August 31, 2007

Mugshots in Crafton-Ingram Shopping Center

Mugshots is a neighborhood bar/restaurant famous for Friday fish specials. They have been voted "Best Fish Sandwich in Pittsburgh" and with one bite, you know why. The key to the perfect fish fry- for me anyway- is that crispiness on the outside and the tender, flaky fish on the inside. This was fried fish nirvana. The mac and cheese was outstanding, and even the cole slaw was flavorful in a good way (and I don't generally like cole slaw). I am sure that everything on their menu is good, but if you want the fish, you have to go on Friday.

If you are a fan of Pittsburgh professional sports teams, you'll love the decor, which is a hodgepodge of team and player photos of past and present local sports icons. It would be a fun place to go to watch a football game- so remember that if you are ever in town and need that perfect neighborhood bar to drink a few beers and watch a game. Just a little friendly advice- no matter how cute you think you are, if you're not a Steelers fan, don't wear your Eagles ...oh um, I mean your favorite team's jersey to Mugshots. Trust me, words can hurt...and the eggs.

August 30, 2007

Home Cooking at Marilyn and Jack's House

It just doesn't get any better than this. Cabbage rolls, mashed potatoes, corn, pickled eggs and beets, cucumber salad and fresh ripe tomatoes. Have you ever looked forward to something for a long time? This dinner was worth every single solitary second of waiting. Dinner at Marilyn and Jack's - my in laws. I have been dreaming about it for months. This is without a doubt the best meal I have ever eaten. I don't have the recipes for this food and even if I did, I doubt that I would ever be able to recreate it. I mean right down to the corn. It's one of those things that you have to experience to appreciate. Like a good Thanksgiving when everyone is happy to just be together, and that makes the food even more special. Every element of this meal was perfect, and exactly what I had been craving.

I will get the recipes for the pickled eggs and beets and the cucumber salad and give those a try. This was quite a kickoff to our eating frenzy in Pittsburgh, nothing else we had even came close, but it was fun trying...and the eggs.

Happy Birthday, Kitty-Mom!

We are back from Pittsburgh--coincidentally, birthplace of my step mom Kitty (AKA Kitty-Mom). Before I start posts detailing eating my way through the 'burgh, I would like to take this opportunity to wish Kitty-Mom a joyous and wonderful birthday. This is a photo of her and my father from their recent trip to China, and - just look at them!! It is one of my very favorite pictures of them. Kitty is the perfect person to mention in a food blog-- she's a total foodie as well as a gourmet cook. Her specialty is dinner parties- she can cook for a crowd, producing food of such quality it boggles the mind. Her beef burgundy is one of my partner's favorite dinners. There is a tie for my two favorite of her dishes- her homemade Cesar salad dressing and her artichoke soup, both of which I will eventually detail in a post here. She is also one of the most fun people I know, and I am very happy to say that even if she were not my Kitty-Mom, she would still be my friend...and the eggs.

August 21, 2007

Pork With Peaches!

Tonight we are running around, getting the dogs set to go to dog camp and getting Hedwig ready for the aviary- our normal pre-vacation routine. I had defrosted two pork tenderloins and stopped for a few seconds to throw stuff on them and put them in the oven. I didn't follow a recipe, I just wanted something different but didn't have time to put much thought into it. I sliced zucchini and onion and sprinkled garlic powder, salt and pepper on them, and put those in the bottom of a baking dish with a little olive oil. I placed the tenderloins over the top, and covered each with two strips of bacon. I decided to fill the space in between them with a drained can of peaches. Into the oven at 425 for an hour until they reached an internal temperature of 155 degrees. I also baked a few yukon gold potatoes while the pork was cooking.

I don't know if these photos do it justice. This was a really good dish, very different. All the different flavors fused together. That was the best part about it- each part alone was tasty, but everything together was the perfect combination of flavors and they all complimented each other. I am not sure I could make this again if I tried, it was one of those unscripted, spur of the moment combinations, but it was fantastic. The success of this meal has inspired me to be more creative in the kitchen- I might hit on a few good ideas that I can build on. I'll be back next week- in the meantime, why don't you try mixing it up a bit in the kitchen? You might discover a new taste or a new family favorite...and the eggs.

