Friday, July 30, 2010

Recent Dinners

Since we were so busy last weekend (car shopping and other errands on Saturday; going to SP's dad's place on Sunday) we didn't have time to do any time consuming cooking nor did we try any new recipes. We kept it simple for this past week's dinners.

We bought some pitas and a bunch of vegetables and feta cheese and made the fattoush again. Grilled pita for me and grilled whole wheat tortilla for SP:Grilled zucchini, grilled red & green peppers, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, kalamatas, feta, and mint in that yummy lemon juice-olive oil-cumin dressing:A spur of the moment, no recipe involved couscous salad with CSA peas, cherry tomatoes, and fresh parsley:Roasting chicken we cooked on the rotisserie on the grill Sunday morning - in the rain! We let it cool then took the meat off the bones and put it in a container for dinners during the week. We like cold chicken. We don't even take some out and put it on a plate for serving. We just plop the container on the table. This time we stuffed the chicken with lemon and onion for flavor - yum! SP also grilled the CSA corn Sunday morning then simply reheated it in the microwave for dinners:Salad of CSA greens plus whatever the veggies were in the veggie bin and sprinkled with sliced almonds for a little crunch:We cheated and used bottled dressing - a Creamy Asiago Peppercorn dressing. I always feel a little guilty eating bottled dressing, especially creamy ones.

Grilled tilapia sprinkled with fresh oregano:Quick and simple! Hopefully we'll get to do some more involved cooking this coming weekend. Last night we had the 'What should we have for dinners next week?' conversation and it didn't progress past the question itself and some 'hmmms' and 'I don't knows.'

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ya Fei

Last week, I had a lunch date with SP's dad. He brought over Chinese take out food from Ya Fei for lunch. SP's dad loves fish and sushi and apparently fish eggs as he showed up with an order of this:Salmon Roe. Bleah. Wrapped in seaweed. Bleah. I did try 3 of those gross orange eggs and my mind remains unchanged. Bleah. Thankfully, we also had this:Pork Lo Mein - yum! I really like lo mein noodle dishes. We ate the entire bowl! There also was an order of Sesame Chicken:And we ate some egg rolls:I wasn't too thrilled with Ya Fei after our Christmas Eve 2009 meal there - the noodles and whatever other dish SP & I shared upset my stomach. But the food SP's dad brought over for lunch was tasty and didn't bother my stomach.

A very nice lunch with my father-in-law, even if he did make me eat disgusting orange fish eggs!!!

Ya Fei on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

At Last - New Refrigerator

Over July 4 weekend, we finally made a purchase that we've been talking about and researching and browsing in stores for: a new refrigerator!!!! Whoo hoo!!It all started last July right after my grandfather passed away. It was late at night, my parents and brother were asleep downstairs, and SP & my niece & I were upstairs in the kitchen when suddenly there was the most horrible dying monster like groan from our refrigerator. The dying monster moan continued for a few months and then mysteriously went away. But the new refrigerator seed was planted.

Unfortunately, within a week of starting our new refrigerator quest, we discovered that nearly all new refrigerators are too big for our refrigerator nook. We have only 36" width and 68" height to work with. Many new refrigerators are exactly 36" wide, which means we'd be possibly scraping the sides of the space, and many are 69+" high. Sigh.Oh yes - turns out the previous owners did not extend the newer wood flooring into the refrigerator nook. Nope. They left the the old linoleum crud in the nook.

We researched having the nook space enlarged. Enlarging the nook would require finding someone to custom build a new cabinet and cabinet sides to match our existing cabinets -- could the cabinet color be matched? Could the cabinet top molding matched? It was starting to sound like a pricey project and sure enough some initial quotes confirmed that. New cabinets for the whole kitchen? Hahahahaha that's way too pricey of an undertaking right now.So on we went, hoping for the best, unhappy with our options, probably hoping the nook would magically enlarge itself. Sure, our water/ice dispenser couldn't be used because the flap wouldn't close properly and all the freezer cold air would leak out and warm air would leak into the freezer. Sure, the rubber sealing stuff to keep a tight seal around the door was peeling off. Sure the refrigerator door didn't close tightly so we had it turned up really cold to try to compensate and keep our food cold. Sure the door handles were loose and wobbly. Sure the bottom drawer didn't open/close properly and swayed in a way it wasn't supposed to sway. But the refrigerator worked in its own dysfunctional way. Our food stayed frozen/cold.The more time that went by the more irritated we got. Anytime we had a lot of food or tried to thaw a turkey or roasting chicken, we had space issues and ultimately, we decided that for us, side by side refrigerators stink. One big bowl or one Thanksgiving turkey takes up an entire shelf! Sometimes there was so much stuff and things were shoved in so precariously that we had to be extra careful when opening the door. One time, I got bonked in the head by a can of soda.

