A couple of weeks ago, E and I headed down to Charleston to get him fitted for a tuxedo for his best friend's wedding in a few weeks. While we were there, we decided to grab a bite at TGI Friday's, since it had been years since either of us had been there.
I had the Roasted Red Pepper Sausage & Chicken Penne, off of the Right Portions, Right Price menu. At $6.99, it was a decently large serving. On the menu, it's described as
However, I didn't really taste the onions or red peppers, and the sausage was not what I'd call hot, spicy or even zesty. Also, the chicken was overcooked, and chewy.
E had the Caprese Lasagna Salad, which was mostly due to it being the only vegetarian entree on the huge menu. Priced at $8.99, it's described as "A fresh, chilled pasta salad of curly lasagna noodles tossed with tomatoes, Mozzarella, basil and a tangy Herbed vinaigrette served on a bed of warm, crispy breaded eggplant".
This was a huge disappointment. It was under-seasoned, very little vinaigrette, and the entire plate only contained two tiny balls of mozzarella - 4 pinky nail-sized chunks. Also, the eggplant was extremely greasy, and barely room temperature. The biggest frustration, though, was that with this being the only vegetarian item, E would have no choice but to order this again.
We also had issues with the service. E decided to have a drink, and spent 15 minutes trying to get our server's attention. When that didn't work, having been unsuccessful getting anyone's attention at all, he went to the bar to order it himself. It took him another 10-15 minutes to get someone to acknowledge him there, too. While he was at the bar, our server came over, and said, "you know, he could've just placed his order with me." When I explained to her that he'd been waiting a while to get her attention, she gave me a dirty look, and said, "well, I was busy getting your food order." As much as I'd like to understand her frustration, it doesn't take over 20 minutes to pick up a food order from the kitchen, especially not one that was brought to the table cold.
After our experience, I doubt we'd go back.
Since I've been posting about cooking and the house, here are a couple of pictures of our kitchen! We love it - it's pretty roomy, with a lot of cabinet space. The kitchen was added on to the house in the forties, and the cabinetry and Formica counter tops are from the forties/fifties as well.
In my kitchen, I have a fair amount of tools and gadgets that are both fun to use, and make the job a little easier. Today I wanted to show you one that's small, inexpensive and definitely worth having. We use a fair amount of canned vegetables, fruit and beans, and this is fantastic. This is a simple plastic strainer that fits over a can. Just place on top of the can, and flip over to drain the liquid without losing whatever's inside.
When you're done, just remove the can. Easy peasy!
This is also great to rinse small items, and since it's small, it takes up virtually no room in a drawer. I think I paid $2.99 for this, which is a steal!
I do like to make meals from scratch. However, sometimes you have to resort to packaged items to help it along. A few days ago, E and I were both feeling pretty rough, so I put together some Matzo Ball soup for a bowl of comfort! I used this mix from Manischewitz, which is my favourite. Depending on where you buy it, it's usually priced between $3 to $5, and makes 4 servings. The soup mix is vegetarian as well, so no need to pre-make broth!
To make the matzo balls, just combine packet 1 with 2 eggs and a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil, and put in the fridge for 15 minutes.
To make the soup, bring 10 cups of water up to a boil, then stir in packet 2. Then, just take the matzo ball mix out of the fridge and roll into 1-inch balls, dropping them in to the boiling soup. Cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
For me, Matzo Ball soup isn't Matzo Ball soup without veggies. When I brought the water up to boil, I threw in a couple of handfuls of baby carrots, and some celery leaves and sticks that I'd reserved from a potato salad I made for a birthday party. Finished with freshly ground pepper and AlsoSalt, this definitely hit the spot, and gave it that from-scratch taste!
Since E works so hard to provide for us, I make his lunch every day, usually the night before, to make things a little easier on him. I thought I'd show you how I make E's lunches extra special with very little extra work.
E loves oatmeal. In fact, he eats it every day! To save a little money, we don't buy the individually packed flavoured oatmeal. Instead, we buy the tubs of plain instant oatmeal, usually the store brand. When we bring it home, I repackage it in an airtight Lock & Lock container, which maintains its freshness and keep out any potential pests. One tub usually lasts us about 3 weeks.
Sometimes, I pack E's oatmeal in a Ziplock, other times I pack it in a bowl-shaped container. To make his oatmeal extra yummy, I make E flavour packets. I use little favor bags left over from the wedding and mix in whatever strikes my fancy.
This packet is simple - it's about 2 tablespoons of brown sugar Splenda blend, mixed with half a tablespoon of sliced almonds and a teaspoon of Pumpkin Pie spice. Then, I simply fold over the top of the bag, seal with a label, and place inside the bowl on top of the oatmeal. When E gets to work, he just takes out the packet, mixes in some hot water, microwaves, then adds in the packet. According to him, the result is a thick, delicious oatmeal, with the flavouring melting into a syrupy consistency.
Onto his main meal - this was a couple of days after we'd have Chinese food. Pictured below is some steamed rice, mushroom Egg Foo Young and vegetable Mai Fun. I sliced the Egg Foo Young into wedges to make it easier to eat with chopsticks, nestled in a packet each of soy sauce and Chinese mustard. By placing each dish side by side in the container, it becomes more appealing, and is easier to heat. I also nestled in a fortune cookie and a pair of chopsticks.
Since he spends so much time at his desk, I always pack E some snacks. He loves to drink tea, so he gets a packet or two. For this lunch, I also threw in a (vegetarian) pepperoni stick, and some dried mango.
And there you have it - a well-balanced lunch that's simple to prepare, and easy to enjoy!
Lastly, I'll leave you with a great recipe for Potato Salad that I got from Serious Eats. No pictures, unfortunately, but trust me on this one - it's amazing! I'm not a big fan of creamy potato salad, but this converted me. I made this for our nephew Ayden's 4th birthday party, and it was a hit! I've never made potato salad before, but this was easy and fairly quick, once you've cooked the potatoes and the eggs. One note - due to a friend's allergy/dislike, I left out the onions, scallions and parsley. I made 16 cups, so I multiplied the recipe by 4, and also left out the bacon to make it vegetarian-friendly. If you can, chill this overnight to really marry all of the flavours, but it's just fine to serve after 2-3 hours in the fridge.
My favorite Potato Salad
- makes 4 cups -
- 4 medium all-purpose potatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds)
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
- 1 small onion (2 to 3 ounces), cut into 1/4~inch dice
- 1 large stalk celery, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (1/2 cup)
- 2 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
- 1/4 cup sweet relish
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
- 1/4 cup Hellmann's mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
- Six slices of crumbled, smoked bacon (optional)
1. Pour 2 quarts cold water into a 4-quart pot and add 2 tablespoons of the salt. Peel the potatoes one by one, adding them to the pot as you work. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the potatoes are very tender, 25 to 30 minutes, depending on their size.
2. Drain the potatoes in a colander, transfer them to a baking sheet, and let cool until they can be handled.
3. Cut the potatoes into irregular 1-inch cubes, and place in a large bowl. Add the eggs, onion, celery, scallions, pickle, parsley, mayonnaise, oil, vinegar, and mustard and mix well with a rubber spatula. Season with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Cover with plastic wrap placed flush against the potatoes and chill for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight. (The salad keeps for up to 3 days refrigerated.) Check the seasoning before serving, and add salt and pepper to taste if needed. If you're going to add the bacon, now is the time to cook, drain, and crumble six slices. Just before serving, top the potato salad with the crumbled bacon.