Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Monthiversary Dinner at Red Knapp's, March 30, 2015

We try to go out for dinner every month on the 30th. I wasn't sure my sweetheart would be up for dinner out to celebrate 13 years and 3 months of wedded bliss, but she surprised me by saying she'd like to go out. She refused to decide on the restaurant, so she was subjected to my hunger for a big salad topped with fried chicken strips. Luckily, she likes Red Knapp's in Oxford. We started with a sampler platter, most of which came home with us. When she suggested it, I agreed because I never get to have fried pickles (she abhors them & I would never eat a whole order by myself) and theirs are particularly good, spears instead of chips. I had my Southern fried chicken salad (which was, frankly, just okay---mostly a bunch of iceberg, with a smidgeon of cheese and 2 small chicken strips. Bizarrely, one strip was cut into bite-size pieces, the other was left whole, as if the cook got distracted or something. I added the leftover ones from our appetizer sampler & cut them all up) and Jeannene dug into a Wildcat burger, which was absolutely gargantuan! I think she ate 1/4 of it and brought the rest home to take for lunch. It was 2 huge beef patties with Swiss and American, dressed with lettuce, tomato, and Thousand Island. Their burgers are really wonderful, but now I know not ever to order that particular one unless I'm sharing it with someone and am very hungry!

Grab It & Growl, March 29, 2015

After all the hubbub of the weekend, Sunday left Jeannene not feeling great, again. She was relieved when Pie cancelled on meeting us for dinner at Panda House because he didn't want to drive in the snow. I'd hoped we'd still go, but Jeannene wasn't really hungry and just wanted to go to bed, poor thing. So, I heated some leftover quiche, had some asparagus berry salad, and finished it off with strawberries and baklava for dessert.

Game Night & Potluck, March 28, 2015

We like to have Jeannene's team from the plant over for parties every so often. The last one was our Practice Thanksgiving, so it was about time. We decided to have a game night and asked everyone to bring a favorite spring dish. Some people went along with the theme, some (like my wife) did not, but everything was really, really good. Here's what we had:

-I made 2 quiches (one broccoli cheddar, one ham & swiss), an asparagus berry salad, a fruit tart, a prosecco punch (the punch they served at my childhood church, with added prosecco---I wish I'd thought to split the batch for those who were not drinking), and, at Jeannene's request, a triple batch of guacamole (I just mash avocados with some key lime juice, salt, pepper, and garlic powder).

-Jeannene made the Velveeta/Rotel/sausage dip we always have for the Super Bowl and set out tortilla scoops with that. She also put out some spinach artichoke dip from Costco with pita chips.

-Jim & Cindy brought some excellent homemade black bean salsa with chips.

-Ken made a creamy & spicy dip, also with tortilla chips, and Meghan made one of her adorable & delicious desserts, zucchini cupcakes with little Easter egg sprinkles on them. Ken always brings all kinds of awesome beers, as well, and sometimes wine, too. He is really interested in trying different craft beers and he loves to share his finds.

-Kelvin & Pat brought their signature shrimp cocktail, which is always gone in moments.

-Xifan & Denny brought a big pot of her chicken & vegetable soup, colorful and yummy.

-Glenn & Kim brought teriyaki chicken wings he made (the men in Jeannene's group tend to be terrific cooks).

-Connie & Frank brought a very springy pasta salad made with rainbow rotini & topped with deviled eggs---you know how popular deviled eggs always are!

-William & Lillian brought a big box of really fabulous baklava of various sorts that I had a hard time staying out of---and a bottle of champagne for us to enjoy later.

-Michael showed up a little late, bearing chicken, shrimp, & sausage jambalaya, which all of us fell upon as though we'd not eaten anything else. He said he's a little rusty, but it was great. Jeannene even said it was better than mine & I couldn't be mad.

Pie shell for 9" pie (I use store-bought)
Grated parmesan
6 eggs
3/4 c. half & half
Salt & pepper
Fillings of choice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Fit pie crust into 9" pie plate, rolling extra under along the edge, then crimping. Line with parchment and fill with pie weights or beans. Bake until edges are light golden, 15-20 minutes. Remove parchment & weights/beans. Sprinkle bottom of crust with parmesan. Place fillings in the crust. For the ham & swiss, I used a package of diced ham (6-8 oz, I think) and a cup & a half of shredded swiss. For the broccoli cheddar, I used one crown of broccoli, cut into small florets, and a cup and a half of cheddar. I debated about whether to steam the broccoli, but decided the florets were small enough that I could skip it. Whisk eggs, half & half, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper together well. Pour into crust and bake until the middle of the quiche is just set, 40-45 minutes. Serves 6-8 and is a great dish for a party like this because it's good at room temp, as well as warm, so  it can be made ahead with no need for re-heating before serving. 

Asparagus Berry Salad
3 bunches asparagus
2 pints raspberries
A handful of halved strawberries
Strawberry or raspberry vinaigrette (my absolute favorite is Maple Grove Farm's Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette)

Trim the asparagus, snap in two, and blanch a couple minutes in boiling water. Remove to an ice bath and allow to cool. Arrange on serving platter. Sprinkle with berries and drizzle with dressing. Serves 10-12 and is quite beautiful.

Cheater's Fruit Tart
1 roll sugar cookie dough, room temperature (I like Pillsbury)
1 tub cream cheese fruit dip, chilled (I like Marzetti)
A bunch of cut-up fresh fruit (I used halved strawberries, kiwi cut into demi-lunes, mandarin oranges from a can, pineapple, blueberries, and a few raspberries)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a tart pan with fluted sides and a removable bottom. Press cookie dough into tart pan and up the sides, trimming if it squishes over the sides & pressing the excess back into the bottom of the pan. You will want this nice & even. Bake 17-20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Slather with fruit dip. Arrange fruit on top. Chill, if not using promptly. Serves 6-8. 

