Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cafe du Jour

There's a gem of a restaurant tucked away on the South Side. It's not a bar. They don't serve wings or burgers. There aren't a gazillion beers on tap. In fact, there isn't even any liquor sold  - it's BYOB. It's cash only. It's called Cafe du Jour.
I had dined at Cafe du Jour once before. It was back in 2002. Maybe 2003. Yes. That long ago. I remember because it was my birthday dinner and I'd never been there before and my friend brought a bottle of wine and while I don't recall what I ate, I do recall it being very, very good.
When we couldn't decide where to eat on Saturday, I started looking at food blogs, Pittsburgh restaurants, etc. It sounds silly - there are a lot of places I really enjoy, a lot of places I've never tried or haven't been back to in a long time, and yet... I was not feeling inspired. Until I remembered Cafe du Jour. I suggested it to SP. He was on board, he made a reservation, and off we went.
Cafe du Jour is wheelchair accessible. There is, however, one step up to the outdoor garden dining area. Since it's fall and there aren't too many gorgeous, warm, sunny days left and since I'd suggested the restaurant in part because I had heard about the lovely back garden dining area, we opted to sit outside. I'm so glad we did because it is so relaxing and peaceful. It's tucked away behind the restaurant, framed by red brick walls and greenery and a small water feature.

On to the food!
Daily Special Soup: Chicken and Rice Soup. I didn't try this - it was all SP's. He liked it a lot. It was creamy and light. We suspect it was creamy but not heavy because there was coconut milk and not cream in it.
My appetizer: Crostini with pork, brie, and apple butter. Oh my gosh. This easily is one of my all time favorite appetizers. Toasted, buttery, sesame seed slider roll halves piled with generous slices of pork, creamy brie, and apple butter. Pork + apple = always amazing. These crostini were amazing - they held everything, but were not themselves super heavy & filling, but instead airy and crispy. I could have ordered another serving and called 2 servings of this appetizer my dinner.

But I didn't. For my entree, I ordered the Chicken Breast stuffed with feta and spinach, herbs, roasted mushrooms, toasted polenta, tomato sauce, capers.
So good. The chicken was cooked through but still moist and juicy plus the skin was so deliciously crispy and sprinkled with herbs. I think it was fennel seeds that I really tasted, along with the briny capers. Lots of cheese & spinach.
SP chose the daily special entree: Pan Seared Trout. I think there was a mound of a 5 grain salad on his plate (I remember him talking about barley and wheatberries but I was too focused on my chicken to really listen to him talk about his grains). Two roasted tomatoes still attached to their vines. It was a large portion of trout and he was slowing down towards the end. He said it was delicious.
We were full but I wanted to hear the dessert options. Flourless Chocolate Cake or Raspberry Brown Butter Tart. We chose the Raspberry Brown Butter Tart.
Forget being full. This dessert was so good that we fought over who had more bites/bigger bites. I'm so glad the drizzle was a raspberry drizzle and not chocolate drizzle. One of my pet peeves is restaurants drizzling sauces over desserts. Sometimes it adds to the dessert, but I find that often, it's over kill. It adds too much goop, or too many flavors, or makes it too sweet. Sometimes simple is best. Moist, buttery, sweet with raspberry flavor - like my appetizer, one of the most enjoyable desserts I've had.

Cafe du Jour has been around for a while. I'm sad it's taken me 11-12 years to get back to it because the food is excellent, it's casual and relaxing, I like that it's BYOB ($2/stem), the outdoor space is terrific. Our server seemed to be handling all the tables and was very friendly, checked on garlic for me, and seemed to really like his job and be happy to be there. Every time he walked by us going between the kitchen and the tables, he seemed to be humming or singing. It was great!

Just remember - it's cash only. Our food + BYOB fee + tax came to $80 plus tip.

