South Carolina Getaway [Part 1]

Mister and I made it back from South Carolina just as the latest snow storm was hitting New York. It wasn’t the welcome back we were looking forward to, but after 8 days of traveling around it felt good to be snuggled up with our dogs on a cozy snow day.

This was part vacation, part family visit, and part Mister’s birthday present; we went to visit his parents [who split their time between Binghamton, NY and Surfside Beach, SC], with an added stop in Charleston to visit a friend while taking advantage of the cheaper flights through their versus Myrtle Beach.

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We ended up in downtown Charleston pretty late on Wednesday, and I was excited to see everything but also hungry and tired – add that to the fact that it was way colder than we were anticipating and I was getting a little bit cranky.

Mister spotted Poogan’s Smokehouse and it was exactly what we I needed.

Local IPA’s, live music, smokey pork belly, and a pile of BBQ. Two sticky thumbs up.

The next morning I made a quick trip to a local supermarket for yogurt, fruit, and muffins that made an easy breakfast. My biggest budget travel tip for anyone is don’t go to a restaurant for every meal – buy like you would at home. Bananas were a cheap snack that we could take with us, and smaller things like a box of granola bars and bringing reusable water bottles meant the snack/water break costs didn’t add up as fast.

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On our way from Charleston to Surfside Beach, we stopped at Drayton Hall. I’ve always had a love for visiting historic sites – particularly homes. Coming from New York, plantation houses have always been sort of a fascinating existence within the realm of history and Hollywood. While they are always associated with the dark history of human enslavement, they are also landmarks of a way of life, an era of American history, and a display of a culture I havn’t really gotten to “touch” in person before.

Drayton Hall is incredible in the sense that it is entirely preserved rather than restored. The building hasn’t been turned into a Disneyland approximation of how grand southern life was; its a house that holds so much history that even the vacant rooms breathe whispers of the lives that have passed through.

The preservation versus restoration issue was something that Mister didn’t quite understand; and coming from a History/Public History background, I wasn’t sure if it was something that didn’t really make sense to everyone else as well.

Preserve: They do the minimal amount necessary to maintain the house exactly as it was when it became a historic site. They interpret the paint colors as they were found, instead of repainting the house the original color from the first moment of construction. They point out where the outbuildings once stood, instead of rebuilding them for an easier tour.

Restoration: Bringing the building back to the way it looked when first built, or back to a specific time period. This includes furnishings being brought in or custom made, sometimes costumed interpreters, and often times erasing the changes that were made over time.

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Whenever visiting a historic site of this magnitude, I relish the opportunity to consider who built this house. Why? How? Where did the wood come from? Who made the bricks? Why was the house built in this exact place?

Imagine the first owners crossing the threshold. The last family to run down the stairs. The first tourists to open the door.

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After a few hours spent taking the formal tour and walking the grounds, we had to switch cars and found ourselves looking for food outside of town, in a highly commercialized area. It wasn’t looking promising.

I pulled up Yelp and did some serious reading before finding Boxcar Betty’s. Perfection. Small menu, specializing in chicken; fast, cheap, good.

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Spice Village [Tuckahoe, NY]

We havn’t had Indian food in months and I was craving hot, spicy, full belly goodness of some takeout.

I found Spice Village via Yelp as the closest place, and it had great reviews – so without much research we ordered from there.

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  • garlic naan
  • chicken tikka masala
  • vegetable samosa
  • chana masala

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The chickpeas were a win for me, but they were too spicy for Mister [who prefers things with no level of spicy – weirdo]

The two giant containers of rice felt like overkill, but then I had that moment of realization that maybe we ordered enough food for more than two people. In my defense, this order lasted us for two dinners and two lunches. But there was still too much rice.

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The chicken was incredible, but sadly there was hardly any actual chicken in the container of saucy sauciness.  It was like the chicken was a topping to the sauce instead of the other way around.

With a quick reheat in the oven, the garlic naan was perfection. The samosas were tolerable, and a definite skip for next time. With a mealy crust, they were way too big. If they had been smaller and crunchier, I would’ve been a fan for sure.

We did have the conversation before, during, and after ordering that we always get confused with Indian menus – it seems to be the same handful of ingredients and dishes with all vaguely similar names. Does everyone feel this way, or do I just need to visit more restaurants until I get the hang of what’s going on?

 

 

Definitely Ready

Per my last post – I’m an incredibly stubborn cook. I’m a pretty stubborn person in general actually, but that’s not the point.

That chicken breast that didn’t turn out so great? Well I’ve since mastered the bone in split chicken breast. [Yes I know that the first time around it was a whole chicken breast, and the split might make it easier – cut a girl some slack]

 

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I picked up a pack of four bone in split chicken breasts for .99 cents per pound. It was just about $5 for the four pack – which is two meals for Mister and I.

