Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. Last Saturday we braved the snow to go see Phantom of the Opera. It was the one show of the season that I really, really wanted to see. SP cleared our driveway, our road was fine, the problem was when we got on the so called main roads. Sigh. Given that it had stopped snowing/slowed down for almost 2 hours prior to our departure, the condition of the roads was abysmal.
The worst roads? City of Pittsburgh Cultural District. They were a mess of 3+ inches of dirty gray slush crap. Can you see the wheelchair tracks in the above photo? It's a good thing I had SP to drag me backwards through the mess because there was no way the wheelchair could have made it through going forwards. The front wheels would have been stopped by the slush and ice chunks. After we made it across, I took a photo.

Given that there were 2 performances of Phantom of the Opera, 2 performances of My Fair Lady, and a Fiddlesticks show that I know of, all in the Cultural District, it's disgraceful that the roads in that area were in this condition. It was very difficult for people to walk across these streets.

But Phantom of the Opera was fantastic! I'm just sad we had to cancel our dinner reservations at Butcher & the Rye - after the show we decided to head home before the snow started again.

2. Today is SP's birthday! He got to pick his dinner, which we made & ate last Sunday and we're eating the leftovers tonight. He chose lamb chops. Sunday afternoon he successfully chiseled the grill out of the ice against the house so we were able to grill them.
We grilled 10 chops, from Costco, and ate 5 on Sunday. We'll eat the other 5 tonight. We also made breaded chicken for this week. Our sides for the week are roasted asparagus, sauteed green beans with lemon, and macaroni & cheese.

3. What about dessert/birthday dessert? Well, yes, there will be birthday dessert tonight, but it's a surprise for SP. All I will say is that my mom & I slaved away in the kitchen this morning making it. I hope he likes it!

4. This terrific way below normal temperatures winter weather has our furnace running a lot. That means the house is dry, dry, dry. The furnace humidifier and our bedroom humidifier are just not enough. My skin is so dry and worse, my eyeballs are dry! I've been putting drops in to help, but it's not helping much. The skin around my eyes is so dry that I am moisturizing every few hours, blowing through the expensive eye cream. My nose is dried out and constantly on the verge of bleeding while SP has been getting nosebleeds. My dry nose is also making me breathe through my mouth, which makes my throat dry, so I'm guzzling water because my throat is constantly dry and sore.

I can't wait for warmer weather and less/no furnace!

5. Tonight is the finale of How to Get Away with Murder! So excited!

6. SP has never seen The Sound of Music. That boggles my mind. We need to fix that.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Homemade Pierogies - the Second Time

It was about this time last year that we made pierogies for the first time. They turned out quite well but given how busy we always seem to be on weekends, they are a pretty time consuming undertaking. Earlier this year I suggested to SP that we use one of his winter-time 3 day weekends to again make pierogies and he agreed.
I also suggested that we invite my mom to help and he agreed. Mom might not roll out dough or pinch dough together but she is excellent at clean up. My dad dropped her off early one morning in January (yes, this post has been in drafts for quite a while!). Of course mom and dad were looking forward to payment for her assistance - payment in the form of pierogies.
Since we were going to eat some pierogies that week, give some away, and wanted some for the freezer, we decided to make a batch of the same pierogies as last year plus try a second "kind" of pierogie. By kind I mean a different dough, not filling. Last year we made a dough with sour cream in it and while the pierogies were really tasty, I'm not sure that adding sour cream to the dough is very authentic.
I did some research. I founds of lots of recipes. Doughs with varying amounts of flour, water, egg/no egg, oil/no oil, milk, butter - kind of overwhelming!
I finally settled on a recipe I found at Brown Eyed Baker. The one she tried is a Cook's Illustrated recipe. We find that the Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen recipes always turn out tasty, so we decided to try it.
The finished pierogies: King Arthur Flour version on the left, Cook's Illustrated on the right. KAF has sour cream, butter, and an egg. CI has egg and egg yolk, water, and oil.
SP did the rolling and he found the CI version a bit more difficult to roll. The dough was "springier" - every time he rolled it out and stopped to cut, it would sort of shrink again. I didn't notice a difference when filling and pinching shut. There is a difference in taste, though.
My parents like the KAF verison better. SP does, too. In some ways I do as well. It's a little more flavorful and the sour cream really adds to the taste. However, in terms of what I think authentic pierogies should taste like, I think CI's version really hits the mark. There's something about that dough that really pleases me. It fries up a little crisper and flakier, I think.

