Sunday, April 28, 2013

Chocolate Chip and Cranberry Scones

I think these are perfect for breakfast or dessert!

Years ago when Starbuck's and all the other coffee shops first emerged, there was a plethora of scones available. My favorite was at The Coffee Beanery and it was this slightly dry (well it's all relative if it's good at the local coffee shop when compared to other treats) and dense scone loaded with chocolate chips and a good sprinkling of sugar on top of it.

I would always discover little chunks of butter that somehow did not get mixed in thoroughly which seemed like little treasures. Fast forward to current times. . . scones are still available but I haven't found a chocolate chip one in a long time. I love Starbuck's for coffee but I am less than thrilled with their baked goods so I typically refrain. When you have a daily latte habit, abstaining from the baked goods is maybe not exactly a frugal move but a necessity for the budget anyways.

Tomorrow I have a long drive for work and I will be stopping for a coffee for the road, but packing some of these scones for our breakfast (I'm carpooling).

This recipe is based on one I have tried before at King Arthur Flour's website. They have some chocolate chip scones that are pretty darn good, and not the least bit dry. Looking at their website today, they actually have a total of 52 scone recipes, ranging from savory to sweet available.

I am going to admit right now that I did NOT use King Arthur Flour today. I do recommend it - it's really very very good but I did not have any on hand today, with the exception of bread flour and I wasn't sure how bread flour would compare to the pastry flour they recommended in the original recipe. The recipe did say all purpose flour was okay and I had some Gold Medal in the house - a new fresh package of unbleached - so I used that. I keep all my open flours in the freezer to stay fresh, rolling the package and sealing in a large Ziploc bag. Flour can go bad and it's not the cheapest thing (especially when you are using King Arthur. FYI I have a sneaking suspicion (reckless conjecture) that Trader Joe's flour is King Arthur with their private label. . . just saying!

I also added a little almond extract instead of just vanilla (it's something I seem to do a lot) and dried cranberries.  Dried Cranberries are my "Poor Man's (ahem Woman's) Sundried Cherries". Oh, and it's not a typo, I did not put extra sugar in the actual dough, just a sprinkling on top!

Chocolate Chip and Cranberry Scones Recipe


2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
3/4 cup Half and Half
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips
1 cup of dried cranberries


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or grease.

In the stand mixer combine flour, salt and baking powder. Add the butter on a low speed, until distributed and the mixture is crumbly.

In a separate bowl, whisk by hand the cream, eggs, and extracts. Reserve two tablespoons of the mixture for later, and pour the rest into the mixer.

Mix together to form a dough. Add chips and cranberries. The dough will be very soft and moist.

Transfer the dough on to a heavily floured surface. Using a floured rolling pin, shape into approximately an 8 inch circle. Brush the dough with the reserved cream mixture and sprinkle with sugar.

Dip a cookie cutter (I had a glass) into flour and use to cut out circles. I think mine were about 3 inches in diameter.  Place the cut outs on the sheet and then form the leftover dough into a circle again, cutting out more. Repeat until you have as many scones as you can. The second and third batch were brushed and sprinkled on the cookie sheet.  I had 16 scones total.

Place the scones in the oven for 20 minutes until they are golden brown.

They taste delicious straight out of the oven but if you are going to eat them later put them in an airtight container when they have cooled down. You can reheat them in foil in the oven. I like them cold with some good butter!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Book Review: Ape House: A Novel by Sara Gruen

By the Author of "Water for Elephants"

A good book although completely different than her previous.

I chose this book simply because of who the author was. If you haven't read Water for Elephants, it a great immersing read and I highly recommend it. That being said, this is not Water for Elephants but was also engrossing.This book takes place in present time and tells the story of the intersecting lives of Isabel Duncan, a scientist working with bonobos (a species of Great Apes) and John, a reporter, as well as Bonzi, Jelani, Makena, Lola and Sam, the bonobos themselves who are capable of deep human like relationships and communicate with American Sign Language.

John meets Isabel and the bonobos when he visits the lab for a story and becomes immediately intrigued and impressed by what he sees. Soon after, unrelated, an explosion rocks the lab severely injuring Isabel and displaces the bonobos. An animal rights activist group claims responsibility and the story starts running. Isabel is more focused on the bonobos than her recovery and is desperate to find them. Others have different plans in mind for the Great Apes.

