Monday, September 27, 2010

Super Yum!

I am just back from a weekend mini-vacation to Ocean Shores, WA.  My hubby and I have visited Ocean Shores many times (and I wrote about Galway Bay, one of our favorite restaurants in the greater Ocean Shores vicinity), in the past) but this was the first time we ever spent the night there.

Though our trip was short (we only stayed over Friday and Saturday nights), we had a ton of fun.  We stayed at this awesome inn that overlooked the harbor.  Our room was the Turret Room--we had a big soaking tub, a medieval-looking four-poster bed, and a wrap around balcony.  The Inn served up a tasty breakfast each morning and the place had a lingering smell of inciting food.  The innkeepers also offer a 4-course dinner on Friday and Saturday nights--we had dinner at the Inn our first night there and everything was perfect.

On Saturday night, we headed into the retail section of town and ate at Pasta di Vine, an Italian place that--as we later learned--is also owned by the couple who own and operate the inn (it's a small town!).  The food at the Italian place was very, very good, but it was dessert that blew us away.  We ordered their cheesecake and OMG!  I've never had a cheesecake quite like the one we got.

The cheesecake itself was very simple--just a plain cheesecake served without fruit or any type of sauce.  What set it apart from other cheesecake was that it was a creme brulee cheesecake.  They sprinkled sugar on the top and sides of our slice of cake and then torched the sugar, creating that familiar caramel-y shell of a creme brulee surrounding the cheesecake.  The results were amazing!  There were two contrasting textures: the smooth, velvety cheesecake and the crisp burnt sugar that cracked when you dug your fork into it.  And the flavor?  Perfection!  It was deep, rich, creamy, caramel-y and oh so good.

I've never had a creme brulee cheesecake before, but if I ever see this on a menu, I'm ordering the biggest slice ever.  It was out of this world!  I can't wait to go back to Ocean Shores to get this super yummy dessert again.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Leave the Kitchen and Go Out!

While I love to cook, sometimes I just don't have the time (or the desire) - but I love to sit down around the table with family and friends and share a meal. So when cooking is not looking possible, it's time to head out and find a good place to eat.

Recently, I went out with my Dad for some lunch at Barney's in Everett. They serve amazing pastrami sandwiches and little else. There is no ambiance - Fox News, plastic tablecloths, cobwebs, pictures of celebs that have never been there - but the pastrami is incredible. I would recommend the food - but get it to go! Anyway, it was a nice Dad and daughter outing and we are the only ones in the family that would appreciate it.

Another outing was to Kafe Neo for some Greek food with Lydia and Mom 0 a girls night out. This place is the complete opposite of Barney's and is delicious. The lamb melts in your mouth, souvlaki is grilled to perfection, the pitas are yummy and the beer goes well with everything. The other thing that is really nice (and seems to be the trend) are small desserts. They have a full menu of them from classic baklava to a chocolate cake to an almond cookie. Plus it is very affordable.

So the next time you want a good meal with your friends and family and some time to enjoy it, head out to your favorite place!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Success Story: Shredded Beef Tacos

Well last week I told you about my dinner failure - and thank you Andrea for pointing out that if Aidan was happy that it really wasn't a dinner fail (I still think that if you can't eat your food, it is a fail). Today I want to share a success - those are always way more fun!

A few weeks ago, I shared my experience with a recipe from America's Test Kitchen for Carnitas. The pork was moist and fork tender and the flavors were amazing. I thought to myself, you could use this recipe for other meats - beef or chicken so I headed to the grocery store and picked up a Chuck Roast (it was on sale and would be enough to easily feed the family). I also asked my sister to whip up some of her yummy guacamole.

I followed the recipe for Carnitas fairly closely. My roast was about 3-3.5 pounds and when I cut and trimmed it, I cut out a little more of the fat. I also added some fresh squeezed lime juice, the lime rind and some whole chili peppers to the cooking liquid. I did end up needing to cook the meat a bit longer to really make sure it was tender and could be pulled apart with forks.

The results were amazing! I actually like the beef cooked this was more than the pork. Lydia went back for seconds, maybe even thirds and even my son liked the meal! It was really easy to do, it just required extra cooking time. So if you were going to make this, make sure you give yourself a 3-4 hours to fully cook the roast. Most importantly, don't forget the fresh lime to squeeze on the beef when you eat it - it really brings out the flavors and adds freshness to the meal!

