Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thursday Thoughts - New Year's Eve

1. Happy New Year's Eve!

2. We've been eating salad, shrimp, and cheese (gruyere or smoked gouda) for dinner since Sunday. It's been good, but I'm tired of washing and chipping veggies every night.

3. Last night we watched a movie: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was a lot more fun than we expected and we both enjoyed it for some mindless, action entertainment.

4. We finished watching the fall season 6 episodes of The Walking Dead. I was more interested than I thought I'd be. Usually I get kind of annoyed with the same old zombie attacks or slow episodes but these 8 episodes kept me hooked.

5. Tomorrow Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, a 90-minute special with Sherlock & Watson in 1890's London, is on PBS and then on Sunday Downton Abbey starts. So excited!
6. Last Saturday we ate at Burgatory simply because we wanted to try the special Peppermint Patty shake special, spiked with peppermint schnapps. It was good, but not as good as the Chocolate Eclair shake spiked with Bailey's Irish Cream.
7. For the first time I added a fried egg to my chicken sandwich (with bacon, bacon jam, tomato, cucumber, arugula, mixed greens, smoked gouda) and I got it on a pretzel bun instead of my usual brioche. The pretzel bun was a nice change and tasty enough that now I can't decided between it and the brioche. But the egg, well, I think that will be a staple on my chicken sandwich from now on.

8. I haven't been putting much of a dent in my library book pile. This week I read The Promise by Robert Crais, the latest Elvis Cole~Joe Pike novel. I always enjoy the Elvis Cole books and this was no exception. I still have 5 books in the library pile.

9. I haven't been reading as much because I've been feeling a cold coming on, so I've been napping a lot instead of reading.

10. I did read the new magazines that arrived and got lots of ideas for meals to make in the new year.

11. Hope everyone has a happy and safe new year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Back to Bakn

Last week we met up with our friend T for dinner. He had not yet tried Bakn in Carnegie, so we decided to go there. I was really excited about ordering the egg sandwich I had last time we were there, but then I decided I should try something else.
To start, SP & I shared Tomato Basil Soup. It was a bit chunkier, which SP really likes, and was deliciously tomato-y.
It's the time of year when we eats lots of cookies and other desserts and eat less than healthy dinners and snacks at holiday gatherings, so we've been making an effort to eat more vegetables. We shared a Mixed Greens Salad (Romaine, Field greens, Cucumber, Oven Roasted Tomato, Croutons, Crispy Pork Belly, Honey Cider Vinaigrette), This salad was really good, especially those roasted tomatoes, which had lots of herbs on them, and crisp, fresh greens. It was big, too, so we both got plenty of veggie.
I decided to try Slow Braised Short Ribs (Creamy Parmesan Polenta, Applewood Smoked Bakn, Sunnyside Egg). There was maybe a bit too much green onion on top for my personal taste, but the ribs, polenta, bacon, and egg flavors all mixed together were excellent. I ate the entire dish, using my spoon to scoop up as much as possible.
SP decided to try Pan Seared Shrimp & Grits (Creamy Cheddar Grits, Applewood Smoked Bakn, Scallion, Tomato, Sunnyside Egg). Slightly blurry photo, sorry. The shrimp were tasty and while I liked the tastes I had, I preferred my dish, probably because I like a little gravy/sauce with dishes like this. SP liked the dish a lot and ate all of it.
Our friend T opted for Bakn Burger (1/2 Pounder, Pepper Bakn, Applewood Smoked Bakn, Jarlesberg, Lemon Dressed Arugula, Ripe Tomato, Toasted Bun). I didn't try a bite. T said it was good. I didn't ask him to rate it on a burger scale, so I'm not sure what good really means, but he ate it all.

Our second trip to Bakn was as tasty as our first. I like how casual and laid back it is and how friendly our servers have been. Also our servers have been knowledgeable about menu items. And they have yummy fresh brewed iced tea, always a plus. I'd still like to try one of the pancake/waffle/French toast dishes, but also have that delicious breakfast sandwich again, so I'm sure we'll be back.

