Friday, January 29, 2010

Post Surgery Eats

Today was 'Surgery Day' - a day I've been dreading since I found out before Christmas that I needed surgery and scheduled it - 5 weeks ago. Five weeks to be upset, stress, cry, think the worst, etc. Not pleasant. And especially not a good thing to find out right before the Christmas holiday.

So we set off on this frigid January day around 7:30 am - we had to go through the Fort Pitt Tunnel during rush hour so we allowed an hour for travel time! We arrived 5 minutes early. I felt much less scared and stressed after talking with my doctor and the anesthesiologist. I felt not so happy when the nurses had a difficult time finding a vein for the IV. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. And it bled when they stuck it in! And I have a bruise now! And the area is sore! Poor me.

Happily, surgery was quick, I was out of recovery, and we were on our way home by noon. It was oh so tempting to go out for lunch. After all, I was hungry and I didn't have any bad anesthesia reactions. But we came home.

My post surgery treats: cherry jello and Seafoam Salad:Seafoam Salad is something my grandma used to make. It's a jello dish. Growing up, we almost always had a jello dish at holiday meals at grandma's house. I love Seafoam Salad. In my family, we call it 'Green S.' The 'S' isn't for salad...

Seafoam Salad is a combination of pear juice & pears, lime jello, cream cheese, cool whip, and milk. Yum! Comfort food. SP made the Seafoam Salad last night. It's not quite like grandma's because I forgot to suggest that he use the electric mixer to incorporate the cool whip and pears instead of folding them into the partially set lime jello-cream cheese mixture. Oh well - it tastes like Green S even if it doesn't look exactly like Green S.SP also made me a big cup of hot orange spice tea and I ate a cherry yogurt.Have I mentioned how terrific SP is? Last night he came home with some thumbprint cookies from Giant Eagle Market District. He thought I would need a treat on the eve of surgery. OK, so I almost always need a treat and usually for no particular reason, but... I was very happy about the cookies and felt so lucky to have someone who does such nice and thoughtful things for me.

So of course I also ate some of these after my jello & yogurt!I'm ignoring the 'seasonal' them of red and pink and barfy Valentine's Day crap.

I'm glad we came home because I'm starting to feel very blah. It doesn't help that I was up much earlier than usual and that I've slept horribly all week. I think I need a nap this afternoon! I'm glad we didn't go out for lunch.

Not sure what dinner will be... I guess it depends on how I feel! I was sort of hoping I feel up to pizza!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lemon-Tarragon Chicken

Last night, after enjoying the last of the Pork Chops with Mushrooms & Thyme, we peered into the freezer in search of dinner for tonight & tomorrow night. We found the last 2 chicken breasts and put them in the refrigerator to thaw. SP left me in charge of deciding how to cook them.My first thought was breaded chicken. Breaded chicken is one of my favorites. But honestly, I didn't feel like dealing with breading chicken! Cutting the chicken into smaller pieces (so you can have more breading!), dipping in bread crumbs then egg then bread crumbs, browning in a skillet, transferring to paper towels to drain, then baking until done. That seemed too labor intensive! Not to mention the raw chicken cubes, the raw eggs, the raw chicken dripping raw eggs and then dripping bread crumbs that had touched raw chicken & eggs... all the plates and utensils that touched raw chicken and eggs... Yes, we're a little paranoid about raw chicken & egg germs and I just didn't feel like dealing with the Clorox wipes followed by hot soapy water clean up of possibly contaminated surfaces.Then I remembered that in grad school, a favorite meal was to squeeze a lemon over some chicken and sprinkle on some tarragon then bake. Mmmm. Lemon. One of my favorite flavors.

Did I mention that in grad school, my roommate and I had a lemon tree in our yard? It was wonderful. Sometimes I really, really wish I still lived in a climate that allowed me to have a lemon tree in my yard (grad school was in Monterey, CA).

