Monday, December 30, 2013

Crab Imperial

This year, Christmas Eve was a low-key affair for us, and that was just how we wanted it. It was quite nice to not have to prepare for guests or prepare to be a guest. Just stay in our jammies all day and relax.
The one 'special' thing we did was to make ourselves an appetizer treat: this rich Crab Imperial. The recipe is from the March 2012 issue of Saveur.
Crab mixed with onion, red pepper, and panko. Seasoned with cayenne, paprika, mustard, sherry, lemon, and Worcestershire, A buttery, creamy sauce. Baked until bubbly hot with buttery, toasted panko on top. Mmmmm. We made this once before and it was quite delicious, but so decadent and unhealthy that we have avoided making it again - until we decided to indulge a bit on Christmas Eve.
It is still very delicious, and still so rich. Definitely a once a year indulgence, or maybe a party appetizer, where there are lots of other people to help eat it all. We ate it directly out of the ramekins with a spoon, but it's also nice to have some crackers or toasted bread on which to dollop spoonfuls of the crab.
Lots of crab floating in a creamy sauce. A kick from the cayenne and paprika. Still slightly crunchy red pepper. Crunchy, buttery panko on top. So tasty that I couldn't wait to eat it and I kept burning my tongue and the roof of my mouth on the piping hot spoonfuls of crab!

Definitely still a make again dish.

Recipe here.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Chocolate-Peppermint Buche de Noel

My family did not come into town for the Christmas holiday so we spent Christmas Day with SP's family at his parents' house. Everyone pitches in for the meal and this year in addition to a dip for a veggie tray, we offered to take dessert. We took a bunch of the cookies we baked and we made a Buche de Noel. I really like the combination of chocolate & peppermint, and I especially like peppermint flavored treats this time of year, so we made a Chocolate-Peppermint Buche de Noel.
I did not get many photos of this dessert. We were really busy Christmas morning, baking this cake plus trying to get a bunch of other stuff done before heading out for the day, so we didn't take any photos at home. We used the chocolate cake and ganache recipes from the Buche de Noel recipe we made a few years ago (from Baking Illustrated) but instead of espresso-mascarpone filling (which we used before and which is quite delicious) we decided to make a peppermint filling. Since we were a bit afraid of a whipped cream filling not lasting/turning into a runny & wet mess, we used this recipe to stabilize the filling. It uses powdered sugar and a bit of cream cheese with the whipping cream and we added 1/2 tsp peppermint extract (we used 1 cup whipping cream).

I think this cake was a big hit and I know that we both really enjoyed it. The chocolate cake is moist and spongy and chocolaty. The peppermint filling was light and just pepperminty enough.

We didn't cut the cake into pieces and create a true Buche de Noel complete with meringue mushrooms like we did the last time we made it. We didn't use fork tines to make the ganache resemble bark. We simply left the cake as a long jelly roll cake. It was too long for our cake carrier, so we took it to Christmas on a foil lined cookie sheet and covered in plastic wrap.

Sadly, it seems someone squashed the leftovers after we wrapped them and left them on the table at Christmas:
This is quite disappointing, and a little hurtful, since making a jelly roll cake isn't exactly easy and quick. This particular recipe uses a lot of bowls, a lot of whisks and beaters, a pot & bowl for the double boiler, both the stand mixer and food processor (for the ganache), and involves folding whipped egg whites into batter. Lots of work and lots of clean up.
That's the end of it, all squashed out and with the filling spurting out. We suspect that for some reason it was the 5 1/2 year old nephew who decided to squash it, but honestly, knowing how my brother and I were raised and how my brother has raised his kids, I just cannot believe a 5 1/2 year old would do this. He should know better. If my brother or I did this at that age, we would have been spanked/punished. Of course, we would never have even thought to do such a thing. I thought we had left it on the table in a not easily reached location, but I guess not.

