Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

This year, Lance’s parents joined us for Thanksgiving, so for the first time we did it with both sides of the family.  My parents hosted and most of the traditional dishes like stuffing, sweet potatoes, etc were already taken by other relatives, so I contributed a couple appetizer dishes and a punch.  They were all new recipes to me that I found on Pinterest, and luckily they were all keepers. 

My first dish was a fig crostini.  When I went grocery shopping, we found out that fresh figs aren’t in season (I called around to all our local stores…) so I settled for dried figs.  Everyone actually loved it with the dried ones though, so I think I’d do it the same way again next time I make it. 

Fig Crostini (adapted from Alexandra’s Kitchen)

  • 12-15 dried figs
  • Sea salt & fresh black pepper
  • 2 T honey
  • 1-1/3 cups ricotta
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 3 T chopped chives
  • 1 baguette
  • 1 cup fresh Basil


1. Preheat your oven to 400F. Cut the baguette into slices about 1/4" thick and put in the oven to toast (keep an eye on it until they are slightly browned)
2. Mix the ricotta, Parmesan, and chives. 

3. Cut the figs into slices.

4. When the bread is toasted, remove from the oven.  Top with the ricotta mixture then the sliced figs.  Garnish with a piece of basil then drizzle with honey. 

Stuffed Mushrooms (adapted from Marla Meredith)

  • 12 whole baby bella Mushrooms, rinsed & pat dry
  • 3 tablespoons Bacon crumbles, set 1 tablespoon aside
  • 1 oz fresh cheese (I used Trader Joe’s Unexpected Cheddar, which is a white cheddar mixed with Parmesan)
  • 1 t fresh Rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon chopped Chives, plus some for garnish
  • pinch of Garlic Salt
  • pinch of cracked Black Pepper
  • pinch of Smoked Paprika
  • Cooking Spray

1. Preheat your oven to 350F.  Cook bacon according to the package, let cool, and crumble into pieces. 
2. Gently remove the stems from the mushrooms and chop into small pieces.
3. Spray a nonstock skillet.  Over medium heat, sauté the mushroom stems, chives, thyme, garlic salt, pepper, and smoked paprika for a few minutes.  Mix in 2/3 of the crumbled bacon. 
4. Put the mushroom cap-side down into a glass baking dish.  Add cheese into the mushrooms, top with the mushroom cap mixture, then top with more cheese.

5. Bake for 20 minutes until cheese is melted.  Garish with extra bacon and chopped chives. 

Cranberry Pineapple Punch (adapted from Celebrating Everyday Live)

  • 2 quarts pineapple juice
  • 1 quart 100% cranberry juice (not from concentrate)
  • 8oz pomegranate juice
  • 1 liter ginger ale
  • 12oz fresh cranberries

1. Combine all ingredients (wait until you’re about to serve to add the ginger ale to make sure it’s still fizzy).  That’s it!

In previous years I’ve made some sort of turkey shaped dish (2 years ago, cinnamon rolls and last year some cupcakes).  This year, my mom-in-law, Rita, made cheese-filled crackers with pretzels, carrots and olives shaped into turkeys. 

My parents had some fun with this year’s turkey and put a sliced lemon beneath the skin to give the turkey some enhancements. 

We enjoyed a huge meal, then later on, ended it with several Mike’s Pies desserts. 

We’re finishing the day up now watching the Steelers game on our new Black Friday purchased TV (early Christmas present).  I’m normally completely against shopping ON Thanksgiving since I think stores should be closed, but our TV took a dive when our wall mounted console fell last month, so it needed to be replaced. 

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving surrounded by your loved ones.  

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Better Byrd – St. Pete, FL

We have a new go-to restaurant.  Last week after our bike ride around St. Pete and visit to the Dali Museum, we met up with our friend Libby for a late lunch at the just-opened Better Byrd.  It’s run by the Ciccio Restaurant Group (who owns half the restaurants on Howard in Tampa – Daily Eats, Fresh Kitchen, Green Lemon, the Lodge, and Ciccio Water).   The other half of the Better Byrd building is actually another Fresh Kitchen, which shares an outdoor space so you have the choice of dining at either restaurant. 

It is a fast casual concept which specializes in chicken and donuts.  I originally thought it was going to just be unhealthy fried chicken dishes, but they actually have amazing fresh bowl options as well.  Their menu is pretty extensive, but they have an area to review the options on the wall right when you walk in before you get in line if you’re indecisive. 

Here’s a brief description of their philosophy:

I had their PestoByrd bowl with chicken, arugula, grape tomatoes, cucumber, lemon almond pesto, and quinoa.  I was really hoping for their sweet potato tots, but they apparently haven’t started serving those yet, so I got sweet potato fries instead, served with creamy maple dip.  Libby had their Melon Margaryta bowl, and Lance had their Numberone sandwich. 

Lance and I had beers (they have several local ones available).  We saw on their website that their beers are only $3 on the weekends, but on checkout, the girl didn’t seem to know about that special (they had literally had their grand opening two days prior, so everyone was still in training…)  She seemed confused when we mentioned it to her, but we didn’t want to hold up the line and cause a scene about it, so we ended up just paying the normal $4 for our drinks.  They did give us Better Byrd coozies with our drinks to keep them cold though which was nice.   