Both versions are very tasty and make satisfying pierogies. Both freeze well. And I think from now on, we'll have to make both versions. With an extra helper in the kitchen, it's much easier to crank these out.

*We made our own version of the filling again, the same as last year. We added a bit more sauteed onion to the filling this year.
*We had leftover filling, on purpose, because we wanted to make a few twice baked potatoes for the freezer. We had enough for 8 twice baked potatoes and gave my mom some of those, too.
*KAF recipe here.
*CI version here.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Marbled Mint Chocolate Pudding

Growing up, my idea of pudding was instant pudding. Open the packet, dump the powder in a bowl, add milk, mix, chill, eat. I never thought about making it from scratch - not until I met SP and he turned his nose up at instant pudding and told me it was super easy to make homemade pudding.
One day he made homemade chocolate pudding for me and it was fantastic. It was very simple, a basic, beginner recipe, but my gosh it was so much better than instant pudding. I'll never go back to instant. Last week we made a more complex pudding: Marbled Mint Chocolate Pudding from the February 2015 issue of Bon Appetit.
It's not really that complex. It has few more ingredients and you make two puddings to swirl together. We made the white chocolate-mint pudding first.In spite of constant stirring, it curdled a bit on the bottom of the pan. We just dumped that part. It happens sometimes when we make ice cream custard, too, which is why we often pour the custard through a fine mesh sieve.
Smooth and creamy. Next up was the chocolate custard, which looked exactly like the white chocolate-mint custard until we poured it over the chocolate and started stirring.
Smooth, creamy chocolate pudding.
We had more white chocolate pudding than chocolate pudding. I'm not sure why. Oh well.

We didn't do the best job of layering and swirling, but here's a side view of one of our dessert bowls:
This pudding was delicious. Minty. Chocolaty. It was pretty rich. And it seemed thicker than other puddings we've made. The recipe says it yields six servings. We made four servings because we had only four glass dessert bowls. The pudding was rich enough that we each struggled to eat one on our own. On subsequent nights, we shared a bowl.
Definitely something we'd make again.

Recipe here.

*We didn't top the pudding with crumbled chocolate cookies as suggested in the recipe.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Taste of Braddock's Brasserie

Recently, we were fortunate enough to be invited to sample several dishes at Braddock's Pittsburgh Brasserie. When we first dined at Braddock's last November, we both really enjoyed our meals, so we were excited for this tasting. We bundled up on a frigid winter evening and headed into the city. Once we arrived, we warmed up with cocktails: Hot Buttered Rum for SP and a Braddock's Smash for me. Soon enough the food started to arrive.
Shrimp & Grits. Last time we were at Braddock's, we had this and thought it was phenomenal. This time, it was again phenomenal - this is one of my favorite dishes in Pittsburgh. Chef Jason told us that he orders his grits from a company in Mississippi and just a few days after ordering, freshly ground, authentic southern grits arrive in Pittsburgh. I've always noticed a slight difference between grits we've enjoyed during our travels in the south and grits we've tried in other parts of the country. The source (and freshness) really does make a difference - these grits are so delicious.

