Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Second Chance

Last weekend, SP & I went to see Blue Man Group at The Benedum. We like to go to the 2 pm shows on Saturday and then to dinner afterwards. We both would rather have a leisurely dinner after a show than dinner before an 8 pm show. I think, for me, it's because if I have a cocktail or wine, I'll get a bit sleepy, and if I eat too much, as I usually do, I'll feel way too full to enjoy the show.

Anyway, we decided to give Meat & Potatoes another chance. Our first and only visit was at the end of 2011 and it was not a great experience. Since this post is about the 'second chance' visit, I won't recap our previous visit.

This time, we made a reservation for 5:15 pm. The shows had been ending a bit before 5 pm, but for BMG, the show ended around 4 pm. So we had an hour to kill. It made us wish that M&P opened a bit earlier, or stayed open between lunch and dinner, because we would have loved to go over, have a cocktail and relax for an hour, then have dinner. Instead we sat on an eyeball bench in the eyeball park.

We finally walked the short distance to M&P. We waited in front of the hostess desk for longer than we should have, waiting for someone to ask if they could help us. Two girls walked away instead of asking if they could help us. They clearly saw us because they looked right at us, but apparently, they deemed us not worthy of their attention. The third was on the phone. A few moments after hanging up, she asked if she could help us. She was very pleasant and seated us right away. Final verdict: we both still find the front hostess service lacking though it was markedly better than the front hostess service last December. That was our main issue with M&P last time.

I've already written about the decor as have many other bloggers, local newspapers, and local magazines. So I'll get right to the drinks and food.
Beverages: fresh brewed iced tea for both of us. Barrel Aged Manhattan for SP. I tried a sip and thought it was very tasty but I'm not sure I could drink an entire glass myself. I don't remember much about the flavor, other than it seemed rich, strong, and just quite enjoyable. Strong cherry background.

Special Daily Appetizer: Chicherones. Homemade pork rinds. Crispy. I tried one crispy bite, no sauce. SP said the sauce was pickled tasting, a bit of a vinegar tang instead of a sweet sauce and very good.

Snack: Grilled Bread with Goat Butter and Strawberry Jam. So good. Crispy, grilled bread. Homemade strawberry jam with a bit of a honey taste, I think. Soft, silky, flavorful, decadent tasting butter. 

Snack: Fried Brussels. Oh my. Salty, halved brussel sprouts sprinkled with cheese. Totally shames the frozen, boiled sprouts of my youth. Some of the leaves were a bit black, others just soft and grilled. Lovely dipping sauce, mayo based, I think, but I didn't dip very much. I just enjoyed the salty, grilled brussels. 

SP's entree: Braised Lamb Shank with white beans, kale, broccolini, gremolata. Fall off the bone tender and moist meat. I had a bite and thought it was very flavorful, but just a wee bite because the shank was dusted with garlicky gremolata, which SP loved. The beans were creamy, not over cooked or under cooked or hard. The raisins and capers added a nice contrast to the sauce.

The lamb bone. 

My entree: Pappardelle with short rib, pancetta, parmesan. I'm not sure what they do to this, but the pasta was so flavorful and cooked just right, a tasty tomato sauce but not too much sauce and not a thin, runny sauce, just enough bits of short rib and pancetta meat to make you want just one more bite. 

Dessert: Strawberry Shortcake. A lemony, moist pound cake, mascarpone, more of the delicious strawberries from the jam. The jar is a cute presentation, but it makes it a bit difficult to get a bite of each component in the same spoonful.  

The food was just as good as we remember. The front hostess area was better but still could improve a bit. Our server was fantastic, asking right away if we were planning on seeing a show later on so they could make sure we weren't late for it, making sure our drinks were filled, offering to repeat any daily special description again. She was friendly, helpful, happily boxed our leftovers. What I noticed more this time, maybe because we weren't at the bar, was that the employees who brought our food / cleared our plates asked how everything tasted, if we needed anything. The service inside was terrific.

I really like M&P, from the interior decor to the menu to the service inside, both at the bar and at the tables. I can see why it made the 25 Best Restaurants List. I'm sure we'll be back, just always with a reservation!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May Cooking

I'm still feeling a little lazy about blogging. There has been a lot of post bathroom renovation clean up. We also started the process of freshening up the rest of the basement. This involves painting the ceilings and walls, ripping off a wallpaper border, and replacing all the carpet. We also have carpet on the stairway walls. Yes, carpet. It is almost as gross and creepy as the old pink bathroom. I don't know if the previous owners carpeted the stairway walls for extra sound proofing or because they were in the flooring business and loved flooring so much. After all, the built in shelves are built of flooring, too.

