Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Mustard & Dill Drop Biscuits

Sometimes SP really surprises me. Like when we're talking about what to have for dinner and he tells me that he could go for some biscuits. Usually, he doesn't want that kind of food. If he does suggest something like that, he usually wants whole grain or some other kind of healthy biscuit. But nope, not this time. He wanted good old white, all purpose flour biscuits. He didn't even want to roll and cut them - he wanted drop biscuits. The easiest kind ever.
I remembered that he'd ripped out a Buttermilk Drop Biscuit recipe from Cook's Country April/May 2014. They have a couple variations and the Mustard & Dill version sounded good to us, especially since the dill in the indoor herb garden he got me for Christmas is going bonkers. These were really quick and easy to make and so darn tasty. We got 8 biscuits (not 12) so we each had 1 biscuit for each of 4 meals. Lots of dill flavor and mustard flavor.
These were really good. We'll definitely make this version again. The Cheddar & Pimiento version sounds yummy, too.

Recipe: Buttermilk Drop Biscuit 
For mustard & dill biscuits, add 1 tbsp minced fresh dill to the flour mixture and 2 tbsp whole-grain mustard to the buttermilk mixture.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole

I've been wanting to try the Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole recipe from Cover & Bake for a while. We finally made it this month. It's really, really, really good. It's basically scalloped potatoes topped with chicken & ham, doused with even more cheese sauce, and topped with bread crumbs.
SP got to shingle the chicken and ham atop the potatoes.
It's pretty, the layers, but it doesn't matter if the layers are pretty or even because the cheese cream sauce covers everything.
Every casserole should have homemade bread crumbs on top.
Bubbling sauce, golden and crispy bred crumbs - yum!
It's not too saucy, just right. The chicken stays juicy yet cooks through. We did give it an extra 10 minutes, just to be sure, because I am paranoid about eating even slightly pink chicken.
A lot of the America's Test Kitchen casseroles we've made have had a sauce that is a blend of chicken stock and cream/milk, maybe some cheese (in this case, gruyere), and maybe some herbs like thyme and/or bay leaves. I really like the flavor of stock with cream for a sauce.
Even though we let our casserole cool for a bit, it still slid when we served it. Oh well. It's still delicious. We steamed broccoli for alongside the casserole.
It's filling and warming, lots of flavors, not just the chicken and ham but the Dijon and gruyere shine through. Our indoor fresh thyme isn't yet large enough so we used dried thyme.

Definitely a make again casserole. The other thing I really like about making casseroles: we can get all the clean up done while the casserole bakes, so the actual post dinner clean up is super quick and easy.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole
from Cover & Bake
we got 4 dinners/8 servings

4 slices white sandwich bread
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

3 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8" thick
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tsp fresh thyme (or dried)
6 tbsp flour
2 c low sodium chicken stock
3/4 c heavy cream
6 oz gruyere, shredded
3 tbsp Dijon
1/4 tsp cayenne
black pepper
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, each breast cut horizontally in half (into thin cutlets) and then halved crosswise into about 3"x 3" pieces
12 oz deli ham (baked or Virginia-style), sliced 1/4" thick, halved or quartered into 3" pieces
lemon wedges

For Topping:

  • Tear bread into pieces and place into food processor. 
  • Add melted butter. 
  • Pulse until coarsely ground.
  • Set aside.

For Filling:

  • Heat oven to 400.
  • Place potatoes, 6 c water, 1 tsp salt in Dutch oven/large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, uncovered, until potatoes are partially cooked, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon/spider, remove potatoes to a bowl. Set aside.
  • Melt butter in a saucepan. Add onion, thyme, salt and cook until onions are softened. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden. Slowly whisk in chicken stock and cream. Bring to a simmer, whisking often. Remove from heat and whisk in gruyere, Dijon, and cayenne until smooth/cheese is melted. Season with salt & pepper. 
  • Toss the potatoes with half the sauce. Spread in the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Shingle the chicken and ham on top of the potatoes, overlapping as needed. Pour the remaining sauce over the chicken/ham. Sprinkle bread crumbs on top. 
  • Bake until chicken is cooked through & sauce is bubbling, 30-35 minutes. We gave ours close to 45 minutes to be sure the chicken was cooked. 
  • Cool 10 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

*If desired, can add 2 medium garlic cloves, minced, after onions are softened and before adding flour.
*If desired, can sprinkle casserole with chopped fresh parsley after baking.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Thursday Thoughts

Last weekend we went to see Black Panther and it was fantastic. We think it was one of the best, maybe the best, Marvel movie. We liked that the "bad guy" was not just a bad guy - he had a good backstory/tragic story and Michael B. Jordan was fantastic. I've had a crush on him since his Parenthood days and thought Fruitvale Station was a great movie. He also was Wallace on The Wire and I loved The Wire.

