Monday, February 29, 2016

SP's Birthday Cake: Gingerbread

Our minds have been been a little scattered lately, preoccupied with doctor visits and such. So while I knew SP's birthday was coming up, I didn't connect the dots and realize until Tuesday that if I was going to bake a cake, I'd be baking in 3 days. I had no idea what kind of cake to bake. So I decided to flip through the cookbooks and recipe clippings.
It didn't take long. It was in the first book I opened (Baking Illustrated), in the first chapter, the 5th recipe: Gingerbread.  SP's loves ginger and spice. We didn't make the triple ginger cookies this past holiday season. And it made a small-ish cake (11 x 7; can also use 9 x 9 pan) so there wouldn't be tons of cake to eat. We had all the ingredients except for buttermilk, so I called my mom and asked her to come help me bake and to bring some buttermilk.
This is a super easy cake. Combine the dry ingredients, combine the wet ingredients + sugar, add the dry to the wet, mix, spread in pan, and bake. There are a lot of dry ingredients (5 spices plus cocoa plus flour, salt, baking soda) plus sugar, molasses, milk, buttermilk, egg, and butter for the wet ingredients.
When SP got home from work Friday night, I had a candle lit in the middle of the cake so he got to make a wish and blow it out. He really liked this cake. I kept catching him "sneaking" small pieces! Lots of spice flavor, tender, moist, dense, a little heavy so we ate small pieces of cake. We gave my parents and SP's parents a couple small pieces to try. Both my parents liked it a lot, even my mom who claims to not really like ginger flavored foods.

Baking Illustrated liked granulated sugar better than brown sugar in this gingerbread because when they tested it with brown sugar, the spices were overwhelmed by molasses flavor. They added cocoa for a touch of earthiness & complexity. They chose milk over water because the milk fat added tenderness and flavor whereas water made a drier and less rich gingerbread.

This is a cake we'll definitely make again. But next time, I'll remember to melt the butter instead of plopping it in with the other wet ingredients and sugar and then wondering why the butter isn't fully mixing in, trying to smush the softened butter with the electric mixer, and ending up with splatter all over my face and sweatshirt from trying to mix in unmelted butter. Oops.

Gingerbread recipe here. I baked the cake an extra 8-10 minutes because when I tested it after 40 minutes, the toothpick came out wet.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

1. I almost forgot about Thursday Thoughts.

2. I spent a lot of time this week watching season 1 of Madam Secretary on Netflix. I'm enjoying the show a lot and wish I'd stuck with it last year instead of giving up because there was too much television and not enough time. I guess I'll have to wait until August to watch season 2 since that's the current season.

3. Season 2 of Bosch on Amazon and season 2 of Daredevil on Netflix both start soon. So excited! I'm enjoying those much more than some of the shows I've been watching for quite a long time but have become bored with but feel compelled to keep watching.

4. Last weekend we saw Deadpool. I enjoyed it much more than I expected.

5. This week our 2 dinners are chicken marsala with salad and crab cakes with salad. I'm getting tired of making salad every night. The Costco container of lettuce looks like it hasn't been touched. The lettuce just keeps regenerating. Still so much lettuce.

6. I still haven't read any books.

7. The magazine pile is up to 4.

8. Next week is March already. I was just looking at the calendar and March is going to be a very busy month: several doctor appointments, 2 shows, a couple family birthdays, a hockey game, friends from out of town visiting, Easter, and, unfortunately, surgery for one of us. Boo.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Beef Stroganoff