Fly, Eagles, Fly!

Our third annual August football trip lands us in Pittsburgh this year. My partner is a Steelers fan and I'm an Eagles fan (don't ask, somehow we just make it work). For the past three years, our teams have played against each other during preseason. Last year we went to Philly, a great food town, and it was extra special not only because the Eagles won, but also because I had just moved away from Philly two years before. We went to the restaurants I missed most- Chickie and Pete's and Chink's Steaks, picked up a poundcake from Stock's Bakery and even fit in a side trip to Atlantic City during our three-day trip!

Thursday morning we fly to Pittsburgh (also a fantastic food town) for a visit with my in-laws, a few days with Cynthia (of the 50th birthday post a few weeks ago), visits with friends and more family (hey Colleen, isn't it Dia's birthday weekend?!?) and last but certainly not least, a Sunday night Eagles v. Steelers game!!! This is always one of those trips that you wait forever for and they're over in a flash, but I still couldn't possibly be any more excited. Of course, we have our favorite dining venues lined up, and will have photos and stories of it all upon our return. GO EAGLES...and the eggs.

Blue Ribbon Chicken Salad!

Instead of taking leftovers to work, I decided to make something specifically for lunch! This chicken salad is so easy it almost makes itself!
Poach 3 salted and peppered boneless, skinless chicken breasts in chicken broth over medium-high heat for 40 minutes or until cooked through. Toast 1/2 cup sliced almonds on cookie sheet in oven preheated to 375 degrees until fragrant, about 10 minutes.

Thinly slice 2 spring onions and 2 celery stalks. When chicken is done, shred it or cut it up into small pieces. Put everything in a bowl and spoon in a few tablespoons of mayo, stirring, until desired consistency. I don't like it very mayonnaisey. At this point, you can add a handful or two of halved grapes- any seedless variety. I didn't add them because they didn't have them at my Publix. Anyway, grapes or not, mix it all up and...voila! Lunch for a couple of days- if it lasts that long...and the eggs.

August 20, 2007

Pop's Beef Stroganoff

This was my vantage point from the pool early this afternoon, and (call me crazy) but I swear it was sending me a telepathic message. I heard "beeeef stronganofffff". It was such a beautiful day- low humidity, strong sun and a nice breeze, that I couldn't bear to move from my float, let alone coordinate a meal. It was at that moment that it occurred to me that my partner was a whiz at making stronganoff and that maybe if I volunteered to clean up after dinner, I could convince her to get busy. It worked. The resulting stronganoff was much better than I ever could have made- the beef simmered in the consume and spices, absorbing all the flavors and turning out as tender as can be. She based the recipe on one that my father gave me a few years ago.

Saute thinly sliced mushrooms and onions and add salt, pepper, garlic powder and sage- just sprinkles of each. Cut 1 pound of sirloin into cubes. Cook that in another pan in 1/2 a can of beef consume, and add more sprinkles of the aforementioned spices into the beef mixture. Simmer slowly and the beef will slow-cook, absorbing the liquid. Add the mushroom and onions to the beef and the rest of the consume.

Again, let it simmer and the consume will continue to be absorbed. At this point, you can also add a measure of bourbon or rum. We didn't have bourbon, so we used rum. The alcohol burns off during the cooking process, and the resulting flavor really makes this dish rock. It gives it a certain je ne sais quois. The instructions in my dad's recipe say to add the pint of sour cream when the beef has absorbed so much of the liquid that it is almost dry. We added mushrooms to the recipe, which added a bit of moisture, so we had to compensate. The beef had simmered for about 1 1/2 hours, and was extremely tender, so we called it ready. We briskly whisked in a pint of sour cream and served it over extra wide egg noodles.