If you live in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district (we do), make sure you're registered to vote and then get out and vote on March 13. This is a special election for the seat vacated when it was revealed that GOP rep Tim Murphy got his mistress pregnant and urged her to have an abortion while being staunchly anti-abortion. Ah, the GOP, the party of family values. So the candidates are Rick Saccone and Conor Lamb. One wants to end the separation of church & state (has this candidate read the Constitution?), to display "In God We trust" in every school, and to limit abortion rights; supports Trump/is endorsed by Trump; used his legislative expense account, which is funded by taxpayers, at a greater rate than other lawmakers; criticized Chuck E. Cheese for its policy barring customers from carrying firearms inside the venue; and has advocated for waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and other forms of "enhanced interrogation."

The other candidate's views are not a giant steaming pile of poop. Just my opinion. The facts: the other candidate is a former federal prosecutor and Marine Corps vet. Read more here.

SP's birthday is coming up and last weekend we had his family birthday dinner at Cafe io. He actually ordered something other than the branzino. He ordered another special: Halibut with Lobster Risotto and said it was very good. We shared Black Forest Cake for dessert.
What We're Eating:

  • Leftovers from Sunday's mini Thanksgiving in February meal: turkey, stuffing, green beans, zucchini
  • President's Day usually means we make pierogie, and we did, so we're also enjoying dinners of pierogie, ham/kielbasa, and broccoli.
  • Dessert: Boston Cream Pie and assorted leftover treats.

What We're Watching:

  • Worst Cooks in America - the making sausage episode is always hilarious.
  • The Olympics.
  • The Amazing Race ended last night and the team we didn't want to win, the team we cheered for elimination every week, well, they won. Ugh.

What I'm Reading:

  • The new magazines are arriving so the pile is growing again.
  • I actually requested books from the library. 8 weeks into the new year and I haven't read a single book - that's very unusual for me.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Cacio e Pepe with Pancetta and Arugula

Last week, we weren't going to make a special Valentine's dinner until the latest issue of Food Network Magazine arrived and I started drooling over a couple of Giada's pasta recipes from her upcoming cookbook. They were pretty quick/simple recipes so SP offered to make one of them: Cacio e Pepe with Pancetta and Arugula.
The night before/morning of, he grated the cheeses and washed the arugula. That evening when he wast close to home after work, I turned the water on to boil. While the pasta cooked, he chopped the pancetta. After that, it was just combining all the ingredients in a big skillet. Easy and quick - dinner was ready in about 25 minutes.

This is really tasty. We couldn't find creste di gallo pasta so we used campanelle. Lots of pepper flavor from the black pepper and the peppery arugula. Salty from pancetta. Creamy and salty from the parmesan and pecorino. Definitely a make again dish. I'm not sure which I like better, this dish or the Pasta with Prosciutto & Peas that we make. We'll have to make them more often so I can decide.

Recipe here: Cacio e Pepe with Pancetta and Arugula

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Boston Cream Pie

One of my favorite cakes, ever since I was a little girl, has always been Boston Cream Pie, but I've never tried baking one. I have several recipes for it ripped from magazines, but still hadn't gotten around to baking one. Then a couple weekends ago, we saw that an episode of America's Test Kitchen (or maybe Cook's Country?) had recorded on the DVR and it was a desserts episode. We watched them make this Boston Cream Pie and started thinking a lot about it.
Two layers of sponge cake, pastry cream in between, and chocolate glaze poured over the top, dripping down - yum! Happily, we were invited to dinner last Sunday and we offered to bring dessert. We knew exactly what we'd make: Boston Cream Pie. Especially since a cake like this is too large for us to finish on our own.

There are a lot of steps, a lot of whisking, 3 components to make and then assemble. It does take some time. We made the cake Saturday afternoon and while the cake layers baked, made the pastry cream. Sunday we made the glaze and assembled the cake in the morning.
Heating the milk and butter.
 The prepared pans - greased and lined with parchment paper.
Flour mixture ready.
 Whisking eggs & sugar.
Ready to bake.
Baked & cooling.
 Out of the cake pan - lots of spongy bubbles.
Finished and chilled pastry cream - no "making of pastry cream" photos because of the near constant whisking.
 Layers & cream assembled, hoping it stays stable.
Glazed with chocolate.
Just enough chocolate on top for good chocolate flavor.
Nice layer of pastry cream between the light, spongy cake layers. This cake was a big hit. Everyone liked it and some people went back for seconds. This pastry cream is really good, better than the one we have been making for our fruit tart, maybe because there are 6 eggs in it! Nice, rich flavor. This is a make again cake.

