Friday, February 27, 2009

What a Week

I try to avoid doing bullet style posts, but this week has been filled with work and activities every single day! It's all been mostly good, but tiring. I'm so glad that we have nothing planned this weekend.

So what have I been up to?
  • I went to a fun GTG at JD 2 B's place. It was less than a year ago that I headed over there all nervous for my first-ever GTG. This time I was just excited to see everyone. No more GTG trepidation. :-)
  • Eddie and I have both had many Deltasig events and meetings to attend related to our positions as advisors. I am fortunate that "my kids" are good to me and don't cause much trouble. I just wish they weren't such night owls; I can't keep up anymore!
  • They say that when the economy goes down, crime goes up. Based on the steady influx of cases getting assigned to me, I have to say that this saying just might be true. It is making for some very long days in court. Especially when you have to cover for a flaky p.o.s. co-worker. Grr.
  • I had a great lunch on Wednesday with the people I consider my Core Co-workers. These are the people I've known since my first few months on the job; they are the ones I know I can always count on and trust. Over the past year a tag-a-long that shall be known as the Jellyfish (If you have read Bridget Jones' Diary then you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't then you are probably pretty confused.) has been joining us at our weekly lunches and it just isn't the same with her around. But this week she was far, far away on vacation and it was just the five of us again. It was wonderful.
  • Also on Wednesday, I saw my brother for the first time since my wedding! Even though he's been living on the East Coast 10+ years, we usually see each other at least once a year. He happened to be in San Diego this week on a business trip, so I drove down to meet him for dinner. We had a great meal at the C-Level bistro within the Island Prime restaurant, but more importantly we had a great time catching up with each other. Our parents' 44th wedding anniversary was the same day, so we called them after dinner. I like to think that they were happy my big bro and I were hanging out together, even though they would have preferred it if we were all having dinner approximately 500 miles north of where we were.

And to end on a note of cuteness:

  • According to Eddie, the night that I was really late coming home (from SD), Jack had been at the windowsill whimpering the entire evening. When Eddie is super-late, Jack just peers out the window. It has now been decided once and for all that Jack is indeed a mama's dog. And a big baby. ;-)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Time for a Pick-Up

No, not that type of pick-up. I am happily married woman after all. But after the last couple of posts, I feel a little "pick me up" is in order. The espresso in these brownies should do the trick.

Dark Chocolate Espresso Brownies
Source: Giada DeLaurentiis

You will need:

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons plus two teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1 box brownie mix (I usually use Duncan Hines dark chocolate mix)
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spray a 9x13 inch metal baking pan with nonstick spray. Whisk together 1/3 cup of water, oil, eggs and 2 tablespoons of the espresso powder in a large bowl. Add the brownie mix and stir until well combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Transfer the batter to the baking pan. Bake for approximately 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool completely.
  3. To make the glaze, dissolve the remaining 2 teaspoons of espresso powder in the remaining 2 tablespoons of water in a medium bowl. Whisk in the vanilla. Add the powdered sugar and butter. Whisk until smooth. Pour the glaze over the brownies and refrigerate until set. Cut into bite-size pieces and serve.

In the original version of the recipe, Giada uses an instant espresso powder by Medaglia D'Oro. This most recent time, I was out of the instant stuff so I used 2 tablespoons of Illy ground espresso for the batter. For the glaze I brewed a shot of espresso and used 2 tablespoons of that in place of the instant mixed with cold water. It turned out just as good, if not better than the original version.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The E-Mails You Come to Dread the Most

When the Big Boss sends out an e-mail with just the name of an attorney in the subject line, it's generally not a good thing.

Today was sadly no exception.

We never worked in the same assignment together, but had met at several social occasions. She was warm, friendly, smart and genuine. I hate having to write about someone in the past tense. I can't even begin to imagine what her family is going through, especially what her young daughters will go through once they are old enough to understand it all.

Hug your loved ones a little tighter tonight.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

O is for "Oh Dear"

I had been wanting to dine at Ortolan for some time, perhaps a year or so. This desire was only further cemented after reading about Weezermonkey's experience at the restaurant. So it seemed to be a logical choice for a nice Valentine's Day dinner.

Based on everything I had read about this restaurant, I had been planning on naming this post "O is for Outstanding." Unfortunately, it is impossible for me to say that.

Things seemed fine initially. We were seated promptly, in the portion of the restaurant that serves as the front patio area when the weather is nicer. Due to the dimness of the interior lighting in that section plus the backlighting from the streetlamps that created many odd shadows, pictures were impossible.