We always have lemons in our refrigerator, only here in Pittsburgh SP buys them in bulk at Costco, we don't pluck them off a tree in the yard. We use a lot of lemons. SP uses them every day in his iced tea (he drinks lots of iced tea, year round). We use them a lot for roast chicken. We make lemon simple syrup to flavor water and iced tea. And lemons are key ingredients in some of our favorite dessert treats (madeleines, citrus sables, lemon pound cake). Not to mention the lemon martinis that SP makes - they have fresh lemon and limoncello.
I decided to cook the chicken this afternoon. A bit before lunch, I checked it to be sure the breasts were thawed. I gathered the tarragon, salt & pepper, and a lemon. I grated the lemon and squeezed the juice -- and wished SP was here because he is usually the lemon grater/squeezer!! He does a terrific job of getting all the juice squeezed out.I plopped the chicken breasts on a foil lined cookie sheet, sprinkled on salt, pepper, tarragon, and grated lemon, flipped them over and did the same to the other side, then drizzled some lemon juice on top of each breast. Then I baked them at 350 for 40 minutes.
Of course after removing them from the oven, I cut the thicker one in half to make sure they were cooked. They are cooling now. For dinner we will have spinach salad with lemon-tarragon chicken on top and dinner rolls on the side.

There's a little bit of lemon juice left -- I am hoping there's enough to make some lemon vinaigrette for on the salad. Lemon makes almost anything taste even yummier...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pork, Rolls, & Salad

We tried 2 new recipes on Sunday for dinner:

1. Pork Chops with Mushrooms & Thyme
2. Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls

They are new as in 'we made them for the first time ever', not new as in 'just found the recipes.' The pork chops recipe is one I cut out of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in December 2005. The dinner rolls recipe is from the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook.

Around 4 pm on Sunday, we opened a bottle of Coppola Malbec, put on the football game, and started the dinner rolls. These dinner rolls involve yeast, which means you need to factor in time for the bread mixture to rise. Heat the milk, butter, sugar, salt, and seasoning (we used oregano) until warm:
add the warm mixture plus the eggs to a mixture of 2 cups flour & 1 package yeast:and mix together. Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured board and knead in enough of the remaining flour for a moderately stiff dough that is smooth & elastic: Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover the dough, and let it rise in a warm place. Our oven has a 'bread proofing' setting, so SP turned the oven on to the bread proofing setting and placed the bowl in the oven for an hour. The 'bread proofing' temperature is 85 degrees. Here's the dough going into the oven: While we waited, we sipped the Malbec and snacked on leftover gruyere & brie, crackers, and chips & salsa. The cheeses:Here's the 'risen' dough:You need to punch it down, divide in half, cover each half, and let the dough rest for ten minutes. Then it's time to shape the dinner rolls.

We decided on a cloverleaf shape. Fortunately, we have 2 muffin tins since this recipe makes 2 dozen cloverleaf rolls. We greased each tin and we each took half the dough and rolled 36 mini balls. We placed 3 mini balls in each muffin cup. The muffin tins were again covered and placed in the oven for about a half an hour. After the half hour, they bake for 12-15 minutes at 375. Baking rolls smell so yummy!These turned out pretty good for our first attempt at homemade dinner rolls. Some rolls are larger than others owing to a difference in 'small ball' size. They have a very nice flavor although perhaps next time we would add more oregano or maybe opt for Italian seasoning.

The pork chops are very easy to make. I don't like cooking meats by frying them in frying pans. Whenever I try to cook chicken or pork chops in a frying pan, I end up shriveling the meat into tiny, tough, flavorless blobs. I prefer to cook chicken breasts and pork chops in the oven and make the accompanying sauce in the pan. So we browned the chops in olive oil in a pan and then baked them in the oven and made the sauce separately. We did not pound them to 1/4" thick. Ours were about 1/2" thick.We doubled the recipe so that we would have lots of leftovers. First, saute some shallots in butter. Add the mushrooms and cook until they start to soften/brown. Add the vermouth and cook for a bit. Add the mustard and thyme and cook until thickened and reduced a bit. Eat & enjoy!

