Saturday, May 30, 2015

Week 17 - Herbs

I can't believe how behind I am on posting about these challenges! I've already done 22 weeks of challenges, but haven't even posted Week 17 (even though many of them have been partially written for a while). Time to get this in order and up to date...

The theme for Week 17 was herbs, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do - a salad where cilantro (one of my favorite herbs) played the starring role. I had multiple options for cilantro-based salads, but on the day we went to do our grocery shopping for that week, there were major ingredients missing from all of them (including cilantro). It was a good thing that our meal plan for that week included another salad I had been obsessed with making, especially after finding a good bulk package of corn at Costco. That salad called for a lot of dill and parsley, so I figured that would be a good plan B for herbs week.

I based the salad on this recipe I found on Food52 for a dilled crunchy sweet corn salad with buttermilk dressing. It sounded so good from the description and the reviews were amazing, so as soon as I found all that corn, I knew I wanted to make it. My adapted version included the following ingredients:

- 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- 4 ears of uncooked corn, kernels scraped from cobs
- 1 hothouse cucumber, peeled and diced
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 1 green pepper, diced
- 4-5 sprigs of dill, minced
- 1/2 bunch of parsley, finely chopped
- crumbled feta cheese
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- 3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1 small sweet onion, minced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- lemon juice to taste

I have no idea how much this cost (and am not going to try to figure it out) because it was so long ago and the receipts are all jumbled together, but it wasn't inexpensive. If I had to estimate, I'd probably say it was at least $10. For a salad that only comprised part of our meal, that wasn't a great price, but I really wanted to try this.

There was a lot of prep involved in making the salad, not including the dressing. I sliced up the shallot, and let the slices sit in a little bit of salt for about half an hour, before rinsing and drying them. After that, in a large bowl, I mixed together the shallots, corn kernels, diced cucumber, diced red pepper, diced green pepper, dill, and parsley, and tossed them all together well.

The next step was making the dressing. A minced up the onion and garlic for me, and then I added the buttermilk, yogurt, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, and mixed it all together until it was smooth. The recipe said to pass the dressing separately, but I just thought it would taste better to mix it in. I didn't think it would get too soggy either, because these ingredients didn't seem like the type, so we gave it a try. It was good all mixed together. Once the dressing was mixed in, I added the feta cheese, mixed it around some more, and adjusted the seasonings to taste, including some pepper and lemon juice. 

Overall, this was a good salad, but considering the rave reviews, I was expecting it to be so much better. Maybe it's partially because it wasn't really corn season yet, but it just didn't have that bright summery flavor that I was hoping for. I also think I should have put more dill into it as it seemed light on dill for a salad with dill in the title. It was good and we would eat it again, but it wasn't my favorite salad of the month. (You'll have to wait for the next challenge post for that one.) I think it just needed something else to kick it up a bit, but I'm not exactly sure what that should have been. Something to ponder as we get closer to summer salad season!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Shrimp Cocktail Chiller

I hadn't gone to Hale and Hearty for a bit, and I kept thinking that soup in hot weather (yes, I know about gazpacho) was something I really felt like avoiding. However, one day I passed by one of their stores and noticed a sign for their "chiller" line of soups. Cold soups to match to the hot days we'd been having here in NYC. I was really intrigued by the Shrimp Cocktail Chiller since I'm a huge fan of shrimp cocktail. They describe the soup as "Delicate shrimp simmered with Spanish onions and garlic,combined with all the flavors you'd expect from this classic dish, and a few that surprise. Crunchy and a little spicy, perfect for Summer."

This is an interesting soup. The soup is tomato-based, and there's a definite kick from horseradish. It really tasted like a tart, spicy cocktail sauce. The shrimp was cooked very well. They weren't too chewy, and they had just the right texture. The crunch, from what I could tell, came from what appeared to be jicama. I could be totally off, but I'm pretty sure that's what it was. Either that or maybe water chestnuts. Anyway, this was a tasty soup, but I think I ended up getting too much. Normally I like to get a large soup and savor that throughout my meal. This soup, however, is fairly tart and has a bit of bite from both the sourness and the horseradish. About halfway to 2/3 through it started getting a bit tough to keep drinking down. It still tasted good, but I think it was just too much. I would recommend getting a smaller size and pairing with a sandwich.