  Cafe Du Jour on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 29, 2014

Cappuccino Biscotti

Sometimes I get really in the mood for a dessert. The most recent craving was for biscotti. At first I was thinking Spiced Biscotti, but then as I was flipping through Sweet Maria's Italian Cookie TrayI re-discovered Cappuccino Biscotti. The last time we made them, I didn't think they were especially tasty. Every time I thought of making them again, I changed my mind because I didn't have fond memories. But this time, I decided to give it another try.
This time they turned out much, much better. In fact, they were so tasty that we couldn't stop eating them! I could definitely taste the coffee and the cinnamon. Plus, this time, we didn't 'burn' them. Last time, they were way too hard, even with dunking, so they were not very enjoyable. This time, softer and no dunking required.
I think there are a few reasons they were not so crisp/hard this time:
  • Even though we baked them for 25 minutes, they were still a tad undercooked inside.
  • We let the loaves cool before slicing them. This resulted in less crumbling and less jagged edges that burnt when toasted.
  • We did not toast the sliced biscotti for as long as suggested. We toasted one side  for 5 minutes, then flipped them and toasted them another 3-4 minutes. The slightly smushy centers finished cooking and the edges crisped  nicely.
Definitely a 'make again' biscotti.

Recipe here (page 82)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Wake Up Call

Do you ever want to crawl back in bed and close your eyes and sleep because you just do not want to deal with anything? That's me today. I woke up tired. Actually, I'm not sure I woke up. SP pretty much ripped the covers off me and pulled me into a sitting position and I just kept swaying and nodding and mumbling about being tired.

I thought a shower would would wake me up, but not so much. However, right after my shower, my phone rang. I answered. It was again time to deal with the billing issue. That woke me up. 

Why is it that doctors and hospitals and medical centers and insurances are so darn complicated? Even when I call, I can't seem to get answers, and the answers I do get are prefaced with long spiels about how the information I am about to receive is no guarantee that the services will actually be covered and blah blah blah or that they cannot give me that information or that they can only give that information to my medical provider and the provider has to call and... 

It's exhausting. Trying to sort out a billing problem for the last 2 months is exhausting. And it's still not sorted out.

Aug 4: I called Biller about a bill. They have no answers for me, cannot explain the discrepancy in amount of charges, amount paid, and amount due. Cannot tell me why the secondary insurance didn't cover something when I am looking at my benefits and it says it should be covered 100%. They say they will look into it and I'll hear back in 2 weeks. I asked to have the account put on hold pending investigation and the Rep said, oh, don't worry, you have 90 days before it goes to collections. ? Unbelievable. Most unhelpful and uninformed Rep ever.

So I called insurer #1. Semi helpful. Then Insurer #2. Helpful. I got a possible explanation, they called the Biller to request missing claim information, and I was told I'd hear back in 4 weeks.

Sept 4: No call back from Biller. It's been 4 weeks. Insurer #2 calls back and says there is a backlog and it's taking longer than 4 weeks. She says she'll call Biller to let them know. Meanwhile, that very day, I got Invoice #2 in the mail from Biller. 

The next day, I called Biller. It went like this:
  • Call #1: On hold 4 minutes. Cut off.
  • Call #2: On hold 7 minutes. Call answered. Rep says account is on 30 day hold because Insurer #2 called the day prior. Rep has no answers for why they didn't call back in 2 weeks, why the account wasn't put on hold when it was first called into question in early August, and no answers for dollar amount discrepancies. When I kept demanding answers and action on their end, Rep hung up on me.
  • Call #3: On hold for 5 minutes. Cut off.
My response: I threw my phone onto my desk and started swearing up a storm. Then I decided to ignore the issue since Insurer #2 was working on it.

Sept. 26: Insurer #2 called me. Conferences me in with Insurer #1. Here's the issue (as it stands today):
  • Insurer #1 says they didn't get a certain form from the Biller so when they processed the claim, it was processed with 'no patient liability.' This particular form is supposed to be signed before anyone receives treatment and is supposed to be furnished to the insurer for each and every visit/claim.
  • Based on Insurer #1's processing, Insurer #2 cannot process any kind of payment because the claim says 'no patient liability.'
  • Biller keeps trying to bill me even though the claim says 'no patient liability.' Insurer #1 says it is illegal to do so and if they keep trying to collect money from me, then Insurer #1 will open up an investigation into contract violations by Biller.
  • Meanwhile, Insurer #2 tells us that the Biller refused to work with her to resolve this issue when she called them directly.
Fantastic. So the Biller screwed up in submitting the bill/claim information to the insurers and is now refusing to fix the issue and demanding I pay the bill, which, if processed correctly, I owe nothing on this claim.