I love cooked mushrooms. The mushrooms with thyme, Dijon mustard, and vermouth were very tasty. This is definitely a 'will make again' meal.We also made a salad for with the pork chops and dinner rolls. It was spinach, tomato, cucumber, red pepper, and a bit of leftover Asiago cheese (from last week's casserole). We 'cheated' and used bottled dressing; SP used a sesame-ginger dressing and I used ranch dressing.A delicious Sunday meal!

BONELESS PORK CHOPS WITH MUSHROOMS AND THYME

4 5-ounce boneless, center-cut pork loin chops, trimmed and pounded to 1/4 inch thick (pound between sheets of plastic wrap with flat side of meat mallet or bottom of heavy saucepan)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium shallots, minced
3 cups sliced mushrooms (about 4 ounces)
1 cup dry vermouth
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

Sprinkle pork chops with salt and pepper. Coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray and place over medium heat. Add the pork chops and cook until browned on both sides and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to 2 serving plates; tent with foil to keep warm. Swirl oil into the pan, add shallots and cook, stirring, until soft, about 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften and begin to brown, about 2 minutes. Add vermouth and cook for 15 seconds. Stir in mustard, thyme and any juices that have accumulated from the pork; cook until the sauce is thickened and slightly reduced, 1 to 2 minutes more. Spoon sauce over pork chops and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

"Healthy in a Hurry Cookbook"

Monday, January 25, 2010

Silk Elephant / Te Cafe

Last Saturday we were out most of the morning and afternoon doing errands. We got home around 4 pm and unloaded the car and then we had the usual "What's for dinner?" conversation.

We frequently have this conversation for both cooking at home and dining out. It usually goes something like this:

"What/where do you want to do/go for dinner?"
"I don't know. What/where do you want to do/go?"
"I asked you first."
"But I don't know."
"Do you want to stay in Robinson or venture elsewhere?"
"I don't know... what do you think traffic will be like? Is there a Steelers/Pirates/Pitt/Penguins game?"

We started the conversation around 5 pm, so already a few places were ruled out, like Cheesecake Factory and Fat Heads (both would already be extremely crowded and have long waits). There was a brief discussion about how much we wanted to spend, followed by a realization that a lot of our 'To Try' places as well as 'favorite' places need a reservation plus we weren't dressed appropriately (jeans and t-shirts are not appropriate for Eleven or Casbah). I didn't want Indian or Chinese. SP sort of wanted pizza, but we weren't sure where to go to sit and have pizza and not feel like a fast food experience or a dining experience with many small children...

Finally around 5:30 we decided to head to Squirrel Hill and eat at either Silk Elephant or Gullifty's followed by tea at Te Cafe. On the drive, Silk Elephant won because we figured Gullifty's was more likely to be filled with college students.

We both really like Silk Elephant. We last were there in September (blog post here). I ordered the exact same drink and tapas dishes as last time, but I took photos anyway since I had Elf with me and Elf takes better photos than my cell phone.

I again had a glass of the Arrogant Frog Viognier/Chardonnay blend. So good. SP ordered a martini. I teased him that he was losing man points for getting a girlie drink! He got the Ginger Lemon Drop martini, with honey and lemongrass in it. I had a sip and thought it was horrible; SP really liked it.For something new, SP ordered the Bangkok Tail Salad: shredded carrot and papaya tossed with lime chili vinaigrette and topped with grilled shrimp. It came in a martini glass!It was tasty. The shrimp had a lovely grilled taste. The dressing had settled in the bottom of the glass, so by eating off the top part I avoided too much spiciness. Eventually, SP dumped it out on a plate. We both enjoyed it.

