Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. We have our first tomatoes from the garden! I'm so excited because I love tomatoes.

2. This week we are again having quick & easy dinners, not blog-worthy dinners. We grilled some chicken breasts (seasoned with Penzeys Northwoods Seasoning) and some bone in pork chops (seasoned with Lawry's Seasoned Salt). Our vegetables for the week are from our garden or from Simmons Farm: tomatoes with balsamic, grilled zucchini, sauteed green beans, corn on the cob. No bread/rice/pasta -- just meat & veggies.

3. Texas SIL and her family were here last weekend. It was great to see them. She brought us some of her Cranberry-Orange Biscotti - yum! They arrived Saturday and just rested here at the house. They were tired after driving from TX. BIL slept for a while out on the deck. I was so surprised because it was so darn hot & muggy but they said it was cooler than TX! Sunday & Monday they spent the days with other family and on Sunday, we all met at Central Diner for a big family dinner.

4. The nephews had chocolate chip pancakes for dinner at Central Diner. They are particular about their food and it was hilarious to see their faces when the pancakes arrived with a huge mound of whipped cream on top because whipped cream is a no-no! The eldest simply shoved it off. The younger looked positively horrified and froze. Thank goodness grandpa came to the rescue!

5. We finished watching Sense8 and against my wishes, I ended up really enjoying it & really caring about the characters. So I guess we have another show to watch, if and when it comes back for season 2 on Netflix.

6. I finished reading The Girl on the Train and read The Informationist. I liked The Girl on the Train but I figured out how it would end halfway through the book so after that, it was just reading to see if I was right (I was). I liked The Informationist a lot, so there's another series to add to my reading list.

7. I haven't watched any of the Netflix DVDs we have had for 2+ weeks.

8. The magazine pile grew with the arrival of new issues of Saveur, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, and Pittsburgh Magazine.

9. I haven't picked up my dragonfly cross-stitch in months and I am seriously doubting I'll ever finish it because I just have no desire to pick it up.

10. The sunflowers are blooming! I love their yellow faces.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Blackberry Lime Sorbet

A couple of weeks ago we made Blackberry Lime Sorbet from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop. Lots of blackberries and limes with water and sugar, churned into sorbet.
It's sweet and tart and fruity and a little icy but delicious and cooling on these hot days. The flavor has mellowed a bit and gotten tastier over time. It also has gotten icier and harder. I usually mash mine up with a spoon before eating it.
It's also a pretty color.
This might be my favorite sorbet of the ones we've tried making.

Recipe here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. Today I had an early morning doctor appointment. Ugh. But my post doctor treat was an almond bear claw from Mediterra. Delicious! Sadly, no photo because we split it and SP cut it in half and started eating while I was washing my hands and then I started tearing into it because I was so hungry and then, well, it wasn't worth photographing the last bite.

2. This week's dinners are nothing new & exciting, just yummy. Two evenings were pasta salad and the other 3 were grilled shrimp & beef kebabs with grilled veggies (zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, green pepper). The zucchini are from our garden. So far, we've been able to have 3 zucchini from the garden.

3. SP wanted to watch Sense8 on Netflix. I reluctantly agreed. It took a while to pull me into the story, probably 3 episodes, but now I can't wait to find out what happens next. There are still things that bug me but overall, I'm enjoying it.

4. I finished reading Hunky and enjoyed it a lot even thought there seemed to be a lot of misspelled words, incorrect grammar, and other things I would not have expected from a published book. Maybe it was self published? Without spellcheck or proofreading? I am now trying to read The Girl on the Train, which is due today but will probably not be returned today since I'm only on page 10. Unfortunately, I've allowed the library book pile to get out of hand because I was distracted with things other than reading. There are 2 other books due in 8 days. And I have another request ready for pick up.

