Broccoli Casserole

28 11 2009

This is an old family recipe that we make every year on Thanksgiving, although it’s a quick and easy option for any day of the year.

This year, there were no leftovers!


1 10 oz. package of frozen broccoli cuts

1 10 1/2 oz. can condensed cream of mushroom soup

1/2 cup medium shredded cheddar cheese

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup mayo

1 beaten egg

1/4 cup Ritz Cracker crumbs

1 tsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix soup and cheese and heat until cheese melts. Remove from heat and add milk, mayo, and egg. Put broccoli in a casserole dish and pour cheese mixture over broccoli.  Mix crumbs and butter and sprinkle over casserole. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until bubbly and brown on top.


Vino Volo: in the airport!

24 11 2009

Matt and I usually get to the airport with tons of time to spare, so on Friday, before we boarded our plane to Pittsburgh, we stopped at Vino Volo for a quick drink and bite to eat. This wine bar chain currently has locations in about 10 airports in the U.S. and it’s a welcome change to the overwhelming fast food options you usually get.

Impressive, albeit small, wine list with some fun flight options. (Heh, get it?)

These are cute and come with each glass.  Not your basic, run-of-the-mill wine guide with standard terms, but still user-friendly.

Matt’s artisan cured meats (small size for $8) were yummy but really just made him more hungry for a real dinner.

My brie & prosciutto sandwich (small size for $6) was surprisingly tasty. The brie was slightly melted and warm and the fig spread was ooey and gooey (in a good way).

It’s nice to have Vino Volo in the Philly airport, because when we were early in Pittsburgh coming home, we sat in a Friday’s. Not as nice.

Los Caballitos

18 11 2009

Matt and I seem to be starting a tradition of checking out random South Philly restaurants. Matt had a performance at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday so on our way home we parked off of Passyunk at Morris and wandered around until we found Cantina Los Caballitos.

Seats outside on a warm autumn day definitely swayed our decision to stop here, along with the brunch menu all day and cute decor.

The prices were reasonable and the menu had some standard choices along with some unique ideas, such as the costillitas, which Matt ordered.

The specials included Mexican Hot Dog and the breakfast empanadas, which I ordered.

We got free (yay!) homemade tortilla chips, fried fresh every morning with two salsas: spicy tomatillo and sweet tomato.  The chips were perfect. I liked the tomatillo salsa and Matt liked the tomato, so it worked out really well for us.

$4.50 classic margaritas! Good amount of liquor! And yummy! The perfect size and perfect price.

Matt’s prickly pear margarita was $5.50 and a bit sweet, but he ordered a second so I am assuming he liked it.

Matt’s ribs with pickled jalapenos and pineapple were tender, sweet and sour, and a bit spicy. The appetizer size for $12 came with 5 ribs.

My breakfast special, empandas with egg, spinach, tomato, and cotija, were $8. The cotija dip was like crack.  It made this dish. I don’t know what else was in it besides the cheese and some cilantro, but if the chef knows what’s good for him, he won’t give away the secret recipe to anyone.

The filling wasn’t amazing–the egg was a bit crumbly and tasteless, but the outside was crisp but a little doughy with great fresh flavor.

Did I mention the cojita? I almost licked clean this tiny bowl and asked for more.

We’ll be back. That seems to be a thumbs up/thumbs down barometer for us these days.

There is a moral to this story, too, readers: you can have fun when times are tough. If you can’t afford to leave your town or city or state for a weekend or longer, explore your own. Matt and I had never walked around this part of Philadelphia before even though we live here so this afternoon was like a travel adventure. We turned our phones off and experienced the food, the neighborhood, the day. It lifted some worry from our hearts and weight from our shoulders.

Makiman Sushi: Take 2

15 11 2009

Makiman Sushi is right down the street but we rarely eat there because it is a bit pricey. We had a good experience with their take-out a few months ago but this most recent try was a little dicey.

Their sushi is good, but we are going to stick to traditional maki from now on. The Caterpillar (pictured below) was supposed to have eel in it but we could really only taste the avocado. Not that I’m complaining, because I would stand a good chance at winning an avocado-eating contest, but I also wanted to taste some eel.  The sesame seeds on top and tobiko on the inside were a nice touch.

Matt’s report on the tako su was disappointing. Usually the octopus is soaked in enough citrus to semi-cook it (kind of like a ceviche) but this version was not even close. It was completely raw and rubbery.

The tonkatsu was really tasty, but we like our breading crispy. We concluded that tonkatsu is not appropriate for takeout as, even though the flavor was spot on, the breading got soggy on its way from the restaurant to our house.

The tempura that came with the udon had a nice variety: shrimp, broccoli, green pepper, sweet potato, carrot, and onion. The consistency was nice, too, and we were happy that it came in a separate container from the soup so it maintained its crispy breading.

We loved the udon because the broth tasted completely authentic and the noodles were nice and doughy.

Makiman deserves another try, but we have definitely learned that the quality is hit or miss depending on what you order.  The next time we eat here we will stick to more authentic and standard options and forgo the fancy and flashy.