There are many secondary characters that are caught up in the story from both Isabel's and John's camps. The story is intriguing in terms of the fascinating abilities of these animals, and the people who would either like to learn more about them and interact with them, and those that would like to control them.

The writing itself does not have the lyrical and beautiful quality that I found with Water for Elephants, or the descriptive backdrops that set that stage. However, because this book takes place in present time, perhaps there is no need. I felt empathy for the characters in this book but did not feel that I knew them as intimately as those in her previous work. Again, maybe I didn't need to know them as well as they were all a backdrop for the bonobos and their actual plight.

It is evident that Sara Gruen loves animals and has a personal motivation to write about them so passionately. That came through in this novel. I think that if you judge this book completely on its own merits, and don't compare it to Water for Elephants, it is a good read. However, obviously that is hard to do, as I just spend this whole time comparing!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Strawberry Sour Cream Pie

Sunday Dinner Dessert

I love Sundays even if I know the weekend is almost over. I especially like Sundays where we don't have too much in the way of plans and I can spend some time getting dinner ready. I find that I am willing to put the extra time in a dinner and can plan on leftovers for Monday lunch. Right now I have Chicken Cordon Bleu, Green Bean Casserole (with fresh Haricot Verts beans steamed!)  and Corn Pudding all in the oven while I write this.

I found this recipe for Summer Strawberry Sour Cream Pie on Pinterest the other day and used this for inspiration. I doubled the recipe and made a few changes so I thought I probably should post it. I doubled it first of all, then blended two kinds of flour, added a little almond extract to the dough, and some vanilla and creme fraiche to the filling. It smells heavenly and I can't wait to dig in after dinner. Once that happens I will add a photo of a slice at the bottom of the blog.

I mixed 2 kinds of flour to make the crust. I had both all purpose and then white whole wheat in the house so I figured I would hedge my bets and use both. I used my Kitchen Aid mixer rather than a food processor, using the wire whisk to mix the flour and salt together.

To this I added the Crisco, in little bits, making sure to take a rest between each addition and mix so as not to overheat the mixture. I then moved on to the chunks of butter, doing the same. I noticed at that point I had to use the paddle attachment rather than the whisk.I kept turning it on and off again, to make sure I didn't overheat everything.

I added the cold water, a little bit at a time, by the tablespoonful. I found that I needed quite a bit of water to create a dough that would actually come together and maybe that is because I used a mixer instead of a processor but it worked. I estimate it was about a 1/4 cup. Once I could see my dough was almost the right consistency I added the almond extract. I think the aroma itself makes it worth adding!

I put the dough on to a wooden board and formed two balls with my hands, and then flattened to disks. These were wrapped in plastic wrap and chilled for about a half hour. It's really important to work with chilled dough for this work. . . Also little tip. . . My board is a remnant from Ikea that I bought in the clearance section. I have tiled countertops that are not conducive to rolling anything out so this is a portable surface that I can use either in the kitchen or in the dining room and makes making breads and cookies easy too!

I turned the dough on to the board, once I floured it, and rolled each disk out to a little larger a circumference than the pie plate. I then pressed it into the pie plate and crimped. Now, I'm no expert and these aren't as beautiful as a professional but I'll take it. I then turned my attention to the filling.

In the mixer, I first sifted the flour, salt and sugar with the whisk attachment. I used two kinds of sugar, turbinado and cane sugars. I then added sour cream and creme fraiche as well as some vanilla extract and cinnamon. I then folded the strawberries in by hand, taking care not to be rough with them. I then spooned the mixture into the two pie crusts, carefully spreading but not packing the filling.

I sprinkled some more turbinado sugar on the top of the filling and then put the pies into a preheated oven at 450 degrees for ten minutes. Based on the original recipe, after ten minutes I reduced the temperature to 350 degrees and baked for about another half hour, making sure not to go too long. I then also broiled the tops of the pies for about 4 minutes on high.