As usual, I ordered 5 tapas total. SP ordered the salad and 2 other tapas dishes. The first tapas to arrive were the Silk Elephant Rolls (cucumber, lettuce, carrot, cream cheese, crab meat in a rice wrapper with sweet chili sauce) and the pork & shrimp dumplings with ginger-sesame-soy sauce. I love the ginger-sesame-soy sauce. I also really enjoy the cool rice wrapper filled with cream cheese and crab meat. No photo of the Silk Elephant rolls - the photo turned out blurry, probably because I moved I moved the camera when I snapped the photo. Oops.

Our remaining tapas arrived together:

A special of the day, Grape Leaves Stuffed with Ground Lamb:I'm not sure what the lamb was seasoned with, but it was delicious and warming. The mustard-mayo-dill sauce was an excellent compliment.

Shrimp & Pork Toast:I am always surprised by how much I enjoy the Shrimp & Pork Toast because the top of each toast is completely coated with sesame seeds and I usually do not like a strong sesame taste, which is what I expect from seeing so many sesame seeds, but somehow it's not overpowering and it's simply delicious fried goodness!

Thai Crab Crowns:Crab meat and cream cheese in a fried wonton-- what's not to like?!

Chicken Kabob:I took a photo of the dismantled kabob on my plate. The chicken kabobs have a lovely sauce on the chicken plus each skewer has a bit of grilled onion, grilled carrot, and grilled green pepper and there's a ball of sticky rice with it and the sticky rice is very tasty.

Chili Paste Crowned Scallops:I didn't try these because of the chili paste, but SP said they were excellent. They must have been - one second I was taking the photo and the next second they were gone!

Another delicious meal at Silk Elephant. We always find the service excellent as well. The finished tapas plates are cleared in a timely fashion but we never feel like they are hovering, waiting to swoop in and clear plates. Our server was very friendly and caught me taking photos - oops! So much for being sneaky!!! I blurted out something about having a food blog - I was embarrassed I got caught taking photos!! The dishes are all lovely in presentation, too. And I like that our server came over as were getting situated at the table, brought water, and said she'd give us time to look over the wine and drinks lists. I always get kind of annoyed when servers expect you to order your wine/cocktail right away - how do I know what kinds they have when I just sat down?!After dinner, we walked a few blocks to Te Cafe, a tea placed I have blogged about several times before. The last time we were there was on Black Friday in November. This time I chose an orange apricot tea and SP chose a white peony tea. I also, surprise surprise, got a cinnamon biscotti. We relaxed at a table and I read the newspaper and a magazine while SP read a book and played with the Droid.A wonderful date evening.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Saturday of Errands

Yesterday was a fantastic January day here in Pittsburgh. Somewhat sunny and around 50 degrees. Nice weather for doing a bunch of errands. We set off around 9:15 in the morning to go to my hair appointment. It's always wonderful to get my gray roots colored and about 2 inches lopped off!!

It was nearly noon when we left the hair salon and we both were hungry, so we decided to have a quick lunch at Bruegger's. I have not eaten at a Bruegger's in 6 or 7 years!! I decided on the Four Cheese & Tomato Panini with whole wheat bread.
It was tasty. Pretty much just a grilled cheese.

SP chose the Herby Turkey: roasted turkey, light herb garlic cream cheese, sun-dried tomato spread, lettuce, & red onions on a whole wheat bagel.He really enjoyed it, especially the sun-dried tomato spread.

He also really enjoyed both pickle spears which means that for the rest of the afternoon he smelled like pickles. Ugh!! It was stinky! I started teasing him that SP no longer stood for Sweetie Pie but instead Stinky Pickle!

Our tummies felt better after lunch and we headed off to Office Depot, the liquor store, post office, mall, Costco, library, and CVS - and by the time we finished those chores it was almost 4 pm so we headed home to unload the car and have the "What's for dinner?" conversation! More on that later...

Friday, January 22, 2010

Shrimp-Rice-Noodles-Veggies

Much like moussaka week, this past week we ate the delicious casserole we made and then realized we hadn't planned any other meals. So we peered into the freezer & pantry.Wednesday evening we ate shrimp with homemade cocktail sauce (ketchup & horseradish), steamed broccoli, and rice.

