Summer Lunching Out on the Porch

In honor of the first day of in-service work at my school, here’s a pic from last week of my favorite summer lunch: sweet, crispy corn fritters and fresh tomatoes. (The only thing that would make them better would be if they were home-grown. But I guess locally grown is the next best thing.) Added bonus: a cool enough day to enjoy my lunch on the porch with a book and the Fuzz.

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Last week of summer (and of foodie freedom)

It’s been a busy week, and that’s not going to change once school starts. It’s going to be an adjustment, for sure, and I’ll have to change the way I think about dinner.  My goal this year, though, is to get better about prepping what I can for a meal the night before. The little one isn’t always so patient by the time Chris comes home, so it’ll be an experiment to see how we can work it out this upcoming year.

But those are thoughts for next week. This week, I had one last week having time to prep in the afternoons. Here’s what we ate:

Coming Full Circle

I had a little help in the kitchen while making last night’s dinner.

Okay, I had “help,” and then I had help. My fuzzy “helper” was trying to eat all the green beans that she could as soon as she thought I wasn’t looking.

My other little helper, while only slightly more coordinated, was very interested in green beans. As long as I kept a pile in front of her (with the ends already snapped off–she didn’t have the dexterity or understanding to snap ends, throw the ends out, and keep the good parts), she was happy to snap them into small pieces and put them in the pot for me.  When she ran out of beans in her pile, she got up, walked around to the other side of me where I had the colander of unsnapped beans, and got herself another handful.

All to end up with a pot of very unevenly snapped, but very lovingly prepared, green beans for dinner.

Suzy snapping beans photo

A new bakery in town

After my morning work session at my local coffee shop the other day, I decided to check out the newest bakery in town, the Pink Box Bakery. I saw their storefront preparing to open, decorated with bright pink signs with English and Chinese characters, and when I was walking to the library earlier in the week, I saw that almost all of the Asian restaurants had colorful signs advertising for the grand opening of the bakery. Needless to say, I was intrigued.  I was also curious as to what was going to set this bakery apart. There were already a number of bakeries in Squirrel Hill, and a fantastic one right next door; what would make this one different?

Okay, that was incredibly naive of me. Next time, perhaps I should do my research. :)

The inside of the bakery was bright, fresh, and very neatly arranged.  Right inside the door, there were baskets and tongs, and the space in the shop was filled with a table and long shelf unit lined with wicker baskets, each full of individually-wrapped buns and pastries, clearly labeled in English and Chinese. There were all different kinds of buns and pastries: savory ones filled with red bean paste or meat, ones topped with cheese or onions, sweet buns filled with cream or topped with strawberry or blueberry. There was also a case with beautifully decorated cakes.  As I was there on a whim and on a budget, I picked up two of the buns. Most of the buns were between $2 and $3, but for a treat, and for the generous size of the buns, it seemed reasonable.

For lunch, I picked up a BBQ pork bun, not really knowing what to expect but intrigued by all the different offerings.  I did a little hunting around online to see how to eat it: hot? cold? reheated?  Most of the recipes I saw featured steamed buns, but this bun looked too GBD (golden brown and delicious) to have been steamed, in my humble estimation. I did find one recipe that baked the buns, and it recommended reheating the buns in a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes, so I wrapped my bun in foil and stuck it in the toaster over for 10, a choice which seemed to produce a pretty good product! The bun itself was light and soft and fluffy, and you could taste a bit of sweetness on the golden exterior.  (I’m betting there was an egg wash of some sort involved.)  The pork filling inside was flavorful and diced, and I thought they achieved a really nice balance between the amount of meat and the amount of bun. Granted, I had never had one before, but to my untrained palate, it was a great lunch!

After dinner, Chris and I sampled the second treat I bought: a pineapple cream bun. It was not quite what I was expecting; I think it might be an acquired taste, as I read people raving and reminiscing about them online.  It was a soft bun that had been topped with a slightly sweet, slightly crumbly mixture, so that when it baked, the topping cracked on top, sort of like a shell.  While the bun itself was puffy, there was a large air bubble inside, and on the bottom of the empty space, there was a sweet “cream” filling. It reminded me somewhat of the cheese filling you’d get in a cheese danish, but more sugary. Well-executed, I’m sure, but not my favorite.