Boston Cream Pie
(Wicked Good Boston Cream Pie from Cook's Illustrated Magazine March/April 2011 & as seen on America's Test Kitchen on PBS)

Ingredients for Pastry Cream:
2 c half & half
6 large egg yolks
1⁄2 c sugar
pinch table salt
1⁄4 c flour
4 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
1 1⁄2 tsp vanilla

Ingredients for Cake:
1 1⁄2 c flour
1 1⁄2 tsp baking powder
3⁄4 tsp table salt
3⁄4 c whole milk
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1⁄2 tsp vanilla
3 large eggs
1 1⁄2 c sugar

Ingredients for Chocolate Glaze:
1⁄2 c heavy cream
2 tbsp light corn syrup
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine

For the Pastry Cream:

  • Heat half-and-half in medium saucepan over medium heat until just simmering. 
  • While that simmers, whisk yolks, sugar, and salt in medium bowl until smooth. 
  • Add flour to yolk mixture and whisk until incorporated. 
  • Remove half & half from heat and, whisking constantly, slowly add ½ cup to yolk mixture to temper. Whisking constantly, return tempered yolk mixture to half & half in saucepan.
  • Return saucepan to medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens slightly. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, whisking constantly, 8 minutes.
  • Increase heat to medium and cook, whisking vigorously, until bubbles burst on surface, 1 to 2 minutes. 
  • Remove saucepan from heat. Whisk in butter and vanilla until butter is melted and incorporated. 
  • Strain pastry cream through fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl. 
  • Press lightly greased parchment paper directly on surface of pastry cream and refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

For the Cake:

  • Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans (*we have 8 inch pans, so that's what we used, we just increased the baking time) with nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment. 
  • Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. 
  • Heat milk and butter in small saucepan over low heat until butter is melted. Remove from heat, add vanilla, and cover to keep warm.
  • In stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whisk eggs and sugar at high speed until light and airy, about 5 minutes. 
  • Remove mixer bowl from stand. Add hot milk mixture and whisk by hand until incorporated. 
  • Add dry ingredients and whisk until incorporated.
  • Working quickly, divide batter evenly between prepared pans. Bake until tops are light brown and toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes (longer for 8" pans).
  • Transfer cakes to wire rack and cool  completely in pan. Once cooled, invert cakes onto wire rack. 
  • Remove/peel off parchment and re-invert cakes.

To Assemble:

  • Place one cake round on large plate. Whisk pastry cream briefly, then spoon onto center of cake. Spread evenly to cake edge. 
  • Place second layer on pastry cream, bottom side up, making sure layers line up properly. Press lightly on top of cake to level. Refrigerate cake while preparing glaze.
  • Note: be sure you're cakes are level/flat before spooning on the pastry cream. Do not have a cake that slides apart like my Lemon Cake Disaster!

For the Glaze:

  • Bring cream and corn syrup to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and add chocolate. Whisk until smooth, 30 seconds. Let stand, whisking occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.
  • Pour glaze onto center of cake. Spread glaze to edge of cake, letting excess drip down sides. 
  • Chill finished cake 3 hours before slicing. Cake may be made up to 24 hours before serving.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thursday Thoughts

Yesterday was Valentine's Day. I still think it's a stupid holiday. We do not exchange cards/gifts and sometimes SP gets me flowers but I honestly do not care if he does/doesn't. We made a new-to-us pasta meal (mmm pasta) and he brought home Gaby et Jules treats for dessert. Then we plopped on the couch and watched The Amazing Race. I guess that's more romantic than the 2 Valentine's Days we spent on the couch, sick, tossing tissues into a trash can and coughing.

Tuesday was Fat Tuesday, the last day for paczki at Party Cake, so SP left for work early, stopped by the bakery, and brought home paczki for dessert.

We saw Wicked last weekend. We saw it in 2008 and since that time, I'd forgotten how much I enjoy it. 

It feels like spring with the drizzle and warmer temps. I like it.

I'm bouncing between crying/sadness over the events in FL yesterday and raging anger at the NRA and our government. 

