Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

1. Here at our house west of Pittsburgh, we only got 4-5 inches of snow last Saturday. It was almost kind of disappointing after all of the SNOW! PANIC! on the news. That being said, I do not envy friends in VA & MD right now.

We did not stock up on milk, bread, and toilet paper. We were not snowed in for weeks. For us, the snow started Friday around 5 pm and ended by Saturday around noon. SP cleared the walk and driveway with the snowblower around 2 pm Saturday.

And that was the big snowstorm Jonas here.

2. We watched 2 animated movies during the big snowstorm: Inside Out and Hotel Transylvania 2. Both were cute, light, & fun. I mailed both back and now we again have 4 DVDs from Netflix to watch: Burnt, Fantastic Four, Sicario, and The Walk. I'm not sure how/why we keep having 4 DVDs out at a time, but... the price hasn't changed so I'm not going to investigate.

3. We decided to delete the Heroes Reborn episodes on the DVR. We read some not positive reviews after the final episode aired and read that it was not renewed for another season so with everything else we watch, we decided to not bother. "Regular" TV starts up again soon and in March The Americans returns plus Netflix will have new Daredevil episodes and Amazon will have Bosch Season 2. On HBO Game of Thrones returns in April plus a new one (Vinyl) starts soon. So no need to bother with a show that, if we had to rank everything we watch, would be near/at the bottom.

4. We get the biggest laughs when we watch Food Network's Worst Cooks in America on Sunday evenings. I can't believe some of the worst cooks they find to compete - these people are nuts! That being said, I now want to try poaching eggs at home.

5. Another week and no library books read. I did read the new Food & Wine and Pittsburgh magazines.

6. It's going to be warm this weekend: 46 on Saturday and 54 on Sunday. Yay! Next Tuesday is Groundhog Day. I'm hoping for an early spring.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Rack of Lamb with Polenta

Over the summer, my parents told us they had been buying rack of lamb at Costco and they enjoyed it more than the lamb chops or leg of lamb. I was surprised because rack of lamb seemed intimidating. When dad needed computer help in July, our payment was rack of lamb dinner. It was so good that when SP saw them on sale at Costco a few weeks ago, he bought a rack for us to make.
We didn't marinate ours, although you could. We simply seasoned the lamb with salt and pepper, seared it in a skillet, and then roasted it in the oven. While the lamb roasted, we made Giada's Basic Polenta. Even though the recipe doesn't call for it, we added some grated parmesan to the polenta.
While the polenta finished and the lamb rested, we roasted some asparagus.
The polenta was the best we've made at home. The lamb was good, too, but next time, we need to give it 22 minutes instead of only 18 in the oven because it was just too pink for me. We did use a meat thermometer, which said the lamb was cooked, but when we sliced it, it was more to SP's liking than mine. I talked to my mom and asked her how long she had given the lamb in the oven and she said 22 minutes. That was perfect for me.
I liked the rack of lamb a lot and it looked impressive. I'd happily make it again. Next time I might marinate the rack in our usual lamb marinade or sprinkle on rosemary with the salt and pepper.

*We followed the cooking instructions on the lamb packaging for roast time/temperature.

*Basic Polenta recipe here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Happy Birthday, Dad! Brunch At Eleven

Today is my dad's birthday. Happy Birthday, Dad! We celebrated on Sunday with brunch at Eleven. After my parents moved back to Pittsburgh, I signed them up for the Big Burrito emails, mailings, and coupons so dad had his Big Burrito Birthday coupon to use. SP & I were just at Eleven for my birthday brunch back in November and we tend to order the same things, so it was nice to have people brunching with us and seeing the food they ordered. 

SP ordered his usual Bloody Mary while the rest of us enjoyed Mimosas. SP also ordered his usual first course, Three Greens Salad, and my dad ordered the first course I love, the Grilled Sticky. My mom chose Smoked Salmon (everything bagel, egg, capers, onion, scallion cream cheese): 
She said it was excellent. Much to my surprise, she ate the entire bagel! 

I decided to order the other first course that always catches my eye: Beignets (Meyer lemon, pomegranate, hazelnuts): 
Powdered sugar dusted pillows of deliciousness. They look huge, but they are light and fluffy. SP ate one of my beignets, I ate the other 3. I'm not sure which I like more, the Grilled Sticky or the Beignets. It's a tough call. 
Yes, I am a creature of habit, and since we never poach eggs at home nor do we ever make hollandaise, which I love, I had my usual Eggs Benedict. My parents both ordered Prosciutto Cotto, Caramelized Onion, & Aged-Cheddar Omelet with fingerling potatoes and bacon while SP chose Mushroom, Red Pepper, & Goat Cheese Omelet with fingerling potatoes and bacon.