Thursday I ate a DiBella's cheesesteak sandwich when my friend C came over for a visit/dinner. When SP got home, he made himself a non-Yum Yum-friendly meal.It was a mix of rice noodles, shrimp, leftover rice, leftover broccoli, carrot, garlic, onion, hot peppers, green pepper in a 'sauce' of fish sauce, tamarind concentrate, sesame oil, chicken broth, and rice vinegar plus some other stuff I can't remember. He really enjoyed it.The 'not-yummy-to-Yum Yum' ingredients: hot peppers, garlic, fish sauce, tamarind concentrate, and sesame oil (I like sesame but only in very small amounts while SP like a heavy sesame flavor).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

It's CSA Time!!!

It's that time again. Hard to believe since it's the middle/end of January, but it's already time to think about joining a Community Supported Agriculture group. We recently received an email from Penns Corner, the CSA we joined last year. They have opened the sign up for the 2010 CSA.

We enjoyed the 2009 share so much that we've already signed up for the 2010 32 week share. That's 2 weeks more than 2009. This year Googer decided to get his own share (he eats A LOT of veggies & fruits) so we are splitting a share with SP's dad.

Sign up is open for both returning & new members. If you pay in full by the end of February, there is a 3% discount (a savings of about $30 for the 32 weeks option). Penns Corner has 3 options:

  1. a 32 week share (from mid-April to mid-November; $770)
  2. a 24 week share (from mid-June to mid-November; $590)
  3. an 8 week 'Cabin fever' share (from mid-April to mid-June; $210)

More info and sign up here. If you're reading this and wondering just what kinds of goodies one gets in this CSA, you can check out the 30 2009 CSA Tuesdays under my blog label 'CSA.'

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chocolate Chip-Espresso-Cinnamon Cookies

I love the combination of chocolate & cinnamon. I also love the combination of chocolate & coffee. If you combine chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon - ohhhh I am a happy, happy person!

I have been collecting recipes from magazines for about 10 years now. I have many dessert recipes that call for 'instant espresso powder' - cookies, biscotti, creme brulee, cheesecake, pudding - lots of recipes that I've never tried. I could never find instant espresso powder in the grocery store, never saw it in Williams-Sonoma or The Gourmet Chef. This past holiday season, SP found it in the Strip. I was so excited when he came home with it. I can now indulge myself and make all those fabulous sounding dessert recipes I cut out and saved.

So far, we've used it to make Cappuccino Pizzelles and Cappuccino Biscotti. Last weekend, we made Chocolate Chip Cookies with Espresso & Cinnamon.I know this recipe is from Bon Appetit, probably from an issue in 2002, but I cannot find it at bonappetit.com or at epicurious.com. I googled it and found the recipe at recipezarr.com.

These are basically chocolate chip cookies with instant espresso powder and cinnamon added.

2.25 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
0.5 tsp salt
1.5 cups packed golden brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
4 tsp instant espresso powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 (6 oz) package semi-sweet chocolate chips (about 1 cup)
1 (6 oz) package milk chocolate chips (about 1 cup)
1 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped

While SP was showering, I gathered all the ingredients.It turns out we didn't have milk chocolate chips. Instead, I used up a bag of dark chocolate chips (about a half a cup) and used semi-sweet chips for the other 1.5 cups. I tossed in an extra handful of chips for good measure. We left out the walnuts since I don't really like nuts in my cookies.

