Friday, July 12, 2019

Alta Via

I've been wanting to try the new Big Burrito Restaurant, Alta Via, ever since it opened. I got my wish last Friday when we went to dinner with my parents. It's much easier to find than I expected. We got off Route 28 at exit 8 and it was right in front of us. We had 5 pm reservations and were seated right away. There were some tempting cocktails, but in the end we all ordered wine:

  • SP enjoyed the house white wine (Chardonnay-Fruiliano, Palladio · Veneto). 
  • Mom had Pinot Grigio Montefresco, 2017 - Veneto. 
  • Dad & I tried a rosato - Sangiovese Fattoria di Bascia, 2017 - Tuscany. I really liked the wine.

Focaccia with olive oil, butter, rosemary salt. As we discovered, a little of the salt goes a long way. A couple people may have over done the salting! But the focaccia? So good.

We shared three appetizers and all were excellent:
Fried Calamari (crispy Meyer lemons, parsley aioli, gremolata).
Broccoli Salad (black currants, Honeycrisp apple, roasted garlic vinaigrette, Pecorino Romano, pine nuts). We got the dressing on the side because of my garlic sensitivity. I liked this salad much more than I expected. 
Heirloom Tomato Salad (basil, crispy bread, white balsamic vinaigrette, stracciatella).

The meals:
Mom chose a large portion of Mafaldine with mushroom Bolognese, fresh ricotta. She liked it. We got to have her leftovers. SP really like it. I thought it was OK, but that's because while I like mushrooms, they can sometimes make a dish too earthy for me, and this was a little too mushroomy for me.
SP ordered two small pasta portions. One was Radiatori with braised Elysian Fields lamb, mint, Calabrian chilis, Pecorino Toscano. It was excellent (of course I tried a bite or two of the lamb pasta!).
The other was a Pasta Special: Agnolotti with pureed carrot and cheese, pea shoots, arugula. I didn't try the agnolotti but he said they were really, really, really good.
My dad chose Laurel Hill Trout (hen of the woods mushrooms, grilled spring onion, Yukon gold potatoes, salsa verde). He ate every last bit of food on his plate and said several times that his trout was excellent.
For me, a small portion of Alla Chitarra (cacio e pepe). I had a little bit leftover that I took home.
And a small portion of Pappardelle (beef short rib sugo, stracciatella). Both were really tasty. I finished the pappardelle, which was probably my favorite. I've always really liked homemade pappardelle, especially when served with short rib sugo. And cheese.

After dinner, SP and I ordered cappuccino. The four of us shared three desserts:
Zabaglione (brown sugar focaccia crunch, mixed berries). This was a big hit with my dad and SP.
Hazelnut-Chocolate Torte (hazelnut-chocolate mousse, chocolate genoise, chocolate curls). This was my favorite. Not heavy and dense. Light and chocolaty and just so good. I couldn't stop eating it.
Olive Oil Cake (marmellata, whipped cream). This, too, was very good, though switching between bites of chocolate hazelnut and bites of citrus wasn't so great, which is why I ended up focused on the chocolate dessert and SP & my mom focused on the olive oil cake. Dad was all about the zabaglione.

We really like all the Big Burrito restaurants. Personally, I think I found my new favorite one (sorry Eleven) because I love good pasta and I thought the pasta dishes were excellent. The appetizers were very much to my liking, too - there's just something so good about terrific tomatoes with basil and cheese and I've always enjoyed a good fried calamari. The desserts were really tasty, too. Alta Via was a meal of many of my favorite things. Our server was friendly, knowledgeable, checked with the chef on garlic for me. Our meal was nicely paced.

We'll be back! Even if it means taking Route 28!