So I am a little sad. My delicious (in my opinion) leftover cake that we spent a lot of time and effort on is squashed into an unappetizing mess. At least it still tastes delicious. This is a definite make again dessert.

Ho ho ho.

Cake, filling, & ganache recipes can be found here.

Stabilizing a whipping cream recipe can be found here.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

1. Christmas is over and I for one am quite happy to see an end to this 'most wonderful time of the year.' These days, this time of year does not bring out the best in me. I am not at all proud of this. I spend a lot of time thinking and having arguments in my head and trying to make peace within myself about certain things, but I fail very year and end up crabby and anxious for it all to end. Not jolly. Not relaxing. Thus, huge sigh of relief today when things returned to normal. SP is at work. There is no cookie baking. No present shopping. No present wrapping. I paid the credit card bills with the holiday charges. All that is left is dismantling the holiday decor this coming weekend.
2. I might joke about turning to booze to survive the holidays, and some people really do, but the truth is that while we may have a glass or two on weekends and at holidays, neither of us drinks much. Our liquor cabinet suggests otherwise! This year at the annual holiday party with SP's college friends, we received a bottle of Cinnabon vodka in the white elephant gift exchange. Booze is a big theme every year in this white elephant exchange! I opened it at the party and tried some mixed with ginger ale. It's OK. Not as good as the cake vodka. I taste more cinnamon roll vanilla icing flavor than cinnamon roll cinnamon flavor.

3. Speaking of cinnamon, it's one of my favorite flavors. Sadly, recently, I seem to have developed a bit of disliking for it in tea. Both my Cinnamon Stick Tea and some loose leaf Christmas Joy tea (with clementine, cinnamon, clove, and wee candy bits) have tasted funny to me lately. This especially stinks because we buy our tea through Amazon's Subscribe & Save program so I now have 6 boxes of Cinnamon Stick tea that I have not been enjoying. Ugh.
4. We have more treats than we can handle! In addition to the cookies we baked, we have an assortment of chocolate bark, chocolate covered grahams & pretzels & Oreos, and goodies from this enormous basket:
So much food. So many treats.

5. We also have a lot more beverages. In addition to the Cinnabon vodka, SP gave me a bottle of bourbon, SP received 2 new teas, I received more of the Wild Orange Blossom tea I love from Teavana, plus SP bought me Blue Bottle Coffee  (LOVE the Bella Donovan) and my brother sent us some coffee we really like from his brother-in-law's store. Lots of brewing and sipping in the coming months.

6. Last weekend we saw American Hustle - great movie. We saw it at the Galleria in Mt. Lebanon because we were meeting SP's family for dinner at Bravo at the Galleria, and Bravo at the Galleria was chosen by me because it was my turn to pick (it was my belated birthday dinner) and because there is underground covered parking and the weather forecasters made it sound like there was going to be constant, pounding, monsoon like rain all weekend long. It's not super easy to transfer in/out of a car on a wet transfer board.

Anyway, my point here is this: I was shocked (and appalled) that it cost $7.75 for a matinee movie at the Galleria theater, a theater that is 20 years old, which I am sure of  because I used to live in the South Hills, specifically 2-4 minutes away from the Galleria off of Connor Road, and I can remember seeing a Jack Ryan movie (Patriot Games or Clear & Present Danger) in that theater (I remember because I went by myself). Ridiculous! The new Cinemark near us costs $6.75 for a matinee, has better seating, specifically better wheelchair seating (more of it and roomier), cup holders on the seats, and nicer & bigger & less beat up screens. Also, the Cinemark is only $5.75 for the first showing of the day of each movie and the evening adult price is $9.25 ($9.75 on a Friday/Saturday night) versus $10.75 at the Galleria. Grrr. It's too bad convenience won in this case because I am pretty sure we will avoid the Galleria theater now. How on earth can such an old and crappy theater charge so much?!

And of course there wasn't any monsoon-like rain when we were out on Sunday. Stupid weather forecasters.