Official description: Bacon Wrapped Shrimp with Cheddar Grits and Allegheny BBQ. The side salad served alongside this was Arugula Salad with roasted pear, pepitas, bacon lardon, sweet onions, mignonette vinaigrette. It was an excellent salad, but when there's bacon wrapped shrimp and cheesy grits in front of me, the salad, no matter how delicious, is an after-thought!
Next up was Double Dipped Chicken Livers with bacon lardon, grilled onion, honey sriracha BBQ. I had never before tried chicken livers. They were good, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, but for me, eating just one of the two pieces was enough, plus the sriracha made it a little spicy for me, the spice wimp. SP loved this dish. He finished mine and scooped up all the sauce.
On the left, Confit Rabbit Pappardelle roasted beets, grilled yams, spinach, oyster mushrooms, reggiano cheese, rabbit glace and on the right Butternut Squash Risotto with crispy Brussels sprouts and parmesan snow. Pasta and risotto - two of my favorite things. I started with the risotto, mostly just because I wasn't quite ready to tackle the pappardelle because I always make a mess when I eat this kind of shape pasta (you do not want to see me eating spaghetti or angel hair). The risotto was so good. Creamy arborio. Salty parmesan. Crisped Brussels. I couldn't stop eating it. I always marvel at how restaurants get such lovely, crispy yet still so flavorful and not burnt/black Brussels sprouts - we're still working on getting it just right at home. I was getting full when I finished the risotto and turned to the rabbit pappardelle.

I liked the rabbit pappardelle. This was the best dish of the night, according to SP. There was a very nice, for me, ratio of pasta, shredded rabbit, and veggie bits. SP loves rabbit and has eaten it frequently when we dine out. I had not before tried rabbit. It is, to me, an OK meat. I'm not really sure how to describe it because it was shredded so it's not like I had a huge hunk in my mouth. It is a mild flavor, it's not gamey to me, but neither does it taste like chicken to me (which is what many people think). It was very tender and moist, shredding easily. I couldn't eat all of it but SP happily finished it for me.
On the left is Bourbon Candied Pork Chop with sweet red onion & bacon confit sitting atop cheddar grits and with asparagus. On the right is Whiskey Short Rib Goulash - borscht short ribs, butter dumpling with seasonal vegetables (carrot). Chef Jason told us the dumpling is a German dumpling with equal parts butter and flour. The key to the dumpling is to freeze the dough before cooking the dumpling.

The pork was SP's second favorite dish of the night. The grits were again amazing. The pork slices were so moist and flavorful with sauce and bacon and onion flavor on top. Much as I love good pork, I love well prepared short rib even more, especially since we do not make short rib at home. This meat was so moist, so easy to pull apart, just so darn delicious. The dumpling was really good, too, especially if you remember to eat a bite of it with a bite of the short rib, but I got into a laser like focus zone on that short rib and ignored everything else until it was gone.
We finished with Flourless Chocolate Cake with salted caramel ganache, blackberry compote, pistachio crunch, and candied bacon. Of course I love candied bacon (how shocking). This was delicious, chocolaty but not too rich , and I liked the blackberry flavor with the chocolate and caramel. Much as I enjoyed the entire dessert, I could have happily eaten just 3-4 pieces of the candied bacon for dessert.

I'm not sure why it took us so long to try Braddock's for the first time. The cocktails we've tried have been terrific, the food delicious, and service excellent, definitely some of the best service we've experienced.

Many thanks to Braddock's and Kristen for inviting us. It was great to meet Chef Jason. He spent some time cooking in New Orleans and he was happy to talk about that as well as what ingredients are in his dishes and how he sources his meats and other ingredients. We find that very interesting since we try (but don't always succeed) at eating local, sustainable, organic, whatever you want to call it, to us it's just our personal food evolution and trying to be a bit more aware with our food choices.

If you haven't yet tried Braddock's, you should. It's definitely in the top of our favorite Pittsburgh places.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Snap & Iced Tea Cocktail

For Christmas, SP bought me a bottle of Snap. It's a lebkuchen flavored spirit . It's got a a strong blackstrap molasses flavor but also flavors of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, brown sugar, vanilla, and rooibos tea.