Potato Salad

We haven't made Potato Salad in so long that we couldn't remember how to make it! Did we peel the potatoes before or after boiling? How many eggs? How much celery? How many potatoes? I wish we'd written down the entire recipe and not just the dressing we like. So here's my attempt to write it down for future reference.
The thing is, it's really a matter of personal preference. We just couldn't remember our personal preference! Some people like more celery for more crunch, some like a bit of relish, maybe even some briny capers. Some like mayo only for the dressing (my grandma and mom), some like a vinegar dressing (us), others like a combination, or one with yogurt or sour cream.
Here's our basic Potato Salad recipe:

Potato Salad

5 lbs red potatoes, peeled, cooked, cubed
4 hard boiled eggs, finely chopped
4 stalks celery, finely chopped
small onion, finely chopped
a bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
fresh chives
fresh thyme, or dill, or tarragon
salt & pepper


1/2 cup white wine vinegar plus 4 tbsp white wine (or 3/4 c white wine vinegar)
2 tbsp Dijon or whole grain mustard
salt & pepper
3/4 tbsp olive oil

Peel the potatoes then cook in a pot of salted, boiling water until fork tender. Drain and chop into pieces as small/large as you like. Place in a bowl and drizzle some of the dressing over the warm potatoes. Add the eggs, celery, onions, and herbs to the bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle in more dressing until dressed to your liking. Mix well. The potatoes absorb the dressing, so we always keep the leftover dressing (if any) to spruce up leftovers; sometimes we make extra dressing. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Stir before serving.

If the celery is skinny, we'll add an extra stalk. Sometimes we omit the onion.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Thursday Thoughts

Last Thursday was the start of a four day holiday weekend for us. On the actual holiday, we went to see the new Spiderman movie and then to dinner at Burgatory. The special milkshake was a Funnel Cake-Strawberry Shake, which we tried and liked. Our friend T enjoyed the Choco Taco shake. Friday was lots of chores and then we went to dinner with my parents at Alta Via. Yum! We really liked the new Big Burrito restaurant.

Sadly, on Saturday, we attended the funeral for my BIL's FIL. It was a bit of a haul for us, about a 45 minute drive to an area with which we are not familiar. After, we decided to take a detour on the way home and check out Oakmont Bakery. I had never been there. It's not close to us. According to Maps, the fastest route is a 45 minute drive from our home (assuming there's no traffic) on Route 28, one of the most evil (in our opinions) roads. The bakery is huge, kind of overwhelming, and we took our time gazing into the display cases. Then we sat down at a table and wrote a list of bakery treats to try. After we made our purchases, we looked outside and realized there was a thunderstorm raging so we decided to stay and share a sandwich, latte, chips, and cookie. Once the rain slowed a bit, we zipped out to the car and headed home, making sure to avoid any roads that we'd seen on the news as flooding in massive downpours.

Sunday was a day of laundry and cooking. And then our 4 day weekend was over. It went by far too fast!   
What We're Eating:

  • Ribs with Bourbon Barbecue Sauce, Macaroni Salad, Green Beans, Corn on the Cob
  • Grilled Shrimp with Rice Salad
  • Dessert: Oakmont Bakery cookies, ice cream

What We're Watching:

  • We watched the 8 episodes of Stranger Things Season 3. I thought it was scarier than previous seasons. We enjoyed the season and I may have shed a few tears at the end.
  • We finished Season 1 of The Crown and are 4 episodes into Season 2.
  • Spiderman: Far From Home! It was a fun movie, and also a good first post-Avengers End Game movie.

What I'm Reading:

  • The new book by Paul Doiron, Almost Midnight. I love the Mike Bowditch books! I was so engrossed in the book that I forgot to eat lunch one day.
  • Progress: I am halfway through one of the seven Smithsonian Magazines.
  • New issues of Cook's Country, Cook's Illustrated, Food Network Magazine.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019


Recently there was a family celebration held at Ditka's in Robinson. I'd never before been to Ditka's. We think of it as a steakhouse, and that's not really our kind of place. Plus, I'm still mad that Atria's left and it turned into Ditka's! I miss Atria's.

SP & I had iced teas. He also started with a cup of the Sherry Crab Bisque, but while I tasted it (many times, just to be sure it was OK! It was really good!), I forgot to take a photo. Here are some photos of what we did eat:
Maryland Style Crab Cakes (jumbo lump crab, brown rice, cole slaw, tartar sauce)
Cedar Planked Ora King Salmon (honey-chipotle glaze, pineapple quinoa, broccolini).
Day Boat Scallops (king crab risotto, sweet corn cream).
Burgundy Mushrooms
Raspberry Cheesecake.

