Monday, March 28, 2011

North Hills Adventure

Saturday was a beautiful, sunny day, if a wee bit on the chilly side. We decided to take a drive to the Ross Park Mall/McKnight Road area to go to a couple of furniture stores and to the mall, which we visit maybe once a year because it just isn't convenient for us. Every time I go to the Ross Park Mall area, I feel like I am entering foreign territory!

We live in Robinson, so the west is very familiar to us. We both grew up in McMurray, so the South Hills area is very familiar. SP lived in Squirrel Hill for many years and some family live there and in Greenfield, so the east is quite familiar. We've both worked downtown, so the city is familiar. I used to work in Cranberry, so Cranberry/Wexford is kind of familiar. But the Ross Park Mall area in the North Hills - it's foreign territory. I'm sure the traffic was not much worse than the usual Robinson weekend traffic, but it felt like it! Probably because we are used to it here and have learned some short cuts to stay off the main, congested roads. Our furniture shopping was not very successful, but we did have fun browsing through Crate & Barrel and Williams-Sonoma plus other stores before deciding around 5 pm that we were quite hungry. We had two gift certificates so we decided to choose between those two places: The Cheesecake Factory or Chili's. We decided to try The Cheesecake Factory since we didn't have to get back in the car and drive - we could just walk over. Of course the wait was an hour and a half!!! What is with that place that the wait is always so darn long? So SP whipped out Droid and called Chili's. They had only a half hour wait, so he put our name on the list and we drove over. What on earth did people do before smartphones?!Right away I knew this was going to different from our usual dining out experiences. We try to avoid chains other than local chains so I've forgotten what eating at one is really like. The noise. The small children. The small children who scream, climb on chairs, run around, bang silverware on the table. We waited about 10 minutes before being seated in a corner next to a bright window - good for photos but since I was a wee bit tired, a little too bright!! SP did his whole 'check into foursquare' thing and discovered that Chili's was offering a special of a free order of chips and salsa for your table.These were thin chips, which was a nice change from the thicker chips we buy at Costco. They were salty - - yummy but not good for you! The salsa was OK. I'm a wimpy kind of salsa girl, and if I scooped up too much salsa it was a bit too hot for me. SP scooped up large globs of it and probably wished it had been spicier! He ordered a frozen margarita to wash down his chips:It was huge, and not too bad. I had a few sips. Margaritas are not my favorite alcoholic beverage, and I usually prefer the fruity ones to regular ones, but they do taste extra yummy with chips & salsa.To start, SP ordered a cup of Chicken & Green Chile Soup:Along with the chicken and chiles there was rice, tomatoes, cilantro, avocado, and a lime wedge. He enjoyed it; I didn't try it. But I like the idea of avocado in the soup. For his meal, he chose Grilled BBQ Chicken Salad:The salad had applewood smoked bacon, tomatoes, corn relish, cilantro, cheddar, house-made ranch and a drizzle of BBQ sauce. He said it was OK. He didn't eat much of the creamy ranch dressing. The lettuce was iceberg lettuce, but it was crisp and not brown. I chose Bacon Ranch Chicken Quesadilla:Along with chicken there was applewood smoked bacon and cheese, served with sour cream, house-made pico de gallo and ancho-ranch dressing.It was tasty, if totally unhealthy. I ate about half and brought the rest home for lunch on Sunday. It wasn't a bad dinner - it just wasn't very healthy! Our server was very friendly. I probably would not have ever eaten at Chili's if not for the gift certificate we received, and I probably wouldn't choose to eat there again except for maybe when we're traveling and super hungry and don't want to take the time to research local places because we are so hungry and need food right that second!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sunshine Sunday

Last Sunday morning we got up early (early for us on a Sunday) and tried to push the memory of Pitt's basketball game from our minds. The sunny skies helped. We showered and headed out to our youngest nephew's 3rd birthday party - it started at 10:30 am!!! It was a fun time, filled with snacks I usually try to avoid, like potato chips with onion dip - so good! I couldn't stop eating the chips & dip! I remarked to SP that that is exactly why I won't let him keep those things in the house - I cannot control myself! We made a couple quick stops on the way home from the party and finally got home a little after 3 pm. I was kind of hungry, my mom was hungry, and SP felt like a snack, so I got out a package of cheese SP bought at Costco a couple weekends ago:Irish cheeses! I suppose Costco stocked these for St. Patrick's Day. I sliced some of these 3 cheeses plus some of the leftover extra hard aged gouda from Costco and made a mini cheese plate:We enjoyed our cheese with rosemary baguette from Giant Eagle Market District:The rosemary baguette was good, but not as good as the olive baguette. The cheeses were tasty. My favorite, and my mom's favorite, was the whiskey cheddar followed by the aged wine cheddar and then the porter.Happily, SP liked the porter best, so that works out nicely!