5. Texas SIL and her family are en route for a visit. Driving from TX - yikes! It's 18-19 hours of driving (according to Google Maps). We're looking forward to seeing them.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Rack of Lamb

Last week, my dad called. He had a computer issue, didn't want to talk to me about it, wanted to talk to SP about it. SP told him he'd stop by over the weekend to take a look. Then my mom called and asked if we'd like to stop by Sunday afternoon and then stay for dinner. We said, sure. She said she was going to make rack of lamb.

We've not yet tried making rack of lamb ourselves although SP always looks at it in Costco. We've been wanting to try it, but always choose the leg of lamb or lamb chops instead. For rack of lamb, my mom salts & peppers it, sears the rack in a skillet, and then cooks it in the skillet in the oven according to the directions on the package. She gave one rack about 20 minutes for rare (for dad & SP) and the other rack 25 minutes. The 25 minute one was perfect for me. It was delicious! Maybe a bit fattier than the lamb chops, but the meat seemed a bit more tender. We definitely will have to try these at home.

She also made sauteed green beans with crumbled bacon and caramelized onions:
 And bought some dinner rolls from Bethel Bakery. I love their dinner rolls!
There also was a salad of lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and olives with poppyseed dressing. For dessert, she bought lady locks from Bethel Bakery.

Even though we spent the morning in a frenzy of activity, doing laundry and grilling some meat & veggies for dinner during the week and then cleaning up, it was nice to relax in their apartment on Mt. Washington and enjoy the view of Heinz Field and the Science Center and all the boaters on the rivers. It was nice to be served a delicious dinner and not have to clean up anything. Nor did we have to take anything. Not even wine. Just show up, fix a computer, and eat. That's a good Sunday.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

BRGR Revisited

Last Saturday, the day got away from us. We ended up sitting at home for quite some time, waiting for something to get done before we could leave. It was 4:30 pm before we finally got out the door. I wanted to check out some stuff at South Hills Village Mall so we headed that way. When we got to the Route 19 & Ft. Couch intersection, I checked No Wait, just to see what the BRGR wait was because I do not like Red Robin or mall food court food, our last trip to that Eat'N Park was less than satisfactory, and there just aren't many restaurants in that area I like. There was no wait, so since it was 5 pm, we decided to have a bit of an early dinner to avoid any future wait.
We were seated right away, ordered iced teas and a beer for SP, and he decided to have a bunless Bison burger with bacon, cheese, onion straws, tomato and a lettuce wrap. He said it was tasty. I thought it looked kind of small, especially compared to Burgatory
Since I didn't want to leave any potential leftovers in a hot car or tote them around the mall, I opted for 2 appetizers instead of a sandwich. First, Pork-N-Tots (confit pork over crispy tater tots, gravy, smoked gouda cheese, green onions). These were good, juicy shredded pork, but I didn't taste any smoked gouda and neither did SP. Lack of smoked gouda flavor was disappointing.
My other appetizer choice: Grilled Cheese Bites (provolone, applewood smoked bacon, truffle aioli, tomatoes, pickle chips, on grilled Texas toast, served with a side of tomato fondue). We both were disappointed in these. They were less cheesy, less bacony, and more pickley than we remembered. 

Overall, I was disappointed. The first two times we went to BRGR at the Galleria, we had greats service and enjoyed our food. The last 2-3 times, we've had so-so service and less tasty food. Two visits ago, there were long waits to order, to get our food, to get the check. This time, our food arrived quickly and we felt rushed. Our server dropped off the check without checking to see if we wanted dessert. The burgers still look kind of small and sad without any fries/chips next to them like at Burgatory. You can get fries as a side for an extra cost. The fact that SP was willing and able to help eat a grilled cheese bite and some tots tells me his burger didn't fill him up.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. I'd been hearing about these Leona's ice cream sandwiches for quite some time and of course I wanted to try one so I put it on a list of Summer Stuff To Do. Since I made the list and placed it on the kitchen counter where we see it every single day, we've accomplished 2 of the 10-15 things on the list. Leona's is one of the accomplishments. SP has brought home a Leona's several times now, stopping on his way home from work and putting it in a freezer bag. Above is the raspberry ice cream with snickerdoodle cookie one. We've also tried a vanilla ice cream with chocolate chip cookie and a raspberry lemonade ice cream with sugar cookie. All have been tasty if a wee pricey ($5.50 for one). To be fair, it's huge and I could never eat one all at once so I get 2 desserts from one. And, they're supposedly lactose free, which is nice for my sometimes lactose/ice cream sensitive tummy.
2. Sadly, Better Maid has not reopened since some stupid driver crashed into it so I did not get a donut treat the day of my doctor visit last week. I did, however, whine a bit about no donut and then tell SP over & over how in the last year I've lost some weight and how I was eating lots of fruit for breakfast and lots of veggies with dinner. He got the hint and swung by Mediterra on the way home to get me a cinnamon bun treat. Huge. Cinnamony. Delicious.

