Saturday, December 31, 2011

Meat & Potatoes

Yesterday, SP & I had another 'Date Day.' All these extra company holidays = lots more fun for us! Normally our weekends are packed with errands and chores and all that homeowner/being a responsible adult kind of stuff so when we have these extra days to indulge in fun, well, I get kind of excited!

This date day was a trip to the Carnegie Museum to see the Teenie Harris exhibit (highly reccommend this exhibit) and the Madeleine Albright Pin exhibit (also very interesting). We spent nealy all of our 3 hours at the museum on those 2 exhibits and shortly before closing time, we left to head out for dinner.

We decided to try a new to us place, one that it seems every other Pittsburgh food blogger has already visited and one that was just named Best New Restaurant in Pittsburgh: Meat & Potatoes in the Cultural District. I was a little apprehensive given all the rave reviews - usually when a place garners so much attention and so much praise, I start to get a little... uninterested because of all the hype. That's why I have yet to try Salt of the Earth, Smoke, or Burgatory.

We arrived at 5:03 pm. The restaurant opens for dinner at 5 pm. Knowing that, I didn't see the need for reservations. In my mind, although I knew it is a very popular place, I didn't think it was a reservations necessary place like Eleven, Casbah, the Mt. Washington places with a view, etc. I thought of it along the same lines of Point Brugges, Park Bruges, E2, Piccolo Forno - places that are popular, always busy, but no reservations, although they do take reservations and with a large group I would definitely make reservations. But if you get there early, there's not a super long wait.

As we walked down the street to the restaurant, we saw that there were some people around the bar and maybe 2-3 tables occupied. Lots of empty tables. But when we entered, we were asked if we had reservations, we said no, and we were told they could not seat us. What? One of about 10 tables for two occupied and they cannot seat us? Reservations recommended/possible but not required and it's 5:03 pm, just minutes after opening, and they cannot seat us? I even mentioned this and the hostess shook her head sadly at me, like I was a moron. The she said we could eat at the bar, but the chairs are high and I am in a wheelchair. She totally did not want to deal with us and the bar stool/wheelchair issue.

This is where I started to feel like exploding on her. Sure, great, the bar area is open for those who are stupid enough to go at 5 pm without a reservation but I am in a wheelchair and a bar is ABOVE MY HEAD. She made NO EFFORT to find another accommodation. NONE. Every other restaurant we have gone to in Pittsburgh (and other places), if they have only high tables/stools available, has made an effort to find us a wheelchair accessible seat. SHE MADE NO EFFORT. Apparently she didn't want our business and she was practically telling us to leave. NONE of the other hostesses at the front intervened or tried to help or apologize or anything. It was like, you dared to come here without a reservation and even though we have lots of free tables, due to some restaurant business seating system (that of course as people who have never worked in restaurant you do not know/understand), you must turn around and leave because we are not going to try to accommodate you and don't want/need your business.

SP & I were not at all happy. We had already parked in a garage, so we were going to have to pay the night parking fee whether we left or stayed. We were hungry. So we decided to try it. That's right. We went to the bar, SP  lifted me up onto a stool, and we dined at the bar. BUT we should not have to lift me up onto a stool.

So at this point my impression is not good. At all. Snotty, unhelpful hostess.

And to make things even worse - we watched. Oh yes dear hostess. If you tell a customer that you cannot seat them in your nearly empty restaurant and your only option is to be physically lifted into a bar stool at the bar, those people will watch the empty seats. And guess what? None of those tables for 2 started to fill until 6-6:15 pm. When we were paying our check, there were 2 tables for 2 STILL EMPTY. And at 6:30 pm as we were leaving, a couple at the bar was told their table was now ready - and then they were seated at a table that had been empty the entire time we were there.

So many negative points for front desk hostess customer service.

Fortunately, things were much better at the bar. There were several very friendly bartenders who knew their stuff. It's a very nice bar with a granite countertop. We studied our menus for a while (it was pretty dark in the restaurant, and the menu seemed kind of darkish, too, so I really had to squint and concentrate to read it!). Here's what we ended up ordering:
Dark & Smokey (rum, root liqueur, ginger, lime) for me, Gin Richard (gin, lime, lemon, soda, rosemary) for SP. Both were very good. Mine was a bit too spicy/gingery for me at first, but once some ice melted, it was better. SP loved both beverages.

Yukon Skins - pork belly pastrami, cheese, scallions. Very tasty, though the potato was not as soft as I expected. It was cooked, just still firm. Yummy sour cream, too.

Bolognese Pasta - gnocchi, short rib, pancetta, pork shoulder, parmesan. Good gnocchi, not gummy or hard. Tasty sauce and meats. I would have liked a bit more pancetta, there didn't seem to be much there. SP had a couple bites and I ate the rest. All of it.

