Friday, January 31, 2014

Shepherd's Pie

This week we've been enjoying Shepherd's Pie. We've made it a few times, sometimes it turns out really tasty and other times not so tasty. It's been a while since we made it because the last time was a not so tasty time. This time we returned to Anne Burrell's Shepherd's Pie recipe and it was delicious!
Like many of our favorite recipes these days, this one calls for wine. We used the red wine that SP's mom gave us at Christmas. This is blend of three reds: zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. It was pretty good.
Sauteing the carrots, celery, and onion. Note the amazing diced veggies - the uniform size. I might be slow at chopping, but I can do a pretty good job when I try!
Veggies simmering with the lamb in the stock & wine. We bought a leg of lamb at Costco and cut it in half, which gave us 2 hunks of lamb, each weighing about 2 lbs. SP froze one and diced the other.
Mashed potatoes. Not usually one of my favorites, but when plopped on top tasty lamb and broiled in the oven they transform into potatoes I can't get enough of.
Nicely browned on top.
This is so very good - I think we'll stick with this version of Shepherd's Pie. I definitely like it better with chunks of lamb than with ground lamb. The lamb stays moist and flavorful because it simmers in sauce. The wine & the beef stock we added give the sauce a lovely richness. The sauce was so good that we found ourselves wishing we had a piece of bread to mop up all the sauce. The potatoes have that nice crisp, brown top. The leftovers reheat nicely, too. I reheated at 350 with the glass casserole lid on for 30-45 minutes (depended on when exactly SP got home) then took the lid off when I heard the garage door - it was probably another 5-10 minutes with the lid off while SP got in the house, changed clothes, washed up, and got ready for dinner.
Our changes to the recipe:

  • No leeks
  • No garlic
  • Used onions
  • We had leftover beef stock, so we used 2 cups beef stock and 2 cups chicken stock
  • We used an entire bag of peas
  • Dried, not fresh, thyme
  • We used heavy cream since we had some but otherwise we would have used milk
  • We used regular Idaho baking potatoes
  • We don't use a food mill/ricer for mashed potatoes, we use our hand held electric mixer
Recipe here.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

1. Our deck, a winter wonderland. Much as I dislike winter, I dislike people who constantly complain about the cold & snow, etc. It's winter. In Pittsburgh. Get over it. That doesn't mean I am happy right now - snow and slush make leaving the house in a wheelchair problematic, and that's putting it nicely. The cold really bothers my broken bones/replaced joints and my hands/feet never seem to be warm. Last weekend was so crappy I didn't go out at all so as of today I have not left the house in 11 days.

2. Not going out last weekend because of crappy weather means SP crammed the grocery shopping and other errands in on Friday night after work and then on Saturday we ordered pizza for dinner - spinach, chicken, bacon, and tomato pizza. The driveway & walkway were snow-free when we ordered the pizza but by the time the delivery guy arrived, everything was covered in white again. Ugh!

3. Since I am in a wheelchair, and since I gave up driving because I no longer felt like a safe driver, I am home the majority of the time. I have no problem filling my days: small chores (like Swiffer-ing the wood floors, loading/unloading the dishwasher, folding laundry), reading, catching up on TV/movies, blogging, cross-stitch, playing games on my tablet, crossword puzzles, paying bills/keeping our bank accounts and the budget spreadsheet up to date/balanced, genealogy research, scanning old photos/slides --- so much to do I sometimes feel I don't have enough time to do it all! Maybe that's because it takes me so much longer than a 'normal' person to do some of these things, but...

So I have no tolerance for people who say they need to get out of their house every day. They complain if icy roads and wind chills of -20 keep them home for a day or two. How hard is it to amuse yourself at home for a day? SP loves to have one day/week to stay home and not have to leave the house, even if he's busy with chores, he says it's nice to just not have to change out of pajamas and leave the house.
4. This week our dessert treat is Dried Cherry & Almond Biscotti. These are tasty, but didn't turn out quite as well as when we have made them in the past. However, being sub-par biscotti hasn't kept us from hoovering them up.

