good report card for SP & Blueeley.

The African Violet? It's doing well, just a couple of petals looking a bit brown.
Peace lily? This one looks good, lots of new white flowers, but a few yellowish leaves at the base of the plant.Plant with burgundy tinged leaves? I guess it's doing fine despite a few brownish looking leaves. Plant with multi-colored leaves? Same as the burgundy tinged plant.

The basil? Surviving despite not getting a lot of direct sunlight, which is what basil really wants.
So far, I'd give us a B. But here's where we are failing:

The Majesty Palm. One day, I was in the sunroom and it looked green and healthy and happy. Two days later, several palms were brown. Crispy, snap off, brown - dead. We suspect that we did not water it enough, despite the tag that said it didn't require much watering. Then I read online that even though stores like Lowe's and Home Depot sell these in the northeast, they really are not well-suited for the northeast, even in sunrooms. We've implemented a 'Save Plan.' First, we bought the palm it's own personal bottle of liquid plant food. Second, we bought a spray bottle and we mist the palm daily. Third, we try to move it from the sunroom out onto the deck for more direct sun and heat on days when no rain is forecast. We aren't sure if all this effort is paying off yet - it seems happier, but yet there's still brown palms.

Lastly, the parsley. Yikes. I am ashamed to even type this. I think we killed it. I suspect there's no coming back for the parsley. Two possible reasons: One, about 8 days ago I decided to wash the parsley because it kept 'dripping' these sand/dust-like particles all over the table. Perhaps using the sink hose to wash off the parsley was not wise. Although, if planted outside, it would get much more water contact from rain. Second, we decided to put the parsley & basil out on the deck for a day full of direct sunshine. The basil was oh so happy. The parsley, well, we think that was the final straw. It seems as if it didn't like the sunshine. Oops. Here's before & after photos - the day we got it from the CSA and today:

SP's brother entrusted us with the care of the CSA parsley. I am afraid to let him see what it looks like today.

Lamb, Pizzelles, and the Penguins

Yesterday was a terrific day for grilling. I like to take photos of the sunny, clear blue sky days in Pittsburgh just to prove to my dad (who is in Las Vegas) that we really do have sunny days. He always calls Pittsburgh gray and rainy. Can't imagine why...!! I think all the sun, every day, all day long in LV would get kind of boring...?!

We decided to grill some lamb chops, roast some potatoes, and steam the CSA broccoli rabe. We used the same marinade for the lamb chops as we did for the leg of lamb on Easter. And, we made the same mustard roasted potatoes. Here's some before photos:


SP fired up the grill and grilled some tasty lamb chops, the potatoes roasted in a 400 degree oven, the broccoli rabe steamed in the microwave, and we sat out on the deck and enjoyed a beautiful day & dinner!


Enough time has passed since the Chocolate Pizzelle Disaster that SP was ready to try pizzelles again. After dinner, we made vanilla-anise pizzelles. They are tasty, maybe our favorite of the 4 flavors we've made, plus they did not crisp and stick and break into billions of little pieces that bounced all over the kitchen.

And, yes, we had the Penguins-Game 3 on while we made pizzelles. They won!!! One more win and they're in the finals!!!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Rigatoni & Braising Greens-Rice Slop

Tonight I had a lovely dinner of rigatoni with my mom's homemade meat spaghetti sauce. She made the sauce over the holidays and froze some for me. There's nothing like my mom's sauce. It's my favorite spaghetti/lasagna sauce. The taste and smell transport me back to my childhood -- a pot of sauce simmering all day long, sneaking pieces of white bread hastily dipped into the sauce, the four of us gathered around the table in the kitchen after dad got home from work, a cold winter day but so warm & toasty in the kitchen from the simmering sauce and hot pasta boiling or lasagna baking. Sprinkling lots of parmesan in top - some things never change!

SP made himself another 'SP Dinner.' Tonight's 'slop' was a concoction of brown rice, the CSA braising greens, garam masala, curry leaves, kaffir lime leaves, coconut milk, chicken broth, freshly grated ginger, CSA green garlic & green onions, and hot curry powder.

He swears it's delicious. I'm hoping the kitchen airs out soon...

CSA Pasta & Kale

Last night we ate some of our CSA goodies for dinner. We cooked the fresh seashell pasta and added a bit of butter along with fresh basil and oregano - and parmesan, of course. Yum!! I made myself a small salad using the CSA romaine and some red pepper & kalamatas. SP made himself the CSA kale. He brushed the kale with olive oil & sprinkled it with sea salt, arranged it on a cookie sheet, and baked it until it was 'crispy kale' - sort of like a kale chip. He really liked it. I thought it was just OK - kale has a very strong flavor to me and I'm not a huge fan of that flavor.