7. My niece is applying for her driving learner's permit today. Yikes! She just turned 15 and in GA you can start learning to drive at age 15. I am going to sound like a stereotypical old aunt now: where on earth did the time go, I was just holding a wee little one week old B in my arms and giving her a stuffed elephant and how the heck can she be learning to drive already and someone make time stop or slow down!!!!!

8. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday, whatever you chose to celebrate or not celebrate.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays

Whatever you are celebrating today (or maybe you are not celebrating anything), I hope it's a wonderful day.

We will be celebrating Christmas. We are having a lazy morning filled with tea and cookies and phone calls with out of town family before spending the rest of the day at SP's parents' house.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Social At Bakery Square

This morning I had an appointment at Presbyterian Hospital. I also had to go to a lab for a test and then visit another doctor office in UPMC Montefiore for a quick consultation. So we were up early and spent our morning wandering the labyrinth halls of UPMC Presbyterian & UPMC Montefiore. I love that all those buildings are connected, but sometimes I feel like a rat in a maze and it's easy to get confused when you depart one hospital on the 3rd floor but enter another on the 8th floor!
Early morning appointments and a day off work for SP = lunch out after all the appointments. You would think it would be easy for us to pick a place for lunch, but it was not. We wanted to stay east-ish since we had an errand at the Waterfront and we were so hungry we didn't want to wait until after going to the Waterfront to eat because we feared traffic slowing us down. A lot of places were not options because many are closed on Monday or closed until after Christmas or not open for lunch. We also ruled out places at which we have recently dined. We decided that with only a few days left in 2013, we would use a City Dining Card before it expired and go to Elbow Room. That didn't work out because the garage we tried to park in was full, we didn't see any street parking, and we sat near the garage for 10 minutes while people were turned away and then backing up traffic as they tried to figure out what to do.
We endured a few more idiotic drivers, near accidents, and annoying traffic and made our way over to Social At Bakery Square. That parking area was also a mess with the security guy trying to direct people, people idling, waiting for a parking spot, and a guy honking at us and yelling,"What's the hold up?!" while we were sandwiched between him and the guy in front of us who was waiting for a gigantic van to exit a parking space but the gigantic van didn't seem to want to actually follow through on the reverse light message his rear was showing. Grrrr. Finally we were able to park and walk to the restaurant.
We were seated right away. I can't say I thought there was much decor/ambiance. A big bar area in the middle, surrounded by tables both at bar height and normal height. Several televisions showing ESPN or a soap opera. We ordered fresh brewed iced teas and the Cauliflower Patties with lemon aioli to start.
We enjoyed the patties a lot. Shredded cauliflower formed into patties and fried, served with lemon aioli. Cauliflower isn't the most flavorful vegetable so the patties were not especially flavorful. Most of the flavor was from the breading and the aioli. Even so, they were tasty treats that we would order again.
SP chose the Turkey Burger with smoked gouda, lettuce, tomato, and mango ketchup. He said the turkey burger was quite flavorful. I think our server said that she thinks the turkey is mixed with some ricotta to give it extra flavor and moistness. He got fries as his side, which surprised me, but didn't eat them not because they didn't taste good but because he just isn't much of a fries person and he was getting full.
No surprise: I ordered the Cheesy Bacon Grilled Cheese with Soup. I chose white bread. It was a regular, thin, white bread, gooey cheese, crisp bacon, and what appeared to be a slice of apple sliced so thin it was hardly noticeable. I didn't really notice until I was halfway through because I was so hungry and enjoying melted cheese, but I don't think it was smoked gouda because it didn't have any smoked taste, certainly the cheese didn't taste at all like the smoked gouda we buy...? Perhaps it was regular gouda? The soup was indeed cheesy. It was a very good tomato soup, but I thought the portion was a little on the small side. For $8 plus an extra $1 for choosing the cheesy tomato soup over the other 2 soup options, I expected a bit larger of a soup serving.