Westminster Punch, Prosecco-fied
12 oz. can frozen pink lemonade
12 oz. can frozen limeade
46 oz. pineapple juice
Small container sweetened frozen strawberries, slightly thawed
2 liters ginger ale
750-ml bottle prosecco

Mix everything together in a punch bowl and serve. 

Olive Garden, March 27, 2015

Friday night, we had some errands to run for our Saturday game night & potluck. I'd offered to have either garlic soup & Sicilian potato salad or red beans & rice ready for a quick supper before heading out. Neither of those dinners sounded very good to Jeannene, so we stopped by Olive Garden for dinner after running our errands. The closest Olive Garden is very well-run and the food is generally good.

We started with the arancini (well, they call them risotto balls, so if you're ordering, don't look for "arancini" because you won't find it), which are not as good as the best I've had, but certainly tasty! If you're not familiar with this dish, it's wee little balls of risotto with a mozzarella middle, fried. They serve it with marinara. I could cheerfully eat the entire plate---and probably a second one, as well. We both chose the zuppa Toscana, one of the best chain restaurant soups I've ever had, milky with just the right amount of spice, full of potatoes, sausage, and delicious bites of kale. We ordered identical entrees this time, as well. We had the bucatini with their "five-cheese marinara sauce," which is an incredibly confusing name. It's essentially a cheesy rosa sauce, a blend of marinara and alfredo sauces. To our dinners, we each added chicken meatballs, which were yummy. Sadly, I forgot our leftovers (about half of each of our meals) in the back of my car and we didn't get to have them for lunch over the weekend. I hate that!

Grab It & Growl, March 26, 2015

I had lunch (quiche, salad, and scones) at a lovely little tea spot in Roseville, MI, called Just Delicious Scones with one of my book groups. Knowing how much Jeannene loves scones, shortbread, and pretty little iced cookies, I picked some of each up for her. She's been having a tough month at work and I thought she could use a little day-brightener. I also suspected that she probably hadn't paused for lunch. This was, indeed, the case, so I popped out and got her a burger from Dairy Queen. Thus, when she arrived home from work and I arrived home from a jewelry party after 10, she was still full from her 4 p.m. lunch and didn't really want anything. I'd had some nibbles at the party and dinner was more nibbles---extra-sharp cheddar and saltine crackers. Yes, friends, I eat cheese & crackers for dinner sometimes. What's more, I really love cheese & crackers.

Jet's Pizza, March 25, 2015

We'd planned to go to the library's Trivia Night at the C-Pub and have dinner there, but Jeannene worked terribly late and then continued her work at home, so we ended up ordering a Jet's pepperoni pizza, which is never a bad thing. Or, at least, never an unpleasant thing, if not so great for our waistlines! Yum yum!

Steak with Sherried Onions, March 24, 2015

Since Jeannene hadn't been feeling so well, I wasn't sure how a real, full-bodied meal like steak with sherried onions would go over. So, when she called home and asked what was for dinner, I thought she might request something different. However, when I responded that we were having steak, she was ecstatic! She gave the meal a 9.5. I liked it quite a bit, too, although I'd've been just as happy with no sauce at all on my ribeye. I always like a good, fluffy baked potato with my steak and, because Jeannene's been sick, I decided to make one of her favorite veggies (which isn't mine), peas. We also had my current favorite bagged salad, the Dole spinach one with the cherries & white balsamic vinaigrette.

Steak with Sherried Onions
2 ribeye steaks, about 1 1/4" thick
Salt & pepper
1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 onions, finely chopped
1/2 green pepper, minced
1 tsp. minced jalapeño
1 c. chicken broth
1 tbsp. dry sherry
1/8 c. red wine vinegar

Heat sugar in large skillet, stirring often, until it has gone to syrup and become deep amber. Keep a close eye on it, as it can burn in an instant. Add onions, green pepper, and jalapeño. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring every so often, until onions are caramelized. Add broth and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil. Cook to reduce the sauce somewhat. Add sherry and vinegar and cook another minute or so. Rub the steaks with salt and pepper. Broil 4-5 minutes per side, for medium-rare. Let stand, tented with foil, for about 10 minutes before serving with sauce. Serves 2. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Shields & Stars, March 23, 2015

Since my sweet girl is still sick (and since the chicken & spaghetti dish I had planned sounded yucky to me), I let her decide what she wanted for dinner. She recently got a can of Campbell's chicken soup  with Avengers-themed pasta shapes in it. So, that was what she wanted. I have to admit, I was a little jealous of her Captain America shields & Thor hammers & Hulk fists (at least, I think that's what they were) & Ironman heads. I didn't see any Black Widow anythings. I guess the R&D folks at Campbell's figure all the girls will be eating the Disney Princess soup, anyway, so nobody will notice this omission. Me, I had classic chicken & stars soup, which I haven't had in years. I seem to have lost my taste for most canned soups over the last few years, although I do still like Progresso soups quite a bit, as well as Campbell's Alphabet Soup. Looks like chicken & stars makes the grade, as well. I made some grilled cheese sandwiches to go with the soup, nothing fancy, just American cheese on potato bread.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Shamrock Ravioli, Redux, March 22, 2015

I was terribly tired last night and neither in the mood to cook, nor of the appetite to eat, the green chile pork stew I had planned. Therefore, when I opened the pork to discover that it had turned on us, I was mad at the waste, but not terribly disappointed not to be making that dinner. Normally, I would love it, but I just didn't feel awesome. However, since the pork only felt a little weird and only smelled a teeny bit off to me, I had Jeannene confirm for me that it was bad. Thank goodness we had cancelled Sunday Dinner due to her being sick! We had another package of the green and white, shamrock shaped pasta we served last week, so we pulled that out and cooked it (3 whole minutes), then tossed it with alfredo sauce from a jar. The very soul of ease and very delicious. I would like to say I made a lovely salad to go with it, but I just didn't.