  Bakn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, December 28, 2015

A New Tradition? (The Nutcracker and Butcher & the Rye)

This year for Christmas Eve, we did something different. We had a "date day." No family gatherings, no resting by the fireplace and gazing at the tree, no last minute shopping or baking or wrapping. We went out together and had a wonderful day. First thing: we saw The Nutcracker. Neither of us had ever seen The Nutcracker, or been to see ballet, so it was something new.
We had an hour after the show and before dinner, so we wandered up to Market Square and then over to PPG Place where, for the first time ever, I saw the PPG Tree & Ice Rink (sadly closed because of the warm temperatures). 
We turned a corner and saw some of the dinosaurs (in photo is Heinz Ketchup Triceratops, part of the DinoMite Days Project) and then we wandered into PPG Place Wintergarden and found holiday trees:   
 I loved how the Santa Beards swirled into the trees. We also saw the Gingerbread House Display & Competition:
 So many gingerbread houses as well as trains and trolleys:
Then it was time to do something new (first time ever I've dined out on Christmas Eve) at one of our favorite restaurants (Butcher & the Rye):
Old Man Winter (Old Overholt Rye, Rosemary, Black Walnut Liqueur, Orange Bitters) for SP and Pampered Hellion (Buffalo Trace White Dog, Cocchi Rosa, Laird's White Lightning, Grapefruit Bitters) for me. We tried some new to us dishes, like this:
Rustic Bread (pan gravy / lard / black pepper / sage) and this dish:
Hand Pulled Burrata (plums / watercress / extra virgin olive oil / vincotto / pine nuts) and a daily special:
Crispy Octopus (fried panisse / sofrito / chickpea / lemon emulsion). We also enjoyed our usual favorites:
Crispy Pig Wing (thai chili sauce / pickled mango salad / peanuts / cilantro)
Brussels (brown butter / dill / parmigiano reggiano / preserved lemon aioli) (already mostly devoured by the time I took a photo)
Sunday Gravy (tomatoes / lamb neck / olive oil / ricotta / warm country bread)
Cauliflower (roasted farro grain / romanesco / baby carrots / pine nuts / brown butter / harissa yogurt)
Mac N Cheese (taleggio / fontina / goat cheese / cheddar / parmesan)

As usual the cocktails were superb, the food tasty, and the service wonderful.

Then we went home, put on pajamas, made tea, and opened presents before watching The Walking Dead.

I have fantastic memories of the Christmas Eve traditions from the first 22~25 years of my life. It was always at our house. For many years dad made spare ribs and mom made lasagna & a special plate of spaghetti for grandpa since he didn't like lasagna. Other years mom made Cornish hens for everyone. There were always dinner rolls that grandpa threw across the table at the grandkids. There were always homemade cookies (first from grandma and later from me). And there was always my brother's Cherries Jubilee that sometimes flamed and sometimes didn't. After dinner we often went to Christmas Eve church service. 

But the only constant in life is that things change. Since my mid-20's, Christmas Eve has been different every year. Sometimes it was in OH, or KY, or GA, wherever my brother was living. Sometimes it was where I am living. Sometimes, in the pre-SP times, I was on my own. Sometimes we saw my grandparents, sometimes we didn't, and now grandma & grandpa are gone, as are Uncle W & Aunt G. Sometimes we're with one of our families or both of our families or none of them. 

I would not at all mind repeating this year's Christmas Eve. SP truly is my best friend and I love spending time with him and only him. Sometimes it's really nice to just be you and your special someone on a holiday, like we were this year on Christmas Eve. Maybe that can be our new tradition for the next 22~25+ years of my life?

But I suppose where we are/what we do isn't nearly as important to me as long as I am with SP.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas

However you spend the day, whatever you choose to celebrate or to not celebrate, we wish you a wonderful day. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Thursday Thoughts - Christmas Eve

1. Merry Christmas Eve! The cookies are baked, the gifts are wrapped, and, well, I guess we're ready for Santa.

2.  In spite of my frustration early last week with baking holiday cookies and swearing to not bake anymore, we did bake more, over this past weekend. In the end, we ended up with some pretty darn tasty cookies.