It was beefy, creamy perfection- needing no additional seasoning. I love this dish- maybe it's the Russian genetic memory kicking in. I was deliriously happy- having spent the day in the pool, having a leisurely shower and now enjoying a fabulous dinner. I was also appreciative, of course, and held up my end of the deal by doing the clean up. It was the perfect end to the perfect day...and the eggs.

August 18, 2007

Fish and Chips! AKA Roy's Catch

Success. Fried grouper to die for. We sliced the filets according to Roy's instructions- first lengthwise and then into smaller chunks across. It was simple- toss the pieces in a large zipper bag filled with Zatarain's Crispy Southern Recipe breading, and fry them in vegetable oil. I used my cast iron skillet because it cooks evenly and can take the heat. I cooked them for 2 1/2 or 3 minutes per side. Best fish I ever had by leaps and bounds.

I made the chips using the recipe I posted about a month ago in Finger Food. A fantastic fried food feast which I highly recommend. None of this food was very greasy- just follow instructions for oil temperature and drain when finished. We had several choices for sauces/dips- remoulade sauce, tartar sauce and salt/malt vinegar. I think the vinegar was my favorite, but none were bad. Now I have to plan well because there's one more grouper filet in the freezer, and I have to do it justice...and the eggs.

Grilled Ribeye Steaks with Corn on the Cob and Fresh Tomatoes

While the grouper was defrosting, it was a comfortable mid-August night in Miami and another chance for that elusive perfect steak. Normally, we save the grilling for our winter months, but last night we took advantage of the low humidity and did some grillin' and chillin'. I had one ripe tomato left from our trip to the panhandle last weekend, some fresh corn and a couple of nice ribeyes. Nothing fancy here, I just rubbed a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper onto the steaks. I sauteed some mushrooms and onions in butter on the stovetop. I prepared the corn by removing the husks and wrapping them individually in aluminum foil with a small pat of butter and a teaspoon of water in each. Those went on the grill first- on the indirect heat, for approximately 45 minutes. Next, the steaks- first searing them for 2-3 minutes on each side and then moving them to indirect heat for about 6-7 minutes, until an inserted thermometer read 137 degrees. While letting those sit, I sliced the tomatoes, salt and peppered each slice and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Everthing certainly looked good, and we were hungry and dug right in. The tomatoes were the best part of the meal- there is nothing like a fresh ripe tomato- which, I repeat so often here, is impossible to find in Miami. The corn was not great. We have the same problem here with corn that we do with tomatoes, except for one thing- the corn looks fresh in the package, so you never know until you cook it whether or not it's good. Another reason we are looking forward to our Pittsburgh trip next weekend is because of all the farm produce that is in season now in the Northeast. All those years living in Philadelphia, I was so spoiled by the Jersey corn and tomatoes that by this time of the summer, I was almost tired of them.

As an aside, I thought I would mention the most amazing summer Jersey veggie of all, the lima bean, or pole beans as the road-side stands advertise them. If you ever thought you didn't like limas, these will change your mind. In late summer, for a very short period of time, they're in season. You open the pods, pop out the beans, and quick boil them for a few minutes until tender, but not too tender. Stir in some butter and fresh dill and you have one of the foods of the Gods...oh, why am I torturing myself so??

Back to the steak, it was well-marbled, grain fed and all of that good stuff- but something was missing. I don't know what- it didn't even slice nicely, it wasn't very tender and the taste was so-so. Ribeyes are usually a sure-bet, but lately, I don't know what is going on. Tonight I am looking forward to fish and chips made with Roy's fresh catch and yukon gold potatoes, so check back later this weekend...and the eggs.

August 16, 2007

No Words

A true reminder that a picture is worth 1000 words...and the eggs.

August 13, 2007

Happy 50th Birthday, Cynthia!!!

Friday night after work my partner was talking to her cousin Cynthia, who was celebrating her 50th birthday with a day-long party on Saturday. After her call was over, I asked about the party food. I don't know exactly what was said, but all I remember was "ribs and fish". All of a sudden it occurred to me that we could drive the 620 miles and surprise Cynthia (and eat some ribs and fish) and be back in time for work on Monday! Cynthia's husband, Roy, is an avid fisherman and I have been hearing about his fish dinners for years, but have never had one. An hour later we were on a surprise road trip- 620 miles to Panama City, FL!