Way back when I lived on my own, I frequently made beef stroganoff. It made a lot of meals for the week, it was pretty simple to make, and, well, pasta. I love pasta. The one thing I didn't like about my recipe was beef bouillon granules. They were kind of a pain to find at the store (I usually could not find them) so I had to buy bouillon cubes but then I had to guess how many cubes = teaspoons granules and I'd get myself all confused & flustered. I don't mind guessing a bit now, but back then in my early days of learning to cook for myself, I was terrified of guessing. The recipe I used (this one) also always seemed a little lacking in flavor. I compensated by adding more sour cream, usually too much more.
It has been a very long time since I made/ate beef stronganoff. Eight+ years ago, SP didn't eat any beef, he couldn't eat pasta, and he dislikes sour cream almost as much as he dislikes mayonnaise. Since then, he has started eating beef (but only local, grass-fed beef). He saw more doctors and found out the celiac disease diagnosis was incorrect, so gluten (real pasta) is back on the menu. And as long as he doesn't have to eat sour cream that looks like sour cream (it's ok in dips & sauces), he's OK with small amounts it. But he still cringes in disgust when I eat sour cream dollops on top my pierogies or in my tacos.
So Beef Stroganoff is back on the menu, but not my old recipe. A new-to-us recipe from The Science of Good Cooking (America's Test Kitchen). I was excited to see how this turned out because the recipe calls for soy sauce, dry mustard, tomato paste, and wine or vermouth. Definitely not ingredients in my old beef stroganoff recipe. That was more like beef, mushrooms, beef bouillon, water, flour, sour cream. Now that sounds unappetizing.
After marinating the steak in soy sauce, it's the usual for these kinds of dishes: brown the meat, remove from pan, saute vegetables, add flour mixture, stir in liquids and remaining ingredients, while simmering until the sauce thickens cook the noodles, once sauce thickens add sliced beef to skillet, remove from heat and stir in sour cream and herbs, serve with noodles.
We chose to use dried dill instead of dried parsley and we used vermouth instead of white wine.
This recipe makes a really delicious version of beef stroganoff. The soy sauce makes the meat tender, it's salty so it's almost like a brine, and the glutamate in it boosts the flavor of the meat. SOGC uses the tomato paste to bring depth to the sauce, the dry mustard to give it a little kick, and the wine/vermouth to brighten the dish. This recipe is definitely a make again recipe - it's easy and really tasty and satisfying. It made enough for us for 2.5 dinners.

Recipe here.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Birthday Brunch at Casbah

SP's birthday is later this week. We kicked off his birthday celebrations early with brunch at Casbah yesterday. It was a gorgeous sunny & warm day. Happily, we were seated in the garden patio area so there was lots of sunshine. To start: Bloody Mary for him, Mimosa for me, and a "bread" basket of banana-chocolate chip muffins, biscuits, and lemon poppy scones with orange butter.
SP started with Tomato & Basil Bisque (parmesan crostini). It's still one of his favorite tomato soups. I like that it is smooth, not chunky.
I started with one of my favorite salads: Arugula (crimini mushrooms, house-made pancetta, potatoes, pancetta vinaigrette, Riverview Farms goat cheese). Still delicious with lots of tasty bacon, mushrooms, cheese, and potato.
One of us always orders Braised Lamb & Eggs (braised Elysian Fields Farm lamb shoulder, spinach, poached local eggs, tarragon, grilled sourdough). This time SP ordered it but I got to have a few bites. Still one of my favorite brunch dishes if not my favorite one.
I opted for Brioche French Toast (apple compote, fresh fruit, choice bacon, chicken sausage or sausage). I love this cinnamon brioche. This time, however, it didn't seem like the brioche soaked in egg long enough and it was a little too grilled/crisp for my taste. I was a little disappointed. The bacon was excellent and I liked the apple compote and blueberries/grapes.

We were too full for dessert in spite of several dessert options tempting us.

We both still enjoy using our Big Burrito Birthday Coupon for brunch at either Eleven or Casbah. The last 2 were at Eleven, so it was time for a return to Casbah. It is still quite yummy and pleasant, especially when it's warm and sunny and you're seated in a garden patio, and service is still wonderful.

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

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

1. Last weekend was really cold so we didn't go out to dinner on Saturday like we usually do. Instead, we ordered a five cheese pizza - fontinella, mozzarella, provolone, ricotta, cheddar.

2. On Sunday we made pierogies. Mom came over to help, which was a good thing. We filled and pinched shut about 10 dozen pierogies.

3. This week's dessert treat: we baked Cherry-Almond Biscotti.

4. I really enjoy my subscription to Saveur, especially this article in the most recent issue about the Japanese whiskey that costs $70/shot.

5. Over the weekend we watched Burnt, which was an OK movie. We also watched The Walk, which was very good. Quite some time ago we watched Man on Wire which also is about Philippe Petit's walk on a wire between the Twin Towers in August 1974. The guy is nuts! I cannot believe he didn't fall.