Overall, this is a very tasty cold soup. It does get to be a bit much after a while, but that can be mitigated. I'd definitely recommend this soup to fans of shrimp cocktail.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ringing Through Jersey

I drove the first leg of our Savannah road trip from home to Maryland. It was a short leg mostly because we were leaving after work and only wanted to drive for a couple of hours so it wouldn't be a super late night. Despite having a decent-sized Chipotle bowl for dinner, I was feeling in the mood for a snack as I drove down the Jersey Turnpike. Since it was a toll road, there weren't tons of options in each rest stop, but fortunately for me, the one where we decided to stop had a Burger King.

I've always had a bit of a nostalgic soft spot for Burger King, especially for their onion rings, and the craving has only increased ever since I've been unable to find those Trader Joe's frozen onion rings, so I couldn't resist the opportunity to pick up a cup of onion rings to snack on during the drive. (We both had some, but honestly it was mostly me.) The onion rings were exactly what I wanted that night - crispy, full of onion flavor, and not overly greasy. A satisfying snack on the way to Baltimore!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Saigon Baguette "Saigon Hero"

Sorry for not posting for a while, but M and I have been a little busy. For my first day back, I wanted something a little healthier. You'll understand why as we post more and more from our trip. I figured that I should avoid the salad places since everyone gets salad on Mondays to try and detox from whatever weekend activities. What I did want was vegetables so the pickled carrots, cucumbers, and radishes felt like the perfect thing to bridge me from vacation to real-life eating.

So today at Saigon Baguette I ordered their "Saigon Hero". From their website they note that it contains "Five spice braised pork belly, pate" along with the aforementioned vegetables and cilantro. The pork was soft and tender and had a nice, rich flavor to it. The bread was a touch too toasted, but it was still good. I didn't get any hints of the pate, though, and I wonder if that's due to the braised pork belly being so flavorful. Either way, this was a good sandwich that at least felt healthy in my bid to get back to eating better.


We're back!

Not that you knew we left, but we just returned from a road trip down to Georgia to visit one of the most beautiful cities in the country, Savannah. Along the way, we made stops in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. It was a wonderful exploration of a part of the country that neither of us had traveled to together before, and we had a great time.

Seriously, how gorgeous is Savannah? Still pinching myself that we actually saw this in person!

Now we're back in cloudy New York, which still doesn't seem to have completely shed itself of spring allergy suffering (unfortunately). Since we'll be daydreaming about being back in Savannah anyway, hopefully our recaps will get done more quickly. We'll label everything from this trip with Savannah Road Trip 2015 (whether or not it was in Savannah itself). Follow along on our Southern adventure!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Week 16 - Cuban

We had a lot of Cuban food during our WorldEats exploring, but when the theme for Week 16 came up as Cuban, nothing immediately sprang to mind for the challenge. I looked around online for a bit until I found this recipe for a baked version of potato balls (aka papas rellenas) filled with meat, and then it came to me. I could do potato balls but fill them with picadillo, another Cuban dish I'd had before and always found comforting. Even better, I could make it turkey picadillo, using this Skinnytaste recipe for turkey picadillo as inspiration! Of course, once I found the turkey picadillo recipe, I could have just made turkey picadillo over rice and called it a day, but that didn't occur to me until weeks after the initial idea, after I had already gone to the grocery store to pick up stuff for the challenge. I guess I was just that fixated on the idea of papas rellenas!