With four people to share dessert, we decided to split Pear Crostata (Greek yogurt sherbet, toffee walnuts, honey):
It was delicious, the warm crostata with the cool sherbet, soft pears, sweet & crunchy walnuts. Everyone got 3-4 bites, which was just enough after the other 2 courses plus bread basket.

I'm glad we got to introduce my parents to Eleven and glad they enjoyed it so much. Next month is SP's birthday so hopefully I'll get to enjoy another Big Burrito Birthday Brunch.

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

Monday, January 25, 2016

Spinach Cheese Swirls

Much like the Pumpkin Remoulade, this is a post that has been in the drafts folder since the holidays. It's also something we made for both a holiday party and early holiday dinner with my parents: Spinach Cheese Swirls. These swirls are a terrific appetizer. They are just as easy to make as the Prosciutto & Gruyere Puffs we make.
Mix together mozzarella, parmesan, and onion. Thaw & squeeze out a package of frozen spinach. Roll out a sheet of puff pastry. Brush with egg-water mixture, sprinkle on cheese mixture, sprinkle on spinach, roll up like a jelly roll, slice, bake, enjoy.

These taste like spanakopita, only with mozzarella instead of feta. Feta cheese would be good, too. These are a make again appetizer.

Recipe here.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Pumpkin Roulade with Ginger Buttercream

This post has been lingering in the draft folder for quite some time. Over the holidays, we made Ina Garten's Pumpkin Roulade with Ginger Buttercream. I'm pretty sure I saw her make it on one of her shows quite some time ago but I forgot about it even though it sounded yummy. Then the recipe showed up in either the November or December issue of Food Network Magazine. Since I know SP likes pumpkin a lot and loves ginger a lot, I ripped out the recipe. We made this cake the weekend before Christmas. It served 2 purposes: a dish for a party and dessert (in addition to cookies) the day we had an early Christmas dinner with my parents.
Jelly roll cakes are pretty quick and easy as long as you aren't intimidated by rolling the cake up in a towel, unrolling it to spread on the filling, and then re-rolling it. This cake is light and filled with the smells and tastes of ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The filling is smooth and creamy and gingery thanks to the chunks of crystallized ginger. Adding to the rich, creamy smoothness is the mascarpone, which to me makes a much tastier filling for jelly roll cakes than cream cheese. Not that I'm going to turn down cream cheese filling, I just think the mascarpone is a little smoother and richer and not as heavy/dense.
We did one thing different from the recipe: instead of rolling from the short end of the cake, we rolled from the long end. This didn't yield as much of a spiral but it made for a longer log which meant more slices for the party and dinner dessert plus 1-2 extra nights of dessert for us & my parents (we sent them home with leftover cake).

Definitely a good fall/holiday dessert. I'm sure we'll be making this again in 9-10 months!

Recipe here.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

1. Last week SP stopped and bought paczki. He got them from our usual place (Party Cake) and as usual, I devoured the chocolate filled ones while he enjoyed raspberry and lemon filled paczki.
2. Last weekend SP & T went to to Ikea and bought the bookshelves I picked out a few weeks ago. Then they spent an afternoon putting them together. I like them a lot and am very happy I decided to move things around in my office and add these bookcases. I really like the drawers. I'm sure I'll be adding/removing/rearranging stuff on the shelves over the next few weeks but for now I am quite pleased - and I still have 1 empty shelf. We changed some things in SP's office, too, and we both are donating a lot of books in an effort to clear out some of our "stuff." Sometimes I cannot believe how much stuff we have. Ugh!
3. After getting the bookshelves together, we treated T to dinner as a thank you. We went to one of our favorite local places, Downey's House, and watched the end of the Patriots-Chiefs game. I ordered my usual: meatball hoagie with a side of pasta. We also shared our usual appetizer, the fried zucchini. The hoagie and pasta are so huge that I got 3 meals from it, the dinner plus 2 lunch meals this week. 

4. I have not been reading much lately. I think after having so many books to read in December, I need a break. That being said, I have 2 library books ready for pick up, so I guess reading break is over.

5. We finished Making A Murderer. It's definitely worth watching and definitely leaves you in disbelief at our judicial system, at least how it functioned in Manitowoc County. 

