Monday, November 25, 2013

So Much Food

My mind is racing in a million different directions! There's no way I could focus enough right now to write a food/recipe post - but that's OK because I don't have any new dishes to share! Even though there isn't anything new to share, there is SO MUCH FOOD in the house right now.

1. Saturday was lots of shopping in preparation for the big meal later this week. The traffic and crowds and cold/windy weather made us decide to not go out to dinner as we usually do on Saturday evenings. Instead, we bought soup at GEMD for dinner. I had a baked potato soup that was pretty tasty but the potato cubes could have been cooked more. SP had the Tuscan Vegetable and enjoyed it.

2. Sunday morning we made two red sauces. The first one was for sausage & meatballs for dinner with Texas sister's family last night. We followed SP's family recipe for the sauce & meatballs and added cut up sweet sausage links from Ricci's. The second sauce was my mom's sauce and we turned it into lasagna for dinners tomorrow & Wednesday with my brother & his family.

3. We are hopeful that my brother will make it into town. He has to drive from the north Georgia mountains through NC & VA & WV mountains and the forecast is not encouraging. I spoke with him this morning and he's still trying to figure out when to depart and how much he can realistically drive after work today and through the night. When you get to be our age, night driving is not as easy as it once was. When you live in an area that doesn't get much snow/ice, driving through it is not fun, although he does enjoy mocking his neighbors who freak out at 1 inch of snow.

4. Texas sister helped us make Mushroom Turnovers for an appetizer on Thanksgiving. It is so much easier with a third person to help!

5. While we made the mushroom turnovers, we snacked on Prosciutto & Gruyere Puff Pastry Pinwheels.

6. We asked SP's mom to do the last minute Thanksgiving shopping for us. We meant for it to be a Tuesday/Wednesday thing, but because of the winter weather forecast, she did it today. Our refrigerator is jammed with food. I don't think we are at potential avalanche level, but definitely at 'where the heck did X get shoved and how much crap am I going to have to move to get to it' level.


7. Texas sister made Cranberry-Orange Biscotti. They make an excellent breakfast.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Smoothies for Breakfast

The first smoothie: blueberry
Several weeks ago, I wrote about wanting, needing, to change my breakfast meal. I thought smoothies might be good. So we started making smoothies. OK, not we, SP. I just drink them.
We bought bags of frozen fruit: peaches, strawberries, cherries, blueberries, mixed berries. Lots of plain yogurt, non fat yogurt, Greek yogurt, there's a variety of yogurt. And oranges, lots of oranges.
Cherry smoothie
Every other day is smoothie day. Otherwise it's banana day. The smoothies are tasty. My favorites are strawberry with vanilla extract, peach with vanilla extract, and cherry with almond extract. The mixed berries were a little seedy.
Cherry - of course it's probably my favorite one because the frozen cherries are the most expensive frozen fruit!
Here's how we do it:

Put equal parts frozen fruit, yogurt, and fresh squeezed orange juice into blender. Add a few drops of vanilla or almond extract. Blend. Enjoy.

For each smoothie, he uses about 1/2 cup fruit/yogurt/juice. He rinses the frozen fruit in a colander to 'thaw' it a bit and lets it drain. If the orange doesn't yield enough juice, then the smoothie is light on juice or he adds a bit of water. For his smoothies, he uses just water, no juice.

So smoothies were a good idea. We'll keep making them until I get bored and decide it's time to change it up again. Or until I get really sick of seeing the blender base always out on the counter and the glass blender jar always in the dish drainer.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Roasted Brussels Sprouts (Maple-Mustard Version & Balsamic Version)

Balsamic Glazed Brussels Sprouts
When I was a child, I loathed Brussels sprouts. The only thing more disgusting may have been that canned creamed corn, but I'm not sure - the Brussels were pretty disgusting. My brother & I perfected choking down the disgusting vegetables first and then we could enjoy the rest of the meal. Back in those days, Brussels sprouts meant a box of frozen sprouts cooked in boiling water, drained, and topped with a pat of butter. Not even the butter could save those boiled sprouts.

Thanks to some genius discovering that Brussels are pretty tasty roasted, I have a new opinion of the nasty green balls. It took some time. I've been seeing roasted Brussels sprouts recipes for years. But I resisted. Then, about a year ago, we started roasting them. And I started liking them.

