Monday, May 21, 2007

Key West Cafe

While I am certainly not one to wish ill on anyone, it would be no great dining loss if a hurricane swept Key West Cafe right out of existence. We ate there last night and will never return. The ambiance was pleasant, with fun beachy music, pineapple & palm tree lights and pictures of old Key West spots on the menus. The evening started out perfectly promising, in fact. There were a number of yummy-looking items on the menu.

Sadly, the evening tanked from there, although our spirits remained high despite the crappy dining experience. In fact, we were nearly giddy with hilarity over how bad the experience was. It started with drinks orders. They had no Bud Select or Modelo for J. She was happy with the Dos Equis she got, though. I was disappointed that they had run out of mint for mojitos, but even the great Casa Juancho sometimes runs out of mint so I ordered a strawberry daiquiri instead. It wasn't a great daiquiri by any means and I wished I'd just had water because it was such a waste of money. It was unpleasantly pulpy, great not-remotely-flavorful lumps of unprocessed berry. Gack.

We vacillated about an appetizer. I was all for the grouper nuggets while J was interested in the grilled shrimp cocktail. I am generally opposed to eating cold shrimp and J didn't want the grouper, so we decided to try the hog dip. A mix of cream cheese, seafood and herbs and served with tortilla chips, we assumed it would be served hot. It was ice cold and rampant with horseradish from the cocktail sauce liberally poured over the top. It was beautifully presented, but tasted no better than chip dip from a 1960s bridge party given by a hostess more interested in cards than in cuisine. Definitely not something we wanted to consume, much less pay $10 for. When the waitress arrived to ask us how it was, we told her it was not good and that also we'd expected it to be warm. Her response was, "Oh, that's too bad. Do you want me to box it up for you so you can maybe munch on it at home later?" What?!? Hell, no! If it's not good, how is taking it home going to improve it? Twit.

I responded that since it was bad, we had no plans to eat it in any environment. I told her it didn't need to be boxed up, it needed to be thrown away and that we'd like to try the nachos instead. Further, if she wasn't comfortable with that, I'd be happy to speak to the manager. With a funny little head shimmy that looked like a remnant of her junior high getting-ready-to-scrap persona, she reluctantly took it away. I saw her talking to three or four other people in the kitchen, pointing our way with more head weaving and bobbing. She finally came out & asked if we'd like to order our entrees. I reiterated our desire to try the nachos, although I wondered if we should just pay for our drinks and go next door to Carrabbas for dinner. We definitely should have. Mmm, calamari...

We waited an interminably long time for our nachos, chatting about vacations we'd like to take and the fact that the cooks were probably spitting in our food. Exasperated, I said to J, "How long do nachos take to make???" Her response: "A long time if you're jacking off in 'em!" We dissolved into fits of laughter, taking up a bit more time as we waited. When the nachos finally arrived, they were quite cold and soggy and unquestionably mediocre in flavor. We were hungry, though, so we ate them, giggling over how hostile our waitress was and how much she seemed to despise us. We sat and sat after finishing our nachos, speculating on the reason our waitress was in this line of work when she so obviously should be doing something that involves no mental acuity or social skills. Mean us. But, it was really quite ridiculous.

I said, "She's not going to come back over here" but, after an age of waiting, she finally meandered our way. I believe she had one other table, so it's not like she was slammed. I think there were three tables in use the whole time we were there, from about 7 until about 9:45. Yes, it took that long. When she arrived at our table, she sullenly asked if we were ready for our check. Why no, we actually would like to split a Cuban sandwich. All of a sudden, she perked right up, gushing about how it's her very favorite. I told our new best friend, whose Prozac must have kicked in, that she should have one in Miami and she gushed that she'd love to. Then, she gushed about her upcoming girls' getaway to Myrtle Beach in July and how "pumped" she was about it. When she brought the Cuban, she also brought us some Cajun mayo, telling us that we'd been ordering just like she orders all night & she thought that we'd like the Cajun mayo just like she does. She gushed about how she'd eat it on anything. The whole experience was just so odd. I am left wondering if the gushing and friendliness was in order to get a tip. Busing our appetizer dishes at some point during the meal would have helped toward that, too. The Cuban was passable, but really, Cuban food shouldn't be spicy. They did it with jerk pork rather than plain pork. But, it was fine. I ate my half, but J was already feeling poorly. Today, she is sick. I felt a little off, but generally have a cast iron digestive system so no more than a little off. No more Key West Cafe for us, though. Not ever.