I liked my food, I just didn't love my food. I thought prices were a little high for the quality and quantity. Also, not receiving smoked gouda when I ordered a smoked gouda grilled cheese is pretty disappointing. I might have said something if I had noticed before devouring half the sandwich, but it's just not right to eat half a meal and then lodge a complaint.

Our server was terrific. She was very friendly, made sure the crostini in my soup was garlic free, kept the iced teas filled, and was just a fun person.

I would go back to Social, it's a decent dining option, but it's not at the top of my list.

Social at Bakery Square on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 21, 2013

#10: Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies

SP participated in a cookie exchange at his work, so we ended up making holiday cookie #10: Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies.
We made these once before. They're tasty - a layer of shortbread topped with chocolate topped with crushed peppermint candies and drizzled with white chocolate. They're also simple: a basic dough is pressed into a 13 x 9 pan and baked. The chopped chocolate is placed on top as soon as the dough is done baking. It melts and you spread it around to cover the shortbread then immediately sprinkle on the crushed peppermint candies. We microwaved the white chocolate to melt it and drizzled it on top.
The only problem now is that I cannot decided if I like these or the Chocolate Peppermint Pinwheels better for a chocolate-peppermint cookie. Fortunately, both freeze well.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Cherry Icebox Ribbon Cookies

We tried baking three new holiday cookies this year. This is the third: Cherry Icebox Ribbons from America's Test Kitchen Christmas Cookies 2012.

These are a little time consuming. It's easy to make the dough in the food processor and then it has to chill for an hour. Meanwhile, you can heat the preserves and dried cherries, let the mixture cool, and then puree it in the food processor. It takes a bit of time to roll out a square, freeze it for 15 minutes, cut it into strips, layer the strips and cherry mixture, and then freeze the layers before slicing into rectangles and baking.
We had a bit of trouble immediately taking the baked cookies off the silicon mats. The cookies are fragile. Maybe part of the problem was that our edges weren't even since our layers weren't even. We found that letting them sit on the cookie sheet for a few minutes was better than immediately transferring them t o a cooling rack, as the recipe suggests.

The cookies look & taste great. They are definitely worth the effort. They just require some time and a little patience. We'd definitely make these again - delicious, soft, vanilla & almond shortbread layers with a tart cherry filling. Yum!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

1. Last week SP had an appointment before work. He then drove past Party Cake Shop on his way to work and stopped in to buy me some cookies (this was before our cookie baking spree). Yum! Linzer Tarts. A little too much powdered sugar - I wound up covered in white powder every time I went near these cookies - but definitely a tasty treat.
2. It wasn't just Mushroom-Fontina Quiche week. It also was Spinach-Smoked Gouda Quiche week. We have so much going on that we haven't felt like spending much time on dinner. So we made these, cheating with store-bought frozen pie shells, and Oxtail Soup in the slow cooker. Those have been our meals this week.
3. I'm managing to stay a bit in control of the library book pile. This past week I read Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich (it was the usual Stephanie Plum stuff).

4. I mentioned 'cookie baking spree.' Here's what we baked this year:
Top Row: Cinnamon Bun Pinwheels, Blackberry Shortbread Bars, Spritz
Middle: Candy Cane Cookies, Cherry Icebox Ribbons, Chocolate Dipped Crescents
Bottom: Eggnog Snickerdoodles, Chocolate Peppermint Pinwheels, Triple Ginger

Only 9 kinds of cookies. I'm disappointed in us. Usually we bake 12 kinds.

5. Only 6 days until Christmas. I'm still not feeling the holidays. We're still not ready (yes, we still have gifts to buy).

These days, Christmas stirs up my mind. A lot. It makes me question religious beliefs, what being a good person means, the power and difficulty of forgiveness, why the current family holiday traditions are what they are, and what I truly want Christmas to mean for me and what I truly want to do versus what I feel obligated to do. You would think at my age I'd have this all sorted out, but I don't.