The ones with the freezer on the bottom aren't good for us because of the wheelchair -- I was sure I'd crash into the freezer drawer and dent it or cause parts to come loose plus it meant even less refrigerator space that I could easily reach.

Slowly, we came to realize that the good old style freezer on top and refrigerator on bottom would be best for us. We decided we'd just have to deal with a smaller refrigerator because we weren't going to pay to enlarge the refrigerator nook.
Then there was the color issue. When we looked at our house, I noticed right away that the dishwasher, stove, and microwave were black while the refrigerator was white (see above photo from a brochure when the house was listed for sale). Ugh. But we have 'Ivory Bisque' cabinets. How would a huge black refrigerator look next to the cream cabinets? But white shows dirt, as evidenced by the existing refrigerator having grayish handles. Cream refrigerator? But we'd never be able to match the shade of cream when it comes time to replace the other appliances. Stainless? Is stainless really worth the extra cost, even though it sure is pretty. Hmmm...Finally, after an entire year of talking, researching, looking, browsing (Sears, Sears Outlet, Best Buy, Lowes, Home Depot...), wanting, but then not being sure... finally we bought one.

A pretty stainless steel, freezer on top, automatic ice maker, water dispenser inside refrigerator. It fits nicely in the nook. And despite being a bit smaller than the old one, there's more usable space. After we loaded the refrigerator and freezer, I was astounded at all the space. Our old freezer was crammed and every time we wanted something, we would have to empty out a lot of stuff to locate the something we wanted. But not anymore! Space!

It's been 3 weeks and I still marvel at our new refrigerator and all the space and the wonderful cold water dispenser.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Grande Italian Restaurant

Tonight was a very exciting night. We bid farewell to SP's 1999 Honda Civic (purchased in 1998) and said hello to a beautiful new 2010 Honda Civic. The new one is also silver, also with gray interior. What can I say - we like silver cars! When we're inside the car, it feels like we are in the lap of luxury:It's not too hard to feel like you're in the lap of luxury when you bid farewell to a dirty, stained interior and say hello to a smooth, sleek, clean interior! Old Honda was having yet another issue and we decided it was time to stop sinking money into Old Honda. It's time for New Honda and monthly payments for the next 5 years. Yikes, monthly car payment. That's depressing, and a hit to the budget, but it's soooo nice to have a new car! Hopefully New Honda will have as long a life as Old Honda.

After signing all the paperwork and getting the keys to the shiny new toy, we spent some time adjusting the seats and mirrors (SP) and programming the radio (me). SP doesn't like how I programmed it. Oh well. Then we headed off to dinner with SP's dad at a pizza/Italian place in McMurray: Grande Italian Restaurant.We had not heard of this place before but SP's dad has eaten their pizza several times. The interior of Grande is a typical pizza joint/diner interior. Lots of green, red, and white. Lots of booths and just a couple of tables. The servers are very friendly and laid back.

There's a lot of options on the menu. There's lots of pasta dishes, stromboli, calzones, sandwiches, pizzas, soups, salads, appetizers, meat & seafood entrees - goodness there was a lot to read! We ordered iced teas and lemonades while we perused the menu. The iced tea is fresh brewed - yay! While we considered our options, we were served tasty, seasoned breadsticks.We started off with an Italian Antipasto Salad:It was tasty and the 3 of us devoured it. Shredded cheese, meats, iceberg lettuce, olives, onions, green pepper, mushrooms and served with an Italian dressing.

We decided to share an extra large 18" (16 cut) Neopolitan style pizza topped with roasted red peppers, sausage, and mushrooms. It was enormous!The mushrooms are canned mushrooms, but Grande adds their own seasonings to the mushrooms and they are quite tasty. The toppings are very generous - nothing skimpy here. It's a very thin crust pizza and the center did get kind of wet/mushy from the wetness of the toppings, but the outer crust was very. very good. Here's a closer view of the toppings:The sausage was very tasty. Not the usual slightly spicy Italian sausage crumbles but rather sliced rounds of a mild yet flavorful sausage. We were very pleased with the taste of this pizza and would definitely get their pizza again. It's also very filling because of the generous quantity of the toppings. My friend L, who lives in McMurray, says she hasn't tried Grande yet but is now looking forward to it, especially since it's a kid friendly place (and her kids love pizza).

SP & I didn't even know this place existed until SP's dad suggested it tonight. When we graduated high school and left McMurray, a lot of the strip malls and restaurants and other places south of Donaldson's Crossroads were not there. Even though we are frequently back in McMurray, we have only a vague idea of what is in each of the shopping areas. We should start paying more attention and exploring a bit because this was a great find!

