Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Bunny

When I was a child, Easter meant a new dress, dinner at grandma's, colored eggs, and an Easter basket filled with chocolates and jelly beans and a chocolate bunny. We do not have children, but even adults like to receive Easter baskets from the Easter Bunny. This year, my bunny filled my basket with mini, foil wrapped, chocolate eggs, a chocolate bunny, a chocolate egg with a smiley face, and this:
As he does every year, my Easter Bunny brought me a Sarris Cappuccino Meltaway Egg with a dark chocolate shell. And like every year, my bunny gave me my chocolate early so we've been able to snack on these goodies for the past two weeks.
He's a good bunny, my Easter bunny.

Hope the bunny brings you a basket of treats tomorrow, Easter Sunday. Happy Easter.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Everyday Noodles

These days it seems like noodles are everywhere. Usually when 'something' is 'everywhere,' when it seems like everyone is blogging/tweeting/whatever-ing about something, I get annoyed and dig in my heels and refuse to partake in the sudden rush of love for the latest 'hot' thing that one simply must go try. But I made an exception for noodles.

Why? Maybe my love of pasta/noodles/dumplings. Maybe because SP tried Ramen Bar a few weeks ago and ever since has mentioned them nearly every day as a place I really need to try because they were so gosh darn tasty. Maybe I was getting a little tired of him talking about noodles. Maybe because we were in Squirrel Hill last weekend for a nephew's 5th birthday party and decided to take advantage of being in the area to visit a few of our favorite places and have dinner at a new place. In this case, dinner at Everyday Noodles.
After stopping at Margaret's Fine Imports to buy some tea (and by some I mean we kind of overdid it by purchasing 3 new kinds in addition to re-stocking 4 kinds), we crossed the street to enter Everyday Noodles. They were pretty full, but we were seated right away at a table that had just been cleared off. It was early for dinner for us (5 pm) but we hadn't eaten all that much during the day. Some yogurt, jelly toast, and birthday cake for me. I wanted 'real' food, but not a lot of it. So we decided to share an order of Pork Short Rib Noodle Soup Consomme, pictured above. We had the choice of thin or wide noodles and chose thin.

Everyday Noodles makes their noodles. When you enter, you can see the noodle makers behind a window, tossing and whacking noodles around, stuffing and shaping dumplings, entertaining the diners. The short rib was tender and yummy, the noodles were very tasty though quite long so I had to make lots of slurping noises and make a splashy mess as I bit noodles off my chopsticks. My favorite part - I didn't find the consomme too salty, which is a frequent complaint of mine.
We also shared an order of Pork & Crab Meat Soup Dumplings. I thought I would get the majority of these because they were dumplings, but, no. SP thought these were so tasty that he tried to eat more than his fair share and I almost had to stab him with the chopsticks. The owner came around and showed us how to eat them: place the dumpling on the spoon, add some vinegar & soy from the bottles on the table, top with a sliver of ginger, and enjoy. The spoon catches the soup inside the dumpling that spurts out when you bite into the soup dumpling and that way, you get all the tasty broth.
We wanted to order more food because it was so tasty, but we were pretty full, so we didn't. There are many appetizers that SP wants to try and I want to try potstickers and a rice dish plus enjoy more noodles and more soup dumplings! I want all of the food!

It's a fun & friendly place, casual. It can get loud and you'll hear your neighbor's conversations. The servers and owner are friendly, coming around frequently to talk about the decor or the food or just whatever. We really enjoyed our meal and would definitely go back.

Everyday Noodles on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

More Braising

Lamb is one of our favorite foods. We are very excited that recently we have been able to find lamb shank osso bucco at the store for a not too high price. Even though we just braised lamb a few weeks ago, we decided to do it again this past weekend, although we tried a different recipe. This time, we roughly followed Lamb Shanks with Tomatoes & Fresh Herbs from Bon Appetit January 2003.

Like last time, we chopped carrots, celery, and onion. We used chicken stock but instead of red wine,  this time we used white wine. Additional ingredients included tomatoes and strips of lemon peel plus lemon zest. It also called for putting a rub on the lamb before browning it.
Fennel, coriander, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper. We estimated a bit because we used dried thyme and rosemary, not fresh, and because we had whole coriander, which we ground in a coffee grinder we use just for grinding spices.

