Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pret a Manger

I've finally sorted through all 1500+ vacation photos and organized them, so I can finally write about what we ate while in England. I decided to start with Pret a Manger. They are everywhere in London. EVERYWHERE. One across from our hotel, walk 1 block, and there's another. They are like Starbucks here. I think of Pret as like Panera. Only tastier. And more exciting (probably because Panera's menu now bores me and I don't really enjoy Panera as much as I used to plus Pret was like a shiny new toy).
Croissants, cookies, muffins, scones, coffee, tea, sandwiches, soups, salads. Every day for breakfast I had a croissant from Pret. SP had a muffin and tea. Every night my mom stopped in for cappuccino & a cookie. It was lunch our first day in London and on one late evening when we were too tired to think or move, it was dinner. The food is a great price and it's tasty. Above is a Bacon-Brie-Pear sandwich that SP & I shared for lunch on our first day while we sat at an outside table and watched the craziness in Trafalgar Square. "Our lovely creamy brie combines with our crispy bacon & pear chutney topped with watercress on our wholegrain Stone Baked baguette." Yum.  
My mom enjoyed a Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese sandwich. She said it was very good.

One night I had an Orange-White Chocolate cookie that was pretty darn tasty and big.

For one dinner, SP & I each had an Italian Chicken Salad: "Chargrilled Chicken Thigh / Caesar Mayo / Cucumber / Roasted Red Peppers / Baby Plum Tomatoes / Kalamata Olives / Toasted Pistachios / Italian Matured Cheese / Seasoning / Large French Dressing)." The salad was really good -- or we were really that hungry because the only reason we got two salads was because I inhaled the first one before he had managed to kick off his shoes and change into his jammies so he had to go back across the street for the second salad. Which I helped him eat, too. I think he was annoyed that I kept shoving salad in my mouth because usually he eats most of the salads we order. But not that night! The chicken had a terrific grilled flavor. Plus, lots of goodies in with the lettuce, not just one slice of cucumber or half an olive.

That same night we also shared a Ham-Cheese-Tomato-Bacon Croissant (Traditional French Croissant, Ham, Mozzarella, Emmental Cheese, Beech-Smoked Bacon) that was really good.

I didn't take any photos at Pret after that first lunch. But it's definitely a great place for breakfast or lunch or a quick dinner if you're traveling around London. Sadly, Pret has not arrived in Pittsburgh, but there are locations in New York, Boston, Chicago, and DC.

Pret A Manger Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, September 28, 2015

Nine On Nine

We again bought tickets for the Broadway Season and for us, the new season started this past weekend because we decided to swap one of the shows for Jersey Boys. Jersey Boys was a terrific show. I found myself singing along and bopping in my seat a wee bit! As we always do, we went to dinner in the Cultural District. This time, we decide to dine at Nine On Nine, a restaurant we have not revisited since March 2013. Here's what we enjoyed:
The amazing Snap Old Fashioned I enjoyed 2+ years ago is no longer on the cocktail list so I decided on a glass of chenin blanc while SP tried The Art of Cucumber cocktail (gin, cynar, ginger beer). It was served in a copper mug. He really liked it. I  tried a sip and hated it because I hate gin. I had hoped the ginger flavor would overpower the gin, but, nope. Not for a gin hater like me.
The bread is still delicious. No Irish Soda Bread this time  but a delicious bread with cheese & jalapeno and 2 brown breads I cannot clearly remember, probably because I used them to mop up all the salad goodness on our salad plates. 
We shared two salads: Heirloom Tomatoes & Burrata (zucchini chips, micro basil, sumac, saba, avocado oil) and Compressed Watermelon (Valbresa feta, ice wine vinegar, chocolate mint, shaved onion).
I am not sure which I liked better. The heirloom tomatoes were flavorful & juicy, the burrata deliciously creamy, and the watermelon was so bright and juicy with terrific feta that was not super crumbly (a good thing). We cleaned the plates. 
For his entree, SP chose Lancaster Peking Duck Breast (blackberry gastrique, pistachio butter, heirloom carrots, couscous). The duck looked a little more cooked than I usually see in restaurants, but I was sitting kind of far away (it was a longer than normal 2 person table) and he assured me it was juicy and delicious. 
I opted for Diver Scallops (Memphis barbeque, pork latke, caramelized rum pineapple, chive oil, snow pea). The scallops were nicely seared and cooked but somehow, the pork latke was the standout to me! Just a shredded pork latke, but there was, if I remember correctly, a nice warm cinnamon flavor and it was just oh so good. I really liked this dish.
 We both opted for decaf coffee after dinner.
Somehow we ended up with 3 desserts due to some kind of miscommunication. The one we definitely ordered and received was the Foret Noire (dark chocolate mousse, cherry, bittersweet chocolate ganache disk, chocolate sablé). It was not as rich/dense as I expected. The mousse was chocolaty and light and the sablé soft enough to easily cut with a fork. Really, really good dessert, the way I like my chocolate desserts these days.