Sometimes, they are simply tossed with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Easy and tasty.

Sometimes we cut the Brussels sprouts in half and toss them with salt, pepper, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar before roasting.

More recently, we tried them tossed in a maple syrup-mustard-olive oil marinade:
My favorite is the balsamic, but the maple-mustard ones were nice for something a little different. I think we needed more mustard and more maple flavor because it was there, but just faintly.

Brussels sprouts are difficult to photograph. I've tried to take photos in restaurants and at home and they are blurry or too shiny or look like a mass of yuck. Like this:
Maple-Mustard Version - you can see the mustard seeds
 They are also delicious dipped in cheesy goo from mac & cheese.
The macaroni and cheese and breaded chicken were my choices for birthday dinner. We eat an awful lot of green beans and broccoli, so I decided on Brussels sprouts as the green vegetable.

If you haven't tried roasting fresh Brussels sprouts, you should - they are tasty enough to be a birthday dinner vegetable!

Maple-Mustard Brussels Sprouts:

How we did it:

1 bag Costco fresh Brussels sprouts
4 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tsp whole grain mustard

Cut the sprouts in half and sprinkle with salt. Combine the maple syrup, olive oil, and mustard in a bowl. Pour over the sprouts and mix well. Roast at 400 until done - ours took 30-45 minutes (we didn't really time it, we just kept checking and even though they seemed done around 30 minutes, we left them in until everything else was ready).

Inspired by this.

Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts

How we make them:

Cut sprouts in half. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add olive oil to coat. Drizzle balsamic syrup over, toss to coat. Roast at 400 until done.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

1. I know Halloween is over and it's time to talk turkey and mistletoe, but after tea last Friday we were driving around and I spotted the above Halloween decoration. I squealed. Loudly. I made SP pull over and get out to take a photo! A Pac-Man pumpkin eating ghosts! I love it! I want one! Makes me fondly recall the days when my best friend and I hit the roller rink and played Ms. Pac-Man.
2. My Thursday birthday treat last week was from Nancy B's Bakery. SP got me a chocolate chip cookie and an M&M cookie. He got himself a peanut butter cookie. All 3 were huge and delicious. Too bad we don't live closer to Homestead.
3. I'm sure it surprises no one that my homemade birthday dinner, which we made this past Sunday, was The Best Macaroni & Cheese Ever, breaded chicken, and roasted Brussels sprouts.

4. It might be surprising that instead of a baked treat for dessert this week we made Chex Mix. It's lasting longer than usual, probably because I am so darn stuffed after the mac & cheese and chicken.
5. When I have an early morning doctor appointment, SP bribes me out of bed by promising donuts. Usually, he doesn't keep his promise because we run late and don't have time on the way into the city and then on the way home, the yummy donuts are gone, so I lose out. But a couple of weeks ago, we actually had time to stop at Big Daddy's Donuts for a Devil Dog (chocolate cream filled donut). I ate it after we got home. Yum! Made getting up at 5:45 am worthwhile.

6. We are hosting Thanksgiving this year for SP's family and my brother & his family. 15 people. That might sound not too big to some people, but for me, it's a lot since growing up every holiday had just 8 people. I'm not sure we even have that many plates or that much silverware! It might be a paper plate & plastic fork kind of Thanksgiving.

7. My National Geographic pile is down to 3 issues but my library book pile is back up to two with a third on the way. Plus there's a new Saveur.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Coq Au Vin

One of our favorite fall/winter meals: Coq Au Vin. Between the 2.5 cups of red wine in the Italian Pot Roast and the 3 cups in this dish, it was pretty easy to finish the gigantic bottle of wine!
This is another Joy of Cooking recipe. It's similar to the Italian Pot Roast in that there's lots of wine, carrots, onions, and mushrooms. But this dish has chicken. And bacon. And marjoram. Mmmm bacon. This is easy, too, just time consuming since the chicken braises in all that wine & chicken stock for a while.
Delicious, as always, this time with olive oil bread and broccoli or asparagus. It's also tasty with noodles.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Italian Pot Roast

Way back in August, SP bought a couple of hunks of beef because there was a BOGO sale at GEMD. One was cut into cubes, skewered, and grilled for kebabs. The other went into the freezer. I like to eat what is in the freezer, plus the holidays are coming and we need freezer space for holiday food (OK, holiday cookies), so I started pestering SP about making the hunk of beef. He countered that it was not truly happy beef so he didn't really want it. I pointed out that I couldn't eat that much beef by myself in a week, nor did I want to. He suggested we keep it in the freezer until my parents come for the holidays. I pointed out that with dad's recent medical issues it was unlikely they would come for the holidays. In the end, he somewhat reluctantly agreed to cook and eat the hunk of beef.

