Thursday, April 23, 2015

Lili's Diner, April 21, 2015

Lili's Diner, in Oxford, Michigan, is one of Jeannene's favorite places to eat. I really like it, too. It's just one of many little, unpretentious diners that flourish in this part of the world. Frankly, Jeannene and I thought the genre was almost dead until we moved up here and found them everywhere! Jeannene called me in the later afternoon on Tuesday and invited me to join her in shopping for the Earth Day raffle she was having at work. We picked out a blueberry bush, a peach tree, a bunch of seeds, and some other gardening items. What fun that was! Then, we drove to Lili's to have breakfast for dinner. My mom had told me they were having oatmeal pancakes (I am hoping for the recipe---sounds great!), so I thought about getting pancakes, but I usually don't like my main course to be sweet.

I ordered a fried egg and sausage sandwich on an English muffin, with hash browns on the side and a cup of sliced bananas and strawberries for dessert. Everything was, as always at Lili's, really good. The hash browns, actually, had been kind of blah when I'd had them before, but they were truly fabulous the other night! I can't put my finger on the difference, but it's definitely there. Jeannene and I suspect they've found a source for butter from fairy cows or something.

Jeannene was kind enough to let me have a couple bites of her wonderful banana pecan chocolate chip pancakes. Wowee! She had some turkey sausage on the side, as well as cottage cheese to start. The diners around here almost all have very good cottage cheese.

I was not thrilled with the service the other night, as the waitress seemed a bit unfriendly. However, she also had the entire restaurant as her "section," so perhaps, although it wasn't crowded, she was a little frazzled. Usually, the waitresses we have are very friendly and cheery, so it was a bit of a surprise for us.

Max & Erma's, April 20, 2015

Since Jeannene was later getting home from work and we wanted to go to the gym before dinner, our options became limited. Luckily, Max & Erma's is open until 11, so we weren't just relegated to fast food. Luckily, we also like Max & Erma's. We started with their black bean roll-ups, which are delicious and on the guilt-free end of the spectrum. Apparently, they've started also serving a crispy version, which I'm sure are great, but less healthy. Jeannene chose a beautiful piece of salmon with grilled asparagus and mixed veggies on the side. I am always leery of mixed veggies involving zucchini and squash in chain restaurants, as they are generally quite overcooked, which was the case with hers. So, she left those, but greatly enjoyed the fish and asparagus. I was in the mood for a burger and feeling adventurous, so I ordered the new meatball burger, which is basically a giant meatball on a hamburger bun with a slice of mozzarella and sauce. I loved pizza burgers at Dick & Tom's when I was growing up and hoped it would be somewhat like that, if a bit more unwieldy. Sadly, the sauce was terribly spicy, which didn't ruin it for me, but made it less enjoyable. However, the other half, when heated up for lunch, turned out to be less spicy (or my mouth was just expecting it?). Since I had fries with it, I (reluctantly) opted not to have one of their gooey, warm cookies or the scrumptious banana cream pie for dessert.

When we arrived, all the chairs on the main level were put up and we were reluctant to enter. The bartender told us we still had half an hour so, once she had assured us that she was happy to serve us, we went in. I often feel it's a jerk move to go in at the last minute, but a Max & Erma's meal doesn't usually take much longer than half an hour, anyway. Had the bartender seemed even a bit reluctant, though, we wouldn't have gone in. She was actually really friendly and seemed genuinely pleased to feed us. That won her big points---and a good tip.

Jeet India, April 19, 2015

On Sunday, we had a very early dinner before we left the Dayton area. We'd been invited to brunch at Clifton Mill, which we love, with some cool folks we'd just met, but didn't have time to make it. We were very hungry when we walked into Jeet India in Beavercreek for a very late lunch/early dinner. It smelled wondrous! We've not yet found a good Indian restaurant in our area, although I am sure they exist, so we were very excited to get yummy Indian food. We shared the veggie sampler for an appetizer. Jeannene is always excited about paneer pakora. I really dig the veggie pakoras and the samosas. My favorite thing is usually the pappadam, but the one that came to us was fairly flavorless and tasted a tad greasy and as though the oil needed to be changed. Everything else was really good, though, so perhaps not.