3. We watched Kingsman: The Secret Service. It was a lot of fun! We both really enjoyed it and laughed a lot which was nice after last week's serious movies.

4. True Detective Season 2 seems to be not positively reviewed by viewers and critics. I do not think it's as good as last year but we are still enjoying it. I thought the last 10 minutes of last Sunday's episode were great, especially the detectives' reactions after the *not gonna say it because of possible spoiler* ended. We immediately rewatched the last 10 minutes, debated bad guys and manipulators and motivations, and then watched the end of another exciting Pirates game.

5. In the past week, I finished reading Radiant Angel by Nelson DeMille and read The English Spy by Daniel Silva and have moved on to Hunky: The Immigrant Experience by Nicholas Stevensson Karas. I am really enjoying Hunky. It's based on his family history, which is similar to one branch of my family: ancestors from an area that has been Austrian, Hungarian, Polish, Ukrainian over the years and who immigrated to Pittsburgh to work in the steel mills.

6. The Pirates! My gosh! The last 2 wins against the Cardinals were exciting extra inning wins.

7. I have no idea why my allergies get so bad from mid to late July, but here we are in mid July and they are awful. I thought it was the stupid mimosa/formosia trees, but we had them all removed and it hasn't helped. Yesterday my eye was twitching and when I watched it in the mirror, I was freaked out by it. I'm sneezing all day long and using lots of tissues. This morning, I pulled on my shirt and I guess the pressure against my nose triggered a nosebleed that dripped on the clean shirt. Grrrr. The bridge of my nose and that whole sinus area hurt to even touch right now. I took some sinus medicine so hopefully that'll help.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Breakfast Casserole

We've been wanting to try a breakfast casserole for quite some time and over the 4th of July holiday weekend, we finally did. We used this Mix & Match Breakfast Casserole recipe as a guideline.
The nice thing about breakfast casserole is that you can put it together the night before, then bake it the next morning and have a fantastic dish for brunch plus, in our case, dinner, too. We used Cellone's Italian Bread and put tomatoes, broccoli, sausage, and cheddar cheese in ours, plus fresh basil and parsley. Since our bread was fresh, we toasted it in the oven for a bit (like when we made panzanella).
We also halved the recipe and used a glass 8x8 pan. It didn't seem like there was enough egg custard mixture, so we ended up using a couple more eggs. It still didn't look like enough, but we let it be. Next time, I would sprinkle the herbs in with the bread and veggies/cheese/meat instead of mixing them into the custard because even though I chopped them, they didn't ooze along with the custard mixture throughout the casserole but instead got stuck and clumped on top, which wasn't especially tasty.
This was tasty, but the tomatoes did make it a bit wet even though I seeded them and patted them dry. I'd make it again, maybe with bacon, asparagus, and mushrooms next time.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Back to Braddock's