9 11 2009

Matt and I have been talking about the new menu by executive chef Anne Coll at Meritage for a while.  It’s a cute little restaurant on the corner 20th and Lombard–a bit dark, but romantic and quiet on the night we were there.

date night oct. 29 027

I am hoping that the empty tables were directly connected to the World Series game. We had been planning to go out on this night and no stinkin World Series game was going to stop us! (It was only game 2.)

date night oct. 29 031

The restaurant was very dimly lit so in order to get clear shots of the food I had to use my flash. Not happy about that.  I am a bit out of practice at food photography in restaurants, too.
The wine list was extensive and Matt chose a smooth French pinot noir:date night oct. 29 035

We ordered two starters and one large plate to share, which was the perfect amount of food for the two of us.  First up were the grape leaves with Kobe beef and Breakfast:

date night oct. 29 034

The grilled grape leaves ($5) was luscious, tasty, and medium rare.  I wish we had ordered another plate of them.  I didn’t even bother with the sad slaw and dipping sauce because the beef alone had plenty of flavor.

Breakfast ($5) was a taro panko pancake, pork belly, fried egg, and syrup reduction.  The egg was meh. The taro pancake was good. The pork belly was scrumptious but it’s a little hard to mess up pork belly.  The syrup reduction tasted like, well, syrup. We were not completely in awe over this dish.

Our duo of pork ($19) came next:
date night oct. 29 036
Matt and I should have known better.  We’ve come to the realization that whenever we see “duo” or “three-ways” on the menu, it’s not going to live up to our expectations. If you’re going to put this concept on the menu, the flavors should go together without “matching.” But it should still make sense to put them on the same plate together.  This dish didn’t make sense.

The tea smoked pork tenderloin was cooked to perfection but there was no flavor to it aside from the lightly drizzled dark cherry sauce.  Five pieces of loin was a bit much of one piece of food. I devoured the braised pork belly with its soft and melty fat and crunchy, caramelized top.  The sweet potato puree was a nice touch. This half of the “duo” needed no other seasonings and could have held its own with the slaw as a garnish. 

We were content with our meal at Meritage but we wouldn’t miss another World Series game to go back.

Robiraki: Opening of the Hearth

6 11 2009

On Matt’s first weekend day off in many months on Sunday, we attended “Robiraki” at Shofuso in Fairmount Park. Robiraki, or “Opening of the Hearth,” is like the New Years of Tea Ceremony, so it was fitting that this was how we celebrated Matt’s re-introduction into weekend society.  Always in November, it symbolizes the beginning of tea ceremony season in Japanese culture. The Samovar tea website has a much more thorough description of robiraki–I’m mainly here for the photos.

This particular celebration was organized by students of the tea ceremony school at Shofuso. It was very formal, but intimate and calming, even after sitting seiza for practically three hours.


A basic rundown of robiraki goes like this, and believe me when I say that tea ceremony and robiraki are more intricate than I will ever have time to learn, let alone explain:

1. Guests gather in a waiting room until everyone has arrived.
2. Guests walk single file to the tokonoma (tea room).
3. As each guest enters, they bow and kneel briefly at the scroll and then again at the fire.




4. The beginning of the ceremony includes building the fire with special charcoal called sumi and inviting the guests to move closer to watch.


5. Then food is served–a traditional light meal in a bento box.


6. This particular bento included green beans, gohan with shiso flakes and edamame, marmalade kabocha and walnuts, and sashimi. It was the perfect comfort food on a gloomy day (I emphasize “gloomy” to explain my poor quality photos sans flash).


7. After the meal, a sweet is served, and we were lucky to have (homemade, of course) zenzai.  Matt is obsessed with zenzai and very often threatens to try making it himself.  I don’t know what’s taking him so long, personally.


8. Intermission (10 minutes)
9. Guests file back into the tokonoma for the tea. First, everyone is served koicha, a thicker-style tea.
10. The tea bowls and containers are then passed around to be observed and treated with full respect as each guest bows before receiving the item and bows again before passing it on.
11. A second, thinner tea, is served, called usucha. (This was my favorite–earthy and warm.)
12. Repeat #10.



13. More sweets are served with the usucha–these were gummy with a thin, crispy layer. The maple leaves were very symbolic of the season.

The end of robiraki is a bit anticlimactic, but I believe that is the point. After a quiet and calm experience, guests simply stand, wait for the feeling to return to their legs and feet, and go home.


2 11 2009

Matt and I finally made it to Tria together for the first time after Matt had been raving about this restaurant for years. It left me wanting more of their extensive wine list (about 30 glass pours for under $15) and very reasonable small plates. No reservations here, so you may have to sidle up to the bar if you want to eat, but it’s worth it.

I started with a glass of the the DÃO, GARRIDA ESTATE 2006 Portugal from the “Sociable Reds” ($8.5): smooth, fruity, and perfect for a variety of small plates (or, “snacks”):




We ordered two snacks: the Spicy Crab and Chickpea Stuffed Piquillo Peppers for $4.5 and the Warm Tuscan White Bean Spread with Baguette for $3. Great tastes, great prices. You could have a gourmet meal for two here for under $30, I guarantee it.

We both thought that the bean spread was outstanding. Smooth, creamy, salty, with some cheesy flavors (we think it was parmesan), this was warm with a nice crust. The baguette also deserves a rousing mention: it was crusty but also slightly chewy and soft, with a freshness that made the bread subtle but a perfect accompaniment to the hearty bean spread. I wanted seconds.

The peppers, although delicious, paled to the bean spread. The sauce was a bit watery and maybe because I like spicy foods, this did not have the kick that I expected. I was hoping for more whole pieces of crab in the filling, even though I think the point was to make it as creamy and blended with the chickpea as possible.  That’s OK–it was still very tasty.

Tria is the kind of place that you want to return to regularly just so you can try everything on the menu.  Good food, good drink, good atmosphere, good prices.