With our meals, we each got bread. Jeannene's favorite is garlic naan---we both love garlic---and I can't resist bhatura ever. We both got chicken tikka masala. I will order something else if I've had good chicken tikka masala lately, but I was so hungry for it that I wasn't at all adventurous. It was perfect, too, a bit spicier than I'd expected and better than I'd expected. Neither of us could finish our meal, so we had wonderful leftovers for lunch.

Sadly, the gulab jamun was not at all what I had hoped. I'm used to it being warm and syrupy, but what arrived were two cold, lonesome-looking dough balls. They were certainly tender, but I didn't like them enough to waste calories on them. I am hoping there is warm gulab jamun not too far in my future.

The Winds Cafe, April 18, 2015

Whenever we're in or near my hometown, we try to have a meal at The Winds Cafe, our favorite restaurant. Since I was preaching the next morning at the local Presbyterian church, this past Saturday was a "Let's Eat At The Winds" night. We were all gussied up to attend the adult prom fundraiser, as well, Jeannene dashing in a tux and pink tie and vest and I in a favorite sundress and butterfly shawl---and, of course, one of my tiaras.

We started with cheese service and drinks, Clos Normand hard cider for me (my favorite hard cider) and a very nice saison for Jeannene, I think perhaps Duval from Napoleone. I couldn't tell you what the cheeses were, as our server didn't run through them for us. He was a really nice guy, but not terribly good about little details like that or letting us know what the day's tart, cheesecake, and ice cream were. I loved the cheeses Jeannene hated and she loved the ones I hated, a perfect situation. I know for certain that one of the great ones (in my mind) was Bucheron, one of my favorite French goat cheeses, and I really dug the blue cheese selection, so I wish I knew what it was. I should have paid more attention to the cheese menu. The ones Jeannene liked were, if I recall correctly, a very grassy Cheddar and one that tasted Swiss-y to me. We were both quite lukewarm about the brie which replaced the Belletoile after it ran out. Perhaps it hadn't been out of the fridge long enough? With our cheese, we enjoyed a basket of their terrific bread, along with a small dish of olives and another of salted Marcona almonds. We can never find Marconas that taste as good as theirs and had intended to pick up a tub of them the next day, along with some hummus and some sundries tomato dip from Current Cuisine, but we had errands to run and didn't make it back to town before heading home. A pity.

For our main courses, I chose the flatiron steak with Irish whiskey butter, with carrot mashed potatoes  on the side (which is a stellar idea, by the way---I must make those at home!) and Jeannene had a truly fabulous sautéed wild-caught fish with spiced foamed butter, served on black coconut rice. I was, honestly, a bit jealous of her entree because it was so delicious, and if anyplace is safe for me to order fish and trust that I will love it, The Winds is safe. Oh, and Rue Dumaine in Centerville, Ohio. Man, Anne Kearney's scallops are the best!

Desserts are wonderful at The Winds, especially their chocolate mousse. I've never found chocolate mousse to rival it anywhere. In fact, I've given up trying because I am invariably disappointed. I wish I had their recipe. Amazing stuff. However, they always have it on the menu and I was curious to try the Black Forest Cake, which is not always on the menu. I am so glad I did. It was definitely the best Black Forest Cake I've ever had, light and delicate, but very flavorful. Yum yum!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sour Cream Potato Soup, April 17, 2015

Last week, I made two very mediocre soups. In Jeannene's opinion, I made two inedible soups. This potato soup was the second one. For me, this was the worse of the two. I didn't like the tanginess of the sour cream or the texture, which seemed too silky. Jeannene says it would have been great, but for the caraway. In case any of y'all might actually love it, I am including the recipe. But be warned that it's 2-thumbs-down from our household. I've adapted the recipe from Twelve Months of Monastery Soups by Brother Victor Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette, which is actually full of some really yummy soups, too. I got the idea for the avocado and goat cheese salad I made with this from his salad cookbook. Jeannene loved that and I would have, too, had it not been for the goat cheese, which seemed too heavy for the delicate greens for me. For dessert, I made a raspberry tart, which was the favorite part of the meal for both of us.