This past Sunday was one of our see a show & go to dinner date days. We went to see Gypsy and then to dinner at Braddock's Pittsburgh Brasserie. While we settled in at our table and scanned the lobby for lingering Furries, we ordered iced teas and SP decided to have a Sazerac:
I don't care for Sazerac cocktails, but SP likes them a lot. As for food, we ordered a lot of food to share, probably too much food, and ended up bring enough home for dinner later tonight.
SP wanted to try the Pierogie of the Month. It was a red, white, and blue theme: red from the sriracha inside the pierogie with shrimp, white from the dipping sauce, and blue from the blue cornbread. I had a wee bite and it was good, but not really my thing because of the sriracha. He loved it.
I got the Braised Short Rib Pierogies for myself. I love these. The rich, flavorful gravy, the tender shreds of meat inside. These had better stay on the menu forever!
We shared a House Salad (mixed greens, tomato, cucumber, croutons, sherry-shallot vinaigrette). For us, it was a good sharing size, and a delicious basic, house salad. I didn't eat the vinaigrette (shallot) but SP used up all of it because he thought it was so tasty.
We also shared the Smoked Tomato Bisque with bacon lardons and basil oil. One of our favorite restaurant tomato soups and just as tasty as the last time we had it.
For his main meal, SP chose the Bourbon Candied Pork Chop. I had a few bites, too. It is enormous! But so juicy and flavorful, served atop some of the best grits I've ever had and some asparagus spears. There is a sweet onion and bacon confit on top.
For my meal, I chose two appetizers. Jumbo Lump Crabcake - blue crab, arugula, lemon aioli. There were super skinny fried potato shreds on top, crunchy and yummy. This is a really good crabcake. it's not doctored up with celery/onion/pepper, it wasn't dried out, it wasn't too breadcrumby, and there was a great crust on the exterior.
The other appetizer was the Bacon Wrapped Shrimp & Cheddar Grits. It was a little spicier and barbecue saucy than I remember but still very good, especially those grits!

We ordered dessert to go: Apple Crisp with vanilla ice cream. It's good, much more of an SP dessert, and we ate it while watching True Detective later that night.

In spite of how it may have looked by the amount of food I brought home, I enjoyed my food a lot. I'm going through a bit of trouble with my stomach again, it just needs to sort itself out. I wasn't feeling too great after the pierogies, soup, and salad, so I was wanting to head home ASAP. When my stomach gets like this, I need to eat small amounts of food and I just ordered way too much food. However, there was no way I was passing on those pierogies or shrimp & grits and I wanted some veggie (salad) and to try something new (crabcake).

This was out third time at Braddock's and as usual, service was terrific.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Cucina Bella

This past Saturday, we decided to go to dinner at a place we have not been to in quite a while (2+ years, I think): Cucina Bella in Bridgeville. As SP says, it's a "fancy pizza" place. One thing that has changed: they now have valet parking. I'm not sure why; they have a decent size lot although I do remember it filling up and overflow parking being on the street. Another thing: it seems they now take reservations, at least for large groups. When we arrived around 5:30 pm, we were seated right away but noticed 2 large tables set up with a reserved sign and a couple smaller tables with reserved signs.
They still do not offer fresh brewed iced tea and we didn't BYOB so we stuck with the bottle of water on the table. To start we shared the Della Casa Salad: greens, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, balsamic dressing. It was a little different than I remember but I cannot exactly pinpoint the difference. It's still a tasty salad.
SP chose a white pizza, Pizza Del Re, with fresh mozzarella, baby portobella, prosciutto, parmesan, basil, truffle oil. It didn't have a white garlic sauce, or any garlic, but there was a lot of truffle oil. I didn't try his pizza. He said it was delicious. He loves truffle flavor. I was bothered by the truffle smell because while I like truffle, I only like it in very small doses.
My pizza came out a bit after his. A red pizza, Ortolana, with San Marzano tomato, fresh mozzarella, portobella, artichokes, parmesan, basil, olive oil. I added prosciutto for $3 extra. It was piping hot, still steaming when it arrived, so I had to wait a bit to try it. It was good, but the tomato and/or olive oil or something made puddles of liquid:
That was disappointing, and it made it difficult to eat the pizza. Even folding a slice in half, I had to lean way over my plate so I wouldn't drip on myself. As it cooled, the liquid firmed up and it was better. The next day, eaten cold, it was fine.

