Thursday, November 19, 2009

My trip to KY and Ruth's Chris Steakhouse

I have to tell you guys, I never thought I'd go down to KY and enjoy myself. But I did. Not enough to live there, but since the boy has property down there, I know I'll enjoy camping down there once a year. Even though I still haven't been camping.

Our intention was to go camping. Well, ok, let me clarify. Our original intention was to leave Wed night and go to Pittsburg, PA. Things didn't work out so we weren't going to take a trip at all and I didn't take Thurs off, just Fri, so then the week of Halloween, we decided to go to KY and see his property and go camping. Well, somewhere on Wed, we discovered it was supposed to rain. A LOT. So we just decided to go down there to see his property and hang out in Louisville. We left about 8ish on Thursday night. See where I am going with this???

So we end up somewhere outside of Indianapolis around 1 in the morning Friday morning. We stopped at the Best Western, which let me tell you. Fridge, microwave, king bed, comfy as hell and like 6 pillows. Bliss, I tell you. Bliss.

So after our free breakfast, we headed back out on the road around 11... We made it to his property, which is about an hour west of Louisville around 1 ish. We walked around his 9 acres and breathed in some absolutely awesome clear clean air...

Where are the pictures you ask? Don't. My dumbass wasn't thinking and didn't take any. (I took some in Louisville though).

So after chillin w/ his neighbors for a bit, we headed to Louisville. As we were pulling into the city, I saw a sign at the top of one of the taller buildings... Ruth's Chris in bright lights in the distance... Then we get closer and closer and before you know it, I realize they are right across the street from our hotel. It was fate. Earlier in the day, I had asked my babes to let me take him someplace nice for dinner for all the driving he did and everything he was paying for. I didn't imagine it would be Ruth's Chris.

I've never been there before. I've heard of them. I've heard of how they sear the meat at 1800 degrees and topped with fresh butter so they sizzle all the way to the table. Which, btw, the plates are so hot, the meat is still cooking on the plate.
On the balcony of the 16th floor, where Ruth's Chris is located. We make a cute little couple :)

They have their fall/winter classics menu that we both ordered from. You start off with a starter of select salads or soup. I chose the Harvest Salad, "mixed greens with roasted corn, dried cherries, crispy bacon and tomatoes in a white balsamic vinaigrette, topped with goat cheese and Cajun pecans" and he chose Louisiana Seafood Gumbo, "classic gumbo with Andouille sausage, shrimp and crab meat"
Louisiana Seafood Gumbo
I could have eaten five plates of that salad. It was hands down the best salad I've EVER HAD!!!!  Seriously if you go just for the salad, please do!  Let me tell you I have gone to Ruth's Chris since in IL and have ordered that salad to go.  So good!!!!
For dinner, I chose the 11oz filet, medium rare and he had the 16 oz ribeye. There were additional items that aren't on the online menu for an add'l $10. I also chose to have a crab cake and asparagus topped onto my filet. Delicious. The crab cake had barely any breadcrumbs or mayo-like sauce holding it together. It was like they managed to get crab meat and seasoning smahed together long enough to cook and top onto my filet without it falling apart. OMG was it good!
Yummy Filet
I chose green beans w/ roasted garlic as my side and the boy had the sweet potato casserole
Sweet potato casserole, definitely not the same as the marshmallow topped stuff!
Do you see how delicious that casserole looks? OMG, it was even better in my mouth (we shared our sides). Let me tell you, that side was more like a dessert than a side dish with dinner! It was sooo good, I'm making it for Thanksgiving dinner, even if he and I are the only ones eating it!

You'd think by this point, we wouldn't want dessert. Ha. Me, not want dessert? That's why we boxed up half our sides, so we had room for dessert!

Our dinners came with a dessert, a pairing of a carrot cake & a chocolate cup filled with chocolate mouss. But our waiter gave us the option of choosing something off the regular menu. Which, of course, we did. I ordered the Creme Brulee w/ fresh berries b/c I love creme brulee, but I hate making it since it takes forever and it is soooooo bad for you.
Creme Brulee
Babes ordered the Caramelized Banana Cream Pie. Wow was that good. They bruleed the sugar on top and it was delicious. I would hate to be the one to wash that dish though. :)
Caramelized Banana Cream Pie
The banana cream pie was only half eaten and taken to go. The creme brulee was finished though, since it wouldn't have boxed well.