Braised lamb shank with polenta, raisins, and other stuff I can't remember nor do I see it on the online menu. Very tasty, but then again we both love braised lamb. I had more than  a few bites and we ate it all.

Chocolate Pot de Creme - served in a jelly jar. Very good - rich and chocolaty without being too sweet or too dense or too rich. A nice portion for us to share since we were pretty full.
My final thoughts? Borderline rude and definitely unhelpful hostess who basically told us to turn around and leave. Terrific, friendly, knowledgeable bartenders. Tasty, unique drinks. Food that we enjoyed a lot. A nice atmosphere - I read one review that called it a modern day speakeasy. Bare light bulbs hanging. The chairs were a soft, velvety looking brown. Mirrors. Concrete floor (which a bartender told us people have slipped on and he warned us to be very careful since my stool was missing the rubber stoppers on the bottoms of the legs so it scooted quite easily). Mounted cow heads on the walls. Our service was fine, we didn't wait too long for our food but neither did it arrive too quickly.

We would go back, we want to go back, but I won't dare go without a reservation even if it's a 5 pm reservation. This is not a spur of the moment, let's go check it out place.

Meat & Potatoes on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Peppermint Ice Cream

I have been craving all things peppermint this year. So we made Peppermint Ice Cream for Christmas Day and took it over to SP's parents' house for dessert. I don't really know what everyone else thought about this ice cream, but I love it. A basic vanilla ice cream with peppermint extract and crushed candy canes. Yum!

Recipe from Simply Recipes here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Eve Dinner

Holidays are hard. It was simple when I was single, but once SP entered my life, holidays got complicated. Plus, he has a much larger family than I do. The who, what, when, where of hosting and seeing family and trying to share... it's all so stressful and there's always someone who isn't satisfied.

There have been a lot of family issues the past year, a lot of stress, and me being a complete crying mess for many days and wondering why some people seem so hurtful and mean towards me and why does it seem that I am blamed when SP & I have always made decisions together and he has been OK with every single decision we've made. But I am at fault.

Sigh. So we spent much of spring & early summer trying to figure out how to make things easier/less stressful/happier for us because, as my parents have repeatedly told us for the past few years, it only matters if SP & I are happy with our decisions and everyone else just needs to accept and respect our decisions.

Which brings me to the 2011 holiday season. My parents came in for Thanksgiving, and since we hadn't seen my dad in 11 months, we made the decision to spend the entire week they were here with just them. So we figured we'd spend Christmas with SP's family. But we are not yet ready to host after the 'we hosted but someone clogged/broke our sewer pump and cost us a lot of money' situation (which admittedly was a while ago, but... we've had a lot of unexpected expenses this year and had no desire to possibly add on another!) so we decided we would not have people over. We also decided that we wanted one day for just us to do our own thing and we wanted that day to be Christmas Eve. We decided that Christmas Eve we would stay home and make our own special meal and open our gifts together and watch football and stay in our jammies all day.

I have to say it was one of our best decisions. It was so nice to not be getting ready for a bunch of people coming over or to be getting ready to go out to other places. It was so nice to stay home all day, watch football - the whole game while on the couch, not peering across the kitchen at the living room TV -  and make some very easy but tasty dishes.

At the last minute, we ended up inviting over a friend whose only local family was in a rehab facility recovering from recent surgery. He didn't have anywhere to be and he doesn't cook. He's such a good friend and always there for us so we wanted him to come have a good meal and enjoy some holiday cheer. Here's what we made:
Pork Balls! My mom made these last Christmas Eve. They're a once a year treat. Ground ham & ground pork balls baked in a brown sugar-vinegar-mustard-water sauce.
Yum! I love these! My parents (who spent Christmas in GA with my brother) were a little jealous of our pork balls. This is my grandma's recipe and she used to make them at the holidays. My dad and grandpa love these and often fought over who got the last one.

We also made a white bread in the bread machine and pimiento cheese spread:
I love pimiento cheese spread. Grated white cheddar, grated yellow cheddar, pimientos, mayo, and cayenne pepper.
We had some carrots and celery with my mom's Parsley Dip:
8 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons parsley
1 teaspoon lemon juice
chopped onion

I also like this dip on sandwiches instead of mayo or mustard.
And we made Turkey Salad:
We baked turkey cutlets, pulsed them in the food processor, and mixed in finely chopped celery and egg plus mayo, vinegar, and some Dijon. And parsley, pepper, and salt.
We have leftovers, which we wanted, and I've been enjoying them for lunch. I've been toasting my English muffin then spreading pimiento on one half and turkey salad on the other half and eating them open faced. Mostly because I cannot decide which I'd rather eat, so I have both!
So that was Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day we went to SP's parents' house. I didn't take any photos on Christmas, but SP's parents made a turkey and a ham plus there were roasted brussel sprouts, roasted and pureed squash, sauteed green beans with almonds, mashed potatoes with caramelized onions mixed into the potatoes, a brown bread, 3 kinds of cranberries (regular, blackberry, and orange), and cole slaw. Tons of food!