I put two in a Ziploc bag with BBQ sauce, and the other two in a Ziploc bag with an Asian dressing from Trader Joe’s – they marinaded for a solid day plus before cooking the first batch. Mister picked BBQ for our second attempt so that’s what happened first.

After some more Googling and cook book browsing – I realized that my pan of choice might’ve been an issue, and that I was over complicating things. I dug out an old two part broiler pan I had from my Grandma, that I don’t think I’ve ever actually used.

The issue here, is that I don’t like cleaning pans. I like to put foil on pans – so I have always shied away from this type of a pan simply because it really relies on getting at least one part of the pan dirty.

Preheat oven to 350, sprayed some non-stick cooking spray [generic – thank’s Sam’s Club] on both parts of the pan, slathered a little more BBQ sauce on both pieces and let it cook for about an hour – ish.

While that was going I checked the fridge for a veggie option – it was a toss up between broccoli and zucchini. I figured broccoli would go better with the asian chicken, so zucchini it was. Don’t ask me where that logic comes from, it just exists in my head and makes sense in my world.

Since the oven was going, I wanted to cook up the veggie in the oven too – and got a creative spark.

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Peeled zucchini, quartered then breaded in italian breadcrumbs. Baked on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet and topped with a little extra salt.

052.JPGThese were baked at 350 for about 30 minutes, and once the chicken was taken out of the oven I cranked it as high as it would go for a few minutes just to crisp them up a little more.

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I mean – it was perfection. Crispy skinned BBQ chicken that nearly fell off the bone, and crunchy, salty bites of zucchini. Mister even went so far as to say he liked them more than when I made frozen fries. We each ate an entire zucchini each, which felt pretty impressive. Even if there was about a cup of breadcrumbs used, there wasn’t any oil – so it still felt like a healthy compromise.

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Roasted Not Ready

We picked up a whole, bone in chicken breast at Stew Leonard’s and I realized I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. I channeled my inner Julia Child by rubbing it was butter and shoving some garlic cloves [gently] under the skin. Per some research a la America’s Test Kitchen online – I seared it on the stove and then transferred it to the oven.

028.JPG One hour or so later, we had beautiful chicken breast.  That wasn’t cooked all the way. I really need a new battery for my meat thermometer.

So we put it back in the oven, while our string beans got colder. But eventually we were able to eat.

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The chicken was fine, but the process brought out my stubborn side. Surely I should know how to roast bone in chicken? I have a food blog and I can’t even make roast chicken. That’s weird.

So on my next trip to the supermarket I bought a family pack of split, bone in chicken breasts. I’m determined to master this whole chicken situation. Plus it was on sale for .99 cents a pound, so there’s that aspect.

Of the original chicken, we ended up eating only one half of the breast – the other half was mostly used up for nacho dinner extravaganza.

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That’s an event where its late, and I’m hungry but not really hungry, and its been a very long day. So I shredded chicken, microwaved some Trader Joe’s frozen grilled peppers and onions along with some of their frozen grilled corn. Mix together, cover with cheese over a bed of tortilla chips.  The saltier the better.

We topped this with sour cream and salsa and ate it straight from the pan on the couch. That’s honesty. That’s my life. I don’t always cook my chicken well the first time, and a lot of the time my meals are eaten on the couch.

Peanut Noodle Bowls

I have a very clear memory of sitting at the small kids table in the front room [“the piano room” which later became “the computer room”] of my Mom’s house and being served a giant bowl of peanut noodles. I know there were other kids there, otherwise we would’ve been eating at the regular kitchen table. I know it was summer, or at least warm and sunny out. But other than that, my memory is really of the giant serving bowl filled with peanut butter goodness.

For me, as a child, peanut noodles felt like a trick that adults hadn’t quite figured out. Like Nutella, I wanted to point out that peanut butter was too delicious to be allowed for dinner. Especially over spaghetti.

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Even as an adult, peanut noodles feel like getting away with something.

But the other night, I made us heaping bowls of peanut noodles with broccoli, a little chicken for Mister and some leftover tofu for mine.

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I followed the recipe from The Girl Who Ate Everything blog and it was exactly what I was looking for; the only change I made was I added more water to thin the recipe out quite a bit.

While the sauce was being made, I diced up a chicken breast for Mister and cooked it in a pan while simultaneously steaming some broccoli in the microwave and boiling pasta water.

I had completely forgotten about this little microwave steamer I picked up from Sears a few years ago.  I’m sure it would be easy to find something similar on Amazon, and it really is helpful for quick cooking as an alternative to buying those frozen Steam Fresh type veggie bags.

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Clean and Easy

Per my last post – I’m back on track and this is a very determined train.

Last night for dinner was lean, green and easy.

