Archive for the ‘Inner Monologue’ Category

The past two years my in-laws have made the five-hour trek from our home state out to our current residence of Pittsburgh, PA for one purpose on Easter weekend: The Grand Concourse Sunday Brunch.  If you snicker you have clearly never been to said brunch.

We had found the brunch because it had been on a friend’s “bucket list” of things to do before leaving Pittsburgh (which I am quietly composing in my head as well).  For the non-meat and fish eater, you don’t really get your money’s worth.  But if you eat at least fish it is fantastic.  It is everything awesome about gluttony.  The highlights include fresh donuts, omelette, pancakes, and waffles to order, bananas foster, carving stations with ham, roast beef, etc., lox, different types of fish dishes, and the  list goes on and on.  This year it was just four of us (my brother-in-law and his fiance stayed away this year) but we made the most of it.

The big problem with going to the brunch is that you’re absolutely stuffed until at least 6pm.  This doesn’t make trying to plan an Easter dinner very easy.  What I decided to do was to come up with a antipasto platter and a tomato and mozzarella salad.  I also had some back up appetizers (cocktail shrimp and, if necessary I was planning on whipping up deviled eggs) in case the four of us were hungrier after 6pm than I expected (we weren’t).

Since very little cooking was involved this was a great quick and easy way to feed the family without all the hassle.  I did roast a lot of vegetable a few days earlier so the prep time was more extensive than the actual cooking time.  Also, this let everyone take what they wanted since we were all at different levels of hunger from the brunch earlier in the morning.

Antipasto Platter
(I didn’t calculate the points here because it all depends on the size of your sandwich and exactly what you put on.  Since I was only eating the roasted vegetables I estimated about 1 tsp olive oil for those since I had drizzled it on top after roasting, the PointsPlus for the bread, cheese, and marinated artichokes).


Organic Prosciutto
Sweet Capicola
Hot Capicola
Genoa salami
Fresh mozzarella, sliced
Sharp provolone, sliced
Roasted Eggplant (grilled and then sliced and I drizzled some olive oil on it and cooled overnight in an airtight container)
Roasted Red Peppers (grilled, cleaned, and cooled overnight in an airtight container)
Roasted tomatoes (baked at 275 for approximately 3 hours in the oven, drizzled some olive oil on it and cooled overnight in an airtight container)
Roasted portabello mushrooms (grilled, sliced, drizzled some olive oil on it, and cooled overnight in an airtight container)
Roasted long hot peppers (Not pictured) (grilled in a tinfoil pouch until the skins are blackened.  Allow to cool and slice before serving)
Green olives (these came from the supermarket olive bar)
Marinated artichokes (out of a jar, I had no idea where to start with those)
Sun-dried tomatoes (out of a jar, again no idea where to start with that)
Pepperoncini peppers (out of a jar)
Fresh basil

I used a very crusty Tuscan italian loaf from a local bakery.  I was looking for something that would hold up to the liquids produced from the roasted vegetables.  The woman at the bakery had originally suggested a ciabatta bread but I did not think the inside would be dense enough.  Even this denser, crustier bread got a little wet from the vegetables.

Tomato and Mozzarella Salad
(I didn’t calculate the points but 1 oz of the fresh mozzarella according to the eTracker is 2 points and 1/4 tbsp of olive oil, which would be more than a serving, is 1 PointsPlus)

2 containers plum tomatoes, halved
1 container of small fresh mozzarella balls
1/2 cup basil, rinsed and chopped
approx 1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Mix all together but be careful not to over mix and break apart the tomatoes.

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So like I had mentioned in my previous blog, I’ve been under the weather for the past few weeks.  One of the things that has been plaguing me was a persistent case of hives.  By this week it had spread to dangerous levels and I ended up in the hospital for a few days.  So to continue with my “bad blogger” phenomenon I haven’t cooked a new or interesting meal in a long time (side note, B did make fake bacon wrapped scallops the night before I was admitted and they were flippin’ fantastic).

Since I usually work from home and B works 8-10 hours in the lab, our dog Margot was very kindly looked after by our neighbors.  As a thank you we wanted to make them something that fit our dog and theirs (Nola) since they had non-stop playtime for almost 48 hrs (with the exception of the few hours B was not with me and was at home).  In honor of the two dogs and to thank our neighbors, we decided to make Margot-rita and Nola Chocolate Cherry Cola Cupcakes.  The decorative aspect of these..is.uh..well…lacking.  I do not attest to being anywhere close to a decorator and this proves it.  I didn’t calculate the points values since they were a gift but I’m sure they’re not Weight Watchers friendly.

(Pardon our filthy stove in this picture, there was a lot of baking done)

Margot-rita Cupcakes (adapted from Recipe Girl and Annie’s Eats)
(makes about 10 cupcakes)

3 oz liquid Margarita mix
1 oz tequila
1/4 oz Triple Sec
1/2 box white cake mix (I used Pillsbury Extra Moist)
1 1/2 large egg whites
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp lime zest

1 sticks unsalted butter (1/2 cup), at room temperature
2 to 3 cups powdered sugar
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
2-4 tsp tequila (this is approximate because we did this to taste)
1/8 tsp coarse sea salt
1 tsp grated lime zest
green food coloring, if desired
small lime slices for garnish, if desired

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cupcake tin with liners.