Puddles of liquid aside, we enjoyed our salad & pizza. We've always have good service and the valet was very friendly and helpful with the wheelchair. It's still a little too noisy for me inside. Once the reserved tables were filled with people enjoying food and BYOB it got loud and I had a hard time hearing SP. Also, it still can get quite sunny and warm. The setting sun shines right in the front windows. Yes, believe it or not, there was actually sunshine the evening we went!

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

Grandma's Cucumbers in Vinegar
1. Over the holiday weekend we went to see Jurassic World. Always fun to see dinosaurs running amok, destroying stuff and eating people.
Smoked brats, grilled burgers
2. We're still in a lazy mood with cooking, so we simply grilled burgers and smoked brats for this week. Yay, dinner every night is super easy. Boo, I''m sick of burgers. We also made my grandma's cucumbers in vinegar, but unlike grandma, we added some fresh dill.

3. When I finally transferred the camera photos to the computer, I found some from a night we needed a quick and easy dinner. We ended up getting Uncle Sam's Subs.
Uncle Sam's Vegetable Florentine with Chicken
We haven't had Uncle Sam's for years because the last time, I got an upset stomach. I got their cheesesteak with mushrooms and peppers and even though I told SP no lettuce, it had lettuce on it. Lettuce isn't the end of the world, I just don't like it on sandwiches, especially shredded iceberg.
Uncle Sam's Cheesesteak
Of course SP got the sweet potato fries.
Uncle Sam's Sweet Potato Fries
It was OK for a quick run out & bring home dinner on a rainy Saturday but I prefer DiBella's to Uncle Sam's.

4. I finished Early Warning (Jane Smiley) this week and started reading Radiant Angel (Nelson DeMille). I am excited for Book 3 of Smiley's trilogy and seeing what happens with some of the characters from Book 1. Really enjoying the books. I always enjoy DeMille's novels so I'm looking forward to getting more into this book - I've only read a few pages.

5. I finished the June/July stack of magazines. I didn't find too many interesting recipes to rip out, but I guess that's a good thing since I have 7 binders of recipes.

6. This week I watched Wild, and I enjoyed the movie, but it was kind of a slow movie. SP & I watched Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Idris Elba was impressive as Mandela. I barely recognized him. But overall, I thought the movie was a little boring. Maybe there is just too much to Mandela's life to try to capture it all in 2.5 hours, but I felt like we didn't really get a sense of what shaped him, what drove him, how he was truly affected. I haven't read an entire detailed biography, but I have read biographies online and there's just way more than this film was able to portray and it glossed over some of his less than admirable actions and beliefs.

7. Tomorrow morning I have a doctor appointment and am sad that there won't be donuts since Better Maid is still still closed. Stupid, idiot driver who crashed into the donuts.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Grilled Chicken with Mustard-Dill-Yogurt Sauce

In addition to ripping apart old Cook's Illustrated issues, I also went through and ripped apart all the small, free gift with magazine subscription and supermarket checkout line cookbooks we've accumulated. Some of them were from the 1990's! Some I didn't even remember. That tells you how often we referred to them (um, never).

Anyway, we've been on the hunt for quick & easy & tasty dinners. Not our usual ideas like eggs. Or fried rice. Or salad (which I really like, I just really don't like making salads, all that rinsing and chopping every single night).