6. Amazon Prime membership went on sale so we finally got our own Prime account instead of just being users of Googer's and his free shipping. The motivation was to be able to watch some Amazon shows, specifically Bosch, which is based on the Harry Bosch novels written by Michael Connelly. We both enjoyed Bosch a lot. Like we started watching Saturday and had watched all 10 episodes by Monday. Now we're ready for Season 2 which comes out in March, I think.

7. I have been scanning old photos, again. This comes and goes. Sometimes I'll scan a bit every day for a couple weeks, then I get bored/annoyed and quit and forget to scan for months. Someday all the old photos and slides will be scanned! Right now I'm working on my 2 photo albums from my junior year abroad in Japan. I am 75% done and then I can start scanning the old black & white family photos I inherited this past October when my Aunt G passed away.

8. We're still wondering just how much, if any, snow we'll see here from tomorrow afternoon through the end of day Saturday. Hopefully not too much, but I guess if you live in VA, MD, DC, you should stock up on milk, bread, and toilet paper. Plus a shovel and some rock salt.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Pearl Barley Soup

Now that winter is finally here and it's cold, we're craving hearty, comforting meals, like casseroles and soups. Last weekend we made Pearl Barley Soup. It was inspired by this recipe, but we didn't want to bother with the Moscato d'Asti so we omitted it. We also left out the leek.
This wasn't the first time we've cooked celery root, but it was the first time I cut it and gosh is it kind of difficult! It's not hard like a parsnip but it's still difficult to cut through.
 My container of finely chopped carrots, parsnip, celery root, and onion.
There also is diced smoked ham in the soup. Saute the vegetables, ham, and barley in a saucepan, add the water and chicken stock, simmer for 35 minutes, add the diced potato, cook another half hour or so, season with salt & pepper, stir in the cream.
This is a very hearty soup. It's filling and comforting and warming. I like the chewiness of the barley, the salty, smoky ham, the thick broth. I think next time we might add some celery for an added crunchy texture.
This is another make again soup, especially in the winter months.

Original Recipe from Saveur: Pearl Barley Soup with Moscato d'Asti.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Crispy Potato Latkes

Every year in late December/early January I see a lot of recipes for potato latkes and I start to crave them. But then I remember my one & only attempt to make them, probably 10 years ago, and they turned out flavorless (they didn't even taste like potatoes) and kind of gluey and just blah. A lot of work for dismal results.
Last summer when I ripped apart all those old Cook's Illustrated magazines, I found a recipe for Crispy Potato Latkes in the November 2012 issue. Cook's Illustrated's recipes almost always turn out perfect, so when we started thinking about making latkes, I pulled out the ripped out page. We made the latkes over New Year's weekend and served them with this pork tenderloin and blanched & sauteed green beans.
I graciously allowed SP to be in charge of peeling potatoes and grating potatoes. I am terrible at peeling potatoes. I usually end up peeling a knuckle or two. Peeling isn't necessary, but I like my potatoes peeled. As for grating, yes, we could have used the food processor, but the article/recipe said CI preferred a box grater, so that's what we used. Next time, though, we might cheat with the food processor.
From here it's a matter of taking out some of the moisture and making sure the latkes don't end up absorbing too much oil. After tossing together the shredded potato, onion, and salt, it's time get an old dish towel and use your muscles to wring out the liquid, reserving the liquid in a measuring cup. I let SP do the squeezing and wringing, too.
Lots of wringing.
Below is our reserved liquid, which sits for a while to allow the starch to settle at the bottom.
Once the starch has settled, pour off the water. You are left with the potato starch (see photo below) to which you add eggs and mix together then combine with the potato shreds.
While waiting for the starch to settle, microwave the potatoes for just a bit, 1-2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds, until warmed through but not hot, then spread out on a cookie sheet to cool.
Return the cooled potato to a bowl, add the pepper, parsley, and potato starch-egg mixture, and stir to combine.
Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet and then drop about 1/4 cupfuls of potato mixture into the oil. Slightly flatten the potato mound into a disk and cook until golden brown on bottom. Flip and cook the other side until golden brown.
Once cooked, place the latke on a paper towel lined wire rack on a cookie sheet.
Serve with applesauce and/or sour cream. These turned out much, much better than my last attempt at latkes. These were delicious. Cooked through, crispy and golden, not too oily, flavorful. Definitely a make again dish. Also, it didn't seem like as much work as I remembered or as time consuming. Then again, I wasn't grating or squeezing, so...!
Recipe here or here.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Chicken Marsala