I have had it. This is ridiculous. Both insurers said it was now up to me. I had to call the Biller to sort this out now. So I called. But I decided to be sort of nice and not all RAGE and RANT. Because it's Friday. Because I'm tired. Because I've had a headache ever since I woke up. Because I already have high blood pressure and I already dropped that pill on the floor this morning when I was trying to take it and deal with this mess. 

When the Rep answered, I said, I need to have you fax form XYZ to Insurer #1 for Claim #123. She said, OK, she'd send the request and claim # to Billing and it should be faxed next week.

We'll see. Meanwhile, if I get another bill for this claim in the mail and it threatens me with collections, I am going to go ballistic. That'll probably make my blood pressure go sky high, I'll have a stroke, require medical care, rack up more bills, they'll be incorrect, and I'll have to go through all this again only with bigger numbers and more paperwork.

So maybe SP should handle opening the mail for a while.

And I should probably finally go have my morning tea since tea relaxes and calms me.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

1. Time for Thursday Thoughts! But I'm not having many thoughts.

2. Book Report: This week I read The Miniaturist. I'm still trying to figure out what I think of this book. It was interesting enough that I kept it past the due date in order to finish it. But when I finished it, I felt letdown. I wanted more of an ending, more of an idea of what happens to these characters next.

3. Tonight Scandal returns! I'm excited. I'll be glued to ABC for 3 hours tonight, so SP will be sent to the basement. I'm sure he's oh-so-sad to be sent downstairs to play Destiny or watch Dr. Who.

4. Fall is my favorite season. This week, I got out the fall/Halloween decorations. Pumpkins and ghosts and skeletons -- I love Halloween stuff!

5. No more thoughts. Other than I'm getting hungry, so it's time to start re-heating dinner (Pasta with Creamy Tomato Sauce).

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Smoked Brats & Burgers

The weekend after our successful rib smoking, we decided to smoke some brats and burgers. We're still unsure of our smoking abilities, so we aren't doing all of our meat in the smoker. The brats had been in our freezer since February, so if they got messed up it wasn't a big deal. But it's pretty hard to mess up smoking brats!

We smoked 2 of our 6 burgers. The other 4 went on the gas grill. Just in case.

We again smoked up the neighborhood! The brats took around 3 hours to smoke and the 2 smoked burgers took a a bit over an hour. I didn't take any photos of the smoked burgers but they were so moist and juicy and flavorful. Maybe a little too moist - my burger fell apart as I ate it and my hands and face were a mess of burger, cheese, mustard, barbecue sauce, and tomato juice! I think I might like smoked burgers better than grilled burgers!
The grilled burgers on the left, the smoked brats on the right
The brats were really tasty, too. They had a nice smokey taste. Smoked is the only way I really like eating brats - otherwise, I don't much care for them. When we reheated the brats and burgers, I wrapped them in foil and heated them in the oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes.

I'm feeling more confident about smoking stuff. Next up, I think we'll try a pork butt, which SP found on sale this past weekend. He bought it and it's in the freezer, waiting to be smoked. Or braised, if fall gets too cold and yucky to smoke. But I hope we get to smoke 1-2 more times before winter starts.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Smoked Ribs

Otis the Groundhog, eyeing the smoker
Way back in July, we inherited a smoker from one of SP's co-workers. She was moving to the west coast and couldn't take it with her, so she gave it to us. We happily accepted because, inspired by my brother's smoking, we have long wanted to try it. The problems: we rarely have enough time to devote to smoking and we didn't want to invest in something we might not enjoy, might not have the time for, and might not get to use too much since the weather plays a large role in our grilling/smoking days. 
It's not a large smoker. I think it resembles a file cabinet. It looks like a beginner smoker compared to my brother's smoker! He's had several smokers over the years; this one is from 2005:
Not the best photo - I had to crop my brother out. I don't think he wants his photo on the blog! He has also built smokers / set up smoke pits for doing whole pigs. He's pretty good at this smoking thing.