The other ingredient that made this recipe different and extra delicious: pancetta.
We used  a bit more than 2 ounces because we like pancetta.

Pretty simple: brown lamb, remove, add pancetta, add vegetables, mix in lemon & bay leaves, add wine, scrape up brown bits, add tomatoes & broth, add lamb, put in oven for 1~1.5 hours, remove to stove top, skim off fat, bring liquid to a boil and boil uncovered until sauce is reduced, enjoy.
This was very tasty. I'm not sure which of the two braised lamb recipes I like better. Originally we planned to try polenta again, but we had two leftover hoagie rolls, so we sliced them and used the bread to mop up the tasty juices.

I'm not yet settled on either of the two recipes we've tried as our go to, really yummy lamb shank osso bucco recipe, but I am definitely looking forward to trying out other recipes in the search for the best lamb shank recipe ever!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Mocha Irish Cream Cupcake

I wasn't looking for an Irish/St. Patrick's Day themed dessert. In fact, I had been thinking pizzelles or jelly thumbprints for this week's dessert. But then I stumbled across these Mocha Irish Cream Cupcakes featured on one of the blogs I read and I changed my mind. What changed my mind was not just the mix of chocolate, espresso, and Baileys (yum!), but that the recipe was scaled to make just four cupcakes. That seemed like a nice amount for the two of us. Of course, in the end, I doubled the recipe and made 8 cupcakes so we can each enjoy one cupcake per evening for four evenings.
We made ours a wee bit differently. I didn't want to cut out and discard the cupcake centers, or cut out and reserve for snacking the centers, so we got out one of our piping tips and piped the Irish Cream Ganache into the cupcake. This was our first time piping a filling into a cupcake. We weren't sure how much really got piped inside, plus we had a lot of ganache leftover, so I decided to frost the tops of the cupcakes with ganache, too.
After slathering the ganache on top as well as inside the cupcakes, we debated whether or not we really needed to 'frost' the cupcakes with the Irish Cream Whipped Cream. In the end, our love of whipped cream and of Baileys compelled us to make the whipped ream. We figured that even if we didn't end up using it to frost the cupcakes, we would probably enjoy eating it by spoonfuls out of the bowl. The whipped cream is delicious - smooth, creamy, a very good Baileys taste without it being too strong. We definitely could just sit at the table and eat this whipped cream by the spoonful. Since the ganache was so rich, we decided to frost the cupcakes with the whipped cream, thinking that the whipped cream would cut the rich, thick, chocolate a bit.
It did. I am glad I put a layer of the ganache on top as a frosting because there wasn't really all that much that got piped inside. I am also very glad we made and put on top the whipped cream because I think just the ganache alone would be a bit too rich. We are keeping the whipped cream in a separate container and frosting each cupcake as we eat it. When I made a cupcake for photos, I didn't put too much whipped cream on top, but if you remember SP's whipped cream pile on top pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving:
then you have an idea of just how much whipped cream we are really piling on top!
 These are delicious and a definite make again, even when it's not St. Patrick's Day.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