6. This weekend is supposed to be warmer, so hopefully we'll get out of the house.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Cappuccino Creme Brulee

When SP & I moved in together, we discovered we both had creme brulee ramekins and torches. We decided to keep both torches and all the ramekins. I'm not really sure why we think we need 15 or so ramekins. I suppose that at the time, the rationale was that he has a large family and maybe someday for a holiday we'd make creme brulee and need all those ramekins. Eight years later, nope. Mostly those carefully stacked ramekin towers simply topple over when we get stuff in that cabinet and then we get annoyed. We have made creme brulee twice in eight years. The first time was for my parents and grandpa on Christmas Eve in 2008. The second time was this past weekend when I wanted a "special" Valentine dessert.
I have a lot of recipes for creme brulee, most of which we'll probably never try because it's not the sort of dessert that you want to eat very often. Lots of cream and egg yolks and sugar. We decided to make Cappuccino Creme Brulee. I've had this recipe since the Bon Appetit March 2002 issue arrived in my mailbox. Nearly 14 years later, I'm finally trying it!
Making creme brulee is like making ice cream, but instead of chilling and churning, the custard gets a water bath. The above photo is before the ramekins of custard went in for their water bath. Below is what our cappuccino creme brulee looked like after the water bath and before sprinkling sugar on top and torching:
Like a tasty, frothy coffee with cinnamon and nutmeg scent. For some reason, I never get to handle the torch. SP enjoys it way too much (fire!) so I let him have his fun.
The first night we used brown sugar but for the leftovers the next night, we used white sugar because it didn't involve unsealing & re-sealing a bag. I can't recall any taste/texture difference between the two torched sugars, so either is fine.
My favorite thing about creme brulee is cracking the hard sugar topping.
This recipe turned out terrific. The custard had a lot of coffee and cinnamon flavor and was smooth and creamy and indulgent, It was just the right size for a little treat. We both really liked this and would definitely make it again. It was so tasty we might even make creme brulee more often.

Recipe here.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Chicken Pot Pie Turnovers

Back in January, I saw a recipe in Food Network Magazine for Chicken Pot Pie Turnovers. Normally chicken pot pie doesn't much interest me because I've had too many versions with bland filling, gummy filling, bland pastry topping, just bland and boring and not worth the effort. But these were puff pastry turnovers and the recipe is for 4 turnovers, which would be 2 meals for us, and it seemed quick & easy, so I ripped it out.
About a week later, we needed a quick & simple meal that didn't make too much food (leftovers) and I remembered the pot pie turnovers. Another bonus: we still had puff pastry in the freezer from all the holiday appetizer baking. What I like about this recipe is that it uses puff pastry so you don't need to fuss with making a dough, chilling it, and rolling it out. I also like that the filling can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator until you want to make the turnovers.
The week that we made these turnovers was also Spaghetti & Meatballs week. There was a lot of vegetable chopping. I chopped the pot pie vegetables when I chopped the spaghetti sauce vegetables and set them aside in a container in the refrigerator for the next day. We cooked the chicken breasts in the oven when we cooked my lunch turkey. We made the pot pie chicken filling Sunday evening and refrigerated it until we were ready to eat the pot pies later that week. In the above photo, the filling looks a little dry, but if you look in the side of the container, you can see the sauce:
Then on the first night of this dinner during that week, we rolled out the puff pastry, filled it, pinched it shut, and baked the turnovers.
Our turnovers took a bit longer than 30 minutes to become golden brown.
These are much tastier than I expected. At first I thought there wasn't enough chicken mixture in the turnovers. We didn't use all the chicken mixture because the turnovers looked like they had enough filling and we didn't want them to explode but then when I cut into one, I was disappointed at what looked like a lack of chicken mixture. It turned out that the turnovers were much more filling than I expected. We had some mixed greens on the side for extra veggie and to round out the meal but I was stuffed after just the turnover. On the second night, we re-heated the extra chicken mixture and ate it on the side alongside the turnover.
The thyme, white wine, and Dijon in the sauce really upped the flavor of the chicken mixture. It was not a bland chicken pot pie. We'd definitely make these again although at some point I'd like to try a "real" version of chicken pot pie.

This was 2 dinners for us and we ate the turnovers on consecutive nights because we didn't want the filling to make the puff pastry soggy.

Recipe here.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

1.  Last Sunday was the Super Bowl. We celebrated by eating a bunch of Buffalo Chicken Dip and a lot of chips and then feeling disgusting. We shredded our chicken by pulsing it in the food processor like we do for chicken salad. I think I liked the texture in the dip, but I'm not entirely sure.

2. We also made Pimiento Cheese Spread and fried bacon for Pimiento BLTs for one of our dinner meals this week. In reality, I've been eating the cheese spread and bacon for lunch with turkey on an English muffin while for dinner we're eating salad, breaded chicken tenders, and the brown bread that was meant for the Pimiento BLTs.