After cleaning the racks and buying the charcoal and wood, we were ready to experiment - and maybe fail. That's why thus far, we've only been smoking part of our meals.

Long time readers know that we usually cook a lot of food on Sunday and eat the leftovers during the week. That makes weeknight meals quick and easy. We don't mind eating the same meal 2-3 times a week. Our first smoker attempt was ribs, but we smoked only a half rack. The other two half racks were slow cooked in the Dutch Oven at 225 degrees for 4 hours and finished on the grill. All of the ribs were rubbed with a store bought rub seasoning on Saturday night - we discovered that the rub really soaks in and infuses the meat if we let it sit on the meat overnight instead of rubbing the meat an hour or so before cooking it.
Smoking day arrived - a lovely, warm, sunny, rain free Sunday.
 SP soaked the hickory wood chips.
 There's the chimney starter with the lump charcoal.
There's the whole thing, smoking away! Yes, we smoked up the neighborhood! We used our meat thermometer to keep an eye on the air temperature in the smoker - it's not perfect, but gives us a general idea. SP sets the thermometer base until on the edge of the grill and feeds the probe part through the smoker's side air vent.
What's happening inside? This:
 And this:
The ribs took about 5 hours to smoke. SP finished them on the grill, brushing on the barbecue sauce we made (the Williamsburg sauce we like so much). Just 5-10 minutes on the grill to get the sauce on the ribs.
 The finished smoked ribs:
 Inside the smoked ribs:
There isn't a super discernible smoke ring. My brother said ribs don't usually get a good smoke ring. Our smoked ribs had a great smoky taste and were still juicy inside.
Our first smoking experience was a success! Next time, we would give the smoked ribs a bit longer in the smoker, just to make sure they are done. Initially we gave them 4~4.5 hours in the smoker. We weren't sure if they seemed so juicy because they were so moist from smoking low and slow or because they weren't completely done. We sampled the ends of the smoked ribs on Sunday and put the rest back in the smoker while we ate the Dutch Oven ribs for dinner. So the smoked ribs were reheated (wrapped in foil) during the week and were delicious. But next time, 5 hours in the smoker.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

It's turned out to be quite an exciting week!

1. The car door finally got repaired. It took 1.5 days and I had to deal with SP being home all day instead of at work, but the door looks great now. As for the rest of the car... It seems to be accumulating dings and scratches and such at an alarming rate.

2. Monday around 12:30 pm my phone rang. I had just gotten out of the shower and I was so hungry that I was yelling at SP to please make me lunch before I passed out.

"Hi. It's X from XYZ. I'm coming to look at the wheelchair."

Me:"Ummm. ? When??"

X:"In 15 minutes..??!"

Me:"Ummm... really? This is the first I've heard of it. Don't you call people in advance anymore? To make sure they'll be home? Common courtesy?"

X:"Uhhhh they told me they called you last week and set this up..."


I even checked my call log. And nope. No missed calls, no answered calls, none at all from XYZ. Since I was home and SP was home I said to come over, but... kinda angry at XYZ company.

Plus side: I have new wheelchair brakes so I won't roll even when locked anymore. Minus: They ordered the wrong tires, front & back.

3. This afternoon I was in the bathroom when the doorbell rang. Sigh. I didn't even try to get to the door. It's just too difficult when you're... occupied and you use a wheelchair and you aren't actually in the wheelchair because you're... occupied... Anyway, I went to see what it was about when I was done (package? note?) and as I rolled to the front door I looked out the window and saw a huge truck and orange cones. My first reaction was AAGGHHHH WHAT NOW????? Water? Gas? WHAT???

Nope. Just our tree guys, here to do the tree work. Surprise!

4. So today I've been watching the tree guys and girl do their tree thing. So far I am loving the new fewer trees landscape. So much so that I am going to convince SP that we need to remove all the trees in the front yard. This would mean an additional 3 hemlocks plus some shrub stuff. Today I've been saying good-bye and good riddance to 3 crabapples, 2 birch, and 2 hemlocks plus a bunch of branches from overgrown trees. Ahhhhh.