Remember me saying we were going to be busy with Project Flooring and probably not cooking anything exciting, just very simple dishes, maybe just a roast chicken or pasta? Well, Sunday night was roast chicken night!Our usual lemon & onion stuffed roasted chicken. This one turned out much, much, much moister and tastier than the one we made a few weeks ago that didn't really thaw in time! A close up of the meat plate:And of course a vegetable -- but not fresh vegetable, frozen vegetable:Easy and tasty.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sunshine Saturday Shopping

I feel like I've been on a blog vacation! It has been busy the last few days. My mom arrived in Pittsburgh last Wednesday evening and she has been so helpful in getting the painting done and moving furniture and breakables. Most people intensely dislike painting trim, but my mom has the patience for it and she doesn't seem to mind it too much. My new desk arrived on Thursday, so I spent some time cleaning it and filling all the nooks and crannies. So much space! All my desk stuff is actually on/in the desk and not shoved in random spots in the closet! I love it!

SP has the best mother-in-law ever -- Saturday morning, she told him she'd paint the doors for him (we have 3 cream colored doors that need to be painted white) and he could just go out and do errands. So that's what he did! After the usual grocery trips, he returned home to drop off the goodies and pick me up so we could set off on some errands. It was a beautiful, sunshine filled day, if a bit breezy, but despite the sunshine making our moods sunny, our errands were not especially sunny (successful). Who knew it could be so difficult to find a TV stand (or maybe I'm just being extra picky)? But we did take a break from our not so successful and frustrating shopping to have a nice dinner at Bocktown.

I've blogged about Bocktown Beer & Grill several times before, and I wasn't going to again, but we ended up seated in a nice sunny area by the door and I couldn't resist taking some food photos (blog withdrawal?), especially since I ordered something other than my usual chicken breast with BBQ, bacon, cheese, and onion straws sandwich.

Other Pittsburgh bloggers have written posts about Bocktown - better posts than I have written or will write!!! Forked! just wrote about Bocktown (by just wrote, I mean like 3 days ago!) here. Binge! Eating in Pittsburgh wrote about them here. And Mike from Foodburgh (who is much more knowledgeable about beer than I am) reviewed them here and here.

Bocktown is a non-chain restaurant in chain-filled Robinson. Since we live in Robinson and can't always dine in the city for a non-chain dining experience, it's a place we really, really enjoy. It's tucked away near the Target & Pool City. To me, it's your usual pub type decor inside. Lots of TVs to watch March Madness (and realize my basketball brackets are completely blown). We were seated right away, which was nice, but we also ate dinner a little early because we were hungry. It was 5 pm when we got there.

We ordered our usual iced teas (fresh brewed!) and SP ordered a beer. I forget which kind, I just remember that it was a dark beer. I personally do not go to Bocktown for the beer since I do not like beer, so the most I can ever say is "SP ordered a beer and liked it." I go because I like their food and iced tea and atmosphere much more than the usual chains in Robinson. Plus, the employees are always friendly and efficient. SP likes it for the same reasons plus the beer selection. The beer selection, to me, seems quite large. For more Bocktown beer info, check out the other Pittsburgh bloggers' posts.

SP started with a side house salad:

His Italian vinaigrette was on the side. This was a tasty salad. A couple of kalamatas, grape tomatoes, cucumber slices, green pepper slices, shredded cheese, and greens. The vinaigrette had that wonderful Italian-y taste that I always associate with good Italian dressing but I can't actually pinpoint what it is! It's almost like a wee tang of sweet/salty aftertaste, but that's the best description I can come up with!

Of course he ordered his usual She-Crab Bisque. I had a few spoonfuls. I still kind of wish it was a little thicker of a soup and maybe a little more peppery, but it had lots of crab chunks for great crab flavor and texture. As usual - yum!