There was a couple seated next to us in the far back corner. We arrived around the same time, we both had seen Jersey Boys, and our meals were roughly the same pace. So we both were selecting dessert around the same time. In addition to a dessert menu, a server brings a tray with each dessert for you to see. First, they looked at the tray, then the server swiveled and we got a better look. I could swear she said this was the cheesecake, but it is actually Le Sensation (white chocolate mousse, lemon créme, lemon-almond dacquoise): 
We thought the photo below was Le Sensation but it was Creamy Pear Cheesecake (poached pear cheesecake, chocolate-praline biscuit, pear gelée médaillon, vanilla glaze). We ordered Le Sensation based on menu written description but based on tray appearance & verbal description, we thought it was this creamy dome and the creamy dome looked yummier to me. So when we were served the dessert with the orange dollops on top, we were confused. Our neighbors ordered the cheesecake and when they received the creamy dome, they thought they had the wrong dessert, so we assumed our desserts had gotten mixed up. 
Nope. We had the right desserts. But in all the confusion, it ended up that we were brought another dessert for free. So we got to enjoy 3 desserts. This is one of those happy mistakes because in the end, we both liked the shimmery dome cheesecake better than the white chocolate mousse. The cheesecake was so light it was amazing. Le Sensation was good, too, I really liked the white chocolate mousse, but the lemon-almond dacquoise, while delicious, was a little heavy at this point in our meal. We just couldn't finish it.

We both enjoyed our food at Nine On Nine and all the employees we interacted with were lovely. It was a delicious, leisurely dinner. Based on price, it's not a regular dine out dinner place but more of a special occasion or after seeing a show have a nice dinner place. Definitely a place to try if you have not been there and definitely a place to which we'll return (hopefully sooner than 2.5 years between visits!).

Nine On Nine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. I don't usually get too jet lagged, but this time, on the return trip only, I'm struggling. At first, I could only sleep a few hours at night and then I'd crash and be out of it all afternoon and evening. Now I just feel tired all the time.

2. The night we returned home, we got home around 7:30 pm and ordered the usual "just got home from vacation and there's no food in the house" pizza. It was dinner, breakfast, and lunch until we bought groceries.

3. For dinners this week we're having the usual "we ate vegetables on vacation but probably not nearly enough and we feel toxic and veggie deprived" salad along with grilled chicken or pork.

4. Somehow we've managed to do something like 8-9 loads of laundry and I finished the folding and ironing yesterday.

5. Here's a great going on vacation gift: at 3 am, just 40 minutes before we planned to leave for the airport, the sewer pump alarm went off. Grrr. Since it was 3 am, it was too dark outside for SP to go investigate. We didn't want to ignore it for 2 weeks. So we wrote dad a note, got out the plumbing file and contact info, and left a credit card on the counter for him to handle it. As we suspected, it was something SP could have fixed himself in 5 minutes if only he could see in the dark (fixing it involves going out to the access point in the back yard). So sadly, we paid $150 to fix that issue simply because we can't see in the dark and couldn't let it sit for 2 weeks. That brings the September plumbing expense grand total to $395. Unexpected expenses during vacation months are just great.

6. Fortunately, we both had already showered, so the 3 am alarm wasn't too big of a deal. Just a super huge annoyance.

7. So the new TV season started. We know nothing about the new shows and are relying on our DVR timers from last season to pick up what we already watch. We did try Minority Report and Scream Queens the other night, but neither really, really grabbed my attention. Oh and The Muppets - we both liked that.

