Archive | February, 2011

The One Where Mr. Parker Makes Penne alla Vodka

24 Feb

As I was suffering from the aforementioned plague on Valentine’s Day, Mr. Parker and I celebrated on Thursday instead of Monday. Since I was not quite well even by then, instead of going out and doing something fancy, Mr. Parker made me dinner.

That’s right! I got to pick whatever I wanted, too. This was exciting, since no one (no one = anyone who is not my mother) has ever made or attempted to make a celebratory dinner for me, let alone let me decide what they should prepare.

I was tempted to ask for something intricate, but I did not want to trap Mr. Parker in the kitchen for hours to labor and stress. He doesn’t cook often, but he does grill a mean cheese and make a nice bowl of Ramen on occasion.

With that in mind, I selected Penne alla Vodka. It’s inexpensive, easy, fairly quick, and it tastes great.

One of my favorite Penne alla Vodka recipes is Rachael Ray’s You Won’t Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Pasta. And yes, I really dislike the title. The recipe was from a Valentine’s Day themed show, not that that’s a worthy excuse! At any rate, I’ve been using Rachael’s recipe since 2005 and it has yet to turn out badly, and I knew it wouldn’t be too much work for Mr. Parker. Plus it’s way better than jarred vodka sauce.

The half-hour preparation time is pretty accurate, and Mr. Parker didn’t seem to have any difficulty. The finished dish was really impressive, too! The texture was perfect, it looked great, and it tasted fabulous! The fresh basil is really the jam, so don’t omit it if you can help it! A dash of red pepper flakes is a fab addition, too. We also topped the pasta with shaved parmesan. It was grand. We ate every bit of the leftovers, and usually I am not a fan of reheated food.

In all, Mr. Parker’s cooking adventure was a great success. This Penne alla Vodka dish is a good choice for anyone, and it’s easy even for those who don’t have heaps of experience in the kitchen.

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A Pox on my House

21 Feb

2011 has not been a good health year thus far! I managed to catch both strains of seasonal flu and incubate a sinus infection and an ear infection. Poor Mr. Parker also had the flu, and when he wasn’t sick, he was taking care of me and the dogs.

For being almost 30 damn years old, I required a surprising lot of care.

I cannot thank Mr. Parker enough. From midnight medicine runs to carefully selecting orange juice and trying to bribe me to drink it because the pharmacist said it would be good for me, he did everything. He even walked the dogs and made me dinner.

He really is amazing, and I cannot thank him enough. So, thank you, Mr. Parker. There are not words for how appreciated you are. My superhero, really.

Within the next few weeks, posts should begin to return to their usual frequency. Who knows, maybe I’ll even make a non-pasta, non-dessert item! 🙂

Local Restaurant Review – The Tuscan Oven

10 Feb

Pizza is so delicious. Crispy crust, tangy sauce, and gooey cheese. Mmm. Good pizza is one of my favorite things.

Thankfully, there are several restaurants in town that have fantastic pizza. One of my favorites is the Tuscan Oven. Mr. Parker and I went to the Tuscan Oven fairly early in our relationship and we had one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had in my life, no joke. Not only was it delicious, but it was no more expensive than a takeout or delivery pizza you’d get from a national chain for a MUCH better pie.

The pizzas are literally baked in a wood-fired brick oven that’s visible from most tables in the restaurant. You can also dine at the pizza bar, which provides a close-up view.

The decor is sort of classy casual, and fellow diners were dressed in everything from suits to jeans.

We chose the Abbondanza, which has sausage, pepperoni, capicolla ham, and bacon. Tuscan Oven’s pizzas come in 10″, 13″, and 15″, and we picked the 13″, thinking we’d both get plenty of pizza, plus he could take the leftovers to work for lunch. We were right! The medium Abbondanza runs about $15. We ended up taking two slices with us. Had we unlimited capacity stomachs, we probably would’ve finished it.

I ordinarily prefer pizzas that have veggies or interesting toppings like artichokes, but I’m glad we went with Mr. Parker’s Abbondanza selection. The meats were flavorful and the cheese was abundant. The crust might be my favorite part, though: it’s light and crisp on the outside, and just slightly soft and chewy on the inside. It isn’t too dry or too bready or too spongy. It is perfect.

We returned to the Tuscan Oven last Friday, February 4. The place was packed and we had a 20 minute wait. First available seating was at the pizza bar. I wish we would have waited a few extra minutes for a table, because dining at the bar wasn’t the best experience.

We didn’t have a view of the oven because the lid of the topping cooler was propped up in front of us, and we were sandwiched between two other pairs of diners. It was difficult to have a conversation, we had hardly any space for our plates and drink glasses, and we were near the kitchen door and the entryway, so people were constantly walking behind us.

Our server also stood behind us to take our orders, which was odd. She stood behind us and reached between us to give us or food and drinks, too, which was uncomfortable. I realize the place was very busy, but I was sitting on the corner and she could’ve stepped to the side and at least made eye contact with us. I was afraid to turn my head to look at Mr. Parker for fear a hand holding food or a drink refill would come shooting between us.