3. Dessert has been Rice Krispies Treats. Or Pringles. They were still on sale and we had a coupon so someone bought 4 more cans. I finally told someone to put them where I cannot reach them. That's 8 cans of Pringles total. I feel disgusting just typing that.

4. Shonda TV returns tonight! I'm excited to exile SP to the basement while I enjoy Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and HTGAWM. Normally he'd be pretty excited to be told to disappear into the man cave for 3 hours but since it has suddenly gotten very cold, the basement is really cold, so I think he's actually not too excited for man cave time.

5. By cold I mean that Saturday's high is supposed to be between 10-15 degrees, depending on which weather service you follow. Right now it's 18 degrees with a wind chill of 3 degrees. Brrr! It's not supposed to get above freezing until next week.

6. It's also been snow shoveling time this week. Three days in a row SP has had to clear the driveway and walkway. Not even enough for the snow blower. Shovel/broom snow.

7. Exciting news: I finally, after the initial call before Christmas, have the new axles and casters for the wheelchair. This is exciting because 1: I don't rock side to side and feel like it might fall apart anymore and 2: these casters are smaller so I'm not getting wedged between things and bouncing off everything when I try to swivel/turn.

8. We do not have Valentine's plans because we think the holiday is stupid. I actually forgot about it until yesterday when someone asked me if we had any special plans for the weekend. It took me a few seconds to figure out why they would think we'd have special plans for the weekend and then I remembered, ah, yes, stupid holiday.

9. I wish you a Happy Presidents' Day weekend! We have a 3 day weekend - yay!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Chicken Wings - Original & Citrus Ginger

I meant to post this before the Super Bowl, but, well, obviously, I didn't. We made these Chicken Wings for the Steelers-Broncos playoff game, so quite some time ago.
But you don't need a football game to enjoy wings. SP loves them. My brother & niece compete to see who can eat the hottest wings at a wing place near their home. My parents like the ones at Bigham Tavern. I am not a fan of wings, but I suggested them because I knew SP wanted some.
Chicken Wings can be roasted in the oven or deep fried or grilled. We opted for the oven. That was kind of a mistake because of all the fat/grease. The wings ended up spewing grease all over the oven and then they got smoky, REALLY smoky, which set off the smoke detector. It looked like there was fog in the house. So then we had to open the windows. In January. To be fair it hasn't been a super cold winter, but even when it's 40 degrees it isn't much fun having windows open. For 2-3 weeks. the house reeked of chicken wing smoke & grease and every time we used the oven, we could smell chicken wings.
SP wanted traditional wings, just butter and hot sauce. I find that disgusting. I wanted Citrus-Ginger, which I saw in Food Network Magazine. There were also recipes for Mango-Curry, Beer BBQ, Sriracha-Buffalo, and Roasted Garlic-Balsamic Sauces.
Instead of pineapple preserves, I used apricot preserves with the fresh ginger, orange & lime juices, and cayenne. Juts heat everything together until syrupy.

SP's sauce:
My Citrus-Ginger Sauce:
SP enjoyed his hot sauce wings a lot. He also enjoyed my wings. I liked mine, too. I love citrus flavor and the fresh ginger and pinch of cayenne added a bit of a kick, but not too much.
My problem with wings is that they are work to eat and they are messy for what amounts to very little meat on each wing. Also, I pull off the fat, so I lose a lot of the flavor. I cannot believe SP eats the fat. I know you're supposed to, but... Yuck.
I'd rather use these sauces (well, my sauce) on bigger pieces of bone-in chicken parts. I know a lot of people really like wings so if you're looking for a non-spicy sauce, the Citrus-Ginger Sauce is a good choice. But I would suggest frying or grilling the wings, not roasting.

Recipe here (along with a few other sauces, like Mango-Curry and Beer BBQ and Sriracha-Buffalo)