Things started smelling yummy as soon as I whisked together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Mmmm cinnamon. SP used the mixer to combine the sugar, butter, egg, espresso powder, and vanilla. Mmmm espresso smell. He beat in the dry ingredients and stirred in the chips. The dough was so tasty that I was even sampling the raw cookie dough, something I never do.I got to use the cookie dough scoop and scoop onto the parchment lined cookie sheets. We don't have non-stick vegetable oil spray, so instead of coating the cookie sheets with a spray, we lined them with parchment paper.While I was scooping, SP made us latte treats. He got a little creative with his and tried to show off his barista skills. I'm not sure if it looks like Mickey Mouse with his ears severed/shooting off his head or if it looks like "Oh Noooooo" Mr. Bill:As these baked the house started to smell just as yummy and comforting as when we made the Cappuccino Biscotti. They bake for about 14 minutes at 350.These turned out terrific! Naturally, we immediately sampled one each. Or maybe 2 each. Maybe even 3 each. There's something about warm chocolate chips cookies, especially ones with espresso & cinnamon.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chicken-Penne-Broccoli-Mushroom Casserole

It's a bit warmer here in Pittsburgh - that makes us happy. The icicles melted away, the snow melted away. Unfortunately, this past Sunday it was gray and gloomy and rainy. The perfect weather for another hearty, comforting casserole from the Cover & Bake cookbook. The choice: Baked Penne with Chicken, Broccoli, and Mushrooms.
FILLING
about 1.5 lbs broccoli, stalks discarded, florets trimmed into 1" pieces
3/4 lb penne
3 tbsp olive oil
1.25 lbs cremini mushrooms, sliced thin
1 medium onion
8 medium garlic cloves pressed through a garlic press
1 tbsp minced fresh thyme
1/4 c all purpose flour
1 cup white wine
1/4 ounce dried porcini, rinsed and re-hydrated with soaking liquid reserved
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1" cubes
2 oz Asiago cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

As usual, we made modifications to the recipe!

SP bought organic broccoli, which was on sale at Giant Eagle Market District this past weekend. It was lovely - so green and fresh looking, none of those brownish/darkish colorings on the florets. Yum!

As you may have guessed, we omitted the garlic. We discovered that we didn't have 3/4 lb of penne. We had lots of rigatoni, spaghetti, and bow ties - so we used 3/4 lb bow ties. Instead of cremini and porcini mushrooms, we used cremini & regular button mushrooms. We didn't cube our chicken and then cook it in a frying pan -- we baked it in the oven and then cut it into one inch cubes. We used dried, not fresh, thyme.The first step is to cook the broccoli for about 1 minute in boiling water. Remove it with a slotted spoon and let it drain & cool. Using the same pot, return the water to boiling and cook the pasta until al dente - don't cook it too long or else it will turn into mush after you bake the casserole. Drain the pasta and toss it with 1 tbsp olive oil.

Add the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil to the emptied and dried pot in which you cooked the broccoli and pasta. Add the cremini and cook until browned around the edges, about 10 minutes. Add the onion and cook until it just begins to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic & thyme. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the wine and dried porcini with reserved soaking liquid (we added about 1/2 cup water). Cook until the liquid is almost evaporated. Slowly whisk in broth and cream. Bring to a simmer. Add the chicken and cook until the chicken is no longer pink. Remove from heat and stir in Asiago & back pepper. Add the pasta and broccoli. Stir to combine and transfer to 9x13 inch baking dish.Sprinkle with bread crumb topping (see below) and bake at 400 until bubbling and topping is lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
TOPPING
4 slices white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Process bread & butter in food processor until coarsely ground; set aside.

Way back in July, we bought a loaf of Wonder Bread. We never eat that stuff. It was for visiting nephews, but they didn't eat the bread. We ended up toasting it all and processing it into bread crumbs which we divided into plastic containers and placed in the freezer. Homemade bread crumbs! So we used a container of those breadcrumbs for this dish.Lately, we've been moving away from bottled cooking wine to cooking with 'real' wine. Saturday, we bought a bottle of Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc. It is regularly a $13 bottle of wine but was on sale for $9. It was pretty good wine! We were surprised, especially when SP went to open it and discovered it was a screw top bottle, not a corked bottle!! Is sauvignon blanc the best wine choice for a white cooking wine? I don't know. It happens to be my favorite white wine and the casserole tasted fine to us -- that's all that matters!This dish was delicious! Another great recipe from Cover & Bake.