Tea Tidbits, March 21, 2015

I'd planned a Spring Tea, something I've been hosting most years since I was in my early 20s. I vary the date, either to have it close to the first day of spring or International Women's Day. I picked up all the groceries Friday night, but hadn't yet started food prep when it became apparent that Jeannene was too sick with the flu to have guests. I set about contacting our guests to let them know the tea was cancelled, then thought, "Wow, I have a whole lot of ingredients here for tea food and no guests coming." Dinner was scheduled to be Jeannene's choice. She ended up asking to have the tea items for dinner, instead. It was an odd little collection of things for dinner, but it was good.

Actually, most of it was good. I tried a new recipe for strawberry sandwiches because I couldn't find my usual one and it was not very good at all. I'm glad I didn't serve that to company! If I don't find that recipe by the time I make strawberry sandwiches again, I guess I will just blend some strawberry jam into cream cheese, then top that with strawberry slices or fans. Maybe some basil, too.

In addition to strawberry tea sandwiches, we had cucumber sandwiches, tartines with egg and asparagus, and vanilla chai scones (those last were from a Sticky Fingers mix and were really tasty). For my cucumber sandwiches, I spread chive cream cheese on thin sandwich bread, cut each slice in 4, topped the quarters with a slice of cucumber each, and sprinkled the whole thing with snipped fresh dill.

As for the tartines, I had just pulled the recipe from a recent issue of Rachael Ray Magazine, hadn't even copied it into one of my binders yet. You can find the recipe here.

Salmon Patties, March 20, 2015

I've been making the same dinner on the first day of spring since the early 1990s: salmon patties, dilled new potatoes, and asparagus. I usually steam the asparagus, but I roasted it this year, which was a mistake---the pencil-thin stalks were too thin to be roasted as long as Ina told me to roast them. Ah, well, live and learn. Otherwise, the meal was incredibly yummy. We ended up eating after midnight, as Jeannene felt ill and went to bed almost immediately upon getting home. We'd headed out to the grocery together to get food for our tea party, but before we got to the store, she decided she needed to come home and go to bed. She told me to let her sleep a few hours and then she'd have dinner. So, this year, it was a midnight supper to welcome spring! I boil the potatoes, drain them, and toss them with butter, salt and pepper, and snippets of fresh dill---a preparation learned from Sandy Baublitz, the mom of my friend, Charisma, who made them when we were in middle school---I loved them! The salmon patties are like the ones my grandmommy made, old-fashioned, made with canned salmon, and really yummy.

Salmon Patties
1 14 oz. can salmon (you don't have to pick the bones and skin out, but they completely skeeve me out, so I do)
1 c. saltine crumbs (about 25)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt & pepper
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Oil for frying

Mix everything but the oil together. Form into 4 patties. Brown both sides in hot oil. Serve with tartar sauce (I make it by mixing pickle relish into mayonnaise). 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Grillades & Grits, March 19, 2015

My wife absolutely adores grits. I never have liked them---until, that is, we tasted Anson Mills grits when we were in Charleston, SC. Oh, my word! Those were great! My tastes are changing on a lot of things, so I guess I shouldn't be so surprised that I now like grits. Anyway, when I made grillades and grits last night, with lima beans to accompany them, Jeannene was so thrilled with the grits and the lima beans, she said she could have made a meal of just those. Don't get me wrong. She liked the grillades and their accompanying sauce quite well. I did, too---although I can't imagine eating them for breakfast, as is the practice in New Orleans, where the dish originates.

1/2 lb. round steak, cut 1/2" thick (veal is traditional, but I am not a veal guy)
2 tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne (more, if you like spicy)
1 tbsp. oil
14 oz. stewed tomatoes
10 oz. beef broth
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, cut into strips
1-2 tsp. cornstarch
1-2 tbsp. water

Cut meat into 4 pieces. Mix flour with seasonings. Pound flour into meat as you flatten it to 1/4" thickness. Roll up and secure with toothpicks. Brown meat in oil. Drain fat. Add tomatoes, broth, onion, and peppers. Cover and cook on low 45 minutes. Set meat aside and keep warm. Mix cornstarch and water, stirring until starch is dissolved. Stir in and cook, continuing to stir, until thickened and bubbly. You could also use a roux as thickener. Serve with meat over hot grits. Serves 2. I suspect you could make a similar sauce, using veggie broth instead of beef broth, and use baked tofu instead of meat, for a vegan version. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Cheesy Spaghetti

I usually just have leftovers or a sandwich or something like that for lunch. However, today, I made myself a pot of cheesy, tomato-y goodness. I cooked half a box of spaghetti. While it was cooking, I heated a can of tomato sauce, a can of tomato paste, 8 oz. finely shredded Cheddar, and a couple tablespoons of butter, stirring until the butter and cheese melted. When the pasta was done and drained, I tossed it with the sauce for a very cozy Last Day of Winter lunch. I expect little kids would really love this---kind of like Spaghettios, but much tastier!

24th Street Tavern, March 18, 2015

At our Uppity Book Women gathering last weekend, Brenda told us that she and her husband, Kenny, wanted to take us out for burgers at the 24th Street Tavern in Oxford. It's right next to Casa Real, where we ate last Thursday, but for some reason, we had never really noticed it. We met them last night. The menu is pretty extensive, with some really tasty-looking items. However, I was eager to try their burgers, as Brenda had praised them highly. They had a huge array of possibilities to go with the burgers---chips, fries, seasoned fries, tater tots, sweet potato fries---and a good variety of burgers, as well. Brenda & Kenny built their own burgers, with sweet potato fries for her and chips for him. Jeannene got the mushroom swiss burger with regular fries and I chose the black & bleu burger with tater tots. I will seldom choose anything else, if offered those. They were fried, instead of baked as I like them best, but these weren't greasy like they sometimes are. The burger was, in fact, stellar. 1/2 lb. of good quality beef, seasoned with just the right amount of blackened seasoning, and a goodly amount of bleu cheese. Neither was overdone, muting the flavor of the burger or killing my taste buds. Nor were they insipidly applied, so that I had to think hard about whether I tasted it or not. A great balance.