For his meal, SP chose The Port Authority sandwich -- "a juicy portabella mushroom set on a nest of creamy coleslaw, finished with our Untouchable Sauce, diced pickles and onion crisps on a toasted deli bun."I thought this was an unusual choice for him. Usually, he opts for an entree salad, but he insisted he has eaten The Port Authority before. Of course I stole a few of his onion straws since breaded & fried onion is one of my weaknesses. And I sampled the cole slaw. I commented that it tasted like it was flavored with pickle. Definitely some vinegar along with mayo. A few minutes after I made the pickle comment, SP showed me a pickle chunk from the sandwich. Since there were pickles on the sandwich, the pickle juice was flavoring the cole slaw. I've never had pickle flavor my cole slaw before, but it's a nice taste, if not one I would want all the time. I also thought the cole slaw was creamy without be overly mayonnaise-y, which I really liked since I'm not a huge fan of mayonnaise-y dressings.

I chose the Roast Beef Dip sandwich -- "our own slow roasted beef top round stacked high on a deli roll with Swiss cheese, a side of au jus and fresh horseradish to spice up your life."I really enjoyed this sandwich, perhaps because I hardly ever eat beef so it was like a special treat and/or perhaps because French Dip sandwiches have always been a favorite of mine. I love dipping my sandwich into the salty, beefy au jus sauce, getting it to my mouth before it drips down my shirt, and then slurping in soggy bread and beef! My roll was nicely toasted and held up well to the au jus. I ate the whole sandwich - yum!

We were too full at that point for dessert, but we did get two desserts to take home and enjoy that evening with my mom. We got a raspberry torte and a Baily's cake. I didn't take photos of them. Each was a slice of a 3 layer cake. We split each slice 3 ways by layer. Everyone liked the raspberry torte better. White cake with thin raspberry jam in between the layers and a creamy white icing on top. The Baily's cake seemed to be the same cake with a Baily's icing in between and a Baily's sauce drizzled over the cake. Both were good, but not great.

We ate dessert while watching the Pitt game, but sadly, tasty desserts did not lessen my stress and ultimate dismay at the outcome. I couldn't believe how the game ended. I still can't really think about it. Why do they always disappoint me in the big tournament? And bust my bracket?

Bocktown Beer and Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March Madness - Not Just Basketball

This past weekend flew by. It feels like it wasn't even really a weekend. It was another weekend of painting and chores and errands and being annoyed that we had little to no time to just sit and relax.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. But right now, we are an example of how the simplest of home improvement projects can suddenly become quite large in scope, quite costly, and incredibly time consuming. I had one flooring guy tell me about the time he had a client who started with replacing a front door and it turned into an entire remodel of the first floor of the home. We aren't quite that bad, but... I fear we are almost that bad!

It all started with the sunroom. The vinyl flooring started to split. Aside from not being pretty, it wasn't very safe. The sunroom is next to the carpeted dining room, separated by an ugly glass sliding door. We want pretty, indoor French Doors. We also don't like the carpet in the dining room. It's stained in spots - we had the carpets cleaned when we moved in and the carpet professionals couldn't get some of the stains out - and with how much food our families drop as they eat... well, beige carpet just isn't a good choice. It's best to do all those projects at the same time, right? Because you wouldn't want to do the French doors later and risk harming the new sunroom tile. Same with the dining room floor.

But we want real hardwood floors in the dining room. And the dining room is next to the kitchen, which has a light colored oak laminate floor. We don't want oak laminate in the dining room. How would real, darker colored hardwood look next to light colored oak laminate? Probably ugly. So why not do the kitchen floor at the same time? If we wait and try to match new kitchen hardwood to existing dining room hardwood at a later time, well, it might not ever match exactly. Sure, it'd be the same brand name and wood, but it'd be a different batch and believe me, there are color differences between batches. So we added the kitchen floor to the project -- which also meant adding the hallway to the project since it's currently also oak laminate.

Well, heck, while we're at it, why not get rid of the carpet in the living room as well? One, it'd make it easier for me in the wheelchair. And two, it'd match the kitchen and hallway and dining room - it'd all be the same flooring and look pretty and uniform and flow nicely.

But what about that darn drafty front door? The one that's warped and splitting in spots and that pretty much any bug can get through (yes, I'm talking about you, stink bugs)? Let's replace that now, too. If we do it later, ripping out the old jamb/frame and installing new might damage the new wood floor, plus we'd have to worry about the level/height of the new floor and the new door and about matching any transition strips to the wood floor. So let's do it now, too.