5. The suddenly in the 40's at night thing has killed the basil, mint, and parsley. The chives, thyme, and rosemary look salvageable. Not sure about the oregano & tarragon. The rest of the garden? Dead. Just a few lingering reddish tomatoes, waiting to be picked.

6. This cold night thing also means our house is getting quite chilly. Last Sunday we turned our heat on because it was 67 degrees in the house! Except for a few late afternoon/early evening hours, it's been about 70 degrees in the house. My feet, hands, and nose are so darn cold. I pulled out my slippers the other day and today I pulled out a sweatshirt. Brrr! (We keep our heat at 68 in the winter but in winter I wear much warmer sweats and sweatshirts and wool socks.)

7. I managed to read only 1 book this past week: Landline from Rainbow Rowell. I must have enjoyed it because I couldn't put the book down and banished SP to the basement for an evening. However, I had a problem with the 'magical phone' and 'time traveling' that 'transported/connected' 2014 Georgie back to 1998 husband when she called him on the 'magical phone.' I always have issues with these kinds of science fiction like things - they just aren't my cup of tea. But I enjoyed Georgie thinking about her marriage and her job and her priorities and what she really wanted.

8. Since it feels like fall, I'm kinda sorta finally OK with all the pumpkin spice stuff BUT then again, all the super early pumpkin spice hype was overkill and I find myself wanting to punch someone whenever I hear 'pumpkin spice.'

9. My anti-pumpkin spice feelings led me to use my BOGO Yankee Candle coupon to purchase Pomegranate Cider and Apple Spice candles for fall. No pumpkin scent. I love the Pomegranate Cider scent.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Nectarine Upside Down Cake with Salted Caramel

It has been a few weeks since we made this cake: Nectarine Upside Down Cake with Salted Caramel. It was in Food Network Magazine and I liked it for two reasons: 1) It was a small cake, which is better for the two of us, and 2) It used fresh fruit, which I knew SP would like.
The cake is simple, a basic buttermilk cake baked in a 9 inch square pan. It's easy to whip up. For us, the difficult part was making the caramel.
I didn't try to take photos when we made the caramel because we were having a hard time gauging the amber color of the caramel. We should have used a stainless steel pan. The dark non-stick bottom of the pan we used made the caramel part a little too difficult to figure out. We could not see just how amber colored the caramel was getting.
When we poured it into the glass baking pan, it was a very, very light amber color. I think it could have been darker. It didn't seem like there was enough caramel because it didn't easily spread over the bottom. We had to try to spread it all over the bottom and into the corners plus place the nectarine slices in before the caramel hardened and without burning fingers on the hot caramel. We were not very successful! We both burned fingertips and the caramel hardened before we finished, so we just plopped the remaining fruit slices on top the hardened caramel.
This was a very tasty treat. Moist, flavorful, buttermilk-vanilla flavored cake and soft nectarines, but there was not any noticeable caramel favor. I think we messed that part up! I'd definitely make this again, but next time, I'd make more of the caramel and cook it a bit longer to a darker amber color. Ours definitely didn't look as dark and rich on top as the photo in the magazine.

Recipe here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mercurio's, Revisited

A couple weeks ago during one of our 'where do you want to eat dinner' debates, I realized that we had not yet made it back to Mercurio's. After our first visit last February, we had been saying we wanted to back when it was warmer for gelato. Warm months are almost over! So we went to Mercurio's.

We both really like Mercurio's. This time we started with Insalata Della Casa - spring mix, mozzarella, grape tomatoes, parmesan, olive oil, balsamic.
We shared 2 pizzas. The Lasagna (tomatoes, mozzarella, Italian sausage, ricotta,oregano, olive oil) and the Primavera Con Carne (tomatoes, mozzarella, artichokes, roasted red pepper, prosciutto, olive oil).
We each eat 2-3 slices and take the rest home for lunch the next day. Both pizzas are delicious. I really like their thin, chewy crust and we fight over who gets the pieces with the crust bubbles! There are so many kinds of pizzas and everyone has their personal favorite, but for us, this is one of our favorite pizzas.
The main reason for going: gelato on a warm late summer evening. I chose Black Cherry Bordeaux in a waffle cone. It had bits of cherries and chocolate in it. So good! SP chose Mango Peach, which he really liked. I think he liked my gelato more than his and he made a few comments about how I 'stole' his flavor but I shared with him!
I wish it was a little closer to us because we really like the pizza and gelato, the casual atmosphere, and the servers are friendly, but we don't mind making the drive too much because the pizza and gelato are so tasty!