It was a good meal. I think everyone enjoyed their food. Several family members enjoyed steaks. The kids had fish and chicken fingers. Other desserts enjoyed were a Turtle Ice Cream Pie and a Triple Layer Chocolate Cake.

While the food was good and the service fine, it's not really a place we are likely to return on our own since for the price there are other restaurants with food/atmosphere more to our liking. But this was a nice place for this family dinner. There are several private areas for a large group meal, so that's quite nice. They take reservations, are in an easy to get to location, and are wheelchair accessible.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Chicken Agrodolce

We're always looking for new ways to cook chicken. This one is from Giada in Italy. She calls it Chicken Agrodolce. I call it Honey Balsamic Chicken. There's only one photo from when we made this chicken - whoops!

Basically, season chicken with salt and then brown it in olive oil in oven-proof skillet. Once browned, add honey, balsamic vinegar, and thyme to skillet. Swirl to mix and flip chicken around in sauce until coated. Place the skillet in a 375 degree oven and bake until chicken is done (160 degrees). Remove the chicken from the pan and let it rest while you simmer the sauce for a bit and then add some butter to the sauce. Pour sauce over chicken.

Easy. Quick. Delicious.

We ate the chicken with Grilled Zucchini with Red Pepper Sauce.

Recipe here. And here, with pork instead of chicken.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Thursday Thoughts

Today's thoughts are red, white, and blue - Happy July 4! I hope everyone has a terrific celebration. We are doing our usual, low-key 4th of July thing: meeting up with T, seeing a movie, going to dinner, coming home to watch some TV, and when the fireworks start, maybe heading out to the deck to watch through the trees!

Last weekend we met friends for lunch at Aladdin's. I wish we had an Aladdin's in Robinson. I had the Sfiha Plate. Sfiha is ground meat, onions, tomatoes, pine nuts, herbs in a pita. The plate comes with salad. I like the warm spiciness of this dish, with just a bit of heat.

What We're Eating:

  • Grilled Chicken, Grilled Zucchini, Potato Salad
  • Dessert: Whatever we find in the house

What We're Watching:

  • We finished Season 3 of Jessica Jones. I think I liked it best of the three seasons.
  • We started The Crown on Netflix. I can't believe we've waited so long to watch this show!
  • Stranger Things 3 starts today. We might have to take a break from The Crown.

What I'm Reading:
Magazines. On the bright side, my subscription to Smithsonian Magazine ended so the pile won't get any higher than the 7 issues sitting there now.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Baked Fried Green Tomatoes

I love, love, love fried green tomatoes. When we're in the south, I order them everywhere. Lunch and dinner. SP came home with green tomatoes and we knew we were finally going to try making them ourselves. Of course, life has a way of getting in the way and we were so busy that we weren't sure we had time for frying. Then I remembered this Baked Fried Green Tomatoes recipe from Gesine Bullock-Prado (Baked in Vermont on Food Network).
These didn't get quite as browned and crispy as I would have liked, but they were so much easier than baby-sitting a pan of frying oil. They weren't as browned/crispy as hers, but I suspect we didn't spray as much oil on the breaded tomatoes, or maybe we should have left them in the oven longer?
We didn't make her Cajun Spice Aioli. We whipped up a quick mayo-mustard-lemon-paprika sauce.
I'd make these again, especially if we're short on time, but next time I want to try actually frying the tomatoes.

Recipe here.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Lemon & Pea Alfredo

It's no secret I love pasta dinners. Every time we need a quick dinner, pasta springs to mind. SP rolls his eyes because he does not love pasta as much as I do. But last month, he agreed to give this Lemon & Pea Alfredo a try for dinner.
It's tasty, pretty quick, and easy, plus we got 3 dinners from it, so that means it's a "make again" dinner for us. Sadly, we had a little peppercorn issue. We wanted to fish out the pink ones from our multi-colored pepper grinder but it got knocked off the counter, left a new dent in the wood floor, and shattered, sending peppercorns everywhere. Everywhere. So the pepper grinder is history. Fortunately, we managed to salvage enough pink peppercorns for this dish. Pink ones probably aren't necessary, but they do have a slightly different flavor than black ones. Since we no longer have pink ones, we'll probably just use regular black peppercorns next time.
I like that the sauce was creamy but not like a heavy, cloying, artery clogging creamy. It was light, and bright from the lemon flavor. We had arugula salad on the side, with just lemon juice squeezed over the arugula.