Monday, September 20, 2010

What a Mess!

I WISH my pantry were this organized!
I don't know what's going on in my kitchen, but lately it seems like my pantry is crammed with crap.  I THOUGHT I cleaned it out recently, but I must have been dreaming.  All my shelves seemed overstuffed and disorganized, and I know I'm missing out on some really good stuff simply because I can't find it.

It's odd. In my professional life, I'm an organized person.  But at home...and especially in my's chaos.  It's not as bad as an episode of Hoarders on A&E, but I hate feeling like I can't find stuff or that I'm storing things that may be out of date.

So I ask you: How do you organize YOUR pantry?  What are your best tips for this never-ending task?  Leave a comment and let me know.

Since this is on my mind, I thought I'd check in with the Queen of All Things Organized, the fabulous Ms. Martha Stewart.  Here are her tips for controlling the pantry chaos--I'm not finding them all too helpful.  Oh well:

Store items that are used together next to one another. For example, group baking staples such as baking powder, baking soda, sugar, cocoa, salt, and molasses on the same shelf.

Most items keep best in airtight containers; glass, metal, and heavy plastic containers are least likely to become infested with pests. Containers for oils and dried herbs should be opaque as well as airtight. Martha likes to store grains, dried beans, dried chiles, rice, and dried fruit in tightly sealed canning jars.

Make sure that jars of food you've canned at home are properly labeled and dated. It's a good idea to mark the purchase dates of other foods such as flour and spices as well, so you can tell at a glance if something is past its prime.

A cool, dark space in the pantry is an ideal place to store hardy vegetables such as potatoes and onions. Don't store potatoes and onions right next to each other, however, as they hasten each other's spoilage.

The pantry is also a convenient place to store non-food items such as lightbulbs, candles, matches, baskets, serving trays, and pet treats.

Read more at Setting up a Pantry and more decorating ideas, organizing tips, and homekeeping and cleaning solutions on

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Greta's Best Picks

So yesterday Lydia gave you her views and they were all good ones (although i have to admit that I have not been to Tub's). Here are my choices in other catagories.

First up would be breakfast and the winner is (at least in my view)...
Patty's Eggnest! They are super delicious and serve a mean cornbeef hash - one of my absolute favorite breakfasts. Theirs is far superior to any that I have had and is served with really good hash browns and eggs (over-easy). They have a really nice sized menu too and you are sure to find something to make your mouth water. One of these days I am going to have to breakdown and try the gyros and eggs!

Next would be the best mocha and that is hands down, Arosa Cafe - they also have fresh made waffles to go with their mochas. They used shaved chocolate to make these and are unlike any other mocha you will ever have. I would go to First Hill in Seattle just to satisfy a chocolate craving. These are absolutely amazing and the waffles to go with them are also quite a treat!

Last up is my favorite doughnut shop and that is definitely Frost here in Mill Creek. They have everything from the simple glazed and cake doughnuts to the gourmet red velvet ones. I have never been disappointed by their offerings and used to take them to work as a thank you to my coworkers - they (and I) were always a hit. To this day, if I want to treat the family to something sweet in the morning, I head over to Frost for a little bit of yum! And yes, my personal favorite is German Chocolate - I love the coconut.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Oh, The Places You Will Eat!

Every year, our local TV station hosts a "Best of Western Washington" contest.  They ask viewers to vote for their favorite establishments in a wide range of different catagories.  Once voting ends, the winners get bragging rights for a year (and probably an uptick in business).  The Best of Western Washington contest has been going on for years, but I've never voted until this year--though I only voted for a handful of my faves.

I'm not going to go into all my picks, but here are my top three places to get your grub on in the greater Seattle area:

From the preliminary voting results, it doesn't look like Tub's has a chance of winning, but that's ok.  I love them no matter what...and I don't even like sandwiches that much.  Here's why they rock: everything is made fresh when you order it.  All their subs are served toasted.  Their bread is beyond amazing--crunchy and flavorful, it really makes the sandwich. 

I have my husband hooked on Tub's.  And even though their menu offers a great selection of sandwiches, we always seem to get the same thing.

Me: A mini Caesar Chicken (chicken, lettuce, provolone, garlic mayo and Caesar dressing)

The Mister: A small or large Joker (roast beef, ham, turkey, bacon, cheddar, mayo and lettuce with a side of BBQ sauce for dipping)

If you go, prepare to be fed well.  And don't forget a breath mint.  You'll need it!