Pie Crust (makes 2)

2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups white whole wheat flour (I used Trader Joe's brand)
1/2 cup Crisco, chilled
1 cup cold butter chopped
Cold ice water (approximately 1/4 cup)
1 Tablespoon Almond Extract

Filling Ingredients

2 lbs fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup Turbinado sugar
1 1/4 cup White Sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
1 cup creme fraiche
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar


  • Combine flour and salt together. Add bit of shortening and using whisk attachment, combine with slow speed and with breaks in the standing mixer. Add cubes of chilled butter in the same manner.
  • Add minimal amounts of cold water until dough will form a ball with shaping. Add almond extract.
  • Separate dough into two balls and flatten into disks. Wrap in plastic and chill in the fridge for about a half hour.
  • Place disks on floured board and roll out, to a little bit larger than your pie plates and then transfer to plates, trimming and crimping dough.
  • Sift flour, sugars and salt in the standing mixer. Add sour cream, creme fraiche, vanilla and cinnamon and blend until creamy. Hand fold the strawberries into the mixture. Spoon into pie shells and sprinkle with sugar.
  • Bake in a 450 degree preheated oven for ten minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake an additional 30 minutes. Broil the pies for about 4 minutes and then let cool completely before slicing.

It's Unfortunately Time for a "Books Not Worth Reading" Post. . .

Now you might feel differently, but I read a lot of books and I just couldn't get into these. . . 

That's my disclaimer, take it for what it's worth. Sometimes I read a really good book and then I start a new one and see where they it take me. I try to read only one book at a time. I read a diverse library, reading fiction, fantasy, horror, love stories, etc. I make a commitment and try to see it through but these last few just didn't do it. So rather than go on and on and make a few different posts, I'm doing it all at once here.

An Evening of Long Goodbyes

Paul Murray

I gave this book a whole 78 pages to begin to sympathize with the main character but it never came to pass. Charles lives in isolation in an Irish manor after his father dies and his mother goes to a facility to deal with her own issues. Charles visualizes himself as a traditional Lord of the Manor, building a follie (some kind of tower based on Middle Eastern design?) and drinking cocktails as he watches vintage black and white movies. He feels a patronizing sense of obligation to his younger sister Bel and does not like her new boyfriend Frank who he compares to a Golem. I got so far as to figure out Charles' life of leisure is about to end. They are out of money. The live in servant who is a refugee may have her relatives living in the follie and she's stealing their heirlooms. I think this book is attempting to find humor in Charle's outlandish statements and thoughts but I found him to be a cad I just couldn't sympathize with so I'm moving on.

A Spot of Bother

Mark Hadden

I made to Chapter 3 (they are short chapters) but decided that George just rubbed me the wrong way. I think he made me mad when he described his wife this way when we meet Jean for the first time, "Some morning he would look at her and be mildly repulsed by this plump, aging woman with witch hair and the wattles". I also found the writing style decidely British and hard to get past.  Plasters for Band Aids, and "ruddles" referring to his colleagues (I looked it up but it was a red ochre dye?). . . I felt like I was missing something. I also found George to be a little neurotic so I moved on.

The Long Earth

Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Apparently this is science fiction and Baxter is a famous author. I gave this book a few pages but could not get drawn into this story where a soldier wakes up and finds himself in a new place, far away from the battle in France. There are trees when he wakes up and he can't figure out where he is. He's thirsty. I'm bored.

An Invisible Sign of My Own

Aimee Bender

This book is supposed to be "witty and engaging" according to the cover. I found it too disturbing and maybe it is because I work in the mental health field and this is just too raw . . . The main character narrates this story in first person. I learned that Mona perceives herself as a quitter and relishes that she has that kind of control where I saw it as disturbing. When she finds herself attracted to a man, she starts eating soap and uses the recollection of that experience to become nauseous when he touches her rather than aroused.  At seventeen when she bakes a cake she puts bug poison in it so she just smells it rather than eating it. I had had enough.

Stir Fried Noodles with Cabbage, Tofu and Peanut Sauce

Sunday Lunch

Protein and Carbs, how can I go wrong?

Sunday was pretty productive. I got up at a decent hour, put in a load of laundry and then went to the gym, all before noon! Then it was off to the grocery store (two for this week's menus) before unpacking everything at home. I think I deserve a good lunch before moving on to dinner and other chores!

This week we will be trying a couple of new recipes including a stir fry with flank steak and a strawberry pie. But that's later - right now I was hungry and I wanted a good lunch. I had been looking at recipes on line with Pad Thai and other peanutty goodness and decided to make something  a little bit different. I really don't like bean sprouts which were featured in a lot of the dishes and had some shredded cabbage in the fridge. I also didn't want it to be as sweet. This is what I came up with. I'm thinking that this will also be delicious for lunch tomorrow once it's chilled.