Hope your holiday was, and continues to be, as yummy as ours!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Afternoon Tea at Omni

Last Friday we had a 'Date Day.' We went to the Warhol Museum to see the Alex Ross exhibit, then we had afternoon tea at the Omni William Penn, made a quick stop at home, and then went to see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. We really wanted to see the movie since we both really enjoyed the books and have seen the Swedish movie versions of the books. The American film version of the first book did not disappoint!

Here's a photo summary of our afternoon tea at the Omni William Penn:
Earl Grey tea

Inside the Omni

Close up of holiday decor

The savory & sweet treats

Goat cheese & cucumber on wheat bread

Smoked salmon mousse, cucumber, and dill on wheat bread

Chicken Waldorf salad on white bread

Pistachio petit four

Raspberry mousse in chocolate cup

Chocolate torte

Cranberry scone

Raspberry jam and clotted cream

The remains of the scone (I couldn't finish it!)
It was a nice tea, but having been there for afternoon tea before, I left rather disappointed. For one, we had reservations, and while our table was immediately available and set, it was off in a corner with a view of the signs to restrooms and other places in the hotel, not the pretty lobby and holiday decor. Very disappointing.

This is perhaps a minor quibble and beyond their control, but my loose leaf tea kept clogging the teapot spout, resulting in several major overflows, drips on the table cloth, and me trying to pick tea leaves out of the spout. Also, the loose tea means the tea keeps brewing and brewing... There is no way to stop the brewing. The constant brewing resulted in very bitter tea for me. Ugh.

And there were not any tongs for the sugar cube bowl.

The sandwiches were fine, and the sweet treats fine, but my scones were dried out. They were so dry, either due to over baking or being stale, that the preserves and cream couldn't save them nor could I finish them.

Also, the cream - it was not very good cream. It wasn't clotted. It was thin and runny, making me wonder if it had been left out next to a heater. I only had a wee bit of cream because it was such an odd texture/consistency compared to other creams I've had at afternoon teas.
SP's jasmine tea
We would probably go back, but at an earlier time (not 3:30pm) and when we make reservations, I'd request to not be sequestered back in a corner with no view.

On second thought, for $17, I think I'd rather go to afternoon tea at Hyeholde.

But I had a terrific date day with SP! Comics for him, tea for me, and a movie for both of us.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays

I know that not everyone celebrates Christmas on December 25. If, like us, you celebrate Christmas, we wish you a very Merry Christmas today. If, like many of our friends, you celebrate another holiday during this winter holiday season (Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Festivus), then we wish you a very happy holiday season! May your holiday be filled with good cheer, good friends, family, and, since this a food blog, good food.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Santa Claus Is Coming!

Santa Claus is coming! For most people, anyway. For us, he already came. Actually, he's been making repeated visits for the past month. There are still wrapped gifts under the tree, but a bit before Thanksgiving, Santa brought us some terrific presents. First, Santa SP showed me a coupon and rebate for a KitchenAid mixer at Costco. We've been wanting to replace his 13 year old, used, cobalt blue stand mixer for some time. Cobalt blue is not the color scheme in our kitchen! So Santa decided we should buy the mixer.
It has already been very useful. Not only is it shiny and pretty but it's a great color and can now sit out on the counter. No more pulling a 30 lb mixer out of a lower cabinet and praying we don't drop it on the new wood floors or crash it into the freshly refinished cabinets as we lift it up onto the counter. It mixed dough for all our cookies, mixed some dips, and mixed some flavored butter (for the Thanksgiving turkey). Did I mention it sits on the counter all the time, ready for immediate use? Oh yes. I love this new mixer.

Santa also brought us this as an early gift:
A new food saver. Also on sale/with coupon purchase at Costco. It takes up less counter space than our old one since it's a newer, more vertical one and it actually vacuums!! Our old one had some parts that were failing and when I tried to vacuum a few things, it failed. Miserably. No more!

Shiny new kitchen toys! Santa SP is wonderful! Of course, he wanted them, too!

But there's more!

Santa also visited us this past week. He had to buy us a new furnace. There is a long story of a furnace inspection that said our furnace was fine but our humidifier broken, then a furnace guy repairing a humidifier (to keep us breathing and our new wood floors happy) but breaking our furnace and being unable to repair it, followed by a second furnace guy who said that it was obvious our furnace was in serious trouble and how could the other guy have missed the cracked blower and scorched control panel but he got it working but it could die at any moment, followed by the information that repairs to our 18 year old furnace would cost more than half what a new furnace would cost and manufacturers say 15-20 years for a furnace, but a new one required new vents and lots of drilling through concrete, right after we had the house cleaned for holiday guests and.....