Sour Cream Potato Soup
3 potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 c. chicken or veggie broth
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp. caraway seeds (or to taste)
Salt & pepper
2 tbsp. flour
1/4 c. milk
8 oz. sour cream

Bring potatoes, broth, bay leaves, caraway seeds, salt, and pepper to a gentle boil. Turn down heat and cook until potatoes are tender. Stir the flour into the milk until completely dissolved. Add to soup, stirring constantly. Add the sour cream, still stirring. Bring to a boil again and simmer gently about 10 minutes. Remove bay leaves before serving. Serves 2-3. 

Avocado & Goat Cheese Salad
Tear 3-4 leaves Bibb or Boston lettuce per person into bite-sized pieces and arrange on a salad plate. Cut a log of goat cheese into thick medallions, 1-2 oz. per person, and warm in oven or microwave just until they begin to melt. Toss 1/2 diced avocado per person on the greens. For every 2 people, whisk together 3 tbsp. olive oil, juice of 1/2 lemon, salt, and pepper to make dressing. Put goat cheese on salads. Drizzle with dressing. 

Raspberry Tart
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1 c. heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp. sugar
1 pint raspberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place puff pastry on parchment-lined baking sheet. Press the tines of a fork along the edges to form a border. Bake about 15 minutes, until browned and puffed. Cool completely. Meanwhile, beat the cream & sugar to stiff peaks. Top with berries. Serves 6-8. 

P.F. Chang's, April 16, 2015

Since we had to go pick up my wife's tux for the adult prom Thursday night, I suggested we just have dinner out. She has happy to do that, but not in the mood for decision-making, so I gave her the choice of either Bahama Breeze or P.F. Chang's. To my surprise, she chose P.F. Chang's. We decided to try the new chicken satay for an appetizer. Jeannene suggested it because she knows I love chicken satay. I would rather have had the lettuce wraps or potstickers, but I thought she especially wanted the satay. She did end up really liking it. I found the sauce entirely too runny and it tasted awful to me. Perhaps it was heavy on the cilantro? Anyway, I ended up not eating it. My Mongolian beef more than made up for it. It was completely delicious. I love that they offer either brown or white rice, too. I assumed I'd like the white rice best, but I actually much preferred the brown, which was perfect because we ordered both and my honey is, as she puts it, "a white rice kinda girl." Both were cooked just right. Jeannene's entree was the curry coconut vegetables, with crispy tofu, and she really loved it.

The first couple of times I went to P.F. Chang's, I was completely unimpressed. Then, my dear friends, Aaron & Mimi, got married and wanted to go to P.F. Chang's for their "reception" (very small, only 6 of us, going to dinner together). I was less than delighted at the prospect and it was terrific. Every time I've been since then, I've had a great experience. And I have great memories of Aaron, Mimi, Aimee, and Angelo. I also have great memories of a trip there with my cousin, Jessie, even though the food and the experience were not so awesome. Pretty much any experience with Jessie is great.

Skillet Quiche, April 15, 2015

We had leftover ham and Jeannene asked me to make quiche, so I decided to try this idea I'd seen in Jeffrey Saad's Global Kitchen for quiche you make in a skillet on top of the stove. I don't think it really qualifies as quiche, but it was definitely yummy and a lot faster than regular quiche. It's more like a frittata with a crust. The nice thing about it is that you can use whatever fillings you like.

I made a fennel & cabbage slaw and some pears with honey and queso fresco to go with it. I don't like traditional, mayo-based coleslaw, but I am a huge fan of non-creamy slaws and fennel is one of my favorite additions. For this slaw, I just tossed a package of cole slaw mix with a sliced bulb of fennel. Then, I added the juice of 1 lemon, a big pinch of sugar, a couple glugs of olive oil, salt, and pepper. I tossed it all around to get it all coated with the dressing. The red d'Anjou pears were heavenly drizzled with a little warmed honey and served with queso fresco. I might dust them with a bit of freshly ground pepper next time, just to see what that does.