Scrambled Eggs and Fry Bread

Saturday night was J's night to choose dinner, but she was too exhausted to make choices, so I made what I'd planned for last night. It was easy and quick and enabled me to watch Volver and still get to bed at a reasonable hour. I made scrambled eggs with a pinch of thyme, a handful of fresh baby spinach and some shredded 2% cheddar. They were delicious. I love to try new things with scrambled eggs. I also made some fry bread. I have been promising to make J fry bread for years, ever since she tried it at the CityFolk Festival in Dayton the first summer we were dating. For some reason, I have continually put it off. It's not at all hard, but I had some kind of block about it. I'm not really a baker, I guess, and although there is no baking to be done, it is bread. We had some plain, some with powdered sugar and some with regular sugar. I didn't think the powdered sugar worked well with the fry bread, but the other sugar was yummy. I like it best plain, though. It was not as good as the stuff my uncle, who'd spent a lot of time on the rez, used to make, but it was good.

Fry Bread
2 1/4 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3 tbsp. Crisco
3/4 c. warm water
Oil for frying

Mix dry ingredients together. Cut in 1 tbsp. Crisco. Melt and cool the other 2 tbsp. Crisco. Add just enough water to flour mixture so the dough holds together and is easy to handle. Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth, about 30 seconds, ading only enough flour to work the dough. Roll dough into smooth 2" balls. Brush with cooled Crisco and let stand 45 minutes. In a deep skillet, heat oil to 360 degrees. Flatten the balls of dough into 6" circles and slip into the hot oil, cooking in batches. Cook until light brown (45-60 seconds) and then turn, cooking the other side until light brown. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Serve hot.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Friday Night Flank Steak

I don't know about you, but after I've returned from school late on Thursday & spent all of Friday studying, I don't always feel like making something that's labor-intensive. So, I now have a flank steak marinating. I will broil it, slice it thin, serve it with rice and steamed green beans and be done with the whole dinner shebang in time for an early bedtime so we can get on the road early tomorrow morning. I love easy dinners. After I post the steak recipe, I shall return to liturgical studies (if I can resist the temptation to read more at the Rate My Students blog...wonder if I'll see a rant by an undergrad Spanish professor on her students doing piss-poor Spanish culture final projects on beer cruises in Mexico, one of the more outrageous things I was aware of students doing when I was an undergrad) for the rest of the afternoon.

Soy Flank Steak
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 c. red wine
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 & 1/2 lb. flank steak

Mix first 3 ingredients. Marinate steak in the mixture 4 hours. Preheat broiler. Pat steak dry. Put on rack in broiler pan and broil 8-10 minutes per side. Serves 4. Each serving has 7 WW Points.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Cranberry Sweetheart Scones

For my Dante class, I am making tiny heart-shaped cranberry scones. They are adorable and would be nice for an afternoon tea, with a bit of double Devon cream smeared on them.

Cranberry Sweetheart Scones
2 c. flour
1/3 c. sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick cold butter, cut into half-inch cubes
3/4 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Butter and flour 2 baking sheets (I honestly just use cooking spray with flour). Whisk together the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter until it's the size of tiny peas. Mix in the cream with a fork just until a shaggy sort of dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface & top with cranberries. Knead briefly, just until dough forms a ball and cranberries are incorporated, taking care not to overwork the dough. Quickly and gently pat out into a 3/4" thick round. Cut out scones with a one and a half inch heart-shaped cookie cutter. Place one and a half inches apart on the prepared sheets, continuing the patting out and cutting process until dough is used up. Brush with a little cream. Bake 10-15 minutes. Makes about 4 dozen. Each piece is 1 Point.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Trying New Cuban Recipes

I've had a batch of Cuban recipes sitting around untried for ages. I always tend to slip into cooking my very favorites (masitas de puerco, maduros, moros y cristos) & don't get to the new stuff. I'm glad I did tonight, although I did stick with pork. LOL!

Costillas de Puerco
6 pork chops, cut to 1" thickness
4 cloves garlic, peeled
Salt & pepper
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/4 c. orange juice + 1/8 c. lime juice (or 1/3 c. sour orange juice, if it's available in your area)
1/2 c. dry white wine
1/4 c. oil

Mash garlic with seasonings into a paste. Mix with liquids and pour over pork chops. Chill 1-4 hours. Blot dry and brown in oil. Add marinade and simmer, uncovered, about an hour, until liquid is gone. Serve on a bed of machuquillo. Serves 6.