I found this Grilled Chicken with Mustard-Dill-Yogurt Sauce recipe in one of those long-ignored cookbooks - the recipe is from Gourmet June 2000! We thought it sounded yummy for a quick dinner. Plus, the sauce uses yogurt, not sour cream and/or mayo.
The sauce can be made ahead of time, which is nice. It used lots of our fresh dill (we always add more dill than a recipe calls for because we like it so much) and 2 mustards for a nice zippy tang to the cool yogurt (we used Greek yogurt) plus a little honey for some sweetness. It doesn't take too long to grill chicken breasts. SP grilled ours on a Sunday afternoon before grilling the fish (for Father's Day). We ate the chicken cold during the week with the sauce spooned on top.
We thought the sauce was delicious. It wasn't thin and runny, it was kind of thick and stayed on top the chicken, but didn't taste heavy. I'm not sure why so many reviewers on the Epicurious site said the sauce was tasteless or felt that they needed to use all sour cream. Maybe they didn't use plain yogurt, or used no fat yogurt, or didn't use both mustards? Or didn't grill the chicken? The grill flavor really added to the dish. I think with baked chicken, it might be boring.

We'll make this again.

Recipe here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Blueberry Hand Pies

It's yummy summer fruit season (berries! cherries!) which means that whenever the subject of dessert comes up, SP is all about suggesting fruit desserts. We've been pretty busy on weekends and not wanting to spend much time in the kitchen, so when I remembered the Cherry Hand Pies we made several years ago, I suggested those - but with blueberries.
The cherry hand pies use puff pastry. We had a sheet in the freezer and it's much faster than making a dough, chilling it, and rolling it out.
For the blueberry filling, we used this filling from Blueberry Hand Pies in the June 2015 Food & Wine. I liked the idea of adding cinnamon.
Truthfully, these did not turn out all that great. The puff pastry didn't seem to puff very much. The filling oozed out so thank goodness for silpats. They didn't keep well, the puff pastry got kind of soggy. I didn't really taste the cinnamon or lemon in the filling. We ate them all, they were good, but not as good as we had been hoping.
If we're going to make hand pies again, I'd use puff pastry but with cherry filling because those turned out great. If we want to use blueberry filling, we'll have to take the time to make a dough, chill it, and roll it out. I think that will be better with blueberries than puff pastry. I think I'd also try a different filling, maybe some lime & ginger with the blueberries like this pie recipe.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Potato Salad With 7-Minute Eggs And Mustard Vinaigrette

For many years, my grandma's potato salad was always the best. "Weekend Potato Salad" that lasted 1 day when we'd all go to my grandparents' cottage near French Creek. But then my stomach started rebelling against mayonnaise dressed salads and against raw onions. So I quit eating potato salad.
When SP and I started cooking together, we started making potato salads with vinegar dressing because he dislikes mayo and I dislike it as a salad dressing. Turns out, I like vinegar dressed potato salad better (sorry grandma!). It's tastier than mayo dressed potato salad (to us) and I don't end up with an upset stomach (no mayo & we use very little onion). But sometimes you need a little twist on a tried & true beloved dish, something to spice things up a bit. A few summer magazine issues had recipes for potato salad with mustard/mustard seeds, and that got my attention. So we decided to try one: Potato Salad With 7-Minute Eggs And Mustard Vinaigrette.
One twist: toasted mustard seeds:
Ours didn't pop too much so we didn't have mustard seeds flying around the kitchen.
The other 2 "twists" were the addition of dill pickle and 7 minute boiled eggs (soft yolks).

A few notes:

  • We used red potatoes & boiled, not steamed, them.
  • We kept the pickle separate since we were eating this over several days.
  • We cooked our eggs until they were hard boiled since I was worried about any soft/runny yolk and eating this over several days. We also finely chopped them.

I would like to try this with the soft set yolks because I can see how the creamy yolk would add a lot of silkiness to the salad. Even with the "more cooked" egg, the salad seemed silky. Next time I might try to scale this back to 2 servings so we can use the runnier eggs. I really liked the flavors from the mustard seeds and the tangy mustard-honey-olive oil-vinegar dressing plus the crunchy sip from the pickles. You need a bit of crunch in potato salad.
We'd definitely make this again. It's nice to have a slightly different potato salad recipe to change it up since the same one can get kind of boring.

Recipe from Bon Appetit June 2015. Find it here.