We were dying after. OMG, I went back to the room and thought my stomach was going to explode inside of me. We were attempting to go to Waverly Hills Sanitarium Haunted House. They have a haunted house around Halloween, but during the rest of the year, they have tours of the hospital. Unfortuntely, they weren't doing any b/c of the haunted house and you can't even reserve a spot for a tour until January. So, we'll have to go back...
I finally managed to get off the bed and get moving. We got there and there was a line and it was pouring rain. The ticket guy gave us garbage bags to cover our heads. How nice. Everyone else had umbrellas and rain coats. We had garbage bags. Silly tourists.
It was pretty decent. We are huge fans of haunted houses that are longer than 5 min and this took some time to go through, so it was cool. Lots of dark places for people to jump out at ya. Which of course is the best part.

So Sat we went wandering around the city, which isn't that big. But there are lots of horses. Painted horse that is.
Sat night we headed in our flannel plaid shirts (if you knew me before my boy, I hated flannel plaid, I love it now!) out to check out more haunted houses Sat night. Baxter Street Morgue was one of them. That one was def cool. The other place we went to had two haunted houses in them and those were really cool. We got lost in one of them and of course, I was terrified of the clowns and chainsaw guys, but hey, you know it's almost over when you hear the chain saw going!!!

We look so cute in plaid :)

Three other places to check out in Louisville. Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen has homemade ice creams, pies, cakes, cookies and a deli/cafe w/ soups and sandwiches. We went there Sat afternoon and both got an ice cream cone and a slice of red velvet to go. Babes had never had red velvet before. He loved it. Being that it is my favorite cake, I'm happy he likes it to since I make it often! It wasn't as good as my recipe, but it definitely hit the spot that night. :)

The other place we went to was Mark's Feed Store. OMG, was that good. I had a pulled pork sandwich and their burgoo, which is the grossest looking soup ever, but very good and spicy!
Their BBQ sauce was so good, even if it was mustard based :) There are three locations in Louisville and one in New Albany, IN. Definitely a must try if you are out there!
Little piggie outside the restaurant. Oink, oink!

The last place I want to tell you about is Ernesto's Mexican Restaurant. They had some really yummy mexican food, just when I was craving it! They aren't like El Gallo or Los Comales in Chicago, but they were really good for commercialized mexican food. Definitely not like ChiChi's or Chili's. The steak fajitas were juicy and tender and not at all salty, like some places... Check them out!

So yeah, I am thinking I like KY. A gorgeous place to visit, clean and not crowded and definitely a good time!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My cousin's 30th b-day dinner

I decided to make dinner for my cousin for her 30th b-day. Instead of going out or letting her cook as usual, I decided that I wanted to make something for her. I had to think of something that she would love and of course, something that I can make at home so I didn't dirty up her kitchen, but still could finish cooking at her place so it was yummy and fresh from the oven and hot and delicious. LASAGNA!!! Duh!!! What else is there? :) Oh, and of course, chocolate cake w/ tons of chocolate frosting!!!

I made the sauce, cake and frosting all the night before. My sauce is not exact, so I apologize, but I'll give you the basics. The sauce MAKES the lasagna. That and the cheese. Mmmm.... the cheese.....

Saute one whole large yellow onion and an entire head of garlic in a pan w/ butter. Once the onions are pretty translucent, add them to a simmering pot of 4 (8 oz) cans of tomato sauce, 1 (6 oz) can of tomato paste and 1 (28 oz) can of diced tomatoes. In the same pan that you were sauteing the onions, brown the 2.5 lbs of ground beef until fully cooked. Season w/ salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle some garlic powder if you like lots of garlic. Believe me, this was not too garlicky!

There are no measurements in my sauce. Which is why it always comes out good. I normally add a palm sized amount of the following dried herbs and spices to give it flavor and then add more as my taste test says I need.
Garlic powder (yep, I love that stuff!)
Ground black pepper
Greek oregano
Cinnamon (yep, that's right, cinnamon)
A wee bit of salt, as needed

If you are making less sauce, obviously start w/ less seasonings!

I usually will add all of these, let it simmer for about 15 mins before I taste it. Then I add as needed, allowing for 15 mins of simmering time in b/w each taste test.