We've been playing with it a bit, mostly trying to recreate a Snap cocktail I had at Nine on Nine a couple of years ago. That drink was so good. We have yet to achieve such a delicious result at home. I've given up on bourbon and Snap for a while, but SP decided to try some Snap mixed with iced tea.
Here's how he made it:
Use a highball or collins glass
Add a few dashes of bitters
Pour in 2~2.5 ounces of Snap
Fill the glass with iced tea (as much/little as you like)
Add a twist of orange peel 
We both really liked it. A boozy, milk free, iced chai tea.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Cauliflower Snowflakes

We made these Cauliflower Snowflakes a few weeks ago. We've been eating a lot of cauliflower this winter. I always liked cauliflower, raw and steamed/boiled, but it wasn't until we started roasting it and flavoring it with combinations of lemon, mustard, parmesan, bread crumbs that I really started to love cauliflower.
These Cauliflower Snowflakes are from Ina Garten's Make It Ahead cookbook. This is just like the Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower we made only with the addition of panko for a nice crunch. These snowflakes are so simple and roast at 425 for 30-35 minutes.
I really liked the addition of the panko. So did SP. Another great version of roasted cauliflower.

Recipe here.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. This past week I read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which I thought was a great book. I also read Euphoria by Lily King. I enjoyed it much more than I expected. I highly recommend both.

2. Last weekend's "Mindless Movie" was Taken 2. I don't think I can take too many more mindless movie nights. Thank goodness the DVR is filling up with shows to watch.

3. Currently awaiting viewing: The Walking Dead returned last Sunday, but we have not yet watched. We've been trying to watch Togetherness on HBO, and I'm still unsure if I really like it, but there's a couple of episodes on the DVR.

4. It's Thursday so that means tonight I curl up by myself with my hot tea and a chocolate cream paczki and enjoy an evening of Shonda shows. SP will head downstairs and enjoy an evening alone in his mancave.

5. It's the middle of February which means I've had it with winter and desperately want spring to arrive. So of course this Sunday the high temperature is forecast to be 8 degrees. Terrific.

6. It's also stupid holiday time. Time for me to write about how I think Valentine's Day is stupid, how pink and red and hearts and Cupid crap annoy me to no end, and how we won't be celebrating the holiday. Nope. No special plans, just a regular Saturday dinner out for us, with an extra effort to avoid any restaurant with Valentine crap. This means we'll probably end up dining at the bar down the street or at a pizza place.

7. It's a 3 day weekend for SP. Too bad the cold weather is making me want to hibernate inside instead of going out and having fun. Guess that means he'll get his wish to spend the extra day off sequestered in the mancave.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Cinnamon Old Fashioned

We've been experimenting a bit with old fashioned cocktails. The most recent version was one with cinnamon syrup plus a cinnamon stick and orange peel in the cocktail.
Simple syrup is so easy. For this one, we used a half cup each of water & sugar plus 3 cinnamon sticks (the small ones, not the huge, long ones we bought at Costco). After heating the water & sugar until the sugar dissolved, we added the cinnamon sticks and let the syrup cool on the stove for a few hours then put it in the refrigerator, covered, overnight. The next day, we removed the cinnamon sticks and poured the syrup into a squeeze bottle.

For one cocktail:

One large ice cube in a rocks glass
1.5-2 ounces bourbon
about 1/2 ounce cinnamon syrup
few dashes bitters
few dashes orange bitters
some club soda (personal taste)

Swirl with cinnamon stick.
Garnish with cinnamon stick and orange peel.
It was quite tasty. The warm cinnamon orange flavor is nice in the colder months.