While I had initially planned on having a glass of wine, the frenzied pace made me reconsider and I went for a Diet Coke instead. Mr. Parker had Dr. Pepper. Our waitress refilled Mr. Parker’s several times and ignored mine. I guess it must be nice to be so handsome, eh? (Or maybe have it be assumed you’re the one paying the bill and thus determining the tip.)

I ordered a Caprese salad, which looked beautiful and had great flavor but was freezing cold. I had to let it sit for a few minutes before it was even room temperature enough to eat, and by then our pizza was there, and we had no room for anything.

We had been looking forward to enjoying some wine, pizza and a relaxing Friday night conversation, but that’s not what we got. Service was fast – very fast. We had our drinks and my salad within minutes, and our pizza was ready perhaps 5 – 10 minutes after we sat down.

We picked the Abbondanza again, which was just as phenomenal as the first. I spent the entire next day regretting my idea for Mr. Parker to once again take the leftovers to work for lunch. 🙂

We each had time to eat a slice before our check was being presented and we were asked if we wanted a box. Guess we weren’t getting dessert! I definitely felt rushed. I don’t expect to occupy seats for two hours, but I definitely don’t want my meal to be shorter than the time it took to get a table. It wasn’t just us; our server attempted to present the check to the couple next to us only to be met with protests of “But we’re not done!”

In addition to pizza, the Tuscan Oven offers a variety of salads and pastas. Their full menu is here. Although we didn’t have the relaxing pizza date I was hoping for, I do highly recommend the Tuscan Oven. I would suggest visiting on perhaps a Thursday evening and choosing a table instead of the pizza bar. That way, you’ll have adequate space, be able to make eye contact with your server, and enjoy a more relaxing experience.

I don’t think the imperfections we experienced are typical of the restaurant, and they definitely weren’t serious. We understand that when establishments are incredibly busy, it becomes difficult to do everything perfectly. Their pizza is still excellent. We will absolutely be back.

4801 North 9th Avenue Pensacola, Florida 32503

Open Tuesday – Thursday, 11 am – 9 pm Friday and Saturday, 11 am – 10 pm

http://www.thetuscanoven.com

Chocolate Chocolate Mint Cookies

9 Feb

Mr. Parker and I bought a bag of dark chocolate mint chips at The Wal-Mart in the middle of the night just because we thought they sounded good. It was in December, and everything mint is appealing around the holidays, you see.

The chips have just been sitting in my kitchen for the last few months, mainly because I didn’t have any sort of baking equipment.

Mr. Parker recently remedied this, though: he presented me with a Pre-Valentine’s Day gift of an Ice Blue KitchenAid Artisan stand mixer. It is one of my favorite things ever. He also got me a few pans, spatulas, and mixing bowls. In return, I have baked him roughly one meeelion calories worth of desserts. A partnership, we have!

Now that I’m finally set up for baking, I was ready to use the mint chips. We thought they might taste funny in regular chocolate chip cookies, so I devised a plan: <i>chocolate</i> chocolate chip cookies.

Chocolate Chocolate Mint Cookies

3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 stick softened butter
1 4 oz bar Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Baking Bar
1 bag chocolate mint chips
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Add the butter and sugars to the mixer bowl and cream until light and fluffy. Throw in the egg and vanilla. Stir.

Break apart the Ghirardelli bar into a microwave-safe bowl. I microwaved mine for two intervals of 45 seconds each without stirring. When the chocolate is melted, add directly to the mixer bowl with the butter and sugars and combine.

Next, add the flour mixture to the mixer bowl with the chocolate batter. Mix on low/medium until they’ve merged. It’s normal for the dough to be slightly sticky and dissimilar to the “wet sand” texture of standard chocolate chip cookie dough.

Stir in the chocolate mint chips by hand.

Drop onto a heavyweight, nonstick baking sheet by the heaping teaspoonfuls. No need to flatten. I leave about two inches between each cookie.

Since my oven tends to scorch everything, I baked these for 7 minutes. I think you might need about ten minutes with the average oven, though. You’ll want to remove the cookies when they look a little underdone – they’ll be big and puffy, but that’s how they should look at this point. They’ll flatten and get firmer as they cool.

Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack. They should be thin – crunchy around the edges while slightly chewy in the middle. Perfect for a rich, minty cookie.

I brought these to a Superbowl potluck (I don’t do football, so for me it was just an excuse to see my manpanion and eat food) at Mr. Parker’s office since he and his coworkers were kind enough to invite me, and everyone seemed to enjoy them.I didn’t even have any to take home! Someone who disliked my Pineapple Upside-down Cake, labor-intensive handmade lasagna, and chicken dijon croissants was won over by Chocolate Chocolate Mint Cookies, so I consider them a great success.

They’re great for when cookies are the perfect dish, yet you want or need something a little more novel and exciting than the standard old recipes.

Yields about 30 small/medium cookies.