After dinner, we took the long way home so we could enjoy the new car. I'm looking forward to my next ride in it.

Grande Italian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

CSA Week #16

Goat cheese, cucumbers, green peppers, onions, flat leaf parsley, snap peas, summer squash, new gold potatoes, garlic, and peaches.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Chocolate Tart

Sunday afternoon we headed over to SP's dad's place for dinner. We had a terrific meal of burgers, ribs, grilled corn on the cob, grilled zucchini & peppers, and roasted potatoes & onions -- plus grilled tuna just for SP & Googer, the non-beef eaters (and no ribs for Googer). Googer was in charge of the grilling. I made SP clean up after, while I put together our contribution to the meal: dessert.We decided to make a chocolate tart. The crust is the same shortbread crust as the fruit tart we made over July 4 but without the lemon zest. We omitted the lemon zest since we were making chocolate pastry cream. We debated about whether or not to top the tart with fruit, decided on sliced strawberries, then thought that maybe Z & ZSO wouldn't like it topped with strawberries, so we decided to dip whole strawberries in melted milk chocolate or in melted white chocolate and then place the chocolate covered strawberries on top of the tart.We didn't add anything like vegetable oil or shortening or cream to the melted chocolate - just melted the chips and dipped the berries. The milk chocolate covered strawberries were yummy. The white chocolate ones were just OK, probably because we used our last bit of regular, bought at the grocery store white chips, which means not a high quality white chocolate. The melted white chips didn't melt well - they melted into a sort of thick & clumpy mass and it was difficult to coat the strawberries. Next time, I'd buy a better white chocolate and I'd probably add a bit of milk or cream to the chips to make the melted result a bit more ganache-like and easier to dip/spread chocolate on the strawberries. It also might be nice to add a bit of liquor to the melted chocolate, like maybe some Grand Marnier or some Kahlua.

This dessert was yummy. Even though this is chocolate and I really like chocolate, I think I like the vanilla pastry cream tart better! But the crust - I love this shortbread crust. And chocolate covered strawberries.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Capstone Grill & Sarris Ice Cream

If you live in the eastern part of the USA, then you probably experienced the same horrible hot & humid weather that Pittsburghers experienced yesterday. At 11 am told me it was 86 degrees and felt 90+. Swell. So what did SP & I do? Go to a pool? Hunker down in the a/c? Nope. We went car shopping. The whole car saga is for another post, but suffice to say that after 2 dealers we were successful in acquiring a new car and at 5:30 pm Saturday afternoon, we decided we needed to celebrate the new car purchase and cool off with drinks & dinner.We were in McMurray, dangerously close to Sarris Candies and their homemade ice cream, so we decided to change our plans and instead of a Squirrel Hill dinner followed by Te Cafe, we chose a place in McMurray at which neither if us had eaten: Capstone Grill.

It's on Route 19/Washington Road and I think, but I could very well be wrong, but I think it was once upon a time a Freddie's - ? No matter. We entered the cool, dark restaurant. A bar/lounge is off to the right and the dining area off to the left. We were asked if we had called ahead for seating (uhhh no oops) but we didn't have to wait; they seated us right away. I quickly perused the wine/cocktail menu and decided to have a sangria while SP opted for Blue Moon beer.It was so hot and I was so thirsty that I started sucking down the sangria at a rapid pace. It was tasty - especially on such a hot day when I didn't really want alcohol but a wine drink with fruit sounded lovely.

We decided to start with an appetizer of Classic Calamari (tossed in buttermilk & seasoned flour, fried and served with marinara).My first bite of calamari seemed a tad too rubbery & chewy. The marinara sauce, however, was really good. The calamari got better the more I ate and the marinara was so good that we ended up eating all of it.

Salads come with entrees and for his salad, SP chose the daily salad special, a salad of 'Romaine Greens, Strawberries, Toasted Almonds, Red Onion, & Feta Cheese tossed w/Champagne Vinaigrette.'He really, really enjoyed the salad. I just tried a bite of feta! I chose a house salad with balsamic vinegar dressing:Apologies for the blurry photo. There were some lovely greens, cucumber chunks, a few cherry tomatoes, and croutons - it was a very nice side salad and I ate all of it. Along with our salads we were served a basket of bread with a sun-dried tomato dipping oil:The olive oil was very tasty - sun-dried tomato dipping oil is probably my favorite dipping oil - and the bread was pretty good, too.