Skillet Quiche
6 eggs (you can probably do this with egg whites or Eggbeaters, too)
1/4 c. half and half (milk is fine, too---even skim)
A pinch of salt
A grinding of pepper
1 c. shredded Swiss cheese (this can be low fat or even omitted)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 c. panko (regular dry breadcrumbs are fine, as well)
1 tsp. herbes de Provence
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese 
1 slice of spiral ham, chopped
7 grape tomatoes, halved
A handful of spinach leaves, chopped 

Whisk eggs with half and half, salt, & pepper. Stir in the cheese. Cook panko and herbes de Provence in olive oil in a medium skillet. Press into the bottom and sides to form a crust. Sprinkle the bottom with parmesan. Add ham, tomatoes, and spinach---or whatever fillings you like! Pour in the eggs & cheese. Cover and turn down heat to medium-low. Cook until set, 10-13 minutes. Serves 4. 

Cajun-Spiced Turkey Meatloaf, April 14, 2015

Meatloaf is among the most prosaic of dishes, but man, is it good! Neither of our boys ever liked it, but both of us love it. I decided to do something a little different than my usual meatloaf this time, making a turkey meatloaf instead of beef, spicing it up a bit, and putting more veggies in than I usually do. Jeannene loved it and I thought it was pretty dang good, myself. I made mashed potatoes and fresh peas to go with it.

Cajun-Spiced Turkey Meatloaf
1 1/2 lb. ground turkey
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/4 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 c. panko
1 egg
1/4 c. ketchup (plus more for topping)
2 tsp. cajun seasoning
2 tsp. garlic powder
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix everything together, gently, just until everything is well-combined. Press into a loaf pan. Top with extra ketchup. Bake until a meat thermometer in the center reads 165 degrees, 45-55 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing. Serves 6-8. 

Ruby Tuesday, April 11, 2015

Another evening when I thought I was cooking became dinner at Ruby Tuesday when we were out poking around for the day and discovered we were hungry. We hadn't been to Ruby Tuesday in quite awhile and I was in the mood for a burger. Jeannene always likes it there. She and her mommy used to go there when they were out shopping. They always loved the salad bar and her mom was a big fan of their quiche (which I don't think they have anymore).

We both love the salad bar there, too, so we each got a beautiful salad. I love their attention to detail. Then, Jeannene had a plate of salmon with fresh veggies and I had a classic cheeseburger with mashed potatoes. I had forgotten that their medium is most other places' medium-rare, so my burger was a smidge underdone, but still good. We also had delicious cocktails, the Ruby Relaxer. Jeannene hardly ever drinks mixed drinks, but she loves this one. I'm all for any cocktail with cranberry and pineapple juices! I think next time we go, I'll just have the salad bar. I could cheerfully have gone back for another round and would have enjoyed the broccoli and edamame and peppers much more than the burger.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Carrot Soup, April 13, 2015

I kind of suspect my wife was avoiding the carrot soup I planned to make for several days. I finally made it on Monday and, frankly, it was fine, but not stellar. Jeannene took a few bites and was done. I ate a whole bowl and thought it was okay, but would not make it again. Neither of us is a big carrot soup fan in the first place, though, so you may really love this soup. I am trying to broaden my cooking horizons and this was an attempt. I made sure to have some chicken salad and crackers, too, as well as veggies and dip (Marzetti), so that if we didn't like the soup, there'd be plenty we did like. I believe either one of us could cheerfully have eaten the entire amount of chicken salad all by ourself. I hope you like it, too.

Carrot Soup
5-6 c. chicken or veggie stock/broth (if you want a thicker soup, use 5. I used 6 so as not to waste half a can of broth)
1 lb. carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 leek (white and green parts only), chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
About an inch of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 c. buttermilk (this can be omitted or you can sub soy milk/creamer or almond milk)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt & pepper

Mix everything but the buttermilk and lemon juice in a soup pot. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low 20-25 minutes. Puree either with an immersion blender (one of my favorite kitchen tools) or, carefully, in batches in a regular blender. Add buttermilk and lemon juice. Adjust seasonings and heat through. A little curry powder would not be misplaced, with the other spices. Serves 6-8. 