NOLA on the Square

Last weekend was show #5 of our PNC Broadway Across America season: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It was a fun show and afterward, on a warmish day, we headed over to Market Square where we wandered around checking everything out and then sat at a table and people watched. The sun didn't seem to be shining on Market Square, so I got kind of chilly and wished I had brought my gloves. And earmuffs. Yes, my ears were cold.
Soon it was time for us to meet R&S at NOLA for dinner. You might remember that about 51 weeks ago, on St. Patrick's Day Saturday 2012, we made the mistake of trying to go to dinner at NOLA after seeing La Cage Aux Folles . It was not a very good day and we failed to dine at NOLA. We meant to try again at some point during the year, but somehow we never got there. Until last weekend.
I was excited to try NOLA. I've always wanted to travel to New Orleans, but for some reason it's a place that is always on our travel list and then it loses out to other places and we never manage to make it there. Upon entering, I felt a little crammed and small in the bar area, like people were about to literally trip over me, most likely because it appeared all the bar tables are high pub tables and there are not any lower tables. I soon discovered that NOLA was bigger than I expected as we were led to a back room with lots of space between tables (good for the wheelchair). There were exposed brick walls, red walls, pictures of New Orleans, fleur de lis decor, a huge chandelier over a round table... I liked it. It felt welcoming. What did we eat?
I knew SP would not be able to resist the Crispy Fried Alligator. I didn't try any. He and R both had the alligator bites and enjoyed them, but they both noted that pretty much anything would taste good coasted in the slightly spicy breading and deep fried the served with the spicy aioli.
SP knew I would not be able to pass up the Fried Green Tomatoes. Looking at the menu description now, I realize I should have figured out these would be deep fried because the description says 'abita batter' but at the time, I was very disappointed because in my experience, fried green tomatoes are not dipped in batter and deep fried. They are coated in bread crumbs/cornmeal/flour and fried in some oil/bacon fat/butter in a skillet. I've always had breaded fried tomatoes, not battered & deep fried. I thought this dish was just OK, kind of disappointing. I am still so very much in love with fried green tomatoes after our honeymoon in the south and I get very excited when I see them on a menu, but these were a letdown for me. Plus, they were incredibly filling. I didn't have much room for my meal.
And of course I knew SP would try the Crab Bisque. I expected a light pink kind of color, not this dark red-brown color. He liked it, said it was spicier (more heat) than he expected, it was good, but that overall, he prefers the creamier, lighter colored versions.
SP chose Seafood Jambalaya for his entree. Cajun rice, shrimp, scallops, chicken, andouille. He liked it but didn't love it. The scallops were cooked nicely, but the chicken was dry and tough. It was pretty spicy. He ate a bit more than half and took the rest home.
Not too surprisingly, I chose another dish that I fell in love with on our honeymoon: Shrimp & Grits. I didn't really like this version. There were only seven shrimp and they were not especially large shrimp. In fact, we used larger shrimp in our shrimp risotto this past weekend. I personally do not like when shrimp are mixed into a dish while still wearing their tail shells because I hate trying to eat shrimp and remove the tail shell bit but still look like I have some semblance of manners. I am just not very good at it! There were a lot of bacon bits. The grits were nice and creamy. But I could swear our server mentioned that the barbecue like sauce was more sweet than hot and while I am a spice wimp, I found there to be just too much heat for my liking. I drank all my iced tea and some water, which rarely if ever happens, and when it does, it's because something is too hot for me or too salty. I ate half of it and took the rest home.
Beignets. I love donuts. I dream of going to New Orleans and enjoying beignets at Cafe du Monde. And then enjoying beignets everywhere else I can find them. So of course we decided to share the beignets.
They are very liberally coated in powdered sugar. That means I ended up covered in powdered sugar, even after shaking a bunch of it off. They also were served with three scoops of ice cream (coffee, cherry, and carrot). I don't know if I was just too full or if I found the beignets a bit bland or a bit heavy, but I ended up enjoying the ice cream much more than the beignets. Except for that carrot ice cream - interesting idea and I could taste a bit of cinnamon, I think, in the tiny taste I tried, but overall not a flavor I would suggest. The coffee ice cream was my favorite and everyone else thought the cherry was the best. I took my second beignet home. SP ate both of his.

Of the four of us, three of us had never before dined at NOLA. I had the impression from a previous restaurant conversation that the person who had dined there before thought it was just OK but was willing to return so the rest of us could try it. After dining there, I can see why that person thought it was just OK.

While we were seated right away, a few minutes before our 5:45 pm reservation, it took a while for our server to make an appearance and we did not get out of there until 8 pm. R&S had to ask for their check when dessert was served to make sure they had enough time to get to the show at 8 pm. They rushed through dessert and left while we lingered a bit over dessert. Maybe it was poor planning on our part, but we were surprised at the pace of the service.

Our server was fine. He offered lots of suggestions/opinions on several menu options. I thought that was nice, although it seemed to take quite a while, and others felt it was too much and unnecessary.