I used a 12 3/4 X 10 3/8 foil roasting pan to make the lasagna in b/c it is a little deeper than more 13X9 pans and I don't have to clean it when I'm done!
I started by pour some of the sauce in the bottom, just enough to coat. Then I topped that with the lasagna noodles. Here is the deal. You can use the Barilla no cook noodles or you can use the ones you need to cook first. Honestly, it does not matter. I've used both and they both work just fine.
So after I placed a layer of noodles down, I spooned a mixture of ricotta cheese, grated parm cheese, parsley and garlic powder over that. I bought the largest tub of ricotta from the store, put a palmful of dried parsley, half palmful of garlic powder into a bowl w/ the cheese and mixed it. I let it sit out a bit before doing this, just so the cheese would soften a little and be just a bit easier to work with. After putting the ricotta mixture on the noodles, I put more sauce over that, then topped the sauce with shredded mozzarella cheese. I repeated this until I was super close to the top, about 3 full layers. On top of the final noodle layer, I put more ricotta on top, the remaining sauce and completely covered the top with shredded mozzarella and shredded parm. Make it a thick layer. It'll brown up nice and yummy later.
So here's the tough part. I baked mine for about 45 mins, then took it over to my cousin's house to finish cooking in her oven. I set the oven to 350 degrees F. When I got it to her house, it took an additional hour to finish. I know it is b/c I transferred it from my house ot hers and it cooled some by the time I got there (she only lives 10 min away), so it won't take you that long. I would hike the oven to 375 or 400 degrees F and just watch it after about 45 mins to see how much longer it needs.

Yummy, cheesy layers. And a nice brown cheesy top.

And now the cake!!! Oh yum is all I gotta say. I found this recipe on after searching through tons and tons of recipes to pick the best one. I did change two little things- I didn't add espresso powder and made two 9 inch layers rather than three 7 or 8 inch layers. I WILL make this cake again, but with one minor change. I will use milk chocolate for the ganache instead of bittersweet. I did it for my cousin, but next time, it is all about me!!!

Chocolate Ganache Cake
adapted from

3/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Not Dutch-process)
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 9 inch (or three 7 or 8 inch) round baking pans. Cut a circle of parchment paper to line the bottom of the pans; spray again.

Whisk the water and cocoa until smooth then whisk in milk and vanilla.

Sift together flour, baking soda and salt.

Beat together the butter and brown sugar w/ an electric mixer until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour and cocoa mix in batches, starting with the flour mix and ending with the flour mix. Do this at a low speed until just combined.

Divide the batter amoung the two or three pans. Make sure the tops are smooth. Bake on the middle rack for aprx 30 min. Taste the cake w/ a knife or toothpick. If there are little crumbs clinging, it's done. It is it coated w/ gooey-ness, it's not. Cool in the pans for about 30 mins, then invert onto the cooling rack, remove paper and cool completely.

The cake is much easier to work with, i.e. spread frosting on if you make the cakes the day before, cool them completely, then wrap them in plastic wrap and place them in the refridgerator overnight.

Ganache filling and frosting
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
20 oz of fine-quality, finely-chopped chocolate. I used bittersweet this time, but next time, you better believe I am going with milk chocolate

Bring cream to a simmerand remove from heat. Whisk in chocolate until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and chill, covered stirring occasionally until thickened but spreadable, about 4 hours.
You can make this the night before, but take it out before you are ready to spread b/c it will be too hard and it will be too hard on the cake.

I strongly advise placing wax or parchment paper underneath the sides of the cake to keep your cake plate clean. After you've put a nice thick layer of ganache on top of the bottom layer, place the top layer on and put a crumb coat on and place it in the fridge to "harden" up. It'll be easier to spread a nice thick layer of frosting on after you do that.
I've heard of the trick of taking a blow dryer to the cake as you're spreading the frosting to make the frosting shiny. But I didn't have a lot of time to mess around and I didn't want it to melt. So it was a matte finish :)

I also melted some red candy melts, put it in a sandwich baggie and snipped of the tip off and wrote on the cake. I'm a horrible decorator! And duh, I should ahve realized that the candy melts would harden, but I was so tired and out of it. They ate them off instead of trying to cut through them!

So Happy 30th Birthday Rita!!!! I hope you enjoyed the dinner and cake and good company! Thanks for Susan and Jamie for joining us in the celebration!

Monday, November 9, 2009

I am not a huge fan of pumpkin right now.

Let me tell you why.

So this weekend wasn't half bad. In fact, it was pretty darn good up until about 1am this morning.

Saturday, my church had their annual arts and crafts fair and I got myself a Beijo bag I have been dying for

The one I got is the one in the middle, the nice pink one!

I got some yummy Greek chicken and rice and "Greek lasagna" for dinner for me and my baby. Sorry, no pics, too hungry!

I spent the night at his place on Saturday night b/c bright and early on Sunday, we were participating in the Tow Trucks for Tots event. Now, we were up at 4:30am and didn't really sleep much b/c his puppy wasn't feeling so good and kept waking us up. So we were running on VERY LITTLE SLEEP. But we had tons of fun and we possibly broke a World Record, by the time we left Rockdale, there were already 350 trucks registered and the record is just under 300!

In Rockdale at the CAT plant
Just some of the trucks, these were the rollbacks. My baby was driving a heavy duty wrecker. I couldn't find a pic of his truck :(

The cute Cub Scouts earning a new badge by helping collect the toys.

So anyways, afterwards, we took a nap for a couple of hours before picking up dinner (at Boston Market, I hadn't been there in years!). Thank God I got a couple hours in b/c the rest of the night...

After we worked on a home project for a bit, I finally got home at 10:30. My car was parked on the street in front of my house, waiting for my dad to come home to move it so I can leave first in the morning w/ no cars blocking me. I went to sleep around 11:30pm... No issues.

Then at 1am this morning, my dad wakes my up by saying, "Niki. Wake up. Does someone hate you?"

Me, said very groggily, "Huh? What's going on?"

Dad, "There is a pumpkin in your back window."

Me, "WHAT?!?!?!?!" That was followed by me shoving my face in my pillow and screaming incoherently for a couple of minutes.
My father silently closed the door. I got up, threw my glasses and a flannel thermal button down on. As I approach my car in the dark, I see this:
Seriously???? Who thinks this is funny????? Who thinks this is a cool thing to do????? I don't. Not at all. So, through the tears, I ask my dad to call the police while I go grab my phone and camera to snap some picks. I still cannot believe this.

Really quick back story. On 12/26/08 someone hit my car while it was parked, in the same EXACT spot on the street and drove off w/out leaving a note. When I discovered it in the morning, it had already rusted over. $500 deduc and a rental car later (which I wasn't even using b/c I was sick!)... it was fixed.
Last week, I got an oil change and tire rotation ($51 total). They discovered I had no rear brakes. Thank God Daddy is a mechanic, b/c only $64 later (as opposed to Firestone's quote of $400), I had new brakes and an new air filter.

Now this:That pumpkin HAD to have weighed about 50 lbs. The little tiny piece of it in the car had to weigh at least 6-7 lbs itself. And that was only a fraction of the pumpkin. The rest of it had been thrown so hard, it dented my roof, shattered the windshield, broke the pillar inside, shot glass onto my DASHBOARD and the rest of the pumpkin that wasn't severed into my car SOARED over the car, leaving a trail of pumpkin seeds and innards on my roof and hood before finally splattering against the rear hatch of my mother's car that was a couple feet in front of mine then falling to the ground into multiple pieces, each weighing at least 6-7 lbs per piece, except one huge piece that had to have been way more than that.

My very messy back seat, even messier now w/ all the little pieces of glass... And my fav red leather briefcase, all scratched up and ruined now from the glass.

I want to throw a 50 lb pumpkin at the little jerk face's head. I had to take the day off work to get all of this taken care of. BTW, I was woken up at 1am and still have not gone back to bed... It's 4:30pm now. I am running on two hours of sleep last night. I am done. Someone please tell me when it is 2010, b/c I am SO DONE WITH THIS YEAR!!!! Especially since I am so broke now!!!! B/w the medical bills, the car bills, and the events (weddings, baptisms...) I have NO MONEY LEFT!!!! I just want to hibernate through the winter until, oh I don't know, maybe the end of Feb?

So I was gonna bake something pumpkin-y tonight. Then this happened, so I am nixing that and gonna make an apple cider pound cake instead.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pumpkin Coffee Cake

I have never made anything pumpkin. Well, by myself anyways. I've helped make pumpkin pies and cheesecakes, but never just made something on my own, or w/out a pre-made pumpkin pie jar.

So I was all about making pumpkin stuff this year, and this was my first go at it. :)
I saw this recipe and I knew it would be number one to try. It was so easy to make!

I did make a couple of changes, but it's pretty much the same recipe as Joanne's. :)

Oh, and I used a bundt pan. I spray it w/ Bakers Joy. I put some of the crumble topping on the bottom of the pan and some in the middle like she did, to see how it would come out. You couldn't really see it like Joanne's, but the top was crunchy. It still tasted good, I would just make more swirls w/ it next time instead of putting it on the bottom if I use a bundt again. And I will be making this again!!!!
These directions are going to be as if you were using a 13X9 pan.