Three days later, 10 hours of furnace guy labor later, and thousands of dollars later, we have a working humidifier and new energy efficient furnace. And we had to re-clean the house.

Ho ho ho!

No wonder Santa SP just made me a spiced cranberry cocktail! Mrs. Claus is feeling a wee bit stressed and financially strapped!!!

But she's looking forward to opening her pajamas, new CDs, Baileys, and Godiva chocolate (sorry Santa - the credit card bill came and I checked it twice to make sure there weren't any unauthorized charges!)!!

Merry Christmas Eve!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Cookies 2012

The cookie containers, piled on the table.
This past weekend we finished our holiday cookie baking. If my notes are correct, the 2011 cookies used 21 sticks of butter, 31 cups of flour, 8 cups of sugar, 22 ounces of cream cheese, and 22 eggs!!

In no particular order, here are the Holiday Cookies for 2012:
Cinnamon Bun Pinwheels - these are a new addition this year. We omitted the pecans and the $7/bottle cinnamon oil. These are quite tasty and we are pretty sure they will make an appearance on next year's cookie plate, too.

The vanilla part is flakier and more pastry like than cookie like while the cinnamon part is quite smooth and was almost kind of greasy when we rolled it.

Raspberry Shortbread Bars - SP's favorite, and a cookie I've been making every Christmas for the past 5 years. This year we used raspberry preserves, but in previous years we have used peach and cherry.

Citrus Spritz - SP's baking tradition is to make spritz cookies. One year we couldn't because the cookie press broke. This year, we decided to try citrus spritz cookies instead of vanilla.

We actually made two batches of these cookies. The first used orange zest & orange extract. The second used lemon zest & orange extract.

Pizzelles. Regular pizzelles, with vanilla and anise extracts. And made with butter, not vegetable oil. 

Lots of pizzelles. Not the easiest cookie to store - I usually end up breaking 2 or 3 when I try to cram too many into one container.

Bow Tie Cookies with Apricot Preserves - a new addition that was just OK and will probably not make next year's cookie tray. I had fun with my new fluted pastry wheel, though.

Nut Tassies, this year with pecans instead of walnuts. These weren't going to make the cookie tray this year, but then we found a bag of pecans in our baking supplies, so we decided to make them after all.

Chocolate Cordial Tassies, with Kahlua. New this year, but similar to the Brownie Cups I've made in years past. These are OK, but most likely they will not make the final cookie list next year.

Mint Chocolate Chunk - I made these in November and liked them so much I decided they had to make this year's holiday cookie tray. Yum! I hope the Andes Creme de Menthe Baking Bits are around next year, too.

Sugar Cut Out Cookies - a must every year if only because otherwise, the Christmas cookie cutters would never get used! I still love this recipe from a very old cookbook my mom had when I was growing up, and they were one of the first cookies I ever made when I started baking holiday cookies.

Triple Ginger Cookies - three years in a row and we still love these cookies with ground ginger, fresh ginger, and crystallized ginger. Plus, they're soft, not hard like a gingersnap.

Spice Biscotti - the first cookie baked in our new oven this past October. We love the spice taste from the cloves, cinnamon, and ginger in a dunkable biscotti.

Dried Cherry & Almond Biscotti - these first make the cookie list last year and everyone liked them so much that we knew we'd have to make them again this year. Not a super hard biscotti, which is nice because I don't always have a cup of tea or coffee handy for dunking.

Chocolate Dipped Crescents - the first cookie made this year, the weekend before Thanksgiving, because my mom was coming into town and she loves these. We froze a lot of these so they will be included in our cookie gift packages this year.
We also made a batch of Madeleines before Thanksgiving, but we didn't think they would freeze well, so we ate them!

The Rugelach that we made last year made the final list this year... until we decided we'd had enough of baking! Then they got cut.

The Ischel Tartlets were considered... until we decided we had enough 'rolling' cookies. Neither one of  us really enjoys rolling dough. Plus, with no one from my family coming into town, no one will ask for them.

The Candy Cane Cookies that my dad loves did not make the list. I think we both dislike shaping these more than we dislike rolling dough.

We've been enjoying lots of cookies. I'll be glad (and sad) when we make up the cookie gifts and give away 95% or so of our cookies. But until next weekend, I'll be happily devouring these baked goodies, hoping my mid-section doesn't expand too much, and pondering the lesson I [should have] learned from that Frog & Toad story "Cookies" that I read in first grade. Cookies & will power. Maybe SP should buy me that book for Christmas?!