Maybe some day I will. For now, I'll eat my cookies, shrug my shoulders, and keep thinking about things.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Eggnog Snickerdoodles

Last year, SP bought me America's Test Kitchen Holiday Cookies 2012. I didn't make any cookies from it last year, but so far this year, I've tried two of the recipes. One of the two I tried is Eggnog Snickerdoodles. I've never been a huge fan of regular snickerdoodles, but I know SP likes eggnog, and I like the rum/brandy-nutmeg-cinnamon flavors of eggnog if not the actual drink eggnog. I was surprised to see there isn't any cinnamon in this recipe, but I figured that perhaps the rum extract and nutmeg would be enough. Also, I looked up eggnog recipes, and some use cinnamon and/or cloves in addition to nutmeg but many use only nutmeg. Same with other eggnog cookie recipes. I was still unsure of nutmeg only, but figured it must be OK. After all, I've only had eggnog once in my life, so what do I really know about it?!

These cookies were simple to make. The most difficult part was flattening the rounds a bit with the bottom of a greased measuring cup. I tried several 'bottoms' but all quickly stuck to the dough and I had to keep greasing the bottom of whatever I was using to flatten. So that part was a little frustrating.
These cookies spread out thinner than I expected, but they still looked like the ones in the photo. I'm not sure how I feel about this cookie. On the one hand, it tastes fine, like a nice, soft, thin butter cookie with powdered sugar on top. On the other hand, I can't really taste the rum extract nor do I taste the nutmeg sprinkled on top. We even added more nutmeg to the powdered sugar sprinkle and then even grated a wee bit of nutmeg directly on top of some cookies. So I guess I am disappointed because I think I expected a more rum-nutmeg flavored cookie and I don't really get those flavors from this cookie. I can't help but think that nutmeg in the dough as well as even more sprinkled on top would make a better cookie. Or maybe cinnamon, too.
SP likes these a lot, says they taste like eggnog, and says I'm crazy for being disappointed in them. My final verdict: slightly chewy, moist, a very good plain butter cookie, but disappointing, to me, in actual eggnog flavor. A 'possibly make again but unlikely to make again' cookie but mostly because we have such a large list of possible holiday cookies and I don't think this one makes the top 10. Then again, they are simple and quick - no dough chilling, no dough rolling, no special dough shaping, so maybe they will show up again.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mushroom & Fontina Quiche

Last Saturday morning, the weather forecasters were predicting more doom and gloom and it was shaping up to be a crappy weather day, so we decided to not go out for dinner. We weren't really in the mood for any kind of delivery food. So we decided to make a quiche. It took us a while to figure out what we wanted to put into our quiche, but as we flipped through some recipes looking for inspiration, we found ourselves inspired by a Mushroom & Fontina Quiche (Bon Appetit, October 2009). So that's what we made.
SP went out in the morning to do the shopping/errands. He said it was great because the roads weren't too bad yet and because hardly anyone else was out. He bought everything we needed for the quiche - including a frozen pie shell because, well, we didn't feel like making our own. So we cheated. Sadly, Costco didn't have any fontina cheese so he had to buy it at Market District - a wee bit of a splurge but gosh fontina is so good. For mushrooms, instead of assorted 'fancy' ones, we used one of the Costco button mushroom packages. We substituted onion for shallot.
SP made sure to saute the mushroom until the liquid was evaporated so that the quiche wasn't wet and runny. Assembly was super easy and quick and before we knew it, we were enjoying the quiche. It's delicious! Very filling because there are lots of mushrooms. Mushrooms & fontina turned out to be a fabulous combination for quiche. It's also delicious reheated the next day. We will definitely make this again.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Chocolate Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies

I'm searching for the perfect cookie that combines chocolate and peppermint. Every year, I try a new one, but while all have been tasty, there hasn't been one that made me close my eyes and blissfully sigh. These Chocolate Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies come close. The more I eat them, the more I like them. They just might become a permanent addition to the holiday cookie baking list.
I know. I said I wasn't in the mood to bake. I wasn't feeling it. The holidays were annoying me. But then we baked some cookies. Then I started leafing through holiday cookie recipes. I pulled out 3 holiday cookie magazines, a holiday cookie cookbook, my holiday cookie recipes ripped from newspapers and magazines plus the latest issues with holiday cookies and before I knew it, I had compiled a list of 50 cookie possibilities.