5. Last week we watched Prisoners and it was really good, better than we both expected. Barely recognized Hugh Jackman. I also watched Blue Jasmine and gosh Cate Blanchett is amazing!

6. The reading pile: I read Sycamore Row by John Grisham. I used to read all his books, then I lost interest, but for some reason I decided to give this one a try. It's the usual Grisham lawyer/courtroom stuff, but nice to return to the characters from A Time To Kill, and I enjoyed sorting out the geneaology/mystery part.

7. I almost read Cartwheel. Almost because it was a 7 day only book and I didn't finish it in the 7 days I had it and couldn't renew it. It drew me in but also annoyed me. I read about 1/3 and I'm not sure if I'm going to put it on reserve again. Especially since SP just picked up The Luminaries for me to read and it's 849 pages.

849 pages. Due February 13.

But first I need to finish Once Upon A Lie. At least it's short (304 pages).

8. It's Super Bowl weekend. We don't have any grand party plans. We aren't too interested in the game but I suppose we'll watch for the ads. I wouldn't be surprised if we turn off the game to watch Downton Abbey.

9. It's also Groundhog Day weekend. I am sure that rodent will say we have 6 more weeks of winter. If he says otherwise, he's lying! SP optimistically started planning our little garden last night and I made fun of him. Right now, the garden box and the herb pots are buried under snow.

Related: someone nicely gave us a crocus. I know this person meant well, but seriously? In this weather? With our cold house and drafty windows? I doubted our ability to keep it alive until spring. I was right. Within 2 days the purple flowers were shriveled and droopy. We are attempting to save it - we even placed it right in front of a heating vent, but... I have doubts. It needs sun, but the sunny window areas are super cold and drafty.

Another plant bites the dust. We are not good with indoor plants.

10. Tomorrow is the last day to leave a comment for a chance to win a deck of City Dining Cards! Go here to enter.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Silk Elephant

A few weeks ago, SP & I went to dinner at Silk Elephant in Squirrel Hill. It's a place we both like, we just haven't dined there in a long time. It turns out it had been 2 years since our last meal there!

It's much as we remember it. I order a variety of tapas, he orders stinky, spicy stuff I turn my nose up at, the service is fine, the food tasty, and then we head across the street to Waffalonia for dessert and maybe down the street to Te Cafe for some hot tea. Here's what we ate:
Potak Seafood Soup, spice level 5, for SP. He loves soup, loves seafood, loves spice, so he loved this dish.
Moo and Goon Steamed Dumplings (pork & shrimp) with ginger sesame soy sauce. I like these a lot, especially the sauce, so I don't share them with SP!
Silk Elephant Rice Wrapper Rolls (cucumber, carrot, lettuce, cream cheese, crab with sweet chili sauce). I like these, too, but I share them with SP. I didn't taste too much crab in them, and I don't like chili sauce so I eat mine unsauced, but they're tasty and filled with veggie so I feel somewhat good about them!
Curry, spice level 5, with seafood. I don't remember what kind he got, just that it was with seafood and spice level 5. He always orders a seafood curry and always enjoys it.
Thai Shrimp & Pork Toast with Thai cucumber sauce. Really tasty, crispy, fried goodness. I even like all the sesame seeds.
Thai Crab Crowns (Crab Rangoon). A favorite of mine. Fried, cheesy, crabby goodness.

I wish I liked the predominant flavors of Thai food/this menu more then I do because I always leave feeling a little dissatisfied and like I ate horribly for dinner (which, yes, I did). Sadly, I have never liked the flavor of peanuts (I cannot stand when SP eats peanut butter; I have to leave the room to escape the gross smell), curry, garlic, chili, cilantro, pineapple, coconut, beans. I really do like all the tapas I order, but 4-5 of them for a meal just leaves me feeling bleah.

The hostesses and servers are very nice and friendly, they ask when/how you would like your tapas to arrive (I got 2 when SP got his soup and the other 2 when he got his curry entree). Empty plates are promptly removed, clean plates provided when needed. If you like Thai food, definitely try this place. If you're like me, go for the tapas.