Except for those candy cane chocolate chip things. They do not improve with age.

Top row: Raspberry Shortbread Bars, Cream Cheese Butter Sprinkle Cookies
Middle: Chocolate Dipped Crescents, Pizzelles, Candy Cane & Chocolate Chip
Bottom: Sugar Cut Outs, Cocoa Spritz, Regular Spritz

3. Hope you have a wonderful holiday!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Cream Cheese Butter Cookies with Sprinkles

When I was on my poor me cookie pity party, SP kept trying to make it better, offering to bake me some of my favorite cookies. I kept refusing because everything was awful, nothing turned out. But then I thought, hmmm, we've never screwed up pizzelles. Or the raspberry shortbread. So my anti-cookie baking attitude started to soften. Then I saw these on one of the blogs I follow: Cream Cheese Butter Cookies. Baking Bites uses this dough for several kinds of cookies (the Mocha Swirl Cookies interest me) but she also said that it could be shaped into a log, sliced, and baked.
It wasn't a drop cookie. Or spritz. No rolling involved. Surely we could handle making some sliced sprinkle cookies, right?
Plus we had lots of cream cheese from the cookies I decided we were not baking because I was afraid to bake. So use some cream cheese and take a baby step back to baking cookies. Get my cookie confidence back.
 We made the dough on Saturday and then sliced and baked the cookies Sunday morning.
I was in charge of sprinkles. They kind of bounce off the cookies, so you have to gently sprinkle and then gently press them into the dough a bit so they stick and don't roll off. Sadly, our last minute decision meant a trip to Market District for sprinkles and sadly, they were out of Christmas sprinkles, so we went with multi-colored. Not very holiday like, but oh well.
Now this is a cookie. My favorite of this year. Basic cookie with a bit of cream cheese richness. Not overly sweet. Great texture. And sprinkles! Sprinkles are always fun.
These are a definite bake again, and not just for these easy & quick slice & bake ones but hopefully for trying the Vanilla Pretzel Butter Cookies, Mocha Swirl Cookie Bites, and/or Pumpkin Butter Pocket Cookies

We also made pizzelles and raspberry shortbread, both of which turned out fantastic. So I can bake after all. Just not crescents or candy cane-chocolate cookies.

Recipe for Cream Cheese Butter Cookies here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Cocoa Spritz Cookies

We tried a new spritz cookie this year: Cocoa Spritz. The recipe was in the December 2015 issue of Food Network Magazine. It doesn't take long to mix the dough and before long, SP was using the spritzer to press out cookies which I then decorated and baked.

These are... well, I'm undecided. They are crisper than I usually like, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm not sure I would use the optional cloves if we made these again. The clove flavor is a little too strong for me. SP, however, really likes the clove flavor. I might instead use cinnamon or leave out any additional spice flavor. I usually really like cocoa and spice together, but just cloves is a bit too much for me.  
I'm not sure we'd make these again, but they were a decent attempt for something new this year.

Recipe here.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Candy Cane & Chocolate Chip Cookies (Failure)

I think I mentioned that holiday cookie baking wasn't going so well. We spent a Sunday making spritz, cocoa spritz, and sugar cut outs. The regular spritz didn't seem to be baked long enough, they weren't crisp enough. The cocoa spritz came out quite crispy, maybe too crispy. And the sugar cut outs tasted off to me. The next day, with my mom's help, I made the chocolate dipped crescents. They spread out like blobs and weren't very crescent like. I was frustrated and sad. Plus I wasn't feeling great. All that time & effort, super labor intensive cookies and the results = yuck.

We forged ahead and the very next day, Tuesday, SP made a dough in the morning and I baked the cookies in the afternoon.
And then I had a good cry because nothing was turning out, all the cookies were awful, why was this happening, what was I (we) doing wrong, poor me, EVERYTHING IS AWFUL I HATE CHRISTMAS. I vowed to not bake anymore. And to not share these cookie embarrassments.