Monday, February 8, 2016


This past Saturday we went to see Cabaret and it was an excellent, if a bit depressing, show. As usual after seeing a show, we went to dinner at a within walking distance restaurant. This time we decided to try Poros, a recently opened (October 2015) restaurant in PPG 2 Market Square from The Big Y Group.
It seemed pretty big inside and was spacious (generous space between tables), with large comfy looking booths plus tables and lots of blue tones and an ocean feel. From our table we had a view of the tree and out the windows, the ice rink.
I had to ask our server for help choosing a wine because I didn't recognize any of the Greek, Turkish, Israeli, or Moroccan wines. All I knew was I wanted a white wine. Poros offers a sample before committing to a wine so I tried a taste of two Greek white wines. First, Ambelos Phos 2013 which was like a fruity sauvignon blanc. Second, Santo Assyrtiko 2014, which was more like a chardonnay. Both were quite good but the Assyrtiko was more interesting to me, so that's what I ordered. SP chose the Ouzito Cocktail (ouzo, gin, sage, lemon, fizz).
SP started with Grilled Octopus (grilled fennel and radicchio, preserved lemon, parsley sauce, shallot & caper citronette).
A closer view of the octopus. The octopus was nicely cooked and tasty but I thought the buttery sauce in the bottom of the tray tasted a little garlicky, or maybe just shallot-y, so I didn't eat much of it. SP enjoyed it a lot.
I ordered 4 small plates for my meal. The first to arrive was Elysian Fields Lamb Pastitsio (braised shoulder, pasta, tomato, allspice bechamel). It was delicious. The lamb was so tender and flavorful. When we made pastitsio at home we used ground lamb - never again. So much better with braised shoulder. The one odd thing: we were dining early (reservations at 5 pm) and our server had to check if there was any pastitsio left! It's a very popular dish but still, to have only 2 servings left a bit after opening for dinner at 5 pm seems odd (although lunch does run until 4 pm, but still...).
It seemed like the rest of our food arrived a little quickly. For his meal, SP chose Whole Lavraki (branzino) (1.38 lbs, prepared a la plancha, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and black pepper, seared to a crisp on cast iron plancha, served with roasted garlic skordalia). The fish market serves whole fish and fish fillets prepared one of 3 ways: chargrilled, a la plancha, or tandoor roasted. The tandoor was not an option the evening we dined. Shellfish (shrimp, scallops, lobster tail) can be added to your fish for an additional cost.
He ate his whole fish! He said it was very good but he would have preferred a composed plate of fish, vegetable, and starch to just the fish with a sauce.
Meanwhile, I was enjoying Shrimp Saganaki (roasted tomato coulis, feta, grilled Mt Athos bread). Four shrimp in tomato sauce with feta and grilled bread to mop up all the sauce. It reminded me a bit of the lamb neck at Butcher & the Rye, a protein in a red sauce with grilled bread to mop up the delicious sauce.
I also ordered House Made Spanakopita (spinach, filo, feta, manouri cheese). This was a mistake - just look at those 2 huge garlic cloves. I couldn't eat it / didn't want to risk it so SP ate it and said it was tasty. The spinach seemed almost pureed smooth.
I also ordered Kamut & Freekeh Risotto (wild mushrooms, kefalotiri cheese). I'm not sure why. I like other grains like kamut & freekah and I like risotto plus cheese so I figured I'd enjoy this, but, not so much. It didn't look like risotto. It looked more like cereal in a bowl of milk and I didn't like the milk flavor. I was getting full, as was SP, so we brought it home and ate it for lunch the next day. He said it was OK but he probably wouldn't order it again. Just not our thing.
I ordered decaf coffee while we looked over the dessert menu. It was good coffee, though I am far from knowledgeable about coffee.
We ended up sharing two desserts. One was Loukoumades Doughnuts (honey syrup, pistachios).
Closer view of the fried dough. These were good, just the right size for sharing. I'm not sure I could have eaten 5 on my own.
The other dessert: Yiaoutopita Lemon Pound Cake (mint berry salad, lemon syrup, candied lemon). Two piles of berries, two criss-cross candied lemon strips, a triangle of lemon pound cake and a thin, blue sugar glass.
We both thought the pound cake was a little dry and dense but the berries & candied peel were delicious. We definitely scooped up all the berry mixture.
Overall, we liked Poros. Our server was friendly, knowledgeable, helped me pick out a wine and helped SP choose a cocktail. After our appetizers, the rest of meal arrived a bit too quickly as we were not yet finished with the octopus and pastitsio. I like the atmosphere a lot, the muted blues and other ocean colors, the space to move around, it wasn't too loud, you weren't seated on top of the people next to you. I think in the warmer months the outdoor patio will be fabulous, overlooking Market Square or the ice rink areas. It is one of the pricier meals we've had in Pittsburgh and given the large number of dishes with garlic, to which I am if not actually allergic then definitely very sensitive, it probably would not be our first choice for a meal in that price range. However, we would go back. I just hope they make more pastitsio so they don't run out!

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