What We're Eating:

  • Beer Braised Pork with biscuits and roasted cauliflower
  • Pasta with Pancetta & Arugula
  • Desserts: Paczki, Gaby et Jules Caramel Eclair, leftover cookies/candy

What We're Watching:

  • The Olympics
  • We're still cheering for Team Yale on Amazing Race but I have a feeling that after the next leg of the race, they'll be eliminated.
  • I finally watched the episode of This Is Us with Jack's funeral. It was another 10 tissue episode. So much crying.

What I'm Reading:

  • Still no library books.
  • Magazines. New ones are arriving.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


It had been a while since we last dined at Mezzo, the middle floor of Sienna Mercato (Emporio is on the first floor, Il Tetto on the top floor). Last weekend, our Saturday Dinner Date was at Mezzo.

To be honest, it didn't start out so great. We made our reservation 1-2 months ago through OpenTable, and as usual, we mentioned that one person is in a wheelchair in the special request/note area. It turns out the only 2 person tables on the main level of Mezzo are at the top of the stairs, with the only unoccupied one when we arrived being right at the top of the stairs. The other 2 person tables are down a few steps. We didn't realize this because on our last visit, we were with 2 other people. I was not happy about being at the top of the stairs, where people would be looking right at us as they ascended and then as they waited to be seated, they'd be standing right next to our table.

I didn't understand the issue with the table at first, but it turns out that neither the width nor length is sufficient to allow my very small width wheelchair to actually roll completely up to the table. They offered to acquire a table from downstairs that would be more accommodating and went off to fetch it, but it turned out that the table was in use. I was not at all happy because we had made the reservation so far in advance and specified that one person was in a wheelchair. Apparently, no one looked over the reservations in advance or prepared in advance for a wheelchair patron.

But what were we supposed to do? It was a rainy Saturday night in the city. I didn't feel like walking around in the rain looking for a restaurant that could seat us on the spur of the moment, especially knowing that post-afternoon and pre-evening Wicked performance ticket holders would be crowding restaurants around this time. I was hungry, and damp, and annoyed.

So I sat at the table, not close enough to be comfortable, having to lean forward/have no back support for the evening when we talked/ate.

Then, as I was still fuming a bit, our server came to take our drink order, but I hadn't had a chance to look at the wine menu, so we asked for some time. That turned out to be a lot more time than we expected, so we were becoming even more unhappy.

Fortunately, things got better from there and the food was as tasty as we remembered.

SP ordered a glass of Pinot Grigio and I chose Sauvignon Blanc. Here's what we ate:
Shrimp Fritters (espelette pepper, lemon emulsion). These were a lot lighter than I expected and the lemon emulsion was fantastic. Really tasty.
Crispy Brussels (apple cider and ginger glaze, smoked maple goat cheese). We almost always order crispy Brussels when we're out and they're on a menu. The ones we make at home are never as tasty. These were yummy, nice and crisp. I liked but didn't love the smoked goat cheese, which surprised me because usually I gobble up anything with cheese. SP really liked it.
More veggie: Mixed Greens (white balsamic vinaigrette, dried cherries, almonds, crispy fried onions). I like the salads we make, but somehow they're never quite as tasty, quite as "just right" as the ones when we dine out. Just the right amount of dressing and goodies in with the fresh greens.
I opted for a medium plate as my main meal: Ricotta Gnocchi (carrot purée, rosemary, brussels, pine nuts). I love gnocchi. We do not make it at home so it's a treat and I knew I'd likely be a little too full for a large plate (plus, dessert was on my mind). Just the right size for me, and yummy.
SP chose Grilled Tuna (orzo, wilted spinach, fingerling potato, calabrian chili, parsley). He said it was delicious.
We both ordered decaf coffee and shared a dessert: Almond Affogato Roulade (bittersweet chocolate sauce, toasted cocoa almond). I wasn't sure what to expect. Affogato makes me think ice cream and espresso. Roulade makes me think a rolled (spiral) jelly roll cake like pumpkin roll. Our server said it was more like a tiramisu, so we decided to try it. Delicious light, spongy cake with chocolate-almond crunchy bits on the plate. Really good, and just right for us to share at the end of the meal.

We really enjoyed our food. Dishes were very promptly cleared from the table. I just wasn't happy with the table size and location. I think next time, we'll go with family or friends so that we can be at a larger table that I can more comfortably fit at and that isn't right by the entrance area.