Brenda and I couldn't resist the fried Oreos with vanilla ice cream for dessert, but we had to take them home. We were already taking part of our dinner home, as it was. Once we got home, Jeannene was ready for dessert. I had ordered the Oreos because my friend, Jocelyn's, fiancé had made her an Oreo pie and on the way to the restaurant, I said to myself, "Okay, if they have an Oreo dessert, I'm ordering it." I am so suggestible. Luckily, Jeannene loved the Oreos and I didn't have the temptation of eating all of them myself!

The atmosphere was typical sports bar, with screens everywhere and cute, sweet waitresses in ball caps. I enjoyed being by the huge front windows so I could watch something other than the screens. Of course, there were also my companions' faces (and my wife's beautiful green eyes) to watch as we chatted away. Such good company! Normally, I hate sitting at high-top tables, but that's what was available and, thankfully, they have well-designed high-top chairs with a place for us short-legged people to put our feet and a big enough seat that I didn't feel at all precarious or uncomfortable. We'll definitely go back and explore more of the menu. Next time, I will order the veggies and dip as an appetizer. It seems unusual to find such a thing on a sports bar menu!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What I've Been Eating Lately, March 9-17, 2015

I appear to have fallen off the posting wagon. Instead of inundating my followers with a whole series of short posts, it makes sense to create one longer post to catch up! Then, climb back onto that high seat, take up the reins, & start daily blogging once more.

March 9: pork chops in red wine sauce, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole
The pork chops and mashed potatoes were very good, but the green bean casserole was not. I used a different recipe, with almonds instead of fried onions for one, that was completely lacking in flavor, to my taste buds. So, I won't bother with that recipe for y'all, but will simply link you to the one I usually use (I generally use regular cut green beans, though---and this is one of the rare occasions when I feel that canned is better than fresh).

Pork Chops in Red Wine Sauce
4 thick-cut pork chops (I tend to prefer boneless, but use whatever you like best)
2 tsp. olive oil
2 onions, thinly-sliced into demi-lunes
4 sprigs thyme
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2" piece ginger, peeled and minced
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/2 c. dry red wine 
1/4 c. ruby port
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar plus a splash
1 c. beef broth
1 tbsp. butter
A handful of chopped parsley 

Sear the pork chops in hot oil until browned on both sides. Set aside. In same skillet, cook onions until golden brown, with thyme sprigs, garlic, ginger, and allspice. Lay pork chops on top of onions. Add wines, vinegar, and broth. Cover and simmer until pork is cooked through, about half an hour. Remove to plates. Stir butter into sauce. Serve over pork chops, sprinkled with fresh parsley. Serves 4. 

March 10: My dear wife had a night out with our youngest and his girlfriend to talk over his college plans, while I spent the evening shopping for a duvet cover and dishes (although I didn't know I was shopping for the latter. I spotted these wonderful pink Nicole Miller dishes I couldn't resist.). I'd intended to take myself out for something yummy, but got distracted by all the pretty things in the store and found myself out much later than I'd intended. Jeannene hinted that she might really enjoy some kind of dessert from Culver's, so I stopped there for a cheeseburger and a couple of small turtle sundaes. 

March 11: I'd planned to make chicken & dumpling soup, which didn't sound good to either of us that day. Further, I was at the plant all day with Jeannene, having ridden in with her in the morning for a wellness screening, and she works late. By the time she got off, there was no question of going to the grocery for the needed items, then going home and cooking. When her engineer, Ken, invited us to join him at The Mulefoot Gastropub in Imlay City, Michigan, for a beer, we accepted. We sat at the bar and ordered supper from the bartender (who also made me a stellar drink, the ingredients of which I could not tell you---I asked her for something girly and not too strong---she called it "something something something pink lemonade." It was both tart and sweet, just what I wanted. Most places, I would not put my cocktail fate into their hands entirely. I trust the bartenders at Mulefoot, though. You should, too, if you are lucky enough to live in range.) Jeannene wasn't hungry, having eaten a patty melt I brought her for a late lunch, so I ordered. Ken and I had the same thing, pork over saffron chile rice with root veggies and mojo sauce. I opted for the meatball version, which was terrific. They even got the mojo right. I also had a little dessert, a dish of raspberry-beet sorbet with candied carrot shavings. I can hardly resist a creative sorbet and I'm glad I said yes to this one. Stellar! I usually skip sorbets, which my crazy wife doesn't like (too tart), in favor of something I can split with her. 

March 12: Another dinner out, this time for a good cause, the Future Medical Professionals Club at Oxford High School. One of the folks at Jeannene's plant teaches there and had handed out flyers which would commit 25% of our bill at Casa Real to the club. What? We get to drink margaritas and raise money for teenagers? Heck, yeah! I chose a trio of gorditas, of which my favorite was the carnitas-stuffed one. The beef was bland and I could hardly believe the flavorless meat in the chorizo & potato was chorizo. But the carnitas one was delicious. The beans I ordered on the side were equally bland. Jeannene loved her combo plate---the bite of her tamale I had was really good. I'd assess Casa Real as very good, if you order the right things, boring, if not. I still haven't found a Mexican restaurant up here that has wowed me. I miss Las Piramides in Centerville, Ohio (whose carnitas are stupid good), Los Mariachis in Xenia, Ohio (home of my favorite chile verde) and Azteca in Powell, Ohio (which has fantastic plantains). 