For the Cuban challenge project, I combined and adapted the 2 recipes and used:

- 2 russet potatoes ($0.98)
- 1 tbsp butter ($0.25)
- 1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs ($0.15)
- 1 lb of ground turkey ($4)
- salt and pepper to taste ($0.05)
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped ($0.60)
- 1 bell pepper, finely chopped ($0.84)
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced ($0.05)
- 14 oz can of diced tomatoes ($0.75)
- 2 cubes of cilantro ($0.20)
- 5 spoonfuls of manzanilla olives with pimentos, chopped ($1.10)
- 5 spoonfuls of olive brine ($0.10)
- 1/2 cup water ($0)
- 2-3 tbsp tomato paste ($0.80)
- 1 tsp cumin ($0.05)
- 2 bay leaves ($0.20)
- garlic powder and onion powder to taste ($0.10)

Sounds like a lot of ingredients, but it really wasn't that complicated of a recipe (although parts were time-consuming). The total for the whole recipe was approximately $10.22, with the majority of that being the ground turkey. That was a reasonable price for dinner, since it also left us with a bowl of leftovers that I ate for lunch.

To make the picadillo-stuffed potato balls, there were 2 simultaneous processes going. I had to make mashed potatoes and picadillo and hope that the timing worked out. The potato part is fairly straightforward as it's just mashed potatoes - boil potatoes until fork tender, mash them, add butter, stir until smooth. Or however else you make mashed potatoes. Then you just have to give them a little bit of time to cool.

For the picadillo, I used our Dutch oven and did the following:

1. Heat olive oil and add the ground turkey, seasoning with salt and pepper. Break up turkey as it browns.

2. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, tomatoes, and cilantro. Saute for a few minutes. [I would have used regular chopped cilantro but I couldn't bear to buy a whole bunch just to use so little and have the rest go to waste.]

3. Add olives and olive brine, and cook for a few minutes.

4. Add cumin, bay leaves, tomato paste, water, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder to taste.

At this point you're supposed to let it simmer for at least 15 minutes. I think I simmered it for at least 30 minutes, probably more, tasting it all along the way. The longer you can simmer it, in my opinion, the better. I had started out with only a couple of spoonfuls of olives and olive brine, but didn't think the picadillo had enough of that type of flavor in it so I added a few more spoonfuls of each. I surprised myself doing that as I'm not a huge fan of olives and have always thought those olives were pretty strong, but they were the perfect ingredient to balance out all the other flavors and I actually really liked them in the picadillo. Somehow the bites with olives were better than the ones without. Who would have guessed I would ever say that?

Once the mashed potatoes were ready and a little bit cooled (which took way longer than I was expecting, since the potatoes took forever to boil, but it let the picadillo simmer even longer, so overall, not the worst thing), it was time to make the potato balls. Supposedly they are supposed to end up golf ball sized, but I think mine ended up bigger. Oh well. They were fine, even if not really able to be eaten by hand.

I took a handful of mashed potato, hollowed it out to form a cup, added a spoonful or so of picadillo, and then closed up the hole and reformed it into a ball. Then I rolled the balls in the bread crumbs. Sounds pretty simple, but I think we've already established that somehow I always suck at breading and dredging things. This wasn't really any different, although I guess it worked out okay, even if the potato balls ended up all different sizes, not really crispy, and very oddly shaped.

The potato balls baked for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. The bread crumbs were a little browner, but they weren't hugely different from the potato balls prior to going into the oven. They didn't crisp up as much as I expected but maybe they were too big. At least it was a fun experiment to do.

We really, really liked the picadillo here, and it's something I would definitely make again. It just had really great flavor and I was so happy that I found something that I could use olives in that didn't feel overpowering. As for the potato ball part, the potatoes did taste good with the picadillo, but they were really just a vehicle for eating the picadillo. Another great challenge week!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

On the Royal Promenade

Since it was Quantum's last day in the United States today, it seemed like a good day for another post from our Quantum reviews. We had been hoping to finish off our Quantum recaps before the ship left on its long journey to China, but we didn't even get up to the first port yet. Oh well. We've been slow at recapping (as usual), but hopefully we'll get it done sooner rather than later!

I don't know what it is about cruising, or traveling in general, but we always find ourselves wanting to eat something. Maybe it's operating at a higher activity level than our normal sedentary lives, or maybe it's just being surrounded by so many tasty-looking things to try that we don't have every day at home. There's just so much to try and to eat!