The set menu for the evening sounded fantastic:

Amuse Bouche
Alaska Crab with Cherry Tomato Parfait, Cucumber Chutney and Balsamic Reduction
Ravioli of Langoustine with Consommé of Black Truffle
Steamed Turbot with Zucchini Flower, Venere Black Rice and Ratatouille
Roast Lamb Filet with Cappelletti of Lamb Confit, Crispy Red Bell Pepper and Baby Artichoke
Pre-Dessert of Strawberry Parfait with Rose Caviar
Chocolate Ganache with Passion Fruit, Kumquat and Mandarin Sauce
Petit Fours

The food, in fact, was outstanding. Everything tasted great, particularly the turbot. Each dish was presented beautifully and creatively. The wine pairings were perfect.

What follows, however, is a tale of how awful service can ruin even the most beautiful of meals.

We knew that dining anywhere on Valentine's Day is a bit of a gamble, with much larger than usual crowds at most places. We were prepared to have minor issues arise. That is why we chose Ortolan. We figured a restaurant of its caliber would be well equipped to deal with such a busy evening, without sacrificing its commitment to service. We were wrong.

After being seated at our table, at least ten to fifteen minutes passed before we were acknowledged by any of the servers assigned to our area. When someone did finally come by to find out if we would like wine with our meal, he neglected to offer Eddie the choice of any other drinks. And when Eddie later asked one of the assisting servers whether a full bar was available, that person did not know. He said he would check on it, but never came back. It wasn't until my first-course wine pairing was delivered (by someone else) that Eddie was able to find out that a full bar was available and put in a drink order.

The pacing between courses was horribly uneven. From where I was seated I could also look out across the rest of the dining room. I saw that we were not the only ones experiencing this problem. The primary servers were unsure of which course each table was on. As a result, there were a number of times when the assistant servers seemed to wander around aimlessly, trying to find the right table to deliver the dish to. I could also hear some of the complaints from the patrons seated near us.

Eddie and I seemed to have the misfortune of sitting at the forgotten location. We had a lengthy delay between course three and four. That delay, however, was nothing in comparison to the almost thirty minute delay we had between the final entree and the pre-dessert. Our server's shock at seeing that we were still waiting for our pre-dessert confirmed our suspicion. We had been forgotten. And then instead of the pre-dessert, the assistant brought out the primary dessert. We had to correct him and ask for the correct course. Then when it was time for the primary dessert, there was another delay of almost twenty minutes. By this point, diners who had been seated well after we had started our meal were already receiving their check.

There were some other service related issues as well. Eddie asked three different people, over the span of two courses, to please refill his water glass. His glass didn't get refilled until I flagged down a fourth person, during our marathon wait for dessert. Some of the capaletti in our lamb dish were not fully cooked through. The ladies' restroom was out of toilet paper and apparently had been for a while. Thank goodness there was a box of Kleenex in there. And finally, I did not receive a rose when we left for the evening, as it appeared most of the other ladies did upon departure. (Our table also had a view of the front door)

The primary server tried to make things better by giving me an extra pouring of champagne with dessert. A better offering would have been to allow us to tip at our discretion rather than the mandated 20% gratuity for the evening.

At the risk of sounding like a spoiled bitch, I don't think anyone should leave a $400 meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant feeling disappointed. But that is exactly how we felt on the drive home.

When we began our evening we talked about how we'd like to come back and explore the regular menu. Now, I just don't know . . . . .

ETA: I just opened the small box we were sent home with. They contained chocolates, not the petit fours as listed on the menu. They were good chocolates, but I had really been looking forward to having petit fours. Grr.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Book Challenge -- January Recap

When the book club board on The Nest announced the 50 Books in 2009 challenge, I thought it would be a snap. I read a lot. I read quickly. I've been averaging almost fifty books a year anyways.

Cockiness can backfire 'yo.

I read only ONE book in January, Stephenie Meyer's The Host. It wasn't a terrible book, but clearly sci-fi is just not my thing. Hence why Eddie uses the time I'm away from home to watch the Sci-Fi channel to his heart's content.

Spicy Beef Stir-Fry

What this lacks in authenticity (according to Eddie), it makes up for in taste. Best of all, it's a quick recipe, great for weeknights.