March 13: The Uppity Book Women gathered at our place to discuss Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights, so it made sense to offer a Regency-style cold collation, a simple supper offered to guests who arrived late and were in need of nourishment and also to guests at midnight, after a formal dinner much earlier in the evening and a ball or evening of entertainments. I picked up some thick-sliced ham and turkey (chicken would have been more authentic, of course), as well as some English Cheddar and Stilton with mangoes and apricots. I had a platter of grapes and a cutting board holding a loaf of multigrain bread. For dessert, I made a delicious trifle. I'd done some research and found this trifle recipe. I also set out some Godiva biscuits and almond straw cookies. Brenda brought a plate of yummy little ham, cream cheese, & scallion roll-ups and some strawberries. Brenda said, "Couldn't you just eat the whole plate?" of the ham roll-ups---my answer was, "Oh, yeah!" In fact, she left some with us and I gave Jeannene a very hard glare when she sat down with them and inhaled them in front of me, without offering one, the next day when she got home from work. She figured that since I had eaten lunch, I wouldn't be hungry. Well, I wasn't, but I sure wanted another of those!

March 14: Oh, boy, was this one a doozie. Jeannene didn't get home from work until 4 Saturday afternoon (after having worked 12 or 13 hours Friday). She said she wanted to take me either to the "Frozen on Ice" show or something else I really wanted to do. I chose "Cinderella" instead and am I glad I did! We planned to have dinner at Bar Louie, then see the movie. We'd just put our name in with the hostess when Jeannene got the call that she needed to return to the plant. Well, when you're the plant manager, you have to heed those calls. So, we told the hostess we wouldn't be eating there and hit the road, stopping for McDonald's on the way because they have a drive-through and eating in the car. We ended up not getting home until 11 or so and Jeannene worked from here until 3 in the morning! Then, went back to work at 8:30 Sunday. Sheesh! So, for those of you who are always saying how envious you are of my eating life, here is reality, smacking me right in the face! Nothing gourmet about McDonald's.

March 15: Jeannene had intended to make corned beef and cabbage for our Sunday dinner, but when the kids asked if they could bring a new friend to dinner, a friend who is vegetarian, we had to change course. Well, we didn't have to, but it was the gracious thing to do. Jeannene still wanted something festive, though, in honor of St. Patrick's Day right around the corner. We'd seen green and white shamrock-shaped cheese ravioli at Costco, so we returned to see if it was still available. Surely enough, they had it. We picked that up, along with some spinach-artichoke dip and Kerrygold butter and Dubliner Cheddar. When the kids arrived, with their friend, we had a couple different kinds of salsa on the table with blue corn chips, the dip with bagel crisps, and the Cheddar with crackers. Dinner was the ravioli (which was very yummy) with rosa sauce Jeannene made with jarred alfredo and garlic herb marinara sauces, to which she added a goodly amount of onions, garlic, and bell peppers. I groused about all the chunky veggies as she was adding them and then ended up liking the sauce, although I do generally prefer simpler sauces. She also roasted green beans using my favorite recipe. Since my beloved steamer has broken, we've begun to roast just about all our veggies. The kids devoured the green beans. All you do is preheat the oven to 500 degrees (yes, 500), toss the beans with a teaspoon of olive oil and one of water, as well as some salt (we love Maldon salt for this) and pepper, and roast them 7-9 minutes. She also did a big salad with white balsamic vinaigrette from a bag---yum! 

Dessert was a batch of extremely questionable, but unquestionably green, cupcakes. Jeannene is a sucker for the inventive and had picked up a box of watermelon cupcake mix (hot pink with chocolate chip "seeds") and a tub of bright green watermelon frosting. I am not much a fan of fruit-flavored cake in general, aside from my adored lemon and orange cakes, but I will allow for the occasional foray into strawberry vanilla or chocolate raspberry. I tasted a lick of the batter as she mixed it and was surprised that, while quite watermelon-y, it was not appalling. However, when I helped her frost them and got a whiff of the watermelon bubblegum aroma of the frosting, all my previous concerns reappeared. Everyone was too full to eat them after dinner, so we sent most of them home with the kids. At bedtime, I took one up with me to try a bite, even though I was convinced it would be horrific. And, you know what? It was. 

March 16: Any of you who think I'm a gourmet cook should remember that I am not at all above cooking with canned soup. Any of you who are not food snobs will allow that sometimes, canned soup casseroles are really good. The "Italian" (I suspect Italians everywhere would be affronted by the suggestion that this has any resemblance to their cuisine) chicken and artichoke recipe I tried Monday was not. Jeannene liked it, however. I thought it was incredibly bland. Edible, but nothing I would repeat. The original is from my Gooseberry Patch project cookbook. I have tweaked it, which didn't help much, but perhaps you are like Jeannene and will find it really yummy. I wonder if it would be better with some crushed red pepper or a squeeze of lemon juice to brighten the flavor. We had carrots with it, just raw baby ones to nibble. 

Chicken and Artichoke Skillet
8 oz. sour cream (reduced fat is just fine)
1 can cream of chicken soup (reduced fat, reduced sodium is fine)
1/2 c. dry white wine (I used chardonnay)
1 c. shredded mozzarella
1 c. shredded parmesan
1 tbsp. butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
2 jars (12-14 oz.) marinated artichoke hearts, drained
1 lb. rainbow rotini (or whatever pasta you like), cooked al dente
Extra cheese for garnish

Mix sour cream, soup, wine, & cheeses together. Cook garlic in melted butter just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chicken and cook through. Add sour cream mixture, cover, and cook on low 10 minutes. Add artichokes and heat through. Serve over pasta, with extra cheese to sprinkle on top. Serves 4-6. 