8. It's Shonda night! This means I will be glued to the TV for 3 hours and I will banish SP to the basement. He's looking forward to tonight - -something about a new Dr. Who episode and some new Destiny expansion thing? Whatever - all I know is Grey's is back & McDreamy-less, Scandal is back & I can't wait for more Mellie (I love Mellie!) PLUS HTGAWM is back for more crazy murder shenanigans with Viola Davis.

9. It's officially fall. Yay! My favorite season! I'm celebrating this weekend by getting out the Halloween decorations. Maybe, just maybe, I will allow a fall flavor like pumpkin or apple to make an appearance in the kitchen. Much as I love fall, I just don't feel ready for it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Lovely Time in London

Last Thursday I wrote that our passports would soon receive their first stamp. Well, they now have a lovely Heathrow immigration stamp, their first stamp, and hopefully not their last. We just returned from a 2 week vacation to London! It was wonderful and I wish we could have stayed longer. It was my first trip to London and SP's third. My mom went with us and it was her first trip to London. It was her 70th birthday present from dad. A while ago when we had been talking about vacation with them, we mentioned that sometimes we wished we had another person to help us at airports and such and when we started talking about a London vacation, mom expressed interest in coming along and helping. I'm really glad we got to share this experience with her. For one, dad isn't too interested in travel anymore. Mom is and she really, really enjoyed parts of our trip - her smile was so wide! Personally, I am glad she got to see England since in my genealogy research, I traced her maternal line back to 1600's England. 
She left it up to us to plan everything, saying she was just along for the ride. She said she wasn't going to make any decisions and she stuck to that! I should mention that mom rocked: on some days, SP's Fitbit said he had taken 15,000 steps so that means she was close to that, too! His record was 22,000 on the day we got "lost" in Cambridge, but fortunately, mom decided to spend that day by herself in London. Good choice because aside from getting lost and making a lot of wrong turns, it was cold, windy, gray, and then it poured on us for the entire 20 minute walk back to the rail station. Yes, that was our least favorite day of vacation.
Our trip got off to a bit of a bad start. Our plane from Newark had a dent that didn't pass inspection, so they had to find a new plane and we took off nearly 2 hours late, so instead of landing at 9:30 pm, we landed at 11 pm. Ugh! And then, there was airplane grease all over my wheelchair, which got all over SP's jeans and my then my shirt and then the hotel room carpet. Whoops. Sadly, the grease did not come out of the jeans or shirt. Happily, things got a lot better the next day.
Here's what we saw/did in London:
  • A driving tour of London
  • Walked around Trafalgar Square many times (our hotel was right there on the square)
  • Saw Big Ben & Parliament
  • Toured Westminster Abbey
  • Walked across Westminster Bridge (and a lot of other bridges)
  • Rode the London Eye
  • Toured Tower of London & Tower Bridge
  • Ate our way through the Borough Market
  • Gazed at art in the National Gallery

We also:
  • Went to the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
  • Toured Buckingham Palace
  • Walked through St James Park
  • Toured the Churchill War Rooms
  • Took a boat cruise on the Thames to Greenwich
  • Took a guided tour of Greenwich
  • Toured Kensington Palace & walked through Kensington Gardens
  • Wandered through Covent Garden & Piccadilly & along the Strand
  • Walked up & down Whitehall many, many times
  • Toured St. Pauls Cathedral

We didn't just stay in London. We took several day trips to:
  • Windsor Castle 
  • Stonehenge (so happy it was a dry day and I could go around the entire circle)
  • Salisbury (seeing the best preserved of only four surviving original Magna Carta was amazing)
  • Canterbury (beautiful stained glass)
  • Cambridge (nerd delight for SP!)
  • Bath (my favorite day trip - beautiful place, wish we had planned 2 days there)
  • Oxford (more nerd delight for SP!)
The Mathematical Bridge at Cambridge