Stir Fried Noodles with Cabbage, Tofu and Peanut Sauce


1/2 package of linguine, cooked and drained (al dente)
1/2 package of tofu, super firm
2 cups shredded cabbage
1 tsp. fish sauce
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce

1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1/3 cup natural creamy peanut butter
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons Hoisin sauce
1/8 Red Curry Paste

Salted, roasted peanuts for garnish


Cook linguine to package directions, leaving noodles al dente. Drain and cool.

Using a little bit of olive oil, heat pan and add cubed tofu. Give this a few minutes to cook, turning occasionally to firm and brown.

Add shredded cabbage, soy sauce, and fish sauce and toss. Remove from heat if the pasta is not yet done so you don't overcook

Mix ingredients for sauce. This sauce will really be more of a paste but will dissolve when we put it in the hot pan with the noodles.

Place cooked noodles in the pan, and create a hole in the center for paste/sauce.

Cook on high heat, mixing all of the ingredients until cooked through, making sure the sauce is well incorporated with the dish.

Garnish individual plates with peanuts.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Book Review: Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

1980's Decadence in Manhattan

What a ride!

The title sounded vaguely familiar when I picked up this book but I thought perhaps it was just a cliche... As I read this book, I kept visualizing Robert Downey Jr. in "Less Than Zero" (or actually in his real life escapades before he got sober). It was only after I finished the book and went looking for a picture of the cover for the blog that I realized this was indeed made into a movie but starred Michael J. Fox, Phoebe Cates and Keifer Sutherland. I will have to check it out. I imagine that I will simultaneously enjoy it while I cringe at how dated it is. Actually this movie came out in 1988, a year AFTER Less Than Zero.

I digress. . . Back to the actual book and plot. This book is a chronicle of the 1980's. . . social angst and party scene, cocaine is the rage and it's what all those social climbers are doing. We follow the life and thoughts of our protagonist or should I say we become him? This book is written in second person, placing YOU at the scene and experiencing all of the emotions.

From the opening line,  "You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning", I was drawn into his world and his struggles. You are a fact checker for a large magazine who wants to be a writer during the day. At night you are a young man trying to connect with others in all the wrong places, looking for intimacy in a drug induced cloud, seeking meaningful human contact with a bunch of party-goers. All of the time you are disillusioned.

Somehow, even though a lot of it is his own doing, I ended up sympathizing with this guy who  just can't seem to figure out that he is addicted to coke, unable to function in the real world, and is unable to get over the loss of his model wife who abandoned him. Self medication is not working despite his best efforts to drown out the real world, and his friend Tad ("fiend" would be a Freudian slip up) is like the little devil on his shoulder just encouraging the descent. Rock bottom is a hard place to be.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Book Review: We the Animals by Justin Torres

Brutal Poetry about Love and Family

This was a quick read that chronicles the lives and relationships of three young brothers and their parents in heartbreaking detail. The writing style is very descriptive, raw and emotional and I can't help but wonder if some of the pictures that Torres paints are based on the emotions he experienced in his own childhood.

Each chapter reads as a snippet or illustration into the complex relationships and bonds the family has and the struggles to survive in a brutal world. Complex subjects are addressed in this very short book and it's powerful and raw. Interracial marriage, brothers, poverty, abuse, depresssion, sexuality. . . it's all in here in what appears to be a very slim book but with a lot of information covered in the very poetic sort of way.

I recommend this one! 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Book Review: A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

Quite a Few Unexpected Turns

Beautiful lyrical quality with some surprising twists

I don't want to give anything away but the impressions and expectations I had for this book from the beginning were not where I ended up in the end. That's not a criticism; I just thought the author was taking me on a path that suddenly veered off and began to pick up some sub stories along the way, all from the first person perspective of twenty year old Tassie. In the end I found a common theme beyond these being her experiences and found that underlying all of this was the story about lessons beyond the college experience.

The prose itself was beautiful, with a lyrical quality, even when descriptions of what was occurring were brutal and dark. Most of the book was a pleasant read but with in depth and difficult topics and challenges presented. I felt like the reader was peeling back an onion layer by layer, to get to the core.