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

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Thursday Thoughts

Back in January, I had to reschedule a doctor appointment because the day of the appointment, the weather was terrible. It was rescheduled for yesterday. Yesterday the weather was terrible. The appointment has now been rescheduled for March. So if you want to know when the next really crappy winter weather day will be, it's that day in March.

Last weekend we went to see The Shape of Water. I thought it was a wonderful film. I don't want to say much more (spoilers), but I thought it was a beautiful story about wanting to love and be loved for who you are and about loneliness.

What We're Eating:

  • Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole with steamed broccoli or sauteed green beans
  • Tortillas filled with shrimp, avocado, and roasted tomatoes
  • Dessert: Ricotta Chocolate Chip Cookies

What We're Watching:

  • We did not watch the Super Bowl. Well, we watched the last 13 seconds but only because I was checking on the timer for recording This Is Us. 
  • On Monday I watched the post Super Bowl This Is Us and yes, I cried.
  • I tried to watch Ingrid Goes West but I just couldn't get into it.
  • We watched Suburbicon. It got terrible reviews, but I didn't think it was that bad, just not that great. Definitely a slow start and kind of an odd ending, but we ended up more interested than we expected.
  • We started watching The Alienist on TNT. I'm still trying to decide if I like it.

What I'm Reading:
The magazine pile continues to very slowly go down. That must mean it's time for new issues to start arriving.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Madeleines (new recipe)

We love making Madeleines. They're quick, easy, and the recipes make 24, which is a good amount for us for a week of dessert. It makes us pay attention to portion control so that the cookies last 6 days. That's four cookies a day. Two cookies a day for each of us. Not like at the holidays when we ignore portion control and hoover up 6+ cookies a day.  
These little cake cookies are supposed to have humps - and these ones were definitely humpy!
Light, tender and cakey inside.
These Madeleines from The Perfect Cookie use cake flour (like the Williams Sonoma ones we once made). They were vanilla flavored, not lemon flavored like the ones we usually make. 
I don't know if I like these better than our usual recipes - all the vanilla and lemon madeleines we've baked have been delicious. The madeleines we've made that I didn't really like and wouldn't make (haven't made) again werChocolate Madeleines and Espresso Chip Madeleines. The chocolate were OK but just not as tasty as vanilla or lemon while the espresso-cinnamon ones were just yucky. I remember we ended up dumping 3/4 of them in the trash.

But these ones are yummy. Very yummy. As in didn't-last-six-days yummy. So much for portion control.

Recipe here.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Ricotta Chocolate Chip Cookies

I finally worked my way down the magazine pile to the Feb./Mar. 2018 issue of Cook's Country. On the last page of the issue, there was a recipe for Ricotta Chocolate Chip Cookies. They sounded interesting.
I like ricotta. I like cannoli. I like the Raspberry-Ricotta Cake from Bon Appetit that we make. I like the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes from Cook's Illustrated that we make. So I figured these would be tasty. SP was definitely interested in these cookies. So we made them.
They are easy to make. I liked that they don't spread out flat but stay as nice little mounds of cookie. I also like that they're light and tender and full of flavor.
Inside - soft and fluffy. Almost like a cake.
These are a definite Make Again Cookie. We both really like them. My only concern is how well they'll keep. The recipe says they'll keep for up to 5 days in an airtight container. We decided to put ours in the refrigerator as well. I'm not sure if that will help/hurt the cookies, but it seemed like a good idea.

Recipe here.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Thursday Thoughts

We were very near Bethel Bakery last weekend, so of course we took the slightly roundabout way to where we were going so we could stop in the bakery and buy paczki. Lemon, raspberry, vanilla, and apple cinnamon. Yum!

Saturday Dinner Out was at Cafe io. SP ordered his usual (branzino) but I tried something new: the Crab Cake Sandwich. It was "Pittsburgh" style with cole slaw and fries on it, but I asked for the fries on the side.
They also had a Cannoli Cake, which we decided we had to try. The ricotta-cinnamon between the sponge cake layers was so good.
What We're Eating:

What We're Watching:

  • We watched The Mountain Between Us which wasn't awful, but wasn't great, wasn't just about survival, wasn't just a love story, had a slightly lame ending, and was a mildly entertaining movie on a rainy evening when we were stuffed from dinner and not terribly interested in much on TV.
  • We're recording The Alienist on TNT but we haven't started watching yet.
  • I started recording and watching Restored by the Fords on HGTV. It's set in the Pittsburgh area. I missed the first few episodes so I'm hoping to catch them as reruns.

What I'm Reading:

  • I requested a few library books, but nothing right now.
  • Still working on the magazine pile.