Mercurio's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

1. Today is the 9/11 anniversary. It still makes me incredibly sad and teary.

2. Tonight is the Steelers-Ravens game. I'm not sure I can handle another game like last Sunday's game, when they completely wilted and allowed the Browns - the Browns! - to score 24 points and tie the game. Plus, I loathe the Ravens.

Also, currently, I'm kind of conflicted on the NFL (Ray Rice, domestic violence). On the one hand, I feel like a bad person for watching the NFL. On the other hand, I do love watching the Steelers and waving my Terrible Towel and throwing my little football across the room.

What's a girl to do?????
3. Whether or not we watch the game tonight, we have leftover beer cheese dip & beau monde dip for snacking. Last Sunday we made ourselves a special opening day snack treat. Usually we only have special game snacks on opening day and Super Bowl day.

4. The Warm Beer & Cheddar Dip is the same recipe we made last September and it was just as delicious, although this time we used pumpernickel not rye bread.
Droopier than usual chives
5. The herbs are looking a little wilty and sad. Must be because garden season is nearly over here.
I don't know what happened to the basil. Instead of growing like a tree, it sort of split and flopped over, leaves are not bright green, some leaves are bug eaten. It just looks sad.
The deck pot tomatoes look sad, too - and we caught some stink bugs crawling on them. Eeeewwwww!
6. Last Friday I had to go to the doctor for a test, a test that I really do not like having done because it really hurts. I was grumpy and stressed out. So SP stopped at Better-Maid on our way in and bought me donuts! Two Boston Cream and a cherry for me. Two jelly filled and a cherry for him. I was sad they were out of apple fritters but the Boston Cream were darn good.

7. The new (and final) season of Boardwalk Empire started! I cannot wait to see where it all goes and how it ends. The Leftovers ended and I'm still undecided about the show. We are 8 episodes into OITNB and I am also still undecided about it.

8. I've got a stack of library books. It's overwhelming. Why does everything I request show up at once?! I miss the days when I could see where I was in the request queue. Back then I knew to wait to add to my request list, but now...

Here's what I read in the past week:

*Lucky Us by Amy Bloom It was meh, kind of interesting, but, overall, just meh. I just didn't care that much about the characters, they never seemed to come alive and they certainly weren't sympathetic characters, I found myself annoyed with their actions and reactions and interactions.

*One Plus One by Jojo Moyes This is the first novel from Moyes that I've read. I really enjoyed this - I was much more invested in these characters than I was with Lucky Us. 

*Personal (A Jack Reacher Novel) by Lee Child What can I say - I love the Reacher novels, I've read them all, they suck me in and I cannot put them down (which made SP really happy last night because he was free to spend all night playing some exciting new game called Destiny).

Three more books in the reading pile...

9. I'm still not ready for pumpkin spice but I am starting to crave apple cinnamon.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Coffee Ice Cream

I do not enjoy cold desserts in cold months which means that the end of homemade ice cream season is approaching. I'm not sure if we'll make anymore this year, so it's possible that this Coffee Ice Cream is our last homemade ice cream of the year. If it is, it was an excellent choice.
We've made coffee ice cream before and it has been very good, but this time, we decided to try the Coffee Ice Cream recipe in A Perfect Scoop.
It's delicious! Excellent coffee flavor. Smooth. Creamy. We decided to add stracciatella so there are wonderful crunchy bits of chocolate throughout the coffee ice cream. We also added a bit of Kahlua when we churned it.
Sadly, not only are ice cream days ending, but deck dining days are coming to an end as well. This past Sunday was a lovely night for dining outside and enjoying the cool weather, the freshly sealed deck, and some excellent homemade ice cream after a Steelers win and a Pirates win.

Recipe here.