Recipe here.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Thursday Thoughts

Last weekend we saw Oklahoma. That was the first time I'd seen it and I liked it more than I expected. After the show, we went to dinner at Sienna on the Square. Here's what we ate:

  • Heirloom Tomatoes (Grilled Ricotta, Fermented Honey & Garlic Viniagrette, Fresh Mint, Lavash Crackers) [dressing on the side and no crackers for us because there's garlic in/on them]
  • Cantaloupe Gazpacho (Grilled Onion Jam, Creme Fraiche)
  • Mafalde Bolognese (Veal, Pork, Beef, Tomato, Milk, Onion, Carrot)
  • Special: Yellowtail (red pepper sauce, greens)
  • Dessert: Strawberry Parfait (Creamed Strawberries, White Chocolate Almond Cookie, Basil)

Everything was, as always, delicious, washed down with glasses of rosé and water. Still one of our favorite restaurants.

What We're Eating:

  • Pork Tacos
  • Pasta with Sausage Sauce
  • Dessert: Lemon-Ginger Ice Cream

What We're Watching:

  • Jessica Jones on Netflix. Three more episodes to go.
  • Luther ended. Not what I expected! I guess this is the end of the show? We'll see.
  • We didn't watch The Amazing Race finale last night so I don't know who won. Tonight we'll watch.
  • I watched The Wife. What a good movie! Glenn Close is terrific.
  • Women's World Cup Soccer. Monday was USA vs Spain and tomorrow USA plays France.

What I'm Reading:
Not much other than magazines. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Grilled Zucchini with Red Pepper Sauce

In the summer, we often grill zucchini. Usually we just slice it into rounds, salt-pepper-oil it, and grill it. But the June/July 2019 issue of Cook's Country offered a new method: sliced in half lengthwise.
Seemed kind of obvious, but there's more to it. They also cut a crosshatch pattern into the flesh side. This helped the zucchini to give up its moisture and turn out firmer and less mushy. We tried it, making sure to buy the suggested medium size zucchini. The halved, medium sized zucchini came out so much tastier than our last few batches of grilled rounds from large zucchini.
We made the suggested red pepper sauce, too, which is really just a version of romesco sauce. We grilled our red pepper earlier in the day and made the sauce before starting on the zucchini and everything else for dinner that night.
I tried to make mine look like the magazine photo, nestled in a pool of sauce with a bit of sauce drizzled on top.
SP simply poured sauce down the center of his zucchini halves. It was delicious both ways.

Even if we don't make the romesco sauce, I think we'll definitely start grilling our zucchini this way. Also, we're going to make more of an effort to not buy the huge zucchini (or let them grow that large in the garden). According to Cook's Country, a medium zucchini should be about as wide as a banana, so we'll aim for those sized zucchini.

Grilled Zucchini with Red Pepper Sauce

4 medium zucchini

1 red pepper
2 tbsp almonds
1.5 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/3 c olive oil
1.4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Roast the red pepper on the grill (we brush it with olive oil and then place it on the grill, turning it every which way until it softens/is charred all over). Place pepper in a bowl, cover, and let it sit/cool until you can handle it. Remove skin. Cut into smaller pieces and put in food processor/blender along with the almonds, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Process until smooth. Place in a small container, cover, and set aside.

Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise. Cut a crosshatch pattern into the flesh side of each half. Brush with oil. Season with salt and pepper. Grill, flesh side down, until browned. Flip and cook other side until zucchini is done (a fork inserted meets little resistance).

Serve zucchini with red pepper sauce.