Left is Misters: bbq chicken, butternut squash, roasted broccoli

Right is Mine: butternut squash, roasted broccoli, mushrooms, kale

I turned the oven on to about 350 degrees while I waited for Mister to get home. Tossed the broccoli in some olive oil, salt, pepper and put on a foil covered pan. Put the chicken in a Corningware (or oven safe dish) with about half a bottle of Trader Joe’s BBQ sauce. Bake 30 ish minutes.

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Meanwhile I got to play with these cuties I found the other day:

They’re like crinkle cut fries – but squash. I’m clearly a child because the shape alone was what sold me. I steamed them on the stove, and then tossed with a handful of random seasoning.

I ate a handful before they even made it to the plate, they were that good. Mister, however, thought they were the worst ever and didn’t eat more than a forkful. Poor guy – he might have supplemented his dinner with some macaroni and cheese. I swear I tried to make him a healthy dinner, I really tried.

This morning for breakfast, I had a little extra time before a morning work meeting so I made a smoothie bowl. These are a craze, just like the ACV drink and juice cleanses – but I’m telling you smoothie bowls are actually fantastic.

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Make a smoothie without as much liquid as normal – so its thicker. Then top with whatever sounds good. Eat with a spoon. Ta Da – you’ve got yourself a smoothie bowl!

This morning for the smoothie I did:

half of a frozen banana + little less than a cup of orange juice + 2 scoops of Trader Joe’s Pea Protein Powder + 3 frozen peach slices + 2 big handfuls of spinach.

For the topping:

chia seeds, coconut flakes, granola, and walnuts.

Crunchy, sweet, filling. This was my first time going full fruity – my past few experiments may or may not have involved a chocolate smoothie and chocolate chips.  See what I mean about getting back on track?

 

The Iron Tomato, White Plains

Yesterday morning Mister had an appointment in White Plains, so I made plans to meet him for lunch.  Looking online, there were a ton of options, so I consulted Yelp and found great reviews for The Iron Tomato.

It fit all of the criteria: (1) walking distance from Mister’s appointment (2) quick/not too fancy (3) good reviews

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Walking in can be a little over whelming, with the shop set up more like a market or cafeteria than a standard restaurant or deli.  The shop has a great flow to it, just make sure you go to the right when you first enter to prevent fighting the procedure.

To the right of the entrance is a bakery, continuing straight there is a salad station, cold prepared foods, and some refrigerated desserts. Once you make your next right (the layout is a rectangle, more or less), there is a smoothie counter.  The next section has the deli counter, lastly a pizza counter and you’ll then return to the register area across from the front doors.

We ordered a sandwich to share, neither of us being too hungry.  You grab a number from the dispenser, and wait to order.  It was organized and efficient, even with the crowds waiting for food.  Menus are clearly displayed in several spots, so there wasn’t that moment of dread waiting to be able to see the menu and hoping that happened before it was your turn to order.

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Splitting the Iron Tomato Special was the perfect amount of food.  Crusty bread with a fluffy, oil drenched interior.  Cold chicken cutlet, savory roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella.  You can see the line of balsamic soaking into the bread on the lower half.  It wasn’t the best sandwich in the world, but it hit all the good flavor and texture points for sure.  I would definitely try an italian mix next time.

There is a seating area in the front corner, and we were given a plate at the register to help us share more neatly.  Its clearly a place that’s popular for lunch, with quick turnover.

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After the sandwich, we couldn’t resist the glowing bakery case.

We walked for a bit and ate our dessert outside, an eclair for Mister and a nutella tart for me.  It was like a melty hershey bar atop a crumbly crust, but in a way that’s way better than that awkward description.

 

Weekend Catch Up

I know that my posting comes in waves; there are daily posts that dwindle to nothing for a month and then I’ll reappear.  I’m sure this is no way to garner an audience, but life happens.

I headed up to Albany after work on Friday, and Mister and I were both equally tired and hungry by the time it got dark out.  We agreed on take out from Rain on Lark Street, after having stopped in for a drink last week and agreeing the food smelled and looked promising.

We picked up our takeout, and ate it on the couch with our sweatpants on; which is the best way to eat any and all takeout.

This stuff was really good.  It wasn’t nearly as greasy as typical Chinese takeout, and didn’t leave us feeling like bloated, sweaty monsters.  There was flavor, texture, and quality to our order, and we would definitely order again.  The only thing I didn’t like, was their won ton soup.  Interestingly enough, the menu we were looking at online for ordering listed it only as “Shanghai style won ton soup.” The menu on their website lists it as “shrimp and pork won ton.” This additional shrimp information makes a world of difference; when I bit into the dumplings, the filling was almost sausage like in its consistency.  Lumpy and almost gristly, it was unappealing.  Knowing now that it was shrimp mixed with pork explains it enough, but I wouldn’t order again.