Hey look at those cracks in the ceiling and walls - what are those? Oh, dry wall seams cracking, you say, and it's easy to fix? OK Mr. Contractor, you can mud and smooth and paint those as well. And while you're at it, can you fix the basement door the cats damaged? Don't want to get paint and crack fixer stuff on the new floors at a later time.

Pretty new real wood floors... jeez the kitchen cabinets will probably look a little grungy next to the new floors. Look at where the finish has chipped/split. Look at some of those stains. Heck, let's refinish those while we're sprucing up the kitchen. Make it all shiny & pretty.

Well as long as we're sprucing things up, gosh we'd like to put a buffet/hutch/server in our weird living room nook area... but that means probably relocating the geisha cross stitch... which means a nail hole... so we better patch and paint before the new wood floors go in. And while we're at it, the green framed picture in the kitchen 'broke' and we might not be able to fix it, so may as well patch and paint that wall, too. And the hallway wall. Heck, might as well do all the dark green walls. Better to drip paint on the old laminate wood than on the brand new real wood.

Oh look - oopsy, the dark green paint bled onto/over/though the tape and onto the adjacent seaside sand walls. Guess we need to re-paint the seaside sand walls now, too.

Whoops not only did the dark green bleed onto the white baseboards and crown moulding, but the tape that was protecting the baseboards just ripped off white trim paint. Now we need to paint the baseboards and crown moulding. Fun!

Let's toss in some furniture rearranging while we're at it. Because if we're going to slide that huge TV hutch from the sunroom to SP's office, well, we may as well slide it on old floors, not new floors.

And..... that's how one simple home improvement project ballooned into a much larger and way more expensive and HUGE TIME SUCKING project.

Factor in that I am in a wheelchair and limited in my ability to paint/move furniture, etc., and I no longer drive, SP is gone from 9 am until 7 pm for work, we still have regular chores like groceries and laundry and cooking plus special chores like finding birthday presents for the nephews who have March/April birthdays and shoveling snow if it snows again - or mowing if the grass starts to grow PLUS finding a new deadbolt/lock for the new front door (and that was a REAL TREAT since our door apparently swings the 'wrong way' these days which means if we really wanted the indoor handle we wanted, we had to spend even more and buy a special handle separate from the usual packages of door handle parts) and looking for the hutch/server/buffet for the nook and a new & larger dining room table and a new desk for me and some bookshelves and WE'RE GOING A LITTLE NUTS!!!!!!!!!!

So we've been painting the past 2 weekends and this weekend is another painting weekend. We tried to move some furniture, but with no one able to come over and help, we only managed to get the huge TV cabinet 'stuck' in the doorway between the dining room and kitchen. Oops.

So what did we do for fun this weekend? Assuming that painting, laundry, shopping, and moving furniture are not fun activities, we... we watched The Amazing Race and Chopped Sunday night. That's it. Every other minute of the weekend was filled with sleeping or some kind of chore/errand.

Dinner Saturday? A quickie because we still had so many stops to make. I had a Panera Frontega Chicken Panini (Smoked & pulled white meat chicken, mozzarella, tomatoes, red onions, chopped basil & chipotle mayonnaise, grilled hot on focaccia):And SP enjoyed some kind of bean burrito thing from Chipotle:So this is my I'M GOING CRAZY blog post!!! The next few weeks are going to get even more chaotic as existing flooring & doors are ripped out and new stuff installed and more furniture is moved around not just to new places but just to make room for the workers to do their stuff. All the pictures and breakables must be moved to safe locations. There's still trim to paint, and some interior doors, too (like the basement door and linen closet door - the previous owners liked different colors of trim. white and off white, so we have 2 trim colors, and it's time to make it all uniform). We need to let the new wood sit in the house for a few days to acclimate before it can be nailed down.

Did I mention it's MARCH MADNESS time? It is. And I love the basketball madness. I hope I can watch most of the games, I hope #1 seed Pitt does well, and while I fear #14 seed Bucknell does not stand a chance against #3 UConn, I will be wearing the orange & blue of my alma mater and cheering for them. For at least a half, or until they are losing by 20+ points. They pulled off a big upset over Kansas a few years ago, I suppose it could happen again. Go Bucknell Bison!

I do not foresee much cooking happening. I'm seeing a lot of roast chicken, rice, and pasta in the next few weeks.

So please bear with me as the blog becomes not so food filled and more project home improvement filled.