Looking at the Cambridge photos brings back nice, happy memories, but if I think about it, I remember the horrible construction noise and barriers blocking where we wanted to go, the constant back-tracking when sidewalks were closed, the crappy roads and sidewalks that were so bumpy and there were a lot of horrid cobblestones, I spent the morning shivering and being miserable, and then I got drenched in the afternoon when it rained. But from 11 am until 3 pm, well, it was pretty nice (except for still taking wrong turns and the bumpy roads!).
I kind of wish we'd had 2 days here, too, since it would have been nice to tour the Cavendish Lab & the Whipple and Fitzwilliam Museums as well as SP would have liked to go to the Center for Computing History. By the time our 2 hour tour finished around 1:30 (yes, late, but our guide had so much to share and she was really interesting), we had to eat, and then we saw one more college and the Round Church and then the rain started, so we headed to the rail station for the hour train ride back to London.
I would have liked two days in Bath. We saw everything I wanted to see (Roman Baths, Bath Abbey, Royal Crescent, Circus, Pulteney Bridge) but it's a beautiful, beautiful town and there were a lot of shops and restaurants to explore. The train ride was 1.5 hours each way, so we were only in Bath from about 10 am until 5:13 pm (which I remember because we squeezed on the train back just before it departed!). 

Aside from two 20-30 minute downpours (which, yes, drenched us) and one super rainy day (very miserable and cold), the weather was dry & sunny-ish. We both got sunburned noses! I miss London and I'd love to go back. There is so much more to explore and several places I'd like to see that we didn't get to see on this trip.

As for our return trip, well, our plane from Heathrow took off about an hour late so our time in Dulles was cut to about 1 hour and 10 minutes to get off the plane, clear customs, go through security again (this baffles me but whatever), ride a train to get to another concourse, find our gate, and catch our flight to Pittsburgh. Thankfully, we made it, but we really hustled and we kinda sorta got pushy in a few lines because there wasn't anyone directing people and there weren't any signs in Dulles and we weren't sure if, because of the wheelchair, I was supposed to go to a special place like in some airports or not and it just.... well, Dulles was a complete nightmare and it's best to not remember that time.

Instead, I'll remember that my new prescriptions kept me motion sick free on the plane (yay!) and I totally slept both ways across the Atlantic (yay!) so I didn't even notice the 7+ hours of flying each way. And I'll keep looking at the photos to help remember the fabulous things we got to see & do. Thank you, SP, for taking me to your favorite city, London, and for pushing me up & down all those hills and around on all those cobblestones and bumpy sidewalks and thank you for having my mom along, too. You're the best!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Rosemary & Thyme Braised Lamb Shoulder

I am finally starting to accept that fall is here. Less grilling and cold salads for dinner, more braising and casseroles. That's fine, because braising is actually pretty easy and not all that much work. Several months ago, SP saw lamb shoulder on sale at GEMD, so he bought one and put it in the freezer. It was time to pull it out and cook it.
There's still usable fresh rosemary & thyme on the deck plus we had some "need to be used up" carrots and onion. And lemon - we always have lemon and it's always a great flavor.
Smushed together lemon zest, rosemary, thyme, kosher salt, and black pepper. Rub it all over the lamb shoulder.
Then brown it. We used our Dutch oven. Lots of brown meat smell wafts around and smells so good. Saute the veggies. Then you need liquid for braising and wine is always a good choice:
Add liquid, cover, and cook in oven at 350 for 4 hours.
Remove the lamb and while it rests, add some flour and turn the braising liquid into a thick, delicious, herby gravy.
This gravy was so darn delicious. Lots of thyme and rosemary flavor plus chunks of carrot and onion.
Meanwhile, attempt to cut the lamb shoulder. It should be so tender it falls off any bones and easily shreds.
Like this, SP just lifting out a chunk of bone:
He pulled it apart with tongs and his fingers.
The lamb was so tender and juicy. It didn't need the gravy, but it's so much tastier with the gravy.
We ate this with some Mediterra bread to mop up the sauce plus steamed broccoli. Definitely a make again dish.
We were inspired by this recipe: Rosemary & Thyme Braised Lamb Shoulder, but here's how we did it:

about 3 lbs lamb shoulder
1/2 tbsp kosher salt
lemon zest (1/2~1 tbsp)
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2~1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary plus 1 sprig
1/2~1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme plus 2-4 sprigs
about 1 cup chopped carrot
about 1 cup chopped onion 
1 & 1/4 cup dry white wine
1 & 1/4 cup water

Mix together salt, lemon zest, black pepper, rosemary, and thyme. Make some slits in the lamb shoulder. Rub the herb mixture all over the lamb. Add a little olive oil to a Dutch oven and sear the lamb. Remove browned lamb. Saute onion & carrots. Place lamb back in pot. Add wine, water, and fresh herb sprigs. Cover tightly and cook in 350 oven for 4 hours.