Anyway, the carpet must be ripped off the walls, the walls fixed with plaster or drywall, and then painted. What makes the painting of the walls/stairway even more 'fun' is that the previous owner put a skylight above the stairs to the basement. On the one hand, this is terrific for lots of sunshine on the stairs and it really brightens up the basement. On the other hand, it's a 2 story high area to paint, above stairs. Tricky. So we will be hiring someone to rip off the carpet, fix the stair walls, and paint it all. We are not messing with trying to balance on stairs to paint all the way from the basement to the roof!

We also cleaned out the garage. And painted it. And replaced the rusted and falling apart shelves. The garage was like the pink bathroom. Super creepy. Lots of bugs, leaves, cobwebs, dust, and clutter. I cannot stand dust and clutter. SP doesn't much notice it. But once we started clearing stuff out... eeewwww! Mom and I painted the concrete white so freshen it up. Mom cleaned everything, SP put together the new shelves, we rearranged and got some 'organization' things to store stuff on the walls (like the bicycle, plus other wall mounted storage things to hold brooms and rakes and such). We just need to get a better drill to mount the stuff on the concrete walls! We have just a one car garage, so getting as much stuff as possible on shelves and mounted on the walls means more space around the car. It looks much, much better. Definitely less bug/cobweb scary. I don't feel like some critter is going to dart out from behind clutter/debris and attack me.

There's still a lot to do. It's a slow process. We might finish by the end of the year. We might not. The next priority is finalizing an agreement with someone to fix the carpeted walls. That will be a messy job, so we've put a hold on painting the main basement area until the stairs are done. The new carpet will be the last part of the project.

Let's talk food. We haven't made anything new but we have been using the grill and enjoying some tasty meals out on the deck. Here's a photo summary of our May eats:

First rotisserie chicken of the year, looking nicely golden and not torched like the first one last year. 

It helps to keep a water bottle right next to the grill to put out any flare ups that threaten to blacken your chicken.

Off the rotisserie and resting before carving.

The lemon we stuffed inside the chicken for flavor. We also stuffed some onion in the chicken. We rubbed under the skin with salt, lemon zest, and fresh chopped chives.

This was a really tasty chicken, moist, lemony, but mostly it was probably so tasty because we bought an organic chicken. I call it happy chicken. 

Pasta salad I made for with the chicken. Our usual homemade dressing. Cucumber, tomatoes, artichokes, green olives, kalamatas, carrots, fresh thyme.

In early May we ate a lot of green beans and rice with the Mustard-Tarragon Chicken Saute. I think we ate this every day for 5 days. This time we added mushrooms to the sauce since we had mushrooms from the CSA, but they didn't really add much to the dish. They didn't make it taste bad, they just didn't add anything. This chicken dish is one of our go-to, quick, easy meals.
This past weekend we made our first ribs of the grilling season. Rubbed with a McCormick Dry Rub, wrapped tightly in foil with a bit of apple cider poured into the foil packets, cooked in the oven at 225 degrees for 4 hours, finished on the grill with BBQ sauce.
We also grilled some kielbasa.

Finished ribs. SP's had a homemade BBQ that he made a while ago. The other ribs were either slathered in regular Sweet Baby Ray's Sauce or Jack Daniels Honey Brown Sugar Sauce. Kind of hard to tell them apart!

The meat could be pulled off the bone with a fork. Nice and tender and juicy.

Market District Olive Baguette slices brushed with Delallo Basil Flavored Dipping Oil and grilled. They got a little too crispy and crouton-like for me, but were still tasty.

Grilled asparagus.

Just what do we do with all those CSA greens? Sometimes we do not promptly eat our CSA goodies! I made a salad of all the lettuces and the spinach, added a carrot, and we used the leftover pasta salad dressing for salad dressing. There was kale, too, and we grilled the kale to make kale chips again.

We still have rhubarb and some green onions. Our other 'cooking' has been hoagies, reheating pizza. Nothing too exciting. My dad arrives in town this afternoon and we have more grilling plans for the next week and hopefully a dinner out. Maybe something 'exciting' to get me in the mood for blogging?!



Monday, May 21, 2012

Hello

I've neglected my blog the past couple of weeks. I just haven't felt like blogging. Plus, we've just wrapped up two weeks of a bathroom renovation. We didn't actually do the work ourselves, we paid someone to do it, but it was still disruptive and time consuming. Lots of construction noise during the day plus three people using one bathroom (my mom is in town).

Our basement bathroom looked like this:

Your eyes do not deceive you. It was pink. Very pink. Very old. Hideous lighting. Disgusting tile. Cheap & ugly wood fixtures. Horrible mirror with no storage behind it. Creepy looking. Maybe some monsters lurking in the shadows. I felt sorry for our guests, since this is the guest bathroom. It's also SP's everyday bathroom. So creepy. And ugly.

Here's what it looks like now:

(It was tough to take photos because it's not a very large room, but you get the idea)

(Also, lots of photos I must share because, well, it's no longer pink and creepy and I'm pretty excited)

Ahhh! White pedestal sink! A medicine cabinet with storage! Vinyl floor! Bigger & prettier glass shower door!
White! So much bright, clean white! Acrylic shower panels and shower base, new handheld shower nozzle, all chrome fixtures, white beadboard/chair rail/baseboard, blue walls.
 New and brighter light - a little fingerprint smudged in the photo!
New storage cabinet! Storage! In the bathroom! OK, that's a big deal because we didn't have much before. Just 3 creepy drawers in the creepy sink thing where the monsters lurked.
 And a built in shower caddy! Whoo!
 New hand towel ring! New white electrical outlet!
New towel bar! Light switches moved down the wall and new paddle switches and white plate! Door swapped to open the other way!
New floor! We opted for a commercial vinyl tile over ceramic tile. Mostly because ceramic tile is darn cold in the winter and this is a basement bathroom and our basement is chilly even in summer. Hopefully the vinyl tile will be a little warmer for bare feet.

There really is a toilet! When I took the photos, the toilet wasn't in yet because of an 'issue.' The issue has since been resolved and we again have 2 working toilets in the house - YAY!

I've only gone in to ohhh & ahhh. SP has taken 3 showers already and loves his new bathroom. I am quite pleased, and I no longer think of it as the creepy, dark, dank, closet turned bath. I hope our guests like it, too! I'm still hunting for a new trash can, hand soap dispenser, rugs, etc. After all, a shiny, new, clean bathroom deserves new decor. I already bought new white towels.

So that's where I've been. There was a lot of noise during the project, pretty much right under my office, so I spent my days in the sunroom. I haven't even turned on my computer for 2 weeks, I've just used my cell phone to read blogs/email/tweets. And of course, like our other projects in this 60 year old home, there were issues during the project, and stresses, and worry. But it's over now, and totally worth it, I think.

Hopefully I'll get back to regular blogging soon!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

CSA #5

This week in the CSA box:
~ 1# rhubarb, Nu Way Farm
~ 1/3# green onions, Nu Way Farm
~ 1/2 gallon apple cider, Kistaco Farm
~ 1/2# asparagus, Schramm’s Farm
~1/2# young kale, Clarion River Organics, OG
~ butterhead lettuce, Clarion River Organics, OG
~ 2# pancake mix, Clarion River Organics, OG
~ green garlic, Clubhouse Gardens

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Something Fishy with Barley Salad on the Side

The weather has been so beautiful lately. It made us want to grill and dine on the deck. But what to grill? I don't know why it took us so long to decide. We wandered round & round the meat & seafood counters at Costco before finally selecting a huge piece of salmon.

Yes. Salmon. I know. Me, the person who doesn't really like fish, actually uttered the words,"Buy the salmon. It looks good."

There's a reason. My mom is in town. She likes fish. And we wanted to make her a tasty meal on Sunday.

We started soaking our cedar plank Saturday evening. We have a cookie sheet with a high rim, so we soak the plank in that. We weigh it down with glasses since the plank likes to float. SP seasoned the fish with olive oil and lemon-pepper seasoning. Very simple, but flavorful. Here's fishy, on the burnt plank on the grill:
I don't know what is was, maybe the glasses of viognier I drank before dinner, maybe I was super hungry, maybe the side dishes were so tasty I forgot I was eating fish, or maybe this was just a really delicious fish, but to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. So simple, just enough lemon-pepper to give a hint of flavor. Olive oil to keep it moist. Or maybe it's that this was a very fresh piece of fish? Often, we will buy fish and freeze it, or buy bags of frozen fish. The last time we ate fish was some frozen tilapia and it was... fishy funky. Bleah.
But this lovely fresh beauty? Delicious. I told SP I would eat more fish if we bought it fresh and only fresh. No more frozen.