Thank goodness my mom arrives soon. She'll get it all sorted out and make it seem not so overwhelming. My mom is amazing that way. SP and I have been looking forward to her taking over management of this project!!! She has a good eye, has done several of her own home improvement projects in multiple homes, and she'll whip things into shape quickly!

Let the March Madness begin!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sausage Pasta

A few weeks ago, SP discovered a package on our front patio.

"Hey you have a package."

"I do? What is it?"

"I don't know. It's big. And brown."

"Go ahead and open it."

"OK"Right around the time he was saying,"Hey it looks like a giant tomato," I was saying,"Oh I bet it's from the Red Pack people."It was. A couple of weeks before the Super Bowl, they contacted me about taking part in a contest between Pittsburgh & Green Bay food bloggers to post as many recipes as possible in the week before the game that used canned tomatoes, specifically, of course, Red Pack tomatoes. I declined to participate. But they are persistent and a couple weeks ago, I found another email asking me if I was interested in a free Red Pack tomato sample kit. I thought about it for a bit, because I'm still not sure if I want to start posting product reviews, but... the part of me that likes free goodie packages won out.The huge tomato can cracked us up. Inside were 2 cans of tomatoes plus some Red Pack utensils. This past weekend, we decided to try the Red Pack tomatoes.We decided to make a tomato sauce using the Red Pack tomatoes. I'm not sure if this was the best choice for judging the taste of these tomatoes because there are so many other ingredients in the sauce, but then again, maybe it was a good choice since we know what a yummy tomato sauce tastes like.

In addition to the canned tomatoes, our sauce ingredients were: onions, celery, pepper vodka, leftover romesco sauce, basil, parsley, oregano, mushrooms, spinach, sausage, and parmesan rind.While it simmered away, I had my first cocktail in quite some time - my usual orange martini. I finished the bottle of vodka and the limoncello is half gone. It might be time for another visit to see EPAS and her Costco that sells booze!
We combined our sauce with regular rigatoni for me:And whole wheat penne for SP:We sprinkled mozzarella cheese on top and baked it until bubbly. And then we ate a lot!It was quite tasty. The Red Pack tomatoes made a fine sauce. We have at least 3 more dinners from our sausage pasta bake -- which is what we want since this week our evenings are quite busy with the arrival of my mom from Las Vegas and finishing moving all the breakables for the start of Project Flooring next week.

*I wasn't specifically asked to write about Red Pack tomatoes, I was simply offered a sample kit, and we decided to use it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

CSA Time!

We finally signed up for our 2011 CSA. This year we'll be sharing with one of SP's co-workers. We again joined the Penns Corner CSA.

We've enjoyed the past 2 years as members of Penns Corner CSA. There are a lot of goodies in each week's box, so we've always split a share with someone because it's too much for us on our own. Sometimes we have a hard time even using half a share! Every week we look forward to unpacking our box and seeing what is inside - it's like opening a gift!

I know there are other CSA options, but we really enjoy Penns Corner. If you're interested in a CSA, give them a look. They have a regular share option and a vegan share option. Googer did the vegan share last year and got a lot of vegetables/fruits in place of the cheese/pasta/bread that the regular option sometimes has. Sometimes we were jealous of his extra vegetables/fruits!

If you want to see what's in a Penns Corner CSA box, you can click on my blog's CSA label since for the past 2 years, I've posted photos every week of what we received.

The spring share starts April 12 - that's just a bit over a month away!

There are 3 options (from their site):

"The 8-week Cabin Fever Share runs from mid-April until mid-June. This option is perfect for folks who plan to be gone for the summer or who have large summer gardens of their own. You can expect lots of fresh greens, lettuces, and other non-veggie farm products like cheese & apple cider. *Please note that Cabin Fever Shares must be paid in full at the time of sign up.

The Harvest Share runs 24 weeks, from mid-June to mid-November). This share features the full bounty of the summer growing season – sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes, peaches, melons, and much more.

The 32-week Farmer’s Friend Share (our longest share) combines the Harvest and Cabin Fever shares and supplies you with high-quality, local produce from Easter through just before Thanksgiving. It’s three seasons of the best farm food our region has to offer, and our best value!"

There are a lot of pick up locations. For more information and/or to sign up , click here.

Before we moved to Robinson, SP was a member of Kretschmann's CSA and really enjoyed it. Details here sign up here. Their CSA starts May 31 and runs to mid-November and this year they've changed their share sizes (now offering the former small, medium, and half share sizes, see here for more details on that and other new 2011 information).