That being said, I’m looking forward to going back and trying some other, different baked goods.  There was an sweet almond pastry that caught my eye (but I didn’t think Chris would share it with me), and the savory cheese-topped buns looked delicious. I might try to talk Chris into checking it out with me this weekend, or maybe I’ll just pick a few up for dinner next week!

Starting fresh

Sorry for the lack of menu from last week. We were away for a trip to see the families, so no meal-planning for us!

One of the best and worst things about a week away is cleaning out the fridge. On the one hand, it’s a nice fresh start. No worrying about leftovers, nothing hanging around that you feel obligated to eat but don’t really want to have again, nothing you dig out and wonder if it’s still okay to eat. On the other hand, we came home on Sunday and had nothing for lunches on Monday, no options to throw together, just some staples but no veggies or main dishes to work with.

Here’s how we’re building up our stock again this week:

  • Monday: Pork with peachy-mustard sauce, green beans, and biscuits
  • Tuesday: Oven-roasted chicken, corn fritters, and roasted broccoli (I could have just eaten a plate full of the corn fritters. I have eaten the entire recipe of corn fritters, on my own, in the past. No shame about that. But the chicken and broccoli was for the other, slightly less crazy, people in the house.)
  • Wednesday: Slow-cooker pineapple pork tacos, with either a salad or zucchini
  • Thursday: Resa’s blackened tilapia (we had so much fish curry before we left, we didn’t get around to making this, so I froze the fish), corn on the cob, zucchini, and biscuits
  • Friday: Fresh roasted red pepper pasta and spinach pasta, tossed with red pepper cream sauce (have I mentioned I love everything about the farmers’ market, beyond just the vegetables?), zucchini, and chicken

The yearly tomato surplus

photo 2What do you do when you have far too many tomatoes? I always seem to end up with more tomatoes than I know what to do with. Partly because one day, I blink, and suddenly my garden has decided to do something and I get a wave of cherry tomatoes, more than I can devise dinner plans for. Partly because my husband won’t eat raw tomatoes, so I’m on my own. And partly because I love tomatoes, so I end up buying far too many at the farmers’ market, because they look so beautiful and I forget that I’m going to get armloads of cherry tomatoes any day now and I’m the only one who enjoys them anyway.

So, tomato surplus. It’s a yearly occurrence around here.

photo 1_2Last year, I tried Oven Roasted Tomatoes, and they were pretty fabulous.  We used it as a sauce over pasta, and it was so fresh and full of tomato flavor, it was a real treat.  However, what my sad little garden does best (or, the only thing that my sad little garden does at all) is make lots and lots of cherry tomatoes.  And halving and roasting all of my sweet little tomatoes, and taking them out of their little red and golden skins, one by one by steaming hot little one, was…trying.  And time-consuming. Delicious, but time-consuming.

Then I tried Cherry Tomato Jam.  It sounded delicious, though perhaps something more to my tastes than Chris’s, and I envisioned it with some cheese on a nice crusty piece of bread.  It was very good (though, as predicted, Chris was not interested.) Only problem being, I couldn’t figure out what else to do with it.  So I think I still have a few containers of it in the freezer that I never got around to using.

This year, I decided to try something different, hopefully something a little easier and something we’re more likely to actually eat: salsa. I found this great recipe for Three-Ingredient Summer Salsa while searching for dinner inspiration on Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite food blogs. And I think we have a winner! It took longer than the 10 minutes of broiling that she suggests, though, in fairness, I did double the recipe. But it was pretty easy to throw everything together; it was just a matter of sticking around the kitchen when the broiler was going so I got a nice char without burning anything.  After a few tries, I turned off the timer and just watched it, so I don’t actually know how long it took.  I used about 4 medium tomatoes and a handful of cherry tomatoes, both red and orange, 2 jalapenos, 5 cloves of garlic, and 3/4 of a sweet onion.  (It was what I had left from last night’s dinner.)  I also added a few things after pulsing everything in the blender: two generous pinches of salt, about a teaspoon dried cilantro (I didn’t actually measure any of this…), about a tablespoon ancho chili powder, and the juice of 1/2 a lime. It was delicious! I can’t wait to eat some with our tacos tonight, and I can’t wait to show off and serve some up for our friends coming over for dinner on Saturday!photo(1)

Does this mean I get to buy more tomatoes at the farmers’ market next week?