The ribs were perfect- tender, smoky, toasty and saucy. There was also chicken, equally as satisfying. And then there was Aunt Doris' famous potato salad. The best I have ever tasted! I don't have the recipe- I'll have to ask Aunt Doris. There were potatoes and hard boiled eggs and real mayo but I couldn't figure out what else. It tasted super fresh and the potatoes and eggs were cooked perfectly.
Someone made this, I will definitely use the idea for a future party. Googly eyes are my favorite!!
Right about now, you might be wondering "where's the fish"? I forgot to mention that 610 miles into our 620 mile trip, my partner told me she wasn't sure he was making it!! I think she was afraid to tell me that the whole way, since it was basically all I was talking about. Well, that and the ribs...and surprising Cynthia (of course!). She finally got the nerve to break the news to me just as we were about to arrive. But, she mentioned, he always has a fresh catch, and he might send us home with some! Well, Cynthia was so surprised, and we all had so much fun and the food was so amazing that I more or less forgot all about the fish thing.

We drove home yesterday, in plenty of time to get to work this morning. We came home with all sorts of goodies- a beautiful folk art angel and a platter from Aunt Doris and Uncle Reese, some produce we bought along the way (tomatoes and Georgia peaches!), and ... last but not least... a cooler full of the most beautiful grouper fillets I have ever seen! THANK YOU, ROY!! The title for the next post you see will be "Fish Fry"... and the eggs.

August 9, 2007

Green Eggs and Ham

Not exactly :) A good, old fashioned dose of comfort food was long overdue. I haven't had anything this delicious in a long time. The flavors were simple and straightforward. We cooked a ham for a couple of hours at 325 degrees, steamed some cabbage and roasted some small potatoes, onion, sea salt and fresh ground pepper together in a pan. It was heaven to this nice little Jewish girl who had never tasted this type of ham until college. I had tried bacon and sliced ham lunch meat- but never anything like this! I can't wait until tonight to eat the leftovers. It was perfection...and the eggs.

August 8, 2007

What We've Been Eating

Work has been very stressful but it hasn't affected my appetite. I have been too preoccupied for the past few days to go into detail about our dinners, but not too stressed out to eat them. The first photo above was a super spicy stir-fry made with leftover jerk seasoned pork tenderloin. It was much better as a stir fry than in its original state. I used a cooking method similar to my previous post, Hot! Hot! Hot!.

The second photo was a first attempt at my favorite Indian dish, Makkani Murgi, which is essentially small bites of chicken breast simmered in a seasoned butter sauce. I found the sauce pre-made at Wild Oats, and it didn't dissapoint. I also found nan in the freezer section, and it I highly recommend both items for something totally different.

Meanwhile, Marye won the August Royal Foodie Joust challenge (congratulations!) and the ingredients she has chosen for next month are chipotle peppers, buttermilk and zucchini. I already have an idea, but will have to do some cookbook research before it becomes a viable recipe. I got my new Food and Wine yesterday, and am planning to cook some of the Italian dishes featured in this issue, so come back to visit soon...and the eggs.

Night Blooming Cactus Redux

Last weekend we noticed some more blooms on the same cactus getting ready to open, so I attempted to take photos over time. This is all I got- they bloomed at their fullest while I was sleeping. The plant is so big, I think we might get another chance to film it. Here are three photos, one when it was just dusk, and the other two taken at intervals between 9:00 and 11:00 PM. The poor focus is due to my not knowing how to use my new camera, I even read the booklet- but fuzzy natural wonders are better than no natural wonders at all...and the eggs.

Simpsonize Yourself!

August 4, 2007

Grass Fed Versus Grain Fed

It started with a craving for a filet Mignon and a trip to Wild Oats. I have a no-fail recipe for a pan-sauteed filet, and planned my blog entry around that. I didn't wonder why it was only $11 a pound, I was just happy about it. I didn't blink when the chalkboard sign advertised "Grass Fed". I bought my steaks and brought them home, planning to impress. I made a reduced sauce, with which to finish the dish. Everything was going so well- the sauce was fragrant and had thickened according to the recipe. The steaks seared and smelled so good as they finished that I couldn't wait to plate dinner. See?!?!