March 17: Our traditional St. Patrick's Day dinner more than made up for the not-so-great Monday night dinner. I'd intended to make colcannon, but the extra potatoes seemed redundant with the potatoes in the Guinness stew. So, a simple, delicious meal of stew and soda bread it was. I usually make my soda bread from scratch, but I'd spotted a Sticky Fingers soda bread mix, so I made that, instead, just to try it. I like their scone mixes very well and it turns out their soda bread is great, too. 

Guinness Lamb Stew
2 lb. lamb shoulder chops (you can also use stew beef; if you use slightly less then 2 lb., that's fine)
Salt & pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil (you can use regular vegetable oil, if you want, or cooking spray)
12 oz. Guinness Stout (I used extra-stout last night; you can really use any dark beer)
1 lb. new potatoes
1 lb. baby carrots
1 pint pearl onions (I think the leprechauns got mine this year---I bought a frozen bag & they vanished from the freezer between Monday and yesterday, so I used a bag of diced onions Jeannene had in there)
32 oz. beef broth (if you can find lamb stock, feel free to use that)
2 tbsp. dark roux (flour & butter carefully cooked to a dark, but not burned, smooth paste)
Finely-chopped parsley for garnish, if you like

Season the lamb with salt & pepper. Heat the oil in a soup pot (or Dutch oven---mine went missing yesterday, along with the onions). Sear the lamb chops until golden on each side. Set aside on a plate. Add beer to pan and cook a minute or so, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Return lamb to pot, along with vegetables. Cover with broth. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer about 2 hours. The lamb should be falling off the bones. Carefully remove the bones, picking off any meat still clinging to them and returning it to the pot. Add the roux and cook 10 minutes (I actually skipped this step last night, as Jeannene was later getting home than expected and the stew cooked down to a lovely consistency in the extra hour it cooked). Sprinkle each serving with parsley, if using. Serves 4. 

Monday, March 09, 2015

Granite City Food & Brewery, Troy, MI, March 8, 2015

Driving home from Pennsylvania yesterday, we weren't hungry until we hit the dry stretch, restaurant-wise, between Cleveland's western suburbs and Detroit. There's a funky little gas station with a food counter called something like Joe's near Oregon, Ohio, where I kind of wanted to eat. I had a very good fried bologna sandwich there once, when we were returning Boot to school in a snowstorm following winter break. However, it didn't sound good to Jeannene, so we just drove on until we hit Troy. We frequently end up at Maggiano's Little Italy when doing this run, but that sounded pretty heavy, given our big breakfast at Flip in Edinboro. We'd eaten at Granite City once before and the only negative we could remember was a long wait that Jeannene didn't feel was warranted by the food. I had no recall of the food at all, so when she suggested we go either there or to Bahama Breeze, I thought it'd be fun to try Granite City again, provided the wait wasn't hellishly long again.

The wait turned out to be only about 5 minutes, quite reasonable. We had fun people-watching and chatting as we waited to order. I was having a hard time choosing between a burger or a Cuban sandwich (on the off chance that it actually was a Cuban sandwich and not an imposter), so I asked the waiter if it was pressed, which can sometimes be an indicator of whether it's worth ordering. Really, though, I think I am going to just change my indicator standard to: "Am I in Florida? If yes, order the Cuban. If no, order something else." We had boneless wings with fiery buffalo sauce for an appetizer and they were really delicious. They were quite hot, but not so much as to be inedible, and they weren't greasy or overly breaded, as boneless wings often are.

When dinner came, though, I was quite disappointed with my sandwich. It was listed as being on baguette, but when it arrived, the bread was much more like challah, all browned and glossy on top, with a lofty and fluffy inside, and no crunch or chew at all. Challah is lovely for many things, including some sandwiches, but it's entirely the wrong consistency for Cuban sandwiches. There's not supposed to be anything fluffy about them. They are also not supposed to be overflowing with meat, which this was. It seems weird to complain about too much meat on a sandwich, but there was at least an inch and a half of pulled pork on that thing, completely obscuring the flavor of the rest of the sandwich. The proper ratio of everything is crucial to a good Cuban, as is using the right kind of ingredients. I don't think pulled pork works, period, for a proper Cuban. I am certain that, had I been in the mood for barbecue, I would have loved the pork with some good sauce. As it was, it was so overwhelmingly porky that it was actually kind of gross. As soon as the plate arrived, I knew by the smell of it that I didn't want to eat it. I promptly pulled it all off the sandwich, taking most of the cheese, necessarily, with it. I was thoroughly underwhelmed by the rest of the sandwich, as the thick, fluffy bread overwhelmed any flavor the remaining ham, pickles (way too fancy, by the way, these pickles---they would benefit greatly from using plain old Vlasic hamburger chips), and mustard might have had, which didn't seem to be much. It was one of the blandest things I've eaten in a very long time. Of course, I know I'm not going to get a Miami-style Cuban up here, but I at least expected it to be good for what it was. For a look at what a proper Cuban sandwich should be, check out this piece on the making of a Cuban at Versailles, in Miami.

Jeannene, on the other hand, really liked her sandwich, the BTA, multigrain bread holding bacon, tomato, avocado, Havarti, and Cheddar, all grilled. The fries were completely pedestrian. The waiter heartily recommended them over the kettle chips and they were, I am fairly certain, billed as "hand-cut," but they were basically Wendy's fries. No flavor or texture to them, really. I ate 3 or 4 and called it quits.

In an attempt to make up for the dissatisfaction of dinner, I wanted dessert. The chocolate chip cookie in a skillet was tasty, but I am always comparing those to the one we had years ago at Forge in the Forest in Carmel, and they tend to fall short. This one was thin and broad, with a kind of hippie granola vibe. It was the kind of cookie that's very good warm with ice cream, but practically inedible once it has cooled. So, what we didn't eat, we cheerfully left behind.