Chicken Salad with Walnuts
2 c. chopped cooked chicken
A handful of chopped walnuts
2/3 c. mayonnaise
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
Salt and pepper

Mix everything together and serve with crackers. Also good for sandwiches or with fruit. Serves 4.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ham for a Late Easter Celebration, April 12, 2015

Since we were away for actual Easter dinner, we figured we'd celebrate a week late with Pie and Bubbles. Jeannene found a smallish Dearborn ham for a good price. Our sides were potatoes au gratin (from a box, but massively doctored---read "ultra-cheesed"---by Jeannene), asparagus, and whole grain ciabatta. I handled dessert, a chocolate version of Paula Deen's Gooey Butter Cake, subbing chocolate cake mix for the yellow cake mix. It's ridiculously unhealthy, with two sticks of butter and a whole package of cream cheese, and you should absolutely not make it if you don't have either the ability to get rid of most of it via care packages sent home with guests or incredible self-control. It's super rich, too rich for Jeannene, but if you like terribly rich and lusciously gooey, try to find an occasion upon which you can make it for guests. Serve it warm. Bubbles thought vanilla bean ice cream might have cut the sweet a bit. She's probably right.

Mitchell's Fish Market, April 10, 2015

I'd planned to make the dinner I didn't make on Thursday for our Friday dinner, but my wife was hungry for fish, so we stopped by Mitchell's Fish Market in Rochester Hills. We'd been there for drinks before and had been favorably impressed, but hadn't yet returned for dinner. I sometimes get weird about eating seafood, kind of like when I get weird about eating other meats on the bone, and, unfortunately, that happened Friday night. I had ordered grilled tilapia and the first bite of it tasted moldy to me. This particular flavor has assailed my tongue at other places, especially with tilapia, but also sometimes with swordfish and mahi mahi. I am never sure if it's the restaurant or my weird tastebuds. It's never happened to me at home. Jeannene refused to try it to see if I was crazy or if it tasted bad. Luckily, they were very gracious about giving me something different. I felt bad about it, but I was not eating that fish. I decided to try the scallops, which were perfectly cooked. They tasted terrific to me, but I was too wigged out to eat them. Yes, I am a weirdo. I ate half of them and gave the rest to Jeannene.

I was pretty dang happy with my mashed potatoes and wonderful mixed veggies. You know how "mixed vegetables" is often code for "overcooked squash and broccoli"? In this case, it meant beautiful, crisp-tender green beans, carrot slivers, and broccoli. We had a fabulous appetizer of almond-crusted baked brie and their sourdough is actually sour! I would go there just for bread, veggies, and cocktails (or lattes, which is what we had Friday). We shared a mini portion of their Sharkfin Pie. It was more than enough for the two of us and it was really yummy and peanutty. It's fudgy ice cream with peanut butter, in an Oreo crust, coated with peanuts. I am not usually a peanut or peanut butter person, but it was good.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Life Cafe, April 9, 2015

I'd intended to have dinner ready when Jeannene got home, but got busy with tax paperwork, so we had dinner after mermaid practice and Jeannene's haircut. The Life Cafe is very convenient and the food is tasty, so we just ate there. I had a great black bean & corn salsa quesadilla, with a banana for dessert, and Jeannene had a really yummy peanut butter, honey, & banana sandwich. She let me have a bite and now I have to make one for my lunch!

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Pork Scaloppine, April 8, 2015

Last night, I made a quick and easy dinner before we headed to the gym. I made pork scaloppine (which never looks as though it's spelled correctly, whichever way I spell it), gnocchi (from a package) with pesto (from a jar), a beautiful romaine & radicchio salad with honeyed orange dressing, and fresh fruit (already cut up from the produce section). The pork was yummy and the dressing is my current favorite, light and sweet. It's completely swoony!

Pork Scaloppine
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 thin pork cutlets
Salt & pepper
1 c. chicken broth (I used fat-free)
Splash of dry white wine
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Heat butter and oil in skillet. Season pork with salt & pepper. Cook in butter and oil until cooked through and browned on both sides. Keep warm on a plate in the oven. Add broth and wine to skillet and bring to a simmer, scraping bottom of pan to deglaze. Cook until slightly thickened and reduced, about 5 minutes. Add lemon juice and salt, if needed. Serve pork cutlets with pan sauce. Serves 2.

Honeyed Orange Dressing
Juice of one small orange (I used a Cara Cara last night)
1 tbsp. honey
1/2 shallot, minced
2 tsp. white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper

Whisk everything together until well-blended. Toss with salad greens. 