So I sorted the possibilities. All the chocolate-peppermint possibilities were listed together and I carefully considered which one to bake. There was no doubt there would be a chocolate-peppermint cookie. I just had to decide which one. Alton Brown's Chocolate-Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies won because SP likes Alton Brown and because they had made the short list the past 2-3 years but always lost out. This is their year.
Of course I didn't read the reviews until after they were in the oven. That's when I started to worry. Too dry, bland, not worth the effort, too minty, not enough chocolate - those were some of the complaints. These are a fair amount of effort. But we've made pinwheel cookies before, so thankfully, it wasn't our first experience with this kind of cookie.
I can see why some people think these are dry, but we don't think they are dry. Pinwheels are a bit of a drier, flakier cookie. These have the same texture and moisture as the Cinnamon Bun Pinwheels we make and love. The candy cane bits melt a bit but then harden as the cookie cools, leaving pockets of slightly soft and chewy melted then solidified candy cane bits. At first I wasn't sure I liked those bits, but they have grown on me. I tried to get a photo, above and below photos are me trying to capture the part of the cookie I'm talking about.
We both really like this cookie. I can taste the chocolate and the peppermint - flavors that I really, really, really like. Next time, I might pulverize the candy canes into dust, but I'm not definitely sure about that because it works fine with bigger chunks.

Here's how I know I really like these: it was hard to part with some of them when we mailed cookies to family. I was counting how many were left for me! Notice I said me, not me & SP. He's been warned - these are close to the top of my favorites list.

Note: We made the sugar dough, divided it in half, mixed in the chocolate and peppermint flavors, then refrigerated the 2 halves. There was a bit of confusion on my part and in some reviews regarding when and for how long to chill the dough. I don't know if our way was the way it was supposed to be, but it worked fine for us.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

1. Last weekend we baked some holiday cookies. I wasn't really in the mood, especially for these two kinds of cookies, but my parents requested them, so we made them. As usual, I got annoyed forming 4.5 dozen crescents and then dipping them in melted chocolate. Also as usual, we both got annoyed at shaping the candy cane cookies and then decided the finished product was not as good as we had hoped. They were too crisp. Ugh! Why does my dad like these stupid candy cane cookies so much???!!!!
2. SP went holiday shopping last weekend. There are presents for me under the tree! He also brought home a bag of Pittsburgh Popcorn Company's Chocolate Waffle Cone Popcorn. Yum! I love this stuff, especially the waffle cone bits.

3. I know it's only 2 weeks until Christmas but I just can't handle making plans for the holiday. I don't know what my problem is, but this year I'd just like to skip it and move right into January. Maybe because Thanksgiving was so late and now I feel pressed for time to get everything done that we need/want to get done which means holiday preparations are not feeling enjoyable and jolly but annoying and aggravating. Maybe because so much effort went into Thanksgiving that I'm just not recovered and ready to celebrate another holiday yet. Maybe because it's been so darn cold that I just want to stay huddled under the electric blanket and not crawl out until late March.

4. Speaking of cold & crappy weather, it's the reason we had to skip SP's work party last Friday evening. We didn't want to drive into the city and then have to deal with crappy roads on the drive home and then a snow covered driveway/walkway with the wheelchair.

5. Last Saturday we decided to have dinner at Bocktown. We have eaten there a lot because it's so close to us, but this time it's noteworthy because I actually ordered something different: delicious, creamy ham & potato soup (soup of the day) and the pot roast sandwich. Yum! SP ordered his usual crab soup and tried a ravioli and sausage dish that he enjoyed.