For his entree, SP chose trout. Apologies for the blurry photo -- I don't use a flash in restaurants and it was so dark and the exposure time so long that I think I moved a bit too soon and caused all 3 trout photos to blur. This was the least blurry!Like at many fish restaurants (like Mitchell's) you can choose your fish and then choose how you would like it prepared. SP chose Cajun Honey Mango. He really enjoyed it. The fish looked very thin and I wondered if it was over cooked but he said no, it was just right and the mango sauce was excellent. Some other preparation styles are Orange Mandarin, Peppercorn Rub, Basil Aioli, Teriyaki Wasabi, Thai Chili BBQ Sauce, Almond Crusted with Banana Butter, and Balsamic Glaze.

For his vegetable side he chose the daily special of pureed cauliflower and carrots:This was very tasty. In fact, it was so tasty that at some point, we would like to try making a pureed cauliflower dish at home.

I chose Portabella & Spinach Manicotti (filled with baby leaf spinach and seasoned ricotta cheese, baked and topped with portabella mushrooms, tomato cream sauce and asiago cheese).Oh my gosh this was so good!! The tomato cream sauce was excellent - I mopped some of it up with some of the bread. The two manicotti were a very nice size and filled with lots of ricotta and spinach. The portabella slices on top the manicotti had a very tasty smokey, earthy, mushroom taste. I ate only one of the manicotti and brought the other one home for lunch today.

Capstone Grill also serves entree salads and sandwiches. We were very happy with our meals. Our server was fine. Our entrees arrived before we were done with our salads and she apologized but that's not her fault. The hostess was very friendly. The manager (or owner) walked through the dining area, stopping to say hello to people and to check on their meals. It wasn't too crowded when we arrived, but about 15 minutes later the place filled up. I'm not a fan of places with lots of mirrors on walls, which Capstone Grill has, but the mirrors do the job of projecting a space larger than it really is. It was nice and cool but not too cool, the blinds were closed to keep out the sun, it was maybe a bit too dark, but I think that was more my eyes having difficulty going from the bright sunshine to the dark inside. We would definitely go back.

We were too full for dessert, plus the whole reason we chose to eat in McMurray was to stay in the vicinity of Sarris Candies!! After dinner we went to Sarris Ice Cream Parlour. It's been a very long time since either of us enjoyed some Sarris ice cream. SP quickly made his selection: an Oregon Peach ice cream milkshake. It was HUGE!!! With whipped cream on top and a pirouette cookie sticking out the side. He really enjoyed it but didn't finish it all - he brought some home.I chose a scoop of Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream in a bowl. Yes, this is one serving. One scoop:With a pirouette cookie. The ice cream was very good and I really enjoyed eating it while sitting in the bright red colored parlour but my gosh that was a lot of ice cream! I brought some of it home. I held it right in front of the a/c vent the whole 25 minute drive home but it still managed to melt quite a bit because of the oppressive heat & humidity.

Capstone Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Pork Medallions with Mustard-Chive Sauce

Last Saturday, we were 'stuck' at home all day. SP was on call for work, which means he had to be able to log in to work from his home computer within 10 minutes of receiving notification of an issue. If he couldn't fix the issue from home, he'd need to go in to work. On the bright side, needing to stay at home meant that he was able to devote 5 hours to weeding and our front mulch areas look much better (you can see the mulch now!).It also means we cooked dinner at home Saturday evening. We finally sliced and ate a gorgeous, huge, heirloom tomato that he bought at Giant Eagle. We ate it with balsamic syrup and fresh basil.It was delicious, not very seed-filled, and sort of looked like a red pepper inside! We also tried a new recipe for pork chops.The official recipe is Pork Medallions with Mustard-Chive Sauce and it is from Bon Appetit's October 2004 issue. It's a variation on one of our favorite sauce 'themes' - a sauce of chicken stock, mustard, white wine, and sour cream or creme fraiche or cream or milk. For this sauce we used sour cream. Our chives and tarragon were dried, not fresh, but we did add fresh parsley. We didn't have leeks so instead we added chopped candy onion from the CSA. We cooked the pork in the oven, not in a saucepan. It was very tasty and we used some of Sunday's baguette to mop up the sauce when we ate the leftover pork on Monday!

Bon Appetit suggests serving a Shiraz or other medium-bodied fruity red wine with the pork medallions, but we opened a bottle of Coppola Chardonnay.

We also roasted some red potatoes and onion with fresh dill:Earlier in the day for brunch, SP made scrambled eggs with cheese, the last of the turkey lunch meat, and fresh basil. We ate the scrambled eggs on toasted multi-grain sandwich rounds.I'm very happy we decided to grow herbs - they really make eggs, potatoes, sauces, etc. extra tasty and fresh!