I know I've written about Chicken Marsala before, but I can't find the post. We've been making it for many years. We made it a bit too often because we quit making it for a while. Recently we decided to make it but this time instead of using cooking marsala, we bought a bottle of real marsala at the liquor store:
Neither of us can really remember what the dish tasted like before, but we both think that it tastes better with the "real" marsala, less salty and more flavorful. This dish is super easy.
 Lots of mushrooms, sliced.
Thinly sliced onion. We used to just bake the chicken breasts and make the sauce separately. This time, we browned the chicken in the skillet then removed it to a plate to rest while we made the sauce.
 Saute the mushrooms and onion until the liquid evaporates.
 Add the marsala and cook until it's mostly absorbed.
Add the chicken stock. Simmer until sauce reduces. Add the slightly cooled and sliced chicken back to the skillet along with any juices on the chicken plate. Simmer until heated through, add parsley.
This is good with pasta, penne or wide egg noodles or spaghetti, but since we ate pasta several times in the past 10 days, we decided to have Mediterra sourdough bread with it. The bread makes it easy to mop up all the yummy marsala sauce.
This is still one of our favorite easy and not too time consuming meals. Using "real" marsala definitely makes it taste better. When we first started making this dish, we followed this recipe, but we adapted it to suit our tastes over the years and here's how we do it now:

Chicken Marsala

1 package boneless, skinless chicken breasts, probably 2-2.5 lbs
1~2 tbsp olive oil
1~3 tbsp unsalted butter
half a medium onion, thinly sliced
20 oz mushrooms, thinly sliced
3/4 c marsala
1.5 cups chicken stock
parsley (dried or fresh)
serve with pasta or bread of choice

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1-2 tbsp oil and 1 tablespoon butter in large skillet until hot. Brown/cook chicken then remove to a plate (our chicken is usually cooked through). If there is a lot of fat in the skillet, drain most of it, leaving maybe 1 tbsp. Add mushrooms & onion. Sauté, stirring occasionally to make sure all of it browns, until liquid is evaporated. Add marsala and cook, stirring, until marsala is almost evaporated. Stir in broth. Simmer mushroom sauce until liquid is reduced. It shouldn't be soupy, but there should still be liquid for sauce, we probably have around 1 cup of liquid. Slice chicken then add to skillet along with any chicken juices on the plate. Simmer until heated through and making sure chicken is thoroughly cooked. Remove skillet from heat and stir in 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional). Serve with pasta or bread.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

1. We have 2 more episodes of Making A Murderer to watch. I'm not convinced of guilt/no guilt, I have a lot of questions, but it seems clear that something somewhere isn't adding up with the evidence/testimony, etc. I'm not saying Avery is not guilty, or even a good guy, but it seems to me the investigation was not handled properly. What a mess.

2. Meanwhile, our other TV time includes Downton Abbey (we're enjoying the final season), Galavant (makes us laugh), the new season of Worst Cooks in America (can't believe how bad these people are in the kitchen) and I am watching the second season of American Crime (really liked season 1, so far 2 is good, too).
3. For the first time since before Christmas, I saw my mom. Earlier this week she stopped by and gave me small present from my niece & nephew that she brought back from Christmas in GA. Obviously, my 17 year old niece picked out the gift, not my almost 11 year old nephew. I must say the nail polish colors are outside my usual comfort zone. I decided to see what they looked like so I quickly put a coat on my nails. I kind of like them, even if I am not a neon pink kind of person! I think she meant for the colors to brighten my toes since there were also a few pairs of fuzzy, cozy socks in the gift bag that said "For Your Mistletoes" but I'll be darned if I am going to be slipper-less and sock-less in the house right now! We'll have to wait until April or May to see how my feet look with bright pink or purple toes.

4. It finally snowed. Can't complain with the first significant snowfall not coming until mid-January. It was enough that SP got to use the snowblower. He also wore his new snowpants and safety headphones. That snowblower is loud!

5. This weekend is the Steelers-Broncos playoff game. I hope it's not as vicious as that playoff game against the Bengals last weekend. That game was a disgrace. Hopefully things will cool off before the teams meet next season.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Last December, Justin Severino opened a second restaurant. His first, Cure, is a restaurant we enjoy a lot, as do our friends, so we were excited for his new place, Morcilla, which focuses on Spanish food. It's on Butler Street in Lawrenceville, near Asian Influences. It's very dimly lit inside, so my photos are not that great. I used both my camera and cell phone to take photos then chose the better photo. Our reservations were for 5:30 pm,  after we saw The Wizard of Oz, but we were 20 minutes early because somehow we didn't get stuck in elevator traffic or parking garage traffic or other traffic after the show. Happily, we were seated right away.