And that is the start of how the two of us managed to finish a 1.5 L bottle of wine in one afternoon. We used it in 2 dishes for the week and then had a glass each leftover.
We used the Italian Pot Roast recipe in The Joy of Cooking as a guide. This is where 2.5 cups of the wine went, along with tomato paste, a 28 oz can tomatoes, beef broth, onion, carrots, mushrooms, parsley, sage, a bay leaf and rosemary. It didn't braise in the oven but on the stove top. Here's the cooked hunk of beef:
We cooked it on a Sunday but didn't eat it for dinner until later in the week. The tiny sliver we tried on that Sunday seemed a bit tough and dry in spite of cooking slowly in a bunch of liquid. Kind of disappointing. The hunk was cut in half and each half was submerged in half the liquid in a casserole dish, When I reheated it, I left the casserole dish on and reheated it at 350 for 45-60 minutes.
Much, much moister and tastier after hanging out in the liquid for a day or two and then being reheated. Tasty and tangy tomato flavor along with soft mushrooms and carrots. Definitely a make again dish, but next time maybe with a better quality hunk of beef.

*We ate it with olive oil bread from GEMD and steamed broccoli or roasted asparagus.

Recipe here.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Afternoon Tea - The Inn On Negley

Last Friday was my actual birthday. Since it was a Friday, and since I ruined our planned June vacation so now SP has many unused vacation days, he decided to take the day off and turn it into a 3 day birthday weekend! I decided I wanted to go to an afternoon tea, see a movie, and then see where the day took us. Since my favorite Pittsburgh place for afternoon tea, Hyeholde, no longer offers afternoon tea, I had to find another place. I discovered that The Inn On Negley offers an afternoon tea, so I made a reservation there.
The Inn On Negley is a beautiful, historic home turned B&B. Happily, there is a ramp that wraps from the front of the house around to the back, so it's accessible. Tea is in the Fernwood Tea Room.
The tea room is cozy and inviting. We were able to sit right next to a little alcove of a window area, close to the radiator, which was terrific on a chilly November day. Plus, it was the table with the giant comfy chair, so SP was happy. There are lots of teas from which to choose. The current special tea is chai and that's what SP ordered. Predictably, I could not resist a cinnamon tea with 3 kinds of cinnamon and orange peel bits.
Chef Albert brought out our 3 tiered tower of goodies. The top tier, little sandwiches:
Egg salad, which was nice because it wasn't too wet/mayonnaise-y. A toasted crostini with herbed cream cheese and thinly sliced cucumber and radish - my favorite because of the crunchy crostini and the herb cream cheese. The final one: a parsley and lemon chicken salad. Also not too wet/mayonnaise-y, which was nice.

The middle tier:
Vanilla cream scone and apricot ginger scone with grapes and apple slices. Served with raspberry jam and cream:
Both scones were delicious. As usual, I had to control myself and not eat every last bit of the cream. Jam & cream spread on scones is just so yummy!

The bottom tier:
A pear & apple crostata, brownie, and pumpkin mini cupcake topped with candied ginger. All 3 desserts were very good, but our favorite was the pear & apple crostata.
We had a lovely time at tea! I always think it won't be very filling but by the time I am eating the last little dessert treat, I am stuffed. All the food was good. The tea selection is terrific and we both were happy with the tea we chose. Plus, it was loose leaf tea, which I prefer to bagged tea, especially when I go out for tea. They do let you choose up to 2 kinds of tea to try, but neither of us opted to try a second tea flavor. Everyone there is so friendly and nice. It made for a nice birthday treat.

After tea, we went to see Thor: The Dark World, which was fun although I discovered I really don't like watching movies in 3D and it's our fault because we picked the movie showing that best fit our schedule instead of paying more attention to the XD/3D, 3D, and Digital options, so while some people might be excited by the XD/3D showing, I was not. It makes my eyeballs hurt and I just don't think it added much to the movie!