Spicy Beef Stir-Fry
Source: Food Network Magazine, February/March 2009

You will need:
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine, dry sherry or white vermouth (I used sherry)
  • 1 pound beef sirloin, thinly sliced against the grain into strips
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 3-4 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1 1-inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 5-7 dried red chilies, halved
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 8 heads baby bok choy, halved
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Cooked rice, for serving
  1. Whisk the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of rice wine in a medium bowl. Add the beef, season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Set aside for 15 minutes.
  2. Mix the remaining 1 tablespoon rice wine, the oyster sauce and sesame oil in a large bowl. Set the bowl near the stove.
  3. Heat a wok or large nonstick skillet over high heat until very hot. Add 3 tablespoons peanut oil, then the ginger, garlic and chilies. Stir-fry until fragrant, approximately 1 minute. Add the beef and cook, stirring or shaking the skillet occasionally, 3-4 minutes. Transfer the beef with a slotted spoon to the sauce mixture and toss.
  4. If the pan is dry, add 1 tablespoon of peanut oil, then add the onion and stir-fry until just soft, approximately 2 minutes. Add the bok choy and sugar; stir-fry until wilted. Return the beef and any juices to the pan and stir to combine. Serve over rice.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bark If It's Your Birthday

Jack's little girlfriend Mimi turned three yesterday. Mimi's parents threw her a party on the lawn to celebrate the occasion. Mimi's other boyfriend Bailey also attended. Since there were three dogs total it made total sense to have a peanut butter cake from Three Dog Bakery.
Mimi couldn't keep her eyes off of the cake.
We all sang "Happy Birthday".
Since Mimi is a proper young lady, all of the dogs were served on paper plates. Jack forgot his manners and ran off into the grass with his slice of cake.

He really wanted to make sure the others didn't come near his crumbs.
He ran off into the grass again to chow down on his second slice of cake. Then he came back looking for thirds, which he didn't get. He's such a piggy little puggle.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

So I Had This Great Idea

I sat down with the intention of writing a post about my happiness at getting a healthy dose of Eric Ripert on tonight's episode of Top Chef. But then I checked my unread entries in my Google reader and saw that Tam beat me to it! I'm chalking this up as another instance of great minds thinking alike. :-)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Peppercorn Chicken with Lemon Spinach

So far I am two-for-two with recipes from Food Network magazine. I was a little bit nervous about this one because of all the dijon mustard involved. I thought the mustard would overwhelm the dish, but it turned out quite tasty.

You will need:

  • 3 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 3 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts (I used two)
  • 2-3 teaspoons coarsely ground mixed peppercorns
  • 3/4 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary (I omitted)
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup brandy or red wine
  • 1/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 pound spinach
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Brush 1 tablespoon mustard all over the chicken. Sprinle with the peppercorns, salt and rosemary to taste. Pat gently so that the seasonings stick.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the chicken and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer the chicken to a baking dish (set aside the skillet for the sauce). Bake the chicken until cooked through, about 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, add the shallots to the skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until just soft. Remove the pan from the heat, add the brandy or red wine, then return the pan to the heat. Add the broth, bring to a boil and cook until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining two tablespoons of mustard and the parsley.
  4. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the garlic and cook for approximately 30 seconds. Add the spinach, season with salt and cook until wilted. Add the lemon zest. Drizzle the chicken with the shallot sauce and serve with the spinach.

Cooking note: If you are not a fan of mustard, try substituting two tablespoons of butter instead of the mustard when you finish the sauce instead.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Garlic-and-Greens Spaghetti

In keeping with the theme for change in 2009, I cancelled my subscription to Food & Wine magazine. After two years of subscribing I have accumulated quite the stack of recipes to try, but really needed more recipes that would be more weeknight-cooking friendly. The newly launched Food Network magazine seems to fit the bill, although I'm only on my second issue. I got off to a good start with this fairly healthy pasta dish.

Garlic-and-Greens Spaghetti
source: Food Network Magazine, Feburary/March 2009 issue

You will need:

  • 16 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced (a garlic press is handy for this)
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, halved and sliced
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 pounds torn winter greens such as kale, chard, escarole or mustard greens (I used chard)
  • 12 ounces spaghetti (I used 8oz. of whole wheat spaghetti)
  • 1/4 grated pecorino romano cheese
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Meanwhile, cook the garlic in the oilve oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crisp. This should take 2-3 minutes; be careful not to overbrown it. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the garlic chips to a plate lined with paper towels. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onions and red pepper flakes to the oil in the pan; cook, stirring, until the onions are light brown, about 10 minutes. Season with 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt.
  2. When the onions are almost done, add the greens to the boiling water and cook uncovered until just tender, about 2 minutes. Using tongs, remove the greens; add them to the skillet with the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally until tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Return the cooking water for the greensto a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, 8-10 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of cooking water before draining the pasta. Drain the pasta and transfer to a serving bowl. Add the cheese and toss. Add the greens and toss, using the reserved pasta as necessary to keep the pasta from clumping. Top with the garlic chips.

Makes 4 side-dish servings or 2 entree servings.

Note: If you can, open a window while cooking the onions and garlic. ;-)