Whisk together margarita mix, tequila and Triple Sec in a small bowl. The combination should measure a bit more than 1/2 cup.  In a large bowl, blend cake mix, egg whites, vegetable oil, lime zest and the margarita mix. Blend on low for about 30 seconds and then increase speed to medium and blend for two additional minutes. Batter will be slightly lumpy.  Spoon the batter into cupcake liners (about ¾ full). Bake for 20-25 min, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool for about 10 minutes in the pans, then remove them to a rack to cool completely.

Once cupcakes are completely cooled, prepare the icing. Place butter in a large bowl and beat with electric mixer until butter is fluffy. Add powdered sugar, salt, lime juce, tequila, and lime zest. Mix until thick and creamy. Add more powdered sugar until the frosting is of a good spreading (or piping) consistency. (You can mix in a tiny amount of green food coloring or gel paste if you’d like the frosting to have a green tint but I was looking for a buttery color). Ice cupcakes in whatever manner you prefer either by spreading or piping the frosting. Use small lime slices and a sprinkle of coarse sea salt as garnish.

For the specific decoration of these cupcakes, I piped on the frosting and then tried to build up a snout.  Unfortunately the buttercream ended up getting a little warm in my hands and melted a bit so the snout doesn’t look as good as the cola ones (see below how I did that one).  The night before I made up some dark brown and pink royal icing and piped that into eyes, noses, and tongues.  To get the texture on the tongue and noses I let the royal icing dry to a certain extent then used a toothpick.  For the tongue I just drew a simple line.  When I was applying, I cut the tongues to the appropriate length.  For the noses, I used a toothpick and just made little holes and played with it a little to give it some texture.  For the eyes and noses, the piping attachment I used made them look a little like chocolate morsels since I had to pull up.  I also used the toothpicks to even that out so they looked flatter.  The royal icing recipe I used came from Annie’s Eats.

The ears for Margot were made out of tuile cookies.  I did not make them right so we kind of winged it.  She has ridiculous ears so we were ok with it.  Maybe one day I’ll figure out how to roll a cookie and in the future I can make a cupcake that has terrier like dog ears.

Nola Chocolate Cherry Cola Cupcakes (Adapted from Annie’s Eats, Food Network, and Cooks.com )


1½ cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. cocoa powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
¾ cup sugar
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
½ cup buttermilk
approx 2 cups Coca-Cola
¼ tsp. maraschino cherry juice
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Maraschino cherries, stemless


3-5 tsp cherry cola (I used about 5 tsp and it ended up being too gooey.  I’d stick with around 3 1/2 tsp.)
3/4 cup powdered sugar

1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 1/2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla

For cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line  a muffin pan with foil or paper liners.  In a small pot, add about 1 1/2 cups of coca-cola (or another comparable cola).  Turn up heat and allow the cola to reduce down to more of a syrup (This was done to intensify the coke flavor in the cupcakes).  Once this is reduced down measure into a liquid measuring cup and add coke, as needed, to get 3/4 cup of coke (I ended up with about 1/2 cup of reduced coke syrup from the 1 1/2 I started with and then topped it off with more coke).  Set aside to cool.In a medium bowl combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  Stir together and set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar and butter.  Mix on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.   Mix in the egg until incorporated.   In a bowl or large measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, Coke, maraschino cherry juice, and vanilla extract; stir to combine.  (This mixture may look disgusting and/or curdled – it’s okay!) Mix the dry ingredients into the butter-sugar mixture on low speed, alternately with the liquid ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing just until incorporated.  Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners.  Drop a stemless maraschino cherries into each cupcake well and push them down into the batter.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For glaze: Add the cherry cola, 1 teaspoon at a time, to the powdered sugar until it has a good consistency to drizzle on cupcakes. Once cupcakes are cool drizzle the glaze onto them (make sure there is a baking sheet or something under them! It got messy for me).
For icing:Combine confectioners’ sugar and cocoa in small bowl. Add cream and vanilla; beat until stiff.Using a piping bag and one of the fancier attachments (I have no idea how to describe these) I piped the the whipped cream icing on in little dollops.  When the cupcake was completely covered, I cut maraschino cherries in half and placed on in the lower  center of each cupcake.  Using the remainder of the icing, I covered the cherry to create a snout.

For Nola’s ears, I melted some chocolate in the microwave and laid it out on a wax paper lined cookie sheet. Using a toothpick, I created a swirly pattern in the chocolate since she is a curly dog.  We allowed the chocolate to cool in the fridge and then cut out ears using an exacto-knife. (See above for description of eyes, nose, and tongue for the dog face)

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Dinner Out (Mussels)

Now I cook a lot of meals at home but I also love me some going out to eat.  If we could afford it, I think we’d be going out multiple times per week.  However, le sigh, we cannot so we make the most of any place we do get a chance to go out to. I’ve been meaning to type of reviews of many of the places we’ve gone to over the past few months (most of them we’ve been to multiple times) in order to share all of my culinary adventures.