They have a bunch of amazing sounding donut flavors.  They are mini, which is great because you can eat more of them, but they sell them in sets of 3 per flavor.  The whole point of mini donuts is that you can try more variety, so they might as well just sell full-sized donuts if you’re eating 3 mini ones of one flavor.  This time we tried the hibiscus cardamom and the lemon poppy thyme (loved them both!)

I only ate half my bowl so I’d have room for donuts – it kept well for lunch the next day. 

Only two days later, we returned with my cousin Jenn, my brother, David, and his girlfriend, Kim.  Jenn and David had just celebrated their birthdays, so we wanted to take them out to eat as a late gift.  It was more crowded that night – I guess the word got out about their delicious food! 

I can’t even remember the last time I ate at the same restaurant twice in one week, but we enjoyed it so much the first time, we couldn’t wait to return. This time, I tried another one of the bowls – the Byrd-a-Bing with chicken, mixed greens, dried bing cherries, toasted walnuts, cucumber, quinoa and creamy mojo dressing.  I figured that since I wanted to try a few more donuts, I should get something healthy again. 

I also had their homemade watermelon lemonade, which they have next to the soda fountain.  I didn’t get it the time before because I figured it would be a fake watermelon taste like a Jolly Rancher, but Libby gave me a sip of hers and it was super refreshing, so this time I got it for myself.   

I tried one of my brother’s truffle garlic parmesan wings and it was amazing – I think next time we go, I’ll get the wings since they have several interesting varieties. 

We had a dozen mini donuts between the 5 of us – cracker jack, pumpkin spice, chocolate raspberry, and toasted coconut.  I actually spoke with one of their employees about how I wished you could order the flavors individually since they all sound so good.  They all have the same cake base, but they are decorated freshly on order.  He explained that since they have just one person in charge of donuts in the back, it would be much too time consuming to have them do all different flavors all on one order.  Right now if you order 3 you can only get 1 flavor and with 6 you can get 2 flavors.  He said they may change it so you can order 2 different flavors with an order of 4 so you can try a bit more variety. 

My favorites so far from the two trips have been the hibiscus cardamom and the chocolate raspberry – both were tossed in a sugary coating and have a slightly tart aftertaste. 

It’s the perfect place to go with a group because they have something for just about everyone and it’s very reasonable.  Our meals averaged around $10.  It wouldn’t be ideal for vegetarians since it’s nearly all chicken dishes, but they do have the option for veggie burgers just in case.    

Another location is coming to the Tampa side of the bay soon at the corner of Howard Ave and Platt St.  I have yet to find an opening date, but I’m excited we’ll have another one even closer to us soon! 

Better Byrd is located at 4447 4th St N #1, St. Petersburg, FL 33703.  They are open 11am – 9pm Monday – Friday, 9am – 9pm on Saturday, and 9am – 8pm on Sunday.    

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Invention of Food at the Dali Museum – St. Pete, FL

Now that Lance has a regular Monday – Friday job, we can finally do whatever we want together on the weekends!  Last week, we took a bike ride around Snell Isle in St. Pete down to the Dali Museum.  They currently have an exhibit running called “The Invention of Food.”  It celebrates the dishes of world renown chef Ferran Adria, whose Michelin 3-star restaurant, El Bulli, was only a few miles from Dali’s home in Spain. 

According to the Michelin guide, one star signifies "a very good restaurant", two stars are "excellent cooking that is worth a detour", and three stars mean "exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey". The listing of starred restaurants is updated once a year.

His dishes look like works of art themselves, many of them inspired by nature.  One wall had a constantly changing collage of photos with pictures of his creations.  Every night, El Bulli served a new combination of dishes, with 30-50 courses at each meal.   

2 million people a year would attempt to get reservations, but they only allowed 8,000 diners.  For a better idea of the kinds of outrageous foods served, check out this post by the Amateur Gourmet – one of the few who was lucky enough to experience this restaurant.  Despite the meals being £240 (or about $300) per person, the restaurant still was not profitable, so they shut their doors in 2011.

Seven sold-out “immersion dinners” were held in conjunction with the Dali exhibit.  Each was prepared by top chefs as experiential homage to Ferran Adria. This included Chef Michael Mina of FarmTable Kitchen at Locale Market, Chef Jeremy Duclut of Cassis American Brasserie, Chef Tyson Grant of Parkshore Grill, Chef Greg Baker of The Refinery and Fodder & Shine, Chef Fabrizio Aielli of Sea Salt, Chef Marty Blitz of Mise en Place, and Chef Jeannie Pierola of edison: food + drink lab

We unfortunately did not attend any of the immersion dinners, but they do offer samples of pata negra ham at the Dali museum exhibit – they feet a pig a diet exclusively of acorns, then age the meat for four years.  It was a small sliver, but I was surprised how much flavor was in that tiny bite.  I can imagine a full dinner at El Bulli would have been a pretty amazing experience if that’s any indication of the flavors you’d taste. 

If you haven’t been to the Dali Museum before, it’s worth going since you can view both the Dali pieces and this temporary exhibit. 

The Invention of Food runs through November 27th at the Dali Museum, located at 1 Dali Blvd, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.  They have special hours for the week of Thanksgiving, so check out their website before you visit.