Pumpkin Coffee Cake
adapted from Week of Menus

3/4 cup flour
1/2 stick butter, room temp
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (if your butter has salt in it, don't use this)

2 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, room temp
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 can of pumpkin (15 oz)

For the topping, combine flour, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt (if using) in a medium bowl. Mix until crumbly. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375. Spray a 13X9X2-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Sift 2 cups of flour, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl. Using electric mixer, beat 1/2 cup of butter in a large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add 3/4 cup sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar, beating until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating to blend after each addition. Mix in entire can of pumpkin. With the mixer on low, add the dry mixture. Mix until just all blended.

Pour half of the batter into the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle half the 1/2 the topping mixture. Pour and spread remaining batter on top. Sprinkle topping evenly over batter. Bake until tester inserted into center comes and clean and topping is golden brown, about 40 minutes. Cool cake. Serve room temperature.

See, you can just barely see the color difference on the top of the cake
And here you can see the middle filling. Yum!

I didn't try this cake the day I made it. Instead, after it was completely cool, I covered it and put it in the fridge. I served it room temp at work the next day. Everyone really liked it. L had multiple slices even though her stomach was hurting her and she really wants it for her bday! I'll do it again, but just in a 13X9 pan next time to see the difference!

Morningstar veggie burgers are way better than meat burgers!

I recently discovered the yumminess of veggie burgers. But not just any veggie burgers, Morningstar Spicy Black Bean Veggies Burgers. Yum yum yum yum...

N at work is a vegetarian and this past summer during out summer picnic she requested these veggies burgers. I'm not a huge burger person. Well, unless it's a Kuma burger! Then it's a different story.

So anyways, when N asked for these, I got a couple of boxes and omg. Are they soooo good!!! So they are now my burger of choice. You never miss the meat in these things, guaranteed.

So normally on Friday nights, if I have no plans (which I usually don't b/c I'm normally exhausted by 6pm!), I will stop off at Whole Foods to browse for dinner. I was originally thinking something different for dinner, but then I saw their challah rolls and they looked so yummy so ideas formed...

Yeah, well, nearly $40 and only one bag later (don't worry, not all spent on dinner!), I walked out ready for dinner.

Btw, I have to say, the vitamins and supplements section of Whole Foods is awesome. I get my digestive enzymes there, and the 365 brand is pretty decently priced compared to a lot of other products. Thankfully, digestive enzymes are nothing like fiber (which just makes you go-ew I know way too descriptive). Digestive enzymes help your body break down the food, getting rid of the waste and helping you absorb the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function properly. I've been taking them since my doctor said that my stomach doesn't produce enough acid to make the enzymes that aid in digestion and the breaking down of food. When I forget to take it, I feel very full and gross inside. But when I do, I feel like a normal person. It's a wonderful feeling to enjoy food again :)

Getting back on track...

So I also picked up some more Uniekas Dutch cheese and some Manchego cheese. They both have very different flavors, the dutch cheese being more sharp and creamy, while the Manchego has a more mild, but distinct taste and is a bit harder. I sliced some slivers of both and used two veggie patties for my burger. I picked up some guac and organic baby romaine lettuce from Whole Foods as well and that pretty much made the sandwich.

You can cook the burgers on the outdoor grill, an indoor grill, in the oven or in a skillet. The package has the proper times and such, but halfway through, add the cheese so it melts on top.
After I added the cheese and it melted some, I put the patties one on top of the other to melt together a bit more.

I considered putting bacon on them as well, but I forgot about it and burned the couple pieces I had left.

I know normally the lettuce goes on top, but let me tell you, sometimes it is better to have some of the cold items separated. The lettuce always slides around w/ the tomato or onions and it drives me nuts. I didn't have tomato or onion, but I had the guac and it would have been a pain...

Inside of deliciousness
I also made some garlic fries. I love french fries and I love garlic fries even more. I always keep frozen fries on hand, along w/ frozen hash browns, cuz let me tell you. I HATE peeling potatoes. So these are great. My mom recently bought a jar of minced garlic, so I tossed some minced garlic and dried parsley with clarified butter and toss the mix w/ the cooked fries. Crack from fresh black pepper on top and there you go. Awesomely yummy garlic fries.