Texas Roadhouse, Erie, PA, March 7, 2015

We handed the meal decision-making reins to Boot & his girlfriend, L, for dinner Saturday night. Boot chose Texas Roadhouse. We haven't been there in a very long time, as there doesn't seem to be one near us. We arrived at 4 in the afternoon to find it absolutely slammed, which seemed really weird for that hour. Later, as we were leaving, it was even more packed, so I'm glad we had an early dinner! We had just enough time for a drink at the bar (I had a pretty decent, if somewhat watered down, Jamaican Cowboy, with Malibu rum, peach schnapps, orange and pineapple juices, and a little bit of a margarita) before we were seated. There was no lightbulb in the booth's fixture, so Boot went to request a lightbulb. We were told that there's an electrical problem with that fixture and offered a different booth, when one became available. Not interested in waiting longer, we just stayed at that table. It wasn't a huge deal, but was a bit weird.

Jeannene and I both chose the smallest ribeye possible. I had a salad with mine that seemed like it was mostly iceberg, cheese shreds, and chopped egg. When I get a salad, I like to have vegetables in it, so I was done after a few bites, instead sinking my teeth into one of their yummy yeast rolls with cinnamon honey butter. Jeannene chose rattlesnake bites and a cactus blossom for our appetizers. Luckily, Boot's girlfriend likes spicy food, because the rattlesnake bites (fried Monterey Jack with a goodly dose of diced jalapeño) were too hot for the rest of us to handle! I didn't even finish one---took a bite and that was plenty. The onion was good, too, but dripping with oil from the deep frying, so I chose not to eat much of it. I could cheerfully have devoured a decent chunk of it, though, had I not been thinking about my arteries. Good thing she didn't order the fried pickles, because I have less self-restraint with those.

Our steaks were delicious, perfectly cooked and quite flavorful, and our baked potatoes were fluffy and tender. Boot had ribs with his and reported that they were great. L was quite happy with her country-fried steak, once they brought her the right kind of gravy for it. It was enormous, though, so she took half of it home. None of us were hungry for dessert. I'd ordered a peach margarita, thinking it could be my dessert, but it was so sickly sweet that I couldn't bring myself to drink it.

We watched the way the operation of the restaurant ran and, I have to say, it was as well-oiled as the cactus blossom. Everything ran in a smooth cadence that was pretty impressive, for as chaotic as the place was while we were there.

Crossroads Dinor, Edinboro, PA, March 6, 2015

Jeannene and I had been to the Crossroads Dinor for lunch on a previous visit to Edinboro and had a good meal. This time, the food was not great and the service was a little spacey, owing to one waitress being assigned to entirely too much territory. It was a Friday night, so there was a fairly loud and not terribly good band, but we were able to be seated in a quieter section. It smelled like a roast beef hot shot in there, so I ended ordering the dish that looked most likely to be the source of the yummy smell, the chopped sirloin with gravy. I can't imagine chopped sirloin without mashed potatoes, so those were one of my sides. I picked corn as the other. Jeannene ordered exactly the same thing.

I liked mine just fine, once they brought me gravy for my meat---the dish arrived with gravy on the potatoes, but not on the meat, even though the waitress specifically asked if I wanted gravy on the meat and even though Jeannene's had gravy on both. The potatoes were a little on the loose, floppy side for my liking and the meat had entirely too much of a Liquid Smoke flavor, but it was edible. Jeannene, however, took a bite and said, "Nope." She took one more, just to be sure, then pushed her plate away, not even willing to eat the sides.

We took it with us, so as not to be rude, but left it in our hotel room fridge when we left. I never know what to do with leftovers I'm not going to eat in hotels. A lot of times, we have something really stellar for dinner and I just can't finish it during our stay. If I were a hotel maid and someone left decent leftovers, I would be pretty excited to get to eat something different from what I usually eat, but some folks might consider it weird or gross or insulting to eat someone's leftovers, even if they're untouched (& especially if you don't know for sure they're untouched). So, I tend to leave them in the fridge instead of throwing them away, in case the maid is someone like me. I hope it's not a pain in the neck for them to have to deal with my leftovers. If any of you work as or have worked as a hotel maid and would like to weigh in, please do!

Checkers, March 5, 2015

Last Thursday night, we were busy packing our bags for a weekend trip to visit our oldest at college, so Jeannene, whose night it was to choose dinner, brought home fast food from Checkers for dinner. We normally don't eat much fast food, but every once in awhile, it tastes quite good. This was one of those occasions. Jeannene loves their chili cheese fries, so she had those with her cheeseburger. I just had plain fries with mine. Their cheeseburgers are among the better fast food cheeseburgers, in my opinion. They're definitely fast food, of course. Their buffalo chicken sliders are pretty tasty, too. Some of you folks may know this place as Rally's. I like the variety of their menu better than many places, too.

Roast Lemon Chicken, March 4, 2015

There is just something so very homey about a roasted chicken. Last Wednesday, we had a very cozy evening, with a nice, clean house, candles burning, and chicken for supper. This is my favorite go-to recipe for roast chicken. In order to honor the coming spring weather, I made a light, spring-y vegetable to go with the heavier potatoes & carrots roasted with the chicken. My tastebuds were absolutely delighted with the lemony snow peas!