Silk Elephant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Chicken Divan

Several weeks ago, we wanted a dinner that was easy to re-heat during the week. It was cold and we were thinking casserole. A quick flip through Cover & Bake and we had our meal: Chicken Divan.
This was pretty easy to make and it made a lot. We easily got 4 dinners out of this with a lunch portion leftover. Basically, a layer of rice topped with a layer of broccoli topped with a layer of chicken and a creamy cheddar & parmesan sauce poured over it all and topped with chopped almonds & bread crumbs then baked until bubbly.

This was quite tasty, but it seemed like a lot of chicken and not enough broccoli to suit our tastes. Next time, I would cut back on the chicken and add more broccoli. I would also make more cheese sauce for the leftovers to help keep the dish from drying out when re-heated. I also might increase the bread crumb-almond topping. It was the topping and sauce that really gave life to this casserole.
It's important to overlap the chicken on top to shield the broccoli from the oven heat and keep it tasty & green not dull, limp, and overcooked. Having the uncooked chicken on top also allows the chicken juices to flavor and moisten the dish as it bakes. The rice is first sauteed with the chopped broccoli stems and diced onion then simmered in water before becoming the bottom layer. The broccoli florets are blanched before becoming the second layer so they're a nice, bright green.

Another make again dish - except we're compiling so many make again dishes alongside our 'want to try' dishes that I am sure some of the delicious dishes we've made will end up forgotten!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sausage Tortellini Soup

 Lately it seems like I've been seeing an awful lot of recipes for Tortellini Soup.
Lots of tortellini soups with sausage/meatballs and using beef/chicken broth/stock, with/without tomatoes - so many options! I was drawn to the tortellini. SP was drawn to the sausage (from Ricci's, of course) and the fact that it was soup. Since the soup has pasta, the tomato one sounded yummy, so we decided to go with the soup from Noble Pig.
This soup is very easy to make. It doesn't take much time - it took an hour from start to finish. It's also very tasty and filling and comforting - perfect on the cold, cold winter evenings.

Next time, I think I might want to try it without the tomato flavors (just chicken broth) and maybe add some additional vegetables, like the Penzeys version with zucchini. Maybe add some parmesan rind while it simmers.

Our changes from the Noble Pig recipe:
  • No garlic
  • Ricci's sausage, not Jimmy Dean
  • Chicken broth, not stock
  • No dried red chili peppers
  • No kosher salt
  • More than 3 oz spinach
  • Sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top

Friday, January 24, 2014

Giveaway Time! Pittsburgh City Dining Cards

Recently I received in the mail a surprise - a package from the folks behind the City Dining Cards

The idea behind City Dining Cards is simple: support local restaurants, save some money while dining at those local restaurants, and help fight hunger. $20 gets you a deck of dining cards. Each deck has cards for 50 different restaurants, offering $10 off purchases of $30 or more (excluding tax, tip, and alcohol). There also are a couple of 'Wild Cards' (this time for Yinzburgh BBQ and Espresso a Mano). Some of our favorite restaurants are again included in the 2014 deck (E2, Osteria 2350), some new favorites (Up Modern Kitchen), and some places we want to try (Root 174, Sausalido) - just to name a few.

Plus, while you are saving money at local restaurants, your purchase of a dining deck is also helping the community since City Dining Cards donates 5% of sales to local food banks.

They generously sent me a couple of packs of dining cards to give away to some lucky readers.
If you would like a chance to win a deck of the 2014 Pittsburgh City Dining Cards, please leave a comment (and please leave your email) telling me which of the restaurants you would most like to try (list of participating restaurants here).

Everyone likes additional chances to win, so if you tweet about this giveaway, that will count as an additional entry, just be sure to leave a comment that you tweeted about it. If you like Pittsburgh City Dining Cards on Facebook, that will count as another entry, just leave me a comment that you 'liked' them.