Speaking of food metaphors, one of the pivotal characters in this book is a gourmet chef with a trendy restaurant so there are opportunities to focus on food which were a nice distraction. I think I would have liked to eat some of Sarah Brink's food and wished we had recipes like we did in Angelina's Bachelors, a book I read last week. Alas, they played a supporting role (very minor) but noteworthy nonetheless.

I recommend this book with the caution that it is a bumpy ride, much like coming of age can truly be. There are funny moments and very heart wrenching moments. There are laugh out loud sections when dealing with the preposterous notions of others, and there are frightening despairing sections as 9/11 is there in the background. That being said, I thought about this one for a while and decided it ultimately was a good journey and I wanted to see Tassie through to the end.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Rave Review for Chicken Cordon Bleu

Okay so I cook a lot but it's not every day that everyone - and I mean everyone - likes dinner. In this case, you may say that the LOVED dinner and I would not be exaggerating. Thank you Julie at White Lights Wednesday for this fantastic dish! The original recipe is located at here.

Chicken Cordon Bleu from White Lights Wednesday. Mashed Cauliflower and Wild Rice.
I made some slight changes. I sprinkled the chicken with some garlic salt before layering the ham and cheese on top. For the sauce I decreased the Dijon mustard to about 1/2 teaspoon instead of a tablespoon because my kids do not like mustard. It still had a slight kick and with the other ingredients it was super tasty.
Super Easy, layered chicken, ham and swiss cheese and baked!
For side dishes, I made mashed cauliflower and wild rice. I steamed the cauliflower and then hand mashed, adding the new Velveeta queso blanco and a bit of heavy whipping cream. I took the extra time to make real wild rice instead of a frozen microwave package, simmering the rice for an hour with chicken broth and olive oil.

It was a resounding success. One kid asked to have leftovers for lunch (there was none) and the other was planning on the rest for after school snack tomorrow (but as I said none left). I'm saving the extra cauliflower and rice for tomorrow when we try a crock pot pork roast in cranberry sauce. The extra ham from this recipe was made into sandwiches tomorrow that are already packed. Happy Sunday!

Chocolate Covered Malibu Coconut Marcaroon Cookies

Coconut and Coconut Rum

Oh my it smells heavenly in here!

I have been surfing around the Internet trying to come up with a good recipe for Coconut Macaroons. A couple of weeks back we made coconut macaroon cupcakes and they were quite good. Today we were looking for a little more chewy a consistency to be topped off with some chocolate dipping.

I found this a Chewy Coconut Macaroons recipe in my travels  at the Best Ever Cookie Collection Website that I used as inspiration and a basis for my recipe. When I started adding extra flavors including coconut rum, I think I messed around with the delicate balance and thinned the batter a little too much. I figure if I'm going to add flavor, I'm going to add flavor. So I found that after baking the first batch I needed to add a little flour to the recipe to get back on track. My first batch was a little flat, and I can see the second sheet that went in the oven, with the addition of some flour, really look a little more substantial. I even took a photo to compare.

Yes, I can admit my own mistakes and show them to you because I believe cooking and baking is all a learning experience. Nope, I don't get this right all the time. Maybe I should put all my failures on here too!

Below you will find the recipe after I played around with it a bit.

Preparation of the baking sheets is important. Not only did I line them with parchment paper, I also buttered them per the original recipe. I think that dealing with egg whites you need a little more extra effort.

I first combined the coconut, condensed milk, salt, vanilla and almond extracts, along with the coconut rum. I used a rubber spatula to combine all of the ingredients. I think that almond extract is one of the best smells in baking. Adding the coconut rum and stirring it together? Well that was over the top. It also made the whole house smell so good while it baked and every time I opened or closed the oven door. . . well wow! I set this aside and began work on the meringue. 

I always use a Pyrex measuring cup with a spout to put my egg whites in, separating the yolk from the white with the shell over the cup. I then put the whites in the fridge to chill, along with my metal bowl and whisk.

The original recipe called for cream of tartar and who am I to disagree? So I went out and bought some but was curious what this stuff does. According to the Internet (which sometimes does have true facts), it's really potassium hydrogen tartrate, a byproduct of wine making from the powder that forms in the wine barrels during fermentation. Well, adding the fact we put rum in this, I'm a true lush! This acid is actually one of the major ingredients in baking powder so that baked goods rise. For egg whites, it increases the stability and volume. In candies it can add a creamier texture and is prevents the crystallization of cooked sugar.