Admission: the day before we went, I checked out the menu online and looked up Spanish words I didn't know. That was a lot of words. I've never studied Spanish and despite having a lot of friends in grad school who were from Spanish speaking countries or fluent in Spanish from studying the language and also having a SIL from Argentina, I know maybe 4 words. 

But you don't have to prepare ahead of time, or try to use Google Translate. Our server was more than happy to explain/translate for us, which was great since I had forgotten what some things were. 

We ordered a lot of dishes to try. We ate everything. We enjoyed everything. Here's what we enjoyed:
To start, 2013 Trabanco Cosecha Propia Sidra (6% (4oz Pour)) for SP and Sangria Rojo (red wine/brandy/fruit/herbs) for me. From articles about Morcilla, I have learned that, apparently, the key to serving Spanish cider is in the overhead pour, which creates effervescence. SP liked his sidra. 
I really liked my sangria. It's a far cry from the sangria my friends and I made in grad school! It's not as sugary/sweet as many sangrias I've tried, which I like a lot, as did SP. You cannot really see in the photo, but there were wedges of orange and lime, a cherry, fresh mint, and a star anise. 
Our first plate: Surryano Ham (Edwards of Surry, VA, pecans, pecan oil). I could have eaten another plate of this.
Jamon-Wrapped Tortilla Espanola (smoked olives). delicious. Sorry I had to share it with SP. Could have eaten more.
Spider Crab Deviled Egg. It turns out I personally do not like spider crab while SP loved it. SP of course thinks I am crazy but he was more than happy to eat 1.5 deviled eggs since he loves them and we never make them at home.
Croquetas - Queso de Cabra (smoked goat cheese, spiced membrillo). Croquetas are a fried dough, but not heavy or sweet like a donut. Light, creamy. The goat cheese was wonderfully smoky - we love smoked cheeses so this dish was a big hit for us. Membrillo is quince, I think.
Croquetas - Jamon (leek ash aioli, crispy jamon). Crispy ham. Smoky ash leek, so good with the creamy aioli. 
At this point in the meal, it was time for more cocktails. SP chose a Gin & Tonic with Hayman's Old Tom (Withal, England).
I decided to try the other sangria: Sangria Blanca (white wine/aguardiente/fruit/herbs). Also quite good, a bit lighter than the red sangria.
Croquetas - Castanas (chestnut, smoked apple, burnt sage). More smoky flavor with the creamy croqueta - yum.
Croquetas - Bacalao (salt cod, espelette, lemon-honey). I'm trying to try more fish and this was fried fish. Fried = yummy, right? Our server told me there was garlic in this, I presume in the dipping sauce, which I didn't try.
Inside the Croquetas - Bacalao. I know it's salt cod, but I didn't expect it to be quite so salty. I ate half of one and let SP enjoy 2.5 fried fish croquetas.
Pulpo (octopus, potato &  olive oil espuma, patatesa, lime, cilantro jus). Again, me trying more fish. I usually like octopus prepared at a better restaurant and it's actually pretty mild/not too fishy. This was good, the octopus was tender not tough and rubbery and I loved the espuma. 
Horrible photo of Pato Escabeche (duck leg, roasted carrot, burnt grapefruit, hibiscus pears). I like duck. I'm still always unsure of committing to it for an entire entree for myself, but this was really good. SP didn't get much of it. Really liked the accompaniments to the duck.
Lamb En Moreno (spiced lamb meatballs, sumac yogurt, golden raisin and leek escabeche). I love lamb. I loved these. I was warned about garlic in the dish but decided the lamb was worth it. That yogurt sauce? So. Good.
Dessert: Churros (hazelnut chocolate, cinnamon crema). Just the right size. I also didn't find the dipping sauce annoyingly sweet. It was smooth and flavorful and so good that when I had no more churro to dip, I used my spoon to eat some chocolate sauce. SP was horrified.

So did Morcilla live up to all the hype? Yes. We enjoyed all the cocktails and food. It was a leisurely meal. We were not rushed. The plates were nicely paced. Our sever was great at describing dishes, checking on garlic for me, and making sure everything was OK. He was present and attentive but not overly so. 

We found out that 2 of our friends who also like to try lots of different restaurants had dined at Morcilla the night before we did and enjoyed several of the same dishes. They also felt everything was delicious and service good.

We'll definitely be back and next time, there are a few dishes I am not sharing!

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