 

Istanbul Sofra

A little while ago, I had the pleasure of meeting my friend from work, Julie, out for lunch.  Being an incredible considerate person, she let the “foodie who doesn’t get out much because of the small person who cannot be taken everywhere Mommy and Daddy would like to eat” pick the restaurant. Again, being the considerate person that she is, she was also willing to travel out to my neck of the woods to check out a new restaurant with me, Istanbul Sofra. (When you’re done here, go check out their website. How amazing does all that food look?)

The restaurant is where Alma used to be (I wrote about that…oh, years ago by now, I guess, but we enjoyed our meal there).  It’s on the corner of Braddock and Forbes, across Braddock from Frick Park, which makes for a pleasant space if you sit outside, which we did.  Inside was lovely and felt a little fancier, but we opted for the slightly more relaxed patio seating, and there were plenty of umbrellas to give us some shade while we dined.

The cuisine here is Middle Eastern, and everything we had was delicious! I got the Adana Kebab, which was seasoned ground lamb, reshaped onto a skewer and grilled. I must admit, it was a lot more flavorful than I expected it to be, earthy and with a little bit of heat.  There was a nice yogurt sauce that I thought worked really well to cool down the spices in the lamb, along with rice, a couple of grilled vegetables, and a small salad on the side. I really enjoyed how everything on the plate worked so well together and was impressed with how nicely everything was done.  My friend had the chicken kebab, which I might have to get next time. I enjoyed my dish, but I was a little jealous of how amazing the spices looked on the chicken and how nicely grilled it was. It looked really delicious, and she thoroughly enjoyed it.

Our dishes came with fresh pita, as well. In retrospect, I wish I had eaten some of that with my lamb, because I think it would have paired really nicely together. And because the pita was so thin and soft and delicious, I just wish I had eaten more of it! (I did take the leftovers home, but I gave Anna my leftovers that night for dinner. She liked it…but then there was no more pita for me. :) )

Finally, when we were done with our meals, we ordered Turkish coffee. I knew it was a different experience from other coffees, but I had never had it before. Delicious! But not for the weak coffee drinker.  Apparently (I found this out when I looked it up when I got home), Turkish coffee refers not to the coffee itself but to its preparation. The beans are ground very, very finely–even more so than for espresso, from what I read–and then boiled in small amounts in a special kind of pot with some sugar and sometimes other spices.  The entire mixture, grounds and all, is poured into a very small cup and served. It makes for a very rich, very bold cup of coffee. However, I found it to also be very smooth; there was no bitterness at all.  Served in small porcelain cups set into ornate silverwork that gave it a handle and had a separate lid, the presentation was beautiful and made this something special.  It was a drink to be gently sipped, and it was a wonderful end to the meal. (Here’s a picture to give you an idea of how it was served. Obviously it wasn’t exactly the same, but it helps you picture it if, like me, you’ve never seen this before.)

Over all, we had a delicious lunch (and, of course, wonderful company). Maybe best of all, I think Anna would enjoy this if we were able to get a seat outside, so we can go back again! I definitely want to try more of their food. Next time, I’ve got my eye on a few appetizers and definitely on dessert. ;)

Chai Snickerdoodles

IMG_1170Time for a recipe post! I’ll admit, it’s not a great picture because the sunlight was a little too bright and you lose some of the detail in the food. Like the amazing sugar and spice mixture that covers these chewy snickerdoodles. But as I was enjoying a book, my coffee, and a couple cookies on the porch during a lovely cool morning (what–you don’t eat cookies with your morning coffee for a little something sweet?), I realized that if I was going to tell you about this great recipe, I should have a picture to go along with it.

We made these cookies most recently for Chris’s annual work picnic last week (and there were a few left over, so we’ve been enjoying them ourselves since then). They’re a wonderful treat.  They really are reminiscent of the spices in a chai tea. And they bake up soft and chewy, with a little crispness from the sugar on the outside.  This time, we used a little disher to measure out the cookie dough.  It had the added bonus of automatically making perfect little balls of dough–no rolling between your hands to get them properly formed!