The sides werereally tasty. We bought a bunch of tomatoes at Costco. I cored and sliced two of them, placed them on a cookie sheet, sprinkled the slices with panko, dried basil, and grated parmesan, drizzled olive oil over, and roasted at 400 for about 15 minutes. I love roasted tomatoes.
We took the kale from the CSA and seasoned it with olive oil, salt, and pepper and then SP grilled it in our big grill basket. The basket lets him toss it around a lot, so the kale doesn't burn, but it still crisps up nicely. It's much easier in the grill basket than trying to get the oily kale leaves on a cookie sheet in the oven.
Crispy. Salty. Even mom liked the kale chips and she at first turned her nose up at the kale! I like kale prepared like this. The crispy, crunchy texture helps me get past the strong taste kale has, the bitter taste, and I can't help but think of all the iron & vitamins in it when I eat kale! I don't much like it steamed or sauteed.
Barley-Mushroom-Asparagus Salad. I found this recipe by accident when I was clicking around, looking for food inspiration. It was down in a corner and caught my eye because lately, we've been having a lot of discussions about broadening our grain varieties. More quinoa, more barley, maybe farro.

There's even been talk of trying to eat more beans/lentils. I'm much more into the idea of more quinoa and more barley!

Barley, to me, doesn't have much taste. It's a harmless food. If I didn't know the little cream colored blobs were barley, I might think they were little pasta pearls. Add in some sauteed mushrooms, sauteed shallot, roasted asparagus, season with fresh thyme & parsley, and mix in a lemon-mustard vinaigrette. So good! The vinaigrette is not too strong, not too lemony, it just adds a bit of tang and freshness.

The official recipe calls for uncooked sliced mushrooms to marinate in lemon juice & salt, while half a shallot is chopped and added to the vinaigrette. I prefer mushrooms and shallots sauteed, so that's what I did, but I didn't saute the mushrooms for too long. They were still quite firm.

Also, instead of pouring the barley-mushroom mixture over the roasted asparagus spears, I chopped the asparagus into one inch pieces, roasted the pieces, and then tossed them into the salad.

This salad is definitely a keeper.

Monday, May 7, 2012

2012 Herbs

This past weekend was 'Herbs & Posies' weekend. This means that Saturday afternoon, we spent entirely too much time at Home Depot & Lowes picking out flowers for the front planter and herbs to grow on the deck. I don't have any flower photos, but we stuck with our usual: petunias. When something grows well in a spot, stick with it! This year we bought red, white, and pink petunias.

Now for the herbs! Since we were away for 2 weeks in April and then our first weekend home was so cold and super busy, we had not yet planted basil. We did this weekend:
Pretty exciting, huh?! A pot of dirt! Hopefully the seeds will sprout soon! Meanwhile, since we use a lot of basil, we bought a plant so we wouldn't have to wait as long to enjoy the basil:
I think I mentioned that our sage & chives from last year started growing again, so we added some soil and plant food to those pots. I didn't take photos of those. The thyme from last year also started growing again - it is quite healthy:
The mint from last year started growing again, too, so we cleaned out the dead parts and added food & fresh soil:
Last year we didn't have a lot of mint until the end of June/early July, and I didn't want to wait that long for the new growth to get big, so we bought a mint plant and we bought an oregano plant:
Oregano on left, mint on right
We are not growing rosemary this year. We wanted to grow dill, but neither store had any dill. We are hoping to get some parsley in the CSA.

So that is the 2012 herb line up on the deck! Two pots of basil, two pots of mint, oregano, thyme, sage, chives and hopefully soon parsley.

I am looking forward to mint ice cream, mint on fattoush, mint mixed into sauces for on fish, all sorts of fresh herbs in pasta and potato salads, basil with tomatoes... I am ready for the summer foods!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Ya Fei

Our first weekend home after vacation was a return to our usual busy weekend routine. Given the road closures in and around the city due to construction, we decided to stay in Robinson for our Saturday dinner out. We tried at first to go to Bocktown, but it was super busy. A couple other places were also busy with waits around 40-50 minutes. So we ended up at Ya Fei. Chinese is not my favorite cuisine these days, but there wasn't a wait! It has been a long time since we ate at Ya Fei, I think for me since Christmas 2009, so I figured I'd take some photos for an update.
SP's Hot & Sour Soup

Fried noodles

Octopus Sashimi

Fried dumplings

Stir Fried Garden Vegetables

Honey Glazed Sesame Chicken
We enjoyed everything. The dumplings tasted yummier than I remember. The chicken was sticky because of the honey but tasty. The employees were very friendly. Actually, I really enjoyed the meal, which surprised me because usually I don't much enjoy Chinese food. But it was tasty enough that the next time we are trying to figure out where to dine in Robinson, I just might surprise SP and suggest Ya Fei.


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