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Life Cafe, April 7, 2015

On the 14th anniversary of us becoming a couple, we celebrated with mermaid practice at our gym, where we upgraded my membership to a couples' membership last night, followed by dinner in the cafe there. Jeannene confessed on the way home that she had been afraid the food would be terrible. I've gotten breakfast there after my aquatics class a few times and have always been favorably impressed. Last night, she chose the Cobb salad, which was just gorgeous, and a specialty smoothie with banana, peanut butter, and chocolate whey protein. I had some Pop Chips as an appetizer while we waited for our food, then tucked into a really yummy buffalo chicken wrap and spinach and shredded carrots with tahini goddess dressing. You have no control over what you get on the side, as far as I know, so it's really fun for me because sometimes it challenges me to try things I wouldn't ordinarily order. For dessert, I had a banana. It may not sound terribly romantic, but we both really love swimming and extra time together is always a wonderful thing! Plus, it's good for me to learn from Jeannene, the former swim team star. I've loved swimming since I was tiny, but I never learned about things like flip turns or challenging myself to work with only my legs by using the boards. I'm looking forward to many more happy swims---and the occasional breakfast date at the cafe.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Bob Evans, April 6, 2015

Last night, we were again on the road at dinner-time, this time, heading home. We drove and drove, finally stopping for dinner in Bowling Green, Ohio. Neither of us was in the mood for wings, so we drove past the Fricker's to Bob Evans. We used to eat at Bob Evans fairly often, but there isn't one close to where we live, so it was nice to dine there. It was one of my grandparents' favorite places. Jeannene had chopped sirloin with mashed potatoes, gravy, and corn (which she mixed all together with great glee), while I tried their new (and very tasty) broasted chicken, also with mashed potatoes. I couldn't resist a cup of their scrumptious chicken & noodle soup for a starter and had a cup of fresh fruit for dessert. Just what we were in the mood to eat!

Easter Quiche, April 5, 2015

The traditional Easter feast in our household is ham, au gratin potatoes, and asparagus. However, when you're feeding vegetarians a festive meal, it feels mean just to expect them to eat the sides. So, we mixed things up a bit at my almost-grandma's and I made 2 quiches, one with ham and cheddar, the other with asparagus and swiss for the veggies. I topped a big salad of mixed baby greens and baby spinach with fresh raspberries and had a fat-free raspberry vinaigrette from Maple Grove Farms to dress it. Jeannene chose a fruit tray from the grocery and we also had a fluffy loaf of French bread. My mom made a white cake with homemade buttercream for dessert. We'd meant to make the cake in my grandmom's lamb pan, but it hid from my mom, so we just had a regular and very good layer cake. You can find my quiche recipe here.

Garbanzo & Ditalini Stew, April 4, 2015

My mom and stepdad always have their Saturday dinner & a movie down in the holler with my almost-grandma. It's always fun to hear what she has cooked and what they chose to watch. It's even more fun to be there for it! This past Saturday, my mom made a fabulous vegetarian version of pasta e fagioli, using chickpeas instead of more traditional cranberry or kidney beans. She is supposed to be sending me the recipe, which I'll post, assuming it's okay with her. We had some cut-up carrots, celery, and cauliflower on the side, as well as guacamole for dipping. Dessert was my stepdad's birthday carrot cake, dense, chewy, and delicious, as well as some plain yogurt drizzled with maple syrup from my folks' trees up on the hill. That was truly the very most delicious maple syrup either Jeannene or I have tasted. Completely swoony.

Roca's Mexican Grill, April 3, 2015

One of the few restaurants available in Cross Lanes, WV, is Roca's Mexican Grill, on the way up the hill to the casino. We took my mom there on the Friday night of our visit and it was terrific! Our server was charming and didn't rush us a bit, even when my wife got dithery. My mom had a veggie quesadilla, Jeannene opted for a funky tortilla-wrapped package of steak called, I think, a volcano, and I had pork chile verde, which was very good. I am kind of picky about my chile verde and they did a wonderful job with it at Roca's, with chunks of flavorful, tender pork in a lovely tomatillo sauce. It was served with refried beans and rice, both of which had a great deal more character (in a good way) than most you encounter in your typical Americanized Mexican spot. The salsa was quite good, as was the guacamole, but they served the chips with a very suspicious mayo-based sauce that was truly icky---sweet and just really odd. The queso sauce was quite thin, but pretty good---I think I would just stick to the salsa & huac for future visits, but I will definitely be making future visits. One of the best choices for Cross Lanes.