The best options for non-meal time snacking on the Quantum were, in our opinion, the Cafe Promenade and Sorrento's combination located on the Royal Promenade. They were right in the center of the main decks of the ship, so they were very convenient (but also incredibly crowded after any show let out), and they had sandwiches, pizza, and small desserts pretty much the entire day. We hadn't done very well with our off-time visit to the Windjammer on night 1 and I gave up on the Windjammer cookie bakery after day 3, so this quickly became our go-to stop. We tried them for the first time on the morning of day 4 since we needed a snack of some sort to tide us over until lunch after the very early character breakfast, working out, and a failed attempt at rock climbing. We really liked these spots and wished we had tried them sooner!

Although we've pretty much been recapping our time on the Quantum in chronological order, we stopped at Cafe Promenade and Sorrento's so many random times from day 4 to the end of the trip that it doesn't make sense to log each visit. We repeated a lot of the same snacks and sometimes even went more than once in a single day, so this recap will just be about all the great stuff they had to offer. (As a side note, a lot of the menus on Quantum have been changed since we were on board, and we don't know if there were any changes to Cafe Promenade or Sorrento's.)

Cafe Promenade

The first thing we tried from Cafe Promenade, which completely cemented its spot as our destination snack joint, was the shrimp roll. A long soft bun filled with lettuce leaves and a mayo-based shrimp salad, this was really good. We liked that it was light but still flavorful.

A couple of days later we tried the chicken roti for the first time. It wasn't quite what we pictured for a roti, but it was more of a chicken salad wrap with roti as the wrapper. The roti was thin and soft, and the chicken salad inside had so much flavor. We were really pleasantly surprised. There was a distinct curry flavor and a nice crunch from the celery.

The chicken roti became our go-to snack at the Cafe Promenade and we would often stop by and pick up one... or two... or three, depending on how hungry or snacky we were feeling. Every time it was a little bit different. Sometimes there would be more vegetables inside (and not just celery). Sometimes the curry flavor was stronger. But almost every time it tasted fresh, light, and good.

For reasons I'll go into a little later, day 9 (of 12) was the last day we would visit Cafe Promenade for sandwiches, and we went twice, before and after our free showing of The Penguins of Madagascar (so much fun!). For our pre-movie snack, we got another shrimp roll (which was packed with shrimp) and our standby chicken roti. In case you're wondering, yes, they did have other sandwiches in the case and we had always thought about them, but we really liked both of those a lot.

After the movie, we decided to expand our horizons. I tried the jive turkey, which was a turkey and cheese sandwich with bacon, lettuce, and thousand island dressing or flavored mayo. I really liked this, so much that I got 2 of them. Although I really liked the chicken roti a lot, I was a bit upset with myself for not trying this one earlier so that I could get more of them during the course of the trip. I had thought it might be a boring turkey sandwich (which has happened so often) so I went for the sure thing instead. (As you can see, I did get a chicken roti as well. This time the roti wrapper was a bit too tough which made the jive turkey shine even more.)

A tried the King Arthur, Cafe Promenade's roast beef sandwich with lettuce and mayo. He found it kind of boring. The roast beef was bland, and the rest of the toppings didn't add much either. He was glad to have tried it, but he wouldn't ever get it again.

Lest you think that Cafe Promenade only serves sandwiches, they also have pastries and desserts. I wasn't that into dessert on the ship (perhaps a bit burnt out from the Windjammer cookie bar), but A did try the desserts. One was called the Led Zeppole, which was an inventive name for a zeppole, but it wasn't anything overly special. We did forget to take a picture of it, though. On our last Cafe Promenade visit, A also picked up a mudcake, which my mom kept getting during the trip, to see what all the fuss was about. He thought it was pretty good, very dense and chocolatey. It was like a rich chocolate cake, and he understood why my mom liked them so much.

Cafe Promenade served us well as a convenient snack joint during the cruise and was probably one of our favorite eating venues. Its long and flexible schedule, the casual atmosphere and plentiful seating, and a large (if unchanging) selection made it a good place to stop.