3 green plantains, peeled & cut into 2" pieces
1 tbsp. lime juice
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. smashed chicharrones (pork rinds)
1 tbsp. oil

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Toss plantains with lime juice. Mash garlic and chicharrones into a paste. Drop plantains and lime juice into boiling water. Boil 25 minutes, then drain. Mash, then add garlic mixture. Heat the oil and cook plantains, stirring (or they'll really stick!), for about a minute to heat through and evaporate excess moisture. Serves 6.

I served this with salad. By the way, the pork is 6 Points per serving and the machuquillo is 3.

A Simple Pasta Dinner

Instead of doing the Mother's Day meal out thing, we decided to inaugurate the grilling season. So, Saturday dinner was brats & burgers by the pool (with the silly bitties IN the not-at-all-well-heated pool during our 60 degree weather) and Sunday lunch was bbq pork ribs. For our dinner last night, then, I made a very simple pasta dish I found in a Rick Bayless cookbook, adapted just a smidge.

Tuscan Pasta with Tomato Sauce
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. can diced tomatoes
Salt & pepper
12 oz. tri-color rotini
17 basil leaves, cut in chiffonade
1 c. grated asiago cheese

In blender, blend tomatoes until mostly smooth. Heat 1 tbsp. oil. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until it starts to brown. Raise the heat to medium-high and add 2 cups of the tomatoes. Cook about 10 minutes, until it starts to look like a medium-thick sauce. Add salt & pepper. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil. Keep warm while you cook the pasta to a very firm al dente. Drain and toss with sauce, basil and cheese.

I served this with garlic bread (an Italian loaf spread with our local grocery's garlic butter) and Italian-blend bagged salad. To go with the salad, I made Maytag blue cheese dressing. I could eat that with a spoon!

Blue Cheese Dressing
1/2 c. sour cream
1/4 c. mayonnaise
1 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 oz. blue cheese (do splurge on the good stuff!)

Mix sour cream & mayonnaise together. Add milk, vinegar and salt. Crumble in blue cheese. Stir to blend. This is even better the second day.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A Chile Evening

Oh, how lovely it would be to travel to Chile someday! In the meantime, though, I can at least cook delicious Chilean food. Last night, I made chancho a la chileña (pork loin Chilean-style) and served it over jasmine rice, with a salad on the side. If you're doing Weight Watchers, this recipe is 7 Points per serving. The dish is a little stew-like and is particularly good served with a squeeze of lime over the top.

Chancho a la Chileña
3 tbsp. oil
1 lb. lean pork loin, cut into 3/4" cubes
1 large red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 plum tomatoes, diced
1 1/2 c. fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
2 tsp. white vinegar
Salt and pepper

Heat oil on high heat in a skillet. Turn down heat to medium-high and brown pork in oil (10-12 minutes). Add onion, garlic & tomato. Cook a couple minutes. Add broth, vinegar, salt and pepper. Cook 5-10 minutes on high, until thickened. Serve over rice. Serves 4.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Few Good Crafters

I love to use hand-crafted items in cooking and around the house. I wanted to share a few websites of crafters whose wares I particularly like to use.

Stan & Sue Jennings, of Allegheny Treenware, produce wooden cooking implements that are just delicious to use. In addition to things like wooden spoons & spreaders, I have a wonderful cherry measuring spoon & cup set that is not only useful, but a great addition to kitchen decor, as well. Check out for more info on how to get some for your own self!

The folks at Horton Brasses have a wide selection of simply gorgeous reproduction hardware for cabinets, doors and the like. The hand-forged ironwork is especially lovely. They can be found at for more info.

Some of my very favorite pottery has come from the kiln of Riffle Pottery. When I talk about drinking a mug of tea, it is likely from the green-glazed mugs I have picked up from them. See for your new favorite mug or serving piece.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Beef Burgundy American

This is my adaptation of Melia Himich's Beef Burgundy recipe in the Gooseberry Patch Blue Plate Specials cookbook. It's very easy to throw together & is a great meal for those times when you're at home, but don't have time to cook in any sort of active manner. It's probably health-friendliest served on brown rice, but I will be serving it on egg noodles tonight, with a salad and some peaches. Serves 6-8.