But here I am sharing the biggest embarrassment: these Candy Cane & Chocolate Chip Cookies. I'm still searching for the best ever chocolate and mint holiday cookie. This recipe was in the 50 Gift Jars booklet of the December issue of Food Network Magazine. They called it Candy Cane Cookie Dough: mix the dough, put it in a jar, and give it was a gift.

Do not give this dough as a gift. Unless the recipient likes flat, brittle, misshapen, strange textured, kinda sticky cookies.
The problem is likely in the creaming, but darned if we can figure out where. We each have different approaches to creaming butter & sugar and apparently neither is working because these and the crescents were flat (sometimes I mix,  sometimes SP does). Maybe the problem is with the baking powder or soda, but we keep everything sealed tightly and in a cool, dark place and they are far from the listed expiration dates. Flour measurement? Unlikely because we measure flour the way we always did and we never had problems.

But the last 2-3 years... problems. Is it using the stand mixer instead of the electric mixer? Is a stand mixer too powerful for cookie dough? Do we reduce speed? Increase speed? I HAVE NO IDEA.
And really, at this point, I am too tired, too holiday-ed out to even care. I'm just going to rant: I hate seeing Christmas stuff in August. Hearing Christmas music in September. Then Thanksgiving came and we were busy with guests for a week and having a lot of people here for Thanksgiving dinner. So we were tired and then bam! Time for Christmas. Time to put up Christmas decorations, time for holiday parties, time to shop and figure out gifts. Gifts are no longer a joy. It's no longer a pleasure to figure out something special, or unique, or funny, or fitting - it's a huge hassle of evil traffic with jagoff drivers and crowded stores and no handicapped parking because apparently everyone needs a handicapped placard these days and people tripping over me in the wheelchair as they shop and... it's a burdensome chore. 

And then 5 kinds of cookies turned out yucky. Friends and family have disputed my assessment. I know I have high standards and I assure you these cookies are not up to my standards. I suppose they'll do, but...

The cookies are important to me. Because of my grandma and all the Christmases when I was growing up. And to me, this year these 5 cookies are a big fail. So sadness.

Anyway, make these cookies at your own risk. But enjoy a holiday laugh at our failure.

We will not be making these again. Ever.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. It's a gray and dreary day here. Perfect for many cups of hot tea and reading. Especially reading since I still have 4 library books plus 2 ready for pick up and in the past week I have not read at all.

2. We finished watching Jessica Jones on Netflix. I really enjoyed the show. David Tennant's villian (Kilgrave) was gloriously evil!

3. We also watched the Adele special and are listening to the new music a lot. Tonight is a Luther special. We love Idris Elba as DCI Luther and are really looking forward to this episode about him investigating a cannibalistic serial killer. If only Alice was back - much like Kilgrave's interactions with Jessica Jones, Alice & Luther are so much fun to watch.

4. I got a new phone. The Nexus 5X. It's fine. It wasn't super easy to get everything from the old phone transferred over. In fact, due to things designers and engineers call "new & improved updates & redesigns to make your life oh so simple & fun" I ended up spending 5+ hours setting things up the way I like them. I was pretty annoyed. Plus trying to remember all the user names and passwords. Ugh. It seems OK now. It's a smartphone.

5. This week's dinners have been sloppy joes for 3 dinners and breaded pork chops, roasted cauliflower, and dinner rolls for 2 dinners. These were the easiest breaded pork chops: spread mustard on top of chop, sprinkle bread crumbs on top, gently press into mustard, drizzle with olive oil, bake on foil lined cookie sheet until done, broil to crisp/brown bread crumbs.

6. I guess tomorrow will be egg night since we won't have any more leftovers.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Kappacasein Raclette at Borough Market

Not long into our exploration of Borough Market we saw some young women holding the above plate of food. We took one look and decided we had to have it. Cheese. And potatoes. And pickles. I'm talking about raclette.