I beat the egg whites on medium in the chilled bowl with the cream of tartar for about 2 minutes, waiting until the eggs were foamy. I then added some more speed, going for a higher setting, and let the mixture form soft peaks. I gradually added the sugar and beat until stiff peaks formed.

This was added to the coconut flake mixture we made earlier, folding the egg whites in gently in batches. I dropped the batter in rounded tablespoons on the lined cookie sheets. This is when I discovered that the whole thing was a little too runny so I added the flour after the first batch was baked. Again, please refer to the Before and After photo.

I baked these, one sheet at a time, in the middle of the oven, for about 18 minutes or so, checking for a golden brown glow. I let the cookies cool for a couple of minutes and transferred to a baking rack. While they cooled I melted the chocolate chips in a double boiler and then dipped the cooled cookies, using the back sides of my original parchment paper (see I can reuse and repurpose!).

Next time I will use a little more chocolate, I could only dip them in partially but I think with all of the flavors that might be better. The recipe made 28 cookies but I think I could get 32 if I ration next time!


1 package (14 ounces) sweetened shredded coconut
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1/4 tsp of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon almond extract
1 Tablespoon coconut rum (I used Malibu Black)
4 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons flour
1 package (12 ounces) milk chocolate chips (next time I am getting a larger pack!)


  • Combine the coconut, condensed milk, salt, extracts and rum in a bowl and set aside.
  • Using a chilled bowl and whisk, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Increase speed to a medium high and beat until soft peaks form. Add the sugar slowly and beat until stiff peaks form.
  • Fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture in batches. Add flour.
  • Drop onto prepared baking sheets (lined with parchment and buttered) by rounded tablespoons leaving about 1 1/2 inches between cookies.
  • Bake in a 325 degree oven for approximately 18 minutes, checking to make sure they are a little bit golden.
  • Cool on sheet for about five minutes, transfer to racks to cool completely.
  • Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler. Dip each cooled cookie into the chocolate and let cool.
  • Store the cookies in an airtight container. 

Black Rock Bar and Grill of Hartland

A Stone to Cook your Own Steak

Slurpee's and Steaks, Need I Say More?

It's not often we go to Black Rock because it's a little bit of a drive (about 45 minutes) and it's definitely more expensive than a regular night out with four people but when we do we savor it. There was an adventure yesterday hauling an old boat and we were in the neighborhood and the kids were troopers so it was a good a reason as any to partake in some delicious food.

I first experienced Black Rock a couple of years ago for my husband's holiday Christmas party. At the time I was unsure why would be going to a bar for a party but I learned very quickly that the bar is only part of the story. Black Rock does have a bar but there is an emphasis on food and it's definitely kid friendly too.

Disclaimer: Apparently an Ipod without a flash, and dim bar light do not go well for photos. Please excuse the quality of the pictures!

Frozen Coke and Coconut Rum
The first thing you need to know is that they have Slurpee's. Frozen Coke is a staple, along with Blue Raspberry and Orange on a regular basis. Second thing you should know: It's still a bar and they have shots. That means you can make an "Adult Slurpee" pretty easily and if you do it comes in a glass instead of an insulated cup. Once I learned that I have to say it changed how I even drink Slurpee's at home (Tip: Switch to a glass or an insulated cold beverage glass like Starbucks sells, add some coconut rum to your drink - my favorite is Frozen Coke and Cherry with Malibu Black). Now the kids obviously get theirs in insulated cups and there seems to be bottomless refills (I have never heard anyone say no, that's an extra charge so you know that they are happy. We have to pace them so they don't fill up too quickly before the food comes.

Three Cheese Bread
The menu at Black Rock is constantly evolving. They change up the appetizers and the main dishes on a regular basis. We decided to go with a long standing favorite - Triple Cheese Bread - which should be called "Cheesy Goodness" by the kids' standards. It's a pizza crust with everything that is good about pizza without the sauce (which my kids think is NOT good). Add melted butter and whipped garlic spread that they serve on the side. It's a bubbly hot treat and it keeps them tied over until the real food comes. I also recommend the calamari - good stuff. There was also a new mussels dish with a 48 oz martini glass that looked good.