Transfer lamb to platter and cover with foil. Skim off fat from liquid remaining in pot. Remove herb sprigs. Whisk in about 1 tbsp flour until smooth and bring to a boil. Whisk until thickened. If desired, stir in additional fresh herbs (about 1/4 tsp each).

Slice/pull apart lamb and serve with gravy.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

All my thoughts are here! For the first time since we both got them renewed, we will be using them - actually getting them stamped and not just examined by officials as we cross a border (Canada).

So excited! 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Copper Oven & Il Posto Bistro (Finger Lakes, NY)

As I mentioned in my last post, we're planning another vacation for this fall and that made me realize I never finished some posts from previous vacations. This time, it's two restaurants from our Finger Lakes trip last October. OK, yes, 11 months ago. But Fall/October is a great time to go to the Finger Lakes area, so if you're looking for a getaway to see some fall colors, drink some wine, enjoy some waterfalls and hiking, and eat some yummy food, then check out my Finger Lakes posts from last October.
First up, The Copper Oven in Ovid, NY. I am surprised I let this post sit so long because we really like The Copper Oven. We had been driving around, doing some wine tastings and cheese tastings when we found ourselves hungry for lunch. We were near Ovid, so we decided on The Copper Oven for lunch. We sat outside, and even though it was a bit cool and a bit breezy, it was a sunny day.
First we shared a really good salad. I can't remember everything in the salad because it has been so long, but it looks like beets, goat cheese, and walnuts. If it's the same salad as the one on the current menu, the dressing was fig balsamic. It was pretty big but we ate the entire salad.
Then we shared a pizza of the day. It had smoked chicken and an apple cider reduction and cheese and herbs. Really tasty. We ate the entire pizza. I was pretty impressed that for lunch we ate the entire salad and entire pizza!
The copper oven, above, and wood for the oven, below.
I'd definitely make a point of going back here if we were in the area.

The Copper Oven Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 The last restaurant to write about is Il Posto Bistro in Canandaigua, NY.
We didn't have a reservation but we were seated right away. While we were in the area, places didn't seem too busy during the week in October. I remember it was dimly lit inside.
There was more in the bread/biscuit basket, but I forgot to take a photo until after we raided it! To start we shared Fried Goat Cheese. It was the first time I'd had fried goat cheese and it was fantastic. Two rounds atop some sauteed spinach and topped with tomatoes.
SP had a risotto of the day. At this point, I have no recollection of what was in it.
I had Veal with Terre Mare Sauce (shrimp, mushrooms, artichokes, scallions, white wine):
I remember really liking the sauce & mushrooms, wishing there were more shrimp, and while the veal was good, it was not the best I've ever had. It was a little tough. But overall tasty.
SP had a lemon tart/torte/cake thing for dessert and it was good. I had tiramisu:
It was OK. I wasn't keen about the chocolate sunburst design since I'm not as much of a chocolate dessert person as I used to be. Or maybe it's that I like more minimal desserts? I would have been OK without the whipped cream, sprinkle, and chocolate design.
I also had a cappuccino, which came with a tiny biscotti. Again, good but not great, or maybe I was just too full to enjoy it. Sometimes when I am overly stuffed I don't even enjoy my favorite tea ever.

Overall, Il Posto Bistro was fine. I'd go back if we were in the area, but compared to what we pay/quality we get around here for this kind of meal, it was a bit disappointing. However, as cousin who lives in the area said, you have to adjust your expectations. We were not in a city or suburb of a city but in a pretty rural area.

Il Posto Bistro & Wine Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato