Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dinner at Lolitas

Here is my review of Michael Symon's restaurant Lolita. I tried to discreetly take a few pics with my camera phone, but ummm, yeah -- the pics didn't come out so great. It's not me though, it's the camera.... yeah, that's right, the camera! :-)

Yesterday was my husband's and my anniversary -- a whopping 3 years! We decided to celebrate by going out to dinner at a new place. And with my new foodie obsession, we decided to try out one of Michael Symon's new restaurants. For those of you unfamiliar...Michael Symon was named as the newest "Iron Chef" on Food Network's Iron Chef America. He is a native of NE Ohio and owns two restaurants in Cleveland -- Lola and Lolita. Initially, I told my husband that I wanted to go to the fancier of the two restaurant -- Lola. Then he encouraged me to check out the menu to be sure of which restaurant I wanted to eat at. Yeah, for me, I like to try to picture the food while I'm deciding what I want ...it sure helps to know what half of the those words mean! "Merguez"...what? Halibut "morels"... uhhhhh? "Gremolata" -- wasn't that a movie? Okay, clearly I was a little...okay, a lot out of my league here. We decided to try Lolita's instead. I pretty much could recognize everything on that menu! LOL!

Well, we arrived to Tremont, which is a suburb of Cleveland. If you plan on going to Lolita's be aware that there is no parking lot. (I guess if you're familiar with the area or Cleveland in general, you would assume that already.) Anyhow, we parked on a nearby street and walked over. I guess since this guy is semi-famous, I expected a wow kind of entrance and interior, you know, like Hell's Kitchen or something. While the entrance door is very nice, once you step inside, yeah - not so glam! I mean, it's not hideous or anything, it's just not what I was expecting. First, it's very small. My husband assured me that there is a whole 2nd floor above though. Second, there really wasn't much... atmosphere I guess. Like I said, not BAD, just not GLAM!

So anyhow, we decided that since this was a special day and a special trip, we would order one app each, an entree of course, and one dessert each. I'm definitely glad we each ordered our own app. The appetizers are definitely made for just one person. Well, they may be made for two, but with us being so used to hujungous portions at other restaurants, the apps looked perfect for one. Anyhow, my DH ordered the roasted beets as an app, but instead got the dates (pic below). Hmmm, beets -- dates... I guess they sound similar. He didn't complain though and just decided to try something new. He was very glad he did. I took a little taste and was glad for the mix up too! They were wonderful! The dates were very sweet -- almost dessert sweet, but then I got a little taste of pancetta. OMG, it was the perfect balance of sweet and savory -- the sign of a beautifully designed dish! I ended up getting the lamb ribs (which oddly enough isn't on their online menu). Anyhow, the ribs were served with orange segments, fennel (I think) and parsley. Another great balance of sweet with the orange citrus and savory with the perfectly cooked ribs. Yum!

For our entrees, my DH got the gnocchi with pork ragu and I got the linguine with clams. We both LOVED our dinners. The ingredients were expertly put together to create fabulously complex dishes. And I think that's what made the difference for us -- a lot of restaurants have dishes that taste great, but may be kind of one dimensional, if that makes any sense. These dishes had so much more -- you could taste so many different flavors in each bite, with each flavor complementing another. Fab!

For dessert, my DH got the vanilla gelatto and I got the mango sorbet. While the gelatto was good, my DH said it was pretty similar to just ice cream... but really good ice cream! My sorbet was insanely good! I mean, it tasted like they took mangoes, at their peak freshness, pureed them, and then froze them for this fab sorbet. I mean, so many times you get a sorbet that is supposed to be raspberry flavor or strawberry, and then it tastes nothing like the original fruit! This was SO not like that! Very yum!