Now my daughter really likes her own steak and Black Rock has one for kids even if it's not officially on the menu. My son, however, really likes something called the Black Rock Dawg, minus the vegetables. It's this huge hot dog, wrapped in pizza dough, topped with shaved steak, smothered in cheese, and Black Rock Sauce. This is a photo of my son realizing it was no longer on the menu. There was a moment of disbelief that the hot dog that he craved was not available especially since he has this whole system in place on how he eats it and make sure he gets some for breakfast the next day. I will tell you that the steak ended up being a really good consolation prize.

Onion Soup in a crock is an upgrade from the regular soup or salad you can order with your steak but it's worth it. The broth is extremely rich and hearty and the soup also has great chunks of soggy bread and onions to dig into. They really do a nice job with the covering of cheese, bringing it to the table hot and bubbling with a nice touch of browning without going overboard and burning the top. There are also some other soups available including a creamy mushroom soup and a lobster bisque featuring a whole lobster claw that is rich and decadent.

Signature Special, Lobster Tail, and The Tour
The steaks are really the showcase here and are in their glory. You can choose from different cuts and they range in price from $16.99 for the "Black Rock Signature Special" to a 20 ounce at $32.99 and market price for Prime Filet. There are "add ons" for surf and turf (I opted for the cheapest steak so I could add The Tour - three shrimp and a nice size scallop - and a lobster tail). Every steak comes with soup or salad, with one side that you choose from a list. There are also opportunities to get upgrades such as Caesar salad, French Onion Soup or Lobster Bisque. I chose a Caesar and a side of Garlic Mashed Potatoes.

So the thing with the steak is that it comes to the table on a burning hot lava rock but the steak is raw. The waitstaff quickly sear both sides for just a second and hand it to you. You start to shave off slices and cook them yourself. There is no opportunity to get this wrong because you control it. I like mine pretty rare and I can control it. The next important thing to know about is Black Rock Sauce. That's the first dish of sauce featured in that photograph (there was also melted butter for the lobster and Cajun sauce for the shrimp). It's creamy delicious goodness and a secret recipe. You dip your steak in it (I dip everything into it really) and it's just something that adds to the experience. The kids get French Fries and they dip those too.

So there are many desserts to choose from at Black Rock and sometimes we partake but last night, with Slurpee and appetizers, well it would really have been sick. But if you do decide to get dessert we recommend the Black Rock Volcano which is massive and features a sparkler. I won't say any more than that. There is also a chocolate fondue that stays warm on the stone if you like to do some more dipping.

If you do decide to go to Black Rock make reservations! The wait is always very long and you could be there 2 hours in line if you don't. Call Ahead Seating is also an option but reservations is much better. We waited about an hour for Call Ahead last night.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Book Review: Angelina's Bachelors by Brian O'Reilly

A Showcase for Food

Good Italian Food with a Plot

Angelina finds herself a young widow in the beginning of this story, facing a struggle to support herself and keep her home. In her grief she turns to the store of food in her kitchen that was supposed to be for a niece's party that had been planned before the tragedy. Spectacular dishes emerge, as she cooks nonstop throughout the evening, with wonderful descriptions and visual imagery. Now what to do with all this food? And so the plot unfolds as the dishes are distributed throughout the local neighborhood and everyone gets a taste of her masterpieces. Within a short amount of time, Angelina is cooking for pay from others, with an impromptu supper club being formed in her own home, catering to bachelors who form an informal family and network of support.

The story is pleasant and the characters are all likable. I would say it's an easy read with not a lot of depth but a heart warming story. You will end up rooting for Angelina and will cheer her on, encouraging her in your mind that she should find love and happiness again. I can't tell for sure what time period this book was set in, but with the descriptions it would seem to me to be about 20-40 years ago. It definitely did not ring "current" but more nostalgic.

That being said, the real showcase here is the food. Each chapter includes recipes and detailed instructions for the dishes described in the narrative. Most of these recipes are quite complex but I think I will be trying a couple. They were all mouth watering and made me quite hungry for Italian cuisine.  Apparently the recipes were created by the author's wife Virginia. In reading up on the author, it turns out he is an Executive Producer at the Food Network and has published cookbooks  - this was his first published novel. He knows food, I can say that for sure.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Creamy Roasted Butternut Squash Bisque

Squash, Apples, Cinnamon. . . 