Beef Burgundy American
1 1/2 lb. extra-lean beef sirloin, cubed
2 pkgs. dry onion soup mix, 1.5 oz. size (I used Knorr)
2 cans 98% fat-free condensed cream of musroom soup
1/2 c. burgundy wine
1/2 c. water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix everything together in Dutch oven. Cover and bake 2 and a half hours. Easy, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Of Morels and Pancetta, Anchovies and Lemons

Reading week is here, the last of the school year. It's the week when I should be finalizing papers, getting ahead on my reading for the next three weeks, pre-writing sermons. But, no. Not me. Well, I am certainly doing some of that. But, I am also indulging in cooking that is slightly more complicated than my fare of late. Sunday night, I made chicken with morel Madeira sauce, baked potatoes and lemony green beans. Tonight, I fixed tilapia with anchovy caper butter, roasted red potatoes with lemon and petits pois with pancetta. For me, the morel Madeira sauce was a little too sweet, but I am picky about sweet and meat together. It was inspired by one of the recipes of the great Ina Garten (if you do not have her cookbooks & do not watch her show, you must remedy that!) and J loved it. Otherwise, I was very happy with the meals.

Chicken with Morels
1/2 oz. dried morels, soaked for 30 minutes in 3 cups of very hot, salted water
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Salt & pepper
Flour for dredging
1/4 c. butter
1/4 of a Vidalia onion, chopped
1/2 tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 c. Madeira
1/2 c. sour cream (light is just fine)
1/2 c. half and half (subbed for heavy cream to make it a little lighter)
1 tbsp. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse morels well and pat dry. Season chicken, then dredge in flour. Melt half the butter in the skillet and brown chicken well. Place in casserole and set aside. Add the rest of the butter to the skillet, along with the morels, onion and garlic. Cook, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add wine and cook on high until reduced by half. Add the rest of the ingredients & bring to a boil. Allow to boil until it starts to thicken, 5-10 minutes. Adjust seasonings. Pour oven chicken and bake until just heated through, about 10 minutes. Serves 3.

Lemony Green Beans
1 lb. green beans, stems & strings removed
1/4 stick butter
A few drops of olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt & pepper

Cook green beans using your preferred method. I like mine steamed lightly & I use an electric steamer, but do whatever you like best & find easiest. Heat butter & oil together until butter is melted. Stir in lemon juice, salt & pepper. Add beans and toss to coat. Serves 4.

Tilapia with Anchovy Caper Butter
1 lb. tilapia filets
1 clove garlic
1/8 tsp. salt
1 stick butter, room temperature
2 tsp. minced capers
2 anchovy filets, minced & mashed to paste
2 tsp. lemon juice
Pepper to taste

Make the anchovy butter first, starting by mashing garlic and salt into a paste. Add the rest, mashing with a fork until thoroughly combined. Roll into 6" long log and wrap in wax paper. Chill an hour before serving. If, like me, you are inclined to forget that you need to start things far in advance, though, you can pop it in the freezer for 15 minutes or so and it will be tolerably solid. You may even prefer it less hard so that it melts wife does! Bake fish, drizzled with a little olive oil, in a 350 degree oven until tender and flaky and utterly lacking translucence. Serve with anchovy caper butter. This served the three of us, but J & Pie ended up growling at each other over the last piece of fish and we all wanted more. There will be plenty of butter, so make as much fish as your crew will eat! I should think it would be delicious on any kind of fish. J wants to try it on steak next.

Roasted Red Potatoes with Lemon
6 small red potatoes, quartered
A tablespoon or two of olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
2-3 tsp. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss potatoes with oil, salt & pepper. Put on baking sheet and roast for about an hour, stirring every so often. Sprinkle with lemon juice & stir. Roast another minute or two. Serves 3.

Petits Pois with Pancetta
1 oz. pancetta, chopped
1/2 c. chopped Vidalia (any onion will do, I just like Vidalias & had them on hand)
1 clove garlic, minced
3 c. frozen petite peas
1 c. chicken broth (I use canned, the low fat, low sodium kind)
Scant 2 tsp. sugar
Salt to taste

Sauté pancetta in pre-heated skillet on medium-high heat until crispy. Remove from pan. Sauté onion & garlic in grease until tender. Add the rest, setting aside the pancetta. Simmer 5 minutes, or until peas are tender. Toss in pancetta and serve hot. Serves 6. J is a big fans of peas & says these are the best.