So anyhow, while we were pretty unimpressed with atmosphere of Lolita, the food was very good. And considering that, the prices are fairly reasonable. I mean, I've paid more for a plate of food at Outback or even Olive Garden, and their food, while very yummy, doesn't reach the complexity of what Lolita has to offer. So I say, if you are in Tremont area, give it a try! I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Monday, October 11, 2010

TWD: Chocolate Banded Torte

This week, Amy of Food, Family and Fun chose the Chocolate Banded Torte for our Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. All I can say, is that this recipe is exactly why I wanted to join TWD. First, it is something that I would never have tried on my own! It looks way too complicated for my newbie skills (or lack thereof!) Secondly, I am so glad I joined because this recipe rocks! I think it is one of the best things I have EVER made! It not only looks cool, but it tastes great too! It was fun also because you could totally change it up depending on what flavors ice cream you decide to use in the layers. I love that!

The original recipe calls for a ganache made from scratch. I was surprised at how easy it was to make. Melt some butter and chocolate (I used Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips), whisk in some sugar, and add tons of eggs – DONE! Next the recipe called for adding some raspberry mixture into store-bought vanilla ice cream. Well now that I have my own ice cream maker, I scoff at store-bought ice cream. That’s right, SCOFF! (No offense to those that used store-bought ice cream! I just look for any excuse to use my new ice cream maker! J) So anyhow, I decided to make my own raspberry ice cream. Luckily, I found a pretty basic recipe in my new Williams-Sonoma Frozen Desserts book. (See below.) The recipe was supposed to yield 1 quart, but I was worried that wouldn’t be enough, so I decided to make another batch just in case. It was then that I decided to try a different flavor and use up some the fresh blueberries I picked just the week before. So, I made a batch of blueberry ice cream and put everything in the freezer.

Assembling the torte was actually pretty easy. It was very time consuming though because you had to pour a layer of ganache, then freeze for 30 minutes. Put in a layer of ice cream, freeze again for 15 minutes. Another layer or ganache, freeze for 30 minutes… and so on and so forth. I had a ton of other things to do that day though, so it really wasn’t a big deal. I assembled the whole thing in between loads of laundry, baking some cookies, and making dinner.

I was so nervous about how it would turn out seeing as how I have never attempted anything like this, but I am pretty pleased with it! Clearly, I need some help with my slicing technique, ha ha! Other than that though, it actually looks pretty neat and the taste… wowzers! That ganache is so rich and totally fab! And the berry ice cream? The raspberry was a little more tame than I would like, but the blueberry was awesome! I will definitely do this again but would love to try other ice cream flavors! I wonder what else I could do with blueberry? I would also like to try mint. Hey, I wonder how it would taste with a caramel type of ice cream. Ahh, so many options!

Berry Ice Cream
(Shortened version – original version from Williams-Sonoma Frozen Deserts)

2 cups chopped berries
½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Puree the berries. Put half of the chopped berries in a food processor along with 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Puree until smooth. Set aside.

2. Prepare the custard ingredients. Put the milk, ¾ cup of the cream, and the remaining ½ cup sugar in a medium saucepan. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining ¼ cup cream until they are blended and a pale buttery yellow, about 1 minute.

3. Temper the egg yolks. Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently ith a wooden spoon, until bubbles form around the edges and the sugar is dissolved, about 4-5 minutes. Do not allow the liquid to come to a boil. Remove from heat. Begin whisking the egg yolk mixture with one hand while slowly pouring one-fourth of the hot milk mixture into the yolks with the other. When one-fourth of the hot milk mixture has been blended into the yolks, start pouring the warmed yolk mixture back into the saucepan, whisking constantly until well blended.

4. Cook the custard. Place the saucepan with milk and yolk mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, 4-5 minutes or until it reaches a temperature of around 170 degrees F. Do not allow the custard to bubble or come to a boil.

5. Add the pureed fruit and strain the custard. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the pureed berries and vanilla extract. Set a fine-mesh sieve over a medium bowl. Pour the hot custard through the sieve, gently pressing the liquid through.

6. Cool the custard. Set the bowl inside another bowl filled with ice and cold water. Allow the custard to cool to room temperature, 30-45 minutes.

7. Chill the custard. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard. Cover the top of the bowl also with plastic wrap and refrigerate the custard until well chilled, 3-12 hours.

8. Churn the ice cream and add the fruit. Remove the plastic wrap from the custard and bowl. Pour the well-chilled custard into the mixing container of an ice cream maker and follow manufacture’s instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, add the reserved 1 cup chopped berries and churn just until incorporated.

9. Store the ice cream. Transfer ice cream to a plastic freezer container. Cover tightly and freeze until ice cream is firm, at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.

**My variation: To make the raspberry ice cream, I followed directions as stated. For the blueberry ice cream though, I didn’t want any skins in the final ice cream, so instead of pureeing 1 cup and tossing another cup at the end, I pureed and added both cups in step 5. I liked it much better and wish I had done that with the raspberry.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Talking Cats -- Too Cute!

So I ran across this video on YouTube. It is too cute!

Now here is a translation someone made. Hilarious!

I swear, that is how my cats must talk to each other!

Hope it brought a smile to your day! :-)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Those Hilly Courses are Paying Off

After a relaxing evening and a rejuvenating 10 hours of sleep last night, I was feeling good this morning. I had a big bowl of cereal and plotted out my run for the day on MapMyRun. I orginally planned a 6 mile out-and-back run but noticed that they was another landmark just 1/2 mile beyond my turnaround. I figured that if I was feeling good, I'd go ahead and push for 7. I grabbed my iPod loaded with some Podrunner tunes and drove to the bike path. As soon as I started my run, I noticed that my pace was a little faster than usual. My breathing was still near "conversational" so I figured I'd just keep it up for as long as I felt okay. Once I got to my 3 mile turn around, I could see the 3.5 mile turn around up ahead. I figured, "What's one more mile?!" I figured too that if I was really tired towards the end, I could always just stop early and still get my planned 6 in. Anyhow, I was feeling pretty good the first 4-5 miles, but then I started to get tired. Normally I have some Sports Beans around then, but I figured those weren't really needed since I was only going a few more miles. So instead, I focused on my form and on maintaining the moderate pace I set, and I pushed through to finish a 7.1 mile run! Woo hoo! This was my longest run since my 10-mile race a few weeks ago. While my knees did hurt occasionally, it was more of a discomfort -- Certainly nothing that would stop my in my tracks. I still am a little annoyed that the pain/discomfort is there though. Will it ever go away?! Anyway, I feel pretty pumped to have pushed out 7 this week. I ran it at a pretty good pace for me too, 9:06 min/mile! The bike path course I ran today is super flat and I think the runs I've had recently at the hilly park I've been going to have made me stronger. Cool! I think I will hit a few more hilly courses before next Saturday. I plotted next Sunday's race course on MapMyRun and the first two miles are all uphill. Yikes! Oh well, what goes up, must come down, right?! I should have a pretty fast finish. At least, let's hope!

Spiced Pumpkin Dip

So after making the pumpkin roll last week, I had a little left over pumpkin puree. I wasn't sure what to do with it until I saw a super easy and yummy tasting recipe over on Annie's Eats. The recipe is for Spiced Pumpkin Dip and you must try it!

Here is the recipe as written on her blog:

Spiced Pumpkin Dip

½ cup canned pumpkin puree
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

In a large mixing bowl, combine canned pumpkin, cream cheese, powdered sugar and pumpkin pie spice. Mix well. Spoon into a decorative bowl.

I love this dip with graham crackers or gingersnap cookies. Yum!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

You Make My Day!

Yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to have been nominated for an award -- The You Make My Day Award! (Thanks Lida!) It is awarded to those people whose blogs, well...make your day! To carry on the tradition, I will share a few blogs that I've been reading lately! (I'm supposed to list 10, but I don't get a chance to read many blogs! Here are 5 I've been checking out lately.)

The Rainbow Crafter: A blog mostly about crafts (of course!)
A Blog of Thoughts: Scrapbooking
Fatcatstamper: Stamping and cardmaking
See Kai Run, See Kai Eat: The name says it all!
Birthday Challenge '08: Running

You girls make my day! THANKS!

Starting to Get Nervous

Tomorrow is the first race I've had since my 1o-miler back in April. While I did fairly well at my last race, I didn't really run it as a "race". In the weeks before the race, I had only gotten up to 9 miles on my long run and then I got injured. I had to take it easy for the three weeks leading up to the race, so I decided to run the race fairly conservatively, saving enough energy to be sure I could even finish the 10. Since then, I've been trying to build up my base again. Most of my runs have been 3-4 miles during the week and then my long run on the weekend, which as of last week was 7 miles. While it felt pretty good, my motivation just hasn't been there. I haven't done any "speedwork" and I've kind of had to force myself to even get out there and do my 3-4 mile runs and my weekly long run. I did complete them though and hope that I am somewhat prepared for my 5.25 mile run tomorrow. I know I can definitely go the distance -- what I'm worried about is pacing and hills!

To try to get a target pace, I used the Running Times Magazine Calculator and entered my last LSD run time. I ran 7.1 miles at a 9:06 pace. The calculator says I should be able to run my 5.25 mile race at around 8:57 pace. I've been doing nothing but "steady-state" runs for awhile now though and haven't hit 8:57in a long time! I'm hoping the momentum of the race will help me push it!

I'm also worried about hills. I used MapMyRun to find the route for the race and then clicked to show elevation. There is a MONSTER hill right in the beginning. From mile 0.75-1.25 is straight up with a change in elevation of +190 feet! From there, it's up and down until mile 2.5 then it's all pretty much downhill from there. Holy moly...that first half of the race is going to be TOUGH! I'm going to need some super rockin tunes on my iPod for the beginning! Clearly, with all the hills, I can forget about getting even splits. I figure, I'll run the first half the race trying my best to stay under 10 min/mile and then try to rock out the last half. We'll see!

The other reason I'm a little nervous is because none of my friends will be there to run with me. They had some other things come up and won't be able to go. On the flip side, my in-laws will be there to watch and cheer me on. As forever grateful as I am to have someone there to show their support, I am nervous because I am so NOT used to that! Of all my 80+ races I had during high school, my own parents went to a total of... 0! That never really bothered me since I was running more for me than for anyone else anyway, but the bottom line is, I am not used to having anyone there to actually watch me. Ahhh! What do I do? What do I say? I am so awkward when I comes to stuff like that! Oh well, instead of feeling awkward, I will focus instead on being grateful and running the best race I can! I hope to have a positive race report for you tomorrow! (Goal finish time: 45-52 minutes)

TWD: Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream

When I first saw that ice cream was on the agenda for Tuesdays with Dorie, I figured I would have to skip it since I don't have an ice cream maker. I've actually made ice cream before with bags, ice, and rock salt, but it's such a pain in the butt and I wasn't ready for that! Then I went over the TWD blog and saw a bunch of people raving over this recipe, which by the way, was chosen by Delores at Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity. So that got me thinking... hmmm, I wonder if maybe this one is worth a little effort. I put that thought in the back of my mind and then headed out to a family get together. Well, wouldn't you know it, my DH's cousin's wife was serving birthday cake and... homemade ice cream! She made ice cream simply out of the extra cake batter she had and it was FAB. U. LOUS. AHH! I knew I had to have an ice cream maker after that!

After asking around, I decided on getting the Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker. I then found out that Williams-Sonoma offers this ice cream maker for about $1o more than most places BUT, it comes with an extra freezer bowl which retails for $30 itself! (Thanks Joelen!)
It just so happened that I was meeting my friend a few days later for lunch at a place right next to a mall that has a Williams-Sonoma in it! WOO HOO! It was meant to be! So anyhow, I now have my little ice cream making baby! Isn't it cute!