Lemon Roast Chicken
A  3 1/2-4 lb. roasting chicken
1 lemon
Rosemary sprigs, optional
Salt & pepper
1 tbsp. butter
Olive oil
Diced potatoes
Baby carrots

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place chicken in roasting pan or 13x9 baking pan. Place half the lemon and the rosemary, if using, inside. Rub chicken with salt and pepper, getting some of it under the skin. Rub with butter, then drizzle with olive oil. Toss potatoes and carrots around the bottom of the pan (or cook them separately, drizzled with a little olive oil, in a small baking pan, if you don't want the added calories from roasting them in chicken fat). Cook about an hour and 15 minutes, until meat thermometer reads 165 degrees when inserted into the inner thigh, not touching the bone. Remove from oven and sprinkle with juice from remaining lemon half. Let stand, tented with foil, in the roasting pan for about 15 minutes. Serves 2-4. Any leftover meat makes for a terrific chicken salad. 

Snow Peas with Lemon Tarragon Butter
1/2 lb. snow peas, trimmed
3/4 tbsp. butter, room temperature
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest (dried works fine, if you have it around)
1 tsp. finely chopped tarragon (dried works fine, if you can't find fresh)
1 tsp. finely chopped parsley
Salt and pepper

Drop snow peas into boiling water and cook until crisp-tender, about a minute and a half. Mix everything else together. Drain snow peas and toss with butter. Serves 2. 

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Cincinnati Porkburgers, March 3, 2015

Last night, we had a nice, home-y dinner of porkburgers (I made ours mini, but will give the full-sized recipe here), egg noodles, and honeyed acorn squash with crushed pineapple, pecans, and cherries. The acorn squash was basically dessert---oh, so delicious! I was pretty skeptical of the porkburgers. I've had the recipe for years, copied down from a creaky old Cincinnati cookbook, the kind where all the recipes are from women who don't have their own names, but are listed as, for example, Mrs. John Taylor and Mrs. George Smith. I wasn't skeptical of the pork aspect, but of the fact that they are cooked in prune juice and port wine. I'd never had prune juice, but it does have a rather bad reputation and, if you recall, I have a thing about sweet and meat together. However, they turned out to be quite tasty and not at all too sweet.

Cincinnati Porkburgers
1 lb. ground pork
1 c. flour
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 c. prune juice
1/2 c. port wine
1/2 tsp. caraway seeds

Form meat into 4 patties. Mix flour, mustard, salt, and pepper. Dredge burgers in flour mixture. Brown on both sides in olive oil (I'm sure you could also just use cooking spray---the original recipe called for bacon grease). Add prune juice, port, and caraway. Cover and simmer on lower heat for 45 minutes, adding water if necessary. Serves 4. 

Honeyed Acorn Squash
1 acorn squash, halved
1/4 c. butter, melted (this can be omitted)
4 tbsp. crushed pineapple
2 tbsp. honey (or to taste)
2 tbsp. chopped pecans
2 tbsp. dried cherries

Place squash, cut-side-up, in a microwave-safe dish. Microwave on high until softened, about 10 minutes. Mix everything else together and spoon into squash halves. Microwave on high another minute. Serves 2. 

Green Eggs & Ham at Leo's, March 2, 2015

We traditionally have green eggs and ham for dinner on Dr. Seuss' birthday. However, this year, we were at the library for Book Bingo, so we decided just to stop by Leo's (which is a local diner/coney island chain) on the way home instead of cooking when we got home. I figured I could easily get something green egg & hammish there---and I did! I ordered a Western omelet, with green pepper, onion, & ham. Jeannene chose the fish & chips, which were also really good.

It's funny how many diner-type restaurants there are in this part of the world. We have found them to be scarce in other areas where we've lived (I mean, not counting chains like Denny's, and even those are not easy to find in a lot of areas). Here, it seems to be the very most prevalent sort of restaurant.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Sunday Dinner: Steak, March 1, 2015

Our Sunday dinner this week was steak, which Jeannene marinated in a ton of garlic and Xingu black beer, then broiled. I had a boneless strip steak, while the rest of the family had t-bones. Jeannene thought I might get wigged out by the bones and kindly made me a different sort. It was delicious! She accompanied it with potato & cheese pierogies we picked up at Costco and oven-roasted asparagus. She also made Red Lobster Cheddar Bay biscuits (in my opinion, the only reason to go to Red Lobster these days---and good enough that it would be worth it---LOL) from a mix. Dessert was incredibly rich French Silk Pie from Papa Joe's grocery, the kind of dessert that's scrumptious, but best as a tiny, tiny sliver.

What I Ate Last Week, February 21-28, 2015

Oh, dear, I've fallen behind on my blogging dinners. I will just give a quick report of what I've been eating, I suppose, and get back on track. Kind of silly and not that I imagine that many of you care if I miss a week, but in case someone out there is dying to know, here it is:

February 21: Jet's pizza with pepperoni & extra cheese in the midst of packing madness

February 22: H Bar, Hyatt House, Parsippany, NJ (I had grilled cheese and drooled over Jeannene's excellent, delicious cream of mushroom soup)

February 23: Qin Dynasty, Parsippany, NJ (Excellent steamed pork dumplings following really cold in the middle, stuffed with mushrooms spring rolls that I did not eat, tasty beef chow fun, complimentary---and terrific---sweet red bean soup & orange wedges)

February 24: Empire Diner, Parsippany, NJ (Quite possibly the highest quality roast beef hot shot I've ever had)

February 25: La Isla, Hoboken, NJ (I met friends for dinner & had the chorizo y camarones cazuela for an appetizer---with real Cuban bread!---and the masitas de puerco with moros and maduros for my main course. It was not as good as Miami Cuban, but it was quite yummy. And dessert was completely swoony, a guava & queso pastelito. Oh, man. I would go just for that and a cup of cafe con leche!)

February 26: Earl of Sandwich, Newark Airport (The Original 1762, a roast beef and cheddar hot sandwich---not as good as the Downtown Disney location, but pretty good for airport food)

February 27: Max & Erma's, Rochester Hills, Michigan (Philly cheesesteak---with wonderfully fresh green peppers---and fries)

February 28: Jeannene made garlic-marinated chicken breast, mac & cheese, and corn.