I am so excited for fresh, local vegetables and for the new CSA season to begin!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sharp Edge Brasserie

Last Saturday was dreary day and a day of painting for us. I like having pretty, freshly painted walls, but it's a lot of work. When we finally wrapped up the painting, we decided to run some errands and eat dinner out. After considering several options in the South Hills (since we were at South Hills Village), we finally decided on Sharp Edge Brasserie in McMurray. We hadn't been there in almost 2 years, SP likes beer, and the food was always decent.

Things have changed. We arrived around 6:30 pm. We were shocked at how empty the place was! It's not as if 6:30 pm is a super duper early bird dinner hour. I thought there would be more people there having dinner and people watching the Pitt-Villanova game (which was over at that point, but it had ended just a short while before). We were seated in the room off to the right of the hostess station - and it was empty.We had the room to ourselves. It was dimly lit, so my photos were dark and blurry until I decided that if we were alone in a room, I could use a flash and not disturb anyone! It was nice to have the room to ourselves, but also kind of disconcerting. We both ordered iced teas (fresh brewed) and SP opted to try the mystery beer ("A quality import or micro selection that we feature on a rotating basis").It was a dark beer, but other than that we have no idea what it was. Our server didn't know, we didn't persist in discovering. SP liked it, so that was good!

We debated and debated on an appetizer. Breaded zucchini was a March special, but we just had it last weekend. I love fried cheese, and while SP likes it, he enjoys other appetizers more. So we ordered The Sampler provolone wedges, onion petals, Buffalo Bites and Belgian croquettes. We chose honey BBQ for our buffalo bite sauce and blue cheese dipping sauce. I was a little disappointed in the sampler. It seemed like everything had been fried a bit too long and was too dark. Look at the buffalo bites - they're really dark. The croquettes, too. It all tasted OK, but that's it, just OK, maybe even a bit less than OK. The marinara sauce wasn't very good. I ended up eating my cheese wedges plain, which made me sad because fried cheese really is tastier with a bit of a dippy sauce. I did dip a bite of fried cheese in the blue cheese dressing, but that doesn't taste too great.

Moving on. SP loves soup, so he ordered the soup of the day, a Hot Sausage & Mediterranean Vegetable soup:I tasted a wee bit and didn't like it. It could be I was mentally prepared to reject it because often Mediterranean = garlic or because of the hot sausage, which I like but only in small quantities. This was very sausage-y soup. SP enjoyed it.

For his meal, he chose Grilled Fish Tacos – Fresh grilled white fish served in a grilled flatbread with fresh avocado salsa, diced tomato, roasted poblano pepper, fresh greens & herbed aioli. For his side he chose sweet potato fries.It was huge. He really liked it. He couldn't identify the white fish (tilapia? cod?) but there really is a good sized piece of fish under all those greens! Here's a close up:
I've always ordered pizza at Sharp Edge, but I didn't really want pizza. I wanted something different. The drunken sirloin options were tempting, but I ended up choosing Roast Beef & Brie Panini – house roast beef, caramelized onion, creamy brie & horseradish mayonnaise.I also asked for pommes frites (instead of fries or cole slaw) for an additional charge.

I was disappointed in my meal. The panini bread was yummy and crunchy, but the roast beef was kind of dry and very gristle-filled. I kept having to pull gristle out of my mouth - good thing we were still the only ones in the room because spitting out food or pulling food out of your mouth is not attractive restaurant behavior. It looked like I had been served the end of a roast, so it was cooked more (drier, more well done) but the gristle - the amount of gristle was very disappointing. It should have been cut away before being placed on the panini.The pommes frites were also very disappointing. While the appetizers seemed overcooked, these were undercooked. The exterior was not crispy but kind of soggy and the interior was not soft potato but hard uncooked potato. I was not very happy that I was paying extra for these. SP agreed that they were definitely not up to the standard of past pommes frites we've enjoyed at Sharp Edge.

Yes, I could have complained, but our server was really great and it wasn't her fault. I just didn't feel like complaining. I was disappointed and frustrated and wishing we'd chosen option #2 (Al's Cafe, which neither of us has been to since high school). I just wanted to finish our meal, leave, and get home to some tea & cookies. We didn't have any dessert.

By the time we were paying the bill, the room had filled up with 3 more groups of people and we had seen other people seated in the back area of the restaurant where the TVs are. I guess McMurray is a late dining crowd?