They were off the heat and had rested and it was finally time to eat. First bite, not great. Second bite, not the regular taste and texture I was expecting. By the third bite, I knew that something had gone awry. The meat tasted gamey and so I started thinking about it. There had been little or no visible fat before cooking. I thought "well, maybe grass-fed really means something"- so I checked it out online. Yep. There is a lot of discussion about corn fed, grass fed and grain fed beef on the internet. I never stopped to think about it before, but of course what a cow eats will make its meat taste one way or another. I prefer grain-fed. It's what I am used to. It is what makes steak one of my favorite foods. Sure, many cuts of grass-fed beef have half the fat of grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef has more omega 3s. But I'm not eating my steak and trying to be healthy about it! When I want a steak, I want a juicy, well marbled, potentially artery-clogging hunk 'o meat. I probably could have shown you my sauce and my steak and lied that it was a good dinner- you can't taste a picture- but it would have been dishonest. We're all here trying things out and learning together. So there you have it. I'm still craving an honest-to-goodness perfect steak. You'll be the first to know when I find one...and the eggs.

August 3, 2007

Put a Little Crunch in Your Life

I have loved lettuce-less salads since spending a year in Israel in the late 1980's. The produce there is flawless, and we made these salads daily with whichever ingredients were the freshest. I haven't made one in years, but have really been craving one. I used the following veggies:

1/2 Pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 bag broccoli slaw, found in produce area of supermarket
1 red bell pepper, diced
6 spring onions, diced thinly
1 cucumber, diced

Toss together and add salt and pepper to taste. You can use any cheese you like- I used feta this time. I took a small block and made mini cubes out of half of it and put it on top of the veggies. Coat everything lightly with extra virgin olive oil and the juice of half a lemon and toss again. This salad has such great texture! It is much more hearty than a salad made with lettuce.

At the supermarket, I noticed they were selling rib eye steaks sliced to just under 1/2" and were charging $4 or $5 a pound more than the regular thicker rib eyes. I decided to buy the regular ones and slice them myself- it was getting late and there wasn't time to grill, but there was time to quick pan fry a couple of steaks. This was so easy and fast, and the meat was melt-in-your-mouth perfect. I sliced them, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and coated them in a tiny bit of olive oil. I threw them in a preheated pan (hot!) and seared them for a couple of minutes on each side. I took them off the heat and covered them loosely with aluminum foil for five minutes and they were ready to eat. This impromptu meal ended up being one of our favorites, and will become part of our repeat list.

The salad was also good left over! So take a walk down your produce aisle and grab the most beautiful, ripe veggies and give this a try. You'll be rewarded with the freshest of fresh tastes, and a very nice crunch to boot...and the eggs.

August 2, 2007

Have It Your Way

Pre-made pizza crusts are not a sin! Free time is at a minimum for most of us during the work week. To avoid having dinner as late as 9:00 at night, sometimes we'll grab a pre-made crust and use our imagination. For this pie, we used a store bought wheat pizza crust. We lightly brushed the crust with olive oil, added a little sauce, a lot of mozzarella cheese, chunks of pepperoni and some bacon strips. The pepperoni and bacon went both underneath and on top of the cheese. It took no more than 12 minutes to cook, and, with a little side salad, it hit the spot. You can be as creative as you want with toppings- one of the best pizzas I have ever had was in a little Italian place in a strip mall just outside of Sea Isle City, New Jersey. The crust was thin, the sauce was pesto and it was topped with fresh mozzarella and toasted pine nuts. I have never tried to recreate that pie, but it is near the top of my list of things to try to make.

Now you will have the rest of the evening to get to one of those other projects you've been putting off...or to go for a walk, play the piano, play with your dog or peruse cookbooks to plan your next kitchen adventure...and the eggs.