6. I am maybe getting a grip on my reading pile. But probably not. I've given up on the remaining 4 National Geographic Magazines for now. I definitely made time to read all the December food magazines because, well, holiday cookies! I had a pile of 4 library books. I read 2 , renewed 1, and had to return 1 unread. Then 2 more requests were ready, so now I'm back up to 3 library books.

The 2 I read:

*The Star of Istanbul by Robert Olen Butler - This is the first novel from Butler that I have read. I enjoyed the blend of history & espionage but I should have read the first novel with the character Christopher Marlowe Cobb before this one. It's not essential to understanding or enjoying the book, it's just that I like to read series with the same characters in order.

*The Quest by Nelson DeMille - I have read all of DeMille's novels and I am a big fan. This one disappointed me, but I'm not sure it was the novel itself, which is apparently a rewritten and doubled in length version of an earlier and shorter version by Demille from the mid 1970's (which I had not before seen in any list of DeMille works), or just that I have a problem with books/movies involving the quest for the Holy Grail. It's an intriguing premise and plot, searching for the Holy Grail, but it seems like it has been done so many times that I roll my eyes and sigh heavily. I didn't bother reading the plot synopsis before requesting this book, but then again, it's DeMille and I'm sure it wouldn't have deterred me.
7. We have been a little lazy in the kitchen. Last Friday we ordered pizza. For a couple dinners this week, we pulled out some frozen marinara sauce that we made just before Thanksgiving and ate it with angel hair pasta. There is still some ricotta from the lasagna we made so we dolloped some on top and grated some parmesan on top. Pasta with red sauce and cheese is so comforting and warming on these cold evenings.

8. It's Portman's ham salad week! SP stopped in and it happened to be a weekend that they were making & selling ham salad, so he got some. Love this stuff!

9. We have a couple of holiday parties coming up and I am trying to decide what we should make. I want to make a Buche de Noel but sometimes I think we should make something other than dessert because there is always a lot of dessert. I just can't figure out what non-dessert dish to make and take.

10. I can't tell you how excited SP is to be going to see the new Hobbit movie tomorrow afternoon. He's like a kid the night before Christmas. We have to watch all the Hobbit movie trailers on TV - if I start to fast forward through one, he gets all sad and tries to grab the remote out of my hands. After Hobbit he's going to the Pens game. I'll be enjoying an evening alone, maybe touching & shaking some of my presents under the tree, but mostly being happy that I have been saved from having to go see the Hobbit movie and that I no longer have to let all the Hobbit trailers play.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sausage & Beef Stuffed Red Peppers

Quite some time ago we made these Sausage & Beef Stuffed Red Peppers. Growing up, my mom never made stuffed peppers because my dad doesn't like peppers. When my friends would say they were having stuffed peppers for dinner, it seemed like such an exotic dish. I first made them on my own some time during graduate school. Green peppers stuffed with beef, rice, and tomatoes. They were good, but not necessarily something I was wowed by.
SP loves stuffed peppers, but not green peppers. Red or yellow or orange peppers. We knew we wanted stuffed peppers, but we couldn't quite decide on a filling. We consulted several cookbooks for ideas and finally decided to just make it up as we went along. The result was quite tasty and I'd definitely make these again. We used Ricci's sausage, which we love, along with ground beef, which we had in the freezer and wanted to use. White rice for me, brown for SP. A quick homemade tomato sauce. And a package of Costco red peppers. Next time I'd add some mushrooms and maybe make a bit more sauce.

Our Recipe

6 red peppers (one package from Costco)
1~1.25 lb ground beef
1~1.25 lb sweet or spicy sausage (we used Ricci's sweet)
white or brown rice, about 1/2 cup each
Red sauce, jarred or a quick homemade one

Cook the rice. Slice off the tops of the peppers and chop them into fine pieces. Remove seeds inside the main peppers. Place peppers in baking dish. Saute the onion and chopped pepper. Cook the sausage and beef. Mix together cooked rice, sausage, beef, onions, chopped red pepper, and some of sauce. Fill the peppers, making sure to save some sauce to spoon on top and in the bottom of the baking dish. Bake until everything is thoroughly heated.