Inn on Negley on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

1. Thursday Thoughts is delayed today because I wanted to get other things done, like finishing the library book that is due tomorrow.

2. The book due tomorrow is Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel. It's a lovely story of two people meeting and falling in love, India after World War 2 and the changes/upheaval it is going through, and life on a British owned tea plantation in Assam. Once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down.

3. It's birthday week! SP & I always joke about how we each get a Big Burrito birthday dinner, a family birthday dinner, sometimes a second dinner out, and a homemade dinner plus dessert for our birthdays and sometimes those celebrations stretch out over a week or two. So I declared this week birthday week even though I am not getting my homemade dinner until this coming Sunday. SP rolled his eyes at 'birthday week' and muttered something under his breath but I have been getting special treats all week.

4. Treat #1: A donut from Peace, Love, and Little Donuts in Oakland. It was small for the price, but tasty. I forgot to take a photo. It was a plain cake donut dipped in chocolate and then in mini chocolate chips.
5. Treat #2: SP spent Tuesday evening fixing PM's computer. PM wanted to be 'cool grandma' so she let her 9 year old grandson download a free game. A game that came with all sorts of evil and malicious stuff that made her computer not work, not even to check email. He didn't get home until 11 pm but the computer now works and he came home bearing homemade pumpkin bread as a thank you. It's delicious!
6. Treat #3: SP stopped at Gaby et Jules and bought pastries. I shared with him because I'm nice but gosh these were good and I kind of wanted to be selfish wife and not share.
The napoleon was really flaky but oh so good with the light, vanilla pastry cream.
Eclair with chocolate filling. Yum! A dark chocolate cream filling, chocolate on top. I confess I cut it a wee off center and ate the larger by maybe 2 millimeters half. I'm just looking out for him - wouldn't want all these sweet treats to send his blood sugar level up too high, right?

7. Treat #4 is tonight but I do not yet know what it is. SP will be late getting home because he is stopping at the hospital tonight because his youngest sibling was hit by a car today while crossing the street on her way to work. She has a broken shoulder, but that's all I know, I don't know if she needs surgery or if there is anything else injured. But gosh darn it drivers - be careful out there!

8. Treat #5 is tomorrow, my actual birthday. SP took the day off and we are having a date day: afternoon tea and a movie, then maybe a small dinner. We decided to see 'Thor' which surprises my girlfriends. They want to know why we are seeing an SP movie for my birthday! 'Thor' is actually my favorite kind of movie, plus, Thor, he's pretty darn hot.

9. I have cleaned up my office and re-organized the closet so I feel much better. The Halloween decor has been put away and the Thanksgiving decorations are out. But I have not made any progress on those National Geographic magazines.

10. Last night we watched 'White House Down' and it was a lot of fun. See? I love action movies! Fights! Stuff blowing up! But sadly we are now way behind on our weekly TV viewing. We have 4 hours of TV since Sunday night that we haven't yet watched.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Olive Or Twist

Last Saturday we went to see We Will Rock You at the Benedum. It was really good, a lot of fun, and I knew more of the Queen songs than I expected - but it was really LOUD! After the show, we walked around for a bit and then headed over to Olive Or Twist for dinner. It was a new-to-us place plus we had a City Dining Card.
Inside it's cozy and inviting, with lots of exposed brick walls, candles on the tables, and dark colored furniture. Our table was right next to an exposed steel beam that was stamped Carnegie - that made us wonder about the age of the beam and the building!
Drinks: we decided to try two of the cocktails, especially since Olive Or Twist is known for its martinis - but we ended up not choosing martinis. SP chose Suit & Tie (tequila, agave nectar, triple sec, bitters. lemon juice, topped with ginger beer). I chose Jameson's Ginger (Jameson's Irish whiskey, ginger syrup, ginger ale). I really liked mine - then again, I like whiskey cocktails and I like ginger beer/ale. SP liked his drink, too, but since I do not really like tequila or agave nectar, I didn't really like the sip I had.
SP started with the soup special: Lobster Bisque:
Very good bisque. Or maybe I was just hungry and cold so it tasted extra good. I had to control myself and not eat all of his soup. Instead, I patiently waited for my meal: Three Cheese Sandwich & Tomato Soup:
Delicious tomato and basil soup. I enjoyed dunking the grilled cheddar, Swiss and mozzarella on sourdough with tomato into the tomato soup.
There is something so tasty, so comforting, so wonderful about grilled cheese dipped in tomato soup. It was a filling meal, but not too filling.
SP chose Crab Cakes served with broccoli for his meal:
He said the crabs cakes were filled with lots of crab and fried nicely. He ate them all.
I decided to try one of the sweet martinis for dessert. I didn't think I should drink an entire one myself, so SP agreed to share. I chose the S'Mores Martini: s'mores vodka, toasted marshmallow syrup, Godiva chocolate liquor, served with a marshmallow coated in chocolate and dipped in graham cracker crumbs. The rim was coated in chocolate and very finely crushed graham cracker crumbs.
This was amazing! It was not as sweet as I expected and it definitely had s'mores flavor. I loved the teeny graham crumbs on the rim. It didn't take me long to inhale this. SP got a bite of marshmallow and a sip of the drink. He was driving anyway, so of course I should drink the majority of it, right?!