Wednesday Movie Day

Yes, I know it's Friday morning and I am just now writing about Wednesday. I just haven't felt like writing the past 2 days. Anyway, on Wednesday I watched 2 movies. In the afternoon, I watched The Reader - excellent movie, and kind of sad. I've had the movie from Netflix for about a month - not sure why it took me so long to watch. Maybe because I knew it was a 'serious' film and I just haven't felt like being too serious - ? Kate Winslet is amazing (she did win the Best Actress Oscar) and it's a thought provoking film.

Wednesday evening, SP & I watched Valkyrie, also a very good movie and also thought provoking. We are still trying to make it through the special features - the one we've been watching is over an hour long. We think it's a show that aired on Discovery or History Channel. But for 2 nights now we've been dozing off during it because we've been so tired!! Last night we watched the Penguins win Game 2 and then re-started the feature, and at 11:40 it was still not over! Tonight. Tonight we will finish it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

CSA Week #6

Greens, greens every where! This week's CSA has an abundance of greens: broccoli rabe, kale, romaine lettuce, baby bok choy, and braising greens mix. Also included this week: green onions, green garlic, apple cider, red potatoes, and tomato-basil pasta shells. Looks like I am going to be doing a lot of washing and spinning in the salad spinner!!!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lunch At Eleven

SP took a vacation day today. He took me to a doctor appointment in Oakland. My appointment was at 10 am, but we didn't get to see the doctor until 11:15. Ugh!!! After the appointment, I had to have some blood work done. I hadn't eaten breakfast because I suspected she would send me for blood work, so when, at 1 pm, we were finally done, I was incredibly hungry. It was time for the fun part of SP's day off: lunch at Eleven, one of our favorite Pittsburgh restaurants.

We settled into our table and ordered iced teas. Our lovely waiter brought us some bread to munch on. Delicious bread - we ate it all:

Naturally, I forgot to take a photo until most of the dried fruit studded piece was eaten!!! I surprised myself by actually getting out my cell phone and taking photos of our food!! I hope they didn't think I was too crazy!

We tried the 'Smoked Lamb Taco' for an appetizer and SP ordered a bowl of 'Rockport Shrimp Soup.'


The soup was very tasty, with bits of prosciutto. The lamb tacos - divine. I love lamb, and this was very flavorful and moist lamb. There were refried lentils on top of the crispy, but not too crispy, corn tortilla (and yes, I ate the lentils, and they were actually pretty tasty). The lamb was piled on top of the lentils, some diced tomatoes were piled on top of the lamb, and bits of goat cheese were scattered around the plate. The goat cheese was so smooth and creamy. For the main meal, I ordered the 'Lobster Roll' and SP ordered the Crab Cake Sandwich.'


The lobster roll came with mesclun greens in a very light & tasty vinaigrette and with avocado fries. The avocado fries were decadent. Thick slices of avocado fried in a tasty batter - not as light as a tenpura batter, but the breading was light in that it did not completely encase the avocado - the avocado was clearly visible beneath the deliciously crispy breading. The lobster roll was delicious, too - large chunks of lobster mixed with mayo, celery, and onion on a roll with tomato and lettuce. The roll was exceptional. SP's crab cake sandwich came with the same mesclun greens and 'Old Bay French Fries.' He let me try a bite of crab cake, which was all crab - there was very little/no filler and a nice, light bread coating. We ate every single bite of food on our plates. We were full, but there was no way we were skipping dessert:


I ordered the 'Tiramisu Molten Chocolate Cake' -- mascarpone ice cream, white chocolate-espresso sauce, Kahlua gelee, a chocolate checkerboard shortbread cookie - soooo good. Our waiter told us it would take about 15 minutes to prepare and it was well worth the wait (which we didn't notice anyway since we were in a lobster/crab/avocado coma). SP ordered 'Meyer Lemon Meringue Shortcake' -- lemon ice cream, lemon curd, blueberry hibiscus tea, & candied lemon. I liked his lemony dessert, but the chocolate dessert was much tastier to me. SP preferred his lemon to my chocolate. This is not a reflection on the quality of the dessert but a reflection on our individual tastes - given a choice, I will almost always choose chocolate while SP will almost always choose a fruit dessert.

An absolutely delicious lunch. Eleven once again showed why it is my favorite restaurant.

Eleven: http://bigburrito.com/eleven/eleven.shtml