Good luck! You have until Friday, January 31 at 11:59 pm to enter and I'll draw 2 winners over the weekend - Groundhog weekend! Let's hope for an early spring! If not, at least you can stay warm burning through a deck of dining cards, enjoying tasty food at local restaurants!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

 1. It's M & M Shortbread Cookies week! It seems like we make these every January. They're really tasty - even SP is eating 3 every evening for dessert. They're also really easy to make.
 2. It's also Mustard-Tarragon Chicken Saute week with Pureed Cauliflower on the side. The chicken is as tasty as ever (we used whole milk this time) but the cauliflower puree is not as good as the cauliflower puree we made earlier this month. This time, we cooked the cauliflower in water then added some warm milk when we pureed it. It seems more watery (perhaps we didn't drain the cauliflower enough) and thin - not like the luscious, thick puree a few weeks ago. I think we'll stick with cooking the cauliflower in milk and cut back on how much milk we initially add when pureeing.
3. Puffington is still hard at work, attempting to humidify the bedroom. It seems to be helping a bit. My eyes seem a bit less dry and itchy in the mornings and I'm not snoring/breathing through my mouth as much. Sadly, the humidity in the bedroom, after reaching a high of 34% humidity one day, seems to be staying at 29% even with Puffington running all day long. I think that's because the heat is running so often because it's so darn cold that the humidifying just cannot keep up with the dry heat.

4. We watched Captain Phillips last night. Great movie! Last Friday we watched Lee Daniels' The Butler and that was very good, too.

5. We definitely do not need more TV shows to watch, but we started watching True Detective on HBO and we love it. What we're not loving, me more so than SP, is Revolution, which has been annoying me with it's stupid, meandering episodes. It never seems to get to the point or resolve anything or really answer anything. And they all do stupid things. But the Sleepy Hollow finale was pretty darn amazing! Can't wait to see how the cliffhangers play out next season.

6. In an attempt to stay warm, I've been drinking a lot of hot tea. Last week, I made the mistake of reading this article and now I feel like I am slowly killing myself every time I make a cup of tea. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. I no longer really enjoy my beloved cups of tea. Never should have read the article.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Brunch: French Toast & Sausage

We're still in the first month of the year and already SP has made me brunch twice! I love making breakfast/brunch at home. Usually our breakfasts are a banana or a smoothie or something equally quick around 9-9:30 in the morning. With a three day weekend this past weekend, we had some extra time so we decided to have a leisurely Sunday breakfast/brunch. That means we ate more than normal around 11 in the morning so there was no need for lunch, just a cheese & crackers snack around 3 or 4 in the afternoon before dinner around 7.
I suspect his volunteering to make brunch may have had something to do with our new found love of Ricci's sausage. Since he was stopping there to buy some sausage for a dish we were making later this week, he decided to also purchase some breakfast sausage links.
These are fat sausage links. They are very flavorful, very porky, and big. I could only eat 2 of the 3 he gave me, but that was OK. He was more than happy to eat his 4th sausage link of the morning.
I cannot decide which I like best for breakfast/brunch at home: yeast waffles, fruity pancakes, or French toast. This time, SP made French toast with a delicious French batard from GEMD bakery.
This bread did an excellent job of soaking up the egg-milk-nutmeg-cinnamon-vanilla mixture.
Mmmm fresh nutmeg:
SP even got out the heavy cast iron griddle that came with the stove. It can be used in place of the regular middle grate over the middle oval shaped burner. A great way to cook lots of French toast at once. The downside: it's a bit of a pain to clean.
Nicely browned French toast:
And of course some real maple syrup. Sadly, we have used all of our local maple syrup so it's back to the huge Costco sized syrup:
Can't have brunch without some hot tea (for me) or hot coffee (for SP):
After this brunch on Sunday, I think French toast might be the winner of my three usual brunch options. I really do love bread dipped in egg and browned on a  griddle then covered in maple syrup!

Our French toast egg mixture:
4 eggs (for 4 thick slices of toast)
a couple tablespoons milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
pinch nutmeg

Mix well.