A couple of notes about tackling the recipe. First, the 1/4 cup sugar-spice mixture that you reserve to roll the cookies in will not look like a lot. It will be enough. Don’t be afraid to really roll them.  Second, we’ve had mixed luck with the baking time.  It might be because our cookies were a little larger this time–the disher might have been a tad bigger than it needed to be, but it was so worth it for the time it saved–but I feel like I had this same struggle last time and I ended up overcooking them.  I have not found 8-10 minutes to be enough. I cooked them closer to 14 this time, and they were just barely cooked through. They could have stood another two minutes or so.

The only downside? The go stale more quickly than most other cookies I’ve made.  The upside? That just means you have to fully savor them while you can.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have a cup of coffee that needs some accompaniment…

Here’s the recipe:

Chai Spiced Sugar Cookies at My Baking Addiction

Weekly Round-Up

This week’s menu is a little less exciting than past weeks’.   We’re trying to work our way through what we’ve got in the fridge, and it’s been a busy week with other commitments–less time for trying new recipes. I’ll do better next time. So what’s for dinner?

  • Monday: Leftover spaghetti bolognese. (I actually threw this in a large pan with a little extra tomato sauce and a little cream, then tossed in some cooked peas right at the end. It might not have been as “pure” or as traditional, but it reheated really well! It also snuck in a veggie for Little Miss.)
  • Tuesday: Goan fish curry with rice and peas
  • Wednesday: More leftovers–grilled barbeque chicken, grilled asparagus, and last week’s mashed cauliflower
  • Thursday: Blackened tilapia with sweet potatoes and zucchini
  • Friday: Whatever is still left in the fridge…probably fish curry, because I bought too much salmon…

An Unintentional Recipe Shuffle and Other Weekend Goodies

This post is a bit of a jumble. I guess the common theme here is how wonderful my friend are in partaking in foodie adventures with me.

You may have noticed that last week featured Theresa’s Slow Cooker Spaghetti Bolognese.  Recipe Shuffle time!  It looked delicious, she had good things to say about it, it had her son’s stamp of approval, and it would be easy to bring together at the end of the day when Chris was coming home from work–all winning traits in my book!  So I tried it, taking into account her suggestion of adding more herbs.  I added about 2 tablespoons of Italian Seasoning while I was browning the meat.  (I think I should have either used Penzey’s seasoning, which I didn’t have on hand, or added it at a different time. I still could have used more of an herby punch.) I also should have taken her suggestion about adding salt.  I was hesitant after cooking the bacon, thinking that would be enough salt. I was wrong.  (Next time, Resa, I promise to trust you completely. :) )  That being said, it was pretty fabulous, and Little Miss had seconds, so she seemed to agree. I will definitely be making it again!

Speaking of best friends and awesome food, another best friend, Vanessa, was in town this weekend for a family reunion, and she was able to make some time for us on lunch both Saturday and Sunday. We made the most of those opportunities, loving the company, of course, but also the food. Saturday we braved the permanent drizzle to check out Squirrel Hill’s sidewalk sale and the Mac and Gold Food Truck.  I’m a sucker for mac and cheese, so I would like to think I know a good mac and cheese when I eat one…and this was good.  The base mac and cheese was rich and full of real cheese, the perfect balance of creaminess and sharpness. We all got different things with it, which were prepared well and served on top.  I got asparagus, spinach, and roasted red pepper, but I also tried Chris’s roasted brussels sprouts and bacon.  Delicious!

We also spend Sunday sampling some exotic favorites. I’ve been craving Green Pepper’s bibimbap, so we checked them out for lunch (and found a great little consignment shop along the way. We stopped in because Vanessa liked the pants in the window.  She walked out of there with a dress and I got four shirts, so I would say it was a successful trip!).  The bibimbap was fabulous, as always, with great fresh ingredients, rice that got perfectly crispy along the sides of the hot stone bowl, and delicious pieces of bulgogi (Korean barbequed beef).  And then we came back and shared delicate French macarons from Gaby et Jules patisserie, which are just beyond words.  A wonderful shared foodie experience!

So far, this week looks a bit more tame on the food front–maybe a trip to the Pittsburgh Public market and baking something for Chris’s company picnic on Thursday, but otherwise, pretty average. We’ll see how it ends up, though–you never do know around here!  Coming soon, to continue the friends and foodie adventures, will be some notes on a new restaurant…with a new kind of coffee. Stay tuned!