BEST PLACE FOR PIZZA: The Rock Wood Fired Pizza
Their motto is "Hell Yeah...That's Good Pizza!" And that sums up the whole experience.  We've been going to The Rock for over 5 years now, and in that time they've expanded their business.  The atmosphere is "rock 'n roll"...there are murals of the Beatles painted on the brick walls, classic rock album covers hang over booths, and Neil Young plays on the speakers. 

The pizzas are delicious.  Their sauce is made of real tomatoes (you can see chunks of them on your pie) and is slightly sweet.  The dough is yummy--thin but not cracker-thin--and it gets added flavor from the wood fired oven they use.

While they have a ton of toppings and specialty pizzas to order, we like the Classic Rock (cheese and pepperoni) or a cheese with meatballs.  They also sell burgers and sandwiches, but why bother with that when you can get an amazing pie instead? 

Oh!  I forgot to add: The Rock also has a few special microbrew labels that are Rock exclusive.  They have an extensive alcoholic beverage selection and sell something called a Bucket.  I'm not a big binge drinker, so I just go for the food.

Dick's has been in Seattle for ages, serving up handcut french fries, milkshakes made from actual ice cream, and some of the yummiest (and cheapest) cheeseburgers in town.  I am not a big fan of their fries (probably because I am not a big fan of the potato in general), but their burgers and shakes are crave-worthy. 

The majority of their locations are drive-up only, so you have to eat in your car after you order.  That's kind of fun and adds to their appeal.  Their only sit-down restaurant on Queen Anne is a bit run down and dodgy, but that, too adds to the appeal.

Dick's recently announce that it's going to expand operations and move to either the North End (where I live!), the South End (near the airport), or the snooty Eastside (where I used to live!).  They asked people to vote for the location of their choice, and there was so much traffic on their website that it crashed several times.  Then someone figured out how to hack into the voting software to rig the votes.  After all the kinks were worked out, voting picked up again and as of today, the North End is well in the lead (woo-hoo!).

Dick's is so good and so cheap that when I took my hubby there the first time he said he was glad he had to travel to get to it...that having one too close to work or home would be dangerous.  He's probably right.  Dick's rocks!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dinner Fail

Everyone has had those times in the kitchen when they have a great idea (or recipe) and have invested in all the ingredients, has guests over and the dinner flops - BIG! This describes last Wednesday's meal - homemade pizza, requested by my son for his first day back to school.
I asked my son what he wanted for his big day and he said "Mom, cheese pizza and I want you to make it." I said ok, dropped him off for his first day of third grade and headed to Trader Joe's to pickup everything that I would need to make his request a reality. I got mozzarella cheese, pizza sauce, pizza dough, pepperoni, and meatballs. I even picked up a chocolate chip bundt cake for dessert.

Now I have made homemade pizza in the past and it has always turned out pretty well. I have both made my own crust and used dough from Trader Joe's and in both cases, it worked out very nicely. This time, it took a nose-dive. I took out the dough to let is rest for 20 minutes on a lightly floured surface. Then I stretched the dough and attempted to make it in to a pie - I managed to put my fist right through it and use all sorts of words a mom shouldn't. This is what our family calls a "Pop-pop moment" named lovingly after my grandfather (who had no patience and would lose his temper).

Once I managed to get the pizza dough in the shape of a pie, then add all the toppings, I attempted to move it onto a preheated pizza stone (I even remembered to use cornmeal) and I had the worst time getting it on the stone. Finally, my father and I managed to get it on the stone and in the oven. I cooked it for about 12 minutes and checked it - it still needed a few more minutes so it went back in. After another few checks, the cheese was getting browned and I took it out. The crust was not done and it totally killed the pizza. I tried (in vain) 2 more pizzas and they all had under-cooked crusts. I did not like any of them - it was a total waste of toppings. Luckily, my son said he liked it!

The highlight of the meal was the wine and the cake. The cake was chocolaty and moist and everyone like it. I would totally buy it again!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Teriyaki of Our Discontent

Teriyaki: It's What's For Dinner (on Monday night).
Now that the school year is officially underway, my workload has increased and my schedule is back to “work normal.” This means that I have to work late the first two Mondays of every month. I don’t get home until 6:30 at the earliest, and after pulling a longer than normal day (and sitting through an agonizing meeting) the last thing I want to do is make dinner.