This was a nice change for us. It was a bit more casual then where we usually end up after a show. It was nice to have a satisfying & tasty soup & sandwich meal with terrific cocktails. Our server was wonderful, very friendly. She asked if we were on our way to a show, which is nice since restaurants in the area do fill up before a show and people don't like to be late if they are headed to one. We weren't rushed. I'd like to go back to try some of the other martinis - like the tiramisu one or the chocolate covered pretzel one. Or the Cinnamon Manhattan.

Olive Or Twist on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 4, 2013

Eleven - Birthday Brunch

It's birthday time! That means it's time to head to a Big Burrito Restaurant for dinner or brunch in order to use my Big Burrito Birthday Coupon! This year, I chose Sunday brunch at Eleven. As usual, the food and the service were fantastic. We over-indulged in these goodies:
The bread basket. For brunch, the bread basket was filled with delicious, moist tiny biscuits, a pumpkin mini muffin, a cranberry & orange mini muffin, and a light & flaky croissant. To spread on our bread basket treats:
Honey butter and a pear-apple jelly. So good! I love honey butter and the pear-apple flavor was fantastic.
What's brunch without a fabulous cocktail? For SP, a Bloody Molly (made with whiskey; not photographed) and for me, an Eleven Mules - cucumber vodka, lime, ginger beer, and cucumber slices. My ginger beer cocktail trend continues! I really liked this drink, and the cucumber made it cool and refreshing.
SP's appetizer: Charcuterie - duck prosciutto, pork rillette, bresaola, melon butter, grilled baguette.
I actually chose an appetizer other than the beignets: Grilled Sticky - cinnamon swirl brioche, bacon butterscotch, icing. Oh my gosh. First, it was enormous. Second, it was absolutely delicious and I really wanted to devour the entire thing but I was afraid I would have no room for the rest of the meal, so I ate half and took the other half home. So light and airy and cinnamony, with that terrific sweet & salty combination (bacon & butterscotch). I may never order the beignets again!
SP's entree: Salmon - endive, fennel, and cucumber salad, lemon aioli, pea shoot. I was a little surprised he ordered this because he doesn't usually like fennel, but the salmon part of the dish overrode the 'meh' fennel. As usual, his fish was cooked perfectly and he ate it all.
For me: Eggs Benedict - English muffin, chanterelle mushroom, Surryano ham, hollandaise, citrus salad. Yum! I love eggs benedict but rarely order it (and never make it). It wasn't one English muffin split in half - there are 2 English muffins on the plate. I asked for my eggs to be well poached since I don't usually like runny yolk, and they were well poached but not over poached. I gave it my best shot and almost finished the entire plate, leaving behind maybe one third of an English muffin.
Of course I ordered dessert: Tiramisu Cannoli - espresso-mascarpone mousse, Marsala sabayon, espresso reduction, cocoa roasted hazelnuts. I love tiramisu flavors. I was feeling pretty full, but to my surprise I ate two of the three cannoli and pretty much scooped up every last bit of the sauces. SP ate the other cannoli.
For us, brunch at Eleven is very filling. We did not eat dinner last night because we were so stuffed! Around 9 pm I ate rest of my grilled sticky with my evening tea and it was still delicious, even after being reheated.

I love Big Burrito Birthday Coupon Brunch day! It was a great way to start the birthday celebrations!