Bottom line: while our server was fantastic, the food was below expectations based on past experiences. We will probably at some point give them another try, but it won't be any time soon.

Sharp Edge Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Shepherd's Pie

In addition to Worst Cooks in America on Food Network, we also recently got hooked on Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. I can't decided if Anne Burrell terrifies me or amuses me - I think both. Her hair is kind of crazy!

Recently we watched an episode in which she made Shepherd's Pie and Mushroom Soup with Bacon. Since we aren't as skilled as she is in the kitchen , we decided to tackle just one of those for dinner over the weekend: the Shepherd's Pie.I always thought Shepherd's Pie meant beef, but this recipe uses lamb. I also thought it meant ground meat, but the lamb was diced boneless shoulder or leg. I think the diced lamb is what made me agree to try this. Ground beef shepherd pie has never much excited me.

There aren't many photos because I was busy dicing onions (instead of leeks), carrots, and celery while SP browned the lamb. After browning the lamb, it was simply a matter of sauteing the veggies and then adding all the ingredients (chicken stock, tomato paste, thyme, bay leaves, red wine, peas) and letting it simmer for an hour. While it simmered, SP made the mashed potatoes.The lamb and veggies are poured into a baking pan, the mashed potatoes layered on top, and then the whole thing is broiled until the potatoes are browned.

It was delicious! I usually think of shepherd's pie as kind of bland - mushy veggies, a boring brown gravy, overcooked meat. But this sauce was very tasty, probably thanks to the thyme and red wine, and the veggies weren't all mushy. The lamb was nice and tender and flavorful. We'd definitely make this again! And, for us, it's a great dish because we now have three more meals ready to enjoy. So dinners will be easy (just reheat it in the oven).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Shrimp & Grits with Romesco Sauce

SP & I got hooked on Worst Cooks in America on Food Network. 'Sixteen of the worst chefs in America take part in a culinary boot camp as they try to go from kitchen zero to kitchen hero!' Some of them are truly awful in the beginning and we always have a good laugh wondering how they actually manage to feed themselves and their families! Someone seriously made a grilled cheese with an iron! I didn't think anyone actually did that!!!

They are divided into 2 teams, one led by Anne Burrell and the other by Robert Irvine. Each chef tries to whip their recruits into shape and every week, one person (the one who did the worst at the food challenge) is eliminated. The final 2 recruits compete for the grand prize by cooking for a panel of three food critics.

We really enjoy the show - it always makes us laugh and also makes us see areas in which our culinary skills are lacking! Several of the recipes the recruits had to create sounded really yummy. Last night, we decided to try Chef Robert's Pan Seared Shrimp with Romesco Sauce, Creamy Grits, and Greens.

Romesco is a sauce originating in Spain. It is usually made from almonds, pine nuts, and/or hazelnuts; roasted garlic; olive oil; and nyora peppers (a smaller, sweet, dried variety of red bell pepper). Other common ingredients include roasted tomatoes, red wine vinegar and onion.We used almonds, balsamic vinegar (not red wine vinegar; I grabbed the wrong bottle for the photo), tomatoes, roasted red peppers, bread, paprika, salt, and olive oil. We omitted the garlic, We used regular balsamic, not white balsamic. White balsamic vinegar is supposed to be a bit milder and sweeter than regular balsamic and is usually used when the dark color of traditional balsamic vinegar would adversely affect the color of the food.

This sauce is very easy - puree everything in the food processor and it's ready!

The grits are easy to make.We used white cheddar instead of havarti and whole milk instead of heavy cream. They didn't take long to cook at all - even less time than the recipe said.

The shrimp were easy to make, too.We did not open a bottle of wine for the 2 tablespoons of white wine called for in this recipe! It's easy to cook the shrimp in the skillet - just beware of cooking them too long & making them tough.

As for the greens, I am not a huge fan of mustard greens, so we decided to use spinach. Since I don't really like cooked spinach, we didn't cook it!

We spooned some grits on our plates, topped the grits with spinach, and topped the spinach with the shrimp, them spooned some extra romesco sauce from the shrimp pan over it all.This was quite tasty and it was very nice to try something new. Our grits weren't as tasty as the grits we ate in Savannah & Charleston on our honeymoon, but they were pretty good!! We decided that next time, we'd buy the havarti (we just didn't want to buy another cheese when we have 5 huge Costco blocks in the cheese drawer now) and we'd add some shallot or onion to the romesco sauce. It's definitely a quick and easy meal to make during the work week after work.