Although I noted that Cafe Promenade had plentiful seating, those seats were technically in the part of the promenade that housed Sorrento's, the Royal Caribbean pizza joint. Some people ate full meals at Sorrento's, mostly because of their made-to-order pizza option, but we just went for slices. They would have a few sliced up pies out at a time and the toppings would always change. We wanted to try as many as possible!

On day 4, when we made our first visit to Cafe Promenade, we also picked up some slices from Sorrento's - the florentine pizza and hot pepper pizza. Both were good, and I'm not sure which one we preferred. 

We liked Sorrento's so much for a quick snack (which wasn't surprising since dollar pizza at home is our idea of a good snack too) that we got some more slices as a late night snack that same day. There was the praciola, which had some spinach and mushrooms and feta cheese.

There was more hot pepper pizza, the same one as that afternoon, because we liked it the first time around.

We also tried one called mare e monti, which had ham and assorted seafood. That was a pretty interesting and unexpected combo for us, but it was good. By the way, if you're wondered about pizza thickness, the crust on these pizzas is very, very thin. I'm guessing that's so it cooks faster. For the most part, texturally, the thin crust was fine, especially if the pizza was fresh. Every so often, one would sit there too long and the base/crust would have the wonderful texture of cardboard, but that was luckily rare.

The next day brought some new flavors - Hawaiian (ham and pineapple) and a sausage and hot peppers slice - for a snack after a busy day in St. Maarten. It started to become a habit that on our way back to our room from the port, we would stop by Cafe Promenade and Sorrento's, get a light snack, and rehydrate. For example, the next day when we stopped by, we got pepperoni pizza. We loved that the flavors kept changing, even though we didn't always remember to snap a photo.

Our last Sorrento's visit was also on day 9, where we got these mini slices of chorizo corn pizza and pepperoni pizza. They were pretty tasty, just like the others. Sorrento's wasn't great pizza, but it was fine. More than that, it served its purpose. On a cruise ship where options are limited, having a quick, small, and tasty snack like these pizza slices was good for us.

Now, at this point, I'm sure you're wondering why on a 12 day cruise, we stopped visiting Cafe Promenade and Sorrento's on day 9. It had nothing to do with the venue itself, but everything to do with my health. I started feeling a bit unwell after the movie and a short nap, and thought maybe it was a combination of seasickness (we were finally heading back into the ocean), not being very in shape, and being hungry. I thought maybe something to eat would help calm my stomach so that was part of the reason we went for post-movie snacks on the promenade. Unfortunately by the end of the night it turned into a full blown episode of food poisoning (cause unknown), which significantly impacted the way we ate and the way the trip went for the remaining 3 days. There will be more on that another time - how to cope with food poisoning or a stomach bug on a cruise, not the details of my own misadventures.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand - Cafe Promenade and Sorrento's. When we first heard about these pre-cruise, we thought we'd probably stop by but didn't really spend much time thinking about them. We had no idea this would become our go-to snack point and one of the more comfortable public spaces to be during the trip (available seating, low deck and mid-ship to help with sea sickness). If you're on Quantum or a sister ship, we'd definitely recommend a few visits to try out the snacks and see what you like!

Friday, May 1, 2015

May 2015 Custard Calendar

The year has just been flying by, and somehow it's already May. Winter weather lasted for so long that it hardly seems like it's already the fifth month of the year. The flavors in the May custard calendar are up, but nothing about them is really yelling "spring" to us either. Happily though, there is one flavor this month that we're pretty excited about trying - cookies n' chocolatey cream - because we love cookies and cream ice cream.

Here's the full May lineup of custards:

Week 1 (May 1-3) - oatmeal creme pie (6.25/10)
Week 2 (May 4-10) - red velvet (6.75/10)
Week 3 (May 11-17) - cookies n' chocolatey cream (new to us)
Week 4 (May 18-24) - caramel walnut cake (new to us, didn't get it last year)
Week 5 (May 25-31) - strawberry cheesecake (7/10)

Other than cookies and chocolatey cream, we might not stop in for the other custards, but we're hoping that one will be good!