I think a general guide is 1 egg + 1/4 cup milk/cream for 2 slices of bread, but it all depends on how eggy/milky you like your egg mixture and how thick your bread is and how absorbent your bread is. We had thick slices that really soaked up the egg mixture. You don't need the nutmeg/cinnamon/vanilla, but we both like the warmth and flavor of the spices and the hint of sweet from the vanilla.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tartine, Revisited

Lucky for us, SP had a work holiday for MLK, Jr. Day. That meant a 3 day weekend, which is always nice because we feel much less stressed and pressed for time. We decided to have a small 'date day' on his extra day off: lunch out and then a movie. We decided on lunch at Tartine and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit for the movie.
Tartine is not too far from us. It's in the West End. They are open daily 9 am - 2 pm. We arrived around 11:30 am. I had been to Tartine back in August with my mom. This was SP' s first visit. He like the cozy, cute interior. We both liked the freshly brewed iced teas and while sipping the teas, we decided to share a couple of dishes.
First up, Quiche: sauteed spinach, roasted tomato, and fresh mozzarella quiche with side salad. The quiche was very good. Creamy, not runny, chunks of tasty tomato, lots of melty mozzarella, and spinach. We both liked the fresh greens lightly dressed with a simple vinaigrette.
We also shared something new to their menu: Nouilles au Fromage: gemelli with gruyere & brie bechamel, sherry, and herbed breadcrumbs. This was a delicious version of macaroni & cheese. Not too much cheese sauce. It was smooth and creamy and very flavorful. SP doesn't normally like brie and was surprised by how tasty he found this dish.
We had enough room to share one of the beautiful desserts in the case. This was a tiramisu cake treat. It was delicious. Light and airy, creamy, just enough chocolate accents.

My second trip to Tartine was just as tasty and lovely as my first visit. SP enjoyed his first visit. The owner and employees are very friendly and welcoming, the food is tasty, the atmosphere is relaxing - it's a great place for breakfast/lunch/brunch. Just remember it's cash only!

Tartine on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 20, 2014

Up Modern Kitchen (Pittsburgh Restaurant Week)

As usual, the winter Pittsburgh Restaurant Week came and went with us only being able to make it to one restaurant: Up Modern Kitchen in Shadyside on Saturday evening.
We looked over the regular menu in addition to the special Restaurant Week menu and while there were some yummy sounding dishes not on the special menu, we both decided to go with the 3 course fixed price Restaurant Week menu. And, of course, share with each other. We also each paired a wine with our meal. I chose the prosecco for with the first course, SP chose the Malbec for with the second course. In addition to the wine pairings, we ordered fresh brewed iced teas.
We both really enjoyed this creamy, earthy Mushrooms & Toast appetizer. Lots of mushrooms, terrific creamy marsala flavor, So good - my only complaint is that I could have used one more slice of toast to mop up all the creamy, mushroomy sauce.
Arugula Salad with poached pears, candied walnut, gorgonzola, and champagne vinaigrette. I find myself enjoying nuts, particularly candied nuts, in my salad more and more these days. I also find myself enjoying fruit in my salad more and more these days, something I previously did not like. This salad was delicious, fresh and crisp arugula, not too much dressing, juicy poached pear slices, tiny bits of walnut.
For his entree, SP chose Herb Roasted Chicken with soft polenta, seared mushrooms, and kale. I had a bite of polenta and chicken - the polenta was soft and creamy while the chicken was juicy.
SP liked the dish a lot but he really liked the polenta and kale components of the dish. He did find some garlic on the plate, so if we returned, I would not order the chicken. It was definitely a very generous portion.
I chose Seared Scallops with celeriac-cauliflower puree, pancetta, watercress, and citrus segments. The scallops were nicely cooked. I really like the combination of citrus and scallops and of course pancetta is always welcome in a dish. It was just the right size for me, but someone with a larger appetite would probably wish for 1-2 more scallops (and perhaps the regular menu scallops dish does have more scallops).
For dessert, I chose the Chocolate Cannoli. The chocolate filling was creamy and I liked that the ends of the crisp shell were dipped in chocolate.
SP chose Lemon Sorbet. It was very tasty and very lemony - very refreshing and I felt like I was eating a very smooth and rich frozen lemonade.
Overall we both enjoyed our dinner at Up. Service was good, friendly, although it seemed after our entrees arrived that our server became a little less attentive. The space is nice inside although since we were seated close to the entrance and since I was facing the wall I didn't get to see very much of it. We would definitely go again and I can see myself ordering the same dishes because they were quite tasty.

Up Modern Italian on Urbanspoon