As soon as I got it home, I washed all the needed parts and placed the freezer bowls in the freezer. I then started making the mix for the blueberry ice cream. (Check out Delores's blog for the recipe.) I noticed that the recipe yielded just 1 pint. Well I wanted to really test my machine out, so I decided to double the recipe. The only other change I made was in regards to the sour cream. A lot of people on the TWD blog were saying that this recipe had a little too strong of a sour cream taste, so I actually used a little less than the recipe stated. I mixed the ingredients as directed and popped it in the fridge for the night.

In the morning, the mixture and the freezer bowl were ready! I quickly assembled the machine and poured the blueberry mixture in. I licked the spoon that I used to help the mixture along and was very pleased at how it tasted so far! It was a bit reminescent of a blueberry cheesecake. Yum!

A short 20 minutes later, the ice cream was ready! I spooned it into a quart container and popped it into the freezer for a few hours. After a long day, I finally pulled it out and made myself a bowl. It was SOOOO yummy! It was nice and creamy with a strong blueberry and sour cream taste! For me, the amount of sour cream was perfect. It mellowed out the sweetness of the blueberry, but didn't overpower it. And look how pretty it is! I will definitely make this again! Thanks Delores for choosing this fabulous recipe!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

TWD: Chocolate Chocolate Cupcakes

This week, Clara of I Heart Food4Thought chose Chocolate-Chocolate Cupcakes for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. (Click on her blog link for the original recipe.) I was glad to see a cupcake recipe as I was in need of something fairly easy. Of course, I found some way to make these a little more complicated than needed though. Why do I do that to myself?! LOL! I made the basic batter and then baked these babies up. Once they cooled though, I took Dorie's recommendation and tried to fill the cupcakes with some yummy Nutella! I've never had Nutella before, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but as soon as I opened the lid, I knew just how yummy it would be. It smelled exactly like Ferrero Rochers -- one of my favorite candies! Anyhow, Dorie suggests using a pastry bag with tip and then plunging the tip into the cupcake and filling with Nutella (or marshmallow fluff, jam, etc.). I don't have either of those tools though, so I tried a different method. I cut a cone out from the top of the cupcake and scooped out a little of the inside with a knife. I spooned in some Nutella, then placed the top back on. It seemed to work pretty well! The only problem was that when I went to dip the cupcakes into the glaze topping, the cone fell out. DOH! I decided to just placed the glaze on with a knife instead of dipping. No biggie!

Even with the little additional step, these cupcakes were still pretty easy to make. The shape of the cupcake didn't come out so great though, with the top being uneven on some sides. Oh well... I guess that makes them look more "homemade", right?! While ugly, the taste of the cupcake came out pretty good. The texture was light and fluffy. I wouldn't say it was moist, but it wasn't dry either, so that was good. The glaze topping was different than what I've ever had on a cupcake. Since I'm used to a fluffy frosting, the firmer texture took some getting used too, but the taste was phenomenal. Bittersweet chocolate is my fave, so I loved it. I think I may even like this glaze better than frosting! And the Nutella filling? HELLO! Yum! Between the fluffy chocolate cake, the solid chocolate glaze, and the very rich Nutella, these are some seriously decadent cupcakes! I would love to make these again! When I do though, I hope to have a pastry bag and tip to make the filling a little easier. Hmmm, what to try next?

Oh, and I guess that I should mention that these cupcakes were supposed to be decorated for Halloween. I got pretty lazy though once I had finished the glaze, I decided they were D.O.N.E! :-) Besides, I have to make something for DH's potluck and work later this week so I have to save my Halloween decorating stuff for that. Sorry!

***UPDATE: I had the cupcakes today (the day after baking them) and oh.my.goodness! They are my favorite cupcakes to date! I ate three just today! EEEK! I have to say though, the Nutella totally makes them for me! They're so yummy! The only problem I encountered was that when I bite into the cupcake, it kind of fell apart. Between the cone I had cut out, and the very dense Nutella, the rest of the cupcake just couldn't hold together. So at least for this instance, I can say the cone method didn't work out too well. That's okay though -- I went out today and bought a pastry bag and tip set just so I could make more of these... the proper way! I can't wait to try all sorts of combinations!