Our homemade red sauce:
can crushed tomatoes
can tomato paste
parmesan rind (as much/little as you want)
splash pepper vodka (can omit, or use plain vodka)
dried parsley, oregano, basil (as much/little as you want; we just sprinkle until it looks 'good')

Simmer all ingredients for a while (2-3 hours).

Monday, December 9, 2013

It's Been A While: Meat & Potatoes

I have a habit of always ordering the same dishes at a restaurant. The problem is, there are some dishes I absolutely love and since we do not go anywhere all that often, when I do return to a restaurant, I go right for the trusty, tasty favorite. I just can't seem to pass it up in favor of trying something new. The weekend after Thanksgiving, we saw 'Elf' at the Benedum, walked through the Holiday Market at Market Square, and then settled in to warm up and have dinner at Meat & Potatoes. Much to my surprise, it had been quite a while since we had last dined at Meat & Potatoes. We started off with the usual, but after that, it was all new dishes. The usual drinks: Barrel Aged Manhattan for SP and a Dark & Stormy for me.
We kicked off our new dishes evening with an order of Fried Pickles with spicy ranch dipping sauce. Usually, I like, not love, fried pickles. These fried pickles I love. I don't know if it's the pickle, the thickness of the pickle round, the seasoned breading, the pickles being fried to a perfect, crispy, golden brown, or some kind of magic, but these are easily the best fried pickles I have ever eaten.
SP ordered the Bone Marrow, served with gremolata, onion relish, sea salt, and grilled bread. He said it was delicious and he especially liked the onion relish and sea salt sprinkled on top.
I decided to finally try the Short Ribs Flatbread with blue cheese, arugula, cheddar, horseradish. I always want to order it and then shy away from it. I am so glad I finally tried it. I loved the mix of cheeses melted on top the short ribs, the thin but not too thin flatbread, fresh arugula. I did end up taking half home because I was getting full. The next day when I ate it cold for lunch, I couldn't get enough of it. I found myself wishing there was more it.
SP got the daily mussels special, I think they were mussels with salmon roe, dill, tomato, garlic. As usual, the mussels photographed terribly in a dark restaurant. He said they were tasty and he ate them all.
Meanwhile I finally tried another dish I have eyed before: Mac-n Cheese with pulled pork, chorizo, government cheese. So glad I finally tried this dish! Definitely one of the best mac-n-cheese dishes I've ever had when dining out. Cheesy, not gummy or glue-like cheese sauce. Just enough chorizo and pulled pork to make it delightfully porky and flavorful without overwhelming the cheesy pasta. One of those 'if only I could lick my plate in public' dishes. I finished it all.
We were full and hadn't planned on ordering dessert, but the Eggnog Pot de Creme sounded like a good way to end dinner and start the winter holidays (I think of Thanksgiving as fall, not winter, and as soon as it's over, it's time for the winter holiday season). It was very good, definitely an eggnog flavor but gosh, when you are as full as we were, it's a little hard to truly enjoy a tasty dessert. We managed to finish all but 1 or 2 spoonfuls.

SP also enjoyed a fresh brewed iced tea and I ordered hot tea and was able to select from around 7-8 kinds of tea (I forget exactly how many were in the tea chest; I chose a basic black tea).

We both are still impressed by the tasty drinks and food at Meat & Potatoes. When we go to a place like Meat & Potatoes we expect service to be at a higher level than at other places we go to since it's one of the top restaurants/most popular in Pittsburgh. Our server did not disappoint. The Dark & Stormy is no longer listed on the Drinks menu, but when I inquired about it, she assured me they could still make it. She was patient as I pondered the tea choices and the meal was nicely paced. The front desk/hostess customer service continues to improve with each visit. Definitely one of my favorite Pittsburgh places.

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