Inspired by this.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Chocolate~Espresso~Cinnamon Rolls (Joy the Baker)

Sometimes I think Joy the Baker can read my mind. It's as if she's inside my head and knows all my favorite flavors. There are a lot of posts by her that I forward on to SP, with the title of my email being MUST MAKE or WANT. This was the case at the end of January when she posted Quick & Dirty Chocolate Espresso Cinnamon Rolls.
A baked good. With chocolate. And espresso. And cinnamon. Three of my favorite flavors. In one treat. A breakfast treat. That can also be an evening treat.
My photos aren't as pretty as hers. She must have some fantastic kitchen lighting. Our kitchen lighting, even in the day, if not right next to the window, is pretty... blah.
 Yeast in milk-butter-sugar mixture. Waiting for the flour.
 The dough. Love the stand mixer dough hook. Makes this so easy.
 Rolled out on our pastry board, another item we love.
 Mmmm the filling.
 Our rolls. Looking a little more sad and lonely than hers.
 Still looking sad and lonely, but baked and cooling.
They might look sad and lonely, they might not be as pretty as hers, but they taste fantastic. Chocolate, cinnamon, espresso goodness.
They were delicious for Sunday breakfast. Delicious for Sunday dessert. Delicious during the week. Definitely a make again. I might up the espresso powder next time, just my personal preference. I didn't really taste it in the morning when I ate my first roll, but that evening, I could taste more of the espresso flavor.

We left off the glaze - just personal preference since I'm not a fan of glaze on my baked goods.

Recipe here.

Monday, February 9, 2015

(A New Version) Chicken Marsala

Recently, I was gifted a copy of The Make Ahead Cook from America's Test Kitchen. Inside is a recipe for Chicken Marsala. Well, technically, it's Marsala-Braised Chicken and Mushrooms. We already have 2 delicious recipes for chicken marsala, but this version sounded really good. It includes pancetta, tomato paste, and lemon juice. A couple of weeks ago, we decided to try out this "new" chicken marsala.
Even though this version has a few more ingredients than our other versions, it doesn't take that much more time. The recipe is for four 6-8 ounce chicken breasts but we made 6 chicken breasts so we increased all the other ingredients by half. Lots and lots of mushrooms. And marsala. Lots of marsala.
Our other versions of chicken marsala use about 1/2 cup marsala. We always have a bottle of cooking marsala in the cupboard. It's a good thing we had a brand new bottle because we didn't read this recipe all that closely. We looked at the ingredient list and went, yes we have that or, no, we need that. We never even thought to check the amount of marsala because we knew we had a full bottle. We failed to notice just how much marsala this version calls for - we used the entire bottle! It calls for 1.5 cups; we used 2.25 cups.
Next time we make this, we will be going to the liquor store and purchasing a bottle of "real' marsala wine.
This was delicious. I'm not sure it needs the pancetta, but that was a nice pop of flavor. The marsala-chicken stock-lemon-butter sauce is so good. The lemon really brightened the dish. The chicken stayed juicy. We both thought this was more flavorful than our other 2 versions of chicken marsala.
Our adapted version:

Marsala-Braised Chicken & Mushrooms

3 ounces pancetta, chopped
16 ounces mushrooms, sliced
half an onion, chopped
3 tbsp flour
2 tsp tomato paste
2.25 cups marsala
1.5 cups low sodium chicken stock
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

juice from one lemon
1 tbsp unsalted butter
parsley (fresh or dried, we used dried)

Drizzle a bit of olive oil in a large skillet (12 inch) and cook pancetta until it starts to brown. If needed, add additional olive oil. Add onion & mushrooms and cook until they start to lightly brown. Stir in flour and tomato paste. When mixed nicely, add marsala. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Whisk in chicken stock. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to sauce in skillet. Cover skillet and reduce heat. Simmer until chicken is cooked through (25-30 minutes). Flip chicken halfway through cooking. Once cooked, remove chicken. Add lemon juice, butter, and parsley to sauce. Slice chicken breasts. Once butter has melted into sauce and butter, lemon, and parsley are stirred in, return sliced chicken to skillet. Serve.

To reheat, heat in 350 oven in a covered casserole dish until sauce bubbles, probably 20-30 minutes.

This was enough for the two of us for 3 dinners, served with broccoli on the side.