T.G.I. Friday's, April 2, 2015

My mom came into town to hang out with us at the hotel, swim, and visit. There's not much from which to choose in Cross Lanes, WV, so we found ourselves at T.G.I. Friday's. We took our Cards Against Humanity deck and had a rip-roaring good, hilarious time together. Jeannene and I split their potstickers, which always surprise me with how yummy they are. My mom ordered a black bean burger with avocado for her main course, and broccoli on the side, and proclaimed it delicious. Jeannene loved her ribs and I quite liked my chicken skewers, although I found the marinade and sauce both a bit heavy on the ginger for my taste. The Jasmine rice pilaf that came under the chicken was good and the pita soft and flavorful, but man, oh, man, was the broccoli overcooked! Yuck! I just hate mushy broccoli.

McDonald's, April 1, 2015

On April 1st, we were on the road to West Virginia when dinner-time hit. We knew we wouldn't arrive until well after everything around where my mom lives was closed and we were trying to make good time, since we didn't get on the road for the journey until 6:30, so we just drove through McDonald's. Neither of us were thrilled. Now, if they served breakfast all day...

Beef & Apple Tagine, March 31, 2015

I got a tagine 2 Christmases ago and have only used it once because I keep finding recipes for tagines that require stovetop and oven safe ones. Mine is only okay for the oven. However, we do really like the flavor combinations, so I go ahead and make them in a pot or deep skillet on the stove. The other night, I made a beef and apple tagine, with crispy Persian rice (tahdig), garlic naan, and a salad of cucumbers and tomatoes with a lemon & olive oil dressing accented with mint and sumac. The rice was delicious, but didn't turn out to be so crispy because I didn't have a non-stick saucepan for it. I suspected just spraying the pan with nonstick cooking spray wouldn't do the trick and I was right. So, most of the crispy part just got stuck to the pan. Oh, well, there was plenty of non-crispy yumminess, anyway. The tagine here is my take on the one in my Moroccan cookbook from World Market and the rice is an amalgam of a number of tahdig recipes. In doing some research into more recipes, after the fact, I discovered a couple of tricks that might help next time (and might help you the first time!) even without a nonstick pan. One is to place a layer of flatbread or sliced potatoes in the bottom of the cooking pan. Another is to add a quarter cup of yogurt to the rice before cooking. If I experiment, I'll be sure to report back!

Beef & Apple Tagine
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 lb. stewing beef, cut into 2" pieces
1 red onion, sliced
1 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
A good grinding of pepper
Pinch saffron
14 oz. beef stock
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. honey
2 smallish apples, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 tsp. cinnamon

Heat oil in large pot. Add beef, onion, seasonings and cook until beef is browned. Add broth and bring to a boil. Cover and cook on low 1 1/2 hours. Melt butter and honey together in a pan. Add apples and cinnamon, stirring to coat. Cover and cook on low 10-15 minutes. Stir into beef mixture and heat through, making sure apples and meat are tender. Serves 4. 

Crispy Persian Rice (Tahdig)
Large pinch saffron
2 tbsp. hot water
1 c. basmati rice
1 1/2 c. cold water
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. olive oil

Soak saffron in hot water for 10 minutes. Place rice in non-stick pan and fill with cold water. Swish around, then carefully pour out water. Add cold water, saffron, with its soaking water, turmeric, salt, and 1 tbsp. of the olive oil. Mix together and bring to a boil. Cover and cook 20-25 minutes over low heat (long enough to absorb all the water). Make 5 holes in the rice with the top end of a wooden spoon. Fill each hole with 1 tbsp. olive oil. Turn and tilt the pan so that the oil spreads evenly across the bottom, under the rice. Cover partially and cook on medium heat another 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool a minute. Flip onto a serving plate. Serves 4.