This weekend we were out-of-town for a wedding and stayed with B’s parents in South Jersey.  We (the family) decided to go out to eat to celebrate the engagement of my brother-in-law and his fiance.  We picked this place that I’ve been hearing a lot about but have never had the opportunity to try.  This inspired me to write this post because there are two places where I’ve had the best mussels ever, this place and another in the city we’re currently living in.  I wanted to spread the word for those that enjoy a good mussel plate.

Ralph’s Italian Restaurant (760 S. 9th Street, Philadelphia, PA)

My father-in-law and his group of friends go here every year the day after Christmas.  Everything I’ve ever heard is that they go specifically for the mussels.  So, of course, we got the different versions of the mussels when we went there this weekend.  Ralph’s offers two different types of mussels in either white or red sauce.  The mussels were cooked perfectly (they almost melted in your mouth) and the sauce was awesome for any and all bread dippers.  The white sauce is fairly traditional with wine, butter, etc.  They add a bit of red pepper flakes to the mix to give it a little bit of a kick.  The red sauce is different than I would have expected; when I think red sauce with mussels as an appetizer I generally think basically a white sauce with chopped tomatoes.  These mussels were in marinara sauce.  Oh man, let me tell you, I have to try this in the future.  It wouldn’t have occurred to me to do this as an appetizer (although I’ve gotten it over pasta for dinner before) and it was awesome.  I would recommend these mussels to anyone looking for a nice dinner out in Philadelphia.  Also, Ralph’s is one of the more reasonably priced restaurants in this neighborhood in Philadelphia. (Side note: I had shrimp scampi for dinner and it was also very good.  It was done slightly differently than normal (this is my go to “I want to try a new place” dish and it was my “every dinner out” dish when I was a kid).  Instead of being in more of an oil sauce it was in a creamier sauce.  B and I also shared the cannoli cake.  I would very much recommend that.  The filling was the traditional cannoli filling and the icing was whipped cream icing.)

Point Brugge Cafe, 401 Hastings Street, Pittsburgh, PA

We learned about Point Brugge a few years back from word of mouth recommendations.  If this above post didn’t demonstrate it I am a HUGE seafood person (also demonstrates why I went from 2 1/2 years as a vegetarian to a pescetarian) so when we heard “this place has awesome mussels” I think I had my coat on and was out the door before B had a chance to realize we were going out to eat.  Before I get started talking about the mussels I just want to point out that I have never had a bad meal at Point Brugge either; I’ve had entrees, salads, and sandwiches and neither B nor myself have had something we didn’t like.  Similar to Ralph’s, Point Brugge’s mussels really melt in your mouth.  In terms of sauces, they also has the traditional mussels in white wine sauce.  Their white sauce is more dynamic than Ralph’s.  They also offer a red curry and tomato and fennel version.  Our favorites are definitely the latter two; while the white wine sauce is delicious, its one of those sauces that is seen most places where mussels are served.  My only complaint about these mussels is the amount of broth for the dipping.  Whereas at Ralph’s the dip to bread ratio was ALWAYS in favor of the broth, we usually run out of broth fairly quickly when dipping our bread at Point Brugge.

Enjoy these two locales at opposite sides of the Keystone state!

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Welcome to my attempt at a blog!  This is my first attempt at a blog and I thought what better avenue that talking about food (since I expect my inner monologue is less than intriguing to most).  Its really of my way of atoning for the sins of the past; a redemption in a way.  Cooking is quite an important to me not only because its something that my husband and I love to do together but it’s also something that has not always been a strong suit.  …. Now fade to montage of previous cooking experiences.

My failures: In high school I tried to make cookies with Crisco.  This was a bag of cookie mix where all you add is eggs, butter, and milk.  I also burnt an egg.  While trying to hard boil it.

My ability to cook began to develop when I was studying abroad in England.  Since I had never really cooked for myself before since I had lived either at home with my parents or on campus this was the first time I really needed to make something edible.  Most of the time it was fairly simple stuff.  What made it more problematic was that at the time I was completely vegetarian so I couldn’t just make chicken and be over with it.  I have since started eating fish and shellfish which has increased the amount of food I can cook and the flexibility.  Meeting and dating my husband also broadened my cooking horizons.  In the first year of dating I ate mostly salmon, potatoes, and spinach or something else that featured salmon or spaghetti and meatballs (since you can get meatless meatballs).  Around our first year anniversary he said “it’s about time you move on from canned sauce” since he grew up in an Italian family that made its own sauce.  Since that moment I have never voluntarily eaten sauce that has not been made in my own kitchen.  When we moved in together we started making more complicated meals.  I have been able to move on from a burnt hard-boiled egg to a wide array of foods from fresh pumpkin ravioli (like cut from an actual pumpkin) with sage butter cream sauce and banana chocolate cake.  This blog is my attempt to capture my culinary adventures as I further develop my skills and move from hopeless wannabe to actual cook.  I only eat fish and my husband eats everything so this will also hopefully provide some useful recipes for people in our situation.  Since I will never move from my “what should I order?” roots, its also important to appreciate those awesome meals that others make for me.

Hope you enjoy!

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