But first, this:
Look at the size of those cheese toasties (grilled cheese sandwiches)! So much cheese! I really wanted one, but I wanted the raclette more.  The cheese toasties were in the same stall as the raclette: the Kappacasein stall.
Looking back now, I wish I'd just been a total cheesy piggy and had a cheese toastie, too.
Back to the raclette. I had heard of raclette. I had not ever actually seen it or eaten it. Raclette is both a semi-firm cow's milk cheese and a French/Swiss dish based on heating the cheese and scraping off (racler) the melted part. The guy manning the raclette heated a huge half moon of cheese until it was brown and bubbly and gooey.
While the cheese heated, he loaded a plate with tiny, boiled potatoes and cornichons.
He also helpfully sliced the tiny potatoes in half. Look how brown the cheese is getting!
As soon as he removed our cheese, he started heating another. 
All of the melty cheese was scraped onto our potatoes. And, voila:
Our delicious plate of raclette. I'm not gonna lie - I didn't care about those about those potatoes or pickles. They were simply a vehicle to get the cheese in my mouth. I would have been happy with just the cheese on my plate. We quickly devoured our plate of ooey gooey deliciousness and briefly pondered purchasing a second plate, but passed, only because there was still so much other food to sample at the market.

But the next time I see raclette somewhere, we're having it. And next time we're at Borough Market, I'm having raclette AND a cheese toastie.

Plan accordingly: Kappacasein is only at Borough Market Thursdays 11 am~5 pm, Fridays 11 am~6 pm, and Saturdays 8 am~5 pm.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Borough Market

I started baking holiday cookies and so far, it's not gone great. I'm not so happy with the results, especially of today's very labor intensive cookies. Sorta makes me want to not bake anymore. So I'm taking a break and thinking about our trip to London and all the fabulous baked goods at Borough Market. Thank goodness for a tweet from Saveur way back in June or July about London & food, otherwise I'm not sure I would have known about this market. I put it on our itinerary, for the day we visited the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. We made sure we ended our Tower Bridge tour on the south side and then took a leisurely walk along the south bank of the Thames to the London bridge, turned a bit more south, fired up the GPS, and navigated past Southwark Cathedral to the Borough Market. It was fabulous. 
It's also huge. And crowded. And busy. And bumpy. But so much amazing food. SP was distracted by the fish, the meats, and some stands selling pickled goodies and offering samples of pickled goodies which he was all too happy to sample. 
Meanwhile I had found iced tea! Iced tea is so common here but not so common in England. It was a warm, sunny day and who could resist organic iced Earl Grey with fresh mint and lemon with a little brown sugar? Seriously the best iced tea I've ever had. It didn't last long.
 A shop with my thoughts: No such thing as too much cheese. Borough Market had lots of cheese. It was cheese heaven.
 Huge wheels of cheese. I wanted all of it. 
Small amounts of cheese, just as yummy looking & desirable:
I also wanted all of the baked goodies and sweet treats. Enormous meringues.
 Tarts and pastries.
 And cookies. Huge cookies, delicate cookies, jelly cookies, owl shaped cookies.
 And elephant cookies!
 There was also a lot of meat. Meat for sale, meat sizzling away - huge sausages like these:
 Meat pies - oh how I love meat pies:
 Kangaroo, wagyu, crocodile:
 Ostrich meat and a list of meat sold:
 Zebra & camel burgers:
And then there was the enormous salami. They offered us samples, which we accepted, and it was delicious:
Lamb. We really wanted to buy some lamb. But couldn't.

Sausages. And bacon. Lots of bacon. Boar bacon. Streaky bacon. Staffordshire bacon. New Forest bacon.
I do not even like the smell of seafood so I avoided those areas. SP was more than happy to check out the fish - haddock, trout, anchovies in garlic oil: 
 Lots of sole:
Then there were the eggs. Scotch eggs:
 And all sorts of other eggs:
I think we spent close to 3 hours wandering around the market and snacking. Tomorrow: our favorite stand and snack at Borough Market.