What we did differently:
*We didn't toast the almonds
*We omitted the garlic and the basil

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Tortellini Pasta Salad (with asparagus & tomatoes)

This summer we seem to need a lot of quick & easy dinners for the week. Pasta is usually quick and easy, especially pasta salad. It can be made ahead of time, or each component can be made ahead of time and then assembled on another day. A couple of summers ago, we fell in love with this Mozzarella, Tomato & Tortellini Pasta Salad but we wanted something a little different. I remembered this recipe from The Make-Ahead Cook: 8 Smart Strategies for Dinner Tonight (from America's Test Kitchen) and we used it as our inspiration.
Cheese tortellini, blanched asparagus, cherry/grape tomatoes, fresh basil (or mint), and a lemon-olive oil dressing. We added some lemon zest and a lot more pepper. It was delicious! Very simple to make but very tasty and filling.

Tortellini Pasta Salad (with asparagus & tomatoes)


  • 16 oz cheese tortellini
  • 3 lbs asparagus (the Costco package), trimmed and cut into 1" pieces
  • package of cherry/grape tomatoes (Costco package)
  • 1/4 c fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
  • 1/2 c olive oil
  • fresh basil or mint
  • salt & pepper


  • Cook tortellini according to package. Drain and set aside to cool. 
  • Blanch asparagus. You can use the water from cooking the pasta. Depending on the thickness of the asparagus, it can take 3-5 minutes. 
  • Make the dressing. A good starting point is 2 parts olive oil to 1 part lemon juice, depending on your personal taste, seasoned with salt & pepper..
  • Since we were making each part ahead of time and assembling the salad later in the week, we drained the asparagus well and then placed it in a paper towel lined container.
  • We drained the tortellini well, placed it in a bowl, and drizzled in just a bit of the dressing and tossed it with the tortellini. We snapped on the lid and put it in the refrigerator.
  • For us, this yields 3 dinners. The first dinner, I eyeballed it and transferred 1/3 the tortellini and 1/3 the asparagus to another bowl. I washed and halved 1/3 of the grape tomatoes, salted & peppered them, and transferred them to the pasta & asparagus bowl. We used about 7-8 big basil leaves, rolled up and sliced thinly. I also eyeballed & added 1/3 the dressing and zest from about half a lemon then mixed it all together. 
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
The official recipe is here. It includes shallot, garlic, and pine nuts.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Amsterdam Vacation - Stroopwafel, Chocolate, Fish, Fries, and Cheese

One food treat I definitely wanted to try while in Amsterdam was a fresh, warm stroopwafel. My wish finally came true when we went to Albert Cuyp Market and found Original Stroopwafels
I couldn't decide between chocolate and plain, so of course we bought one of each.
We huddled under the umbrella and ate the chocolate dipped one first. Yum! Warm and gooey. Next up we ate the plain one:
I can't decide which I liked better. The syrup inside was not too sticky or chewy, which was nice. As expected, I got chocolate and the syrup all over my hands, raincoat, lap. It was worth it.


After we toured Anne Frank House, we set off walking around towards to the north area and Winkel 43 (but sadly didn't get to try their apple pie) and then I don't really know/remember where we were because we just kept wandering. Eventually we found this chocolate shop:
Puccini Bomboni. We went in planning to purchase, not just browse. There were a lot of flavor choices:
We each chose three. I chose mint, coffee, and cinnamon.
I don't remember which three flavors SP chose. I think one was port. We snacked on our chocolates in the evenings after we returned to the hotel room and we enjoyed them all.


Earlier in the day, before chocolates, we had to find lunch and we didn't have anywhere in mind. So we just started walking from Dam Square and the Royal Palace towards Anne Frank house, hoping to find lunch along the way. Naturally, it was actually lunch time and everyone was out looking for lunch. We came across Bagels & Beans but they were not wheelchair accessible and all the outdoor tables were taken. So we kept walking. We walked a bit more and ended up crossing the street to grab a sandwich at a bakery. What a mistake. I wasn't really feeling the place, it looked kind of dirty and yucky, but we were really hungry and didn't have time to debate and walk. Also, I hate when SP stops us in the middle of the sidewalk while he tries to Yelp up a suitable lunch place, which he had done, so add irritable and bickery to the list with hungry and thirsty.