Saturday morning, Mister and I had our second wedding related planning appointment.  After a year of being engaged, we set a wedding date and booked a venue.  On Saturday, we also confirmed our photographer.  Since our wedding date isn’t until June of 2017, we’ve got plenty of time to worry about the small things, and I’m making sure to check off the big ticket items as soon as I can.

Sunday, was when the fun went into full swing.  We started the day off with a workout at Flight Trampoline Park, which I can’t recommend enough.  Want to work up a sweat, while laughing for about an hour? They have instructor led fitness classes Saturday and Sundays, where you get to jump around barefoot.

Following that class, I got to the serious business of meal prepping.

I like cooking, and I like eating.  But with my living/work situation I can’t always find the time to do both well.  So I’ve gotten in the habit of cooking up a storm for myself and Mister over the weekend, to last throughout the week.

This Sunday, I cooked up:

3 containers of lean ground beef, riced cauliflower, and mushrooms

3 containers of shredded buffalo chicken salad and broccoli slaw

3 beef burrito bowls with rice, beans, and veggies

4 plain baked/shredded chicken breasts.

1 dozen hard boiled eggs

This, combined with some leftovers, cut up veggies, and my office stockpile of oatmeal will get us both on a good start for the breakfast and lunches for the week.  Some will be eaten for dinner depending on our schedule, and I’m sure we’ll grab a sandwich or something else to add to the mix when necessary.  But my point is, this took about an hour of grocery shopping and an hour or two of cooking while watching TV.

With the wedding coming up, I’m trying to keep myself more accountable on watching the bank account and my dress size; so making sure we eat healthy meals on a budget is important.

Friday Night Foodie

I arrived up in Albany on Friday night, and Mister and I tried out a new recipe I saw flying around my Facebook feed this past week.  I love these Tasty recipe videos that are being posted online; they simplify things enough that I’m not intimidated to try new methods.

For the Buffalo Chicken Potstickers we purchased the following items at Hannaford:

  • 1 package of wonton wrappers (recipe called for round, we only saw square)
  • 1 cold rotisserie chicken
  • celery
  • carrots
  • block of cream cheese
  • (We had some Hannaford brand “wing sauce” already in the fridge)

I shredded the chicken while Mister prepped the carrots and celery. Then, combine all the filling ingredients in a big bowl.

I love that the next part of the recipe always has to read, “Mix”.  Like I thought we were just throwing all this stuff in the bowl for fun.  But nope, we gotta mix this stuff up too.  Darn.

Once the filling is mixed, I lined a sheet pan with some foil to transfer the potstickers to as they were filled. (No, we didn’t have anything as fancy as wax paper on hand)

Filling them was a little tricky at first, and I’m not sure if it was because we purchased the square wrappers versus the recommended round. We could only put a minuscule amount of filling in each potsticker, so the ratio of filling to wrapper felt a little off in the final product.  Maybe the amount of cream cheese should be halved, or the carrots shredded?  This could use some tweaking.

Once we had a tray of filled potstickers, I heated oil in two large pans.  I essentially seared the potstickers in the hot oil, before adding water and a lid to finish them off.

We decided to freeze half the batch, prior to cooking, since we’re not quite bottomless pits.  I was particularly proud of how good the little baggie of frozen potstickers looked; I definitely pulled them from the freezer the next morning to show Mister.  Treasure the little things people.

 

Cooking Light: Not the Same Old Chicken

I wish it were the same old chicken.

This recipe was pretty awful.  Its like they someone wrote a bunch of things that sounded nice, without ever testing it out.

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I had to improvise several times throughout the recipe, adding more seasoning, switching pans, eliminating ingredients. And it still wasn’t that great.  Not magazine worthy, that’s for sure.

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Started with pounded chicken breasts, olive oil, and fresh thyme in a hot, oven-proof skillet.  Okay, I like where this is going.  Then you flip, and put the skillet in the oven.  Still okay.

Then you’re supposed to take the pan out of the oven, remove the chicken, and add boiled potatoes, quartered mushrooms, lemon, milk and and flour.  Well when we took the pan out of the oven, there was a lot of liquid, and when I added the mushrooms there was even more liquid.  They never had a chance at browning.  Thankfully Mom had the foresight to roast instead of boiling the potatoes, but we still got stuck with soggy string beans and undercooked mushrooms that had to be transferred to another pan.

So Mom assisted with some triage; we removed the string beans and put them in a bowl, sauteed the mushrooms separately in another pan.  Then we add minced garlic, white wine, thinly sliced lemons and flour to the skillet to make a pan sauce.  Add the mushrooms back in, then eventually stirred back in the string beans.

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039.JPG Crispy, oven roasted potatoes, chickens, mushrooms and string beans in a lemon-wine-thyme sauce.  Eh, not worth it.