Nothing was glaringly awful, well maybe the slow service which was kind of annoying, the food was all just sort of fine or kind of disappointing, but for what we spent ($100+ after tax & tip, no alcohol) it was very disappointing. We can easily name other places where we like the food more and will spend less, and so for that reason, I have to say I doubt we will ever return, but it's possible after we exhaust the other post-show dining options and see where everything rates, but with only two shows left and us not sure if we will renew for the next season...

Oh, also, we both chugged a heck of a lot of tea and water later that night. That's a sign that the food was way saltier than what we usually eat.
NOLA on the square on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cheese Filled Doughnuts

It's no secret that we really enjoy dining at Big Burrito restaurants Eleven & Casbah. It's also no secret that every birthday when we receive the Big Burrito Birthday coupon, we make plans to celebrate at a Big Burrito restaurant. For his birthday this year, SP chose Casbah. We went this past Sunday and enjoyed a lovely, relaxed, tasty meal. Here's what we ate:
Warm bread served with butter topped with sea salt and a Greek yogurt/cheese like spread

The sea salt topped butter was good, but we couldn't get enough of the creamy spread and ate 2 scoops of it

Warm bread

SP's appetizer: Charred Spanish Octopus, fennel, blood orange, parsley, prosciutto, sherry gastrique

A closer, but blurrier, look at the octopus

Arugula Salad for me, my usual choice, arugula with goat cheese, pancetta, crimini mushrooms, and potato cubes with pancetta vinaigrette

SP's entree: Wild Striped Bass, mussels, gnocchi, cannellini beans, kale, caramelized onions, tomato~saffron broth 

My entree: Lamb Loin, polenta, root vegetables, lamb confit, pickled mustard seeds, sage, lamb jus

SP's dessert: Lemon Polenta Cake, Meyer lemon curd, blood orange compote, almond brittle

My dessert: Cheese Doughnuts, ricotta cheese filled doughnuts, lemon confit, lemon ice cream
Obviously, the highlight of the meal for me was the cheese filled doughnuts. I love doughnuts, I love cheese. I also love lamb, and arugula with mushrooms & pancetta. And I love wine - I enjoyed a glass of cabernet sauvignon and after dinner, with dessert, decaf coffee. I was one happy, slightly overstuffed girl.

Casbah remains one of our favorite restaurants, with wonderful service and tasty food.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Birthday Dinner

Along with Spiced Pumpkin Cake, SP got a special birthday dinner: lamb shanks. I know. The Food Network chefs would be so disappointed in my messy plate above. I should have wiped around the edges.
Look at that beautiful lamb. Technically, lamb shank osso bucco. We've been wanting to try braising lamb shanks, but we either cannot find lamb shanks or they seem a bit too pricey. This was the first time he has seen this kind of cut at Costco, and it was not as expensive as lamb shanks we have priced at other stores, so he decided to treat himself for his birthday dinner. I was totally OK with his in store decision because it was his birthday and because I love lamb.
This also gave us a chance to use some of our celery, carrot, and onion stockpiles. The other ingredients: red wine, chicken stock, rosemary, and thyme. Braising might take some time, but after browning the meat, sauteing the veggies, and adding the liquids, it just goes in the oven for a while. In this case, it probably took about 2 hours total.
The lamb turned out very tender - the bones just fell right out. The braising liquid was delicious, too, and the vegetables were very tender but not mushy.
 We made the lamb on Sunday and enjoyed half, saving the other half to reheat on SP's actual birthday.
We served it over polenta, which never seems to be as tasty when we make it at home as when we order it when dining out. Maybe we need to make it cheesy next time?
We also took a shallot, some mushrooms, some cognac, and some sour cream and sauteed mushrooms for a side dish.
Creamy deliciousness. Plus, it used up some of the low fat sour cream, which does not seem to keep as well as the full fat stuff!
 And of course, more vegetable: roasted asparagus. Always a tasty choice to pair with lamb.
We are hoping Costco continues to see this cut of lamb, though with grilling season approaching I am sure we'll be grilling leg of lamb. I might choose a different braising liquid next time, maybe one with tomatoes, or maybe one I saw that used white wine and fresh mint.

Definitely a delicious home cooked birthday dinner.