So, crappy bakery that we did not find on Yelp, just that we saw. We decided to share a ham & cheese sandwich. That seemed safe. Unfortunately, what was not listed in the description was that there is a very garlicky pesto spread on the sandwich. It had already taken an absurd amount of time to get this crappy sandwich (horrible service, and we were 1 of 2 people there) and by that time, since I had been sitting at the table outside, I had discovered that the screw holding the footrest to the wheelchair leg was falling out and I was not happy because we didn't have an extra screw/nut (though I did have the Allen wrenches) and I was about to lose the footrest.
Solution: SP would eat the garlicky sandwich and return to Bagels & Beans to get me a sandwich that I would pick out online and text him while he walked over. I chose the Warm BLT Bagel (with Bacon (Livar), Lettuce & Tomatoes with a mayonnaise dressing & pine nuts).
I even got a nice little note and smiley in my bagel box! Also, it was a darn tasty sandwich. So, tip, Bagels & Beans is a good bagel chain for breakfast/lunch in Amsterdam.

I ate as fast as I could while SP looked up hardware stores in the area. We found one, hustled over, and lucked out because as the guy told us, he was one of maybe 2 hardware stores in the area selling English nuts/bolts. That never even occurred to me (the last time this happened on vacation we were in OR). He took it apart, compared everything, found that right stuff, and put it back together with our Allen wrenches (yes, I carry 2 in my purse when we travel), sold us an extra nut/bolt, and charged us like 2 euro. The hero of vacation! In about 10 minutes we were off again and headed to our ticketed time at Anne Frank House. 

One day we took a tour of the country side. One stop was Volendam, an old fishing village. It's on a lake and it was so nice to walk along the edge of the lake, past shops and cafes. It was a four hour tour and at this point we were at hour three and it was 1 pm and we were hungry. SP bought me frites with cheese sauce. They were yummy though as expected my fingers became a cheesy mess.
Our tour guide got himself the traditional raw herring with raw onions & pickles while SP opted for fried fish (kibbeling), which he really enjoyed.


Another day we went to Keukenhof Gardens to see the tulips. There are, happily, several buildings where you can be inside (out of the cold, out of the rain) and have lunch and/or a snack. We did eat lunch but I forgot to take photos. I remember I got a chicken and cheese panini. We made sure it didn't have pesto/garlic. It did have a curried mayonnaise, which surprised me. At first I was like hmmm, what is that? It's yellow. Is it curry? Ugh my tummy might not like this. Hmmm wait this is pretty tasty. I can't stop eating this. I like curry mayo!
A bit before our scheduled departure, we decided to dry off and warm up with a snack. We both got hot tea and we shared a slice of lemon cake.
It was pretty darn good lemon cake!


Lastly, but not least, cheese. There are cheese shops everywhere in the touristy canal ring area.
Our first day, hours after landing, at the Floating Flower Market, SP was checking out cheese. The shops here were not accessible.
The cheese shops are what you'd expect, shelves and shelves of cheese and cheese samples and people eager to talk about their cheese and sell their cheese. We did not purchase our cheese until the day before we left. We were in the Dam Square area and went in one of the Old Amsterdam Cheese Shops. It was accessible and the guy was so nice, explaining all the different cheeses and having us sample so many cheeses. We bought three wedges, an aged one so it's quite hard/crumbly, a medium aged one, and a young one, aged just 2 months, which is my favorite and is so smooth and creamy.

Did we do a cheese tasting? No, not because we didn't want to, we most certainly did, but the cheese tasting rooms at the various cheese companies were not wheelchair accessible. Does the cheese need to be refrigerated? Won't it spoil before you get it home? I had read online that it'd be OK but I asked the cheese shop guy anyway and he said it doesn't need to be refrigerated for, I want to say 3 months, but I might be wrong. Point is, even if we'd bought it 10 days earlier, it'd have been fine. We did put it in our carry on bag, not checked bag, on the flights home. The luggage did get pulled aside in Amsterdam and in Detroit for extra screening. They actually took out the cheese wedges and examined/scanned the wedges even though they were store wrapped and stamped with the store seal.

We've been slowly eating and enjoying our Amsterdam cheese.

And so this ends the Amsterdam posts. I'd like to go back for the food - kaas, stroopwafel, stamppot, poffertjes, croquette, Dutch apple pie. And to just wander around the canals and get lost!