It Almost Feels like Fall around here!

The morning started out warm, consistent with spring but then this afternoon it got chilly. Soup seems like a good thing, especially when my daughter has been asking repeatedly for "squash soup" and I found butternut squashes at the grocery store today.

I find the cubing of the butternut squash that is called for in most recipes a bit daunting. There's the hard outer layer of the squash and then trying to cut through that depth, as it rolls around on the cutting board is just not fun. Over the years I have experimented with different knives, everything from a sharp serrated edge to a cleaver, with little success and always a fear that I'm going to get one of my own fingers. To simplify - and really, I think this makes it super simple even thought it's an extra step - I opt to roast the butternut squash before I put it in the soup.

How to Roast a Butternut Squash

Here are the basic steps:

I start with a butternut squash and place it on the cutting board, using my chef knife to put through the skin and make a run for the other side, working my way around to split the squash into two lengthwise halves. After that I scoop out the seeds and think about how this is so much easier than pumpkins at Halloween. I then cut off the stem as well as the bottom end on each half, pierce the flesh (inner and outer) with a fork, and then drizzle olive oil on all of the surfaces, as well as sprinkling some salt on the inner side. I place the squash on a foil lined cookie sheet and roast for about 40 - 50 minutes on 400 degrees.  Now because this is for soup, I went all the way to 50 minutes. If you want to use this more as firm cubes, you know to eat or something, decrease the time. But for soup, this makes is super easy to get it ready and speeds up the cooking process once we put it in the recipe as well.

I then let it cool for a couple of hours before moving on to getting it ready for the soup. You want to peel away the skin and cube or spoon the flesh out. Honestly I started cubing and then just began scraping the flesh away from the skin and spooning into a bowl.

Once I was ready to make the actual soup, I chopped up a white onion (the sharper taste compliments the sweetness of some of the other ingredients) and crushed 4 cloves of garlic, placing it in my heavy soup pot with equal parts butter and olive oil. I let this cook for a little while on medium heat, making sure to soften this first base to our soup but being careful not to burn it. While this was cooking, I peeled an apple (I used a Gala today) and cubed it.

Once the onion and garlic was softened, I added the apple along with cinnamon, maple syrup, salt, and peppers, cooking the whole lot until the apples were soft. I used Grade B pure maple syrup. It's cheaper than Grade A but for recipes involving cooking or baking, it's recommended as it's got a darker more maple flavor, packing more of a punch if you want to add some taste to your dish.

Once the apples and other ingredients were cooked for a bit, and the apples were softened, I added the squash along with a pinch of sage and also some Herbs De Province. I really like the mixture of herbs in the Herbs De Province, and put about a 1/2 teaspoon into the mixture. I didn't have to cook this part too long as the squash was nice and soft from roasting so after a quick toss, I added a carton of chicken broth and let this mixture simmer for about a half hour.

The whole house smelled wonderful. After a good bit of simmering, I used my immersion blender to change this chunky concoction to a smooth velvet bisque. I ended up switching my soup to a taller pot as the other one was too shallow and it was making a mess. The soup was very thick and dense so once I blended it, I added about 1/2 cup of half and half and let it simmer for about five more minutes before plating. I also added a bit more cayenne and some more salt after tasting.

I added a dollop of creme fraiche directly to each bow. Mmmmm it's true what they say, soup is good food!

Creamy Roasted Butternut Squash Bisque Recipe


1.5 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1.5 Tablespoons Butter
1 medium White Onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
1 medium size apple, peeled and cubed
1/4 cup maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
2 teaspoons sea salt,
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 butternut squash, roasted and peeled
Pinch of sage
1/2 teaspoon Herbs De Province
32 ounces of Chicken Broth
1/2 cup of Half and Half
Creme Fraiche for garnish

  • Roast butternut squash beforehand and let cool.
  • Heat butter and oil in a large pot and add chopped onions and garlic, cook until softened careful not to burn or brown them.
  • Add chopped apple, maple syrup, salt and peppers and cook until soft.
  • Add butternut squash, sage and Herbs De Province and cook until flavors are intermingled.
  • Add chicken broth and let simmer for about a half hour.
  • Use immersion blender to turn soup into a bisque. Add half and half to thin. Taste and adjust spices as necessary.
  • Ladle into bowls with creme fraiche for garnish