So what’s a girl to do?

Pick up teriyaki, that’s what!

Now, I don’t have any problems with teriyaki in general. It’s a very decent carry-in. It’s just rice and meat, and it’s served up fast. But for me, teriyaki for dinner means I’ve had a long day, that I’ve had to suffer through an extended day at the office (and that’s never a good thing).

Nasty Teriyaki Salad (this usually goes right into the trash)
So for me, Monday nights taste like sweet teriyaki sauce mixed with special blend of stress, apprehension, and work dissatisfaction.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Monday Night Pot Luck

Continuing with the tradition of Monday night meals at work, on Labor Day we had Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff over noodles, steamed (microwaved) green beans, bread (for all the sauce) and Cherry Pineapple Dump Cake. I would love to claim credit for this meal, but it was the brain-child of my coworker, Jamie and it was delicious.

Here are the recipes for the stroganoff and cake. As you can see, both do not require many ingredients and were really yummy! FYI - my crappy pictures do not do either of these dishes justice.

Beef Stroganoff

1 pound cubed beef stew meat
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed mushroom soup
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup water
4 ounces cream cheese

In a slow cooker, combine the meat, soup, onion, Worcestershire sauce and water. Cook on low setting for 8 hours or on high setting for about 5 hours. Stir in cream cheese just before serving.

Cherry Pineapple Dump Cake

1 can (16 ounce) crushed pineapple
1 can (30 ounce) cherry pie filling
1 package yellow cake mix
1 cup butter
Optional: 1/2 to 2/3 cup chopped nuts

Grease a 9 x 13 inch pan. Dump in the pineapple and juice, spreading evenly. Pour cherry pie filling over the pineapple, spreading evenly. Add dry cake mix evenly over the fruit. Add nuts, then slice butter and lay all over the top. Do not mix. Bake in a 325 degree oven for 50 - 55 minutes.

Both of these dishes were really good! The cake would go great with coffee, as the sugars in it make a nice crunchy crust that would melt in your mouth with a hot cup of joe. We had the stroganoff over noodles and Jamie and I both thought that adding a little Marsala and extra mushrooms to the recipe would really make this even more mouth-watering.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hotter Than Hell!

The other day I was puttering around the kitchen, trying to figure out what to cook for dinner.  I dug through my pantry and fridge and found a bottle of simmer sauce I picked up from Cost Plus World Market during one of my visits there.  It was a Vindaloo sauce, very low in calories, and I thought I'd whip up a tasty, quick dinner.

I swirled a tiny bit of oil in my skillet and added some cubed up pieces of chicken breast.  I let that cook then added onions, zucchini, and mushrooms.  Once everything was cooked nicely I poured in the Vindaloo sauce.  It was beautiful!  It smelled amazing and looked good.  I let the sauce, chicken and veggies cook together so the sauce thickened up a tad.  I couldn't wait to eat!

I put a bed of rice in the center of my plate, topped it with the Chicken and Veggie Vindaloo and sat down to eat.  I took one bite and WOW!  I thought my head was going to explode.  It was insanely hot!

What I failed to notice on the bottle of Vindaloo sauce were those three evil little peppers.  Now, I can handle some spice, but this?  It was way too much!  I sucked down a forkful of rice and tried a few more bites of my meal.  Big mistake!  My mouth was on fire and the heat seemed to intensify as I sat there and tried to eat.  Out of desperation, I gulped down a glass of milk to cool things off. 

My poor husband can't tolerate spicy foods well (he's a big baby), so I put the remaining rice and Chicken and Veggie Vindaloo in a tupperware container and gave it to the only person I know who would eat it: My sister.  Turns out that was a good move--she loved it and thought it was spicy but not too hot to eat.  Apparently she inherited some sort of asbestos tastebuds or something.

Overall: this Vindaloo sauce was a huge disappointment.  I wish it had been a few degrees cooler because it looked, smelled and tasted so good.  Maybe I could have stirred in some yogurt to cool it off...who knows.  Oh can't win them all!

Thursday, September 2, 2010


I mentioned last week that I was on the hunt for the perfect Shrimp and Grits recipe.  I failed to mention that I was also looking for a relatively low fat, low calorie Shrimp and Grits recipe.  My first attempt tasted good, but the shrimp were overcooked.  And overcooked shrimp do not meet the standards of "Deliciousness of Yum."  While searching for recipes and obsessively thinking about making a better, healthy Shrimp and Grits, I stumbled onto Cooking Light's website...and found Shrimp and Grits nirvana.
I made this dish for the whole family and the entire casserole was devoured.  It turned out creamy and cheesy and the shrimp were not overdone.  Yay!  As a bonus, this recipe is a snap to prepare.  So let's review: this tastes good, is relatively healthy, and easy to make.  This might just be a perfect meal!

Here's the original recipe from Cooking Light:

Shrimp and Grits Casserole

  • 2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
  • 3/4 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup uncooked quick-cooking grits
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 (3-ounce) package 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp, coarsely chopped
  • Cooking spray
  • Hot pepper sauce (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Combine milk and broth in a medium heavy saucepan; bring to a boil. Gradually add grits and salt to pan, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook 5 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in Parmesan, butter, and cream cheese. Stir in parsley and next 4 ingredients (through shrimp). Spoon mixture into an 11 x 7–inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until set. Serve with hot pepper sauce, if desired.
Before making this, I read the reviews.  People seemed to be missing heat and seasoning from this dish.  To rectify this, I gave my shrimp a liberal dose of Slap Ya Mama cajun seasoning.  This gave my finished dish a nice hit of heat and added some authentic flavor to everything.  Use what you have on hand...since I'm a Maryland girl by birth, I could see seasoning the shrimp with Old Bay.

If you're not concerned about caloric content, you could go ahead and use full fat cream cheese, though I didn't find the skinny version to be lacking in any way, shape, or form.

I hope you try this one out--it rocks!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Carnitas - Straight Out Of America's Test Kitchen

Every Saturday at 4:00 pm, our local PBS station airs America's Test Kitchen. It is a 30 minute show full of great recipes, gadgets and interesting personalities - I love it and try to watch before I head off to work. A few weeks ago, they aired a show on making Carnitas which is braised or roasted pork in Mexico. This dish looked so mouth-watering good, I thought I would give it a try - and I am so happy that I did!

The meat fell apart and with the addition of a little fresh squeezed lime juice was a little taste of heaven!! I could not find pork butt at my grocery store, so I used pork shoulder and it turned out wonderfully. I also had Lydia make some fresh guacamole to go with the carnitas, because there is never a bad time to add guacamole.

This and many other recipes are available on the America's Test Kitchen website, so I encourage you to check them out and watch the show.

Here is the recipe for Carnitas - you can also watch the show (and many others) on their website!

Mexican Pulled Pork (Carnitas)

From the episode: Supper From South of the Border

Serves 6

We like serving carnitas spooned into tacos, but you can also use it as a filling for tamales, enchiladas, and burritos.

  • 1 (3 1/2-to 4-pound) boneless pork butt , fat cap trimmed to 1/8 inch thick, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 small onion , peeled and halved
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lime
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 medium orange , halved
Tortillas and Garnishes
  • 18 (6-inch) corn tortillas , warmed
  • Lime wedges
  • Minced white or red onion
  • Fresh cilantro leaves
  • Thinly sliced radishes
  • Sour cream
  • 1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine pork, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, cumin, onion, bay leaves, oregano, lime juice, and water in large Dutch oven (liquid should just barely cover meat). Juice orange into medium bowl and remove any seeds (you should have about 1/3 cup juice). Add juice and spent orange halves to pot. Bring mixture to simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Cover pot and transfer to oven; cook until meat is soft and falls apart when prodded with fork, about 2 hours, flipping pieces of meat once during cooking.
  • 2. Remove pot from oven and turn oven to broil. Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to bowl; remove orange halves, onion, and bay leaves from cooking liquid and discard (do not skim fat from liquid). Place pot over high heat (use caution, as handles will be very hot) and simmer liquid, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy (heatsafe spatula should leave wide trail when dragged through glaze), 8 to 12 minutes. You should have about 1 cup reduced liquid.
  • 3. Using 2 forks, pull each piece of pork in half. Fold in reduced liquid; season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread pork in even layer on wire rack set inside rimmed baking sheet or on broiler pan (meat should cover almost entire surface of rack or broiler pan). Place baking sheet on lower-middle rack and broil until top of meat is well browned (but not charred) and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Using wide metal spatula, flip pieces of meat and continue to broil until top is well browned and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes longer. Serve immediately with warm tortillas and garnishes.